-IceMan-

Mad Science: Chapter 9

Sep 6th, 2018 (edited)
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  1. Mad Science
  2. By IceMan
  3.  
  4. Chapter 9: Many-World Interpretation
  5.  
  6. >Sunlight streams through stained glass windows, the myriad hues of light painting a transpose of their images on the canvas of the marble floor.
  7. >There are subtle differences in each design, reflecting the passage of time.
  8. >The later windows possess a larger range of hues and thinner black lining, a development in either the chemical or magical processes used to produce them.
  9. >The most recent may as well be a portrait of photons, with leading so delicate it disappears in the diffusion on the polished white surface.
  10. >However, based on their relative vibrance in comparison to the older frames and the lack of staining on the columns and walls supporting them, the latest glasses were all produced very recently, and all feature very similar content and symbology: six familiar figures fending off darkness and destruction.
  11. >“I thought I might find you here,” someone says.
  12. >You turn towards the voice.
  13. >She is another hybrid unicorn and pegasus, slightly taller than her sister, in a coat of white with a shimmering pastel mane.
  14. “Princess Celestia,” you say. “I thought Twilight had arranged for us to meet later.”
  15. >“Yes, but my curiosity made me a bit impatient,” the Princess of the Sun says, giggling a bit.
  16. >“She keeps writing me such interesting letters about you.”
  17. “Twilight never told me that.”
  18. >Celestia nods.
  19. >“She was seeking my guidance about how best to teach you about friendship.”
  20. “That does not surprise me. I have not been the most willing student.”
  21. >“But you have been making progress?”
  22. “To a degree,” you reply.
  23. >You sigh.
  24. “I am struggling to find a way to internalize the lessons Twilight has taught me. Everything I do seems to be for the purpose of continuing my research on magic. Learning about friendship is intrinsically linked to learning about magic, so I am no longer certain what my goal is.”
  25. >Again, Celestia solemnly nods.
  26. “I understand that friendship is valuable. I have solved that problem. I suppose what I’m looking for now is... justification.”
  27. >“Some things are just good for their own sake,” Celestia says. “Friendship does not necessarily need to be justified.”
  28. “I wish I could convince myself of that.”
  29. >“Then isn’t friendship’s value the justification?”
  30. >You think for a moment.
  31. “I would suppose so, but there are still some other problems there. If the value comes from subjective features of our friends, then that’s an explanation, not a justification. And if it comes from the objective features, then that means we could just exchange our friends.”
  32. >Pausing, you collect your thoughts a second time.
  33. “I suppose I’m focusing on individual value, and there could be others with a clearer path to justification. But, on the other hand, the social or moral value seems not to be my particular issue.”
  34. >For a third time, the princess merely nods.
  35. >“I’m not certain what to tell you,” she says. “Do you believe that your friendship with Twilight is genuine?”
  36. “Yes,” you answer, “but perhaps what I’m concerned about is the source of that friendship.”
  37. >“Why should that matter?”
  38. “I don’t know. I think because I want our relationship to be based on more than just utility.”
  39. >“Don’t you think it’s developed beyond that?”
  40. “Yes, but still. That remains its core.”
  41. >Celestia thinks for a moment.
  42. >“I think the fact that you are worried about this at all at least shows your growth as a person,” she says. “Friends can start as mere professional relationships but can quickly develop into something more. Your friendship with Twilight grows every day, and, from what she has told me, you are working on creating a new friendship.”
  43. “That is true,” you say. “But even that is complicated by usefulness towards my research....”
  44. >“I think you’re worrying about nothing,” Celestia says, almost chuckling.
  45. >You frown.
  46. “I used to know who I was and what I wanted. Now everything is less certain.”
  47. >“No one but you can decide what you want in life. It’s your choice.”
  48. >Distantly, a clock gongs the eighth hour of the morning.
  49. “Time for our official meeting,” you say.
  50. >“Don’t worry about it,” Celestia says with a wink. “I already told Twilight I preferred to just meet you alone. I believed our conversation would be more interesting.”
  51. >You blink.
  52. >“I will take my leave,” the princess says, walking past you towards the other end of the hall.
  53. >She sighs and turns her head over her shoulder to look at you.
  54. >“I unfortunately have many other duties today, though I wish I could continue our conversation.”
  55. “Another time then?”
  56. >“Yes. Absolutely. When you would like to meet with me, just be here around the same time.”
  57. >You nod, and Celestia leaves with the clamp of the large steel doors guarding the hall.
  58. >Once more, you are left with only mute photons falling through panes of multicolored glass.
  59. >You look upon the scene of the Elements of Harmony defeating Discord for a short time, before ambling through the silent halls of the palace.
  60. >You return to your quarters around half past eight.
  61. >The room between Twilight and your sleeping quarters was a small common area with a large window overlooking the great plains below the capital and a nook for preparing and eating meals.
  62. >She is already there, eating a breakfast of runny yolk eggs and wilted spinach.
  63. “Twilight, I need a portable chess set,” you say as you enters.
  64. >You head over to the counter and place a slice of bread in the toaster.
  65. >“What? Why?” Twilight asks. “Wait, how did your meeting with Celestia go?”
  66. “It went well,” you say, setting a pot of water to boil. “But, ultimately... nevermind.”
  67. >“You need to tell me,” she says. “Is something wrong?”
  68. “No, that’s not it. Just - did you manage to find any sort of solution to the problem I posed last night?”
  69. >“Yes,” Twilight answers, “I think that’s real friendship.”
  70. “I think that’s the conclusion I’ve come to as well, but I think it was just scratching the surface of a deeper problem,” you say.
  71. >“What do you mean?”
  72. “I think I’ve convinced myself friendship is valuable, but now I want to justify it.”
  73. >“Friendship? Isn’t it -”
  74. “Self-justifying. Yes. I just had this entire conversation with the princess. Let’s just think about it privately. Maybe we can figure something out later. Ultimately, it might not even matter.”
  75. >The toaster chimes.
  76. >You carefully remove the crusty browned toast onto a plate and apply a smearing of jam from a nearby jar.
  77. “I’m just trying to figure out if the friendships I’m developing are genuine,” you say.
  78. >“Does the chess set have to do with that?” Twilight asks.
  79. >“Yes, to a degree. I have a plan....”
  80.  
  81. >“Why do you keep following me here?” Moondancer says.
  82. >She leers up at you in the only way a being of much shorter stature, such as a particularly tall and nasty Yorkshire terrier, can try to appear threatening.
  83. “It’s a public library. We have aligned interests. It is only guaranteed that we will see each other here frequently.”
  84. >“Yeah, but I see you every day I’m here.”
  85. “I come here every day.”
  86. >Moondancer mutters something indistinguishable to herself.
  87. >“Fine. Just don’t bother me.”
  88. “That wasn’t my intention, though I suspect my mere presence here bothers you.”
  89. >Moondancer holds her tongue for a moment, before saying through gritted teeth, “Yes. It does.”
  90. “Well, that is a shame. I am going to ignore those feelings. They are a hindrance to my research,” you say with a smile.
  91. >“I hate you,” Moondancer says.
  92. >You ignore the comment and continue searching for the book of interest.
  93. >Finally finding it nestled between “Magical Metaphysics” by Arcanius Terra and “Arcane Arts” by Helios Tesseract, your hand jets towards “The Physics of the Arcane” by Omega Tersarius simultaneously as Moondancer.
  94. >“I saw it first,” she says.
  95. >You frown.
  96. “This work is necessary to my research,” you reply, “But I am happy to share it.”
  97. >“We can’t both check it out,” Moondancer says.
  98. “An impasse then. Very well. I propose a solution to all of our conflicts. You’ll play me for it.”
  99. >“In what?”
  100. “Chess. You win, and you can have the book for as long as you like, I will never come to this library on days you are here. We’ll figure out how to mutually arrange schedules, or something else that will be effective.”
  101. >“Deal,” Moondancer immediately says.
  102. “Don’t be so quick. Each time we lose a piece, loser needs to also answer the other’s question,” you say. “Any question.”
  103. “Okay,” Moondancer says apprehensively. “That’s fine. I guess I have some questions for you.”
  104. >You smirk, and reach into your bag, pulling out a small wooden checkered box.
  105. >“Wait, you just carry that with you?”
  106. “Of course. I rather enjoy the game, and you never know when you will find someone willing to play.”
  107. >“What are you scheming?” Moondancer says, her eyes narrowing. “What’s your game?”
  108. “To win the book and the right to come to the library when I please,” you say, setting out the pieces. “Maybe learn some extra information about your experimental apparatus along the way. White or black?”
  109. >She selects the black queen and moves it to her side of the board.
  110. >The game begins simply: you move the pawn in front of your king two spaces forward, and Moondancer follows with her king’s pawn moving a space towards the white side.
  111. >You move the queen’s pawn ahead by two, which Moondancer copies directly.
  112. >Your left knight sallies forth and to the right; her pawn facing it sallies forth.
  113. >Repeating your last turn’s move with your right-side knight, she follows with her right knight moving left.
  114. >Swiftly, you capture her pawn on D5.
  115. >Moondancer frowns.
  116. >“Alright. Ask away,” she says.
  117. “Very well. How did you and Twilight come to be friends?”
  118. >“We were classmates with similar interests.”
  119. >Before you can inquire further, she avenges her lost pawn on the D5 battlefield.
  120. >Smirking at you, she asks, “Why don’t you think Twilight will... lose interest in you?”
  121. “I am a unique curiosity and puzzle to her, but I also believe she genuinely enjoys my company.”
  122. >“She doesn’t,” Moondancer says. “When she finds something better than you, she’ll toss you aside.”
  123. “Hm. Interesting.”
  124. >You slide your right bishop on the left diagonal one space; Moondancer advances her left knight forward and to her right.
  125. >With the spaces clear, you castle on the right; Moondancer moves her left bishop up in front of her king.
  126. >The kingside white bishop advances far to the right, to G5; black responds by castling on the king’s side.
  127. >Seizing an opening, you take the pawn on C5 with yours.
  128. >Moondancer sighs.
  129. “I require more information in response to the last question,” you say.
  130. >“What? You can’t ask the same question -”
  131. “I said any question. There are no limits on how many times I can ask you, so you may as well answer in full the first time so that we can avoid being repetitive everytime you lose a piece.”
  132. >“Fine! I don’t know! We were just always together. Everyone else would be goofing off, and we would be working together on projects, and then we’d have fun together afterwards when everyone else had to get down to work.”
  133. >You nod.
  134. “Fortuitous,” you say. “Never... nevermind.”
  135. >“You never had anyone like that?” Moondancer asks.
  136. >Her queenside bishop slides in front of its partner.
  137. >“I don’t believe you.”
  138. “If you take another piece, you can find out,” you say, moving your kingside knight to D4.
  139. >“Sure,” Moondancer says, and takes your pawn on C5 with her bishop.
  140. >She lifts her bushy eyebrows and stares at you with a cheeky grin.
  141. “Yes. I unfortunately didn’t have any such partners. I didn’t need them.”
  142. >The white-armored knight drives its lance through the black-robed bishop on E6.
  143. “Why do you think that your friendship deteriorated?”
  144. >Moondancer stiffens a bit.
  145. >“It started when she really started researching Nightmare Moon. She was worried, I guess rightfully so, that the spell was about to break. I started seeing her less and less. She was always busy with something. I just sort of became the same way. Until... no, you’ll need to ask another question for that.”
  146. “Very well.”
  147. >A humble black pawn eliminates the rampaging white knight.
  148. >“What makes you think Twilight won’t just find a more interesting project, and leave you behind?”
  149. “Didn’t you already ask that?”
  150. >“Your answer left me unsatisfied.”
  151. Thinking for a moment, you respond with, “I cannot predict the future. I feel more that Twilight will more likely give up on me rather than lose interest, since that has happened already -”
  152. >“Hang on, can I change questions?” Moondancer suddenly asks.
  153. “No. That would be the equivalent of asking two questions. You’ll need to take a piece to follow up.”
  154. >Moondancer groans.
  155. >The next moves proceed quickly.
  156. >White bishop to G4; black queen to D6.
  157. >The white bishop retreats to H3; the black rook on the A file advances to E8.
  158. >Your queen moves to D2, but then Moondancer’s bishop moves to B4, pinning your knight to your queen.
  159. >You rest your head on your fist, examining the slight predicament.
  160. >Moondancer leans back on her haunches.
  161. “Very well,” you say, advancing your bishop to take the knight on F6.
  162. “What happened that finally made you so hostile towards Twilight?”
  163. >“I had planned this get-together for my birthday. I sent letters to everyone making sure that we all could do it. Twilight said she would set aside time for it. The day finally came, I set everything up, and she didn’t come.”
  164. “You knew was sent away on that day, right? She couldn’t control whether or not she could be there.”
  165. >“I didn’t know that at the time. But, even so, she couldn’t put off moving for one day? Or even say... wait a minute, that was another question.”
  166. “You chose to answer it. You can ask two for the next piece.”
  167. >“Fine then,” Moondancer says, and sends her rook to F6 avenge the downed knight, removing your bishop from the field.
  168. >“What made Twilight give up on you?” she asks.
  169. “I tested her patience too much. I was asking too many questions of her friends, and she did not believe I was making a true effort towards friendship. So she threw me out of her house.”
  170. >“Why did she take you back?”
  171. “I was able to demonstrate to her that understanding friendship was something I wanted. This exercise is a continuing part of that.”
  172. >White rook on the A file to D1; black queen to C5.
  173. >White queen to E2; black bishop takes your knight on C3.
  174. >“You told me you just wanted to find a method to prove your theories about magic.”
  175. “I lied. Else I would not be here now.”
  176. >“You! You -”
  177. >Moondancer’s hoof crosses dangerously close to the playing field.
  178. “Careful. Don’t mess up the board.”
  179. >“For someone who wants to be my friend, you sure are a sneaky jerk. You steal my things, you lie to me, you... urgh!”
  180. “I apologize for being deceptive. Has any harm come of this?”
  181. >“Yeah, you’ve been a massive pain in my butt. And that counts as a question!”
  182. “I - yes.”
  183. >Your pawn takes the bishop, but you remain silent.
  184. >Moondancer responds by taking the pawn with her queen.
  185. >“Why are you always deceptive with me? What is the real goal of this game?”
  186. “That’s two questions, but I’m going to answer both without penalty. I’m deceptive because I tried being direct. If you will recall how I introduced myself to you, that approach led you to try to call the police. The real goal of this game is simply to spend some time with you, and potentially find a solution to all of our problems.”
  187. >“That - what?”
  188. >You take the pawn on E5 with your rook.
  189. “Are you having fun?”
  190. >“That’s not a question!”
  191. “It absolutely is.”
  192. >“I... yes. I haven’t had anyone to play chess with in a while.”
  193. “Good,” you say with a nod.
  194. >Moondancer moves her knight to D4.
  195. >White queen to H5; black rook in the E file to F8.
  196. >White rook to E5; black rook to H6.
  197. >You smile at Moondancer, and move your queen to G5.
  198. >Her brow furrows, and she slides her rook to take your bishop on H3.
  199. “Why are you trying to be friends with me? Why... why do you think I deserve that?”
  200. >You return her visage.
  201. >“Look, all I can get out of this is that Twilight asked you to be friends with me, and you’re doing this because of that. Why do you even care? Why did she pick me?”
  202. >You examine the board.
  203. “That’s a lot of questions.”
  204. >“Whatever. Are you going to answer me or not?”
  205. “I will.”
  206. >You think for a moment.
  207. “I don’t know if I can answer those questions in order, but I will try to answer all of them. Twilight chose you because I told her I wanted to be challenged. While I could learn to enjoy her friends’ interests, the Elements are very forgiving and ultimately would let many of my flaws slide. You will not, as you have already noted.”
  208. >You pick up your rook and roll it between your fingers.
  209. “I’m deceptive. I manipulate people. Though I think I’ve been doing it for the right reasons, to develop a friendship, I know it’s harmful. I don’t blame you for not trusting me or thinking I’m a pest. I’m sorry.”
  210. >You take a last look at the board.
  211. >The game has been decided.
  212. “Friendship is a mutual transaction of infungible parts,” you say. “There’s a lot of things those parts can be: shared interests, shared experiences. As we interact with others we grow and gain the ability to reflect on our own problems and foibles. In this way, friendship is valuable.”
  213. >There are perhaps a few more moves you could make, but all of them end up in the same outcome.
  214. “Maybe I’ve been incorrectly seeking more than that. I want friendship to be valuable in and of itself, I suppose. But I don’t know if I can figure out why. No one has given me a good answer, and I have been unable to come up with one on my own. If friendship is based on subjective traits of our friends, then it’s not justifiable. If it’s based on objective features, then they’re fungible....”
  215. >You shake your head.
  216. “It would take too long to explain everything I’ve thought about. All I know is that you seem like an interesting person, and, with justification or without, whether it’s valuable or not, I just want to be your friend.”
  217. >You turn away for a moment.
  218. “I’m sorry about what happened between you and Twilight. I’d like to try and fix it. Does that answer your question?”
  219. >Moondancer stares at you behind her glasses.
  220. “I guess,” she says. “I don’t know.”
  221. >You replace your rook on the board at C5.
  222. >Moondancer moves her queen to G3.
  223. >You nod.
  224. “That’s it. I resign.”
  225. >“What? But what about - I mean, maybe you can’t win, but you could still take more pieces and -”
  226. “If you want to keep talking, we don’t need to play a game.”
  227. >“I don’t! I want to - I want to beat you fair and square.”
  228. “You already have. Now I don’t need to bother you anymore. Isn’t that what you wanted?”
  229. >“No! I just - urrgh - I hate you! Why did she pick me? I don’t want to - Everything was - I didn’t know that -”
  230. >Moondancer takes a deep breath.
  231. “I’m sorry,” she says. “You can have the book. I don’t care about the stupid game.”
  232. >You furrow your brow.
  233. “I don’t need the book. Twilight has a copy already.”
  234. >Moondancer’s eyes widen.
  235. >“W - what? So then what was the point?”
  236. “I told you: I wanted to play a game of chess with you.”
  237. >The pair of crimson caterpillars on her forehead point into an acute angle.
  238. “Would you like to play another game sometime?”
  239. >She sighs.
  240. >“I don’t know. If I say no, you’ll just try something else.”
  241. “No. I won’t. You can cast a truth spell on me if you want to be sure. Or I’ll have Twilight do it.”
  242. >“You don’t - fine. If you’re willing to go to that, then I’ll trust you this time. So, yeah. We can play again some time.”
  243. >You smile, but Moondancer turns away.
  244. >“I didn’t think anyone would ever want to be friends with me. I’m gross and rude and boring. As soon as Twilight left, all my other friends never wanted to see me again. I guess I neglected them, kind of like she neglected me. I just shut myself away. I didn’t deserve to have friends.”
  245. “That isn’t true. You’re a brilliant scientist. You’re an excellent chess opponent.”
  246. >You hand her the book.
  247. >“Neither of those things are true,” she says, taking “Physics of the Arcane” and sticking it in her bookbag.
  248. “If so, then I don’t care. I’m an outcast from a different universe. You’re an outcast in this one. Outcasts need to stick together.”
  249. >Moondancer huffs, and then says, “No. If outcasts stick together then they aren’t outcasts anymore.”
  250. >She turns back to you.
  251. >“Thank you for the game. I really did enjoy playing against you, but as much as I’d be happy to play again another time, I’d prefer if you just left me alone. Just do what I told you last time. Just tell Twilight we’re friends now.”
  252. “I’m not going to do that.”
  253. >Moondancer walks off without saying goodbye.
  254.  
  255. >Anonymous had been insistent that you not come with him when he made his daily trip to the library.
  256. >“All a part of the plan,” he had said.
  257. “That’s what concerns me,” you tell your mentor.
  258. >You had invited Princess Celestia for tea and cookies while Anonymous was out.
  259. >You now were pacing in around the table, making little enjoyment of either.
  260. “I’m worried that he’s approaching friendship as just another form of manipulation. Maybe he knows that too, and that’s why he’s so confused right now.”
  261. >Celestia nods.
  262. “It’s how he’s always approached other people and so he sees no other way,” you continue. “I understand that everyone has a different approach to friendship, but this just strikes me as wrong. He’ll end up hurting someone’s feelings, at least.”
  263. >“I understand your frustration,” Celestia says.
  264. “I just wish I could know what he was thinking all the time,” you say. “I know I could just cast more truth spells on him, maybe even surreptitiously, but that’s a breach of his trust.”
  265. >You pass the table for the sixteenth time, your tea shaking in your telekinetic grip.
  266. “Maybe I gave him too tough of a first test. He’s trying hard, but maybe he sees no other way to solve the friendship problem.”
  267. >You suddenly find yourself seated in your chair, with Celestia simply smiling at you across the table.
  268. >She hands you a gingersnap with the golden glow of her magic.
  269. >“Anonymous is legitimately trying to understand friendship,” she says. “Whatever methods he uses, that’s his goal. We both know that.”
  270. “No, his goal is to return to his home universe, and he needs to learn friendship to do that,” you say.
  271. >“You’re over-worrying yourself,” Celestia says.
  272. “I’m not! Maybe he hasn’t really changed, and this is just another way of manipulating me.”
  273. >“I don’t believe Anonymous would do that. Not anymore. He values your trust.”
  274. >Celestia sighs.
  275. >“You’ve grown so much, my student. I no longer have all the answers for you. All these worries of yours... you will simply have to choose what to do. You can choose to trust Anonymous, or not. I know that’s not much of an answer.”
  276. “Yes, but there has to be a right choice,” you say. “What do you think the right choice is?”
  277. >“I... I think you should trust him. When I spoke to Anonymous, just a few days ago, he seemed genuinely concerned with solving his personal issues. He seemed genuinely interested in passing your test. I wouldn’t be worried.”
  278. >You sigh.
  279. >Spike comes by and collects the plates and cups.
  280. “You’re right,” you say. “I just started thinking about all this, and how he explained his plan for the past few days, and was... nervous. We’ll see what happens. Thanks.”
  281. >Celestia nods and gets up from the table.
  282. >“It’s always a pleasure, Twilight. Every day your knowledge of friendship grows, and I think you’ll have all the answers in time.”
  283. >She chuckles and heads for the door.
  284. >“Now, unfortunately, I have to attend to some duties of state for the rest of this wretched day. If only I could spend more time eating cookies and drinking tea with my favorite subjects....”
  285. >Celestia winks and exits.
  286. >A few minutes passed, heralded only by the ticking clock on the wall.
  287. “What do you think, Spike?” you ask the tiny dragon.
  288. >“Huh, me?” he says.
  289. “Yeah, you,” you say with a smile. “Do you think I should keep trusting Anonymous with his crazy plans?”
  290. >“I don’t think they’re going to work,” Spike says. “I think he’s just going to mess it up.”
  291. “No way. How?”
  292. >“Cuz he thinks people work like machines, or something. I dunno. It just feels like he wants to pull their levers and make them work. If they’re not useful to him, he ignores them. Heck, he barely ever notices me. He’s always just talking to you.”
  293. >You blink, then furrow your brow.
  294. “That’s true. You’re right. I guess I just... never noticed it.”
  295. >“Figures,” Spike says, grabbing a cookie from the tray and walking towards his quarters. “Fortunately, I don’t really mind. Anonymous is your problem. My only problem is taking some time to have a nap.”
  296. >The door slams behind him, and after a few minutes you can faintly hear muffled snoring.
  297. >Softly, another door opens, and a duo of feet - rather than a quartet, and minus the scratching of claws on stone - pad into the common area.
  298. “You’re back already?” you say as Anonymous returns, “That was quick. Any luck today?”
  299. >“Things went better than I expected,” he says, setting the chess set on the table and taking a seat across from the purple unicorn.
  300. “So you think you’ve made a breakthrough?”
  301. >He nods, then notices the kettle and mugs in the sink.
  302. >“Did you already have tea?” he asks.
  303. “Yeah, Celestia came by and we had a chat.”
  304. >“You won’t mind if I just make a cup for myself then, will you?”
  305. “Not at all,” you say.
  306. >He rinses the kettle and then sets it to boil.
  307. >“What did the two of you discuss?” Anonymous asks.
  308. “A bunch of different things,” you say. “Nothing too important.”
  309. >He nods and grins.
  310. >“So you talked a lot about me?”
  311. “Yes. That was part of our discussion.”
  312. >He turns back to the now boiling water, which he pours into a mug and sets a satchel of tea inside.
  313. “Did your plan for Moondancer finally pan out?” you ask.
  314. >Anonymous nods.
  315. >“There’s only one more thing to do, I think. I will need your help for this. I need to arrange a meeting between the three of us.”
  316. “Should be easy enough.”
  317. “I’m impressed with how well you’re doing,” you say. “When you put effort into it, it’s easy for you to make friends.”
  318. >“That’s what concerns me,” Anonymous says. “How is what I’m doing not just some form of manipulation for my own purposes?”
  319. “You - how did you -”
  320. >“So that’s what you talked about.”
  321. “Yes,” you say. “I was worried about how you were going about making friends with Moondancer. What do you think?”
  322. >“I don’t know,” he says. “That’s why I’m asking.”
  323. >You think for a moment.
  324. “That’s for you to decide. I think that’s the only answer I can give to all these questions you’ve been asking me. You need to decide for yourself whether or not you’re doing all this because you want to or because you’re just trying to make me happy.”
  325. >“I don’t know what to decide.”
  326. “And that’s fine too. I’m here to help you make the right choice. Or, well, what I think is the right choice. I think you’ll be able to do that soon.”
  327. >He stares at the swirling tea leaves in his cup for a moment.
  328. >You look at the box on the table.
  329. “Do you want to play a game of chess? I think we both need to get our mind off of friendship problems for a bit.”
  330. >“Sure,” Anonymous says, setting up the board. “I already lost once today, so I need to restore my winning streak.”
  331. >The game ends in a stalemate.
  332.  
  333. >You again find yourself in the hall of stained glass, though now the windows feel warped and distorted and the light shines from an indistinct source.
  334. >“So. How’s it going?” a familiar voice says.
  335. >The image of the Lord of Chaos before you grinds to life with the low shriek of sharp glass on metal.
  336. >You ignore him.
  337. >“I think you’ve perfected the art of giving someone the cold shoulder,” Discord says.
  338. “What do you want?” you ask, with no intonation in your voice.
  339. >“That doesn’t matter,” Discord says, shattering the window and reappearing in his three-dimensional form. “I’m just here to sort some things out. You seem to be struggling with some parts of our arrangement, and I want to make sure you’re keeping up your end of the bargain.”
  340. “We haven’t made an agreement.”
  341. >“Of course,” Discord says, pulling out a torn piece of notebook paper covered in scribbles from nowhere and then returning it to whence it came.
  342. >He sighs.
  343. >“Ugh. I’ve just never had a more disappointing servant. Your indecision is so... unsatisfying. Before you seemed like such a sharp, driven tool for me to use, and now you’ve just become a blunt club, whacking at empty distractions.”
  344. >You frown.
  345. >“See? I’m getting at something, aren’t I?” Discord says, grinning and clapping his hands. “You used to know what you wanted and now you don’t! Wouldn’t it just be easier to go back to -”
  346. “Shut up.”
  347. >His smile melts away, literally pooling on the floor beneath your feet.
  348. >“Looks like I touched a nerve,” his disembodied mouth says, while a talon and lion’s paw massage your shoulders. “You seem tense, maybe you should lie down.”
  349. >A chaise lounge slides itself under you.
  350. >The hall of stained glass fades away and is replaced with a tiny office, lit only by a glowing yellow standing lamp.
  351. >Discord sits cater-cornered from you in a high-backed winged leather chair, a clipboard and ballpoint pen in claw.
  352. >“So. Tell me how you’re dealing with all these complicated emotions balling up inside you, so that I can laugh at you and tell you how much of an absolute fool you’re being.”
  353. >You get up from the couch.
  354. “We have nothing to discuss.”
  355. >Discord frowns.
  356. >“You’re such a bore.”
  357. “I don’t care what you think. I may be more conflicted on what my desires are, but I have no reason to simply align them with yours. Now, get out of my head.”
  358. >“You see, there’s the problem,” Discord says. “I can’t get out of your head unless you help me. Help me help you. Help me help you help me. Help -”
  359. >You give the Lord of Chaos a bored look.
  360. >He clears his throat.
  361. >“You see, I actually, er, can’t get out of here.”
  362. >You raise an eyebrow.
  363. >“When you were traveling through the Bulk, the Erebusian Void, the Abyss, the -”
  364. “You’re from there. You tried to enter my mind when you felt my presence in your realm, and then I entered this universe, and now you’re trapped here.”
  365. >Discord nods his head so fast it pops off and bounces around on the floor for a few seconds before reattaching.
  366. >“There you go! I knew it wouldn’t take you much to figure it out, my little genius, you.”
  367. >He ruffles your hair with his lion’s paw.
  368. >“I’d just never felt a presence quite like yours before. Sometimes I feel the touch of other sentients passing through, but generally their minds are better guarded against my intrusion. Yours was like an inviting happy home for me to nestle into.”
  369. >Discord summons a chalkboard and begins sketching a cartoon version of his story, the black-and-white caricatures instantly coming to life once drawn.
  370. >He draws your head as a house and gives the drawing of himself a ski mask and burlap sack.
  371. “I thought I might have enough time to drive you a bit insane, then I’d slip out like a sneaky burglar, but, as soon as I entered, I was trapped.”
  372. >Metal bars slam down on the windows of the house.
  373. “What a tragedy. However, as much as I find you a vexing annoyance and dislike that you have access to my inner thoughts, I still see no particular reason to see to your swift release.”
  374. >Discord takes a step back from you, and his visage switches to a look of unbridled rage.
  375. >“You dare try and act against my will? I am the Lord of Chaos, the King of Anarchy, the -”
  376. >You seal his mouth with a binder clip.
  377. >The two of you exchange glances for a minute.
  378. “Good. That theory is proven.”
  379. >Discord pushes against the clip with all four of his limbs, stretching his lips to paper-thin sheets until the clip pops off.
  380. “This is my mind,” you say. “Remember that.”
  381. >Discord’s snarl shifts to a grin, and a fireball ignites in his talon.
  382. >“Maybe I’ll just turn you into a gibbering moron then! See how you like that!”
  383. “You would risk destroying yourself. You’re being stored, somehow, within the recesses of my grey matter. To destroy either of us would require destroying the other.”
  384. >He dunks his hand in a bucket of water.
  385. >“You’re despicable,” the Lord of Chaos says.
  386. “Perhaps. You’re the only one who knows my darkest secrets. That’s also why I can’t let you out.”
  387. >You wink at him, and his jaw drops.
  388. >Then, the dream fades away.
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