The Wizzard and the Pony
"I don't believe it," Conina said with a grimace. "I simply do not believe it."
Rincewind had vanished, not only without warning, but without so much as a hint as to his destination.
"Then don't," Star Swirl said.
"We did put a lot of pressure on him," Nijel offered.
"Still," Conina said. "That's twice now he's done this to us."
"Done what?" Celestia asked, blinking curiously at the barbarian hairdresser.
"A few years ago, there was this Sourceror or something," Nijel said. "And all the wizards had taken sides and there was a huge bloody wizard war."
"We had this magic carpet, you see," Conina said. "Got it from Creosote's treasure chambers. And Rincewind took it and just left us all behind."
"Oook," said the Librarian, firmly.
"He what?" Nijel blinked stupidly at the orang-outan.
"So," Celestia said, "if what you're telling me is accurate--"
"Oook," the Librarian said.
"Oh, no offense meant," she said quickly, before continuing. "Then Rincewind left you behind to face this Sourceror on his own. And saved the Disc."
"So I gather," Conina said. "It's strange, I never really thought about where he got off to. I knew he headed to Ankh-Morpork, and I sort of knew he faced the Sourceror at some point, but... I don't know why I never even thought about it."
"Oook," the Librarian said gently.
"And we listened?" Nijel said, incredulous.
"Well, he was a Sourceror," Conina said. "I don't suppose we had much choice in the matter."
"Still," Nijel said. "Awfully rude thing to do to a person."
"It is that," Conina acknowledged.
"I hadn't even considered that it was possible," Celestia said. She looked at the Librarian. "Is it? Normally, I mean?"
The Librarian shrugged.
"If we take all of that into consideration," Star Swirl said, "then it's quite clear what Rincewind has done."
"Buggered off," Conina said.
"To face off against who-knows-what," Nijel put in, "alone."
"Again," Conina said bitterly.
"Well," said Celestia, "what do we do about it?"
"I think it's perfectly clear what we should do about it," Star Swirl said, "and it bothers me that we're wasting any time at all discussing it."
Nijel, Conina, Celestia, and the Librarian all nodded. The Luggage looked between them in anticipation. Well, it seemed to be saying, what are we waiting for?
Star Swirl trotted over to Nijel. "Well," he said, "I'm no young colt anymore, but we'll never get there in time at the rate you humans run. Climb on."
Celestia knelt next to Conina. "You as well," she said. "We haven't time to argue."
Conina and Nijel mounted the two equines awkwardly. It wasn't that they'd never ridden before, but the thought of treating someone they'd come to view as a friend as little more than a mount, that made them hesitant. Also, they had rather horrifying memories of riding on the backs of horses that stubbornly refused to run on the ground. Conina eyed Celestia's large wings warily as she mounted.
The Luggage trotted its many-legged way over to the Librarian, nudging him gently.
"Ook," the Librarian said, and climbed aboard, clinging to the sapient pearwood lid with the strength only an orang-outan can muster.
* * * * *
There are known things, unknown things, and things that are speculated about the Apocralypse. What is known: a great war will be fought, four dread riders will ride across the disc, and the Ice Giants will finally triumph over the gods, covering the Disc in ice.
What is unknown: Virtually everything else.
What is speculated upon: Every aspect of everything known or unknown. The Apocralypse is, after all, an apocryphal Apocalypse. It has been referred to as "the End of the World, sort of."
The Four Horsemen of the Apocralypse are widely believed to be War, Famine, Pestilence, and Death. War, being the belligerent sort, is currently unavailable due to a sudden and quite expected case of frozen-solid. Famine and Pestilence, not the most motivated sorts, are currently drinking their cares away in a pub, as they have done in the past. They are, thankfully, not singing this time. Neither do they have their usual companions for a rubber of Dam or Weyr or whatever-it's-called.
Death is quite occupied at the moment with his new mount and apprentice, and is therefore unavailable for Disc-shaking events not directly concerning that particular relationship.
Scholars of the Apocralypse would, therefore, call this particular go at it a wash. What none had considered, however, was the possibility of the One Horsewoman, Two Ponymen, And A Luggageorang-outan of the Apocralypse.
Quite silly of them, really, as it was exactly the sort of thing that would happen on the Disc. Especially lately.
* * * * *
Discord chuckled. He quite liked the sound and feel of that, so he essayed a bit of a chortle. Oooh, he thought. Even better. Then he tried a laugh, deep and long. No, he thought. Too jolly. He sounded rather like the Hogfather that way. This was proving a bit more finicky than he'd thought. He looked over at his captive, who stared back at him blankly.
"Oh, don't give me that look, Luna," he said. "Just wait until you see what I have planned for this rotten town. It'll be such fun!"
Luna continued to stare. Discord frowned.
"Pah," he said dismissively. "You're nearly as boring as your sister." With that, he snapped his taloned fingers and vanished in a flash of octarine light.
Luna continued to stare at the spot he had been. Externally, she was placid, completely subverted to Discord's will. Internally, however, a conflict raged that the Windigoes would have considered a bounty even when compared to the Shades.
* * * * *
"Well," Conina said jovially as Celestia carried her towards the gleaming spires of Ankh-Morpork, "we're making good time, at least!"
Nijel grimaced. "Easy for you to say," he muttered. "You're not banging your feet on every rock."
"It's not my fault you're so gangly," Star Swirl snapped at him. "Keep your knees up like I keep telling you and it won't happen!"
"Ook!" warned the Librarian.
Nijel frowned, looking over at the orang-outan, who was clinging to the lid of the Luggage with an iron grip. "What was that?"
Nijel exhaled experimentally. Sure enough, his breath fogged the air, tiny crystals forming in the cloud. "Bloody hell," he muttered. He glanced up at the clouds above. He couldn't see the unnatural creatures galloping through them, but thanks to the Librarian, he knew they were there. Guilt (and tiny shards of ice) stabbed at him. "I'm sorry," he said to Star Swirl.
"Oh, think nothing of it, my lad," the blue unicorn replied. "I'm just as much to blame as you are, after all."
Impulsively, Nijel leaned forward and threw his arms around Star Swirl's neck - partly to keep from falling off, but mostly to reaffirm their friendship. Star Swirl, not slowing his gallop in the slightest, leaned his own head back and nuzzled Nijel in return. "I'm worried about him, too," he said.
The Librarian smiled at the sight. Of the three physically and thaumaturgically capable of seeing it, only he was in a position to note the brief heart-shaped flare of energy that leapt up from the man and pony, piercing the cloud above them and scattering it. The windigoes turned and galloped towards Ankh-Morpork.
No matter, the Librarian thought, we'll be there shortly anyway. We can deal with them then.
Or, to be more accurate, what he thought was "Ook."
* * * * *
There are few things as horrific as teleportation by means either thaumaturgic or technological. The sensation of having one's body torn to infinitesimal pieces and flung across vast distances is second only to those few seconds after one is reassembled, where one is mortally certain that bits have been left out. (Due to the pervasive nature of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, the odds are they have, but they're so infinitesimal one would never even notice.)
A Harmonic teleport, by contrast, is only mildly horrifying. In fact, it starts off as one of the more pleasant ways to travel before quickly becoming overwhelming. A person (or, more frequently, a pony) who has teleported (or "winked," to use the common parlance) using Harmonic magic at first feels as though the entire Universe is hugging them.
This hug grows tighter and tighter by the picosecond, squeezing them down until they can fit, in their entirety, through the miniscule imperfections in the quantum substrate of so-called "reality". Then, once through to their destination, the pressure relents and their form reasserts itself, along with a renewed sense of independence.
It is rather like visiting a very clingy mother after having neglected to stay in touch for several millennia.
Consequently, Rincewind can be forgiven if he spent the first few moments after appearing in the Tower of Art gasping for breath and wondering why he had never bothered to keep the Universe updated about events in his life.
After that, and the time spent wondering how one would go about updating the Universe about anything, he looked around to see where he was.
He recognized the Tower, of course.
It looked much as it had the last time he had been up here. That is to say, it was rickety, entirely too high up, and made him know deep in his core that he wanted to be anywhere but here.
He knew, however, though he didn't know where he had obtained the information, that if he really wanted to be anywhere but here, he would be. One cannot teleport to a place one doesn't wish to be, not using Harmonic magic.
So, he thought. The Tower again. Why am I here? And why am I not surprised?
When he didn't answer, he shrugged. May as well explore, then, he concluded. He took a moment to get his bearings. Someone, he realized, had replaced many of the missing stairs from the interior. That left him with one obvious way to go: up to the roof of the tower.
As he had very vivid memories of what had happened the last time he had climbed to the roof of the Tower of Art, he looked around for a way down, instead.
What he found was a statue.
It wasn't a pleasant statue.
It wasn't ugly, or frightening of visage. No, what was unpleasant about it was that it was all too familiar. The statue was of one of the prior members of the University faculty. With a great deal of horror, Rincewind realized that this was not strictly accurate. It was, in fact, not of the former Head of the School of Divination. It was him. He was certain the petrified faculty had been removed from the Tower after his confrontation with Trymon, and yet, here was old Murphy, staring ahead with petrified horror at the opposite wall.
Rincewind turned to see what Murphy was looking at, and felt the bottom drop out of his world.
What he saw was a stained-glass window that had never before graced this tower. First of all, all of the windows in the Tower of Art had been smashed centuries ago, and left smashed partly to preserve the Tower as a historical site, but mostly because replacing them would be both expensive and difficult, two words that most Wizards equate with "impossible".
Secondly, it depicted a world unfamiliar to any on the Disc save, perhaps, three. No, Rincewind thought. Four. He had never been to this world before. He had never seen it. But he knew it.
It was round, much like the world he had visited on a number of occasions in the past. But the continents were all the wrong shapes. Similar, but not the same. Around the... Rincewind struggled for the right word to describe the spherical world. Globule?
Close enough, he concluded.
Around the globule, silhouettes formed a ring. They were not, Rincewind concluded, to scale. They were, however, identifiable. They were ponies. Ponies in all colours of the rainbow, even one or two octarine ones. They stood shoulder to shoulder, some with horns adorning their heads, some with wings, and some slightly broader than the others.
After some time, Rincewind began to see a pattern to them. If one began at any pony with neither horn nor wings and proceeded widdershins, the next pony would bear wings, and the one after that a horn, then a normal pony again. "Earth," Rincewind muttered, his eyes tracing the forms, "Pegasus, Unicorn." The three pony Kingdoms Star Swirl had talked about. Except that instead of being grouped by type, they were distributed evenly. Harmoniously.
Except at the top of the globule. At the top of the globule, the forms were distorted. Some force, probably magical, given the nature of the place the window appeared, had caused the window to melt, the various shapes fusing into each other horrifyingly. The ponies at the top of the globule appeared to be screaming in pain and terror at what had been done to the window. Rincewind was convinced he could hear them.
He tore his eyes away from the distorted part of the scene. In the upper right, he saw a radiant gold sun. He didn't know why - it wasn't shaped like her in the slightest, and was a completely different colour - but something about the image made him think of Celestia.
Curious, he looked across to the upper left of the window and saw a pearlescent, white crescent shape. The moon, he concluded. Again, he had no basis for this thought, but the crescent made him think of Luna. Funny, he thought, the colour was more like Celestia's fur, but Luna was all he could think of.
And between the two, he saw something else. Something horrible.
It looked like a madman's depiction of a goat. One of its horns reminded Rincewind no small bit of the dragons (There's no such thing as dragons, he told himself firmly) he had encountered on his adventures with Twoflower. The other looked more like a deer's antler. It had a large fang protruding from its lower jaw and a malicious look in its yellow-and-red eyes. That, Rincewind concluded, was a creature he wanted nothing to do with.
He began to come to a horrifying realization, followed by an even more horrifying premonition. The realization was that what he had mistaken for a flaw in the window caused by heat and magic was, in fact, a depiction of the effects of the creature on those around it. The premonition was a certainty that, by the time this day was over, he would be face-to-face with it.
Rincewind turned and ran from that window without a backwards glance, his feet carrying him up the restored stairs to the roof of the Tower of Art before he had time to realize where he was going.
* * * * *
"You're useless," the ebon mare snarled at her weaker half. "You're pathetic."
"I'm not," insisted Luna. She didn't know where she was, or what she was doing here. She remembered going to bed in the cottage, and then she had heard something that woke her.
She had gone to investigate, but Rincewind had moved to stop her. She didn't hear what he said, didn't register the concern in his voice. All she'd known was that he was between her and where she had to be. She'd had a solution for that, however.
The dream spell was simple, yet potent, and it had left Rincewind wandering about the cottage, greeting various bits of furniture as if they were old friends. She hadn't had time to worry about him, or to giggle at his antics as she would have done otherwise. She'd needed to go outside. There had been someone outside she needed to see. Her... father? That had been it, hadn't it? She'd never known her father or mother. She didn't even know if she had them, though logically she must have done. Regardless, she wasn't about to be denied meeting family at long last.
And so, she had gone out from the cottage, away from the only family or friends she had ever known, and into the waiting arms of a creature that, now in retrospect, should have completely terrified her. Why hadn't it?
"Because you want so desperately," the Other said, "to be..." And here she hesitated before finally spitting out the word like a vile thing: "...loved."
"But I am loved," insisted Luna. "I am!"
"Please," scoffed the Other. "By that cow, Celestia? Or perhaps those grubby whelps rubbing their greasy hands all over your fur and wings? Oh!" The Other laughed derisively. "Maybe that idiot Rincewind! By all means, he must love you!"
"He does!" insisted Luna. "You'll see. He rescued me once, he'll do it again. Rincewind is the kindest, bravest, handsomest human I have ever met, and he won't let me down."
"Rincewind is a selfish, cowardly rat of a man," sneered the Other. "If it came down to a choice between letting you die slowly and in agony or risking mild discomfort, he would toddle off to the pub to drown his guilt in cheap ale rather than take a risk."
"You don't know!" Luna protested, tears streaming down her cheeks. "Rincewind is brave! Rincewind will save me! Rincewind..." She trailed off.
What did she know about Rincewind, really?
She'd never met the man before, after all. All she knew was what she had seen, and from what she had seen... She could draw no conclusions. He certainly acted like a coward. Whenever they encountered a problem, it was Rincewind who first suggested running as a solution. He would suggest it second, too. And third. And generally continue suggesting it until they finally did so.
And yet he had saved her and Celestia.
And he had cared deeply for Star Swirl.
And he was here.
* * * * *
Rincewind had stopped dead in his tracks the moment he saw her. Luna stood atop the Tower of Art, staring off into space, brow furrowed slightly. He ran up to her, calling her name, but she didn't respond.
He placed a hand on her brow, careful not to touch the horn, and wondered what to do.
She was under some sort of spell, obviously, he thought. If he knew what spell it was, he might be able to come up with a counterspell. It wasn't likely, he acknowledged, as his knowledge of counterspells wasn't up to the level of his knowledge of spells. And his knowledge of spells, it must be admitted, was barely up to the level of a first-year student. If that.
Rincewind had no power he could fling at the alicorn in arcane gestures and words, to cut away the fog clouding her mind. He had nothing he could do other than be there. He was mortally certain that wouldn't be enough.
And yet. And yet it was Harmonious magic, pony magic, Horsery, that had brought him here, to where Luna was. He knew it now. He knew that when he had vanished from the cottage and reappeared here in the Tower of Art, it was his own desire that had brought him here. And at the core of that desire was the need to rescue Luna.
So here he had been brought. To Luna. And what he needed now was the means to save her.
He tried all of the things he had failed at in his time as a student here at Unseen University. He tried to clear his mind of all thought, but worry for the purple mare kept intruding. He tried to control his breathing, but it kept coming in short, sharp gasps, on the verge of tears. He tried to reign in his emotions, but they were in control of him.
And then he tried the opposite.
He let himself think of Luna. He let himself feel that worry for her deep in every fibre of his being. He let the raw emotions he was feeling, desperation, worry, and, yes, a sort of love, wash over him.
It left him ragged and exposed, raw and bleeding, and he threw his arms around Luna's neck and sobbed. Nothing was working, he thought. Nothing ever worked out for him. Until it did.
As his arms wrapped around her neck, he felt something both wonderful and terrible. He felt like a light switch must feel when its circuit closes. Something rushed through him the moment his arms touched each other around her neck, and he felt like he was on fire.
At Unseen University, one is taught how to control the arcane forces of magic, how to bend magic to one's will.
Harmonious magic, however, is not of the same order. Harmonious magic does as the Universe wills, provided it has a willing conduit. Unicorns are taught how to present the appropriate conduit to achieve a desired effect through the use of Harmonious magic. It is a subtle, intricate art.
Rincewind, as it happened, turned out to be exceptionally good at presenting exactly the right conduit for Harmonious magic. His emotions provided the schema, his body the circuit, his will... his will was meaningless in the face of the raw power of emotion he let wash over him.
There was a brilliant light that drove all of the octarine from the light around Rincewind and Luna, making all of the colors around them stand out unnaturally clearly, and as the light faded, Luna finally began to blink.
Rincewind leaned back, holding Luna at arm's length. "Luna, are you all right?"
"I had the oddest dream," she said. "But it's all right. You're here now." She leaned into him, wrapping her forehooves around him in an equine hug. Rincewind blinked, as the moment she did so, he could have sworn he heard music beginning to swell in the background.*
* It is an oft-observed fact of worlds with an abundance of Harmonious magic that the presence of so much Harmony can influence the air in such a way as to cause normal background noises to take on a musical tone. Further, in areas of dense Harmonic concentration, this tendency can lead to coordinated outbursts of song from those affected. This, as it happens is highly relevant to the current situation in Ankh-Morpork.