The Wizzard and the Pony
It had only been a matter of time, Rincewind thought. First, there had been the business with the weather, then the Klatchians, the trolls... It was just a matter of time before something even worse cropped up.
If there could be said to be an expert on the Disc in Things from the Dungeon Dimensions, it would be Rincewind. Not by virtue of his many years at Unseen University, or poring through the numerous arcane tomes at his disposal as the assistant librarian, but because, for an unknown amount of time, Rincewind had lived there.
If you could call a constant state of headlong flight living. Rincewind did. In fact, he attributed the bulk of his life to his well-trained survival instinct.
All of that was beside the point, however. (Except to Rincewind's survival instinct, which had just popped in to say, "basically, run," before taking its own advice.) The point was the Things. Or, in this case, Thing, singular. And it was a singular Thing. It was too well-ordered to be a creature of the Dungeon Dimensions, but it had that mish-mash hodge-podge look about it, like one of the gods had just reached into a spare parts bin and thrown together whatever He pulled out.
It had the head of a goat, the body of what could only be some sort of serpentine dragon, a lion's paw, an eagle's talon, and mismatched hooves. Its tail twitched in irritation. Its eyes, gold with red pupils, narrowed in disgust. And there was something altogether too intelligent in the way it stroked its beard.
"I've had quite enough of this," it said, and Rincewind had one of those near-epiphanies that plague partygoers everywhere. It's one thing to be confronted with someone at a large gathering and know, deep down, that you've met them before, even if you can't place their face. It is, as Rincewind could attest, quite another to be presented with that same conundrum when the person in question is nowhere near human, utterly suffused with magic, and has a look that says more clearly than words "I am going to rend you into minuscule pieces."
Discord glared at Rincewind, eyes narrowed in a mixture of disgust and wrath. "I," he said clearly, "am going to rend you into minuscule pieces." He nodded. "Just so we're clear on that."
"Oh?" said Rincewind. He was, if anything, even further out of his depths than usual, and other than fleeing, the only thing he could think to do was stall for time. Time for what, he couldn't say. "Might I, erm, ask why?"
"You," snarled the hybrid creature.
"Yes," said Rincewind, realizing he was, perhaps, assuming rather a lot in thinking the creature was capable of communicating in any meaningful way.
"You're... so... boring!"
Rincewind blinked, flustered. Beside him, Luna nuzzled his hand and smiled reasuringly. "I like boring," he muttered, mostly to himself.
"You would," the creature spat derisively. "I try to bring a little bit of fun to the world, a little light-hearted chaos, and what do you do?"
Rincewind, not really recognizing the question as being rhetorical, replied. "Run, mostly," he said.
"Oh, yes," the creature snarled. "You run, and you take my prize with you! Well, not today!" It snapped its fingers, and Luna vanished from Rincewind's side in a flash of octarine so bright it nearly blinded him. "Not today!"
While Rincewind stared at the spot Luna had previously occupied, the creature slid into view. "I'm not finished with you, by the way," it said. "How do you do? Discord, embodiment of chaos, at your service." It frowned. "Well, not your service. More... my own service."
"Erm," ermed Rincewind. "Rincewind. Likewise, I suppose."
"Give back my sister!"
Rincewind blinked. That was unexpected, he had to admit. Last he'd checked, he didn't have anyone's sister, let alone one belonging to a hideous amalgamation of creatures from the Dungeon Dimension.
"Ah, Celestia," the creature -- Discord -- purred. "No, I don't believe I will. I had plans for her, you see. And while I don't strictly need her to enact those plans anymore, I'm sure I can come up for some use for her."
Rincewind didn't know what was coming over him. Under most circumstances, he would never have... And yet... He found himself standing forth. He found his mouth opening. And, most horrifying of all, he found himself saying "over my dead body."
"That," agreed Discord, "was the plan." Rincewind was unsurprised.
What happened next, however, came as a total shock.
Rincewind braced himself futilely as swirls of octarine coalesced in between Discord's claws. He cringed as that octarine, so dense and bright it was visible to non-wizard eyes, built and built. And when Discord flung it at him, even though he knew there was nothing he could do, he flung his arms up in self-defense.
And that's where things went off-script.
There was a flash of brilliant color in front of Rincewind, and the blast of pure chaotic magic simply evaporated.
* * * * *
From a window overlooking the market square, Arch-Chancellor Ridcully watched with fascination. "Hmmm," he said. "A magic/anti-magic reaction," he said. "All that energy, just... snuffed out." He sighed. "Seems rather a shame," he said.
* * * * *
Rincewind examined his hands, counting fingers and checking for hideous mutations. When he was satisfied that there were no visible changes, he smiled hesitantly.
"What?!" Discord fumed. He exhaled jets of steam from his nostrils, which condensed in the cold air into snowflakes, which, in the thick magical aura emanating from the hybrid creature, turned into extremely minuscule squirrels, chipmunks, and groundhogs that scampered away the moment they touched the ground.* "That's impossible!"
He sent another, even larger and brighter blast of octarine Rincewind's way, and time seemed to slow for the ratty wizard. He saw the ball of energy spinning and churning through the air, subtly altering the very molecules around it. He saw the flash of energy as it got closer, flaring out from his chest and meeting the octarine light a mere arm's-length away from his body. He watched the two energies nullify each other, dwindling into a point in space as though someone had pulled the stopper on reality and let them drain out.
Something clicked in his mind.
He reached into his robe and pulled out his much-loved Unseen University amulet. In place of the usual octagram decorating the amulet, he saw a six sided gemstone: an amethyst. It glinted purple in the summer sun. He wondered what it meant.
There exists a theory among some of the more learned of Unicorn Pony mages that Harmonic Magic can be condensed, coalesced into solid form. Critical to this process are two things: quantity and pressure. In order to get any meaningful amount of Harmonic material into solid form, truly staggering amounts of it must be present. In order to get that quantity of magic into one place to crystalise, it must be put under tremendous pressure from all directions in the form of some sort of anti-Harmonic magic.
It so happens that the mentor of the first proponent of this theory, as well as the related theory of sub-Harmonic particles, was present in the one place and time that both of those theories were proven true. The vast amounts of Disc magic placed the Harmonic magic of Celestia and Luna under intense pressure. At the same time, the natural Harmonic qualities of those around the two Horserors had acted as attractors for the attuned sub-Harmonic particles that made up each of the components of Harmonic magic.
And it was at that moment, when one of those attractors was under an even greater amount of pressure from non-Harmonic magic than previously, that those sub-Harmonic particles achieved precipitation. Rincewind stared at the end result of one of those sets of particles, dangling from the end of a gold chain around his own neck.
Beside him, Star Swirl stepped up confidently, staring with fascination at the amulet. "Well, I'll be a son of a gazelle," he said.
Rincewind looked over and down at the pony. "It," he began hesitantly.
"Happened to you, too," Rincewind finished.
Star Swirl examined himself curiously, before Rincewind saved him the effort and snatched his belled hat from his head and held it in front of him. One of the bells had been replaced with an aquamarine. Star Swirl reached out with his magic and shook the bell-shaped gem, and it rang with a pure tone that caused him to grin from ear to ear.
Rincewind was flummoxed.
Some distance away, Discord saw an opportunity. His opponent, who was surprisingly neither dead nor horrendously mutated by the tremendous amounts of magic that had been flung at him, was clearly distracted. Something stayed his claw, however. He got the sense that things were about to go very badly for him indeed, and desperately searched the memories of the man he had once been for some sort of counter to this new and unexpected turn of events. Isrim's memories, however, proved useless in that regard. The former wizard had never seen anything like this.**
Rincewind looked around, and saw similar medallions hanging from the necks of his companions. No, he amended the thought, his friends. I've got friends. He turned back to Star Swirl, curiosity overwhelming common sense for a change. "Have you any idea what's happened?"
"Some," said Star Swirl. "If I'm right, at any rate, it proves Clover to be every bit as clever as I've always told her she was." He grinned. "This is astounding! Sub-Harmonic element theory proven right!"
"So, these... gem thingummies," Nijel said, examining his own amulet, the brilliant pink color of which would emasculate a more socially conscious man, "they're, what? Elements of Harmony?"
Star Swirl grinned widely. "A fantastic name for them, I should think," he said.
Rincewind and his friends froze in place, staring at the hybrid creature whose shout had interrupted their conversation. Rincewind had the decency in the situation to feel abashed at having completely forgotten the fight. "Right," he said. "Erm. Sorry."
"Sorry won't do, I'm afraid," Discord said. "I think the only satisfaction I shall get will be over, as you said earlier, your dead body." He laced the digits of his taloned left hand between those of the lion's paw that was his right, and cracked his knuckles. "Let's get on with it, then, shall we?"
"No," said Rincewind, "I don't think so." He could feel an energy flowing into him. He'd never felt anything like it before. Even when he had worked real magic, when the Sourcerer had been at the University and he himself had been fleeing the dungeons of Creosote along with Nijel and Conina, he had never felt even close to this sensation. It was like being wrapped in his favorite blanket, with the lingering smell of potatoes in the air, and a full belly, and absolutely nothing exciting happening for leagues around him. All of his favorite things filled him, and kept filling him, well past the point of overflowing. His eyes snapped open, and instead of the usual look of rodent-like intelligence, they were filled with light.
Vast, all-encompassing light.
A similar light began to emanate from the hexagonal gemstone in his amulet, and he was dimly aware that his feet were no longer having much to do with the ground anymore. That was all right, though. Everything was all right. He had his friends with him.
They, too, found their amulets (and Star Swirl's hat) glowing, and their feet (and hooves) no longer touching the ground. They glided in behind Rincewind, each of them at peace with the world for perhaps the first time in their lives.
Rincewind found himself thinking about, instead of Discord and the extremely clear threat he represented, his friends and what they represented. What they meant to him. He thought about how difficult, if not impossible, it would have been to confront this beast if he hadn't had their examples. When he'd been, as usual, too frightened to bear up to the events that confronted him, Star Swirl's good cheer had kept his mood buoyant. Nijel's care had softened the harsh realities of life on the Disc. Conina's willingness to give of herself had not only saved Star Swirl's life, but had been a constant balm in a severely troubling time. The Librarian could always be counted on to know just how to bring the facts to light. Even the Luggage, bloody-minded, murderous, blighted thing that it was, was reassuring in its constancy.
He could have survived without them, he concluded. Surviving was a specialty of his, after all. But thanks to them, the sheer, unrelenting horror of an adventurous life had been almost... bearable.
Light began to radiate from Star Swirl, Conina, Nijel, the Librarian... even the Luggage, whose keyhole had apparently been plugged with a brilliant ruby at some point along the way. It flowed towards Rincewind like lightning towards an atheist***, where it pooled around him and the aura surrounding him began to grow and grow and grow...
Discord had the distinct, and altogether new, impression that he should flee immediately. However, lacking Rincewind's lifetime of experience, he began making what the (nominal) wizard would call "rookie mistakes", such as waiting until that moment to begin preparations, not knowing the quickest way out of the area, and even wasting time to consider where he would flee to. These mistakes, all tolled, left him still transfixed when what could only be described as most of a rainbow**** lanced out from the aura surrounding Rincewind and swept over him.
* Not coincidentally, the coming months saw an unprecedented shortage of sesame seeds.
** In his defense, nobody else had, either.
*** That is to say, directly, and with absolutely no doubt that there was a cause-and-effect sort of relationship involved.
**** It quite clearly lacked any octarine.
As Rincewind and his companions settled to the ground, and the light faded, those few observers who remained (namely Ridcully and Vetinari, watching from the safety of the Patrician's offices some distance away) noted the distinct lack of a horrific amalgamation in the market square.
Rincewind, or rather the Harmonious magic that had been channeled through him and his companions, had been victorious.
Celestia galloped over to her little sister, the two immediately reassuring each other of their presence by physical contact as Harmonious creatures are wont to do. Rincewind idly reached down to pat the Luggage, which, suffused with enough Harmony to power a small town, deigned to allow it.
"Well," said Star Swirl. "That would appear to be that, then."
Rincewind nodded. "I, erm... I imagine..."
Rincewind nodded. "It does, at that. I rather expected for things to end, well, less positively and more gruesomely."
"Why isn't it any warmer?" Nijel asked.
"Yes," said Luna as she and Celestia rejoined the group. "Those Windigo creatures were dispersed, were they not? Should not the weather return to its normal state?"
"Well," Rincewind said knowingly, "these things take time, you see."
"Erm," said Conina.
"After all, it takes time for snow to melt in spring, so why not for ice to melt in summer?"
"Ah," put in Nijel.
"And really, I think it's only about time things went smoothly for a change and... what's that rumbling?"
"Ook," said the Librarian, pointing towards the Hub.
"What?" Rincewind scoffed. "Don't be ridiculous. It can't be them. That would mean the Apocralypse. It can't be time for the Apocralypse. There has to be a great battle, and four... dread... riders..." He looked over at Conina, Nijel, and the Librarian, then at Celestia, Star Swirl, and the Luggage.
"Yes?" Celestia asked, completely lost.
"Tell me," he said, "how did you six get here so quickly? Did you, erm... telewhatsis?"
"Teleport?" said Star Swirl. "Dear me, no! After all, winking is what got me in this mess in the first place! No, no, no, we galloped."
"And Nijel, Conina, and the Librarian, did they gallop, too?"
"Oh, no," said Nijel. "We... oh my."
Rincewind sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose. "Just once," he said. "Just once, I would very much enjoy for things to go well from beginning to end." He sighed again. "I suppose that's just a bit much to ask for." He turned Hubward, where he could see the already massive shapes of saddle-broken glaciers bearing down upon Ankh-Morpork, their tremendous bulks bearing the Ice Giants themselves. The Apocralypse was indeed nigh.