• Published 8th Sep 2013
  • 799 Views, 20 Comments

At what price? - Cozy Mark IV



Only Star Swirl the Bearded knows how to save her friends from the reaper, but he has a dark secret of his own. Twilight knows something he doesn't, but could it be enough? And why did Princess Celestia just send a new Guard Captain to Ponyville

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Uncensored History

Disclaimer: This is a non-profit fan-made work of prose. My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is the property of Hasbro. Please support the official release.

By Cozy Mark IV

Twilight looked uneasily at the small bag before setting it away on a shelf by some letters and beginning her search for any book she had on the spell of lingering. She soon had several different books open to various chapters.

“I may not be able to figure out all the details, but I should at least be able to get an idea of what he did...” She flipped the text on surgical best practices open to the section on lingering and read aloud.

“When a pony is undergoing risky or dangerous surgical procedures, some ponies may elect to cast the lingering spell beforehand. In the event that things go very wrong, and the patient dies on the operating table, the patient's soul will emerge as a translucent but fully cognizant pony, linked to their body by a short magical chain. The effect will last until the body begins to decay, usually a few hours at room temperature, or a day or two with refrigeration. This buys time for a pony to say goodbye, and for the settling of any last will and testament.

“While some have attempted to use this spell as a life-prolonging tool, even freezing the body only buys a week or two before freezer burn distorts the body enough to break the link. It has been theorized that supercooling or cryogenics might allow circumvention of this obstacle, but at date of publication, we know of no successful attempts.”

She thought hard for a while. 'So the spell of lingering binds a pony's soul to their body for a short time after they die... Well, he's clearly not frozen, and who would want to live life as a frozen statue anyway? No, there has to be something else...'

She selected a book called 'The Mechanics of Spell Craft Twelfth Edition', and looked up lingering. “The spell of lingering will stay in effect, for several years without renewal, and is sometimes used to treat out-of-body ailments by binding mind and body together in the living. In a small number of cases, such as heart attack or drowning, a victim has been able to signal for help after they come loose from their body, and once life is restored to the body, the soul re-enters and binds it back together.”

Spike walked in as she was talking, listening curiously. “Hey, Twilight, what are you looking for?”

She put the book down to give Spike her full attention. “I'm trying to figure out how Star Swirl managed to use this spell as a path to immortality...”

Spike shook his head as he began sending the evening mail to the palace. “Yeah, there was something weird about that guy... Did he tell you why he wears that getup?”

She sighed in exasperation. “No, all he would say is that he was really ugly, and that I would scream if I ever saw him. Then he asked me to marry him.”

There was an explosion of green fire as Spike choked, sending the entire top half of the bookshelf to the palace in the process.
“He did what!?”

“He proposed! Of course that was after he mistook me for a...” She looked at Spike and decided to skip ahead. “And then he offered me a ring! And I accidentally took home his...” She glanced up at where the small gray bag had been. On the shelf that Spike had just blasted.

Twilight face hoofed with an audible 'clunk'. “Oh Celestia, I'm never going to hear the end of this.”

Spike looked confused. “The end of what? I didn't mean to, but we do send the palace bits of furniture from time to time.” he added with a shrug.

“Um... Nothing, don't worry about it.” He simply nodded, but before he left the room Twilight hastily added. “Oh, and Spike? If anyone sends us something that makes a clank when it falls, don't look at it, and just leave it alone, okay?”

Spike was about to object, but one look at her expression made him bite his tongue. “Okay, I just hope you don't see any more of that guy. He sounds kind of weird.”

Twilight shook her head as he left. 'I pray to Celestia that thing is fire proof...'

Without any other recourse, she continued her study of the book. 'Okay, so the spell can bind mind and body together, and there is a short window where, if the body comes back to life, the soul can bind back into a body even if it used to be dead... But no one recovers from death by old age... How in the world would he get his body to come back to life? If he could do that, he wouldn't need the spell!'

She threw down the book in frustration. “Arggh! This isn't getting me anywhere! There has to be some other way to deal with this...”

Her mind wandered back to other ponies who had dealt with this sort of problem before her. 'Pony and the Beast', and 'Phantom of the Theatre' both jumped to mind, and she tried to remember what those characters had done, and how it had worked out.

Slowly, a new plan began to form in her mind.

Applejack was washing up after dinner when there was a knock at the door, and Twilight burst into the room, panting and out of breath.

“Applejack, I need your help!”

That got her attention. “Of course Twilight! What's wrong?!”

“I need you to get me drunk and drop me off at the hotel!”

Applejack just stared at her.

“It's for your own good!”

Applejack felt her eyebrows raising up towards the ceiling as she asked in concern. “Uh, say what now?”

Twilight sighed in exasperation. “There's this really ugly guy, and I think I kind of like him, but he's got all the pony skills of a wet dish towel, and he's never had friends, and I need to convince him that he's not as ugly as he thinks he is, so I need you to get me drunk while I practice my poker face, and then I need to go look at his face and tell him it's not so bad, but I'm not sure I can do it on my own, and that's why I need to practice and get drunk first.”

What followed was one of the strangest arguments Applejack could remember ever having, but after a few minutes she passed Twilight her first hard cider, and things proceeded from there. In half an hour, Twilight was having considerable trouble staying upright, and Applejack had grasped the basics of what was going on. Fortunately for everyone involved, Twilight had put a guiding charm on herself before she arrived that would lead her unerringly towards the room that Star Swirl had rented for the evening.

After mistakenly pounding on the wrong door for a few minutes, Twilight arrived at the correct room, and knocked loudly until the robed figure opened the door. With quick shove, she moved past him and into the room, closing the door behind her.

“Star Swirl, I'm here to show you that you're not as think as you ugly you are,” She slurred.

The robed pony took an alarmed step backward as the smaller purple mare advanced on him. “You wanted to spend the me with night, but a relationship is not built on lies, its built on truth and honesty and bunnies...” she seemed to trail off for a moment, “they're fuzzy and cute...”

She stumbled and almost fell over as she continued. “And you said I wouldn't be able to look at you without screamin' an stuff... You're going to take that thing off right now so I can wrong you prove!”

Star Swirl took a seat in a chair and gave an exasperated sigh. “Twilight, you're drunk. Really drunk. Also, I think I may have left my prosthetic with you. Did you even remember to bring it with you?”

Twilight seemed to consider this. “No... I accidentally sent it to the castle with the post mail... and some fire...”

There was a grunt as the stallion face hoofed. “Ah, so that's what that was...”

Her face fell as she continued... “Yeahhh... I's sorry about that...”

He sighed resignedly. “Don't worry about it. I can recall it any time I need to, and if its' wound up in the bloody Canterlot post office, then I really should-”

“And off comes the mask/veil thing of badness!” Twilight yelled as she whipped the covering off his head.

Star Swirl jumped, then cringed as she laid eyes on his face for the first time. Twilight wore a quizzical expression, but after a moment, she reached out and petted him. “You're a cute an fuzzy pony you are!”

The laughter started small, but soon built up to a roaring, heartfelt, belly aching laugh that had them both collapsing on the floor with mirth and relief.

“Oh, Twilight, you are a greater mare than I could ever have hoped to meet.”

“Oh, I'm not that great. I spent like, an hour, tryin' to figure out how you did that spell thing you do... Couldn't figure it out for the me of life!”

He wrapped a hoof around her shoulder, steadying her. “Well, you must have looked up the lingering spell, and one as sharp as you would have realized that the spell will re-introduce the soul of a pony if the body comes back to life.”

“Thass right! But if you could bring your your body back then yous don't need the spell!”

His voice took on a warm tone as he guided her. “Ah, but did you look up how the spell defines 'life'?”

Twilight's eyes slowly crossed as she answered. “No...”

“Well that's the key. With a little tinkering, you can get a wider window before your body has to be 'back to life', and what the spell checks is that most of the material that makes up your body is incorporated in living tissue. The spell isn't smart enough to be picky about which living tissue.”

She looked at him through squinted eyes for a moment. “So that's how you did it! Has brilliant!” She staggered again, and when he caught her she stroked his coat again. “But that means all of you has to be all fuzzy from now on... I's sorry Swirl Star.” She said as she hugged him.

He rested his jaw on her back as he held her close. “It's okay Twilight... You get used to it eventually.” After a moment he pulled away and fetched something from his saddle bag. “Hey, how about we play a little game?” He said with a hint of sadness as he held up a padded blindfold. “Why don't you put this on, and we can keep talking and we'll see what we can teach each other.”

Twilight smiled as he passed the buckles behind her head and pulled them tight, blotting out her sight. “That sounds like fun...”

“Yes, just remember, the goal of the game is to not take it off until morning, and then remember what you saw tonight. Do you think you can do that?” he asked in a pleading tone.

“Shurrrre, is no problem at all...” Twilight slurred. “Now tell me all abouts how you got that spell to work...”

Twilight woke slowly that morning to the feeling of someone's warm coat pressed against her on all sides. She could feel his breathing on both sides of her, on top of her, and against her head and hooves, even snuggled up tight against her rump like being wrapped up in a warm living blanket. She lounged sleepily for a few minutes, just enjoying the feeling of being warm and safe and hugged on all sides. There was something pressing against her face, but she didn't really care, and she dozed off again.

A few hours later, Twilight gradually woke again, feeling the warm embrace all around her, and finally, her memories of yesterday started filtering back. She had met a guy, a really smart and kind of sweet guy, and he had worn a cloak, and then she had gone to Applejack's and asked to get drunk and then...

Try as she might, she couldn't remember anything after that.

With a mumbled groan she rolled over in the bed, trying to see the clock to tell what time it was, but her eyes just weren't working right. The furry warmth that surrounded her didn't seem to like being laid on, and she could feel the stallion she was sleeping with puling his legs out from under her.

Wait.

Stallion?!

With a shout Twilight sat straight up in bed, and around her she could fell the warm fur coat pull away from her. She struggled to see, only to realize she was blindfolded! She tugged frantically at the strap, and in a moment, succeeded in getting the blindfold off, only to be blinded once more by the full light of day reflected off the snow caps of the mountains visible through the windows of the small cottage. As her eyes slowly focused, she made out the form of Star Swirl, still cloaked form head to hoof looking at her with what she took to be concern.

“Are you all right Twilight?”

She realized they must be in his mountain cottage, but try as she might, she couldn't remember what happened last night. She didn't feel sore or sticky, so apparently they hadn't done anything, but it was still very disconcerting to wake up in a stranger's bed, far from home with no memory of how she got there.

“Uh... I'm fine I think...” She answered slowly. “What happened last night?”

Star Swirl couldn't help but laugh. “You burst into my room and insisted on seeing my face, claimed it wasn't that bad, and then proceeded to pet me and tell me I was fuzzy.”

Twilight facehoofed. “You're serious, aren't you?” She asked in a deadpan voice.

“I'm afraid so, but don't worry, you were charming even while ...a bit the worse for drink. After you started asking hard questions we adjourned here so I could show you some of my more recent work.”

Twilight looked embarrassed. “And we didn't...?”

He lowered his head to look her in the eye as she sat on his bed. “Twilight, despite my desires, I would never take advantage of a mare like that. I blindfolded you and we stayed up talking into the early morning. I also had you drink a lot of water, so with any luck, you shouldn't have the hangover you so richly deserve after that stunt.”

Twilight put a hoof on her forehead, and found that she was, indeed, free of any headache or hangover.

“Wow... thank you, I feel just fine and-”

About then her bladder made its displeasure known, forcing her to cross her legs under the blankets.

“Uh, could you show me to the little fillies' room please?!”

He stared blankly at her for a moment. Not hearing a response, she looked rapidly around the little one room building, and then to the snow outside.

She cringed. “Right. Outhouse.”

And before he could say anything she threw off the covers and bounded out the door into the snowy alpine field.

There was no sign of any other building.

She ran a complete circuit around the house in growing distress.

There were no buildings, nor even any trees or bushes for at least a mile in any direction, just the beautiful mountain landscape. Star Swirl opened the door and found her frantically crossing her hooves.

“Uh... I'm sorry Twilight, I hadn't thought of this. If you'd like I could-”

“Go back inside!” She yelled in a mild panic as nature threatened to get the better of her.

“Oh! Right! Sorry...” The door closed with a quiet thump.

After a few minutes the door opened again as Twilight walked back into the little cabin, blushing just a little.

“Thank you Star Swirl, I really do appreciate you taking care of me after... what I did last night.”

“Oh no, the pleasure was all mine.” He answered warmly. “It's been a very long time since I've met someone who is such a quick study: You grasped the mechanics of the time spells with an intuitive ease that's so very refreshing.”

Twilight's blush deepened as she asked. “So you're not mad that I accidentally sent your prosthetic to the Canterlot post office?”

His laughter threatened to knock him off his feet, and it was almost a minute before he could speak again.
“No, I'm not mad.” He began giggling again, and Twilight found herself giggling as well despite her best efforts to remain penitent.
“That is by no means the worst that poor metal tool has endured at the hooves of one spurned lover or another when the stallion who gave it to them as a gift dumped them.”

Twilight looked at him, aghast. “You didn't!”

Seeing her expression he tried to stop laughing long enough to explain. “No, no, I mean that some stallion or another would hear about the reputation this thing had earned, and seek it out to give as a gift to one mare or another.” He began laughing again as he continued. “I told you this tool has had some adventures of its own throughout Equestria.”

Twilight had been attempting to give Star Swirl a withering stare, but it was taking more and more effort to keep from smiling.

“And anyway, it's been at it a lot longer than you have. Why it's probably better traveled than you are.”

That was all it took. The image of Star Swirl's prosthetic criss-crossing Equestria having adventures was too much, and her scowl dissolved into laughter. “You terrible old stallion! You're horrible!”

“They didn't call me 'the Bearded' for nothing, you know,” he added with a gesture to his hood.

Twilight looked confused. “What? They called you 'the bearded' because you were wise and scholarly, a role model any foal could look up to...that, and you had a beard...didn't you?”

There was a moment of total silence as he stared at her, trying to decide if she was joking. When he realized she was completely serious, the laughter did knock him off his hooves, and it was several minutes before Twilight could get anything out of him.

“I'm sorry, Twilight, but it seems the history books you have been reading included a few choice... omissions,” he chortled again as she tilted her head quizzically.

“What are you talking about?”

“Twilight, in my time, saying a stallion had a long beard was a polite way of saying he had a long list of romantic partners.”

Twilight's eyes were growing wider. “No...”

“Yes, indeed. I was well respected in my time, but those who called me Star Swirl the Bearded did so derisively.” He thought about it for a moment. “I suppose I always was rather ...promiscuous of intelligent company, but the nickname really gained in popularity after old Celestia instituted her bell policy.”

Twilight was rapidly becoming lost. In her time she had studied her fair share of Canterlot history, but she had no idea what he was talking about, and said so.

Star Swirl laughed again, but explained:
“One punishment that our good Princess Celestia instituted for ‘lewd acts’ or adultery was for the offending stallion to wear a bell for the lifetime of the lady mare with whom he had... dallied. This had the effect of embarrassing the MALE fornicators and it went a long way toward destroying the sexual double standard which persists in griffon and Zebrican culture to this day.” He thought for a moment. “In retrospect, it really was a pretty good idea from a very young and very female diarch who was quite sick of... slut-shaming,” he finished, practically spitting the last words.

Twilight was trying not to hyperventilate, her face twitching noticeably as she thought back to the costume she had worn for Nightmare Night. “All... Those... Bells...”

Knowing nothing about her poor choice of costumes to wear to a children's party, Star Swirl simply nodded.

“Well, eventually, the small, rounded jingle bells which had once symbolized sexual impropriety came to indicate love and affection.” His thoughts drifted back to a history text from a several hundred years ago, and he smirked.
“My popular image as Star Swirl the Bearded was eventually changed into an aged and wise pony with a white beard ‘covered in the bells of all who loved him,”’ at this, he snorted, “and, at least according to that modern history text, I came to be thought of as a charming, almost holiday-myth figure of benevolent and sexless wisdom.”

Twilight just stared wide-eyed as he dissolved into another fit of giggles. 'When I thought he had so much to teach me I had no idea...'

“I imagine that after my appearance had been hastily explained in that way by generations of parents who didn’t really want to tell tiny colts and fillies what ‘lechery’ meant for long enough, the original meaning of my beard and bells was forgotten. My beard was never really as long or elaborate as the one with which they draw me today, but I really did wear the bells, in great numbers and quite large ones too, partly because I really was 'bearded' in that way, partly out of loyalty to the many brilliant mares and even stallions who ...loved me, and partly because if people were going to insist on treating a healthy and beautiful thing as ridiculous, why not BE ridiculous about it and THEN see who felt ashamed, eh?”

It was only at this point that he looked back at Twilight and found her jaw hanging open, wearing an expression much like a parent who has just been informed by their foal that they gave kitty a bath in the dishwasher.

This was not going the way she had expected.