• Published 20th Oct 2012
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Out of Touch - ToixStory

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Death of the Magician - I

“. . . what happened.”

The light faded before my eyes as the words meant for Charm were wasted on the open air.

I reached out with my hoof at where Charm would have been, standing in our apartment’s doorway, before thumping it on the ground.

“No!” I cried. “No, no, no, no!”

My chest heaved as my breaths came in gasps and my vision briefly filled with red. Somewhere, a little bird chirped and the wind picked up.

Little by little, I calmed down and began to take in my surroundings. I was standing on a grassy hill that was beset on all sides by trees with leaves beginning to hang off of their branches and flowers that had begun to wilt and droop. Autumn.

Autumn on another world, in fact. The trees, with their soaring branches and leaves that had begun to turn color, were definitely not native to my homeworld. I’d seen such flora, but only in books and nature shows on my home vidscreen that I had memorized when still a filly dreaming of leaving the planet.

I realized with a thumping feeling in my stomach that I was, for the first time, standing on the crest of another world. My dream had come true.

But at what cost?

I noticed out of the corner of my eye that an older, light-blue unicorn with a scraggly pink beard was looking at me as one would a dog that just made a mess on the floor. That was when I looked down to behold that the ground I had landed in and thumped my hoof on was, in fact, a flower bed.

“Did you feel like a walk in my garden,” the stallion said, “or do you just have something against petunias?”

My face reddened and I hastily stepped out of the well-cultivated dirt onto a normal patch of grass. I did my best to wipe the remains of multicolored flowers off the bottom of my hooves.

“I’m really sorry,” I said. “I just kind of . . . appeared . . . here, and didn’t know quite where I was standing.”

I saw for the first time that the pony had a wooden cart loaded with bags of dirt and flowers behind him. A gardener.

He walked over to where I landed and sniffed the air.

“A teleportation spell, eh?” he said. He looked me over. “What I’d like to know is how an earth pony like yourself managed one of those.”

“I, uh, had some help from a friend.”

“Indeed,” he said with a smile.

He walked over to his cart and started pulling out some plants in bags of soil. The flowers were in brilliant hues of blue and yellow that I hadn’t seen before, and piqued my interest in where exactly I was.

The little unicorn gardener didn’t seem very interested in answering my questions, however. He instead placed a few bagged flowers next to the soil I had landed on and bent down to work.

I walked back to the spot.

“I’m sorry about the garden,” I said. “Is there way I could, uh, help?”

He smiled.

“I won’t trouble you, but I wouldn’t mind the help. Especially from an earth pony like yourself.”

I wished to question him on how exactly my being an earth pony would help me in planting flowers, but he had already passed me a bagged rose and I accepted it.

I got down on my knees and placed the flower into a hole my hoof had made. I patted the dirt around it like I had seen, but then something strange happened.

The bottoms of my hooves began to glow, as did the rose. Its petals opened up and grew taller and, apparently, healthier.

I let out a cry of surprise and sprang away from the possessed flower.

“W-What was that?” I cried.

The gardener took his time to laugh before answering.

“That’s called earth pony magic,” he said. He raised an eyebrow. “You’re not from around here, are you?”

I shook my head.

“No, I just teleported here with my, uh, friend and we got separated. Now I’m lost.”

“Well you don’t have to make it sound like it’s such a bad thing,” the gardener said. He used a little bit of his magic to levitate more flowers into place and fill in soil around them.

“From the looks of it, you’re pretty far from home, but being in a new place can be pretty nice. Of course, I’m speaking about my own home, so I may be a little prejudiced.”

The way he smiled, I couldn’t help but return the gesture. Maybe it was his easy-going manner, but I was at least able to have a little respite from my situation.

“Well, I am far from home,” I said. “And my friend didn’t let me know where she was taking me, so I don’t really know where I am.”

Silently, I added, or when I am.

The gardener’s eyes sparkled.

“So you’re telling me that you don’t know where you landed?” he said.

I nodded.

He laughed and slapped one knee. “If you’re telling the truth, then you’re in for a treat. Follow me, and I’ll show you.”

With a surprising swiftness, he dropped his gardening implements and led me in a fast trot across the hill until we reached the crest, at which point he eagerly nodded to me and swept his hoof over the landscape before us.

The hill overlooked a large road with trees on either side, which led to chasm that was crossed by a massive stone bridge with many banners and frillery decorating it. It was wide enough that ten ponies could cross shoulder to shoulder without touching the edges.

However, it was what was beyond the bridge that mattered more.

A great castle rose up from a grove of trees, standing proud and lively among the forest. Its stone ramparts jutted out from the smooth surface, and stained-glass windows decorated the exterior above the wide oaken doors that led inside.

It was sight that was familiar in every textbook and vid documentary on every world of the Harmonious Empire.

“The Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters,” the gardener said. “Cornerstone of Equestria. Pretty good luck you landed here, eh?”

My breath came in short gasps as I realized that not only was I seeing the castle, but seeing it in its heyday. Before the abandoning, the ruin, the return of Nightmare Moon, or its final demolition to make way for the Sky Tower of Everfree City.

“Y-Yeah, very lucky,” I said.

“Even better, you landed at the right time.” He grinned. “The crowds are sure to be in full swing today.”

Now that he mentioned it, I could hear the gentle hum of dozens of conversations that signaled the presence of a crowd that had begun to wait for their entertainment.

“What are they here for?” I asked.

When he didn’t answer, however, I turned to find that the gardener was gone. I gave it a moment’s thought, but didn’t linger on it and instead began my trek down the hill and towards the noise.

* * *

My expedition to find the source took me through the trees just off the beaten path to the castle and to a massive clearing just beyond.

To call the area a village, despite its rustic appearance, would have been very wrong. Instead, the area closer resembled a prefab machine set to old-world cottage style and left to do its work for a year straight. An entire sea of wooden houses and businesses spread out before me.

Thatched roofs and smoke trailing from fires filled the air, and above them pegasi flitted about in a never ending dance between shops and homes and the beginnings of what I knew would turn into Cloudsdale above.

On the ground, the mix between unicorns and earth ponies seemed to be just about even, though the magic was easier to pick out. Crude carts moved on their own and brooms swept shops without anypony to attend to them.

I might have kept standing there until my bones turned to dust had some bulky pony come along and shove me out of the way as he carried a large box through the street.

I snapped out of my daze and continued on further into the city, tasked with finding Twilight. The problem was, of course, that it was a time in pony history that wearing clothes was more common—a trend that picked up and died out through the years—so finding one single mare in a red cape was not dissimilar to picking out a slightly darker grain of rice.

The streets further into the town quickly turned from hard-packed dirt to mud as they became busier and busier, and soon I was trudging hoof-deep in muck while ponies swarmed around me and virtually forced me off the road and to the side beneath the overhang of a small inn.

Instead of fading quickly as I thought it would, the crowd instead pulsed and grew larger as ponies continued to file past. They all chattered quickly to each other and had expression of anticipation and excitement on their faces.

Some even wore some very silly costumes with bells, pointy hats, and designs of stars all over. The first time I saw somepony wearing one, I just thought them silly, but more and more of the passersby wore the same outfit or some variant thereof.

There was a chubby mare in a maid’s outfit standing near me under the inn’s overhang, so I turned to her.

“What’s happening today?” I said.

She raised one eyebrow. “How can you not know? Have you not heard the announcements?”

“I’m, uh, new in town. Just got in today.”

“Then you’ll want to head to the square.” Her mood visibly brightened. “You’re in for a real treat today; Starswirl the Bearded is coming to town today!”

I had better credence of mind than to ask her who that was, though I remained puzzled. The name certainly carried a great deal of weight behind it, but I drew a blank for who she was referring to.

Then again, I hadn’t been the most attentive student in my Ancient Equestrian History class.

Strangely, it was that thought that almost sent me sprawling.

I wasn’t just thinking about history: I was living it! Every pony around me, every building that lined the street . . . it was all gone. Lost to the turn of time.

But somehow I had beaten it.

The sour feeling of leaving behind Charm and Journey’s End still stayed with me, but suddenly the sun above seemed a little brighter.

At any rate, I took the maid’s advice and carefully fell back in with the crowd that was presumably drawing toward the town’s square.

Mud splashed on my hooves and flanks once again, but the ponies around me didn’t seem to mind when the same happened to them. Differences in cleanliness, I supposed.

The path surrounded by wood-and-thatch buildings suddenly ended in a very large open area that was lined by more official-looking huts and towers. A large clocktower was the centerpiece of the surrounding buildings.

What drew most of the eyes, however, was the center of the square. The grass around it had long since been ground down by thousands of hooves, leaving it in the same condition as the street, but it still managed to look impressive.

A large wooden stage rose above the mud and muck, made of heavy timber beams and nails the size of a unicorn’s horn. Above the stage was a midnight-blue curtain that kept secret the sight that the large crowd near the front was there to see.

Whether I wanted to join said crowd was out of the question, as I was pushed and pressed into the fold as more and more ponies continued to arrive behind me.

Finding Twilight in such a position was all but impossible, so I settled for waiting until Starswirl made his debut. If she acted as she had before, Twilight would find a way to the front of the crowd.

A hush fell over the crowd as the curtains began to rustle. They pulled back with an audible whoosh to reveal a singular figure.

He was dressed much as some of the crowdgoers were—in a wizard’s hat and robe with star patterns—but wore it much more impressively. The beard on his chestnut face shone a brilliant ivory that spoke of vitality and strength.

His muscles tensed beneath the robe and his great stature allowed his piercing green eyes to sweep the crowd in a way that kept every single pony focusing their attention upon him.

He was hot, is what I was saying.

“Greetings, ponies of Equestria!” he called out in a booming voice.

The cheering that followed lasted for a full minute before he calmed it down with a raised hoof.

“I, Starswirl the Bearded, have come back from my campaigns in the Crystal Mountains to the North and the Dragon Badlands to the South to reassure the Empire’s loyal subjects that their greatest hero does, indeed, live!”

The crowd was putty in his hooves as they roared and screamed his name over and over.

“Star-swirl! Star-swirl! Star-swirl!”

After a little bit of drinking it in, Starswirl held up a hoof again for silence. A spell appeared in front of his mouth that amplified his voice across the entire square.

“Now, I know you are here to honor me, but what kind of visitor would I be if I did not regale you with stories of my travels?”

More cheering, and Starswirl let it continue this time.

His horn glowed a golden hue and the air around the stage sparked and burst to life in a splash of colors and magic that swept through the crowd.

A visage of mountains that reached up to pierce the sky and streams bluer than the clear sky appeared in the air above the stage.

The peaceful image was suddenly disrupted by a dragon of Starswirl’s magic that swept over the crowd in a simulation that felt so real the crowd ducked their heads and cried out.

“The Dragons dwelling in the Swayback Mountains were a particularly angry bunch!” Starswirl cried. He laughed. “But were no match for an experienced magician!”

His eyes glowed an even brighter shade of gold and an arc of light spat forth from his horn and struck the beast in its midsection.

The magical mirage disappeared in a spark of magic that delighted the younger foals within the audience. The ponies who had ducked stuck their heads back up and laughed nervously to each other as well.

The act continued as Starswirl used his magic pictures to show off the splendors of the Crystal Empire, the sandy shores that I knew Los Celestias would one day call home, and many other wonders that had been lost to even my own history.

I was so entranced by the act—as the crowd around me was—that I didn’t even notice the figure beside me until it spoke.

“It’s all wrong,” it said.

I sprang back in surprise, only to behold the sight of Twilight Sparkle once again by my side.

“Gah, y-you’re here!” I said.

Twilight let the hood of her cape down.

“You sound like you’re surprised. Did you expect to have traveled here by yourself?”

“Well, no . . .” I paused as reality hit me like a hammer to the chest and I sucked in the air of truth. “Hey, you are the one who brought me here in the first place, and against my will! You took me away from my world!”

The ponies around us had cleared a small circle of the two of us, and watched us almost as intently as Starswirl on stage.

“Calm down,” Twilight hissed. “You’re making a scene.”

“Who cares if I make a scene?” I stomped my hoof in the mud. “It’s not like it matters anyway; nothing I do here will even matter by the time I'm born!”

Twilight’s magic grabbed my by the neck and held me in front of her face, where her eyes bored into mine. The one on that tattoo’s side was glowing a bright red.

“The future is what you make it,” she growled. “What you do here can affect what happens farther down the line. There are things going on here that are bigger than your problem right now, so you’re going to need to act like a big girl and shut up. Do you hear me?”

I gulped and nodded.

Her expression softened a little. “I know this is hard for you, but you’re going to have to trust me. That spell that tied you to me is a strong one, so we’re going to be stuck together.”

“Can I ask one question?” I said softly. She nodded. “Will I be able to go back?”

Twilight didn’t reply, but the pained look on her face said more than enough. My heart sunk in my chest and my hooves fell to my side as I floated in the air. I guess I’d started to figure that already, but the reality of it was really starting to sink in.

Her tattoo separated from her body into the form of Discord.

“Well now I do believe you’ve gone and taken away her spirit,” he said. “And without a spell, too! Most impressive.”

“Shut it,” Twilight snapped.

Discord shrugged. “If it weren’t true, you wouldn’t be so defensive.”

“Look,” I said while making sure to keep steady and look Twilight in the eye, “I’m fine . . . I just need a few minutes to get used to this. Honest.”

Discord raised one very tiny tattoo eyebrow, but Twilight took my word and lowered me gently back to the ground.

The ponies around us had watched in interest when Twilight dragged me off my feet, but quickly decided that a heated talk wasn’t as interesting as more magic tricks onstage.

I dusted myself off as best I could, which meant that globs of mud still stuck to my coat, and I didn’t even want to look at my tail.

“Okay,” I said, “now that that’s over, would you mind telling me what’s so important at the moment, and why you’re acting so mad?”

Twilight bit her lip, but eventually conceded.

“It’s about Starswirl,” she said.

“What about him?”

“He shouldn’t be up there . . . what’s he’s doing, what the crowd is watching, is all wrong. Not only do they not understand him, but he doesn’t either.”

I scratched my head. “Well, I guess showboating isn’t very humble, but how does he not understand himself?”

“Because,” Twilight said, “that’s not the real Starswirl.”

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