• Published 20th Oct 2012
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Out of Touch - ToixStory

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Death of the Magician - II

I turned to the Starswirl on stage, back to Twilight, and then repeated the action. The allegedly-fake Starswirl was still in the middle of another—quite impressive—trick that involved showing off adventures he had taken in the underwater lost kingdoms of the Pegasi Cities.

“How exactly can you tell?” I said. “He looks like a pretty powerful magician to me.”

Twilight shook her head. “I know because I’ve met the real Starswirl personally.”

“That, and it’s easier than you think to trick the average pony,” Discord chimed in.

Twilight glared at him.

“What?’

“So you’re saying that he’s not really doing magic?” I said.

“No, no, that’s magic alright,” Discord said. He picked at one of his tattoo-claws. “If a little unrefined, after all.”

Twilight nodded. “He’s using some strong magic, but nothing like the real Starswirl. Not even close.”

“Okay, so what are you going to do about it?” I kicked at the muddy ground under me. “I mean, is it really wrong that he’s cheering ponies up?”

Twilight sighed. “No, I suppose not, but we rarely land somewhere in time for no reason. The last time we fell into this time period, I fought a siege against a griffon aviary with the real Starswirl the Bearded, and that must have been years before this. If we’re here now, it means something’s going to happen.”

I laughed. “You make it sound like you can’t control your time travel.”

When Twilight remained as grim as ever, my laughter faded off. “You . . . you can control your time travel, can’t you?”

“Time for us is like . . . a street pony who steals your purse constantly and you have to chase after him and find out why he took it in the first place,” Discord explained. “Not that I would know anything about carrying a purse . . .”

“Great,” I said. “Really great. I’m stuck with the two embodiments of crazy on a time traveling adventure that none of us have control of.”

Discord clapped. “Thank you for summing up out loud what all of us already know. That was very helpful.”

“Will you two be quiet?” Twilight glared at the both of us, then turned her attention back to the stage.

“It looks like something’s changing in his act.”

She was right, of course. The magic pictures had disappeared from the air and Starswirl strutted about the stage to build up tension for his next announcement.

“Now I know my feats my look impressive to the average pony,” he boomed, “but presentation is no substitution for action! That is why I challenge any pony in the crowd who is brave enough, to come challenge I, Starswirl the Bearded, in a feat of magic! Allow me to prove to all who are here that I am, indeed, worthy of your praise!”

Oh no.

I spun to face Twilight.

“You’re not-” I began.

A twinge from Twilight’s horn and my mouth snapped shut within a small field of violet magic. There was a very particular sparkle in her eye when she smiled again.

“He said he wants a challenger,” she said. “I just intend to give him one.”

I shook my head and tried to move in front of her, though it was mostly a worthless endeavor. I also did my best to glare and her and look mighty fierce.

“It’s not like I’m going to hurt him.” Twilight smirked. “I just want to give a little . . . test. After all, this imposter could be a monster, or a changeling, or-”

“Me?” Discord said hopefully.

“Hush, you’re still a statue,” Twilight said.

She left me sputtering in the mud, still under her spell, while she roughly shoved past ponies on the way to the front of the crowd.

Up on the stage, Starswirl had made short work of a few brave-but-stupid ponies who seemed to think the best way to beat a magician was to run at him really fast. It ended about as well as one might expect from one of those geniuses.

Twilight’s spell on me finally broke and I thumped to the ground, gasping for air. I shook my head to clear the buzzing that had settled over my vision.

On a normal day, my struggling probably would have been noticed, but the spectacle that had started on stage stole the spotlight. Feeling eventually returned to my extremities as oxygen again flowed to my brain.

I had apparently not been in the frame of mind to actually use my nose to breathe, being the genius I am.

As the chatter of the crowd grew, I quickly set down on the path Twilight had cleared to the stage to catch what I was sure was going to be a disaster.

I mean, it probably wasn’t the best idea to try to imitate the idol of a mare who can chase off a dragon.

I made it to the front of the crowd and watched what was happening on stage. Which, at the moment wasn’t much.

Twilight stood across from Starswirl, as motionless as a statue and keeping her eyes locked on him. Starswirl, for his part, seemed to grow more nervous by the second.

“So a, uh, new challenger appears?” he said, but nowhere near as loudly as before.

“What is your name, fair challenger?”

Twilight’s eyes narrowed.

“My name is not important,” she growled. “The question should be: what is yours?”

The crowd chuckled at the—to them—absurd question, but “Starswirl” got the message just fine. He backed away a little and gulped.

“W- Well I assume you wish to fight?” Starswirl said.

Twilight smiled.

“Let’s.”

Quicker than I could track, a bolt of violet energy sailed from Twilight’s horn right at the imposter Starswirl. Despite his nature, he wasn’t less than impressive himself.

Starswirl the Faked dodged Twilight’s attack with pegasus-like agility, even as the board of the stage beside him buckled and fizzled under the magic bolt.

Twilight looked surprised that her initial attack had missed, allowing Starswirl enough time to gallop closer and unleash a blast of his own.

Whilst Twilight’s magic bolts were focused and lethal in their design, Starswirl’s had a more showboating quality to them, flashing colors and in the shape of a star as they lanced toward Twilight.

Or, rather, where Twilight had been.

The stage burst and sent wood flying in all direction as a technicolor explosion consumed Twilight’s former position.

The violet unicorn, however, was decidedly not in that location, but rather several feet straight up. Her jump took her over the affected area, over Starswirl’s head, and right behind him until they were but a foot from each other.

Twilight’s face broke out in a smile and a beam of light shot forth from her horn, right at Starswirl’s neck. The crowd below her cringed and I watched with care for what seemed to be the final blow.

Then, the beam missed. Faster than I had seen even Twilight move, Starswirl had ducked and gotten under his opponent.

This imposter was good.

Sensing that formal combat was over, Starswirl chose to use more practical force against Twilight, and launched a hard kick at Twilight that connected beneath the unicorn’s jaw with a sickening crunch.

Twilight was sent sprawling across the stage while Starswirl panted in either rage or terror. Maybe both.

“So that’s how you want to play?” Twilight shouted, rubbing the side of her mouth.

“I do not play,” Starswirl shot back.

In a different situation, bold words like his may have sent his opponent off balance, giving him an edge. Perhaps they had, many times before. But Twilight was no ordinary opponent.

Instead, Twilight just screamed in frustration and stomped her hoof on the stage. Her eyes began to glow a flashing combination of red and purple as the magic building around her horn glowed a glaring shade of white.

The normal field tripled in size, and crackled and sparked all around her. The fake Starswirl watched her in silence, even as he began to backpedal across the stage.

Twilight, however, never gave him the chance. Her pent up magic suddenly exploded forth in a tidal wave of energy that engulfed the magician in a flash and mighty boom that sent ponies around the stage sprawling.

Maybe it was my link with her, but the energy seemed to rush by me like I was a boulder in a river, leaving me the only pony standing near the stage. Which meant I was also the first pony to witness the aftermath.

The fake Starswirl lay on the stage, his mane and tail burnt at the edges to compound the numerous abrasions and burns on his body. He weakly made it to his hooves, which was a feat in itself.

His costume was gone, and defeat filled his eyes as he looked out on the horrified crowd. His mouth opened like he was going to speak, but then shut once again.

Without a word, he dragged himself off the stage and through the back curtain, away from the stares of the other ponies.

Twilight watched the whole thing, then took her opponent’s former space at the forefront of the stage.

“I win,” she said dryly.

Her voice was so quiet that I imagined only I could hear it, but the intent was obvious to the rest of the gathered ponies. Their expressions quickly turned hostile and they shouted at her to come down.

What was most surprising of all, though, was the last figure to land on the stage with a thump.

Her mane of many hues fluttered across her ivory coat and partially obscured by a bright sun cutie mark on her flank. The Empress of the Harmonious Empire, Holy Sovereign of a Thousand Systems!

The eyes that watched a billion ponies on countless planets and moons from her Golden Throne looked down at Twilight not in anger, but in disappointment. Which, in that situation, was far worse.

As I immediately bowed my head and fell to my knees, Twilight stared back defiantly.

“Princess Celestia,” she said simply.

“Twilight Sparkle,” the Empress reverently spoke, “we need to have a word.”

* * *

The light faded from my eyes and I found myself inside a high-walled chamber of stone and stained glass windows that let colored light flood in from all sides. In the middle of the room was a massive fixture adorned with six spheres and at the head of the chamber lay a singular golden throne upon a red carpet that draped over the steps in front.

The throne room.

I immediately threw myself to the ground and prostrated myself in front of the throne. To worship the Empress on a far-flung colony was one—expected—thing, but to be in the chamber itself. And not even the chamber high in the Celestial Spire in Canterlot . . . but in old throne room in the Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters!

Deep down I still ached for Charm and Journey’s End, but those feelings were nothing in comparison to meeting the sovereign herself.

“Your friend seems to be shaking,” the Empress said. “Is that normal?”

“O- Of course it is, Empress!” I answered quickly.

I wanted to hit myself as soon as the words left my mouth, though. What kind of answer was that?

The Empress raised one royal eyebrow. “Empress?”

“She’s not from around here,” Twilight explained.

“I would say so.”

The Empress smiled—if I wasn’t mistaken—mischievously. “Is this perhaps another tiding you bring me from the future?”

Twilight even smiled a little bit herself. “Spoilers.”

She cocked her head. “Wait . . . have you dropped the royal ‘we’?”

“Yes, I have,” the Empress said. “Recent . . . events . . . have necessitated a more singular approach to my rule.”

She looked forlornly at her throne, and the spot beside it that still held the remains of a second throne that had once sat there.

“She’s gone?” Twilight said.

The Empress nodded. “Just months ago.”

Twilight rubbed her head. “That must be why I can still feel the Elements in this room . . . they haven’t gone completely inactive since their last use.”

“Indeed.”

The Empress looked skyward, then back to Twilight. “But that is not why I have called you here.”

“Is this about the fake Starswirl?”

The Empress nodded. “Yes, it is. To use such brute force against a pony who had done no wrong to you . . . I am very disappointed in you, Twilight.”

“But he was an imposter!” Twilight protested. “Besides, I didn’t even use any high-power spells on him at all; I wasn’t going to hurt anything more than his pride.”

The Empress’ divine eyes narrowed at her student’s statement.

“The question is not whether you brought him harm, but why you took it upon yourself to bring your idea of justice into my realm.”

Her words hung in the air as Twilight looked up at her. For once, she actually seemed hurt, with her lip quivering ever so slightly and limbs shaking under the pressure she held on herself. To see her so easily cowed was a sight all in itself.

“I’m sorry, Princess,” she admitted at last, “but how does letting an imposter of the greatest magician in all of ponydom go around claiming his titles help your realm?”

The Empress thought for a moment, then wisely decided, “I could just as easily tell you, but perhaps this is a lesson that you should learn for yourself. You once told me that I will be your teacher, correct? If you still need instruction after all this time, then so be it.”

“As you wish, Princess.” Twilight sighed.

“Though, if I were you, I would start at the Green Dragon Inn,” the Empress said with a small smile. “A student needs somewhere to start, after all.”

“Yes, Princess.”

“Good to hear. And Twilight? Take care of this one who is with you . . . she is still shaking like a leaf!”

I quivered a little at the mention of my shaking which was, indeed, true. I kept my head bowed to the ground, even while the two of them shared a laugh.

“Her name’s Tinker,” Twilight said.

“And will I see her in the future?”

Twilight smiled. “Maybe.”

* * *

The Empress allowed us the use of her teleportation to reach the city much quicker than we could have done by walking.

With the veil of their hero torn apart, the crowd of ponies in the square had long since dispersed and gone back to their homes and shops as the sun continued its laborious journey to the west.

When we passed them, the downtrodden ponies had a quiet sort of despair to their actions: brooms swept slower, newscolts shouted softer, and carts on the once muddy street—now caked to a solid state in the hot sun—moved slower.

The only action they seemed to have was to glare at Twilight everywhere we went, though no course of action or spoken word was raised against her. But perhaps that was their punishment; complete ignorance of our presence.

If she minded, Twilight didn’t show it.

“You know the Empress!” I said to fill the silence.

“Of course I do,” Twilight said. “I was once her student, after all.”

The impact of that particular revelation kept me still in the street for a few moments, and I had to gallop to catch up Twilight before she left me behind.

“Well . . . wasn’t your name deleted from history or something?” I said. “If so, how come she knows it?”

“Only five, well, counting you, six, beings throughout history know my name, for one reason or another. Princess Celestia is one of those, as well as Silverback, Lord Of All Dragons. Few are so privileged . . . even Princess Luna does not know it, and her sister keeps my identity guarded closely.”

I thought for a moment. “So if the Empress already knows who you are now . . . then she’ll know who you are when you come around naturally, right?”

Twilight stopped for a second. The sunlight lanced through her mane as she looked up at the sun with a reverence that I had not seen even in the highest of priests.

“Yes . . . she will. She will watch as her prized student grows into the same mare that has visited her many times before, and she will be unable to stop it. Even when she knows that I become . . . this . . . she will not be able to speak a word of it to me.”

“That sounds terrible.”

“We all have our own troubles to bear.”

Twilight looked down at her tattooed side, and poked it with one hoof. “Speaking of which, mine seems to be unusually quiet.”

Discord the tattoo glowed red and slunk up from Twilight’s side, stretching in mock exhaustion.

“Can you really blame me?” he said with a hint of irritation in his voice. “You know how Celly feels about me. First a lover’s spat, then the Elements of Harmony got involved, and she sealed me in stone!”

He huffed.

“I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut around her. It was only our last visit that she stopped trying to purge me from you because it would open a rift in reality.”

“Rift in reality?” I said.

“Think of it like the mysterious area all of your socks disappear to in the washing machine, but big enough for an entire pony to fit in to, but not quite as malevolent,” Discord explained.

Twilight waved at us to be silent.

“Hush you two, we’re here.”

The Green Dragon Inn was, unsurprisingly, a two-storied wooden building with a thatched roof that had a sign hanging from a post with a woodcut of a dragon painted green on it.

At least they were straightforward, if nothing else.

Twilight took a deep breath before pushing the door open and stepping in. After a moment, I followed her.

Inside, the inn was much the same as I had always pictured them, or how they had been portrayed on holovids. The usual bar with the world-weary barkeep behind it with his array of drinks in many colorful bottles.

The brightly-painted walls stretched up high to the ceiling above the loose spread of circular tables to give the illusion of the room being much larger than it actually was. An ivory piano sat on a small stage in one corner, but remained unoccupied in the aftermath of recent events.

From the looks on the ponies lounging at their tables with drinks in hoof, they had come to the inn to forget themselves and their adoration for a hero for a little while. To see his conqueror walk in to the same room must have been quite a shock.

“Can I help you?” the barkeep said, in a way that suspiciously sounded like he actually didn’t want to help us at all!

Twilight kept her voice low and monotone.

“I’m looking for Starswirl.”

A collective gasp rose and lingered through the room.

“Haven’t you done enough to him already?” one pony cried.

“Leave the poor stallion alone!” said another.

The barkeep glared at Twilight icily.

“He’s ain’t here,” he said.

“I have it on the best authority he is,” Twilight said.

“Oh yeah? Who?”

“The Princess.”

The barkeep snickered. “Right, and I have a secret mailing service to Night Mare Moon.”

When Twilight didn’t leave, the crowd began to budge in toward us, growing more bold and angry by the second. Maybe it was the alcohol in their systems or the anger of having their hero taken from them, but they were mad.

Discord sighed, though did not remove himself from Twilight as he normally did.

“Let me handle this,” he said.

Suddenly, Twilight’s back arched and her eyes flashed and pulsed a deep red color. An out of character smirk appeared on her face.

“Now where were we . . .?” she said to herself, though it was evident that it was not her own voice coming from her mouth, but Discord’s.

Twilight/Discord turned back to the barkeep with a wicked grin that twisted into an expression of anger.

Where is he?!” he/she bellowed. “Where. Is. Starswirl?”

The terrified barkeep cowered behind his bar while the crowd backed up a few paces. Even then, though, he tried to keep up a brave front.

“I- I don’t know,” he stammered.

He was immediately pulled across his own bar by a magic field around his neck until his face was almost touching Twilight/Discord’s.

Listen to me,” he/she said. “I do not have much time here, so I will make this request simple. You will tell me where in this claptrap Starswirl the Bearded is, or I will tear out your soul and wear your skin as a suit while I go door to door asking where the magician is until your lifeless husk begins to rot. Understand?”

The shaking barkeep and pointed to a room a doorway at the top of some stairs.

“He- He’s up there,” he said. “Just, please . . . don’t hurt him.”

Noted.”

Twilight/Discord strode through the room toward the stairs, and the crowd parted as quick as they could to let him/her pass. I followed with my head down, trying not to catch the eyes of any ponies in the frightened crowd.

Once we had made our way upstairs and away from anypony’s prying ears, Twilight/Discord slumped against a wall and moaned. A faint red glow enveloped him/her, then disappeared. When he/she opened her eyes, they were back to the usual violet, with one only slightly red.

Twilight was back.

“What have I told you about doing that?” she snapped to Discord.

The little anthropomorphized tattoo shrugged.

“You were taking too long, and it seemed like we needed to find this imposter pretty quickly.”

He looked at me.

“And you can tell Tinker that my threats were, as usual, empty. She’s practically ready to collapse in fright.”

“I would tell her that, but I’m never quite so sure myself.”

“Fine, do as you want.”

Discord collapsed back against Twilight. She walked up next to me.

“Are you alright?” she said.

I slowly nodded. “I’m . . . I’m fine. Let’s just find the fake Starswirl, okay?”

“It doesn’t happen very often, you know.”

With her last words of reassurance, Twilight walked down the hall, checking the doors one by one. There were only three, so it wasn’t a very difficult endeavor.

When the last door opened with a soft creak, Twilight went inside.

There was a small bed on a wooden frame and a chest of drawers beside it. A washbasin lay under the bed and a small table was pushed up against the opposite wall. In all, it was a simple room meant for simple ponies.

But the pony that lay on the downy mattress was not a simple pony at all. The lumpy form of the imposter Starswirl the Bearded remained still as Twilight approached the bed.

“Starswirl . . .” she began.

The defeated magician started, and rolled over with exaggerated slowness until he was facing us. He squinted up at Twilight.

“It’s you,” he said glumly. “What do you want? To defeat me again?”

“No, I’m here to help,” Twilight insisted.

“Oh yeah, and how do you plan to do that?”

Twilight bit her lip, then her eyes lit up and she smiled a little bit.

“Starswirl, we’re going to make you a hero again.”

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