• Published 26th Jan 2012
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The Wizzard and the Pony - Parchment_Scroll

While his apprentice deals with the leaders of Unicornia, Starswirl the Bearded explores...

  • ...

Chapter 16: Cutie Mark Stories

The Wizzard and the Pony

Rincewind had thrown up his arms in what he knew to be a futile effort at self-defense. What else could he have done? There was a torrent of sunlight cascading down over the city of Ankh-Morpork, and that was new. New things, in Rincewind's experience, were seldom anything other than things to be horrified of. Drowning in sunlight would be just how he would die, he figured. Unprecedented and somehow humiliating.

The world was awash with light, golden and viscous and blinding. There was no sound but the roar of torrential lightfall, and behind it, an angry hissing sound like thousands of serpents being whipped into a lather.

It was, upon reflection, a surprisingly comfortable demise. Like basking on a rock on a particularly torpid Summer Two afternoon.

Slow, too, he thought. Come to think of it, he wasn't so much drowning as... breathing normally, albeit in panicked gasps. Upon further reflection, he thought that was fairly normal as well, so he could just as well strike that descriptor and just say "breathing normally."

"What was that?" a voice called out through the sound of rushing sunlight.

"Erm," said Rincewind. "I'm... surprised, is all," he said. "I rather expected to drown in that."

"What," said the -- now amused -- voice. "In the sunlight?" Belatedly, Rincewind identified it as that of the larger equine, Celestia.

"To be fair," said another voice -- Conina, he ventured a guess -- "there is rather a lot of it."

"It just keeps coming!" said Nijel, awestruck.

Rincewind looked around. He thought he could make out the shapes of his companions, and beyond them, what looked like perhaps buildings.

The sunlight drained away into the river Ankh, leaving behind...

Well, something was definitely wrong, Rincewind decided. Ankh-Morpork could be described with a number of nouns, pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, and even, on some nights, verbs. None of them were anything like "splendour" or "shining", and yet...

He looked around in awe. The streets were not so much clean as sparkling. The residue of filth on every cobblestone had been washed away in sunlight.* Rincewind had, a few times before, felt the touch of true awe and beauty. Never before, however, had he felt it when looking upon these streets.

Conversely, he had never felt less at home in the city than he did right then. He was unsure if this was because of the change wrought on the city by the advent of so much sunlight, or because something in him had changed. He rather hoped it was the former. The latter, like many things**, frightened him in its implications.

"Ook," said the Librarian, softly. That rather summed it up, Rincewind thought.

Rincewind looked over at his companions. Strike that, he thought. Though he rarely, if ever, used the term, he revised his thought and looked over at his friends. Awash in the slowly-fading sunlight, they looked positively majestic. Star Swirl's somewhat ragged mane and beard were, without a hair being altered, not so much ragged as charmingly eccentric. Nijel looked heroic. Conina looked... Rincewind swallowed, hard, and wrenched his gaze away. He wasn't going down that path again. Even the Librarian looked like something out of a tapestry woven with more thought to poetry than reality.***

* This, in fact, left a number of residents surprised to find that they had doorsteps, and even, in some cases, whole stoops that had been forgotten for decades, if not longer.
** Some would say "everything". They would not be wholly wrong.
*** This was a particularly Ankh-Morporkean perspective on the subject of tapestries. Where other cities might commission a tapestry to commemorate a hero's triumph over the hordes of bog-dwelling creatures that had terrorized them for years, only Ankh-Morpork would commission one to commemorate the fortnight of gastrointestinal distress the hero suffered afterwards from being forced to drink bog water.****
**** This would then be protested until a third tapestry was commissioned lauding those who had to clean up after said distress. The third tapestry would be protested by those who claimed that no one ever bothered to clean up after heroes, and, eventually, the whole thing would be scrapped. Ankh-Morpork is not, precisely, awash in tapestries.

Turning away from the Librarian, Rincewind found himself looking -- staring, really -- at Celestia and Luna. They were different. Substantially, incredibly different. It wasn't just the lingering effects of the sunlight, which was washing off. Celestia's mane, pastel and flowing in an invisible wind, was now a pale, luminous rainbow. Luna's mane was the same dark color, spangled with stars, that it had taken on when she had acted to save Star Swirl. In addition, they each seemed to have been branded by their ordeal.

Rincewind wondered about that. He also wondered whether staring at their rumps was some sort of etiquette breach.

"Well!" Star Swirl said jubilantly. "Congratulations are definitely in order! First, that was the most well-executed eclipse I have seen in, oh, decades at least! And with just the two of you!"

Rincewind frowned at the unicorn. "And, the, erm..." He gestured at the two alicorns' rears with a delicate cough.

Star Swirl chuckled. "I know!" he said. "I mean, granted, most ponies are younger when they discover their Talent, but I doubt anyone will ever have a more memorable Cutie Mark story!"

Celestia and Luna blinked at Star Swirl, confused. They looked at each other, then, with dawning realization, craned their necks to look at the new marks on their posteriors. On Celestia's thigh was the image of a yellow sun with eight orange rays of light, representing her, Luna, and their new friends. Luna's own mark appeared almost as a blot, apart from the clear crescent moon it framed.

"This is..." Celestia prodded at her rear with a forehoof, curious. "This is normal where you are from?" she asked.

"Quite," said Star Swirl. He hitched up his own robe to reveal his own mark: a five-pointed blue star on a background of pink whorls. "It's a coming-of-age thing, you see."*

"Hah!" Luna laughed defiantly. "See, Tia, I'm grown up now!"

Celestia chuckled, nuzzling the smaller alicorn. "You'll always be my little sister, Lulu," she said.

* In point of fact, Rincewind didn't see. He would later, but that is a story for another time.

Life in Ankh-Morpork soon returned, if not to normalcy, then to something resembling it. Within a few days, the freeze, near-Apocralypse, and eclipse had become a subject of gossip more than anything else. Within a week, it was barely even that. It was just another thing that had happened. The trio of talking equines could be seen in and around the city at any given time of day or night, more often within the walls of Unseen University than not.

Nijel and Conina returned to the Shades, where they were visited frequently by Star Swirl, Celestia, Luna, and even Rincewind (when he could be talked, or more frequently, tricked into visiting that part of town). The Librarian and Rincewind returned to their duties in the University, and life in Ankh-Morpork became decidedly tranquil for a change.

Rincewind loved it. All the peace and comfort of home, except this time there was no looming event on the horizon waiting to ruin it.


One looming event.

"Any ideas?" he asked Star Swirl one night when the two of them were alone in the library. (Celestia had gone to bed and Luna off to sample the night life.)

"None as yet," Star Swirl said with a sigh. "Don't misunderstand," he said. "It's not that I want to leave you." He snorted a laugh. "I'd take you with me if I could. I think you'd like it where I come from."

"I might at that."

"But I just..." Star Swirl shook his head in frustration. "I don't belong here."

Rincewind sighed. "I know that feeling," he said bitterly, then shook his head to clear it. "There has to be something."

"Ook," said a quiet voice from behind him.

"Oh," he said, turning towards the Librarian. "Hullo, you."

"Ook," the Librarian repeated firmly.

"Just, how to get the ponies back where they..." Rincwind grimaced. "Where they belong," he finished bitterly.




"And you never mentioned this before because...?"

"Because we never asked, I suspect," Star Swirl said.

"Ook," said the Librarian, laying a hand on Rincewind's shoulder.

"Well," said Rincewind. "I... Well. I'm touched. Really." He squared his shoulders. "But I think we'd better put their needs first, hey?"

"Rincewind," said Star Swirl gently. "I think he was." Before Rincewind could respond, the pony wrapped his forehooves around the wizard in a fierce hug.

Author's Note:

I haven't forgotten this story. I've been wrestling with Real Life stuff, and today made a sort of breakthrough and was able to start writing again.

In addition, story-wise, I was wrestling with the aftermath of the last chapter -- I was so eager to get to the past few chapters that the thought of ending the story left me feeling a sort of ennui. I've grown to love this story more than any other I've written. Rincewind is fun to write for me, and Star Swirl makes a wonderful foil for him. Alas, though, the time for parting is almost upon us.

Up next: The Apocrylogue. (The End of the Story. Sort of.)