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A Matter of Perspective · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
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Time Enough for Friendship
To look upon the world from outside time is not an easily described experience. Imagine a vast space of everything that could be and a line tracing out the most probable path through those events, drifting like a winding river. That image is wholly wrong, but in a way that approaches a truth that beings accustomed to a four-dimensional existence just aren't equipped to process. At least, most of them aren't.

Star Swirl the Bearded was not most four-dimensional beings. He had never completed the destiny spell, but he had been able to apply some lateral thinking to the subject of immortality. He had not been able to harden himself against time's flow through ascension, so he instead took himself out of the timestream entirely. Now—for a given meaning of "now"—free from age and hunger and all of the other concerns that assume one's body is aging, he could look upon all of history at once.

It wasn't pretty.

The harmony of ponykind was an incredibly fragile thing from a timeless viewpoint. Star Swirl could see all the myriad ways that that light could be snuffed out. Ice ages, whether the products of windigos or an absent sun, froze the world solid. Heat from within and without the planet melted its very surface. Hatred and conquest laid waste to the nations of ponykind. Apathy and corruption rotted them from within.

If asked, Star Swirl would say he did not meddle. Not anymore. On occasion, he made some small change to ensure the best possible outcome. A briefly waylaid messenger here, a prominently placed tome there... Had it been attempted from within time, it could not be done, for the events either had or had not happened, and no effort from those who came after could change them. Star Swirl was no longer so encumbered. It was not meddling, he would insist. Nothing good had ever come of his meddling. Given that, given the obvious benefits of these minor adjustments as they rippled outward, they were demonstrably something else.

Once again—for even Star Swirl could not help but think sequentially—the bright line of what was, is, and would be strayed from his preferred path, and equinity was lost. He leaned in closer to the divergence point. It was a time of returns for both Princess Luna and the Elements of Harmony. There was the curious little curlicue of twisted time, splitting out of the main line like a thread out of a rope before feeding back in, that marked Twilight Sparkle giving herself a self-fulfilling prophecy. And there, just a bit afterwards...

Enfeebling. Enslavement. Extinction.

It only took a matter of years before the ponies' overworked, magic-starved bodies gave out. Less than a century before all of their works were reduced to dust. And then, as he had long before, Tirek abandoned a wasteland, seeking a new place to consume.

Star Swirl cracked his neck. This one would take some finesse. Tartarus existed on a different temporal plane, to prevent the escape of those prisoners who could twist time or step out of it. He would not be able to reach Tirek before the fiend made good his escape, nor could he access Cerberus before he ran off. Though perhaps there was a way to keep the hound's flight short...

The unicorn seemed to flicker, here one moment, gone the next, here again the third, though much more disheveled. Cerberus, it seemed, was in a blind rage. It would take Fluttershy or a similar pony to gentle him before he could be led back to his post. Star Swirl had even less talent with animals than he did with ponies, so taking her place was not an option.

Warning Celestia and Luna was fruitless. Tirek had contemplated the princesses' every move for centuries; if he didn't want to be found, he wouldn't be. Celestia's most effective stratagem for finding him was freeing Discord. Fluttershy charmed the spirit into compliance... but so to did Tirek, who then proceeded to feast on Discord's power along with that of the Elements. With a grumble, Star Swirl removed the warning missive from Celestia's desk before she saw it. At least he had a project to consider when this one was dealt with.

Direct confrontation was off the table, of course. Any attempt to strike Tirek down with unicorn magic would be like trying to swat parasprites with a wheel of cheese. It would be the last, most foolish thing Star Swirl would ever do.

As for the Elements, they weren't enough. At least, not on their own. Star Swirl could see Tirek drinking in the rainbow, then smiting the Bearers for their impudence. It would take direct intervention by the Tree itself to overwhelm the centaur's abilities, but once the Elements were returned to it, it would not relinquish them until it had fully recovered its own strength. That would not happen in Twilight Sparkle's lifetime. She would never ascend, and so that path merely delayed the doom of ponykind. The Princess of Friendship was necessary for the future, but Tirek was not giving her the time needed to fulfill her destiny.

If time was the issue, perhaps Star Swirl could shorten the timetable. In the optimal timeline, Twilight ascended a few years after moving to Ponyville, but the relevant events covered less than one. If he could remove the chaff...

After a few adjustments, the timeline went skewing off into even worse territory. Eye twitching, Star Swirl peered into the new history.
Rarity and Applejack were visiting Fluttershy for tea. Neither of their own homes were suitable for guests at the moment, nor was much of the rest of Ponyville.

Rarity sipped and sighed. "Such a shame."

"She was such a nice pony," said Fluttershy.

Applejack snorted. "Nice, sure, but more trouble than a tinfoil plow."

"Applejack, really!" Rarity cried. "Is that any way to speak about a friend, especially behind her tail?"

"Were we friends?" Applejack raised her hooves as the others protested. "Hear me out, now. Sure, we had some good times together, but ever since Twilight came to town, it's just been one thing after another. I don't know about you two, but I've barely had a moment's peace since the Summer Sun Celebration."

Neither other mare could look her in the eye after that. "It's a rather harsh way of putting it," said Rarity, "but..."

Fluttershy gave a reluctant nod. "It's true."

"Ain't no wonder she snapped. Filly was high-strung from the day she first got here. All that stress..." Applejack shook her head. "It's a darn shame, but I ain't surprised it happened."

"Nor I." Rarity sighed. "I do wish she could've spared the town, though."

Fluttershy drooped, looking into her teacup. "And that poor Ursa Minor."

Applejack put a leg over her withers. "Least Princess Luna's feeling well enough that she could help you calm down its mama."

Rarity freshened her cup. "Well, hopefully with the summer behind us, things will be returning to normal."

The first flakes of raspberry gelato began to fall outside.
Star Swirl winced as he pulled away from the scene. He had to admit, at this point, he had slipped back into meddling. He undid the previous changes until the timestream returned to the previous, mildly more favorable state.

"One more try," he said to himself, his words resonating oddly in the space beyond time. "One more try, for good or for ill."
Discord looked upon the land and saw that all was without reason or form. And it was good.

"My lord?"

Discord turned away from watching several pins playing an enormous ponyball machine, bringing his attention to a beard and its attendant unicorn. The beard regarded Discord with commendable confidence. The unicorn... well, at the very least, Discord was willing to give him points for his daring use of bells.

"Well now." Discord smiled. "Hello there, my little pony. How may I make your life more chaotic today?" He barked out a laugh. "Oh, listen to me. As if you had a say in the matter." With a snap of his talons—

The unicorn's horn lit up.

—snolat sih fo pans a hitW

Discord blinked and sniffed at his eagle limb, then smacked his lips as he considered the magic's bouquet. "A localized time-reversal field. Not centered on me, of course; not even I know what would happen then. No, you centered it on where my hand was in space and time. You even threw it some mediating factors to deal with how time-reversed matter is indistinguishable from antimatter. How thoughtful." He no longer looked amused. His expression now spoke of something far more dangerous: curiosity. He leaned on one arm of his throne as it rotated to face the pony. "Congratulations. You're interesting enough that I'm willing to listen to you for a few minutes."

The stallion bowed, making the bells on his hat and robe jingle. "Thank you, my lord."

Discord gagged. "I am not your lord. Lordship implies a far more organized hierarchy than my preferred model of me followed by everything else." He patted one of the throne's arms. "Even the chair's more for lumbar support than a sign of rulership. You may refer to me by any of my preferred appellations, such as 'Discord,' 'Spirit,' 'oh rut me, it's him,' or 'my lord.'"

This got a jingly nod. "As you wish, Discord. I am Star Swirl, called the Bearded One."

"I don't recall asking." Discord stroked his beard, which was lying on his lap and purring. "Why haven't I turned you into a nectarine, again?"

"You found me interesting."

Discord rolled over, couching his face in his mismatched palms. "So I did. Finding somepony who can get a spell to work on me is such a rare treat." He twisted himself until he was floating above Star Swirl, looking at him from directly overhead. "I'm guessing you're not from around here. Or more accurately, from around now."

Star Swirl met his gaze, nothing in the pony's eyes but weariness. "You would be correct."

"Hmm. Well, that's quite interesting in and of itself. Past? Future? Alternate present?" Discord grinned. "No, don't tell me. It's more fun if I have to guess." His tufted tail produced a magnifying glass and brought it to his eye. He began orbiting Star Swirl, analyzing him from every angle. "Curious. Quite curious. Could go either way, really. I'm going to err on the side of future, though. There's no way that outfit could ever be forgotten. I suppose you come about during one of my vacations."


Discord shrugged. "What can I say? Unruling over a bunch of ungrateful horses gets old. At least, I assume it will. So, pop out for a few centuries, let them collect themselves, build up a few things it'll be fun to knock over. Seems like something I'd do."

Star Swirl gave a noncommittal grunt. "Be that as it may, I come seeking a boon."

Discord quirked an eyebrow. "Oh, you do, do you? Mister Fancy-Schmancy-Chronomancy here with his big blue robe, vworp-vworping his way about the timeline." He went muzzle to muzzle with the stallion. "Who do you think you are to ask me for favors?"

Star Swirl gave no visible reaction to the draconequus in his face. "Tell me," he said, "do you know how many ways ponykind can be brought to extinction?"

Never one to pass up a non sequitur, Discord flashed back to his throne and answered, "Not off the top of my head, but I'm sure I could think of a few dozen. Hundred. Thousand. Million." He tilted his head. "Not sure if those last few would work, actually. Still, it's not like ponies have to worry about any of them. I know better than to break my toys beyond repair. After all, that's why I'm not doing any time travel. Sure, there's some paradox protection in place, but I could overwhelm it if I really wanted to. That would break the universe, and that's where I keep all of my stuff! And what would I do afterwards, make a new universe?" Discord stuck out his tongue. "That sounds unpleasantly like work."

"There are times when your beneficence does not protect ponykind," Star Swirl said with a straight face. "In those times, I have been guiding it from the shadows, keeping it on the most favorable course."

Discord gave a lion's-thumb's-up. "Good to hear it. I'm sure future me will thank you for looking after the place while he was out."

Star Swirl slumped a little. "But there is one force, for all my wisdom and trickery, that I am powerless against, for which I need your aid, o Spirit."

One of Discord's eyebrow rose. He grabbed the string before it floated off. "Go on..."

"Do you know of the one called Tirek?"

"Tirek, Tirek..." The word appeared above Discord's head, sprouted arms and legs, picked up a padded mallet, and rang a gong. Discord perked up, dislodging the name, and cried, "Ah, of course! Vorak's colt! Fell in with Sendak the Accursed, tried to learn magical vampirism." Discord shuddered. "There are some lines even I won't... cross..." His face fell, slipping to his midsection before he fixed it back in place. He shook his head. "Oh, tell me he didn't."

"He will," said Star Swirl. "Twice. The first time, I will defeat him, with the aid of my mistresses and his own brother."

Discord gawked, too surprised to make a gag out of his dropped jaw. "You turned Scorpan against his brother? He's the biggest toadie to ever grow warts! Even I'd have to brute-force that one. How did you manage it?"

Star Swirl dipped his head. "Through a power I barely comprehend, and that you know not of."

Discord tapped his eagle talons against an armrest."Since you're seeking my aid, you should know that I have very little patience for the 'vague wisdom' schtick."

"The power of friendship."

The draconequus made a flatulent noise with his lips. "Fine, fine keep your secrets. So, that's the first time taken care of. I take it you can't do a repeat performance for the rematch?"

"There are six who are destined to defeat him," Star Swirl said, "but he breaks loose from Tartarus before they are ready to do so."

"Big whoop. Find someone else."

Star Swirl shook his head. "Destiny is firm on the matter. My attempts to circumvent it only lead to greater devastation."

"What, greater than Tirek sucking down every drop of pony magic?"

Star Swirl looked deep into Discord's eyes. "My early, clod-hoofed intrusions wrought eons of suffering and tyrants the likes of which even you would shudder to witness. Death is a mercy compared to some of the paths I have unwittingly led equinity down."

Discord found himself on the other end of abyss-staring for once, and blinked. "O... kay then. So what's the problem with the half-dozen heroes?"

"As with Tirek's first defeat, it must be the bonds between them that lay him low."

"Suuuure it must," Discord said with a snort.

"But they have fewer than two years from when they first meet to prepare, and they cannot be allowed to know that they are preparing!" Star Swirl began to pace. "They cannot meet sooner, or they will not be ready for the other terrors they must face! I cannot force them into readiness, for rushing them will destroy their friendships, not build them! They need times of peace, times when they need be only ponies, not heroes, but they cannot afford them!" Star Swirl hung his head, his breathing heavy. "And thus, o Spirit, I come to you."

"I don't know if you noticed, but 'friendship—'" Discord paused to gag. "Well, that isn't exactly my thing. How do you expect me of all conceptual embodiments to help?"

Star Swirl took a deep breath. "Render their time fluid."

Discord tented his fingers. "Explain."

"Effects will still follow their causes, but it will be unclear how unrelated causes relate to one another. Time will still progress, but it will be nigh-impossible to say how much."

"I think I get it," said Discord. "You can't beat the time limit, so you're making it irrelevant." He grinned. "You'd make a pretty good spirit of chaos."

Star Swirl shook his head. "I doubt any could confuse the two of us."

Discord snorted. "Don't flatter yourself. I said 'pretty good,' not 'sexily flawless.'"

"Will you aid me in this?"

"Hmm..." Discord gritted his teeth. "I hate admit it but, you will need to lend a hoof. As I said, I haven't done much time magic."

Star Swirl nodded. "I will do so gladly."

"Then why not? Sounds interesting enough." Discord held up an eagle talon. "On one condition."

"Name it."

"We keep going."

Star Swirl took a step back. "What?"

Discord grinned. "If this proves as fun as it sounds, then I see no reason to stop at some arbitrary milestone. I want to get as much entertainment out of this as I can."

Star Swirl glared at him. "And should it grow dull before Tirek falls?"

"You're making a deal with the draconequus." Discord twirled a pitchfork. "Surely you knew there would be risks."

"And you will let Tirek lay waste to your playthings?"

Discord snarled. "You play dirty."

"It is the only way to play against one such as you."

A smirk. "True. Very well, I suppose I'll keep it going until these heroes of yours are on a solid footing. But don't tell anyone about this. I have a bad reputation to uphold."

"As you say." And for the first time in far too long, even by the standards of a realm beyond time, a smile touched Star Swirl's lips.
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