Bill Door watched the door slowly click shut in front of him, the intonations of the last, soft 'farewell' that passed the lips of the yellow mare echoing in his ears. He realised he was completely unaware of the time that had passed. It must now be late afternoon, he reasoned, but the afternoon he had spent in such delightful company had seemed like months. It still didn't seem like enough.
He let his mind wander, as he stood there on the doorstep of Fluttershy's cottage, staring at the painted door that now separated them. He began to reminisce over the day's events, sifting the memories from the blurred fog that shrouded them. He could not clearly recall, at that moment, anything that had occurred since he had left Applejack's farm that morning.
There had been tea. And delightfully delicate cupcakes cut into the shape of butterflies. He remembered there was a specific name for that, but without Pinkie there to remind him of the infinitely and surprisingly complex minutiae of cakes, the detail slipped from his mental grasp like a leaf on the wind.
There had been tea. That, at least, was certain. Bill Door was familiar with tea and well-versed in its own rich world of complexity. … Had it been… green? Green tea. With dandelion and… primroses?
He shook his head. Why was it so hard to remember something that had only just happened? He could remember all things, from the time where there was nothing to the time that…
… He could remember every facet of her being. The subtle change in shade of her flight feathers as they stretched away from her body. The flowing mane, with its bits of hay and petals caught like grains in a sieving pan. The burs caught in the hair of her back. The little imperfections that merely made the whole so much more beautiful.
Why could he remember all that, but not the afternoon that had just passed? Whenever he tried to focus on an image, or a memory, there was just her. Her eyes as they glimmered in the light that streamed through the small cottage window. Her smile as she laughed at his misunderstandings.
Bill Door looked back at the door, and felt a warmth beating in his chest.
Fluttershy was in the middle of cleaning the kitchen table, and trying in vain to keep Angel away from the remaining carrot cupcakes, when there came a knock on her door.
"Just a moment," she called, and placed the dishes beside the sink. A mouse seized its opportunity and began licking the cake crumbs while Fluttershy's attention was distracted.
She drifted slowly towards the door, and on opening it was greeted to the same pony she had just closed it on.
"Oh! Hello again."
"Hello," Bill Door replied, content to just stare.
There was a pause, broken only by the soft wing beats as Fluttershy hovered a few inches above the floorboards. She frowned slightly in concern.
"... Are you… are you alright?"
Bill Door remembered himself and shook his head, attempting to clear it. When Fluttershy's look of concern deepened still, he realised and began nodding furiously. Concern was replaced with confusion.
"I… Uh," Bill Door began, stammering. Suddenly his usual eloquence had deserted him. The carefully prepared statements normally ready on the end of his tongue had fled from him like a dream at the waking dawn, leaving only half remembered fragments in their wake.
"... Weather's good," he finished, softly chastising himself.
Fluttershy glanced up and behind him, she smiled a little and nodded.
She looked back at him, their eyes crossing. Bill Door felt frozen in that gaze, all reason failing as his mind went completely blank before those beautiful, sky-blue eyes.
He mustered up his courage for one more question.
"Show me the forest?"
The Archchancellor of the Unseen University stood silently staring at young Ramsfleece, Junior Wizard, eighth son of an eighth son, born to a small-time merchanting family who had, in a twist of irony, made their money in selling philtres and tinctures designed to avoid the possibility of eighth sons of eighth sons from occurring.
At this precise moment he was half-wishing his own parents had, perhaps, used some of the aforementioned merchandise.
"A pony," the Archchancellor finally said, cutting the silence like the piercing head of a crossbow bolt tearing through thick, whispering velvet and embedding itself in silence's corpse.
The Dean and the Bursar exchanged worried and furtive glances. The Reader of Incomprehensibilities, sat at the end of the table, slowly raised a book to his face and pretended to have been absorbed by its contents this entire time. Students carefully took up positions of safety behind plates, upturned tables and benches, or other students.
A quiet statement uttered by the Archchancellor was, in their experience, nothing but the quiet before the oncoming and unstoppable tempest.
It didn't come.
For this, Ramsfleece was intensely thankful, and spared but a second's thought that, perhaps, the very notion of a pony being responsible for the sudden appearance of confetti, streamers, and all manner of festive accoutrements in the middle of the fifth course was, not to put too fine a point on it, so utterly absurd that the Archchancellor was having difficulty taking it all in. The Archchancellor was not a man fond of the absurd at the best of times, which made his choice of career path an odd one, in retrospect.
Ridcully merely sat down. The chair creaked beneath him under the sudden weight. With a limp hand, the Archchancellor waved in the 7a'th* course, and dismissed Ramsfleece to go rescue Modo from the presumably still on-going discussion about gardening and the virtues of rocks.
As he strolled hurriedly back through the university's corridors, Bertram Ramsfleece seized the brief time of silence left to him to ponder his future career. Blood or no, he was beginning to think wizardry just wasn't for him. Something more sedate, he thought, away from ill-tempered faculty members and neon pseudo-divinities.
Something like… Cabbage farming.
Yes, he could move to Sto Helit. There was a lot to be said about cabbages, at the end of the day. He might meet a nice girl, settle down, raise a family of less than eight children, all while surrounded by the mute leafiness of a decent brassica. Besides, he could always pursue magic as a hobby. Perhaps there were opportunities in magical agriculture; cabbages had many desirable properties, not least of which was their prolificness. One could divine what it is that makes a cabbage... cabbage-y, and transfer that property to a non-cabbage and then it might, theoretically, grow more readily! Then one day, when he, Bertram Ramsfleece, was the disc-renowned expert on botanoturgy (as he would call it), he could become a lecturer at the Unseen University and take his rightful place at the high table. Maybe then he could send some hapless student to go meddle in the affairs of the gods and thus suffer the interminably shrill and unrelentingly chipper consequences.
"Hey! You're back!"
Speaking of which, there they are now.
"Modo was just telling me all about this place, and what you all do here, and what he does here, and then we talked about rocks, and then he showed me around the gardens, and we were just about to start making friendship bracelets, do you want to join in?" Pinkie Pie asked, fairly buzzing with vitality. She kept making standing jumps, each faint 'poing' punctuating her statements as Ramsfleece tried not to think about how a horse's legs are entirely inappropriate for this sort of thing. That way madness lies.
"I'll, uh, defer on the bracelets."
"Necklaces? Bangles? Rings? Daisy chains?"
Ramsfleece sighed. Already he felt he had not appreciated enough his brief moment of quiet, cabbage-filled contemplation.
"I am quite, ah, content with my current, uh, accessories. I just came to inform you that the Archchancellor is, ah, ready to see you."
"He sounds important!" Pinkie replied, not missing a beat, "Do you think he'll want a friendship bracelet? I'll make him one!"
Ramsfleece tried to protest, but it was utterly in vain. Pinkie was already gone, leaving only a cloud of octarine glitter in her wake.
*Wizards are a bit superstitious when it comes to the number eight. This does have some merit, given that mentioning the number in the right place at the right time does, apparently, have the power to summon certain unspeakable 'Things'.
Beyond the University's muffling walls, the city of Ankh-Morpork was embracing its largest street festival since the previous month's revolution. They were usually rather half-hearted about the 'revolution' part, by all accounts, and were more of an excuse to have a drink and shout a lot.. Normally they didn't even get the guillotine set up before Lord Vetinari made his customary appearance, pointed out the sensible and logical course of action was to let things be, and walked calmly away while the crowd muttered and dispersed into any number of the local taverns to plan next month's get-together. There were societies dedicated to it, and even an unofficial guild**.
The party that gripped the city now, however, was of an entirely different ilk. People were celebrating merely for the sake of celebrating. There was dancing in the streets of the Shades, and only three people were seriously harmed. C.M.O.T. Dibbler had actually sold out of sausages-inna-bun, for the first time in living memory.
However, in a small corner of an unnamed square somewhere on the city's outermost suburbs, there was one individual who did not seem to be joining in with the festivities.
In one hoof she held a balloon with the words 'PINKIE PIE' written in gothic pink. In the other, a scythe with an edge that coruscated blue as the breeze blew past it.
Beside her was the body of a middle-aged man for whom this party had been his last. A broken hourglass lay scattered around it, the shards of glass iridescent against the cobbles.
As she stood there, contemplating him, a teardrop of blue fire fell from her eye and vanished into the stone beneath her feet. She looked away, and her gaze fell instead on the trail of confetti and streamers that lead onwards, winding through the streets like thread, to the heart of the city.
Death strode forward, unseen, unheard. She walked through the crowds, passing between them like a swift wind. Behind her she left little drops of azure flame, that smouldered amongst the littered, brightly coloured paper that lay all around.
It's my Duty, she lied to herself, it must be done.
She stopped short as she saw a group of giggling acolytes in their bright pink robes and striped, pointed hats. They handed out freshly baked pastries to the party-goers, baked into the crude shape of a pony with rose-coloured icing.
A part of her was pained. A part of her felt nothing. A part of her seethed in anger.
NO DEATH, she said to herself, as she continued her march to the University's gates. Crowds flowed past her like rippling water, their laughter washing over her, their happiness a mockery of her.
NO GODDESS, she breathed, louder. People instinctively parted before her. Her presence was beginning to be felt. Alley cats leapt for the rooftops, noticed by some of the keener citizens.
**Whilst Lord Vetinari did not give open support to the notion, he had made a habit of passing his most ludicrous acts in the week running up to the revolt, just to give them something to be genuinely annoyed about.
The Archchancellor was confused, bored, and frustrated. He had been forced to listen to this diminutive pink thing natter on for almost ten minutes. She didn't even seem to need to pause for breath. He knew that what she was saying was vaguely important, since Death had been mentioned more than once, but it was difficult to sieve out the relevant information amidst the nigh-endless tide of wittering, inane detail about cakes, the undead, parties and some nonsense about the gods.
He was not his brother, he did not feel a real need to be reverent towards figures of questionable deity. He was a wizard. He laughed in the face of deity while pulling golden crowns from its ears and asking it: 'Is this your card?'
"Alright, alright! That's quite enough, thank you…"
"But I haven't even told you about the Auditors, or what happened to the Death of Rats, or-"
Archchancellor Ridcully scowled. His scowl could melt even the most steadfast of supplicants, and even Pinkie found herself yielding. It reminded her, somewhat, of The Stare.
"Ramsherd, you are sure this… Exuberant equine was the source of all the commotion?" the Archchancellor asked, looking towards the junior wizard.
"It's, uh, Ramsfleece, sir, and, ah, yes, yes I'm quite sure."
"More's the pity. Right, Bursar, you generally pay greater attention to these things, what was all that she said about Death?"
"Well, what I said was..." Pinkie began, launching back into her account of the events of the past few 'unspecified units of time'.
"Are you sure we should be riling a goddess, Archchancellor?" the Bursar replied quietly while Pinkie spoke, as he fiddled with his soup, glancing furtively between Ridcully and the pony before them.
The Archchancellor muttered something unintelligible and unrepeatable.
"I think the Bursar makes a fair point, Archchancellor, we don't exactly know what she may do to us if we go about disrespecting her. Need I remind you of the incident a few months ago with the badly-timed blasphemy and the resulting loss of the sixth floor lecture theatre to a plague of ferrets?"
"You hardly need to remind me, Dean, I kept finding the blasted things in my cupboard for weeks."
"Well, I'm just saying that perhaps we ought to pay greater attention to what she's telling us," the Dean suggested, hesitantly.
"I've been taking notes," piped up the voice of Ponder Stibbons, one of the youngest members of the faculty staff and head of Inadvisably Applied Magic.
"Give them here, Stibbons. You couldn't explain how to sit down on a chair without reference to at least three hypothetical planes of existence and a half-hour lecture on some new theory of magic."
Ponder Stibbons sighed but surrendered his notes to the Archchancellor, who squinted at the nigh-illegible handwriting and promptly threw them over his shoulder in frustration.
"Well, gentlemen, what are we going to do about all this?" he continued while Pinkie spoke excitedly about the proper way to prepare rock cakes, for the third time that day. What relevance, if any, this had to the matter in hand was questionable, but Pinkie's thought processes do not work as other mere mortals'.
"I, uh, don't suppose we could, ah, ignore it?" suggested Ramfleece, quietly.
"Excellent suggestion, Sheepshorn, duly noted."
"That's what I said."
"Or we could make a public statement disavowing ourselves of the entire thing," suggested Dr. Hix of Post-Mortem Communications.
"That just looks like an admission of guilt."
"Well, there's always-"
"Wait, wait, I think she's wrapping up," the Dean said, cutting off Stibbon's next suggestion while pointing a finger towards Pinkie. The Wizards turned their rapt and possibly full attention back to her, smiling in that inane fashion reserved only for those who were not listening to a word you just said but are trying to pretend they were.
"... and so I think I need to get back to Ponyville so I can free Death from the Rite and send him back here to sort everything out. Do you know how I can do that?"
The collected wizards glanced one to another, and back at Pinkie.
"... To the library…?" the Bursar said, fishing out a page of Stibbon's notes from his bowl.
All eyes turned to the Archchancellor. He sat, fuming, for a few seconds longer, before even his formidable sense of will was exhausted against Pinkie's divinely enhanced powers of persuasion. He sighed, and pinched the bridge of his nose.
"Goatsfoot, go fetch some bananas."