"Well, say something you old dust pile!" I heard him laugh.
I composed myself and turned around, seeing a blue coated stallion standing with a hat that held bells around its rim and pointed up before flopping back down. He also wore a simple blue cloak that was covered sparsely in stars, as well as his hat. The bells made no ringing as he trotted in.
"Forget my name already? It's only been a few dozen hundred moons. That's rude of you." He smiled at me before sitting down under the tree.
"Starswirl?" I whispered, my mouth agape.
"That's me," he patted the ground next to him, "come take a seat, Shadow Aura. We need to have a chat." I trotted over and sat my rump down against the tree, peering at him with my eyes and not my head, "I know you're wondering. We can just say a white birdy told me."
"Oh, I missed this. If only Dingy Coat were still alive and with us," he continued.
"Perhaps that's the smartest decision." I added.
"Perhaps. He was always intelligent, but magic fled his horn," Starswirl chuckled, "so, friend, what spells have you made?"
He was treating this just like our old days, when we all hung around each other and researched together. I felt tears come to my eyes.
"Oh, you'll have to see this stuff." I shot a green bolt of magic on the floor of the cavern before firing a grey beam at it and forcing a changeling to hatch, grow old, and fade to dust.
"Oh ho! Now that's a magic trick!" Starswirl clomped his hooves together, "you've mastered changeling magic and time magic, wonderful!"
"What have you been up to old friend?" We were both smiling wide.
"I've been living the life; growing old, getting younger, visiting the past and watching things. I used to look in the future. I recently heard you were searching for something I may know about." He chuckled.
"Probably, that place where Twilight went and became an alicorn."
"That's called the Evermore. That's my home. I don't really visit Equestria except to check in with Celestia. Show me more of what you've learned."
I shot a bolt of yellow magic at the empty cocoon and it transformed into a large stem that bloomed and released a small dragon that had a turtle head and no teeth. It continuously snapped its jaw at the air as it flew away.
"Haha! SNAP-dragon! Well done, Aura. Discord's chaos magic I presume?" He was very entertained by the magic I used.
"You are correct." My eyes remained watery.
"I can get you to Evermore, but you have to do me a favor first."
"And what is that?" I smirked, laughing. Starswirl always had these "but only" conditions to anything he said.
"You must learn and harness the magic in the Elements of Harmony. I'll check with Celestia biweekly to check your progress."
"Fair enough. Are you leaving?" I asked, my smile gone.
"I should take my leave, but I want to sit here under this tree with you a little longer. You know this tree is special, right?" He lowered his head.
"Of course, it holds the Everfree back and sprouted a crystal castle-like tree."
"This was the original tree we sat under. Our testing grounds were under the castle of the twin sisters. We did enjoy living far apart so we could all study the land around us from time to time and have different observations." He smirked.
"You really have been watching the past. Why become immortal like me? You called me foolish." Starswirl immediately laughed at my words.
"Maybe we're both idiots!" he guffawed again, "I was harsh when I said those words, I didn't mean them, I was young and not experienced in immortality so I feared it. I am living my immortality as you once did, but ponies could still interact with you and I suppose that's how you began to influence Equestria and be under its public eye." Starswirl went silent at the end of his speech.
We sat in silence, the cave was very dry and so was the air, just like the summer days we spent gathered around and talking or just sitting quietly, sometimes napping. Dingy was always the one napping. I missed this. And I began to quietly let my tears go down my face.
"Maybe we're both just blathering old idiots who should have fallen down a long time ago," he laughed again, "Aura, always be you. I'm on the edge of my seat waiting to see where you take Equestria next." His horn lit up a deep blue and he stood, looking to me with wet spots in his fur under his eyes. The spots trailed down to his jaw where they ended.
He was leaving and there was a chance I might not see him again or for a long time. I began to feel sad, a deep sorrow I hadn't felt in a very long time. I hung my head
"Oi! Shadow Aura!" I heard Starswirl's voice again and it snapped me from my depressed state, "'twas nice seeing you again."
I smiled again. It's nice to know he no longer resents my decision and that he shares the same solemnity I had for a long time.
"Likewise, Starswirl." I held my hoof out to him.
He took and and shook it slowly but firmly.
"Good luck." He spoke his last words as he teleported away, most likely to Evermore.
I decided I would take one more detour from my new task and check on Celestia. I quickly teleported into the throne room, where she resided, new outlets gathered in the throne room as she was giving some words to calm ponies of the freezing weather that spread across Equestria and the undead that came to attack. It seemed her duties were never done. I stood on the red carpet gilded with gold, news broadcasters on either side of me in a heart beat as well as citizens that gathered.
"Shadow Aura, Sir, what happened in Ponyville?" A cream colored stallion that bravely bore a bright blue pompadour quickly got into my face.
"Shadow Aura, who taught you all the magic you know?" A young brown maned grey mare shoved a mic close to my mouth.
"What is this ancient evil that you defeated?"
Their questions began to mingle together. News ponies were always annoying. I casted a shield spell that gently pushed them away. I stood on the inside of the shield as I levitated it to be next to Celestia, my mane still flowing in wisps of powerful magic.
"Shadow Aura, it's nice to see you so soon." She smiled and winked at me. Of course, she was the white birdy. I dropped my shield.
"Celestia, you're something. I appreciate you sending him this way, but I think he might have just sent me down a path I don't want." I spoke back to her, the crowd roaring over us and our soft voices going unheard.
"And what is that?" She questioned and I casted a spell to block our voices from being heard by the crowd, a simple whisper spell. Whisper spells are usually advanced.
"I think...he's sending me down the path to alicornhood." I whispered.
"That's wonderful, Shadow Aura! Why would you not like that?"
"I don't want to be known as a prince, what would I be prince of? Equestria doesn't need another leader."
"I see that now, yes. How do you know you will reach that?"
"He wants me to research and understand the magic of friendship, that's how Twilight became an alicorn."
"That does seem logical, Aura. But do not fear that path, Equestria has an odd way of sorting ponies into their destiny. Go for it, Aura."
"I suppose I'll begrudgingly do it." I muttered under my breath.
"It won't be that bad." At the end of her words I stopped my whisper spell and paid more attention to what the crowd of ponies were saying. They were chanting my name loudly.
"Why are they chanting for me?" I inquired. Social situations aren't common experiences for any mage in Equestria.
"I think they want you to speak some words."
"Tell them I did what any brave pony would do. I rose to the task and did what was necessary. And mention my crystal heart discovery."
"Are you su-," I teleported away before Celestia could continue talking.
I reappeared inside of Twilight's castle, in the Cutie Map room.
"Ahhh!" I heard a young boy voice scream behind me and I turned around to greet the young dragon.
"Hello, Spike. I did not mean to spook you, I only mean to call upon Twilight and her friends. It's time they revisited the past."
"What do you-," Spike screeched as I shot a large beam of my magic into the cutie map,"Shadow Aura! Are you crazy?!" He calmed down somewhat when he saw that six cutiemarks were circling in the Everfree Forest.
"I am only calling them. You know, Starswirl is still alive, right?" I turned my attention back to the map.
"Shadow Aura? What are you doing here?" Applejack boldly asked.
"I called you all here, now that you arrived, I can discuss what we, what you six, need to do."
"But the Cutie Map called us, silly!" Pinkie Pie began bouncing around.
"I used my magic to have it call you six here. We're going to a special spot in the Everfree Forest." I ended my sentence with another teleportation spell, landing us in the cave of the tree.
"Shadow Aura, you can't just use the map like that! It's dangerous!" Twilight tried to scold me.
"Twilight, it worked out fine. Now I need you six to find your elements, I need to take some notes," I cut some bark off one of the many roots that seeped into the old cavern and transmuted it into parchment with a quill and ink. I titled the parchment appropriately and looked to them, "well?"
"Hold up now. And whhhhy are we doing this?" Rainbow flew to me, looking at my in curiosity.
"For research purposes." That was a half truth.
"I think there's more to that, Aura. Did he put you up to this?" Twilight asked.
"Yes." I sighed out.
"Who does he mean? Is Discord trying to turn evil again?" Fluttershy panicked at the thought of losing her friend again, "Shadow Aura, who is 'he'?"
"Darling, you're being mysterious and that only piques our curiosity more," Rarity cut in, "so do t-."
Applejack began to laugh loudly, "now I know that's a lie! Starswirl has been gone for ages even if you claimed to know him."
I teleported them all to the Tree of Harmony
"He and I sat under this tree, the very tree we took our breaks under and talked and discussed. I should tell you all the full story I suppose," I quickly continued, knowing one of them would speak up if I didn't, "I told Celestia that Sombra wasn't defeated but inside me and I am containing him, but I'd rather not do so forever. I told her my plan to go to Evermore, where Twilight became and alicorn. She sent the pony that knew more about it than her. Starswirl lives there and he's viewing history pieces in the past." I breathed in deeply after my monologue.
"Wow! That's like sooooooo cool!" Pinkie bounced around again.
"So would you six please find your elements and stand near them? Think of them, but do not touch them." The six found their elements respectively. Applejack, Pinkie Pie, and Rarity were on the ground while Twilight, Rainbow, and Fluttershy flew up to reach theirs. I trotted slowly over to them.
I began to record what I felt around them and hat I felt when I stood between them and their elements, it was an odd force. I knew the force was magic, I could feel it, but I didn't know anything about it. It was the same sensation in my body when I fired my particularly large beam at Sombra during our duel. I could feel more specifics based on who I was near of cutting their line of contact with. Twilight's felt like pure magic and comfort, Applejack's was a sense of trustworthiness and felt like the promise a princess would keep and the relief that came with it, Pinkie Pie's felt exciting and made me feel invigorating, Fluttershy's was a very calming one and felt like I was being hugged by my own mother, Rainbow Dash's gave me a sense of brotherhood or sisterhood and pride in a team, Rarity's gave me the emotion you would get when you help another pony in need. All of them felt like they should be once I realized that with Twilight's it was a link of who they are and what their element stood for. It was very odd having emotions and sensations to be evoked out of me without having to do anything.
I began to draw connections that this magic of friendship was divisible to their six core elements of a friendship, which were also the core elements of harmony as these ponies believed. I suppose I was already well on my way to understanding the friendship that Twilight wanted me to find out about secretly and completing this odd research challenge set by Starswirl. Even if Starswirl was never my teacher, he did often challenge me to research or try finding out a spell or a way to use my magic in a different way. We made a game out of it just like the same way we challenged Dingy Coat to make new concoctions to cause different things to happen in ponies or the world around us.
"Very peculiar. I assume you all feel the specific emotions as I did when I approached you?" I questioned and got a chorus of silent nodding, "good, good. I now want you all to call out to your elements like you would if you were using them."
They began to touch and their hooves and horns respectively to them and I felt a sense of magic in the air, it was once again the same magic I felt inside me, but in a much stronger sense. I quickly began documenting it and the longer they kept their concentration, the more magic formed around them until the air began sparking.
"Girls, well done. This magic can definitely rival even mine. I've never been up close to the elements so this is a very odd feeling for me. Try to focus that magic on this shield I'll create." I formed a large and thick grey magic barrier that sealed the cave's entrance.
I saw the elements glow brightly soon after my words and radiate their shapes. It appeared to be the same effect I saw from watching them use the elements on Nightmare Moon and Discord. A large rainbow like beam shot out from each of the elements toward a center that was headed by Twilight. When they made contact, a concentrated ball formed for a moment before it shot forth at my shield as an even larger beam. As it hit, it made no visible breach or damage in the shield during the few moments it made contact. I took more notes and drew the conclusion that the magic must have an evil target in order to affect it. Light faded from the cave as the sun began to go down.
"Thank you all for doing this, I will call upon you if I need your help with this again. This won't take long to figure out hopefully," they all sighed out at my words before Twilight teleported them all back to Ponyville. I returned to my home myself. I had begun to realize that I had used a lot more magic than what I am comfortable with using, yet I didn't exhaust.
I reevaluated my own appearance while I stood in front of my giant library window that overlooked Luna bay from the far side. I saw that my horn was a little larger than before, sprouting from a large base at my skull. I was mastering magic completely, in all forms it came in. My mane still flowed in three different wisps. I found myself staring at myself in the mirror, my horn matched the size of a dragon's now, it looked wrong on my pony frame, even if my legs were a little longer than most. I was still smaller than Celestia, but my horn would have looked more at home on her.
"Feeling out of place, Aura?" I heard a dark toned voice echo throughout my library. I gazed my eyes around, finding nopony near me.
"Show yourself, intruder." I spoke aloud.
"How about you feel me?" Its reply shook me to my core and I felt a little pain as a bolt of black escaped my horn and landed on the floor, sprouting a small black crystal.
"Sombra, you shouldn't get comfortable." I gritted my teeth, trying to force him back in.
"But I will, your position now is suiting. Your body will make a fine vessel for me to use. Perhaps you shouldn't go through with what everyone else tells you. You'll only end up with something you don't want." He taunted.
"I'll unlock this magic and you'll eat your words."
"You aren't a master mage, foal, but it'd be interesting to see you try to stop me." He ended his talking with a deep chuckle.
I resigned to leave my home and I began to travel from my woods to the Smokey Mountains, the night overhead already. I had ideas for finding out more about the elements and it started with retrieving a rune. The creatures of the forest were silent, asleep, or spent their time hiding from me as I traveled. It was a small, but odd observation to make, considering they aren't that skittish around me. I took a few hours of the night to reach my destination, the moon raised high when I touched the foothill of the west mountain.
I casted a light spell from my horn, walking about the base of the mountain for a while and watching the face of the rocks. It wasn't long before one of the larger rocks disappeared from my magic presence, revealing a cave tunnel that already held one sign of my that warned of changelings. I ignored my own heed and continued on with the rock reforming behind me. I was reminded by my eyes about the tripwires and rock pressure plates I engineered to set off magic alarms I could respond to or to halt the progress of a pony. All of them were to only prevent a pony from reaching my treasure, never to harm them. I eventually reached the end of the winding tunnel that lead upwards into the center of the mountain. I trotted to the end and pushed on a rune in the wall, being hit with a teleportation spell from it.
I reappeared in another cave, this one a circular room like an unopened sinkhole would be. A single green light lit the cavern and it originated from the rune I left on the floor of the cavern. I picked it up and levitated it in my magic before pressing another rune in the cave and appearing back in my library. I could never teleport into the caves since I casted a spell over it to prevent exactly that. I teleported once more back into the cave that held the Tree of Harmony and I looked at the elements, staring at them before I levitated my evil artifact up to the element of magic and touched it to the magical gem.
I saw green and purple magic spark between them like they were having their own battle before the rune seemed to become inert. I brought it back and tried to expel changeling magic from it with no response. I tossed the rune aside in the cave before I fired a bolt of dark magic at the element myself, watching it disappear before it even got close to the tree.
"Ah, using my magic freely now?" I heard Sombra speak out.
"Silence. You shall not interrupt my studies." I pushed him back with my own will before I began to evaluate what I was doing again.
I sported wings on myself with a spell again before I flew up to the elements.
"Reveal your secrets to me. You banished so many evil things but purified others. What makes you decide?" I stared deep into Applejack's element, searching for something and anything in its reflective surface while I rambled.
I blasted my own magic at it, looking for anything to happen and it appeared to just absorb my magic. I resorted touching my horn with it and something in my clicked and caused a large amount of pain. I recoiled and fell to the ground.
"Hahaha! You can't even touch the Elements without being harmed all because of me! I'm here to stay, Shadow Aura." I heard Sombra speak again.
I ignored his stinging words and flew back up to the elements and I observed Fluttershy's a lot more closely, again, searching for anything in it to give me a clue. I resorted to blasting magic at it again and touching it with my hoof. It absorbed my bolt and shocked me slightly from my touch. I flew out of the cavern and bolted right to Twilight's castle, entering on my own accord and heading straight to her library.
I flew to the center of her room and levitated her book that contained friendship lessons off the shelf, the restored version. I began to read it all the way from the foreword to the end, skimming through it quickly before I reread it in much more detail. Many hours passed as I spent a while in the library, reading it slowly. I began to levitate books off her shelves based on magics that could correspond to friendship or link to things mentioned in the book. As I read, I began to realize I should be checking if Twilight has any journal to go through.
"Shadow Aura? What are you doing here? And why so early?" I heard Spike's voice from below me and I didn't remove my muzzle from the books.
"Spike, what wonderful timing. I'm sure you heard of that task Starswirl challenged me to. I know you think him to be a very serious, but he's really just a big softie. If you could fetch Twilight's book that she uses to message to Sunset Shimmer, that'd be wonderful. I must write my own message in it." I kept going through them and transmuted some crystal in the library in parchment and a quill with some ink. I wrote down the name and author of the books I was selecting before placing them back one by one.
"Aura, you're crazy if you'd think I'd do that." I looked down at spike to see him wearing an unamused facial expression and holding a small blanket.
I put the friendship lesson book down shortly after, finishing my deep examination of it and holding a sizable list of books in my levitation. I slowly flapped down to where he was and removed my wings.
"Young dragon, why are you up so late? You usually sleep so much." I approached him and bent my head down to his level.
"I got thirsty and hungry...I'm going for cookies and milk. What would you write in that book anyways?" Spike asked while he rubbed one of his eyes.
"Well, I've been curious about that world beyond this magic portal and from what Twilight spoke of, there is no such thing as magic there, except for this magic of friendship. So I figured if I wanted to be able to capture some or research it, I should start where it's the only kind of magic available, that way I can contain it in its purest form. It all makes so much sense, young Spike." I rambled, smiling as I went. I loved to research, especially when I've been issued a challenge.
"I still won't give it to you even if that does seem like some sound logic, I can't just give away one of Twilight's most beloved possessions." Spike grew a serious expression across his face.
"I'll give you a rune that'll let you use unicorn magic. I'll let it be good for up to a moon." I smiled down at him.
"When will I get this rune?" Spike asked, a smile on his own face now. I definitely got him right where I wanted him. He wasn't a hard dragon to figure out.
"Well, after I finish my research, you'll have it then."
"Deal." Spike laughed and ran off, returning a few minutes afterwards with Twilight's magical tome.
"Thank you, friend." I immediately opened it and began to write.
Dear Sunset Shimmer,
I am not your usual writer. I hail from a far corner of Equestria and I was most likely born far before you were. I lived with Starswirl the Bearded and I've heard tales of your world. I'm writing to you so you can meet me to do some magic research with me. I've heard that the only magic in your world is friendship, which corresponds to my current challenge and I'd like to see it and study it first hand. You will be able to talk to Princess Twilight after I get a reply and valid information. I'll be entering as soon as you give the okay through this book. I'd like to keep the entrances in here very small as to not take up too much of this precious space meant for communication and staying in touch with your dear friend.
I finished writing and closed the book before I teleported out of Twilight's castle and into my own abode, laying the book down on my own nightstand before I took off to my library and began searching for the books on the list I wrote down. I began to pull each, one by one until I had a sizable stack of around thirty books describing different kinds of magic and specific fields of spells.
I opened the first book and began to skim over it before tossing it aside, doing the same with many of the tomes. I had selected five books out of the large stack. I replaced the books I had tossed aside in their proper places before I began to read these books in detail, one was about how to approach animals and it mainly spoke about trotting up to them slowly, calmly, and with peaceful intentions, the second talked about how being honest in business spread your name slower, but gave you a firm place to hold your financial hooves and to draw your line of what you could and couldn't help ponies with in a small section of it. I read through the third book and found it to be about how you should stick by the small ponies and your friends that supported you on your rise to the top of your career or whatever you endeavored in. The fourth book over-viewed how important it was to give what you had to the ponies who didn't have much and that seeing them smile was its own reward. The last book was a lot on how to cook pastries, but also covered on the topic of making jokes, good things to do to make ponies laugh and turn their day around. All their words sounded very familiar. Only now did I pay attention to their names. They were dubbed The Magic of Kindness/Honesty/Loyalty/Generosity/Laughter, respectively.
The works all lacked author names, but I already knew them. They were the six elements themselves. I suppose this is there main concepts of friendship that they embody.
I began to mentally dissect them before I saw that they were talking about how to make friends and keep them. I was slowly understanding friendship more and more, not the magic of it, but the raw idea of it.
I noticed that I had been studying until the sun came up and light from other than my natural reflex to use my horn light spell poured in through my window, lighting my library up. I saw a pink magic flash come from my hall and I assumed it was the response from Sunset Shimmer. She must have been an early riser.
My assumptions were correct, as when I entered I was met with a brief message.
Dear Shadow Aura,
I am waiting on the other side of the portal.
She really was a down to business individual. I quickly fetched one of my pre-carved unicorn magic runes and poured almost all of my magic ability left into it which left i glowing a bright grey and floating in my hoof. I grabbed another rune and carved the symbol for gift into it. I use my remaining energy to teleport to the room where Twilight kept the mirror. I had the two most important items in my possession. I began to feel exhausted from losing almost all of the magic energy left in me. I flipped the lever to turn on the portal and cantered my way in, seeing a large building in front of me with who is probably the Sunset Shimmer of this world. I sat down, or so I thought and closed my eyes for just a moment before I quickly fell asleep with the runes tight in my hands.