Starswirl Walked Through Time

by TacticalRainboom

Retelling the Legend

An explosion of silver fire blasted the majestic double doors off their hinges, laying the evil sorceress' inner sanctum bare at long last. “This ends here, Countess Uldavrazen!” Star Swirl roared. The light flooding in from the open doorway made his enchanted mage-armor glitter harshly and throw sparks into the poorly lit room, but the sun itself was a pale lantern compared to the fury of the elderly spell-weaver's eyes and horn. “I, Star Swirl, have crossed oceans, scaled cliffs, laid waste to armies of your minions, and carved a swath through the perils of of your labyrinthine lair, and still you raise your muzzle in defiance? Face it, Countess! Your reign of terror is at its end!”

With a flowing, almost sultry sway to her movements, Countess Uldavrazen unfolded her legs and rose from the velvety red cushions she had been resting on. At first, the only indication that she had even taken notice of her nemesis' presence was the fact that she was moving. Her head was hooded and her face was obscured by a curtain the color of midnight, and a cape in the same color was draped across her back.

”Like a child,” Uldavrazen said with a dark chuckle. Power coalesced around her into a glistening haze of purple. Though Uldavrazen's face was hidden by the silken folds of her Shadowdark Veil, the evil in her voice alone was more than enough. “So the ancient and powerful Star Swirl turns out to be nothing more than an arrogant foal.” She let out a gentle laugh, almost a giggle. “You played all my games, passed all my tests, and now you barge into my personal sanctuary asking for a prize for being a good boy.”

Was the Shadowdark Veil hiding a wicked grin, or a venomous scowl, or was there another mask beneath the veil, a deadened expression of unimaginable suffering? Nopony knew, and it was likely that nopony ever would. The Countess lifted a few inches off her hooves, suspended by her own magic. The aura that surrounded her was dark purple—an evil, forbidden color. Her black cape billowed of its own accord, as if in a strong wind.

She spoke again, in a tone dripping with murder and domination. “If only you had followed me down the path of darkness back in our apprentice years,” Countess Uldavrazen sighed, lifting higher into the air until her personal misama of magic blocked out the skylights. As the room was plunged into a kind of rippling violet dusk, the Countess' voice also darkened until it was a low growl. “Now, feel the power that you refused so long ago! Wither before the unquenchable fire of pure hate!

Star Swirl’s booming voice suddenly reverted to a mare’s as he cut the voice-alteration spell. “Really? Really? The power was sorrow, not hate!”

Twilight sneered at the Countess, whose hooded head glanced both ways in confusion. The aura of darkness surrounding
the Countess winked out as if a switch had been pulled, though her cape still flapped about, tossed by the pair of wings underneath them. Twilight lifted the jeweled battlemage's helm off her head as she rubbed a temple in irritation. “I'm sorry for being like this at every rehearsal, but all of Ponyville is going to see us perform, and I have to insist upon some level of historical accuracy if we're supposed to be honoring the legacy of Starswirl the Bearded!”

“What are you talking about?” Rainbow Dash snapped, flipping the Shadowdark Veil away from her face with a flick of her head. “Sweet Celestia, I knew this would happen, even though I went egghead just for you and researched the whole thing.” She said the word re-search the way a schoolfilly might call a classmate stoo-pid. “You know what, it would have been just as easy to just make up some cool villain with a cooler name than Urlda-vazlen here!”

“Let me guess,” Twilight returned acidly, glaring up at Rainbow Dash where she still floated, “You got your ideas from a Marevel comic series? Let's see... Ultimate Star Swirl issue thirty-six?”

“Well, uh,” Rainbow Dash faltered, losing a bit of altitude as her wings got tangled in the cape. “I only used some of-”

“I read that series as a filly!” Twilight yelled. “Where did you think the library's comic book collection came from? Those old comics were mine!”

The extras and bit actors—mostly the corpses of the Countess' minions—were starting to mutter to each other. A bright voice sliced through the growing tension in the air. “Dashie! Go take ten with the rest of everypony. Heard that, fillies and colts? See you in ten minutes, and make sure you're ready to look even deader than last time! I'll have notes for how you did when you come back!”

The corpses picked themselves up off the ground and headed for the dressing rooms, the techponies put down their headsets, and Pinkie bounced across the stage to join the two bickering archenemies.

“What are you doing, Twilight?” Pinkie said, a severe look in her eyes. “Star Swirl and the Countess are supposed to be blasting each other to bits, not arguing! Look how much you distracted the rest of the cast!”

“Pinkie, the rest of the cast were pretending to be dead,” Twilight monotoned.

“And they were doing a really good job of it! I just hope they can recover in time to make the most of this reheasal.” Pinkie sighed dramatically, probably trying to express her regret that her corpses were missing out on valuable rehearsal time. “What are you arguing about, anyway? Dashie helped me to write this script, Twilight! Be nice!”

“I can tell from the dialogue that she helped to write it,” Twilight sighed. “And from the historical inaccuracies. Look, I'm just saying that there are things in this script that can be changed to make the encounter more like it was in real life. It should be an easy fix!”

Pinkie glanced over at Rainbow Dash, who was pouting, then back to Twilight. “Well I think we could use some of Twilight's accuracy and stuff with Dashie's comic books! I mean, Twilight’s comic books. The ones Dashie read!” Neither party looked impressed by this statement, so Pinkie continued: “Maybe the real story is just as fun as the comics! Well, Twilight?”

Twilight did a very poor job of hiding how gratified she was by this chance to share her opinion on the matter. “Well, I'm glad some of us care about properly honoring Starswirl's legacy. All the historical records say that Starswirl defeated Countess Uldavrazen with a single spell and then had her banished to the Badlands.” Twilight gave both of her friends a highly significant look, to make sure they could see how serious she was about the subject of Starswirl, before continuing.

“In this script, the Countess gets blasted with some non-specific spell and laughs it right off! Starwirl has to use this imaginary Amulet of the Sun to beat her by draining her power or something, and there isn't even any mention of the exile! Besides, everyone knows that Starswirl's actual powers were linked to the stars, not the Sun!” A pause, in which three ponies simply stood blinking at each other. Actually, only one of them blinked—one of them had a grin of superiority, and one of them glared. “Also, the script you gave me has Star Swirl as two words, like the comic. It's one word, not two. Starswirl.” She made sure to let the name run together when she said it, because it was one word and not two.

“Oh, come ON!” Rainbow Dash jeered. “I wrote out all that great stuff about Olda-vulva-whatever's cool powers, and now you're telling me that I don't even get to pose onstage with you making that awesome glowy effect around me? This is a play! People are supposed to have fun watching plays! They're not supposed to get bored to sleep by stuff about history!”

“We are supposed to be honoring Starswirl's great contributions to the study of magic, not making up some wild story about a minor conflict in his life! Besides, the truth is much more interesting than just comic book nonsense.”

“The comic said it was based on-”

“On scraps from the Countess' diary, I know! I read that comic years before you did! Rainbow Dash, do you know what the words 'based on' mean?”

“This sounds great!” Pinkie piped in, quickly sliding in front of Twilight and bumping Rainbow Dash out of position. Her smile was even huger than before. “I'll tell the rest of the actors and crew to take a little extra break time, and you can write a scene with all the accuracy stuff added int. Then maybe we can see if historical accuracy really is fun!”

Rainbow Dash gaped, too stunned at Pinkie's foolishness to really feel wounded about the scene being cut. Twilight, meanwhile, had already appropriated pen and paper from a techpony's workspace and started to write.

“A'right, Twilight, run this by me one more time so I can tell the other techponies. You've gone and confused 'em all real good.” Applejack spit out her hammer and beckoned to the black-clad stage manager, who adjusted his headset and trotted over. “You've ditched the beard because...”

“Starswirl didn’t wear a beard while dealing with the Countess. He was famous for his ability to make it grow and shrink at will.”

“Right. And you're wearin' last year's Nightmare Night costume because...?”

“Because,” Twilight said smugly, “It's an almost perfectly accurate reproduction of the outfit Starswirl is depicted as wearing in most of the portraits made of him.” She posed. The shiny golden bells hanging from her home-stitched costume jingled.

Applejack cleared her throat softly. “Twilight, Dashie looked sort of upset about this whole thing. Are you sure this is-”

The stage manager shushed them both as the lights in the theater faded to black. In the near-total darkness, the stage manager nodded to Twilight, who took a deep breath, then trotted out and away from the safety of the wings, across the dark stage, and into a pale spotlight.

“Countess!” Twilight boomed in her low Star Swirl voice, raising a hoof for emphasis. “Art thou present in this place, Countess? Thy tardiness reflects poorly upon already tarnished honor!” She'd been given excellent lessons in projecting her voice for stage presence, and Twilight felt a little flutter of nervous excitement at the idea of performing this part in front of an audience. With the glare of the spotlight blocking her vision, she could almost imagine that they were there, sitting in enthralled silence, all eyes on her...

“Countess!” Twilight said again, crossing the stage and making a show of glancing towards the dark recesses of the empty stage. “Thy agreement to this meeting was made on thy name and honor! Show thy face, lest these transgressions be reported to a higher auth--!”

A voice sounded from everywhere at once, loud enough to shake the surface of the stage. “That will not be necessary, Starswirl!”

Twilight inhaled slowly as a spray of different annoyances spun through her head. She cut me off early! Didn't she read the script? At least she pronounced it right this time. Then she thought, How did she manage to amplify her voice? She didn't quite have time to get to Wait, that actually didn't sound like Rainbow Dash's voice at all, because that thought was interrupted by the ceiling being blasted open in a deafening crash of stone and metal.

The cast and crew were momentarily stunned, shielding their eyes from the sunlight pouring into the room—but that sunlight was soon dulled by a swirling aura of dark magic. The mare who descended through the gaping hole in the ceiling was taller than Rainbow Dash, and much more slender. Her coat was bone white where it showed from underneath her flowing dress of pure black. She wore a hood, but no veil, so the twisted smile on her emaciated face and the sickly, clouded green of her eyes were all too plain to see.

Shock and amazement lasted for a solid five seconds before giving way to sheer, animal panic. Backstage turned into a scene of complete chaos as techponies and extras fought each other all the way to the exit. The streets outside were little different; the assault on the theater had not gone unnoticed by pedestrians and onlookers. A few heads poked out of windows and doorways, but most doors had already been slammed and barred.

All of Ponyville scattered and hid from the evil descending upon them, except for one young unicorn, illuminated by a now-abandoned spotlight aimed at front center stage. Twilight Sparkle wasn't sure herself if she was afraid—all she knew was openmouthed awe.

Even the dust from the Countess' explosive entrance made way for the ancient evil descending through the ceiling. “Starswirl,” she rasped, through vocal cords ravaged by time. “Do my fading eyes deceive me? Or are you truly Starswirl the Elusive, alive and well?” Her hooves finally met the surface of the stage, though she did not dispel the pool of shadowy purple surrounding her.

Despite everything, a rational thought crept its way into Twilight's head. The Elusive? Before she could speak, a cerulean thunderbolt clad in black hood and cape streaked from left stage, straight into Countess Uldavrazen's magic shield—and was effortlessly spiked to the floor by a sudden burst of energy.

Rainbow Dash screamed as she impacted the stage hard enough to warp the floorboards. The Countess turned her head towards the fallen pegasus with murderous glee in her eyes, and lashed out with a second bolt of power, which was stopped halfway to its mark by a blink of light and a dome of silvery violet. Twilight Sparkle, teeth gritted, stood between her wailing friend and her improbable enemy. She panted faintly from the sudden teleport as well as the effort of shielding off a blow so forceful that felt like it had resonated through her shield and struck the back of her skull.

Rainbow Dash's agony had made Uldavrazen smile, and Twilight's defiance made her openly cackle. “What seems to be the matter?” Uldavrazen pressed shrilly, advancing by a single step. “I could have shorn your pegasus friend's wings from her body before she even reached my shield. Surely you, of all ponies, know that if I had intended to end her, she would have no chance of survival. Tell her that, won't you?” The Countess gestured dismissively to Rainbow Dash, who didn't look up.

The disc of power between Twilight and Uldavrazen stretched into a bubble. A glimmer of magic formed around Rainbow Dash and slid her off stage right, where she was quickly surrounded by friends—her truest friends, the ones who hadn't run.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Applejack raise her head and start to advance, leaving the others to attend to Dash. That wouldn't do. Without taking her eyes off the Countess, Twilight exhaled a barrier the size of the entire stage from her horn. It was a simple spell, one that the dark sorceress in front of her would have no trouble breaking—but the objective was to keep bystanders out, not to cage the monster in. Applejack reared angrily and smacked the shield with a forehoof, yelling something in protest. Twilight didn't even trust herself to answer. The others would know what to do. They would find Spike and tell the Princess. Maybe they would be fast enough.

Twilight spoke, and even without the aid of a magic amplifier her voice contained the restrained might of the sun and moon. “Leave, or suffer the consequences.” She didn't know if she could defeat a unicorn hundreds of years her senior, whose magic had somehow kept her alive for all these years. She didn't know if she could even draw the fight out long enough for help to arrive. She did know that she would try.

“Interesting, Starswirl. You've expanded your magical vocabulary.” Uldavrazen started to pace, scanning Twilight with a chilling gaze. “The force field is a noble, if empty, gesture. I'm much more interested in your vastly improved disguise.”

“How did you get here?” Twilight demanded. Keep talking, Countess, she thought. Tell me everything. Give the others more time. Maybe the fact that she was supposed to be Starswirl would make Uldavrazen more willing to talk, instead of simply striking her down the way she had Rainbow Dash. A chill ran down her spine as, unwillingly, she replayed the scene in her head. Rainbow Dash would be okay, she told herself. She believed that. She had to believe that. “How are you still alive?” Her five friends were gone; the theatre was completely empty except for the two archenemies on the main stage. No more need for a barrier to keep Applejack out. She canceled it.

Uldavrazen just sneered. “Has your memory failed you in your old age?” the decrepit old witch growled. “It was you who first called me a necromancer! I remember it clearly—you accused me of desecrating the natural order and stealing life from the world! You said that my power was blasphemy, as if the inevitability of death were some sacred code to be upheld!” She ceased her pacing and stared at Twilight in silence for a moment, then asked a question of her own: “I should ask the same of you, dear Starswirl. You once pretended to power over time itself—even your Cutie Mark suggested as much. Did you perhaps learn how to live on only one day out of every hundred? Or have you begun to walk backwards through time, only to reverse the spell just before taking your first breath?”

Twilight didn't respond—didn't even move except to turn her head and watch her adversary's movements. “How many did you fool with your disappearing beard act over these last centuries, Elusive One? What name does your pegasus friend know you by? What would she think if I told her that the mare that she would so gladly die for was actually a walking lie?”

“I am no walking lie,” Twilight hissed. She was finished with wondering whether or not she should reveal the fact that she was not the real Starswirl. That little case of mistaken identity was the reason Uldavrazen was willing to face Twilight like this, as a single adversary, rather than charging off and leveling the town in a storm of vengeance. The real Starswirl wouldn't use time magic to persist forever after calling Uldavrazen a blasphemer for doing the same, Twilight thought angrily. The real Starswirl would want Twilight Sparkle to stand here, facing death itself, placing her own body between Countess Uldavrazen and Ponyville.

“Do you think yourself a hero? Perhaps time has changed you, old friend.” Twilight allowed herself a scowl. Did Uldavrazen have some ability to read minds? “Oh, I've had time to read what the books say about you in the few years since waking up from my slumber. Starswirl the Bearded! Father of the aminomorphic spell! Even honored by a wing in the Royal Library now. How very quaint.” The evil Countess finally stopped pacing and simply stood upstage, treating Twilight like her audience. “The books document your betrayal very well—how you turned on me, foiled my plans to ursurp the throne, robbed me of power, and exiled me to the Wastes. It is a testament to your talent for deception that none of the books seem to mention how instrumental you initially were to my plans.”

This time, Twilight could not keep the shock from her features. “Oh, don't worry,” the Countess said quickly. “I haven't revealed the truth of our little arrangement to anypony just yet, but I will.” Starting with a growl like the roll of distant thunder, a deep thrumming rumbled through the walls, growing louder until it was physically painful. Somehow, the Countess' words still managed to slice through the horrible, crushing din. “I'll tell the world, as soon as I've finished writing the final page in your life!”

The first attack came from directly behind. Twilight almost didn't even see it, and when she did, it was far too late to defend herself. A pitch-black surge of evil as empty as a scar on the flesh of reality sliced through Twilight's shield and sank into flesh without resistance. The ice-cold magic pierced Twilight to the core. She let out a horrible sound, somewhere between a gasp and a sob. It was as if a jagged laceration had been torn on her soul.

“It is curious that your history books called mine the power of sorrow,” Uldavrazen intoned. Twilight wanted to drown her out with her spherical shield, but unfortunately, her force barrier blocked neither the chest-pounding thrumming all around her nor the high-pitched rasp of the Countess' voice. “I understand, of course, why one might feel something similar to sorrow when subjected to my power, but I hadn't realized that it ever left survivors.”

The second, third, and fourth blasts issued from the flanks. Twilight reinforced her shield, so that it would refuse the forbidden energy of Uldavrazen's lashes as well as simple matter and unicorn force. The black void broke against her shield, then regrouped and came again. The fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth assaults flew from random directions, making no attempt to deceive her or catch her off guard.

“I would have gladly given you a place in the new world that is coming, if only my first failure hadn't been your sole responsibility,” the Countess said, between the twelfth and sixteenth blasts. Despite her intense focus and the toll that maintaining her shield was taking, Twilight could still hear every damned word that Uldavrazen was saying. There was no doubt now that if help didn't arrive soon, Twilight would die here, the first casualty at the hooves of of a reawakened evil more malevolent than Discord, more devious than Night Mare Moon...

The twentieth attack broke against the top of Twilight's bubble. “You lied to history. You lied to the world. You thought you could redeem yourself. You thought you could hide it from your friends. You are no hero, Starswirl!”

No. The twenty-sixth strike hit the front of her shield. No! The twenty-eighth strike slashed against the left side, nearly breaching it. Twilight thought of lashing out against Uldavrazen, but focusing on a strike heavy enough to damage a well-trained unicorn's shield would be too much of a risk. She had to keep biding her time. She had to keep her shield strong, and resist all attacks, both magical and mental. The thirty-first and thirty-second lashes struck the same spot on the front of Twilight's shield. She thought she could feel their chill creeping into her spirit as they dissipated inches from her face.

Uldavrazen spoke again. “I know why you are so willing to wait for death instead of striking back. You are a fool, Starswirl! Help is not coming! They immortalized you as a hero, so that they would never need to become heroes themselves!” Twilight lost count of how many bolts of suffering had broken against her barrier. “I understood this truth about ponykind long ago! That is why I chose to enslave them instead of waiting for them to make a statue of me!”

NO! Did Twilight simply think it, or did she let it out as a howl? A surge of power flooded her body. She noticed that her knees had been weakening, so she straightened. Her shield was starting to flicker, so she shattered it. Seeing Twilight vulnerable, the Countess sent dozens of tendrils of darkness at her in a mad rush. Twilight's magic parried every one with a precise burst of magic. Sparks danced around around Twilight, and her horn blazed with unconquerable fury.

“What is this?” Uldavrazen spat. “One final act of defiance? You don't even have enough power left to damage my shield, Starswirl the Elusive!”

“It's Starswirl the Bearded!” Twilight roared. She continued to block and parry every incoming attack while she unleashed a rush of pale magenta that broke against Uldavrazen's defensive haze like a great wave. Despite her prior confidence in the power of her shield, the Countess instinctually raised a hoof in defense.

“I will defend Ponyville and Equestria with my life!” Instead of a massive wave, Twilight's next attack took the form of a  solid telekinetic strike, then a right hook and an overhead hammer blow, all in the span of less than a second. The final hit ruptured something in the magic shield, converting it to so much glittering mist. The flurry of energy-draining lashes stopped as the Countess focused on recovering her shield. For once, the old crone had nothing to say.

Twilight's vision blurred. She felt something like an ache in her horn and her spirit as she hurled a silvery blast that might've had the force of a speeding train. In a battle between two adversaries who were capable of encasing themselves in spherical shields, subtlety was irrelevant. The hit broke against Uldavrazen's shield, so Twilight threw another, with twice the magnitude. That hit broke against Uldavrazen’s shield, so Twilight canceled her shield and channeled her entire being into a blast that, if poorly directed, might level the theatre.

The force that Uldacrazen’s shield deflected was enough to tear front center stage off of its supports and send it flying towards the back of the house. The force that was not deflected was enough to send her crashing through the backdrop.

Before she could smash into the concrete wall behind the curtain, one of the Countess' legs was snatched by glowing force. The rest of her body was left to fly until it was jerked abruptly back by the ankle. The Countess hung there for a moment, suspended by one leg, its joints visibly distended.

Another glow appeared, this time around the Countess' neck. Not violet this time—pure silver. The top of Countess Uldravrazen's head hit the jagged remains of center stage with a crack. If Twilight's senses had been functioning, she would've smelled rotten blood. Images that didn't belong to Twilight flicked through her mind. Her mind's eye saw that silver magic burning with unspeakable wrath as it smeared the Countess' brittle skull across the entire stage, then tore what was left of it away from the crushed ragdoll of a body and hurled the decapitated husk against the ceiling so hard that it stuck there. Twilight felt rage, ancient rage, deadly and unstoppable. And then the Countess laughed.

“Your power is at its end, Starswirl,” she croaked. She wore the silver around her neck like a necklace as she pulled herself slowly to her feet, not even favoring her good rear leg. “At last you show your true colors. Murderer.”

The last word was a blade in Twilight's side. Clarity returned to her, and brought with it sickening emptiness. Starswirl was a murderer, and a moment ago he had--Twilight had considered murdering the Countess. The silver energy winked out, and Twilight's body was lifted into the air by the Countess' magic, bound by all four ankles.

“Interesting,” Uldavrazen hummed. “The power you showed has left you.”

A pause, as empty and silent as the grave.

“Strange, that such strength would surge forth so suddenly, and only when it was too late.”

Twilight's horn flickered and pushed back against the magic binding her. The Countess' ghastly smile was covered with lifeless brown blood and splinters from the stage. “Perhaps you truly have been a mare from Ponyville this entire time. No matter. You are about to die.” Her grin widened into a jagged gash. “If you are not Starswirl, then your idolatry of my old friend was endearing while it lasted. Perhaps you'll meet him in the next world. You can tell him how you gave your life in his name, defending a town that would not defend itself even in its champion's hour of need.”

Twilight tried to spit back. Her lungs found no words. The massive, fury-soaked presence in her mind was gone, and her body and magic had nothing left to fight with. A spike of emptiness hovered above her chest, ready to plunge into her heart. She could feel the chill of death, just like she had after the first lash at her soul.

Then the spike dissipated into a harmless cloud of black sorrow. An opaque mass of magic stood where the Countess had a moment ago, his rear hooves stained with the Countess' necrotic life-fluid. Not a field of magic, then: A brown-on-brown earth pony. Twilight recognized him as one of the Mayor's aides.

When the theater get so bright? For most of the fight, the only light had been from the dueling mages' horns, the hole in the ceiling, and the one working spotlight. Now it looked like the doors had been thrown open to let the light of the sun in, and a thunderous stampede of hooves was drowning out everything else. Time Turner was followed by a blue and white mare who lifted the fallen Countess by her mane and hurled her into the front row of seats. The restraints on Twilight's joints disappeared, and she flopped painfully onto her stomach.

Twilight allowed herself to glance around. It looked like half the town had shown up. Along with Time Turner, she saw Ditzy, Sparkler, and Bonbon entering from side doors... and charging in from the back were her five closest friends. Applejack and Fluttershy supported Rainbow Dash between them. Twilight felt teeth and hooves lifting and carrying her away as she blacked out.

It was a clear morning in Ponyville when a particular patient in the hospital stirred. Her breath shifted the balloons and flowers on her bedside table, and she yawned softly. It was six thirty—forty-eight hours and thirty minutes later than when she would normally have woken up, but she'd had a rough day.

“Shh. Rest now, Twilight. You have already done more than anypony could have asked of you.” Twilight opened her eyes and found herself staring into the face of the divine.

Twilight started to speak, but Princess Celestia shushed her, running a hoof delicately through a length of violet mane. “Your body and spirit are both exhausted. Ponyville is safe. Rainbow Dash is recovering well. You honored Starswirl and his legacy with your courage, Twilight.”

“What the Countess said...” Twilight croaked, trembling slightly. She wanted to sit up, or at least to reach out and touch Celestia's hoof, but she found that she couldn't even lift a forearm.

“Starswirl was a great and illustrious stallion whose lives are a varied and fascinating subject,” Princess Celestia said. “He was many things, but a hero was indeed one of them. Your admiration of him is curious, but not completely undeserved.”

Twilight just nodded slowly.

“Now that you're awake, I must take my leave. I've asked the hospital staff to notify me of when you are released, so that I can invite you and your friends for tea at the castle.” Princess Celestia retreated and headed for the door. “Oh, and I should warn you that a large group of visitors were waiting to see you after me. I think they wanted to talk about the play you were planning.” The Princess winked on her way out.

Almost before the door could even close behind the Princess, a multicolored explosion of ponies fought their way in through the door—Rarity with roses, Applejack still dressed in her work clothes, Pinkie Pie with a basket full of treats from Sugarcube Corner, and Fluttershy pushing Rainbow Dash in a wheelchair. Before the five even made it to her bedside, Twilight's eyes were watering. She couldn't raise a hoof to wipe away her tears, so Rarity did that for her.

“Next time,” Rainbow Dash said, suppressing a sniffle as she wheeled closer, “We're sticking to my script.” She leaned forward to give Twilight a painfully tight, thankful hug.

Countess Uldavrazen never spoke to the guard assigned to her room, though she was encouraged to. It was a comfortable room, if simple. It had a bed with soft sheets and a fluffy pillow, a mirror, her own bathroom, and a reinforced, soundproof, and no doubt magically warded window. A team of guards searched her room for contraband on one randomly chosen day per week. She was allowed her own clothes and could buy trinkets if she wished, so long as they had no sharp edges.

Countess Uldavraen also did not speak to the workers who delivered her food. Sometimes her guards took her on outings—likely in some ridiculous attempt to rehabilitate her—and of course she refused to speak to anypony on those days as well. Countess Uldavrazen, a vengeful spectre of darkness hundreds of years removed from her own time, seemed to have every intention of simply shriveling up and dying the most mundane death possible now that she was no longer able to sustain herself with stolen life.

When they locked her in for the night, she set her aeons-weathered diary on the bedside table and wrote. Although the binding was weak in places and some of the older pages were missing now, the thing was nearly as old as its owner, and preserved by the same magics that had--until recently--preserved their master. Unlike its master, the diary didn't need to regularly be renewed, so it was now almost certain that the little thing would outlive its owner by many years.

In the late-night hours, after the guards left to give her some privacy, Countess Uldavrazen wrote about her final battle with Starswirl. The old magician had worn the disguise of a mare, and had stubbornly clung to his disguise throughout the battle, even under extreme stress. Additionally, Starswirl seemed to have discovered some way to permanently cheat death, like her. He also seemed to be making an effort to abandon the type of life he'd lived while helping her build her dark empire.

Countess Uldavrazen knew that she was defeated. She never attempted to escape; what chance did she have of accomplishing anything now that Celestia was well aware of her presence and intentions? All she could do was write. Even if it took another thousand years, the world would learn the truth about Starswirl the Elusive, who somehow walked through time to oppose the Countess again, this time in the form of a little lavender unicorn mare.