Chapter Two: Timeless Whisper
His eyes flashed open and he took breath, pain racked his old back and brought immediate attention to the infirmities of age. His tired old eyes were dry, so dry in fact he felt as if he had walked face first into a ball of fire. His face too felt numb and so too did his left hind leg. He couldn't move and his vision was blurry filling his sight with nothing but a murky whiteness.
But what hurt the most was his head, as if a legion of gryphons had taken it in turns to smash their forge hammers upon his head. He let out a haggard old groan and attempted to right himself only to fall onto his stomach once more. He let out a gasp as the impact winded him, the chalky ground beneath erupting as his pained breath struck its surface.
He shut his eyes tight and attempted to recall the events that had led him to such agony but right then little more came to him but flashes of deep red and deafening noises which only seemed to intensify the terrible ache he suffered in his skull. He resolved to lay there for a while as he tried to regain some sense of his body.
He felt broken and tired and every ounce of his strength was flagging with exhaustion. "Fuuuffafinn Tarfarus..." He forced through the soft loose earth of the ground he lay upon, his words garbled.
What was his name again? Oh that's right, Star Swirl the Great! Or Star Swirl the Bearded as some called him... the nerve of the young! He managed to shake his head and lift it, though the action brought on a wave of dizzying nausea. Yet his perseverance paid off, for slowly his vision returned.
"Well now!" He muttered to himself, his usual gruff but warm voice lined with a hollowness that at first caused concern. "That isn't a good sign..."
He was surrounded by white sand, neither hot nor cold but very much dry. There was no ocean, no lake, no water at all not even as moisture in the air. They sand spread out before his eyes as a sea of its own, an endless desert of white nothing spanning to the very horizon and beyond.
He shook his head again and stood, though he appeared and felt very old he still had the same spring in his step he had always had since his youth. His movement was therefore surprisingly alive though no one had been around to see it, how else would he have gotten around as he did if he had been the old shaky two steps an hour kind of old.
He frowned and channeled his magic, so second nature to him there was no doubt it would work. And so it did, what formed beside him was a small blue orb, of a slightly darker hue than the pale cloudless sky above them. It flashed twice revealing that it was now active.
He chewed his lip for a moment before asking.
"Well go on then! Lead the way!!!"
The Clairvoyant Orb sprang into life, its opaque surface reflecting the sand beneath him, as Star Swirl began to follow he made sure his hat and cape were still attached, thankfully they were but he had one loss to account for... his staff was nowhere in sight, in fact he could not feel it anywhere and its presence had been known to him anywhere on the face of his world.
That he could feel nothing was disconcerting.
However there seemed to be a path lined out before him, destiny had not completely abandoned the old sod after all...
"Well that's my life story pretty much up till this point..." Star Swirl sighed, having spoken non-stop since he began his trek through the desert... however long he had walked for or why it hadn't registered on his body. He had recovered his stamina and managed a healthy pace without stop for some time, he hadn't even paused once for a rest.
"Not that you really care..." Star Swirl sighed rolling his eyes. "You don't even have a voice do you?"
The orb hovered silently, leading him still after all this time, its surface did flicker but Star Swirl doubted it was any form of reply just a natural movement of light from the sun... then again, he looked up once more, there wasn't a sun, the sky was blank with only the lightest touches of blue to it, the white sand beneath him didn't reflect any kind of glow and as for clouds... there were none.
It all felt odd.
"I know it was a long one and a bit dry..." He continued. "I was never any good at telling them if I am to be honest, in fact this is the second time I have even attempted to tell it... though if you heard any of that I'd be surprised, you don't even have any ears."
The orb bobbed somewhat.
"Yes I suppose... but an old man like myself has far too many stories, most of which have a habit of ending without any real answers..." Star Swirl pursed his lips. "Of course I knew it would end eventually and the fact that damned prophecy came true right at the start of our adventure makes me all too despondent."
The orb seemed to take a darker hue.
"Oh what!?" He complained. "I can be moody about it if I want."
"But you knew it would happen." The orb answered.
"Doesn't mean I have to like it." Star Swirl argued. "I'm the single most greatest wizard in the world! Don't you judge me!"
The orb continued silently as he muttered and grumbled under his breath, the nerve of some orbs these days! Thinking they could go make judgements about ponies they had no idea about. "I've been places you couldn't imagine!" His words were near silent... for a foghorn two meters away. "I've written an entire library's worth of magical grimoires and tomes..."
"I didn't mean to cause offense." The orb responded honestly.
"Well..." He began but hesitated, he was known for his forgiving nature. "Well I suppose that's alright... I have to admit I do tend to ramble quite a bit."
"I don't mind." The orb stated.
"You say that now." Star Swirl shivered, even though it was anything but cold around him... or anything at all other than what could be best described as room temperature. "But you're just a figment of my imagination, I'm still waiting for you to start telling me how much a failure I am."
Star Swirl then added. "The fact that I am now dead isn't really doing anything for my mood either."
"Dead?" The orb questioned, obviously confused.
"This is the Eponian Fields right?" He waved a hoof around him. "The final trial all magic users must face before passing on to the next realm."
"Is it?" The orb asked.
"..." Of course he had been expecting what was meant to be an inanimate unthinking object to know what was going on, foolish him. "Well yes... it is..."
"And that means... you are dead?" It responded with a deeper meaning to its tone.
"Why does your voice sound so familiar?" Star Swirl managed to turn the subject around, he would be damned if this orb showed him up.
"Am I not a figment of your imagination? You tell me."
Star Swirl grimaced, he didn't want to answer for it would mean it had beaten him, not really something he would be proud of especially with his memory failing him through the recent years. It was true he was old, he didn't like to admit it though, sure his memory had been a bit sketchy sometimes but when he needed it most it was there... most of the time.
"You be silent!" He commanded. "And why haven't we reached... wherever it is we're going?"
"We have." It answered.
There it was, a rising in the sand like a mountain hidden in the fog. So surprised was he by its sudden appearance that he fell back, his hat taking off on a sudden breeze of wind that lifted it high into the air. Star Swirl swore and looked up to the offending item.
"You get back here now!" He commanded of it, attempting to direct his magic to capture his large jingling hat. His annoyance caused his magic to fail and so it continued to float around him, bobbing cheekily in the air, which only caused him more anger. "I'm warning you!"
The hat began to spin mockingly.
"That's it!" He roared. "I warned you and now you are going to be taught a lesson! Make no mistake!!!"
He attempted his magic again, this time focusing with all the mental faculties that remained to him, the hat paused in its merry dance to observe this attempt and as Star Swirl pulled his focus to an image he began the process of building the energy up into his horn...
No power waited, no energy or pressure, nothing he would associate with the usual sensations he received when casting magic. That well of energy was still there but nothing was happening beside frustration. The hat looked down to him, its bells jingling some more before flying off towards the massive tower ahead.
"What just happened?" He asked of himself. "Why did my magic fail?"
"Because your magic is used up." The orb stated. "And besides... you do not need it here."
"I..." He began but froze as his eyes fell onto the glowing object beside him.
"In fact..." It revealed amusement in its voice. "You are here to be judged."
"What do you... oh..." He paused again as realization dawned on him.
"This is where magic takes form." The orb continued. "This is where magic is judged... and you who would tame magic for your people, you will be judged for it."
"Welcome to the Void." It greeted.