Star Swirl's Final Hour

by Stygian359

A Hat Full of Hope

Chapter Four: A Hat Full of Hope

They faced once more the massive gates that led into the fortress that spanned endlessly in either direction and reached high above disappearing into blue the nothingness above. The orb felt a little out of sorts, she had not really expected any of this, in fact the fact she had been chosen for this job had annoyed her somewhat...

Of all the guides they could have picked, of all the souls that could have been selected she had to be the one... She did not like it truth be told, in fact she felt it was a cruel joke and if she ever met the mastermind behind it there would be Tartarus to pay!

Yet she put a brave face on, or as best she could considering she didn't have one... part of her was annoyed at that, surely he could have at least managed a face! Did he have no style at all!? She looked angrily to her helpless sheep, the true cause of all this headache. Star Swirl stared upwards with the vacant look she felt he deserved.

"Well we are here." She spoke, trying to keep her displeasure from being revealed in her voice... and failing miserably.

"Where's here?" He asked, then looked to her. "You can talk! I never thought I'd see a floating... thing... doing... something..."

She sighed and would have facehoofed right then and there but for the fact she had no hooves. "That's enough of that, put the cape on."

"The what?"

"Around you hoof." She answered. "It's a cape, put it on."

He looked down to his hoof. "What's that!?"

"Put it on!" She yelled.

He leapt a bit and as if by instinct forced the cape around his neck... though it was in quite a tangled state that was for sure. "There I did it okay!"

She waited a moment as he calmed, he seemed to be holding his chest with a hoof for some reason. "How are you feeling?" She asked finally.

"Perfectly well until you almost caused me a heart attack!" He complained.

"No short term memory loss?" She asked.

"What are you babbling about?" He demanded, straightening his cape with some effort.

"Oh look, there's the gate," She turned suddenly. "We had best be inside before you get punished again." He grunted, remembering clearly the wind that had attacked him. There was a moment of silence. "Well!?" She demanded.

"Well what?" He returned.

"Open it! Lets get inside!"

"Open it!?" He stared up at the massive steel armored doors. "How the Tartarus do I do that? It must weigh a metric ton!"

"Just push it." She sighed. "It will open for you... trust me."

He was about to give a snide reply but he held it back, continuing this argument would get them nowhere. He moved to the massive gates but paused before them, they displayed no magic aura or the usual symbols that revealed magic, whatever would cause this beast to open must be built into the internal structure of the gates themselves. He gave it a tentative touch and a massive creak shook the ground at his hooves.

When it subsided he gave it a look filled more with suspicion. "Are you sure about this? Who knows what could be waiting on the other side!"

"An empty hall." The orb answered bluntly. "Now open the damned door!"

"Fine!" He rolled his eyes and leaned up onto the gate, giving a mighty heave to push it open. The gate swung open so rapidly he fell and rolled inside, where he met stairs instantly and clattered literally down them. When he came to a stop it was to find himself in another heap, which did little for his mood.

The orb floating inside innocently, she could have easily warned him of course but then that would have ruined her fun. "Are you alright?"

"Enjoying this are you?" He asked sardonically, dragging himself up onto his hooves.

"A little." She admitted. "But we should really hurry, we must locate your hat."

"Forget about it." He swiped at the air with a hoof. "It was fast enough to leave me why should I care?"

"If you don't get it back you can never leave this place." She responded flatly.

"The exit is right there..." As he spoke the massive doors swung shut, sealing them both inside. Star Swirl muttered something under his breath and turned to look at his surroundings. He was greeted by the sight of a massive hall that resembled nothing he had ever seen before. The architecture was entirely alien, formed of spirals that were perfectly round and smooth.

Great pillars of these spirals stood side by side in two rows leading down to another much smaller set of doors, along the floor between the entrance and those doors was a long carpet of red. He noticed it and tapped a hoof against it, taking note of its luxurious texture and rich style.

"It looks untouched." He stated.

"That's because it was." She replied, moving ahead. He went to argue but she had gone too far forcing him to catch up. When he reached her side he gave a gruff noise of disapproval. Then the silence fell on them... it went on for half the walk before finally Star Swirl felt moved to speak... to alleviate the boredom if nothing else.

"I have to give you a name."

"Oh?" She responded with a trite tone to her voice. "Is that so?"

"Why not... unless you want to be called orb all the time." He then added under his breath. "We could always go with annoying bitc..."

"Try Sapphire." She answered, her spherical body glowing a darker shade of blue in response.

"Sapphire!" He snapped to attention, straightening. "Sounds... nice..."

"Oh?" She asked, turning slightly. "Something wrong?"

Her sudden interest caused him to blush and lower his head, that name brought up sad memories in his skull. "So... find my hat."

"Yes." She nodded, again you have to visualize it. "Through this door awaits your next trial."

"I don't have to climb any more walls?" He asked raising a brow.

"I knew you remembered!" She declared with triumph. "You were lying to me this whole time!"

"Its been ten minutes at most since then." He sighed. "Just let it go."

"Closer to a week!" She retorted.

He blinked, once more at a loss to explain time around here. "Well then... its been a week, time to let it go."

She huffed out her annoyance but let the subject drop, much to his pleasure, she had this nagging quality that for some reason caused him great irritation. They walked in silence from then on until they reached the infinitely smaller though still large heavy wooden doors at the end of the corridor. Without a word Star Swirl shoved it open, taking care not to fall this time.

They stared at what lay beyond for a moment, unable to truly come to terms with it.

"What is this?" Star Swirl asked.

"It's a metaphor." She attempted.

"Since when did a metaphor become an act of physical violence?" His voice was syrupy, the false kind, the kind that ended in arguments.

Beyond the doors was a playground of potential pain and anguish, hazardous drops, thin sections of walkway, risky climbs and spiky jagged rocks wherever the eye could see. Like the previous room it was lit by massive chandeliers that made Star Swirl shudder with anxiety, he had never had vertigo before why now did it choose to strike?

Either way it looked like he was in for some fun... if fun were spelt despair. He turned to look at the orb with accusation written plainly in his expression. Sapphire managed to move a small distance away from him. He shook his head and gave a mighty sigh, this was the last thing he wanted to do.

"Whatever this is about it had better be good." He muttered, walking into the room.

The orb flew in after him, not a moment too soon because the doors shut behind them and Star Swirl got the impression they would not open again. He gave a tired groan and faced the challenge ahead. He stood upon a tiny outcrop of rock barely wide enough for him to stand upon his hind legs and lean his back against the doors. Before him was a tangle of rock with tiny hoof holds for him to climb.

He did not like the look of them one bit.

"Up there!" He looked to her as she bobbed up and down, directing him by her movements. He followed the trail and true enough there was his hat. Perched precariously on the edge of another outcrop. His sigh was fundamental in displaying his true emotions for it reverberated throughout the smaller hall they now occupied.

"Well?" She nudged him gently.

"I'm going already!" He yelled. He looked to the small pillar before him, between him and it was a drop into murky darkness that he had no doubt contained an array of sharp pointy objects to cushion his fall should he slip. He shook his head and prepared to leap.

"Be careful!"

He looked to her with silent rage, which caused her to do another of those metaphorical shrugs. Returning his attention to the task at hoof he made a leap and even though he managed to wrap his forelegs around the object his face still did make violent contact causing him to release a sharp cry.

"Language!" She complained.

"Go boil an egg!" He snapped.

Slowly and with some difficulty he grunted his way up the pillar, he had no idea what he was doing or why, in fact all he had done so far had been out of desperation to shut the orb up, without his magic he couldn't banish her or reach her to cause physical damage because she would only float up out of his way.

Typical, life had once more given unto him the raw deal, it wasn't bad enough that he had to sacrifice so much of his hopes and dreams and now he had this annoying ball tacked onto him like the kind of plague that would not go away no matter how much cream was applied.

He struggled upwards, his breaths coming in deep labored puffs, true he wasn't the fittest pony out there but he could certainly climb this rock! Though as he reached the top and saw what he had to do next that feeling of hopelessness rose up again. There was a small platform behind him that looked about ready to tear from the wall it barely hung from.

He looked around further and saw another pillar beside it in need of climbing. He gave a noise of complaint and wished he still had his magic, this would have been over with by now if he had. But no, instead he had to go through all this nonsense in the vain effort to return himself to normal.

He hated these kinds of quests, they always ended in tears one way or another.

With a roll of his eyes he leapt backwards, colliding with the wall and scrabbling on the platform to make the jump in time. True to its appearance the platform broke free of its loose holding and began its descent. He panicked and jumped with all his strength, once more feeling hard rock collide with his snout.

"Damn It!!!" He roared.

"Are you okay?" She called from below.

"No I'm Not!" He yelled, beginning his next climb with more aggression. This time about halfway up he took note of a rope that hung from the pillars top. As he came closer to the small outcrop where his hat waited the reason for its presence became known to him. He groaned.

"What is it?"

"I have to lean outwards using the rope so I can reach my hat." He answered woodenly. "Though the chances of me doing that are nil."

"Oh come on!" She yelled. "What's the matter? Are you scared?"

"Enough with the sarcasm!" He warned.

"Stop being such a baby and get on with it!"

He sighed, what was the point, he would either die by reaching for that blasted hat or he would die from overexposure to her scathing wit... either way he was twice damned. Resigned once more he put the rope in his mouth and clenched it between his teeth. Slowly he began to lean outwards, using the rope to force his hind legs to remain leaning against the pillar.

As he moved outwards he began to reach with his forelegs, the hooves of his hind legs beginning to lose their grip on the rock. He panicked and almost flailed but his sudden vertigo saved his life, causing his body to straighten out in abject terror.

If this was phobia then he didn't like it!

Once more he reached out with his forelegs, he could barely touch it, its soft texture a welcome feeling on the tips of his hooves. He reached a bit further and made a desperate grab for it.

He slipped and fell.

Sapphire let out a gasp, her voice crying out. "Swirl!"

She looked to where he should have fallen but could not see as a section of rock blocked her view, panic taking hold of her she moved to catch sight of him.

"Well that feels better!" He declared, swinging from the rope to touch down upon the surface of the pillar, his hat now fixed firmly to his head. From there he began to abseil down until he ran out of rope and fell. But instead of a bottomless pit he landed on a marble floor, which did crack somewhat with his contact.

He stood from the heap he had fallen into with a wide grin, his eyes cheerful and bright. "Well Sapphire what do you think? Am I wizard enough for you now?"

Sapphire was grateful for success but couldn't help but feel she should say something scathing. "Are you insane!?"

"Oh please." He chuckled. "Its a metaphor remember? Since when has a metaphor ever beaten me!"

"You mean you knew the room would repair itself?" She would have raised a brow if she could.

"I guess." He shrugged.

"You... guess!?" She stuttered.

He sensed where this was going so diverted the whole conversation. "Oh look! A door! We should go over yonder and check it out!"

"Don't you dare change the subject on me!" She followed as he began to march towards the next pair of doors with determination.