Somewhere, hidden in a silent place, there is a dark room. This room lays covered with the trinkets and trappings of lands unknown, eras long past, and ages yet to come. All of these items are shiny and new as if the rigors of time had yet to touch them.
In the center of this room, contrasting with the ageless hoard that surrounds it, stands a tall, ornate mirror. Its gilding is cracked, and its base wood is warped with age. Yet, its glass is pristine, clear as fresh water.
The ancient piece is definitively the most regal and ominous of the collection. Approaching this glass giant, one could almost hear it hum with life. To the touch it is warm, and nearly pulses beneath its ornamentation like living flesh. Indeed, in this eerie place, it is the one thing that seems to watch over all.
The glass glows and widens. It lets off a low, buzzing yawn as the light expands. The darkness retreats in reverence as the ancient relic belches up one shining arm, then a leg, a torso, and soon a whole body is brought forward into the stillness. Its glass recedes, and again the giant sleeps behind a black-clad, human body.
The figure took one step forward, and nearly fell. His legs shook with nerve. Every sensory feature upon his face was in some state of swollen blue or black. Sniffing what tasted like blood into the back of his throat, he tried again. One foot forward, then the next, in the direction of the small doorway ahead of him. Stumbling through the threshold, the space opened up into a more expansive room. Like the last, the walls were black, so much so that they appeared to not exist at all. On one side of the room hung two enormous, gilded cages, styled as if meant for inconceivably large canaries. The opposite wall contained only a sparse living space, more modern in appearance than the contents of the room which contained the mirror. It included a couch, a recliner, coffee table, lamp, and rug. To the side of this area was another hallway that pushed deeper into somewhere unseen.
At the front of the space sat a sizeable, black desk, curved into a large crescent shape. It was strewn with all manners of machinery, gadgets, books, and notes. Once reaching it, the figure braced himself, plopped down into a large swivel chair, and finally released the breath he had been holding. His purple ringed eyes closed. For a moment, all was still and dark.
A spark of gold flashed in the dim. His hand raised, and with index finger pointed before him, he traced into the air a large circle. The light that trailed his finger cut into the space like a knife, filling the entire shape with a bright light. Pressing his palm into its center, he pushed into the circle. When he drew his hand back, the shape was gone, and in its place appeared something resembling a round window that looked out into a dark forest.
Shifting and zooming into this image with twists and turns of his hand, he honed into the grand, gray castle that could now be seen looming over a grassy ledge amidst tall trees and snaking vines. Drawing in his fingers, the image changed once more to show a dim room, torchlit and made of cold stone. A long workbench laden with relics, tomes, and other ancient artifacts came into view. At the end of the table stood a grand, glowing mirror, a younger, more regal replica of the one he had stepped through a few moments prior.
Upon a cushion at the side of this long table sat an elderly, gray unicorn. He was clad all in purple, bells, and stars. Though aged and quite tired-looking, a jovial spark seemed to shimmer in his eyes as he gazed toward a little, blue-gray unicorn colt who was currently busying himself with running 'round the table.
"Did you see? Did you see it, Uncle? I opened it all by myself that time!"
The old one chuckled, covering his mouth with a hoof when the laugh turned into a raspy cough.
"Yes, yes, Starshot. Well done! Now, settle down so that we might continue."
"Alright, alright," the young one whined, trotting once more about the table to take his seat before his elder. When he did, the old one reached forward, and used both of his shaking forelegs to draw the colt closer. The look in his golden eyes had grown quite serious.
"Now that you have mastered opening and closing the portal alone, young one, it is imperative that I give you the same warning that I give to all of my students."
"But Uncle, your only other student is the princess!"
"Semantics," the old one coughed, waving his hoof. "Listen to me, Starshot. The dimensional time portal is not to be taken lightly. It is a tool, yes, but one that I suspect and recommend should rarely, if ever, be used. These exercises are primarily for the advancement of magical knowledge. I have chosen to share this knowledge with you because you have shown great prowess in the area."
The colt smiled, his horn beams with glee.
"However," the elder continued, his brow creasing, "prowess and ability do not stand for everything. Neither are they what is most important when dealing with something as fragile as the fabric of space and time. Responsibility is key. During the course of your life, Starshot, you shall experience many conundrums, and witness many disasters which you might be inclined to believe would easily be solved with the use of time magic. To presume this would be the greatest of folly."
The elder unicorn rose, and walked over to stand before the mirror which had now begun to glow even brighter.
"On the contrary, in your pursuit of simple solutions by way of time magic, you shall more than likely upset the very fabric of time itself, not only bringing greater calamity upon those lives you were attempting to save, but upon all life, in all times."
As the old one peered into the mirror in a trance-like state, the colt cautiously moved to sit by his side. The two became haloed in ebullient blue.
"That is why when you travel through the mirror, you must vow to keep your interactions at a minimum, change nothing unless it should blatantly spare the lives of all in Equestria, and bring back only that which shall not be missed. Things that are in great quantity or ancient rubbish are both acceptable. Do you understand?"
The elder's eyes fell upon the colt once more. The little one appeared quite shaken, rather nervous. He nodded his head, and gulped down a lump that had caught in his throat.
"Very good," the old one murmured. His wrinkled face then curled and creased into a mischievous grin. "Now, then, where shall it be today?"
The colt smiled, and bounced in his spot.
"Oh! May we go to the place where the music comes out of those giant, golden horns, Uncle Star Swirl?"
The old unicorn's eyes went equally as wide.
"Excellent choice, indeed! I'd been meaning to catch a glimpse of that contraption again," he chuckled, nudging the colt toward the mirror. "Very well. Only, this time you shall direct us."
Starshot looked totally apprehensive to this idea.
"We've gone over these particular refractive coordinates a million times. There is nothing to fear, and I shall be right on your tail," the old wizard added, giving the young one a reassuring pat on the back.
Starshot nodded, managing to muster up a determined look. His little horn began to glow in that same sandy-gold hue, and at once, the light that the mirror was emitting began to shift colors.
"Very good, young colt. Let's be off, then!" Star Swirl shouted before hustling the young one forward into the light. Shoving his hat down firmly upon his head, he then jumped in after him. The cheery howl he emitted lingered on in the stony room long after they had taken their leave, and the mirror's light again dimmed to nothing.
With a twist of the figure's wrist, the image within the golden circle changed. The same room could be seen, and the two figures reappeared, but now they both seemed to have aged significantly.
"...And no exaggeration is made when it is said that right now is the greatest time in which you, as a traveler, could possibly hope to be alive, except of course, that in the case of a wielder of time and dimensional magics, the "right now" is semi-sempiternal. It exists wherever—or whenever—he or she chooses to. This notion, of course, lays separate from the fact that these countless "nows" do not belong to the one who is traversing through them. On the contrary, they belong to the traveler's double who is native to that particular time and place. For the traveling counterpart, any "now" besides his or her own present is merely borrowed."
Scratching his white maned head with one old, gray hoof, Star Swirl caught up a piece of chalk into his magic. He then began to scrawl figures and shapes onto an enormous board that stood erected behind him.
"The only hindrance to the boundless abilities that open themselves up to this hypothetical traveler would be the pesky matter of mortal existence. Quite an interesting conundrum, really, since it would imply an unmoldable element of the effects of time outside of the wielder's own abilities. Therefore"—The old gray unicorn began to chuckle, finding his own ramblings enthralling—"though much remains to be studied about this phenomena, I still tend to accept the theory that the one element, the one constant that the traveler cannot mold is the effect of time upon a normally living and normally aging, mortal body."
Star Swirl, lost in the thrill of his philosophy, grinned brightly whilst motioning toward a smudged etching upon the otherwise packed board full of theoretical equations, diagrams, and notes. Momentarily breaking from his own self indulgent reverie, he glanced toward a lone teenage unicorn sitting before him at a large desk. The blue-gray colt was currently leaning upon one hoof whilst glaring down at a stack of papers. His horn glowed sandy-gold as a thin, sharpened piece of charcoal danced tirelessly across the top page. At the sight of this apparent lack of enthusiasm, Star Swirl raised a brow, but carried on anyway.
"Nevertheless, the "now" perpetually hums with possibility. It is the clay from which the future can be molded and the past can be understood. Indeed, the present is the axis from which every variable of time and space projects."
He took another peek at the gray colt before him. If it weren't for the student's ceaseless scribblings, and the lack of yawning, Star Swirl would doubt that he was even paying attention.
"Starshot, have you heard anything that I've said?" the old one inquired, now looking quite perturbed.
The teenager's eyes shot up. A few sheets of paper slipped out of his magic and onto the floor. He quickly dashed down to retrieve them.
"S-surely, Uncle. I'm listening!"
The elder unicorn gave the youth a withering glare. At once, the colt rolled his eyes and sighed. Picking up the top two slips of paper in his magic, he allowed them to hover directly in front of his face.
"Traveler cannot alter his or herself within his own present, implying that the traveler cannot alter his or her own lifespan or that of any other living creature as long as they are neither ill nor severely injured." He flipped a page. "The "now" is the axis from which past and future events all project. Experimentation should be—"
"Alright. Very good," Star Swirl interjected, tapping an impatient hoof against the stone flooring. Still, the skeptical smirk refused to fade from his face. "I take it you're not really one for philosophical musings, are you, young colt?"
"No, not exactly, Uncle," Starshot stated outright, passing the aged unicorn an apologetic grin. The old one, surprisingly, returned the smile.
"Very well. Then let us jump a bit more into theory, shall we?"
The colt's eyes immediately brightened. His tail swished to and fro as he watched Star Swirl casually walk toward the board, again pick up the piece of chalk in his magic, and draw a dot in a blank space. To the left of the dot, the wizard drew one, extended line. To the right, he drew many more, protruding outward from the dot like endless octopus legs. Seeing this, the colt eagerly bent over a fresh sheet of paper, and began to copy it all down.
"Continuing on from our previous lesson in Ethical Practices and Safety, we accept that the present is a constant axis when considering the past and future. However, both the past and future tend to act in very different ways in spacetime. Now, the impractical and unethical traveler sees all time as something to potentially be changed at will. The practical and ethical traveler, however, views the past, even one second ago, as forevermore untouchable. Do you remember why this is, Starshot?"
"Because to assume otherwise would be to put the constant of one's own present and future at risk, as well as that of all other present life," the colt replied without hesitation.
Star Swirl noted the inkling of a perturbed grimace upon the young one's face.
"Correct. And why is that?"
"Because the past, having already taken place, is confined to a single thread of time. Simply put, in our plane, we, the traveler, already know and have lived the events that have happened, and have become who we are as present travelers because of them. Whereas the threads and possibilities for the future are endless since we have yet to live it, the alternate possibilities for the past no longer exist if the traveler wishes to safeguard his or her own current constant, which would be his or her own present."
"Excellent, Starshot," Star Swirl stated.
The agitated look on the colt's face became even more noticeable.
"But, Uncle, I thought you said that we had finished talking about philosoph—"
"By Celestia, are you mad?" the old unicorn exclaimed, his eyes going wide. "Time and space magic theory cannot exist apart from ethical practices! I should know; I invented it! Trust me, Starshot, it is far too delicate a thing to ignore."
The colt nodded reverently though his expression remained stern and steadfast.
"I understand, Uncle."
Hearing this, Star Swirl turned again to face the board, his chalk lifted.
"But, then you accept that your theory is ultimately incorrect," Starshot interjected.
A hush came over the dimly lit room. The old one seemed frozen in place before, slowly, he turned to gaze upon the colt. The look on his face was grim and impatient. With one hoof, he began to stroke his long, white beard, waiting for his student to continue.
"About the past being a singular, untouchable line, I mean; it really is not. It is made of many, all of them changeable. The only reason you say that they are not is because... weeell, because to the traveler"—Starshot dared not point any hoof or horn toward his uncle—"it might seem... frightening?"
The chalk in Star Swirl's magic dropped onto the floor as the old one began to approach the colt. With the lighting of the room the way it was, and his uncle's current temperament, Starshot noted that the aged unicorn had taken on a rather intimidating air.
"B... because he or she might fear change, particularly to that of the known comforts and familiarity of their own present," the young one powered on gallantly. Star Swirl was almost upon him now. The colt recoiled slightly, but ardently pressed on, never allowing his voice to quaver. "But you must cede, Uncle, that if we were to relinquish our attachments to our own present, and accept it as whatever it shall be after the traveler molds the past, then yet another world of possibilities opens up!"
"Starshot..." the old one growled, his creaky voice filled with disappointment.
"Hear me, Uncle!" Starshot pleaded, acknowledging that he was already in trouble, and figuring that it might as well be for good reason. "Imagine what good could come of it! And the only one who would be any the wiser about these alterations would be the traveler him or herself. To allow easily preventable calamities to remain simply because the traveler, the sole individual with the power to fix them, could not foresee them before they took place, and is afraid of what his or her present would become if he or she were to travel back to alter them is—"
"That's enough, Starshot," the elder one groaned.
"Uncle, please! You are the only pony who holds the ability to stop evils like those roaming succubi. They are tearing Equestria apart bit by unforeseen bit! You know that nopony is able to successfully wield a magic anywhere near them in order to defeat them. Yet, you refuse to go back to stop them before their rampage begins. Why? Because you're afraid that when you return, your... I don't know...your hat might no longer exist?"
One worn, gray hoof slammed down upon Starshot's desk, upsetting his papers, and stunning him into silence. His gaze trailed a path from the hoof, up toward Star Swirl's livid eyes. The colt gulped, and set his jaw defiantly.
Starshot had long since been privy to the endless legends and tales about his great uncle, the famed wizard, Star Swirl the Bearded. Indeed, he had been listening to these stories ever since he was born. Then again, when one was known for having helped end the centuries old division between the pony races, as well as having put the two, ageless alicorn sisters upon the throne, it could be safely assumed that one would be spoken about forever. Of course, by the time Starshot had been born, those tales of inter-tribal strife and unpredictable spirit kings had long since become nothing more than legend.
They were all living in a new era of chaos and strife now, an age far more subtle in its miseries than that which the old ponies remembered of their youths lived during the end of Discord's reign. In those old tales, his uncle had been young—well, younger—and better equipped to help deal with the overbearing problems of the day. But now, the famed unicorn wizard was old. Not too old, but aged enough that it had become apparent to everypony, himself included, that he was now living on borrowed time. Every new year that the old stallion now greeted was seen by all as an astonishment since it was always assumed that he did not have much longer for this world. Maybe all of those other ponies had a point. Then again, being just old enough to acknowledge the stubbornness that ran in his family, Starshot had decided that he would not be surprised if the old codger stuck it out for one or two more decades, just to have the last laugh. Even now, despite his creaking joints and wrinkled face, anypony who looked at him could still see the life shining within those mischievous eyes of his.
And yet, still, chaos and negativity, those tireless adversaries, seemed to rumble on from age to age as fresh and energetic as ever. Before the undisputed rule of the two sisters, these woes had been dispensed upon pony-kind at the claws of Discord, the spirit of chaos. Having spent long nights musing on what those old days were like, Starshot couldn't help but feel that for all the confusion and strife the "mad king" had wrought upon the land, it was still not to be compared to the terror that now currently plagued Equestria. This terror came at the mysterious, unseen clutches of a newer foe, a foe that everypony knew only as "the Sirens".
The name itself was old, meaning "to bind, to ensnare," in one of the ancient languages, now lost. Indeed, these lurking menaces were very old as well. No one knew how old or why they had mysteriously appeared, but to any common, superstitious pony, they simply seemed hatched from the vengeful recesses of dark energy's mind. Nopony could say for sure what they looked like; they always took on different form, and by the time anypony recognized them for what they were, it was far too late to attempt to stop them. Very few had ever seen their true forms. Then again, very few had survived encounters with the Sirens in their true forms to leave their presence with their sanity—and occasionally vital organs—intact. A few military campaigns launched against the beasts had been completely destroyed by the enchantresses' abilities to control minds and will. Many more had simply disappeared, never to return. Only a hooful of common sailors who, every now and then, happened to catch a glimpse of something glistening, beautiful, and swift beneath the surface of the evening seas, had survived to tell the tale of what the Sirens truly looked like. There were also a few shaken pegasi wanderers who, from time to time, descended to the earth in a state of shock, mumbling about something indescribable soaring beyond a distant cloud.
During the time of Discord's reign, the Sirens' workings had all either gone completely undetected or had been written off as the doings of the mad king, himself. One thing no one ever seemed to call into question, however, was how very careful and spiteful the Sirens' havoc was. Discord, at least, had not been known for his subtlety. He was proud of his chaos, brash and delighted by his prowess in finding new ways to turn the known world upside down. When the mad king moved, it was without rhyme or reason. He wrought destruction as absent-mindedly as one might pick a field flower, and his attention to his endless fancy for meaningless absurdity was always eventually drawn away like a leaf blowing in the wind.
The Sirens, however, worked much differently. Indeed, they were a foe most chilling to the core. Their energy, when detected, never seemed to come from madness or pure chaos for the enjoyment of it; it was something far more vindictive, vengeful, hungry. These creatures who tore down the world vicariously, through those they would play like puppets, had a vicious plan and a voracious appetite. They hungered not only for chaos, but for animosity, hatred, and rage. When they moved, it was carefully, quietly, enticingly. In their wake, they would leave tears, strife, and destruction.
Their touch upon Equestria, now that Discord had been vanquished, was widely noticeable, and yet, utterly untraceable. Everypony knew what they did, but could never detect when or why it would be done. Their elusive songs had echoed in the ether day and night for well over five centuries now. Thus, it was not surprising that the currently living generations in Equestria, Starshot's included, had grown up in a culture where it seemed normal for a pony to question whether their personal negative feelings or actions had ever actually been their own, or the workings of beings far more nefarious.
This was now the way of the world, and as the number of divisions, battles, mind sicknesses, and deaths steadily increased day by day, Starshot could not help but grow resentful of his great uncle's hesitancy to intervene. Of course, it would not be possible for the old wizard to address every problem that was sure to come about, considering his age, but perhaps this was why he had chosen to begin training Starshot in order to hone his skill with time and dimensional magic.
The princesses were far too busy with the matters of the present state of affairs within their territories to steadily worry about stopping those unseen calamities that had not yet come to pass. However, Starshot was no ruler. He was a unicorn born of gifted and brilliant heritage, one who knew that when he came of age, he would be free to travel and study as he saw fit, be it in this spacetime existence or another. As much as he hated to admit getting any pleasure from the thought, he also acknowledged that when the old unicorn's life came to an end, it would be he who would take up the reigns as the most prolific wizard of time and dimensional magic alive.
Still, the idea of disobeying his uncle's warnings filled the colt with guilt. After all, out of the two ponies in all existence whom the old one had entrusted with such knowledge, he had chosen Starshot to be one of them. Certainly this was because he knew that he could be trusted.
Still, the colt found that, lately, he often had to remind himself of how much he really did admire his great uncle, and loved him very much, even if the old one sometimes seemed far too adamant about keeping him in line. He tried to keep these factors in mind as he now watched the old wizard snatch his notes up into his magic, and begin sifting through them.
"It pains me to do this, my dear nephew; truly it does," the old one said whilst taking note of one specific sheet of paper, and pulling it from the stack, "but you give me no other choice."
At once, he tore the sheet to shreds.
"Uncle! What are you doing?" Starshot gasped.
"I am trying to help you," Star Swirl added, pulling a few more sheets he had found unsatisfactory, and destroying them as well. "Trust me, Starshot, this is for your own good."
"B-but... my notes!"
"When the entire universe has become a thing that we can mold at will, there can be no room for slip ups, deviations, or dissent. Starshot, I am sorry, but I do have complete confidence that in time, you shall come to see that I am right about this."
The colt felt anger boiling up inside of him as he watched the shreds of his own personal theories and studies falling to the floor like so many bits of snowflake. Trying, to no avail, to stave off his tempered breath, he attempted to fumble for words, instead. The old one beat him to them.
"You may be excused for the afternoon."
Sighing out a mix of relief and irritation, Starshot bowed respectfully, snatched up his remaining papers, and without another word, stomped out of Star Swirl's study. The wizard watched him go with a sorrowful shake of his head.
The seated figure braced himself. With another wave of those grimey and bloodied gray fingers, the scene within the golden circle changed.
The view was now within a large home, a grand mahogany hallway. A beautiful, sea green earth mare stood before him, gowned and veiled all in white. The blue-gray stallion beside her appeared so ecstatic that he didn't seem to know what to do with himself.
Surely, if he could have anything to do with it, he would see to it that this day, this moment was remembered forever. She would be remembered just like this, forever.
The seated figure smiled briefly, allowing the image to linger before him for only a moment. He then twisted his wrist.
A stage, a grand hall. That lovely, green mare was singing atop of the platform. Adorned in lace and flowers, she was a sight to behold and a delight to the ears. Even as many in the enormous audience listened impatiently, and then began to call for her to quickly finish, her voice never wavered. Her faltering confidence never showed through her facade of courage.
When she descended from the stage to the sound of a few polite hoof stomps, and took her seat next to him, Starshot gave her a lovingly apologetic smile. In an instant, her heart seemed restored. She leaned over to kiss him while the lights again dimmed, and the cheers of the crowd reached fever pitch. Though in the midsts of the fray, for a moment, the loudest sound either of the two ponies could hear was the other one breathing.
"No worries, Cricket, my dear. One day those cheers shall all be for you. I have no doubt of it," Starshot, now grown, stated confidently. The mare giggled, and nudged him playfully in the shoulder.
"And did your uncle foresee that one in the mirror, or did you?" she joked.
"Come now, dear. You know that I'm not permitted to delve into such frivolities. I am simply stating the obvious," Starshot replied with a wink.
In all actuality, the stallion never revealed to his wife, Cricket, that he had practically stopped traveling to future moments from his own life after he had married her. Wanting their entire life together to be one, indescribably lovely surprise, he had made this vow to himself at the same time he had made his vows to her.
"Of course," Cricket laughed, turning toward the stage as she caught a glimpse of orange and a flash of red out of the corner of her eye. "Keep swaying me with those compliments, Starshot, and I foresee all of your favorite dishes for supper this evening."
When a yellow, curly-maned marvel of a mare walked out into center stage, and let loose her first mind-numbingly gorgeous notes, Cricket rose to her hooves, and joined the rest of the crowd in their thunderous cheer.
"Isn't she magnificent?" the green mare sighed when Starshot finally stood up beside her. Equally compelled by the enthralling melody, neither of them seemed able to move their gazes away from the stage. "The mysterious 'Madame Amabile' once again captivates every heart. If only I... If only I could..."
Something in Starshot's chest pulled and struggled with itself. The sudden melancholy in his wife's voice begged for his acknowledgment, and yet, he found that his eyes could not leave the stage. Belting out what was nothing less than sonic perfection, the golden mare atop the platform demanded his attention. His mind fell away just as the raucous of the crowd faded into an eerie hush. There was only the singing mare, and the singing mare was all that seemed to matter.
The trip to the weekly concerts where both Cricket and the mysterious Amabile would perform had quickly become a habitual practice for not only Starshot, but everypony in Canterlot who was fortunate enough to obtain a most coveted ticket. The stallion considered himself lucky. Because Cricket performed on the same stage every week, his entry was always complimentary. However, this feeling of luck would always be overshadowed by guilt when she, Amabile, took to the stage.
The first time he had heard her sing, Starshot wondered if perhaps he had fallen in love with her, this mystery mare who seemed to appear in the grand hall from out of nowhere on the third evening of every week. He would rarely ever see her around town, and indeed, no one seemed to know where she had come from. Something struck him as odd about this until one day, perhaps after his third time hearing her sing, he found that he no longer cared.
The way she moved, the way she gestured with her hooves, or flicked her tail about during her crescendos captivated him. His heart would fill with something both sublime and terrifying when it dawned upon him that within those moments, he belonged only to her. Shame and guilt would overtake him as her voice tugged at his heart, forcing him to admit to himself that had she ever humored the idea of beckoning him away from Cricket, he would have surely obeyed her in an instant.
Something about desperately loving one who was so unattainable proved utterly infuriating. Starshot found it astonishing how one moment, he wanted nothing more than to be close to the mysterious, yellow mare, and then the next, would feel compelled to get close only so that he might hurt her in retaliation for all the horrid things she forced him to acknowledge about himself.
It was worth noting at the time how odd it seemed for these feelings to overpower him only during Amabile's performances. In the suffocating heat of that grand hall, his mind would fall apart for her. However, once escaping into the cool of the evening air, these twisted notions of affection, no—complete obsession—would slowly drain away until he once again felt something like himself. His love for Cricket knew no superior during these strange and frightening after-moments. Likewise, his feelings of guilt knew no end. He would hold his wife in the open air whilst that same glassy look of complete adoration faded from her eyes, and wonder what torturous dreams had haunted her when she too had been listening to the golden mare with the golden voice.
"If only I could..." Cricket would always whisper to herself as she leaned her head against his warm chest. Starshot never dared to reply, fearful of what horrid confessions would escape him if he did.
Needless to say, they would both return to the grand hall every week without fail.
At first, it seemed merely a bit troublesome that these daring daydreams would only exist within the hall. Then slowly, week after week, much to his chagrin, Starshot would find that the dreams would linger on longer and longer into the night, well beyond any performances at the venue. What was but a momentary and secretive infatuation gradually became a common part of his everyday until, upon his waking every morning, thoughts of orange curls and an ethereal song would immediately consume him. He was not alone; for, quite often, when he woke, he would meet the gaze of Cricket whose eyes, also wide and wondering, seemed to let on that she had been brooding over the same things. By the evenings, when they laid down to sleep, these ceaseless musings had always grown so immensely that they pressed down upon them like a large weight.
It was on one of these evenings, after having returned from a performance at the hall, that the two laid down to sleep, and the increasingly restless green mare finally mustered up the audacity to speak on that which they had both been thinking.
"Amabile's performance was perfect tonight, wouldn't you say so?" she inquired weakly.
Starshot had cleared his throat, and feigned contemplation. Really there was nothing to consider. Amabile was always perfect, always beautiful. Still, he held some reservation for the sake of his wife whose performances seemed to go down worse and worse with the hall's audiences every week.
"She was... quite lovely, yes," he tittered, looking off to some far corner.
"Quite." The disappointment in her voice was clear. "I wonder if she might be open to giving me a few lessons. One day, I shall be sure to ask her. I know that if only I could be more like..."
Cricket's voice trailed off as she turned to look at her husband, and realized that he was lost in his own thoughts. It didn't take a genius wizard to figure who was on his mind.
"Husband," she peeped, after a long, crushing silence. "I must ask you something."
"Yes?" Starshot had replied, somehow already knowing what the subject would be. He listened as she took a deep breath.
"Do you think about Amabile? Constantly, I mean." She turned to look at his face.
At once, Starshot swore that his entire head had caught fire from the sheer amount of guilt he was feeling. The stallion knew well that whatever expression he was currently wearing, it would not fool his wife in the slightest. Cricket's brow furrowed, but her lips curled up into a tired smile. Still, Starshot said nothing.
"I figured so," she chirped, absent-mindedly running a hoof through her ash blue mane. "I can see it upon your face."
She chewed upon her bottom lip. It wasn't until Starshot had finally mustered up the courage to look at her that he saw that she had bitten down hard enough to draw a dot of blood.
"But can you see it upon mine, I wonder?" she croaked.
Perhaps the look he then gave her implied a misconstruing of information; for, just a moment later, she burst out laughing.
"What I mean is... her voice. Over these past months, I've found that I have grown to covet it in a way that is most monstrous... most frightening." Again her brow furrowed. "It is the strangest thing. I cannot recall any other time I have ever felt so driven to emulate and to envy. Increasingly, this... she seems to be all that matters to m—I mean, to my career. It's just so very peculiar that all this should arise from something so insignificant as one mare's song."
There was a sharp silence. Traces of a thought tugged at the edges of Starshot's mind. It was as if it were trying to remind him of something glaringly obvious.
An enchanting song—This had meant something to him once, something very important, but for the life of him, he couldn't remember what.
Her songs were lovely, weren't they? He missed her songs already, even after having heard them that very same night. If only he could have heard one more, and one more, and...
His mind again fell into a daze, a vessel that held only those beautiful harmonies of hers.
"The way she makes me feel..." he finally whispered as if in a trance. "...I was afraid to say anything about it."
He felt himself on the brink of tears.
"Please, forgive me these things, Kit," the stallion pleaded, using his pet name for Cricket for whatever mercy that might buy him. He drew the smallest comfort from hiding his face from her, burying it into his hooves.
Suddenly, he was caught up into a warm, enveloping embrace. Something soft like flower petals grazed against his cheek, and when he glanced up, Cricket's beautiful brown eyes were hovering right before his nose. Looking into them, he could see nothing but understanding and forgiveness, therein. Then, for just a moment, the haze cleared away. He saw her as he remembered her: bright, gentle, and full of hope. Desperately, he tried to hold on to these feelings as she kissed him.
"Let's never return, alright? I can find somewhere else to sing. We could just forget about all of this... about her. Agreed? I know it seems so small and silly, and it isn't that I fear that you might..." Her voice momentarily trailed off. Taking a deep breath, she cleared her throat and continued on. "It is just so strange to me how very involved this has all become."
The look in her eyes pleaded for his understanding. Starshot forced a smile, and nodded his head. His lips wisely remained sealed, and it almost seemed as if his wife had wanted them to remain so. When she leaned in to kiss him once more, his eyes closed, and he breathed in the scent of flowers that clung to her locks. It nearly broke his heart when he found himself imagining them as perfect, orange curls.
They both returned to the hall on the following week to hear Amabile sing, and eagerly continued to do so every week thereafter. The question of whether they should stop attending never came up between them again.
The seated figure grimaced. His eyes lingered upon the image of the two ponies embracing as if they knew that their lives depended on it. How ironic it all seemed now.
As the thought of their subsequent trips to the theater faded from his mind, he then moved his hand in a slicing motion, and let out an infuriated shout. The image before him was cut in half, and fell apart in a spray of golden sparks.
Leaning back into his seat, surrounded by darkness, the figure took a moment to brood. His hand rose. His fingers trembled. He hesitated.
Shaking his head, his hand lowered in defeat. The green mare's bright and beautiful smile flitted across his mind one more time.
"Do it," he grunted.
Trying again, he raised his hand. His eyes went wide, and his jaw set itself stiff.
"Everyday, Starshot," the wizard murmured to himself. "Everyday, so that you may never forget what she did... what they did. Everyday until Kit is..."
There was a brief pause, and then a flash. Starshot trembled in his seat as he gazed upon yet another shadow from his past.
The grand hall had grown to take up a rather large and important space in their lives by now. It had been three whole years since Amabile had first appeared upon its stage, and three whole years had gone by without them ever having missed a performance.
Looking around at the packed, sullen-faced crowd, Starshot noted that he recognized most of these faces. Like his wife and him, they had all been drawn to Amabile's voice like moths to a flame. Every week, for years, there they would all gather, an increasingly gaunt and sallow-eyed collection of the faithful, come together to worship at their mistress' hooves.
Cricket was on stage now, her eyes gaunt, her mane limp. Though the flowers weaved into her locks were as bright as ever, they hung from the strands in a way that worked to make the green mare look even more lifeless. She opened her mouth, and a weak whisper of a tune had barely escaped before the crowd began to boo and jeer, calling for Amabile in her stead.
Looking upon the stage, Starshot felt something tug at his heart again. By now, this had become a regular occurrence, but surely, there was something a husband should do at a moment like this, wasn't there? Run to her, perhaps? Gather the now defeated-looking mare up into a redeeming embrace? And yet, even though these notions flashed briefly across his mind, it seemed the only thing that the stallion found himself able to do was lean forward, and begin calling out Amabile's name in kind. The sight of his wife shuffling off of the stage as if in a trance didn't seem to move him much after the yellow mare's name left his lips. But at least he hadn't jeered his beloved Kit like the rest of these fools. What kind of husband would that have made him then?
He barely noticed his wife shambling out into the audience to stand beside him, pulling the flowers from her mane with her teeth. It was assumed that she wouldn't mind his lack of attention since her eyes were also wide, hungry, and trained upon stage left, the direction from which Amabile always entered. As the lights dimmed, Cricket nearly tripped over the hems of her pretty, white dress whilst trying to press forward from her row. When Amabile finally entered the stage, frantic screams broke out here and there amongst the audience, and Starshot swore he could hear his wife's breathing stop.
Amabile seemed positively rosy that evening. She looked healthy, strong, and her cheeks glowed with life. From the moment the yellow mare opened her mouth and let forth her powerful tune, pandemonium seemed to break loose in the hall. A few members of the audience bound forward, intent on climbing the stage, only to be stopped by a transparent barrier of magic. The translucent wall had been erected in front of the platform a few years ago in anticipation of when a day like this would inevitably arrive.
"Ama! I love you, Ama!" they called, pawing and scratching to get past each other whilst the radiant mare continued her refrain. She seemed completely unfazed by what was taking place before her. Her berry red eyes smiled down upon them all with an emotion that, at the time, Starshot had interpreted as being reciprocated adoration.
"If only... if only I could be more like..." Cricket croaked beside him. Starshot noticed that now, whenever she said the words, she would begin to shiver. Something in him wanted to reach out to comfort her. However, he found that nowadays, this one, simple act of love seemed nearly impossible for him to perform whilst in Amabile's presence.
There were ponies down in front of the stage now. Some of them were scratching at the magic barrier with their hooves. A few unicorns had even managed to poke through the thing. Cricket continued to tremble at her husband's side.
"Maybe... maybe, I could..." she whispered to herself.
Before he could stop her, she was off. Racing down the aisle toward the front of the stage, she once again nearly tripped over the hems of her dress. He couldn't blame her. He wanted to race down toward Amabile as well. However, for as much adoration as he held for the singer, he simply could not allow himself to act in such an undignified manner. Ponies knew him in this city. He was related to Star Swirl the... Star Swirl the something. Regardless, appearances had to be maintained for his mentor's sake.
...Maybe next time, he had thought to himself.
Eyes still glued upon the stage, Starshot never even seemed to notice Cricket standing still and statuesque amongst the roiling crowd. Then, something amazing happened, that did catch his attention. The yellow mare just so happened to gaze down upon his wife, a look of recognition and affection in her perfect eyes. Suddenly, Starshot felt jealousy growing within him, the likes of which he had never before known.
What was so grand about Cricket? he asked himself before suddenly realizing the nature of the thought. His brow furrowed.
That wasn't right, was it? Something seemed wrong about having a thought like that, but as he watched Cricket suddenly turn, and stumble off toward backstage—Amabile's eyes following her the entire way—these questions ceased, and his envy returned twofold. When the yellow mare's ethereal song finally ended, and she too had left the platform, Starshot could feel the gaping hole that was left within him more than ever before. Everything felt colder, emptier without her song. That was how he concluded that on that particular evening, he would hear one more—just one more.
After pushing through the crowds that had begun seeping out of the hall, and forcing his way past the stage staff, to his surprise, Starshot found that the passageway outside of the dressing rooms was completely void of life. The only pony left in the backstage was his wife. He had found her standing still as stone in the dim of the hallway, outside of a small, wooden door. She refused to knock, refused to speak, and seemed to be immensely interested in the sounds of joyful laughter seeping from within.
Seeing that she was in no fit state for conversation, Starshot moved to stand behind her, against the opposite wall. Some part of him also wished to observe before he subjected himself to any potential humiliation at the hooves of the one he so adored.
Perhaps it was just by chance that Cricket then tilted forward, her forehead knocking rather loudly against the door's wood. The laughter within ceased abruptly. When the door cracked open, a pair of rather intense, purple eyes bore into Cricket through the slit; Starshot could see them smoldering even from where he stood. They belonged to an earth mare with long, purple and green mane, and a rather surly disposition. He instantly disliked her.
"And who in Tartarus are you?" she spat at Cricket, scanning her over. Her nose crinkled, and she rubbed at it with her hoof. "What is it that you want?"
The way this mare spoke was rather interesting. Her accent came off sounding antiquated and old. Starshot scrutinized her, not caring that his face was now curled up into a look of utter disdain.
"Calm yourself, Amoroso," came a familiar voice from somewhere behind the rosy mare. "I called her here. Discovered her only tonight when she came to me begging for lessons. I never thought to even get near her before, the poor, little, unpolished thing. She's just a small gift for you two."
"Aww, Adagio, that is so sweet of you!" came another high-pitched voice from somewhere within the chamber.
"Adagio," Starshot whispered to himself. That name mattered to him for some reason that he could no longer recall.
"Quiet, you idiot!" A slapping sound and pained whimper could be heard coming from behind the door. "What have I told you a million times about—"
"Who are you?" the pinkish mare in the doorway cut in. It took a moment for Starshot to realize that she was looking at him.
There was a distinct sound of voices being hushed. Quickened hoofsteps could be heard running about before the door swung open to reveal two more faces, that of a blue earth mare, her doe-ish eyes glistening with curiosity, and finally, her.
"Amabile," Starshot breathed, his mind reeling. The look upon his face must have seemed utterly ridiculous, because without hesitation, the yellow mare's companions broke out into a ridiculing chortle.
"Stars, you're a bit of a plank, aren't you?" the one called Amoroso muttered, shaking her head.
"That's just her husband. Leave him be," she chided the mare, then turning those perfect eyes upon him. "We'll have her right back. I just want to speak with her for a bit, singer to singer."
Starshot felt his brow creasing. The jealousy was bubbling up within him again.
"W... what is so special about her singing?" he heard himself say. Something buried deep within him couldn't believe he had uttered such words about his wife.
"I am nothing compared to you," he heard Cricket murmur in agreement, her eyes still trained reverently upon Amabile.
"Hmm. This is true," the yellow mare tittered, twirling her hoof. "But still, we are colleagues, and it is very important to keep our bond as performers... secure."
With that, she reached out to usher Cricket into the room. As the sea green mare passed, Amabile's two companions stared at her with intense expressions that were beyond definition. Starshot could have sworn that he saw the pinkish one lick her lips.
Panic seized him as the door began to close. He rushed forward to stop it with an outstretched hoof. The yellow mare pulled her attention away from Cricket, and spun about to glare at him.
"Let me in. Please," he begged.
At first, there was a flash of incredulity upon that perfect, golden visage. A look of complete spite had trained itself directly upon him. The stallion supposed that had the expression remained, he very likely would have cursed himself out loud for being such a fool. However, to his utmost relief, the mare's eyes softened, and those perfect lips curled up into a pitying smile.
"All good things to those who wait."
The words fell from her lips like nectar, and when she reached out to brush a hoof against his cheek, Starshot swore he could have died happily right then and there. Never did he notice that curious pair of doe-ish, raspberry eyes boring into him. Perhaps it was that blue, sweet-faced mare who had been destined to act as his saving grace all along.
"He doesn't seem so bad, Ada—err, Amabile. And there is plenty of energy in him. And I am feeling a tad more peckish than usual. Can't we have him as well?" she inquired in that jittery, high pitched tone of hers.
There was a beat of silence. He knew the yellow mare was thinking.
"Alright, but not too much. I know this one. He's somepony rather important or something. If they are both equally out of sorts come tomorrow, others shall begin to ask questions."
The blue one let out a squeal of glee, and clapped her hooves together. Starshot, who had been waiting, feeling rather confused by the entire conversation, soon forgot all of these worries when he felt himself being drawn into the dimly lit chamber. He heard the door shut and lock behind him with a soft 'click'.