• Published 6th Dec 2012
  • 2,241 Views, 29 Comments

Starfall: Dominion of the Night, Part I - AuroraScribe

The course of time has been changed... and as the war of the sisters begins, will Star Swirl's involvement change things for the better, or has the mage doomed Equestria to an even more terrible fate?

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Chapter Nine: Memories

Magical energy thrummed almost harmonically in the air, the power of an unseen force causing the wind to howl and spatter snow in every direction. Quickly the sound grew louder and louder, until at last the air seemed to split apart in a blinding spiral of green light. With a piercing crack of thunder, the teleportation spell had been completed, and where there had once been nothing now stood a zebra draped with a silver cloak.

Trails of steam wafted in tiny wisps from Zaira's body as she held her cowl against the calming wind and blinked to adjust her eyesight to the darkness of night. With only moonlight to see, the surrounding world was a sparkling blanket of white and aside from her own hoofprints, the snow looked fresh and likely hadn't been disturbed in some time. Comforted by that fact, she quickly looked across the hazy distance, where the soft glow of street lanterns within Canterlot's inner city could just barely be seen, then spun in place and discovered what she was looking for residing only steps away.

A massive wall stretched out in either direction, its white stone making it nearly invisible on the winter landscape, and before her stood the entrance through; a gate of weaved iron, its arched top covered in snow and traced with icicles. At each side of the gate, daunting carvings in the stone of a minotaur and gryphon - the symbols of strength and wisdom of the magic order - looked terrifying shadowed in the dim light, but seeing them only made her grin. Confident she had teleported to the intended location, she exhaled in relief and tilted her head to focus her attention skyward.

Tiny dots of snow speckled the air amidst the twinkling stars and nearly full moon, but she showed them little interest. Instead, her gaze focused on a streak of blue light crossing the vast heavens.

"Every cycle brings you closer..." Zaira whispered her thoughts aloud as her orange eyes peered at the comet intently. Cracking a tiny smile, she once again turned her attention to the frozen iron gate and waved a foreleg forward. A soft glow of green magic surrounded an invisible horn on her head and in response the gate split into two doors and gave a piercing groan as they slowly opened inward, shoveling mounds of snow aside as they loudly announced her arrival. Not giving them the chance to fully open, she slipped through the gap then reversed the spell, squeakily sealing them once again.

After only taking a few steps within, the barely audible yet distinct hum of magical energy filled her ears as the biting chill of the frosty air quickly changed to a tingly warmth. Though invisible to most, the wards of magic created a mist-like barrier over the confines of the inner courtyard but even those lacking talent in the arcane would know of its presence; along the outer barrier rested a wall of snow, but within was as comfortable and green as a perfect spring day.

She took a moment to enjoy the soothing change in temperature and brushed the clinging snow from her cloak, but her ears twitched as she heard something peculiar. "Chirping? Winter birds within the wards?" Zaira's eyes darted about looking for the source and caught sight of a single white bird bouncing from limb to limb of one of the many large shrubs tracing the path, but as she stepped closer it chirped and took flight. Finding its appearance here very odd, she watched how it passed through the barrier and back into the winter air.

"A familiar, perhaps?" She loudly asked, doing her best to sound impressed by such a feat. Glancing about, she scanned the area expecting a reply but the courtyard had returned to silence and found no one in sight. Irritated, her eyes narrowed as she stood still a moment and mentally noted she would have to change the wards once again. Knowing how much work that would require, she gave a sigh and looked to the gray stone building of the magic order only a short distance away.

Though the home of the magic order was one of the most renown places in all of Equestria, by comparison to the shining white structures and colorful towers of the neighboring Canterlot Castle, it looked exceedingly plain. Decorated only by the two columns at its entrance way and various flora growing along its walls, its basic appearance shared more in common with the older buildings within the city than those of nobility. Even so, it wielded a similar respect to the home of royalty and for good reason; those of the magic order had long been one of Canterlot's greatest defenses and only the most gifted in magic, whether pony or otherwise, studied within its ancient walls.

Zaira smirked as she mused over the history of the magic order and of what the coming nights would bring. “For all the strength you possess, you never saw this coming...” she whispered to herself as she came to a stop at the enormous main entrance. Her hoof slowly traced the precise motions of a rune of unlocking in the air then waited as the doors split apart to allow entrance. “It's almost a shame.”

* * * * * * * *

Zaira waited for the doors to her study to seal then muttered a well rehearsed incantation to bring the torches of the room aflame. As the soft glow of fire filled the circular room she looked across the walls covered in brightly colored tapestries and paintings from around the world then slowly made her way to the room's center where a large crystal held by a golden stand hummed with energy. As she stood close, she swallowed deeply then cleared her throat.

“Your return cannot be far off, master... the comet grows ever brighter.” Zaira spoke low and bowed her head.

At the sound of her voice the torches flickered and the crystal flashed with red light. She watched intently as the smokey apparition of a black unicorn stallion appeared, his lifeless, onyx eyes focused upon her.

"The guardian arrived in Canterlot, just as you said he would..." Zaira slowly raised her head and slid back her cowl. “The mage can no longer see the threads of time, I saw to the instrument's destruction myself. With it, his gateway here – his pillar of time – was destroyed as well.” Brimming with confidence, she slowly crept forward. “But master... I hardly see the need for concern. Like most of the fools here..." she began, her vision drifting to the various tapestries around the room. "He was Naive. Weak. I had expected so much more."

The stallion's dark eyes flashed with red magic as he moved closer, making Zaira cringe and take a step backward. Though the stallion didn't speak, it was as if his magical will formed words within her mind and she understood his intent clearly.

“I-I've taken care of it... the shield has been put into place,” she said then shook her head in fearful confusion. “Even if Star Swirl did risk returning to change history further, my magic would prevent it."

"And what if I had never left?" A familiar voice said followed with a chuckle.

The air split with a thunderous crash of energy, a wave of power sending Zaira tumbling then skidding across the floor on her back. Trembling in pain she weakly lifted her head and saw an elder unicorn materialize out of thin air before her, his horn glowing light blue as he tugged his long beard.

"It... can't be!" Zaira gasped and shook her head.

“You actually believed I would leave... after the display you put on? And you call me naive.” Star Swirl said as he shook his head as if disappointed then turned to the image of the dark unicorn, his eyes narrowed in concern. “Yet your talent in magic is undeniable... to speak with this monster, somehow you've managed to bridge time. Quite a feat for a changeling.”

With a snarl, green flames encircled Zaira as she glared at the mage and slowly began to lift herself from the floor. "You'd dare attack me!? Here... within the very heart of the magic order?!" Her silver cloak burned away as crystalline wings grew from her sides and her dark, porous body took shape. Returning to her hooves as the transformation was complete, the flames rippled away as if dispersed by a strong wind. “You truly are a fool, Star Swirl the Bearded... I can see the pain in your eyes. You can barely stand and your power is nearly spent-!”

Woven symbols of moons and stars sparkled gold on Star Swirl's robes and hat as he waved a hoof in her direction, his eyes and horn flaring bright blue as he did.

Zaira gurgled in pain as she hurled backwards and collided hard against the wall, a sphere of energy crushing her against the stone.

“I am a fool, yes... to have ever hoped your intentions would be good." Star Swirl said with a scowl then tugged his beard. "Since your parasitic kind seemingly exists solely to bring misery to others, I'd have no qualm with bringing an end to this here and now,” he said as he edged closer, his eyes burning with energy. “But... it doesn't have to end that way. Help me bring an end to this madness... Tell me what you've planned.”

Zaira tried to shift then swallowed as she glanced to the dark unicorn glaring back at her. “The plan? You know what it is...” she said and gasped for air. The sphere of magic was pressing so hard into her chest she thought her lungs would collapse. “It's ex-exactly... what you... wanted,” she gave a choking laugh then lowered her head to meet Star Swirl's eyes, her green hair drifting over her face. “To make sure the princess fulfills... her de-destiny.”

* * * * * * * *

"You have to be kidding..." Star Flare teasingly asked with a giggle. "There's no way that's true!"

The fireplace popped and crackled as Skystrider gave a smirking side glance and stretched his white wings. "It is true... And it isn't nice to tease, my ego's already been trampled enough," he said with a laugh and waved a hoof at Fidget, who had long since stopped paying attention. "Him and that little fireball got the best of me, that's how my tail got knotted up on the railing."

"Aww..." Star Flare grinned then ruffled a hoof through Skystrider's rainbow mane. "And I had to come to the rescue-"

"Fee-Nix!" Fidget loudly interrupted and spun on his rear hooves as a baby phoenix fluttered in a circle just above his head. "She's a phoenix! Not a fireball!"

The tiny phoenix chirped its apparent approval and landed on Fidget's back.

"Yeah, yeah..." Skystrider waved his hoof dismissively then looked at the phoenix with curiosity. "I still don't understand what it was doing in the city. I'm no expert, but I'm pretty sure they migrate far from here during the winter."

"Well, she was hurt... I found her in the road on my way here." Fidget began, his scrunched expression clearly displaying just how hard he was trying to figure out the reason.

"Hurt or not, that still doesn't explain why it was in the city... Or at the very least, out in the cold..." Skystrider smirked then raised an eyebrow. "But how do you know it's a she? Did the fireball tell you?"

Fidget stepped back and gave a spastic shake of his head. "No, I just... she just is! A she, I mean..."

Star Flare gave a crooked smile and reached over and gently prodded Skystrider's side. "Picking on a future royal guard? I'd say that's treasonous..." she said then nodded to the little unicorn, her horn glowing blue. "What do you think, Fidge? What should his sentence be?"

Fidget's horn glowed yellow as the phoenix took flight from his back and wheeled high above near the ceiling. "Death by pillow!" He howled.

In a rush of wind and flash of white a single feather floated lazily through the air from Skystrider spreading his wings so quickly. With a single flap he moved clear across the living room in a rainbow blur, completely dodging a magically-glowing sitting pillow that was soaring towards him.

Star Flare prepared to attack but was interrupted as the pillow intended for Skystrider crumpled over her face with a soft thud. She gave a laughing growl and slowly peeled the pillow away then waved it threateningly at the little unicorn. "I thought we were on a team, Fidge!"

"S-sorry, miss Star Flare..." Fidget began then with a laugh pointed an accusing hoof. "But that's for not taking me with you at the market!"

Star Flare tilted her head in confusion as the pillow sunk in the air, the blue glow of the magic supporting it softening. "When... today? I didn't have a chance to make it by there... I got stuck working late at the castle."

Fidget's tiny eyebrows furrowed as he stared with a questioning expression. "But... the weird stuff at the library... I found you for Captain Stormstrike..."

Star Flare could tell the little unicorn was getting upset but she really didn't know what to make of it. There was something more, though; she had no memory of what he was saying, but there was something oddly familiar about it. She blinked and sighed in confusion, then turned to Skystrider and gave a cheerful smile to try and cover up the concern she was feeling.

"Had you heard anything about this?" She asked quietly.

Skystrider slowly walked back over and sat close. "Only the bits Fidget told me about... " he began but gave a suspicious look at the pillow still magically hovering and plucked it out of the air and placed it at his side. "He came by to tell me you'd be late, so maybe you two ran into each other at a different place?"

Fidget scratched behind his ear. "Nuh uh, I met miss Star Flare at the market... I know I did cause I've never run so much in my life! She told me she was going to head to the Sugarcane's bakery to get pies ordered for the party so I knew she'd be there today."

Star Flare blinked as she remembered chasing Dandy through through a busy shopping area, and of a need to stop by and see Mrs. Limesplash. Try as she might, she couldn't see or hear the moments with clarity, like a part of her memory had been washed away. Uncertain what it meant, she faked a smile to Fidget. "I dunno, kiddo... maybe I'm just getting my days mixed up. I've been super busy with everything going on with the festival."

Fidget gave a defeated sigh then looked up to the little phoenix circling above. "Oh well... I just wanted to know what happened with that old guy. I know he didn't mean to, but he really scared my sister... I bet she'll never go to the library again," he said with a laugh then thought a moment. "Hmm... I'll bet Mrs. Calli or Captain Stormstrike could tell me what happened to him..."

Old guy. Star Flare closed her eyes as the words of the little unicorn stirred memories of an elder pony being escorted by a royal guard at the castle. Thinking about it was strangely painful, like there was something about him... something she never wanted to forget. When she reopened her eyes, she found Skystrider and Fidget had moved close and both giving her a look of concern. She blinked in confusion and felt the reason for the strange looks as a tear cascaded down her cheek.

"Are you okay?" Skystrider asked softly, his face so close she could feel his breath.

Blushing, she quickly turned and wiped away the tear. "I-I'm fine... I just, I don't know... Remember that neighbor of yours I told you about earlier? I guess what she said really got to me." She hated having to tell the lie, but she had no idea how she'd explain the truth.

"What did she say?" Fidget asked followed by a chirp from the phoenix.

Star Flare looked out the frost-covered livingroom windows to the barely visible night sky. "Just a scary story..." she paused as she noticed the flames of the fireplace reflected on the glass. "I'm sure it didn't mean anything."