• Published 6th Dec 2012
  • 2,242 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 Two: Veiled Lineage

Strawberry Autumn, a red unicorn with brightly colored orange and red-striped hair walked casually as she flicked her tail back and forth, her mind focused on going over the checklist magically floating before her. She skimmed line after line and mumbled a few words about returning books then smiled as she looked below the hovering parchment to her daughter, a little purple pegasus filly named Berry Bliss keeping stride beside her. “Well, that was our last stop, BB…” she said then slowed her pace. Her magic lifted the parchment higher into the air and she quickly looked from side to side. “But where’d Fidget go?”

Berry Bliss scowled. Her brother just never seemed to listen – and more than that, whatever he does wrong always had a way of getting her in trouble, too. She shook her tiny head sending her short curly purple and pink mane bouncing from shoulder to shoulder as she sat back and crossed her forelegs. “Ugh… did he run off again? I’m not his babysitter you know!? And he’s older than me... why do I always have to keep an eye on-?” Her voice trails off as she looked over her shoulder and spots him a short distance away staring into the side alley of the Canterlot library. “Hmph… there he is.”

“Well, go ask if he's coming with us, we need to head home. It’s starting to get late and I need to get supper ready.”

Berry Bliss rolled her eyes but made sure her mother couldn’t see. “Fine,” she announced with a huff, creating a small frost cloud before her. Realizing there's nothing else she could say about the matter, she quickly took off in a trot and weaved passed the few ponies making their way from the large staircase of the library then over to her brother. “Hey! You can’t just go wherever without saying anything! What are you doing?”

Fidget gave a side glance and shrugged. “I… dunno, sis. I thought I saw someone back there earlier… and just now… it’s like the walls moved or something.”

Berry Bliss gave a forced sigh as she came to a stop. Trying to hide her interest, she peeked down the alley but seeing nothing out of the ordinary she quickly looked back to her brother. “It’s that dumb helmet of yours, Fidgey; it’s making you see things,” she prodded a hoof into his armored side then shrugs. “Whatever… Mom’s waiting. Come on, let’s-”

She’s cut short as a blast of hot air whips her sideways, then in a flash of blue light a unicorn seemingly appears out of nowhere and soars backwards just above her and Fidget.

Star Swirl crashed hard and slid on his back clear to the other side of the ice-encrusted road as chunks of super-heated stone splattered down around him like tiny molten raindrops, sizzling and popping as they struck the frozen ground.

Berry Bliss squeaks and stumbled backwards, then with a quick shake of her head inhales deeply and screams as she runs off towards her mother, flapping her tiny wings as hard as she can.

Fidget slowly straightened his helmet as he watched his sister then looked back to the old unicorn lying on the road. He could feel his legs wobble and his knees kept bumping together from shaking, but no matter how much he wanted to run away, something within wouldn’t let him. Instead, he swallowed and took a few small steps towards the strange unicorn. “Ex-excuse me? Are… are you alright?”

A nearly invisible field of energy surrounding Star Swirl dispersed as he blinked heavily and woozily attempted to look toward the strange ringing voice. He gave a small chuckle as the feint glow of blue light extinguished from his horn then laid his head back onto a snow mound, falling unconscious.

“Mister! Mis-… ter?” Fidget moved closer and slid his homemade helmet off but a loud rumbling sound made him look toward the alley once more. Shadows deep within it bent and warped as Star Swirl’s illusion began to fail – the rear of the long alley distorts as if underwater then the magic gives way completely, unveiling a large mass of crumbled stone and debris, much of it smoldering and glowing soft yellows and reds.

Fidget blinked and shook his head in disbelief as he glanced once more to Star Swirl. “What in the world just happened?”

* * * * * * * *

“Halt! Thief!” Star Flare shouted then giggled as she trotted through the Canterlot market, her polished golden armor shining brightly even in the soft light of the evening sun. Onlookers blurred by as she hurried passed, her focus on a little filly named Dandy running just ahead of her. As a cart full of snow-dusted carrots suddenly pulled into the road, the little pony cut left then darted around it, but rather than try to follow, Star Flare spread her wings as she leapt and glided easily over the new obstacle, startling the donkey pulling it.

Heehawww!

“Oops! Sorry about that, Mr. Bopple!”

“Oh! Oh, that’s quite alright, Missy! After another troublemaker again, I see!” he said with a wink.

“Like always!” Star Flare shouted back still in pursuit. With a smirk, she cut behind a large cabbage stand as her horn glowed crystal blue, the magic surrounding then lifting the tiny filly gently into the air. “I think that’s far enough… that was my apple, young lady.”

With a bright blue glow shimmering around her, Dandy clapped her front hooves defensively around the red fruit she was holding in her mouth. “I’m thorry, mith shtarflare!”

“I’m sure you are,” Star Flare tried not to smile but couldn’t prevent it. “Just like yesterday… and the day before that-”

Nyahaha! Another young pony by the name of Skunk, a black and brown spotted colt with yellow hair, gave a piercing laugh as he ran by only slowing to chant, “Little Dandy got caught by Starborn!”

Star Flare watched the young unicorn run off but inwardly winced at the nickname. I guess there are worse things they could call me… but Starborn isn’t really a name, it’s a title. She sighed a little knowing it was far too late to make it stop, especially since it’d been her other name ever since she had been adopted long ago. She brightened a little when she realized Dandy hadn’t used the name and looked to the little earth pony still hovering in the air.

Dandy didn’t notice Star Flare regarding her; instead, she watched as Skunk ran off then slowly took another bite of apple. After a tiny sigh she lowered her head sending her long, light-blue pigtails sliding up to her cheeks. “Whenever you come to the market… all of the kids do whatever they can to get your attention,” her voice shrunk to a whisper as a look of guilt crossed her face. “I… shouldn’t have taken this.”

“Hey… wh-where’s this coming from?” Star Flare’s magic released as it brought the little filly back to the snow-covered street. Then, with a worried look, she slid her golden helmet off then bent her neck and looked into Dandy’s eyes. “I was only teasing, kiddo... the apples are for you guys, that’s why I bring them.”

Dandy suddenly reached forward and hugged Star Flare then after a long moment shyly shuffled away. “I… know. I know that. I just felt like… I had really stolen from you and…” she paused to sniffle then quickly wiped the tears starting to form from her eyes. “I’m sorry.”

This winter has been really hard on her… on all of them. Even though her heart ached, Star Flare managed a tiny smile then leaned in and nuzzled Dandy. “Would you do something for me? But! It’s important you don’t tell the others!”

Dandy’s eyes immediately brightened then she looked around, somewhat unsure if she was the one really being spoken to. “Me? Really?! Anything!”

“This is a pretty big secret, so I’m counting on you... I’m going to have a party at the orphanage just before the solstice festival! It’s a lot of work though, and turns out I’ll need some help getting it ready,” she had to pause and laugh as the apple slipped from Dandy’s grasp as she started bouncing from excitement. “So… can you visit Mrs. Sugarcane’s bakery and tell her I need to put in a large order for apple-berry pies for the party, let’s say… ten of them?”

Dandy froze midair then skidded to a stop on the frozen road, her mouth gaped open. “Ten… pies?”

“Well… let’s go with fifteen,” Star Flare giggled then scooped up the quarter-eaten fruit from the snow and handed it gently back to the little pony. “That way there’s sure to be plenty for everyone. This will really help me a lot, I still have so much to do, and...” she leaned forward and whispered, “I have a date tonight, so this will give me a little extra time to get ready.”

Dandy giggled and blushed. “With… Mister Skystrider?”

“Mmhmm,” Star Flare gave a warm smile. “He’ll be at the party, too. He misses you guys.” He really does, little one… we both do. We’ve just been so busy lately. “But before you go…” she wrinkled her nose and looked in the direction of where the little unicorn had run by. “That pony from earlier, I think I recognized him as one of the new ones at the orphanage, but I’ve been meaning to ask… Is his name really Skunk?”

Dandy blinked then gave a crooked smirk. “No… that’s just what he likes to go by,” she glanced about then lowered her voice. “I think it’s because he really hates to take baths,” she giggled but tried to cover her mouth with a hoof.

Star Flare giggled then broke into a fit of laughter. Well, I’m glad that’s not a nickname I earned, she thought. There was more she wanted to say, especially since Dandy was starting to cheer up, but out of the corner of her eye she noticed shop owners of the area starting to close. “Oh! I just realized how late it was… you better hurry; I think the bakery won’t be open much longer! Just let Mrs. Sugarcane know that I’ll stop in tomorrow to pay.”

“O-Oh okay! I’ll go now, then!” Dandy bit into the apple and held it with her mouth as she walked backwards a few steps then waved and took off in a fast trot through the market.

“And after that head straight back to the orphanage! It’s too cold for you all to be out here!” Star Flare shouted then sighed as she watched the little filly vanish through the crowd in the distance.

“They’ll be up late making snow forts and having snowball fights, no doubt,” Mrs. Limesplash, an older light green earth pony with vividly yellow hair said with a laugh as she started to shut the front of her juice stand. “Don’t know how they do it when it’s this cold out, though.”

Star Flare smiled and nodded. “Well, I guess that’s alright,” she paused as a frigid breeze whirled by making her legs shiver and was thankful her armor was enchanted to help keep her warm. “So long as they’re having fun and stay out of trouble.”

“I’m sure they’ll manage half of that,” Mrs. Limesplash chuckled as she finished locking up her stand. “Star, you and the other guards are out in this dreadful cold far too long. If you come by tomorrow I’ll be sure to have some nice warm peppermint-cocoa waiting.”

“That would be wonderful, thank you… I’ll look forward to it!” Star Flare bowed gracefully then slid her golden helmet back on. “Well, have a safe trip home and a nice night!” She waved and turned to leave, but just as she took her first step she heard someone calling her name. Though it was faint, she was certain she recognized the voice. A smile passed her lips as she decided to instead pretend she didn’t hear anything and carried on her way.

“Miss… Star… Flare!” Fidget shouted as he trotted through the market.

How does he always seem to know where to find me? She giggled softly to herself and continued to walk, but slowed her pace as she heard his hooves clattering loudly. That’s odd, she thought as she paused to consider what his hurry might be. She tilted her head as her ears pointed up, acting as if she had just heard something.

The little brown-spotted colt barely managed to skid to a stop just behind her. “Miss...” he coughed and panted for air. “Miss Star Flare!”

She flicked her bright blue tail as she tried to think up a way to tease the little pony but as she turned to face him his unusual armor caught her by surprise. The ornate peytral fit him somewhat well and went from his chest to his rear legs, but she recognized it as Skyguard – the holes and slots for wings were a clear giveaway – which made it a rather odd piece for Fidget to wear since he was a unicorn. He probably scavenged it from someplace, it does look pretty old, she thought. More surprising than the chest piece, however, was his helmet and how overly large it was for his tiny head. From what she could tell, it was made from a combination of wood, tree bark, and what looked to be scrap metal all taped together. It lacked the normal snout protection of a chamfron and apparently when he came to a stop it had squashed his ears outward and fully covered his eyes as it slipped down to his nose, where it still rested. With a smirk, she shook her head and cleared her throat to stifle a very strong urge to laugh. “Attention, soldier.”

Fidget inhaled deeply and instantly pulled himself together at the sound of her voice, quickly standing as straight as he could. As he flung his head upward the helmet bounced off his neck then slid back over his eyes once again, but he quickly adjusted it as he saluted. “M'am!”

“Well… it’s only been a couple days, but I’d say you’re ready for another test…” Star Flare said as her expression turned serious. “Alright then! If a manticore were to land here this very moment, set to pounce… what would you do?” Her eyes narrowed as she slammed a hoof on the ice and almost butted her nose against Fidget’s. She watched as the little colt shrunk into his armor and couldn’t help but wonder if he was part turtle. “You look pretty tired… so I’ll give you a moment, but I doubt the manticore would be so nice.”

“I... I... I, um…” Fidget couldn’t form any words and began to tremble nervously.

Star Flare turned away and gave the little colt a side glance. “Maybe that’s not enough of a challenge? Defending just anypony would probably be easy, right? Then let’s say I was Princess Celestia or Luna,” she began but started to feel a little guilty; she knew how bad Fidget wanted to join the guard but she wanted him to understand it wasn’t a game. “You wouldn’t just stand there shaking... Would you?”

“No… No m'am!” Fidget almost frantically shook his head sending the helmet sliding side to side. “I… I would stand between the manti… um, thing… and the princess,” he said as he moved in front of Star Flare, a display that he’d protect her. “And I... I would politely ask it to please leave!” He turned his head and shakily looked for approval.

Well, he has heart; I suppose I can give him that much, she thought as she smiled warmly. “On occasion manticore can be quite friendly, so that might actually be the perfect way to go about it,” she said as she reached out and tapped a golden hoof on Fidget’s helmet then straightened it for him. “Remember… the princesses are here to protect us, but…” she had to pause and clear her throat, the little pony’s armor was making it very difficult to be serious. “If you’re a part of the royal guard, the safety of every citizen of Canterlot is your responsibility. You must be ready to defend them – and the princesses too – no matter the cost. If you hesitate, somepony might get hurt. Or worse.”

Fidget quickly nodded once again loosening the helmet. “I wouldn’t... I promise!”

“You’re going to make a fine guard one day, Fidge.” Star Flare said with a smile. “Well, I was just on my way home… and since it’s starting to get late and I don’t want your parents worried, do you want to walk with me?”

Fidget started to nod but froze in place. “No… wait, Miss Star Flare! I almost forgot!”

“Oh? Do you need to stop somewhere? If so let’s make it fast, I’m meeting with Skystrider-”

“No, that’s not it! I was supposed to give you a message! Something really weird happened over by the library! A bunch of guards are there and I even spoke to Captain Stormstrike, he asked me to find you and let you know.”

Star Flare cocked an eyebrow and smirked at the notion that Fidget had made up the story – she knew he had quite the imagination, but she’d never known the little pony to tell lies. “I don’t understand, Fidge… Why wouldn’t Stormstrike just give the message to me him… self?” Her voice drifted off as she realized the most likely answer. Whatever it is, he couldn’t leave. It must not be too serious, though, not if he just sent Fidget… then again... Her expression turned serious as she looked at the little pony beside her. He knows Fidge can probably find me better than anyone else on the guard, especially since I’m off duty. “Tell me; is he still at the library now?”

“Yeah, I think so. He was there with Mrs. Calli… and some strange old guy-”

The library is almost on the other side of the city, that’s quite a trip… Star Flare leaped into the air and spread her wings, whipping about the icy air as she hovered in place. “Then I better go make sure everything’s okay,” she paused seeing Fidget’s head droop and floated a bit lower to tap him on the helmet once more. “Thanks for your help, Fidge… it’ll just be quicker if I head there on my own.” Not wanting to waste any more time, she flapped her wings hard and soared over the market buildings, her tail and mane leaving a streak of blue light.

* * * * * * * *

“Oh, my name? I thought you’d already asked that? It is, of course, Virtuoso,” Star Swirl stopped a moment then waved a hoof forward. “The Bearded. Yes, yes,” he finished with a chuckle as he pushed his chin out to proudly display the origin of the title.

“Virtuoso… the Bearded. Right.” Stormstrike reluctantly nodded then shrugged to Calligraphy, a white unicorn with a black tail and braided mane magically taking notes next to him. “The damage is pretty extensive… I’m just glad you weren’t hurt, Mr. Virtuoso.”

“As am I...” Star Swirl looked to the back of the alley which was now just rubble and swallowed hard. “I haven’t a clue as to what could have caused that, but I’m certainly grateful you found me when you did.”

Stormstrike shook his head. “No, that credit doesn’t go to me. Some kids found you, actually… your thanks should really go to them. I just happened upon all this by chance while I was on patrol,” he shifted his stance and stretched his dark wings – the cold air was making his muscles stiff. “But you’re certain you didn’t see what may have caused this? Even the tiniest detail could be a big help.”

A fleeting memory of glowing timelines and of strange magic going out of control quickly went through his mind, but the memories vanished as a sudden stabbing pain from his side made him clench his jaw. My healing spell is already weakening… my time is running short. He turned towards the alleyway and silently repeated the magic words to control the illusion that hid the wound on his side. “Perhaps if I were to get a closer look? Maybe something in there could help me remember.”

Calligraphy glanced up from the parchment hovering before her and locked eyes with Stormstrike. After a quick adjustment to her small, silver-rimmed glasses she barely shook her head then twisted her lips in disapproval.

I know... Stormstrike’s ears flattened as he lowered his head and held her gaze. But it’s probably the only way we’re going to get any info out of this guy. He blinked then turned his attention to Star Swirl. “I probably shouldn’t… but I’ll walk back there with you so you can take a look around. Hopefully you’ll find something that might jog your memory… but before that,” he turned and looked at Calligraphy and stifled a small sigh. “Calli, while I look for clues with our friend here, could you have the others go ahead and setup the barricades? I know there’s going to be complaints, but I don’t want anypony going into the library or near this alley until we’re certain it’s safe.”

As she brushed a few strands of dark hair from her face, Calligraphy’s green eyes briefly stared at Stormstrike then returned to the hovering parchment. “If that’s what you think’s best. Sir.”

Stormstrike took a deep breath. Even though she was inviting it, he didn’t want to argue with Calli – he knew that was a battle he’d never win. “It’s not… but for now I think it’s the only option we have,” he said as he pressed a hoof against the side of his black and gold helmet as if trying to suppress a headache then looked to the old pony edging towards the entrance of the alley. “Alright, let’s go… And just to be clear: If I see even the smallest stone fall from that wall, we’re coming back out. Either way, let’s hurry this up; it’s much too cold to be out here and the sooner we can get to a nice warm fire the better.”

Star Swirl nodded and walked just ahead of Stormstrike into the alley, careful not to trip over any loose debris. After taking a step over a large chunk of stone he then moved over to the massive outer wall and placed a hoof upon it. “Did you know… many, many years ago this wall didn’t surround the city?” He said thoughtfully then let his hoof slide away. “It was a time of peace… the city wasn’t closed off from the world as it is now.”

“That had to be way before my time.” Stormstrike said as he looked to the towering wall but quickly returned his attention to the old unicorn.

“Oh it was… most definitely. It was built so hastily that the wall actually intersects with many buildings at the edge of Canterlot, which is why this alley gets narrower the further we go in – the outer wall was actually built right over the rear of the library.”

“You sound like you know quite a bit about the city… Are you a historian of some sort?”

With his back still to Stormstrike, Star Swirl tilted his head and pondered as he began to move into the overlapping shadows of the rear alley, to where most of the serious damage was. “A historian, you say? Hmm… I suppose that wouldn’t be too off the mark,” his horn glowed faintly as he drew a tiny rune into the ice.

“Well it looks like most of the damage is to the library so it should be somewhat easy to repair, luckily the outer… wall…” Stormstrike blinked heavily as his eyes glossed over then stood perfectly still.

Star Swirl glanced at Stormstrike, content his spell had taken effect. “In another time… you were a champion of the night…” he paused a moment to wince from another jolt of pain, then after a light cough he took a shallow breath and continued. “You had no wife, no children. Yet here you are… a protector of the city and not a hint of evil in your heart. Should the princess begin her uprising this very day, I have no doubt you’d stand against her,” he said as he turned, the magic aura of his horn making his face glow in the darkness. “My magic is growing weaker… and due to a series of tragic circumstances I no longer have a proper way to view the timelines so I unfortunately have to resort to this. My apologies, Captain,” he lowered his voice to a whisper then waved a foreleg creating a large rune in the air. “I will not force you to repeat that dark fate… but I need information, and time is of the utmost importance.”

Stormstrike slowly blinked and continued to stare off into the distance. “What do… you need… to know?”

“You spoke of the cold earlier, and I do not disagree – it is, in fact, freezing,” Star Swirl tugged his robes around him. “How long has it been like this?”

“This winter… is the worst I’ve seen. Doesn’t even warm when the sun is at its highest point.”

Star Swirl considered for a moment. Princess Celestia warded the city to make it pleasant no matter the season… which means, even though it’s happening at a later point in time, Luna is still working to remove her sister’s enchantments. He sighed thankfully then looked to Stormstrike. Then it isn’t too late, the war of the sisters may still be ignited, he thought then held his breath realizing what that meant. My entire life has been dedicated to helping others and to give this world a future… and now… I’m working to start a war between two of Equestria’s most noble rulers. He shook his head and suddenly felt very weak. “Tell me, Captain, how often is Luna… seen…” Star Swirl’s voice drifted off as the loud clattering of armored hooves interrupts him. As he looks to the end of the alley his eyes widen.

A white winged-unicorn in bright gold armor shifts from just having landed and tucks in her wings. After saluting and saying a few words to Calligraphy she’s directed to the alley.

Star Swirl rubbed his eyes, for a moment believing he had just seen Celestia. No… it’s not her, but… an alicorn? Here? That’s impossible! He quickly shook his head and with a quick wave of a hoof released the spell on Stormstrike. Besides the sisters, there isn’t another – shouldn’t be another – in Canterlot, not in this time period.

As the winged-unicorn moved close, Stormstrike blinked and looked around, as if confused where he was. “Oh… Star Flare! I take it… Fidget was able to find you?” Quickly he saluted then continued. “Sorry, I know you had just gotten off duty and were probably on your way… to a, um…” He blinked heavily; the magic was obviously having a residual effect.

Star… Flare? Star Swirl sounded each word in his mind almost as if learning them for the first time. He didn’t recognize the name, but he knew he should. And she’s in the royal guard, no less? His mind raced over the possibilities. Galaxia, Celestia, Luna, Mi Amore Cadenza, Skyla, Elysia, and Astral… along with many more, all spread across time as protectors of this world. More importantly, they’re all of nobility, part of a distinct lineage tied to the royalty of Equestria. So… who is she?

Star Flare returned the salute. “To a date, Captain,” Star Flare smirked then continued. “But this sounded important, and from the look of things it definitely is.”

“Oh, yes… a date. Sorry… it’s just been a really long day,” he paused a moment to press on the side of his helmet once again. “I was just walking Mr. Bearded here through the debris to see if anything might give him some recollection of what happened.”

Star Swirl opened his mouth to correct Stormstrike, but instead tilted his head and nodded content with the new name. “Star Flare, is it? Quite nice to meet you.”

Star Flare’s eyes briefly narrowed. “Likewise,” she turned to Stormstrike and nodded toward the exit of the alley. “I’d like to speak to him, could you give us a few minutes, Captain?”

Stormstrike sighed thankfully. “Absolutely. I’ll go help with the sealing of this area, just whistle if you need anything.”

* * * * * * * *

Star Flare glanced over her shoulder to watch Stormstrike exit the alley then returned her attention to Star Swirl. Instead of saying anything, however, she simply pursed her lips and moved over to the pile of crumbled stone and bricks and began examining as her horn glowed lightly.

Star Swirl watched her but his stomach felt like it was knotting from the tension. “You said you’d like to speak with me, so... I suppose you have some questions?”

Star Flare tilted her head to look over her shoulder as she adjusted her wings but turned completely around when she saw fear cross the old unicorn’s face.

She looks just like her! A glimpse of Princess Celestia turning, blackening his staff just as she launches a magical attack flashes through his mind. “Has anyone told you… you have an uncanny likeness to Princess Celestia?”

Star Flare looked at him concerned for a moment then shrugged off the compliment as she returned once again to looking at the debris. “Well, she is my mother…”

“Your... what?!” Star Swirl quickly moved beside her but Star Flare sidestepped and backed away.

“I meant figuratively,” she waved a hoof for him to keep his distance. “Princess Luna and Celestia adopted me when I was very young. It’s kind of an old story… I take it you’re not from the city, Mr. Bearded?”

Star Swirl looked down, his thoughts suddenly elsewhere. “No… it’s just a place I visit, from time to time.” His hoof cut a thin line in the snow then another.

Star Flare held a moment. “I thought so… stop that! Stop drawing runes!” She moved forward and quickly wiped a hoof through the snow.

“Oh… It was just a glyph, actually,” Star Swirl gave his most innocent smile. “Is there a problem?”

“I was circling overhead when I saw you casting magic on Captain Stormstrike. I’ve also looked over this mess and it has a unique magic aura, one that you’re also giving off…”

Star Swirl tilted his head then gave an impressed nod. “Indeed it does.”

The honesty was so surprising Star Flare almost had to take a step back. “What’s this all about? What are you planning… and why damage the library of all places?” She stepped forward determined to press on, but cut short when she saw Star Swirl flinch in pain.

“Well, to answer your first question… I was simply casting a weak spell to gather a bit more information - nothing harmful mind you. But perhaps I’m going about this all wrong,” he paused to think a moment, then tilted his head as he gave Star Flare a quizzical look. “Still, with what you know… why haven’t you called to the other guards?”

He's right... why haven’t I? Is it his age? She looked him over as she thought for a moment. No, that isn't it... at least not entirely. There's just something about him, something familiar... “Before it comes to that, I want some answers. Also…” She took a moment to clear her throat then lowered her voice. “This might sound strange… but, have we met before?”

Star Swirl moved a half-circle around her then leaned forward, squinting as he looked at her face. “Have we met before? Hmm. No, I don't believe so... at least, certainly not 'before' this day. I'm certain I'd remember a face that pretty,” he waved a hoof at her nose then smiled as he tugged his beard. "Have we ever met, though? At some point yes, we most likely have."

Trying to cool her embarrassment she sighed deeply. Why did I even bother? “Alright... let’s start over and begin with your name. The record keeper at the end of the alley told me it was Virtuoso but the Captain of the Skyguard just called you Mr. Bearded - who are you really?”

Star Swirl eyed her then shrugged. “The name’s Star Swirl the Bearded,” he announced proudly. “There’s much about you I’d like to know as well, so escort me to see the princesses and I promise to explain everything,” he smiled as he took a moment to straighten his hat. “As best I can, of course.”

Star Flare shook her head and closed her eyes as she failed to hold back a laugh. “Star Swirl? As in, the Star Swirl? Were you named after a wing of the Canterlot library, or the archmage?”

Star Swirl didn’t hide his annoyance. “Laugh if you must, it matters little if you believe me… what is important is we don’t waste any more time. Besides, weren’t you supposed to meet with someone, Skystrider, I think it was?”

Star Flare’s yellow eyes narrowed as her horn glowed brightly. The light around her bends into a blue luminescent shield that was brighter in the middle and faded as it reached the edges, the magic causing an almost electrical hum that seemed amplified by the stone walls around her. She turned her body to block the exit from the alley and glowered at the old pony. “I was trying to give you the benefit of the doubt, but how could you possibly know who I was going to meet with?” Her eyes flash with anger.

Star Swirl gave no hint of fear and instead smiled. “Let’s chalk that up to a lucky guess… even if his father's confusion about your date kinda gave it away,” he chuckled then continued. "Though I shouldn’t, I think it’s important I let you in on a little secret. Stormstrike wouldn't remember, but I first met him when he was very young. I've also met his son, Skystrider. In fact, I've probably met every pony in this city at one time or another, especially those that have an important role to play in the history of Equestria,” he stopped to stroke his beard for a moment, his expression turning serious. "The thing is… I could tell you the name of every guard standing watch. Of all the onlookers that have passed by this alley. Familiar faces everywhere, except yours... you're the only one I don't know."

A chill runs down Star Flare’s spine and she unknowingly takes a step back. "And... why is that?" She lets her magical shield fade and the alleyway seemed to brighten a little.

"It's all a matter of timing, I suppose," his serious expression shifts to a befuddled smile. "Unfortunately, it's something I can't focus on now; my magic diminishes with each passing moment and before I’m too weak I must speak with the princesses."

Star Flare shook her head, both from disbelief of what he’s saying and that she’s actually feeling a need to go along with him. "But why do you need to see them?"

"Because," the word hung in the air as he slowly made his way to the end of the alley and looked up to the central tower of Canterlot castle. "At this point, it’s all that matters."