Star Swirl's Final Hour

by Stygian359

First published

A story detailing what occurred to the ancient master of all magic after his great sacrifice... may he be remembered always.

Star Swirl the Bearded, known for his great cunning, ability and knowledge of magic is remembered even more for the ultimate sacrifice he made for people. But even though his tale ended with the words "Run You Fools!" His life did not.

This is the final hour of his life and the battle he waged against that which he feared most. And also an awesome surprise ending!!!

***

Skip the first chapter if you've seen remakes of this scene to death already...
Yes... the story was inspired somewhat by Gandalf the Grey's fight against the Balrog but it isn't exactly the same, after all it is called 'Star Swirl's Final Hour' is it not? Expect a tale of comedy, sacrifice and the facing of one's greatest fears. Feel free to comment, in fact I welcome it!

This story is dedicated to the A For Effort group. I expect a fair review! Eventually!

Thank you to Emkay-MLP for allowing me to use the image, check out her artwork! Seriously it's gorgeous! (Follow link to image source and give her your love!)

Tags: Comedy because there is, Tragedy because I couldn't have sad... and Adventure because etc, etc...

You Shall Not Pass!

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Chapter One: You Shall Not Pass!

The ancient fortress built deep within the mountains quaked in time with an almighty heartbeat, as if the core of the mountain itself threatened to explode with a fury and rage that could match a nova sun itself. Massive towers and pillars that had taken eons to carve into the surface of the tunnels and halls shook from their foundations and crashed around them breaking their resolve. Fear filled their very beings as it came into view, what the wise one had warned them of... something that should never be awakened.

But it had, due to their damned mistake or by Fate's cruel hoof the beast of the Crystal Mountain the dark in the depths itself, had awoken to vent its terrible wrath.

He stood between them and it, protecting them or so it seemed from the growing proximity of the great blaze that stormed towards them. Star Swirl, the old wizard who had led them on this quest to a new land, who had guided their every action without fail and with the most caring of attitudes.

Who had protected them from all the evil that had pursued and hunted them along the way. He faced this evil and he did so knowing it would be his end. She could see the fear in his eyes, stood stock still as she was with the others a little further down the walkway from the bridge where her mentor waited.

They could all see it, all were witness to the coming of the monster as it strode slowly towards Star Swirl, it movements stalking and menacing. It had no eyes but for rivulets of molten flame that matched the tundra that surrounded its charred rocky body. Massive down turned horns spiraled from its head and great wings of fire erupted from its back.

Dread was their companion as it reared upwards, lifting an arm and with it a whip of pure fire that it held in one massive clawed hand. It stood on its hind legs and stared down malevolently at the wizened stallion before it, contempt lining the sneer on its twisted features.

Clover the Clever watched her teacher's face, begging him internally to fight it, to raise his great power against it, even as she knew his fear of the monster had deadened his heart and destroyed his confidence. There was no being more threatening to those who wielded magic than the Balrog, for it was immune to almost all magics.

She saw though a faint glimmer in her master's eyes, as a decision had been made. In his face he displayed a will she had worried had been vanquished, a hope began to build within her! But also there she could not help but notice was a grim resignation as if Star Swirl had accepted a fate he knew he could not escape.

"You do not understand my apprentice..." He whispered to her three hours ago, his face hidden in the brim shadow of his long pointed hat as he admitted his great worry. "It is my destiny to fall down there... into the deep dark."

No more than now did she truly understand his words...

The beast loomed and cracked its whip, its length snapping towards her master with some velocity leaving a trail of intense light in its wake. Star Swirl lifted his staff in the instance, his horn exploding in a golden light that matched his eyes, his grey coat flashing as from it a bubble of pure magic flew out to surround him, his billowing snowy white beard glowing like fire.

Flames belching with a ferocity that seared the very cavern they stood in and marked the ceiling and floor eternally blackened with its spite. The Balrog was enraged, roaring with such hate it caused the companions to flinch and back away. It lifted its arm and let fly its whip once more.

The shatter of its might against Star Swirl's barrier charged throughout the mountain, the pressure causing them all to fall to their stomachs even those who hovered in the air.

Pegasus Earth and Unicorn watch transfixed and horrified at the spectacle that had consumed their minds in terror, none able to flee or fight as they had so bravely declared they would before. All their courage and determination washed away in the reality of the being imprisoned within the Deep Dark before them.

Star Swirl flinched from the last blow, was he weakening already? Clover felt fear gripping her heart, if her teacher could not stand against this creature then their quest would fail and their peoples be doomed to the harsh ice that had taken their nations.

The monster roared and reared once more but something flashed in the old one's eyes. Star Swirl raised onto his own hind legs, lifting his staff in both fore hooves, his teeth gritted and his expression lined with defiance. Holding his staff aloft above his head he focused his power, the roar of yellow light around his horn exploding with a terrible force.

Clover's eyes widened, as did all their eyes. They watched as their guide, the one voice of reason and hope, stared down the Goliath with a sneer of his own.

"You... Shall... Not...." The words came out in booms, rumbling from the walls like thunder. "Pass!!!" He smashed his staff upon the bridge that separated his wards from the monster, putting all of his strength and will into the blow. The wave of light that spread from the shattering explosion blinded them temporarily,

The cavern moaned in agony as great stalactites shattered from their roots within the massive ceiling and began their colossal drop down towards the large marble white bridge upon which the two predestined enemies faced each other. The Balrog looked upwards as the masses of rock descended.

It shrieked with unimaginable rage, its face shifting and contorting, its eyes blazing a deeper red as it spun on the ancient wizard and lifted a huge fist. It did not use its whip this time, deciding instead to smash its fist upon Star Swirl. The impact caused the field surrounding her teacher to collapse, the master of magic's collapsing to his stomach. The beast shrieked in triumph and lifted its fist once more.

But it was not meant to be.

The edge of a great pointed spire struck the bridge shattering it in two, the half upon which the monster stood collapsed into shards of rock, the monster's footing taken from it and dragging it down into the depths of the bottomless dark below.

It roared one last time, flame erupting in a stream from its mouth.

There was a second of absolute stillness as Star Swirl turned to face them, his cheeky smile and bright eyes glowing with the remains of his power. The companions smiled back and none more so than his apprentice, Clover the Clever.

In her heart elation soared, he had done it! He had overcome the dark and its terrible prisoner!

A crack filled the air and a line of flames reached up over the edge of the bridge, it snagged around Star Swirl's hind leg causing the old stallion to collapse once more, he was dragged over the edge and for the briefest of moments he held on by his forelegs alone.

There was a moment of panic in his eyes but as they locked with the horrified expression of his apprentice whose movements revealed her intention to run to his aid his expression turned to firm resolution. A thousand words seemed to pass between the two before finally the wisest stallion all of pony kind had ever known spoke his last words.

"Run you fools!" He demanded of them with exhaustion in his voice.

He threw himself free of the bridge, doing so to prevent his apprentice from following him into the depths, she watched him leave her world with shock written plainly on her face. He hoped she would understand the reason for this action, for even as the remainder of the bridge collapsed her life had been spared... She would be alone now, to lead the others and face the trials... he prayed she would remember his lessons and his wisdom and carry them with her to the new world she would create, where she would pass it to all who would seek it freely and with heart.

His only regret was that he had never told her... never told her how much he thought of her as a daughter... the daughter he had never had.

Clover the Clever wrote about this moment with some clarity, even though her fame never reached the heights of her mentor his wisdom only survived because she did, and even now in the Land of Equestria which had been founded by the result of this quest, his writings and magic live on...

But did his life truly end there?

For it is said that where magic is concerned... it isn't that simple.

A Timeless Whisper

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Chapter Two: Timeless Whisper

His eyes flashed open and he took breath, pain racked his old back and brought immediate attention to the infirmities of age. His tired old eyes were dry, so dry in fact he felt as if he had walked face first into a ball of fire. His face too felt numb and so too did his left hind leg. He couldn't move and his vision was blurry filling his sight with nothing but a murky whiteness.

But what hurt the most was his head, as if a legion of gryphons had taken it in turns to smash their forge hammers upon his head. He let out a haggard old groan and attempted to right himself only to fall onto his stomach once more. He let out a gasp as the impact winded him, the chalky ground beneath erupting as his pained breath struck its surface.

He shut his eyes tight and attempted to recall the events that had led him to such agony but right then little more came to him but flashes of deep red and deafening noises which only seemed to intensify the terrible ache he suffered in his skull. He resolved to lay there for a while as he tried to regain some sense of his body.

He felt broken and tired and every ounce of his strength was flagging with exhaustion. "Fuuuffafinn Tarfarus..." He forced through the soft loose earth of the ground he lay upon, his words garbled.

What was his name again? Oh that's right, Star Swirl the Great! Or Star Swirl the Bearded as some called him... the nerve of the young! He managed to shake his head and lift it, though the action brought on a wave of dizzying nausea. Yet his perseverance paid off, for slowly his vision returned.

"Well now!" He muttered to himself, his usual gruff but warm voice lined with a hollowness that at first caused concern. "That isn't a good sign..."

He was surrounded by white sand, neither hot nor cold but very much dry. There was no ocean, no lake, no water at all not even as moisture in the air. They sand spread out before his eyes as a sea of its own, an endless desert of white nothing spanning to the very horizon and beyond.

He shook his head again and stood, though he appeared and felt very old he still had the same spring in his step he had always had since his youth. His movement was therefore surprisingly alive though no one had been around to see it, how else would he have gotten around as he did if he had been the old shaky two steps an hour kind of old.

He frowned and channeled his magic, so second nature to him there was no doubt it would work. And so it did, what formed beside him was a small blue orb, of a slightly darker hue than the pale cloudless sky above them. It flashed twice revealing that it was now active.

He chewed his lip for a moment before asking.

"Well go on then! Lead the way!!!"

The Clairvoyant Orb sprang into life, its opaque surface reflecting the sand beneath him, as Star Swirl began to follow he made sure his hat and cape were still attached, thankfully they were but he had one loss to account for... his staff was nowhere in sight, in fact he could not feel it anywhere and its presence had been known to him anywhere on the face of his world.

That he could feel nothing was disconcerting.

However there seemed to be a path lined out before him, destiny had not completely abandoned the old sod after all...

***

"Well that's my life story pretty much up till this point..." Star Swirl sighed, having spoken non-stop since he began his trek through the desert... however long he had walked for or why it hadn't registered on his body. He had recovered his stamina and managed a healthy pace without stop for some time, he hadn't even paused once for a rest.

"Not that you really care..." Star Swirl sighed rolling his eyes. "You don't even have a voice do you?"

The orb hovered silently, leading him still after all this time, its surface did flicker but Star Swirl doubted it was any form of reply just a natural movement of light from the sun... then again, he looked up once more, there wasn't a sun, the sky was blank with only the lightest touches of blue to it, the white sand beneath him didn't reflect any kind of glow and as for clouds... there were none.

It all felt odd.

"I know it was a long one and a bit dry..." He continued. "I was never any good at telling them if I am to be honest, in fact this is the second time I have even attempted to tell it... though if you heard any of that I'd be surprised, you don't even have any ears."

The orb bobbed somewhat.

"Yes I suppose... but an old man like myself has far too many stories, most of which have a habit of ending without any real answers..." Star Swirl pursed his lips. "Of course I knew it would end eventually and the fact that damned prophecy came true right at the start of our adventure makes me all too despondent."

The orb seemed to take a darker hue.

"Oh what!?" He complained. "I can be moody about it if I want."

"But you knew it would happen." The orb answered.

"Doesn't mean I have to like it." Star Swirl argued. "I'm the single most greatest wizard in the world! Don't you judge me!"

The orb continued silently as he muttered and grumbled under his breath, the nerve of some orbs these days! Thinking they could go make judgements about ponies they had no idea about. "I've been places you couldn't imagine!" His words were near silent... for a foghorn two meters away. "I've written an entire library's worth of magical grimoires and tomes..."

"I didn't mean to cause offense." The orb responded honestly.

"Well..." He began but hesitated, he was known for his forgiving nature. "Well I suppose that's alright... I have to admit I do tend to ramble quite a bit."

"I don't mind." The orb stated.

"You say that now." Star Swirl shivered, even though it was anything but cold around him... or anything at all other than what could be best described as room temperature. "But you're just a figment of my imagination, I'm still waiting for you to start telling me how much a failure I am."

"..."

Star Swirl then added. "The fact that I am now dead isn't really doing anything for my mood either."

"Dead?" The orb questioned, obviously confused.

"This is the Eponian Fields right?" He waved a hoof around him. "The final trial all magic users must face before passing on to the next realm."

"Is it?" The orb asked.

"..." Of course he had been expecting what was meant to be an inanimate unthinking object to know what was going on, foolish him. "Well yes... it is..."

"And that means... you are dead?" It responded with a deeper meaning to its tone.

"Why does your voice sound so familiar?" Star Swirl managed to turn the subject around, he would be damned if this orb showed him up.

"Am I not a figment of your imagination? You tell me."

Star Swirl grimaced, he didn't want to answer for it would mean it had beaten him, not really something he would be proud of especially with his memory failing him through the recent years. It was true he was old, he didn't like to admit it though, sure his memory had been a bit sketchy sometimes but when he needed it most it was there... most of the time.

"You be silent!" He commanded. "And why haven't we reached... wherever it is we're going?"

"We have." It answered.

There it was, a rising in the sand like a mountain hidden in the fog. So surprised was he by its sudden appearance that he fell back, his hat taking off on a sudden breeze of wind that lifted it high into the air. Star Swirl swore and looked up to the offending item.

"You get back here now!" He commanded of it, attempting to direct his magic to capture his large jingling hat. His annoyance caused his magic to fail and so it continued to float around him, bobbing cheekily in the air, which only caused him more anger. "I'm warning you!"

The hat began to spin mockingly.

"That's it!" He roared. "I warned you and now you are going to be taught a lesson! Make no mistake!!!"

He attempted his magic again, this time focusing with all the mental faculties that remained to him, the hat paused in its merry dance to observe this attempt and as Star Swirl pulled his focus to an image he began the process of building the energy up into his horn...

Nothing happened...

No power waited, no energy or pressure, nothing he would associate with the usual sensations he received when casting magic. That well of energy was still there but nothing was happening beside frustration. The hat looked down to him, its bells jingling some more before flying off towards the massive tower ahead.

"What just happened?" He asked of himself. "Why did my magic fail?"

"Because your magic is used up." The orb stated. "And besides... you do not need it here."

"I..." He began but froze as his eyes fell onto the glowing object beside him.

"In fact..." It revealed amusement in its voice. "You are here to be judged."

"What do you... oh..." He paused again as realization dawned on him.

"This is where magic takes form." The orb continued. "This is where magic is judged... and you who would tame magic for your people, you will be judged for it."

"...."

"Welcome to the Void." It greeted.

A Cape of Memories

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Chapter Three: A Cape of Memories

"Her name is Sapphire Rain"

"What!?" He demanded of his mind as the orb lowered and flashed before his eyes distracting him, he turned his angry attention to it once more. "What do you want now!?"

"Are you mad at me?" It asked almost mournfully.

"Yes I am!" He snapped. "You brought me here! How did I even cast you if I have no magic?"

"Well..." It blushed awkwardly as if it had cheeks, two ovals in its surface taking on a more pinkish hue. "...to be honest you didn't, you only believed you did."

He nodded slowly, as if understanding the words it had spoken. "What the hell does that mean?"

The orb bobbed and sighed. "Look... I don't know okay, I was only created a few months ago when you arrived."

"Months!!!" Star Swirl exclaimed... oh right that's obvious. He looked to the orb with utter shock. "I've been walking for months!?"

"Several." The orb bobbed. "You had quite the tale to tell."

He frowned, this wasn't good news at all. "What about my companions... what has happened to them?"

"I don't know." It shrugged... or as best it could without shoulders... truth be told it looked a little awkward but he got the general idea.

Swirl gave a growl. "Well... what now?" He asked dejectedly.

"Now?" It spun to face the fortress nearby. "Now we must go there."

"No thank you." Star Swirl replied. "Not happening."

"You really are grouchy aren't you." The orb muttered.

"Less of your cheek!" He shot back with a snarl. "I'm known to be friendly and pleasant."

"Then why are you being so aggressive?" She asked, he tacked the word she on, it did speak in a female voice and it seemed to fit.

"I don't... know..." He answered honestly. "I do feel strange I cannot deny that."

"I think something left you along with your hat." The orb suggested.

Star Swirl groaned deeply. "This is going to be one of those quests where I have to retrieve things in order to rebuild myself isn't it."

She bobbed in answer.

"Sigh." He declared. "Well I'm too old for those kind of quests, so no thank you."

"I really think you should." The orb attempted. "If you don't..."

"You will what?" He growled with warning. "Are you threatening me?"

"Warning you actually."

Star Swirl snorted, resolved to think of her as a she... all this 'the orb' rubbish getting on his nerves. "Nothing you can say or do will make me go through with this nonsense!"

The air struck him so suddenly he found himself bowled over, he rolled across the chalky ground gagging slightly as his cape caught around his neck. He quickly righted himself and planted his hooves firmly on the ground, meaning to face the gale head on, however it overpowered him and he flew back.

He swore as he felt slowly his cape beginning to slip over his head.

After the wind subsided the orb floated over to hover above the wizard, who now lay in one of the most awkward positions ever, on his neck bent right over until his hind legs stood before his shoulders. The orb tried not to laugh but failed. "Hey!" Star Swirl complained, rolling with some cracks in the bones back into a stand. "That wasn't funny!"

"Yes it was!" She laughed.

"What was?" He asked suddenly, very confused.

"You landed ass over head!" He found her laughter very contagious.

"Yeah..." He smirked. "What was funny again?"

The laughter died pretty quickly and the orb took note of a very blank looking pony before her. "Are you alright?"

"Who is alright?" Star Swirl asked.

"You."

Star Swirl blinked. "What was the question again?"

"Are you okay?" She asked louder this time.

"Am I what?"

"You see!" She burst suddenly. "This is what happens when you resist! You've lost your short term memory!"

He began by returning with anger of his own but it quickly dissipated into confusion. "My what lost my short term... whatever it was that you... where am I again?"

"Your cape took with it your memories." She sighed, looking around with an efficiency matched only by the boring kind of book keeper who kept them all in alphabetical order and freaked out if she found a B in the C section. With her amazing sight (though she had no eyes, explain that one!) she scanned the small rocky hill, sure to mortals it looked like a mountain but the truth was far different, everything here was an illusion. Above on a section of broken wall near the massive gate was the cape, billowing snagged upon the rock.

"There I see it!" She declared.

"See what?" He responded.

"Oh shush!" She snapped. "And come on, you're useless until we get your memories fixed!"

The journey seemed long to Star Swirl, or would have if he remembered any of it, instead all he knew was that he just stopped walking and almost crashed into a blue ball... now all he remembers is that there is some strange blue ball in front of him...

"We are here." It stated.

"You can talk!?" Star Swirl exclaimed.

"Yes I can talk!" She growled at him. "This way!"

She led him around the outcrop, towards where the cape fluttered in the wind, she looked up at it, it was quite high. "Alright, you'll have to climb up there and get it."

Star Swirl squinted in the direction of the wall, as she was unable to point it made following her sight."Get what?... Hey! You can talk!"

"Yes dear." She sighed.

"Who goes there!" A heavy voice without moisture rumbled.

The two looked at the source of the noise, where clinging to the wall with its taloned feet and claws hung a gargoyle of some size. Star Swirl remarked upon its design, it has been crafted very well he had to admit, it looked akin to a teenage dragon but with wide twisted horns either side of its head. "It looks almost real." Star Swirl spoke to whoever it was... that was beside him?

"I am the guardian of this wall!" The gargoyle exploded angrily. "Protector of this weakness in the fortress's defenses, explain yourselves or suffer a fate worse than death!"

"You mean singing!?" Star Swirl grimaced. "I hate it when people... do... wow, that's a nice gargoyle!"

"Who are you!" It snarled dangerously.

Star Swirl frowned, some instinct taking control. "I am Beard the Swirl Starl!" He declared. "Lord of the huge-ama-flips and the all... magic whatsit... with... with scary magic! Wooo!" He waved his fore legs in a ghostly fashion and failed to impress the Gargoyle before them.

"Who are you again?" It asked, this time less angrily more wearily.

"I am... erm..." Swirl paused, his mind a blank and his expression stupid. "I'm hungry." He answered finally... and perhaps hopefully, it had been a while since he had eaten... something... that he was... talking about...

"His name is Star Swirl the Great!" The orb flared a bright red and flew directly before the face of the large stone creature with pitiless eyes. "The most powerful wizard in the world!"

"I am!?" Star Swirl's eyes widened in shock.

"He is!?" The gargoyle smiled with mirth.

"Yes!"

"And how do you know this?" The stone entity challenged.

"He told me!" The orb answered triumphantly.

The gargoyle nodded solemnly, seeming to believe her. However his act was broken as he exploded into laughter, if he had tear ducts he would be leaking humorous tears. The laugh was long and hearty, if anything he seemed to really be enjoying himself.

"You must be joking!" The gargoyle responded without belief.

"I can prove it!" The orb returned. "You see that cape up there!"

The gargoyle looked, indeed he could see the cape. "I do... what of it?"

"If you let us retrieve that he'll be able to give you all the proof you want!"

The gargoyle eyes her suspiciously but soon nodded, he was bored what could he say, after all he had spent the last thirty eight eternities alone on a wall in the middle of nothing. "Sure why not, the laugh I will receive alone will be worth it."

The rob gave a sharp nod, which was barely noticed, it was a very shiny orb so it was hard to tell when it spun. "Star Swirl!"

There was a moments silence until the old man realized the attention was on him. "What!?" He demanded irritably.

"Up there, on the wall, fetch the cape."

"Fetch the what now?"

"The cape!" She exploded, quite enough with all this already.

"The flappy thing?" He attempted.

"Yes the flappy thing!" She snapped.

"Okay!" He growled. "All you had to say was the... the..."

"Flappy thing?" The gargoyle suggested.

"Yes..."Star Swirl gave a nod but then frowned. "Very nice... what about it again?"

"Go up there and get it!" The orb commanded.

"Alright keep your... shine on?" He blinked, then moved towards the fractured brickwork.

They watched as the wizened old grey unicorn began to slowly drag his way up the rock, his white beard catching on his grip a couple times almost causing him to fall.

"He's going to fall." The gargoyle smirked. "Mark my word, he will."

"Right now I don't care." She muttered.

"I found it!" Star Swirl declared triumphantly.

The orb blushed and the Gargoyle chuckled. "That's a rock... you're trying to reach your cape remember?" She groaned.

"The what!?" He yelled down.

"The Cape!!!" She burst.

"Where's the cape?"

"Over there!"

"Over where?"

"Right! There!"

"You don't have arms you know..." The gargoyle pointed out. "You're only making him more confused."

"Be quiet you!" She warned, then turned her attention back to the old wizard. "what are you doing now!?"

"Looking at my nape." Star Swirl answered.

"Your what?"

"My nape!!!" Star Swirl answered angrily. "You told me to look at my nape!"

"What nape do you mean!?"

"That's what I'm trying to figure out!"

"Just get your cape already!"

"What about my... thing you wanted me to... where am I?"

"Get Your Cape Now!" She yelled at him.

"Alright!" He whined in complaint. "No need to shout at me I'm only here."

"..."

"This is quite amusing!" The Gargoyle clapped his stone hands. "Are you a stage act or something?"

The orb turned a look on the stone creature that would speak levels if it had a face. However it did not, so the promise of untold wraths was totally missed. "I'm warning you." She warned it.

"I got it!" Star Swirl yelled, his voice growing nearer.

The old pony struck the ground before them, in his haste to celebrate he had let go of the rocky surface to punch a hoof into the air, in doing so he also plummeted to the ground below, which he met heavily with the cape wrapped around his fore hoof, which as the dust settled came to lay over him protectively.

"Oh dear..." The orb groaned.

"Hah!" The gargoyle snorted. "I saw that coming! Fail!"

"We're not an act!" The orb flared again.

"Hey!" Star Swirl interrupted, looking out from a gap he created by lifting the fabric of his cape from his face with his free hoof. "I got it Miss... Scary Orb Lady."

"I have a name..." She muttered ever so quietly.

"You do?" The gargoyle asked with surprise.

"Come Star Swirl!" She commanded, ignoring the gargoyle with a profound skill. "We must be inside the fortress before the gates are locked!"

Star Swirl moved to stand, he didn't know exactly why he did but he did so anyway, as if on autopilot the voice of the glowing blue ball seemed to have some power over him. As he passed he took note of the large statue before him. "Hmm... looks almost real."

"I am." The gargoyle answered.

"You are what now?" Star Swirl frowned in confusion.

"Just go follow that thing before it comes back." The gargoyle muttered moving to occupy the cracked surface of the wall once more. Star Swirl nodded, again confused.

"Star Swirl!" Her voice called to him, he followed, rushing to catch up but not knowing why.

A Hat Full of Hope

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Chapter Four: A Hat Full of Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

"The what?"

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

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

"Put it on!" She yelled.

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

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

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

"No short term memory loss?" She asked.

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

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

"Well what?" He returned.

"Open it! Lets get inside!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"It looks untouched." He stated.

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

"I have to give you a name."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Closer to a week!" She retorted.

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

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

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

"What is this?" Star Swirl asked.

"It's a metaphor." She attempted.

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

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

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

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

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

He did not like the look of them one bit.

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

"Well?" She nudged him gently.

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

"Be careful!"

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

"Language!" She complained.

"Go boil an egg!" He snapped.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Damn It!!!" He roared.

"Are you okay?" She called from below.

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

"What is it?"

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

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

"Enough with the sarcasm!" He warned.

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

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

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

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

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

He slipped and fell.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I guess." He shrugged.

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

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

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

A Staff Bequest of Magic

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Chapter Five: A Staff Bequest of Magic

From the test of hopelessness they moved on and entered a walkway leading out across the towering walls, their path led only in one direction so they took it, traveling along the battlements with a calm air considering all that had happened so far. Though the pristine condition of the wall surprised him the intricate carvings along its side pleased him far more, they did not depict battles but instead journeys.

On the floor he walked great ships sailing tumultuous oceans were shown in an array of hardship and toil yet no symbolism of death could be seen, only danger and great risk. Which when one thought about it was the greatest element of any adventure and he had been on many an adventure in his many years of life.

As he walked he considered what he knew, if this was the Void then his soul was in trouble, this wasn't the Eponian Fields where all those who wielded magic would face their memories and be judged by them... no this was a place where one's very destiny was challenged. It meant that somehow he had circumvented fate and caused a potential rift in the fabric of reality.

Was he not meant to defeat the Balrog? Even though destiny had written that he would die by its hands? From what he could remember he had most certainly died, that fall no one could have survived especially caught as he was upon a tendril of flame that had wrapped around his hoof.

Even now it felt numb but no scar lined it, no burn or singed hair. He shook his head, this was all very confusing... but at least he had his hat back! He never felt truly right without it. To him his hat was an old companion, it had been all over the world with him on every one of his adventures and now that it was upon his head once more, he felt comforted.

That's not to say he considered it a security blanket, not at all...

What could he say, he liked it, sure many had mocked him for it as well as the magic bells that chimed only when he wanted them too, as a foal he had always dreamed of preforming for ponies with his magic, traveling far and wide and bringing pleasure to all with illusions and great displays of light and power.

But destiny had called him for far much more, something he had always regretted though he had no power over.

"So what next?" He asked of his guide.

"You want to know?" She seemed surprised, her voice vexed somewhat.

"It's alright." It smiled. "I'm over that hopeless stage already, no need to fret."

"I wasn't fretting." She blushed, causing him to smile again. With a touch of annoyance she continued. "I'm just a little shocked to see you actively walking towards your judgement!"

"You think I will fail the final trail?" Star Swirl asked, arching his brows.

Sapphire sighed. "I am here merely to guide you on your path."

"Is that why you called out to me when you thought I was falling to my death?" He grinned, her blush deepened. "Go on... admit it, you like me! I can't blame you, I'm a likable fellow."

"We're here." She answered without much passion, glad to be spared this conversation any further.

They both looked to the tower, it wasn't a very pretty tower considering the intricacy of the walls and the previous halls they had seen. Star Swirl looked up at the looming structure with pursed lips, a stray hoof pulling gently at his beard as if by habit. Even this high up on the wall they could not see its end, though that wasn't a surprise anymore given the fact they were in the Void.

The stone work was bland at best, not the highly polished nature of every other structure so far. The bricks were plain and a dark mucky reddish hue that gave it the appearance that it had been washed in blood. It smelt bad too, like something really old and unpleasant.

"Well." Star Swirl nodded. "It does indeed look ominous."

"I... agree." She stated.

The door that would allow them access was entirely of iron but imprinted on its surface was the symbol of the Everlasting Flame, which though sounds cool and fantastic actually really wasn't, just a simple flame motif with a tiny infinity symbol at its base. Star Swirl made a popping sound with his lips. "Well! No rest for the wicked!"

"Star Swirl..." She began but hesitated.

"Yes my dear Sapphire?" He turned on her a smile.

She froze even more as he spoke her name, seeming to close in on herself if that was at all possible. "This will be your hardest trial yet."

Star Swirl nodded, he understood, she was worried about him. For whatever reason though he wanted to put her mind at ease, he would need her if he was to pull through this mess in one piece. "I'm not afraid." He gave her his most encouraging grin. "I have you here to look after me and keep me on the right path."

"I..." She sighed. "Just be careful."

He shook his head and chuckled. "For someone who forced an old man to climb a wall you certainly have an odd understanding of the word careful." She did not respond, only bobbed in understanding. He shrugged and faced the door, lifting a hoof and touching the oddly hot surface.

The door slid open, revealing stairs angling upwards. It was to be expected and so he moved without hesitation to comply, the last thing he wanted was to be pushed up a flight of stairs!

The journey up took a long while yet at its end he felt no breathlessness, once again considering just how different this world was to his own. He was just glad to see the end of the bleak stairway but less happy about the tower top that he emerged into.

Sapphire hovered in beside him, she seemed afraid of something and that Star Swirl did not like. But what worried him more were three points which he could easily add together to spell one thing... Trap!

The tower top or as he would describe it as, the arena, spread out before them in a great circle open to the sky. Its flooring was solid and the ramparts that surrounded it tall and thick. Once he stepped out from the stairs he knew he would be trapped in there with no way to escape.

Point number two was the ever more obvious bait that had been left in the center of the room to tempt him outside. Standing straight and without flaw was his staff, and oh was it not the perfect bait to catch him, he needed it so there was no going back... however at least he knew it was a trap so he wouldn't go blundering in without thought.

Finally, and the thing that struck him most, the smell... he had smelt sulfur many times before but never had it been so powerful as when he had faced his immortal enemy.

Star Swirl gave a tiny sigh and looked to Sapphire. "Well... this is it, I guess this is where I meet destiny."

"Star..." Sapphire whispered in turn.

"Its alright." He reached out a hoof and gently touched at where he perceived her cheek to be. "I knew it would come to this eventually, it is something left unresolved and Fate cannot allow me to escape from it.

"It isn't fair..."

"Fate may say I am destined to fail." Star Swirl grinned a cheerful grin, his bright yellow eyes flashing. "But it never said I couldn't cause some damage first!"

"You intend to fight it?" She asked though she knew the answer already.

"Last time..." He began. "Last time I met with this creature I could not fight it, instead I forced it back so as my companions could escape and continue on their journey to save our peoples... but now I have little choice, it must be done, I must face my fear and I must do so without hesitation."

He looked to her then, his eyes serious and his expression becoming the same.

"Will you watch over me Sapphire?" He asked. "Will you play witness to my final battle?"

"..."

He nodded. "Thank you." She did not have to answer for both knew anyway, however he was gladdened by the fact she was here, though only a creation of his own mind he could think of no one better to have by his side. Sure it wasn't the real Sapphire, though it had her voice and mannerisms... but it was close enough for him and that's all that mattered.

He walked out towards his staff with confidence, though fear threatened to break him it did not, he had one last duty to fulfill.

Finally he reached his third true companion, the staff he had carried since he had completed his apprenticeship at the Ancient Tower of Magic before it fell to the dark magics of an ancient enemy. It was long and made of wood but its surface had been turned the color of gold as his magic had filled it time and time again.

There was no mistaking it, this was his staff, no trick, no illusion. He could feel the power inside it, this last link to the magic he had always had access to before. He lifted a hoof to touch it.

The tower boomed as the massive Balrog landed fully upon its roof and in all honesty this would have been the end for Star Swirl the Great had it not been for one fact.

Star Swirl had seen it coming.

He had no idea why all his major foes had chosen to fall in from above, perhaps they imagined it looked good, perhaps it was out of a desire to end the battle quickly. Either way the sudden burst of flames and the roar like growl was indeed an impressive display. Yet Star Swirl had already leapt forward, once again belying his age with well timed acrobatics. He landed on three legs, the fourth, a foreleg holding tightly onto his staff.

The Balrog leaned down to stare the ancient wizard in the eyes, which was a mistake for Star Swirl did not hesitate to smite its snout with his staff. He channeled the magic inside it and allowed it to bring power to his blow, the beast reeled back in shock and pain.

Star Swirl did not stop, moving in quickly to strike at it's right knee. The monster roared in pain as the staff hit his leg, causing wider and deeper cracks to form in its surface. By now the smoke coiling from the Balrog had turned the sky black, the only light provided was that of Star Swirl's magic which surrounded him in a golden nimbus and the cruel hungry flames of the demon the wizard fought.

The creature lifted its undamaged leg and stomped upon the stone beneath them, the old wizard was thrown from his hooves and barely managed to roll out of the way as it attempted to crush him with the same talloned foot. He was thrown clear somewhat and was able to aim his staff at the beast, sending a shower of blinding light directly into its face.

With a spit of lava which flew in all directions it gave a great bellow.

The lava fell harmlessly off his field but even so he knew he could not take many blows before this monster dealt with him permanently, not acting on desperation however Star Swirl began to circle the monster, swatting the Balrog's tail as he did.

The Balrog was none too happy about that, its pain filled shriek was enough to inform the wizard that he had found its weak spot. Yet he did not act on it right away, bolting under its legs and to its front so as to fire another burst of light. The Balrog snarled and swiped its claw, making contact with Star Swirl's shield and sending the old stallion flying back into a wall.

Thankfully his bubble protected him from most of the impact allowing him the time to run forward and slide beneath the beasts legs. Swinging his staff once more he brought out another distorted cry of agony though this triumph was short lived.

The monster had anticipated this and had reached down a claw to grab the wizard. As it lifted Star Swirl its eyes flashed with triumph and a purr of satisfaction rumbled through the stones beneath it. It brought the wizard to its mouth, intending to bits his head off in punishment for the trouble he had cause it.

He felt crushed by its claw and could already feel its terrible molten breath awaiting him, he could see the glee in its eyes and the anticipation in its widening grin. It had won this battle that Star Swirl couldn't deny, he did not have the strength left to do much more... he was too old...

But he would be damned if he didn't take this thing with him!

With a grimace of pain and defiance he aimed his staff for one last shot and released the pent up magic inside.

The beast screamed so shrilly the tower's top imploded, the Balrog staggered back and toppled over the edge of the wall surrounding them, the two fell into the murky silence below, a roar their only proof of passage as they vanished into the fog below.

Sapphire felt a great and horrible worry form inside her being and flew after them. "Star Swirl!!!"

A Soul That Is Redeemed

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Chapter Six: A Soul That is Redeemed

The fall seemed eternal but even so both knew it would come to an end eventually. As both foes rained blows upon the other the inevitable end drew ever closer and neither would escape its cruel fate. They were bound now, in this conflict of theirs that Destiny had written for them, yet they still did not hesitate in their goal to kill the other.

One fought with all the emotions it had and none more dominant than rage! Every spurt of flame, every explosion of fire a sign of its growing lack of control, every action displayed its terrible fury as it attempted to vent upon its enemy all the hate it had. The other, much smaller but emblazoned just as brightly in a golden light revealed nothing but a grim determination to succeed.

Star Swirl had nothing left now, his life and his past were meaningless in the face of his imminent doom. Yet he did not care, for even so he knew this battle was for something, he would not die forgotten or lost amongst the dark as he had always feared. As he threw his rightfully reclaimed power in bursts of energy and strikes of his staff he came to understand the truth of Fate's words.

He was indeed lost to the dark, he had fallen into it when the Balrog had dragged him from the bridge, he would fall by its hand but he would not be the only one to suffer that end. For by his hoof he would deliver onto his nemesis all the pain and fury he himself had gained and bottled up over the many centuries of his life.

It had grown in him all these years and even now it did not control him, instead it only fed the fires of his magic, tearing away at the defenses of this monster that he had feared for so many years. Did he fear it now? He could not say he didn't but even so that fear was dwindling, if he was going to die here he would do so with pride, acceptance and with the conviction that he gave it his all!

This creature had always been there, haunting his sleep and distracting him from his studies... now that all seemed so foolish, he knew of course that it was only natural for him to feel such dread but it had all been unnecessary. Though many realized this all too late in their lives to change anything.

It was below him now, he angled himself downward and flew past it, on the way firing bolts of energy from his horn and delivering a glancing blow to its face with his staff. The Balrog retaliated by swinging its arms in a wide circle, catching the wizened stallion and throwing him outward.

Star Swirl shook his head to clear the blinding spots that flashed in his eyes, yes his barrier protected him from the majority of the damage but it did little to prevent the inferno from fazing his vision. Yet he pressed on, angling once more but this time diagonally to meet his enemy further down.

Balrog was flailing somewhat, unable to find purchase on the wall beside it and instead carving great gashes in the rocky surface. Star Swirl struck to its side, driving the butt of his spear into its waist. Rock-flesh exploded outwards showering the wizard's barrier with shrapnel, the beast roared.

Star Swirl considered his options and drifted away again with intent on repeating the action. The ground was nearing ever closer now, only a short amount of time remained before it all became pointless, he would have to move quickly.

He channeled everything he had into one last attack, keeping only enough to sustain his shield for the time needed to deliver his power into the heart of his foe. His eyes locked to its chest and he swung himself towards it once more.

The beast screamed as its chest erupted, great streams of lava spreading outwards in a wide arc as it began to spin without control. Star Swirl had driven the point of his staff directly into it's heart, causing untold damage... but it wasn't enough.

Crawling along its body, pressed to it through sheer force of their terminal velocity he moved in for the kill. The Balrog, too preoccupied with its agony and fear could do nothing to stop the great and powerful wizard as he slowly made his way towards its head.

He forced himself around its side and onto its back, reaching up until he clung upon a shoulder. Lifting his staff he smashed it against the demon, repeating the action over and over again. Its rocky head began to crack violently and it shrieked at such a pitch it would have defended Star Swirl were it not for the wind tearing the noise away before it could even reach his ears.

Star Swirl the Bearded some called him...

He snorted and lowered his barrier, it hardly mattered now, with a last surge of power he delivered his final blow.

The ground below finally reached them and even though the Balrog attempted to claw once more against the tower it could not, the beast rolled from the impact of Star Swirls final strike and careened down into the ground. The snowy white sand beneath them exploded in a wide circle, the collision created a massive crater that ground deep into the chalky earth.

***

She flew after them as best she could, the roar of their conflict an apt guide, she was worried even though deep down she knew what was to occur no matter how much she wished otherwise. But she couldn't help but hope, she had not told him the truth... yet she wished she had.

All those years ago... during that rainy day when they had stood facing each other awkwardly, unable to speak...

They had both chosen their paths and sadly there was no way to undo the choices they had made... even if in her heart she wanted nothing more than to just return to that night and wrap her forelegs around his neck.. tell him how she really felt... The noise ahead of her stopped in an almighty boom.

She didn't stop moving though she did feel a silent creeping dread fill her very core. When she finally flew into the scene below it was with shock and awe.

What had been serene and undisturbed by any life form since time began had been rent asunder, a crater of some proportion scarred the white ground, tainted by large black streaks where flame had been put out. The mangled corpse of the Balrog, one of the single most greatest and most feared beings in the world, lay vanquished and ruins.

It body was in pieces but the majority of it was centered inside the crater itself, a broken crushed tumble of molten stone slowly turning to embers. She scanned the area, searching for any sign, any clue as to what had happened to the ancient wizard. Yet she found nothing, not any small disturbance, not a smear of blood that could explain his disappearance.

She called out though deep down inside she did not expect an answer. "Star Swirl!" Her voice rang with true concern. "Star Swirl please!"

"Sapphire?" A croak replied.

She was there in a moment, tearing through the air possessed by her emotions. The orb sought him out through the still falling dust that choked the air. She found him nearby the crater but hidden in amongst the darker shades of the black tower he now leaned against.

"Swirly!" She gasped with happiness, reflected in the pulsating glow of her inner light.

"Swirly?" He chuckled weakly. "Nopony's called me that since..." He paused, his expression becoming wistful. "Well to be honest more years than I can remember."

"Oh Swirly." Sapphire murmured, taking in his weak appearance and the blood trickling from the corner of his mouth.

"I wish you were more than a figment of my imagination Sapphire..." He sighed mournfully. "I would do anything to tell you how I truly feel."

"Then tell me." She pleaded, though gently.

He nodded slowly, his eyes distant, he was falling fast now, faster than when he had begun his descent from above. "I'm sorry Sapphire Rain... I'm sorry I chose magic over you... Its the single greatest regret I have..."

"Swirly..."

"I spent so many years just wondering what it would have been like." He continued, attempting to hold back the tears but managing only to hold back his sobs. "I wanted to tell you... that I love you, even now, nopony could ever take your place."

"..."

"I have lived many lifetimes... an unfair amount of years to force on anypony." He added with a wry expression. "When word reached me that you had died it broke me... for ten years I gave up on life and just... rotted." He shook his head. "Even now... with everything I have ever done I know that If I could go back I would... and damn the world and our people... it was you I wanted..."

"Swirly I..."

"I love you Sapphire Rain." He interrupted her. "I've been so alone for so long... even with my apprentice Clover... and now she will carry the same curse with her, always reaching for more knowledge and never seeking out love... if only I could tell her, tell her to ignore my advice and seek her heart wherever it lay waiting."

"..."

"It wasn't worth it Rainy." He whispered. "It wasn't worth it to live without you..." His breath came in sharp and heavy, his heart was slowing, he had lost far too much blood to remain alive. "My one regret... I never told you... how much you meant to me..."

***

She watched as his life left him, as his body slowly began to turn to dust... time had no meaning here, had no rules or form, here anything could happen including the sudden disintegration of the most powerful magic user of this age. She shook her head and returned to the source of all things, the place where she had come from. It didn't matter anymore, she cast aside the guise she had been forced to take and took on one more natural to her.

She had one last task before she could finally be released from her purgatory, before she could forgive herself for the crime she had committed so long ago. No matter how honest a mistake could be if it truly troubled the soul none could escape this prison of their own making...

It seemed Swirl had finally come to terms with his own regrets, for the crime he blamed himself for... he had done so quickly too, proving once again how much more mature he could be than she. She knew now why after so many years she had been trapped there, she could not escape her own regret and because of that the turmoil in her being had chained her to the Void until it was resolved.

Now she would get the chance, to admit her own failing.

She found him of course in the chamber, where ran the river of souls that carried all back into life. Rebirth was something few believed in but it was true, at least for pony kind. He was different here though that was hardly a surprise, his features unmarked by age and his beard that honest black it had been when she had first met him. He still wore his hat and his cape but then she still wore her midnight black gown.

He seemed so roguish, waiting for her as he was, when his eyes met hers they filled with a bright merriment she could never shake from her memories, the sight made her feel weak. He stood proud, young and tall, as he had even as an old stallion. Though his expression was sharper, less distracted... she had his full attention.

"Rainy," He gave her a nod.

She ran, unable to control herself any longer nor willing to give up this opportunity, she threw herself at him and wrapped her forelegs around his neck, planting a kiss that sent shivers down both their spines. "Oh Swirly!" She cried softly as she broke the kiss. "I wish... I wish..."

"I know." He whispered into her ear, enveloping her in a hug that made her feel warm and safe. "I have always known."

"I love you." She sobbed. "I always loved you!"

"I love you too..." He responded, with an equal amount of emotion in his voice.

They were consumed by their tears and they fell into a heap, wrapped in each others embrace with abandon. Neither cared that perhaps the universe may have a time limit... truth be told it could spare a few minutes. Though that wouldn't have registered in their minds at that point, to damn with the universe! All that mattered was the here and now, in this place with a swirling pool of bright multi-hued lights that resembled a rainbow but was in fact the souls of all those who passed beyond.

The well of souls...

She had pressed her face into his shoulder and he into her mane, it didn't matter anymore, they were together again after so many years of regrets. Their hearts soared and their hearts broke and nothing would ever silence those feelings again, nothing!

***

Some time had passed for them but if it had for the universe itself nothing showed, they merely sat beside each other, forelegs wrapped around the other. They watched the endless harmonious pool as it continued to swirl eternally in its duty to restore life to the souls who had lost it.

They spent the time in silence, unable to speak but even so they shared so much just by proximity. He had her, he finally had her even if he had to die it was worth it just for these moments, just to feel that fragile emotion that had been fleeting far too long.

He loved of course, those few he considered friends... his apprentice especially... but he had not loved as a stallion would love a mare, especially the mare of his dreams and it had forever made him distant to others. Leaning with her head against his shoulder the sorceress had a smile on her face, one that was finally relieved of the cold frown she had always put up as a front.

Now she was every bit the unicorn he remembered, every bit the mare he had fallen in love with so long ago. They had been young then, foolish... but now they were older and wiser and knew better than to question such a simple thing as the heart.

But both knew this could not last much longer,

She was the first to rise to her hooves, though she did so unwillingly. It was a compulsion now, they needed to return to the well or they would dissipate and cease to be. She had spent too long waiting for him to set her free and he had expended too much of his life force to do so.

They needed to be renewed and only one thing could do that.

He looked up to her with a knowing smile, though it was touched with a sadness. "Smile my love." She gave to him an expression of pure warmth. "This is not over."

"Is it not?" The young stallion chuckled mirthlessly. "How much longer must I live before we meet again."

She did not answer, only waited for him to stand beside her so they would return together. Stretching his aching muscles he moved to do so and the two went together to fulfill the final part of their trial.

"So... what was the verdict?" He asked as they walked.

"Verdict?" She frowned.

"You said I was here to be judged." He reminded her. "I was just interested to know the results."

She smiled. "You did well... enough."

"And you call me the rogue." He laughed, then turned on her an expression of wonder. "Tell me something..."

"Alright." She motioned for him to continue.

"You were always known for being the greatest seer of our age... I'm wondering, did my apprentice succeed?"

She nodded to his question, feeling it safe to answer now. "She and her companions have only just left the mountains."

"How long were they trapped down there!?" He was shocked.

"An hour." She responded with a shrug.

"An hour!?" He was stunned.

"Time is different here." She answered simply.

"I see." His expression became flat and they were consumed in silence.

Finally she felt moved to voice the fact he had not pressed further. "Why do you not ask?"

"I trust Clover will succeed," He grinned. "She's smarter than I am, better too, she's destined for greatness that one."

"I see." She smirked. "Such confidence in your apprentice is inspiring."

"Jest all you wish my dearest." He sighed. "It is a shame your never met her."

She nodded, anyone that could capture his attention enough to be considered his student was pony enough for her to respect but she could not help but poke fun at the old fool, besides, he was cute when he became defensive. They reached the edge of the pool, their slow pace unable to prevent the inevitable end from taking place.

"Here we go." She motioned.

They moved into the pool, as the souls washed over his hooves he felt the whispers of a thousand voices touch his mind, none however spoke anything malevolent, they were just the whispers of hopes and dreams carrying on into their next lives. He felt wonder at that, how many dreams were shared in this manner? Freely and without hesitation?

Finally he turned to the mare he had sought for so long and would now have to give up again. She was truly beautiful, tall and graceful, large luminous ruby eyes looked into his tired golden orbs. A mane of dark blue cascaded down and fell across one shoulder, a pale light blue coat as silky and as smooth as he remembered filling him with desires he had not felt in an eternity.

"Tell me, oh great seeress of futures untold." He began, his voice intoning though with humor the memories of statements made long ago. "You predicted my death... now predict my life."

She beamed at him, from the moment he had snorted at her prophesy so long ago she had put a wall between them, now that wall was gone... though she would get him back for the mocking nature he still displayed. She moved in close and hugged him, resting a head upon his shoulder once more.

"Ooh... what do I see indeed?" She sighed happily, her solid mass slowly becoming transparent as flakes of light began to fall from her into the pool below. .

"Will I be a stallion of kind heart?" He asked, a similar happening occurring to his own body.

"You have been male thrice now in a row." She responded. "Time for a switch."

"Switch!?" He froze. "I will be a mare!?"

"A pretty little mare too!" She responded mockingly.

"Oh how cruel you are temptress." He chuckled lightly. "What will my name be?"

"Hmm..." She considered the question... it couldn't hurt to tell him she supposed, he would only forget anyway. "Trixie." She answered. "Trixie Lulamoon."

"Trixie huh?" He thought about it, it didn't sound too bad. "It fits I guess..." He pondered some more, framing his next and most important question yet. "Will we meet again?"

"Perhaps." She responded mischievously.

"How will I find you?" His voice was now hollow, faint.

"That's simple." She answered, her own voice fading the same way. Pulling away a bit to look him in his golden eyes she answered. "Seek out the Six Pointed Star."

The End