The Equestrian Saga

by Smash Fortune

First published

The apprentices of Star Swirl the Bearded face the dangers of the world in the founding days of Equestria, teaching their mentor something along the way.

After a spectacular failure, Star Swirl the Bearded comes out of retirement in the founding days of Equestria to guide two young apprentices, Clover the Clever and Lily the Lovely in the ways of magic. As he struggles to help the young students learn the details of their gifts, the three of them face some of the greatest threats in Equestrian history. Though Star Swirl serves as their mentor and tutor, he discovers more about himself than he ever imagined possible by facing the sins of his past and struggling to see they are not repeated.

Prologue: The Apprentice Betrayed

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The Equestrian Saga
Prologue: The Apprentice Betrayed
By: Old Toby

With a great cry that rose above the howling winds of the Frozen North, Star Swirl the Bearded slammed his hoof down upon the rock, splitting the cliff side in two. His horn flared with a blazing azure light as he locked eyes with his apprentice turned adversary. “It's not too late! Turn away from this madness!”

The mocking laughter of the chimerical beast was buried beneath the avalanche of rocks and snow as he lazily flew up to the mountain peaks and looked Star Swirl in the eye. Orbs of sickly yellow with a burning red core offered the unicorn nothing but malice. “That you would say that is quite amusing! You took everything from me! You betrayed me! You abandoned me! You took it all, Starswirl! You were supposed to be my friend!”

Memory burned cold in Star Swirl's heart as the recollection of his apprentice falling into insanity and chaos overwhelmed him. Once, in a time that seemed so long ago, his apprentice had been the most gifted creature he had ever met. The natural ease with which he crafted spells and incantations was unheard of. The grace with which he could weave rhymes of power and songs of strength was beyond compare. He could have become the greatest spell-caster in the history of all the known world, if he only had the proper guidance. Instead he had fallen to pride. Star Swirl felt the burning in his heart turn as bitter as the winds of the Frozen North.

“You did this to yourself! Look what you've done to yourself! You're a beast!”

The creature laughed, throwing his arms wide, as if to embrace the raging blizzard surrounding them. His claws clenched into fists as the cacophony of dissonance rang through the snow-capped peaks. “I am transcendent, you fool! Without the limits of flesh or form, I have become a spirit – force of nature! I am eternal!”

His laughter suddenly stopped and he locked eyes once more on his mentor, “I only need a name, dear Star Swirl. Just a name. I suppose its fitting that I should have a new one in this, my new form. I suppose I should thank you for enacting the Rite of Sine Nomine.” His voice was a serpent's hiss and a forked tongue darted from his mouth as he spoke.

Star Swirl stood proud and defiant before the monster. “It was the only way to stop you!”

“Stop me?” For the second time, the beast's laughter shivered through the peaks of the Frozen North. “You've only empowered me all the more, you old fool! Now, with the magic in your heart I'll make a new name for myself! I'll reign supreme over this pitiful land! After all – that's what you always wanted isn't it? For me to be the best!”

“Not like this,” Star Swirl said through gritted teeth. “Not like this.”

The bearded wizard's horn flared again with magic and he blinked from one peak to another, flanking the monster. The instant he appeared, great rocks illuminated in the blue light of his magic began to rise from the valleys and cliffs below. With a grunt of focus, Starswirl cast the stones at his old ally.

With a wave of both claw and paw, the beast transformed the deadly stones into harmless balls of snow that puffed harmlessly off his scaled form. “You're getting weaker by the moment, old man. Surrender now and it'll be so much easier.”

Suddenly the ground beneath Star Swirl became a thick, black tar that began to ooze down into the vast canyon below. The wizard struggled, but found his hooves stuck fast. Unable to move, he looked with pleading golden eyes to his former apprentice. Somewhere, anywhere in those fiery irises he looked for a glimmer of the bond they once shared. If nothing remained, he would plummet to his doom. A single moment passed and Star Swirl closed his eyes, accepting that this was the end.

To his surprise, he felt a furred paw grab the hem of his belled robes and hold him fast. Opening his eyes, he saw a pair of burning red beacons locked on his own soft gold eyes. His apprentice leaned in, offering a whisper carried on the frozen winds. “My dear Star Swirl, in your last moments, I want you to remember this: I am your greatest failure.”

“No!” came a sudden cry that carried like an explosion across the mountain range. Star Swirl's horn exploded with a light as bright as the summer sky. It radiated in a moment to enshroud both master and apprentice, leaving both blinded by magical illumination. Star Swirl suddenly felt his black ichor fall free from his hooves and felt the icy air whipping at him from all sides.

The flickered and died like a star at the rising of the dawn. In another instant, a great cry of defeat filled the sky from horizon to horizon. The mountains themselves trembled and ageless rocks fell to the sound. Star Swirl found himself standing on a dangerously unstable rock – but that was not what made his heart sink. Looking down, he saw the writhing body of his apprentice collapse in a web of black webbing. Mountainsides and boulders fell in his wake and a great cloud of snow and stone rose up from the valley that lay far, far below.

A few moments later, there was only the howling wind and Star Swirl the Bearded was alone. Turning, he began to slowly descend the peaks. He was oblivious to the cold around him and did not notice as the cold sapped the feeling from his hooves. The coldness in his heart was far greater. With his last magical act, he had betrayed the apprentice and friend he had sworn to teach, to protect, to love. Even if these were not his last moments, the beast's final words rang in his mind: “I am your greatest failure.”

Chapter One: The Summons

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The Equestiran Saga
Chapter One: The Summons
By Old Toby

The sky slowly brightened, easing from a dusky violet found only in the last moments of evening to the first azure touches that came with the dawn. Clover did not notice any of the majesty of the rising sun and for several years the beauty of the first moments of morning were lost to her. Her ivory horn was beacon of magical energy, radiating a warm pink light that flickered as she strained in concentration.

Beside her stood two other unicorns, Dawn Star and Autumn Sky, who were also locked in the throws of magical incantation. Together their combined efforts slowly but surely brought more and more light up from the horizon and after what seemed like forever, the sun rose out of the night and cast the warm glow of summer on the new-found realm of Equestria.

With their task complete the three unicorns exchanged weary smiles and made their way back towards the new capitol of Equestria, the royal city of Canterlot. It was a grand name and an equally grand endeavor, but with only a few years of construction there were still decades of hard work ahead for the city could truly be a reflection of the newly unified tribes of all ponykind. Still, Clover had to smile when she came down from the eastern mountainside. She could see the future glory of the city in shadow and the bright days to come for all citizens of Equestria. Ever since that famous winter night almost ten years ago, things really had changed.

With her silvery mane shining, Princess Platinum came cantering up to the sun-raising trio. Offer them a polite smile, she waved a polite hoof at them. “Oh, darling! You do such a fine job helping to raise the sun in the morning. If I didn't know better, I'd think you were a princess yourself. You really are quite clever.”

Princess Platinum's voice was one of haughty formality and Clover offer polite dismissals in return as was expected. Dawn Star and Autumn Sky rolled their eyes. Quickly changing the subject, Clover looked to the skies. “What about the weather, your majesty? How's it looking today?”

The princess followed Clover's eyes to the northern skies where a collection of pegasi were diligently clearing the sky. The four unicorns paused and watched them work for a moment before Princess Platinum spoke up. “Oh, I suspect it will be quite a fine day. Ever since Captain Hurricane received her promotion and became the weather herald she's been pushing the other pegasi to higher and higher standards. She's even got your sister training with today's squad.”

“Lily?” Clover said in shock. “But she's so young!”

“Never too early for greatness. Or so the Captain says. I'm sure she'll do fine.” Princess Platinum gave the other unicorns one last glance before turning and heading back towards the half-completed yet still quite beautiful castle at the center of the city. “Now if you'll pardon me darling, I have quite the social affair to attend to this evening. You do understand, of course.”

Without waiting for their understanding, the princess turned and left the weary unicorns. Clover said her good-byes to Dawn Star and Autumn Breeze before making her way down the stone walkways of the city to her own quarters. As assistant to the princess, she had one of the finest homes in the city. It was a small tower of white marble, three stories high with fine glass windows that had been thrown open to let the morning breeze into the large chambers.

In spite of the opulence, the tower never felt like home. Clover had moved here with her family a few months after the great winter before the founding of Equestria and what was supposed to be a day of joy was tainted with sadness. Clover's father had died that winter from exposure to the terrible endless cold. A decade of time had not quite healed the wounds even if it seemed like her mother, Gossamer, had moved on. Within a few years of her father's death, Gossamer had found a new special somepony.

The marriage of Gossamer the unicorn and her pegasi husband Sky Beam had been seen as a sign of the new union between all ponykind. Princess Platinum had insisted a grand wedding be thrown with all the citizens of Equestria in attendance and even grandeur and love of the ceremony had not erased the sense of loss in Clover's heart. Sky Beam had done everything he knew to show Clover compassion, but he was still not her father. It wasn't until a year later when her pegasi sister Lily was born that the feelings of loneliness began to recede. Clover had felt so alone that she put all the love in her heart into being a sister.

As she gazed out the window and watched the pegasi work to dispel the last clouds of the morning she thought long on her sister. Lily was so different from Clover. Clover was logical, confident and reasonable. Lily was passionate, idealistic and emotional. She was a unicorn while her sister was a pegasus. Even their coats were mirrored; Clover's was pure white while Lily's was the dusky hew of the sky just after sunset.

But they also shared so much. Both had a deep love for their mother and both wanted very much to see Equestria become the idyllic utopia that was dreamed of that Heart's Warming Eve a decade ago. Clover's dark eyes reflected Lily's coat and Lily's bright blue eyes seemed to blaze with an inner light. In spite of all their differences, they truly were sisters.

As if called by Clover's memories, there came the sound of hooves on stone and Clover turned towards the far window to see her young sister perched on the sill. She offered the unicorn a timid smile and there was a hint of the foal only a few years gone still lingering in her mannerisms. Lily hopped down and ran to nuzzle her sister's neck.

Clover gladly returned the affection before pulling away and smiling down at her sister. Lily looked exhausted and her shoulders were slumping. “Are you alright, Lily?”

Lily nodded, trying to stand a bit taller but only looking more worse for wear. “Captain Hurricane put me on dawn cloud patrol. I told her I wasn't ready, but she insisted.” Her voice was weak and unsure. “It's a real honor.”

Concern furrowed on Clover's brow, “Are you sure you're up to the challenge, Lily”

The young pegasus gave her sister a dark look, “Of course I am, Clover! Why do you always second guess me? If Captain Hurricane thinks I'm good enough, shouldn't that be enough for you?”

Offering an awkward apologetic smile, Clover nodded reluctantly, “I suppose so, I'm only trying to look out for-”

“I know, I know! You're always 'looking out for me' or 'trying to protect me. I know you're just trying to be a good sister, but when are you going to let me stand on my own four hoo-”

Lily's indignation was inerrupted by a sudden heavy knock at the tower door. Clover rushed down the stairs and Lily fell in behind her. Pulling the door open, the sisters saw a member of the Canterlot Royal Guard in full ceremonial armor standing before them with a scroll hovering before him. He bowed to the sisters, who returned the formality.

“Clover,” he said. She nodded and he passed the floating scroll to her control, speaking as she unfurled it. “Princess Platinum has requested your presence in the royal audience chamber. You are summoned before her at the bidding of-”

Clover was only half listening to the guard as she read. Her final words echoed that of the royal guardsman. “Star Swirl the Bearded.”

She felt her heart begin to race and informed the guard that she'd be there momentarily. A few moments later with the door closed she turned to Lily, who had been trying to read the letter over Clover's shoulder.

“But Clover,” Lily said softly. “This can't be. No one has heard from Star Swirl the Bearded in over fifty years. I thought he was just a myth.”

“So did I, Lily. So did I.”

Without another word, Clover set her hooves to the stone streets of Canterlot and Lily fell into step beside her.

Chapter Two: The Audience

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The Equestrian Saga
Chapter Three: The Audience
By: Old Toby

Clover made her way to the Canterlot Palace as fast as her hooves would take her and Lily kept pace at her flank. Scaffolding and construction equipment was everywhere as they approached the white marble steps and dozens of ponies had tools in their teeth that they were putting to good use. The palace was to be a symbol of the unity between all breeds of pony across Equestria, but completion was years away for such a symbol of idealism. Even in this early stage of construction, it was still a sight to behold.

The sisters didn't have time to admire the beauty of it all. Instead quickly flashed the letter that Clover had received to the guards standing duty and made their way into the palace. It too was a thing of half-crafted beauty and within a few minutes the two of them had navigated their way to the royal audience chamber.

Coming to a halt, Clover took a deep breath to dispel her nervousness and gave a weak smile to her sister. Lily put her hoof on Clover's shoulder and gave her a reassuring wink. “There's nothing to worry about, Clover! You've been nothing but a voice of reason and compassion since Equestria was founded. What's the worst that could happen?”

The unicorn's smile weakened a bit. “I hope you're right, Lily.”

“I know I am!” Lily piped. Ignoring her sister's hesitation, she threw the door open.

Swallowing the lump in her throat, Clover let out a deep breath and stepped into the chamber. The wide red carpet seemed to run on for eternity and at its end was a double-tier golden dais. Atop the dais was a great throne of crimson velvet trimmed with sparkling metal. Before it stood Lord Palladium, the Unicorn King. His radiant silver coat and flowing white mane made him look every inch of royalty in the morning sun that poured into the room through the vaulted windows that flanks the throne room on each side. A simple golden crown rested on his brow, set with a single stone that matched his amethyst eyes.

He had been elected ruler of Equestria soon after its founding and proved to be a wise and fair ruler with the aid of several councils. Two of these councils stood on each side of his throne. Smart Cookie was an orange pony who shifted uncomfortably and tugged at her blonde mane. Clearly the formal attire of the Canterlot Royal Court did not suit her. Princess Platinum, on the other hand, seemed the picture of nobility at her father's flank.

None of Equestria's elite made Clover nervous, though. Standing before the throne watching her with unblinking golden eyes was the legendary wizard himself: Star Swirl the Bearded. The dull grey fur of his face was framed by falling ringlets of ivory that met a beard that fell almost to his hooves. He wore a long cloak the color of sapphires and a matching broad brimmed hat that came to a point at its peak. Both his cloak and his had were ringed with tiny golden bells that matched his eyes.

Expressionless, he watched the sisters approach and bow before Lord Palladium. Formalities were exchanged before the ruler of Equestria stepped down to the level of his two subjects and smiled. “Rise, my friends,” the king said, “No need to stand on ceremony here. I see you received my letter and I appreciate you coming so quickly.”

Clover let her eyes drift to the aged unicorn of legend before returning her attention to the king. She was unable to hold his gaze for more than a moment and turned her attention back to Lord Palladium. “Of course, your majesty.”

“Good!” He clapped his hooves together and smiled. Turning he nodded to Star Swirl, who stepped down and paced back and forth before Clover and Lily. He eyed the sisters, sizing them up with a contemplative hum.

“So this is Clover the Clever.” His words were clear and confident, carrying easily through the hall. The deep sound of his voice drew attention, but did not demand it. He spoke as a unicorn of easy calm and simple certainty.

After a moment his gaze turned to the small dusky pegasus at her side. “Oh, and who do we have here?”

Lily stepped forward and looked up at Star Swirl, daring to stare into his golden eyes. Her eyes flickered with a spark and an impish grin crept onto her muzzle. “Lily,” she dared, the single syllable sounding almost defiant.

Clover's eyes widened at her sister's brazen nature and looked quickly to Lord Palladium and his advisers. The king was simply staring in horror, unable to comprehend how the impetuous young pony could be so brazen. An eternity of silence passed in a single moment.

Star Swirl held Lily's gaze for a moment before turning away casually, as one might dismiss at foal. “Clover,” he said as he turned his attention back to the unicorn. “Do you know why I'm here?”

She shook her head, “N... no, sir.”

“You lead the raising of the sun each morning, do you not?” She nodded slowly, forgetting how to speak as Star Swirl looked her in the eye and continued with his questioning. “And how long have you lead this ritual?”

Her voice found its place once more, but only briefly. “Three, sir.”

“But she-” Lily attempted to interject, but her voice was cut short by the wizard's raise hoof.

He never turned his eyes from Clover, “And was it always so? Were you not previously part of a team of seven and even at one time twenty-four such unicorns?”

She panicked. Was he chastising her leadership? Was she about to be dismissed from her position? The lump in her throat became so intrusive that she couldn't even speak. Again, she was reduced to a simple nod.

“I see.” He said cryptically. Turning with the jingle of bells and the whirl of his cloak, Star Swirl looked across the hall to Lord Palladium. “Yes, your majesty. This one will do quite well.”

The king's face brightened and he clapped his hooves together. “Excellent!”

“But,” Star Swirl interrupted, “that is only if she accepts.”

Lord Palladium looked to Clover expectantly. “Well, Clover?”

Her face turned to sheepish embarrassment, “Forgive me your majesty, but what am I being offered?”

For the first time, Star Swirl smiled. “Clover the Clever, High Sunriser of Cantelot. I humbly ask that you would become my apprentice.”

Clover and Lily cried out in stereo, “Apprentice?!”

Star Swirl merely nodded. “It will not be easy. Your tasks will be many and difficult, but age is catching up with me and I would see to it that the magicial knowledge I have accumulated over the years is passed on so that it might help bring light and love to Equestria after I am gone.”

Clover stammered, shuffling her forelegs nervously. “But me, sir? Why me? Why now?”

A surprising gentleness crept into his voice, “My reasons are my own, dear. But you shall understand them in time.”

Turning to her sister, Clover saw the young pegasus was smiling and nodding. A brief hiss escaped Lily. “Go on, go on!”

Releasing a deep breath, Clover slowly bowed her head as a thousand thoughts raced through her head. She tried to imagine the daunting tasks that Star Swirl would put before her. She saw her own failures and weaknesses. She saw herself being turned away halfway through her training. She saw herself alone and ashamed. But somewhere beyond that she saw Canterlot and all of Equestria in its full glory. She saw a kingdom in its full glory with peace and love reigning. If she could offer some small service to that end, she knew there was only once choice.

“I accept.”

“Excellent,” the bearded pony cried. He offered a single nod to Lord Palladium and turned away. Within a few steps it was clear he was departing from the audience chamber. He paused, looking back to Clover. “Well my apprentice, are you coming?”

“Now?” she yelped.


She moved to fall in behind Star Swirl, but her eyes lingered on the pony she was leaving behind. Lily was smiling, but there was sadness hiding in her young eyes. Clover didn't expect that her tutelage would take her away from Canterlot, away from her sister. When the thin film of tears appeared in Lily's eyes, she stopped.

“I've changed my mind, Master Star Swirl.”

The wizard stopped mid-stride and looked hard at her. “I'll warn you, Clover. If I leave this hall alone you will not be given a second chance.”

“I can't leave, sir. I can't let my sister stay in Canterlot alone.” She felt tears welling in her own eyes and felt the first drop wet her muzzle. “Not even for this.”

Star Swirl looked to Lily. The young pegasus was shaking her head, her lips whispering 'no' to Clover. But he saw the shared love in the eyes of the two sisters and nodded. “That is noble, Clover. I understand.”

He nodded in thanks to Lord Platinum and stepped across the threshold of the still-open doors to the audience hall.

Suddenly, Lily cried out. “Clover, no! Wait!” She ran towards Star Swirl, blocking his exit. “You can't go! You can't! There's got to be something, anything, you can do!”

Star Swirl looked down at the young pony, his face softening. “Your sister has made her choice, young one. You should be proud to have one willing to make such a choice.”

Lily stamped her hoof, “I am, but this is wrong! I'll do anything, Star Swirl! Anything!”

He raised an eyebrow, “Anything, you say?” Raising a hoof to stroke his beard, he contemplated the situation at hand. “Tell me, young Lily, is it true you're part of the Canterlot Dawn Guard?”

Lily raised an eyebrow, “Yes sir?” Her voice anger was suddenly washed over with confusion.

“I see,” the wizard continued. “The youngest member of the Dawn Patrol, if I am correct. Tell me, Lily, have you been formally trained in weather manipulation?”

Glaring at him she gave an indignant reply. “No.”

“I see. Yet, your exploits are not lost to my ears. Lord Palladium tells me that you recently conjured a rather powerful storm for spring rains. An unsanctioned torrent that lead to some flooding in the northern fields. Is this true?”

“Wait,” Lily cried. “It wasn't like that! I-”

Star Swirl cut her off. “You lack discipline, young philly. You may be talented, but you are reckless, brash, and immature.”

Lily lowered her head and stepped aside. The tears in her eyes finally spilled over and she moved to allow the wizard to pass. She wept in silent defeat.

The silence was shattered by Clover's voice ringing through the audience chamber. “How dare you? Who do you think you are?” She stormed over to Star Swirl and stared into his eyes, her own face blazing with passion. “She is a my sister and she is still a citizen of Equestria! What makes you think you can just trot into this castle and pass judgment on everyone you meet! Go on then, Star Swirl the Bearded, find your apprentice somewhere else!” She waved a hoof at the door, her nostrils flaring.

Star Swirl held her gaze for a moment of long, heavy quiet. Then, the audience chamber erupted with his deep, hearty laugh. He put a hoof on Clover's shoulder and smiled down at Lily, who looked up at him slowly.

“Lord Palladium,” he called out. “I came to Canterlot to seek your blessing in my selection of a new apprentice. You graciously allowed me to do this and I would ask again for your royal generosity. Instead of one apprentice, I would ask that you allow me to select two.”

Bowing before the sisters, he offered them the gentle visage of a fatherly old colt. “Clover the Clever and her sister whom I named Lily the Lovely, would you honor me by allowing a foolish old man to learn a few new lessons from his own students?”

Clover and Lily looked to one another, their eyes still moist. Then they turned back to Star Swirl the Bearded and bowed before him in acceptance. Lord Palladium called from his dias, “Let it be known now that Clover the Clever and Lily the Lovely shall depart from Canterlot as students of Star Swirl the Bearded so that they might hone their gifts for the future of all of Equestria!”

Taking his hat in his teeth, Star Swirl returned the sisters' bow. The three of them marched out of the royal audience chamber of Canterlot and towards the vast world that lay before them.