The Final Quest of Star Swirl the Bearded

by JohnPerry

Chapter 1: Act I: Chapter I

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The Final Quest of Star Swirl the Bearded

Written by John Perry

Proof-read by RTStephens

The Forest of the Mists was well known amongst the pony tribes. Situated at the head of the Mane Valley, it was a lush forest that seemed almost perpetually covered in fog owing to the clouds that blew in from the seas to the east. Such conditions made it the natural choice for the pegasi tribe to build their citadels, fortresses and settlements in the sky, with the abundance of readily available clouds for building and no ponies on the ground to complain about their sunlight being blocked. But despite sitting directly beneath the great cities of the pegasi, the forest was a vast wilderness of dense thickets of trees, gnarled roots, decaying logs and muddy streams; a land of seemingly eternal shadow where few ponies would willingly tread. Even on days when the rare beam of sunlight broke through the layer of clouds, the forest was still marked by a constant gloom.

The winged ponies overhead cared little for what went on in the forest beneath their very hooves, so perhaps it comes as little surprise that few ponies knew what it held. In the summer the forest teemed with life, a home to a multitude of creatures who found the cloudy locale the ideal place to escape the seasonal heat. But in the winter the forest became eerily silent and bitterly cold, as the same clouds that provided respite in the warmer months dumped massive amounts of snow onto the trees below. In these frigid conditions, only the fiercest creatures could survive.

It was perfect for a Windigo.

The creature in question rested in her perch atop a tall tree. Her icy gaze scanned the darkness, searching through the strands of trees or the clouds overhead for her next meal. Perhaps an embittered animal, weary of the cold weather, or a furious pegasus, cursing the frigid winds he had to fly through. The dreariness and anger born of a long, dark winter was a veritable feast for a Windigo. In the absolute stillness of the chilly air her ears were primed to pick up the telltale crunch of snow underneath her prey's steps or the flap of wings that signaled the arrival of a flying creature, soon to be the unknowing victim of this stealthy predator.

After a few moments of patient waiting, a sound did reach the Windigo's ears. But it wasn't the kind of sound she had been expecting. It wasn't the crunch of snow, the flap of wings, the rustle of branches or the scurrying of a small creature through the underbrush; indeed, this sound was alien to the forest. It was completely unnatural, alarming in its oddity and sinister in its nature. And despite the Windigo's innate comfort with cold and fury, it filled her with a sudden feeling of dread.

It was the sound of bells.

Normally any lone being that made such a clear and obvious noise would be easy prey for a stealthy predator such as herself, but this was no normal being she faced. Every Windigo knew to fear this sound, for it signaled the arrival of him. The one with the bells, the one who had defeated herd upon herd of Windigoes, driving them from their food sources and sending them fleeing into the isolated mountains. The one with the terrible power to rain fire upon those who crossed him, to poison their wells of despair with hope, and to sear their bodies with the heat of his flames.

No, this noise was not born of an ignorance to danger. It was a warning. And that warning was getting louder by the second; the one with the bells was drawing nearer.

The Windigo frantically searched for the source of the noise, looking to flee the telltale sound of oncoming danger. She briefly considered finding a place near the ground to take cover, to await the arrival of this invader and strike from the shadows, but she did not know from where and how fast this invader would come. In this dense forest, the trees grew high from their bases on the snowy earth, reaching up to embrace the clouds that hung low to the ground. Normally this setting would be ideal for her, but now the tall trees, the snow and the low clouds conspired against the Windigo, as the sound echoed and bounced between the trees and off the snow and fog until it seemed to come from all directions. Where there would normally be the crunch of snow underneath to signal the sound of one’s steps, the chime of the bells concealed that noise, making it impossible to know how quickly this invader approached. She strained to make out a pattern to the sound, to pick out a pace or a rhythm, but the cacophony of these bells made it impossible. Her ears were trained to pick out the snap of twigs, the rustle of bushes or the scurrying of small animals; not the racket these pony instruments caused.

And then, as she was struggling to hear something of value through the din, the bells stopped ringing and all went quiet. In her perch the Windigo tensed, straining her ears to catch even the faintest sound. All was still in the frosty air, and the sudden silence unnerved her. She quietly settled herself against the branch she was positioned on, retreating ever so slightly into the depths of the tree so as to avoid detection. Her eyes scanned the ground below, desperately searching for any sign of movement. In the end, it would come down to either fighting or fleeing, but she had to know where this invader was before she could do either.

Suddenly there was an incredible flash of light coming from her left, so massive and bright it momentarily blinded the Windigo. It was accompanied by waves of heat so strong it was as if the sun had risen within the confines of the forest itself. Briefly unable to see anything but a white glare and struck by the sudden blast of heat, she gave an audible cry of surprise and moved away from the source of the blazing light.

It took a few seconds for her to make out the silhouettes of trees visible only due to the shadows they cast between the shafts of light. The bright glow seemed to soften ever so slightly, and she chanced a glance back. What she then saw caused her to halt in place.

The one with the bells was staring at her.

He was a unicorn, currently standing in a small clearing with a gleaming light still shining from the horn atop his head. He was not moving, but the bells attached to the strange cloth draped over his figure were now chiming softly as the cloth billowed from the waves of heat emanating from that horn. He frowned and watched the Windigo through narrowed eyes, as if daring her to come nearer. Then he spoke.

"Leave. Do not come near us ponies again."

For a few seconds, the Windigo merely remained in place, caught in awe of the powerful figure before her. But then realization of what she was facing finally dawned on her and she panicked. Alone, she was no match for this invader. With a howl of fear she flew up into the safety of the clouds above, racing away as fast as possible.

The unicorn watched the creature vanish into the clouds as the glow emanating from his horn slowly went out and the heat was soon overtaken by the chill of the wintery air once more. He couldn't be sure if the Windigo understood what he had said, but the creature seemed to understand the intent if not the exact words. He briefly considered pursuing the Windigo, but decided there would be no sense in chasing it down, so long as it was far away from any pony settlements. Still, a more physical reminder could underline his point.

He lowered his head, pointing his horn in the direction the Windigo had vanished. His horn glowed fiercely again, a bright orange light that drew sparks out of the thin air and sent them swirling around his horn, where they coalesced into a ball of fire that danced at the tip of the horn. Finally, the unicorn reared on his hind legs before flinging his head forward, sending the fireball streaking into the sky before it vanished into the clouds above with a soft 'poof'.

A moment later a burst of fiery light from within the clouds and a strangled cry of fear reached the unicorn. He knew the Windigo hadn't been injured, but it was fearful for its life. He only hoped it stayed that way.


“A…A Windigo?”

“Indeed, dear child,” replied Star Swirl the Bearded. The magician was standing beside his apprentice, a young unicorn mare named Clover. She, who unlike her mentor had not yet been granted a formal title, was sitting before an open tome, examining an elaborate illustration of a creature that had the appearance of a ghostly horse, with eyes that shone blue and skin the color of ice. Her eyes, filled with wonder, widened at the thought of such a ghastly creature, while the old stallion stood to the side, his signature cloak and hat resting on a nearby chair as he regarded the tome and the mare reading it with a solemn gaze.

The two unicorns were standing in the library of the main castle of the Kingdom of Unicornia. Despite the castle’s grandeur, well known among the pony tribes, the library was a humble and crowded facility, consisting of a single moderately sized room made of the same gray stone as the rest of the castle. Wooden shelves filled with thick books and scrolls lined the walls, as in any proper library, although there were many crates of books, some still in the process of being emptied, tucked into the corners of the room and between shelves. Atop the few tables in the room were disorderly stacks of scrolls waiting to be cataloged. The lighting was poor owing to the narrow windows, and even these had to be shut tightly closed for almost half of the year to keep the winter chill out. A pair of torches mounted on the wall provided illumination, though of the flickering kind that made reading a pain on the eyes. For this reason most unicorns chose to read by the light of their own horns.

“They are malevolent spirits of winter that feed off of fighting and hatred,” Star Swirl continued, gesturing at the illustration in the book. “They are unique in how they link what others feel in their hearts to the weather surrounding them. The more hate they detect and the more anger that is present, the colder the temperature becomes.”

“I don’t understand,” Clover said, looking up from the book. “Why did you wish to show me this?”

“It is imperative that you understand this creature!” Star Swirl replied sharply, his expression quickly changing to one of near frustration as he tapped the tome with one of his hooves. “It is a dangerous creature and one little understood by most ponies! Is that not reason enough?”

“Y-yes, master!” Clover stammered, cowering before her mentor. “Forgive me, I did not mean to imply that I was questioning your wisdom. But our world is home to many a dangerous creature, and I merely ponder what makes this one so important!”

Star Swirl’s face softened and he gave his apprentice a small smile, which caused Clover to visibly relax. “My dear Clover, you really are quite clever. Forgive me, for you are right in questioning me. But for now, I merely want you to be aware of this creature’s existence; that is all that is necessary. Should I fail in my mission, I will then explain more.”

“Your mission?” Clover asked, raising an eyebrow. “But I was under the distinct impression that your mission involved a dragon. What does it have to do with these…Windigoes?” she questioned, glancing at the illustration in the book once more.

“They are related, but only indirectly,” Star Swirl answered. “But know that as of yet, these are only personal suspicions of mine. For now, all I ask is that you simply know of this creature and study what little material we have on it here. I dearly hope that is all I will need to tell you of it.”

The bearded stallion turned toward the door as his horn glowed a soft orange aura. His cloak and pointed hat were momentarily cast in the same orange glow as they levitated into the air off the chair. The bells attached to the clothing chimed merrily as the cloak draped itself around the pony’s frame while the hat settled on his head. “Very well then, I must depart; I have delayed too much already. Remember what I have shown you, and never forget the most important lesson I taught you.”

“That whether a pony is with a horn or without is no indication of their character,” Clover recited from memory. “That my magic is to be used for the benefit of all ponies, not just those others who can also use magic.”

Star Swirl turned back to his apprentice and smiled warmly at the young mare, gently placing a hoof on her shoulder. “You do me proud.” Then with a swish of his cloak and a cheerful jingle of bells, he departed the library.


“Enter, Star Swirl the Bearded!”

The magician nodded at the guard’s request and proceeded through the large set of double doors that led to the chambers of the King of Unicornia. It was a spectacular room, a good fifty pony lengths high and even longer from one end of the room to the other. Banners depicting the coats of arms of many a Unicorn royal family hung from the ceiling, with the coat of arms of the king hung behind his raised throne at the far end of the room. Above the king’s coat of arms was a depiction of a regal-looking unicorn casting a spell as it stood between an illustration of the sun and moon, carved from the stone wall and illuminated by the light streaming through the windows positioned high above the floor, as if to bless the unicorn with the golden light of the sun. The ceiling was covered in a painted fresco depicting the stars of the heavens and many of the legendary celestial beasts, such as the vast Ursas, the terrifying Scorpius, the mighty Leo and the slithering Draco. The chamber was located at the very heart of the castle, with the rest of the rooms aligned around it, leaving no question as to where the priorities of this kingdom lay.

Star Swirl calmly walked across the plush carpeted floor, the chime of his bells echoing softly in the cavernous room as he trotted towards the throne at the opposite end, where there sat Silver the Fifth, King of the Unicorns. True to his name, his coat was a shining light gray and he wore a gilded crown of gleaming silver encrusted with violet jewels atop his head. Flowing robes of white and purple were draped around his figure, and he regarded the approaching magician with a stern look. Flanked on each side of the king were a guard and several nobles sitting at a long table, each of whom regarded Star Swirl with looks ranging from indifference to downright contempt.

“Star Swirl the Bearded,” King Silver stated as the magician removed his hat and bowed shortly before him. “The Royal Council has convened to hear your request. For the purposes of our records, please state your full request to the council.”

“So formal, Silver,” Star Swirl commented as he looked back up at the king. “I seem to recall a time when you and I could meet in private over a pleasant meal and discuss these matters.”

“State your request, Star Swirl,” one of the councilmares said curtly, quill held aloft in mid-air in front of her over a sheet of paper, ready to write down a summary of what the magician had to say.

“Very well then, Councilor Red Tape,” Star Swirl replied before turning to the council at large. “It is my request that this council grant a fund to be used by myself and a group of pegasi leaders for the purpose of assisting the Pegasi Empire reclaim lost territory in the mountains to the south of the River Mane. The secondary purpose of this grant would be as a token of good will from the Kingdom of Unicornia to the Pegasi Empire.”

A stallion sitting to the immediate left of the king cleared his throat. “The council has reviewed your request and we must inform you that we have unanimously decided to reject your proposal to fund this undertaking of yours.”

“I anticipated this,” Star Swirl remarked. “So I will turn to my secondary request of this council: if you will not grant any funds to this mission, may I at least get an official proclamation of support from the kingdom?”

“Once again, our decision is a unanimous no,” the stallion replied, frowning down at Star Swirl.

The magician’s eyes narrowed. He had been expecting this, but that didn’t mean he had to accept it. “And may I ask why not? A mere declaration of support presents no difficulties, no sacrifice and no lasting commitment on part of the Kingdom of Unicornia.”

“Because we have no interest in the affairs of the pegasi that do not directly concern our kingdom, or any unicorn for that matter,” one of the mares on the council explained. “Unicornia has done perfectly well under a policy of isolation and none of the members of this council see any reason to stop now.”

“You consider this isolation?” Star Swirl demanded. “Eating the food of earth pony farmers and living under the weather crafted by pegasi? We must face the reality that our destinies as ponies are ultimately intertwined! If the kingdom were to declare its support for this mission, we may begin to find common ground with the Pegasi Empire. It is my hope that one day we can turn to the pegasi and the earth ponies to help us overcome any challenges to the kingdom.”

“CEASE THIS FOOLISHNESS!” one of the stallions on the council screamed, standing up from his chair so quickly that it toppled over behind him, but the stallion took no heed as he glowered down at Star Swirl. “You dare speak of us as equals to simpletons and barbarians? The Kingdom of Unicornia will never stoop so low as to ask for the assistance of savages!” he roared, banging a hoof on the table.

“’Our destinies intertwined,’ hah!” the stallion continued. “Why should unicorns ever concern themselves with the worldly needs of lower creatures when the very heavens above answer our every beck and call?” he said, gesturing with a hoof at the ceiling with its depictions of the sun, moon and stars. A smattering of nods and murmured agreement from the rest of the council members followed the stallion’s statement.

Star Swirl’s eyes narrowed as he faced the stallion. “Even if you do not see it, we are still creatures of this world. We must begin to make amends with the other pony tribes or I fear we will all perish.”

“Enough,” King Silver commanded, cutting off the furious council stallion before he could muster a response. “We have given our answer, Star Swirl, and I see no reason to continue this session.”

“In that case,” Star Swirl said. “I would like a private audience with you, King Silver, before I depart on my mission.”

“Very well,” the king sighed. “The Royal Council is hereby adjourned,” he proclaimed, using his magic to levitate a small mallet and tap the wooden table with a knock that echoed throughout the vast chamber. The disgruntled members of the council rose from their seats and departed through a side door, while the king lifted himself off his throne and strode down the steps towards Star Swirl. They began to slowly walk side-by-side across the room back to the entrance on the far side, Star Swirl levitating his hat beside himself as they did so. King Silver had a resigned look at the prospect of a conversation he had known was coming but was not looking forward to.

“I can’t say I did not expect this to happen,” Star Swirl stated, staring straight ahead, away from the king. “But I had at least hoped that as my old friend, you would defend me.”

“The council was in total agreement in this matter,” King Silver said, frowning at the magician. “My hoof was forced; I could not overturn such a clear consensus.”

“I believe that power actually does reside with the position of king,” Star Swirl remarked, drawing an annoyed look from Silver.

“You would have me go against the clear opinion of my subjects?” the king countered, stopping in his tracks. The magician turned to face King Silver and considered his words before giving a deep sigh.

“Silver, you are an old friend,” Star Swirl began. “And while I understand your predicament, I feel no shame in telling you that I think you could have used your influence with the council to greater effect. The fact that you didn’t tells me you have little interest in establishing ties with the other pony tribes.”

King Silver’s frown deepened. “You are correct, Star Swirl. I see no purpose in reaching out a hoof to those who themselves have low regard of us. We have always lived separate but equally, and I do not intend to change that. And I refuse to give in to these foolhardy notions of yours that we are on the precipice of a disaster!” he snapped. “What can possibly threaten us that our magic can not overcome?”

“We are dependent on the earth ponies and pegasi,” Star Swirl answered. “What threatens them will ultimately threaten us.”

“You’ve made yourself very unpopular with the nobility with statements such as these,” the king said, resuming his walk across the room. “You may be a powerful wizard, but if you are not cautious you will find that neither your achievements nor even my power can protect you.”

“So is this why the funding for the library was cut?” Star Swirl retorted. “Why we were forced to move to lesser quarters?”

“Be careful what you say, Star Swirl,” King Silver muttered.

The magician halted and whirled about to face the king again. “I will not stand for having the accumulated knowledge of many a great unicorn compromised because some noblemare believes I am preaching a radical agenda to our fillies!” he yelled, gesturing violently at the council table.

Star Swirl took a step towards the king. “Whatever your view of me, whatever the kingdom’s reaction to my words, I want you to swear to me that Clover will take her proper place beside the throne as the voice of reason behind the crown.”

“You know me better than that, Star Swirl,” King Silver grumbled. “Magic is what makes the unicorns great, and I would never be such a fool as to turn down the advice of the greatest magicians we have.”

“It is not you I am concerned about,” Star Swirl explained. “It is your daughter. Perhaps you are blinded by the love of a father, but I have seen how Platinum interacts with Clover. She regards my apprentice as little more than another one of the servants who live by the command of the crown. And I have no intention of seeing the most intelligent of our kind pushed to the side.”

“She will learn in good time,” King Silver said steely as they finally reached the end of the room.

“For the sake of our future, I hope she does,” Star Swirl replied before replacing his hat atop his head and striding through the open doors, the faint chime of his bells echoing softly down the hallways that led out of the palace.

Next Chapter: Act I: Chapter II Estimated time remaining: 4 Hours, 2 Minutes
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