The Final Quest of Star Swirl the Bearded

by JohnPerry

Chapter 10: Act II: Chapter VII

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

The following morning was a rather subdued affair. Humble Pie couldn’t quite place it, but there was a lingering bitterness in the air as they prepared to leave the griffon village. The griffons weren’t hostile; far from it in fact, but there was a gulf between them and the ponies that the farmer didn’t understand. He was doubly confused when he noticed Silver Lining and Gwendolyn emerge from the griffon’s private quarters, both smiling and apparently enjoying each other’s company, but with a sort of sadness as well. Ultimately, Humble Pie shrugged it off, deciding that whatever was going on was beyond him and probably none of his concern anyway.

Standing just outside the entrance to the cave, the earth pony stifled a yawn and rubbed his eyelids. It had been the first time he had slept since the run-in with the changelings, and despite his exhaustion he found sleep difficult. His rest had been uneasy and constantly interrupted by nightmares involving scaly black creatures reaching out to grab him and Swift Cloud weeping on his chest once again. He had woken up to find the tears he felt on his skin were in fact his own and was grateful he had a room to himself where he could once again silently relieve himself of his emotions.

“Sleepy?” Swift Cloud asked, fluttering down to stand by Humble Pie’s side.

“Hmm? Oh yeah, I am,” Humble Pie mumbled. He stifled another yawn before shaking his head furiously in an attempt to wake himself up. “Had some bad dreams.”

“Yeah, so did I.” The pegasus and the earth pony shared a knowing glance as the other pegasi and Star Swirl emerged from the cave along with Gwendolyn.

“Take care, friends,” the griffon offered. “The greatest dangers you face are yet to come.”

That’s comforting to hear,” Humble Pie grumbled, evoking a giggle from Swift Cloud. Hurricane and Thunderhead grunted in annoyance, but Gwendolyn smiled warmly.

“Take heart, pony. At least you know what your journey holds for you.”

“Gwendolyn the Fair, I thank you once more for offering us shelter and supplies,” Tempest said gratefully, bowing towards the griffon. One by one, the pegasi took to the air as Humble Pie and Star Swirl began trotting down the ridge, leaving only Silver Lining with Gwendolyn.

“Farewell, my dearest.” The griffon’s voice was heavy with emotion. “I shall await the day I will be able to see you once more.”

“As will I,” Silver Lining promised, embracing his wife. “Give my best to Harriet, and tell her I’m sorry I can’t be with her now.”

“She’ll understand,” Gwendolyn said, pulling him into a close hug. “She already does.” They broke apart to take in each other’s eyes for a moment.

“Goodbye, my love.”


“You know, it’s a good thing we’re not making this journey in the winter,” Humble Pie muttered through chattering teeth. He and Swift Cloud had taken the lead in the climb up the hill towards the pass that would lead them through the Southern Peaks. A brisk wind rushed down the rocky slope at them, harsh enough that the pegasi were having difficulty flying forward and took to hoofing it along the ground. Each of them were slowly making their way up, but the earth pony was having the worst time of it, his mood worsening with each step he took.

Swift Cloud chuckled. “Cold, Humble Pie? This is nothing; you should see some of the storms we soldiers have had to battle through!” She turned to him only to find her mane blown over her eyes and had to turn her head back into the wind to get it out again. “Although granted, this is a tad annoying.”

“Blast this wind!” the earth pony cursed as another freezing gust stung his eyes and sent a fresh wave of shivers through his body. “Can’t you pegasi do something about this weather?”

“Hey, we can move clouds around but this is wind. You would need a whole team of pegasi to take on a gust like this.”

“Great,” Humble Pie spat. “What I don’t understand is why it’s this cold to begin with! It’s summer and there’s still snow on those peaks!” he cried.

“Quit bickering, groundling,” Thunderhead grunted from just behind them. “You don’t hear any of us complaining about the cold.”

“That’s because you pegasi practically live in this stuff!” Humble Pie hollered back.

Everypony, quiet!” Star Swirl suddenly yelled. His tone was urgent and he was looking around carefully, as if trying to spot something. “Do any of you hear anything?”

The group was silent for a few seconds, but the only sound that greeted them was the rush of wind. The unicorn strained his ears; he could have sworn he heard a familiar howl in the distance, and the fact that it came when the others had been arguing struck him as no coincidence.

“I don’t hear anything,” Hurricane stated dismissively.

“Just wait a moment!” Star Swirl urged. “I know I heard something.”

Humble Pie shook his head and continued trotting forward. “Star Swirl, look around. There’s nothing out he-AAAGH!” The others turned at his shriek only to find the earth pony had vanished. In his place, what had been a collection of small rocks on the ground was now a dark hole. The ‘thump’ of boulders striking the sides of the tunnel below mingled with the pained cries of the pony hitting the ground within.

“Humble Pie!” Swift Cloud cried out in alarm, rushing to the hole and peering inside. “Can you hear me? Are you hurt?”

“…Just my pride,” Humble Pie’s voice came meekly up to meet the pegasus’ ears. She gave a sigh of relief as the other pegasi and Star Swirl gathered around the hole.

“Can you see what’s down there?” the unicorn shouted.

“I...I think it’s some sort of tunnel,” the earth pony called back. “Definitely not hoof-made, but it doesn’t quite seem natural either. It seems to open up down here, but there’s not enough light to tell for sure.”

“Well, climb on out already,” Hurricane yelled, a frown crossing her face.

In the faint light that shone into the tunnel, the group could see the outline of a figure come into view and scramble up the slope of the tunnel, only to fall back down. “No good, it’s too steep. I don’t suppose any of you have any rope?” he added with a hint of sarcasm, knowing the chances of any pegasus carrying rope were slim.

“Hold on, we’ll come down!” Swift Cloud called. “Thunderhead, come on; we can carry him out.”

“I’m not carrying any groundling!” Thunderhead retorted, looking disgusted at the very thought.

“And I’m not getting carried by any pegasi!” Humble Pie hollered back.

“Oh, just come on,” Swift Cloud groaned, tugging a reluctant Thunderhead towards the hole.

“Wait, you two.” Star Swirl reached out a hoof to hold them back. Using his magic, he levitated two thick wooden sticks out of his saddlebag and, with a few seconds of focus, caused the tops of both to burst into flame, making a pair of torches. “Use these to light your way,” he offered, levitating them in a glowing aura hovering in front of the two pegasi.

“Perfect!” Swift Cloud exclaimed cheerfully before grasping one of the torches in her mouth. Thunderhead hesitated briefly as he leaned toward the glow of magic before clutching the other between his teeth and following his fellow private through the hole.

It was a short journey down to where Humble Pie was standing. As the light from the torches illuminated the tunnel, he began looking around. He had been right in saying it opened up; the tunnel he fell through emerged onto a ledge at the edge of a cave that was too large for the torches to fully illuminate. A couple of faint glimmers from the cave walls caught his eyes.

“Pass me the torch, will you?” he asked Swift Cloud just as she landed. She offered it to him and a thrill went through Humble Pie when their muzzles touched as he grabbed the part of the handle the pegasus wasn’t biting down on. She gave him a sly grin, causing the earth pony to blush slightly before she let go of the handle.

Humble Pie took the torch and brought it closer to one of the glimmering objects on the wall. He reached up and scraped a hoof over it, dislodging it from its place on the wall and causing it to fall to the ground.

“Look!” he grunted through the torch held in his mouth. “Itf a gem! Thif whole cave muf be full of ‘em! I think we’re in fome kind of mine.”

“But who would be mining out here? You yourself said this tunnel wasn’t hoof-made,” Swift Cloud pointed out.

“I don’t know, but look at all thif!” Humble Pie cried out, his enthusiasm building as he reached for another gemstone on the wall. This one was perched on the wall just over the side of the ledge they were standing on, and right as the earth pony grasped it he slipped on the smooth rocks and tumbled down further into the cave. He lost his grip on the torch as he rolled painfully across a boulder and came to a rest on the floor of the cave.

Humble Pie groaned as he slowly picked himself up. He had a few choice curse words ready as he lifted his head, but they all died in his throat as he caught a glimpse of a pair of outstretched claws reaching out towards him and a hideous face with bared teeth glaring down upon him. With a panicked yelp the pony leapt backwards, bracing himself for a fight.

He stood, panting heavily for a few seconds with his body lowered towards the ground, ready to turn around and buck this creature once it made the first move. But it never did. For that matter, it didn’t make any move. In the flickering light of the torch he had dropped, Humble Pie could now just make out a sheet of ice that covered the creature’s whole body, freezing it to the spot. It was a large, hulking figure that stood on two legs, hunched over with long arms that ended in filthy claws and a broad head with pointed ears and yellow eyes.

“What is that?” Swift Cloud gasped as she and Thunderhead came down to investigate.

“I think,” Humble Pie muttered in an astonished tone as he finally relaxed his guard, “that might be a diamond dog! I’ve never seen one, but anypony who works with gemstones is warned about them at some point.”

“There are more of them,” Swift Cloud stated, bending down to pick up the fallen torch before fluttering up into the air. From the center of the cave, the light shone down upon several other frozen diamond dogs scattered around the room. “What could have done this to them?” she wondered aloud.

The thought that whatever was responsible for the icy fate of the creature before them could still be nearby sent a shiver through Humble Pie that had nothing to do with the temperature in the room. He gazed at the frozen diamond dog for a second before turning to Thunderhead.

“You know what? Suddenly being carried by pegasi doesn’t seem so bad.” The pegasus curtly nodded in agreement.

“Swift Cloud, we’re leaving,” Thunderhead ordered, turning towards the tunnel entrance.

“Hold on, do you two hear that?” the pegasus mare asked, a frown on her face as she concentrated on something. The two stallions listened for a second and were able to pick up a faint scuttling sound coming from above.

“What-“ Humble Pie was cut off as a thunderous crash echoed throughout the cave and an avalanche of boulders and soil crashed through the tunnel. He and Thunderhead quickly retreated to the other side of the cave as several of the boulders tumbled towards them. A cloud of dust momentarily filled the cave, and when it finally settled the three ponies stared with wide eyes and slackened jaws at the tunnel entrance, now buried under several tons of rock.

Humble Pie turned to face Swift Cloud. What little light that had made its way down from the surface was now gone, leaving only the orange light of their torches which cast long, flickering shadows across their faces. A last few crumbles of rock could be heard before total silence reigned in the cave.

The earth pony remained quiet for a moment before the reality of the situation finally struck him and he rushed towards the blocked entrance, followed closely by the two pegasi with him. “Star Swirl!” he cried out. “Star Swirl, can you hear me?!”

“Humble Pie?” The faint voice of the unicorn came through a crack remaining in the buried tunnel. “Is that you?”

“Yes!” the earth pony shouted back. “Yes, we’re here and we’re all safe!”

“I beg to differ,” Thunderhead grumbled.

“What?” Humble Pie retorted, shooting him a sideways glance. “Are you hurt?”

“No, but I don’t think we’re safe.” Thunderhead glared intensely at the pile of boulders before them, as if considering it. “Doesn’t it strike you as odd that of all the moments for a tunnel blockage to happen, it occurred at the very moment when we were all inside the cave?”

“Uh, Thunderhead?” Swift Cloud mumbled, facing away from the blocked entrance. “You might be onto something there.”

The two stallions turned towards the cave only to freeze in horror at what they saw staring back at them. Another diamond dog, this one fully alert and not frozen, leered at them. A thick helmet that obscured both eyes was perched on its head and its body was covered in bruises, cuts and scars, most of them recent and a few of them still bleeding slightly. As it drew closer the heavy odor of sweat mingled with blood slammed into Humble Pie’s nostrils, making him wonder how they had not noticed it before.

“Poniesss…” the diamond dog hissed. “Ponies come to hurt us…ponies come to freeze us…” His strange method of speech probably would have been funny to the three travelers if it wasn’t for the fact that he was breathing heavily and his voice carried a strong hint of madness.

“No, we’re not!” Humble Pie yelped quickly. “We were actually just on our way!”

“Ponies try to trick me. But I know better…ponies try to hurt us diamond dogs!” he snarled, taking another step closer as the ponies retreated against the pile of rubble behind them.

“Hold right there!” Thunderhead commanded, flaring open his wings and hovering in front of the approaching diamond dog. “We are soldiers of the Pegasi Empire, and should you attack you will have to answer-“

“FLYING PONIES COME TO HURT US!” the diamond dog bellowed, lunging at Thunderhead and sending him flying backwards into the wall. “FLYING PONIES FREEZE MY FRIENDS, BUT YOU SHALL NOT GET ME!” With that he let out a howl and charged straight at Humble Pie and Swift Cloud.

With only a second to react, Humble Pie acted purely on instinct. He dived to the side, shoving Swift Cloud out of the way just before the diamond dog smashed headlong into the wall. The creature wobbled for a second, briefly stunned from his impact with the wall, but quickly recovered and was soon facing down the two ponies again. This time the diamond dog had them cornered and the earth pony didn’t see another escape route as he backed up against the wall. Swift Cloud placed a hoof on the ground in front of him and flared her wings, readying to defend Humble Pie. He prepared himself to throw her out of the way again if the diamond dog charged again.

It never got the chance. Thunderhead came barreling at the diamond dog, slamming the creature off its feet and into the wall once more. As the bulk of the diamond dog and the pegasus stallion collided with the pile of rubble, several rocks were dislodged and fell to the ground. The diamond dog lifted its head just in time to see a particularly large boulder fall upon him, smashing over his head with a sickening ‘crack!

Silence fell in the cave again, and the three ponies stared wide-eyed at the motionless diamond dog lying on the floor. Humble Pie became aware of the breath he had been holding in and slowly let it out. Thunderhead was panting heavily, nursing a few bruises as he stood hunched over with his wings hanging unfolded. Swift Cloud merely gaped at the unconscious creature before them.

“Humble Pie! Privates, report! What’s going on down there?!” Commander Tempest’s faint voice reached their ears, her tone stern and filled with urgency.

“Commander, Star Swirl, you have to get us out!” Humble Pie shouted back. “There are diamond dogs down here!”

“Correction, there’s a diamond dog,” Thunderhead pointed out. “Unless you’re counting the frozen ones, and they’re no more of a threat than this one now is.”

“What did it mean?” Swift Cloud whispered, still staring at the diamond dog. “What was it talking about, flying ponies freezing them? No pegasus can do this, no matter how many snow clouds they bring in. …Right?” she added, looking over at Thunderhead.

“Frankly, I think it was unhinged,” Thunderhead muttered darkly. “Perhaps its fellows here were frozen and it went mad in its solitude.”

Humble Pie opened his mouth to respond but stopped as they heard another faint scuttling sound, this one seemingly coming from the depths of the cave. The three ponies turned to face it, staring into the darkness beyond the light of the torches that lay forgotten on the ground.

“I’m not so certain about that,” the earth pony said quietly.

“Commander Tempest!” Swift Cloud called out hurriedly, fear creeping into her voice. “We have to get out of here!”

“Give us some time!” the commander hollered back. “We’re trying to clear these boulders!” They heard the sound of rocks scraping against each other and realized the unicorn and pegasi above them were pulling each boulder out of the way. A loud scampering suddenly came from somewhere behind the cave wall to their left and they turned towards it with alarm.

“We don’t have time,” Humble Pie muttered quietly. He bent over and picked up one of the torches lying on the ground before galloping back into the cave, looking around frantically.

“What are you doing?!” Thunderhead yelled.

“There’f a tunnel over here!” the earth pony announced before transferring the torch he held from his mouth to one of his forehooves. “Listen, this is very porous rock, which will make tunneling through it very easy for these things. They will be here soon, and once they show up we won’t have a chance.”

“So your plan is to venture further into their territory?!” the pegasus stallion exclaimed incredulously.

“If we’re lucky, we might find another way out,” Humble Pie offered.

“Good enough for me,” Swift Cloud said quickly before Thunderhead could give another objection. Her fellow private gaped at her as she turned back to the pile of rubble. The scuttling sound of something burrowing towards them grew louder. “Commander Tempest! We’re under attack and taking evasive maneuvers! We shall seek another exit; continue up the mountain!”

“Wait! What-” Swift Cloud didn’t hear the rest of Tempest’s answer as she dashed away from the blocked entrance, picking up the torch as she did so and following Humble Pie as he raced into the tunnel leading out of the cave. Thunderhead followed closely behind as the scampering sounds became ever louder as their unseen assailants drew nearer.

Next Chapter: Act II: Chapter VIII Estimated time remaining: 1 Hour, 45 Minutes
Return to Story Description


Login with