The Final Quest of Star Swirl the Bearded

by JohnPerry

Chapter 14: Act III: Chapter II

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Humble Pie proceeded through the tunnel carefully, sandwiched between Commander Tempest in front of him and Silver Lining behind. From the rear of the group, Star Swirl’s horn illuminated the passageway, casting a soft light on the rocky walls. The earth pony found his legs shaking beneath him as his anxiety grew exponentially. The heavy smoke in the air assaulted his lungs, making breathing a suddenly far more difficult task. He glanced at the other pegasi and saw tension in their faces, but unlike Humble Pie it wasn’t of fear but of...anticipation. Excitement, even.

The glow from the end of the tunnel grew brighter to the point that Star Swirl could extinguish his light. The ponies rounded the bend of the short tunnel and silently clambered over a large boulder to behold an incredible sight.

Before them was a vast cavern, the size of which none of the pegasi had ever witnessed. The room was so high that even the grandest of buildings in Pegasopolis could have easily fit inside. Columns of rock, thicker at the base and top, held the ceiling up. At the base of each column was a massive pile of glittering items: gems, jewels, armor, scraps of metal, gold bits and anything else that glittered, casting the entire cavern in a glimmering light. Each pile seemed to overflow onto the surrounding ground, to the point that the entire floor seemed to be covered in one giant hoard of objects.

None of them could see the dragon, but they could certainly feel it. Each breath of the creature rumbled throughout the cave, causing the smoke in the air to swirl menacingly. Commander Tempest looked around for a second before silently gesturing to each of the other ponies to come closer.

“Remain hidden here,” she whispered to her soldiers. “There’s no sense in revealing our numbers just yet. Let us see if that dragon knows reason. If not...you know your duty.” Each of the other pegasi nodded as their commander turned to the unicorn. “Star Swirl, will you accompany me?”

“But of course,” he replied. Together they trotted forward with a confident stride, boldly entering the vast cavern. Each step echoed off the walls of the cave and Humble Pie cringed as he watched; neither of them were making any effort to be stealthy, practically announcing their presence.

Soon enough, a great rumble could be heard throughout the cave. Tempest and Star Swirl stopped in their tracks as a huge, lumbering form suddenly emerged before them, picking itself up off the ground where it had been laying alongside its horde. Jewels and pieces of armor fell from its red, scaly hide as it pulled itself upright to its full height and scanned the room with fierce yellow eyes, quickly spotting the two equines who stood in the center of the cavern with no trace of fear on their faces.

“I see we have your attention,” Tempest remarked, giving the dragon a cold, level stare. She flapped her wings to hover just off the ground, if just to put herself at a slightly more equal eye level with the creature. “Allow me to introduce myself: I am Commander Tempest, ruler of the Pegasi Empire and leader of its glorious army. Years ago you stole this mountain from my kind, slaughtered my soldiers and claimed our treasures.” She unsheathed her sword, strapping it around a forehoof and pointing it at the dragon. “We have come to reclaim what is rightfully ours. I demand that you leave now or face the consequences.”

A deep, guttural sound erupted from the dragon, loud enough that the entire mountain seem to shudder with its force. It took the ponies a moment to realize that the dragon was laughing. “Go home, little pony,” he rumbled, giving the pegasus beneath it a savage grin. The sight of the sharp, gleaming teeth within its mouth did not move Tempest.

“I am warning you, beast,” she growled. “Heed my warning now, or you shall regret it.”

The dragon took no notice, instead choosing to stretch his limbs for a second before flaring his nostrils at the pegasus, sending a thick cloud of smoke at her figure. His point made, he flopped back onto the ground, rocking the mountain and causing the horde to rattle violently. In the tunnel, Humble Pie found himself thrown off his hooves, and some of the other pegasi also had trouble maintaining their hoofing. General Hurricane managed to stay upright, seething with rage at seeing something so callously disregard her mother.

A few strong flaps of her wings were all it took for Tempest to clear the smoke cloud that hung around her, and as everypony else could now see, it had done nothing to change her cold, determined expression. She glared at the dragon for a moment before glancing at Star Swirl and nodding. The unicorn nodded back and closed his eyes, concentrating on a spell as his horn began to glow with a blinding light and tongues of flame appeared from thin air, swirling violently around a ball of fire forming at the tip of his horn. Humble Pie and Swift Cloud immediately recognized the spell and braced themselves.

Suddenly the unicorn whipped around and hurled the ball of fire at the base of a nearby column, where there lay a jumbled pile of objects. The resulting fiery explosion made short work of the pile, throwing gems, armor plates, shields and all manner of metal objects into the air. The dragon sat upright with a start, watching the precious items of his horde rain down around him. Many of the objects were destroyed beyond repair, some charred and blackened while others were severely cracked to the point that they shattered when they hit the ground. The two ponies stood in the midst of this chaos, barely acknowledging the falling debris as they calmly regarded the stunned dragon standing in front of them.

“Perhaps you didn’t understand our intent,” Tempest announced in an even tone.

The dragon bared its teeth at the ponies, its eyes now filled with hatred for these puny creatures that dared to defy its presence...that dared to touch his horde. He reared back and let loose a fiery breath into the air, drawing his claws and whipping his spiked tail around in a show of force. He glared back down at the pegasus and was further infuriated when he saw that she looked thoroughly unimpressed.

The unicorn stepped forward, his horn glowing as he charged a new spell. “Leave now, or you shall face our wrath!” he declared, his cloak flapping behind him from the force of the building spell.

The dragon responded with a blast of flame aimed at both ponies. Tempest dove out of the way while Star Swirl cast the shield spell he had been preparing. Despite the force of the dragon’s breath, the unicorn held his ground, his shield causing the flame to dissipate harmlessly around him. The pegasus commander swung around the jet of fire, her sword drawn as she narrowly dodged the flames the dragon tried to catch her with.

“Now!” Hurricane roared, racing out of the tunnel into the cavern, followed swiftly by the other three pegasi. Humble Pie remained in place, fearfully poking his head out as he watched the soldiers instantly take formation, two to each side of the dragon. The creature blinked in confusion, trying to come to terms with the appearance of all these new ponies. Star Swirl took advantage of the distraction to lob another ball of fire from his horn at the base of the pile in front of the dragon. The pegasi saw it coming and flew out of the way just in time for another fiery explosion to rock the cave, this one blasting the remnants of a pile directly into the dragon’s front. The objects bounced harmlessly off of him, but he still winced as a shield flew into the air and struck him between the eyes.

Tempest saw her opportunity. Swooping down at the dragon’s exposed belly, she swung the sword in her forehooves and struck the creature’s underside. Her aim wasn’t perfect, as she only managed to graze the dragon’s skin, not cutting deep enough to draw blood. Nevertheless, the dragon felt the impact and started, looking down in surprise as he tried to figure out what could have possibly caused the sudden sting of pain he had felt.

Roaring with fury, he swatted at the air with his claws and lashed out with his tail, trying in vain to catch one of the pegasi. Each of the soldiers were skilled flyers, nimbly dodging out of the way and occasionally striking the dragon with a kick or with a flung object plucked from the pile. Swift Cloud seemed to be everywhere at once, moving erratically and without the grace of her more skilled companions, but her quickness made it impossible for the dragon to get at her as she kept up a constant barrage of objects flung at the monster. Hurricane and Thunderhead jeered and taunted the dragon as they rushed past, hurling insults along with the objects they threw and keeping the creature’s attention as their commander waited for another opportune moment to strike.

Another of ball of fire struck his front, dangerously close to the scratch on his belly, and he looked down to see the unicorn conjuring another spell. Settling on this single target, the dragon bellowed and unfolded his giant, leathery wings before giving them several powerful flaps. The resulting gust of wind caught a couple of the pegasi off guard and knocked them off course, sending them spinning backwards into the center of the cavern. Star Swirl’s cloak whipped behind him and his hat blew off, but he managed to hold his hoofing on the ground, catching his hat with his magic and levitating it back onto his head before glaring at the dragon.

The creature reacted by lunging forward and smashing the ground in front of Star Swirl with his clenched fists. The unicorn conjured another shield, but as the floor buckled beneath his feet the magician was flung backwards, skidding across the ground a short distance from where Humble Pie stood. The earth pony yelped and made a dash for the unicorn, pulling him towards the tunnel. Seeing that the two grounded ponies were in trouble, Tempest dove at the rear of the dragon’s shoulder and made another swipe with her sword. The scales were tougher here and once again she was unable to draw blood, but another chunk of the dragon’s thick skin was torn off as she sliced past it, causing the monster to howl in pain.

The dragon spotted a flash of light out of the corner of his eye and turned to see the blade of Tempest’s sword reflecting the morning glow coming through the cave entrance. Normally he would have dismissed any puny pony tool, but his eyes narrowed as he caught sight of the gleaming blade. The simple scratches it had inflicted hurt far more than they should have; they had left a stinging sensation, like those he had experienced as an adolescent centuries ago in fights with other dragons. The memory of that pain made him realize this was no mere pony stick, but something far more dangerous.

He let loose another fiery breath at the oncoming pegasus, but she dodged out of the way, spinning around in mid-air as the dragon tried to catch her. As she drew nearer he swiped out with one of his claws, but this proved to be a costly mistake. Just as his outstretched hand raced towards her, Tempest held the sword above her head and swung down.

Her aim was true. Just as the dragon’s claw was upon her, the sword sliced through one of the dragon’s fingers, separating it entirely from its owner in one clean swipe. The impact very nearly knocked the pegasus out of the air, but it was the panicked fury of the dragon in the next second that proved the greatest danger. The monster thrashed about in pain, whipping his tail at a nearby column of rock and smashing it to dust, scattering a sizeable portion of his horde and unleashing a breath of fire so massive into the air that Tempest briefly wondered if it would melt the ceiling. Blood had certainly been shed this time, and while not a sizeable amount given the scale of the dragon, any amount was proving alarming to the huge, supposedly indestructible beast.

The dragon began lumbering towards the entrance to the cavern, taking care not to step on its injured claw. At the mouth of the cave he unfolded his wings and launched into the sky, quickly disappearing out of sight. Tempest watched him depart with a surprised, then extremely satisfied look on her face.

“The mountain is ours, soldiers!” she declared, turning to face the other ponies in the cave and holding her sword aloft as she spoke. Silver Lining approached her, gazing out at the cave entrance before his eyes suddenly widened in fear.

“Commander, get down!” he hollered, diving for Tempest and shoving her towards the ground. The pegasus leader was able to catch a brief glimpse of the dragon outside, having not fled at all but merely readying for a new assault, before he inhaled deeply and blasted a massive jet of fire into the cave. It was only due to Silver Lining’s foresight that Tempest avoided being enveloped in flames, though her advisor paid dearly for his heroic action.

While Silver Lining wasn’t caught by the fire of the dragon’s breath itself, the heat from it was so intense that the hairs of his tail and the feathers on his wings burst into flame. Unstrapping her sword and dropping it to the side, Tempest quickly wrestled a panicking Silver Lining to the ground and stamped out the small flames eating away at his wings while he frantically beat his tail against the stone floor to put it out. The stallion shrieked in pain as the fire managed to burn at his skin, but a few flaps of his wings were able to finish it off.

“It’s alright now, it’s out!” Tempest cried, holding her advisor down to stop his struggles. He stopped and both of the ponies looked down at the pitiful remnants of Silver Lining’s wings; nearly all the long feathers had been burnt down to a short stub, and even what was left was blackened and probably beyond saving. The pegasus had been lucky in that his skin and tissues had been spared anything more than a singe, preventing this injury from becoming permanent. However, it was clear Silver Lining would not be able to fly for a long time.

“Oh Silver Lining,” Tempest muttered softly, a hoof placed over her mouth. “I’m so sor-”

There was a sudden explosion of noise and the cavern shook violently, throwing the commander off her hooves before she could finish her thought. The sound of crumbling rock was accompanied by the sight of a hail of boulders tumbling outside the entrance and a few sizeable chunks of rock falling from the ceiling of the cavern.

“He’s trying to bring down the mountain!” Silver Lining yelled, leaping to his hooves and pulling Tempest towards the rear of the cavern, where the other ponies were currently positioned. The commander stopped to pick up the handle of her sword with her mouth and replace it in its casing before following her advisor, staying low to avoid another fiery breath the dragon unleashed into the cave.

“Fall back!” Tempest ordered, gesturing frantically at the tunnel entrance. “The dragon is trying to bury us in here!” This much was already obvious to the rest of the group as another impact shook the mountain and caused more rubble to plummet from the ceiling. “Back into the tunnel!”

NO!” Star Swirl bellowed. He bore a few scratches from when he hit the ground, but looked otherwise undeterred. There was a fury in his eyes, a grim resoluteness that was downright alarming. “We must hold our ground!”

“Are you mad?” Tempest shrieked. “We must get out before the cave collapses!”

“No! We must stop the dragon now, while we have the chance!” the unicorn insisted.

“Who’s the military leader here?!” Hurricane yelled angrily, rising in defense of her mother.

“You have a defensible position!” Star Swirl hollered as he began to gallop for the cave entrance. “Now defend it!” The pegasi exchanged uneasy looks before following the seemingly crazed unicorn, leaving Silver Lining in the care of Humble Pie.

Star Swirl emerged out of the cave just in time to witness the dragon smash his tail against the mountainside, shaking Fortune’s Peak violently once more. The unicorn conjured a ball of fire and hurled it at the dragon, not so much to injure it but merely to get its attention.

Leave, beast!” Star Swirl hollered, rearing up on his hind legs as his cloak billowed impressively behind him. “This mountain is not yours to destroy! Go back to where you came from!”

The dragon roared before blasting the unicorn with another fiery breath. Star Swirl conjured a shield, deflecting the attack easily. He stood upon the ledge of the mountain, staring coldly at the monster before him.

“You dare attack me with fire, beast?” he growled. His horn began to glow brilliantly as orange flames began to circle rapidly around his form and waves of heat pulsated outward from his being. “I am Star Swirl the Bearded! Look upon this mark!” With his cloak whipping in the air behind him, the unicorn’s cutie mark was clearly visible upon his flank. It depicted a swirling galaxy; a spiraling collection of stars that circled around in on itself.

“This mark represents the cosmos and all the magic held within! I am the most powerful conjurer ever known! A Keeper of the Circle of Day and Night! All creatures of the dark fear me, and so shall you!” The dragon bared his teeth at Star Swirl, snarling before inhaling deeply to try and blast him with another breath of fire.

“YOU CAN NOT DEFEAT ME WITH FIRE!” the unicorn bellowed. “I AM FIRE!” With that he unleashed his spell, firing a jet of flame from his horn just as the dragon exhaled a massive fiery breath. The two collided in mid-air, exploding outward and sending spits of flame raining down on the mountainside. The force of the blast dissipated the smoke cloud around them as neither pony nor dragon relented, keeping up a steady stream of fire aimed at the other.

Tempest saw an opening. Zooming out of the cave, she drew her sword and flew towards the dragon with the intention of catching it while it was preoccupied with Star Swirl. The unicorn was faring well, straining to maintain his attack on the dragon but nevertheless holding up. He knew that a dragon couldn’t simply exhale forever; eventually he would have to catch his breath. Unicorns, meanwhile, could maintain power just on energy and sheer force of will. Star Swirl smiled, knowing he could outlast the dragon in this battle.

What Star Swirl had forgotten was that fire was not the only weapon at a dragon’s disposal. As he focused on holding back the dragon’s breath he managed to catch a glimpse of the creature’s spiked tail rise into the air and lash through the air directly at him. Realizing with a start that he wouldn’t have the time to dodge it, Star Swirl abruptly terminated his fire spell and conjured a shield. But he lacked the time to summon it fully and as the dragon’s tail struck the shield shattered, smashing the unicorn into the rocky slope. While he had been protected from the dragon’s deadly spikes, the impact against the boulders was forceful enough to knock Star Swirl out cold.

It all happened too fast for Commander Tempest, who swung out of the way as her perfect opportunity for attack was lost. The dragon spotted her and swung his massive tail back towards her. Hurricane yelled a warning, but in the chaos of the fire, Star Swirl’s defeat and her own failed attack, Tempest didn’t see it coming until it was too late.

The dragon’s attack was swift and complete. The thick, scaly tail collided with the pegasus, smacking her out of the air. One of the large, bony spikes clubbed her over the head, smashing her helmet to pieces as a smaller spike sliced through one of her wings. In one terrible second, the great commander of the pegasi plummeted helplessly to her doom, her sword still strapped to her hoof.

Tempest was dimly aware of her daughter’s scream before she crashed into the rocky ground. The impact tore the sword from its strap and she went limp, rolling across the jagged boulders before coming to a rest on her back. Her head swam; she could see a patch of sky above her through a hole in the smoke cloud, but couldn’t remember how it got there. She could hear distant voices, roars and screams, but couldn’t tell who they belonged to. Tempest felt no fear or sadness; only terrible pain and a dim awareness of what was happening around her.

“MOTHER!” Hurricane screamed, landing beside the commander and taking her body in her forehooves. Her eyes were widened in horror and her whole body shook as she tried to comfort the fallen pegasus. Tempest was covered in serious injuries; several cuts were bleeding profusely, one wing now resembled a bloody pulp and a couple of her limbs were protruding at odd angles, evidence that they were now broken. Her eyes were unfocused, staring off into space as her mouth hung slightly open.

“I’m going to die.” The commander said it very matter-of-factly, almost pleasantly, as if coming to a realization that had been eluding her. Hurricane started when she heard it, her lip quivering as she tried to find the words to tell her mother that she wasn’t going to die, that they would make it out just fine, but they didn’t come.

A shadow passed over them and Hurricane remembered the dragon. Swift Cloud and Thunderhead, seeing what had happened, desperately tried to distract the dragon from pursuing the commander, but they had little luck. Hurricane looked up to see the dragon’s head leering down at her, glowing yellow eyes narrowed as it inhaled deeply to unleash another breath of fire and leave no trace of the pegasus that had managed to inflict pain on it.

Hurricane acted without thinking. She grasped the sword lying beside Tempest between her teeth and sped upwards, the blade protruding out of the side of her mouth as she clenched on the handle. The dragon saw her approach and prepared to exhale, figuring he would roast this other foolish pony, but this time it was the dragon who was too slow.

Hurricane moved faster than the dragon could react, flying at the monster’s face and gripping the sword tighter as she came closer. The dragon mistook her aim and lowered his head, figuring the pegasus was flying for his exposed neck, a mistake that quickly proved devastating. Hurricane swung her sword, her expression one of pure rage, before driving the blade into the dragon’s right eye. There it embedded itself, yanking out of Hurricane’s mouth as she twisted around to avoid crashing into the dragon herself. Flying suddenly became difficult and the pegasus looked down to see her wings coated in blood.

The dragon howled with such fury that his anger could be heard from miles away. He thrashed about, the breath of fire he had been preparing suddenly choked off as he grasped at his bleeding face, utterly blind and dazed by the pain. He could only see, smell and taste his own blood and he could feel only the excruciation of his injury. He couldn’t comprehend anything around him, and it terrified him to the very core of his being. Forgetting his pride, he acted on instinct, unfolding his wings and taking to the air in a desperate bid to flee the pain that had been inflicted upon him. The dragon bellowed in fright, abandoning the mountain he had claimed as his own and flying to the south.

Hurricane stumbled about in mid-air, weighed down by the thick dragon blood on her hide and fighting to stay upright as the dragon launched itself off the mountain with its mighty wings that created great gusts of air when flapped. Finally she made it back to the ground, tripping over her own hooves as she came to an uneasy landing beside Swift Cloud and Thunderhead, who were staring at their general with a mixture of fear and awe.

“General-” Thunderhead began, but was cut off as Hurricane promptly marched past him, a shocked expression on her face as she made her way back to the body of her mother. Tempest was still laying in the same spot, looking up at the sky. She was wracked with pain, but her expression didn’t betray it, instead putting off an aura of supreme calmness and peace. Her sea-green coat and wavy blue mane, though battered and beaten, still retained a soothing dignity.

Humble Pie and Silver Lining emerged out of the cave just as Hurricane collapsed beside her mother. Tempest was taking slow, ragged breaths, turning her head slowly to see her daughter weeping beside her. Hurricane’s body shook with sobs, tears streaming down her face as she placed a hoof within the grasp of her mother’s.

“...I lost the sword,” Hurricane breathed. She shut her eyes tight and leaned her head forward, cursing to herself. “I l-lost the sword...” she repeated, choking back a sob.

“Shh,” Tempest soothed her, rubbing her daughter’s hoof softly. “The dragon slayer has been avenged. And Pegasopolis will have a glorious commander to lead them.”

“Mother, please...” Hurricane whispered, her tone fearful but also resigned to her fate. Tempest caught sight of the other pegasi crowding nearer to her. Swift Cloud sobbed uncontrollably while Thunderhead remained in a stunned silence.

“Silver Lining, my dear friend...will you do the honors?” she requested. Her advisor had tears running down his face, but he remained silent as he sat beside Tempest opposite Hurricane. He looked down into her kind face, taking strength in it before breathing deeply and facing the pegasus sitting across from him.

“Please salute, General Hurricane,” Silver Lining requested. Hurricane hesitated for a moment before rising to her hooves and lifting a forehoof in front of her, holding it parallel to the ground.

“Repeat after me: ‘I, General Hurricane, in the service of the Pegasi Empire...’”

“I, General Hurricane, in the service of the Pegasi Empire,” Hurricane recited, the tears continuing to stream down even as she adopted a determined expression.

“‘And the glorious army that fights beneath her banner...’”

“And the glorious army that fights beneath her banner...”

“‘Do solemnly swear to carry her banner forward...’”

“Do solemnly swear to carry her banner forward...”

“‘In place of the commander who can no longer perform her duties.’”

“In...” Hurricane paused, closing her eyes and hanging her head before continuing. “...In place of the commander who can no longer perform her duties.”

“‘And shall now assume her title, in lead of my glorious empire...’”

“And shall now assume her title, in lead of my glorious empire...”

“‘As Commander Hurricane.’”

“...As Commander Hurricane,” she finished. Silver Lining initiated a salute to his new commander, followed by Swift Cloud and Thunderhead as the new commander looked to the old. Tempest’s eyes were closed and a small smile remained on her face even as her last breath left her body.

Next Chapter: Act III: Chapter III Estimated time remaining: 38 Minutes
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