The Final Quest of Star Swirl the Bearded

by JohnPerry

Chapter 6: Act II: Chapter III

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Star Swirl the Bearded marched down the narrowing forest road, leading the group deeper into the woods. It was afternoon now and they were approaching the edge of the Forest of the Mists. The sound of the River Mane, so prominent before, was now just a distant echo through the thickening stands of trees. The road itself was considerably narrower now and less well-worn; occasionally the unicorn would have to step over a root that had grown across the path. The canopy of leaves overhead was almost completely covering the trail, with only the occasional gap letting sunlight and the sight of the group of pegasi soldiers flying overhead through.

Behind the magician, Humble Pie was trotting ahead with Swift Cloud hovering along by his side. Just as before, the earth pony was dumbfounded as to why this pegasus seemed to take such an interest in him, but he had now grown used to her presence, and the conversation was slightly less one-sided than it had been yesterday. Star Swirl observed these developments with a satisfied eye, pleased to see that his friend’s prejudices against pegasi were already beginning to crumble. At the very least, it was good to see something positive coming out of all this, given the worries that were occupying the unicorn’s mind.

The fact was, the appearance of the timberwolves the previous night had perturbed Star Swirl, and not just because Humble Pie had gotten hurt. In his experience, timberwolves remained deep in the forest, rarely venturing to the edge of the woods. The fact that they had encountered a pack so early in their journey meant that either this pack was unusually zealous in where they staked out their territory or, the more likely reason, something even more powerful than the timberwolves had laid claim to the lands at the heart of the forest.

“We’re barely into this forest and it’s already living up to its name,” Humble Pie commented, looking around at the trees surrounding them. Indeed, he was speaking the truth; there was a faint fog over the trees, not yet thick enough to obscure their surroundings but still enough to bring a chill to the earth pony.

“You should see the forest underneath Pegasopolis!” Swift Cloud quipped. “Since we built our city there, it’s always cloudy there. Ooh, maybe you can see it someday! I could even show it to you!” she added, fluttering higher into the air as if physically buoyed by the prospect.

“I…don’t think that will be possible,” Humble Pie pointed out. “Seeing as the city is built on clouds, I can’t fly, and the only ground route is through a dense forest.”

“Oh yeah,” Swift Cloud muttered, looking slightly downcast at this realization. “That’s a shame. I mean, I saw your home and it would be neat if you got to see mine.”

Humble Pie glanced sideways at the pegasus. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you don’t act much like a soldier.”

Hey!” Swift Cloud exclaimed, looking offended. Humble Pie was taken aback; as far as he could recall, this was the first time he had seen her look even remotely angry about something. Indeed, he had begun to wonder if she was even capable of such an emotion. “I am in fact a soldier! I trained long and hard to get where I am today!”

“I…sorry…” Humble Pie blurted out. “I just meant, err…you’re different from the other soldiers. …Not that that’s a bad thing, of course,” he added hastily.

Hmph. I have no idea what you’re talking about,” the pegasus grumbled before abruptly flying up through the canopy and vanishing out of sight. The earth pony watched her go, at a loss for words, before he heard Star Swirl chuckling.

The unicorn glanced back to catch sight of Humble Pie. “Did you tell her that she wasn’t acting like the other soldiers?”

“I…uh…yes?” the earth pony uneasily confirmed. To his frustration, this led to more chuckling on the part of the magician.

“In my experience pegasi, or more specifically pegasi soldiers, are rather sensitive to any implication that they do not live up to the ideal of a warrior,” Star Swirl explained. “Yes, each pegasi may have an individual personality, but in the role of a soldier they must be one and the same; ready to take orders and fight for their nation.”

“Oh,” Humble Pie replied, feelings of guilt and frustration that he had managed to break more pegasi etiquette sinking in. “But you can’t deny, for a solider she is a little…flighty.”

“You should also be careful using that term around pegasi,” Star Swirl muttered, his tone becoming quiet and forceful as he spoke. “Any suggestion that they are not dutiful and focused would be to any soldier as grave an insult as to dishonor their family.”

“Mmm,” the earth pony mumbled, feeling even more embarrassed. “Well, I suppose it’s good I heard it from you rather than making a fool of myself again.” There was an edge to his tone, as if Humble Pie was inferring that he blamed Star Swirl in part for this. The unicorn withheld from speaking any further, allowing an awkward silence to fall between the two stallions.

The earth pony looked around as the swirls of mist become thicker with each step they took into the forest. Compared to his home, everything here felt somehow muted, as if the clouds had dampened not only the air but the sound. The sound of the river was distant and the wind was all but nonexistent. There weren’t as many insects, for which Humble Pie was grateful for, but their absence nevertheless underscored the strangeness of their surroundings. The merry jingle of the bells on Star Swirl’s cloak now proved a stark contrast to the stillness of the forest.

“How could someplace so bizarre and unfamiliar be what separates the only two places I have ever called home?” Humble Pie muttered, breaking the silence.

“But you’ve been here as well,” Star Swirl pointed out.

“Only once, and that was over ten years ago,” the earth pony answered. “Even then, I don’t remember this place being this…quiet,” he said, shuddering slightly.

Star Swirl nodded. “Something dangerous lurks in this forest, and the sooner we depart the better. Do you know if we’re close to the edge of the woods?”

“Not exactly,” Humble Pie answered, “but if I remember correctly, there’s a big ridge that runs south to the mountains. Once we reach that, it’s just a matter of walking along the edge of the forest until we reach the pass.”

The unicorn relayed this information to the pegasi flying above, and to their delight they reported back that they could already see the ridge in the distance, jutting out above the treetops and just visible through the fog. Once again, Hurricane and Thunderhead took the initiative and scouted ahead, taking advantage of this opportunity to fly at a normal pegasus speed while the other soldiers remained above Star Swirl and Humble Pie, guiding them towards the ridge.

The sight of the ridge proved somewhat misleading, however, as a couple of hours passed and the hill appeared little closer than it had when the pegasi first spotted it. The shifting clouds served to distort the apparent distance and, to make matters worse, a fogbank was rolling in and further obscuring the ridge. The ponies pressed on, Humble Pie and Star Swirl hiking up the increasingly rocky and narrow trail, clambering over tree roots and boulders as they slowly made their way towards the hill ahead. Indeed, by this point the trail had become less of a pathway and more of a dry creek, passable only because of the channel that occasionally carried water down from the ridge.

They proceeded on in silence, focused only on the menial task of putting one hoof in front of the other. Eventually, Swift Cloud obviously got bored and began darting between trees once again, taking in the forest with every one of her senses; smelling the fragrance of flowers, tasting the bitter fruits of the trees, feeling the hard wooden bark, listening to the rustle of leaves as she rushed past and admiring the little features of the ground that any pony not accustomed to living in clouds would have likely found mundane.

At one point Swift Cloud fluttered down next to Humble Pie, trotting alongside him once again. “Hey, um, sorry for snapping at you earlier,” she said, looking slightly embarrassed. “I probably overreacted; I don’t think you were trying to be mean.”

“Oh,” the earth pony replied, his mind briefly struggling to balance out the pegasus’ apology with the fact that she had acknowledged that he had insulted her. “Err, no, that’s alright. It was my fault,” he added, giving her an awkward smile.

“It’s just…you might be right. I’m not like the other soldiers. I know General Hurricane certainly thinks so.” Her ears folded back and, despite her lingering smile, she looked almost ashamed as she looked down at the ground and fiddled with some rocks with her hooves. “Heh, these are neat,” she commented, abruptly changing the subject.

“What are?” Humble Pie inquired, looking over to her.

“These rocks,” she answered, picking one off the dry stream bed to examine more closely. “I didn’t know they came in so many colors and shapes! Look, this one’s so smooth. And this one’s got a stripe on it.” She held the rock out to Humble Pie, who saw a blue stripe running along the otherwise bleached surface of the rock.

“You’re, uh, interested in rocks?” the earth pony asked, raising an eyebrow.

“We don’t have any in Pegasopolis,” Swift Cloud explained, tossing the rock from one hoof to the other before throwing it down the stream bed, watching it bounce off a boulder with a loud clatter. Her eyes brightened and a small smile crossed her face before she promptly picked up another rock and threw it even further down the dry creek, listening as it continued to clatter against boulders even as it bounced out of sight.

Humble Pie watched on with a slightly bemused grin. “You’re really enjoying this, aren’t you?”

“I’ve never gotten to throw anything like this!” The pegasus tossed another rock downhill. “You can form clouds into balls and throw those, but eventually they just slow down and start drifting in the air again. But these…” she trailed off, listening to her last throw clatter off the boulders below them.

“Try cracking one of them,” Humble Pie suggested.


“Here, watch.” He scanned the ground carefully before selecting a rock just slightly larger than his hoof. With a strong hurl he flung it down the creek bed, watching as it smacked against the face of a large boulder and shatter spectacularly into several pieces.

“Whoa!” the pegasus exclaimed. “How did you do that?”

“I’m a rock farmer, remember?” Humble Pie answered, gesturing at his cutie mark. “When I was a foal my siblings and I would play games like this all the time. Sometimes gems can overripen and become too fragile, and when that happens the rocks that hold them are ready to split open, like a bad fruit. So we would go into the quarry and crack the rocks to get the gems inside before they went bad.”

“I want to try that!” Swift Cloud said eagerly. “Let’s see…is this one weak enough?” she asked, holding a small rock out for the earth pony to examine.

“No, that one’s still too firm. Here, try this one.” Humble Pie offered a different rock to the pegasus, who took it in one hoof and threw it at a nearby boulder. Despite striking the larger rock head-on, Swift Cloud’s stone meekly bounced off without cracking.

“You’ve got to throw it really hard,” the earth pony directed, picking up another rock and handing it to the pegasus. “Try it again, and this time really let it fly.”

Swift Cloud took the stone and narrowed her gaze, focusing on a distant boulder below them. Rearing back, she gave the rock a mighty throw and watched it sail through the air, landing on the boulder with a thunderous ‘crack!’ that rang out through the woods as the rock split in two, both halves spinning off in different directions. A small cloud of dust, a remnant of the now-shattered rock, hovered in the air above the boulder as both Humble Pie and Swift Cloud gave a loud cheer.

“What in the world are you two doing?” a stern voice from behind them startled the two ponies. They turned to see Star Swirl standing above, looking down at them with a bewildered expression. The earth pony and the pegasus suddenly realized that they had stopped while the unicorn continued onward. “What’s this racket? Are you trying to draw the attention of every creature in this forest?”

Humble Pie and Swift Cloud looked at Star Swirl for a moment before glancing at each other. Then the earth pony burst out laughing, followed in short order by the pegasus. The magician watched on, now looking even more confused than ever.

Hmph. Well, at least you two are getting along,” he grumbled before turning back up the trail, Humble Pie and Swift Cloud falling in step behind him as they continued to laugh.


It took another hour for them to ascend to the top of the ridge, and by the time they made it fog had begun to shroud the hill. Swirling clouds of mist obscured the views from the top, with only small openings between the clouds offering a glimpse at the surrounding trees and landscape. The pegasi soldiers arrived first, followed closely by Star Swirl as Humble Pie and Swift Cloud continued to climb the slope and as a brisk wind swept over the exposed ridge.

But the pegasi and the unicorn were greeted with a chilling sight that had nothing to do with the cold temperature; both Hurricane and Thunderhead were nowhere to be seen.

“General Hurricane! Private Thunderhead!” Silver Lining called out, his voice echoing through the clouds. “Report your position!” But he received only an ominous silence in return. The advisor looked over to Commander Tempest, who was looking about their surroundings with a wary gaze.

“Help me clear these clouds,” she ordered. “We need to have visibility if something is looking to strike at us.” Silver Lining nodded and the two pegasi swept into the air, making short work of the fog as they rushed through the clouds, slicing through them and pulling them apart until they dissipated completely. Soon the fog was gone and they had clear views from the hill.

“Do you see them?” Tempest asked, scanning the horizon intently.

“Not yet, Commander, I can not…hold on, do you hear that?” he paused, turning to look at Tempest and Star Swirl. With the fog now gone, a new sound was now reaching them, traveling on the wind.

The ponies stopped and listened. They could indeed hear it. At first it was faint, but the longer they heard it the clearer it became. Soft strands of music, skillfully and beautifully played, were accompanied by the gentle singing of a choir of voices. Yet no choir any of the three ponies had ever heard could match the harmony of these singers. Their pitch was perfect, their tone gentle, and though the language they sung was unknown it somehow seemed familiar and filled each one of their souls with a deep sense of longing.

“It’s…heavenly,” Tempest muttered quietly, her features softening as she listened.

“NO! YOU MUST NOT LISTEN TO IT!” Star Swirl cried frantically. Reacting quickly, his horn lit up and a sparkling glow briefly covered his head as he cast a spell. “QUICKLY, SHUT YOUR EARS TO IT!”

“Why would I want to stop listening to such beauty?” Tempest responded, entranced by what she was hearing. “Come General Silver Lining, let us find the source!” With that, the two pegasi took wing, gliding down towards the heart of the forest.

“NO! STOP!” Star Swirl bellowed. His horn glowed brightly once more as he fired a spell at them, but the two pegasi were too quick for his aim and the spell fizzled out ineffectively in mid-air.

“Hey, what’s going on?” Humble Pie’s voice came from behind the unicorn, who whirled around to see him and Swift Cloud finally make it to the top of the hill. “What’s going on? And what’s that noise?”

Realizing the danger, Star Swirl once again called upon his magic and fired another spell at the two ponies. Humble Pie and Swift Cloud didn’t have any time to react before the glow of the unicorn’s magic collided with them and starting swirling around their ears.

The earth pony gave a cry of shock as his ears were suddenly filled with static, as if somepony had shoved an object into his ears and was rubbing it against the tube, causing him to hear little but a crackling, rustling noise. Next to him, Swift Cloud was experiencing the same and was desperately pressing her hooves against her ears, as if to physically force the cacophony out. Humble Pie threw his hooves against his ears, cringing as he stared at Star Swirl. “What are you doing?!

“I’m sorry, but I had no choice!” the unicorn yelled back. “There are sirens nearby, and they have the other pegasi!”

What?” Humble Pie yelled. Through the fuzz of noise in his ears, he could only barely make out what Star Swirl was saying.

“SIRENS!” the magician bellowed. “They have the other pegasi!” At this he gestured forcefully at the retreating forms of Tempest and Silver Lining.

“Wait, where’s the Commander going?” Swift Cloud exclaimed, looking confused and fearful. “COMMANDER TEMPEST! WAIT!” She bolted into the air after them, racing through the air to catch up with her superiors. Humble Pie and Star Swirl cast an alarmed look at each other before chasing after her, scrambling down the face of the hill in a mad dash to save their company.

Next Chapter: Act II: Chapter IV Estimated time remaining: 2 Hours, 54 Minutes
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