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Legends of Magic - Chapter Seven AChapter Seven: Legacy of Light The party stood at the outskirts of Stygian’s village. By some stroke of luck, Basso Profundo hadn’t ventured far from it, and seemed content to indulge himself with the local population. How much of it was good luck, however, remained to be seen. Stygian stood off to the side as the Pillars downed Meadowbrook’s potion. He understood Star Swirl’s logic behind him holding back and not aiding in the struggle. The young unicorn was an amateur scholar at best, rather than some grand hero of legend like the ponies before him. Nonetheless, one thought pervaded his mind as he watched his idol rally the others. “Pillars of Equestria…” That he wished he was there with them. “…to battle!” As one, the six charged forth. Flash Magnus, appropriately enough, acted as the tip of the spear and shot through the air. He buzzed past the Siren, who laughed. “What’s this? Come to greet your new lord and…?!” He was interrupted as boulders pelted him from below courtesy of Rockhoof. Basso growled and spat a beam of magic from his maw, one that was swiftly blocked by Magnus and his shield. He growled and commanded, “Attack them, my slaves! Defend your master!” The townsponies, previously lethargic or fighting among themselves, rounded upon the Pillars. Many were swiftly distracted by Somnambula, and galloped after her only to fall and seemingly vanish into solid earth. The illusion spell faded as Mistmane looked on placidly and Meadowbrook released a sleeping draught into the newly-revealed pit. Basso growled even as the two pegasi continued to zip around him, neither holding still enough to allow him an easy target. Bright flashes then appeared before his eyes, which caused him to cry out in shock. No longer needed to cast illusions, Mistmane had turned her attention to creating flares with her magic. “Star Swirl, I do believe now is as good a time as any!” Star Swirl nodded in agreement, but as his horn glowed, the gemstone embedded in the Siren’s glowed with bright, almost overwhelming light. Basso Profundo, in turn, convulsed and cried out in pain before falling to the ground. He landed with a hard thud, seemingly unconscious. The Pillars stood in surprise, but kept their distance. Rockhoof, despite himself, couldn’t help but ask the question that was on each of their minds. “Did we do that?” “No, land-dweller.” Heads turned towards the coast, and the Pillars readied themselves as they lay eyes upon two more Sirens. “You did not.” From his vantage point, Stygian went pale. “Oh no…”- High in the Equestrian skies, an airship softly soared. It was small as far as airships went, somewhere between two and three hundred feet in length, but with comfortable enough space onboard for its passengers and small crew. Its exterior was simple and understated, but elegant in its own way, and its interior was little different. Quiver Quill laughed as he surveyed the interior. “If anypony told me that I would be hitching a ride on the personal airship of Princess Celestia herself, I’d think they were crazy.” “Well, even the crazy ones are right some of the time.” Celestia smiled and briefly turned her gaze around the ship’s lounge, the various bearers as well as the members of Twilight’s research team clearly pleased with the amenities. “I insisted that the Aurora not be this ostentatious thing when she was commissioned. Seeing Blueblood’s excesses with his own airship gave me plenty of reason.” “Well I’d say that you made the right choice.” Twilight was seated at a round table, her newest bit of research material laid out as she examined its contents. “And I’m glad that it was available for us. Thank you.” “It’s no trouble, Twilight.” The elder alicorn’s gaze then went to the rest of the research team, as well as their unofficial new addition. “And regardless, it will be more than worth the time.” “Here’s hoping.” Celestia departed, and Quiver then turned to the unicorn stallion among them. “So, Sunburst. I hear we have you to thank for a lot of ponies being saved in the Crystal Empire recently.” The bespectacled scholar shrugged. “I didn’t do anything special. I just happened to know about a spell that could protect all of us non-natives to the Empire when all of those temporal shifts occurred. I just wish that I knew what had caused them.” He didn’t notice Quiver’s brief smirk before he continued. “In any case, this isn’t anything compared to you finding Star Swirl’s journal, or being able to decipher his horn-writing.” The brown stallion shrugged. “The latter was practice, the former was dumb luck.” “Dumb luck and somepony owing you a favor.” Lyra grinned and playfully nudged her friend with one hoof before Sunrunner playfully ruffled his mane with one wing. “So, any theories?” Quiver raised an eyebrow at his friend’s remark before his marefriend prompted, “Come on, Quivs. Don’t hold out on us. Something’s gotta be percolating in that brain of yours.” The stallion frowned as his gaze went to the journal. “Well, I do have a couple things cooking. One is less of a theory right now, and more of a conjecture. I’m not comfortable sharing it, at least for the time being.” Twilight set down the journal and regarded him. “And the second one?” “Star Swirl wrote in that journal that the one who gathered the Pillars together was transformed into a Pony of Shadows. He doesn’t name him, but we can safely conclude from Meadowbrook’s diaries that it was Stygian. That Star Swirl didn’t name him is suggestive. He might not well have held Stygian in high regard from the start.” Quiver frowned. “Then again, Star Swirl wasn’t exactly a paragon of virtue himself.” “No, he wasn’t.” Twilight frowned herself, then turned to another table. “Lieutenant Pixie Dust? Could you come over here please?” The thestral approached. “Was wondering when you’d get around to asking me about the Pony of Shadows.” The young alicorn made a sheepish expression. “To be fair, stories like that aren’t exclusive to the Hollow Shades. Still, maybe you can shed some light on things?” “I can try.” The mare pulled up a chair and explained, “You all know that Hollow Shades is one of the oldest settlements in Equestria, right? Well, there are ruins there, traces of a civilization that existed decades, maybe centuries prior to the time of the founders.” “That’s not implausible.” Moondancer looked about the rest of the group and explained, “Some new settlements will build upon the ruins left by older ones, if only to save time.” “Yeah, but there’s one structure they didn’t do much building on.” Pixie Dust’s attention was firmly fixed on Twilight and Quiver as she continued. “There’s a structure underneath the town. Nopony goes down there, mostly because of the old legends. The only way in is through an opening in the town center that looks like a well. Between that and the stories, it’s called the Well of Shades. According to them, a long time ago, a pony ventured down there and released something dark and terrible that had been sealed away.” Quiver raised an eyebrow. “Like ‘Nightmare Moon’ dark and terrible?” At the thestral’s nod, he thoughtfully rubbed his chin with one hoof. “Interesting.” “Maybe the Nightmare wasn’t the only force of dark magic in existence?” Twilight timidly offered. “Or it and whatever force Stygian bonded with are somehow linked, parts of a greater whole that was torn asunder long ago.” Quiver sighed. “We may never know.” At the opposite end of the lounge, Neighsay regarded the group with a scowl as Celestia joined him. “You look as though you have a great deal on your mind.” “As well I should. Princess Twilight has chosen to surround herself with less than agreeable company.” The alicorn smirked. “You just don’t like the fact that he shouted you down.” “The shouting and disrespect is one thing, but those accusations…” The bureaucrat seethed. “Who is he to make such claims anyway?” “Mister Quiver Quill?” The smirk didn’t leave Celestia’s face as she explained, “Only the stallion who saw my sister’s return coming years in advance. You remember that conference a few years ago, when the pilot program for the zero-tolerance policy was discussed?” “Yes, but…?” Recognition clicked across the bureaucrat’s face. “Him? That was the colt who wrote that story?” The previous scowl was now replaced with an expression of astonishment. “I didn’t realize. I’ve long wondered how a colt so young could fit together the pieces needed to find the truth behind that mystery.” Celestia’s smirk turned into a grin. “Then why don’t you ask him?” Neighsay went silent, and found himself thinking that doing so would be the most prudent course of action. For now, however, there were more pressing issues to deal with.- The two new Sirens floated high above the settlement, their eyes fixed upon the gathered Pillars. The one who had spoken had a slenderer build than Basso Profundo, her scales with varying shades of green rather than red and orange. Such colors made the red gemstone upon her breast stand out all the more clearly as she and her associate descended. “Be at peace, land-dwellers. We mean no harm.” Star Swirl regarded them with suspicion. “And what proof have we of these claims?” The other Siren, closer in build to the fallen one at their hooves and colored in bright oranges and yellows, frowned upon the sorcerer. “The proof of us having dispatched our own kin in your aid should be sufficient.” “Mezzo.” The female Siren raised one limb to calm her associate, then turned her attention back to the Pillars. “Please, we ask of you the chance to explain ourselves.” “We would welcome such!” This voice caused surprise to form upon Star Swirl’s face as he turned to its source, then annoyance as he recognized the pair of teenagers and the scholar who descended to join him and the Pillars. The alicorn mare at the lead, her pink mane starting to shift into pastel hues, looked up at the Sirens and continued, “Though we ask that you explain yourselves to the whole of our party, rather than simply to our defenders.” The female Siren accepted that request with a slight nod, then gestured to herself. “I am Allegra Soprana.” She then gestured to her conscious associate. “This is Mezzo Spinto. Our third, Basso Profundo, lies defeated before you. We three are natives of Coltlantis, a nation which rests deep beneath the surface of the nearby seas.” The pink-maned alicorn stood tall. “And I am Celestia. Daughter of the House of Everstar, Princess of the Sun, and co-ruler of the Unified Kingdom of Equestria.” She gestured to the smaller alicorn at her left. “My sister Luna, Princess of the Night.” And then to the wizened sorcerer behind them. “Our advisor and protector, Star Swirl the Bearded.” Allegra nodded. “Highness. We offer our apologies for the actions of our compatriot. It would seem that he has wrought devastation upon your nation and kin. We assure you, we did not seek quarrel with you, though such assurances no doubt ring hollow given Basso Profundo’s actions.” She briefly turned to her fallen comrade. “This was not how things were meant to be.” “Then please explain to us how things were meant to be.” “We were meant to be protectors.” Mezzo Spinto kept a steely gaze upon the gathered ponies even as he explained further. “We were chosen by our holy rulers to defend our home beneath the waves, and granted these Siren Stones as tools to further that end.” “Though it would seem that not all of us were able to carry their burden.” Allegra gestured to her stone and admitted, “Basso left us, overwhelmed with the power he had been granted, and came here. We were forbidden to follow him, and only now came because we could not stand idly by any further knowing the damage he could cause.” Her gaze briefly went over the gathered Pillars as she admitted, “And it would seem that our arrival was fortuitous. You have many brave souls amongst your subjects, Celestia of Equestria.” Celestia nodded. “Your compliments are appreciated. What now for you and your associates?” “Now we return from whence we came, and trouble you no further.” The two Sirens reached down and collected their third, then rose up into the sky while Allegra continued to speak. “I doubt that our kinds shall meet again, but should that happen, I hope that it will occur under more pleasant circumstances.” The young alicorn nodded, and the gathered party watched as the three Sirens departed over the horizon. Once he was certain that the intruders were out of earshot, Star Swirl rounded upon his two charges. “What in the Maker’s name are you foals doing here?! I expressly told you not to follow me!” “And it is quite well that we did not follow your command!” The younger of the Royal Sisters rounded upon her mentor and declared, “We are the rulers of Equestria, Star Swirl! How are we to rule if you perform our duties for us?” “And how are we to learn if you do not give us the chance to try things for ourselves?” The elder sister joined Luna and added, “Besides, the instant the other two Sirens showed up, this became a matter of diplomacy. Had they not appeared, Luna and I would have stayed out of the battle anyway. You’d almost won, after all.” “None of that is hardly relevant! You might well be the rulers of this land, but it is my task to guide and protect you, and I cannot do that if you do not heed my wisdom! Things may have proceeded in our favor on this occasion, but that does not mean it will be the same in future!” “Perhaps.” Celestia raised an eyebrow. “But how are we to trust that you have our best interests at heart if you do not trust us with the truth?” Star Swirl glowered at his charge. “The issue here is not trust, but…!” A stifled laugh, and he turned to the most wizened of their number. “You have something to add to this discussion?” “Only that neither side is wrong.” Mistmane regarded her fellow mage with an expression that made clear he wasn’t going to dissuade her and said, “But given your secret has been exposed, there is no point in maintaining it.” The old sorcerer relented. “Very well.” He turned back to his charges and explained, “Yes, I did withhold information from you, but it was for your benefit and that of Equestria. The two of you are far too important to endanger on a quest to defend this realm.” “And would you have told us the full truth of what you had done upon your return?” Celestia gestured to the gathered Pillars, who had clustered together near Star Swirl. “Or introduced us to those you had gathered, so that we may bestow upon them proper thanks?” “From the way things seem, it is likely that he would not have done so.” Mistmane’s attention went from Star Swirl to the Royal Sisters as she gently smiled. “But no thanks are needed, your Highnesses.” “Aye, each of us chose to defend and serve the realm in one manner or another.” Rockhoof then gestured to one of their number in particular and said, “Though if one of us was most deserving of your favor, it would be Stygian. It was he who alerted us to the danger posed by the Siren and brought us together. Had it not been for him, we would not be having this conversation.” Celestia nodded and turned her attention to the scholar. “Very well then. Stygian, you have the gratitude of your sovereigns and your nation. Whatever reward you would seek, name it.” That took Stygian by surprise. “Oh, well, I seek no reward.” “Well do you perhaps seek employment?” Luna stepped up and offered, “We are of no doubt that there is room enough for you in Canterlot, and Star Swirl would likely welcome your aid in future matters.” The sorcerer stroked his beard. “Perhaps an assistant would be useful, if only to help me keep the two of you from getting into further trouble. What say you, Stygian?” Stygian didn’t immediately answer.- Dense forest surrounded the site of Ponehenge, but there was enough of a clearing to allow the party to step hoof onto it, albeit with a few branches and bushes being pushed aside with magic. The group found itself at a circle of standing stones, each one varying in height and with carved areas large enough for a pony to stand upon, surrounding a central stone platform with a recessed part to its middle. The area was clearly worn with time, but it nonetheless had an air of power and dignity to it, one that wasn’t lost on its visitors. “This is it.” Twilight looked about the site in awe as many of her associates drew cameras from their panniers. “Alright everypony, this is a major archaeological site. We need to treat it with the respect it deserves. Don’t touch anything until it’s photographed first.” Rarity fought back the urge to clear away debris until Sunburst photographed one of the rocky, vine-covered pillars from every angle. At the scholar’s nod, she pulled away the vines with her magic, and more pictures were taken of the uncovered stonework. “Rather curious carvings.” “They look like runes, but I’ve never seen ones like this before.” Sunburst cleared away what dust he could with his magic, and then produced paper and graphite. “I’ll make a rubbing. Maybe we can decipher it.” Lyra inspected similar runes elsewhere on the site and grinned. “I might have a few ideas about where to start.” Twilight and Moondancer grinned in turn at their friend’s remark as Rainbow Dash cleared away a vine. “Well, whoever carved those things had to do it a long time ago. The way this place looks, nopony’s been here for ages.” “An’ we’ll need a lot more ponies than just us to clear this place out.” Applejack nonetheless pulled a vine free from one bit of stonework. “Not to mention more time.” “Which means that this is now the task of a proper archaeological expedition.” Neighsay approached the young princess. “I suggest that you allow the experts to continue from here, Princess Twilight.” “Chancellor, the ‘experts’ have been more than happy to dismiss stories of the Pillars and Ponehenge as myths and legends for the last thousand years. How do I know they won’t just dismiss the proof of their existence as well?” Twilight idly set Star Swirl’s journal down on one bit of stonework before she turned back to the bureaucrat and continued, “Besides, you said it yourself, what we’re uncovering here has…” Twilight barely noticed parts of the book’s cover start to glow with brilliant light. She and Neighsay stepped back as the book opened and flipped through its pages, and glowing swirls of magic emerged from within. The swirls shifted into a figure that was all too familiar to many of the ponies present, a tall and slender stallion with a long grey beard garbed in a bell-adorned cloak and hat. “Star Swirl the Bearded!” Twilight exclaimed and approached the figure. “I can’t believe…!” “Twilight, wait!” Celestia approached her protégé and held her back. “That isn’t Star Swirl. It’s some form of magical projection.” “And it’s not the only one!” Heads turned at Quiver’s exclamation as further projections took form at the base of the other standing stones. These projections were of the other five acknowledged Pillars, their gazes cast towards the central platform. As the projections completed themselves, the one of Star Swirl cast a beam towards the central platform, only for an inky black form to take shape. First it was a sphere, then it started to sprout legs before coalescing into a pony-like form and breaking into maniacal laughter. Pixie Dust turned pale as she recognized the sight before them. “The Pony of Shadows.” Luna wrapped one wing protectively around a shuddering Fluttershy, her own expression sorrowful. “Stygian.” Those gathered backed away from the sight as the projection played out before them, but not one averted their gaze as the Pillars stood firm. Star Swirl’s expression was determined, and while the others shared that determination, regret could also be seen if one paid close enough attention. “You summon me at your peril, Star Swirl!” The Pony of Shadows locked his gaze upon the sorcerer as he bellowed, “Once I defeat all of you, this realm will embrace the darkness, as I have done!” The shadowy form sprouted wings, and vine-like tendrils shot out and ensnared each of the Pillars. As the skies overhead seemed to darken further, the Pony of Shadows laughed and continued to gloat. “Drawing me here will only make me stronger. You will never defeat me!” “We did not come here to defeat you.” With a flash from his horn, Star Swirl’s projection tore away his bindings, then lifted up a projection of the very journal that had led them to the site. A beam of magic went from the journal to Flash Magnus’s shield, then to a flower held by Mistmane, then a scrap of cloth held by Somnambula, to the mask worn by Mage Meadowbrook, and finally to the shovel held by Rockhoof before returning to Star Swirl, an unbroken hexagon of light and magic now surrounding the Pony of Shadows. As light build around him, the enemy looked about in surprise. “What are you doing?!” Star Swirl’s tone was determined and final as he declared, “We came…to contain you.” The six Pillars lifted themselves and the Pony of Shadows up from the ground, the latter screaming out in defiance all the while, until all seven were engulfed in a bright flash of light. All that was left behind of their projections were those of their artifacts, which fell back to the earth and shattered in bursts of light where they struck. Sour Sweet stepped forward, and looked about. “We all saw that, right?” “Indeed.” Luna approached and reasoned, “What we just saw was an impression of events from long ago. Bringing Star Swirl’s relic here was what allowed us to view it.” She turned to Twilight and explained, “It must have absorbed a great deal of ambient magic from not only the spell, but also Star Swirl. I suspect the other artifacts we saw were similarly affected.” “Which means if we’d brought Meadowbrook’s mask here, it might’ve triggered the same thing.” At Luna’s nod, Moondancer pointed at each pillar in turn and reasoned, “And all the other artifacts we saw the Pillars carrying, they were linked to them in their legends. At least, Netitus and Rockhoof’s shovel were.” “Ooh!” Pinkie Pie perched herself atop one of the standing stones like a mountain goat and declared, “Maybe that scrap of cloth Somnambula was holding was the blindfold she wore when she fought that nasty Sphinx!” “Which implies the flower had a close connection to Mistmane.” Rarity considered that. “I remember an illustrated version of that story, where she rescued such a flower from being snatched away by Silver Sable. Could it be the same one?” “Let’s not distract ourselves with the details.” Neighsay approached Twilight and noted, “The important thing is that we know what happened Star Swirl and the Pillars. They sacrificed themselves to save Equestria from Stygian.” Celestia sighed. “He never told me about this. Any of this. He shouldn’t have kept me in the dark. He…” “He probably thought that you had enough on your plate.” Quiver approached the princess and reasoned, “This all happened not long after you lost Princess Luna, didn’t it?” The elder alicorn nodded. “I assigned searchers to try and find them, based on what little information I had. I never heard anything beyond that.” Quiver frowned at that, but kept his thoughts to himself as Twilight sat on her haunches and reflected, “We might know what happened to Star Swirl and the Pillars, but we still don’t know anything else about this ‘seed’ they left behind.” She bowed her head. “Maybe this was all a waste of time.” “No. It wasn’t.” She looked up in surprise as Neighsay regarded her with pride. “Perhaps you haven’t found the exact answers that you were seeking, Princess Twilight, but you’ve nonetheless given us answers to one of Equestria’s greatest mysteries. It will be inconvenient to rewrite the history books yet again, but I think the printers will understand. I certainly do, and I am more than grateful for it.” “And you’ve given us a measure of closure.” Celestia smiled. “Besides, I don’t think you’ve exhausted every avenue.” “No, I don’t think she has.” Spike reached into his backpack and produced a familiar vial. “But this one’s a bit of a longshot. It’s what left of that potion Twilight got from Zecora, the one that clued us in on what was going on with the plundervines.” Twilight eyed the potion uneasily. “It did show me things related to the Elements before.” She swished the last dregs about. “But there’s so little left. And if I use it now, it’s gone. Besides, I’ll have no way of proving what I see, assuming I even see anything.” “Twilight, I don’t think we have a lot of options left.” Spike looked at her with what he hoped was encouragement. “Go on.” The young alicorn resigned herself, uncorked the last of the potion, and downed it. “I just hope…” And then the world went white. to be continued...
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