Good day to you all! Hope you're all staying safe out there? I know it has been scary times as of late, what with this horrible pandemic spreading everywhere across the world. Thousands upon thousands of lives have already been affected, both directly or by losing someone they knew – I, myself, am considered a high-risk, though, thankfully staying symptom free - but I believe if we each look out for one another – as Twilight and her friends did – I'm sure we can grieve together and overcome these dark days, stepping into the light on the other side stronger than ever!
I also wanted to apologise. This second part of the prologue has been in development for many moons. No matter what I wrote, or how much of it, the story didn't seem to flow smoothly. It just wasn't...right. I'll admit – I went overboard a few...couple... Okay! many times, but after a bit of music to guide my mind, I think it's now ready.
Thus, that bring me to tonight's choice track. I listened around a bit, yet none better fit this setting, I think. For all you GoT fans out there, it's "The Night King" by Ramin Djawadi!
Prologue: Part Two
- The Impossible Enemy -
In the unlit room Shadowe appeared as the pale husk of a pony, a shimmering thing neither dead nor alive. The surrounding room, which had some bearings and furniture that of a small study, balanced beauty with function yet offered scant hiding spots. The tall curtains had been quickly drawn, throwing everything into pitch black, and the room fell quiet as if not a soul disturbed it. Only a blade of light cut into the darkness, coming through the slit of the only door cracked slightly ajar in the corner. Shadowe stepped up to the opening to peer into the long corridor on the other side. After a short while voices rose from somewhere out of view, accompanied by the jostling metallic clank of armour. Two forms – a pair of Quartzguards – came into view, crossing the small slit and blocking out the torchlight momentarily. Unawares of Shadowe's leering at their backs, they wandered past to continue on their patrol.
"Are they gone?" Lyght's whispering voice came from somewhere inside the room. "Did they spot me?"
Shadowe didn't answer; he stood watching. The lines on his hollow face, taunt yet deathly, were difficult to read from Lyght's cover behind a writing desk. He intended to ask again then thought it better to hold his breath. The sound of his heart thumped like a drum against his chest, it was impossible how even that could not be heard by the passing guards. Fek, he cursed inwardly, was I followed from the party? Did someone see me leave? Worried and fearing that at any moment soldiers would burst into the room and attempt to subdue him, Lyght instinctively assumed the ready stance he had been taught from memory: legs spread and knees bent but every muscle loose, as if he were a frog ready to leap. It was a relaxed, almost prudent, crouch. Ready on the outside; he was hesitant to feel it on the inside. For a while he held like that, and told himself to stop letting fancies take him. If discovered Lyght would give no time for wonder, he would be upon them instantly before the next breath, or scream, came.
To his relief, Shadowe eventually pulled away from the slit and indicated the coast was clear. The wraith turned over his shoulder to meet Lyght's eyes; even without proper lighting he knew exactly where to find the pony.
"No. We are safe," when he spoke, Shadowe's voice rose like a hollow wind in a cave. Lyght relaxed his posture. To him every word broke crisply. He – and only he – could hear the spirit talk. "The guards did not stop as they passed. They did not suspect a thing. Come. It is safe for us to leave now."
Shadowe dissipated like mist under the morning Sun's glare, vanishing. He was still there; only in Lyght's mind. His presence ever lingering like a permanent scar. Rising out from behind the small desk Lyght daintily wove through the dark, avoiding the furniture, pausing only to check one last time through the opening before warily stepping out onto the thick sapphire-blue rug which covered the floor from wall to wall, muffling his hoof steps. The corridor was narrow yet tall and stretched on for even longer. Neat crystal shells infused with flame-less, soft turquoise gemlight sat in spouts along the pilasters between decoratively draped banners. There was not a sound to be heard; already the din of the party had been left far below. Satisfied he was alone, Lyght summoned his Aura. It was simple for him now, after years of practise. He reached inside with his mind and touched the power, drawing magic he still barely understood. He felt a tingle spread throughout his body, a warmth like the sensation of a hot drink swallowed too quickly, and almost immediately it swelled to his now-illuminated horn, after then he cast the simple spell. Simultaneously, the door leading back into the now empty room also glowed; soft azure energy, like ripples on water, dripped from its frame while Lyght willed the thing closed behind him. The lock hatch slipped into place with a hushed click.
When he mentally released the door Shadowe flowed into being again from nowhere. His eyes took shape first, then the rest, focusing on the route the soldiers had taken with a sour expression. "Another patrol, so close from the last. I had thought we would not see any more guards until further in."
Lyght studied his surroundings, listening intently should anyone be within earshot. Though none would hear Shadowe when he talked, Lyght believed speaking in hushed whispers a prudent measure here. The castle interior shared qualities like that of an underground cavern nexus; the slightest sound, so much as a drip of water, could carry for miles in such hollow places – the same went for his tone.
"I know. Back in the foyer I thought Empress Cadenza ordered only a few extra of her guards on duty tonight to help manage with the ball. Now I'm not so sure. It's unusual for so many of them to wander the castle this late. You would think the guests would start to turn in for the night. Perhaps those soldiers we saw when we arrived were just a small contingent to oversee the party."
Most nobles wouldn't dare risk making a fool of themselves in a Royal's palace, but enough ales or wine can turn even the most respectable creatures into impulsive idiots.
Just like Two-Shoes. Two-Shoes, a nickname that stuck so well no-one bothered remembering his real name, was a blue-blood of low stature in Canterlot muddled with a god-complex. Always thought highly of himself; vying relentlessly to improve his station and favour with his betters, not once were his 'qualities' noted. No pony liked him much. Then, one late summer's eve, drunk on cider, he and Lyght ended up fighting in the muck outside a local inn. No pony cared what caused the squabble in the first place, neither did anypony so much as attempt to pry them apart - too busy drinking, cheering or betting, some doing all at once - but Lyght remembered that night well. Mostly for the chance to knock some sense into the snobby stallion. He also recounted the laughter, above all else, shared between him and Two-Shoes during their duke out. It brought respect between them, right up the point Two-Shoes knocked his bloody lights out.
"Then again," he went on, shrugging his shoulders, "I have to admit: we've come across more guards wandering these halls than there were watching me in the ballroom. There are more on duty than I could've anticipated. Most of them double guard, and not just ponies, I noticed."
"The Empress certainly has opened her arms to the creatures beyond Equestria."
"We should suspect there will be more. Many more. If Cadenza is smart, she will keep her most trusted warriors and best guards close by."
"Fek it!" Cursed Shadowe, snorting wisps of azure smoke from his nostrils. "More guards will make reaching the upper levels difficult as it is. If one of them spots you it will undo all our plans! We were lucky to have made it this far unseen, but finding another place to lay low should we cross any more soldiers may be impossible. We cannot flee – no, no, I will not – not when I am this close! Fighting may be the only way forward...Urgh, fine! There is little room for choice. Out of that sheet, Lyght, it is time disappear entirely."
Lyght agreed. He looked down at the fair green cloak around his shoulders, summoning Aura. Same as the door the cloth engulfed in ripples of sparkling magic, lifting free like a flag kicked up by a stray breeze. Then, by whim of a thought, it flipped inside out – so revealing the garb's hidden side, clevercloth, beneath – and settled back down around Lyght's body once more. Doing so, it waded through a whirlwind colours, like a chameleon, then stilled and vanished as though it were never there. A hood lay crumpled at Lyght's back, he did not draw it right away. Instead, pulling the front folds across his chest, Lyght gazed down in search of his body, seeing nothing below the neckline. "No matter how many times I wear this thing," he muttered, rolling his shoulders, "it feels like I'm dreaming." The material was lighter than cloud; he felt it sway, though the illusion never faltered. "It's like I'm not really here."
Shadowe encircled, giving him a once over. His deep eyes inspected the fabric, looking for anything that would break the clevercloth's imitation. "You have not dreamt of anything for ages, Lyght." He said dryly. "And this is very much real. Do not confuse imagination with reality. Hmm, no tears or cuts from the party. It will do." A stiff grunt signalled his approval.
It has to, Lyght prayed. "Do you know the way?" When Shadowe nodded, Lyght licked his lips. "Right. How do we proceed?"
The wraith took a step forward, "Carefully. From here stealth is our ally and best advantage. There is no turning back! With luck, and some skill, all should turn out as planned. No one will see you, as long as you keep quiet. If you are ready - I will lead the way." Feeling confident, Lyght reached up and pulled the ends of the hood forward. To the rest of the world, he was now invisible. "Remember, Lyght - stealth. Be swift and silent, like the shadows."
Though it would not be shown, Lyght raised an eyebrow. "Like you?" he inquired, coyly. "That's said easier for some of us than others." Shadowe snorted and his scowl stabbed the veil of the clevercloth. Hidden away, Lyght had little means to suppress his smirk. "Don't worry," he tittered. "I trust you. Lead on, then."
"This way." Shadowe said curtly with a jab of his chin, and went on ahead. "Be on your guard. And do as I say."
Before one step was taken, as feeling grew in Lyght that he was being watched. He shifted his cloak easily to raise his ears, listening out for anything in the silence around him. There! Something caught his attention. A faint zipping noise from behind. Lyght glanced over his shoulder at the long, empty corridor. Oddly, he smelled wet earth and flowers, and again came the sound of humming wings like that of a bug – only this was louder, as if it were a fly nesting right in his ear. He flicked one, then the other, at the notion. Feeling a cold knot forming in the pit of his belly, he searched the corners of the corridor and found it vacant, except for him. He went to investigate further, but at the beckoning of Shadowe pushed aside the thought and he turned to follow on hushed hooves.
Together they left behind the study and party, walking in silence for a while, wandering deeper and ever higher into the upper levels of the magnificent, enormous crystal castle. Shadowe stayed out ahead to lead the way, following a route only he could see by memory from ancient books and forgotten maps, while Lyght kept pace behind. At first, the corridors bustled with ponies, servants going about their chores, warriors in sets of two wearing swords or lances thrust to the ceiling; their shining plates of cyan armour noisily clattering when they marched by. None of them noticed Shadowe or Lyght saunter through. We may as well be like ghosts to them. Lyght thought with certainty, weaving through the crowds. He glanced up to Shadowe as the wraith-pony floated through two maids whose faces crumpled while their teeth rattled. The furs on their necks bristled, and one openly complained of feeling chilly. Well, at least some of us are more like ghosts, than others. The mares left in a hurry before Shadowe rounded the first junction a short way up ahead. Sometime later they came upon a large white tower; with a winding staircase snaking upward and a single rooted newel running through its centre made from a thick, translucent rock. Like water cascading from a mountain, something seemed to glitter inside the pillar - except the ripples went up, not down. A fountain of mystical colours sprayed the walls, rising up with the flow. Lyght studied it with astounded eyes and he quickly looked over himself. Sure enough, the outside of his cloak appeared to swirl through shades so perfectly of green and purple and blue and orange and pink, or any other hue that touched the fabric; duplicating its surroundings so faithfully into whatever lay beyond.
At the top the presence returned, the sense of someone there. The feel of eyes peering at him around corners, darting glances over rafters above and through open doors on the other side of passageways leading onto an empty library or unused private room. He refused to stop and look around, refused to think how one set of eyes could move from place to place so fast, could ascend open towers without even the flicker of movement he might see. He was sure he heard that humming of a bug's wings again. Imagination. Perhaps I'm worry too much on what could go wrong before this is over? He shivered. No. I mustn't think like that! I don't care what Shadowe says, I won't let it come to pass! I won't hurt any creature - just the one we need to. Compared to the clamour of the merrymakers from the party hall, the upper quarters of the castle seemed to harbour an unsettling quiet the further on they went. As to be expected, soon there were no more servants. Only Qurtzguards on patrol, and the number of encounters was concernedly rising.
A twitch nipped at Lyght and the hairs on the back of his neck stirred. Stiff-backed, he stalked around an intersection, and the unseen watcher followed. It's there still. I can feel it. The walls have eyes, and the stones have ears. Trepidation spawned more of these ridiculous thoughts and he tried swallowing them with the lump in his throat. Without his cloak, breaching this far into the castle interior would've been impossible. Lyght originally suggested Ocello Incognite - an invisibility spell – though Shadowe briskly cast aside the idea. He worried for a stronghold well-fortified as a Royal castle powerful enchantments would've been put be in place to prevent any creature from using certain forms of magic, including those where one could turn invisible. Therein, they realised, lie the beauty of clevercloth. It wasn't magic, it was natural. And so long as its face was turned to the world none could hope to detect Lyght.
It didn't, however, turn him incorporeal. Like Shadowe.
The wraith walked on without saying a word. For the most part Shadowe remained as little more than a floating voice, but when he would stroll out into the world, taking on the ethereal form as he did now, in those moments Lyght could think of nothing but a predator on the prowl.
Shadowe held himself almost like a noble, and though he hadn't been born into some high-ranking family, he was moderately handsome, even for a spirit. Matching Lyght equally in tallness, his face was neither old nor young, though in it was kept the knowledge of many things both good and sinister. The hairs on both his mane and tail were long, free and white as the first frost of snow; a complicated braid hung across his shoulder like a sleeping snake. He is entire body glowed gently, even in the backdrop of gemlights; a pale shade that would shift with every movement, and could fade into mist or luminous smoke, then nothing, was he to receded. When he walked, he seemed to glide over the plush carpets, taking long, steady strides impassively. No wind could touch him; neither could he feel cold nor searing heat. Altogether he was a creature of pure magic and soul, set apart from this world. Nothing could mark Shadowe's passing, other than Lyght.
There came a point when Shadowe stopped, nearly forcing Lyght into walking through that spectral flank. The wraith-pony was looking one way, then checking the next and then another, apparently musing.
Following the wraith's long gaze, Lyght looked up and suddenly felt tiny a mouse. He became amazed by the vast chamber they had stumbled into. How big is this place?! The room could have been a palace by itself, with its marbled walls, domed ceiling upheld by pillars of cut glass four spans wide and unbelievably tall, polished so smooth they almost glistened. Elegant tapestries and painted banners draped the outer walls set between far-placed flame-less lanterns, many bearing an insignia of the magical Crystal Heart wreathed in pink feathers, set against a blue shield with white stars. The words Ave Amore, written beneath. Hail Love. But as wondrous as everything looked, it was the jewelled statues set facing inward around the room which took Lyght's interest.
"The Elements of Harmony!" Lyght gasped, drawn to them.
"And the Pillars before them," added Shadowe, some manner of adoration in his voice.
Lyght spun to take in his surroundings and only then did he realise that he was standing in a dipped hollow at the centre of the enormous room in the middle of an intricately patterned mosaic floor. Broad, high steps rose to the rim in concentric circles. And about the rim there were six plinths set out equidistantly, each one housing a different Pillar of Old Equestria set into the bases. They took the phrase literally! Lyght gaped. Pillars, holding the world up high. Set upon smaller plinths of white marble out in front were jewelled statues of the famed Elements of Harmony; complimenting their predecessor they raised up on hind legs and lacked no less in heroic grandeur. Laughter with Hope. Loyalty supporting Bravery. Honesty under Strength. When Lyght paused at the Pillars of Healing and Beauty – Mistmane and Meadowbrook – he briskly stood tall and bowed his head, out of respect, to the two mares Equestria lost when they apparently slipped away, peacefully, in their sleep a few years before. They were succeeded by Kindness and Generosity, respectively. This hall was a place of reverence and veneration. A hall for Heroes of Equestria. What does that make me then? What will the world see me as after tonight? The saviour, or the monster? He counted the pedestals off one by one and realised there were only five present of the Mane Six company. One was conspicuously missing.
He found Shadowe leering by the Master of Sorcery, Salvadus Starswirl the Bearded, yet was surprised to see an empty base in front of it where a certain alicorn caryatid should have been. Where is the Queen of Equestria? The Princess of Friendship. Where is Twilight Sparkle – the Element of Magic itself! On closer inspection, the stone was splintered and cracked as though someone had taken a hammer to it again and again, black marks at the impact points.
Lyght's frown deepened, pulling back his hood for a better look. "This doesn't make sense."
"What is it?"
"The stone is busted. Yet whoever attacked the Mane Leader's idol left all the others alone. Why? None of the Pillars or other Elements look as though they have a scratch on them. Just Queen Sparkle's is missing. Gone! Do you think..." He considered the other statues for a moment, then eventually asked, "Do you think it could've been whatever attacked the city years go?"
Shadowe's voice hummed uneasily. It sounded like he was singing into a cooking pot, the noise hollow and bouncing all over the place. It did not come as a comfort, especially when the wraith's answer was so uncertain. "Hmmm. I do not know." Shadowe gave him a sidelong look. "Much is still unclear just what, or who, this unspeakable evil was? A thousand years this city has stood before the kingdom got swept away by the curse of King Sombra, when he first fell at the end of the War of Shadows. When the Dimm'Da - the Dark Days – finally broke into sunlight over Equestria. At its return, the Crystal Heart became a beacon of good to which all creatures of Equestria – not just ponies – could turn to in their desperate need for love and hope. Now, from one short stroke, the city weeps for the loss of their beloved fallen Emperor. A new shadow – one borne out of heartache – covered the kingdom for months as the Citizens fell into despair. Only the power of the heir to the throne, Princess Flurry Heart, could mend the tears of her mother's grief and bring the light back to this great kingdom. Keep the towers of the Aurora shining, letting the world know here they still clung to love, friendship and family. To this day none can tell what mysterious evil murdered Shining Armour."
"He died defending this city," Lyght said grimly, glancing past the pillars to one of the banners. "Protected his subjects. His family." Shadowe nodded stiffly, but it was Lyght who understood. Before ascending to sovereign of the Crystal Empire, Shining Armour had long been a soldier of the Royal Guard. Tales from all over the world had indeed mentioned the warrior-pony putting himself in harm's way seemingly without regard for his own safety, but far beyond his own life and safety he held of those for his family. No solider, no husband or father, could prove more than that.
Lyght curled his head as he did for Mistmane and Meadowbrook, out of respect, this time saluting with hoof struck against his chest, where his heart was.
He would ask forgiveness, from a captain of the Royal Guard. Wherever you are, sire, whatever comes next; know I act in the name for the same reasons as you did. To serve. And protect.
The ends of Lyght's fur leapt up. A jet of copper light flew past his cheek and scorched the floor next to where he sat. He bounded aside. Two more bolts rained down. His horn seemed to pulse of its own accord, though he could not tell in that split second what spell was about to be cast...when, unexpectedly, it faltered and he became weightless. Lyght's body moved again. It darted over the exposed hollow of the open chamber, climbing the rim of steps in surprisingly quick bounds, but it kept moving, and tried to move faster. The sound of wings buzzed somewhere overhead. Whatever fired at him was inside the room, giving chase. But where?! He tried to look and found his eyes unresponsive. He kept running, but wasn't the one in control. Then he noticed the streams of chilling vapour trailing from his body and instantly assumed what was happening. Quick strides took him across the hall, dodging where he could, encircling around the perimeter. His fur stirred and the air snapped where more bolts sprung at his heels, yet he moved too swift – faster than most ponies should've been capable of – and his horn retaliated as if it had a will of its own. Abruptly, he slid to a sudden halt, hooves scraping against the floor, when sparks of copper zapped the opening between the next column in front of him.
Buzzing wings fluttered from the heart of the room. Caught by surprise, Lyght held position behind the glass pillar of Flash Magnus and the Element of Loyalty. This kept him out of range. Now safe, Lyght felt himself being pulled forward and this time he breathed deeply of his own accord, as if breaking out from under a flood for air.
His skin frosted. Wet chills embraced and streamed from him like a second cloak. Lyght staggered, breathless, yet ably found his stance.
"Imbecile!" Shadowe grated as his spook flowed from Lyght, along with the cold. "Why did you remove your hood? You exposed yourself. Damn fool! Everything will come undone!" For all the harshness of the words, he sounded troubled. "I won't apologise for taking reign of you – it was necessary. The moment we were attacked I tried jumping us to safety but my magic was..." he shook his head, grunting. "I did what I had to."
From the centre of the hollow came a series of snaps, someone appearing by teleportation, accompanied by all the doors suddenly bursting open and the cacophony of clanking armour as a dozen Quartzguards stormed in, hardglass weapons and Auras – those who could wield them – at the ready.
"Usurper!" A female voice cried out, jerking Lyght's head up. "Come out! It is over."
For a moment Lyght and Shadowe stared at each other, then the voice drew them to the pillar to stare through at the distorted shapes of a group of ponies watching from the middle of the room. One was Strife Storm, wearing his stiff cyan dress coat, a wing held out, ready to give command to the army of soldiers behind him. Beside him stood a smaller pony Lyght didn't recognise. A statue? It had the grey skin of one; stone grinding on stone whenever it moved.
"Great work, Torch," applauded the captain. "We have him now."
Lyght frowned. "Who is he-?"
The figure spoke, "Thank you, sir." A feminine voice, though not the one who called out before.
Lyght's eyebrows nearly floated off his face. The words were coarse and hard to understand, coming from a mouth never meant for speech. What more, in a moment so quick Lyght believed it must've been his imagination, green fire cracked the statue's mould. Following this brief flash, the flames went out, revealing a different creature with a smooth black carapace, wide hazel bug eyes and glittery wings.
"A changeling spy!" Reluctance washed through Lyght like a wave despite the predicament he was in, finding himself to be glad his mind hadn't been led astray gave some small comfort to his otherwise suspicious thoughts. I was right. Many things suddenly seemed to connect. The scent of flowers where none grew, creeping; the shifting shadows, humming wings, and unseen eyes watching from corners. A changeling could transform into almost anything. It never occurred to think they could disguise themselves as inanimate objects, too.
"I followed him, Empress, just as you ordered me to." Said the changeling. A tall pink mare stepped forward, back stiff with outrage and wings fanned like a threatened swan. "It was difficult after he left the party. I lost him for a time. But I found him again in here. The door was wide open. He has some kind of cloak, I think, that makes him disappear. I spotted him the moment he removed the hood."
Empress Mi Amore Cadenza stood taller than any creature in the room, only a span, even without her crown, and she could still be considered pretty despite the heavy creases lining her gaunt face. Her eyes were uncharacteristically dark and sharp on Lyght's face. Sadness had become her. Where once her stare held strength that had been there before her elevation, before the loss of her husband, the strength of a mare who had thwarted the Shadowlord Sombra and kept safe the borders of an entire kingdom by her Aura alone when the frozen wastes closed in, now were bleak bags and strained lines. There was a troubled tightness to her mouth. She did not respond to Torch.
It was actually she who called him 'Usurper' upon entering the hall, but when she spoke this time her tone was deep and full of sorrow, and made even guard's hairs on the back of their necks stand up. "I say this to you – only once – leave this kingdom and I will forget this intrusion! Abandon what evil plans you have for me, my family or my home. They will not win here. My daughter is safe. The Empire will survive! So long as my friends and I are here to protect it. So, go. NOW!" She stamped a hoof on the final word, a shout – the Canterlot Voice, as it were - which shook the entire camber chamber as if it had been made to suddenly feel fear.
Lyght hesitated. He faced down an army of well-trained soldiers with spears, swords and Auras, as well one heart-broken, pissed off alicorn. Subduing a few opponents would be possible. Maybe he could get in close? A foolish presumption. Analysing the room, even he could tell this was too much. There was, however, one other in the hollow that drew his attention. Salvadus Starswirl the Bearded waited patiently next to Cadenza. The elder unicorn wore his trademark blue robe spangled with white stars and golden bells, and his long grey beard hung to the ground from his rough cheeks under a pointy hat. It was then, Lyght started to feel hatred. Hate for the Old Pillar. Hate for the love that he suffered – being torn apart – for countless years since last looking upon that wrinkled-fekking face! Hate, he realised...that wasn't his own. Shadowe, he saw, was poised like a beast ready to pounce; his entire being bright with rage.
A terrible, snarling noise hissed from Shadowe's throat. "Give...in...!" It was a command. The time had come. Now.
Lyght paused. He remained standing a while longer behind the massive pane of polished glass, simply staring back into the eyes of this infuriated spirit. Then he looked to Empress Cadenza. Then Starswirl. Finally, some form of apology muttering from between his lips, he let himself slip away.
Shadowe's ethereal body fell into Lyght. It was as he took hold before. The wraith's coils ensnared him; this time, yet he let it happen. Time and motion slowed; reluctantly, he watched the change happen. Wisps of crisping azure light leaked away from his body in a flash, chilling his skin and fur, wisp-like lines rising from all over like luminescent smoke. Starswirl squinted at this transformation, coming forward. Strife Storm, Torch and the rest of the Quartzguards shifted uneasily, some frowning; they were all still before his eyes and thoughts. Lyght was sure the soldiers had never seen anything like it before. What came next horrified them. As Shadowe willed Lyght's to move body out from behind the pillar, leading with the mask of some pony almost none recognised, he reached out and threw back the clevercloth cloak to reveal a pair of great and terrible feathered wings. A collection of gasps went around the room; even Cadenza took an involuntary step back from that sight.
Here, before them, stood the impossible. A male alicorn.
"Myet kolt!" Starswirl choked, fixed on the shimmering eyes of this unbelievable creature glaring down on him. "No, I..! It cannot be! This is..." For the first time his voice had lost all its certainty. And his eyes held fear in them.
"Fadhara. Hun na nin hi! Ta ladem de ithilu."
Starswirl shook. His white beard, his whole body, trembled, evident by the jangle of the bells on his hat and cloak. And then a furious flush descended over his aged face. Fear pushed his lips back, baring his teeth. Tears begun to gather in those dark grey eyes of his.
"Salvadus," snapped Cadenza, shaken at finding another alicorn – a male alicorn! - in the heart of her home, "what is this? What did he say? How is there another – Salvadus!"
Her frantic questions were cut abruptly short as the unicorn whirled on her with his horn alighted and whisked the Empress away from the hall in the blink of an eye by teleportation. Next, executed in flawless succession, he did the same to Torch and Strife Storm, then finally, in one big bright flash, the rest of the Quartzguard in the room disappeared. Shadowe apparently saw an opening where the unicorn seemed to be distracted; focusing on getting everyone out of the chamber, save himself. Shadowe raised the horn now under his control and pointed it directly at Starswirl.
A spark of azure light struck the sorcerer in the side and he flew through the air across the hollow, crashing into the broad steps ascending around the rim. The putrid scent of burning flesh wafted with smoke from his crumpled body.
Shouts of alarm rose from beyond the open doors where Cadenza and her warriors re-appeared, hurrying to re-enter the chamber. They drew close, but Shadowe intervened before any could take one step inside again. He eyed the entrances, then with barely a though, deftly tapped his Aura. Instantly, walls of inflexible energy covered the still open archways. Cadenza, appearing on the furthest right one, threw her magic against the barrier in attempt to force a way through, but the barrier would not yield. Her powers, weakened by heartache, could not match the combination of Shadowe and Lyght. Frantically, she tried; again, and again. A few guards bucked their hooves while others clawed and banged against the azure fields, scratching sounds like chalk on a board raped their ears. No matter their strength or power, the walls billowed in simple ways like rainfall casting ripples on a still lake. Some unicorns tried warping their way inside and were successful in crossing the threshold, only to be ripped right back out by rebounds Shadowe set in place.
"Look what has become of you, Great Pillar of Old. Master of Sorcery. Aged not a single day. Hmp! Nothing has changed! Though, I suppose, I must thank you: it was noble of you to send the Empress and her followers away," Shadowe said, smiling sweetly to hide his rage. "Saved me from having to hurt any of your friends. This is not a matter they need concern themselves with anyhow. As you know, I did not come for them. I came for you."
Outside, the Empress froze. Everyone stopped their hammering, and all fell quiet.
Slowly, as a predator would savour every second of the hunt, Shadowe walked forward toward a stirring Starswirl. The unicorn grunted in pain while he sat up, clutching at his smouldering side through gritted teeth where he'd been burned from the magical blow. His pointy hat lay on the floor at his hooves. Without using his Aura, to some great effort, Starswirl crouched forward and reached down to scoop it up.
"Will you say nothing to me, Fadhara?" Shadowed asked. "Are you not pleased to look upon me again, after all these long ages? You should feel happy! Not fear. Rejoice that I survived and became this impossible marvel you see before you. Ah, but that is the trouble, is it not? Hmm? Oh, how I have wandered this wide world, hoping to see you. One last time." Their gaze never faltered, not even as Shadowe towered over Starswirl. Through the wraith's eyes Lyght watched as his own arm reached out to take the wizard's hat in his hoof. For a moment he thought Shadowe might toss it aside or burn the thing to ash in a heartbeat; instead, much to his wonderment, the wraith calmly placed the dusty hat back atop Starswirl's head, then idly stroked one of the many bells along its crown. "There we go" grinned Shadowe. "Now you are a true wizarding Master of the Arcane Arts again! Very proper. Just like when I last saw you."
It would've been better if Lyght believed he could turn away from this, turn away from the madness and wish everything to be a dream. Unfortunately, it was as Shadowe had said, you have not dreamt of anything in ages. And this is very much real. His thoughts, his stare, could not look away. He had surrendered himself, allowing the violent spirit to manipulate his body while leaving his own soul inert. Now he, through no will of his own, would commit something truly evil. There is no other way, he thought quietly to himself, no other choice. I made a deal. This is the part I have to play. No going back. Things were about to be set in motion, that could not be undone.
In time he would be standing over his own adversary, come the break of day. He clung to that thought as he would have to a floating branch in a flood; holding it was the only thing that kept him from seizing back his will, turning tail and running.
The sound stopped Shadowe in place, also catching Lyght off guard. The wraith lowered his eyes, and the sight Lyght saw through them of tears staining the long-furred cheeks of the mighty Pillar of Old surprised him beyond anything he had witnessed all evening. For the first time, Starswirl was crying.
Shadowe said nothing, yet leaned in close so their faces were inches apart. The collection of soldiers on the other side of the magic fields watched with anticipation. Even Cadenza seemed lost for breath.
Starswirl raised the hoof from his side, wet with blood, and reached to touch Shadowe's cheek. A weak glow illuminated the end of his horn. Just then Lyght's mind became a whirlwind before he was yanked back into his body once more and everything swiftly calmed. The sensation made him nauseous; he breathed in deeply, and was surprised by an absence he felt. The wraith's presence...after so long it was like missing the steady beat of his own heart. Shadowe was gone! How, Lyght did not know. It should've been impossible! He worked his mouth, fumbling for words.
"Forgive me...Lyght. I did not want this for you," Salvadus spoke meekly, drawing a surprised Lyght's attention, "neither of us did." He closed the distance between them, pulling into an embrace. Lyght would have reeled away, but the dying unicorn's grip was astoundingly tight. Whispers filled his ear, the words brief, but the truth behind them made his knees weak; he dropped to a squat, wings limp at the sides, the cool mosaic floor to catch him from falling any further into tears. Starswirl's hoof still cupped his face. Smiling, as he remembered the old unicorn used to, Salvadus said softly, "Do not be so harsh in the times ahead, my boy. Forgive, but do not forget: you are loved. And you are not alone." He let go.
The instant his arm fell away, leaving behind a smeared blood stain across Lyght's face, Shadowe's presence returned like a crashing wave. He wrest control again with a vengeance, and he was very mad! Rearing up on hind legs, wings fanned like a terrible storm, Shadowe summoned his Aura.
A jet of black light stabbed Starswirl squarely through the heart. Cadenza screamed. A howl that came from the depths, a howl that beat the walls, the howl that all the city heard of one who had witnessed another great atrocity in her home for somepony she loved.
Chest heaving for breath, the scent of death clouding his nose and tears dared well in his eyes, Shadowe glared down on the dead body at his hooves, a black stained hole where his curse had torn fur and skin. By now he half-anticipated for Lyght to try assume command of his body, though he could feel the pony hiding somewhere inside his mind, the other half gave no hint at returning. Why was he so silent?
Shadowe underestimated his enemy. When the Pillar touched him it threw him back into the void – into the cold clutches of death – but he managed to find the tether connected to Lyght just as quick, homing in on it before he became stuck there. Just as the fur along his back sprung up – warning him too late – Cadenza blasted an incredible funnel of Aura with her horn, slamming her fury into Shadowe's face.
Blinding light flashed in Shadowe's blue eyes, a counterpoint to the sudden agony that crashed into his face. He was a creature of magic, and thus magic could do harm to him. The world spun and he heard the sound of bone rolling across the floor. He cried out, and he slammed back into something hard. The Element of Laughter. More pain broke out across his neck, as if someone had ripped his horn clean from its skull, and he hit the ground on his side, figure weeping with azure smoke. The blow would have killed an ordinary pony.
He blinked, shaking his head, the world blurry and shining. It soon recovered and everywhere eyes accused him, startled eyes from the surrounding doorways around the rim. The walls of Aura were gone. They must have dissipated when Starswirl forced him into the void. Empress Cadenza stood like an arrow, her horn smoking from the spell she attacked Shadowe with. Around her silent glares of soldiers pursued him. Many tears glistened as some begun to cry through their revulsion.
Shadowe stumbled to his hooves. Blood streamed from the side of his face, and he noticed a horn broken on the patterned floor. Lyght's horn. More importantly, his horn! He looked up, eyes wide, at the army around him. Silence. Then, one soldier shouted. Suddenly there were dozens of angered soldiers rushing after him, roars of cursed vengeance snarling from their throats, Auras ready to take him down. Desperately, Shadowe turned and fled from the great hall.
He left the Empress behind, who did not pursue as she cradled the lifeless body of her friend, slain by his doing. The corridors filled with more creatures in cyan armour, joining their brethren in pursuit of him while he looked for a way out. In reaching the lower corridors a maid stepped out into the hall and screamed at the sight of him, flowing with ghostly frost and blood wetting half his face with a shattered nub where his horn should have been. In the room behind her there was an open window. Shadowed leapt over the startled mare as she sunk to the floor, covering her face with her hooves. She fumbled out the way when the guards stomped past afterwards. Shadowed braced and crashed through the window, a millions shards of pretty glass glinting as they toppled with him into the city below.
Shadowe threw out his wings and he caught the twilight air. He glanced back. Shouts of alarm came from inside the castle but no guards pursued, he was already too far away now. Lights twinkled everywhere like fireflies, the rolling city beneath him just now stirring to the pained cries of their ruler. The stars wheeled overhead, and Salvadus Starswirl the Bearded was dead. Now, looking to the future, plans already unfolding in his mind's eye, Shadowe smiled. And with that, escaped into the night.
Alright, there we go. Prologue out the way. Now we can get started into the good stuff, eh? I hope the ending wasn't too rushed. As I said before, I had written (and re-written) this second part over and over again, always with different outcomes. Most of them were, in my eventual opinion, long-winded and/or had unnecessary dialogue that didn't move the story along. Some even had fight scenes! I think I wrote three, maybe four? But the choreography was too complex to write and just didn't belong. It's difficult, okay! That's not to say I probably won't use them for future chapters, should the need arise. I like to keep all my ideas on paper, just encase I need to fall back on something.
I promise: we'll be seeing everypony's beloved Mane idols very soon. Just don't be surprised if they've...matured. This is, after all, set after the "The Last Problem."