1. Chapter I
  2. The Lordship of Whitehorn
  3. Like our shadows, our wishes lengthen as our sun declines.
  6. “Clover!”
  7. His magic snapped away, and the book it held fell with a crack onto the marble-tile floor of the Royal Library, resounding through its towering shelves and to its sunroof ceiling, where it joined the echo of the cry that provoked it. A ray of morning sun cut across the cover of the half-opened and partially crumpled book, which seemed to underline its title, The History of Alicai. Clover swung his slate head to the source of the call, leaving his midnight mane swinging behind.
  8. “I have wonderful news! Oh, were you reading? Well, there is always time for that. I need you to do something for me.”
  9. The speaker was an aging gray unicorn, with a mane and tail only slightly darker, and a long, wild beard to match. An ornate purple cloak covered his back, inscribed with geometric patterns, and hemmed with gold.
  10. “What? Is something going on, Starswirl?” Clover said as he lifted the history book and straightened its bent pages.
  11. “Oh, no. I just got a message: the Pegasi Guard found something in the mountains; they want me to take a look at it. They say they think it matches the description of Skyborn Temple, but what would pegasi know about that? But to business.”
  12. “You did send them to look,” Clover said, eyebrow raised.
  13. “I have an appointment,” he continued, ignoring Clover, “with the princess, Platinum. I need you to go in my place. It's nothing you can't handle, just don't offend her, or her father, or her family... or, ah hell, they need us, do whatever you want.”
  14. Clover blinked in quick succession. “What kind of appointment?”
  15. “Just magic tutoring. Tell her something about thermodynamic magic, or matter transmutation, or something equally useless. Just go slowly. I'll be back by tomorrow, so you don't have to worry about showing your face there again.”
  16. “But, I have to supervise spell testing today, and I've never tutored anyone, let alone royalty. What am I supposed to do?”
  17. “Then it's settled!” The wizard bellowed, still ignoring Clover. “Now, I need to go pack, then it is off to the mountains. You better get going to the castle, she'll be expecting one of us in about two hours.”
  18. Starswirl galloped away, and Clover, who was just opening his mouth, sat for a moment, perplexed, before returning the book to its shelf and leaving, with a disapproving shake of his head as he passed through the giant, golden doors of the library.
  21. An hour later, after changing into one of his formal robes, Clover left the College of Original Magic, where he and Starswirl worked. It was one of the older buildings in the University of Whitehorn, behind the observatory which had recently been built in the courtyard. The setting sun sparkled on the gold and purple roofs of the university and across the telescope of the observatory.
  22. Clover galloped down the stone path circling the university courtyard and turned, coming to a silver gate, guarded by two mages in armor.
  23. The purple crystal surface of Whitehorn Road reflected the walls and towers of the University, and above it, at the center of town, towered Sunspire Castle. Its blue and purple walls sparkled high above the city even in the setting sun, making it seem to glow white. It was the symbol of Whitehorn, and as such, the symbol of the whole Empire of Alicai.
  24. The Palace of Whitehorn, the long stone and gold parliament house of the empire, with wide rows of stained glass spanning its upper floors, holding the House of Ascendancy, passed on Clover's left as he neared the castle. Across from it stood a gated building with an ivory archway, guarded by two heavily armored pegasi; Pegasi Guards, the headquarters of the Alicai military and barracks of the Pegasi Guard. An obelisk commemorating the soldiers of the last Pegasi War stood in the middle of the road, just near the foot of the castle.
  25. “TO THOSE WHO FELL FOLLOWING THE SUN,” was etched into its pedestal.
  26. He stopped for a moment, and gazed upwards. The sheer face of the castle seemed to go on forever, with only a small balcony jutting from it. He took a deep breath and ran to one of the four staircases at the legs of the castle, where two stallions of the Pegasi Guard stood.
  27. “Halt, citizen! Name and reason for your presence at Sunspire Castle?”
  28. “Clover, apprentice to Archmage Starswirl the Bearded. I am here in his place, to meet with Princess Platinum.”
  29. “Why is he not here?”
  30. “He had university business to attend to, out of the city.”
  31. “I will have to talk to the chamberlain. Wait here,” the guard said, and with a nod to the other guard, went up the stairs and into the castle. Clover stood patiently, occasionally looking to the other pegasus, who had thus far ignored his presence, and kept staring at the same spot he had been before Clover arrived. Eventually, the door opened again and the second guard exited, returning to his position, followed by a black unicorn, who poked his head through the door, holding it open with his hoof.
  32. “Clover? From the University? Come, I will take you upstairs.”
  35. “Your majesty; Clover, apprentice to Starswirl,” the unicorn said.
  36. The room seemed built for giants. Its ceiling hung three floors above them, and the doors on both sides of the room stood nearly as tall. Windows, clear on the first third, and stained glass the rest of the way up, lined the walls. The unicorn princess stood looking out over the city, beneath one which depicted Celestia raising the sun. The setting sun cut through Platinum's pink mane, setting it fire red, and across her white coat, transmuting it to the same gold of her horseshoes.
  37. “Thank you, Ebony. You may go.”
  38. Platinum waited and the door closed with its soft thud.
  39. “So, you are here for the usual reason, I presume?”
  40. Clover nodded.
  41. “I must say, I am not unhappy to see you. In honesty, I find Starswirl somehow queer. I hired him because he was supposed to be the best, but I believe he is holding back from me. That, or he is not as intelligent as is claimed. Do you have an opinion on that?”
  42. “An opinion on Starswirl?” Clover said slowly, eyebrow raised.
  43. “Apologies, I should not have put you in such a position to speak against your superior, even if he might deserve it.”
  44. “No, it isn't that. I am surprised you would ask me my opinion, your majesty. Starswirl is a strange pony, it is certain, but he is intelligent, and I do owe him my loyalty. I think he, well, he-”
  45. “Yes?”
  46. “I don't think he believes you are very capable in magic.”
  47. Platinum smiled. “Yes, he is certainly right that I am not, at least compared to those of your university in general, and quite possibly him in particular. Even so, I do wish he was more cooperative. All I want is the answers to my questions.”
  48. Clover thought. “I can try to be cooperative.”
  49. “That is very well, but the question is if you can tell me anything I do not already know. I am as capable of reading a book as most; it is what is not written in them that I wish to know. I mean it as no insult to you, but I do suspect you were sent here primarily to occupy me, not to answer me in any meaningful manner. Well, what is your job, exactly, beyond being Starswirl's subordinate?”
  50. “I'm researcher. Well, translator and researcher. Of ancient texts, for the most part.”
  51. “Ancient texts. Unfortunately, not what I was hoping for. No matter. Do not let it bother you. Shall we begin with the normal lesson?”
  52. “Before that; If I may ask, your majesty, what were you hoping for?”
  53. “I am not sure,” she said, and stopped, hesitating. “A pony of my situation has only a few real concerns. My magical ability is irrelevant to Alicai. What I do worry about are the ideas upon which we base our empire. Every day I wonder if we are in the right.”
  54. “In the right?”
  55. Platinum walked back to the window, looking out over the city.
  56. “Alicai, the Empire of the Sun. We are supposed to be the favored of Celestia, ruling by her grace. But my lasting question, one that no pony can answer, must be answered before I can accept that claim.”
  57. “What question?” Clover asked, stepping towards the princess.
  58. “Do the Alicorn hear us, wherever they are?”
  59. The apprentice stopped, and turned his head back to the other side of the room, as if contemplating a strategic withdraw from the discussion.
  60. “I don't think anypony knows that,” he said, head tilted, as he feigned looking out the window around her.
  61. “Then it is as I said. Still, that must be answered.” She turned to face him. “You see, I do not believe they do. I believe were Celestia and Luna able to see what we have become, they would return. Because they do not, I do not think they can, and thus we are alone now.
  62. “That is an unusual sentiment for royalty, your majesty. I doubt a common pony would dare to say that kind of thing.”
  63. She laughed softly. “I suppose that is a benefit to power: being able to speak the truth, even when it is unpleasant. However, do not misunderstand me; I do not disbelieve in the Alicorn. How could I? This castle itself is proof of their influence. Even more, I do hope, with all my being, that they will return to lead us again. When they do, Alicai will rise to the glory it once was, to be Equestria once more. I just wish that somepony could tell me what must be done for that to happen. Why they are not here, and cannot be here.”
  64. “I am sorry,” Clover said, looking at the floor. He seemed to think. “All we know is that the Alicorn disappeared long ago. Almost no record exists from then; it was a dark time in the empire. We have looked, but found nothing. It is part of our job at Original Magic to try to find the truth. So far, we've failed.”
  65. “No, you have not,” she said, resting a forehoof behind his neck. “Do not believe that you have ever failed, for as long as you still live, there is hope. That is what I hold to, so long as I would be a failure otherwise. You can find the truth, and we can build Equestria here.”
  66. Clover looked at Platinum, wide-eyed, before she broke the silence.
  67. “There is something I would like to show you. I believe you will appreciate it.”
  70. The two climbed a spiral staircase, Platinum leading, with a wall to their left, and a sheer drop to their right, for what seemed like ages. After a while, she began panting, and while Clover showed no signs of fatigue, he kept glancing off the side of the stairs, down to the floor increasingly far below.
  71. “You must forgive me. I am not used to this sort of exertion. Few come this high into the castle, and indeed I have come here but few times myself. There is rarely reason or need. Though, we are near now, just a bit further.”
  72. “It must be good to come this far.”
  73. Platinum smiled, although Clover could not see.
  74. Finally they reached the end of the stairs, which opened into a massive hall. Clover, from behind Platinum, and still blocked in part by the ceiling-floor rising beside him, saw its walls made of towering windows, beyond which clouds hung level, lit from the side by the last glimmer of sunlight from the western sea. Yet something, something from inside, seemed to light the columns of crystal between the windows with an eerie teal glow.
  75. “This, is what we protect,” Platinum said just as Clover turned to look for the source of the unearthly hue.
  76. There, floating in the middle of the room, with no visible support, hung a crystal larger than either of them, fashioned into a crude heart shape, glowing; or, perhaps, shining in light that seemed to cast upon no other object, as if lit by a single ray of light through a cloud.
  77. “The crystal heart! I never thought I would see it. But, why is it here?”
  78. Platinum stepped closer to it; it floated too high for her to touch, even though she reached out a hoof as if to.
  79. “The heart has always been kept here, in the keep of Sunspire Castle, since it was bestowed upon us by Princess Cadance of Equestria. Have you not noticed that on a bright day, the peak of this tower sparkles like no other part? It is the light casting through the windows, brightened by the heart. Here it is kept, that here, the highest point in the world, it may shine as a beacon of hope across all of what was Equestria.”
  80. “I knew it was real, but, I think I might be one of the first of my university to see it, at least in recent history.”
  81. “As it should be, for this is magic not of common unicorn; the crystal heart represents the power of harmony, that of the Alicorn. It is their last mark upon this earth, aside from Sunspire itself. And it is our duty, above all other unicorn, to protect this power from those who would misuse it.”
  82. Clover opened his mouth to respond, but a flash of blue burst beside his head; a ball of blue fire, and from it fell a scroll. He looked at it.
  83. “It's from Starswirl.”
  84. He lifted it with his magic and opened it.
  85. “What does he have to say?”
  86. Clover's mouth fell open again, as his eyes darted across the paper. His magic seemed to shake, barely holding the paper steady.
  87. “He found it. Skyborn Temple, in the mountains. He wants me to come right away.”
  88. Platinum stood silent, her eyes starring only vaguely at Clover, until they focused on him piercingly.
  89. “Then you have to go there, immediately. I will write you a writ to Pegasi Guard, let's go.”
  90. She turned from the heart and back to the stairs; any semblance of weakness was gone from her, and her face was sharp with purpose as she passed Clover.
  93. They reentered the main hall of the castle, Platinum nearly at a gallop, and Clover with a clear look of confusion at the sight.
  94. “Ebony! Get me my message scrolls,” she yelled as she entered the throne room, and darted to a bureau beside the triple throne, which she opened and pulled from a quill and a piece of parchment, on which she began to scribble furiously.
  95. “Here,” she said, blasting the scroll with a burst of magic, which left an imprint on its corner in the shape of the sun rising over Sunspire, and the words below it printed, “Be thou still my strength and shield.”
  96. “They will do whatever you tell them,” she said, levitating it over to him.
  97. Ebony entered the throne room at the same time, levitating three scrolls.
  98. “And take those,” Platinum said, pointing a hoof. “Tell me what happens.”
  99. Clover took over the spell on all four scrolls, holding them beside his head.
  100. “I do not mean to seem ungrateful, or; well, why the rush?” Clover asked.
  101. “Because of what I said about the heart: order must be maintained. As much as Skyborn represents a link to the lost Empire of Equestria, I have heard stories, perhaps that you have not, of the sort of power it was built to hold. I do not want Starswirl alone to find that power, and for whatever reason, I feel you are to be trusted as my emissary in the matter.”
  102. Clover blushed, and averted his eyes; he raised his eyebrows.
  103. “There is one other thing, your majesty; Starswirl said to bring an earth pony.”
  104. “Curious. It is no matter; go to Pegasi Guards. Many earth ponies work there with the pegasi. Tell them what you need, and show them my writ.”
  105. “Thank you, your majesty,” he said with a bow of his head, “for everything.”
  106. “Godspeed.”
  109. Night had already fallen as Clover galloped to the limestone archway of Pegasi Guards, the building beyond it rising silently into the yet moonless night, and in front marching back and forth a single Pegasi Guard.
  110. “Pegasi Guards is closed to university personnel for the night. Please come back tomorrow, citizen,” the guard said as he saw Clover, stopping in place.
  111. “I am not here on behalf of the university,” Clover answered, but averting his eyes, added, “at least, not only.”
  112. “Then what is your business here?”
  113. “I am here on behalf of Platinum.”
  114. Clover levitated the scroll she had given him out of his bag and over to the guard. Yet, as he was about to unroll it for the guard to read, he noticed a blue light from above, and looking up, saw that the royal insignia on the archway's keystone was glowing. A snap followed, and the main gate, on its own accord, opened.
  115. The guard, turning back to look, and staring for a moment, gave a perplexed murmur.
  116. “I have not seen that gate opened in some time for a single pony, other than Her Majesty herself. This must be important business indeed. Do not let me keep you from it.”
  117. With that, the guard stood aside and raised a hoof in salute.
  120. Beyond the archway was a paved area, flanked by the extensions of the building, forming a sort of semi-squared horseshoe courtyard. Above the building flew two flags, barely visible in the dark of night: the five-color flag of Alicai, and beside it, the symbol of the sun on a white field, the flag of the City of Whitehorn. The door of Pegasi Guards, oak with gold leafing, depicted the Battle of Whitehorn: two opposing armies of pegasi in the sky beside Sunspire Castle, flying at each other, surrounded by currents of wind and bolts of lightning. Despite their great size, a mere tap of Clover's hoof pushed each wide open.
  121. The foyer of Pegasi Guards was perhaps greater than even that of Sunspire. A massive oval room three floors high, flanked by polished slate columns, with a purple crystal floor patterned with inlaid silver to look like a cloud. Above, a vast dome ceiling painted with a fresco showing the three alicorn of Alicai; Celestia, Luna, and Cadance, standing on a cloud, and before them a hundred armored pegasi, flying downward.
  122. The clerk stood in a room off to the left of the foyer, behind a desk cluttered with scrolls and letters. An unarmored pegasus, he scrawled on one using a pen fastened to his forehoof, muttering to himself, without noticing that clover had entered the room.
  123. “Excuse me,” Clover said.
  124. The clerk looked up, not startled, and glared at him. “Who are you? What are you doing in here?”
  125. “Clover, of the university. I am on royal business,” Clover responded, as if he had now internalized this status, and gave him the scroll. The clerk glanced at it quickly.
  126. “Very well. Tell me, then, what do you need?”
  127. “A chariot. I need to go to the mountains,” he said, and after a flash of realization and confusion, “I also need an earth pony to come with me.”
  128. “Just any?” The clerk asked, eyebrow raised.
  129. “Yes.”
  130. “Royal business keeps getting more specific and less explicable.”
  131. The clerk sighed and pushed a button on the pen, retracting it back so he could walk.
  134. They went out the back of the building, still within the outer walls of the high command complex, and to a barracks. Like Pegasi Guards, it was built of white limestone, but inside starkly less ornate, with simple granite tile floors and painted walls.
  135. “Captain Northwind! I need you down here,” the clerk yelled down the long, dark hall of the barracks. In a few moments, a door slammed shut, and another pegasus walked down the hall, into the light of a torch near the door.
  136. “We have someone here with some sort of urgent, secret business.” Clover opened his mouth, but the clerk waved a hoof for him to be quiet. “I need you to get together a chariot team. Also, get Cookie, we need her.”
  137. Northwind looked at Clover, his teal mane and fur glistening an odd color somewhere between its native color and the orange of the torch, and without emotion, nodded.
  140. “So, you don't need any supplies?” The clerk asked, pushing open the door to the chariot hanger.
  141. Lines of chariots, side-by-side, filled the room, sparkling gold and silver in the low moonlight coming through the windows. Enchanted torches burst into flame as they stepped in, filling the room with yellow light.
  142. “No, I am meeting a group of Pegasi Guards who are with my adviser, Starswirl.”
  143. “I see,” the clerk said sharply, walking to one of the chariots. “I should have known this had something to do with that.”
  144. The door opened again, and two armored pegasi entered the room. Behind them walked a gray earth pony with a two-tone straw-colored mane and tail and greenish yellow eyes.
  145. “Smart Cookie, royal engineer, reporting for duty!” She yelled, saluting Clover. Around her neck hung a string of hex nuts on a brass chain, and her eyes seemed to move haphazardly, repeatedly crossing and uncrossing as she shifted her gaze around the room.
  146. “At ease, sergeant,” the clerk said dismissively as the two guards wiggled themselves into their harnesses.
  147. Clover climbed into the chariot, followed by the awkwardly smiling Cookie, and the guards let out a collective whinny.
  148. “What is our destination, sir?” One of them asked.
  149. “Southeast, beyond the Crystal Mountains,” Clover answered.
  150. “Good luck in whatever it is you are up to,” the clerk said, stepping back.
  151. “Thanks; thanks for your help. Onwards!” Clover yelled, and the pegasi kicked into the air, pulling the chariot up, its golden wheels flashing in the light as they spun.
  152. They soared into the night sky, upwards towards the moon that hung now high in the eastern sky. Clover turned behind him, where Cookie laid asleep on the floor, and growing ever smaller in the distance, yet shining like a beacon, stood Sunspire Castle, the solitary icon of the Lordship of Whitehorn.

Posted by Bakaiya at 25 Nov 2013, 09:30:23 Etc/UTC
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