Through Ice and Shadow

Love and Hope once shone bright from a gleaming crystal city, only to be lost to the evils of indifference and despair. This is a tale of the leaders who built an empire based upon those virtues, and the two newly weds who are about to realize their shared destiny in reclaiming it.

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8. Chapter Eight: Through Ice and Shadow

Chapter Eight: Through Ice and Shadow

 

Art by Geomancing

 

 



 

 

    Today had been a complete disaster. Not only was their wedding nearly ruined, but the entire city had almost met its demise. Yet despite the near catastrophe, only music and laughter filled the well-tended courtyard outside the gleaming halls of Canterlot’s majestic castle.

    No plans of some mad mare would ruin Princess Cadance’s and Shining Armor’s first dance of the rest of their lives. Around and around they went, their hearts overflowing with the bliss only true love could provide. They lost themselves in each other, the jubilant crowd that encircled them, just a blur.

    Princess Celestia and Princess Luna watched along with a hint of concern while the happy newlyweds danced across the grass. It appeared the sisters were the only ponies who had not forgotten the troubles of earlier.

    “You should have summoned me earlier, Sister. Not in a thousand years has our kingdom come so close to ruin,” Luna whispered.

    “I had to find out if they were ready, and you know very well how close IT is to returning. They are our only chance of stopping him... and freeing those we let down so long ago,” Celestia said, her head drooping if only for second before her legendary composure returned. “Besides, I was somewhat indisposed after my encounter with the changeling queen.” She grimaced; the green goop of that miserable cocoon would haunt her memories for some time.

    “That reminds me. The hoofmaidens did a superb job of cleaning your mane,” Luna said, winking and giving her sister a gentle nudge with a wing. She glanced back over to the couple that were still locked in each other’s forelegs. “They need to know.”

    “We should let them enjoy themselves for a little while longer. If anything, they have at least earned that.”

    Luna nodded in agreement, and turned her attentions to the ongoing party and the revelers therein.

    

 

    The booming music from the DJ’s booth had dropped to a much more respectable volume as the party persisted into the night, shedding more and more guests with each passing hour. Soon it would be time for the newlyweds to be off on their well deserved honeymoon, but not before they had found themselves in a secluded glen.

    The eerie beauty of moonlit flowers had caught Cadance’s fancy, her hoof caressing their soft petals. “Luna was right! The way the moon reflects off the daylilies is quite enchanting, wouldn't you agree?”

    Shining Armor gazed upon his wife. “Can’t say that I can. I haven't been able to turn my eyes from this most amazing of creatures I’ve found.”

    A soft sigh emanated from the princess as she leaned back into her husband’s embrace, placing her head upon his chest.

    “I can’t get over how nearly lost you. I feel so ashamed that I let her use me like that. You are the love of my life,” A hoof pressed against his lips, cutting his apology short.

    Looking deep within Shining’s eyes, Cadance opened her heart. “And you are the light of mine. Nothing will ever change that.” Another content sigh escaped her lips, returning her head to its impromptu pillow.

    A playful voice cut through the din of the tranquil garden. “Are we interrupting anything?”

    Cadance craned her neck towards the intruder, or make that, intruders that had so brazenly disturbed them. “Auntie? Luna? Of course not! Come, sit, we were just enjoying the serenity of this delightful place.”

    The two alicorns made their way to the couple, both finding a patch of cool grass to rest themselves upon.

    “You two have accomplished something special on this day,” Luna began to say. “Not only have you both vowed to keep each other for the rest of your lives, but you have also saved our kingdom from a grim fate. For that I thank you both, but it’s partly my and my sister’s fault that you two found yourselves in that position.” Luna hung her head low before turning to face Cadance. “I know of the ‘dream’, Cadance.”

    Cadance audibly gasped at the sudden and unwelcome turn in conversation, beads of sweat beginning to form under her veil.

    Celestia nodded at her niece with an encouraging smile. “It’s alright Cadance, Shining needs to know.”

    With a practiced gesture, Cadance steadied herself and began to recall the dream. “I awoke one night, only to come face to face with a glowing spirit. It was like looking into some strange mirror. I thought I was still dreaming, till I saw the royal guards come crashing into my chambers. The strange spirit only had to look at them, rendering some of the strongest ponies I know into a comatose heap. That is when she spoke with a loving, tender voice.”

    My sweet, dearest Cadance, don’t be afraid. You and Shining Armor are two very important links in a chain of events that started over a thousand years ago.

    “The apparition’s horn glowed with a fierce blue light, and a shimmering crystalline heart took shape above my head.”

    It has been so long since the light of Hope and Love have shined upon Equestria; with you and Shining Armor, the Empire has a brilliant future ahead of it. That is only if you can defeat the shadows of the past. Please Princess Cadance, you have to save them.

    “Images of a beautiful kingdom full of ponies flashed in my mind, then these horrible green eyes. Everything faded to white after that. When I awoke again, I was in the castle’s infirmary,” she said, nervously fluffing her wings.

    Holding tight to his bride, Shining reassuringly whispered in her ear. “It’s okay, I’m here.”

    She gave him soft hug in return.

    “Like the dream, the shadows she mentioned are also very real. Queen Chrysalis was the first, and soon the second shall rise. Sister, can you show them please?”

    Celestia levitated a small crystal above the group, and blasted it with a ray of light. The little gem began to glow, casting down an image of a gleaming city. “This is The Crystal Empire, the very one from your visions, Cadance. You will not find any mention of its history as it vanished shortly before the Nightmare.”

    Celestia’s eyes took on a sinister green, her horn bubbling with a dark magic. Serrated growths grew along the pristine land, marring the once extravagant city. In its center, a black unicorn sat upon a wicked crystal throne. “King Sombra, Lord of Shadow and Fear. Only through the love and hope you two share, can he truly be defeated. Even we were not powerful enough to stop him before he cast the Empire through time and space.”

    With a brilliant flash from her eyes, Celestia dispelled the illusion.

    Luna emerged from the dissipating cloud of magic, taking a seat alongside Shining and Cadance. “This is your legacy.” She glared at the couple, making sure she had their undivided attention. “And it began long before my sister and I set foot on this land. Even before the founding of Equestria. It was during a never-ending winter that Love and Hope shined their brightest. And it all started shortly after a wedding between two ponies...”

    

 

“... I left the frozen wasteland humbled and defeated. What Sombra did to me only hastened a fall a long time in the making, and I was a fool to think I could deal with it alone. In the end, my sister paid the price,” Luna said, hanging her head in shame.

    “I always wondered what would drive a pony like Luminare to such acts of heartlessness and evil--then I banished my own sister,” Celestia said, hugging Luna tight. “Like Love and Hope, Night and Day were never meant to be separated. Those were the hardest days of my life, and it scares me to this day how close I came to throwing everything away.”  

    Celestia looked over to Cadance, the pink princess still in her new husband’s loving clutch. “A thousand years I waited, focused on getting back what was most precious to me, and nearly forgetting the dark king’s promise. Until a certain pegasus filly ventured to a place beyond mortal’s reach.”      

    “There is no mistaking what you two are,” Luna said.

    “Love and Hope are once again one, and soon the Empire will return,” Celestia said.

    “Now it has come time for the both of you to fulfill your destinies.”

    “To spread the warmth and light you share across Equestria.”

    Both Luna and Celestia approached the couple. “From now and forever, let it be known that Princess Mi Amore Cadenza and Shining Armor are Love and Hope, Princess and Prince of the Crystal Empire, and the rightful heirs to the Crystal Throne,” they said, bowing before Cadance and Shining.

    Speechless was the only word to describe Shining Armor. How could he not be? He was a stallion who prided himself on knowing everything. The most frightening parts of his life was when he dove headfirst in to the unknown and uncertain. His plan at the Fall Formal Gala, and the day he asked Cadance for her hoof in marriage, terrified wouldn't even begin to describe what he felt during those moments. Now the unknown had come and gobbled him up like some story book monster.

    A pink blur of fur and feathers tackled him, raining kisses down upon his face. “I told you, Shining! I told you! You were always so worried about leaving me, never thinking that being Love’s love didn’t have its perks,” Cadance said in between more smooches.

    Luna just stared. “You mean to tell me they married without knowing?”

    “Yup.”

    “Huh.” It would take a fool or a pony stronger than her to commit to such a relationship, and Luna had been around her niece long enough to know that she was no fool.

    “Celestia,” Cadance said. “I know how hard it must of been for both of you to keep this hidden for long. And I thank you for everything you have given us. But.”

    “But?”

    “But I have a few rules now that Shining and I are to take a proper title. One: No more interruptions today; two: No more secrets, starting with Her.”

    Celestia looked to Luna, who shrugged in return.

    “Okay Cadance,” Celestia said, smiling. “You two have a lovely honeymoon.”

    “Thanks, auntie.”

    “Thank you, Your Highness.”

    The two princesses left, filtering back into the few ponies who remained at the party. What didn’t leave was the hundreds if not thousands of questions running through Shining’s mind. Some he knew better than to seek answers for.

    “You seem to be taking this pretty well,” he said.

    “Are you kidding? I’ve been dreaming of this day since I was small. The whole foalnapping and ancient king of shadow thing was unexpected, but nothing I can’t handle with you by my side,” she said snuggling up to Shining once again. “Oh, one thing.”

    “Yes?”

    “Can you teach me that shield spell?”

    

 

    Months passed, yet the memory of the Empire’s impending return was still fresh in their minds. Despite her lackadaisical attitude on her wedding day, Cadance had poured her heart and soul into preparing for the coming lord of shadow. Shining would help her with the physical workouts he put his guardsponies through, and at night he would teach her the defensive spells of his namesake.

    So many ponies she hadn’t even met depended upon her now, and she was not about to let them down like they had been time and time again.

    On a bright summer’s day, it came as no surprise that it was Princess Celestia knocking on the door of their Canterlot home.

    “It’s time.”

    Cadance and Shining nodded to each other. They were ready.

    “By the way, you are not the only ponies I am sending. Twilight and her friends will be joining you shortly after you arrive in the Empire.”

    “Why Twilight? I know she is her student and all, but this is no place for her!” Shining pleaded.

    “I think it’s time you come clean like you promised, Celestia,” Cadance said, glaring at her aunt.

    “This must remain a secret, and must not leave this room, no matter how much you wish otherwise.”

    Both Cadance and Shining nodded. “We swear.”

    Celestia quickly shut the door and locked it with her magic. “Let me begin by saying that Twilight Sparkle is a very, very special pony...”  

    

 

    “Well this explains why you had a rail line and depot built in the middle of nowhere,” Shining said, throwing another bag into waiting train, and still trying to wrap his head around what the Princess had told him. How much more did she have buried under the centuries of her life anyways? At least their conversation had removed a few of the lingering doubts still rattling away in the back of his mind.

    Luggage, and supplies were being piled into cars. Tents, warm weather gear, anything an arctic expedition could need. Celestia and Luna stood next to the busy couple, having come to see them off and wish them luck.

    “When you two succeed in defeating Sombra, I figured it would help the crystal ponies better adjust and learn about a world they no longer know. Think of it as a belated wedding gift,” Celestia said.

    “I still think I should be joining them, Sister,” Luna said, pouting a little.

    “Revenge is not what the Crystal Empire needs, Luna.”

    “But it’s so cold up there, and you know what say about revenge.”

    “No.”

    “Fine,” Luna said, crossing her forelegs and making no effort to hide her displeasure.

    The last of the bags had been packed, coal had been loaded to the tender, and water had been fed into the boiler. Everything was ready for their departure. They said their goodbyes, and waved as the train huffed and puffed past the Princesses.

    “Good luck!” Celestia yelled.

    Luna waved, frowning a little. I should be with them.

    

    

 

    Biting wind and snow greeted her as she and Shining made their way off the train. The wind cut through the layers of head wraps and coats like they were nothing, and the coldness of the air made it hard to breathe.

    She heard Shining yell over the roar of the arctic winds. “Are you okay?”

    “Just a little cold!”

    They pressed on, the crunch of snow still audible despite the constant roar. It shouldn’t be far now. They crested a hill, and nothing prepared her for the sight the entered her view.

    An orange glow reflected off the snow covered countryside. Inside a shimmering barrier, lush green pastures and meadows stretched far into the distance. Crystals dotted the landscape, and crystal clear streams weaved to and fro through the rolling hills. Little houses and farms gave way to a burgeoning city not much unlike Canterlot. In the distance they could make out the dark, corrupted form of a castle.  

    With trepidation and soft hoofsteps, they entered the Empire. It was deathly quiet, not even birds or insects could be heard. Finally they made it to the central city, finding it deserted as well. There should have been thousands of ponies living here, and not single sign of them remained.

    “Freaky,” Shining whispered.

    Cadance looked around. “Tell me about it.”

    “Who are you?”

    Cadance let out an earsplitting shriek, turning around instantly to see a cowering red maned, light pink pony.

    “I’m so sorry! You startled me, I’m not mad or anything. Here, let me help you up,” Cadance said, lending a hoof the crystal pony. “There. I am Princess Cadance, and this is my husband Prince Shining Armor. What’s your name?”

    “My name? I-I don’t remember. You remind me of somepony though,” she said in a slow, lethargic voice.  

    “It’s okay, Sombra can’t hurt you now,” Shining said.

    “Sombra!” the crystal pony shouted, taking off and vanishing into one of the nearby houses.

    Cadance shook her head.

    He shrugged. “What?”

    “Smooth.”

    “How was I supposed to know?”

    “I’m just giving you a hard time, Shiny. Now lets go find that heart.”

    

 

    At last they had reached the castle. Celestia’s story did no justice to how intimidating the structure looked face-to-face. Its darkened crystal spires dominated the landscape, towering above everything around it--a feeling Sombra no doubt intended. It looked dangerous, jagged, wrong--just being its presence brought about a feeling of unease.

    Cadance looked over the structure from tip to bottom, smiling all the while. “Can you imagine what it was like before Sombra?”  

    “Nope,” Shining said, hoping they would just go inside already.

    “It must have been beautiful,” she said, taking one last look before stepping inside.

    To Shining’s lament, the inside of the castle wasn’t much better. Halls and corridors stretched into the pitch black darkness. An occasional torch could be seen illuminating a room or another one of the many arches and banners, and in the distance, a set of massive double doors.

    Out of nowhere, a beam of light nearly blinded him. “Ahh! Cadance, watch where you are point that thing,” he said, bringing a hoof to his face to clear his eyes.

    The light moved away. “Sorry!”

    Still seeing spots, Shining lit his own horn. “Well, lets get this started. There is no telling when he will show up.”

    

 

    For hours they searched. Combing through room after room, and hall after hall. Nothing. There was no hint nor trace of it. Wherever Sombra had hidden the Heart, it was beyond their combined means of finding.  

    Empty-hooved, they met back at the Crystal Throne.

    “Are you sure neither of the princesses ever told you where to find the heart?”

    “They knew it was what gave the Empire its magic, but they never found out what Sombra did with it,” Cadance replied, walking up the steps of the throne.

    Shining sighed. “It could be anywhere at this point.”

    Cadance traced a hoof along the smooth crystal of the throne. Crystal had ruled from here for centuries with grace and wisdom. Perhaps it was the pressure getting to her, but she had never felt so small.

    I wonder what it’s like.

    She sat upon the throne. The cool surface brushed against her fur, and its seat fitted her almost perfectly. For being made of crystal it was really quite comfortable. She closed her eyes, and thought back to the fantasies she had of this moment as a filly. Not as extravagant as she imagined, but it no less fulfilling.

    Lost in her daydream, she heard Shining yell. “Cadance!”

    Opening her eyes, she looked to her husband. A blue light filled the entire throne room. Her horn was aglow along with her entire body. A shiver ran up her spine, preceding a constant flow of familiar magic. The glow turned into a bright blue light, and in a flash, it spread out in all directions in the form brilliant blue wave.  

    Lamps ignited as the wave passed, brightening up the castle’s gloomy interiors, and revealing a pink princess sitting on an immaculate crystal throne. The entire room glimmered and shined with crystal formations of every shade of purple and blue. Beautiful, just as Cadance imagined.

    “Cadance! Are you alright?” Shining asked, rushing up to her.

    “I’m fine,” she said, smiling to him.

    Rumble.

    “What was that?” they said in unison, looking to each other.

    They rushed to the observation deck and gazed upon Cadance’s handiwork.

    Across the empire, Sombra’s taint and corruption had melted and faded away. Crystals and crystal buildings returned to their elegant selves. The desolate orange sky gave way to the winter winds. And the castle was once again the gleaming beacon in the center of the Empire.

    Purples, blues, and other pastels of shining crystal roads and buildings mixed with greens and whites the various trees and bushes, painting a frighteningly beautiful landscape.  

    Rumble.

    In the distance, a black cloud as dark as night roiled and churned. Larger and larger it grew, till it was nearly on the outskirts of the Empire. Two impossibly large green eyes appeared in the blackness.

    “Crystals. Slaves,” a deep, malevolent voice boomed.

    Candace narrowed her brow. “Sombra.”

    This is what she had prepared for. That heartless monster wasn't going to be allowed to hurt ponies ever again--she was going to make sure of that.

    Her horn sparked to life, power building till it looked like a massive blue flare. All around the Empire, a shimmering shield rose into the sky, meeting just above the castle’s central spire.

    “Let's see you get through that.”

    The Crystal Empire is mine.

    The shield flickered, and Cadance grimaced. She could feel him poking and prodding at it, forcing her to use more and more magic. She could usually keep the shield up for a good while, but Sombra’s constant drain was already beginning to take its toll.

    She felt a leg wrap around her, leading her back into the castle. “You are stronger than him.” She turned her head and fell into Shining’s big teal eyes. Those eyes. A light burned deep down within them. Even back in school, she counted on those eyes to make her day just a little better. A light that always spurred her on, and always let her know that as long as he was there, everything would be okay.

    “Sit, you need to conserve your strength until I can find the Heart,” he said, helping down upon the throne.

    Yes, everything would be alright. She closed her eyes, and went to sleep--the last moments of rest she would get for a long while.

    

 

    Minutes turned to hours, and hours turned to days. Long ago giving up the search for the Crystal Heart, Shining had devoted himself to keeping watch for Sombra, and taking care of his ever deteriorating wife.

    The high pitched screech of a train whistle echoed in the distance.

    “Twilight,” Cadance said, trying to get up, but a white unicorn made doing so impossible.

    “I will get them, you just rest,” he said, putting on his headwrap and snow visor.

    Cadance giggled. “You know, you look ridiculous with those on.”

    Shining unwrapped his mouth and placed a little kiss on Cadance’s cheek. “You think this looks funny? You should have seen the getup this little pink mare was wearing earlier!”    

    “Hey!” she shouted as Shining disappeared behind the double doors of the throne room. “No fair.”

    

 

    The biting cold didn’t register to him now. Adrenaline pumped through his veins as he bounded over drift after drift. He had to make it to the girls before He did.

    The train station came into view and thankfully along with it, six mares and a little dragon. After hugging his sister and telling Fluttershy what had him so alarmed, they trudged back into the waiting blizzard.

    Twilight, the ever curious mare she is, questioned why he was in such a hurry, or why she was sent by Celestia to find a way to protect the Empire if Cadance was already doing so. If she only knew half of what he did, and knowing his sister, she probably would soon.

    A horn blew in the distance.

    Oh no.

    “We have to get the Crystal Empire! Now!” he shouted, as a cyclone of shadow blew right up next to them.

    They ran, ran as fast as their legs could let them, and it still wasn’t fast enough. Shining looked behind him, the cloud of darkness was nipping at his hooves. They wouldn’t make it; he needed to buy some time.

    He turned around, shooting a beam of magic at the mass of shadows. It passed right through, leaving the beast unphased.

    Here goes nothing.

    Charging another spell, the darkness swallowed him.

    

 

    Shadows swirled around the magenta barrier of his shield. Just like he had hoped, Sombra had stopped, letting his sister and friends make it into Cadance’s protection.

    “You should not have come here, Hope,” Sombra said.

    “And let you drown the world in despair? I think not.”

    This would go nowhere. He needed a way to reach out to him. He was like him once. If there was a shred of Luminare left under that monster, what would he still remember? One image came to mind.

    “It was her smile, wasn’t it?”

    The shadows grew less and less thick. “What did you say?”

    “Crystal. It was her smile that made you feel so warm inside, and made it so you never wanted to let her go in the morning.”

    The shadows vanished, leaving an ash grey stallion standing in front of Shining. “How? How do you know?”

    “It’s the same smile that I see in my Cadance.”

    Sombra collapsed to the ground. He was a fool, and it took until now to realize it. The path he was treading would only end with another Love fading from the earth. He couldn’t, not her, not her smile.

    “The Sun and Moon were right. I am beyond any meaningful forgiveness. The shadow, it’s so strong. Even now I can feel it clawing its way back into my mind. But, I beg of you, Hope reborn, listen to this broken stallion.”

    Shining nodded.

    “Love is so strong, stronger than she thinks. But she has her limits, and you have to be there to stop her from going over them. Please, promise me that you will never let her make the same choice my Crystal did.”

    “I promise,” Shining said, putting a hoof above his heart.

    “Then go. Go back to her, before its too late.”

    Just as Sombra finished, a jet of shadow shot out, hitting Shining’s horn.  

    “Go!”

    Shining took off, the shimmering shield of Cadance’s magic was close now. With a great leap he passed through the shield, landing right behind his sister.

    Twilight called his name. “Your horn.”

    He tried casting a simple levitation spell, but his magic was blocked, corked behind some black crystal growths. How was he supposed to help Cadance now?

    

 

    “...and do a little shake!” both Twilight and Cadance yelled in unison, almost succumbing to a fit of giggles.

    Ever since the changeling queen, what was once a childish display had turned into something far more important for those two. A secret hoofshake of sorts--one he was glad for.

    After explaining Cadance’s state, and what was at stake, Shining told Twilight of the last lead to the Heart he had yet to follow up on: the crystal ponies themselves. Hopefully with Cadance’s magic filling the land for the last few days they would have been less skittish. Not that he blamed them, Sombra must of put them through Tartarus. Rarity seemed happy though.

    “Like a research paper!”

    What?

    “This must be some part of my test!” Twilight said, mainly talking to herself.

    What did Celestia tell her? Never mind, I don’t want to know, or interfere with whatever she has planned.

    A purple hoof sunk into his chest. “...and deliver it to you!”

    He turned to Cadance, not believing what he was seeing.

    “Don’t worry, big brother. I’m really good at this sort of thing.”

    What did he have to worry about? There was only a Celestia-knows old unicorn wizard out there trying to smother everything he cared about in shadow.

    “Oh, Twily, you need to ask about the Crystal Heart,” he said to an empty space. “Oh ponyfeathers.”

    Cadance giggled. “You know how she is when she gets wrapped up like this.”

    Shining peered out a window, finding his sister and her six friends. “I’m counting on it.”

    He looked back to Cadance. He wasn’t lying about what she was going through. She looked miserable. She hadn’t slept or eaten in days. She had bags under eyes, and bags under those. With his magic gone, he couldn't possibly ease her burden. Wrapping a leg around Cadance’s neck, he pulled her into a hug. But, he was still here, and that's what mattered.

    

 

    “Shining Armor, Cadance, I found something!” Twilight shouted, bursting into the throne room at full gallop with Spike hot on her hooves. Trailing behind her was a book.

    Of course she would find a book.

    She went on to tell them about the Crystal Fair, how it was used to renew the spirit of love and unity across the Empire. Glancing at the pages, he caught a glimpse of the Crystal Heart surrounded by ponies. She had only been here for a short while, and she was closer to finding the heart than he ever got.

    By the sounds of it, this Fair was just as important as the Heart, and her suggestion of hosting one definitely wouldn’t hurt. He should say something, but things were starting to look up for once, and he didn’t want to mess up Twilight’s line of thought.

    “That sounds pretty promising,” he said, looking to see what Cadance had to say. His smile and growing enthusiasm sunk. She was asleep for once, but it still bothered him to see her like this.

    Twilight took the cue. “We will start right away.”

    

 

    Time passed, and Cadance was looking worse and worse. Twilight’s plan had better work, as they weren’t going to another chance to try something else. Even getting Cadance to the grand balcony to announce the fair taxed her like she was carrying around lead weights. He feared her mental burden was far greater.

    “We have a problem,” Twilight said bounding back to the balcony.

    Shining placed a hoof on her shoulder. “Twilight, calm down, what’s wrong?”

    “It’s the Crystal Heart.”

    Yes, she found it!

    “I thought it was just a statue. I didn’t know it was an actual relic. The book didn’t mention anything about the crystal ponies powering the Heart,” she said, nervously pacing through the book until she fit the final, torn out page. “There must be a page missing, how did I not notice?”

    “It’s okay Twilight,” Cadance said, her eyes rolling back into her head as she fell into Shining’s clutch. Her magic cut out, and the tranquil blue skies gave way to a howling blizzard. A sound of ancient warhorns filled the air; Sombra would be here soon.

    Black smoke surrounded the Empire. In the distance, Sombra’s viper-like head could be seen waiting to claim what was his.

    No.

    Throwing a hoof to Cadance, Shining lifted her up and gave her a look.

    Cadance stared deep into his eyes. Every bit of fire, every bit of passion and love Shining had for her was there. A light so bright it was a wonder how he didn’t shine like the sun. It warmed her, and filled her with a strength she didn’t know she had.

    Her horn came to life once again, and in a pulse of love and light, the shield began to rise. Sombra’s angry roar could he heard all they way to the castle.

    Shining watched Cadance nearly collapse again. She couldn’t go on like this, and he didn’t want to think what would happen if she forced herself to. There was no more time for fairs or research projects--he needed to find the heart.

    “You stay here with Cadance. She needs you,” Twilight said.

    Cadance collapsed into his chest, looking him the eyes once again. Twilight was right, and there was also the promise he made.

    “I’ll find the Heart!” Twilight said, galloping off.

    There weren’t many ponies better suited than his sister to entrust the future of the world with he supposed.

    “She will find it, don’t you worry,” he said, gently rubbing his head against her’s.

    She looked up and smiled. “I know.”

    

 

    Cadance looked like death, her fur was pale, her eyes weren’t as bright, even her breathing had become labored and raspy. Every once and while her shield would flicker for a moment. Time was running out.

    In between bouts of unconsciousness, Cadance could hear his whispers.

    You will fail.

    He will leave you.

    She wouldn’t let him win. She could feel the dark king’s desperation, Twilight had to be close. She was so tired, but she had to go on. She just had to.

    The magic on Cadance’s horn was just a flicker now. She wouldn't let it fade. She would rather perish than let that beast win.

    “Cadance? Do you want to save them?” Shining whispered.

    “More than anything,” she managed to squeak out.

    “Do you trust me?”

    “Always.”

    Shining wrapped her up with his fore legs. “Then let it go.”

    Was he really saying that? She looked to him, a pleading look was etched on his face. “Let it go, Cadance”

    She closed her eyes, trusting in Shining’s judgement, and let her magic fade.

    The barrier collapsed almost instantly under Sombra’s assault, flickering just a moment before the winds of the abominable blizzard rushed in. Screams from the gathered crystal ponies below filled the air. Shadows raced towards the castle. A massive dark crystal spike erupted from the earth with Sombra riding along with it. It was the end.

    High above, a gleaming blue speck was falling through the air. She felt herself being lifted up by Shining’s powerful back. She opened her eyes and saw it.

    The Crystal Heart.

    Love radiated from it, filling her with renewed vigor and strength. Her wings unfurled, ready to take flight. She only nodded to Shining. It was time to end this.

    With a great heave of Shining’s muscles, she was airborne, streaking towards the falling Heart and dragon. She caught both of them with her magic as she flew above the crowd of hundreds of crystal ponies who "oohed" and "awed" with her passing.

    “Behold, The Crystal Princess!” one shouted.

    “The Crystal Heart has returned. Use the light and love within you to ensure that King Sombra does not!” she said positioning the Heart directly underneath the central spire. Two spikes locked the heart in place. The sound of building energy could be heard, and ponies began to bow one by one before their new princess.

    Every pony released their hopes, their dreams and love to the Heart, light spreading across the Empire. Through the streets, through ponies, buildings, and air it radiated in a dazzling blue glow.

    “What? No--no! Stop!” Sombra yelled, his dark magic already stripped away by the love of the fully powered Heart.

    The Heart began to whirl, drawing in the collected power, and all at once, it let it go in shock wave of pure love and light.

    The wave washed over the Empire. Crystal ponies regained their long lost sparkling coats, and regained the long lost smiles as the hope taken from the flooded their bodies. Even Twilight and her friends were shining like sparkling gems.

    Sombra watched on as the wave washed over him. He tried to hide, tried to stop it, but it was no use. Finally, oblivion’s sweet embrace was now his. No more pain, no more emptiness, just a tranquil nothingness for eternity. He should thank the new Crystal Princess for her mercy. For his crimes, the pits of Tartarus should have been all he deserved.

    “Let the light surround you.”

    That voice, it was like sweet music to his ears. The shadow he wrapped himself in so tightly dissolved and melted as the light, and the memories washed over him.

    Bright light filled his view as he felt two legs lifting him up. He looked up and saw a sight he never thought he would see again- the smile of the sky blue angel carrying him towards the happiness he abandoned so long ago.

    “Let the light surround you.”

    

 

    The crystal ponies were really nice once Cadance and Shining Armor got to properly meet them. They wanted to know everything about their new Princess and Prince, some even invited them over for drinks and jousting. There would be time for all of that, but first, Cadance and Shining Armor needed to see off their seven best friends.

    Twilight and others had all met up with them after the initial craziness died down. Shining and Cadance couldn’t believe what they had done making the fair work. There was petting zoo, food, the jousting tournament and even some lovely arts and crafts. Not to mention how they kept the crystal ponies' spirits high until little Spike found the real Crystal Heart. And Twilight, poor Twilight, she broke the only rule of her test.

    Only true, true friends would go through something like that. After the wedding it should of come as no surprise, but Cadance and Shining couldn’t help but feel a little undeserving.

    They waved goodbye to their friends as the trained pulled away from the station on its way back to Canterlot.

    “You know, I can’t help but worry what happened to Crystal and Luminare could happen to us,” Cadance said.

    Shining drew her into another hug. “We will never end up like them. I promise. Besides, they didn’t have those seven backing them up now did they?

    Cadance smiled, and leaned into Shining. “I guess not.”

    And so they walked through the melting snow, back to their new home and the site of the Crystal Heart. Where if anypony would have looked, they could have seen two figures, locked in a tender embrace, together for all of eternity.

    Love. Love has been praised in song and poem. Love is what binds us together, and makes life worth living. Love has made us slaves, saints, and sometimes, even monsters. Love fills us with the deepest of pains and the greatest of joys.

    Love is so many wonderful and joyous things, but one truth shines above the rest.  

    Through the highest of peaks and the lowest of valleys. Through long centuries and unimaginable loss.

    Through ice and shadow…


    … Love will find a way.

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