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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5. Chapter Five: Snowflakes and Ash

Chapter Five: Snowflakes and Ash

 

 



 

 

    It was that time of year again. The autumn harvest had just finished up, and there was a slight nip in the morning air. Everything screamed that the Crystal Fair was ready to begin. Unfortunately for Rose Quartz, she was stuck serving post during the most important jousting tournament of year. She let out a sigh, blowing a piece of her sparkling ruby hair out of her eyes. She wasn't even supposed to be here today, and now she was stuck with the most boring job a royal guard could do.

    Oh well, it's not like today could get any worse.

    With another sigh she scanned the horizon beyond the Empire's magic. Why Prince Luminare insisted on having border patrols was anypony’s guess. Nothing ever happened out here--just the same old boring snow, the same old white drifts, and the same old caravan of ponies. Wait. Shaking her head, she did a double take to make sure she hadn't gone insane. Sure enough, there were five coaches flanked by at least twenty ponies.

    How in Crystal's name did they make it here?

    There were stories of the occasional pony from the south finding their little bit of paradise, but this was an unprecedented number. It seems like the fair was going to have a few more guests tonight. She needed go get superior--maybe even the Prince or Princess--and now. She started to turn back, but a stallion’s cries for help reached her.

    She had never seen an outsider. He looked so strange with his plain auburn mane and an equally plain tan coat buried underneath the layers of cold weather gear; no sparkles, and no shine. Now that she thought of it, they looked remarkably similar to the Prince Luminare. Regardless, if somepony was in trouble, it was her duty to help.

    “Thank goodness we found you. My wife is going into labor, and we don’t know what to do,” the stallion said, ushering Rose into the back of one of the carriages.

    “Wait, there is nothing—” Rose tried to say as everything went black.

    Behind, two darkened figures hovered over the unconscious pony.

    “Are they always this gullible?” a feminine voice asked in a mocking tone.

    “Yes, Chrissy. Yes they are.”

    The stallion and Rose exited the carriage, shuffling through the snow towards an unsuspecting Empire.

    “Remember what I taught you, and everything will be fine,” the stallion said.

    Rose turned to the stallion, her eyes looking distant and blue. “Don’t worry, father. I'm not the one who has to deal with her.”

    She was right, the first steps have gone exactly to plan, but now it was all up to him.

    

 

    Princess Crystal and Prince Luminare stood triumphant in their castle’s balcony. Her flowing mane and radiant aura displayed in in all their glory. Gleaming crystal paths filled with equally gleaming crystal ponies stretched as far as they could see in each direction. An undulating mass of sparkling pastels, all waiting in bated breath for her to give the word.

    “And it’s my honor to announce this year’s Crystal Fair officially open!” Crystal yelled, as an uproar of cheers and celebration echoed across the Empire.

    “Marvelous,” Luminare began to say, “And as always, I can’t wait for later.”

    “You know I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” she beamed.

    So many years had passed, and she still had the same genuine smile he fell in love with. Crystal had changed over the years, every pony does. Seeing her going through a growth spurt several centuries back was unexpected to say the least. Luminare had always looked up to her, though he never imagined he would have to physically. Yes she had changed, but her caring and compassionate nature had only grown. And like always, Luminare was there, striving to follow in her hoofsteps.

    He had seen his fair share of change as well. So many ponies had come and gone. So many memories and  so many friends. He took this time of year to reflect on his past. Where he had been, and where he was going. He had turned to books of all places. The mind was sharpest weapon of all. That, and learning more powerful magic was something he always wanted to do, but he never had the time. A problem he no longer had.

    Then there was their ponies. By the Sun they made them so proud. Those first few years had been trying times, but they came together, thanks in no small part to Crystal’s benevolent deviousness. Yet nothing compared to the effects the Empire’s magic had upon them. And now, they didn't even resemble any of the three tribes of old. They truly had become one.

    A mare calling his name snapped him back to the present. Rose Quartz was her name. She may not of looked it, but Luminare knew a thing or two about selecting ponies to join his guard, and she was going to go far. It must be something important she was seeking him out. Sure enough, right behind her was several coaches and ponies Luminare never thought he would see again.

    Pegasi fluttered about, unicorns trotted along, and the ever powerful earth ponies could be seen drawing the carriages of the newcomers. By Rose, stood a tan earth pony. He was well dressed with purple finery, and carried about an air of earned smugness. A noble no doubt.

    It had been many years since anypony from the south had ventured this far. Crystal had been in contact with one of their leaders through some crazy alicorn magic for a while now, but having a prominent pony in the flesh was very new. Yes, it was probably best to let Crystal handle this. She was always better with ponies than he was after all.

    Rose galloped up to them, saluting, then bowing. “Your highness, I bring before you Lord Mayflower,” she said, allowing the earth pony a place before the royals.

    “Ahh… Princess Crystal. Tales of your beauty do no you justice,” Mayflower said, bowing and placing a kiss on Crystal’s hoof. He turned, meeting the glare of a very unenthused prince. Luminare had been a great many of things in his life, but jealous was not one of them. Mayflower’s pupils shrunk to pinpricks for only a second, before recomposing himself despite Luminare’s best efforts.

    "And you must be the fiery Prince Luminare. I am Lord Mayflower, and this,” he said, pointing to the ponies behind him, “is my fellowship.”

    “We welcome you to the Crystal Empire, Lord Mayflower. As you can guess, we do not get many guests here, but I will ensure your stay here will be lovely,” Crystal said, bidding him to rise.

    “Charmed,” Luminare deadpanned.

    “I hope so, your Highness. We are not just visiting. We came to make a new start. And we were hoping, if you would let us, we could do it here.”

    Crystal’s eyes lit up, their brightness only matched by the grin she wore. “Of course! The Empire is welcome to all. Please, join us for dinner tonight. I would love to learn all about you, and your friends.”

    Something about Mayflower wasn’t right. It wasn’t just that he had placed his lips upon Crystal’s hoof, many ponies have done that before, and many more will. He seemed fake, hollow. The air around him was cold and draining, like the ambient magic was being sucked into some sort of void.

    Was it horrible of him to think this way about a pony he just met? Yes, and he would never hear the end of it from Crystal. Still, a primal fear deep down was screaming at him that something was terribly wrong. But it was his duty to give the newcomers a chance, even if he was a little more vigilant around them. Perhaps Crystal’s impromptu dinner plans would set him more at ease.

    As the nobles and royalty discussed matters that were far too important for the ears of simple guardsponies, Rose had struck up a conversation with some of her colleagues.

    “So, what’s plan for later?” she asked.

    She was met with a series of shrugs and “uhhs”.

    “Nothing? That’s perfect! My cousin is throwing a party at the tavern down the road, and I know I score us some free crystal cider. Meet up in an hour?” Nopony would refuse a drink, and sure enough they all agreed to meet her up at the address she gave them.

    This is almost too easy.

    

 

    The day was spent with a tour around the Empire, and avoiding Luminare’s suspicious gaze. Crystal would go on and on about the history of a particular building or regale him with tales of long ago. Even it had only lasted a second, a tinge of regret had popped up in the back of his mind of the fate that awaited this beautiful land. He couldn’t let himself grow weak now. All that mattered was his “fellowship” had been shown to the castle to rest and relax, and after hours of constant drivel from the two ponies, they had finally arrived to a large banquet hall.

    He had to admit, it was grand by any standard. Banners both ancient and new hung overhead. Pastel stained glass windows cast a colorful hue across the entire room. A large blue crystal table sat in center, topped with a variety of dishes; the smell would of made his mouth water if he were capable of such thing.

    Guards lead by Rose Quartz stood on the perimeter in their polished armor and signature stoic pose. Caterers and servants were scurrying back and forth, no doubt worrying about every last detail. At the head of the table sat Crystal, to her right Luminare, and many other of their friends lined the seats further down. Everything was in place and awaiting the moment he could play his masterstroke.

    Being the guest of honor, Mayflower was afforded a seat to Crystal’s left. There he produced a sealed bottle. To anypony it would of looked like a fine vintage of wine from the southern hills of Canterlot. Thankfully, he was not anypony. The ingredients that went into making it had been very expensive and hard to come by. Hopefully that pea-brained alchemist was right, or things would get very awkward, and very soon.

    “A token of good things to come,” he whispered to Crystal, passing the bottle to her.

    Taking hold of the bottle with her magic, she popped the cork and filled the glasses of everypony at the table. She gently sat down the bottle, and lifted her her own glass into the air.

    “Fillies and gentlecolts. Today as we celebrate our togetherness; I would like to welcome some new faces, ones who wish to join our Empire, just so they can experience the love and joy it all brings us,” she said, ringing her glass so all would rise. “I propose a toast. To friends of old. To another year of bliss. And to the pony who is responsible for all our new friends: Lord Mayflower,” she said, taking a swig, and looking Mayflower dead in the eyes.

    This was it, the moment years of planning and scheming had lead to. He returned her gaze, and took a quick swig of his own cup. The warm bubbly feeling rushing down his throat was nothing compared to power he felt surging from the Crystal Princess. It had worked! She was his, and there was nothing anypony could do to stop him.

    Like Luminare, ponies all around spat the foul mixture out of their mouths. Then it hit him. A searing, ripping sensation tore across his chest, and deep into his being. He doubled over, spasming on the hall’s floor. Through the pain he could see Crystal wasn’t faring much better. Her coat had grown pale and dull. All the while she clutched her chest, desperately trying to hold on to some invisible object.

    “Why schmoopy doo? Why are trying to take him?” she cried.

    What did she just say?

    “Come now Crystal, you know there is only room in there for me now,” Mayflower said gleefully, a green fire burning within his eyes.

    “MAYFLOWER! What is the meaning of this treachery?!” Luminare bellowed.

    “You ponies. Always demanding, always accusing. All we changelings ever wanted was love! And now I have her!”

    “No,” Crystal whispered before passing out.

    That was enough for Luminare. “Guards! Seize him! And make sure the rest of his followers are placed under watch!”

    To his horror, his most trusted of friends and compatriots stood there with menacing smirks on their faces.

    “Poor, poor Luminare, you were right to fear me. Oh yes, I knew. Guards, take him away.”

    “As you wish, King Morpheus,” Rose said, bowing to the earth pony.

    Green fire erupted from the ponies he thought friends, leaving creatures who looked as they crawled from the nightmares of some foal. They were black as the blackest night, grotesque holes were scattered about their equine forms, empty ice blue eyes, sharp fangs, and gnarled horns dominated their heads, and translucent insect wings adorned their backs. Atop the being that was once Mayflower, a crown resembling some sort of fungus sat. No longer trapped in his earth pony disguise, he stood head and shoulders above Luminare, matching Crystal’s impressive stature.

    Luminare felt the grasp of one of vile creatures dragging him away, helpless to do anything as he watched Crystal slip out of his sight.

    “So Princess, let us see this Crystal Heart I keep hearing about,” Morpheus said, the shouting and screaming echoing across the room music to his ears.

    

 

    Shaking his head to clear the fog, Luminare awoke groaning in pain. Everything hurt--his legs, his hooves, his back, his head, and even his horn. What ever that beast had done to him was very powerful, and very scary now that he thought of it. Even Stormseeker wasn’t capable of inflicting this much damage upon him. Where was he? He glanced around, trying to piece together his surroundings.

    He found himself in a darkened room. Pods of green, glowing slime reflecting off the moisture slicked walls. He swore he saw equine shapes moving within the alien growths.

    “You’re awake. Good. I was getting… hungry,” the monster that was once Rose said, licking one of her fangs.

    “Where is Crystal?” Luminare snarled, struggling to get his hooves.

    “Father is taking her on a date last I heard. The main course being your precious Crystal Heart. It’s such a shame I’m stuck with the leftovers,” she said, staring intently at Luminare. “I bet you taste spicy.”

    She walked closer until she was face to face with the enraged pony. “Now sit still, I promise this will only hurt for the rest of your life.”

    Green fire traced across Luminare, and flowed into the open maw of the beast. “Such power…”

    The fire continued to spread. He felt so weak, so useless. That was until the beast tried to pry at something that did not belong to her. Familiar blue magic arced across Luminare, right towards the mangled horn of his captor. In a flash, the beast cried out in pain.

    “What was that?” she growled.

    “My wife.”

    He felt Crystal’s magic pour into his deepest parts of his being, and with every beat of his heart he could feel it coursing through him. His blood was on fire, his strength had returned, and now this changeling would feel his wrath.

    “I know not what your true nature is, but you remind of a tick. And you know how I used to deal with parasites?” he said, his entire body igniting like a torch. “Flame.”

    She was in over her head. He wasn’t supposed to be this strong after the potion. Either through treachery, or incompetence her father had lead her to this failure.

    “Now listen,” Luminare said, leaning closer to changeling. “I want you, and the the rest of your misbegotten kind out of the Empire. Or things are going to get very, very unpleasant.”

    Ponies were supposedly weak, pathetic creatures, incapable of such acts. But the look in his eyes told her that the stallion’s threats were not hollow. She had no choice.

    Luminare reined himself in while he watched the changeling flee. He wasn’t going to pursue her. This was no time for petty vengeance. Crystal needed help, and fast. His magic sprang to life, cutting open the pods the were scattered around the room. The forms of Rose Quartz and the other missing guardsponies spilled onto the floor. One by one he helped them up and cleaned them off. Fortunately, they looked no worse for wear beyond some residual slime.

    He filled them in as they raced towards the castle. Hopefully they would be enough to stop whatever the other changelings so he could make it to their King.

    Hopefully he wasn’t too late.

    

 

    “You will pay for that!” Morpheus howled, as a blue jolt sent him flying across the crystal floor, “Lousy good for nothing quack told me that love poison would have you head over hooves for me.”

    “I am the Princess of Love. Do you really think something like that could stop me?” Crystal boasted. She was lying, convincing though she was. If it really had done nothing, that obnoxious bug would be halfway to some Moon-forsaken wasteland. The poison almost turned her into a gibbering mess. If it wasn’t for some quick acting, and some help from Luminare, she would be nothing more than a loveless husk right now.

    “No matter. You were only to be an appetizer, just another stepping stone on the way to my true destiny,” Morpheus said, letting loose an evil laugh, “Besides, if you had any real power left, I would be halfway to the dragon badlands.”

    Oh horse apples.

    “I may not be able to feast on your love, but yours is not the only heart I desire,” he said, gazing at the floating Crystal Heart. “It’s incredible to a being like myself. A nexus to the entire world’s love, ripe and waiting, just for me. Do you know what I can do with that much power?”

    “Umm… no?”

    “I CAN BECOME A GOD!” he bellowed, slamming his hooves down in a shower of sparks, and sending Crystal reeling back towards a crystal arch.

    The gross green fire of his magic wrapped itself around the Heart like a snake squeezing the life out of some unfortunate prey. Nothing compared to the power which flowed into him. Even the Crystal Princess’s magic felt like a drop in the bucket under the Crystal Heart’s unrelenting torrent. With this he would become more than a mere god. Not even the Sun and Moon could hope to stop him.

    Morpheus pressed his assault. His magic coiled tighter around the Heart. The sporadic sounds of shattering glass echoed off the crystal chamber. Fractures spider webbed across the its surface as rays of light and magic poured from them. To Crystal’s mounting horror, he wasn’t draining the Heart, he was destroying it.

    “Please stop! Please anything but that. Drain me dry, but leave the heart alone.”

    Morpheus leapt in front of Crystal, bringing them face to face. Steam snorted out of his nostrils and green fire erupted from his eyes.

    “Do you honestly think I give a flying feather about the Heart, or what will happen to your precious Empire when it shatters? No, you are going to watch as suck the life from it, and see your precious little ponies freeze and suffer until the winter claims every last one of them.”

    “You stay away from her!” roared a being that was part fire and part pony. With a sickening crunch, it slammed into Morpheus, sending the changeling rocketing into nearby wall, and the Crystal Heart tumbling through the air. In a burst of magic, the surrounding crystal morphed around the changeling, and sealed him behind several feet of the stuff.

    Crystal dashed towards the heart, catching it with her hooves moments before it impacted. She looked it over, and her blood ran cold. Her worst fears were becoming a reality.

    “Crystal? Is everything all right? He didn’t hurt you did he?” Luminare asked, the flames surrounding him dying out.

    “No,” she replied, holding up the heart.

    How it was still in one piece was miracle in itself. Glowing liquid leaked from the myriad of cracks across its pink surface. Its once terrific brilliance was only a faint glimmer.

    “Can you save it?”

    Crystal thought over what she could possibly do to mend the broken heart. It would take a unimaginably powerful source of the purest of love. And sadly, only one thing in the entire world that would do. She had to do it, for them, she must.

    “Yes,” she began to reply, ears drooping while tears ran down her cheek, “But it needs love Luminare, not just any either, it needs... Me.”

    Luminare couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “No, you can’t. You just can’t.”

    Thud.

    “When I get out here, you will wish I had only drained the life out of you!” an enraged voice roared as the crystal wall cracked and crumbled.

    “Luminare, do you love them?”

    “With all my heart.”

    “Do you love me?”

    “Now and forever.”

    Crystal stepped closer to Luminare, bringing her muzzle close to his and surrounding him with the feathery embrace of her wings.

    “Then don’t hold back,” she said, kissing the stallion.

    This went against everything he had devoted his life to. It was to never come to this. The promise he made all those years ago, the promise he had faithfully fulfilled to this day, was to be broken by his own hooves. He wished with all his soul that there was another way, but Crystal wouldn’t even suggest such a thing if there was another way. For the Empire, for his friends, for the world, and for her, he would do what she asked.

    A blue light erupted from the two ponies, and a glowing ethereal heart was drawn Luminare’s chest. It gently floated over the dying Crystal Heart. Crystal brought the tip of her horn to Luminare’s, giving him one last smile. “Goodbye, the Light of my life.”

    “Goodbye, my Love.”

    In a blinding flash, magic exploded all around the couple. The ethereal heart and Crystal Heart became one. The cracks and fractures sealing and mending with brilliant sky blue light.

    Crash. “Daddy’s home!” Morpheus cackled madly, before the wave of magic struck him. “NO. I will not be denied!” he roared, vanishing in the blinding, all encompassing light. Across the Empire, the marauding changeling's were swept away by the wave, sending them flying well over the horizon.

    The light faded, and Luminare opened his eyes. Only the Crystal Heart remained, once again suspended in its rightful place. She was gone, and he knew deep down that she wasn't coming back. The little bit of composure he had left nearly shattered when he gazed upon the Heart. No longer the rose colored beauty had had known for centuries, it was now a familiar sky blue sheen. She had truly given everything to save her ponies.

    And there he sat, eyes locked with the Heart while little particles of Crystal’s magic fell like snowflakes all around him. For Luminare, they may as well been ash.

Author's Note:

I felt awful after writing this chapter. Then I remembered this story wasn't going to be tagged Sad.

Edited 6/5/2014

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