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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6. Chapter Six: When the Light Fades

Chapter Six: When the Light Fades

 

 



 

 

 

    The approaching sound of galloping hooves made him tense up. Even after losing what was most precious in his long life, duty still called, and could not be denied.

    “Rose Quartz reporting in, Sir. The attack seems to be over. What ever you and the Princess did sent them flying,” she said, snapping to attention.

    Luminare paused for a second. What was he going to do, or more importantly, what was he going to say? He was barely keeping himself together, and now he had to help the entire Empire through her loss.

    “Sir?”

    “Thank you Rose. I will need to convene court, and I want you to help get the word out,” Luminare said, every word a chore to spit out through the tears and sadness that were threatening to overwhelm him. They would, and soon, but not now.

    “Yes Sir,” she said, saluting and running off.

    Luminare looked to the Heart again. It was forever changed now, and he wasn’t sure it was for the better. How was he supposed to look upon it and not see Crystal’s sacrifice? How could he ever hope to be what Crystal was to everypony? Hope, the very thing he strived to spread all these years. Where was hope when he needed it most? There was no hope to save her- no hope of ever seeing her smile again. As far as he was concerned, there was no hope.

    Now that he thought of it, the heart wasn’t just the Crystal Heart any more, it was a part of her--it was her. She wasn’t going to be left here, on display for everypony to see. He grabbed the heart, and stormed off to the place he should have been all this time.

    

 

    The long halls of the castle had never felt so empty, so foreign. She had only been gone for a short while, and Luminare could tell everything had lost its usual luster. Crystal meant so much to everypony, even if they knew it or not. He hadn’t broken the news, and he saw ponies moping about the castle as he trotted past. He had never seen them so dejected; their bright and vibrant coats had already faded a little. They didn’t even notice that Luminare had the Crystal Heart in his possession.

    Finally he reached the grand staircase that lead to the central tower’s apex. He staggered at the sight of the steps. All the memories, all the feelings he had kept bottled up let loose. He would not use magic to get up these steps. Instead, he put one hoof forward, and started to walk.

    Every step he took, a tear would fall. Every step he took, another memory of Crystal would replay in his mind. Every little thing she said. Every warm embrace they shared. It all came back to him, and it tore at him, body and mind. Thousands upon thousands of steps, and he never once failed to wet one. His face was drenched and red--yet through the pain, and through the guilt, he reached the summit.

    Luminare lovingly floated the heart down to the center of the tower. This is where she told them about their shared fates all those years ago. This is where they would come to celebrate year after year. So many happy memories of lying here with her. She could rest here, and no pony would ever disturb her.

    He didn’t care what that meant for the ponies below. Honestly he didn’t really care at all anymore. Crystal was everything to him--the singular pillar holding his entire immortal life above the ravages of time. Now she was gone, and his entire world had come crashing down. He collapsed to the ground in a disheveled heap, holding tight to the Crystal Heart.

    It hurt to cry now, not that it would stop the tears from falling. And there he wept alone in his constant sorrow, until finally, mercifully, sleep took him.

    

 

    A peaceful, dreamless sleep is all Luminare asked for. The sweet nothingness of unconsciousness would be preferable to the nightmare his life had become.

    He awoke in a nearly pitch black space, a faint glow in the distance lighting up the otherwise featureless expanse. It was soothing here. It helped him forget about the real world and its troubles. No more pain, no more tears, no more memories of Crystal. This shadow he found himself in made it all go away. But then there was that light.

    He took a few steps towards the light and hesitated - the feelings of pain and loss increasing with the light’s intensity. Still he was inexorably drawn to it. Beneath the torment, was the kind and welcoming familiarity of something close to him, or part of him as he found out. In front of him was a single candle, its light casting a golden corona far greater than it had any right to be.

    His cutiemark.

    His special talent, his driving force, a symbol of everything he was. Was. Now? Now it filled him with nothing but a hurt that tore through to deepest part of soul, and a longing that could never be fulfilled. It was his burden, his curse, a reminder of his greatest failure. He was supposed to be the light of Hope - a shining beacon to all. How could be that now? Hope was a lie, one he had perpetuated for centuries.

    Oh, how he loathed the light, and its false promises. The darkness from earlier was were he belonged now. It was numbing, uncaring, unfeeling, and the only peace he knew. He brought his face the candle, its dancing flame reflecting in his tear-stained eyes. He was so weak now, so tired. He couldn't go on, not like this. There was only one choice left, one he knew would only end in tears.

    “Father, forgive me.”

    And with a great gust of his lungs, the light faded, and only shadow remained.

    

 

    Snow was falling on the Empire, forcing ponies into taking shelter in their crystal homes where hearths long dormant were filled and lit. Above them all, on the tower which used to protect them, lay Luminare. A snowflake gently fluttered and fell, landing on his snout.

    Slowly life returned to him. He stretched and groaned, taking time to get a few kinks out of his neck. Shaking loose some built up snow, he trotted up to the ledge of the spire, and took a look at the enchanted lands below. A deep and monstrous laugh rolled out of his belly. He was free. Free from the light, free from his destiny, free to show the world the one and only truth… Despair.

    On his side, the once burning candle had been snuffed out. Smoke was rising from the blackened wick, spreading across the stallion’s body, and dying it an ashen grey. His fiery mane faded and darkened to a charcoal black. His pupils became a piercing red, and his brilliant eyes turned an eerie green as shadowy magic poured from them. His horn curved to a smooth and sharpened point - its tip colored a sanguine red.

    Dark and bubbling magic spilled from his horn on to floor. The crystal rose by his command, its smooth bluish sheen twisting into a grotesque facsimile of a mirror. He looked good and princely- maybe even dark and dangerous. Not good enough. He thought back to his previous life, recalling images of nobles and their preposterous garbs they wore.

    Those will do.

    Shimmering balls sparked to life in front of him. With a pulse of magic, forms coalesced and took the shapes he desired. Silver barding snapped in place around his legs and chest, while a gaudy red cape with spotted white trim hung over his back and flanks. And last but least, a sleek jet black crown floated on to his head, and socketed around his horn. Now this was more like it. He looked regal, dominating - a look fit for royalty of his status. A look fit for a king.

    A cold wind swept across the tower’s precipice. Any normal pony would have been chilled to the bone, but to Luminare, it merely mirrored the coldness which had taken hold within him. The crunch of freshly fallen snow followed with each hoofstep as he approached the hallowed ground of Her resting place.

    That reminded him. The peasants below would not survive in this weather, and as reluctant as he was to admit it, they still served a purpose. Looking up to the sky, he let loose a dark beam of magic, and bent the weather to his will. The storm clouds fled like injured animals, leaving a menacing orange sky in their retreat.

    His magic once again oozed into life. Runes and marks of shadow appeared in a perimeter around the heart, and sank into the ground. The magic traveled down to the base of the tower, where it burrowed itself deep within the crystal walls. Nopony would disturb her, and now he made sure of it.

    With that taken care of, the time had come for everypony to meet their new king, and crush their little hearts with the news of Crystal’s demise. Though, King Luminare just didn’t sound right. He wasn’t that stallion any more, and he definitely wasn’t a stallion of the light such a name would imply.

    Sombra.

    That was a name he hadn’t thought about since his foalhood. A name that use to terrify him and drive him deep under the covers at night.Sombra. He was the boogeyman that was always out to get little Luminare, and always hiding in the shadows, waiting for him to fall. And now it seems the beast had finally caught him.

    It was so long ago when his father told him the tale of the shade which supposedly haunted their family. For as far as he could remember, his family had been ponies of light. They were candlemakers, lantern lighters, and hedge wizards who specialized in illumination. Sadly, they were also all lowborn, and never to be members of the Solar Guard, the raisers of the Sun. That all changed the day Luminare got his cutiemark.

    

 

    Today was to be like any other day. He would get up before the break of dawn and head down to the open air Shrine of the Sun. And just like everyday he would watch the stallions and mares of the Solar Guard practice their craft. Lately though, he had been coming more and more for the glimpses he would get of her. Princess Crystal sat next to her father in the royal booths. Why she would be here every morning was a mystery to him, but he was glad for whatever reason it was.

    She was always so happy, always smiling. A radiant blue angel among the dull stonework and uptight nobles. It was that smile which enchanted him, and kept him coming back for more. Secretly, he would pretend she was smiling just for him.

    Today was no different. Knights took their places around their charge, while nobles and the Princess took their usual places. Not many commoners came today, but that was to be expected any more; no pony wanted to make their already long days any longer. Luminare was stuck watching behind the shoddy wooden barriers that somepony thought made decent viewing platforms while keeping the peasantry back. Good thing the rotting wood was terrible at both tasks.

    A gentle hum filled the air as they started their ritual. Somedays they would sing, other days they would chant, either way it would always end with the Sun’s brilliant rays cutting through the many surronding peaks. He watched on while they sung, and waited for that glorious moment when light would flood the earth. And he waited, and waited. Something wasn't right. They never took this long. That was when he felt a tug on his horn and heard the whisper which would change his life.

    “Go. Lend your light to theirs.”

    He turned around, and tried to find the source of the mysterious voice. Nothing. Again he felt the tug while his horn began to glow a brilliant gold. Power unimagined coursed through him. He knew what he needed to do now as he vaulted over the wooden logs and galloped towards the struggling knights.

    Cries and howls came from the nobles.

    “Somepony stop him!”

    “What is he thinking?”

    But one voice rose above the rest, the voice of a little blue filly cutting through the shouts of angered ponies with the sound and harmony of a hundred silver bells.

    “I believe in you.”  

    Those four simple words of encouragement made his heart swell. Nothing could stop him now as he lept over the last barrier and took a place near the knights.

    Strange sensations washed over him; a rhythm tugging at his entire being. Every once in a while the rhythm would stop for just a brief moment before starting again.

    I wonder.

    The pause came once again, and he followed voice’s instruction. He let himself melt into the flow, melding his light with theirs. His hopes, his dreams, his zest for life combined with the others; their joint emotions igniting into blazing light.

    “Thank you,” the voice whispered.

    In the middle of the circle, a golden statue of the Sun began to glow. Even with his eyes closed, he was nearly blinded by light. And just when he couldn’t take anymore, the light faded and the rhythm stopped. Sunshine blanketed the mountain range, its snow capped peaks bathed in shimmering shades of yellows and oranges.

    He couldn’t believe it, he had help raise the Sun! That’s when he noticed the stern and very unenthused faces staring intently at him. He withered and shrunk under their collective gaze- feeling like a mere mouse in the presence of giants.

    “You, boy, what is your name?” an elderly stallion asked.

    “Luminare,” he squeaked.

    The stallion’s eyes grew while his frown turned into a welcoming smile. “Well then, Luminare. I suppose you and I are going to get acquainted quite well in the coming days,” he said pointing to Luminare’s side.

    Following the elder’s hoof, Luminare looked to his side to find a lit candle with a glowing halo around it.

    His cutiemark!

    The elder could see the fire in that young colt’s eyes. A burning passion not even the most valiant of his knight’s possesed. How one so young could join their choir, only the Sun knew, and for everyponies’ sake, he hoped the Sun knew what it was doing.

    “Come now Luminare, there are some ponies I would like you to meet,” the elder said, motioning Luminare to follow.

    “Yes sir!”

    On his way past the crowd of perturbed nobles, he took one last glimpse to see if he could spot the princess. To his surprise, she was still there, waving a hoof at and him and flashing a smile that nearly made him trip and fall.

    Later that night, around a large wooden table filled with baked bread and steaming vegetable stew, Luminare told his tale to his father, and showed him the pride that now adorned his flank.

    Instead of a happy embrace, or a pat on that back, his father sat there trembling in disbelief. He asked everypony to leave the room, so he could talk with his son, stallion on stallion. As the door locked, he looked his son dead in the eyes.

    “Son, I'm going to tell you a secret that does not leave this room. Do you understand?”

    Luminare gulped, and nodded.

    “Do you know why our family has never once raised the Sun when we, out of all ponies, should have had the honor many, many years ago?”

    “It’s because we aren’t nobles--right, father?”

    “No son, I wish it was just that. For many generations, our family has passed down a tale from father to son. A tale of the watcher in the night. A beast by the name of Sombra.

    “He stalks our line, waiting for the one who would finally touch the Sun, and the one who would fall from the light. It is said when that day comes, a great shadow would sweep across the kingdom, leaving it in the deepest, darkest pit of fear and despair. Son, I want you to promise me, whatever happens, never lose yourself. For I fear you have doomed us all this day.”

    

 

    Sombra. The name of the monster which haunted his nightmares for years after that night. The name of the monster who would drown a kingdom in darkness.

    The name of the monster he had become.

    A wicked, guttural laugh echoed from the tower. Shadows washed over Sombra, cloaking him in dark magic before he vanished from sight.

 

 

    Streams of light and magic flowed like tiny rivers into the horizon. Their pinks, blues, purples, yellows forked and dissipated, leaving tiny specks of white light in every direction as far as the eye could see. Crystal knew this place. She was here for the briefest of moments before finding herself thrust into the heavens. In this glowing expanse sat the love of every being of the world. From the faintest beginnings of a crush, to the tempered bonds of a long and happy marriage, she could feel them all.

   Yet she didn't care.

   In front of her was the faceted surface of the Crystal Heart, and in it, a view to the mortal world.

   It showed her everything - Luminare’s agonizing trek through the stairs, his struggle within the furthest reaches of his soul, and his ultimate failure. All the while she hopelessly bashed her hooves against the crystal window, and screamed his name over and over again in a desperate attempt to reach him.

    “Why, Luminare?” she yelled at the top of her lungs, tears pooling around her hooves. ‘Why...”

   How could he, the Light of Hope, hide such darkness within him? They had been together for literal ages, and she never once felt the touch of evil within him. That kind stallion was gone. No love resided in his heart--if even the tiniest glimmer remained she would feel it here.

   Luminare needed help, but what was she to do? She was trapped here, and would never be able to leave. To save the Heart she had bound herself to it, and became one with the magics of this realm. She dared not think of what would happen if she was to break that connection. To even manifest in the waking world would require conduit of sorts, a love strong enough to bear the weight of the Heart.

    “Luna!”

    Her old friend from her dreams. Her sisterly bond would be more than strong enough to support Crystal, and more than match for what had taken hold of Luminare.

    Crystal brought a hoof to her face, and wiped away the last of her tears. Enough of those had been shed today, now it was time for action. She galloped off down one of the many rivers of love. Luna and her sister had to be out here… somewhere.

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