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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2. Chapter Two: New Beginnings

Chapter Two: New Beginnings

 

 



 

 

 

    The night had been filled with food, drink, and of course, business. There had been many things to go over: Crystal’s exact obligations, where they would be staying, and even plans in case the earth ponies could never return. Crystal was impressed with the Chancellor; underneath that gaudy hat was the mind of a shrewd and experienced leader. But the evening was giving way to early morning, and a certain sister would be eagerly awaiting for some type of news. After a toast to good fortunes, Crystal and Luminare said their goodbyes.

    Puddinghead waved to the pair of unicorns as they departed her estate, and wished them all the luck in the world in the trials that were sure to come. The moon reflected off scattered pieces of ice that were once puddles of melted snow and slush. For once, there was not a cloud in sight. She looked up the starry sky, her trademarked grin as wide as ever.

    “Those two are really something! Even I had a hard time resisting her power! It seems like I’m leaving things in capable hooves just like you said. I’m so grateful for what you have done for me, and for my—her ponies.”

    

 

    Platinum paced back and forth along what was now a well worn path through the diplomatic suite. The recently polished wood floor had dulled with her nervous fidgeting. Even a groove was beginning to form under the wear of her hoofbeats. Her sister was never one to stay out this late, even during their youth. A gentle knock on the door drew her attention from the constant worry wracking her mind. A welcomed sigh of relief washed over her when she saw her sister and brother-in-law enter.

    Platinum knew better to doubt Luminare’s prowess when it came to defense, but it still would have been nice to have been sent a missive with their whereabouts.

    “Where have you two been? You had me worried sick.”

    Crystal wrapped her sister up in a another hug. “Sorry to worry you. We were guests of the good Chancellor for a better part of the evening, and we kind of lost track of time. But I bring news!”

    “Don’t tell me they actually agreed to restart negotiations.”

    “Nope, she made me Lady Regent to rule in her stead.” Crystal said, grinning ear to ear.

    Thud.

    “Oh dear. You weren't joking when you said she wouldn't react well.”

    Thankfully, a splash of chilled water was all it took to rouse Platinum from her little fainting spell. After informing her that Crystal really had been given the title to the entire earth pony empire, and it wasn't some elaborate joke to get back at her, the group came together to plan their next course of action. Sadly, no matter how hard they tried, it would likely involve saying goodbye for a very long time.

    

 

    Goodbyes are always hard, last goodbyes even harder. If one thing had come close to shaking Crystal’s resolve, it was seeing her family and her friends for what was possibly the last time. King Bullion, Platinum, her best friend Clover, and most of the other nobility had attended the farewell party being thrown in Luminare’s and her honor. Toasts were held, stories were told, and tears were shed, but all in all it went far better than Crystal had ever hoped.

    Platinum actually cried, disregarding the fact it was improper for the leader of the exploration expedition to show an emotion. For her part, Crystal joined her with her own tears.

    When confronting her father over her decision to remain with the earth ponies, he could only smile and lament that she was acting more and more like her mother everyday. Something about how when she had her heart set on something, there was no mountain too tall, or valley too wide that could stand in her way.

    Clover’s reaction on the other hoof was far more puzzling, it was almost like she had been planning for this day. Even going so far as to have several gifts waiting in the wings. Clover saw Crystal staring at the odd looking black box among all the colorful presents, and knew the reason why the princess was so drawn to it. “I know you want to open it now, but for my sake, could you do it when you are on your way back? Master Starswirl doesn't know I borrowed it,” she said with a mischievous grin.

    Not wanting to anger that old codger, Crystal decided that heeding her friend’s advice was in her and Clover’s best interest. Instead of asking questions, she smiled and hugged the young mage. Together they went back to enjoying the company of friends and family until the time came to say goodbye later that night.

    

 

    Crystal shuffled around in the cramped carriage taking them back to what was now her new home, trying to contain the foal-like glee brewing from within as not to wake Luminare. It was a struggle worming her way through the entirety of her belongings, but finally she found the object of her desire.

    She had no idea why she was overcome with such excitement over just a little gift from an old friend, but it finally dawned on her as she cracked open the magical seal placed upon the little box. The entire cabin filled with light, some from the object within, some from the increasingly luminescent mare.

    Her necklace.

    Memories came flooding back from that joyous day, her cute-ceañera to be exact.

    Ponies from near and far had come to see the princess with the rose colored heart for a mark. Some said it was sign of peace and prosperity, while others thought it to be a sign that Harmony was returning to the land.

    Either way it made no difference to Crystal, yet many ponies still insisted on bringing her gifts. Some honestly wishing her good fortunes, some trying to earn a blessing or favor, and one pony in particular—a zebra—only wished to speak with the young princess.

    “The coldness in their hearts will only grow

    But your mark of destiny they will learn to know

    Yet Spirits of winter’s wrath never cease

    Destroying the Sisters’ hope for lasting peace

    Now take my gift without reservations

    And use its light to save your nations”

    Crystal thought the zebra’s words only to be more cryptic, and ultimately wrong predictions of her future like many others had made before. That was until she opened the plain looking chest left in front of her. Now she wanted to know everything behind those words, and most of all, why her. She looked back and forth trying to find the zebra, desperate for some kind of answers, but she was already gone.

    In the chest lay a massive gemstone of swirling colors from all across the spectrum, which incidentally lent to its name. Cosmic Spectrum. Rarer than the most flawless of diamond, more luxurious than the most majestic of sapphires; if one wanted to purchase an entire kingdom, this “gift” would nearly accomplish that.

    Crystal was speechless; she had never seen Cosmic Spectrum before, even in her time as the royal jeweler’s apprentice. And to see such a large gem was not only unheard of, but claiming such thing existed would have a pony laughed out of any reputable social circle.

    She needed to keep this a secret, at least until she could cut it down to a presentable shape. Looking back to her flank, she knew just the one the zebra had intended.

 

 

    It took months of working in secret to finally cut and polish the gem into a miniature replica of her cutiemark, but in the end it was so worth it. She rushed to her room, and its set of mirrors so she could see her hard work adorning her neck at last. With little twist of her magic, the heart came to rest on her chest. She twirled around, checking out how it looked from different angles against her sky blue coat. She wasn’t too up to date on current fads in court, but even she knew that she would turn some heads at the next gala.

    Crystal thought back to the zebra and her words. What made her so deserving of this gift? She had only managed to bring together two feuding noble families. How others hadn't seen the love the heiress and heir had for each other, she did not know. But it only took her presence, a few words, and a little helping push from her magic for them to come together.

    Getting a cutiemark from doing what came natural was not something she had expected. The feeling of contentment and knowing that she had spread just a little bit of love and joy to the world was a reward in itself.

    Lost in her own little world, Crystal had failed to notice the necklace glowing ever brighter. A warm feeling began spreading from her chest then to the rest of body like she had slipped into a perfectly drawn bath. It was when she herself started to glow that she looked down to the near blinding light of her necklace. No worry or fear gripped her heart as a white flash enveloped her-only the total serenity of the world’s love opening up to her.

    

 

    Her heartbeat quickened, sending pulses of adrenaline coursing through her veins. Quickly she closed the box and reapplied the magical seals. Sure that it posed no more danger, she finally took a moment to place a hoof over her throbbing chest and take a deep, gasping breath.

    That was close.

    Unlike the first time the necklace had nearly taken her, she knew the consequences of inaction. The maids never could remove the scorch marks, or the fused and melted glass from her dressing room floor.

    Nor did she forget the long lecture she received from the Archmage about dealing with such powerful magic, and that artifacts of such power did not belong in the care of such careless little fillies.

    What did he know anyway? In all the time he had the necklace, he could never replicate what Crystal had done, even after she told him that it wasn’t just the necklace that caused the near calamity.

    Carefully she levitated the little container to the rear of the carriage, making sure it was as far away from her as possible. Why had Clover gone through the trouble of giving this back?

    ’And use its light to save your nations.’ Sorry you old zebra sage, but that ship has sailed.

    

 

    Again Crystal and Luminare found themselves passing through the massive wooden threshold of the city’s gate. Now instead of the hustle and bustle of lively city, deserted streets and an eerie stillness greeted them.

    “It looks like nopony is home. Are you sure Puddinghead knows what she is doing? ” Luminare asked.

    Crystal nodded. “Sure as sure.”

    Despite his wife’s assurances, Luminare still felt uneasy at the rate which all these events had unfolded. If he hadn’t have known better, he could swear somepony was orchestrating every little bit of his life for the past month. And there Crystal went, rushing off to do whatever she could to show ponies that somepony cared.

    This wasn’t the first time she had done something so brash, never thinking of the consequences that would result from her actions. Consequences not so much to others, but to herself.

    Luminare thought back to the days he was still courting Crystal. By the Sun, she hasn't changed in all these years, and he loved her for it.

    

 

    It was winter, actually winter, not some magical doom frost that would surely end all life as he knew it. Not quite as cold as it was now, but enough to chill a mare to the bone if they weren't careful. Of course that would never stop Crystal from pulling an elderly couple’s cart home from the Winter Moon Celebration, or turning back when the wind picked up.

    When she had finally made it back to the castle the following day, she was in a dreadful state. Her blue coat had nearly turned into a pale grey, frost clung to her muzzle and eyes, and no matter how many blankets the maids piled on-she would not stop shivering. She didn’t even know where she was; she only kept calling Luminare’s name before mercifully passing out from exhaustion.

    He had heard the news that his lady was close to death soon after. He couldn't believe how reckless her actions had been, or that she made it home in the first place judging from the quaking bundle of fur and blankets beneath him.

    “Oh Crystal, look what you have done to yourself,” Luminare said, sliding up next to his beloved.

    There he lay, watching her take one labored breath after another, praying to the Sun and Moon she would survive another day. Hours he spent beside her, stoking the fire, telling her tales of gallantry from the past. Anything to keep her safe and warm in his clutch. The hours grew late, duty called, and soon he would have to leave. But as he started to leave her side, he felt a hoof wrap itself around his foreleg.

    “Please,” a raspy voice barely eked out, “please don't leave.”

    He stared into her amber eyes, promising to her and himself that he would never leave her side in this life or the next. Luminare sat back down, curling himself around the only being in all of existence that mattered to him now.

    The Sun would not rise that day.

    After what seemed like an eternity, a week had passed and Crystal was back to her energetic self. But Luminare would never forget that night, and the promise he made.

    A promise he intended to keep by proposing just a day later. A promise he has kept, even now as they made their way through the abandoned streets of their new home.

    Never would he leave her side.

    

 

    Just as the Chancellor had told her, the center of town was filled the sounds of city life. Ponies were haggling over the price of apples in the makeshift market, wagon wheels ground through the hardened slush, even a few colts and fillies were building a snowpony on a street corner. All of which abruptly stopped when the royal carriage and its occupants passed by.

    By the time they reached the city hall and their new place of residence, Luminare and Crystal had gathered quite the following. Everypony left in the town had crowded around their new leaders, eager to catch a glimpse of the ponies who had awed the great Puddinghead.

    Whispers and mutterings were quietly exchanged, each one more absurd than the last. Some said a savage pony from the north had swooped in and threatened the Chancellor into giving him control over the town. Others said a prince from a faraway land had wooed Puddinghead with gifts and a silver tongue. They were all proven wrong when two unassuming unicorns stepped out into the street.

    One could hear a pin drop as the crowd stood slack jawed in front of their new Prince and Princess. One pair paralyzed by fear from the sheer amount of ponies who had to chosen to stay, the other trying to process how their old leader could put two unicorns in charge.

    Taking deep practiced breaths, Crystal put on her best smile for the crowd.

    “Hello everypony! I am Princess Crystal, and this is my husband Prince Luminare,” Crystal said, both ponies taking a bow before their new subjects. “I know this perpetual winter has been hard on all of us. And I want you to know that I will do everything within my power to make sure we will make it through.”

    A gruff snort came from somepony in back. “I wouldn’t take help from some pointy-headed freak, even if my life depended on it!”

    Luminare clenched his teeth, stepping forward just a bit towards the source of the voice. He was about to speak when Crystal laid a hoof on his chest, shaking her head.

    “You in the back there! Yes you! The one who called me a freak. Could you please come forward. I am not angry. I just wish to speak with you.”

    A burly mass of muscle and grit shambled forth. By the Moon was he big, dwarfing the petite mare by at least two horn lengths.

    “What is your name, Sir?” Crystal inquired.

    “Name’s Wrought Iron, most ponies just call me Ron though. Don’t laugh.”

    “Okay Ron, what is it that makes me a freak? Is it this?” Crystal said, pointing to her horn.

    Wrought Iron nodded. “That, and the crazy, weird magic you can do.”

    “Oh is that true? Tell me, what would happen if you were to, say, buck that building over there as hard you could?” she said, pointing to a rather robust looking stone house.

    “Well I suppose I would cave in the foundation. Why?”

    “Do you think either Luminare or I could accomplish such a feat? Do you think even the mighty Commander Hurricane could destroy a building in a single blow?”

    “Well I guess not, but what does that have to do with anything?”

    “Magic, Ron, magic. Sure we unicorns have horns which let us do seemingly terrifying, and miraculous tasks. But you earth ponies possess strength beyond anything we could hope to match. You can sing to the earth, coaxing it to make your crops lush and green. The pegasi have their own brand of magic. If we could fly as they do, we couldn't step foot in their floating cities, and we couldn't hope to stop a stubborn cloud from ruining an otherwise perfect sky.”

    Crystal looked the wall of pony dead in the eyes. “Can’t you see Ron? We all have magic, and we are all the same.”

    The ash grey pony faltered for a second, lost in the amber depths. There was only love deep down in that mare’s soul, genuine and pure.

    What was this little unicorn doing to him? Why did he feel so warm and bubbly? Deep down inside, the warmth of unicorn’s aura melting the icy grip upon his heart. He couldn’t hate this creature in front of him-he couldn’t stop himself from taking a knee before his princess.

    “I’m so sorry my Lady, please forgive me.”

    Crystal smiled, all these ponies needed was to be shown that they were all in this together, wing, horn, and hoof. She lent over the stallion, wrapping his neck—or at least as far as she could—in a hug.

    “Of course I forgive you! What kind of princess would I be if I let one petty insult ruin a chance to make a new friend!”

    A certain sister in law popped into Luminare’s head, but he let it pass with only a stifled chuckle.

    Like a chain reaction, pony after pony began cheering and chanting their princess’s name. Above the town the storm clouds broke, the winds died down, and the sun shone for the first time in months.

    Far away, three sets of ice blue eyes glared at the source of warmth and love that causing them so much pain and frustration. A puny, insignificant mortal. But if there was one thing about mortals, they could be easily dealt with.

    No cloud may have obscured the sky above the town that day, but the mountains which cradled it were not so lucky. Shrill cries began echoing across the valley, and the sky turned pitch black as the snow began to fall.

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