• Published 11th Sep 2013
  • 1,553 Views, 214 Comments

Keeper of the Crystal Heart - Cerulean Voice



An empire arises from the midst of a frozen wasteland. But how is this possible? A group of three young ones will unearth the secret. A sequel to These Flowers Never Bloom.

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Moonfall And Sunrise

“So, what brings an Earth pony and a pegasus to Unitopia anyway?” Edge asked Valencia. The three ponies trotted back down the spiral staircase, having examined the east tower—or rather, what was left of it—and found no sign of the royals. “It’s rare, even in these harmonious days, to see any of our other racial brethren inside the city.”

Valencia simply shrugged. “Heck if I know. Two days ago, if somepony told me I’d be here in this castle, trying to rescue the unicorn king from an invading changeling horde, I’d have smacked them upside the head to knock some sense back into them. But the four of us have really been on quite the wild adventure lately. Now we’re the only ones who can halt this insane infestation.”

“The four of you? I only count two. Where, may I ask, are these phantom companions of yours?”

“Well right now, they’re in the throne room, fighting to save the world from an evil changeling queen,” Cirrus piped up. “They’ll be fine—how hard can a changeling be to take down?”

Edge stopped short; Valencia had to pull up sharply to avoid colliding with his flank. “They’re fighting the changeling queen? Are they insane?"

Edge set off into a much more hasty gallop down the stairs, as Valencia and Cirrus shook their heads and sprinted after him.

“Now wait just a minute, Edge!” Valencia called out, “Aura and Clover aren’t alone down there. They have backup—we’ve got our own super-powerful secret weapons. Alicorns. Two sisters named Celestia and Luna. Trust me, they’re more than a match for Queen Mantissia.”

Edge’s eyes bulged once more. “Alicorns? Clover? Princess Aura?" Edge rounded on the pair. “The king’s youngest daughter is fighting the queen? By Levitatus’ beard! We have to go help them, right now! She’s barely older than twelve winters! Why is such a young, important, vulnerable filly risking her life alongside some random alicorn and… Clover? As in, Clover the Clever?" The stallion stopped to lean against a wall at the base of the staircase, his head swimming.

“Yes, indeed she is. We owe her our lives. Everypony in Equestria does, in fact. Again. The mare is making a habit of accumulating life-debts,” chuckled Valencia. “But you don’t need to worry about her or Aura—”

Princess Aura.”

“—Yes, her,” Valencia huffed. “Celestia will make sure that no harm befalls either of them. Now come on! They must be in one of the other towers.”

“But you don’t understand, Valencia! Princess Aura—”

“—Is an incredibly powerful young filly. She’s casting high-level spells now that most adults couldn't possibly dream of accomplishing in their prime. Whatever version of Princess Aura you may have known before… no longer exists. You’ll see what I mean when you look upon her again.”

Valencia closed off her statement, poking her head around a corner, which Edge had earlier informed her led to the north tower.

“Hey, Valencia, how do you think they’re going down there? I hope everypony’s okay,” Cirrus said.

Valencia picked up on the worry in his voice, unable to keep herself as calm as she would have liked. We have been searching for a while now…

* * * * *

“Hahahahahahahaha! You all look like a bunch of deer caught in a fireworks display! It’s quite amusing, actually, how you all thought you stood a chance against me. Me, wielder of the most potent form of power! Well, have you any last words, before I pound your worthless skulls into dust?”

Mantissia, still super-buffed by the collective pool of love from her children, gloated down at the exhausted trio beneath her hooves. Celestia’s shield still held up, but it sported more cracks throughout it than a ruined spiderweb. Clover and Aura were also at their limits trying to sustain the shield while Celestia battled bravely on. Every blow from Mantissia generated a quake throughout the room.

Such overwhelming power… Aura could feel her own beginning to fade. The waves of darkness and evil coming off the mega-changeling were more intense than any power she’d ever felt. Concentration already lapsing from the pressure of the situation at hoof, Aura reached out a mental link to Luna.

Luna? Are you there? We really, really need help here. Celestia’s fading fast and the queen just doesn’t slow down. We can’t keep this up for much longer.

Fear not, dear Aura, I will be with you soon. For some reason, the changelings pursuing me just started dropping like flies. Like their energy was instantly sapped. I cannot explain it, though I assure you that I am not complaining either.

Please, hurry! We need—

Wham!

The connection was cut off as Mantissia sent Celestia flying, directly into Aura. Stunned, she lay beneath the injured body of her guardian. Celestia looked worse every second. With Aura’s focus broken, the shield had been dispelled. Only then did the extent of Celestia’s injuries become evident.

Her nose was once again bloodied. Multiple gashes stemmed from her neck where Mantissia’s unnaturally-enlarged horn had slashed her. Her back, sides and legs showed multiple blemishes where the skin had been broken against the floor, the walls, or from the queen’s powerful blows. Her breathing came out shallow and ragged. Had she been just a normal unicorn like me…

Clover looked on in disbelief. The three of them were giving all they had to subdue Mantissia, but their enemy laughably brushed off any attack they landed on her, returning the power tenfold. How can we contain such strength? We’ve not the spell-power to land any worthwhile hit, much less a stunner on this abomination! Our shields are gone, she’s pressing her attack relentlessly… Valencia, Cirrus, Luna, hurry!

“Well? I won’t ask you again, ponies,” Mantissia taunted. “What sort of epitaph should I engrave on your tombstones? 'Here lies Clover the not-so-clever?' Or how about 'Celestia, the one who let the world down?' Or even 'Beneath this stone, the brightest Aura lies extinguished?' You know, all you had to do was let me take over and you could have spared yourselves this terrible fate.”

“Personally, I’d prefer a headstone engraved with Alicorns rule, changelings drool."

"What?" Mantissia choked and cast her wild gaze around the partially destroyed throne room. “Who said that? I’ll have your head next, after I'm finished with these pathetic excuses for 'high-level unicorns'."

“Oh come now, Queenie. Can you not take a joke?”

The newcomer materialised between the queen and the downed Celestia. Another alicorn—this one of midnight blue, adorned in jewellery and a tiara—stood before Mantissia, obstructing her view of her prey.

"Luna!" Clover cheered, running up next to her. “Are we glad to see you. Did you come alone?”

Luna tossed her mane with a large grin on her face. “Oh, it was no trouble at all, in the end. Seems our mistress of tainted love here has sucked all of the nutrition out of her troops. They put up a negligible fight. What sort of mother—" Luna’s expression turned stormy “—does that to her own children, My Queen?"

“I’ll tell you what sort of mother does that: the sort that knows a temporary sacrifice will lead to a glorious, extended future! Don’t you lecture me on the right and wrong way to raise foals, you orphaned, barren freak!” Mantissia’s terrible voice washed over Luna, deathly intent lacing every syllable. “You have interrupted and insulted me—for the first and last time!"

Mantissia raced towards Luna in a flash, hoof poised to strike her head from her neck…

* * * * *

“Psst—changelings at the top of the staircase. I think this is the place, you two,” Edge whispered. The aura around his horn glowed with a short-range presence locator spell. “All right, we need to work out some kind of plan. I count two changelings at the front of the door, standing guard. There’s an unknown number of bodies in the actual tower room. There must be some kind of defensive spell set up to disguise the amount of occupants. My horn only tells me six, but there may be many more.”

“So what’s the plan, Mr. Elite Guard?” Cirrus asked. “Are we gonna rush up and show 'em what for?” He readied his wings, prepared to zoom up the staircase.

“Well, not we, I think. Just you.” Edge smiled at the colt. I can make use of his eagerness. “Cirrus, you fly up and distract the guards while we hide in the nearest room. I need you to lead them away from the door, but make sure you lead them past the one we’ll be hiding behind so we know it’s safe. Keep them distracted for as long as possible—Valencia and I will need all the time we can get.”

The colt gave a salute to the guard. Edge then turned to the mare. “Valencia, while we’re hiding, we need to be completely relaxed, meditative. Changelings can sense all of our emotions, so even if Cirrus leads the guards past the room, they’ll still detect us if we’re too emotionally worked up. We need to stay perfectly calm and relaxed. Deep breaths and all that.”

Valencia nodded. “Sure, I can do that. Keep calm and rescue the royals. Yep. Well, shall we get started?” She looked to the crystal pegasus, observing the willingness he displayed. “Cirrus, are you sure you can handle this responsibility? Everypony is counting on you right now.”

“Hey, I’m confident enough,” he said. “Lemme at them changelings! They’ll find out the meaning of speed.” As he made to zoom up the passageway, he felt a curiously warm sensation enshroud his body. “Uh hey, what gives, Edge?”

“I’m casting a very light protective spell on you,” Edge informed him. “Normally, it’d be an obvious sphere of energy, but I’m making it as skintight as possible so the changelings don’t notice it. It won’t be very powerful, but it should protect you from one or two spells and impacts. No need for you to unnecessarily endanger yourself more than you already are.”

“Cheers, dude. Well, wish me luck! You two’d better go hide now. How about behind that door there?” He pointed to a nearby opening. Valencia scoped out the room, seeing it held nothing more than spare guard uniforms.

“It’s pretty small in there, but we’ll have to work with it. You don’t mind getting a little cosy, do you Edge?” Valencia teased. The unicorn blushed.

“Er, well… sure, why not. Since this does seem the night for hiding in small, enclosed spaces.”

“Well, go on you two, hide already! Just remember, keep calm and relax. Seeya!” With no further delays, Cirrus raced up the staircase. From within the small room that the two adults hid in, Valencia could hear Cirrus’ deliberately obnoxious banter floating down to them.

“Hey, you two, our glorious queen wants you in the throne room. She just defeated the alicorns. Everyone else is arriving there shortly to discuss the final stage of Equestria’s takeover.”

“Wow, you got pretty lucky with your victim! I’ve never seen a pegasus so shiny before. Of course, I’ve never seen a pegasus before, so—”

“Hey! The queen wants everyone there, now! No time for chit-chat, let’s go! But, er, yes, I do love that I got so lucky. I don’t have the heart to change back to normal!”

The guards looked at each other, laughed at Cirrus’ joke and shrugged. “Well, we should go, I suppose,” the second one hissed. “But why didn’t Our Queen send for us mentally, like normal?” He glanced at Cirrus, suspicion growing on his face.

“...Well, she used so much power taking down her enemies, that’s she’s too exhausted to talk on the thread to everyone. So, those of us lucky enough to have found very loving families have been given the job of messenger, for the time being.”

Brilliant, Cirrus! Valencia thought from her enclosed room. She became uncomfortably aware of just how closely she was pressed up against Edge in the gloom, after he turned to glance at her, a small smile gracing his own face.

“Sure, that sounds like reason enough. But what about the others inside, guarding the prisoners—”

Valencia and Edge’s ears perked up.

“—Shall they come too, or remain behind?”

“Her Majesty said everyone. I assume that means, everyone."

“Hold on then, I’ll send for them.” The first guard deactivated the enchantment and opened the door. “Everyone, assemble in the throne room for a debriefing with Queen Mantissia. Ensure the prisoners are doubly secure and meet us down there immediately.”

Valencia and Edge could hardly believe their luck. Valencia would have jumped for joy, had Edge not been so pressed up against her. Even so, she could not prevent the feeling of elation rise, warming her chest.

“Valencia,” Edge whispered, “remember to remain calm and neutral as they pass by, or all of Cirrus’ efforts will be for naught. Take some deep breaths and let your mind go blank.”

With that, Valencia felt Edge exhale and go limp against her. I can’t tell if he’s enjoying this or not. But whatever, he’s right. Okay brain, heart, settle down. Breathe. Relax.

Valencia kept her emotions hidden while the sound of a small group of changelings passed by their hiding place. She struggled to keep her heartbeat regular as the procession marched on. There must have been twenty or more in that room! I’m glad we didn’t have to fight them all…

With the danger gone, Valencia cautiously opened the door, taking in a deep breath of fresh air. “Whew! That was mighty close. I just can’t believe Cirrus pulled that off so well!”

Edge spilled out after her, dusting himself off. “Yeah. In all honesty, I thought the squirt was just gonna kick them in the face and get them to chase him or something. He really surprised me, too. I suppose I shouldn’t take everypony I meet at face value.” He straightened up and stretched out. “But, to business. Let’s liberate some royals!”

Edge ascended the staircase, Valencia following behind and watching the rear. As Edge magically unlocked the door, the most peculiar and creepy sight swam before his vision:

Eleven out of twelve royal guards—as well as other castle staff like chefs and maids—were encased in a strange, green, pod-like prison. They floated in some form of viscous liquid, their eyes closed as if in a deep sleep. “Wait, everypony on the castle staff is in here?” he asked, incredulous. There's at least thirty unicorns in this tower. This is practically a fifth of the population of Unitopia!

“Never mind about the numbers, Edge!” Valencia cried. “Just focus on getting everypony out of there!”

“Oh. Right, of course.” Edge smacked himself lightly on the forehead. “Where are you, Platinum? Levitatus? Portia?” As he passed pod after pod, he lit his horn and levitated each captive pony out of their creepy encasing. Well, that was easier than I thought, he mused silently to himself. “Valencia, are you going to be all right rescuing ponies from these pods?”

“Don’t you worry about little old me. These pods are designed to keep prisoners in, not to keep captors from extracting them. I’m doing just fine here,” she reassured the guard. To prove it, she gave one of the pods a mighty kick, shattering the thin, crystal-like covering. Edge smiled, then resumed his search. Ponies had begun to awaken, or at least stir from their sudden release.

Rounding a final pod, he found them.

King Levitatus floated before him, in a much more magnificent pod. At least they know how to treat royalty. Next to him, in a smaller, slightly less flashy pod, rested Queen Portia. The queen looked to be in a very deep, placid dream, in contrast to the king who was tossing and turning. Having located his king and queen, Edge shifted his attention to the one he’d really been searching for with most desperation.

Platinum.

The white-coated beauty loomed before his eyes, her pigment creepily tainted by the green liquid containing her. Taking more care with her than the others, he gently levitated her out of the pod and laid her on the floor before him. I’m sorry I couldn’t protect you, my love. But I’m here now. As Platinum opened her gorgeous purple eyes, he smiled.

Platinum’s piercing scream sent him back a few steps in shock.

“Ahhhhhhhh! Get away from me, you horrible disgusting fiend! Get away, back off! You’re not taking advantage of me again!”

“Whoa, Platinum, relax! You’re safe now. It’s me, Edge!”

Far from being reassured, Platinum backed away.

“What’s the matter with you?” Edge questioned the hysterical mare. “I’ve come to rescue you! Look, you’re free of this horrible cage now. Calm down.”

The princess looked to him, then around at the rest of the pods’ previous occupants, still breathing scared, shallow breaths. “...Edge? Is it really you? I mean, really you this time?” Her breathing slowed as she visibly relaxed. Edge smiled as she threw her hooves around his neck. “Oh, darling, I was so afraid. There was a changeling, I didn’t realise that you weren’t you, and… and…” she broke off, crying, even as Edge realised what must have happened.

I’ll kill them all. Every last one of them.

“Good, you found the princess,” Valencia said, interrupting the tender moment. “Now, how about you work on rescuing the king and the queen?"

“Oh, right. Yes, we should do that. Come on, Platinum—let’s rescue your parents.”

* * * * *

What in Dimiourgia’s name is this creature? Luna thought, ducking and weaving around Mantissia’s relentless attacks. She’s like nothing I’ve ever encountered. Even Vorjhan himself would be on level terms with her. She could feel the dark power, the tainted love being excreted by the queen. Luna zipped back across the room, putting some space between herself and the mutated beast before her.

“This is a surprising turn of events, Mantissia,” Luna admitted. “I expected a foe worthy of nothing more than a few minutes of exertion, followed by an exhausting but satisfying victory. You have certainly given me cause for concern. I see now, though, how you were able to reduce my sister to the sorry mess she is in.”

The queen laughed. “It’s too late for flattery, my dear Luna. You, as well as everypony else who opposes me, shall be crushed for insubordination!”

“Oh, that was far from flattery, Mantissia,” Luna corrected. “That was just an audible self-assessment of the situation. You are still not going to win.”

The queen glared at the alicorn, so foolish to goad her into attacking. “Yes, I will! My strength is immeasurable, my power absolute! Now, die!" The queen rushed her target, only to be outdone by Luna’s somehow superior speed. “You can’t fly in circles forever, you coward. Stand and fight me!”

“Oh, what’s this? Are you beginning to slow down, Queenie? Can’t keep up the flow of power? Why don’t you show me the true extent of—”

Bzzzt!

Luna’s taunts were cut off as a sizzling bolt of power hit her square in the chest.

"Luna!"

The shout had come from Celestia. Broken, beat, scarred, but not completely down, Celestia struggled to her hooves as she watched her sister’s eyes widen in shock. Her gaze followed Luna all the way back to the floor, where she fell with a solid thump. Gasping, she staggered over to her sister and examined her limp body. Luna emitted no signs of life.

"Mantissia…"

Clover and Aura looked on as their broken guardian rose her head to glare at the changeling queen. Having used the distraction of Luna’s entrance and interception of the fight, Clover had cast healing magic on her niece, who in turn, had started doing the same for Celestia. Although, what they came to witness would suggest that Celestia had not required it at all.

“My sister... you will pay for this, Mantissia! With every fiber of my being, I swear on my sister’s existence that you will suffer for your crimes!”

Mantissia looked on, a smug expression adorning her draconic face. “Oh please, spare me your sentiments, Celestia. I’ve already defeated you, remember? And now your sister lies before your hooves, useless. What measure of power could you possibly possess that can trump my divine strength?”

“My Queen? You summoned us?”

Taken by surprise, Mantissia turned to the voice. All of the subjects she’d left guarding the prisoners stood before her, having entered the throne room from the same corridor that those other two crystal ponies had departed through. “What? Why are you all here? You’re supposed to have the north tower under surveillance!”

“But, My Queen, one of our brothers informed us that you couldn’t communicate to us because you were too exhausted. He passed the message from you saying you’d emerged victorious and was now holding a meeting to decide Equestria’s future.”

"Lies! Who told you such a ridiculous thing?” the queen spat.

“...He was disguised as a pegasus, his coat shining like the sun. Do you know who it is, my Queen?”

Cirrus? Clover thought, again using the distraction to tend to Luna’s condition. Why would he lead a changeling battalion here? Unless… For the first time since the battle had begun, Clover grinned. Unfortunately, Mantissia chose that moment to detect her elation.

“Pray tell, what are you so pleased about, Clover?” she rasped deeply.

“Oh, nothing much,” Clover said. Her smile widened. “Just them.” Pointing over her back, Clover grinned even harder. Mantissia followed her hoof. Her menacing pupils contracted with disbelief.

The entire population of Unitopia, led by Levitatus, entered the throne room from the entrance hall and congregated around Clover. Aura’s family rushed to her side, while other ponies—Cirrus included—milled around the broken, but determined Celestia. Many of the unicorns sported mild wounds, though excluding that, they appeared to be perfectly fine, if a little shaken.

Mantissia raked the now-crowded room with her piercing sight. They think they’ve saved the day, do they? Well, they’re mistaken! “Changelings!” she yelled, “assemble! Subdue your enemies and return them to the blissful slumber from whence they came!” The air immediately filled with the buzzing of drones as they launched themselves at the unicorns who’d escaped their gullible clutches.

“Citizens of Unitopia!” bellowed King Levitatus, his voice magically enhanced, “stand with me now and repel this menace.” He continued to yell, even while the fighting began: “They’ve hurt your families, stolen from you and held you against your will. Now is the time to fight your oppressors, to reclaim what was always yours. Fight for me, fight for yourselves, but most importantly, fight for the ones who have truly fought tooth and hoof for your freedom on this night! Fight for your rightful rulers, the mighty alicorn sisters, your Aunts and great-Aunts—Celestia and Luna!”

An enormously loud cry reverberated around the room as the unicorns roared their approval at the king, even if they were somewhat confused about the mention of the alicorn sisters. The sounds of yelling, horns clashing and spells firing filled the room. Clover continued to tend to the unconscious Luna and the enormous burn mark on her chest. Levitatus conjured a barrier of his own and stood next to Celestia—joined by Portia and Platinum—shielding them all from the weakened changeling attack force. Valencia, Cirrus and Edge formed a perimeter around Aura, daring to stand in defiance of the queen once more.

Mantissia observed all of the going-ons with an expression of pure venom. Why is my plan in shambles? It was supposed to be fool-proof! And where are all of my reinforcements? She let out a piercing scream of frustration. “Nothing has changed here! You will all still bow to me when all is said and done! I shall end your precious princesses, and you will all tremble at my hooves!”

"No. We will not!"

Celestia had risen, defying the leviathanic beast before her. All around her, the fighting stopped. Bolstered by Platinum’s anaesthetic spell, Portia’s first aid spell and Levitatus’ energy transference spell, Celestia stood tall and proud once more. The elements of Loyalty and Generosity shone like beacons in the twilit room.

"You have chosen your path of destruction, Mantissia. I warned you. You thought the corrupted power of love would grant you invincibility. But the real truth is, nothing you do can stand up to the power of Harmony! Not while we all stand united here before you: Earth pony, pegasus, unicorn, alicorn, even crystal pony now fights together. You cannot win this war, Mantissia. Surrender. Do not make me destroy you!"

The queen looked in vain to her subjects, wondering why her other children had not yet entered the fray. Before her eyes, each one fell to their unicorn opponents. The ones who should have subdued their prey already were instead being effortlessly trampled under hoof. For the first time, Mantissia questioned her collective acquirement of all the love she’d absorbed. Realising that she faced an entire city worth of unicorns, as well as a re-energised alicorn, Mantissia considered raising her hooves in defeat.

For all of one second.

"You shall not have me! I am the great destroyer, the taker of life! It is my will that this land and everypony in it be assimilated!" she shrieked. Charging up a final attack, she poured every remaining shred of cruelty, malice and will to dominate all life into the beam. Her horn glowed with the intensity of a second sun, before she brought it down upon Celestia. The alicorn barely had time to react as the destructive beam sizzled through the air towards her.

There was a mighty explosion. Everypony in the room was forced to their knees as the entire city trembled on its foundation. A cloud of smoke originated from the place where Celestia had once stood.

...Still stood…

When the smoke finished clearing, Celestia gazed at her body, remarkably unscathed. Shock lined everypony’s faces as they realised what had saved her. Or rather, who.

King Levitatus lay facedown on the floor, still crackling with spent power.

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