• 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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Of Winds And Waterfalls

Valencia couldn't remember the last time she'd gone for a quality gallop. Nearly every day since before the end of the winter, the Earth ponies had been very conservative of their energy, mostly because everypony's future survival depended on them restarting their harvest. All of their still-lacking resources had been devoted to reproducing the food; Valencia especially had given her all recently in the efforts.

Maybe this was a good idea after all. I haven't had such a liberating jog in years.

As she ran north, she passed other, smaller Earth pony tribes. She didn't stop in to see any of them, though she was pleased to note that progress was being made with the other families' crops as well. The fields were full of fresh grain stalks, wheat and lucerne. It was heartening to see the others appearing to do as well as her own family. Then again, grains are so much easier to produce in bulk than fruit trees. Not taking anything away from my cousins of course, you can do so much with them.

Valencia pondered just how she'd come to be where she was at this point in time. She knew she was lucky to have survived the past winter, even with her family properly rationing out her meals. She was aware that even though they were short of food themselves, the unicorns and pegasi must have had it so much worse. She couldn't have imagined what it must be like to have an unfilled belly day after day. I'd rather be an Earth pony with food in her belly than a starving flier or cannibalistic mage.

She gave an involuntary shudder at the thought of the rumours she'd heard. Everypony was lucky that they'd been designed to eat grass, since it had poked itself out of the snow almost immediately after it all melted away. Grass was all well and good to survive on, but for extra nutrition—as well as variety—fruits and grains were essential.

Darn it, all this just because we were too blind to love each other from the beginning. Still, at least we're on the mend.

While she continued to run north, she also noticed the dip in the river levels. One would have thought that all of the snow, after melting, would have added to the water level across Equestria dramatically. Yet it had simply faded away with the windigoes. Everypony had come to the conclusion that the snow must have been an extension of their adversaries themselves, and so vanished with them. Too bad really. We could have seriously used the water.

Valencia looked to the south-west and observed the mountain range in the distance. The unicorns lived there, in their magical perch at the roof of the world. How it managed to remain attached to the side of the mountain was beyond her understanding. Structurally, the city looked like it should have fallen off the side of the range. It had to do with the mentality of their first king, Levitatus. He was the one who originally declared the unicorns to be the dominant race, using the "magic trumps everything" ideal. In constructing his kingdom the way he had, his intention was to show off to the other races the unicorns' supposed superiority.

To gaze upon the city from afar, one had to appreciate the beauty of it, though its proximity made for a horribly impractical shipping route. Earth ponies who made the trek to trade for the unicorns' fabrics and other luxuries did so at great personal expense and risk. It was a treacherous range to ascend at the best of times, not to mention when pulling a cart or a wagon behind oneself. During the winter, trade had ceased completely. No Earth pony was going to brave those slopes in such terrible conditions. Especially with the animosity we were feeling toward them at the time.

She pressed on up the gentle, steadily rockier slopes, singing a heart-warming tune. It was just one of the songs that she and her friends, Pansy and Clover, had sung together to stave off the cold. The day of the end of the winter had been declared Hearth's Warming, for the weather had instantly warmed and everypony's heart filled with happiness. Valencia often wondered why it wasn't simply called Heart's Warming instead.

"The fire of friendship lives in our hearts,
As long as it burns we cannot drift apart.
Though quarrels arise, their numbers are few,
Laughter and singing will see us through.
We are a circle of pony friends,
A circle of friends we'll be to the very end."

An unexpected shadow drifted over her path. At first, Valencia didn't really pay attention—clouds drifted in front of the sun all the time. Yet when it had grown much darker just a short moment later, she glanced up in wonder. That's strange, it was a bright clear day not a moment ago. What—

Valencia's jaw dropped.

The largest cloud she had ever seen was being shepherded across the sky by no fewer than a hundred pegasi. It was quite the marvelous sight to behold. Well that explains the sudden shadow. But what on Equestria are they gonna do with that? As she watched, she noticed that the majority were pushing the leviathan of a cloud, yet there was a smaller group flitting around them, collecting other small stray clouds and feeding the belly of the beast. As she continued to watch, a small, stray light-blue pegasus colt descended toward the ground, almost crash-landing into a nearby bush.

Valencia paused, her eyebrow raised. After a moment of deliberation, she trotted over to investigate. "Whoa, son, you okay there?"

The colt stood on shaky legs. "Er, yeah, I suppose I am... uh... thanks? Miss..."

"Valencia Orange."

"Oh, thanks, Miss Valencia. I'm Cirrus Spectrum. I was helping out with the cloud-gathering up there, but I'm just so tired..." Cirrus then fell on his rump and panted. "I hardly slept the night before we started moving that thing and we've been going since before sunrise."

Valencia regarded the exhausted youth with a small amount of respect. All day, since before sunup? The kid's tougher than he looks. "Well, are the others just going to leave you alone down here? Have they even noticed?"

"Oh, I noticed all right." The new voice startled Valencia, for it had descended upon her borne on silent wings. A larger, darker blue pegasus revealed himself to her as he regarded the younger one. "Why didn't you just tell me you were tired instead of coming down here? I could have asked them to stop for another breather."

Cirrus shook his head. "I didn't wanna slow down the whole herd just because I'm a little winded. I'll be okay in a bit and then I'll catch up. Don't worry. Oh yeah, Cume, this is Valencia. Valencia, my big brother Cumulus." Cirrus waved a hoof between his brother and the stranger.

Cumulus extended a hoof of his own to Valencia, who shook it. "Cumulus Stormbane, best cloud-bucker in the sky. Nice to meet you."

"Orange. Valencia Orange. Citrus fruit specialist and best farmer on the land. Now would you mind telling me what's up with that there enormous cloud you lot are herding? Looks dangerous—not to mention exhausting, if Cirrus is anything to go by." Indeed, the colt still gasped for much-needed breath.

"Oh, don't worry about him, he'll be fine," Cumulus said, waving a hoof in dismissal of his brother's condition. "We're nearly there now, actually. Anyway, to answer your question: what we're doing is pushing that cloud to Neighagra Falls, so we can fill it with the water it generates. Preliminary reports have suggested that the water level in the mountaintop lake the falls flow from never drops. Must be some kind of strange phenomenon or something. In the same way, the level of the lake the water flows into never rises. It's as if there's some kind of natural pumping system going on that takes the water from the bottom back to the top." Cumulus finished his explanation and went to check on Cirrus.

Valencia spoke up. "That sounds mighty interesting. If we could harness that system somehow, we could irrigate all of Equestria at once, forever! The land would be moist and fertile for all time! Pardon my ignorance, though—how do you plan to get so much water into that cloud? Also, it's large and everything, but once you spread it over Equestria, it'll be used up within days! You've flown an awful long way pushing that thing already. I bet Cirrus ain't the only tired one."

Cumulus nodded as he helped Cirrus up. "I won't lie, we're all feeling the pinch in our wings. But we're almost there now. Come on Cirrus, let's go, bro!"

Cirrus shook his head. "Sorry, Cume. My wings feel ready to fall off now. It's like resting them hasn't done any good at all. Just go on, I promise I'll catch you up."

"I can't leave you behind out here, we don't know what this land is like. There could be predators around."

"I'll be fine, I'll just lie here for a bit."

"Absolutely not, young colt. Now come with me, they're already pulling away from us."

As Cumulus and Cirrus argued, Valencia stepped between them, drawing both of their attention. "Might I suggest helping the young lad out? I happen to be on my way to Neighagra Falls myself. He can ride on my back and we'll walk there. We shouldn't be too far behind you if you want to fly back to your herd."

She offered a hoof to Cirrus, who glanced at his brother. "Would that be all right with you?"

Cumulus examined Valencia with a curious glance and raised his hoof to his chin. Here's this mare I just met, who owes me nothing, yet is prepared to help Cir and I out as if we're family. I guess that lesson really hit home with everypony.

His consideration took but a moment more. "Well, if it's really not any trouble, that would be great actually, Miss Orange."

"Valencia is fine, Cumulus." She turned to Cirrus and beckoned. "Now come on, little pip, up you get. Don't be shy, I ain't gonna buck you off."

Grunting slightly from the effort, Cirrus rose to his hooves and floated cautiously onto Valencia's back, wincing slightly as he felt a twinge in his mantle again. "Now, let's get moving," Valencia continued. "We don't need to get your big brother into trouble for leaving the herd, do we? I know who your commander is and he has a fierce reputation, from what I've gathered."

She turned to Cumulus, who nodded. "You two look out for yourselves," he said. "Promise me you'll keep him safe, Valencia—there's no reason to give our parents any kind of reason to worry... and thanks for doing this. I know you don't have to."

Cumulus gave his brother a final look and ascended into the sky again. The herd was now no more than a minuscule black streak in the distance. "You'd better catch me up soon, bro, or your training will get an early intensity increase!" The ghost of a grin crossed his face before he turned and flew back to the monstrous cloud.

Valencia watched him go for a moment, then spurred herself on. "C'mon, kiddo, let's get moving. The falls aren't coming to us... Cirrus?" She turned around to face the surprisingly light colt slung over her back, and chuckled to herself. He'd fallen asleep, completely tired out from his hard day's work.

Well, so much for a travel buddy.

* * * * *

From a tranquil grove nearby, two pairs of luminescent blue eyes watched the Earth pony carry the sleepy pegasus along the mountain trail. "Yes, those two will do quite nicely. Mother will be pleased."

* * * * *

"My great compliments to you, sirs. Your services are well appreciated." Clover thanked the two stallions who'd pulled the chariot with a warm smile and a small pouch of bits. "We can stop here. Aura, come on now, let's go."

Clover stepped down from the chariot as they halted and waited for her protegè to follow. With great gusto, Aura leaped out of the rolling cabinet she'd been confined to for half a day and breathed in the moist, damp air. Raising her head as high as she could, she stared in total awe, her eyes wide.

"Wow..."

Aura had seen pictures in books before, but nothing matched the beauty of Neighagra Falls up close. Every second, many thousands of litres of water gushed down its glistening, smooth slopes. The spray the falls generated fell lightly onto her coat, covering her in a fine mist that refreshed her, yet did not weigh her down. Nearby, the enormous, clear pool that the water flowed into shone with the beginning of the sunset. Growing around the water's edge were various ferny bushes and other small berry bushes; blue, black and raspberries altogether. It was beautiful.

"Aura... Aura?... Aura!"

The filly must have stared for a while, as Clover's voice drifted back to her ears in stages, steadily bringing her focus back. She jumped as the last command snapped her out of her self-induced daydream. "Hey, silly filly," Clover teased, "remember why we're here, yes?" With a sheepish grin and a nod, Aura followed Clover to the edge of the pool. "Now, do you remember how to identify our sage?"

"Woody stems, grayish leaves and blue to purplish flowers," Aura recited in perfect scroll diction.

"Well, I'm glad you've memorised it so thoroughly." Clover chuckled. "Points for that, but I would have been happy with pretty purple flowers on a stemmy thing or something. Then again, I should know by now how bright my young niece is, after all." Clover giggled to herself as Aura began to laugh too.

While the fillies—one real and one with the mental state—laughed, a shadow began to pass over them. At first neither noticed, until it grew rapidly darker. Clover settled herself down upon observing that the sun had appeared to set abnormally fast and glanced skyward.

"Hey, whoa! Aura, look at this! They've arrived."

Aura poked her head up out of her own fit and opened her eyes to examine the new development.

Pegasi. Over a hundred of them filled the air, appearing to shepherd an enormous cloud. Aura and Clover watched as the pegasi positioned it near the falls and all congregated on the ground. A particularly burly-looking stallion zoomed around her tired platoon.

"Well done, everypony. That was no easy task. I still think we could have gotten here about an hour earlier, but for what it's worth, those of you who tired easily hadn't done anything of this magnitude before. Just be aware: the return trip will be harder. Much more difficult. Get your rest for a while and we will get this beauty started! After, we camp here for the night and return to Cloudsdale tomorrow with enough water to keep us plentiful for years! Who's with me?"

A mixed response of cheers and groans floated to Hurricane's ears, who raised his very prominent eyebrows.

"I'm sorry, I couldn't hear a single drop of enthusiasm in that weak flow of urine you call a cheer. Now, everypony—who. Is. With. Me!"

The resulting rouse shook the very ground the unicorns stood on.

* * * * *

Another two pairs of luminescent blue eyes observed Clover and Aura. "Our Queen was right: everything is working according to the plan."

* * * * *

The sun was truly on its way down when Hurricane once again alerted his camp. Though most were well-rested enough and grateful to have some decent food in their stomachs, there were still a few stragglers. Hurricane commanded them to the higher altitudes while the pegasi with greater strength remained below. Meanwhile, Aura had managed to find a small growth of sage and was busy looking over it, making observations about its smell, taste, frailty and appearance. She gathered some up and returned it to Clover, who had prepared various containers with different mixers in them. Clover added some of the sage to each bottle, observing and recording the results.

A slight breeze ruffled Aura's coat as she watched Clover testing the potions. She paid it no mind and continued to watch Clover. Barely ten seconds later, she found herself hugging Clover with no memory of having jumped forward. It was then they both realised what was happening.

Are they insane? They made a damned tornado! Doing her best to struggle against the sudden, billowing winds and protect Aura from the onslaught, Clover realised just how the pegasi were going to get that water into their gigantic reservoir. Tornado power. I never would have predicted that. Dangerous, yet effective. I just wish they'd known we were here before they started this monster up!

Thwack!

Clover felt her body go limp as a powerful, magically enhanced blow connected with the back of her head. Rapidly losing her vision, the last thing she remembered before blacking out was a tremendous burst from a manufactured geyser of water, and Aura's pleading, terrified face.

Author's Note:

Art by Wacky, entitled Calm before the Storm.

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