• 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.

  • ...
5
 214
 1,553

The Strength Of Hate

"Come on, Cirrus! Put your back into it, bro. What's the matter?" Cumulus could hardly believe that Cirrus would be worn out already. Sure, he'd injured his wings yesterday, but he'd also appeared to have made a full recovery upon being woken up. So why in Equestria is he already lacking?

"Gee, sorry, Cume. I think I've re-awoken my injury. I guess I'm not as fully healed as I thought. Look, I'm trying my hardest—I really am, promise!" Cirrus swirled his hooves around in opposite directions, an act known as "swearing to Hurricane" that he'd picked up from a fellow flier.

Cumulus sighed. "Look, I know you might be hurt a bit, but this damned fluffy thing is so much heavier now than it was last time. I—that is to say, we—really need you to pull through for us. I promise, as soon as we get home, I'll take you to get examined. I'll ease off on your training too. Sound good?"

The colt just nodded and grit his teeth as he resumed pushing.

Cumulus observed his younger brother with no small degree of concern. He's hardly said anything to me all day, not even a wise-crack. He's so much more exhausted than he should be, even with all things considered. He's really not himself.

* * * * *

King Levitatus awoke to the dual news that his breakfast was served and that his protegè and daughter were expected for an imminent arrival. A smile graced his features as he thanked his butler and rose from the exquisite bed he slept in. Admittedly, as a king, everything in his life was exquisite: his bed, his halls, his breakfast, even his wife. Turning to face where she lay, his smile dipped upon seeing her absence. Quite possibly, she has taken attendance at breakfast early today.

With this in mind, the king crossed the floor of his expansive bedroom and stopped at the door. Down the hall to the left, he would find his dining suite, where the chefs would already have whipped up a delicious entree to the day. Down the right hall, his throne room was located, where he would keep court for the commoners who may have any issues. Fortunately, there had been a major decrease in incidents, disputes and even magical accidents that required his attention over the past seven weeks. The world is much indebted to Clover the Clever.

His thoughts then took a strange turn—one that they'd recently found themselves taking much more often.

Celestia. Luna. You should be the ones ruling here.

Before the day of the Everfree forest's invasion—where everypony was forced to flee for their lives—his sisters had set off to confront some kind of mad entity from their past. They had never returned. Those who escaped the Everfree that day now numbered pathetically small. Levitatus sighed. The twentieth official year of his reign was fast approaching and he had been a stallion of thirty-eight years at the time of his coronation. He knew he was one of the longest-lived unicorns in the kingdom; mostly because many older and less-privileged unicorns had been claimed by the fell winter.

Levitatus was not a cruel, vain or greedy king. Far from it—his reign had been the best every unicorn could have hoped for. His subjects could always count on his words of wisdom. He was also respected as an elite Magus, specialising in the development of any unicorn who came to him possessing unusually high magical potential.

Though few remembered the alicorn sisters of the past, Levitatus had never forgotten. His ability to sense powerful magic and draw it out had almost submerged him in complete sensory overload when he'd attempted to use his talent on Celestia. Never again would I try that. She terrified me. He'd also not been so foalish as to try it out on Luna. She may have been even more powerful... He shuddered at the thought, as he had so often before.

Putting the sisters from his mind, he embarked toward the dining hall where he would be served his new favourite breakfast: raspberries and figs over the exotic grain, quinoa. It was not native to his kingdom or the surrounding areas—only the zebra tribes in the north grew it. Having considered all ponies as inferiors until recently, Levitatus had only learned about quinoa a month prior, after he had sent an envoy to their lands. The grain was tedious to cultivate and harvest, requiring high maintenance, yet his envoy had passed on from the zebras that it was their secret "super-food."

It certainly is super. Super tasty at least! As Levitatus sat at the table to feast, the hall doors opened. In walked the three ponies he most wanted to see at breakfast: his lovely Queen Portia, his stunning daughter Platinum, and...

"Daddy!"

Daughter number two straight up bolted to him and tackled him with a hug, resulting in them falling off the chair in a fit of filly giggles. Portia smiled, even as Platinum scoffed. Levitatus simply joined in with his daughter, roaring with his own laughter. A few moments passed and when they had calmed down, Princess Aura had begun spilling her adventure to him in rapid fire mode:

"Oh, Daddy, it was so wonderful we got to the waterfall and it was sooo huge you have to see it sometime also we found the sage we set out to find and we brought some back in the bottles I helped Clover make and there was a whole herd of pegasi and they had a massive cloud and they made a tornado it was amazing you should have seen it—"

"Yes, yes, Aura, all right. Slow down, precious." Levitatus chuckled and ruffled her mane. "Now how about you sit and finish your breakfast and we'll share your adventure afterwards?"

"Okay! Love you, Daddy!" Aura immediately tucked into her own favourite cereal: sugar-frosted oatmeal with strawberries.

The king lowered his own spoon and watched his daughter devour the contents of her bowl. She'd finished by the time Portia and Platinum had only just had their own prepared. Gosh, she's hyperactive today. I wonder what Clover's been feeding her? The thought receding, Levitatus resumed his own breakfast.

Platinum stared at her younger sister. Usually she was a very well-behaved filly, save for a few slip-ups of courtesy. But this... uncouth behaviour seemed incredibly out of character, even for Aura after a day spent with Clover.

Something's not right about Aura today. And where is Clover, anyway?

* * * * *

Valencia lazed by the waterside, becoming slowly drenched in fine mist. Blueberries and blackberries littered her immediate vicinity. Ahhh, this is the life. I made the right choice with this mare, for sure. Unfortunately, orders were orders. Valencia sighed as she rose from her peaceful spot. She plucked a few different berries, placed them in her saddlebags and set off on the return journey home.

* * * * *

Well, this is just great.

The two creatures who'd walked into the holding chamber for observation were now on alert. Since Clover the "Clever" had been uncharacteristically silly enough to draw attention to herself, they'd elected to stay and watch their captives. Of course, assuming her hypothesis and her observations were correct, these creatures seemed to be able to sense exactly what she was feeling. Like a form of mind-reading, but on a deeper level?

Clover mulled it over in her mind, wondering. She smiled a little at the thought of stumbling upon this new magic. Could such a thing be possible? The guard closest to her shifted a little.

He turned to glare up at her again, leering. "Oh, you think you've got us figured out? Well, you've seen nothing yet."

The creature grinned at Clover and twitched violently. A green glow surrounded it for a split second, eliciting a gasp from Clover as she came face to face with herself seconds later. "Pretty neat, huh?"

Her own voice floated to her ears. Clover stared in shock, even as its partner bopped it over the back of the head, resulting in a revert to its original form.

Huh. That at least proves they can sense emotional changes. But they're bucking shapeshifters too? Also, why keep us all asleep? Do they feed off dreams or something? Clover corralled the thoughts in her head. No, such a thing should be impossible. Nothing can steal emotions from a pony, surely. What's the purpose of keeping us all here, then? Clover thought back to what she'd been dreaming about. The river south of the kingdom. Aura and her sage flowers. A feeling of pride, coupled with a feeling of—

"Love."

Clover's sudden revelation drew the attention of her captors. "Love," she repeated. "That's it, isn't it? You want us to stay asleep, to keep dreaming of the things and the ponies we love. Because you're leeching off it, somehow. It gives you strength. I'm correct, aren't I?" Clover smiled. Though the creatures' facial expressions hadn't appeared to change, their body language told her everything she needed to know. "You're love parasites. What a horrible thing to be. How would you like it if I was leeching off of your hopes and dreams? Your precious memories? Love is what powers us. What makes us better ponies. What makes us better than you!"

A star seemed to glint in Clover's eyes for the smallest of moments.

Crack

Finding herself on a roll, Clover continued. "How dare you assault us, encase us and drain us of the one important emotion we have in this world! We all just survived the worst winter in living memory, which was brought on by our mutual animosity between races. Our hatred attracted the evil spirits of winter. They overran us, and we all blamed each other! It got worse! More hate led to worse cold, more deaths, more pain and suffering. It was only through the power of my friends—whom I love—and I working together in harmony that drove the spirits of hatred away and saved us all. And you, all of you, would seek to destroy that harmony and plunge the world into an eternal winter once again!"

Cr-r-raaaack

Clover's rage flowed. "Well I will not sit in this ridiculously small prison, locked away from my best friends, while you seek to leech my love for them away. I will not give you the satisfaction of stealing the love I feel for my king, my queen, her daughters and all of this land that we've worked so hard to reclaim. Nor will you have the new-found love I've discovered for my Earth pony and pegasi brethren. You're nothing but world-destroying parasites. You disgust me."

Crrr-rr-raaaaassshhhhh!

Clover's cocoon shattered. It actually worked! Dropping to the ground—mercifully only a few hoof-lengths below—she rounded on the creatures, now cowering and shivering before her. "You took me unaware before, but you won't again. Now, let. Us. Go. Or you'll all regret facing the power of the second-most magically powerful unicorn in existence!"

She calmed herself, taking deep breaths, but the creatures didn't move an inch.

"So I guess my theory was right, then. You feed on love, but you're allergic or adverse to hate. Can you see now how pointless your very existence is? What happens once you drain all the love from the world? What then? What are you left with? A brutal, hate-driven, eternal winter? Driven to your own death by windigoes, who would destroy you as they get stronger while you get weaker? Be thankful I don't erase your worthless lives right now and save them the trouble!"

The creatures could take the abuse no longer; they scarpered.

Clover took a final deep breath and sighed. I hope I never get that mad at anypony again. That was awful. She'd felt the onset of a chill as her tirade was launched, though whether it was in her head or not, she couldn't figure out. I'd rather not remind myself of that endless cold.

Lighting her horn in the gloom, Clover turned back to the pods and illuminated each of them. She set to work on melting the outer casing of Aura's first, with a heat spell. Though she hadn't expected it to work, the outer wall disintegrated with little effort. Huh. I guess the interior was magic-resistant, but the exterior allows for easy extraction or something.

Having successfully released Aura from her prison, she checked the filly's vital signs. A pulse. Aura's heart was still beating, much to Clover's relief. To any untrained pony, Aura would simply appear to be sleeping.

After Aura's release and check-up, Clover looked around at the other figures she'd noticed. An orange Earth pony and a small pegasus colt remained embedded in their own love-extraction pods. Clover debated with herself for barely a moment before she began undoing their bonds as well. As Clover levitated the Earth pony to the ground, she stirred.

"My head, wow... what in the hay happened to me? What's this place?" Catching sight of Clover, the mare immediately took a defensive pose. "A unicorn? What're you doing here. Did you do this to me?"

She lowered her center of gravity, switching up stances to a more aggressive pose.

Clover shook her head vigorously. "No! I didn't do anything to you, Miss. You were trapped up in that cocoon up there—asleep inside it. It appears you were attacked by the same... things that my niece and I were. I just rescued you from your imprisonment. Am I correct in assuming you were dreaming of something you care about? A family member, or maybe a passion of yours?"

The mare relaxed, but didn't take her eyes off Clover. "Er, yeah, that's right... how'd you know that? Miss, er—sorry I don't know your name. Mine's Valencia; that pegasus there is named Cirrus."

"Clover the Clever. This is my niece Aura. Look, don't worry about that now—" Clover cut Valencia off as she recognised signs of comprehension on the mare's face "—those things that ambushed us, they appear to feed on the love we emanate. For our families, or whatever we're passionate about." Clover began work on the bonds holding Cirrus. "They were sucking the love out of you, by means of your containment vessel. Literally. I'm guessing you have quite the headache."

With the colt now free, Clover examined him too. "Hmmm, he seems fine mostly, but I'm detecting some really stiff muscles in his mantle. The poor dear must have strained his wings somehow. If only I had some sage with me—" Clover gasped. "Horse-apples! They must have taken my gear, all of my equipment..." Clover sighed. "Gah, I guess it can't be helped. We need to return home and—"

Home.

"Oh no... oh no no no!" Clover's brain ticked over with a terrifying scene. "Those two who ambushed us, they must have taken our forms. They're probably on the way back to the kingdom by now. And when they get there, the king... we must hurry, Valencia. Something terrible is about to happen!"

As she urgently leaped from cavern to cavern, staring down each passageway, Valencia simply trotted over to Cirrus, lifting him onto her back once more.

"Er, do you mind slowing down a tad? What's happening here, Miss Clover?" With Cirrus on her back, she moved over to rouse the filly from her sleep. When she didn't receive an answer, Valencia raised her voice.

"Clover!"

Clover stopped pacing between passages and offered a sheepish grin. "Sorry, Valencia. Well basically, you didn't see them, but the creatures that put us here have some kind of metamorphosis power. I watched one literally transform into me. They also take their nourishment from our feelings of love and other positive emotions. Aura and I were set upon by two of them, the day before we were due to return home. It's my belief that they'll return in our stead, masquerading as us, and drain the kingdom of its love once again. The worst part is, that was only two of them. Who knows how many of them there are, waiting for some kind of signal that they can take the kingdom, right out from under everypony!"

Valencia gasped. "Hold on. You're telling me that the one who attacked me is gonna go back to my family, pretend to be me and suck all their love dry?" A flicker of anger crossed her face, then was replaced by one of shock.

"Oh no! Cirrus!" She glanced around at the colt still sleeping on her back. "If the other shape-shifter took the form of Cirrus, that would mean he probably found his brother. And when he flies back with the rest of the herd..." Her eyes widened. "Shoot, it's not just your Unitopia that's in danger, but every race of ponies has been infiltrated!" What could that do to Equestria?

Clover nodded, her eyes widening. "Now do you understand my sense of urgency? We have to get out of here. We're the only ones who can warn the entire Equestrian population!"

Floating Aura onto her own back, Clover examined the walls of the crypt. They glistened in a state of perpetual dampness. We must be under a lake or something. Maybe under Neighagra Falls itself. Or another nearby place maybe... "I wonder if we're underneath Sky Mirror Lake? The lake that never ripples? It hasn't been completely explored so far, but we were thinking of mounting an expedition to it in a few weeks time." Although, now we know what dwells beneath it, maybe it's best left undisturbed.

"All right then, Clover, whatever you say. But first things first—which way?" Valencia glanced back and forth, eyeing the amount of selections they had to choose from.

"Home is south-west from here, so if I activate my directional magic..."

Clover lit her horn once again and swiveled around for half a minute. She sighed and extinguished the magic. "It's no good. There's far too much interference within these walls. I suppose we'll just have to guess."

Valencia stared at her. "I know I should be thankful and all that, but I'm really not comfortable just marching headlong into a nest full of these things you've described. We could end up anywhere—or worse, captured again. I doubt they'd let us escape a second time."

Not a moment after Valencia completed her statement, a chilling sound reached the mares' ears. A mixture of buzzing and hissing filled their hearing. It was faint, at first. Barely a few seconds later, the sound began to echo off the walls in their chamber. As Clover examined a selected tunnel, it grew louder. That could only mean one thing. With a fierce look of determination upon her face, Clover faced Valencia.

"Too late. Pick a tunnel and run!"

Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!
Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!