• 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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Out Of The Fire...

Luna lay sleeping, on the outskirts of the unicorn kingdom. She and Celestia had reached a decision after a small debate: while they greatly desired to reveal themselves to the family once again, they acknowledged that there may be few left, if any, who would recognise them. The last thing they needed—Celestia had wisely reasoned—was a potential state of uncontrollable pandemonium among the population. There was no telling how the kingdom would react upon seeing two unique beings suddenly appear before them. It was entirely possible that they would be feared, or worse, attacked rather than welcomed or embraced.

While Luna's argument to the contrary was completely credible—they hadn't been gone so long as for two generations of family to completely forget them, surely?—she'd eventually agreed that whatever risk Celestia thought was present should not be tested. "There will be an opportune time to introduce ourselves," the elder promised.

They took refuge the morning after the celebrations, at the top of the mountain overlooking the kingdom. There they found a small cave, overflowing with hidden treasure: a grotto of leafy ferns, mossy logs, berries, mushrooms and the freshest grass they'd ever tasted. It seemed to have been untouched by ponykind—Celestia could feel the purity of the place through her Elements. This is indeed a sanctuary of Harmony. There was even a small hole in the ceiling of the cave, where water and humidity collected and dripped down into a pool. The purest spring imaginable. It seemed too perfect a place to have formed naturally.

Could Vorjhan have made this place? Is he even capable of creating such beauty?

Celestia glanced at her sleeping sister, nestled among a small groove in the wall with hundreds of soft ferns providing a form of plush bed. Luna was tuckered out. She'd spent enormous amounts of energy the previous night playing the role of sentinel before they left the wood, repelling the masses of deadly creatures keen for a taste of equine flesh. As Celestia watched her sister sleep, it dawned on her for the first time that Luna's flank was blemished. That definitely wasn't there before we came out of the pool yesterday. I must have completely missed it in the dark of the night.

Celestia remembered how most of her nieces and nephews—even some of her immediate siblings—possessed these marks. Some marks appeared on very young foals, other times they'd waited to appear until the bearer was almost of age. They were all unique though, she recalled. It seemed to point to what each pony was gifted at, from what she could remember. Yet she and Luna had been born well before the marks began appearing. So why is it there now? If Luna has a mark...

She turned her graceful body around to look at her own flanks. Much to her amazement, there glared an image of an eight-pointed sun on each side. This sun looks exactly like the engraving on the tree... Luna's own mark announced an entirely opposite theme: a bright, crescent moon contained within a splotch of the deepest blue Celestia had ever seen. And Luna's is identical to the other carving. How did they get there... more importantly, what do they mean? Pondering their new magical blemishes for a moment, Celestia came to no conclusive realisation. Putting it from her mind, she wandered softly over to lie next to her sister. I could really use some sleep myself...

* * * * *

"Keep going, Valencia!"

Clover and Valencia galloped through tunnel after tunnel, forsaking directional awareness for personal safety as the hissing hive gave chase. What she was grateful for was the fact that neither Aura nor Cirrus had yet awoken.

"The young ones must be... more sensitive to the magic these things are using," Clover puffed. "Neither of them are conscious yet, Valencia." I hope we can escape before they ever see these horrors, she thought, even as she heard the sound of the hive gaining on them.

"Can't say I was paying attention, myself! I'm more worried about us preserving our hides, in case you hadn't noticed!" Valencia responded over her shoulder. "Look, great job for getting us outta there, but are you sure you couldn't have been just a little more subtle about breaking out and pissing them off?"

"I'm sorry I couldn't be more subtle about it," Clover snapped. "I had no other... idea how to get away. Besides, now we know their weaknesses. It's not all bad—we could still be trapped, you know." We'd better catch a break soon, though, or we might just be again, she thought to herself.

As the weight-laden mares continued to run down an especially lengthy corridor, Clover noticed the walls had changed. They no longer glistened like they had in the containment chamber, but seemed much more solid. The phosphorescence had faded as well, leading the mares into a darker and colder section. The hissing grew louder.

"They're almost upon us! Got a plan B, Miss Clever?"

Clover ignored the snark. "Apart from standing and fighting against potentially hundreds of those things, no. Having never been in a combat situation before, I'd rather not resort to that either."

Clover wracked her brains for a solution. I'd cast a cloaking spell and hide us in the darkness until they pass, but they can sense emotions—it'd be as effective as Aura hiding behind a bamboo stalk. I could project a shield to prevent their passage, but against sheer numbers it wouldn't hold long at all. I could focus all of my power into an illumination spell and emulate the sun's light to blind them... but it would take almost all of my magic and I'd be exhausted. My energy's already running low now as it is. By Levitatus' beard, what the heck do we do?

Clover ran as she thought, hardly paying any attention anymore to where she was running. She had noticed the drop in temperature, though. It was rather unnerving how it had grown colder in the last few minutes, when she came to think of it. The breath in front of her face became visible as it came out steadily more shallow. Bringing her senses back to situational awareness, she noted that they'd ended up running uphill as opposed to the slight downward incline they'd been on for the past few minutes.

Oh great, an upward slope. I'm already starting to lose momentum. She'd never had to run so far before. Ahead of her, Valencia was pulling away, unaware of the plight of her company.

Clover drew in a breath as she slowed down. "Valencia, stop! I can't keep this up. We need to... stay together."

As Valencia heard the message, the hissing subsequently faded away inexplicably. Breathing a sigh of relief, she halted her run and trotted slowly back to Clover, who was panting heavily with shallow gasps. Although she'd just met the mare—and though Clover hadn't exactly made the best escape plan—she had to respect a unicorn who could keep up with her for so long. Expression softening slightly, she approached the purple mare and put a hoof around her.

"Thanks for saving me, Clover. Sorry about my behaviour before. I am grateful you broke me out. Really."

Surprised by the hug, Clover embraced her new friend for a moment, before they remembered their situation. "Say," Valencia continued, "why d'you reckon they up and left us alone? You think it's a mite cold for them?"

Still trying to catch her breath, Clover thought about it for a moment. "Well... let's examine our surroundings. It's colder here, for sure. It's also dark. Wait, let me fix that." Clover lit her horn and shone a beacon over the new tunnel. Finally able to see what surrounded them, Clover noticed the walls. Again, they were no longer lit with phosphorescent light, but instead were coated by some form of silvery, slimy substance. Clover levitated a small amount of the strange material off, bringing it up to her face. She examined it closely, noting the sticky texture and absence of smell. It was also cold to the touch.

"Huh. It's organic."

Valencia, who'd been checking on the foals, did a double take. "It's what now? Organic? You're telling me that icky stuff came off a living creature?" Valencia cast her gaze around the tunnel again. The walls were covered in it, except for...

Eyes widening, Valencia couldn't keep a slight tone of fear as she stammered. "C-Clover? Look again at the w-walls of this tunnel. Tell me if you notice the same thing I do." She directed Clover's attention to the ceiling of the cavern.

Clover glanced up from her examination of the substance and analysed her surroundings again. What she came to realise frightened her. The tunnel was no longer a crudely dug-out passage—it was perfectly rounded. Now that she stared at the section of wall the slime previously coated, she saw something that would have otherwise gone unnoticed.

The walls underneath the slime were grooved, As if something enormous had drilled and burrowed itself into the Earth.

"Valencia. We need to get. Out. Of here. Right now."

Valencia took note of Clover's tone, even as she came to her own conclusion. "You don't need to tell me twice."

No sooner had the mares began to run up the passage once again than they were joined by a new presence.

"Clover? What's going on? Where are we?" Aura had finally woken to find herself in a dark, cold, alien place, on her mentor's back, in the company of an Earth pony and a pegasus. "Clover, what is this? What's happening? I thought we were at the falls—"

"Aura, listen to me. We were kidnapped by some dangerous shape-shifting creatures and now we're on the run. We need to move, now. Can you do that?"

Noting the urgency in her teacher's voice, Aura simply nodded.

Good girl. "All right, let's g—"

Clover was cut off by a rumbling roar that shook the very dirt beneath their hooves. "Er, as I was saying: run!"

Everypony galloped up the slight incline, eager to see some form of daylight again. Clover, who still had her horn lit, increased the concentration of the beam and aimed it down the tunnel. It twisted and turned, but appeared to have no other variation as they fled along the passage. The ground rumbled again. Oh no, that one felt much closer. What in Eques—

The ground a few steps behind them erupted in a shower of dirt and deafening noise. Aura screamed loudly, even as Cirrus was snapped back to consciousness. With a cry of terror, Cirrus fell off Valencia's back and landed roughly.

"What the hay is going on! Where are we? Who are you? Argh! what is that?" Cirrus pointed at the new hole behind them in the path.

Clover turned back to where the dirt had erupted all over them—and found the jagged, writhing, twisting body of a gigantic, worm-like thing still burrowing into the nearby wall they had just passed. Clover's pupils contracted in fear, even as she redoubled her efforts.

"Everypony, keep running!"

Fueled by adrenaline, the party fled rapidly along the tunnel, even as the vibrations in the Earth told them the worm was looping back. "I don't know what that thing is, but I sure as sugar don't want to become its dinner!" Valencia yelled.

Aiming her horn once more down the passageway, Clover glinted her light off the passageway... which seemed to end abruptly. "Oh no no no no, don't tell me, oh no this can't be it!" As they neared their inevitable dead end, the light reflected off the wall and shot up.

Valencia noticed it first. "Shoot, how're we gonna get up that? I ain't got wings!" She couldn't keep the terror from lacing her voice as she stared up into the steep opening. "That goes up so far, I can't even tell if there's light above us or not! What are we gonna do, Clover?" She proceeded to sink to her knees against the end wall, shaking.

Clover might have answered, were it not for the gargantuan ice worm swinging around to barrel through the tunnel yet again. The resulting explosion of dirt and quaking threw Clover off her hooves, where she came to lie next to Valencia. Aura and Cirrus had already joined Valencia before, huddled against each other and crying.

As the worm slowed down and readied itself for another pass, Clover's brain went into overdrive. Think, mare, think! How do we get out of this mess? She glanced around at the others, her eyes coming to rest on Cirrus. That's it! "Cirrus, can you fly?"

The colt looked up at Clover's address and nodded. "Yes, Miss, but my wings are still a little sore—"

"I need you to take Aura and fly her up out of here. Keep going until you can't any more. Don't stop until you've reached your absolute limit! Both of your lives depend on it, understand?" He nodded even as Clover continued, "Aura! You hold onto Cirrus and whatever you do, don't let him go until you've hit solid land, preferably above ground level. Drop a stone or something down to us when you've reached safety. I'll think of a way to get us out of here, I promise!"

Aura shook her head, crying in fear. Clover wrapped her in a tight hug. "I promise we'll be okay, but you both have to go right now! Go!"

"O-okay Clover, I will. I w-won't let go."

"Good girl. Off you get!" As Cirrus stretched his wings and lifted off the ground—clutching a terrified Aura—Clover turned to face Valencia. "The foals are safe. It's just us now. Listen—I'm going to try something but I need you to help me. You have to distract that worm somehow while I concentrate, because I've never attempted this before. It might be our only salvation."

Valencia cringed. "You want me to distract that thing? Are you crazy?" The rumbling returned, heralding the worm's arrival once more. Valencia turned a paler shade of orange. "How you do suppose I do that? Run around in circles screaming 'Hey worm, look at me, I got a juicy orange for you'?"

"If that's what it takes, then yes! But now I need to focus."

Valencia stared, slack-jawed, until the worm made its re-appearance. Bursting its head through the wall next to her, it opened its gaping maw to reveal hundreds of hoof-long, jagged teeth lining its throat. It faced Valencia and let out a deafening roar, withdrawing its head a little to survey the surroundings. How it did so, Valencia didn't know, for the monstrous worm had no eyes to speak of.

Valencia.

Were it not for the shock that the worm had just given her, she would have jumped again. Clover's voice rang loud in her head as she felt the power of a telepathic communication for the first time. I think the worm can't see or smell. I have a theory that it senses movement. Just disregard what I said before and stay perfectly still.

Easier said than done, Clover. You're not the one a single thrust away from being swallowed and ground into paste here. Nevertheless, Valencia swallowed and remained still as a statue. The worm continued to move its head from side to side, seeking its quarry.

I know but I'm almost ready... a few more seconds and we'll have our only shot at escaping. Just hold on.

Clover severed the link and drew up all of her magic pool to the tip of her horn. The reckless amount of power converging on her horn seemed to catch the attention of the worm, as it shifted a little away from the still-petrified Valencia. In that moment, a small plip echoed throughout the room.

The worm opened its mouth again and lunged forward.

* * * * *

Luna awoke with a start to find her sister sleeping next to her and their cave bathed in a pretty, rosy-red light. It must be sunset. Taken with curiosity, Luna quietly stepped up away from Celestia and went to observe the setting of the great orb. The view was spectacular. Luna would swear from that day that she'd seen no more beautiful sight during the day, since that moment she witnessed all of Equestria bathed in the multi-hued light.

The countryside was gorgeous. On the distant south-western horizon, she could see the pegasi city of Cloudsdale, a floating rainbow of a city that caught the sunset's rays, refracting them off the fluffy foundations. There was a golden wood far to the west. To the east, Luna glimpsed of the beginnings of an ocean. South of the mountaintop was the cursed, darkened wood her and Celestia had came from. To the north, a gorgeous waterfall flowed freely, visible even at that distance from her divine perch at the top of the world.

A powerful outpouring of magic caught her attention after a moment. The Tiara of Magic reacted to it, telling her telepathically exactly where it originated from. Her curiousity piqued, Luna flew down from her perch a small way. It was coming from the direction of the unicorn city. The Tiara reacted violently, confirming she was getting closer. Without notice, it all poured out at once: the power of many unicorns united between two separate, yet simultaneous tasks.

Sunset and Moonrise. Whoa, the unicorns are doing that? Luna sat awestruck, watching the moonrise as the land sank into a soft twilight.

* * * * *

Twing.

The Element of Honesty burned into Celestia, not overly hot but enough to rouse her from her slumber. With a short yawn, Celestia stood up and gazed down at the orange element adorning her left foreleg.

What was that?

After shaking her head and her hoof, Celestia headed out of the cave to see the final end of sunset and the moon climbing into the sky. Vaguely, she could feel the power of a few unicorns united in magic, but her attention was drawn elsewhere as the Element of Honesty twinged again. Why would Honesty be reacting like this? The Element seemed to be directing her into the city attached to the mountainside below. Straight to the castle, to be precise.

Something isn't right...

* * * * *

King Levitatus lay back in bed, thoroughly exhausted yet satisfied with the day's events. His morning had been made by his strangely hyperactive youngest daughter returning from her trip to the falls, who had proceeded to tell him everything about her journey and the loads of fun she'd had. His afternoon had been made by the progress with which Clover the Clever had claimed to make about the suspected healing properties of sage, declaring the expedition a success. To crown it all, his evening had been made by his lovely queen, who'd seen to her 'wifely duties' this Hearts And Hooves Day with extra-high amounts of vigor compared to normal.

As he lay back and regarded his wife, Levitatus contemplated how fortunate his life truly was. He could feel an enormous outpouring of love leaving his heart, all directed at Portia.

"My word, Portia. That was incredible. You've really outdone yourself tonight."

His queen smiled. "You weren't so bad yourself, old stallion." Giggling, she cuddled up to him. "You know, it's been an incredibly long time since I've felt this magnitude of love from anypony. I feel stronger than ever."

Levitatus' body became immensely heavy. Wondering what was up, he tried to move his legs. Nothing happened. Activating his horn, he searched for some kind of magical disturbance. His own magic spluttered and died. Now panicking, Levitatus glanced around as best as he could. Portia lifted away from him and rose up to sit on his lap once again, as she had been moments earlier. Except this time, the look in her eyes far from enthralled him—it scared him.

There was a flash of green light and Portia caught fire. Her blue eyes became a vivid green. Her fair blonde mane and tail lengthened and reverted to a light-blue. Her gorgeous silver coat took on a much darker texture and began to harden. Finally, her horn twisted out of shape and her body became littered with holes.

Levitatus gazed upon the face of a monster. He tried to scream, but found his mouth magically held shut. A green glow surrounded "Portia's" horn as the greed and malice in her eyes bored into his own. She smile widely, showing off jagged teeth. Her voice rasped at his ears.

"Thank you for your love, My Love, but I believe our time together has peaked as of this moment."

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