• 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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Hearts Of Ice

Pop!

Clover and Valencia materialised into a whirlwind of blistering cold. They were met with the surprised reactions of Aura and a tired, sore Cirrus, who had made it to safety. There was a gaping hole next to the foals, which Clover presumed they had flown through before collapsing.

Eyes scrunched up against the howling wind, Valencia surveyed their surroundings. Everywhere they looked, the world was a frozen white. Outlines of a mountain range were visible in the far distance. It was growing dark too, Valencia noted. I'd hoped it would be lighter above ground, but with our luck so far I'm hardly surprised.

She turned to her partner. "Yo, Clover! What do you—"

Her words ended abruptly as she laid eyes on Clover. She had fallen to her knees in the snow, breathing ragged, sharp breaths. She shivered on the cold ground in the buffeting winds, not even trying to get back to her hooves.

"Clover!" two voices cried in unison. Startled, Valencia turned to see Aura bolting towards Clover.

"Clover, get up! Everything's fine, we're okay. Cirrus is tired from carrying me but we're both okay! And so are you. Get up, Clover, we're all okay! Come on, why won't you get up? Get up, Clover! You promised you'd be okay!" Valencia watched as the filly pleaded with her mentor to rise. Clover simply smiled weakly and coughed a few times in response.

"I'm... glad you're... safe, dear."

Rational thought returned to proverbially slap the staring Valencia in her face. Coming out of her daze, she trotted over to Cirrus, who was also shivering but appeared fine otherwise.

"How do you fare, young pegasus?" she asked. "I guess your wings are very sore right now. That was no small feat you pulled off."

Cirrus nodded, giving an involuntary wince as his mantle once again shot pain through his wing bones. "Oh, yeah they hurt so much. But I did it—I saved us. We could have died down in that hole. But I did save us. That's what's important, right?"

Cirrus winced as he concluded his statement, then commenced preening his wings. It looked rather painful from Valencia's end, but Cirrus seemed to be enjoying the feeling.

Valencia turned back to Aura, who was using some kind of magic to help Clover get to her hooves. Controlled levitation magic at her age? She's gifted, that one. I can see why Clover took her for an apprentice. She trotted back to the pair. "We need to find shelter. If we don't, we could die out here." She shivered with her words. "Nightfall is fast approaching and it'll only get colder. You remember the winter, right? Well, this place is starting to remind me of it again, and not in a good way. Can you walk at least?"

The mare shook her head. "I d-don't t-think so. I'm only s-standing now w-with Aura's assis-t-tance. I'm aching all over f-from f-fleeing that w-wretched worm." The words tumbled from Clover's mouth through her chattering teeth. "I a-also used up all of m-my magical energy j-just then w-when I tele-p-ported us up h-here."

Valencia sighed, shivering again herself. Darn it, we need to move! "Aura, do you think you could carry Clover in your magic?"

The filly shook her head, still weeping at her mentor's helplessness. "Sorry, Miss Valencia. Levitation doesn't work that way. It requires an equal amount of magical energy output as it would require physical energy output, should I theoretically lift Clover onto my own back. Levitation magic is incapable of nullifying gravitational forces," Aura cited, sounding for all the world like she'd swallowed a copy of Magical Theory: Volume One.

Valencia's mouth dropped to hear the young filly export such language, but was quickly closed. "Er, all right then. Do you think you could hold her up as support while she makes the action of walking?"

Aura thought for a moment. "I can try. Clover, want to try?"

Clover nodded to Aura. "All right, l-let's give this a s-shot."

Clover placed a tentative hoof in front of her and placed some weight on it. With support from her magical crutch, she appeared to be steady. "For the moment, this seems to work j-just fine. But I don't think Aura will be able to keep it up f-for long. Supporting my weight for l-longer than a few minutes is bound to t-take a toll on her quickly, given s-she's only a filly. She's also only j-just learned how to perform it, and h-holding it for—"

"Well, we'd better get moving then, yes?" Valencia interjected. Like teacher, like student.

Clover let out a laboured giggle. "Of c-course we should. Lead on, V-Valencia."

* * * * *

Celestia glided over the city, a cloaking spell cast upon herself. The sun was completely down by then; nightfall had truly arrived. The Element of Honesty burned with steadily increasing intensity as she neared the castle, bathed in the moon-glow. Whatever's happening, it's in there. Celestia flew up to a nearby tower window and peeked inside. She saw what appeared to be a study: there were loads of rolled up scrolls on wooden shelves in there, but nopony in sight. Not here, then.

Flying around the tower, she spotted a room built off to the side of what appeared to be an entrance hall. Honesty's burning intensified. It must be in there. Peeking through the window, she had enough of a glimpse to observe a large, bearded, elder unicorn lying in a bed, while a green flame engulfed a mare who disappeared through the room's exit.

Celestia silently unlocked the window, using stealth to descend into the room. She walked over to the unicorn, who began to squirm.

"No! leave me be, you foul thing! I've fed all of my love to your wretched queen, away with you!" The unicorn continued his thrashing on the bed. Apparently, he was held in place by a powerful magic. Or, as Celestia observed, a sticky green substance. "I know you're there, beastie! I can sense your cloaking spell. Well, nopony pulls wool over this mage's eyes! Show yourself!"

Celestia paused for a moment. Clearly, there was no point remaining disguised. But what if I scare him? She took a few seconds to decide, then dropped her cloaking spell. His gaze turned from one of defiance, to one of fear, to finally one of comprehension as he recognised the tall white alicorn.

"Could it be? Sister? Is it truly you, Celestia?"

Celestia leaned back on her hooves, her mouth slightly open. She had not anticipated being recognised. It took but a second more for her to also recognise the stallion opposite. She brought a hoof to her lips.

"Star Swirl?"

Celestia stared at her brother, having not seen him for two decades. She could tell that he had aged well, although in his situation he looked incredibly disheveled. No point in hiding anymore.

"Yes, it's me, Celestia! I go by the name Levitatus now, though. Anyway, I'll explain more later—please, would you kindly release these damnable bindings?" He motioned with his eyes to his bound limbs.

A quick nod later, Celestia fired a concentrated beam of energy, instantly vaporising the substance.

With a sigh of relief, Levitatus got to his hooves and embraced his saviour, his long-lost sister. "Oh, Celestia, how I've missed you these twenty years. Is Luna with you?" He looked around the room as if expecting her to appear.

"She's not here, per se, but she is nearby. We were going to wait to reveal ourselves to you and the rest of our family... however, this—" Levitatus observed the relic she pointed out on her foreleg "—summoned me here. It informed me that a great deception was taking place, and here I found you in a—dare I say—rather compromising position."

Eyebrow raised, Celestia smiled at the king, who looked rather sheepish.

"Well, you see, there was a mare in here earlier pretending to be my wife, and... erm... we'd just—"

"I get the idea, brother." That smile again.

"Er, yes. My point is, her disguise was one hundred percent perfect. There was no enchantment either, she truly was my wife. Until she shape-shifted after we finished and... well, she drained the love I have for my wife out of me like it was some kind of potent energy source."

At this, a memory stirred within Celestia. A memory from long past, when she'd been taken on a quite instantaneous trip around the world:

Sky Mirror Lake: home of one of my proudest creations—the changelings! Now, one would never recognise a changeling, not even you if it approached you, as they can take on the form of any other sentient being that they wish. Why, you could be in the throes of passion with a changeling pretending to be your lover and you wouldn't know the difference! That is, until you started feeling your power draining... for you see, they feast not on plants or even flesh, but love. Romantic isn't it? Well, for the changeling at least. Given enough time, a pony could be sucked completely dry. Not a single conscious thought would remain. You would be an empty shell of your former self, your power fed to the one who literally preyed on your feelings! What a tragic but magnificent concept, don't you agree?

"Brother, you've been infiltrated and deceived by a changeling. This is very bad. We have to purge this threat, or your kingdom will literally be sucked dry of all its love. Odds are, she's not operating alone either."

Levitatus stared at Celestia, this new enemy completely alien to him. "That creature is called a changeling? And she's literally a love vampire? Wow, it's no wonder she chose to impersonate my wife—Portia! I hope she's keeping safe. But first things first, this changeling. She's smart and cunning. If we encounter her again, I wouldn't underestimate her."

Celestia nodded. It was then that she noticed the Element of Honesty was flaring up again.

"Levitatus, either the changeling's at it again, or there are more then one among their number. We have to find them, now. Who knows who could get hurt, or worse..."

* * * * *

Clover collapsed, no longer possessing the strength to move forward. Even though poor little Aura strained to hold her weight, the prolonged magical output combined with the biting blizzard had rapidly sapped what remained of her strength. The last of Aura's magic flickered and died as she too was overcome by the cold and magical exhaustion. Valencia rounded on them with great concern, even as Cirrus continued to soldier on ahead of them with his insulated fur.

"Come on girls, you have to keep going! If you lie down and give up now, you'll surely die!" Valencia positioned her neck underneath Clover's immobile body and lifted her up again. Keeping her head under Clover's, she marched them on. "Look, there's a mountain out there in the darkness, I can see its outline. Let's head for it! Not far now, I promise!" She struggled under Clover's weight. Carrying a young pegasus was one thing, but carrying a full-grown unicorn was something else entirely. "Only... A couple thousand steps away now... Let's make a dash for it!"

Aura ceased trying to re-activate her exhausted magic, electing instead to help Valencia physically support Clover. With the two of them helping, they began to make progress again.

Cirrus came running back toward them a few minutes later with some news. "There's a cave up ahead! A cave cut into the very front of the base. It's warm inside, too. We should be safe from the blizzard in there."

The girls took heart at this news and moved swiftly toward the direction Cirrus was pointing out. After a few hundred steps, it became visible. It looked small, but inviting. The perfect hide-away. Aren't we lucky? Aura thought.

A deep rumbling disturbed the moment as the party felt the ground beneath them quake.

Oh, no... "Everypony, run!" Valencia bellowed.

With a burst of adrenaline and valor, Clover and Aura found the will to gallop towards the mountain cave, now mercifully only a short distance away. As they fled for safety, an explosion of ice and frozen Earth heralded the arrival of their fears. The ice worm had returned. Bellowing once again, it churned through the ground as easily as if it were water. Looking back as they ran, everypony could glimpse the true terror of their assailant; the worm rose high into the sky, at least twenty hooves high and ten hooves wide, though there were many more hoof-lengths worth of worm still inside the ground. Its body was jagged and lined with edged segments every few hooves. The worm twisted its rotating body and headed back into the ground again, this time aiming itself at Cirrus.

"Cirrus, watch out!" Valencia cried, her voice barely carrying over the blizzard and the rumbling of the gargantuan annelid's tunneling. Cirrus attempted to fly over the rapidly approaching mound of Earth, but his wings gave out after a few flaps. Dropping back to the ground, he instinctively rolled to the side. The mound passed him and looped around again.

"Cirrus, almost there! Just a few more steps and you're there! Run for it!" Coming up right behind him were the adrenalised Clover and Aura. Redoubling the fervour of his flight, Cirrus reached the cavern entrance safely. The worm continued to head toward him... then inexplicably turned around and targeted the others.

"Whoa!" cried Valencia as the worm performed its sudden, unexpected manoeuvre. Dodging to the side, the beast missed her, but was now instead directly headed for the two unicorns. A flash of light illuminated the two and they vanished, re-emerging with a pop! next to Valencia not far away. Clover—having cast the spell out of pure desperation—promptly collapsed, completely unconscious.

Wasting no time while the worm circled around again for its final pass, Valencia scooped her up and galloped across the threshold of the cavern, Aura joining her a second later. The worm halted as if they had vanished. Poking its monstrous head above ground once again, it flailed around, searching for the meal that had escaped it. Defeated, the worm turned around and burrowed back the way it came.

Everypony panted with the strenuous effort they had all just made in fleeing the face of almost-certain death. They had faced an entire hive of shape-shifting love vampires, long dark passages, a phenomenally mutated worm and the harshness of a dark and bitter blizzard. That any of us are still alive is truly a miracle, Valencia thought. Breathing heavily from her exertion, she turned to face her crew. Cirrus was also panting with his eyes screwed up, no longer able to disguise any pain coursing through his wings. Aura lay down next to Clover where Valencia had deposited her. Her eyes were closed, tears streaking her face.

Clover.

Having tapped into her deepest reserves of power, Clover was irretrievably unconscious. No amount of shaking or name-calling would wake her. In teleporting that final time with an already exhausted magic pool, Clover had pushed herself to the absolute limit. She lay in the entrance to the surprisingly warm and well-lit cavern as her body struggled against the pull of death. Everypony grouped around her and bowed their heads, hugging each other. There was nothing that could be done when a unicorn slipped into a magical coma. Clover was not yet technically dead, but she would be incredibly lucky to awaken again. Aura's sobbing subsided for just a moment before she cried at the top of her lungs:

"Please, somepony help uuuuuuus!"

* * * * *

Miles away, the Element of Kindness burned into a certain blue alicorn's leg...

* * * * *

"This way, brother!"

The Element of Honesty directed Celestia toward the other side of the castle, with Levitatus following in her wake. The unicorn king was tired, but sleep could wait: he had a kingdom to save. "What lies in this direction?" Celestia queried.

"This is the way to my daughter Platinum's bedroom. You don't think—" Levitatus silenced himself there. The thought of his precious little filly being used for love by a monster was not one he was willing to entertain.

"Platinum? We must ensure she comes to no harm first." Celestia galloped on, the Element burning brighter as they neared her chambers. When they rounded the corner into a new corridor, a sound stopped Celestia and Levitatus in their tracks: a fearful, high-pitched scream. The colour drained from the King's already grey face as his heart grew cold.

"No, my precious!" He burst through the door of the room before Celestia could stop him. There was Platinum, all alabaster coat and golden mane, shaking and crying her eyes out. She was contained by the same forces that had held Levitatus. The king's fears were confirmed. "Platinum!" He ran over to her, rushing to comfort the poor soul who'd shared a similar experience to that of her father. She stared at him, pleas in her eyes as she continued to sob.

"I'm so sorry, Father! He was my c-c-coltfriend, then suddenly he w-wasn't anymore, and-and—"

"Shhhh. It's all right, Platinum—Daddy's here now, you'll be fine. Calm down, my sweet." Levitatus stroked his princess' mane and comforted her. "We're going to have a talk later about you having a secret suitor and not telling me, but not now. First, I need you to calm down and let me introduce you to somepony incredibly important. Maybe even more important than I." He motioned for Celestia to step forward from the entrance of the room. "Platinum, meet your Aunt Celestia."

Celestia saw about undoing Platinum's bonds as she had with the king. As she finished, her golden voice washed over the princess. "Pleased to meet you, Princess Platinum." Her expression changed from warm and welcoming to hardened and prepared. "Now, let's go and contain this changeling menace once and for all!"

* * * * *

The Element of Kindness directed Luna to the frozen wastes of the north. Luna flew, fast as she could while Kindness burned viciously into her. Somepony's life was clearly in immediate danger. As she cleared the northern mountain range, she saw a solitary mountain in the distance with a small glow emanating from its base. Curious, Luna streaked through the air at top speed, the cold tearing at her face. Placing up a magical screen in front of her, Luna pressed on. She had to help this poor dying soul, if only to alleviate her own pain that Kindness insisted on afflicting her with.

Arriving at the cavern entrance, she beheld a strange sight. The cavern seemed to shine relatively bright of its own accord. Searching for this strange circumstance, Luna entered the cave and saw a green flaming torch hanging from the cave ceiling high above. An enchanted flame. Interesting.

Glancing around the cavern again, her eyes fell upon a purple-and-green unicorn mare who looked strikingly familiar. Luna swore she'd seen the unicorn before, but couldn't remember exactly where or when. Possibly, she was only a foal when I saw her last. Scooping up the mare gently in her magic, Luna tapped into her Tiara and examined the mare.

"Magical exhaustion. Coma-bound. Insufficient magic pool remaining to sustain life. You poor thing, how did you possibly get into this state?"

Luna then tapped into her Element of Kindness and siphoned some healing magic into the unicorn, accompanied by some magic from her own immensely deep—by comparison—magic pool. The mare stirred and Luna breathed a sigh of relief; Kindness subsequently ceased its burn. She'd be all right. However, she still required proper medical attention. Deciding that this was an adequate example of an 'opportune moment,' Luna scooped the unicorn up in her magic and flew back toward the city.

Unbeknownst to her, three other exhausted ponies still inhabited that cave, sleeping only a room away.

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