• Published 5th Aug 2014
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CoH (Book One) : Of Magic and Masquerades - Diespitris

It is up to Twilight Sparkle to find a way to protect the Crystal Empire on her own. Yet, when its former king offers her a helping hoof, she has two choices: befriend him, or reveal him. Despite her choice, there will be consequences to face.

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Chapter Two : Shrouded

It was pleasantly easy for Twilight and Spike to locate the others. All it took was grabbing the attention of a certain rainbow-maned pegasus as she flew overhead, before she took off to relay the plan to regroup to the rest of their friends. They reunited beneath the arched base of the palace, where Twilight informed them of the Crystal Faire and its purpose. She wasn't met with any resistance when she requested their help putting it all together. In fact, everypony sounded excited to get started, and Twilight was more than prepared to assign each of them a task or two.

She flipped back and forth between the different pages of their one and only guide. Let's see here, she thought as she read. It says that the crystal ponies like jousting. Rainbow Dash is the most obvious choice for that. Rarity, of course, can make the flags and crafts. Applejack and Pinkie won't have any trouble with the baked goods and the construction of some of the stands, I'm sure. “Flugelhorn?” Pinkie can have that, too, along with the games. There was also something about a crystal heart in here somewhere. I'm sure I could do something about that, and... Fluttershy can organize the petting zoo. A broad, excited grin drew the corners of the unicorn's mouth upwards. Yes, this will work perfectly!

And her friends agreed. Each mare took to their part with ease, while Twilight and Spike did what they could to aid them. If Rainbow Dash needed help moving the jousting equipment out of storage, then Twilight was there to help. If Rarity needed somepony to raise the flags as they were finished, then they were raised. Then, over the course of a few hours, booths, tents, and other attractions sprouted around the area of the palace. Once everything had been put in its rightful place, finishing touches like colorful banners and balloons were implemented to tie it all together.

At last, it was finished!

Twilight gazed upon the product of their teamwork with awe. “It looks amazing,” she said as she glanced back and forth between the book and the faire. “I don't know how I could have done this without you!” Although, I should check one last time to make sure everything is in place, and then the festivities can begin.

Out of the blue, Applejack asked, “Uh, what's this thing for?”

She looked up from the book as the farm pony poked at the crude, heart-shaped statue she had placed at the faire's center. “The book mentioned a crystal heart as the faire's centerpiece, so I used my magic to cut one out of a crystal block,” she explained. Sure, it wasn't the prettiest or the most symmetrical thing in creation, but she was rather pleased with the turnout.

Applejack chuckled. “Nice work, Twi. Think we're ready to get this Faire up and runnin'!”

While her friends hurried to their stations, Twilight, Spike, and Pinkie Pie ascended the palace to retrieve Princess Cadence and Shining Armor. They then trotted out onto the balcony as the sound of the party pony's flugelhorn filled their ears. The noise soon faded, leaving Twilight free to make her announcement. “Hear ye, hear ye!” she shouted—her voice loud enough to rival the flugelhorn's. “Princess Cadence and Prince Shining Armor do cordially invite you to attend the Crystal Faire!”

The invitation drew the downtrodden citizens to the event right away. Some of them even perked up and brightened before their very eyes. A giddy laugh made it past Twilight's lips as she turned and bumped hooves with Pinkie Pie. “It's already working!” she exclaimed.

“Of course it is, silly!” the pink mare giggled. “Everypony loves a party, 'specially if they haven't had one in a super-duper long time!”

“And you did an absolutely amazing job putting it together,” added Cadance as she pulled her sister-in-law into a warm embrace.

“Yeah, this looks awesome,” commented Shining. “You two should go down there and enjoy yourselves. We'll keep an eye on everything from up here.”

“Are you sure?” his sister asked as she watched Pinkie Pie vanish in the blink of an eye.

“I'm sure, Twily. Go have some fun. You earned it.”

~ *~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~* ~

Suggested Listening : Fateful Reunion

Twilight couldn't help but smile as she strolled past the booths that everypony worked so hard on. The crystal ponies seemed to be having a good time, though there were many who remained sad and dull. She directed quite a few of them to places such as the traditional crafts stall and the small arena where the jousting would soon take place. To her delight, her suggestions crystallized a couple more coats.

However, it wasn't long before she caught sight of a large, cloaked figure out of the corner of her eye. She turned her head and, sure enough, the unidentified stallion from her encounter outside the library stood only a few yards away. It appeared as though he was inspecting the crystal heart statue. It also appeared that he was successful in avoiding attention, for nopony else paid him any mind. Twilight was an exception. In fact, she felt the urge to confront him, until Rainbow Dash's boisterous voice drew her attention instead.

“We totally nailed it, right?” she asked, startling the crystal mare she addressed. The nameless pony tried to walk away, only to have her path immediately blocked by the pegasus. “Must be feelin' a lot of love and unity about now, huh?” she pressed.

Clearly uncomfortable, the crystal pony bolted in the opposite direction—running right past Twilight. Rainbow tried to pursue her, but the unicorn put a stop to the chase before it had the chance to begin. “Rainbow Dash!” she scolded. “What are you doing?”

The other mare looked at her in a puzzled manner. “What? I just asked her a question.”

“We're supposed to be making these ponies happy! You don't make a pony happy by borderline harassing them!”

Rolling her eyes, Rainbow snatched a piece of corn on the cob from one of the stands. She took a large bite, then proceeded to talk with her mouth full. “C'mon, Twi, you know it's not my fault that these ponies are so skittish. I mean, really—”

Without warning, two voices cried out, “The Crystal Heart!

Twilight and Rainbow Dash turned their heads towards the owners of the voices. Two excited mares stood nearby, whose coats glimmered with newfound vitality. “Do you think they really have it?” one of them asked.

Before Twilight had the chance to approach them and answer their question, Rainbow Dash was already on it. “Of course we have it!” she exclaimed, throwing a forearm around the pony's shoulders. “Can't have a Crystal Faire without the Crystal Heart, right?”

“Of course you can't,” replied another voice—the voice of the librarian.

Curious, Twilight slowly walked up to her. “And why would that be?” she inquired.

The older mare's brow furrowed. “Well, the whole purpose of the Crystal Faire is to lift the spirits of the crystal ponies so the light within them can power the Crystal Heart, so the empire can be protected.” The words came out of her mouth at an alarming rate as she remembered their importance. As soon as she finished, her coat crystallized right then and there, and she beamed with pride.

For the second time that day, Twilight felt her heart drop into her stomach. Oh, no... No, no, no! Please tell me it's not—

The librarian clapped her hooves together. “I just can't believe you found it!” she shouted, overjoyed. “King Sombra said he'd hidden it away where we would never see it again! I only hope it will still be as powerful after all these years. Oh, I can't wait to see it!” With that, she turned and trotted away.

Twilight's knees began to shake. “It's an actual relic,” she breathed.

“What was that?” asked her winged friend.

Her question was met with two hooves, which firmly pressed themselves into her cheeks as Twilight grabbed her face. “The Crystal Heart is an actual relic, Rainbow!” she cried in despair. Her elevated voice attracted the attention of passersby, so she took a deep breath and released the pegasus. “The missing page!” she then added under her breath. “That must've been what was on the page that was torn from the history book!”

The pegasus rubbed the soreness from her face, frowning. “Missing page? You never mentioned anything about a missing page!” she softly hissed.

“I overlooked it so that we could get the Faire going!”

“Well, okay, but what now? How are we supposed to find this Crystal Heart?”

Twilight bit down on the edge of her hoof as she wracked her brain for the solution. Okay, okay... No need to lose hope just yet, Twilight. No threats have been made against the Crystal Empire. Yet. So, there's no rush. Yet. First things first...

She drew air into her lungs, then exhaled. “I'll head back to the palace and inform Cadance and Shining Armor about the Crystal Heart,” she said with fresh confidence. “Then, I'll look for the relic.” She didn't give Rainbow Dash time to reply. She turned and galloped towards the palace.

Yet, the rainbow-maned pony followed. “Hold up, Twi!” she called. “Let me help! You can't comb the empire all by yourself!”

Twilight kept her quickened pace. “I have to, Rainbow Dash. Ever since we arrived, I've been trying to figure out how I'm meant to pass Celestia's test. Retrieving the Crystal Heart must be it! But, there is something you can do.”

“Name it!”

“You and the rest of our friends have to keep the Faire going.”


“Distract them! They think that we have the Heart, so all of you need to keep them from finding out that the one at the Faire's center is fake.” As they passed one of the flag poles, she reached up with her magic and pulled one of the large flags free. I'll cover the statue with this to buy us some time, she thought. She then glanced at her friend. “Do you understand, Rainbow?”

Her pegasus companion nodded. “Keep the Faire going, and the crystal ponies distracted,” she replied. “Done and done!”

Saluting, she took to the sky to relay the plan to the others. Twilight was left to run through the crowd alone. She ran as fast as she could, simultaneously dodging all who were in her path. As she backtracked to the fabricated Heart, she was relieved to see that none of the crystal ponies had yet seen it. It was a bonus that the mysterious stallion was also gone.

She unfolded the flag and she threw it over the statue. Slowly, she ran a hoof over the smooth fabric. It's not much, but it will do for now, she thought with a tired sigh. She turned away from the fake relic. Now, to find my brother and— Her eyes settled on the nearest set of doors and she went still.

The doors were wide open and, standing within the palace, was the stallion in the cloak. He lowered his head slightly, as though offering her a small bow. “Please, follow me,” he said in a deep, but soft voice. He slowly turned his back to her before he ascended the spiral staircase within.

Completely dumbfounded, Twilight cautiously pursued him. Worry caused her heart to quickly pound within the confines of her ribcage as a thousand questions filled her head. She asked none of them, however, and she kept a relatively safe distance between herself and the stallion, just in case he tried anything funny. She was on her way up to the throne room, anyway, though she didn't expect to find the chamber vacant upon their arrival.

Cadance and Shining must still be out on the balcony, she thought as her ears flatened against her head. Was that why the stallion dared to come here, because he knew that nopony was around? The thought made her suspicious. “Why did you want me to follow you here?” she asked.

Silent, he approached the crystal throne. There was a strange glow beneath his hood, which Twilight automatically recognized as magic. He was a unicorn. The green glow of his horn soon dimmed and, in a display that caused the mare to hold her breath, a beam of dark magic was fired at the crystal that topped the throne. She feared that it would be destroyed. However, the twisted power simply caused it to turn black in color. The shadow it cast crept downwards, over the throne and onto the floor. “Step back!” the stallion yelled.

Twilight gasped and teleported out of the shadow's path as it stretched across the room—revealing a hidden entrance in its wake. She peered down into the depths, only to see a staircase that spiraled down to wherever the passageway lead. How did the stallion know it was there? She looked towards him to ask, but he was already on his way down the steps. “Hey, wait!” she exclaimed. “Should... Should I still follow you?”

“Yes,” was the simple reply.

Though her curiosity was peaked, Twilight remained vigilant as she lit up her horn and continued after him. They said nothing to each other all the while; the only sounds heard were the clip-clops of hooves against the cold stone of the staircase. It was almost humerous for Twilight that she once again found herself in a damp, underground chamber.

“It's no use. No one can hear you. And no one will ever think to look for you either! Most ponies have forgotten that these caves even exist.”

She shivered, swallowing nervously, and she banished the malicious voice from her memory with the shake of her head. She quickened her pace a bit, for the stallion was farther ahead than she remembered. A few minutes passed before they finally reached the bottom, where only a single door awaited them. Again, her guide's horn illuminated with arcane power. But, fortunately, it was not dark magic. Upon the diamond-shaped jewel that topped the doorframe, he unleashed a steady stream of pure, glowing magic. It was hard for Twilight to make out the spell, but it clearly did its job. The door swung open and she followed the other unicorn into the room that set on the other side.

It was a bright, white room... that was home to more stairs. They lead upwards now—coiled around a pristine tower of marble.

Twilight groaned. “What's with all the stairs in this place...?”

The stallion chuckled. “Do not worry,” he replied as his horn lit up for a third time. “I won't make you walk.”

Static filled the air and, in the blink of an eye, they were both teleported to what Twilight suspected was the top of the pillar of stairs. They had arrived at a place of elevation. She could see the sky and she could feel a cool breeze caress her fur. The comfort they provided were soon dulled in comparison to what she saw levitating before her.

It was the embodiment of love and unity itself, the Crystal Heart.

Its transparent, sapphire form left Twilight enthralled. Without thinking, she stepped forward, only to feel a foreleg impede her progress. “Wait,” the stallion said, causing her to snap out of her trance. She stopped, and then she waited as he approached the Crystal Heart alone. It was probably unwise for her to do so, but he did bring her this far. If it were a trap, then it would have already been sprung. So, she simply watched as he gently took the relic into one of his hooves. The circular pattern on the floor brightened, then faded as though some enchantment had been broken.

He then turned to face her, holding the Crystal Heart out in front of him. “Here,” he said. “Take this and return it to its rightful place.”

Her eyes still on the artifact, Twilight moved towards him. She reached to take it from him once she was close, but her focus faltered when she realized that the hoof holding the Crystal Heart was as gray as stone. And something clicked.

“One thousand years ago, King Sombra, a unicorn whose heart was as black as night, took over the Crystal Empire...”

“Well, the whole purpose of the Crystal Faire is to lift the spirits of the crystal ponies so the light within them can power the Crystal Heart, so the empire can be protected.”

“The Faire was held every year to renew the spirit of love and unity in the empire so they could protect it from harm.”

“I just can't believe you found it! King Sombra said he'd hidden it away where we would never see it again!”

Her eyes widened. Wordlessly, she lifted her head so that she could see into the stallion's hood. She found herself looking directly into eyes, which widened in response to her sudden movement, as green as moss. She had obviously startled him, and the two again stared at each other. She never broke eye contact (and neither did he), even as she calmly took the Crystal Heart into her right hoof. “Thank you,” she said. “King Sombra.”

His eyes betrayed his sudden discomfort, and he began to back away. In a whisper, he replied, “You're welcome,” as his gaze shifted to the ground. Then, he was gone—whisked away by the flash of light that was a teleportation spell.

With a sigh, she looked down at the Crystal Heart. It was warm against her fur. She couldn't believe that she had found it. She didn't do it on her own, but her relief was far too great for it to matter. It would make the crystal ponies happy, and their happiness would again fuel the relic and protect their home. Those poor, innocent ponies were once King Sombra's slaves, however, so why would he return the Heart?

And, more importantly, was it worth mentioning upon her return?