• 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 Three : Hearts Alight

Not once did Twilight touch the Crystal Heart with levitation as she made the journey back to the throne room in silence. She instead held it against her—cradling it in the nook of a foreleg. Her mind continuously reeled with recollections of how she came to possess it. King Sombra. The King Sombra. The tyrant, the Slave King himself, lead her right to the relic. There were no traps, no sinister intentions. She even inspected the Crystal Heart with a magical fine-toothed comb, in case he had somehow tampered with its power. But, she detected no foreign spells or alterations. It was clean—completely untouched.

So, why? Why would he help me? Why would he help the ponies he once enslaved?

Her horn glowed with a soft light as she stepped into the dark cavern. The throne room was now directly above her. So was her welcoming committee. The magic aura around her horn alerted Shining Armor to her presence. “Twilight!” he called. “Is that you down there?”

She looked up at him. “Yeah!” she called back. “Hold on a second, I'll teleport up to you.” She was tired of walking anyway. Walking... and stairs. If all the stairs in Equestria suddenly vanished, she would count it as a blessing.

Closing her eyes, she focused on a teleportation spell. Then, in a flash of violet light, she appeared right next to her brother. She smiled when she saw the amusement and curiosity that was etched on his face. “Care to explain to me why there's a huge hole in the floor?” he chuckled.

“What?” she teased. “Haven't you ever seen a secret passage before?” Of course, said passage couldn't remain open like that; somepony was bound to get hurt. Fortunately, all it took was a little white magic to dispel the enchanted shadow that loomed over the floor. Without it, the underground staircase was again sealed beneath the crystal floor. “There!” she exclaimed. “Fixed!”

“Way to go, Twily!”

The pitter-patter of clawed feet reached the mare's ears before she had the chance to present the Crystal Heart. The sound was one she recognized, for it was one that came from none other than her number-one assistant. “Twilight!” shouted Spike as he ran into the throne room. Behind him, Cadance followed—smiling as the baby dragon threw his arms around Twilight's neck. “I'm so glad you're okay!” he exclaimed.

His caretaker chuckled, nuzzling the side of his head. “I'm fine, Spike,” she gently replied. “I'm so sorry for worrying you.”

“I... I wanted to go after you, but Cadance and Shining wouldn't let me.”

The Princess of Love nodded. “We started getting worried when we saw your friends rushing around the faire and guarding that heart statue you made,” she explained. “Rainbow Dash told us what was going on, once we finally flagged her down.”

“Then we came back inside and saw this staircase,” added Shining Armor. “We knew you had something to do with it, so we kept Spike here—”

“—to honor the conditions of your test.” Cadance looked down at the relic that rested against Twilight's chest. “And it looks like you passed!”

The young unicorn laughed, burying the nervousness she felt. “Well, I didn't pass just yet!” she replied. “I still need to get the Crystal Heart down to the crystal ponies. Once they power it up, the entire empire will be protected again!”

“You better hurry, then,” said Spike. He sounded anxious. “Everypony is trying to keep the crystal ponies from the fake Heart, but things are getting dicey down there!”

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

Rarity, Applejack, Fluttershy, and Rainbow Dash huddled around the crude carving as the crystal ponies closed in on them like hungry wolves. “Please, let us see it!” one of them cried.

“What right do you have to keep it hidden from us?” shouted another.

Applejack took off her hat and began to fan herself with it. “Hold on, y'all!” she retorted. “We ain't hidin' it from ya, we're just savin' it for the closin' ceremony!” Unfortunately, that was the best “excuse” she could muster. She didn't appreciate the corner that the agitated ponies had backed them into, considering that she and her friends had been stuck there for the past hour or so, and it was beginning to weigh on her. She wished that they could have done more to keep them all distracted.

It was easy in the beginning. She was the first to guard the fake relic, once she was satisfied that she had dished out enough crystal berry fritters and pies to keep everypony's bellies happy. Only one or two ponies came forward wanting to see the Crystal Heart, but she was able to send them away with ease. Then, Rarity ran out of materials for the traditional crafts. More ponies came, more ponies were dismissed. Their numbers only increased after Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy finished their jousting match. It was only a matter of time before they were completely surrounded.

Clad in a jester's outfit, Pinkie Pie struggled to make the crystal ponies smile as she balanced on an oversized ball and juggled flugelhorns. Panting, she leaned over Rarity and whispered, “Twilight better get here with the Crystal Heart soon! Even I can't keep this party going forever!”

Fluttershy trembled as she tried to make herself appear as small as possible behind Rainbow Dash and Applejack. “Oh, what if something happened to her?” she asked aloud.

“Pfft, fat chance!” snorted Rainbow. “That egghead of ours went head-to-head with both Nightmare Moon and Discord. Finding that Crystal Heart will be a walk in the park for her.”

“I have faith in Twilight, I really do, but she had us when she faced those dastardly fiends,” uttered Rarity. “Right now, she's alone out there!”

Applejack sighed and shook her head. “I don't even know why the Princess would even make her do it solo,” she grumbled. “It don't make a lick of sense to me.”

“No kidding.” Rainbow Dash rolled her shoulders, hoping to relieve the tension in them. That hope, however, was dashed when one of the crystal ponies emerged from the crowd and tried to get close to the statue. She then lowered herself to the ground and growled, which caused the stallion to retreat.

Before anypony could stop him, he backed into Pinkie's ball. She had a hard enough time keeping her balance, but the impact knocked it out from underneath her completely. She let out a surprised squeak as she was sent tumbling forward. To her friends' horror, she only stopped when she hit the statue—causing it to fall over and shatter into two pieces. Everypony gasped in unison as the fabricated Heart skidded to a halt at the crystal ponies' hooves.

“This... This isn't the Crystal Heart,” a nameless mare whispered. Behind her, others began to whisper as well. It sounded like a mass of gibberish, but the tones of their voices betrayed their uncertainty and fear.

Rarity's first instinct was to laugh. “Oh, of course it's not!” she chortled. “The real one is—”

“—on it's way!” blurted Applejack.

The seamstress glared at her. “I was going to say 'being polished,' to buy us some more time.”

“Oh, sorry...”

One by one, the lustrous coats of the crystal ponies faded as the light in their eyes extinguished. Many of them walked away with forlorn whimpers. Others collapsed into heart-wrenching sobs. “We'll never see it again!” cried one of the downtrodden.

“Well, I don't think they really have it!” snapped a crystal mare as she pointed an accusing hoof at the Elements. She was one of the rare few who was infuriated by the revelation. “It's still hidden somewhere! It has to be! We should look for it ourselves!”

A gold-coated stallion trotted up beside her. “I agree! King Sombra isn't here. Nopony can stop us!”

Pinkie Pie's ears folded back against her head and she made an attempt to climb atop her ball. “Not good, not good!” she chanted. She was able to rediscover her balance, and fairly quickly, so she rolled back out into the crowd. Out of her pockets, she pulled a few pies to juggle. Her antics, however, weren't enough to calm the crystal ponies. They were growing in both impatience and ire.

Rainbow Dash feared a riot—a fear that was shared by her friends. As such, they released a symphony of startled yells when a set of doors nearby were forcefully thrown open. They turned, and smiles found their way to their faces as Twilight, followed by Spike, Cadance, and Shining Armor, galloped towards them.

Sliding to a halt on the very spot where the fake Heart once set, Twilight reared back onto her hind legs and cried, “Stop!” She then enveloped the relic in her magic and she held it up for all to see. “There's no need for such outrage! The Crystal Heart has returned! It is the love and light within you that will guide it to protect the Crystal Empire once again, not your fury! Please, I beg of you, do not let such emotions taint the very embodiment of your unity!”

As if reacting to her plea, the Crystal Heart began to glow and pulsate within her levitating grasp. She slowly retreated as its bizarre power dissipated her own, causing it to float without assistance. Two smooth spikes, one from the ceiling and the other from the pattern on the ground, then extended to hold it in place as it began to spin. The speed and ferocity escalated, especially when the crystal ponies, their crystalline coats suddenly rejuvenated, bowed before it.

Twilight didn't know what was happening, until a sphere of light burst forth from both the relic and the tip of the palace. While the light up top bloomed into a myriad of sky-reaching strands of light, the other smoothed out and expanded into a dome-like shape until it covered the empire—replacing the shield that her brother and sister-in-law struggled to power.

There were no words to describe the joy that filled her heart. She did it! She actually did it! The Crystal Empire and its citizens were safe. Ironically, it was saved with help from the very hooves that enslaved and cursed it, but Twilight tried to not let it weigh on her conscious.

Fortunately, Rarity's delighted squeal diverted her from the thought, but it wasn't until she turned to face her friends that she realized that another change had occurred. The Crystal Heart had bestowed the likeness of the crystal ponies upon them. One look at her hoof confirmed that Twilight, too, was granted a shimmering coat, along with azure ribbons that tied up her mane and wrapped around her tail. Her friends and family bore similar glamour. The only exceptions were Spike and Shining Armor, who merely glistened in the light of the sun.

The strange magic curled Cadance's mane up into a bun that was similar to Rarity's, but the fashion pony's hair was adorned with silver ribbon and her tail had more of a curl to it than usual. Applejack's mane and tail were braided and secured with emerald bands, and her signature hat was replaced with a small tiara of crystal laurels. Pinkie Pie possessed a headband and a band around the base of her tail that were a shade lighter than Twilight's ribbons, while Fluttershy's wavy mane and tail were embellished with jeweled floral clips.

In Twilight's opinion, however, Rainbow Dash received the most surprising makeover. The pegasus' naturally-ragged bangs were smoothed back into a stylish arch, while the rest of her mane was fastened into a ponytail with only a single red clip. There was nothing in her tail, but it was smoothed out in the same manner as her bangs. The elite flier looked over herself in confusion. “Uh, what the hay just happened?” she asked, baffled.

“Something absolutely, positively wonderful!” gushed Rarity.

Applejack, mystified by the disappearance of her hat, ran a hoof over her braid. “Well, I'll be,” she chuckled hesitantly. “Look at us! We're all fancy-like!”

Laughing, Cadance wrapped a foreleg around Twilight's shoulders. “We knew you could do it,” she said. She motioned towards the mass of cheering ponies. “You made a lot of ponies happy today, Twilight.”

Shining Armor smiled. “And it looks like you passed your test with flying colors!”

The younger unicorn smiled, too, albeit nervously. “Thanks. I'm just glad that I could help everypony,” she replied. That was the truth. Sure, in her knowledge that she did not find the Crystal Heart without aid, she was apprehensive. The only thing that kept her from sheer panic was the fact that she didn't just sit around and let Sombra do all the work. It was because of her research that she and her friends were able to organize the Crystal Faire. If that didn't happen, then she wouldn't have run into the Tyrant King, and if she didn't run into him, then he wouldn't have given her the Crystal Heart.

So, she didn't cheat... Right?

“Are you okay, Twily?”

She looked up at her older sibling. “Hmm?”

Before Shining could say anything more, Pinkie Pie popped up between them. “He probably wants to know why you're being such a quiet-pants!” she chimed. “You know, since you totally just saved the Crystal Empire, which is something to be extra-ecstatic about!”

“Well, I didn't really 'save' it from anything.”

Cadance's foreleg tightened comfortingly around her. “Twilight, give yourself some credit! You saved it from future attacks. It's because of your determination—”

“—and top-notch problem-solving skills,” her husband quickly added.

“Yes, and because of your determination and your problem-solving skills, you ensured that the Crystal Empire will have a bright, safe future.” The Princess of Love walked Twilight over to her friends. “Speaking of the empire,” she continued, “there's something that Shining and I want to ask of you all.”

The stallion nodded. “While Twilight was on the hunt for the Crystal Heart, Cadance and I discussed a few things.”

“Like our new roles here in the empire.”

“'New roles?'” inquired Twilight.

The married couple glanced hesitantly at each other, then returned their attention to the group. “Before she sent us here, Aunt Celestia mentioned that, once the Crystal Empire was properly protected, it would still be without a leader,” retorted the alicorn. “She wished to place it in our care upon the completion of your task, Twilight.”

“So, you two are going to be...?”

Shining Armor grinned. “We're going to be the watching over the empire as its new prince and princess.”

“Wow, that's awesome!” exclaimed Rainbow Dash. She flew over to Twilight and delivered a playful punch to her shoulder. “You hear that, Twi? Not only did you pass your test, but your brother and sister-in-law are going to have their own kingdom to rule!”

Fluttershy was the next mare to approach her, followed by Spike, Pinkie Pie, Rarity, and then Applejack. They stood around her, congratulating her, hugging her, and patting her on the back. She should have been overjoyed. She should have been happy for them. She was, but there was one disheartening thought on her mind that dulled the happiness she felt in her heart. They're going to be farther away from us. From me...

The guttural sound of Shining clearing his throat drew everypony's attention back to him and his beloved. “Anyway, about that thing that Cadance wanted to ask...”

The young princess stepped towards them. “It's more of an invitation than a question,” she chuckled, rubbing the back of her neck with a hoof. “I was hoping that you would all like to stay here with us for the next week or so. It's been such a long time since we spent any time together, and I mean any real time together. I thought that this would be a great opportunity, you know?”

“Plus, there are plenty of guest rooms in the palace. I'd hate to have to get used to all that empty space with just the two of us here.”

The Elements, plus Spike, circled around each other to discuss the offer. “I think it's a marvelous idea,” said Rarity. “I can't recall the last time we had a vacation such as this!”

“I know I don't have anythin' planned for the next week,” said Applejack. “So, I'm in for some rest 'n relaxation if y’all are.”

Rainbow Dash crossed her forelegs and grinned. “Yeah, I'm game.”

“Me, too,” replied Fluttershy. She looked over her shoulder at Pinkie, who was blissfully munching on (another) slice of pie. “Pinkie would probably like to stay a bit longer, too. I think.”

Spike chuckled and climbed up on Twilight's back. “I'd like to stay for a while,” he said. “What about you, Twilight?”

The unicorn glanced at him, then her friends. While the thought of a respite was nice, she couldn't help but wonder if she should meet with Princess Celestia to discuss the next level of her studies first. If they were important enough that she had to pass a test to prove that she was ready for them, then it was probably crucial that she get started right away. Slowly, she turned her head to the Crystal Heart's podium.

“Take this and return it to its rightful place.”

She looked out into the crowd of crystal ponies. It had dispersed, as the empire's inhabitants departed to enjoy what remained of the faire and its attractions. Somewhere out there, she thought she saw the dark material of a familiar cloak. She then glanced at the ground. A small, contemplative smile graced her lips. “All right,” she said, lifting her head. “A vacation it is, then.”

As her friends cheered with unbridled excitement, she turned her attention to her assistant. “Spike, can you do me a favor?”

The dragon tilted his head slightly. “Yeah, of course, what do you need?”

“I'll need a letter sent to Princess Celestia.” For a final time, her eyes scanned over the crowd. Maybe, just maybe...

Author's Note:

So, yeah, this was supposed to be up earlier, but stuff happened.

Also, expect the "Crystal Mane Six" to stick around for a few chapters. I love their designs too much. I always thought they should have stayed like that for the rest of the episode.

Anyway, time for more personal, character-driven shenanigans! Whoo!