• Published 31st Dec 2014
  • 5,939 Views, 299 Comments

Essenza di Amore - Cerulean Voice



Like Princess Twilight Sparkle, Princess Mi Amore Cadenza was not born into her royal title. Follow a younger Cadance along the path to ascension, and her discovery of the true essence of love.

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Prologue: Cadence of Her Last Breath

Predawn gloom shrouded two young earth ponies as they wandered further from home than permitted. A colt with an olive-green coat and a wild, purple mane trotted along the border of the White Tail Wood, at the base of the Smokey Mountain. Stalking along a strange trail, he was careful to place his hooves on some lengthy, consistently lain wooden beams outlined by two oddly short iron rails that barely came off the ground.

At his side jogged a younger filly, with a wavy mane of mauve that fell beyond her green shoulders. Sweat shone on her forehead and beaded at the edges of her pale pink eyes as she struggled to keep up.

“Artax, stop already!” said the filly, slowing her pace and panting as she wiped the perspiration from her eyes. “We’ll get in so much trouble…”

Artax looked at her over his shoulder but continued down the curving trail and around the gentle incline. “Come on, Kartanya. I’ve never explored this far before. I don’t get why the area is taboo anyway.”

“It doesn’t matter why!” Kartanya glanced back at the wood, groaned, and picked up her pace. “The elders say it’s out of bounds, and I don’t wanna get in trouble. Just come back! Everypony will know we’re gone when the Sun rises.”

Artax looked to the eastern horizon, blocked partially by the shallow bend in the trail leading down the mountain. “We still have about an hour before the Sun Goddess wakes everypony. Stop worrying. We’ll be back long before then. I just want to follow this a little more…”

Aaaartaaaaax!”

Panting, Kartanya kept pace with Artax as his strides lengthened. Her breaths shortened until, finally, she halted next to the tracks and gasped. Her short legs burned from the unexpected exertion. “Wait!”

Artax turned his head again and slowed, stopping after a few more metres. “Kara, either keep up, or return home. I never asked you to follow me. It’s your own fault you came out here.”

“But… I just wanted to… stop you getting in trouble!”

“I’ll be fine,” Artax said. “All you’re doing is slowing me down. I could have been on my way back by now, but no, you—”

A high-pitched shriek interrupted Artax; both siblings jumped as if jolted by lightning, dropped and covered their ears. The ground rumbled beneath their hooves, and they looked at each other with wide eyes.

“What is that?” yelled Kartanya, uncovering a single ear.

“I don’t know! But I think it’s coming right for us!”

The rumbling grew louder. Another deafening shriek—definitely closer—sounded from the woods to the south.

Artax!” cried Kartanya. “Get off the track!”

Just as Artax stood and leapt to his right, a giant, grey-and-brown worm rushed along the bend at them. Smoke spewed forth from a hole in its head, and it seemed to have a miniature sun for a face.

Artax let out a cry and ran to his sister, who had dropped to the ground again, trembling, her eyes scrunched up and her forelegs covering her head. He lowered himself to her level and pulled her against his chest, his own forelegs wrapped tightly around her as he rocked her back and forth, stroking her mane.

A minute passed, during which the beast’s undulating body roared along its path. Another piercing shriek joined the rushing wind and the click-clack of its strangely round, multiple legs. Finally the rolling thunder faded from earshot, and the ground stilled once more.

Artax looked to the north and let out a sigh. Panting lightly, he placed his hooves on Kartanya’s shoulders and pushed her to arm’s length. “Whoa… thanks, Kara. That was close. I was almost returned to the earth.” As he looked into his sister’s eyes, a frown crossed his face at the tears streaming down her cheeks. “Hey, you okay?”

“No!” Kartanya drew a hoof back and smote Artax across the left cheek. He pulled his hooves back and rubbed his stinging face, and she drew her own hoof back for another swing. “I am not okay! That thing scared me to death, and… and you…” Her voice broke, her hoof faltered, and the dam behind her eyes broke. She snorted up a trickle of mucus and hit the ground.

Artax ceased rubbing his cheek and lowered his head. He placed a hoof upon his weeping sister’s chest. “Kara, I am so sorry. I understand now why this place is forbidden. Come on, let’s go home. I’ve seen enough anyway.”

Kartanya wiped her nose and looked up. “P-promise?”

Artax nodded. “Yes. Now, let’s get back before they see we’re gone. And not a word of this to mother or father, all right?”

“Mmhmm.”

“Good.”

Artax scooped Kartanya up in his hooves and planted her upon his back. He sighed as the filly draped herself over him and snuggled into his coat. Once she was settled, he turned westward and began the trek home. The further we stay away from here, the better, he thought as they drew closer to the treeline.

Another roar shook the land, almost as loud as the thundering worm. The new one was higher pitched and seemed to rend the sky itself in two. Both ponies froze.

“A-Artax? W-was that… it?” Kartanya pressed herself into Artax, the pair of them shaking as their eyes traced the skyline.

The red terror that roars. Oh, no…

Artax grabbed Kartanya and pulled her about to stare into her eyes. “Now, you listen here; you run for the wood, and you run hard. Don’t stop until you can’t run any more. Understand?”

“Artax—”

Do you understand, Kara?”

She gave him a quick nod then spun around and set off as fast as her filly legs could carry her. Artax cast a gaze upon the roar’s origin, and swallowed at the cloud of black smoke emanating from the tip of the Smokey Mountain.

“I’m right behind you,” he called as he sped up to catch her. “Just keep moving!”

The pair had almost reached the canopy line when—

Aaaiiiiiiiihhh!”

Artax and Kartanya halted in their tracks at the sudden scream. Shivers ran down each of their spines as they looked first at each other then at its source, a shadowy being hurtling toward them in a downward spiral. Yet another roar filled their ears. A plume of flames—brilliant in the early gloom—shot out from atop the mountain.

By the temporary firelight, a pink pony—a winged pink pony!—flashed into view from above between the siblings and the flames, her mane a smoking mess of dark brown with blonde streaks. Her coat was patchy in places near her rear legs and across her back, and she stank of burned hair. A large pouch was slung across her shoulders, and she clutched it to her barrel like a newborn foal.

“Hold on! I’ve got you!”

Artax rushed forward and dived underneath the tumbling mare, using his body to break her fall. As the pair slammed into the ground, the impact knocked all the air from Artax's lungs.

“Artax! Are you okay?”

Kartanya took a few steps toward him, but stopped with a leg in the air as another flaming jet lit up the sky. This time, the flame was not the only thing to emerge from the cave. She shivered at the sight, and took a step backward.

“A-Artax…”

Artax snorted, clutching his chest and sucking down ragged gasps. With visible effort, he pulled a hoof from beneath him and waved it at Kartanya. “Go, you fool!” he shouted. “What did I tell you before? You have to get to safety!”

“B-but aren’t you hurt?”

“I’m fine!” Artax took a deep breath and rose to his hooves. A grunt escaped him as he lifted the larger pony on his back. With a final straightening of his legs, he stood tall then made his own way back to the trees. “We have to get out of here, now. Run ahead and wake our parents.”

Kartanya hesitated. “But I thought you said you didn’t want—”

“That was before a hurt pony with a dragon on her tail fell out of the sky and landed on me! Just go—I’ll catch up!”

Artax panted and dashed beneath the canopy after his sister. “She might even be dying,” he said after a moment. He turned his head to look at the mare on his back and frowned; she must have lost consciousness. “Keep going, Kara. Find the river, and we can follow it home again easily enough.”

“W-what about the dragon? Won’t it follow us?”

Artax looked Kartanya in the eyes. “Don’t worry. Father told me that dragons only stick to their territory. Once we get far enough away—get down!”

There was another shriek and a downward force of wind that buffeted the nearby trees. Artax and Kartanya dropped to the leafy forest floor as the dragon passed overhead. Fire spewed forth, licking at the treetops above their heads. Sweat beaded upon Artax's brow, his body heating up as though he'd spent a whole day in full sunlight. He heard Kartanya’s feeble whimpers, though he dared not move to comfort her.

A sharp crack drew their attention. A large, thick branch from one of the taller trees split from its trunk and plummeted toward them. Kartanya screamed as Artax leapt at her and pushed her out of its path. All three ponies spilled onto the ground in a quivering pile.

The dragon peered through the dense forestry, its head whipping back and forth as it flapped in place, forcing the trees into bowing before it with every rise and fall. Another gout of fire poured down into the trees, soon followed by the dragon's head as it searched through the blaze. Branches cracked and fell from the trees, showering the ponies below with ash and burning bark. The dragon stared at its handiwork for a moment then snorted, pumping its wings to rise back into the sky.

High above, the dragon circled, smoke rising up around it as the forest burned. One pass then another. Slowly it searched, its eyes narrowed down at the forest below. Shaking its head, the dragon screeched at the trees below before turning away. The beat of its wings grew faint as it flew back toward the mountain.

The ponies crawled out from behind the broken branch. Around them, the fire crackled and smoked. The heat rose, and Artax started to sweat. He looked up, eyes wide, as they took in the spreading devastation.

“Kara, we’ve got to move.”

Kartanya poked her head up to face him and nodded with a determination that took Artax by surprise. She stood, danced her way around the blazing branch and galloped west, away from the intensifying inferno. Artax watched her go then focused on his passenger. She groaned, letting loose a trio of weak coughs.

It was then that Artax realised the full extent of her injuries. Her coat was charred black or burned away in several places, and her left foreleg bore a gash along its entire length, covered with a streak of clotted blood. His eyes wide, Artax looked at his left shoulder and spotted patches of crimson on his own coat. He shook his head and looked around again: flames were climbing, trees were splintering and falling, and with the rising heat came stifling smoke.

Artax coughed, a hoof over his mouth. He grunted again and lifted the winged pony to an upright standing position. He then moved to let her collapse upon him and flicked his rump, jolting her up onto his back. He sucked in a deep breath through his mouth and—holding it—squinted before setting off through the searing heat. As he jumped around burning logs, birds and other small rodents flew and scampered respectively ahead of him and by his side.

A minute passed before he looked back at the blazing forest and exhaled. Panting, he faced forward and beheld the Snowflow River before him. Of course, he’d crossed it earlier that morning, though he noticed the water level had risen to about neck-height in the past hour and had definitely picked up speed. Pebbles skipped along the riverbed.

“Hurry, Artax!”

Kartanya’s cry drew his attention. He glanced to the southern end of the river, where Kartanya had already crossed. She was dripping from head to hoof. “Come on!” she cried. “Quick, or you’ll be cooked!”

A dull roar reached Artax’s ears, growing louder every second over the creeping flames he’d not quite left behind. His eyes followed his ears to the right.

A cascading torrent—only half a kilometer away—rushed down the side of the mountain. Although Clarity Falls was usually only at full flow in the spring, the dragonfire at the summit—

Without wasting another second, Artax pelted toward Kartanya. When he drew level with her, he plunged into the rising river. As the shock of the icy flow hit him, he gasped. The water threatened to slide the mare off his back, but he held onto her with his right hoof and switched to a sideways paddle.

Kartanya stood at the ford’s edge on the far bank, her leg outstretched. Her pupils reduced to pinpricks as her head darted between her brother and the oncoming torrent then back again. Pacing rapidly in place, she let out a whinny as the liberated ice charged around the bend to meet them.

“Take my hoof, Artax! Come on! Hurry!”

Spurred on by his sister’s frantic cries, Artax lunged across the rising ford. The roaring in his ears grew louder with every passing second while he fought the strengthening current. Stones on the riverbed rolled and slipped beneath his hooves, and he tripped with a splash, sending both he and his load below the surface.

Icy water flooded his throat as he floundered in the flow. Freezing, penetrating needles assaulted his screaming nerves. He struggled to lift himself under the mare’s weight, every action depleting more air from his lungs and strength from his muscles. He flailed his legs, desperately seeking a stable foothold. His ears perked as Kartanya’s muffled cries pierced through the veil of water.

When his hooves finally found purchase, Artax followed the voice and forced himself up with all his remaining strength. His head broke the surface; coughing and spluttering, he gasped and struggled forward.

He felt the pony on his back slide, accompanied by a low groan. Turning quickly, he flicked his body to the side, readjusting her position. He watched Kartanya pace along the river’s edge to keep up with him. Still holding out her hoof, she waved it around while shouting at him to grab it, her cries rising in pitch and urgency.

From behind Artax, the smell of smoke and burning elms wafted in front of his nose, filling his lungs. Heaving and gasping, he looked between Kartanya and the impending deluge, headed by a tall, cresting, frothy wave, bearing a thick log at its forefront. For a brief moment, fear gripped his mind; time seemed to slow, and then, it was gone.

The water level reached a point where he could no longer place his hooves upon the riverbed without being submerged. Kicking to stay afloat and avoid being swept away by the current, Artax reached the bank and shrugged off his passenger. He wrapped his forelegs around her and tried to lift her onto the shore while kicking furiously with his rears.

“Kara!” He stared into his sister’s wide, pleading pink eyes. “Help her up, quickly!”


Kartanya screamed her little lungs out as she watched Artax struggle through the rising current. As he reached the bank, he begged her to aid him in getting the winged pony to safety. She nodded as she wrapped her own hooves around the mare’s wing joints and, straining, aided in hoisting her up the bank. With her load obscuring her vision, she heard a loud thunk.

She fell back onto the ground with the weight of the mare upon her belly and the roar of the river’s fury in her ears. The mare’s bag rested upon the ground next to her, completely soaked through. She panted for a few seconds, unable to move with the full-grown mare atop her. She took in a sharp breath and worked up the will to stand.

Artax.

With a strained grunt, Kartanya pushed the mare off her, jumped to her hooves, and ran to the water’s edge. The river’s flow still filled her ears, but her brother…

“Artax? Brother?”

She approached the bank, where the freely flowing river rose up level with her hooves for the first time in months. He’d been there just a minute ago. He’d passed up his burden and then… and then…

In spite of the heat coming off the still-burning woods on the far side of the river, icy claws grasped Kartanya’s heart. She looked back to the mare, then returned her focus to the river. She stared downstream, the raging rapids still churning up white in their unrelenting downward sprint.

Artaaaaaax!”

She fled down the river as fast as her legs would allow. The flow proved too much, though, always keeping ahead of her. No! No! No! This can’t be happening... No, please. He has to be okay—he has to be fine!

Don’t stop until you can’t run anymore.

Just keep moving!

Look after her, Kara…

She slowed, allowing the river to outpace her once more. Her heart raced, a pounding drumbeat that threatened to burst free from her chest. Air fought desperately for space in her lungs. Warm water pooled at her eyes, and she sank to the ground, head in her hooves.

“Artax! Come back, you s-stupid idiot! Why’d you have to go and-and be a hero? Now what am I gonna d-do?”

Shivers wracked her body, her grief demanding to be poured out into the world. Small birds and critters took cautious steps toward Kartanya as her shoulders gently rose and fell, her mane askew across her face. A blue jay flitted onto her shoulder, tilted its head and chirped. A small litter of bunnies nuzzled into her legs and peered up through her wavy tendrils. A squirrel hopped up onto her back and began to gently rub her shoulders.

Kartanya lifted her head, smiling through her hiccups at the creatures comforting her. “Thank y-you, friends.” She sniffed up an unbidden trail of phlegm. “But… but I c-can’t be cheered up right now. M-my brother…”

She lowered her head again and resumed her sobbing with a loud wail. The critters offered the pony a farewell hug and scampered away. The blue jay gave a final twitter in her ear and took flight to leave her in solitude.

Daylight crept over the woodland canopy before Kartanya finally got to her hooves. She sniffed once more then turned, took a deep breath, and galloped back up the river. Her hooves crunched upon dried leaves and solid turf as she fled back to the site of Artax’s disappearance.

Minutes passed. How far did I run? she thought. Can’t be that far ahead. The river’s roar had quieted and slowed to a streamline trickle, bearing no sign that it had just carried a pony out of her life… forever.

She closed her eyes, tight against stubborn tears that threatened to overwhelm her yet again. Shaking her head, she ran harder. Soon, she caught sight of a speck of pink alongside the river bank and slowed to a canter. Shallow trails in the riverside clay indicated the mare had attempted to drag herself some short distance and collapsed again.

Kartanya wiped her face clear of moisture and steeled her gaze. This was the pony who had ruined everything, the reason her brother wasn’t still with her. She closed her eyes and turned away.

What do I owe her? She’s ruined my life. Why shouldn’t I just let her die? Why should she live, and not… and not...

Because then Artax would… he’d be gone for nothing.

“...Please…”

Kartanya’s eyelids snapped open. She trained her pink onto the mare’s crystal blue.

“Help… must protect…” The mare coughed aggressively and motioned to her bag, then let her gashed hoof fall to the ground.

Kartanya crept up to the mare, grasped the strap in her mouth, and lifted the bag free from the mare’s shoulders, eliciting a gasp and a hiss from its owner. She undid the top buttons on the pouch, and lifted the flap. Her eyes widened; she almost dropped the bag. Her gaze flicked back and forth between contents and owner, her mouth open. She brought a hoof to it.

“My Cadance…”

With a final pleading look, the light in the mare’s eyes faded. Her wings gave a last feeble flap then fell and remained still. An ending exhale… then nothing more.

Kartanya sat and stared at the pink body until the river’s trickle had become white noise, and the crackling of the flames on the other riverbank left only ash and embers in their wake. The woods had long since awoken before shouts of her and Artax’s names drew her attention. She perked her head up and looked to the south to see a pair of green ponies racing her way.

As her name-callers drew closer, she felt a small nudge at her foreleg. She looked down: the foal inside had crawled out, shook itself free of excess water then proceeded to rub up against her. It opened its mouth wide and let out a short little yawn before nestling itself against Kartanya’s coat and closing its eyes.

Kartanya stared at the tiny pink foal, looked down river, and closed her own eyes as tears leaked out once more.

By the memory of my brother, I will protect you… Cadance.

Author's Note:

Every chapter will be named for (and have themes in common with) a song from Dark Passion Play. The theme of this one should be quite obvious.
I feel I should also elaborate on my choice of names: Kartanya is a fusion of Karen and Tanya, which together mean "Pure Light," while Artax means "Divine." Yes, he shares his name with a certain ill-fated and beloved fictional character, but that was not my primary reason for choosing it. I just like the name, always have. :twilightsmile:

I hope you stay for this journey. It is my grandest yet—and perhaps this tiny pink filly's, too.

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