Frozen Heart: Darkness Approaches
"Terrible news, your highness!" a Crystal Guard slammed the door to prince Shining Armor's office open.
"Why am I not surprised?" mumbled the prince from his cup of morning coffee.
The news coming to the Crystal Empire from all parts of Equestria for past weeks were less than great and the influx of ponies evacuated from the entire area between the southern coastline and Canterlot was exhausting to manage. The incoming threat of the Dark Prophet was just the cherry on top.
"We are cut off from the rest of Equestria, your Highness."
Shining choked on his coffee.
"What do you mean? Has the enemy army surrounded us on all sides during the night?"
"No, sir. All train tracks leading out of the Empire have been disassembled. Our scouts report barricades and artificially brought mess to prevent us from rebuilding them quickly."
"Damn it!" Shining grit his teeth, "How many wounded?"
"That's it. Nopony," the guard shrugged, "The tracks were gone in the morning and there were warning signs in safe braking distance posted on both sides. I don't know about the trains coming from Equestria but nopony is hurt on our side and the trains have returned already."
Shining rubbed his temples. It made zero sense.
"I suppose you're asking why was nopony hurt rather than why is our only means of quick transportation gone."
The stare from Shining could melt steel at that point.
"How observant of you," the prince rolled his eyes, "The smart tactical move would be to wreck the tracks in a way which would derail trains and cause as much havoc as possible to have us deal with saving the wounded and fill the hooves of our doctors. That way we wouldn't be at our full power when the enemy attacked."
"About that, a letter sealed with the EIS seal came during the night," the guard presented an unmarked, aside from a small ornate wax seal, envelope.
"You could have woken me up."
"With all due respect, sir, we didn't want to. You've been running yourself ragged for the past month and you need all the rest you can get. We can't have you collapse on us during the siege."
The prince smiled to himself. Ever since leaving Canterlot it had been paperwork on paperwork with barely enough time to practice with his fellow guards.
"Next time something like this happens tell me immediately, right?" Shining said, knowing his order was pointless.
"Of course!" lied the guard and saluted.
Both of them tried to suppress a snicker. Shining opened the letter. The writing inside was hurried and shaky but he recognized the penmanship of Morning Mist, one of princess Luna's agents within the Dark Prophet's ranks. She had sent the reports about the Prophet's army before but this time the content was different.
This might be my last report so I'll try to compile all I've found out until now. The identity of the Dark Prophet is still unknown. None of the minotaurs want to talk to me or any other outsider about him.
What I do know is that he is immensely powerful and capable of erasing all magic himself. Not only that but he can create and infuse crystals with properties similar to his power which the minotaurs are using to forge resistant sets of armor. The second trait of his power is the ability to instill terror in his enemies. The crystals have the same effect and the minotaurs are the only ones able to wear the infused armor.
Something strange happened three days ago which made the Prophet hurry up with the preparations for the Crystal Empire siege. I'm not sure what but I remember all mercenaries and minotaurs suddenly freezing on the spot. It was as if we fell asleep while standing up for several minutes. When I woke up the armored minotaurs were checking up on everypony and their state. The Prophet emerged out of the mining area exhausted and escorted by Darkhorn, his second in command. Since then the Prophet hasn't been seen.
After feeling the effects of his spell myself I know his forces will cut through any magic barriers you put up and the support of princess of Love might not be enough against his will-shattering power. I will attempt to seduce him tonight and, if possible, kill him.
If I fail, I wish you good luck in protecting Equestria and, you know, tell my dad I died fighting a bunch of minotaurs, not whorseing myself to some cult leader.
"Damn!" Shining scowled, "Send scout parties further out. We need to know when the enemy starts moving."
"We have new information, Prophet!" Darkhorn entered the room cut into the side of the mountain crevice belonging to the highest warlord of northern wastes.
The pile of clothes under a blanket lying next to the fireplace didn't as much as move. Darkhorn looked around. Ever since the time the half-dead unicorn had walked into his village, frozen and covered in blood, he'd wanted to know what drove him to help a completely unknown tribe of a species ponies were usually terrified of. Now, after Void's attack, he knew but he couldn't bring himself to believe what the Prophet had said was his reasoning.
He examined the table with scrolls strewn around and then the two sheaths with greatswords supposedly able to harm any being no matter their protection. With these even the Prophet would be defenseless against him and he could become the sole leader of the united minotaur tribes. Darkhorn smiled to himself and held one of the swords close to his face. Its blade was pure white while the hilt was ebony coloured. What interested him more was the fact that the hilt had the shape as if it was made for someone with fingers.
The Prophet had told him the pair of blades had been created for earthponies to protect them from magic during wars against unicorns but Darkhorn had seen weapons made to be held in the mouth and the shape was too different. The second strange thing was that while the swords would be considered too large for ponies to comfortably carry even just for the passive magical protection their size was just right for him to use with one hand.
There was little doubt that Starswirl the Beared, the mage Prophet had mentioned once, made these to be used by minotaurs, not by ponies or griffons.
With these and the infused sets of platemail his tribes could take the world by storm. Alicorns would tremble before his might, kingdoms would bow before the minotaurs and pay tribute, his tribes would not have to be afraid of being wiped by too strong of a blizzard...
...and would become weaklings.
Smiling to himself, Darkhorn carefully sheated the blade again and hid it behind the table along with its twin.
"Prophet?" he poked the pile under the blanket. It shifted and a blinking pair of blue eyes looked at him while a mouth full of sharp teeth yawned loudly.
"Your friend Three sent another letter. It seems our time to move is coming," Darkhorn presented a clean envelope with Guiding Light's seal.
According to Luna's spies Holy Light's forces are done with building ships and are preparing to cross the ocean. As far as I know Luna and the orders of mages are going to use some large-scale spells to sink the entire force. Your earthpony friend and the changelings are ready to put the plan in motion. Thankfully, Celestia has no trouble telling me all that because she thinks our hive needs the info to help efficiently.
Holy Light himself is strange though. No amount of digging revealed who he was before joining Icy Gaze's crew. That sort of gives me the idea that he really was nopony special, just another unlucky soul whose life got screwed and who turned to Nightmare's voice for help.
Well, the entire south of Equestria has evacuated to cities and temporary camps north of Everfree so unless Holy Light drives his soldiers insanely hard he should be on our southern coast in two or three days and, according to caravan leaders, he should enter the Everfree forest in nine days tops. The united orders of wizardry are stationed in the old castle of two sisters which has turned into a fortress keeping the Tree of Harmony safe under magical barriers.
As for mirror Twilight Sparkle, the benevolent tyrant, (Hey! I enjoy making fun of her as well) Heavy contacted her and said she agreed to let mirror Applejack, Rarity, and Rainbow Dash help. She herself promised to try to wield the Elements of the dead Bearers herself when the time comes.
The firstborn and me are the only ones who are involved in the plan in order to protect the rest of our kind from revenge if we fail or are branded traitors. We can't allow the ones who already have a partner and possibly a future to pay for what we, the expendable ones, have to do. I would never consider the firstborn expendable but apparently your direct daughter is more similar to you than you think.
We'll be going after this world's Bearers next and getting them through the rift.
Hope to see you soon!
"Yeah," Blaze nodded, "Start getting things ready. All your son has to do is keep Shining's army locked down, nothing stupid."
"When are we leaving?"
"I am still exhausted thanks to Void but I'm getting better. We will leave in two days so we have enough time to get fresh news from Three and Heavy and plan accordingly."
"I'll get the final details sorted out," Darkhorn nodded and left.
Blaze looked into a mirror, the only piece of glass in the entire city. A unicorn of his age shouldn't have grey strands in his blonde mane and his bronze coat shouldn't have patches of fur falling out in places but there he was... a shipwreck of a life.
The image in the mirror changed into a pink-eyed unicorn with blue mane and black fur.
"Stop sighing," Mistake smiled, "We're almost done and things are going pretty well."
"That's only because what we did up to now doesn't matter at all."
"Do you really intend to go through with it?"
"You know I do," Blaze smiled sadly at his unreal reflection, "None of this would have happened if I didn't appear in this world in the first place. I accepted it and tried to make things better but my presence only killed Sharp Biscuit, drove Luna to summon the Nightmare again, made me a gateway, and now all I did might cause doomsday. All in all, not a great result, eh?"
"You could still go for the greedy option - kill Holy Light, stay alive-"
"And then what? Heavy will probably get executed for betraying the crown and helping me no matter whether we win or not. My daughter will in some way or other pay for doing the same although probably not as harshly since she's not Celestia's underling. Chokey decided she-"
"She what? She wants just to be your friend instead of your lover? What a 'terrible' result. I don't doubt for a second she'll fall into your hooves as soon as you appear. So will Cromach now that you aren't a changeling anymore."
"After what Void surely told them about me... right. No, I can't be greedy and threaten everything. Celestia and Luna have to believe we are the enemy so that Holy Light doesn't bother with us and Nightmare doesn't suspect we aren't a destructive force. Plus, our Bearers have to believe I'm a threat so that they use the Elements on me in full force."
"There is still hope for us."
"I doubt it. I can barely hold the power of Discord and Nightmare. With Harmony on the scales the sheer amount will... do something to me. I just hope Holy Light suffers the same fate. With how weak our Element bearers are it will be up to me to bait Holy into a vulnerable position and I'm sure that means me getting hit as well."
"You could stop trying to die!"
"Well, that's sort of my thing by now."
Holy Light observed the bustle around in the port from the roof of one of the warehouses. Nearly a million soldiers were under his command. Some were going willingly, dreaming of riches stolen from ponies. Some of them were just animated corpses of those who had fallen in skirmishes leading up to today. Last but not least there were the few slaves and sailors needed to get the bloodthirsty army where it needed to be.
The rusty unicorn didn't care much about those who didn't follow his empty promises and there was no need to force them and threaten the integrity of the devoted forces. In fact, he didn't care much about anypony currently boarding one of many ships in the harbor. Traitors would fall and get revived by Nightmare's power as obedient undying soldiers. Such things were taxing for the god apparently though and Holy Light couldn't count on it to work every time.
As little as he liked to admit it he wasn't a strategist or a warrior, he was just a nopony to whom the deity turned for help when nopony else seemed to be close enough. One thing that had interested him when Nightmare told him about Blazing Light was that he'd started out just like him, screwed over by fate and left alone. His journey to power was quite something as well but what made Holy Light seethe was that the stupid unicorn had the power to do anything, to MAKE the world work the way he wanted. Holy Light was sure that if he was in Blazing's position he wouldn't be a whiny wretch but a force to be reckoned with.
Well, he had the power to fulfill his resolution now. The world would end. All who had hurt him would get their due and all those who had rejected him would regret it.
He realized he was gritting his teeth and his vision was blurry.
"Focus!" he hissed, "There is no other way to make things right."
"No," he said sternly.
Good. I need you in your best shape. Unlikely things happened. You are the last useful avatar for me.
"What do you mean? I thought there were ways for you to force your power through to this world."
Somepony found out about Void's connection and shut it down. I need you to become stronger to be a better conduit.
"What do I need to do?"
Sharp black spikes came from the roof, pierced Holy Light's legs, and began pumping something inside his body. The veins on his legs bulged as they struggled to contain the influx of power in physical form. Some ruptured but some endured, turning black and allowing the power to go further. Black lines grew in his rusty coat and reached his back. His chest muscles bulged, his entire body grew, and-
-a pair of rusty, black-veined, wings sprouted on his back. His horn lenghtened, matching princess Celestia's one, black aura began to seep out of Holy Light and turn the wooden roof of the warehouse into mold. When the transformation was over Holy looked at the world through a new set of completely black eyes.
"I've always wanted to be taller," the snarky, cynical voice was still there though although a bit more growly.
With just a thought Holy's point of view changed and he now looked at himself from outside.
"Alicorn, eh? Do I get to call myself a prince or something? What am I the aspect of anyway?"
Holy grinned evilly, looked between his legs, and focused. A set of tentacles sprouted out in accordance with his wish.
"Tonight I'm getting a mare or two... or ten. Tomorrow we're flying to Equestria. Get the dragon ready. The army will undoubtedly be attacked by magic which is why we'll be nowhere around."
It is forcing our greatest ally to join us as we speak. It will be ready in several days.
"Okay then," Holy shrugged, "More time to gorge myself. I'm now going to fulfill every wish ever since I was old enough to think. Food, drinks, mares, games, you name it. When your pet returns I'll have no regrets. The army will go ahead of us but we move faster anyway."
With that, Holy jumped down from the roof without even stretching his newfound wings and laughed as the impact shattered the bones in his legs which healed immediately thanks to alicorn powers in full swing. He found the closest female which proved to be a zebra mare and, in the middle of mercenaries rapidly clearing the area, brutally claimed her for himself.
Not much remained of her when he got bored so he went to find somepony more interesting and less... screamy.
"Your Highness!" Wideleaf, the zebra spy, knocked on the door of Luna's office in Canterlot. He was carrying a binder full of details he'd been able to gather about Holy Light's forces.
The door didn't open.
"Do. Not. Move," said a cold voice next to him.
With his peripheral vision he noticed the air near him wobble and a thestral mare appeared from nowhere. He recognized the effect of fading invisibility spell or potion. She was pointing a device known as the mirror world hoof gun at him.
"I have an urgent message for princess Luna," said Wideleaf, "Why are you stopping me?"
"I have my serious doubts princess Luna would deal with assassins."
"WHAT?" Wideleaf growled at the mare and dropped the binder.
A see-through image of princess Luna appeared nearby.
"Why are you not in Holy Light's camp?" Luna's projection asked.
"I was found out and imprisoned. Holy Light got into my head and dragged out information about me. After that he let me go to tell you all I've seen and heard in order to issue you a challenge..." Wideleaf stopped as the stupidity finally registered in his brain, "I have failed you, haven't I?"
The genuine misery in his voice made Choking lower her gun and Luna shake her head sadly.
"There is a curse on you, young Wideleaf, one I cannot stop without triggering it in the process. It is a curse which will kill you and everypony around you when it goes off. Not even I would be able to protect myself."
"What can I do, your Highness?"
"Nothing. All previous assassins died without leaving a trace. Luckily, we were able to create an alarm spell to warn us."
"That's good. You can lock me up somewhere and examine, ri-?" he coughed and green goo splattered on the floor. Wideleaf's body began shimmering green, "Grrrngh..."
"Not again!" Choking started running.
"STAY!" Luna ordered. Choking stopped. Luna's image leaned close to Wideleaf, "My dear servant. The castle is protected by magical fields your spell will devour to become stronger. The only way out of the castle is through there."
Wideleaf threw up a little more but looked where Luna was pointing and understood. The protective spells were only on the inside of the castle and the window Luna was pointing at wasn't locked.
"Your family will be taken care of and the information you brought will not be lost."
"I under-GRK-stnngh," Wideleaf's muzzle started melting, green goo making even more mess on the floor. He stumbled towards the window.
Choking opened it and helped him climb.
"Sfrry fghnr failghg yuugnh," Wideleaf pushed himself out and fell.
"You haven't failed me in the slightest," said Luna's image.
Wideleaf's body exploded into a pure green ball which didn't shatter things but cleanly disintegrated small part of the castle's wall.
"How did Holy Light get access to a curse like that?" Choking picked the binder up and unlocked the door to Luna's office.
"The spell is simple enough otherwise the Silver Sun assassins wouldn't have been able to use it. I guess the curse triggered when Wideleaf saw me," Luna, sitting behind her table, took a guess.
"But that's good, right?"
"You don't mourn the loss of a devoted servant to the crown?"
"Of course I do. What I meant is that if Holy Light has to resort to this then he can't be as sure of himself as we consider him to be."
"You can be cold when you want to be, miss Darkness."
"If he'd succeeded he would have killed you. I hold very little sympathy for you, your Highness, as you know. Same goes for those who mindlessly trust you without knowing what you are capable of."
"Yes," Luna nodded bitterly, "I know. Now, leave me to study what poor Wideleaf brought."
"I will be outside," Choking nodded.
When she shut the door Luna gave herself a minute to quietly cry. She had sent Wideleaf to spy on Holy Light knowing he probably wouldn't return but seeing it happen in front of her...
...no, the problem was Choking Darkness' cold stare judging the deep devotion. Luna knew Choking didn't consider her worth protecting ever since Sharp Biscuit's death and this incident only made the deep-seated resentment grow. Luna was sure Choking wouldn't let anypony kill her though. She was the most watchful bodyguard she could hope to have because killing Luna, in the mind of the young mare, was her job.
Morning Mist was trembling as she cleared the path to the Dark Prophet's house. Partially because of nerves but partially because of her clothes. She wasn't wearing her usual high boots and chainmail underlaid with fur to keep the cold away but a rather tight cloak with some figure-hugging underwear she'd purchased in the Crystal Empire just for this occasion. Tonight she would either get close to the Prophet to kill him or die trying.
She quietly knocked on the door. When nopony answered she pushed at it, surprised as it opened at her touch. There he was, lying on the bed and wrapped in his hooded clothes and a blanket. Mist carefully dropped her cloak and made sure the hidden blades in her hooves worked. As she sat her flank right next to Prophet's head and the mattress groaned under the strain she heard a mumbled 'huh?'.
"Do you need a little relief, sir?" she moved her legs and put his head between her thighs, "It must be taxing running all this by yourself."
The blue eyes glowing with power looked up at her and she had to muster all her self-control not to look away.
"Eeeeerm," he turned his head but the only result it brought was his muzzle being planted in the soft inner side of Mist's thigh. His eyes grew wide.
Mist tightened her grip, unrolled the blanket from him, moved forward, and sat her plot on his face.
Mist was grabbed in orange telekinetic aura, pulled upwards, turned around, and put back down, facing the Prophet.
"If you like it this way better," she put her hooves on his shoulders and rubbed her muzzle against his.
Blaze felt extremely uncomfortable, understandably so. Mist was just a normal mare with nothing much special about her aside from body toned from service in the EIS and as such had to resort to a rather forward approach where seduction was involved. Blaze was unused, an understatement of the year, to the attention of mares and had no idea what to do. As usual, he did the worst possible thing.
"I doubt I am worth your time, miss Mist," Blaze drew his hood and watched the growing realization contort Mist's features.
Not even a second later blood was gushing from his neck as Mist slashed precisely with her hoof-blade and jumped backwards from the bed.
Orange fire cauterized the wound instantly and Mist got frozen in place, hooves glued to the floor with black ice.
"That... could have been avoided," Blaze coughed and rubbed his neck. He realized he was looking at a naked mare wearing only few pieces of see-through clothing drawing eyes where nopony's eyes would normally be drawn with Mist's physique, "Although I should have guessed the only way a mare would want something with me would not be- nevermind."
The look of pure misery didn't go unnoticed by Mist. As usual, none of her magic worked so she couldn't do much aside from standing and staring.
"What to do with you?" Blaze asked with a bitter smile.
"I can honestly promise I'll be gone out of here in minutes if you let me go and don't eat me, or freeze me, or something worse," Mist giggled nervously, still looking for a way out.
"Something worse than sleeping with me?" Blaze mumbled to himself, "Hardly. You know what? Fine. There are no more secrets left to keep anyway. Go!"
"What?" Mist shook her legs as the ice melted and she could move again.
"Go away. Now! I'll let the guards know you were a spy in a while. If you leave immediately you will not get into trouble."
Mist's hoof blades clicked and she pounced at Blaze.
Her head stopped ringing quite quickly, perhaps in only few seconds. He'd tripped her up and thrown her at the wall even before all her legs had left the ground.
"Okay," she groaned and smiled sheepishly, "I'll be going now."
"Good," Blaze yawned and followed the dizzy mare out.
She wasn't too bothered with him walking into her house and watching her get dressed, mostly because he was turning his head away and blushing a lot. She wasn't really expecting that from an evil warlord but the knowledge that he was just a unicorn few years younger than her confused her greatly.
As he followed her to the main entrance to the mountain city she had to ask.
"You know I will tell everything to princess Luna, why let me go?"
"I've recognized you the day you came. When I fought you and other Solid Steel's underlings on the train from Crystal Empire to Canterlot after the first invasion I was scared sh-witless and memories like that stick. Plus, I think Luna already knows the state of affairs."
"I tried to kill you."
The her surprise Blaze just laughed.
"The queue for that is full, young lady, and I can't blame you. It's no less than I deserve."
Looking into Blaze's eyes she just shook her head.
Just with that she was gone.
"That was the dumbest thing you could have done."
"I could have slept with her."
"Good, time to get some more sleep while we still can. The caravan to the Everfree is leaving tomorrow."