The King & Shy

After a terrible storm sweeps through the Everfree, Fluttershy finds the weakened but still powerful King Sombra on her doorstep. Unable to resist his dark magic, she finds herself trapped by a spell that forces her to aid him, protect him, and heal him until he is strong once more, all while keeping his revival a secret from her friends. Unwilling to risk bringing her friends into the situation and endanger them, Fluttershy decides on a riskier tactic
If she could reform Discord, why not the Tyrant of the Crystal Empire. After all, with his spell keeping her from betraying his presence, it might be her only hope. Can she kill the Dark King with Kindness? Or will the ancient sorcerer once more stretch his shadow across Equestria?
http://www.fimfiction.net/story/328886/the-king-shy

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4. Dreams & Resolutions

Sombra appeared in front of the weed and ivy choked slab of carved stone he had crawled out of less than twenty-four hours ago. It wasn’t terribly far from the mouse’s cottage but enough to be a bother. Stepping through the crevice created by the lightning he quickly threw a minor warding and illusion spell over the hole. The general miasma of the place would keep most beasts out but he had not seized control of an entire empire by being sloppy and taking unnecessary risks.

Taking the stairs which wound their way down to the low, root-infested underground to his resurrection chamber, Sombra examined the defensive runes to ensure their usability. It was a simplistic setup but well-guarded against unwanted intrusion. In truth, however, it relied more on the defense of ‘never being found’ than anything else. Refuge in Audacity and all that. If Celestia had found his sanctum no amount of traps or contingencies would have stopped her.

The chamber itself was a large, circular room with a wide pit in the middle. Before his resurrection it would have been filled with roiling shadows, unmatter from the darkest regions of the dream realm. Now it was simply a pit roughly thirty feet deep. More of a tripping hazard than anything. The spells woven into the stone were well and truly burned out by the stress of reviving him. He had not come for the burnt husk of his old ritual though, he had come for the relics that he had stashed in case of emergency. All along the walls were tables, shelves, and trunks filled with an assortment of necessary tools and artifacts. He had gathered thousands of magical curios from across Equestria over his long and illustrious career, most of them were likely destroyed during the Royal Pony Sisters’ purges. Fortunately this one had escaped notice.

He quickly began taking stock of the room. He would not be able to bring much back to the mouse’s little cottage but he did require some of his more creative tools. That would take time though, many of the objects he required possessed powerful inherent magic and were not safe to teleport even short distances. He would need to carry those out by horn. The books though… many of them possessed little inherent magic and would be useful references. Wrapping several dozen of the books in his dark, telekinetic aura Sombra began arranging them in the air around him so that he could more easily assess them.

“No, no, no” Sombra shelved each book in turn that did not meet his needs, “yes, hm, perhaps, no, no. Ah, this one certainly… no, no.” It took over an hour but soon the ex-king found himself with a couple dozen useful grimoires. He would need to cloak them in an illusory field of course, just in case anyone decided to idly peruse his collection while he was out.

Letting out a slow breath Sombra closed his eyes and focused on the backyard of the cottage. The brief sensation of vertigo and directionlessness that followed teleportation told him he had arrived even before he opened his eyes. As he did Sombra growled at the headache encroaching on his mind followed quickly by exhaustion. It was infuriating, he had slept through most of the day and still could handle more than an hour of sustained activity. Even a handful of spells sapped him of his once-endless stamina and reserve. He only hoped he could recuperate quickly under his servant’s expert care as he pushed open the door. The scent of food caused Sombra’s traitorous body to remind him in no uncertain terms that he was hungry even as he ignored the rumblings to walk to the guest room and shelve his selections. At least the mouse was singing again, her angelic voice soothed his mind even as weariness frayed his concentration.

“Your Majesty? Is that you?” Fluttershy poked her head into the room demurely, her eyes kept just slightly downcast in proper respect for her station. “Sorry to intrude, Master, but supper is ready to be served... at your convenience, if that’s okay.”

Pressing a hoof to his head, Sombra mentally willed away the pain that was building up. “Of course, I will be there presently, you may begin serving out the food.”

“As you say, your Majesty,” Fluttershy bowed herself out.

 

++

 

Fluttershy stepped back into the kitchen and let out a breath. Sombra had seemed more exhausted than she expected, it seemed he wasn’t exaggerating his need for a place to recover. He had looked perfectly healthy just a few hours ago and now it was like he had just finished the Running of the Leaves at a dead sprint. Walking up to her small dinner table, Fluttershy picked up the single candlestick that was decorating the table with the primaries of her left wing, using her right wing she lifted and struck a match, lighting the wick before replacing it. The skill was one she had learned under her father’s tutelage and had taken many weeks to learn properly.

The King’s dishes were the next to be set out, the salad first followed by the soup bowl, covered of course. His utensils were already in place. Moments later, as promised, Sombra emerged from the darkened hallway. Fluttershy pulled the cushion out for him before stepping away and giving a silent bow. As Sombra took his seat he seemed to be examining her with an unreadable expression.

“You have only set a single place, mouse,” he rumbled, not taking his eyes off of her. For a moment she wondered if that was rhetorical. After his gaze didn’t shift he decided it probably wasn’t.

“It would be improper to sit at such a small table with you, your Majesty. I can eat after you retire,” Fluttershy kept her response quiet. She didn’t want to take any risks while he was exhausted.

“I see,” was his only response before turning to begin on his salad.

The greens were quickly demolished, and the soup came next. As he began to eat, Fluttershy placed a tall glass of water beside him along with a couple of aspirin. Eyeing the pills suspiciously, he set the spoon down and shot her a questioning glance.

“It’s medicine for your headache, your Majesty,” Fluttershy said quietly, “they’ll help you sleep better.”

Sombra let out a grunt of acknowledgement before scooping another spoonful of soup into his mouth. After swallowing he set the spoon down again, though, and stared out the window. Had he seen something outside?

Her inner query was interrupted by his deep basso voice. “You know that the longer I take to recover, the more time you have to determine a means of defeating my geasa and free yourself, correct? Every extra day I am confined to your home means another day of serving me but another day of life, as well. Another day to try and scrape a means to survive my leaving. Or have you given up on your own life so quickly?”

Fluttershy cleared away Sombra’s salad dish as she thought about his question. When she came back to the table she sat back down at his side. “I haven’t given up on life, but that doesn’t mean I want to see you in pain. I don’t want to see anypony in pain.” Working up a hooffull of courage, and knowing it would only get her punished, Fluttershy turned to face Sombra directly. “You can take away my will, your Majesty, but you can’t change who I am. I won’t let you do that, at least.”

As she snapped her muzzle shut, Fluttershy braced herself for a blow or another spike of pain from her punitive enchantment. Nothing came. Instead, Sombra seemed to ignore her blatant disrespect, turning back to his dinner to finish off the rest of his soup before getting up from the table. Glancing down at the three little off-white pills and the water, Fluttershy wondered if she had overstepped her bounds a little too far. Anger she had been prepared for but silence boded much worse. Finally, he glanced back up at Fluttershy, sending a thrill down her spine. He was grinning, showing pale, fanged canines.

Well, this is how it ends.

“Good,” was all he said, shocking Fluttershy mind into sputtering silence, before taking the pills and washing them down with the water.

Turning on his back hoof, he left the table and retreated to his bedroom. Fluttershy heard the dull thump of his massive frame falling onto the mattress a moment later. It was only when her vision began to swim that Fluttershy realised she had forgotten to breathe, and let out a harsh gasp of air. She had been expecting a temper. Violence. Or at least cold punishment for her temerity. Instead he looked… pleased? More than ever she wished she had her friends to fall back on, but even if she wanted to risk involving them with a pony as dangerous as Sombra the geasa would stop her the moment she even tried. Shakily, Fluttershy began clearing away the King’s dishes before dishing some of the soup and salad out for herself.

Fluttershy didn’t know how long she would have to ‘reform’ him, or even if she could. But if it was possible then this was the only way she knew how. By showing him Kindness.

 

++

 

Exhaustion took the King quickly as he fell to the bed. It was softer than it had any right to be and his entire body felt like a coiled spring slowly being unwound as he let himself relax. Should it have troubled him that the mouse refused to eat with him? No, it was the place of a servant to eat only after the King had eaten his own fill. Nor should her defiance have pleased him as it had. Sombra pulled the down comforter over his body as his mind wound down. He should have punished her impudence, yet he did not. Had he always been so merciful to his servants? No, he recalled meting out terrible punishments for failures, and worse ones for insubordination. Although, Sombra had to admit he did not recall enjoying it.

In fact, he recalled enjoying very little beyond satisfaction at successful endeavors. A new monument raised, a new mine opened, a new factory’s foundations laid into the crystal. As Sombra tried to seize slumber, he felt a familiar bitterness take root in his heart. Who did they think created the Crystal Empire? Who did they think made it worthy of the name? The Imperial Dynasty? Hardly worthy of the title. Backwoods nobility consigned to the frozen north and barely able to keep the eternal storms at bay long enough to harvest the food needed for the single small town in the vast, empty territory they supposedly ruled. Utterly incompetent.

Too tired to waste energy on anger, Sombra slowly moved his mind through the Enumerations of Dusk. Disjoining his spirit and body and seeking the respite of the dream world. His world. His realm.

 

 

Fields of snow sprawled out before him as Sombra’s mind reoriented, perceiving the true world once again. The realm of pure magic, divorced from the necessities of the mortal, material realm. It was day, he knew, though the sun was nowhere to be seen. It rarely was, so far north. At least that was the case until the Crystal Heart was forged. In the distance he saw the shining Crystal Palace, glimmering in the dull light of the overcast day. The bare-bones town around it looked as miserable as he remembered. For a moment Sombra wondered if it was because they truly were so miserable or if it was simply his own memories colouring the dreamscape. No matter, though. The death tolls from exposure at the time had spoken for themselves. Their misery was a foregone conclusion. The kingdom was drowning in snow, its huts built on stone stilts to keep the worst of the slush and ice from the doors and windows.

A kingdom in name, only.

It was his kingdom, once upon a time. His petulant and ungrateful realm, pining for the days of starvation and hypothermia under the inconstant rule of their soft-hearted Princess. They called him the Slaver King, the Crystal Tyrant. Enslaving his people to serve his own ego. Sombra snorted in disgust as he let his mind wander forward in time. The snowfield melted, froze, and melted again as years passed. He found the moment he desired. The moment when everything came together and fell apart. It was an unusually bad winter, which was quite something considering the general miasma of frozen death that surrounded the Crystal ‘Empire’. Sombra grimaced, watching from a distance as the crystal pegasi tried desperately to keep the storms at bay. Among them were members of the royal family, easily picked out with their distinctive coats ranging from pink to carmine, doing their best to aid their subjects. They lent hoof, wing, and horn to the defense of their doomed little kingdom but to no avail.

Then… yes, Sombra’s lips turned up into something between a snarl and a grin. A light shone from the central plaza. The citizens who couldn’t help against the storm were all huddled together to stave off the encroaching death.  There, in the center… Sombra grimaced at the coal-coated unicorn, lean and wiry with the scholarly robes of an Imperial Magistrate, focusing all of his power into the crystalline heart floating above the crowd. Sombra saw the unicorns lips move, but the howl of the storm stole the words. It didn’t matter, he recalled them easily. He saw all of the Crystal Ponies look to him in desperate hope. They lent him their power, their will, their unity.

Suddenly light poured out from the Heart. Wherever it touched the snow was burnt away to reveal gleaming streets. The clouds parted for the first time in months to show the warm and shining sun. The Ponies themselves looked revitalized and strong, each one bolstered by the rest. The pegasi alongside the royal alicorn family descended from the once-frost-soaked skies in radiance. The Empire was safe, he had done it. He had fulfilled his promise.

And what did they say?

Even from a distance he could hear the voices of the citizens raised in exultation. Cheering the same name over and over again. Twisting the knife.

Cadenza. Cadenza. CADENZA.

Even after so long, the old bitterness still gripped his ancient heart. Sombra spat into the snow in front of him. “Cadenza,” he muttered hatefully, “what did the line of Cadenza ever do but fail? What did the line of Cadenza ever give them but frostbite and excuses? Miserable and ungrateful commoners. They proved their limited minds that day and their descendants were no different.”

Turning his back on the newly protected Empire, Sombra wondered why he had even returned to this place. To this worthless memory. He did not need to be reminded why he took their throne from them. He did not…

Sombra’s concentration splintered as he felt the walls of his dreamscape thinning. A presence, a mind vast and subtle as the night sky was encroaching on his dream. No, he recognized this mind and moreover that mind would certainly recognize him. Thinking quickly, Sombra sent the timeframe of the dream forward, past his own glorious Age of Shadows and into the middle of the thousand year slumber of the Empire. Nothing but a frozen desolace remained. As a final touch he loosened his grip on the dream, it would not do to appear too lucid to the Keeper of the Night. His shape morphed and collapsed into that of a regular unicorn, a frame he once wore before he came into his power, still broad and muscular, but lacking his imperious mein and distinctive curved horn. Quelling his fear, he let the dream take him. The snow swallowed him in icy fury and, grimacing, he felt the cold slice his flesh in a way that he had forgotten. It had been so many years since the cold had touched him and it seemed to last forever, alone and shivering in the dark. It reminded him of his banishment. The cold madness began to seep into his mind and Sombra fought against the fear. He was a King. An Emperor! He was Erebos Sombra! The greatest and most powerful Unicorn to ever live. He knew no fear for he was fear incarnate!

Then, as quickly as torment came about, it faded. The pain, the cold, and everything seemed to wash away under a warm breeze.

“The nightmare is banished, art thou well my little pony?”

That voice… Sombra allowed his consciousness to submerge beneath his dreamself. It would not do to ruin my own plan after securing such a capable servant.

Looking up from where he had been buried by the snow, he found himself meeting the kind, worried-looking eyes of the Princess of the Moon, Luna. Staggering weakly to his hooves, Som- No, Coal Axiom blinked in confusion.

“I… I am, your Grace,” even submerged, Sombra’s mind burned indignantly at his body bowing to the petulant sister of Celestia. “Thank you, I’m afraid my nightmares come and go lately, ever since I awoke in the Empire.”

Luna’s features became grave at Coal’s words. “We understand, thou art one of the awakened, then. One of mine beloved niece’s fine subjects?”

With some effort, Coal kept his teeth from grinding together at the remark. “Yes, your Grace,” He responded, he did not trust himself to speak further on the matter.

“That doth answer Our next question, namely who would dream of such a wasteland. May We ask why thou art so far south?” Luna remarked casually as she swept away some errant snow from Coal’s mane with one of her voluminous wings. “We had been under the impression that the Crystal Ponies preferred their northerly climes.”

Coal cleared his throat slightly, a little bemused that he would be first to use his own cover story before his servant. “I admit it’s a bit warm, but I am a researcher. I came down to study the unique magical properties of the Everfree Forest’s flora and fauna. There’s no place quite like it in the Empire or in Equestria, you know.”

The lie rolled off of his tongue smoothly, and Luna favored him with a smile. “We must agree upon that premise. Now, as Our duties have been attended to, We must bid thee farewell, Coal Axiom, and wish thee more pleasant dreams.”

Luna gave a small nod of farewell before seamlessly bleeding out of Coal’s dreamscape and returning to the ocean of energy that lay beyond the walls. Letting out a breath of relief, Sombra shed the ego of Coal and returned to his former and more comfortable frame and body.

“That was far too close,” Sombra muttered darkly, “and yet, at the same time I must wonder. Equestria’s vaunted Mistress of Dreams and yet she was not even suspicious of me? Once upon a darker time I would not have passed her scrutiny with such ease… most interesting.”

He had indulged himself long enough, though. Sombra allowed his mind to drift further away from the lucid dream state into a resting, dreamless slumber. He would ask his questions of the Princesses and the many changes in the world on the morrow. The mouse would have answers enough for him. Til then, however, it might be better served if he remained aloof from the dreamscape for a time. He did not want to risk another visit from Luna on the off chance his good fortune this evening was just that and nothing more, fortune. Sombra did not trust his fate to flukes.

 

 

Fluttershy finished her evening chores a little later than normal. Angel Bunny had been quite upset with her at first but soon grew uncharacteristically somber as he followed her about. By the time she had completed her last few tasks, tending to the owl nests in preparation for their late night foraging, Fluttershy had begun to grow worried for him.

“Is everything alright, Angel?” she asked quietly, careful not to disturb the sleeping Sombra down the hall. The bellicose rabbit responded with a flurry of motions and squeaks ending with a accusatory finger pointing down the hall.

“Oh, he’s just a guest, that’s all,” Fluttershy tried to reassure her beloved pet. “He’s exhausted and not feeling well at all, so I have to ask you not to disturb him or agitate him, alright? I will be very upset with you if I find out you disobeyed me.”

For once Angel didn’t put up a fuss. Fluttershy was very glad of that, she wasn’t sure if it was because of the firmer hoof that she was putting down, or out of a primal understanding that the sleeping stallion down the hall was many times more dangerous than the average predator. A measure of both, most likely. Either way she had a sinking suspicion that if any of her wonderful animal friends ever did manage to cross King Sombra there would be very little evidence of it afterwards. Or, maybe, quite a bit of evidence.

Angel Bunny hopped away from towards his bed as Fluttershy shuddered violently at the thought. She knew it would be a risk but she resolved to beg Sombra to give her animals a little lenience in their behaviour. Pride was all well and good until a life was on the line, and if protecting her animal friends meant lowering herself to begging to Sombra she would do it in a heartbeat. Hopefully she wouldn’t need to humiliate herself too badly, though. Sombra, for all of his wickedness, seemed to have an odd kind of honor. Not one that Fluttershy could say she really understood but… she knew it was there. In the same way that, in the end, Discord had more in common with a petulant child who wanted attention than some ageless spirit, Sombra seemed to have less and less in common with the evil sorcerer king she had learned about. There was certainly more to him than met the eye, maybe even a splinter of good was left in his heart.

Fluttershy chuckled at the thought as she walked into her room and began brushing her mane. Yes, perhaps the evil king was truly a misunderstood soul. And maybe his Empire of slaves was just a tragic misunderstanding as well. No, Fluttershy knew she couldn’t afford to be fooled into thinking he was truly good at heart. However much she wanted to believe in the innate goodness of ponies, Sombra’s actions had more than proved his ruthlessness and penchant for cruelty. He treated her well, but he had also enslaved her mind without a single thought.

But… none of that meant he wasn’t capable of goodness.

Everypony could change their ways and, sometimes, all it took was somepony else giving them the chance. Fluttershy desperately prayed that Sombra was one of those someponies. If he wasn’t then her story was going to end very soon and… very badly. She crawled into bed and pulled the covers tightly around her. Tomorrow was going to be more of the same. Serving a dark king and helping him heal only for him to probably kill her and leave her body to be found later. From there, who knew what he would do? Something terrible no doubt, and tomorrow would be the second step on that road. Had it really only been a day? This morning had seemed so bright and full of hope too.

At that moment the final cord snapped on Fluttershy’s self-control and, slowly, hot tears began to slide down her face, matting her fur as she began to shake. Silently, Fluttershy sobbed into her pillow, her thoughts filled with fear and dark imaginings of a vast shadow covering the land and ponies enslaved again, and the knowledge that it would be her fault. When she finally did find sleep she mercifully did not dream.

 
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