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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20. Lucid Dreams

A thundering knock on Sombra’s study door split the morning silence and  produced a spur of grumbling from the dark stallion sitting at the small table. Sombra had hoped to enjoy his coffee and breakfast in the few moments before he inevitably swamped himself with work again but clearly Steelhorn had other ideas. Wrapping himself in the familiar visage of ‘Coal Axiom’, Sombra approached the door and wrapped in a pale grey aura, pulling it wide. Steelhorn stood on the other side of the threshold with two well dressed Unicorn stallions behind him, the brutish minotaur looked singularly more uncomfortable than Sombra could ever recall seeing him. Sombra didn’t recall a meeting today and if there was a meeting he would have remembered, meaning that this was an uninvited visit.

“Ah don’t suppose the lady of the house is up yet?” Steelhorn drawled in his low, dark voice. “We’ve got a coupla fella’s here who wanted to speak with her.”

“I believe her name is Cloudy Skies,” one of the stallions said in a nasally voice, “I’m afraid I must insist on speaking with her as soon as possible.”

Sombra couldn’t help a small smile cross his face. ‘Lady of the house’ was she? Well, that’s only appropriate for them to believe since she must be my face in these matters. How ironic, I suppose I must play the good servant this time around.

Schooling his features in his finest ‘who left this refuse in my kitchen’ expression, Sombra responded. “I’m afraid Lady Skies is in Manehattan attending to business matters. I would recommend a call ahead next time or perhaps a courier.”

The other stallion grimaced. “Look here you little horn-wipe, we’re not playing games. Your Mistress has made some powerful ponies real angry. Disrespect us and you’ll have a lot more trouble on your hooves, yeah?”

“Either way I cannot make Lady Skies appear out of thin air,” Sombra answered tonelessly without even turning to regard the speaker. “You will simply have to return at a later date if you’re so intent on speaking with her.”

“Unfortunately,” the more calm of the two interjected, “this was a one time courtesy call. Your Lady Skies has trodden on a few very important fetlocks in her short time here, bribing ponies who work for us, threatening them too by all accounts, and we wished only to politely to offer a bit of advice. There will not be a second visit, I’m sure you understand.”

The two stallions turned away without another word, Sombra scowled after them before turning back to his study with Steelhorn on his tail. “Sir, uhm, ah don’t mean to intrude on ya Lady’s affairs, but that was a pretty serious visit you just got.”

“I’m well aware of the their not-so-veiled threats, Mister Steelhorn,” Sombra replied as he returned to his desk and began sorting through the day’s papers. “The mo- er, Lady Skies has accounted for their attitudes, rest assured. So long as work on the manse progresses unhindered you are free to ignore those hectoring oafs.”

Steelhorn didn’t look entirely convinced. “Are you sure, sir? No offense but ya Lady Skies don’t quite know the Stalliongrad families like ah do. They don’t make idle threats.”

Sombra turned, flashing a grin whose fangs were neatly masked by his illusions but nonetheless sent a chill up the Minotaur architects spine. “Aye, Mister Steelhorn, I don’t intend to ignore them. I only said that you need not worry.”

An uneasy look crossed Steelhorn’s face as he stopped in front of the desk. “Ah ain’t worried about mahself sir, ah’m worried about the folks who work for me. Ah’m responsible for’em and, well, no offense but ah ain’t lookin to earn any more problems from the families, ya? If they come lookin fer yer Mistress and ya’self then it’s gonna be mah people what’re in the way. You get me?”

Sombra bit back a retort. He wanted to tell Steelhorn to shove his concerns and get back to work. The arcane geometry of the manse was incomplete and until then it was dangerous to draw power from it. He had been only doing so in the tiniest quantities to ensure he didn’t fall too close to the edge if something unpleasant occurred. Besides, Steelhorn and his laborers were nothing more than a temporary workforce and Sombra had need of them only insofar as they could complete the job assigned to them. If they were too cowardly to finish their work they were of no use to him. Perhaps he was better off turning them into forced labor; regardless of their fear he needed this manse complete or he and the mouse would be in dire straits come spring.

The mouse…

The thought of Fluttershy penetrated Sombra’s mind on the heels of his planning. What would she say? What would she think? These were questions he didn’t even need to ask. He already knew what her thoughts on the matter would be vis a vis enslaving Steelhorn’s crew.

‘If you want us to work, then you’re going to have you’re going to have to learn to be nice.’

Enslaving others and forcing his will on them had all led to his misery and downfall centuries ago. Perhaps there was more wisdom in the mouse’s words than even she knew. Perhaps a change of tactics was, in fact, in order.

Glancing up, Sombra was mildly surprised to find Steelhorn still in front him waiting patiently for a response. A tired smile crossed the dark stallion’s features and he gave a small nod to the Minotaur. “I fully intend on dealing with this matter before the Lady Skies returns from Manehattan, Mister Steelhorn, don’t worry. Those blowhards threatened this household… do not dare to presume that they will escape that unpunished.”

 

~ o ~

 

Oneiromancy was an art that, in the centuries since his banishment, had apparently fallen into general disuse. From what he had read on the more recent treatises and essays on magical theory it seemed that the common pony thought of dream magic as a divine purview only accessible to Luna and the most ardent of her followers. It both amused and saddened Sombra that the art of dreaming had been discarded so thoroughly. Unlike evokers, conjurers, and the like, there were no strict doctrines to dream magic. No formulae or esoteric runes. Nothing that could be easily studied. In these future times it seemed magic had been taken down to the level of a science, but such a line of thinking could not comprehend dream magic. Oneiromancy was and always would be an art. To dream was to enter the fluid sea of emotion and memory; the gestalt subconscious of the sleeping world. Navigating such a mercurial realm was not a task for the light of heart or the undisciplined. Plenty of acolytes had entered the dreamlands only to have their dreaming minds become lost in labyrinths of spun sugar or be dragged beyond the horizon on a riptide of emotional force, leaving their bodies to wither and starve.

Sombra, of course, was long past that. Oneiromancy was an art he treasured now more than ever because it required no magic from his failing body. He only needed to align his pseudo-sleeping mind with the resonances of the dreamlands to enter it and there he was free. His first instinct, of course, was to reach for Fluttershy. She was there and still distant, but her warm presence comforted him to a surprising degree. No matter that she was leagues away; the dreamscape had little care for physical distances, for which Sombra was grateful. He found the lack of her presence… difficult. He had quickly grown used to the presence of the beautiful mare both physically and emotionally. She had rapidly grown to become not only a confidante, but a conscience. Something he had long since disposed of for himself. That was neither here nor there, though, and Sombra knew he could not afford the distraction of checking in on her. If he did, he suspected he would linger longer than he ought to, and he had turned in early to get a head start on the troublesome pair that had visited the manse. That done, he launched himself away from where his physical form lay and landed amongst the glimmering stars. Immediately he set about seeking the dull, violent minds of the ones who had threatened them early. He found them easily enough but they were pale and flickering; wakeful minds were only barely reflected in the dreamlands. He let them be, he did not expect them to be asleep yet but now he could keep a weather eye on them and await his opportune moment. Time was a fluid quantity in the dreamlands, and Sombra only kept his internal clock calibrated by observing his soon-to-be-prey. As such, by the time felt the intruding presence it was far too late for him to do anything about it. Sombra leapt to his hooves and conjured his regalia around him. His warhammer hovered at the edge of his consciousness, ready to be summoned. Calling a mirrored artifact of such power wantonly would be foolish though. It would draw all sorts of unpleasant attentions.

“King Sombra,” her voice was wry and… playful? “We had quite forgotten that thou didst possess the dreaming arts. Now we dost recall though.”

Sombra met the gaze of Princess Luna, her eyes were the deep, complex shade of a sapphire reflecting the moonlight. He had been expecting a fight, or at least some show of aggression. Instead she simply smiled at him; a small, enigmatic smirk that irked Sombra.

“My mastery of the arcane arts was matched only by my ego, if I remember your sister’s opinion correctly,” Sombra retorted, showing a smile that was more teeth than grin. “I found that remark a bit insulting if I’m honest. My ego possesses heights even my magic could never reach.”

“So We dost recall,” Luna answered as she cantered closer, “may We take our rest for a moment here? Tis been a long day and We are not by any stroke of nature a diurnal creature, and yet it seems betimes there is always some matter of state to handle no matter the godlessness of the hour.”

Sombra relaxed his magic a bit and gave a short nod. He had been reclining near a whorl of subconscious memory, idly toying with it while he waited for his targets to slumber. The whorl spun with reflected colors found nowhere in the waking world. Luna settled down near the edge and came to rest. Sombra decided he would play the Princess’s game for a while and mirrored her action.

“We don’t suppose that thou wouldst give thyself over to Our custody, then?” Luna stated more than asked after a few moments of silence.

“No, your Grace, I think not,” Sombra replied with a dry chuckle. “I’m having far too much fun out in the world these days. I almost feel grateful for you and your sister deposing me all those centuries ago.”

“Nor wouldst thou give Us thy location, I presume?”

“Again, I will have to respectfully decline, your Grace,” Sombra answered.

Luna gave a good-natured shrug. “Well, thou canst not fault Us for asking. In more serious humor We must ask another question; dost thou intend to reignite the fires of war?”

That was a good question. Sombra had certainly considered it, of course. Ensconcing himself in a new seat of power and driving forward a new war machine to roll across the fields and forests of Equestria. He could not deny that the thrill of victory on the field of battle was an enticing one. And yet…

“No, Princess, I do not think that will come to pass,” Sombra answered truthfully, to no little surprise of both himself and his guest. Perhaps the mouse is rubbing off on me more than I had initially guessed. “My warmongering days are over, I think. Besides, even with the might of an Empire at my back I could not claim victory all those years ago. I do not imagine I could do so now that I have nothing.”

“Most interesting,” Luna said, an impish smile playing around the edges of her mouth. “Our sister is quite convinced that thou art off in some distant land planning an uprising or laying the foundations for a new Empire. She fears another war will come to the borders of Equestria, I am glad that her fears are unfounded… and, We must admit, a little disappointed.”

Sombra raised an eyebrow at that, which Luna answered with a small laugh.

“The old days of war were terrible, but frightfully exciting,” Luna remarked, smiling faintly in recollection. “Dost thou recall the Battle of Ash Ridge?”

“Mm, I do,” Sombra said, tacitly deciding to humor Luna’s reminiscences. “Your forces had numbers but were badly outflanked. My 4th Legionary company had drawn your honor guard and a full battalion of your Lunar Armsponies into an ambush and surrounded you on all sides with forces from the 8th, 23rd, and 14th companies closing the gate on you. You lost a third of your forces in less than twenty minutes.”

Luna puffed out her cheeks and grimaced. “Well how were We supposed to know that thou wouldst want Us to claim the high ground on the ridge summit? Though in retrospect it seems obvious that thou didst likely entrap it. That said We didst not expect that thou wouldst have buried four fully functional Shadow Golems under the ridge. We must admit to a persistent curiosity: How didst thou get them there without Us knowing?”

“Truthfully?” Sombra answered with a chuckle, “those golems were there all along. I had my forces entomb seven Golems beneath the ridge almost a decade before Equestria and my Empire ever went to war. I intended to use them after the Winter thaw the next year to ambush the feudal lord that originally held the territory. To my surprise, he died of some illness during the Winter months and his much more cowardly and pliable heir readily capitulated to my demands. Some papers were, ah, reshuffled, and the Golems were forgotten until your forces pursued my companies to that region. I was most pleasantly surprised to discover four of my constructs had actually survived the passage of time. The rest, as they say, is history.”

Silence reigned as Luna stared open mouthed while Sombra related the story. “Verily!? We lost some of Our finest soldiers to a decade-old bureaucratic error!?”

“Funny old world, isn’t it your Grace?” Sombra replied with a faint grin.

Luna scowled. “We doubt Our fallen soldiers would consider it ‘funny’, thou art as much a rapscallion as ever thou were, Sombra.”

Sombra gave a regal incline of his head, allowing his dark locks to tumble down as he flashed a roguish smile to the Princess. Luna narrowed her eyes but it didn’t manage to distract from the faint flush that appeared on her cheeks. Of the two sisters, Luna was the one that Sombra imagined he knew best. She was calculating and subtle in battle, always ready with an ambush or a turnabout even at the edge of certain defeat. Sombra could hardly count the number of times he was certain she had fallen into one his traps only for her and her forces to slip through his grasp and vanish like shadows. Luna never possessed the raw charisma and force of personality that her sister did though; the kind that inspired troops to charge fanatically forward even if it meant certain death. The Celestia that Sombra knew was a Warrior Princess, more comfortable at the van of a battle than in the commander’s tent. Much had changed, they almost seemed to have switched places. A thousand and more years past it was Luna who was the politically savvy one. Luna Dreamwalker, Luna Nightkeeper, Luna of the Watching Shadows. Many titles were given to her, most in acknowledgement of her seeming omniscience. The Night Princess’ intelligence network had been second to none in those days. Now she seems almost eager for a fight.

I wonder what changed… Sombra shook his head before fielding a question of his own. “Your Grace, a question if I may?” Luna gave a small nod of assent. “When I was first convalescing back in the mouse’s cottage I ventured through the dreamscape many times but the first place I visited was the Gate of Horn I found it to be damaged severely, why?”

Luna’s face paled. “Damaged? But that’s not possible. We are certain thou hast heard of Our… fall, yes?” Sombra nodded, the mouse had told him of her friends’ first meeting on their first walk into the village. “The Nightmare was an entity of terrible power from beyond the walls of sleep, far beyond the Gate of Horn. When We called it forth it damaged the Gate, but sending it back should have served to undo the damage We so thoughtlessly dealt.”

“It seems that was not the case, your Grace,” Sombra remarked smugly. “Perhaps you should have studied the darker arts in finer detail-”

“Do not mock Us, blackguard!” Luna hissed, showing the first signs of anger Sombra had seen from her since she appeared. “We knowest Our mistake! Tis a path We shalt not tread again!”

Sombra narrowed his eyes in a deadly glare. “Know your mistake? I’m sorry dear but I heartily disagree…” As he spoke the air around the Alicorn and the fallen king thickened until it was almost like syrup. “You meddled with affairs far beyond your knowledge. You were just like every other fool Alicorn who sought greater power than what they were given on a silver platter by dint of their blessed births.” The king’s voice deepened and the shadows clung to him like thick, wet cobwebs. “Just like everything else in their charmed lives, and yet they wished for more. Always more. It was never enough to be powerful. They had to be more powerful than any other!” Sombra stood and somehow, despite being roughly equal in size to the Alicorn Princess, he seemed to tower over her imperiously. “I know what you believe your mistake to be; that you lacked the necessary power and focus to control that which you summoned. Let me disabuse you of that notion…”

The dark king tipped his head upward, regarding what passed for the sky in that benighted place between dream and reality with disdain. Sombra opened his mouth and from all around the two of them a roar emanated. It rattled out from the air, the memories and emotions of reality. Luna cringed, at first, then her ears flattened, her eyes widened as the noise grew from being simply unbearable into something all-consuming. She tried to stand, to fight against the stallion, the mere Unicorn in front of her, but her body rebelled. Her mind revolted against her as eternity seemed to collapse in on them. Then, Luna discovered it was quite possible to vomit in the aether. Amidst it all Sombra was roaring and all of time and space roared with him and it could have lasted a moment or a thousand times a thousand years. For the first time since her freedom Luna wished she was back on the moon.

Finally, finally, Sombra stopped, and brought his head back down. He looked harrowed, not unlike Luna herself but while the Night Princess felt hollowed out and empty, Sombra looked… more. He looked vital, powerful, and insane; like some mad pagan god-spirit worshiped by the ponies of old before the coming of the Alicorns. Those stranger things that were either demons or angels… or both.

“Do you see now?” Sombra asked, his voice was throaty and raw and it had a husky quality that stirred something primal in Luna. “Do you understand? It was never a matter of focus or power. It never will be. The forces of this place are power and are anathema to focus. You cannot control them. Do not call up that which you cannot put down, your Grace, or you will once again find yourself at the untender mercies of the chaos beyond the gates.”

Luna shivered in place for a moment before finding her voice. “W-what didst thou do to Us? We feel weak as a newborn foal.”

‘I simply took advantage of an aspect of Alicorn biology,” Sombra explained, his appearance slowing growing more sane. “You Alicorns are more in tune with this realm of power, it is why you have so much magic. I simply… stirred the pot as it were and the chaos was reflected back into you and since you lack even the slightest respect for this place you did not know how to defend yourself from it. Why, I daresay you even think yourself it’s master, O’ Walker of Dreams.”

“Uhm, I’d really appreciate it if you stopped doing that, dear,” a soft, faint voice broke through the twisting air, shocking even Sombra. Fluttershy stood watching not far from them. “Princess Luna looks really… uhm, bad, if that’s okay to say, your Highness.”

Before Luna could answer Sombra stood and trotted up to the butter yellow pegasus with a curious look on his face. “How are you here? I have not taught you any manner of dreamwalking magic.” Lifting on massive hoof, he gently stroked her cheek, an act that Fluttershy leaned into with an appreciative hum. “How is this possible?”

“I’m not really sure,” Fluttershy answered after a moment. “We’re both in the carriage for the moment, I fell asleep, then I felt you watching me and…” Fluttershy’s words trailed off as a blushed crawled up her features. Sombra gave a rakish grin and motioned for her to continue. “Uhm, I felt you watching in my dream and… and I really missed you. So I tried going towards you, or where I felt like you were. I ended up here.”

“Brilliant, absolutely brilliant,” Sombra’s muzzle splits into a wide grin. “You’re a natural ‘walker, I had to study for decades before I managed it properly, I-”

Fluttershy put a hoof to his mouth to silence him for a moment. “Your Majesty, do you remember what I said about being kind?” Sombra’s face fell but he nodded. “That,” she glanced over at the exhausted-looking Luna, “does not look like kindness. I said I was okay with you doing some bad things when they were necessary but it looks like you two were just talking. Did she threaten you?” Sombra grit his teeth but shook his head. “Then what you did was wrong.”

Without missing a beat, Fluttershy stepped away from Sombra and trotted over to Luna, gently helping her to her hooves. “Are you okay, Princess? I’m so sorry about what he did. He means well, I promise, but he’s not very good at it yet.”

Luna looked disbelievingly at Sombra, then down at Fluttershy, then back to Sombra again. A moment of silence passed. Then Luna made a soft choking sound and fell to the ground laughing uproariously. For several moments Luna just howled as she beat her hoof on the ground trying to get air into her abused lungs to breath past what looked like a terminal fit of giggles. Eventually she stood up again under her own power and wiped tears from her eyes. A laugh escaped every now and then but she took a deep breath as she turned to regard Fluttershy.

“Thou art safe, for that We are gladdened immensely,” Luna said, “We shall inform thy friends and family of thy safety for now. We are quite certain it will soothe Our sister’s mind to some end.” Turning to Sombra she shot him a knowing grin. “As for thou; We thank thee for the lesson thou hast imparted, harsh though it may have been. We shall be more mindful of the realm We walk. We acknowledge that o’erconfidence has e’er been a failing of ours.”

“Your natural talent notwithstanding,” Sombra remarked in a more civil tone, “I advise you be more careful of how you tread in this place and to spend some time learning and practicing the old fashioned way. Natural talent only takes one so far. That goes for you too, my dear mouse. Do not idly follow the road into the realm beyond dreams so thoughtlessly ever again. You’ve seen what lays past that particular wall.”

Fluttershy nodded, but as she did so her form become shaky and insubstantial. “I... I think I’m waking up. I’ll see you when we get home, okay?”

“I shall count the breaths til then,” Sombra remarked sarcastically, before saying in a more serious tone, “but be careful all the same.” Fluttershy gave a silent nod just as she faded from existence.

“How very interesting,” Luna’s voice had recovered its humor and mischief. “How very interesting indeed. Our sister and I shall have a most interesting o’er breakfast next morn, I think.”

“That’s it then? No attempts to stop me? To bring me to justice?” Sombra asked cheekily, “You’re just going to leave?”

Luna rolled her eyes. “Thou knowest just as well as We do that wars are not fought in this place unless one possesses a particularly creative death wish. We shall find thee in due time.” As she began to fade from view, a playful smirk drifted across the Princess’ features. “We art also gladdened to know even a dark king can be ‘whipped’, I believe is the modern parlance?”

Sombra scowled as Luna’s laughter faded away from the dream realm. He had more important matters to tend to. He had come to the dream realm for a reason, after all, and he could not rightly leave his work undone. Sombra had known many stallions like the two who had spoken to him this morning. They were molded by the cruelties of reality and taught to be cruel in return or else die a forgettable, meaningless death buried in an unmarked grave if at all. The warm embrace of the Diarchs was little more than a distant suggestion to be sneered at from the cold climes of Stalliongrad to these upstart colts. Ordinarily he would applaud their capability at surviving in such a difficult scenario but they had made the fatal mistake of threatening both he and the mouse. That warranted a refresher course in cruelty and it carried an expensive tuition indeed.

 
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