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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8. Memoirs of a King

~ Eight hundred and forty years before Nightmare Moon ~

 

The winds howled furiously around the cloaked and bundled stallion that was carving his way through the snowdrift surrounding the towering crystal spire at the edge of the Imperial Capital’s municipal border. Only his horn could be seen; a long, straight, black spiral lit with a red glow, as a crimson plow made from telekinetic force drove away the heaviest snows from in front of him. The pony finally breached the magical field that was just barely keeping the snow away from Weather Spire Seven’s entrance. Staggering against the door, the pony nearly tore it off its hinges in an effort to get out of the terrible weather. The inside of the spire was stifling compared to the storm outside but, in reality, the pony knew it was probably only forty or so degrees.shaking off the snow that had collected on the heavy woolen cloak, he pulled the snowblind goggles off along with the cowl to let a ragged obsidian mane fall tumble down.

“Is anyone there?” he roared, stepping out of the vestibule that barred off the outer atmosphere from the delicate workings of the inner spire.

The sound of hooves thunder down the hall outside the room met his ears followed by an off-gray Crystal mare. Misty Frost, head of Spire Seven and a genial, kind-hearted Crystal Earth Pony in the latter half of forty winters. She bore them well, still possessing a grace and enthusiasm that would have suited a mare half her age.

“Magistrate Sombra! How did you manage to get here in that horrible storm?” Misty cried out, unlocking the inner doors and ushering him in. “We had all assumed the monthly report would just have be shelved until the blizzard blew itself out.”

“Oh, you know me Misty,” Sombra chuckled dryly. “Nothing gets my quartz up like the heady and exciting goings-on of the weather tower reports. Why, what would I even do with my month without those riveting eighty pages?”

“You’re awful, Ere',” Misty choked out between laughs, “absolutely incorrigible. How a young buck like you ever got to be a Magistrate I will never know.”

“Oh that’s a lie,” Sombra retorted as they walked down the hall towards the main working stations. “You know it’s because I’m the best, after all.”

“Mm, well, I can’t deny that,” Misty responded. “When they told us three years back that our old Magistrate had passed and his replacement wasn’t even out of his twenties I thought one us must have pissed in one of the Cadenza’s brandy decanters to get that crap assignment. Who knew we’d end up with the most effective Magistrate in the court.”

“Oh I’m certain they thought you were getting a crap assignment, my dear,” Sombra replied with a thin smile. “But then again, everypony always did underestimate me.”

Misty bumped her rump against Sombra’s good-naturedly and chuckled. “Well we certainly did. I still regret the cold welcome we gave you on your first visit.”

Pushing open the swinging doors, Misty cantered into the wide, hemispherical working area of the Spire known colloquially as the ‘stable’. Embossed on the wall was the number seven. Seven of seven. The northernmost weather spire of the Crystal Empire and widely considered the coldest, most miserable post in all of the region. Half of the workers were considered wild cards or troublemakers while the rest were politically minded ponies who had established themselves as equis non grata to a Cadenza or somepony else equivalently stuffed up their own plot. Sombra was among those so-called ‘troublemakers' too. None of the older generations of Magistrates liked the idea of the young prodigy and upstart making trouble and enough of the Cadenza’s agreed with them to make things difficult for the dark-coated stallion. Sombra strongly suspected that he had only been granted his position as Magistrate because some icicle-sucker on the council figured a young up-and-comer would be easy to manipulate. He had graduated at twenty-five from the Imperial College with two Advanced Principles in Crystal Magic and Law; a practically unheard of feat of intellect. He had even been granted honors by the Royal family themselves. However, the next two years he spent attempting to introduce a record-breaking amount of legislation aimed at reforming an antiquated monarchical system that left the Crystal Ponies of the surrounding town in a perpetual state of destitution. He had made a great deal of enemies and, when he was twenty-seven, he had been ‘promoted’ to oversee one of the weather spires. Spire Seven. Sombra recognized a dead-end post when he saw one but he took it anyway, determined to make something of it.

“How’s my favorite band of bent-backed miscreants?” Sombra announced as he entered the room. Four tired ponies, a skeleton crew for a Spire, all looked up with pricked ears at the new arrival and moments later Sombra was swarmed by the Ponies of Spire Seven.

Greetings were exchanged and the bustle quickly died down to a more jovial atmosphere. Sombra was unusual in that the Spireponies considered him one of them. Most of the Spireponies hated their Magistrate with a passion but Sombra had put an unusual amount of effort into making sure his crew was taken care of; pushing through requests for funding, repairs, and the like, in addition to doggedly making his way up to the Spire once, or sometimes twice, a month for the weather report rather than ordering one them to make the trip to him. His ready willingness to take on his share of the burden endeared him to the hard-working ponies quickly.

A sapphire coated crystal unicorn stallion, pranced up to Sombra and threw a hug around his wiry shoulders. “Erebos, it’s been way too long! Nopony thought you’d come up in this weather. You know we wouldn’t have blamed you if you hadn’t right?”

Sombra returned the friendly embrace. “Well, good thing it’s not up to you, Azure. Then again if it was I’d probably end up as lazy as my predecessor,” there was a smattering light-hearted chuckles at that before Sombra loudly cleared his throat. “So, what are we looking at here? I should start compiling that report as soon as possible.”

Azure Eye gave a stiff nod and floated over a pile of papers, flipping what Sombra had come to think of as his ‘professional’ switch. “It’s bad news all around. Every time one cell blows itself out another crops up to take its place. We’ve never seen the like. Worst of all. and most inexplicably, the winds seem to be blowing down from the Crown of Equus but there’s no known weather phenomenon that could account for that.”

Sombra felt a chill run down his spine at Azure’s words that had nothing to do with the weather. “What’s the forecast on the storm ending?”

Azure’s gaze flicked over the pages nervously before answering. “Best estimates puts it at two weeks out.”

“Ponyfeathers,” Sombra retorted evenly, his ears flicking in irritation. “I know that look, Azure. Don’t give me the mushroom treatment, what’s the real forecast.”

“Sir, we’ve never seen a storm like this, it’s acting in a way that defies our expertise and-” Azure cut himself off at Sombra’s stony glare.

Snorting, Sombra fixed his eyes firmly on Azure before panning his gaze over the other four Spireponies. “We’ve been friends for three years. I know each and every one of your names, I know your families, your kids, I know each of one of you and that means I know that you lot are the most competent damn crew in this sunforsaken wasteland. I don’t believe for a second that the lot of you haven’t come up with a working theory. I thought you’d respect me enough to share it with me but I suppose I was wrong.”

“Sombra…” Misty put her hoof on his withers before letting out a low sigh and turning to Azure. “Tell him, Az.”

“Misty, he can’t bring this back to the Empire,” Azure responded darkly. “It’s complete speculation and, worse, they’ll use it to string him up by his horn.”

“Azure, I gave you an order,” Misty said in a low, deadly voice, her eyes narrowing. Azure cringed back but finally nodded.

“Well, you asked for it,” he said dolefully before pulling up a few scrolls and handing them over to Sombra. “By all accounts there’s no sign that the cells will stop forming. We can’t detect any significant degradation in the windforce, temperature, or size of the child cells to the point that they are, as good as makes no difference, identical to their parent cells.”

Sombra’s eyes widened with every word as he examined the raw data they had given him. “This… are you saying this storm will never end, Az?”

Letting out a sigh, Azure shrugged. “Theoretically it would have to end sometime. Conservation of energy dictates that much. But… basically yeah. Unless something intervenes then I speculate that this storm will overwhelm the towers within a month. Without their magic the town will probably succumb within a week-to-two-weeks depending on the weather pegasi. The Crystal Palace will probably be buried a month later. Fortunately, I suspect most of the pink pansies will have starved by that point.”

Each of the Spireponies were watching the exchange by now, and Sombra saw the same expression on each of their faces. Grim resignation. They all knew about this, probably had known it for over a week. They had all put on a cheery show for him when he showed up so that he would swallow their lie. Even if they did it for him it still hurt. They wanted him to think everything was okay so that he wouldn’t be blamed for when things went to Tartarus.

Setting the scrolls down, Sombra rubbed the bridge of his muzzle. “Alright, I’m bringing this to the Magistrate Council, but you aren’t wrong. They’ll never accept speculation. I’m going to prove you all right and then, hopefully, we’ll get some actual decisions out of those powderheads. I need a place to work, is my office open?”

“I’ll unlock it for you,” Misty said, moving towards the hallway. “Everypony else get back to work, Sombra is going to need all the data we can give him if he’s gonna polish this frozen turd, you hear?”

A chorus of ‘Yes Ma’am’ sounded from the tired workers as Sombra and Misty left the stable. He followed her down the hall and took a right at the vestibule. Further down was a set of offices, each of which were locked up mostly from disuse. Ostensibly, every Magistrate had an office in their Spire but they went unused so often that most Spireponies converted them to extra storage space for various materials. Sombra was one of the only ones who actually worked in his on occasion. Reaching up to rifle through her mane, Misty pulled out a small, worn key and slid it into the lock in the leftmost office, turning it with a dull clunk.

It was dusty but serviceable. There were a pair of desks crammed into the small space and a few chairs along with a large shelf for storing scrolls and tomes. Laying out the scrolls that Azure Eye had given him, Sombra maneuvered around to sit behind his desk, pulling out several blank scrolls to make notations and equations on.

“You don’t have to do this you know,” Misty said, sliding in to sit across from the dark-coated young stallion bent over the ominous reports. “You could still take the other report back. Maybe advise them to shore up the windbreakers around the outer perimeter to give the town more time. I’m sure this winter will blow itself out eventually.”

“I’m not taking that chance, Misty,” Sombra answered, not looking up from his work. “I have no reason to doubt any of you up here in Spire Seven. If you say the theory is sound then I’m going to prove you’re right so that we can do something about it.” Glancing up he caught Misty’s blue gaze with his own fiery amber orbs. “And I’m certainly not leaving my friends up here in this sunforsaken outpost to freeze to death when the stormwall overwhelms the municipal border.”

Misty gave Sombra a tired smile. “You’re a good stallion, Ere’. Too good for politics, you know that?”

“I can name at least three of my rivals that would piss themselves laughing at you calling me ‘too nice’,” Sombra answered wryly, marking down an arcane equation only to scowl at the result.

“You could have just gone into academia, you know,” Misty said softly, her gaze taking on a distant quality. “You’re the brightest star the Imperial College has had in centuries, maybe ever. A professorship would have been your for the taking.”

“Bah, much too boring,” Sombra responded with a laugh. “Those old graymanes at the College spend all their time arguing about obscure lore. They never accomplish anything new.”

Misty shrugged. “You could have gotten an advantageous marriage, then. You’re young, handsome, and brilliant. Plenty of noble houses would have fought to marry off one of their daughters to you. Still would in fact.”

Sombra smirked, shaking his head. “You know I’d never leave you, Misty. You can reject me all you want but my heart will always belong in your cold, surly, angry hooves.”

Shaking her head, Misty let out a tired sigh. “You have a witty quip for everything don’t you, Ere’?” Her eyes were sad as she reached over and knocked her hoof against the scrolls. “You know we’re staring at the end of the Empire here, right? Unless we get a miracle and the storm suddenly breaks of its own accord it’ll swallow up everything in two months time, and that’s being generous.”

“I don’t believe in endings like that, Misty” Sombra answered stonily. “This kingdom may have problems but I refuse to let it die like this. I will find a way to end this storm and then I’ll find a way to end winter itself.”

Misty’s smile was small and wan. “If I were ten years younger…”

“And not facing the end of the world?” Sombra retorted, his grim humor still running strong. Misty let out a harsh laugh and nodded.

“I’ll go see what the grunts dug up,” Misty said by way of response, getting up from the seat. “Black Snow and Winter Dreams were working on some theories. Maybe we lucked out and they’ve come up with something.”

Sombra grunted in response, already back in his world of scrolls and data trying to piece together a fragment of sense in the logic-defying storm that howled outside the walls of Spire Seven. He was in the same state when Misty returned half an hour later with a ration bar made from frost lichen, one of the only stable food sources in the Empire, and the promised data. He barely acknowledged her as she set them down within hoof’s reach. She was familiar with his mannerisms though. Enough to know not to disturb Sombra when he was deep in thought and deeper in his work. Four hours later, when Misty returned to check up on Sombra, the scrolls were all neatly arrayed around him and several additional scrolls hung suspended in the air orbiting the dark stallion. Each one was covered in equations, notes, markings, and diagrams. Misty didn’t bother going into the room, just poking her head in. She did notice that, as per usual, his ration bar was still completely untouched.

Five days later, Sombra was at his wits end.

“This makes no sense!” Sombra roared, hurling yet another failed set of calculations across his office to bang against the door. The graying mare sighed from where she sat at her desk, and shook her head.

“We did warn you,” Misty remarked. “The storm defies all natural and magical laws. The ruptured leyline theory was particularly inspired, though. I’m a little surprised that wasn’t the root of it in the end.”

“It all added up until the end, too!” Sombra vented, stalking around the small office. “The constantly refreshing storm cells, the force and power of the storm, all up until we got those readings on arcane particle density. Not only was the ratio not dense enough to suggest a ruptured leyline, the density was actually at an all-time low! How is that even possible!”

Misty shrugged. “I’m sorry Ere', I am. We were all so sure it was the right line and inquiry. Sometimes there are just things that happen, though. Maybe this storm is just divine karma or some other justice.”

Sombra snorted in disdain. “Horseapples, the only ones who might’ve earned a rebuke of this magnitude would be the royals and where’s the sense in wiping us all out with them?”

“The spirits are hardly picky,” Misty retorted.

“Spirits… bah,” Sombra shook his dark mane. It had become matted and heavy since he started working. On a lark he sniffed himself and recoiled. “Then again, maybe my body odor is offending them. How are you withstanding this stench, my dear?”

“You smell like roses compared to some of the stallions in this station when they get on a work binge, Magistrate,” Misty answered wryly. “Compared to me too, actually. Now go, take a shower, get some food. You’ll work yourself into a torpor otherwise and then you’ll be no good to anyone. Shoo!”

Misty waved her both hooves at him from where she sat and earned a chuckle from Sombra. A small victory given his increasingly dour mood. “Very well, I will return in an hour and set to work again, though.”

“Naturally,” was Misty’s only response as he left the confines of the office.

As Sombra trotted down the halls towards the residency section, which was really just another featureless hall with a collection of bunkrooms and a communal bathroom at the far end, and turned over ideas about the apocalyptic snowstorm roaring outside in his mind. Every idea he had came up dry, every postulate disproved, and every solution ended up so much hot air. Sombra knew his time was running out quickly. Even if he determined the source of the storm there was no guarantee that it would be in time to stop the storm from destroying his home, so he begrudged every moment spent away from his desk and calculations. Even he had to agree, though, that he was beginning to run out of ideas. His last one had been less of a shot in the dark and more of a rock tossed by a blind, arthritic colt into an unfathomable abyss, whatever Misty said about it. A rupture in a leyline? That was what he had been reduced to testing? Naturally it had come up dry.

Pushing open the door to the shower stations Sombra trotted to the back end of the room. Only one stall was occupied, albeit by two mares who were rather less interested in showering than they were in each other. Without pausing Sombra snorted.

“Winter, Hope, I should think you two would have better things to do,” he grumbled as he walked past, eliciting two high-pitched squeaks of alarm.

He didn’t begrudge them their actions, if he was being honest. The situation was looking more and more grim by the day and some could only find comfort in distraction. Winter Dreams was Spire Seven’s best scanner, though, and her partner Errant Hope was one of his best storm analysts. He needed them working. Sombra reached the furthest stall and depressed the small floor panel with his hoof and grunted in relief as lukewarm water poured down over him, washing away the grime and sweat that had accumulated over the past few days.

Perhaps I’m being too harsh on them, Sombra mused as he quickly and roughly scrubbed his mane and tail, carefully working at some of the worst gnarls. They’ve had it more difficult than most in this frozen phallus.

Homosexuals were not looked upon kindly in the Empire. Lots of unpleasant words were bandied about; words like ‘unnatural’ and ‘abomination’. Honestly, though, Sombra couldn’t have cared less one way or the other who a Pony found themselves in love with, but he had ended up aligned against the conservative  members of the Council by dint of his adamance that such Ponies be treated fairly regardless of their preference. Such a small kingdom, he had argued, could hardly afford to judge a Pony by something as inane as sexuality. His impassioned speeches had, ironically, forced the Council to reevaluate their ordinances with consideration of the needs of the Empire as a whole. The end result was a lifting of many restrictions by Royal edict. One of the very few intelligent decisions made by the Cadenza family in Sombra’s opinion. As a result many Ponies had ‘come out’ in celebration; Winter and Hope among them. Sadly such rulings were hardly enough to quell the bigotry of the Council and most found themselves relegated to dead end positions like Spire Seven.

Does this miserable Empire even deserve saving? The treacherous thought had crossed Sombra’s mind more than once. No, I said it before. The whole of the Empire does not deserve to suffer for the mistakes of a few, weak-minded dandies.

The water began to turn frigid again and Sombra stomped the deactivation plate in annoyance. He had done as he had been asked and, to his irritation, he found that Misty had been right; he was starving. The small actions of cleaning himself had ignited his body’s metabolism. Stepping out from the banks of showers he seized a towel hanging from one of the wall-mounted racks to begin drying himself off.

“Uhm, Magistrate Sombra, sir?”

Sombra peeked out from beneath the towel he had been using to dry his mane at the cream-coated Unicorn mare standing in front of him. “Can I help you, Winter?”

“Is… is this really the end of the Empire?” Her words came out steady but Sombra could hear the quaver in her voice. Her bravery in the face of what might be certain doom was admirable.

Sighing, Sombra shook his mane giving him an almost leonine appearance. “I don’t know, Winter. I’m doing my best but this blasted storm is defying me at every turn.”

Another, higher voice scoffed from across the room. “So then we all die in a frozen heap?” Sombra glanced over at Errant Hope, a petite, light roan Pegasus mare with a chip on her shoulder the size of the Crystal Palace’s east wing, who was busy carefully drying her wings.. “Figures. We finally get some rights and the world up and ends. Well… bright side is that my dad will finally have to meet my marefriend and be civil about it.”

Hope shot Sombra a grim smirk. “Oh?” Sombra answered dryly. “Why is that?”

A loud smack heralded Winter’s right hoof thumping into her forehead. “Because he said he’d be civil to my face when Tartarus froze over,” Winter answered.

Sombra let out a barking laugh. “Well, I can’t say I disagree with that assessment. Too bad we’ll all be Crystal Pony popsicles by the time the conditions are met.”

Hope set her towel back on the rack to dry and cantered over to her marefriend and planted a wet kiss on Winter’s cheek. “Yeah well, no big deal. The world’s always been against us, right? Now it’s just trying a little harder.” Turning back to Sombra, Hope reached out and wrapped her forelegs around his neck and pulled him into a hug. “I never said this but… thank you. Even if the world ended up ending so soon, I’ll always be grateful that you fought for us, for Winter and I. These were still the best few years of my life because I got to live them as myself. I wouldn’t trade that for anything. I don’t know what dark sorcerer I pissed off in a past life to earn an eternal storm, but I’m glad I met you, Magistrate.”

Sombra had gone perfectly still. Hope pulled away, afraid she had overstepped her bounds by hugging her Magistrate. A second later Sombra seemed to snap out of it, a manic grin spreading over his face.

“THAT’S IT!” Sombra nearly roared, sending both Hope and Winter staggering back several steps before Hope got rubberbanded into Sombra’s crushing embrace. “You’re brilliant! That’s how it’s happening! Everything makes perfect sense!”

Without another word he dropped Hope and went galloping back to his office, his large frame and heavy hooves preceding him with thunder and leaving two extremely confused but hopeful mares behind him.

Nearly tearing the door to his office from his hinges, Sombra vaulted his desk and crashed down amidst his pile of notes as an extremely wary Misty Frost looked on in confusion. “Sombra? What’s-?” she was cut off by a single raised hoof as several empty scrolls came floating up in front of Sombra followed by a half-dozen quills.

Working at a fevered pace, words occasionally slipped from Sombra’s lips as the sound of scratching quills filled the room. “Yes, yes, this is it… no, ignore the fifth law… calculate the integral sequence… log to the base of… hah! Now invert the generation of particles and… Oh… Oh no.”

“Sombra, what is it?” Misty came out from around her desk and stopped in front of the grim-faced stallion. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m afraid I’ve discovered the source of the storm,” Sombra said in a hollow voice. “Or at the very least I know why it appears to be endless.”

“That’s… not good?” Misty asked in confusion. “Were we too late?”

“To be honest, I’m not sure,” Sombra answered, “but I do know that we drastically overestimated the amount of time we have left. Gather everypony in the Spire into the stable. I need to make an announcement and I don’t particularly want to repeat myself.”

Misty gave him a sharp nod and cantered off to gather up her crew as Sombra glared down at his calculations. They were worse than even Azure’s Worst-Case Scenario. Gathering them up he made his way towards the stable. Seven’s crew was small enough that everypony was gathered in front of him within minutes. Each waited patiently to hear what their Magistrate had come up with.

Taking a deep breath, Sombra laid out his scrolls before floating them up, each in sequence. “Good news first everypony, I’ve found the source of our mystery storm.”

There was a small cheer that died quickly at Sombra’s expression.

“Unfortunately that is the extent of the good news,” Sombra continued grimly. “The storm is being fueled by magic, but not normal magic. That’s why we weren’t detecting it using our normal instruments. Not only that but it’s being created deliberately. I know this because the storm is being fueled by Dark Magic which does not occur naturally except in a very few places on Equus. Nowhere in the north is there a wellspring of Darkness potent enough to do this. More bad news too; we based our original timeline on the assumption that the energy buildup was essentially linear in nature. Every cell built up then expelled itself causing another to build up in turn. As it turns out that assumption was grotesquely optimistic.”

Azure went pale as he examined Sombra’s notations. “It’s exponential,” he muttered.

“And it’s reaching critical mass,” Sombra finished. “We don’t have two months. We have two weeks at most before the stormwall breaks and the full force of whatever is building up in there is unleashed.”

“And when it is we won’t last more than a few days,” remarked Hope, eyeing the storm intensity predictions Sombra had laid out. “The windforce from this storm is enough to cover the Empire within a day, we can stretch that out with our weather pegasi but then we’re done.”

“That’s why we need to leave the Spire,” Sombra said, his tone brooked no argument. “If we don’t bring this information to the Council then the Empire will never know what hit it, and I’m not leaving any of you up here to die. Everypony, get your extreme weather gear on. I want everypony in full kit and barding gathered in the front atrium in ten minutes. GO!”

His final word boomed out through the stable and immediately each pony scattered to their bunks. Sombra already had his gear set-up and ready, he had never removed it from the lockers after he arrived several days ago. It didn’t take him long to fully equip himself using his magic. The last attachment to go on was the case containing his notes, secured with locks and wards. Five ponies plus him all trekking back to the Empire. Abandoning their posts wouldn’t do them any favors but his math wasn’t wrong. Spire Seven was going to be uninhabitable within a week and Sombra refused to leave any of his friends in that situation.

A stocky Earth stallion with a coat even darker than Sombra’s and a mane of pure white was the first to arrive. Black Snow, the Spire’s resident crystal mechanic, was a loner and a bit surly but Sombra respected him for his diligence and devotion to doing a job right the first time. Azure Eye and Misty showed up quickly behind Snow with Hope and Winter not far behind. Each of them looked to be carrying half again their weight in gear. Not just multiple layers to keep out the biting cold but tools to maneuver the deadly snow drifts and powder falls; areas of loose snow that look solid until any weight is placed on them and then they sink into a pit.

“Is everyone secured?” Sombra barked grimly form beneath his cowl. A series of muffled affirmatives reached his ears. His sharp eyes examined each of his ponies to make sure their gear was strapped and secured properly. The far north was utterly unforgiving to even the smallest mistakes. “Good, then move out.”

Stepping through the main vestibule, Sombra pressed the keyplate set into the floor. With a snap of discharging energy the main door opened. The six ponies gaped in astonishment as a flood of snowmelt was forced away by the energy field surrounding the Spire suddenly going active again. The snow had piled almost ten feet high above the door and only the emergency failsafes had removed it safely. They were unlikely to work again after such an intense discharge though.

“Looks like you made the right call, Magistrate,” Hope remarked dryly from behind Sombra. “The horseapples have really hit the fan now.”

Sombra could only nod as he stepped out, using his crimson magic to break apart the newly forming ice. The five Spireponies filed out after him.

“Everypony, secure yourself to one another,” Sombra ordered, pulling out a length of strong rope. “I don’t want anyone disappearing under a snowdrift or a dropping out of sight, got it? Keep an eye on one another.”

The Spireponies nodded their assent as each began tying themselves off, Sombra secured himself in the lead with Misty Frost behind him, Black snow behind her, then Errant Hope, Winter Dreams, and Azure Eye taking up the rear. The wind howled ruthlessly around them and even through his heavy gear Sombra could feel the brutal cold gnawing at the edges of his awareness. Unwilling to waste any time, the moment his crew was fully secured Sombra began pressing forward, his magic carving a path through the snow. Winter and Azure used their magic from further back to keep the snow from collapsing once Sombra had passed by, creating a temporary trench for the line of Crystal Ponies to pass through. It lasted only seconds after the six had passed by before the storm had erased all evidence of their passage, but by then the crew had moved on.

Sombra grunted as he pressed onward through the storm for hours. Several times he looked behind himself to ensure that his crew was still moving. They always were, so why did it feel as though every step was a titanic labor? His head was buzzing painfully and every step forward carried the weight of the world behind it. Glancing back again he saw his crew was in little better shape. Misty and Black were both doggedly pressing forward with the usual tenacity of their kind, but Sombra could see the strain in their posture. It was like they were being dragged down by something. For himself, Sombra could barely concentrate with the incessant buzzing noise that filled his ears. It was like someone had shaken up a crystalbee hive and then teleported it inside his skull.

“Pull your own miserable weight back there, will you?!” Black Snow’s voice roared out suddenly. Sombra blinked in shock, distracted by the normally phlegmatic and stoic stallion’s outburst. “I’m not dragging your feathered carcass back to the Empire if you won’t at least bloody try!” Black snapped at Errant Hope who was immediately behind him. His face was twisted in anger- no, not anger, something stronger… Hatred.

Hope’s normally kind face was marred by an equally furious scowl. “I weigh a third of you, you snirt-grubbing powderhead! And I am pulling my weight!”

“And don’t talk to her like that either!” Winter piped up heatedly from behind her marefriend. “Or we’ll just leave you behind and get on without you! You’re probably weighing us all down anyway!”

“Stop!” Sombra roared, “We can’t afford to waste time like this, we need to keep moving!”

“I’ll keep moving when we cut off this dead weight,” Black Snow snapped.

Hope and Winter were suddenly surrounded by a bluebell glow of magic and violently hurled forward, crashing into Black. “Will you miserable mares pull your heads out of each others nethers and get moving! I’m getting buried back here!”

Azure shook away a miniature drift that was accumulating on his back and pushed forward only to be knocked to the ground by a telekinetic bolt from Winter. “Touch me again and I’ll aim for your eyes next time!”

Sombra watched in dismay as his crew fell to violent bickering. Turning to Misty he was about to ask his strong right hoof for help only to realise she was gone. In a panic, Sombra quickly traced the securing line to where it vanished into a large snowdrift. Seizing a massive wedge of snow, Sombra dug feverishly until he found her. She wasn’t moving. Misty was laying on her stomach completely silent. Ignoring his arguing crew for a moment, Sombra leaned down close to his friend and let his magic flow into her, diagnosing her health. To his relief she was perfectly healthy aside from the terrible cold that was around them. That wouldn’t last though, if she didn’t get moving the cold would set in all the quicker.

“Misty, get up!” Sombra yelled over the howling wind. “We need to go! The others are fighting and we’re still hours out from the Empire! I need you to help me rally them!” There was no response at first but, after a few seconds, Sombra felt relieved to see Misty stir. He was less relieved when she spoke.

“Why?” Her voice sounded empty. Hollowed out, even. “Why should we bother? The Empire hates us all anyway. It hates you too, Ere’. Why should we bother to drag ourselves all the way there and warn them when they’ll just ignore us? Let them die to their own blind ignorance, I say.”

Misty never called him Ere’ in front of the others. He didn’t mind but she said it was ‘disrespectful to his position’. She only ever called him that in private. Sombra half-suspected it was just because she just liked having a private name for him.

“What’s gotten into you?” Sombra muttered, the buzzing in his head was even stronger now. “What’s gotten into all of you?!”

Turning to his crew, Sombra felt rage build up inside him at the Spireponies he had come to save. They had devolved into an all-out brawl. Black Snow had at some point lept onto Errant Hope and they were wrestling in the snow while Winter alternated between shouting at Azure Eye and trying to telekinetically pry Black off of her marefriend. Finally, Winter’s interference paid off, pulling Black Snow off just enough for Hope to land a blinding punch into Black’s eye, causing him to rear back with a whinny of pain.

What happened next burned itself into Sombra’s mind. It seemed to happen so slowly that he could watch every moment of it play out and yet so fast that he could do nothing about it. Black Snow fell onto his back clutching at his face and howling in pain. Before anyone could react, Errant Hope pulled out the heavy spade from her gear and propelled herself at Black Snow with her wings, howling in inchoate rage. The spade fell with a sickening crunch, tearing through his winter gear and deep into his chest. Black Snow gave a violent jerk, coughing up a torrent of blood onto his killer before going terribly still. Winter went still with shock at what her marefriend had done but Azure, who had considered the taciturn, and now-dead, Black Snow a friend, let out a grieving cry and lunged past the stunned Unicorn he had been fighting, pummeling into Errant Hope and driving her to the ground beside Black’s cooling body.

Sombra heard the gut-wrenching sound of a horn piercing flesh and Azure Eye impacted the petite Pegasus. As Azure stood above the mortally wounded Errant Hope, Winter let out a maddened shriek and lunged at Azure, taking him to the ground and beating him with her hooves, firing blasts of telekinetic force into his face. All of it happened in a matter of seconds, and Sombra finally found his breath again, like a jolt of electricity carving through his veins. Powering forward through the building snow, Sombra seized the grief-maddened Winter Dreams and tried to pull her off of the brutalized Azure.

That was a mistake.

Despite being horribly wounded, with the whole left side of his face nearly crushed and his horn shattered, he still surged up and seized the spade that was still sticking out of Black Snow’s corpse and wrenched it out only to plunge it several inches into Winter’s neck between the seams of her suit. Winter Dreams gave a weak, startled gurgle, staring down at the shank of the spade that was protruding from her neck in surprise before glancing at Sombra, terror replacing the madness that had been there. Sombra could only stare back in shock as the light in her eyes slowly went out and she hung limply in his telekinetic grasp. Azure Eye’s wounds claimed him only moments later, his body heat and lifeblood seeping out of his body as he collapsed in a heap at Sombra’s hooves.

“Why…?” Sombra muttered hollowly as the lambent glow of his magic winked out, dropping the corpse that had once been the brilliant, optimistic Winter Dream into the unforgiving snow. “Why did this…”

The buzzing had returned in force, carving his mind in half. He couldn’t dwell on this now. He could wallow in grief and shock when he had the time, but he wasn’t the only one left. Misty was still lying supine on the snow nearby.

I’ll be damned if I lose everypony to this idiocy, Sombra thought furiously, stomping over and away from the bodies of his friends.

Blinking away tears and doing his utmost to ignore the burning, bilious weight in his chest, Sombra leaned down and bit the bundle of cloth of Misty’s suit at the nape of her neck to drag her out of the drift.

“Misty, I need you to get up,” Sombra’s voice came out raw and choked. “Please, get up.”

Her eyes, mostly hidden by her own cowl, flickered up to stare at Sombra. They were as dull and empty as before.

“Why?”

The question echoed in Sombra’s mind over and over in a cacophonous, thundering beat. Out of nowhere an irrational flash of fury overtook his mind and Sombra felt the nigh uncontrollable desire to stove in her worthless head. It would be a mercy wouldn’t it? If she was so weak that all she could do was lie down and freeze to death then a quick, albeit messy, end would be better for all involved.

“No,” Sombra muttered, feeling the buzzing clouding his mind recede slightly as he bent his will against it. “Whatever you are… whoever you are… you will not twist my mind to suit your needs. My mind is inviolate and unbroken.”

Dark magic saturated the air, he could feel it trying to wind and twist its way into his mind. Trying to corrupt his thoughts and drive him to insanity the same way it had with his friends. The same as it was doing to Misty at that very moment, preying on her depression and feelings of isolation. She was lost to their whispers but Sombra was not.

“Very well,” Sombra said darkly, “let us play this game out, then.”

Closing his eyes, he shut away all of his senses leaving his mind in darkness. The storm howled silently. There was no cold, nor roar, nor anything else. There was only Sombra. Opening his magical senses he extended his perception through his horn. He could feel the dark magics all around him. Around him… and above him. The further up he extended his senses the denser the corrupt magic became until he found them. The source. Howling, cackling things seemingly made of condensed spite and hatred. They shrieked and cavorted above Sombra and his fallen crew, and he could feel their elation at the strife they had sown among his friends.

Wendigos, Sombra thought, and some distant part of him wondered at them. They were creatures of myth and legend come to life. Or something like life, anyway. Spirits of strife and discord, beings of pure dark magic. Well, two can play that game, can’t they? I am no mere puppet to be strung along. I am Erebos Sombra, the greatest Magus the Empire has seen in centuries. I can master any form of magic… even yours.

Slowly, carefully, and, above all, subtly, Sombra stretched his magic out into the air, letting it hang quiescent amongst the particles of the Wendigo’s magic. Further and further he stretched his power until he felt nearly spent, saturating the air just as they had until he was satisfied he had mimicked their technique perfectly.

Now… how do they… ah, how simple, Sombra grinned wolfishly as he discerned their method of feeding. So their dark magic simply acts like stomach acid; breaking down emotions into pure energy for them to devour. What simple creatures. They are not the only ones capable of absorbing power.

It was not unlike taking a very, very deep breath, in the end. His magic, which had permeated and saturated the same area as the Wendigo, suddenly flared into activity. Gorged and unprepared, the three Wendigo spirits that were floating invisibly above them never stood a chance as every particle of their magic was suddenly and irrevocably seized by Sombra’s sorcerous mimicry of their feeding process and dragged in to his spiral horn. Suddenly deprived of sustenance, the Wendigo howled furiously. Sombra, however, was not done. He kept pulling, kept inhaling their power and quickly the Wendigo found themselves losing coherence. As hard as they tried to pull away from the strange, dark Unicorn below them, they could not escape his grasp. It was like an iron vice had clamped onto them and, within moments, dragged them to into Sombra’s presence.

The stallion before them was different than before, shadow seemed to cling to him like a second skin and he practically shone with power. The Wendigo, on the other hoof, were barely shades. Left hollow, empty, and starving by Sombra’s spell. The stallion in question stared down at the withered spirits contemptuously.

“I have no use for bestial cretins,” he said, his voice deep and thick with energy. “But you killed my friends… you took them from me. No one takes from me.”

With another deep, magical ‘breath’, Sombra shredded the Wendigo, stealing from them the last power they possessed that was keeping their incorporeal forms constant. They blew away like so much snow in the torrential winds. Within moments the storm seemed to calm slightly, but Sombra could feel the presence of more Wendigo. Thousands more in fact. They dwelt still behind the stormwall. They would come eventually though. Now he knew his enemy, though, and Sombra was determined to end them once and for all.

For now, though, Sombra looked down and Misty Frost who still laid at his feet. Her will was sapped by the Wendigo, nothing he could do would change that.

Or can I? Sombra stared down at his friend. He could feel the weak stirrings of life force within her now. Something about the Wendigo magic he consumed resonated with it. Will is merely impetus. All I need to do is rekindle that within her. Give her a new drive.

“Misty,” Sombra said softly, now that the howling winds had died down somewhat. Some part of him felt the need to try just one more time. Try to elicit some response. Something…. anything “Will you come with me now? Please… Misty, answer me.”

That hated word was all that fell from her lips in response.

“Why?”

Frustration that had nothing to do with the Wendigo coursed through Sombra and he scowled. “Why?!” He barked at her, making her start. “Have you no pride?! Have you nothing left to drive you forward into the dark?! Have you nothing left?!”

Misty didn’t answer, she just stared up at Sombra with empty, weary eyes.

“Fine,” Sombra spat. “You want to know why you’re going to get up?” His eyes lit with dark magic, green, lavender, and crimson energy spilled out from them like tears as darkness spat from his horn and struck Misty in the head. “YOU’RE GOING TO GET UP BECAUSE I COMMAND YOU TO! AND YOU SHALL DO AS I COMMAND!”

Misty’s body jerked and spasmed in place for a moment as Sombra’s magic thundered into her mind. Suddenly, his voice was all she could hear. All she wanted to hear. He had commanded her to rise and, on shaky legs, Misty got up. Clenching her eyes shut she let the pounding noise die down before opening them again, her sclera had turned a vibrant shade of viridian.

“Now,” Sombra said a little wearily, “it’s time to return to the Empire. We still have a job to do.”

Misty gave a small nod and turned, stopping only to bite through the rope binding her and Sombra to the dead behind them, and took her place at Sombra’s side.

“That last spell took a great deal out of me,” Sombra continued, taking a few unsteady steps forward. “Ensure that I make it to the Council.” Nodding once more, Misty leaned in to support Sombra,

“As you say,” Misty replied.

++

“...in the end we made it back to the Crystal Empire with the warning,” Sombra said. “The rest of the story is longer and more complicated but, obviously, the Empire did survive.”

Fluttershy nestled herself into Sombra’s side, the fur on her face had matted down with tears over the course of his story. She couldn’t imagine losing her friends in such a horrible way. And being forced to watch it? To see it play out, helpless to stop it?

“I’m so sorry,” Fluttershy said softly, “nopony should ever have to suffer so horribly.”

Sombra scoffed in response, drawing a startled glance from Fluttershy.

“If you think that was the end of my trials, mouse, then you are desperately mistaken.” Sombra’s tone was both bitter and amused.

“I’m glad you told me that story, though,” Fluttershy said in all honesty. Horrible though it was. “I feel like I understand you a little better. That’s… important to me.”

Sombra only grunted in response, seemingly lost in thought.

Taking a deep breath, Fluttershy glanced at the clock and realised, to her shock, that they had been sitting there for hours and that it was already evening. She knew that she had chores to do and that she ought to get an early start on them but…

Fluttershy chuckled quietly. To be honest she was far too comfortable to get up. Sombra was surprisingly warm and something about his titanic frame and the way he seemed to envelop her just by being beside her made Fluttershy feel oddly… secure. Glancing down she stifled another laugh as she realised that, at some point during the story, Sombra had curled his tail around her in a manner that almost seemed protective.

“You know,” Sombra said in a soft, bass rumble. “I do believe you’re the first pony I’ve ever told the whole of that story to.”

Fluttershy blinked in surprise. “R-really? But the Council… didn’t you tell them what happened?”

Sombra scoffed again, shaking his head and causing his leonine mane to flare out. “Only what was necessary. They did not need the details. They were more concerned with the Wendigo and my equations, anyway.”

Before Fluttershy could find a response she was interrupted by a heavy knocking at the door. “Oh! That must be the bedframe! I’ll go attend to that, your Majesty.”

A little creakily, Fluttershy got up from where she had been laying. Her body felt stiff and heavy from the long period spent immobile. Sombra pulled his tail away in an almost grudging manner before rising himself and shifting into the form of Coal Axiom.

“Very well, I will excuse myself for a time, I think,” Sombra replied. “I have languished too long today. I’m going to take an evening stroll, see to it my bed is ready for me when I return.”

“O-oh,” Fluttershy responded, a little disappointed. She had been looking forward to hearing the rest of his story when the bed was set up. Even if that meant sharing the actual bed with- eep!

That is not the thought we want to be having, Fluttershy admonished herself. That is the opposite of what we want, in fact. You’re getting too comfortable now.

Instead, she simply gave a small bow and curtsy with her wings. “As you say, your Majesty. Enjoy your walk.”

As she made her way out of his room Sombra’s voice stopped her in her tracks.

“I shall,” Sombra rumbled, stretching his long limbs. “And know that… that I am grateful to you for listening to me. Telling that story feels, somehow, liberating. So, thank you… Fluttershy.”

Sombra moved past her and left out the backdoor without another word and only another pounding knock at her front door snapped Fluttershy back to reality.

He… he called me by my name. She thought, a little annoyed at how happy that seemed to make her. Even without anypony else around he… maybe this will work after all.

For the first time since the whole mess had started, Fluttershy felt a little spark of hope ignite in her heart as trotted into the living room and opened the door to greet the movers.

 
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