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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6. Memories & Friends

“Welcome to Sugarcube Corner!”

A bright and cheery voice greeted the pair as they entered the large, ridiculously proportioned building. Sombra could hardly believe his eyes when Fluttershy had pointed out the cafe and sweetshop as an excellent place to get breakfast.

“Ooh! Hey Fluttershy! And… A new pony!”

She had, however, also warned him of her friend Pinkie’s exuberance and almost terminal need to greet new arrivals. As it stood, there was now a painfully saccharine pink mare invading his personal space with the ferocity of a sugar-coated blitzkrieg and Sombra was finding it very hard to decide between retaining his secrecy versus trapping her mind in a realm of fear and trauma

“Uhm, Pinkie,” Fluttershy reached over and, thankfully, pulled the pink one away from him, “I know you’re excited but Mister Axiom doesn’t really like ponies getting so close to him, he’s a little like me in that.”

Sombra almost laughed at the idea that he was much like his servant, but she wasn’t wrong in respect to that.

At Fluttershy’s words, Pinkie seemed to calm considerably, though her tail still twitched occasionally with what Sombra could only assume was a sugar rush. “Oh, sorry about that,” Pinkie said with an apologetic smile. “My name is Pinkie Pie! You can call me Pinkie, welcome to Ponyville!”

She stuck out a hoof to which Sombra raised an eyebrow. “I believe Fluttershy introduced us just a moment ago.”

Apparently undeterred by Sombra’s cool demeanor, Pinkie left her hoof outstretched as she gave a short nod. “Yeah, I know, but my Grandpappy Pie taught me that you should always greet with a proper hoofshake, and not to use another pony’s name until they’ve given it to you. Otherwise you're being disrespectful.”

Sombra’s eyes widened in unconcealed surprise at her words. “I see,” he replied, “well, in the interest of respect…” Sombra reached out and gave Pinkie a firm hoofshake and found a surprisingly strong grip behind, “my name is Coal Axiom, Scholar of the Crystal Empire, quite pleased to meet you.”

“Weeee! I made a new friend!” Pinkie immediately lost all semblance of decorum and began bouncing around the dining room of Sugarcube Corner with all the elasticity of a large marshmallow. Finally she came to a stop behind the counter. “Now, what can I get you? Everything is hot out of the oven!”

“I’ll have a strawberry muffin and a cup of earl grey, please,” Fluttershy said, lay a few bits down to pay for the meal.

Pinkie dished out Fluttershy’s order and set it on a tray before turning to Sombra who was examining the wall-mounted menu and display casings.

“Don’t worry about your order, Coal,” Pinkie grinned before vanishing back into the kitchen then returning in a rush. “I’ve got just the thing for you right here!”

Sombra opened his mouth to protest her presumption, but the words died on his tongue as he saw what she had added to the tray. He felt stunned. He was a king and yet this small, pink mare had managed to keep him on his back hoof nearly the entire time he had been in her shop.

Humming a lively tune, Pinkie carried the tray over to the table Fluttershy had picked out by the window and set out the food. “One strawberry muffin with honey butter, as usual, and a cup of piping hot earl grey!”

“Thank you, Pinkie, this looks perfect,” Fluttershy smiled radiantly before blowing softly on the tea.

“And for Mister Axiom, two fresh Crystalberry scones and a cup of coffee,” Pinkie slid the order in front of Sombra who stared down at the nostalgic food in front of him, unsure how to feel about it. “Want any cream or sugar with that?”

“Hmm? Oh, no thank you, I prefer it black,” Sombra answered distractedly before lifting the scalding drink to his lips and taking a tentative sip.

It was perfect. Bitter and fresh, just like he remembered. Not a hint of burnt grounds with just the right ratios to keep it from being too watery or too strong. Setting the mug down he lifted the scone and took a small bite off of the corner. Crystallized sugars danced on his tongue, the sweetness offset by the warm, nutty bread. Sombra closed his eyes and, for a brief, brief moment, he wasn’t in Sugarcube Corner. He wasn’t even in his Crystal Palace. No, he was home. That small, worn out, half-buried hut with its wood stove set into the middle of the single room. So delightfully warm as it chased out the dire chill of the eternal snows that blew in the arctic north. His father’s rich voice reading out scriptures from the Book of Harmony as his mother pulled a fresh batch of scones from where they had been baking. He munched quietly on his scone as he listened to the familiar words with his brothers and sisters, all curled up together warmly.

“Your M-... C-Coal?” Fluttershy’s voice broke through Sombra’s memories.

Sombra snapped back to reality. He was looking down at the scone and felt a faint, unfamiliar twinge around his eyes. Glancing up he saw both mares staring at him, Fluttershy with concern, and Pinkie with worry.

“W-were they not good?” Pinkie asked softly. Sombra could hear the fragility in her voice. “I… I can make a new batch if they weren’t.”

“No, no they were perfect, Miss Pie,” Sombra answered a little unevenly. He set the scone down and wiped his hoof on a napkin. Lifting his hoof back up he found wetness around his eyes. Tears? That… wasn’t possible.

“Are you sure?” Pinkie asked again. “I’ve… I’ve never made someone cry with a scone before. Well, except for the ‘Baked Bads’ incident.”

Sombra chuckled quietly. “I would be most interested in hearing that story someday. But no, it’s just been… a very long time since I’ve had Crystalberry scones. Very long indeed. During m-... Master Sombra’s reign industrial pollutants poisoned much of the land where Crystalberries grew. The Crystalberry bush is a temperamental thing, you see. Very specific conditions were required for it to grow properly and, so, its berries became quite rare and prohibitively difficult to acquire. Eventually the King gave up trying to grow them in favor of more readily available crops. Crystalberry scones became more of a byword for a different time by the end of it all.”

Pinkie’s face lit up joyously. “Wow, that’s really sad but it’s also really happy, I guess. I’m so glad I could make them for you then. They’re pretty popular since the Empire came back and when you said you were from there I got really excited! I could finally ask somepony who actually remembered them if they tasted right! I… I really wanted them to be authentic.”

“Then I must admit you have succeeded remarkably, Miss Pie,” Sombra answered.

“Nuh-uh, call me Pinkie. Miss Pie is my mom,” Pinkie’s smile had returned in full force. “Well, technically she’s Miss Quartz-Pie, but… anyways, I was really worried because I woke up this morning with my ears all twitch-a-twitchin’ and my left hoof tingling. That means someone really needed some good comfort food, and I thought I’d messed up. I’m glad I didn’t!”

Sombra was about to ask what that could possibly mean when he was cut off by the chiming of the Corner’s bell. A pair of ponies walked in, one with very light, fair coat and two tone pink and blue hair, the other with a sea-green coat and a light cyan mane with a shock of white.

“Oops! More customers, seeya later Coal,” Pinkie gave an exaggerated, faux salute before vanishing back behind the counter.

“Well, that’s Pinkie Pie, your Majesty,” Fluttershy said with a soft laugh. “Only at her happiest when she’s making other ponies smile.”

“Yes… I can see that,” Sombra answered quietly as he took another drink of his coffee followed by more bites of the scone. “Fluttershy?’

The mare in question looked up in surprise. “Yes, your Majesty?”

“About earlier,” Sombra began as he stared down at his half-eaten scone, “when I triggered the geasa on you.”

Fluttershy swallowed. She didn’t really want to revisit that event. In fact she’d been doing her level best not to think about it until he brought it up. “Y-yes?”

“Lashing out in such a manner was unworthy of me,” Sombra said quietly, “I… apologise.”

Sombra couldn’t recall the last time he had said those words; ‘I apologise’. Once they had been familiar. Common words spoken amongst Ponies who lived and laughed and worked with one another. But a King does not apologise. He does not excuse his actions to his lessers. A King acts and accepts that no decision can be made without both benefit and cost. So long as both were weighed and accounted for appropriately then there would be no apologies to be made. Doing so would simply be taking on meaningless regret for necessary sacrifice, and Sombra never made a sacrifice that wasn’t necessary. He coldly spent the lives of his subjects like coin, true, but he was a miserly and frugal spender. Every lost Pony was a lost artisan, engineer, teacher, soldier, or laborer. Each one lost diminished his Empire.

Fluttershy, for her part, looked completely stunned. Whatever she had expected him to say he guessed that an apology was probably far from her mind as a possibility.

“I do not require you to accept my apology,” Sombra continued, lifting his eyes to meet her wide, blue eyes. Those blue eyes that pierced him in such a familiar way.

Yes, Sombra thought, that’s right. Beryl had blue eyes too, didn’t she? I wonder how I could have forgotten that. I suppose it just… didn’t seem important.

Finally Fluttershy found her voice again, after processing the King’s unexpected words. “You hurt me, my King,” she began and, surprisingly, Sombra felt a small pang in his chest at her words. “I know that we… aren’t friends. I know exactly what kind of relationship we have. You’ve been nothing but frank and open about your expectations and your rules, so I shouldn’t have expected any other response but… I did. I don’t know why, but I did.”

“I apologised for the hurt, mouse,” Sombra replied evenly. “Do not press your fortune.”

Fluttershy shook her head. “I didn’t mean the geasa. It hurt but, uhm, I can get over that hurt. I meant… the fact that you did it, that you triggered the geasa. I guess it just… drove home that I really am nothing but a servant to you. That was what hurt, your Majesty.”

“I am a King, mouse,” Sombra growled. “Whatever that pink friend of yours believes, I do not have the luxury of friends, especially not given my past. No friend of mine would last long under that kind of strain.”

“That doesn’t mean you don’t need friends, your Majesty,” Fluttershy replied softly. “Maybe if you had friends you wouldn’t have become such a…” she cut herself off. “I’m sorry, I overstep myself again, your Majesty. It won’t happen again.”

Irritated, Sombra gave a snort and returned to his coffee and scone, taking solace in the nostalgia and peace of the past. Miserable as it may have been for the most part. He had just started in on his second one when he felt Fluttershy’s hoof cover his. Glancing up, he wondered at her sad expression.

“I do forgive you, though, your Majesty,” Fluttershy said, favoring him with one of her small smiles.

Sombra didn’t respond, only grunting in acknowledgement before returning to his scones. He was determined to finish the last one while it was still warm. Although, for some reason, it seemed to taste even better than the first one.

 

++

 

As they left Sugarcube Corner, Sombra seemed to be in much better spirits. Fluttershy was glad for that. She had been afraid that she’d gone too far when she told him that she knew that he thought of her as nothing but a servant. That wasn’t really true, whatever he pretended, and Fluttershy knew it. If it were then he would never have responded her kindness. He certainly wouldn’t have apologised.

This, Fluttershy mused as they made their way towards the furniture store in the midst of the slowly waking Ponyville, was probably one of the reasons she wasn’t the Element of Honesty. If she wanted Sombra to appreciate friendship then, just like with Discord, she couldn’t just let him walk all over her. He had to understand that his actions could drive ponies away from him too.

Just because I’m kind doesn’t mean I don’t know how to put my hoof down after all, Fluttershy thought to herself, remembering the business with the Breezies. If I’m going to help Sombra I need to be able to stand up to him, and that means it’s going to hurt sometimes. Maybe I’m just imagining it but… I can’t help but think that he inflicts pain because it’s all he’s ever known. That’s an awfully sad thought, but it’s not too different from taking in a pet who was in a bad home, I suppose.

Fluttershy was so lost in thought that only the intervention of Sombra’s hoof on her chest kept her from running headlong into another pony as they turned the corner to the main market square.

“Oh my!” Fluttershy snapped back to attention and realised who she had nearly slammed into. “Rarity! I’m so sorry, I wasn’t paying attention.”

The graceful white unicorn shook her head. “It’s perfectly alright, darling. And who is... this... ah, oh my,” Rarity gave Sombra her ‘up-and-down’ before batting her generous eyelashes at him, “this charming stallion here prevented any problems from arising.”

Sombra mere inclined his head in acknowledgement.

“Well, I’ll try to be more mindful anyway, it that’s okay,” Fluttershy answered.

“Of course, darling. Now, what are you doing out so early?” Rarity asked. bemused. “I don’t see you in town very often and usually only in the afternoons. House call?”

“Oh, no, I’m, uhm, maybe I should introduce you two first.” Fluttershy glances back Sombra who gave a shrug and a small nod. “This is Coal Axiom, from the Crystal Empire. Coal, this is my good friend Rarity Belle.”

Rarity had scarcely lifted her hoof before Sombra took it gently in his own and lifted it to his lips, placing the barest whisper of a kiss on her fetlock. “Quite a pleasure to meet you, Miss Belle.”

“Oh, oh my…” Rarity blushed furiously and gave a nervous laugh. “You are very welcome, Mister Axiom, but please, call me Rarity. I can tell you’re from the Empire, such manners are so rare out here.”

“A shame,” Sombra answered with a rakish grin. “A lady of your poise and radiance ought to be treated as such. That is in my own opinion, of course. But please, call me Coal, Mister Axiom just sounds so uptight, does it not?”

Rarity fluttered her eyes at him and gave a demure laugh. “Well, I shouldn’t think so. I think your last name is quite nice, and I certainly lament that so few share your opinion on decorum and courtesy. We simply must get together one of these days, may I ask how long you’re in town?”

“I’m not certain, to be honest,” Sombra answered easily. “I’m an Imperial scholar here to study the unique flora and fauna of the Everfree. In truth I imagine I could simply settle down and spend a lifetime doing so and not catalogue half of the species in that expanse, but of course I do have duties to my peers and my kingdom.”

“A scholar! How wonderful,” Rarity was beaming, it had been a while since Fluttershy had seen her like this, her friend was smitten. The last time was Trenderhoof. Fluttershy hoped Rarity kept her wits about her this time around. Trenderhoof was strange but ultimately a nice pony at heart. Sombra… was not. “Well, I would love to pick your brain about Imperial styles and fashions if you ever have a moment.”

“I’m afraid my expertise lays in the more arcane aspects of lore, my dear,” Sombra answered with regret that even Fluttershy almost believed. His ability to adopt a persona was almost impressive if it weren’t so eerie. “That, and very little fashion occurred within the Empire during the Age of Shadows, I’m sorry to say. The only things most ponies wore then were manacles and chains, hardly chic.”

“Oh yes, I suppose that would be the case,” Rarity answered, her tone taking on a more gentle and commiserating tone. “I couldn’t imagine living such a life, I’m sorry I brought up the matter.”

“Not at all, what is past is past and I prefer to look towards the future,” Sombra answered readily, his grin actually seemed genuine. Fluttershy suppressed a shudder at imagining what kind of ‘future’ Sombra was looking at.

If she was honest, Fluttershy felt a little sidelined by the conversation. Not terribly unexpected but, after Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy could tell when Sombra was buttering someone up and Rarity did have a weakness for high class stallions, although how the King had managed to pick that out from a glance was beyond her. His acuity was frightening sometimes. Fortunately it seemed to apply more to others than himself. Or her, for some reason. Fluttershy logged that tidbit away as she spoke up.

“Uhm, I’m sorry to interrupt but we came into town to find a bedframe for Coal,” Fluttershy said, drawing a quirked eyebrow from her friend. “I offered him room and board in my cottage while he does his research since there’s nowhere else for him to stay that’s anywhere near the Forest. I have a spare mattress but I never took time to find a frame for it because it was so big and I never needed it.”

Rarity laughed. “And they call me generous. That’s such a wonderful thing you’re doing, darling. And, as it happens, I’m in much the same boat. I was out to buy a new bed for Sweetie Belle.”

“Oh, did she outgrow her old one?” Fluttershy asked conversationally as they began moving towards the furniture shop together.

“Ah… no, it caught fire and burnt to a clump of ashes, actually.” Rarity replied with an air of resigned frustration.

“Crusaders?” Fluttershy asked.

“Crusaders.”

“Well, I suppose it was bound to happen eventually,” Fluttershy lamented, patting her friend on the withers. “I’m a little surprised this is the first bed she’s gone through.”

“I managed to get the tree sap out last time,” Rarity answered with a shrug. “And the time before that I discovered that crude oil actually comes out of fabrics quite easily with some dish soap and hot water. Unfortunately, no amount of elbow grease can rebuild ashes.”

“Your sister seems to have an uncommon aptitude for destruction, Rarity,” Sombra remarked with a wry grin.

“Oh dear me, you have no idea,” Rarity remarked, waving her hoof. “My sister and her friends are wonderful fillies, truly, but their capacity for ruination is almost supernatural. Except for her cooking, actually, in that case I’m absolutely certain there’s something otherworldly occurring. I’ve seen burnt toast, but I’ve never seen toast so thoroughly ruined that it became liquid.”

“Surely you’re joking,” Sombra remarked with a laugh. When both Fluttershy and Rarity glanced at each other uneasily his smile faded, though. “You aren’t, how peculiar.”

“Sweetie Belle once tried to help me make a salad,” Fluttershy said with a haunted tone to her voice and her eyes fixed on some distant point. “I can still hear the animals screaming.”

“There there, dear,” Rarity gave Fluttershy a reassuring hug. “It’s over now.”

Giving a last shudder, Fluttershy nodded and returned the hug as they approached their destination.

The furniture store in Ponyville was really more of a specialty shop for carpentry and woodworks run by a friendly dun-coated Unicorn named Maple. Given that most of the furniture one would own in Ponyville was made of wood she made a decent living even in the shadow of Barnyard Bargains. Their goods might be cheap but tended to be of commensurately lower quality. Most Ponyvillians preferred hardier goods to cope with the more rough and tumble life in a small town on the edge of the Everfree. The shop wasn’t large, and mostly used as a display room since Maple had her workshop in the back where she kept the saleable wares.

“Morning Fluttershy, Rarity,” Maple announced cheerily, poking her head out of the backroom at the sound of her front door bell. “Who’s your new friend?” Trotting out, Maple shook some woodchips free from her dark mane.

“Coal Axiom, here on research purposes from the Crystal Empire,” Sombra stepped forward and shook Maples hoof. “Miss Fluttershy was kind enough to offer me room and board while I studied the Everfree Forest. Since I’m not sure how long I’ll be in town I opted to spend some of my expenses on a bedframe for a large mattress.”

“It’s about seventy-five by eighty inches, down stuffed, and about forty-four pounds,” Fluttershy offered, stepping up next to Sombra. “I don’t suppose you have anything in stock that fits that? I’d like to be able to give my guest more than a mattress on the floor tonight.”

Glancing up at Sombra she started a little as their eyes met. Oddly, he seemed as surprised as she was and quickly looked back up at Maple who was perusing what looked like a hoof-written ledger. Not wanting to rush her, Fluttershy turned back to Rarity who was looking at the both of them with a sly smile on her face.

“What’s wrong?” Fluttershy asked, quirking an eyebrow.

Rarity giggled. “Oh nothing my dear, just keeping my eyes open for anything of interest, that’s all.” Turning to Sombra, she asked, “Coal, dearie, would you mind waiting here with Maple in case she finds something appropriate? I need to borrow Fluttershy, she and my sister have similar aesthetic tastes and I wanted her thoughts on the new bed.”

“Of course,” Sombra replied graciously, shooting a glance at Fluttershy, “I’ll be right here when you lovely ladies are finished.”

“Flattery will get you everywhere, darling,” Rarity remarked with a wink, before trotting off, Fluttershy neatly in tow.

“Uhm, I’m pretty sure you have a better eye than I do for what your sister would want, Rarity,” Fluttershy said as they neared the small section of the shop with displayed frames.

“Of course I do, darling,” Rarity responded with a wave of her hoof, “no I wanted to talk about that dashing stallion who can’t keep his eyes off of you,”

You have no idea, thought Fluttershy a little dryly thinking of the geasa.

“I’m sure it’s nothing like that,” Fluttershy said softly as they moved amongst the woodworks. “We’ve only known each other for a few days.”

“I know, and to be perfectly honest I’m quite surprised you’re so willing to give him board at your cottage,” Rarity said. “After all, I do know how you are with strangers. At first I’ll admit I was a little worried that he had bullied you into it but, quite frankly, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you so relaxed around anypony who wasn’t one of us.”

This was news to Fluttershy. Did she really look relaxed? It felt like she had been on tenterhooks since yesterday morning. “R-really? I hadn’t noticed.”

“Well that’s my point darling, even you didn’t notice and yet here we are. There must be something quite special about that stallion for you to be so easy-going around him.” Rarity leaned and gave Fluttershy a gleeful nuzzle. “I’m so proud of you, either way. You’ve really come out of your shell lately. I’m sure he appreciates your kindness.”

I certainly hope so or this is going to end very differently than you expect, Rarity, Fluttershy thought dolefully. She gave her friend a brighter smile though. “Well, Coal’s actually not hard to get along with. He’s very quiet, polite, and hard-working. Sometimes I forget he’s even there.” Surprisingly, Fluttershy realised as she was speaking that everything she said was perfectly true. Moreso than she had thought when the words had formed.

Yes, very polite, not accounting for the mental enslavement part, Fluttershy couldn’t help but feel a little annoyed at how easily the Master… Darn it, no, stop that... Sombra was winning over her friends. Rainbow, Pinkie, and Rarity all thought he was great. She was finding herself less and less impressed that he had managed to rise to rule an Empire and more impressed that he had ever lost. No offense to the Princesses of course.

“He is quite charming as well,” Rarity noted with a sly grin. “But don’t sell yourself short either, darling. Coal is quite taken with you, I assure you, I see the way he looks at you when you’re not looking.”

“W-what?” Fluttershy’s eyes widen in surprise. “I’m sure you’re mistaken, Rarity. He’s very… nice. But, uhm, a little distant.”

“Pish posh,” Rarity scoffs, waving her hoof again. “He’s a stallion, of course he’s distant. They’re terribly fragile creatures but that’s nothing against him. Coal strikes me as a very old-fashioned type and I think that’s quite perfect. The gentility, the gradual and deliberate shows of emotion. Why, a lesser mare might be jealous.”

Oh Rarity, old fashioned doesn’t even begin to cover it, Fluttershy actually had to stifle a laugh when her friend had said that. “Well, he won’t be around forever Rarity, he’s just here on business and after that he’ll be leaving.” And hopefully, I’ll still be here after that.

“Hm, I don’t know about that,” Rarity eyed Fluttershy sideways with a sultry grin. “I seem to recall him remarking on how he could, ‘settle down and spend his whole life here’ doing his work.”

A flush crept up Fluttershy’s cheeks. “I think he was just talking about the Everfree, it is very big and, uhm, unique. I don’t think even Zecora knows everything that’s in the deeper parts of the forest.”

‘Well, we’ll see,” Rarity smiled as she turned away from Fluttershy.

Sombra was trotting back towards them just behind Maple who was holding some papers out in a sunflower glow. “Here you go, Flutters, I have a bed frame that fits the bill in stock. Your friend is quite the haggler, the frame will be delivered to your cottage by early evening at the latest, and I threw in one of my associates to set it up. Your friend paid out up front, so you’re all set.”

“Oh, thank you Maple,” Fluttershy took the warranty and delivery papers, along with the receipt. I suppose we will, Rarity.

“Ah, excellent, and I know exactly what I need for my sister as well,” Rarity said jovially, making her way over to the counter with Maple.

“I quite like your little town, quaint and humble as it is,” Sombra said as Rarity left earshot. “It reminds me of home.”

“Really?” Fluttershy asked, honestly interested. “But the Empire is so big, Ponyville seems like such a small place in comparison.”

Sombra’s face took on that nostalgic air that he had worn while eating the scones. “Now, of course it is, but once it was not so different. Even your friend’s castle is reminiscent of the original Crystal Palace before the expansions. Before the Crystal Heart was created the ‘Empire’ consisted of nothing more than the palace and a small town not much larger than Ponyville cobbled together around it.”

“Oh, I had no idea,” Fluttershy said softly. “Was it nice?”

“Aside from the near-constant blizzards and regular sub-zero temperatures, I suppose it was ‘nice’, yes,” Sombra answered wryly. “Our leaders were not terribly competent. But enough, perhaps I will speak more on this subject later.”

Rarity had returned with her own receipt and sundry papers. “Well, since we’re all still here I say we go out and have a quick brunch. I have some time before Sweetie’s bed arrives.”

Fluttershy was about to agree as they stepped out of the store when Pinkie Pie appeared, interrupting her. “Oh, finally, I found you!” Pinkie looked out of breath and a little worried. “Spike showed up a little while after you left, Twilight says she’s convening an emergency Harmony Council immediately and we all need to be there. Rainbow is already heading to Sweet Apple Acres!”

“Oh my,” Fluttershy looked to Sombra and Rarity, the former of which looked vaguely disinterested. “Is it really that bad.”

Pinkie shrugged. “I dunno, Spike just said go.”

“Well, so much for brunch,” Rarity remarked, “I suppose we should be off then. Do you think Twilight will mind if Coal comes along? I would feel dreadful just leaving him in the middle of a strange town.”

“Sure!” Pinkie answered gleefully, “now we can introduce you to everypony!”

“Oh, good,” Sombra answered with a slightly strained smile.

Fluttershy couldn’t help but giggle into her hoof before leaning against Sombra. “Don’t worry,” she whispered, “Twilight and Applejack are a lot more toned down than Pinkie.”

Still, Fluttershy wondered knew that meeting Applejack would probably be the largest hurdle. Misleading everypony else was one thing, but the Element of Honest was the most stubborn of all and had a knack for seeing right through a pony. Of course, should the truth come out, Fluttershy couldn’t think of a better place for it to happen than in the middle of the castle surrounded by her friends. Sombra wasn’t the only one who could plan ahead.

 
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