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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19. Something More

Three weeks had passed since Fluttershy and Sombra had made their escape from Ponyville and into the outskirts of Stalliongrad. The winter was coming on quickly as it was wont to do so far north and Sombra had been growing concerned. The cellar reliquary was well insulated for the most part but a lack of heat, proper plumbing, and a variety of other small necessities made it a deeply unattractive prospect as a place to winter. His main worry had been that the two of them may have had to spend a month or more in the city proper. That would have been problematic for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that avoiding the eyes of the Stalliongrad gangs would have been nearly impossible but also being directly in the city made it far more likely that some of the crown’s more passive agents would have had a far greater chance to notice them. Those worries were, for the most part, assuaged when the group that Fluttershy had hired in her Cloudy Skies persona had arrived and begun building the mansion he had designed roughly a week and a half ago. Steelhorn had turned out to be a towering minotaur with a straightforward, bellicose demeanor. Sombra had been wary of the minotaur foreman’s attitude but was willing to see their handiwork,

The former tyrant was more than glad he waited. The first wing fairly flew up under the expert guidance of the minotaur architect. He showed all the capability and expertise that his kind were famed for in structural engineering. Not even Sombra’s complicated designs fazed the brutish builder; Steelhorn asked no questions nor raised any complaints about the strange, arcane architecture that ‘Cloudy Skies’ was paying him to build. So long as Steelhorn remained discreet on the matter, the time-tossed stallion was perfectly happy to keep funneling bits into the motley construction company’s coffers, even if it did mean that Fluttershy had to keep up her ‘Cloudy Skies’ disguise almost all of the time. Sombra considered it good practice. At the same time, Fluttershy had begun venturing out on her own into Stalliongrad. At first, Sombra was worried and, with a small, unfamiliar pang of guilt, set a small number of shadow familiars to watch over her while she walked. It wasn’t a taxing spell but he knew the mouse would say much to say, and loudly, if she knew he had expended yet more power on her behalf.

She spent most of her time wandering the streets, speaking here and there to common ponies and griffons, of which there was a sizable population thanks to Stalliongrad’s relative proximity to the northern aeries. The familiars did not understand Equish so they could not deliver the conversation, but Sombra felt no need to eavesdrop, he only wanted to know she was safe. It was only near the end of the third week that Sombra grew curious. Fluttershy had made several stops into the same building. Over and over she had visited, sometimes leaving with substantially less bits than she went in with. Sombra didn’t particularly mind, what she was spending was a drop in the pond and he didn’t doubt it was for a good purpose. He half-suspected it was some lonesome charity on the fringes that Fluttershy had taken a shine to. That certainly seemed possible, but the more he watched the more he felt the determined look on her face suggested a much more serious purpose than simple charity.

 

 

~ o ~

 

 

The sound of ringing hammers, saws, and muffled shouting had become a fixture over the past week. Sombra toyed once more with the idea of expending the energy for a spell of silence as he mulled over the last stack of inventory sheets from the reliquary. It was an idle urge, one he knew would be a waste. The spell would only last a day at most and then he would have to recast it. It would be a colossal waste of energy and he had worked in far less pleasant conditions before. Besides, he was already expending energy that he knew the mouse would chastise him for, he hardly needed to give her another reason to be upset with him. Fluttershy was on her way home now and she looked distinctly pleased with something. Up til now Sombra hadn’t cared one way or another what she did with her time; whatever their previous relationship Fluttershy was her own mare now, Sombra expected no less from the mare he desired to share the authority of his throne. That being said he couldn’t deny that he was curious. She was showing an uncommon initiative towards something and that piqued Sombra’s interest greatly.

Fluttershy was on her way home now, to their little temporary residence; Sombra had to admit it was more than adequate given how short of a time it had taken to erect. It would soon be the east wing of a grand manse that would serve as a subtle channel for his arcane energy; a beacon that would surreptitiously gather ambient magic from the north and draw it down, filtering it like a sieve and serving as a source for Sombra to draw from and sustain himself. It was a stop-gap measure at best of course… Sombra could hardly restrict himself to one locale for the rest of his life. Their new home would be a useful tool but its service as a sort of jerry rigged life-sustainer made it a massive weakness and target as well and he had no desire to draw that kind of ire down on them should anypony discover the mansion’s true purpose.

Sombra’s grim musings were broken by the sound of the front door opening and four dainty hooves trotting in from the blustery cold. Winter had come in force to Stalliongrad, being the northernmost territory of Equestria outside of the Crystal Empire, and Sombra heard Fluttershy shake the snow from her withers and wings before stepping into the generous living room that Steelhorn had constructed. Moments later the mare herself stepped into the study, gray coloration fading gently back to yellow. Her mastery of the camouflage spell Sombra had taught her was coming along nicely considering he had only been able to instruct her second-hoof on its workings. Fluttershy sidled up to his side and leaned in and Sombra shivered at how cold she was, he could feel his heat draining into her.

Fluttershy giggled quietly. “Sorry, my King, it was really cold outside and you’re very warm. How are the final drafts for the blueprints coming along?”

“You are forgiven for this, your most dire of transgressions, my dear,” Sombra chuckled as he shifted his weight to better accommodate Fluttershy’s presence.

Fluttershy’s light laughter answered him as she curled in and let out a long sigh and relaxed against him. Sombra was quiet as he stared down at the yellow mare who was so comfortable against him. She was fierce, kind, patient, and many other things he did not deserve in a friend much less in the strange relationship they currently had.

“So uhm, I didn’t want to bring it up until I was sure, your Majesty…” Fluttershy began softly, not looking up from where she was resting, “but I, uhm, I’m sure you remember Scootaloo, right?”

Sombra chuckled. “The little orange pegasus filly that nearly cost me my own foolish life? Yes I do have some vague recollection of her.” Fluttershy winced at his remark, but Sombra quickly shook his head at her reaction. “Not that I blame her, mouse. I was operating on false assumptions and made a foolhardy decision. One I would not take back, mind you, but it was foolhardy nonetheless. Why do you ask?”

“Well, uhm, I’m sure you’ve noticed I’ve been leaving more often…” Fluttershy pawed the ground shyly for a moment, stuttering over her next words before Sombra’s massive hoof came down to gently cover hers.

“I always notice anytime you are not within a hoof’s reach my dear, “ Sombra rumbled, “but you can tell me anything, you know this. No matter what, I will always hear you out.” He could feel her quickened heart rate slow to a steady beat as she nodded, leaning against him again.

“I know,” Fluttershy said softly. “I know, but I can’t change everything I am. I still have trouble… confronting.”

Sombra leaned down to nuzzle the yellow mare’s cheek. “I wouldn’t ask you to change anything at all, my dear. Now, what is it you want to say?”

Fluttershy took a deep, calming breath before starting. “Uhm, once we got the construction work settled I started asking around about orphanages and foal’s shelters. It turns out there’s a sizable one operated by the crown. It’s… well-funded but like everything else it’s corrupt. The ponies there are perfectly happy to sell off children to the gangs and families without asking why. At first I hated them for it…” Sombra’s eyebrow raised at the venom in Fluttershy’s voice as well as the fiery swell of dark magic rising within her. Then, as quickly as it appeared, it was suppressed, “...but then I realised I could use it… I bribed a few medical technicians at the Stalliongrad Healing Center to have records pulled from the Ponyville archives and, well, it took a few days but I found out that Scootaloo is slated for release soon. I also, uhm, bribed some of the caretakers at the Our Lady of the Sun Orphanage and… they told me that they could arrange to have Scootaloo transferred up to Manehattan if I was, uhm, interested.”

A silence grew between the two ponies as Sombra digested that information. As he thought about her actions another notion occurred to Sombra that made a small, wicked grin appear on his face. “Bribery is a complicated game, my dear. One must balance between offering too much and having to deal with the avarice of your mark, or offering to little and garnering either a reputation for stinginess or suspicion. I’m surprised somepony with so little experience in the fields of subterfuge could be so successful.”

Fluttershy’s ears folded back and she looked away, a small grimace appearing on her face as her wings ruffled uncomfortably. Sombra’s smile faded slightly and he leaned down to nuzzle her again. “I apologise, mouse, I didn’t intend my comment to be barbed, but am I right in suspecting that you…?”

“Yes, I used my Stare,” Fluttershy confessed quietly. “I used it a lot. They were all dishonest, terrible ponies. They sell foals, my King.”

“Does that matter? Are you not Kindness incarnate?” Sombra asked half-jokingly. Fluttershy’s expression fell the moment the words left his mouth, though, and Sombra felt a tinge of regret for his comment. “I’m sorry, that was an ill-thought remark.”

The young mare shook her head and favored him with a smile. “No, I understand what you meant. The answer is ‘no’, though. I’m still a pony, even if I was chosen by the Element of Kindness. I’m not perfect.” Without warning Fluttershy buried her face in Sombra’s chest. He could feel her shiver every now and again. After a few awkward moments, Sombra opened his mouth to speak, but Fluttershy interrupted him, her voice muffled by his broad chest. “I-in the spirit of not being perfect... is it okay that I hate them a little bit, my king?”

“Yes, I think it is perfectly fine,” Sombra answered softly, “but then again, I am a war criminal and a tyrant, so what would I know?”

Fluttershy chuckled lightly, relaxing in her King’s embrace. After a moment she lifted her head to place a trail of kisses along the underside of his chin. Sombra felt a grin tug at his lips as he leaned down to meet her soft, supple lips with his own and deepen the kiss. For a moment they stayed that way, twined with one another, enjoying each other warmth and presence in the cold Stalliongrad winter. This was what his dark rule had been lacking, Sombra realised. Back in the good old bad days of the Empire when his domain spread cancerously across the continent of Equestria he had felt empty. Alone. In part he knew that was due to the Crystal’s influence; a curse he had levied upon himself thinking it to be a boon. He had been a foal to believe there was a such a simple path to power. To his surprise he now found himself almost thankful to the Diarchs for defeating him. Had he continued to rule he may have covered all the land in darkness and known only a cold and tiresome eternity. Thanks to the two sisters he had a second chance to live according to his own will without the chains of dark magic shackling his heart.

“So, uhm, about Scootaloo…” Fluttershy began, a tentative tone to her voice.

Sombra nodded. “If you wish to bring the little one up here then I have no objection to the matter at all. Besides, I did expend a substantial amount of effort on her, it would be interesting to see how she develops if nothing else.”

Fluttershy gave him a curious look before it vanished, replaced with a smile. “Okay, I’ll bring her up here. I’m going to have to go down to Manehattan to finalize the transfer, though.”

“Then I will come with you, my dear,” Sombra warned. “Beyond this frigid stretch of country the Crown’s agents have free reign. If you are not careful…”

Fluttershy silenced him with another kiss. “You know that can’t happen. You would have to use your magic constantly to maintain a disguise. Besides, you’re the only one who can direct the construction team. Steelhorn has been such a sweetheart about building piecemeal but you have to meet him halfway.”

“I refuse to let you go alo-!” Sombra retorted only to be silenced by yet another kiss. A small part of him was irritated at how effective a method of interruption this was and yet he could not find it in him to complain about it.

“I’m sorry, my King, but you have responsibilities here,” Fluttershy said fixing her gaze on him. Sombra knew she was right and couldn’t deny a certain pride in how assertive she had become since leaving Ponyville. A part of it, he knew, was thanks to the dark magic flowing through her now. All of the tiny inhibitions that had mounted up in her and left her a withdrawn recluse prior to their encounter were being eroded away by the tides of power that welled up within her.

And yet, she was handling the changes with grace and poise. Something few practitioners ever achieved, let alone mastered. He couldn’t refute any of the points she had brought up and she had spoken with both the confidence and the eloquence that Sombra had known she possessed. Sombra still wasn’t sure that Fluttershy had truly mastered her emotions yet, of course. Here and there he could see the cracks in her psyche and the strain on her emotional stability. He could only hope that her control was strong enough for now.

“I don’t like it, mouse,” Sombra muttered after a few moments. “You’re putting yourself in needless danger.”

Fluttershy gave a gentle smile. “It isn’t needless. Scootaloo needs us and I think we need her too, you need to have something to do other than just brood all day over musty tomes.”

“I am not brooding,” Sombra huffed, wrinkling his nose irritatedly, “I’m planning.”

His annoyance was answered by Fluttershy’s chime-like laughter and another small kiss under his chin, drawing out faint grin. Perhaps she was right and he was staying too distant from matters. Besides, hadn’t the original plan been to revive the old Orders? The little pegasus filly was going to be the harbinger of that intention. She had the drive and the wherewithal to survive the transition, now he needed to see how well she took to the training. It would be an amusing diversion if nothing else.

“Fine,” Sombra answered finally. “I will train and teach her as best I can given my magical handicap. We will see how she develops. But you must be careful during your excursion to Manehattan, my dear. It may be the heart of winter but your Princess has undoubtedly kept her eyes and ears wide open for any sign of you or I.”

Fluttershy nodded. “I know. I’ll keep my ‘Cloudy Skies’ disguise on. If all goes well I shouldn't be away for more than a couple of days, but I need to go let the Orphanage in Stalliongrad know that I want to go through with the transfer as soon as possible, so I’m going to head back into town now, okay?”

“Will you leave for Manehattan immediately after?” Sombra asked, concern coloring his voice.

Fluttershy gave a sad smile. “I think so, yes. Doing this fast is our best bet, but I promise I’ll keep my head down, okay? I have a lot of practice at that after all.”

Sombra chuckled. “That you do. But still, do not hesitate to use your Stare should it be needed. I would rather see you back unharmed than any other outcome.”

“I’ll come back with Scootaloo,” Fluttershy countered gently. “That’s the only outcome I’ll accept.”

 

 

~ o ~

 

 

Scootaloo was in shock as the Matron of the Ponyville Orphanage gave her the news. The young pegasus had only just been released from Ponyville General on observation and the promise of further checkups when news came down that adoption papers for Scootaloo had been filed and approved via the Manehattan branch. She was being transferred to Manehattan Home for Foals in Hays Kitchen temporarily where she would wait for pickup by her new family.

“I know it’s sudden, Scootaloo,” Breeze Whisper said, keeping her voice to a low and comforting tone, helped by her delicate Trottingham accent. She had stopped Scootaloo on her way back from the kitchen and pulled her aside into a small parlour aside from the main foyer. “But you’ll have a family now, a real one. One that’s going to take proper care of you, you’ll see.”

“B-but… my friends,” Scootaloo’s voice was cracked and weak. “W-will I ever see them again? If I’m going to live all the way up in Manehattan I’ll…”

Breeze shifted uncomfortably. “Actually, I’m not entirely certain you’ll be living in Manehattan. They’re only using it as a place to pick you up from. You may be living in one of the suburbs outside the city, or even a village that doesn’t have a proper orphanage of its own. That’s not too uncommon, I’m afraid. But so long as your new parents are alright with it I’m certain they’ll let you send your friends here in Ponyville letters!”

Tears trickled down Scootaloo’s cheeks as she came confronted the idea of never seeing Applebloom and Sweetie Belle again. Or at the very least maybe not until all three of them were grown up.

“A-are they nice? My n-new parents I mean.” Scootaloo asked shakily.

Breeze smile turned thin. “I’m sorry Scootaloo but… I haven’t met them. They contacted us through the Manehattan branch.”

She wasn’t even going to know who they were? Scootaloo screwed up her face in a determined effort not to cry. She wasn’t going to cry in front of an adult, she wouldn’t let herself sink that low. Stretching out her wings she took a little comfort in the long sunset-shaded feathers that now adorned them. She’d won the bet with that dark Unicorn, hooves down and came out of it with real wings. Finding a small well of courage, Scootaloo turned back to Breeze Whisper and gave a small, genuine smile.

“I guess I can’t help it, but I’ll fly right back here if I don’t like them,” Scootaloo declared. That Unicorn gave her a gift and she was going to use it. Scootaloo had no intention of staying with another family that ignored her, not without her friends, anyway.

Breeze gave Scootaloo a kind smile. “I suppose I can’t fault you for that, all things considered.”

Scootaloo let out a breath and nodded. She survived whatever weird spell that Unicorn cast on her was, she could survive this. No one owned her life but her and Scootaloo was determined to keep it that way. That being said… it wasn’t fair not to give whoever these ponies were a fair chance, even if it did mean moving away for a little while. Scootaloo was about to open her mouth ask about seeing her friends one more time before she left when a loud pounding knock thundered against the main doors of the Orphanage. Without waiting for an answer, the door swung open to admit a pair of stout dun Earth Ponies flanking a lean, studious-looking gray Unicorn with a pale white mane. Breeze quickly cantered off to greet them, drawing Scootaloo alongside her.

“Uhm, hello messirs, can I help you?” Breeze asked, her voice not quite masking the quaver in it.

The Earth Ponies didn’t move to acknowledge her, but the Unicorn turned slightly to regard her in a manner that didn’t sit well with Scootaloo at all. “Yes, we’re from the Manehattan Home for Foals. I was told to pick up a young filly by the name of-” he paused for a moment before thrusting her hoof into his blue jacket and pulling out a paper, “-ah… Scootaloo, I believe was the name.”

“W-what?” Breeze worked her jaw for a moment in surprise before recovering. “I wasn’t told… it’s normally at least a week long waiting period! Especially with a transfer!”

The Unicorn regarded Breeze cooly for a moment before answering. “In certain cases we make an exception for the sake of expediency, especially if the prospective parent possesses readily viable proof and collateral to determine their suitability as a parent.”

Breeze Whisper stared at the Unicorn in disbelief. “T-that’s-! You can’t possibly be serious about this! Just because some we-” A slate-gray aura closed over Breeze’s mouth, silencing her and cutting off her building tirade. The Unicorn fixed Breeze with a hard glare.

“All of the paperwork is perfectly in order. Certainly you’re not suggesting we’re doing anything but acting in the foal’s best interest, are you Miss Whisper?” said the Unicorn evenly. “I very much hope not as I suspect your little orphanage could hardly bear the costs of a defense against charges of defamation.” The gray aura faded from around Breeze’s lips but she didn’t open her mouth.

“Good, I shall have Stock and Barrel here gather the filly’s things and load them up,” he said with a faintly smug grin. “We leave as soon as possible, the next train is in less than half an hour and I intend to be on it, get to it boys!”

The large Earth Ponies bullied past Breeze and up the stairs, navigating the corridors with ease. Scootaloo, having watched the whole debacle play out in front of her, felt yet another pang of betrayal in her heart. In the end not even Breeze Whisper would stand up for her. No one would. No one but… Scootaloo let out a sigh. Rainbow Dash wouldn’t be there for her anymore, neither would that black Unicorn. Still, at least that weirdo had given her the means to fight back. No more frail, flightless chicken; she was a Pegasus, it didn’t matter who her parents were, all Pegasi were descended from warriors.

Mustering up her courage, Scootaloo stepped out from behind Breeze and looked up at the Unicorn. “What’s your name, huh?”

The Unicorn gave Scootaloo an appraising look before giving her a smile that sent unpleasant shivers up the filly’s spine. “Lock is my name, and you must be Scootaloo, yes?”

“Yeah, and I want to know where I’m going once we get to Manehattan,” Scootaloo demanded brazenly. “And who are my parents going to be?”

Lock gave a cocked smile that lacked any real humor. “You’re quite a firecracker, aren’t you? Well, I’m afraid I couldn’t say since adoption details are confidential. I was just sent to fetch you so I suppose you’ll just have to wait and see.”

 

 

~ o ~

 

 

Manehattan was a city of steel, glass, and gray stone. The rains never quite seemed to stop, even with a weather team five times the size of any other city in Equestria, and in the winter those rains turned into driving sleet and bone-chilling snow. Scootaloo tucked her wings around her in a futile effort to stave off the cold as she stepped lightly off of the train behind Lock and his two burly helpers one of whom, Barrel she thought but wasn’t quite sure since they were twins, was carrying her few belongings which mostly consisted of some winter clothing, most of which she was wearing, and a few trinkets and tokens she had collected as reminders of her Crusades with Sweetie Belle and Applebloom. Remembering her friends lit a fire in her heart, she was going to see them again not matter what these new ponies who called themselves her parents said. A part of her just wanted to give up, be angry, and break stuff but every time she felt that way she could feel that stallion’s burning eye daring her to give in to her weakness, to just be one more worthless layabout like her birth parents; living like parasites and complaining about the injustice of the world. That’s not who she was going to be.

“Move it, filly, we haven’t got all day,” Lock said evenly. The three male ponies had taken a few steps ahead were waiting for her. Scootaloo just nodded and stretched the wings out of the holes in the sweater she was wearing, stretching them after the long train ride in the cramped cabin.

“I’m coming, how far do we have to walk?” Scootaloo said as she trotted up next to Lock. She had tried to engage in conversation with Stock (or Barrel?) earlier but they had ignored her. Lock was the only one willing to indulge her in anything resembling conversation but every time she spoke to him Scootaloo got the feeling he was silently laughing at her.

“Shut up, kid,” Lock answered curtly, drawing a flinch from Scootaloo He’d been like that ever since they left the orphanage in Ponyville, his entire demeanor turned as stony as the color of his coat. She’d quickly learned to just avoid speaking to him, and was glad they were almost ready to part ways for good.

Scootaloo followed Lock as they trudged through the bitter cold of Equestria’s largest city. Every so often she would see a weather Pegasus flit across the sky to try and break up the worst of the snow clouds, but it was barely more than a stop gap. Rainbow Dash had talked about the winter storms in Ponyville often enough for Scootaloo to get the gist for how dense and difficult snow clouds were to properly break up. If a weatherpony struck too hard it would drop its entire payload on whatever unlucky sod happened to be below it. The best case scenario mean it landed somewhere empty but in Manehattan that usually meant a street or alley which caused different problems. Despite the cold and the miserable situation, Scootaloo couldn’t help but smile a little. For the first time, she could imagine herself as one of those hard-working weatherponies without the harsh reality of her stunted wings bring her crashing back to reality. Her new reality meant that she had wings that could take her high above the clouds just like her idol, maybe even into the Wonderbolts! For a few minutes, Scootaloo lost herself in a daydream about flying next to Rainbow Dash in the Cloudsdale Cloudaseum. She was interrupted from her imaginings by a small thump on her head from Lock.

“We’re here, filly,” Lock said.

Stock and Barrel were already ascending the gray stone steps leading up to the main building. It was a grand old building made from old fashioned brick and mortar. It had probably been here long before Manehattan had expanded and become the symbol of metropolitan culture across the nation. Lock led Scootaloo up the steps, shaking snow from his pale mane.

“How long will I have to wait to be picked up?” Scootaloo asked as they entered the building. The filly shivered as the warm air reminded her how cold she really was. Pegasi were cold-resistant by nature but that didn’t mean it was comfy out there.

Lock shrugged. “Not long I would imagine, I was told I would be passing you off to your new caretaker upon arrival.”

“That’s correct, Mister Lock,” a soft, melodic voice answered from the side. A Pegasus mare stepped out of the shadows and gave them both a soft, warm smile. She was gray-coated too, but where Lock’s coat was more reminiscent of snow-bitten iron, hers was the mellow gray of an overcast day. Her mane had a luminous, nighttime quality to it and her eyes were a warm and oaky brown. For a moment Scootaloo stood poleaxed, a part of her wanted to ask if the mare was going to be her new mother, another, greater part was afraid that the gray mare would say no.

Before Scootaloo could recover, the gray mare had cantered almost silently over to her and stretched out a wing to pull her close. There was something familiar about her but it was all washed away with the gray mare’s words. “Hello Scootaloo, my name is Cloudy and I’m going to be your new mother, if that’s okay.”

Lock cleared his throat loudly, interrupting them and drawing a sharp look from the mare, Cloudy. “Sorry to interrupt, ma’am, but there is the matter of our fee. We got the package here in record time so a little gratuity wouldn’t go amiss, if you know what I mean.”

Cloudy gave them a thin, glassy smile. “Of course, I have your fee. Scootaloo, why don’t you go into the kitchen and get yourself something warm to drink, I’ll meet you there and we can head home. My carriage is parked in the back.” At that, Lock nodded to Barrel (or Stock?) to take Scootaloo’s things to Cloudy’s carriage.

Scootaloo, eager to get a warm drink before going back into the cold, cantered towards the kitchen. The last thing she heard Cloudy say was: “Here is your payment, but I did have one question and I’d like you to look me in the eyes when you answer…”

 
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