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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7. The Council

Twilight Sparkle’s castle towered over everything around it. It was quite impressive if Sombra was being honest with himself. The sharp edges and narrow spires gave a sense of commanding authority and yet somehow the castle never sacrificed the strangely whimsical aesthetic so common to the little village where he had been forced to spend his convalescence.

The mouse, her loud pink friend, and the white one were quietly speculating on what could have driven their friend to call an emergency meeting so early in the morning. Sombra gathered, from his inconstant attention to the conversation, that Twilight was not what one would call a ‘morning pony’. Pinkie’s current running theory was that she had run out of coffee in the castle. The others laughed but Sombra would’ve placed a higher premium on caffeinating the local ruler properly than on filling the castle coffers. He remembered well the long nights and early mornings spent administrating the Empire’s rapid expansion under his rule. Still, Sombra doubted something like that would warrant the gathering of the six mares who, potentially, had access to one of the most powerful artifacts of antiquity. Another notion occurred to him as they entered the castle that had also occurred to Fluttershy.

Have they discovered my revival? The thought had slipped unbidden into Sombra’s mind and, even though he couldn’t see how it would have happened, he could not dismiss the possibility. I may be walking into a trap, far too late to back out now though. Besides, the likelihood is low and I confess myself curious. These mares may be my enemies soon and I cannot deny the value of seeing the inner workings of their council firsthoof.

As the four of them pressed onward through the entrance hall and into the inner sanctum, Fluttershy caught Sombra’s eye. He could see the worry there and, curiously, he was not sure how to feel about it. Was she worried for what would happen to her should she out him while the geasa was still in effect? Did she fear that he would attempt to kill her with the geasa in order to prevent them from harnessing their power? Her expression didn’t match those feelings though, Sombra decided. Then what was she worried about? If he didn’t know better it looked like she was worried… for him.

Absurd, Sombra mentally scoffed, this is the mouse’s best chance to end my control over her. The geasa won’t let her tell my secret directly but if they guess, or already know, then there would be little I could do about it.

As the final door was pushed open, Sombra found himself annoyingly reticent to step through it. It was a gamble, either he gathered valuable intel for his future campaigns or his future was cut short then and there. No, Sombra decided, there was no reason to hesitate. If they knew then his leaving would not prevent them from hunting him down. It would only delay the inevitable if this ‘Twilight’ was truly an Alicorn as the mouse had said. Had he fully recovered, or even halfway, perhaps fleeing would have been an option, but he could barely manage a couple of short range teleportations without exhausting his magical reserves.

With his hesitation banished, he trotted into the sanctum just behind Fluttershy. Inside was almost exactly as he pictured. A grand crystal map detailing all of Equestria, most impressively in real time if the moving weather patterns were any thing to go by, that was surrounded by six equal thrones each embossed with a different cutie mark. The throne bearing a six-pointed star surrounded by smaller starbursts had another, almost child-sized, throne beside it.

Leaning over to Fluttershy, Sombra voiced a question. “It seems to me that each of those thrones denote equal status, is that correct?”

“Hm? Oh, yes I suppose so,” Fluttershy answered, a little confused. “We’re all friends and neither of us overrule the other when we’re making decisions. We have to come to an agreement, that’s the rule.”

“Then it’s safe to say your authority is essentially the same between each of you,” Sombra continued, to which Fluttershy gave a small nod. “So what you’re saying is that you yourself have authority roughly equivalent to a Princess of a sovereign nation?”

Fluttershy opened her mouth with what looked like a refutation on her tongue before stopping, closing it, and furrowing her brow. Sombra had to admit that the look of consternation on her face was unusual but not unappealing. It was almost… cute.

“I… suppose that’s true,” Fluttershy answered carefully, “but I also can’t make decisions on my own. It has to be the six of us unless there’s no other choice.”

“Indeed,” Rarity interjected, “I’m sorry dears but I couldn’t help overhearing. To clarify, in the sense each of us is given equal voice, yes we have equal authority. But the truth is that ultimately only Twilight can pass legislation and edicts under the laws of Equestria. However, when she and the other Princesses were laying down the laws that would permit the authority of a fourth Princess, Twilight insisted that a law be placed in the books that we other five each be given the opportunity to vote on anything she wanted to pass. Twilight is a dear and she has learned from her mentor quite well. No ruler is perfect and Twilight is quite aware of the value of a good naysmith, as it were.”

“That’s right,” a voice interrupted the group of them, “I’m not much good without my friends after all.”

A lavender Alicorn with a dark purple mane streaked with violet and rose had entered trailed by two other ponies. The first was Rainbow Dash and the other was, Sombra assumed, Applejack. He vaguely recalled seeing the orange, hatted pony in the Crystal Empire before his revival. Behind the three of them was a smaller figure Sombra had nearly missed. It took some effort to keep the scowl from his face as the little Dragon responsible for his first explosive demise entered trailing behind Twilight.

“I didn’t realise we had a guest,” Twilight continued as she stopped in front of him. Sombra noted that, while she hadn’t quite come into her Alicorn stature yet, she still stood a good height over her friends. “My name is Twilight Sparkle, this is my number one assistant Spike. Although I’m afraid you’ve come at a pretty unfortunate time.”

Twilight stuck out her hoof which Sombra curiously shook. She truly was new to her authority, treating with him as an equal when, to her eyes, he should have been a commoner. Nevertheless, Sombra decided to play the part.

Making a small bow, careful to lower his head beneath hers, Sombra ‘introduced’ himself. “I apologise for my unplanned presence. My name is Coal Axiom and I’m afraid I was with Fluttershy running some necessary errands when we were caught up and your friends thought it best for me to accompany them rather than to leave me floundering in an unfamiliar town.”

“Oh! I thought you might be new,” Twilight smiled graciously, “well, welcome to Ponyville. Wait, you said you were out with Fluttershy?”

Twilight glanced questioningly at the quiet Pegasus standing comfortably by Sombra’s side who smiled demurely and repeated the now-familiar story they had been telling. “Coal is a scholar here from the Crystal Empire to study the Everfree forest, I offered him room and board at my cottage so he could do his work in peace and quiet.”

Sombra watched Twilight’s eyes grow wide with delight. “A scholar?!” she almost shouted before turning back to Sombra. “You’re an Imperial Scholar! Oh, gosh, I just… I have so many questions. I would love to get your perspective on the latest magical innovations, and you just have got to tell me what the Imperial College was like in its heyday! Do you have any published papers I could read?!”

With every sentence Twilight got closer and closer to Sombra until they were practically muzzle to muzzle. Thankfully a lasso appeared around Twilight’s barrel and dragged her back. Sombra had begun to fear for his virtue, or whatever was left of it anyway.

“Woah there, sugarcube,” Applejack laughed as she reigned her overeager friend in. “Ah’m sure Mister Axiom’d love to talk shop with ya but ah was under the impression we were here for somethin’ important?”

“Oh, yeah, right,” Twilight lost her carefree expression completely, her face taking a far more serious mein that immediately got everypony’s attention. “Girls, we’ve got a serious problem. I just heard from Cadence a few hours ago…. King Sombra has returned.”

Sombra felt a shock and chill run down his spine and settle in his gut at her words and, glancing over at Fluttershy he saw her ears had shot up and her eyes had gone wide. She glanced over at him with stark terror in her gaze. Mastering himself, Sombra gave her a confident smirk and a nod. She visibly calmed, a little of the tension leaving her wings and withers. He wasn’t sure why he had comforted her, but it felt better that she wasn’t so worried now.

Everypony else on the other hoof were not so fortunate.

“What?!” Rainbow shouted, “seriously? We blew the guy up! Literally blew him up!”

“Damn shadowy varmint,” Applejack scowled as she began rolling up her lasso.

Rarity gave a contemptuous snort. “That slaving ruffian just does not know when to back out gracefully, does he?”

“I did say it was an ‘emergency’,” Spike said, his slightly chubby features making his angry expression look more petulant than anything.

“Don’t worry! We’ve can zip up there, fire the friendship cannon, and BOOM!” Pinkie’s irascible humor seemed to diffuse some the tension.

“Pinkie, I really wish you wouldn’t call it the ‘Friendship Cannon’,” Twilight said with the kind of dull frustration in her voice that suggested that she had made this request before and fully expected it to be ignored again.

“U-uhm, are you sure it’s Sombra?” Fluttershy piped in finally. “I mean, he seemed pretty gone to me back then.”

Sombra couldn’t help but admire Fluttershy’s ability to say something perfectly true and perfectly misleading. He couldn’t have done it better himself. Twilight, though, just nodded as she turned to the two of them.

“Well, Cadence said that a great pillar of shadow and smoke was seen in the northern ice fields last evening, and again in the pre-dawn this morning, only further out, by Pegasi scouts,” Twilight remarked with a dark look on her face. “So unless you can think of another creature that moves around using dark magic in a shifting form-”

“Quite a few spring to mind, actually,” Sombra said, before bringing his hoof to his mouth, as if he were ashamed of his sudden interruption. A plan was already forming in his head. Besides, the shadow obviously wasn’t him. Bowing in abject apology, Sombra lowered his eyes from Twilight, “I’m terribly sorry, Princess, I spoke out of turn.”

“N-no, it’s okay,” Twilight said, a hint of relief seeping into her voice, “please, I want to hear what you have to say.”

Standing up straighter, Sombra affected a look of embarrassment before continuing. “W-well, you said the subject traveled in a cloud of shadow and, given that Miss Dash is right," to which the cocky Pegasus gave a smug nod, "and Lord Sombra was destroyed quite thoroughly, I think it’s a bit rash to leap to the conclusion that he somehow survived. There are plenty of creatures that use shadows to move after all.”

Concentrating on a point back in Fluttershy’s cottage, Sombra found himself quite thankful that he had retrieved this particular book from his stash as he teleported it to his side. The drain was small but annoyingly noticeable. Flipping it open, Sombra continued speaking. “For instance, it could be an Umbral Shambler or any other of a number of Photovores. The minor and lesser variants of the Shade Golems constructed by Lord Sombra during the Second Shadow War also had inconstant forms that would match the description you gave. It could even be a Sun Dog, as they travel in a shadow-like fog, although close inspection with a magical scanning spell would be needed to reveal its form and the telltale halos around its head.” Glancing back up he gave the surprised mares a perfectly unassuming smile. “And those are just the ones I could think of off the top of my head. I’m sure there a number of more exotic creatures I haven’t considered. After all, the Arctic North is a habitat for Umbral and Penumbral beasts given its extremely limited exposure to sunlight and I would hate for my homeland to devolve into a panic because the Princess jumped to conclusions, justified though her fears may be.”

“That… actually makes a lot of sense,” Twilight said, her voice betraying a mixture of surprise, confusion, and relief. “I should send a reply to Cadence letting her know that there are other possibilities before she makes a rash announcement or declares a state of emergency.”

Excellent, that will buy me plenty of time, Sombra mused as he gave a small nod. Although I do wonder what is currently haunting the little pink nuisance sitting on my throne. Maybe I opened one of my vaults while I was in my frenzy? Ha, that would be delightful.

“Well, I’m glad my expertise could set your mind at ease, your Grace,” Sombra gave another small bow as Twilight blushed furiously.

“P-please, just call me Twilight,” she said waving a hoof frantically. “I know Alicorns are supposed to be semi-divine or something but to be honest I still just feel like a regular pony.”

“That’s hardly proper, darling,” Rarity remarked from Sombra’s side. “Amongst us I understand but Coal is right to treat you with the respect due to royalty. That is something you will have to get used to after all.”

“Celestia doesn’t seem to care,” Rainbow quipped, floating a few feet above the group.

Princess Celestia has ruled for over a thousand years,” Rarity retorted. “Her authority is unquestioned. Twilight has been a Princess for less than a year. She has to establish herself.”

As the two argued, Sombra watched Twilight out of the corner of his eye inch closer and closer to him until she could crane her neck just slightly to get a look at the book he was holding. It was endearing, in a sense. Twilight was certainly not what Sombra had envisioned as the leader of this motley group. In a sense he felt a kinship with her, actually. Twilight seemed to share his innate love of knowledge and the pursuit thereof.

“Is… is that,” Twilight’s voice was low with awe. “Is that a copy of the Bestiarum Malefica?!!”

Sombra’s ears folded back as Twilight nearly screamed the last two words. “Ah, y-yes, it is.”

Twilight looked as though she was barely restraining herself from tearing the book out of his grip. “Incredible! There are scholars who think this book doesn’t even really exist! It’s only even mentioned or referenced in a half-dozen Pre-Nightmare texts. There’s never been any real proof the book ever actually existed and now it’s inches in front of me!”

Glancing over at Fluttershy, he saw her stifling laughter. Twilight was looking at the book with the kind of glazed expression one would normally reserve for a soulmate or lover. Sombra was vaguely worried that if he took his eyes off it he might look back to find the book and Twilight in a compromising position and no amount of potential blackmail would bleach that particular mental image from his mind.

“Twi, ah think yer scarin’ the poor fella,” Applejack reigned Twilight back yet again before turning to Sombra. “Sorry ‘bout that partner, Twi’s a mite excitable over dusty old books but that ain’t no excuse for bad manners. The name’s Applejack, put’er there.”

The solidly built earth pony mare stuck out her hoof with the kind of forthcoming directness that Sombra found oddly nostalgic of his childhood. His family and neighbors had been much the same.

“Coal Axiom,” he answered, taking her hoof and shaking, “a pleasure to meet you you Miss Apple.”

“Aw shucks, just Applejack is fine,” she answered with a good-natured chuckle. “Gotta say ya'll're a pretty big fella fer a professor.” Applejack's gaze took a more critical turn. Sombra couldn't say he was surprised.

"Applejack!" Fluttershy started, before Sombra held up a hoof and giving Fluttershy a small smile.

“It's quite alright,” Sombra answered, before turning back to Applejack. “That's because I don’t hold professorship with the Imperial college. I’m a research scholar. I study plants and animals with magical natures and write papers on them. I don’t think I’m suited for being tied down to a lecture hall. Far too, as you say, stuffy. My work requires me to travel regularly and that suits me well, I think.”

“Huh, well ah guess that makes sense," Applejack answered. She still wore a thin smile, but Sombra could feel the edge on it. "Too bad ya'll weren't around during the first Crystal Empire fiasco. Coulda used a smart fella like yerself."

"Well, I'm afraid my mind wasn't quite my own at the time," Sombra replied with a wry smile, "I'm sure you recall."

Applejack gave a perfunctory nod. "Yeah, ah suppose that whole memory thing woulda put a damper on it. Where were ya'll during the Equestria Games, outta curiosity?"

Sombra could tell that the other mares were beginning to get uncomfortable. He just had to keep stringing Applejack along long enough to satisfy her. Preferably before she punched a hole in the one problematic area of his story, namely what happened between his first return and his true revival.

"I had already left the Empire by that point, I believe," Sombra answered, affecting a tone of pensive concentration. "I took a sojourn out into the icy north to see what had changed amongst the flora and fauna of my homeland before setting out into greater Equestria."

Applejack quirked an eyebrow. "Out in that frozen wasteland? Alone?"

A rainbow blur interposed itself between Sombra and Applejack, cutting Sombra off before he could respond. "Hey, AJ, what's with the third degree? Coal's cool, so what's up?"

"Ah'm just gettin to know the fella," Applejack replied hastily. "If'n he's gonna be livin' with Fluttershy especially. Landsakes Rainbow, I'd'a thought you'd be a mite more concerned."

"Hey, I talked to the guy!" Rainbow gestured vaguely toward Sombra. "He seemed solid. Being loyal also means trusting people and I trust Fluttershy, okay?"

Applejack responded with a stiff nod. "Alright, alright, ah reckon that's a fair call." Turning to Sombra, she tipped her hat. "Sorry 'bout that partner, just mah protective instincts rearin' up. Hope I didn't put ya off too bad. We're all o'us a bit protective of Fluttershy."

“I’ll… bear that in mind,” Sombra answered before turning away.

He felt another headache coming on and by the throb near his horn it was not going to be a small one. Why was his magic taking so long to return? He hadn’t expected to able to manage the feats of power he had possessed at his height but teleporting a two pound tome that bore his own personal touches less than two miles shouldn’t have drained him so badly. As he looked back up at the young mares who, apparently, jointly ruled the countryside, he wondered if there wasn’t something inherent about the area hindering his magic. He wondered if it was causing his headaches as well.

“Girls, I’d love to stay but I have a lot of work to catch up on,” Fluttershy interjected, drawing Sombra’s gaze. She glanced at him with concern in her eyes. “Plus, Coal needs to finish setting up the guest room he’s renting out. Didn’t you have some work you needed to finish today?”

She directed the last question at him and he gave her a small, thankful smile. My fortune in finding this mare may very well have used up whatever luck has kept me going this long.

“Yes, I do,” Sombra answered quickly. “It was lovely meeting all of you, but I do have responsibilities, I’m sure you understand, your Grace.”

“Oh, yes, I… I do,” Twilight said, clearly a little unhappy. “But I would love to speak with you when you’re more settled. Consider my castle doors open to you at any time. If you need reference material I possess one of the best libraries outside of the Royal Archives.”

“I deeply appreciate the offer, your Grace,” Sombra replied magnanimously, etching a deep bow.  As he raised his head and turned to leave with Fluttershy Sombra quickly scanned the room. Rainbow was in conversation with Pinkie who waved good-bye, a sentiment he returned. He had a very material reason to stay in the pink cook’s good graces if he wanted more of those scones. Rarity winked and offered a quick ‘have a safe walk’, as she turned back to Twilight who had begun dictating a letter to Spike, probably to the usurper. Applejack caught his eye though, she was still looking at him curiously despite her apology, her eyes slightly narrowed.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that the Element of Honesty regards me with suspicion, though she did an excellent job of hiding it if so, Sombra thought as he turned his back on the small group. It’s far too risky to try any subtle magics to sway her mind this close to an Alicorn. Besides, the mouse’s descriptions of her friends marked that one as the least susceptible to my powers, best not to try it til I’m stronger. She won’t act with all of her friends poised against her. Five out of Six isn’t a bad number after all. Miss Apple likely won’t make a move unless she’s sure and so long as I stick to the plan, by the time she’s sure I’ll be long gone.

As they left the castle, Sombra took a deep breath of the clean morning air before turning on the road to head back to the cottage with Fluttershy by his side.

“You have my thanks for the timely extraction, mouse,” Sombra spoke cooly, his reserved and imperious demeanor returning with the lack of witnesses.

Fluttershy’s ears flicked slightly, and she gave a small bow. “Of course, your Majesty. I can get you more painkillers when we get back to the cottage.”

“Good,” Sombra replied, wincing slightly as his head twinged. “In addition you will keep me apprised of this ‘Shadow’ in the Crystal Empire. I want to know what is threatening my former kingdom.”

Fluttershy nodded. “As you say, your Majesty.”

If it’s one of mine, then all is well, Sombra thought darkly. If not…

Sombra thought back to the damaged Gate of Horn. There were no shortage of dangers that could threaten a dreamwalker, but if one had escaped into the Material realm then he would have far more problems on his hooves.

No King rises without making enemies and not all enemies can be slain.

 

++

 

The walk back to the cottage was uneventful, aside from Sombra’s occasional twitches and grunts of pain. Fluttershy found herself getting worried. The headache last night was small and easily understood, today was different though. Sombra had barely used any magic beyond basic telekinesis and hadn’t done anything more strenuous than a leisurely walk. Despite that, the Master’s headache seemed many times worse than it was last night.

There you go again calling him Master, Fluttershy thought to herself as she did her chores. It wasn’t quite noon but she was very behind due to the emergency meeting Twilight had called. You need to stop thinking of him that way, he’s not your master he’s an evil sorcerer.

That’s not quite fair is it? Evil is a strong word after all. Tirek had been evil, Chrysalis had been thoroughly evil. Even Nightmare Moon had been evil after a fashion, although she was crazy at the time so maybe that was a gray area. But Discord had never been evil, just bored and omnipotent. Fluttershy considered that she would have once labeled Sombra with the others, but now that she was getting to know him she realised that wasn’t as true as she had thought. Sombra, for all of his merciless nature and frankly disturbing ability to lie, still cleaved to a code of honor and willingly held himself up to himself principles of behaviour. Fluttershy could still recall her surprise from yesterday (was it really only yesterday?) when Sombra had declared that he would not stoop to breaking her mind or forcing her to do something uncouth solely based on his honor. The Tyrant she had learned about didn’t fit that mold very well. The mind enslavement part fit him to a ‘T’ of course, but to be honest she was surprised by how little he had actually used it.

It helps that you’re so accommodating, her mind treacherously whispered back to her.

Well, what was she supposed to do? Fight him and suffer? Then he wouldn’t trust her, and if he didn’t trust her at least a little then she would never be able to reform him. That and she would just get hurt while he would still be recovering. No, whatever the case this was still the best avenue to handle the situation. Fluttershy wasn’t going to fool herself, though. He was dangerously charming and Rarity, ever the romantic, had picked up on that. Suggesting that he was smitten with her though was probably a misread on the Unicorn’s part though. No, not probably, almost certainly.

It was a little past noon when Fluttershy trotted back into her cottage. She took a moment to wash her face and hooves before preparing lunch. She didn’t know if Sombra would be awake but it would be rude not to at least be ready. He had gone to lie down after they had gotten home and she hadn’t heard from him since, although it had only been a few hours. Fixing a few simple sandwiches and a glass of lemonade, Fluttershy balanced the food on a small tray and carried it back to his room. Silently she pushed the door open and entered to find Sombra lying with his back to her on the mattress. The room was dark despite the noon sun, with the curtains pulled tightly closed. There were only a few thin beams of light providing some dim illumination. Doing her best not to wake him, Fluttershy moved to the small end table near him and slid the tray down onto it soundlessly.

“Even you are not that quiet, mouse,” came Sombra’s rumbling voice. Fluttershy squeaked in surprise as Sombra rolled over and up to look at her.

His eyes were back to their normal shade, that strange and hypnotic roiling green, indigo, and black that spoke of his strange and terrible powers. Thankfully his body had returned to normal, gone was Coal Axiom’s mortal dimensions, replaced by the Master’s titanic frame and wickedly curved horn.

Thankfully? Her mind whispered. What exactly are you thankful for?

“I’m sorry if I woke you, your Majesty,” Fluttershy bowed, keeping her thoughts off of her face. “I brought you some lunch. Are you feeling any better?”

“Some, yes,” Sombra responded before levitating one of the sandwiches to him and examining it. For a moment Fluttershy was afraid she’d done something wrong, but then he said, “aren’t you hungry too, mouse?”

The question caught Fluttershy off guard. “Oh, uhm, yes, I suppose I am. I was just going to go make myself something after you finished though.”

“I see,” he answered. “And if I told you that I wished for you to eat here and now, with me?”

Fluttershy opened her mouth to respond that it wouldn’t be proper but her mind caught up before she spoke. Rethinking things, she said instead, “I… would like that, your Majesty. If you don’t mind of course.”

This was important, Fluttershy could feel it. He had asked her to stay and she wanted to know why. At his nod she moved a little closer to the mattress and retrieved one of the sandwiches for herself and began eating quietly. The silence was deafening as they ate in a strained sort of quiet, Fluttershy considered it to be one of the most awkward lunch dates she’d ever been a part of. Sombra seemed unwilling to break the ice further but Fluttershy wasn’t willing to lose this opportunity. There was no telling if he would let propriety slip this much again.

“Was the Crystal Empire really once as small as Ponyville, your Majesty?” Her voice cut neatly through the silence and sounded too loud to her ears. But, then again, everything sounded a bit too loud to her. Sombra was silent for several moments, apparently finding great interest in the remaining crust of his second sandwich, before answering.

“It was,” he said, his voice unusually soft. “It was very small indeed, in fact. Although as a foal I thought it quite grand I suppose. I could see the palace from the roof of my family’s little home. I recall how much I treasured the rare nights when the skies were clear and the moon was bright. On those nights the Crystal Palace seemed to shine and dance in the moonlight.”

“That sounds wonderful,” Fluttershy said softly. She remembered wondering what Sombra had been like before he was king. Perhaps her imagination hadn’t been far off.

“Most of all I remember the cold, though,” Sombra continued, his voice still soft but Fluttershy could hear a hint of strain in it. Or sorrow. “My family was… very poor. Everypony was unless you were a Cadenza.” He spat the last name with such bile that Fluttershy recoiled. His features softened as he saw, though. “I apologise, my memories of the royal family are cruel ones. There was very little food and even less warmth in those days. We all slept huddled together, my mother and father along with my two brothers and four sisters, out of necessity. In winter it was not uncommon for the weak and sickly, the very young, or the very old, to not wake up at all.”

Fluttershy felt tears on her face. She could hear the bitterness in her voice and it cut into her heart. “Why?” she croaked out, “why didn’t the royal family help?”

“There was naught they could do,” Sombra answered darkly. “They were Alicorns in name and body only, it seemed. A little stronger than the average Pegasus, Earth Pony, and Unicorn, but they were not gods. They could not conjure food, so we starved. They could provide no warmth that was not snuffed in moments by the chill winds, so we froze. Not that many of them cared to try, anyway.”

Fluttershy cringed at the resurging bitterness in his voice but, for once, she couldn’t find it in herself to blame him. “What about the Heart?”

Sombra scoffed quietly. “The Crystal Heart was not yet even a pipe dream, mouse. It was not crafted until I was a stallion grown.”

“Oh,” was all Fluttershy could say. “What did you do, then?”

“The only thing I could,” Sombra answered, “I endured. As I have always endured. As I shall continue to endure through any indignity, through any torment, and through any hardship. A King always endures, it is what gives us the right to rule.”

“I… don’t think anypony has the right to rule,” Fluttershy said softly before cringing in the expectation of another jolt of pain like earlier that morning. When it didn’t come she looked up and saw him waiting and watching her expectantly. Working up her courage she continued. “I think… someponies do have a responsibility, though.”

“And what do you imagine is the difference?” Sombra rumbled, his sandwich floating almost forgotten beside him.

Fluttershy thought about his question for several moments before coming to an answer, though she knew it would probably displease him. “I think that if you believe that you’re responsible for somepony then it’s a burden, but you take it on because you want them to be better. To live better lives. But if you believe it’s a right then all that matters is that you think that you’re better. They don’t matter at all in that case, your Majesty.”

“How astute,” Sombra murmured. “I suppose there is some merit to your argument.”

That surprised Fluttershy. “R-really?”

Sombra nodded. “In respect to most leaders I would say you are quite right. But do not forget that I am better, mouse. There is not a single living Crystal pony who does not owe me their lives, not that anypony bothered to remember that in the end.”

For a moment Fluttershy felt confused. Conflicted even. On the surface it sounded as though Sombra was just indulging in the same self-aggrandizement that the stories ascribed to him. The Sombra that Fluttershy knew, though, was nothing like that. He didn’t even sound angry over the matter. Instead it was more like bitterness over an old wound.

“How do they owe you their lives?” Fluttershy asked, inching a little closer. To her surprise Sombra scooted over and, not willing to turn down his willingness to open up, she joined him on the mattress. “Will you tell me, your Majesty?”

Sombra’s expression turned distant and contemplative again. It was one that Fluttershy had learned to like, actually. An aspect of the dark king she didn’t feel bad about liking either. The expression restored some of his equinity. It was the Sombra that Fluttershy was trying to bring the surface. In her opinion it made him more handsome, too, giving him a resting almost-leonine aspect that she wasn’t the least bit ashamed to say she found attractive. His cruelty stole much of that from him.

“I never did tell you what my mark meant.” Sombra said in response. Glancing back Fluttershy looked at the strange rune on his flank. “It is a conglomeration of three symbols, you see.”

Sparking his horn, he created three distinct shapes made from shimmering green light floating in front of the two of them. Fluttershy examined each one in turn. The first on the left was a horned circle on a small cross, the second in the middle was an empty triangle on a larger cross, while the third and final symbol on the right was a simple bisected circle.

Sombra pointed his hoof at the leftmost symbol. “That is the ancient alchemical symbol for the Spirit, or what modernists called the Mind, the next,” he said pointing at the middle symbol, “means Soul, while the final symbol is for the Body.” Each symbol wavered for a moment for moving and blending together, when they solidified again there was only one symbol: Sombra’s cutie mark.

“It means that I am in harmony with myself,” Sombra explained, “my mind, body, and soul are in unity. Many scholars neglect their body, while the strong often neglect their minds. Both tend to neglect the needs of their soul. Even as a foal I bent the whole of my being towards one goal, I had uncommon drive I suppose and, like a foal, my goal was equally absurd. I wanted to end the endless winter with my own hooves. Something I proudly and loudly declared to my family.” Fluttershy couldn’t help but laugh a little at the mental image of a tiny, foal-sized Sombra hopping up on a chair and proclaiming that he would end winter and save the Empire.

Sombra huffed and Fluttershy leaned back against him, resting her head at the crook of his neck. “I’m sorry your Majesty, I didn’t mean to laugh, but that’s really adorable.” A part of her was surprised at her bravery, but this position felt almost… natural. The strength and size of his body, combined with his warmth, was comfortable.

“That as may be,” Sombra grumbled, “I never lost that notion, though. Even at the very end, when things were at their very worst."

Not thinking, Fluttershy snuggled in closer and looked up at the King who was too lost in memories to be troubled by her boldness. “What happened?”

“It was the winter that came in my thirtieth year. And it was the worst we had ever seen…”

 
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