The day passed by with relative ease for Skeletor as Emerald led him through his schedule. After she went to find a pony named Art to tell them that Skeletor wanted paintings and pieces of art of Princess Amore for the Crystal Fair, she went straight to the dining hall to fetch Skeletor for his meeting with the master of the Alchemist Guild, Purity Flame.
Together, along with the higher members of the Alchemist Guild, Skeletor and Purity Flame were able to use a few alchemist spells designed for ruvas to make a single sheet of paper. While the progress they made was extremely minimal, it was enough to prove that it was possible to use plant fibers to make paper. Skeletor tasked the alchemists with making two types of paper, one for books and one for currency. He informed them how durable the paper currency would need to be and informed them about how paper money in his land was mostly made of cotton.
When one of the alchemists asked where Skeletor was from, he brushed off the question by simply stating, “Very far away,” and he left it at that.
He didn’t want to get into the intricacies of being from another universe/plane of existence/reality. After seeing the sun and moon rise and finding out about magic, Skeletor realized that he wasn’t on some far away planet in his dimension, he was in another reality all together. Once he came over that surprising revelation the way anyone else would, a flood of tears and complete denial, he decided to keep that information closer to his chest than any other secret he ever had.
He wasn’t sure how the crystal ponies would react if they knew of his other worldly origins, and he definitely wasn’t too eager to find out. Skeletor already knew that he was a monster in the eyes of most of the crystal ponies, and he heard some of the guards and maids whispering about him being an actual demon. It was only a mixture of fear and respect that kept most of them from running away from him whenever he entered a room and only a few of them were truly fearless in his presence.
While being feared was slightly better than being hated, he doubted that their fear of him would prevent them from eventually uprising if they were angry enough. Once they realized that they held an advantage in strength, speed, and probably even intelligence, they’d lose that small sense of fear and overthrow him for a more capable magic equine. If he wanted to keep what was left of his head, he needed them to at least respect him more than they feared him.
After accomplishing their task with the smallest amount of progress possible, Skeletor and Emerald went to court where the other council members were already seated on their cushions. Court went about as well as Skeletor expected. Several more ponies were placed on suicide watch, four more guards were released of their duty, and Skeletor approved the reconstruction of a church for a deity called Faust.
At first, Skeletor was hesitant to approve the reconstruction of a house of worship and not an actual house for living in, so he approved the construction with the caveat that it would be used as temporary housing for crystal ponies who had lost their homes. He then asked Emerald to schedule a meeting with the reconstruction team to see how they were doing, and hopefully find a way for Skeletor to help them make the process go faster.
Once court was finished and dinner was served in the dining hall, Skeletor returned to his room to continue his studies of magic. During court, Skeletor had requested several magic books from Copper Plate under the guise of wanting to make paper.
While making paper was one of the things he wanted to accomplish, Skeletor was more concerned with learning what the limitations of magic were. Most of the books didn’t offer anything that his own didn’t and only one of them offered anything new to him.
Magic fell under three categories based on what it used to power a spell, emotional, mental, and physical. Mental magic was used for spells such as levitation, barriers, and enchanting by using the caster’s conscious thoughts as a source of fuel. While lifting things with his mind sounded good on paper, in practice it was a different beast of burden altogether that sent Skeletor into a zombie like trance. Emotional magic such as elemental spells fed off of a person/pony’s emotional state while other spells like transmogrification, teleportation, and portal walking used physical strength as a source of energy to power the spell.
Some passages theorized that it was possible to substitute one energy source for another, such as using physical strength to power a levitation spell or using emotional magic to enchant an object. Skeletor knew that the theory was sound since he was told that the Crystal Heart used the power of love to keep the barrier over the Empire, and he wondered if it was possible for him to substitute his energy with something else.
Sombra had found a way to use a different energy source for his magic, and it was likely an outside force that he drew the energy from since his spells never suffered any fatigue or decay. If he could just find what Sombra used to increase his magical power, he could open a portal straight back to Earth and say goodbye to knockoff Narnia.
Skeletor closed his book as he went to search through his room again. If Sombra had a secret object or a hidden spell book that allowed him to use a different source of energy, then Skeletor could repurpose it and use it to power his spell back to Earth. It was a long shot, but it was still better than sitting around and waiting for something to happen.
He opened the drawers of his dresser for the third time that day. After cleaning out the top drawer of aged vomit and emptying the other drawers of their random assortments of crystals, Skeletor tried and failed to see if there was a hidden compartment in any of the drawers. Even though he knew it was useless, Skeletor still searched the drawers regardless of the obvious outcome.
Skeletor then proceeded to remove every book from his shelf in the hopes of opening a secret passage to a room of divine relics and artifacts, or at least a hollowed-out book that held the secret to his escape from his magical world. He searched high and low for Sombra’s secrets for hours. Faced with no other options, Skeletor turned his attention to the one item in the room that clearly had magical properties.
He stared apprehensively at the concealed mirror on his dresser, wondering how Sombra could have used a mirror of all things to increase his power. It didn’t make any practical sense to Skeletor, but then again, he was in another reality where the laws of nature, physics, and rationality didn’t apply to his worldview. The mirror was the only thing in the entire room that stood out to him, so there must have been something that it could offer him.
After taking a deep breath, Skeletor tore the cloak off of the mirror to confront his missing reflection. Like all the times before, his mirrored counterpart was nowhere to be found. Skeletor took his Havoc Staff off of his back and pressed the ram’s skull against the reflective surface.
Thanks to his earlier experimentation, Skeletor was able to find out spells focused through his scepter didn’t take as large of a toll on his mind, body, or emotions as they did when they were focused through his hands. Skeletor closed his invisible eyes to focus his efforts on casting a spell to reveal the mirror’s secrets, dumbing his own spell down to revealing secrets in general in case his magic wasn’t strong enough to attack any of the enchantments placed on the mirror.
Skeletor felt the room drop by a few degrees in temperature as his spell began to take effect, bending and reshaping reality to his whims. In a flash light that would have blinded Skeletor if he had kept his eyes open, his spell on the mirror finished allowing him to take the secrets he desperately needed.
With joy and hope soaring through his soul, Skeletor looked into the mirror early before he recoiled from the monster he saw inside of it. A truly vicious and vile creature stood on the other side of the mirror, looking at Skeletor with an equal amount of surprise before his expression melted into a villainous smile. Skeletor couldn’t believe what was on the other side of the mirror. He gazed into the sickeningly green eyes of the beast that had caused him so much torment, the villain who had traumatized thousands, the monster that he killed on his first day in the Crystal Empire: King Sombra.
“Hello, Skeletor,” the monster said to him.
“What the fuck? Y-You’re supposed to be dead!” Skeletor shouted as he stepped away from the mirror.
“Heh. ‘dead’? Creature, I was already dead long before you arrived,” The spirit of Sombra said as his eyes took in Skeletor’s form. “You only destroyed my vessel, a chamber that kept my soul latched onto the mortal coil. I lost my life to have a greater power, and that power has a steep price. My deal with Grogar costed my Empire many souls, and I was never able to fully repay him. I have a large debt that you have inherited. And you will pay it,” he commanded.
Skeletor’s fear gave way to boiling rage as he heard Sombra’s words. “The… The hell I will! Go fuck yourself you piece of—“
“SILENCE!” Sombra roared, causing the room to shake as his booming voice reverberated off of the walls.
“You stopped me from repaying my debt. Because of you, Grogar will come, and he will take what is his by force,” the spirit warned. “Once he comes, he will take the Empire and all of their souls. You are no match for him, but together, we can pay off our debt.”
“Our?… Th-there’s no fucking ‘our’, there’s you burning in pony hell and that’s it!” Skeletor shouted back. “You ruined my life, you ruined their lives! Fuck you!”
“What do you mean I ruined your life, I never met you before, demon.”
“Bullshit. You brought me here, you turned me into… Into this!" He stated as he gestured to his overall body.
“I did no such thing. I never attempted to summon you to my kingdom. I don’t know how you came to my Empire, but I do know of your plans to leave,” Sombra replied with a sickening smile. “I also know of your various failures, and I know you won't get anywhere without help. Together, we can claim the power needed to send you home. Just align yourself to me, and I can set you free of your bonds of leadership.”
Skeletor remained silent for a few sparse moments as he actually considered Sombra’s words. Thankfully, sanity pulled him away from his temptation and lead him towards his anger once more.
“I’m not joining you! And I don’t believe you, either! So, fuck off!”
“Fool! You don’t understand the power you’re trifling with by being king of the Crystal Empire. Grogar is far more powerful than I am, and he will claim your power to collect my debt.”
“That’s your debt. Not mine, not theirs, yours. So, I don’t need to worry about it.”
“You moron! Do you actually think that matters to Grogar? He was promised a large sum of souls with interest, interest that has had many ages to grow while my Empire was banished. What will you do when he comes? Do you think you’ll be safe in your own home by the time arrives, do you think any amount of distance will stop him?” He asked.
Sombra’s silver tongue lulled Skeletor into a state of compliance for a brief moment. Because the spell was using energy from Skeletor’s train of thought, his mind was left open to persuasion and verbal commands. It was only his pure rage that kept him from agreeing with Sombra, but even rage could not keep Sombra’s velvet voice and sweet promises from invading his mind.
“I’ll… I’ll think of something.”
“Heh. Pushing your problems off until it’s too late, then? Very well, but, there is hope for you,” he said with a knowing smile. "Check the top drawer."
With great reluctance and an overwhelming curiosity that tempted him to give into the mystery of Sombra's strange order, Skeletor tore the top drawer open and prepared himself for the worst. Skeletor had expected to see anything from a portal to hell to an eldritch abomination of darkness, but he he didn't expect the seemingly mundane object that was actually there. Inside his drawer, resting on top of a folded velvet blanket was a leather-bound tome that had been dyed green, with no noticeable markings or images on the cover and an image of a golden rose that was carved into the spine of the book.
“Inside that book is everything you need to get home. I can teach you how to escape the Frozen North, how to open a portal back to your home in Tartarus,” Sombra promised.
“Tart… No… NO! Fuck you! I’m not going to join you, so just go back to hell where you belong!” Skeletor exclaimed as he banged his palm against the mirror, causing him to quickly pull his hand away once he felt the stinging burn the mirror left on his palm.
“You blithering oaf! You’ll never get out of the Empire without my help. Do you think the Alicorn sisters will let a demon like you live outside of Tartarus?! They’ll kill you in an instant! Face it, beast, you’re nothing compared to them or me! Nothing!”
“SHUT THE FUCK UP!” Skeletor shouted as he smashed the mirror with the skull of his scepter.
Shards of glass exploded from the frame of the mirror as Skeletor unknowingly released a ball of pure anger infused energy into it. Shards of glass that bounced against his skin burned him like falling embers, a thousand small burns hitting him instantly after he smashed the mirror.
Skeletor breathed heavily as he felt the effects of being completely drained of his sense of anger. His mind became hazy as his other emotions rushed to the surface to replace the rage that was burning in his veins moments ago, causing him to feel a whiplash of other emotions. Joy, fear, relief, sorrow, and lust smashed against each other to form a mangled monstrosity that attempted to fill the void inside of him. His mind struggled to understand the foreign feeling of being completely drained of an emotion and nearly shut down as a result. After a minute of drowning in a sea of mixed emotions, Skeletor was able to cling onto one emotion to keep himself afloat.
Uproarious laughter filled the air of his room as Skeletor laughed at the absurdity of his situation. Thrown into a foreign world in the body of a monster, given the title of king to creatures that could easily overpower him, cursed to have no recollection of his name or old face. Not to mention he was now apparently responsible for Sombra’s debt to some demon. It was painfully hilarious to him.
Skeletor openly dove into the madness of his life, losing himself in complete bliss as he began to realize how dire his situation really was. Skeletor briefly lost his mind in the ecstasy of his own pain and misery, laughing at the cruel joke life had played on him. He laughed louder than he had ever laughed before, enjoying the soap-opera that was his life after comic-con.
He wasn’t sure how long he was writhing on the floor as he laughed. It was only when the sun finally set that his laughter finally began to die down, allowing him a reprieve from his short stint of madness. Tears trailed down his cheekbones as he stared at the ceiling of his room and short chuckles of insanity escaped him with each passing breath as he laid on his back.
His body finally found its emotional equilibrium when his anger and rage had filled the pit their complete absence had left. With his emotions back in order, his mind slowly found its delicate grasp on reality once more, pulling Skeletor back to his sanity after a few more minutes of insane chuckling.
Soft chuckles soon devolved into ragged breaths as Skeletor reclaimed the final pieces of his sanity. Tears of joy turned into tears of repressed sorrow as he stared at the reflective surface of the ceiling. A kaleidoscope of insane demons looked down at Skeletor, reminding him of the monster he had become.
Temptation pulled at his heart as he remembered the book and the box that Sombra had summoned for him. As he silently pleaded for the book to be gone along with the mirror, he looked over to the dresser and saw the top drawer was still open. Skeletor slowly got up and shuffled towards the dresser to look closer at Sombra’s “gift”.
Skeletor picked up the mundane looking book, searching for any sign of obvious evil or darkness. There was no cover made of pony skin, no screaming face carved into the back, not even an ominous title or author name. And yet, despite its average appearance, it held the darkest secrets Skeletor could imagine.
The worst part was, part of him felt tempted to use some of those spells. It would be so easy to strip a pony of their free will, to make them just a tad bit more agreeable, to make them obey without hesitation. He’d never have to be worried about them overthrowing him or sending him to the gallows. He could gain more magical power by using the blood of ponies, making his attempts to go home much easier.
Quiet whispers pulled at Skeletor's thoughts, tempting him to open the book and read the dark spells inside of it. The easiest route home was under just a few millimeters of paper, just a single page could send him back to Earth. All he would have to do was to open it and read to his heart’s content and he’d be back home. But at what cost?
Skeletor’s grip on the book tightened as he thought of the atrocities Sombra committed for power, the lives he ended and ruined. Sombra had done the unspeakable to keep the crystal ponies enslaved, and Skeletor could never cross that line to get what he wanted.
“Not today, Satan pony. Not today,” Skeletor said to himself as he walked over to his bed to hold the book over the candle on his nightstand.
He was too drained emotionally and mentally to use his own magic to burn the book to cinders, and in a way, he was grateful for that. Because of his inability to use his own magic to instantly incinerate the evil tome, Skeletor was treated to a show as he watched the book burn in the fire with a vacant expression on his face. The flames lapped at the pages like a rabid animal, consuming the book and erasing it from the world. Even as the fire began to kiss his fingers, he held onto the book and watched it burn to ash.
All he could think about was how Sombra's ghost still roamed the halls of the Crystal Castle, watching Skeletor from the shadows as Skeletor continued to fail time and time again. The old king was mocking him, and what was worse, he was threatening to take the Crystal Empire back. At that moment, all thoughts of returning home were shoved aside as the anger inside of him made him crave revenge for what Sombra had done to him and the crystal ponies. He couldn't, in good conscience, leave them alone with the demonic stallion, even if Skeletor desperately wanted to return home. Even if Skeletor couldn't vanquish Sombra for good, he'd at least make the effort to try.
“Before I go home, I’ll make sure to kill you Sombra… Count on it,” he promised as he continued to watch the book burn in his hand.
Far away from the Crystal Empire, beyond the border that separated the Frozen North from the rest of civilization, was the capital of Equestria. The marvelous city of Canterlot sat on the side of the tallest mountain in all of Equestria, allowing the rulers of the land to look over their kingdom from their castle at the peak of the mountain.
Canterlot Castle was the pinnacle of unicorn architecture, a lavish fortress of enchantments to protect the Princess of the Sun and the Princess of the Moon when Dream Valley was annihilated. The pristine castle was the crowned jewel of Canterlot, a beacon of hope to the ponies of Equestria, and home to the two most powerful rulers on Terra.
Princess Celestia walked to her room with several guards escorting her. The recent invasion of the shapeshifting monsters known as changelings had caused security in Canterlot to increase by two-fold, allowing the princesses to have a large squad of battle-hardened soldiers to devote themselves solely to the protection of the Equestrian royalty.
Despite the hardened faces and cold gazes of the guards that surrounded Princess Celestia, she knew that they were all ecstatic at the prospect of protecting her from some unknown evil.
What they didn’t know was that she and her sister hardly needed anypony to protect them. The only threats that could harm the immortal princesses were eldritch abominations and chaotic gods of chaos which the princess doubted her guards could defeat. The truth of the matter was that her guards were for the more mundane threats, like paparazzi who wanted a picture of her bathing or religious zealots who believed she was the reincarnation of Faust.
The guards that surrounded her sister on the other hoof were tasked with keeping more insidious ponies at bay. Cultists of Nightmare Moon and would-be assassins who wanted to get rid of the, “Dark Empress of the Night” were an unfortunately common occurrence for Princess Celestia’s younger sibling. While Princess Celestia and her staff were able to shield Princess Luna from most of the verbal lashings and outcries from angered subjects, Princess Luna’s domain over the realm of dreams allowed her to see the nightmare most of her subjects still saw her as.
It wasn’t her sister’s fault that a demon had corrupted her mind, Princess Luna was simply a victim to the demonic whims of monsters from Tartarus. Princess Celestia had to restrain herself whenever she heard the nobles whisper ugly lies about her sister. She could have easily incinerated the belligerent ponies or sent them to the dungeon for spewing slander about her sister, but Princess Luna had told her not to.
For some inane reason, Princess Luna believed that a thousand years trapped on the moon wasn’t a sufficient enough punishment for her crimes. What was more maddening, was that there was no punishment to be delivered. All of her crimes were committed by the demon that had stolen her body, and yet Luna still blamed herself for the actions of the demon that possessed her.
It wasn’t fair to her sister, to the mare who had suffered a thousand years on a desolate rock in the sky. Princess Celestia hated the demon that caused her sister so much grief and she condemned the father of monsters, Grogar, for creating such a vile abomination.
Taking a deep breath to calm her nerves, Princess Celestia crossed the threshold of her bedroom to let her anger and worries melt away as she entered her sister’s domain.
But, before she could leap into the land of dreams and relax, a flicker of green fire magic appeared near her horn. In a spark of emerald flames, a book of dark spells materialized in front of the solar diarch of Equestria. A book from a time long forgotten, from an empire that only existed three thousand years ago.
A sign that something had happened to the once lost Crystal Empire.