King Sombra of the Equestrian Crystal Empire walked through the darkened and hallowed halls of his ancient crystal palace, the moon light illuminating the walls and stained glass windows and eliminating any practical need for a lantern or torch. If he was right, and he usually was, then the shadow king’s student was either asleep on her intentionally extended trip to Ponyville, or studying and wishing she was asleep. Either way, Sapphire Star was no doubt doing her job well.
The ancient regent of Equestria walked through the halls as he couldn’t sleep. There had been a lot on his mind lately, most of it concerning the Autumn Equinox. He doubted sending Vinyl to prepare Ponyville for the Autumn Equinox Festival would end up as badly as when she entertained for the Grand Gallaping Gala a few years ago. He didn't even know sparkling cider was flammable. But sleeping had often eluded the great leader of ponies, so, as he always did, he decided to take a midnight stroll through his gardens.
He went ahead and left his thick, crimson robe in his quarters, alog with the silver armor he wore on a day to day basis. It wasn’t really that cold, but mostly he just didn’t feel like wearing it for whatever reason. As he past guard after guard of every tribe, earth, crystal, unicorn, and pegasus, he tried to save all the thoughts he wanted to ponder for when passed through the large marehogany threshold and into the serenity of his royal gardens.
Finally, after nearly two minutes of walking, he was rewarded by an almost full harvest moon shining its silver light upon the blue roses. Supposedly, the garden was legendary in its beauty. It was allegedly seeded and designed by the greatest of all architects, Marble Column, and was planted 1,000 years ago to “celebrate” his victory against the dreaded Solaria Dawn and Night Mare Moon. It wasn’t NEARLY the simple. In fact, it was nearly the exact opposite. He planned and planted the garden himself and, although it WAS 1,000 years old, its beauty was hardly the stuff of legends. In fact, all it had been was a few dozen blue rose bushes King Sombra had planted in his spare time and a marble statue that was carved for him and his two dearest friends just before they turned. Although it still caused him a great deal of pain to even be in its presence, he still basked in its simple beauty if only for one reason: never forget.
They were his best friends, and he had to betray and seal them away within their own duties, the sun and moon, for a full millennium. He hated himself for what he did to them, he truly did, but he had no choice. He had to be the hero his empire NEEDED, not the hero he wanted to be. “I had no choice…” He muttered to himself. He always muttered that to himself as he saw his monstrous reflection in the mirror. Really, he could have changed his form anytime he wanted to, being a creature of shadows and smoke. He just didn’t want to. At this point, even he wasn't sure whether or not it was out of penance of betraying Luna and Celestia and taking their country as his own or just to show his subjects his true form as it really was. Although he preferred to think the latter.
But even among his indigo roses, he knew these thoughts wouldn’t go anywhere useful beyond hurting himself and bringing up more painful memories, so instead he thought about something that usually brought him joy. He smiled as remembered the first time he met his student, Vinyl Scratch.
The day was like any other. His court wasn't meeting, so he didn't have to veto, or counter-veto or command or belay anything. And although he had a royal guard, led by the Sir Blueblüd II, he really was quite capable of taking care of himself. But that particular day, he felt like seeing his empire as it really was, and without the illusions that the simpering politicians and sycophants presented it to him as. Almost on a whim, he decided to go to Gateesburg, although he wasn't quite sure why at the time. And so, if only to tickle the king's fancy, he flew out the nearest window as a shade of smoke blacker than the darkest night.
As he finally made touch down back to the earth, he willed himself to appear as nothing more than a grey colt of no older than 40, a small contrast to his usual guise as a vigorous 30, in a nice black suit with an almost silver colored shirt. His smoke going in seamlessly within his body, he walked through a torrential rain that had been scheduled by the local weather ponies. Strange, he thought. I didn’t think a storm was scheduled for today. But then, as much as everypony in his empire would like to believe, he didn't know everything. And so he walked among his people, seeing little else than the hurried lives of ponies of each tribe, with the exception of perhaps crystal ponies. Even as their king for a thousand years, King Sombra found it hard to tell them apart from normal earth-ponies. He would have feel bad about it, too, if most everypony in his court didn't have the same problem.
That was when he saw her. A small white filly with a musical eighth note as her cutie mark and two different shades of blue, cyan and cobalt, streaked in her mane and red-violet eyes, barely hidden by a pair of badly damaged and cracked sunglasses that were more than likely dug out from the trash and filth. He stopped, pondering why she was at a turn-table in the middle an ally in this deluge, struggling to make her instrument of choice work for her. Nopony else in the city even stopped to give the small foal a second look, either too busy or just not caring for a small girl that may have very well been homeless. Shameful.
And then the most peculiar thing to happen in years appeared within the shadow king's head. A wild and outlandish thought began to ruminate. With a wily grin, he approached the small girl. “There something I can help you with, Old Colt?!” Her voice was high-pitched and full of attitude. Obviously, he thought, she was a street rat.
The plot of insanity began to develop in earnest as he continued to scan over the tiny unicorn child, from her mane to horn to her tail. “That remains to be seen," he answered cryptically to his mysterious prospect.
“Whatever,” she dismissed the king as though he was anypony else. Granted, that was precisely why he went on these impromptu trips. So as to be ignored by his subjects and to see his empire for himself and to reward the kind and punish those who deserved it. The child continued to fiddle with the wiring within her turn-table, while at the same time guarding the one record she had with her only piece of clothing, a green coat that hardly seemed to match up with her own natural colors of blue and white.
“Very interesting”, he muttered to himself as he left her alone in the wet cold. This trip would take longer than he thought. So he sent a letter to another small filly that had been training to be an attendant for another noble colt. Express delivery. As king, it wasn’t like he was ever short on money. It read of how he would not be in the capitol for the next few days. The court will have a conniption over it, sure, but those who couldn’t get along without him deserved the hassle. And those who could get along without him would be fine.
The very next day, while it was still raining, King Sombra went to the very same spot that he found the young unicorn before. Lo and behold, there she was, still trying to fix her turn-table and still caring more about that record than her own freezing hide. Then she looked up to him, showing surprise for only a split second before she mouthed off again. “You again?!” Still high-pitched and still full of the same spunk as it had been yesterday, the king thought to himself.
The shadowed unicorn smiled. “Me again.” he echoed her as knelt over to the white foal, curious of her actions. “What is it you do here, Child?”
She didn't even bother to meet his stare. “I make music on a turn-table! What the hay it look like?!” She answered that almost as an insult. “Why do you care?!”
King Sombra casually shrugged. “I suppose you might be able to say that I’m a music lover.” Not really a lie. King Sombra loved music in almost all its forms, but loving music really wasn't why he was here. He took out his money pouch and used his deep violet telekinesis to front her a golden 20 bit piece. “Could you perhaps play an old colt a song?”
She scoffed at her king, still having no idea who he really was. “Take you money back,” she said with a grunt as she continued to try and fix her device. “The dang thing’s busted.” Then the small girl took on a sad voice, mumbling as if she didn't want the king to hear her. “Always has been.”
King Sombra pushed the bit piece closer to the small mare. “Keep it. You look like you could use a bite to eat.”
Then she did the remarkable. She used her telekinesis to throw the coin at the royal colt’s royal head, leaving a small red spot where the impact had been made. “I don’t need your charity!”
It barely hurt, but King Sombra was reeling more from the shock that that actually happened, rather than the pain it brought him. “Is that right?” He asked, not really expecting an answer.
“Yeah!” She seemed to shout at an even higher octave than he thought a small filly could. “It is! You wanna make something of it, Old Colt?!" She shot him a glare from behind her mangled shades.
“No child," he answered with a smile and a chuckle, "I think that will be all.", so he left again. And he went to the post-office to send a letter to local weather pony station, on official parchment and everything. He even placed his own royal seal of a windigo and crystal tower on the royal letter, saying to extend the storm by just one more day. The regional weather ponies might be irked by it, or even genuinely hacked off at it, but they could hardly refuse an express order from their king, after all. He was the boss of everything. Except the griffons. And the dragons.
The next day, the king of the empire left his hotel room for one last time to see if the white foal was still there. And, to much a lesser surprise than his second day in the city of Gateesburg, he found the filly still in the rained out alley, soaking wet and still valuing her record more than herself. And she was yet again trying to fix her turn-table.
Seeing his green and red eyes, the foal sighed deeply. “What do you want, Old Colt?!” He honestly wasn’t sure whether or not she just had a loud voice, or she was yelling on purpose. Not like it mattered anymore. His mind was made up. “Can’t you see I’m busy?!”
King Sombra smiled warmly at the girl. “What’s your name, Child?”
She seemed almost shocked to have somepony ask her that. Like nopony really cared enough about her to ask her that. “My name is Vinyl Scratch! And I’m a DJ!” Then almost as an afterthought in the cold rain, she added something else. “And you’re driving away all my customers!”
He wanted to ask “What customers?” but he didn’t. He was here for a totally different reason than to egg on a street musician with a busted up instrument. “Well, Miss Vinyl-“
“Don’t call me “Miss”!” she cut him off. That settles it, King Sombra thought silently as he looked over an interesting prospect for the last time before he made his decision. “I'm not old like you!” Adorable.
“Alright,” he started over, agreeing with her. It wasn’t like he was going to give her much choice in this, but he still preferred to be polite about it. “Well then, Vinyl.” He knelt over closer to her, meeting her brilliant reddish eyes with his green. At first she staggered back, afraid of the dual colors in his eyes. “What if I told you I can take you out of here and bring you to a great big castle to live as a princess?”
“Hmph,” she scoffed at him again. Apparently she didn’t believe him. “I’ve had friends fall for that line before! Never saw them again is what happened!”
He knew what she was talking about, and it made his blood boil to even think that there were those who would do such to children. But he wasn’t here to help them. He was here to help her. “Is there nothing I can do to make you come with me?” He could have forced her if he wanted to, being the king and all. But he would've preferred it if it didn't come to that.
Then she thought for a minute, pondering what the ancient king of shadows asked her. It took maybe a minute, but finally, she thought of something. “If you can fix this thing, I’ll do whatever you want.” She didn’t shout it that time. So maybe he really was getting to her. It at least meant she had an indoor voice.
King Sombra took on a Cheshire smile of kingly proportions. “Well, alright then.” He lifted up her turn-table and closely began to examine the damaged wiring within. Myriad parts were missing and a great deal of the wires were either torn up or torn out, but he was able to make do with what he had just fine. Old trash that had shared the alley's space with the two went into the turn-table, repairing the capturing the youth's wonder and imagination. For her, it must have been quite a show. Finally, after only thirty seconds, he set the device down in front of the small foal, good as new. “How’s that.”
Suspicious of his actions, she slowly set her one record on the turn-table, powering it on without a hitch. Then she began scratching the record, performing a kind of music that was totally alien to his Majesty, even at his age. She turned to glare at him. “You cheated!" He could see her fighting back the tears of joy. Good. Even if she didn't know how to say it yet, he could tell she wanted to say thank you.
Still bearing a wily eyed grin, he began to lay things down for the young unicorn. “I believe you are to come with me, as the agreement stipulated, Vinyl Scratch.” So he picked her with his off-purple magical aura, but she accepted it without struggle. The insane plan continued to form within his head.
She seemed genuinely scared now, totally unsure what was going to happen to her with the great king that stood in front of her. "Is it true?" She stumbled and stammered over her words, showing her nervousness and still no doubt afraid of the grey stallion and his intentions. "Do you... do you really live in a big castle?"
He released her from his magic and rested her on his back, choosing to take the turn-table and record with him as he traded his smirk for a warm smile. "Vinyl?" His answer to her began to inspire her faith in him, "My castle is the biggest in the whole, wide world." He could see the hope that beamed and glowed within in her eyes as it began to replace the fear and uncertainty. With good reason, Sombra offered himself. Being taken to live in a castle was every fillies dream.
"Trust me." She grabbed his neck, finally believing in his words and feeling the warmth of his raven black mane. An emotion that had long since eluded her began to have some meaning again: hope. He’d found a treasure today, whether that treasure knew it or not.