Prologue - Dear Crystal Diary
“Nyx! Come out of there this instant!”
“NO!” I was in the bathroom and I wasn't coming out. It was usually suicide to say that to the all-powerful King of the Crystal Empire, but I wasn't exactly in my right mind at the time (I was furious He'd rather see a movie than let me entertain Him AND my hooves were KILLING ME). I guess I was banking on the fact I had sewed His favorite stuffed toy bugbear back together after He'd thrown a fit over Princess Celestia's last “State of the Empire” inspection report recommending Sombry abolish slavery and impaled the hapless toy with black crystal spikes.
He loves that toy!
*sigh* I sigh A LOT in this job. Sometimes – not often – I really HATE my job, especially when He wants to sneak out of the castle in disguise to go see a new movie. You can disguise a lot of His features, but the blood-red, curved horn is NOT one of them.
I should have seen it coming when last week I caught Him with a copy of the Appleoosa Daily Watering Hole, looking at the new movie review section. He was fascinated I had managed to bring a copy of a “newspaper” back with me from Equestria's future and couldn't put it down.
“Yes, my beloved King?”
“What are the 'Sith'?”
“Dead idiots who couldn't help their Master keep the Galactic Empire's slaves under control,” I replied distractedly, trying to keep my concentration on which harp string was the last I'd tuned.
“Hrumph,” He grunted, going back to reading. “Amateurs.”
The next day I answered the castle door to a very strange courier carrying a long, narrow package that looked like another torture device for the dungeons. Since when did Sombra resort to the internet to mail order his toys? He always makes them Himself, arguing no one crafted them in the quality crystals He desired.
I was clearly missing something here, then it hit me as I saw the UEP (United Equestrian Parcel service) truck behind him. “You're going to run out of gas if you keep the motor running,” I warned him. “there isn't a gas station around for 1,000 years. Thought I should warn you,” as I looked over the paperwork the driver wanted me to sign.
He simply stared at me like a cockatrice in the torchlight.
It was during that blank stare I returned it with one of my own, the light of how weird this situation was slowly dawning like the sun coming over the two local mountains, Little Crystal and its much larger companion, Sombra's Maw. You have to understand, when you have no control half the time over your accursed cutie mark's ability to fling you through the time vortex, you have a hard time remembering what technology belongs where and when.
And worse, how did the courier come through the time vortex all by himself?
“Sombra? Have you been dabbling in time magic again without my supervision?” I yelled from the castle entrance back towards his office.
“No comment,” came back the grumbled reply. “And how can you supervise somepony else when you can't control it half the time yourself?”
Smartass, I grumbled to myself, but he does have a point. Oh well, that explained that. I peered at the sender of the package. Twilight's Happy Fun Intergalactic Dungeon Toys?!? What the buck?!? I thought they brown packaged these damn things for discretion!
Disgusted the King of Shadows thought he needed a marital aid (trust me, HE doesn't!), I took my anger out on the UES driver. “Twilight's Happy what?!? Never heard of 'em!” I slammed the castle door in the courier's face. Sombra and I were going to have a little “talk” after he reviewed the troops this evening.
“They changed the name,” I heard the driver call out from behind the door. “They used to be Twilight's Dirty Toys for Despots Shack.”
“Still never heard of 'em.” I was unimpressed he was so familiar with the company he'd know this. “Try the Yak's Castle down the road!”
A MINUTE LATER - “Nyx? Was that the courier from Twilight's Toys with my package?”
ANOTHER PAINFUL MINUTE OF LIMPING LATER - “Nyx, why is your hoof bleeding?”
“I ran after the courier in my bare hooves,” I explained, handing Him the package. “The landscape slaves haven't cleaned off the walkways from when you impaled the last assassin with crystal shards.”
“WHAT?” He yelled. “THAT WAS A WEEK AGO!!!”
“Tell me about it,” I sighed again, this time in pain.
What a night. I leaned over to pick evil, black splinters out of my toe. I caught Sombra looking at the blood dripping from my hoof with interest. He ran His tongue over His lips. I put on a sly smile, shifting my hips under His favorite gown in a way He instantly noticed. “Does Somby want a midnight snack?” I whispered.
Turns out Somby, er Sombra, did.
There are days I HATE my job. The evenings make up for them.
NOT Just Another Day in the Castle
Stupidly I thought that was the end of his obsession with Hoof Wars: The Cutie Mark Awakens. I should have known Umbrum have a unique ability to get too much into their “hobbies”. The first time he saw a slave it was on a trip to Yak Yakistan three decades ago and thought it was a great idea to implement back home. Princesses Celestia and Luna can tell you how that worked out for us!
Nyx hummed as she walked through the Crystal Empire's dark castle, released to her duties as her Lord King Sombra went to his daily review of the troops and battle practice. Days in court were always strictly scheduled, usually tight and always there was never a moment's peace in between for quality time with her dark pony except at dinner, bath time and retiring for the evening.
Today, was even worse because every activity in the next two days had either been rescheduled or was moved to TODAY to accommodate a trip the two were taking outside the Crystal Empire tonight.
Nyx had frowned upon hearing this from the official scheduler - a dour, uptight unicorn called Tight Planner. She frowned because King Sombra almost never left the Kingdom on such short notice and because she and Tight Planner hated each other and it meant she would have to talk to him further about it. They were always at odds, bickering and arguing about, big surprise, Sombra's schedule and how much the bureaucrat was trying to cram down the King's throat with meetings, visits by dignitaries, decrees, prisoner interrogations, blah, blah, blah!
As if on cue, the annoying little bastard had melted out of the shadows to fall into step beside her, levitating his ever-present quill, parchment of tasks and speaking in that whiny, snarky tone.
Nyx only wanted to know two things at that moment – one, how could a being both whiny and snarky at the same time exist, and two, was he related to the King of Shadows the way he came out of nowhere, detaching from the dark recesses of walls like that?
“Floodlights,” the Queen of Future Sight answered, ignoring Tight, knowing he would still follow because that's just how annoying he was.
“'Floodlights',” he repeated. “What are those?” the official planner asked.
“Oh, something I saw in the future,” she answered not at all. “something you reminded me we need in the hallways.”
Tight looked pleased with himself. Let him. She had seen his future. He would find out just how “indispensable” he was around there the next time he accidentally sent a confirmation to Princess Celestia of how pleased the Tyrant King was she was stopping by to inspect His kingdom.
The surly unicorn looked at her askew as she threw her head back and laughed at this vision. “What's so funny?”
“You,” she settled down to giggling mildly. “You grovel so well before my royal lover.”
He stopped short, Nyx bumping into him. “You shouldn't call His Royal Majesty that in public!” his voice added 'scared' to his repertoire of whiny and snarky.
“Keep practicing that, you'll need that fear later,” she nodded in approval, again clarifying nothing for him at all.
Sidestepping, she resumed walking, a bit faster to make up for lost time. “And you're hardly 'public', Waster.”
“'Planner, PLANNER!” he corrected. “By Celestia's power, why do you have to speak in riddles?!?”
She spared him an acid look. “Not riddles,” she corrected perfunctorily. “in thirds.”
He rolled his eyes. “And what in Tartarus does that mean?”
“Past, present and future,” Nyx shot back. “Have you met me?”
“Unfortunately,” the stallion muttered under his breath.
Not every, single comment by the miserable little toadie required replying to. Half the time Nyx couldn't be bothered, the other half she quite literally did not hear him, being pulled here and there by memories and futures of the various hallways and corridors of the castle itself. So many rulers, so much intrigue in the ghostly images she and an unaware Tight Planner walked through. Sometimes she walked through parts that felt ice cold, that slowed her physically as well as mentally, struggling through them as if wading through a vat of crystallized honey that threatened to catch her forever like an insect in amber – or in one of her King's large, specialized stasis crystals.
She shuddered. Those were the only futures that remained vague to her – partially unreadable as to what was going on in the fortified domain she and Sombra called home. Every day that passed, they grew a tiny bit clearer, as if heading towards their eventuality brought her closer and closer to an answer. The Marazon seer only hoped she could unravel their mysteries and impart the knowledge to the ruler of the Crystal Kingdom before they both became flies in that unwelcoming amber.
Shaking her head violently to dispel those thoughts, Nyx drew herself back to the present. “Okay, Planner, what is our destination tonight? What has my King found so pressing He must journey outside of His domain for?”
As they hit the long stairway down to the main throne room, he shrugged. “Sadly I know not,” he slipped back into formal address as they passed more and more servants, attendants and court officials. “The Dark One did not impart that knowledge to me, but He intonated that it would be something you would enjoy as well as His illustrious Self.”
She couldn't help but smile smugly. Perhaps they were to journey to the crystal hot springs as she had been begging Him to do for a while now. Their adjoining mud baths were also wonderfully therapeutic, both reminding her of their twin location in her far flung home with the Marazons nestled among the peaks of the Seven Mares Mountains on the western coast of Equestria.
She stopped a passing Hoof Maiden, instructing her to prepare her most luxuriously scented oils and herbs for the trip. The mare bowed and went to do Nyx's bidding.
She turned her attention back to Tight Planner who was now headed to another part of the castle to attend to something else. “Planner, is Captain Iron Blade back from Kajeiri Provence yet?”
“Not yet, Nyxie,” he replied, already being stopped by staff with other questions. “so sorry you can't take Him and Quiet Hoof on one of your decadent hot tub – OOOFFF!”
Planner reached a hoof up where his cheek stung from the TimeWitch's magic. He was surprised to see blood, but not as surprised as when she next grabbed and flung him against the hard, crystal wall so hard he saw stars.
The staff he had been conversing with shrank back as she approached him. Her eyes blazed with time magic, like dark vortexes on darker vortexes only visible by the faint light of stars around them getting sucked into their centers. Never believing he would think looking at her usual completely black eyes was preferable, he found himself trembling uncontrollably at their sight.
“Remember, worm who's court you are privileged to exist in!” she said coolly, levelly, her anger brimming underneath, creating a feeling of time freezing around them that prevented Planner from breathing.
Behind and all around Nyx, officials, servants and slaves alike drew back, the officials and servants bowing deeply, the slaves throwing themselves to the ground, averting their eyes. She ignored them, concentrating on her prey at the moment.
“You dare besmirk His name with your thoughtless talk again in an attempt to rattle my cage and I will throw your cage into the void of space and rip it apart in the time winds!”
Planner nodded, choking. She eased up and he gasped, mumbling something she didn't hear. Her annoyance grew when he averted his eyes to behind her and they got as big as saucers, but then she smiled, realizing what he was staring at.
“I hope you were going to ask my permission before doing that, Nyx,” came a dark stallion's voice behind her.
Keeping her magical grip on Tight Planner, she turned and curtsied before King Sombra, locking eyes with the floor. “As always, my King and my love,” she began as he tilted her head up with a hoof, forcing her to look into his amused, red eyes. “I merely open the door. I was rather hoping you would throw him in first,” she replied wickedly.
“What am I going to do with you, Nyx?” Sombra shook his head, smiling grimly as they walked back towards the throne room, a thoroughly cowed Tight Planner trailing a good three feet behind.
“Love me for eternity, my King?” she brushed up against his side, her soft mane flowing over His jaw and neck just under His chin. She hated how His armor restricted their physical contact!
“Do I have a choice?” he rumbled pleasantly. “You are way too dangerous to be let loose on the Crystal Empire, let alone Equestia, my dear.”
Nyx laughed. “So says the Unicorn Witch King Himself!”
“That makes it official, then,” He laughed. “As the King decrees, you are never to be let out of Our sight ever again.”
Nyx smiled, baring sharp canines a twin to her consort's. That arrangement suited her just fine. “You are back early from troop review and practice. Planner tells me you have plans for us tonight. Do tell!”
He smiled again. “No.”
“Oh!” she mock pouted. “How can I prepare then?”
“True. We will require you to cast a time spell for where we are going,” He nodded. He looked back to Planner, slowing their steps. “Go on ahead, Planner. Make sure things are prepared for Us. We are on a tight schedule.”
“Yes, yes, your Highness!” he bowed and galloped off, glad to be given leave to be out of Nyx's presence.
As soon as he was gone, Nyx cocked her head at Sombra. “A time spell?” she repeated. “to take us somewhere?”
“I am still getting the hang of them, my dark heart,” she shook her head, running a hoof over His upper forehoof where she could feel the corded steel of sleek muscles under the black fur. “It is risky taking other ponies with me at this point. I have only just mastered pulling items back and forth with me as I time hop,” she cautioned.
“Yes. Items such as that - what did you call it?”
“A newspaper,” she answered.
“Yes,” He grinned, resuming walking. “and that gift you have for me.”
Her eyes widened. “Did somepony tell you - “
“No,” he laughed. “no, I stumbled across it. You should find new hiding places for my presents, Nyx.”
“You are just – nosy,” she muttered. “you were spying on me!” it occurred to her, her voice accusing.
“I am the King, Nyx. I do not 'spy'!”
“You spy on everyone!” she grumbled. “You just usually get your shadow guards to do it for You.”
“You,” he punctuated with rubbing her side this time. “require me to spy on you personally. Which I have the impression you do not particularly mind, my dear.”
“Fair enough,” she sighed. “I just haven't given it to You yet because it requires batteries - “
“It won't work properly until I do,” she explained.
“Well,” He smiled as they turned the corridor to the throne room. “You will get your chance to get them where you are taking us. And I will make good use of it in Appleloosa, along with my new toy from Twilight's - ”
Nyx slowed, Sombra following suit. “'Appleloosa'?” she echoed. Her eyes widened as a glimmer of a vision flickered over her eyes. “No...”
“Why not?” he grinned. “You said these Sith - “
“No,” she shook her head.
“If they require assistance in the art of slave training - “
“No!” Nyx refused, her mane sparkling slightly brighter with her emotions. “It is just a movie. You can't be serious!”
“Perhaps there is an alliance to be had here,” He mused, not listening to her, opening the doors to the throne room. “and while we are there, you can explain this concept of a 'movie' further to Me.”
Nyx clammed up as the line of guards inside snapped to attention. Officials, attendants and slaves all bowed, waiting for their King to enter. The TimeWitch threw the King of the Crystal Empire a last, shocked look, then facehoofed herself as Sombra grinned wickedly. The matter was settled.