• Published 12th Dec 2013
  • 8,963 Views, 191 Comments

Lingering Shadows - Yoru-the-Rogue

Love can be one of the most powerful forces in the world...but it's also a deadly, sweet poison, as Princess Luna is about to learn...

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The Prison of Shadows

Long, twisting vines of ivy crept up the side of the observatory tower, one of the few locations in the royal palace that was overgrown. The royal gardeners had barely touched the ivy in the past year or two, at Princess Luna's request. She loved the charm and character the vines added to her tower, and if there were any concerns about the creeping plant breaking down the stone and masonwork, then she would be the one to reinforce the tower with magic. Her elder sister, Princess Celestia, thought the notion a fine one, and nopony else objected.

At that moment, she was finishing the spellwork necessary to weaken the choking vines, and watching as the sun started its slow climb down from its zenith. The day was moving into the afternoon and before long, the afternoon would move into the dusk, and then Luna would raise the moon and begin her official duties as the Princess of the Night. It wasn't easy, becoming reaccustomed to her duties after a thousand years of exile, but it kept her busy and gave her mind something to focus on. And she was endlessly grateful for the distractions from her worrying.

Particularly given the rather disturbing dream she had experienced before she woke that day.

Her spell finished its work at last, mending each crack in the stonework seamlessly and pushing the grasping tendrils of ivy back. Despite being pleased in her work, Luna frowned as her mind slipped back to her unsettling dream. Dreams were not always prophetic, but many times they still held an ominous portent. Having dominion over the dreams of all her subjects had taught her such over time. And while some dreams were merely limited to personal matters that upset somepony, often there were dreams that held such portents for all of Equestria, and Luna knew her dream was of the latter nature.

I should tell Tia. She thought, somewhat anxiously. Rebuilding trust with her sister after a thousand years still had its rocky moments for the both of them, but all the same, her instincts told her to go to Celestia. After all, the sisters had no better confidant for such matters than one another. Still, she hesitated. She didn't want to say anything right away, in the off-chance her fears would prove unfounded.

Perhaps I should look into the matter myself first.

After a few more moments of hesitation, she left the observatory tower, her purpose taking her down to the subterranean levels of the palace. Luna hadn't been down there since her return, and she understood her sister rarely descended to those levels as well. Once down there, she raised her horn high, illuminating the dark passages with a spell of moonbeams and starlight. The soft glow revealed that the lower corridors were decently kept, but there were still layers of dust on the edges of the walls. She did her best to ignore it all, and returned her attention to the corridor. There were several doors down the long hall, and she was trying to find one in particular. Several of the doors were chambers for storing different sorts of enchanted items and relics, but at first glance, there was no way to tell one door from the next.

Luna strengthened her moonbeam spell with each hoofstep, and was soon rewarded when she neared a door where her light magic was reflecting back to her, faint in the cracks around the door. Satisfied she had found the correct chamber, she dimmed the spell and poured forth a small amount of magic to push the door open, entering the room beyond.

Mirrors. Of all the magic in Equestria, mirror-magic was perhaps the most puzzling to work with. Mirrors were given all throughout the years to Celestia as gifts, and the Princess of the Day had had them all stored in this chamber until she had need of them for magic. Most of them lay covered, but even now three grand, full-length mirrors stood at the far wall of the chamber, different sights reflected on each of their surfaces.

A shudder ran from the tips of Luna's ears to her fetlocks, and she hesitated. The magical two-way mirrors always unsettled her. Not that she would ever tell anyone less than her sister that; She was the Princess of the Night, and it would never do to show fear.

"Face your fears." she murmured to herself, the words she had spoken to many a pony in dreams. Carrying herself as regally as possible, holding her head high and tossing back her mane proudly, she strode to the mirror on the left and stood before it for a brief moment, staring into the mist-shrouded hallway reflected in its surface. Another shudder ran through her, but she steeled herself, inhaled deeply, and stepped through the mirror into the hall on the other side.

The mist crept through the dark stone halls, chilling her coat. Mildly irritated, Luna wove a quick enchantment into her coat to ward off the damp chill, then proceeded to follow the hall. Her hoofsteps fell without a sound in this unnerving place, and her horn provided little illumination in this unnatural fog. She had expected as much however, as this extra-dimensional oubliette was designed to be a prison for those foul fiends with little hope of being reformed. Celestia disliked the use of the oubliette, but even she could not deny that it served its purpose well.

There was a small catch near Luna's heart as she thought about it. She herself had very nearly faced an imprisonment of oblivion in the oubliette when she had allowed the parasitic Nightmare-spirit to transform her into Nightmare Moon. It was probably by a sheer fluke that Celestia had sent Luna to her beloved moon, due to the magical Elements of Harmony drawing on the association from Celestia's mind.

"Perhaps the moon was a far kinder prison than I thought," she remarked quietly as she walked through the oubliette. Something about the place was truly disquieting, and more than once she figured it had to be a result of the only prisoner currently held there. After all, she had never been there when under the Nightmare-spirit's thrall. Discord had been turned to stone to contain his powers, thanks to the Elements of Harmony. And the Changeling Queen had fled after her defeat at the hooves of Princess Cadence and Shining Armor. No, the single captive held within the oubliette had been there before, for nearly a millennium, and had only recently broken free of his bonds.

But he had been bound once more, thanks to the efforts of Celestia's star pupil and her friends.

Luna continued to follow the path before her, until she arrived before a gateway that led into a huge antechamber. Two of her Night Guards were stationed there, their gazes stoically set on nothing, and the moment they saw her, they jumped to attention.

"Your Highness!" the elder of the two said as they both saluted with their hooves.

"At ease, good sirs," she replied.

"With all due respect, Your Highness," the guard shook his head, "We can never truly be fully at ease in this place."

She gave a solemn nod to indicate she understood, then glanced past them both, past the gate into the antechamber cell beyond. She frowned again, her brow furrowing.

"The prisoner?" she asked.

"He doesn't do much, princess." The younger guard had finally spoken up. "Sometimes we hear him talking to himself, and sometimes he'll mock us, but he never tries to escape or anything."

"Never?" she asked, and both of them shook their heads to confirm. Her frown deepened, and she stared down the hall past the gate for a moment.

"Open the gate."

"Your Highness?" the younger guard said tentatively.

"Are you sure?" his companion asked.

"We are certain," she answered firmly, starting to slip back into a tone of command, "Open the gate."

They responded with respectful nods, reaching around and pulling the gate open together. Luna peered forward, just seeing a faint shimmer of magic, the spell to ward the prisoner away from the gate to dissuade escape. Taking a deep breath and holding her head high, she marched forward.

"Do be careful, won't you, Your Highness?"

"We shall be. Our thanks for your concern." she replied gently, stepping through the barrier spell. It was like plunging into pure ice. One moment there was simply a damp chill in the air, the next she was freezing, and in that icy coldness, she felt an overwhelming sense of evil that clung to the shadows. For a moment, she worried, but the Princess of the Night would not be daunted. She pressed onward without fear, her horn shimmering with the magic of a spell to ward off the iciness.

The shadows stirred.

Several strides brought her into the antechamber, and she glanced up toward the ceiling only to find nothing, save an inky blackness. The antechamber was split in half by many iron bars that stretched down from the blackness before sinking into the floor, clearly designating which end of the room served as a cell.

A useless cell, practically. Luna watched as several tendrils of smoky, curling shadows writhed between the bars, as though dancing idly. It was nothing but show, however; She knew that much. Were it not for the spell upon the iron bars, they would not have been able to keep the prisoner contained at all.

A low, rolling chuckle echoed through the cell.

"You find amusement in your captivity?" Luna asked coolly, glancing around at the walls of the cell. Out of the corner of her vision, she caught movement; A coil of shadows was edging closer to her, moving with the deadly precision of a viper preparing to strike. She turned sharply and glared, raising a forehoof threateningly. The shadow recoiled, slipping away into the mass of greater shadows as another chuckle reverberated through the chamber.

"Show yourself!" she snapped, glaring up at the moving darkness. There was a brief moment of silence, then an answer came to her.

"Very well."

The voice that spoke from the unnatural darkness was deep, warm, and utterly decadent. There was a certain quality to the way the voice spoke, a particular chime to the voice that denoted regality—a sense of peerless royalty—but it had none of the nobility of spirit that Luna and Celestia had in their voices. No, it was indifferent at best. Luna bristled slightly, and watched as the mass of shadows began to draw in tighter upon itself, congealing and tensing as it substaniated. For an instant, Luna caught a glimpse of two eyes in the smoky shadows, glaring out at her. Red irises flashed dangerously, ringed with an acidic green glow that trailed off into violet wisps of mist.

Then the eyes flickered out of sight as the darkness began to fade and dissipate. A figure formed before her as the chamber cleared, until finally a powerfully-built, huge stallion stepped into view, picking up his hooves arrogantly with each stride. Finely-layered armor adorned him from hooves to forehead, where a twisted, dark diadem rested upon his brow. A rich, fine cloak of deep crimson rippled upon his back as he moved, the sort that only royalty would wear. What of his coat that she could see was a deep gray, and his mane and tail were an elegant black. Rising above his diadem was a blood-red horn, and set in his visage were those same sinister eyes the princess had seen in the sea of shadows. And as he smiled at her, his grin revealed a mouth with sharp, predatory fangs.

"So...rude." he let out a hiss, though his smile only grew wider. "The royal alicorn princesses simply stride through the land giving orders, dictating to their subjects, with no regards for manners whatsoever."

There was a pause, then the unicorn stallion's ruby eyes flickered, and his smile twisted slightly.

"Tyranny after my own heart."

"Sombra." Luna addressed him briskly.

"I am flattered you remember my name, even if my title is lacking," he said smoothly. "It has been well over a thousand years since you and your sister ripped from me my freedom and my empire. It eases the humiliation of my captivity to hear that your sister and you still recognize me, although perhaps not as I deserve."

"What are you plotting?" she demanded.

"Whatever do you mean, princess?" he snorted, rolling his eyes and making no further pretense at smiling. His expression became cold and contemptuous, looking at her like she was a two-bit workhorse.

"Be honest with me now, and perhaps it will ease the judgment against you," she continued stoically, tilting her head back and studying his reaction. Sombra gave her a withering look, the corners of his mouth dropping further and further down as he scowled.

"And what reason would I have to lie to you at this moment?" he scoffed, "I am incarcerated in this miserable tear between the ley lines of this world and the Shadow, unable to do much beyond shifting between forms and speaking for the sake of hearing my own luxurious voice. I see little point in trying to escape only to have my physical body shattered again before it becomes stable, so I am going nowhere. What point is there in scheming anything?"

She stared at him for a long moment, her gaze calculating. Another pony may have been swayed by his words into uncertainty, but she doubted him. Even if what he was saying was true enough in regards to his imprisonment, her dream remained at the back of her mind, and if her suspicions were true, Sombra was behind her dream.

"You have had a thousand years prior with which you could have been scheming a great many things for many moons, Sombra. More likely than not, you were planning on something, and you have time again with which to make more plans of a like nature."

He raised his eyebrows slowly.

"Your tone denotes the voice that speaks from personal experience, alicorn princess."

She looked away at his comment, feeling her face flush with shame. Did that really still show in her mannerisms? She looked back up just in time to see Sombra pace a few steps to the side, his neatly-groomed tail flicking as his gaze fell upon her Cutie Mark. She shifted indignantly at the idea he was staring at her flank, and his eyes flicked in a sudden realization that hadn't been there before.

"Ah, yes," he spoke in a low, purring rumble, "You do speak from experience...Princess Luna. Or perhaps I should address your illustrious person as the mare who was once Nightmare Moon?"

She gave an irritated flex of her wings and stomped a hoof, trying to force him to maintain eye contact with her.

"Do not try to change the subject! I am not--"

"Such indignation!" Sombra spoke over her, chuckling once more and resuming his pacing around the cell. "I was merely asking a simple question. After all, individuals like ourselves with a high standing in the Royal Equestrian Court must make every effort to address one another with the respect our titles and stations demand."

Luna sucked in a breath, trying to keep calm. Curse the blackguard and his evasion of the actual topic of conversation! To make things worse, he was doing so by bringing up a matter of little relevance. It wouldn't do to overreact to such a childish obstacle; that was probably exactly what he was hoping for. She shut her eyes, then opened them again, and spoke as calmly as she was able to.

"You gave up a position of any note and standing in the Equestrian Court over a thousand years ago; you are king of no kingdom."

"Only as far as the recognition of the Court goes." he responded in bored tones, his cape rippling as he rolled his shoulders in a shrug. "Yet all my former slaves and anypony who remembers my glorious reign always addresses my person as King Sombra."

"One who rises to power through cruelty, and on the backs of honest ponies enslaved, does not deserve any title other than tyrant."

The unicorn king fell silent, staring at her for several long moments before he spoke again, his voice strangely soft.

"Nightmare Moon would have been no different, you realize. And yet, she was a mare of great beauty and power, and all she desired in the end was the love and adoration of her subjects everywhere. Am I not right in that assumption?"

She hesitated, caught off-guard by the strange sweetness with which he spoke of her alternate self. But a second later, she shook off the thought; he wanted her off guard, to lull her into a false sense of security and make it appear as though he was not a threat.

"You speak highly of Nightmare Moon, Sombra, yet you never knew her," she declared, her own voice unusually quiet yet hinting steel. "Do not disassemble and presume to know matters that you speak of so ignorantly."

"Ignorant?!" he snapped, rearing on his hind legs and snorting angrily through his nostrils, shadows beginning to billow around him once again. "You and your sister banished me to the Shadow for over a millennium! There was nothing in Shadow but waiting for a chance at freedom and taking every moment I could find to spy on the world I once ruled! Were the two of you such little fools, you did not think that I would be watching and waiting?"

She watched as the shadows about him continued to grow and build upon themselves, and the smoky trails of his dark magic pulsed angrily from his eyes. Had she not known better, she would have bolted in fear at the display. But as it stood, the enchantments continued to hold him fast, and this was simply another empty show of power meant to frighten the overly wary.

"There are many things I have seen from the darkness and oblivion, alicorn princess." he continued, dropping back onto his forehooves, the shadows dissipating again. "I am drawn to fear, anger, and hate. I saw the rise and fall of Nightmare Moon, as well as her return and defeat. I know very well about the Nightmare-spirit that enticed you, as I had met with it once or twice before, when it traveled through the Shadow. It is not ignorance that pours from my lips, little moon princess. It is truth! And believe me when I say that Nightmare Moon was a creature of exceptional beauty."

"No," she replied, not even thinking twice on the matter as she turned her back to him. Nightmare Moon was a creature of jealousy and pain, and drawn out from the darkness within her own soul--by the spirit that had taunted her. Beauty cannot come from such ugliness within anyone. She hung her head in shame and continued, "No matter if my form may have looked lovely, I as Nightmare Moon would still have been made hideous because of what I allowed to fill my heart."

To that, he said nothing. She raised her head once more and turned back to him. He was watching her closely, and some of the echoes of his foul magic had receded from his eyes. Still, his expression was unreadable, and that set her on edge more than anything else.

"Well?" she demanded. "Do your words fail you at last, Sombra? Have you nothing to say?"

"The sincerity in your words is...unsettling," he replied in an even tone hinting on ennui.

She suppressed letting out a noise of frustration, but turned and began walking away in a huff.

"Thou hath wasted enough of our time already!" she spoke in the booming 'Royal Canterlot Voice' and slipped back into the older speech, "We must raise the moon, and attend to our night, but rest assured, King of No Kingdom, that we shall inform our sister of thy devious scheming!"

Head held high and picking up her hooves as she walked, she strode away, never once looking back to see the wicked smile that slowly spread over King Sombra's face.

Author's Note:

A most sincere thank you to everyone who has favorited, commented and upvoted so far! I only hope that future chapters do not disappoint!