• Published 12th Dec 2013
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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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Making and Breaking Progress

Celestia waited up in her room, worrying so greatly she was unable to sleep. She didn’t really require that rest—she could do without sleep if need be—but she was troubled by her sister’s declarations. She wondered if Luna truly realized what she was risking, what a thin line she was trotting on by interacting with the fallen unicorn king.

The part of Celestia that was a princess, a benevolent ruler who loved her ponies, was unsettled. If Luna wasn’t careful, she was playing with fire by risking the chance Sombra would somehow cause her to regress into Nightmare Moon, and that would put all of Equestria at risk. But the part of Celestia that was an older sister, despite her worry for Luna, tried to remain calm and collected. She had to trust that Luna was older than before, changed, made wiser and more aware so she wouldn’t fall into such a trap.

The elder princess sighed wearily, settling down in front of the fireplace and tucking her legs under herself. Worries aside, she had had another full, demanding day fulfilling her duties as a princess, and she needed a relaxing, quiet moment to herself.

A quick glance at a small table showed somepony had recently left her a decanter of hot water for making tea, and while tea normally wasn’t her beverage of choice, it sounded soothing at that moment. Making quick work of fixing a cup with her magic, Celestia allowed herself a smile and poured over Twilight Sparkle’s most recent letter. The young mare and her friends were no longer required to write to Celestia, but Twilight nonetheless still sent at least one letter a week to her former mentor.

“My poor, dear Twilight.” Celestia chuckled fondly, levitating her newly-made tea close to her mouth. “I suppose it will have simply become part of your habitual routine by now.”

“Oh, but routines are so dull,” a new voice interjected cheerfully as she started to sip at her tea, “Wouldn’t you agree, dear Celestia?”

Her magenta eyes shot wide open at the sound of the all-too-familiar voice, and she looked down warily into the teacup. A face reflected off the surface of the tea back up at her, but those yellow eyes with their red pupils weren’t her own. It gave a quick, sly grin and vanished from her tea with a loud clicking sound, only to reappear before her with its snout inches from her muzzle.

“You really shouldn’t drink orange chai, you know,” Discord remarked, standing on his mismatched forelegs and grinning at her roguishly. ‘It’s bad for my complexion.”

“It’s not—“

“But really Celestia, we never see each other any more!” the draconequus sighed, affecting a dramatic pout. “Don’t you ever allow a little time for fun in your schedule?”

She slowly lifted her eyebrows.

“Is there something I can help you with, Discord?” She asked serenely. His grin widened as he leaned back, balancing on the end of his tail.

“Actually my dear, this is about what your darling Discord can help you with.” He declared, snapping his eagle talons. Before the princess could ask any questions he lowered his talons as though pulling down a window shade and what appeared to be a book was pulled out of thin air in his claws. She frowned at it for a moment, thinking. Something about the book was very familiar…

Her composure slipped as she recognized in alarm what he was holding.

“Discord!” She exclaimed angrily, seizing Luna’s diary with her magic as she got to her hooves.

“Your boring wet blanket of a sister, Princess Moody-Moon was asking some very interesting questions about a certain unicorn king.” He remarked, visibly amused by her reaction. “I’m surprised you’ve not taken her diary and read it yet. A good older sister isn’t afraid to stick her nose into her sibling’s personal life.”

“I am not that kind of sister.” Celestia responded firmly. “I have no intentions to read through Luna’s diary. I trust her.”

“Oh how positively…sweet.” Discord muttered in tones of clear disgust. “But I must admit to a curiosity, Celestia.”

“Really? And what is that?”

“Does your unwavering faith in your sister automatically carry over to King Sombra as well?”

***

“Perhaps you would prefer we continue the rest of the story later? During daylight hours, maybe?”

The offer was spoken so smoothly and sweetly it took Princess Luna a moment to actually process what Sombra was saying. His voice had slipped from ardent story-telling back into the silky charm he typically spoke with and caught her off-guard. She frowned at that.

“Why? Do you think I won’t have the time to hear the rest of your story in one sitting? Or maybe you think I’ll be too frightened like some spring foal!” She snapped, getting to her hooves and drawing her head up regally. Sombra watched her in patient silence, a smile slowly turning up his muzzle.

“Do you find this funny?” She demanded.

“Not at all,” he replied calmly. “I am simply honored that you haven’t accused me of lying to you or fabricating my life’s story.”

Her teal eyes narrowed in a glare, immediately suspicious.

“Are you?” she said, anger prickling at her. Stupid to get so caught up in a story! She had all but forgotten the danger, forgotten who she was talking to.

“Hardly.” He gave a soft chuckle as the smile reached his eyes. “It simply feels nice to have somepony trust me again.”

She relaxed a fraction, unable to prevent herself from looking upon him with sympathy. She had to be cautious, as her sister had so urged; and yet, it was unfair to always temper her caution with a suspicious edge.

In any event, her thoughts reminded her, if I always act suspicious, then Sombra won’t trust me. I still need to learn what he’s planning. If he is behind all of my recent bad dreams, then I need to know why.

“Princess Luna?” He asked quietly, crimson eyes searching her face in curious inquiry. She hesitated for a moment, studying him back. For a former tyrant who ruled with an iron hoof, he seemed little like one now; his manners were courtly at the very least and for a stallion with teeth like a monster, he wasn’t quite so menacing when he genuinely smiled.

“Pray, please continue.” She said with a nod, clearing her throat and forcing herself to make eye contact with him. “The living magic of the Star Lake Caves removed your heart and encased it in crystal.”

He nodded in affirmation. “So I could advise my brother without fear or worry of my heart being poisoned by dark thoughts and negative emotions.”

“That seems…somewhat logical, I think.” Luna spoke uncertainly.

“Ahh and that would be the crux of the matter.” Sombra remarked. “Cold logic and reasoning is very beneficial on many matters. But what is a pony without their heart? What are they without emotions to help temper or govern some of their choices? Being driven only by unfettered emotions is dangerous, yes… but so is always making logical decisions and reasoning without any heart to help govern those choices.”

“Then…the living magic did you no favor by removing your heart.” The words tumbled from Luna’s mouth unchecked as she thought them. Something about this disquieted her.

“Quite the opposite, in fact.” He responded, his eyes glassy and his gaze far-off again. “You see, there were rumors the Crystal Empire had been at the center of some ill fortune foretold, though our pony subjects were ignorant of the matter. I had known a little of it, though I never realized what the ominous portent actually spoke of, and by the time I did figure it out, it mattered to me very little.”

“What do you mean?” She asked, lowering herself very slowly onto her stomach to listen.

“Unbeknownst to Lucien and I, when we were foals our mother Queen Platinum was visited by Star Swirl the Bearded.”

Luna’s brows shot upward and vanished in the rippling waves of her mane, her mouth going dry as the cold numbness of the prison sank into her coat. Could it be…? Was it actually possible…?

“You seem surprised.” Sombra observed mildly.

“Star Swirl the Bearded was something of a mentor to my sister and I when we were younger,” she responded softly. “He assisted us in our studies of magic. I only recall him ever visiting the Crystal Empire three times in my life.”

And it was true. Prior to Luna and Celestia confronting Sombra and the empire being sealed away, Star Swirl had only ever visited the place three times. He had spoken very little of his last two trips but the sisters hadn’t questioned him about the matter. After all, everypony was entitled to some privacy. But now…

“He knew, the old wizard.” Sombra’s voice held some sort of ironic amusement in it and even as he furrowed his brow, he smiled wanly. “He said he had read signs that foretold of a curse that would fall upon our fair empire.”

“Your curse?” Luna guessed tonelessly.

“Perhaps that played into it, but that wasn’t it precisely, I don’t believe. He said the signs indicated one of the queen’s sons would turn on the other, overthrow him, and enslave the Crystal Empire. Naturally Mother became furious; she refused to believe either of her precious colts could do something so evil, so she banished Star Swirl from the empire forever after that. Still, his words must have rattled her because Lucien and I were very closely observed as we grew up in the event either of us displayed any indication we might become the pony Mother was warned about. And by removing my heart, the living magic had opened the door for me to fall down that path.”

Luna shook her head, not wanting to believe what he was telling her. “No…no, surely—“

“No?” He cut her off, raising his brows in challenge. “I remained patient with my brother ruling for a time because it was the logical thing to do. I decided to bide my time and study magic that dealt with control through fear because it was the logical way to put Lucien in his place. If it became known that the king was weak and gave in to fear, I was obviously the best candidate to take over the throne. Logically, King Sombra would be a stronger, better ruler than his brother King Lucien. And—logically—if I wanted to remain in power and avoid being overthrown myself, the best way to do so was to keep everypony in their place and control all of them through fear.”

Luna fell silent, unsure how to argue against what he was saying. The worst part was, she thought she could see the sense of what he was saying when regarded from an emotionally heartless standpoint.

In a way, we are parallels and yet opposite. She pondered. He was tyrannical because he lost his heart and acted on cold reasoning. As Nightmare Moon, I would have overtaken all of Equestria because I acted upon my emotions and didn’t reason against the Nightmare-spirit. Strange, how we were different and yet similar.

Perhaps Sombra hadn’t been off the mark when he had stated so before.

But there was still a piece of the puzzle that didn’t quite seem to fit.

“And what of the Crystal Heart?” She asked softly, keeping her voice neutral. “Twilight Sparkle said you had it hidden away so it wouldn’t be found, or its light be allowed to spread through the Crystal Empire.”

“This is true,” he confirmed, nodding. “If my own heart was combatting my ability to rule the empire effectively, that would never do. Furthermore if somepony found it and were to reunite me with my heart, I had no idea what would happen. Would my body reject my heart and kill me in the process? Would it become tainted again because my thoughts and emotions would be contained together again? No, I had to hide it and trust my magic would conceal it, that it would never be found or fall into the wrong hooves.”

There was a strange, brittle quality to his voice as he spoke, and Luna began to wonder about it.

“Naturally,” he went on, “when I felt my curse break and we returned from our sleep in the other dimension, the heart was the first thing on my mind. My memory was still fragmented but I remembered the Crystal Heart was important, and that I had to reach it before any other pony could.”

“Wait!” Luna interrupted before he could continue, realizing what she was hearing. “You’re afraid. You fear your own heart.”

The unicorn’s breath hissed sharply through his teeth as his eyes snapped wide open in alarm. His gaze shifted totally back to the princess and he stayed silent, his body completely tense.

“That’s it, isn’t it?” She murmured, drawing closer to the bars separating them, feeling a surge of pity for him. “Even if you’ve been separated from your heart all that time, you can still feel some emotions, can’t you? You can feel the emotions that you draw your power from. You can still feel fear, and you fear what may happen to your heart.”

“Preposterous.” Sombra finally snorted, breaking eye contact with her and glancing hurriedly away. “I fear nothing.”

“Yes you do,” Luna frowned. How could he deny what he was making blatantly obvious? “You’re afraid of completely losing your heart, which is why you kept it hidden and safe. But you’re also afraid of having your conscience reawakened and feeling remorse for what you’ve done, which is why you haven’t tried to reunite with your heart.”

The trails of magical smoke from his eyes abruptly burst back into life, larger and more opaque than Luna had seen them yet. His countenance darkened as he stood and turned away from her. Her frown deepened as she watched him, waiting for the angry outburst against her words.

It never came.

“And if such a theory proved accurate, then what would your response to that validation entail?” He asked coolly. Luna bit her tongue, inwardly cursing herself. His walls had been coming down around her, and she’d just had to go and give him reason to raise those walls again! Her mind raced, seeking out a viable response. She had to tread even more carefully now; if she didn’t, she would never get the answers she was looking for, and he might never consent to speak to her again! After a few frustrating moments, she decided on simple honesty.

“I don’t know.” She replied. “That opens up a wide realm of possibilities. I suppose I would have to think on the matter.”

He glanced back at her over his shoulder, the smoky magic around his eyes fading down to a low mist.

“Perhaps,” he said slowly, “we both need some time to think, Princess Luna.”

“A-are you… pushing me away?” She blurted out, recoiling in shock.

“We both know I cannot force you to do anything, Your Highness. But I do ask that you allow me some time to myself now. I feel…drained, and I would like to do some thinking.” He murmured as he turned away again, this time becoming insubstantial and shifting into a coiling mass of shadows once more. Luna backed up several steps, shocked and confused. She hadn’t saved the situation at all, she’d only made it worse. Numbness spread through her that had nothing to do with the chill of the prison and when she spoke again, her voice sounded tinny and hollow to her own ears.

“Very well. My apologies for causing you such trouble. I imagine we shall speak at a later date, then.”

With that she turned and marched away, feeling her disappointment seeping into her entire being in spite of trying to maintain her composure.

She barely heard the guards acknowledge her as she passed by, hardly even thought about the uneasiness the two-way mirror normally caused her. She would never get him to trust her and be honest now. Was there even a point in continuing her efforts to try? But she barely had time to ponder on it before other thoughts clamored for her attention. Sombra’s story… it could not be mere coincidence, him mentioning Star Swirl’s name. And if that was the case, then she needed to tell her sister and the Keepers of the Elements of Harmony!

Perhaps we could reunite Sombra with his heart after all! And maybe if that can be accomplished he’ll be different, changed. We might see the pony he was truly meant to be before all this happened!

She heard somepony addressing her by name, but she ignored them as she started to pick up speed and break into a trot. The thought seemed slightly far-fetched and there were several factors to consider—Cadence and Shining Armor for one thing, the fate of the empire without the original Crystal Heart for another—but if it was at all possible…

Tia gave me another chance after what happened between us. She told herself reassuringly. Even Discord was given a second chance. Tia will see what I mean once I’ve spoken with her.

She had been heading to her sister’s room the entire time and once outside the door, she stopped for a second to compose herself. This would take some explaining, but Celestia was a patient pony and even so, she would want to hear of Luna’s discovery. Clearing her throat, the younger princess raised a hoof to knock gently upon the door.

“Sister?” She called. “Sister! Tia, it’s me. Please, I have to speak with you right away!”

After a moment’s pause, the door swung out as if to admit her entry, but she had barely crossed the threshold when she found herself face-to-face with the room’s occupant. Her enthusiastic greeting instantly dried up on the tip of her tongue. Celestia’s expression was fraught with worry and she was working her mouth as though she had something to say and wasn’t sure how to go about it.

“Tia?” Luna asked, voice quavering. “What’s wrong?”

“Luna, I’m sorry.” Celestia murmured, holding out something in the grip of her magic. Luna glanced down at it with a skeptical frown, not understanding.

And then she recognized her diary.

“Sister,” she gasped croakily, “you-you didn’t!”

“No,” Celestia sighed heavily. “But Discord had me very temped to read it.”

Discord?” Luna echoed, laying her ears back as her voice rose. “He brought thee our diary?! We demand the rogue be punished!”

“Calm down, Lulu,” Celestia said gently. “You’re slipping back into the Royal Canterlot Voice again.”

“We always use this voice when we are upset!”

“I know, and you have a right to be upset, Lu. I promise Discord will face consequences for his actions. But Luna, I can’t just ignore the things he brought up, either.”

“Such as?” She asked sullenly, cradling the diary to her chest.

“All of these visitations to King Sombra,” her sister replied, prompting the Princess of the Night to give a small shiver. “Luna, I’m really starting to worry. I won’t tell you to stop asking him questions or trying to find the truth; I can’t make you do anything against your will.”

Another shiver ran the length of Luna’s spine down to her tail. She wondered what her sister would say if she knew she was echoing Sombra’s own remarks.

“But for safety’s sake, perhaps you should consider… spacing out the time of your talks with him.” Celestia continued before looking abruptly ashamed with herself for suggesting the idea. “I’m sorry, Lulu, I don’t want to sound patronizing; I just don’t think it’s wise for anypony to be constantly around someone who feeds off fear and insecurities. You understand, don’t you? I’m just concerned for you, sister.”

The hollow feeling she had been experiencing since the terrible ending to her conversation with Sombra increased sharply. Still she tried to work a smile onto her face. She didn’t think it worked; it felt more like she was managing some sort of a grimace.

“Oh. Of-of course, Tia. I understand. You’re right, as usual. Thank you.”

Her thoughts fled her mind as the cold hopelessness stole over her completely. Where her mind had been a tumultuous whirlpool of thoughts before, suddenly there was nothing in her head at all, but a deep desire to go back to her own room, curl up in her bed and lose herself in dreams for hours. Throat somewhat tight, she turned away and slowly started to leave.

“Luna? Are you alright…?”

“Of course, Tia. Just tired. Don’t worry about me, I understand what you’re saying. It is, after all…” she tried to think for a second, then settled on the only term that came to mind. “It’s the logical thing to do.”

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