• Published 15th Sep 2014
  • 10,183 Views, 245 Comments

From Darkness To Light - Pixel_Spark



When an insidious evil threatens the Crystal Empire, the Princesses must call upon the most unlikely pony; Sombra. Can he overcome his own darkness in order to save the empire from a far worse one?

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Rulings & Returns

Author's Note:

Many thanks to DreamSeeker for editing this for me! His story "Im a Lich and i know it!", can be found HERE.Its been a long time in the making but I'm super happy to present this new chapter, complete with cameos from many a supporter! Enjoy~

But all too soon, other matters were brought to his attention. Matters that would test his lauded ability to find the perfect solution in any situation…

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"Your majesty!" One of the political council caught him as he was coming back from a flying lesson at the stadium with Rainbow Dash, "perfect timing, I was just looking for you! Might we waylay you a time?"

"Of course." Sombra smiled. He was a little tired, but the wings were feeling more and more natural with each day. He still had issues with the darn things disliking being tucked under his bed-covers. He would wake with the wings having thrown the covers off in an apparent fit of annoyance while he slept.

"We are aware that your coronation is fast approaching-" the pony speaking to the Prince paused as a look of "OOPS" flashed over Sombra's face and continued, "you forgot, sire?"

"Ah, well..." Sombra coughed, "I did, yes. I'm afraid I've been preoccupied with learning to fly. Fly properly that is. Celestia would like me to be able to fly with her and the other Princesses on the coronation day and I want to be stable enough at flight not to crash into the others mid-air!"

"I'm sure you will be fine, sire." the council pony chuckled. He led Sombra to the room where they convened to discuss matters. Sombra had attended a meeting about the small settlement he'd been briefly held prisoner in, inside this same room not long ago. The rest of the council greeted him respectfully and he bowed his head politely in return.

A servant pony asked would he like some tea and Sombra happily accepted, he was quite thirsty from flight practice!

They discussed a few smaller matters first, but Sombra could see the nervous glances between the ponies and flat out asked once the final minor matter was set aside, what the big issue was.

"Just, come out with it!" he said at last.

"Well, the hiccup we've reached sire, is a matter of a certain law." the head council-pony winced as he hesitantly began discussing what he worried would be the most tricky matter to date.

"Law?" Sombra asked, racking his brains and coming up with nothing, "which one are we talking about?"

"The law of entitlement. The law that ordains your position as the de facto Crown Prince. Simply put, it pulls the matter of Princess Cadance and Shining Armor's reign into dispute."

"What?" Sombra looked horrified "what do you mean "dispute"? They are the rulers here, are they not?" he looked from one pony to the next, concern rising. But they all looked fidgety and couldn't quite meet his eyes.

"Well," One of the female council ponies finally offered a comforting smile, yet she looked as uneasy as Sombra felt, "they took over the Empire under the law of emergency rule. With no uh "fit" ruler at the time..." She trailed off and Sombra shrugged.

"You needn't sidestep it," he said calmly "It was what it was."

She looked relieved. "Sorry your highness, it's just that I wish to cause no offense-"

Sombra let out a loud chuffing noise and rolled his eyes "Can I honestly just DEMAND everypony stop pussyfooting around what happened?! I am still perfectly aware that I went stark raving barmy. Mentioning it to me is NOT going to make me go crazy!"

One council pony bit back a laugh and Sombra continued without missing a beat;

"And for those that heard that rumor I was talking to a shrub in the palace garden, the little ones were hiding in there. I was trying to tell them lunch was ready!"

All the council-ponies fought and lost the battle to not laugh, sadly.

"Understand?" Sombra snickered, "honestly, just come out and refer to it as my "barmy period" for want of a better term. No, wait- What was it miss Dash said she described me as? I know! "Suffering a severe case of the galloping crazy". That'll do it, no?"

Once the laughter faded, the same mare continued on, a smile tugging the corner of her mouth;

"Well, when the "Galloping Crazy" happened, Cadance and Shining Armor were instated by Celestia as the Empire's rulers, given Princess Cadance was of royal standing, as was her husband."

"So, where is the problem?" Sombra asked. A servant set a cup of his favorite tea in front of him and he smiled warmly at her. The soothing aroma of the tea made him relax instinctively, as it always had done ever since he'd first drunk it during the crystal sickness. He took a sip, noting how his magic felt different since becoming an Alicorn, like it had been enhanced...

"Well, these documents," here the same mare held up the documents Cloudspark had written, declaring Sombra's right to rule as his adopted son, "as they were signed by the King, they take precedence. Simply put, your highness, the empire is YOURS by law-"

"Pffft-!"

Sombra made a sputtering noise as this news sunk in. He set the cup down, coughing, one hoof pressed to his mouth.

"W-what?" He shook his head, his voice hoarse as he really hoped he'd misheard her.

"The law of entitlement clearly states that proof of reign trumps the emergency measures. Once the coronation is finished, ALL control is officially yours."

"No way-" Sombra shook his head "I already told Shining Armor that I would not interfere with what they have done here, this is still their world-"

"I'm afraid it's not that simple sire." Another, older stallion said gently "It's the same law that your father followed. He named you as his successor and the law states that the Crystal Empire will be in your name once your official coronation is complete."

"Do Cadance and Shining Armor know about this?" Sombra said softly.

"Not yet sire, we only finished compiling this shortly before I encountered you. We wished to get your opinion on the matter first."

Sombra felt a mite sick. He didn't want to turf Cadance and Shining Armor off their thrones, they were his FRIENDS.

"I wont do that to them, I just won't." he said firmly. He took a sip of the tea, but it tasted acidic in the back of his throat. The idea of upsetting the fine work the Prince and Princess had done shook him to the core. He set the teacup aside, staring at the council ponies who'd dropped the bombshell on him.

They looked sympathetically back at the stunned royal...

"I understand this is hard for you, your majesty, we're searching for a solution right now. But the law currently says that as its legal heir, you have authority of override to the Kingdom. Once you're crowned, they will have to step down. We're searching the new books that you recovered from the caverns below the castle to see if there's an answer."

"If you'd prefer sire, we can discuss this another time? Perhaps tomorrow, with Princess Cadance and Prince Shining Armor in attendance." A kindly mare tiled her head to catch his eye. He nodded, then spoke;

"If it is all the same, I will inform them myself." Sombra said shortly "I would rather not keep them in the dark until tomorrow. We can discuss how to change this then."

"If that is your wish sire, then by all means." The pony speaking bowed his head in acknowledgement.

Sombra nodded, then asked if might take his leave, he needed to find his friends. The council nodded and watched as a decidedly stunned Sombra drifted out of the room.

"This is hard on his highness, the three of them are close, particularly himself and Shining Armor. We will send out a message right away to let them know about tomorrows meeting," the pony speaking began writing a letter.

Another nodded, adding;

"I feel terrible for his highness. He has struggled enough with being shoved into the spotlight by the uncovering of his inheritance. But as much as he objects, it is his right under the Empire's laws to govern the kingdom, alone."

"His claim is backed by his fathers paperwork," a stallion stared at the same paperwork, now scattered over the table, "simply put, there is not a single clause out of place. His father made sure it was all ready and waiting if his adopted child ever came back to his senses."

"And there is not a pony alive in this Empire that would deny he has more then proven what happened back then to be a mistake!" spoke another councilpony and the rest nodded eagerly.

Inkwell shook her head, very worried. She'd gotten to know the fledgling Prince when he'd saved her and her guests from an attack en-route to the theatre! She knew he still harbored some reservations about ruling and wondered just how this shocking news would affect him.

"I hope we can work this out, his highness does not wish to dethrone his friends," one mare sighed, "and neither do we. There must some some way we can have the three of them. A triumvirate of sorts."

"Sadly the law is clear, Prince Sombra's ascension to the throne will place him in direct rule. I understand this whole business has been tough on him what with all the fighting, but now things have returned to normal, we cannot put this off for much longer. A ruling must be reached before the coronation."

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Sombra ran through the halls, searching everywhere for Cadance and Shining Armor.

He was informed that Cadance was in the throne room and Shining Armor was at the barracks, so he made the choice to inform her first.

"Sombra, are you alright?" Cadance asked before he'd even said one word, "you look like you seen a ghost!"

"A ghost would be easier to deal with, miss Cadance," Sombra shook his head.

She patted the spot where Shining Armor normally sat, beside her on the throne.

"Tell me." she said kindly.

Sombra sat down and with a heavy heart, he described what he'd just been told by the council.

Cadance's mouth fell open, concern rippling through her. On the one hoof there was the instinctive fear of losing her Empire, followed by the realization that Sombra looked equally as scared.

"I'm sorry," Sombra shook his head, "I did not think a few pieces of paper would cause such trouble!"

"Sombra-" Cadance could see why he looked upset and worried that he blamed himself.

"I told Shining Armor that I would not interfere with what you two have created," Sombra sounded like he was pleading with her "Look at how prosperous and happy this Empire is under the rule of the both of you. Even from my first day back here again, I seen how much better it was than the darkness of before! I was loathe to admit it back at the point when you first met me, but I seen how wonderful a job you'd done since my defeat."

He stared at the carpet under his hooves, falling silent as his throat locked up.

Cadance rested a hoof on his back, making him look at her.

"Nopony's holding you responsible for this Sombra," she stated firmly, "you weren't to know, none of us were. Things are still a little backed up around here with regards to politics."

"Had I not hidden so many of fathers books, mayhap you would not suffer this trouble NOW," Sombra responded, looking sick with worry and guilt, "I wouldn't blame you for being upset. Disrupting the wonders you two have done would be an insult to you and this Empire-"

"Sombra." Cadance could see how bad this was. He'd been on edge ever since the council had first begun asking when he would take the crown and join them. But now he looked on the verge of a breakdown from panic, it showed in the droop of his ears...

"If the coronation means kicking you two out of the place you've worked so hard to maintain, then I'd sooner cancel the occasion!" Sombra blurted desperately.

"You can't be serious? Why on Equestria would you do a thing like that?" Shining Armor had gotten the message Sombra was urgently searching for him and had walked in just in time to hear that line. He trotted over, reading from their expressions that something was very wrong, "What's the matter, buddy?"

"If the coronation goes ahead, it will mean taking this Empire away from the two of YOU. There is some obscure law, pre-dating even my fathers reign, that is stirring up trouble!"

Cadance repeated to Shining Armor what Sombra had told her.

"Oh. Blimey." Shining felt a pang of anxiety. Like Cadance, his first instinct was panic, he didn't want to say goodbye to the Empire either! But he also knew this wasn't Sombra's fault, so why was his friend looking so miserable?

"You've done nothing to feel guilty about," he told the worried dark Alicorn, "So stop looking so worried. If there's a loophole, the council will find it!"

"The way they phrased our chances, it would have to be a loophole BLACKHOLE! But I pray they do find a way," Sombra shook his head stubbornly as he talked "because, as I have stated to you before, I will not disturb what you two have built!"

"And if I recall, I said we'd work on that," Shining countered his friends objection "I got a note from one of the guards just before I walked in to hear you drop that bombshell. It says there's a council meeting tomorrow at lunchtime. I gather this is what they wish to discuss?"

Sombra nodded, looking pretty down in the dumps.

"Please don't feel you're to blame, Sombra." Cadance tried to put Sombra's mind at ease, "there are many laws surrounding the governing of this kingdom. We won't let you deny your coronation because you're worried about upsetting us. We will find a way to stay together."

"I never dreamt such a law existed," Sombra said dully, "I did not know all the newer laws before I went infamously crazy."

"In fairness, there has been little time lately to to delve into the political side of things with that war always raging. Explains why they've only recently brought it to light," Shining said at last, "kicking things up the arse has pretty much been the prerogative."

"I think they were preparing for the coronation when they stumbled across that law. No doubt they wished to make sure there were no inaccuracies, but still..." Sombra trailed off.

The trio fell silent, with Cadance looking worriedly at Sombra, who was staring at the floor in front of him. His ears were drooped all the way down, that not a good sign.

"I will NOT take either of your places." Sombra murmured, closing his eyes and shaking his head slowly but firmly. Cadance patted his back reassuringly, but she could see he was taking it rather hard. He'd been worried about taking part with the both of them to support him ever since he'd first accepted his inheritance. But he'd come out of his shell so much when he'd joined them to discuss aid for that settlement not long ago. She'd seen how sharp his mind was and it was clear he had a talent for politics as well as combat.

A not-so-subtle ffrttt sound cut into the solemn musing. Cadance and Sombra both looked over at Shining, who was sitting on his rear, one hoof stuck under the opposite armpit.

"What?" he said, nonchalantly "just doing, you know, musical armpit farts. Tricky since we have hooves, but with the right skill-!" he made another attempt, grinning cheesily.

Something stirred in Sombra, a memory. This was familiar territory in his memories of his foster father and he smiled faintly, despite his sadness.

"Really Shining," Cadance sighed, then startled her husband by out-hoof-parping him "This is how you do it."

Shining and Sombra both stared in surprise and Shining gave his smug wife a mock-glower.

"You are both mad!" Sombra said with an entirely straight face, then he proceeded to beat them both for volume, "THAT is how you win it!"

A moments silence filled the room, then all three burst out laughing.

"Seriously, what are we? Three?" Cadance couldn't stop laughing.

Shining Armor met Sombra's eyes and started laughing anew, "maybe..?"

His sides aching, Sombra managed to talk, but barely "I blame my father, for he always said, "act your hoof-shoe size, not your age!""

"You're over a thousand years old! Technically, you should know better!" Shining Armor reminded Sombra with a snigger.

"Maybe so, but in my defense I was either asleep or crazy!" Sombra laughed, "then add in who my father was and you can see where I learned such behaviour!"

"Rats," Shining Armor shook his head, "I'm all out of rebuttals!"

Then he snorted again "hehe, 'butt'."

Cadance shook her head, her sides hurting from the much needed laughter gained from watching her husband and friend bicker good naturally.

"I'm curious as to where YOU learnt it, Cadance darling?" Shining snuggled his wife's cheek as the laughter died down. Cadance beamed;

"Easy, honey! I learnt it from your sister!"

"Twilight?" Sombra sputtered, eyebrows raised. The mental image of a tiny filly Twilight Sparkle aping her big brother cracked him up afresh.

"She was a funny kid." Shining Armor chuckled.

"When I used to foal-sit, she always claimed you taught it to her." Cadance looked at Shining Armor.

"Guilty." Shining nodded.

"I am not going to let her escape hearing about this!" Sombra sniggered.

"At least wait until dinners over, I want time to run away first!" Shining snorted, which made Sombra face-hoof, shoulders shaking in silent laughter.

For a few peaceful minutes, all that was heard was their laughter echoing around the throne rooms vaulted ceiling.

"Oh sweet Celestia, my sides." Sombra finally calmed himself down.

"She probably knows it too!" Shining laughed at the idea.

"Or Luna?" Sombra laughed, "I know I did speak of my fathers goofy humour to them both."

"But seriously buddy," Shining smiled at Sombra, who still looked a little worried but there was a gleam of hope in his eyes now "we'll find something, so please don't cancel the coronation, everypony is eager to see you finally officially join the ranks! Even more since since the day you saved them from the sky tear."

"I know," Sombra said softly, "I just don't know what to think. I don't know enough to oppose the laws, I think I need to study my fathers books."

He thanked them for making him laugh and when he left, Shining Armor was attempting to arm-parp the anthem to the Empire, to Cadance's simultaneous dismay and amusement.

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The six girls were shocked and concerned when this heavy news broke over dinner.

"Oh dear," Twilight Sparkle looked worried. "this is bad."

"Can't they, ya know, make an exception? I mean, you guys are all royalty. It's not like say, a junior Wonderbolt trying to pull rank." Rainbow Dash queried and her shoulders slumped in disappointment when Sombra shook his head.

"It is an old law. One set in all but literal stone I regret to say." Sombra sighed uneasily. He was paying little attention to his dinner and choosing to stare worriedly into space instead, racking his brains for an idea.

"So?" Rainbow cocked her head, frowning.

"So, regrettably, they cannot just be overridden on a whim! Otherwise any ruler could rapidly get out of control." Cadance explained. Sombra nodded.

"Cadance is right," Twilight sighed, "I know from my studies that it can take MONTHS to even get these things started. We don't have that kind of time before the coronation."

Sombra opened his mouth;

"For the last time, we are not cancelling it!" Shining Armor stated. Sombra made an exasperated snorting noise.

"Well, let us postpone it at the very least! I UNDERSTAND its a big public occasion, but surely they will not be too disheartened if we put it on hold a while? Maybe be truthful with them?"

"Maybe." Cadance could see her own concern mirrored in Shining's face. Sombra was already willing to give up what he'd worked for, what he'd earnt, for their sakes. Undoubtedly because of what was beyond question the still lingering guilt and ghosts from his past. He'd won the sky tear war, but he was still reluctant to do anything that might bring trouble. He still viewed it as THIER kingdom, his own position merely that of a figurehead.

How could they convince him otherwise?

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Parchment, one of the senior council members, was no closer to an answer than the royals were as he got home that night.

After dinner was over and his son was in bed upstairs, he told his wife about what was going on, stating his concerns over Sombra's refusal to accept it.

"I understand his reluctance," his wife said, looking sad, "he must think we'd think the worst of him."

"All he's done and he still carries that absurd notion? Honey, he's so intelligent, yet he remains so hesitant even after staring death in the face!"

"Think about it;" his wife said kindly, "growing up, from what we've learned, he was taught to blame himself for being different. As a child, that can be devastating to their confidence. Even though this is out of his control, he still feels because it's HIS inheritance that he's the one to blame. The Prince and Princess have been wonderful friends to him, the thought of hurting them is abhorrent."

"I didn't think about that," Parchment sighed, nodding as he thought it over, "but the fact remains that with the coronation so close, we're running out of time!"

The two didn't realize that their son was eavesdropping outside the kitchen door. He'd come downstairs to get a drink, but had paused en route to the kitchen upon hearing his parents talking. Curious about why daddy sounded so worried, he'd crept up to the door and heard the whole thing.

As he understood it, the law would either allow Princess Cadance and Prince Shining Armor, or it would allow Prince Sombra. But Sombra was refusing to take the throne away form his fellow royals.

So if something was not done soon, they'd have NO ruler!

He scurried back to bed, drink forgotten.

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After dinner, Sombra spent the rest of the day in his room, buried in stacks of books. But it was for nothing, the law was clear as crystal; his right to the throne was indisputable. He wondered if Cadance and Shining could counter it somehow, citing the circumstances? But that other law already covered that.

Sombra let his head slump to the desk, feeling worse than ever. By all technicalities, he was the legal heir and that trumped emergency measures.

"There has to be something, father." he whispered bleakly. "I am not giving up. I know this is what you wanted for me, but my friends, they're important too."

He came across an old set of loose notes from his days in his father's tutelage, one scribbled line mentioning a new law about sub-leveling the reign of power, in cases of larger Empires. But by that point, his eyes were burning and he fell asleep at his desk.

At some point near dawn, he woke up and staggered to his bed, passing out again moments after pulling the covers over his head.

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He slept badly that night, tossing and turning as he tried to think of something, ANYTHING that meant he wouldn't have to essentially back-stab his friends. In his mind, they had adopted him and he considered their reign to be of higher status, they took good care of the Empire.

When he finally showed up at the meeting, the council noticed he seemed more than a bit exhausted.

"You ah, got something on your muzzle there, bud." Shining Armor gestured to Sombra's face. Sombra blinked, spotting a blueish smudge on his face when he glanced at the nearest window. He coughed and quickly scrubbed it away with his magic.

"Ink," he smiled wanly "I fell asleep on my notebook."

"Drooled on it too?" Shining asked with a grin.

"Obviously." Sombra gave a brief laugh.

They sat down and any good humor Sombra had held onto soon got mired in the pit of concern growing once more in his stomach as he spotted the familiar paperwork.

The council discussed a few preliminary matters that soared right over his head before the main bulk of the meeting. The battle of the inheritance as Sombra called it.

"I don't doubt that his highness here," the pony speaking indicated Sombra, "has informed you both about the issue we've encountered?"

"Yes, he has," Shining cast a concerned glance at Sombra, who had gone silent again. He looked a bit sick, the other Prince thought. Why was he holding himself responsible for this? He wasn't to know!

"We have been over it and over it," Parchment shook his head, "but we can find nothing in the current laws that allows for any leeway. Those documents constitute a binding right, one that we cannot argue with, save for the case of the pony in question being unfit for duty. Which is categorically NOT the case in this situation."

"Yeah, no amount of pretending to be crazy will fool us." Shining Armor gently nudged his friend, making Sombra smile weakly at him.

"Drat, I'm so good at it too!" Sombra sighed dramatically, forcing himself to act cheerful.

"We understand," Cadance said, smiling at the two and their weird in-jokes, "Shining and I were aware that we were emergency stand-ins in lieu of a recognized heir."

"Celestia told us things were in dire need and that she needed us to help!" Shining Armor nodded.

Sombra's stomach shifted and he hiccuped, getting an odd glance or three from some of the council ponies. He felt himself flush slightly and resumed staring intently back down at the notebook open in front of him, but his own writing blurred into a mishmash of squiggles and he sighed softly.

"And that's what those files say, right?" Shining asked, "even Celestia said she recognized it as a binding document."

"Exactly, your highness and if we were to unjustly refuse to go with its ruling- well, it's an act of treason to go against the crown. Archaic, but still an important safeguard for illegitimate attempts to tear the current rule asunder."

Another hiccup for Sombra, this time more successfully muted. Nopony noticed, for all eyes were on Cadance and Shining Armor as they learnt all the details.

"Of course, the laws for the emergency measure have some complicated caveats to them as well. You two have been ruling for over a year, which gives grounds for permanence."

"That is the solution then, surely!" Sombra finally spoke up, voice filled with hope, "surely all they have to do apply for this law-"

The older pony raised a hoof, stopping Sombra in his tracks.

"It is not that simple, your majesty. The rules state the "law of inheritance" is absolute, except in very rare cases. What we have here is a literal case of two laws conflicting one another."

"Don't suppose we could just write a new one?" Sombra said bleakly.

"Wish that we could your majesty, but even I can tell that you know that's not possible." Parchment looked at the anxious stallion.

"Yes, father's classes did gloss over how the Empire was run." Sombra sighed.

"You mean you stayed awake through one?" Shining Armor chuckled, "according to Blueblood, your father would doodle on your face every time you fell asleep!"

Some of the council had to look at the table to refrain from laughing at the mental image.

"That he did." Sombra forced a smile.

"What about about Sombra's power over legislation?" Cadance pondered, "could he not amend the laws himself?"

"Sadly no. If the laws were that easy to change it could allow for such total iron-hoofed control-"

"-that you end up with a lunatic." Sombra said. They blinked at him with looks of surprise, so he added "lets face it, it's what I tried to do!"

"Once the coronation is over, the law of inheritance will kick into effect and we could be in serious trouble if the laws aren't followed-" One pony began, only for another to cut him off;

"We're aware the current plan is to put the coronation on hold and we feel we must advise against this, your highness." A councilpony said to Sombra, "the public are looking forward to the event with such joy, they will not sit idly by and watch you refuse the throne! The loss in morale would be simply-" he carried on, hoping his rousing speech would make the Prince buck up.

Sombra's nerves couldn't take any more and he felt a sensation he hadn't felt since his earlier days when he had tormented himself with flashbacks of his past. Those days when he'd first tried to deny Cadance and Shining Armor's efforts to persuade him to rule. In short, he was undoubtedly about to be sick.

He swallowed it down, ears flattening down as his stomach ached so badly, but it was no good.

Everypony in the room uttered sounds of concern when Sombra unexpectedly went pale and shut his eyes.

"What's the matter, bud?" Shining Armor asked, very troubled by how tired Sombra suddenly looked.

"It is nothing," Sombra shook his head as he sat up, "just an upset stomach is all."

"Perhaps we should adjourn for today if you feel unwell, your highness? Goodness me, you're as white as a sheet, do you want us to call a doctor?" One worried mare queried, looking kindly at the shaken Prince.

"No, that wont be necessary. I just need some fresh air. I need a walk, if you will kindly excuse me," Sombra got up, bowing apologetically, "I won't be long."

"Of course, your highness." the head of the council nodded. Sombra excused himself once more, then trotted hurriedly out of the room. Soon as the door shut behind, him he ran full speed for the bathroom.

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"It's the same thing." Shining Armor looked at Cadance, who nodded.

"Same as what?"

Seeing the councils baffled looks, Cadance explained how the shock of finding out he was the Crystal Empire's Crown Prince had shaken Sombra so badly, he'd been sick repeatedly while he battled with the decision.

"When I first persuaded him to accept it, he said he would not interfere with what we have done," Shining Armor sighed, "I knew he still labored under a damaging guilt complex and I figured it'd take time, so I didn't push it. He honestly seemed pretty happy about it whenever I brought it up lately. Its obvious from the look on his face whenever he speaks about the Empire that he loves it the way we do."

"He's worried about US," Cadance elaborated, "a small part of him undoubtedly expects us to be angry that his right to the throne may mean we have to stand down. I wont deny the thought saddens us both, but in the event of a worst case scenario, this empire has a wonderful ruler in Sombra. He's just too caught up in his guilt over this news to even consider it!"

"We nearly lost him during that awful battle," the head of the council stated, "his willingness to sacrifice his own life for all of us is what makes everypony in this Empire care so deeply for him. It is why we simply MUST persuade him to accept his crown! The citizens long to see him watch over them alongside the two of you."

"That's where the problem is," Inkwell put in, "his highness simply refuses to disturb what the Prince and Princess have done! We do not wish to lose you both, this kingdom has grown magnificently since you came here."

Cadance nodded in agreement, resting her chin on one hoof with a sigh...

Shining Armor once again diffused the tension with a loud snigger. He was reading the book Sombra had left behind.

"What is it?" Cadance asked.

"His notes that he mentioned earlier." Shining giggled merrily.

"What does it say?" Parchment asked.

"Blueberries...aren't blue?" Shining Armor guffawed, "oh wait, this is brilliant- Wood pigeons, surely not flammable?"

"He must've been running on fumes if THAT'S what he was thinking about?" Cadance chuckled, despite her concern.

"He's starting to remind me more and more of the father he spoke so often about," Inkwell chuckled, "he had a very odd sense of humor!"

"Other than that, most of what he's written here is what you've already covered. There's a line about sub-divide- but it cuts off there. I'm guessing that's where he fell asleep on his book.." Shining Armor indicated a smudge of blue ink.

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Outside, Sombra decided to go for a fly, to see if that would help clear his head. It was nearly lunchtime, so many a tempting food smell wafted past him on the breeze as he flew. But his stomach still hurt after the dash to the bathroom, so he ignored them for now.

The sun warmed his back as he flew lazily over the Empire, seeing it glittering below him. It looked so beautiful, his heart ached with a yearning to be at its heart, to watch over it.

Familiar locales passed by below as he banked and descended, he recognized the school little Bright Spark attended. He landed some distance away and decided to walk back to the palace, so as to stretch his legs this time.

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By the time he reached the school on his walk, the kids were out playing in the grounds. A gilded wall ran around the grassy section at the side and Sombra, being tall enough to easily see over, seen a familiar flash of mane just a second before she seen HIM.

"SOMBWA!" Spark bellowed, hurtling over, her friends in tow. She jumped up, waving her hooves at him. He chuckled, lifting her with his magic so she could "Boop" his nose before setting her down.

"Hey little Spark." He said fondly.

"Whatchuu doing, Sombwa?" she asked.

"Just out for a walk, I needed to clear my head."

"Why? Is somefing bad taking up all the space?" She asked.

"Yes, thin air." Sombra joked with a deadpan face and this made all the kids giggle loudly. But he still looked sad, so Spark again asked was he alright?

"To answer your question; yes, something is holding my brain hostage," Sombra sighed sadly, "It's about the coronation."

"Why is your coronation making you sad?" this baffled all the young ponies.

"It is a long story and I do not wish to trouble you." Sombra forced a smile. But the kids weren't buying it, he soon realized, as he saw their skeptical faces.

"Uhmm..." One little kid named Blank Slate thought he could guess why Sombra was sad. He recalled what he'd overheard his parents discussing.

"Is it about a law of, uhm, entriflement?"

"Entitlement," Sombra corrected, with a faint smile at the thought of trifle and nodded, "yes, that's correct. Wait, how did you-?"

"I overhead daddy talking about it, he says the law is kind of complicated."

"It isn't advised to eavesdrop, little fellow. But you are correct, there is a big muddle going on," Sombra said at last.

"Muddle?" Spark asked. The little foal nodded and turned to her;

"Daddy said Prince Sombra is the legal ruler and it means the Prince and Princess NOW may not stay."

Worried noises and cries of dismay swept the crowd of children and Sombra panicked, hating to upset them.

"No, no!" he assured them, shaking his head, "that wont happen, I promise! I have told them I will not let that come to pass. Cadance and Shining Armor will always be here with you!"

Blank Slate nodded, seeing Sombra looking unhappy, he felt he could guess why. "Daddy said that too. He says this Empire deserves all three of you, but the laws are fighting."

"Conflict of interest." Sombra knew that from the books he'd been reading.

"Don't be sad," a little filly realized Sombra was worried he'd get the blamed for it, "you three are friends and you don't want to be without your friends, right?"

"Exactly," Sombra nodded to her, smiling a little, "Cadance and Shining Armor are magnificent rulers. if anything, it is I that should be asking them to assist. I'm still new to this!"

"It's like having to choose who to invite to a party," one kid summed up and they all nodded. They understood it was horrid to have to leave a friend out. Sombra was being asked to ditch his best friends, and he didn't want to do it!

"Fret not," Sombra repeated, "Your Prince and Princess are going nowhere."

"But where will you go? This is your home too, your daddy was the King right?" another kid asked.

"Yes, he was," Sombra nodded, "I called him King Dingus once, he was NOT impressed. Until he started calling me Deputy Doofus that is."

More giggling from the children.

"Hay, how come we don't have Kings and Queens any more?" a filly piped up, frowning. Sombra thought about it.

"It's not clear," he said at last, "Celestia and I discussed that one evening as it happens. It depends on the region, that's the best guess I have. Griffon's once had Kings and Queens, the Gargoyle and Centaur kingdoms have them, even my father was known as a King when he ruled. It was a tradition in the Empire for a long time as far as I know.

Celestia said she and Luna were crowned at a young age and found the title of "Queen" to be too much. They wished to be more approachable and requested they be called Princesses instead. And it has been that way ever since, with many empires following their example over the course of their reign. Even father thought it might be easier on the populace if he changed his rank to that of a Prince, to level with the royal sisters."

One little pony had an idea as he listened to Sombra talk and ran inside, looking for a book.

"So it's just a name then?" Another tiny pony asked.

Sombra thought about it, "I would warrant as much," he smiled "that is a very clever way to say it. A lot can be inferred from a name!"

"Thanks your highness!" the little pony beamed.

"Mister Prince Sombra?" the little colt bounded over and buzzed his wings to hover high enough to hold up a book, "maybe this will make you feel better?"

"What is it?" Sombra held the book in his magic. The colt perched on the wall beside him and pointed at the first page.

"See? There was once a magical kingdom in a lush forest, ruled by a King and Queen. The Queen had three daughters, exactly thee years apart each. This was a surprise, for nopony had ever had THREE before." As he spoke, he pointed out the pretty picture to Sombra, showing three dainty ponies.

"All ponies only ever had one child, it had been that way for centuries, through a strange spell cast over the kingdom. The King had passed away in a war when the youngest was scarcely grown. Thus, when the Queen passed away, the three argued over who should run the kingdom, as the law said only one could be crowned. The country needed only one Queen. The other two would be forced to leave to found their own kingdoms if they wished to rule."

"The sisters were sad, they did not like to fight. But the citizens grew cross, arguing for them to choose amongst themselves. But they couldn't come to an agreement. None of them wanted to say goodbye, but they all wanted to stay in the kingdom."

Sombra nodded, absorbed in the tale.

"Anyway, One day the eldest was sitting by the lake in the palace gardens, crying."

"Oh, why must two of us leave?" she asked the water "are we not ALL part of this kingdom?"

As she cried, she seen an elegant white bird glide by with her two children, who were soft grey.

"Someday those babies will become big swans, yet they will be as loved in their lake as their parents are now."

The gardener heard her tears and offered her his hanky.

"Pray tell, what are those birds?" She asked.

"They are called Crested Odettes." the gardener said "they have been part of this garden for many centuries, always returning here after the winter has passed and always with new children. The little ones grow and take charge, but they never eave their elders behind. They a true family bird, did you know the Griffons call them "the birds of reign" due to their long stay in these parts? The little 'uns are called "Princettes"."

"Princess?" The young royal misheard him as she looked at the birds. The mother Swan looked like a Queen, she decided. So the babies...

"I know what I can do!" She leapt to her feet and smiled once more, "you have saved me from losing what I love!" she bestowed a kiss upon the gardener, vowing to repay him, and ran inside.

The next day she and her sisters addressed the citizens. They had come to a decision. The eldest would be queen. But her sisters would be PRINCESSES. She told the story of the birds, stating that the Queen was like a mother bird. When her babies were be considered full grown, or they would take her place. So if she were to step down, or, Celestia forbid, pass away, the next eldest would take her place. By that time, she would be learned in how to take care of the kingdom."

The final page came around at last, "the citizens cheered, for they loved all three girls, and were overjoyed that they would not bid them farewell. And so the eldest ruled, and when she thought it was time, she handed the mantle to the next youngest, and retired to spend her days with her husband, the gardener who had saved her heart all those years ago."

He shut the book. Every pony, Sombra included, was in deep thought.

"So...why don't you become the KING and Cadance and Shining Armor can be the little Odettes! That way, you wont have to ask them to leave!"

Sombra was dumbfounded. It all made sense now.

"The title is just a technicality," he murmured, eyes brightening, "the article about sub-dividing-!"

"Now there's MATH involved?" one colt groaned, "no wonder you're confused!"

Sombra chuckled, but he suddenly looked much happier.

"On the contrary, I think you kids may have just saved my ass-oops!"

He clapped a hoof over his mouth as the kids giggled.

"Forget I said that, you did not hear me, alright!" Sombra warned. "No amount of royal status will save me from your parents if they found out I taught you that word!"

The kids all giggled, but unanimously agreed it'd be their secret!

"As absurd as this is, would your teacher mind if I borrowed this book?" Sombra asked, indicating the storybook. "Is she here?"

"She's inside, but we'll tell her!" the kids promised and Sombra vowed he'd return it asap!

Bright Spark clamored for one last hug, which she naturally got, then Sombra spread his wings and took off again, suddenly eager to return to the palace!

Mid-way there his stomach grumbled and he swooped down to make a pit stop at his favorite bakery!

As he flew leisurely back to the palace, flickers of memory came back. His fathers voice, stern but amused, as he was tapping a hoof on a whiteboard...

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During this time, the others had had a brief break for tea and cakes.

"Now, in absence of his highness, we can discuss some previous standing matters with you, Prince and Princess..."

"Of course!" Cadance smiled, but inwardly she wondered where Sombra had gotten to?

"It's not like him to run off from something like this. Where do you suppose he went? It's been almost an hour!" Shining mused to his wife.

"I don't know, but I trust he knows what he's doing." Cadance replied reassuringly.

"Now, we have received a response form the town Prince Sombra sent aid to, the letter arrived by second post and-"

"I'VE GOT IT!!" Sombra suddenly came barreling back into the room. The doors bounced off the walls from the force, nearly trapping Sombra's tail between them and escaping such fate by merely a hair.

"Got what?!" Shining Armor yelped, pulling one of Cadance's wings up to duck behind.

"A very impressive Canterlot voice?" Parchment queried, raising an eyebrow, "Did Princess Luna teach you that?"

"Pardon? Oh- no, not directly." Sombra realized he'd been a bit over eager, set the box from the bakery down on the table and the book atop THAT. He was grinning ear to ear as he spoke;

"During my flight to ease my stomach, I passed by the school and stopped off to talk with the little ones awhile. One thing led to another, and one of the kids mentioned his father talking about the law of inheritance. I didn't catch his name..."

"Blank Slate." Parchment face-hoofed and shook his head "that boy, he's far too inquisitive for his own good."

"Far from it, it is his curiosity that may have given me a solution!" Sombra lifted the book in the air. He pointed a hoof at it, still grinning widely.

"A children's book, sire?" Another pony queried. The rest of the council were exchanging concerned glances. This was either the most obscure solution ever, or his highness was in denial.

"You didn't crash into a tree again did you?" Shining Armor asked hesitantly, "only the bump you got after that happened last time? Huge. You tried flying BACKWARDS!"

"Far from it!" Sombra held up the book, and launched into an explanation of what the kids had taught him. About the Odettes and the Queen. One by one, the ponies jaws dropped as Sombra successfully outlined an idea that made SENSE. With a kids story book.

"And," Sombra looked around, spying the childhood journal Shining Armor had been laughing at earlier, "some of father's lessons mentioned about sub-dividing the hierarchy. I remembered more of it on my way back here! It seems the Crystal Empire had some old laws before his time, about only one set of rulers such as a King and Queen. If they had kids, that child would not be considered a royal until the crown was passed to them. They would have no title. He campaigned to have it revoked, from what I can tell, shortly before his wife passed away. That was when I met him..."

"Hence how he was able to get that document legalized without fuss," Parchment stared, "but how come we were unable to find this law?"

"I wondered about that, as I remember him being very confident when he spoke of it in his lesson. Had he and the Queen had a child, he or she would've been a Prince or Princess! BUT, I left some of fathers books with the historical society, including some books on political minutes and plans for a new law book that never got published. I'd warrant if it exists, it's in one of those books!"

"Sire..." The head of the council stared, then bowed his head in respect "you may have just solved our dilemma. If we can just find those proposals-"

"I'm heading back out, I need to get to the historical society as fast as I can!" Sombra declared, turning to leave.

"We'll go with you!" The head of the council stated, "we can conclude our meeting there!"

"Excellent!" another said and they all began packing up.

"What's that box for?" Cadance at last asked what the box Sombra had dumped on the table was.

"Oh!" Sombra opened it, letting delicious fresh baked smells drift out "I got peckish on the way back. Does anypony fancy a cake?"

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Quillpetal got a shock when an entire royal delegation, plus a box of cakes, showed up on the historical society's front step.

"We need to see some of the books I brought to you." Sombra said sheepishly "my apologies for the interruption, brash as it is!"

"We can bribe you in cake?" Shining Armor joked, gesturing to the box on Sombra's back.

Quillpetal laughed, "I take payment in baked goods, no fear there!"

She invited them in and helped them find the books she'd been cataloguing.

She even offered to help once they explained the situation, so they took a pile each and began reading.

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One hour later….

"I found it!" Cadance cheered, bouncing excitedly up in her seat, holding the book aloft. She had a smudge of cream on one cheek, which she hurriedly wiped off.

They all crowded round her and the head council-pony read out a long paragraph of legalese.

"Meaning?" Shining Armor asked, hoping he had understood it right.

"MEANING," the pony stressed, "if we follow the former hierarchy set by Prince Sombra's father, there is no reason for any of your highnesses to fret!"

Cadance wiped a hoof over her forehead then laughed as both her husband and Sombra uttered huge sighs of relief and slithered into heaps on their chairs.

"Hoofbump!" Shining wheezed and Sombra wordlessly completed the gesture.

"There's also a sub clause about pineapples being a national fruit-?" Quillpetal snorted, eyes crinkling in delight.

Sombra face-hoofed at this.

"Seriously, father?!" he groaned.

"This one says it's legal to wear pants on your head," Shining Armor grinned at the male Alicorn, "can we keep this?"

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As they left, Cadance pulled Shining Armor aside and held a quick conversation with him. He nodded his agreement and they said nothing else on the subject the whole way back.

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They regrouped in the meeting room, where the servants set fresh cups of tea or coffee in front of each pony. Sombra breathed in the scent of the tea he'd been drinking since the crystal plague and felt a bit better.

"There's just one last bit," the older pony of the council flicked through the papers, "we now need to confirm who will be shifting rank-"

"That's obvious," Sombra said, mistaking it for a question instead of a statement. He closed his eyes, feeling relief as the words he'd held in check since the kids at the pre-school had helped him figure it out now spilled easily from him "Cadance and Shining Armor are going to be Ki-"

"Nope". Two voices spoke at once and poor, already overloaded Sombra almost choked on his tea yet again. His eyes snapped open and he was greeted by two amused faces, plus the councils bemused yet almost patient ones.

"W-why're you all looking at me like that?" he queried, feeling his new wings fidget against his sides, wanting to unfold and be free, but he sat on the impulse.

"In one ear and out the other, huh buddy?" Shining chuckled, using his magic to tweak Sombra's ears. In return Sombra jabbed him on the nose with with a cookie magically lifted from the plate. Shining Armor scarfed it out of the air and gave a low burp. Cadance rolled her eyes, but took over her husbands attempt.

"What Shining is trying to say-" she said as Shining Armor brushed crumbs off his muzzle "is that you're forgetting something crucial."

"You mean the paperwork? I know it's binding-" Sombra began, but his friends shook their heads.

"Not just that, but our opinion. Remember all that time ago, when I finally got you to wear that band?" Shining Armor asked.

Sombra glanced down at the thing now, lifting his foreleg to watch the sunlight gleam off it. After everything he'd gone through, he was surprised it hadn't broken. It was tougher than it seemed, perhaps as he himself was?

He was pulled from his reverie by his friends hoof resting on his right shoulder. Shining Armor was smiling and when he spoke, it was quietly enough that only Sombra would hear it.

"I said you could trust your friends if you don't feel you can trust your own opinion. So trust us, now. Cadance and I are overjoyed we can stay not just with you, but with the Empire."

Cadance moved closer too, giving a firm nod.

"I know what's making you dig your heels in," Shining Armor read it in his friend's face "you're afraid you'll be putting us out, that we'll think you've got an ego problem or something, aren't you?"

The way he said it so bluntly actually made Sombra laugh softly. But he did nod in acknowledgement.

Shining Armor grinned back and Sombra felt some of the weight ease off his chest.

"We KNOW you, don't forget. We've seen you grow from the start, you're not like that shadow of the past any more. You're the pony you were meant to be all along. Heh, I can't believe I opened fire on you that first occasion!"

Sombra chuckled, "you have good aim. Had I not ducked, I undoubtedly would have started a full on brawl!"

"Probably would have won it too, you're bigger then me!" Shining Armor mock-huffed. The council, unable to hear anything above a murmur, studied the way Sombra and Shining Armor laughed at what was probably a happy memory. The tension seemed to ease out of Sombra's posture, the wings settling down.

"So relax, please," Cadance said gently, "we know you worry about the past, even now. But as Shining said, you're not the same as you were back then. I don't just mean the physical changes, but inside too. You know what you're doing, we've both seen how you can just pull a solution from a disorganised situation. The party, the training grounds, the darkness dome, the list goes on. Don't let your past scare you, its over and done now. The citizens of the Empire adore you, your coronation is all they can talk about. They'll understand. If it helps, we'll hold another public announcement, it'll let you rest easy."

"So will you accept it?" Shining Armor asked, "we'll still be the Prince and Princess, we're not going anywhere. But without you, this plan wont work. So, what do you say?" he raised the hoof. A familiar gesture...

Sombra felt his gut shift worriedly, but he realized Shining Armor was right and this wasn't the past any more. If doing this meant he wouldn't deprive his friends of their hard work, if it meant he got to stay beside them, it was worth any fears he might have over being called a certain title again. So he nodded and bumped his hoof against his friends'.

"OK!" Shining Armor sat back down and gestured to the council "lets get this moving! The citizens are already about to explode form excitement over waiting for this guys coronation. We delay it any longer....we'll have a...lot of exploding ponies?" he looked concerned at the mental image.

Sombra looked down at the band, remembering how he'd been startled by the spells his father had put on it and had asked if it would explode for an encore? Celestia had asked that he refrain from exploding if he could. He recalled her amused smile.

Cadance met his eyes and smiled, she was thinking the same thing.

"No exploding before the announcement!" she teased and Sombra laughed..

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"-and the law states we can still have a Prince and Princess, as long as we have a KING!" Shining Armor grinned at the girls, "it's genius!"

Cue a seconds silence as this sunk in. The trio had sat through dinner grinning ear to ear, refusing to tell a word until they were done eating.

"YES!" Twilight Sparkle literally bounced over the table with a single bound and hugged Sombra, then let him go and hugged her brother and sister in law "yes! yes!"

"Yeehaww!" Applejack whooped, "that there's great news!"

"Oh I'm so relieved!" Fluttershy looked about to faint.

"Marvellous, darlings!" Rarity clapped her hooves in joy, "however did you come up with that idea?"

Sombra told them about the book, and how-

"It's all technicalities, just names. But it was a rule we could take advantage of, so the law of inheritance wouldn't force a decision none of us were happy with!" Sombra looked at Shining and Cadance "I'm sorry about how this must have made you feel."

"The same as it did you," Cadance assured him, "we were shocked, but we didn't want to see you refuse your coronation and be denied what you'd earned. Were indebted to you for figuring it out so we can help you run this kingdom."

Sombra was floored by this;

"B-but," he stammered "you've been here for so long and done so well, I'm-"

"We're not going to leave you to work it out on your own," Cadance beamed, "but your place IS at the very heart of this Empire. It's where you deserve to be and I don't think you'll be as bad as you think you are."

"Yeah, I mean, the council were anxious to get you working before the war was even over, remember?" Shining Armor added.

"So, we have King, a Prince and a Princess?" Rainbow said, "that is awesome!"

"It is just a name, nothing else will change." Sombra smiled.

"We're the baby birds!" Cadance chuckled, recalling the story, "I love that book, I wonder if I can get a copy just to remind me of the day politics was settled by a children's storybook and a box of pastries."

Shining Armor hoof-bumped his buddy once more and Sombra smiled, happy that they were safe and sound alongside him.

"We need to tell the Empire, so we're holding an event like last time, at the stadium!" Shining finished.

"Can we have a party after? A BIG big street party?" Pinkie Pie asked.

All three royals involved looked at each other.

"Why not?" Sombra shrugged and the others nodded eagerly.

"You must be so relieved tha problems sorted, huh sugarcube?" Applejack said to Sombra as Pinkie Pie began jotting down what she'd need.

"Well, of course! I feel kind of weird, having to change my title back to...ah...THAT, however," he flushed.

"Nonsense," Shining Armor said "this is your home, your kingdom. I know you think you're a little behind after being gone so long, but trust me, you've done great so far."

"Wonderfully put, darling!" Rarity beamed at the nervous Sombra, "a rose by any other name and all that, no?"

"True." Sombra sighed.

"And baby birds," Fluttershy giggled "that's so adorable!"

Pinkie Pie tried to make some out of mashed potato, but it wasn't as good as clay!

Watching her, Sombra had an idea. Focusing his magic, he created three little crystal swans, a white one with blue wings and a sticky-up quiff to mimic a horn, a second in subtle shades of pink and purple and finally a Grey one with black wings.

"Aww, so adorable!" Rarity giggled.

"Hay, can we be part of the family too?" Pinkie Pie asked. So Sombra gifted each girl with a little swan of her own, marked with their colors. Once he'd done that, he had a further idea-! Thus the trio related in one way or another to the CMC also had a pint-sized swan-baby to go with them.

When the cook walked in with the dessert dishes, pushing the tray ahead of her, she spotted the unusual centerpiece made of crystal swans.

"Well that's just adorable!" She smiled.

"Sombra made 'em!" Pinkie Pie grinned.

"They're adorable, your majesty!" The cook said as she set the desserts down on the table.

"But not edible!" Pinkie shoved the mashed potato-swans into her mouth and grinned, cheeks puffed out.

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Two days later Shining Armor along with Cadance and Sombra, held an emergency announcement at the stadium. There, Shining explained the problem they'd encountered with the law of inheritance.

"We came here when the Empire was in a lost state. Princess Celestia used a law of emergency that enabled us to stand in stead of a recognized ruler. Thus, we came to your wonderful home and got to know you all.."

The crowd looked touched at this and cheered their support.

"But, just a few days ago, the political council came across an unexpected problem. Our right to rule was an emergency measure, whereas Sombra's was a legitimate claim." Shining continued "This brought up the "law of inheritance". This law would require us to step down on the event of Sombra's coronation. He did not wish to see this happen, and put the coronation on hold so the council could find a solution."

Dismayed cries raced around the stadium and Sombra winced guiltily in remembrance. The crowd panicked, would Sombra never be crowned? Would Cadance and Shining Armor be able to stay? Who would guide them?

"But!" Shining cried, stilling their panic, "once again, Sombra turned out to be the answer we needed. He found a law that changed everything. Go on buddy, tell them!"

Sombra closed his eyes, taking a deep breath as Shining Armor turned the mic towards him; he seen the encouraging smiles on the faces of his friends and felt a little less uneasy as he spoke;

"My father, the former King, had put into practice a new law. Prior to him and his wife, any royalty bearing a child could not recognize said child as a Prince or Princess. Their only right to rule was in the case of their parents passing. But father changed it, wanting that any child of a King or Queen could be recognized. Not only that, but after the loss of his wife, he asked it be extended to include legal adoption. For those that could not bear children, this offered hope."

He faltered a moment, the sheer weight of his fathers gift pressing on his heart and it showed in his expression and voice as he spoke.

"That is how he was able to name me as his heir, despite the fact I was not his by blood. All he needed was my parents signatures, and the law was secured. I journeyed out of the palace in an effort to clear my head after finding out the law of inheritance may well force me to toss my friends off their throne. I am pretty sure Cadance has had enough of that by now!"

The crowd laughed, realizing he was referring to the "toss the princess" incident from Sombra's defeat last time!

Shining Armor nudged Cadance, miming throwing something with a whoosh and she giggled softly in remembrance.

"I passed by the school and one clever little pony showed me a book." Sombra looked to Cadance, who magnified the books cover. Many in the crowd recognized it, having either grown up with it or read it to their kids!

Sombra launched the "pointy pony" spell, retelling the story from the book, word for word.

"One of the children asked why the Empire couldn't have the "odettes". This brought back memories of my father's lessons in political law." he paused a moment, blushing and adding "The ones that I did not fall asleep in, anyhow."

Cue giggling from the crowd and Shining Armor snickering loudly.

Ignoring his friend in case he started laughing himself, Sombra carried on, "It required a bit of research and I sincerely hoped my guess was right, that the final part of the solution lay in my father's laws."

Now Cadance showed the law-book Sombra had retrieved from the historical society, the law written large on the page.

Sombra tried to explain the final piece of the puzzle, but that last remaining bit of nerves he still had caused him to clam up, he didn't know how to propose it without sounding foolish. The crowd pondered what he was hesitant over...

Seeing his nerves showing again, Shining Armor stepped up beside his friend.

"Don't worry folks, he just doesn't want to take all the credit is all! Despite the fact he's the one who figured it out, with the help of some clever foals and fillies!"

He smiled up at the crowd, who were watching the nervous Sombra with curiosity and kindness.

"This is great news, as it means we will ALL be here to watch over this Empire," Cadance stood on Sombra's other side.

"King Cloudspark's law stated that as long as the empire has a ruling KING or QUEEN, it can have a Prince or Princess. In this case, this means Cadance and I will stay on as your Princess and Prince, our titles will remain the same."

The crowd fidgeted eagerly in their seats, they knew where this was going now! They also thought they understood why Sombra was so nervous. Sure enough, Shining said what they were all hoping;

"-meaning Sombra will be our King!"

Sombra had tensed up subtly, expecting a backlash. Once again, he was caught off guard by the downright DEAFENING wave of cheering and whooping that followed. His ears went "poink" and the closer crowd members sighed at how adorable he was. Sombra seen several mares casting him looks that made him blush a little.

"Thanks to this change in name, not only do Cadance and I get to stay with you, but the event you've all been waiting for is back on track, right buddy?"

Sombra snapped back to reality, his heart still pounding and nodded.

"Use words, goofy." Shining Armor nudged his friend in the side.

"I know this must seem startling," Sombra blurted as Shining Armor angled the mic towards him, "I am aware it still carries the pain of past actions. But as much as it terrified me to hear it again, I knew between that or losing two ponies that helped me accept the will my father left behind, I would rather endure any lingering anger anypony may have, then say goodbye to those that have helped me so much."

More cheering, the ponies waving their hooves to catch his eye. Cadance and Shining both beamed proudly at him.

Sombra looked back up, seen the crowds eyes filled with that same kindness as they had when he'd first been unveiled to them as royalty once more all that time ago.

A pegasus flew over with a microphone, to a reporter who was anxiously waving her hoof in the air. Sombra initially thought she needed the bathroom she was hopping up and down so much!

"I'm from the Crystal Herald, your highness. First, I think I speak for us all when I say you needn't feel uncomfortable becoming our King-" loud cheering met this declaration, and she waited a beat before carrying on "You've shown yourself to be so much like your father, you may as well be his blood relation. You've shown so many ponies just what can be accomplished despite the darkness of the past and proven one pony can turn his entire life around and save an Empire. We know you loved your father and we see what he undoubtedly did in YOU. A pony that is perfectly trained to rule. You belong with us sire, with the Prince and Princess beside you."

Sombra didn't know what to say, his heart was lodged in his throat with relief.

The mare smiled once more, tearing up as she seen the raw relief in Sombra's eyes "so we welcome you, your majesty, our King!"

More deafening cheering followed, those able to fly taking to the air to get as close as they could to see their soon-to-be-King.

"Thank you." Was all Sombra could manage. He had to close his eyes, he felt about to pass out it was so overwhelming.

"Now," Shining Armor patted his friends shoulder, "didn't I tell you it'd be OK?"

"I know, I was just afraid that title would, with all the past history, upset ponies." Sombra felt himself flush.

"It's alright," Shining Armor nudged his side, "we all get nervous bud. Now, do you want to make the final announcement?"

Sombra smiled and nodded.

"Thank you, everypony!" he called out, the mic amplifying his voice, and the ponies all fell silent.

"To celebrate this discovery, a certain pink pony that set up the ball, has by now set up the ultimate street party. We invite you all to come celebrate with us in an hour!"

The royals bowed and left, as the crowd cheered and began filing out of the stadium, gossiping eagerly.

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The six girls were waiting by the palace entrance, Pinkie Pie grinning and bouncing up and down.

"How'd it go? Tell meee!" she cried eagerly.

"It went perfectly." Shining Armor said, not mentioning Sombra's nervous hitch, to the Alicorn's gratitude.

"See Sugarcube?" Applejack smiled at Sombra, "it aint the title, it's what ya do with it! They love ya to bits, whether you're a Prince OR a King!"

"They're just happy to have you watching over them." Fluttershy said softly.

Sombra nodded, feeling like a heavy load had been lifted. He didn't have to lose his friends, that was the best bit of all.

The ponies arrived pretty quickly and many crowded around Sombra, all wanting to express their happiness at his impending coronation as their King and to thank him for facing what had scared him, to save his friends and fellow rulers.

"It's just a name," Sombra smiled, "I am still inexperienced at this and I'm more grateful than ever that Cadance and Shining Armor gave me this chance and will continue to help me. I have a long way to go yet."

"You'll be just fine, sire," a stallion smiled kindly at the nervous Sombra, "we know you will be comfortable in no time!"

"We can't wait for the coronation!" another declared, "Who have you hired to design your outfit?"

"None other then miss Rarity," Sombra indicated the purple-maned unicorn, "I could have nopony better!"

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He heard Bright Spark before he seen her, a happy "eeeeee~" being carried on the wind and he turned in time to scoop her up and hug her gently with one foreleg. Shining Sea caught up to her speedy little offspring, being greeted by a kiss from the Alicorn. Nearby ponies clapped and cooed and Spark grinned knowingly at them, clinging happily to her precious Sombra.

Sea smiled lovingly at Sombra, nuzzling against his cheek.

"That was very brave," she said gently, "it can't have been easy saying all that. Were you scared?"

"Not as scared as I was when I thought my coronation spelled out doom for my friends!" Sombra confided, "I don't know what I would've done if we hadn't found fathers lawbooks."

"You'd find a way!" Spark told him, trying to plait his mane again from her seat atop his back, "You have the best ideas! Mr Shiny said so~"

Sombra smiled at this nickname for Shining Armor. But Spark was right, he DID have an odd talent for seeing the best path.

Spark went to play with the kids gathering at the party, who Pinkie Pie promptly took under her metaphorical wing. Shining Sea stayed by Sombra's side, listening to him talk about his father's obscure laws. The one about wearing pants on your head made her utter a loud snort, muffled politely by her hoof.

"Seriously, my father was a breadbasket," Sombra shook his head, laughing heartily. "You know he used to joke an idea had to sound good both drunk AND sober before it could be proposed. I'll warrant that idea didn't last long with the council back then!"

"I cant think why-ever not!" Sea joked in a mock-outraged voice, making Sombra laugh even more.

The crystal ponies clamored for his attention throughout the party, so many wanting to congratulate him on solving the riddle and to express their excitement at his upcoming coronation!

One pony even gave him some lovely flowers and he tucked the two most pretty ones behind the ears of his marefriend and her daughter.

"Pretty~" Spark cooed, "smells wovely!"

"Everypony is dying to know what you'll wear," Rarity smiled at Sombra as the party wound down, "I'm positively biting my lip not to reveal what I've made so far!"

Sombra smiled, he'd told Rarity to surprise him with the initial design and he was just as curious as the crowds were.

"Will I see a preview soon?" he teased and she beamed.

"Not long now!" she said happily.

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The next day dawned bright and warm. Sombra dressed in his comfy new armor, before settling on going for a flight! His confidence in his flying abilities was growing now and he felt safe enough to venture out for longer and longer trips.

As he soared over the main shopping street, he spotted a familiar face trotting out of a vegetable shop. He flew down, setting easily upon the ground in front of her. Shining Sea looked up from her shopping list with a blink.

"Sombra!" Sea felt her heart lift at the sight of him and she trotted over, nuzzling his nuzzle with her own "how are you?"

"Very well," Sombra smiled "I am pleased to say Miss Dash has certified I am a good flyer!"

"You do seem to be getting used to them quite quickly," Sea agreed, "they're so beautiful!"

Ponies angled their heads as they trotted by, smiling as they seen Prince Sombra with his marefriend, they made such an adorable couple!

Sombra trotted alongside Sea as she headed towards the open air market. Stall owners greeted the couple joyfully, happy to see Sombra visiting their business!

"I cannot WAIT for the coronation your highness!" Healing Breeze beamed at Sombra, as he bought some of a new brand of tea she'd made "everypony here is counting down the days!"

Sombra smiled, but Sea noticed he looked a little nervous. She hoped he was alright. Shed seen him at the announcement, noticed how he'd clammed up, still a little shy at being called "King" once more.

Sombra helped her carry the shopping home, having added to it by buying her and Spark numerous luxury cakes and sweets..

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She invited him in for some tea and cake and Sombra was more than happy to spend some time alone with the mare who'd shown him what it was like to fall in love! The way Sea smiled as she trotted about the kitchen, the way her beautiful mane caught the light and shimmered, she was so beautiful.

She caught his eyes as she set the cups down and gifted him a warm smile.

"Oh!" She smiled and indicated the cakes she'd just set down, "Spark helped me make these!"

Sombra chuckled as he seen a lumpen pony shape atop one that was unmistakably him, complete with wings and a little crown.

"They are adorable~" he beamed. Bright Spark had made cakes featuring herself, her mother and the Prince and Princesses.

"Is something on your mind?" Sea asked, seeing how he stared at the icing effigy of himself.

"Just nervous about this coronation is all." Sombra sighed softly.

She kissed his cheek gently, the familiar scent of her mane helping him relax.

"Don't worry, you'll do fine," she smiled, "the Empire loves you so much Sombra. I Love you. You'll be alright."

Sombra felt at ease just being around her, her sweet assurances making him feel infinitely better. Again, he was reminded how lucky he was not just to be alive and well once more, but to have this loving mare by his side. He looked down at the gilded tea cup in front of him, seeing how the light caught the gold paint on the rim. A gold...ring...

An idea occurred to him and he felt himself flush as it took form in his mind.

"Sombra?" Sea asked, seeing him suddenly get a sparkle in his eyes. He smiled happily, making her brain turn to mush at just how cute he was, then he kissed her and coherent thought was tossed aside.

He wrapped her in his wings and she snuggled against him. The peaceful sounds of birds chirping drifting in through the open window were the only sounds, aside from her heart beating loudly in her ears. She loved getting to stay so close to him, hearing his heartbeat under his soft coat.

"Thank you my dear Se.," He murmured as he reluctantly had to let her go. She had to go pick up Bright Spark from school and Sombra needed to return to the palace. She nuzzled his nose as they headed out the door, making his heart race again.

Sombra. flew up and away, seeing her vanish below him.

His heart hammered at the plan he was concocting in his mind, would she say yes?

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He was so distracted he didn't realize he was flying in the wrong direction until he noticed the Empire was now made of trees.

"Whoops," he muttered, banking slightly to swing around and head back the way he supposed to be coming. That was when an unknown something shot up from the forest below, jabbing into his cutie mark. A dulled sensation began to spread and he lost control, plummeting down into the trees.

Some distance away, a cloud-pushing pegasus seen a pony crash into the woods. He darted away to alert the guard, something had seemed very odd about it...

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In the forest below, a knocked out Alicorn lay sprawled on the ground. He groaned weakly, hearing steps near his head, trailing away again as whatever surrounded him walked in a slow circle, examining him..

"Is it possible? The signature is..." it mumbled in a rattly voice as it approached his head once more. Sombra felt a paw press against his horn.

The one examining him got a shock when a jolt of what looked like dark electricity crackled along the drugged creatures horn. It stepped swiftly back as the one it thought it'd knocked out, now launched to its hooves.

It was a big creature, male, his shape a little like Its own. He had a horn on its head and two big wings, wore fancy armor, gilded shoes on his feet and his dark red eyes regarded It angrily.

"Who..." the winged creature demanded, "do you think you are!!"

It didn't answer.

Sombra tried to fly, but his wings wings cramped up from whatever the attack had done and he remained grounded. He glared at the thing that'd attacked him, realizing it wasn't an Equestrian. It had four legs and a thin, lithe body. It was black, with grey markings over said body and it had a helmet comprised of a skull that hid its features, so only its eyes were visible.

"It will not wear off so easily," the creature said. "forgive the attack, but I have tracked the disturbance to this place, to you. I must find out if you know of the one I seek."

"What are you talking about?" Sombra mumbled as he fought to get his magic to work.

"I am known as "Death" in your language, I am a guardian of the afterlife. A species known as Fursoan. I sensed a massive outburst of energy, sensed the fading of a powerful life form. Yet, it is not dead, but it is not the same. It is YOU. What are you?"

"What?" Sombra stared, then realized with a sinking stomach what'd happened.

"Is there another like you? A brother perhaps?" was Death's next question. Sombra shook his head.

"No, I am an only child. Listen to me..."

"I must find the soul in limbo, and devour-"

"ENOUGH!" Sombra yelled, fluffing his wings up and yelling as loudly as he could.

Death fell silent. It was not often he was told so clearly to be silent. This creature had guts.

"I know what you "sensed"." Sombra closed his eyes, making a semi transparent image appear in front of him. It showed the tear in the sky, like an open wound.

"A thing from another world tore that gap in the sky and attempted to take over the Crystal Empire. Not that long ago, it was finally defeated by myself and several others. But in order to stop it, I gave up every last bit of power I had and I could not save myself from a fatal stab wound. I thought I was going to die, leave everything I'd gained behind. But thanks to two invaluable artefacts that protect that empire and the power of its citizens, I was given a second chance. They restored my body."

He trailed off, his voice hitching slightly. Just thinking about how fortunate he was to be alive now brought a tsunami of emotions swirling up.

Death paused, hearing this creature's tale with surprise. His kind had brought him back from the brink of death?

"Such power." he mused.

"It took an entire Empire to do it," Sombra told him, "that must have been what you sensed. I don't care what task you have been sent here on, I will NOT fall now. I have an Empire to care for, a family I wish to have. I have fought too hard to protect them all to have you take it from me now!"

Death stared in shock. Even with his poison in its veins, this being struggled and refused to give in. Was his theory wrong?

"It seems your near death was a pivotal event. It generated a signature I felt halfway across this world. Your body changed, you say?"

"Yes, I was totally reborn," Sombra said, "I possess a variety of magic that is rare in this world, but very strong when pushed to its limit."

He staggered then, slumping down as his energy left him. Death shot over, catching the strange creature in his forelegs. Resting him against his chest, he closed his eyes, the markings on his body glowing as he analysed this beings soul. He sensed immense strengt and a powerful heart. The beings body was warm, wings soft and feathery.

"Yes, it IS different. What I sought is merely a fading echo." Death mused.

"Please," Sombra gritted his teeth, managing to sit up so he could look this creature in the eyes, "don't do this."

Death studied him a moment longer, unblinking. Then he nodded. Planting a paw on this creatures chest, his claws clacking on the golden armor, he drew out the poison he'd injected into him.

"Your strength will return momentarily." He said, getting up and walking a few feet away. Sombra watched him warily, even as he regained strength in his lower body and was able to flap his wings. Death studied this creature now, these beings weren't familiar to it. It had seen them on its travels, sure, but had left them a wide berth for they were not what it sought.

"What is your species?" he asked the winged being.

"We are known as Equestrians," Sombra explained "Our race is comprised of ponies. Earth, Pegasi and Unicorn. And-"

"HALT!!" guards burst into the clearing, spears pointed at them both. One unicorn was poised to fire-

Death snarled, his markings glowing again, hackles raising.

"STOP!" Sombra cried, flinging up a shield around himself and Death. The guards backed off, staring in shock at their lead monarch.

"Sire?" one asked.

"Lower your weapons!" Sombra barked.

Death stared at Sombra in shock and his ears twitched.

"You defend me, even after I attacked you?" He studied how this pony's magic swirled around his horn, a deep purple shade.

"I choose to believe it was a misunderstanding. This place has known enough war lately, as have I. I have no wish to see another fight rage out of control where it needn't."

"Wise words. perhaps your brush with death has granted you knowledge and clarity beyond most." Death studied Sombra curiously, his tail curving up a little as he did. Sombra stayed calm, hoping this creature would believe him.

"Sire..?" the guard asked again.

"There's no reason to be alarmed! Please." Sombra hoped Death would remain calm if he lowered the shield.

"Sire?" Death mused, looking curiously at the guard, then at Sombra, "who are you? You have wings and horn, yet these other "Equestrians" only possess one of these features. On my travels I seen some who did not have either. Why are YOU different?"

"I'm," Sombra coughed, feeling a bit dizzy still, "I am an Alicorn. We are a combination of the three types. An earth pony's strength, a pegasi's wings and a unicorn's magic."

"His highness is our Soon-to-be King. In a short while, his coronation will take place, and we will have him at our helm!" One of the guards pointed this out to the creature, hoping it would get the hint not to harm Sombra!

"A King, mm?" Death cocked his head at the guards, then smiled, his teeth glittering, "you have chosen a wise ruler, he has reasoning beyond many I have met."

He looked at the King and seen how, despite his obvious tiredness he still stood proud but there was a kindness in his eyes.

"I will not cause your empire harm. What I sought has turned out to be merely a mistake, a misinterpretation. Your guards can relax, my liege."

Sombra wasn't familiar with what those last two words meant, but he got a feeling they referred to royalty or status and he nodded.

"Thank you." Sombra said gently.

"You showed mercy to a creature of darkness. Such things surprise me. Many who see such a visage run away, what makes you different?" Death asked, as Sombra dropped his shield.

"I was a tyrant once, a monster of cruelty and darkness both. Destroyed once already, but awoken once more to try solve a mystery never encountered in Equestria before. I learnt where my mistakes would lead if I did not do things different second time around. Sometimes, all anypony wants or needs is somepony who will give them a chance."

Death studied him curiously, seeing how complex this being was. No wonder his near death had caused such ripples.

"Yours is a powerful soul, King," he said at last, the markings on his body glowing softly in curiosity, "would that I could learn more about you."

"Who says you cannot?" Sombra pondered aloud, "It is a rare day that I meet a creature from a race not yet known to us. There is no need that we be enemies, perhaps we could be friends?"

"You would desire death as a friend?"

"I made peace with a near death of my own only a short time ago," Sombra smiled, "as you said, maybe it has taught me something."

"Will your ponies not run in fear, King?" Death asked.

"They will be surprised at first, I wont lie, but they are very kind. If there is no reason for them to be afraid, they will become curious and wish to get to know you. I know a young Princess who would consider it an honor to meet a new species and learn about you. She is very intelligent."

"She sounds like a scholar of much renown," Death mused, "I am curious. But fret not King, I will not harm the souls of your ponies, nor their homes. My task is over, only my life's goal remains."

"What might that be?" Sombra asked.

"I seek one known as Vitia. She alone may be able to grant me new life, if I were to be granted but a fraction of her soul's power."

"I see," Sombra wondered about this beings culture. "I regret I have not heard of one by that name."

"What is your name, King?" Death asked.

"Sombra." the Alicorn smiled. Death cocked his head to one side.

"Interesting, a name of the ancient language. "Darkness". Seems fitting, as your magic seems born of such a thing."

Sombra nodded. "Dark magic is rare in the sense that it can rarely be controlled. I was born with it, but even then it took a long time before I became who I am now."

Deaths curiosity sky-rocketed. This race had so much he did not know. Even in his eternal quest for Vitia, knowledge was something he eagerly sought, wanting to know ever more about the world around him. It had been a long time since he'd seen such a wealth of new things as this race.

He bowed his head to this Alicorn now, "I will follow you and your orders, King Sombra."

This was the first time Sombra had heard anypony call him this and it felt a little strange, but not as strange as he had expected. As they walked, the guard following closely and shooting suspicious looks at this new creature, Sombra asked what food Death liked.

"I like fish, they have a lovely taste to them. But mostly any food will suffice, be it meat or vegetable."

Sombra nodded, wondering where he'd get fish? Somepony was bound to know.

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At the edge of the forest a carriage awaited. They clambered in and Sombra pulled the curtains down a little so Death didn't have to feel exposed.

Death stared curiously at the passing scenery, then his gaze drifted to the King once more. He was a proud, elegant figure, just looking at him. But he radiated such complexity, in his magic and soul, that Death wanted to investigate him...

They arrived at the palace in short order and Sombra escorted him into the massive crystal structure. More guards did double takes, but Sombra calmly told them of Death's species, saying he encountered him on a flight. The guards took in the amount of twigs stuck in Sombra's mane and figured by "flight" Sombra meant "crash". But they decided not to mention it.

"Hey bud, hey other bud. Walk through a hedge backwards?" Shining Armor greeted them absently, eyes glued to a scroll as Sombra walked into the throne room.

"Walk? No. Hedge? No." Sombra began.

"Fell up a tree?" Shining Armor snickered.

"Close enough." Sombra snorted and Death uttered a dry chuckle.

Not recognizing the voice, Shining took a good look at who Sombra had brought with him and dropped the scroll. "whoa whoa whoa...who are YOU? You're not a pony are you?!"

He readied his magic, in case this thing was a threat-!

"He is not a danger, Shining." Sombra stood between them, smiling reassuringly, "it's a long story, but please trust me."

Shining Armor took in Sombra's expression and nodded, calming his magic.

"This is Prince Shining Armor," Sombra said to Death "he's my best friend."

Death relaxed, sensing the truth in Sombra's words.

"This is, well his name translates to "Death", he is a guardian of the afterlife as it were." Sombra explained and Shining Armor's eyebrows rose.

"Death? Whoa, that's intense." calmer now but still wary, Shining Armor studied this unusual creature. He'd met some yaks once, on a trip with Blueblood, but this creature was even more fascinating, its body shape was a mix of a pony's lithe build but with other animals mixed in.

Sensing Shining Armor's unease and distrust, Death spoke again, "I vowed to your King here I would do no harm and would abide by his rule. I stand by my promise, which extends to all ruling bodies of this country, Prince Armor."

Death bowed as he finished speaking, hoping this one would be as accepting as the King.

Shining Armor looked to Sombra, seen him nod.

He let out a tense breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding, "Don't worry, I believe you and I trust Sombra's judgement. How did you come to meet him, Death?"

Death told the story as servants brought tea and cake. He seemed intrigued by the cake, its sugary taste making his eyes light up, tail curling lightly.

"I see, so you thought the explosion of power was was an indicator of this being you seek?" Shining asked.

"I had wondered, yes. But it seems it was a rebirth, not a death, that I sensed. Such a sensation has never occurred before, I was immensely curious. Your King's bravery impresses me. Even after I stunned him, he still defended me from the guards that so fiercely protect his life. He offered me...friendship."

Shining Armor smiled proudly, knowing this would intrigue a certain Princess of friendship, aka his sister.

"I have not had much experience of this phenomenon, but I have long wondered about it. As much as I seek Vitia, I seek knowledge too and to be offered the chance by the King to make friends, it was unexpected. There aren't many that would be so bold."

"Yeah, getting in dangers face and giving it a hard time is kind of his party trick," Shining Armor grinned at his friend, "he's fought shadow creatures, fallen out of the sky, dived off a bridge into a freezing lake- the list goes on."

"Not THAT long!" Sombra objected, but he was trying not to laugh regardless.

Death watched their childish joking and smiled faintly. He could sense the bond, the strength of their souls.

From there, Sombra brought him to meet a lot of other ponies and to alert the guard who he was. Again, Death informed these guardians of his intentions to honor his promise to the King and do no harm.

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When the six girls plus the other princesses met Death at dinner, reactions varied. Rarity initially shrieked when he popped up behind her and Pinkie Pie grinned gleefully before offering a hoof to shake. Applejack honestly said he was the most unique thing she'd ever seen and Rainbow thought the markings on Death's body looked pretty badass. Fluttershy was fascinated, if a little nervous and true to form Twilight Sparkle was like a filly in a candy shop. She had so many questions for Death!

"Ah, you are the young scholar your King spoke of, he said you love to learn!"

"That's an understatement!" Rainbow giggled, "Twilight's all ABOUT studying!"

"An admirable thing." Death decided, which earned him bonus points with the purple Alicorn.

Cadance looked at Shining Armor, asking "where did Sombra meet this being?"

"It's a funny story-" Shining Armor explained it to her and she raised her eyebrows as she took it all in.

"Shot shim out of the sky? Funny way to go about investigating anything!"

"It was a bit presumptuous of me," Death spoke up, "I had assumed approaching a being with power like that would not be easy. It was chance that I arrived at your Empire and he was flying overhead. He was unguarded, so I took a chance. I was wrong, it turned out, for he was neither a danger nor the being I sought. His own protectors found him eventually, but he would not let them harm me, insisting more fighting was pointless."

"He did recently win a war," Shining Armor mused "makes sense."

"That he offered to be a friend surprised me, but I cannot deny it's nice to be around those I have never met before. I have travelled far and your land is beautiful."

He found Twilight Sparkle to be a kindred soul and they settled into deep conversation culminating in Twilight offering to show him to the library after dinner.

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Sombra offered Death a cosy room to call his own and Death spent his first night in the empire rather enjoying the luxury of his residence. This land was vast, he'd learnt from the Princess named Twilight Sparkle, extending far beyond this Empire alone and far across a huge map.

He'd inadvertently startled several ponies cleaning around the palace on his first day in the palace, but each time he'd sat perfectly still and repeated his promise. When they realized he was there by Sombra's request, they relaxed and some of the less flighty ones introduced themselves. The guard ponies still studied him closely, but Death knew that was normal.

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He was served fresh fish the next morning, which made his tail perk up immensely. They were delicious~

--This land and its inhabitants are fascinating. There is much I could learn, that could help me find Vitia.-- he hoped he could stay a few more weeks and asked Sombra after breakfast.

The King told him he could stay as long as he wished, no need to hurry!

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A train pulled in at the station as the ponies at the palace finished their breakfasts and an earth pony trotted off. She was tall, with a sturdy yet feminine build. Her twin-shaded purple mane fell in soft waves around a kind face.

She seen a few ponies glance at her blank flank but didn't care a jot. To still have her future be undetermined was an adventure. She could be so many things yet, she relished in the freedom.

So she ignored the curious stares and walked over to where her wagon and the supplies she was delivering to the palace were being pushed onto the platform from the cargo car. The two grown stallions were panting after getting it onto the platform. Alongside it was another mode of transport, her caravan. It was a compact but cosy little home and she'd travelled all over Equestria in it, doing odd jobs and basically just freely exploring the land. Her days in the sun had leant her coat a beautiful sheen and she had confident green eyes that shone with an inner contentment.

"Here you go, miss?"

"Wysteria," she finished and bobbed her head, "thanks boys, I'll manage from here."

Her plan was to deliver the cart and come back for her trailer after her job was done. It'd been a nice break to travel on the train, usually she towed her own way!

The two staffers shared looks, not quiet believing one mare could succeed any better then the two of them! This was her favorite moment, as she stepped up to the cart.

As expected, thier jaws slammed into the floor as she strapped herself into the cart and calmly strode off, towing the hefty load with barely a sweat. She'd been born strong, able to heft weights even a bulked up stallion would be left panting over.

"Remind you of anypony?" she heard another pony remark as she trekked by.

"Yeah, didn't his highness...?" the voice was swallowed up by noise and she didn't catch the rest. But she was intrigued, she'd read the papers of course, seen the images of an Alicorn with a stunning red horn. The dark magic pony, Sombra. The supplies she was delivering were supposedly for his coronation, it was the biggest event in the social calendar from what her fellow passengers had been discussing. Anypony who was somepony was coming, hoping to meet the new monarch.

Wysteria had to admit he sounded interesting. A significantly humbler pony than he'd once been, he was outright adored by the Empire now. The crystal ponies she'd met on her trip over on the train had been full of praise about the new Alicorn.

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Wysteria seen eyebrows raise as she strode through the streets, pulling the big cart with no fuss. She smiled brightly, wanting to chuckle at how she'd pulled the rug from under their hooves. They assumed such a quiet pony wouldn't be so strong.

She looked around the Crystal Empire as she took her time walking. It was a gorgeous city, so shimmery and classy. She made a mental note to buy lots of souvenirs to add to her collection.

Seeing the time on a passing watch shops display, she figured she'd better pick up the pace and broke into a run! She was so caught up in making up for lost time that she didn't see the stone in the road, but she FELT the sudden jarring sensation as the suspension on the cart took the brunt force from the impact. The wheel cracked and the cart began to lurch, threatening to bring her over with it!

"Nonono!" she wailed, hooves scrabbling for purchase on the smooth pavement. Crystal ground shot towards her and she shut her eyes in blind panic, awaiting a concussion. But a public-pavement-face-plant was not in her future, as luck would have it. The reassuring tingle of magic surrounded her, which made her open her eyes in time to see she was wrapped in a purple magic, her and the cart both. The straps undid themselves, freeing her from the hefty cargo's weight. The big cart steadied itself but remained in place by the magic's owner.

"Thank you, I thought I was a goner!" she heaved a sigh of relief.

"No need to worry, miss." the voice was well educated, with a formal speech pattern. She turned to face it and her eyes widened.

Horn. Check.

Wings. Check.

Garnet red eyes and a faint green glow? Yup.

This was a pony whose picture she had been staring at in a newspaper not long ago on the train. The soon-to-be-King, Sombra.

"Y-your majesty!" Wysteria realized she was staring and hastily bowed deeply, "I'm sorry-"

"It's fine," Sombra motioned her to rise and nodded at the cart, "I can fix this, if that's alright?"

Wysteria nodded, realizing he was still supporting the cart's entire weight with just his magic, which was no small feat. The build-up of magic around his horn increased and she seen the broken bits of cart reattach themselves, fixing the wheel back together.

"Where were you headed? Miss..?" Sombra asked as he set the fixed cart back on solid ground.

"Wysteria! I was headed to the palace, your majesty." she explained, showing him the delivery note.

"Ah! I can accompany you there, it is time for me to return. We can keep an eye on your wagon and I will have the place staff give it a check over once there, to give you some peace of mind!"

She nodded, amazed. The morning had taken a drastic, but not unwelcome turn. She hadn't expected to meet this guy so soon or even at all!

He offered to haul the cart, but she shook her head, insisting she didn't mind the weight.

"They seem so surprised," she mused as they walked towards the palace, "has a mare never hauled so much before?"

"Not a MARE, no," Sombra said with a smile.

Wysteria recalled what she'd heard,

"Did you pull off something like this too?"

He nodded, telling the story of the kids festival. Wysteria's eyebrows rose, it sounded fairly crazy and intense. All that fighting and working…!

"-And I said to the shop owner, I'm built like a line backer, may as well use it!" Sombra finished.

Wysteria laughed, he was pretty easy going for a royal, now she thought about it. Despite his old fashioned mannerisms, he seemed to have developed a more down to earth personality then the history books.

But was he Prince or King Sombra? She didn't know and didn't want to offend the stallion by guessing, only to get it wrong and get into trouble! So she asked which title she was to refer to him with.

Sombra scratched behind one ear and chuckled, "technically, until the coronation, I'm still the crown Prince. But the citizens are so eager to see the coronation, they've begun referring to me as "King" already! So whichever suits you, miss."

"Thank you, your Majesty!" she said in relief. That was that sorted, whichever one she used would be acceptable it seemed, thanks to the crysal ponies' enthusiasm.

"Where are you planning to stay?" Sombra asked.

Wysteria shrugged causally, unconcerned, "Oh I have a trailer, it's back at the station. I just need to find somewhere to park up. I'm not sure where in such a big city will allow me to do so, though." no lie, that bit was always the trickiest part about big cities.

Sombra thought about it and had an idea.

"Why don't you set up in the palace gardens? It is spacious and I doubt Cadance and Shining Armor will mind. There's no shortage of bathrooms and whatnot, plus we have a crazy cupcake baking mare who wont mind adding an extra in for breakfast. Would that suit you?"

She stared for a few seconds, caught off guard by the offer. Then she nodded rapidly. Staying in the palace gardens, who would refuse a chance like THAT? The palace was amazing, the closer she got the more she seen the detail in it, to date she'd only ever seen it in photographs.

"Whoa," she commented, "that is one big castle!"

"It has secret passages and tunnels out the wazoo." Sombra remarked.

Hearing a KING use the word "wazoo", made Wysteria snort with laughter before she could stop herself. She tried to hold the giggles in, but the King gave her a sly, amused wink and she had to let the giggles out. Sombra was laughing too, red eyes sparkling in amusement.

"I apologize, I blame Blueblood for teaching me such things!" The Alicorn said innocently, "and Shining Armor."

It was surreal, hearing him calling them by their names instead of their titles.

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They reached the main door and the guards greeted the Alicorn with the utmost respect, then asked to see Wysteria's delivery note.

"I-it's for a unicorn named Rarity." Wysteria stammered as the stern guards scrutinized the page. She knew her job was legit, but guards like this always made her nervous the few times she met them.

"Ah, miss Rarity!" Sombra beamed as the guards nodded, satisfied the order was legitimate, "follow me, I'll introduce you to her!"

While the guards started offloading the boxes and carrying them in, Wysteria followed Sombra through the crystal palace, drinking in the details with wide eyes. Such plush furnishings, she'd never seen anything like it.

She learned Rarity was a kind white unicorn with royal purple curled mane. She beamed at Wysteria and offered to make her tea, she looked pooped after that trek!

"What's all this for?" Sombra asked, eyeing up all the boxes from Wysteria's delivery as the guard brought in the last one.

"Well, as you're aware darling, I'm making a special uniform for an Alicorn King," she beamed as Sombra chuckled "and dresses for my friends, the Princesses and Princes! I ran out of jewels so fast I had to order more post haste and these ones are special!"

"I hope you will let me see this uniform soon," Sombra teased, "I am curious to see what you have designed!"

"It's almost finished, just a little more!" Rarity said and he nodded. Wysteria drank the refreshing tea, listening intently. Sombra called some of the guards and asked them to fetch Wysteria's trailer and set it up in the garden. She felt bad for not doing it herself, but Sombra insisted she stay and rest up.

From what she'd told him during their walk, she'd been on her hooves for a long time prior to the train ride. Sombra said the coronation was coming up soon, she was more than welcome to attend if she wished! Wysteria decided she'd take an extended vacation in the empire if it meant getting to see a coronation, nopony would turn down the chance to see THAT!

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The gardens were a delight and after such a fancy dinner with so many new ponies to talk with, Wysteria fell asleep in no time! She made a note to find her camera tomorrow, she wanted as many pictures as it had rolls of film!

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The next day The girls left for their trip to Ponyville. They told Sombra they'd be bringing back all their various family, so he could meet them before his coronation. Rarity brought her work with her so she could finish Sombra's outfit!

"It'll be all done when we get back, darling!" she assured him.

Sombra waved them goodbye from the platform, then returned to the palace. It seemed very quiet without Pinkie Pie's hyperactive singing or the sound of a party canon going off!

"They'll be back in a week..." he assured himself.

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"Cadance?" Sombra managed to catch up to her after lunch the next day, "can I speak with you a moment?"

"Of course!" Cadance set off down the hall and Sombra fell into step beside her "what's on your mind?"

"Well," Sombra cleared his throat, suddenly feeling a tad self-conscious, "it's ah, I wanted to know a place I could locate an engagement ring-"

"Eeee!" He stopped dead as she let out a loud, delighted squee.

Cadance hugged him tightly, then did a little dance down the hall before returning to him.

"That's wonderful!" she said, smiling ear to ear. Sombra blushed bright red, but she could see how happy he was.

"If it's a ring you need, I know the most perfect shop here in the Empire!" Cadance towed him to the library and showed him on a directory of retail stores she kept handy, "They'll design it to suit your partner's colors, so you may need a photo of Shining Sea with you. But I'm sure you have that~" She winked good naturally at him. Sombra flushed again, he couldn't help feel a flutter of nerves when he thought about his plan!

"Will she accept it?" he pondered, staring at the map.

"I think the world will turn inside out the day that lovely mare ever turns YOU down," Cadance assured him, "In case you forgot, your reunion was seen by most of the Empire!"

"I cannot argue with you there, Cadance," Sombra chuckled, feeling a bit better, "as of many things these last few months, I have never encountered a situation like this. My information is woefully lacking."

"Don't fret, Sombra," Cadance smiled, "you'll know what to do when the time comes. Don't forget, you have a talent for picking the best ideas!"

This made Sombra feel better and he nodded. With the information to hoof, he thanked Cadance for her help. She promised she'd keep it a secret, so as not to ruin the surprise when he announced it!

When he was gone, she squee'd again and danced around the library, which was how Celestia found her five minutes later. Cadance grinned sheepishly, wishing she could tell the other Princess, but she'd made a promise!

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Later that afternoon….

Out in the gardens, the air rippled and a shimmering rip in the air opened up. It shrank and grew, as if hesitating over whether or not to follow through with its plan. Then it abruptly widened, spitting out a young mare clutching a staff, before snapping shut.

"Whuu..." the young pony sat up, dizzily taking in her surroundings. She was in... the Crystal Empire?! She looked at the staff, as if asking "why?". And she was in the place gardens to boot! She couldn't get caught here, this was the last place she could be found!

She dove for cover in a bush as she heard hoof-steps approaching. Peering out from between the leaves she seen two armored guards pulling a wagon full of supplies over to a cosy looking trailer. They stopped and hung around a moment chatting as they set it outside the door, then returned to the palace. She waited until they were long gone and heaved a sigh of relief.

She studied her reflection in her staffs jewel. Good, her glamour spell was holding. She wasn't a regular pony, hadn't been for quite some time now. Her name was Winter Aurora. A tragic turn of events on her birthday had led to her being run over in the street as she'd returned home. As she lay dying, blood rising in the back of her throat, the staff she'd found in her adventures in the woods had begun to glow..

It had brought her back, but as a feared creature of myth. A Lich. Her own mother had told her to run, or she'd take action against her. Her young heart broken, Winter had fled from everything she'd known. She had run from place to place, ostracized and shouted out every time.

But she'd eventually found herself in the company of a kindred spirit. Sombra. A dark magic unicorn and former tyrant, he'd become her friend and her tutor. Last she remembered was...was...she wasn't sure. But she needed to find Sombra!

She got a little further towards the castle boundary, before stumbling upon a statue of a pegasus. She had never heard of him before, not even from Sombra's knowledge of the Crystal Empire. Who was this "Cloudspark"? And why did he have a false mustache stuck on his face?

Hearing more voices approaching, she hid behind the statue again, clutching her staff tightly. The clank of armor told her it was MORE guards. Alas, her hooves were starting to sweat and she watched in slow motion, horror rising, as the staff slipped from her precarious grasp and fell into the bush behind the statue with a tell tale rustle.

She took a chance, lunging forward, grabbing the staff and trying to run. But the bush was thicker than it looked and she found herself STUCK. All too soon she was pulled free and faced with the angry guards.

The unicorn guard held her in place and the other removed the staff from her grasp.

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She was brought before a familiar Alicorn, one she knew as Princess Cadance.

"Who are you?" Cadance asked, as Winter stood there, silently panicking. How come she didn't know her, after all that'd happened? Had she travelled in time? Maybe there was a chance she could get out...

She bowed her head, praying her glamour spell was well hidden enough for Cadance not to notice.

"I-I'm Winter Aurora." she whispered, her throat dry.

"It's alright Winter, you're not in trouble, I just want to know what you were doing in the gardens? And what this is?" Cadance peered at the staff the guard passed her, "I have never sensed magic like this."

She frowned a moment, then beckoned a guard over and quietly asked him to fetch Sombra. If it was weird magic, he'd be the one to know.

"How old are you?" Cadance asked the petrified Winter as the guard left. Winter stammered out her age, silently pleading to be let go.

She was given some iced water, which didn't help her throat feel any less like sandpaper. She answered Cadance's questions, saying she was from a tiny town far away. Yet she almost felt like the prim pink pretty Princess could see right through her!

"What's the matter?" a voice she'd know in her dreams spoke from behind her. She whirled round, heart leaping.

"Sombra-?" she asked, then faltered. The pony standing behind her was Sombra, but not HER Sombra.

This version looked almost the same, he had the grey coat, red eyes and that familiar glow of magic. But his horn was straight instead of curved, his mane wasn't shifting and flowing, instead falling in a natural wave and biggest of all, he was an ALICORN.

"Who are you?" Sombra asked. His gaze burned through her, and she panicked.

Sombra stared closely at her, sensing something was off. He unleashed a short spell, picking up on the glamour woven around her. He figured she was hiding her identity, a potential thief perhaps?

Winter sensed the spell and desperately tried to stop him, crying out-

"Stop, please!"

But it was too late and what Sombra saw caught him off guard. She appeared for all intents and purposes to be DEAD. Her skin had flaked off in parts, showing bone beneath. But her wide, sacred eyes remained, the light in them not dulled.

"What in blazes is that?!" the first guard swung his spear around "monster-"

Two others followed suit, weapons aimed to dice this undead threat, believing it to be dark magic.

Winter choked back a terrified sob and huddled over into a ball as the first weapon whisked by over her head, her body shaking in anticipation of a spear pinning her like a butterfly to a cork-board-

She barely had time to think before she had to roll out of the way of another spear!

In the melee, her eyes locked with Sombra's and one guard, hovering uncertainly nearby, seen a flash of light run across the Alicorn's eyes.

To Sombra, time slowed down, a multitude of images searing past him. But he sensed a similar situation that he'd grown up in, that of an innocent soul persecuted for what was beyond beyond its control. This was what made him lunge forward, even as he heard the hesitant guard shout his name.

The attacking guards, hearing their Crown Prince's name being cried in such a panic, faltered and were thus barged aside as Sombra threw himself past them, his wings alone knocking them on their asses.

"Stop!" Sombra cried as he shifted his body into a stance to protect the young miss. Unable to stop the motion, the remaining guard's spear cut across just above where the leg band was on his left leg. Blood trickled down into the jewel set in the band. Sombra snarled in pain, but did his best to remain shielding the girl.

"S-sire!" the guard stumbled back, looking both horrified and confused. Cadance watched this unfold in rapid succession, her heart in her mouth. What was that child, and how did she know Sombra?!

Winter opened her eyes, seeing the Alicorn Sombra was standing over her, wings raised. He was a powerful force, intimidating and relentless.

"Sombra?!" Cadance asked. He turned his head to glance at her briefly, his facial expression saying so much in just a glimpse. She'd seen that look in his eyes before, this was tied to his innate ability. Whatever he was doing, he knew it was the necessary course of action. Shining Armor had mentioned this several times, citing multiple occasions Sombra had known what the best course of action was, even if it endangered himself. He couldn't stop himself from enacting whatever plans were formed, not to his knowledge.

"Stand down!" she barked to the guards, who, thinking their Prince was possessed or something, were hefting their weapons again. Although they were reluctant, why would his highness do something like that...?

Winter watched as blood trickled down to the floor from Sombra's cut. Why was he defending her? He'd disassembled her spell, he'd noticed she wasn't normal. Why had he changed his tune now?

--He's not like MY Sombra...-- she thought suddenly, tears welling up again.

"Your highness, what are you doing?" the lead guard stammered, "you must get away from that creature!"

"She is no danger." Sombra said curtly.

"How can you be so sure, sire?!" the guard was confused, "she's a child with power beyond her control-"

"-Yes. She has immense power and she's facing extinction for being discovered. She's scared but none of you can see it, mayhap don't even care."

"How do you know that...?" the hesitant guard asked. Sombra stared unfalteringly at the gaggle of guards.

"You think I cant see my own history being recreated," he snarled, "power beyond what a child should know. Pushed to breaking point by ignorance in the world around her."

The guards paused, recalling Sombra's tale. He'd faced such misery as a child, being beaten and reviled for having dark magic. Mistreated and feared, it had left him damaged enough to lose all trust in the world and to turn his immense power on it in turn, exacting revenge. That was what'd caused him tor transform from a young colt to the adult version that'd taken the empire.

Their gazes turned to the child huddling beneath the Alicorn. She was trembling, staring at them in total fear. But there was something else too, anger. That she was being hated again...

The lead guard made his decision and set his weapon down, choosing to trust the Crown Prince.

The other guards did the same, one even flashed Winter a curious glance.

--How did he do that?-- she wondered.

"Maybe all we need here, is a chance." Sombra mused.

He peered down at the filly he was standing over "what are you, little miss? What is your name?"

"I'm Winter, Winter Aurora," she hiccuped "I, I'm..."

He lowered his head further so she could whisper it.

"I'm a Lich." she croaked, awaiting his outburst. He'd be disgusted, wouldn't he?

Sombra was confused. A Lich was a story, wasn't it? But there was no denying there was something odd about this young mare.

"We trust you know what you're doing, your majesty..." the lead guard said, meeting Sombra's gaze once more as the pony straightened up. "What should we do?"

Cadance got up and walked around to stand by Sombra, "we will handle this. there will be no more conflict today."

"Please," Sombra said, "I ask you to stay outside until we call for you."

Sensing this was something big, the guards nodded, bowing to their rulers before leaving.

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As the door clicked shut, Sombra let out a relieved huff.

"That was risky, you could've gotten seriously hurt!" Cadance used her magic to bandage the cut, he would still need to see a doctor, however.

He thanked her, smiling gently as he stepped away from Winter and offered a hoof out to her.

She peered up at him, looking a mix of scared an dapologetic as she let herself be helped up.

"It's OK, I promise I will not hurt you," Sombra assured her, "what were you doing here?"

"I don't know, I woke up in the garden. Last I seen, I was somewhere far from here. I don't think this is my world at all."

"How can you be sure?" Sombra asked.

"Because Sombra is my friend in that world. You're not him. He's a unicorn, y-you're an Alicorn, like," she looked at Cadance, "Like the Princesses."

"I see." Sombra murmured.

"What's this staff?" Cadance approached, seeing the girl flinch.

"I-it's...I don't know! It's what made me into this!" she gestured to herself "it was an accident."

Sombra asked her to tell him the story and she nodded, haltingly starting from the start of her tale. She left out all the fights and several other details, but she talked about her Sombra and the place she now called home. Also about how she'd "died".

"There's never been any known record of a Lich being sighted in this world. Not since the old histories." Cadance puzzled this over.

"Yet in mine, they are known and feared, as might any other foe. Most ponies run in fear, or gather mobs to chase me. They're afraid. All I want is to feel safe, feel at HOME. But so few want a lich as a friend. My life until I met Sombra was a life always on the run. Only a few ever offered me kindness, including him. There was a mother and child also, who travelled along with me. She was fearless, that child, just bounded up to me and went boop!"

Sombra's eyes widened and Winter seen him look over at Cadance.

"W-what's-?" Winter trailed off.

"It can't be!" Cadance murmured.

Sombra cleared his throat and summoned an image of his beloved Sea and Spark.

"That's them, how-?" she looked up at Sombra, seen how he looked at Sea and Spark with a loving gaze.

"Are you married?" she asked bluntly. Sombra flushed and Cadance chuckled.

"No, not yet- I mean- Uhh...I love them both dearly." Sombra ignored Cadance's grin and spoke to Winter.

"He's going ring shopping soon~" Cadance teased jokingly.

"Hush." Sombra said mock-angrily, a smile tugging at his lips.

"I see..." Winter blushed, wondering if her worlds Sea might go on a date with Sombra? He deserved somepony, after all he'd been through...

"What's the last thing you remember about your home? what happened?" Cadance dropped the jokey grin and asked seriously. She didn't think this young mare was a threat. Seeing her Lich form had shocked Cadance at first, but as Sombra had clearly picked up on, she was as scared of them as they were of her. It sounded like she'd been thrown into this undead life through no fault of her own and she just wanted love, like any pony might.

"There was a fight, it was cold, I'm not sure. But I have to get back, they need me!" she cried.

"Maybe the place where you came in, there might still be magic lingering?" Cadance suggested.

Sombra nodded and restored the glamour spell, before asking Winter to follow. Cadance came too, carrying the staff.

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Sombra asked her what the necklace was as they walked outside.

"Its a phylactery, it's what helps me reconstitute my body if it gets destroyed."

"Astonishing," Cadance stared, "I had no idea such things existed."

"Maybe not in our world, but in hers." Sombra suggested, and Cadance nodded.

Winter studied this Sombra as they walked. In many ways he reminded her a little of HER friend. Bar the whole Alicorn thing.

Sombra explained how he had come to be an Alicorn, about the sky tear war. Cadance interjected with funny anecdotes and facts that made the young mare giggle. By the tale's end, Winters eyes were on stalks, it sounded so bizarre! Not that she could fault him, by comparison her own story was more tangled than a ball of string at the mercy of a cat with a caffeine problem! But it was HERS, and she treasured that dearly…

Soon they were facing the same statue she'd come into contact with;

She watched as Sombra walked around it, horn glowing with magic, sometimes glowing brightly, other times dimming to a barely visible shimmer. Cadance watched Winter fidget, hopping from hoof to hoof. It reminded her of when Shining couldn't wait when they were on a date in their school years and he'd be fidgeting much the same as they stood in line for the play or a restaurant.

"Anything?" Winter asked at last, gnawing her lip as Sombra came back to stand in front of her.

Sombra nodded and she gave a gasp of relief.

"It is very faint, but I can still trace it. It feels like this was cast by a strong, possibly arcane magic. Dark magic certainly has a great compatibility with such a thing."

"You talk like Twilight." Winter blinked. Sombra flushed, he did tend to use old fashioned speech patterns.

"It's cool." the filly added, catching his eye and he smiled back.

Sombra ushered them back and began writing the spell needed in his head. Symbols etched themselves into the darkness behind his closed eyes, more and more of them as it grew in complexity. Winter blinked nervously as the alternate Sombra spread his wings out, magic holding him suspended above the ground. Sparks crackled across the ground and she stuck closer to Cadance.

"I-is this normal?" she asked and Cadance nodded reassuringly.

"Don't worry, he knows what he's doing. He's a mix of dark magic and an Alicorn's capabilities now."

With a loud bang, Sombra fired the spell at where he could just barely see a shimmering trace of a portal. A gust of wind blasted out from the space he'd aimed at, but in front of their eyes the trio seen a portal ripple into being, wavering at first before becoming more solid. Sombra touched down and beckoned Winter to stand before it.

"Reach out and touch it, if my spell is correct, it'll read that necklace of yours and pinpoint the other me."

Winter did as instructed, making an "eeh!" noise as she felt a faint shock run through her. But she did see the portal start to become more defined and she could see a snowstorm forming.

But she couldn't see any sign of-

"There!" she pointed through the storm and Sombra felt a strange shiver run through him. The light behind the pony cast him as a silhouette, but Sombra recognised his old self anywhere.

"You must go, if we meet, the world will probably turn into spaghetti or something." Sombra joked, but he spoke very seriously. Winter nodded and thanked him and the Princess for their help.

"Thank you both for being kind. All it took was one chance and you made it all much easier. I wish those in my world, my WAR, could see it that way."

"I'm sure you'll find a way, have faith in yourself," Sombra said softly, hoping she'd be alright. She smiled almost sadly, then dove through the portal. As it began to shrink, Sombra seen her running full pelt towards the shadow of his other version and the silhouette of his other self put a foreleg around the filly, body language showing how relieved he was.

For a moment Sombra saw a gleam of green, felt a shiver race up his spine as this other version of him looked right at him. Then the portal shut and Winter was gone, back home.

"She seemed sad." Cadance remarked as they walked back inside. Sombra nodded.

"Sounded like she was fighting a war of her own. Still, I hope the other me can help her."

"I'm sure he will, he sounded like a better pony in her world too." Cadance agreed.

"It is a relief to know I'm not all bad, in somepony else's universe," Sombra coughed, feeling his face flush. But Cadance understood what he meant, and patted his shoulder in agreement.

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A day later and Sombra stood outside the ring store for close to 5 minutes, looking from the photo he held in front of him, then up at the store sign. And again…

"He's either very lost, confused, sleepwalking or-"

"Or just plain nervous, you goof." The shop owner corrected her son, rolling her eyes as she walked over to the door. Her son watched in amusement as she stepped outside and the Alicorn jumped a mile in the air, wings flapping in alarm. Once he settled down, he showed her a picture and she nodded, ushering him inside.

"My son's great at color matching, I just set the stones and bands. Have a look dear!" She held out the photo of Shining Sea to her son.

Sombra seen the kids eyes brighten in recognition as he seen Sea's photo. "Hay, I remember seeing her. You two were making out after Princess Celestia put you back together-"

Sombra wanted to face-hoof. The kid was right, but very blunt...

"EXCUSE him, your highness!" the shop owner gave her son a "please shush" glower, "I think he forgets who he's talking to sometimes!"

The kid grinned, "sorry man, hard to forget something like that, mom wouldn't stop going on about how romantic it was-"

His mother grabbed him in a joking headlock, ruffling his mane.

"Alright you, that's enough. We need an engagement ring, pronto! Can you put that brain to good use picking out a stone to match her?"

"Yeah, no problem!" the kid hopped down from the chair and trotted into the back room. Sombra spoke with the shop owner while they waited;

"She's beautiful, hon. My son wasn't joking, I really did think it was the sweetest thing seeing you two together. She's very lucky."

"I think I'm the lucky one. She didn't laugh her hindquarters off at how awkward I acted, for starters."

They had a little chuckle as Sombra briefly talked about his awkward attempts at being subtly romantic. Or not.

"Here we go!" the son returned with a gorgeous brilliant white gem. It looked like a fusion of pearl and diamond.

"That's beautiful." Sombra said appreciatively as he seen the light reflect in it.

"I'm thinking a white gold band?" the shop owner suggested, holding a demonstration model up for the King to see. For the next hour they discussed the rings settings, engraving and various other things. Once it'd been confirmed and paid for, Sombra was told he could pick it up in a week!

The mare watched him leave, seeing how happy he looked.

"That's one lucky mare." she mused.

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While Sombra was learning to fly, drafting proposals to his marefriend, meeting new faces and time-skipping visitors, a pony was headed his way, with trouble in her wake!

But he had a more immediate concern that he was aware of, for Cadance and Shining were nipping off for a quick trade summit. Much had been delayed while they dealt with the sky tear war and they were needed elsewhere.

"Relax buddy, it'll only be for two days!" Shining assured him, "You'll manage fine until then, I know it!"

"Alright," Sombra smiled "good luck!"

He waved goodbye from the train station once more, then walked back to the palace soon as the train was gone. He was in charge, on his own. He swallowed nervously at the idea. But it was just for two days, right?

--Oh sweet merciful sanity, don't let me do anything dumb!-- he thought with a wry smile as he drifted along.

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Nopony gave the mare a second glance as she ran off the train and headed directly for the palace. To them she seemed like just an ordinary pony running late!

As she ran, the mare's mind buzzed with what she'd learnt on the train…

She'd woken with next to no memory and had remained where she was for a couple of hours before she had most of her memories back. Back enough to realize the trouble not just she, but her family was in! She'd cast a last lingering glance at a statue of a stallion that'd been in the room with her and placing a kiss on its muzzle, before running as fast as she could out into dark woods, memory filling in the way forward.

Everything looked vastly different, but she was still able to get on a cargo train headed for the Crystal Empire. Ponies she'd talked to had informed her all the Princesses were stationed there currently, due to some big war that'd been going on.

She'd been too anxious to take this all in, but she had a destination and that was all she needed!

Once she'd gotten onto the train she started to relax. All she could do now was wait as the train drew closer and closer to the Empire...

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After drifting asleep and being jolted aware by a bump in the rails, she saw an outdated and abandoned newspaper stuffed down the back of the seat she was lying on. Pulling it free she'd stared in surprise…it couldn't be?

Once she read the article, her heart sank. This pony was in massive danger!

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She ran to the palace by now, almost in tears. The day was growing dark, the moon rising into the sky. The guards intercepted her, demanding to know who she was.

"Please!" she cried, "I have to see Celestia, she's my-"

"Is that...Aura Blossom?!" Drawn by the noise, a fridge-raiding Luna stepped into view at the top of the stairs, plate of cake in hoof. She always liked to sneak some cake after lowering the moon, it was habit. The cake, followed shortly by its plate, was flung behind her as she ran down the steps. A staff pony would later see a cake smooged to the wall, stuck fast by its icing and the plate on the floor nearby.

For now, Luna was only interested in the distressed mare. She ran over, enveloping her in a hug that nearly squeezed the air out of her lungs.

"Aura," she choked out, "are we dreaming? How did you get here?"

"Oh Luna, I'm so glad to see you-!" Aura Blossom looked ready to cry from relief. She was a pale buttery yellow, with pink mane and tail. Towards the ends it darkened into a rose-reddish color. Her cutie mark was a cherry blossom, a symbol of serenity and peace…

Luna studied the tired, frightened mare and dismissed the guards, ushering the mare upstairs with her.

"We will go straight to sister!" she vowed, "we are so happy to see you, but we must ask how-?"

"I'll explain everything to you both, dearest Luna." Aura promised. Luna nuzzled her in a sisterly way, then pushed open the door leading to the throne room. She'd just come from there and knew her sister was still in residence there, along with Sombra.

"AURA?!" Celestia seen who was with her sister and pelted over there in a second, doing the same as Luna and nearly making poor Aura Blossom pass out from sheer hug strength!

"Aura Blossom, oh my heart- how?" Celestia asked through shaken tears as she regarded the mare.

"I woke up- the enchantment, it ended early! Something, I felt it like a shock-wave, it's unravelling things. But listen- there's a pony, the one in the newspapers, oh what was his name, Sombra-?"

"You mean him?" Luna said causally, indicating the other pony in the room.

Hearing his name, Sombra stood up atop the throne he'd been sitting on. Aura Blossom seen he was a powerful looking unico- her thought train derailed as he raised his wings and stretched them, before settling them down as he looked over at them.

"Can I help you...miss Aura-?" he asked, having not caught her full name. She stared at him wordlessly as he stepped down from the throne.

"An Alicorn?! Oh no, this is far worse than I thought!" she paled.

"I- excuse me?" Sombra asked, confused.

"Lets get some tea, Sombra," Celestia said, shooting him a pleading look, "I'm sure we can get to the bottom of this!"

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"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to offend you." Aura spoke directly to Sombra once they all had cups of tea in front of them, "but the fact you're an Alicorn, it means were in even more danger than I first thought!"

"In danger from what?" Sombra asked. He was a mix of confused and slightly upset at this strange reaction to his being an Alicorn. Why did it bother her so?

"The paper said- you're a dark magic user aren't you?" she asked. Sombra nodded.

"Born with it, by chance," he said heavily, "even turning into an Alicorn has not altered my magical composition, merely enhanced it exponentially."

"Sombra," Celestia took a deep breath, "there's something we haven't told you."

Sombra looked from her, to Luna, then to Aura. He put this together with that brief conversation he'd heard as he'd been locating his bedroom the day he had become an Alicorn. The name sprang to his lips before he could stop himself.

"It's about this "Valance", isn't it?"

"How did thou-?" Luna asked and Sombra sighed.

"I fell asleep on a bench in the hall. When I woke up I got a bit turned around trying to find my way back to my bedroom. I heard your voices, and headed towards them. I had thought to ask you for directions, Celestia, but then I heard what you were discussing and I just left you to it. It did not seem a conversation I should have heard."

"He is our brother." Celestia said and Sombra nodded, absorbing this.

"Please, let us explain." Aura Blossom said to Sombra, who nodded.

"Valance held dominion over earth, he helped understand how best to make this land of ours flourish," Aura sighed softly, "But one day, dark cult forces kidnapped me from our home and hid me away where they knew he could not find me."

"At the time, all the evidence pointed to her being dead," Luna looked heartsick, "we were all heartbroken, but Valance had lost the love of his life and he became inconsolable."

Celestia nodded, "we could not reason with him, not even beg him to partake of dinner with us. He remained in his room, morning his dear Aura."

Aura teared up in memory and Sombra felt a genuine sadness for her, as lost as he felt right now.

"But they weren't done with my husband. They made me watch via portal spell as they unleashed a dark magic creature, known as a nightmare entity."

Sombra shivered faintly, "I recall legends of such things from my father. They are a veritable horror story."

Aura Blossom nodded, glad he understood. She continued;

"I watched as my husband turned into a thing of nightmares, corrupted by his loss. He was almost able to reach out to his sisters, I seen him approaching his door, knocking aside the piled up plates and books of memories. But as his hoof touched the door, the window was thrown open and that thing was unleashed. Those BAST-" she cut off and let out a howl of rage that ended with a sob. Luna and Celestia hugged and comforted her while Sombra sat there, frozen. He didn't know what to do, he felt out of place here, only involved because she seemed distressed at his Alicorn status.

Aura Blossom composed herself and carried on;

"I could do nothing to save him, or even warn him. I watched as it brought out the anger he felt at my "passing". It changed him, that darkness, from a normal pony to a monster."

Sombra felt a strange sensation, an acidic burn in his throat, a sense of shame. What she was describing was what he'd unwittingly done to himself and she held so much anger in her voice for the darkness. His discomfort went unnoticed by both of the Princesses however, as their focus was on the recently reappearing Aura.

Luna took up the story after that, still not noticing the rigid posture of Sombra's body, like he wasn't sure he should be there and had no clue what to do about it!

"We were getting reports, every week or so, that ponies were turning up in hospital, some beaten close to death. Those willing to talk said they'd been attacked by a monster-pony, one made of shadows and molten rock and iron. They called him "nightmare"."

For months we hunted down every lead, but it seemed we were getting absolutely nowhere. There was no sign of a pony matching that description. During all this, Valance seemed almost back to himself. He didn't speak much, but at least he was leaving his room. Even if he often refused dinner to sit in his room with his memories. We should have seen it, but we were distracted dealing with the royal guard and police."

The moon Princess heaved a sigh, so Celestia stepped in.

"But soon, we could ignore the facts no longer. When we joined the dots, they led us right to Valance. The nights he spent hid away tallied with the nights of the attacks. The missing books from the library and the stolen files from the police, it was all his work. But we never thought to question our brother, we thought his grief was torture enough.

When we confronted him, he did not try to hide it. In front of our eyes he became a maelstrom of fury and hatred. He called himself Valance Eras no longer, instead his name was Nightmare Justice."

--Nightmare?-- Sombra blinked, eyes flicking to Luna. She didn't see it, too lost in thought. Sombra wondered if the events were linked. Had Luna's sense of loss planted the seed that'd later been fed by her jealousy?

"He unleashed his anger upon US and we had no choice but to fight back. But we could not hurt him and certainly would not take him out completely. In the end, after the room lay in smoldering ruin, we had used all our magic plus that of the elements of harmony and we had sealed him in stone."

"While they fought my beloved, I was trying to find them," Aura spoke up next "The ones that had captured me had grown too lacks-a-daisy around me, thinking I was stricken dumb by grief, that I'd become a mere husk. In a way, I had, I was so angry with them. And I missed my husband so much.

But when I seen him forced to fight his sisters, his own FAMILY, I lost it. All that anger deep inside came together like a storm. My cage and my magical suppressor were torn apart by my fury and all I could think of was how I longed to punish them. I remember fighting their leader, tearing his spells apart and unleashing a lot of magic. With the suppressor gone, I had full access to my power and I was out for vengeance."

Sombra flashed back to the suppressor he'd worn himself, back at the start of the sky war. His neck itched and he scratched idly at it a moment, setting his hoof down as Aura continued.

"I got away, leaving them stunned and trapped in their own headquarters. I ran straight for home, encountering a guard patrol on the way. They listened to my story and dispatched more soldiers to round up the ponies I'd escaped from, then drove me the rest of the way in their carriage. I was so sacred, yet I hoped if I could just get there in time I could save him."

She shook her head sadly, "When I got there, Valance was gone, shut away in stone, I was too late. Celestia and Luna were shocked to see I was alive, so I told them what had happened, that I'd been a prisoner all this time by that beastly cult."

"Then what?" Sombra asked.

"While I was captured, I started getting sick. At first I thought I was just ill, then it became clear that I was pregnant. I kept this secret from my captors, but I told Tia and Luna. I asked I be given only the time it took to birth my daughter, then I wanted to be sealed in stone with him."

"But...your child?" Sombra was confused.

"Yes, I asked Celestia and Luna to do me one last favour. I asked they pool their magic to send her into the future, so I might meet with her again when she was grown up and there was a chance she could meet her father too. I hoped there would be a cure, a way to save him so she would not grow up without us for her WHOLE life."

"So where is she now?" Sombra asked, but Celestia shook her head and he fell silent. Why couldn't they trust him? He felt another wedge form between him and what he was starting to consider the "real" royalty. The doubt that'd started growing before spread its roots deeper into his heart now.

"I don't understand what this has to do with me?" he asked at last and Aura regarded him sadly.

"You're a dark magic expert, aren't you? That kind of magic, it'll act like a lure to my husband. You have power and he'll want it once he gets free. Add in that you're also an Alicorn and he may see you as a threat to him. We need to do something."

"How come you woke up early?" Sombra asked.

"The bonds on my prison were not as powerful as my husbands, there was no need for them to be. I was not planning on escaping my bonds," Aura Blossom looked at Celestia and Luna as she spoke and they nodded "I don't know what woke me, but it was powerful."

Sombra's mind flashed back to what Death had said and his stomach plummeted as the situation became clear.

"I think I know." he whispered. He explained the sky wars ending, the sheer level of power his magic plus the elements had generated had been beyond anything seen before. Add in what had been given to save and transform him...

"I see, it sounds like that was what woke me. And there's a chance my husband may still break out. That's why I came here." Aura Blossom sighed.

"We should go to the place where your husband is kept-" Sombra began and Celestia nodded, intercepting him.

"We will, but it's late, we will have to travel in the morning. It's unlikely he's broken free, we'd have sensed it by now." she assured Sombra. He sighed again, nodding.

Aura Blossom said she needed to speak with Celestia and Luna and Sombra took the hint, getting up and wishing her goodnight before walking out of the room.

Celestia bit her lip anxiously.

"Just a moment," she said to Aura Blossom and Luna.

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"Sombra!"

The stallion stopped partway down the hall as Celestia called his name. He turned to face her, a mix of feelings swirling deep inside as she approached.

"I'm sorry, she wasn't expecting to see another Alicorn. Valance has been the only male until now and seeing you is a little hard for her, your mane even kind of resembles his the way it is now."

"Is that why you made me this?" Sombra couldn't suppress it any more "I noticed it caught Luna off guard when she saw me again for the first time, so I knew you had not discussed it with her. Even the way YOU looked at me, it seemed as if you were miles away, on and off all day!"

Celestia didn't answer, she didn't know what to say, Sombra had every right to be upset right now. True, it had been a snap decision to make Sombra an Alicorn and yes it was true she'd briefly daydreamed about her brother when she'd seen him with the wings. For a moment she'd remembered what it'd felt like for them all to be together-

But that had not been what had spurred her to do it-!

She snapped out of her memory haze as Sombra stepped back. His expression was hurt, almost upset.

"Sombra, wait- I didn't!" she began but Sombra was turning to leave. He looked at her over his shoulder, expression blank.

"I am beyond grateful you saved me, Princess. But I am not sure I should have these." he gestured to the wings, then took off at a rapid trot down the hall.

"I'm sorry Sombra." Celestia whispered. She was torn between how much she missed her brother and how she'd inadvertently hurt Sombra.

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Sombra sat in his room, chest burning. He caught his reflection in the mirror as he finally lifted his head. What had Celestia said, that his mane resembled Valance's? She'd given most of her power to help with rebuilding his physical form, so what if this mane-style came from her memories?

He felt abruptly uncomfortable, jumping from his bed and walking over to the mirror. He closed his eyes, reaching deep into his supply of magic. He wanted to change something…

A tingle ran along his scalp and made him wince at first, then a pressure started to build in his head. He let out a sudden loud sneeze and sat down with a bump. He rubbed at his eyes as the stinging faded and looked at his reflection.

"That's not quite it, but close enough." he shrugged. Previously, his mane had been a flowing black, like shadow but NOW it was still jet black, it still ebbed and flowed, but he'd enhanced it somewhat. Subtle patterns like dark stars seemed to flicker in and out of sight, the subtle flicker of light making his mane shimmer like a black crystal.

THAT felt more like him. Feeling marginally better he crawled into bed, falling asleep right away to his relief.

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A dark shadow sped through the night, honing in on a source of power that it knew would feed its appetite. Magical wards surrounded the castle, but it used the magic it had stolen on its way here to simply pry a hole open in them and slip inside.

It followed the magical trail through the hallways, its flame and smoke body giving the walls a faint orange tint. Then it slipped under a door and beheld what it had come for. No, what HE had come for.

Nightmare Justice, the phantom of vengeance.

A pony was asleep in the bed by the window, dark mane flowing like black starlight. A strangely colored horn caught Justice's attention, what manner of oddity was this unicorn?

The intruder hovered a moment before he formed a physical body in the centre of the room. A big, imposing presence, he wore armor fashioned from silver steel. Tail like spikes of cooled lava, mane like smoke and flame. Bat-like wings and a sharp horn. He was a terrifying sight.

He strode over to the bed, until he was looming over the pony. Sombra grunted in his sleep, rolling onto his side. The blanket shifted down, revealing a wing pressed to his side. Nightmare Justice snarled, anger fuelling his heart. Who was this imposter, this false Alicorn? There couldn't be another!

He didn't care, he would eliminate him and take that delectable magic-

Nightmare Justice reached a hoof towards Sombra's neck, when the stallion sneezed in his sleep and the wing he'd been gawking at snapped out, punching Justice right on the muzzle. This knocked him back into the dressing table with a crash, his momentum knocking several ornaments and a photo frame to the floor with a smashing of glass.

Sombra bolted up in bed, staring at his wing in confusion.

"What, who-?" Sombra blurted sleepily.

Then he heard a growl that snapped him out of his daze.

He turned his head slowly and ice trickled down his spine and his blood went cold as he took in just who or what was getting to their feet across the room, glaring balefully at him with eyes of fire.

"J..Justice?" he whispered, recalling Aura Blossom's explanation.

"Whelp," Nightmare Justice snarled, raising his wings and baring his teeth, "you will not live beyond this night!"

Sombra barely had time to propel himself off of the bed as Nightmare Justice fired on him. Molten fire set the bed ablaze, melting it in seconds and the resulting shock-wave slammed Sombra into the wall. He landed upside down, tail draping into his upended field of view. He hurriedly scrambled to his feet, meeting the next blast with a shield just in time to protect himself. Nightmare Justice seethed, gnashing at Sombra's defenses. He seen the tell-tale glow of dark magic in this pony's eyes, the green and red highlighting the false Alicorn's frightened expression and he roared;

"Give that magic to me, whelp!"

"You'll have to catch me first!" Sombra hissed. The flames were spreading and he barely had time to blast out a spell to quash the flames then he was forced to make a break for the window and out into the night. He could hear Justice close behind him and gasped in pain as a bolt of fire grazed his right flank. But he forced himself to keep flying through the pain and terror, he had to get far enough away-!

The guards threw the door open in time to see a scary looking something chasing the future King out the window. They were left with an empty, wrecked room. Surrounded by smoldering wreckage and broken glass, smoke lazily escaping out the same window.

Without prompting, they ran off to wake Celestia and Luna.

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By luck, Luna was at her post in the topmost tower and seen something go whizzing by down below, tearing the wards with abandon and setting EVERY alarm ringing. She yelped, shaking her head to quell the alarm bells making her go cross-eyed.

"Sombra?!" she cried, catching a glimpse of black and grey in the corner of her vision. And he was being chased by-

"Oh, my brother!" she gasped. The door was slammed open and she whirled in time to see her sister and Aura Blossom there.

"Was that-?" Celestia wheezed.

Luna nodded, pointing to the distance, "they went that way, sister!"

"We have to catch them-!" Aura Blossom gasped, "Valance is- he'll kill that pony!"

Celestia let Aura Blossom clamber onto her back, and the two sisters plus their in-law took off from the tower. Aura Blossom clung to Celestia's neck, eyes raking the horizon for any sign of he possessed husband.

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"There!" Luna, with her better night-time vision, spotted them first. She could see two shapes thrashing about, one at the others mercy. They hit the snow and Aura Blossom's stomach sank.

For a horrifying moment she thought the dark magic pony was dead, he appeared stunned and wasn't moving. Justice's teeth were sunk into one of Sombra's wings, like he was trying to rip them off. Then the other pony struggled, trying to wriggle free, but Valance was pressing down on his chest, putting pressure on his ribcage.

"Valance!" Aura Blossom shouted at last and he actually halted.

"Stop it, let him go!" she cried.

"My dearest." he said, his voice a distorted crackle of its former self. Taking advantage of him being distracted, Celestia fired off a teleport spell. Justice snarled as he seen his prey disappear, reappearing cradled in Celestia's forelegs.

"You would so willingly replace me with an imposter?" he roared, "that false creature, he needs to die-!"

"Stop!" Aura Blossom took a few steps forward, but Nightmare Justice no longer heeded her. He geared up a blast of magic to eradicate the one Celestia was guarding and fired it with a growl of anger, but it smacked off a shield soon as it came within range.

"What?"Nightmare Justice snarled. Celestia stared at the shield, then heard Sombra cough. Peering down, she seen he was awake and powering the shield, his hazy red eyes were locked on Justice.

"Sombra!" Luna sat in front of her sister, peering franticly at the half-beaten Alicorn, "what happened?"

"I...I couldn't fire on him," Sombra forced out "I needed time to study his...magic..."

He explained how he'd lured Justice out here and tried to reason with him. But nothing he'd said had gotten through.

"He can't hear me, or maybe he wont," The dark pony winced as he sat himself up, "he's bent on ripping me apart, he thinks-" he trailed off coughing.

"Thinks what?" Aura Blossom asked and Sombra pushed himself to talk.

"He thinks I am here to replace him. That somehow I am related in one way or another to you both," he looked at Luna and Celestia.

"We have to stop him." Aura Blossom sniffled. Sombra closed his eyes, trying to recollect the plans that'd saved him before.

At last he opened his eyes, looking at the figure of Justice who hovered in the air beyond their shield. It was as if he knew they couldn't run, but couldn't hide behind Sombra's shield forever either! He waited…

An idea hit him, Sombra's eyes brightened and he looked at the two sisters.

"You two need to distract him so I can put together a spell to extract his dark side. But it will only stand a real chance of working if we can get him pinned down. Otherwise he could adapt and overcome it!"

He looked at Luna, "you need to use everything I have taught you, can you do that?"

"We can!" Luna knew what he meant and she nodded, eyes filled with determination.

"What does he mean?" Aura Blossom asked.

Luna smiled softly at her.

"Sombra has taught us how to use dark magic, safely. I am fortunate to have a very gifted teacher, so we will combat our brother's darkness with our own."

"You taught her THAT-" Aura Blossom looked horrified at Sombra, then shook her head, nodding to Luna, "alright, I trust you both know what you're doing."

Celestia nodded and she and Luna went to stand at the fore, right up against the shield.

Sombra got to his feet, wincing as he stood tall and flexed his wings, preparing to fight. This close, Aura Blossom could see where some feathers had been torn out and blood seeped out from the wounds. She watched his dark magic flare up again and darted forward on impulse, stepping in front of him and placing a hoof on his chest.

He stopped, blinking down at her.

"Please," she said shakily as she met his eyes, mesmerized by the glow of the dark magic. It was always so dangerous, wasn't it? How did this pony live with it now without falling apart or being corrupted like Valance? She envied him that...

"Try not to hurt him. He doesn't-" she stopped, heart aching.

"I know," Sombra said gently, "I know what its like to let power go to your head, especially when fuelled by rage. I was in this situation as a colt, I can understand. I will do what I can."

Aura Blossom nodded, sensing something in his words that spoke of a bad point in his past. Hadn't Celestia mentioned he was a former tyrant?

She stepped down now, letting the new male Alicorn prepare to fight her husband.

"Leave the fighting to us." Celestia whispered to Sombra and he nodded. Luna closed her eyes and when she reopened them, they shone with the flare of her own dark magic.

Nightmare Justice seen this and halted. Sister Luna, too?

"So, he has corrupted you too, has he? I will tear you to bloody pieces for your crimes!" He snarled at Sombra.

Sombra didn't say anything, he knew Valance would not truly hear him anyway.

"No!" Luna stood tall, "we battled our darkness and got it on our side. The one who carries corruption is you, dear brother. And we aim to fix that!"

With that she and Celestia launched forward, firing an onslaught of magic at their brother. Not designed to hurt, just stun and also distract his attention.

Aura Blossom had a hoof in her mouth and was gnawing it as she anxiously watched her husband fight his own sisters. Next to her, Sombra was frantically compiling a spell, centering it around the band she'd seen around his leg.

"Are you going to put that on him?" she asked. He nodded.

"This band, it has strength beyond mere metal. There is magic on it that has safeguarded it for an eternity. It belonged to my foster father."

The last link of the spell fell into place as he spoke.

"What will it do?" Aura Blossom asked.

Sombra looked at her, expression worried but determined.

"It will draw the darkness to it like a magnet, channel it into that stone. Once it is contained, I will be able to absorb it."

"Absorb-?" Aura Blossom paled. Sombra smiled.

"I have had dark magic since my birth, I can handle it." Sombra looked at Valance, or Nightmare Justice as he was currently known. He flapped his wings, wincing as the bites re-opened, but he could still fly and that was the vital part.

Celestia and Luna were going all out, dizzying blasts of magic making it hard for Nightmare Justice to zero in on either of them. Luna especially was proving adept with her powers, firing shards of that crystal she generated around her wings, forcing Nightmare Justice to duck or evade at which point Celestia would go in for a stun blast. Sombra judged his moment and teleported. He appeared behind Justice, the band held tightly in one hoof. He could collar him with it, he thought quickly and the band was already widening as the thought crossed his mind. So long as he secured it around one limb or the other-

He was was so close, the band was actually brushing Nightmare Justice's coat when he realized the ruse and turned, firing the blast he'd saved for Luna at Sombra now. Close range, it punched the stallion out of the air, throwing him to the snow below. Valance dove, landing crouched over Sombra, a hoof slamming down on his windpipe.

"You're finished!" he spat, knocking the band out of Sombra's hooves.

Sombra felt a stab of fear, he couldn't fail here...no way-

Adrenaline surged and he felt something click deep inside. Heat rushed through his body, melting the snow under him. With a powerful kick, he threw Justice off him with surprising force. There was a familiar flare of light..

Nightmare Justice staggered back, snarling as the light blinded him for a moment. What did this fool think he was doing?!

The light cleared and he seen Sombra had changed.

His mane, once starry and flowing, now resembled silver flames tinged with purple. His eyes were a reddish gold and the snow around him had melted to slush.

"What-?" Nightmare Justice stared, he could sense a whole new level of power from this pony. Sombra roared and leapt for HIM now, knocking Nightmare Justice back. Their eyes locked and the possessed Alicorn realized this imposter was now a very dangerous opponent. He risked having his plan ruined if he fell now, so he fired off a wide-range smog spell, blurring their vision in stinging grey clouds as he fled.

"Hay!" Sombra snarled. He closed his eyes, searching for Justice's power the way he once had for the creatures from the sky tear. Latching onto a faint trace he took off, pushing his aching body as far as he dared. Snowy wasteland shot by beneath him, cold air ripping at his mane and chilling his lungs, each breath a fight against the raging winds.

Rapidly, Sombra seen the shadow of his opponent loom out of the snow ahead of him. He put on one final burst of speed, shifting magical gears-

Nightmare Justice turned, sensing power creeping up on him. He seen the flame-maned pony lunge for him, laughed and fired a blast of magic right at Sombra's heart-

But it did no damage whatsoever, the glamour Sombra had woven wavered and revealed an inky, shadowy form beneath.

"How-?" Nightmare Justice barked, "what are you-?!"

The shadow merely laughed, fangs bared as it lunged towards him. Its shadowy body quickly grew big enough to surround Justice like strands of seaweed. He tried to pull free, fly away, but one tendril latched around his chest. Cold leached into his bones, making him sluggish.

He heard a crackling sound and looked down, seeing grey crystal forming where the shadow tendrils touched. Crystal grew at a rapid pace, weighting him down. He pumped his wings, trying desperately to remain aloft but to no avail.

The ground below rumbled and more crystal sprouted from under him, rapidly forming and reaching into the sky. Soon it connected with the shackles Sombra had placed on him. Justice roared futilely as he was suddenly the one in chains. Sombra flew back, turning back into his regular self, starry black mane like an ever shifting star-field.

"Imposter!" Nightmare Justice strained at his bonds and grinned as they began to crack "you can't win, just give it-"

Suddenly Sombra was nose to nose with him and he felt something cold clamp around his neck. He swung out, pulling one foreleg free and punching Sombra hard with it. The pony was knocked out of the air and barely corrected himself before he hit the ground. He hovered somewhat shakily, one hoof rubbing at his cheek.

"What is this?" Nightmare Justice screamed in fury as he tried to tear the collar off him. But his hooves met only slick cold metal with some sort of gem at the front. It radiated power, this wasn't some mere trinket-

Sombra floated in front of him now, breathing heavily but with a grim set to his expression.

"I am sorry, this will hurt." he said softly, the words bandied about by the strong winds outside the Empire's shield.

He flew up a little higher, wings outspread, one fore-hoof pressed to his heart. The other reached out, pointing towards the necklace around Nightmare Justice's neck.

"Stop right there-!" Justice panicked, the sensation of panic making him grasp at straws.

Sombra connected his magic to the spell in the band. It could go either way, he could either transfer or take away. In this case, he was taking it ALL.

"No, you can't do this-!!" Justice's voice warbled, sounding briefly like his old self. He seen the pony's brow furrow just a little and desperately tried to use this to bargain with Sombra.

"Please, you're killing me-" he begged as his weaker self, hoping it'd sway this imposters heart.

Sombra heard his voice, but forced himself to keep going.

"You think my sisters will forgive what you're doing? Aura Blossom will see you imprisoned for trying to kill a TRUE member of royalty-"

This was like a verbal slap to the already unsure Sombra. But he could deal with this later, if he lost control now it was ALL over.

"Darkness will plead and bargain with any chip it has," he spoke aloud, upping the ante of the extraction spell. Justice howled in fury as his plan failed, and Sombra continued talking; "I should know, I am darkness. You cannot hope to best me."

Nightmare Justice could only scream obscenities at his victor as he felt his dark power being stripped away, the collar burning like cold fire. Strands of dark magic appeared in the air around Sombra, absorbing into his body. The magic gathering around his horn was almost blinding. When Sombra opened his eyes, Justice seen they shone entirely green now. This was maximum output, his real strength and ability.

For Valance, the real owner of the physical form, it was like seeing snatches of a scene in between blackouts. He could feel something holding him in place, could feel cold icy air tearing at his body. His vision focused in and out and he seen what seemed to him to be a fever dream. A pony, wings outstretched, surrounded by glowing purple magic. Glowing eyes and- his mind clocked out, unable to comprehend what he was seeing as this strange apparition took the last of the darkness that'd been hurting his heart. He gasped in relief, feeling free at last. Then he passed out, his last thought for his wife.

Sombra seen him black out as the last bit of darkness made its home in HIS body now. He could no longer hold himself aloft and crumpled to the snowy ground below. Snow soaked his coat as he lay there, sparks of black lightning running across his coat. But finally it abated, neutralized at last. In fighting fire with fire, he'd starved both himself and the extracted darkness of any fuel. So Justice's corruption was gone, but so was Sombra's magical energy.

He could feel himself starting to fall asleep, but forced himself to his feet. As he approached the crystal prison holding Valance, it began to crack, as it's source of power had run dry. Sombra kicked off from the ground, catching Valance's falling body as the crystal bonds vanished. The leg band gleamed from around the other pony's neck but Sombra was too tired to undo the spell to remove it…

He sat up in the snow, using his aching wings to shield them both, propping the other Alicorn's body against his chest.

This was how the three mares found them. Aura Blossom let out a shriek when she seen the shattered crystal scattered in the snow, then a choked sob as Sombra folded his wing back to show the pony he was guarding from the cold. She raced over, taking in her husbands face, free of Nightmare Justice's corruption. He was breathing shallowly but he was alive.

"He's drained," Sombra spoke falteringly, "I had to extract all his magic to take out the darkness at his core."

Aura Blossom nodded, too lost in her husbands return to normal to really hear or see Sombra. Celestia and Luna approached and when they seen Valance was free, albeit very drained, they huddled together to let their tears of relief fall together.

"We must get back," Luna spoke at last, "It is freezing out here!"

Sombra nodded. Being the strongest of them, he volunteered to carry Valance on his back. It was hard going with his injuries, but the cold helped in that it numbed his body at least.

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Somehow they made it back to the palace, where Valance was taken off his hooves and brought to medical. Sombra followed after as they laid him on the bed and the doctor started checking him over. He watched Aura Blossom, Celestia and Luna as they gathered around Valance beside, looking so relieved. Watching the scene, Sombra was struck by how….familial it was.

He had questions, but realized it was not the time to air them. He slipped out, unheeded. Everypony was so focused on the patient that his silent, thoughtful presence had become lost in the noise.

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He wandered the halls, only now feeling all the aches and bruises from his fight start flaring up. He came to a halt in the hallway a few corridors away from medical, cursing under his breath.

"You OK sire-oh sweet Celestia-!"

The guard seen the mess Sombra was in and swore.

"It's not as bad as it looks." Sombra lied.

"You should go to medical-"

"The doctor is busy, we have a very in-need patient there at the moment."

"W-well..." the guard had a lot of questions, what on earth had happened?

Sombra had a thought, "is the first aider at the guards' room still on shift?"

"Yes, our night doctor is still up, let's go see him." The guard left his post to escort the shaken Sombra.

"What on earth happened, sire?" he asked. Sombra shook his head.

"I am sorry, it is top secret," he lied. He wasn't sure how the royal sisters wanted to handle this, so he was best off keeping quiet for their sakes.

"I see, sire..." the guard accepted this reluctantly. What secret did the sisters have that would end up with an injured Sombra?

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The guards first aid officer did a double take when he seen Sombra, but didn't ask any questions. He had Sombra sit down on the nearest couch and began cleaning up the various injuries. He bandaged the bitten wing after cleaning out the small wounds, none of Sombra's ribs were broken thankfully, just bruised. Last but not least he put an ice pack on the bruise on Sombra's face from where Nightmare Justice had punched him.

When he was all patched up and cleared to go, Sombra thanked the guard for his help, then wandered away to find somewhere to rest.

"What in Celestia's mane happened to him?" the first aider asked. The guard who'd brought him there shook his head.

"He wouldn't say," was all he could offer.

"He has BITE MARKS on his wings, guardpony," the first aider said, "call me weird, but that seems very strange to me. That's a kind of fight that got up close and personal. Add in he wont tell who left such mark- something odd is going on."

"Even if it is, its not our place to question him. It's crazy, but I think his majesty knows the best course of action. We just have to trust him, and the Princesses."

"Yeah, I know." the first aider sighed.

They fell silent, wondering why Sombra was hiding the source of his injuries.

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Sombra went back to his room, only to realize and recall what'd happened soon as he walked in the door. It was a charred mess for the most part, the remaining flames had been doused by the guards, but even so most of the room was a blackened mess. His new armor had survived though, it had been in the corner furthest from the flames and only stank of smoke.

His heart ached and abruptly he felt like collapsing. Instead he pulled some spare blankets from a cupboard and took himself up to the tower where Luna kept watch. She wasn't there of course, so he curled up under the blankets he'd brought and at last let himself rest. The world blurred as he fell asleep, able to relax at last.

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Luna leant against her sister and Aura Blossom snuggled up to Luna's other side as they watched the doctor care for Valance. The fact this was an Alicorn he'd never seen before WAS a shock to the doctor, but he knew better than to ask. He would be told in time, he'd learnt that much.

There was a cough from the doorway and Celestia lifted her head, seeing the first aid guard standing there. She untangled herself from her sister and Aura Blossom and walked over.

"What's the matter?" she asked.

"I thought I should inform you I just patched up Crown Prince Sombra," the guard said softly, "I don't know what happened and he wouldn't say. But I thought you should know."

Celestia felt a stab of guilt. They'd all been so caught up in Valance's return they'd forgotten about the injuries Sombra had sustained. He always stayed so silent, so stoic, it seemed in this case he did not wish to cause a fuss. He'd no doubt gone to the first aid guard to avoid disrupting all them gathering around Valance.

"Sombra..." she said worriedly, then asked "do you know where he is?"

The guard shook his head apologetically.

"I'll find him," Celestia promised, "you can relax, I will handle it from here."

"Yes ma'am." the guard nodded and returned to his post.

After another hour of vigil, the doctor told the Princesses and Aura Blossom they couldn't keep themselves awake much longer. They should rest. Aura Blossom was given a room right next door and Celestia and Luna retired to their respective places. Luna went up to the tower to resume the few hours left of her shift. She got a surprise when she found the sleeping Sombra there ahead of her.

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Why was he here? She didn't know, but sat beside him, thinking over everything he'd done that night. He'd saved her brother. Tears welled up and she wished she could hug him in gratitude, but the pony was utterly exhausted and deeply asleep. So she tucked a pillow under his head and stared up at the starry skies.

Then she clocked what was different about Sombra.

Before, his mane had been solid black, unmoving after his change to an Alicorn. Now it was flowing freely once more, his tail too. It also had a starry effect. She wondered when had it changed...