• Published 15th Sep 2014
  • 10,162 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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Darkness & Decisions

The Crystal Bard was woken by the frantic ruckus the Prince and Princesses return had caused.



Curious, he slipped out into the halls, and bumped into Shining Armor. The Prince told him what’d happened, and the Bard felt a surge of pity for Sombra's condition. So he picked up a book he'd been reading and toddled along to the study where Sombra was being kept.



The doctor was surprised when the Bard stuck his head round the door, shyly asking if he could see Sombra.



"I don’t think its-" the Doc began, but Sombra spoke softly, having been awake for several minutes.



"Please...let him in..." he croaked. The Bard toddled in, setting down close by the Prince.



"Shining Armor told me...mhwrr....you were ill. Would it help if I...mwrr...read to you?"



Sombra got the feeling this little creatures voice might just help distract him from the pain. So he managed to gather a smile, and nodded.



The doctor made him drink another cup of the sweet-tasting tea as the Bard settled down by the fire and began to read.



Its voice was wonderful, soothing. Sombra felt his mind detach from the pains of his body, and he began to drift asleep after awhile, lulled asleep by the melodic voice.



The doctor was relieved to see this seemed a much lighter, happier state of sleep. He thanked the Bard, who happily curled up in a corner with one of the blankets. He seemed quite fond of Sombra....

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He felt heavy-limbed, like the black crystal had wormed its way into his very BONES. And so it was just nearing sunset, a day after the return, when things got crazy. A day spent in and out of consciousness, feeling his magic slowly, painstakingly, replenish itself..



When Luna’s reign began, he dozed off...

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He realised a split second after awaking in pitch darkness, that something was wrong.



"Princess Luna..?" he asked hesitantly, as this was how she'd appeared last time to bring him to that memory "have you found a new memory?"



“No.." a sibilant voice hissed "but I’ve found some OLD ones...!"



Sombra whirled, seeing a pair of leering yellow eyes staring at him.



"W-what's...?" he stammered.



"You’re not cured yet, little Prince. How shall I say this; my bite is far far worse than my bark if you catch my drift.."



Sombra began to feel sick. So the variant of the infection he'd received was a different strain to that used in the initial infection.



"Now its time for you to remember EVERYTHING. All those times I seen your dreams, you think I didn’t notice the skeletons in the closet? So much darkness, buried so deep..."



Sombra tried to force himself to wake up, but felt as if he was trapped, locked away.



"Nuh-uh..." the shadow sneered "you’re not getting away so easy...I’m not done with you..."



"Give it up!" Sombra snapped "I’ve seen your world, and I will NOT allow it to happen to this one!"



"Admirable, and I’ve come to accept you're so stubborn you’ll never listen to reason. Not while you have that kind of power anyway..."



“What’re you talking about?" Sombra said uneasily.



"Oh you’ll see...meanwhile, I'll leave you in the company of your deepest, darkest memories. Enjoy, little Prince.."



"Get back here!" Sombra raged, lunging for it, but it vanished.



"You see, I don’t JUST take their energy from them, sometimes I take knowledge too..." the disembodied voice laughed before fading. Sombra stood stock still in the silence, his heart thudding. What was it on about?



Then he was hit by a sudden deluge of pain, and he crumpled to his knees with a strangled sound.



"NO..!" he shook his head, eyes shut, trying to push it back. But the wave became a tsunami, and he could no more fight it then he could fight his father back when he was a foal! Like a demented slide-show the images tore through his head, seeming to blur yet be crystal clear at that same time.



Memories of what he'd done during his takeover. Enslaving the ponies, being a heartless beast, ruling his own staff with iron hoof. Having everything that reminded him of his "father", adoptive anyway, sealed away beneath the castle. Expressions of fear in the ponies eyes, as they hauled carts of crystals and gems, while he pored obsessively over the crystal heart. Determined to have its secrets for his own. The taint of insanity, growing and growing as time went by, until he no longer seemed himself!



---Stop it!! This is...I cant stand it..-- he felt like his brain was overloading. He'd known these memories were here, yet being unable to fully view them had led him to believe he could change who he was. But now he felt that hope fluctuating, bending under the onslaught.



Then came the final battle against Luna and Celestia. How they’d come for him, tried to reason with him. When that’d failed, they’d fought him instead. Sealing him away beneath the ice and darkness. But not before he'd unleashed a final spell, hiding the Empire for the next thousand years.



He struggled to breathe, his chest aching so badly it felt like his heart was going to stop. But there was one final scene to watch.



His defeat at the hooves of Twilight Sparkle and company. How he'd battled Shining Armor, tried to corrupt the empire once more. Seeing the crystal heart swooped away from him by Cadance. That bright blue light that’d enveloped him, and his memories ended there. To begin again when Celestia and the others summoned him NOW.



All those times that creature had been haunting his dreams, his nightmares, it’d seen glimpses of his memories. And with the pilfered knowledge it’d taken from its victims, it’d learnt about magic in this world, about spells. And it had woven a dark creation of it's very own. One designed to rip apart the defenses Sombra had erected, hiding his past, the worst memories.



It had seemed the unicorn had been on his own path to self destruction, revisiting those haunted memories at his own uncontrolled behest. Tormenting himself night after night. He'd started to fade, and the creature had hoped...



But then he'd changed, his fury and spirit re-lit, something had begun. He'd regained that dark magic, so similar to its own. Yet this creature, this "unicorn" was adapting, learning. His magic modifying with each attack, as he seemingly learnt more and more. Those other ponies were accepting this dark, twisted creature as one of their own, which spelled disaster for its invasion.



So it was with a perverse glee it’d finally seen the meddlesome pony drawn into ITS realm, along with that dark blue one. The bite had started to become infected the moment Sombra set foot in its world, as the poison within called out to the one that’d created it.



As Sombra had leapt for the exit, it'd sliced at his back leg, attaching a small shred of itself to the wound, infiltrating the host body. It made the invader feel sick with fury how this wretched creature had gained so much love from them, despite being an abomination.



Now it intended to make Sombra suffer, then take from him what it wanted.



Its grin widened as it heard Sombra's cries of pain back in the real world, as his mind was under assault from his own past, in his dreams!



But enough fun, it was time to launch phase two. His scouts were on their way. And with their early warning system effectively disabled, the castle was vulnerable.



Almost.

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It hadn’t counted on the goggles Sombra had given Princess Luna. She was sat atop the tower, staring rigidly into the distance, anger stewing inside at how that thing had nearly gotten her and Sombra killed! She would see that it paid for that!



It was this intense focus that meant she actually spotted the dark shapes as they whooshed silently towards the palace. Her heart jolted, and she got up, fleeing back downstairs bellowing in her equestrian voice for everypony to "wake up NOW!"



A mere minute after and the onslaught began.

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Celestia was woken by the sound of a window shattering. She bolted up from her bed, magic at the ready. So when one of those things came barreling through the door, it was blasted right back out of it by a torrent of golden magic!



Two guards came running to her soon as she stepped outside. One of them gave her a spare pair of goggles so she could see the cores.



Pelting down an expansive hallway, she nearly collided with Twilight and friends!



"Where are they all coming from?" Rarity gasped.



"I have no idea, where’s Sombra?" Celestia asked "an invasion of this magnitude and nothings exploded yet, it seems odd..." but for all the brevity, she was deeply concerned.



There was a split second silence, then Pinkie Pie suddenly blurted;



"Its after HIM!!" she cried, her whole body seeming to fidget, something the others recognized. It was the "Pinkie Sense" warning signs of a "right big doozy!".



"Find the doozy Pinkie Pie!" Rarity took charge, trying to steer Pinkie Pie in some semblance of a direction. In the end, this actually WORKED, and Pinkie Pie took off in a series of lurching jumps and bounds, heading towards the throne room...

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During all this, Sombra had been under assault from the creatures mental bombardment...



It appeared in the dream world, where Sombra's shivering form lay curled up on the ground.



"Time to just...give in, isn't it?" it jeered.



Sombra's mind tried, at a base level, to object, but what Sombra had just been put through rendered it mute. So much fear, anger, and heartache all at once had left the stallion dazed and susceptible to influence. The pain inside echoed the creatures words.



"Come now, it can all end now. All you have to do is be shot of that power and you won't feel this pain any more.." it said in a mocking, kind voice. It stepped forward, titling the pony's chin so he couldn't avoid the creatures gaze. And smirked when it seen the last threads of resistance snapping, a dullness sweeping over Sombra's mind.



"You can rejoin your father...I’m sure he misses you.." it lied, knowing the pony that'd given Sombra that band was close to Sombra's heart. Which meant he could use him to break it!



It worked. All the fight seemed to abandon Sombra, and he just stared blankly up at the creature.



"Now, awaken...we have much to do.." it sneered, before vanishing.

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Back in the physical world, Sombra opened his eyes. He got up from the bed, his movements mechanical, like a puppet.



He walked on auto pilot to the throne room. Everypony had been lured elsewhere by the tactical strikes of the lead creature's clones.



Soon as he entered the doors slammed behind him. He paid them no need, walking into the centre of the room and just...stopping there.



"Excellent..." the creature stepped out from behind an ornate crystal guard statue. These had been recovered from one of the many hidden chambers not long before Sombra's return. Their pretty colors deemed appropriate enough for the throne room. Decided to have been from before Sombra's occupation of the castle, which was then confirmed by Sombra, who'd pointed out he recognised them as belonging to his father, the four statues now stood two either side of the room.



Sombra didn't speak, he couldn't. Admiring its handiwork in the unicorns dulled expression, it cackled impatiently and gestured at the band around Sombra's leg.



"A most suitable container, it will suffice..."



Using its own warped imitation of equestrian magic, it unlatched the band, floating it in front of Sombra. The jewel caught the light and glinted, but Sombra didn't blink.



"Surrender your darkness, your power and you can finally rest..." it layered a false tone of kindness over its poisonous words.



Sombra at first looked like he was about to agree, then he suddenly stopped, giving a little shiver.



"N-no..I wont.." he said softly.



"Oh too bad!" It spat, all pretense of kindness vanishing "because I’m through ASKING!!"



So now it lashed out at Sombra, slamming him back into one of the statues, the sharp edges of its crystal spear slicing a neat cut across his left ear before he crumpled to the floor, pinning his already injured leg beneath him..



Before he could get up, a pain like a crushing landslide hit him, pinning him where he lay.



His tormentor stood there, grinning perversely at its triumph. As it forcefully extracted Sombra's magic, channelling it into the band. To absorb so much power at once would spell trouble, so it merely needed to store it all in this band, and it could make its escape and leave these pathetic creatures to try recover their precious defender!



At last it'd taken everything it could sense from Sombra. It noted with curiosity that the tri-crystal marking on the pony’s flank had faded and vanished. As too had the fiery crimson red in his eyes, dulling them to a faint reddish grey.



"So, this power is part of your core? Interesting...."



It held up the leg band, admiring the sheer volume of power within. Unable to resist, gloating at its plan to occupy the rest of the castle with its legions of decoys, it fed part of its own power into the band, to begin converting this mesmerizing power to its maximum destructive potential....



From his position in a crumpled heap at the statues base, Sombra watched this with a detached sense of emotion. His power, what was...HIM. Was gone. He felt empty, bereft, even the pain of his injuries paled before the mental horror of having his power ripped out of him!



"I may as well end you now! After all, who's going to have any use for you now you don't have your little party tricks-!"



"Y'all must be thicker than two short planks glued togetha with stupid glue if that's what yer thinkin'!"



It stopped mid -gloat as its spells on the door broke and the ponies streamed in, the angry orange and yellow one running her mouth!



"Yeah!" Pinkie Pie glowered "now give that BACK, Mr Thick, Thicketty Thick of Thicktown, Thickania!"



While they shot verbal barbs at the creature, Rainbow Dash looked over at Sombra. She felt a surge of panic when she seen the vanished cutie mark, as well as the dulled expression in his eyes. Even as she watched, he looked about to drift asleep, eyes closing-



"HAY!!" She drew in a deep breath and bellowed as loudly as she could, "PEE!"



What was this blue bobble on about? The shadow pony ignored her, figuring if she wanted to waste her time trying to get her monstrous friends attention by being potty-mouthed, she could go right ahead!



What it didn't see was a faint glimmer in Sombra's eyes. How he lifted his head, just a little, one ear perking up a fraction.



"Yeah!" Pinkie Pie copped on, somehow pulling a cheerleader outfit from thin air and chanting "Pee for Ponyville!"



"If this is the best you've got, no wonder you needed a degenerate monster to fight your battles!" The creature scoffed, still not realizing the effect all this madness was having on Sombra.



"The monster here is you alone!" Celestia declared, as she and Twilight Sparkle summoned their Alicorn magic "What we needed was a warrior, what we got was a friend!"



These words pierced the haze alongside Pinkie and Rainbow Dash's hollering, and the rainbow haired pegasus was relieved to see another spark behind those eyes.



Celestia and Twilight fired blasts at the creature, who waved the band tauntingly at them as it shot back swiftly.



"Uh-uh...you destroy this..."



Twilight Sparkle hesitated. She and Celestia knew if that band broke, the explosion of power that followed could do some serious damage!



"But I’m afraid you’ll have a hard time getting through to your "friend"," it sneered "See, I’ve left him in something of a mess, convinced his power going bye-bye will finally rid him of this burden! What you called your friend is lost under all his worst memories- deluded little fool, as if friends can help something like him!!"



Unable to refrain, it let out a mad laugh of triumph.



"In a way..." a soft, gravelly voice cut its speech short, and everypony's gaze swiveled to fix on Sombra. He'd raised his head a little, ears perked just enough to give them hope...



"You're right..." the sentence seemed to take an immense effort to force out.



"What?!" it spat, glaring absently at him as it strode over "has your mind entirely gone?!"



"Maybe..I am a fool....but you...YOU....returned those memories." his voice seemed to grow a little stronger, as he tried to get up "ALL of them."



With a sudden movement he lashed out, kicking the base of the statue behind him with as much strength as he could. With a whirr and a THUNK, the statue suddenly slammed the spear down. The force of Sombra's kick had destroyed the mechanism, which had been intended just to perform a simple salute. Now, with the safety broken, the spear came swinging down like a guillotine. Until now, he'd forgotten about these things...



"Wha-" was all it managed as it tried to get out of the way of the sudden attack. But its desire to gloat over Sombra was its own downfall. The blade slammed into its shoulder, driving it into the plush flooring. The band bounced out of it's grip, and it snarled in fury. Reverting to its blobby, amorphous shape, it tried to lunge for the band, but Sombra's friends weren’t about to let it have it!



"Yeeeehhaaww!" Applejack whooped, snagging the band with a rope lasso, then bounding up and catching it in her mouth.



"Catch!" she called, her voice muffled, spinning round and throwing the band with all her strength.



Sombra seen it arc through the air, and all those little sparks lit by Rainbow Dash and Pinkie combined to create enough fire to get his life back! A last ditch effort, and he bolted to his feet, lunging for the glimmering object. He was aware of shadowy claws raking at his leg, tearing the bandages covering the first wound, but when his hooves hit ground, the power-suffused band was held tightly in his mouth!



The shadow creature howled in fury but its angry cries were overridden by an almost deafening boom and a flash of light. Everypony was forced back a few steps, shielding their eyes.



"You...." Sombra's voice was laden with fury and anger. When the glare from the light explosion faded, the band was back around his leg, the purple jewel gleaming.



As if determined to take him down one way or another, with or without the stolen power, it lunged at him.



Furious beyond belief, Sombra pounced, pulling the crystal spear free form the statue and using it to impale his tormentor in one swing. The core shattered, with a deafening boom!



Everypony sighed in relief. Sombra closed his eyes. Now the threat to his life was gone..



Then he felt the situation hit him. His memories. Oh so many of them, of the worst times...and something else was there. He felt cold, like ice had invaded his veins as it sunk in...



"Aww yeah!" Rainbow Dash whooped, zooming over to where Sombra stood "way ta go-oof!"



Because what she hadn’t noticed was that the reason he was standing so still wasn't quiet contemplation, it was sheer agony. As she took off in his direction, sparks of black electricity crackled across the band, and he hunched over in pain. The floor shook, and smoky grey crystal shot up in what almost looked like a barrier around him. Which Rainbow Dash, luckily on a slow speed, bumped right into.



"Whoa.." she shook her head, "what's wrong?"



She frowned when she realized he wasn't answering her.



"Sombra...?" Celestia sensed something was off.



"Get back....miss Dash..." Sombra managed to force out.



"What? why?" Rainbow Dash asked worriedly "we know what your magic’s like, we're cool-"



"No, you don’t get it...." Sombra looked up at last "some of its....its power.....has already gotten in....I cant..."



He shook his head. He couldn’t focus, his head was overloaded!



"Uhm, darlings, I do hate to crash the reunion party, but we have company!!" Rarity cried, wide purple eyes fixed on an encroaching tide of shadows billowing down the hall towards them.



"Oh my...." Fluttershy squeaked.



"I thought that thing was the leader, how-?!" Twilight Sparkle asked, even as Applejack kicked the doors shut, and Celestia barricaded it with a spell!



"There’s....more than one..." Sombra forced out. Still hovering above the spikes, Rainbow Dash cocked her head at him.



"C'mon man!" Rainbow Dash waggled a hoof at him "stay cool! We got this! We'll find the guy!"



The door shuddered on its hinges, and Twilight Sparkle joined Celestia in trying to set up a spell to push them back!



Sombra closed his eyes, there was too much power racing through his head, he couldn’t think....



Then an idea battled through the haze. He felt a spark of hope...



Pinkie Pie scaled Rainbow Dash's tail to perch on the spikes, and Applejack scrambled up the rough edged spikes to peer worriedly at him.



Then he vanished in a flare of flame.



"Sombra?" Rarity asked.



"Where he go?" Pinkie Pie said with a frown.

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Sombra reappeared on the tower, where he and Luna had held their myriad lessons and conversations. He closed his eyes, actually drawing the excess power into himself. Had anypony been there to see it, they would've seen the tall, imposing unicorn glow a blinding purple, then, with a rumble that shook the building, a pulse of light exploded out, flowing down the crystal castle, its colorful facets reflecting the purple light.



The whole building seemed to rumble, and everypony glanced around, at first fearful this was some new attack, when they recognized that color, a rich purple. Dark magic.



"Sombra.." Shining Armor sighed in relief. Beside him, Cadance watched the shadow creatures explode into harmless piles of dust and core fragments. The final controller had managed to get into the heart of the castle, on the verge of attacking the guards trying to protect Cadance and Shining Armor.



As the light faded, everypony sighed in relief, but it was tinged with worry. Those things were becoming ever more determined.

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Back atop the tower Sombra was standing stock still, staring into space. He'd done it, he'd fought back. But he still felt hollow, like something was deeply wrong. Everything felt tangled up, so many threads he just couldn’t connect...





He'd known these memories were here. The worst ones. His time HERE, during the lunacy of his reign.



Images raced through his head, so solid and crystal clear. He stared out over the empire, recalling how it'd looked when he was here. At his feet, the ground seemed to drain of all color, and grey crystalline frost began forming. It rapidly spread, covering the door to the tower, climbing the pillars and racing outwards.



Luna, sensing something was off, had flown up towards the top of the palace. She'd watched the purple light encompass the massive crystal building, and sighed in relief. Once more, Sombra's intricately crafted spells had done the job!



Then she noticed he was just standing there, and she seen the grey crystal starting to form. She flew down, landing in front of him. She spotted with a frown that his cutie mark was gone. How had that happened? He clearly had his magic, so how-?



"Sombra!" she barked. He didn’t seem to see her, just stared. She was reminded of how he'd gone into shock that time he'd put the restraining spell back on that choker.



"They're back.." he said dully.



"Who is? Those creatures? But thy power just eradicated them, what is it you fear?"



"Not them.." he said, a heartbreaking sadness lacing his words "the memories...."



It took a second for Luna to realize what he meant.



"Of thy time before?" she asked.



"Its so clear....until now its been so blurred, as if they weren’t real. But now, its all come to the surface.." he gave a bitter laugh "the truth hurts, yet I should not be so surprised-"



ZAP. He jolted slightly as a bolt of magic zapped him lightly.



He broke out of his daze a little, blinking cluelessly at Luna.



"Cease that talk right this instant!" she bellowed, full volume "Did we not already cover this many times before with thee? It is true thou shouldn’t be surprised, for thou hadst already known of thy past, of thy previous actions. Seeing a few images should not sway thee so easily!"



Her voice dropped to normal levels "this is not the Sombra that taught us to do THIS!" She summoned her dark magic, looking directly at him "we feared ourself after what we did, much as you still do. But now gaze upon us, we wield only a fraction of the power thou has, but we do it with a clear sight!"



Sombra blinked at her as she walked over to him.



"Sister told us of how you brought us back safe and sound. While we were a little angry at first, we realized you were right, we should not have used so much dark magic so early. But we will not give up, if nought else, we are determined to become better!" she stared fiercely at him "without thy work, this would never have come to happen. We will not allow you to tarnish that!"



"But..."



"None of these "butts" you speak of!" Luna raised her voice again, even as she made the dark magic fade again "We do not wish to hear any more of them."



While she'd been speaking, the crystals spread had slowed, less of them forming over the pillars and ceiling. They were a dark grey, like the ones Twilight Sparkle said he'd summoned during his attempt to take the empire once more.



--His old spells have returned, but he does not need to necessarily fear them. What was once used for evil CAN be put to good use. He is living proof of this!--



She was about to voice this opinion when she seen Sombra sway on his hooves and dove forward just in time to stop him hitting the cold hard floor. She set him down carefully, wondering what to do..



Then the door to the tower flew open at last, spraying shards of black crystal frost everywhere. Her big sister charged in, followed by Twilight and friends.



"Luna.." Celestia was relieved to see her unharmed, but concerned by Sombra's condition.



"His memories, sister.." Luna looked concerned "we fear it has triggered a second fearful relapse.."



"Oh dear..." Fluttershy whispered "that shadow thing...."



"It uncovered the one thing it knew would hurt him." Applejack's tone was furious "All those times he was fightin' it, it must’ve been studying 'im.."



"Then it went for the most painful thing ever....IM GONNA KICK YOUR FLANK YOU HEAR ME!!" Rainbow hollered this last bit at the sky.



"Volume, Dashie!" Pinkie Pie winced.



"Sorry..." Rainbow Dash sighed despondently "but, it looked like it hurt bad, you seen that look in his eyes when we charged in!"



"If it weren't for you hopping about and calling out as you did, I fear the situation could have been worse," Celestia said "whatever the significance of this "pee for Ponyville", it got through. There will be a way to help, and we will find it!"



They got Sombra to his bed, where the doctor re bandaged the injury from before. Pinkie Pie forlornly tied a balloon shaped like a diamond crystal to the bedpost. Then she poked him on the nose, declaring "HONK."



Luna watched them all, thinking of a way to help, then at last it hit her. His dreams!



Once everypony was gone, she launched into action.

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When she opened her eyes, it was to a surreal landscape. She was inside what looked like a massive crystal cavern, made of that same dark grey crystal. As she walked further she seen dark grey threads, almost like ribbons, coming from the circumference of the cave, all heading for once spot.



"Sombra!" she called. He was sat on the cold crystal ground, the ribbons were wrapped around his legs and chest. He looked up as she called out, and seemed surprised to see her.



"Princess...?" he asked.



"What is happening?" Luna asked, looking at the walls of the cave. She could see flickers of memories playing across the walls, now she looked closely. Memories of fighting her and Celestia were showing now, a blinding light sealing him away in the darkness. Then it repeated.



"Stop!" she commanded, but Sombra shook his head, wincing afresh as a different set started to play. This time his defeat at the hooves of Cadance and the crystal heart. As Luna stood there, another coil of insidious dark ribbon appeared from one of the facets of the cave, lashing around his leg. He made a desperate sound and tried to shake free, but this had the opposite effect.



Rather than freeing the ribbons, it seemed to tighten their grip, and there was an ominous cracking sound. Luna stared in bewilderment as a fissure began creeping up the wall.



"Cease they flailing!" she realized "thou art only trapping thyself deeper in this!"



Sombra quit moving, looking up at her. He was literally bound in place by these memories and visions.



"I cant stop them.." he said faintly.



"Thy old memories are starting to bleed into thy current ones. We must separate them!" Luna stated. She had an idea, but it meant leaving Sombra alone briefly.



"We will return!" she promised. He nodded dully, resting his head back on his forelegs as she vanished.

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She instantly woke up Twilight and friends, and told them of her plan.



"But there is one more," she said cryptically, “we will be right back!"



She was gone several minutes, then she reappeared holding a certain little filly cradled in one hoof. Bright Spark gave a smile and waved at them.



"Course!" Applejack chuckled "who better?"



"Hewwo Pwincess Twiwight and fwiends!" Bright Spark looked up at Luna "where's Sombwa, Pwincess Woona?"



"He is trapped, in a very bad nightmare...." Luna said simply "his own memories are holding him hostage there, and each time he tries to free himself they drag him further in. It is up to us to get him out."



"Consider it done!" Rainbow Dash said in determination.



With a nod, Luna closed her eyes and transported them all into Sombra's nightmare world.



But things had worsened in the time she was gone. The floor was covered in sharp points of crystal, a sign Sombra's mental defenses were weakening. Bright Spark seen the dark ribbons and her eyes widened.



"Those are mean things.." she said softly. Sombra could be seen, curled up on the icy floor, the darkness and ribbons holding him prisoner.



"They are," Luna said quietly "the creatures from the darkness somehow took these memories from the deepest depths of his mind and forced them onto him. They now threaten to take the good memories his time here NOW hath created!"



"How do we get there?" Rainbow Dash asked "I mean, I know a bunch of us can FLY over, but what about everypony else?" she looked at her friends.



Bright Spark thought, then had an idea! She closed her eyes, concentrating her magic-



POP. A floating candy colored bubble appeared. She bounded onto it, bouncing up and down experimentally, like a space hopper.



"That filly’s a genius!" Pinkie Pie declared "this IS a dream world, so.."



She concentrated reaaallly hard. And with a loud POP, a big balloon appeared. She tied the end around her tail and slowly drifted up to float alongside Rainbow Dash and Bright Spark.



"Pinkie logic, who'd a thunk it?" Applejack shook her head. But she did her best, in the end summoning a floating apple.



"Eh...close enough..." she clambered on.



For Rarity, it was a floating footstool. When everypony looked at her, she shrugged "I guess my dreams have taste!" she declared as she sat down and floated alongside them.



Rainbow Dash and the other winged ponies helped to steer their friends as they drifted over to Sombra.



He looked up as they approached, and on seeing their mode of transport he seemed to break free of his sadness a little.



"Sombwa!" Bright Spark bounced over, setting her bubble down in front of him, and reaching up to tap his nose "boop!".



"Little one?" he asked, "everypony...?"



"We'll cut you loose!" Pinkie Pie declared as she drifted absently by "just give me a second..."



Fluttershy nudged her back on course, and Luna shook her head.



Rarity was looking at the crystal facets of the cave's walls and ceiling when Bright Spark poked Sombra on the nose. She seen, for a brief second, a memory flash up. A busy marketplace, from Sombra's view. Then he looked down and seen the same little filly that was here now. She giggled and poked him on the nose. Then it was gone.



“Do that again!" Rarity called to Bright Spark. Bright Spark looked nonplussed, and poked Sombra's nose again. He blinked, feeling the urge to laugh...



Rarity smiled as she seen a new ribbon appear, only this one was a pale golden shade. She grabbed it with her magic, and called Twilight Sparkle to help steer her footstool down to where Bright Spark was.



Bright Spark took the ribbon in her teeth, and pulled it over to Sombra.



"Lift your hoof, there!" she slipped the end of the shimmering ribbon under his hoof and watched as he set it back down, holding it in place.



Rainbow Dash seen a similar spark flicker in Sombra's eyes as he looked down at the filly and the memory ribbon.



"That’s it!" she declared "We gotta get the good ones out! Think, everypony!"



"Ooh!" Pinkie Pie had a brainwave, or possibly a brainfart, it was hard to tell sometimes. "Remember that breakfast? We all sat together, you finally joined us!"



She was speaking of the morning the intervention had occurred, where Sombra had been more or less told he was their friend, they were going to help him, so he'd better get used to it! He'd also finally started to get his appetite back!



"Woohoo!" Pinkie Pie cheered as a coil of ribbon seemed to magically appear from the wall where the memory was playing. She grabbed it and kicked off from the wall, whizzing by a little too fast and bouncing backside first off the other wall before Rainbow Dash got her under control and steered her in the right direction.



Again, Bright Spark tucked the memory ribbon under Sombra's hoof.



"When you first put on your new cloak!" Rarity remembered how surprised yet pleased he'd been "and you gave me that lovely gem?"



Sombra knew. The first real act of generosity he'd ever displayed. To thank her.



"That's it!" Rarity said in delight as she took the new ribbon and passed it to Twilight Sparkle, watching as it was added to the others.



"U-uhm...the festival...you brought all the wood to build the stalls?" Fluttershy hovered by Sombra, sparking another glimmer in his eyes, and a new ribbon uncurled from the ceiling, falling down so she could reach up and take it.



"See?" Bright Spark said, rubbing her cheek against Sombra's "There's lotsa nice memowies, you don’t need those bad ones, alwight?"



He still seemed to be having to fight to concentrate, but he was looking better!



"Pee for ponyville!" Applejack sniggered. This spawned another ribbon, which was added to the list. This one shone even more, since it was so recent.


"Making your first friend, my brother!" Twilight beamed. She'd been proud of both her brother for making the first offer of friendship, and Sombra for accepting it!


Luna thought, how could SHE help? The she had a flash of memory. She addressed Sombra.



"Recall our conversation, wherein you called us "Woona"?"



He actually smiled a little.



Luna was rewarded with another ribbon, which she brought to join the others. The six ponies were recalling more and more things they'd witnessed, the smiles, the laughs. Sombra's eventual acceptance of his inheritance! Soon there was a growing number of the good ribbons being brought back to their owner.



"See?" Luna said softly "thou has a myriad of memories that are worth fighting for, and you will make many more we are certain of it!"



"Yeah!" Bright Spark said "Pwicness Woona is wight, Sombwa!"



"And the letters from the empire!" Twilight Sparkle nodded "all asking after YOU, because they need you!"



All over the walls flowed copies of the letters he’d been sent. Asking after him, thanking him, and also praising him for what he'd done. Words he'd had trouble accepting. But there they were, and one phrase stood out in the split second flashes of memory:



"We're glad you're here."



This seemed to trigger something, for the next second golden lines of light speared through the dark ribbons, tearing them as they did. They joined up with the memory ribbons, forming so many more. The dark ribbons began to snap, their hold weakened as Sombra at last got to his feet. The golden ribbons blurred together to form one, which swirled up around his leg, replacing the old bandage with a new one of golden fabric, pinned in place with a small shard of red crystal.



All the lights lined up to from a path in Sombra's mind. A path that led back to his past, to the day when he'd gained his cutie mark. Crystals. How this ability had led him to finding out that jewel was valuable and giving it to Rarity. How he'd been given that statue of the bird made from the purple star jewel. That the Bard had thanked him for it, and accepted his apology. He'd made a new friend in that shy creature.



He closed his eyes, feeling a surge of childlike relief as the pressure in his head faded away, and he felt like he could breathe easier once more.



The others had scooted back when the light show had begun, watching in fascination all the memories flowing over the crystal caves walls. Memories of letters, of THEM, and of Bright Spark. But also, of his father, King Cloudspark.



"Look!" Twilight Sparkle cried, as there was a shimmer of light, and at last the missing cutie mark reappeared. With a final flash the walls changed, no longer grey, but a pale purple-white crystal.



The floor had returned to smooth crystal, so everypony ditched their floating seats and ran over to him.



Sombra shivered a little as he felt the sheer willpower it'd taken to accept all this take its toll. But that chill was overridden by warmth a moment later, as he sensed several bodies close by.



He opened his eyes, back to ther garnet red, seeing not just a gleeful Bright Spark crowded next to him, but everypony.



"Time to go.." Luna at last interrupted the happy scene, albeit reluctantly.



"Aww..." Pinkie Pie pouted. She poked Sombra's nose, re-declaring "Honk!".



"Sombra will require a deeper level of sleep in order to fully rest, and we cannot traverse that state...."



One by one they vanished, leaving only Luna. She approached Sombra, who still looked shaken, despite being freed.



"It will be all right." she assured him, then closed her eyes and set loose the spell to enable him to truly sleep...

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

She reappeared by the others, having taken Bright Spark home, standing in the library. To their surprise Celestia was there.



"Sister?" Luna asked.



"Is he all right?" Celestia asked. Luna nodded.



"Good. I was concerned, and I had a feeling you’d have a plan," Celestia smiled softly.



The ponies sat around the table to tell her what had happened.



"I don’t get it.." Rainbow Dash said at last.



"What's that?" Celestia asked.



"Why does he keep doing this to himself? Didn’t he trust us when we told him things were cool?" she looked a little bothered.



Celestia shook her head "it is not a matter of trust Rainbow Dash. At least, not with US. The one Sombra cannot trust is himself.."



“Yeah, we’ve been getting that vibe since day one!" Applejack piped up "and its mighty worryin' to see him like that."



"A great deal of his life was spent in fear and doubt, as you well know from wandering his nightmares. As our core values of hope and friendship go deep, so too do his of fear and disbelief.



He has become so accustomed to being mistreated, despised and blamed that it has become second nature to him to feel this way. Even with all of us around him, he still fears the events of his distant past. Until now, that spate of madness was the only respite he had from it, so he doesn't know where to turn. Kindness and friendship are strangers in a way. He was taught to fear and hate his power, what makes him who he is. He's been conditioned to believe he is the one solely at fault because of his magic. As a result, he subconsciously seeks to find something, anything to hold himself responsible for, to recreate those emotions, whether he realizes or not."



"You’re saying he actually tryin' ta hurt himself like this?" Applejack asked.



"I’m afraid so. As much progress as he has made, there is still far to go. Such hurdles are not conquered in one triumph." Celestia sighed softly "I think he is finding his new position painful to accept. Cadance told me of how he shies away from anypony addressing him using the new title."



"You don’t have to do that.." Luna quoted "yes, one of the guards did mentioned that to us. He said it was just for a second, but he could swear Sombra looked...scared."



"So what do we do?" Rarity asked.



"There is little we can do I’m afraid, except try to coax him away from it as best we can. We are up against a childhood of bad memories, with few good influences. And now, with his memories of his past reign here AND his subsequent sealing, I fear he may lose hope..."



Pinkie Pie sniffled, and to Celestia's surprise, her poofy pink mane made a funny thrrrrp noise and went inexplicably flat.



"But..." Pinkie moped "he doesn’t have to keep blaming himself..."



"I know...." Fluttershy patted her back kindly "its not fair..."



"There's gotta be a way, something!" Rainbow Dash decided "we have to make him see just how big an impact he's made on the ponies here! That little cutie Bright Spark has managed to do it, so we gotta do it too!"



"But how?" Twilight Sparkle asked.



"He keeps beating himself up, right? Blaming himself and thinking he's somehow only fit to take the blame? Well what if we showed him just how many ponies out there WANT to see him as the crown-princey-thing of the Empire? He hides away and doesn’t see them, so lets bring them to him!"



"How?" Luna asked. Celestia had an idea. She looked at Pinkie Pie as she casually said "well, I HAD planned for a formal ball at some point, and invite everypony possible, so they'll finally get to see him. We could push it forward, but we'd need an emergency party planner..."



Pinkie Pie's brain clocked this, her eyes widened and a sparkle returned to them.



"Ooh, can I? Pleeease Princess Celestia? Huh? Can I?"



"Of course, Twilight Sparkle tells me you are the best at parties!"



"Yayyy!" Pinkie whooped, and with a POOF, her mane fluffed back up to its full springy self "This'll be the best party EVER!"



"I can make a formal outfit.." Rarity mused "battle armor is NOT suited for a formal ball!”



"Cakes, lots of 'em!" Applejack decided.



And so they decided, in three days time, there’d be a formal ball to officially introduce the Crystal Empires crown Prince.



But first they had to tell Sombra himself...

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The following day, when he came to breakfast, Shining Armor asked did he want to cancel the stadium announcement, in light of everything he'd been through?



"It cannot be delayed much more.." Sombra said softly.



"As long as you're sure…?" Shining Armor asked. Sombra merely nodded. and so it was set to go ahead.



Sombra looked withdrawn, uneasy. So far he hadn’t eaten much, to everypony's concern.



Pinkie Pie tried as long as she could to hold in her excitement, but eventually she couldn’t keep a lid on it any longer;



"Party!!"" she declared.



"Huh?" Sombra blinked at her "you want one or you’re throwing one?"



"We're ALL helping!" Pinkie Pie declared.



"I see," Sombra floated the teacup so he could take a sip, asking offhandedly "who is it for?"



Then he seen something move out of the corner of his eye and he nearly dropped the tea when he clocked Pinkie Pie was suddenly stood by his chair, staring expectantly at him.



"What? Oh no no no, there's no need for-"



Pinkie pouted, eyes big as saucers.



"It was Princess Celestia's idea," Twilight Sparkle explained "she’s a little worried the ponies here are starting to become disheartened, so she wants to throw a ball, most notably about YOU."



"Tell her it is unnecessary," Sombra sighed, trying to ignore Pinkie Pie. But when he opened his eyes again, she was now sat on the table in front of him, that sad expression growing by the second.



"Cotton Candy...." he started.



"C'mon.." Rainbow Dash shrugged "can you really say no to that face?"



Sombra didn't answer, he seemed to be trying to out-stare Pinkie Pie.



She started to sniffle and he groaned, facehoofing as he did.



"Fine." he growled crossly.



"YAYY!" Pinkie Pie whooped, all sadness gone as she bounded off the table "Fancy party! Fancy party!" she whooped.



Sombra slumped across the table "I honestly find the shadow creatures easier to outmatch.." he muttered.



"That’s our Pinkie!" Applejack said with a shrug and a grin.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Rarity hijacked Sombra for the morning in order to try out some new color schemes for a formal cloak, since it seemed he hated being without one.



He fidgeted absently as she rifled through her fabric swatches, holding up various colors and patterns.



"Is this really necessary?" he murmured.



"Yes, of course!" Rarity said, puzzled "you cant attend a formal ball wearing armor!"



"No, not that.." he said with a rueful smile "I mean, this whole business..."



"You worry too much," Rarity said "trust us, it'll be fine.."



Sombra hesitated a moment, then nodded silently. He couldn’t think of anything to say to that. After everything they done to help him, he knew he owed them this much at least.



After an hour or so, there came a knock at the door, and Shining Armor stuck his head round.



"You guys wanna come to lunch?" he had to chuckle at the sight of poor Sombra being made to stand perfectly still as Rarity worked away at the lilac-gold fabric he was draped in.



Rarity stepped back, cocked her head to one side, then nodded and smiled.



"I have it!” She removed the fabric and released poor Sombra from having to stand so still. She wrote a few things down and then followed the two stallions down to the dining hall.



Shining Armor went over a few things with Sombra about the announcement, but basically said he'd leave it to him!

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The next morning, when Sombra seen the size of the stadium he felt his stomach plummet. He had to explain how a creature of shadow was manipulating his memories!



A big stage had been set up in the middle of the field. On temporary thrones sat the Princesses. Shining Armor and his guards lined the area in front of the raised stage, where a microphone stood. At said mic was a certain unicorn.



"I'll set the magnification spell, then its all yours," Cadance said to Sombra. he nodded, looking at the copies of the drawings he'd done.



The crowd settled down, and Cadance gave a brief about the upcoming ball, then explained why they’d all been called there. That they had vital information to share with everypony. And that Sombra, being the one who understood it best, was going to explain it.



Sombra took a deep breath as he heard the crowd settle down.



"Good afternoon, everypony." His voice was clipped but clear "Some of you may have heard about a fight in the market, where, with Princess Twilight Sparkle present, I engaged one of the scout creatures in a fight. In an effort to protect itself, it took on the form of a young mare:"



The first image appeared, magnified by Cadance's spell. The pale, blue haired mare.



"She is a memory, from over a thousand years ago."



Surprised murmurs whipped round the stadium.



"It would seem that, during the onset of the black crystal plague, that thing in control of those creatures was able to attack my memories, unearthing a large part of my past. From this it has a multitude of disguises, one of which has been spotted already-"



Now the image of his father was shown, and several ponies nodded and called out that they recognized it!



"I.." Sombra halted a moment, how best to assure them? "I have been over those memories many times. This is as comprehensive a list as i have been able to compile. These are the clearest memories that thing will have access to.." he nodded to Cadance, who soon had more magnified images floating in a neat row at a height where everypony could see them.



Whispers ran around the stadium. Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash were flitting about with microphones, so the public could ask questions. Rainbow Dash soared over to one mare now.



"Who was that scary black stallion? I seen him, only briefly, but I couldn’t help noticing a resemblance-" Rainbow Dash had moved the mic slightly out of range and was giving the mare a frown.



"Its all right miss Dash," Sombra said "if its that obvious, I should explain. That particular memory..." he sighed, heart sinking at the impending reaction; "was of my FATHER. I'll make no pretense, he was every bit as terrifying in reality as he appeared to YOU."



He winced as shocked gasps swept around, followed by murmurs of curiosity. Sombra felt his stomach churn and sighed softly. Those closest in the seats could see the shift in his body language, showing visible discomfort.



"Uhm.." Fluttershy had drifted over to a stallion who was waving his hoof in the air "How come he, and well, YOU, are so tall?!"



“I’m from a Shyre settlement," Sombra said, relieved the question was an easy one to answer, "Everypony was of that sort of build. That's the other point; most of these ponies are of a similar height, although some may be mistaken for regular ponies. That is why it was deemed vital you all see these images, we cannot leave anything to chance. I understand very little is known about them, but there’s not much I can really tell you. I was...kept in isolation most of my life there, what little I know is from guesswork."



More whispers, what did he mean, kept in isolation?



"Who was that pale white mare?" somepony asked at last, sparing Sombra from his nausea.



"She...was a friend." he said shortly, unsure how to explain whilst saying as little as possible, "She helped me escape the village."



"Why did you have to escape?"



Again the pony asking the question was given a fierce frown by Rainbow Dash.



Sombra could see the curiosity was racing like wildfire. These ponies were very curious about him it seemed, including his past.



"A thousand years ago, superstition was rife. Many ponies actions were dictated by these beliefs. The village was remote, governed by a set of elders who followed some very old rules. A pony found to have been born with a dark power scared them more than they could cope. I was certain that, if I stayed there, they’d have killed me eventually..”



Wide eyes and startled gasps raced around the stadium like a sonic wave.



“There was no other choice but to leave. So one night I was able to escape, and got the-" a squeak of feedback muffled the word "-out of there."



Some ponies chuckled at the cleverly timed interruption.



"Thank you cotton candy.." Sombra peered off to one side, where Pinkie had been fiddling with the controls for the mic system. She gave him a grin.



"I wont perceive you to be fools and lie that this isn’t a dangerous opponent. You are all aware of the attacks by now. These things have begun invading homes, as Princess Luna and I discovered. They are getting desperate, this much is obvious. Be wary of anypony coming to the door late at night, keep windows shut. So far as we can tell, it has only gained MY memories, it does not seem able to launch an assault on anypony else's."



He raised a hoof as ponies clamored to know how and why.



"The theory is, that as my magic is purely derived from darkness, its wavelength is similar to that thing. I have noticed some aspects of its "magic" do correspond to this worlds to some degree, more dark than light, naturally."



"Was it trying to do some kinda mind control thing?" a young colt asked.



"It seems to have TRIED. It tried to attack me in my dreams numerous times, but none of its efforts made a blind bit of difference. Some of you may have seen the goggles the guards are wearing-" he gestured to the guards and Shining Armor "It wasn't until the second attack that we learnt I was the only one able to see the core at the centre of these beings. It seems this similarity in wavelengths works both ways. It was able to attack my dreams, I can see through its disguise."



"Whoa.." somepony said, the sound carrying even without the mic.



"What're they made from?" Rainbow Dash shot over to pick up the question, no need for a frown this time.



"They were created by Princess Twilight Sparkle," Sombra said "she figured out that by combining the goggles with an extract of dark magic, she could devise a way for a normal magic user to fight back."



The crowd applauded, and Twilight blushed happily, waving up at them!



"That is all for now.." Sombra felt a sense of relief "any further questions?"



One mare waved from near the front, Fluttershy flapped over.



"Yes, are YOU all right?"



"Me?" Sombra looked baffled as to why she needed to ask.



"We've all become a little concerned with how much strain you've put yourself through.." the mare and her friends nodded "don't feel you'll be misjudged if you take the time to relax. You're not fighting them alone now, right?"



Sombra was about to respond when he felt a shiver run through him. He shifted, the gold band around his leg catching the light and sparkling.



He looked up at the clouds. They'd been gathering steadily, but looked like normal clouds. Why did he sense something was off-



The clouds burst as an inky rain came sheeting down, covering the ground and seats in seconds, gluing everypony to their chairs. Sombra swore, the sound undetected by the mic.



"Heeelp!" Pinkie Pie squeaked, where she was stuck to the mic control box.



Lightning flashed in the darkening sky. A deluge of those creatures formed out of the rain, the biggest one fixing its gaze on Sombra.



"Well well, little pony prince," it mocked "it seems you're as trapped as your precious charges."



Sombra tried to summon the magic needed to remove the goop, but the substance was all over him, including his horn. It felt like he couldn’t reach his magic-



He heard frantic screams from around him, as the creatures launched out in all directions, intent on draining the ponies-



--No, I wont have it!-- he raged. Shutting his eyes he looked inside, at his magic. Seeing how it swirled like a stunning purple galaxy. Flickers of light like small flames dove in and out of it.



--Fire, that's it! I need something stronger then that first spell...but this gunk is restricting my whole body...there’s no way-- a sudden idea clicked into place.



--Unless I BECOME the flame!-- a surge of hope and triumph lit the spark, and he felt a surge of power as things began to change.



The shadow creatures, their razor-like teeth bared in anticipation of a veritable feast, were distracted by a loud WHOMPF sound.



Glued to their thrones, the Princess took a break from trying to free themselves to stare in shock at Sombra-



The black inky goop was burned away in a wide radius around him. But that wasn’t all. Normally, his mane and tail were a deep black, flowing like a streamer in the wind. Now it was like liquid fire. Purple fire of an ever shift hue, highlighted by bright purple flames at its outer edge. Similar flames surrounded the metal shoes that formed part of his new outfit. When he opened his eyes, they were a stunning golden hue. The purple aura was still there, evidence of his dark magic.



"What the-?!" the bigger creature, having set its sights on tormenting Sombra personally, now stare din shock.



Sombra spoke, his voice magnified by his own magic:



"Get the BUCK out of this place." then he vanished in a flash of purple flame, reappearing behind the creature, this time on a floating hunk of purple crystal. It swung round, but Sombra had already summoned a new weapon. In contrast to the spear, this new one was shaped like a heavy duty scythe. The curving blade shone with a purple gleam, magic infused. He swung it in a wide arc, and the burst of purple light from it cleaved the creatures core in two before it had time to speak. As with the previous attacks, it simply transferred to a new body.



With a screech, it directed all the shadow creatures to attack Sombra. the crowd were literally transfixed in their seats, although some closed their eyes, not wanting to see Sombra get hurt.



But Sombra had never felt so in control of his magic before. He shut his eyes, the flames seemed to grow bright, then a ring of flame appeared around him, expanding outwards in a frightening rush, eliminating several of the things in one swoop.



He didn’t stop there. Summoning more platforms he leapt agilely from one to the next, swinging the scythe at shadow after shadow. Seeing the ease he was dispatching its minions with, the lead controller lost its tactics to rage, and from its place hidden out of sight, it dove at Sombra, teeth aimed for his throat.



"SOMBRA!" Luna shouted in her equestrian voice, the loud shout reaching his ears. He spun a split second before the creature reached him and leapt aside, swinging the scythe. It caught it with its teeth, and Sombra released the weapon at the height of its swing, sending the thing off balance. grasping the weapon in its shadowy hooves, it leered at Sombra.



"This will NEVER be your world," Sombra snarled.



"It is no more yours, little prince!" it mocked. Sombra thought about what that mare had said not long before the attack.



"That is not how THEY feel, and in the end, I’m here because of them, and FOR them. They cannot defend themselves against you, not without help. So you’ll have to forgive me if I trust your opinion less then I trust my own!"



It glared at him, throwing the scythe at his head, forcing him to shift attention in order to catch it. Then it did something unprecedented. Dozens upon dozens of its followers swarmed towards it, and for a moment it became just a twisted gelatinous mass, then it shifted into the form of a frankly GIANT shadowy snake!



Sombra stared in surprise, this was new...



it screamed something inarticulate and dove for him, with a speed its size didn’t remotely hint at. He dove out of the way, his hooves slipping slightly on the shadowy goop. But he righted himself easily, glaring as it reared up for another strike. He focused one what was INSIDE its body. Dozens of the cores, now clustered around the central one, like a shield.



But its exterior was as thick as it was gooey, and his attempt to slice into its lumbering body fell short as it snapped round, its tail lashing out, slamming him into the sludge coated grass at quite a speed.



He fought to get back on his feet, wincing as his still healing leg objected the to strain. The flames of his mane and tail kept the goo from ensnaring him, otherwise he would’ve been in major trouble.



Barely had he regained his balance then it was rearing up to strike again.



--I’ve got to stop it, but how..?!-- he swore under his breath as he dove aside again, darting across the slick black ground, pulse pounding in his ears. He felt the ground shake as it came slamming down into the spot he'd been occupying moments before. He raced as fast as he could, seeing his shadow flickering across the shiny surface of the goop.



"Shadows.." he muttered, a faint hope taking shape. But right now it was all he had. He skidded to a halt, turning to face the thing as it reared up, its slitted yellow eyes glaring at him. He closed his eyes, shutting off the power keeping his mane afire.



Stuck in place atop the temporary thrones, the Princesses seen Sombra revert back to his normal appearance, making the scythe vanish.



"What is he doing?" Twilight Sparkle gasped.



Sombra closed his eyes, seeing the memories of that day, when he’d attempted to retake the Empire in his lunatic state. How Twilight Sparkle and friends had kept him at bay. How the shadows had served as a mode of transport for him, sliding from one to the next.



He could FEEL the air displacing as it tore towards him, its laughter filling his head. He opened his eyes, and smirked.



The ponies who could see through the goop stared in astonishment as Sombra seemed to turn into a shadowy shape, reminiscent of the attempted takeover. The shadow snake opened its snapping jaws, and Sombra dove right for it.



Muffled screams and cries ricocheted around the stadium as for all intents and purposes Sombra had let himself be consumed by the thing!



The thing seemed stunned by how easily it’d achieved its victory. Then it suddenly twitched and reared, uttering a bone shaking screech. Those close enough to the front row could see flashes of movement within its gloopy body, just little glimpses of a separate entity racing through it.



Within the creatures body, Sombra felt like he was slowly becoming bogged down by his efforts, but up ahead he seen the collective of cores making up this things greater intelligence, and he felt a surge of adrenaline. He was so close now, he couldn’t give up!



As he made the last desperate dive towards it, he summoned up everything he could, the bright purple of the spell lighting the way. He fired the spell, waiting only to see it connect before taking measures to protect himself…



Once one core detonated, the chain lightning of the spell ricocheted onto the next until it hit the one at its heart.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Everypony's eyes were on stalks as the screeching, writhing giant suddenly detonated in a flare of purple flame, and a shock wave blasted over the stadium, like a heated blast of air. The creature was destroyed in a pyre of flame, which burnt away to reveal a crater dug into the once pristine grass of the stadium. Shocked cries and screams rebounded off the walls, where was Prince Sombra?



"Tell us we are seeing things!!" Luna kicked and fought even harder to get free, but to no avail "that boneheaded fool!"



Cadance was to stunned to speak. Shining Armor, stuck alongside his soldiers, had had a pretty good line of sight, and he hadn’t seen Sombra reappear. He felt a sickening pang of dread...



Then from around him came gasps of relief, as the ponies higher up caught sight of something as the smoke faded.



It was later described a little black ball of flame, or shadows.



Huddled in the centre of the massive crater it at first was mistaken for a remaining piece of the creature. But then it shifted, and two wide red eyes opened, blinking a few times as it checked its surroundings. It uncurled, revealing it had taken the form of a shadowy foal. Small enough to survive the explosion, it now stood unsteadily, looking worn out. Curiosity and relief abounded as Sombra scaled the crater in this form, stumbling onto the grass where, in a burst of purple flames, he reverted to his normal form and crumpled to the singed grass.



He lay there, so exhausted he could just sleep...then he heard the voices of the crowd and managed to lift his head just enough to see them doing their level best to get his attention.



Of course, he still had to free them. He forced himself to his feet, feeling about to be sick..



The crowds sounds of astonishment switched rapidly to concern as they seen Sombra try to summon his magic again, but the effort seemed to hurt him, and he pitched over to the grass again.



--Dangit!!-- he swore sluggishly --I cant...help..--



Luna put her royal voice to good use again, bellowing:



"Cease that! Thou hast expended too much power!" she scowled at the goop "if thou can stand and free us, we can use OUR dark magic to supplement yours. You cannot manage such a spell on thine own!"



Sombra looked over at her, common sense winning out. He nodded, getting to his feet once more and staggering over to her. The meagre power he had left was just enough to set her free. She shook her wings out, then took a few paces forward until they were face to face.



"We can change our power into that of darkness, and bequeath it unto you, understand?" she asked.



He nodded, knowing he had no other choice, and that Luna wouldn't let herself be overcome again.



Luna closed her eyes, feeling the darkness stirring inside But rather than fear it, she thought about what Sombra had been able to accomplish with it. She too could do that, she was going to make sure of it!



She touched her horn to Sombra's, and seen the spell unfold in her mind. It was astonishingly complex, layered like the tiers of a cake, different parts controlling different sections of the spell. Spell lines formed around the duo, a glowing ball of purple-blue power gathered in the air above them, it drew itself in, before exploding out with a victorious ka-BOOM.



The flames raced over the ground, sweeping up the aisles and seats, burning away the black gunk but leaving the ponies unharmed. They cheered and hugged as they were freed, whooping and cheering. At last, everypony was free, and Luna stepped back, allowing Sombra to shut off the spell.



As it faded away, so too did his strength, he collapsed once more, unconscious this time. Luna caught and set him down, feeling a little light-headed herself.

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Sombra was brought back to the palace immediately, where it was diagnosed he had drained himself beyond common sense and would require rest. The Princesses all shared glances before unanimously agreeing to transfer some of their collective magics to Sombra. His natural dark magic would adapt it, use it to refuel.

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And so, he woke up feeling a lot better then he expected. He detected his magic was not all of his own reserves, and realized what they’d done. Grateful, yet concerned they’d overdone it, he blearily left the hospital room (during the five minutes HeartRate went to the loo), and set off in search of them.



He heard their voices coming from the library, and nudged the door open...

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"So its settled?" Cadance said "we should ask him to consider our proposal date for the coronation?"



"So long as it isn’t in the next DAY, I could give a hay when you do it.." a sleepily amused voice drifted in.



"Sombra!" Twilight Sparkle looked vastly relieved to see him up, and smiled a genuine smile of relief as he approached the same table he'd had that first friendly breakfast at.



"How do you feel?" Celestia asked "was your magic able to integrate with ours?"



"Much better as a result," Sombra said gratefully "I am indebted to you for the assistance."



“We did not use too much of our power, so do not be concerned." Luna said, reading his expression.



"Yup! We're good!” Twilight nodded.



"It's good to see you up, we were worried after that attack," Cadance said.



"It was not my intention to concern anybody, it was the only plan i could concoct at the time," Sombra said weakly "Never thought those memories might serve a useful purpose.."



"See?" Luna said "we told, did we not? It was not thy power that dictated your circumstance back then, but what you USED it to do. What caused fear then, saved countless ponies today."



Sombra had to smile, just a little, at that.



"As we were discussing, there has been an influx of letters since yesterday-" Celestia began, and Sombra did a double take;



"Yesterday?" he blurted "I was asleep that long?"



"Yes, your body required significant rest to recover from such feats," Celestia said with a faint smile "and during that time there has been quite the influx of mail.."



She gestured to a massive stack on the table "to show but a few.."



Sombra couldn't think of anything smart to say to that, but the way his eyebrows raised indicated definite surprise.



"They clamor for a coronation!" Cadance said with a soft smile "and we were hoping you would agree to it shortly.."



"Shortly..?" Sombra asked.



"Within the next say, month?" Twilight Sparkle suggested. Sombra blinked "I-isn’t that a little...short notice?" he asked.



"Not really..." Celestia smiled "We did not wait all that long before Twilight Sparkle's coronation!"



Twilight Sparkle nodded to confirm this.



"If that it is what you wish.." Sombra began, but Celestia shook her head, and spoke;



"Is it what YOU want, Sombra?" she asked.



He faltered a moment, mulling it over. Not a question he was prepared for...but his fathers image flashed through his head, and he felt his chest ache again. He wanted so badly to do what Cloudspark had wished, even if it terrified him a little. And so, even though he felt a massive surge of nerves, he felt himself nod.



"Perfect!" Cadance said brightly "it will serve as a perfect announcement at the ball on Saturday!"



"The wha-oh." Sombra recalled Pinkie Pie's enthusiasm "right.."



Twilight Sparkle chuckled "Speaking of which, Rarity says she needs to make a few adjustments when you’re feeling up to it, and the shoes she designed have been finished if you want to try them."



Sombra nodded mutely.



The rest of that morning he spent in his room, resting. His appetite was back, and with the Princesses giving him some of their magic he felt miles better.

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Rarity dropped in to get him to try on his new outfit,. She'd made it out of a lilac fabric, with a gold trim, the collar was an aristocratic style, with a purple and gold silk ruffled handkerchief tucked into it. The clasp holding it shut was shaped like a stylized version of his cutie mark. A silken cloak patterned the same as the handkerchief completed the getup.



"Ooh, I love it!" Rarity squeed, as she seen him in it. The shoes were made of a bluish purple metal, the front piece mimicking the clasp on the cloak.



"It's impressive.." he said, amazed she'd made this so soon.



"Well, purple used to be reserved JUST for royalty a long time ago after all! Ooh, I’ll just move this stitch.." he held still while she bustled around him.



"You seem very withdrawn..." Rarity commented a minute later. Sombra jumped slightly.



"My apologies, I’m just not sure how to approach such a thing. An entire room full of ponies waiting for what...?"



"No particular thing, just to see YOU," Rarity said as she stitched another piece of the cloak, "When you think about it, until your little adventure criss crossing the shopping district, very few besides all of us here at the palace have gotten to see much of you..and despite your lingering doubts, the citizens here WANT to see you. You're the hottest thing on the agenda! You've probably saved more of them than you know, and not long after the fights have gone, so have YOU!"



Sombra had to admit she had a point.



"Hmm, how best to phrase this...ooh, one moment!"



Rarity raced off, and came back with Applejack.



"You tell him Applejack dear!" she trilled.



Applejack coughed, cleared her throat and said "We're throwin' this here shindig 'cause YOU need ta interact with the ponies whose behinds you've been savin'. And this way, you cant do a runner and escape the issue! Got it?"



A somewhat stunned Sombra nodded. Applejack grinned;



"Relax sugarcube, it wont be all bad! WE'LL be there, and parties tend to become pretty fun with all of us around, ask Princess Celestia about the grand galloping gala!" then she trotted happily off.



"See?" Rarity beamed "It wont be so bad!"



"Very well," Sombra chuckled faintly "I'll trust in your guidance on this..."



"Excellent!" Rarity beamed, removing the cloak and folding it neatly "there, it's ready for the ball!"



"What of yourselves?" Sombra asked curiously "Mistake it not for ingratitude, but I hope you haven’t neglected your own adornments for this occasion in favor of creating this for me? I recall from father that the outfits for such an event are an entirely new level of complexity in themselves!"



"Don’t fret over it darling! Fluttershy is helping with that!" Rarity assured him "She has an UNCANNY talent for sewing. Now that I have your outfit finished I can join her. We will have them finished in time to attend! We will shine like stars, I assure you!"



Sombra seemed to understand, as he nodded, inwardly glad all the fuss wasn’t being focused on HIM alone.

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But there was more to come. Scarcely had he left the room, bidding farewell to Rarity as she headed off to help Fluttershy, then somepony called his name;



"Prince Sombra! there you are!"



Sombra blinked, staring in confusion at the pony that came trotting up. She had a purple coat with golden hair piled into a bun atop her head.



"Can I help you madam?" he asked at last.



"My names Foxtrot. I'm the dance instructor." she raised at eyebrow at the taller pony's blank expression "I can assume you know why I’m looking for you your highness?"



"Give it a moment madam," Sombra paused, then it seemed to sink in, as his expression changed to one of mildly horrified realization "Wait, dance instructor?!"



She chuckled, requesting he follow her to the ballroom. As they walked, she explained.



"It is a tradition here in the Empire, at royal functions, for a Prince or Princess to select a partner for a formal display dance. Its an old custom, but one the current Prince and Princess have upheld."



A faint flicker from his past memories confirmed this, but Sombra nonetheless made a note to blame Shining Armor for this later.



"-and of course, given it's YOUR debut attendance at a formal party like this, the Princess asked me to teach you the required dance, so that you might join them."



Well, at least he wouldn’t be on his own in embarrassing himself then.



"I can assure you it is a much loved tradition, not one ponies are prone to laughing at!" she said in amusement.



Sombra jumped slightly "Am I REALLY that obvious?!" he said in exasperation. First Cadance seeing through his reluctance to leave the castle without an excuse, now THIS.



Foxtrot chuckled "No, but you are extraordinarily emotive in your facial expressions, and your ears. It is subtle in many ways, but it says so much."



"Perhaps that is why i always had them pinned back?" Sombra said dryly, which made her smile as she recalled his previous armor.



"Your default expression does seem to be one of fierce concentration," Foxtrot joked "yet you show so much else in just a few minutes of expressions.."



Sombra decided he'd work that one out later.

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It wasn’t as awful as he’d expected. Sure, it was humiliating having to learn to DANCE, but after what he’d been through the last few days, it barely measured on the radar.



Foxtrot had to admit he was surprisingly adept at it. She surmised his ability to fight with the level of agility he did lent him a surprising talent in this area. He also seemed a fairly quick study, able to mimic what she showed him very quickly.



"Does..everypony know this dance?" Sombra asked her at last, at the closing of their final practise dance together.



"Hm?" She'd been distracted by the deep red of his eyes. Closer, she realized there seemed to be multiple shades of the color, with an almost fractal pattern. Was this a trait of his Shyre lineage?



Recovering her wits, she nodded, as they stepped back and the music ended.



"Any time there is ever a ball, everypony, male and female learns this little routine. After all, its not everyday you get asked to dance by royalty! With Princesses Luna, Princess Twilight Sparkle and Princess Celestia in attendance, I suspect many stallions will want to brush up on it. For Princess Cadance and Prince Shining Armor, the first dance will be with one another, although after that they do ask somepony else for a second dance."



"I see..." Sombra realized he had a lot to mull over.



"If its any assurance your highness, you’re probably one of the fastest studies I’ve ever taught. All that fighting has taught you how to move without having to concentrate too heavily. Quite a useful trait."



She let him go once she was sure he’d be able to perform the whole thing without slipping up. She wondered off-hoof who he would ask at the actual dance? There was no denying he was handsome, a fact a lot of the mares in the empire had been discussing. But Sombra seemed largely oblivious to this as far as she could tell.

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By the time Sombra got to the dining hall, everypony was already starting their food.



"Hey bud!" Shining Armor waved "how'd it go?"



"Don't ask.." Sombra grumbled as he sat down.



"Ask what?" Pinkie naturally did the opposite.



"About this awkward tradition of dancing at the ball." Sombra said as he took a bite of the food.



"Ahh, that!" Twilight Sparkle nodded "I had to learn it too, it's not that bad!"



"Easy for YOU to say!" Sombra muttered, shaking his head.

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Foxtrot left the palace and headed straight for a posh resturant for a date with her friends. She knew what they'd want to know, and sure enough..



"What’s he LIKE?" One mare asked.



"And can he dance?" Another giggled. Foxtrot rolled her eyes slightly.



"He’s actually pretty quiet," she remarked, "I get the feeling he’s studying everything new and unfamiliar with a great curiosity. He’s still pretty guarded..."



"But can he-?"



"He learnt the whole THING," she said, "In next to no time. He'll have no trouble at the ball."



"I wanna know who the lucky dance partner will be?" One of her friends sighed.



"Nopony's gotten even remotely CLOSE, imagine what it’d be like to actually DANCE such a romantic dance..."



"He didn’t mention it," Foxtrot shrugged "I’m not sure he's given it much thought.."

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At last the evening of the party arrived. Celestia had taught Rarity a very useful spell for temporarily taming a wild mane. It worked on hers, slowing its ever flowing movement for a day.

Useful for when she wished to have it in a different style.



This, Rarity used to calm Sombra's mane, so it could be shifted into a low ponytail, held in place with a circular gold band designed to look like the band around his leg.



Sombra fidgeted almost the whole time, which Rarity figured was caused by his nerves. The closer the party came, the more he couldn’t sit still. At last she walked down with him to the library, and told him to wait there, she was going to get the others so she could take a group photo. She asked a passing guard, Sombra's latest friend Lightshield, to hang around and keep an eye on him.



Not realizing this, Sombra was talking to himself as he spotted his reflection in the window.



"Not that I deny miss Rarity her excellence in dressmaking, but I look a prize fool in such a getup." he muttered.



"Well, at least you have standards, sire!" the guard couldn't help himself. Sombra jumped, whirling round to see Lightshield grinning from the doorway.



"Yes," Sombra dead-panned "for I hold myself to a certain standard of hilarity..."



More sniggering.



"Oh, I give up." Sombra grumbled. Lightshield chuckled.



"Don’t worry sire, you'll fit in just right with everypony else.."



"Sure.." Sombra sighed, looking back at the window, "Dress it up all you want, I still stick out a mile."



"I wouldn’t be so sure sire," he said lightly "I think you'll find you fit in better than you imagine.."



Sombra looked over at him, and managed a weak smile, thanking him for his counsel.



Then Lightshield heard something behind him, and darted into the room just in time to avoid being run over by an excitable Pinkie Pie. She bounded in, wearing a floaty dress made to resemble a layered cakes. Little jewels shaped like berries and stars ran along its hem. The others, in varying themes of dress bundled in after her, with Luna and Celestia bringing up the rear.



"Big brothers on his way-wow, Rarity!" Twilight Sparkle had just clocked Sombra's outfit. Rarity had kept it a surprise, unable to help from premiring her latest royal number in style!



Sombra turned towards them at the sound of their voices, blinking at the clamor of colors and fabric.



"NOW thou looketh the part!" Luna declared in approval.



"DEFINATLEY 20% cooler then ever!" Rainbow Dash nodded. Sombra felt himself flush slightly, but he knew that catchphrase of Rainbow Dash's was a sign of approval.



They gathered round for a photo, once Cadance and shining Armor arrived.



"See?" Lightshield grinned to Sombra "you fit right in!"

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After a mass of photos, they headed off towards the party as a group. Rarity and the others fell in behind the royal group, as it was their entrance that was to be the most exciting!



All the ponies gathered in the massive ballroom ceased chattering as the double doors opened, a glorious fanfare announcing the royalty’s arrival, and the guard at the door announced the princes and princesses in a booming voice.



As soon as Sombra's name was mentioned, all eyes were on him. This was, after all, the first time he'd ever been seen in such a big gathering, aside from the stadium announcements, and those had been pretty informal.



Sombra felt his heart constrict at the momentary silence and hushed whispers, and quickly closed his eyes, mentally instructing himself not to bug out. He promised Rarity he-



The next second he opened his eyes sharply, as an almost DEAFENING cheer ricocheted around the expansive room. Celestia, who was standing just to his right, seen him jolt slightly, ears standing upright in apparent confusion.



Some of the closer members of the crowd seen his response, and found his reaction rather charming. He literally seemed to have trouble grasping how important he was to them!



He recovered in time to join them as they gave a collective bow of their heads. The light caught the gold highlights of his outfit, and the purple jewel in the band around his leg.



Then the rest of Twilight Sparkle's friends bounded in, joining the purple Alicorn as she and the others took a step into the ballroom.



Sombra felt frozen, he wasn’t sure he could move-



"SOMBWA!" a familiar voice broke through the self induced panic, and he looked down just in time to see a blur wearing a yellow dress whoosh up to him.



Bright Spark looked more adorable then ever, her mother had styled her mane so it fell in little corkscrew curls, with jeweled bows on either side. Her dress was a floaty, puffy style, in shades of yellow and gold.



"You look fantastic, little one.." Sombra smiled as she beamed up at him, then called behind her "I found him mommy!"



Shining Sea caught up to her daughter, smiling at Sombra. She was wearing a glittery blue dress decorated with pearls. She looked very pretty.



"The worst bits over," she joked.



He laughed "that obvious was it?"



"Only a little..." Shining Sea smiled "you actually looked pretty relaxed, if a little startled."



"I wasn’t expecting such a reaction," Sombra managed at last "I guess it never occurred to me that I..."



"Mattered so much to us?" Shining Sea tilted her head curiously. Sombra went slightly red, but he nodded at last!



"C'mon!” Bright Spark bounded up and down "there’s loads of ponies who wanna say hewwo to you Sombwa!"



Taking a deep breath, Sombra followed after the excitable blur that was his little friend, with Shining Sea walking alongside.



Quillpetal and the others Sombra had briefly met during his excursion to deliver the letters all did double takes as the new prince and two friends approached, little Bright Spark excitably chattering away.



There was one new mare with them, a pony with practically no fear it seemed, for as Sombra and shining sea came to a stop right in front of the group, she gave Sombra a glance over and nudged the mare next to her, declaring "You weren’t kidding. He’s not just handsome, he’s gorgeous!"



Cue Shining Sea quietly face hoofing, and Sombra just BARELY keeping his face from going beet red.



"Ignore miss socially tactless, your highness, she’s missing a filter between her brain and her mouth!" Quillpetal said with a giggle underlining her voice.



"Tell me, have you met Cotton Candy?" Sombra said at last "You two could be long lost sisters!"



More laughter, with even Shining Sea letting out a muffled squawk of laughter behind her hoof.



After THAT response, Sombra couldn’t really say it got stranger than that!

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"We must declare," Luna said to her sister "he seems to be faring rather well!"



"Indeed..." Celestia was relieved to see Sombra didn’t appear to be too unsettled by the mass of ponies vying to talk to him.



"It's good to see him relaxing around so many ponies," Cadance walked over with Shining Armor by her side.



"Hopefully now he'll realize what we’ve been telling him all this time," Shining Armor said, not unkindly "that everypony is glad to see him accepting his new role…"

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But it wasn’t to be an entirely peaceful evening. Sombra hadn’t realized, but when the guards had destroyed one of the attacking creatures the previous day, not ALL the cores had been destroyed. A passing mare had picked up what looked to her like a harmless shard of the core. Unlike the piece Sombra had retrieved for Princess Twilight Sparkle back at the beginning of all this madness, this piece was dangerous, for the creatures had evolved since then, storing a portion of their magic within them. The mare, a jeweler by the name of Sweetheart, had carved the jet black core into a heart-shaped jewel inlaid in a necklace.



Sombra was oblivious to all this, as he had a much bigger problem on his hooves.



For the moment, he was engaged in conversation with Flash Sentry, who was off duty and dressed to the nines. From what Sombra could tell, he was there to admire Princess Twilight from across the room, and not actually TALK to her. Confused by this, he walked over to the other stallion.



"She can't read your thoughts," Sombra said archly, raising one eyebrow "so you may have to go SAY something!"



"W-what?" Flash Sentry tried to look innocent but failed epically under Sombra's sarcastic glare.



Then Sombra heard the familiar strains of a certain song start up. The band was looping the songs intro, indicating the famed "traditional" dance was going to start. This display would serve as the opening of the evenings dancing, a performance by the Princes and Princesses to start things off!



"For the love of Celestia!" Sombra grumbled "you will have no finer opportunity than this!"



As Flash Sentry looked over at where Twilight Sparkle was in conversation with Rarity, when the purple Princess pony happened to glance over, see Flash, and send a quick, slightly blushing smile his way.



"Tell me you actually SAW that!" Sombra sighed.



"I don’t know what I’m supposed to do!" Flash blurted "I don’t want to make a fool of myself, your highness!"



"Argh, fine!" Sombra sighed "I am told embarrassment is easier to bear when a pony is not alone in doing so. That was my fathers mantra. Hence his repeated efforts to rope me and anypony nearby into his goofball moments!"



"What are you getting at, sire?" Flash asked.



"You will not be alone in "embarrassing" yourself!" Sombra said, feeling his stomach sink "as tradition demands, so too must I select a partner. Now MOVE. I will see you at the start of this madness!" Then he subtly shoved Flash Sentry in Twilight's direction before diving into the massive crowd.



There was only one pony he could think of that he could trust not to laugh too hard at this whole madness...



Shining Sea was pleased to see Sombra reappear beside her and Bright Spark. She therefore was exceedingly surprised when he asked for a dance!



Everypony else’s jaw hit the floor, when Sombra did an elegant bow and made his request of her.



Bright Spark nudged her mommy towards Sombra, and the stunned but flattered Shining Sea accepted his out held hoof...



Flash Sentry meanwhile, under threat of having a very cross Sombra on his tail, gathered the courage to trot up to Princess Twilight Sparkle.



"Flash!" Her eyes brightened as she seen him "hi!"



"H-hey, Princess...uh.." he coughed, and then, seeing Sombra out of the corner of his eye with a pretty blue mare stepping alongside him, blurted "May I have this dance?"



Twilight Sparkle's heart soared, and she nodded. She liked Flash Sentry. Sure, he was a little goofy at times, but his cheery nature and light hearted banter overcame that! He had helped her during the crystal plague, bringing her the tea and checking on her brother for her! So she nodded, and Flash could barely keep a relieved grin from his face as they followed Sombra to the centre of the floor.



When Cadance seen who Sombra's dance partner was, she smiled. She'd gotten the impression Shining Sea, from what she'd observed at the festival, cared for Sombra as much as little Bright Spark did.



Shining Armor seen his sister preparing to dance with Flash, and nodded his approval. Flash Sentry was a good guard. He could be a bit silly, sometimes liable to get carried away, but he had a good heart.



Celestia and Luna had both chosen somepony to dance with, and their chosen partners looked like they could hardly believe their luck!



Neither could Shining Sea. She knew about this dance, but she hadn’t connected this tradition with the fact Sombra was a Prince now until he asked her, and it all came rushing back!



Of all the prettily dressed ponies in the ballroom, he'd chosen her! She couldn’t believe it.



Then the music soared, and the dance began.



Foxtrot, standing on the edge of the crowd, nodded her approval as she watched the new Prince as he danced. He was able to focus on his partner, without seeming to worry about remembering the dance steps!



At the finale of the dance, the dancers finished quite close, with the mares hoof curved around her stallions neck, almost nose to nose.



Shining Sea couldn't help but admire the way the light caught Sombra's eyes as the dance came to a close. The way his mane, falling just over one ear, contrasted the smoky grey of his coat....



--OK...he’s cute.-- she admitted to herself at last --REALLY...cute...--



Then they stepped apart, finishing the move with a bow. The other royals finished in perfect sync with them she noticed.



Bright Spark had seen the entire dance, grinning so widely she couldn’t speak, just grinned ecstatically. Her mommy danced with her precious Sombra! How wonderful!



The crowd applauded and cheered as a new song began to play, and the royals and their partners dispersed off to one side.

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"See? Not so terrifying..." Sombra said softly to Flash, who nodded, looking giddily happy.



"That was beautiful darlings!" Rarity declared.



"Sweetest thing I ever did see," Applejack nodded.



"Sombwa, mommy!" Bright Spark zoomed over and hugged her mother, then Sombra.



"Fanks for dancing wiv mommy.." she whispered in his ear as he crouched slightly so she could declare "boop!" and poke his nose as per usual, "She weally likes to see you, and she woves dancing!"



Being a small filly, she hadn’t entirely grasped volume level, so her mother picked up on this too, and felt herself blush a little. She shot a quick look at Sombra, in time for him to do the same in her direction. They shared what seemed to be a look of amusement, adorable embarrassment, and even a slight smile, all in a split second before breaking eye contact again, and refocusing their gazes on the beaming Bright Spark.



"Please tell me I wasn’t the only one who saw that!" Rarity whispered to Twilight. Twilight Sparkle nodded, she'd seen it too!



"Seen what?" Rainbow Dash asked, looking confused.



"That LOOK!" Rarity declared softly, her eyes gleaming "the LOOK, Rainbow dear!"



"I don’t get it..." Rainbow Dash groaned.



"There's an entirely possible chance they may LIKE one another is what she sayin'!" Applejack said bluntly. "get mah drift?"



"Oooohhh.." Pinkie Pie copped on at last, and grinned widely.



"That’s so sweet.." Fluttershy whispered.



"Bleurgh..." Rainbow Dash groaned "not mushy stuff, please!"

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It was shortly after the adorable opening dance that Sombra met his next obstacle. Only this one would try to kill him!



He was walking past a group of fancily dressed stallions and mares from the staff of council at the palace, when one of them, in his haste to get the prince's attention, dropped the wineglass he was floating beside him. Sombra quickly activated his magic, catching it quickly and setting it upright on a nearby table.



"A masterful catch your highness," the stallion said gratefully "might we waylay you awhile?"



Sombra nodded, taking a drink from a passing waiter and taking a sip as the council began talking about the topics they hoped her might join Shining Armor and Cadance in working in the near future.



"Of course, we wont expect you to take on anything too heavy until the coronation!" Another stallion, an older gentleman, declared "but we would welcome your opinion at the next meeting if you're not busy chasing those foul beasts through street and alley!"



"With Princess Twilight Sparkle's goggles, I am no longer fighting this war on my own," Sombra replied "and if there is some manner by which I might assist, I...would be glad."



The group nodded and voiced their approval and relief. It was refreshing to hear somepony using the more formal grammar of the empire. It seemed Sombra's father had taught him well!



That innocuous little spell, catching a falling glass, had been enough to catch the attention of the limited consciousness still hiding within the core. Barely "alive" as it were, it was a basic intelligence, more feral then normal. But with the mare wearing it on her person as an adornment, it was all too easy for it to worm into her thoughts.



She swanned up to the table bearing the lavish spread of food, and stealthily snuck a small, sharp silver steak knife into the sleeve of her dress. She heard the music starting up, and under the darknesses control, she made her way confidently to Sombra.



“Excuse me,” she said, offering all the stallions a fleeting glance but letting her eyes linger on Sombra “Might a lady trouble a handsome Prince for a dance?”



The creature was manipulating her crush on the enigmatic unicorn, removing her nerves and putting words in her mouth!



Sombra was startled, but accepted her request nonetheless. But this dance was different to the one he’d had with Shining Sea. This mare wasn’t shy, it seemed. She smiled flirtatiously at him as they danced, stepping as close as she dared, during the bits where the dance moved them close.



Shining Sea watched them absently, feeling a little pang at how fearless that mare was. She'd been way too nervous to do much beyond admire the Prince and keep her mind on her hoofwork!



Then she seen a glint of something, and felt a stab of panic..

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The flirty mare spun away, then danced back in close. She pretended to stumble, bumping right into Sombra, "steadying" herself with one hoof resting on his chest, while with a subtle flick of her other hoof, she brought the knife up;



But it was this invasion of personal space that alerted Sombra to her plan rather then distract him. He was finding her sudden advancements a little much, and when she tripped and all but bumbled into him, he reacted instinctively, using one foreleg to stop her falling over (that would’ve been embarrassing!). But when she pressed a hoof to his chest, as if seeking a heartbeat, he felt a little uncomfortable. Something was weird about this whole thing, besides his distinct lack of understanding of romantic policies.



He glanced down at the aforementioned hoof, in time to see the other one coming towards him, there was a flash of light, just for a second. Quickly, disregarding the possible social backlash, he moved back. This saved him from a near lethal cut. As it was, the edge of the knife just nicked his jawline as he darted back, and the mare snarled.



Shining Sea seen this and let out an involuntary cry. Everypony looked over, spotting the gleaming knife sticking out of the fancy sleeve of the mares outfit.



"Freeze!" two guards appeared at the edge of the dance area, eyes fixed on the mare. Sombra quickly raised a hoof towards them, ordering them to stop!



The next second he felt a cold blade press to his throat.



"Smart move, little prince.." the mare warbled, her voice half her own, half shadow.



"Let her go!" Sombra snarled furiously.



"Must you spoil my fun, you demented little freak?" She spat.



"Call me what you fancy, I care not!" Sombra snapped back "your bluster fools nopony! Your tactics are pathetic!”



She glared furiously at him.



"You've run out of ammunition for your puerile attacks! All my memories, all the nightmares, i have been through them ALL now. There is nothing left you can use to try to stop me destroying you!" he did something incredibly risky then...



"You think this innocent mare is a toy for you to use? You are gravely mistaken" He looked at her eyes, appealing to the pony within "this is HER body, HER mind, and she will NOT become a part of your plan-"



"Cease your babbling little prince!" the mare spat, but stopped a second later as Sombra actually took a step CLOSER, pressing the blade against his neck even more.



"Go ahead, try it. She will fight you. We will ALL fight you!" Sombra declared.



By now everypony was fixated on this struggle. A mare holding Prince Sombra at knife point, the blade pressed to the elegant curve of his neck.



"We must do something!" Luna hissed to her sister. Celestia was itching to show this shadow creature it was mistaken to target Sombra, but one wrong move and Sombra could get seriously hurt. Then they all seen him take that step, putting the knife closer to his neck.



"Oooh.." Rarity swooned dramatically, unable to watch! Pinkie caught her and pulled a cushion from thin air, setting it under Rarity so her dress and mane didn't get creased.



The shadow creature decided to just be rid of somebody, since he was being so obliging! But when it tried to move, it found the pony's limbs frozen. It felt an angry presence lash out within its consciousness. The host was fighting back!



Sombra seen her freeze, and smiled knowingly. Then, in a flash, he transformed into the tiny, foal sized shadow version of himself from the stadium incident. He leapt up, grabbing the necklace with his little fangs and tearing it free, bounding away from her. She swiped at him as he did so, dropping the knife, but his diminutive stature made him impossible to catch! Then she froze again as the host mind dug its heels in! She cried out, the jewel still trying to exert its influence, for even though Sombra had removed the jewel, it had wormed its way into her head.



Reverting to his normal form, Sombra grabbed the sharp knife from the floor, and used the tip to prise the shard of the core out. He crushed it underhoof, causing the mare to screech in agony. She managed to free herself from the paralysis, and leapt for him, only to be restrained by the magic of the two unicorn guards that'd been standing anxiously by.



She was strong however, her possessed fury making it hard for them to restrain her as she twisted and fought.



Sombra closed his eyes, and a purple aura wrapped around her, making her freeze. It lasted only a second, and when it dispersed, there was a darker tint to it. She gave a muffled groan and collapsed. Lightshield seen this, and recognized it as the same spell Sombra had used to save HIM!



Assimilating the magic into his own and essentially nullifying it, Sombra felt a brief wave of dizziness, but it soon faded.



"Sire?" one of the guards was speaking to him, holding a handkerchief up to Sombra's neck.



"What...oh..." Sombra stayed still as the blood was mopped up. luckily it was a very shallow cut, no real harm done.



"W-what....what happened..?" the mare had come to. She shook her head.



"Are you all right madam?" Sombra asked, sitting opposite her as she raised her head to look at him



When she seen the Prince she'd just tried to essentially assassinate, she burst into tears, bowing her head in respect;



"I’m so sorry y-your highness! I couldn't stop myself..i-i.."



“It is fine." Sombra's slightly stern voice slowed her tears, and she looked up at him.



“What is your name?” he asked.



“I'm Sweetheart, your highness...” she sniffled.



"Miss Sweetheart, I have seen this spell one time before, and I will tell you now what I told that pony. There is no grounds to blame yourself, those creatures manipulate and warp your mind to serve their own ends. Besides, did you not fight back?"



She blinked, realizing he was right. She had gotten mad, screamed for the thing to stay away from Sombra, she didn’t want to hurt him!



"See?" Sombra offered a kind smile to the mare "The matter is dismissed. Are you hurt?"



She shook her head, unable to believe it. He wasn’t angry....and she wasn’t in trouble!

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One of the guards fetched her a glass of water, another, a chair. She was sat by the edge of the dance floor. Sombra stayed close by as the mares friends gathered around her, mopping her tears and consoling their scared friend.



He looked down at the golden necklace by his hoof. He floated it up, repairing the broken clasp, but the space where the jewel had been set...



He called for somepony to please fetch miss Rarity! Having recovered from swooning, she came over.



"Are you all right? That looked like a quite ghastly situation!"



"I am fine, it is but a scratch. However, I need your help." he showed her the missing gap where the black core-jewel had been "what color of gem would you suggest to replace this?"



Rarity studied the mare it belonged to. She had golden blonde mane and tail, and a pale pink coat.



"A ruby!" She declared, "That'd would look stunning, plus it's in the shape of a heart!"



Sombra nodded, asking if she had one she could give him? Rarity closed her eyes, summoning one from her workshop. Sombra used his magic to recreate the shape of the previous gem, and slotted the new ruby heart into the necklace.

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Sweetheart was dabbing her eyes with a napkin when Sombra approached once more, with Rarity beside him.



"Y-your highness!" she teared up again "I-"



“There is no further need to apologize, I insist." Sombra said firmly, then floated the necklace over and set it back around her neck "this is your I believe. I regret I had to destroy the gem, but the stone you carved it from was from one of those things cores."



"I though it was harmless, and it was...mesmerizing..." she wavered, then seen the stunningly cut ruby that had replaced "Your highness, I-"



"It seemed a shame to let such a valuable piece remain empty," Sombra remarked "and miss Rarity said a ruby suited you best."



Rarity nodded, giving the mare a comforting smile "it suits your coat just wonderfully darling!"



Sweethearts friends all fawned over the necklace, admiring how much better it looked then the black gem! She managed to thank him, unable to believe all this!



Sombra could hear the muted sound of the music, feel the tension in the air. Lightshield seen him frown unhappily. Then something seemed to occur to him, as he blurted;



"Of course, Cotton Candy-!"



"You rang?" a voice spoke from literally right beside him, and those nearby seen Sombra actually jump, giving Pinkie a stern look.



"Don’t sneak up on me like that..." he sighed "Anyhoof...i have just one question?"



"What is?" asked Pinkie Pie, hopping up and down.



"Can you get this party back on track?"

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While Pinkie Pie was setting her plan in motion, the Princesses and Shining Armor all clustered around Sombra, relieved to see he wasn’t hurt!



"You gave us quite a fright with that stunt!" Luna said "How did thou know she wouldn’t hurt thee?"



"I don’t know," Sombra said honestly "I just...did. I got the sensation she was really fighting behind the scenes there..."



"We're glad you’re not hurt, but please refrain from scaring us all like that!" Cadance replied.



Sombra nodded in apology "I’m sorry if I worried you, but I didn’t want to attack her. So I used that same spell as last time.."



"With Lightshield?" Shining Armor confirmed. Sombra nodded.



"Everypony's uneasy.." Cadance said sadly "the party may have to be-"



"Hold that thought Princess..." Sombra said. Looking up at him she seen he was smiling softly.



As she opened her mouth to ask what he meant, she heard a familiar voice from the stage that'd been set up for the band.



"Alright everypony!" It was Pinkie Pie. "That was super scary, but its okie-dokie-lokie now! And Sombra insisted we get this party back on track! You’re not gonna ignore him now, are ya?"



The gathered ponies shook their heads, and Pinkie Pie grinned widely.



"So lets get this party started, by ROYAL decree!" she threw a big ball into the air where it exploded, showering sparkly confetti everywhere. The assembled ponies cheered.



"Play something to dance to!" Pinkie Pie told the band "happy fun dancing!"



Figuring she meant a more upbeat tune, they swung into a jazzy, poppy melody, which Pinkie Pie began to sing along to, making the lyrics up as she went:

"Ohh whoa whoa,
Time to swing your mane, honey!
Ohh whoa whoa,
Time to feel the beat!


Ohh whoa whoa,
Let your worries go to-night!
Ohh whoa whoa,
Get up off your seat!”

She spun around before launching into a verse;

Don't frown, don't pout,
Don't let your tears flow!
Because tonight's a night where
We can all let our worries go!


We got a new reason, a new friend to celebrate!
To see him free now, a long time we have had to wait!


But from the past ashes,
a phoenix made of dark flame!
A new contender,
In a twisted shadows crazy game!


Light and shadow mix,
A changing heart marks the way,
A broken sky we must fix,
Our spirits will fight this day!


Ohh whoa whoa,
Time to let your guard drop!
Ohh whoa whoa,
Your heartbeat will never stop!


So dance, dance now!
Don’t worry about a thing!


So dance, dance now!
And let your heart SING!”

Massive applause rang out after this, and a slightly out of breath Pinkie Pie trotted over to the royal group.



"Wow pinkie!" Twilight Sparkle stared at her friend "Did you write that just for the party?"



“No, I made it up on the spot!" She beamed, before bounding away to the drinks table.



"That...is remarkable." Celestia said at last. Following the schedule, the second traditional royalty dance was due to begin, Sombra heard the music start up!



He looked about, hoping to find Shining Sea again, he felt comfortable around her.



He spotted her, and she caught his eye, then made a subtle nodding motion with her head, indicating-



He realized she was hinting towards Sweetheart, who was still sat on her chair surrounded by her friends. She looked cheered a little by her new necklace and Pinkie Pie's bouncy song, but he could see the embarrassment of the incident was hurting her still.



He knew what it was like, to lose control...to feel like an outcast. He shot Shining Sea a grateful nod, and walked over.



Celestia watched this exchange, realized what Sombra about to do, and smiled. He was learning fast it seemed...

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Sweetheart shook her head when her friends tried to persuade her to come get a drink with them, watch the dance...



Then they heard somepony clearing their throat, and turned, sweetheart looking up from the napkin she was currently twisting into little shreds. Her heart both jumped and sank when she seen it was Sombra.



But the two words he spoke next she barely dared believe;



"May I?"



And an out held hoof.



She heard her friends gasps and murmurs of surprise and slight envy as she took the out held hoof in a stunned daze, and let herself be escorted to the dance floor.

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She was nervous as all heck at first, but she soon relaxed as Sombra talked to her. This time her dancing was as perfected and polite as she had practiced it..



When the dance was over, she pretty much went bright red at being so close to Sombra. He'd been unexpectedly kind to her, after everything that’d happened she thought he rather keep away from her! But as they danced, he'd explained he knew there was no cause for her to feel responsible, he wouldn't hear of it!



She thanked him as she turned to go back to her friends.



Sombra sighed in relief, glad to see the attempted attack hadn’t cut the party short. He made a mental note to thank Cotton Candy later…

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And the party went on, as exciting as ever! Pinkie Pie requested MORE lively music, and Candace and Shining Armor did a sort of tango-foxtrot thing, which garnered a lot of applause, and lots of other ponies came onto the floor to join them!



Bright Spark caused a minor giggle-fit across the crowd when she literally went zooming across the polished floor on her rear, using the satiny fabric of her dress as an impromptu sled of sorts and her magic to propel herself!



"Wheeeeeeeee!" she hooted as she whizzed past Sombra, who was honoring a request for a dance from Luna. Both stopped mid-step, looked at her, then at each other, and cracked up laughing. It reminded them of that big laugh they'd had on the rooftop, where Sombra had jokingly called her "Woona", a la Bright Spark style!



Nopony managed to escape being amused by this random interval of madness. When Bright Spark reached the end of the polished floor and bounced off it onto the carpet, she was scooped up out of harms way by a certain Alicorn.



"That was quite a display little miss Bright Spark," Celestia commented as she set Bright Spark down atop a cushion, and swiftly mended a small tear in the child’s dress.



"Fanks Pwincess!" Bright Spark giggled "I thought it would be funny, and make the posh ponies stop wooking so bored!"



Celestia couldn't help but chuckle at sparks description.



Bright Spark was beyond thrilled, she was getting to talk with the sun Princess! This was so much awesome!



Sombra noticed Twilight Sparkle and Flash seemed to be pairing up for more dances, and got the feeling they were getting along quite well.



Then Celestia appeared beside him, saying Cadance was about to make a special announcement, and he recalled the topic.



Cadance was smiling as she announced the date had finally been decided for a very special event....the official coronation of Prince Sombra!



If Sombra thought the sound level the crowd had made when he'd walked in at the start of the party was loud, it had NOTHING on the sound level this announcement produced! Everypony turned to where he stood, flanked by Celestia and Luna, who both looked pleased and more than a little proud. After all, he’d shown it was possible to, as Pinkie Pie's song described, rise from the ashes of the past once more!

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"I’m glad to hear you’ve picked a date.." Shining Sea noticed Sombra looked a little flushed, but he nodded.



"Princess Twilight Sparkle and the others were right, its time I stopped putting this off. It was a little daunting, seeing just how big an occasion it turned out to be. I wasn't expecting it to be like this.."



"Your father left you a place at the forefront of an entire empire, i bet anypony would find that a little scary.." Shining Sea smiled "but you'll do fine. Bright Spark and I know it!"



Sombra smiled, a warm, kind smile that made her heart speed up. He really was very handsome, with those garnet red eyes and jet black hair...



Somepony bumped against Shining Sea in passing, and her efforts to sidestep the ponies following in the first ones wake put her even closer to Sombra. He blinked and tilted his head towards her, asking was she OK, and that these ponies needed to watch where they were going. She smiled and shook her head, telling him it was fine. As she turned her head to do so, their noses were within inches of one another...



Across the room, Rarity was holding her breath, mentally encouraging them to..to...



And just when it looked as if they were about to do something;



"Mommy!" Bright Spark bounded over, seeing her two favourite ponies, her mother and her beloved Sombra talking together!



Both adults scooted back from each other, turning their attention onto Bright Spark, and off each other.



Rarity let out a groan "so close..."



"Close to what?" Rainbow Dash asked, honestly not sure what Rarity was fussing about!



Rarity just sighed.

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But there was a compromise in the works. She'd snuck off now the party was ending and the ponies were headed home, to check her hair hadn't gone flat from all the dancing. As she was exiting the bathroom, she heard Sombra's voice, and Shining Sea's. She edged her face around the corner, ears pricked in curiosity;



"-for asking her, I know her from the school board, she's a very sweet natured pony! She must've felt terrible!" Shining Sea looked worried.



"I told her what I told Lightshield. It was through no fault of her own that she was manipulated. Although I’m not sure if the circumstances are the same.."



“How do you mean?" Shining Sea asked.



"The guard was targeted because of his distrust of me. But I didn’t sense the same animosity from madam Sweetheart. So what was it targeting? Curiosity?"



Shining sea chuckled and shook her head "Affection, more like!" She said.



"Wha-?" Sombra stared at her like she was mad "w-what do you mean?"



"She has quite a crush on you, and she isn't the only one. Didn't you notice how they smiled and tried to get your attention for the dances?"



"I thought that's what these parties were always like. Some protocol or something linked to the royal status. I mean why would they-"



He glanced aside, seeing his reflection in the window. He knew he was different from everypony else. His magic was dark, and he knew he still looked a fierce, intimidating sight, no matter what fancy clothes he wore..



Seeing the way he was regarding his reflection, Shining Sea spoke up.



"Shush," she said gently "I don’t want to hear you speak about yourself that way. OK?"



He blinked, unable to think of anything to say. When he turned his head, they were close enough that their noses brushed..She looked beautiful, with her opalescent dress catching the light.



Rarity had to gnaw her hoof to refrain from squeeing in delight the next second as, on a crazy impulse, Sombra kissed Shining Sea...

Author's Note:

Sorry i took so long! Between extra work shifts, brainfarts, and a bout or two of various colds, things got messy...
DOODLE: http://yamanakaangel.deviantart.com/art/My-Little-Pony-I-Stand-522784474
Enjoy!

Edited as wonderfully as ever by Dream Seeker!