• Published 17th Jul 2016
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Shadows and Watchers - -SBRS



An Abyss Watcher is flung into Equestria after the Ashen One's secret betrayal. Finding someone to hold onto, he discovers new purpose under the guidance of the moon.

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Chapter Seven: Midnight

There was a sense of wonder within me, bubbling deep in the recesses of my mind and body, that only seemed to magnify with every step I took. It was a curious feeling, the sort that one might only know in times of unfamiliarity. The grand halls around me, kaleidoscopic colors washed about in light and shining paint, only served to amplify this feeling, the echoes given by my booted feet reminders of the grandiose scale of my new environs.

That I, an Undead self-pitted to fight against what could not be utterly defeated, had found myself in a majestic castle, was humorous indeed. That I could call it my home, at least for the foreseeable future, was even more so. Equine beings, aptly called ponies instead of horses, in retrospect to their very much diminished size, were a plentiful aide-mémoire to the fantastical notions of this new world. Servants with glowing horns, guards with bird-like wings, watched for my needs, despite my reassurances that I would be fine without their help, better suited for the likes of dithering nobles and scornfully spoiled brats.

I had never expected to find myself with such friends in high regard, after all. It was something to become accustomed to, and I trembled for the day that I might be completely fine with demure little ponies, wrapped in white and black maids’ garb, coercing me to let them dress a man such as I.

Absolutely not, was my answer. I only hoped it would always be so.

The sun had fallen long before, and I knew the time was some minutes after midnight. I was walking through the well-lit halls of the castle, moving between treasured rooms and golden chambers. The instructions one of the many castle aids had given me had been simple enough—find the easternmost towers of the castle, and make my way up the “fifth one to the left.”

I resisted the urge to spit, disgusted with both myself and the pony’s directions. I did not want to admit it—I could find my way! Red-carpeted hall had led to red-carpeted hall, and it had all looked the same.

Unfortunately, I knew the truth. I was lost. I did not know my way, and I could not find it. Perhaps it was the sheer unfamiliarity of such a large citadel—such twists and turns all looked the same within the palace. I pondered several ideas of navigation, each more ridiculous than the last, but my troublesome thoughts were interrupted by the echoes of booted hooves upon marble.

I turned, an expression of curiosity stretched across my features. “Captain Steelhooves. A pleasure to see you here.”

It was the captain, stone-faced as he always was. His golden armor accented his white coat well, providing a keen layer to pearly excellence. His helm, etched with details of battle and honor, bore upon it his signature red plume, a denotation of his superiority over the rank and file.

I felt myself slightly envying his fashionable garb, if only for my once-held love for plated knights’ gear.

Nevertheless, Steelhooves, his eyes as steely as his name, glared at me with abound suspicion. “We’ll see to that. Out of curiosity, where might you be heading, this late in the night?”

I frowned, displeased with his hostility. “To visit a friend. Luna told me that I could visit her tonight, after her court,” I explained calmly, shrugging. “Though, I am greeted with quite the predicament.”

“Oh?” Steelhooves asked, prodding for me to continue. “And what might that be?”

Looking back forwards, I raised my arms in annoyance. “I can’t seem to find my way around this blasted castle. A maid gave me directions, but I cannot make sense of them.”

Despite his hard glare and his dissatisfied frown, I could see a hint of amusement in his eyes, a slight wrinkle at the corner of his mouth. “I see. Would you, perhaps, like a guide? I can walk you there.”

I nodded, a small smile creeping across my mouth. “Yes, that would be nice. Lead the way, Captain.” I gave Steelhooves a mock salute, watching as he walked forwards past me. Following in his hoofsteps, I matched his pace.

“So,” Steelhooves began, a modest, leisurely tone replacing his expressions. “What do you and Luna plan to do tonight? I assume she is in her private study?”

“That is true,” I replied, my eyes wandering over the murals and stained-glass windows about us. “As to what we will do, that is to be seen. Suffice to say, I enjoy stories, and Luna has many to share. Much to my delight.”

“Really?” Steelhooves asked. “About what?”

“Many things. Though mostly about the past,” I said, gazing at a particularly interesting mural. A horrific creature, an amalgam of animal and beast, bore strings over what I assumed were ponies, controlling their every action. “It is not, however, to say that I do not share stories of my own.”

Steelhooves hummed in acknowledgement. “I see. I would like to hear some of these stories one day.”

“Perhaps you shall.”

Our walk remained in silence the rest of the way, our mouths shut as Steelhooves led me through several corridors and flights of stairs. Eventually, we had reached the top of a tower, a single door awaiting at the top.

“And here we are,” Steelhooves announced, coming to a stop before the door. My eyes glazed over its features.

It was of some high-quality lumber, golden pieces arranged about it. A single circle sat within the middle, a plaque of some sort—a crescent moon adorned the plaque, azure and black colors streamed through it. It was most definitely Luna’s sigil, and I made to knock.

“Wait,” Steelhooves stopped me, laying a hoof upon my back. I turned, a brow raised.

“Yes? What is it?”

The stately unicorn stood tall, his gaze charged at my own. He was silent for a few moments, before speaking. “I may have been a bit harsh, in my treatment of you. I would like to apologize.”

“Hm?” I grunted in confusion, tilting my head. “Oh, it’s rather fine. Make nothing of it, Captain.”

He smiled in return, a hint of gratitude about him. “I am glad, then. I would like to talk to you in the future. By ourselves, if you’d like. And, another thing—some of my men would like to see you in battle. They would like to gauge you, as a warrior.”

I matched Steelhooves’ smile, nodding. “Then we’ll make time for it. Our talk, and our bouts. Have a good night, Captain.”

Steelhooves gave me a light salute and left, making his way back down the stairs. I watched him disappear, before turning back to the door before me. Taking a deep breath, I raised a hand to knock.

“Come in,” a voice interrupted me, familiar and friendly. In shock, I took a step back, leaning back from the door.

“Huh?”

“Oh, I know it’s you, Roland,” the door swung open, the ever-noticeable tint of magic roiling over its surface. Inside, I could see Princess Luna, sat upon a cushion. Small stacks of parchment were arranged before her, bottles of ink and cerulean quills beside them. “I could hear you two yapping away outside my room.”

I stood there silently, unsure of what to do. Luna’s brows scrunched, her ears pricking in annoyance. “Don’t just stand there, Roland. I said come in.”

Following her orders, I took a few dainty steps into her private study. The door swung closed behind me and, much to my chagrin, I could hear the click of a lock.

“Wouldn’t want anypony rushing in on us,” Luna explained, adjusting her position on her cushion. “Come. Sit with me.”

“Are you worried someone might come? This late in the night?” I asked, uncertainty toning my voice. "A maid? A guard?” I sat on the ground, opposite my friend.

Luna rolled her eyes, shaking her head. “Not anypony in particular. Though, Steelhooves, might come back, all worried or something. He is very eager to prove himself, and protect his princesses.”

I nodded, humming in agreement. “Perhaps. And about him… I was curious, Luna. About Steelhooves.”

“What about him?” She queried. Her horn glowed alight, and I watched, in slight wonder, as the piles of parchment, ink, and quills disappeared altogether.

“Just about him, in general,” I clarified. “Lily Pad, she told me a little about him. How there is some manner of political mess behind him and his position. It poked my curiosity.”

Luna nodded, giving a low sigh. “Oh, that. Yes, I suppose that is true. It’s a long and boring story. Are you sure you want to hear it?”

“Yes.” My answer was simple.

“Then you might as well make yourself comfortable, Roland. Would you like a spot closer to the fire?”

I turned, noticing a bright, glowing fire behind me. I could feel its warmth upon my back, but that was all I needed. I shook my head.

“You’ve noticed that Steelhooves is a unicorn, yes?” Luna asked, her gaze serious. I nodded, curious as to what she meant. “Well, he’s not entirely. At least, not by heritage.”

Confused, I tilted my head to the side. “Whatever do you mean by that?”

“Roland, I’m sure you’ve figured this out already, but besides alicorns, there are three distinct tribes of ponies,” Luna explained, ruffling her large wings slightly. “Unicorns, with their horns, pegasi with their wings, and earth-ponies with neither.”

I nodded, having seen all varieties already. “I understand that. But Steelhooves is a unicorn, yes? What else could he be?”

Luna sighed, and I could hear the undertones of exhaustion in her breath. “Captain Steelhooves’ mother is a unicorn. From a particularly notable family. That much is true. But his father?” Without warning, Luna flopped onto her side, resting her head upon another large cushion. “He’s an earth-pony, from some small town out in the country.”

“I see,” I said, though not entirely understanding. “But what could be the issue, then?”

“Roland,” Luna began, peering up at me out the corner of her eye. “Canterlot is inhabited by many, many, many noble families of unicorns. Each considers the purity of their bloodline more than sacred. And so, ponies of mixed heritage are considered a big no-no. Almost blasphemy, some might say.”

“Ah,” I sighed, now understanding. “So, I assume the unicorn families would not take kindly to a half-unicorn taking command of the Royal Guards?”

She nodded, her vision angled towards the ceiling. I looked up, following her gaze, and was met by glowing murals of nightly stars and pearlescent moon.

“That is correct. And, because of that, our dear Captain needs to work that much harder to prove the nay-sayers wrong.”

I nodded, quietly observing the murals upon the ceiling. My neck began to hurt, however, and I looked back down at Luna. She beheld a rather sorrowful expression.

“I feel sorry for the poor captain, in truth,” Luna said, looking into my eyes. “He works far into the night, taking shifts himself instead of his own juniors. He barely gets any rest, going through piles and piles of documents, files, reports, and cases. His magic is weak, not nearly as strong as any of his peers. By Tartarus, even foals have stronger magic than he does.

“But, despite that, Silver Steelhooves works very, very hard, to make up for his shortcomings, whether real or not. He has a strong will to succeed, and drives his guards to the same success. He is an excellent commander, and that is exactly why Shining Armor chose him to be his replacement.”

I was silent, moved by Luna’s explanation. Steelhooves, Silver, as his first name was, was a pony, and could not be farther, biologically, from myself. Yet, I felt, within myself, a certain connection, a particular relation to his efforts. A spurned soul, flawed and inherently weak, yet with a will to last, to make their mark.

That was, indeed, the basis of the Undead Curse, was it not? Absently mindedly, I brought a finger to my chin, and I could feel the burning spot that marked my darksign.

“I understand now,” I said to Luna. “But, I am confused on one matter.”

“Hm?”

“Captain Shining Armor—he was here, the day you and I first met, was he not?” I asked. “When you and your sister, Celestia, came to see me in my cell. He was there with you, leading you into the dungeons.”

“He was,” Luna acknowledged, slowly spreading a wing open before closing it again. “Both he and Princess Cadenza were on a royal visit.” She gave a small laugh, humor glinting in her eyes. “In fact, if I remember correctly, you appeared in the court during their arrival to the palace. Gave us all quite the fright, truth be told.”

I frowned, a sheepish expression upon me. “Oh. I… I did not mean to scare you all so. I assure you, I—“

Luna punched my arm with a hoof, and I winced in pain. “Oh, stop it, you. Of course you didn’t mean to. It’s not like you had any control over where you appeared, or anything.”

“True,” I said, nodding. We fell into silence—I watched the burning fire, my eyes wandering over its ardent licks and flames, while Luna stared up into the ceiling. I was unsure as to what she was thinking.

An eternity later, I turned back to Luna, nudging her with a hand. She grunted, eyeing me with playful displeasure. “Yes, Roland?”

“I think it’s time for a few stories. Wouldn’t you say?” I prompted, a smile upon my mouth. Luna returned it, but I was scared—I could see a hint of guile in her eyes.

“Yes,” she began, a brow raised. “But I think I’ve shared enough of my stories. I think it is due time for you to share one of your own.”

“Uh,” I began, initially unsure. “It… would seem that it is?”

Slightly adjusting her position on her cushions, Luna extended a hoof towards me. “Then come here. I am quite cold.”

I did not move, uncertain as to what to do. “What? The fire is right there, if you need it.”

“Shush,” Luna glared at me, a humorous look to her gaze, and she grabbed me. Pulling me closer, Luna clasped me to her body and wrapped a wing around me, settling us into her cushion. “I don’t bite. Now, tell me a story of yours. And it had better be good.”

I was rattled, that much was true, but I resigned myself to Luna’s oddities and rested my head back against her—she was rather warm. Flipping through the incorporeal pages of my mind, I settled upon a particular story close, very close, to my heart.

“Oh, I’ve got a story for you. You shan’t worry if it is good or not—it is absolutely wonderful.

“It is called, ‘The Legend of Artorias the Abysswalker.’