• Published 30th Jul 2017
  • 2,380 Views, 17 Comments

The Care and Keeping of Hidden Castles - Ice Star



Princess Luna heads out on a date with her special somepony, the only one who enjoys escaping the presence of ponies as much as she does.

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Solace

Phantom stars shined in a dark blue sky, whose shade was richer than any royal blue velvet, and had a cold, breathtaking depth to it. The sky cradled the world I walked on in a soothing, dark embrace and I paused to breath in the sweet, cool air that was unlike anything to be found elsewhere.

There were plenty of reasons for that. This was not the world that ponies knew and walked upon, nor was it one they could. Ponies and all other creatures, griffin, draconequus, Alicorn, and more, all dwelled within Midgard and lived in its realm and the star-filled space it occupied until they died and were sorted into this planet's dead worlds.

This place was not the realm of pure magic that only Alicorns could walk, and the demigods could glimpse when they were refashioned to mimic the Alicorns... or at least as best as they could be made to be. Though, my realm held a connection to that world.

It was a plane between Midgard and where Cady, Twilight Sparkle, and all the demigods of the Old World found themselves, a realm that I did not know the name of, but knew somepony who might. It was a world of pure magic, and this was a place caught between, a god's world to be unlocked by an ascending immortal shaping great magic upon Midgard, and only able to be traversed by other gods that are allowed access to these private places.

Tia and I have had ours since we stumbled across the Tribes and gained our cutie marks and they have been with us since fillyhood. She has a world that knows its name is Radiance, but I know nothing more than its name, and she knows nothing more of my half-world and what it contains. Discord has Chaosville, and it goes on.

I look up at the moonless sky. All these half-worlds take different shapes and are filled and arranged differently, and grander than a simple pocket dimension, yet, there were things that were not replicated in either. I knew the name of Radiance, and that there was no sun as my world had no moon.

I stood quiet among soft colored silvery-green grass and looked at a woodsy landscape that was filled with pools as the moon's surface was, marked with indents and craters up 'til recently - I should know, having walked upon its surface myself on one occasion.

The dozens upon dozens of pools, small ponds, and streams, connected and divided alike, all reflected the reflection of the sky above and the multitude of stars bursting across it with the utmost clarity. The dark branches of the exotic trees that populated this sloping plain were captured within as well, and lilies and lotus flowers disturbed only the surfaces of a portion of these ponds.

It was to a corner of this large but limited world that I retired to when the incident with the Tantabus occurred in Ponyville three years ago, and now that creation of mine was gone forever, in the aftermath of last summer.

But I did not come her to ruminate on such things as I stood here, enjoying the cool winds of a little world all my own, with me whether I was awake or slumbering.

I came here to think, that was true, and what I did now. I came here to stash small treasures - a weapon that I treasured more than a pony, a book of poems wiser than the ponies I dealt with, a chart of stars for a world no pony would ever see, an old rapier, photos of Cady and I making silly faces in a photograph booth, a favored lute, the sweater that Celestia got me last Hearth's Warming that I really did like for its adorable cobweb pattern, Nightmare Night candy, and all sorts of other mementos.

This evening - for it was nearly dusk outside - I sought an escape. I was as far away from the ponies that my job as a princess requires I deal with throughout the day when I was strolling among a paradise farther than any garden, and closer all the same, caught among the pages of a favorite adventure novel and humming as I snapped off twigs, purposely and absentmindedly, while re-reading the scene where the great horseshoe is cast into the fires of the dark flames from whence it came.

These were the occasions that I loved. Time spent with ponies made Celestia beam and kept her smiling, and time away from them was something she never thought was much to cherish, when the inverse was true for myself. I was aloof, and time with those I cared for instead of those who lived as my subjects was what I cherished.

With my date tonight I certainly wanted time to shake off any daily frustrations and allow myself to smile a little. Room to breathe was not something that could be found among ponies, especially having to sit through a summit with the bothersome and obnoxiously perky Princess Twilight Sparkle while Tia abandoned her own blood to go attend to another pony that had been in attendance, and all the while I had refrain from looking entirely unimpressed by Twilight Sparkle's chatter while I was trying to concentrate on the paperwork - that was me, after all. Princess of All Things Behind the Scenes, and it was by choice. Tia was the Princess of Smiles and Nodding and All Social Tasks, and I respected her for it, we split our duties, but many were attended to only by one of us due to our different skills and interests.

And then there was Twilight Sparkle, or as he and I had taken to calling her among his dozen nicknames of the mare he dubbed 'Purple Eyesore' most often: Twilight Sycophant. She smiled, waved, chattered, and preached on. She knew that I didn't like her and went out of her way to attempt unsubtle conversations about anything from my mild scowl, lack of 'good social habits', and even my significant other.

At the thought of her, I snorted and read on. I still had some time until I needed to raise the moon; the pocket watch that I had tucked in the pocket of my gray windbreaker gave me an extra ten minutes until I should leave and raise the moon. From there, my date could begin.

I smiled and shuffled my wings at the side. If I was to do anything in disguise during the night, I was going to have to hope that the wing-slots in my jacket could be hidden too. Hiding my cutie mark wouldn't be as much of a problem, if it was even needed at all. My jacket was large enough that any adjustments I made to my build - which would be slight, I quite like my stature - would cause the jacket to slip over the cutie mark entirely, and even now, it was already rather well-covered.

Only the shadow behind the moon and the dark dapples that were part of my cutie mark showed right now, where I stood obviously undisguised.

...

Once my horn's light had finally dimmed, I found myself standing where I had been before my retreat: in my bedroom. I did not find it unexpected, and no disturbances to my chamber would have been made in my brief absence. There were no advisors or any ponies in related positions who would need the attention of my sister and I, and I kept the Lunar Wing - the wing of the castle that housed my bedchamber and my other rooms - clean enough on my own that no maids and other staff ventured into my part of the castle. Some even complained that I kept it to cold.

Celestia was taking over the remaining nightly duties. Two goddesses who technically require neither sleep, food, nor drink meant that if needed, one of us could pull extreme hours, at least for a while. We are not beyond fatigue.

Tonight was such a night. Tia would rule and I had my time free. Ruling is my job. Celestia may put being a princess before she is Celestia, but I did no such thing. Time to do anything and everything else had to be worked in some how. I was the one who loved to live a lot in ways both big and small.

Humming to myself, I set about any last minute preparations. My room stood before me, moon shaped bed near the center with a double door that led to the rest of the Lunar Wing - my studies, armory, observatory, parlor, artifact rooms, and more. Soothing, cool colors decorated everything in styles I found enjoyable, mimicking parts of nature I found enjoyable, such as a sheet of ice or a single tree, soft carpet like the swirling ripples of a dark pool, and the lamps I had were like the glow of stars of fireflies. The whole place felt whimsical and distant compared to the styles my sister chooses to model things in, but the Lunar Wing was mine to have in the way I chose, and I took pride in it.

The only oddities to this were the curtains obscuring alcoves. They were a rich maroon with a blue one underneath, and behind them, there were tall windows, nooks to hang cloaks and jackets upon, and a few bookshelves, shaped to fit such odd spaces and crammed full of hardback books on some of my favorite things. Magical study, philosophy, plays, poetry, maps, epics, adventure novels, and photograph collections were tucked behind those curtains, and I replaced my novel on one of those shelves before closing the curtain.

The only other oddity was the gramophone that Cady had gotten me so we could exchange music with one another and I would be able to listen to music privately. I sung to it too, but never in front of anypony other than Tia and-

I heard the smallest sign of movement toward the balcony that both my sister's chambers and mine had. The doors to each were sealed by Tia and I, respectively, and we had keys to the locked doors, to be given to those we trusted. Celestia had given copies to Twilight Sparkle, Cadance, Discord, and me. I had only given out a key to one individual.

From my bed, I plucked a pale silvery green scarf up from the starry bedspread and wrapped the knitted object around my neck with a fluid toss of my forehoof, never tearing my eyes from the balcony area. Whoever got in had done so when I was not present, and slipped in quietly.

Whoever slipped in could detect magic and knew where I was, something only one individual knew how to do.

My smile grew and my watchful gaze softened. "Sombra."

I didn't have to be a magic sensing demon to know he was hiding among the curtain that framed the doors that showed a winter evening outside, just waiting for us to get lost in. A dry chuckle could be heard and he stepped out into the light - and became the third oddity in my room.

His usual plain crimson traveler's cloak had been changed into a simple trench coat that still had a small dusting of snow on it. His stature, taller than any pony or demigod, but still a little bit shorter than any Alicorn was the same. He never really needed to change it since he was usually just noted as tall. It wasn't until you measured him or noticed other signs - his demon horn and crimson irises among otherwise equine-looking eyes - that you realized he wasn't normal in the slightest. I don't know if he attempted to make a temporary, fake cutie mark under his coat or not, but he likely would be keeping it on until we were away from ponies to hide the scars on one of his flanks. I certainly didn't mind.

He smirked and I caught the slightest glint of fangs as my own smile grew some more. His fluffy ears pricked forward. Living so far up north had granted him a winter coat thicker than most ponies who lived on this mountain had, and his came with silly tips on his ears, ear fluff, and lasted longer, though it was still seasonal.

He looked me up and down, eyes darting under his disheveled mane. I had to resist stepping forward to ruffle his bangs for just a little longer. "Don't you look charming," he said, smirking and producing a key that he twirled smugly in his crimson magic.

I responded with all the dignity I cared to. "Ppht."

Sombra rolled his eyes. "Now, I risk coming here in broad daylight to rescue my Princess Charming, only to find she insists upon greeting the Right-Honourable Lord Sombra like this? By sticking your tongue out at me? What do I look like, a damn charity?"

"Sombra the Charitable you are not. I'd like to inquire if you made plans, or if tonight's activities shall be a surprise." Just because we exchanged letters didn't mean he informed me of every detail. Sometimes it felt like a competition between us to surprise the other.

He tugged his collar further up with a flick of his magic and looked around absentmindedly. My room wasn't a strange sight to him, but he only saw it when we came and went like this. "I have a bit of a surprise ready, and you'll need your disguise for it." He observed me again. "It's good to see you already have it. After that, I thought we could go to my place."

I smiled, another chance to escape ponies was nothing I would be passing up. "Your offer certainly is a tempting," I sang, smiling impishly at him.

Sombra raised on eyebrow. "I'm a demon, I'm supposed to be tempting, and sticking around here isn't that at all. Lunar Wing or not, I don't like dealing with guards, and certainly not a day like that's too good to waste like this."

I nodded and wondered if it would be too much to get him a scarf to make his disguise feel less under dressed for the weather, but then looked at my own clothing. We had on winter-y gear, and would not draw much attention in disguise, especially with our ever-unsociable natures. Nopony would look at us twice - especially if Sombra stayed out of sight of any authorities. His smirks, distinct baritone, and general roguish looks would catch the eye of any guard who thought he looked suspicious. It wasn't that he and I were incapable of escaping them, it was just annoying. The hassle he received from everything was unnecessary.

Sombra eyed the sky outside critically. "It's four minutes past dusk."

Blinking out of my thoughts and gasping slightly, I mumbled a quick thank you to him and lit my horn. Guiding the moon into the sky was second nature to me, and something I had even done in my sleep on occasion. While the power required by me to properly raise it was unmatchable by any but my sister, who didn't find the task nearly as easy as I, even after her years managing my night, I made the task look effortless and chose to think of the simple chore as an art, while Celestia dismissed her own part simply as a duty.

Once that was done, I pulled Sombra into a tight hug. After knowing him for almost a year, it was becoming easier to tell when my hugs were too much before he started coughing raggedly, pointing out he couldn't breath, sputtering, gasping, yelping, and giving non-threatening warning growls that my goddess strength was hurting him. His ribs were getting bruised less in my tackle hugs, even if he was made of tougher stuff than ponies. This was not my usual dive-bomb of an embrace and I felt his hooves wrapping around me to return the gesture.

"How have you been?"

I buried my face in his long, dark mane for an answer. We hadn't seen each other in a week. His on-and-off job as a mercenary could take him to all sorts of parts of Equestria and beyond, and while I could always walk in his dreams if I needed to talk to him, or he needed to talk to me, it was always wonderful to have him back.

Sombra hugs me tighter and pulls me closer. "That bad, huh? The world without me is just an awful, awful place, isn't it?"

"Egotist," I mumbled, pulling the fuzzy demon stallion as close to me as I possibly could and finding it impossible not to relax, especially with the warmth of his gray coat to help.

"Shameless egotist," he corrects, and I teasingly pull a look of his mane with my magic, pulling out of the hug first. I retrieve my pocket watch, yes it seems we really should get going.

Sombra knows me well enough to not question why I ceased our hug - he can read me as easily as if every motive were inscribed on my coat as though it were some book's parchment, and I, my own autobiography.

He follows me to the balcony door, occasionally glancing about to see if I might have left anything new out before concluding that there isn't anything. While I open the door and lead us outside into the crisp air of the cold winter night that drifts about my tower and nipping my ears, I keep an eye on Sombra, always eager to observe his curious habits - I know he likes it too, and doesn't mind if I stare at him while he keeps to himself.

Currently, he has unbuttoned his coat a bit, and I can see some of the interior pockets. Yet, not all of the space within was occupied by something as simple and mundane as an unenchanted pocket that need only to have something dropped in it to serve purpose. Some spaces that had been previously empty fabric now bore large sigils and smaller script sewn in alongside it.

I knew that if he lit his horn with yet another spell largely of his own design, he could withdraw whatever he had stashed in the magical space in between. When he wore his usual cloak, he had the same sigils on the folds in its underside too, hidden from the eyes of ponies. Inside the magical pockets, he stored things like his swords, and maps.

I watched as he produced a small coin purse from a smaller sigil, tossing it casually within his crimson aura. I paused and tilted my head curiously. Sombra did not use money except on occasions when he'd purchase things for me. Other than that, I knew he most often obtained what little material goods he had any desire for by making them himself, stealing them, or an array of other means.

"And how did you come by that?" I point with a forehoof before I slip out of the shoes I usually wore. It would never do any harm to leave the durable things out here, where all that might happen is them being snowed on. My crown and necklace sat back inside my chamber.

My hooves are instantly chilled by the light layer of snow on my tower's balcony, and I grin at the almost ticklish sensation as it melts against my warm body. My windbreaker swishes in the night.

"I stole it," Sombra said, simply and without shame. It wasn't as though this was the first time he had confessed such a thing to me. Crimes that were considered petty or unusual were not things he would forgo, and I simply wasn't one to pay attention to every case of a bit missing from a pony who wouldn't be missing it either, or a jaywalker who was to get a reminder from the guards who walked the streets.

Those were not the types I need pay mind to. Sombra taking a purse of what was likely to only amount to twenty bits? It was an almost silly offense. Nopony would steal such a low sum unless they were at the point where they could not afford groceries, and there were institutions, organizations, and charities to help the few ponies in situations like that before they contacted any kind of official.

The wind swept through his mane, intertwining a few flakes in the black. I shifted and the frosty crunch of snow sounded under my hooves. Sombra and I had known the elements far too long to need garb like this on most occasions. His imprisonment had altered his once-mortal body so that it no longer felt all but the most extreme, unnatural colds, like those in the void where he was pinned by Celestia and I, in a non-physical form. His body heat was that of any other, but earthly cold had no effect on him, whereas I was simply the hardened, adventuring type. The Arctic and other extremes would call for such things - and thicker gear, as well, not this little jacket - but mountain winters in Canterlot? It was just chilly.

A mischievous smile curved onto my muzzle. Swiftly, I lashed out with a forehoof and grabbed hold of one of Sombra's forelegs. Usually, he would be wearing armored boots, but now he wore nothing but the long sleeves of his garment. A faint, muffled trill of surprise sounded in his throat and his crimson eyes widened in the dark at my sudden gesture.

"Well, cut-purse it appears that I'll have to be keeping an eye on you for the rest of the night. A criminal like you cannot simply walk free, hmm?"

I tugged Sombra's foreleg and he allowed himself to be pulled into a kiss, a sly smile on his muzzle that was still there when we parted.

"Spend the whole night with you? And a thief?" He tossed the coin purse smugly again, but his eyes never left me. "Hadn't we decide that I was 'reformed'? Isn't that the excuse that the public has been left with?"

I snorted. "If you keep saying that, you will start sounding like Discord. 'Reformed' this and 'reformed' that. The whole thing seems like an excuse to be sneaking into my sister's chambers now. You have only formed anew literally."

Shrugging, Sombra slipped the coin purse away and I was treated to the sound of his chuckle and a sardonic smile. "I wouldn't know and I really don't care to know the details of that-"

"So speaks the God of Knowledge."

The world's newest god and first rogue god makes a contemptuous noise in his throat and rolls his eyes knowingly. "Even the Smartest of the Smartasses prefers for something to be left unsaid, wouldn't you agree? Besides, I know that we have far better things to be doing than even mentioning that sister of yours."

I huffed. Celestia didn't like Sombra and he didn't like her, but I didn't mind. Aside from Cadance and I, nopony did. I know that Celestia isn't the happiest with my choice of him as a partner, but I wouldn't consider anypony else. Who was it that I could speak my mind around and laugh and cry with and confess everything in? It was Sombra, and I wouldn't dream of giving him up. Even when we were apart and off doing our own things, he never felt far away. He enjoyed the company of ponies even less than I and was the only one I felt confident in the company of. Nopony made me feel as happy as when I was alone, and Sombra made me feel like I was alone.

"I do agree, now shall we be off?" I tugged at his forehoof again.

Sombra's smile faded into a crooked smirk. He lit up his horn with crimson light and I clutched him tighter as this particular view of Canterlot vanished, and Sombra and I went with it, leaving only a set of empty royal shoes and flurries of snow stirring in the night.

Author's Note:

A side story, but not a sequel to Favorable Alignment and occurring some time after Scrambled Serenity, for those who wish to know the timeline. It isn't required to read either of those stories to understand anything in this or the following chapters.

Otherwise, the sasspones are back for this three part romance.