• Published 30th Jul 2017
  • 2,378 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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My deep teal eyes had been exchanged for those of powder blue. My mane fell down past my withers in shades of silvery cornflower so light that it nearly looked white. While my mane did not sparkle, it was still thick and flowing, and rather long, as I preferred it.

Swishing my tail, I snuck another glance at my coat, which was now a shade of wisteria so pale it blended in with the faint mist of the evening that hung about the mountain. I had not reduced my height much, but a small amount of freckles peppered across my muzzle and ears made it harder for me to be recognized. Only those who listened to closely to my voice might guess anything, but those ponies were not likely to be awake at this hour. I was the height of a tall unicorn pony mare and my magic combined with Sombra's had certainly crafted a lovely disguise. Any cutie mark I had was obscured by my jacket, as expected, but to be on the safe side, Sombra had created the false image of a buffalo dream catcher - and Dream Catcher was to be my name for the evening.

I gave a satisfactory tug to tighten my scarf with aura the same color as before - it needn't be changed.

Next to me, Sombra walked beside me in his usual guise. He had no reason to shorten himself and his stature was the same and his rugged, lean build had remained without any adjustment. His demon's horn and the fangs he preferred to keep disguised were altered and created the illusion of some of his feral-ness being softened. Sombra's black mane was the same as always, and I sneakily twirled a lock, catching him look sideways at me with deep green eyes that always looked the same - no magic could disguise the intelligence and emotion burning in my Sombra's eyes.

'Sombra', of course, because I was not to call him 'Som' in public - something I respected.

Sombra - or Wild Card, if I was to call him anything around ponies - let me see the smallest trace of a smile that could've blended in with his now-white coat in the snow on this night. The effect of my natural night vision was kept, and slitted pupils and more felid-looking eyes were kept from showing through magic with my enchanted eyeliner - there was a reason I often wore it! The thought of attempting to painfully alter something so natural to me to give me the weak vision of another species almost made me shudder - and I did.

Sombra caught the gesture, but not my expression, and thinking I was chilly, brushed up against me as we walked, staying by my side and giving my ears a few sneaky nibbles. Without his cute fangs, it no longer tickled, but I loved the feeling of it all the same and leaned down a little, gently pressing my face into the soft fur of his neck and sighing. He was warm.

The few civilian ponies that had been out this far into the night hadn't noticed us, although the few that did simply gave us passing glances. Outside of any disguises, Sombra would sometimes draw stares from sociable ponies with no criminal affiliations who thought him handsome - though once his antisocial personality was made known through an angry glare and a blunt demand to stop ogling him was wrapped up with a clever insult was dropped, their gaze would too, and another shocked pony would walk away, flabbergasted and longing to forget the encounter.

Since my return, there was the unfortunate subject circling about my what my romantic life would hold from a gossip-loving public that yearned to have some new information a reclusive new goddess with little historical record to her name. I got looks and letters - those particular letters I burned with a particular satisfaction - that I never wanted. After I made no effort to hide when I entered my relationship with Sombra, the gossip changed to things ponies thought I wouldn't read into, and rumors about poor Sombra ran wild between lines of thinly veiled defamation and slander that nopony would think to put a stop to if they were about him.

Thankfully, at least the looks had stopped, unless I had anonymity like I did now, though I received very different, often angry letters that had more to say than empty notions of courtship and attraction to a mare nopony knew. These were from the Crystalline subjects of Cadance. Those too, I made personal kindling after I absorbed their every word. I can see why Sombra enjoyed burning such things as a form of catharsis , for it was indeed cathartic for me to do this, here and now. I can't say I'll end up a firebug like him, but in this moment, where I stood on a snow-sprinkled sidewalk of the last Canterlot road before buildings finally petered out and gave away to one of the city's many fantastic and tranquil parks.

All were quite peaceful and wonderfully lonesome at these hours. Their natural beauty was one I could appreciate and admire. A thousand years ago, such a lovely establishment would have been ridiculed as an attempt to bring the 'filthy, repulsive, and unnatural wilds' to the oh-so-terribly 'civilized' post-Tribal ponies.

Old disgust at the nature of some ponies never really died, it just had little reason to re-emerge constantly. There were improvements in this age, and yet compared to what I saw now, standing on this street corner and looking at a single newsstand, whose tabloid contents had not been stored away... those 'improvements' disappeared like snow on my tongue.

That old disgust, and newer anger, swelled up again. I stood angrily, casting an intimidating shadow across the offending thing. Were my wings still at my side, they'd be flared. The instinct to still burned in me with the kindled emotion. If I struck the ground now, I knew my magic would call forth thunder. I sucked in a breath and saw the clouds above stir darkly from my presence.

I couldn't draw too much attention to us, and tried to rein in some of my emotions as I stared at the bold print on the tabloid cover. It bore a photograph of Sombra and I taken months ago. Sombra, with quiet anger in his eyes, looked away from cameras, scowling, and dressed in his usual fare. I was attempting to talk to a journalist at the time, and hid none of my disgust at what their interactions made me feel. I was never the princess who got swarmed with such things until Sombra. Celestia and Twilight Sparkle have always been the favorite princesses of Equestria's media, and they can hog all the attention they please.

In Equestria, using the image of Celestia and I for anything outside of bedtime stories derived from historical legends or innocent cameos granted with permission directly from Celestia or myself, respectively, is illegal and rarer than demigod princesses. Personality rights began with us.

I stare at bold defamation and know that claims of the possibility for accused abuse within the relationship between Sombra and I, in all but name, will appear if I skim through the pages. This is defamation. It is simple slander that the Equestiran public is all too eager to jump upon, and why wouldn't they?

I've brought this to Tia, and she reads them dutifully, almost reserved as she does so, and claims that she can find no subtext in any of these.

It hurts. I can feel my heart all twisted up with more than anger. Wind whips at my scarf, in a vain attempt to tug the fluttering garment from me. Despite the frosty air, I feel warmed by my brooding fury as I stand aggressively in front of this little newsstand, mere seconds feeling much longer as I can't tear myself away from the lies so easily embraced by everypony.

If anypony knew anything about Sombra - all the things he'd never say to anypony but me - they would hate him more, that is true, but the blind lead the blind, and gossip is the perfect fodder for them. If they knew what actually happened to him and had a shred of honesty in them - and honesty ponies are a rarity indeed - then they would realize how sick it is to accuse him of everypony of ever doing these things.

Behind all the barriers they'd never see, this has gotten to him too.

Sombra knows I've stopped the minute my stride no longer matches his and pauses. He doesn't need to ask what I see, and I don't need to answer. Things like these - horrible gossip, but namely, and more importantly the understanding between us that can go without words - are commonplace among us.

He's just waiting for me to catch up. I know that his jaw is set in anger and if I look in his direction. he'll be shaking with the sudden temper he has to work so hard to hold at bay.

Small flickers of aura in the form of flashing traces of lightning bolts as thin as threads in the dark flash about my horn, making soft crackles. This was not something I would risk anything close to a display of power on; here I needed stealth.

I walked away from a newsstand bearing ashes to join Sombra once more.

...

Sombra exhaled and it was in the form of a soft wispy fog. I was close enough to him to feel how warm it was. He had relaxed since we passed the newsstand and walked deeper into the park, frost crunching under our hooves.

Beside him, I stopped walking and gasped, my own breath exhaled in the same way. I brushed closer to him, savoring the feel of it and the warmth that came from him.

The last traces of our breath dissolved into the air after mingling with the twin trails of steam; thin wisps of it spiraled up from the small cups floating in our magical auras.

There were few places in the city still open, but leave it to Sombra to find a single business. The sign had been lit with magic, and we were able to get warm drinks from a small establishment run by a stallion named Joe who certainly looked rather tired, and I did not blame him.

Sombra smirked in the dark and sipped coffee as black as the sky. "I thought this might interest you."

I nodded mutely, smiling with a bit of whipped cream from my last sip of hot chocolate still smudged on my muzzle. My mouth was in a surprised 'o' and giddiness warmed me along with the hot chocolate.

Before us was a small pond, frozen over because of the weather. A couple nearby stands, whose surfaces were cluttered with skates, and similar structures confirmed that the pond had been used for ponies to ice skate during the day.

I gulped down the rest of my hot chocolate and tossed the crumpled cup into a metal rubbish bin nearby, hearing it plink as it fell. Throwing my forehooves around Sombra, I pulled him into a fierce hug - something caused him to emit a small murp noise upon not catching my quick movements - and placed a big kiss on his fuzzy cheek, causing the whipped cream remnants on my muzzle to smudge into his coat.

"This is wonderful! However, how did you know I could ice skate?"

His muzzle crinkled with the slightest hint of grumpy disgust and Sombra used his free forehoof to wipe the cream away. "I didn't, but I can and figured I could teach you, if you didn't know." Sombra's eyes found me, a sly gleam shining in them. "But, I see that isn't the case. Just how good are you?"

"I am adequate," I reply, nuzzling further into his fluff and reaching up a hoof to stroke his shaggy black mane, "I am delighted at the prospect of skating with you. Do you think anypony would notice?"

He snorts and nuzzles the top of my head. "Luna, most ponies wouldn't notice if you cut off one of their legs while they slept. Even if we didn't conceal our presence, we're far enough away from ponies that we should be fine, wouldn't you agree?"

My answer is to nod into his coat and to accept more nuzzling from him. Things like this - time with Sombra, time alone, the work I find myself completing, simple moments of remaining undisturbed, learning something new, helping foals along their own way in dreams, finding something old yet cherished,and everything I can explore, with or without him. These are the things that I love, and here I am standing with the stallion I love.

His coffee is spilled out onto the snow and he sighs in annoyance, but we dare not waste such a perfect night. I have yet to see Sombra, on ice, after all!

...

Ice skating was something I turned out to be very out of practice in. Tia didn't like it, and I would have loved to go with her, but that hadn't been possible these past few years. Spending time together as sisters was hard when we had little in common and a nation to rule.

Sombra, however, was not out of practice, something that I both loved and hated.

I kept my legs steady, moving only to guide myself from one place to another. Careful movements kept me from slipping, but there was the occasional moment were I would find myself stumble from overestimating or underestimating my movements. I had placed my importance on balance - something important to a large amount of physical activities - and drifted about on the ice in small, spiraling movements compared to Sombra.

My scarf fluttered with the small twirls that I made, and settled when I paused in between them. Watching the stars and listening to the peaceful sounds of the deep night with each frosty exhale was like listening to a familiar song - and a loved one at that. My heart thudded warmly in my chest and the cold prickled against my coat - a feeling I loved. If it were just me out here, the serenity that I felt, deepening with each inhale of the crisp, cold air, would have been priceless.

Though, the sight of Sombra ice skating beat it all.

Sombra glided about with broad strokes that were expert compared to mine. He had a precision to him that I could respect, watching him literally skate circles about me.

I tried not to pout, but couldn't resist the temptation, and had to tug my scarf close to my muzzle as discreetly as possible.

He knew, of course. Sombra always did.

His loose black mane and tail flowed behind him, and I knew that he was adding those faint crimson sparkles to it on purpose - the color was just so obvious!

Sombra's eyes were often on me, locking with my gaze and never breaking contact with mine until he skated around me, and out of sight.

I watched as he moved, alternating between raising a foreleg and hindleg, and reversing the order as he glided across the ice, grinding the surface slightly. My ears pricked forward in the cold to catch the slightest sound of the ice being chipped by the blades of his skates.

He had to skate with a smug, dramatic flair, hidden from none, too. Sombra skated circles around me, smirking broadly in the moon's light.

He could even twirl as he did so, and spun around me as he went, the bastard.

Even in the blur of motion, I caught Sombra wink and me, and I giggled into my scarf. Somehow, I managed to make it sound grumpy anyway.

"Do you have any Hearth's Warming plans?" I asked Sombra. We often had long gaps between our conversations, and would even resume one from hours earlier much later without any preamble, other than perhaps a simple reminder. The other always picked things up quickly, and this never felt awkward with him, since our conversations had little boundary.

He twirled around me more slowly this time, so I could see him shaking his head easier. "I never do, not unless you want to come over."

Shuffling my hooves a little to steady myself, I pull my scarf tighter. "I'm going to be presiding over this year's Hearth's Warming pageant. The last few ones haven't been particularly memorable, except for the one where they had the Element Bearers as all the leads. Oh, I wish you had been there then," I say with a laugh. "That one was awful. I didn't want to attend because with the exception of the Element of Honesty, all the other roles... the historical accuracy is..."

I kicked at the ice slightly. "It is nonexistent. I would have rather listened to a commentary from you on it instead. Tia and I were able to have a nice Hearth's Warming in private, which is so different from the celebrations she usually has for the holiday."

Seeing Sombra skate by with such theatrics, and yet have his expression that of stoic contemplation, with those eyes of his trained on me, was a sight to behold. "Don't they have the Founding Three and their tag-alongs portrayed as happy heroes?"

I nod, and he scoffs disdainfully. "Of course they do. That's all anypony would believe." A handsome, but cruel smile plays across his muzzle. "What do you think would happen if the pageant was historically accurate?"

I sigh and manage a modest little spin-in-place of my own. "It would never be allowed to show. The holiday is to be about hope and the true meaning of friendship, instead of what Twilight Sycophant likes to preach of. It was a miracle those three - fools save for Cookie - survived. Ponies suddenly knowing a truth that's different from the simple tale they've been given since this nation was founded, and just how grim the era was... it would create an uproar."

"Eh, what can you expect from putting such a huge stake in the herd mentality like that? Vive la révolution. I'd certainly love to see what happens when ponies find out that Clover was just a botched experiment of-"

"I know," I said softly. "I know, Sombra. Maybe one day. I certainly won't be letting the pageant be a forgettable one, but I can at least try to present another version of the truth - something that ponies can still enjoy, and a story that they can find true meaning in. The Founders and their companions have always been just characters to this nation anyway. I'm at least going to write them well."

A half smile shows on Sombra's muzzle. "I have no doubt that you will."

"It'll likely be the most unpopular edition of the play ever, but it will all be chalked up to me still being 'new to the era' in the eyes of my subjects."

Sombra laughs bitterly, resuming his circles. "If it were too mainstream Pink One wouldn't attend. But..." He looked at me with that same irresistible slyness. "Maybe I'll find a way to sneak in, if it's going to be something controversial and ironic."

Without these skates, I could have jumped for joy as my heart soared. "Oh, really, Sombra? You would attend my rendition of the pageant?" I laughed excitedly, and merrily. "That would be just as good a gift as my return was, to know you were in the audience watching my work."

"If it's any consolation I'll just change one of my swords into a switchblade and stealthily fling the cheap snacks they have at somepony."

A big smile breaks across my face. Knowing that he'll be there... I might as well write the whole thing for him.

The princess presiding over the pageant has the chance to rewrite the script on her own, and adjust it for different audiences and actors. Most of the time, since it has always been Celestia, and occasionally Cady presiding, they have always just updated the old version to the play and added no original touches outside of that. The playwrights there to assist them did everything and the princess got partial credit as an author.

I will be writing the entire play myself.

"My, my Sombra, that is so barbaric of you. Your support in this coming battle is greatly appreciated, my companion." I manage to dip halfway into an awkward bow, despite my skates.

Even though it is purely in jest, I can see that Sombra is made greatly uncomfortable by the gesture of me bowing to him.

A small flick of a nod from him and how he looks away tells me to rise up, and I do, hanging my head in an apology.

No matter how dark it may be, I see his expression soften easily, and he understands. "You're going to be spending the rest of Hearth's Warming with her aren't you?"

"Tia and I always spend Hearth's Warming together... but... could I get you something?" I ask, looking up at him hopefully. "I know you aren't big on material things, but I couldn't think of not getting you something, Sombra."

"I'll be especially happy if the gift is lots of honest flattery. Maybe I'll get you something too. Something material."

"Flattery will be a bonus," I say, poking my tongue out and managing an awkward, slow half-maybe twirl. We certainly are going to have to do this more often before I can even come close to emulating him.

The look in his eyes tells me that he is very amused with my failure. "Now that would be a holiday event that I could look forward to."

I laugh lightly, and softly, but not without feeling. The way it sounds, out here in the dark, is strangely musical. Sombra has told me that my laugh sounds enchanting before. While I never didn't believe him, I don't think I ever thought of it as such until now. "You're so bitter, Sombra."

"And you're only so positive yourself, Luna. Thank goodness for that." He completes skating another smug circle around me, his usually gruff tone teasing.

Not wanting to be outshone, I finally opt to cast my thoughts of inexperience to the wind and do a proper pirouette that should show Sombra he isn't the only one who has something to be smug about.

I emit a small squeak and my rear hits the ice hard and my balance fails me in a chaotic display of willowy limbs slipping and scrambling about, all in vain attempts to cease the inevitable result.

"Ow," I pout, hunched over, shivering, and a little sore. The ice before me is covered with frantic scratches from my previous display and neat circles that look as though they've simply cut into the ice with how precise they are. Those would be Sombra's tracks. My neater ones were much thinner.

The sound of Sombra's skating ceases abruptly, and though I don't focus on him, I catch his movement change.

The past experiences of both of us had lead to Sombra and I becoming adept at becoming undetected in our movement and our senses keener than a pony, and not simply because we weren't members of their species.

I detected Sombra's movements with ease. The sounds he made, the sight of his shadow in the dark, and the way the ground felt when he moved. I know that if I were a demon, like he is, I could feel all the world's magic, including the distinct magical signatures of others.

But I cannot. I am an Alicorn goddess, not a demon. That doesn't mean I don't know Sombra. He has a feel to him unlike anypony else. Standing next to another isn't the same as standing next to him. His smile is his, and the littlest way he twitches his ears.

I'd know him anywhere. Once, I was able to feel the magic around me, and what others felt like too. That experience is beyond all dreams and nightmares, but I survived it and I remember vividly. Ponies talk and talk about made-up soul mates and deep understandings, but to feel the magic of another is to feel them in full and it is so grossly overwhelming that I can feel my chest tighten at the thought.

It might as well be soul-reading, or ghost-feeling because of all the phantom rushes to it. I look at my smiling, kind, open sister and feel a wall that is built around something, locking something away and radiating a light that I only feel... and then like a blink, it's gone. A split second-phenomena that has me asking 'What magic is this?' sometimes, though I know not everything I feel in those brief, fragmented windows of time, is there. My bright, happy, and blithe sister is not some immovable barrier.

I felt him then, and that was the most vivid impression of them all alongside my own. Sometimes when he's nearby, I still think I can feel that part of him. It is still there. 'Out of sight, out of mind' is something that's never true.

Right now, I think I can feel that magic again, an experience that's as great and terrifying as it is wonderful, though I am not meant to have such an ability and was so lucky to be able to process it even once.

And then following that impression, I feel Sombra's muzzle nudge where my wither meets my neck. "Come on, it isn't that bad. I've fallen a lot too, and I didn't have skates when I was learning. Or a fine teacher. Tartarus, Luna, I didn't have any teacher." Sombra nuzzles me again and my delayed giggle comes out in a soft sputter. "Get up," he hisses playfully in my ear, nibbling it again.

"What if I don't?" I mumble through my scarf, reaching out with my telekinesis to stroke his mane and give him small scratches behind his fuzzy ears.

"I'll make you."

A mischievous smile works its way onto my muzzle. "How?"

Sombra pauses and nibbles my ear with a slower pace, prolonging the pause and drawing out the tantalizing bit of affection.

"I'll stop giving you candy," he whispers eventually.

My horrified gasp follows immediately. Leave it to my lover to know all my most damning weaknesses. "No, no! Please don't! I shall get up... but could you help me?"

The third time he nudges me is in agreement, and Sombra helps pull me to my hooves. To prevent myself from slipping and falling again, I throw my forehooves around his neck to steady myself, wrapping each skate adorning my forehooves in my magic and teleporting them back to where we had found them. The other two would come off later. Right now, I concentrated on clinging to Sombra, who looked at me with a contemplative, quiet, and amused stare. I had the feeling he would smirk soon if I did something he thought silly, but for now he just looked calm.

"I take it you've had enough of that for tonight?"

I nodded into his coat silently.

"Whatever happened to being a competent skater, huh?" Though he wasn't smiling, I could here his teasing in his voice.

"I'm out of practice," I mumble into his coat.

"Very."

"I want to get better though."

He leans forward to nuzzle the top of my head softly. "I'll be more than willing to help. Now that you're up, how about going somewhere warm? You're freezing."

The last part wasn't a question. That ice had been cold, not that I was surprised by such a thing. "Your place?" There was the softest amount of pleading in my tone. I just didn't want to go back to the castle yet.

I rarely did.

Feeling him nod again was a relief, no matter how expected the response was. Going up Canterhorn Mountain to the clearing where Sombra anchored his pocket dimension that was furnished with a pragmatic kind of comfort meant that I could stay the night with him. There were times when I flew up there, slipping out of the city just to see him up there, and other times we would meet up in the city.

Staying with Sombra meant tonight meant that there would be warm soup and somepony to talk to, and inevitably, to embrace.

I hugged Sombra tighter and let the sound of snow stirring in the night and his breathing fill my ears.

Author's Note:

horse pirouettes would be weird