Sombra's Recovery

by MisterEdd

First published

Hunted by the crown, Sombra tries to evade capture while rediscovering who he is.

After a year of incarceration, Sombra was free and ready to take his revenge on Princess Celestia when, against his better judgement, spared her life and fled. He then aided her and Equestria's heroes in freeing Twilight Sparkle from the influence of Nightmare Moon, though he experienced his own trial during that time. Now once again on the run, Sombra is questioning his purpose in this brave new world. What is next for Sombra now that he finds his life is changing? Will he change as well?

*Takes place in my head-canon universe

Set during Season 5; takes place after "The Cutie Map" but before "Appleoosa's Most Wanted"

Contains Twibra; if you're not into that, then you might not like this story

Cover art by RossmaniteAnzu and is used with her permission

The Mysterious Invitation

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Sombra aimlessly wandered the wastes of the Frozen North, the savage winds screeching tirelessly as the former king staggered through the ankle-deep snow. He grimaced, twisting one hoof out and repeating the action with the others, only for each step to once again entrap his hooves in the freezing terrain. Hours, possibly days had passed though there was no sun, and therefore shadows, for which to gauge the passage of time; only inky blackness shrouded the skies. The stallion was frustrated beyond belief...yet also strangely hopeful. It was as if all of this endless meandering in the snow was leading to something fortuitous for him.

Prying a hoof loose, Sombra glanced up to see a simple wooden door appear in front of him. Curiously, he touched a hoof to the brass doorknob and turned...only for the knob to become stuck. Frowning, he turned the knob counter-clockwise and was again met with resistance. He snarled and twisted the knob back and forth.

"Heimskur gagnslaus, curse you!"

Finally, there was a click and the door slowly swung inward, flooding the area with a blinding light.

Sombra blinked and soon found himself on a long, winding road, one that lead to Canterlot in the distance. The city shone like a golden beacon, begging him to enter but something forced him to turn around and glance behind him. He could make out the remains of his foalhood village burning, screams and shouting echoing in his ears. He...he had to go back! The crystal ponies were invading and he had to do something! Anything!

There was a period of indecision before he shook his head and turned back in the direction of Canterlot. No, THIS was the way, wasn't it? He sauntered forward, limbs moving in an atrophied-like state, every step hampered by invisible iron weights. Closer and closer, Sombra trudged forward and before long, Canterlot was just within sight....

Sunlight poured in through the window just as Sombra's eyes flicked open. He groaned, swatting at the rays and turning over onto his side, cursing Celestia and the sun. A moment passed before he sat up and peered at the room until his vision came into focus. Blinking, Sombra wiped the eye crust away and yawned, putting in a stretch for good measure. It was then that he recalled his recent dream, taking in every detail so that he could adequately ponder its significance.

What did it mean?

For the past few weeks, the same dream played out only this time, the accursed doorknob finally turned. So he was on the road to Canterlot and the umbrum village was being invaded. Then he started walking towards Canterlot, albeit moving with with all of the urgency of a snail, before he was so rudely awakened. Was he meant to return to Canterlot? But then, why was he so sluggish?

A low rumble sounded in his stomach. Perhaps some breakfast would aid in his thought process. Groggily, Sombra dragged himself out of bed and slunk into the bathroom to splash some water onto his face. He caught his reflection in the mirror, finding a still-red scar etched into the left cheek, bowing upward and ending in a lightning bolt down his jaw. He peered at it for a few more minutes and gave an internal shrug.

It wasn't as though Sombra was particularly good-looking before, so what did a slight disfigurement matter? Besides, it was just a mark signifying his continued survival, this one indicating his battle against the late dark alicorn Midnight Sparkle. In the old days, scars were adornments worn by warriors, physical reminders of their bravery and fortitude, to be displayed proudly like badges of honor. There were stallions in his colthood village who swapped stories of their feats, pointing to various wounds as proof of their claims. Now in this modern age, such injuries are treated like something to either be gawked at, to elicit pity or to be fixed with magic and surgery.

Bah! Where was the glory in that?

Exiting the bathroom, Sombra made some cinnamon oatmeal and took a seat at the kitchen table, staring out the window of his Manehattan hotel room. It was small but that didn't bother him; it wasn't as though he required the unnecessary space that would've been allotted to him had he selected a bigger place. His personal effects were limited; only some saddlebags filled with the basic essentials, such as shampoo, soap, toothbrush and paste, et cetera, were sufficient to his needs. Gnawing on a spoonful of oatmeal, Sombra opened up the newspaper and perused the "Help Wanted" section, eyes drifting carefully over his options. His funds were rapidly depleting and despite the ease in thievery, he was no pick-pocket and would prefer earning his bits through a more honest mode of obtainment.

Many of the jobs were, well, mundane. There was need for a hair sweeper at a barber shop, dishwasher, window washer, typist. Sombra didn't know how to work a typewriter, so "Typist" was out. Sweeping some stranger's hair sounded disgusting, as did wiping off the remains of somepony else's meal, and window washing seemed to be a mind-numbing, repetitive task. Carriage salespony, grocery bagger, salon stylist. No, no, definitely not.

"This is useless!" Sombra put his chin on his hooves and sighed.

His eyes drifted over to the violet book in the center of the table, the cover adorned by a twelve-point star surrounded by five smaller stars. He gently laid a hoof on the cover, a soft smile touching his lips. The crimson cloak from Rarity wasn't the only gift he'd received that night. Later on, once the party had died down, Twilight took him into the crystal castle that she and the others called home and showed him two books, one violet and one black. She beamed as she floated the violet book over to him.

"All you have to do is write something down in your book and the message will appear in mine! Now we can talk whenever we want! Neat, huh?"

Flipping through the book, Sombra found the very last entry Twilight had made last night:

Good night, Sombra. Sweet dreams. :heart:

Too long had it been since anyone made him feel...well...wanted. True, while Twilight seemed a tad naive, too invested in the fight for Equestria's soul, too trusting in the good in others, she was at least steadfast in her beliefs and willing to lay down her life for them. Not many could claim the same thing and it made Sombra swell with pride. He didn't deserve somepony like her but here she was, doing whatever she could to stay involved in his life. He owed it to her, as well as himself, to at least make an effort at an honest living, no matter how "beneath him" it appeared.

I will try...for her.

Some movement on the other side of the door caused Sombra to bolt upright, his horn crackling to life in anticipation for a fight. A white, flat object slid underneath the door, followed by the clip-clopping of hooves steady decreasing in volume until they were non-existent. Casting a quick noise-canceling spell on his hooves, Sombra slowly trotted towards the door and pressed his ear against the wood, listening intently for any and all sounds. Satisfied that he was alone, he magically picked up the object, a simple envelope, and inspected it. The return address was for somepony named 'Primrose,' something that he found highly suspect, as he didn't know anyone by that name.

It wasn't long before Sombra found himself tearing open the envelope and hastily unfolding the sheet of paper that lay inside. The letter, composed in broad, soft strokes, read as such:

Greetings and salutations,

This letter will no doubt come as a surprise to you as you and I have never met but I hope to change that. Right now, I bet you're wondering, "Who is this mystery mare and how does she know who I am, let alone where I live?" That, my dear Sombra, will be answered in due time. My name is Primrose and I invite you to pay me a visit in Canterlot. I know I am asking much of you, to request your presence in the so-called "belly of the beast", but trust me as I say, that our meeting is, without exaggeration, one of grave importance.

Your cinnamon oatmeal will be getting cold by now, so I will say what I need to say. Pack what few belongings you have and take the 9:04 to Canterlot. Once you've arrived, visit the Canterlot Library at 2:35 sharp and peruse the shelves for "Predictions and Prophecies by Primrose the Prescient". Select the copy with the circular indent on the top of the spine and seat yourself at the empty table with the fresh coffee stain. After that, meet me at the address on the envelope at 5:16 and I will explain everything.

I eagerly await our meeting and I promise that it will be well worth the trip.



P.S. Do remember to place a quill in the right interior pocket of your crimson cloak.

Sombra studied the letter, then set it down on the tabletop. Who was this "Primrose" and how did she know so much? His eyes drifted to his bowl of oatmeal. She'd been aware of what he'd been eating. He peered through the ugly periwinkle curtains and out the window. Was he being watched?

No, it doesn't appear to be the case...

Spotting his cloak draped over the desk chair, Sombra slid his hoof through the fabric until his toe slipped into the right-side interior pocket. Primrose knew about the pocket and the color of the cloak. Rarity was a gossip-queen but he doubted the possibility of her blabbing about random details on insignificant clothing she'd designed. There were other details too, like the "grave importance" bit and the specific times. She'd asked-no, instructed-him to find a book of prophecies by a "Primrose the Prescient" and it didn't take a genius to put two and two together. He smiled.

Ah, so our Miss Primrose fancies herself a soothsayer. Interesting.

Now, Sombra had traveled all over the world and witnessed many strange things so the existence of a seer wasn't out of the realm of possibility. The Zebrican shamans were able to predict the weather through dreams and casting bird bones and Chineighse monks spent their time meditating in order to enter a state of altered consciousness. However, the existence of someone that could accurately foresee the future down to the most minute detail was a rarity, especially in this day and age. Much arcane knowledge had been lost over the centuries, whether it be from techniques falling out of practice or the records being misplaced or destroyed, such as maleficium or the folk remedies of hedge wizards. If this really was a genuine prophet, didn't he owe it to himself to gain as much knowledge as he could from her?

Glancing at a clock, he found that it was almost eight.

"I suppose I could afford a trip back to Canterlot."

Hitting the Books

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The road stretched on for miles, zig-zagging over the landscape in a serpentine fashion, all leading up to a gold-covered Canterlot. Sombra stomped one hoof at a time, sweat trickling down his face and neck from the effort, jaws clamped tight enough so that it felt as though the strain would shatter his teeth. Slowly but surely, the ivory kingdom loomed overhead in the distance and he was overcome by an unsatisfied need to enter. His muscles screamed in exertion but Sombra continued nevertheless, his willpower overruling his pain. The journey was nearing its end and he knew deep within his very being that Canterlot was where he wanted to go-where he needed to go-if he were to find his true purpose.

"I'm so close", Sombra grinned with triumph. "A-almost there..."

An intense heat scorched Sombra's back, halting his progress as an orange-yellow glow cast dark shadows ahead of him. Lifting his leaden hooves, he turned, finding a massive conflagration burning within a snowy village. Even from where he was standing, the shrieks were reverberating right in his ears. Steel clashed against steel, the metal ringing like bells.

"Hlaupa ef þú vilt lifa!"
"Eldur! Þorpið brennur!"
"Bardagi! Þú verður að berjast!"

Suddenly, Sombra found himself yanked around and speeding towards the conflict.

"I can't go back!" One half of his screeched, the other responding, "I have to do something!"

The wind snapped and clawed at Sombra, his hooves sinking into the snow the closer he got but he didn't care.

"I'm coming! Hjálp er á leiðinni!"

He was almost to the gates, the flames reflecting off the crystal ponies' semi-transparent hides.


A piercing wail echoed in Sombra's skull. His eyes flickered open and he slowly lifted his head up, his balled-up cloak tumbling into his seat. Taking a moment to fully awaken, he placed a hoof to his chest and took several deep breaths. He was still on the train, his car mostly vacant save for some schlubby unicorn stallion in a fez reading a newspaper and two elderly earth pony mares chattering about their grandchildren. Sombra sank back into his seat and placed his cloak over himself like a blanket. It was that accursed dream again, only this time he actually made it to the village before waking up.

Funny, the one time I actually need Luna and she's nowhere to be found.

A stallion in a conductor's outfit called out, "Next stop: Canterlot Station! Canterlot Station is our next stop!"

Thank the Gods...

Truth be told, riding a train was one of the few innovations of the modern world that Sombra actually found intriguing. Traveling across Equestria used to be achieved solely through carriage and chariot, a process that took weeks, months even and yet a train could do it in half the time. Although he could've simply used his shadow-form to get to Canterlot, it still would've taken time and would've been exhaustive, the same with teleportation. Then there was the fact that Primrose was adamant on the train so Sombra decided to indulge the mystery mare's wishes. If she truly was a genuine oracle, then obeying her commands would be in his best interests.

And if this was all a waste of time and money, then I could just toss her into a lake or something.

The chugging steam engine pulled into the station, screeching to a soft thudding stop. Wasting no time, Sombra gathered his things and exited the train, the sunlight smacking him directly in the face as he stepped out onto the concrete. Cursing the blasted ball of fire, he promptly asked around for directions to the library, receiving aid from a particularly giggly trio of mares. They took turns speaking, taking breaks from either whispering to one another or staring at him through half-lidded eyes. Or rather, the glamored-up image that he was sending out to them, which they apparently found quite attractive, if their flirtations tones were of any indication.

Ah, but if they saw the real me, they'd no doubt flee in terror.

Thanking the mares, Sombra wove his way through a crowd of tourists speaking in a language he was unfamiliar with and trotted down a series of bustling streets. A painted-up mare in a striped sweater mimicked entrapment within an invisible box while some ponies were drumming on upturned buckets. There was a stallion wrapped in tinfoil stiffly walking with his back bent and forelegs held out at odd angles. Was this really what constituted as public entertainment in this century? No wonder it took six young mares and a hatchling drake to do everything for them.

Being back in Canterlot was certainly an experience, as the last time he was here, he was crushing Celestia into the ground and holding a sword to her throat. Defeating Celestia in combat and humiliating her in front of the mindless drones that constituted her worshipers had given him such a thrill and yet, it left him feeling...well, not quite empty but not satisfied either. It still puzzled him as to why that unfulfilled emotion still lingered. He'd finally beaten the accursed monarch and showed Equestria that she was no goddess. He should be elated not confounded.

And this was infuriating.

While waiting for the light to change, a large earth pony slammed his shoulder into Sombra, then turned and had the gall to snarl at him!

"Why don't you watch where you're walking?!"

Now, the civil thing to do would be for Sombra to swallow his anger, walk away, and forget the issue.

Then again, Sombra wasn't civil.

Focusing on the departing pony, Sombra sent dark magic into his horn, releasing it as a red and black vapor that trailed the stallion, encircling his head before jabbing into his eyes. Without warning, the stallion let out a squeal, hooves frantically clutching at his face.

"I-I can't see! I'm blind! I'm bliiiiind!"

Thrown off by his sudden lack of vision, the stallion stumbled over his own hooves, flailing wildly and screaming for aid from the bewildered crowd. He swung his forelegs out, almost as if defending himself from invisible attackers. Ponies backed away and dove back in to restrain him but the stallion was having none of this, clocking a pegasus in the snout. A passing unicorn mare finally managed to retrain the stallion with her magic while two earth ponies tried to calm him down.

"Why don't you watch where you're walking?" Sombra muttered and went on his way.

The blinding spell was, of course, temporary and by the time the stallion was brought to the hospital, the doctors would find nothing amiss. Perhaps by the time the stallion recovered, he would've learned some manners and watch who he insults. "Manners maketh pony," after all.


The Canterlot Library was quite the impressive structure, consisting of a rectangular building topped by a massive dome of viridian-green glass, the sun's rays sending a flickering trail of shimmering light upon its polished surface. The outer perimeter was decorated with fluttering banners and several tall windows, from which titanic bookshelves could be gleamed from the outside. The four double-doors of the entrance were enshrouded beneath a portico, which was guarded by a pair of stone unicorns, their horns aimed towards visitors like jousting lances. Taking another moment to appraise the architecture, Sombra climbed the steps leading up to the entrance. There, above the center pair of doors, was an inscription carved into the keystone: Quod intus latet scientiam quaerentium.

"Knowledge lies within for those who seek it." Very fitting.

Inside, Sombra was greeted by the smell of paper, ink, and candlewax and drew it in through both nostrils, relishing the familiar comfort that came with it. It'd been too long since he'd stepped inside a library and was actually glad that he'd listened to Primrose. He strode past a pair of light blue, violet-swirled columns and into the main atrium, his reflection appearing in the shimmering mirror-like floor, reminding him of his castle in the Crystal Empire. Or rather, former castle, as he had to correct himself. From across the room, he spied a bronze statue of Clover the Clever.

Not a bad likeness. At least this depiction remembered the freckles.

Approaching the mare at the front desk, Sombra smiled, "Excuse me, but could you tell me where I might find 'Predictions and Prophecies' by Primrose the Prescient?"

The mare's eyes lit up from behind her half-moon spectacles.

"Ah, now that's a good selection. It's a pity she ended it the way that she did and never wrote a second one." She pointed straight across from her. "Head straight down that row there and make a sharp right turn. You'll find it under 'Divination and Prophetic Materials.'"

"Thank you, Ma'am."

He followed her instructions and came across the aforementioned section without incident. He soon came across six copies of Primrose's book and reached for the very last one on the shelf.

Select the copy with the circular indent on the top of the spine...

Releasing his magical grip on the book, Sombra instead drew out the third one from the left and studied it. Apart from the spine, it looked to be in near perfect condition.

Seat yourself at the empty table with the fresh coffee stain...

Finding his way back, Sombra browsed the tables until he found the one with a small, glittering pool of brown liquid and took a seat. Opening the front cover, he found the title page, on which were scrawled the words, "Predictions and Prophecies: The Nice and Accurate Foretellings of Primrose the Prescient, Seeress" in big bold lettering. He flipped through it, finding predictions for baseball championship winners, major weather catastrophes, acting award nomination results, and a whole slew of mostly inconsequential fortunes, at least where he was concerned. Things didn't get interesting until the prophecy concerning Nightmare Moon's return and even then it was vague, going into broad strokes about her defeat and eventual return. After that, the book just...ended.

Sombra frowned. After so much detail was put into Hurricane Nixie's devastation of New Horseleans and Clyde S. Dale's farming innovations, why would Primrose use such scant prose for such a monumental event? And why stop there? She could've written about the changeling invasion, the return of the Crystal Empire, Lord Tirek's rampage and other mishaps. From what history he'd read, mostly in order to catch himself up to the thousand-plus years of history he'd missed, Primrose had been one-hundred percent correct in each and every instance.

He flipped to the very last page and was ready to close the book when he spotted something sticking out from behind it. It was a small envelope with, "For Darkhame," written in a familiar style. Peering at both his left and right, Sombra cracked the wax seal and shook the envelope upside down, causing a wrinkled piece of parchment to come tumbling out. Unfolding the parchment, he inspected it both front and back before furrowing his brow in confusion. It was blank.

Why would somepony, most likely Primrose, leave him an envelope with a blank sheet of paper inside? He stuffed the parchment back inside the envelope and deposited it into his cloak pocket. All Sombra had now were questions and more questions and that was aggravating him to no end. Primrose owed him a great deal of explanations and if she refused, then he would-...

"Excuse me."

Startled, Sombra jumped a little in his seat, taking notice of the young mare staring at him, a stack of books and saddlebags beside her. She was a unicorn with coat was a yellowish grey and she was dressed in a large black turtleneck sweater and large glasses that had evidently been broken, given the tape tightly wrapped around the bridge. What stood out the most was to Sombra was that her red, purple, and violet mane was vaguely styled in a way reminiscent of Twilight's. The mare levitated a napkin and indicated the coffee stain on the tabletop.

"Sorry to bother you but I made a slight mess there and I thought I'd clean it up before I left."

"They have cleaners for that, don't they?"

"Well yes, but I hate messes, plus it'd reflect poorly on me as an employee."

Sombra moved himself away to allow the mare to clean the spot.

"I see. So you work here?"

The mare nodded. "Part-time. I just like the environment." She noticed the open book on the table. "'Predictions and Prophecies'. Excellent choice. It's shame that Primrose the Prescient only wrote the one book."

"Why is that?"

"Nopony knows. She publishes this one, claims to have a second volume in the works, and then nothing."

This was becoming more and more intriguing to Sombra.

"Well, thank you for the information. I'm new in town and I'm a little short on funds at the moment. Do you know where one might find employment?"

The mare shrugged. "The library is a little short-staffed at the moment, if you want to try and apply. Do you mind being around books all day long?"

"Not at all," Sombra answered truthfully. "I spent much of my colthood with my muzzle in a book."

"Great!" The mare sorted through a stack of books and notepads, withdrawing a clipboard. She then frowned and searched through her saddlebags. "Now where did my quills go? I could've sworn that I..."

P.S. Do remember to place a quill in the right interior pocket of your crimson cloak.

Sombra dug the quill out of his cloak pocket and held it up.

"Take mine."

The mare smiled-a real smile-and gratefully accepted it.

"Thank you! What's your name?"

"Guess Who."

"Well, Guess Who, come back here tomorrow morning at seven-forty-eight and I'll conduct your interview. I'm Moon Dancer by the way."

Sombra shook her hoof. "Nice to meet you, Moon Dancer." Gathering his things, he stated, "I will see you tomorrow morning then. Excuse me, but I have an appointment to get to."


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After exiting the library, Sombra stopped for a bite to eat at a small cafe, enjoying a nice potato salad and a root beer. As he sat alone in his booth, he observed the customers around him, many of whom were parents with their young offspring, chatting, laughing, holding hooves. Such a sight temporarily made Sombra forget about his meal and he felt that familiar ache in his chest reemerge. Pushing it back deep down, he finished his food, left a nice tip, and almost ran out the door, eager to rid himself of the merry surroundings. Outside, the sun still hung in the sky, bathing him in its light.

He took a cab to the address on the envelope that held Primrose's letter, ignoring the passing scenery in favor of quiet contemplation on the approaching meeting. It was eerie how much the mysterious oracle was capable of being correct, as so far, her instructions had led to Sombra's discovery of a frighteningly accurate book of prophecies and a possible job at a low-key place of employment. Then again, there were still the questions of Nightmare Moon's scant prophecy, the abrupt ending of the book, the cancelled follow-up, and the blank parchment. "Primrose the Prescient" somehow knew of Sombra's title of "Darkhame", a fact that only a few were privy to, and yet she couldn't even foresee the conclusion of Nightmare Moon's return or the rise of the new bearers of the Elements of Harmony? He could buy that Celestia could've shared this information with her in order to trick him into falling for this ruse but then, how could Primrose sell a book that successfully detailed events that wouldn't happen for another ten years since its publishing date?

Besides, Celestia did all she that could to bury Luna's identity as Nightmare Moon and create a happy, singing utopia. Why would she jeopardize that by alluding to a returning threat to the peace? Perhaps it was to defeat a threat in front of her subjects in order to boost her public image but by that time, she no longer had access to the Elements of Harmony, the only tools that could defeat Nightmare and free Luna from the eidolon's grasp. The idea of a trap also fell apart when he considered that setting up a fake seeress just to capture him should've been executed as soon as possible, not months after his initial escape and aid in taking down a dark alicorn. Of course, if Primrose was who she claimed to be, then why would she contact Sombra, a known terrorist and dark magic user, instead of serving as Celestia's advisor and preventing all of the issues Twilight and her friends face in the first place?

Sinking back into his seat, Sombra placed his face in his hooves, massaging his temples as he muttered in his mother-tongue. A crinkling sound interrupted his thoughts and he extracted the blank parchment from his cloak pocket. Of course! If you wanted to deliver a hidden message, how else would you kept it secret? Unfolding the parchment, he touched his horn to its surface, arcanic forces pouring into the paper, little light blue arcs popping in short bursts to reveal a brief image that quickly faded.

It wasn't a blank parchment; was a magically-concealed map!

But to what?

The cab gradually slowed and then stopped, the cabbie tapping on the front window.

"We're here, sir."

Sombra quickly put the parchment away, gathered up his saddlebags, and stepped out of the cab.

"Thank you," he said and passed some bits to the cabbie, who tipped his hat before hauling the cab down the street, around a corner and out of sight.

The house in question was a two-story brick townhouse painted mustard-yellow with baby-blue window shutters and light red roof tiles. Clearly whoever decided on those colors must either be color-blind or absolutely demented, both of which could be applicable to its owner. Decorating aside, what was of real interest was the slightly chilly air radiating off of the house, sending goosebumps down Sombra's spine and caused his horn and skull to throb. The townhouse was steeped in magic, throwing off a constant field of esoteric energy that was otherwise imperceptible to the average pony. Such raw magic like this was seldom seen in this era and Sombra was about to enter right into the thick of it.

Here goes nothing...

Making his way up the stairs and onto the porch, Sombra found a brass knocker on the indigo-colored door and gave it a good rapping. Hanging on the wall beside the door was a gray-brown wooden sign: "PRIMROSE: FORTUNETELLER AND SPIRITUAL ADVISOR" and beneath that read: "NO SOLICITORS OR FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY." There was a click and the door opened, revealing a young mare around twenty or so. She was a light amber-gray earth pony with a light gray pink mane and inquisitive light blue eyes. A ring of hearts adorned her flank, calling her profession into question.

"I'm looking for Primrose?"

With a nod, the mare answered, "Yes, Grandma's been expecting you. Come right in."

The mare stepped aside and Sombra, having gone past the point of no return, slid in past her. If the exterior was a bonfire, the interior was a roaring forest fire, burning with ancient magic that gave Sombra temporary vertigo. Regaining his balance, he made note of the neon blue wallpaper covered in yellow ducks and the shaggy light brown carpeting. The furniture consisted of a dark green recliner, two light orange couches, and several yellow-brown wooden chairs. The young mare gestured towards a doorway covered in reddish-brown bead curtains.

"What you in there," she intoned with a touch of melodrama.


After a moment of hesitation, Sombra pulled the curtains back and entered, finding himself in a wooden-floored kitchen. Stepping over a small rug, he found a square oak table with a steaming coffee mug situated on the side closest to him. At the furthest end of the kitchen, an elderly mare was absent-mindedly humming to herself while preparing a cup of tea. She turned and smiled at him.

"Hello Sombra. You're right on time. Oh, and don't worry about that vase."

Disarmed by the friendly reception, Sombra took a step back.

"What vase-...?"

His right hindleg bumped into a small stand, causing an orange and yellow vase covered in red polka dots to tumble and smash on the floor.

"That vase," the mare pointed out pleasantly. "It was a gift from an old friend and I didn't have the heart to refuse it or toss it out."

Appearing in her late seventies, early eighties, the mare's coat was a light gambogeish gray, which was thin enough to where Sombra could see her skeleton underneath the places where her indigo and white-spotted apron didn't cover. Her cobalt bluish-gray mane was intermixed with light gray streaks and gathered into a neat bun. A pair of cat eye glasses hung around her neck connected to a beaded lanyard and over her moderate purple eyes, which were red and surrounded by dark bags. Unsurprisingly, her cutie mark was a crystal ball with a swirling vortex within the orb.

"Primrose the Prescient, I presume?"

"You presume correctly, King Sombra. You can drop your glamour. Nopony will see you in here."

The illusion dropped, revealing Sombra's true form. To Primrose's credit, she didn't bat an eye.

"Just 'Sombra.' I'm no longer a king of any kind."

"That remains to be seen," Primrose murmured and then added, "Please, take a seat."

Setting his saddlebags down, Sombra pulled up a chair and eyed the coffee mug. Taking a sip, he smacked his lips and looked at Primrose. "It's black. Just the way I like it."

"I know much about you." Primrose took a seat across from the umbrum. "About many things."

"So it would seem. Why am I here?"

In lieu of an answer, Primrose took a slip of paper out of her apron pocket and slid it face-down across the table. Taking up the paper, Sombra read it and groaned. It said: "Sombra reads a piece of paper." He glared over at Primrose, who broke out in a fit of manic chortling.

"So you're a comedienne?"

"I'm...I'm sorry," Primrose managed between wheezing laughter. "I couldn't resist!" Once the laughter subsided, she wiped her eyes with a handkerchief and sniffled. "When you get to be my age, you learn to enjoy the little things."

"I'm older than you, you know."

"And yet, here you are," Primrose gestured with both forelegs. "Seeking my counsel."

"Only because you invited me!"

"You could've declined."

Sombra snorted contemptuously. "If you know so much, then why is your book incomplete?"

For the first time since he'd met her, Primrose's face drooped. "Ever since I was a filly, I had the gift of foresight. Visions just...came to me without warning. I had no control over what I saw or when I saw it. I just knew what I needed to know. They became stronger with age, often depriving me of sleep, so I compiled a diary of everything that I witnessed. Ten years ago, I wrote a book but when I got to the ending, the visions...stopped. I thought they were gone forever.

Then a curious thing happened: at the time of Lord Tirek's defeat, my visions returned, this time stronger than ever. 'Predictions and Prophecies Volume II' could finally be completed, and I'm almost finished with it. However, I can't publish it. Not yet. Now is not the time."

Sombra leaned forward. "What do you mean?"

"I mean, the information that I have is not ready for anypony else's eyes apart from mine. Events must play out as they should. Think of Equestria as a massive play created by an unseen director and all of us as its actors. It is nearing the end, the curtains are ready to fall, and only the director has the complete script."

"So you're nothing but a puppet, just like the rest of us?"

Primrose's gaze momentarily became icy. "I may be a puppet, but I'm the puppet that can see the strings."

This is going nowhere!

"You never answered my question," Sombra reminded her in a low tone. "Why am I here?"

Primrose's cheery, grandmotherly demeanor returned. "As I said, we all have our parts to play. You know about the rising darkness, don't you?"

"Yes. Midnight, or Nightmare, mentioned it and I've detected its presence."

"We're heading towards the show's climax. The Director has set events in motion that cannot be undone or altered. Twilight Sparkle and her friends are the main stars and you, Sombra Darkhame, are an essential player."

Sombra was on his hooves and towering over the senior citizen, purple mist curling from the edges of his eyes. "Why do you soothsayers insist on being so cryptic? Just spit it out and stop wasting my time!"

Primrose, however, refused to flinch. "What I see is the future but still a ghost of a future. If I simply tell you the results, will it remain as will be or become what is never? Throw a rock into a pond and the ripples come smacking back to the shore. My visions will not change if the course is never altered. As long as I see events play out the way they are, I have some modicum of control. Believe me when I say that your role shall reveal itself to you once it is time."

A clock ticking on the wall became the only audible sound in the room. Slowly, Sombra sank back into his chair and willed the mist away. He felt some shame, some anger at his actions. He looked back up at Primrose.

"Can...may you please tell me about the map?"

The old mare's face brightened. "That I can do. It is a map to a powerful artifact: the Scales of Taijitu."

The Scales of Taijitu were a relic from ancient Chineigh and were said to purge the darkness from one's soul. Sombra, however, couldn't see why Primrose needed to give him a map to their location.

"Really? I thought those were lost ages ago. Why would I need them?"

"You shall see soon enough," Primrose stated cryptically. "You first need the key to reading the map."

"Which is...?"

Swaying her head from left to right, the seeress answered:

"Always chasing, yet always chased,
Has no legs, but will always race
Always full, yet never spills
Always young but over-the-hill."

Sombra frowned. "I'm not fond of riddles. Couldn't you just-...?"

"I would love to chat longer but I have another client coming in soon. We shall talk later."

"That we shall." Sombra finished his coffee and gathered his things. "Good day."

He passed the granddaughter, who smiled, "See you later!"

"Much later, I hope," he answered, not caring if she heard him or not.

Date Plans

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Okay, so Starswirl the Bearded attempted to create a spell that harmlessly switches cutie marks between ponies, which he based on research written by his contemporary Mooncurve the Cunning. Mooncurve successfully learned how to remove another pony's cutie mark, which is how he defeated the dark sorcerer Hexcraft the Evil Eyed. But where did Starlight Glimmer receive such a powerful spell? She must've-...

A series of squeaks echoed inside the Map Room, interrupting Twilight Sparkle's research and when she peered past her little book fort to investigate the disturbance, she had to struggle with all of her might to stifle a snicker. Spike was vigorously polishing his throne with a silk handkerchief, every so often ejecting a chemical polisher onto a spot with a spray bottle and rubbing it out until the surface developed a mirror-like sheen. During the Midnight Sparkle incident, Spike was revealed to have been the bearer of the previously-unknown Seventh Element-that of Empathy-and aided in banishing Nightmare Moon from Twilight's body and destroying the entity for good. After replacing the Elements back to their place in the Tree of Harmony, they'd discovered that a new throne had materialized inside the Castle of Friendship, this one noticeably smaller than its counterparts and bearing Spike's golden heart emblem. Ever since then, Spike had taken up the self-appointed task of reminding everypony of his new role: "subtly" bringing it up in conversation, insisting on performing feats of heavy-lifting despite his small stature and weak upper body strength, butting in on every meeting, and so on.

Twilight was incredibly proud of Spike, both as a caregiver and a friend, and would eternally grateful for his role in defeating Nightmare/Midnight and freeing her from the mad mare's control. He'd truly been through a lot for someone his age and witnessed things that no foal or hatchling didn't and shouldn't have to but he'd managed to persevere. Nevertheless, Spike's age was a hindrance and he was still in serious need of further experience before he could fully live up to his idealized image of himself. When compared to the other Element Bearers, he lacked keen tactical insight, physical prowess, speed, and resourcefulness, thus making him-and it loathed Twilight to admit it-a bit of a liability. On a more personal note, if anything ever happened to Spike, she'd never be able to forgive herself for allowing him to get hurt or-...

Twilight shook her head and returned to her notes.

Starlight is a passable but basic spell caster, only being a tier higher than Trixie, and she received a mostly self-taught education. She wouldn't have had the knowledge or the resources to acquire the knowledge to remove and store cutie marks. My only guess is, based off of testimony from the Our Town residents and what information we've compiled about Starlight Glimmer, she would've had to have acquired the spell sometime around Lord Tirek's escape from Tartarus. There had been a break-in at the Unicorn Academy during Tirek's rampage and if I were a betting mare, I'd guarantee that it was Starlight using the opportunity to steal the necessary scroll while everypony was distracted and powerless. It's so diabolical that it's almost genius. Keyword: almost.

"Hey Twilight?"

"Yes, Spike?"

The dragon stopped polishing his throne and looked at Twilight curiously. "I was thinking, with everything that went on recently, that maybe we should have a day to relax? Like, a day-off?"

Twilight removed her reading glasses. "I don't know, Spike. There's still so much work to do."

"Well, can't you put it off for now? I mean, this is one day."

Spike did have a good point. Twilight did settle into the new castle, thanks to her friends making it more homely but it was still an adjustment. After the ordeal with Midnight Sparkle, aka Nightmare Moon, she'd managed to get back to a normal sleep schedule, in that she could actually sleep instead of waking up in the middle of the night and terrified out of her wits. She peered down at the crystalline tabletop and for a brief second, she could see Midnight's face staring back at her. Almost being "devoured" in a sense made her a bit off at times but she was recovering, the eidolon's memories and emotions slowly fading into the furthest corners of her mind.

Even though her friends, and by extension, both Ponyville and the Crystal Empire, forgave Twilight for her actions, it was still a burden that weighed heavily on Twilight's mind. Every time Twilight looked at Spike, or Rarity or the others, guilt curdled in her stomach like bad oysters and it was a matter of severe control to keep smiling and pretend everything was normal. The stress of recent events would be alleviated by some momentary rest and relaxation. After all, being a princess and an Element bearer wasn't a full-time position, right? So what was the harm in a little break?

"Um, okay. Yes, we should do it."

"Yes!" Spike pumped a fist in the air. "Hey, maybe we could invite Sombra too?"

Twilight thought about it. She hadn't seen him since the party and while writing to him via enchanted books was nice, it was no substitute for having him right in front of her. She'd missed the feel of his thick coat against her own and the scent of his natural oaken musk, the closest replication of such a fragrance being Sombra's old cloak, which she may've kept. As a loving marefriend, it was Twilight's obligation to make Sombra happy and whether he admitted it or not, the stallion was happiest when letting his guard down and have fun. Not only would the two be able to spend time together, but it would give Sombra the chance to socialize and bring him and her friends closer together.

"Absolutely! I'll go ask him right now. Hopefully, he's not too busy."

Practically skipping through the castle, Twilight made her way to her bedroom and opened the topmost drawer of her nightstand. Inside, there was a black hard-cover journal, a red crystal adorning the front cover. She smiled warmly, recalling the night she received it and gave its twin to Sombra. He looked at it as though he'd been given a mountain of solid gold. Making herself comfortable on her bed, she wrote:

Hi Sombra! Are you there?

Two minutes later, she received a response:

Hello Twilight! How are you?

Good. What about you?

Excellent, especially since I'm talking to you.

Twilight giggled aloud at this.

You're such a sweet-talker. How is your day?

Not bad. I applied for a job at the Canterlot Library of Magic.

That's great! I hope you get it.

Thank you. So what is going on?

Twilight bit her lip.

I'm having a day-off to hang out with my friends. I'd like for you to join us.

The clock next to Twilight loudly ticked, the seconds converting into minutes. Finally:

I don't know about that.

"Huh?" Twilight had to tilt her head at this.

Why not?

Would that really be a good idea?

Where was this coming from? Twilight had seen Sombra interacting with her friends, both at the impromptu birthday party at the castle and during the Twilight Appreciation Bash, and he seemed perfectly fine, if a bit distant and quiet at times. He may not have been completely comfortable with the others-and-vice-versa-but he'd been making great progress. Tartarus, the possibility of employment was proof! Dipping her quill in the ink pot, Twilight scribbled out a response.

Why not? I know Pinkie would love to see you and Spike asked for you.

Really? And then: I'm thinking, maybe.


Please. I miss you.

There was a brief lull before Sombra replied:

Then I will come.

Twilight released an excited squeal and clapped her hooves.

Great! I'll meet you at the Ponyville Train Station tomorrow at around one.

One it is then. I'm looking forward to it.

Me too! I love you.

I love you too, Twilight Sparkle. More than you know.

Twilight scribbled a picture of a heart and laid on her back, staring up at the ceiling with a goofy smile.

"Tomorrow's going to be amazi-i-ing!"


Sombra set aside his book and quill and propped his back against the wall. He gave the mattress an experimental kick with a hindleg and shimmied a bit to adjust himself. The hotel was affordable without being cheap, neither a run-down dump nor a classy lodging but a rather small but well-maintained building. The owners respected privacy and were more than accommodating to Sombra's, or rather, "Guess Who's" requests, such as no cleaners until his departure. He could use some peace and quiet for the evening, even if he didn't end up getting that much sleep that night.

His eyes fall back on the violet-colored journal. Levitating it up, he readied his quill to write a message back to Twilight and cancel the whole thing. The quill-tip made contact but stayed in place. Sombra groaned, dipped the quill in the inkwell again and tried again, once more failing. The words, "I love you" practically leapt up at him and he tossed the book and quill onto the nightstand in agitation.

What is wrong with me?

It wasn't that he was scared of the mares or dragon. Tartarus, even all of them teaming up against him didn't count as a legitimate threat, not that he considered them enemies. He really didn't have anything against them; Rainbow Dash and him may be at odds but this was a minor concern, as it was understandable that he couldn't get along with everypony. If it wasn't hatred, and it wasn't apprehension, then what was the deal with his skittishness? Why would he feel bothered?

Grabbing his cloak, Sombra exited the hotel and made his way out onto the streets of Canterlot, not knowing or caring about his destination as long as he could clear his head of such troubling concerns. It was ten minutes to sunset and the arrival of night, that time of day when the glitz and glamour of the city vanished and in its stead, was replaced with the dark underbelly of Equestrian society. He was more comfortable with the night, not because of Luna but since it made it easier for him to walk around without having to throw up a disguise. It was a necessity, he knew, but still annoying and energy-depleting as well. A small, annoyingly hopeful part of him whispered that there was a chance that Sombra could one day be free to travel as himself without conflict but he quickly silenced it.

He soon came across a small cafe and as if on cue, his stomach started growling. Shaking his head, he entered the establishment and took a seat at an empty booth. A jazz tune served as background noise for the various conversations occurring around him, ranging from idle gossip to strategies for something called "Ogres & Oubliettes." He tuned it out, not wishing to bother himself with the chit-chat of the dregs and tapped his hoof to the music. He was soon approached by an earth pony mare with a greasy-looking, blue-gray mane wrapped up in a messy bun and wearing a wrinkled waitress uniform.

"Hi there! My name's Greasy Spoon and I'll be your server," the mare smiled, her teeth gnashing at a piece of bubblegum. May I take your order?"

"A cheese omelette and a large black coffee," Sombra answered, wishing for the mare to vacant his presence as soon as possible. "And leave the pot."

"Right-o! Coming right up!"

Sombra was thankful for the mare's swift exit as he laid his head back and let out a small groan. Tomorrow was going to be Tartarus. First, there was that job interview with What's-her-name, which was simple enough of a task on paper but was in actuality no doubt going to be anything but a walk in the park. When things tended to go in his favor, there was almost always a caveat of some kind. Then, he had to go down to Ponyville and mingle with Twilight's friends, just hoping that he didn't do or say anything to elicit a sudden exit from the town. Unlike most ponies, Sombra didn't fancy himself an optimist-believing such a disposition to be frankly idiotic-nor was he a pessimist; he was, if anything, a realist and thus found it frustrating how few individuals could possibly view the world as being full of nothing but sunshine and happiness.

"...-not safe anymore, Sprinkles. I really think it was high-time that we moved."

"Parasol, we've lived here our whole lives. All of our friends are here."

For some reason, Sombra subtly peered sideways at the table across from him where a mare and a stallion, presumably a couple, were hunched over and exchanging looks of surprise and apprehension respectively. The stallion-Parasol-was an orange-cream pegasus with an umbrella cutie mark and a short copper-colored flattop mane. The mare, a unicorn named Sprinkles, had a gray pink coat and bright blue mane kept in two pigtails secured with purple ribbons. Her cutie mark was an ice cream cone and Sombra surmised that she must've sold frozen treats. Parasol placed a hoof in front of his mouth and beckoned Sprinkles to come closer.

"Ever since I saw that King Sombra guy beat up Princess Celestia, I just, I don't know...I just feel like Canterlot isn't the best place to live. I mean, do you really want to start a family here?"

"I'll admit...that was pretty scary to watch. But why does that mean we should leave our foalhood home?"

Parasol sighed. "Princess Celestia is one of our rulers and protectors. Maybe she just doesn't have what it takes to watch over us anymore and she's a thousand-year-old sun-goddess. And what about the other princesses? Can Twilight Sparkle and her friends keep us safe the next time King Sombra or the changelings decide to invade? And it's not just me that thinks this."

"I don't know, sweetie," Sprinkles admitted. "I still think we should have hope in Princess Celestia."

"But for how long? What about the next whack-job that comes along? First, there was Nightmare Moon. Then came Queen Chrysalis, Lord Tirek, and King Sombra. And Sombra nearly killed her. I saw it, you saw it. Can she stop whoever comes next?"

"Here's your order, sir!"

Sombra's focus snapped back to Greasy Spoon sliding a steaming plate onto the table, soon followed by a full mug and coffee pot. He muttered a thank you and the waitress frolicked away. The couple's conversation had been rather intriguing to say the least. Did his victory over Celestia, as well as the other villain attacks, really deplete the faith her citizens had in her capabilities as Equestria's ruler and defender? This could either be very advantageous or very disastrous.

And Sombra had a sneaking suspicion that it was both.


View Online

Sleep eluded Sombra, the Gate of Horn and Ivory refusing to permit him access, leaving the umbrum staring up at the hotel room ceiling. His mind, it seems, was much too active to allow his body to rest, forcing him to collect his thoughts into a cohesive mass of what-if's and may-be's. As the wall-clock released a constant, steady stream of ticks, he began to contemplate over events as of late, particularly his time in the fantasy world and his upcoming visit to Ponyville. That life, one where he and Twilight were married and his parents and fellow umbrums were still alive, wasn't real and never could be. Sombra knew this and yet couldn't-or wouldn't-let it pass, instead focusing on it time and time again.

It was another lifetime, a separate string of memories and sensations that were so real that he could almost swear that they really happened. The warmth of the hearth as he regaled his family with stories of his latest battle, the smell of fresh mead, and the sounds of raucous laughter from his tribe members. His parents were old and grey-maned, both guiding him through his marriage and subsequent fatherhood, the security in knowing that they were always around in case he needed their counsel. In the springtime, he'd take Agnar fishing near Sapphire Lake, where the water was so clear that you could drop a bit into it and watch it sink to the bottom. Gyda-darling little Gyda-giggled and shrieked with laughter from atop Sombra's back, begging him to run faster up until the moment they'd both tumble into the nearest pile of snow-...

"Stop it," he hissed aloud. "It wasn't real. It didn't happen. So just...stop."

Sniffling, he angrily swiped at his face to rid it of tears and pressed his hooves tightly against his eyes. His thoughts moved towards his appointment with Twilight, a prospect that caused him much more stress than his alternate universe recollections. Sombra wasn't stupid; he knew full well why he was so nervous but willfully ignored the answer to save himself from more undue stress. When it came to Twilight's little entourage, five out of six of them were okay with him, or at the very least tolerated him, and that was understandable. But the whole of Ponyville, a town of judging eyes?

Releasing a groan, Sombra rolled out of bed and turned on the lights, wincing through his eyelids at the invasion of light. After his eyes had adjusted, he collected his bit-pouch and magically wrapped himself in his cloak, being certain to cast his glamour charm before trudging out the door. Even in the early, pre-sunrise hours, there were too many prying eyes for his taste. If sleep was going to play a game of keep-away, then he wouldn't bother trying to catch it. Instead, he wandered through the streets of the expansive city, his gaze habitually watching everything around him in a suspicious manner.

The scent of roast coffee beans and oven-baked cinnamon slid into his sinuses, a sensation that was unexpected but welcome, especially given his recent insomnia. Sombra peered up and discovered that he'd rather fortunately wound up at an all-night coffee shop, the neon sign about the front window displaying the name, "Café au Hay." The place itself had a rustic look about it, appearing more as a teenager's room than a restaurant. Nevertheless, Sombra had a hankering for caffeine and sugar to satisfy. He pushed the door forward and entered.

I hate acoustic guitar. Sombra decided, the telltale strumming of the instrument assaulting his ear drums as a pimply stallion with a squeaky voice crooned out a song about world peace or such nonsense. Weaving his way through the coffee shop, taking care to avoid colliding with one of the standing patrons, he stopped at the front register. A young, dark red-brown unicorn soon soon took notice of him and gave him a sleepy smile.

"Welcome to Café au Hay. I'm Spice Mocha and I'll be your server. What can I get you?"

"One medium coffee, black, two cinnamon rolls, and a blueberry scone. All to go."

"Cool options. Hold on a sec."

While Sombra waited, he was relieved to find the guitar-playing stallion exiting the stage, only for a heavy-set mare in a floppy hat and sweater to take his place, her expression one of concentration and severity.

"Princess Celestia...where is the rest-tia? The sun is going down, not up. Setting, setting, but not settling!"

What the Tartarus is this nonsense?

The mare continued, now accompanied by the banging of a bongo drum.

"Once bright, now dim. Dim as our hope! Our the end of our rope. Where is the hope?!"

Sombra tilted his head. Is this drivel supposed to be poetry?

"Like a star, you fell. Fell down! A shadow..." The mare hid her eyes with her hooves. "...Eclipsed the sun. King Sombra, Sombra, Sombra, Sombra..." Her hooves flew from her eyes, mouth formed into an O. "Sombra, Shadow King, oh the suffer-ring. Darkness all around us. Darkness in us."

"Here's your order, sir. That'll be twenty-five bits, please."

Passing Spice Mocha the bits, Sombra pointed his jaw at the mare on stage.

"What is that exactly?"

Spice Mocha grinned. "Oh, that's beat poetry."

"Yes, beating it while it's tied up in a sack," Sombra muttered and exited the establishment.

Meanwhile, the mare held up a plastic facsimile of the sun, then threw it down and crushed it beneath her hind hoof. She dramatically gestured towards it with both forelegs.

"If the Princess of the Sun can't protect herself, then who protects us? Who...protects...usssss...?"


It was around seven-thirty when Sombra arrived at the Canterlot Library's front entrance. Sure, he wasn't due until seven-forty-eight but returning to the hotel wasn't an option. It wasn't as though he was actually going to get back to sleep any time soon. Knocking on the left door, it soon opened and he was met with a pair of bespectacled eyes. Upon recognizing the guest, Moondancer opened the door all the way and gestured past her.

"Come on in. You're early."

Wiping his hooves, Sombra traipsed past her. "I happened to be in the area."

"That's good. I prefer to be early myself." Latching and locking the door behind her, Moondancer seated herself at a table and motioned to the chair across from her. "Take a seat, please. This shouldn't take too long."

Sombra nodded and promptly sat down. Moondancer adjusted her glasses.

"Have you ever worked in a library or bookstore?"

"No but I've been in several of both and am fairly competent in independent research and book classification and organization," Sombra answered truthfully. "Is that sufficient?"

Moondancer thought on this. "We'll see. This job will require a lot of moving: standing, walking, crouching. Will that be an issue?"

"None whatsoever."

"You'll be required to spend long hours sorting and cataloging books, which many find to be a very tedious and boring task."

Sombra shrugged. "I don't have a problem with tedium or boredom."

Moondancer beamed at this. "Excellent. Now, you'll also be required to interact with library patrons in a pleasant, patient, and welcoming manner. Can you perform this duty without issue?"

Thinking back to the stallion he'd temporarily blinded earlier, Sombra let loose a toothy smirk.

"Oh, I don't think that'll be an issue."

"Great, then the job is yours." She held out her hoof. "Can you start next Friday?"

Sombra shook the proffered hoof. "Next Friday it is."

"Oh and one last question."


"What do you have in that bag?"

Sombra peered at the paper bag next to him.

"A cinnamon roll."

Moondancer's eyes widened. "From Café au Hay? I love their rolls. Could I-...?"

Sombra pushed the bag forward.

"Knock yourself out."


With his employment at the library secured, Sombra had time to collect his few belongings from the hotel and make a beeline for the train station, a noticeable pep in his step. Oh, he could've easily mind-controlled Moondancer into just granting him the position but that would've been much too easy. Using a hypnotic spell would've actually have been counter-productive as it took time, energy, and focus in order to maintain it and if Sombra's focus was broken for even a second, then he would be exposed and promptly imprisoned. Besides, there was no guarantee of it working. Mind-control and hypnosis didn't affect everypony the same as some ponies were just naturally resistant or, in special cases, even entirely immune to it.

Surveying his surroundings, Sombra entered the train car and made his way to First Class, securing for himself an unoccupied cabin. Sliding his saddlebags off, he sagged onto the seat and let out a groan. He'd never ridden First Class before and so far, it was quite nice, enjoying the peace and quiet that came with the privacy. It didn't last, however, when the door slid open and one of the conductors popped his head in. He frowned at Sombra, his face crinkling up at the sight of him.

"Excuse me sir, but I'll be needing to see your ticket."

Locking eyes with the conductor, Sombra's own eyes glowed green.

"You don't need to see my ticket," he stated in a calm, lulling voice.

"I don't need to see your ticket," the conductor repeated monotonously.

"You can ride in first class undisturbed."

"You can ride in first class undisturbed."

"Enjoy your trip."

"Enjoy your trip."

The door slid shut and Sombra switched off the mind-magic, the green fading and returning back to red. Considering his low funds at the moment, he doubted that he could afford even a single ticket at the moment so this constituted a necessary usage of his mesmeric abilities. Telekinetic lowering the blinds, Sombra wrapped his cloak around himself and stared up at the ceiling, silently counting the gold dots that peppered the navy-blue paint. Slowly, his vision blurred, his eyelids drooping as he blinked once, twice, then three times. By the fourth blink, he was fast asleep.


The journey restarted the way that it always did, with Sombra traveling through the Frozen North, going through the door, walking down the long road, and arriving within sight of Canterlot. Then, with leaden hooves, he fought to move his limbs in the opposite direction, traversing the hills and snow until he arrived at the umbrum village, the calamitous screaming and clashing of metal setting his teeth on edge. An orange glow emanated from within the village's walls, which had stretched to titanic size since he'd last laid eyes on them. The gates swung open like the maw of some great behemoth and the spell over Sombra's limbs was broken. Without a moment of hesitation, he charged forward.

He galloped as fast as he could but the village's center spanned for miles, the huts bowing outward and yanking out of reach. Sombra felt his heart painfully throbbing, his lungs burning from the effort and the heat from the fires causing him to sweat from every pore. Roaring flames threw shadows everywhere, each one depicting the conflict or the fleeing civilians. Ignoring the wetness on his cheeks, Sombra charged up his horn but the corona dwindled to an impotent spark. He tried again and again but his magic continued to fail him.

"Why isn't it working?!"


He turned to find Princess Luna standing behind him, her face one of mournful sympathy. All around her, the shadows maintained their fighting, bellowing and swinging their weapons but she kept her gaze on Sombra.

"This needs to end."

Tears stung Sombra's eyes.

"No! I can help them!"



"You need to see the truth, Sombra," Luna murmured gently. She waved one wing outward, creating a gale of wind that it swept across the dreamscape, brushing away the shadows as though they were kites in a hurricane. The huts collapsed and burned, the blazing fires sizzling out until all that remained were streaks of smoke. Silence enveloped the area, leaving only the sound of Sombra's light whimpering audible as he sank to his knees and forehooves. Snowflakes descended upon the scene, steadily coating the scorched ruins.

"What have you done?"

Luna approached Sombra but stopped four feet away. "The Dravite Hill happened a long time ago. It's ancient history."

Sombra leapt to his hooves and faced her.


He took in a serious of small gasps, the tears continuing to fall and freezing upon the snow-littered ground.

"I was there!" He beat his hoof against his chest, his voice becoming strained. "I watched it happen!" He sobbed, eyes glassy and bloodshot. "'Ancient history?' I see it when I close my eyes, I live it when I sleep!"

Luna's expression never changed.

Sombra paced back and forth, then he snarled, "I LOST...EVERYTHING!"

By then, Sombra was too tired to continue yelling, his throat scratchy and raw. Instead, he sat on the ground, feeling all of that rage and heartbreak building inside of him and then dissipating. Rocking back and forth, he became lost in his grief, crying harder than he ever had in his entire life. Something soft and fluffy brushed across his shoulder and foreleg and he found Luna draping her wing over him. Lacking any kind of a reason or forethought, Sombra rested his head on her chest and resumed his weeping, with Luna shushing him and caressing his back.

After an extended period of silence, Luna lifted Sombra's chin up, wiping his face with her primary feathers.

"Sombra, listen to me. There was nothing...that you could've done. You were just a colt. It's not your fault."

"But..." Sombra sniffed. "Why me? Out of everyone there, why did only I survive? Why did...?"

"Why did what?"

Breathing deeply, Sombra whispered, "Why did I deserve to live? What made me so special?"

Luna nodded in understanding. "I don't know why but against all odds, you ended up surviving. You shouldn't feel guilt for that. You've carried around this burden for so many years, all of this sorrow and resentment but you've forgotten to feel joy for the life that you've received, even if it's not the best. It was terrible what happened to you. I can't even begin to understand going through something like that. But you have to let the weight go, otherwise it will crush you."

Sombra released an unsteady exhale. "I...don't know how."

Kissing his forehead, Luna smiled sweetly. "It starts with forgiving the pony in the mirror. Work your way up after that. I did and you can too."

The umbrum opened his mouth to speak, closed it and turned away. He faced Luna again and managed:

"Thank you, Luna. You didn't have to do this...but you did anyway."

Chuckling lightly, Luna bowed her head. "It's my sacred duty to ensure good dreams for all of my subjects, to help them relieve them of their waking worries and soothe them during their sleep."

An epiphany struck Sombra, something so obvious that he wanted to hit himself for never considering.

"Do you do this for everyone? Every single night?"

"Of course. Even if my subjects never meet me face-to-face, I can take solace in the fact that I aided them in some way, be it small or big."

Sombra beamed at Luna but then peered at her severely. "Don't ever tell anyone that I did this."

And with that, he wrapped his forelegs around her. Luna, though startled at first, reciprocated the gesture.

"I wouldn't dream of it," Luna ironically sighed.

Surprise for Spike

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"Who are you?"
"I'm your new best friend, Luna. Your only friend."
"Celestia is to blame for everything! She's jealous!"
"Year number eighty-seven on the moon..."
"Now to find the Elements of Harmony and destroy them!"
"It's time that the night reigned supreme!"
"Year number three-hundred-and-ninety-four..."
"Pleasant dreams, Twilight Sparkle."



Twilight peered down at Spike, the dragon staring at her with saucer-wide eyes.

"What happened?"

"You zoned out again."

After the Midnight Sparkle Incident, she'd become prone to blacking out, her mind replaying segments of Nightmare Moon and Luna's memories at random intervals. Her fugue states thankfully never affected her while in the middle of an adventure or a dangerous task and had actually decreased over the past few weeks. Princess Celestia concluded that it was a side-effect of having the eidolon invading her thoughts and attempting to take over both her mind and body. This process, according to Princess Luna, who had undergone a similar transformation, involved the merger of both parties, causing them to combine thoughts, feelings, and memories. Had Nightmare been successful with Twilight as she had been with Luna, then Twilight's consciousness would've been effectively dead, replaced by the eidolon's own and it was unknown if even the Elements of Harmony would've reversed the damage.

Setting aside her books, Twilight parked herself in the nearest chair and rubbed at her face.

"I'm sorry, Spike. I was having another Nightmare-slash-Midnight episode. It's like those bad dreams I was having right before she took control. Thank Faust they're not as terrifying or vivid."

"And you can actually sleep," Spike added. "Seriously, I thought you'd turn into some kind of insomniac zombie."

"That too." Twilight stood back up. "Both Princess Celestia and Princess Luna told me that they'd eventually fade away in their own time so there's not much I can do about it. Anyway, let's head out and see what the others are doing. I want to make sure everything's perfect for Sombra's arrival and that he feels welcomed."

"I don't know, Twi. That sounds easier said than done."

Heading over to Sugarcube Corner, the pair found the others already in attendance. While Pinkie Pie was serving a round of milkshakes, Rainbow Dash was finishing up a story about flight camp, a topic that sparked a special interest in Fluttershy-as she'd attended flight camp with Rainbow-and Applejack, who slid her chair closer to the prismatic storyteller.

"So then the colt was like, 'Why don't you put your bits where your mouth is?' And I was like, 'I'd rather put my hoof where your face is!" and I totally laid him out. He flew away crying and his friends immediately backed off. None of them ever tried to mess with me again."

"Wow Rainbow, I didn't know that's why those jerks stayed away from you."

"Glad t' hear yah gave those creeps what fer."

Rainbow Dash cockily leaned back in her chair. "It was nothing, really."

"Well I disagree with your choice," Rarity chimed in. "Violence is never the answer."

"No, violence is the question," Rainbow corrected her. "And the answer is, 'Yes!'"

"Hi Twilight, hi Spike!" Pinkie cheered and waved them over. "You just missed a super-special-awesome story about Rainbow Dash sticking it to some bullies while she and Fluttershy were at flight camp!"

Twilight nodded. "Yeah, we just caught the ending but it sounds epic."

"Pfft, 'epic'?" Rainbow scoffed. "Try amaze-tacular!"

"That's...not even a word."

"Well it should be."

Pinkie laid two fresh milkshakes down in front of the newcomers, speedily topping the treats with whipped cream and cherries in a practiced flourish. She added a straw each, giving Spike's glass a neon-green crazy straw, before turning her attention to the whipped cream can. Opening her mouth impossibly wide, Pinkie deposited a mountain of creamy, snow-white goodness directly into her open maw, her cheeks puffing out to the size of basketballs. She then swallowed, licking away any remains of cream and humming in delight. Twilight lightly sucked on her straw with Spike following suit, albeit with the energetic fervor befitting a child consuming something sugary and full of fat.

"Wow, this is excellent Pinkie!" Twilight exclaimed.

"Yeah," Spike nodded. "It's way better than what you usually serve. Is the ice cream or-...?"

Spike heaved forward and belched loudly. This time, however, in place of green flames, a flash of blue-white shot past Applejack's head and impacted the back corner of the shop with a thud. They all turned and exited their collective seats, trepidly gathering around the spot where the projectile made contact, the air around them chilly enough to make their breaths visible. A jagged, blue-white mass of ice crackled and steamed on the wall and ceiling, newly-formed icicles dangling off of its surface like stalactites. Rainbow Dash stared at Pinkie in shock.

"Jeez Pink, what was in those milkshakes?"

"I don't think it was the milkshake," Twilight murmured as she leaned forward and examined the ice.

"Then wha' was it? 'Cause Ah ain't never seen Spike do that before."

"Me neither," Fluttershy said quietly. "I thought dragons only breathed fire."

"Yeah, me too," Spike groaned and rubbed his stomach. "That was weird-..."

He burped again, a streak of lightning launching out of his mouth, knocking him back onto his hindquarters. The bolt sliced through the top of Pinkie's mane and struck an overhead light, the bulb flashing repeatedly prior to fizzling out and popping. Pinkie fluffed her mane back into place while Rarity lifted Spike back to his feet and concernedly looked him over.

"Are you alright?"

Spike nodded. "I-I think so..."

"How the hay did this happen?" Applejack wondered aloud.

Pinkie darted up behind Spike. "Were you bitten by a radioactive chipmunk?"


"Chosen by a wizard to be his champion and gaining powers by being made to speak his name?"


"Given a special emotion-powered ring by an alien cop?"

"I'm not even wearing a ring."

The pink mare shrugged. "Then I've got nothing."

Twilight encapsulated her horn in a raspberry glow and waved it over the drake from top to bottom.

"Hmm, so far, I can't pick up any traces of foreign magic. From the looks of it, these 'anomalies'-for lack of a better term-all seem to originate from Spike." She then pulled some paper out of her bag and scribbled a quick letter. "Princess Celestia might have some idea as to what's going on."

She passed the rolled-up letter to Spike, everyone else moving away from him.

"Well," he gulped. "Here goes nothing."


The scroll vanished in a puff of green fire, causing the mares to all sigh in relief. Not even a full minute went by before Spike burped up a response:

Dear Twilight,

I have been anticipating this day for a long time, though I have had my doubts of its arrival, especially this soon. Spike's onset of elemental-based breaths are not some curse or foreign spell but magic seeped deep within him, cultivating since birth until its eventual release. For you see, on the day that you hatched him, you imbued his egg with unicorn magic and, as magic is energy and therefore can't be destroyed but transformed, Spike absorbed that magic within himself. I suspect that his recent exposure to the Elements of Harmony may've triggered his latent magical talents. I will send for him as soon as I can so that proper tests may be performed. For the time being, I believe that you should keep him isolated until he has a better handle on his new abilities, not just for his safety but for the sake of others.

Your teacher,

Princess Celestia

"So what does it say?" Rarity inquired

"Apparently, when I first hatched Spike's egg, some of my magic was transferred into him directly, subtly altering his draconic physiology by inserting thaumaturgic radiation into his genetic makeup."

Rainbow scratched her head. "Um, care to translate for those of us that don't speak Egghead?"

"Right...basically, I accidentally gave Spike some of my magic and he ended up with his powers."

"Does Princess Celestia have a solution?" Fluttershy asked hopefully.

"Not at the moment. She's sending someone to bring him to the castle for more study but for now, Spike has to isolate himself."

"But I feel fine-..."

"Right now, yes, but that might change and we must be ready for it." She gave him a quick nuzzle and, establishing eye contact, addressed him softly: "I'm just looking out for you. You know that, right?"

"I know."

"Then let's get you home. Don't worry. I'm sure this'll all be over soon."

Twilight delivered that lie so convincingly that she herself believed it.

A Ponyville Welcome

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After nearly two hours of painstakingly slow and precise shaping and crafting, Sombra set down his tools and took a moment to examine the fruits of his labor. A necklace lay on a standing plastic tray, consisting of a semi-transparent violet gem covered in dark purple swirls and carved in mystic sigils that dangled from a brass chain. Nodding approvingly, he then closed his eyes and concentrated, feeling the eldritch magic flowing from his core, out through his limbs and focused into his horn, the extending organ throbbing with energy. His lips noiselessly pronounced the words, his horn steadily becoming brighter while it collected more and more power, the maleficium seeping into every fiber and molecule of the cabin. Finally, he unleashed his pent-up magic.

The necklace was surrounded it in a purple and black cloud and lifted it into the air, and the heptagonal gem filled with a fiendish green glow. Had the train actually been busy that day, no one would've been able to miss the rays of emerald light that flowed from the cracks of the cabin door. Once the gem had become infused with enough power, Sombra cut off the magical stream, allowing the necklace to float back down onto the plastic tray. Wiping the sweat from his brow, he blew the excess smoke off of the gem and slipped the necklace on. A brief flash of his horn and the gem radiated a green light, projecting a wave of magic over Sombra and instantly reapplying his disguise.

Casting and maintaining a glamour charm took an exhaustive toll on a sorcerer, even a seasoned one like Sombra. To that end, he crafted an amulet to contain the spell and not only free him to focus on other tasks but to limit the strain that thaumaturgical energy might have on his body. No matter what kind of arcana one practiced, the same rule applied: magic always comes with a cost, whether it be physical, mental, or emotional. This was one of the few lessons that Grimoire imparted onto Sombra that he actually took to heart and for good reason. Tales have been told and re-told of some foolhardy so-and-so who thought it was a brilliant idea to conjure and sustain a spell that they were woefully unprepared for, causing them major harm or even costing them their life.

Creating the Alicorn Amulet cost me more than a hoof or a pair of eyebrows...

Even now, he could perfectly recall the day that he crafted the now-destroyed artifact and the dark purpose for which it was intended. Much more than a mere bauble, the Alicorn Amulet was a phylactery, a rare and forbidden type of relic used by warlocks in the long-distant past for a single purpose: self-resurrection. However, the process was labor-intensive, requiring not only a powerful and competent spell-caster but also several unique ingredients, such as raw adamantine, a synthetic blood-red gem, and ashes gathered from the tooth of a Dragon Lord. The most important-and extraordinary-ingredient was something organic from an alicorn and Sombra's old wings, which he'd kept preserved in a cave in the Frozen North, were ideal for the job. Once the amulet was assembled, there was a final requirement in order to return its owner back from the ether...

"Next stop, Ponyville!"

Releasing a heavy sigh, Sombra stood up straight and adopted his usual austere expression.

"Let's do this."


"Is he here yet?"

Twilight glared at Rainbow Dash.

"For the third time, no."

"This is sooo boring! How come you can't just use that teleporter-thingy like we did?"

Reaching into her saddlebags, Twilight retrieved a cracked, slightly burnt stone disk. "Because the summoning beacon only had enough power for a single jump. It's completely useless now."

"Maybe ya could ask Sombra t' make ya a new one?" Applejack suggested. "It would save on trips."

"Not a bad idea...oh, here he comes now!"

The Friendship Express pulled into the station with an ear-splitting screech, steam rising up from the engine in bursts of hissing gray-white streams. This time, the train had been apparently nearly empty as a sparse amount of passengers exited the doors of each car. Then again, travel was usually slow this time of year, with business not picking up until around Hearth's Warming. Twilight surveyed each pony that entered her line of sight until she found her quarry: a red-brown unicorn garbed in a bright crimson cloak, a pair of beaten gray-black saddlebags serving as his luggage. She waved him over excitedly and a wide grin spread across the stallion's face.

"S-Guess Who! Over here!"

It was interesting to see Sombra like this, looking so ordinary. Seemingly standing at average pony height, "Guess Who" had a shoulder-length, blue-gray mane styled in a combed-back fashion, a glossy red-brown coat, light green eyes, and, fittingly enough, a cutie mark of a black question mark. Finally reaching the group, he barely gave Twilight enough time to blink before wrapping both forelegs around her and pressing her to his chest. Although they both wanted to greet one another with a kiss, that simple act of affection would've raised far too many questions. It wasn't that Twilight was ashamed of Sombra but the simple truth was that there'd be public outcry should anyone learn that the Princess of Friendship was dating an infamous former villain and fugitive from the law.

"I missed you," Sombra admitted. The glamour-charm only changed his appearance not his voice, so he'd taken to speaking in a higher tone.

"I missed you more."

"Heh, I doubt that."

Applejack cleared her throat, swiftly reminding the pair that they weren't alone.

"Sorry t' interrupt, but Ah think we should take this here show on th' road, if ya catch mah drift."

Rainbow Dash, meanwhile, was watching them intently though remained silent.

"Right, of course," Twilight chuckled sheepishly and disengaged, much to Sombra's obvious chagrin. "But first...Sombra, could you please drop your glamour?"

He stared incredulously at her. "Excuse me?"

"You don't need your disguise anymore."

A slight tremor shot through the umbrum. "That's insane!"

"Hey now, none o' that. Yer in a safe place."

Rainbow Dash finally spoke up: "Yeah! What, are you scared?"

Sombra glared at her. "There's a difference between fear and caution. In case it's slipped your notice, I'm not exactly welcomed here or anywhere for that matter."

A gentle hoof was placed over his own. Sombra found Twilight peering up into his eyes, her brilliant violet orbs shimmering lightly. "Sombra, please. Trust me."

His expression softened, though the trepidation was still there. For a time, indecision ruled his features, giving way to contemplation and finally, submission. Heaving a sigh, he bowed his head and ignited his horn. The gem hanging around his neck, which Twilight nearly missed, glowed a deep green and the stallion's true visage was revealed for all the world to see. Now left exposed, Sombra raised his head and swallowed.


Twilight nodded. "Better."

They started walking when Sombra glanced around. "Where are the others?"

"Well, Spike and Rarity are back at the castle. I'll...explain the situation later."

"Fluttershy is helpin' Pinkie Pie with somethin'," Applejack added. "You'll see what Ah mean."

The quartet made their way through town, trying their best to behave normally during the routine lifestyle of Ponyville's residents. The various vendors stopped selling their wares to track the movements of one pony in particular. Conversations either halted or ceased altogether, the speakers' collective attentions diverted elsewhere. Parents held their children closely to them, their little colts and fillies peeking up to catch a glimpse of the newcomer. Fear was to be expected, rage even but instead, a palpable sense of uncertainty dominated the town.

Twilight couldn't help but sneak glances at Sombra who, on the outside, appeared to be his normal, stoic self, his face a mask of distant remoteness. Yet, Twilight had been around him long enough to pick up on the little micro-tics that clued her in on his true emotions. His ears twitched ever-so-slightly, his jaw clamped shut as he chewed on the inside of his mouth. Scarlet pupils scanned the surroundings while Sombra’s eyes and neck remained stationary. Even his hoofsteps were noticeably louder than usual, as though he were warding off any potential large predators by making himself appear larger than he already was.

"Sombra, are you alright?"

His eyes flicked down, then back up again. "No. I"

The castle soon appeared in view and Twilight couldn't contain the sigh of relief that escaped her lips. It was the same, glittering crystalline structure that it had been since Sombra's last, albeit brief, visit, only with a few unexpected additions. Party streams were strewn along the upper levels and gently flitted in the wind like flags. Green and purple balloons were placed along the pathway to the front door. Fluttershy exited the castle and trotted up to the group.

"Hello Sombra," she said softly. "What do you think?"

Sombra gazed up at the massive banner proudly proclaiming, WELCOME SOMBRA!

"It's very-..."


A pink blur popped out from behind Sombra, nearly giving the poor stallion a heart attack.

"Pinkie?! Wh-what is this?"

Tilting her head, Pinkie appeared genuinely confounded. "Isn't it obvious? It's your welcome party!"

Twilight rubbed Sombra's shoulder reassuringly. "We wanted to make sure you felt more at home so Pinkie decided to throw you a party. Wasn't that nice of her?"

"Well, yes, but won't everyone else be angry that you're doing all this?"

Pinkie nonchalantly waved a hoof. "Why would they? Everyone loves parties!"

"'Sides," Applejack interjected. "They all heard what ya did inna Crystal Empire. How ya helped t' defeat Midnight Sparkle an' rescue Twilight an' all."

"Hey, that was a team effort-...!" Rainbow Dash cut in, only for Applejack to mash her hoof against her lips.

"So yeah, everypony's opinions 'bout ya have changed. They're still tryin' t' figure ya out, try'n place ya on th' good/bad scale. Tha's why they're all weird 'round ya."

"We told them that you risked your life to save Twilight and all of Equestria," Fluttershy beamed. "And eyewitness accounts from the Crystal Empire helped to back our stories too."

Sombra's brow crinkled in confusion. "Really? So they don't hate me?"

"Of course not, silly!" Pinkie clapped Sombra on the back. She then began bouncing up and down as a merry, orchestral tune kicked in. Sombra noticed various townsfolk pour out around Pinkie, all of them bouncing in rhythm. "If you do the right thing, ponies take notice!"


Some-times, it can be hard to find your place

Some-times, you're dead-last in life's race

I know it's enough to make you cry

But I know a trick that you can try

That's guaranteed to impress

A little thing called K-I-N-D-N-E-S-S!




It's an extremely easy thing to do!




Give it a go and you'll see that it's true!

Just lend a helping hoof

And you'll see the amazing proof

Eliminate your sadness and your stress

With a little K-I-N-D-N-E-S-S!



The townsfolk were now forming a ring around Sombra, waving their forelegs in his direction. The music continued to play, yet no one sang. He looked to their expectant faces and frowned.

"It's not going to happen."

A collective "Awww!" echoed through the surrounding area and the ponies all began to file out. Once it seemed like they were all gone, Sombra found himself face-to-face with a mint-green unicorn, the image of a harp adorning her flank. She shook her head at him disapprovingly.

"See, this is why we never invite you to Karaoke Night!"

As the mare trotted away, Sombra could only watch her with dumbfounded confusion.

"I don't even know who you are!"

"Sombra, how come you didn't join in?" Twilight asked.

Sombra merely shrugged. "I don't really sing," he replied noncommittally.

"But why not?" Fluttershy scratched her head. "Music connects each and every one of us, binding us to Equestria and harmony itself."

"That's fine but it's not for me."

"Oh, I get it," Rainbow Dash grinned smugly. "You're a lousy singer, aren't you?"

A black, purple, and green aura surrounded the pegasus and she instantly vanished.

"No," Sombra answered and jogged past the spot where she stood. "I just don't see the point."

Getting Settled In

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"What in Faust's name was that?"

Twilight was absolutely shocked by Sombra's behavior. It wasn't that she was surprised by his flagrantly thoughtless action; she'd become accustomed to his standoffish manner and seemingly-thoughtless behavior towards those that dismayed him. No, rather it was the action directed towards one of her friends that was the cause for friction. If he'd done that to a stranger, it would've been terrible but non-offensive. No one teleported one of her friends without just cause, especially in her presence.

"Rainbow was being smug," Sombra answered with apparent dismissal, though there was a bit of self-awareness in his expression. "I was knocking her down a peg, so to speak."

"That's inexcusable!" Twilight blurted out. "A pony being rude doesn't give you carte blanche to zap them...Celestia-knows-where!"

"You really shouldn't go around doing things like that," Fluttershy stated softly. "Especially to ponies that didn't do anything wrong."

"Darn tootin'!"

"Everyone, relax. I can assure you that she's perfectly safe and will come back here the same she was as she left." Then he added, "More or less."

Sure enough, a familiar pegasus rocketed onto the scene and descended, albeit now covered head-to-hoof with a layer of thick, viscous mud.

"Rainbow, wha' happened t' ya?"

Rainbow glared at Sombra. "I landed in a shallow mud puddle just on the outskirts of the Everfree Forest."

"You see? Perfectly fine."

Applejack seized Rainbow as she attempted to launch herself at Sombra, thrashing and growling like a caged animal. Pinkie furrowed her brow and jabbed a hoof at Sombra.

"That wasn't very nice! Weren't you listening to my song?"

Sombra retained his solemn demeanor. "Well she started it."

"It doesn't matter!" Twilight stomped a hoof down. "Apologize to Rainbow Dash this instant."

Sombra's expression softened, as though he were just now realizing the ramifications of his action. Giving Rainbow a once-over, he said rather remorsefully, "I'm sorry, Rainbow Dash."

"Now Rainbow, what do you say?"

Scraping off some mud from her wing with a hoof, Rainbow glowered at Sombra for an extended period of time. Applejack helped to clean her up, keeping a steady hold of her friend's shoulder in case Rainbow tried another attack. Instead, Rainbow sighed, "Apology accepted, Sombra."

Despite the clear resentment in Rainbow's voice, Twilight nodded. "Very good. Now, let's head inside, check up on Spike and Rarity, and put this whole mess behind us."

Twilight wanted to get angry with Sombra, but she had to remind herself that he was still learning, or rather, relearning proper societal etiquette, the umbrum having lost such knowledge due to the time he'd spent on his own. Discord hadn't exactly been on his best behavior during his reformation, even going so far as to betray everyone to Lord Tirek before learning the error of his ways and making more of an effort to become better. She looked over at Sombra, his eyes inspecting the crystalline interior, and afforded herself a small smile. Although slow, he was making progress, as she could tell that his apology was genuine, if a tad forced. For whatever reason, Rainbow and Sombra still had some kind of animosity between them-likely due to their shared stubbornness-but she was sure that it'd vanish the more time the two spent together.


"Where is Spike? I thought he'd be at the train station."

Twilight looked at him with uncertainty. "Oh,'d be best if we showed you."

Turning the corner, they came upon a distressed-looking Rarity pacing outside of a close door.

"Thank Celestia you came back!" Rarity then noticed their guest. "Hello Sombra."

"Rarity," he nodded.

"Why are you out here?" Twilight wrapped the doorknob in her aura and twisted it.

"Darling, I wouldn't if I-..."

A roaring horizontal cyclone ripped through the door and would've pummeled all of them if not for a combined raspberry and red shield thrown up at the last minute. Once the cyclone dissipated, Twilight and Sombra extinguished their magic, finding a ruffle-maned Rarity staring at the door in a matter-of-fact way.

"...were you..."

Inside, the room was a mess. No, a catastrophe. Scorch marks adorned the floors and ceiling in Rorschach-esque splotches, some of which were still sizzling and exuding smoke. A thin layer of rime covered sections of the room while clumps of crackling, icy debris littered the floor like discarded sculptures. At the center stood Spike, who was sweeping up the smashed remnants of a porcelain bird statuette, muttering to himself under his breath before he caught wind of his visitors.

"Um...hi. Sorry about that."

Sombra was the first to speak: "What is going on here?"

"It's kind of hard to explain-..." Twilight began, only for Rainbow to interject.

"Spike randomly got ice breath, then burped lighting bolts and now little tornadoes."

"I guess it wasn't hard after all."

Sombra peered at Spike closely. " did this happen?"

"Remember when I told you how I got my cutie mark? As it turns out, I may've sort of infused the egg with some of my magic and that was transferred onto Spike," Twilight elaborated. "Apparently it's been growing inside of him and his recent contact with the Elements of Harmony may've acted as some sort of catalyst. Have you ever heard of this happening before?"

Sombra hummed at this. "No, I haven't. Magic exists within every facet of this world but there are some creatures that are incapable of tapping into this energy, such as dragons. This is completely new to me."

"Princess Celestia is sendin' some guards t' bring Spike back t' Canterlot so they can perform some tests on him," Applejack added. "Do ya think he'll be awright?"

Sombra placed a hoof on Spike's shoulder. "I believe Spike will endure this." He smiled down at the young drake. "He's stronger than he looks."

Spike returned the smile. "Thanks Sombra." He then abruptly doubled over and, after a painful-sounding coughing storm, hacked out some ice cubes and chunks of raw ore. "Ow..."

Patting Spike on the back, Sombra checked his friend over before scooping up the ore in his magic for closer study. "Bits of iron pyrite, some magnetite, and a smidgen of chrysoberyl."

"Ooo, good eye!" Pinkie complimented. "How do you know so much about geology?"

"Back when I was studying magic and alchemy, I first had to familiarize myself with different forms of solid matter before I could learn how to transmutate it. The creative process is far simpler once you've gotten a basic understanding of elemental composition."

Twilight stared at Sombra like an infatuated schoolfilly.

"Cough, nerd, cough!"

Sombra glared in Rainbow's direction, who was doing her best to look innocent.

"Perhaps you'd like to be turned into a newt?"

"A newt?" Rainbow parroted somewhat nervously.

"You'll get better."

Twilight quickly jumped in between the two. "Right, uh, Sombra, how about I show you where you'll be staying?"

"That sounds fine," Sombra muttered while keeping his gaze focused on Rainbow.

Leaving everyone else with Spike, Twilight shepherded Sombra through the castle until arriving at a door that had curiously been emblazoned with the marking of a black crystal within a red snowflake. Strangely, the marking appeared when Twilight first made preparations for Sombra's stay and was searching for a spare room to situate him in. She speculated that the castle, which was infused with energy from the Tree of Harmony, must have some kind of rudimentary consciousness and thus prepared the room for his arrival. There was still so much that she and the others were learning about the castle and the Tree, her scientific mind ablaze with endless possibilities. Perhaps she'd even write a dissertation on the applications of harmony magic.

The room was spartan in appearance, lacking any personal decor like picture frames or sports posters so Twilight took it upon herself to supply it with some minor comforts. She knew Sombra to be a relatively simple stallion, one who didn't require much in the way of luxury and decided to decorate it accordingly. There was a small alcove with a red wing-back chair and a bookshelf filled with books of various topics ranging from history to modern literature and poetry. Up against the far wall, she'd set up a small writing desk and office chair in front of the window just in case Sombra wanted to feel the sun's rays as he wrote. For the pièce de résistance, a wicker basket sat on the bed, stuffed with various gifts and goodies and tied with a bow around the handle.

Sombra immediately honed in on the basket. "What's this?"

"It's a gift basket. It was Pinkie's idea and everyone chipped in. What do you think?"

Carefully depositing the basket's contents across the mattress' surface, Sombra looked over everything. There was a bottle of Parfum du Côté Sauvage, a Prench cologne courtesy of Rarity, containing a curious mix of blackcurrant, spicy musk, birch, and lemon. A bottle of Sweet Apple Acres' famous cider, naturally, came from Applejack, which Rainbow Dash had tried to swipe...twice. Fluttershy gifted him with a book on bird-watching, Spike a guide to geology, and Pinkie, recalling the sweet-bread she'd made during Twilight and Sombra's first date, baked another loaf. As for Rainbow Dash, she opted for the cheap route and sprang for a desktop drinking bird.

"They're all very thoughtful," he said after a moment of silence. He then picked up with the drinking bird-with his hooves, oddly enough-and looked it over. "What is this?"

"Oh, let me show you!"

There were two quick raspberry flashes and Twilight returned with a glass of water. Setting the glass down on a nearby table, she placed the drinking bird next to it and dipped its "beak" into the water. After a few seconds, the head jerked backward before dunking back into the water. And this was how it went, the bird dipping its head into the water, throwing its head back, ad infinitum. Frowning, Sombra leaned down for a closer peak, watching the cycle with fascination.

"It works through a combination of physics and chemistry," Twilight began excitedly. "After the bird's beak comes into contact with the water, it starts to evaporate and this makes the felt head lower the temperature of the top glass bulb and for the vapor inside of it-known as dichloromethane-to condense. This, in turn, causes the pressure to drop in the head, pushing the liquid up the neck and tipping the bird over. The bottom end of the glass tube rises above the surface of the liquid, causing a bubble of warm vapor to displace the liquid and the ensuing pressure equalizes the top and bottom bulbs to return the bird back to its vertical position."


Twilight giggled at the sight of Sombra, dark sorcerer and former tyrannical overlord of the Crystal Empire, captivated in child-like wonder over a toy. She had to sometimes remind herself that he'd been trapped underground for a full millennium and then locked in a dungeon for year. Although he'd spent the last few months traveling the world, Sombra would still have to process all of the innovations in technology and social interactions and adjust to it all. Princess Luna had been in a very similar situation but she at least had her sister, a team of personal aids, and the whole of the Royal Archives at her disposal whereas Sombra was picking it up as he went. This made Twilight wonder if the two interacted in some capacity, relating their experiences and finding common ground in their adjustments to the modern era.


He broke away from his enchantment and turned to her. "Yes, Twilight?"

Using a combination of her wings and the very tips of her toes, Twilight wrapped her forelegs around Sombra's neck and pulled him in for a kiss. He eagerly reciprocated, his lips mirroring her own, one large hoof caressing her back. Twilight had to stifle a gasp when Sombra lifted her up and pressed her against his chest. She'd forgotten how warm he was and how soft his thick coat was, acting like a wool blanket. Regrettably, she had to disengage in order to replenish her air supply.

"I missed you."

An honest smile adorned Sombra's face. "I missed you too, Twilight."

Silence overtook them before:

"Could we go back to watching the bird?"

Parties and Paternity

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After watching the drinking bird for nearly twenty minutes, interspersed with questions as to its construction and design, Sombra decided that it was time to meet back up with the others. He hadn't planned on becoming so consumed with the toy but it was oddly the most fascinating of his gifts, regardless of its price or the feelings of the gift-giver. Twilight walked closely at his side, her tail affectionately wrapped around his own, a common piece of modern-day body language that had originated as an ancient sign of nonverbal communication that two ponies were mates and thus off-limits to potential suitors. It was humorous to him how much things had changed since his time, yet how many practices and traditions still lingered on, albeit with slight variations and a lack of understanding as to their true purpose and origins. Sombra found this comforting, believing it to be a sign that a fossil like him could find his place in a world that had long since left him behind.

"You and I both know that no matter what you do, they will never accept you."

Midnight Sparkle's silvery, venomous tone crooned in his head. There it was, that niggling doubt that'd festered ever since Twilight first invited him to Ponyville, the very reason for his apprehension towards the whole trip. Deep down inside of him, beyond the veneer of apathy and aggression, there dwelt a self-conscious sliver of terror that he was unable to shake. This terror was omnipresent, even during his rare moments of true happiness, a parasite within his heart that leeched off of every insecurity and fear. For all their talk of friendship and acceptance, would the other ponies ever truly forgive him for his prior misdeeds and allow him to live in peace as a member of their society?

"Sombra, are you okay?"

"I'm alright," he lied, not wishing to spoil the mood with his moping. "Just tired, is all. Princess Luna paid me a visit during my nap on the train. She got me to open up about some of my emotional problems."

"That's great! See, this is what happens when you're honest and communicative!"

Twilight's smile was infectious.

"Yes, I do feel a little better," Sombra admitted. "It's as though this great weight has been lifted off of my shoulders."

"Have you ever considered seeing someone? A therapist, I mean?"

"I've heard of those. I don't know, Twilight. I'm not comfortable with a stranger poking around in my head."

Twilight patted his foreleg. "You'll be okay. Just consider it, please."

Sombra kissed her forehead and she giggled. "I will. I promise."

Sugarcube Corner was alive with activity as ponies filed in and out of the establishment. Conversations were lowered or halted altogether at the sight of the Princess of Friendship cantering side-by-side with the Shadow King, who was looking a tad timid the closer that he got to them. Bystanders parted to make way for the two, keeping a respectful distance between them and the odd pair. Although there was still uncertainty and caution, the ponies weren't openly hostile nor dismissive of the umbrum, their fear replaced by curiosity and a hopeful stillness came over them. Many of their smiles or waves were obviously artificial but Sombra appreciated it nonetheless, giving out a few grateful nods here and there.

Pop music blared inside the restaurant, multicolored lights flashing off of a disco ball while ponies bobbed and wove to the rhythm. Similar to the outside, ponies were sure to give Sombra and Twilight a wide berth, though appearing less suspicious than the other townsfolk. He soon espied the other members of Twilight's little circle-minus Spike and Rainbow Dash-in a corner of the room, sipping punch and chatting about something or other. Before Sombra could blink, Pinkie Pie apparated directly in front of him within a nanosecond. If it wasn't for the impromptu date with Twilight at the castle, he would've been flabbergasted at the pink mare's alarmingly mystifying abilities.

"Hiya Sombra!"

"Pinkie, hello. This is quite the, um, shindig?"

"Thanks! Would you like some punch?"

Sombra spotted the large glass bowl across the room. "That would be nice, thank-..."

One pink blur later, and a plastic cup appeared in his hoof, the reddish liquid barely even stirring. Twilight also had an identical cup and, again, Sombra chose to ignore this for the sake of his sanity.


"Thank you, Pinkie," Twilight smiled.

"You're both welcome! Enjoy yourselves!"

With a ponk-ponk-ponk, the party pony bounded away.

Note to self: learn the origin of Pinkie's ungodly powers and discover a way to replicate them.

Sombra took a sip and smacked his lips in delight, finding himself caught off-guard by the fruity tanginess. He then quickly guzzled the punch and nodded in acknowledgment. With Pinkie's repertoire of culinary prowess, he really wouldn't be surprised if Pinkie landed herself a husband in the near future. "The way to a stallion's heart is through their stomach," as the old adage went.

Secondary note to self: ask Pinkie for her punch recipe. Steal it if necessary.

"Where is Rainbow Dash?"

"Dash is with Spike back at the castle," Twilight answered. "She traded with Rarity so that she could enjoy the party."

Sombra was about to answer when he felt a tug on his cloak. Three fillies stood a foot away, their shoulders hunched and heads hung low in submission. He recognized the yellow earth pony as Applejack's little sister Apple Bloom, who he'd met at Sweet Apple Acres during his time spent disguised as Parcel Post. The pegasus, who'd been the one to get his attention, stepped forward while her compatriots watched her uneasily. Honestly, Sombra had to give them credit for their courage and loyalty.

"Hi, I'm Scootaloo."

Lowering himself to his haunches, Sombra bowed his head in an attempt to make himself seem smaller. He'd heard from eavesdropping on idle conversation that getting down to eye level with foals made one less intimidating and also made them equals in the foal's eyes. He had little to no experience working with children so he hoped that this advice was valid.

"Hello there. May I help you?"

Scootaloo seemed to loosen up a bit. "Well, I...we wanted to say thank you for helping free Twilight from that evil spirit and saving Equestria."

"Tha' was pretty neat o' ya," Applebloom chimed in. "Ah heard Applejack talkin' 'bout how ya risked yer life t' help ev'rypony."

"That's what my sister said to me," the unicorn informed him. "Uh, I'm Sweetie Belle, by the way. My sister's Rarity."

Sombra gave them a closed-mouth smile. "It's a pleasure to meet you all. And thank you."

"Thank you!" All three chirped and promptly exited the premises.

"That was very nice of you," Twilight commented proudly as Sombra rose back to his full height.

"It was pretty nerve-wracking."

"You did great." She pecked him on the cheek. "I'm sure that's three more ponies that you've charmed. At this rate, I'm positive everyone in Ponyville will soon let their guard down around you."

They'll never accept you...deep down, you know this to be true.


"I'm not really feeling up for partying right now. I think I'll head back to the castle."

With that, he took his leave, neither hearing Twilight call his name nor the murmurs of the partygoers. Sugarcube Corner soon vanished in the distance and it wasn't long before Sombra soon found himself passing through the doors of the Castle of Friendship. The shimmering iridescence of the crystalline hallways did little to lighten his mood, a darkness invading his heart and drowning Sombra in a sorrow he hadn't felt in a long time. How long would it take before they could all act calm around him? And that was just Ponyville. It'd be years before he could show his face in all of Equestria without checking over his shoulder for royal guards.

What if I say or do something that they don't like? How much will I have to change about myself until I'm no longer me? Am I really going to have to bend over backwards to please these ponies by erasing my identity for one preferable to their standards?

The door to where Spike was currently residing appeared in view, causing Sombra to stare at it in confusion. This wasn't his destination, so how did he get there? He must've been so lost in his own thoughts that he hadn't been paying attention and marched single-mindedly to Spike's room. But why go here? Perhaps he needed consolation from a friend?

He sorcerously opened the door to find Spike and Rainbow sitting at the table, sipping tea and playing tic-tac-toe.

"Sombra? What are you doing here? Is something wrong?"

"No, nothing at all," Sombra answered. "How is the breath situation?"

"Under control, at least for now."

"Rainbow Dash, why don't you head to the party? I'll take your shift for you."

The pegasus stood up and eyed him suspiciously. "Only if it's okay with Spike."

Spike placed a hand on one of her hooves. "It's fine, Dash. Go enjoy yourself."

Sombra waited until the door closed behind Rainbow to take a seat next to Spike.

"So, is everything okay? You're not looking so good."

Sombra sighed, "I just...I don't feel as though I belong. And despite everyone's best efforts, it's only become more apparent. Ponies still look at me with suspicion and even the polite ones appear to be nice just so that I don't get upset with them."

Spike nodded sympathetically, reaching over and patting Sombra's hoof.

"I understand. I grew up in Canterlot, which is the most judgmental place in Equestria. Sure, there are other races, like donkeys, zebras, and griffons, but it's mostly ponies. There was a time where I was actually afraid to go anywhere by myself. All those eyes just watching me, waiting for me to go berserk and set fire to everything."

"So how do you handle it?"

"One day at a time," Spike replied sagely. "No one's going to change their mind about you in a day, a week, or even a month."

Sombra's eye bore holes into the tabletop. "I think I'm afraid of changing. I've had to be someone I wasn't before, forced to be what others believed was acceptable. Now I don't even know who I am anymore. Am I Sombra, last of the umbrums, Prince Tourmaline, heir to the Crystal Empire, or King Sombra, ex-ruler and despised fugitive?"

"I know exactly how you feel." Sombra lifted his gaze, so Spike continued. "I'm a dragon but I was raised by ponies. I'm not a selfish brute but I'm also not a happy-go-lucky, pastel-colored equine. I want so badly to fit in to both but I belong to neither. I guess I'm unique and that's not a bad thing."

"At least when you get into a fight, you have thick scaly hide and flame-breath."

"Well, it's a good thing I've never been in one."

Sombra arched his brows. "Really? You've never been in a fight? You at least know how to fight, yes?"

"No. Twilight and Princess Celestia both taught me that fighting is wrong and never solves anything. It's better to be civil and diplomatic."

"Diplomacy is a fine solution, unless it fails. Then what are you going to do? Wait, give me a minute."

Vanishing in a cloud of black smoke, Sombra reappeared with a heavy sack of oats propped up in his magic.

"I want you to hit this bag as hard as you can."

Hopping down from his seat, Spike approached Sombra uncertainly.

"Are you sure about this? Violence is bad, right?"

"It can be, if used improperly. At least being able to defend yourself is a good trait to have when all else fails."

Spike gazed at the bag. "Uh, alright. Here goes nothing."

Raising his fist, he lightly nudged the bag with his first two knuckles.

Sombra grimaced in disbelief. "Are you kidding me? A fly landing on it would've made more of an impact. Try again."

Once more, Spike's fist cocked and delivered another light nudge.


This time, there was more weight behind the punch.



"Harder! Like your life depended on it!"

Releasing a yell, Spike swung his arm with all of his might, striking so hard that he tore a hole through the bag. Oats fell to the floor in a golden cascade like raindrops. Sombra grinned in approval.

"Very good," he applauded, clapping Spike on the back. "I'd recommend pivoting your hip when throwing a punch."

"Heh, thanks Sombra!"

A warm tightness formed in Sombra's chest, both uncomfortable but welcome.

"What is going on here?"

Twilight was settled in the doorway and looked far from pleased.

Spike sheepishly tapped his forefingers together. "Er, um, Sombra was teaching me how to fight?"

Her eyes focused on Sombra's. "Spike, could you leave us alone for five minutes?"

"Twilight, it wasn't his fault. I was just-..."

"Now, Spike."

Casting an apologetic look back, Spike waddled through the door and lingered for a minute. He then gradually shut the door behind him. Twilight checked to see if he was still nearby before turning to confront Sombra. Her body language conveyed sheer annoyance and frustration.

"Why were you teaching Spike how to fight?"

Sombra, however, was undeterred. "It's something every young male from any species should know."

"Violence is never the answer, Som-bra!"

"Really? Then tell me, how do you and your friends solve many of your problems?"

Twilight's jaw dropped slightly. "That-that only happens sometimes!"

"Yes, so it is indeed a solution. I'm not telling Spike to go around picking fights for no reason but if one should find him, he has to know how to defend himself!"

Twilight strode up to Sombra, wings flared slightly. "It would be better if he used diplomacy or walked away."

Narrowing his eyes, Sombra ignited his horn and gave Twilight a slight push.

"Hey! Quit it!"



"Sombra, I mean it!"


"I said, 'stop'!"

The aura around Sombra's horn dissipated.

"What if Spike meets someone that refuses to listen to reason, someone who is bigger and stronger and who acts aggressively because he has both the means and the inclination to do so. Someone who will follow Spike and won't take no for an answer. What then? When diplomacy fails and there's nowhere to run, the only way to meet force is with force. This is a universal truth."

"If, and that's a big 'if,' it comes to that, Spike has his fire breath."

Sombra shook his head. "And what if his attacker has magic? Or perhaps flames won't work on them, or they're near civilians? Spike will need to know how to use his fists. You're not always going to be around to protect him. You can't treat him like a child forever."

Twilight glared at him. "You can't just come in here and make decisions like this. You're not his father."

"And you're not his mother."

A purple wing pointed towards the door.

"Please go somewhere else for a few hours. I don't want to talk to you right now."


Sombra turned and slammed the door behind him, trails of purple smoke flowing freely from his green eyes.


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Twilight winced at the slamming door, dropping her head and wings as she was overcome by regret. She knew Sombra didn't mean to do anything wrong, merely trying to help Spike and look after him. It was honestly touching how much concern he showed for the drake considering his reticence to let anyone in and his discomfort towards others. However, it was downright presumptuous for Sombra to declare that he knew what was best for Spike's well-being. Both Princess Celestia and Twilight instilled certain virtues upon Spike and, as his former and current caretakers respectively, it was their responsibility to protect, nurture, and guide Spike as he traversed down the path of life.

However, what really earned Twilight's ire was Sombra's statement that she wasn't Spike's mother. No, she may not be his biological family obviously, but she loved him and cared for him as a mother would and, arguably, better than his birth mother would've. It was rather telling that statement came from Sombra after Twilight pointed out that he wasn't Spike's father, something that seemed to get under Sombra's skin. Perhaps Sombra, on some subconscious level, had developed feelings of a paternal nature for Spike, either using him as a proxy for missing Cadence's foalhood or genuinely thinking of him as an ersatz family member to protect. Regardless of his intentions or feelings, Sombra had crossed a line and it was well within Twilight's right to point this out to him and to correct his behavior.

Then why do I feel so guilty?

It wasn't as though Sombra's arguments were entirely baseless. Yes, she and her friends did have to resort to physical force on more than one occasion, the changeling invasion during Shining Armor and Princess Cadence's wedding, the situation with the diamond dogs, and the battle against Lord Tirek all serving as prime examples. Those were, however, dire circumstances in which a violent coarse of action was necessary where diplomacy would otherwise win the day. Sombra was still trapped within his archaic us-versus-them mindset, using shows of strength and aggression to browbeat others into submission. This was the modern age, where words and rational actions trumped force.

Sombra's not completely wrong in this case, a part of Twilight argued. My friends and I do spend a lot of time keeping Spike out of harm's way. Would it really be so terrible for him to learn how to be more self-reliant?

Spike is a child, for Faust's sake! He shouldn't have to worry about fighting!

"Ugh, why is this so hard!" Twilight groaned, massaging her temples in little circles. "Maybe I should get a second opinion. Or six."


To say that Sombra was aggravated would be a colossal understatement. A thud-tink followed every hoof-fall as he marched through the hallways in a rage-filled daze, a cluster of black crystals forming with each step. It was actually fortuitous that Twilight sent him away as he was a powder keg imminently waiting to explode. How dare she?! The absolute nerve of that mare!

She's acting as though I've committed some giant, unspeakable transgression!

Sombra didn't actually do anything wrong. If teaching a young male an important life lesson, then oh yes, lock him up in Tartarus and throw away the key! Faust forbid that Spike receives any training and self-defense and learns some self-reliance! The general view of umbrums and other similar tribes of the north was that they were bloodthirsty barbarians that just went on raids and pillaged small, helpless towns, which was sheer and absolute nonsense. Self-restraint, battlefield honor, and necessary violence were cornerstones of their combat training and society as a whole.

Knowing when not to fight was just as important as knowing when to fight.

Rounding the corner, Sombra arrived back at his room and slammed the door behind him. There were no locks or keyhole so he hoped that anyone with half a brain would know to leave him be. The only good thing about his reputation was the fact that ponies were, for the most part, spineless little weaklings that would do anything to avoid confrontation, even at the cost of their dignity. And all for what, some silly ideals about peace and harmony? It was all so aggravatingly naive!

How many wars had Celestia been forced to fight, or at the very least, supervise in her thousand-year reign? It didn't matter the time nor the place, war was an eternal concept, as natural to sentient lifeforms as air or water. Did this mean that he glorified conflict and the often senseless loss of life that arose from it? Absolutely not but to think of it as being uncivilized or even unnatural showed a supreme lack of intelligence on the part of many anti-war detractors. Ponies were going to disagree and fight; this has always been in existence since time immemorial and would last for the rest of eternity.

He found the gift basket on the nightstand next to him, all of its contents haphazardly shoved back into it. A bit of red behind the bird-watching book caught Sombra's eye and he magically lifted it out. It was a red envelope that he remembered seeing Twilight slip into the basket before they headed over to Sugarcube Corner. Frowning, he decided that he wasn't in the mood for reading and slipped it into one of his cloak's interior pockets. Whatever it was could wait.

Closing his eyes, Sombra took several breaths both long and short through his mouth and nostrils. The anger was expunged from his mind, traveling to a place deep within his core where it was stored for later usage. Slowly, he felt himself relax, his previously taut muscles going slack as he allowed his body to unwind. The usage of dark magic required control over one's emotions, focusing and redirecting them into something productive, like a magical attack or a fuel source. Grimoire's baritone voice practically rumbled in his ears, lecturing him in that old condescending tone.

Let the rage flow through you like a river; don't fight it or you will be swept away in its current.

Sombra reopened his eyes, his scleras gently throbbing as purple mist oozed around his head before gradually dissipating. His anger vanquished, he could now think clearly without the fury clouding his vision. The truth was, he'd allowed his temper to get the best of him, causing him to behave like a savage. Although he was only trying to help, Sombra had been in the wrong, at least a little so he was partially at fault. He didn't expect Twilight to explode at him like she did.

You DID tell her that she wasn't Spike's mother, he reminded himself ruefully. That was a cut too deep.

He really should've considered that fact in the beginning. The pair were practically inseparable, sharing an adoptive brother-sister or mother-son relationship that'd seen them through many a peril. Using their bond as a retort was wrong of Sombra and served as his primary regret for the argument. For whatever reason, Twilight pointing out that Spike wasn't Sombra's child enraged him so he'd retaliated, albeit in the stupidest, most conceivable way imaginable. He knew full-well that he wasn't the little dragon's father so why did that perfectly logical observation hurt as badly as it did?

"You know why, you idiot," Sombra muttered aloud. "You let him in. You let them all in."


"I don't know, maybe I overreacted?"

Twilight stared across the massive table in the Map Room, her head bowed and tail curled around herself. She fiddled with the ends of her tail, looking and feeling like a filly once again. Her friends were all gathered around her in their respective thrones, each one deliberating on the issue she'd presented them with. After everyone had arrived, she started from the beginning, relating the events of the story from beginning to end. Spike was even seated among their number, seeing as how he was an official Element-bearer and had more than earned his spot at the table.

Applejack was the first to speak: "Well, Ah don't know 'bout th' rest of y'll, but Ah think th' both of ya are at fault. Sombra should've talked t' ya first an' tha' jab 'bout ya was uncalled fer but ya definitely could've handled th' situation better."

"Really? Because I believe Twilight was in the right," Rarity affirmed. "When you are in a relationship, you have to set limits and there are certain boundaries that must not be crossed. Sombra was being inappropriate."

Rainbow Dash nodded at this. "Sombra was wrong. He shouldn't have been, uh,..."

"Presumptuous?" Rarity offered up.

"Yeah, that."

"But Twilight was being more aggressive," Fluttershy said softly. "Arguments are already intense enough but any act of aggression just makes the situation worse. It's like with bears or dogs. You never want to be the aggressor."

"Sombra needs to control his temper," Pinkie observed. "I mean, yeah, maybe Twilight was a bit harsh but he wasn't any better."

They all turned to Spike. He rubbed the back of his neck. "Uh, well...yeah, he sh-should've talked to Twilight first but he had no way of knowing that teaching me to fight would be considered a big deal. To him, it's a normal thing. You said so yourself, Twilight."

"I mean..." Twilight tapped her hooves together. "That is true. And he was just trying to help protect Spike..."

"Ya both should sit down an' talk this whole thing out. Ah'm sure it'll be water under th' bridge soon."

"I agree," Rarity stated. "But perhaps, Darling, you should have a mediator? You know, somepony to ensure that this doesn't happen again?"

Pinkie raised her hoof. "Ooo, ooo, I pick me!"

"No offense, Sugarcube, but they need somepony a bit more...uh, collective?"

"I think it should be Fluttershy," Spike suggested, one finger pointed upward. "She's the calmest one here and knows how to diffuse an argument."

"Yeah, that sounds like a safe bet," Rainbow concurred.

Fluttershy thought on this. "Oh, if you think so, then I'll do it."

The two arrived at Sombra's door, following the trail of black crystal clusters. This brought Twilight back to their first encounter with the Shadow King, back when he was just a mad, dark presence trying to reclaim the Crystal Heart. Shivers assaulted her form as she recalled passing through that cursed doorway and being confronted with her greatest fear, that Princess Celestia would see her as a disappointment and kick her out. Spike, who had also been exposed to the door's power, was tormented with visions of Twilight abandoning him, a scenario never even remotely possible. Thankfully, Princess Cadence and Shining Armor later had the curse dispelled by some royal mages during their exploration of the castle but this brought an interesting question to mind:

What is Sombra's greatest fear?

Focusing back on the task at hoof, Twilight raised a hoof and knocked.


The voice on the other end of the door was low but distinctively irritable.

"It's um, Fluttershy and Twilight. Could we come in please?"

A recognizable bubbling black aura surrounded the door and forced it open. Taking this as a nonverbal invitation, the mares carefully entered, the door creaking back into place and latching. They found Sombra seated in the wing chair, the bird-watching book opened in his hooves, eyes watching the two as they approached him. Calmly, he marked the page with a ribbon, slid the book onto the table, and tapped his forehooves together. Twilight teleported in a couch and the two wordlessly took their seats across from him, the air rife with tension.

Fluttershy lightly cleared her throat. "W-we're here to settle the argument that you two had earlier."

Sombra nodded somewhat stiffly. "Go on."

"Twilight told me what happened and I am here as a mediator. Twilight, would you like to go first?"

The purple mare took a breath. "Sombra, I don't want to fight anymore. If you wanted to give Spike combat training, then you should've asked me first, since I'm his guardian and he is my responsibility. And when you said..." She pushed her chest out. "That I wasn't his mother, it hurt. It seriously hurt. I know you didn't want to hurt me or go behind my back, and maybe I overreacted. From now on, if you make any decisions involving Spike, you first have to clear it with me. That being said, I'm sorry for freaking out."

Sombra's expression softened, his shoulders sagging.

Fluttershy smiled sweetly at him. "Sombra, is there anything that you want to say to Twilight?"

Sombra faced Twilight remorsefully. "I understand that...while my intentions were right, my method was not. You're right, I should've consulted you first. More importantly, however, my jab about your ties to Spike was unwarranted." He took one of Twilight's hooves in his own. "I never meant to hurt you. You're one of the few ponies that I'd never hurt, at least intentionally. I love you and I am so, so sorry. Can you forgive me?"

Rushing into his embrace, Twilight buried her face into his chest. "Of course I can."

Fluttershy placed both hooves over her muzzle to contain a happy squeak.

Noticing the pegasus, Sombra let out a semi-annoyed sigh and held a hoof out.

"Come on in."

Fluttershy let out a yip and gleefully accepted.

After all, who could pass up on a free group hug?

The Rift

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With the whole argument behind them, the three made their way to the Map Room, with Sombra following the mares. The casual observer would think that he was busy taking in the sights, as he turned his head back and forth to glance at the walls, but this was merely a part of the ex-king's mask. Contrary to his exterior, Sombra was, in fact, very nervous and a bit worried following the reconciliation. He was relieved that his and Twilight's issues were over and done with but couldn't shake the creeping feeling of dread dangling over his head like a sword attached to a single strand of hair. As much as he tried to deny it, there was no fighting the conclusion that Sombra was afraid.

This was the first time as a couple that he and Twilight had fought. Once anger had passed and hope vacated the premises, he'd become filled to the brim with apprehension, that he'd say or do something stupid enough to make Twilight reject him. The mere thought of this happening just added to his mounting sense of uneasiness. Normally, Sombra didn't care what others thought of him, regarding the opinions of ponies as inconsequential. Then again, Twilight wasn't just some pony.

Equestria could hate and fear him but as long as he had Cadence, Spike, and Twilight in his corner, then he could be content. The other Element-bearers were becoming more important as well, each one finding new ways of endearing themselves to him. Well, with the exception of Rainbow Dash. He received the impression that the pegasus didn't care much for him, nor could he really blame her, but he believed that he could still change her mind. Eventually.

They soon arrived at the "Map Room" that Twilight wrote to him about, a massive circular room surrounded by massive crystalline pillars stretching up to the ceiling. A chandelier of sprawling oak tree roots clung to the ceiling, shimmering rows of yellow, blue, violet and pink gems hanging from each limb. Just below, there was a large round table with seven white, high-backed thrones, all but two unoccupied by their respective owners. The table itself generated a glowing, three-dimensional map of Equestria, a map that apparently sometimes indicated where certain Bearers would go to solve a friendship problem. The other ponies-and Spike-put whatever conversation that they were having on hold and all turned towards the newcomers, their interests piqued by the sight of all three ponies together.

"Is everythin' awright between y'all now?" Applejack looked to each of their faces.

Fluttershy nodded. "Yep. We were able to make peace."

"It was a lot easier than I thought it'd be," Twilight admitted as both she and Fluttershy took their seats.

Sombra, meanwhile, remained in the doorway.

Perhaps it'd be better if I stayed here. It'll avoid future issues.

Rarity stared at him uncertainly. "Sombra? Would you like a seat?"

"No, I'm alright."

"Are you sure?" Twilight asked. "It'd be no trouble."

"I'm fine, thank you."

"See? He's okay." Rainbow Dash folded her forearms across her chest. "He's a big stallion."

Sombra wasn't quite certain if she was being indignant or complimentary.

"Um, okay. If you're sure," Twilight said, not a hundred-percent convinced. "Ahem, so was there any activity on the map while Fluttershy and I were away?"

Applejack shook her head. "Ev'rything's as peaceful as uh cat in a basket full o' yarn."

"Cats do like lying in yarn," Rarity observed.

A three-tone crashing sound reverberated through the castle. Twilight was instantly on her hooves.

"I'll see who it is."


She vanished in a flash of raspberry, reappearing a minute later.

"It's the cadre of royal guards that Princess Celestia sent. Spike, go pack your things. I don't know how long you'll be in Canterlot for but I'll wager that it'll be at least a month or two."

"Okay." He gave her tight hug. "Promise you'll be there soon?"

"Pinkie Promise."

After bidding everyone goodbye, Spike stopped in front of Sombra.

"I guess I'll see you later, huh?"

Bending down, Sombra smiled at him softly and rubbed his scalp.

"You'll see me around. I can guarantee it."

Sombra jumped slightly at the feeling of a small scaly body pressed up against his barrel. The pleasant, warm tightness in his chest was present once again, this time stronger than before. Reluctantly, he placed a foreleg around Spike and drew him into his embrace. Little by little, Sombra's anxiety was chipped away, leaving only a tiny nugget. It was amazing how much of a difference a simple gesture like a hug made.

Spike pulled away and Sombra almost wished that he hadn't. He gave Sombra one last reassuring look before walking away and turning the corner, disappearing from sight. Sombra rose to his full height, his mask of indifference slipped back firmly into place. He wasn't concerned; he could pop in to visit Spike any time he wanted as security around the castle was absolutely lackluster in his opinion. He'd dealt with the Royal Guard before and wasn't impressed.

"What do we do now?" Fluttershy inquired.

Inspiration struck Rarity like a lightning bolt. "Ideaaaa! Why don' we go on a picnic? I happen to know of a very nice spot that I happened to have discovered while on one of my gem hunts with Spike."

"That sounds like uh real good idea there, Rarity. Ah'll bring some o' mah family's special apple fritters, apple strudels, apple turnovers, apple cobbler..."

"Please say 'cider', please say 'cider'," Rainbow Dash muttered hopefully.

" chips, applesauce cake, some cider..."

"Yes! I love you!"

Applejack jerked her head around. "Wha was tha'?"

Rainbow's cheeks were a bright red. "Um, I love's food products. That-that's all I meant."

"That sounds like fun!" Pinkie cheered, literally jumping for joy. "Ooo, I'll bring my patented Super-Secret Party Preparedness KitTM!"

"'Super-Secret Party Preparedness KitTM'?" Sombra asked.

Pinkie gasped, then appeared right in front of him. "Who told you about that?! Was it Gummy?"

Sombra stared queerly at her. "You did. Just now."

"Riiiiight. I'm watching you, Buster."

"What do you think?" Twilight smiled up at Sombra.

"That sounds..."

Twilight's shimmering violet orbs, coupled with the expectant stares of the five other mares made saying no a virtually impossible task. Sombra mustered up as much enthusiasm as he could.

"That sounds good."

Pinkie threw a foreleg around Sombra and Twilight's necks.

"Cool beans!"


The six mares, along with Sombra, gathered together to see Spike off. A gilded carriage drawn by a team of four pegasi had arrived, along with four unicorn guards for additional security. Seeing as how Sombra was still a wanted fugitive, he wore his Guess Who disguise, the glamour completely fooling the guards, who took no notice of the stallion. Instead, two guards loaded up the carriage with Spike's luggage, all the while keenly scouring the area for any potential threats. Spike climbed in and was quickly followed by his guards, two seated across from him and two on either side.

The carriage soon took off, with Spike waving goodbye while Twilight watched him with some measure of trepidation. It wasn't that she was doubtful of the princesses' qualifications as caregivers but rather for whatever new developments they'd soon have to give her regarding his new magical capabilities. This was, after all, uncharted territory for all parties involved. Dragons weren't known for their prowess in the mystical arts, lacking even a basic command of arcane abilities like energy manipulation or spatial displacement. The Bloodstone Scepter, the symbol of power amongst the draconic race, had, in fact, been crafted by a unicorn mage for the very first Dragon Lord, thus uniting the dragons under a single monarch for the next sixty-seven years and establishing their brutal system of succession.

Please stay safe, Spike. You'll be alright. You have to be.

The carriage soon became a dot in the sky when Twilight felt a large hoof caressing her shoulder. Sombra dropped his glamour and smiled at her with his own face. Her expression mirrored his own, her heart racing at his touch and gaze and appreciative for his support. She was just over the moon to have things return to normal, well, their version of normal, and that she and Sombra were no longer mad at one another. Oh, Twilight had no delusions that everything would be hunky-dory, that they'd find something else stupid to fight about but for now, they were going to be okay.

"Come on, everypony. Let's get going."

With their picnic supplies in tow, the septet followed Rarity through town, onlookers curiously observing the group, particularly Sombra, with great interest. Twilight looked up at Sombra's stoic countenance for any micro-tics but found none, leading her to conclude that he wasn't experiencing any sort of distress. Then again, despite her own unique insight into his facial expressions, Twilight's expertise wasn't one-hundred-percent and she didn't always have a clue as to his inner thoughts. His red eyes peeked down at her and a slight smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. This gave Twilight some comfort and she let the issue go, content to enjoy the day with her friends and coltfriend.

The sun shone brightly in the cloudless, clear-blue sky, the temperature warm but thankfully not stifling. A gentle breeze danced playfully across the fields of grass and through Twilight's coat and mane. The only real damper on such a gorgeous day was that Spike wasn't there to enjoy it with them but at least he was somewhere equally splendid to appreciate the weather. They soon arrived at a clearing west of the Everfree Forest, the grass a crisp green and a nearby old tree providing the ideal level of shade. Twilight levitated out a picnic blanket as her companions set up the other supplies.

Rarity popped open a beach umbrella, even though the tree would provide more than adequate cover from the sun. Meanwhile, Applejack unhitched herself from the cart she'd been towing and threw off the tarp, the multitudinous scents of various apple products wafting pleasantly in the air around us. Rainbow stopped setting up her deck chair to hungrily eye the apple pie over Applejack's shoulder, though for some reason, her gaze steadily dropped to something at the farm-mare's hind hooves. Fluttershy placed a wicker picnic basket on the blanket and withdrew various types of nuts and clumps of bread that were, unsurprisingly, for the little array of critters that'd begun to crowd around her. Pinkie withdrew a rectangular wooden chest...from wherever she regularly summoned objects from and unlatched it, opening both lids and pulling up a series of small retractable shelves full of kazoos, glow sticks, party horns, containers of confetti, plastic baggies of balloons, and other tools of her trade.

So THIS is Pinkie's "Super-Secret Party Preparedness KitTM". I'd expect nothing less.

Twilight gave a bemused shake of the head, then spotted Sombra...just standing there.


She trotted over to his side, finding him staring vacantly into space. Sombra moved not a muscle, standing as rigidly still as a statue, with only the occasional eye-blink giving away his status as a living being. His expression was one of melancholic longing, eyes filling up with tears at whatever it was that was capturing his attention. It was then that Twilight remembered the dream-world that Midnight Sparkle had constructed for him, how thoroughly lost he was in the fantasy and how the two lifetimes of memories clashed with one another. Gently, she nudged his foreleg.

"Hello? Sombra? Just nod if you can hear me."

There a little jolt and Sombra awoke as if he'd been asleep and peered down at Twilight.

"Hmm? What's going on?"

"Are you alright? You kind of spaced out."

Sombra shook his head. "Yes, sorry, I was just...I had a vision of our children playing over there. I mean, the children that we had in my dream."

Twilight caressed his foreleg. "Does this happen often?"

"Here and there. Do you still have memories of Midnight and Luna's life?"

She hated the fact that he was deflecting. As open and honest as Sombra was with her, there were still many things that Twilight didn't know about him, personal details that he kept to himself as though his very existence depended on it. Getting Sombra to talk about his past was like pulling teeth and he treated it as such. Why was he doing this now? Didn't he know that he could trust her?

Still, he was initiating a conversation about what was going on with her, so it wasn't a total loss.

"I...still remember some things. This morning, I could've told you what Luna received for her eleventh birthday party but now I can't for the life of me remember."

Sombra nodded. "That's good. It means that you're recovering. Eventually, the memories will fade."

"I hope so. Come on, let's join the others."

They all gathered in a circle on the picnic blanket and began passing food around. Twilight was surprised to see that Sombra was sitting right amongst them, given his prior reticence with being in the group. It seemed as though he was becoming more comfortable around her friends and it filled her heart with such warm pride. Curiously, she found Rainbow and Applejack occasionally stealing quick glances when the other wasn't looking. Did something happen between them?

"Hey Sombra!" Pinkie practically shouted, even though Sombra was seated right across from her.


"What's the difference between a piano and a fish?"

"One is a musical instrument and the other a living being?"

"It's a joke, silly! Anyway," she began snickering. "You can tune a piano...but you can't...tune-a fish!"

Everyone leaned forward to watch Sombra's reaction. At first, he merely stared at the mare hysterically laughing on the ground with his regular, austere frown. Then, slowly, his facial muscles began to quiver, the edges of his lips folding upward as he snorted and released a low chuckle. This ultimately culminated in a full-on belly-laugh that evolved into mad chortling. The transformation was like a rare scientific study, a phenomenon that one couldn't look away from.

Once the two had regained their respective breaths, Pinkie wiped her brow and asked him, "Do you know any jokes?"

Sombra paused, scratching his head. "Hmm, let me see. Ah yes, I remember. Ahem, there was once a rather portly merchant who was traveling to a small town one evening when he noticed that the gates were ready to close. He asked a nearby peasant, 'Do you think I will be able to get through the gate?' Of course, he meant entering the town before it was closed but the peasant, noticing the stallion's weight, replied, 'They fit a full wagon of hay; why shouldn't you as well?'"

To his credit, this earned him chuckles all around, except for Pinkie, who was once more seized by a fit of manic laughter. He smiled in Twilight's direction and she returned it, believing that this was the start to his progression into their social circle. More than that, however, his reformation and eventual acceptance by the rest of Ponyville and later, Equestria. He reached for her hoof and she gave it to him, releasing a small, content sigh. Nothing could be more perfect...

Suddenly, several shapes charged in and formed a living ring around them. Ten especially nasty-looking, bipedal canines growled as the ring tightened, their grim faces set in toothy scowls. Unlike the diamond dogs that had kidnapped Rarity, these ones appeared to be truly malevolent, ill intention rather than mere greed shining in their large eyes. They were armed with daggers, maces, and other vile weapons and looked more than ready to use them. Two of the ruffians stepped aside and the biggest diamond dog the ponies had ever seen entered the circle, a wicked grin flashing at them.

He was covered in a thin, blue-black coat with a rust-red underbelly and his tall, pointed ears stood erect upon his head. A jagged scar raced right-to-left across his face and was decorated with several ovular metal plates. He was dressed in a filthy, dark blue overcoat and a pair of baggy brown trousers frayed at the edges and held in place with several belts. One iron tooth jutted out of his bottom jaw and was polished so that Twilight could see her reflection. He hefted a long-handled spiked club and rested it on his shoulder, clawed fingers drumming against the wood.

"You will give us whatever you have or else ponies will get hurt, yessss?" He hissed, the iron tooth wiggling with every syllable uttered. "You all understand what I am saying, yesss?"

Fluttershy gave him an uneasy grin.

"We have food, if that is what you want-..."

Iron Tooth cut her off with a snarl.

"We don't want food! Give us gold, give us gems, or else ponies get hurt, yesss?"

Twilight cleared her throat. "Excuse me but my name is Twilight Sparkle, Princess of Friendship. My friends and I were just having a quiet picnic and don't want any trouble. I am more than happy to negotiate."

The diamond dogs began jeering until Iron Tooth held up a paw.

"What does Princess Pony mean by...'nee-go-shee-ate'?"

"Twilight..." Sombra began but she ignored him.

"We could come to some understanding without there needing to be a fight. We don't have anything of value to give you but I'm sure we could work out a deal."

Iron Tooth considered this with an audible "Hmm." He then nodded and gave her a maligned smirk.

"Here is deal: Princess Pony come with us. The rest of you, we will crush your skulls like bugs under rocks."

"I have a better suggestion..."

A black, toxic beam shot out and slammed into Iron Tooth's face, propelling him backwards and into two of the diamond dogs behind him, sending all three flying. Shifting into his shadow-form, Sombra took a sharp left turn and careened into two more bandits, tossing them aside like bowling pins. With a duck, Applejack spun around and delivered a two-legged kick to a bandit, knocking him out cold. Soaring straight up, Rainbow Dash performed a corkscrew spin and laid out a diamond dog before he could even raise his axe. A rotund bandit giggled and cornered Pinkie Pie, who merely glared at him.

"Be good little pony and let me hit you with my sword."

Reaching into her Super-Secret Preparedness Party KitTM, Pinkie withdrew a small cannon and fired, pelting the bandit with a blast of confetti that launched him screaming fifty feet into the air. She then blew the smoke out of the barrel and grimaced, twirling the cannon before slipping it back into the chest.

"Good, bad, I'm the mare with the party cannon."

Twirling her umbrella around, Rarity beat one diamond dog over the head repeatedly, ignoring his protests.

"Take! That! You! Brute!" She enunciated with every blow.

"Ow, stop, quit it! Ow, please!"

A diamond dog snatched up a squirrel and pointed his mallet at Fluttershy.

"Come closer and rodent gets it!"

The squirrel tearfully pleaded with its wide-eyed gaze.


Fluttershy unleashed the full power of The Stare, causing the unfortunate diamond dog to turn tail and scamper off as fast as he could. She then held the terrified squirrel to her chest and gently stroked its back.

"There, there. You're safe now. I'm so sorry you had to see that."

Dodging a right hook, Twilight spun and zapped her attacker, hitting him with an immobilization spell that left him paralyzed but conscious. Another diamond dog whipped a length of chain at her but she managed to catch it in time and clock him with a well-placed kick. Sombra returned to his pony form and after teleporting a bandit away, flashed Twilight a cocky grin.

"Aren't you going to try and be more diplomatic?"

"Don't start," Twilight huffed, enchanting a charging diamond dog's fist so that it pummeled its owner.

Before long, only the seven ponies were left standing, the pack of diamond dogs either beaten into submission or fled the scene altogether. The clearing was now a site of torn glass, smoking earth, trampled food, and unconscious diamond dogs. Applejack's cart had been smashed, Rarity's umbrella dented and ripped, and Pinkie's cake crushed into an inedible mush. They all regrouped at the tattered remains of the picnic blanket, staring around at the devastation they'd caused and the ruination of their good time. None of them saw it coming and yet, considering the mixed-up occurrences that went on, it really wasn't that surprising once the hindsight settled in.

"Is everyone okay?" Twilight asked.

"Ah think so."


"Mr. Squeakers and I are fine."

"I'm alright, but I think I chipped a hoof."

Pinkie knelt before the cake and sniffled. "Why do the innocent have to suffer?"

"That was bracing," Sombra commented. "I didn't know you had diamond dogs out this way."

"We don't, at least not usually," Twilight frowned. "This is way outside of their usual territorial perimeters. They're also miners, not brigands. Something drove them out here."

"The coming darkness..." Sombra murmured.


Iron Tooth, having recovered from his tumble, leapt forward and clamped his jaws tightly around Applejack's right hindleg. She frantically kicked at Iron Tooth's head with her good leg, trying but failing to dislodge him. This only made him bite down harder and Applejack's strikes became less impactful as the pain began to set in. The others rushed to her aid, each taking turns punching and kicking the diamond dog until he finally released her. Rainbow hauled Applejack away and propped her up, putting all of the farm-mare's weight onto herself.

"You okay, AJ?"

"Ah...Ah think so. Ah don't think nothing's broken..."

Twilight winced at the bite. "I don't think it is but you need first aid. Rainbow, fly her to-..."


They all turned at Fluttershy's scream, finding Iron Tooth suspended in mid-air, a black aura crackling around his neck. He began wildly kicking, paws grasping at his throat while his assailant glared venomously up at him. Twilight's blood froze in her veins at the sight, her heart skipping a beat. Breaking out of her fugue, a distraught Twilight rushed over to Sombra, who seemed not to notice her presence. His eyes burned with green light, purple wisps curling around them.

"Sombra, please, stop!"

"Þú ömurlega litla slím!" He growled with a malevolent echo to his voice. "You will suffer for this..."

The aura tightened around Iron Tooth's neck, a horrid gagging sound emitting from his lips.

"Sombra, release him! Now!"

Finally, Sombra turned and acknowledged Twilight's presence.

"As you wish."

Iron Tooth plummeted to the ground, gasping and sputtering as he refilled his lungs.

"Get out of here! And never come back!"

Nodding, Iron Tooth dropped to all fours and dashed away.

Sombra now faced Twilight, the green retreating from his eyes before the purple mist evaporated.

"What is wrong with you?!" Twilight was in total disbelief. "You could've killed him!"

"And nothing of value would be lost," Sombra replied icily. "He would've deserved it."

Twilight jabbed a hoof at him. "Who are you to decide that? Huh?!" She swept her foreleg to indicate her friends behind her. "We are the ones who keep the peace. You can't just do whatever you want, whenever you want! There are rules! There's the law!"

Sombra's brow furrowed. "So, what, you give these low-lives a slap on the wrist and a scolding? They're bandits! Who knows how many innocent ponies they're harmed. You jail them, they get out, and just do the exact same thing again! I'm stopping that from happening!"

"It isn't right! You can't do things like that. It's not the way!"

"Perhaps it should be."

Twilight's heart felt like lead in her chest.

"Leave. I want you to get out of here."

The umbrum's face dropped. His self-righteous callousness was replaced with incredulity and, more tellingly, pure, abject fear. He then became aware of the other mares, looking from each face to find anger, disgust, shock, or some mixture of the three. Sombra returned his gaze to Twilight.

"Twilight," he started with a noticeable tremor in his tone. " don't mean that..."


Sombra swallowed with a click, his breathing heavy and eyes moist.

"I will..."

He bowed his head and was gone in an explosion of darkness.

Tipping the Scales

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Deep within the Everfree Forest, where even the most dangerous of its fauna refused to tread, a cloud of inky blackness materialized, fading away to reveal a gray stallion in a blood-red cloak. Sombra stepped from out of the canopy of trees and into a small ray of sunlight, every pore of his body radiating pure ire. He huffed deep breathes from his fanged mouth, the rage wrapped tightly around his heart like adamantine cable. One minute, he was in a state of bliss and joy, then the next minute, he was being screamed at and banished by the one he thought was on his side. Sombra's hooves dug into the soft red-brown earth, little black crystals sprouting up and being crushed underhoof.

How could Twilight do this to him?! He wasn't wrong; he couldn't be! That iron-toothed mutt had no doubt assaulted and robbed many unsuspecting ponies with his little pack of bandits many times. No lecture on the values of friendship or a seat in time-out would fix that. Some beings were just rotten to the core and the only cure was to cut off the branch to save the rest of the tree.

Curse Twilight! Her and her soft, weak-willed, bleeding-heart cohorts!

With a roar, Sombra blasted apart a large rock, pulverizing it into pieces. He whirled around and gave the same treatment to a tree, smashing apart a good portion of the trunk and littering the dirt with smoldering wooden splinters. Green and purple flames erupted all around him in geysers, their white-hot intensity matching his own mood. Crystalline pillars spearheaded out of the ground to create a rudimentary shelter from the accursed sun. The air was thick with dark magic, so much so that the average pony would be spasming from so much raw negative energy.

A glint of light caught Sombra's attention and he spun to obliterate whatever it was, only to discover a small pond glittering in front of him. Glancing into its leaf-strewn surface, he found an enraged face glaring back, the whites of the eyes replaced with grayish green light. Wisps of violet haze waved from their edges like vipers, the stallion's mouth trapped in a fanged grimace of rage, challenging any living or nonliving thing to try and take him down. His horn, a curved, blood-red appendage, hummed with a black aura, little violet and green bubbles popping and crackling within its depths. Sombra stared long and hard at his reflection, the frustration and outrage dissipating until only shame remained.

It wasn't Twilight. Or anyone else. Only...only me...

"It was me," he stated remorsefully. "Faust, what have I done?"

Crashing onto his backside, Sombra hung his head, giving it a good shake as the realization crushed him. How could he have been so foolish?! Things didn't go sour until he made them that way, his actions causing Twilight to cast him out. Something scratched against his coat and he remembered the red envelope he'd pulled from the gift basket. His interest piqued, Sombra removed the envelope and tore it open, finding a sheet of snow-white paper written in Twilight's small but still tidy and legible hoof-writing. In fact, he could almost hear Twilight reading every line:

Dear Sombra,

I can't begin to tell you how happy ecstatic I am that you're here! I know things were, well, a bit tense since the last time we saw each other, what with me being possessed by an angry spirit and you being trapped in an illusory dream-world, but hopefully we can begin to move past all of that. My friends filled me in on their experiences working with you and while some of it is a bit negative, especially from Rainbow Dash, it does my heart so well to hear that you're all making an effort to be friends. I know this isn't easy for you. You've spent so much time alone, both before, during, and after your thousand-year imprisonment.

I don't even want to imagine what that was like for you. You're different from us, in more ways than one, but I still believe that there's hope for you. You're trying to change, to open up and let others in and I'm so proud of you for that. Progress is often a slow journey so I don't expect you to skip and dance through Ponyville but I can almost see the day that we can all live together without there being any strife. There is a chance that ponies may never like or accept you but there's an even bigger chance that at least many of them will and that's a chance worth hoping for.

I know these next few days are going to be tricky but I also know that they'll be fun! I'm looking forward to all of the good times you and I are going to have. Just please try to include yourself in more activities and be more civil with my friends. They're making an effort to make adjustments around you and you should too. Who knows? Maybe one day we'll all look back on this and laugh.

Here's to making new memories!

Twilight Sparkle

Pain shot through Sombra's chest, his magic faltering and almost dropping the letter. Exhaling heavily through his nostrils, he carefully folded the letter back up, set it inside the envelope and slipped it back into his cloak pocket. The air seemed to grow heavy and cold, Sombra's thick coat no longer protecting him from the chill that raced down his spine. Twilight had such hope and optimism for the future, one where Sombra and her friends could all live together in harmony, regardless of whatever crimes he'd committed in the past. Despite everything that Sombra did, she still believed in him.

No matter what you do, they will never accept you.

"Shut up."

Or is it they can't accept you because you can't accept yourself?

"I don't want to hear this!"

Deep down, you know you're nothing. Less than nothing.

Sombra raised a hoof and gave himself a good, hard smack. His cheek stung but the voice was gone. Deciding that one wasn't enough, he slapped the opposite cheek just as hard. He then threw himself onto the ground, smashing his face into the dirt. It hurt and would've been humiliating if he'd had an audience but it didn't matter at the moment. The pain was familiar, a constant in his life that made it all real but more importantly, he did this for one simple reason:

He deserved it.

Pain, humiliation, heartbreak, Sombra deserved all of it and more. How could a stallion that thought so highly of himself also believe that he was a miserable wretch? Sombra stopped his self-torment and simply laid there, too tired to move or think. What was the point of returning back from the dead if he had no real purpose anymore? Was this to be his existence, to be a wanted fugitive alone and unloved?

He thought back to his previous meeting with Primrose the Prescient and how she was convinced that he required the Scales of Taijitu. Something that could purge the darkness from him...could it be? Perhaps this was what the old mare had foreseen. She knew that he'd muck things up and that he'd use the Scales to make things right. Sombra couldn't live a normal life with Twilight, not the way that he was now, so this could be the solution.

But am I really prepared to abandon everything that I am just to please someone else?

Sombra was admittedly rather clueless when it came to matters of the heart. He'd been married once, which ended horribly, to say the least, and had a marefriend much, much, much younger than himself, and happened to be a national hero. What he needed was an expert, someone to guide him towards a solution. And he just so happened to know one. This was only other pony that Sombra trusted and was certain that she could help provide him with an answer.


Once the meeting with the heads of the Crystal Empire Merchant's Guild concluded, Princess Cadence slumped back in her throne and massaged her temples. Apparently there had been some disagreements between the food vendors and the clothing vendors over a space in the market for distribution. They both claimed ownership over the space, which was an ideal location for business and needed her aid in settling the matter. She told, no ordered them to share the spot, that both groups would sell their respective wares next to one another and that it was non-negotiable. Bowing deeply, the stallions thanked her for her "wisdom and decisiveness" and promptly left, though obviously displeased by the princess' ruling.

Cadence peered out the nearby window and idly wished that Shining Armor was with her, his forelegs around her and his shoulder propping up her aching head. Sadly, he was currently overseeing drills with the Crystal Empire Infantry and would've be available for at least another two hours. She pouted, frustrated at not getting cuddle time with her Shiny and being made to wait for it. A light smile tugged at her lips at imagining how Shining was handling this, as he loved cuddle time even more than she did. Perhaps the next few meetings would fly by really quickly and they'd be cuddling in no time.

Yeah, and flash bees will fly out of my ears.

"Your Highness?" A light yellow crystal pony bowed before her.

"Yes, Ivory Rook?"

"King...Sombra is here to see you. It appears to be urgent."

Cadence immediately sat up in her throne.

"He is? Ahem, please send him in."

The idea of Sombra dropping in unexpectedly was, well, expectant, and a move he'd made before, namely his infiltration of the castle and holding Cadence hostage. However, other than a few letters, neither she nor Shining Armor had seen or heard from him in months, not since the Midnight Sparkle event. She at least had to give him credit for coming to see her in an official capacity rather than simply sneaking in. Cadence was actually looking forward to speaking with Sombra; in spite of everything that'd happened between them, he was still her father and insisted upon building a relationship between the two of them. How many stallions would do the same?

The throne room's doors slid open with a soft tinkling-scrape. Several royal guards stood vigilant on either side of the hallway, each one of them flinching slightly as a familiar stallion mechanically strode forward. Given Sombra's dark history with the crystal ponies, it wasn't a surprise that many of them still held a degree of fear and suspicion towards him. Thankfully, the sight of the ex-tyrant fighting side-by-side with the princesses alleviated some of that abhorrence, though mistrust still ran rampant amongst the populace, their opinions still at a crossroads comparing the two sides of their former king. Perhaps in due time, the Crystal Empire might forget its past traumas and learn to forgive Sombra, a prospect Cadence would very much like to become a reality.

Sombra steadily approached the dais and several alarms went off in Cadence's head, her mind in disbelief at the sight before her. Even in his lowest moments, Sombra carried himself with a quiet but assertive dignity, a certain veneer of confidence that was now absent in the stallion's slower, plodding stride. His face, usually a mask of cool indifference, was twisted into a forlorn expression of absolute misery, one that Cadence was reluctant to term "pathetic" but had no other word to describe it. His cheeks were bruised, possibly the result of a brawl, and he stared pitifully up at her through baggy eyelids and bloodshot eyes. Had he been crying?

"Sombra, what happened?"

Leaping to her hooves, Cadence rushed down the stairs and up to Sombra, skidding to a stop and taking a couple steps back. The umbrum managed a small smile but it was too melancholic to elicit any kind of mirth. He then abruptly dashed forward and anyone else in Cadence's shoes would've mistaken this for an attack but instead, wrapped his considerably longer forelegs around her. The two had never actually had any physical contact before so this was entirely new territory for Cadence and seemed completely uncharacteristic for Sombra's typical aloofness. Awkwardly, she snaked her forelegs around his shoulders, both left baffled by the situation and trying to properly hug the much larger pony.

The guards, who had readied their spears and began to race towards them, all froze at the sight of the pair embracing and it wasn't until Cadence shooed them away that they returned to their respective posts. Considering the truth of Cadence's parentage was still not public knowledge, this would no doubt raise some serious questions but she remained confident in her guards' loyalty and could rely on them to be discreet. Cadence sighed, a slew of new emotions bubbling up as Sombra squeezed her a little tighter. The experience of such affection from her birth father actually made her eyes mist up and she blinked away the tears that'd gathered as a result. She could feel that something was wrong with him, detecting sorrow, rage, self-loathing, and even fear radiating off of him like steam.

"I had to come see you," Sombra muttered rather coltishly.

"Did...something happen?"

Slowly releasing her, Sombra nodded and Cadence showed him to the bottom step of the dais. There, they sat side-by-side, with Cadence listening intently as Sombra related to her his tale, starting with his correspondence with Twilight and her invitation to Ponyville. From then, he went into detail about the following events: an attempt at training Spike basic combat, the ensuing argument with Twilight, their reconciliation, the picnic, the diamond dog attack, and Sombra's expulsion. He obviously left some details out and flat-out ignored Cadence's questions about the source of his bruises. She doubted that he received them in the scuffle with the diamond dogs, having personally seen him in action and witnessed the might of his prowess in the forbidden arts.

Being the Princess of Love and a pacifist, Cadence was appalled by Sombra's blatant disregard for life and his attempt at "punishing" the diamond dogs' leader. On the other hoof, her more empathetic side conceded that he came from a more barbaric time where one could pursue their own brand of justice and although she didn't agree with it, she could still understand his point of view. For the second time since they'd met, Cadence saw the vulnerability that Sombra usually kept hidden, perhaps in fear of appearing weak or feeble. Unlike the first time, where it was his loneliness and desperation to have a deep connection with another, this was Sombra at his most despondent, a pony whose mental and emotional well-being may very well be hanging from a frayed piece of rope. How he managed to keep functioning after years of mental anguish and no psychiatric treatment was a mystery but Cadence feared that he was just one more bad day away from snapping altogether.

"...and so, I came here."

Cadence nodded. "Okay, I understand that you needed somepony to confide in but why not Auntie Luna?"

"Because I needed someone to help me in matters of the heart and who else but the Princess of Love and a happily married mare could I turn to?"

"Fair point. So how can I help?"

Sombra stared out at the throne room wistfully.

"Cadence, how much do you love Shining Armor?"


He sighed, "Would you do anything to make it work with him, even if it meant...changing certain parts of yourself?"

It was a question that Cadence had never been asked nor ever considered.

"Well," she began, trying to find the right way to word her response. "Being in a relationship means a lot of give-and-take. You have to be prepared to make compromises, even if it means doing things you don't necessarily like. I love Shiny and I would do anything if it meant keeping him in my life."

Nodding at this, Sombra then asked, "Are you by any chance adept at riddles?"

When Cadence was eleven or twelve, her parents, that is, her adoptive parents, gave her a book of puzzles and riddles. She became rather good at them, especially when it came to the riddles and square number-placement puzzles. This grew into a love for mystery novels and solving brainteasers and trivia questions in the newspaper. Why Sombra needed a riddle solved when he was having relationship issues was beyond her but the look in his eyes made him seem very desperate. Could it be in some way related to helping him smooth things over with Twilight?

"I dabble a bit. What's the riddle?"

"Always chasing, yet always chased,
Has no legs, but will always race
Always full, yet never spills
Always young but over-the-hill."

Cadence frowned, taking it apart and reassembling the pieces. "Oh I see. The answer is the moon."

"The moon?"

"That's what it sounds like."

Sombra rose to his hooves. "The moon...yes, and tonight happens to be a full moon. And the type of enchantment on the map could be lunar magic-based."

"I'm sorry, 'map'?"

"Thank you, Cadence! I promise I'll be back for another visit."

He swiftly gave her another hug and, dissolving into a black cloud, shot out of the room and streaked through the hallway, startling the already on-edge guards.

Cadence merely shook her head in confusion.

"What in Faust's name was that all about?"


For the first time since the post-diamond dog skirmish, Sombra felt rejuvenated. Of course the answer was "the moon"! It was no coincidence that Primrose gave him a seemingly blank map and a riddle when a full moon was approaching. The sly old mare had foreseen all of this and now armed with this new information, the Scales of Taijitu were nearly in Sombra's grasp. Who knows, maybe Primrose even found the Scales, hid them, created the map and waited for Sombra to arrive and claim it.

One can never be certain of a seer's motivations.

Steadily, he climbed up the mountain, his shadow-form impervious to the frigid temperature and biting winds of the Frozen North. Arriving near the summit, Sombra re-materialized and took in the bone-white landscape, the wind slapping his cloak around like a cat with a ball of yarn. He'd spent the past few hours in the Crystal Empire marketplace, perusing the various vendors' booths and sampling their wares, even chatting with a few ponies. They were still skittish around him but similar to the residents of Ponyville, were less frightened and more uncertain about the right way to approach him. They'd actually seen him aiding the princesses in battle against a powerful foe, fighting by their sides and ultimately helping to save Equestria in the process, something that none of them would've ever dreamed of occurring yet it did all the same.

Sombra took in the sights, acquainting himself with the modern-day empire and its inhabitants and simply relaxing. He enjoyed some funnel cake, watched a puppet show, and even saw a mare with white face paint and stripped sweater pulling a length of invisible rope and pretending to be trapped inside of an imaginary box. Admittedly, that last one was boring and a tad baffling in his eyes. Was that really supposed to count as entertainment? Any simpleton could do that at home for free and yet ponies clapped and threw their hard-earned bits into the mare's hat, no day paying for lunch for the next few weeks.

Perhaps I'm just getting old and cynical. Well, more cynical.

The rest of the time was spent meandering the city, no clear destination in mind, just wandering for the sake of wandering. He'd once read that "not all who wander are lost," a nice little sentiment from a book written by a J.R.R. Foalkien that he'd enjoyed quite immensely but felt a bit unnerved by the descriptions of the book's main antagonist. Sombra watched the crystal ponies just live their lives, doing menial chores, talking to neighbors, playing with their offspring. He envied them, envied their joy and contentment but couldn't bring himself to hate them. Once upon a time, he would've done anything to destroy their happiness just out of spite but he wasn't the same stallion that he was then.

The price of his hatred and revenge had simply been too high.

He stood peering down the mountainside, his breath curling out in little clouds of steam. The average pony would've been freezing up there and while Sombra indeed felt the cold, his magic, along with a larger frame and thicker coat kept him more insulated against the harsh elements. Night had since fallen, the fields of snow deprived of their daytime luster but no less solid and cold. The moon's soft glow illuminated the surrounding area and Sombra unfolded the map, ensuring that its surface was within the rays of light beaming down from the heavens. A part of Sombra screamed at him to cease this foolishness, to return to his apartment and forget the whole thing but he quashed it.

If this is what it will take to have a normal life with Twilight, then so be it.

A gentle silvery luminescence engulfed the map's blank surface, the hum of magic radiating off of the parchment and into Sombra's flesh and bones. Light blue sparks danced along the parchment, forming lines and curves that soon developed into sketches of borders and forests. He could see the Crystal Empire and the expanse of the Frozen North, the rapids of Neighagra Falls and the peaks of Griffonstone. Canterlot was soon etched into being, with its mountainside castle and massive waterfall. Down at the very bottom of Solaris Falls, a golden ring appeared, encircling the mountain's base and pointing to the series of caves that were situated behind the waterfall and feed into a series of subterranean tunnels.

"Now I have a destination," Sombra noted and assumed his shadow form.

It'd taken a few hours but he finally arrived at the base of Mount Concordia, or "Canterlot Mountain" as it was more commonly known. Of course the sanctimonious sow had a mountain named after her; it was the only thing bigger than her ego. Had Sombra retained his wings and alicorn status, he could've easily teleported there but even with his skill and experience, such a feat would've been too taxing on his body and magical reserves. He suspected that there might be traps or fierce guardians protecting the Scales and he needed every tool at his disposal to confront them. The idea of a challenge actually brought a smile to his face and he found himself looking forward to whatever was waiting for him.

Navigating his way around the roaring falls, Sombra consulted the map and found a golden arrow pointing to the middle cavern. Using a scanning spell, he found no evidence of any booby traps and proceeded into the mouth of the cave, albeit with some degree of caution. "The viper always looks peaceful just before it strikes," Grimoire once told him and though it was pertaining more to illusions, he found it just as apt here as well. Being on his own for so long made Sombra cautious and this kept him alive. It would seem Twilight and her friends' influence may've made him a bit too careless.

Do I really regret being around them?

Sombra let the query hang in favor of searching for clues to lead him to the scales, his eyes carefully inspecting every crack and crevice that his flashlight's beam fell upon. He focused and released a wave of fluctuating energy rings, sending them barreling through the cavern and out of sight. This was a spell designed to detect concealment enchantments and sure enough, the rings came bouncing back with a high-pitched warble, their color changed from black and purple to a yellowish-orange hue. He followed the pulsating rings, hanging a sharp left and soon entered a small cavern, where the glowing rings were flashing the strongest against the farthest wall. Placing the tip of his horn against the pockmarked surface, he sent some of his magic into the wall and was rewarded when a secret door rumbled upward, revealing a hidden antechamber.

A dais shaped like a rounded step pyramid stood in the center of the chamber, its faces covered in what Sombra recognized as Chineighse symbols but had no idea what they meant. Resting atop the dais was a pair of golden balance scales being held by a foot-high statuette of a kneeling ox, one half of his face a passive smile, the other a dismissive sneer. On his belly was a unique pattern consisting of two teardrops, one white and one black, swirling opposite one another, a black dot in the white teardrop and vice-versa. This was a symbol meant to represent universal balance, something about the relationship between light and darkness. Honestly, Sombra never held much of an interest in philosophy, preferring to leave the existential pondering to old ponies arguing over semantics.

"Funny, I expected you to be bigger."

This was it. He was going to make a permanent alteration to who he was and what he stood for. In a sense, it was almost like dying again, only this time emerging as something better. Was he truly ready for this? Sombra patted the cloak-pocket where Twilight's letter was nestled and knew what needed to be done. Forcing a nasally exhale, Sombra stood straight and faced the statuette, meeting the ox's ruby-eyed gaze with a sort of defiance befitting someone that was meeting their end.

"Hello and goodbye, Scales of Taijitu."

A ray of black, green, and purple struck the ox's belly. Sombra watched the magic flowing around the teardrop symbol, the energy branching off into two swirling segments, one red and one blue. Forming a miniature cyclone, the segments spun around the symbol faster and faster, little white bolts crackling and leaping off of it. The cyclone, now a bright silver-white, shot out and seized Sombra like a gigantic claw, lifting him off of the floor and into the air. The ox's eyes burned with an intense light, Chineighse symbols floating around its head and the bowls in interlocking circles.

Vice-like pain gripped Sombra's head and he soon found himself tumbling through space, yet paradoxically remaining where he was. Moments from his life, both good and bad, flashed before his eyes, filling him with overpowering feelings of joy and dread. He was playing with Garnet in the Royal Garden, then he was forcing the crystal ponies into bondage. He was having dinner with Twilight but then shattering his adoptive parents into a million pieces. He was at Pinkie Pie's improvised party inside the Canterlot dungeon before being thrust back to Grimoire's poisoning on Black Skull Island.

Half of his body went numb, followed by an intense series of burning, prickling sensations. His limbs hung uselessly at his side, almost as if he were experiencing partial paresthesia. He then cried out as he felt himself being tugged by an invisible force that was dead-set on ripping him in half. The memories continued to bombard him, this time in rapid succession so he couldn't tell if he should laugh or sob. It was almost as bad as his demise, only this was arguably worse as he had no clue as to what was happening to him and he desperately wished for it all to end.

And then, everything went black.

Groggily, Sombra released a low moan and opened his eyes, dots dancing across his blurred vision. He was lying on his stomach, the stone ground cold and slightly damp. How long had he been unconscious and sprawled out on the cavern floor? There was some immobilization in his limbs so it took some time for him to drag himself to his hooves, teetering back and forth as he fought to regain his balance. Mercifully, his vision cleared and he could stand normally once more.

Wait a minute...

Sombra's front hooves flew up to his face. They were small, considerably small when compared to their regular (or irregular) size. He hurried over to the Scales and, using the ox statuette's reflective surface like a mirror, Sombra discovered the reason for the abnormal size difference: he himself was smaller. He now stood more at Shining Armor's height, his limbs and frame much slimmer in appearance, though his coat and mane remained the same. His horn was straight and segmented, his fangs were missing, and his eyes, which were once scarlet, now had dark green irises.

For some reason, his cheek scar remained and upon closer inspection, found the pair of triangular scars on his back were also still there. Shrugging, Sombra decided not to question it, instead focusing on a successful demonstration of the Scales' powers. He was a regular Equestrian stallion! A sense of elation he'd never known before took a hold of him and he began laughing and dancing around like a buffoon. It had worked, worked, worked, worked, worked!

A sharp pain at the back of his skull put Sombra's celebration on hold, wincing and rubbing the sore spot until it went away. Chalking it up to too much excitement, Sombra shook his head and took a break, seating himself down on the lowest step of the dais. Once he felt steady enough to walk, he turned to leave before setting eyes on the Scales once more. He concentrated on the object, a red aura enveloping the scales and statuette, momentarily startling him. It'd been a long time since he'd used his quote-unquote "regular magic" and was flooded with an odd sense of nostalgia.

He shook his head and placed the relic back onto the dais before exiting the chamber, eager to show Twilight, and all of Equestria, the new and improved Sombra.


Back inside the antechamber, something within the dais' shadow rippled and an inky black glob emerged from the shadow's depths. Two green orbs flashed inside the glob and peered at the spot where Sombra had stood. It'd been waiting for Sombra to exit, having awakened right before he did and quickly concealing itself when the stallion came to. The discovery of its existence was not acceptable at the moment, not when there was still so much to do and even less time to do it. Only when the time was right would it reveal itself.

Drawing itself fully, it landed onto the floor and coalesced into a more equine shape. The slimy texture became one of gray fur, the head and posterior creating flowing black hair. The twin orbs blinked, becoming scarlet-red eyes. The new pony grinned, rows of sharp teeth nestled within his maw. He drew in air through his nostrils, then expelled it through his mouth in a loud, prolonged sigh.

"Well now," he chuckled, twin trails of purple flowing from his eyes. "This ought to get interesting..."

The New Sombra

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I shouldn't have made him leave.

Twilight sniffled and, feeling a slight chill, wrapped herself tighter in Sombra's old cloak. His scent, a mixture of smoky black pepper and slightly burnt oakiness, still clung to the fabric and she took shelter in it like a life raft. Another whiff and Twilight lost herself to the comforting aroma of eau de Sombra. She laid curled up in Sombra's bed, his room remaining exactly as he left it and though it'd only been a day, it felt as though years passed by since his abrupt departure. The confrontation after the diamond dog fight should never have happened but it did, and Twilight felt immense regret for that.

I did what I had to do! ...Right?

Sombra's behavior was inexcusable, Twilight knew that much, yet she'd become stricken by a wave of remorse upon his egression. If it weren't for her intervention, she had no doubt in her mind that Sombra would've strangled Iron Tooth and nonchalantly went on with his life. She blamed herself; she was well aware of Sombra's background and of the less-than-morally sound choices he'd made but chose to ignore it all for the sake of her own personal feelings. She thought Sombra was getting better, that he was learning about friendship but when Twilight saw him trying to kill the diamond dog leader, she looked at his face and found a detached callousness that downright scared her. Oh, she didn't believe he'd try to hurt her or those closest to her but in that moment, she truly understood that Sombra, when subjected to strong external stimuli, was capable of anything, regardless of right or wrong.

"And nothing of value would be lost. He would've deserved it."

Over and over, Twilight replayed that instant in her mind. Sombra's response was so quick, so absolute that there left no doubt that it was his own view on the matter and that he stood by it.

"So, what, you give these low-lives a slap on the wrist and a scolding? They're bandits! Who knows how many innocent ponies they're harmed. You jail them, they get out, and just do the exact same thing again! I'm stopping that from happening!"

What was truly terrifying about that statement, aside from the cold-blooded, pragmatic way in which Sombra delivered it, was the fact that Twilight, in some small degree, actually found herself agreeing with the sentiment. Iron Tooth did deserve it. But just because someone deserves a terrible fate, that doesn't mean that Twilight, or any of her friends, possessed the right or authority to play judge, jury, and executioner. There were laws put in place for this very reason and not to mention the fact that it was morally reprehensible. Some lines should never be crossed, regardless of the situation.

Sombra came from a more barbaric time in Equestrian history, one where taking the law into one's own hooves was not only justified but encouraged. He's still trapped in that archaic mindset.

Twilight tried rationalizing the incident in her head, creating excuses for Sombra's behavior but she could no longer do that. Sombra knew what he was doing was wrong and simply just didn't care. No matter her own feelings on the matter, Twilight couldn't dispute the evidence any longer. What she'd done was the right thing to do. Then why did she feel so guilty after the fact?

I can still remember the heartbreak on his face, the look of fear in his eyes.

Twilight had never seen Sombra in so much pain before, not even when he finally revealed to her the tragic fate of his adoptive parents and sister. The way he looked and sounded when she screamed at him was like that of a berated colt. In some ways, she thought he was exactly that: a lost, confused child. She never wanted to hurt him but sometimes the truth was hurtful and had to be expressed no matter how much pain was involved. She just wished that duty fell onto somepony else's shoulders.

Her thoughts soon turned to Spike, the Element of Empathy. Just thinking it was still astounding. Spike, her number one assistant, closest friend, and little brother in all but blood, was now an Element of Harmony alongside her and the others. He was no longer just emotional support but their equal, a fellow protector of Equestria and its citizens. This made Twilight equal parts proud and frightened.

"You're not always going to be around to protect him. You can't treat him like a child forever."

Though Sombra hadn't meant it, the truth in his statement had impacted her more than he realized. She knew full-well that Spike wasn't a baby anymore...she just hated being reminded of that fact. He was growing up and their adventures since first arriving in Ponyville only accelerated the process, forcing him to endure things no child of his age should. It wasn't intentional that she tended to, well, patronize Spike but whenever she looked at him, all she could see was the eggshell-covered newborn she'd hatched. All Twilight wanted to do was to protect him and keep him safe.

Twilight's thoughts were interrupted by a series of hollow, ringing thuds that echoed throughout the hallways. Wiping her face, Twilight rose to all fours and steadily made her way to the main entrance. She wasn't expecting any visitors and it seemed a bit late for the postal service to be delivering packages, putting Twilight on extra alert. Whoever was on the other side of the doors was quite possibly a threat or, hopefully, just one of her friends paying a late-night visit. She hoped for the latter but prepared for the former, horn humming to life.

One door creaked open and she found herself face-to-face with a tall, light gray unicorn stallion. He was wrapped in a stunningly familiar crimson cloak that hung around his shoulders, evidently being a little too big for him as it partially dragged on the ground. Twilight found herself shaking as she stared into his light green eyes, overwhelmed by her sudden recognition of the stallion's identity. Even with the physical alterations, there was no mistaking her coltfriend. The stallion smiled uneasily at her and cleared his throat.

"Hello...Twilight. I-..."


The magic that Twilight had been holding onto crashed into the stallion, knocking him backwards and into unconsciousness before he hit the ground.


There were voices, that much Sombra knew, though the ringing in his ears made it difficult to place their exact words or speakers. He could tell there were multiple ones, though they were all a big mumbly blur. Slowly, the darkness receded, replaced by a thin veil of fog that Sombra eventually blinked away, revealing the interior of the Castle of Friendship, specifically the Map Room. Something tightened against his forelegs and chest, constricting him hard enough to keep him in place without compromising his breathing and it became pretty clear that he was being tied to a chair. The irritating ringing too subsided and he was finally able to comprehend every word being spoken, as well as by whom.

"...-quite sure this is necessary, Darling?"

There was a grunt behind Sombra. "It don't-uh-hurt t' be on th' safe side."

"Applejack is right. Until we have more information-..."

"Look, he's awake!"

Everyone-Twilight, Rainbow Dash, Rarity, and Fluttershy-followed the direction of Pinkie Pie's outstretched foreleg to find their visitor staring at them. Applejack entered the right of Sombra's vision, stopping to scratch a spot beneath her ever-present hat in a show of confusion. Sitting up slightly, Sombra felt the rope squeeze into his skin-his cloak hanging from a nearby hatstand-and found himself impressed by the farm-mare's rope-tying skills. However, he didn't believe it to be an issue, retaining a face of calmness as his eyes met Twilight's. He frowned at her in a semi-annoyed fashion.

"Is it safe to talk now or are you going to blast me again?"

Twilight looked at him guiltily. "S-sorry about that. You caught me a bit off-guard."

"What was your first clue-...ah!"

Sombra winced at the bright light that was abruptly shoved into his face.

"Where were you on the night of last night?"

"Pinkie, leave him be."

Flicking off the flashlight, Pinkie withdrew, though her gaze never left Sombra's.

Shaking her head at her friend's antics, Twilight turned to Sombra. "Anyway...ahem, you're in a magical truth barrier so it's impossible for you to lie. Your name is Sombra?"


"I checked and you're not a changeling. Are you some other kind of shapeshifter?"


"So how can you be Sombra?"

"Using a map provided to me by Primrose the Prescient, I tracked down an artifact known as the Scales of Taijitu, which extracted the dark half of my personality, thus resulting in the light half being left behind and a change in my overall appearance," Sombra replied without missing a beat.

Twilight gave him a long, hard stare. "Okay then. Applejack, you can untie..."

Sombra stood up, the coils of rope falling uselessly to the floor.


"How in th' blazes did ya do that?"

Sombra shrugged. "I spent time in Saddle Arabia and Chineigh learning how to escape from bondage."

"Really?" Rarity smiled at him suggestively. "Is that all you learned?"

"I'm not going to dignify that with a response."

"So you could've escaped this whole time?" Rainbow Dash asked incredulously.

"Yes, but I needed to establish some trust between us."

Twilight took a couple of baby steps, hoof reaching for his face. "It''s really you, isn't it?"

Sombra allowed her hoof to make contact with his cheek and smiled warmly. "It's me."

"How do you feel?"

"Strange. I have all of my memories and I know I'm me and yet, it's as almost as though I'm a different pony altogether," Sombra elaborated. "It's hard to explain."

Suddenly, he found Twilight wrapped around his midsection.

"I'm just relieved to see you. I missed you."

He kissed her cheek and gently enfolded her in his forelegs.

"I missed you too."

"So Primrose the Prescient? What is she like?"

"She' interesting mare..."


Following the miniature interrogation and confirmation of his identity, Sombra brought the six mares up to speed on everything that'd happened before his visit to Ponyville and the events that led to this moment. Twilight, being her usual, bubbly inquisitive self, stopped every now and then to ask a question and then scribble down the answer in her notepad. Anyone else would've found the repetition of pausing and resuming their story irritating but Sombra fought this adorable and humored her. As it'd turned out, reading Primrose's book was what led to Twilight to discover Nightmare Moon's return and Celestia's decision to relocate her student to Ponyville in the first place. Given both Twilight's natural thirst for knowledge and the revelation that Sombra had met a famous and elusive figure, the fact that she possessed a desire to document his experiences was hardly groundbreaking and he told her what little he knew.

"So Primrose's precognitive abilities just...showed up one day out of the blue?"

Sombra nodded. "It happened exactly around the time you and your friends used that 'rainbow magic' and defeated Lord Tirek. That hardly seems like a coincidence."

"Hmm. Perhaps the sudden burst of magic that spread throughout Equestria somehow reactivated her powers?" Twilight speculated, tapping her quill against one cheek.

Rainbow Dash kicked her hind hooves up onto the table and leaned back. "So this Primrose the Whatever can really see the future? Like, all of it?"

"That's how it appeared to me. However, it seems as though her gaze is limited. She can only see up to certain moments and even then they are mere probabilities."

Applejack kicked Rainbow's hindlegs off the table and gave her a disapproving head-shake. "Right, so she gave ya th' map 'cause she knew th' incident wit' th' diamond dogs would happen an' tha' you'd use it t' find the Scales an' use 'em?"

"Apparently. She never actually said to use the Scales but told me that I'd need them."

Twilight flipped to the next page. "And this, 'rising darkness'?"

Sombra folded his front hooves on the table. "Primrose was talking about the end approaching and events being set into motion. Just before Midnight vanished, she said, 'He is coming.' Then there are the anomalies taking place: odd weather patterns, animals and creatures suddenly leaving their territories with no explanation."

"That's true. Birds have been migrating at the wrong time of year and far beyond their usual boundaries," Fluttershy noted, to which Sombra nodded.

"There's also the mounting tension and rise in magical disturbances. Both Luna and Celestia have felt it, as have I. Something, or rather, someone, is coming."

Pinkie hummed and stroked her chin. "Now that you mention it, I've been shivering a whole lot lately, even though it's been warm, and my knees have been extra pinchy. What do you think that means?"

Sombra had heard about her "Pinkie Sense" as she dubbed it but had yet to see it in action. Judging by what he'd seen of the oddball mare so far, he wouldn't be surprised if she one day spontaneously became an alicorn and turned Equestria into a land of chocolate and gumdrops. Perhaps she was somehow a spawn of Discord's or a secret draconequus that took pony form? That was a mystery that begged to be unraveled one day. It was a bit amazing how easily Sombra's mind wandered now that he was free of all of his spite and deep-seated self-loathing.

"I...couldn't tell you. All I know is that we're facing an unknown threat and only Primrose the Prescient has any idea as to what it is that we're up against."

Applejack peeked at him from beneath the brim of her hat. "Ah never would've pegged ya fer th' type t' care 'bout what happens t' Equestria."

Sombra bobbed his head in an odd sort of nod. "Normally I would tell you that the land itself is more important to me and not its inhabitants. After all, I live here so this concerns me too. Since my recent 'change,' I've found a new perspective. I want to help you, all of you."

He snuck a side-glance at Twilight. "If you'll allow me."

Twilight thought a moment, then consented. "If there is something coming for us, then we're going to need all the help we can get."

The meeting was soon concluded and everyone else went back to their homes, leaving Sombra and Twilight alone. He watched her light her horn and a previously barely-perceptible energy field retreated back into her appendage. Sombra couldn't help but smirk.

"I see you finally deactivated the truth field."

Turning towards him, Twilight rubbed a foreleg. "Yeah...I was curious about what you had to say and wanted to make sure you were being honest with us."

"Did you expect me to lie?"

"No, no, no! Well, maybe a little. You have to admit, it was quite a story."

He gently placed his hoof over her own, breathing a small sigh at the fact that she didn't pull away.

"I know. Trust me, I would've found it ludicrous had I been in your place."


She stared deeply into his eyes.

"You didn't have to do this for me."

"I know." Sombra softly caressed her cheek with his frog. "It was partly for you. The rest, well...I was tired of it all. The pain, the constant running. I wanted a normal life. With you."

"I want that too." Twilight placed her head on his shoulder, pressing herself against him and basking in his warmth. "I'm so sorry I sent you away. What you did was wrong but I felt so bad that I made you leave."

Sombra inhaled, filling his nostrils with the scent of lavender and wild berries.

"Don't be. I deserved it, and I regret what I did. Truly. I was only doing what I thought was right. As were you."

Regrettably, Twilight withdrew and stifled a yawn. "I'm going to go to bed. Are you staying over?"

Sombra bit his lip. "Only if you want me here."

"Of course I do." Twilight pecked him on the lips. "Good night, Sombra. I love you."

"Good night. I love you too."

Twilight's hoofsteps receded. Sombra faced the map, finding a miniature full-scale holographic replica of Equestria. Whatever the Tree of Harmony's origins, it was clear that it is a considerably powerful object if it could manifest such a device. His eyes explored the map's surface, following the various trails and landmarks to Ponyville before stopping to inspect a particular feature. Right where the Castle of Friendship stood, there was a symbol floating above the castle that resembled a white tetragonal crystal. Sombra sidestepped and the crystal gently bobbed to the right as well.

That must be me. Since I lack a cutie mark, it chose this to indicate my presence. It makes sense but why-

A sharp screeching filled Sombra's ears, followed shortly by a sharp, vice-like pain in the front and sides of his skull. Clamping his hooves over his temples, he bit back a yelp, instead making a series of quiet grunts. At least two minutes passed by before the pain finally subsided, though it remained there in a throbbing sort of way. Panting heavily, Sombra watched the floating crystal, noticing that it had stopped flickering and was now back to its semi-solid state. Whatever had happened to him also affected the crystal logo, or perhaps the logo was merely reflecting his own state.

It was probably just a migraine, he reasoned. I've had a trying couple of days. It's only stress.

Shutting the door behind him, Sombra strolled to his room. Inside the Map Room, the hologram remained on and the intangible crystal marker had begun to flicker once more before settling.


Once the last mare was but a blip in the darkness, the inky mass slithered down from the open window, down the crystalline branch and trunk before soundlessly dropping to the ground to resume its normal pony shape. The stallion glared in the direction of the white unicorn before directing his gaze back towards the castle. His opposite was no doubt inside having a friendly, possibly intimate chat with her. The Princess of Friendship. His blood boiled at the thought.

No matter. When he had what he needed, it would cease to be an issue. What his predecessor failed to do, he would accomplish in a matter of days. A prickly sensation ran down his neck, his head pounding like a hammer upon a railroad spike. This was not the first time such a feeling had bothered him; earlier it'd hit him hard enough to send him sprawling on the ground in a worm-like fashion.

Whatever it was, it was trivial. He would have his prize and his revenge. That was all that mattered. What Sombra failed to realize was that darkness was omnipresent, a force of nature that followed you wherever you went. Darkness was there in full view of the sun as well as the murkiness of night, it was there when one closed their eyes to sleep, and dwelt deep in the heart of the young and old alike. It could not be eliminated, he could not be eliminated.

"I am your eternal shadow," he chuckled darkly, withdrawing the Scales from his saddlebags. His cruel-looking face was reflected off of the gold of the ox statue, his eyes filled with a malevolent green glow.

"Your reflection. And I refuse to be ignored."

Let's Get (A) Physical

View Online

As the carriage neared Canterlot, Spike peered up from his seat to once more take in the sights and smells of Equestria's capitol. The scent of a hundred different baked goods, confectioneries, refreshments, and vegetables filtered through Spike's nostrils and he could no longer contain the nostalgic sigh that'd been building since their approach. Alabaster-stone buildings decorated with purple, yellow, and violet accents came into view, many of which were storefronts that featured striped cotton awnings and large display windows. Crowds of shoppers, almost exclusively ponies, packed the cobblestone streets, a multi-hued cascade of coats, manes, and garments belonging to both the rustic and high-class residents. The city's few non-equines stood out quite obviously; griffons, donkeys, zebras mainly worked the different businesses and if they were customers, they tended to travel in small groups consisting of their own kind.

It seemed as though decades had flown by since Spike and Twilight first moved from the bustling city to the small town of Ponyville. While it was true that Canterlot held its equal share of good and bad memories, he would always feel the pull of his birthplace, the location where he'd spent his formative years. Too much had simply happened for him to ignore, even amongst the recollections of hushed tones and lingering stares he'd grown accustomed to in those days. Any non-pony species were treated like an exotic novelty at best and a possible criminal at worst. In spite of the idyllic image of harmony that Equestria propagates, ponies could be alarmingly xenophobic, an unfortunate truth that Princess Celestia had done her best to mend but only to a certain degree.

The spires of Canterlot Castle soon came into view, an immediate wave of relief washing over Spike and causing all negative thoughts to vanish from his mind. The castle was the one place in all of Canterlot that he felt the safest, as Princess Celestia had never nor would ever let anything terrible happen to him. An imaginary blanket of scale-roasting warmth soon enveloped him, his muscles tightening in memory of Princess Celestia's winged embraces and the accompanying scent of honey and jasmine. He looked forward to being wrap-squeezed into another one of her hugs. The carriage soon pulled into the castle's courtyard and came to a smooth, gradual stop.

Two of the royal guards immediately began unloading Spike's luggage while the others escorted him inside the castle, their faces as hard as the steel-tipped spears they carried. The royal guards' sacred duty was to obey their princesses and though Spike knew they'd never let any harm come to him, the young drake always found them unnerving, mostly due to the fact that they were only protecting him out of loyalty to Princess Celestia and wouldn't otherwise bother with him. True, Spike had befriended many of the guards and knew that they had his back for reasons other than oaths or employment but that niggling feeling persisted. There were times in which he hated being Princess Celestia's ward, a position that afforded him privileges that he didn't earn but were bestowed upon him for doing nothing more than existing.

They rounded a corner and Spike had to silence a groan at the sight of a pompous-looking unicorn in a pristine blue suit apparently flirting with a bored-looking earth pony maid. Following the maid's stare, the unicorn turned his head and scoffed dismissively at Spike, giving the maid time to bow and hurry off in the opposite direction. The unicorn in question was Prince Vladimir Léon Blueblood, Princess Celestia's great-great-great-grandson, though this was shortened to "nephew" for simplicity's sake. He was easily the most unpleasant pony Spike had ever met, a vain, spoiled brat that looked down his muzzle at anyone that didn't meet his ridiculous standards of status and pedigree. The prince's evident disdain for the working class, as well his abhorrently poor treatment of Rarity during a previous Grand Galloping Gala made Spike dislike Blueblood even less than he already did, which was considered to be impossible at a prior point in time.

"Well, now I'll have to go chase her down," Prince Blueblood grumbled, magically pulling a handkerchief from his breast pocket and dabbing at his forehead. "Thank you so much, Skewer."

"It's Spike."


Blueblood stuffed his handkerchief back into his pocket and loudly sniffed.

"Anyway, this little tête-à-tête has been intriguing but I must be on my way. Do be sure not to lose control of your fire breath and singe the carpets. They're made of fine Saddle Arabian silk and I'd hate to see such beauty squandered because you couldn't hold in a sneeze."

"I'll be sure to do that," Spike said through gritted teeth.

"See that you do. Au revoir, reptile."

Turning on his left hind hoof, Prince Blueblood pranced down the hall and out of sight, probably looking for the maid he'd been trying-unsuccessfully-to woo. Spike rolled his eyes and continued towards the throne room, the clanking of the guards' armor resuming as they followed alongside him. Why any mare would find a buffoon like Prince Blueblood in any way attractive was mind-boggling; apart from the title and access to riches, Blueblood had nothing to offer in terms of respect, kindness, or selflessness. Although Rarity had, at one point, harbored a crush on the prince, it was nothing more than her innocent desire to have a fairy tale romance and once that illusion was shattered, she'd mercifully awakened quickly and now no one could bring up the stallion's name without her pointing her muzzle up in disgust. Tartarus, even Sombra possessed more qualities of an ideal husband and he was a dark sorcerer and former despot.

The throne room doors swung open wide, revealing the stunning chamber that lay beyond and no matter how many times Spike saw it, he never ceased to be in awe. A series of columns lined the perimeter and reached up to the expansive ceiling, giving anyone, especially a small creature like Spike, an immense sensation of vertigo. The walls were mauve and violet-colored and awash in sunlight that'd been captured by the stain-glass windows, flooding the room with pink, blue, yellow, and green light. Spike and his entourage made their way along the red carpet, stretching up all the way up to a triple-tier golden dais where a white alicorn sat upon a singular throne, listening intently as a unicorn mare was dictating information from a clipboard. Taking notice of Spike, Princess Celestia nodded towards her assistant and flashed her a smile of serenity and warmth.

"Thank you, Raven. That will be all for now."

"Yes, Your Majesty."

The unicorn bowed and soon passed Spike, giving him a nod before exiting.

By the time Spike turned back around, Princess Celestia had already descended the dais and nearly reached him, her long-limbed stride ensuring to close the distance in half time it'd take an ordinary pony. Already anticipating what was to come, Spike hopped onto his tippy-toes with arms held out as Princess Celestia bent down and wrapped a foreleg around him.

"It's so wonderful to see you! How was your trip?"

"It was fine. I ran into Blueblood."

Princess Celestia's smile faltered. "Oh? I hope he didn't give you any trouble."

When Prince Blueblood was a colt, Princess Celestia became his legal guardian and bestowed all the love and affection that she could muster upon him. Unfortunately, despite her best efforts, he became a materialistic, self-centered snob much like ninety-nine percent of Equestria's upper class. The only reason she put up with Blueblood's nonsense was out of familial loyalty, that and any negative press that would've arisen had she thrown him out on his entitled flanks. Spike despised the stallion, as did pretty much everypony in Canterlot, but at least he was secure in the knowledge that Princess Celestia shared his sentiments towards the prince. The mystery of how someone that had the best mother-figure in the world could possibly turn into such a rotten pony was one that would never be solved.

"No, he was just his usual 'charming' self," Spike replied, using air quotes for emphasis.

"Yes, my 'beloved' nephew does know how to leave quite the impression, doesn't he? But let us talk about something far more important. I'm sure you have many questions concerning your new abilities?"

Spike nodded. "Yeah. I'm actually a little nervous to learn the answers."

Princess Celestia nuzzled him. "I'm sure it'll be nothing serious. You'll be back in Ponyville before you know it."

"I hope so. Uh, I mean, no offense! I meant-..."

"It's quite alright. I know what you meant, Spike. Now then, let's go get you tested."

The School for Gifted Unicorns was considered by most, if not all, to be the premiere learning institution of magic, a prestigious academy that'd been established four-hundred years ago for the betterment of Equestria's unicorn youth. The large golden compass over the school's main entrance served as a reminder for its students to always remember where they've been, focus on where they're going, and to keep striving forward to where they will be. While Twilight saw the school as a site of learning and the advancement of the thaumaturgical arts, for Spike, it would always be the scene of his birth, the focal point for the greatest moment in his and Twilight's life. Who could've guessed that so many possibly innumerable variables had to take place in order to ensure that Princess Celestia, Spike and Twilight were all in the right place at the right time? Spike didn't know if it was the will of Faust or some deeper, more ineffable force at work but what he did know that he was incredibly fortunate that thing turned out the way that they did.

As classes were still in session, the two could safely journey through the hallways without being spotted and while Princess Celestia might not mind the attention, Spike wasn't in the mood to get stampeded by overzealous students hungry for autographs. They soon arrived at a maroon-colored door, the image of three stars over four wavy lines emblazoned on the front, and Princess Celestia carefully turned the knob with her magic, pushing the door wide open so that she and Spike could step inside. The room was massive, easily big enough to contain an Apple family reunion, the walls tapering to a peaked roof, which was decorated with a mural of the Royal Pony Sisters locked in a sort of dance within a half-world of both brilliant day and star-littered night. Rows upon rows of rectangular tables lined the gold and dark blue tiled floors, each table holding up stacks of books along with a collection of bottles, beakers, tubes, and a hundred different magical and scientific instruments that Spike couldn't even begin to identify. In short, this room was, as Rainbow Dash would no doubt put it, an egghead's paradise.

If Twilight were here, she'd be rolling on the floor and foaming at the mouth.

In spite of the massive room, only six ponies were currently occupying it at the moment: three unicorns, two earth ponies and a pegasus, all of whom were taking notes, performing magic, or working with tools both known and foreign to Spike. Five of the scientist-mages placed their various experiments on hold as the alicorn gracefully strode past them, a young dragon waddling at her side. There was a time when the staring and whispering would've unnerved Spike, especially when he was just a wee hatchling, but he'd since become accustomed to the awestruck chattering of Canterlot's citizens whenever Princess Celestia was around. It'd also helped that his celebrity status in the Crystal Empire greatly boosted his confidence. Now that he was both an Element of Harmony and his friends' equal, Spike felt as though he was on top of the world and he never wanted this experience to end.

At the other end of the room, an old stallion was finishing a calculation on a chalkboard when he took notice of his new guests. He smiled softly and bowed.

"Ah, welcome Your Majesty. And welcome Spike the Dragon."

"We're always welcomed, Professor," Princess Celestia beamed with a nod.

Professor Mandrake had been teaching at the school for decades and was generally well-regarded by both his peers and students. He was a grayish cream-colored unicorn with a grayish, red-brown mane and beard that almost reached his stomach. A light blue embroidered smoking cap with a golden tassel on the crown matched his high-collared robes, which were a staple of any self-respecting wizard young or old. Behind his half-moon glasses, his oddly youthful blue eyes shimmered with a mixture of both wisdom and compassion but also mischief and merriment. The professor took in the sight of both the alicorn and dragon curiously.

"And how may I help you today?"

"Young Spike here has developed, well, for lack of a better word, 'element breath.' Aside from fire, he has also summoned ice, lightning, gusts of wind and different stones and minerals."

Professor Mandrake regarded Spike with equal parts intrigue and worry.

"Is that so?"

Spike nodded. "Yes, sir. But I seem to have a handle on it for right now."

Professor Mandrake smiled. "That's good but for safety's sake, let's take precautionary measures."

He led Spike over to a small circular platform with a raised border around it, its interior and exterior covered in mystic symbols. "Please step inside."

Spike looked to Princess Celestia, who gave him a reassuring nod. Taking a shaky breath, he entered.

"Red Sulfur."

A unicorn appeared front and center. Keeping his gaze downward, he cast a guilty side-glance at Princess Celestia. Professor Mandrake, either failing to notice this or simply choosing to ignore it, addressed his student:

"We have a most extraordinary situation on our hooves. This young drake is exhibiting unusual exhalation-based magical abilities. In order to determine what is occurring, we must first collect the necessary data. I need you to ready the thaumaturgical equipment whilst I activate the power-dampening ring."

"Yes, Professor!"

Red Sulfur immediately went to work collecting various electronic devices. Professor Mandrake's horn shined with a red-orange glow as bursts of light shot from the ring's symbols, generating a series of pillars that interlocked to form a cage of blazing blue-white energy. Balling up his fists, Spike's toes curled, his nails scraping the platform's surface as his whole body began tensing up. He knew that the symbols were there for his and everypony else's benefit, to prevent any rogue magic from hurting anyone outside the ring. No, what caused his steadily-rising anxiety was what kind of answers the researchers would find during their examination and the million thoughts racing through his head didn't help the situation either.

What if I'm unable to control myself? What if my dragon body can't accept the newfound power and I implode? Will I have to isolate myself to make sure that I can't hurt anyone?


He met Princess Celestia's serene gaze.

"You're going to be alright, Spike. I promise."

Slowly, he unclenched his fists and allowed his body to relax.

Meanwhile, the young adept had finished readying the equipment, which consisted of a control board covered in knobs, switches and buttons. A trio of gauges all flipped their needles to zero, apparently there to measure something that Spike was unfamiliar with. Several computer monitors flickered to life, each one spitting out figures and lines of text. Something resembling a dish antenna atop a pivoted metal arm protracted outward and stopped just a foot in front of Spike's muzzle. It was beginning to look more and more like something out of a sci-fi novel or a comic book.

"The thaumometer is ready, Professor," Red Sulfur added and flipped a toggle switch.

From what Spike could remember from his Magic 101 class, which was incredibly mind-numbing, magic was defined as "an umbrella term for the intangible principal force occurring both in Equestria and beyond." It also described the application of beliefs, rituals or actions employed in order to subdue or manipulate that force in order to bring about desired results, which was generally called thaumaturgy amongst more ardent academics. Magic was an energy field that permeated across all physical matter and whenever it is used, that energy is essentially transformed into a more potent and focused "solid" form. For centuries, the most common unit of measurement for magic was the thaum and the larger amount of thaums, the more complex the spell that was being cast; simple telekinesis only requires three thaums, while fifty thaums is necessitated in order to transmutate animate or inanimate material. Of course, Spike was just a layman when it came to the topic and not a super-mega-ultra-supreme nerd like Twilight so he only had a simplistic grasp of the concept.

How anyone can follow that stuff without falling asleep is beyond me.

A deep whirring echoed as the dish antenna slowly rotated left-to-right, accompanied by a steady beeping sound.

"That's interesting," Red Sulfur admitted. "According to the thaumometer, Spike only has an ambient thaum measurement of seven-the average amount given off by a dragon. I was expecting more-..."

The dish antenna violently shook, the beeping now screeching manically.

"Strike that. One hundred-and-fifty-seven."

Professor Mandrake quirked a brow.

"That's the same as a unicorn."

"How is that possible? It can't be..."

"Can somepony please explain this to me?" Spike asked with a shiver.

"There are two types of thaums: ambient and dynamic," Red Sulfur began. "Ambient describes the amount of thaums that are naturally generated by an animate or inanimate object at any given time. The greater the ambient thaums, the higher the capabilities that magic can either be performed by or on them. Earth Ponies have an average of twelve while for Pegasi it's usually thirty. Unicorns, on the other hoof, possess an average of one hundred-and-fifty to one hundred-and-eighty."


"Dynamic thaums are when ambient thaum energy is actively taken by the conscious will of a creature and molded into whatever it is required to be. Now, the reason that Earth Ponies and Pegasi have such a seemingly low ambient thaum amount when compared to Unicorns is due to their differences in harnessing magic. Earth Ponies have a natural link to the earth and flora whereas Pegasi can alter the weather. Their dynamic thaum usage outputs less energy than, say, if a Unicorn were to teleport or cast an illusion spell so they have less ambient thaum reserves than their horned counterparts. Creatures like dragons, zebras, and griffons have a low ambient thaum count as their requirement for dynamic thaums is considerably less than that of the Three Tribes."

Spike nodded, actually comprehending what he was being told.

"So because I'm a dragon, I should have a low ambient thaum count since I have no need for dynamic thaums but for some reason, I have the same amount as a unicorn?"

"That is what we've determined, yes."

"What now, Professor?"

Professor Mandrake turned to Princess Celestia.

"Now we need a demonstration of Spike's average dynamic thaum count. This way, we may be able to determine the proper measures taken to aid him in harnessing and controlling his new abilities. Spike, I need you to try and use your new breath powers."

"But I don't know how! It just, sort of, happens!"

"Try, Spike. That magic is a part of you. Just as moving objects is second nature to me, breathing fire is natural to you."

Princess Celestia beamed at Spike. "You can do it. I believe in you."

Nodding resolutely, Spike sucked in air and exhaled. Nothing came out. He tried again, this time breaking out into a coughing fit. His chest puffed out, a large bulge taking shape within his rib cage. The bulge traveled upward, causing his throat to swell up as though he'd swallowed a baseball.

"Professor, the dynamic count is rising-..."

Spike's head suddenly jerked forward, a multi-hued ball of fire leaping out of his maw and exploding against the protective barrier. The three ponies watched incredulously as each flame fell to the platform's surface with a glass-like clink, all of them having been transformed into multifaceted gemstones. There was little time to take in the beauty of the perfectly formed gems as they soon melted into glittering pools of a silvery, viscous fluid. Conjuring fire was one thing but transmutation from gaseous heat to precious minerals to liquid was quite another feat entirely. Taking several deep breaths, Spike banged his chest with a fist and threw the group a thumb's-up.

"I'm okay..."

Professor Mandrake gave his spectacles a quick cleaning and turned to his assistant.

"Red Sulfur, what was the dynamic thaum count?"

"Nearly sixty, Professor."

"So where do we go from here?" Princess Celestia inquired softly.

"It would seem that Spike is quite gifted indeed. Do you have any idea how this started?"

"My student Twilight Sparkle hatched Spike's egg. I think that her magic laid dormant inside of him and that his exposure to the Elements of Harmony somehow acted as a catalyst to jump-start his latent abilities."

"I see. Your Majesty, I believe it would be in Spike's best interest if he were to remain at the castle. I will personally see to it that he is carefully monitored in the case of more flare-ups."

"Am I going to be okay?"

Professor Mandrake regarded the young dragon with an expression of hopeful optimism.

"I believe so, Spike. At this point, all we can do is believe."


View Online

All that the stallion could see was darkness, the kind that stung your eyes the tighter you clamped your eyes shut. The inside of his skull pounded against the stone floor, tapping out a fierce rhythm as his cranium recovered from an unspecified trauma. Sharp prickling at the back of his head jolted him awake and after a short battle, he finally managed to force his eyelids open. A thin layer of fog coated the stallion's vision but a few minutes and constant blinking later, he could make sense of his torch-lit, mildew-scented environment. It was a primitive stone chamber of some kind, the type that one could gleam from a colt's comic book or an adventure serial, complete with chiseled inscriptions on the walls and an altar for storing some all-powerful relic sought by the hero and their plucky sidekick.

Dragging himself from off of his right side, the stallion managed to sway into a seated position. He took inventory of his new form, inspecting the thick hooves on his forelegs, turning them over and mulling over the frogs beneath. A glint from out of the corner of his eye brought his attention to the Scales of Taijitu and the figure reflected off of its golden surface. A cursory glance told him that he still retained his exact features, minus the cheek scar, which was no great loss in his opinion. As long as his ugly mug had some improvements, he could live with the changes.

A light groan momentarily stopped his heart, or whatever muscle pumped blood through his circulatory system. It was another stallion lying semi-conscious on the floor just a few feet away. This fellow, apart from his height, looked more like your garden variety unicorns, complete with segmented horn instead of the first stallion's curved one.

How very curious...

The first stallion decided that it would best for him to vanish before his counterpart awoke. One by one, his extremities lost all feeling, an experience comparable to paresthesia, mixed with the sensation of being underwater. Shifting into his shadow form had become second-nature to him, a process akin to slipping into a hot bath after a long day. Once his whole body was converted, the shadow-pony crawled in a serpentine fashion across the floor and merged with the shadow of the dais. It didn't take too long for his other half to awaken and begin dancing around like a fool, something that almost made the shadow-pony titter with amusement and blow his cover.

Once he was alone, the stallion changed back into his regular pony form, a ball of hatred burning deep within him. That was one cretin that he was in desperate need of bumping off but for now, what he really needed was a plan. The Scales of Taijitu were engulfed in a dark magic aura and stuffed into the stallion's saddlebags; no doubt they would become useful later on. Pockets of wind rippled around him, a field of black and purple energy surrounding his body as the scent of black pepper and oak-wood permeated the air. The world fell from under his hooves, sending him spiraling through a whirling white and light cerulean vortex of swirling violets and golden starbursts.

The stallion soon arrived at his destination, his ears popping at the sudden in-rush of air and the rapidly changing altitude. The teleportation spell had deposited him at the entrance of his mountain-lair in the Frozen North, the one place in all of Equestria where he felt the safest. He spoke the password and was admitted entrance, the rune-covered door slamming shut behind him with a titanic boom. It appeared that neither Celestia nor Luna had discovered this area yet, which gave the stallion a much needed boost in confidence. Ever since awakening on that cavern floor, he'd felt a sense of rejuvenation that'd been absent for quite some time, something that he attributed to his other, more miserable half.

Sombra, the amalgamation of the two sides, was constantly fighting a losing internal battle within himself and the stallion didn't need the competition. He was always the strong one, the part of Sombra that kept him alive. How else could he have survived all the trials and tribulations doled out to him? The stallion was the part of him that was the survivor, the one who did whatever it took to both stay alive and to accomplish his goals. He was Sombra and yet, at the same time, he wasn't. He was Sombra Improved, Sombra Liberated, he was...

"Hmm, I need a new name."

When he'd awoken, the stallion had found himself clothed in an all-black cloak, similar to the crimson one his "good" half was garbed in. Clamping down on one end with his tear, he ripped the cloak from his shoulders and wrapped himself in a garment made of tangible darkness like ink-black water. Unlike the previous cloak, which was a simple piece of fabric, this new one flowed and ebbed from his shoulders and down his back as though it were alive. He grinned toothily.

"'Tenebris.' Yes, that'll do nicely."

The stallion, now known as "Tenebris," soon found himself amongst Sombra's horde of relics and totems, items discovered or stolen while on his journey to unlock the secrets of maleficium. Weapons, amulets, spell books, scrolls, a veritable treasure trove of arcane knowledge, much of which was considered lost to time. Two items he would've loved to add to his collection were the Helm of Neighbu and the Eye of Stagamotto, relics that were just as annoyingly elusive as they were exceedingly powerful. He found a particularly macabre tome made of dried brown flesh and bearing the face of a pony trapped in mid-scream. Perhaps one day he'd actually get around to translating the blood-red glyphs etched inside and read the incantations.

He was momentarily startled by the arrival of an identical stranger, only to find that it was his own visage reflected off of the the Mirror of Lady Amalthea as it glimmered softly in the torchlight. Out of all of Sombra's relics, Tenebris found this one to possibly be the most useless out of the collection, as it merely showed the true nature of something. Other than that, it was a big, heavy bauble of vanity. Nevertheless, the stallion stood transfixed as the image in the glass surface morphed into that of a colt, his doleful red eyes staring pitifully back at him. Snarling, Tenebris raised a hind leg and kicked at the mirror, creating a large crack along the glass that split his reflection's face in two.

"Who asked you anyway?" He snarled dismissively.

Sharp pain abruptly seized Tenebris' skull, forcing him to his hocks as he howled in agony. Just as abruptly, the pain soon devolved into a dull ache and he was able to rise to his hooves. Migraines were something he'd never had to deal with, at least not to this caliber and that was mildly concerning. He wobbled a bit, his legs buckling beneath him but he remained standing so he filed the migraine for something to be investigated later. After all, he had pressing matters to attend to, chiefly who exactly he was and what it was that he wanted.

"My head is swimming with memories," he muttered as he grasped at his skull. "So much much anger...yes..."

Just who or what could I possibly be,
Now that I'm...finally free?
What is the direction my path should lead,
Given that now, I'm finally free?
I was once a prisoner,
Caged and chained up like a beast
But thanks to dear Sombra, I've finally been releeeeeased!

There is a rage that I cannot abate
Burning within is pure hate!
I am full of a rage I cannot relate
Something that I must liberate!

I used to dream of darkness
Of being trapped in a void all alone
But I'm now free from the abyssssss
And ready to take back my throooooone!

Vengeance will finally be mine!
Equestria will finally be mine!
I will no longer be dismissed!
They all will feel the wrath of Tenebriiiiis!

A soft, humming glow brought Tenebris' attention to a nearby banquet table. Frowning, he briefly assumed his shadow-form, zipped over to the table, and became corporeal once again. The glow appeared to be emanating from beneath a pile of cobweb-wrapped notes and some pieces of alchemy equipment. Brushing the clutter aside, Tenebris found a silver diamond-shaped pendant with the words, "Quod vis ostendam tibi" inscribed around the marble-sized spherical gem in the center. The pendant in question was known as a desiderion, a talisman that showed whatever it was that the wearer desired and usually glowed with a specific color, such as gold for wealth or a bright orange to indicate fame.

At the moment, the normally-transparent gem was radiating a pink light, a dark violet arrow appearing on the gem's surface. Tenebris picked up the desiderion and turned east, the arrow also moving like the needle of a compass. He rotated again, this time facing face and the previously blinking arrow was now solid. The arrow then transforming into the shape of a familiar mare with a small heart above her head. So it would seem that revenge wasn't the only thing that Tenebris desired and this brought a cruel smirk to his face.

"Little Miss Sparkle, eh? How interesting..."

If Tenebris knew his other half-and he did-then "Good Sombra" would no doubt be on his way to Ponyville or was already there. No, that would not do one bit. Twilight was his and he would have both his revenge and the land of Equestria, complete with a queen to rule at his side. Together, they would establish a mighty dynasty that would last for millennia and nothing or no one would get in the way of that goal. Perhaps he could even invite the Element Bearers and Celestia to the wedding.

"My sweet Tia. Your days are numbered, princess."

Celestia thought she could take what was mine,
My daughter, my love and my life
She'll fall victim to my design
When I take her student as my wife!

The Elements will be useless
No princess can halt my scheme
All creatures shall be oppressed
As I rule supreeeeeme!

At last the pain will end for me
The old wounds will heal!
At last I will rewrite history
Tia's name I'll conceal!

And I'll be a god amongst ponies
Even Faust herself won't be missed
And I'll ensure that
Forever and all of time
The world will know of their king
All hail Tenebris!

What glory does it feel to be free!
At long last I am finally free!
Who knew it would be as grand as this?
I am Sombra no more
I am Tenebris!
My imagination can run free!
There's no stopping my will from being free!
There is nothing that can match this bliss!
Nothing will ever match being Tenebriiiiiiiis!


Tenebris had arrived at the edge of the Everfree Forest, next to where he recalled the Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters existed. He took a whiff of the air, detecting burnt wood and rusted metal, the tell-tale scent of dark magic when it has saturated an area over a long period of time. The wickedness of Grogar's sorcery was as much a part of the landscape as the earth itself, a doorway that had opened up to create the plants and animals that made up the Everfree.

Reconnaissance in Ponyville was quite dull, as to be expected of some Podunk town. Just as Tenebris expected, his light half was indeed with Twilight, staying at her crystal palace of harmony and doing Faust-knows-what. Perhaps he and the mares were participating in a sewing circle and talking about their feelings. Snorting dismissively, Tenebris turned his attention to the castle's entryway, contemplating entering the structure before stopping himself to reassess the situation. Perhaps as an extension of the Tree of Harmony, the castle could very well house some sort of rudimentary consciousness, one that could alert Twilight and her cohorts to the umbrum's presence.

There was also the secondary possibility of Twilight laying down wards and traps for anypony foolish even to intrude upon her property and it was far too early for such a course of action. For now, Tenebris would watch them from afar, biding his time for the opportune moment to strike. As much as he'd revel in being the immediate catalyst for their suffering, he was just as content as working behind the scenes for the time being. The six of them weren't the only obstacles in his way, as not only was there a seventh Element Bearer, that being Twilight's diminutive henchdragon, but there were also three other princesses to contend with. Celestia was his main obstacle, his arch-nemesis and arguably the most powerful of the alicorns so she had to be promptly dealt with if his plans were to come to fruition.

Luna would be tricky as, due to her position as the Princess of the Night, she kept watch over Equestria via the Dreamscape and could thus see Tenebris coming. If he could find a way to hide or otherwise suppress his dreams, that would take care of that issue and allow him to focus on finding a way of taking Luna out. Then, there was Cadence, Princess of Love and his biological daughter. In spite of his gung-ho desire for destruction and retribution, he held no true ill will towards her and wished to neutralize her. No, he had plans for dearest Cadence and they didn't include disposing of her.

Returning to his lair, Tenebris turned to his impressive literary collection for answers. Sifting through the hodge-podge of notes, spell books and bestiaries, Tenebris happened upon a solution to his problems. He flipped through the tome on spells and found a reference to something called the Rite of Ashk’Anter, a ritual that could supposedly summon Thanatos, the Pale Horse himself. If this book was to be believed, the Rite bound Thanatos and forced him to answer any and all questions posed by the summoner. This could prove to be quite useful.

Sombra floated through the void, time no longer existing and space stretching on for all eternity. The Crystal Heart had destroyed his physical form, expelling him to a place between the world of the living and the realm of the dead. A chill somehow ran through his ectoplasmic body. He suddenly became aware that he wasn't alone, a presence making itself known. What appeared to be a giant snow-white face appeared in the purple-black expanse, a pair of dark blue orbs burning within its empty sockets...


Tenebris swiftly banished the memory before it could cause him any real harm. Neither he nor his other half could completely recall everything that'd happened during their time in the void but it was for the best that he didn't try. He eventually found the exact instructions for the rite, which wasn't as difficult as he thought it'd be. Amazingly, not only were the ingredients required for the ritual common and readily available but some of them were already in his possession. It wouldn't take long for him to acquire the rest and soon, Tenebris would be holding a face-to-face meeting with the Embodiment of Death himself, a prospect that was equal parts exciting and terrifying.

He went to work preparing a space for the ritual, first drawing a large five-pointed star in white chalk, then painstakingly inscribing a series of spells in a ring around the star. He then set brass bowls at four points of the star, the bowls filled with ash, salt, rain water, and crow feathers respectively, along with the skull of a unicorn. Lighting eight red candles around the circle, he then lit eight black candles inside of the circle. This task completed, Tenebris stood a few feet away from the star and circle, taking a moment to prepare himself. After all, it wasn't every day one met with the Pale Horse himself.

Eldritch energy flowed from Tenebris' horn, charging the star and circle of sigils with magic.

"Ego, magus, invocabunt in unum nomine Equus Pallidus...."

The mountain rumbled, filling the chamber with a titanic groan.

"Magister Mortis, Collector Animarum, apparent autem, quia hoc tempus est revelare te...."

Torches sputtered and candles flickered, causing the room to fluctuate between light and darkness.

"Thanatos, prodire et responsum meum quaestiones. In summoner cogat!"

The air around Tenebris rippled and popped, a feeling of unknown dread coming over him as though he were about to witness something cosmically undefinable. Nevertheless, he had already come this far so he continued with the incantation.

"Apparet nunc!"

The star and circle roared to life, creating a near-blinding cascade of white, blue, red and purple flames.

"Apparet nunc!"

Balls of energy erupted into crackling sparks around the wall of fire.


Slowly, a figure began to manifest, unperturbed by the fire that he was currently standing in. The flames died down to reveal an equine shape wrapped in a midnight blue cloak with the hood drawn up, the garment held in place with an omega-shaped brooch. Its emaciated body was a sickly yellow-green and, curiously enough, its long limbs ended in three-toed appendages in place of hooves, one such appendage grasping a glittering and especially sharp-looking scythe in its bony grip. A pair of unkempt feathered wings like those of a carrion bird laid at rest at its sides, every feather crooked and bent as though their owner had never tried preening them. In place of a flesh-and-blood head, an elongated chalk-white skull sat on the figure's shoulders, a tall segmented horn gracing the brow and sticking straight through the top of the hood like a jousting lance.

It was the figure's eyes, however, that speared Tenebris' heart with mortal terror, a pair of glowing blue orbs floating within the skull's empty black eye sockets.


"You know much, Thanatos," Tenebris replied with a bow. "Now, you will answer my questions."


Tenebris' smirk widened.

"I want to know how to conquer Equestria..."


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Twilight's eyes shot open. A noise like an off-key note pierced the air, a horrified scream loud enough to echo throughout the castle's halls. Launching herself out of bed, Twilight galloped at full speed in the direction of the sound, her mind racing just as quickly with a multitude of unpleasant scenarios. She skidded to a stop, her hooves having inevitably brought her to the room of the only other creature currently staying at the castle. Throwing open the door, she burst into the room and quickly discovered Sombra huddled up in the right-hand corner of the bedroom, his pale face slack and scarlet eyes widened in terror as he lightly released a series of heaving whimpers.

"Sombra?" Twilight sat down in front of him, a hoof lightly grazing his face. "What's wrong?"

He turned to her, a full-body shiver causing him to shake in place.

"The nightmares...Faust, the nightmares! How did I live with them before?"

Twilight scooted in closer. "Nightmares? About what?"

"Everything," Sombra answered with a shudder. "Grimoire, my adoptive parents, the crystal ponies."

"Sombra, it's alright." She stroked his scarred cheek gently. "That's in the past-..."

"No, you don't understand!" He yelled with a small voice crack. "I made them suffer and..." The stallion looked as though he was on the verge of tears. "...I liked it. I enjoyed making their lives miserable."

Twilight said nothing; what could she say?

"At first, I told myself that it was right, that I was just getting my revenge but then it started to feel good. The chains, the expressions of despair, the power..."

Sombra let out a choking sound and buried his face in his hooves, his chest heaving as he wept. Twilight rubbed Sombra's back and gently shhhed him as he laid his head on her shoulder. Up until that moment, Twilight had never fully comprehended the psychological damage he'd sustained throughout his life, the anguish he suffered and did so alone. He'd been traumatized at a young age, had his mind wiped and replaced with false memories, and received the shock of learning that the life he'd been living was a lie constructed by one who aided in the extinction of his kind. And this was all before the advancements in psychiatric care, which could've aided him had it existed back then.

The more she thought about it, Twilight came to the conclusion that his dark half, the cold side of Sombra was the one that enabled him to take the mental and emotional strain of his experiences. Without it, the realization of his actions and the pain of his memories burst free and there was no dam to stop the raging waters. The negative aspects that Sombra had removed, ironically, served a beneficial purpose to his overall health. For all of his harsh, seemingly bleak pragmatism, the umbrum took his pain in stride, finding a way to continue moving in spite of it. It seemed as though he traded one stigma for an even worse one.

Eventually, Sombra laid back down and fell fast asleep, his guilt and shame no longer plaguing him if his light snoring was of any indication. Acting as the big spoon, Twilight kissed Sombra's brow and snuggled up against his back, magically pulling the blankets over them, locking in their shared body warmth. She continued to watch him as though she were some kind of sleep-time guardian. Perhaps Princess Luna would appear to him and give him some advice like she always did for everypony else. As busy as she was, she always made time for those who needed guidance the most, taking time out of her schedule to comfort the despondent sufferers of nightmares.

The light breaths exuding from the stallion lying next to her gave Twilight some little comfort. As much as she loved him, she was aggravated by her inability to help Sombra through his issues and wished there was something she could do short of memory manipulation. Although... No! The previous rulers of the Crystal Empire saw no harm in using mind magic against a young colt's will and she would not subject him to the same procedure. Failure to learn from the past doomed the future.

Twilight sighed and nuzzled Sombra's neck.

"How do I help you?"


The next morning, Twilight awoke alone in Sombra's bed and released a large yawn. Clearing the gunk from her eyes, she splashed some water on her face before trotting into the kitchen. There, she found Sombra cooking eggs over the stove while wearing a light blue apron, the frying pan engulfed in a red aura. He appeared to be humming a tune Twilight was unfamiliar with, perhaps a folk song from his colthood. Adding in a sprinkling of pepper, he noticed Twilight's presence and gave her a huge grin.

"Góðan daginn elskan mín," Sombra purred, then winced. "Sorry, I meant, 'Good morning, my love.' I sometimes forget you don't speak umbrumese."

"It's okay," Twilight replied and slid into a chair at the table, where silverware and a folded napkin had already been placed. "Are you alright?"

"I'm fine," Sombra responded over his shoulder. "I've had nightmares like that before but everything's alright now. There's no need to worry."

Twilight had her doubts but decided not to push the matter.

"If you say so. Are you making breakfast?"

"I ate an hour ago and figured that I could do the same for you."

Returning to his humming, Sombra included some additional ingredients like cheese, mushrooms, basil, parsley and tomatoes. Forming the eggs into a solid mass, he slid the omelette onto a plate and set a plate before Twilight. The meal was completed with a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice and half a grapefruit. Sombra then bowed deeply, a grin of satisfaction formed on his face.

"Omelette de Sombra. I hope you like it."

Cutting off a piece with her fork, Twilight took a small bite and was instantly overcome by a wave of euphoria. Everything was perfect, from the right amount of cheese to the measurement of seasonings and the ratio of tomato and mushroom slices, all culminating in easily the most scrumptious omelette she'd ever tasted. She regarded Sombra with a sense of awe.

"This is amazing! Where did you learn how to cook?"

"Well, I picked up several skills during my travels," Sombra admitted with a slight blush. "I didn't just spend my time learning magic. You really enjoy it that much?"

"'Enjoy it' is an understatement. It's wonderful!"

Sombra kissed Twilight's cheek. "It warms my heart to hear you say that."

Twilight shoveled several more bites into her mouth in a very un-princess-like manner.

"By the way," she managed once she'd gulped down the remainder of the omelette. "What were you humming? It was very pleasant-sounding."

Sombra slid into the vacant seat next to Twilight.

"It was something my mother used to sing to me. 'Mig dreymdi hann aftur.' It means, 'I Dreamt of Him Again.' It's a love song about a mare finding her perfect stallion."

"Could you sing it?"

Sombra chuckled somewhat self-deprecatingly. "I'm afraid I'm not much of a singer."


Twilight ensured to make her eyes extra large, her lower lip pushed out and quivering.

Rolling his eyes, Sombra shook his head. "Fine but don't say I didn't warn you."

Closing his eyes, he took a breath and began:

"I dreamt of him again
Of promises to treasure me
His eyes were shining
As he held me close
And then the sun returned

When the moon was high
And the stars were alight
We met under a yew tree
He took my hoof in his
And we danced through the air

The world stopped just for us
With the moon and stars above
My love and I danced on the wind
Lost in the eyes of the other
His smile was mine and mine alone

I dreamt of him again
I know he will soon arrive
Dressed in silk and gold
He will ask for my hoof
And be mine for all ages

My love, my dearest
Please hurry soon
The dawn is breaking
The night is almost gone
Please love me as I love you."

The song completed, Sombra opened his eyes and gazed right into Twilight's, her cheeks flushed and throat dry. His voice was actually quite wonderful, the umbrum's baritone creating the right blend of soft and deep. There was also the passion with which he performed it, imbuing it with longing and hopefulness, just like the song's heroine. Twilight couldn't understand why Sombra disliked singing; he had the talent and spirit for it yet he always shied away from singing with others, insisting that it was something that he'd rather not take part it. Was it a self-confidence issue?

"That was amazing," Twilight said breathlessly. "I didn't know you could sing like that."

Sombra drew back, his once-bright expression reverting to one of wistful contemplation.

"Thank you, Twilight. It's just not something that I regularly do."

"Why not? I'm sure the girls would love to hear you. You have a real gift!"

Practically shoving his chair away, Sombra went to work clearing the table.

"You're too kind. Maybe we should see what everyone else is up to."

Picking up on his reticent tone, Twilight sadly left Sombra to his own devices.


The two strolled through the streets of Ponyville side-by-side with the sun on their backs and not a care in the world. Leaving the castle did wonders for Sombra's mood, his dolefulness replaced with unbridled joy, his tail intertwined with hers. Twilight didn't bring up the incident in the kitchen and neither did Sombra and she was quite content with that. She'd honestly never seen Sombra looking so carefree, as though a great weight had been lifted off his shoulders, allowing him to actually relax for once.

Ponies, of course, stopped and stared, taking turns to mutter to one another in hushed tones. Given that a Princess of Equestria was being so openly affectionate with a mystery stallion was grounds for juicy gossip, especially in a small-town setting. Sombra didn't seem to care, keeping his attention solely fixed on his marefriend so Twilight didn't care either. They made their way past the rumor mill and soon came upon Sugarcube Corner, the restaurant looking as busy as usual. Twilight could practically taste the cupcakes that were usually kept on display behind a glass case.

As they neared the door, Cranky Doodle Donkey shouldered past Sombra, dropping a sack of Danish's. He then turned and scowled at Sombra.

"Hey, watch it!"

The air was filled with bare intensity was Twilight worriedly snapped her head in Sombra's direction. The last time she'd seen someone upset him, he almost strangled a diamond dog and afterwards showed no remorse. It wasn't until she sent him away that he displayed any kind of regret for his actions. Then again, that part of Sombra was gone, leaving only his positive traits. Twilight waited with anxious anticipation for his reaction and prayed to Faust that it wasn't one of violence.

Sombra's entire demeanor changed. He bowed his head, his eyes lowered to the ground.

"I'm sorry, sir," he apologized rather timidly. "I'll watch where I'm walking next time."

"Hmph, you do that," Cranky grumbled as he retrieved his bag. Twisting on his hindhooves, he turned away from Sombra, his tail whipping around to smack him in the snout.

"Big clumsy oaf," he added under his breath and made his exit.

Twilight's mouth hung open the whole time. She turned to Sombra incredulously.

"Why did you let him talk to you like that?"

"I didn't want a confrontation," Sombra murmured, keeping his gaze lowered. "It was better to just let him have his way than to make things worse."

It was good that Sombra handled the situation in a non-aggressive manner but letting someone treat him like a doormat was downright inconceivable. Sombra was a no-nonsense stallion who refused to take trash from anyone, even ponies much more powerful than him like Princess Celestia. His adamant belief in himself and conviction to his ideals was part of the reason Twilight fell for him in the first place. Now he was acting like Fluttershy or Flash Sentry, the latter of which did something very similar during one of their dates when a nearby mare was talking too loud and berated Flash for speaking up. The stallion standing before her was a ghost of his former self.

Is it possible that more than just his negative traits was taken away?

"Come on, let's go inside."

Twilight led the way, magically opening the door despite Sombra's insistence that he should hold it open for her. The act, though sweet and chivalrous, was kind of patronizing and even a tad disconcerting given how Sombra usually treated her as an equal rather than a lady to wait on. If she wanted to be treated like a dainty little princess, then she would've stayed with Flash and let him fuss over her. Twilight wondered if she was being wishy-washy about the whole thing and was being unfair to Sombra. After all, he literally changed who he was in order to please her and help make their relationship work.

In the far end of the joint, Applejack and the others sat at two tables pushed together, the surfaces covered in half-empty milkshake glasses and plates of various sugary sweets. The farmpony grinned and waved a hoof in their direction. Taking two of the three available chairs, Twilight and Sombra sat down at the table and were greeted by a chorus of greetings from the four mares. Fluttershy, Applejack, and Rarity looked pleased to see Sombra while an uninterested Rainbow Dash peeked at him out of the corner of her eye. In no time at all, Pinkie Pie came zipping into focus.

"Hi Twilight, hi Sombra! What can I get for you?"

"I think I'll try the apple cinnamon scone with a side of soy milk, please."

Sombra took a quick glance at the menu. "The triple chocolate chunk crunch cookie sounds delicious. Hmm, I will have that and a...medium-sized bonkers blueberry blast smoothie."

"Coming right up!"

"So Sombra, me an' th' girls was wonderin' how's bein' like this treatin' yah?"

Folding his hooves, Sombra thought for a moment.

"It's a bit strange. I know that I'm me but I'm also not me."

"What do you mean?" Rarity questioned him.

"I feel as though something's missing. Do you ever have an off-day, one where you don't feel like yourself? It's like that for me all of the time. When I look back on my past actions, I remember doing them but I can't believe that I did. I suppose that it's reminiscent of waking up from a very vivid dream and almost swearing that what took place in it really happened."

"That doesn't make any sense."

Ignoring Rainbow's remark, Fluttershy commented softly, "Sounds very confusing."

"That it is," Sombra agreed. "In fact, I think that I should change my name. I don't feel that I'm close enough to who I was to continue being called 'Sombra.'"

"But wha' would ya change it to?"

"I don't know. Something more...apt, I think."

Twilight thought for a moment and a light bulb went off in her head.

"What about 'Lumos'? It's fitting, since you're Sombra's light half right?"

"'Lumos?'" The stallion repeated it a couple of more times, acclimating his mouth to the new name like trying on a new hat. "Lumos. Lumos. Yes, I think that will do just fine."

Pinkie reappeared with a steel tray, placing each order in front of their respective customers.

"One apple cinnamon scone, a glass of soy milk, a triple chocolate chunk crunch cookie and a medium-sized bonkers blueberry blast smoothie."

"Thank you, Pinkie. This all looks-..."

Without warning, Sombra, or rather, "Lumos," winced sharply and doubled over, his face twisted into one of extreme agony. His hooves clamped onto both sides of his head, which he now shook as if in a vain attempt at dislodging something. While everyone else began panicking, Twilight instantly rushed around the table and placed her hooves on Lumos' shoulders.

"Lumos! What's wrong? Speak to me!"

Sucking in air, Lumos tried to speak, instead gritting his teeth to stifle an oncoming groan.

Placing the tip of her horn on Lumos' brow, Twilight poured her magic through the appendage and into his head. She could feel some sort of tension and though it wasn't an ailment caused by physical distress, it still had a presence within the stallion's skull. If Twilight had to guess, the root of the affliction was magical in nature, just not any kind of magic she was familiar with. Concentrating, she felt around until she sensed a sort of "web" of thaumaturgical energy, every strand reaching through Lumos' body and connecting to form a new portion of the web. This told her that it wasn't a pony-born spell; a curse cast on one pony by another would closer resemble a hexagon instead of the more circular, intricately-made web-like shape found here.

Although Twilight couldn't break the spell, she could alleviate Lumos' pain. She focused on each strand, her own magic covering them in a thin layer that patted it down. Lumos shuddered at the contact but remained still, an act that ensured Twilight could continue her treatment unimpeded. Eventually, she worked her way to the quote-unquote "nerve center" of the curse, engulfing it in a protective barrier in order to keep it from assaulting Lumos any further. It lashed out at the barrier, furiously banging on the barrier's walls but was still trapped by Twilight's magic, seemingly ceasing its attack for the moment.

Twilight allowed the aura around her horn to fizzle out, panting as the magical exertion set in. Whatever this magic was, it was unlike any she'd encountered before, carrying with it traces of an older form not practiced in centuries. Lumos had stopped whimpering, gasping in short breaths as he nodded at Twilight and kissed her cheeks in gratitude. For now, he was going to be okay though Twilight was uncertain when the next flare-up would occur. For now, she was content with being held in Lumos' forelegs.

"What in Celestia's name was that?" Rarity queried in astonishment.

"I don't...know," Lumos answered, still reeling from his experience. "I've felt it before but it was nowhere near this severe. I know as much as the rest of you."

Applejack rose from her seat, both forehooves firmly planted on the table.

"Ah don't know 'bout y'all, but Ah reckon there's gotta be somethin' we can do 'bout this. Twilight, d'ya think Princess Celestia might have uh clue as t' wha' this is?"

Twilight bit her lip. "Maybe. I could ask but without Spike here, it'll take longer for word to reach her and I'm already worried how well Lumos might fare. Perhaps for now, we should try looking up some answers in the library."


Back at the Castle of Friendship, the six mares-and Lumos-scoured the library for answers, pulling up any book they could find on relics, hexes, curses, spells, talismans, and magical maladies. Lumos, however, was feeling faint and, despite his protests, was escorted back to his room by Applejack, who had to resort to helping to carry him when one of his hindlegs went numb. That wasn't all, as Applejack noticed that his face was looking paler with more pronounced cheekbones and noticeable wrinkles. His gem-like eyes lost much of their previous luster, the faded red orbs now staring dully at her through dark, baggy eyelids. When he attempted to argue with her, even trying and failing to stand on his own, she had to resort to threatening to hog-tie him for the stallion to relent.

"Sombra, er, Lumos is back in his room. Ah gotta tell y'all, he looks mighty awful, like he's sick."

"Whatever this curse or hex is, it's sucking the life out of him!" Twilight speculated, tossing a book onto a stack. "There's got to be something here!"

"Everypony, I think I've found something!"

They all crowded around Rarity, who held up a large, rust-brown book with white-yellow pages. The book was turned to an illustration of a golden idol in the shape of an ox, the bovine sitting in the lotus position, its face both smiling serenely and snarling fiercely. It held a pair of balanced scales in each outstretched hoof, with one scale holding a sphere wrapped in flames and the other a sphere surrounded by smoke. On its stomach were two teardrop-shaped symbols, one white and one black, encircling the other in a kind of dance. The caption at the top of the page read, "THE SCALES OF TAIJITU--The RELIC OF BALANCE AND SELF-REFLECTION."

"It's right here in Kanthaka's Facts and Artifacts."

"Nice work, Rares!" Rainbow complimented her.

"What does it say?" Pinkie asked with her head cocked to the side.

Clearing her throat, Rarity adorned her red glasses and read aloud:

"'The Scales of Taijitu are a powerful relic from Chineigh that has the power to separate whoever uses it into two beings: one embodying all of the user's positive traits, and one comprised of their darkest impulses. They were the creation of Qianlima, a sorcerer who wished to rid himself of his worst qualities, leaving only the pure and good of his soul. The Scales divided Qianlima into two halves-one light and one dark-but quickly realized that doing so disrupted the balance of the universe as good cannot exist without bad, just as bad cannot exist without good. With every minute the two halves remained separated, the weaker they became, starting with splitting headaches and a feeling of fatigue. Had Qianlima not managed to unite his two halves before the sunset of the seventh day, then both would've faded from existence.'"

"Tha's why Lumos is so sick!" Applejack exposited. "He needs t' unite wi' his missin' half in order t' become whole!"

"Or else they'll both disappear forever!" Pinkie added.

They all found Twilight staring blankly ahead, her face resembling that of someone who had just been struck by a great and terrible epiphany.

"Twi? What's wrong?" Rainbow placed a hoof on her friend's shoulder. "You look like you've seen a ghost!"

"What is it?" Fluttershy inquired.

"If Sombra's good half is here, then that means...there's an evil Sombra out there somewhere..."

Training Day

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The Canterlot Library was the most extensive source of information in all of Equestria, a literary treasure trove comprised of over one-hundred-and-forty million books. History, science, mathematics, art, all nonfiction subjects could be found within and for the most die-hard readers, it was like arriving in Elysium. Spike saw it as one of the most boring places in the world but necessity demanded that he spend time there, particularly in the Magic Section. It sounded straightforward enough, except for the fact that the Magic Section led to Alchemy, Transmutation, Evocation, Sigil Magic, Shamanism and about a hundred other subsections, each complete with their own mile-long row of shelves. Only a complete nerd like Twilight could be able to safely navigate their way back to the exit without getting lost in the labyrinth of books and Spike found himself wishing Twilight was here.

Why did I turn down the offer of a guide again?

This was his first time being in the library by himself and now he was lost. Ever since being named the Element of Empathy and helping to save the world, Spike found his reputation had received a huge boost. Now instead of just the crystal ponies, he had fans all over Equestria and this raised his confidence levels through the proverbial roof. Then came the revelation about his latent magical gifts and suddenly, he felt strong enough to arm-wrestle Lord Tirek. The only drawback was his pride, leading him to insist that he could travel the Magic Section of the library alone and at night.

He nervously slid a finger across the surface of the metal band around his neck as though it were a protective amulet. It was actually a magic inhibiting collar that had been specially designed by Professor Mandrake in order to keep his sporadic breath powers in check. Crafted out of a rare metal known as adamantine, it was a thin ring of brass-colored metal with silver "cracks" running along the surface and adorned with a series of sigils. Aside from ensuring Spike didn't accidentally hurt anypony, it also looked pretty cool, easily passing for just an ornate piece of jewelry. So far, it did its job and he hadn't experienced a single hiccup, both figuratively and literally.

The only sounds Spike could detect were the plopping of his feet on the stone floor and the squeaking of the Rodeo Flyer wagon he dragged behind him, interspersed with the crackling of wall-mounted torches. His wagon was haphazardly stuffed with books, the sight of which would've driven Twilight into a compulsive freak-out, followed by a frenzied haste to straighten and organize everything by title, size, index number, color and subject. As much as he loved Twilight, both as a friend and big sister-figure, there were times in which he needed a break away from the borderline obsessive-compulsive alicorn. He wondered if things were going alright between her and Sombra given that they'd just reconciled over an argument shortly before he left. Spike truly wanted them to be happy and to work through their issues, to make it as a real couple.

If such an odd pairing like theirs could endure, then there was hope for him and a certain unicorn yet.

Rounding a corner, Spike dug in his heels and came to a halt, arriving in front of a statue depicting Clover the Clever and Gusty the Great standing side-by-side, their expressions solemn and authoritative. Gusty's right foreleg was propped up by a large bell and her left foreleg rested on a sword's crossguard. Meanwhile, Clover was grasping several scrolls under his foreleg and wore an ornate key around his neck. Despite having taken alternate routes, this was the third time Spike had passed said statue and judging by their stone-carved glares, they were silently judging him.

Yep, it was official: he was lost.

"'Spike, are you sure you don't want somepony to show you around the library?' 'No thank you, Princess Celestia. I can manage it on my own.'"

Spike sat down in a crouching position and folded his arms over his chest.

"So much for the great Seventh Element Bearer," he remarked bitterly.

"Even the great slip up sometimes, Spike."

The feminine voice sent Spike leaping into the air and tumbling backward, flipping the wagon over onto its side and depositing all of its contents. Rubbing his head, he found Princess Luna standing over him with an apologetic look, one hoof held over her mouth.

"I am so sorry, Spike! I did not mean to scare you, I swear!"

Wrapping Spike in a blue aura, she lifted him to his feet before placing the wagon back on all four wheels and cleaning up the scattered books.

She dusted him off with her hoof and chuckled sheepishly.

"My apologies, again. Are you alright?"

"I'm okay. It's really not a big deal. And I wasn't scared. You just startled me, that's all."

"Of course. Sister sent me down here to retrieve you. She knew you'd get lost."

"I wasn't lost!"

Princess Luna looked at him skeptically.

"Okay, maybe I was a teeny bit misplaced."

Princess Luna gave Spike a scalp rub and giggled.

"Well, let us un-misplace you. I know this place by heart."

Something blue-gray scurried past Spike's leg and the dragon was about ready to panic when he saw that it was just Tiberius, Princess Luna's pet opossum. It stared up at him with big black eyes that Spike would've normally found creepy except these eyes were so cute and full of innocence. Spike bent over and gave the opossum an affectionate chin scratch, earning him a soft clicking purr.

"Hey Tiberius. Good to see you."

"He followed me down here." Princess Luna shook her head in amusement. "He doesn't like it when I'm gone for long periods of time but that's okay. I love my Tibby-wibbins."

Tiberius scampered away from Spike and climbed up Luna's foreleg, which she then lifted so that the two could nuzzle one another's cheeks. Even with her sociology training and network of friends, Princess Luna was a very private mare, preferring to spend whatever free time she had by herself, a trait that, according to Princess Celestia, she'd possessed long before Nightmare Moon's influence. As she herself had learned during her thousand-year solo-rule, pets were excellent for emotional support and so suggested this to Luna. They went through the usual options-dogs, cats, hamsters-before trying more exotic choices like snakes, bats, and foxes but none of them clicked with the rather fickle Luna. During a picnic, the sisters discovered a opossum eating Celestia's specially-reserved cake and Luna instantly fell in love with the marsupial and adopted him, much to her sister's consternation.

Still, no one could argue with the results.

Spike followed Luna and Tiberius through the labyrinthine collection of seemingly never-ending bookshelves until they arrived at the security checkpoint right back where Spike started. The two guards stationed there gave the pair nods of acknowledgement, their eyes steadfastly watching any and all possible breaches. Spike may've declined the offer of a guide but Princess Celestia insisted that guards be posted while he perused the necessary books for his research. On the one hand, he was touched by her continually looking after him but on the other, she still treated him like a little kid, just like everyone else. He helped to save Equestria too and if experience were years, he'd be a young adult by now.

"What seems to be the better, Spike? You appear to be deep in thought."

Spike jolted slightly at Luna's voice. "Oh, um, it's nothing."

Princess Luna quickly glanced down at him, then peered straight ahead.

"Believe me when I say that holding things in hinders more than it helps."

Maybe she'll understand if I explain it to her?

"I guess...I'm just tired of everyone treating me like I'm just some kid. Especially Princess Celestia and Twilight. I just want..."

"...To be treated like an equal?" Princess Luna finished.

Spike was stunned silent, only managing a weak nod.

Princess Luna's lip curled up. "That is a feeling I am all too familiar with."

Passing through a grand archway and past two bowing guards, Princess Luna continued.

"Even with my former position reinstated, I sometimes feel as though Tia does not fully respect me or the work that I do. We rule together but I am nothing more than a decoration."

"Well, even if Princess Celestia doesn't appreciate the work you do for us, I know that I and many ponies do."

"Thank you, Spike. Still, even with the time that has passed since my return, it still seems as though I am a stranger to my subjects. I am not the most sociable of ponies, not even when Tia and I were growing up. Discord actually helped me with that."


A nostalgic grin crept onto Princess Luna's face.

"He was my foalhood friend. Sometimes it felt as though it was us against the world."

It might've been Spike's imagination but he could've sworn the princess was blushing.

"So, um, were you and Discord, you know, together?"

Princess Luna's cheeks greatly reddened. "Are you asking if we dated?"


"We did. Faust, we were so madly in love."

Hearing that Princess Luna and Discord were once a couple was quite the earth-shattering revelation. It seemed like such a random pairing and yet, it made a lot of sense. One was a socially-awkward princess who lived in the shadow of her more popular older sister and the other a mischievous draconequus who was no doubt treated differently due to his appearance. The two were outcasts and found solace in one another, a mare of night and a bringer of chaos, both of which were second-class to the day and order. He actually found it romantic and a bit inspiring if not for the obvious fact that the relationship ended badly for them.

"So what happened? Between you and Discord, I mean."

Princess Luna stopped, Tiberius now clinging to her shoulder, his tail wrapped around her upper foreleg.

"It appears we have arrived at your room."

Lo and behold, they stood in front of the door marked with a paper cutout of a gem, Spike's name scrawled on it in crayon. Princess Celestia pretty much kept everything Spike made as a hatchling: crayon sketches, finger-paint drawings, warped clay pots, birthday cards, paper Hearth's Warming snowmares, et cetera. Sadly, Twilight did the same thing, the two going out of their way to embarrass him with anecdotes about his childhood or pictures of him sucking his tail. It was stuff like that that made him upset with the two, and pretty everyone else for that matter. With the exception of Sombra and Luna, Spike's friends went out of their way to keep away from fights and other "nasty business."

"I guess so. Hey, listen, thanks for everything, Princess Luna. It means a lot."

The mare bowed and smiled fondly at him. "I am always glad to help a friend. Now, do not worry about your friends' treatment of you. They only do it because they care for you."

"Yeah, I know."

Princess Luna then rubbed her chin. "I do think that there is something I can do to help you."

"You do?"

"Indeed. I will talk to Tia and although I cannot promise anything, I can try to alleviate your issues concerning your feelings about your friends' perception of you."

Spike wrapped his arms around Princess Luna's foreleg.

"Thank you so much!"

Princess Luna chuckled and gave his head an affectionate rub.

"You are welcome. Good night, Spike. Pleasant dreams."


The next day soon arrived and despite the rough night of sleep, mostly due to excited anticipation, Spike awoke feeling refreshed and highly motivated to get to work. Today was when he officially began his magic training and having sat through both Unicorn School classes and Twilight's lectures, he had a pretty good idea of what to expect. What he was clueless about was whatever Princess Luna had in mind to help him as she was purposefully vague about what that entailed. He looked to the small mess he'd made of his room, mainly the random piles of books and crumpled up balls of paper and in any other circumstance, would've cleaned everything up before Twilight could even have time to scold him. Since Twilight wasn't there, however, he decided he'd deal with straightening things up later.

Practically leaping out of bed, he rushed out of his room and down the halls, his stubby little legs carrying him as fast as they could. Entering the dining room, he found both princesses seated at the elongated table, several piles of Prench toast sat still-steaming on the finest plates bits could buy.

"Good morning, Spike," Princess Celestia cheerfully greeted him.

"Good to see you up and about, Spike," Princess Luna said softly.

"Morning, Princesses."

Spike climbed onto a chair so that he sat with Princess Celestia on his left and Princess Luna across from him. Due to the latter's nighttime schedule, he didn't get to see her often whenever he visited Canterlot with Twilight so it was a nice change of pace to share breakfast with her. Filling his plate with four pieces of Prench toast, Spike grabbed a handful of crushed gems from a nearby bowl and scattered them on the toast like one would strawberries or bananas. Topping it off with a generous amount of syrup, he dug in with gusto, not missing the shared look of amusement the Royal Sisters shared with one another. Ignoring this, he ensured to swallow and give himself a moment before he spoke as not to appear ill-mannered.

"So what's on the docket for today?"

Princess Celestia flashed her sister a conspiratorial grin before addressing Spike.

"Well, after a compelling talk with Luna last night, I've agreed to let her teach you magic instead of Professor Mandrake."

"Wait, really?"

This was exciting! Professor Mandrake was nice and all but Princess Luna was someone he was familiar with and trusted with his life. Besides, who else could say that the Princess of the Night herself was their magic teacher? In fact, as far as he knew, Princess Luna had never taken a student before so this was a historical occasion. And him being a dragon was even more awesome!

Wait until Twilight hears about this!

"In addition," Princess Celestia continued, albeit a bit more worriedly. "I've given Lulu permission to train you in melee combat as well, provided that you only train with wooden weapons."

Princess Luna's smile faltered somewhat at the mention of "wooden weapons" but she quickly perked back up.

"You see? I told you that I'd find a way to help!"

Spike found himself flabbergasted. Was this really happening?

"You're going to teach me how to fight?"

"How to defend yourself," Princess Celestia corrected him. "As an Element of Harmony, it is expected of you to undertake dangerous missions for the good of Equestria and while I'd prefer to keep you out of harm's way, you've already proven yourself more than capable on multiple occasions. Self-defense is an invaluable skill that I'd rather you learn here and now rather than not at all."

"Thank you. Thank you both so much!"

"Enjoy your breakfast, Spike," Princess Luna began in a playfully serious tone. "Your training starts in an hour."


Following Princess Luna's directions, Spike arrived in the southern section of the castle, one which he was unfamiliar with and required a royal guard to show him around just so he could commit the location to memory. He was led to a massive, multi-tiered room surrounded by columns and giant rectangular windows, all leading to a glass domed top. The walls of the ground floor were decorated with an assortment of weapons new and old and alcoves of statues depicting armored ponies, their bodies frozen in mid-battle. In the center of the room, there was an enclosed arena of sand large enough to fit the entire population of Ponyville. It was, in a word, awe-inspiring.

"Ah, you are on time, I see."

Princess Luna entered from an unseen entrance, an excited, toothy grin on her face. She was wearing a set of purple-black armor, complete with a plumed helm and ornately decorated breastplate, plated armor protecting her limbs and flanks. It wasn't until she moved that it was apparent that the armor actually carried the qualities of a beetle's shell, subtly changing color in the sunlight. A sword hung from her side and she grasped a black-shafted spear with a long head that tapered into a fine point. Spike stood in awe, as though witnessing what the mare before him was like in her glory days as a warrior-princess battling the forces of evil.

"Whoa, you look awesome!"

"Thank you," Princess Luna replied smugly. "But unfortunately, this isn't going to stay."

Removing her sword and scabbard, she levitated them off to the side along with her spear. She then peeled the armor away piece-by-piece, depositing them onto a nearby display mannequin.

"Sorry, I do not often get to show off."

"It's okay. So what is this place? I've never been here before."

Princess Luna gazed around her surroundings with an almost nostalgic wistfulness.

"This is the Royal Coliseum. Grand exhibitions used to be held here, from gladiatorial matches to marvelous displays of flight and acrobatics. Sadly, this place was converted into a royal guard training area, only to be abandoned once again. It took some time but I finally managed to restore it somewhat to its former glory."

Spike could almost hear the cries of excitement from applauding nobles, the smell of food being served to the crowds, the clang of swords against shields. It was almost like stepping back in time.

"Now then..."

With a clap of Princess Luna's hooves, a pair of royal guards wheeled in a weapons rack while a third set down a wooden dummy carved to resemble a pony, its riveted joints allowing for better articulation in a simulated fight. The three guards stood in a row, bowed, and then promptly left without a word. Princess Luna gestured towards the weapons rack.

"...Choose your weapon."

Spike looked over his choices, all of which were, of course, constructed out of various types of wood. Long swords, scimitars, axes, daggers, falchions, quarterstaves, and clubs were all on display. He considered going with a dagger that could work for him as a sword but he refused, reasoning that he didn't know anything about swordfighting. In the end, he went with a pinewood cudgel that was the right size to function as a staff. Taking up the cudgel in both hands, Spike turned and faced Princess Luna, who seemed to nod in approval.

"Not a bad choice," she considered. "That is a good place to start."

Her blue aura surrounded a blackthorn quarterstaff, which then sent the object flying over to float in front of Princess Luna. She gave it a few practice swings, then pointed it at Spike.

"Now, we begin. First, spread your feet. One of the most important factors of any form of close-ranged combat is hoof-I mean, foot-work. Foot-work and balance. Too far. Put them closer together. Closer. Closer. Perfect! Raise your staff up a little higher."

Spike did as he was instructed, feeling more laser-focused than he had in a long time.

"Good, good. Now, place your right foot in front. Bend your knees. Yes, now your stance is more secure, making for more stability and allowing for better blows."

"So when do we get to the fighting?"

"Soon, young drake. Soon."

Princess Luna poked the back of Spike's left hand.

"Bring your hand back a little...good. When handling a staff, keep your hands spread apart. One hand for keeping it steady, the other for maneuverability."

"Yes, sensei."


"It means 'teacher.' I read it in a copy of Juvenile Gecko Warrior Freaks."

"That works, I suppose." Shaking her head, Princess Luna continued. "Give me a jab."

Hesitating, Spike saw the determination on Princess Luna's face and half-heartedly extended his arms, the tip of his staff slowly moving forward. Princess Luna's staff deflected the blow, which was nothing more than a gentle love-tap. The mare shook her head disappointingly.

"Too soft. You need to give it more oomph! Use your shoulders and actually lunge forward. Again."

Heeding her advice, Spike twisted his shoulders when he struck, hitting Princess Luna's staff harder the before.

"Excellent! Now give me a side-swing."


Princess Luna nodded. "Good, but try twisting your body more. Put your hips into your attack. Again."

Taking a step forward, Spike swung his staff, this time incorporating his hips.


"Very good! You're learning quickly!"

Spike relaxed, letting his shoulders sag. "Thank you, Princess."

Without warning, Princess Luna brought her staff down in an overhead-strike. Spike only barely managed to bring his own staff up, blocking the blow and nearly knocking his staff out of his hands. Princess Luna gave Spike a tiny smirk and withdrew, giving him time to recover from the sudden assault. Spike let out a chuckle, rubbing his chest.

"Remember, Spike," Princess Luna stated. "Never let your guard down during an engagement."


Princess Luna chuckled, placing both her staff and Spike's back on the weapons rack.

"That's enough of that for today. Let's move onto magic training."

Bringing the wooden dummy forward, Princess Luna waved a hoof at her throat.

"Take off your collar."

Spike's eyes bugged at this.

"I'm sorry?"

"Remove your inhibiting collar."

As much as Spike respected and trusted Princess Luna, he was hesitant to follow her order. He remembered how much damage he caused, both at Sugarcube Corner and the Castle of Friendship and didn't want that to happen again. Professor Mandrake said he had an ambient thaum count of one-hundred-and-fifty-seven, but later remarked that it could become even larger, somewhere in the hundred-nineties, well beyond the average unicorn level. To put it in prospective, Princess Celestia's thaum count was four-hundred-and-twenty, Princess Luna had three-hundred-and-ninety-four, and Twilight was measured at around three-hundred-fourteen. As it turns out, ambient thaum readings can grow overtime; the more powerful the spell a unicorn or alicorn casts, the more their bodies are able to adapt to the energy output and thus they are able to absorb more thaums, so it appeared that Spike's potential has yet to be reached.

Spike nervously wrung his hands. "I don't know about this..."

Placing a hoof on Spike's shoulder, Princess Luna knelt down and locked eyes with him.

"Spike, me."

It was difficult to look away from that gentle face or sympathetic teal eyes.

"Alright, I'll do it," Spike sighed.

Reluctantly, his claws fumbled at the snap-latch on the back of the collar. He finally managed to hook a nail into the latch and pulled it free, releasing the collar into his left hand. A semi-transparent field of golden amber spheres vibrated around him, rising and falling in an arc along his body, closing in around him like a gilded portrait frame. The aura pulsated, ebbing and flowing, pushing outward in violent bursts before settling and resuming their peaceful rotation. Still, in spite of the seeming lull, Spike remained on edge, biting his lip and waiting for something to go horribly wrong.

A few long, agonizing minutes passed without incident. Spike inspected his arms, then his legs, giving his chest and stomach a good pat-down but found nothing out of place. He opened his mouth and held it open but nothing came out. Frowning, he peered up at Princess Luna, who retained her calm composure.

"I guess I won't be exploding today," Spike half-joked, throwing in a nervous laugh.

Princess Luna grinned. "It appears not. Now, focus on the dummy. Observe its features, its size, its texture. Commit it to memory."

Spike switched his gaze from his sensei to the wooden dummy. It was full-sized and carved almost entirely out of mahogany, save for the iron bands around its neck, pasterns and barrel as well as the aforementioned riveted joints. Lacking any identifiable features like a mane, tail or cutie mark, the dummy was a simple mock-up purposely made to be damaged without any kind of impersonal attachment. A pair of dopey eyes and a toothy grin had been crudely painted on, possibly by some bored royal guards messing around in between shifts. A series of clefts and dents were randomly scattered along the dummy's exterior, no doubt the result of sword and spear strikes.

"Good. Breath in and out." Princess Luna's melodic voice drifted in. "Feel the magic within you. Let it flow like a gentle stream."

Obediently, Spike closed his eyes, inhaling deeply, feeling the air travel into his lungs, filling them up. He then exhaled, that same air exiting his mouth and nostrils. A sort of tingling warmth started to emerge within the center of his chest, spreading outward until, eventually, his whole body carried with it the sensation of being submerged in hot water. His golden amber aura became more solid, the spheres tumbling around it in faster revolutions. Instead of fear, there was only serenity.

"Open your eyes and focus on your target. Release your magic but don't overextend yourself. You're taking the cork out of the bottle, not emptying it."

Spike's eyes opened, revealing the wooden pony a few feet in front of him, Princess Luna standing off to the side. He trembled slightly, that old fear of destruction and injury rising to the surface. Remembering his breathing, Spike shoved the fear back down and took aim at the dummy, particularly its chest, using a large cavity near the center as a bull's-eye. Slowly, he lowered his bottom jaw, the heat inside his chest growing hotter and hotter until it threatened to incinerate him from the inside out. He exhaled, this time allowing the magic that'd been building up within him to flow, the liberated energy traveling up his chest and throat, then past his lips.

The force of the magical attack sent Spike flying backwards onto his rump, hitting the sand hard enough to create a little hole for his tail and rear. Rising to a half-crouch, he rubbed his sore posterior before examining the damage he'd inflicted. The front half of the dummy had been frozen solid in a shell of ice, crackling and steaming as the ice finished expanding over its target. Clumps of variously-sized icicles protruded out of the shell, creating a spiked carapace for the wooden pony. Princess Luna tapped her armored hoof against the ice and whistled, impressed by the feat.

"My Faust, you have done something very impressive, Spike."

"Um, thanks, sensei."

Just in case of something going wrong, he slipped the collar back on and latched it in place.

"I think that will do for now," Princess Luna decreed. "We will reconvene here for a lesson in the evening. Does that sound satisfactory?"

Spike nodded. "Sounds great. Although I think it'd be safer if we both bring winter wear."


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"I want to know how to conquer Equestria," Tenebris grinned savagely.


"Even I'm not powerful enough to take them on," Tenebris snarled, before an idea arrived. "How do I remove the Royal Pony Sisters' magic?"


"What will it take?" Tenebris eagerly inquired, licking his lips as he did so.

The savage winds of the Frozen North clawed at Tenebris but the stallion paid them no heed, his cloak of darkness protecting him from the freezing climate. He slithered around in the air like a serpent, his shadow-form allowing him to cover greater distances than walking alone. As luck would have it, the first of the spell's ingredients called for the breath of a windigo and thankfully, they were easy enough to find if one knew where to look. When the Founders of Equestria banished the windigos, everypony assumed that they were gone for good but the truth was, they'd only been pushed back and due to the abundance of goodwill among the Three Tribes, the windigos didn't have enough strife to feast upon and were forced to the outer limits of Equestria. Strong magic in the Yaket Mountain Range kept them at bay but should they ever feast on enough hatred, it is said the windigos will return.

And what is so wrong with that?

Tenebris relished at the thought of using an army of windigos to carry out his bidding, helping to create fear and confusion among the ponies. In fact, he would've considered using them ages ago if not for the fact that the air spirits were purely instinctual beings with no concept of fealty. Neither reason, bargaining or threats could sway windigos; they only lived to feed on hatred and nothing more. Not even mind control or beast-charming magic could affect them. However, it was no great loss, since Tenebris was confident that such beings were nowhere near as deadly as he was.

The black and green bubbling orb he'd been following suddenly stopped and it was then he knew he was in the right spot. Dissolving the windigo location spell, Tenebris once more assumed his pony form and waited for his quarry to appear. A soul-wrenching wail reverberated through the icy plateau, the sound so chilling that it'd send anypony else fleeing in the opposite direction but Tenebris wasn't just anypony. He stayed rooted in place as a mist-like figure materialized through the snowfall, its glowing blue eyes locked on the dark stallion. It was equine in shape, with a long snout and hoofed forelegs but the rest of it was a semi-transparent haze that generated a prickly, freezing sensation of pure hatred.

"Hello there," Tenebris purred, the windigo drawing closer. "My, aren't you beautiful..."

The windigo hissed and nickered, its nostrils flaring at the scent of malice its visitor was radiating. It cautiously approached Tenebris, the air from its nostrils stinging his face with frigid gusts. Tenebris stayed perfectly still as the windigo sniffed him from head to hoof, cooing lightly while it drew in the hatred, growing more solid with every inhale. The poor thing had to have been starving out here in this frosty wasteland, no source of strife or disharmony to be found for miles. Luckily, Tenebris had a steady well of venomous resentment for the windigo to draw upon.

Slowly removing a small glass phial from within his cloak, Tenebris unscrewed the lid and held it up beneath the windigo's panting lips. A glittering blue mist seeped out of its mouth and swirled into the jar, which Tenebris promptly snapped shut, startling the windigo. Activating his horn, Tenebris released a burst of purple and black fire that sent the windigo screeching away, the air spirit fleeing far from the warlock and back through the fog. Tenebris held up the jar, watching the windigo's breath spiral around inside it with gleeful fascination. That was one ingredient checked off of the list.

"Next stop: Coltlantis..."

Following Thanatos' instructions, Tenebris chartered-mystically enthralled-a ship to take him past the boundaries of the Celestial Sea, where soon they entered the waters of the Morvarc'h Ocean. The crew worked tirelessly, forgoing food and rest to bring him to the legendary Pillars of Tencendur, two massive stones that'd become a place-marker for sailors since time immemorial. As any marine archaeologist might tell you, the pillars also served as a giant arrow pointing towards the sunken city of Coltlantis. There were many theories as to the source of its destruction, ranging from a volcanic eruption to earthquakes but Tenebris didn't care, his only concern being for what the lost civilization held. Signalling for the crew to cease all activity, Tenebris climbed onto the bow-sprint and, without any sign of hesitation, dove head-first into the water.

Using the glow from his horn, Tenebris lit his way as he swam down further, his shadow-cloak converting itself into a pair of manta ray-like fins and tall. His cloak-collar had wrapped around his mouth and nostrils, ensuring that he wouldn't drown by supplying him with his own oxygen source. All around him, the different fauna of the sea kept their distance, as if somehow aware of the stallion's goal and wishing to take no steps in impeding his progress. Even the sharks didn't dare to come near him, maintaining a respectful space between them, though still encircling him with the desire to attack. Diving deeper, Tenebris soon came across cracked stone columns and fractured walls, coming across the ruins of the once-thought mythological city of Coltlantis.

Searching through the crumbling remains of a coral-infested temple, he happened upon a statue of a bearded hippocampus with a crown and trident, no doubt the sea-god Neptune. Tenebris began dusting away sand that'd gathered around the base until he revealed the seal bearing a sigil:

Remembering Thanatos' words, he pressed the seal, triggering a mechanism that pushed the seal outward on the end of a metal rod. He then twisted the seal counter-clockwise until it was upside-down and pressed it again, opening a hidden door in a nearby stone wall. Swimming into the secret entrance, Tenebris entered a long tunnel that soon lead to an antechamber filled with glittering gold coins and shimmering gemstones, though he ignored these treasures in favor of a large hunk of seemingly innocuous gold-copper metal. It was orichalcum, a rare alloy that many ancient civilizations, including the Coltlantians, used to forge their weapons and armor. More importantly, it is said that the alloy held certain magical properties, hence why Tenebris was here to retrieve it.

Grasping the orichalcum with a shadow-tendril, Tenebris hoisted it up and made his way back to the ship. Breaking the surface of the water, he climbed aboard and commanded some of the deckhooves to dry him off, the hypnotized stallions patting him down with towels as quickly as possible. Holding up the precious alloy, Tenebris chuckled to himself, admiring the way the sun reflected off of the dull surface. He was fortunate in that he didn't have to use the whole chunk, leaving some behind for future usage. Tenebris snapped his head to the side and hollered for the captain.

"Aye, sir?" A middle-aged earth pony with a bushy mustache saluted him.

"Captain, we're heading to Baltimare. Be sure to ram the ship into the harbor, will you?"


In a warehouse in Baltimare, a secret auction was underway, one held by the most crooked and vile of Equestria's criminal elite. Crime boss Rotten Apple was one such notable personage, the unicorn making some last-minute mental calculations as he patiently awaited for the next item to be brought out. Chomper, a diamond dog fence, clicked his nails against the head of his cane, moistening his lips with a swipe of his tongue. Archaeologist and black marketeer Dr. Caballeron tapped his hindhoof as he fidgeted in his chair, his ever-present lackeys seated on either side. Of course, no one was more recognizable than Impossibly Rich, the elderly matriarch of the Rich family, her great-nephew Stinking Rich grasping the old mare's foreleg as she loudly complained about the air conditioning.

"And now," announced a rail-thin pegasus. "Item number forty-seven: brought to us all the way from Mythica, a genuine basilisk's crown, which has been verified by our specialists."

Two large earth ponies wheeled out a metallic blue-gray crown, which was large enough to serve as a neck-piece should a normal pony decide to wear it. Some of the guests clapped at the sight.

A mare in the back spread her wings and hurled herself towards the stage. Tossing away her large poofy wig and coat, she revealed herself to be Daring Do, adventurer and finder of rare antiquities.

"Aright, nopony move!"

The exact opposite occurred, ponies fleeing from the warehouse or rushing to confront the interloper. Punching and kicking her way through a trio of security guards, Daring slapped a random crook with her wing before knocking him into another baddie, rendering them both unconscious. She rushed towards the crown, only to be met by Dr. Caballeron's goons, each one armed with a club or a brass toe-duster. Their boss soon joined them, a loaded crossbow in his grasp. He grimaced at her.

"Once more, you put your muzzle into my business," Dr. Caballeron hissed.

"I'm like a bad bit; I always turn up," Daring glibly remarked.

Before he could respond, a black mass appeared behind them, congealing into the shape of a pony with green glowing eyes. Dr. Caballeron screamed and fired his crossbow, the bolt flying straight through the figure's chest and embedding itself in the podium behind him. The shadow-pony's eyes flashed, trails of purple smoke erupting from them, leading to Dr. Caballeron dropping his crossbow and backing away slowly. Seizing the crown with a black tendril, the shadow-pony gave everypony a mock salute and vanished in a burst of smoke. Dr. Caballeron breathed a sigh of relief.

"Oh my, that was a close one. Where was I? Right, as I was saying..."

He trailed off upon the realization that Daring Do was also absent.



The black streak touched down on the mountainside and re-materialized into the shape of Tenebris. After acquiring the basilisk's crown, he decided to return to the Frozen North, as the other items were already in his occult collection. Once inside his secret lair, he made his way down the large stone staircase and into the deepest level of the tunnels. The cloaked figure inside the summoning circle continued to do what he had been since he arrived: stand perfectly still and just stare out into space, his glowing orbs shining like lanterns. Tenebris could not suppress his smirk at the display; how many ponies could claim that they trapped the Grim Reaper himself?

Humming to himself, Tenebris laid his findings in front of the summoning circle, then popped back into his supply room for the rest of the ingredients. The other items included the tooth of an ursa minor, the scales of a lindworm, a demon's wing, the knuckle-bones of a yeti, tail feathers from a phoenix, the spit of a gremlin and the eyelashes of a sphinx. The eyelashes he'd retrieved centuries ago, only succeeding due to using a potent sleeping spell and sneaking into the she-beast's resting area, though he'd nearly been eaten once the spell unexpectedly wore off and the sphinx pursued him.

Tenebris wiped some dirt off of the floor and carefully drew a ten-foot X on the floor in red chalk. Next, he drew a series of symbols in the line that ran right-to-left, then in the one running left-right in white chalk. As with any rite, he did so unhurriedly, recreating each symbol with as much painstaking accuracy as possible. Placing the basilisk's crown at the intersection, he placed the remaining ingredients inside of the crown and carefully stepped back. Filling the X with his magic, Tenebris began to speak aloud the charm Thanatos earlier recited to him:

"Unworthy ones, for the gifts you have squandered, I hereby denounce you as alicorns and return your powers back from whence they came. In the name of Faust, let your powers leave you!"

The X and symbols rang as a white-green light burst from the floor. The symbols leapt off of the X and revolved around Tenebris, spinning faster and faster, forming a roaring whirlwind filled with a series of glowing white orbs. Soon, what seemed to be long, stiff white objects began to spin within the whirlwind's current, shortly joined by similar dark blue and dark pink objects. Streaks of light gold, cornflower blue and cobalt blue sprang from the walls in three arcs before colliding inside the center of the whirlwind, coalescing into a swirling, shimmering silver ball. Just as suddenly as it'd arrived, the whirlwind gradually died out, leaving the objects tumbling to the stone floor and it didn't take long for Tenebris to realize that they were feathers, more precisely, wing feathers.

He approached the silver ball, his face reflecting off of its brilliant surface as it hummed with magical energies. For a moment, all was dead silent within the cavern.

"It worked..." Tenebris began laughing manically. "It worked!"

I HAVE GIVEN YOU WHAT YOU'VE ASKED FOR, Thanatos boomed, his voice like the squeaking of a cemetery gate. NOW RELEASE ME.

"No!" Tenebris brazenly fired back. "No, I think I'll keep you right where you are."


Tenebris' hooves carefully drifted over the ball.

"The only mistake that's been made is not trapping you sooner."

He grinned and lifted the ball with both hooves.

"Let us see what dear Tia and Lulu make of this..."


Twilight Sparkle sat at the Friendship Map wrapped in a blanket with an untouched mug of hot chocolate sitting across from her. While her friends were chatting around her, she stared off into space, her mind set in deep contemplation at the situation she now found herself in. Sombra, in an attempt at ridding himself of his worst traits, recklessly used an ancient artifact to split himself into two beings, one good and one evil, and both were going to disappear forever unless they were reunited before the sunset in three days. Lumos was resting from a sudden migraine and looked to be on the verge of death while his dark counterpart was nowhere to be found and most likely planning something awful. What compounded matters further was that this turn of events was, in a way, all of her fault.

In her heart, Twilight knew that she made the right call in preventing Sombra from choking the life out of the bandit but she felt guilty for how she'd addressed him. She'd driven him away, not just with her words but also, in hindsight, an expression of anger-and fear. In that moment, all Sombra knew was that his marefriend, the only one who wholeheartedly loved and believed in him, was afraid of him and probably despised him. Yes, Sombra's action terrified her but it wasn't that she was afraid of the umbrum but rather, afraid for him, afraid that he'd slip back into being his old self, returning to his dark, lonely road of hopelessness and scorn. The worst part was, Twilight was aware of Sombra's fragile emotional state but instead of talking to her coltfriend, comforting and assuring him that she still loved him, she let him believe that she hated him and pushed him into essentially destroying a part of who he was in order to make her happy.

Pulling the blanket tighter around herself, Twilight thought back to the events of the day and her guilt only grew from there. During her interactions with Lumos, she couldn't shake the feeling that something was missing from the stallion. Any time she touched Sombra or he touched her, there was an overwhelming kind of bliss from being around him, a sense of security like he'd protect her from anything. Now, Twilight wasn't a pushover; her one-on-one battle against Lord Tirek was a testament to this fact but regardless, it felt nice to feel such peace of mind from her coltfriend. Neither trauma nor even death could stop him and this gave her immense pride that such a being was so devoted to her and her alone.

With Lumos, however, those feelings changed. He was much kinder and more mellow than Sombra, behaving every bit of the perfect coltfriend you'd want to introduce to your parents. Yet, he was kind of subservient and meek, as his dealing with Cranky Doodle Donkey showed. She still loved Lumos/Sombra, of course, but it wasn't as intense as it once was. Was it that she found him less appealing than before, that this new, softer Sombra wasn't as attractive to her as the old one?

Did she really prefer Sombra the way that he was rather than how he was now?

Am I wrong for thinking this? She asked herself. Am I just shallow?

She felt a hoof on her shoulder and found Applejack smiling softly at her.

"Y'all awright, Sugar Cube?"

"I don't know," she sighed. "My head's just a bit jumbled up, that's all."

Applejack nodded. "Yeah, yah've got tha' look ov deep contemplation goin' on. So wha's up?"

Twilight's guts twisted at the thought of her next words.

"Is it wrong that I kind of prefer regular Sombra to Lumos?"

Instead of an immediate response, the other mares took a minute to think it over.

"Well...Lumos is more gentlecoltly," Rarity answered, though she didn't sound enthused.

"He seems kind of hollow," Pinkie Pie observed. "Like he's got a hole inside of him."

"I like both of them, for different reasons," Fluttershy interjected quietly. "Lumos is much nicer but Sombra seems bolder, like he'll do anything to help those he loves."

Rainbow Dash shrugged. "Lumos is a weenie and Sombra is a nutcase-ow!"

She rubbed her shoulder and glared at Applejack, who shook her head in dismay.

"Well, yah fell in love wi' Sombra, right? Tha' means yah fell fer both his good an' his bad qualities. It's kinda like how peanut butter an' jam sandwiches are delicious but if yah took one o' th' ingredients away, it don't taste right. Sombra took away somethin' tha' was uh big part o' him so now he's missin' somethin,' somethin' that made him Sombra. Ah don't think it's wrong tha' yah feel this way. Th' only thing wrong 'bout this whole thing is tha' yer feelin' so torn up 'bout it."

Applejack patted Twilight's back and tousled her mane, making Twilight giggle.

"We can't help who we fall fer. We jus' gotta make sure we're there fer them when they need us."

Twilight beamed at her friend. "Thanks AJ."

"Any time."


Lumos slowly drifted into the room and apart from his baggy eyes and slow pace, he looked completely healthy. He smiled weakly at her and the others.

"How are you feeling?"

The stallion slid into an unoccupied chair.

"Better. I'm just tired instead of in pain."

"Is there something we can get you?" Fluttershy offered.

"No thank you, Fluttershy." He turned towards Twilight. "Any word yet from Spike?"

Twilight slapped her forehead.

"Spike! Oh, I forgot about him! I was supposed to have gotten a letter from him but it's late!"

A flash of green flames crackled in the space above her head, dropping a rolled-up scroll into her lap.

"I sure hope it doesn't start raining cupcakes!" Pinkie shouted and peered around cautiously. She then hung her head and sighed, "Awww..."

"Looks like Princess Celestia found a way for used to receive magic flame mail from Spike," Twilight mused as she unfurled the scroll. "I've got to remember to ask her about that."

"What does it say?" Lumos asked.

Twilight froze before letting the scroll tumble out of her grasp.

"I don't believe it..."

Scooping up the scroll, Rainbow skimmed through it and gasped.

"Princess Celestia, Princess Luna and Princess Cadence have all lost their horns and wings!"

Crisis in Canterlot

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Spike grit his teeth, swinging his staff in a broad horizontal arc, his blow making contact with the dummy's head. The impact turned the head sharply to the right so that the crudely drawn-on eyes stared at Princess Luna. Switching feet, Spike pivoted to around so that his staff twirled around the left, his hands changing positions to compensate for the new stance. Stepping forward, Spike jabbed in a spear-like stab to the dummy's torso, drew back and repeated the motion, falling into a rhythm as he became more accustomed to the action. Staff-fighting, as it turned out, was much simpler than he'd initially thought and had rather quickly adapted to its usage, taking to it like a fish to water.


Princess Luna nudged the staff upward with her fore-hoof, using her hind-hoof to push Spike's back-foot.

"Put a little more space in between your legs and bend your knees. This will help keep you balanced as you deliver and receive hits to and from your opponent."

"Yes, sensei," Spike acknowledged.

So far, the drake had to admit that Princess Luna was a better teacher than he would've imagined. She was professional without being overbearing, critical without being strict and complimentary of Spike's successes without the feeling that she was only doing so in order to spare his feelings. It was nice to not be babied by someone just because of his young age, short stature or his status as Twilight's ward. When Spike stepped into the training ring, he wasn't a kid; he was just a student learning combat from his teacher. This gave him the thrilling sense that he was gaining some control over his life, however the amount or length of time.

The dummy's padded right hoof shot out and was quickly blocked but Spike was unable to counter the left hoof, earning him a swift smack on the shoulder.


Spike rubbed his injured shoulder tenderly.

"Are you alright?" Princess Luna knelt down beside him. "Let me see."

"I'm okay," Spike winced. "Really, it's fine."

"Hmm, it doesn't look too bad."

Princess Luna rose to her full height.

"I think that'll be all for today."

Bowing deeply, Spike thanked her, set his staff back on the weapons rack and exited through the doors. Now that he'd memorized the set-up, Spike could easily traverse the southern part of the castle without a guide, a fact that made him feel more like a young adult. Ever since he was old enough to remember, he'd been shadowed by a royal guard and to not be in that position it was simply liberating. He didn't know how but Princess Luna convinced Princess Celestia that Spike didn't need escorts to and from his lessons, though it came with the caveat that a guard would be assigned to him at every other instant, especially at mealtimes. It wasn't a perfect set-up but it was admittedly better than nothing and perhaps Princess Celestia might further change her mind if she saw his progress.

So far, Spike didn't run into anyone and if he did, they'd notice his stiff movements and the patches of sand that clung to his scales, particularly on his back and legs. As he was a royal guest and Princess Celestia's ward, they'd probably hoof-wave both his dirty appearance and awkward gait and go back to their duties. The truth was, Spike hated to think of the mess he'd be leaving for the maids so he'd adapted a kind of shuffling-waddle akin to a penguin, hoping that only a few grains dotted the carpets instead of piles. This was actually one of the few times he wasn't envious of being a dragon instead of a pony; having sand or dirt get stuck to your fur had to be a real pain and would require a bath instead of a quick rinse with a wet rag. A post-workout shower, with or without jasmine scented candles, would do wonders for his sore muscles and sand-speckled scales.

"Hey, Spike! Spike!"

Flash Sentry came trotting towards Spike, his golden armor glistening in the sunlight.

"Oh, hey, Flash. How's it going?"

"Oh, you know, same junk, different day," Flash chuckled, shifting his spear from one shoulder to the other. "What about you? I heard you were doing some training with Princess Luna."

"Yeah, it's really cool! She's teaching me magic and melee combat."

Flash gave him a high-hoof. "Alright! That's awesome!"

Spike liked and even kind of admired Flash, growing to enjoy his company during the brief period Twilight dated the pegasus. At the time, Flash seemed like a perfect match for Twilight: young, good-looking, member of a well-to-do family, clean history, kind, and a royal guard. However, it soon became clear that Twilight, although fond of Flash, had her heart set on another and ended the relationship, instead asking that the two remain friends. Obviously, this didn't sit well with Flash, who was blatantly still smitten with Twilight but tried to be there for her in a platonic fashion. Things became complicated when Twilight started seeing Sombra and Flash, still under the impression that the umbrum was a public menace, could not bring himself to even say Sombra's name.

"Thanks. I was on my way to my room to wash all of this gunk off."

"Mind if I tag along?"

"Not at all!"

They made their way towards the northern part of the castle, the next few minutes spent in silence until:

"So, uh, how's Twilight doing?"

Spike thought it'd be in all of their best interests if he didn't mention to Flash that Twilight and Sombra had a nasty argument. After all, he didn't want to give the poor guy hope where there wasn't any.

"She's good," Spike answered, keeping his gaze ahead. "She's still getting over the whole Midnight Sparkle/Nightmare Moon thing but she seems to be much better than before."

"That's good." Flash then frowned. "Is she still seeing...him?"

"...Yeah. He's visiting her in Ponyville at the moment."

"I see."

They arrived at Spike's room and Flash stood at attention.

"Well, I'll be right here if you need me."

Despite being upset by the recent conversation, Flash still managed to remain pleasant and semi-professional with Spike. He was definitely going to shoot up the ranks soon enough.

"Thanks, Flash."

The sweat and dirt didn't take long to clean away but the soothing sensation of the water spraying from the faucet led to an extended shower. Spike let the water wash away the aches of his training, the stresses that came with being around Twilight and the other Elements. Ever since that fateful day when he and Twilight arrived in Ponyville, they'd become involved in various misadventures and battles against super-villains, making Spike wonder if something other than Princess Celestia brought them together, some great cosmic force that necessitated the Elements' meeting. He'd never really been a big believer in things like fate or predestination but as time went by, he found himself quickly changing his tune, adopting a more open mindset. After all, how can he go through such experiences in a short amount of time and not reject the notion of coincidence in favor of destiny?

Primrose the Prescient wrote that book on prophecies and that's what pretty much started all of this. Plus, she just happened to show up in order to guide Sombra. I wonder if she knew all about this and has some great plan that hasn't been realized yet. Has she been working with Princess Celestia this whole time?

Turning off the faucet, Spike patted himself dry and soon rejoined Flash in the hallway.

"Let's go pay Princess Celestia a visit."

The two headed towards the throne room, one of the great double doors opening and out strode Prince Blueblood. He clicked his tongue and shot Spike a dismissive glare.

"Oh, I see you're still here. If you're here to see Auntie, she's busy."

As much as it would've been entertaining been to turn Blueblood into a poncecicle, Spike elected to keep his hands at his side and his collar remaining where it was. Unleashing his unstable and as-yet-unmastered magical abilities weren't worth it, even for this jerk. Flash, meanwhile, was standing perfectly still, though his spear rattled slightly in his grasp. He'd stated his dislike of the snobbish prince multiple times, though considering everyone in both the upper and lower class viewed Blueblood with contempt, that wasn't saying much. Giving Flash a subtle head-shake, Spike hardened his expression and raised his chin, unwaveringly staring Blueblood in the eye.

"With all due respect, Your Highness, I'll be the judge of that."

Blueblood was momentarily thrown off by the defiance in both Spike's face and voice.

"Yes, what you want. Don't blame me if Auntie personally tosses you out."

Puffing out his chest with a hmph, Prince Blueblood marched past Spike and Flash, throwing the former an indignant scowl. It wasn't until he was out of sight that Spike exhaled loudly, allowing his shoulders to sag. Blueblood was a pompous windbag but that didn't mean that he was completely useless. Aside from Princess Celestia's wealth and influence, the prince had his own connections within the aristocracy and could make someone he detested vanish if he really desired it but thankfully, he appeared to view Spike as too insignificant for such an effort. Spike heard a snorting sound and found Flash snickering, no longer able to conceal his amusement at what had just transpired.

"Look at you!" Flash chuckled, lightly elbowing Spike in the ribs. "'With all due respect, Your Highness, I'll be the judge of that.' Faust, when did you grow a spine of steel?"

Spike shrugged. "I guess that training with Princess Luna must really be doing a number on my confidence."

"I'll say! Not many ponies I know would dare to even think about saying something like that to Prince Blueblood. At least, not to his face."

"Good thing I'm not a pony then, huh? Come on, let's go see Princess Celestia."

They entered the throne room, the whole chamber bathed in multicolored light from the sunbeams piercing the stain glass windows. Walking up to the throne, they found Princess Celestia and Raven Inkwell as the room's only other occupants. Princess Celestia perked up upon catching sight of Spike and gracefully climbed down the steps to greet him, Raven dutifully following close behind.

"How goes your training, Spike? I do hope Luna isn't too hard on you."

"Actually, it's going great. Princess Luna's a pretty cool teacher."

Princess Celestia beamed at him and the room seemed to glow even brighter.

"I'm very pleased to hear that. Luna's been so much happier as of late so it appears these lessons are mutually beneficial."

Her gaze then settled on Flash.

"And how are you, Flash Sentry?"

"I'm doing well, Your Majesty," Flash bowed. "I'm just proud to do my part."

"You're too modest," Princess Celestia smiled. "Your track record thus far has been spotless. I believe I see a promotion in your near-future."

Flash's mouth opened and closed like a fish.

"Th-thank you, Your Majesty! Thank you!" He finally sputtered. "Wow. What an honor!"

Raven cleared her throat. "Your Majesty, you wished to comprise your letter?"

"Ah, yes, thank you, Raven. Spike, I believe we should send Twilight an update."

Spike stared at his feet. "Are you sure? The last time she learned that I was learning to fight, she and..." He stopped himself before he revealed too much. "She wasn't too pleased."

Princess Celestia shook her head humorously.

"Twilight will just have to learn that she can't protect everyone all of the time. You're growing up and yes, while you need to be kept safe, neither she nor I can look out after you forever. Now, are you ready to learn the spell?"

"Yes," Spike answered with a bit more confidence.

Raven passed Princess Celestia a folded-up sheet of paper and walked back to the bottom of the throne's steps. Princess Celestia then gave the note to Spike.

"Thank you, Raven. Now Spike, I want you to send this to back to Raven. First, you must picture where you want to send the letter. Make a mental picture of the surroundings, the furniture, everything. Feel the magic build inside of you, like a shaken soda can. And then, release it."

"Come on, Spike," Flash lightly encouraged him. "You can do it."

Nodding, Spike took the paper and grasped both ends with each hand, rubbing the surface with his fingertips, familiarizing himself with the material. Drawing in breath, Spike held it for a minute, then released it. He could feel the familiar heat of his dragon's-fire expanding within his chest, the flames pushing against his ribs like waves against the shore. This, in turn, lead to the tell-tale tickling in the back of his throat, alerting him to the oncoming flame-breath. Sucking in air through his lips, Spike exhaled, completely incinerating the paper in a burst of green blaze.

There was snap-crackle sound followed by a green burst of fire as a piece of paper landed in Raven's hooves. Unfolding it with her magic, she showed the paper to everyone present, revealing the words, "Hello there" written on the inside. Beneath that was a picture of a winking smiley face.

"Well done, Spike," Princess Celestia congratulated him. "Now that we know it works, we can-..."

Their collective hearts dropped as Princess Celestia was suddenly hoisted into the air, her limbs flailing as gusts of roaring wind trap her within a raging cyclone.

"What's happening?!" Spike screamed over the noise.

"I don't know!" Flash responded in kind.

Glowing white orbs manifested around Princess Celestia, rapidly spinning in several arcs to form a sphere, entrapping the bewildered monarch. She fired a magic beam from her horn, only for the attack to immediately dissipate upon contact with the sphere. She released a golden flash of energy that Spike assumed to be a teleportation spell, only for that to utterly fail too and she seemingly accepted her unknown fate. A ribbon-like streak of bright golden light flowed out of Princess Celestia's chest, followed by three identical streaks rushing from her horn and wings, the three streaks joining into one and leaping through the nearby window. She issued a thunderous cry of immense agony as columns of white light shot out of her mouth and eyes and the room enveloped in a snow-white haze, momentarily blinding everyone present.

Once the haze dispersed, Spike rubbed the dots from his eyes to find Princess Celestia lying motionless on her side facing away from him. Flash and Raven rushed over to her and Spike hurriedly joined them, the two adults gently turning the mare over. Princess Celestia's mane, once a prismatic, flowing cloud of vapor, now laid flatly against her back and shoulders in pink waves. More startlingly, however, was that her wings were missing and there was a bare spot on her forehead where her horn once rested. She was just...ordinary.

"Your Majesty? Your Majesty!"

Princess Celestia moaned, her eyes fluttering open to gaze up at Flash.


"It's Flash Sentry, Your Majesty. Are you alright?"

The three gave Princess Celestia enough room to sit up. She was noticeably shorter, now only barely peering over Flash's scalp. She gasped and a hoof flew to her head, patting around for her horn while her other searched for her wings. Upon realizing that they were missing, her forelegs dropped limply at her side and stared blankly ahead. In all of the years Spike had known Princess Celestia, which was his whole life, he'd never seen her look so vulnerable or frightened. To him, she was a stone pillar, an immovable force of sheer will and power that would never crack or break down.

He placed his hand over her hoof and rubbed it soothingly, giving her a hopeful smile.

"You're going to be okay, Princess. I just know it."

Though her actions were delayed, Princess Celestia smiled at Spike in return.

The throne room doors burst open, with Princess Luna and Prince Blueblood frantically entering.


Princess Celestia rose to her hoofs, her face aghast with shock.

"Oh, Lulu...not you too..."

Whatever it was that was afflicting Princess Celestia had somehow found its way to the Princess of the Night. Similar to her daytime counterpart, Princess Luna was missing her horn and wings, a light blue mane replacing her usual star-studded gossamer one. An unspoken dread filled the room. The primary rulers of Equestria and guardians of the realm, the two responsible for moving the sun and moon, had been rendered powerless and thus unable to perform their sacred duties. If this strange phenomenon was occurring here, did this mean that Princess Cadence and Twilight Sparkle had also been affected, or were they next?

"I am afraid it is so, Tia." Princess Luna's head lowered in defeat. "I had hoped it was just me but it appears that you too are the victim of this unknown malady."

"Auntie, what happened?" Prince Blueblood asked Princess Celestia, though Spike was uncertain if this was due to genuine concern or self-interest. "I bet it was the work of that Lord Tirek ruffian."

Princess Celestia shook her head. "No, that's not how his magic-stealing works. He has to be in close proximity with a target in order to feed off of them. Besides, it appears only I and Luna have been affected. You, Raven and Spike still have your magic."

"What about Twilight and Princess Cadence?" Flash inquired. "If this is only affecting princesses, then we need confirmation before we can form a plan."

"You're right, Flash," Princess Luna conceded. "After all, knowing is half the battle."

With Princess Celestia's guidance, as well as some very unwanted suggestions from Blueblood, Spike composed a letter to Princess Cadence and, using the new spell, sent it hopefully directly to her. Every second that ticked by without a response only heightened the tension that'd been steadily mounting. Prince Blueblood began biting his manicured hooves, Princess Luna was tapping a hind-hoof impatiently and Princess Celestia paced back and forth. To his credit, Flash managed to retain his composure, tossing some playing cards into his upturned helmet, dumping it and repeating the motion. Spike just sat on the floor twiddling his thumbs, trying not to look as panicked as he felt.


Spike burped out a sheet of paper and everyone collectively sighed in relief. Opening it up, he found that it was written in pink, curly lettering and bore the Crystal Empire Royal Seal.

"It's from Princess Cadence!"

"What does it say, Spike?" Princess Celestia gently asked him.

"Oh no! Princess Cadence has also lost her horn and wings!"

Princess Luna closed her eyes, her head drooping in melancholy.

"That is three out of four. Let us pray that Twilight Sparkle has been spared."

Another letter was written and this time, a response was almost immediate.

"Twilight's fine and is confused by what's happening."

"Thank Faust for small miracles," Flash muttered, wiping his brow and replacing his helmet.

"So what do we do now?" Prince Blueblood whimpered.

An inky black shape glided into the throne room, converting into a vaguely-equine form. Two green orbs flashed within the darkness of the shape's face, followed by a sinister grin. Prince Blueblood fled past the figure, who didn't bother to stop him, instead focusing on the others. Slowly, it advanced, its features becoming more and more defined. Now resembling a stallion, he stopped and eyed them all with a kind of malicious amusement.

He looked like Sombra, except a mass of rippling darkness clung to his shoulders like a cloak. He also looked more lean, almost emaciated, as though he'd been missing meals, giving his face a much more angular, jagged look to it. His cheek scar was gone and there were three openings on each end of his mouth. The stallion smiled at them, revealing rows of sharp teeth, bringing to mind a shark about to go into a feeding frenzy.

"Hello everyone. It's been a long time since we've all been together in the same room."


The stallion's eyes flashed as he regarded Spike.

"Hmm, yes and no. I'm Sombra's better half. Call me Tenebris."

Princess Celestia stepped forward, undaunted by the newcomer.

"I take it that you're behind all this?"

"Guilty as charged, Tia," Tenebris smirked cruelly, then appeared to inspect the mare. "That's a good look for you, by the way. You too, Lulu."

"Don't call me that!" Princess Luna snapped.

Flash raised his spear at Tenebris, who looked entertained by the threatening gesture.

"Get away from them, you monster!"

The spearhead snapped off, the shaft cracking and fracturing in Flash's grasp, forcing him to drop the remains of his weapon. A shadowy claw sprang from Tenebris' cloak, gripped Flash by the throat and pulled him towards Tenebris, who held a hoof up to his own lips. The claw's fingers wrapped around Flash's mouth, cutting off his angry protests.

"Quiet. The adults are talking."

"What do you want?" Princess Celestia demanded.

Tenebris flashed her a predatory grin.

"Equestria. Does that sound good enough?"

He then sent out a claw that grabbed Spike and lifted the dragon into the air.

"You're going to write a little letter for me and send it to Twilight."


"That wasn't a request," Tenebris snarled, the claw tightening around Spike's throat. "Do it. Now..."


After Twilight sent her reply, she and the others waited for Spike to give them further updates on the situation in Canterlot and the Crystal Empire. Somehow, the other princesses were de-powered and their alicorn statuses revoked, leaving Twilight as the only active princess left in Equestria. Just the thought of the other princesses, especially Celestia, as ordinary mares felt wrong to Twilight, like putting mayonnaise on a hay burger. Princess Celestia had always been a larger-than-life figure, the ruler and metaphorical mother of the nation, a goddess and guiding light to millions. What would happen if word of this got out, if the public learned that both the Royal Pony Sisters and the Princess of Love were powerless?

"This has to be my counterpart's doing."

The six mares all looked at Lumos, who hadn't spoken up in quite a while.

"Wha' makes yah say tha'?"

Lumos shook his head, sighing as he collected his thoughts.

"He's out there somewhere and the other princesses lose their magic? It can't be a coincidence."

"Well, you don't know for sure, Darling. It could be unrelated," Rarity speculated.

The stallion looked unconvinced but said nothing else.


Twilight caught the scroll and unfurled it.

"Is it Spike? What does it say?" Fluttershy asked.

Before Twilight had a chance to read it aloud, the words on the page swirled around and formed an image like that of Sombra's head. The mini-Sombra grinned and began to speak, visible words accompanying his voice, every syllable like an icicle piercing everyone's hearts:

"Twilight, by now you've no doubt been aware of the princesses' magic problems and it is with great pleasure that I take credit for this act. You must be asking, 'Why? Why would you do this?' Let me ask you a question in turn: if you want to cripple an eagle, how do you do it? You have to clip its wings. I can't have Celestia or Luna ruining my plans and as for Cadence...well, you'll see soon enough.

"I have them with me now. Tia, Lulu, Caddy, that Flash Sentry colt and sweet little Spike. Don't worry, he's perfectly safe. That is, unless you do anything to provoke me and believe me, I'm the last individual in the world you want to provoke. Here's the bargain: you come alone to the Crystal Empire. No friends, no Elements, just you. If I so much as suspect that you're plotting against me, you can say goodbye to Spike as a pair of boots in a storefront window.

"Obey me and Spike will go free. You may not trust me but know that I always tell the truth, even when I lie. I look forward to seeing you here. Well wishes and warm regards, Tenebris."

Lumos seized the letter and immediately blasted it with his magic, reducing it to ashes.

"What are you doing?!" Rainbow Dash screeched.

"If Tenebris can send a message, then he can also receive them. He could've placed an auditory surveillance spell on that letter and be able to overhear everything we say."

"How do you know that?" Pinkie Pie scratched her head inquisitively.

Lumos faced her solemnly. "It's what I would've done."

Twilight took a moment to think.

"Okay, let's break this apart and go over it. This 'Tenebris' has taken away the powers of Princess Celestia, Princess Luna and Princess Cadence and is holding them prisoner along with Flash and Spike."

"Right, and he said he wanted you specifically to come alone," Rarity added.

"It doesn't look like I have much of a choice. I have to do as he says."

"Are you nuts? You can't just into his demands," Rainbow argued. "There's got to be something we can do."

"I don't know," Fluttershy considered. "If he's powerful enough to take away the other princesses' magic, then there isn't much we can do."

Applejack placed her hoof on Rainbow's shoulder.

"Dashie's right. We've gone up 'gainst worse villains. 'Member how we took down Discord? Yah know, th' guy tha' can remake reality wit' a literal snap o' his fingers? Or wha' 'bout Nightmare Moon or Lord Tirek?"

"Or Nightmare Moon again?" Pinkie reminded her.

"Right, Nightmare Moon again. Face it, Twi. This ain't th' first time th' odds been stacked 'against us."

"You can't win," Lumos stated bleakly. "So don't even try it."

"What are you talking about?" Twilight asked him. "This isn't any different than the others."

"Of course it is! Do you get it? Tenebris isn't like the others because he lacks the one thing they had: restraint. When we got separated, I took that part with me. I may've done terrible things as Sombra, but at least I had a code, a line I wouldn't cross. Without me, Tenebris doesn't have any qualms about doing whatever it takes to get what he wants."

"You're scared," Twilight observed.

Lumos swallowed with a click. "You should be too. Your first victory against Nightmare Moon was only because of blind luck and the Elements. You beat Tirek thanks to that box from the Tree of Harmony and Discord because of his own arrogance. You heard what Tenebris said about Spike and I one-hundred-percent believe he will harm him because he doesn't care."

"So, what, we should let Twilight deliver herself to Tenebris? Just stand by and do nothing?"

Lumos rubbed his temples. "I don't know, Rainbow. What I do know is Spike and the other hostages, including my daughter, are being held captive by a madstallion Tartarus-bent on getting even."

Applejack peered at Lumos in confusion.

"Ah thought y'll were done wit' th' whole revenge thing?"

"I gave up on it, yes, but that doesn't mean the resentment just went away. Remember, I'm Sombra's best traits so Tenebris is his worse and that means he just a burning ball of hatred and self-loathing."

A light bulb went off in Twilight's head.

"Lumos, you said that you and Tenebris are both a part of Sombra. Doesn't that mean that you're technically the same pony?"

"I...well, yes, in essence. I have his memories and emotions just as he would have mine."

"What are you thinking, Darling?"

"I'm thinking I have a plan. It's going to take all of us."

Twilight held out her hoof.

"Ah'm in," Applejack beamed, placing her hoof on top of Twilight's.

"Me too!" Pinkie cheered.

"Count me in too," Rarity said cheerfully.

"I'll help however I can," Fluttershy added lowly but confidently.

"Let's do this thing!" Rainbow grinned.

Twilight pleadingly glanced at Lumos.

"All of us. Please, I can't do this without you."

Lumos examined the hoof pile and with a sigh, placed his own on top.

"Why not? It doesn't look like I have a long lifespan anyway."

"Yes! G.I. Pooooooone!" Pinkie cried as they all threw their hooves up.


View Online

Ahh, Canterlot, the capital of Equestria. It was a marvel of architecture, being a hybridization of ancient and modern-day construction techniques. Sombra, or rather, Tenebris, had always hated it. The city looked too clean, too sterile, as though only for show, like it was meant to impress visitors rather than serve as a living space. Not surprising considering that Queen Concordia had majority say in its construction and Canterlot thus retained the icy remoteness of its creator.

Apparently, Concordia also built the Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters for her daughters in hopes of them establishing their own kingdom. After her passing, Celestia and Luna ruled Equestria from there for a time, leaving Canterlot in the care of a trusted steward. That is, until Luna was overtaken by Nightmare's influence and was banished to the moon. Celestia then abandoned the castle and returned to Canterlot, this time as Equestria's sole ruler but decided against taking the position of queen in honor of her late mother. Of course, Celestia always was a fool, allowing trivialities like sentiment and guilt to keep her from achieving greatness, to seize glory by the throat and squeeze with all of her might until it bent to her will.

When I'm king of these lands, I won't just stop at Equestria. The Dragon Lands, Griffonstone, the lands beyond, all will fall under MY domain. I will forge an eternal empire, the likes of which will make Old Alicornia look like a children's cardboard castle in comparison. No one will forget my name.

Tenebris would've preferred parading down the streets, allowing everyone the chance to glimpse their new ruler but he couldn't have Twilight and her Merry Mares catching wind of his presence. By now, his "good" half will have informed them of his habits and thought processes, no doubt relating the meeting with Primrose the Prescient or how the old witch was the genuine article instead of the two-bit fortuneteller she pretended to be. Having his own personal royal soothsayer would do wonders for Tenebris' new empire, thus ensuring any and all threats to his reign could be prematurely thwarted before they even began. With both Death and Fate at his disposal, what could there possibly be left for Tenebris to fear? Who could possibly stand against him?

The shadow solidified in front of the small brick townhouse with its horrendous paint-job and tacky window shutters. It was still surrounded in that field of ancient magics, a form of thaumaturgical energy he was unfamiliar with and that rattled him to his core. How did an otherwise-normal earth pony get such powerful magic? Sorcery such as that was in rare supply, so much so that not even Princess Celestia had access to it. Primrose's gift of prophecy must've allowed the old bat to pull some very massive strings and that made Tenebris wonder what other kind of surprises awaited inside.


Tenebris' right forehoof gave out, nearly sending him toppling over onto the street. His left forehoof flew to his head, a pressure steadily building within his brow and temples. He bit down on his lip to prevent a scream and took several slow, calming breaths, riding the wave of pain instead of resisting it. Pain tolerance was something he'd become adept at, courtesy of the late Grimoire, being one of the few useful skills the frail old fool had taught him. Eventually, the cranial aches subsided and Tenebris was able to stand perfectly erect, making his way up the short steps of the stone front porch.

He smirked at the wooden sign hanging beside the door, the one that downplayed Primrose's oracular abilities by proclaiming her as a simple "fortuneteller and spiritual advisor." Subtly lighting his horn, he ignited the molecules around the sign, black and purple flames licking at its surface, blackening the sign and singing the letters off. A bit juvenile, sure, but Tenebris preferred to enjoy life while he could before it'd become consumed by non-stop work. Running an entire empire appeared to be a full-time job and there'd be no telling when he'd have time off to do as he pleased. Add in keeping his future wife/queen satisfied, providing for his offspring, and demoralizing the denizens through carefully planned fear tactics, he'd be swamped with responsibilities.

Striding past the hilariously ridiculous decor, Tenebris shoved his way past the curtains leading into the well-lit kitchen, his horn burning with malefic light, expecting the old coot to tremble at the very sight of him. Instead, he found Primrose sitting calmly at the other side of the table facing him, raising a teacup to her lips before setting it down on its saucer. Tenebris despised how calm the mare was when she should be, utterly terrified to be in the presence of a being such as himself but considering her prophetic nature, he wouldn't have been surprised if she'd foreseen everything to its final conclusion. Lifting a chocolate-covered walnut macaroon, Primrose bit into the treat and, without breaking eye-contact, slowly crushed the cookie with her teeth, noisily grinding it into little particles and swallowing with a loud gulp. She smacked her lips, cleaning her face with a handkerchief.

"Do come in, I've been expecting you, Tenebris," she stated so casually that it set Tenebris' teeth on edge.

"Have you now?" Tenebris growled. "That's interesting..."

Levitating Primrose's teacup, Tenebris hurled it across the room, where it shattered against the wall.

"Did you see that coming? Maybe you did, maybe you didn't. If you know so much, then why would you wait instead of fleeing?" He then leaned forward and grinned, "You know, I'm beginning to think that you're just a phony."

Primrose remained quiet, defiantly watching him as she helped herself to another macaroon.

"So tell me, what happens next?"

"You step further into the kitchen..."


"...Your aura glows even brighter as you prepare..."


"...To step on a walnut that rolled onto the floor."


Tenebris lifted his right foreleg, finding some pieces of crushed nut stuck to his heel.

"How very amusing. Now stop playing games, oracle. I didn't come here to be made into a joke."

"So where do you usually go?"

A bubbling black missile shot from Tenebris' horn, only to dissipate a foot away from Primrose's composed features. The dark unicorn's jaw almost dropped at the sight.

"How did you do that?!"

Following Primrose's gaze, he stared up at the wooden beams lining the ceiling and tops of the walls. He caught a glimpse of several orange-gold rings fluctuated down their lengths, followed by a series of matching symbols that'd been mystically carved into the wood. The rings and symbols faded, leaving only the seemingly ordinary beams. Tenebris frowned, then glowered at Primrose, recalling that only one pony not only possessed that color magic aura but was also powerful enough to create such a barrier, the only issue being that this particular sorcerer had been deceased for over a millennium. So how in Tartarus did Primrose obtain wood that'd been enchanted by Clover the Clever?

"Very impressive, Primrose," Tenebris congratulated her, his toothy grin conveying anything but glee. "I'd ask how you managed to get your wrinkly hooves on those beams but frankly, my dear, I don't give a darn. So tell me, where is the second book?"

Primrose's cat eye glasses slid down her muzzle as she peered at Tenebris curiously.

"I beg your pardon?"

"Prophecies and Predictions, Volume II. You told me once that you'd been working on a follow-up and I want it. Give it to"

"I'm not afraid of you," Primrose stated without a hint of fear in her voice. "Believe it or not, there are things in this world worse than you. Older and far more wicked than you can possibly imagine."

Tenebris scoffed at this. "And what would that be?"

"You already know what it is, who it is. Your master knew and you ignored his warnings."

"Oh no, my apprentice. Emperor Grogar is alive. He is merely trapped in between worlds, his magic weakened by those meddlesome fools Gusty the Great and Clover the Clever. I've heard his call."

"Grimoire was a pathetic old fool, a raving lunatic," Tenebris spat.

Primrose leaned forward in her chair. "Was he? Surely you've felt it. The rising darkness. Unexplained weather phenomenon, rampant magical energies, the creeping sense of something great and terrible heading this way."

"A new power is rising. Everypony thinks that Emperor Grogar is gone but this isn’t so."

"Grogar is waiting for the moment to return. Anxiously waiting to reclaim his empire of fear and tyranny-..."

"He's not waiting!" Tenebris howled in rage. "He's passed on. He is no more. He has ceased to be. He's expired and gone to meet his maker! He's a stiff! Bereft of life, he rests in peace! If Gusty the Great hadn't taken his bell and used it to turn him to ash, he'd be pushing up daisies! He's kicked the bucket, he's shuffled off his mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the choir invisible! He is an ex-ram!"

Primrose snorted and shook her head. "Are you really that naive or are you avoiding the truth? Why? What is it about Grogar the Horrendous that frightens you so much?"

"I'm not frightened! And why should I be? I have no fear of ghosts."

"No, what you fear is far more dangerous."

Tenebris loomed directed over Primrose, his eyes burning with green light and purple smoke.

"And what would that be?"

"You're afraid of the past. Your past. Of coming face-to-face with all of your mistakes. Accountability was never one of your strong suits."

"Enough with the diversions! Where is the book?!"

Shakily rising, Primrose grabbed her cane from the nearby chair and stood.

"You can't threaten me, Tenebris. You have no power here, no sway."

The worst part was that she was absolutely right. The protective spells woven into the house prevented Tenebris from launching any kind of magical attacks and likely would also protect Primrose from physical ones as well. He could try mind control but Primrose was obviously strong-willed and the enchanted beams probably would negate his attempts so that option was also out. Tenebris valued strength in his opponents but that was only so their defeat was all the more sweeter however, reaching an impasse irritated him deeply. Primrose had succeeded in outsmarting him but this victory was only temporary and he would be back, the next time with a proper strategy.

"It appears you've won this round," Tenebris hissed, turning his back on her as he started for the exit. "But don't get too comfortable," he warned over his shoulder. "You're going to have to leave this little sanctuary eventually and I'll be waiting for you when you do."

"We'll see about that," Primrose responded stoically. "Oh, and Tenebris?"

Tenebris rotated his head, shooting her an inquisitive glare.

"Wouldn't you like to know something about your future?"


Charity Goodwill peered through the slats of the pinewood louvered door, a hoof tightly pressed against her muzzle to muffle the sounds of her breathing, her other hoof grasping the handle of a baseball bat. She'd just wrapped up her shift at the hospital, where she worked as a Residential Nurse, and decided to visit her grandmother, receiving the oddest feeling that something was amiss. Being the granddaughter of one of history's most prolific oracles, it would've been expected that Charity also shared the same gift but this was not quite the case because whatever power it was that Primrose had seemed to have skipped both her and her mother. Although she couldn't tell the future, Charity had what she called "inklings," little moments where she could just pick up on whenever something was about to go horribly wrong. As soon as she walked through the front door, her fears were validated as Primrose quickly ushered her into the kitchen pantry moments before that stallion from before entered.

King Sombra strode in like a dark storm, only he had changed in both appearance and demeanor. Charity had been eavesdropping from the living room during his last visit, during which he was a tad rude but otherwise inoffensive, with Primrose even laughing and joking around with him. Now the elderly fortuneteller addressed the dark unicorn coldly, referring to him as "Tenebris" and behaving as though she was confronting a sworn enemy. She often kept her visions hush-hush, refusing to discuss them or what she wrote in her book so Charity was uncertain if Primrose had foreseen this encounter or was merely bluffing to give the illusion of control. Primrose once described her visions much like peering through a spyglass: sometimes the images were as clear as day, other times the lens would fog up or crack, leading to the images appearing cloudy and ambiguous.

Charity jumped when Tenebris hurled a teacup against a wall, though she mentally cheered as Primrose merely sat there eating cookies. Tenebris then shot a beam of dark magic at Primrose, who remained stiff as a board even as it impacted a foot away from her face, blocked by the magic that'd been woven into the house. Some time ago, Primrose had acquired the lumber used in the house's construction from a forest on the side of Mount Concordia, some of the trees having been planted by Clover the Clever himself, though Charity never knew how this'd been accomplished. Instinctively, she grabbed the baseball bat her grandmother kept in the pantry as an anti-burglar deterrent, getting it ready in case she needed to knock it upside the warlock's head. The dark magic dissipated and Primrose continued to address Tenebris fearlessly, even mocking him for being afraid.

Wait, did she just say "Grogar"?

Every colt and filly had, at some point or another, at least heard the name of Grogar, even if just in passing. Legend has it that he was a ram sorcerer that ruled what would eventually become Equestria long before the Three Tribes arrived, situated in his fortress Tambelon, also known as "the Nightmare City." Apparently, he was obsessed with creating new life, birthing strange and terrifying creatures that still roamed the land to this day, such as manticores, bugbears, chimeras and cockatrices, leading to being bestowed the epithet of "Father of Monsters" by the ponies. During a great battle, the Bewitching Bell, a mystic artifact that served as the source of Grogar's power, was stolen by Gusty the Great and together with Clover the Clever, found a way to destroy the tyrant once and for all, ending his tyrannical reign and establishing the equine races as the dominant species of the continent.

It's said that Grogar's power was so great that it rivaled that of the alicorns. If Grandma thinks that he's returning, then we're all in mortal danger!

After the malefic attack failed, the two continued to talk, with Tenebris even demanding Predictions and Prophecies Volume II, which was unfinished as far as Charity knew but still held important information pertaining to the fate of Equestria. She guided her hoof to the pantry door, her other hoof squeezing around the baseball bat's handle hard enough to hurt as she readied herself to launch an assault on Tenebris. Oh, there was no doubt in her mind that he outmatched her in every conceivable way but all it took was the element of surprise and one good strike to take him out. Thankfully, Primrose managed to get Tenebris to back down before that could happen but in a rather curious twist, offered to give him some information about his future. Charity was flummoxed by this.

Why would Grandma do this? She's been trying to keep her visions to herself and now she's offering to give him some for free. Just what is she planning anyway?

"You've piqued my interest," Tenebris smirked.

Primrose beckoned him with a hoof. "Come closer. Closer."

The old mare then whispered into Tenebris' ear and although Charity couldn't hear what was being said, the way the stallion drew back suddenly told her that he'd heard something quite remarkable.

"You can't be serious. That's insane! I won't believe this lunacy!"

Primrose shrugged. "Believe, don't believe. It makes little difference to me."

"You're mad," Tenebris mumbled and slipped past the beaded entrance-way.

The seconds dragged into minutes before Charity heard:

"You can come out now, dear. He's gone."

Dropping the bat, Charity opened the door and slowly stepped out.

"What did you tell him?"

"What he needed to know," Primrose smiled enigmatically. "Or rather, what Sombra needs to know."

"I don't understand."

Primrose climbed out of her chair with a grunt and Charity rushed to her aid, offering her a foreleg to balance on, which Primrose gratefully accepted.

"I wouldn't expect you to," Primrose responded, patting Charity's cheek. "But you will."

Turning to her chair, Primrose pressed a latch on the side and lifted up the cushion to reveal a hidden compartment in the seat. There, she withdrew a stack of papers bound with several small leather straps and covered in her small but legible hoofwriting. Charity trembled with anticipation

"I-is that...?"

"My new book? Yes. There's still so much that I need to record and time is against me."

Primrose set the stack on the table. "I'm going to be needing your help, Charity. I need someone I can trust to transcribe what's in my head onto these pages." She tapped a hoof on the stack for emphasis.

Charity swallowed and stared at her. "Me?"

"No, Gustave le Grand. Yes, you. There are things that I can only tell you and you alone."

"L-like what?"

Primrose stared out the window, peering off into the distance.

"I need to tell you about the Six that will become the Seven, the Seven that will become None, and None that shall become All. About the Adversary-Thought-Vanquished, the Unlikely Queen and the Prince-Who-Has-Yet-to-Come. There will be the Battle of Unity, the forging of the Heart of Equestria and the union of the Gray-Winged Mage and the Bride of Sorcery."

She then turned back to Charity, a great smile plastered on her face.

"Put on the kettle, dear. There's so much that we need to go over."


Look at how far I've fallen.

Princess Celestia hung her head in despair, unable to comprehend how events could've had turned out so poorly in just a few hours. She, Luna and Cadence were chained side-by-side, completely powerless and in the clutches of a madstallion that was Tartarus-bent on destroying everything they'd worked for. Across from them, Shining Armor, Flash Sentry and Spike were shackled to the wall, Shining's horn covered in black crystals while Spike wore a muzzle and Flash had several metal bands that tightly wound his wings together. To her left, a glowing yellow, light blue and dark blue orb rotated in place atop a small pedestal, which Celestia hazarded a guess to be the princesses' stolen magic though she didn't know why there were no traces of Twilight's raspberry aura or any sign that she was in the cavern. In fact, just where was she?

Even more shocking was the imposing figure on her right side, a colossal hooded equine trapped within a summoning circle, none other than the Grim Reaper himself. How Sombra, or rather, "Tenebris" as he was calling himself, came by the Rite of Ashk’Anter was anypony's guess but Celestia knew that keeping Thanatos confined was one of the worst things a sorcerer could do. It'd been over a thousand years since she and Luna saw the Pale Horse, her feelings of awe and dread from being in his presence just as prevalent now as they were then. It was Thanatos who led them to the Tree of Harmony and thus aiding them against both Discord and King Sombra, and later serving to banish Nightmare Moon for the following millennium. Blue orbs burned within his empty eye sockets and she wasn't certain whether or not he was looking at her or through her.

"Thanatos, can't you do something to help us?"


"And we all know you're a stickler for rules."

Tenebris entered the room, cloak of darkness angrily flowing behind him.

"The power of the Reaper is mine, Tia. And mine alone."

"Where's Twilight?" Princess Celestia demanded.

"What have you done with her?!" Shining Armor snapped.

"Twilight? Absolutely nothing," Tenebris assured them before adding: "Yet."

Flash began thrashing against his restraints. "I swear, if you go near her-..."

Speeding across the room in his shadow-form, Tenebris re-materialized in front of Flash and gripped his chin with a black tendril. He gave the pegasus a cruel smirk.

"You'll...what exactly?"

"If you think you can get away with this," Flash grunted. "You're sorely mistaken."

Purple smoke curled around Tenebris' eyes, the umbrum baring his sharp teeth at Flash.

"The only mistake is your assumption that I care about anything you have to say, colt."

"Sombra, I know you're angry but this isn't right!"

Releasing Flash, Tenebris faced Spike, who was staring directly into his eyes.

"You're better than this."

"If you're trying to appeal to my good side, I assure you that I don't have one."

"Just who are you exactly?" Princess Luna shouted. "Sombra isn't this vicious."

Tenebris snorted in amusement. "I'm Sombra's dark half, all of his supposed 'worst traits.' He thought that if he got rid of me, he'd become an angel or something. What he didn't realize was that he needs me. I am his drive, his ambition and without me, he has no courage, no will to do what needs to be done regardless of qualms like right or wrong."

"So the real Sombra is still out there?" Princess Cadence asked.

Tenebris fired a black crystal dart, the projectile slamming into the wall above her head.

"I am...the real Sombra. We're here because of me. I took care of us, I came up with the plans and possessed the fortitude to see them through, I faced the trials and tribulations and came out stronger than before. Sombra was the Shadow King, whereas I am the Shadow God!"

"Why are we here?"

Tenebris smiled at Princess Celestia. "The only way a bargain can be reached is if one party has leverage. Without you all here, how else could I convince Twilight to come?"

"What do you want with Twilight?" Princess Cadence inquired.

"What's the point of having an empire if you don't have a queen? She will rule beside me and provide me with children."

"No!" Shining Armor cried, trying in vain to yank his chains from the wall.

Princess Celestia could feel that she was on the verge of tears but her determination to not to cry in front of Tenebris won out. She may have lost her magic but she was determined to retain her dignity, come Tartarus or high water. Even without her alicorn status, she was still a princess of Equestria and would conduct herself as such, even in the face of absolute defeat.

"Yes," Tenebris asserted in a pleased hiss. "Face it, you've all lost."

His eyes found Princess Celestia's and his grin grew even wider.

"As much as I'd enjoy seeing your despair at the sight of your former pupil becoming my wife, relishing in your anguish as Twilight is corrupted and twisted into being like me, I think it'd be wiser to eliminate any and all threats to my dynasty."

Tenebris' horn erupted in a fiery black aura.

"Celestia, say goodbye to Luna."



Princess Luna let out a scream before disappearing in a cloud of bubbling blackness.

"Luna!" Princess Celestia's grief turned to rage. "What did you do to my sister?!"

"I sent her back home," Tenebris casually replied. "The moon must've been so lonely without her."

"You monster!"

Tenebris released a low, bone-chilling chuckle.

"I don't know why you're upset."

He then aimed his lit horn at her.

"You're next."


Spike could only watch in horror as Princess Luna, followed by Princess Celestia, were both banished in clouds of darkness. Never had he felt so powerless, so tiny and ineffectual. He was the Seventh Element and a dragon, yet he couldn't do anything to stop Tenebris, not back in the throne room and certainly not now. He wanted nothing more to be back under the covers, hearing Twilight's voice as she droned on and on about thaumaturgical theorems about matter displacement. He wasn't fast like Rainbow Dash, strong like Applejack or as zany and creative as Pinkie Pie.

He was just a kid that was in way over his head.

I'm not even supposed to be here!

And yet...he was.

Something, call it fate or destiny, ensured that his egg was brought to Canterlot so that it could be hatched by Twilight and that the baby dragon could be raised by Princess Celestia. It couldn't have been on a whim of the universe that Spike was with Twilight when Princess Celestia sent her to Ponyville, that he met the others and went on insane adventures with them, starting with finding the Elements of Harmony and every event that'd occurred til now. Did Faust randomly place Spike in the Crystal Empire when King Sombra first showed up or coincidentally allow him to meet the Spirit of Harmony, who then happened to reveal him as the Seventh Element, the Element of Empathy? No, he had to be here for a reason and it certainly wasn't to just mope. Spike had a great power burning within him and that meant that he also had a great responsibility to use it.

If only I could do something...

"Are you planning something?"

Spike let out a yelp at the sound of Tenebris' voice in his ear.

"I saw that look on your face of calculation, of resolution," Tenebris whispered in an amused, almost mocking tone. "You have a backbone, little dragon. I think I'll keep you around."

"Get away from him!" Princess Cadence screamed.

"Cadence...don't speak to your father that way," Tenebris admonished her, as though he were speaking to a child who stuck their hoof in a cookie jar.

"Don't call me that! I'm not your daughter!"

Tenebris' face went blank for a moment, the muscles on his cheeks and brow twitching ever so slightly.

"No, not yet," he said in a detached, relatively monotonous tone. "Not yet."

"Cadence!" Shining Armor cried.

Activating his horn, Tenebris advanced on the captive princess.

Spike pulled at his restraints, flailing his arms and kicking at the wall but to no avail.

"But you will be..."


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This is!

Twilight Sparkle readjusted the bow in her mane and gave herself a once-over in the mirror, slightly perturbed by the outfit that she would never otherwise wear. She was wearing a black, corseted ball gown with red filigree, black lacy frills dangling from the sleeves, neckline and hemline. The dress featured a tall, V-shaped collar and plunging neckline which, combined with a red-lined black cape and black high-heeled shoes made Twilight feel like an evil queen in a fairy tale, especially the old dark ones that frightened her as a filly. Her parents always read her the truncated, more happy and whimsical ones so she had the brilliant idea to borrow an unedited book of fairy tales from the library and read it under the covers with a flashlight. As a result, she spent the next two weeks unable to sleep alone unless she had the lights on and her Smarty Pants doll tightly secure in her forelegs.

Now I'm going to see an evil king who's holding my friends and loved ones captive. It's like I've stepped into a fairy tale!

"You look beautiful," Lumos said in a hoarse, quiet wheeze.

The magical strain of being separated from Tenebris was visibly taking its toll on him. He looked old, several deep lines and wrinkles embedded into his face, which was much thinner with hollowed-out cheekbones and a sharp chin, giving him a gaunt appearance. Several silver-gray streaks dominated his formerly pitch-black mane, the once-bountiful locks now thinning and hanging limply down his shoulders. Heavily bloodshot eyes peered tiredly from within dark baggy eyelids, his dark green irises having lost much of their luster, their empty dullness almost pathetic. Although he hadn't voiced any vision problems, Twilight noticed that Lumos was doing an awful lot of squinting and bumping into objects, leading to her conclusion that he was possibly going blind.

He was also panting heavily, as though he'd just partaken in a three-day decathlon, moving stiffly and awkwardly towards her. As he'd recently "returned" from an excursion while in astral form, he was exhausted and looked like someone that'd trekked through the Everfree Forest. Astral projection sounded like a usual skill and would be worth investing time in learning it but the toll it took combined with the recovery period didn't sound particularly enticing. Twilight had voiced her objection to Lumos astral projecting while he was still in this state of rapid deterioration but he insisted, stating that the good of Equestria came before his health. Despite his advanced aging, Lumos still managed to retain his good cheer and practically glowed with warmth and affection.

Twilight smiled at him in the mirror but there was hardly any joy in it.

"Thank you but I don't really feel it."

"I'm so sorry."

Twilight turned away from the mirror and faced a despondent-looking Lumos.

"You're sorry? For what?"

"This was my fault. I was so blinded by my emotions that I did something incredibly stupid and brash."

He placed a wrinkled hoof beneath Twilight's chin, lifting her face up to his.

"I placed you all in danger because of my selfishness." Lumos sighed, then glanced at her remorsefully. "After the diamond dog attack, there was that moment when I looked into your eyes and saw the absolute fear in them. I-I just couldn't handle it. Out of everyone in all the world, you're the last pony that I want to be afraid of me."

Recalling that moment, Twilight realized what Lumos meant and shook her head.

"No, no," she asserted. "I was afraid, yes, but not of you. I was afraid for you, afraid that you'd lose yourself to your inner demons and completely undo all of the progress you've made."

Twilight embraced Lumos tightly, relishing in the security of his body heat.

"I'm sorry that I made you feel that way. I was just scared of losing you and it didn't dawn on me that you shared the same feelings, only a hundred times worse."

"Did I lose you?"

Twilight smiled brightly and kissed his snout.

"You could never lose me. I love you."

Lumos frowned. "All of me?"

From Lumos' descriptions, and the letter explaining the other princesses' plight, Tenebris sounded like a black-hearted scoundrel, a vicious, cruel and arrogant warlock whose malice was only dwarfed by his ambition. However, Tenebris was still a part of Sombra, all of his worst traits given corporeal form, just like how Lumos is the physical embodiment of his best traits. To not care for one would be hypocritical of Twilight, even nonsensical, given that both sides were responsible for her falling in love with Sombra in the first place. His dark half possessed his boldness and total disregard for authority, his confidence and willingness to defy even Princess Celestia for his beliefs being a very attractive quality. However, if Twilight loved Tenebris as she did Lumos, then did that mean that she harbored a darkness within her too?

Nightmare turned me into Midnight Sparkle but that was her using my negative emotions to her advantage. Is that who I could one day become?

"Twilight, are you okay? You look a bit flushed."

Kissing Lumos' cheek, Twilight began to put on her gold diamond earrings.

"I'm fine, really. Just doing a bit of thinking," Twilight assured him as she placed a diamond necklace around her neck and magically hooked the clasp into place. "You don't need to worry about me."

Lumos was suspicious but thankfully didn't press the matter.

Twilight finished the ensemble by draping a sheer black veil over her face.

"Are the girls ready?"

Lumos nodded stiffly. "They are."

"Then we should get going."


"Ah, now this is perfect," Tenebris sighed pleasurably from atop his throne.

He peered around at the vacant caverns of his hidden lair, taking solace in the silence of the mountain. Soon, all of Equestria-and the worlds beyond-would be his and he'd be able to raise a family with his lovely queen-to-be at his side. He would be the patriarch to a long and prosperous dynasty that would reign over Equus for ten thousand years, one that would make Equestria pale in comparison. Perhaps he'd leave instructions for his children to release Celestia and Luna in a millennium and have them work as maids or something. Yes, the ultimate revenge: humiliation and disgrace, being dishonored and forgotten for all time.

Next to him was a black crystalline cradle, in which laid a cooing infant filly.

"Enjoying yourself, my little heart-breaker?"

The filly squealed and waved her tiny hooves at him.

"Yes, you are. You're very happy with Da-Da, aren't you?"

Reverting Cadence back into her infant stage was foal's play for a master sorcerer. Sure, it was a tad irritating for her to scream and cry at the beginning but he managed to calm her down and she soon became acclimated to his presence. As Sombra, he'd only seen Cadence as a baby via old photos she included in her letters and now he had the real thing right in front of him. Despite looking a bit too much like her Faust-awful maternal grandmother, she was nonetheless beautiful, especially since she was a part of him made flesh. Now Tenebris could properly perform his duties as a father, to watch his daughter grow up and with him as her guide and teacher.

"Now I have the chance to do this right," Tenebris grinned down at Cadence. "Every filly needs her father, after all."

Cadence, or "Persephone" as he re-dubbed her, was a beautiful infant and though he loathed to admit it, Celestia and Sombra did a good job in her creation. Still, it didn't escape Tenebris' notice that Cadence resembled Queen Concordia, and that fact chilled him to his core. The miserable cow, as it would seem, continued to plague him from beyond the grave, almost solidifying a victory by sharing features with her granddaughter. However, Concordia was long gone and semi-forgotten, whereas Tenebris remained breathing, so this coincidental resemblance was a minor inconvenience. He'd ensure no one remembered the icy mare or her abominable offspring.

Boredom quickly set in, so Tenebris levitated Cadence's cradle and set off towards his-Sombra's-private library. Unlike the rest of the cavernous hall, the library was much more warm and inviting, with Saddle Arabian floor rugs, Prench furniture and oak-wood bookshelves. Floral steel wall sconces decorated the walls, bathing the room in orange-yellow light that made the room stand out from the darkness of the lair. In contrast to the craggly, jagged walls of the hideout, the library's walls were smooth and images of beasts and ships were painstakingly carved into the stone. Sombra had taken extra care with decorating this room, ensuring that it was comfortable and visibly pleasing for a bibliophile such as himself.

Carefully setting Cadence down, Tenebris searched the shelves, coming across volumes both rare and ancient, as well as contemporary and new. Some he, as Sombra, had acquired ages ago, carefully preserved through his own arcane means, others obtained during his recent travels following the re-match with Celestia. Literature had changed much throughout the centuries during his imprisonment, no longer written in the beautiful, flowing prose of a bygone era but now in a cleaner, more "efficient" style meant for the general masses. It was a style that lacked any kind of poetry to it, instead being as direct and blunt as a war-club to the face. There wasn't any doubt this had contributed to the decay of public education.

This wasn't to say that he found no enjoyment in the literary world; in fact, there were quite a few authors from this new modern era whom he enjoyed, such as Edgar Allan Pony, Marey Spelley and H.P. Lovecart. There were some genres, such as horror and adventure, that only seemed to advance with age while genres like romance floundered in a sea of second-rate quote-unquote "authors" and mediocre sludge that only barely passed as writing. Sombra once tried to write a book, a memoir in fact, but scrapped it since he was certain it was a tale that no one would be interested in reading. Even if it'd been printed and actually found an audience, Celestia would've no doubt had Sombra arrested and all copies of his book rounded up and destroyed on the grounds of libel. Tenebris growled at the thought of the alicorn's arrogance, a trait that'd been present in all their kind-Celestia, Luna, Concordia, Carnelian, Aquamarine...himself.

He quickly rejected quite a few titles, such as Salem's Stable by Stifle Croup and Mooncurve's Guide to Interval Incantations before stopping dead in his tracks at the sight of a thin red and gold spine. Rooted in place, Tenebris could only stare at the book and seemed to automatically lift it off of the shelf and suspend it in front of him. It was The Start of War, a tome he'd enjoyed as another stallion in another time, back in a world that was simpler and seemingly more innocent.

"What'cha reading?"

Tourmaline lowered the book from his line of sight to find a familiar young mare swagger up to him.

"'The Start of War' by Mule Tzu," he murmured, raising the book once more.

After a moment, the book descended, revealing Garnet's big unwavering grin.

"Is it a good read?"

Tourmaline sighed, "What do you want, Gar?"

Clicking her tongue, Garnet let out a gasp and raised a hoof to her chest.

"What, can't a mare visit her favorite brother?"

"Again: what do you want?"

Garnet's grin vanished.

"Hmph, you're such a stick-in-the-mud, you know that?"

Casually taking a seat on the bench, Garnet slouched beside Tourmaline in a decidedly un-princess-like fashion. The siblings had been raised in the same place with the same parents and yet Garnet could be so pedestrian. Sometimes Tourmaline joked that Garnet had been left on the doorstep of the castle, a jest that his sister didn't appreciate one bit but nonetheless laughed off. They were practically inseparable; in the rare moments when the two weren't in the same location, ponies believed something was wrong. Although Tourmaline was four years older, both he and Garnet liked to pretend that they were twins, as silly as that sounded, and even once convinced their parents to let them celebrate their birthday on the same day.

"Aren't you supposed to be taking history lessons?"

Garnet groaned, "Ugh, they're so bor-ing! A bunch of stuff happened, Equestria was founded, the end! I don't know why I have to learn all this nonsense."

"So you and your future husband have something to talk about."

"If I do get married, I want my husband to be...simple. You know, not a complete intellectual like you."

Tourmaline snorted. "Yet, I'm the one who's getting married first. You'll never get a husband with that kind of attitude." He then gestured to Garnet. "And you'd better hope Mother doesn't catch you sitting like this."

"Oh, you mean like a proper lady?" Garnet retorted in a snobbish tone. Sitting up, she crossed one hindleg over the other and placed her forehooves onto her lap. "Ahem. Is this more to your liking, Brother Mine? Now let's discuss the latest news from Ornithia and their foreign trade policies."

Suppressing a snicker, Tourmaline replied in an equally snobby way:

"Why yes indeed, Sister Mine. According to my sources, King Psittacus is levying quite the astounding price on exports, particularly tea. I don't see the big deal. It tastes like any other ginger tea."

Garnet giggled daintily through her hooves.

"Wow, and to think, Mother and Father expect me to wed a stallion that sounds like that! You sure lucked out when it came to your betrothed."

"Tia's great and all," Tourmaline began, scratching the back of his neck. "But she can be a bit overbearing at times. She always has to get her way and pouts when she doesn't. I wouldn't say she's bratty but she can be a bit much."

"Yeah? You could always ask to marry Luna."

"And risk Discord turning me into something unnatural? No thank you."

Garnet glanced over at the book tucked under Tourmaline's foreleg.

"So what's 'The Start of War'? Is it a history book?"

"No, it's an ancient instruction manual depicting the strategies and nuisances of warfare from the concise, calculated viewpoint of an experienced military advisor."

"Wow, you're such a bookworm! If anything, you're the one who's adopted. The stork had to have dropped you at the wrong location."

"And how, pray tell, could 'the stork' have delivered me?"

"He could've carried you by gripping the swaddle."

"It's not a question of where he grips it," Tourmaline said almost sternly. "It's a simple question of weight ratios. A five-pound bird cannot carry a ten-pound foal."

"Thank you for proving my point."

"You're insufferable."

Garnet wrapped her forelegs around Tourmaline and snuggled her face into his chest.

"Awww, I love you too."

Slowly, Tourmaline hugged Garnet back.


Tenebris sniffled and wiped a hoof on his face before recoiling at the realization that he was crying. Slamming the book back onto the shelf, he grabbed Cadence and stormed out of the library, his desire for reading now forgotten. Garnet was long gone, as were his adoptive parents, or, to be more precise, jailers. There was no point in lingering in the past, not when there was a prosperous future to prepare for. Once Twilight arrived and his plans fully came to fruition, he would be whole once more.

"I will not be alone," Tenebris muttered bitterly under his breath. "Not again."


"This is hopeless," Flash Sentry sighed as he hung from the stone wall, the steel manacles beginning to chafe his pasterns. "I think this might actually be the end."

"We can't think like that!" Shining Armor refuted. "I'd bet you the Crystal Empire itself that Twily and the others are coming up with a plan as we speak."

"Are you mad?! Look, I know Twilight and her friends have faced some dire odds but what chance do they have now? Tenebris stole the princesses' magic and banished Celestia and Luna...Faust-knows-where!"

Spike, meanwhile, was staying perfectly silent. He wasn't going to just sit-or hang-and wait for his friends to rescue them; he was formulating a plan of his own. His restraints allowed for little wiggle room, fitting snugly around his wrists as Tenebris evidently anticipated the possibility of him slipping out of his bonds. The chains were of a fine make as were the wall-plates they were screwed into, meaning he couldn't simply shake or pull them out of place. If he could just get one hand free, then he could unsnap his collar and use his fire-breath to free the others before Tenebris returned.

His eyes then drifted across the room to the towering figure standing perfectly still.

"Hey, Thanatos!"


"Do you know how I can get out of these bonds?"


Spike rolled his eyes. "Could you tell me?"

Thanatos' shoulders raised slightly.

"You're wasting your time, Spike," Flash sighed. "He can't tell you anything."

Ignoring him, Spike decided to go about this from another angle.

"So you can't tell me anything because I'm not the one who summoned you, right?"


"Then don't tell me anything. Show me."

Somehow, Spike got the impression that Thanatos was smiling at him.


Raising a hand, Thanatos conjured the wispy image of a pair of manacles identical to the ones Spike was wearing. A round-head bolt on the top of one slowly rose up, causing the manacle to pop open with an audible clank-squeak. The image soon dissipated and Thanatos lowered his hand once again. Thanatos stared at Spike expectantly and the wheels in the drake's head quickly began to turn.

The bolt! There's a bolt in each manacle and if I can pry them loose, then I can slip free!

Before Spike could do anything, Tenebris strode into the room, the filly-fied Cadence nestled within a cradle suspended by his malefic magic. Setting her down, he clapped and rubbed his hooves together.

"Well gentlecolts, it's time that we depart. I do hope you're enjoying your stay here."

Shining Armor half-lurched forward, tugging at his restraints furiously.

"Let Cadence go! Now!"

A shadow claw flew from Tenebris' cloak and seized Shining by the throat.

Tenebris growled at him, his eyes flashing green.

"Inside my domain, the only one that can give orders is me."

Black and purple light shot towards Shining, transforming him into a crystalline statue.

"Perhaps a time-out will cool that temper."

"You're a monster!" Flash screamed.

"And your time in this world is over..."


Spike shuddered under Tenebris' gaze.


"Well, uh," Spike swallowed. "Y-you need us. That's why we're here. Otherwise...Twilight wouldn't have a reason to come. We're all bargaining chips."

Tenebris grinned. "I knew there was I reason I liked you. You're smarter than the average dragon."


The umbrum's grin grew insidiously wide.

"However, you and Shining Armor are sufficient enough, given that Twilight has deep emotional ties to you both."

He was now staring at Flash, his horn blazing with a dark aura.

"Three hostages is just one too many."

"What are you going to do?" Flash asked him, a bead of sweat trickling down his left temple.

"That's a good question, colt. What do I do with you?"

Releasing a savage scream, Tenebris reared back, flailing from side to side as Cadence began wailing her head off at the sight of her father in torturous pain. Spike and Flash watched almost fascinatingly as the stallion's muzzle lengthened, his limbs becoming longer and more spindly, reminding Spike of a monstrous spider he once saw in a horror comic. Tenebris' mane rapidly grew outward in wild locks that resembled crackling ebony flames, his horn audibly stretching and contorting into a sickle-like blade. His screaming intensified, transitioning into an unearthly, roaring shriek as obsidian crystals violently sprouted from his shoulders and back, the sound of each one breaking through flesh was similar to shattering glass inside of a burlap sack. While everyone else were horrified by the metamorphosis, Thanatos watched with his usual unengaged demeanor, neither moving a muscle nor making a sound but bearing witness to the as-yet-unexplained event.

His transformation complete, Tenebris collapsed onto his side, crumpling unconsciously to the floor like a thrown rag-doll. The room was soon filled with an eerie silence, the winds of the Frozen North raging unabated outside the mountain hall. Neither Spike nor Flash said anything, the two still reeling from the sight. Yes, Tenebris was an awful piece of work but seeing him in agony wasn't something they wanted nor expected to happen. Cadence continued to sob and Spike wanted nothing more than to hold her and stop her crying but he was rather inconvenienced at the moment.

What the hay happened? He was fine moments ago and now-he's awake!

Shaking his head slowly, Tenebris steadily rose to his hooves, his pure scarlet eyes burning within his skull.

"That really hurt. Thanatos, what was that?! What's wrong with me?!"


Tenebris breathed heavily, his sharp teeth bared in an aggressive snarl.

"Reunite...with him? Never! I will find my own way, and even if I fall, at least I'll take him down with me!"


Twilight couldn't stop fidgeting, whether it was wringing her hooves or anxiously fiddling with her gown. She'd gone over the plan with her friends twice, just to ensure that everyone was aware of their roles and to prevent any miscommunication. According to Lumos, Tenebris was vicious and clever with a single-minded determination to win at any cost but he was also arrogant and so narrowly focused on a goal that he develops tunnel-vision. If they were going to have even a sliver of a chance betting him, everything had to be perfect, no if's, and's or but's. All she could do now was hold onto hope that they'd all make it through this, save Equestria and prevent Sombra's demise.

Faust, give me the strength to lead my friends to victory, rescue my loved ones.

Normally a train ride to the Crystal Empire had Twilight practically bursting with joyous anticipation, excited beyond words to be able to visit her brother and sister-in-law, only this time, all she felt was spine-tingling dread. She was the only passenger in her compartment and for that, she was grateful as she didn't need any distractions during her journey. Releasing her held breath, Twilight let out a prolonged exhale from her nostrils, steadying herself for the oncoming conflict. Drawing in air, she inhaled through her mouth and momentarily contained it before releasing it. Slowly, she was able to steady her shaking hooves, her nerves settling into a more relaxed mode, if only a little.

"Now arriving at the Crystal Empire! I repeat: now arriving at the Crystal Empire!"

Sure enough, the signature crystalline structures soon came into the view, the tall spire of the Crystal Castle shining like a beacon within the icy clutches of the Frozen North. As the train pulled into the station, Twilight experienced the briefest moment of panic, to purchase a ticket for the next train out of the empire. However, a must stronger impulse, the desire to face Tenebris and save the stallion she loved overpowered her fear. Rising from her seat, she purposefully dropped one of her diamond earrings and resolutely exited the train, traveling through a throng of tourists and crystal ponies, who all mindlessly chit-chatted about mundane topics like how nice the weather was or various local sights to visit. A part of Twilight envied the other ponies' blissful ignorance and she wondered what it would be like to be one of them, to just relax and enjoy life instead of having to worry about the next villain attack or some world-ending cataclysm.

But I'm not a regular pony. I'm a princess and an Element of Harmony. That means I have a duty to Equestria to act as its guardian and protector. With great power, comes great responsibility.

The castle was soon directly in front of her, the pristine white structure somehow ominously glittering in the sunlight. Without anymore delay, Twilight willed her hooves to move, passing through the vacant entryway and further into the increasingly nerve-wracking silence of the abandoned halls. Aside from her breathing and hoof-falls, there were no other signs of life, any indication that anyone could've or recently did inhabit the castle. No torches were lit, only the steady glow of Twilight's horn providing any kind of illumination. It would appear that Tenebris, like Sombra, enjoyed theatricality and his dark, haunted castle routine was working as Twilight was shuddering from the suspense.

So far, apart from the darkness and terrifying atmosphere, the castle looked relatively the same as it normally did, which did little to stifle the warning bells ringing in Twilight's head. Up ahead, she caught a glimpse of something in the darkness and steadily made her way towards it, wary of any traps. Casting a quick scanning spell, she determined that there were no curses or dark charms but refused to let her guard down in case there were any other tricks up Tenebris' metaphorical sleeves. A sliver of yellow-gold light peeked from underneath the double doors of the throne room and it didn't take a genius to figure out that this was where she was supposed to go. Swallowing, Twilight licked her lips and pushed a door open with a toe, mentally preparing herself for whatever lay in store for her.

A large gray stallion had seated himself on the purple and blue crystal throne, rocking a cradle made of black crystals. His twisted features giving Twilight pause: his eyes were pure scarlet, not shimmering like rubies but wild and empty like red fire. The trademark red and gray curved horn was now a crescent-shaped blade, which only barely took attention away from the two rows of jagged, pearly-white fangs that occupied his mouth. Instead of a cloak made of cloth, he wore a swirling mass of inky darkness that flowed and curled as though it were made up of vipers. This creature was undoubtedly what the rest of Equestria believed Sombra looked like and despite her best efforts, Twilight couldn't tear her gaze away from him.

"Welcome home, dear," Tenebris grinned malevolently. "It's time you met your daughter."

Nearing the End

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"I'm sorry what?!"

A chilling laugh erupted from Tenebris as he leered down at her, his lips positioned in a cruel-looking grin of near-sadistic amusement.

"Oh, of course, introductions are in order."

He levitated a filly from out of the crib and into his forelegs.

"Twilight, meet Persephone. Persephone, this is your mommy."

The wool blanket, a masterfully spun cloth of black and maroon fabric, fell away to reveal a dark pink filly with a short mane of violet, rose and golden hair. Her large purple eyes sparkled playfully in the light, reminding Twilight of all the good times she spent with her fillysitter.


Twilight's shocked inquiry was met with babbling laughter as the filly reached out for her.

"What did you do?" Twilight demanded, though she shrank beneath Tenebris' narrowed gaze

"I made things right," Tenebris coolly replied, descending the dais with "Persephone" suspended in a black aura. "Celestia stole one-thousand and thirty-two years from me and my daughter."

He stopped in front of Twilight, ominously looming above her.

"I intend to make up for lost time."

Tenebris isn't just wicked, he's insane!

Twilight gulped and tried to maintain her composure.

"And you want me to raise her mother?"

Tenebris' pleasant demeanor from before returned, the transformation so jarring that it was hard to reconcile the change in only a couple minutes' time.

"Yes. Can't you see it? The entire world bowing at our hooves, with us as the rulers of a continent-spanning empire. We'll go down in history as the progenitors of a millennia-spanning dynasty."

One of his hooves caressed her cheek in an oddly tender gesture, causing Twilight to shiver from both fear and pleasure from the contact, though she didn't know what frightened her more.


"Of course, my love," Tenebris purred through his mouthful of teeth. "You're the only one that I want to fill that role, the only one that I want at my side. It has to be you."

Tenebris willed a piece of his cloak to unfurl itself in front of Twilight's chest, revealing a black crystal ring within its grasp, a large dark purple gem set within the band. Twilight had anticipated the possibility of a marriage proposal but no amount of mental preparation could've readied her for the real deal. A nauseous, bubbling pit formed inside her stomach and, once again, she found herself unable to determine the emotions associated with it. There was a part of her that was disgusted by the mere suggestion of such an offer and yet, there was an equally strong part that relished his bold and unabashed proposal. None of her friends had husbands or suitors, yet here she was with a stallion who was popping the question, giving her a sliver of unparalleled pride and superiority over the other mares.

He wants me. He could have any mare he wants as his wife but he wants me...

"Marry me, become my wife and queen. You will be the mother to a nation, to Persephone, and to our future children."

Tenebris' rich, velvety words carried with it a promise of riches and eternal adoration, its underlying tone of sinister intentions inviting unbridled passion and danger. No matter the form, Twilight found it hard to resist the magnetic pull of that voice or the near-hypnotic power of that scarlet gaze peering right into her soul. It was both thrilling and frightening, the sway that the stallion had over her, the darkness that was consuming the mare. She wasn't certain if it was her attraction or some dark magic spell being cast over her but what she did know that she was enthralled all the same. The truth was, Twilight, at that very moment, was considering Tenebris' proposal.

"It's your destiny..."

This snapped Twilight out of her amorous reverie.

No! Remember why you're here!

"Um, if I say yes, what will happen to Spike and the others?"

Tenebris grinned, purple mist curling from his eyes.

"Then your friends and your brother will go free."

The ring's gem caught the light from the sun, silently begging Twilight to say the magic word and slip the ring onto her horn. But could Tenebris be trusted to honor their agreement? If he really was a part of Sombra, then it would follow that he shared Sombra's dedication to keeping his word, right? On the other hoof, Sombra was capable of underhoofed tactics and psychological manipulation and as Tenebris was all of his worse traits, then it was entirely plausible the dark unicorn was lying to her, just as Lumos told her back in Ponyville. Regardless of the different scenarios, she knew that there were very few options.

"Yes," Twilight answered, levitating the ring onto her horn.


Tenebris' letter stipulated that Twilight had to show up there without her friends and it was agreed that she should comply with that demand. However, neither she nor the six other ponies believed it to be prudent for her to go to the Crystal Empire by herself and to that end, they came up with a little plan. Thanks to Lumos' astral projection, they learned that Tenebris paid Primrose the Prescient a visit, though Lumos found himself unable to enter the house, leaving the conversation between the two unknown. However, it was apparent by Tenebris' frustrated demeanor that he didn't get what it was that he wanted from the seer and that was a plus in Twilight's book. Lumos was also able to sneak into Sombra's hidden lair and discovered where Shining Armor, Spike and Flash Sentry were being held, though he was forced to exit the astral plane before he could learn the whereabouts of the princesses, the journey taking its toll on the stallion in his decrepit state.

Five minutes passed after Twilight exited the train, just long enough for her to begin her trek to the Crystal Castle and give credence the fact that, yes, indeed, she was traveling solo. Any potential-and likely-prying eyes would be so focused on watching the mare that they'd be missing the real point of interest, namely the train itself. Back in Twilight's compartment, the lone diamond earring she left on the seat softly glowed, the center of the multifaceted stone radiating with a moderate red glow. Hopping around like a cricket, the earring ascended a foot off of the seat, the glow becoming a near-blinding ball of energy akin to a miniature red sun. The ball then suddenly exploded outward, sending six rays of light crashing to the compartment floor, each one forming into a pony.

Lumos shook his head. "Is everypony alright?"

"Ah think Ah'll be fine," Applejack answered, a hoof rubbing her temple. "Dashie?"

"Great...if someone was nice enough to get her big, fat behind off of me!"

Rarity jumped up and scowled at her. "I said I was sorry. That was just uncalled for!"

"I mean, you have been eating more than usual."

Pinkie winced at the unicorn's glare. "Heh-heh, sorry."

Lumos offered a hoof to Fluttershy. "Do you need help?"

Fluttershy gratefully took the proffered hoof and was hoisted into a standing position.

"Thank you. Is it time to do our part?"

Pinkie tip-toed towards the compartment door, now dressed in a red beret and a green and brown camo jacket with two horizontal stripes of black grease smeared underneath her eyes. She opened the door a crack and peered outside, her eyes darting around suspiciously.

"'Operation: Live Free or Twi-Hard' is now underway. No signs of enemy guards..."

"I...don't recall giving this plan a name," Lumos said hesitantly. "That's certainly a creative one, I'll give you that."

Rainbow Dash shook her head. "No, it should be 'Operation: Here Comes the Rainboom!'"

"How 'bout, 'Operation: Yer Outta Buck'?" Applejack replied.

"Really? I much rather like the sound of, 'Operation: Hurt Couture'. Get it?"

"Ah don't know, Rares. If ya make uh reference, it's gotta be one everypony gets."

"I like, 'Operation: Sparrowhawk' myself," Fluttershy suggested.

Lumos cleared his throat. "Um, ladies? Perhaps we should consider this later."

"He's right, girls," Rarity affirmed, placing a hoof on Lumos' shoulder. "Does everypony remember the plan?"

Five heads collectively gave her a resolute nod.

"Good. Then let's get going!"

Leading the way, Rarity approached the nearest exit and, ensuring that no one was watching, leapt out onto the concrete. Fluttershy, Applejack and Pinkie replicated her actions, leaving Lumos and Rainbow as the only ones left on the car. Reluctantly, Lumos placed a withered foreleg around Rainbow's neck and together, slowly made their way off the side of the train facing away from the direction of the city. While the others journeyed to the Crystal Castle, it was their job to sneak into Sombra's hidden lair and free the hostages; if there are no hostages, then Tenebris has no leverage and four incensed alicorns to deal with. Lumos was the only one who could get through the spell-locked entrance and, to both his and Rainbow's chagrin, it was agreed that the prismatic pegasus should be the one to accompany him, her speed making her the ideal companion to the base.

The two traveled out of the Crystal Empire and once they were at a safe enough distance, Rainbow unfurled her wings and shot off into the air, pressing Lumos tightly against her. The shrieking winds slapped at the pair, battering them like a mouse caught in a cat's paws, all the while the harsh, frigid coldness of the Frozen North held them in an icy grip. Despite these obstacles, Rainbow never wavered nor halted in her progress, keeping a taut grip on her living cargo, no matter how disgusting his wrinkled flesh felt against her body. For his part, Lumos lightened the load with a small telekinetic spell, keeping himself partially afloat in spite of how much his head ached or his horn was seemingly ready to implode. Neither one of them uttered so much as a single word, not that there was anything they had to say to one another and both silently agreeing that this was for the best.

Before long, the Crystal Mountain Range was rising above, an impenetrable wall of ancient stone and thick icy snow that had stood there countless eons before Equestria was settled by the Three Tribes. Explorers and mountain-climbers alike experienced the daunting size and magnificence of the mountains, with many even losing their lives in their pursuit of fame and adventure. This made them the ideal place for King Sombra to construct his concealed sanctuary, a special hiding place far away from the prying eyes of his beleaguered subjects and eventually rebellious allies. The labor-intensive progress took months to complete but it'd all been worth it in Sombra's eyes, giving him a solitary fortress in case anything went wrong during his reign and he needed a place to regroup. Lumos carefully nudged Rainbow and pointed at a nearly-imperceptible cliff-side.

"Over there!" He shouted above the winds, though the effort strained his voice, sending him into a coughing fit. Thankfully, Rainbow received his message and it wasn't before long they were touching ground, sliding through the thick powder that covered the cliff-side. Immediately, as though a fog had lifted, the cliff-side appeared larger, digging into the mountain rather than being a simple outcropping. Ahead of them stood eight tall, conical pillars, each one constructed out of rough stones of various types and lining either side of a stony walkway.

"What are these?" Rainbow asked as the two inched past them.

"Cairns. In the old days, they were used as trail-markers or burial monuments. These ones were made from stones taken from my old master's temple on Black Skull Island. The place was rife with dark magic so they were ideal for crafting talismans."

Upon closer inspection, one could detect the tiny inscriptions on each individual stone, each one covered in letters of an unknown alphabet. Even without a horn, Rainbow could feel the power radiating off of them.

"What's with the chicken-scratch on these rocks?"

"Warlock-speak," Lumos informed her. "It's a secret language known only to dark sorcerers. I used them to imbue the cairns with magic to create the cloaking spell on this location."

They soon arrived at the end of the cairns and came face-to-face with a mountainside-wall.

"Soooo...what now?"

Sucking in air, Lumos tapped into the residual negative emotions that he still had stored within himself. His horn flickered on and off, the red aura eventually changing into black with little green bubbles. The magic died out and Lumos collapsed onto his forelegs, audibly wheezing as his breaths become more forceful. Rainbow rushed to his aid, placing a wing on his back.

"You alright?"

Lumos swallowed and nodded. "I think so. Do me a favor: don't get old."

"Yeah, I'll be sure to do that."

Shakily rising to his hooves, Lumos made a second attempt, this time a sputtering stream of flames licked the wall and slowly melting the snow and ice covering it. A pair of thirty-foot-tall doors came into view, each one ornately carved with a unique blend of geometric interlacing knot patterns and ribbon-shaped animals tightly wrapped around each other. Each beast appeared to be watching the pair, though Rainbow chalked this up to either her nerves, intentional design or both, recalling that there were paintings in mystery novels that had the same effect. In place of doorknobs, there was a raised ring in the intersection of the two doors, as if it were a fancy keyhole. The ring featured a triple-spiral symbol resting within a circle of runes, the same runes that could be found decorating the outer border of the doors.

Pointing his horn at the ring, Lumos summoned a reserve of inner strength and shouted:

"Opnaðu gáttina, svo talar ég!"

The runes ignited in a fierce glow of piercing crimson light. The doors rumbled and groaned, pushing inward and opening with a booming slam that echoed into the darkness of the cavernous mountain lair.

"Shall we?"


Following Tenebris' departure, Spike hung from his restraints with his heart squeezing out its beats, the thunderous rhythm pounding in his ears and throat. He waited with mounting tension, anxiously tuning his hearing to the caverns, ensuring that his inhospitable host had indeed vacated the premises before he could enact his plan. Drawing in a sharp inhale, Spike bent his legs backwards and tapped his heels on the wall before planting his feet firmly against the stone. Grabbing a hold of the chains, he lifted himself up and began to walk up the wall, arriving at a ninety-degree standing position. Taking a moment to catch his breath, Spike pulled his arms towards his chest and, placing his right arm over his left, lined up the metal wrist bands and began to strike at the bolt on his right wrist.

The goal was to pry the bolt loose on each manacle by applying force to the heads, which he would do via using both bands as rudimentary hammers. The room, and by extension, the tunnels, reverberated with a series of bang-clinks that created a bitter metal taste in Spike's mouth and set his teeth on edge. Every strike was indicative of Tenebris' approaching hoof steps should he return prematurely, a terrifying incentive for Spike to retain a steady pace. Slowly but surely, the action began prying the rounded head up, revealing more and more of the bolt with each strike. Sweat gently trickled down Spike's brow but he ignored it, too engrossed in his task to care about a little thing like perspiration.

Once the bolt was halfway loosened, he switched focus to the left manacle, mirroring his previous action by hitting that bolt head onto his right manacle. Again, the fear of Tenebris stomping down the corridor and discovering what one of his prisoners was up to fueled Spike's work ethic and while it might've motivated him to increase his speed, he couldn't risk ruining everything by rushing through it. His friends, his family, Tartarus, all of Equestria depended on him keeping a level head and steady nerves so he kept at his regular pace, not letting his growing excitement at his progress override his patience. After fifteen minutes, both bolts stood erect from the tops of their respective manacles like flag poles.

"Way to go, Spike!" Shining Armor beamed.

"You're almost there!" Flash Sentry cheered. "You've almost got it!"

Spike jerked his head up, surveying the entrance for any signs of his captor before proceeding. Seizing the right bolt with his left hand, he tugged it until the bolt went tumbling out of the manacle and clattered to the floor. The manacle came loose and Spike swung around, spinning on his heels to keep himself standing up against the wall, holding onto the left hanging chain for dear life as sweat droplets pitter-pattered into his eyes. Blinking them away, Spike pulled himself up on the chain with both hands, gritting his teeth while the physical strain began to catch up with him. He squeezed his index finger and thumb around the bolt head and thought a short prayer to Faust.

One twist and pull later, the manacle sprang open. Spike tried grasping at the chains but his fingers fumbled, resulting in him falling onto his backside and rolling away from the wall. He groaned, turning onto his stomach and rubbing at his rear, believing that he'd be sore there for the next couple of days. Thankfully, it was a short drop and Spike was appreciative of the fact that it meant nothing was broken. If Tenebris had hung him up any higher on the wall, then his chance at liberation wouldn't have been so fortuitous. Slowly rising to his feet, he dusted himself off and stretched, giving his shoulders a good roll and rub-down, his muscles aching from the suspension and effort at escape.

I wonder if Hoofdini ever had such trouble with hoof-cuffs?

"Nice work!" Flash hollered, doing a little jig. "Now get us down!"


Spike scratched his head, uncertain as to how he was going to free his compatriots. A chill ratcheting down his spine forced him to turn towards the colossal figure unblinkingly staring down at him.

I COULD HELP YOU, Thanatos stated plainly. If I WASN'T TRAPPED HERE, THAT IS.

"The summoning circle! It's also a binding circle, isn't it?"

Thanatos tilted his head as if to say, "Seriously?"

"Oh, right, I forgot you can't actually answer me," Spike chuckled sheepishly. "Hold on! Sombra or Tenebris or whoever has got to have some water and a rag somewhere!"

Shining squirmed in his restraints. "Spike, wait a minute!"

The drake skidded to a stop just as black crystals leapt up from the floor, surrounding him in a jagged cage similar to the one Twilight was once trapped in at the Crystal Castle's tallest spire.

"Spike! Are you alright?!"

"I'm fine, Shining!"

Spike then gasped and leapt to the end of the cage as a large shadow fell over him. He then let out a shrill scream as the figure advanced, only to realize that it wasn't Tenebris. He looked like Sombra if he'd aged to resemble a thousand-year-old stallion, his body practically loose folds of skin hanging over rail-thin limbs. Snow-white hair dangled over his shoulders, paired up with a long white beard and tail that added to his decrepit appearance. He was even wrapped in a cloak similar to the one Rarity made for him, except it was far too big to fit his scrawny, borderline malnourished frame.

"Spike, don't be alarmed. We're here to help."

Rainbow Dash soon entered behind him.

"Spike! We'll get you out of there!"

"Rainbow! Am I glad to see you! But who's this?"

"That'll take some time to explain." Rainbow looked at the old stallion. "Can you free him?"

"I can, as I happen to know the exact counter-spell to release him."

Letting out a cough, he snorted, then charged his horn, creating the tell-tale toxic green, purple and black aura of a malefic sorcerer. The stallion winced in pain, as though the mere effort was putting a strain on his body and the energy on his horn dimmed. Refocusing on his task, he bit back a cry of agony and zapped the cage, forcing it to retract back into the floor. His task completed, he deactivated his magic and wobbled to and fro, almost ready to collapse. Rainbow kept him upright with a wing, her demeanor much more worrisome than Spike was used to.

"So...the short version is Sombra split himself into a good half and a bad half and this is his good half."

"You may call me, 'Lumos'," the elder pony managed through the pain.

"That's who Tenebris was referring to!" Shining exclaimed in realization.

Lumos gave him a soft smile. "You're my son-in-law. It's nice that we could have a discussion without me being in restraints."

"Now it's the other way around."

"Heh, heh, indeed! Irony abound!"

"Excuse me," Flash interrupted. "But if it's not at all inconvenient, I think you should release us."

Lumos nodded. "Yes, of course, Flash. We have an appointment with an old friend..."

Battle For The Light

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"How do you like it, my love?"

Atop the dais, Tenebris and Twilight were seated upon great crystalline thrones, spiked structures whose protrusions skewered the nearby ceilings and walls, embedding themselves in the throne room as a leech or tick might do to an unsuspecting animal. The former royal imperial thrones lay shattered around the dais, deliberately left there as a reminder of Tenebris' occupation and conquest of the Crystal Empire. Cadence, or rather, Persephone, laid in a crystal cradle situated between the two thrones, giggling and bubbling as she swatted at the mobile suspended above her. To anyone peaking in on them, the trio appeared to be a royal family like any other, albeit one dark and twisted judging by the massive stallion literally shrouded in darkness and surrounded by ominous-looking black thorn-like crystals. Twilight flashed the monarch an uneasy grin.

"It's very nice...My Liege."

"'My Liege.' Hmm. Yes, although I do like the sound of that, you will never need to refer to me in such a formal manner. 'My love' or 'Husband' will do nicely."

"Of love."

Twilight bit her lip, then decided it was best to ask what had been eating away at her.

"Um, Tenebris? Why did you let me keep my alicorn powers?"

Tenebris nodded, then flashed Twilight a grin, one that reminded her of a hungry tiger gazing at a wild boar from the tall grass just moments before he struck.

"I figured you'd ask me sooner or later. Simple: it seemed advantageous to do so. Having an alicorn by my side will prove useful in the days to come, specifically the campaigns against rival kingdoms. I have no need of either Celestia or Luna, nor their abilities. As for the princess-formerly-known-as-'Cadence', I wanted to give my daughter a clean slate, one that didn't involve Tia's diabolic machinations. In fact, I suspect it was her through her meddling that Cadence earned her wings."

Tenebris' expression softened as he reached over and stroked Twilight's cheek.

"Besides, in the words of the old country, 'ég elska þig'. I love you."

His touch sent shivers down Twilight's spine, though she was uncertain if they were from fear or pleasure.

"You're almost perfect, just the way you are."

This got Twilight's attention. "What do you mean, 'almost perfect'?"

Tenebris issued a devious chuckle, rising from his throne with his ebony cloak spreading around him like a pair of giant, ragged wings.

"As amazing as you are, there's a tiny adjustment that must be made."

A black tendril withdrew what Twilight reasoned must be the Scales of Taijitu and she found herself shrinking from Tenebris' gentle caresses.

"Wh-what are you going to do?"

Tenebris shook his head, as though taking pity on a child.

"Twilight, do you remember when Nightmare overtook you, transforming you into Midnight Sparkle? She was magnificent, a powerful mare who saw what she wanted and claimed it. That is who you are, who you were meant to be. All of your life, you've been restrained, told to live your life a certain way, to deny your full capabilities. Shed the skin of the old you, embrace your true self."


Leaping off of the dais, Twilight used her wings to slow her descent and spun, her horn trained on Tenebris.

"You're out of your mind if you think I'm going to let you turn me into...into...her!"

Pain shot through Twilight's horn, her magic backfiring on her, enveloping her in a raspberry field of static electricity, her spasming body toppling onto the shimmering floor like a sack of potatoes.

Cruel, mocking laughter echoed through the hall as Tenebris descended the dais.

"Did you really think that I'd simply let you waltz in here and immediately trust you?"

"The ring..." Twilight muttered under her breath, to which Tenebris nodded.

"I'm surprised that you didn't recognize them. I took the liberty of adding some new enchantments, just to spice things up."

He now loomed over Twilight, the Scales of Taijitu held high like a golden trophy.

"No more tricks, Twilight. It's time that you stopped running. Become Midnight Sparkle, become my queen!"

The doors to the throne room burst open, revealing Applejack, Rarity, Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie. They were momentarily thrown off by his appearance, though quickly collected themselves.

"Git away from her, ya varmint!"

Lifting Twilight up in a telekinetic grip, Tenebris threw her towards a nearby wall, entrapping her in a crystalline cocoon that only left her head exposed. He then set his sights on the newly-arrived quartet.

"It's very rude to burst into someone's home, you know."

"This isn't your home!" Rarity shot back. "Let Twilight go or else!"

Tenebris' burning eyes narrowed, wisps of purple mist seething from their edges.

"Or else...what?"

Pinkie threw a foreleg out. "Or else weeeee'll...!"

She then muttered aside to Applejack: "What will we do?"

"Be forced t' give ya uh flank-whoopin'."

"Yeah, give you a flank-whooping!"

"Oh? What are you going to do, throw a party? Give me gardening tips? Take me to get a hooficure?"

"You're in desperate need of that last one, Darling," Rarity admitted in disgust.

Fluttershy, in a rare moment of boldness, flew right up to Tenebris and glared at him.

"You're going to let Twilight go or I'm going to give you...the Stare!"

The shadow-pony looked puzzled. "Excuse me?"

Closing her eyes, Fluttershy squeezed her lids tightly, as though concentrating on a complicated mathematical equation, then opened them. Tenebris, however, merely blinked in confusion, then snickered at her.

"Was that it? Here, let me try!"

Tenebris' pupilless green eyes flashed, turning Fluttershy's own eyes completely green.

"Were you trying to frighten me? What do you know of fear?"

Fluttershy began shaking, audibly shivering while her mouth became set in a teeth-clenching grimace.

"Do you know fear? You will. By Faust, you will."


Applejack charged across the throne room, Rarity and Pinkie following close behind her. They'd almost made it when a near-transparent bubbling black dome appeared around them. The three kicked and pounded at the barrier to no avail, powerless to help Fluttershy, especially when she started twisting and squirming, her limbs kicking out at an unseen attacker. Everyone else watched in horror as Fluttershy's movements turned into full-body convulsing, causing her to zig-zag erratically in place. No one could tell what she was mumbling but it sounded like horrific begging.

"Tenebris, stop!" Twilight pleaded in vain.

Fluttershy was sobbing now, tear-trails decorating her cheeks.

"Please, stop!"

Tenebris' savage grin stretched from ear to ear.


Without warning, Fluttershy belted out an ear-splitting shriek that cut into the soul of everyone present like an ice-cold blade. His entertainment having evidently reached its conclusion, Tenebris allowed Fluttershy to drop to the floor, the green glow fading from his vision. The pegasus didn't move and her friends feared the worst until she rolled over and they caught a glimpse of her terror-struck blue eyes. Hiding her face beneath her wing, Fluttershy proceeded to break out into uncontrollable weeping, lying inert in her misery and without the comfort of her friends. Tenebris' horn flared up and the force field dissipated, allowing the three mares to hurry to Fluttershy's side and draw her into their shared embrace, rubbing her back and head as they murmured soft words of consolation.

Twilight shot her "fiance" a glare of molten fury.

"What the Tartarus was that?!"

Tenebris shrugged. "She was defying me so I taught her a lesson."

"You're a monster!"

Twilight gasped when Tenebris suddenly shadow-shifted over to her and rematerialized.

"What I am," Tenebris growled in a low voice. "Is fed up with your self-righteous nonsense. All of you. You're so afraid of crossing the line that you'd rather keep to your pathetic rules and morals rather than do what is necessary. Wake up, Princess! Your enemies will give you no quarter, so they should expect none in return. Instead, you'd rather sing and dance and give silly little lectures while beings like Queen Chrysalis and Lord Tirek gather their power."

He tightly grasped her chin with a hoof. "Do you realize what's coming? Something far worse than you can possibly imagine. You think I'm bad? You've never seen the likes of Grogar before."

Twilight's rage gave way to confusion. "Grogar? The First Emperor? He's gone, long gone!"

"Absent, but not for much longer. He's returning."

Tenebris leaned forward, stroking Twilight's cheek, much to her evident disgust.

"You and I can stop him. Then, we can own this world."

A glob of spit dripping down over his right eye served as Twilight's response.

Wiping away the saliva, Tenebris gave her a smirk devoid of any real mirth.

"Cute. Now, hold still..."

A large, near-blinding red orb popped in the center of the throne room and when it evaporated, Lumos, Spike, Shining Armor, Rainbow Dash and Flash Sentry all appeared, the quintet glaring defiantly at the dark sorcerer. Flash patted Lumos on the back, the elderly pony wheezing as he recovered from the havoc the teleportation spell was wreaking on his body. He then sadly locked eyes with Twilight and gave her a reassuring smile, managing to put his pain on hold just enough to let her know that everything was going to be okay. Twilight sniffled and tried to hold back her tears at his current decrepit state, gifting him with a sorrowful simper. Despite his deterioration, she still loved him with all of her heart and although clearly not physically attractive, he was still beautiful in her eyes.

Tenebris turned and smiled at them in a faux-welcoming manner.

"Well this is a surprise. And you're...Lumos, is it?"

"I am." The old stallion limped over to Tenebris, standing as tall and dignified as he could manage. Although his voice shook, Lumos still looked his foe dead in the eye. "Tenebris, I presume?"

"You presume correct." Tenebris then gave Lumos a once-over. "Look at you. You're shaking like a leaf, and that's not from nerves. You should be with me, not against me. Don't forget, we're two halves of the same coin, you and I. We're cut from the same cloth."

You better than anyone
Knows the pain
That we’ve been through

Yes but that is no excuse
For how you act
And for all that you do-o-o-o!

Our life’s a sham

Our life’s a test

Ponies turned our existence into a jest

You think that everyone’s laughing at our expense?
By Faust, your ego’s immense!

You and I are nothing but playthings to Fate
I mean to amend this wrong-

You're looking for an escape?
You can start by stop blaming everyone but you!

No, I really doubt that will do

I'm taking back control
From the ones
Stopping us from who we're meant to become
I'm taking back contro-o-o-ol!

Through our might making right

With love we can unite

And save our so-o-oul!

I'm talking justice

You're talking revenge

Tia's the one that pushed us over the edge

After the deeds we've committed, wouldn't you do the same?

I refuse to accept the blame!

I'm taking back control
From evil schemes
Ensuring I'm finally redeemed
I'm taking back contro-o-o-ol

Soon they'll learn their mistakes

Only friendship will help make us who-o-o-ole

Hated, feared, and unclean
These are the only ways we're fated to be seen!

Kindness, love, and trust
All worth losing everything for

These dreams will turn to du-u-u-ust!

I'm taking back control
I'll be free

To rule all, this I can guarantee!

I'm taking back contro-o-o-ol

Let’s forgive and forget-

And forsake all our debts?!

We can let go of the pain
And heal what remains

You want to fo-o-o-o-o-old?
So, you want us to fold...

"Tenebris, please, just stop and think," Lumos implored him, placing a hoof on his shoulder. "We'll both be ashes before long and then what? Let's use the Scales, turn back into Sombra and get on with our life. There's nothing left for us."

Reaching into his cloak, Tenebris retrieved the artifact, facing away from Lumos to study its shimmering surface in a manner that was almost sorrowfully contemplative.

"You know, it's strange. Even now, being my own separate entity, I still have no idea who I am."

He turned back towards Lumos.

"But I do know this much: I am not someone who yields."

Throwing the Scales of Taijitu to the floor, Tenebris bathed it in green and purple flames. Slowly, it melted into a golden puddle of steaming, bubbling metal.

"What-what have you done?!"

Tenebris seized Lumos around the throat with his magic and propelled him forward so that they were nearly muzzle-to-muzzle. He glared at his elderly counterpart with sheer contempt.

"I freed myself from constraint, from fear and, most importantly, weakness. Unlike you, I've chosen to stay the course and I will get everything that is coming to me, including my revenge, no matter the cost. Even in the face of oblivion, I shall not compromise in this."

Rainbow and Flash both swooped in towards Tenebris, the plan being to perform a double tackle, only for a pair of shadowy claws to reach from out of the floor and, plucking them from the air, mashed them together and threw them down like balled-up candy wrappers. Rainbow rolled along the floor, crashing into the wall and hitting her head, lying slumped over in a half-conscious daze like a stuffed animal. Flash was not so lucky, slamming against the opposite wall with his wing pinned at his side, sliding down and violently colliding with the floor. He grimaced and shakily tried to raise his wing, forcing out a pained cry as he was left tenderly grasping the bent appendage, the disarrayed feathers and awkward angle in which it was twisted suggesting that it was broken.

"Flash, Rainbow!"

Shining Armor wasted no time in firing several magic bolts at his foe, all of which harmlessly passed through Tenebris, the umbrum looking more mildly inconvenienced than angry. Taking a step backwards, Shining stepped onto what he thought was the floor when it abruptly shifted colors, turning from polished white-blue to inky black, and clung to his left hind-hoof. He tried lifting his leg, only for the tar-like adhesive to keep him rooted firmly in place, the puddle moving to trap his other hooves. Now completely immobile, Shining could only watch impotently as the substance wrapped around his entire body, encasing him in a thick cocoon with only his eyes being left exposed. He struggled and kicked and without his magic, he was trapped.

Tenebris turned and was soon ensnared around the horn with a lasso. The sudden pressure around his horn broke his concentration, rendering him unable to focus on spell-casting. Applejack tugged harder, eliciting a cry of pain from the warlock.

"Yer done here, Hoss," Applejack grimaced through the rope in her teeth.

Immediately, Tenebris ceased struggling, instead reverting into his shadow-form and slipping his bond. The sudden change in momentum sent Applejack hurtling backwards, leaving the farmmare wide open for an attack. Tenebris reached out with a shadowy appendage, the blow catching Applejack in the barrel and knocking the wind out of her. Adopting a solid form, Tenebris picked up the rope and set it aflame before dismissively tossing it away.

A beam of light cornflower blue appeared out of the corner of his eye. Instinctively, Tenebris created a shield in front of him, blocking Rarity's attack, the unicorn unrelenting in her assault as she continued sustaining the beam. Rolling his eyes, Tenebris converted the shield into a hexagonal gem, the beam refracting into different directions before he was able to adjust the gem at just the right angle. The redirected beam smacked Rarity in the chest, lifting her off the floor and resulting in her spinning through the air like an ivory top. Colliding with Pinkie, they collapsed into an unconscious heap, smoke curling up from Rarity's singed coat.


Hurrying to his fallen friend, Spike lifted her head up, his thumbs stroking at her cheeks.

"Spike," Lumos croaked hoarsely. "It's time to show him what you're made of."

"But I..."

"You can do this," Lumos replied softly. "I believe in you. My friend."

Spike nodded and gently set Rarity's head back down, turning his ireful gaze towards Tenebris.

"This ends now."

Unhooking the clasp, Spike let the inhibiting collar slide off his neck and clatter to the floor. Now free of the obstruction, ambient thaum energy was allowed to flow, creating a dark grayish-purple field that quickly surrounded the young dragon. Remembering his breathing, Spike drew in several short breaths, feeling the energy shift and course through him, the magic filling him with an immense heat that rivaled the draconic flames he was used to. Arching himself backwards, he inhaled harder than he ever had up to that point, the air collecting in his lungs while magic surged within his chest like a miniature storm. Opening his mouth wide, threw his head forward, the magic surging up from his chest, shooting past his throat and exploding from his jaws in a burst of crackling electricity.

The humming purple arcs leapt across the room, nearly striking Tenebris and instead narrowly sailing above his head. In response, he shot a flurry of razor-sharp crystals at Spike, the projectiles embedding themselves in a hasty-conjured ice-wall. Dropping to the floor, Spike rolled away as a black and purple column burst through the ice-wall, showering the surrounding area in chunks of frozen debris. Pursing his lips, Spike spat a roaring cyclone in Tenebris' direction, actually managing to catch the umbrum off-guard. Taking advantage of the situation, Spike breathed a cascade of liquefied gold, the stream hitting Tenebris and solidifying into a hard, shimmering shell.

Before the gold could completely harden, however, a small explosion erupted from beneath the metallic covering, the golden peels telekinetically floating in a ball around Tenebris. The gold melted and swirled around in a large drizzling tunnel, quickly forming into a collection of glimmering dagger-esque metal shards. One after the other, the shards whizzed through the air, crashing against the throne room wall behind Spike as he waddled to evade them, the darts shattering into tiny pieces. He tripped, narrowly dodging a particularly large shard that would've taken his head if not for this happy little accident. Raising an outstretched hand in front of him, Spike focused all of his energy into his palm to form a kite shield-shaped construct, using it to destroy the last remaining golden shards as they shattered against the shield in a shower of golden chips.

"Huh. I didn't know I could do that."

Black claws sprang from the floor to wrap their long fingers around Spike's feet and wrists, another seizing a hold of his snout and clamping it shut. The claws raised Spike up as they ascended from the floor on noodle-thin arms, suspending him a good ten feet in the air. Tenebris crossed the room to stand in front of Spike, the arms lowering him so that the two could lock eyes.

"I knew there was a reason I liked you," Tenebris grinned. "I could use someone like you in my new empire."

"I'd rather be fed to a hungry manticore!"

Tenebris grabbed Spike's chin and twisted it until he cried out.

"I can arrange that!"

"Tenebris, stop!"

Twilight was in tears, whimpering with her head hung in defeat.

"Not Spike. Please, spare him."

"You make too many demands of me," Tenebris grumbled, releasing his hold. "I suppose some brainwashing might do the trick to crush that rebelliousness. It'd be a waste to dispose of such raw talent."

"As for you..." Tenebris began, only to realize his benevolent counterpart was absent.



A red orb burst within the main hall of Sombra's mountain lair, and out stumbled Lumos, raggedly gasping as sweat drops poured down his face and neck.

I don't think...I'm going to make it.

While his other half was busy dealing with Spike, Lumos elected to make himself useful and to that end, decided to teleport himself back to this dismal place. When he arrived, he found himself out of breath and on the verge of throwing up, like an out-of-shape jogger after running a mile. His chest burned, his stomach painfully churned, and his horn felt as though it might snap off at any point. Lumos took a step forward and stumbled, his wizened limbs having gone numb, and leaned against a pillar for support, barely able to keep himself upright.

It made sense that he was rapidly aging while Tenebris had become larger and more monstrous: their changes were reflections of their respective existences. Tenebris was a manifestation of Sombra's dark side, all of the ambition, rage, and pain that'd been gnawing at his soul now given form, only now without restraints like serenity or morality, enabling him to grow with restriction. On the opposite end, there was Lumos, Sombra's light side, all his honor, kindness, loyalty and courage, except bereft of the drive, the raw motivation and unwavering commitment that Tenebris brought to the table. As it was in nature, these opposing extremes needed one another to survive, the same dichotomy found in predators and prey, day and night, order and chaos, and yes, light and darkness. Now that the balance that made up Sombra was no more, both sides were now on the verge of total eradication.

Tenebris destroyed the Scales of Taijitu, a move I never would've imagined that he'd perform! With the Scales gone, there's only one thing left that can save us and put a stop to all of this...

Once he'd sufficiently recovered, Lumos carefully stepped off from the column, he was hit by a sudden bout of double vision, his surroundings reduced to spinning images. Staggering around the caverns in a daze, he almost toppled headfirst into a deep chasm, only saved at the last minute by grasping onto the stone railing in place there. Thankfully, his vision cleared up enough to allow him to navigate the caverns. Although Sombra had constructed much of the hideaway, most of it was built from pre-existing caverns that ran deep through the mountain, a series of labyrinths dating back since long before Equestria's inception. It was unclear why no one before him had explored the caverns; perhaps settling the land and rebuilding after the Umbrum-Draconequus War was far more important, but he did know that the cloaking spell around the main entrance had kept it hidden for the past thousand years and counting.

Entering a spacious hall, Lumos encountered the source of his quest, an entity far more ancient than anything found on Equus. Thanatos, the Pale Horse, was right where Lumos and the others had left him, showing no signs of discomfort from standing in one place for untold hours. In their haste to get to Twilight, everyone forgot about him but Lumos kept the thought of the equus mortis at the back of his head. If there was anyone who could turn the tide of the conflict, Lumos was confident that this creature could. As he approached him, however, Lumos found himself faltering.

In the nothingness following his demise, Sombra floated through the void, denied entry into Elysium or Niflheim. He was cursed to spend eternity drifting alone in darkness until the day he could reunite with the other half of his soul, which he'd stored within his phylactery. That is, if the Alicorn Amulet remained intact, though Sombra was assured of its continued survival as the talisman had several built-in safeguards. Sombra was suddenly wretched from his thoughts by a figure-no-a force that was watching him, had been watching him for quite some time. Overwhelming dread filled his disembodied form as he came under scrutiny by the pair of blazing blue eyes housed within the bleach-white skull...

"You," Lumos gaped. "It was you that Sombra saw in the void...what I saw."

I TRAVEL MANY DIFFERENT REALMS. NO WORLD IS OFF-LIMITS TO ME. Thanatos stated cryptically, his fingers drumming against the snaith of his scythe. I BELIEVE YOU CAME BACK HERE FOR A PURPOSE.

"Yes, right...o-of course."

Grabbing a corner of his cloak, Lumos coughed until he produced some phlegm and spat it onto the fabric. This gave him very little in the way of spit so he forced more mucus out, not stopping before the cloak was sufficiently wet. He then began rubbing it against the front of the binding circle inscribed on the floor, the effort tiring him out so he had to stop several times before proceeding. Slowly, but surely, the chalk began to disappear until a clear space on the floor interrupted the ring. With the binding circle broken, Thanatos stepped over it and stretched his wings, proudly standing with all of the majesty befitting such an immeasurably powerful being.


"Wait, you have to...have to..."

Lumos lost all strength in his limbs and collapsed to the floor, darkness claiming him.

Struggle Against the Dark

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It can't end like this. Twilight reasoned, the situation looking more and more dire. It just can't!

They'd faced odds much bleaker than this and always came out on top. When Discord stole the Elements of Harmony and turned them all into negative versions of themselves, they managed to persevere and win the day, and now he was their friend and sometimes ally. Lord Tirek managed to absorb almost all of the magic in Equestria but, again, they turned the tables on their foe and sent him back to Tartarus where he belonged. Faust, Twilight was possessed by Nightmare Moon and trapped her friends in their own nightmares, yet they still found a way to free her from Nightmare's control and defeat the dark alicorn once and for all. Time and time again, the six mares, along with the occasional help from others like Spike and Sombra, managed to pull themselves together and restore order to Equestria, even when victory seemed impossible.

Twilight gazed horrified at the unconscious and wounded ponies all around her, struggling to retain her hope in the sight of such brutality. Flash was nursing a broken wing, an injury that was debilitating for any pegasus, especially one in the Royal Guard. Rainbow, who by now had regained consciousness, managed to crawl over to a still distraught Fluttershy and hold her tightly in her winged embrace. Pinkie and Applejack were tending to Rarity, who was shaken and woozy but otherwise perfectly healthy, albeit with a bald spot in the center of her chest, the unicorn immensely distraught by the imperfection in her normally immaculate coat.

Spike, meanwhile, was trapped up to his head inside of a crystalline pillar, now rendered unable to move or use his magic. He was still so young, not even a teenager and yet he was usually caught up in crazy adventures involving villains and hexes. Now he was an Element Bearer, her equal, and was now decreed by Harmony herself to defend their home from monsters and madponies. Twilight wanted nothing more than to get Spike home and refuse to involve him in her nonsense, to run and play and be a kid his age but that wish was rendered moot by the fact that he'd fight tooth and nail to include himself in dangerous situations. As much as she hated it, she was proud of him for how far he'd come.

Her attention next zeroed in on Tenebris and there were few times in which she truly despised someone as much as she did him. He tormented and hurt her friends, banished Princesses Celestia and Luna, and turned Princess Cadence into an infant so he could play out a demented game of house, with Twilight herself as his wife. All of these acts of malice, in turn, spun the wheels in her head and she found herself wondering if Tenebris was a part of Sombra, then did that mean that Sombra, deep down inside, was truly like this? Then again, Lumos was also an aspect of Sombra given a physical form and he was nothing but kind and thoughtful, so that was also Sombra. Could Twilight really look past the demons lurking inside of Sombra and forgive him despite everything he's done?

Don't forget, you weren't so innocent yourself when you were Midnight Sparkle.

How could she forget? Twilight had said terrible things to her friends, using personal information to maliciously attack them in their vulnerable spots and then later using their own fears to torture them in the Dreamscape. They all told her they'd forgiven her but every time she looked at each of their smiling, happy faces, she was shamefully reminded of what she'd done and wished she could take it all back. Sombra, while being nowhere near the definition of "perfect", had demonstrated that yes, while he'd committed terrible acts, he was capable of remorse and make up for his less-than-sparkling past, to become better than what he was.

She loved Sombra: his soulful red eyes, shaggy dark mane, that cute fanged smile. He had a wonderful laugh, on the rare occasions on which he afforded himself that luxury and was always so supportive when she needed him. He was smart and well-read, strong-willed, brave, and while his pony skills needed work, he was loyal to a fault when it came to the few friends he had. No, when you love someone, you shouldn't just cherry-pick the things you like about them and ignore their flaws but you also shouldn't demonize them for their failings and only appreciate their strong points. Loving someone means caring for them as a whole, accepting both their advantages and disadvantages, to help cultivate their positive traits and aid in improving their negative traits.

It won't matter soon. If Lumos and Tenebris aren't reunited, Sombra is lost to me for good!

Lumos had teleported away during the start of Spike and Tenebris' duel so he must have a plan of some kind. What exactly it constituted, Twilight had no idea but seeing as how he possessed Sombra's intelligence, it had to be a great one and she didn't have any herself. The only issue was that he was evidently still in the process of bringing said plan to fruition so she needed to give him as much time as she could afford. An idea popped into her head and though it was a terrible one, her options were rather limited at the moment so even a bad one could be made good.

"Tenebris!" Twilight shouted, then whistled, drawing the stallion's attention towards her.

"Yes, beloved?" Came the sardonic response. "Did you want something?"

"I wanted to let you know that I will not, or ever in any reality, ever want to marry you."

Tenebris' cloak transformed into two arms and grabbed Twilight, prying her off the wall and zipping her across the room. She was now staring up into his furious gaze, small fires burning in his scarlet eyes while streams of purple smoke radiated off of them. His fang-filled jaws expelled hot air in her face, his lips trembling as he tried to contain his boiling fury.

"What...did you say?"

Twilight gulped, terrified but determined to stay the course. At a first glance, angering the unhinged umbrum that was currently holding all of the cards was unbelievably stupid and anyone on the outside could be forgiven for thinking Twilight had some kind of a death wish. Before, Tenebris was able to tell that she'd been deceiving him and wasn't fooled by her passive willingness to agree to his proposal so easily. Perhaps by being direct and painfully honest, she could catch him off-guard and stall for time. Maybe she could even use his own anger against him, causing him to slip up.

"I think you heard me but in case you've lost your hearing, I said that I don't want to marry you."

"And why not?" Tenebris hissed.

"Should I list the reasons in alphabetical or numerical order?"

"Just get to the point!"

"Let's're abhorrent, acrimonious, aggressive, appalling, arrogant, Belligerent, boorish, callous, cantankerous, condescending, contemptuous, cruel, degenerative, demented, deplorable, despicable, disdainful, disrespectful, egocentric, embittered, entitled, excruciating, felonious, fiendish, flagrant, foolhardy, forlorn, foul, grisly, ghoulish, gloomy, grim-..."


A curved blade shot up from Tenebris' cloak and kissed underneath Twilight's chin.

Twilight merely grinned. "Do you think I'm afraid of you?"

"You should be," Tenebris growled throatily. "Everyone fears me. Why should you be any different?"

"Because," Twilight answered smugly. "I've seen the real you. Underneath all of that fury and bluster, you're just a little colt throwing a temper tantrum."

"Why you impertinent little-..."

Twilight suddenly found herself falling to the floor, landing ungracefully on her side and rolled onto her rump to rub at her hip. Shaking away the dizzy spell, she watched the dark figure looming over her violently jerking back and forth, howling in pain as he grasped his head. His screaming maw opened wide, his sharp fangs extending outward to form razor-sharp tusks, the muzzle elongating into a more lupine shape to accommodate the new teeth. The gill-like slits at the edges of his lips tore open even wider, exposing the interior of his mouth and, along with his dark gray coat and rows of knife-teeth, brought to mind a South Luna Ocean shark she'd seen once at an aquarium. Clusters of purple-black crystals burst through Tenebris' deltoids, giving him a pair of grotesque epaulets that matched the row of crystalline protrusions along his back.

He's...he's still mutating! He looks even worse than before!

The screaming died down, transforming into loud, sustained breathing. Tenebris narrowed his gaze at Twilight, his snake-like irises retracted to thin clefts within his blood-red pupil-less eyes. Their eyes met and Twilight found her earlier courage evaporating like a snow-mare in the mid-afternoon sun. She began to drag herself backwards, using her wings as extra limbs to try and put some distance between herself at the slowly-advancing stallion, every hoofstep creating little batches of crystals.

" you think you're going?" Tenebris hissed, puffs of mist streaming from his eyes.

"I...w-well, I-I..."

"You're not leaving, are you? I want you to stay."

Twilight wanted to respond but her mind refused to cooperate. Tenebris lumbered towards her with an odd swaying gait, as though he was being weighed down with invisible chains.

"I'm so lonely. Everyone leaves," Tenebris continued in a melancholic tone. "Everyone abandons me."

He then hovered directly over Twilight and added, "But not you."

Just then, as if answering Twilight's unvoiced prayers, a golden globe burst inside of the throne room, almost blinding everyone present by its sheer radiance. When the light vanished, out stepped Princess Celestia and Princess Luna, the sheer anger written on their faces as plain as day. The two had been returned to their usual appearances, their flowing manes and wings restored, both of them looking rejuvenated and ready to dispense some justice. Tenebris actually looked frightened, though mostly mystified by their sudden entrance, while everyone else threw cheers and salutations at the pair. Twilight herself took advantage of the distraction to haul herself far away from Tenebris, making her way over to Spike.

"Tenebris, your evil-doing ends here and now!" Princess Celestia declared, hitting Tenebris in the chest with a magic beam. This was followed up with an attack from Princess Luna, striking the umbrum's side and flinging him across the room.

"Indeed! We are back from our 'vacation'!"

Finding his footing, Tenebris belted out a challenging roar, his cloak forming a wall behind him. Long spikes formed from the wall with audible shink sounds, launching themselves at the sisters in a barrage of ebony darts. The projectiles exploded in the air, sliced to ribbons in an almost-untraceable flurry of speed by the Royal Sisters, moving in perfect synchronicity with each other as their conjured weapons spun in respective gold and blue arcs. Princess Celestia expertly hefted her glaive, a gilded polearm that resembled a spear except with a large curved blade, while Luna spun a long sword consisting of a gray-blue blade, a black hilt, and a crescent-shaped crossguard. For the first time in a long time, as the pair stared down their adversary, they resembled their warrior-princess personas, figures that had not been seen in centuries.

"This changes nothing," Tenebris snarled, his horn black and bubbling. "Now I get the pleasure of disposing of you two properly."

Princess Celestia's golden aura lashed out at Tenebris, who launched himself over the magic beam and returned fire, a toxic black and violet stream charging towards Celestia like a trebuchet-launched stone. She effortlessly ducked under the stream, twirling her glaive around in time to deflect two more blasts, slamming one back towards its conjurer. Instead of avoiding the refracted magic beam, Tenebris threw his head forwards and allowed his horn to take the brunt of the blast, the beam actually dissipating into the blade-like protrusion. He whipped his cloak out and hurled a series of jet-black flechettes back at Celestia when Luna swooped in a falcon, her flashing sword whistling through the air blocking or cutting the crystalline darts. Once Luna had made short work of the flechettes, Celestia leapt over her sister and rapidly pitched a collection of golden-white balls at the umbrum.

Stomping a hoof, Tenebris calmly watched the balls whiz through the air as several large spikes burst through the floor around him in a semi-circle. The balls soared at the barrier and erupted in a cracking-whoosh explosion of flashing light, creating a miniature fireworks display of combusting black shards and red-hot white sparks. The crystal wall itself rumbled and separated so that each spike moved a few inches from each other before lowering themselves in a ninety-five degree angle. Tenebris' hoof once more pounded on the floor and the spikes sailed across the room, shattering due to the sisters' weapons or concussive magic. Gathering up large chunks of crystal, Celestia telekinetically formed them into the shape of an ursa minor-sized bird, possibly a phoenix, while Luna sent her own magic into the construct, its eyes glowing a bright blue.

The bird let loose a high-pitched shriek and rushed at Tenebris, its zircon talons reaching out for its austere prey.

"þetta mun ekki virka," Tenebris stated rather nonchalantly.

The folds of Tenebris' cloak lengthened, stretching high and wide enough to wrap around the artificial bird. Balling itself up, the cloak audibly crushed and ground up the bird. The cloak began to retreat, sliding out what, at first glance, appeared to be a giant crystalline saucer, slowly revealing more and more of the construct before it fully came into view. It was a massive, double-headed axe, the shaft alone being too long and unwieldy for any pony, appearing more suitable for a dragon to carry rather than any equine. Levitating the axe up in the air, Tenebris raised it up high and swung it down at a slanted angle, hoping to catch both or, at least, one of the Royal Sisters with a massive blow.

Neither alicorn moved, instead the two took a page out of their foe's book and remained where they were. The axe made contact with Luna but rather than cut her, the blade hit a barely perceptible blue field around the younger mare's body, chipping away at the glittering blade and carving right through it. The entire axe-head crumbled, the debris toppling over onto Celestia but similar to Luna, a near-transparent golden body-field protected her, turning each piece to dust with the slightest of contact. Tenebris, realizing the futility of his weapon, allowed it to drop, the magic holding it together vanishing and the axe-shaft exploding in a cloud of glittering black particles.

Yellow-orange flames leapt forward, just narrowly hitting Tenebris, the umbrum vanishing in a puff of smoke and suddenly reappearing on the duo's left. Celestia released another pillar of flames, the conflagration slamming into Tenebris' full-body force-field and forming into a Y that scorched the nearby walls black. Undaunted, Tenebris advanced through the pillar and towards Celestia, his baleful glare all-consuming in its hatred. Luna came to her sister's aid, firing an icy white-blue beam that struck the force-field, creating a thin layer of icicle-laden frost where the flames had left untouched. From within the force-field, Tenebris was visibly struggling to maintain his magic against the dual attack, his fangs gritted in frustration as beads of sweat trickled down his brow.

The force-field burst, allowing the fire and ice beams to blast through it and slam into the wall behind it, a shower of sparks and hail exploding against the crystalline surface. Extinguishing their attack, the sisters shared a silent nod to acknowledge their mutual belief that, no, Tenebris had not been destroyed and was somewhere nearby. They both inspected the throne room, scanning it for any possible signs of their enemy, staying a couple of feet apart in case he should reemerge. Sombra, and, presumably, by extension Tenebris, was not the type to abandon a conflict, mostly due to his descent from a pony race with a heavy warrior culture. He wouldn't run away in the middle of a battle unless it was absolutely necessary and even then it was a temporary strategic retreat.

The sound of crying drew the sisters' attention to the dais and carefully inched towards it, trepidation weighing down their every step, until they made it to the very top. Inside of a crystalline crib, they discovered a wailing infant filly curling her forehooves in the air, no doubt alarmed by all of the strange noises occurring around in the throne room, though she ceased her wailing and peered curiously up at Celestia and Luna with large light purple eyes. Her coat was grayish pink in color and she possessed three-toned mane of gold, violet and rose atop her head, traits that gave the filly an uncanny resemblance to the sisters' long-deceased mother, albeit without the cold, rigid stare, heavily wrinkled face or imperious attitude. Princess Luna's skin shivered at the spike in temperature and caught sight of Princess Celestia's mane and tail converting into streams of smokeless flames, a low grunting snarl hissing past the elder alicorn's teeth that made Luna slowly back away from her sister.

The crib's shadow leapt forward, seizing Celestia and Luna and slamming them on the floor at the end of the dais, trapping them in a semi-solid mass of darkness. At the opposite end of the sludge, a hump rose up from the wriggling mass to form into the cachinnating likeness of Tenebris. A surge of purplish dark magic flowed through the restrictive quagmire as the two struggled to liberate themselves, their auras gradually dying and winking out of existence as black crystals sprouted up on and along the bases and lengths of their horns. Celestia's flaming mane, once a mighty blanket of flame and embers, had sizzled and died down, once more adopting its misty prismatic appearance. Tenebris' cruel, mocking laughter boomed throughout the throne room, building to a crescendo before he took a breath and viciously smirked down at them in triumph.

"You turned my daughter into a filly?!" Princess Celestia roared.

"'Your daughter'?!"

Tenebris slithered down the mass and reformed his limbs, allowing him to walk across the flowing tar-black surface like concrete. His dark grin grew even wider at the sight of Celestia's furious indignation.

"No, not anymore." Tenebris then shifted expressions, a disgusted frown now dominating his countenance. "You kept her from me, locked me away so that I couldn't be near my own flesh and blood, the only real evidence that I existed. You and your kind stole everything I had and now, well, now you will know what that is like. You're going to wish that I'd stayed shattered in a million pieces."

Tenebris' eyes glowed with a fierce green incandescence, purple smoke billowing out from the edges of his eyelids and his blade-like horn wrapped in a thick layer of black and violet energy. The coagulation surrounding Celestia and Luna stretched upward and hardened, trapping them in jagged crystal pillars. Everyone shuddered at the loud creaking sound pervading their ears, as though the castle itself was screaming in pain. The sunlight pouring in from the windows was cut off by the sable sheets that quickly went to work obscuring the glass and casting the throne room into pitch-black darkness. A green and violet flame pop-whooshed on one of the wall-sconces, followed by another, until the room was illuminated by the malefic fire.

"I've suffered at the whim of your kind long enough! Today, I take back my life!"

Semi-opaque columns smashed through the walls and floors.

"The future belongs to me!"


Collectively, everyone present felt an icy sensation shoot up their spines, a sensation akin to having snow stuffed down the back of your jacket. That sentence was spoken in a deep, baritone and in a soft manner, yet it thundered throughout the throne room and beyond, a voice that sounded as though it was somehow both faraway and right up in everyone's ears. The best way to describe that voice was if somepony took a rusty nail and scraped it against the surface of a chalkboard, except it was located inside of one's soul, the shrill shrieking of the metal on porcelain scraping back the layers of your mind and leaving you bare. No one had seen or even heard the newcomer enter, yet there he stood, a towering pony skeleton wrapped in a cloak of midnight, a glittering scythe held in a bony three-fingered hand. In his other foreleg, he cradled a withered husk of a stallion that resembled Sombra if he'd been left out in the sun for too long and had all of the moisture forcibly ripped from his body.

Tenebris' body became as stiff as a board. "Thanatos? H-how did you-...?"


The darkness retreated from the windows, allowing the throne room to bask once more in the daylight. All of Tenebris' black crystal constructs crumbled into tiny shards and dissipated, freeing the Royal Sisters and Spike. Twilight's engagement ring splintered and tumbled from her scalp, bestowing her freedom onto her. Tenebris was vicious and wicked, yes, but one positive trait that he'd maintained was a very strong sense of self-preservation and thus did nothing to Thanatos. After all, no one, not even Tenebris, was prideful or foolish enough to literally challenge death head-on.

An almost unearthly scream tore from Tenebris' throat as a vice-like pinch squeezed onto his temples, dragging him down onto the floor. Lumos weakly groaned and thrashed about in Thanatos' foreleg, a pruny hoof shakily rubbing his balding, white-maned head. The Pale Horse didn't walk so much as glide towards Tenebris, the umbrum wincing in horror at the approaching figure and too weak to do anything but impotently watch him. Thanatos laid Lumos down onto the floor next to his doppelganger so that they were laying on their sides and facing one another.

"Tenebris," Lumos rasped, reaching a palsy-stricken hoof out to him. "This looks to be the end."

The dark umbrum allowed the limp hoof to weakly clasp his own and he squeezed it back.

"It does, doesn't it?" He let out a long, protracted wheeze. "Such a pity. So much waste..."

Following a brief lull, Tenebris added, "It won't work out, you know."

Lumos peered at him in confusion.

"You, the Ponyville hicks, Twilight. It'll all be for naught. They'll abandon you and all you'll have left is the realization that this was all meaningless. So why even bother trying?"

The old stallion chuckled, intermixed with a painful-sounding cough.

"I...have hope. It's not much but it's there. When it rains, there's a chance that it will end soon. I believe there's a chance, however slim, that things will get better for me. For us. That's all hope is, really. The chance that your life can improve."

He looked at Tenebris and smiled. "We've let fear rule us long enough. It mustn't come in the way of life."

"I still say you're a fool," Tenebris groused, ripping his hoof away. "After this, there's no way they'll ever trust us again."

"Yet there's always a chance that they will. Hope, my friend. Hope"

Thanatos raised a hand and waved it, surrounding Tenebris in a field of red and Lumos in one of blue. They began to rise off of the floor until they were a good ten feet in the air, then they completely turned into their respective color. The stallions rolled and twisted until a red ball and a blue ball were left suspended, their magnificent glowing lighting up the whole room. Everyone watched as the red ball began to slowly rotate clockwise in a hundred-and-eight-degree angle, lazily bobbing up towards the ceiling and back down towards the floor. The blue ball soon followed suit, jumping in front of its twin so that the pair were languidly chasing one another, creating trails of red and blue that formed a glittering ring around the racing balls of light.

The rotation became faster and faster, the two balls now shaped like raindrops.

Twilight began closely studying the display and gasped as inspiration struck her.

"It's like the symbol on the Scales!"


"Two halves that form one whole. A kind of...internal balancing act."


The teardrops then suddenly slammed into one another, forming a small, white egg-shaped object that glowed even brighter than the twin balls before it. The trails were entangled and entwined around the egg in a striped red-and-blue pattern, the egg itself growing and pulsating inside its constraints. Then, the egg turned a dark gray color, its entire back-half a dark red. Slowly, the egg morphed so that it grew limbs and a head, a wild rave-black mane tumbling from the scalp of what was obviously a stallion. A curved blood-red horn formed from his brow, followed by a short black tail, a crimson-colored cloak and a lightning bolt-esque scar on the left cheek.

The stallion, or rather, Sombra, drifted towards the floor and lay prone on the reflective surface. For a good, long while, no one moved from their places, until Twilight found herself barreling towards the inert figure and patted his cheeks with her hoof. So many emotions were spinning inside of her head but she shoved them away for now, her only real concern being reunited with the Sombra she knew and loved. One scarlet eye fluttered open, followed by the other, their own groggily blinking up at the befuddled mare hovering over him. Sombra groaned and rubbed his muzzle.

"Twilight, beloved, as much as I appreciated the attention, do you think that it's possible that you could give me some room? I'm feeling a tad whoozy."

Ignoring the tears, Twilight forced a laugh and promptly kissed Sombra repeatedly on the cheeks and brow.

"You're alright!"

"For the most part...yes."

Celestia, meanwhile turned towards the indescribably awe-inspiring figure watching this display.

"Thanatos. It's been a long time."

"Indeed it has," Luna concurred. "I never thought we would ever cross paths a second time."


Something everyone would later agree on was that Thanatos did not teleport. Thaumaturgical transportation always included a visual displacement of air, a surge of magical energies and an audible expulsion indicating said teleportation took place. In Thanatos' case, however, it was as if he was there one moment and, within the blink of an eye, he simply wasn't, almost as if he'd moved through space or, as Twilight postulated, space moved around him. With Thanatos' absence came a sort of feeling of relief, the kind that comes when storm clouds roll by or bath water turns from cold to hot. Perhaps he was just too ineffably old and powerful for mortal minds to comprehend.

Twilight helped Sombra to his hooves, then turned to the princesses.

"What do we do now?"

Before either one could answer, Sombra gave them all a look of immense remorse and vanished in a swirling cloud of black and violet.

"I'm sorry," his voice drifted from out of the space where he'd stood. "I'm so sorry..."

Sombra's Recovery

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Even though Spike's lips were moving, no words came out.

"Huh?" Twilight murmured, twisting around in her seat.

Spike gave himself a face-palm. "I said, 'Are you sure you don't want anything to eat?'"

"Oh, yes, thank you, Spike!" Twilight nervously babbled. "Yep, yep, yep, I'm sure."

"Geez Twi, are you okay? You've been spacing out a lot lately."

Nearly three weeks had passed since the Tenebris incident and life had, more or less, returned to some level of normalcy. Princess Celestia was able to keep a lid on the whole incident from inquiring parties, telling the press and the public at large that she and the other princesses' absence was due to an unspecified secret political emergency, purposefully keeping the details as vague as possible. Rumors spread throughout Equestria as to the truth of the enigmatic incident, leading to speculation that the four royals had repelled a large-scale changeling invasion or were recruited to fight in some sort of interdimensional magic war. Some deranged conspiracy theorist, aptly named Crackpot, was going around proclaiming that the princesses were concocting a plan to manufacture more villains to fight, their previous battles the result of baseless propaganda meant to keep ponies ignorant and content to give up their autonomy to their "protectors". Although possessing a popular fanbase, no one really took Crackpot seriously and rightly dubbed him a paranoid, delusional kook.

All parties involved in the incident were faring alright for the most part. Flash Sentry would need to keep his broken wing in a sling for the next month, relegating him to light guard duty in the barracks, much to his immense chagrin as a young up-and-comer looking to advance in the ranks. Rarity's little coat-burn wasn't much of an issue as she'd covered it up with a long knitted scarf and inadvertently started a fashion trend in the process. Prior to Thanatos' departure, the primordial entity saw fit to undo all of Tenebris' spells, including his de-aging charm on Princess Cadence, who thankfully suffered no ill side-effects other than some mild confusion and a hankering for milk. Fluttershy, on the other hoof, was evidently still reeling from the mental attack, sequestering herself in her cottage and only allowing her friends to visit her, though she vehemently refused to divulge whatever it was that Tenebris showed her.

As for Sombra, no one had seen or heard from him since then. Although vanishing for long periods of time was keeping within his modus operandi, Twilight nevertheless worried herself to near-insanity, going over all kinds of nasty scenarios in her head about her paramour's potential fate. She tried to distract herself by tending to her royal duties and helping to save Equestria once again, this time from a rather unexpected invasion of evil sentient carrots, to which Pinkie Pie boasted, "I told you so!" at its conclusion. Then there were her futile attempts at writing her tell-all biographical book about Sombra, her original notes having been burned up when the Golden Oaks Library had been destroyed by Lord Tirek. Sadly, Twilight didn't have the foresight to make copies so she was left trying to make it all from scratch, relying solely on her memory as a reference and failing to keep all of the details straight.

Twilight rubbed at her eyes with a wing. "I guess I'm still worried about Sombra."

Spike placed a sympathetic claw on her shoulder. "I know. I mean, even after everything that's happened, he's still our friend...right?"

The group's relationship with Sombra was, to put it mildly, tumultuous, which was not surprising given how they all first met. He was King Sombra, the enemy of Equestria, the wicked despot of the Crystal Empire and the being that tried to steal the Crystal Heart and destroy them all. Then he returned, posed as an acquaintance in order to get close to them, dated Twilight under false pretenses, kidnapped Princess Cadence and Shining Armor and once again attempted to snuff them all out. Things got more complicated after Twilight found herself falling in love with the imprisoned umbrum, as well as his eventual escape and attack on Princess Celestia, resulting at him nearly skewering her if not for Twilight's timely arrival. Suffice it to say, none of this did anything to endear Sombra to any of them.

When Twilight had become the host for Nightmare Moon, they'd begrudgingly called on Sombra in desperation, forming a temporary alliance and working with him in order to free her from the eidolon's grasp. During this time, there was a gradual shift from suspicion to toleration as they began to see Sombra as a real individual rather than just an evil adversary, Rainbow Dash probably being the only one to continue to mistrust him. Sombra's assault on the diamond dog bandits' leader only created a further divide and regressed the friendship they'd all been building, leading to the creation of Tenebris and Equestria being once more threatened. Tenebris' horrible misdeeds, such as banishing Princesses Celestia and Luna and messing with Fluttershy's mind jammed that final nail in the coffin for any future goodwill. Now she doubted anyone would ever trust Sombra again.

"Of course he is," Twilight smiled weakly. "Things are just complicated right now."

"He didn't mean to do those things." Spike seemed to almost be talking to himself. "He's not a bad pony."

The truth was, being around Sombra opened Twilight's eyes to quite a few things. It had been so easy for their society to dub things "good" and "evil", even though life was so much more nuanced than that. Where once she'd seen everything in black and white, now the world was colored in shades of gray and she could never go back to the one she knew. No, perhaps Sombra was not technically wrong for desiring payback but his actions were not justifiable. What happened to him and his kind was more horrendous than words could ever describe, however, what he did to the crystal ponies and tried to do to Canterlot could never, ever, be considered acceptable.

Sombra is in pain and like anyone in pain, he needs help not imprisonment. I know he's not evil. He loves me and cares about Spike and my friends. He just needs guidance, that's all.


Twilight felt Spike's claw gently squeeze her shoulder.

"I think you and Sombra are going to work out."

"Yeah? What makes you think that?"

The little dragon shrugged. "I don't know. It's a mystery."

He then wrapped his arms around her neck, and Twilight in turn, enveloped him in her wings.

"Thanks, Spike. I hope it's true."

Disengaging, Spike made for the door.

"It's all we can do," he said softly and latched it shut behind him.

Rubbing her face, Twilight peered down at the blank papers strewn about her desk. There was no way she was going to be able to write so she decided to call it quits for the night. Pushing herself away from the desk, she arched her back, hearing a few cracks pop as she stretched her wound-up muscles. Deciding that she was in desperate need of fresh air, she entered the castle's upper balcony and peered down at Ponyville. The small town was still semi-awake, a few errant lights letting her know that some of its residents were awake and productive.

A black shape shot up from the balcony's face like a geyser. Twilight let out a half-shriek and tumbled backwards, falling flat on her behind. The inky blackness landed onto the balcony floor and took on an equine silhouette, eventually forming into a familiar stallion. Upon recognizing the umbrum, Twilight frowned and began to pull herself up when Sombra immediately offered her his hoof. Hesitantly, she accepted and dusted herself off, turning to Sombra with a mix of relief and anger.

"Sombra, what are you doing here?! Where have you been? Why haven't you tried to contact me?"

"I...I'm sorry, Twilight." Sombra raised a hoof up to Twilight's cheek and, much to her disappointment, lowered it. "After...," He swallowed. "After what happened, I needed time alone to think."

Exhaling sharply, Twilight placed her head on his chest.

"I thought so. I'm just happy that you're here."

Sombra snaked a foreleg around Twilight and pulled her close to him.

"Me too."

There was deafening silence between them before Sombra spoke once more.

"I got that job at the library."

"Did you? How is it?"

"It's fine," Sombra said casually. "I'm actually glad you weren't there. The place was in serious need of reorganizing."

"Now I'm wishing that I was," Twilight lamely chuckled.

Not only was she the only one laughing but she noticed that Sombra's grip on her had tightened.

"Sombra? What's wrong."

Releasing her, Sombra turned around so that she was staring at the back of his head.

"I think we should spend some time apart."

Twilight's breathing slowed, a knot twisting up inside her chest.


Sombra sighed, then faced her once more, his face contorted into one of immense sorrow.

"I can't keep doing this to you or to anyone else. It's not fair."

No. No, this isn't...this isn't happening...

"Are you...breaking up with me?"

Even as the words tumbled out of her mouth, Twilight couldn't fathom ever speaking them aloud.

Sombra clamped his jaws shut, loudly swallowing as his eyes met hers.


Growing up, Twilight had heard phrases like, "my heart is breaking" or "a broken heart" and always thought of them as weightless hyperbole used by melodramatic poets and angsty romance writers. How can your heart break? In that instance, however, Twilight could swear that her heart was beginning to fracture into a million pieces, every piece of flesh slowly and agonizingly ripping itself apart. Her breath quickened, blood pounding in her ears as loud as war drums.

"N-no. No!" Twilight couldn't recall bursting into tears, yet they were racing down her face all the same. "You can't. You can't just break up with me!"

"Do you think I want this?" Sombra sounded as though he was just barely keeping a lid on his anger. "Hmm? Do you think that I want to say to the mare that I love, 'This is over. We're through'? Do you think this is easy?"

"Then why?!" Twilight bellowed, no longer caring if anyone heard them. She began beating her hooves against Sombra's chest as he stood there taking it. "Why are you doing this? You love me! And I...I..."

She wanted to scream at the top of her lungs, tell him that she hated him, that she never loved him and wanted him to get out of her life but those would be lies. Even now, all she wanted to do was to grab a hold of him and beg Sombra to stay with her forever. Her frenzied attack faltered, her hooves falling limply down as she leaned up against him, his body's service as a support beam being the only thing keeping Twilight from falling on her face. She wept uncontrollably, even as a pair of strong forelegs swaddled her in their warmth, practically crushing her against Sombra's chest.

" you..." She managed between sobs.

"...and I love you, Twilight Sparkle," Sombra replied dolefully, kissing the top of Twilight's head, taking a moment to inhale her scent. "More than you'll ever know."

That answer right there stung far more than anything Sombra had said previously. Not only were the words themselves both incredible and terrible but the tone in which they were spoken, a mixture of heartbreak and resolution. He meant what he said. He cherished her, would do anything for her if she'd asked him, which only increased her bitter wailing. It just didn't make any sense.

"Then why?" Twilight peeked up at Sombra's mournful face through tear-soaked eyes, just barely able to form coherent sentences through her whimpering. "Why are you doing this?"

Moisture gathered at the corners of Sombra's eyes, yet no tears fell.

"After I left the Crystal Empire, I arrived at my apartment and washed my face off. When I stared into the mirror, and found my reflection staring back, it was then that I realized that I couldn't stomach looking at myself. I hated who I'd become. What's more is that I hated what I'd done and was doing to those around me. Being both Lumos and Tenebris made me realize how awful I am, that I'm spiteful, cruel and selfish."

Twilight sniffled and considered his words but said nothing.

"For so long, I tried to ignore my problems, then I tried getting rid of them with magic. Don't you see? I can't be selfish anymore. I can't watch you suffer because of me and my personal baggage. You don't do that to someone you love. I want you to share in my joys, not my woes."

As loathe as Twilight wanted to admit it, Sombra was being one-hundred percent rational. He did have some serious hang-ups, some of which literally almost got her friends killed. After a thousand years of bad judgment calls, he was finally attempting to take ownership of his mistakes and correct his faults. Like anyone in love, he just wanted her to be happy, even if it hurt him in the process. However, that didn't mean she had to like it.

"Sombra, you don't have to do this alone." Twilight's hoof grazed his cheek, a shudder escaping Sombra's lips. "You have those that care about you, like Cadence and Spike, ponies that love you."

The air around Twilight turned cold as soon as she found herself dislodged from Sombra's embrace. He was now peering down at her, one massive hoof stroking her cheek. His lips turned upward in a bittersweet smile, little droplets cascading southward on his cheeks.

"I know, Twilight but the truth is, I hate who I am. If I don't love or care about myself, how can I expect anyone else to?"

For that, Twilight had no answer.

"I promise this isn't forever." Sombra held Twilight's chin, glancing into her eyes. "When I'm better, we'll pick up where we left off. I love you and I swear that I will never stop fighting for you."

"I'll hold you to that," Twilight managed through her tears. "Otherwise, I will hunt you down and make you remember."

In lieu of a retort, Sombra pressed his lips against hers, drawing her into a kiss so fierce and passionate that it might as well be their last. There was no pain, no sorrow, no regrets, no dark magic, no mental anguish or bitter goodbyes. There were only the two of them. When it ended, Twilight was struggling to breath, her chest aching from the combined emotional duress and the hopeless devotion she had for the shadow pony. Her dark king.

"I will be waiting for you, Twilight. Always."

He was then gone, dissipated in a cloud of smoke. Twilight stared at the spot where Sombra had recently been, where his haunting eyes pierced her soul, where his lips had captured her own. She wanted to resume crying, to curl into a ball and lose herself to her misery but she did neither. Instead, she dried her eyes with a wing and walked to the edge of the balcony, the moonlight bathing her in its silvery rays. Then, she began to sing:

How can I possibly help you,
When your mind is all askew?
I want you to stay here
But I know you can't stay here
I'm helpless to do anything
But watch you fall apart

You stole my heart and soul,
I'm incomplete but whole
Why did the one I love have to be you?
If you leave, you take with you that special light
If you leave, nothing will ever again feel right
I just want to relieve you of your plight
But now, I have to let you go

Even after everything, I still want to keep you close
I'm willing to go through the highs as well as all the lows
The spell you cast on me still holds strong
It retains its power over me even when you've gone
This love is a blessing and a curse
I don't know which is worse
All I know is please come back to me soon
If you leave, swear to me that you'll still be true
If you leave, I'll swear to do the same to you
I wish that there was more that I could do
But now, I have to let you go

There is so much joy that is worth all the pain
There will come a day when all of this won't be in vain
If you leave, I will wish you all of the best
If you leave, know I'll be with you on your quest
And when you return, we'll handle the rest
But now, I have to let you go


I shouldn't be here.

Sombra raised his hoof but paused right before the toe made contact with the indigo door. He was a ball of nerves from head to hoof, the slightest tremor in his limbs betraying the apprehension he felt in that moment. The last time he was at the gaudy yellow townhouse, he'd threatened the elderly mare inside of it and actually attempted to wipe her off the face of the earth. Now, one could make the argument that it technically wasn't him per se, but that notion did very little to dissuade Sombra from his mounting guilt. Tenebris would forever be a stain on his soul as well as in the memories of those that'd suffered because of his impulsiveness and poor judgment.

Visiting Twilight and breaking it off with her was one of the hardest things that he'd ever done, and he had to overcome some pretty daunting obstacles. Speaking the words that would end their relationship hurt far worse than he ever could've imagined but the sight of Twilight balling her eyes out because of him was even worse. Sombra wanted to take it back, tell her that he didn't mean it and forgive him for being so foolish but he had to stay the course. Would she grow to resent him for this? Would've it been any worse than forcing her to stay with him through his unresolved personal issues?

After everything that'd transpired, Sombra felt himself in a state of perturbation that left him more uncertain of anything than he ever had before. He'd royally ruined things for himself and others, almost wrecked the future of Equestria with his actions and hurt those he cherished most in the world, namely Twilight and Cadence. To that end, he'd elected to visit Primrose and see if the wizened seer could direct him towards a new goal or at the very least, help get the ball rolling.

Wracked by indecision, Sombra finally rapped on the door.

The door was yanked inward and Primrose's granddaughter appeared, her expression less than pleased.

"Oh. It's you."

Sombra nodded and locked eyes with the amber-gray earth pony.

"Is...your grandmother home?"

The mare maintained her gimlet glare for an indeterminable amount of time until finally heaving a sigh and maneuvering to the side.

"Thank you."

Wordlessly shutting the door, the mare led Sombra towards the kitchen and out the back door, the two arriving at a small but immaculate backyard. They passed a small frog statue that held a slowly rotating pinwheel in its hands, the lily pad beneath its feet bearing a flower that read, "Have a hoppy day!" A wooden green porch swing creaked from a white metal frame as it swayed lazily in the mid-afternoon breeze. On the right hoof side, there was a tiny tomato garden sitting in a small patch of dirt, a fence of chicken wire stapled to four rectangular posts surrounding it on all sides, save for a hinged gate with the image of a cute smiling tomato nailed to the front. It wasn't what Sombra had been expecting but then again, it was difficult to know what exactly to expect from someone that had foreknowledge of your comings and goings even before you did.

Primrose was seated at a round, two-pony glass-top table, a parasol in the center shading her from the sun's rays. Despite this, the octogenarian wore a light pink straw sunhat, a yellow ribbon tied around the crown in place of a headband. In place of her apron, Primrose had traded it in for a light green and white plaid button-up dress, little frills decorating the collar and hemline. Spotting the pair, she smiled warmly and waved them over, one hoof keeping a steady grip on her cane.

"Guess Who, welcome. Thank you, Charity. That will be all."

Charity withdrew, though not before shooting Sombra a nasty glare.

"So nice that you could join me," Primrose beamed and turned her attention to the tall glass of lemonade situated in front of her, stiffing the ice with a light blue silly straw. "I don't often get visitors that aren't paying customers or salesponies trying to sell me knick-knacks."

"I had to return. The truth is-..."

Noisily slurping sounds interrupted Sombra's speech. As Primrose sucked on the straw, her larynx bobbed up and down in her thin neck in a decidedly turtle-like manner. What didn't help was the fact that she maintained eye contact with Sombra throughout the whole ordeal, severely agitating him as she irritatingly gulped her drink. Patiently, Sombra waited until Primrose withdrew and smacked her lips, dabbing them with a napkin and clearing her throat. After a pause, Sombra resumed.

"Anyway, I-I'm at a crossroads in my life. I don't know what I am to do next."

Primrose gently nodded. "Yes, you're in quite the pickle. Have you considered what I told you in the kitchen?"

"Wouldn't you like to know about your future?" Primrose tilted her head, her smile almost enigmatic.

Tenebris froze. Was this mare being serious? Surely this was a joke!

He turned and stared at her curiously, failing to detect even a slight hint of jest on her wrinkled face.

"You've piqued my interest," Tenebris smirked.

"Come closer."

The stallion approached her and stopped a foot away, only for Primrose beckon him forward.


Squatting down so that they at a more matched height, Tenebris stood rigidly as he felt the old mare's caramel hard candy-scented breath in his ear. She then spoke to him in an even tone tinged with excitement:

"Celestia is going to step down soon and has already chosen her replacement. However, her true successor will be decided not by her or her allies but by you alone."

"I thought you were joking about that!" Sombra exclaimed. "Just to mess with m...Tenebris"

"I never joke about such things," Primrose replied in an almost scolding manner. "My prophecies lay the groundwork for the future of Equestria, and by extension, the world."

Sombra raised a skeptical brow. "So you really expect me to believe that Equestria's next ruler will be chosen by me of all ponies. No offense, but have you gone completely senile?"

Primrose let out a sound that was a cross between a throaty cackle and a high-pitched giggle.

"Heh, not yet, sonny. Trust me, this will come to pass."

"But why me? I am the worst possible candidate. I..."

"...Am exactly what is needed," Primrose finished, placing a hoof over his own. "In time, you'll see."

Sombra jerked his head side-to-side. "You're wrong. This isn't my responsibility."

Primrose snorted, as if hearing an inside joke. "You're afraid. It's as simple as that."

“Fear helps keep you away from something you know is going to hurt you.”

“Hatred pushes you towards what you know is wrong,” Primrose retorted, patting Sombra's hoof affectionately. "For far too long, you've allowed these two emotions to control you. Fear and hatred are sacks of bricks that will continue to weigh you down unless you let them go."

Sombra's eyes traveled towards the ground. "I don't know how to. But I'm willing to learn."

"And I'm willing to teach," Primrose nodded. "In fact, you have multiple teachers, all of whom will be with you every step of the way. I promise that this time, you won't be alone."

His gaze met Primrose's once more. "You know, this whole...experience...has helped me to recover something, something I thought I'd lost long ago."

"And what's that?"

Sombra beamed at Primrose, his smile radiant in its sincerity. "A part of myself that once believed in things like miracles and hope. Perhaps, things aren't as bleak as I once held."

The sagacious mare grinned back. "No, perhaps they're not. Let's find out, shall we?"

Entering the Game

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The Eye of Arimaspi blinked, its yellow glow dissipating until the horizontal pupil was restored back in its proper place. Grogar stepped away from the relic, a cloven hoof lightly tugging at his beard as he furrowed his brow in concentration. He'd been watching the proceedings unfold with rapt interest, chuckling to himself at every twist and turn of Tenebris' dark campaign. It was, admittedly, the most entertainment Grogar had experienced during his thousand-year imprisonment, almost allowing him to forget Tambelon's contemptible over-familiar surroundings. Were it not for the Eye's scrying powers, updating him on every event major and minor over the past millennium, he would've undoubtedly died of mind-numbing boredom eons ago.

He was still amazed at the umbrum's capture of the mythical Pale Horse, a feat that not even Grogar had managed and for that, it'd earned him the Emperor's respect. Strangely, when Grogar witnessed Tenebris perform the Rite of Ashk’Anter, he found himself unable to remember the particulars of the ceremony. He knew that he'd been awake when Tenebris summoned Thanatos but he somehow missed it all the same. It was as if he'd briefly blacked out, then awakened from a micro-nap and was struggling to recall when he'd fallen asleep. Perhaps the powerful eldritch magic that inherently radiated off of the liminal deity disrupted the Eye of Arimaspi's space-piercing spell.

"It doesn't matter," Grogar gruffly muttered. "I amassed power and knowledge without Thanatos and I don't need him now."

There was also the matter of Primrose the Prescient. A pony who could accurately predict the future could be an asset to the Horned One's plans, especially if he could somehow get his hooves on her unpublished book of prophecies. Unfortunately, the wrinkly fortune teller had somehow discovered a way of warding her pitiful abode from being pierced by the Eye's magic, leaving Grogar unable to spy on her. How could some old crone manage to foil the power of the greatest warlock of all time?

"Another thorn in my side that needs to be plucked," he grimaced aloud. "Just like those Elements of Harmony and the princesses. Why are alicorns so difficult to get rid of?"

He could remember the day Old Alicornia fell, the way the massive spires caught fire and toppled into the ocean. The smoke could be seen for miles, the scent of crushed stone and burning debris swimming in Grogar's nostrils. It was a kingdom that'd reigned for ten thousand years and he alone brought it down in a day. Yet, despite his best efforts, there were survivors and they fled from the ruins, some of them even eventually settling in the land that would one day be dubbed, "Equestria". It was a pity that it was already taken, converted into an empire of fear by Grogar himself.

Shutting his eyes, Grogar grunted as he filled his horns with magic and released it. The air around him popped, thaums bursting and reshaping themselves in preparation for an enchantment. Sparks flared in a vertical circular motion, crashing against one another as they tried and failed to create a solid shape. The ram snarled, forcing all of his mental power and concentration into the task, his horns burning red-hot from the strain. The discharges bounced around wildly, creating the outline of a shining oval.

"Come on...come on! I command you! Eh gro-gar varashuu bah!"

Finally, there was a burst of light and a swirling vortex materialized, ebbing with little crackles and lightning bolts.

A spell book and a piece of chalk sorcerously floated over to him, the ancient tome snapping open to the desired page while the chalk carefully sketched a thaumaturgical circle on the floor. Grogar found that his magic was returning slowly but steadily, refueling itself far quicker in weeks than it had in centuries. Before, he struggled to lift a battle-ax but now he could effortlessly levitate multiple objects at once and conjure bursts of flames. The real challenge was opening up mystical doorways, a magical feat that he regrettably still struggled with, which was infuriating given that a master of his degree should be able to perform it in his sleep. When he actually slept, that is.

"I may be blind here so I require a second pair of eyes to serve me."

Adding the finishing touches to the circle, including several geocentric shapes in the interior bordered by rows of swirling runes, Grogar next brought out several lumps of gray-brown clay and dumped them into the center. Mashing them together, he molded the slick substance into a pony-sized mass, sculpting the legs, neck and muzzle until the simulacrum became adequate. For the eyes, he chose a pair of smooth black stones with wavy yellow-orange lines, constructed out of the same material as the Eye of Arimaspi, essentially allowing them to function as miniature scrying-stones. A homunculus was a relatively simple construct that any low-level mage was capable of creating, essentially being an artificial life form whose intelligence ranged from non- to semi-sentient, depending on the sorcerer's needs. However, it took an experienced sorcerer to craft an autonomous homunculus, particularly one who shared a visual-auditory link with its creator.

Pouring his own magic into the circle, Grogar intoned the sorcery-laden words of the incantation, white-yellow light flooding the chamber as the circle flared to life. Black streaks of electricity crawled over the etchings, the runes and shapes pulsating with malefic power and sending a booming shriek throughout the desolate halls of Tambelon. The clay figure was ensnared in the claw-like grip of the electricity, a golden iridescence encompassing it. The limbs spasmed in the process of animation, the homunculus' head jerkily wagging atop its rubbery neck. A seam tore in the front of the muzzle, the clay ripping open to form a mouth and allowing the equine to gasp out the first of many shuddering, frenzied breaths.

Cutting off the power to his horns, Grogar watched his newest creation with fascination.

"Can you understand me?"

The homunculus, startled by the ram's sickly-sweet tone, tumbled onto its stomach.


"You are here, in my home. Consider me your father."

"Fah-ther..." The homunculus placed a shaking forehoof onto the floor, then another and slowly hoisted itself up. Its legs wobbled and it took a few baby steps forward, walking with a swaying, awkward gait. "Yes...fah-ther...father..."

He peered inquisitively at Grogar. "And what is my purpose?"

Lowering himself down so that the two were at eye-level, Grogar placed a hoof onto the homunculus' shoulder, giving him a paternal smile.

"You, my special little foal, have a very important task."


Grogar's eyes lit up with malice.

"You're going to help me take over a little kingdom known as 'Equestria'..."