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dragonofruin

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Posts posted by dragonofruin


  1. Elysium could only nod their agreement. They were rather large cities, though Canterlot wasn't quite as big as the others, being that it was built on the side of a mountain. It was an impressive feat of architecture to have managed such a thing without it all.. falling apart. They had to wonder how it was maintained to keep its supports from growing weak from time and wear..

     

    The curiosity was set aside in favor of Gray, who had asked them a question. "I was, and.. I did. I didn't think they would disallow me something like armor. I can understand the concern they'd have over weapons, though. I left mine behind, since I don't have much of a need for them." Elysium tilted their head forward, indicating their horn. "I.. don't have a picture, but I still have a means of showing you." A little glint had appeared in the unicorn's eye for a moment and their horn lit up gold. Using their magic, they managed to make a transparent illusion of their armor on their body, and they held it there long enough for Gray to get a good look, and once they were sure he had, they let the spell go. The illusion disappeared, leaving Elysium dressed in their black outfit again with their saddlebags strapped over it.

     

    "I don't use it anymore. There's no need to. I'm.. glad there is no need to, but I keep it for the memories and.. I guess, for that 'just in case' moment." Elysium nodded to Gray, quietly indicating something that he'd said- that chance he might face off against a foe for a last time. "Being a.. bodyguard must have been an interesting experience for you."


  2. The sight of King Sombra strutting across the middle of the party and kissing her sister square on the lips was a baffling sight- Luna hadn't any idea that they were.. this close. Celestia had told her she fancied Sombra earlier that day, back at their old castle, but this- to see it, was still quite a shock. Seeing the king in a setting like this in general was still.. startling. The only time she'd ever interacted with him was fighting him for the Crystal Empire with Celestia. Now he stood here among them casually, embracing her sister and staring up into Celestia's blushing face with a certain softness that Luna never would've expected to see on his.

     

    The voices of the others and the twins' telepathic questions washed over the stunned alicorn until she finally registered that they were speaking and tore her teal eyes away from the lovestruck pair to focus on them. "Y-Yes, it is my sister's birthday," the moon princess replied, struggling to hold back a frown when they'd asked if she was the one who'd made the mistake. "No, I did not. That would be my sister's doing, as she made the invitations." Luna spared a look for her sister, making an effort to ignore Sombra, though her eyes did curiously linger over Ice Storm and Raven's closeness with a curiosity before her attention returned to the twin ponies.

     

    "Indeed? I.." Luna trailed off, surprised by what she'd been told. It wasn't just their lack of voices, but their expressed interest in attending her own party, if she had one. "Well.. I was considering it, but I was not entirely certain if I would. Perhaps, I might. It is.. fascinating that you speak the way that you do. A clever use of your magic."

     

    In the midst of this conversation, of which Sombra paid little attention to when all of his was on Celestia, the umbrum moved to rest his side against Celestia's with one of his trademark smirks. "How could I help myself?" he replied with a low rumble, "I was excited to join this little party of yours and offer you the best present I could possibly give to you: myself." He chose that moment to look over at Ice Storm and Raven, delighted to see their reactions to his display- Raven's little spit-take especially. The strange twin ponies hadn't even seemed to register his entrance in the least, something that mildly disappointed him. "So, you want to redeem me?" Sombra asked Raven, a dark brow arching as his eyes swept away from the twins. Movement near him caught his eye, and he found the foal he'd spotted before staring up at him- at least for the briefest time before they wandered off. The question what's with the kid? lingered on his tongue, but he never thought to ask it as the foal approached their next party guest. Even Luna's eyes followed the little filly's wandering for a moment, after being looked up at.

     

    Sombra recognized him, and took a moment to recall his name, Thunderbuck, while Luna only saw another mysterious stranger, one who she couldn't help seeing a little of Sombra in.. somehow. Mostly the coloration and the horn. "Welcome," the dark princess greeted. Sombra merely looked on, curious, before his attention shifted back to Celestia and the others, with Ice briefly gaining the focus of his attention.

     

    "Don't think I'm lying about anything now, do you?" Sombra teasingly asked as he turned in place, his gaze flitting away towards an object of Celestia's focus: the cake. And, there was the sun, which he only watched the lowering path of out of the corner of his eye. In the other direction, the moon slowly rose as Luna chose the moment to bring it forth. It fascinated the former tyrant to watch it.


  3. "Elysium," the unicorn simply replied with an unenthusiastic little nod following Gray's amazement over Maretonia. Personally they never did like it much, especially the cities- they were too restricting. Their entire life in Maretonia had been too restricted, but now they were free here. Free to do as they wished, pursue what they wished.. and they had the freedom to find out who they really were as a pony. It was difficult when they hadn't really gotten to figure themself out when so much had been stifled; a reason that they were always so outwardly calm.

     

    "It's certainly been.. nice, and so few dangers. I've noticed that things get worse the further away from the capital one is." Pausing, they thought about the places they've visited thus far. "Manehatten, Hoofington recently.. and a few of the smaller towns. I did get to see a little of the capital but I never stayed long." They quietly made a mental note about the distance that they'd have to cover to reach the Castle of Two Sisters, glad to know that it wasn't terribly far now thanks to Gray's answer. "So, you were an ex-bodyguard?" Elysium asked, their interest piqued. "How.. curious. I was once a soldier, but I escaped that life.. for the most part. I daresay I could never forget how to fight, and that some part of me yet still itches for that excitement." It didn't scare them, nor did any form of magic; the latter fascinated them deeply, and wielding that which ponies called dark had always given them a certain thrill. Learning it thrilled them.

     

    "My armor has come with me, though it currently rests at the cabin I'd moved into."


  4. Princess Luna merely shrugged and stood, the chilled grass crackling dryly under her bare hooves. "It's nothing to worry about, I suppose. It's little more than training equipment. Easily replaceable. Anything of any worth is still back in the barracks, though.." Her teal eyes flitted towards the shattered equipment, thoughtful. Perhaps she shouldn't be too quick to dismiss it all; there might be a few legitimate weapons and armor among them. Surely not enough to be of much of a loss?

     

    She couldn't worry about it too much. As long as no ponies had been harmed, then everything was fine. "It has, indeed, given me an idea of what to expect. These.. opalus spheres of yours certainly magnify your power in an impressive way. I can only be glad that they are nothing like the Alicorn Amulet; if they could corrupt you, well.. you would have made an impressive enemy. As it stands, they aren't, and you're always in control of yourself." A faint smile pulled at the corners of her lips and she opened up her wings. Her excitement was mounting. Ice Storm had shown her what she was capable of and now, it was time for them to spar.

     

    Without a word, the alicorn launched herself skyward with a powerful sweep of her wings. No immediate action was yet taken as she focused her efforts elsewhere first, desiring to do something about the weather first. It wouldn't do if she were caught at the wrong angle where the sun blinded her sensitive eyes. She used a trick she once used to merely make an entrance and exerted her power over the weather- clouds grew dark and stormy, casting heavy shadows over the field as they swarmed across the sky. Luna knew well enough that Ice Storm might not have as much trouble seeing in the gloom as most ponies might, being that the mare seemed nocturnal, but.. Luna was aware that Ice Storm would alter the terrain to suit herself. She was just as willing to do the same- plus, it would give her a weapon to use that she hadn't had a chance to put to real use in a long time.

     

    Laughter bubbled its way out of her throat and she dropped down through the clouds, her horn alight, and thunder softly rumbled as if in echo. Her glittering mane streamed out behind her; she was a speck of color against the deep greys of the storm clouds, occasionally lit from above by the occasional flash of lightning. Luna was just showing off, putting on something of a display for Ice Storm, but she wasn't entirely sure how she was going to go about this- she'd have to put holding back out of her mind, to set aside her hesitation. This wasn't a friend she'd be attacking without cause, but her opponent.

     

    Spreading her wings, she pulled out of her dive and struck the ground near Ice with a beam of silvery magic; some encouragement. "Come! Test your might against me then!"


  5. Elysium still couldn't be sure if they'd run across a potential threat this day, even if the stallion had been friendly enough thus far, and they judged him by his response. "Maretonia," they replied. "I've been in Equestria for some months now, merely exploring." They weren't sure why they were spilling some of this information to him, not that it had any worth or use. It just felts right. They shrugged.

     

    "Ye.. Yes. I've found a few already and I can't help but find myself intrigued about this Castle of Two Sisters I've heard about. Perhaps you could give me more information about it? About its location?" Elysium queried, sounding a little hopeful. If they got more information, then perhaps their journey to it wouldn't be as difficult if they had a better idea of, well.. everything. "There must be a lot of old Equestrian.." they trailed off, struggling to think of a proper word and failing, "stuff left in their castle. Old spellbooks. I wish to see what I can find." The unicorn couldn't help but leap into asking about what drew them most, but.. Elysium didn't feel like they were wholly into it. Like they were simply going through the motions since they'd run into some stranger out on the roads. Almost.. pointless.

     

    The unicorn frowned to themself, angular gold eyes averted from the stallion's green ones; it wasn't just because they found it difficult to hold eye contact with ponies, but because they were uncertain about what they were meant to be doing, here. "I.. suppose I should ask, who are you?"


  6. "You have it wrong," Sombra replied, trying to correct her. "My power wasn't stunted. They sealed it away in order to slip me out of the prison. Rabia unlocked it when I found the red crystal. My power is under my control in full force." He shook his head and waved his hoof, dismissing it. There wasn't much of a reason to keep correcting her on every little detail when there were other things they could talk about; he was just being too particular. Sombra had gained enough of an idea what sort of things Black Ice had seen and experienced across this land and others compared to most ponies living peacefully in Equestria. It was nice to know that she wasn't nearly as naive as he thought she was.

     

    Moving on..

     

    "We can plan a trip sometime," the king put in, twisting a little in his seat to rest on his left hip, and lean on his elbow. Once he'd made himself comfortable again, he lounged. They'd already talked this topic into the ground, from his point of view.. What else was there for them to talk about? "So, I think I've done enough talking, as much as I enjoyed it. Tell me more about yourself? I think all you've told me was that you were, what was it.. abandoned? Among a few other things, like living, homeless, in a park and.. whatever else it was. I don't know. What else could you tell me?"


  7. After the tables were set up, Luna was happy enough to stand back while the food was brought out and watch her sister create some of the decorations. Celestia looked so happy, and Luna couldn't help being happy for her. It was the first birthday they'd gotten to really celebrate together in years, and seeing how good a mood Celestia was in was enough for Luna to allow herself to relax after their earlier, more serious talks.

     

    Movement caught her eye as the first of the guests arrived, and Luna was pleased to see it was Ice Storm. "Ah, Ice! I am glad you've come!" she exclaimed. "Not that I thought you wouldn't," she added teasingly. The compliment Celestia had given the icy mare was one that Luna could agree with: it was, indeed, a lovely dress. Ice Storm didn't have to get so dressed up for so casual a party as Celestia was throwing, but the effort was nice. A smile played around the dark alicorn's muzzle as she invited Ice closer with a wave of her hoof.

     

    "Afternoon," Luna put in after Celestia's own greeting. She wasn't normally very social at parties, or any sort of social event, but for such a party as this, she would make herself speak a little more than she normally would.. even if they were just hellos. "'Tis nice to meet you, Raven." House Dupone.. Luna was certain she knew of that house; it was a very old one.

     

    Her attention shifted towards the movement of a pair of ponies who were the next to appear at the edge of the area, and she was surprised to find that their voices were projected telepathically. Luna might dare to guess that they were mute, or.. they simply preferred to speak that way, seeing as they were both twins. It was a little jarring to see twins, as it was Luna's first experience seeing them, as well as exciting to see something so unique. The alicorn did her best to offer them a smile. "Good afternoon." The mention of a typo caused her some concern and her brow furrowed ever so slightly. She was certain she hadn't seen one when her sister showed her what she'd written.. Alas.

     

    As Celestia moved off to greet a small foal who had appeared, alone, Luna found herself as the sole princess present in the middle of four ponies. She tried not to fidget and took advantage of the lack of her sister's very social presence to mention to one of the castle staff, who were setting the food up on the tables, to fetch some pillows and rugs for the guests to rest on and turned back with a smile for her sister and the foal. She had questions, but they'd have to wait.

     

    Some distance from the party, the castle's garden-side doors were opened and out stepped King Sombra. He didn't need an invitation to know about the party and he'd decided to come on his own terms; besides, it wasn't too far from where he'd been residing recently. For the occasion, he'd freshly bathed and groomed himself, though he wouldn't admit to doing so, and left his trademark cape behind in favor of a deep red ribbon wrapped around his neck, the bow just off center. His long, wavy mane was swept back in its usual style and his sideburns were neatly brushed, framing his strong face; though today, it lacked its usual, sour expression.

     

    Sombra sauntered proudly across the grassy clearing, closing the distance between himself and the party, tall and confident as if he belonged there. While he was aware of the other guests who'd arrived before him, two of which he recognized, he only had eyes for Celestia. She was who he'd come for. He strode past the other ponies without so much as a greeting and walked right up to Celestia, leaning up to plant a firm kiss on her lips.

     


  8. Princess Luna took the askrwood suggestion into consideration for more durable targets, though she'd never had any experience with the caribou and their land. She wasn't even sure how they might be meant to approach them about such a thing. Still, she filed it away and quietly allowed Ice Storm to move forward unhindered to test her might against the magically reinforced targets set up on the field.

     

    The alicorn observed the way Ice chose to change the terrain with her magic, that if they were moving targets, they'd have trouble keeping their footing. It would normally be a pretty useful tactic, she thought, against all save winged opponents- and she would be just that, once they got into sparring. It hadn't escaped her notice how Ice's body language changed, either; it was more firm, serious. She could sense the way Ice's magic felt as much as she could physically feel the way the air dropped around them as the cold mare fired her magic at the targets. It surprised Luna to see how her physical appearance was affected by her magic, and with the opalus spheres magnifying it. It was fascinating to watch, and it gave Luna a means to judge how strong Ice Storm might be and what she might be up against.

     

    In the chill emanating from the mare out on the field, Luna did not shiver. She'd known a special kind of cold during her banishment and it hardly phased her, but magic could make it dangerous. She marked how many Ice Storm had managed to obliterate, and how many she hadn't quite destroyed- had they been ponies, it still would've caused a lot of damage, if not killed them outright. The moonbringer made a noise in her throat and twitched her wings, upon which frost had settled, and winced when the next attack shattered the weapons on the outskirts of the field. Those would.. take some replacing, though they were little more than training tools.

     

    "You've done quite well," Luna stated at last, "and you'll make quite the sparring opponent. Mind you, the targets you were up against were stationary and weaponless. If you feel you have a good judge of your limits, then.. perhaps we can move on to the spar." She couldn't help admitting to herself that the prospect of it, of going against somepony so potentially dangerous, was thrilling. The first action she would get to see in years that didn't involve somepony catching her entirely unawares.


  9. The unicorn's expression was a neutral one in the face of a smile given their way by the stranger, who had finally closed the distance between them and returned their greeting. One of their ears twitched back as they struggled how to respond- socializing had never been their strongest forte, and to know that they were in a foreign kingdom made them self-conscious. A hoof idly scuffed at the worn wheel rut in the road as they gathered themself.

     

    "Seeing more of Equestria," Elysium replied. "It's been an interesting experience for me, and it's given me a chance to learn more about it on a more.. personal.. level than books, though I do not entirely shun them, and hear all the legends that ponies believe in here." Their simple answer helped them find something to mention, something they thought might be of a passing interest to a stranger that was out on the road like themself. And, Elysium wouldn't admit it, mentioning it just to see what this gray stallion thought, a look into what this pony was like. Besides, it didn't hurt to use one of many things they were interested in as a topic of conversation in the absence of anything else to say.

     

    Though, Elysium wasn't sure how much this stallion might care to hear about their studies of magic.


  10. The mare across from him had some valid points, and he could see the connections she was making for himself. Princess Cadance very well could be a direct descendant of Amore; there were enough resemblances to convince him of that and.. he'd felt the magic in the shield keeping him out of the Crystal Empire. It was exactly like Princess Amore's love magic. It was love magic. Sombra nodded slightly and shrugged. "I know from a bit of the Crystal Empire's history that the princesses had at least met Princess Amore and helped her out, before I came along, when a dragon living within the mountains to the north stole the Crystal Heart. But how well they knew each other, I have little idea."

     

    Sombra made a noise in his throat close to amusement. "I'm glad you don't. You shouldn't give the umbrum much credit, let alone anything else. This world isn't as safe and kind and wonderful as ponies have been lead to believe for so long. Sure, it's nice to work towards uniting your kingdom and ensuring they can live happily- just not to the point they're all naive," he idly replied and made a noise in his throat. A fraction of their power? Did Black Ice think he was weaker than the rest of his kin? Sombra scoffed and rolled his eyes, offended.

     

    "You can at least give me a little more credit than that. It took two alicorns using their might alone to banish me. A fraction, my ass." His tail flicked. His mind was still rolling the little deal he'd posed to Black Ice, that he could take her to the Frozen North to speak with the umbrum. He was entirely tempted to ask for something in return for even doing that, but what tempted him would be a risk to even bring it up. Sombra thought to tuck it off to the side of his thoughts, holding onto it until he made a decision. It wasn't like he really needed it, much- he just wanted it to study for himself.


  11. Princess Luna nodded and wordlessly spread her wings, leaping into the air to quietly fly across the field to a shed, where most of the targets were stored. They were made of wood, too easy to break, but Luna had had an idea in mind. A pony couldn't find their limits if something crumbled so easily beneath their magic.. so she would make them harder to destroy. The alicorn set about setting up the targets, levitating them into place in a row much like one would when preparing for archery practice. Her magic brightened, and each target glowed as she used a spell on them for her intended purpose.

     

    Once she was finished, she flew back and touched down off to Ice Storm's left, wings fluttering. "I know they initially look too brittle to stand up to a unicorn, being made of wood, but these will be your targets. I enchanted them to keep them from breaking easily, and I did this to encourage you to push yourself to destroy them. It'll be difficult, but they are not indestructible. Go ahead and find a comfortable distance for your spellcasting and do whatever you can to do so," Luna explained moving off to the side where she seated herself to watch, her wings loosely folded at her sides. She felt sure enough that this tactic might help Ice Storm find out what she can do.

     

    If not, then sparring would have to be their next activity.


  12. Elysium didn't notice the moving speck of another pony up ahead, as lost in thought as they were, but as the distance between them was steadily closed and the shape began to resolve itself into a pony.. their thoughts fell apart. Pale purple eyes squinted, focusing on the approaching traveler. Their pace didn't falter, though they did idly pluck at the straps of their bags, adjusting them against their sides. They had nothing of importance on them beyond traveling necessities: food and water, and the bundle of a small tent.

     

    Though weaponless they might be, Elysium could wield their magic well enough should this other traveler prove dangerous- something, unbeknownst to them, the same was being thought of them. The possibility of meeting a foul character out on the road. The dual-colored unicorn kept a steely facade upon their face as the distance between them shrank, and they began to pick out more individual features. All grays, green eyes, bags packed. This approaching stranger struck them as unusual compared to most ponies: the entire lack of bright, pastel color that most Equestrians were blessed with. Were they a foreigner too, or.. just an unusual native? Their curiosity piqued, Elysium slowed and stepped off to the side of the road, carefully watching their footing in the wheel ruts so that they wouldn't trip.

     

    Elysium stood still and waited, watching the pony- a stallion- draw near. "Good evening," they greeted, taking care to say what Equestrians did; their appearance and voice alone made it hard to determine if they were stallion or mare, as androgynous as they were, though there was some femininity about them.


  13. The lunar princess's eyes were eventually pulled back to the invitations Celestia had copied by magic when silence eventually descended between them and she eyed the short stack of them. She had to wonder who they might reach, who might come to celebrate Celestia's birthday.. All manner of ponies, or creatures. She tore her eyes away when she noticed Celestia offering to help her up and gladly accepted it.

     

    "Ah. And here I was under the impression that we could relax out here on the grass while we waited," Luna replied with some playfulness. Her lemonade was gone, and it was getting a little warm under the sun; at least with her dark coat. She'd be more than happy to head inside to tend to the preparations. Ruffling her wings, she followed Celestia into the castle and towards the kitchens, where her sister informed the chef about what was to be made or prepared for the party. The younger diarch could simply follow and let her sister do what she needed- up until they returned outside to the gardens, within a large grassy clearing by the hedge maze. Luna didn't stand by then, and pitched in to help Celestia set up the tables and lay out the tablecloths neatly across them.

     

    A flash of magic drew her eye up, and she saw her sister's smiling face while the invitations flashed off to parts unknown. It was exciting, and.. she was a little nervous too. Who knew might show up? Though, she knew one pony who would come- Ice Storm, who she'd decided to invite to this event herself. And.. perhaps another pony; she hadn't forgotten who her sister had brought home.


  14. Everything about Equestria was both strange and wonderful. Elysium had come to like it far more than the homeland, Maretonia. So much less.. restricting, and the species mingled freely without trouble. The longer they lived here, the more they found a liking to it, and to the freedom it granted them. They could wander forever if they wished, though -- they didn't. Exploration was just something enjoyable to do to see the sights of a kingdom they still barely knew.

     

    As of right now, Elysium was in between places, their hooves traveling one of Equestria's many beaten dirt roads, packed down hard by the travel of hooves and sunken in where the wheels of many carts had all worn down. They were on the flat area in the middle of these wheel ruts, their purple eyes wandering over both the road and the woods surrounding them, admiring what they could see. There was faint birdsong to be heard, and the air was not quite so warm as it had been. The seasons were changing, and Elysium couldn't help but look forward to how Equestria would change then, and how it might look covered in snow. They could only imagine it until they could see it with their own eyes. It wasn't quite chilly yet; Elysium had dressed simply enough for the journey.

     

    The unicorn was on their way to Canterlot from one of the coast-side cities, heading further inland to look into a few things they'd come across in Equestria's books. Magic was their prime interest, and a place like the old Castle of Two Sisters had caught their interest- if Equestria's alicorn diarchs once lived there.. was there anything left behind? Perhaps spellbooks of old? Elysium was lost in thought as they strolled along, pondering what sort of magic, dark or no, might be lurking within those ruined halls.


  15. King Sombra sighed heavily and flopped back up against the backrest and dropping a rear leg over one of the armrests. It was a most frustrating topic. On one end, he knew in his heart that the umbrum were not to be underestimated, sympathized with, or trusted- they weren't like ponies, they didn't think or feel like ponies.. They were an entirely different beast from changelings, though he knew very little about them too beyond what Ice mentioned of their ability to feed on love. Yet, he could also see what Black Ice was trying to get at. There were flaws in her line of thinking, but.. he saw regardless.

     

    "They didn't need a reason to hate ponies. They may now, they may have always hated ponies.. Who knows, really? Ponies are just their food source. If they were released after being imprisoned for more than a thousand years.. I can't begin to think of what sort of carnage they'd cause in order to fill their bellies. They might be useful as an army, but only if they can be controlled, and I doubt they can be, whether the Heart remains to protect the empire or not," he growled low, trying to drive home the true threat that he knew them to be. He could agree with Black Ice, though: he knew about as much as she did, if not a little more when he knew his own nature.

     

    "This Princess Cadance is Amore's descendant?" Sombra repeated, caught by that particular detail. He would've guessed from the crystal princess's appearance, or at least what little he'd seen of it in so brief a time, but.. Hm. It was interesting. Amore must've kept whatever offspring she'd had a secret in order to protect them.. or he'd just never paid much attention to every little goings-on with the princess that ponies were so fond of focusing on.

     

    "As far as I know.. they're in no such agony. I don't know what their prison would be, exactly, or if its like a pocket dimension.. perhaps similar to how I was imprisoned for all those years. It's the spell, or magic, that Amore used with the Heart to imprison them, but its influence possibly doesn't reach them. Just keeps them contained. Even during the Crystal Faire, which was the only time it ever bothered me." Sombra fell quiet, his eyes remaining locked on Black Ice in an intense and thoughtful stare. After a few minutes, he sat up a little more and brought his forehoof down onto the armrest it lay on. "How about this. If you want to speak to the umbrum so badly, I will escort you to the empire myself where the crystal is. We can have that talk. But, that's as far as we'll go. Anything concerning the rest of what you wish for can be discussed later, and it depends upon what sort of answers the umbrum give us that will decide their fate. If I don't like anything they say, I refuse to free them."


  16. While her sister wrote out the invitations, Luna folded her legs beneath her and lay herself down on the grass. Her wings were loosely furled against their sides, and she idly adjusted them while she made herself comfortable. Once she was settled, she peeked over at what the invitation said before her sister began to create copies to send off. "I think a simple invitation shall work just fine, my sister," Luna murmured. What Celestia had written down worked quite well for what they wanted. All they'd have to do is send them, and see who'd show up. Of course, they probably would have to have things set up for the party soon, like the food and refreshments..

     

    It could wait. "Some lemonade sounds wonderful. I could use something cool to drink after that flight, but I would have to say that such a flight was refreshing. It feels like it's been too long since I've properly stretched out my wings." Her teal eyes flitted away from her sister's face, following the direction Celestia's gaze had gone and spotted the pony that was heading their way. It seemed that their return had not gone unnoticed, and somepony was kindly bringing them refreshments.

     

    Making a noise in her throat, Luna would eagerly wait until the servant drew up close before she'd levitate a glass from his tray. Once the invitations were sent out, all they could do now was relax, and wait to see who showed up first.


  17. Princess Luna nodded and picked at the rest of her pasta, eating small bites and sipping from her cinnamon tea. It hadn't taken them too long to bring it out to her, and it was wonderful. After the past few years since she'd been back in Equestria, she was coming to enjoy the foods that had become popular during certain seasons, and every time she ate or drink anything of the sort, she thought of chilly days and the vibrant colors of fall leaves. Soon, perhaps with her sister's approval to do so, the early nights too.

     

    Sighing contentedly, Luna set down her empty cup of tea and pushed her chair back from the table with her rear hooves. "If you're ready, I believe I am too. Please do not be afraid of performing, of attacking me. Albeit, I can admit to some nervousness and I want to express it's fine to be nervous. It's exciting and a big unknown." Smiling, the princess slipped out of her seat and took a few steps towards the dining room's great double doors, with a glance back towards Ice Storm to see if she was ready to follow her. In the case that she was, Luna would then begin to lead her back through the castle and out towards the guard's training grounds.

     

    It was relatively clear enough today, given that they were going to be training here and Luna didn't want any innocent bystanders to come to harm, should an errant spell miss an intended target. After her past actions under a different name, Luna wanted to do her best to keep other ponies safe, to ensure that nopony would again be hurt by a careless act on her part. She strode out onto the grass on bare hooves, squinting slightly in the light of her sister's sun. Eventually the skies would become more silver and gray deeper into the season, but for now it was still bright and sunny. Her eyes would adjust.

     

    "So, how shall you wish to begin? Targets, or straight into a spar?"


  18. The dark stallion's ears pinned back against his mane from the beginning of Ice Storm's speech, and his expression only grew more incredulous before it became outright horror. "This was not the actions of a mere few. They aren't like ponies, who might have a few criminals within a town- they were all responsible from my understanding! Indeed, those who were born within the prison may be innocent, but they are no less dangerous! There is such a thing as brainwashing.. I.." he began to protest further and trailed off, caught by his line of thinking.

     

    There was no proof that the umbrum were at all capable of being anything like ponies, but how many might think that of him? He was judging purely on his own past misdeeds, and their own- and all he knew of it was what the crystal ponies taught about the empire's early history. They could be wrong, but at the same time.. they could be right. There was no telling if the umbrum were as much the monsters they were claimed to be, or if they were capable of more than their nature was claimed to be.

     

    Sombra scowled and pushed himself forward in his seat, sitting on the edge of the cushion with his back hooves planted against the floor. He snorted. "Their prison is not like a normal prison, with cell bars and prison guards. It's deep beneath the empire, and nopony has seen the entrance of it.. except for me. I found the door, but I never opened it for a few reasons.. I don't plan on telling you how to find it either, if this is your plan. It's foolish. You don't know what you could be messing with, and your arrogance blinds you. Even I don't quite know what you'd be messing with when I had only a brief conversation with one through a crystal!"

     

    He rubbed a hoof against the chair's armrest thoughtfully, frowning. "I did, yes. I might go as far as to get you in contact with them, especially if it means getting some of my own questions answered, but you shouldn't expect them to be honest. They might tell you what you want to hear if it means their freedom. I feel Amore.. is justified in imprisoning them, in a way," the way he spoke sounded as if he were dragging shards of glass out of his throat, as if admitting such pained him, "to protect her ponies. She.. wouldn't do that without very good reason. Most ponies hold princesses up on a pedestal, see them as perfect.. They're not. They're just as flawed as any other being, and Amore paid for her crimes against me, but I can't fault her for the umbrum."


  19. Princess Luna was given pause by the question. Now that was something she'd never considered, let alone tried to do.. but most of the dangers Equestria had faced thus far came on too quickly, or went right for the kingdom's heart, to have left any foreboding hints. Nothing had been especially sneaky, or only worked on one area of the country.. not like King Sombra's rule over the Crystal Empire had been- and that had been before she'd learned how to dreamwalk.

     

    "Well.. no," Luna hesitantly admitted. "There has not yet been a force that tried to lay low and only terrorize a part of Equestria. Most of what we've dealt with, has come right for us or for what else it was targeting. It made itself quite clear. Any fright that that enemy may have caused only resulted in a few nightmares after the fact." She lowered her fork to her plate, becoming thoughtful. "Though you do have an interesting point.. It's certainly something I can start looking for within the dream realm, and see if I can pinpoint the locations of those dreams.." she mulled it over with a little nod of her head. This would be useful, and she would've never considered it if Ice Storm hadn't brought it up.

     

    "By seeing what you can do," Luna replied, answering to their other topic. "I can always set up a few targets for you to try the limits of your power.. even magical targets. I'm sure there are a few spells that would serve that purpose. In any case.. I can do my best to prepare. We alicorns are much tougher than we seem. If at any point the sparring becomes too intense, or something goes awry, we can always call it off for the day to recover."


  20. There had been no interruptions, and for that Sombra was glad. As much as he might preen and enjoy talking about himself, talking about his past was close to baring something vulnerable in him, and he was pleasantly surprised when Black Ice responded, relating her own experiences. He could see where she related to him, and why. After their earlier exchanges, he was resistant to the idea of connecting with Black Ice somehow, but some part of him couldn't help it. That gradual descent in temperature told him she wasn't just all talk- she was upset about it! It was astounding, considering the stubborn attitude he'd had to put up with.

     

    Sombra grumbled softly, trying not to show that some of what she'd said had gotten to him and leapt at the only topic he knew how to answer to: the umbrum. He could, however, nod. "They're.. shadow monsters. Ponies foolishly call them 'shadow ponies' despite the fact that they- we- aren't ponies at all. Vaguely equine in shape, perhaps.." he paused and glanced down at himself. "Except for me." He frowned. "They.. forced me into this shape and locked my powers away to slip me out of the prison. I don't know how much power that must've took if they haven't tried it on the others, unless.. they have and we just don't know it yet." The stallion shrugged, dismissing that little detail for now.

     

    "They feed on fear and despair. From what I remember of the history taught to us in the orphanage, about the Crystal Empire's 'humble' beginnings, the umbrum had set upon the crystal ponies and terrorized them, creating what they needed to feed on. Eventually a young Princess Amore was responsible for the founding of the Crystal Heart that she used, with her citizens' help, to defeat the umbrum and imprison them deep beneath what is now a large city. Even I couldn't say that that is extreme. I might even say the response was justified if I never knew imprisonment myself." Sombra scowled faintly and straightened up in his seat with a sigh. "I'm afraid even I don't know terribly much about my own kind beyond what I've mentioned. That was.. a line of questioning I never thought to pursue when that voice spoke to me. I was.. more focused on other things."

     

    His eyes flicked back to the orbs, a target of interest. What exactly did they do, he wondered? Magnified her own power, or were they the source of the icy chill that'd settled in the alcove? Sombra could feel it, but yet he felt a certain numbness to it too- an acclimation he'd developed after so long in his imprisonment. He rolled his shoulders and lifted a hoof to idly toy with a lock of his shadowy mane. "Why do you think its so barbaric when the umbrum are capable of much worse? Even I've shown that. I'm not under any impression that what I did was acceptable."


  21. Princess Luna glanced up towards her approaching sister and away, her ears tilting back and her hoof shyly pawing the grass. She had never been the gardener, only the explorer. The warrior. She might've helped and learned a little when she once helped Celestia in their old garden, enough to think she could remember how to replant a flower.. but she wasn't confident.

     

    "I.. I could," she hesitantly replied and looked up at her sister again, into the taller alicorn's gentle face and soft smile. Willing herself to try, just for the confidence Celestia had in her, Luna lifted the flowerpot up from Celestia's magic and gently pulled the plant out, soil and all. Dividing her magic, she dug out a clump of soil, just shallow enough, and set the flower in place. With her hooves, she drew some of the loose soil over and into the gaps between the garden's natural dirt and the soil around the flower's roots. Gently patting it, she sat back, brushing the dirt from her hooves onto the grass. Now.. only time would tell to see if it would take to its new home.

     

    Luna sighed softly and looked up at Celestia. "Well, it is done." Her tone was light, trying to be casual. "So.. how do you plan to send out your invitations?" she latched onto their other subject, having not forgotten the parchment and quill that her elder sister left lying in the grass.


  22. A toothy smirk still played around King Sombra's lips and his posture subtly changed under her compliment, sitting a little straighter with more poise. He lifted a hoof to brush it over the fur-lined edge of his cape just above his barrel chest, preening. "I do know what looks good on me," he purred. Dropping his hoof, he turned his attention onto Black Ice's questions with mild interest glinting in his inequine red eyes, his body relaxing as his attention shifted. "That'll be quite a long story to tell. I'm not sure if I particularly feel like getting into the details, but.. I like details." Sombra shrugged and rested his chin on the curl of a propped up foreleg. "I could start from the beginning, and I'll try to be as brief as possible as I can about it."

     

    Tilting his head, he mulled it over; it was just like when he'd told Raven, a newfound friend, about his life, but he'd likely not get the same reaction from Black Ice. He chose to let the comment about the guards roll off his shoulders for the time being in favor of answering. "I remember waking up in the Crystal Empire, being carried by a couple of the guards. As I wasn't a crystal pony, there wasn't a family they could return me to, and so they brought me to an orphanage run by a mare named Chestnut Falls. At the time I didn't know the pony language, but there was one word I did know, and it became my name." He paused, telling it little by little.

     

    "I grew up in that orphanage, and I was schooled by Chestnut Falls along with the rest of the orphans. It was difficult, but once I'd managed I was eager to read and learn whatever I could, despite being the target of mockery and bullying all because I wasn't a crystal pony like them. By all means, it wasn't entirely miserable when I eventually made friends with another social outcast by the name of Radiant Hope. She was.. as close to an anchor that I had. We spent most of our days doing what foals did: playing, trying to get our cutiemarks.. As the Crystal Faire drew near, we'd decided to visit the Crystal Heart to look at it, and Hope told me about how looking into the Heart shows you your destiny.. She saw herself as a princess and I? I saw my future, what I was to become." The smirk on Sombra's face became bitter, his face bare of amusement. "I was so terrified at the time that when Princess Amore asked us what we saw, I lied and told her I saw nothing.. just darkness. I didn't think much of her reaction then, but reflecting upon it now.. I suppose I should've known she knew something." Sombra sighed through his nose, a sound that broke up the low, smooth rumble of his voice that filled the reading alcove while he talked, as attention-catching and confident as a story-teller's.

     

    "The Crystal Faire finally came, and.. I never got to see it. Not in the years following, either. Every time on that day, I would be consumed in agonizing pain, confined to my bed and being unable to do much more than writhe. It only got worse as I grew older, and I grew bitter; I did my best to bottle my anger, and the frustration I felt with everything. I hate to admit that Hope had been the only little light in my life, she'd always been there for me.. even during the Crystal Faire. She could've gone to see it by herself, but she stayed with me. The tipping point came when one fateful Crystal Faire, the magic from the Heart nearly tore me apart, and in her attempt to keep me together, Hope earned her cutiemark and developed powerful healing magic. As a result, she received a letter from the princesses requesting her to become their student, to hone her extraordinary magic. I was.. distraught, when she showed me the letter, and I fled out into the wastes. Not just to find my own destiny, but because I knew that without her.. I don't know what would happen." Sombra frowned.

     

    "I ran into a large red crystal out in the snow, and a voice spoke to me, calling itself my mother and telling me what I was. It revealed to me my true nature, and my power. Why I couldn't do unicorn magic was because I wasn't one. When she revealed my purpose to me, I realized I was at a crossroads.. I could either walk away from it all, or.. do what they wanted of me. That was the whole reason why they'd managed to slip me out of the prison. To free them, the umbrum. They're imprisoned deep beneath the Crystal Empire, by Princess Amore's hooves. So.. I suppose I turned to my anger and returned to the empire. Amore confronted me when I stole the Crystal Heart, and she revealed that she'd know the entire time what I was," his lips twisted, "she knew all that time, why I was suffering, and didn't do a DAMN thing to help me!"

     

    A hoof came down hard on the armrest as his voice rose to a shout, a growl to its edge. "I turned that princess to crystal and shattered her. Hope witnessed it all and.. just like Amore, she threw the word monster in my face and fled. So.. If that was what they wanted to see, then I'd just be one. I enslaved the empire and.. well, you know the rest. They were all the target for my anger, the source of my misery."


  23. "They are, and they were beautiful and brought a vibrant color to our grey castle. We were grateful that Platinum had them made for us. They, and some large decorative vases of flowers given to us by the earth ponies, brought some life to our home. It was wonderful, before it fell into ruin." Before she had ever destroyed it. The unspoken sentence seemed to hang in the air, at least to Luna's perceptions, whose guilt often lurked in the back of her mind or over her shoulder whenever she thought about what was. She let it go with a soft sigh and nodded her agreement to Ice Storm's comment about the nightmares.

     

    "Indeed. When the Crystal Empire returned, that had been a serious problem. I was often busy in the dream realm for nights since attempting to soothe those nightmares. It is one of many reasons why my dislike for King Sombra remains so strongly. Every now and then some nightmares still crop up, but.. the crystal empires are recovering under Princess Cadance's rule. They needed another crystal princess to lead them, one who wields love magic like she does and like the original, Princess Amore, had," Princess Luna replied. "You would be correct, too, to think of them as 'red flags' should they crop up at once. It means something is amiss."

     

    Princess Luna took another few bites of her dwindling pasta and licked her lips. "I'll be sure to do so. As for the training.. there was something that I was thinking of doing. Our first training session should be a spar. I want to test your abilities, your strengths, to see what you're capable of. Once we have a good idea of that, I'll know where to start helping you hone what you have. Power is no good if you cannot learn to wield it efficiently."


  24. "I see." Princess Luna nodded and faced ahead again, mulling over the soft expression that had been on their sister's face as they descended upon the royal gardens. To humor her sister with her larger wingspan, Luna circled after Celestia and descended to land, softer on her hooves. Giving her wings a couple shakes to straighten them out, they were folded against her sides and she gazed around at the garden. There were already signs of fall's touch upon the plants, the duller green of leaves and scarcely any signs of flowers. Even the grass beneath her hooves was not quite as springy.

     

    A glance Celestia's way showed her the writing materials her sister had summoned for the invitations, which told her that it was up to her to find a place for their strange hybrid flower. Luna stepped away, quiet and graceful on her hooves, to search the nearby areas of the gardens. Most seemed too crowded, too many trees, bushes, or other flowering plants. She continually wandered, all the while keeping her sister at the center of this wandering, until she found a nice little bare spot between a couple of trees far enough apart that there was still plenty of sunlight reaching the ground.

     

    "How about here?" Luna spoke up, breaking the silence as she pointed a hoof at the spot, looking back at Celestia. "For the flower? There's plenty of room for it to grow."


  25. Rose was visibly amused by the response, and as Gray continued, some of it faded. It sounded as if Gray was disappointed that he seemed to be running out of time to wander Equestria after having done so for so long. Some part of her was pained to see this, something that she found odd to feel empathy for a pony so soon. But he'd made an impression on her, which was saying something.

     

    "I'm sure you have plenty of time. Make the most of it," Rose thought to put in, curling one foreleg around the other and rubbing at the side of it. She felt bad to feel as if she was just shooing him out of her store, though she had the flowers to think about. If he turned up at his destination with them beginning to look sad and wilted, it wouldn't look good for either of them. Then again, perhaps she was just worrying about appearances as always.. "A shame you'd have to leave so soon, but I'll definitely still be around here," Rose replied with another little smile offered to the gray stallion. "I'll hope to see you around again, I enjoyed our talks. Be safe," the mare managed to bid as the stallion gathered up his bags and made for the door. One of her wings was lifted in farewell and dropped back to her side.

     

    It really was a shame that things should come to an end so soon, but there was always another time. Rose reflected on this as she returned her attention to her roses, and the upkeep of her shop.

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