dragonofruin

Late Night Encounter [Invite Only]

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The night had settled over the world in a great swath of darkness littered with stars, and a single round, silver moon. It lit up part of the night sky, but failed to compete with the golden streetlamps that lined Canterlot's streets in orderly lines, spaced so that hardly a sliver of any street was left dark. The glow of the streetlamps flames, however, still cast great shadows in between the buildings where there was space for narrow alleys and behind the decorative trees.

 

Even at this hour there were still a few ponies on the streets, night owls who were spending the dark hours that they were still awake going from one destination to another. A party, a get together, to hang out with their friends. Among them, spotted on occasion, were the night guard in their darkly colored armor, moving with a confident stride while they kept an eye on the streets to ensure there was no danger and that nopony was up to trouble. There was hardly ever anything of the sort, not in a peaceful place like Equestria- and not right under the princesses' noses. Although, there was one such creature who was still lurking Canterlot's streets this night, somepony who had done his best to hide his more intimidating features. For now. It was only so that he wouldn't get noticed, if anypony was able to recognize him.

 

King Sombra was taking advantage of these quiet hours to get back into exploring Canterlot alone, in the peace and quiet. The stores had long since lost his interest, although he couldn't help peeking in through the large, clear display windows from time to time to see if there wasn't anything new or interesting outside of the norm. Most of the display windows were dark, but there were some stores, and some small restaurants, still open late. Sombra wasn't sure about entering any of them, much less the restaurants. He had no real reason to eat actual food when he could sustain himself on the fear and despair of others- as could others of his kind, the umbrum. This left him with very little to do, and he was slowly tiring of Canterlot. The only excitement was being discovered at any moment, or running into one of the royal pony sisters- yet he doubted they left their castle all that much to mingle with the common rabble.

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Raven sighed as she walked out of her "friend's" home. She had been invited to a social gathering as the sole heir to her family's title, a title of so little consequence that half the time she couldn't remember what it was. Her mind wandered back just a few seconds to the reason she was headed out so early from such an... illustrious dinner party held by some of Canterlot's more upwardly mobile nobles.

 

"Raven, dear, so nice to see you out in public. What's your plan... I mean, it would be so sad if we lost the Dupone's noble lineage. After all, you don't seem to even want to find somepony special at all, dear." A noblemare said to Raven as she tried to eat the limited fare being offered. Raven' s response was subtle, a tension building in her muscles as her pulse lept unbidden.  For one who knew the signs, they would have backed off, and luckily, a true friend of hers did. "Raven's still got plenty of time, ya old spinstress, so why don't you worry about yourself?" Raven cooled down, letting out a breath she didn't know she was holding in. "Thanks," She said, "though if that's the reason I was invited, the gossip and be gossiped about, then I was wrong to leave my studies for the night." With that, she headed for the door...

 

Raven sighed as she headed down the streets, drawing her thoughts back to the here and now. Though familiar with Canterlot, she often did not walk it's streets, either going from her family's home to the library or for food. She found her stomach reminded her of how little she had eaten, and since she was in a part of town she was not as familiar with, she decided to visit a restaurant in this district. She wander looking for one for a bit, till she saw him... At least, she thought it was a stallion, the size alone couldn't tell her that, but with the way the pony carried themself... It had to be a stallion. Raven couldn't get a real good look at him, thanks to the way he seemed to blend with shadows, almost like he was purposefully skirting the direct lighting from the street lamps, though at the same time it almost didn't seem like he cared. What she did see however, made her smile slightly. The way his horn was, how his eyes seemed to be sanguine in color... This was a pony she could stand to be around for a bit, and so decided to talk to him. She approached slowly, not quite sure how she would introduce herself, and found herself stopping just at the edge of a nearby lamppost, the crack in her horn letting a little light off as she internally debated what to say...

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As the night wore on for King Sombra, he began to consider seriously wandering closer to the castle just to start some problems. It wasn't as if he had anything better to do, although a better alternative would be looking for another bookstore he could nose around in, whether it was open or not. It wouldn't be terribly difficult to become shadow and slip through the cracks between the door and its frame. Nothing, and nopony, could stop him from doing it, not even whatever laws Equestria had in place to keep the peace- and Equestria was terribly peaceful so far in his experience. Why STAR needed to exist was beyond him, but Sombra knew he couldn't judge too soon. Something was bound to happen.

 

Movement on the street drew his eyes, pulling him from his wandering thoughts. There were a few ponies on the street and they had been beneath his notice, but this particular movement was a pony coming his way. The tall stallion slowed to a halt, his eyes glittering red-gold in the light cast by the streetlamps. The pony had noticed him, and they were looking right at him. To his annoyance, she had stopped at the circle of light the streetlamp cast, making it difficult for him to pick up on much more than the fact that this pony was a mare. Had to be.

 

Sombra cocked his head, eying her curiously and debating on whether he should acknowledge her. He knew the moment he talked to the pony, any pony, there would be no escape from their chatter and their incessant friendliness. The umbrum took a few steps as if he intended on moving on without a word to the mare, who seemed to be watching him expectantly, and he stopped when he saw the small glow of magic flicker around her horn. A soft rumble rolled up his throat, followed by a sigh. If there was anything that could keep him from wandering off and outright ignoring the pony, it was his damnable curiosity. Everything new and unusual interested him, and he always had to know about it, to learn.

 

"What is it that you want, pony?" Sombra spoke up at last, the silence broken by the deep rumble of his voice.

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Raven eeped as she tensed up, her mind quickly slamming back into awareness of exactly where she was. "My apologies, sir..." She said as soon she got her wits together. "I was simply wondering if you might know of a unique place to eat around here. I live in a different district, and came here for a party I had been invited to, but left before I could eat, and by the time I get home, there won't be any place open... and I'm rambling... Sorry once more, sir, it's just that you startled me a bit..." At this point, Raven decided to step forward into the light, so that way the stallion could see her. 

 

She finally relaxed a bit as the warm glow of the flickering light lit her up, revealing her features. She stood there awkwardly, not because she was afraid, after all what was there that was truly dangerous in Canterlot, but because she wasn't sure how to conduct herself, what with how she had been midly isolated in alternative classes after her accident... It was not a time she liked to think about though, and yet her mind travelled there, the pain of the memory, as well as the fear, sitting in the back of her thoughts as she waited on the stallion to speak.

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A soft grunt escaped him and Sombra fell silent, his ears tilting towards the sound of the mare's voice. "I don't live here so I cannot tell you what unique restaurant you can eat at," he answered flatly. Her mention of a party was enough for him to wonder why she hadn't eaten before she left, and ended up with this apparently difficult decision. Was there anything in Canterlot that could still be open this late? He hardly knew. The only thing that'd become familiar about the city was the way its streets were set up and decorated, the types of shops it offered, and the white marble buildings with their lovely purple and gold roofs.

 

Sombra inclined his head when the pony stepped into the light. The golden glow of the streetlamp altered her colors somewhat, but he could pick out what they might be well enough. He made a note of them, and eyed her horn where he'd seen the flicker of magic. Her horn seemed.. cracked? Perhaps it was the light, or a stray hair, he couldn't tell exactly. Not from here.

 

"Stop apologizing." The statement could've been given harshly as a command, but Sombra carefully decided to phrase it as a neutral statement instead. While he fed on fear, and he could easily frighten ponies in a number of ways, he didn't feel particularly keen on frightening this one. Not unless she started to annoy him, and so far, this was merely an encounter. A pony asking for directions.

 

"I'm new to Canterlot, so I cannot help you." Sombra paused, his head tilting. He could see an advantage in this, possibly, a way he might be able to ask about her horn. It'd been the one detail that was keeping him from simply walking off like a disinterested passersby, leaving this mare alone in the street. "I could escort you, if you wish. There do seem to be some places still open that I've noticed."

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Raven seemed to shrink into herself a little at his words. While his tone carried nothing more than a slight frustration, something about this stallion, more so than those she had been around before, spoke of power hiding beneath the surface. "Oh..." She spoke, her voice falling flatly to her own ears. "I... I do not know if I need an escort per say... However, I would welcome some one to point the way. As I said, I don't get to this district too often, and though Canterlot's laid out pretty well, it can still be a bit of a mess to navigate. Although, if we are going to be traveling together, even for a short while, then I should introduce myself. Raven Shadowfire, heir to the house of Dupone, not that the name means much, anymore..." When she spoke of needing an escort, her tone shifted, though it was almost unnoticeable, to be one of foalish pride, as if she believed she could face what ever the night brought at her.

 

It was foalish pride though, as her thoughts were quick to remind her how she usually responded to a threat, a single spell, and then a dead gallop away. She shook her head slightly, clearing the thoughts away as she noticed him seeming to almost keep glancing at her horn. While she was able to keep the feelings of embarrassment and shame from showing, they did hit her like always before she forced them down. She was an accomplished student of magic, even if she didn't know the proper spell forms thanks to that crack, but it didn't matter to the voice in the back of her head, the voice of all her fears, worries, and insecurities.

 

She blinked rapidly as she forcibly gathered her thoughts once more, reminding herself she was in public, conversing with a stranger who didn't know her, didn't know of how her thoughts often dragged her down different pathways, leaving her senses dulled, and she needed to pay attention to him, before he got fed up and walked away. "I do appreciate the offer though, Mr..." She let her sentence trail off, the probing tone seeming to be warm almost in how she said it...

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King Sombra could see how he'd affected the mare through those subtle details in her body language, as well as her voice when she finally spoke up again. One of his ears twitched and he glanced up, looking at the surrounding street and pondering where he'd even seen restaurants further back. He knew he'd caught the scents of food wafting out of the building whenever a pony entered or exited one. Maybe he'd be able to find them again, if he really was deigning to help her despite what he'd already told her: he didn't know any restaurants here.

 

His brow furrowed. "The name, your house, means nothing to me. I'm not from around here, or Equestria at all," Sombra replied flatly. It did sound like it'd been a name, a family, of some importance once, but he didn't know what kind of importance. Royalty? Wealthy? He lifted a shoulder in a small shrug and turned his intense red gaze back upon the mare, Raven. She'd said her name was Raven.

 

"There will be no mister." Sombra paused, considering what name he would give her. He had two choices: to give her a fake name he'd thought of, despite how obvious it was when paired with his appearance, or he could simply tell her who he really was with a little theatrics for his own entertainment. See how Raven reacted to that, if she would recognize who he was at all. The Equestrians' knowledge of him was patchy at best. Either they might have heard some mention of him in the history books, or didn't even know who he was, much less recognized him by appearance alone. It.. intrigued him. Was Equestria's education so -- poor?

 

"Sombra. I am Sombra." Settling on a decision at last, the king gave the mare his name, unintentionally doing the same as she was: pulling himself out of his rambling thoughts. After he'd been stuck in that icy void of a prison for a thousand years, he'd had nothing to do but think, and often he felt as if he were trapped within his own mind, his thoughts pulling him away from the world around him for whatever crossed his mind. "I suppose I can attempt to show you the way to whatever might still be open. I know I passed a few on the way, though I didn't stop for them. I don't know Canterlot."

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Raven's mind spun when he told her his name... Sombra, the tyrant king of the crystal kingdom. Though she wasn't aware he had come back, her families journals of their adventures spoke of him, and the horrors of what he did to the crystal ponies. This couldn't be the same being though, though if it was... She nodded, a soft smile lighting her face as she spoke up. "I would greatly appreciate that, Sombra. While a Crystal clear night such as this is often more suited for sojourning alone, I find that some good companionship can make even those times better..." She laughed a little, unable to help herself from trying to sneak the fact she knew what he was, who he was, by him. She turned, and headed down the way he had came from, starting to enjoy herself once more.

 

"So, if you're not from Canterlot, where are you from? The frozen north, perhaps? or maybe Saddle Arabia? If you don't mine me asking, that is... I haven't traveled much since I was a foal, my family deciding that due to my... abnormality, and the difficulties it brought controlling magic, it was best not to overstimulate me..." She kept of the pretense of trying to find out more about him, even as her mind tried to make sense of it all. If he really is Sombra... Why would he come here, where there's the royal guard, the night guard, the forces of STAR, both Princess Luna and Celestia, and even if something happened, there's the heroic ponies of ponyville... Twilight and the others... Though he didn't call himself king... maybe he's looking for redemption? Could he be a project? Oooooohhhh... if he is, then I could show all of the nobles just how important it is to always try to help you fellow pony... not just small pledges, but getting involved in their lives...

 

"I don't suppose you have a place to stay, do you? I mean, I would hate to leave you to try to find somewhere to rest at this hour, or for that matter, when we find somewhere to eat... I have a couple of guest rooms, that are almost never used, if you wanted. I mean, my house isn't much, definitely not like a palace or anything, but it's got some space." Shut up, shut up, shut up! That last one was too forced, no way he didn't notice it! Her smile slipped a little as a hint of worry slipped into her countenance. She didn't think that he would be angry, but there had to be a reason he chose to go with not revealing himself as King Sombra... right?

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The mare didn't react the way he expected her to and it disappointed him. In revealing his real name, he would think ponies might react with fear, to flee or quake in their horseshoes once they realized who exactly they were dealing with. The king of monsters, and the tyrant of the Crystal Empire. Yet, this mare chose to react with a pun. Was he losing his touch? It wasn't a good sign if he was- it meant starvation if he couldn't feed off of their fear.

 

A heavy sigh escaped him, as though he dealt with plenty of puns and he'd found hers especially wearying. One thing was made certain: she did know who he was, or suspected it. "If you can call it good companionship," he muttered, turning in place and falling into step by Raven's side. An ear was still focused on her while she asked her questions, told him a little about herself and even went so far as to dare offer him a place to rest. Him, a mere, intimidating stranger. It puzzled him. His brows furrowed and he glanced over at the mare, wondering if she was simply clueless, or foolish. Still, he had to admit, he did need a place to stay.. a place to rest his head, and somewhere that would allow him to bathe. After the first chance he'd gotten to bathe in Equestria, he wanted to do so a little more regularly if he could help it.

 

"You would be correct. The Frozen North; more specifically, the Crystal Empire itself," Sombra answered truthfully, as if he intended to confirm any suspicions about him. "As it stands, I don't really have a place to stay. I was lingering around Ponyville for a while." After he'd admitted that, he glanced over at Raven after how she'd seemed to ramble and noticed that slight change in her expression. She certainly seemed worried now, but about what, Sombra couldn't be sure. "Do you really intend on offering me a room? We only just met. It seems.. strange. You could be inviting home a thief, or something worse. Are all ponies in Equestria like this?"

 

Sombra still intended on asking the mare about the crack in her horn, a more substantial answer than 'abnormality', but that chance would come in time. He was merely being patient, and following the flow of this conversation.

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Raven walked in silence for a bit, before responding. "My uncle says I'm too trusting, but I'm more capable than I look at defending myself." She stopped in front of a restaurant, the warm glow of its interior indicating it was still open. "Besides, I find that it's the least I could do for Equestria to help the displaced king of the crystal kingdom." She stated simply, before walking in, dropping all pretense. 

 

Inside, there wasn't many patrons at this point, just a few off-duty guards that she recognized,  looking to be drowning their joy at finally being off in a mug or two of cider. She sat down at a table for two, and waited, wondering how Sombra would take what she had said... Hopefully he wouldn't be too upset. 

 

When the waiter came to get her drinks, she spoke simply, ordering not just her drink, water, but a pitcher of cider for the rest of the patrons. She thought about ordering for Sombra, but didn't know what he like and disliked....

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King Sombra quietly grunted and cast Raven another sidelong glance, this one a curious one. What sort of magic could she do with a cracked horn? It made him wonder, and he filed it as another question to ask her once he even broached that topic. For now, he kept his silence, letting Raven talk on the way through Canterlot's streets and towards one of the few buildings left still with their windows lit.

 

It was a restaurant. Sombra paused in front of the building to give Raven a look, his brow furrowing in confusion. Help him? So she knew who he was, but why help him? He was a monster, the very king of monsters, who was responsible for the terror and trauma the crystal ponies went through during the time of his reign. And she wanted to.. help him. He was still torn between wondering if she was merely bold, or foolish. He wanted to lean towards the latter, but the fact that this mare had managed to keep it together and wanted to stick around and help him spoke of something of her character. Perhaps he'd come across one of the few ponies who was an individual, a pony who thought for herself and stood up to the threats and challenges of life rather than running away. His opinion about her might change yet.

 

The tall stallion followed her into the restaurant, idly sniffing at what scents of food there were as he seated himself across from Raven. The waiter arrived, and Sombra was caught by surprise when Raven chose to order cider for the other ponies present. It spoke of wealth, and her earlier mention of a Dupone family made it much more clearer that she was from a distinguished house. However, it still meant nothing to Sombra.

 

Seeing her look, he waved a hoof at her, indicating that she might as well go ahead and order something for him. If she knew what was good, then she was free to order it if she wished. He would try whatever it was, so long as she didn't deliberately get him something disgusting as some sort of.. prank.

 

"So. What was it that you meant by 'the least you can do for Equestria' by helping me?" Sombra ventured to ask, first. It was one detail that'd snagged at his mind, an important one that implied.. something. Something he might not like, depending on what her answer was.

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Raven ordered a mushroom risotto as she thought about her answer. "Well, first, if you're thinking I mean to reform you, I think that wouldn't work out for either of us... Though to be honest, even I'm not sure what I mean by helping you... I just know that there is something wrong with Equestria, if it would even allow someone to become so... hostile as my family's journals say you were. I don't mean that in a bad way, everyone is of course born and develops differently, but still... You really took it to a whole other level. However, I would not presume to judge you, not when all I know is the victor's story, which means I must hear the events from your side..." She spoke measurably and carefully, not sure where the words came from, just knowing that they felt right. It was a reminder that she was on the right path, that she was answering the call to duty and the honor that her family had bestowed on her, in her own way, of course.

 

Her family had been disappointed when it was clear that she wasn't going to join, if she was even able to, any of Equstria's armed forces, but they still supported her, right up until... She shut her eyes, clamping down on that line of thinking before it went farther, before she was hurt. She instead took a steadying breath, and then opened her eyes to glance at the guards-ponies, who were deep into their cups by this point, and not likely to notice Sombra for who he was. "I just... Is it wrong to want to fix injustice and pain, or help a stranger? Even if it's just to help them find a place to live? And yet, somehow, I know that's not all that you need... It's... it's really hard to explain..." She offered lamely, starting to feel down where as before she had been confident. Even the food, delicious as it was, couldn't make her feel better. It wasn't often that someone refused her help, especially when she made it clear that she cared about their well being, and not about making her own standing better, but... Sombra sounded almost like he was going to reject her help, possibly violently if she wasn't careful...

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King Sombra's ears perked towards the word reform. Reform? What did that mean? His brow furrowed again and he heard the mare out, hoping that what she was saying would shed some light upon what she meant by reforming him. So, too, was he bothered by her comment about he'd taken it to 'a whole other level.' His expression fell into a faint scowl and he leaned his back up against the back of the chair, slouching in his seat.

 

"You would be smart to think of hearing my side of that story. Your phrasing has made it clear that you know absolutely nothing about what I went through, and my reasons for what I've done. Make no mistake, I know what I did was wrong, and I went through with it anyway. I have no regrets." The king's eyes narrowed briefly before he let his face relax, making a note of how the mare's attitude and body language changed. Gloomy. He inclined his head and swept the room with his gaze, considering if he should soften his approach.. just a little. If this mare really did want to help and to make things better in Equestria, then she was doing more than most ponies cared to try. Even if he felt he didn't need help from anypony, he might allow Raven to try and see what she could offer.

 

"It is not wrong," Sombra stated at last at a low rumble. "You are putting in effort other ponies have not the strength to. I may allow it, as you would be correct on one thing: I have no place to live, to rest, or bathe. Nopony has yet offered me such a thing, especially when I am penniless and have nothing to give them in return." He snorted softly.

 

"If you wish to hear it, perhaps I may deign to tell you my side of this 'story' regarding the Crystal Empire over.. dinner." Sombra jerked his snout towards the table between them. "When I am finished, I have a few questions I wish to ask you, for my own curiosity."

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Raven seemed to shrink in on herself, wondering at the sudden venom in Sombra's voice. All she had done was say that she didn't know his story, and yet, he seemed to be angry... Or maybe he was like her, having trouble with keeping the anger and rage down. She brightened up a little when his tone changed. "While I would love to hear your story, perhaps it's better told away from prying ears... As for your questions, I would love to answer them." She quickly spoke, before toying with the rest of her food. "I'm sorry if I offended you, by the way... I was just trying to say that until I knew your reasons, there was no way for me to judge your actions, to say whether they were evil or not..." She trailed off awkwardly, her previous confidence almost completely gone.

 

As soon as she got the chance, she quickly paid and stood, ready to head for the metaphoric safety of her home. Raven still intended to let Sombra stay with her, so it wasn't truly safe, but so far he had mostly been cordial. "I'm afraid I really must be getting home, and as I offered before, you're welcome to one of my guest rooms, and we can talk more on the way." Raven had a feeling she knew what one of his questions was, and didn't really want to have to answer in public...

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Seeing the way the mare shrank made him realize he'd spoken a little too vehemently, and some strange part of him felt regret. This pony was only trying to help, even though he didn't know how she wanted to help, and she didn't seem to know either. His ears splayed back against his swept back mane and he tapped one of the arm rests of his chair, struggling with something. It wouldn't do him any good to get hostile all because he was distrustful of ponies, as well as weary from their assumptions. A heavy sigh left the king. He couldn't determine where that feeling of regret had come from, but he resolved not to terrorize the poor mare by accident any more than he had.

 

"Very well," he murmured. "The privacy would work out well for us both, and I will hold my life's story and my questions until we are safely within your home." Falling silent, Sombra turned his attention to what food arrived and chose to eat whatever she might have ordered for him. He might as well try it, just to see what all Equestria offered- he'd already tried some of its pastries once before, here in Canterlot, with a certain areion.

 

"You need not apologize. I spoke too harshly." Sombra spoke softly, his voice at just the right volume to carry across the table for Raven's ears alone. "I believe I will be joining you, if you are truly not so bothered by the thought of inviting a stranger into your home."

 

The tall stallion pushed his chair back and rose after Raven paid for the meal. He took a few steps away from the table, intent on falling into step by the mare's side again. He was curious about what sort of house she kept, and he was looking forward to having a chance at a bed and a bath again.

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"You're not the first, and most likely not the last." Raven said dully as she walked outside, her thoughts full of self doubt. Once she was out, and the cool night air hit her, she closed her eyes, and breathed deep, letting her thoughts settle. As she felt Sombra fall in beside her, she opened her eyes, and started heading home, contentment plain on her face, the solitude of the night relaxing her. She walked at a mostly sedate pace, and while she stuck mostly to the main roads, there were times she ducked into alleyways to take shortcuts.

 

It was during one of these shortcuts that she felt something, a pickling at the base of her skull, her hair standing on end... Quickly and quietly, she turned and whispered to Sombra, "Cover your eyes and ears as best you can, this will be over quick and I work best alone." Raven's whole body was tensed, every muscle coiled tighter and tighter as she waited. Sure enough, two ruffians approached, one unicorn, the other an earth pony. The unicorn seemed to hold a small blade in his magic. Whatever words were said was lost to Raven, as all she could hear was the rush of blood in her veins, the thrill singing out through her. So very slowly her magic gathered, though she knew just how fast it was actually gathering, this spell always at the edge of her consciousness. An orb of fire, the same color as her cutie mark appeared at the tip of her horn, growing larger as it seemed to paradoxically suck the light out of the alley, and light it up. It built, and then, with what to her was a sound not unlike a whip cracking, it burst. She had heard what her parents had described it as, a suddenly bright light, and a massive roar of sound, but she would never know its touch on her.

 

With the spell cast, her body sprung into action, leaping the distance between her and her would be attackers. One buck, and the unicorn dropped the weapon. one right hoof thrown to her side and the earth pony let out a cry of pain, clutching at his front left knee as she pivoted and let lose one last hit, causing the unicorn to go unconscious. As the fight, if it could be called that, wound down, Raven seemed to blink, her entire body seeming to coil and uncool rapidly before she shook her head, looking in horror at what she had done, before sprinting the rest of the way home, forgetting about Sombra in her panic...

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The mare's statement was enough cause for concern, bringing forth another question Sombra had to file away to ask her once they were in a setting that allowed their conversation. Remaining silent, the stallion walked beside her through the streets of Canterlot, allowing her to lead him through a city still unfamiliar to him in many ways, despite how long he'd lingered in it already. It was dangerous to, all because of the royal sisters lived here, in their tall marble castle.

 

His own thoughts wandered, and twice along the way Sombra glanced over at Raven's face, curious about the way her emotions had changed and why. She didn't seem so sullen now as she was earlier, but some manner of.. content? It puzzled him.

 

Her decision to take the roads hardly inspired a thought, but her decision to sometimes cut through the unlit back alleys of the buildings was enough for him to question it. Still, the stallion said nothing up until she abruptly stopped and whispered to him. Being a monstrous creature and a kind of predator, he had no sense of danger here in these dark alleys, not like a prey animal. Sombra didn't know what she was picking up on until the ponies showed themselves. Scruffy, maybe even a little dirty, and one of them wielding a knife. A part of Sombra could have laughed. To him, they weren't scary, much less a threat, and he could have dealt with them easily.. but it seemed Raven wished to do just that.

 

For his own curiosity, King Sombra chose to step back and allow her so that he might see what she was capable of. His ears were pinned back against his mane and he shut his eyes, although one was cracked open to watch her perform her magic. It was a strange spell, one that he'd never seen before or anything like it before! It intrigued him, and so too did the feel of that magic. He shut his eye again as she cast her spell, and he couldn't help but flinch back from the roar of sound. It left his ears ringing once it faded, and he dared to open his eyes again to behold the mare's fighting skills.. right before she fled. The king chose to carefully step over the downed muggers and ran after her, a frown on his muzzle. He didn't know why she was running.

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Raven stopped once her home was in sight, the moderate two story home calming her. She gagged for a bit, dry heaving as she thought about how easily she had hurt them, how easily she had given into that part of her. It disgusted her, and made her wonder why she was ever gifted with that part of her.

 

Sombra! Her thoughts suddenly yelled at her, as her mind slowed back to normal thought patterns. She had left him behind, what if... The sound of hooves on stone snapped her head around to see him catching up.

 

"I... That was... So, I'm not proud of this, but I'm very capable in a fight..." Raven said sheepishly, once he was beside her. She knew that she wouldn't really be able to explain herself, and so, instead, wirelessly lead him into her house, and to her parents... her... study... "We can talk here..." 

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King Sombra kept up easily with his long legs, choosing to pace himself rather than try to cover ground between himself and the fleeing mare. He still couldn't figure out why she'd run. His heavy hooves beat the smooth pavement of the street, the sound preceding him to where Raven slowed before a two-story home. The architecture and what Equestria's homes were built with still intrigued him, and they looked far more interesting than the crystal the homes of the empire were formed with.

 

His pace slowed to a trot, and then a walk, coming to a stop in front of Raven. "If you are so capable in a fight, why did you run?" Sombra asked, moving to follow her inside. His eyes shifted away from the mare to sweep the spacious interior of her house, yet again curious about what lay in a pony's abode, how it was decorated. A glimpse into some sort of normality outside of his perspective as an orphan. "Is.. fighting your special talent?" Another question was asked once they reached her study, and Raven made it clear they could talk there. He didn't see why it alone was safe- the rest of the house was just as private, but he kept his thoughts to himself and found a comfortable enough chair to settle down in without waiting for his host's permission.

 

As soon as he was off his hooves, Sombra allowed himself to relax into the cushioned seat, slouching and looking around at the interior of the study with curiosity. Vaguely, it reminded him of his own, the one he'd kept hidden beneath the crystal palace at the bottom of the mineshaft he'd forced crystal pony slaves to dig. It was all done in order to find the door to the umbrum's prison, one he'd never had the courage to open once he had. It still remained unopened, and he was the only creature who knew it was there- and he presumed to think he was also the only creature to know how to even get into his study.

 

Sombra had more questions to ask Raven, but he felt it was best to wait until the first two that he'd asked were answered. He didn't want to overwhelm her more than she already was.

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Raven shuddered a bit, her breath becoming raggedy. "I... Just be.... Just because I'm capable doesn't mean I like it, or even want to fight... I don't like... I don't like knowing that I've hurt someone..." She was panicking, her voice breaking as she spoke. "It... It could be... I mean... I... I got my cutie mark defending my family... But... But why would it be...?" She trailed off, unsure of herself, not sure why she would be so adverse to fighting, and yet, be so good at it...

 

"It could just be the training I got... when I was a foal.. before... before I cracked my horn. My family has a long history of serving Equestria with their martial prowess... It's actually how we got a noble title." She started to calm down as she continued speaking, her thoughts turning from a subject so disturbing to her, to what was actually a field of study for her. She idly started floating books over, her family journals, the magic field around them fading in and out, despite the fact the books stayed quite stable.

 

"These are my family's journals, records of the battles fought and of the services rendered to Equestria. They're actually how I know who you are, there's a few entries about the Crystal Kingdom, from some... thousand-ish years ago. They only tell Equestria's story though, not yours..." Raven opened one of the journals, showing the passage to Sombra, back to her more confident self. She was a student at heart, loving to learn new things, and many of the books on the nearby shelves were much more advanced than what a student of her age should be learning, magical theories and various other subjects, instead of the usual incantations and recipes.

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Sombra inclined his head, clearly interested in how Raven answered. She was trained, and she had fighting skills, but she didn't want to hurt ponies. He snorted softly. "So it is your talent, then? Or connected to it? Sometimes being taught well at a young age can become an instinctual response when you're older. It's muscle memory. If these skills of yours only crop up when you or others are in danger.. then perhaps I should point out to you, that if you do nothing, you will be the one getting hurt. You shouldn't feel so much guilt over self defense."

 

The king quieted, catching the mention of her cracking her horn. It was a story he wished to hear, but he didn't yet find an opening to ask. The levitated journals had gotten his attention and he leaned forward a little in his chair, rear hooves resting on the floor and one foreleg reaching out to the floating journals with curiosity. There would be a lot to read in those books..

 

"Naturally," he murmured, responding to how they were centered around Equestria rather than the Crystal Empire. "The empire is far from the rest of Equestria, near the very top of this continent. In the Frozen North. It's secluded, separated from everything by an icy wasteland. Of course nothing would mention the Crystal Empire if most ponies have never been there before. As for farther north.. I only know of the yaks in the mountains, but beyond them? It's impossible to tell. It could just be treacherous mountains." Sombra shrugged, averting his red eyes from Raven to the journal she'd opened to show him. Greedily, he read it to see what this particular passage might say.

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Raven looked thoughtful at the mention it may just be muscle memory. She nodded as Sombra spoke, explaining that she should not feel guilt, for defending herself in a fight. She let the journal drift into range for Sombra to grab it, the story inside being that of the disappearance of the crystal kingdom. "I don't think it's simply guilt.. It... it seems more... primal..." She yawned a bit as she stood and went to a nearby tea set and grabbed the teapot, and went to the fireplace. With a slight glow, a fire shot up. "Would you like some? I'm usually in bed by this time, but seeing as all I have scheduled for tomorrow is some studying to learn some new theories. Maybe this time I'll actually be able to throw a stun beam this time..." She frowned a bit at that thought while waiting for the water to boil. Once the kettle was merrily whistling away, she quickly poured the water and steeped the tea. "I don't have many flavors, unfortunately, I don't keep a lot on hoof." She floated the tray onto a convenient table.

 

She sat back down with a cup in her magical grip. "So...I've kinda just been speaking whatever comes to my mind... I'm sure you would like to ask me some questions now, right?" Raven was starting to truly relax, and expected to be here for a while. She didn't really know what Sombra wanted to know about her, but knew there would be plenty of time for him to reveal his story. A smile lit her face as she took a sip from her cup, the tea reminding her of her time when she would sit in here with her parents, reading the stories of her family's adventures...

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Eagerly, Sombra read through what the journal might claim about the Crystal Empire's disappearance, curious to see if it was a lot of hearsay and assumptions, or if it might hit anywhere close to the truth. Of course, he knew nopony would ever know the intimate details like he would, let alone details about himself. "Primal?" he echoed, tilting his head up slightly and while his eyes remained glued to the pages. It was interesting to see how ponies interpreted things, such as the Crystal Empire and its disappearance, how little they knew about it. Sometimes, however, their interpretations and assumptions were annoying.

 

A rear leg was crossed over the other while he leaned back, half balancing the journal on his forehooves and half levitating it. Briefly, he looked up to see what it was she was offering him and saw the teapot. Tea? Why not? "Of course," he replied a little distractedly, most of his attention returning to the journal. Her comment about the tea flavors only earned a shrug from him- he hardly bothered to eat or drink, so the flavor didn't matter to him. Unless it turned out to be unpleasant to him in some way.

 

Once he was finished reading, Sombra hoofed the journal back and took the other teacup Raven had poured, curiously sniffing at the tea. "Very well. Now that I'm able to ask my questions, perhaps I shall reward you with telling you about my history afterward. You will know the truth, although I believe I may still keep a few very secret details to myself. Details nopony should ever know for their own safety." The king sipped experimentally at his tea and sought out the first question he wanted to ask. It was perhaps the easiest and most obvious one. "How did you crack your horn?"

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"Of course, feel free to hold back whatever you deem appropriate to." Raven said, smiling as she put the journal back upon it's shelf. "As for your question, I'm afraid the answer is quite mundane. It was a training accident. My mother, who used to be a captain in the REA, thought that I was ready for a maneuver that I wasn't, or I messed it up somehow, I'm not sure. All I really remember is charging forward, a mana charge building in my horn, and then, falling towards a wall... I woke up in the hospital literally right as the doctor said that I would never cast again... Proved him wrong, but still, how... lucky... of a time was that to wake up at?"

 

She looked somber as she told the tale, not because her memories of her childhood were bad, but because it had only been a few short years since her parents disappearance. She still believed them to be out there, just unable to make it home. It's what she felt in her heart to be the truth. Her face took on a slightly more joyous look though after a bit. "It meant I had to relearn how to cast, and of course it also meant I was... encouraged to not apply for the REA myself, which kinda sucked seeing as so much of my life until that point was getting ready to follow in my family's hoof-steps, but at least I can help those around Canterlot who need it, instead of being posted at some garrison watching the grass grow, right?"

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King Sombra rumbled softly, quietly pleased that Raven would allow him to withhold certain details. He said nothing more, allowing the mare to start talking and tell him the story behind her cracked horn. He didn't know what the REA was, and he could only assume it was some sort of group. A military group? Sombra pondered it while Raven continued, and his dark brows furrowed. An incomplete memory. The lost details were slightly disappointing, but his curiosity about her horn in particular was satisfied. A misfired spell, an accidental impact.. he could see how it would crack her horn. It was fortunate it wasn't broken off entirely.

 

"It is something good, I suppose, although I know nothing about this.. REA you speak of. You can spend your time relearning how to perform magic at your leisure, and work around your new disability. Certainly Equestria must have something for you to apply yourself to outside of this group you've mentioned," Sombra put in.

 

"So," the stallion continued, taking charge of the conversation once more, "my second question is about the word you used earlier. Reform. What does it mean, when you said you didn't think you'd be able to reform me. Is there some context that I'm missing? Why do you think you have to reform me? Some sort of attempt to change me, I presume?" He tilted his head questioningly and straightened again to sip at his tea while it was still hot.

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