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It'd taken a little while for the letter to reach its intended target, and a little longer before he even deigned to respond to it. It was from the leader of STAR, Black Ice, requesting a meeting with him. Having nothing particularly pressing to deal with, especially when a certain somepony who he'd taken a liking to was busy, he had sent back an answer, with a time and place for them to meet.

 

Canterlot Castle.

 

More specifically: one of the small reading alcoves located within the main part of the Archives. It would be private enough for them to speak; ponies rarely ever came to the Archives, anyway. They would be left undisturbed. As the time rolled around, King Sombra had settled himself within one of the cushy chairs with his usual arrogant poise, his forelegs draped over the armrests and his back straight, patiently awaiting Black Ice's arrival- to see if she would arrive on time, or intend to meet with him at all as per the agreement.

 

For the occasion, Sombra had freshly bathed and groomed himself. Even his cape had seen some washing. Its color was bright and pristine, and altogether the shadow king looked prim, put together. Even oddly.. calm and content for such a sour, brooding stallion. This slight change would be apparent enough to the eyes of his guest, whenever she showed. He was looking forward to having some one on one time with this Black Ice, to get to better know this mysterious mare he was to listen to on some.. grand plan to keep Equestria safe where others struggled or failed to. Sombra had yet to see if it would work out any better than these fabled Elements of Harmony and whatever other organizations that had sprang into being with that very desire in mind. He'd learned a little about them, but nothing beyond their basic purpose. He could hardly feel like remembering their names, much less their acronyms.

 

Furthermore, Sombra wanted information and this would be his best chance to get some.

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The Canterlot Castle. It's come to be a place that Ice Storm had been frequenting recently. Ever sense she had started training with the princess, she'd been here a few times a week at least. She was grateful though. She was getting stronger, and was actually starting to be able to control some of the more advanced magics that the spheres would allow her to obtain. She was grateful for this, however she still knew she had much room to grow into her power. She still haven't pushed herself to the limits yet, mostly because she wasn't sure what they were. Time would tell how strong she could get. The one spell she was working on though, was definitely a new technique and one that she wouldn't think anypony on a battlefield would ever be prepared for.

 

Today though, she wasn't sure what to expect. Today she wasn't going to the castle to meet with Luna. Today she was going to the castle to meet with Sombra whom had finally gotten back to answering her inquiry to meet with him. She was wanting information, and likewise she could probably conclude that he was wanting the same. Depending on how things went, they could mutually benefit from today's exchanges. Perhaps she could put both herself, and Princess Luna at ease by figuring out just what his intentions were. There were a lot of things that threw some red flags. She was sure Sombra saw just as many with her. It wasn't every day that somepony was willing to do what she was to protect others. Most ponies don't even consider the act of exterminating a threat to be protecting at all. Everypony has gotten so used to everything getting out of a disagreement without harm, with the exception of the spire... Another thing she would have to question him about.

 

She made her way though the castle itself, still relatively unfamiliar with it's layout, but knowing enough to where she could navigate to the basic areas. She started making her way towards the alcoves that were in the archives that Sombra mentioned in the letter. Her armor clanked lightly as she walked through the halls towards the noted alcove. her armor glimmered in the light, the orbs nestled into the notches that were built into the breast plate. The royal blue and silver definitely attracting some of the attention of the guard until they saw the crest on the front of it. It was small and unnoticeable unless you look really close to the markings at the top of the crest. She was still a part of the Lunar Guard as well, and as soon as the guards spotted the insignia and realized who she was, the left her be as she spotted Sombra. He wore his cape, and he seemed very well kept, and in better spirits in general than their last meeting. She approached him and addressed him. "Sombra," she said with a stoic face. "I appreciate you accepting the offer to meet. I have many questions for you and I'm sure you have plenty for me," she told him waiting for him to respond before seating herself.

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King Sombra was patient in waiting for Black Ice's arrival, and it appeared he didn't have to wait terribly long. A mare entered the reading alcove, decked out in armor rather than the form fitting black suit he recalled from the first STAR meeting. An eyebrow rose and he studied the armor she wore for a moment, his eyes momentarily lingering on the insignia on the breastplate. This was new, unless she was simply borrowing the armor to better make her way through the castle to meet with him. Her greeting was initially met with a soft grunt of acknowledgement, his eyes returning to her face.

 

"And good of you not to waste my time," he replied smoothly. "You'd be correct. I do have plenty of questions. I'll just have to get them in order now that we're meeting on a more.. personal level, without the distraction of many other ponies in one room. I've been looking forward to getting to know the pony who invited me to join her organization, to find out why and how. You are aware of who I am, aren't you? I'm not something you can just summon to have tea with, let alone intend to use for your own purposes." His voice was a low purr, giving off a more casual air despite his phrasing. His unusual red eyes followed the mare as she seated herself across from him, and he shifted slightly in his seat, crossing one back leg over the knee of the other.

 

"So, how do you wish to start this? What questions do you have for me? I'm curious," Sombra continued after a short and thoughtful pause, inviting Ice to speak up. If he offered her some information, she'd most likely be more forthcoming with anything he'd want to know. This was to be a more open meeting, wasn't it? They couldn't withhold anything, though.. Sombra was likely to keep certain information to himself despite it.

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Ice Storm watched and listened as Sombra spoke to her, saying that it was good of her to not waste his time. He added that he indeed had plenty of questions for the day and that he would just have to get them in order now that they were meeting in a more private manner without the distraction of so many other ponies in the room. He also said that he had been looking forward to getting to know the pony that had invited him to join her organization. To find out why and how. He asked if she knew who he was, and that he wasn't just someone that she could summon to have tea with, let alone use for her own purposes. "I'll be honest, a lot of my questions revolve around the same topic. At least starting off," she said as he asked how she wished to start this.

 

She removed her helm and set it on the table as she sat in one of the cushioned chairs. Of course, the only thing that she felt was the armor. "With some questions of course. Where the answers take us had yet to be determined. Firstly, I know exactly who you are. Some would call you the crown prince of darkness. Naturally your title of king proceeds you. My question is... pretty much the same as yours. I have access to a lot of resources because of one of the other agencies I'm in. However, I wasn't expecting all of that information to be as accurate as it was. After all there is a such thing as bad information. I sent that prerecorded message out with that potion at the same time to many different ponies, and sources of power. I was not expecting the information about your whereabouts to be correct, and I was honestly even more surprised when you responded. To be honest, it kind of felt like you wanted to be found," she started looking him in the eyes as she posed her next question. "Did you?"

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The words crown prince of darkness pleased Sombra, and something close to smugness settled on his face. "Indeed? I'll have to remember that one.." He had a particular little quip to go along with it, but he didn't think the mare he'd become so taken with would be ready to reveal their relationship just yet. They were still getting to know each other, after all. When the time came and she wished to let the commoners know of it, only then would they release that information.

 

For now, Sombra kept it close to his heart while Ice Storm talked, and her question earned her a shrug from the grey stallion. "I cannot say whether I did, or didn't. It's true, I didn't want to be discovered by the princesses so soon, knowing that they might wish to toss me in the next prison, perhaps even Tartarus itself. However.. my attempts to remain hidden would've only lasted so long. I would have grown tired of it sooner or later." The ego of a stallion like King Sombra wouldn't have been able to bear the lack of attention. "So.. perhaps, yes. Although I never expected to be sought out by one such as you, and for a purpose like this. I should be the last creature anypony seeks out to help protect something. I am not a protector, but a destroyer. I leave ruin in my wake- when it suits me."

 

A small smirk had flickered across the cocky umbrum's muzzle. "So!" he exclaimed, leaning forward a little. "What's all this.. nonsense about me destroying the Crystal Palace? You mentioned it during that first meeting for STAR, asking me if it was true.. It's been on my mind for a while- I daresay even bothering me, to think about how somepony out there is pretending to be me, or perhaps spreading lies about my involvement in it. If it really was me.. I wouldn't have relied on a bunch of caribou, much less any other beasts, to attack the Crystal Empire again, and I wouldn't have made it so painfully obvious as that, not when I know about what sort of defenses the Crystal Empire has against me, and what they would've used if I'd been stupid enough to reveal myself as their attacker." Sombra couldn't help but leaping straight to the point, and aggressively pointing out the flaws in the entire story- at least what he knew or guessed of it, in any case.

 

 

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Ice listened intently to the answer that Sombra have her. He seemed surprised by the title that he had gained through his terror, and seemed rather period of it. To be fair, she probably would be to of she were in his shoes. She didn't know his past, but things obviously happened that lead him to be this at. She wasn't immune to it herself and wad lucky that she didn't end up on the same path. Still though, it was a path enshrouded in evil and darkness.

 

He started answering her question starting that while he did not want to get discovered by the princesses knowing they would throw him either in prison our Tartartus itself. She understand why. What he did was beyond cruel. Luna was skeptical Abbott him when she first mentioned him being a part of STAR. It was a warning that Ice took seriously. It was one of the reasons she wore her armor today. He added that his attempts to remain hidden would have only lasted so long and that he would have been found eventually. What he wasn't expecting wad to be sought out by her. He told her that he was a destroyer, not a protector. That he left ruin in his wake when it suited him. Ice smiled. “That's exactly, why I sought you out. I think you misinterpret just how I'll be protecting Equestria,” she said leaning in a bit. By destroying all that oppose it. If there is a threat of invasion coming from a source, the next logical course of action to prevent is, is to eliminate the source. It's also why I'm building one of the most powerful warships Equestria has ever seen,” she smirked.

 

When he asked about the Crystal Empire, and what happened there, Ice paused. Sombra seemed a little outraged himself that somepony would pretend to be him. He said that he wouldn't have relied on a bunch of caribou, let alone any other beasts. He also added that he certainly wouldn't be obvious about it. He knew very well the defenses of the Empire and to assault them directly would be suicide. Ice Storm nodded in agreement. “It is why that even though I was present for the invasion, I took the claims that you were involved with a grain of salt. That alone should tell you my scepticism of the situation. I was in the spire when it fell. It's one of the reasons why I'm sitting here today in front of you. I'm done waiting for problems to come to us. They want to threaten Equestria, they deal with us, and not when they get here. Once the Shadow of Ice is complete, I have absolutely no problems shelling an enemy that has denied their one chance to negotiate with either myself, Tempest, or you. Given your time in the Frozen North, I can imagine that you've seen the destructive power of ice naturally. Imagine what a master ice archmage like myself can do with it, with now near limitless resources,” she said tapping the orbs in her armor.


“I have become one of the few mares in Equestria you don't want to get on the bad side of. While I can't yet, mainly because I haven't leaned to utilize and contain that much magic in a single form constantly yet. I have been sparring with Princess Luna herself and she said I could easily stand hoof to hoof with her. That's why I'm making STAR. Why I feel that I can make a difference where others can't. I have the finances and the power to do so, so to sit back and do nothing, would make me just as bad as those who threaten us,” she commented.

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Sombra pursed his lips and grunted. Destroying their enemies or no, he'd still be roped into protecting Equestria, and to think he'd once toyed with the thought of conquering it, but that was when he still had slaves to use for any purpose he wished. Alas. "It's at least nice to know that you were so skeptical about those rumors," he commented with a soft snort. He wouldn't admit it aloud, but he was liking Black Ice's ruthless personality and the ease in which she admitted that she'd gladly tear the enemy apart. It was how it should be, not.. giving an enemy a chance and then trusting them to leave something alone for good. That was foolish.

 

Though these were the thoughts of a bitter, cynical stallion.

 

The king quietly scoffed and leaned back in his chair, one dark eyebrow raised. "How bold of you to think I care about whether I get on your 'bad side' or not. What makes you think you're powerful enough to intimidate me?" Sombra wanted to believe that what Black Ice was boasting of was just that: boasting, but his eyes dropped to the peculiar spheres around her neck. Their existence, and the knowledge of the power that were within them brought back a reminder of something he'd initially been searching for: the Alicorn Amulet. As powerful as he was now, he'd be unstoppable if he had it. "Don't think you can threaten me." Sparring with Princess Luna?

 

Sombra brought a black hoof to his fuzzy chin in thought. It sounded fascinating, although he wasn't sure if he could really believe the praise Princess Luna allegedly gave Black Ice. They were likely to praise anypony for any effort they approved of. "It took the pair of them to even banish me below the ice of the Frozen North. I know what it's like well enough, and I had to endure that icy void for a millennium. With recent developments, however, I've been willing enough to look past it.. though my experiences remain. I'll admit that artifact must be powerful, but you'd be more likely to do more harm to Celestia with them than me." There was some bluffing mixed in with what he had to say about it- it wouldn't just be simple ice and freezing weather. It would be ice magic, and who knew how that'd affect him, or anypony?

 

"Personally, I'd like to say to all of this: why try? Why even care?" King Sombra shrugged and waved a dismissive hoof. "No matter. What else is there to this meeting outside of your.. pride?"

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Ice Storm sat back and listened as Sombra spoke. At first he commended her for being skeptical on the rumors but quickly got defensive. He had apparently thought that she was talking directly about him with her spiel about getting on her bad side. He mentioned that she was rather bold for thinking that he cared about getting on her bad side, daring to ask what made her thing she was powerful enough to intimidate him. When he made the comment to not threaten him, she smiled and her smile remained, in fact getting ever so slightly more sinister as he spoke to her. That it took the two of them before to banish him to the frozen north. Not even truly defeat him. Again her smirk continued as he did. Stating that with the recent developments he had been able to look past it having to endure the icy void. He added that he would admit that the artifact might be powerful but she would likely do more harm to Celestia than she would him.

 

He then asked her why she was trying or why she even cared. He also asked what else there was to this meeting other than her pride. "Well, for starters. I was talking about ponies in general. Not specifically you. However, since you asked the questions and presumed that I was talking about you directly I'll be more than happy to answer them. You ask me why I care, and why I try? Like I said, I was in the spire when it fell. I watched ponies die. I watched the loved ones of the ones that die mourn and grieve. I've seen the pain that they felt from their lives being completely torn apart. My goal is to make sure that they don't feel that again. That, gives me something to fight for. I fight for those who can't STAR itself serves as a sanctuary for those of which Society as a whole has failed. For somepony like myself whom was abandoned by my own parents when I was but still a filly, to those whom had their parents taken away either by death or other means..." she said before her look turning more stoic once more, leaning a bit towards sinister once again.

 

"As for the primary reason... Darkness empowers ice What is in darkness may not always be evil, however what is in light may not always be good. All darkness is, is the absence of light. With the absence of light, comes the absence of heat. Absolute darkness creates absolute zero. Absolute zero is the temperature at which everything becomes ice. The temperature at which everything becomes mine. Simply put, the more you use your magic, the more powerful my magic becomes, and that's on top of what I can do already. This meeting had nothing to do with pride and everything to do with getting information. I would prefer it to get back to that rather than having a rather needless battle of whits at the moment. I still have a number of questions. The main one at the moment, is what are your current intentions. What are your goals? Why did you accept my invitation to begin with if protection isn't your thing? There's no way that you would have known that I was going to be protecting though a show of force. So what are you hoping to gain?" she asked him.

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King Sombra arched a dark brow. She wasn't talking directly to him? Color him surprised. She had legitimately made it seem as if she was speaking directly to him, the 'you' phrasing and all! Most of him could take it in stride, but there was that proud part of him that was rankled by it and her response, as if he'd just made himself look foolish, as if he'd been affected by her threat. Sombra was just too proud- for somepony to threaten him, or seem to threaten him, was an offense.

 

He listened to her speech with a slight, disdainful twist to his lips and wrinkling of his snout. "I've seen ponies die and grieve as well, yet nothing drives me to do the same." Abandoned by her own parents.. The detail caught his attention and he rolled it around in his mind, tilting his head as he did so. He knew something of abandonment, but his lack of experience with parents dampened the chance of understanding her experience. Maybe it still was like never having parents at all.. Sombra grunted. Whatever the case, their experiences had put them on two separate paths: he, who had been shunned and left to suffer, saw no worth in ponies, and Black Ice, who despite her abandonment, wanted to do something for them.

 

It allowed him to gain a little understanding of Black Ice, though he could never do anything for ponies who never tried to do anything for him, even before he'd become the monster he was now. The tyrant.

 

"Why is that your logic? That you grow stronger when I use my own magic? Magic doesn't work like that." Sombra was missing something here, some strange leap she'd made.. A dark hoof rubbed at his temple. "And yet here you've said I've been called the crown prince of darkness." Dismissing it, before they did continue this circular struggle of wits that he had no desire to pursue, he listened to Black Ice's questions and pondered how to answer them.

 

"I feel it would be.. foolish of me to sit here and tell you everything about what I'm up to, all my goals and precious plans.." One of Sombra's devilish smirks flashed into place on his muzzle. Did she think he'd really be that stupid? That simple? And could anypony really expect him to not be difficult? "What little I might tell you is only to learn more about Equestria, and to see what sort of place I might find for myself in a world that has long since moved on from the one I knew, and can never go back to. And, of course.. I might have my eyes on a princess.." His last statement was coy, and frustratingly vague. Did Sombra mean good or ill?

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Ice smiled as Sombra asked her why her logic formed the way that it had. that she grew stronger when he used his magic, claiming magic didn't work like that. It was true, most magics didn't. However, All forms of elemental magic interacted with each other in some way shape or form. Elemental magics took on the same elemental properties as the natural source. Which meant that Ice was incredibly vulnerable to fire, and this was very much the case. In fact you'll never catch her standing next to an open source of flame. Not without a substantial layer of ice around her to protect herself from it that was. Anypony that thought that elemental magics weren't intertwined were fools. However, she would allow him to continue his line of thinking. It would prove to her advantage in the future if things took that path.

 

He did tell her that it would be foolish of him to come forth and just tell her everything that he was planning. That alone told her that not everything he was planning was benevolent. She already presumed this to be the case, but that merely confirmed. It meant that she would have to keep an even closer eye on him. Of course she couldn't let him know that. She would have to make sure that the ponies that she has trailing and scouting him are ponies that he wouldn't find suspicious or even know that they were working for them. He did tell her that he was looking to learn more about Equestria, and see what sort of place he might find for himself in a world that had long moved on from the one that he knew and couldn't go back to. She nodded. He at least knew that he would be foolish to attempt that again. Especially with Luna in her back pocket, all Ice would have to do is mention, that she felt Sombra could be a threat and Luna herself would start investigating the issue and take action. Sombra on the other hand, had no leverage. If he tried to go to her about the organization itself he would be in for a rude awakening. She did raise an eyebrow when he said that he had eyes on a princess. The statement was vague though, and probably intentionally left so.

 

"Of course. It would be foolish indeed. After all, I know a thing or two about keeping information hidden. Living two separate lives as well as my own mix of classified information," she said to him with a sly smile. "As for being in a world far changed from the one you knew, that seems to be a common thing within STAR. After all, it is a refuge for those that have no where else to go. Equestria has changed within the times, and not for the better. I'm fixing that, by doing whatever needs to be done to do so," she responded to him not even bothering to bring up his princess comment. She doubted that he would give her the information anyways so she was going to save her breath for it. Perhaps by not addressing it, it would agitate him enough to where he would reveal some of his plans through his own volition. A simple tactic that she had picked up in her years in EPIC.

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Sombra could imagine that his refusal to spill all of his plans like an idiot irritated Ice Storm, but that was only an assumption on his part. There was still so little he knew about Black Ice beyond her desire to somehow protect all of Equestria against outside threats, and that small amount of information already set them opposite each other. Sombra couldn't give a damn about Equestria as long as he had his princess.

 

He idly rubbed at his chest, yet again conflicted by the developing feelings, and dropped his hoof back to the armrest. "Yet," he interjected, "none of them have missed centuries as I have, and seen such a drastic change in the world, as I have. You can't compare their experiences to mine." King Sombra snorted softly and idly plucked at the white fur hem of his cape, adjusting it. Her smile bothered him, and he wanted to wipe it from her face.

 

"I should at least point out to you that sometimes change is a good thing. If this world was always some peaceful little utopia with nothing new, it'd be boring don't you think? Nopony would learn anything new, create anything new. They might never realize how much life is worth living if there's no conflict. Without it, we'd never improve." He wasn't entirely sure why he was even waxing on about a subject like this, when he had questions he could ask. There were some he still had to get together, and sort through to figure out what exactly he wanted to ask.. provided Black Ice would answer them. If he knew her thoughts, he'd know she was justified in thinking it wouldn't be worth pursuing anything he slyly mentioned, but.. it was worth the effort, wasn't it? He just wanted to see her try.

 

"So, these topics aside.." Sombra tilted his head, bringing his hoof up to brush at the side of his long, wavy mane. "Why would you allow me to be a part of your organization anyway? Why not have used the invitation, and my arrival, to attempt to do away with a threat? I would have."

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"I know of at least one pony that can prove you wrong," Ice commented when Sombra said that no pony that had experienced the failures of society had seen just how drastically Equestria had changed over the centuries. This pony was of course, Princess Luna herself, but she doubted that Sombra even knew of her banishment and she wasn't about to give him anything that could possibly be construed as leverage. When he mentioned that she couldn't compare their experiences to his, she leaned back. "Experiences are experiences. It doesn't matter how old you are, or how many times somepony experiences something. To say that there is no pony in the world that an experience can compare to, is both blind and arrogant. I may not know what you've been through, but at the same time you know not what I have. So you cannot sit there and claim that your experiences are any better or worse than anypony else's. Likewise, I can't do the same. What might seem as a negative experience to me, is positive occurrence for somepony else. Everything in the world today is based on perspective, and often times, it's twisted to meed the selfish desires of those with power than it is of anything else. Often times it's the ponies of nobility that tend to cause most of the problems," she told him.

 

When he said that he felt that he needed to point out that sometimes change was a good thing. She nodded once more. That if the world was a peaceful utopia with nothing new that it would come to be boring. No pony would learn anything new, or create anything new. "Oh, I don't disagree, and these changes have underlined the problem with Equestria's infrastructure. The one thing that will forever be present in Equestria will be change. No matter how much we try to keep things the same, it just will not be so. As you said, sometimes the changes are needed, and sometimes they bring about new methods and new ideas that hadn't been thought of previously," she started.

 

"Case and Point, up until a few years ago, nothing like STAR or EPIC ever needed to exist at all. Equestria was a utopia, and then the ponies of Equestria were rudely reminded that everything outside of Equestria wasn't so peaceful and they cared not about the state of Equestrian affairs. What bothers me, is the fact that I have to keep STAR silent for now, because I'm fairly sure that all but one princess would be against it. I know for a fact that STAR has the backing of at least one princess. The rest of them seem to as you pointed out earlier, kill them with kindness, ask them to stop and expect it to still work. Princess Twilight seems to believe that Friendship can solve any problem, when quite frankly the only way to solve some of them is with a swift kick to the flank," she told him.

 

His next question, was one that she was expecting from the start of the meeting. Why would she allow him to be a part of the organization. Why not use the invitation and his arrival to deal with a potential threat to Equestria, stating that if he were in her hooves, he would have. "Quite simple really. While I have no problems simply erasing a threat to Equestria from existence, and I won't lie, the thought was always in the back of my mind, watching and listening to your every move to discern whether you are actually still a threat to Equestria or not... I like to give ponies the benefit of the doubt once. Before I launch a full scale assault on something, I will give their leaders once chance to see the error of their ways and prevent any damage and casualties that would come with a barrage from our flagship. Of course, I would do my best to only target the castle. After all, if I lay waste to an entire country side to get rid of one individual, or one group of individuals that post a threat, that makes me no better than the threat itself.

 

I'm not going to lie, so far, everything has been a test. The invitation to the organization, your presence at the organization, the letter for today's meeting to see if you would actually be willing to meet with me on a one to one basis, to the actual meeting, and the location itself. All of it has been a test to establish trustworthiness and intentions. I'm going to be quite honest when I say I never expected you to respond to the invitation and show up to the initial meeting when you did. I was legitimately surprised when you walked through my doors. I was also a bit surprised to read that you were accepting my request for a personal meeting. Do I feel like I could have turned against you and used it as a trap? Yes. You can underestimate my power all you want, but I wouldn't have extended the invitation at all if I didn't feel I could easily defend myself in the event that you were trying to set a trap for me," she answered him bluntly. Again, if he wanted to undermine her abilities, it would be his downfall later on. The confidence she spoke with in stating that she could defend herself against him was unwavering, and authoritative. AS she had told him, she would not have invited him if she felt she couldn't handle him if he got out of line.

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"Mhm," Sombra grunted. He knew, he just hadn't considered her when he said it. One thing that Black Ice was going to have to learn about him was that he was greedy when it came to knowledge, any bit of information he could get his hooves on, he would. "I know exactly who you're talking about. I've learned about her.. history. I'd have to say Princess Celestia certainly has a habit of banishing others away for a thousand years, doesn't she? And yet she's never experienced it herself," he mused, though his voice lacked the bite that would usually be there when talking about the princesses.

 

"Princess Luna fell," the shadow king stated, "I haven't exactly been avoiding learning since I came back, you know." He sounded mildly amused, something that quickly disappeared back into his usual, insolent attitude. "Point taken." A hoof was waved and he settled back in his seat, slouching lazily on one elbow while the mare continued.

 

King Sombra couldn't help considering Black Ice the more he heard from her, and just what she said alone told him a lot about the mare. Indeed, she was ruthless, a pony unafraid to showcase her might even if it involved hurting others. She was certainly confident she posed a threat to him, and.. like everypony else, Black Ice only proved to him that she made just as much assumption about him. The one thing that, after their initial meeting, a certain sunny princess hadn't done. The alicorn had dared to be open with him, genuine, unafraid to let him in, even a little. She was different.

 

"Of course its a test," he replied in a low, almost lazy sounding rumble. "You've certainly come across to me as intelligent enough to pose such a thing when dealing with me. I know that any interaction I might have with a pony who has even a little sense would want to try me to make sure I won't get up to my awful tricks." A mocking tone entered his deep voice and he rolled his eyes, just a little as he shifted in his seat, straightening up as he fixed Black Ice with those terrible, inequine red eyes. "I'm just full of surprises, aren't I?" he replied, a hypothetical question. Arrogant, his mind spat. Perhaps there was a chance he was underestimating her, and her elemental magic, but so was she underestimating him. Black Ice thought it would be so easy to deal with him, if he'd deigned to pounce. It irritated him.

 

"I've always valued gathering intelligence, information.. You so willingly gave me openings in which to use so that I might gain more of what I seek to sate my own curiosity. How could I resist the invitations? I wouldn't trap you, or try to discard of you until you no longer had any more use to me." This, at least, was a little something that he felt comfortable with disclosing.

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The words that came from Sombra didn't do much to sooth Ice's faith in him. He apparently had already knew about Luna's incident, and that he hadn't been avoiding learning since he came back. He did seem to get the point though when she said that no two experiences could really be compared. He also seemed to acknowledge the fact that this was a test a bit, well about as well as she expected him to honestly. Of course he knew that it would be a test. However, the very fact that he knew that this was a test, pretty much from the start of the meeting, she had to take everything that he was telling her with a grain of salt. She didn't give him the satisfaction of a response when he said that he was full of surprises. He did make mention that he had pegged her to be an intelligent type, and intelligent enough to pose such things when dealing with him. At least he knew where he stood.

 

When he told her that he valued intelligence, and that he had no intentions of trapping her, or try to discard of her, at least until she didn't serve him any purpose anymore. She remained stoic, her expression unwavering. "I see. This is good information to know so that I myself can plan accordingly," she told him. "Intelligence is always in high demand. There is always a price for all of it. The fact that I gave you openings into the organization was one. Of course, There's plenty of it to obtain while you're within the organization. I have plenty of clearance that I can get information from anywhere, as well as on anything that I desire. It might take me a bit to figure something out, but I will figure it out," she told him. "That being said, it's hard for a pony to be full of surprises when the other is expecting the unexpected," she added as she sat back a bit more.

 

At this point she wasn't sure if she should remain or if she leave the meeting. His statements had confirmed to her that he could be a potential problem. At the same time though, if she left now. It would let Sombra know that she was very much suspicious of him, and it would likely tip him that it would be even more likely that she would be keeping very close tabs on him. He was probably already expecting that anyways. He wasn't dumb. He'd have to know that she would take precautions against him. She'd be a fool not to. Even now she could consider this a test to see if he himself would leave, or if he would stay and pursue any further questions with her.

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There wasn't as much to the cold mare's response as there had been in their conversation thus far, leaving Sombra questioning what had changed. He certainly wouldn't feel bad for being brutally honest about one particular aspect of himself. If somepony had no use to him, he discarded them. It wouldn't have taken much introspection on his part to figure that out about himself. Sombra was incorrigible, perhaps too far gone to really come back to whatever pony he used to be.

 

The shadow king inclined his head, studying Black Ice's poker face. "You never know. If you know how to treat me, you might just be surprised how I'll respond." It didn't hurt to throw out a small hint, to give her some sort of lead. Ponies often needed to be guided on their actions, after all, and even a cunning and sharp-witted mare like Black Ice seemed to need it. Only one pony had managed to change her mind, to try to view him differently.. and they were still getting to know each other. On his part, it was far more hesitant. Princesses had always been a great target of distrust, and the fact that he was engaged in some sort of courtship with a certain, sunny alicorn meant he'd have to open himself up, even if it was just a little. If he were to be truthful about his feelings on it to anypony, he might dare to say that doing so terrified him. To be vulnerable was almost unbearable.

 

Sombra idly rubbed a dark hoof against the top of the armrest it rested on, frowning faintly at Black Ice. "You've given away a lot about yourself, too," he idly put in. They'd reached some sort of impasse, he could sense it. Slowly, he licked his lips with a pointed tongue, yet another inequine trait of his as he leaned forward, straightening up a little from his previous, insolent slouch, his half-lidded gaze becoming more alert.

 

"We've certainly butted heads here, a fact that I admit entertains me. I usually prefer it when ponies find me frightening- responding with the fear and awe I deserve when they finally comprehend who they're dealing with, but.. I do like a challenge. Neither of us wish to budge, so I find myself.. tempted.. to make a little gamble here. I like to make deals with those who I find that might be able to hold up their end without flaking out, but this isn't so much a deal as.. an exchange, I suppose. There is a lot I seek, and one thing of interest in particular, but neither of us trust each other and I'm sure you'd want to keep it out of my hooves." Sombra paused, considering briefly how he could continue. "You want my cooperation. Understand that I do not wish to be used again, by anypony, and keep out of my way.. If you do that, I think we can get along quite well and I might be willing enough to help."

 

The stallion inched forward on his chair, his rear hooves coming to rest on the floor as he leaned forward, as if imparting a great secret. "Perhaps we can get to know each other better on a more personal level sometime. Say.. at an event. Dear Celestia's birthday is coming up, and I plan to attend." It was, indeed, a gamble on his part to see how Black Ice would react to it all.. and if any of it would even help. It was his own sort of test, for her, to see if she would change her tune. At least, it might spark some questions. There was so much that Black Ice hadn't yet tried to delve into.

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"I'm not going to kneel down and worship the ground you walk on, and if you think that for a moment that I would do such a thing then you have another thing coming," Ice Storm started in response to him commenting on how she should treat him. "I will respect your level of power, but just as you shrug off mine, don't expect me to be intimidated by yours," she told him bluntly as he commented on her giving him a lot of information about herself as well. In all honesty, she really didn't. He down played her strength to the point where she was certain that he actually didn't know what she was capable of, and training with Luna? Everypony in the Lunar Guard knows that at this point. It's not anything that isn't common knowledge.

 

When he continued, adding that they had certainly butted heads, and that fact entertained him, she rolled her eyes. He added that he usually prefers it when they found him frightening responding with fear and awe that he deserved when they comprehended who they were dealing with. He further stated that he did like a challenge, and that neither of them wished to budge, so he found himself tempted to make a gamble. He liked to make deals with those that can hold up to their end of a bargain without flaking out. But this wasn't a deal so much as it was an exchange.  There was a lot that he sought, one piece in particular of interest, but he further added that neither of them trusted each other, so if was something that he was sure she'd want to keep out of his hooves.

 

"I don't make deals blindly, without exact details, and everything in writing. No special clauses, no trickery, no collusion. If you want to make a deal with me, then it better be straight to the point, and black and white. I don't do gray areas. Furthermore, You can stop with the 'fear' tactics. I've already made it perfectly clear that I'm not intimidated by you," she said as he added that with her wanting his cooperation, to understand that he wasn't to be used by somepony again, and to keep out of his way. Do that and they might get along quite well, and he might be willing enough to help. "First off, I would like to remind you that you agreed to join my force, not the other way around. I have no intentions of using somepony and dropping them, but at the same time, I will not be ordered around in my branch. I will not interfere with your methods on the field, but there will be order within the confines of the Headquarters and outposts," she commented

 

She then heard him ask about getting to know each other on a more personal level at some point. Say an event. He mentioned that Celestia's birthday was coming up and he was planning to attend. This, information surprised her. It actually surprised her greatly. Just what was he trying to plan here. "That's not usually an event that just anypony can show up to... How are you planning on getting in?" she asked, her tone carrying a hint of curiosity but still very much authoritative.

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King Sombra's eyebrows shot up. "All that I'm asking is for some respect, maybe even a little reverence. How does that translate to wanting you to worship me?" Well.. A part of him would've definitely enjoyed it if she, or any others, did worship him, but that was likely not going to happen. "You're reading far too much into this and making quite a big assumption about me, Black Ice." He snorted and leaned back in his seat, resuming his earlier, lazy posture, leaning on one elbow upon an armrest.

 

"Most ponies don't amount to much, and while I can see that your ideas are both grand and ambitious, I've yet to really see what you can do. Forgive me if I'm skeptical without a little proof." His eyes dropped to the orbs around the mare's neck briefly. He had no doubt that she knew how to use them, and even though he didn't know very much about them.. he knew they held power. "By all means, I'm certainly not intending to underestimate you," he murmured and exhaled heavily, visibly annoyed and internally.. disappointed. Perhaps she would continue to disappoint him with her apparent lack of understanding.

 

"I never said I wished to make a deal with you. This was going to be more like an exchange," he stressed the word, correcting her. "This isn't even about your organization," Sombra almost spat the word in disdain. "I don't recall ever saying the words I agree to begin with! I came for my curiosity.. All I'm offering right now is that I will help you, if you treat me a little better than how you are now. That you'll be able to get to know more of me in a more.. personal atmosphere than this." Sombra gestured at the room they'd met in. He slumped back, dropping his hoof over his chest and sighed heavily; he could almost sound defeated, if he would ever give in to defeat, and he was unwilling to lose at anything.

 

"I was invited," the king replied, sounding more subdued. "Princess Celestia herself invited me. She knows of my existence, my survival, and.. I believe Luna may know of me too if her sister has already spoken with her. I don't have to plan to get in at all. Perhaps if you'll stop viewing me the way you insist on seeing me, stop believing that I'm trying to order you around, then maybe you might see that there's more to me than what you think. I've certainly not made a single effort to intimidate you since you arrived."

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"But I haven't been disrespectful to you at all. In fact, I've shown you the utmost respect, answering every question you've asked in an unbiased, unaltered tone. As for reverence, the only ponies that get that from me are the princesses, and even then, one moreso than the rest. You say that I'm making a big assumption about you, when really, you're the one that started this entire chain of conversation when you took an unbiased statement that I made about my level of power and how ponies didn't want to get on my bad side as an immediate threat to yourself. In reality, your no more innocent of making assumptions than I am. I am honestly not sure how much more respectful I could have been with the information that has been provided to me, and at no point did I ever raise my voice, or get crass and irate. The only thing that I have said, is that while yes, you are powerful, I'm not going do bend because of it. If that, is your definition of being disrespectful, then I'm afraid I don't know what more I can tell you," Ice Storm told him blankly as she watched his composure. He slouched lazily in his chair and he seemed to be wearing a disappointed expression. One that he would be wearing quite often more than likely. This was one thing she was not going to budge on.

 

It seemed to work a little bit as he was starting to back off a bit when he mentioned that he wasn't intending to underestimate her. He did add that most ponies don't amount to much though and on that she... actually could agree. It usually took a good number to make a stand for things. It was the reason why while she was commanding this front, she wasn't trying to combat everything alone. She was building a team, and once finished, a militia that would not be stopped. She had to stop herself from rolling her eyes. She wasn't going to respond to his 'I never said I agree' comment. They both knew it was futile. If he had been against this, he wouldn't even remember who she was, let alone would they be having this meeting now. Of course, she left that as an option on the table for anypony in STAR. If they wanted out, they could leave... but they wouldn't remember anything about what they saw or was in it. she replied as she heard him mention that Celestia herself had invited him. That he didn't have to plan to get in at all. That perhaps if she stopped viewing him the way she insisted on viewing him. If she stopped believing that he was trying to order her around, that she would see that there was more to him than what she might think.

 

"There probably is, however you haven't really done yourself any favors in the view department though, considering you were instantly passive aggressive towards me, and have openly stated that I can not trust your loyalty. Perhaps if you were to tell me a little bit more of how you became this way, I might be a bit more understanding about things," she did believe him in the sense that perhaps he wasn't trying to intimidate her. It was mostly because she couldn't really think of a single instance where she felt remotely intimidated by him. It was the main reason why she was telling him to cut the scare tactics by trying to draw on his power and what he could do. She imagined that honestly most just his presence alone would be enough for intimidation. "I do believe that you weren't trying to be intimidating. After all, it wasn't in the slightest," she told him.

 

"As for the birthday invitation, I suppose considering where you chose to meet me at, it would make sense. After all, there's no way they would let you in the castle if they didn't know about you and were at least on reasonable relations with you," she spoke as she thought to herself. She wondered if Luna knew about this. On one hoof, if he and Celestia were on good terms, it would bode well for his loyalty. Even if it wasn't loyalty to STAR, it was loyalty to Celestia. As long as it wasn't a masked loyalty though. He had said himself that he has no problem using a pony until he has no use for them anymore. What happens to Celestia when that happens? She wasn't as good of acquaintances with the sun princess as she was with say Twilight or Luna, but she still wished no ire onto her. An issue that she would definitely let Luna know about. She would know better how to handle the situation that herself would. They are sisters after all. No matter how long a pony has been alive or gone, that doesn't change.

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A soft grumble rose up his throat and he leaned his head against the chair's back, rolling an upraised wrist. He'd wanted a certain reaction from Black Ice, a certain kind of treatment.. and she wasn't giving it to him. He was entirely aware of the fact that he'd never said as much, nor asked for it- he only expected it. It was true, he was disappointed, but he chose to drop the subject after giving Black Ice an insolent look.

 

Praise. Awe. Understanding.. Anything of the sort would've been nice. Even fear would've been appreciated. Sombra reflected on the why and realized why Black Ice's approach had bothered him so much. She'd tried to approach him as an equal, rather than as his inferior. She was little more than a stranger to him, and for her to approach him that way- even trying to pose as his superior- had rubbed his fur the wrong way. Sombra grunted, moving that same free hoof to rub at his cheek and unintentionally ruffle a well-groomed sideburn. He wanted to believe that Black Ice was intimidated. The fact that she'd attempted to tell him to give up on trying to intimidate her.. it sounded like some sort of insecurity she'd unintentionally voiced, but there was nothing insecure about Black Ice that he could see thus far. Since she'd come in and laid eyes on him, he hadn't once sensed any fear.

 

Discarding the thought, Sombra focused on the mare again, pulling himself out of his thoughts with an effort. "Perhaps I may not have won myself any points in the first impression, but you can't deny that I'm quite handsome in the 'view department' as you've put it." His sharp teeth became visible with the wide, cocky smirk he flashed Black Ice. "So.. you want me to tell you a little about myself? Ask me some questions, first, the specifics of what you want to know.. I'll be glad to supply them. I just need a point in which to begin. There's so much I could say." Something of a more suave attitude had dropped into place with his little jest about his appearance, of which he thought highly of, his deep voice growing silky. She'd asked something of him that he was glad to talk about: himself.

 

"I daresay I could slip into this castle without their notice anyway, and convinced them I'm meant to be here. I might not even have to talk to them at all! As long as I act like I belong in this place, they wouldn't give me a second thought beyond whatever they'd think about my appearance." An amused snort escaped the king and he shifted a little in his seat, making himself comfortable again.

 

 

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"That much I won't disagree upon. The Red cape compliments your charcoal coat quite well," she agreed hoping that he knew that she was referencing the color and not the actual suit covered bricks used for barbecue. Seriously the coal dust that came from that stuff got everywhere and if you got any of it on your coat good luck getting it out before the next moon cycle starts. She also agreed that so far he hadn't made a very positive first impression but she wasn't going to comment on it. She didn't feel like she needed to. It would be repeating information and essentially a waste of time to bring it up again. Simpler just to move on.

 

When he told her to give him a starting point, cause there was so much that he could say that it was needed to ask clarifying questions. "Well, the easiest place to start about anything is at the beginning. What actually happened? What caused everything to fall apart that you felt the path you took was the only answer. I'm not here to ridicule, I'm here to understand. I want to know what your thinking was, and I want to know the warning signs so that I myself don't fall down that path. Even with all the safeguards that I have in place to prevent it, I can't not say that it's not without the realm of possibility should the right sequence of events transpire that push me in directions I don't even know about yet," she explained.

 

When he said that he could get into the castle almost unnoticed, and convince everypony that he was supposed to be here. He may not even have to talk to them at all to do so. It seemed a bit far fetched, but to him she was probably came across a bit like that as well. After all, as he told her, all her had from her was boasting and the fact that she was a commander. She hadn't been forced to use her magic around him yet at even a tenth of her power. He would get his answers soon enough, but that would be for another time. "I'd say you'd have a more difficult time than you say, but if the guards here were competent my organization wouldn't need to exist to begin with. Most of them do a good job I would presume, but still, they have let a lot pass under the radar recently," she commented.

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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."

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The breath of confidence didn't go unnoticed by Ice Storm, but she didn't want to stoke the flames any more than they were. The information she wanted was much more important to get sidetracked with anything else at the moment. If she wanted to understand him, she needed to know what happened. Why he was the way he was. As he started talking, she listened... intently. He spoke of waking up alone in the Empire being carried by the crystal guards. That he was put into an orphanage. She was surprised that he still remembered names. It told her though, that this was a serious event if he's been able to remember exact details like that for so long. She already knew the end result so it was already obvious that it was going to be a rather nasty memory. After all, she was the same way with her past.

 

He continued. he grew up in the orphanage. This didn't really surprise her. She doubted that ponies back then were much different than they were now. Instead of trying to find a family, to just keep them in a facility. He explained how the Crystal Heart had the power to show a pony their destiny, and the heart showed him what he would become. He mentioned the late Princess Amore. She remembered the name from history books but that was about it. He stated that at the time, it felt like she knew more than what she was letting on. He added that from that point on, whenever the Crystal Faire started, it would give him agonizing pain. he could never figure out why. It wasn't until the only friend he had got her cutie mark and was summoned by the princess specifically for training that it became unbearable.

 

Ice felt sympathy when she heard him say that he fled. He wasn't the only one that fled from a situation like that. The more she listened, the more... yet again everything reminded her of herself. How she felt because of what her own family did to her and how she had to pull herself from the depths of despair to mold herself into the pony that she was today. Nothing about it was easy, and there was so many times that she could have given up. It honestly made her look back and think.... why didn't she? what made her so special, that when she was in her darkest moments, she didn't turn out to be like any of these ponies? It would have been so easy for her to seek revenge, and retribution for the wrongs that she had been done. Why did she care? She thought back to her conversation with Luna and the moon. The beacon of hope. Hope, was the answer.... No matter what, she always had a beacon of hope... Yet for so many, that beacon of hope was never there. They had no one, nothing to turn to. Nothing to fall back on and fell that everything was going to be okay. It angered her that even back then, ponies could be so inconsiderate towards the feelings of others.

 

The bullying was something that she was also accustomed to. She wasn't Canterlot blood.. She grew up with it all around her. She understood him... She understood him a lot more than she would like to admit. As more and more of the connections were made as he spoke, the more and more enraged she became. Not at Sombra, the situation and everything around it. How he found a crystal shard and discovered that he wasn't a unicorn, but a creature called an umbrum. She had heard about them, again from the books. They were depicted as evil creatures that fed off of fear and despair. She thought on the readings for a moment trying to reflect back to them. What was actually evil about them? What was so different about them from the changlings? Or the Caribou? Or any other race that was around or in Equestria? All of them have had problems with Equestria at some point, and yes Ice would be the first to admit that racism was quite prevalent in Equestria... but like... How many ponies actually took the time to get to know one? It was entirely possible that they weren't as bad as anyone was making them out to be.

 

As Sombra continued, the more enraged she started to become about the story that he was telling her. She wasn't even aware that she had gotten to the point where the orbs unconsciously broke from her necklace in a slight glow, radiating magic as they orbited around her. She also didn't notice that because of that the temperature was steadily dropping. The red crystal... apparently had housed the voice of his mother, and he was tasked with freeing the creatures that were trapped under the Crystal Empire. Okay, she had a location... That would have to wait for later though as she found out why he needed Crystal Heart. It was apparently the magic that was keeping them out of the empire and was causing everything to begin with. What made her emotions boil over though, was the fact that he brought up that Princess Amore knew what he was, and why he was suffering, and did absolutely nothing to help him. That simply wasn't the pony way! At this point, Ice had gotten so angry that her coat was almost a white color underneath her armor, and the orbss had sped up. A misty aura of frost seemed to escort and flow around them, almost making them look like mini comets over anything else.

 

"I would say that I am sorry for what you had to transpire, but it would be a waste of words. No simple statements can make up for anything that you told me. You spoke earlier of how no pony could say that they compare to your experience. You'd be wrong. I myself am one of those ponies. I was abandoned by my own parents when I was nothing but a filly, and when I left for Canterlot I found no remorse there. I'm well aware of what if feels like to be hurt, beaten, emotionally scarred... I spent the first several years of my fillyhood homeless. Not even in an orphanage, but living in the very park that surrounds this castle. I'm not going to sit here and say that I can match your pain, but I definitely know it... The simple fact that there were ponies there that knew exactly what was going on, and chose to do absolutely nothing about it... It's sickening... especially for it to have been a princess... I can't say that I necessarily agree with shattering her but at the same time.... if I were in your hooves, I can say with honesty that I probably wouldn't have done anything different. Emotions flare up and you can only keep them contained for so long before they lash out..." she started...

 

"That said.... I am curious. I've heard of the Umbrum before... but let's face it... Equestria knows abysmally little about them. What are they exactly? Obviously you look like a unicorn but you're not. What exactly do they entail? Why are they imprisoned? Isn't that a little bit.... I don't know... extreme? I need to know more about them before I can form an opinion on whether or not I can even begin to agree with that or not... It honestly seems rather barbaric if you ask me..." she said as her color slowly started returning to normal as she started to calm a bit. The spheres were still orbiting and the air around her was still a bit frosty.

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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."

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"It is barbaric to imprison the whole for the likingness of a few," Ice Storm started. "So, they are beings of shadow then. The fact that they were able to distribute, and confine power like they had with you, tells me that we are dealing with creatures of great intelligence. As far as feeding on fear and despair, that's not really any different from how the changlings feed on love. There are multiple ways for something to apprehend what it is looking for. There are many ways to cause fear. For example, haunted mansions terrify ponies, and more often than not despair follows that. Then of course you have the fighting fronts where the warrior type could feed off of the fear and despair of their enemies. With out fear and despair, there cannot be courage and triumph. It is a balance," she said as she listened to him say that there was much that not even he knew about his own kind beyond what he mentioned.

 

"What you did, while correct, is unacceptable. It was understandable. Something that any creature in your hooves would have done, or at least attempted. I don't know how many others would have actually succeeding in shattering a princess in that age, but I'm sure anyone that had your experience would have tried. I think the fact that you weren't a normal pony helped you get immensely farther than anypony else could have. I don't agree with abolishing or imprisoning an entire race because of the actions of a few. What Princess Amore did to you, and what she's done to the other umbrum is no less worse than what you did to the crystal empire. In fact, it's far more so. I can almost guarantee there's probably been more birthed since you, and many of them probably have no idea why they are imprisoned, other than the stories of old, and the constant hate being bestowed upon them from the prison guards. If you grow up hearing nothing but that you are a monster, eventually you will turn into that monster...

 

I think what Princess Amore did was barbaric because she's never given any of them a chance to be good. Instead, because they could reap fear and despair through the land, they must be locked away. Let me tell you something. If we can pass judgement on the entirety of anything, because of what anypony could do... Then there shouldn't be a single pony walking the streets of any street. Every single sentient being in Equestria has the capability of deciding that they want to spread fear. That they want to spread Chaos, dread, pain, death, torture, plague, you name it, there's something out there that any single being can do. If we do nothing but lock up and destroy everything that could be a threat, then the only thing Equestria is accomplishing, is creating a threat. I want to talk to the Umbrum. I want to see if I perhaps can not reason with the. Not in a sense to belittle or degrade them, but to understand them, and possible offer a freedom from their imprisonment. That though, even for me, could never be a promise. I might have a good bit of sway in Equestria now, but I'm still no princess, and I sure as heck can't make any decisions like that without going through the proper channels first. However, that does not stop me from speaking with them.... you said they spoke through a crystal?"

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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."

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