The King’s Gift
(a Hearts n Hooves Valentine’s Day story by Hail King Sombra)
(artwork by Pixel_Spark)
“Hisss Eminence isss not available.”
The uptight looking unicorn before the castle’s entrance to the royal suites huffed. “Now listen here…what is your name, guard?”
The shadowy mist within the guard’s armor did not reply, confused by the question. It merely turned back to attention, looking past the stallion, down the corridor. Tight Planner had forgotten for a moment that the shadow entities summoned by their King had no will of their own, being a mere extension of His umbrum power.
“Do you know who I am?” he tried again to reason with the guard.
The guard on the other side swiveled its head gear towards their annoying guest. “You are Tight Planner, the Eminence’sss royal scheduler,” it intoned in the identical, hollow voice of its companion guard.
“Yes, very good,” Planner nodded, using his unicorn magic to push his glasses back up the bridge of his nose. “and do I have King Sombra’s – I mean the Eminence’s – leave to confer with him when there is urgent Kingdom business that requires His personal attention?”
“Yesss,” both shadow pony guards said mechanically, their smoke-like bodies shifting and swirling underneath the heavy armor plating.
“Again, I applaud you highly disturbing entities for understanding my worth around here,” Sombra’s planner nodded. “and I would never come to the King if he were sequestered away like this unless it were of the utmost urgency.”
There was no reply from either shadow guard at this.
“Oh, for the love of Tartarus!” he grumbled, moving to go past them.
Instantly the two guards grabbed him, pinning him against a window ledge that left half of him hanging precariously outside the safety of the corridor.
“NYX!” the helpless pony screamed.
Nyx opened an eye from where she hovered over the bed in the King’s private quarters. How in Equestria was she supposed to enjoy a peaceful meditation session with some pathetic servant wailing like that?
There was a knock at the door. Reluctantly she sent a spark of her curved horn’s magic off to open it. A coil of umbrum smoke snaked through the opening, into the chamber’s entrance, still attached to one of the guards dangling Planner out the window. She arched an eyebrow in surprise. They were learning to knock at last! Perhaps this meant there would be no more surprise visits while she and her King were…engaged in delicate negotiations. It had made for some interesting sessions, the evil thought crossed her mind, but then all good things as the saying went…
The umbrum gathered before the black-bodied mare, coiling like a cobra before her. *Mistressss?* it echoed.
She opened both eyes. *Yes Guard 452?* she replied in their native language.
*We have an intruder in the main corridor, Mistressss,* it reported. *Ssshall we dispossse of the creature or will hisss Eminence wisssh to interrogate it?*
Nyx frowned. *Throw it in the dungeon to wait for our King to return – oh wait,* she sighed. *Is that Tight Planner?* the Marazon witch asked, recognizing the screaming pony’s plaintive wails.
*That isss itsss desssignation, Mistresss,* the guard said hollowly.
Nyx rolled her eyes in annoyance. *Four of six,* she said absently, tossing her wild, fog grey mane back off her shoulder.
*How many times has he done this?* she replied, lowering to the bed and jumping off.
*Ah. We underssstand,* it whispered.
*I wish I did,* she shook her head, stretching the kinks out of her frame from being motionless so long. *Stubbornness like that will get you killed around here.* A wicked thought crossed her mind. She gave the shadow instructions, the tips of her small, sharp canines showing through her smile the entire time.
The Shadow King returned to the Crystal Empire’s palace the way he had come, as a fast-moving wraith of smoke, low to the ground, unseen except as he moved from shadow to shadow of objects and ponies when no pony was looking, or as they blinked in that instant their eyes were closed. Very quickly he came to the back spire of the palace’s supports, choosing there to cross as the sun was now in the front of the palace and shadows were plentiful in this favored spot. He moved over the newly installed, first phase of a moat that would surround the palace foundation and make it more defensible once finished. Clinging to the side of the support once over the waters, as he was sliding his way up to the royal chambers, he could make out something rushing downward past him and a muffled scream in his dimmed physical senses. Pausing for only a moment, He continued upwards, sensing no threat to his person or his kingdom, whatever it was. For all he knew, it could have been a rebellious slave chucked out the windows of the palace by his shadow guard, in which case, the problem had, in his estimation, already taken care of itself.
*NYX!!!* came an angry stallion’s voice from the moat.
If he had had a head at that point, it would have nodded. *Four,* the shadow said simply, moving upward again.
Flowing into a window after ascertaining the only ones around were his shadow guard, the King addressed them, his head the only physical manifestation of his body He bothered to bring into being to do so. After receiving their report***, he ordered them to assist with attending to the new slaves being brought in by Captain Iron Blade’s battalion while he retired to his private chambers.
*** want to read about the campaign? It’s a deleted scene and you can read it here!
Finding no sign of Nyx, he thought about summoning another slave to attend him while he removed his armor, but dismissed the idea. Nyx took a particular delight in removing it herself and would pout if he asked another to do so in her stead. He had to admit, he also rather liked the attention she gave to his person while doing so, and in the end went in search of her himself to perform the task.
After inquiring of several slaves, he was directed to the old, ex-concubine’s quarters.
King Sombra had felt slightly awkward being here as his trips had become fewer these past years. The longer Nyx had been with him, he had become more drawn to her as his favorite, eventually visiting the few mares in his stable less and less in favor of her exclusive company. The quarters had been turned into her private rooms, but even her time there had dwindled as his wish to have her with him every night quickly made it the logical decision to move her in completely. Her daily presence in the castle – and in his life had become a deep comfort to him in ways he had never thought would be allowed him again. Not since the Princess of the Moon had been torn from him by her accursed sun sister.
Now the rooms he approached were the quarters of her hoof maidens – Marazons hand-picked from her tribe to attend her in their new lives within the palace.
Having assumed complete physical form again, it was easy for the King to track the voices and laughter of Nyx and several of her maidens to one of the rooms in a spacious, main area replete with cushions, pillows and lavish décor. The room was often used to entertain Captain Iron Blade and his concubines whenever he was not away from the Empire conquering land for his King, and this Sombra had given him as a gift for his years of unwavering loyalty. No doubt this night it would see use as well upon their victorious return home.
The Shadow King approached the room quietly, his presence concealed behind sheer veils draped over the entrance in lieu of doors. Doors were unnecessary, of course. Every slave and palace inhabitant knew to be a stallion in this part of the wing without the King or Captain Iron Blade accompanying them was instant death – no questions asked. Female slaves did the cleaning duties and shadow guards – the only “males” if they could be called that – guarded the King’s prized herd of His beloved’s attendants. It was an equitable arrangement that suited everyone.
The room smelled of delicate incenses, lit with sconces of candles placed out of the way along bare sections of walls. The level of lighting assured he could linger a moment on the other side of the curtain from the mares and simply enjoy the view.
Nyx was the center of attention, being attended by four mares clad in sheer, revealing gowns of pale fabrics complimenting their various colorings. One mare was brushing Nyx’s back and sides, another polishing her hooves, while two others were working on a gown on a clothing mannequin nearby. The TimeWitch’s usual matching attire to her King’s was on another dress form, her crown the only thing she had elected to continue wearing for the moment.
Sombra smiled, admiring the body of his consort as she chatted with the hoof maidens. Her smoky mane and tail glowed and shimmered like the fog that often settled over the lands surrounding the Crystal Empire in the winter. In the soft light and quiet atmosphere here, he was reminded of why he often called her a “bewitching creature” for more than her gift of future-seeing.
The alterations done to her gown, her two seamstresses helped her into it. Once on, Sombra caught his breath at the sight – the soft folds swooping just low enough to show off her cutie mark – an Oriborus, a snake eating its own tail, symbolizing eternity’s cycle. The folds were held aloft at the back, draped over her back at the tail, leaving nothing to his imagination concerning her shapely plot. He found himself licking his lips at how they accented her hips in a way that was quite arousing to his – interests…and that back cut of of the gown, how easily it was accessible to his –
He shook his head, realizing what the gown was for. It was not the typical attire for court, or was even demure enough for public consumption. It was for –
Their giggling shook him out of his realization as one mare said, “ – seduction! How could his Majesty ever resist you in this gown, Nyx?”
She blushed, a hard thing to see against her black coloring, but the King saw it clearly.
“He won’t need the help of this dress, Silk Weave,” the maiden he recognized as Quiet Hoof snickered. “Not with her coming into heat today.”
“Please! Don’t remind me!” the witch moaned, squirming. “I do hope he comes back soon.”
“Nyx, you did not do that on purpose, did you?” Weave teased.
They all laughed softly as Sombra blushed, realizing why he was so mellow, so interested in how shapely the TimeWitch appeared, thoughts of her delicate body pinned beneath his drifting into his mind effortlessly. With a start, he realized the soft scent he was subconsciously making the effort to breath in deeper the past few minutes was not the scent of the incense in the room, but the subtle intoxicant of her pheromones.
“I have a great deal of control over my physiology,” His consort smiled. “but our lunar cycles is one that has always eluded me, save for birth control.”
“What is that word?” Silk asked. “‘phy – physi – – ” she struggled with its pronunciation.
“A complicated term I picked up a very long time in the future,” Nyx nodded. “I liked the sound of it. It means control over the way my body works, is perhaps the best way to put it.”
“Well, why didn’t you say so?” another mare piped up.
Weave had a wicked look in her eye. “She won’t just have control over her body when the King sees her in this gown.”
While it was very true, their laughter caused an uncomfortable feeling of embarrassment to suddenly seize King Sombra at catching them talking in the same manner as his soldiers often spoke of their mare slaves, made worse as he was the subject of their discussion with Nyx!
Loathed to be caught by them listening in, he started to quietly back out, towards the exit, when something else they were saying caught his attention and he paused.
“So, what do you think he has planned for Hearts n Hooves Day tomorrow, milady?” Silk Weave asked Nyx.
Tomorrow? He reared his head back in surprise. That useless celebration was tomorrow? He frowned, supposing he had completely forgotten about its place on the calendar. It had been years since he had had a reason to celebrate it.
To his consort’s credit, she looked startled and blushed deeper. “Planned? Oh no, I don’t think – “
“I’ll bet it’s something wildly romantic!” one mare jumped in.
“I think he’ll take her to the hot springs like she’s been wanting for months now,” another said.
‘Hot springs’? thought Sombra. Oh, yes, she had been hinting for a while that journeying there would be a nice, relaxing trip, had she not?
“Dinner, definitely a lavish dinner,” another suggested.
“Dinners around here are lavish every night!” both Nyx said aloud and Sombra thought at the same instant. “That is nothing new,” the Marazon added.
“I think – “ another mare began.
“No – “ Nyx protested, cutting her off.
“It has to be – “
“I don’t think – “ the Marazon began.
“He has to – “
“ – do NOTHING!” Nyx snapped.
They all fell silent. Her eyes widened. “I’m – I am sorry. I did not mean to snap.” Her ears drooped slightly. “He will do – nothing,” she insisted quietly. “He does not even know tomorrow is Hearts n Hooves Day.”
For some reason unfathomable to Sombra, he suddenly felt a pang of guilt that His consort was absolutely correct.
The mares looked downtrodden. It was Nyx’s turn to feel guilt as she put her hooves around then, one at a time, or grasped their hooves in hers. “Please, you are not to mention this in his presence. Please! If you value your lives – “
He reared back a second time in as many minutes. Did he really inspire such a fear in her – and they – that they thought he would kill them over a stupid holiday’s mention? Was fear not a delicacy He fed on only from His enemies, not those who were loyal to him? Nyx and these mares were as close to him as could be allowed. They were part of the royal court. Only Captain Iron Blade held a more personal place in his life than these servants of his more personal needs and carnal desires.
But that was it, wasn’t it? It was for merely carnal desire and not true friendship – a thing no pony either sought from him nor wanted since it had been revealed He were an Umbrum.
A brief regret at that thought caused a twinge of anguish. The fact he lumped Nyx in with that statement made him feel worse. He knew in his heart she was so much more special than that! It made Sombra stop and wonder at his own behaviors for a moment.
“Do not break his heart any further over mention of this holiday – “ Nyx’s ears drooped. “ – or true love.” She sighed, her sides heaving in memory. “I can never replace the one he loved and lost, or help him forget her for even a moment. And heaven knows I’ve tried!”
A deeply buried pain seized his heart, threatening to erupt to the surface. He fought it down with the anger of his unstable Umbrum nature, channeling it for once in its existence into a positive, construction use.
Quiet Hoof grasped Nyx’s hoof in hers, leading her to the large, sunken couch in the center pit of the room. The others gathered around her. “Nyx, don’t think that!” she urged the TimeWitch. “You are not trying to replace Princess Luna.”
“He knows you aren’t trying to, Nyx,” Silk Weave added. “We all see how he looks at you when you’re not looking. There is no doubt you hold some place of affection in his heart.”
Unconvinced suddenly, she looked down at the gown, wondering if she had made a mistake. She grasped a handful of the material in her magic, a lump forming in her throat. “No,” she whispered. “No, I don’t think so. Not enough.”
“Not enough to what?” Quiet Hoof pressed. “no one can compare to the first true love any of us ever have!”
“I’m not trying to compare,” Nyx confessed, fighting a sudden bout of tears welling in her eyes.
“Then what?” Quiet asked.
“I – don’t know,” Sombra’s consort confessed, looking sincerely into the mare’s searching eyes. “Maybe – heal him? A little? I thought – “ she trailed off.
“You can,” Weave encouraged.
“Yes, of course you can,” another agreed.
“After all these years,” Nyx sighed. “He has never…I mean, nothing has changed. That pain is still there. It still burns his soul.”
“Surely – “ Weave protested.
“No – “ the TimeWitch replied.
“Of course you can – “ she pressed.
“Stop it!” Nyx snapped angrily, standing up, startling even King Sombra with her outburst. It reminded him so much of his own angry, unstable shadow pony rage. She had never shown that side to him! Had she picked it up from his own behavior around her, he wondered?
“This is a bad idea!” she said next, nearly tearing the dress off her body, startling him even more at the action and pain in her voice. “If he even suspects this were my motivation – “
Do you think I would kill you over this, Nyx? he wondered, guilt gnawing at him.
“I couldn’t hurt him further over such a foolish holiday!” she finished.
Hurt me? his mind reeled. You aren’t worried for your own life?
Grabbing her usual attire from the dress form, she ran off into the adjoining room, the mares following her.
Sombra stood stunned, his mind reeling with a whirlwind of emotions at that moment. Hurt him… she had said.
The mares came suddenly back into the room. The stallion had not seen her that upset in a long time and it bothered him more than he was ready to admit. He quickly turned to shadow and slipped out, seconds before Nyx, tears staining her cheeks, came out the same entrance, no gown in hoof and ran out in the opposite direction.
Captain Iron Blade stared out over the balcony of the crystal palace, lost in thought. It was almost time for Celestia to lower her sun and for Luna to raise the moon this evening. It had taken him a full year until he was again able to bear watching the transition from the same balcony he had watched the two lovers, then Prince Sombra and Princess Luna, ripped apart by Celestia’s rage. The pain had faded enough by then for him to return here, but for Sombra…
Brooding, Blade rested his chin on his hooves, staring out over their kingdom. More and more as time had moved on, the young Prince never did, and he saw how it had ripped his friend apart, deepening already bitter wounds inflicted by his troop’s growing fear and hatred of Sombra and his Umbrum power. The loss of that camaraderie and friends had been the second nail in the coffin of Sombra’s sanity – the first learning what he was from the lips of His beloved mother on her deathbed.
The third and final blow had been struck here, by the sister of his Goddess-lover. Would Celestia have acted differently, he wondered, if she had known her actions would have resulted in the cruel enslavement of the Crystal Empire under Sombra’s mighty hooves?
He snorted. Probably not.
Iron Blade closed his eyes. He loved his life, his position, his bride Quiet Hoof and their children, but sometimes he too felt so old from the blood price that had had to be paid for it’s acquisition…
“I thought I would find you here, old friend,” came a dark voice behind him.
Blade started to turn, but Sombra joined him at the edge of the balcony, making it unnecessary. He bowed to his King, which the shadow pony acknowledged with a slight bow of his own. Sombra’s greeting of ‘old friend’ was an unwritten signal that he was here as a friend, not on kingdom business and thus the formalities of court and war were rendered unnecessary.
“I would have been down in a few moments,” Iron Blade apologized. “You did not have to reopen old wounds to seek me out here, Sombra,” he finished softly.
The King rested a hoof on the railing as well, his eyes scanning the view over his dominion. “Reopening them implies they were once closed, Blade,” He replied. They were silent for a moment, sharing the view, the darkening sky, the moon that slowly rose over the horizon.
Iron Blade nodded in agreement.
After a moment, Sombra opened up, as his friend knew he would do. “I am concerned about Nyx,” he began.
“Has she had the shadow guards throw Tight Planner in the dungeons again?” Blade asked.
“No, off the balcony into the moat,” the Shadow King smirked. “Four times now, if you count today.”
“You’re a bad influence on her,” the Captain laughed.
“Oh no, that is of her own doing,” He protested. “she has a unique darkness all her own when it comes to Planner. I would be lying if I did not admit I find it endlessly amusing.”
“You have to admit, Majesty, he is annoying,” Blade nodded.
Sombra shrugged. “It gives her something to do. As long as she doesn’t kill him, we keep the hope it will somehow teach him his place.”
Iron Blade smirked. “One can always hope, I suppose.”
His friend turned serious. “I don’t know what to do about her, Blade.”
The unicorn Captain raised an eyebrow. “That is a first. How so?”
“I was in the concubine’s quarters before coming here,” Sombra began. “I had the opportunity to come upon Nyx and the hoof maiden’s exchange unobserved.” He shook his head. “I frighten them, Blade. All of them.”
“Of course you do,” he agreed, surprising Sombra. “You have built your reign on fear.”
“Among my enemies, yes,” the shadow pony acknowledged. “but what of my court, Blade? I mean really frighten them,” his dark pony ears drooped. “My own court. Those closest to me, save you. And Nyx…” he drifted off.
“Nyx does not fear You,” His captain shook his head. “she fears for You. There is a difference.”
“It is worse than that.” He looked to Blade, who only nodded for him to continue. “She believes I do not love her.”
Sombra frowned. “I believe the more pertinent question, Iron Blade, is not do I, but can I.”
“Only you can answer that, my friend.” He put a hoof on Sombra’s shoulder. “I believe you have to let yourself love again. It is not a question of if you can. I have seen you love – and with a passion most ponies lack. No one need ask if an Umbrum is capable of such emotions. You are living proof of it.” He squeezed His shoulder. “What stops you now?”
Sombra’s drooped ears and sad demeanor were a sight Iron Blade found hard to take in. He was so used to the King being stoic and emotionless, even when they were together like this speaking, pony to pony. The times he showed anything else to the world could be counted on the heads on a hydra.
“Dare I even risk my hide asking if it is fear?” Blade asked softly.
“Therein lies the irony,” the King snorted. “The King of Fear being afraid.”
“Who better to know its destructive power than you?” Blade shrugged. Something occurred to him. “Wait, does this have something to do with the ‘morrow being Hearts n Hooves Day?”
“I believe that may have been the reason for her trepidation.” The King regained his composure, lifting his head. “Perhaps if I gave her something as a token of my affection.”
“What does she not have?” Blade raised an eyebrow. “You’re the King of the Crystal Empire! You can – or have, given her anything she has ever wanted!”
“She has asked for very little, ‘nay nothing,” Sombra shook his head. “All she seems to want is my company. That in of itself has always been difficult, but not impossible with my responsibilities. We always manage to spend some time together.” His eyes lit up. “Wait. That’s it! I know what needs to be done!”
Within the next hour, the veils to the mares chambers parted. They were all clustered in the central living area, talking, some were curled up asleep on the cushioned floor, but there was no sign of Nyx.
“You Highness!” Quiet Hoof yelped, startled. Silk Weave nudged an indelicate hoof into their slumbering companions who, upon awakening, joined the others in bowing, face down before their Sovereign.
Sombra trotted in, placing a hoof on Quiet’s shoulder, drawing her up. “Maidens, arise. I am in need of – your assistance.” He took a breath.
It was hours later the shadow guard located Nyx alone and miserable in a remote, secondary throne room in a now unused section of the castle. Even to the sightless senses of the guards, she was behaving strangely, making as she was stepping gingerly around obstructions that did not exist on the floor, her eyes tracking those inhabitants that were yet to be there.
*Missstresss,* guard 457 addressed. *Hisss Eminence requestsss your presence.*
Nyx turned, confused at first, her eyes leaving the two future combatants that were a blur of dark blue wings and silver armor, twisting to dodge the destruction and debris they threw around from their one-on-one battle.
The shadow’s presences drew her out of the titanic battle, they becoming more real and the warriors fading as the room became more empty, more intact, populated now only by vague future ghosts and, ironically, more solid shadow guards. She put a hand to her head, took a shuddering breath. *What?* she asked in a daze.
*We are to escort you to hisss Eminence’ssss chambersss,* the other guard intoned.
Glad for the interruption of her temporal slippage, she nodded. *Yes, of course.* She followed, refusing to look back at the fading sounds of fear in Sombra’s voice as it drifted through the room…“What are you?”
It was a very haggard and tired TimeWitch who appeared back in the King’s private rooms. Dazedly she stumbled in, curling up on the bed, shaking and cold.
“Is that you, Nyx?” the King asked, coming into the room from another door. He took in her wretched state, sensing she had had a bad time slippage she was still partially experiencing and came to sit next to her on the bed.
“Our ground – ground – ground forces cannot penetrate his crystal field,” the unmistakable voice of Princess Celestia echoed from her.
Sombra snarled quietly to himself. That solar witch dare attack him at the gates to his own city in their future!?! He would deal with this another time, when Nyx was in a better state to tell him what she was experiencing.
She moaned, shivering violently. She needed his attention now – that’s all that mattered to him at the moment. He called his shadow guards to him and instructed them to help with administering to her needs…
The Marazon woke up to the stability of her own time, laying against something soft and warm, a comforting, rhythmic thumping soft in her ears. The crackling sound of a fire, its heat warming her face, was in front of her. With an effort, she opened her eyes to its golden dance in the large fireplace in their private rooms. She soon realized the warmth and softness she was against was alive, and the sound was a heartbeat.
“I trust you are better,” rumbled a soft stallion’s voice from above her.
She tilted her head up to stare into Sombra’s red, glittering eyes and nodded. “I think – I – where was I?” she asked, getting up with a groan and an effort.
“The secondary throne room,” He rumbled. “you were out of your head, dancing about as if you were avoiding a fight.”
The cobwebs of sleep and time-slippage behind her now, she startled. “Yes! Sombra – “ she began, her voice shaking.
“Shhh….” He put a hoof to her lips.
“But my King!” she tried again to warn him.
“Not now, Nyx. It can wait,” he insisted quietly. He drew her head back down to his shoulder. Her protests died. As bad as the remnants of her vision were, she was grateful to leave them behind for a few moments of peace and quiet.
“How long was I out?” she asked against his muscled shoulder.
“A few hours, no more.” He stroked her side. “The moon has not reached her zenith yet.” His tone turned amused and warm. “I had the guards fish Tight Planner out of the moat. He has been instructed to cancel my schedule for tomorrow.”
He felt her stiffen at this, then relax again. “Why?” was all she asked.
“I have been – neglectful of you as of late, Nyx,” He explained. “Tomorrow we are going to the hot springs for the day. Arrangements have already been made.”
“But – “
“The hoof maidens are to accompany us as well,” He went on. “I am leaving Captain Iron Blade in charge of affairs while we are away.”
“A shame,” Nyx mumbled against him. “I always enjoy his and Quiet Hoof’s company.”
“Would you rather I leave Tight Planner in charge?” he chuckled.
“Ugh! No,” she snorted. “He’ll burn the palace down in your absence.”
He kissed her forehead. “You cannot burn a crystal palace down, Nyx.”
“HE would find a way,” she muttered.
There was a knock at the door. “Come,” Sombra ordered.
Quiet Hoof and Silk Weave came in with something in their hooves. “We brought the dress, your Majesty,” they bowed.
Sombra smiled. “Excellent, my dear. If my consort is feeling well enough, you many assist her with putting it on.”
“Sire?” the TimeWitch asked, sitting up, taking in the dress she had refused to wear earlier that day.
“I have it on good authority you look lovely in this gown,” he rumbled. “and if that is so, I insist I judge this for myself.” He nuzzled her neck. “Only the best for your King, would you not agree that to be fair?”
She drew slightly back, turned to Sombra, tears glistening in her eyes. He raised a hoof to brush them away. “Now none of that, my dear. You will get the dress damp.” His lips moved to her ear, his hot breath tickling her. “not that you will be wearing it long enough to matter, yes?”
Nyx smiled, nodding quietly. It was quite possible that her King was absolutely right about that.