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Celestia ran like she'd never ran before. Behind her, a group of angry shopkeepers shouted and searched for her in the winding back alleyways that filled the spaces between upper canterlot and lower canterlot.
Her cloak billowed and whipped behind her as she slipped past trashcans and debris. Every so often she came across a fellow homeless pony wandering the darker parts of alleys, but apon seeing her they either shrunk away timidly or tried to stop her.
None would succeed. She had precious cargo and it would not be taken from her, come hell or high water. For in this dimension, Celestia and Luna were not royal princess. They were not alicorns of great power and might, capable of moving the very cosmos themselves....no.
They were beggers. Homeless, dirty, vagabonds of canterlot. While this may seem only harsh on the young fillies, it was much worse because of WHAT they were.
in this dimension, Alicorns were evil, an omen of terrible times to come, and a blight to those that witnessed the pair. Many a time the local guard got called to chase them out of an alleyway, only for the pair to find another. Many a time they'd been thrown in jail for false crimes or because some pony had cried wolf.
Where in one world Celestia was revered, and her words were the most valuable advice one could hear, here, Celestia only thought of one thing as valuable to her sister and her.
food. Food was survival, food was life. It brought strength to the body, and magic to the mind. It gave energy for them to fight one more day, and hope that the next would be easier than the last.
it never was.
Diving under a large dumpster bin, little Celestia magically shoved two or three piles of debris in front of her entrance and waited. The ponies chasing her had not been far behind. They would either find her, or they would not.
The latter of those two options was less prominent.
As the dull roar of hooves thundered past her spot, and the gruff smattering of speech whisked by her ears, Celestia defiantly gripped the loaf of bread she'd stolen from the bakers. She held life in her hooves, and it wasn't going to leave her.
When the coast was clear( a solid forty-five minutes of waiting) she slipped out of her hiding spot and looked around.
there is a saying in Canterlot that parents use for their foals. "stray not from the birghtly lit paths, or darkness take you."
The only reason it meant anything to Celestia now, was because the saying meant you were lost. As The little alicorn looked up and down the alleyways she'd traversed, she came to the conclusion that she had been "taken by the darkness". It would take her a good hour or two to find her bearings again and reach home.
Turning and disappearing back into the dark paths once more.
Sombra, the king of the crystal empire, and rule of an entire country, peered out the window of his ornate crystal covered carriage at the city around him. Canterlot was truly a beautiful city. It held many shapes and colors that made him feel warm inside and at home. Yet, this Canterlot was not his Canterlot. Nor had the last five been either.
This world was not his own. It was not home. So for all the warmth the city gave him, he still felt cold. Sombra Rex, the umbral king, was not from this dimension. He'd traveled through almost six different "Equestria's" in search of something he'd lost long ago.
The love of his life.
She had been taken from him, by circumstance that literally were world shaking. Had the two of them cut ties, his world and her world would have collided violently and destroyed everything the two rulers had striven to create. After several years of loneliness, Sombra had had a brilliant idea. If he could not have the original love of his life, why not a another?
there were obviously two versions of himself, so why not Celestia?
This train of thought had driven the king to abandon his world and search out a new one. In each, the crystal king had found renditions of himself. Each one he destroyed or erased from the timeline. There could only be one king sombra after all.
He'd also found other versions of Celestia and her sister Luna. Sometimes they were evil tyrants, and other times, they were benevolent rulers. Once, and only once, he'd found a dimension that was completely devoid of them, or the idea of alicorns altogether.
He'd left very quickly, fearing what that world might show him.
A sudden bump in his ride jostled the stallion from his thoughts, and his horn shot a spike of pain through his skull. Hissing, He lifted a hoof and rubbed the base of his horn. While normally Sombra had no odd markings or symbols on his hide, it was here one could now be seen.
Dimensional magic had left its mark on him, in the form of a large 'X' pattern that stretched fro under his horn in a compass direction. Within this mark, flowed magical essence that to any great wizard or mage, showed that he'd ripped through time and space several times.
The more he did it, the larger the mark got. This gave Sombra a horrible notion. It meant that he only had a few more jumps left, else he be over taken by time magic and removed from the streams of existence all together.
Thus, he was in his seventh 'equestria', and had finally made it possible to visit the city he'd come to love so much. This Canterlot wasn't perfect, but it would do. As the king's carriage rolled to a stop outside the palace gates, he checked himself over.
Was his crown positioned right? yes. Was his mane and tail billowing magically with magic? Yes. Was he ready to meet this world's rulers? .......The jury was still out on that. A few times the rulers of each dimension wanted nothing to do with him.
The door opened and he stepped out and onto the ground. His movements were regal, and graceful. He was a king, and his posture and form showed his pedigree was not up for question. A small procession of ponies was present before him. Each pony present was either a highly elite pony, or a military ranked officer. Both groups were discernible by their garments and outfits.
Social elite ponies wore fancy clothing that accentuated their wealth and vocal power. Military ponies were even easier to tell apart, because they all stood on one side of the walk way in a stiff organized unit. The closest to him was the lowest ranking officer in the group. At the very end of the walk way would be the highest ranks.
Sombra paused after getting out, waiting till the carriage had rolled away, before he began moving forward. His eyes shifted from social pony, to military pony, his eyes holding no emotion save that of a pony that was ever so transparently curious as to his current crowd.
Nervousness, worry, anxiety, and hope. All of these emotions permeated his magical senses, and made him fight not to smile. each pony here hoped to prove acceptable by his rank. Each stallion and mare had no doubt fought to be here this evening.
Sombra noticed who was at the end of his procession by the time he'd made it halfway. Two stallions, a pegasus and a unicorn, stood side by side. Wearing clothing that also set them within the boundaries of rank, yet, clothes that made questions burst to the forefront of Sombra's mind. Each stallion wore black tuxedo like suits, yet on their brows they each wore small crowns wreathed in silver and gold. Clearly they were royalty, but what sort? Were they princes? Were they...kings? Sombra almost paused there. Why were there not alicorns visiting him? Was this another world where the sisters were not in power?
Holding his thoughts to himself, he ended the distance between them, allowing a slight trot to reach his hooves. When he came within four feet, everyone bowed save the two at the end, and the pegasus spoke, his voice rich and calm. His eyes sparkling with mirth.
"Your Highness, it is an honor to be in your presence." Next to him, the unicorn nodded slightly, his smile belying curiosity and...was that a hint of mistrust? Oh yes it was!
Sombra smiled, letting his fanged teeth do the honors of making his presence a strong one.
"It is a pleasure all the same shared between us, gentle stallions. May I inquire something, sirs?"
When they nodded at the same time, he shifted into a relaxed posture, one back hoof lifted and removed of weight.
"Forgive me, if this seems like a rude inquisition, but what might your status be? I was under the impression I would be greeted by the highest in rank..."
Sombra let the sentence float into silence as the two stallions looked at one another and chuckled. The unicorn spoke up this time, pawing at the carpeted floor beneath him.
"You are not rude for asking, but we are the highest rank, King Sombra, all three of us share the same title of power after all."
Sombra felt an ear flick sideways in confusion. "Pardon?"
The pegasus, stood tall and flared his wings open, a territorial display to most, but here it merely made Sombra internally roll his eyes.
"I am King Ellipsis, and my mate beside me is King Surespire. We are the ruling family of Canterlot, King Sombra."
Sombra felt his blood go cold for a second, and he swallowed dryly as the two in front of him shared a gentle nuzzle. "I...see. I...forgive me, I am not accustomed to this sort of...pairing."
Surespire spoke after pushing his mate's snout away. "Will it be an issue? We would hate for you to be bothered by our---" Sombra cut him off with a lift of one of his hooves.
"No, no. It is fine, I was merely, surprised. I have never had this situation come up before. It will be good of me to keep an open mind, though. Come, may we enter your palace and continue our talks?"
When both stallions nodded approval, the crowd behind him began to disperse. Sombra barely noticed. His mind was running a mile a minute. If these two were ruling Canterlot....
Where are Luna and Celestia? He thought.
As The crystal King was lead deeper into the castle, he felt the eyes of his two fellow kings on him and he stood taller. He looked forward and found that they had slowed and were now side by side with him. Surespire was on his left, and Ellipsis was on his right.
Ellipsis spoke first. "So you hail from the crystal empire, yes? We were not aware of your crowning, when did it happen?" Ellipsis's voice was curious yet held traces of scepticism in its flow. Sombra Knew when he was being scrutinized, and he'd played his cards perfectly for this moment.
"You are aware of the previous ruler, Princess Amore?"
Ellipsis nodded. "We are vaguely aware of her rule, but information from your country is rare and filled with holes. Is it true she fell ill?"
Sombra shook his head and sighed. "She's dead, my fellow Kings, else I would not be here, and you would be talking to her."
The hallway fell quiet for a moment or two, then Surespire cut across it. "I...I am sorry to hear of her passing, is it safe to assume then that you are her son?"
While Sombra would have loved to go with that, his story could not stray from the tracks he'd so firmly set for himself. Again he shook his head. "No, I was selected for my rare abilities and my particular...talent. Have either of you read the reports I sent you?"
Surespire paused and Ellipsis did a moment later, allowing Sombra to move forward a few steps. "We....have, but your claims are...hard to come to terms with. You state that you are the bearer of darkness itself, and while your personal visage seems to back that up, we are...skeptical."
Sombra said nothing, and so they continued, coming up next to him once more. Ellipsis spoke.
"Would it be possible to...verify your claims?" He asked cautiously. Sombra frowned and looked at him.
"How would you plan to verify this? Am I not proof enough?" When Ellipsis and Surespire both balked and looked at one other nervously, Sombra sighed. "Do you not feel it? that unease, the general feeling I give off? Does it not feel like I am...negative?"
again the two stallions shared expressions before Ellipsis nodded slowly. "we did noticed that, but we wanted to first meet you and see if it would...dissipate..."
"Dissipate?" Sombra raised his brow.
"Er...yes? Will it not?"
Sombra chuckled and looked away. "If it did it would mean I am either gravely ill, or I am losing my power. To answer your questions, no, it will not dissipate, for it is my very essence. and Yes, my claims are true."
Sombra turned and let forth a small wave of engery from his being. Candles in the hallway flickered, the air dropped in temperature, and hairs stood on ends. Ellipsis and Surespire both drew closer together as Sombra's essence washed over them. Was it just the lighting, or had Sombra suddenly grown twice his size?
He had not, but he knew the two kings were questioning such things. He spoke, his voice low and dense. "I am the essence of darkness and evil itself, my fellow kings, I contain and control it. I live and own it. I am nightmares and fear, I am shadow and silence, I am the bearer of it and the soul in which it lives and breathes."
He slowly siphoned the magic from the hallway they were in until things returned to normal. "I am however, not inherently evil or dark. Please understand that while i myself hold it within, it does not make me. It does not shape me or control me, I control it."
after a time, he smiled and genuinely laughed. "Although, many believe it to be so. I assure you, any deals we broker will be in good faith and harmony."
As he walked away from them, he whispered under his breath to himself. "because i can't do it other ways..."
Talks had been pleasant from then on between the three. They'd shared stories, swapped deals with their countries and ponies in mind, and got along swimmingly. While maybe Sombra felt they were throwing flirtatious passes at him, he never let it get to him. Sombra was also pleased to see they were ruling fairly and with honor. They kept their citizens in first mind, and their status second.
It was a refreshing experience, up until dinner, when he decided to gamble a question, and everything turned sour from there. It was just after they'd been served the main course. Sombra leaned forward in his chair, allowing his curiousity and thoughtful expression to be seen by his fellow rulers. They caught it easily and paused in mid bite.
"My fellow Kings, I know this evening has been very pleasant and I couldn't ask for anything that could make it better...but i must ask a question of you...."
Ellipsis set his drink down and smiled kindly. " Ask us anything, Sombra. You've been nothing but friendly this entire evening, I don't see why a single question could cause any harm."
Next to him, Surespire nodded his approval while attempting to stuff his muzzle with spinach puffs.
Sombra weighed his next question heavily...he had to ask it carefully. He picked up his drink in his crimson magic and swiveled it gently too and frow. His eyes watched the liquid while he spoke.
"I've come across many curious things in my lifetime, I may not look it, but I am several thousand years old."
Ellipsis's eyes widened to the size of saucers, and Surespire choked on his puffs, coughing roughly even as Ellipsis firmly patted him on the back. "Wh...when you say that...do you mean it literally?"
Sombra kept talking over the question, watching the liquid swirl around quicker now. "In my time I have seen cities rise, reach their pinnacle and then come crashing down. I have seen creatures that could dwarf this castle and all the inhabitants of this realm, but ONE thing stands out in all my adventures as the most curious..."
Sombra let the pause happen, letting the two kings lean in. Then, he spoke.
"Gentlestallions, have you ever heard of the term, Alicorn?"
He expected shock, he expected surprise or confusion, these were the usual reactions he got when asking such a question. Thus, it was Sombra that donned those very emotions on his muzzle, when the two Kings both gave him a disgusted and frustrated frown. Ellipsis himself looked away from Sombra and sighed.
"Yes. We have heard of them, we know of them, and we do not wish to speak more of them." He grumbled.
Sombra was left sitting in a confused stupor. It was like these ponies despised the very idea of an Alicorn. He had to understand.
"Well....that is...odd. I have never gotten such a reaction out of any being I've spoken to about them. What on Equus has you so...against them, King Ellipsis?"
Surespire spoke up before his mate could, the same level of disapproval in his tone. "It's not just us, King Sombra. Alicorns are a vile abomination. A crude example of inbreeding put to the extreme. We have two in this city, and they are trouble enough--"
Sombra stood so fast his chair fell backward and he knocked his drink over. "You do!?"
Surespire and Ellipsis glared at him. Surespire put his fork down and eyed Sombra quizzically. "Yes...we do. Why do you want to know?"
Sombra flared his nostrils and looked at them both. His lie was perfectly placed. "I have....reason to believe they hold the key to curing the illness that plagues my people."
That got a whole new reaction out of the two stallions. They looked bothered, yes, but now it was joined by curiosity. "You mean to say that Princess Amore was not the only one ill?"
Sombra forced his emotions down, tampering his expression with annoyance and grief. "I...if you must know my best doctors cannot figure this illness out. it has taken sixteen of my citizens. Princess Amore contracted it while she tried to save them. She would not let me or others near to help her either, fearing it might spread faster."
Sombra was pleased to see genuine concern dance across the two king's expressions as he spoke. It meant hey believed his charade. Sombra slumped back into his chair, steepling his hooves together.
"Amore did say something though and I took great care to remember it. she told me that an alicorn of white and her sister of blue shall cure the sickness, and in time, they would help save equestria too."
Ellipsis frowned at the last part. "Did she say what it was that would threaten Equestria?"
Sombra shook his head. "No. She told me to seek aid though, and thus you have me here at your table. I have been to every other great nation and heard hide nor hair of any alicorns present in their kingdom. For me to finally hear good news, I hope you'll forgive my sudden enthusiasm earlier.
Both Ellipsis and Surespire nodded. "No harm done," Ellipsis murmured. He looked to his mate and they both stood. "We are positive that if Princess Amore prophecies this, then it will come to pass. Let us not get in the way of your quest then, Sombra."
Sombra bowed deeply, surprising them, "I must show as much gratitude as I can to you both. I will not forget this. It is beyond my capability to dishonor such helpful friends as you both have been." He stood and backed away from the table.
"I must find these two, and bring them to my country at once, please excuse me for the evening." He tried to leave but they stood as well. Ellipsis lifted a hoof.
"Wait, you do not have to leave. We can have the guard sweep the city for them, and bring them to you."
Sombra shook his head. "No, I feel it is imperative that my meeting with them not be forced by law. I respect your authority but I must do this myself."
After a moment of quiet contemplation, Ellipsis and Surespire both nodded to him. He left without a moment to lose. Was everything he'd just said to the kings a lie? mostly, yes. Amore was already dead when he'd arrived in this dimension, and his other self hadn't even become king yet. so he'd mind wiped any pony that knew the real truth, and then killed himself.
Yes. he'd killed himself, and that would never feel right. But he'd done it to save this Equestria from the horrors he could unleash.
As the gates opened to the outside world, Sombra got the attention of his carriage valet. When the young stallion was next to him he spoke quickly.
"Listen closely, go get my carriage and park it outside my living quarters for the evening. I'm going to be bringing some guests. I want you to wait inside the building, in my sleeping chamber, and do not let anyone, be they elites or soldiers inside, got it?"
when the colt nodded, Sombra sent him off. Once he was alone, he cast a small spell, directed at his left ear. the spell wrapped around the appendage and slowly two earrings appeared attached to it. Magic emanated from both. It was faint magic, but it was there. Each earring was colored, and the magic that resonated off them was rare.
It was alicorn magic from his world. He'd borrowed some of it from the evil Luna and Celestia from his realm and then attached them to the jewelry. basically, he'd crafted a set of rings that could tell him how close he was to Celestia or Luna at any given point in time.
Sombra smiled and took off at a brisk trot into the city of canterlot. Somewhere in that city, were two alicorns he desperately needed at his side.
Celestia whimpered. She was still lost. She wasnt cold, or hurt, but she was lost, and she'd trade that just to know where she was supposed to be. Luna was probably worried sick about her. She always came home before dark.
It was now striking the eleventh hour of nightfall and Celestia still couldn't find the alleyway they lived in. Canterlot was a city with more alleys then main roads. It made business easier, and ponies weren't always crowded on one street. It did mean however that one could get turned around rather quickly and find themselves in very un safe areas of town.
She saw a few batpony guards, but she dared not ask them for help. They knew her, and they did not like her. No one liked her or Luna. For the first few years of her life, Celestia had wondered why this was, but now, it was just common knowledge to her.
Alicorns were never good. Always bad, and society didn't need them.
"So why are we here then?" She'd asked often. She never got an answer, but she still had a shred of hope that somewhere out there in the world, the answer was waiting for her. She meandered down another alleyway and immediately stopped when she saw what occupied it.
a whole group of grungy ponies sat huddled around a large metal trash bin, fire roaring quietly inside it's bulk. each pony had gruff raggedy fur and weary eyes. They'd all fallen to the side of life that was harshest.
It also made them harsh to everypony around them. Right before her eyes she watched as one pulled out a scrap of food and tried to surreptitiously nibble on it, only to be tackled and attacked by the pony next to her. The two ponies rolled around kicking and flailing to get the upper hoof.
The other ponies, instead of breaking it up, jeered and taunted the fight farther. Some made little jabs and kicks of their own, striking the pair even while they both fought. Celestia didn't stay, knowing it was merely luck that they hadn't noticed her.
She'd be the one getting beat up if they had.
It had happened before, she'd run into groups here and there and no matter how nice or kind she was, they chased her down, beat her up...and then called the gaurd. She still had a sore spot on her wing from one fight, and it had never really healed right. She could tell.
Another alleyway proved to be empty and she went down that one. Her eyes searched silently for any sign of familiarity, but when she found none, she moved on. This was how life went for her and her sister. Luna wasn't spared because of her age either. If anything, the younger filly was targeted more.
Celestia was lucky they hadn't run into any perverts yet. If it did happen though, she would be ready. Celestia knew a little magic, and she took that moment in the dark alleyway to call it forth. golden magic wreathed itself around her small horn, and she levitated out a small dagger.
She'd pilfered it from a guard, but as of yet she hadn't needed to use it for more then threatening homeless ponies to stay back. The end of the alleyway came up and she was about to exit out onto the main street when the light was blocked out by shadows.
Not shadows of something passing over head, no. Literal shadows crawled from the walls and coalesced into form before her. She froze. A feeling of dread and fright overcame her body and her entire body quivered with fear. These weren't normal shadows, these were the dtuff of terror, nightmares come to life!
Her mind said to run, but her legs were locked up. She watched as a stallion emerged from the darkness. Taller then any she'd ever seen, and more muscularly pronounced than any guard she'd been pestered by. On his shoulders rested a cloak of pure red, with white wolf fur draping it's trip. His hooves were clad in armor and the metal traveled all the way up to his knees. Beneath the cloak was plated armor of a craft she'd never even heard of. it looked like obsidian rock had turned to liquid and flowed over his body. Chainmail clinked and jingled as he stepped out of the shadows and they....attached to him?!
Celestia blinked. Then blinked again. That wasn't right, That couldn't be right! But there it was before her. The shadows became his mane and tail, still swirling and swaying in an invisible breeze.
The stallion, looked down at her and Celestia swore she saw tears brimming on his eye lids, and those eyes! His were the color of blood when it burst from a cut, bright and full of life. they shimmered as he blinked down at her.
"Wh..what have they done to you, My sweet little Celestia..." He sounded hurt.
The knife slowly wobbled in mid air as she pointed it at him. He knew her name....Suddenly, Celestia felt a different kind of fear take hold. Her knew her name! The stallion's horn lit up and Celestia felt his magic grip her cloak, gently and tug it off her. She couldn't move. eyes locked with his even as he stepped past the blade and sniffed her.
"No illnesses from what I can tell but...my goodness, child. Life has not been kind to you or your....wait...where is Luna?"
Celestia felt her breath hitch again in her throat. He knew about Luna too?! Who the hell was this stallion? She forced the fear back a smidge and nervously whispered.
"What...what are you...?" The stallion pulled back from his close examination and looked from her, to the chipped and dull blade that wobbled in her grasp not a foot from his snout. He smiled lightly, taking care not to show his fangs to her. That wouldn't help his cause.
"I am King Sombra. I come from a far away land and have been on a journey to find you and your sister." Though his voice was soft and kind, Celestia couldn't rein in her fear any more. This stallion, this...Sombra, had been looking for them?
"W-why?" She squeaked. Sombra lowered his head until it was level with hers, never once shying away as the blade quickly followed suit. Sombra pretended to take interest in the blade, watching as it floated up and down.
"Because I need your help. I come from the crystal empire, far in the northern countryside. My people are sick, and the previous princess told me to seek you out. I was here meeting with your...leaders, to ask them if they'd seen or heard anything about Alicorns. they told me of you and your sister, and so i came as soon as i could. ...Would you mind lowering your weapon, little one?"
Celestia only pushed it closer. to her surprise, Sombra didn't pull back. She expected him to pull back, but when he didn't, the blade stabbed right into his snout, between the nostrils.
Celestia gasped, and for several seconds she merely sat there, waiting. When Sombra didn't howl in rage or scream out in pain, she blinked at him in confusion. he looked down at the blade, and then her. before he smiled again, eyes closed.
"Accident." Before she could react to his statement, a tendril of his magic slowly coated over hers, taking control of the blade. at first she fought back, but it was futile. She stared at his eyes and could not look away.
"I will not hurt you, Celestia, I come in peace, child."
The blade removed itself and in an instant the wound sealed up. Sombra crouched and slowly leaned forward, his snout going past her and nuzzling her neck softly. She twitched but didn't move away, unsure of what to do.
"I won't yell at you, or get mad, I won't bite, or call the guards..."
Hooves slowly wrapped around her and pulled her into a hug, and it was here that Celestia found her voice.
"what..what are you...?" she whispered. Her hooves trembled, and she was vaguely aware that tears were streaming down her cheeks in rivers. Her wings twitched at her sides and slowly opened. They curved around the stallion's sides and gripped him with a strength she didn't know she had.
Sombra nuzzled her again. trying so very hard to bring a smile to her face.