Ch. 9: A Timberwolf in Sheep's Clothing
"I, Black Knight, hereby swear my fealty to you, Lady Twilight Sparkle, until such time as you see fit to dismiss me from your side, or I give my life in your service."
Those words left the ponies who heard them shocked or confused, based on their understanding of the meaning behind them.
Celestia, only mildly surprised, was the first to break the silence. "It has been centuries since I last heard such words spoken. Do you truly understand the gravity of such an oath?"
"I do," 'Black Knight' replied, turning to face the Princess. "Although, it has been generations since my ancestors last put it to use, the Oath of Fealty has been passed down from parent to foal along with other traditions of honor and duty, since the ancient Knights of the Round Stable in Canterlot."
"I knew I recognized your name," Celestia said with a smile. "I thought your family line had ended over a hundred years ago, but it is good to know such a noble bloodline still walks this land."
"You do me honor with such words, you majesty," the stallion said with a bow.
"Wait, so you know this guy, Princess?" Rainbow Dash cut in. "I thought he was King Sombra for a second there…"
"Who?" Sombra asked innocently.
"An ancient tyrant who conquered the Crystal Empire, who happened to have the same color coat and mane as yourself." Celestia explained to him. Turning to Rainbow and the others, she said, "Sombra was a master of Dark Magic, if he were before me, I am certain I would be able to sense his power. I knew Black Knight's ancestors, and while this is my first time meeting him, I can sense no Dark Magic coming from him."
At Celestia's words, Sombra's plan quickly became clear to Twilight. Weakened as he was, he would easily be able to pass himself off as somepony else to a pony like Celestia who would have been able to detect the Dark Magic for which he was infamous, even without altering his appearance. 'Discord might be more powerful,' Twilight pondered, 'but with his cunning, I think Sombra is much more dangerous.'
"Ah, that would explain why my arrival caused such a stir in the Empire," Sombra said with a sagely nod. "I suppose I should be grateful that such a villain is not more well-known in Equestria proper." Inclining his head towards Twilight again, he added, "And I must thank you again for intervening on my behalf."
Playing along, Twilight said, "Well, we saw Sombra explode, so I knew you couldn't be him. But, isn't an oath like that a bit much?"
"Not at all," Sombra answered, smoothly continuing the role he was playing. "Centuries of peace have left little need for a Knight's talents, but recent events suggest that that may be changing."
"Indeed," Celestia replied. With a knowing smile, she added, "And I think that having your own knight may come in quite handy in the days to come."
"What do you mean, your highness?" Twilight asked in confusion.
"It has to do with what I wanted to talk to you about." Celestia said. "I have in my possession a one-of-a-kind book penned by Starswirl the Bearded. His very last work, in fact. I thought you might like to have it, and I am happy to know that such a rare work will have an extra pony protecting the library in which it will stay. Especially considering my other piece of news."
As eager as she was to hear she was getting such a book, Twilight still felt obliged to ask, "What's that?"
"Well, it's actually not from me, but rather from Princess Cadence." Celestia replied, as she summoned a scroll with a flash of magic. "When she heard I was coming to Ponyville, she asked me to deliver this in person."
Twilight quickly opened the scroll, and scanned its contents. Suddenly she gasped, her eyes widening in surprise at what she read. Impatient as ever, Rainbow Dash was the first to speak up. "Well? What's it say?"
Grinning, Twilight said, "The Crystal Empire is being considered as the host for this year's Equestria Games, and Princess Cadence wants us to greet the Games Inspector, and give her a tour of the Empire!"
"REALLY!? Omigoshomigoshomigosh!" Rainbow Dash began freaking out upon hearing the news.
As her friends began chatting excited, Sombra's voice suddenly sounded softly in her ear. "It would seem you have cause to celebrate with your friends. Shall I await you in the library?"
Jumping at the sudden reminder of his presence, she stammered out, "S-sure, go ahead. I-I'll meet you back there." At the same time, she kept her face turned steadfastly away. His deep, powerful tone whispering to her, combined with the heat of his breath on her skin from how close he had gotten, had left her with quite a blush afterwards.
Fortunately for her, Sombra didn't seem to notice, merely nodding his head and trotting away. Twilight closed her eyes, and took a deep breath to calm down. When she opened her eyes, however, she saw Celestia looking at her with a knowing smile. She also leaned down and whispered to Twilight. "He may be handsome, in a mysterious sort of way, but perhaps you should take some time to get to know him, before anything else."
That caused Twilight to blush again, this time in embarrassment, before answering lamely, "Um, right."
Raising her head, Celestia addressed the group. "It was wonderful to see all of you again, and I wish you all the best in the Crystal Empire. I must return to Canterlot, now. As you all know, leaving Discord on his own for too long would not be the wisest of ideas."
The group wished the Princess farewell, and watched her chariot fly away. Pinkie Pie immediately began spouting ideas for a "Welcome Black Knight To Ponyville Party", or a "Pre-Equestria Games In The Crystal Empire Party", or some combination of the two.
Twilight smiled. After panicking over Sombra suddenly regaining his body, she was glad that there had not been any further complications with him introducing himself to her friends. Even more, she was happy that he had not betrayed her trust, in leaving him by himself for the night, and letting him handle things. Twilight thought to herself, 'I'm just was not sure what all this "knight" business is going to entail.'
That night found Sombra and Twilight in the latter's room above the library. "Are you sure about this?" Twilight asked. "You don't have to if you don't want to. Pinkie's parties are a bit much for anypony not used to them."
"If I am to continue teaching you with a minimum of interruptions, I must make certain that 'Black Knight' is accepted by the villagers here as quickly and completely as possible." Sombra replied. "From what you've told me, Pinkie Pie's welcoming parties seem to be something of a rite of passage, ponies being almost immediately accepted by the residents of Ponyville afterwards." As Sombra spoke, he put the finishing touches on what he was working on; a fake cutie mark on his flanks, a pitch black silhouette of crossed swords over a shield. "There, how does it look?" He asked Twilight, as he set down the ink-coated brush he had been using.
"Well, I'm not sure most ponies these days even know what swords are, but I'll admit it certainly fits your alias." Twilight replied. Getting idea, she added, "Here, letting me try something." As her horn glowed with unicorn magic, she explained, "It's a spell I learned years ago to keep ink from running or smudging on my essays. It should keep this from being accidentally rubbed off, although you'll still probably have to redo it after you take a bath."
"My thanks," Sombra said, admiring their combined handiwork. Straitening up, he said, "Well, we'd best head downstairs before anypony begins asking questions."
Forewarned by Twilight, Sombra only smiled as numerous ponies shouted "SURPRISE!" when he descended the stairs. "My, how unexpected! If only every place were as welcoming as Ponyville has been so far." Sombra said with faked astonishment.
"I know, isn't Ponyville AWESOME!" Pinkie Pie shouted as she appeared next to him. "I know you said you wanted be Twilight's fealty, or something like that, but it would be lonely to have only one friend, so I invited everyone over for a party, so that they could all get to meet you, and-"
"Pinkie, I'm sure Black Knight just wants to relax after his long trip here," Twilight interjected, in an effort to save him from getting his ear talked off by her over-the-top friend.
"Perhaps," Sombra said, "but all these ponies came here to meet me, or at least to enjoy the party thrown in my honor, so it would be quite rude of me to simply ignore them."
He missed the guilty expression that crossed Twilight's face, as she realized that was exactly what she had done at her own welcoming party.
As Sombra swept off into the crowd, exchanging pleasantries and greetings, Twilight kept back, keeping an eye on things. Although she wanted to simply make sure that nopony figured out who he was, or that anything else bad happened. However, it was also her first chance to observe him from afar… without him trying to kill or enslave them all, anyway.
'He really stands out,' Twilight thought to herself. 'Not just his coloring, although that's much darker than almost anypony else. It's the way he moves, the way he talks. It really does look like a King, or at least some Noble, walking among their subjects. And yet, he's acting so nice. If I didn't know any better, even I would think he was somepony else. Maybe he really has changed…'
'Oh, come now. Surely, you are not as easily taken in as these simple-minded peasants, my dear student?'
Twilight jumped slightly, as Sombra's voice suddenly appeared in her mind. For a moment, she thought she had imagined it, until Sombra locked eyes with her from across the room, the amusement in them certainly not derived from the ponies nearby him. Realizing that he must have heard her thoughts, she glared back, and practically shouted in her mind, 'Or maybe he's still an arrogant jerk!'
Sombra's smile only widened at that. He turned to greet the Cake family, and yet sent another telepathic message to Twilight, as if she had his undivided attention, 'The word "arrogant" implies it is undeserved. My pride is based firmly on my extensive accomplishments. When these ponies have learned Dark Magic like you, created new spells like Starswirl, or ruled a kingdom like Celestia, I might give them a modicum of respect. Until then, I shall merely maintain a pretense, to avoid inconveniencing you and to keep my disguise intact.'
Annoying as that was to her, Twilight knew she could not force him to be a good pony, and that having him at least acting polite was better than she would have expected from him a week ago. Instead of arguing, she decided to focus on something else, asking, 'How are you doing that? Talking to them and me at the same time?'
'I practiced many mental skills while sealed away. Multitasking was one of the first I mastered.' Sombra replied. 'To most ponies, 1,000 years is merely a number. I lived through that, with literally nothing to do but watch and think. Rather ironic that as soon as I got loose, I then acted without giving enough thought to the risks, and nearly lost everything as a result.'
As the night wound on, 'Black Knight' enjoyed the festivities, introduced himself to most of the residents of Ponyville, maintaining his poised and chivalrous attitude all the while, and generally established his image as a gentleman-knight straight out of a foal's bedtime story. All the while, Sombra maintained his telepathic conversation with Twilight, discussing the various ponies present, some of the books that caught his eye, and any number of other subjects.
As the party wound down, Sombra brought up something important. 'Hmm, perhaps I shall give this "Daring Do" series a chance after all, if you recommend it so highly. However, I feel that there is something more important that we must address, although I know not whether you have been avoiding it, or simply overlooked it. Twilight, you were invited to aid with something in the Crystal Empire, were you not?'
'Yes, to help with their bid to host the Equestria Games.' Twilight replied. 'Why does that matter so much?'
'Where do you expect me to be?'
Sombra's tale caught her off guard, Twilight not having considered it before. 'W-what do you mean?' She asked.
'It's clear that while I have earned some trust, you still do not trust me completely, and I cannot fault you for that.' Sombra explained. 'And so I ask you this; do you trust me alone in the town you have come to call home, leaving many of your friends and neighbors at my questionable mercy, or would you rather keep an eye on me, even if it means letting me set hoof in the Crystal Empire once more?'