Why do we fear the darkness?
Why are we taught, as young colts and fillies, to avoid the black of night? That candles protect us from shadows, without name or form?
Is it fear of the unknown? Are we scared because we don't understand it, because we don't WANT to understand?
Or are we afraid of what's in the darkness? Are we afraid of what we'll find if we look deep into its depths?
Are we afraid that what we'll find there, is ourselves?
This night, like so many in the Crystal Empire, was cold. No pony ventured out into the streets, instead choosing to stick to their relatively warm homes.
The village they lived in may have been small, but they were proud of it. Almost every pony that made their home in the arctic north felt the same, as there were few who could survive in the frigid wasteland. But survive, they did.
There was only one building in the village that really stood out as being particularly important: the hospital. Medicine was vital for the crystal ponies, and they needed to be in constant good health in order to work. But even more important than that, was the process of bringing a new pony into the world.
One stallion sat in the waiting room, anxious to find out about his and his wife's new foal. He had only arrived a few minutes prior, having spent the entire day working in the crystal mine, which served as the town's primary source of income. Now, he couldn't stop fidgeting, and was checking the door every few seconds.
He literally jumped when the nurse came in to get him. She brought him in to see his wife, only for him to discover that she wasn't holding a foal, like was normal. He immediately assumed the worst, but was soon informed that the delivery had gone off without a hitch, and that their colt was in the next room over.
"Well, why isn't he in here?" The stallion wasn't exactly happy to be kept from seeing his own son. "Isn't he healthy?"
"Well, uh..." the nurse started rather uneasily, kicking the ground as she continued, "we... aren't sure."
"Aren't... sure?" The father looked positively irate, not even noticing as the foal was carried in by the doctor. "How can you not be sure? Is he healthy, or not?"
The doctor brought the young colt over, startling the father. "Well, look."
While he had originally thought that there was nothing that could make his new child anything other than perfect, he recoiled when he saw what the doctor was carrying. It wasn't bright and colorful, like most crystal ponies; its fur was a dark grey, and it had a pitch black mane, that seemed to absorb light, rather than reflecting it. Its teeth weren't natural, its mouth full of sharp, pointy fangs. But, quite possibly the most shocking of all, was what was on its head: a horn. Not a normal unicorn's horn, straight and beautiful, but a bent, twisted mockery, its bright-red color contrasting with the dark fur.
This... thing... he didn't even know what to call it. It wasn't a crystal pony, and he couldn't bring himself to think of it as a unicorn. Even calling it a pony was a stretch: he had never seen a pony so colorless and monstrous before.
He looked at his wife, who had been silent the entire time. She was just looking at the sheets dejectedly. She had to have seen it already. She had to know what she... what they had brought into the world.
He looked back at it, and tried to comprehend that the thing he was looking at was his own son.
Watching fillies and colts played outside of the orphanage, there was no way to miss who the odd pony out had been: a single colt, standing in a corner, far away from the other ponies, could be seen moping around, kicking at the dirt.
There was also no way to mistake WHY I was always alone. I looked nothing like a normal pony, with my dark fur and black mane. I didn't even fit in among unicorns, with my strange horn. But to the shiny crystal ponies, I'm even worse, and I knew it back then, too.
While Black Heart was technically my name, not even something so obviously insulting as THAT had been bad enough for me. No, the other school-ponies called me other names, as did the adults, when they thought I wasn't listening. Weirdo. Thing.
How I had hated being called that. But it wasn't like I could stand up for myself. If I tried, I would have instantly become labeled a "bully," and the adults would have had an excuse to treat me badly too.
Not even the pegasi, and the other unicorns at the orphanage, who always stuck together to avoid getting picked on, wanted anything to do with me. Unless it involved picking on ME, of course. Then even the crystal ponies, who outnumbered everypony else combined, would join in, all of them attacking a single target.
There was only one pony that hadn't treated me like that. A filly named Autumn Gem. She was different. She didn't care what I looked like, and I loved whenever she hung out with me.
She could usually be found playing with the other crystal ponies, but every once in a while she would see what the weirdo Black Heart was doing. It made me feel special. It made me feel happy.
But she would always be called back by one of her friends, and leave me by myself again. Then, the sadness would return, along with an ever growing despair. But I never turned her away. I always hoped that the next time would be different, that she would stay, that I wouldn't feel so bad anymore. But it never happened.
Then, one day, a blizzard struck. I've heard that pegasi control the weather in the south, but there aren't enough of them up here, and I doubt that they could control our kind of weather anyway. So, we had little warning, and no way of lessening the storm's fury. All we could do was stay inside, and wait for it to pass.
But this storm had the full force of nature behind it, and everypony but myself huddled together, praying to whatever gods they believed in that the roof would hold. It didn't.
It collapsed right over their heads. When it started to break, most of the ponies panicked, and tried to run away, with no regard for the others. They didn't care when Autumn got knocked over; not until they were safe, and saw that she had been trapped underneath.
She called for help, but none of the adults could move the rubble; it was just too heavy, and their limbs started going numb the instant they touched the icy crystal.
I couldn't just stand there, but I wasn't big enough to lift any of it either. But I did have one thing that the others didn't: magic. I had picked up on my abilities early, apparently having a natural talent for it. But I was weak, and didn't have the power of even an average unicorn.
I was still smart, though, even that far back. I could see a way to move some of the loose rubble, that the adults hadn't noticed. I knew that I just might be able to move it enough for somepony to get her out.
So, I did, and the soft, red glow of my horn enveloped enough of the rubble to move it, and I watched as one adult grabbed her, and hauled her out.
But when they turned back to me, there wasn't any kind of gratitude in there eyes, no thanks; all that there was was accusation, and disgust. They started screaming at me, saying that I had done something to cause this. Even Autumn only stared at me with wide-eyed horror.
I can't remember much of what happened next. I think somepony tried to grab me, and I can vaguely remember a filly's voice yelling at them to stop.
But I do remember running, fleeing out into the the icy wrath of the blizzard, rather than facing the others. I ran out of town. I ran farther away than I could ever remember going in my life. And, at last, I ran into a cave.
It was cold. Damp. But it offered a little bit of protection from the storm. So I sat there, cold, miserable, and scared, waiting for the frostbite to set in. I would freeze, and my body would become food for some lucky predator that happened to pass by.
Then, as I sat there, scared and desperate, I felt something else. It was cold, colder even than outside. But, somehow, it lessened the winter's cruel bite, and made the night bearable, if only just. So I embraced it, and, at the same time, my fear.
My horn once again glowed; but it was not the soft, weak, red glow that I had used before. Now, it was a bubbling, twisted light, and it filled me with more power than I had ever imagined.
Years passed, and, one day, I decided to visit the capitol.
No where else in all of the Empire did its beauty and power truly shine like in that city. It was a testament to the crystal ponies ingenuity and will to not only survive, but succeed. They had created one of the largest and most powerful cities in the world, in a place that most wouldn't even consider hospitable.
As I made my way to the city, I never ceased to be amused by the ponies passing me on the road. While some would look twice when they saw how dark I was, the hood I wore safely concealed most of my face. Not one even suspected who they were looking at.
Although, I suppose that it would have seemed rather ridiculous if they had. After all, who would expect to see a living legend walking around. For that was what I had become. Now, my cave was famous as the home of the Prince of Shadows.
Now, stories of the prince, and braving his dark lair, were told in front of fire places and bars in the same way as tales of fighting dragons, or sea monsters. "As I laid down my head, I could almost see the shadows creeping in on me. And when I closed my eyes, I felt the cold grip of Death himself closing over my heart," or, "As I escaped, all I could hear was cackling laughter. And as I risked a glance back, I saw him: a pony made of living shadows, writhing in pleasure at the screams of his victims." Trust me, I've heard plenty myself; some of them were even true!
It was said that any who dared to sleep in his cave would be visited by nightmares of their greatest, darkest fears, and that you could only escape when the prince let you. And it was true. His name had become so well known, that it had actually become a slang term for describing things that were dark and mysterious.
So I politely nodded at the oblivious ponies as I passed them by, waiting until I was well on my way to snicker at their ignorance.
It wasn't any better inside the city. No pony questioned why I wanted to remain inconspicuous, since many of them were doing the same. The reign of tyrants can do that, especially when your homeland had just fallen under their rule.
As I was walking through the streets, I noticed what was, quite possibly, the most sickening display ever conceived: slaves, chained up, beaten, and tortured, all for the entertainment of some disgusting crowd. They were from all kinds of species, with dogs performing tricks on the ground, and gryphons being beaten in mid-air.
I could barely stand looking at it, so I made to move on. But then, I saw something that gave me pause: a single crystal pony stallion, standing defiant against his tormentors. His eyes seemed to blaze like fire, and his body didn't give way, even though his blood was running over the streets. I could only watch as he stood there, getting beaten and whipped, until everypony decided that he wasn't anymore fun, and he was dragged away by four stallions.
I stood there for several minutes afterward, thinking about what I had seen. And then, something strange happened. I felt all of my fear being washed away. I didn't even worry about losing the power that came with it, as it was replaced by a new emotion: it might have been anger, or rage, or maybe even pure hatred. Yes, I believe that was it. I hated whoever could do something like that, and to such a proud and strong pony.
I left immediately, storming back to the cave I called home. My mind was a maelstrom, with one steady thought at its center: the princesses would pay. I didn't know how, or when, but I would make it happen.
And so, tales continued to be told of Sombra, the Prince of Shadows, and of how any who entered his cave would face their worst fears. But now, there was a new part to the legend: any strong enough to overcome those nightmares would leave with a final gift, and a promise of a better future to come, of a war to end the princesses reign.
The Crystal Princess, left to rule the empire by the tyrants from the south, had fled. She had snuck away in the middle of the night, and willingly left the Crystal Empire in the hooves of its citizens.
But the guards did not know that. All they knew was that she was gone.
"Where is she?!" The captain of the Crystal Guard may have been loyal to the princesses, but the others were not. "If you dogs can't find her, the princesses will-!"
The captain turned, trying to keep a brave face. But that voice... it was like the voice of darkness itself.
Eventually, he had turned his head enough to be able to see the speaker out of the corner of his eye. And what he saw terrified him even more.
There, sitting on the Crystal Throne, was a unicorn whose body seemed to be made of shadows, with a blood-red horn adorning his head. He wore heavy armor, almost as dark as his fur, and his eyes were a twisted green, surrounding red irises.
The shadow-pony simply looked at him, his expression somewhere between amusement, and anger.
"Are you going to finish," the stallion asked the captain, "or are your last words going to be, 'the princesses will?'"
It took a moment for the words to register. "Wait, last-?"
The captain was cut off as a dark crystal burst from the floor, impaling him. He stared in horror at where it entered his chest, before struggling to look at his killer's face, which now had an expression of boredom, glancing at the other guards.
"So, do you want to follow the princesses, like him? Or will you follow me?"
And that's how I got to where I am now, as ruler of the Crystal Empire. Quite a tale, isn't it? Oh well; I'm sure you've heard plenty like it, and plenty better.
Now, I'm sitting on the throne, dealing with the daily problems of the empire, and trying to get these ponies into some semblance of readiness. War will be coming soon, and I need to make sure that they can make a stand.
As I finish with yet another complaining noble, I call in whoever happens to be next. I'm surprised to see somepony I recognize, one that I had seen, years ago, in chains...
The stallion is escorted by several guards, but practically throws them off as he enters. He looks unimpressed by me. Probably doesn't respect authority, given everything that had happened to him.
"So, you're in charge now, huh? And just who, exactly, are you, taking control like this?"
He might not be impressed, but I am; I would have expected him to be dead for a long time, were he not standing before me. It's hard to believe that he managed to survive all this time, considering how defiant he was, and still is.
"My name is Pri-" I start, before having a better idea. "My name, is King Sombra. And yours?"