Sombra groaned softly in annoyance. His eyes were dull and full with irritation as he tried to focus on what the pink teacher was saying, and though he didn't truly care for the class, it was a thousands times more interesting than the conversation the fillies to his side were trying to drag him into.
"So I got a new bow." Applebloom said in a hushed tone as to not disrupt the class.
Yeah, I noticed! Oh wait, Mister Sombra, can you tell her I noticed?
"No..." Sombra said softly, still trying to concentrate on other matters.
"It looks just like all the other ones you have." Scootaloo responded, remembering the large stock of pink bows she and Sweetie Belle once stumbled upon on their visits.
"Eeyup, only this one doesn't have any tears in it! Our crusadin' aren't too kind on mah bows."
"That makes sense."
Ask Scoots about how her scooter is doing. I remember we damaged it pretty badly on one of our crusades.
Again Sombra groaned as he sunk into his sketch book which he still used to communicate to others. This time, however, it served as rest for his head as he tried to stay sane.
"My scooter is still pretty banged up from one of our crusades, I'm gonna have to bring it to the shop to fix it again."
Never mind, she answered the questions anyway.
Sombra's only response were further sounds of annoyance as he forced himself to remain silent despite every inch of his being telling him to shout for them to be quiet. Never before had the chatter of fillies been so disturbing to his ears. In a last attempt to stay quiet, Sombra slammed his sketch book against his forehead in a rather loud groan despite his efforts of staying quiet, gaining the attention of Cherilee.
She glanced over at Sombra, whom she still thought to be Sweetie Belle. Her brows wrinkled in worry as she remembered just how sick she thought Sweetie Belle to be. Any other day she would have taken Sombra's actions as an interruption, but today she decided to take pity on the ill.
"Alright class, how about a little break?" She asked as she stepped away from the portable blackboard she had placed at the gazebo. Currently she was in the gazebo itself while all the colts and fillies sat on the soft grass as she taught.
"Yeah!" The children all shouted in unison.
"Then how about we have recess for a while? I just realized that I had forgotten something for today's lesson. You all will have free time while I go back home and get it. Don't stray too far away now!" Cherilee said with a smile as she began to make her way back to her house.
In an instant all the children broke off into their own groups and cliques. Though none could match the speed at which Sombra stood up and dashed off to the woods nearby, leaving Sweetie Belle's friends behind in shock.
Sombra slid across the dirt as he came to a stop and without missing a beat, shouted out a command.
His shadow moved from under him, quickly jumping out and forming into the silhouette of a tall stallion. Shifting its shadowy state to that of flesh and bones, Sweetie Belle blinked a few times as she tried to keep her balance; the summon being disorienting to say the least.
"Woah...that feels so weird..." She said as she shook her head to break from her dizzy spell.
"An hour, you all kept talking for a whole hour!" Sombra said as he began to pace back and forth. "Do you three even listen to the lecture?! You know what? I don't truly care. You are free to do as you wish, but keep me out of it!"
"I mean, I would talk on my own if I could, but..." Sweetie Belle said as she reached around for her mane to grasp in comfort for being scolded.
"I am aware of our current situation." Sombra said as he sat down, placing a hoof to his temple as he tried to calm his nerves. "And I wish us out of it as soon as possible."
"How did ya two get like this anyway?" Applebloom's voice asked as she and Scootaloo peeked from behind a tree.
"I haven't the slightest clue." Sombra said with a sigh.
"Me neither." Sweetie said as she began to play with her mane. She once again tried to straighten the spike black mane Sombra had, no doubt it could use a good brushing.
Scootaloo giggled as she saw them. She never thought she'd ever see Sweetie Belle's body look so grumpy and disinterested in everything around her. Sombra's furrowed brows and glaring eyes didn't suit the small adorable appearance he now had.
The same could be said of Sombra's body. The timid posture and shine within his red eyes was certainly not living up to the title of 'Tyrant'. Sweetie Belle, however, didn't seem to care about the appearance she was giving off in her new body, if anything, she seemed to enjoy her new form.
"Think this a joke?" Sombra asked as he glared at Scoots, who couldn't help but laugh more at the adorable glare she was getting.
"It is kinda funny though." Sweetie Belle said with a soft smile that irked him.
"That's it!" Applebloom shouted out.
"Yesterday, ya'll landed in the Everfree Forest right?"
"The forest?" Sombra asked as he placed a hoof to his chin. "Yes, both Sweetie Belle and I touched ground there, but only for a moment."
"Did ya'll touch strange blue flowers?"
Already smiling, Applebloom couldn't help but begin to giggle as well. Her joy of having figured it out already bleeding out.
"You think this a joke as well?" Sombra asked with an annoyed expression, though nothing he could really do about their laughter.
"Eeyup, because it is! It's Poison Joke!"
"It's a plant that likes ta play jokes on ponies that touch it. Really weird things can happen when it does that."
"And making ponies switch bodies is within its power?"
"So is shrinkin' mah sister to the size of an apple and turning wings upside down. If it thinks it's funny, it'll do it. Ah don't really get it, but Zecora knows all about it."
"And who might this pony be?"
"She ain't a pony, she's a zebra. She knows all sorts of magic even though she ain't a unicorn. She fixed everypony right up last time this happened, Ah'm sure she could help you out too."
"Then there is no time to waste!" Sombra said as he jumped to his hooves. "We've less than an hour to get back before the teacher returns to resume class."
"You're worried about missing class?" Scootaloo asked.
"Would Sweetie Belle get in trouble if she didn't return, wouldn't she?"
"Then that is your answer. She said you are all in some sort of danger if she does not attend class. But enough of that, time is short. Filly, which way to this Zecora?" Sombra said as he turned to Applebloom.
"Why are we still referred to as 'filly', but you call Sweetie Belle by her name?" Scootaloo asked in a whispered pout.
"She lives in the Everfree Forest. Ah can take ya'll there easy!" She said before running off, Sombra hot on her heels.
"He-Hey! Wait for me!" The pegasus said as she too rushed after them. Sweetie Belle on the other hoof, took a while to process what had happened. She had been too preoccupied with her mane to notice, but when she did notice, it was a little too late to escape the consequences.
Sweetie let out a small gasp for air as she felt her strength leave her. It was a strange feeling, it was as if she was slowly suffocating. Doing her best to catch her breath, Sweetie Belle took to her hooves and began to make her way towards Sombra.
"Mister Sombra!" She shouted as she ran, quickly catching up to the group because of her much longer legs.
"What is it?" Sombra asked, barely sparing her a glance while he ran.
"I feel- wait, I don't feel it anymore." She said, a little surprised.
"Like if I was drowning!"
"Oh, must be because we got too far away." Sombra said as he looked over at her finally, a hint of care in his dry eyes. "My apologies, it must have been a terrible fright."
As Sombra spoke, he could feel the other fillies listen at their conversation and somehow felt strange about it. In an effort to save them both something to explain, he spoke out a command.
"Become my shadow." Just as before, Sweetie Belle became nothing more than a black figure before jumping into the air and merging with the ground to take on Sombra's shadow. "There, now it won't happen again.
"Sweetie Belle?" He whispered as he and the fillies moved across Ponyville. This was no strange sight for the citizens of the small town, the Cutie Mark Crusaders had quite the reputation, and so instead of paying them mind, all ponies around them just casually moved out of their way to let them through.
Does that happen to you?
That feeling of...dying.
"In case you haven't noticed." Sombra said under his breath to keep their conversation hidden. "I'm already dead. You are the only thing keeping me alive, if I get away from you, I feel Death's cold grip wrap around me once more."
So will I die if I get too far away from you?
"Nonesense, if we get too far away from one another, I, or in this case, you would just bounce back to me. We are bound, we are one. But that doesn't mean the feeling of death won't come meanwhile. Until we reach that threshold that brings the shadow back to the host, you will feel like you're dying."
Again Sweetie Belle remained quiet. She never even thought about how things worked in Sombra's perspective. She, who had been so happy to have somepony come to her rescue whenever she needed it, never thought to ask how he felt. Or even what it all meant to him. She had forgotten one vital detail: He is dead.
"The Everfree Forest is just ahead!" Applebloom shouted in excitement as she and her friends ran out of town, leaving the small buildings behind in the distance.
"Good, we are this much closer to reveting back to normal." Sombra said with a smirk that seemed odd on Sweetie Belle's face. Though Sweetie Belle herself couldn't shake the feeling something was wrong. Why would Sombra want so subjugate himself to such a horrible feeling? Of death crawling at his skin at any given moment.
Finally reaching the forest and with their arrival, they finally took a moment to catch their breaths. All were breathing heavy, but most of all, Sombra was the most affected by exhaustion. He struggled to stay on his hooves, and so with a sweaty face, looked up to Scootaloo who seemed to have already recovered.
"Sweetie Belle....Isn't the most athletic of the group...is she?" He said through pants.
"Couldn't be more far from it." She said with a held in laugh.
"I can't exactly blame you..." Sombra said as he took a few steps forward to try to keep his momentum going. "We are shaped by our circumstances. You've never had to exert yourself physically, that means you're well off."
"Financially. Haven't had to work as hard." He said as he began to follow Applebloom through the forest.
"You sound troubled." Sombra said as his breathing finally settled and was able to speak normally.
It's just- Well...
A long silence followed in Sombra's head. Though he didn't mind finally having some quiet, he couldn't shake the feeling something was wrong with her.
"You don't have to tell me if you'd rather not. We've all got our secrets."
I know...It's not that I don't want to tell you, it's just a long story.
"Another time perhaps." Sombra said as he continued to traverse the dark forest, thought as he took one last step forward, he came to a stop.
Squinting his eyes, Sombra looked around the area. With his magic, he tugged at the tails of the fillies who had gone ahead, prompting them to turn around. Though annoyed by his gesture at first, they quickly became worried when they saw his rather serious face.
"Come here..." Sombra said softly, leaning down in a defensive stance. Trading glances, Applebloom and Scootaloo both rushed over to his side.
"What's wrong?" Scootaloo asked as she and her friend pressed against him. He forgave their lack of personal space this once since things seemed dire. He even went a far as to press back to comfort them.
"Without my own body's senses, I noticed them much too late. We're already surrrounded." Sombra said as he dug his hoof against the ground as if preparing to charge.
"Not sure, I'm not familair with this region of Equestra. What sort of animals reside in this forest?"
"Too many to count."
"Any dangerous ones?"
"You've got no idea..."
Sombra turned to them with an annoyed look, their feedback was no help what so ever to their situation. Though before he could say something to them, a growl from the darkness diverted his attention back.
Slowly, Sombra saw a paw reach out from a bush. A creature unlike any he had seen before began to emerge. He recognized the figure to be that of a wolf, but unlike the ones he was accustomed to, this one seemed to be made of wooded planks.
"Is somepony pulling a prank?" Sombra asked as he stood up straight at the sight. "Some unicorn using their magic to animate wood?"
"Watch out!" Applebloom shouted as the wolf pounced in their direction. Sombra's sudden movement had caused it to attack.
As quickly as his small body allowed, Sombra kneeled down and activated his magic. With small sparks of purple flames flowing from his eyes, he summoned out a small spike of crystal to impale the incoming attack. Right away, the wolf exploded and its pieces went flying ever which way.
Falling to the ground, Sombra gasped for air as he felt his body struggle to remain conscious. He gritted his teeth at the harsh realization that he was no longer in his body. The spell he had used was well out of Sweetie Belle's magical ability. Using such an advanced spell just about drained him of all his strength even though it was but a simple small spike.
"Are you okay!?" The fillies shouted as they tried to help Sombra to his hooves.
"Maldicion..." Sombra said with a pained grunt. "My magic is too powerful for the body I am in..." He said as he looked up with one eye closed in the strain he was feeling. The wolf that he had defeated was beginning to pull itself back together, making his last exertion of magic a complete waste. If that wasn't enough, the other wolves that had surrounded them began to show themselves as well. No doubt the three of them seemed like an easy target now.
"What do we do?" Scootaloo asked as she pulled one of Sombra's hooves over her shoulder.
"King Sombra!" Sombra shouted out. "Defeat these wolves!"
At once his shadow moved from under him and jumped out in a battle ready position, though the expression Sweetie Belle's face didn't have the same bravado as her body gave off.
"Wh-What?" Sweetie Belle asked as she as came to the world. Her eyes bursted into flames as power began to surge through her. Power almost overwhelming for her to even comprehend, much less use.
Frightened by the sudden appearance of a new opponent, the wolves targeted Sweetie Belle. All together they jumped at her with fangs bared. A jolt of pain caused Sweetie to act, quickly prompting her to swing a hoof out and knocking a wolf to the side.
"Defend your blind spots!" Sombra commanded as he and the fillies watched the battle.
Sweetie did as he was told and jumped up to avoid the other incoming bites at her. With her eyes still aflame, she for the first time in her life, attacked another being. Using her new boundless magic, she sent a fiery blaze downward in a blast of energy.
While Applebloom and Scootaloo looked in awe, Sombra scoffed at how inefficiently she was using her magic, his magic. Sweetie Belle landed only a few meters away from the trio. Her fire going out, she looked back with a glee filled smile.
"That was awesome!" Applebloom shouted.
"Not quite." Sombra said as he pulled himself from the shoulders of the fillies beside him. "Sweetie Belle, you used an attack with a strong burst, but because of that, the further away you are, the less it harms the opponent. You had leapt too high to do any significant damage to the wolves."
"What?" Sweetie Belle asked, though her next sentence was interrupted by a wave of pain. The pain of disobedience. The moment he saw her use the wrong spell he knew this would happen, and so he prepared another command.
"King Sombra, to me." Sombra said, quickly retracting Sweetie back to his shadow. Thanks to his quick thinking, Sweetie Belle suffered pain for only a second, if that.
From the embers of her blast, the wolves began to emerge in a sight that terrified the fillies. Sombra stepped forward, thought still a little off balance. His mind raced as he looked to all the pieces he had to play with. This certainly looked like a bad situation. There was no way to win this without some sort of sacrifice. With a sigh, he turned to the fillies and spoke.
"Forgive me, I'll have to leave you two behind."
"What?!" They both shouted together. Though before they could act, he gave another command.
"King Sombra, trap them in a crystal barrier!"
From within his mind, Sweetie Belle was forced to use her magic to encase her friends crystal. By raising four crystal spikes that connected at the tip like a pyramid, the fillies were both trapped and safe where they stood.
"Now, Take me away from here!" Sombra shouted as he used the last of his strength to run. Jumping towards a tree trunk and jumping off of it, he landed on a newly summoned stallion who quickly began to gallop away from the wolves.
The creatures had stayed behind to try to get the fillies, the easier of the two targets. Unfortunately for them, it was useless. There was no way they could break the crystal. They couldn't even make a dent before their own body fell apart. This gave the duo enough time to escape and find a place to hide out while they regained strength and planned their next actions.
It didn't take long for Sweetie Belle to find a place to hold up. Finally coming to a stop, Sombra fell from her back and landed on his side as he rested his tired body. Sweetie Belle looked down at her hooves the entire time, a depressed look on her face.
"Aren't you gonna say anything?" Sombra asked as he turned over to find a comfortable way to lay.
"I don't know, blame me for leaving your friends behind."
"They're safe aren't they?"
"Then it's okay, we just have to go back and get them." She said with her head still hanging low. Her black mane hanged loosely over her face, as if she was trying to hold back her emotions.
Silence remained for a time. A time Sombra used to recover his strength, but more importantly, make sense of how Sweetie Belle was acting. This was certainly unlike her in every way. With a sigh, he finally spoke.
"Tell me, what's wrong?"
"Oh, the pain of disobedience right?"
"I tried to issue another command as to keep you from feeling it for very long." Sombra said as he rolled over to his stomach, getting in his usual position crossing his front hooves.
"I only felt it for a second but..."
"But what?" Sombra said with a grunt, his body still aching.
"I....I..." Sweetie began, but seemed unable to finish her sentence. "I put you through that too."
"Yes. You did." Sombra said, brushing off the pained voice she was giving off. It was something he was unable to do once she finally turned to him. Her eyes drenched in tears and her nose running.
"I made you feel so much pain...so many times. I had no idea you felt that. I thought, I didn't think-"
"It isn't that bad. I've suffered worse." Sombra interrupted in a harsh tone, bringing Sweetie Belle to a silence. The atmosphere around them began to tense up as her sniffed began to fill the air.
"Why..." She began.
"Why are you intent on switching bodies again? You said you were evil right? I don't know the details, but you probably have something you want to do right? You want to break free from the contract to do it right?"
"What makes you think that?" Sombra asked, feigning ignorance.
"I've played chess against you. I know when you're building up for a grand move. I can't always see it coming, but I know something is coming. So why do you want to switch back? You could easily just command me to do whatever you want to do. I would have no choice but to obey."
Silence, only whimpers and sniffles.
"Because you'd be in pain." Sombra finally answered. His words made Sweetie Belle stop her whimpering and look up at him again. "The pain I felt, I wouldn't wish it upon my worst enemy, much less a mere filly who has nothing to do with anything."
Sombra said as he scratched the back of his head. Clearing this throat, he turned to the side and finished speaking.
"A-And because there would be too much of a lag time between my commands and when you perform them if you were forced to obey. Fighting the princesses would be next to impossible in such a state." He said, trying to excuse his soft nature towards her. Sweetie Belle looked at him with surprised eyes. Somehow, the words he had spoken filled her with warmth. She never thought he actually cared about her. She thought the only reason he did anything was because he was forced to.
"I-I'll help you." Sweetie Belle said hesitantly.
"Why wouldn't you? I'm sure you're now very eager to switch bodies as well. I would expect nothing else from somepony who felt the pain of disobedience."
"No, I mean, with what you're trying to do when you came back."
Sombra blinked a few times and looked over at Sweetie as he tried to comprehend what he had heard.
"Help me...with my goal? You don't even know what it is I'm after."
"Will you hurt my friends?"
"If they get in my way."
"But if they don't, would doing whatever it is you want to do hurt anypony?"
"Uh, no, not really. If anything, I think it would help Equestria as a whole."
"Then I'll help!" Sweetie Belle said, whipping her mane back into place and looking at Sombra with determined eyes.
Sombra chuckled at her enthusiasm and how fast she made a one eighty. "Alright, fine. But first we need to rescue your friends and get ourselves back to normal."
"No problem! We can get to Zecora and-"
"No time. While the crystal may keep the wolves at bay, we cannot disregard the fact other creatures could stumble across and get through the crystal."
"Can something even break through it?"
"I've just seen wolves that reconstruct from wood in what appears to be an endless cycle. I doubt other more powerful beasts are out of the question."
"So what should we do then?" Sweetie asked as she kneeled down to allow Sombra to climb onto her back.
"Well, I've played my parts as you, now it's your turn to act as me."
"And that means?"
"You need to fight like me. I can guide you using commands, but you need to do your part to fight correctly." Sombra said as he motions her to begin moving back to where the wolves are at.
"But I don't know how to fight!"
"Spells might be out of the question, but I am good at close combat. Let's not forget you are in my body. Just begin the motion, and muscle memory will take care of the rest. Worst come to worst, I'll be there to help you out." Sombra said with a reassuring smile.
Sweetie Belle smiled back and quickly began to make her way to her friends. Somehow, despite how everything seemed to have gone to Tartarus for a minute there, perhaps this might have brought them closer.
"So..." Scootaloo asked as she and Applebloom struggled to stretch their legs.
"Think they'll be back?"
"Yeah! Why wouldn't they?!" Applebloom asked, almost insulted that her friend would even suggest something like that.
"I mean...before we get eaten by that thing." Scootaloo said as she gestured over to the large beast now destroying the wolves that had previously been clawing away at the crystal keep them safe.
"Oh..." She said before thinking for a moment. "I dunno', maybe."
"I hope so." Scootaloo said with forced smile as sweat began to fall down the side of her face. "Cause that thing looks scary."
"Eeyup."Applebloom said as she too looked over at the creature that had just finished its battle with the toothpicks of opponents. Its yellow eyes looked around to make sure the coast was clear before turning its gaze to the fillies in the crystal trap. It licked its lips before taking a step closer to them.
"Sweetie Belle... Mister Sombra... please hurry."