Cold, damp, and most importantly: unknown. The lack of ventilation in the air suffocated him mercilessly; there was nothing he could do about it. There was nothing he could do about anything, really.
He was at the mercy of the voices.
Every once in awhile, just before the deafening absence of sound would take its toll on his sanity, Sombra would hear voices slice through the stale silence, distant and muffled as they’d gibber to one another from behind what best sounded like an obstruction such as a wall or a door. It was uncertain what these voices were saying. If he was conscious enough, he could catch a few fragments of a sentence and maybe even piece them together. He could never catch much, but there was one word that he caught far too often for his liking.
In conjunction with these unknown voices would be the faint smell of fear, but it didn’t take an incarnation of fear such as himself to realize something so obvious. It could be heard as well: the subtle quiver and stutter of one of the voices, each pause containing a long, shaky inhale before continuing.
How long he had been trapped deep within his own mind, he had long since lost track. All he could feel was cold uneven stone underneath him and frigid undisturbed air above him. Everything else was numb. Perhaps his nerves hadn’t fully regenerated yet. He had no clue where he was, and he probably wasn’t going to find out for quite some time. He couldn’t talk, he couldn’t move, and he couldn’t even open his damn eyes. All he really could do was breath and listen. But even breathing was a bit of a challenge; something was wrapped uncomfortably tight around his neck, constricting his trachea like a relentless snake.
An echoing click, then a slow scraping noise of metal dragging across stone caught his attention. He heard that noise rarely. The voices were much closer now, and much clearer.
“Are you sure?”
The quiet yet echoing sound of hoofsteps came to a halt directly in front of him.
“Um... H-hi, Sombra.” It was a quiet, breathy voice which presumably belonged to a mare, and it was dripping with fear. “I don't know i-if you can hear m-me right now, but my name is Fluttershy.”
It was a name he hadn't heard before in his time, nor a voice that he could attach a familiar face to. It didn’t matter anyhow. All he wished for was freedom from this uneventful torment chipping away at his brain as time crawled by.
“I hope I'm not annoying you by being here or anything, but I-I’m here to help you. I can't do much to help right now though, since you're not even awake, but once you are…”
So he was correct on his assumption of unconsciousness. What was left to be answered was where in tartarus he was. He assumed a dungeon of some sort, given the deathly quiet ambience looming around him. It was all too familiar.
“...I know you must not be too happy right now, all chained up down here and everything, but i-if you don't mind me helping you, you can get out of those chains.”
Bound in chains as well. Fantastic. He was becoming surer than ever of his assumed location, but where was this dungeon? Princess Celestia’s castle, perhaps. He never once thought he’d be outside of the frozen north—assuming that he was indeed in foreign territory—in a condition better than death. After all those years of tyranny, he thought that Celestia and her sister would outright kill him upon discovering his dismembered horn, but apparently they had other, more tortuous plans.
He remained engulfed in his own mindscape as the voice continued to so quietly chat away about nothing he’d ever care about. Those sentient piles of garbage colonizing the Crystal Empire were basking in the putrid light of freedom as he laid in some unknown torture chamber to rot for the rest of eternity. The princesses had no clue of the crimes they were committing through simply allowing them freedom.
Imbeciles. All of them.
His thoughts briefly snapped back to the Fluttershy pony. How long had she been talking? Could have been a few minutes, could have been a few hours. He no longer had much of a perception of time. But eventually the voice faded away into nothingness after a few moments longer of unimportant blabber. Silence reigned control over his cell once more, and he was alone again.
But as the gears of time turned painfully slowly, the mare would return from time to time and make one-sided conversation with him. She would walk into his prison, she would say plenty of pointless things, she would eventually leave, and then the process would start all over again after so many days of silence. Sombra had soon forgotten her name, feeling no need to remember. He could neither recall much of what the voice had been saying to him during all that time. He didn't bother trying to remember that either.
Very talkative the owner of that voice was. Talkative, yet so oddly fearful in contrast. Something — or somepony—had to have been forcing her to talk.
It had been just before the mare’s tenth visit that something out of the usual occurred. After so long of thinking that perhaps his absence of vision was an eternal inconvenience, he could draw back his eyelids and take in his unknown surroundings. And what he saw was somewhat what he had anticipated.
Grey and brown.
Everything around him was a haze, but one thing was certain: he was boxed in by four barren walls of cracked stone, all a depressing shade of grey and brown. Directly across from him was a large door of metal, and above him a small, blurry ball of light that flickered on and off. There was nothing more to look at.
Although Sombra was in fact in a prison, he had expected to be contained in a room that was a little more heavy with defense. Instead what he had been thrown into was just some stone room with nothing but a door to keep him from the outside. His anonymous captors were underestimating him.
Upon looking down at his hooves, he noticed the absence of his greaves. He slowly raised one stiff foreleg and felt his chest. No chestplate. He couldn’t feel a cape over his back nor crown on his head, either. Damn them.
The crippling agony of hunger and thirst soon came to the forefront of his mind, and his stomach growled to the point where it could echo off the walls. Nothing to quell his hunger or quench his thirst for over a thousand years...
The door slowly screeched open, and somepony walked inside. The pony now in his presence froze just before reach and stared wide-eyed for a moment before speaking.
“O-oh, you’re awake,” she stammered.
Sombra had finally gotten the chance to see the face of the voice after all that time. He kept his blurry gaze on the dimly-lit body: a puny yellow figure with a pink mane and tail. She was the smallest splash of color amidst the corroding greys and browns. Was this speck of a pony truly his captor?
She crept a little closer. “Can you speak?”
Could he? It wasn’t until he considered making an attempt that he discovered his parched throat, about as desolate as the deserts of Arabia.
He flexed his muscles in an attempt to stand. A low, brittle growl of agony escaped his lips as his body only twitched and quivered.
The mare inched even closer in response to his pain, close enough for him to make out her tiny feminine muzzle and large turquoise eyes. “Oh goodness! Are you okay?”
No, were his eyes playing tricks on him? This had to have been a child that Sombra’s eyes were laid upon! He could see no aged features, sense nothing more than sheer vulnerability! Her gaze screamed innocence at the very top of its lungs! This couldn’t have been the one who had imprisoned him. There had to have been somepony else!
Sombra gulped down nothing but air. His barren throat promptly screamed in pain. “Tell me... how I got here.”
“P-Princess Celestia found you. She took you and brought you here, to the Canterlot Castle.”
He groaned from the news. Celestia was like a vicious plague that kept coming back. No matter how many times he had fended her and her sister off from dooming his empire, they would always return another day.
Something shifted against the pony's sides. Were those... wings? The filly was a pegasus; an unusually small one at that. It had been so long since he had last seen a pegasus pony—so long in fact that he had nearly forgotten their existence.
He squinted his eyes in hopes that he could receive a more detailed look of her. He could remember this pegasus’s face upon closer inspection. She looked so… familiar.
“Is something wrong?” she whispered.
“I remember you…”
“From the Crystal Empire, right?”
Sombra gave a lazy hum of confirmation, but had he not seen this pegasus pony some other time? The eyes, the coat, the wings… There was a tremendous sense of déjà vu on this filly.
He could recall seeing other ponies that stood out from the Crystal Ponies as well: a pink earth mare, a lavender unicorn that set one of his traps off—definitely the most memorable one—and some others that he couldn't quite remember the appearances of.
So this pegasus was who Celestia had chosen. It was clear that she was bestowing a child the task of taking out an immortal overlord to rip him of what little pride he had left. She truly did despise him with ever-growing severity.
“Get on with it, then,” Sombra spat in a single dwindling breath. Talking was already deteriorating him of the little energy he had. “Just be swift. I have waited far too long for this welcoming serenity.”
“Wh-what are you talking about?”
“Do your worst, peasant.”
“I… I don’t u-understa—”
“Kill me!” he snapped.
The pegasus was quick to appear appalled by his demand. She stumbled out of the flickering ceiling light, engulfed back into the shadows of his cell. "N-no, no! That's not what I'm here for at all!"
“Pathetic.” The former king snorted bitterly and shut his eyes. A useless pegasus. He knew what he had coming to him, he just didn't know when it would come. Whether it be through civil execution or agonizing torture, his final destination would be Tartarus.
It had been two painfully slow weeks since Princess Celestia had called Fluttershy to Canterlot. She had toughed her way through reforming Discord, and since she had succeeded in turning him from a cruel embodiment of chaos to a... less cruel embodiment of chaos, the princess somehow thought she could do the same for a big, scary, soulless dictator of an empire, too.
If only Fluttershy was even half as confident in herself.
When she had read that first letter from the princess, telling her about the stallion locked down in the dungeons and what she wanted her to come to Canterlot to do, the pegasus was scared. After seeing that same stallion wake up for the first time since arriving in Canterlot, she was downright terrified. That marked the real beginning of the reformation process. From that point on, Fluttershy had to start making moves. But all she wanted to do was run back to her cottage, hide under the covers of her bed and wait for everything to just magically resolve themselves. But she knew that'd be selfish of her. She was fully aware of what the princess would have to do with Sombra if she decided to back out. If Fluttershy wasn't going to step up and help him, nopony was.
It was nighttime, and Fluttershy locked herself in her guest room to try and catch up on some sleep. She didn’t know why she still bothered after so long of hardly being able to. Two weeks of living in the castle and she had only managed to fall asleep a hoofful of times. Her repeating nightmares about Sombra somehow breaking out of the dungeons wouldn’t let her rest for long, if at all.
But really, was it so irrational to be so afraid? She still couldn’t quite believe how intact Sombra’s body was after seeing him be practically obliterated just a year ago! He looked far from completely healed, but regardless of that, he still seemed perfectly capable of doing some damage. After seeing the Crystal Heart shatter him into pieces, just about everypony thought that was it for him. But a year was all it took for Sombra to be found in the Crystal Mountains: alive but too weak to put up a fight. Over the year that he was presumed dead, he’d apparently been slowly regenerating from his horn.
It was a scary thought, really. If the princesses hadn’t bothered to scavenge the frozen north for his remains, who knows what damage Sombra would have done once he had completely regenerated.
There was no way Fluttershy was going to get any shuteye with all these thoughts running through her head. All she ever thought about was Sombra this and Sombra that. She wished she could be more like Rainbow Dash: brave, daring and carefree. Maybe then she wouldn’t have been up all night every night fearing for the day that Sombra somehow escaped.
Fluttershy sat up in bed and reached for the letter that her friends had written to her about a week ago. She read it maybe five times already, but the reassuring words always helped calm her down at least a little bit.
Me and the rest of the girls hope you’re doing okay on your own. I’m still in the process of convincing Princess Celestia to let us come over and help you, but I’m afraid to say that it's becoming an uphill battle at this point.
In the meantime, try not to stress yourself out too much on the whole situation. If you were able to pull a trainwreck like Discord together, then I’m sure that you can do the same for King Sombra.
Stay strong and make sure to keep in touch with us along the way! We’re always open to listen.
She smiled, set the letter back down on the nightstand and buried her muzzle into the sheets. She was fortunate to have such good friends. It was uncertain to her whether or not somepony like Sombra was even capable of being helped, but with the motivation of her friends, she felt like she could accomplish even the most impossible of things. Besides, there's nothing about a pony's personality that can't be worked on, even if that personality is filled with characteristics like mean, dispassionate, cruel... perverse...
She really wasn't doing herself any favors by thinking about him.
Tomorrow was another day—a much more terrifying, dangerous day. She couldn't risk dozing off or letting her guard down amidst the presence of a volatile criminal. She needed to get some sleep.
You can do this, Fluttershy. The sooner he’s is all taken care of and reformed, the sooner you can go back home.