Day after day, Fluttershy would continue to venture to the dungeons just as she had been since arriving to Canterlot. Except this time it wasn’t Sombra she was visiting, but instead his doctor. She was the only pony in this castle that she could call a friend, after all. Normally she’d visit to hear how Sombra was doing, but she also enjoyed listening to some of the stories Dr. Warmheart would tell. Having to regularly watch over the castle’s prisoners, she had plenty of crazy tales.
But there were a few occasions where Fluttershy had no Dr. Warmheart to pass the time with. Instead she resorted to lounging around in bed, thinking of what else she could do to fill the idle hours. What she would have normally done was go out to the gardens, maybe even have a chat with the groundskeeper if she went there during his work hours, but nothing else. Being in Canterlot with her friends from back home always turned out to be a fun time, but staying in the castle without them was just... boring. But it certainly wasn’t all bad. Princess Celestia had taken it upon herself to chit chat with her here and there whenever she wasn’t busy with her royal duties. She must’ve noticed the boredom etched on the pegasus’ face.
Today was looking to be quite possibly the most uneventful day of them all. Fluttershy paced around her room as she thought of what she could possibly do to keep herself occupied. But it didn’t take long for her mind to drift to Sombra. It always ended up on Sombra. "Let's see, how many days has it been since I visited him?" she asked herself. "Six days, I think." She sighed and flopped down on her bed. "Still can't talk to him yet."
Why do I even want to talk to him in the first place?
Any normal pony would probably feel blessed to not have to take a trip down into the dungeon’s infirmary and put themselves in the same room as Sombra. Was she afraid of him? Of course. Who wouldn’t be? But she was a little worried about him, too. The poor stallion was probably in a world of suffering being kept prisoner in the castle, being forced to sit and do practically nothing as the days passed. Although she herself was having a fairly boring day, she could only imagine how mind-numbing Sombra’s must be right now.
Then again, he was probably much better off in his current position than being trapped in ice for a thousand years. Goodness, she could hardly even imagine the toll that must’ve had on his sanity. No wonder he had behaved like a wild animal after he escaped.
What if it doesn't have to be exactly seven days? Six days is close enough, right? she tapped her chin in thought. Would Princess Celestia get mad at me if I visited him earlier than told? One measly day isn’t a big deal, right?
Fluttershy sat up, eyeing at the door and trying to mentally settle whether or not she should go.
The latest letter Twilight had sent her came to the forefront of her mind. The letter was laying on the nightstand, all rolled up and still waiting for a reply. Twilight had been asking for some information about Sombra, but what she didn't know was that Fluttershy had hardly moved past the starting point.
But maybe if I start visiting him again...
She hopped out of bed and headed straight for the dungeons now that she had an excuse. She was only going to talk to him so that she could have something to write back to Twilight. That was her reasoning for wanting to speak to Sombra, and she was sticking to it no matter how false it really was.
Sharp agony rocketed from Sombra's thighs and branched down to his hooves like a bolt of thunder. He lowered back into bed, groaning and cursing under his strained breath. His legs throbbed in lingering agony after his decision which he now deemed as a foolish one. Dr. Warmheart had been gawking at how "remarkably quickly" his body was recovering, but his tendons weren't recovering nearly as fast as he would've liked. Simply getting out of bed was damn near impossible.
Only a few times had somepony bothered to check up on him during his stay in his new confinement—that somepony being the doctor. How many weeks had even passed since his change of living conditions? Two weeks? Three? He settled with three. A clock would've been helpful, but apparently he wasn't allowed the right to know the time. He used to keep track of time through that yellow filly's visits, but her visits were no more.
Oddly enough, he would wonder what happened to her every now and again. His first assumption was that she finally realized his disinterest and left, but he started making other assumptions as time sluggishly crawled by. Maybe Celestia dismissed her, or perhaps she decided to leave him be until his full recovery. At one point he looked to the doctor for an answer, but she turned out to be just as clueless.
As he was laying there in bed as he had been for who knows how long, listlessly staring at the ceiling or recounting the alabaster tiles, something eventful finally sprung on the emptiness of the infirmary. The door ever so quietly clicked open, and a soft yellow face with big eyes of polished turquoise peeked through the gap. Their gazes met, and she shuffled the rest of her body inside.
"Um, hi, Sombra," the pegasus greeted sheepishly as she shut the door behind her.
He quietly watched her with the expectation of her suddenly disappearing, proving only to be a mirage of sorts. But she never did. She seated herself in a chair up against the wall and smiled softly. "Are you feeling any better?"
"Oh, sorry to hear that. Well, Dr. Warmheart said you've been recovering really quickly, so that's good," she said.
"Not quickly enough," Sombra huffed. For whatever reason, the desire for the filly’s name took the dethroned tyrant’s attention. Her name… she told him her name in the past, but what was it? He wasn’t entirely sure why he cared to know so suddenly, but the desire peaked his curiosity. "Your name, pegasus. What is it?"
Her eyes averted elsewhere for a moment, seemingly caught off-guard by the question. She cleared her throat and answered with the most delicate mumble. "I-It's Fluttershy, remember?"
"Fluttershy," he said, experimentally tasting the name on his tongue. He never gave her name much thought until now. The name seemed to fit well with her skittish demeanor. She was—as her name blatantly hinted—shy. Her sentences always sounded forced out of her rather than naturally occurring, and her body language was fidgety and very clearly conveyed her nervousness. Her job of coming down here just to converse was a job that plainly was not for her, which even further fueled his curiosity for why Celestia had chosen her.
"Dr. Warmheart has been telling me that you’ve been refusing to eat."
“And?” Sombra spat. Dying by induced poison wasn't how he wanted to die after all his years. A death like that was reserved for the clueless and the gullible.
Fluttershy pulled an apple out from under her folded wing and presented it to him with hopeful eyes. "The doctor doesn’t really want me bringing any food from the outside in here, but I just don't want to see you starve."
Sombra groaned and shifted away from her. Foolish filly. Apparently the outcome of presenting him with poison the first time hadn't deterred her from trying again. "Immortals do not die from starvation.”
"But immortals can still feel hunger, can't they? Come on, just a little bite?"
Sombra remained unyielding to her pestering despite the loud growl his stomach emitted.
"Please?" she whimpered. "I promise I didn't do anything to it. Look,"
There was a crunching sound behind him. Sombra peeked over his shoulder to see that Fluttershy had taken a small chunk off of the apple. She looked back at him, a disgustingly sweet smile on her face and the bitten fruit still held out in her hoof for him.
For a moment, he was convinced.
He faced her again and cautiously sniffed at the apple like a hound tracking down a specific scent. His yearning stomach sank its teeth into his insides much deeper from the smell it gave off. There was nothing out of the ordinary about this apple. His mouth watered, his body quivered, the slightest utterance of a dog-like whimper escaped his lips. His desires would be the very death of him…
The soft, almost motherly voice of Fluttershy encouraged him further. "It's okay."
At last, he gave in. His jaw unhinged and his abnormally long tongue wrapped around the apple like a snake constricting its prey. One second the fruit was in Fluttershy's grasp, the next it was in Sombra's mouth. It easily collapsed under the pressure of his jaws and he swallowed after a brief chew or two.
He looked back at Fluttershy as he lapped at his lips of anything that remained of the apple. Her eyes were as large as dinner plates, face fixed in shock.
"Oh my," she said. "N-Not to be rude or anything, but I’ve never seen anypony eat like that before."
Sombra's stomach continued to groan in need. A single apple did so little to soothe his appetite, but those few seconds of flavour were ecstatic to say the very least. For so long had he tasted nothing but the bare dryness of his own mouth.
"Sorry, I didn't bring any more than that. I was afraid that you were gonna get upset like last time and not eat," Fluttershy said.
Once again Sombra turned away from the pegasus, his stomach whining in a way that expressed his disappointment.
"But i-if you want, I can get more."
His ears attentively splayed back towards her.
"But only if you let me help you," she finished.
“Well, for starters, you could leave the dungeons. I don’t know where the princess would let you stay instead, but anything has to be better than staying down here, right? Maybe someday the princess would even decide to let you go, but only if you’re cooperative.”
Sombra turned back to her with a noticeably contemplative expression. These promises didn't fail to spark his interest. So much to be gained just through playing nice! Whether or not Celestia would ever set him free mattered little to him. The bare minimum he needed was to be trusted, and as soon as he’s healed enough, the Crystal Empire would practically be his for the taking. His escape would be so easy—so painfully easy.
Sombra turned his attention back to his company. Putting on a false tone of sincerity, he agreed to her preposition. "Alright, Fluttershy, I shall cooperate with you and your princess."
Surprise was the first expression that made it to her face, then a giddy smile. "D-Do you really mean it?" she asked.
"If what you say is indeed true."
Her smile widened and she jumped out of her seat joyfully. "Oh thank you, Sombra! You won't regret it, I promise!"
And so she sped out of the infirmary with a hearty spring in her step, her frightened stature diminished within the instant she received the answer she had hoped for. Not a word was said as to where she was going, but Sombra could take a guess and assume he wasn't going to be in the infirmary for much longer.
Sombra stared aimlessly at his dull surroundings, listening to the quickly fading clicks of Fluttershy's hooves. His agreement was trusted with far more vigor than he had anticipated. There was hardly a single spark of doubt or suspicion in her large beady eyes, nor a pause of contemplation of the true sincerity of his words. This was who Celestia had trusted to be her eyes and ears: a gullible, oblivious fool.
A child was so easy to manipulate, so easy to take advantage of. For but a brief moment, he even felt a tad sorry for the pegasus. Gullible ponies lived such short lives. They think the best of everypony, they place their trust in everypony, and then they're trampled on by everypony.
The corners of Sombra's mouth sank into a reminiscent frown.
Back to counting the floor tiles.
It wasn’t often that Fluttershy came out of the dungeons as happy as she was that afternoon. She certainly had good reason to be; things were finally moving forward! She didn’t realize it at first, but she was practically bouncing in her seat as her and Sombra’s entire conversation spilled right out of her mouth to Princess Celestia. She made sure not to leave out a single detail. The princess meanwhile hummed and scribbled down words on a piece of parchment as she talked, not nearly as happy as Fluttershy was about Sombra’s improvement.
Eventually Fluttershy did get around to asking if he could be moved somewhere else once her excitement died down. Princess Celestia promptly set her letter down and raised an eyebrow at her. “So you believe him?"
Just like that, Fluttershy’s smile was gone. The way she asked her made it seem like she didn’t believe him, immediately making the pegasus have second thoughts. Sombra sounded like he had meant what he said, but she definitely wouldn’t put lying past him.
It was obvious what would happen if she said she didn’t believe him: nothing. He’d stay in the dungeons, and Fluttershy would have to keep taking trips down there to talk to him. Not only that, but he probably wouldn’t want to talk to her again if he found out that there was a change of plans.
She really wasn’t up to go through that cycle all over again.
"Um, well, he sounded like he meant it. I don't completely believe him, but there had to be some truth in it, right?" she answered, a slight smile forced upon her lips.
Princess Celestia leaned back in her seat. "So you think he’s ready to be moved out of the dungeons?"
"Yes, your majesty."
"What do you have in mind for where he’ll be staying instead?" she asked.
Fluttershy was quiet for a moment. She knew what she wanted, but she wasn’t too sure if her idea was something that the princess would agree on. The aura of regality that she always carried didn’t help in making her request any easier to get out. “Well, could he—Is it possible for— it’s not—… is it too much to ask for a guest room? S-Sorry if it is, I just thought—”
“If you think that’s what he needs.” the princess said, a warm smile on her face.
Fluttershy just sat there slightly slack-jawed and dazed by the princess’s hasty answer. She expected her to say no, maybe even get a little offended for being asked, but instead she agreed—and so quickly at that!
“You are the one reforming him, Fluttershy. Not me. You get to decide what happens to him. I’m sure that you already know far more about him than I do, anyhow. He’s quite stubborn around me, you know.” She chuckled.
What she didn’t seem to know was that he was just as stubborn around Fluttershy, if not moreso. She hardly knew any more about him than when she had first started talking to him, but she knew better than to admit that to the princess. “I-I’m honored that you trust me with this much responsibility, princess.”
She really wasn’t. She was positive that she was shivering in her seat at that moment.
“Oh, but of course.” Princess Celestia picked up her quill, dipped it in an ink well, and went right back to writing. “Now, if that’s all you came in here to ask me, you can head along. And tell Sombra that his room will be ready for him by the time he’s healed up.”
“I will, Princess.”
With that, Fluttershy bowed out of the princess’s studies.
It was too much. It was all just… too much. She kept thinking about it as she made her way back to Sombra. She didn’t like the amount of responsibility that the princess had thrown on her when she had asked that she reform Discord, and she didn’t like it any more with Sombra. At least she’d had her friends to help her back then when things got out of hoof with Discord, but now she was all alone. She wondered what in the wide world of Equestria she would even do if things escalated with Sombra. There were no elements of harmony to save her hide this time.
Sombra didn’t seem all that thrilled when she told him the news. Then again, his face seemed to always be in perpetual disinterest for everything. He was definitely showing some emotion when she offered him something to eat a while earlier, but then it all just drifted away once the apple was done for.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“What do you mean ‘what’s wrong’?”
“I just thought you’d be a little more, well… excited to know that you’re going to be leaving the dungeon.”
“I am simply elated, if you cannot tell.” Sombra said in that dead tone of his, the most emotionless expression on his face that a pony could make.
She really couldn’t tell. Nopony would’ve been able to tell.
Fluttershy figured that she ought to stay in the infirmary for a little longer just to chit-chat with Sombra a bit, no matter how one-sided the conversation always ended up being. But before she could even strike up on any topic, Sombra had the first word.
“You remind me of somepony I that used to know.”
“I do? Does that somepony live in the Crystal Empire?” Fluttershy asked.
“She did, yes. You’re quite similar to her, I must say. Just as soft-spoken, just as caring, just as… well, I can leave that last bit out. Aside from you being so afraid of everything, you and her are alike in every way.”
“I’m not afraid of—”
“You are,” Sombra interjected sharply. “Do you care to prove me otherwise on that sentiment?”
Sombra wasn’t completely wrong. Fluttershy was ready to admit that she’s frightened a lot more easily than the average pony, but to say that she’s afraid of everything? “W-Well, no, not really, but—”
“So, Fluttershy, I must ask: Why are you down here trying to help me? Why did Celestia choose you out of so many potential ponies who are far more qualified?”
She wasn’t expecting Sombra to be as talkative as he suddenly was. For so long he had only answered with a few words here and there, sometimes not even that. Now, seemingly out of nowhere, he wanted to know all these things about her; he genuinely wanted to speak to her. What did she do differently for him to have such a change of heart? Did the princess really know Sombra that well? “Well, I guess you could say it’s because of Discord.”
“And what exactly does the spirit of chaos and disharmony have to do with any of this? He’s been imprisoned in stone for thousands of years.”
“He broke free years ago. The princess appointed me to reform him. And since I succeeded with Discord, I guess she thinks I can do the same for you, too.”
Sombra rolled his crimson eyes skeptically. “Oh, how quaint. I suppose you have even more silly stories to tell of conquering mighty beasts and shining light on the darkest corners of Equestria, am I correct?”
“I know it sounds kind of unbelievable, but maybe someday I can introduce you to him myself.” Fluttershy smiled softly at the mere thought. “I’m sure he’d love to meet you, Sombra.”
Their conversation was interrupted by a knock on the door. Dr. Warmheart shortly entered with a scroll in her hoof and a smile on her face. “Sorry to interrupt you two. Fluttershy, one of the guards dropped this scroll off to me. I was told it’s for you.”
The instant she heard that the scroll was hers, her eyes lit up with delight. The doctor dropped it into Fluttershy’s eager hooves and bid her adieu. “I wish I could stay and chat, but I’ve got some reports to write. Have a nice day, Fluttershy.”
What was today’s letter going to say this time? There was just no waiting for her to open it! “I’m sorry if this sounds a little rude, but you don’t mind if I read this real quick, do you, Sombra?”
“Do as you will.”
That was all she needed to hear. She slid the cuff off of the scroll and unraveled it. What caught her eye wasn’t at all the same hoofwriting as usual. It all looked so much more elegant and neat than before. This couldn’t have possibly been from Twilight. Before reading any of its contents, she looked to the bottom of the letter where the signature was held. Right there was the name “Rarity” in beautiful cursive writing.
Fluttershy switched her attention back to the very top of the letter and began reading.
Me and the girls miss you very, very much. I know Twilight is usually the one to write these letters to you, but I figured I ought to take her place just this one time. After all, I’m the one who misses you most, darling!
As of right now, I’m staying in Canterlot for the rest of the week to assist Coco Pommel with her new fashion line. I’d be delighted if you could stop by Coco’s boutique sometime so we could have a little chat about how things are coming along with Sombra. Perhaps we’ll even head down to the spa like we always used to do. I’m sure you’d like a massage what with the job you’ve been assigned. I know the princess prefers for me and the others to stay out of the castle, but she didn’t say anything about meeting outside of the castle, did she?
But if for whatever reason you can’t or don’t want to stop by, I’ll understand. Just make sure to keep your guard up around that monster and always remember that if he lays a single filthy hoof on you, we’ll come running no matter what!
I hope to see you soon!
Fluttershy hadn’t yet realized the enormous smile on her face as she read Rarity’s letter, but Sombra sure did. “Well?” he asked.
“I… I have to go.” She hastily rolled the letter back up and slid the cuff back over it. Her lips only fidgeted in her attempt to lessen the huge smile on her face. “Sorry that I have to leave so suddenly. We’ll talk sometime later, okay?”
Sombra addressed her giddiness with his usual bored stature and shrugged her statement away. And with a quick goodbye, Fluttershy bolted from the infirmary. Rarity was expecting her, and she most certainly wasn’t going to keep her waiting any longer than necessary!