• Published 1st Oct 2014
  • 3,682 Views, 438 Comments

Story Shuffle - FanOfMostEverything

Thirty-one one-shots inspired by thirty-one random Magic cards.

  • ...

Necessary Evil

The Hollow Shades are not a nice place.

This doesn't exactly come as a surprise to ponies. Names are almost always meaningful in Equestria. Nopony is going to see that label on a map and think that the cartographer meant to put "great vacation spot!"

But the Hollow Shades are not at all a nice place.

Equestria has small regions of darkness, shadows cast by its light. A fire swamp here, an aberration-infested cave there, and of course there's the Everfree right at its heart. But the Hollow Shades are far worse. They act as a sort of metaphysical low point, where all the nearby foulness and corruption flows downhill, like water into a storm drain.

Creatures that fear to even enter the rest of Equestria, much less show their faces, thrive in the Shades. Some shadows have a semblance of life there. They are nowhere near Sombra's power, but are strong enough to hunger. Minor fiends, insignificant and lucky enough to escape Tartarus unnoticed, congregate there. Some only want to enjoy their freedom, but some seek to call their masters out of their prison. Even nightmares can gain a semblance of reality there. None of them last for very long, starving from the moment their dreamers awaken, but some of them last long enough.

No, the Hollow Shades are by no stretch of the imagination a nice place.

This, of course, makes some ponies wonder why Celestia permits them to exist, why she has not cleansed the stain on Equestria with the righteous power of the sun.

Some cite her compassion, noting that for all their horrors, the Hollow Shades are still home to ponies, and Celestia could never bring her full, terrible might down on those she so loves. The more cynical agree, but think she is more concerned with the fallout that would come of directing such force on her own country and people.

Some wonder if Luna might hold the explanation. Perhaps the Shades reminded Celestia of her sister in some way, and she could not bear to bring harm to them during Luna's millennium of exile. Perhaps they were always the younger princess's jurisdiction, and the elder had no right to trespass there, bound by compacts of unknowable age and potency. Perhaps, whisper a few, the Shades are but a symptom of some unspeakable act of the Nightmare, one that Celestia could not undo and that Luna now lacks the power to correct.

Some look at it pragmatically. The Shades, they say, are terrible, but they are a concentrated terror, a contained one. Were Celestia to stamp them out, future creatures of fell darkness might not seek a haven, but try to create one wherever they find themselves. By removing the Shades, Celestia might be inflicting their darkness on the rest of Equestria.

As with so many questions about the princess, few have the opportunity to ask her, and even fewer dare to. For a long time, a certain purple unicorn was among the latter camp. Only after she earned her wings did she find the courage to ask her former mentor. What was it that stayed Celestia's horn? Mercy? Luna? Expediency? Some combination of them, or something of which the layponies could not conceive?

And Celestia felt joy and sorrow alike. Joy, for the student who once would've accepted her every word unquestioned was now her own mare, unafraid to question the old nag who thought she could teach such a brilliant mind anything at all. Sorrow, for one of the first things she questioned was one of that nag's greatest shames.

Celestia then ushered Twilight into her private chambers and lined the walls with a spell of silence. There, she whispered the truth to her student:

"There is a darkness there greater than any it attracts, one that befouls the very land. I did try to destroy it once. It dodged, and then it moved north. The Badlands were not always such. I thought it better to let that corruption rest where it now lies than to rouse it again."

And thus began the Ninth Quest of Harmony.

Author's Note:

More a bit of world-building than a story in and of itself. Still, with a land, it feels appropriate to focus on such.

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