• Published 15th Sep 2014
  • 10,195 Views, 245 Comments

From Darkness To Light - Pixel_Spark



When an insidious evil threatens the Crystal Empire, the Princesses must call upon the most unlikely pony; Sombra. Can he overcome his own darkness in order to save the empire from a far worse one?

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Meetings & Memorial

This had to be a dream. She'd fallen asleep after a long day at work.



That was the excuse Shining Sea tried to tell herself. But no, this was REAL. Possibly the sweetest, most handsome stallion she'd ever grown to know had just kissed HER.



Like any mare, she'd daydreamed of such an occasion, but never had she thought it would be in such a glamorous setting! Part of her tried to say this was just a dream, but the thudding of her heart, the shimmer of his unique power at the edges of her senses, and most telling of all, the feel of his lips on hers...



This was no dream...it was a kiss of such warmth and tentative curiosity...



A wonderful shiver ran from nose to tail, and she made a note that this was the. Best. Night. Ever!



At last the moment had to come to an end, and they broke apart. For a moment, she seen him with the barriers dropped, just how much was hidden behind that protective shell.



They blinked at each other, before she felt herself blush. She was literally speechless.



"I-", Sombra felt a surge of embarrassment. How could he have just DONE something so rash?! She was sure to get mad. Why would she be interested in HIM? Had he gone too far, reading too much into what was probably something else?



All these fears and guilts ran through his head, and tripped his automatic "flee the scene" habit, born from his disrupted social learning.



"I have to go-" he blurted, hoping to excuse himself before she got angry "I'm sorry if I-mmh!"



He was cut off, as with a no-nonsense look on her face, Shining Sea reached up and snagged a hoof under his collar, pulling him back around to face her. Their muzzles touched, and his heart kicked off again, pounding so loudly he couldn't hear a thing. He tensed, expecting a good solid slap or the like. So he made a startled noise when she returned the kiss. A kiss soft as the silk of the cloak he wore.



--Sweet merciful Celestia,-- he thought, --don't let this be a dream…--



He blushed bright red as she let him go. Eyes widened, blinking soundlessly. This wasn't how he'd expected things to go. Heck, when it came down to it, he hadn't expected his own actions. If Cotton Candy had somehow eaten so much sugar she'd ripped a hole in common sense AND reality, gone skittering off to the future and returned to tell him he'd end the most astounding party with a heart-stopping kiss, with a mare who refused to see anything of the darkness he perceived to surround him-



Well he'd have probably told that hyperactive reality-shredding pony she was off her proverbial rocker. And the literal one too. And one in a dimension that doesn't exist-



-Where was he going with this? He realized he hadn't said a word in the ensuing silence, but she didn't look upset, more amused at his behavior.



"What made you think I'd push you away?" she chided kindly.



"I didn't-" he cut off, tried again "I don't-"



"I'll say it again, don't talk about yourself that way," Shining Sea said softly, reaching up and gently brushing her hoof over his cheek "I know you don't believe me, but there's a reason those ladies were so eager for a dance. You've become so kind." she blushed.



He still seemed speechless, so she added, in a soft whisper "you think your appearance pushes anypony away? You're wrong. Quite the opposite in fact..."



"B-but.." Sombra stammered, --come on brain, just work with me here!-- he pleaded with it.



"No buts." she said decisively.



"Ah- But-, I-" he blustered, his brain refusing point blank to say anything intelligent. This was a new and startling thing. He'd never had time to think about love, survival had always come first...



Shining Sea felt another tug of affection for the reserved, reclusive stallion as she watched him. The purple of his uniform made his dark red eyes seem to have even more subtle shades to them, and, with his mane tamed by the spell, it framed the exquisite curve of his jaw, his ears twitching subtly...



“-sheer audacity of-”



She cut off his half-formed sentences with a firm, but gentle kiss. He caught a scent of vanilla from her mane, a scent that would forever be branded into his mind as belonging to this special mare. He knew there was a risk anypony could wander down this hall and spot them, but that thought was quickly dismissed as the desire to return her kiss became undeniable.



Without the uncertainty of how she felt, this kiss was even sweeter, and the world around them seemed to blur, sounds phasing out to be replaced by the thunder of his own pulse...



She didn't say anything further when they finally broke out of their little moment, just angled her head to brush her cheek against his, the warmth of the contact making him feel so relieved.



They would've carried on like this, if not for:



"Mommy?" they heard Bright Spark calling for her mother, and they reluctantly stepped apart as she came bounding round the corner. If she noticed her mother and Sombra both looked a little flushed and slightly closer then she'd ever seen them, she didn't say a word.



"Mommy, Sombwa! Whachuu doing?"



"Just having a little chat honey..." Shining Sea nuzzled the top of her daughters head, making her giggle "you ready to go? Shall we go say goodbye to the Princesses?"



Bright Spark nodded, but first to say goodbye to Sombra! She raced over and hugged him tightly. She whispered a secret, which made him raise an eyebrow in amusement, but nod.



They disappeared off down the corridor, Shining Sea casting one last lingering glance at him before she vanished from sight.



He uttered a shaken sigh --cant believe I...let alone that she..--



Then he recalled the secret Bright Spark had whispered, and turned towards the other corridor...

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Rarity had gone into silent squee overload and swooned in glee behind the pot plant when Shining Sea had grabbed Sombra by the collar to stop him bolting and kissed him back!



She rolled back and forth on the plush carpeting – to hay with creases - squeeing as silently as she could. Oh, it was just SO romantic! The moody, enigmatic Sombra finally choosing a special somepony!



Then something blotted out the light and she stopped mid-roll, blinking.



It was Sombra, looming over her, wearing a resigned but bewildered expression.



"What exactly are you DOING, miss Rarity?" he asked.



"Eeh hee...its quite a story, darling!" she said lamely, getting to her feet.



"If it has you rolling around on the carpet giggling like miss Cotton Candy after sixteen cupcakes, I will admit I am curious." he said, deadpan.



She stared at him, but he didn't falter.



"OK, I was accidentally spying on you! I couldn't help it, it was just so sweet and- you already knew I was here didn't you?" she tailed off, seeing the amusement on his face



"Yes, I did fancy I heard something, but I was admittedly distracted," he said at last. "However, miss Bright Spark said something that gave it away...."



"She did?"



"Yes, her exact words were, "There's a pony having a giggle-fit behind that pot plant, I think she had too much fizzy!""



Rarity face-hoofed. Busted by a curiously astute filly!



"So you saw everything...?" Sombra sighed at last.



Rarity blinked up at him, seeing the way he stared almost defensively off to one side, not meeting her eyes, as if preparing to defend himself against some form of mockery. She noted this was an almost childlike aspect of his personality, this sullen taciturnity. Then again, he HAD skipped childhood and been forced to grow up amidst his own madness...



Her expression was kind as she carried on, "I didn't MEAN to intrude, I'd just left the bathroom when I heard you talking. I didn't want to interrupt, and then things happened! But listen to me, darling, I wouldn't DREAM of making fun of somepony for something so wonderful!"



Sombra blinked at her, looking slightly less embarrassed, but still wary.



Seeing him still looking undecided, her eyes sparkled in amusement as she had an idea!



"I swear!" She said, and demonstrated a playground oath she and the others had been taught by Pinkie Pie "Cross my heart, hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye!" Ending with her left hoof being placed over the corresponding eye.



He laughed, the tension draining from him at last. For her to go that far, he knew she was being as generous as her element, and as honest as her...no, THIER friend Applejack!



"Well, perhaps you can explain it to me." he sighed at last as she set her hoof back down.



"Explain what darling? She's clearly in love with you! What's to explain! You've got things started now!"



"And that's the problem!" Sombra blurted, sighing. "Things of this nature, they weren't exactly on my priority list. I have no idea what I'm supposed to do about this now!"



"Ah, that, I think I can help with!" Rarity had read enough romance books to know the general idea. "First up is a first date! technically this whole dance counts, since it's when the first kiss occurred-" she broke off to clap her hooves happily, "but now is the first PROPER date, with just the two of you!"



"Two questions; What does that entail, and why were you rolling on the floor again?"



"Ahem, that.." Rarity flushed a little "I have a soft spot for romance, darling! And that was possibly the sweetest thing I've seen, ever! You finally realized what she trying to tell you, AND she returned your affections, it's just like a storybook! You need to find out what she likes! For example, fancy dinners, picnics, things like that! Then plan something around that!"



This was way more complicated then Sombra had guessed, he needed to think...

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"We would say that was a success, wouldst thou agree?" Luna asked as the royal group plus twilights friends, made their way out of the now empty ballroom.



Sombra couldn't answer, save an exhausted yawn and a flushed nod. Celestia chuckled at the sight of him.



"Let's all get some sleep," she said happily "its been a wonderful evening..."

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Shining Sea woke up the morning after the party with an initially undetermined sense of happiness bustling around her brain. On auto pilot she ambled downstairs to start cooking little Spark's breakfast. Then she recalled exactly why she was grinning all over her face (as seen in the surface of the saucepan).



Sombra had KISSED her. Oh sweet CELESTIA, it'd been the most adorable thing...



He'd mistaken her stunned surprise and silent celebration for shock and dislike, and had tried to excuse himself and flee. But, determined not to let him get the wrong idea, and already concerned he did not consider himself deserving of such affections, she'd put a stop to his exit strategy and simply kissed him in return. Her heart had been hammering away so fast she was sure she would collapse.



She could feel herself flushing again. She recalled how close he'd been to her, the soft curve of his ears, the deep red of his eyes. The gentle feel of his coat when she nudged his cheek with hers. And of course, the heart-pounding warmth of that first kiss.



"Mommy?" she jumped when she heard her daughters voice.



"Hey sweetie!" she smiled as Bright Spark ambled in and took her place at the table. She tucked eagerly into the soft fluffy waffles her mother spooned onto her plate. Once her mother had made her customary coffee and joined her, they began to chatter.



"Did you enjoy the party sweetie?" Shining Sea smiled as her daughter drizzled syrup onto the waffle and took big bite out of it. she nodded rapidly, swallowing the food.



"It was so much awesome!" she cheered, and rattled off a list of things she'd done, from playing hide and seek around the ballroom with pinkie, to getting a dance lesson Applejack-style (rodeo style line dancing!), meeting Princess Cadance and Shining Armor, and finishing with her chat with Princess Celestia after her floor-skiing trick!



"Yes I seen the Princess fixing your dress!" Shining Sea chuckled. "Try not do too much of that OK?"



"Okayy..." Bright Spark giggled, finishing the last scrap of waffle and beaming happily at her mother!



She wondered how to broach the subject with her daughter. Bright Spark adored Sombra, she knew that, but how would she feel about Sombra and her mommy being close?

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That morning at breakfast, Sombra was given the latest statistics on attacks. They were ramping up, this much was obvious, but the guards were getting swifter too, at destroying them! The only thing missing was a way for THEM to sense what Sombra could, aka the core controller! Sombra promsied he'd try to think of a way, but dark magic was a tricky business, as it didn't seem to be confined to written spells!


He was also delivered a fancy letter in a stiff gilded envelope.



"What is it?" He queried, turning it over and frowning in puzzlement at it. Rarity spotted a logo on the front.



"The Crystal Theatre Company!" She gasped "open it, open it!"



Baffled, Sombra raised an eyebrow but opened the letter anyway. He unfolded the letter, and watched as two shiny gold and silver slips fluttered out.



"OOH!" Rarity grabbed them before they fluttered away and set them on the table "are these what I think they are?!"



"What's that then?" Sombra asked.



"Pineapples?!" Pinkie Pie suggested.



"They're tickets to this Saturdays performance...these are like gold dust!"



"Golden pineapples?" Pinkie was still stuck on the oddly nicknamed "Party fruit", so called because of its absurdly amusing shape!



"Seems that's what they're made of..." Sombra said absently "why on Equestria would they send those to me?"



"One of your five a day?"



"Pinkie!" Rarity sighed in exasperation. pinkie just giggled happily...



Seeing Sombra' genuinely baffled face, Rarity decided to clarify "It would be an honor for them if you decided to attend, darling! have you ever seen anything like a stage play before?"



"No." Sombra said, raising an eyebrow. "Are they interesting?"



"The story to this one is just exquisite!" Rarity beamed. "It's a wonderful love story!"



"Not sure how that's relevant to me..." Sombra said absently, tucking the tickets and letter into the envelope before stashing it in a pocket on the inside of his cloak as he got up from the table.



"Really now?" Rarity said conspiratorially, giving him a sly wink.



"Whatever on Equestria you could possibly be talking about, I cannot fathom, now excuse me-" and he was gone.



"That whole sentence didn't make a lick a sense." AJ pointed out after. Pinkie stuck a mustache to her face so she could look serious and twirl it.



"Beats me..." Rarity shrugged, having promised herself she'd keep it a secret unless Sombra mentioned it!



Going by AJ's expression, she wasn't buying it, but Rarity merely kept a calm exterior whilst giggling gleefully on the inside!



Twilight raised an eyebrow, wondering if her theory was correct. Was Sombra taking another big step in his new life?

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Sombra left the palace, the theatre tickets in his cloak pocket. Would Shining Sea WANT to see something like this? It was a big deal apparently, according to miss Rarity! At least it was something to go on, certainly more then he'd come up with so far!



The memory of the kiss was racing around his head, making his heart pound; to clear his head, Sombra decided to take a walk through the market.



He smiled to himself as he recalled seeing Bright Spark go sledding across the dance floor, whooping and hollering in total glee. Mid-dance, he and Princess Luna had barely been able to stop laughing they'd found it so funny!

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The market was in full swing when he reached it, and he spotted Healing breeze and made his way over.



"Your highness!" she beamed. "How're you faring?"



"Very well," Sombra said with a smile. "Might I trouble you for some more of that special blend you sent over?"



"Of course!" she beamed, preparing what was fast becoming Sombra's new favorite tea!



"I noticed that guard finally made a bid for the Princess' attention!" she chuckled, referring to Flash and Twilight.



"Yes, but only after I threatened to kick him up the backside if he didn't finally DO something..." Sombra said in amusement.



"I've seen worse incentives," Healing Breeze laughed. "these young folk are far more bold then my generation was! But, it was wonderful to see you looking so at home at that party, you're all anypony has been talking about!"



"Really...?" Sombra asked, still confused as to why. Rarity had said it too, that he was the "hottest item on the agenda!".



She leant in a bit closer "In fact, there's a fairly large crowd right behind you waiting to say hello, if you turn around..."



Sombra blinked, putting the tea in his saddlebag and cautiously turning round as she instructed.



Sweet merciful Celestia, she wasn't kidding. A small crowd had gathered soon as he entered the market, but due to his default state of obliviousness, he honestly hadn't noticed!



Healing Breeze noticed the way his ears went "poink" and stood up, a clear sign when he was startled it seemed, as this same reaction had occurred on his entering the ballroom!



--Don't just stand there you idiot..-- he told himself, staring at the sudden crowd with wide red eyes. They were looking up at him with bright, kind smiles...



Kicking his brain into gear he did the first thing he thought of, which was to incline his head in a formal greeting and bid them good morning!



--Smooth, genius..-- he told himself sarcastically.



But the crowd didn't seem to notice the Princes social awkwardness, they were just pleased to see him wandering about outside the palace! They were charmed by his old fashioned mannerisms, the reassuring rumbling tone of his voice suiting the old fashioned speech.



"The ball was just wonderful your highness!" One mare beamed. "Best party I've ever been to!"



"How were you not terrified by that attack?"



"Did you REALLY learn that dance in just one afternoon??"



Sombra laughed softly and tried to answer them all "Miss Cotton Candy will be overjoyed to hear that, it was all her hard work! As for the attack, I've had more death threats from those creatures then I can count! To be honest I've stopped noticing them by now."



Admiring murmurs ran through the crowd at how unaffected he'd been when held at knife point, in a potentially dangerous scenario!



"And as for the traditional performance, yes, it didn't take long to memorize. Really not all that different from studying battle tactic and theory, it all comes down to movement and the transfer of energy..."



"An impressive shift from one tradition to another, your highness!" An older stallion looked at Sombra with a fresh respect. "You have a very sharp mind if I may say so!"



Sombra was surprised but pleased by this compliment, and gratefully thanked him!



"Oh, your highness!" A mare with a set of red framed glasses perched on her nose finally managed to get through the crowds to catch the Princes attention, "Everypony's been asking who designed that outfit you wore at the ball? It was just divine!"



Her pencil hovered over her writing pad as she hoped for a response!



"That was miss Rarity's handiwork, she's been designing everything that followed after my old cloak got destroyed. Although all six of the elements bearers had a hoof in this..." he glanced down at the cloak he currently wore.



"It has a wonderful balance between regalia and function!" the unicorn studied the set-up of Sombra's day to day armor "I just LOVE the pin!"



"It certainly has a great significance to me.." was Sombra's reply. But what he meant went beyond what the crowd assumed. They didn't know that in order to bring him back, the crystal heart had given up a fraction of itself to awaken him! This shard resided somewhere, somehow inside his physical body. With his magic restored, he found he could sense it more and more now. It brought with it a strange longing...



The crowd noticed he was staring into space, in the direction of the spot where the heart normally stood.



"Where IS the heart?" One curious filly asked.



"Ah, what?" Sombra shook his head, looking down at the sky-blue pegasus filly, her navy hair cut in a spiky fashion.



"The heart?" she asked, smiling kindly, seeing he obviously missed it too, in some manner "That's what you were looking at, wasn't it? Where the heart normally is. Is it OK?"



Sombra had been told, once they'd ascertained he was no longer a danger, how the heart was now under heavy magical security deep below the castle. He had yet to see it, however.



"It is fine," He said at last "Princess Cadance is taking good care of it..."



"Is she worried those evil things will try and steal it if she puts it back?" the filly asked.



"Well, it was just ONE thing they were all concerned about initially," Sombra said jokingly, referring to himself back at the start "but yes, there's the constant fear those things may try to use it for themselves..."



"Eh, you'd just kick 'em up the butt if they tried, right?" she blew her fringe out of her eyes, their green depths full of a level headed kindness. "Ya know, how you do?"



Sombra smiled warmly, "exactly." he said softly.



"Rockin'..." she declared, nodding sagely.



He was starting to relax when he felt the ground rumble, and heard screams in the distance. The filly's eyes met his, her expression asked what was on all the crowds minds, was it those things? Sombra nodded in confirmation, and told them to keep away from the site until it'd been dealt with!

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Teleporting over to the disturbance, he appeared in time to see a smoking crater in the street.



"Is everypony alright?" he asked.



Nods and cries of confirmation met his ears and he relaxed a bit.



"How quaint...just as daddy intended you to act.."



Sombra froze when he recognized that voice. Out of the smoke climbed a figure familiar from history books. A pale yellow pegasus, he had white mane and tail with dark grey streaks in, like a cloud. The main was tied in a loose plait of sorts, with crystal in complimenting shades threaded in and out of it, which the crowd recognized as an ancient Crystal Empire style, like what Cadance had done for the Equestria Games inspector!



Sombra felt his stomach belly flop, anger and loss churning in his gut.



"I should have realized this all along, this was the one you treasured most, huh..." it gave its appearance a sneering appraisal "your species really hasn't evolved much has it? Almost pathetic but for the energy you possess..."



Sombra remained mute, although the closer members of the crowd sensed something was about to happen. Exactly WHAT, however, they didn't know!



"What's the matter, not so eager to attack all of a sudden? Still think you can preserve these worthless feelings? Its almost sad really this one, adopting a stray mongrel out of pity!"



Still no response from Sombra. He was too busy quashing feelings of vengeful hate at the imposter, and the emotional shock of seeing such a solid representation of his father.



"You haven't a clue have you? The only one of your kind, and you insist on spending your life being a lapdog? I've tried to give you a chance to be more then this, guarding these weaklings-" here something sparked behind Sombra's eyes, and he tensed subtly, but the creature ignored him "-but in the end even HE gave up on you didn't he-"



"Shut. Up." Sombra's voice was quiet, but carried within it such fury and cold hate that the creature actually stopped. It took in the still blank expression on Sombra's face.



"Guess it's time to do what this fool could never do for you, beat some sense into you-" It shot up into the sky and without warning fired massive chunks of sharp black crystal at Sombra. The crowd scattered as the missiles homed in on Sombra, but he just stared dead ahead at it. His heart was pounding, how dare this worthless piece of garbage wear his fathers form...-



WHOMPF. His anger sought an outlet and found it, in the form of his flame-mode from the stadium. The missiles were shot out of the sky by multiple bolts of purple magic, which blasted them in mid air...



"What?!" the creature sputtered. But it didn't relent, just changed summoned another round, bigger chunks, their deadly sharp edges glinting in the light! They were screaming towards Sombra in a deadly sweep. Sombra caught sight of the thing smirking at him, wearing his fathers guise, and he lost it. This was the stallion who given him a home, love, and a place in the Crystal Empire.



He'd given Sombra forgiveness for the worst of what he'd done. Like buck he was going to let this thing away with dragging this pony through the dirt. His view narrowed to only the fake father, and some sort of autopilot kicked in, channelling his magic into enhancing his teleport.



Jaws dropped collectively as Sombra seemed to go into some sort of overdrive. He appeared to phase right THROUGH the incoming projectiles, his gaze unwavering from the one he sought. Every obstacle he touched vanished as well, sent plummeting into the forest out of harms way!



"W-what....curse you-" it began, but Sombra wasn't done. Using the final rock as a launchpad and slamming into the imposter and knocking them both to the ground, Sombra glared down at the shadow creature masquerading as his father, utilizing his larger body type and weight to pin its limbs.



"You.." Sombra's voice had a level of anger the crowd had NEVER heard before, "are nothing. a wretched parasite, draining anything that's good from the world as if you have a right to even EXIST!"



He glared at the thing, and a flash of light seemed to rush over his eyes! With this flash of magic, the creature underneath him was suddenly changed back into its goopy black shadowy form. The flame maned unicorn glared down at it.



"How?!" It sputtered, feeling as if a heavy weight was bearing down on it, it couldn't move!



"You have NO right to wear his form!" Sombra was unleashing a lot of pent-up of fury and rage. He raised one hoof, sparks of dark magic crackling along it "you could search a hundred worlds and never find a better pony than him! The mere fact he was willing to GIVE a "mongrel" a chance is what puts him far above anything you've ever devoured! You can parade my whole family in front of me, past OR present, it wont make a bucking difference! You see, the right memories have been restored, the worthwhile ones! Princess Luna seen to it, they ALL did! Your little plan was a failure, and now you're out of ammo! I have EVERYTHING, I know it all. The past, the invasion, the mistakes, good and bad!"



He felt about to be sick his head hurt so badly, but he wasn't done;



"HE wasn't the one who gave up, I was! He should be here, not me! I cant change that, but YOU I will hunt down and wipe off the face of this world, I don't CARE what it takes from me!"



The thing was starting to panic just a little. It was immobile, and it could sense the way Sombra's power was growing!



"There is NOTHING you could say to me now that would make a single bit of difference! I've known what its like to almost DIE because of what I am, you think a few insults and fakery is going to change my path? You may have seen a few memories, but you DON'T. KNOW. ME!!"



With this final word he slammed the raised hoof down into its core. With a shriek, it exploded, but the heavy cloak and armor deflected the worst of it, bar one shard that cut across his left foreleg which he didn't even register.



It faded away, leaving the street cracked and strewn with cracked core shards. Sombra just stood stock still, looking like he was in shock. Those that crept closest first could see he was shaking a little, just subtly. Then he closed his eyes and reverted back to his normal appearance, mane returning to its flowing black. He seemed unaware they were there any more, and with a sudden flurry of movement, started to take off towards a gap in the rapidly reforming crowd, but a filly's voice called out;



"Hay! Wait!"



Sombra battled a moment over whether to stop or just keep running like he so badly wished to, but after a split seconds delay, he dug his hooves in and came to a halt, the cloak swishing around him. It took a second further to tamp down the feelings of abject dismay and embarrassment, but the closer ponies still seen the haunted look in the Prince's eyes as he turned to greet the filly, the way his ears had drooped a little, indicating he wasn't happy...



"You dropped this!" The filly proffered up the fancy envelope Sombra had received that morning, with the theatre tickets inside. It'd fallen out during his mad dash to kick that things flank! He recognized her as the same one who'd been asking about the crystal heart.



"Oh....thank you..." Sombra managed to respond on autopilot, tucking them away again.



The younger pony tilted her head to one side, noting how upset Sombra was. She'd watched Sombra the whole fight, seen how he refused to see somepony he loved demeaned and mocked. The things he'd said too, about how his adoptive fathers decision to re-home him despite his issues made him worth so much more to him, really got to her. Family was those who loved you for who you were, even if they weren't related. That was cool, and she had a new respect for the battle stallion after hearing this.



But Sombra seemed to be freaked out, the way he glanced at the crowds from under his loose flowing mane, looking unhappy, made the kid wonder. Was he embarrassed because he'd lost his temper?



"You OK?" she asked.



Sombra stared for a few seconds, then managed a nod, and finally speaking "I..my apologies for that, I shouldn't-"



"What're you talking about?!" she asked "that was AWESOME!"



"Huh?" Sombra blinked. The rest of the crowd watched this kid chattering to the Prince. Kids, they noticed, seemed able to get past Sombra's wary defenses and get to know the pony better!



"You don't let anypony talk smack about your friends and family man! Nopony here can say they wouldn't do that! So you got mad, so what? We all go a bit loco sometimes.."



"I think my temper alarms them still.." Sombra sighed softly. But the girl shook her head.



"It's cool man," she grinned up at Sombra "Take a look, they're all worried about ya!"



Sombra at last looked up and seen all the kindly looks being directed his way.



"Are you alright your highness?"



"Please don’t feel bad, that must have been horrible-"



"Is there anything we can do?"



He had to fight not to turn bright red from embarrassment at being caught acting so odd. But yet, they didn't seem bothered. Maybe the kid was right?



All these thoughts buzzed around his head and he felt suddenly light-headed, the sunlight seemed glaringly bright and he had to close his eyes to block it out.



"-sire? are you OK?" a new voice. Sombra opened his eyes with a wince, seeing a familiar face. It was the cafe owner from the day he and Twilight Sparkle had gone out, so as to force him to get some fresh air. It'd been shortly after the black crystal plague, and Sombra had been thanked by several ponies who'd worked up the courage to talk to the reclusive and distant stallion!



"Come and have some tea, you can rest awhile..." the owner offered. Sombra nodded, following after him.



"Thanks, what's your name-?" he asked the punk-rock filly.



"I'm Cymbal Clash!" she gave a grin and a mock salute "keep it cool, your highness!"



He nodded his appreciation as she walked off into the crowd, singing a tune he recognized as Pinkies song from the ball, the one about HIM.



Mid-way to the cafe, a mare stopped him and the owner, stating she was a nurse and asking Sombra if she could see the wound on his leg. He looked down, only now realizing there WAS a bleeding cut across his right foreleg from the fight. He gave her an accommodating nod. The cafe owner told her they had a med kit inside, and she followed after the two stallions.

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Once the Prince was sat down, the owner fetched the mare the medkit, and she set about gently cleaning and bandaging the cut.



"You're very pale, your highness!" she said in concern "make sure you rest here awhile, and please don't upset yourself over this. Everypony knows you've had a rough time of things up until now, nopony will judge you for getting upset, I promise you that!"



"I..." Sombra sighed guiltily "I should have known better then to lose my temper like that, I am aware it still unnerves some..."



But to his surprise she just chuckled and smiled kindly.



"Oh my, no, your highness!" she shook her head, looking kindly up at him "To you it might have seemed like just mindlessly losing your temper, but what I, and undoubtedly the others seen was a passionate defense of somepony you treasured dearly. And that comment you made about "he should be here, not me". Please don't think that way. What little any of us truly know about the King, why, we see those same traits in YOU!"



Sombra blinked, astonishment showing in his eyes. His ears perked up a little, but tentatively, such words meaning so much to him. She carried on.



"The books all describe him as kind, strong and a very smart ruler. You may not be his biological child, but you've managed to defy all our past assumptions and show the kings spirit HAS come back to us, just with his SON this time!"



The ears twitched, but didn't seem so droopy now. The hopeful acceptance in his eyes even now,while not as prominent as previous occasions, was still almost heartbreakingly sad, she could see what the rumors had said, that the poor Prince was still fighting to accept himself how they seen him! But he was making little steps, and bit by bit was developing a persona away from the taint of the past. It cant have been easy for him to put his heart on the line after everything he'd endured, but the fact he remembered ALL of his past and STILL managed to fight the sadness to defend them all really made her admire him.



"It will take time, but you'll feel completely at home here soon your highness, both in the castle, and yourself!"



A wordless nod.



She beamed, packed up the remains of the medkit, and gave it back to the shop owner.



As she was leaving, Sombra managed to speak up "Thank you, you've given me a lot to think about.."



"Any time, your highness!" She gave a little bow, then trotted outside into the sunlight.



Thinking he was alone still, Sombra murmured "am I truly that easy for others to read?"



"You do show a lot in your expression sire," the owner said, making Sombra jump a little "Maybe its a subconscious thing, since you don't find it easy to talk, your mind seeks another way to express itself?"



"You're probably right, its been a novel idea for a long time...." he trailed off, and his face went red "I'm sorry, I shouldn't be babbling like an incompetent foal-"



"Nonsense!" The stallion shook his head as he set a cup of freshly brewed tea in front of the Prince "its just a part of normal life, like that mare said, you'll be used to it in no time!"



"I hope so..." Sombra looked up at the other pony at last, relief and gratitude in his expression as he took a sip of his tea. Recalling this pony from before, he asked "How is your wife? She was expecting a child last we met, I believe?"



The owner nodded, and smiled widely. "She's due next month, your highness!"



"Well, I hope everything goes smoothly. May this new journey be a wonderful one!" Sombra smiled.



"Thank you your highness, she'll be thrilled to hear that!"



Sombra had been staring at the menu while he'd been sitting there, and now asked for, of all the random things, an ice cream sundae!

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It turned out to be one of the tastiest things he'd tried in ages. He was happily making his way through it when the bell jingled and he heard;



"Prince Sombra!"



He looked up, seeing Shining Sea stood there.



"I thought it was you.." she chuckled "how are you?"



"Good, thank you..." Sombra smiled warmly, happy to see her. The memory of that first kiss flashed into his head and he felt himself flush a little. The same memory must've occurred to her too, as she blushed more openly. Sombra invited her to join him, and asked the store owner for more tea, and after a quick question, an extra sundae.



"I love these!" Shining Sea smiled as she tucked in. "What pony can resist ice cream?"



Sombra smiled fondly at a memory "I do recall trying lots of sweets when I was here first, but memory cannot tell you how they taste!"



Shining Sea chuckled, reaching over to brush a hoof across his nose.



"Sprinkles.." she said in amusement. Sombra laughed, noted they'd gotten onto his cloak as well, and hurriedly brushed them off.



"Its impossible to eat ice cream without making a mess," Shining Sea told him. "Just ask Bright Spark!"



Sombra listened to her talking about Spark's progress at school, how shed brought home a new friend, named Lavender. How happy she was to see her daughter doing so well at school!



Sombra recalled Rarity's suggestion about a date, and figured now would be a good time to try...



"M-miss Shining Sea..." he began. "Wait, I mean-" was it Mrs?



"You don’t need to call me anything.." she giggled lightly "Just my regular name will do, your highness!"



"And YOU really don't need to call me that!" he smiled gently "you and Bright Spark know me too well. Just Sombra is fine."



She blushed at being given such a privilege, Sombra really was becoming so kind...



"I was hoping, that is..." he suddenly found his brain had abandoned him, leaving him struggling to think of an intelligent way to phrase this. "Would you happen to have some time free this Saturday?"



Her eyes widened a little, was he-?



"That is...if not-" he began, but she reached over the table and tapped his nose, stopping him before he got into a loop.



"Yes," she said simply, with a cute smile.



Sombra flushed a little before he could stop himself. He pulled the tickets from his pocket and set them in front of her. Her eyes went wide;



"This is.."



"Miss Rarity tells me this particular show is astounding, I was hoping you'd join me..."



"I'd LOVE to!" Her eyes sparkled "I've always wanted to go this theatre, but the shows sell out so fast!"



Sombra looked so pleased she couldn't help blush. Whether he realized it or not, he showed a LOT of expression through both his body language and those deep red eyes.



He asked about her thoughts on the party, and she said she'd loved it! Bright Spark had been so happy to get to attend such a fancy party, even if she did get a little hyper!



Sombra laughed again at the floor-skiing act, and Shining Sea smiled to see the way his eye sparkled when he laughed. But she noticed he still looked a little pale, and asked was he alright? So he told her the whole incident that'd just happened.



"I'm supposed to be here to protect and serve, not act like a loose canon..." he sighed. "Eveyrpony's saying they aren't surprised by it, but still, I feel foolish."



"Don't be silly..." she shook her head. "Nopony dwells on your old self any more. Why would they need to? They know they can trust you! You have to cast all these doubts aside, they're not necessary any more, I promise that."



Another soft smile, and she seen some of the darkness of worry fade from his eyes.



Ice cream finished, they set off out of the shop.

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Sombra accompanied her to the school to pick up Bright Spark. The other parents gathered around did double takes when they seen Shining Sea arrived with the Prince in tow!



"SOMBWA!!" Bright Spark spotted him soon as she exited the door, and tore over, flinging herself at her precious friend in a gleeful glomp. Then she exuberantly hugged her mother.



Bright Spark babbled about that days activities, how she and Lavender had played jump rope with some other kids, and she was getting good at it now!



"Excuse me your highness..." Sombra looked round, seeing Petalbloom there "Would you mind awfully if I borrowed you for a moment?"



"Of course not," Sombra agreed, before turning to Bright Spark and Shining Sea.



"I'll see you soon little one~" He said fondly, mimicing what Shining Sea did and playfully nuzzling her head. She giggled and hugged him once more, and Shining Sea looked up at Sombra, a question on her lips...



"Saturday, 7?" he asked, speaking softly so only she could hear it. She nodded, smiling again before nudging her giggly daughter.



"This way.." Petalbloom gestured to the front door of the school...

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In the staffroom, she showed him two things;



One: Spark's workbook, which showed just how much she'd grown, also showed how much a part of her life he'd become, and Two: a folder full of pictures the kids in the school had done of and for him. Sombra was touched by their imagination, and the cutely drawn images made him feel ever more cheered. These he tucked into his saddlebag.



"I just wanted to thank you for looking after the kids at the festival," Petalbloom said. "You know, it's their favorite playground game now? Pretending to fight those shadows as bravely as you have!"



This made Sombra chuckle at the mental image.



"So thank you, again your highness. The kids were scared when this all started, but they see you protecting them, and they smile again!"



"I'm just glad they're faring alright. To young ones like them, this must all be quite a shock."



Petalbloom nodded "but the young adapt the fastest it seems.."



Sombra nodded, Bright Spark was proof of this. She'd seen everything from dark shadow attacks to the full force of Sombra's magic before anypony else, and she hadn't batted an eyelid. The only times she'd been saddened was when he himself had been hurt or depressed.



She walked him out of the staff room, and they were a few meters down the hall when a classroom door not far ahead flew open, and a young unicorn colt shot out, shouting:



"JUST LEAVE ME ALONE!! WHAT DO YOU KNOW?!"



Sombra and Petalbloom stepped sharply aside as the kid charged blindly past, not even registering the Prince as he ran into the recently vacated staffroom, slamming the door and locking it.



"Hay!" a harried looking mare came racing out of the classroom after him, looking worried. Spotting the bewildered Sombra and Petalbloom, she ran to them.



"Who was that?" Sombra asked.



"I'm so sorry your highness.." she blurted "he's been very upset lately..."



Sombra frowned, wondering if he could help...

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The young colt, named Steel Wire, stamped in circles around the staffroom, kicking anything that he was strong enough to topple or tall enough to reach! He was a pale grey, with black mane, with a pair of white stripes in it and his tail.



"I hate them all!!" He cried hoarsely.



"Surely that can't be true.." a rumbling voice spoke up, startling the kid. He whipped round, prepared to yell at whoever it was to leave him alone, when he seen who it was, and his fury was briefly disrupted by shock.



"P-Prince Sombra?!" he gulped, staring at him.



"That's the one..." Sombra settled down on the floor, legs tucked under him, his rich red cloak fanning out around him.



"Why're you here? How did you even get IN?" he realized how silly this sounded straight after he said it, he WAS a unicorn after all!



"A small spell that lets me turn into a shadow.." Sombra chuckled at his surprised face.



"THEY sent you, didn't they?"



"Actually, I personally requested to be given the chance to speak with you. On condition they do not immediately intervene."



"Well, tell them I don't CARE! No offense your Prince-y-ness...Whateverer..." he was being distracted by Sombra's unwavering expression, a mix of sympathy and unruffled calm. He really didn't seem bothered a small child was attempting to insult him!



"I'm not going to drag you out there," Sombra said when the kid finally fell silent.



"Wow, that's comforting, not like I can STOP you if I wanted to! You're way stronger than I am!"



"If it is any consolation, I wasn't much taller then you are at your age."



"Gimme a break, your HUGE!"



"Shyre horses ARE larger then most, but we actually start off pretty small..." Sombra chuckled "this sort of strength doesn't come into it until much later..."



--Such as when I advanced to this "adult" stage-- he thought. It concerned him sometimes how little he knew about his own kind, but thanks to isolation since birth more or less, coupled with a sudden acceleration from his "teenage" years to an adult via his magic, things were a tad jumbled up!



"Besides, you think I'M big, you should've seen my father. The biological one that is.."



The kid was still giving him a disbelieving look, so he carried on; "I'm just curious as to why you're so angry."



"Why do YOU care!?"



"Because believe it or not, a thousand and more years ago, I was in this same situation myself," Sombra said bluntly. "So angry at the world that I refused to trust anypony in it. Let me tell you this; get off that path. No matter what it takes, let it go. By the by, what is your name?"



"Steel Wire." The kid grumbled, but did pause a moment to think. He knew the basic story of Sombra, as told by that sweet-natured little filly that had befriended him at the start. She'd said Sombra was sometimes surprised when treated kindly because his mommy and daddy hadn't been very nice to him...



"C'mon..." Sombra shrugged "I promise I will tell nothing of what you say to your teachers or anypony that asks."



"Oh yeah?" the kid tried to think up a suitable demand for sincerity. "You swear?"



Sombra gave a wry smile, and recited "Cross my heart and hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye!" Ending as miss Rarity had done it, with a hoof pressed over his eye "will that do?"



Steel Wire raised an eyebrow, but seemed impressed Sombra knew the oath.



"OK...I believe you.." Steel Wire admitted at last. He sat down, and sighed.



"Everypony laughs at me, they treat me like I'm a freak..."



"Why...?"



"Because I just moved here a short while before that thing up there appeared and YOU showed up. I don't like sports, I cant win any races, and I'm only good at making models..."



"Why were you angry at your teacher?"



"She's the same! Always assuming I'M the bad one! Those kids are just as rotten as can be, yet I'm the one who gets told I'M a bad influence!"



"Ponies like that are masters at hiding it, making everypony else see them as the wronged party. You cant let that beat you."



"Easy for YOU to say! You live in the palace, you're a PRINCE for Celestia's sake, nopony picks on YOU!"



"Maybe not NOW," Sombra actually sounded amused "But, you forget, I was also a cruel-hearted tyrant before. I had to learn a lot of painful lessons when I returned here, and I abhorred the process at first. In fact I think, back at the start, the only reason I didn't get my flank handed to me is the fact I'm built like a tank!"



Steel Wire snorted in mild amusement at this reference. "Well, you ARE. I can't picture anything knocking YOU on your ear!"



"Things can and have," Sombra said bluntly, and Steel Wire looked curious. "But here's the key; getting back UP. Everypony gets knocked down, but you only fail when you stop getting back up!"



A disbelieving eyebrow was raised at this.



Sombra decided to tell him a story. He closed his eyes, and a floating white square appeared in front of him. On this his set little pointy-shaped ponies. A small grey one with red eyes and a fluffy black mane, along with a larger black-coated stallion and a mare with flame-colors in her palette.



The kid stared, mesmerized by this puppet show of sorts.



"There was a little foal, he was born in a remote village. His magic was considered defective, bad. His parents hated him for it, said he was a bad omen." The mother pony turned her back, eyes closed, and the father loomed over the child, who cowered. The scene switched, showing an older version of the pony running through the snow.



"One day the foal ran away, desperate to escape. He found his way here, to the Crystal Empire, and a kindly king." Here the scene changed to show a huddled over grey foal and a richly dressed pegasus with a crown, pale yellow body and white and grey mane.



"The King felt sorry for the foal, and gave him a home." The pegasus hugged the small child, wrapping his wings around him to comfort him.



The scene changed to show staff ponies glaring at the slightly older colt, who looked sad. "But other ponies did not see him the same way, and he grew angry, jealously of their lives overwhelming him and turning kindness to hate."



It changed to the same colt facing the King and another pony. With a flare of purple magic the colt made the two disappear.



"He banished everypony in the palace, thinking if they couldn't be near him, they couldn't betray him. But the decision to shut off his heart to the kindness of other ponies had a bad effect..."



Steel Wire was riveted, watching this play unfold. He felt a sympathy for the colt. Ponies treated HIM the same, saying he was trouble because he'd had a bad time at his last school in Canterlot...



Sombra faltered a moment, recalling his memories, but he carried on regardless "he'd never been taught to use his magic properly, and when he lost faith in everything, darkness crowded his mind. Tired of being bullied, he made himself tough enough that nopony could harm him ever again!"



The kids jaw dropped as the grey stallion changed into what was undeniably the same pony telling the story.



"But this was a mistake. With this change came madness, and the Princesses were sent to stop him."



Here it showed Celestia and Luna flying through the sky towards the Crystal Empire, then the scene faded. Then suddenly the Sombra-puppet was back, this time facing three Alicorn Princesses.



"They gave him another chance, needing his magic to figure out the invaders. He decided he would keep them at hoofs length, not wanting to trust them, until one small filly..."



Here a Bright Spark puppet appeared, poking Sombra's nose and dancing merrily around him.



"She made him wonder if the world was really so bad. But the life of sadness made it too hard to accept this alone, and he still shunned the idea of kindness or trust."



A set of six colorful ponies appeared behind Sombra as the Princesses and Bright Spark disappeared. But a barrier popped up, blocking them from reaching him.



"But in the end, it was this same group of fillies who got through..."



The pink pony bounded forward and shattered the barrier with her hoof. She bounded round to face the Sombra puppet, and tweaked his ears so they popped free of his crown.



"They persuaded him to listen.."



The pink pony turned Sombra round to face the others, who hopped through the broken barrier to gather in front of him.



"The first to go even further and offer to be the first real friend he'd ever had was a pony who had every cause to hate him."



Shining Armor popped into view, trotted over and stuck a pointy hoof out to Sombra, who initially withdrew, then cautiously met the hoof with his own. Instantly the six fillies gamboled around him, seemingly cheering.



"And with that one choice, more followed..." Princess Cadance appeared beside Shining Armor. Princess Luna fluttered down to join them, and Princess Celestia walked over to join her. All of them gave Sombra big beaming smiles.



"It took just one pony to believe he wasn't a monster, much as the King tried to teach him. But this time, he chose to believe it..."



The whole set up faded away as Sombra shut down the spell.



He looked at the kid, who was staring at him in awe. "Do you see now? I know how you feel. But you cant push everypony away, the loneliness is unbearable. Nopony deserves to be alone, so please don't think you have to be..." he uncurled one foreleg and held out a hoof to the foal. "Trust me..?"



Steel Wire nodded, dumbstruck, placing his tiny hoof in Sombra's.



"There you go!" Sombra smiled gently. "See? It's not so bad. You just have to go from here, take your time."



Steel Wire nodded, then burst into tears. He was so surprised to find an ally in this adult, and so relieved, that he couldn't help himself. Sombra pulled a handkerchief from his saddlebag and dried the tears.



"It's OK, let it go.." he murmured softly. Steel Wire nodded, sniffling as he clutched the hankie.



"Do you have some of these models of yours here?" Sombra asked randomly.



Steel Wire nodded.



"May I see them?"



The foal nodded again. Then he looked at the still locked door "b-but.."



“I'll make sure nopony yells at you.." Sombra said gently "I asked them to trust my judgement and actions, I'm sure they wont shout at you."



He guided him to the door, opening it and stepping through. The two teachers lingering outside sat up and opened their mouths. Steel Wire flinched, eyes downcast, and huddled closer to Sombra's body. Sombra gave him a reassuring look before calmly saying;



"If you will please wait for us a moment or two, I have asked young master Steel Wire here to show me something."



Baffled, but recalling Sombra's request, they nodded, hanging back as Steel Wire showed Sombra down the hall to his classroom. He opened a cupboard door, and with a deep breath, held up his class project.



"Wow." was the first word he heard from the Prince. He blinked, surprised, having half expected him to ask what it even was!



What he'd made was a wire-frame replica of the crystal palace. It was made with incredible detail, a labour of love.



"That is astonishing, you got the detail so intricate...." Sombra was genuinely impressed "I cannot even get my cloak on some mornings without fumbling the catch!"



Steel Wire sniggered, finding the mental image funny, and he noticed Sombra smile at him.



"You should be VERY proud of yourself, this is amazing workmanship." Sombra stated firmly.



"You really think so?" the kid asked.



"I do. Now tell me, are you not proud of your art?"



"I...I guess I AM," the kid said at last. "I have to really concentrate to make these!"



"You have made many before?"



"Yeah, I got more at home!" his eyes brightened, and Sombra smiled triumphantly.



"There it is." he said.



"There what is?" the foal asked.



"That spark. Your pride in your work, no doubt it has been neglected a while, no?"



"I guess so, I started to hate working on it...but I guess I didn't want to give up..."



"That.s the key..." Sombra smiled again. "Always keep that feeling close. Nopony can make you feel inferior without your consent. So if you tell yourself only YOU have the right to decide what your talent is worth, then you'll find yourself getting stronger."



Steel Wire looked up at the Prince, then back at his sculpture. He nodded, feeling hope for the first time in what felt like ages. He loved his hobby, and even his parents had said they thought they were interesting, but parents were supposed to say that, right? Maybe he'd been wrong....



As he reached these realizations, he felt a funny tingling sensation on his flank. He blinked, setting the sculpture down to peer round:



"Well, this is cause for celebration!" Sombra said, as they both took in the cutie mark that'd appeared, of two intertwining strands of wire.



"M-my cutie mark....how..?" Steel Wire gaped up at Sombra "how did you do that?"



"I didn't do anything!" Sombra chuckled "YOU accepted your talent for yourself, no matter what the hardship. Congratulations!"



Steel Wire sat and peered at the cutie mark, fresh tears in his eyes, but this time because he was so thrilled to see his cutie mark.



"Thank you!" He blurted suddenly, looking up at the Prince "I guess maybe I did call them mean names back. I'll try not to any more..."



"That's a great start." Sombra said "take it one day at a time. You'll soon find you've had friends around you this whole time. Just as I did..."



"That'd be...cool..." Steel Wire nodded.



"May we come in...?" both looked up at the two teachers in the doorway. The foals teacher walked over to him, noting his cutie mark. Her eyes sparkled and she clapped her hooves.



"Your cutie mark! How wonderful!"



Steel Wire nodded, suddenly shy again, "Y-yeah..."



"Are you feeling better?" the teacher asked. Steel Wire nodded.



"I'm sorry miss.." he said softly.

She smiled gently; "its alright...just please come talk to me if you're upset, that's what I'm here for, OK? And I'll be having words with those bullies too, their conduct has gone on too long, I'm determined to see an end to it! I never meant for you to feel singled out, will you accept my apollogy?"

Recalling everything Sombra had just taught him, Steel Wire let his anger fly away and nodded up at her, feeling glad when she looked happy! Forgiving somepony could be hard when you'd gotten real mad at them, but it was worth it...

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Steel Wire walked alongside Sombra as they headed for the exit. He honestly though Sombra was the coolest pony ever at this point. He'd been through bad times too and he'd become a Prince, and shown everypony he could do amazing stuff!



--I wanna be like that, like a Prince...-- Steel Wire thought. Then they stepped outside, where he spotted his parents striding up to the gates, and hid behind Sombra's cloak on a scared impulse.



But they'd spotted him.



"Steel Wire!" His father said crossly "we've been worried sick-"



Now they both clocked who was shielding their son "-Prince Sombra?!"



Last pony they'd expected to see at the school.



"Good afternoon," Sombra said politely "I apologize for delaying your son, I had wished to-"



"You don't have to do this!" Steel Wire cut him off, stepping out from behind the Princes flowing cloak "I was kept behind because I was being bullied by some guys and I got into a fight." he blushed at the memory of losing his temper, "The Prince was just visiting miss Petalbloom..."



Before his parents could get cross again, he carried on "I'm sorry mom, dad. I should've said something, but I didn't think you'd believe me!"



"Oh honey-" his mother sighed in relief he was telling her this "Of course we would! We know you wouldn't lie to us about something that makes you that upset! We moved here to give you a fresh start, and as much time as you need to make it happen! We're not going to get mad because its not always smooth sailing! Of course you can talk to us. We might take awhile to understand you, but we will get there. We love you..."


Steel Wire sniffled, rubbing at his eyes, terror melting into relief once more.


"There is a silver lining to this cloud..." Sombra spoke up, catching Steel Wire's eye. "Care to show them?"



"Show us what?" the father asked, wondering what the Prince had to do with this? But this was forgotten when both parents spotted the cutie mark on their sons flank.


His mother gave a gasp of joy and ran forward, scooping him up and hugging him happily.



"I'm so happy!" she said, setting the blushing foal down. "We have to celebrate, right dear?"



"Of course!" His father said proudly, ruffling his sons hair. "How about we go to that nice restaurant we went to for your birthday last year?"



"Yeah!" Steel Wire said, eyes wide, grinning.



Sombra smiled at the happy reunion. Now that Steel Wire had finally told his parents what was going on, he was sure the kid would be making friends and growing more confident in no time! He turned to go, but the father snapped out of his daze to call out-


"Please wait a moment your highness!"



Sombra stopped, turning back to them.



Steel Wire came up and gave a little salute with one hoof. "Thanks man, for, y'know.."



"It's my honor.." Sombra assured him "just don't forget what I told you, OK?"



Steel Wire nodded, and his parents stepped up either side of him.



Sombra bid them farewell before setting off back to the place.

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The next day....


During the dream where he'd been force fed all his memories by that shadow creature, he'd seen a flashback of a sealed cavern full of his father's things. So now he enlisted the help of the Crystal Bard to find it, since the critter knew the palaces hidden passageways inside and out!

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It gleefully hugged him when he found it, and he smiled again at how glad he was he'd made an effort to befriend it instead of just avoiding the issue.



"Mhhrr...what're you doing?" it asked.



"I need your help!" Sombra told it "You know this place top to bottom? Well, I have a cave I need to locate, but I'm still processing many of my memories of this place, some things are a little fuzzy..."



Noting the sadness in his voice, the Crystal Bard patted his foreleg kindly, and merely nodded!



Sombra described what he could recall of the cave, including the fact it'd been sealed with his magic. The Crystal Bard ran this through his head, and nodded, he knew the one! They trekked off through the opening in the library wall, descending deep underground. Sombra felt a strange sense of loneliness and nostalgia, having hidden down here in the past, avoiding Scrollwork shouting or just wanting some peace.



--I really messed him about...-- he thought back, smiling faintly. He hadn't told anypony about his dyas in the palace. Although thinking about it now, misses Dash and Cotton Candy would love hearing about the pranks he'd played on the grumpy aide!



There was so much to think about, so many memories. Of his father, of the palace. So many actions he wished he could have undone. At least that he could’ve apologised to his father. But what good was that now?



His thoughts were halted by the Crystal Bard declaring "here!"



Sombra looked up, and focused on a solid wall of shimmering purple. His stomach shifted. The magic was laced with so much fury. This had to have been right after his madness, when it was still relishing its dangerous freedom.



The Crystal Bard looked worried as Sombra actually took a step back, paling slightly.



"Mhrrr...what's wrong?" he asked.




"Nothing...I..." Sombra took a deep breath and swallowed down the nausea "I can sense my emotions from the day this was created. Sweet merciful Celestia. I was so angry..."



"Mhhrr...this was...at the start of the...mhrr..." it stopped, unsure how to say it.



"The insanity? Don't worry, I'm not attempting to justify my lunacy. It was what it was..." Sombra said heavily.



He shook himself slightly, and turned his attention back to the door. Focusing on it, he could see how he'd locked the spell into place. It only took moments to unravel it, but it left him feeling a bit queasy.



The Crystal Bard clutched the edge of Sombra's cloak as the pair walked into open cavern. it was full of boxes, things under dust sheets and several treasure chests.



"I cant fathom how much stuff is IN here. If I sent even HALF of this to miss Quillpetal, she'd probably pass out from joy.." Sombra mused. Who knew, he'd probably need to have some of it recorded for history's sake!



They split up to delve into some of the boxes. Some contained jewels, or bits.



"Probably just had everything in his private rooms stashed here..." Sombra sighed at last.



"Mhrr....even then, you still cared...." the Crystal Bard said.



"What do you mean..?" Sombra asked.



"You kept the precious things even though you...mwwrr...were angry. You wrapped them up and put that spell there to keep them safe....you still had hope...."



Sombra blinked, the bards words hitting home. "hope..?" he asked.



The Crystal Bard nodded, picking up a book and toddling over to Sombra, holding it up to him.



"Mhrr...yes, hope. For yourself..."



The book was his father's diary, wrapped in semitransparent silken fabric. An additional spell had it locked, a spell of Sombra's making.



"Had you not cared, would you have...mhrr...done this?" the Crystal Bard said. Something in Sombra's brain clicked, and a sudden realization occurred to him.



He'd been told this three times now;



His father the King had said it when Sombra had first met him; "If you truly didn't care, I'd be out cold and you'd be long gone."



And Princess Luna: "You wouldn't have done those things if you truly didn't care!"



And now the little Crystal Bard.



So that fragment of him HAD been present all this time, trying its level best to make itself known, even in these small ways. Rarity had once said, during the whole "trying to make Sombra accept the crown" episode; "You're not some unfeeling monster you know! You care more than you realize!"



He thanked the Crystal Bard warmly, and the creature hugged him tightly, making a contented little noise. It was glad to see Sombra cheered up again!



But now they needed to figure out how to get this stuff up above ground. They left back through the passageways in search of some assistants.

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With the help of several guards, most of the boxes made their way up. Sombra opened a portal between the entrance of the cave and a mostly empty storeroom. The guards all stared in bug-eyed shock as Sombra walked by them, carrying one box balanced on his back, and another in front of him via his magic.

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It didn't take long to bring the majority of the boxes up from the cave. One that Sombra recognized as being particularly important (it was a fancy chest adorned with is father's cutie mark), he had placed in his room. He'd go through it later...



He thanked the guards for going out of their way to help him, which they all insisted was an honor! And once again the Crystal Bard seen a genuine spark behind Sombra's eyes as he smiled. He seemed happier in moments like these...

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After that, Sombra retired to his room to sort through the contents of the chest, and also his father's diary. Leaving the diary aside he opened the chest. It had a collection of small boxes, which were further pieces of the Queens jewelry collection, and a painting of her that Sombra set aside to be given to the historical society!



There were paintings of the palace and its gardens from back then, and Sombra recalled all the spots he'd used as hiding places during his most tempestuous moments. His father had always found him, and more often then not would just squeeze in beside him, giggling to himself at how long it would take before somepony came looking for him! His father's irreverent behavior had baffled young Sombra at first, but he'd started to get used to it.



There were also a couple of books on the empires old political policies, he made a note to give those to the current staff in charge of that.



He sat up on the bed and with a nervous sigh, pulled the diary out from its protective wrap and opened it...

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For the next two hours he didn't move an inch, so absorbed was he in the story contained within...



When he finally closed the book and set it down, his heart felt heavier, but not necessarily in a bad way.



So many things he remembered about his father, and many new thoughts that'd made him laugh, and miss the pegasus even more.



But one thing stuck in his head. Going by the diary, he knew it was his father's birthday in three days. His father deserved a proper tribute on this day, for all he'd done for Sombra.



But what had happened to him? Sombra knew from the memory Luna had found that he'd ended up in a remote village some distance from the Crystal Empire. But did it still exist, and could he get there?



Suddenly anxious to find out, he grabbed his saddlebag, put the diary on the desk and left his room.

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He trotted out of the palace and headed for the big public library. Twilight had told him it had a big comprehensive collection of maps of the surrounding area. He hadn't bothered putting on his usual armored crown and shoes, sometimes it was nice not to wear it, especially since it was a warm day!



So he just wore his cloak, his mane flowing loosely behind him as he trekked to the massive crystal library. On his way there he was greeted by several ponies, and he paused to offer a quick greeting to them all before continuing on, cutting through the market...



"Your highness!" He paused as he heard a voice, then a wonderful smell drifted over. There was a stall selling sugared donuts, something he HADN'T tried yet! So when they asked did he want some, he couldn't refuse!



He'd been a little awkward when offered anything at first, wary of such generosity, and honestly confused as to how to respond. Now he knew they offered these gifts from the heart, and were happy just to see him accept them!



Thanking them for the sugary treats, which made the stall owners smile in delight, he carried onwards...



He hadn't realised today was a baking-themed market, with stalls selling everything from savory snacks to sugar-laden goodies! By the time he got through the market, he'd stopped no less than 16 times, being offered numerous cakes and snacks! Those he took a fancy to, he ordered sizeable deliveries to be sent to the palace! Now he fully understood the palaces monetary procedures, he was able to wave aside the stall owners offers of no charge, thanking them all sincerely, but insisting he wanted to help his Empire's economy!



He didn't spot it, but the crowds sure did, and shared happy smiles. He finally used the correct wording. MY, instead of THE.

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Up above in the palace, Luna woke up, and sneezed as the co-incidence assembled itself in her mind. She'd told Sombra off for not using the right term before, now it seemed he'd finally gotten the hint! She smiled, then flopped back onto the pillow with a yawn, falling straight back to sleep.

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The library was quiet, but so peaceful. There wasn't anypony at the main desk, so Sombra tapped the bell with his hoof. Above the desk a big stained glass window let in colorful ribbons of light, giving the entrance a colorful tint.



"How can I help-oh! Hello your highness!" The librarian spotted the daydreaming stallion and quickly recovered her senses "what can I do for you?"



Sombra snapped out of his trance and smiled gently at her "sorry to disturb you ma'am, I was hoping you could point me in the direction of the maps?"



"Of course your highness, which particular area?"



"Anything on the outlying areas of the Crystal Empire, from as far back as possible...."



"Of course, we have many that have been recreated from the old maps left behind from before..." she coughed, not wanting to say it.



"It's quite alright..." Sombra said, without a trace of upset in his voice. Glancing up at him she seen a relaxed, kindly expression meet hers. She felt herself flush a little, he had a mesmerizing quality about him, the air of mystery that surrounded him only making the ponies more curious...



"Here we are.." she directed him to the maps "if you need anything further, just let me know..."



He thanked her and started sorting through the maps, rolling them out on the massive table off to the side. Eventually he located the most recent map, and going on his memories and everything he'd studied from the books about the area, he came to the realization the village was gone.



As far as he could tell the area had become impossible to live in after its water source dried up, and anypony living there had moved on.



Sombra found no mention of his father, until he came across a brief mention saying "a mysterious pony led the expedition to find a new home. Nopony knew where he came from, but he became the villages protector.."



--You helped anypony that needed you, didn't you father?-- he thought fondly --I hope you had a good life...--



Putting the maps away he thanked the librarian and left. Drifting home he wondered what he could do now?! He didn't even know what'd happened to his father.

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But midway back to the palace, he felt a sudden agonizing pain in his head. He stopped in the street, feeling multiple sensations stabbing into his mind. There were two attackers, at the same time, he had to-



He teleported towards the closest attacker, seeing no guards nearby he could send to the other! He would have to make this swift!

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The one Sombra was tracking had chosen to attack a flower shop of all places. It had smashed in through the window and was penning the shop owner and three terrified customers against the counter, grinning from ear to ear.



It sensed movement behind it and spat a gob of black ooze, trapping the huddled group like flies in a web, before turning to face;



"Ahh, little Prince..." it drawled, smirking as Sombra merely glowered at it "what's wrong, no smart remarks this time?"



"No, I'm a bit busy..." a voice spoke, but it came from BEHIND the creature. It turned, coming face to face with the REAL Sombra. A significant blast of magic sent it careening out the already broken glass window, smashing into the paving. Sombra stepped out after it, having freed the quartet from their gooey prison.



The dazed attacker gathered its scattered wits and dissolved its pony shape and morphed into a snake shape, like a singular-core edition of the one Sombra had defeated at the stadium.



--Nice try...-- Sombra smirked, and vanished, appearing above the street balancing on a floating crystal platform. The one HE was looking for was....



He closed his eyes, the glow of his magic surrounding his entire body before pulsing out-



Desperate to distract him, the controller sent the clone after him, its wide mass threatening to smother the pony, until:



FWOMPF. Sombra felt a rush of adrenaline and excitement as he reached into his memory and replicated the flame-maned mode he'd transformed into at the stadium once more. Mane and tail became a blazing purple flame, and his normally ruby red eyes were a stunning golden color. He swung round, his tail flaring brighter and catching the creature as it blazed towards him and unceremoniously setting it afire!



It recoiled, screaming in horror. Sombra summoned the scythe and chopped its core in half, teleporting to the ground to avoid the ensuing explosion.



"Show yourself, coward!" he bellowed.



"Oh, aren't you a boor?" a mocking voice taunted from above, and Sombra teleported away just milliseconds before the main controller smashed into the pavement. He reappeared a few meters away, unblinking.



"You're not the only one with a few tricks!" it giggled gleefully, and turned into its flowing gooey state, gliding across the gap between them as fast as lightning, wrapping around Sombra's forelegs and effectively holding him in place as it threatened to smother him, thus extinguishing the ponies flame!



Sombra swore, panicking slightly. But seeing it turn into a liquid shadow brought to mind how he'd gotten into the mass cores of the snakes body to destroy it. By changing INTO a shadow himself.



Shadow...plus fire....



The gawking, terror-struck crowd seen Sombra suddenly seem to vanish under the thick smothering goop, and for a brief moment they panicked that their protector had finally been overwhelmed, but it wasn't so.



The creature however was aware of none of this as it was attempting to take over the pony's body, intending to use this powerhouse stallion to really wreck the place. Then it noticed a small spark of light re-ignite deep inside the pony's body, and realized it could suddenly see right through a previously solid body!



Too late it realized its mistake, as Sombra's flame took his secondary shadow mode like a duck to water, and with an explosive fwompf, it felt itself being thrown back. The majority of its body separated from its core, and burned away as it hit the ground several feet away, only a small portion of its mass still surrounding it.



It couldn't even scream in fury as the blazing purple pony-shaped flame dove for the core, bringing its hooves down-



WHABOOOM.



The debris passed right through flame-Sombra's body, the heat from the blast barely bothering him!



The remains of its gooey shell dissolved away now the core controller was gone. Sombra shifted gears, returning to his flame-mane and tail only version, golden eyes glancing over at the ponies he'd freed from the flower shop.



"I apologize for any damage," he said, his voice a low rumble "ill have somepony from the palace contact you. But I have to go, there's still another..."



And with that he vanished, leaving a stunned, gaping audience behind.



"That was....amazing.." the shop owner blurted "how does his magic work? I've never seen anything like him!"

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The guards the second attacker had zeroed in on were doing their best to keep the thing contained, but after it'd revealed the two helpers it'd had hidden up its arse (not literally), they realized they were in trouble.



They were currently ensnared in a shadowy tornado with no way out, even for a pegasus, and things weren't looking good.



They tried to target the cores, but the things were whipping by so fast they couldn't even focus on ONE of them, let alone three!



With a flash of fire, a frankly startling sight appeared before them. Not all the guards had seen Sombra's flame mode, so this was a novel experience!



"S-sire...?" one stammered, seeing this enhanced version of an already formidable pony.



"Stay calm, I have a plan." Sombra said bluntly "shield yourselves!"



"But what about you-"



"Do not worry about me, my own fire wont hurt me." Sombra assured him.



The guard didn't hesitate, nodding and summoning a shield around him and his two friends. Through the haze of the shield they seen Sombra close his eyes, leap forward and-



WHOMPF. The tornado become a blazing whirlwind of purple fire, from inside which issued thee explosions in rapid succession. The flames blazed outwards, but the three in the shield still felt the heat wash over them as it faded into the still air.



"Whoa.." the shield dropped, and they gaped.



"Where'd Prince Sombra go?" one asked at last. But he didn't have to wait long for an answer. Sombra reappeared, the flames of his mane and tail burning brightly. He closed his golden eyes, and with a swift flash of light, he reverted back to his normal appearance. When he reopened his eyes, they were back to their crimson shade.



The three guards stared at him, slack jawed.



"You three alright?" Sombra asked, not a single hair on his coat singed, nor his cloak.



"How do you DO that without setting fire to yourself?" one guard blurted at last.



"Beats me, I just...created it." Sombra shrugged "Just don't stick me next to the curtains and I'm sure it'll be fine.."



This prompted amused sniggering, then they returned to their patrol and Sombra left for the palace.



The fight had briefly distracted him, but as he went inside, he was reminded of that afternoons failure.

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The others noticed his silence at dinner, asking was he alright? Sombra told them he was fine, just tired was all.

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But his spacey lack of attention continued into the next day even after a nights sleep. Shining Armor noticed a strange sadness in Sombra's expressions at breakfast, just for a brief second when the stallion clearly didn't think anypony was looking. He didn't get the feeling it was Sombra still berating himself, from what the guards had told him he'd been doing a lot better lately! So what was it that was bothering him?



Breakfast over, and unable to concentrate, Sombra walked out of the palace on auto-pilot, his mind still whirling about his father...

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Meanwhile, unaware Sombra had snuck out of the palace, Twilight Sparkle and company went looking for him. They walked up to his room, well, the rest did, pinkie as usual bounded ahead, and it was this that led to the discovery. Pinkie tripped on the rug by the door, rolled into a ball, and barreled into the door, which Sombra hadn't shut properly in his distracted state.



She hit the desk, knocking the diary off and onto her face. That was how her five friends plus Twilight's brother found her, prying the book off her face.



"Huh, he ain't here...whoops." Applejack noted.



"Now where do we look?" Rainbow Dash asked.



"He has an odd habit of sneaking off, he does know he doesn't have to right?" Rarity asked.



"Something is really on his mind, he looked sad earlier.." Fluttershy said sorrowfully.



"It's because it's his dad's birthday!" Pinkie piped up.



"Ahh, that makes sense- wait-a-second..." Rainbow Dash trailed off "how did you-??"



"This!" Pinkie held up the book "it fell on my face, and I seen an entry saying it was his fathers birthday. It's the day after tomorrow...."



"Of course..." Twilight Sparkle said softly, after thinking for a moment "he has all his memories back, he must be looking for a way to remember him!"



"Maybe we can find out what happened?" Shining Armor suggested.

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But they soon found out the same thing Sombra had learnt, that his fathers home after the takeover had moved on long ago.



"Awww..." Applejack sighed "we got nothin'!"



"Bummer..." Pinkie flopped across the library table.



"There must be something we can do," Rarity said, tapping the table with one hoof.



They fell silent, trying to think up an idea. Then pinkie got bored and pulled some pony-shaped action figures out of her bag and started staging a play with them!



"That's it!" Rarity declared.



"What's it...?" Rainbow Dash looked dubiously from Pinkie and her toys to Rarity.



"Why don't we make a statue?" Rarity asked "I'm sure if we all pull together, we can get one made by the date!"



"Hey yeah.." Shining looked to his sister "we can come up with the spell to carve crystal, all we gotta do is get some delivered!"



"I'll get right on it!" Twilight declared.



"We'll go get tha materials sorted!" Applejack shared a hoofbump with Rainbow Dash.



"Pinkie, Fluttershy and I can design it, but we need a picture of the king." Rarity said.



"We have that drawing Sombra did for the stadium announcement?" Shining offered "It's very detailed!"



"Perfect!" The plan back on the rails, Rarity was in full stride "shall we begin?"



A collective cheer and they set off to their respective parts!



By the days end they had formulated a plan to make a tribute, but they wanted it to be a surprise present. So Shining Armor planned to ask Sombra to give him a helping hoof with a training session at the barracks! He had been meaning to ask Sombra for an extra round of practice regarding the creatures, and this was the perfect time!



Later that day the crystal stone block was delivered in secrecy to the palace, and hidden away in a storeroom.

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That evening at dinner, Shining Armor asked if Sombra would mind helping him with a batch of new recruits who were learning to use the goggles. Sombra nodded, saying it'd be no problem. With the increase in attacks lately, they needed every pony available to learn to fight them, so Sombra wasnt battling by himself!



Shining Armor asked again was he truly OK, and Sombra just smiled and repeated that he was fine.

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But the training day wasn't as smooth as they'd hoped.



The new recruits looked mind boggled when the by now legendary flank-kicking stallion, Prince Sombra, show up alongside their Captain to personally direct the training session. The sunlight glanced off of the golden armored shoes and crown, the deep red cloak.



"Consider yourselves lucky gentlemen!" The CO barked as they lined up to await Sombra's instruction. "We got the best of the best here today, so look lively!"



"Yessir!" They all barked. Shining indicated for Sombra to begin...

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He went through the same tactics he'd shown the first group, ending in him creating the construct of the creature to fight.



There was a wave of surprised noises when the created clone appeared. It floated there, blinking.



"Relax," Sombra assured them. "It's a construct, a fake. See? The core is visible..."



"Psst...buddy.." Shining Armor hissed out of the corner of his mouth. Sombra blinked, looking over at him. Shining Armor very VERY subtly made a raspberry noise. Sombra had to employ all his ability to suppress his expression, although one of the guards did spot his ears twitch once. Shining Armor made a show of asking Sombra to, "Take a look at this a moment?"



While Sombra was peering at a sheet of paper with a doodle of a fuzzy pink thing with a goofy look on its lovable face, this meant his attention was off the creature.



The new guards had to stifle a laugh as the creature proceeded to stick its tongue out and blow a raspberry at them. But when it face-planted and started scuttling about the grass on its face, thbbbttt-ing merrily away as it did, they really creased up!



"Your highness, it's-" The CO looked over at Shining Armor and seen they were both looking very intently in different directions. Shining Armor was noticeably sniggering, and Sombra was staying bizarrely still, as if afraid moving would let the giggles loose.



The CO sighed, realizing this was Sombra's idea of a joke. Admittedly it was amusing, and the recruits were silently creasing themselves laughing...



The fun came to an end when the creature farted over to its creator and started trying to chew on his cloak. Sombra reset his control over it and set it back on its feet!



"Interesting display your highness..." the CO said to Sombra and Shining Armor once the trainees were off doing some practice with the construct and some spears, similar in style to the one Sombra STILL carried, only more modern.



Sombra and Shining Armor shared glances, and Shining let out an involuntary snigger, which set them both off on raucous laughing fits.



The CO rolled his eyes. Wasn't Sombra normally the serious one? The two Princes did seem to be thick as thieves at times like this, sharing a joint amusement and dedication to their respective roles! Still, he had to applaud Sombra for taking some of the tension out of the invasion prep.



Then there was a booming sound in the sky. Sombra whipped round, seeing something that looked like twin black comets shooting for where the soldiers were. On instinct he teleported to the forefront of the group and fired up the biggest shield he could create, some distance ahead of them. The twin objects rebounded off it, hitting the grass some distance away, digging up a massive furrow on their way.



Sombra took a few steps forward, his body tensed. The guards gathered behind and to the sides, waiting to see how their empires protector intended to handle it.



Those that'd seen the posters at the stadium recognized the two that the shadow creatures were masquerading as when the smoke cleared.



One was a big black stallion, identified as Sombra's father. The other was a dark red mare with flame-colored mane and tail. An earth pony and a unicorn, both as tall and long legged as Sombra himself. Shyre horses.



Sombra's PARENTS.



Those gathered could see the resemblance. He had his fathers build, but the wave of his mothers mane, and her deep red eyes had been passed onto him also.



"Oh, did we interrupt you?" his mother said smoothly, contempt in her eyes as she regarded Sombra.



"When are you doing to learn-" Sombra snarled. "You're a thousand years too late to make me give a hay!"



"Oh this isn't for your benefit, you little freak...." the father laughed.



"Yes, can't we give your "friends" a little insight into you?"



--Oh buck...-- Shining Armor began to creep closer to where Sombra stood. But one of them looked right at him, and he felt like he'd just had the worst brain freeze ever. Then his thoughts seemed to slip away like ice melting in the heat...who was this strange looking unicorn, why was he here? What was his name?



That was it...SOMBRA. The shadow freak.



--NO, he's a good pony...he saved my wife...sister...-- he tried to fight it, but the spell rapidly overwhelmed his mind.



Sombra kept his anger at bay, determined not to lose his temper twice, like he had in the town centre.



The mother looked at Sombra with a look of pure distaste. "Do you know how it must have felt for her? The only child she had, and it turned out to be a freak! That whole village ended up paying the price because of YOU."



Sombra didn't answer, and his father spoke next;



"They can fight well enough without you...why bother with you?"



Sombra shook his head. "Enough of your crap," he snapped, turning to glance at the guards-



And was met with a wall of animosity. All of them staring with such unbridled hatred at HIM. A jolt of shock ran through him, as he recalled that first nightmare he'd had thanks to these shadow creatures. Being trapped amidst a crowd of the townsfolk, nothing but disdain in their eyes, then they'd-



Taking advantage of the loop Sombra's mind had gotten stuck in, the two controllers ordered those under the control of their spell to get Sombra!



"Wretched traitor.." one of them spoke. Sombra, starting to get angry now, whirled round, a rebuke already poised on the tip of his tongue, but he never got that far. A blinding pain shot through his head as one of the spears sliced across his face, leaving a cut just above his right eye. He snarled, part anger and part surprise, and stumbled on his feet.



Before he could retreat, they pounced, and he was suddenly pinned to the grass by several pairs of hooves. He tried to throw them off him, and very nearly succeeded, but eventually the pressure on his back and spine meant he couldn't get up. That and the unicorns using their magic to tie his legs meant it soon became impossible to move.


The wind was knocked from his lungs as he was finally forced to his knees facing the fake parents, the sharp points of weapons pressing into his neck and sides.



But worse was to follow was Shining Armor, expression as blank as the rest, stepped between Sombra and the shadow creatures, and aimed a spear at his neck. It's sharp point pressed against Sombra's throat.



--Oh, BUCK.-- Sombra swore, this was bad. He could free himself, but with so many sharp weapons aimed at him, he'd risk hurting himself AND them! He tried to calm his rising anger, telling himself to use his head!



"Oh how easily they're swayed..." the thing cackled. Sombra stayed still, silently fuming, trying to think of a way out. A book he'd borrowed from the palace library was an anthology by a "Prancer Carbon Doyle", about a detective called Sherclop Pones! The fictional detective had said something smart about how once you'd discounted everything else, whatever was left HAD to be the truth, however strange it seemed!


--Nothing is out of the running, they're using something complex, why else would they be so boastful after all that's occured?--


The spell they used to possess Lightshield and Sweetheart somehow had a broader range now. But there had to be a limit to it, otherwise they'd have done this long before...it must have taken considerable effort to get this far, what was it's weakness??



Seeing the guards clustering around him, an idea formed.



When they'd attacked, they'd gone for the guards when they were all in one group. So it had a short range. Many clustering around one that was serving as a transmitter-



That was it. They were using Shining Armor. Having recognized his link to Sombra as a treasured friend, they'd somehow twisted this to their own ends.



--I'm putting them in danger by my association?-- he thought, his head aching as he tried desperately to work out a plan in the face of such cold anger.



"They'll ditch you soon as you have no use," the fake father smirked at the captive Sombra "You're just a novelty to them, an amusing distraction. A mascot for a short lived war. And that's the scenario if YOU somehow win. But, I'm still prepared to give you a new lease of life. One where you wont be treated as a freak, reviled for who you were, what you became! Look at you; a twisted parody of these creatures!"



Sombra shut his eyes, thinking of Shining Sea. That kiss, how she'd said those words:



"You think how you look chases ponies away? Far from it!"



She'd been upset, seeing him thinking himself sub-par because of how he appeared. She'd refused to let him escape after that first kiss, where he'd mistaken surprise for anger, and had kissed him in return, so much kindness in that one gesture. The way her soft lips had snared his...



Then there was the way madam Sweetheart had blushed as she'd thanked him for dancing with her. That smile hadn't been one of mockery! And Lightshield had said that he had fitted in just fine at the ball!



The smiles on the crowds faces when they'd heard his coronation date had finally been settled upon. How Luna had given him a nudge and a wink as if to say "see? You got it right this time around!"



"-you see?" the thing was still warbling on. "You're wasting your time defending these pathetic creatures-"



"THATS ENOUGH!!" Sombra's voice was like a razor sharp knife through marshmallow, cutting into the drone of their malicious lies. Beneath the normal undertone of rumbling darkness normally present in his voice, he'd added a minute spell, one that he prayed would slip their attention.



In front of him shining twitched, a flicker in his eyes. Sombra felt his heart thud in relief, and then, much like the spell he'd used to destroy the giant snake, it ran like chain lightning. The flash of recognition in Shining eyes was reflected in the guards, one by one, their salvation delivered via the very fact they all now stared at the Captain, awaiting orders to dispose of Sombra!



One by one, the guards began to realize something was wrong. Why couldn't they move? Why were they holding the empires most valued asset in this fight at spear-point? They were forcefully pinning the larger stallion, the whole scene looked like a potential execution. Sombra a prisoner at their hooves, with their captain, the Princes FRIEND, forced to be the one holding the proverbial axe, but he wasn't fighting them to get free, why??



Those standing to Sombra's side seen a seemingly limitless determination in Sombra's eyes, and something else...



"Just. SHUT. UP." Sombra said. He'd noticed the twitch in Shining Armor, but instead turned his focus onto the two masterminding this madness. There was a look of disgust and pity in his eyes as he spoke, battling with a bravery Shining would later describe to Cadance as being beyond admirable given the circumstances;



"I wouldn't expect you to have the brain cells to comprehend it, but that's what power is FOR! For the defense of those that cannot fight. Those that don't possess the strength that I or any of these ponies have! It's our duty, our responsibility, to guard them. Light cannot exist without dark to help it stand out, and strength cannot exist if it doesn't have something to be strong for!"



Shining Armor felt his limbs come back to life again, found he could move. And the first thing he did was minutely inch his weapon away from where it had been resting against Sombra's neck. The taller stallion shot him a quick glance, a plan being spelled out through one split-second look...



He continued, wincing as blood from the cut got into his right eye, “I had NO right to ask their forgiveness, not even CLOSE. Not after what I did. For the simple fact they have offered it to me at ALL, I will take whatever steps necessary to destroy you. If they no longer need me after that? Then that is THIER decision. I have been offered more in these shorts weeks than I ever had when all I cared about was power! Even if I'm not needed to rule, and I become merely a figurehead, I care not. This Empire will be protected regardless!!”



His heart hammering in his chest, he shot another swift look at Shining Armor.



--NOW-- Sombra's eyes flashed with that same light that'd raced across them in the street fight, when he'd robbed that thing of his fathers form. With that one look Shining Armor felt himself able to fully move again. He followed what he'd read in Sombra's expression, the minuscule movement of his head...



He flattened himself to the floor, hearing Sombra snarl in pain as he jolted forward, the spears slicing thin cuts into his flank, the injuries lessened by the thick fabric of the cloak. The fact his front and rear legs were still bound by the spells made balance a tricky matter, but he managed to leap over Shining Armor's prone form and stand at the front of the group, crouched lower to maintain his skewed centre of gravity. He closed his eyes and, free of an imminent swiss-cheese makeover, woke his magic!



Not a second too late, Sombra's shield flared up, deflecting the twin blasts aimed at them by the furious creatures.



The flash of purple light was the final key to snapping the guards from their trance. They stared in shock at Sombra facing off against the two attackers. Shining Armor got to his feet, yelling at them to get into formation!



The two creatures stopped firing at Sombra, seeing the guards assembling behind the shield, surrounding the Prince once more, but this time with the anger in their eyes directed at THEM instead!



"You want to die because of this creature?" The father said. "Have it your way!"



From the sky descended a double squad of lesser creatures, under the control of the main two. Clearly this was plan B in motion!



Sombra looked round at Shining Armor, seeing the other awaiting an order from him.



They ALL were. One hurriedly stepped forward, undoing the bonds around Sombra's legs, enabling him to stand properly instead of crouching.



Figuring he was past the point of hesitating over his abilities, Sombra found himself barking orders for the guards to use their magic or weapons to fend off the lesser clones, while he and Shining Armor dealt with wingus and dingus.



Sombra made what to the others seemed like an obscure movement with one hoof, but one Shining Armor recognized instantly. He grinned, nodded, and they turned as one to face the swarm, the shield dropping!



They took off from the ground and raced towards the two stunned antagonizers. Sombra teleported from one side to the other, lightning fast flashes of movement, which Shining Armor mimicked a second after. Catching his eye, Sombra gave a minuscule nod, and with that, the both of them vanished.



"What?" The two controllers seen a flash behind them and spun round, expecting the two stallions to appear there. Wrong.



They dropped in from above, pounding their opponents into the ground before leaping off and firing blasts of magic at them. The two creatures were knocked flying in opposite directions, stunned and disorientated. Sombra wasted no time in summoning his scythe and slamming it down into his attacker, feeling a momentary jab when he seen the creature's look of fear in his mother's guise. Then he reminded himself she was long gone, and he'd moved on.



Uttering a silent goodbye, he sprang away as she was wiped from existence.



Shining Armor meanwhile, had succeeded in heavily stunning the thing, slamming it into the ground repeatedly, cracking the core, and seemingly draining its magic. It's false form blinked out of existence, and a dulled core fell to the grass.



He was on the verge of shooting at it with the help of his goggles to destroy it for good, when he heard a scream. He seen one of the things trying to abduct one of the guards and fly off with him. Furious, he aimed the charge he'd built up at the thing as it shot by, striking it in the head and making it drop the poor guard. He ran over and helped the pony to his feet.



But the core wasn't down and out. Shards of black ooze flowed out from the broken core and surrounded it. It only had a little strength left, so it had just one chance-



Sombra felt a pain lance through his head and whipped round, spotting the orb cracking and sparking. And Shining Armor helping a stricken guard to his hooves not far away.



"Shining Armor!" He bellowed, launching himself towards the other Prince, vision narrowing down to getting to his friend. He reached them and fired off a makeshift teleport to get them out of the way, and shot a spell at the core to blast it into the air.



But the timing was just a moment off-kilter, so when it detonated, one shard slashed across his head, cutting across the previous cut from the spear, creating an x-shaped wound. Only the armored crown he wore stopped it from cutting any deeper into his head. The hit blind-sided him, sending him off balance and crashing into the grass. Heavy pain filled his head, and the world spun, before it faded to black...



With their chief controllers destroyed, the rest exploded into clouds of crumbled core, leaving a haze of dust across the battlefield.



"Sombra!!" Shining Armor yelled, as he was suddenly teleported, recognizing the purple gleam on that magic. The smoke cleared with a quick spell, and he spotted the larger pony crumpled on the grass...



"Oh bucking hay..." he said sharply as he ran over, crouching beside Sombra. There was a large amount of blood seeping into the grass from a nasty looking wound on Sombra's head. The guard he'd been helping didn't hesitate, and quickly used his magic to tear off the fabric from the underside of his armor, and Shining Armor quickly pressed this against the wound. The CO spotted the problem and barked at one of the guards to run and fetch the base doctor NOW!



The worried guards clustered nearby, as the dust cleared from the air and they spotted the injured stallion. His cloak was torn in several places, and blood was trickling slowly from a cross-cut over his right eye...



A quick check revealed Sombra was still breathing, and his pulse was steady.



"C'mon man.." Shining muttered to the unconscious Sombra. "Wake up..."



"What the BUCK happened there?" one guard whispered to another "why did we-"



"Try to attack a pony to whom we our lives?" The shaken CO barked, seeking an outlet "I'd like an explanation myself! We'd best hope, for the love of Celestia, that his highness does not think we supported this abhorrent act in any way-"



He was cut off as there was a spate of coughing, and a familiar voice muttering;



"Heh...I don't, if it's any reassurance."



They all whipped round to where Sombra had finally regained consciousness, and was sitting up with an obvious wince.



"Whoa, take it slowly bud.." Shining panicked.



"I-I'm alright..I-I've had worse.." Sombra said, his voice strained. Shining took the second swatch of fabric from the same guard, and used his magic to keep it pressed against the bleeding cut...



The CO was having a well-hidden fit of panic, and desperately tried to apologize for what'd happened, babbling as he stepped towards the Prince;



"Your highness, please-"



"You all know how that spell unleashed in the stadium worked, do you not?"



They took a second to absorb the question, then they nodded. Sombra had explained it to Shining Armor, about the chain lightning effect, who'd then passed this tactic onto the guards, who regarded the complexity of the spell as a thing of marvel!



"What just occurred worked much the same way, from one point, they used the targets magic to boost the strength of the spell, thus linking it onto the rest of you."



"So that's why that thing was looking at me funny?" Shining recalled it now. Sombra nodded. "It seems personal connections are at the most risk..."



Hearing Sombra's worried tone, and sensing the threat of the taller stallion blaming himself, Shining shook his head and made a noise like;



"Thbbbtt..." a raspberry, basically. This had the effect of Sombra giving him a baffled frown.



"That's about the same level of sense blaming yourself for somehow causing this makes," Shining shrugged "They've tried animosity, personal emotions, now a collective assault. And they all FAILED. Epically. Aint nothing getting through here!" he rapped his head with one hoof, his cheerful grin making Sombra laugh just a little.



"Hah, you laughed!" Shining snickered. "Now you're off the hook, agreed?" He held up a hoof.



Sombra recognized this. As a gesture of friendship, not long after that first breakfast where they'd banded together to help him realize he was not alone, Rainbow Dash had taught the old-fashioned Sombra the new gesture of hoof-bumps!



"By what logic does your mind work again?" Sombra couldn't suppress his amusement, even as his gold-clad hoof met the other pony's.



"Logic?" was the reply.



During all this, Sombra's loopy little construct had been scooting merrily about the far end of the field, startled by the ensuing fight! Without Sombra's direct concentration to guide it, it'd been on a sort of woolly-headed autopilot! Now that things had calmed down, it returned to its creator, popping up between where Sombra was sat and Shining Armor stood just a foot or two away from him. It popped up, stared blankly at them, then blew a raspberry and fell on its face again.



"What he said." Sombra remarked dryly, pointing a hoof at the creature, who made another muffled thbbbbt!



It was a spark in a powder keg. The worry and guilt they'd been feeling over attacking Sombra was soothed temporarily by a widespread fit of laughter at the comedic constructs actions.



This was the scene the base doctor arrived to, the construct darting about on its face making muffled fart sounds, and everypony acting like a foal again!



"OK, how many of you hit your heads?" he asked in exasperation;



"Just him!" Shining Armor nodded at Sombra between sniggers.



Sombra laughed a little, although the action made him wince. The doctor peered at the wound, and began mopping up the blood, which had thankfully slowed to a minimal amount.



Luckily the wound wasn't serious, a bit of a bleeder, but really nothing bad. At most it'd stunned Sombra, and after bandaging the wound, he was advised to go home and rest!



Sadly he had to de-summon the construct, to the guards disappointment! But he encouraged them to keep doing their training, and if he was given a report saying even ONE of them was having a fit of the guilts about what'd happened, he come back down and personally convince them otherwise. By which the CO translated to mean "a kick up the butt". But, given this threat was delivered with an amused, entirely forgiving look in Sombra's eyes, the guards knew he wasn't blaming them for anything.



As he and Shining Armor turned to leave, the CO asked them to wait a moment;



"I admire your strength your highness, all of us here do," the CO began, and the soldiers all nodded "I don't think I could have found the strength to think of a way out when faced with something like this. Your actions prevented anypony from being captured, or worse. You put your own safety at risk for all of us! Traditionally our job is to guard those in royal status, but in one scenario alone, your abilities have have outstripped us all. I intend to make sure we can become strong enough to guard your life, it would be our honor!”



With these words spoken, he and the other guards all saluted Sombra, much as Lightshield and friends had, that occasion in the barracks.



Sombra was literally stunned into silence by a mix of relief and happiness. As with the reaction of the citizens to his impending coronation, he could see the genuine expressions on their faces. Looks of admiration, of belief and trust. All aimed at, and for, him.



This effect was doubled when he seen a movement at his side and realized Shining Armor, as the Captain of the guard, had joined them! He gave Sombra a friendly grin, one that said he was pretty dang pleased for his friend!



Again he seen how Sombra's ears seemed to shift from slightly drooped to standing up as far as pony ears could. Meaning he was surprised, but not unpleasantly so...



These subtle emotions were picked up on by the closer members of the guard, and they were relieved to see Sombra was happy with what their CO had said! To the effect that he replied by way of a formal bow, no words necessary..



"Just one question sires," the CO asked of Sombra and Shining Armor. "How did you two manage to pull that double attack off without even needing instruction?"



Sombra raised an eyebrow at Shining Armor, indicating he should tell them;



Shining Armor cheerily explained how he'd been showing Sombra some of his old "Oubliette and Ogres" manuals from back when he was in high school, and the gesture Sombra had made was a reference of a teleport spell from a LARP!



"Psst...you think he plays?" One of the guards asked another, even more in awe of Sombra now...

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But as they headed back to the palace, Shining Armor noticed Sombra seemed worried.



"What's eating you? Or is your head just aching?"



"It's..." Sombra sighed "I was thinking.."



"Hay! You know better than that!" Shining Armor interjected.



Sombra made an amused sniggering sound as he realized the joke, and gave Shining Armor a mock-angry glare. Then he managed a weak smile and continued; "I know, but I was thinking about what I'm going to do once this is over. I literally don't know anything aside from picking fights and generally causing chaos. I haven't got a CLUE what I'm going to do when this ends, whenever that may be..."



"That's all?" Sombra blinked at Shining Armor as he let out a surprised chuckle "the political council has about a dozen reasons alone why you can't say you have nothing to do! We've never had a pony with a tactical mind like yours before! The amount you could teach the royal guard as a whole is staggering! Not just here, but Canterlot too! Heck, beyond if necessary..."



Sombra blinked, thinking about the world outside the Crystal Empire...



"We're not gonna keep you confined to the Crystal Empire, goofy," Shining clapped his friend on the back and grinned. "There's a huge ass world out there, and it's not one you've seen before! Its all brand new, buddy, think about it"



"I have often wondered what's beyond here..." Sombra murmured softly "I never saw anything outside of my village and here, the journey was so remote, I didn't pass more than a hoof-full of trading posts!"



"You'll LOVE Canterlot, it's where Cadance and I used to live, its pretty awesome! And naturally you gotta go see Ponyville with my sister and her friends. Pee for Ponyville remember?"



Sombra let out an amused laugh, feeling his mood lift as he recalled that signature phrase.



"You see? There's a hoof-full of reasons why you can't go getting depressed about having nothing to do! And if you're worried your abilities start and end with kicking things up the butt, don't be. You're already proving to be good at handling a crisis!"



"You mean.." Sombra jabbed a hoof up at the tear. "That?"



"Well yes. But not JUST that. At the party, remember? You not only talked that poor mare out of leaving and beating herself up, but put aside your plans to dance with that lady friend of yours to make that mare feel better!"



Sombra nodded, then something about Shining's phrasing made his ear twitch. What had he just said?



"AND, when Cadance and the rest of us were worrying about the party coming to a grinding halt, you'd already dispatched Pinkie Pie to get things going again. Whether you notice it or not, you have a knack for sorting out what the situation is most in dire need of! Heck, look at what you did back there for instance!"



"I see...wait, what was the last bit on the previous sentence again?!" Sombra's ear was twitching again. Shining chuckled "Sorry. I AM married to the Princess of love! You can be as subtle as you like, she'll STILL see it like its painted across a billboard-" Cue Sombra face-hoofing.



"Been there, done that, bud," Shining chuckled as he recalled how he'd first gotten together with Cadance. It'd involved attempted sabotage at a polo match, his Oubliettes and Ogres friends, foal-sitting, and a fluglehorn recital.



It had cumulated with him and his friends staging an elaborate prank on Cadance's date for the dance, Buck. She didn't like him, but had ended up going to the dance with him anyway. She hadn't stayed with him for long, admitting she didn't like him and finding Shining Armor instead! It'd been smooth sailing from there...



"So take it from me, you don't wanna let somepony like that slip away!"



Sombra nodded, still slightly red-faced, but feeling marginally less silly.



"Never thought I'd see the day I had the freedom to even consider such a thing.." Sombra amused. "Survival was all that ever mattered before, by any means necessary."



"You'll grow out of that in time, things are different now. With all of us to give you a hoof, you can relax and actually ENJOY your life!"



"So much has changed..." Sombra said "I try to think about it all and I feel dizzy. I was determined to hate everypony when I woke up here again, didn't see the point in being awake at all, let alone being billed as a solution to something like this!" he gave a funny laugh "but looking back, it took one word to make me start thinking..."



"What was that?" Shining asked. Although he had a feeling...



"Boop". Sombra said proudly, and shining recalled the tale of sparks first meeting with Sombra.



"Best phrase ever..." Shining grinned as they walked into the castles main entrance.



Sombra's stomach growled then, and he yawned "Hmmh...perhaps I'd best eat."



"Hay, you gotta keep awake, so no dozing off!" Shining reminded him.



He walked him to the palace doctor, who repeated the base doctor's instructions that Sombra wasn't to go dozing off before tonight.



They encountered Celestia as they were leaving. She spotted Sombra's latest battle scar and offered to use her magic to speed up the healing ten-fold. Sombra gratefully agreed, and she nudged him back towards her office so she could make tea and discuss a few things with him at the same time!

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With Sombra occupied, Shining Armor snuck off to see how their surprise for Sombra was going.



"Wow..." he whistled. They'd managed to start carving the shape out nicely. He joined them awhile, and he and Twilight Sparkle soon had the thing carved into the shape of Sombra's adoptive father.



Rarity began adding a few subtle highlights such as a jewel made to resemble the one in the leg band, which had originally belonged to the King. So the statue now wore a replica of the one Sombra had.



"Perfect!" Rarity heaved a sigh of relief. Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy beat their wings to clear away any dust from the shaping spell, and they sat back to admire their work.



"It's beautiful..." Fluttershy said.



"Woohoo!" Pinkie Pie clapped her hooves "it looks super awesome, do you think he'll like it?"



"I'm sure he will..." Shining Armor replied. In the meantime he went off to find his wife, he had another idea...

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The next morning Sombra awoke with a heavy heart. It was his father's birthday today, and he felt lost...



Then there came a knock on the door. He opened, and seen Pinkie Pie there.



"Cotton Candy?" he asked. She bounced up and down, her eyes seeming both sad and sparkling at the same time. She asked him to follow her, they had something to show him!



Figuring "they" to mean Twilight Sparkle and the others, Sombra dutifully followed her all the way out to the garden. The others were clustered around something that was hidden under a sheet. It was big, ending a foot or so above Sombra's head.



"What's going on..?" he asked, yet getting a funny sensation in his chest.



"We found out it was yer father's birthday sugarcube," Applejack said. "We didn't mean ta pry, Pinkie sorta head butted the door to yer room and ran headlong into yer desk.."



"The book landed on my face!" Pinkie jabbed a hoof at her muzzle like he might miss it. "And I saw the page about your dad!"



"I...I see..." Sombra wasn't sure what else to say "it's nothing to worry about-"



"Darling, its got you looking as down as Pinkie at the sight of an empty pantry!" Rarity declared, and Pinkie Pie pulled a sad face to illustrate this, "and we couldn't see you carry on like that! So we decided to make something to commemorate the occasion!"



"We borrowed that drawing you did for the announcement," Twilight added. "We hope you'll like it.."



The two pegasi flew up and pulled the sheet away. With it nearly falling on top of Fluttershy. While Rainbow Dash and everypony else freed her, Sombra took in the statue they'd collectively made.



Seeing this shimmering crystal representation of the first pony to offer him a real family made his heart ache, but it was beautiful. They'd caught that same irrepressible, amused smile of the drawing, and the shoes and crown had been highlighted in silver leaf to match the drawing, with dark turquoise in the eyes.



"Whatcha think hon?" Applejack recovered from Operation: Untangle Fluttershy first and came to stand beside him.



"It's perfect.." Sombra said. Just two words, but the level of happiness and gratitude in his voice spoke volumes.



"Yay!" Pinkie beamed.



"We know he meant the world to you.." Fluttershy said softly "So we wanted you to have something you could come see any time you want..."



Sombra couldn't think of a word to say, well, save for two:



"Thank you."



That was all he could manage, his voice and brain refused to co-operate, too many thoughts were racing through his head. But the genuine gratitude in those simple words reached them all.



"We're gonna go make cupcakes.." Twilight said.



"Yeah! You gotta celebrate a special day with cakes, right?" Rainbow Dash peered up at Sombra, seeing the melancholy expression on his face. She knew he had to be pretty swamped right now, and figured he needed some space;



"Race you to the kitchen!" She grinned "loser does the dishes!"



"OH HEAVENS NO!" Rarity shot off. "Cake batter?!"



Within a few seconds Sombra was alone in the area of the garden they'd chosen to show off the statue;



He settled himself down in front of the statue, looking up at his father.



"You were right, you know.." he said softly "I DID find those ponies you wrote about in your letter. there's so many of them. Six are the elements of harmony, others are royalty, one's a filly, and the other, well....I think I'm in love with her."



He shook his head "I wish you weren’t gone father, I....I miss you. I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you before. You were right the whole time. I....I'm NOT a monster after all, I was just so frightened..."



His vision blurred and he closed his eyes "I wish I could see you one last time, tell you this. I...I love you, father..."



He bowed his head, closing his eyes and remembering the last happy memory with his father before the paranoia had started.


They'd been in a meeting, with Scrollwork prattling on. Cloudspark was scribbling something in his journal, when he paused, and angled the book to show Sombra.



"Plural for moose? Meese? Moosen?" these two choices were underlined and a question mark between the two.



Sombra barely suppressed a snort. He tried to ignore his father, knowing the king was doing this solely to make HIM laugh most likely. But when his fathers wing poked him in the side, and the ruler raised an eyebrow at him, he sighed and subtly pointed his hoof at "Moosen".



"Of course! MOOSEN!" Cloudspark declared in a booming voice. Sombra let out a loud guffaw, unable to stop himself.



Scrollwork had a face as long as a wet weekend, and he directed a venomous glare at Sombra.


Burt the king and his young protege were giggling helplessly. The rest of the council had alternated between bewilderment and amusement, used to their kings eccentric ways!



Sombra laughed, but the sound was choked by tears.



"You'd love the Crystal Empire if you seen it now, father.." he managed to speak at last "The ponies, father...they..." a hiccup, another weak laugh. "They didn't have to even acknowledge I was here again, I didn't matter to them.



That day the crystal plague infected the whole Crystal Empire, I realized something. If I could care about the welfare of a small filly, what was an entire Empire? Guarding one life is the same as guarding them ALL. I decided I'd tear that thing out of the sky and maybe someday plead with them for a home here. But I didn't even have to ask..."



He blinked and looked up at the statues benign smile "Shining Armor, he had so many reasons to despise me, yet he offered to be my friend. And with him came six colorful ponies. They seen the whole story of my past, and one, she cried when I could not. Another got angry on my behalf when I was still too shocked to process it. She said so much in a short time. The others were concerned that I still could not forgive myself. The Prince and Princess stood in your place and offered me a second chance at helping rule the Crystal Empire."



"They waited....waited for me to stop running away and finally face what I'd been to afraid to confront; the feelings of the ponies here. They sent letters to the palace when I refused to leave it, wondering if I'd come see them when I was ready. But I still couldn't bring myself to believe what they wrote. I was afraid it would be a trick, and I couldn't so easily get my hopes up again. So the Princesses threw a big party, like the ones you used to love. They stood beside me so I didn't have to face it alone."



For a moment he couldn't even speak, his voice was growing hoarse, his vision blurry again;



"The citizens, they'd been asking for a coronation date. I did not think it meant that much beyond pomp and circumstance, but when Cadance read the announcement out at the party, they were smiling up at me. I realized what miss Applejack had been saying, that I'd been running from the issue, and that I needed to face it. And seeing it for myself like that finally convinced me. That if they could forgive and entrust their Empire to me a second time, what was stopping ME? Things will never fully move on, it'll always be there, unless I..."



He shook his head, uttering a shaky sigh....



"I guess...What I'm trying to say is...I'm home, father. I'm HOME."



He gave up trying to hold any of it back, and for the second time since finding the leg band, a long-closed floodgate broke, and he realized this wasn't just a coronation he was looking forward to, it was a homecoming!



For several minutes, the only sound was his muffled cries, as he sat, head bowed, in front of the statue of his father. He fought to draw breath, but he couldn't stop it, he'd had enough suppressing everything, it made him feel so weighted down...he felt such a sense of relief at letting this burden go, he couldn't stop himself.



At last the gut wrenching flood came to an end, and he as able to breath once more. He raised a hoof to rub at his eyes. But he was pre-empted by a feathery white wing popping up and brushing the stray droplets away. He made a startled, hiccuping sound, and felt another wing tap his right ear. He blinked, looking quickly from side to side. The other wing was dark blue.



Celestia and Luna. The wings overlapped around his back, chasing away the lonely chill.



Luna gave a sleepy yawn and smiled kindly at him.



"It's beautiful, isn't it?" Celestia said, nodding at the statue "Twilight Sparkle told me she and the others were working on something, but I never imagined this..."



Sombra just nodded, unable to speak. He thought he'd feel stupid, them catching him having a breakdown like this. But instead he felt happier just knowing they were there.



Luna levitated an object she'd been keeping tucked under her wing. It was a flag, with the emblem of the Crystal Empire sewn onto it in gold and silver threads. She set this at the foot of the statue.



"Sister and I decided to make it together, using our magic to make the thread!"



"This way, it will never fade," Celestia added "We're all happy to see your fathers memory honored this way..."



"It's perfect, he would have loved to see this..." Sombra said softly. "in fact, he probably would've stuck a mustache on it.."



Luna let out a snort of laughter, and even Celestia had to chuckle.



"He had quite a sense of humor it would seem." she smiled, and Sombra raised an eyebrow;



"This is the same guy who declared the plural for moose should be moosen!"



"Moosen..." Luna pondered. "We rather like it! MOOSEN!"



"Many much moosen.." Celestia joked, making Sombra laugh again.



"Feeling better?" Celestia asked. Sombra nodded.



"Shall we go seeketh out the pink candy pony and cakes?" Luna asked.



Another nod, then he asked;



"Out of curiosity, is there a platoon of ponies standing behind us with a picnic basket because I've been sitting out here so long Cotton Candy got bored and decided to bring the cake out here?"



Celestia turned her head a little, and did a double-take.



"Sweet merciful ME, you're good at this..." she blurted.



"Actually, I think I can HEAR Cotton Candy fidgeting so fast she's disrupting sound waves..."



"You've GOT to teach me how to do that..." Rainbow Dash said at last. "That's so cool!"



The three ponies stood and turned, the Princesses folding their wings back down to their sides.



"Cake time?" Sombra guessed, eyebrow raised.



"Cake time!" Pinkie cheered!



Behind the six Sombra noticed Shining Armor and Cadance, who was floating a scroll in front of her. She unravelled it as she sat down, showing it to Sombra. It was a suggestion Cloudspark's birthday be considered a holiday. She and Shining Armor were happy to pass it, all they needed was his signature. Sombra didn't hesitate, it was a perfect idea!



Together the group sang a traditional birthday song, with Sombra, unable to resist, teaching them the slightly ruder version his father sang. Fluttershy went bright red but couldn't suppress a giggle, and Rainbow Dash fell over, she was laughing so hard.



Pinkie started passing out the cakes, each one iced in a theme reflecting the pony it was going to. Luna's for instance, was a rich chocolate cake with blue and gold edible sparkles like the night sky. Luna took time to admire it before taking a big bite. The look of utter bliss on her face made Celestia chuckle and tuck into her own, white icing with red yellow and gold pearls.



Pinkie Pie had made one for Sombra with edible crystals formed like his cutie mark. Her friends had various candy themed shapes like apples, diamonds, a butterfly, clouds and rainbows, and a marzipan book atop Twilight Sparkle's. Her own had a giant marshmallow shaped like a balloon on it, which she stuffed whole into her mouth.



Applejack hiccuped drinking the fizzy cider and had a minor coughing fit, finished off with a belch when Pinkie slapped her on the back.



"Sorry y'all.." she coughed.



"Don't SUPPOSE that's a challenge?" Rainbow Dash joked, and Sombra laughed, recalling last time they'd done that.



"NO!" Her friends all cried, although half of them couldn't keep straight faces. Luna was even heard to go, "Drat, we can do quite a royal burp.."



Sombra had to laugh, he couldn't help himself!

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By the time they made their way back inside, they were all stuffed full of cake and other pastries.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Rarity asked Sombra to come with her, she had something to show him. He was surprised when she showed him a tux she'd made, in a very deep red fabric, with black lapels, with his cutie symbol stitched onto the left side.



"If you're going to the theatre, a tux is a must!" Rarity beamed. Sombra blinked, wondering where she'd found time to make this?



"I always have time for a spot of fashion!" Rarity beamed at his surprised face "Now you don't have to worry about it!"



"Thank you, miss Rarity.." Sombra smiled gently "Its true I had not even considered there would be a dress code, I've never attended such a thing. Wait, how did you-?" he just realized she'd somehow known his plan!



Rarity giggled "I had a feeling, darling! After all, the theatre is a wonderful place for a date! I'm guessing she appreciated the gesture?"



"She was very happy, yes. It seems she has often wanted to go, but tickets cost too much."



"Excellent!" Rarity looked pleased "I also took the liberty of ordering some flowers, white roses are a popular color for her mane shading!"



"You really do have a knack for this.." Sombra mused. Rarity sighed dreamily;



"I cannot HELP but appreciate a good romance! One so fantastic as this, it would be a crime if I did not offer to help!"



"I am eternally grateful you have," Sombra said genuinely "alone, I would have no solutions such as these."



"You'll be FINE..." Rarity assured him.



"Oh-!" Sombra recalled the necklace he'd found in his fathers belongings, and told Rarity he'd be right back. He teleported to his room and back, returning with the jewelry.



"Wow, this is beautiful!" Rarity grabbed a magnifying glass and peered at the jewels "my my, these are very high quality gems, I haven't seen ones like them in a long time! Its very well made."



"It was in father's belongings, it used to be the queens." Sombra fidgeted awkwardly, wandering absently over to the window as he spoke. "Perhaps it is presumptuous of me, but I had wished to give it to her as a present..."



Knowing "her" to mean Shining Sea, Rarity was touched by Sombra's intentions. They were kind, in a genuinely hopeful, innocent sort of manner. She reflected on what she and the others knew about Sombra's past. He'd never exactly had the time to fall in love before, this had to be a startling change in events...



"She'll love it..." she said reassuringly, and seen an honest look of relief flash over Sombra's face.



"I'll clean it up nicely and check the setting!" Rarity promised. "it will be ready in time for your date!"

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He'd just gotten back downstairs when he was told he had visitors. Soon as he walked into the spacious, open tea room, he was greeted by "SOMBWA!"



"Hay there little one!" He said happily, sitting her up on his back before turning his attention to the other visitor;



"Hay.." he said softly as Shining Sea walked over to him. Her eyes sparkled as she greeted him. She noticed he looked a little flushed, and asked was he OK?



"I'm fine, truly..." he said softly. "Today is, in fact, a special day..."



"Why it's speciaw?" Bright Spark asked. Sombra could feel her batting at his mane and smiled softly as he responded;



"It's my fathers birthday. Princess Twilight and the others, they made a memorial for him. It's the perfect way to make sure I never forget him."



"That was wonderful of them.." Shining Sea said "you have some very kind friends!"



"I know." Sombra said, and he really did!



Bright Spark asked if they could see the statue? Sombra smiled and said of course they could!

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He led them out to the garden where the statue stood.



"Wow, it's amazing.." sea looked up at it. "Although, where did that fake mustache come from-" she sounded confused. Then she was surprised by Sombra starting to laugh!



"Cotton Candy...she must've heard me..." he laughed.



"Heard you what?" Shining Sea asked. Sombra explained how he'd mentioned to Luna and Celestia that if his father could see the statue now, he'd probably be his usual goofy self and stick a mustache on it!



Bright Spark was giggling fit to bust, she loved the joke!



Shining Sea couldn't help but laugh once she heard this, Sombra's father had been quite a joker, hadn't he?



Bright Spark went off to chase some butterflies, leaving the grown-ups to talk. Sombra told some more stories about his father's sense of humor!



"He..." Sombra tried to stop laughing long enough to talk. "He used to say his mind was like a steel trap, rusty and banned across most of Equestria!"



Shining Sea was laughing so hard she'd had to not only sit down, but was getting a stitch. She wobbled over and fell against Sombra, who was still chuckling himself. She felt herself go red and attempted to not-so-elegantly apologize, but he didn't seem annoyed.



In fact, the next second she felt his foreleg curve around her, and she let herself cosy up to him, barely able to believe her luck! She rested her head on his chest, hearing the soft thud of his heartbeat.



Sombra was just as nervous but happy as she was. Again, his actions had come from an instinct that said this was the proper thing to do...but he was still worried he might scare her off...



Now she was so close, her slim form fitting so comfortably next to him, the vanilla scent of her mane making his heart race...



She felt him nuzzle absently at her mane, and lifted her head, smiling curiously at him.



"That scent, it suits you." he said bluntly. She flushed, it was her favorite perfume!



"Bright Spark bought a bottle for my birthday last year," she smiled. "Saved up all the pocket money I'd been giving her to get it for me..."



"She's a good kid, I'm so relieved to see how much she's cheered since the first time I met her..."



She brushed her nose against his. "That's all thanks to you..." she said honestly, treasuring the soft feel of his coat, and the CLOSENESS of him.



"Ever since you defended her from those bullies she's grown and grown..."



Sombra thought back to that first real encounter, where he'd learnt her name, and shed first spoken HIS.



"She was so fearless, to march right up to me and go "boop!" he said, watching how the light caught her dark blue eyes. "I thought that if she could approach one with a reputation like mine and show no fear, she should have to fear nopony, let alone those bullies!"



"Petalbloom told me what you said in her defense, I was surprised when she told me how readily Bright Spark told her you were just as lonely as anypony else, not scary!"



"I am indebted to her for her constant faith in me," Sombra responded "she was the first to see something other than a tyrannical despot, and offer to be its friend!"



"I was amazed by how much she changed, and she always talked about YOU. I realized I'd misjudged you-" she looked apologetic, but Sombra shook his head.



"Back then, at the start, I didn't even know I could accomplish so much. I'm not surprised everypony else took a while to adjust!"



"Well now they have, and they can't imagine anything else," she assured him, seeing him flush happily. "Everypony's been talking about the coronation coming up."



"I know, and I hope yourself and Bright Spark will attend as honored guests?"



Shining Sea was surprised, but didn't hesitate to say they'd love that!



They could hear Bright Spark giggling off in the garden, the birds singing their trilling melodies. But they were distracted by one another...



Shining Sea gave a deliriously happy sigh as Sombra kissed her, her stomach a mass of nerves, but she couldn't have been happier. His kiss was so warm, so intense...



Cadance was walking down one of the palaces long hallways, half paying attention to the thoughts in her head, and half to the birdsong drifting in the window. She paused at the next window in time to see the aforementioned magical kiss come to an end. She blinked, as for a split second, she seen a phenomenon she hadn't witnessed in years. Above the pair, a small, bright red spark appeared, and rapidly etched out the shape of a heart in quick movements, before fading away.



--A true link...-- she mused --they're from different times, yet their hearts are destined for one another...--- she'd had a feeling from the start, when shed seen the dance at the ball, but now she knew for sure.



Down below she seen them both jump slightly as Shining Sea's daughter reappeared suddenly, startling the couple. She seen Bright Spark cock her head, taking in the way her mommy was snuggled up to Sombra, the way he held her.



Deciding to help the little filly out, Cadance made a bubble shaped like a heart appear soundlessly above the duo, having it hover there a second before popping out of existence. Spark's eyes filled with realization, and she pretty much dive bombed them, flinging her tiny forelegs around the both of them as far as she could.



"Are you OK with this sweetie?" Shining Sea asked once Bright Spark sat back on the grass, peering up at the adults. A rapid nod, and a big grin was the response! She may have only been small, but she could see how Sombra was taking the space in her mommy's heart left behind by her daddy!



"Mommy is best mommy-" she held up one hoof "and Sombra is best fweind-" the other hoof now. She brought them together with a little tap sound, and looked up at the two "best and best bewong togever!"



That was just about the sweetest thing Sombra had ever heard. Shining Sea's eyes filled with happy tears, and she held out a foreleg for a hug. Bright Spark nestled into her mommys hold, beaming happily at up her.



"My little Bright Spark..." she murmured, snuggling her daughters cheek, before looking up at Sombra "I'm so lucky to have you both in my life..."

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Sombra walked them back to the Palace door. Bright Spark bounded outside ahead of them, and Shining Sea paused a moment to look up at Sombra and say goodbye.



"Saturday?" She said with a sweet smile. A nod, then he was caught up in a surprise kiss. They reluctantly parted, and she left, Bright Spark trotting alongside her.

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The next morning Applejack announced they were getting some visitors!



"Who?" Sombra asked curiously.



"Three lil fillies, known as the Cutie Mark Crusaders of course!" Applejack grinned.



Sombra listened as he was given the low-down on this trio of fillies. Two were blood relations to miss Applejack and miss Rarity, the other was a bond-sister to miss Rainbow Dash!



"When are they arriving?" Twilight asked.



"Tomorrow..." Applejack said. "In tha mornin'!"



Sombra raised an eyebrow. Three small fillies from Ponyville? He was curious to meet them, but also wondered how they'd react to HIM?

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"So were gonna meet this, what's he called, Sombra?" Scootaloo, a filly with orange coat and purple mane, asked the filly sat next to her. Applebloom rechecked her letter, her red hair tied back by a big bow, the sunlight catching her butter-yellow coat



"Yep, sis talks about him quite a lot, there's this here photo too!"



They took another look at the photo from the ball, with Sombra and the others around him, all dressed to the nines. They looked so happy.



"He seems kinda fierce," Scootaloo said. "Is his magic really like all shadowy and stuff?"



"I dunno.." Sweetie Bell, her white coat groomed to a shine, shrugged, her duo-tone curls bouncing as she did "I mean, Rarity says he's nice, maybe he just goofed up back then?"

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The three fillies fidgeted eagerly as the train pulled into the Crystal Empire station. They hoped their sisters would be there! It'd been ages since they'd seen them last. The letters had given them a timeline of what'd gone on, from Sombra's arrival to recent. How theyd been presented with an ex-tyrant, and had ended up with a friend!



"Whoa..." Scootaloo gawked up at one of the guards standing on the platform "whats with the goggles?"



"They're to help us destroy the craetures that attack from there, little miss," the guard gestured at the sky tear "Unlike Prince Sombra, we cannot naturally see this weakness of thiers!"



"This guy sounds pretty tough..." Scootaloo raised an eyebrow.



"We're indebted to him for his help, so please don't judge him by the past," The guard smiled kindly "he's a good pony."



"Right ya are!" Applejacks voice rang out, and the guard turned, seeing six ponies standing behind the small group.



"Hi!" Pinkie grinned at the guard, recognising Lightshield from the party!



"Afternoon Miss!" He replied, smiling as the three fillies he'd been talking to shot over to three of the ponies. Applebloom all but tackled Applejack, and they collapsed in a giggly heap on the platform!



Rarity and Sweetie Belle shared a delighted hug, and Scootaloo bounded over to bump hooves with Rainbow Dash!



"We sure missed y'all!" Applejack said as she got to her feet.



"Who's ready for a tour of the empire?" Pinkie cheered. The trio whooped, happily trotting after thier friends and family, heading into the Emprie where thier Sister's letters were rooted....

Author's Note:

Sweet Celestia on a pogo stick! :trollestia: I am SO sorry this took so long! A mix of things, including food poisoning, :pinkiesick: stress, overtime at work, family :pinkiegasp:*wheeze*, and a nasty chest infection, meant things got seriously backlogged! It didnt help i went through several drafts of this, most of which felt unfinished or out of place! An attempt to shorten later chapters somewhat, ended up feeling all kinds of wrong, as it meant missing out details i felt were important!

So yeah, all THAT happened!

Edited by my swifty-speedy editor, Dream Seeker!