• Published 26th Sep 2015
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Can You Find it in Your Heart? - Ravenmane



As broken as he is. As unforgivable as he acted. Could anyone find it in their heart to care for a tyrant such as King Sombra?

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14 - History of the Defeated

Sombra smiled as he looked out to the clear skies that greeted him the next morning. “Telling her these things is one thing,” he said to the dawn. “That place should prove to be a better source of information.”

“Sorry for overhearing,” said Twilight from Sombra’s doorway, “but what place?”

The unicorn turned to see her. “You’ll see,” he replied as his grin remained plastered on his face. “Breakfast first, then you can show me where the castle is.”

“I should warn you, Spike’s making it.”

“Should I be concerned or simply on guard?”

“On guard, I’ll do my best to help but he won’t make it easy for either of us.”

*****

After a light breakfast, or at least light for the wary stallion, and a cautious trip through the Everfree Forest, the duo stood before the Castle of the Two Sisters.

“Now as I recall it was over here,” said Sombra as he hurried into the dilapidated castle.

“What are you talking about,” growled Twilight as she hurried to keep up.

“When I stayed here,” his eye twitched, “well you know. Back when she and I had a warmer relationship, I had to remain close. The journey was a long one by carriage and my mother, rest her soul, thought it was better to remain here. I thought of why once, but I figured it out very quickly.” Sombra smirked as he turned down a dimly lit hall filled with suits of armor. “It was a cutthroat occupation you know. Vying for her hoof.”

Twilight remained silent, doing her best to remain at the stallion’s side was proving to be enough of an undertaking. In the poor illumination of the corridors, Sombra seemed far faster than she anticipated.

“King Orion sent his son and he was the one I considered my greatest rival. I never knew if he felt the same but he left quite the impression.”

“Wait, King Orion? King of Timbucktu? That King Orion sent his son for Princess Celestia’s hoof? I never read about that. He was the one who you knew?”

“I’m sure that would break Ionas’ heart knowing it was forgotten that he competed for the affections of a princess of Equestria.” Sombra paused and stared at a suit of armor before igniting his horn, illuminating the entire hallway. “We were at each other’s throats within the hour of our first true meeting. We met once before then, during our introductions to Celestia. Extenuating circumstances prevented our rivalry to escalate then. If you will,” he pointed to the damage done to the armor, “please note how badly damaged this suit of armor is. Perhaps the emblem on the breastplate will help identify it.”

Twilight looked over the damage done to the armor. “For its age it’s in very good condition.” She leaned down for a better look at the faded breastplate. “A trident and wings,” she said as she squinted.

“No doubt the gold is almost completely gone by now but yes, that is the crest of Timbucktu. This is an artifact of an age where stallions fought over mares with acts that only the insane would consider brave. Ionas would be furious if he saw the shape this is in after all these years. If he cared for something more than another pony it would be this armor, but that would only be due to the capacity he had to care. Mere objects were a distant second.”

“The damage tells me you showed him no quarter.”

“And he showed me none in return.” Sombra turned to look at a suit of armor across the hall, one that shimmered in the hornlight. “That would be mine over there, just as beaten as his. The damage tells me she felt more hatred than regret after our falling out. Or perhaps it was neglect from the memories of our conflict. I do not know and I doubt I will ever know the full story.”

Twilight went to get a closer look. The glistening armor was indeed severely damaged, though it still looked new. She slowly traced the embossed form of the Crystal Heart as the echoing hoofsteps of the armor’s former owner came closer. “Why is it still like this? How come it still looks so new?”

“They just aren’t made like ours were anymore. The smiths of the Empire from my time infused their work with diamond dust and unicorns used that as a conduit for aesthetic enchantments. We thought that it would be a waste to have ceremonial armor in addition to that which we would duel in. Naturally it was expensive to perform such work, but I left it here for a reason. I would not dishonor those who I faced while wearing in with what would occur.”

“You mean the battle right?”

Sombra silently nodded before returning his gaze to a nearby part of the wall.

“What is it?”

“The door should be around here,” Sombra replied as he began to knock against the wall. “Unless she cleared it out or sealed the way.”

Twilight joined Sombra in his search and before long the two found a hollow sound on the wall. As they both smiled at the discovery one thing became rapidly clear…

“When did you come so close,” asked Sombra as they remained only a scant few inches from each other.

Twilight quickly backed away from the former king in a panic. “I uh… I’m sorry but – wait. Why should I be apologizing? We were both growing more consumed with looking for the door that you didn’t notice it either!”

“Ah but I did. Any closer and we may have kissed. Don’t give me some strange look now,” he said as a scowl began to grow on Twilight’s face, “I can tell that I’m still evil to you but I was quite charming back then.” As soon as he finished speaking with a definite air of teasing, Sombra pushed his hoof against the wall and a doorway opened with a click.

Twilight huffed and approached the opening before casting her own hornlight into the revealed doorway. Only seconds later, she turned to Sombra with a scowl on her face. “What is it with you and stairs?”

Sombra smiled. “You try making a secret chamber in a castle riddled with secret passages without going further down. Two weeks after I arrived, I found a large chamber beneath the castle when I had time to explore and realized that if I was to make a hidden sanctuary I had even more hazards to avoid. Simply put, a staircase made the most sense at the time. All the enchantments and stairs in the Empire helped deter me from revisiting a certain place. Anyways, these don’t go too far down. Can your delicate princess legs manage three flights of stairs?”

Twilight turned away and descended down the passage with a disapproving look on her face.

That was too much, thought Sombra as he followed her.

*****

Sombra blew the dust off a thick book resting on a desk toward the center of the room, peeling letters of gold leaf showed only fragments of his name on its cover. “Perhaps this will be an interesting read Twilight.”

Twilight came up beside him. “Oh? What is it?”

“My journal of the time I spent travelling to and living here.”

As Sombra moved aside, Twilight opened the book and began to read. The first several pages were about things she already heard from the former ruler, but she found where his answers ended and his time in the castle began.

Waxing Gibbous 19, 2346

I found the castle here quite intimidating when I arrived. Guards stationed everywhere, watching my every move, I thought the Empire was unsettling but this was something different. I was escorted through the castle by two mares in golden armor, though I am not sure if they were aware of how much I observed our surroundings.

We reached a great hall and standing there before a dais bearing two great thrones, in each was an elegant alicorn, were stallions of all kinds. I had thought they came from other nations as soon as I saw them. We were all told to form a line and be prepared to formally introduce ourselves to Princesses Celestia and Luna. As to be expected, as the late comer, I was to provide my introduction last. At the time I was unaware but strangely unsurprised as to who I would encounter in such a place.

Nearly half of the stallions had introduced themselves by the time the old unicorn was merrily entering from a side corridor. My old master was here all this time, it seemed preposterous at first, but I quickly realized that I should have expected no less from Starswirl the Bearded. Once he noticed me, a thing I tried my best to avoid, he hurried to my side and pulled me from the back of the line. He apologized to Princess Celestia and quickly told her who I was, that I was once his student in the Crystal Empire, and that I was the son of Princess Amore. Princess Celestia seemed genuinely curious and allowed my former teacher to pull me aside. The majority of the day was spent catching up. A light dinner with the other stallions and the Princesses in the evening followed by an escort to my quarters concluded my first day. I hope this is well worth the coldness of this land’s guards.

“You knew Starswirl the Bearded,” erupted Twilight as she finished the entry.

“Ah,” replied Sombra as he turned away from a bookshelf. “Yes, he taught me to control my magic when I was a colt. By the time I began to call him ‘master’ he thought I was ready to continue on my own. Later I asked why he left and it was just that, I had begun to think of him as less of an instructor and more of the center of my learning. From him I learned basic magic, the fundamentals of potion making, and how to detect magical anomalies. If I remember correctly, he wanted to find out what I learned without him and what the state of the Empire was. How my mother was, if I had any siblings, those sorts of things.”

“What was he like?”

“He was very peculiar, much akin to Pinkie Pie. Because of the parallels I could draw, it would hardly surprise me if she and Starswirl were related in even the slightest extent. Now, I want you to read as much of that book as you want. Feel free to ask me more questions if you wish. I will always be happy to answer them. They are good memories, ones that I still cherish.”

“What calendar are you using?”

“The Empire’s calendar. Eight months, each of forty five days, and the years since the establishment of the empire. Some in the Empire may still follow it but no doubt they have adapted to your own.”

Twilight smiled before returning to the volume in front of her. She scanned the next few entries, each seemed more boring than the last until she reached one that caught her eye.

Half-Moon 17, 2346

Today was surprising. As the youngest of Princess Celestia’s suitors, I expected little chance after nearly a month’s time but I was approached today by her highness. She wanted to tour the gardens with me and I was rather quick in accepting her surprisingly forward request.

During our walk we came across a very odd statue. At the time I knew of no such thing and I politely asked. The Princess told me that is a story for a later date, but the way she said it brought a smile to my face. A later date was something special to me. It was as if she had already decided, but no sooner had we returned from our stroll than she hurried off to speak with Helios from Trot. There are times when I do hope she is merely being polite when he tells those awful jokes.

Twilight looked away from the journal only to find Sombra reading a thick book about magic theory. Based on the faded cover and stiffness of the pages, it had to have come from one of the nearby meticulously organized bookshelves. Shortly afterwards, Twilight realized she had returned to the journal’s pages.

Half-Moon 22, 2346

I dueled with Ionas again today, he is five years my senior and yet he still must give his all to best me. Tonight he will be sure to boast of his victory as if to put me in my place. While I consider him my rival, I fear that arrogance will be his undoing. I understand his desire to prove his strength, but in my time with her I have found Princess Celestia more drawn to intellect. I still enjoy the thrill of the fight, but she and I have had more fun discussing magical theory and developing new methods to alchemically treat injuries. I feel a sense of pride whenever we make a breakthrough and my heart skips when I hear her giggle, even if it was due to an unstable compound exploding in the beaker in front of me.

“Last one,” mumbled Twilight, “just one last entry.”

Waning Gibbous 3, 2346

Ionas left this morning for Timbucktu, claiming a sense of dread disturbed his dreams last night and that he must return home to know that all is well. With him gone that leaves only Helios, Edris, Clodius, and myself. I must admit, this was rather unexpected. In a way it is fortunate that the nine were now four, but earlier, when he left, I only thought of him as paranoid. Celestia asked to have dinner with me today. Just me.

Perhaps the oddest thing that happened as of late was Celestia’s insistence that I ignore her title when we are alone. It happened last night while we were solving a few equations. She said it was too formal and that I should treat her just as she treats me. Perhaps this is a sign of favoritism, one each of us has sought since this courtship began.

*****

“‘Though I found great enjoyment in the company of Luna I know my place,’” recited Twilight late in the afternoon. “‘My place is to be beside Celestia, to form a union my mother knows I alone can do. Though it pains me and Melvin to…’ Sombra, who was Melvin?”

“Princess Luna had a friend named Melvin at the time. He was no pony, but a manticore and I spent many nights with tools in this very room to learn how to understand him. Please continue aloud if you wish.”

Twilight nodded. “‘Though it pains me and Melvin to speak of such things, we both agree that it is for the best to tell her tomorrow night. For now though, he wishes I sleep so he may return to Princess Luna’s side. I worry about Melvin maintaining this secret but not so much as the news from the Empire. Mother is unwell and there is talk of my sister replacing her. She is still so young and her naïveté could place the Empire in a state of disarray.’ You really thought things through didn’t you?”

“Family is the most important, though I know I displayed anything but in the end.”

Twilight flipped through the book quickly. “What happened next? The rest is blank except for the last page.”

Sombra cocked an eyebrow. “I never wrote in it again, leaving the very next morning. What does it say?”

Twilight levitated the book over to Sombra and his eyes met a short message written in curly letters.

Sombra,
I am so very sorry for what I must do.
I hope that one day you and I can forgive each other.
I beg that you understand why I have to confront you.
C

“So she did care at the end. She,” he trailed off as a fabric behind the bookcase behind Twilight caught his eye. “What are you my little aberration?” Carefully he pulled the bookcase away to see for certain but what he saw in the light from his horn struck him speechless.

Twilight spun around to see what Sombra discovered and the tapestry she saw cast in their hornlights left her mirroring his silence. It depicted a figure she could only assume to be Sombra frozen away as rays were cast against a barrier around him. These rays came from two figures that were far more familiar to her: the ancient portrayals of Princess Celestia and Princess Luna. She saw similarities in the facial expression on the figure of Sombra that she could relate to imagery of Luna’s when she was banished.

“What do you see in this scene,” asked Sombra once words eventually returned to him.

“That Princess Celestia regretted what she did to you. I think she may have realized she was the one who made you a monster. What do you see?”

“A memory of a dark time in my life and a grim reminder of the monster I became. In hearing your view I feel differently about the memory. I can see how far I fell, how much of a monster I became, and that Celestia later understood what the cause of my fall had been. I want to ask you something further, something that I wish to see if you can understand regarding my motives.”

“What is it?”

“Do you now fully grasp why I hid the Crystal Heart?”

“Why is it so important for me to know that?”

“Towards the end I trusted no one, not even myself. I saw one conclusion only days before our conflict reached its apex: I had to hide the Heart from all lest its power was abused. In my paranoia, I saw that Celestia would cast her love across Equestria, one that none would dare question. In my mind, hers was a love that was easily altered by even the most dire of events.

“From my own paranoia would bring the darkness that haunted me, resonating fear to every corner of the land. Yes, I was aware of what my own intentions would do. To know what damage would never be undone due to the overwhelming dread that would haunt everypony only fueled my decision to lock the Heart away.”

“So you felt like nopony should have the Crystal Heart. Protecting an ancient artifact like that seems quite noble, especially for a pony who used fear and malice to force an empire to do his bidding.”

“As I said, I trusted no one. The Heart was safer locked away where even I could not reach.”

“Because of the traps?”

“Just the one. You know the one I mean don’t you? I designed it to keep myself away from the Heart because it required assistance to pass.”

“And by then you trusted nopony to help you,” continued Twilight. “No trust meant nopony would help and if nopony would help then you would never reach the Heart.”

“For me, it predicted the future to an extent. My defeat was shown to be absolute and the Empire would be put to the sword for my actions. What did it show you?”

“How obsessed I was in regards to the test Princess Celestia presented to me. By failing to stop you from returning to power she cast me aside coldly, showing nothing but apathy towards me.”

“Curious how our fears manifest. Mine was sheer terror at the fate of my citizens while yours was the inability to stop my madness.”

“But if you trusted nopony then how–”

“My trap needed experimenting so I created a temporary model that would release me as soon as the spell faded. Dragged through the streets in chains, watching the Empire burn, knowing that Celestia was waiting to publicly execute me for my deeds, I could stand only so much torment. When it faded, I knew it was ready for practical use. The second experiment was on the eve of the day before my loss. I found the event in your own history books.”

“When did you–”

“I had some trouble getting to sleep last night. Anyways, the caribou warlord was driven mad in what your historians called the Wendigo’s Eve Nightmare. Doing so, I drove his kind from the border of Equestria using nothing but that experimental trap. His fear was his undoing but I may as well have done the deed with my own hooves. Your history books say they have never been seen since.”

“Without their leader, they fell apart into small tribal groups and were later conquered by the griffons. The event wasn’t named until after that information was gathered. You destroyed a civilization’s identity in a single night. It was cultural genocide.”

“I won’t apologize for ending their raids on the borders but one day I may need to take responsibility for my actions.”

“Historians look favorably on the event, even caribou ones. Warlords can’t be allowed to do as they please. Besides, I’d call it a victory overall. You overthrew a violent marauder and hid a powerful artifact in only two days. So much for thinking you had gone mad with power right?”

“I still have to live with knowing what I did. Does Luna know what she did?”

“Yes.”

“How does she live with it?”

“She used to live with the guilt but eventually, when it began to become a danger to everypony, she had to forgive herself.”

“It won’t be so easy to forgive myself. What I found in your library tells me she could have been a threat but had yet to truly become one. I was already a threat as far as anypony was concerned so I have to ask you this: can I even hope to be forgiven?”

Twilight smiled. “I’m sure you can be forgiven someday but you’ll have to forgive yourself before it can really begin. I’m not talking about forgiving yourself right now, but when you’re ready you need to forgive yourself.”