• Published 4th Apr 2021
  • 2,133 Views, 89 Comments

Sombra's Recovery - MisterEdd



Hunted by the crown, Sombra tries to evade capture while rediscovering who he is.

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Tipping the Scales

Deep within the Everfree Forest, where even the most dangerous of its fauna refused to tread, a cloud of inky blackness materialized, fading away to reveal a gray stallion in a blood-red cloak. Sombra stepped from out of the canopy of trees and into a small ray of sunlight, every pore of his body radiating pure ire. He huffed deep breathes from his fanged mouth, the rage wrapped tightly around his heart like adamantine cable. One minute, he was in a state of bliss and joy, then the next minute, he was being screamed at and banished by the one he thought was on his side. Sombra's hooves dug into the soft red-brown earth, little black crystals sprouting up and being crushed underhoof.

How could Twilight do this to him?! He wasn't wrong; he couldn't be! That iron-toothed mutt had no doubt assaulted and robbed many unsuspecting ponies with his little pack of bandits many times. No lecture on the values of friendship or a seat in time-out would fix that. Some beings were just rotten to the core and the only cure was to cut off the branch to save the rest of the tree.

Curse Twilight! Her and her soft, weak-willed, bleeding-heart cohorts!

With a roar, Sombra blasted apart a large rock, pulverizing it into pieces. He whirled around and gave the same treatment to a tree, smashing apart a good portion of the trunk and littering the dirt with smoldering wooden splinters. Green and purple flames erupted all around him in geysers, their white-hot intensity matching his own mood. Crystalline pillars spearheaded out of the ground to create a rudimentary shelter from the accursed sun. The air was thick with dark magic, so much so that the average pony would be spasming from so much raw negative energy.

A glint of light caught Sombra's attention and he spun to obliterate whatever it was, only to discover a small pond glittering in front of him. Glancing into its leaf-strewn surface, he found an enraged face glaring back, the whites of the eyes replaced with grayish green light. Wisps of violet haze waved from their edges like vipers, the stallion's mouth trapped in a fanged grimace of rage, challenging any living or nonliving thing to try and take him down. His horn, a curved, blood-red appendage, hummed with a black aura, little violet and green bubbles popping and crackling within its depths. Sombra stared long and hard at his reflection, the frustration and outrage dissipating until only shame remained.

It wasn't Twilight. Or anyone else. Only...only me...

"It was me," he stated remorsefully. "Faust, what have I done?"

Crashing onto his backside, Sombra hung his head, giving it a good shake as the realization crushed him. How could he have been so foolish?! Things didn't go sour until he made them that way, his actions causing Twilight to cast him out. Something scratched against his coat and he remembered the red envelope he'd pulled from the gift basket. His interest piqued, Sombra removed the envelope and tore it open, finding a sheet of snow-white paper written in Twilight's small but still tidy and legible hoof-writing. In fact, he could almost hear Twilight reading every line:

Dear Sombra,

I can't begin to tell you how happy ecstatic I am that you're here! I know things were, well, a bit tense since the last time we saw each other, what with me being possessed by an angry spirit and you being trapped in an illusory dream-world, but hopefully we can begin to move past all of that. My friends filled me in on their experiences working with you and while some of it is a bit negative, especially from Rainbow Dash, it does my heart so well to hear that you're all making an effort to be friends. I know this isn't easy for you. You've spent so much time alone, both before, during, and after your thousand-year imprisonment.

I don't even want to imagine what that was like for you. You're different from us, in more ways than one, but I still believe that there's hope for you. You're trying to change, to open up and let others in and I'm so proud of you for that. Progress is often a slow journey so I don't expect you to skip and dance through Ponyville but I can almost see the day that we can all live together without there being any strife. There is a chance that ponies may never like or accept you but there's an even bigger chance that at least many of them will and that's a chance worth hoping for.

I know these next few days are going to be tricky but I also know that they'll be fun! I'm looking forward to all of the good times you and I are going to have. Just please try to include yourself in more activities and be more civil with my friends. They're making an effort to make adjustments around you and you should too. Who knows? Maybe one day we'll all look back on this and laugh.

Here's to making new memories!

Love,
Twilight Sparkle
XOXO

Pain shot through Sombra's chest, his magic faltering and almost dropping the letter. Exhaling heavily through his nostrils, he carefully folded the letter back up, set it inside the envelope and slipped it back into his cloak pocket. The air seemed to grow heavy and cold, Sombra's thick coat no longer protecting him from the chill that raced down his spine. Twilight had such hope and optimism for the future, one where Sombra and her friends could all live together in harmony, regardless of whatever crimes he'd committed in the past. Despite everything that Sombra did, she still believed in him.

No matter what you do, they will never accept you.

"Shut up."

Or is it they can't accept you because you can't accept yourself?

"I don't want to hear this!"

Deep down, you know you're nothing. Less than nothing.

Sombra raised a hoof and gave himself a good, hard smack. His cheek stung but the voice was gone. Deciding that one wasn't enough, he slapped the opposite cheek just as hard. He then threw himself onto the ground, smashing his face into the dirt. It hurt and would've been humiliating if he'd had an audience but it didn't matter at the moment. The pain was familiar, a constant in his life that made it all real but more importantly, he did this for one simple reason:

He deserved it.

Pain, humiliation, heartbreak, Sombra deserved all of it and more. How could a stallion that thought so highly of himself also believe that he was a miserable wretch? Sombra stopped his self-torment and simply laid there, too tired to move or think. What was the point of returning back from the dead if he had no real purpose anymore? Was this to be his existence, to be a wanted fugitive alone and unloved?

He thought back to his previous meeting with Primrose the Prescient and how she was convinced that he required the Scales of Taijitu. Something that could purge the darkness from him...could it be? Perhaps this was what the old mare had foreseen. She knew that he'd muck things up and that he'd use the Scales to make things right. Sombra couldn't live a normal life with Twilight, not the way that he was now, so this could be the solution.

But am I really prepared to abandon everything that I am just to please someone else?

Sombra was admittedly rather clueless when it came to matters of the heart. He'd been married once, which ended horribly, to say the least, and had a marefriend much, much, much younger than himself, and happened to be a national hero. What he needed was an expert, someone to guide him towards a solution. And he just so happened to know one. This was only other pony that Sombra trusted and was certain that she could help provide him with an answer.

~*~

Once the meeting with the heads of the Crystal Empire Merchant's Guild concluded, Princess Cadence slumped back in her throne and massaged her temples. Apparently there had been some disagreements between the food vendors and the clothing vendors over a space in the market for distribution. They both claimed ownership over the space, which was an ideal location for business and needed her aid in settling the matter. She told, no ordered them to share the spot, that both groups would sell their respective wares next to one another and that it was non-negotiable. Bowing deeply, the stallions thanked her for her "wisdom and decisiveness" and promptly left, though obviously displeased by the princess' ruling.

Cadence peered out the nearby window and idly wished that Shining Armor was with her, his forelegs around her and his shoulder propping up her aching head. Sadly, he was currently overseeing drills with the Crystal Empire Infantry and would've be available for at least another two hours. She pouted, frustrated at not getting cuddle time with her Shiny and being made to wait for it. A light smile tugged at her lips at imagining how Shining was handling this, as he loved cuddle time even more than she did. Perhaps the next few meetings would fly by really quickly and they'd be cuddling in no time.

Yeah, and flash bees will fly out of my ears.

"Your Highness?" A light yellow crystal pony bowed before her.

"Yes, Ivory Rook?"

"King...Sombra is here to see you. It appears to be urgent."

Cadence immediately sat up in her throne.

"He is? Ahem, please send him in."

The idea of Sombra dropping in unexpectedly was, well, expectant, and a move he'd made before, namely his infiltration of the castle and holding Cadence hostage. However, other than a few letters, neither she nor Shining Armor had seen or heard from him in months, not since the Midnight Sparkle event. She at least had to give him credit for coming to see her in an official capacity rather than simply sneaking in. Cadence was actually looking forward to speaking with Sombra; in spite of everything that'd happened between them, he was still her father and insisted upon building a relationship between the two of them. How many stallions would do the same?

The throne room's doors slid open with a soft tinkling-scrape. Several royal guards stood vigilant on either side of the hallway, each one of them flinching slightly as a familiar stallion mechanically strode forward. Given Sombra's dark history with the crystal ponies, it wasn't a surprise that many of them still held a degree of fear and suspicion towards him. Thankfully, the sight of the ex-tyrant fighting side-by-side with the princesses alleviated some of that abhorrence, though mistrust still ran rampant amongst the populace, their opinions still at a crossroads comparing the two sides of their former king. Perhaps in due time, the Crystal Empire might forget its past traumas and learn to forgive Sombra, a prospect Cadence would very much like to become a reality.

Sombra steadily approached the dais and several alarms went off in Cadence's head, her mind in disbelief at the sight before her. Even in his lowest moments, Sombra carried himself with a quiet but assertive dignity, a certain veneer of confidence that was now absent in the stallion's slower, plodding stride. His face, usually a mask of cool indifference, was twisted into a forlorn expression of absolute misery, one that Cadence was reluctant to term "pathetic" but had no other word to describe it. His cheeks were bruised, possibly the result of a brawl, and he stared pitifully up at her through baggy eyelids and bloodshot eyes. Had he been crying?

"Sombra, what happened?"

Leaping to her hooves, Cadence rushed down the stairs and up to Sombra, skidding to a stop and taking a couple steps back. The umbrum managed a small smile but it was too melancholic to elicit any kind of mirth. He then abruptly dashed forward and anyone else in Cadence's shoes would've mistaken this for an attack but instead, wrapped his considerably longer forelegs around her. The two had never actually had any physical contact before so this was entirely new territory for Cadence and seemed completely uncharacteristic for Sombra's typical aloofness. Awkwardly, she snaked her forelegs around his shoulders, both left baffled by the situation and trying to properly hug the much larger pony.

The guards, who had readied their spears and began to race towards them, all froze at the sight of the pair embracing and it wasn't until Cadence shooed them away that they returned to their respective posts. Considering the truth of Cadence's parentage was still not public knowledge, this would no doubt raise some serious questions but she remained confident in her guards' loyalty and could rely on them to be discreet. Cadence sighed, a slew of new emotions bubbling up as Sombra squeezed her a little tighter. The experience of such affection from her birth father actually made her eyes mist up and she blinked away the tears that'd gathered as a result. She could feel that something was wrong with him, detecting sorrow, rage, self-loathing, and even fear radiating off of him like steam.

"I had to come see you," Sombra muttered rather coltishly.

"Did...something happen?"

Slowly releasing her, Sombra nodded and Cadence showed him to the bottom step of the dais. There, they sat side-by-side, with Cadence listening intently as Sombra related to her his tale, starting with his correspondence with Twilight and her invitation to Ponyville. From then, he went into detail about the following events: an attempt at training Spike basic combat, the ensuing argument with Twilight, their reconciliation, the picnic, the diamond dog attack, and Sombra's expulsion. He obviously left some details out and flat-out ignored Cadence's questions about the source of his bruises. She doubted that he received them in the scuffle with the diamond dogs, having personally seen him in action and witnessed the might of his prowess in the forbidden arts.

Being the Princess of Love and a pacifist, Cadence was appalled by Sombra's blatant disregard for life and his attempt at "punishing" the diamond dogs' leader. On the other hoof, her more empathetic side conceded that he came from a more barbaric time where one could pursue their own brand of justice and although she didn't agree with it, she could still understand his point of view. For the second time since they'd met, Cadence saw the vulnerability that Sombra usually kept hidden, perhaps in fear of appearing weak or feeble. Unlike the first time, where it was his loneliness and desperation to have a deep connection with another, this was Sombra at his most despondent, a pony whose mental and emotional well-being may very well be hanging from a frayed piece of rope. How he managed to keep functioning after years of mental anguish and no psychiatric treatment was a mystery but Cadence feared that he was just one more bad day away from snapping altogether.

"...and so, I came here."

Cadence nodded. "Okay, I understand that you needed somepony to confide in but why not Auntie Luna?"

"Because I needed someone to help me in matters of the heart and who else but the Princess of Love and a happily married mare could I turn to?"

"Fair point. So how can I help?"

Sombra stared out at the throne room wistfully.

"Cadence, how much do you love Shining Armor?"

"Wh-what?"

He sighed, "Would you do anything to make it work with him, even if it meant...changing certain parts of yourself?"

It was a question that Cadence had never been asked nor ever considered.

"Well," she began, trying to find the right way to word her response. "Being in a relationship means a lot of give-and-take. You have to be prepared to make compromises, even if it means doing things you don't necessarily like. I love Shiny and I would do anything if it meant keeping him in my life."

Nodding at this, Sombra then asked, "Are you by any chance adept at riddles?"

When Cadence was eleven or twelve, her parents, that is, her adoptive parents, gave her a book of puzzles and riddles. She became rather good at them, especially when it came to the riddles and square number-placement puzzles. This grew into a love for mystery novels and solving brainteasers and trivia questions in the newspaper. Why Sombra needed a riddle solved when he was having relationship issues was beyond her but the look in his eyes made him seem very desperate. Could it be in some way related to helping him smooth things over with Twilight?

"I dabble a bit. What's the riddle?"

"Always chasing, yet always chased,
Has no legs, but will always race
Always full, yet never spills
Always young but over-the-hill."

Cadence frowned, taking it apart and reassembling the pieces. "Oh I see. The answer is the moon."

"The moon?"

"That's what it sounds like."

Sombra rose to his hooves. "The moon...yes, and tonight happens to be a full moon. And the type of enchantment on the map could be lunar magic-based."

"I'm sorry, 'map'?"

"Thank you, Cadence! I promise I'll be back for another visit."

He swiftly gave her another hug and, dissolving into a black cloud, shot out of the room and streaked through the hallway, startling the already on-edge guards.

Cadence merely shook her head in confusion.

"What in Faust's name was that all about?"

~*~

For the first time since the post-diamond dog skirmish, Sombra felt rejuvenated. Of course the answer was "the moon"! It was no coincidence that Primrose gave him a seemingly blank map and a riddle when a full moon was approaching. The sly old mare had foreseen all of this and now armed with this new information, the Scales of Taijitu were nearly in Sombra's grasp. Who knows, maybe Primrose even found the Scales, hid them, created the map and waited for Sombra to arrive and claim it.

One can never be certain of a seer's motivations.

Steadily, he climbed up the mountain, his shadow-form impervious to the frigid temperature and biting winds of the Frozen North. Arriving near the summit, Sombra re-materialized and took in the bone-white landscape, the wind slapping his cloak around like a cat with a ball of yarn. He'd spent the past few hours in the Crystal Empire marketplace, perusing the various vendors' booths and sampling their wares, even chatting with a few ponies. They were still skittish around him but similar to the residents of Ponyville, were less frightened and more uncertain about the right way to approach him. They'd actually seen him aiding the princesses in battle against a powerful foe, fighting by their sides and ultimately helping to save Equestria in the process, something that none of them would've ever dreamed of occurring yet it did all the same.

Sombra took in the sights, acquainting himself with the modern-day empire and its inhabitants and simply relaxing. He enjoyed some funnel cake, watched a puppet show, and even saw a mare with white face paint and stripped sweater pulling a length of invisible rope and pretending to be trapped inside of an imaginary box. Admittedly, that last one was boring and a tad baffling in his eyes. Was that really supposed to count as entertainment? Any simpleton could do that at home for free and yet ponies clapped and threw their hard-earned bits into the mare's hat, no day paying for lunch for the next few weeks.

Perhaps I'm just getting old and cynical. Well, more cynical.

The rest of the time was spent meandering the city, no clear destination in mind, just wandering for the sake of wandering. He'd once read that "not all who wander are lost," a nice little sentiment from a book written by a J.R.R. Foalkien that he'd enjoyed quite immensely but felt a bit unnerved by the descriptions of the book's main antagonist. Sombra watched the crystal ponies just live their lives, doing menial chores, talking to neighbors, playing with their offspring. He envied them, envied their joy and contentment but couldn't bring himself to hate them. Once upon a time, he would've done anything to destroy their happiness just out of spite but he wasn't the same stallion that he was then.

The price of his hatred and revenge had simply been too high.

He stood peering down the mountainside, his breath curling out in little clouds of steam. The average pony would've been freezing up there and while Sombra indeed felt the cold, his magic, along with a larger frame and thicker coat kept him more insulated against the harsh elements. Night had since fallen, the fields of snow deprived of their daytime luster but no less solid and cold. The moon's soft glow illuminated the surrounding area and Sombra unfolded the map, ensuring that its surface was within the rays of light beaming down from the heavens. A part of Sombra screamed at him to cease this foolishness, to return to his apartment and forget the whole thing but he quashed it.

If this is what it will take to have a normal life with Twilight, then so be it.

A gentle silvery luminescence engulfed the map's blank surface, the hum of magic radiating off of the parchment and into Sombra's flesh and bones. Light blue sparks danced along the parchment, forming lines and curves that soon developed into sketches of borders and forests. He could see the Crystal Empire and the expanse of the Frozen North, the rapids of Neighagra Falls and the peaks of Griffonstone. Canterlot was soon etched into being, with its mountainside castle and massive waterfall. Down at the very bottom of Solaris Falls, a golden ring appeared, encircling the mountain's base and pointing to the series of caves that were situated behind the waterfall and feed into a series of subterranean tunnels.

"Now I have a destination," Sombra noted and assumed his shadow form.

It'd taken a few hours but he finally arrived at the base of Mount Concordia, or "Canterlot Mountain" as it was more commonly known. Of course the sanctimonious sow had a mountain named after her; it was the only thing bigger than her ego. Had Sombra retained his wings and alicorn status, he could've easily teleported there but even with his skill and experience, such a feat would've been too taxing on his body and magical reserves. He suspected that there might be traps or fierce guardians protecting the Scales and he needed every tool at his disposal to confront them. The idea of a challenge actually brought a smile to his face and he found himself looking forward to whatever was waiting for him.

Navigating his way around the roaring falls, Sombra consulted the map and found a golden arrow pointing to the middle cavern. Using a scanning spell, he found no evidence of any booby traps and proceeded into the mouth of the cave, albeit with some degree of caution. "The viper always looks peaceful just before it strikes," Grimoire once told him and though it was pertaining more to illusions, he found it just as apt here as well. Being on his own for so long made Sombra cautious and this kept him alive. It would seem Twilight and her friends' influence may've made him a bit too careless.

Do I really regret being around them?

Sombra let the query hang in favor of searching for clues to lead him to the scales, his eyes carefully inspecting every crack and crevice that his flashlight's beam fell upon. He focused and released a wave of fluctuating energy rings, sending them barreling through the cavern and out of sight. This was a spell designed to detect concealment enchantments and sure enough, the rings came bouncing back with a high-pitched warble, their color changed from black and purple to a yellowish-orange hue. He followed the pulsating rings, hanging a sharp left and soon entered a small cavern, where the glowing rings were flashing the strongest against the farthest wall. Placing the tip of his horn against the pockmarked surface, he sent some of his magic into the wall and was rewarded when a secret door rumbled upward, revealing a hidden antechamber.

A dais shaped like a rounded step pyramid stood in the center of the chamber, its faces covered in what Sombra recognized as Chineighse symbols but had no idea what they meant. Resting atop the dais was a pair of golden balance scales being held by a foot-high statuette of a kneeling ox, one half of his face a passive smile, the other a dismissive sneer. On his belly was a unique pattern consisting of two teardrops, one white and one black, swirling opposite one another, a black dot in the white teardrop and vice-versa. This was a symbol meant to represent universal balance, something about the relationship between light and darkness. Honestly, Sombra never held much of an interest in philosophy, preferring to leave the existential pondering to old ponies arguing over semantics.

"Funny, I expected you to be bigger."

This was it. He was going to make a permanent alteration to who he was and what he stood for. In a sense, it was almost like dying again, only this time emerging as something better. Was he truly ready for this? Sombra patted the cloak-pocket where Twilight's letter was nestled and knew what needed to be done. Forcing a nasally exhale, Sombra stood straight and faced the statuette, meeting the ox's ruby-eyed gaze with a sort of defiance befitting someone that was meeting their end.

"Hello and goodbye, Scales of Taijitu."

A ray of black, green, and purple struck the ox's belly. Sombra watched the magic flowing around the teardrop symbol, the energy branching off into two swirling segments, one red and one blue. Forming a miniature cyclone, the segments spun around the symbol faster and faster, little white bolts crackling and leaping off of it. The cyclone, now a bright silver-white, shot out and seized Sombra like a gigantic claw, lifting him off of the floor and into the air. The ox's eyes burned with an intense light, Chineighse symbols floating around its head and the bowls in interlocking circles.

Vice-like pain gripped Sombra's head and he soon found himself tumbling through space, yet paradoxically remaining where he was. Moments from his life, both good and bad, flashed before his eyes, filling him with overpowering feelings of joy and dread. He was playing with Garnet in the Royal Garden, then he was forcing the crystal ponies into bondage. He was having dinner with Twilight but then shattering his adoptive parents into a million pieces. He was at Pinkie Pie's improvised party inside the Canterlot dungeon before being thrust back to Grimoire's poisoning on Black Skull Island.

Half of his body went numb, followed by an intense series of burning, prickling sensations. His limbs hung uselessly at his side, almost as if he were experiencing partial paresthesia. He then cried out as he felt himself being tugged by an invisible force that was dead-set on ripping him in half. The memories continued to bombard him, this time in rapid succession so he couldn't tell if he should laugh or sob. It was almost as bad as his demise, only this was arguably worse as he had no clue as to what was happening to him and he desperately wished for it all to end.

And then, everything went black.

Groggily, Sombra released a low moan and opened his eyes, dots dancing across his blurred vision. He was lying on his stomach, the stone ground cold and slightly damp. How long had he been unconscious and sprawled out on the cavern floor? There was some immobilization in his limbs so it took some time for him to drag himself to his hooves, teetering back and forth as he fought to regain his balance. Mercifully, his vision cleared and he could stand normally once more.

Wait a minute...

Sombra's front hooves flew up to his face. They were small, considerably small when compared to their regular (or irregular) size. He hurried over to the Scales and, using the ox statuette's reflective surface like a mirror, Sombra discovered the reason for the abnormal size difference: he himself was smaller. He now stood more at Shining Armor's height, his limbs and frame much slimmer in appearance, though his coat and mane remained the same. His horn was straight and segmented, his fangs were missing, and his eyes, which were once scarlet, now had dark green irises.

For some reason, his cheek scar remained and upon closer inspection, found the pair of triangular scars on his back were also still there. Shrugging, Sombra decided not to question it, instead focusing on a successful demonstration of the Scales' powers. He was a regular Equestrian stallion! A sense of elation he'd never known before took a hold of him and he began laughing and dancing around like a buffoon. It had worked, worked, worked, worked, worked!

A sharp pain at the back of his skull put Sombra's celebration on hold, wincing and rubbing the sore spot until it went away. Chalking it up to too much excitement, Sombra shook his head and took a break, seating himself down on the lowest step of the dais. Once he felt steady enough to walk, he turned to leave before setting eyes on the Scales once more. He concentrated on the object, a red aura enveloping the scales and statuette, momentarily startling him. It'd been a long time since he'd used his quote-unquote "regular magic" and was flooded with an odd sense of nostalgia.

He shook his head and placed the relic back onto the dais before exiting the chamber, eager to show Twilight, and all of Equestria, the new and improved Sombra.

~*~

Back inside the antechamber, something within the dais' shadow rippled and an inky black glob emerged from the shadow's depths. Two green orbs flashed inside the glob and peered at the spot where Sombra had stood. It'd been waiting for Sombra to exit, having awakened right before he did and quickly concealing itself when the stallion came to. The discovery of its existence was not acceptable at the moment, not when there was still so much to do and even less time to do it. Only when the time was right would it reveal itself.

Drawing itself fully, it landed onto the floor and coalesced into a more equine shape. The slimy texture became one of gray fur, the head and posterior creating flowing black hair. The twin orbs blinked, becoming scarlet-red eyes. The new pony grinned, rows of sharp teeth nestled within his maw. He drew in air through his nostrils, then expelled it through his mouth in a loud, prolonged sigh.

"Well now," he chuckled, twin trails of purple flowing from his eyes. "This ought to get interesting..."