• Published 8th Feb 2021
  • 457 Views, 30 Comments

Healing Shadows (2e) - AzuraKeres



On her scavenge for volt shrooms in the bayou, Meadowbrook comes across a shadow that will alter her future for the good and worst. Follow her tale of love, hope, and despair as tries to build a future with a stallion trapped in the past.

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04: Compromise and Grudge

Meadowbrook returned home when the moon strayed the sky. Her time with Rockhoof extended through the afternoon and evening—learning of each other’s changes in the new era.

Residents of Hayseed Swamp greeted the pair with wonder and grins. Their gossip flourished like a herd of young mares that befuddled Meadowbrook. She wondered what got them so chatty.

Regardless, Meadowbrook enjoyed her time with Rockhoof—gazing at the rivers, browsing goods from a port marketplace—reminiscing of the times they ventured with their friends. She wondered what her friends were doing on this very night.

Meadowbrook entered her home and draped her saddlebag upon a wall hanger. She collected a book from the bag. It held contents of slime species, hoping it would help unravel more about her mysterious guest.

She held the book around her forehoof and searched a shelf to light a match. However, she came to a stop when her ears perked to hoarse breathing within the darkness of her home.

Meadowbrook gazed tensely at the dark space before her.

“Is someone there?” she asked, growing nervous.

Meadowbrook heard no reply. She stood idle at the entrance, waiting for another breath to validate her fret. But she heard nothing.

She began to feel silly about her anxiety.

Maybe I’m just so plum tuckered out from the long day I had, she thought to herself. I must be hearin’ things...

She entered the dark space at her side to grab a match. After lighting a candle, she managed to peer through the dark. But what she found before her...left her in utter astonishment.

A stallion laid before her.

His eyes shone red like rubies and his irises were slit like a cobra. Meadowbrook noted the ferocity behind them—an unbridled rage that could explode at any moment. And that moment came swiftly when the stallion pounced at her.

Meadowbrook let out a scream and swatted her hoof wildly. It struck hard against the stallion’s face, swerving his body away from her.

Meadowbrook became alerted by the large thump beside her and backed away from the downed stallion. Exposed by the open moonlight, she became aware of the stallion’s lanky form.

“Who are you?” Meadowbrook asked.

But the stallion only groaned in response before falling unconscious. Realizing that she wasn’t going to get answers out of him, Meadowbrook decided to discover them on her own. She approached the stallion and examined his body. His muscles were weak and frail.

She noted malnourishment from the stallion due to his bones perking under his skin. She also noted the body resounding a constant snap like a rusted crankshaft.

But what bothered her the most was his horn. It was long, curvy, and held a red gradience upon the top of his forehead as if it had been steamed hot. Meadowbrook had never seen this from a pony.

All except one.

“Sombra?” Meadowbrook wondered.

She backed away from the stallion, aghast at her discovery. She went to her window and looked out at the luminant night befalling her village. Her neighbors had already taken shelter for the night—all relaxed and getting in their beds.

Meadowbrook wondered if she should alert them now. Based on Sombra’s condition, she doubted he could do much harm. However, his presence still raised an emergency.

She turned around and observed him with her back leaned against a wall. His body shivered from the wind blowing inside like a newborn chick. With his small body, there was no way Sombra could maintain good body heat.

Meadowbrook looked out the window again, contemplating her next move. She sighed. “Fine.”

◇◇◇

Stirring back into consciousness, Sombra felt something warm and soft enveloping his body. It confused him. He’s never felt something so comfortable since his dreadful existence as a pitiful blob of shadows.

What is this? He wondered.

His eyes flickered at a light that continued to vex him. He wanted so badly to snuff it away and drown further into his comfort. However, his instincts forced him awake when he saw a ceiling made from oak.

Sombra looked over layers of bedsheets buried atop him. They must be weighted because he could barely push them off his neck.

“You’re awake,” Sombra heard a voice. One he annoyingly became familiar with during his entrapment in this house.

Sombra shot his eyes at Meadowbrook, sitting before a worktable where Sombra had previously spent his days.

“It’s you,” Sombra growled.

Meadowbrook smushed baskets of fruits within a wooden bowl. Her face was indifferent to the rage spewing from Sombra.

“And you must be the blob I was takin’ care of,” Meadowbrook responded. “You made a big mess by breaking my tank. That was a gift from a friend of mine, you know.”

“Don’t patronize me about your belongings,” Sombra sneered. “Not after the horrid experiment you put me through. I shall see to it that your transgressions do not go unpunished.”

Sombra tried to get out of bed, but his body flinched at a sharp pin echoing throughout his body. It even squeezed a yip out of him—an unbecoming noise from a conqueror.

“Don’t move,” Meadowbrook warned, her voice stern yet gentle. “The glass shards left many cuts all over your body. It took me nearly an hour to pick ’em out of ya.”

Against Meadowbrook’s warning, Sombra heaved the bedsheets down. Never would he imagine fabric could confine him so well. His body ached and begged for him to stop, but Sombra would not allow his pride to be tested.

When he finally pushed the bedsheet from under his forehoof, he gaped at his form.

His body was wrapped in stripes of bandages. Hints of red stain through its layers. Despite all of this, what unnerved Sombra the most was the mare staring at him with disapproval.

“A smart foe would not tend to the wounds of their enemies,” Sombra said. “Mercy is a weakness to be taken advantage of.”

“Are you sure you’d want that?” Meadowbrook questioned. “Because I’m positive you’d have bled like a sack of flour with a hole at the bottom if I left you on the floor.”

“What I want is for you to suffer for using a king as a guinea pig. It was not only painful, but extremely humiliating and degrading for me as a pony.”

“I’m sorry if that’s how you felt.” Meadowbrook apologized as she continued to mash up the fruits. With the strength of her strikes, Sombra believed she could easily shatter bones. “When I saw ya lookin’ like a wasted pile of pudding, I didn’t know what to think. I never saw anything like ya in the swamp, so I wanted to make sure you weren’t a danger to others.”

“Well, you village bumpkin. As you can see now, I am not,” Sombra sneered. “I am Sombra, King of the Crystal Empire and Conqueror of Equestria.”

Despite his eerie introduction, Meadowbrook continued to liquefy the fruits in her wooden bowl.

“I figured as much,” she said matter-of-factly. “I don’t know anypony else with a weird-looking horn like yours.”

“My horn is not weird!” Sombra raised a brow. “Do you not fear me? I just told you who I am.”

“Yes, you made that clear to me. But I’m not all that worried, given your condition. You can’t even fight your way out of bed.”

“You dare insult me!” Sombra slammed his hoof on the bed and devoted all of his energy to push the pain in his lungs down. “I...I shall make you rue the day you underestimated me.”

Meadowbrook eyed Sombra. “I just told you not to move around. Are you tryin’ to open up your wounds?”

Meadowbrook ran to the side of the bed and pushed Sombra back in, pulling the sheets beneath his neck.

“Hey!” Sombra cried. “Don’t you dare push me around!”

“Then stop throwing a tantrum like a foal. You’ll only make things for yourself.” Meadowbrook sternly warned him.

“You dare insult me again!?”

Meadowbrook flicked his shoulder with a hoof, causing him to stifle a yelp. Sombra rushed a hoof upon his shoulder, desperate to soothe it.

“Your body is severely malnourished,” Meadowbrook informed. “You won’t be doing much of anything without the proper nutrients and growth. So, if ya don’t mind, sit tight and let me take care of your body.”

“It’s not like you’re helping,” Sombra countered. “What kind of healer inflicts pain on a patient?”

“Ones that have to deal with brats who don't know how to behave themselves, that’s what.” Meadowbrook returned to the table and grabbed the wooden bowl.

Sombra eyed the mare when presented with the bowl of mashed fruits.

“Here,” she said. “Eat this.”

Sombra glared at the glistened slob of red. “How do I know you didn’t plant any poison in this?”

“Because if I wanted to, I could do so with my bare hooves right this moment.”

Sombra grumbled at her response and welcomed the mashed fruits. Though he didn’t fancy commoner food, he could not refute his hunger. Once he slurped a sip of it, he was unable to hold himself any longer from gorging all of its contents.

Meadowbrook held the bowl before Sombra as she smiled at his feast. “See, that wasn’t so hard. Just remember to pace yourself. You wouldn’t want to choke yourself.”

When Sombra finished his meal, Meadowbrook pulled the bowl away and laid it on a small table next to the bed. When their eyes met again, she noted his confused glance—with bits of the fruits stained under his lips.

“Why are you helping me?” Sombra asked.

Meadowbrok quirked her brow. “Do I need a reason for doing so?”

“Do you not pledge allegiance to Princess Celestia? I would at least expect a mud pony to recognize her enemies.”

“I’m not the type of pony that waits for others’ permission to do something. If there’s someone in need of help, I’ll help them. Even if they’re ponies with a shady history.”

“Such foolish reasoning,” Sombra chuckled. “You should just admit that you have been taken by my charm. Though the prospect of sharing a bed with me is even more hopeless.”

Meadowbrook shot a glare at the stallion and then pressed her hoof on his shoulder again. His body flailed in response to the sharp pain jutting from the pressure. And to Sombra’s greatest dismay, he let out another yelp.

“You didn’t give me much of a choice but to help you,” Meadowbrook explained. “You sprouted out of nowhere in this sorry state of yours on the edge of death. How else would you expect a healer like me to react?”

Meadowbrook finally relieved Sombra from her hoof as he desperately tried to soothe his shoulder again. Sombra promised this act would not go unpunished.

“Then what should I expect tomorrow?” Sombra asked. “Do you intend to wrap me as a gift to your dear Monarchs?”

“The obvious thing for me to do is report you to Princess Twilight,” Meadowbrook stated. “Though, I don’t like the idea of leaving you in this state. It just doesn’t feel right to me.”

“Ah, so you don’t intend to nurse me back to health.”

Meadowbrook raised a brow. “Do you take me for an idiot? You’ve made it clear that you intend to use my kindness against me. If I’m to heal you, I need to get some insurance, so you won’t try anything funny.”

Sombra watched Meadowbrook ponder from away the bed, making him anxious. “I beg your pardon! What is going on through that bog of a head of yours?”

Meadowbrook ignored his complaint and mashed her hooves together. “That’s it! That’ll work.”

“Don’t ignore me, you swine! I command you to tell me your thoughts now.”

“You should focus on getting some rest,” Meadowbrook advised. “Your body will never leave that bed if you keep stressing it.”

“Don’t give me orders, mare! Who do you think you are!?”

Meadowbrook raised her hoof above him, causing the furious conqueror to shut silent. “Now Sombra, I plan to fix you up. But, if I have to be rough with you, then I will.”

“…filthy witch,” Sombra grumbled.

His remark earned him a double-tap from Meadowbrook’s hoof, eliciting a screech from the proud conqueror that night. He could only play that the sleeping residents of Hayseed Swamp did not wake to his humiliation.

◇◇◇

“Ms. Meadow, are you okay?” Meadowbrook perked to the sound of a mare’s voice. She shook her head from behind the counter of her apothecary shop and recognized a mare before her.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Meadowbrook said. “You were looking for banana oil, right?”

“Well, yes,” the mare confirmed. “But I’m more concerned about you. Are you doing alright? You look like you haven’t slept in days.”

“Oh, it’s fine,” Meadowbrook feigned a chuckle. “Now, I think I have a pack at the back. I’ll get 'em for ya.”

Meadowbrook left her worried customer and returned with bottles of oil. The mare purchased a fine morsel for herself and her family. The mare thanked Meadowbrook with a hug and cautioned her to get some rest. Meadowbrook nodded to the mare’s advice as she waved the mare goodbye.

When Meadowbrook turned from the entrance, she was faced by Pye. The filly eyed Meadowbrook.

“Okay, what’s going on?” Pye asked.

“What?” Meadowbrook feigned ignorance. “I just spaced out for a bit, that’s all.”

“Which isn’t a normal thing for you.”

“It’s okay, Pye. Like the mare said, I just need some sleep. That’s all.” Meadowbrook rounded her pupil and returned to the counter.

“So, you haven’t gotten much sleep. Are you having a nightmare that’s keeping you up?”

In a way, you could say that. Meadowbrook thought.

“Let’s not worry about that,” Meadowbrook urged. “We should focus on finishing your whitetail dye.”

Pye shook her head. “Can’t do that. Not when my teacher has been restless for the last few days.”

Meadowbrook wished Pye would drop this. She already had enough of a headache as it was back home.

“Shouldn’t your concern rest with your friend?” Meadowbrook reminded her. “The Firefly Rank isn’t that long from now.”

“Hey, have there been any changes at home?” Pye asked. “This couldn’t have happened randomly.”

“It’s not a nightmare, Pye,” Meadowbrook snapped. “Goodness, you’re not going to let this go, aren’t you?”

“Course not,” Pye admitted. “You’re important to me. I can’t leave you to deal with this by yourself.”

“Well, it’s not cute,” Meadowbrook complained. “…Who am I kidding, it’s sweet and adorable.”

Pye threw her fore hooves atop the counter and stared at her teacher like an excited pup—in fact her tail was wagging like one. “So, what’s the problem?”

Meadowbrook sighed, knowing she had lost the battle. Even if she dismissed Pye now, she knew her student would do some snooping behind her back.

“Fine, I’ll talk,” Meadowbrook complied, “But first, tell me this. How good are you at keeping secrets?”

◇◇◇

“What took you so long!” Sombra yelled at Meadowbrook.

She had just entered her home. Right as she stepped out of the doorway, she was immediately barraged with complaints from Sombra. She could already feel another headache coming.

“Can’t you learn to be more polite?” Meadowbrook asked. “You can’t always be this rude. Doesn’t it get tiring?”

“Enough talk,” Sombra snapped. “I demand edibles, now!”

Meadowbrook’s left eye twitched. After a breath, she approached the stallion from the bedside and pinched his shoulder, causing him to stir wildly in his bed.

Pye then entered the house, befuddled by the kingly scream. Finding Sombra, she rushed to his side and peered into his crimson eyes. Sombra leaned back from the filly, unnerved by her closeness.

“Who are you?” Pye asked.

“Is it not obvious? I am Sombr—” His introduction met a swift end by a strong pat from Meadowbrook. Instead, came another of his proud yelp of pain.

“He’s a traveler,” Meadowbrook answered. “I found him injured deep in the bayou. He’s been lost for weeks without help.”

“That sounds terrible!” Pye gasped. “Is he going to be, okay?”

“Of course,” Meadowbrook assured. “Though, his mind concerns me. He doesn’t remember who he is.”

“Do you accuse me of having amnesia!?” Sombra asked, offended.

“I accuse you of having an ego that makes you unhelpful,” Meadowbrook countered. “For someone who boasts of being royalty, you act more like a bratty colt.”

“You guys are weird,” Pye chuckled, swiveling her sight between the two. “Y’all make a fun pair.”

“Fun?” Sombra questioned. “What part of fun do you see in this? Can you not see that I am being abused by this charlatan?”

“Be nicer and you may actually come to like me,” Meadowbrook advised.

Meadowbrook’s mind grew jaded fast over the days of enduring this stallion’s constant drivel. Always complaining of the smell of her home, her rural dress, her audacity to how she approaches him. She found it astonishing how she hasn’t gone insane yet.

She found Sombra to be the most unruly patient she ever cared for, and that was even considering the fact that he demanded the most outrageous things from her. Of course, she did not comply, only seeing to his safe recovery. But dear Celestia did he know how to work her nerves.

“So, is he the reason you’re spacing out at work so much?” Pye asked.

“His body requires extensive care, and his personality makes a grumpy alligator more preferable to be around,” Meadowbrook explained. “But I promise, it’s nothing I can’t handle.”

“He looks so bony,” Pye commented, tapping his leg from above the bed sheets. “Either he couldn’t find any fruits at the swamp, or he had a leech on him for days.”

“A fair assessment, but no. Regardless, he won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.”

“If you’re done with your baseless opinions, I demand to have consumables!” Sombra said. “Is this how you treat your other patients?”

Meadowbrook poked Sombra’s skin again, prompting another yelp out of him. “If you have nothing good to say, then don’t say anything at all.”

“Ms. Meadow,” Pye asked, Meadowbrook directing her eyes to find her pupil with a confused look, “Why are you being so mean to him?”

“It’s called discipline, Pye,” Meadowbrook said. “Most ponies would know how to behave themselves, but there are some that leave us no choice but to give tough love.”

“You know nothing of me, mare,” Sombra argued.

“I know that you are a stallion-foal (man-child).”

“And you are a mare that needs to be shown her place!”

“Are you two flirting?” Pye asked, earning a confused glance from Meadowbrook and Sombra.

“What in Equestria would give you that impression?” Meadowbrook asked.

“Well, my mom told me that ponies who fight with each other a lot usually like each other.”

“Oh please,” Sombra said, rolling his eyes. “This backwoods mare is beneath me. Only those of noble blood are worthy of my affection. Giving myself to her would be the greatest gift of her life.”

“I probably wouldn’t get much if I trade you to a pawn shop,” Meadowbrook bickered.

“I am not some cheap salvage to be thrown away!”

Pye giggled. “You two are funny together.”

“Look Pye,” Meadowbrook said, placing a hoof upon her pupil’s shoulder. “I only intend to help him until he can walk on his hooves again. After that, he’s going to take a trip to Canterlot.”

“Okay,” Pye nodded, then stared at Sombra again. “But why does he have a ring on his horn?” Pye pointed at a ruby ring fastened to Sombra’s horn.

“It's so he doesn’t try anything funny,” Meadowbrook explained. “It’s just me watching him after all.”

“I’ll have you know she placed it against my will,” Sombra added. “If anyone is doing the harassment, it’s her.”

“I see,” Pye said. “Can I help?”

Meadowbrook couldn’t help but look to the right with a giggle. Her initiative to jump to others' aid always warmed her heart.

“I can handle this grumbler just fine,” Meadowbrook assured. “But if you really want to help, then it’d be nice if you can take charge of the Apothecary shop for a little while. It’d give me more time to have peace in mind.”

Pye saluted. “You got it!”

“Who cares about your silly medicine shop?” Sombra mouthed. “Why not just give me a remedy to move my body already?”

Meadowbrook sighed in exasperation, “If there really was a potion to help you get movin’, I would’ve gladly given it to ya so that I could throw you out the door. But there isn’t such a thing.”

“You’re supposed to be a great healer, right?”

“Yes?” She responded with a quizzical glance.

“Then hurry up and heal me then!”

Meadowbrook placed her hoof on him again. “If anything needs to be healed,” Meadowbrook said. “It’s that nasty attitude of yours.”