• Published 8th Feb 2021
  • 458 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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05: Secret and Misunderstanding

Sombra cringed at his aching bones. His thin legs shook upon his small weight and trembled from the cool air. His body fumbled so much on his hooves that he feared he would collapse like a falling tower.

Meadowbrook apparently shared his concern because she followed him within a close distance. However, this only caused his nerves to skyrocket. Sombra refused to display any more signs of weakness. Not before the mare who had been lording over him.

His struggle served as brief exercises to rebuild his muscles. A simple walk to the wall and back to his bed. Sombra spent longer than he would like to admit reaching the wall, but he was finally halfway through his endeavor. He just needed one more spur of energy to complete his lap.

“Do ya need some help?” Meadowbrook offered. Her hoof extended out, ready to grab him should he fall.

Sombra gritted his fangs at Meadowbrook. His pride refused to accept aid from a commoner—despite the care he received from her the past two weeks. He was a fearsome ruler that implanted fear into all of his foes, even the alicorns who led rebellions during his conquest. To dwell in such a backwater land vexed Sombra and he refused to welcome any further besmirch to his name.

His rage gifted him the energy he desired. He trudged onward atop the wooden floor, careful to not be pricked by the planks. Its simple surface shot a brambly sensation upon the bottom of his hooves, sparking a worrisome thought that a trail of blood may eventually follow his small steps.

But despite his steel will and cautious steps, his balance inevitably crumbled and unceremoniously fell his chin to the ground. And to add more salt to his wounded pride, Meadowbrook came in front of him to grab his sides with her forehooves.

Meadowbrook hoisted Sombra upright like a dog who stuck itself within a hole. It bothered Sombra that he had to rely on an earth pony just to get up from the ground. However, he’d much prefer not to drop upon the poor wood again.

Yet despite his need for help…

“Unhoof me you cretin,” Sombra demanded. He put his forehooves against Meadowbrook’s chest and tried to pry Meadowbrook’s hold off him, but her grasp was much too strong and firm against his thin mass.

“Will you just quit struggling already?” Meadowbrook complained. “I swear, you act like a fish out of water whenever I help you.”

“The day I stop struggling will be when you quit overstepping your boundaries!” Sombra sneered before pushing against her chest with his hooves. “Honestly, what do you hope to accomplish by holding me this way? Do I look like a newborn puppy to you?”

His flailing and wild push upon Meadowbrook’s chest annoyed the peaceful healer. Knowing that he would see her way, Meadowbrook allowed her dark thoughts to take over.

“Fine then,” Meadowbrook sighed and then released Sombra.

His fall was sudden, leaving him no time to pick up the pride that fell and sprawled across Meadowbrook’s floor. His body clamored to the floor like fallen lumber. His brief shock cascaded into an eruptive rage as he glared upon Meadowbrook.

“You dare defile me again with your ruddy floor!?” Sombra snapped. Not even the aching pain resounding throughout his body could stifle his rage. And despite that, Meadowbrook stood indifferent to his anger.

“ I thought ya didn’t want me oversteppin’ my bounds?” Meadowbrook chaffed. Her remark earned a wild rattle from Sombra’s snout.

He gritted his fangs and stood upright. His ruby eyes sported a scarlet shimmer Meadowbrook imagined vamponies from novels would bear. If not for both its ferocity and its beholder, she might have actually found it beautiful…

“I dare you to speak to me in that tone again,” Sombra challenged. “I may not have my magic, but don’t you dare think you are safe because of it. I have more than just magic within me.”

His harrowing threat came on deaf ears to Meadowbrook, who only sighed in response. Her disappointed expression had somehow become the greatest stab into his pride.

“Always defiant even when it’s not necessary,” Meadowbrook said with an eye roll. “Doesn’t that get tiring?”

“Don’t lecture me, mare,” Sombra retorted, his legs still teetering upon his weight. “The only thing that’s tiring around here is your constant disrespect towards me.”

“Respect is something to be earned, not given. Now, if you’re done complainin’”—Meadowbrook grabbed hold of a bottle of alcohol and rag from a nearby desk and approached Sombra—“I need to fix up those bruises on your legs.”

Sombra had not noticed the blemishes on his leg till Meadowbrook applied alcohol upon his legs. His pain surged indiscriminately throughout his body so that he could distinguish between them.

Sombra flinched at the stings of the alcohol but decided to endure it for the betterment of his health. Despite living under Meadowbrook’s tyranny, he could feel his strength slowly returning to him.

“Now why can’t you be more like this?” Meadowbrook said between patting the alcohol with a napkin. “You’d save the both of us a lot of trouble if you were more compliant.”

“Because I am not some pet for a pony to frolic with,” Sombra countered. “I am a king. Ponies are meant to be compliant with me, not the other way around.”

“Ever think that mindset is why ya don’t have many friends?”

Sombra turned his face away from Meadowbrook in response. As he waited for Meadowbrook to finish her perfective application of the alcohol, his eyes explored the hut—filled with old furnishings, books, and scientific tools. He’s stared at this place for so long and the only thing that earned his fixation was the strange mask hooked upon the wall.

A yellow and blue mask that drooped like the beak of a bird. Such a creation confused Sombra yet pulled his intrigue.

“What is that?” Sombra pointed at the mask.

“Hm?” Meadowbrook traced the direction of Sombra’s hoof. “You mean my mask? It’s an heirloom passed down by my family.”

“I did not know commoners shared that kind of practice.”

Meadowbrook raised an eyebrow. “Really? It’s no different from a hand-me-down.”

“It is an odd item to inherit,” he commented. “Why is it designed in such an odd way?”

“It was made long ago when a plague struck this village,” Meadowbrook explained. “A great-grandmother of mine carved it as a protection against the illness as she researched for a cure to save her friends and family.”

“Seeing as ponies still lurk in these woods, I presume she was successful.”

“That she was,” Meadowbrook nodded in agreement. “From her success, she decided to whip up antidotes for many illnesses that would spring from the swamp. That was where my family line of healers of this village began.”

Sombra stared blankly at Meadowbrook. A smile had found itself upon her lips. Perhaps from her muse of the past. However, he couldn’t explain the strange warmth building within him. His body still lacked the fat to maintain good body heat.

“You seem proud of your bloodline,” Sombra said. “But I guess that should be expected. It is something you ponies will always have me beat at.”

Meadowbrook snapped from her nostalgia and frowned. “Why would you say that?”

“Is it not obvious? There is no one like myself in these lands. No parents or relatives that I could relate to.”

“I once had a friend that fiddled with shadows. It literally consumed him.”

“But I am a shadow,” Sombra countered. “A being of darkness that fears the gleam of crystals, for it is the bane of my very existence. And because of it, I was always looked upon as a freak to others.”

Meadowbrook gaped incredulously at his words. “You were an outcast!? By your fellow ponies?”

“Fellow?” Sombra chuckled as he leaned upon a table, no longer capable of carrying his weight. “I was but an orphan found in white space of snow. Who knows how long I was out there? But certainly, no normal foal could last a minute out there alone.”

“Then,” Meadowbrook started, feeling unnerved to ask, “What are you?”

Sombra lifted his lanky hoof, finding traces of blackness swarming his coat like a trail of fire. “What indeed.”

The sun blessed Hayseed Swamp again with its warm light. Elder Moab strode on the bridges and watched the residents live out their day—fishing, chatting, draping clothes, and making trades. For decades, Moab had walked this space and witnessed the growth of the village residents. Contributing as much wisdom he could spare to them; Moab was confident he carved their growth into fine ponies so that they may lead the next generation.

Moab saw them all as his foals. The young ones would look to him for advice whenever they had personal troubles, which garnered him quick popularity amongst them. It was either that or they liked it when he’d make herbal candy with the use of plants and sugar.

Moab would often visit the homes and workplaces of ponies to either spark conversation or be notified of their daily goings. Their stories would always rub a smile on his face—no matter how wild or mild.

As Moab continued his lulling gait amongst the folks of Hayseed Swamp, he eventually came upon Meadowbrook’s apothecary shop within the distance. He was very attentive to Meadowbrook ever since she reunited her community. The shock on her face when she witnessed the new generation walking through the bayou was still fresh in his mind and so was her blank silence when she paid her old folks respect to their graves.

Meadowbrook held up a strong front—showing compassion and maturity to the lives who have passed on—but Moab saw through her façade. He sensed her pain and loneliness. To find out that the villagers who had grown alongside her had lived out their lives without her before passing on undoubtedly struck a pang in Meadowbrook’s heart.

Moab was determined to help her feel welcome and belonged in the modern world. He believed that no pony should ever feel alone especially one as compassionate and caring as Meadowbrook.

Spurring with youthful energy to spread his love, Elder Moab doubled his steps to Meadowbrook’s shop. However, as he neared the shop, Moab found Meadowbrook exiting it.

Pye followed behind her and waved Meadowbrook goodbye as her mentor disappeared within the residents. Elder Moab curled a brow at this. Her store certainly did not close around this time.

Moab hastened before Pye, garnering her attention with a wave. The young filly sported a wide smile and rushed him for a hug.

“Hi Moby,” Pye greeted, tightening her hooves round Moab. Moab had always found her expressions to be heartening, but they can be excessive for this old stallion. He swore he could hear a bone snap from the filly’s tight tug.

“Good day, young Pye,” Moab responded and reconciled with her hug. “ Have things not been busy at the shop today?”

“Oh no. It’s always bustling with creatures,” She assured him, “Although I think some of them might have a crush on me.”

“Who could resist you?” Moab chuckled. But as he separated from Pye, his expression stiffened. “But with so many folks in the shop, why would Meadowbrook be heading off?”

“That?” Pye gazed off where Meadowbrook disappeared. “Oh, Ms. Meadow is just headin’ back home to fix up a pony. She found a traveler that got himself in a pickle while in the swamp.”

“That sounds awful,” Moab commented. “I…wait, did you say ‘himself’?”

Pye happily nodded. “Yes sir. He’s a really funny stallion. Says all sorts of weird stuff that gets Ms. Meadow riled up. I think Mr. Rockhoof might have some competition.”

“I see,” Elder Moab began his walk, following Meadowbrook’s trail. “Young Pye, might you excuse me? I think I should meet this new stallion in town.”

“Cease at once!” Sombra shouted as he resisted Meadowbrook’s push against his body. “I demand you let go of me this instant! I refuse to let you besmirch me like this!”

“Dear Celestia,” Meadowbrook grumbled. “How many times are you going to fight me on this? We’ve done this plenty of times already. Stop acting like a foal and get in the tub.”

“You call that a tub!” Sombra pointed at the wooden bath filled with water. Hints of green can be found floating atop its surface. “That rubbish is meant for only backwater mud ponies like yourself.”

Meadowbrook twitched an eye. And with no pretense, Meadowbrook shoved Sombra hard into the tub, sending him headfirst into the warm water. The water bounded his senses so tightly that he felt moments away from drowning till Meadowbrook lifted him out from his neck. Sombra gasped hoarsely for air.

“Oh, sorry about that,” Meadowbrook apologized with a flat expression. “I guess I don’t know my own strength.” Meadowbrook then proceeded to grab Sombra’s hoof and use a nearby sponge and soap to scrub Sombra’s frail body.

Sombra tried to struggle out of Meadowbrook’s hold, but each time he fought her was rewarded with a vice grip from her that made Sombra howl in pain.

“ Insolent witch,” Sombra groaned. “I won’t stand for this!”

“So, you don’t mind smellin’ like an earthworm? Wow, I didn’t know the fearsome conqueror held an affinity for such fragrance.”

“The last thing I would want is to smell like your kind,” Sombra decried. “A king such as myself is not allowed to be mired in such poverty.”

“That’s herbal water you’re gettin’ soaked in.” Meadowbrook picked out the downy leaves littered across the water with a hoof. “They help nurture the skin. You should be grateful for the long forage I did to gather them.”

“Why should I thank a nurse for doing her job?” Sombra snapped. “If you’re so desperate for praise, then I suggest you”—Meadowbrook silenced him by gushing water atop his head with the sponge. He spat out water that found its way onto his tongue— “at least warn me before you do that.”

“With how much you like to make fun of folks, it’d be impossible to speak up.”

They continued to berate each other until Sombra begrudgingly resigned to his bath. A moment of peace had finally filled the air when they eventually quieted from their tirade.

Brushing across Sombra’s obsidian silky mane mesmerized Meadowbrook. It held a slow flow similar to her princesses, but with a ghastly gait, she imagined to be reminiscent of a ghostly wisp. It was eerily beautiful.

Meadowbrook frowned. “Wasn’t there at least one pony in your life that kept you company? I can’t imagine anypony not havin’ a single bit of companionship.”

Sombra leered at Meadowbrook. “Why do you care?” he asked. “To you, I am a selfish villain that is meant to be vanquished and banished into the darkest depths of Tartarus.”

“That’s not true!” Meadowbrook countered. “What would you call my actions for the last two weeks then?”

“An odd sense of pity.”

“Of course, you would think that,” she sighed.

“However, I wouldn’t mind regaling your feeble mind of my past. Though I require something in exchange.”

“I’m not removin’ the ring from your horn if that’s what you’re wantin’ me to do,” she immediately stated, earning a snort from Sombra.

“Then cease your nagging about my past.”

“You really ain’t good at small talk, are ya?”

As Meadowbrook continued to scrub Sombra, she wondered what she could possibly do to reach this terrible stallion.

Why did she care to try in the first place? It would have been so much easier to toss his fate to the princess.

His attitude certainly didn’t make him a great companion to be around. And yet, she funneled all her energy and knowledge towards him.

My mom told me that ponies who fight with each other a lot usually like each other. Pye’s words suddenly echoed into Meadowbrook’s head.

Huh? Was all Meadowbrook could respond with. Did such comment even deserve consideration? There was no way Meadowbrook could believe such a silly statement. She’s not like one of those city ponies that will fall for those bad stallions they tend to flock at. Meadowbrook was a mare with a practical lifestyle.

She didn’t need some eccentric stallion to fill the void in her life. Especially not some petty, foolish, inconsiderate, rude, potty-mouthed stallion without an ounce of respect for others.

Knock knock

A knock upon her door snapped Meadowbrook from her thoughts. The sound befuddled her. She did not expect any visitors at this hour.

“Pye, is that you?” Meadowbrook called.

“Meadow,” Meadowbrook perked to the voice of Elder Moab. “I heard you came home early today. I’ve been told you have a stallion in your care.”

Meadowbrook felt an unruly cold shiver in her bones. Almost out of instinct, Meadowbrook yanked Sombra out of the bath bowl and threw a towel over him.

“Hey!” Sombra complained. “What do you think you’re doing!?”

“I need you to go to bed right now,” Meadowbrook hastily instructed. “Just pretend you’re asleep, okay?”

Despite her demand, Sombra resisted her. She didn’t need this right now. “I am not some object you can do whatever you wish to.”

“Can you please stop your complainin’ and just listen to me for once?”

“Meadowbrook,” Elder Moab spoke, knocking harder upon the door. “Is everything alright in there?”

“Sombra, just get in bed,” Meadowbrook hissed. “You’re going to get us both in trouble.”

Meadowbrook gripped upon Sombra’s hide, eliciting a yelp from him. However, Sombra powered through the pain and kicked Meadowbrook’s hindhoof, miraculously tripping her with his thin legs.

Before she could recover from her fall, Sombra immediately pounced atop her. His infamous grin was painted on his face.

“I told you my magic was not my only strength,” Sombra said. “You were a fool to leave yourself open.”

Before Sombra could continue to mouth off on Meadowbrook, the door suddenly slammed open. Elder Moab rushed inside, ready for a fight.

“Meadowbrook!?” Moab shouted. “Are you alright!?”

His sight fixed upon Sombra, who was standing atop a downed Meadowbrook. He gaped upon them as if he found the pair in a compromising predicament.

“Elder Moab,” Meadowbrook started. “Uh…this…this isn’t what it looks like.”

“This old stallion is what gave you a fight,” Sombra chuckled. “He could do far less to you compared to what I am capable of.”

His gloating came to a swift end when Elder Moab rushed towards Sombra and shoved him off from Meadowbrook. The surprising power in Moab’s force sent Sombra’s lanky body flying to the wall as he crashed and rolled limply on the floor.

“What do you think you’re doing to her!?” Elder Moab angrily asked.

His eyes were fierce and savage.

However, he would not receive an answer from Sombra. His sudden attack sent Sombra’s mind into another realm as his body sprawled lifeless on the ground.

“…I think you might’ve hit him too hard,” Meadowbrook said.

Meadowbrook knelt before Elder Moab in anguish. Never had she wanted to make herself feel small after all these years as she received a hefty scorn from her elder. She felt like a foal being lectured of her misdeeds.

“What bogged you to think it was okay to harbor a criminal in your home!?” Elder Moab yelled at a glum Meadowbrook. “Do you not realize the danger your secret would bring us?”

“I’m sorry, Elder Moab,” Meadowbrook apologized, unable to draw strength to raise her head to meet her elder. “But he was in such a bad state when I found him. I couldn’t just leave him to rot.”

“Do not boast of your generosity so hastily, mare,” Sombra croaked from within his bedsheets. Meadowbrook had winded a sling across his hoof that became dislocated after Moab’s assault. An event Sombra would desperately want to keep a secret from his foes. “Have you not forgotten that I am no mere pony?”

“No mere pony is capable of such cruelty as him,” Moab said. “Which boggles my mind as to why you’re helping him.”

“Elder Moab,” Meadowbrook started weakly. “Please, just hear me out. I know he’s an awful pony. But I have my principles as a healer to help others in need, even if they may not deserve it.”

“And did that require you to hide him from your neighbors?” Elder Moab questioned. “You should have told us the moment you learned who he was.”

“M-maybe,” Meadowbrook said in a low voice. “But I just couldn’t hoof him off until I knew he recovered.”

“And what then?” Elder Moab stomped his hoof. “The moment his strength would return, he’d take advantage of you as soon as the chance arose. Not only would you be hurt, but none of us would be prepared for the tragedy he would have planned for us.”

“I wouldn’t let that happen,” Meadowbrook snapped with a rise from the ground. “Everyone here in Hayseed Swamp is precious to me. I would never let him hurt them.”

“And yet I found him atop you when I burst in.”

“No, that was…”

Moab sighed. “I’m going to send a letter to the princess. His presence should never be kept hidden from her.”

Meadowbrook only dropped her head, resigning to her defeat. “…I understand.”

“Well, you certainly gave up easily,” Sombra commented. “So then old stallion, what befalls my fate?”

“Until Princess Twilight arrives, you will remain under our arrest,” Elder Moab stated. “I will have our strongest fishers keep watch of you as Meadowbrook continues to tend to your health.”

Meadowbrook beamed incredulously at Moab. “You’re gonna leave him in my care?”

“He may be an awful pony, but I can’t in good conscience allow a pony to die when something can be done about it. However, I will expect something in exchange.”

“And that is?” Sombra asked.

“Since you’re confident your body will heal up, I’m guessing you ought to need some exercise to strengthen those bones.”

“Do you intend to make me do labor?” Sombra said, aghast. “Me, a king?”

“Either that or no food. No pony who contributes to the village is deserving of food.”

“But I don’t think he’s ready to go outside yet,” Meadowbrook said. “For the weeks I’ve had him, the sunlight has been trouble for his skin.”

“Sensitive to light, eh?” Moab suddenly pulled the sheets blocking out the sunlight.

Sombra flinched at the sudden light overwhelming his form. He expected his body to contort and melt in pain. But strangely, he felt nothing. Sombra stared in awe at his body, his dark coat glinting from the sunbeam.

“He looks fine to me,” Elder Moab commented.

Despite his relief that the sun did not fry him, that also entailed his demise under the old stallion’s ruling.

“Oh goody,” Sombra grumbled.

“When his hoof heals, Meadowbrook, I want you to take Sombra into town” Moab instructed. “It’s about time the neighbors know who's been hiding among us.”