• Published 3rd Sep 2021
  • 374 Views, 52 Comments

Kindness and the Fate of Shadow - Raven-Flight



An old threat is back, leading Fluttershy and Discord to confront their plans for the future. They've each been keeping secrets...

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Night Music

Author's Note:

oof sorry for this
(TW: manipulation)

There was still a guard, but two armored ponies now stood before a door, not a cell. They nodded and stepped aside as Fluttershy approached. She lifted a hoof to knock, but one of the guards spoke up.

“You don’t have to do that, Lady Fluttershy. He’s a prisoner. He’s not in a position to give you permission to enter.”

Fluttershy pouted. “All the same, I’d like to extend to him the kindness of common decency. It could do wonders for his reform, wouldn’t you think?” She knocked.

There was a hasty rustle, and then, “Enter.”

So she did, and daintily shut the door behind her. Only when she had slid off her saddlebags and steeled herself with a deep breath did she look up. And then she had to stifle a snort.

The former king was on the bed, frozen halfway between lying down and sitting up, as if he hadn’t had time to figure out how to arrange himself in a dignified manner. On top of the pose, his normally sleek mane hung in disarray about his face, a mop of tangles and static.

Noticing the mirth bubbling behind his visitor’s eyes, Sombra flung his hooves up to smooth his mane and stammered. “I-I was just… enjoying the new comforts...” He indicated the thoroughly unmade bed. “You know, I had never taken the time to appreciate just what a luxury a bed was before. Not before you introduced me to the delights of sleep, anyway.”

The allusion to past trauma made Fluttershy wince, but the stallion’s simultaneous wince brought her back to the present. A particularly gnarled lock of mane was caught in the cleft of Sombra’s hoof.

An embarrassed chuckle escaped his throat. “Uh, could you possibly...” Sombra inclined his head toward the dresser, upon which a comb sat.

“Oh, um, sure.” Fluttershy retrieved the instrument and turned around to see Sombra frowning at the bed as he contemplated how to get down from it without the use of his front right hoof. When he tried to pull the hoof free, the tangle only lodged itself more tightly and snapped his hoof back, resulting in a punch to his temple.

“How about I just come up there...” offered Fluttershy.

“Thank you,” the once-king whimpered.

Fluttershy hopped onto the bed and settled herself uncomfortably at the stallion’s right flank. Then she realized she wasn’t tall enough to reach the comb all the way up to his head. Cautiously, she rose to her haunches and had to balance herself with a hoof on Sombra’s shoulder.

Her skin prickled. She hadn’t meant to touch him again. Not so soon. Sure, she had given him a hug last time she visited, and it was fine, but the memory of that contact had haunted her dreams every night since. Those dreams, where the hyper-awareness of the absence of his touch overwhelmed her with emptiness. Emptiness that was almost like a hunger…

Fluttershy swallowed her discomfort and set to work combing. Her usual gentleness made no headway against the offending tangle, so she forced herself to try the opposite extreme. The harsh tug on Sombra’s scalp actually pulled the stallion backward, knocking Fluttershy and him off balance. For a heartbeat, she feared she was going to fall over, pulling him on top of her, but they recovered.

“Sorry,” whispered Fluttershy.

The stallion produced a deep rumble in response, an ambiguous noise. A slight smile pulling at the corners of his lips gave Fluttershy the distinct impression the sound was less one of annoyance and more of pleasure. She bit her lip and kept combing.

In a few more strokes of moderate power, the lock of mane was tamed and Sombra’s hoof was freed. The rest of his mane was still a wreck, but he did not reach up to take the comb and finish the job himself. Rather, he slowly lowered himself until he was lying on the bed with his front hooves dangling off its side, making his head easier for Fluttershy to reach. She hesitated, then proceeded to work on the rest of his mane.

“So,” the stallion tilted his head slightly to regard Fluttershy with one eye, “What is my friendship lesson for today?”

“Yes, um...” Fluttershy closed her eyes as she gathered her thoughts, letting the feel of his mane under her hooves guide her work with the comb. “Right. So I thought it would help you learn to practice kindness if you could recognize and contemplate instances when others offer kindness to you. Do you recognize any kindness you may have received lately?”

“Certainly. You are being kind to me in combing out my errant mane.”

“Yes, that’s true. But is there anything else you can think of?”

Sombra’s face twisted up in thought. After a few heavy seconds of failure to acknowledge the obvious, Fluttershy briefly extended a wing to thump it on the soft mattress beneath them.

“Oh, of course!” Sombra blurted in understanding. “You mean the kindness of the Princess in transferring me to more comfortable quarters.”

“That’s right, and—”

“And what a kindness it was! I feel my eventual freedom opening up before me already! Why, to have a bed again, a window, and especially some privacy—or the illusion of it, anyway. Such comforts I have not enjoyed for years! Not since before I entered the cold, lonely surveillance of that draconequus have I felt so free and at ease. Oh, but you did not come all the way here just to listen to me rhapsodize about the relief I’ve found in my meager freedoms, I’m sure. What was the next point in your lesson?”

But Fluttershy had frozen in place and forgot to answer. Only her foreleg still moved, combing, combing. A squeezing sort of haze had descended upon her mind, and that troublesome old scar on her neck ached again. Surely she was ill! She should seek aid and finish the lesson later. But she couldn’t bring herself to move, for she was stuck in that phrase, that image—“the cold, lonely surveillance of that draconequus”. Watched always. Her very being consumed within the indomitable mind of that powerful spirit…

But no, that had been Sombra’s plight, not hers. She was free. Still free. Wasn’t she? If only her neck would stop hurting so much, she would be able to think…

“Fluttershy.”

His voice.

“Fluttershy, are you unwell?”

His voice again, more urgently. His hoof cupping her cheek.

No, I’m not well. “Yes, I’m—I’m fine.”

“No, but you feel so cold! Here, I know—this is a kindness lesson, yes? Lie here and rest, and allow me to practice my kindness on you.”

Sombra gently pushed Fluttershy down until she was lying on her side with her head propped upon a stack of pillows. Then he slid off the bed, pulled the quilt over her, and took to pacing.

“Let’s see… Chills, right? What do mortals need for chills…? Hm.” He hurried into the water chamber and soaked a soft rag. “Nourishment, too, maybe,” he muttered after placing the warm cloth on Fluttershy’s forehead and turning away again. The next time he returned, he carried a mug of steaming liquid, and he pulled a chair up to the head of the bed.

“Here. The Princess in her kindness supplied me with a few provisions, though she knows I do not need them.” Sombra gently lifted Fluttershy’s head off the pillow and held the glass to her lips. “It is the milk of the apple.”

Fluttershy managed a giggle after her sip. “Apple cider, you mean.”

“Yes, yes, apple cider. Does it help you?”

“A little. But I need...” She squinted.

“Need what? If I have it, I will give it to you!”

“The light burns.”

“Oh!” Sombra laid Fluttershy’s head back down and leaped over to the window to close the curtains. They were of a thick cloth and dimmed the room considerably. “How’s that?”

A little rise in her cheeks hinted at Fluttershy’s weary smile. In the new darkness of the room, a red glow was just visible in her normally-teal eyes, and that glow was ever-so-slightly pulsing in time with his languid heartbeat. Fluttershy reached out a limp foreleg, inviting, pleading.

Sombra’s smile deepened as he returned to the bedside to help Fluttershy take another sip of warm cider.

“Thank you,” she murmured.

The dim lighting only made the glistening of her moistened lips stand out all the more to Sombra. His gaze caught on that sight, the stallion inadvertently licked his lips.

Fluttershy inadvertently licked her lips. “I’m feeling much better already. But why did making it darker help me feel better, I wonder?”

“Perhaps you are of my persuasion. The light of the day can be garish. Cold. Unfeeling.”

Pulling the tepid rag off her forehead, Fluttershy propped herself up a little higher. “Sometimes I think the world feels softer at night. You know? It’s harder to see the reality that’s there, and easier to see the dream that’s only imagined. Depending on what’s in your head, sometimes that can be nice.”

“Yes, of course!” Sombra leaned forward. “It’s like nighttime heightens each sensation, and when you can’t tell what’s really there, your defenses are abandoned and you’re freed to see and think and feel whatever you have within. It’s so very liberating!”

Fluttershy laid a hoof upon Sombra’s foreleg. “Is that why you’ve spent so much of your life seeking out the shadow?”

“Perhaps. Have you never tried it?”

“Tried what?”

“Surrender. Close your eyes, and surrender to your darkest dreams.”

Obediently, the mare closed her eyes. The faint red gleam still peeked out from the corners of her eyelids.

“Now, purge your thoughts of the life you used to know. In the darkness, you are free from all expectations. Do you feel it, the way your spirit soars?”

The only response Fluttershy could give in such a state was a deep breath of unburdening. Of relief.

“That’s it, that’s it!” Sombra stood up, and one hoof caressed Fluttershy’s cheek while the other swept up and out in a grand gesture, though the mare’s eyes remained closed. “Open your mind! Let your fantasies unwind! What’s the point of fearing the darkness in your thoughts when you know you cannot fight it?”

Fluttershy’s glowing eyes winked open in the gloom. “But this world I see in the darkness, it’s so strange!”

Sombra’s other hoof moved down to cup Fluttershy’s other cheek. “Take this journey,” he admonished. “Is it not where your very soul longs to be?”

She raised her own hoof to place it over Sombra’s upon her cheek, and she sank into the depths of his eager eyes. “I’m afraid.”

So slowly, yet in an instant, the stallion had his hooves at her shoulders, and he was pulling her into the warm, downy fur of his chest. Fluttershy felt as if she were floating, falling into him. Something in the pit of her stomach was not right, but her mind was too drunk on the sweet darkness to give heed. And the slow heartbeat now thumping against her ear, it was like it set the rhythm in her whole body.

Holding her there, Sombra dropped his voice to a murmur. “Trust me. I know the way through the shadows to the world of dreams. Savor each sensation as it comes.”

Fluttershy’s hooves snaked around his middle. She pulled herself deeper into his fur.

“Yes, give in to the darkness! Is it not like music? Does it not bear with it power?”

“I hear it,” Fluttershy trembled. “I feel it.”

Suddenly, Sombra pried himself away and backed up, leaving Fluttershy sitting cold and alone on the bed. “Well then, now you know where to find freedom when you feel trapped. You look much recovered from your illness.”

Fluttershy’s arms remained extended in a reaching position until she realized her comforter wasn’t coming back to her. “I guess.”

“Good! And now I have taught you a lesson, so I believe it’s time for you to teach me mine, if you’re well enough. What was it about contemplating instances of kindness?”

“Oh yes,” Fluttershy recalled as reality crowded back in to muddy the brief clarity her mind had found. “I wanted you to write Twilight a thank-you letter, as a little exercise. I brought some stationery.”

“Very well, but I suppose it will require light.” Sombra moved toward the curtains. “Shall I?”

Fluttershy grimaced, but nodded.

And her wings whipped up to shield her eyes from the blinding daylight.


“Mommy?”

“Yes, my love?” Fluttershy finished pouring out food for the skittish little hamster in front of her and turned to regard her son. Corey reached up his hooves. “Pretty soon you’ll be too big for this, you know,” she warned as she kneeled and lowered a wing.

Once Corey was aboard and Fluttershy had straightened back up, the colt leaned forward so he could whisper in her ear. “Does Daddy not like Father?”

The question would have made Fluttershy slump, but she held herself still so Corey wouldn’t tumble off her back. “No,” she sighed. “Daddy doesn’t like Father. When they met… it was a very hard time, and they got in a fight. Now, there won’t be any fights any more, but Daddy and Father haven’t had enough time together yet to see the good in each other and apologize. But they still both love you and Fio very much.”

“And you too, Mommy?”

A heavy blink was all Fluttershy permitted herself as a reaction. “...Yes, Corey, they both love Mommy too. Now, where is your brother? It’s just about bed time!”

“Sundew!”

“Oh, not again,” Fluttershy muttered to herself. With Corey still riding between her wings, Fluttershy walked out to the back patio where the five flowerpots sat. It was almost completely dark out, but sure enough, there was a bright point of light shining over by Fio’s sundew. The young unicorn had illuminated the tip of his horn and was holding it just above the sticky surface of the plant. A large, pale moth materialized out of the darkness and was swirling toward the light source.

“Come, Fio! It’s time for bed!”

The colt remained stock still until the moth was caught in the trap and his plant was fed. “Coming, Mommy,” he called as he briefly inspected the doomed insect. Then he turned around and pranced toward Fluttershy.

“Fio, haven’t I told you before that you don’t need to help your sundew catch prey? It would be best for the plant and all the little bugs that live around here if you let nature do its own work.”

“Oh, but what’s the fun in that?” The trio of ponies had entered the cottage just in time for Discord to catch the end of Fluttershy’s sentence. At that moment, he was pulling logs of live wood out of the fireplace and assembling them into a little tree in the living room. “Don’t get me wrong, nature can be wonderful and chaotic all on its own, but what’s the point of sentience if not to mess up the natural order every once in a while?”

Fluttershy just scowled. She could think of many uses for sentience that didn’t involve creating unnecessary chaos. Contesting the point in front of the foals, however, would do no creature any good, so she settled for letting Corey down from her back and watching him and Fio leap toward their Daddy. Discord caught them up in a big, dramatic hug that somehow ended up with them hanging upside-down from one of the branches in the newly-constructed tree.

While suspended from his tail, Discord hugged the foals tightly against himself. “Goodnight, kiddos!” And he closed his eyes as if going to sleep right then and there.

“Daddy!” Fio piped. “We’re not bats!”

“Not bats!” echoed Corey.

“What?” Discord feigned shock. “You mean you’d rather sleep in your boring old beds than hang upside-down here with me?”

As a response, Fio donned a mischievous look and encased himself in his own magical aura. He pried himself out of Discord’s grasp and set himself on the floor, and Corey followed suit. In a flash, the twins were galloping toward their bedroom, and Discord gave chase after indulging in a peal of laughter.

Fluttershy followed at a stiff walk, her expression blank. When she arrived in the room, Discord was just finishing up tucking the two foals in. All that was left to do were goodnight kisses from Mommy, and then she and her mate left the room together.

“You think they’ll ever take to hanging like bats?” Discord asked, nonchalantly.

“I certainly hope they don’t,” mumbled Fluttershy.

“Oh. I get the feeling that you aren’t really into doing that anymore either, then...”

A warning glare was the response he got. Discord quickly snapped his fingers behind his back, vanishing away the tree he had assembled in the living room. They turned instead into the master bedroom.

“Okay, so what’ll it be?” Discord tried again. “Comfy pine bough nest? Hanging cloud mattress? Fragrant rosewater bed?”

Fluttershy huffed a sigh. “Just a normal bed for once, please.”

“...Very well. I’ll do nothing, then.” They climbed into their respective sides of the bed in painful silence. Once they were both settled a bodywidth apart under the covers, they continued in silence, both staring in the dark up at the ceiling.

“What did you mean about the point of sentience being to mess with the natural order?” Fluttershy’s voice was scrubbed of any emotion.

“Only that the end of all natural order is entropy. Self-destruction. Chaos. Sentience usually comes with the urge to delay the inevitable as long as possible. Putting off chaos is just another kind of chaos, in that way.” Another heavy silence descended, and still, neither individual dropped off to sleep.

Finally, Fluttershy sighed again. “I suppose you do need your chaos, don’t you? And for whatever reason, you’ve decided you want to sleep tonight, even though you often don’t. Fine. You can change the color of the night light.”

Discord’s hands curled into frustrated fists, but he relaxed and coughed a chuckle instead. “Only a night light tonight, eh? I must have done something terrible.” A moment passed, and the night light suffered no change at all. “To answer the question you didn’t quite ask, I wanted to sleep tonight so I could spend the time with you. I know you probably had a rough day, visiting that friendship student of yours and all. I thought you might appreciate the company.”

Fluttershy spoke not, moved not. He was only here because he wanted the inside scoop on her student’s condition without actually going to the trouble of visiting and doing any of the work himself.

“...How did today’s friendship lesson go, anyway?”

And there it was. “It went quite well, I think. Twilight moved him to a proper room now—still guarded, of course.”

Discord shot upward, now hovering over the bed and wringing his hands. “You mean he’s no longer in that cell? What if he escapes? He could put the foals in danger! He could put you in danger!”

“He’s not that dangerous!” Fluttershy interjected. “I don’t even think he’s interested in escape anymore. He’s really taking his lessons to heart. You should have seen how kind he was to me when I caught a passing chill.”

Now Discord was back on the bed. In fact, he was standing on all fours over Fluttershy, peering anxiously into her face. “You were unwell? What happened?”

“Nothing of consequence,” Fluttershy growled. “I assure you, he did a wonderful job taking care of me. He learns quickly.”

For another moment, Discord held Fluttershy’s gaze. Then he slid back to his own side of the bed. “I’m glad to hear it. Good night, Fluttershy.”

No sleep came to the mare while her mate fell into a doze beside her. She resented Discord’s continuing distrust for her student. She resented his constant pathological need to throw her off-balance or disrupt the lessons she taught her foals. She resented how overprotective he was being, when what she really wanted was a little space from his hectic nonsense.

What she really wanted? Yes, it was dark in the room. The nighttime was like music. Fluttershy closed her eyes and listened.

Open your mind! Let your fantasies unwind!” She listened, and she opened, and she unwound herself. At the very bottom, she found her heartbeat, heavy and languid. Out of its pulsing, a red glow pulsed in her mind. And that glow became a pair of red eyes, and then the full stallion.

Somehow, even in his captivity, he had managed to show her freedom, and at a time when she was feeling stifled by Discord’s diligent surveillance.

Surveillance? She might once have called that behavior attentiveness, or even love. Why did it no longer feel like love to her? Why did the darkness instead sing to her of warm, concealing shadows, where gentle hooves were found?

At that moment, Fluttershy’s thoughts were interrupted by an arm landing across her chest. At its end was a hand, not a hoof. Even half asleep, he was still guarding her. But that wouldn’t do right now, not when Fluttershy needed answers.

“Discord?”

“...Mmm?”

“I think I’d like to check up on the nocturnal life in the garden. There’s a family of skunks I haven’t spoken to in a while. You just stay here in case the foals need anything. I’ll be back in a bit.”

Her communication had awoken Discord enough that he had propped himself up in the bed, but she left the room and closed the door behind her before he had a chance to protest. Fluttershy pulled a warm, dark cloak from the coat closet and hurried outside into the night.

It wasn’t difficult to find her skunk friends; Fluttershy visited them only once in a while because they made their home at the very outer edge of the garden, and she didn’t always have the time between dusk and dawn to go all that way. That didn’t matter to her tonight, though, and in half an hour, Fluttershy crossed paths with Mrs. Skunk and her three kits out for a stroll.

They had a pleasant enough conversation, each mother assuring the other of the health and vivacity of their offspring, but Mrs. Skunk soon noticed her friend was more than a little preoccupied. When she brought it up, Fluttershy thanked the skunk for the kind suggestion to return to the solace and security of her mate, then hastily bid the family good night.

Once she was out of sight of the skunks, though, Fluttershy did not return to the solace and security of her mate. She felt secure there, certainly, but only from external troubles, and tonight, the troubles that chased her were internal. Her hooves carried her along an out-of-the-way path through the garden that she knew would end up at the back of Twilight’s castle. What she would do once she got there, Fluttershy wasn’t sure.

The particular window of interest was immediately obvious. A guard pegasus had just made a pass and vanished around the corner. Having located him, Fluttershy sat down under the cover of a wide shrub to contemplate the window and what she knew must lay behind it. She was glad for her dark cloak and bat vision, allowing her to see without being seen as various guardponies made their surveys of the castle exterior. In staring, Fluttershy came to know the rhythm of those regular checks. There went the guard again, for the twelfth time. Another pony would not come by for a few minutes, so, without quite knowing why, Fluttershy emerged from the bush and unfurled her wings. She would just peep into the window, to see if there was anything besides the back of a curtain to see. Then she would go right back home.

Yes, it was only the back of the curtain. Fluttershy looked down to prepare for her return to the ground, but something caught her eye. At the base of the window, there appeared to be a lever. In fact, it looked very much like a window lock, except that it was on the exterior side of the window. As if somepony had magically flipped the window around to prevent an easy escape…

Fluttershy watched her hoof touch the lock. Then the hoof pushed it open. Then the hoof raised it up, and she was standing on the sill. She heard a low inhalation, and a book quietly creak shut.

He would find her! What in Equestria was she doing? She needed to go, right away! But Fluttershy’s sudden awareness of herself shocked her to stillness, and the only thing moving was her fast, faltering heartbeat. Her head felt light, her night vision began to fail, she felt herself swooning, and she was going to fall limp from the third-story window and there was nothing she could do to stop herself…

“Who’s there?”

Fluttershy snapped to. It was his voice. He was here for her.

“It’s me,” she whimpered.

There were quiet hoofsteps, and the curtain cracked open, and then he was pulling her into the room. As Fluttershy sat dazed on the rug, she watched the stallion place a scrap of paper on the center of the windowsill to thwart the lock, then quickly pull the window shut. He turned around then, and Fluttershy found herself face to face with the dancing red eyes of Sombra.

“What brings you here in the middle of the night?”

Fluttershy shrank into herself. “T-the darkness is so freeing, and, well, this is where my hooves brought me. But I’m not quite sure what it is I wanted...”

“Something has clearly troubled you, dear Fluttershy. Come, sit with me, and I will help you find your answer.”

She nodded and let Sombra lead her toward the bed, since the quarters lacked a sofa, and there they sat, side by side against the headboard.

“I was just following the darkness,” Fluttershy mumbled when they had settled. “I don’t understand why it would bring me here, when my family and my animal friends are at the cottage.”

“Hmm.” Sombra raised a hoof to his chin. “The freedom of the darkness is in releasing your desires, as you know. Have you considered that your desires might not have brought you here so much as away from there?”

“Away from home? But why would I desire to be away from home?”

“I’m afraid that’s a question that you must answer yourself. It wasn’t exasperation with our precious foals, I hope?”

“No! No, they’re little angels. Well, troublesome, mischievous angels, anyway, but they’re so very sweet, and I can never stay upset with either of them for more than a moment. No, I’m sure it wasn’t them.”

“Who, then? Not—well, I suppose I’d do better not to insinuate such things.”

“It’s okay. You’re… you’re right.” Fluttershy fiddled with a lock of her mane, glad for the darkness but wishing now her bat eyes weren’t so acute, to spare her the distress of acknowledging who she was with. “I think it is Discord. My disturbance, I mean.”

There was a pause, and a slow exhalation. “...I am sorry to hear it. He does not treat you poorly, surely?”

“No, you see… He treats me well. So well. Too well!” Her chest felt heavy, and Fluttershy sagged. It hurt to think critically of her mate, but her heart felt sickly and clogged, somehow, and if talking through this was the only way to flush it clean, she had to do it. A gentle hoof laid itself upon Fluttershy’s shoulder.

If she’d have been looking, she would have noticed the glint of Sombra’s fangs in his grin. “What do you mean, ‘too well’? Does he not make you feel safe and protected?”

“He does, and that’s the problem!” Fluttershy lamented, finally collapsing all the way down to the bed under the weight of her aching heart. “He’s so diligent about watching over me that it’s starting to feel possessive! It’s not a bad thing, maybe, and I’m sure he means well, but… But sometimes—he’s so powerful, you see, and overbearing—sometimes I wonder if I’ll wake up one day and realize I’ve become wholly consumed by that indomitable mind of his! If I’m not consumed already! And, and the closer he watches, the less room I have to know who I am anymore. It’s so...” Fluttershy buried her face in her hooves and uttered a protracted grunt of frustration. “But he’s fun, and he’s exciting, and he’s so loving, of me and the foals, and I just don’t know what I think anymore!”

In the darkness, Sombra watched tears fall from her eyes even as a pale, glowing haze drifted up and out from them. He sat there and let her cry beside him, taking the moment to feel around. The flow of dark magic within his own body was a constant background awareness, but the usual paths of motion were now disturbed. The movement of dark magic was, in a sense, like a magnetic field. The presence of another field could cause varying degrees of disruption, and Sombra was gladly disrupted. Having found what he was seeking, he finally moved to carefully lift Fluttershy’s chin, and she let him.

“I think I understand what is distressing you, dear Fluttershy.”

She wiped a tear away and sat halfway up. “...You do?”

“Yes, and forgive me for saying, but perhaps… Perhaps you are confused because you were my mate before you were ever his.”

Fluttershy sat herself all the way up, but bowed her head again and was very quiet.

“Oh, don’t do yourself such discredit, dear Fluttershy—you are much stronger than you think you are. Perhaps I didn’t treat you as you deserved before, and for that I apologize, but even in your weakness, I think you knew what you were doing. You are strong enough, and smart enough, and kind enough to have known what you were doing when you chose me over him. You only turned to Discord for love when you thought I was too far gone into darkness, and thus unavailable to you.”

She was still looking away, still quiet.

“Fluttershy, I do not blame you for that decision. It was a sensible one, given the circumstances.”

“But now… The darkness… M-my desires… Brought me here again.” And Fluttershy looked up to meet Sombra’s gaze.

“Because now, I am here again, and I am trying to reform myself. In fact, I renounce the evil I partook in before! For you, dearest Fluttershy; I would start my life over again even a thousand years after its beginning all for love of you.”

His eyes were pleading. Why must he look at her so? Fluttershy’s gaze fell quickly back to her hooves, but it wasn’t enough to stop her heavy, insistent pulse from throbbing painfully in her neck. That squeezing haze was back again, blotting out everything she knew beyond the edges of the bed and the stallion whose hoof once again caressed her chin.

And he tilted up her face, and she let him, and she looked back into those pleading, pulsing eyes. And his voice was a low rumble, concerned, urgent, impassioned: “You still love me too, I think.”

And still he held her chin aloft while his own tilted down, and it was dark and still and warm and secret, and his lips landed on hers. And she let him.

The darkness that enshrouded them erupted into a great symphony of sensation. Tremulous and tender, it swept her up and away. Softly, deftly, the knowing and unknowing danced upon her skin and in the deep folds of her mind until reality was whatever she wanted it to be and that was nothing more than here and now and in his arms, listening to his splendid night music.

And then they were apart again, all too soon, and it was cold, but she was breathless, and senseless, and didn’t know how to protest.

The stallion still held her face so delicately, as if unwilling to let her go but duty-bound nonetheless. “Even so,”—what hateful words!—“we must think about our foals. They have a comfortable life right now, even if they call Discord their ‘daddy’. I would not wish to see them hurt in any way. We cannot do this.”

“But—!”

“You must leave me now. Go and be with your family.”

“But there’s still so much I need to know!”

“You need know only this: I love you, Fluttershy. Now go.” Sombra gently pushed her back across the room, peering through the curtains and lifting the window open once the passing guard had left. He removed the scrap of paper that had prevented the lock from catching.

Fluttershy dragged herself onto the sill. Then she looked back.

“Don’t forget to lock it again when you get out. We can’t have the guards growing suspicious.”

She gave him a tiny nod, then thrust herself outside.

Sombra stayed to hear the window shut and the lock click back into place. When he was sure she was gone, he finally allowed himself a low chuckle before moving back toward his bed and retrieving the book from his nightstand. He lounged on the bed and flipped idly through the pages, but astronomy just wasn’t holding his attention. Not when she was on his mind again.

He tossed the book aside and flopped over to properly revel in his imagination. That soft, flowing mane. Those expressive blue eyes. Her unparalleled sweetness and innocence, and a passion for healing ponies—no, animals; that’s what it was. All these traits together made an angel of radiant beauty, a harbinger of hope. It was only that dazzling hope she inspired in him that gave him the strength to bear his imprisonment, the patience to tolerate those juvenile “friendship lessons”. When she was there, Sombra was more than himself. Suddenly, he saw a future, one without struggle or conflict, where the kingdom was happy and the smothered race repopulated. With her, it would all be possible. If only he could pry his Fluttershy from that draconequus’s needy talons!

But it wouldn’t be long. Her dark magic was more than willing to submit, and her mind was already turning to follow. Then, what bliss Sombra would win in stealing back his mate and exacting his revenge on her captor!