• 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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Tending the Garden

This was it. She could do it. The memories would haunt her for the rest of her life if she didn’t conquer them right here and now. Fluttershy took a deep breath and descended into the dungeon.

When she reached the cell, Sombra was merely a pile of gray and black in the far corner, apparently asleep. Quietly, Fluttershy shed her saddle bags and pulled out a clipboard, a pencil, and her notes for the lesson. Something else fell out too. A peculiar, spiny-looking flower. Protea. Discord must have put it there. It made Fluttershy smile, and she took courage as she carefully tucked it away in her saddlebag again. Then she lifted a hoof and knocked on one of the bars of the cell door.

The shadowy figure stirred and lifted its head. “Fluttershy,” Sombra smiled, slowly rising to a stand. “It’s good to see you again.”

As he walked toward her, Fluttershy felt her heart lurch, and a tang of adrenaline seeped into her mouth. She tried to swallow it back. And then he was there. Right in front of her, looking down at her again, and the only thing separating them was a few metal bars. Her throat was dry.

Sombra flattened his ears and looked at the floor. “I have made many mistakes, and I have done such terrible things.”


He sighed and sat down. “You must know I mean you no harm, Fluttershy. Not this time. I’m trying to improve myself now, so I don’t ever hurt you again.”

Fluttershy was stunned. She didn’t know how she imagined this meeting would go, but it was certainly not like this. Involuntarily, she took a step backward.

Sombra noticed. “What is it that you fear? I am weak and imprisoned, as you know, and I have professed my good intent besides.” He paused for an answer, but Fluttershy was too busy trying to remember how to breathe. “Unless,” he tapped a hoof to his chin, “it is not me that you fear, but yourself…?” The faintest smile curled the corners of his lips as he tilted his head down and raised his eyes to meet hers.

She didn’t mean to, but she was so surprised and confused and alarmed. Her wings unfolded of their own accord. Did she intend to flee, or perhaps to hide her face? There was a peculiar pulsing in her blood and she did not like it. But she remembered the flower Discord had left for her, and she got ahold of herself, tucked her wings back against her sides, and stepped forward again. Sombra had changed the subject, anyway.

“I miss having you, as you might guess, but of course I understand how that is an impossibility, so I’ll speak no more of that. But our foals are such a miracle! So handsome and bold. I do hope you will allow me the opportunity to get to know them someday. Tell me—what are their personalities like?”

“Well,” Fluttershy started, daring to sit down. “They’re both troublemakers. Fio is the elder by a few minutes, and he likes to be the leader of their escapades. Corey’s a lot more mellow, but his curiosity usually gets the better of him.”

The next few minutes were almost pleasant. Sombra continued asking questions about Fio and Corey, and in answering them, Fluttershy felt herself relax. She loved her two little rascals, and thinking about them helped her remember why she was here.

“...and they absolutely adore their Auntie Twilight. She gives them magic lessons, you know. Um, are you all right?”

Sombra’s mouth was set in a stretched frown and his eyes were firmly shut. He opened them upon Fluttershy’s question. They appeared reddened with strain. “I, erm, yes,” he coughed. “I’m just… sad to be missing out on my sons’ lives, I suppose.”

Fluttershy idly ran a hoof up and down the scarred side of her neck. “Well, if you show some genuine improvement, I might be willing to bring them to visit you sometimes. I’m just not sure I want you to really take part in their lives. Not for a long while yet, anyway.”

“Hmm. In the interest of achieving that genuine improvement and speeding your trust along, why don’t we go ahead and get started on my lesson for today? I assume you prepared one, yes?”

“Oh! Yes, of course!” Fluttershy turned and quickly scooped up her clipboard. “So, as you might have figured, practicing kindness is an important part of being a good pony and a good friend. The first kindness lesson I wanted you to understand is to never do anything to anycreature without first getting their permission, especially if it involves your magic. I had to teach Discord this lesson too...”

“You mean he’s been abusing you with his magic?”

“Well, not anymore, and I wouldn’t really call it abuse...”

“What, then?”

“Maybe… pranks? Just silly things like making me bigger or smaller, or changing my species, or making me hiccup bubbles every time I tried to scold him. But he always put me back to normal as soon as I asked him to! And like I said, he doesn’t really do that anymore. He’s learned better.”

“I see.” Sombra laid down and crossed his front legs.

“Anyway, to get on with the lesson...” It took about half an hour for Fluttershy to talk Sombra through her materials. She noticed from time to time he got that tight, concentrated look on his face again, but it didn’t seem like anything to worry about. He always answered her questions correctly when she tested his attention, after all. The whole encounter went much smoother than Fluttershy had anticipated, and once she’d gotten over her initial fright, Sombra’s company really wasn’t that bad.

That wasn’t to say she wasn’t happy to leave when the lesson ended. “Um, that’s all I had for today. Here’s a little worksheet for you to test yourself when you want.” She slid a paper through the bars and stood up to leave, donning her saddlebags again. “I’ll be back with another lesson next week.”

Sombra stood too. “Thank you for today, Fluttershy. Your kindness and charm are extraordinary.”

There was a rushing sound in Fluttershy’s ears. Surely, he was just trying to win her favor by easy flattery? But if that was so, why was it working? Why did she feel her face flush? “Um, t-thank you.”

“No, thank you. I am sure you are an excellent mother for our foals. Truly, I can think of no creature more capable than you of raising them to standards I can be proud of. I am most grateful, dear Fluttershy. Until next week.” He nodded his goodbye with a smile, then turned away from the cell door, examining the worksheet she had given him.

Fluttershy’s hooves were frozen in place for a moment. Then she re-tucked her errant wings and spun around to trot away before she could collapse.

What did it mean?

Why was teaching him and talking to him so easy?

Why was turning away so hard?

She was galloping and panting by the time she reached the top of the staircase and emerged back into the daylight.

Dearest Twilight,

We are sorry to hear about Sombra’s premature release, and we hope seeing to him is not putting too much strain on you and your friends. Do let us know if he causes trouble. We’ll be there to help the moment you ask.

As for Cozy Glow, that does seem to be a bit of a challenge. Perhaps we should all get together to confer in person. Cozy might be more receptive to a couple of new faces, and it may be good for you to visit Tirek and Chrysalis, too. Tirek has made some promising development, but only a little, and Chrysalis is still something of a delinquent filly. So there’s room for improvement in all of our charges, and a little variety in tutors could do them some good.

We’ll be back from Saddle Arabia in another week. After that point, we can arrange a meeting around your schedule, since you’re the busy one nowadays! Try to hold back your frustration with Cozy Glow just a little longer.

With love,

Celestia and Luna

Pinkie Pie was sitting in her party cave with a helium balloon in her hooves. Cheese Sandwich also had a balloon.

“So, Cheese,” squeaked Pinkie Pie, her voice even higher than normal after inhaling some of the helium, “has your Cheesy Sense warned you about any upcoming party needs lately?”

The stallion sipped from his balloon before replying. “Yeah! I’m heading to Cloudsdale this Thursday to help a colt with a learning disability celebrate passing a big flight school exam! I’m gonna make sure the whole school is there to show him how proud they are of him!”

Pinkie Pie took another sip of helium and squeaked even higher. “Ooh! That sounds amazing! But how are you going to throw a party in Cloudsdale if you’re an earth pony?”

“Oh, a good party pony has his ways.”

“Well, duh! I mean I know how I would get to Cloudsdale to throw a party—I just wanted to know if your way was different!”

Cheese Sandwich lowered his voice to a conspiratorial tone, but not before getting another gulp from his balloon. “The secret is Poison Joke.”


“Yes, really! I discovered it the hard way along my travels. Poison Joke makes me float! I just have to keep some rocks in my saddlebags to ensure I don’t get above a certain altitude, and the effect wears off slowly in about 48 hours! I’ll roll in some Poison Joke on Wednesday, float up to Cloudsdale to get everything ready for the party on Thursday, and float back to the ground sometime Friday night!”

“Wow, that’s so cool! Poison Joke just makes my tongue swell up so I can’t talk. Hey! If you’ll be back Friday night, maybe we can catch the movie in town together?”

“Gee, that sounds great, Pinkie, but I actually had an errand to run once I get back. It’ll probably take me another day or two. Maybe I can treat you to dinner on Sunday instead?”

“I think you’d better if you’re planning to be gone for four whole days. Whatever will I do with myself?” Pinkie Pie laid a hoof across her forehead and dramatically flopped backward. What remained of her balloon jetted around the room and then crashed pathetically to the floor.

“Well, you could always visit that Sombra guy again. With all the lessons he’s supposed to be getting lately, I bet he could use a good laugh.”

Pinkie Pie bounced back up to her hooves. “Yeah! Good idea!” Then she gasped. “I should bring him some balloons. I’ll bet his voice sounds hilarious on helium!”

“Speaking of helium, we’ve been slacking!” Cheese Sandwich lifted his balloon to his lips.

“Uh-oh, mine’s all gone!”

The stallion held his balloon out to his marefriend as he started squeaking a howl. Pinkie Pie sipped from his balloon and howled along with him.

“I love yoooouuuuuuuuu!” howled he.

“I love you tooooooooooooooooo!” howled she, after a giggle.

All that night, Fluttershy had nightmares. They weren’t all scary—in fact, some of them were almost pleasurable—but they were all bad. She gave Discord a big squeeze when she finally woke up to remind herself of where she was and whom she was actually with.

She got through the breakfast shuffle in a fog. By the time she, Discord, and the twins were all out in the gardens, the caffeine from her big mug of black tea had finally kicked in, and it was time to head to the castle nursery. Fluttershy had planned that they would all pick out a plant and a pot to put it in today. She would teach her foals a little about gardening, and together, they would create a cute living symbol of their family unity. It was exciting, Fluttershy reminded herself.

“I’m gonna grow the prettiest plant,” Fio taunted, running ahead of the group.

“Well, I’m gonna grow the biggest plant,” Corey responded, chasing after his brother.

Discord flew ahead to chase both of his sons. “Well, I’m going to grow the ugliest, nastiest plant I can find! It’ll be so horrible, it’ll scare everycreature else’s plants away!”

“No, Daddy!” Corey laughed. “Plants don’t get scared!”

“We’ll see about that!”

He’d better not sprout legs on our plants and send them away, Fluttershy thought. What would it teach the twins?

By and by, they reached the nursery. Fio and Corey immediately began screaming down the rows of infant plants with delight. Discord hovered over everything, trying to spot all of the uglier, nastier selections. He dove toward the succulents.

“Fio, Corey, come look at this one!”

The twins raced over with enthusiasm. Corey arrived first to scrutinize the plant in question.

“It looks like a hoof!”

Fio arrived next and could barely speak for giggles. “Or a butt!” All three of the boys burst out laughing at that.

Fluttershy scowled and made her way toward the wagons. Why did he have to show them Lithops? One of them will choose it for sure and call it a butt-plant the whole way home!

To her relief, the three of them soon scattered across the nursery again, and none of them were carrying a Lithops. She pulled her wagon toward the asters and picked up her first selection. Fio ran toward her with a plant in his magic aura.

“Mommy, Mommy, I want this one!” The plant he proffered featured a green, paddle-like growth with red hairs radiating out from it. On the end of each hair was a drop of some clear substance.

Recognizing the plant, Fluttershy tried not to frown. “I thought you wanted the prettiest one, darling.”

“But it is pretty! And Daddy says it’s a carnivore!”

“Well, yes, it is, but the climate—”

“Oh, nevermind that,” interrupted Discord. “I can arrange for each pot to produce its own microclimate so we don’t have any limitations!”

“I suppose I can’t say no, then,” Fluttershy grumbled. “Are you sure this is the one you want, Fio?”

He nodded.

“All right.” She put the sundew in the wagon.

Now Discord held up a plant. “This is the one I want!”

Fluttershy raised an eyebrow. “Welwitschia? They’re growing those here?”

“I may or may not have conjured it just now...”

“Why that one?”

“Because it’s weird and ugly and old, just like me! And it also defies all odds and lasts for a very, very long time, just like my love for you!” He kissed Fluttershy on the top of her head, and she thought she might be able to forgive him for his shenanigans after all. But then he went on: “Plus, it’s not quite as ugly as the butt-plant.”

Fio burst out laughing and Fluttershy’s scowl returned.

“Fine, put it in the wagon, then.” Fluttershy knew she was being extra grouchy today—especially toward Discord—and she figured the reason was just her poor night of sleep. Still, did he have to be so mischievous all the time? Sometimes Fluttershy could have wished for a little more peace and normalcy in her household. She sighed to push the negativity out of her system and called out across the nursery. “Corey, dear, have you picked a plant?”

“This one!” Corey ran toward the rest of his family and shoved his plant in Fluttershy’s face.

She got a noseful of a refreshingly sweet scent. Finally, something normal! “A peony. What a lovely choice, Corey!” Into the wagon went the big, pink blossom.

“That flower’s the biggest,” boasted the colt.

“Mine’s the coolest!” Fio countered.

“But it’s not pretty!”

“Yes it is!”

In a few more minutes, they had each picked out their pots (along with a larger fifth pot, too), paid for their goods, and were on their way back to the cottage. Discord ferried the pots and plants along in a boat he pulled through the air.

Behind the house, Fluttershy arranged the four smaller pots in a large circle, with the fifth pot in the middle. She had anticipated a few weird plant selections, knowing her family, and so decided to make a family pot alongside their individual pots. Only normal garden plants would go in the family pot. A pile of potting soil and four trowels appeared upon Discord’s snap, and Fluttershy showed her family how to fill their pots to the correct depth, extract their plants roots-and-all from their compostable cups, and fill in soil around them to help them stand. Then, they watered their plants (except for Discord, whose desert plant didn’t need it) and admired their handiwork. Around the circle was a sundew, a peony, a Welwitschia, and Fluttershy’s strawberry.

Discord touched his pot, causing a glimmer of light to briefly sweep down its height, and then did the same for Fio’s pot. It was the promised climate control.

“Alright, now let’s do the last pot together!” Fluttershy directed them all to the big pot in the center and started handing out plants. “A coreopsis for Corey.” The flower had deep red petals with black bases. “A winter rose for Fio.” There were no flowers on the plant yet, but Fluttershy had chosen a variety with dark, inky petals that contrasted beautifully with its gold anthers and stamens. “A staghorn fern for Discord.” Its fronds resembled Discord’s deer antler, a fact he gleefully emphasized by plucking his horn off his head and placing it in the center of the fern. “And a bleeding heart for me.”

Discord guessed why Fluttershy chose that flower for herself and gave a single chuckle at the memory, unsure whether he should be amused or concerned. Fluttershy did seem a little off today, and he suspected it had something to do with her recent visit to the stallion who had once tried to take over her heart.

She still wasn’t smiling by the time they finished the last pot and the gardening lesson. Discord grew worried. “Hey, Fluttershy, why don’t I take care of the foals for the afternoon? You look like you could use some R&R. A trip to the spa, perhaps?” He snapped, and a plush robe appeared on Fluttershy’s body.

Fio and Corey ran off across the lawn, snickering. Fluttershy was pretty sure she heard them whispering “butt-plant” back and forth as they went.

“No, thank you.” She shrugged off the garment. “I was actually thinking I would take the foals on a nature walk and teach them some more about plants and animals, and frankly, I think we could do without your distractions. Why don’t you go to the spa instead?”

Discord’s ears flattened, and he made himself small. “Oh, o-of course. I know I can be a little much sometimes. I’ll just get out of your mane, then, and maybe… you could tell me how it went later tonight?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“Okay then. I’m sorry if I did something wrong.”

Fluttershy stared at him until he took the hint and teleported himself away. Then she gave the side of her neck a rub and started after her foals, who were wrestling in the grass. It hurt to see Discord look so hurt, but something wasn’t right with her, and she needed some space to figure herself out. Spending time with Fio and Corey would be a lot better than sulking alone at a time like this.

She could apologize to Discord later.