• 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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History Lesson

Fluttershy felt much more confident than last time as she descended back into the dungeon. Now that she knew she could stand him, he didn’t seem like so much of a threat. He could have no power over her any longer.

Sombra noticed her almost as soon as she arrived and practically bounced over as she got herself situated. “I’m so glad to see you again, Fluttershy! Your friends have taught me much in the last week. Oh, and here’s that worksheet you gave me last time if you want to check my answers.”

He slid the page out between the bars and Fluttershy took it automatically. The unexpected enthusiasm had left her stunned. In a few more seconds, she managed to wrap her head around the situation and glance over Sombra’s work.

“I gave you this mostly to see if you would do it at all, and also to encourage you to put some deliberate thought into being kind. Your exact answers don’t really matter to me as long as I can see you put in the effort, but actually, everything you wrote looks pretty good. Nice work!”

“Thank you.” He grinned and bowed. “The day after your last visit, Rainbow Dash came to teach me about loyalty—except her lesson was mostly just her reiterating how much I deserve this prison after all the terrible things I’ve done to her friends. Rarity was next. Can you believe she made this exquisite garment for me as a demonstration of generosity?” He turned sideways and gestured to the elegantly-ruffled black shirt he wore.

“Oh my.” Fluttershy could tell even in the dim lighting that Rarity didn’t cut any corners in quality or artistry for the gift. Not that she expected anything less of her friend’s remarkable generosity. The shirt complemented the rugged stallion so well that Fluttershy caught herself staring a little longer than she’d meant to.

“And you should have seen Pinkie Pie!” Sombra actually laughed. “She brought a pile of empty balloons and two cylinders. One contained helium, and the other, sulfur hexafluoride. She wanted me to breathe it to see how it would change my voice!”

Fluttershy imagined him speaking with first a comically-high voice, and then a comically-low one, and she couldn’t suppress a giggle. “Did you do it?”

“Not at first, but that mare’s laughter is infectious! After she demonstrated the possibilities, I just had to try it too! I’ve never laughed so hard in my life!”

Now she was laughing along with him, absolutely delighted by his response to her and her friends’ instruction. “It sounds like you’ve been learning a lot! How about your visit with Applejack?”

Sombra promptly stopped laughing and sat himself down. “She doesn’t trust me.”

“Can you really blame her for that? I mean, no offense, but I don’t think any of us trust you very much just yet. All of us are still very new to this whole situation.”

“Granted, but she won’t even give me the benefit of the doubt. She made it clear she refuses to accept that I want to change. It’s just...” he sighed. “It’s hard, you know? It’s hard to believe in yourself when somepony else so vocally does not.”

Seeing him look so uncertain stirred Fluttershy, and she dared to slip a hoof through the bars to touch his hoof. “I understand.”

The unexpected contact made Sombra look up from the floor to meet her eyes. “...Thank you. It’s good to know at least one pony believes in me.”

“I do.” She offered him a smile and was warmed to see him smile back. “I’ve been wondering… What made you want to be reformed now?”

“Seeing you, and our foals. Hearing their voices. It made me realize there are much more rewarding goals than power, and much more fulfilling loves to earn than mere fealty. Somehow, I… I’d never considered any other life a possibility.”

“Not even all those times when my friends and I demonstrated how wonderful and powerful friendship can be?”

“You have to understand where I’m coming from, Fluttershy. In my youth, I was raised to become something very different. It takes a lot to overcome such long-ingrained beliefs.”

“Would you mind… telling me about your past? I mean, of course I understand if you’d rather not, but I might be able to teach you better if I know why you think the way you do...”

“All right.” Sombra lowered himself to the floor and crossed his forelegs. “You’d better lie down too. It’s not a happy tale.

“I began as a colt with no memories, found alone in the frozen wilderness and taken to an orphanage in the Crystal Empire. There, I learned the ways of the crystal ponies, and how little they tolerated ponies they didn’t understand. I struggled to fit in, and they ridiculed me for it. In class, they taught that friendship was good. It made ponies happy. But in practice, my classmates taught me again and again that friendship was only a way to prey upon the weak.”

Fluttershy’s throat burned as she remembered her own experience with bullying, and how terribly it had affected her in her youth.

“And every year, during the Crystal Faire, all of the other foals would get to go out and have fun, but I was always stuck in bed, writhing in pain for reasons I didn’t understand. It grew worse and worse over time. Eventually, I’d had enough of my miserable life with the crystal ponies and ran off. Out in the wilderness, I found my mother—what was left of her, anyway.

“She was just a voice within a crystal. While I was there, at my most vulnerable and afraid, she told me I was actually only half crystal pony! I really belonged to the shadow ponies—her people. Can you imagine what I felt? Finally, I had found a family, and a home where I would fit in! Only for my mother to tell me that she and our people were dying. They would cease to exist very soon if I did not help. In fact, that was the whole reason I was born! My mother told me I was my people’s last hope of salvation, and she had left me alone and exposed in the frozen wilds as a foal so I could infiltrate the crystal ponies and carry out my destiny. I was so desperate to be accepted and wanted, I couldn’t help but agree to do whatever I could!

“It was time for me to assume my true form and become a full shadow pony, she said. I could feel the dark magic taking over my body, destroying it, making it its own; and I could feel I was all the more powerful for it. Finally, those nasty friends could terrorize me no more! All I had to do was destroy the Crystal Heart, and I would have a family! I would be a hero!

“But there was one pony, one friend, who tried to stop me. I don’t remember her much now—I don't even remember her name—but I know I had… affection for her. She wanted me to choose between her and my mother. Friendship and family. Well, I had seen what friendship could do, and with the exception of that one filly, it only ever brought me pain. And besides, I was born to save my family! It was destiny!

“So I did it. I took the Heart. I thought I had no other option. Alas, it was too late. By the time I freed them, my people were only echoes of themselves, too far gone to be recovered. If it hadn’t been for my one friendgetting in the way, perhaps I could have saved them in time! I had suddenly lost everything. My mother and my people were dead. The filly I thought I liked left me. I was alone again, and it was all because of friendship. I was the last of my kind; the crystal ponies had been trying to eradicate us—eradicate me—all along. I couldn’t help what I was! I couldn’t help trying to save my family! Why did they hate me so much for what I could not control?” Sombra’s eyes were distant, and he was sniffling.

How horrible! By the end of such a terrible tale, Fluttershy’s breathing was labored, and she could feel her blood pulsing painfully with sympathy. Something in the back of her mind warned her it didn’t match up, that she’d heard a different version of that story, but she was in too much empathetic pain to pursue the thought. To be that alone! That unwanted! That despised! She could scarcely imagine how deep such a despair must have been. Before she knew it, Fluttershy was weeping.

And then she was standing.

And asking one of the guard ponies to unlock the cell.

And she was inside with Sombra, and wrapping her hooves around him, and crying into his fur while he cried into hers. “I’m so sorry,” she mumbled.

Sombra wrapped his arms around her, too, and held her tightly. “No, I’m sorry. Everything I did since then, I did because I believed it was the only way around my loneliness. I had no more family and I couldn’t make friends, and all this time I thought, if I wanted respect and a place in this world, I had to take it. I’ve done terrible, terrible things, but you’ve shown me at long last what friendship really is. And our sons… They’ve shown me what I might become, if I learn to make friends at last.”

How long did they hold each other there? He was so warm, yet so cold. He was so distant, yet so desperate to be found. Fluttershy’s heartbeat felt so fast and so slow, and her sense of where she was, or who she was, started slipping. All that mattered was that she be right in this moment until his tears were dried.

At length, Sombra heaved a meaningful sigh and pushed himself out of the embrace. “Thank you for that.”

Fluttershy didn’t know what to say as her surroundings crowded back into her awareness. His eyes were deep and sad and she couldn’t look away. “I’m glad you finally have a chance to redeem yourself, and I’m glad… that I get to be here, to help you through it.”

“Me too.” He held her gaze. Neither of them were quite ready to look away. Then he coughed. “So, I suppose there was some friendship lesson you came here to teach me?”

“Yes! Oh my, I had forgotten all about it! But I don’t know, I think we sort of covered a lot of ground already...”

“Maybe so, but let’s have the lesson anyway, since you’re here. I do have a lot to learn, don’t I?”

After another moment’s thought, Fluttershy assented. She once again talked Sombra through a kindness lesson, but after the conversation they’d just had, it felt a little trite and redundant. Sombra paid attention anyway and didn’t seem to mind her rushing through it. Once she got to the end, she stood.

“I’d better be going. The twins get into trouble when I’m away too long, and Discord likes to encourage them.” Fluttershy nodded to a guard, and he opened the cell door for her to exit, locking it behind her. She looked back at the stallion inside. “Goodbye for now.”

“You’ll come back to visit soon?”

“This time next week.”

Sombra’s ears drooped and his lips twisted into something of a pout. “Very well. Goodbye.”

He waited until the sound of her hooves on the dungeon floor faded away before he turned around and stalked to the back corner of his cell. There were his notes and the astronomy book he had just gotten Twilight to approve that morning. Sombra rubbed his hooves together in anticipation and got to reading.

The day was bright and beautiful once you got above the overcast cloud layer. There, high up in the atmosphere, two figures sped and twirled and dove and flipped out of sight of the world beneath. Rainbow Dash claimed the thin air was good for practice, if just a little dangerous. Any moves she could accomplish up here, where breathing was hard and the atmosphere barely supported her weight, she could easily accomplish at lower altitudes.

“Alright, now come at me from about 26.2 degrees northwest of zenith. I need you to steady at 98m/s and don’t divert for anything. I’ll come up from below and skim just over your airstream. The opposing friction should launch us both into clean, mirrored loops. Give it a little bit more thrust just as I’m passing since your loop’s got more gravity to overcome. Roger?”

“Roger!” Discord saluted and darted up to position. At Rainbow Dash’s signal, he dove and maintained his trajectory even when the pegasus launched herself on a collision course. There was a tremor as she tilted up at the last instant and missed him by centimeters. Just a bit more speed now, and he found himself sailing upward in a wide loop-de-loop. He could see Rainbow Dash arcing downward from above him and wearing an exhilarated grin.

Discord was about half-pi from the end of the move when he felt an impact on his stomach. It flattened his arc and sent him on a nose-dive straight down. Rainbow Dash was perched on his middle and flapping furiously to keep herself upright relative to Discord’s vertically-inverted body.

“BE YE VANQUISHED!” She made a thrusting motion as if driving a sword into Discord’s chest, then launched herself back upward just before the draconequus collided with the cloud layer and disappeared. After a mock-victory dance in the sky, Rainbow Dash alighted on the cloud and peered into the space where Discord had gone through.

His head popped up again a few feet away. “Was this meant to be the ground?” he accused, patting the cloud surface to clarify. “Was that little stunt of yours meant to drive me into the ground?”

“You gotta admit that would be a pretty epic way to vanquish the dragon!”

Discord pulled himself all the way up. “I’ll say! Ooh, that’s graphic! Not a show for the kiddos, eh? Say, do you want me to splatter into a puddle upon impact, or perhaps dissolve into ashes and drift away on the breeze? Or should I lie there in a crater, looking all broken and bloody and horrific?”

“Heh! I’d personally vote for broken and bloody and horrific, but best leave that up to Spitfire. Do you think the sword thrust was too much?”

“Not at all! One must absolutely go all out when vanquishing a dragon! It’s just to make sure I can’t pull up and save myself at the last second, after all.”

“Great! Then I say we do that again, only you change into your dragon form, just to be sure it’ll work.”

Discord suddenly supersized himself into a dragon. “Ready when you are!”

“I’d better finish catching my breath first. You may not have noticed, but there isn’t a ton of oxygen up here.”

“You mortals and your silly physiological requirements,” scoffed dragon-Discord.

“What’re you gonna do?” shrugged Rainbow Dash. She flung herself backwards to lay supine on the fluffy clouds. “Say, have you visited Sombra at all?”

Discord picked at a talon with his long, pointed teeth. “No. Why?”

“I just saw him yesterday, and he’s been really weirding me out. Like, not in the normal Sombra-weirdness way. I can’t stop thinking about it.”

“What’s he done this time?”

“I dunno, he’s just… too enthusiastic, I guess. I’m glad if he really wants to be reformed and all, but his 180 in attitude was as fast as any of my aerial 180s. He’s gotta be up to something.”

“I wouldn’t put it past him. You know, Fluttershy’s been a little more flighty than usual lately. I figured it was the old anxiety kicking up, but I wonder if he’s been saying things to her. Maybe I’ll ask her about it.”

Rainbow Dash sat back up and regarded Discord with a serious expression. “Why don’t you just go visit Sombra and grill him yourself?”

To offset his friend’s seriousness, Discord rolled himself onto his back and kicked his legs into the air. “Seemed to me like that might go a little counter to the reform effort, if you know what I mean.”

“Yeah, I guess. On the other hoof, why don’t you visit him regularly and give him friendship lessons like the rest of us? You’re a successful graduate of the villain-reform course, after all—you might be better able to reach him than any of us!”

“If he were a neutral party, maybe, but Sombra and I aren’t exactly on the best of terms, you know! Requiring him to tolerate me as a teacher might do him more harm than good. I’ve resolved to just stay out of the way if I can. Not that he deserves such consideration!” His last remark came with a deep, menacing snarl.

Suddenly, Discord flipped rightside-up. “Anyway, have you spoken to Rarity or Applejack lately?”

“Uh, yeah, why?”

“If you don’t know why, then they must not have told you—well, I must be true to my word. Dash, behind you!”

Rainbow Dash whipped around just in time to receive a custard cake in her face. “What was that for?” she demanded, wiping the confection out of her eyes.

“Well, I understand you don’t like pie, so it had to be a cake!” Dragon-Discord’s hearty guffaws set the whole cloud bank shaking.

Once the quake stopped and she recovered her balance, Rainbow Dash licked cake off her hoof and gave an “mmm” of delight. Then she threw a clump of it at Discord and nailed him in the eye. They both erupted in laughter and nearly broke their clouds apart with the tremor of it.

“Alright, big guy,” Rainbow Dash announced at last, “let’s get on with round two!”

“With pleasure!” The duo kicked off and resumed their aerial positions for another round of stunts.