From Darkness To Light

by Pixel_Spark

First published

When an insidious evil threatens the Crystal Empire, the Princesses must call upon the most unlikely pony; Sombra. Can he overcome his own darkness in order to save the empire from a far worse one?

When the sky over the Crystal Empire is split open by a dark tear, Celestia, Cadance, Luna and Twilight must figure out a way to stop it. But in order to defeat darkness, sometimes you NEED darkness. And that leaves only one option; Sombra.

With his powers under lock down, and a growing connection to the strange darkness, can Sombra learn what it really takes to earn an empires respect, or will he abandon them to the darkness from another world?

UPDATED: Chapter one re-formatted, extra bits added, general tidying.

Edited by Dream Seeker!
Further helped into readableness by Hail King Sombra!

Arrival & Adaptation

View Online


Celestia had been woken by the worst nightmare she'd seen in many a year. Her dreams, and Luna’s, had been centred on an encroaching darkness, headed for the Crystal Empire. A tear in the sky, spewing darkness, it brought with it a feeling of dread. So they set off for the Empire the morning after, to warn Cadance.

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While the dreams were still being pored over by the concerned Princesses, late into the night, there was an ear-splitting bang. They ran to the windows of the crystal palace, their hearts sinking when they seen the thing from their dreams. A tear in the sky, a sickly wound made of pitch black, it obliterated a swathe of the starry night sky...

Cadance came haring into the room moments later, her expression steeped in fear.

"We need a plan." she said at last, and the two sisters nodded.

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Princess Twilight Sparkle was back in Ponyville, and the late hour made Celestia decide to fill her in face to face once she and her friends arrived. She swiftly dispatched a scroll, apologising for the urgent tone and late hour, knowing Spike would soon be shaking Twilight Sparkle awake with the news...

"So what is the plan? Dost thou have one sister?" Luna asked. Her mane, sparkling like a night sky, caught the starlight outside and shone.

Cadance yawned, sleepily "we need something to counteract it, but what?"

"The elements of harmony are not the answer this time, although I sense they are a part of the solution." Celestia wished she could more clearly articulate what she felt. The elements had been crucial in defending Equestria before, but this was one of those occasions.

"To match darkness," Cadance said softly "I sense we need one who can understand its dark heart."

They all fell silent. Only one pony matched THAT particularly tricky description; King Sombra. A madpony by the time they’d come to deal with him, Celestia and Luna both knew he wasn’t the first pony they’d ask. Not even the last, really.

"I’m not too gone on that guy either." Cadance shook her head, tricoloured hair falling into her eyes. She pushed it away with one hoof. Sombra had caused her and her friends, not to mention the citizens of the Crystal Empire, a LOT of distress.

"We cannot have him terrorizing the ponies, yet as thou say, he is the closest match." Luna frowned. Celestia, soft shades of pink, sea foam green and blue swirling through her mane, nodded dubiously.

"There must be something, an insurance policy-!" Cadance got up and paced the room, frowning in concentration.

"Together we can force a limiter, suppress his magic. It won't be easy, dark magic is difficult to quash." Celestia said at last.

"Well it is better then letting him loose with said magic." Luna said dryly.

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The next morning, at an absurdly early hour, all three Alicorn’s grouped together in one of the palaces larger rooms, they needed space for this.

At Luna’s hooves sat a thin silver choker, with a glittering blue gem set in it. It was a special stone, to back up the powerful spells laid into the ornaments framework.

Joining them was the crystal heart, the symbol of the Crystal Empire. A magical object, it captured the love and joy of the ponies of the Empire. They needed the extra boost to ensure this worked; the heart had a great deal of magic in itself.

Even though Sombra had supposedly been destroyed, Cadance was sure a part of him was still inside the crystal heart. He had been the Empire's ruler at one point, after all.

Standing in a triangle, with a big space between them, the three Alicorn’s closed their eyes and their horns began to glow.

At Cadance’s hooves, the crystal heart began to shine too, a line of shimmering blue magic flowing from it to the growing mass of magic at the room's centre.

After a moment, it began to take on the shape of a familiar pony. Long, flowing mane and tail, black as night. Dark grey fur, red tipped horn, a silver crown keeping his mane away from his face. Silver armor on his legs, a flowing fur tipped cloak...

Everything seemed to be going to plan, then the heart did something unexpected. It shuddered at Cadance’s hooves, a small faceted shard breaking off and flying into the semi-transparent shape of the Empire's former King. This had the effect of sending things into a spin.

There was a massive flash of light, causing them all to step back. Sombra's form solidified, crashing to the ground with an audible thud. He lay there struggling to breathe, pawing at his chest as if in pain.

"Uh oh-" Cadance stepped back as Sombra staggered to his hooves, lurching uneasily about, dazed and confused.

He uttered a single name;

"Cloudspark..."

Celestia frowned, where had she heard that name before? But it was soon forgotten, as he let out a roar of sheer agony, then pelted towards the window-

"Stop!" Celestia cried, lunging for the unicorn. For a moment she managed to get her forelegs around his neck, tried to haul him back, but he snarled something she couldn’t understand and tore free. As the others ran up behind Celestia, he took a jump through the window.

But his disoriented state meant he failed on landing, one leg buckling underneath him and pitching him to the grass. He tried to get to his hooves, but passed out once more...

"Sister! Look who is here! Their timing is magnificent." Luna pointed a hoof at the small band of ponies now circling the fallen Sombra. The blue one poked him with a hoof, and the purple Alicorn ushered her back.

"Nice timing, Twilight!" Cadance was happy to see her sister-in-law.

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"Pokey poke-"

"Rainbow Dash!" Twilight Sparkle said crossly. The rainbow haired Pegasus pony raised an eyebrow then shrugged.

"Uhm...I think he broke his leg." Fluttershy said timidly, peering at Sombra’s left foreleg, which now had an odd bend in it.

"Shame that’s all he broke." Applejack grumbled.

“What?" she said in reply to Fluttershy's look "the guy was a colossal jerk, remember?"

“Which brings me to the question; WHAT THE HAY IS HE DOING HERE?!" Rainbow Dash shouted.

Twilight Sparkle winced at the volume "I don’t know..."

"I believe I can explain.." they looked up as Princess Celestia approached, a quartet of royal guards bearing a stretcher close behind her.

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They sedated and carried Sombra back inside, where Celestia had him put in a room where he couldn’t do any more death-dives out of windows.

"Oh, before we forget, best doing THIS while he’s unconscious.." Celestia nodded to Luna , who levitated the magic laden choker over to her.

"Ooh..." Twilight Sparkle could sense it’s strength "what’s THAT for?"

"Sombra’s magic is as powerful as it is dark, we cannot risk him having it." Luna explained as her sister walked over to where the snoozing Sombra lay. For a moment she appeared to study him, then in one swift movement she nudged his mane aside and clipped the choker around his neck. It glowed, and he winced, stirring slightly but not waking.

"We cannot have him running amok with that sort of power," Celestia finished seriously, as she came over "Even I do not know the depth of his strength."

"Whoa.." Twilight Sparkle said.

“Now, let us talk." Luna managed a faint smile.

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"Run that by me again, I didn’t get all the crazy in there..." Rainbow Dash said after Celestia finished. The Princess smiled faintly.

"I know it seems absurd, but my sister and I both agree that we are facing an imminent darkness, and something deep inside tells us Sombra is our only answer."

"So, the solution is the Empire being enslaved...AGAIN. Not to rain on your parade Princess, but.." Rainbow Dash looked for the right words "Sombra’s a loon!"

"He was grotesquely mean!" Rarity said.

Twilight Sparkle looked at Celestia "is this the same as Discord?"

"You mean, reform him?" Fluttershy asked curiously.

"Yes girls, I believe it is. That’s why I called you here. I sensed you and your elements may be able to help him in some part.”

A guard came pounding in the door, looking flushed. He looked at Celestia "your "guest" is awake, and he’s going crazy.."

"Going?" Rainbow Dash asked sarcastically, but they followed nonetheless.

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The room possessed a balcony that looked down into it from above. A set of heavy locked doors meant Sombra couldn’t escape that way either, and not just because of the spells the princesses had placed on the room.

When they peered over the balcony, they seen the guard wasn’t joking. Sombra had thoroughly trashed the room. Shards of broken furniture lay about, but that wasn’t what baffled them. It was HOW Sombra was making such a mess.

He was huddled over in the centre of the wreckage, eyes shut, his body shuddering under the cloak. Every so often he tried to stand, only to collapse. As they watched, his body glowed with a pale blue light, which expanded outwards, smashing the furniture shards even further into dust.

Celestia stared. Beside her, Applejack asked;

"Betting that AINT what y'all were expecting?"

"No.." Celestia shook her head "I thought we'd suppressed his powers, save for the basic levitation ability. Plus, that aura doesn’t match HIS."

Sombra reared to his feet, letting out a cry of such real anger and pain that Fluttershy teared up in sympathy.

"Something’s really hurting him.." she whispered "this isn’t right."

Celestia and Twilight Sparkle nodded, and together they launched another sleep spell, which at last made the aura fade. Sombra lay curled up in his cloak, only twitching occasionally.

"We need to talk. AGAIN." Luna’s voice drifted into the silence.

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"So a shard of the heart shattered?" Twilight Sparkles eyes went wide "is it bad?"

"Not really, one of the facets just looks a little wonky," Cadance said "it’s functioning just fine, seems it's just surface damage."

"Whew," Rarity sighed "I’d hate such a lovely treasure to be damaged, it’s simply exquisite!"

"Agreed!" Luna added "but what of the missing shard? We hath searched high and low in that room, but there’s no sign of it."

Twilight Sparkle had been pondering that for a while, now she recalled the exact colour of the hearts magic.

"I think I know." she said, her mind a whirl.

"Then spill!" Rainbow Dash cried.

"You recall that blue aura Sombra was giving off, well, it's the same as the hearts."

"You think the shards in HIM?" Pinkie Pie blurted through a mouthful of cake.

"Possibly." Luna shook her head at Pinkie Pie’s table manners, then looked at her sister "it makes sense. It explains why he was bucking about in such pain when we summoned him. We thought it merely a side effect of the process..."

"But from what we seen, it’s something more." Celestia finished her sister’s theory.

"Why did the heart break off a part of itself? Was that part of the plan?" Twilight Sparkle asked.

Cadance shook her head; "No. The shard shattering and doing what it did was a surprise."

"But why is he totally bonkers...I mean...MORE bonkers-" Rainbow Dash frowned, thinking up more insults. "What the one I’m looking for? "Suffering a severe case of the galloping crazy"?"

"Uhm.." Fluttershy bobbed her head anxiously, she had a clue.

"Speak, Fluttershy dear." Celestia encouraged. Fluttershy stared at the table, and the empty cake plate in front of her.

"Uhm..I t-think...I think its because he’s in pain. H-he has a dark heart, right? So maybe...maybe the shard of the crystal heart is within his OWN heart. And he’s not used to it...so...it hurts..?" she finished with a squeak.

"That..." Luna said "is the smartest thing we have heard so far. You may be onto something Fluttershy..."

"It makes perfect sense.." Twilight Sparkle said, after a think "certainly explains why he came flying out a window!"

“What’s up with that? He think he was an Alicorn or something?" Rainbow Dash sniggered.

"No, I think its all there in Fluttershy’s theory, the shard of the heart is embedded inside HIS heart, and its causing him pain. If he is to be of any use to us, we must find a way to suppress it..." Celestia mused.

"Hay Cadance," Twilight Sparkle asked, "when is my BBBFF coming back from his trip?"

"He'll be back in a week!" Cadance beamed.

"Boy is he gonna FLIP when he sees Sombra." Rainbow Dash remarked.

Twilight Sparkle figured she’d deal with that when he got back.

"Where is the small pudgy dragon?" Luna asked.

"Spike? Oh he’s looking after Fluttershy’s animals," Twilight Sparkle beamed "well, he and Ditzy Doo, turns out she’s good with critters!"

Fluttershy beamed "they’ll be just great!"

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When Sombra next awoke, the agony that’d been tormenting him had faded. Now a dull ache in his chest, he was at least able to wobble to his hooves. Looking down he seen, underneath the armoured shoes he wore, his left foreleg was bandaged thickly. It throbbed when he put weight on it.

He limped around the trashed room, anger and confusion smouldering in his chest. What’d happened? His last memory was...was...

He shook his head. All he knew was he’d been defeated. On the verge of controlling the empire for good, and a purple-pink Alicorn had stopped him.

"Awake at last." a voice met his ears. Looking up, he seen...

"Celestia!" he roared "what is the meaning of this?!"

"You have been restored to your life, but only so as to save this kingdom."

“What makes you think I’d do that?" the pain in his chest pulsed, and he bit back a snarl.

"Because that choker you're wearing will ensure it."

He trotted over to an un-shattered picture frame. In it’s reflection he seen, in addition to his usual get-up, a silver-banded choker was locked around his neck. At its centre was a shimmering blue gem.

"Its impossible to remove by yourself, its powerful Alicorn magic." Celestia continued. "And it WILL stop you if you try to hurt anypony!"

"Why awaken me at all?" Sombra raged.

Celestia closed her eyes. A shimmering square appeared in front of Sombra. It was the view from the same window he’d dived out of.

"Do you see it? In the sky..."

Sombra squinted, then stepped back. Celestia seen him tense up, a barely discernible shiver racing over his stocky frame.

Sombra stared at the image in shock. In the sky, a small dark tear wavered, but he sensed it was growing...

"It's seeking something," he whispered, his ruby red eyes widening a little "It's not from this world." He had no clue how he knew this, only that he knew he was RIGHT.

"Whereas all we can see is a darkness in the skies. Already this has proven to be the correct decision. Even YOU cannot deny the danger of what we seek." Celestia said at last, making the image vanish.

"And why would I bother helping you?" Sombra turned his back to her, mane swishing around his face.

Celestia sighed "the world has changed from what you knew, this is a chance to still have a part in your old kingdom. But you must understand what it really takes to protect and serve-”

"You can't defeat this, so you want ME to do your dirty work, is that it? Oh how the mighty have failed!" he gave a short harsh laugh. Celestia didn’t seem fazed.

"Were I to claim I was perfect, I would be lying to myself. NOPONY is invulnerable. But I know THIS. This chaos is tied to you."

"I regret to say I could not have masterminded such intrigue," Sombra laughed again "I've been very busy...being dead and GONE, or did you forget?!"

"The blame is not yours to bear, but the salvation may be. If this is what it takes to save this place, it is what we will do. You have a second chance to prove you are more than you appear to be."

His fury rose, but his head ached so severely he couldn’t think. He felt...disjointed, off. Like he was missing more than just his magical abilities. Everything seemed sharper and brighter, it almost HURT. “And I suppose YOU’RE going to preach at me until I do?" he snarled.

"No, I will leave that to a certain group of ponies who saved the empire from you before...I believe you remember them.."

Around her, Sombra seen six sort-of unknown fillies file in. He stared at them, AND kept right on staring.

"No." he said at last.

"No, you’re not co-operating, or no, you don’t know us?" Rainbow Dash asked.

"The second one, dye-job.." Sombra remarked.

"Lemme at him!" Rainbow Dash snapped, flapping her wings-

"Settle down Dashie!" Pinkie Pie said, "he’s just grumpy!"

“So would you be you talking piece of cotton candy!" Sombra roared. Pinkie Pie giggled loudly, swishing her tail.

"Ooh, do Applejack next!" she giggled. Applejack poked her with one hoof.

"Calm down you guys..." Twilight Sparkle said.

Sombra turned his back on them and walked over to the reflective surface of the picture frame. Again he stared at the choker, at the glowing blue jewel. He didn’t hear the balcony door slam as the group of ponies left. He was lost in a daydream…

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The general reaction of the Empire'd citizens was one of panic, when the Princesses called an emergency meeting in the centre of the empire the following day, and delivered the news.

"Why HIM?!" one mare cried.

"Even WE do not know much about the darkest part of magic...." Celestia said "We have been able to glean nothing from studying this thing. I only had to show Sombra a glimpse of it for him to identify it as being sentient, and searching for something. There is no denying he has considerable knowledge that WE need in this crisis!"

More panicked murmurs.

"Fear not!" Cadance declared "We have been able to suppress all but the most basic levitation ability. He does not possess the dark magic he was noted for. We have taken every precaution to render him unable to hurt anypony."

The ponies looked mollified by this, they adored Cadance, and knew she cared for them in turn! She wouldn’t hurt them!

"We have been monitoring him since returning him to this world," Celestia continued "and he has so far not attempted to harm anypony in the castle. We will have a guard dispatched to monitor him at all times outside the palace. We ask you, despite your fear, not to go about your daily lives any differently than you usually would."

The crowd looked a little anxious still, but if he was under guard and had no magic, he couldn’t harm them, right?

"Thank you, all of you." Cadance gave her citizens a kind smile "You have all of our gratitude for staying strong!"

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The rest of the morning, gossip raced like wildfire. But despite their fear of the ex-King, the ponies were scared of the creepy dark rip in the sky. And if Sombra was the only way to help them, they would tolerate the brutish unicorn as much as they could. After all, he was no friend to them, and they’d be relieved when both he and the tear were GONE.

And thus they consoled themselves with these seemingly unalterable facts. Sombra couldn’t be trusted. He'd only be here temporarily. They had the prince and four Alicorn princesses on their side!

But the eventual truth was to be far stranger than they had guessed....

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Back in the palace The Princesses rejoined the other five ponies and went over the plan one more time.

"My main beef is this: IS King grumpy a danger?" Rainbow Dash asked at last.

"I have locked down his power, he can do basic levitation magic and that’s about it," Celestia said calmly "I do not believe he poses a threat. The crystal heart is under lock-down until we're certain he can be trusted."

"Ah don’t trust the guy neither," Applejack shrugged "but if y'all really think he’s our only hope, then..." She trailed off.

"We’ll give it our best!" Fluttershy said at last.

"So what now?" Twilight asked Celestia.

"For tonight I will simply allow him to sleep in a proper room. As of tomorrow, I ask that at least one of you accompany him anywhere he goes, I can also post a guard."

The discussion went on for awhile, then they all went down to the main hall for a break.

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The next morning, Twilight Sparkle said she and Fluttershy would stick close to Sombra that day. Celestia had requests for the others she needed help with, and Rainbow Dash was attending a display by the Wonderbolts. It was their first show in the empire and she was psyched to go watch. Rarity was being asked to design a new cloak for Luna, and Pinkie Pie was preparing for a "random visit to the empire" party for that evening.

Pinkie Pie was up early and had already taken over the palace's kitchen before even its staff were awake, to Cadance's amusement. But after distributing her first batch of yummy cupcakes, the staff were happy to let her carry on. They were delicious!

The six friends had some for breakfast as well, and Fluttershy sidled up to Pinkie Pie as she was trotting back to the kitchen to ask a favour.

Twilight Sparkle raised an eyebrow as Fluttershy said she’d go get the ex-King, Sombra. Why was she carrying a basket?

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Sombra knelt atop the massive bedspread. His room was high up in the tower. The window opened, but he hit a barrier every time he tried to stick his head too far out. He didn’t recall diving out a window and breaking his leg, but the palace doctor had told him to go easy on it. Even though Celestia’s magic had all but healed it, it still needed a day or two.

Then he’d bolted from the room.

Even with his power locked down, Sombra was an intimidating force. He towered above most ponies, his height nearly on a par with that of the Alicorn’s. Add to that piercing red eyes and long, flowing mane, and he made an impressive sight. The red-tipped, curved, unicorn horn wasn’t something you seen every day either.

--It’s been how many years since those little fillies destroyed me..?-- he tried to think further back, but got a pain in his chest every time. He was aware of his own past, that is, as aware as you could be going on just a few sensations and fuzzy images. But every time he tried to gather up the memories of his past, his chest ached again. What was this pain?

There was a timid knock at the door, so he snarled "enter!" in the most imperial tone he could manage, figuring it was the doctor, back again. But he got a surprise when a soft, shy voice piped up;

"Uhm...we-we’re going to be leaving the castle soon...Twilight Sparkle said to tell you..." she quailed a little as Sombra angled his head to glare at her, but carried on anyway "a-also I brought muffins.."

Sombra was floored by the normality of this weird moment. --Get this straight, brain-- he told himself --she’s offering you food?! Is she mad?--

When he didn’t say anything, Fluttershy crept into the room, setting the basket down "they’re very nice," she said tremulously. Another harsh glare form Sombra made her wince, but she didn’t run. She’ d promised Twilight she’d get him to come with them.

Reluctant (but hungry), Sombra focused his meagre magic and floated one of the cakes towards himself. He didn’t recall anything this fancy from his former life, but then, what he didn’t recall could fill an encyclopedia!

Before he could question the logic behind accepting gifts from his jailers, curiosity got the better of him, and he ate half of one in a single bite. Crumbs pattered onto the book lying open under his hooves, but he didn’t notice. This cake was..

"Mmf.." he said, sniffing at the remaining half before stuffing it into his mouth whole with his magic.

"D-do you like them..?" Fluttershy asked.

Sombra’s answer was to levitate the remaining two out of the basket. Within seconds they were gone. He levitated the book, shaking the crumbs out of it;

"They’re....interesting." he said shortly. Fluttershy beamed.

"I take it you’re here to make sure I don’t dive out the window again?" he sneered bitterly.

"W-well I hope not...that must have hurt.." she said sympathetically.

"Pah, I don’t care...." he shook his head "fine, lets get this farce over with." he clambered off the bed, wobbling a little on his injured hoof, and at last settled into a slight limp as he followed Fluttershy down the hall towards the stairs.

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Twilight Sparkle took a deep breath and put on a serious face as she seen Fluttershy approach with Sombra. Even though he had no real power, she was wary of him. He regarded her for a moment, then spoke, taking in her wings;

"Princess." his tone was clipped, angry, but his expression was distant, as if he was doing his best to shut everything out.

"We’re taking a trip into the market; we need ingredients, plus it will give the townspeople time to get used to you being here again-"

"Pfft, prepare for a lot of screaming little Princess," Sombra laughed coldly "this is a fools errand!" Then he winced, as his head pounded again. Without realising, he’d raised one hoof to his neck, to attempt to claw the necklace off him.

"If that is what you believe, then fine. But most ponies would be happy to have a second chance at life!" Twilight Sparkle said before heading out the door.

Sombra paused, stung a little by her words. What good was a second chance when he was powerless? But he couldn’t deny something felt different this time. His head still felt fuzzy, and that sensation of missing a piece of his internal puzzle...

He glanced to his side, where that pink haired cake-bringer waited. She bobbed her head, indicating the door. Sighing, he trotted after the little Princess.

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One of the royal guard followed at a safe distance. Even without power, Sombra wasn’t entirely without danger. His physical strength and temper were ferocious in their own right.

As predicted, a few ponies DID shout and panic. But Twilight Sparkle reassured them as best she could, stressing Sombra was there to help solve the weird sky-tear. A few ponies still ran away when they seen the unicorn striding along beside the two smaller ponies. some looked like they wanted to throw something or go for him, but they kept their distance.

Magic or no, Sombra had a solid build that simply said; "You'd suffer less head-butting a WALL."

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"G-Good morning princess.." the shop owner stammered, as Twilight Sparkle wandered into the antique store.

"Morning!" she beamed "Do you have any new books in?"

"As it happens...yes.." he cast a nervous glance at Sombra, who was watching Fluttershy, who was going ga-ga over how adorable the statues of animals were. She just loved them!

--I can’t tell if she’s insane or just naturally like this..-- Sombra thought.

"Don’t worry.." Twilight Sparkle said in a whisper "he can’t hurt you.."

"I heard the news that monster was back, but I didn’t want to believe it. Is Princess Cadance sure she knows what she’s doing?"

"It’s her, Luna AND Celestia’s decision. Besides," she indicated the choker, with the brilliant blue stone embedded in its centre "that acts as a neutraliser. It'll stop him if he tries anything.."

“Just what do the Princesses hope to achieve with this?" he asked, trotting into the back room and levitating the books out to Twilight Sparkle, who poured over the titles, deciding what she wanted.

"You’ve seen that rip in the sky? Well, both Celestia and Luna believe Sombra holds the key to defeating it. We don’t know how yet, but I trust their decision."

“As do I, missy, but that don’t mean most of us aint scared of that...creature being back."

"Wow.." Fluttershy moved on to looking at a carved crystal. It was a deep purple, yet other colours seemed to swirl inside it. It’d been carved to resemble a bird. "What is that?"

Sombra sighed irritably "another pointless trink-hm?" he peered closely at it.

"Nopony knows what that is," the shop owner shrugged "very old, or so I’ve been told. Been a mystery since-"

“It's a "purple star" jewel." Sombra looked entirely nonplussed "stick that thing in direct sunlight and it'll glow. Little more then a distraction, no magical properties."

"How the hay-?!" the store owner gaped. "I've had EXPERTS study that thing and they're baffled!"

"Wow." even Twilight Sparkle looked startled. Sombra looked bored.

“They were virtually gone even in my time, they were used as luck charms. Pointless."

"Still, pretty!" Fluttershy said to the store owner.

Twilight Sparkle paid for the books she wanted and they left, leaving a flabbergasted shop owner behind.

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"How did you know that?" Twilight looked up at Sombra. When she'd seen him eyeing the jewel in the store, she thought she'd seen a flicker behind those emotionless garnet eyes...

Sombra snorted "A thing like that? Child's play."

"Rarity would pop if she knew all that." Twilight Sparkle chuckled at the idea, and Fluttershy smiled.

--Ugh, just seal me back inside the darkness...-- Sombra snarled to himself --they’re lucky I can't just rip this whole place apart!!--

A small shock from what he was terming a "dog collar", made him reel in the feelings of abject rage that’d been rising.

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For his part, Sombra ignored any eye contact, keeping his head high and focusing in the distance. He trailed along on auto pilot as Twilight Sparkle and Fluttershy went from stall to stall. Ponies stopped to gawp at him, some shouting harsh things, others just staring.

It was while he was staring into space that he heard a giggle, and felt something tug at his cloak. Blinking he looked down, coming nose-to-nose with a little unicorn filly, balancing atop a stack of fruit crates. She was a pale yellow, with brighter sunshine yellow and orange blended mane, reminding him of a flame.

She beamed at him, reaching one hoof up to poke the tip of his nose.

"Boop!" she declared.

He didn’t know it then, but that one word started off a process he would never have expected.

He stared, frankly stunned by her audacity. She was the first one to acknowledge him, especially like that.

Seeing she’d made him go slightly cross-eyed, the little unicorn filly giggled gleefully, and bounded round to his side, burrowing under his cloak and poking her head out so its fur trimmed edge framed her face like a hood.

"This fing is so much awesome!" she giggled.

Sombra raised one eyebrow, tilting his head so he could see her. She looked boldly up at him, smiling again.

"Hm." was all he said.

Then her eyes went wide, and she ducked back under, essentially hiding under Sombra’s cloak.

"Don’t move pwease!" she squeaked. Sombra felt the urge to snap. What was she doing?!

Three more little fillies ran by, calling out;

"Oh Bright Spark, where are you?"

"Yeah, c’mon, we just wanna play.." they giggled. Something about their words set Sombra’s nerves on edge. Those were mocking laughs. He could feel the little one hiding under his cloak, a tiny presence huddled by his forelegs.

They stopped not far from Sombra, looking about.

"Lets try under here!" they locked in on the stall Sombra was standing by. He heard the filly utter a soft wail and felt her shiver again. She tugged at the band of his armoured grey shoe, silently pleading for him to hide her...

So when the kids crept a little too close, he shifted forward subtly, changing his posture so the filly would be impossible to spot beneath the sweeping cloak. When they began to cross his path, he turned a sharp glare on them, which was enough to make them take in who they were getting in the way of. Uttering terrified squeals they ran away, resuming their search for the little filly.

"They are gone," he remarked at last "you can stop hiding under there."

"You sure?" her voice drifted up.

"Of course I’m sure!" he said a little sharply "they ran like cowards, I do not think you have much to fear from them!"

"You haven’t met them..." she said, poking her head out at him "they’re as bad as a wittle pony can be!"

"You have no clue who you’re talking to, do you?" Sombra muttered.

She didn’t seem to hear him, too busy scanning the area to make sure it was clear. Then she trotted out from under Sombra’s cloak.

"Fanks!" she beamed "you’re the best hiding pwace ever!"

THAT was the oddest thing he’d ever been called.

"I’m gonna go now, befowe they come back.." she sighed, then waved a hoof up at him "bye bye mister!"

Then she was gone.

Twilight Sparkle and Fluttershy had watched this entire encounter with eyebrows raised. How the little filly had poked Sombra’s nose, giggled, then suddenly dove under his cloak, aiming to hide herself from some ponies Fluttershy guessed were NOT friends of hers.

For a moment Twilight Sparkle had been sure Sombra was going to simply step aside, exposing her to her pursuers. But something had flickered in his eyes, a spark of...recognition? She wasn’t sure. Either way, he’d stayed put, letting her hide, and even scaring the kids away with one fierce glare.

Sombra hadn’t reacted hostilely to the filly, hadn’t flown into a rage and shouted once. Those that’d seen the little tableau play out, murmured amongst themselves. So far, Sombra hadn’t threatened or hurt them, could what the princess had told them be true? Could he be there, to help?

A defenceless little filly had gambolled right up to him, seemingly with the pretence of poking him on the muzzle. Given his past history, the ponies watching had tensed for action, to rescue her. But then they'd become entranced by the spectacle of the tiny filly playing about literally under hoof, and Sombra had just stood there, only tilting his head to follow her antics.

Once the little filly was gone, Sombra became aware of the stares and whispers, and felt a surge of disgust for getting so carried away. He felt that hateful darkness flood back in, any good mood sputtering out like a candle in a strong wind. His expression hardened, and he closed off his emotions again. His chest ached, that funny pain in his heart rearing its head again. Around his neck the choker sparkled briefly, as if in acknowledgement.

Twilight Sparkle seen the shift in his demeanour and sighed. It’d been going so well. but it seemed the barriers to changing Sombra’s dark heart were going to be very difficult.

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He followed the two ponies back to the castle, just absorbing this happy, prosperous kingdom. They loved their ruler, the tricoloured one who’d introduced herself as Cadance. He had ruled his subjects with an iron hoof, forcing them to slave for crystals all day and night. It hadn’t gotten him what he’d wanted.

He’d become even more bitter, and his magic had warped darker and darker as hatred took over. The darkness inside had whispered, telling him how he deserved total devotion for his power. How these pathetic crystal ponies needed a firm hoof to guide them.

But now, here they were, under the care of a fluffy-haired Alicorn, and they seemed so carefree, the town prosperous. But since waking up back here again, he’d been feeling strange. This was HIS kingdom. Or had been...

But something about that little filly had made him hesitate in his silent fuming over his circumstances. Her wide eyed innocence, the way she’d gambolled straight up to him without hesitation. She either didn’t know who he was, or simply didn’t care!

All of a sudden his head swam, a sharp pain in his chest making him stop in his tracks, uttering a low snarl of pain. He tried to force himself onwards, but it was suddenly much more difficult...

He was putting so much effort into keeping upright he didn’t see the couple carrying a big box between them until they bumped into his side.

"Oof-EEK!" the mare spied who she’d bumped a box into, losing concentration and dropping the box. It came within inches of the ground, the crystal wineglasses in it rattling together, when it stopped, a dark purple aura surrounding it.

They looked up, watching in astonishment as Sombra just stared at the box.

Realising he was waiting for her to pick it back up, the mare hurriedly refocused her magic and Sombra let it go, before walking boredly away. At least it seemed like boredom.

"Uh...t-thanks?” the mare’s friend managed at last. He and his marefriend shared startled glances.

Sombra blinked, looking back at where he thought someone had just....thanked him? Why had he done it?! He’d just caught the object on reflex, the glint of the glasses reminding him of the crates of crystals he’d once filled his palace with.

For a moment, he felt fury at himself for lowering himself in that manner, how dare these ponies expect him to-

Then he just shoved past the gawping ponies and caught up with Twilight Sparkle, who hadn’t noticed him slow down.

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"Ooh, look!" Fluttershy looked over at the front lawn of the palace, where a bouncing pink pony could be seen hopping about a table.

"Pinkie Pie is at work again!" Twilight Sparkle laughed.

Behind her Sombra felt the pain in his chest surge again, and he felt the world sway. He came to a halt, fighting to push the pain back, but it wasn’t fading.

"Twilight!!" the pink one bounded over, tail swishing "were nearly done with our "first day of the plan" party lunch!"

“Another party? What about this evening?" Twilight Sparkle laughed.

"Oh that’s ON, I just wanted to celebrate NOW!" Pinkie Pie beamed.

Behind them, Sombra lost the fight and was booted out of consciousness. He crumpled to the crystal walkway, prompting a yelp from Pinkie Pie, who pelted over, crouching beside Sombra and poking him carefully.

"What happened?" Twilight Sparkle wondered. He’d been fine the whole morning, why so suddenly-?

"I’ll go get help!" Fluttershy ran off, returning shortly with a pair of guards and the stretcher again.

The guards checked the unconscious unicorn over, but there was no external sign of injury, no reason why he’d suddenly collapsed. Best they could do was take him to the medical room, and have the doctor check him over.

"W-will he be OK?" Fluttershy asked, her natural kindness unable to stop her from worrying about Sombra.

"I’m sure he'll be fine, maybe it’s just a side effect of being brought back?" Twilight Sparkle guessed.

"Yay!" thus appeased, Pinkie Pie turned back to the others "lunch party!"

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"How did it go?" Applejack asked as Twilight sat down. She’d been with Pinkie Pie, helping to bake all morning.

"Um..not that bad actually!" Twilight Sparkle found herself saying. Once they all had a plateful of food, she started recounting the tale of Sombra’s first day in public.

"Wait, he actually stood there while some kid goofed about with his cloak?!" Rainbow Dash asked.

"I could design him something far better." Rarity shuddered.

"Yeah, didn’t snap at her, didn’t fly into a rage, just WATCHED her." Twilight shrugged "I think he was surprised she was so fearless!"

"That’s one brave filly.." Applejack shook her head.

"Maybe this won't be so bad.." Fluttershy piped up.

"I don’t know, I still don’t trust him.." Rainbow Dash scowled "but, seeing as the princess locked his powers down, I guess I’ll give it a try."

"Thanks Rainbow Dash," Twilight Sparkle beamed at her friend "who knows, in time he may understand the magic of friendship."

“I think you’re getting a little TOO far ahead there Twi," Applejack said.

"Yay, more friends!" Pinkie Pie cheered.

"I’ll consider it a win if I can improve his dress sense.." Rarity muttered.

"What was up with him passing out?" Rainbow Dash asked "he that desperate to get away from us?"

"I don’t think so Rainbow Dash," Twilight Sparkle frowned "I don’t know what caused it. It’s a mystery..."

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The dream was mostly darkness, but it carried a feeling he hadn’t felt in an eternity. Fear. Whatever lurked in that darkness was dormant for now, but soon...

--Time to feed!-- a voice cut like a knife through his mind, bringing with it a loathsome feeling, one he wanted nothing to do with.

"Back off" he snarled, whirling in the darkness. He felt the sensation of something pressing in on him, cutting off the air. He tried to run, and felt something coil around his neck-

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Standing by the bed, Celestia frowned, seeing him shudder slightly, uttering a faint snarl.

"What’re you seeing Sombra..?" she muttered. Her dreams had only been faint suggestions, nothing she woke up able to remember. She touched her unicorn horn to Sombra’s, trying to link to the sensations in his dreams.

What she felt made her step back, worry gnawing at her chest. The kingdom was in very real danger if this was even HALF accurate..

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Staring in the diffuse light, he seen an arrow of darkness , its pointed tip nose to nose with his. Then it shuddered, and glinting yellow eyes appeared;

"There is nothing you can do, you don’t know what you're fighting for!"

"What the hay are you?!" he roared, using his sharp fangs to bite at the coil. It retreated with a sharp hiss, eyes narrowing at him.

"This world will fall like all the others, little pony..." it taunted, then dove right at his heart-

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He bolted awake with a sharp gasp.

His head pounded and he felt sick. He noticed he was lying on a bed in a white tiled room. Around him other beds, vacant and tidied, filled the room.

--A hospital??-- he thought. Never mind, time to get out of there.

He got down off the bed, turned to go-

And came face to face with an amused Celestia. He backed up, knocking into a cart of instruments, and nearly knocking it over but for Celestia righting it.

"Celestia!" he barked.

"That would be the case," she responded smoothly "Twilight Sparkle told me what happened,"

"What concern is it of yours anyway??"

"Because," she said "at one point, whilst you were sleeping, I sensed that same darkness from my dreams, in you. That thing, it was invading your dreams. Whether it can fully sense you, I don’t know."

Sombra worked this one out "you were standing there this whole time, staring?!" he looked moderately freaked out "don’t you have anything better to do, Princess?" this last word was a snarl.

"I was here for a reason," she chuckled then added, "you look a lot less terrifying asleep."

"Why you-" he snarled, but the necklace glowed, and he was driven into the floor.

"Whoops!" Celestia’s horn glowed and the pressure relented "too close a proximity will do that!"

"You call ME insane?!" he fumed, but didn’t add any curse words, much as he felt like it. He’d had enough encounters with the floor for that day!

"That choker sends out a signal when it's damaged or in danger. I felt a twinge from it, and came to examine it, but nothing is wrong."

"Hmph," he pushed past her, stalking out the door "maybe your magic’s not as brilliant as you claim!"

"Or perhaps something else caused that signal.." she murmured.

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Up in his room Sombra staggered to the bed and collapsed. His head ached. An unknown, strange feeling was battering at his defences. Curiosity. That little filly hadn’t been scared of him, she had to have been told who he was by her parents. Yet she’d bounded up and poked his nose without fear.

He snarled in anger, unable to comprehend what the hay was going on. He despised these happy-go-lucky ponies, didn’t he? They were little more than servants to their ruler...and yet...he could see how prosperous this empire was, how happy it’s subjects.

"Is this what you meant, old man," he snarled "to be a true ruler..." but his memories of that time were too faded to recall the face attached to that memory, but he felt it was somepony important...

He lay in silence, until eventually he fell asleep. His dreams were more like nightmares once more. He seen his actions, but from the view of the crystal ponies. Dozens of POVs, it swung from one to the next. He was hit by feelings of resentment, terror, and hatred. An overwhelming torrent...

Make him STOP.

LEAVE.

DISSAPEAR.

FREAK.

MONSTER.

Tyrant.

--Is this who I am?!-- a deeply buried part of his core asked. He felt the taint of his magic, his darkness.

--No!! This is just Celestia’s attempt at getting you to go along with her crazy scheme!!-- the distrustful core of his being, born that fateful day so far in the past, objected angrily --nothing and nopony ever changes. They will betray, and take, and hurt- you KNOW better than this!!--

He shoved all these annoying thoughts away, wanting to just snap out of it-

THUD.

He tumbled out of the bed, stars spangling his vision. He bolted for the bathroom and was regrettably sick. A glass of water later and he sat down by the window, gazing out at the stars. He eventually dozed off, curled up underneath the night breeze..

Twilight Sparkle’s words echoed "most ponies would be happy for a second chance at life!".

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Luna and Cadance both shared the same surprised face when Celestia described Twilight Sparkle’s account to them.

"Perhaps that shard that pierced his heart is letting in a little light." Luna mused.

"We can hope so," Cadance said "I didn’t think anypony’s heart could be complete darkness."

"But what of his collapse?" Luna asked "We did not think our charm on that limiter was that powerful."

“I don’t think it was that." Celestia shook her head "I examined it while he was unconscious, and the spell is unbroken, it was not caused by his efforts to remove it."

"Hmm..." Cadance thought "I wonder why then?"

"Time will tell," Celestia said "that’s all I can be sure of."

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The next morning Twilight Sparkle was summoned to see her mentor;

"What are you doing this morning?" The sun Princess asked.

“Well, Rainbow Dash and Rarity are going out hunting for crystal gems, Rainbow Dash said she’d try helping with Sombra."

"Good work, Twilight," Celestia smiled, then sighed "any news on that rip in the sky?"

"No, I can't find out anything from the library, it's never been seen before."

Celestia nodded "very well, we will keep an eye on it."

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Sombra was surprised when Fluttershy brought more muffins the next day.

"You don’t seem afraid of me." he said simply. She ducked her head, thought a moment, then looked at him;

"Well, everypony deserves a second chance, no matter who they are..!"

"You can have such faith in other ponies...it's interesting.." he said so very softly. She blinked.

"W-what was that?" she asked timidly. He shook his head, clamming up again.

"Everypony deserves kindness." she said at last.

He sighed, finished the last of the cakes and got to his feet.

"What has Celestia planned this time? Where am I being chaperoned today?" his tone was bitter as he glared out the window.

"U-uhm...Dashie and Rarity.."

Seeing his blank stare, she motioned him to follow her.

They trekked down to the sewing room, where they stood in the doorway. Rarity was levitating pins and fabric all around, and Rainbow Dash was sitting on the windowsill, babbling about a trick she’d seen the Wonderbolts do.

"Ahem.." Fluttershy coughed. They both looked over, stopping their activity when they seen the dark pony behind Fluttershy. Rarity’s concentration slipped and she dropped a fabric bolt, it whooshed down, threatening to hit her on the head.

"Eek!" she screeched, reactivating her magic’s hold just in time, setting it down on the table by the others.

"Ohh....goodness that was a near miss!" Rarity fluffed her mane.

"I don’t think it woulda done much damage Rarity." Rainbow Dash grumbled.

"Try lifting that thing, I guarantee you won't be giggling then, Rainbow Dash!" Rarity sniffed, disliking having her drama doubted. Rainbow Dash duly did try to heft the big bolt of fabric, and didn’t get that far.

"Ok,point taken!" she plonked it back down with a thud.

"Easy, Rainbow Dash!" Rarity scolded.

Sombra gave Fluttershy a look that said "really?"

"Sometimes friends fight...but nopony’s perfect.." she giggled.

"Ah whatever, let’s go!" Rainbow Dash marched past Sombra, virtually ignoring him "c'mon Rarity!"

Suppressing a furious snarl, Sombra followed. Once they got outside, he was met again with the crowds indifference, fear and curiosity. Rumours had spread about his return, the couple he’d (albeit unintentionally) helped had shared their surprising story by the morning.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Rainbow Dash marched along, head held high, tossing off quick answers when people asked about Sombra.

"It's the Princesses orders!" she told one colt, "this guys got the clues to that thing up there according to her highness, so we gotta work with it!"

Rarity studied Sombra as they travelled. She could picture a cloak that’d suit his colour just right...

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

They reached the outskirts of the Empire, where houses still stood, but were much farther apart and secluded. Out into the trees surrounding one edge of the empire.

"Now, according to this map Twilight Sparkle gave me.." Rarity levitated it in front of her face, "it's this way!" she pointed with one hoof.

"Tally ho!" Rainbow Dash said absently, kicking off into the air and scouting ahead. Rarity and Sombra followed, the latter not saying much to the former.

After a moment he felt like he was being gawped at, and sure enough, Rarity was staring at him, scribbling something on the notepad she’d pulled from her saddlebags.

"What are you DOING?!" he snapped.

"Notes." she said vaguely. Suppressing his fury, he tuned her out and kept walking.

Then a shadow passed over the sun, and a searing sound tore overhead. They both instinctively ducked.

"What was THAT?!" Rarity screeched. Sombra froze, dread seeping into his bones.

"Something bad.." he muttered. A growl emanated from his throat "it’s here to feed!"

"What’re you on about?" Rarity asked, But she was startled by the stark FEAR in Sombra’s deep red eyes.

Then they heard a scream from up ahead.

"Rainbow Dash! Hold on darling!" Rarity took off in that direction, and Sombra followed after.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

They skidded into a clearing that ended at a cliff top. And stared.

A black, seething MASS had Rainbow Dash in its clutches. She was kicking and shouting, even biting it, trying to get free.

"Let her go you beast!" Rarity levitated a rock and lobbed it at the thing. It retaliated by shooting dark spears of its gelatinous body at her; she screamed and ran away, dodging aside so it hit a tree instead.

But the thing wasn’t daunted. It’d sensed another to feed from, and it wasn’t giving up. With those two nearby, it didn’t even notice Sombra.

He looked from Rainbow Dash, who was all but wrapped up by the thing; to the terrified Rarity, who was backing up against a tree, tears in her eyes as she lobbed everything in range at the grasping darkness.

It was the same sensation as in his dream; that deep-down unsettling feeling. Gut instinct said to destroy it.

The more he stared at the creature, the more he was sure he could see a solidity at its core. He raged internally about Celestia locking down his magic. How did she expect him to fight without any of his dark power?! The only thing he could do was levitate. Casting about, he found a sturdy, sharp-edged tree branch he could use as a spear.

With a deep throated roar, unleashing every bit of anger he’d felt these last few days since waking up in this world, he charged. The stick pierced the swirling darkness, hitting the floating core. It shook, a crack opening in it, and it emitted a force that made the cliff shake. The darkness split apart, releasing Rainbow Dash, and receding from Rarity.

It withdrew into the core, which then shuddered and emitted a shockwave. The force cracked the cliff edge, sending huge chunks scattering down. Including the part Sombra stood on. He tried to scramble back, but the ground dropped away beneath him. His metal clad hooves scrabbled for purchase on the crumbling cliff edge, the rest of his body hanging out over the drop.

The crystal core shuddered again, and he could see it reforming.

"No you don’t!" he snarled. Instinct took over again, and before he could question the sense of the idea, he’d pushed away from the cliff, grasping the core between his hooves. He clutched it to his chest as he fell down and down...

He thought he heard shouting above him, but couldn’t tell what it said. The ground was rushing up to meet him and - CRASH.

He landed amidst a copse of trees, bouncing from branch to branch to ground. At last he hit the forest floor, and the core bounced out of his grasp, ricocheting into a rock and this time truly shattering with a loud BOOM. A wisp of dark fire flared out from it, then it faded. He lay, panting for breath, just staring dazedly at the sun light shining through the trees above him. His injured foreleg throbbed agonisingly.

As much as he wanted to sleep, he knew he had to get up.

Out of the corner of his eye he seen something else sparkling..

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Back at the cliff edge, Rarity was really panicking. Rainbow Dash had fainted once she hit the grass. She was out cold. And Sombra had fallen off the incline.

"Oh no...oh what do I do? This is THE. WORST. THING," she cried tearfully "please wake up Rainbow Dash!!"

But Rainbow Dash remained oblivious, dead to the world.

Rarity was debating running for help, when she heard rustling off to her left. She screamed, levitating a stone in case it was-

But she dropped it when she seen a battered, bleeding Sombra limping in her direction.

"It's you," she said, actually relieved, "I thought you were that thing!"

Sombra looked from her to Rainbow Dash.

"We have to get out of here." he said simply. "it's gone, but there’s no sane reason to stay here a moment longer."

"But Rainbow Dash is...I can't..." Rarity was on the verge of tears again.

“We can send somepony back-”

ABANDON HER?! Oh goodness, no!” Rraity drew herself up to her full height. “I do NOT abandon my friends!!”

Sombra sighed, anger rising. He just wanted to get out of here, NOW, so that meant…

He hesitated a moment longer, before irritably blurting "Argh, FINE! Put her on my back, I will carry her."

“Wha...you will?" Rarity stammered.

"We have no other option." He said coldly.

He crouched down so Rarity could use her magic and her hooves to nudge Rainbow Dash onto his back. The dozing pony gave a shiver, and Rarity frowned.

She looked at the torn, fur lined cloak Sombra wore.

"Uh, mind if I...borrow that..?" she asked. Sombra gave her a funny look, but at that moment he didn’t care. His injuries hurt too much for him to give a dang if this pony wanted his cloak for some reason. Focusing his meagre magic he unlatched the metal clasp, and Rarity wrapped Rainbow Dash up in the soft fabric. She still didn’t budge an inch towards waking, however.

"Now let's get the hay out of here!" Rarity shuddered, "and fast!" Sombra sighed tiredly, but set off in the direction they’d come.

As they ran, she caught sight of his cutie mark. A trio of red crystal in a fan formation.

"Wow.." she said.

Sombra didn’t seem to notice, just stared ahead as they sped towards the crystal city.

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They attracted quite some attention as they ran as fast as they could through the city. Every step made Sombra’s aching leg twinge painfully, but he kept running.

As they approached the palace doors, they seen Twilight Sparkle in conversation with Applejack. Both turned at Rarity’s cries.

"Oh my...Rainbow Dash!" Twilight Sparkle raced over "what happened?!"

“Oh, it was just beastly...there was this...THING in the forest..oh!" Rarity looked ready to faint.

"Let's get you inside..."

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Applejack ran to fetch the doctor, while Rarity, Twilight Sparkle and Sombra got Rainbow Dash onto the nearest couch.

"What happened Rarity..?" Twilight Sparkle asked

Rarity shivered, where to start...

From the side, Sombra just watched them. He’d heard compassion and fear in Rarity’s voice when she’d cried for her friend. Again, that kindness…

He was startled a second later as the doctor, with Applejack and Pinkie Pie not far behind, ran in. He backed up quick, seeing them crowd around their friend. Fluttershy was only seconds behind them, carrying a basket of bottled water and bandages for the doctor.

Deciding he was best off leaving them to treat the fainted Rainbow haired pony, he moved silently away. His mind was racing. What WAS that thing he’d attacked? It’d felt...ugh...even to his heart, that thing was abhorrent. He stopped, realising the blue stone in the choker Celestia had bound to him was glowing. Then the pain speared his heart again and he crumpled to the shiny tiled floor.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Back in the room, Rainbow Dash stirred as the doctor wrapped her bruises in bandages infused with healing herbs. Twilight Sparkle opened a bottle of water and held it up for her to drink. Once she’d gulped the whole thing down, she hurriedly asked.

"Rarity-"

“Right here darling.." the shaken pony was wrapped in as blanket enjoying a cup of sweet tea.

"What WAS that thing?" Rainbow Dash bleated.

"I don’t know. But it was simply HORRID. Ugh, I couldn’t bare for it to even touch me.."

"Trust me, you wouldn’t want it to! It felt slimy." Rainbow Dash pulled a face as she sat up. Then she noticed the torn, shredded cloak she was wrapped in "hay, isn’t this-?"

“Yes.." Rarity said in a daze "it’s Sombra’s...."

Rainbow Dash raised an eyebrow.

"He carried you back here.." Rarity added "I wasn’t strong enough, and I didn’t want to leave you, so he told me to put you on his back."

The whole GROUP stared.

"I seen his cutie mark," Rarity added in a light tone "it’s quite pretty!"

"Ooh! What is it?" Pinkie Pie asked "something colourful?"

Rarity described it as she’d seen it, the red crystals.

"Where is he, just askin'?" Applejack blinked around her "coulda sworn I seen 'im!"

"I’ll go looky!" Pinkie Pie bounded out of the room.

"Well, I’m glad you’re alright Rainbow Dash," Twilight Sparkle hugged her friends "you too, Rarity. What did you see?"

They were about to launch into a joint tale when-

"Eeeeeeee! Girls!!" it was Pinkie Pie. They all shared looks and bolted outside into the corridor.

Pinkie Pie was a few meters away, at a point where multiple corridors intersected. She was crouching beside an unconscious Sombra. There was a speckling of blood by his side.

Twilight Sparkle gasped, and Fluttershy instantly ran back for the doctor.

"Whoa...he don’t look so good." Applejack paled.

Sombra had clearly taken quite a battering. His sides were covered with small cuts and lacerations.

The doctor came running back, with Fluttershy, three guards and a stretcher in tow. They got Sombra onto it, but he didn’t wake up, only gasping in pain as they moved him off the floor.

"To the sickbay, stat!" the doctor ordered the three guards with the stretcher.

"Did that thing attack him too?" Pinkie Pie asked Rarity. She looked wide eyed again.

"No, but he attacked IT," Rarity flashed back to the fight "he just charged right at it, did something to it. I didn’t see what! All I know is that thing suddenly disappears, and I see him fall off the edge of the incline!"

"Whoa...no wonder he’s so beat up..." Applejack said at last.

"We'll have to ask him what happened when he’s awake." Twilight Sparkle said soberly. In the meantime they went to report to Celestia.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

She was shocked to hear about the thing in the woods, and surprised by Sombra’s actions.

"He...I think he saved us...?" Rainbow Dash said at last, obviously shocked. To her, this did NOT compute with what she thought she understood about Sombra.

"He got quite beaten up..." Fluttershy said.

"He will be alright," Celestia assured her "and it seems I may have been wrong, perhaps his heart isn’t all blackened by hatred."

"I think that shard is having an effect!" Rarity piped up.

"Perhaps it is.." Celestia smiled faintly "there is hope yet, for him.”

Changing Heart & Lessons Learned

View Online

Sombra slept through the medical treatment, only waking up later on, in the evening. In the hospital again.



His whole body ached. His leg still hurt, but didn’t feel as bad as earlier. He struggled to his feet, pain lashing through him as stiff, aching muscles objected to the change from lying down.



As he sat up, he felt something in one shoe stab into his hoof. Kicking it off he rattled loose a shard. He remembered now, the thing had broken apart, this shard must’ve gotten into his shoe when they hit the ground. Now he got the feeling someone else needed to see it. Wearily he got to his hooves, putting his shoe back on, weakly levitating the shard in front of him as he walked the halls, wondering where to find the purple Princess pony.



He heard the high pitched giggling of the one he dubbed "the cotton candy" pony, and headed in that direction. They were in the palace library, sat around a table at the far end. Off to the side, a large fire crackled merrily away. While the empire possessed a big library housed in a separate building, the palace library contained more sensitive documents, kept under magical lock and key, as well as regular books.



The ponies were surrounded by books, well, the purple one was. The Rainbow pony was reading a comic book, and the pink one was giggling over a recipe book for party cakes.



He halted, feeling utterly displaced amongst the warmth and happiness of this scene. He felt odd without the cloak wrapped around him, but the thing had been torn to shreds then used as a blanket.



Conversation tailed off as they spotted him. He looked tired, his sides speckled by bandages, all the cuts sustained from the cliff-plummet. When he took a further step forward, Twilight Sparkle seen him wince just a little. Then she seen he was using his limited magic to float something. A small, rough cut something that seemed to catch the light…and absorb it just as fast!



"Whatcha got there..?" Applejack found her voice. Sombra didn’t speak, just levitated the crystal over to Twilight Sparkle, setting it on the book in front of her.



"What’s this thing?" she asked, staring in fascination at it.



"From that things core," he said "this is what they are at heart."



"Whoa!" Twilight Sparkle sat bolt upright "this is from the thing that attacked Rainbow Dash and Rarity? Incredible, with this to study..." she was enraptured by the possibilities.



Sombra showed no reaction, merely turning to walk away. As he did, the other ponies spotted the aforementioned cutie mark Rarity had described.



"Hay!" Rainbow Dash’s shout stopped him in his tracks "what happened out there, what did you DO?"



"Ah, yes!" Twilight Sparkle stopped gawking at the crystal shard to look over at Sombra "we need to know what happened?"



"Did you not hear the whole tale already?" he said haughtily, looking at Rarity and Rainbow Dash.



"Yes, I heard THIER sides," Twilight Sparkle came round the table until she was standing in front of Sombra.



“I impaled it with a tree branch,” he said bluntly “it cracked the core. It tried to reform itself, so I made sure it was destroyed.”



"What was that thing?" Twilight Sparkle asked him.



"Pure fear and hate," he said at last "It doesn’t possess a heart you can reason with.”



"Oh dear." Applejack said at last "ya sure?"



"Certain," Sombra growled, his frown deepening "when I grabbed the core it showed me glimpses of itself. I got a faint sense of what it is."



“And that is…” Rainbow Dash asked in an almost unaffected drawl, yet not sure she really wanted to know. Sombra’s crimson eyes caught the firelight as he turned back to face them. The orange flames reflected off his jet black mane, that flowed like silk as he moved.



“That THING is powerful dark magic, it even gives ME a sick feeling. All I got from it was fury and hunger. Beyond that, nothing. You think I was a ngihtmare? More fool you.”



“Oh.” Rainbow Dash said.



“Why is it HERE?” Twilight Sparkle asked. Sombra shook his head, gaze distant as if trying to figure it out.



“I don’t know,” he said at last, sounding annoyed at the fact “wait-”



That dream he’d had came back to him now. He’d all but forgotten about it, after he’d snapped at Celestia then stalked out of the medical bay.



“Wha’s the matter?” Applejack asked, seeing a look of confusion, then for a split second, unease, flicker across his face.



“That first dream…“This world will fall like all the OTHERS.”” he quoted, stressing this last word “that thing is a parasite, going from place to place!” he shook his head, curiosity sparking behind red eyes. Twilight seen this, and hoped he would be a bit more accomodating. She reached up a hoof towards him to get his attention, and spotted on a subtle level, a nervous, angry flinch, the way he angled himself away from her. He didnt like anypony getting close it seemed. Not for the first time, Twilight began to wodner if there was far more to Sombra than first assumed?


"It wants something. That is all it gave away." Sombra said coldly, turning away from them again, back to sounding unconcerned, expression blank once more.


“Oh dear…” Twilight Sparkle shook her head “we are not its first port of call then..”



“If this things a pro at raiding worlds, the why is it not overrunning the place by now?” Rainbow Dash asked.



Pinkie Pie frowned, then blew a raspberry. She hadn’t a clue.



“Perhaps this is the first world with such a heavy magical population?” Twilight Sparkle postulated.



“It must sense something here can harm it..” Sombra muttered.



“Yeah. YOU.” Rainbow pointed out.



Sombra thought about this for a moment, “it’s testing the waters, seeing how this world will attack it.” With his back to the six ponies, he foud it easier to quash his hatred of these pastel-colored prison guards he'd ben saddled with. He could almost believe he wasnt a captive of this choker and this age.



Twilight Sparkle looked at the crystal shard he’d reclaimed "I’m glad you were able to save a piece of it. Maybe we can learn about it..."



"Why didn’t it attack YOU?" Applejack asked out of curiosity



Sombra snorted, uttering a callous-sounding laugh that made them shiver slightly, as he turned to go, "darkness doesn’t care for darkness, it seeks only light to destroy.." then he swept out of the library.



"What’s THAT menna mean?!" Rainbow Dash blurted in the silence.



"He’s referring to his own darkness..." Celestia materialized from behind a bookshelf "he believes it ignored him because he is just like it."



“And that’s NOT the case?" Rainbow Dash asked. Celestia thought a moment;



"Not entirely. This is not the same Sombra I knew back then. I believe he is changing. Little by little."



“Really?" Pinkie Pie asked.



"I think so.." the Sun Princess nodded "that shard of the crystal heart is opening his world, and maybe even his heart. He may be resistant to it, but if there’s even the slightest part of him that seeks warmth and light, I believe it has the potential to grow.."



"Me too.." Twilight Sparkle said at last.



"He DID save me, and carry me back…" Rainbow Dash admitted.



"He fought that thing when he could have saved his own skin and ran.." Rarity said.



"He likes my cakes!" Pinkie Pie pointed out.



"And the little filly.." Fluttershy smiled at the memory.



“Is that from the creature?” Celestia indicated the shard of black crystal. Twilight Sparkle gave a nod;



“Its very strange, I can see what Sombra meant, this feels like nothing belonging to our world...” she turned it over, seeing again how it seemed to suck in the light and warmth, radiating a cold, unsettling feeling in return.



Rarity half listened to them, half planned something…

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Over the next day, with Sombra confined to bed by the doctor, who was concerned that the unicorn had a death wish, Rarity started work on ANOTHER cloak. She’d finished Luna’s in record time, with Fluttershy’s help. Now they were putting the finishing touches on something new;



It was a deep red fabric, around its edges was a black velvet trim, with gold thread stitching it on. The collar was a soft grey, much like his armor. It was lighter then the previous cloak, but still nice and warm, lined with a soft material.



"It's beautiful.." Fluttershy sighed as they sat back to look at it..



"Yes! Much lighter than that old thing! Red suits his coat and mane coloring very well, but this style is much more modern then the fur trimming!" Rarity nodded, pleased with her work.



"Shall we go give it to him..?" Fluttershy asked. Rarity took a deep breath and nodded. Together they headed for Sombra’s room, and met Twilight Sparkle mid-way.



"Anything on that crystal?" Rarity asked.



"Nothing yet, but based on what Sombra’s told us, were not dealing with something that can be reasoned with. As if its just raw hunger." Twilight Sparkle shuddered. Then she noticed the package Rarity carried "what’s in that?"



“A new cloak I made..." Rarity said "the fall shredded that old thing he wore, so I replaced it with something better!"



Twilight Sparkle smiled. Rarity’s generous spirit picked the best times to show up, and here it was again. Sombra had helped save Rainbow Dash and Rarity herself, so she’d made him a new cloak.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The trio headed to Sombra’s room. Twilight Sparkle knocked on the door.



"Come in," the blunt voice replied. They nudged the door open and filed in.



Sombra was sat at the window, resting his front hooves on the sill. He appeared to be watching the tear in the sky.



"It's angry.." he said almost prophetically "it knows this world will fight back."



"Then we'll match it!" Twilight Sparkle understood what he meant "we won’t let this thing do any more damage..."



Sombra looked over his shoulder at them. On seeing three of them standing there, he figured Celestia had summoned him for some ridiculous task again. With a wobble he got to his feet.



"What has she sent you here to ask?" he said heavily, his expression blank as before.


---He's keeping so much suppressed...-- Twilight mused. --I wonder why he did what he did?--


"Nothing!" Rarity said brightly, setting the package down she unravelled the ribbon holding it and the cloak floated into the air. Before Sombra could question what she was doing, Rarity had looped it over his back and deftly tied the golden clasp. It fell elegantly to the floor, the subtle pattern catching the light.



"What....?" Sombra blinked, admiring the warmth of the fabric. It fell in a clean, flowing cut, stopping just past his shoes.



"The thing you were wearing was so last century.." Rarity beamed "plus that dive off the cliff somewhat ruined it!"



Sombra was stunned. This was a gift? Not a forced offering, like he’d made his subjects do in the past, but a present.



He took a few steps, feeling the fabric swish easily out of his way as he walked.



"It's perfect!" Rarity cried in delight at her handiwork "I got the measurements just right!"



"Yes.." Sombra seemed utterly bewildered by the gesture.



"It's to say thank you.." Fluttershy decided to help him out.



"What...for?" he asked uncertainly. His expression was a mix of wary and confused.



"For helping Dashie and I," Rarity bobbed her head "from that filthy..THING. Plus I insisted on appropriating your old one…"



Sombra was floored, what was he meant to say to that?



It felt like the hardest thing he’d ever had to do, speak those words he’d considered beneath him. His mind flashed back to that little filly, how she’d thanked him for the simplest thing, helping her. This was the same thing. The link between emotion and action at last formed, He heard himself speak;



"Hmh...thank you." he said abruptly, the words foreign and unfamiliar.



Rarity was taken aback, but pleased. She’d expected him to be as standoffish as he’d been since arrival. Twilight Sparkle felt certain there was hope for Sombra after all. This was a teeny tiny step, but he’d had presence of mind to make it.



"We’ll let you rest.." Fluttershy stammered, and they scooted out of the room, leaving a bewildered Sombra to admire the newly made garment.



He wasn’t sure what to think. Rarity had made this for HIM. Why should she care? But the shy pony had said it was a thank you. By throwing the tree branch (and himself) at that monster, he’d saved the two ponies and as a result earned Rarity’s gift.



--It’s this choker Celestia has put on my neck...its little more than a portable jail sentence…-- he felt a surge of anger and snarled, raising a hoof to tear the cloak off him. Then he hesitated. Why didn’t he want to do it? Why did he care?



His head was buzzing again, he was tired. He dragged himself to the bed and lay down to have a nap.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

When he woke up, he discovered someone had had left a small box just inside the door. Trotting over he read the note:



"This was in the lining of your cloak, it fell out when I was disposing of it." - Flash Sentry.



Ah, that’s right, the black crystal wasn’t the only one he’d found. Upon crash landing into the clearing, he discovered the black cores detonation had blasted open a nearby rock. Inside, it was full of a gorgeous blue stone, with flecks of shimmering gold throughout it. A chunk of it was loose, so he’d kicked it free and stuffed it into a tear in his cloaks lining. He’d forgotten about it until now.



He stared at the crystal, it WAS a beauty.. He could feel a faint power shimmering from it.



His mind flashed back to the past, when he’d obsessively gathered every crystal in the kingdom in the hopes of finding those with magical properties. But he didn’t recall this one.



For a moment the temptation to keep it, use it somehow to escape flashed into his mind. But it halted. He stared out the window again, at the sky tear. More and more he was being drawn to it, fascinated by it. Like somehow he was fated to see this to the end, beyond that he didn’t like to think. No doubt he’d be locked away in the darkness again.



The unicorn who’d given him the cloak, popped into his mind. Shed had a collection of stones in that room she’d been working in. They’d dragged him on that expedition because she needed jewels. But the creatures attack had cut that short.



Giving her the gem would repay her for the cloak, he wouldn’t feel like he somehow owed these crazy ponies anything. As if he didn’t have enough on his mind…



He continued absently justifying what he was about to do as he headed out of the room, searching for Rarity.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Inside the palace there were enough guards posted so he didn’t need to have one follow him, for which he was very glad. The last thing he fancied was an audience.



He located the room at last. The door was open, so he slipped in. Rarity had her back to him, humming away as she worked at a sewing machine. The sound masked his hoof steps, so he decided to just drop it off and leave. He floated the crystal over to the table next to the door, then snuck out.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Rarity stopped when she caught a glimmer out of the corner of her eye. She did a double take when she seen a crystal on the table. A crystal she never thought shed see in her life. It was worth a fortune. Scooping the gem up with her magic, she sped out the door, spotting a familiar cloak swish round the corner. Putting on a burst of speed, she caught sight of him;



"Wait!" she cried. Sombra skidded to a halt, but didn’t turn round.



"Ahem.." she coughed, a bit unnerved by his silence "where did you find this? It’s so beautiful."



"In the forest where I fell," he said bluntly "inside a rock."



"In all my years designing dresses, I’ve never come across this stone, only seen it in books!" she looked at the crystal "it’s exceptionally rare..."



"Hmph, that matters not to me now, I have no purpose for it. At least your expedition wasn’t a total waste of time with this.." he shrugged dismissively and carried on down the hall.



"Well, that was very generous, thank you!" Rarity said in a rush "I will make excellent use of it!"



Sombra didn’t answer, didn’t seem to react, just vanished out of sight, back off to his room.



Rarity looked again at the crystal. It was so pretty, and it was a large chunk too! Done right, this could cover a few outfits, offset with other jewels too of course…



Her mind abuzz with potential ideas, she trotted back towards her room. Then she heard a thump and a snarl of pain. Worried, she ran back down the hall and turned a corner. Sombra had collapsed, and from the way he was shivering, the pain was bad. She watched as he tried to get up, only to crumple to the floor again. She caught a flash of blue light from around his neck. Princess Celestia’s choker, the one she’d made to suppress his powers.



Unsure what else to do, Rarity threw back her head and shouted at the top of her voice;



"HAYYY! SOMEPONY GET HERE QUICK!!"



This had the effect of three palace guards coming running towards her. She was sat beside a by now unconscious Sombra, trying to wake him. They took the scene in and called for the stretcher.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Rarity followed them to the med bay. She’d put the crystal in the seamstress bag she wore on her back, to hold all her needles and tape. The doctor asked her what had happened; Rarity told her tale whilst the doctor unlatched Sombra’s cloak and set it aside so he could check if any of the cuts and lacerations had re-opened since he’d bandaged them before.



"I have no IDEA darling. One minute he’s just fine, albeit as obtuse and moody as ever, then suddenly I hear a cry of total AGONY," she took a breath, and carried on "I raced over there, and he’d collapsed. That thing around his neck was causing it I think..."



The doctor frowned as he checked Sombra's heart rate. "That’s odd, this is twice now this has happened."



“Twice?" Rarity asked. The doctor nodded.



"His previous injuries, I assumed they’d caused the erratic heartbeat. But this time, if as you say, he was merely walking around, that shouldn’t cause the same symptom. Let alone pain like you described. It would be enough to make him black out however..."



"Is he alright?" Rarity found herself asking "he doesn’t look well!"



The doctor shrugged "I can only examine him when he’s unconscious, he wont let anypony near him when he’s awake, and I’m not letting him hurt my staff! He‘s violent and unpredictable!"



"Right, he’s not a pony person..." Rarity said quietly.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

She left to go find Princess- well, any of them! They were all working from the empire in light of this current crisis.



By luck she encountered Princess Luna, raiding the kitchen for her version of a midnight snack...a midday snack!



"Greetings Rarity.." the Princess of the night floated a platter of cake "would you care for some?"



And so they sat down to share some tea and cake, one of Rarity’s favorite things.



"You look troubled," Luna said as they tucked in "what bothers thou?"



"Well, something rather odd just happened. I mean, it was unexpected…"



“Tell us, maybe we can assist thee!" Luna said.



"Well, I was working on my latest dress, when I see somepony drop off a crystal on the table by the door. I ran after them, and it was Sombra!"



Luna raised an eyebrow "he dropped a crystal off to you? Were thou expecting it to be delivered?"



“Goodness no, and it was an exquisite gem, one I’ve only ever dreamed of finding.." she floated it out of her pouch to show Luna.



"My my, that IS beautiful!" Luna remarked.



"Isn’t it just? Anyhoof, I asked him where he’d found it. he said it was in the part of the forest he landed in after he fell off that cliff. He said he had no use for it, and that this way my expedition wasn’t a total loss...."



"Hmm...so he intended it as a gift perhaps?" Luna asked "unusual, especially from someone who’s obsession was collecting powerful crystals a thousand years ago!"



"Really?" Rarity asked "I see.."



"Then what?" Luna asked.



"I thanked him for giving it to me, he didn’t answer, just walked away. Then I hear him crying out in pain. It sounded bad, so I ran over." she frowned "he’d collapsed, something was wrong..."



Luan frowned "Sister did say his state of health appears to be fluctuating ever since he got here. Let us go speak with her!"



Finishing off their cake, they trotted away in search of Celestia.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Celestia was sitting in the room of the palace reserved for her to work in, reading a scroll. She rolled it back up when she seen Rarity and Luna approaching.



"Is everything alright?" she asked.



"We bear an unusual tale sister, well, Rarity doth.." Luna indicated the unicorn.



Celestia nodded for her to begin. Rarity began describing the whole cloak thing, ending in the fact the grumpy unicorn had actually THANKED her.



Celestia rose one elegant eyebrow.



"That was my reaction," Rarity said "he actually seemed to like it, getting a present I mean.."



"What else?" Celestia asked, seeing the flicker of concern on Rarity’s face.



"Well, he came by my sewing room, and left a beautiful crystal for me.." here she held it up again "even though it’s a really rare one, he gave it to me! I chased after him, managed to catch up long enough to say thank you, then the next thing I know, he’s passed out from the pain, and that thing you put around his neck was glowing…”



Celestia thought it through "I believe its a reaction to your element, my dear.."



“Me?" Rarity said "I don’t understand, Princess.."



"I have become more and more convinced this is down to that shard of the crystal heart. It’s changing, or rather, HELPING change him," Celestia nodded "First up was when he went to the crystal market with Twilight Sparkle and Fluttershy. She is the element of kindness...and I believe he showed it by allowing that filly to get so close THEN aiding her. Second, the forest. Rainbow Dash’s element of loyalty, triggered when he rescued and returned her to the palace when he could have abandoned you both. And now Generosity. Your element my dear. By giving you that gem he showed a less selfish side to himself."



"Wow.." Rarity said at last. "I guess I shouldn’t be surprised he knew the crystal was special, I mean, his cutie mark IS crystals!"



"Indeed. Kindness, loyalty and generosity. Each incident has expressed one of the elements of you six," Celestia smiled "While I cannot fathom why it causes such pain, I believe the shard is changing his heart and mind with every incident, forcing him to see the reality his madness denied before. Learning such a valuable lesson for somepony like Sombra isn’t an easy process, nor a painless one..."



"What should we do..?" Rarity asked.



"Keep trying," Celestia said "I have the feeling Sombra is a big part of what we need to fight that thing..."

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Once back in his room, Sombra felt the tensions ease off his chest. He hated being in any state of vulnerability, yet he kept blacking out and waking up in the doctors care. So he made every conscious effort to flee soon as their backs were turned.



He burrowed under the covers, having discarded his cloak and armor, and fell asleep instantly.



But it was not to be a peaceful sleep. The nightmares were back. Just fuzzy memories, but they were memories he never wanted to see again. Memories of a time when he’d been weak, pathetic, always subject to other pony’s cruelty.



--Enough!!-- he thought desperately, and the next second he jolted awake, his stomach churning. He soon found himself being painfully sick, a heavy fit of shivering wracking his body. What was wrong with him? Why was his past returning NOW?



At last he crawled back to bed and blacked out.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

When he woke the next morning, it was to a guard knocking on the door bearing a breakfast tray. He set it down and left, the door shutting behind him. Sombra eyed the tray, but in the end the lavishly buttered toast was all he managed. Even that made him feel a bit off, but luckily stayed down.



A note on the tray told Sombra was told he was to rest, the Princess, (Twilight Sparkle, he assumed), would not be sending for him today. He got up, putting on the cloak Rarity had made for him.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

His head still felt a jumble, so he went outside for a walk around the gardens. He noticed (or rather stumbled across) a school tour group being led around the grounds. They halted when they seen him stride past, the kids eyes wide. He was a big and scary pony. Behind them, the teacher stared. Even with the Princesses in control of him, she was a little frightened of him.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Sombra was walking past some massive shrubs when he heard a giggle. He paused, hearing it again.



“Boop?“



He knew that sound..



Curious, he wriggled into the centre of the hedge, surprised to find it was hollow. Inside it was the giggling filly from the market.



"Boop! You found me!" she cried, apparently as a greeting.



"Greetings little one." he managed at last.



"You’re the pony mommy talked about. She said you were scawwy...are you?" she asked this so bluntly, with such honesty that he faltered.



"Your mother is right." he said after a pause.



"I don’t fink so.." the little filly shook her head.



"And why, pray tell, is that?" he asked. She giggled.



"You talk funny! Like a king fwom my stowwybooks.."



The irony made him wince, but she carried on regardless;



"You just looked lonely, so I figured I’d say hi!"



"Or Boop…" he muttered.



She giggled, rolling around in the leaves "I do that to evewyone I meet! Its how I say hi!"



Sombra didn’t have anything to say to that.



“I’m Bwight Spark!" she declared at last, sitting up and shaking leaves out of her mane. "Whas yours?"



“Your mother didn’t tell you?" he said almost jokingly, but it sounded bitter.



"She did, but I fink its nice to have somepony tell me.."



Shaking his head at the impossible-ness of this child, he at last said "Since you need to know so badly, it's Sombra."



“Sombwa.." she mimicked "she said you used to be a ruler like Pwincess Cadie.."



"In the distant past. You’d serve yourself better not asking about that." he told her.



"Really..?" she pouted "I know she said you were a meanie back then, but the Pwincesses bwought you back, so you cant be all bad?"



“You’re very insightful for a little one," he pointed out.



"Mommy says I have little sparks of ideas, like my name..." she peered at her flank "still no cutie mark though...say!" she looked cheerful again "you got a cutie mark? Can I see?"



Baffled by this hyperactive filly and, frankly amused, he levitated the cloak to show the cutie mark Rarity had been marvelling at.



"OOH!" she bounced up and down "its pwetty! I like the cwystals!"



It was the darndest thing. This cluelessly adorable filly didn’t seem scared of him, of his past, of who he WAS. She was no fool however, but she wasn’t scared. She was a unicorn, she had to be able to sense something of his magic. Its darkness, the wrongness of it…



"Are you lonely?" she asked suddenly, reverting back to the reason she’d first approached him at the market.



"I have been alone my whole life," he said darkly.



"What about your pawents?"



He paused, he hadn’t thought about his family in years. Right form when he was a foal, he’d displayed a strange magic that his parents had been fearful of. DARK magic. This fear had made them resent him. He’d been angry, and that anger had stewed inside him until the day he’d run away from home.



He’d gone on the run, disguising himself with his magic, which had grown steadily stronger the longer he travelled. At last, he’d come across the crystal kingdom. They’d been mourning the passing away of it’s previous ruler. Her husband, the new king, had interrogated the angry young Sombra and offered him a place at the palace.



But his bitterness hadn’t abated. The palace staff shied away from him, afraid of what they’d started calling "the dark pony". In the end he'd snapped, and darkness had overflowed his heart. He’d taken over, rapidly enslaving the ponies of the crystal empire, and stealing the crystal heart for himself, keeping it in the tower of the palace. Every day he’d fought to unlock its secrets, forcing the ponies to mine for crystals that he thought could unlock its secrets. But none had.



Bright Spark seen the sadness that clouded his eyes, seen the way he suddenly seemed to tense up, and bounded up to poke his nose.



"Boop!" she cried, looking hopefully for a smile, or something! “you alwight?”



It took immense effort, but at last he managed the smallest of nods.



"Yay!" she said, pleased with her handiwork.



"Bright spark!" they both jumped as they heard a voice, far away in the distance.



“Uh oh...teacher’s looking for me..." Bright Spark looked guilty "I was menna be at the picnic, I fowgot!"



"Wed better go then, I think I know where she’s holding it.."



She obediently followed him out of the hollow hedgerow, and they began to trek towards where Sombra guessed they’d host a picnic.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Sure enough, they were setting up camp on the massive front lawn.



Sombra stooped, and bobbed his head at the gathering "there you go little one. I must leave now."



“Why?" she asked.



"You want your whole class to run off screaming?" he asked. She giggled.



"You’re not that scawwy!"



"Perhaps not to you little one, but then, you seem entirely fearless..."



"Fanks!" she giggled. They were standing right beside an open window, out of which drifted some lovely smells.



"Ooh, that smells so good.." Bright Spark bounded up and down trying to see what was inside. Being significantly taller, Sombra wandered over.



"It’s that cotton candy pony, she’s making MORE cakes...." unable to help himself he said, loud enough for Pinkie Pie to hear "who’s going to eat THAT much cake?"



She bounced over to the window. "Hihi grumpy!"



“Stop calling me that!" he growled.



"Well you ARE a grumpy boots!" she laughed.



He was already lost, and she’d only spoken two sentences to him.



"Hihi!" Pinkie Pie could hear a second voice, and, looking out the window, she spied Bright Spark bouncing about the ex-rulers hooves.



"Whatcha making?" she asked.



"Cakes, lots of cakes!" Pinkie Pie declared "you want some?"



"Ooh!" Bright Spark's eyes widened, then she looked over at her class "but my fwiends..."



"Oh, I got plenty!" Pinkie Pie grabbed a basket, and at a speed that made Sombra’s head whirl, filled it to the utter brim with cakes, more then enough to feed a whole class.



This she handed out to Sombra, who gave her a funny look.



"Why are you giving that to ME?" he objected. Pinkie Pie rolled her eyes.



"Silly, because she’s too tiny to carry it, she’d probably fit IN the basket!"



Sombra looked at little Bright Spark, who was eyeing the basket with utter rapture.



"Point taken.." he said begrudgingly "you’re just doing this to make me look foolish aren’t you?"



"Nah! If I was going to do that I’d tie an apron on you-" here Pinkie Pie heard the oven timer ding and squeed "they’re done!"



Suddenly eager to escape Pinkie Pies clutches before she really DID try tying him up in an apron, Sombra grabbed the basket with his magic and hauled it away, with Bright Spark trotting alongside.



"Woww...so many cakes! That was super nice!" she beamed at Sombra.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The teacher called Bright Spark’s name, and sighed in relief when she got an answer. She turned, seeing her trotting across the grass...then she seen who was with her.



The class all gawped. But fearless Bright Spark didn’t falter, she just bounded up to the teacher, babbling;



"Guess what, the pink pony in the palace kitchen gave us all these cakes!"



Sombra stopped a few feet away and set the basket down. He straightened up, aware of the uneasy glances boring into him.



"I couldn’t cawwy them, I’m too small!" spark bounced around the basket, "Sombwa carried 'em!"



More silence.



"Ah W-well.." the teacher struggled to find the words "That’s very nice Bright Spark, but you shouldn’t just wander off..."



"Okayy.." Bright Spark did her best to look contrite, but Sombra had to suppress the urge to laugh. That little filly was quite the actress!



He inadvertently caught the teacher's eye when she was pulling a face that said she had come to the same conclusion as Sombra.



"She lives up to her name;" he said suddenly "you have a very bright student."



Then he uttered a farewell, and turned to go.



"Bye bye!" Bright Spark waved a hoof as he vanished, then turned to her gobsmacked teacher "see? He’s not that scawwy miss!"



The teacher didn’t know how to respond, she eventually shared out all the cake is the basket amongst her children, while Bright Spark talked about the pink pony who’d given them to her!

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Sombra reflected on the weird morning as he walked back across the palace grounds. That little filly was bold and brazen, but she didn’t seem scared of him. So many had reacted to him with fear in the past he’d become accustomed to it. Even though it had stirred up such bitterness, he’d never tried to change his fate. Now it seemed he had a die hard fan in that little filly. Who, despite knowing his past from her mother, didn’t care!



These last few days, he’d been dragged, kicking and snarling, into a different world. One filled with light and life.



He settled down under a shady tree and drifted off into a light sleep.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

He was woken by that familiar voice. Sitting, he pricked his ears up.



"Go on, say it again...."



"Pwease..."



"Ha!"



Pwease? Wait, he knew that voice. Bright Spark?



He got up and trotted over towards the voice. He didn’t spot the class teacher, also on the lookout for the missing filly again..



"Leave me awone!" Bright Spark sniffled. The two fillies, one with a lemon yellow coat, pink hair, and a dragonfly cutie mark. The other grey with yello, and a glittering green bow cutie symbol.



"You're so lame, no wonder you’re still a blank flank, why don’t you learn to talk properly! Who knows, maybe your cutie mark is a dictionary!"



Bright Spark burst into tears and dodged past them, running round the corner. They ran after her, but a second later they bumped into something solid and shiny.



Blinking, they realised they were looking at their reflections, in a set of armored shoes. They backed up, gazes following the way up to the shoes owner.



It was the dark pony from the market, and the cake incident. Sombra.



Bright Spark was sitting up on his back. He’d lifted her up and out of the way when he’d strode in.



"Sombwa!" she cried in delight!



"I told you before, little one, you have nothing to fear from them!"



The two fillies stared in wide eyed shock. Bright Spark REALLY was friendly with that scary pony!



He glared at them now "You belittle a filly that has the courage to walk up to a monster of darkness and show no fear?" he drew himself up to his full height and glared down at them "she has nothing to be ashamed of! "



Bright spark looked at him in awe.



The two fillies looked scared.



"How she speaks is irrelevant!" he declared "the honesty of her words is enough to put her above anypony that tries to demean her!"



The two fillies just gaped.



"He’s right girls.." a female voice spoke up. All whirled, seeing the teacher standing there. she looked cross.



"I have warned you two before about bullying, now I see you at it again.."



The two fillies bowed their heads, looking a little ashamed.



Sombra groaned internally. He hadn’t meant for an extended audience!



"You two go on ahead to the front of the castle!" she told the two bullies "I’ll be having a talk with your parents later! That is NOT how we treat somepony at Crystal School!"



The two slunk away, casting sulky glares at Spark’s protector.



Once they were gone the teacher looked at Spark, sitting atop Sombra’s back, giggling as she batted at his flowing mane.



"What are you doing?" Sombra asked dryly.



"Your mane is so much awesome!" she giggled. Sombra just shook his head slightly.



"Are you alright Bright Spark?" the teacher asked.



"I’m fine, miss Petalbwoom!" spark said "do we have to go too?"



"I’m afraid so my dear. Let’s go.." she hesitated, took a deep breath and looked at Sombra "I would like to speak to you a moment.."



“If you wish," he said bluntly, his voice emotionless again.



Spark trotted on ahead whilst Petalbloom gathered enough courage to say "I heard what you said...in her defence. She’s a very sweet filly, but she gets picked on because of her speech defect."



"Hmph.." Sombra stared ahead as they walked "I told her before, now and at the market, and I will say it again. A little thing that can walk up to somepony like that, without fear, should be commended. Few display her courage."



"I hope she will take that on board. I think you’ve done more for her then ever I could. Thank you."



"She does not fear an atrocity of darkness, I cannot fathom why she fears those little ones." he said coldly. "if that is all, I must go."



"Aww..." Bright Spark bounded over on hearing this. They weren’t far from the palaces main entrance. "I don’t wanna go! Can't you come wiv us?"



“Not unless you want an armed platoon of royal guards following." Sombra raised one eyebrow at the guard hovering nearby.



"Oh, hay! There y‘all are!"



They all jumped as an orange pony spotted them an walked over, it was Applejack!



"Pinkie Pie was asking if the kids enjoyed the cakes?"



“We loved 'em!" Bright Spark beamed at Applejack.



Seeing this trusting, happy little filly made Sombra’s mind wander. All those years ago, he’d been reviled and beaten for what he was, for who he was. He could see that same fear of mistreatment in this fillies eyes. Buried under all the darkness and anger, a small part of him insisted history not repeat itself...



A stabbing pain interrupted his thoughts, and he felt the world spin on its axis, the ground seeming to lurch. He closed his eyes, fighting it back,



"Oh my- are you OK?" it was the teachers voice.



"Sombwa?!" Bright Spark ran back over, peering up at him.



"Its nothing.." he snarled through clenched teeth.



Applejack frowned when she seen the choker around his neck flare brightly for a split second, then he collapsed to the ground.



--This is what Rarity said happened...-- Applejack frowned.



"Hey, can y'all hear me? What’s the matter?" She crouched beside Sombra.



"I...I don’t know..." Sombra tried to raise himself but the jewel glimmered again, forcing him back to the grass.



"Oh man, what do I do?" Applejack looked about for somepony, anypony to help.



"What’s happening, is he sick?" Petalbloom asked.



"There is no need for concern.." Celestia appeared from nowhere. Sparks eyes widened, she was pretty, her colourful hair like a flowing river.



Celestia smiled at the teacher, speaking softly "he has a minor ailment, causes fits and dizziness...the doctor will be along shortly.."



"We have to go, the class is waiting," the teacher said to Spark.



"But Sombwa is.."



“Do not fret child..." Celestia looked over at her "it will pass soon, he just needs some rest..."



"Bye bye Sombwa..." Bright Spark sniffled at last "get weww soon!" then she was reluctantly towed away by the teacher.



"Relax, Sombra.." Celestia’s voice was lilting, like music. She bowed her head, so he horn met his. The magic flowed from her to him, making the biting pain a little less awful.



"What’s goin’ on?" Applejack asked "what’s with that doo-hickey?" meaning the choker.



"What is this thing..." Sombra growled, closing his eyes as a feeling of sickness washed over him, but at least the pain faded to a dull ache.



"It is but a limiter, not a tool to cause harm."



"That aint what IT thinks.." Applejack added.



Celestia smiled faintly, then leaned in closer to Sombra, so only he could hear her...



"You know your heart is changing...don’t you? That’s why it hurts..."



"Why did you bring me here...." Sombra asked, wanting a real answer "because you need darkness to fight that thing?"



"WE brought you here, because of that, but it appears the crystal heart of this empire has other plans."



"What difference does it make?" he muttered.



"You’ll understand in time." she stepped back. he shakily wobbled to his feet, but looked on the verge of passing out again.



She called two of the guards to bring him to the palace doctor. As they left, Applejack looked up at the Princess.



"What’s really goin' on here Princess? That looked like it hurt real bad.."



"So far he has had three other fits similar to this one. Each time its in direct response to the elements of harmony."



"So this was in response to somethin‘?" Applejack asked.



"Yes..." Celestia smiled "I was observing him from the castle, I seen him defending that little filly. Perhaps it was nosy of me, but I used my magic to hear their talk."



"And what’d they say?"



"He said she should be proud for having the courage to face up to a monster. A very honest way of saying it..."



"Honest...honesty! Whoa nelly, you sayin’ that was cause of me? Mah element and all..." Applejack looked startled.



"Do not be worried Applejack, I think this is for the best. Each time has been when HE himself has demonstrated those qualities.."



“Ya mean.."



"Kindness; at the market when he first let that child get close without retaliating; Loyalty, when he didn’t abandon Rarity and Rainbow Dash in the forest, and Generosity when he broke a barrier to thank Rarity for that gift by giving her that gem. And now, admitting he is or perhaps WAS, a monster..."



"Wow.." Applejack looked out across the grounds "so then he really IS tryin'?"



"It seems so. Even I am surprised, back then I thought him full of nothing but hatred. He had so much deep seated anger at the world..."



"Did ya ever find out why?" Applejack asked.



Celestia shook her head "little is known about his past. I have been unable to find out anything about him in the years since his imprisonment."



"Mebbe.." Applejack shrugged "mebbe he got picked on only to a WAY worse degree?"



"I’ll have to keep a watch on how this unfolds, it seems that little filly plays an important role in his reformation."



“You think it’s possible?" Applejack asked.



"I think so...perhaps that was the hearts design all along...to teach him how to rule.." then she pottered away. Applejack stood awhile longer, pondering it all, then was startled by Pinkie Pie sneaking up on her, investigating where the apples she'd asked her fetch had gotten to!

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Curled up in his bedroom, Sombra couldn’t help but think about Celestia’s words. These were feelings and emotions he’d never allowed himself. Hope, kindness.


He’d been given another chance, brought back to life from the darkness. His fury at being stripped of his power and forced to endure all this malarkey about friendship and honesty, was fading a little. Part of him still recoiled against it, it was pointless. If you trusted somepony they’d turn on you! That was a lesson he’d learnt early. Ponies feared his darkness, feared and hated HIM.



But now...he’d met one innocent soul who didn’t care what he’d done, she was just curious about HIM. Wasn’t scared, wasn’t fearful, just curious.



--Little spark to light the darkness...-- he thought absently, before falling asleep.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The dream he had that afternoon was the most awful yet. In it he could see from the POV of one of those things...watching the townspeople from the tear in the sky. He felt the disgusting animosity within it. It had no room for persuasion, it would take what it wanted. Much like he...



But something inside even HIM objected to this thing. What had these ponies done to deserve...this. What had they done to deserve HIM?



It was like seeing into a mirror for Sombra. In this thing he seen the same fear inducing cruelty he’d inflicted all those years ago. But this thing did not care.



A part of him snapped, and in his dream he rebelled against the things darkness as it swirled around him, lashing out....



In the final moments of their contact, he seen the things plans. Seen the ponies below, glowing from within, their innocence. It wanted to feast on them, but the attack on it had damaged its strength. That thing he‘d fought was a scout, created from this things power. By destroying it when he’d done his cliff top dive, he’d caused the nameless thing great pain and fury. It had attacked rainbow because she glowed brighter than most, so too had Rarity.



He awoke sharply with a gasp.



He staggered drunkenly about, struggling to regain his balance. But at last he steadied out, and raced out of his room, coming face to face with the guard.



"Where’s Celestia?!" he blurted.



"She’s in her temporary office room.." the guard said "I’m under orders to-"



“Forget your orders!" Sombra bellowed, his anger rising "she will want to hear this!"



Clearly, he wasn’t going to dissuade him, so the guard reluctantly escorted him down there. As they walked, he couldn’t help notice the sheer tension radiating from the unicorn. Whatever he was so wound up about really had him on edge!

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Celestia was surprised to see Sombra at the door, along with the guard.



"Its all right, you can go.." she told the guard. He looked a little unwilling, but in the end he obeyed the Princess and left.



"Something’s bothering you, if you came charging down here so fast!" she remarked. Sombra stayed just inside the door as it clicked shut.



Celestia paused mid way to the desk that’d been set up for her. Sombra looked a little...was it possible for him to appear "freaked out"? Something in his eyes indicated this wasn’t just him coming to rail at her about bringing him back to save an empire that had defeated him.



"You’ve seen something..." she guessed at last. A minute twitch from him indicated she was right.



"It takes magic, energy...the very core of what is inside..." he muttered, eyes half closed in memory "you shine like stars to that thing."



"Then it attacked Rainbow Dash..."



"She was closest, the first it had seen. It would’ve gone for the other one too, had it had time.."



"Were it not for you tackling it off a cliff." Celestia finished "there must be a bigger entity at work..."



"Perhaps so.." Sombra muttered.



They were interrupted by a frantic pounding on the door.



Sombra stood back as it came flying open, and Flash Sentry came barrelling in.



"Princess...Celestia...there’s a squadron of the guards, they were attacked by something-"



Celestia shared a look with Sombra.



"That thing wasn’t alone..." he muttered.



"Follow me," Celestia said, hurrying after Flash.



Luna was sleeping, and Cadance was out, so that left her to deal with this.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

They arrived in the same medical room Sombra had woken up in oh-so-many times. Three Pegasi and two Unicorn guards. Two of the former and one of the latter were on beds, all passed out.



The Doctor did a double take when he seen Sombra following Celestia. Why was HE here?



"What happened?" Celestia asked the closet guard. The freaked out Pegasus flapped his wings and looked up at her;



"This THING...a..a.." he tried to conjure up the words he needed…



"Wobbly black mass?" Sombra volunteered.



"Yes a...how did you...?"



Celestia looked at Sombra.



"It's the same thing," he said bluntly.



"The same as that which attacked Princess Twilight Sparkles friend," Celestia explained "she fainted much the same..."



"What happened to the creature?" the Doctor asked.



"I-it got away...." the guard said. This made Sombra twitch, although nopony noticed.



"We tried to fight it, but it just absorbed the magic attacks, and anything we threw just passed right through." the unicorn shook his head "In the end, after we pretty much used up every scrap of magic we had, it darted away and we lost it!"



"Were you aiming for the core?" Sombra muttered.



"Core…?" the dazed guard shook his head "there WAS no core, it was solid black!"



Sombra frowned. Celestia looked at him.



"The one you fought, it had a core at its centre. Twilight Sparkle showed me the piece you brought back."



"This thing had no core ma'am..." the guard said.



"Where did it go?" Sombra said. Something was gnawing at his subconscious, a nagging headache-y feeling...



"Uh...w-well...we don’t know...."



"Then you need to find it!" Sombra suddenly raised his voice "It’d taken what it could from YOU, now its likely after somepony else!"



"You think that’s its purpose?" Celestia asked. Sombra began pacing back and forth, the elegant red cloak swirling about his body.



"I already told you. It sees you all as walking, flapping magical batteries!"



"Then why didn’t it attack us too?" the remaining conscious guards asked.



"You said you fought it? My guess is it’s still working out what this world has. It’s first attempt to feed went south after its first scout was attacked and destroyed. Now its trying again, and it doesn’t want to be caught out twice!"



They all stared in shock.



"How can you..?" the Pegasus stammered. Sombra whirled on him, the light catching his red eyes and making them gleam like gems.



"That thing is darkness, and I know things about dark magic you’d pass out after hearing!" he snapped.



"That I don’t doubt.." the Doctor muttered.



"Then maybe you can track it down.." Celestia said. "You destroyed one already.."



"Destroyed?" the unicorn asked "how?"



"Easy," Sombra said "Shatter that core. The sharper the object the better."



The remaining conscious ponies (plus doctor) stood in silence as Celestia pulled Sombra aside to talk to him. Whatever she said, he shook his head. She frowned, then said something else. He scowled, but whatever shed asked, he relented, looking as dour as possible in the process.



"I will send Flash Sentry with you," she said as she turned back to the guards.



"Ma'am, we want to go too..." they looked determined. Celestia understood their need to find the thing that’d attacked their fellow guards, but warned them to be careful.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

And so, it was the two guards, Sombra and Flash Sentry that left the palace. The sky outside was shifting towards dusk. The streets were quiet, most shops closed by now. A soft breeze ruffled Sombra’s mane, and he sighed. He was tired, but he got the feeling his headache wouldn’t die until that creature did!



"How’re we supposed to find it in a whole town?" Flash Sentry asked.



Sombra ignored them, walking slowly down the street, listening for even the slightest sound.



It came like a shrill whistle. It was only as he started running in that direction that he realised it was a scream.



"Hay!" the unicorn guard spotted Sombra suddenly tense up, his ears pricking up. Then he took off with incredible speed.



"After him!" the Pegasus guard creid. Flahs Sentry stared in bewilderment as they all chased after Sombra. He could certainly run, they were just able to keep up with him!



Then they too started hearing the chaos on the wind. Sounds of screaming, panicking.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

At last they reached the area where the screams began.



Just as Sombra rounded the corner, he seen a small foal being lifted out of a window by the dark mass, which was clinging to the side of the crystal home like a weird goopy jelly. Inside the residence, the child’s mother was screaming, crying for her child.



Sombra looked about, searching for something, anything-



"Mommy!" the foal screamed. The thing holding him felt all kinds of scary, and cold!



Thwack.



A rock bounced off the side of the house, drawing the things attention. It snarled, as its slitted yellow eyes focused on Sombra and the royal guards.



"So..you came back for me?!" it cackled.



"Leave the kid alone!" Flash Sentry yelled.



"As you wish.." it laughed, and tossed the child to one side like a toy. The foal screamed. Flash Sentry took off, soaring in to catch the child before he hit the ground.



"Its OK!" he assured the shivering kid.



The thing flowed down from the house and assembled itself in the houses front garden. The yellow eyes fixated on Sombra.



"You...." it said angrily "are a problem. Eradicate.."



“Hmph!" Sombra snorted "stow your yapping you pathetic little mould pile!"



"How dare you!!" it screeched, flinging itself at Sombra. He ducked and dodged round, grabbing part of it’s jelly-like body in his fangs, biting as hard as he could and swinging the thing round. It flew through the air, smashing into a street light and hitting the pavement with a splat.



"Eugh.." Sombra coughed. That thing made him feel sick!



A bolt of magic flew into the blobby shape and made it reel. It twisted its body to stare at the unicorn guard.



Sombra looked around, he needed something SHARP.



There, a few houses down, some gardening implements had been left out. he ran over, glancing over them...aha!



He levitated the pitchfork and heard a scream.



The thing had its coils around the unicorn guards neck and was trying to drain him....



Kicking off, Sombra put as much speed and power behind the shot as he levelled the pitchfork implement at where he could see the things heart.



There was a sound like a thunder crack as it struck home. And got STUCK.



With the four pointed spear sticking out of its side, the creature dropped the guard and rounded on sombra.



"I will tear you apart!" it shot into the air, forming into a dozen arrows. A small portion of darkness remained, swirling around the core, with the tines of the fork still partly lodged in it.



The arrows burst outwards in a random formation, before homing in on Sombra. He smirked. Just a little closer...



He ducked low, keeping his eyes fixed on the arrows, letting instinct and memory guide his body as he raced forward.



Flash Sentry gawped as Sombra ducked left and right, ducking under, and on one occasion, jumping OVER the arrows trajectory. He was surprisingly agile for a big guy!



Sombra didn’t waste the opportunity. He jumped, grasping the pitchfork handle in his teeth, using sheer brute force and his body weight to give the implement a hefty twist-



KABOOM!



It sent a fissure through and through the core, shattering it as its predecessor had. The following shockwave caught Sombra by surprise, he was still holding the pitchfork!



For a moment, ground and sky got tangled up, and he hit the ground hard enough to temporarily black out.



A few seconds of darkness...far away voices...



He groaned, getting to his feet. He checked himself, no broken bones, great. He’d had enough of those!



His eyes widened when he seen the core exploding had torn up a chunk of the crystal paving.



"Whoops.." Flash spoke from beside him.



"Huh.." Sombra muttered.



His head ached afresh, but this time just from a bump to the head.



"Let's go." he said sharply.



Flash Sentry looked around at the ponies gathered in their doorways, whispering and casting glances at himself, the guards, and of course, Sombra.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

After reassuring the ponyfolk, the tired group returned to the castle. Celestia was standing by the door, waiting to hear if they’d found it..



"It's gone!" Flash Sentry said with a salute.



"Good..." she sighed in relief "were you able to see the core?"



Flash Sentry shook his head.



"We just seen it get stabbed with a pitchfork, then explode!" the Pegasus guard blurted "all I seen was a black blob, no core, no nothing!"



"Hm.." Celestia looked at Sombra, who stood behind the guards "seems you alone can see their weak spots."



"Guess that’s why it said he was a problem..." Flash Sentry added "I got the impression it wants him gone."



"Hm, perhaps it knows your not like everypony else. I will deliver this news to Twilight Sparkle. All of you go see the doctor, you look like you need the rest!"



"Pah, I’m fine.." Sombra muttered.



"Then what about that bump on your noggin?" Flash Sentry asked. The angry unicorn rounded on him;



"Will both of you shut up!" Sombra snapped, then realised the problem "dangit!!"



"You’re concussed," Flash Sentry said, waving a hoof in front of Sombra’s face "you hit the ground pretty hard..."



"You’re both going to get a flank kicking if you don’t leave me alone!" Sombra snapped. he stomped off, muttering;



"Ish no different from being drunk!"



"What’d he say?" Flash Sentry couldn’t help a laugh.



"I’ll deal with him," Celestia chuckled "you all go get some treatment, you can give me the details tomorrow!"



"Yes ma’am!" they chorused.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Celestia went in search of the concussed Sombra.



She found him pretty fast, he was wobbling his way down the hall. He grumbled as she indicated a nearby couch, but didn’t seem to have the energy to go any further.



Getting the feeling trying to make him se the doctor would be a waste of time, she did a little spell to alleviate the bump on his head. He still looked worn out.



"Did you sense anything further?" she asked. He closed his eyes, drifting in and out of consciousness;



"Only a little..."



"Sombra.." Celestia looked concernedly at him; "my sister is the dream walker. If she can walk amongst your dreams, she can perhaps see something. I ask that-"



His eyes glinted briefly as he opened them to stare at her, then he angled his head away and answered;



"Ugh, stop pretending. I have no choice in the matter!" he retorted "just do what needs to be done to kill this thing and end this!"



She regarded him a moment, then nodded "Tonight then," as he turned to leave she added "I suggest you return to your bed, you have endured a great deal."



"Hmph, no more then I deserve no doubt.." he said harshly, then sleep overwhelmed him and he passed out.

Fight & Fever

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And so, that night, when he fell asleep (back in his own bed), he was greeted by the Princess of the night.



The world filled in around them. They were standing in the town square. The ponies walked past and through them, they glowed with a strange light.



"This is how it sees them?" Luna asked. Sombra nodded. His dreams alternate between these almost prophetic glimpses, and nightmares of a far worse caliber.



Then he seen something in the crowd ahead. It was Bright Spark. She glowed like a small sun. And approaching her was a black, roughly pony shaped mass.



"Spark!" he blurted, racing over. She passed right through him however, not seeing him. But the dark thing did.



"So, you’ve changed your dreamscape. You are the one who interfered with my plans...it’s pointless, you cannot stop me!"



"Try me!" Sombra snarled. But the thing laughed, and around them the ponies suddenly turned towards Sombra, pure anger on their faces; "you are nothing to them, what makes you think you can save them?"



The wall of animosity pressed in closer. Sombra turned this way and that, trying to clear a way out, but they pushed him back. Then something clamped around his neck, dragging him to the dirt. A shadowy hoof slammed down on his neck to pin him there.



"Your a monster, same as I...why do you fight me...?" it sneered, putting more pressure on sombra’s neck. He gasped and bucked, trying to free himself, but the thing merely slammed a hoof into his lower back, keeping him down.



Even from this crushing position, he seen Bright Spark. Seen how bright she shone, recalled her innocence.



"Because.." he growled in his throat, gathering up as much strength as he could. With a loud roar, he threw the thing off him "they are innocents in this! I may be a monster, but it takes a monster to fight one! I will rip you to shreds.." he advanced on the black pony shaped thing;



The thing snarled, backing away from Sombra. Then it vanished in a thunder crack of light, and Sombra awoke in his bed, his throat aching, a phantom pressure on his neck.



"My sister was right.." Luna’s voice spoke from beside his bed "you are the key to stopping it."



"Use a monster to stop a monster...as I said.." he coughed. She summoned a glass of ice water and set it by his bed.



"Thou misjudge thyself, you are not the monster you once were." she said thoughtfully before vanishing to report to her sister.



Alone in his room, Sombra wondered if she was right, was he more than just a monster from the past?

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Celestia was concerned by what her sister said. How Sombra had fought with the version of that thing in his dreams.



“I believe that thing is invading his dreams as much as I was,” Luna added “it mentioned the dreamscape had changed, possibly it has attempted to attack his mind before..”



"I see. This is turning out to be far more complex than I had guessed."



"Indeed.." Luna looked out at the stars "what is to be his fate once this is over, my sister?"



"I have not decided yet..."

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Prince Shining Armor, Twilight Sparkle’s big bro (BBBFF) and Cadance’s husband, was looking forward to seeing his sister and wife again. Celestia had sent a letter saying they were gathered at the Crystal Empire for a while. He seen the tear in the sky and felt a shudder run up his spine. It looked dang creepy...



He trotted into the castle courtyard. Cadance was there to meet him, looking as pretty as ever. After a happy reunion she told him to go the library where his sister awaited with her friends, she’d be along shortly, they had much to discuss.



“There is something…unusual we need to discuss…” she said mysteriously.



Shining Armor hummed to himself as he opened the library doors. And got the biggest possible shock of his life.



The ponies were all sat around the table, but that wasn’t the baffling part. What baffled him was the stallion pacing back and forth by the window.



Sombra. The mad lunatic that tried to destroy them all the last time they met?



"YOU?!" Shining Armor couldn’t stop himself from blurting, firing an impromptu bolt of magic right at him. Sombra ducked, flattening his body to the carpet, letting the bolt shoot out the window.



"Big brother!" Twilight Sparkle bounced between her brother and Sombra "wait a second!"



"Twily...what is going ON?! WHY is that loon here?!"



"You’ve seen that thing out there right?" Twilight Sparkle said "well Princess Celestia thinks he’s the key to solving it!"



"Hmph,....a monster to destroy a monster, how adroit."



"We’ve already reached THAT conclusion," Sombra muttered under his breath "what’re you trying to prove hotshot?"



“Shut up!" Shining Armor yelled.



"Both of you, shush!" Twilight Sparkle snapped. Silence reigned.



"He doesn’t have any of his power," Twilight Sparkle said softly to her brother "see that choker around his neck? It suppresses his abilities, he can’t do any harm."



“I don’t care, he’s a dangerous madpony!" Shining Armor hissed back.



"I’m sitting right here you know.." Sombra commented. Shining Armor ignored him.



"He'll cause nothing but trouble!" Shining Armor said to his sister;



"Big brother!" Twilight Sparkle sighed "its a long story...but will you listen please?"



"If this is all the information you required Princess, I’m retiring to my room, I feel sick.." Sombra got up and swanned past Twilight Sparkle and Shining Armor. At the door, one of the guards followed him back to his room.



"What is Celestia thinking?" Shining Armor blurted.



“It wasn’t just Celestia," Cadance’s voice came from the doorway "I decided on it too, for my kingdom."



"Cady?" Shining Armor asked.



"Let us all explain.." Cadance gestured at the room.



"Alright, for you two girls.." Shining Armor couldn’t help smile when Cadance kissed his cheek.



Rarity gave a moony sigh "so romantic..!"



Rainbow Dash pulled a face.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"And he rescued you?" Shining Armor said in disbelief to Rarity. She and Rainbow nodded.



"He kicked that things ass...well, it didn’t have an ass, but you get the idea.." Rainbow finished sheepishly.



"He could’ve done a runner and left us."



"Pfft...you said that choker is suppressing his powers."



“His POWER yes," Cadance said "it’s not a restraint for anything else! Had he chosen to desert them, he could’ve."



"Plus there’s tha elements..." Applejack pointed out.



"Ah yes, another unusual occurrence we hadn’t expected," cadance nodded.



"What’s that?"



"Every time he’s been around the elements of harmony, or us anyway,” Twilight began “he’s had these...fits. It seems to cause this awful pain, then he blacks out. We thought it was something to do with the choker, as every time it seemed to glow. But Celestia said its not related to the device."



"Then what?" Shining Armour asked.



"Its our elements!" Applejack looked at him "each instance has been a reaction to both his surroundings and one of the elements of harmony."



"Yeah!" Pinkie said.



"You cant be serious.." Shining said



"We are...ah didn’t believe it much, until I seen it fer myself.." Applejack said.



"U-uhm...the filly at the market.." Fluttershy said softly.



"Right!" Twilight Sparkle told the whole story, how the little filly had bounded right up to Sombra and poked him on the nose, declaring "boop!"



"This cant end well.." Shining Armor winced.



"On the contrary," Twilight Sparkle smiled "he just stood stock still, didn’t snap at her, try to kick her or anything like that. If anything....he seemed curious as to why she wasn’t scared. He even hid her from some kids that were chasing her."



"Then in the woods, he attacked the shadow creature, fell off a cliff in an effort to break its core before it could regain its power!" Rarity said "and he helped me get Rainbow back to the palace!"



"I fainted," Rainbow added with a sigh.



"Then what…?" Shining Armor asked, curious despite himself.



"I made a new cloak to replace that hideous thing of his, since it got torn to shreds by the crash landing." Rarity looked proud "AND he even gave me this stunning crystal he found in the woods to thank me!"



"Pfft!" Shining Armor spat out his tea, looking startled "say what?"



"I don’t think he’s as bad as we thought big brother..." Twilight Sparkle said.



"PLUS," Applejack added "accordin’ to Celestia, he even said he was surprised that filly could treat a monster so nicely, more or less..."she paused "that’s when he had tha fit.."



"So the elements, well, you guys, it’s changing him?"



“We can only change what already exists.," Cadance smiled faintly "we believe that the shard of the crystal heart that vanished during the summoning is contained within his own heart. It’s hardly opening the floodgates, but its letting in enough light."



"Plus he likes my cake! No pony that likes cake is that bad!" Pinkie Pie giggled.



"Sure, Pinkie.." Shining Armor shook his head "I just find it a little hard to take in. You DO recall what he was like last time?"



"Yes, and this is different.." Twilight Sparkle said "Nopony really knows what caused him to go insane the way he did, maybe there’s a reason to it."



Shining Armor sighed, Cadance patted his head



"Give it a chance.." she said softly "I cannot explain why, but all of us Princesses feel he is linked to this madness. We need his help."



"He’s shown us a lot about them..." Twilight Sparkle shuddered "it isn’t pretty..."



"I shall say not!" Luna appeared by Cadance, startling everypony.



"Sorry," she said with a small yawn "I forgot I had not shown you the information obtained from walking Sombra’s dreams, or should I say, nightmares."



"Ooh!" Twilight Sparkle perked up.



Luna closed her eyes, making a rectangular window appear. In it she replayed Sombra’s dream. It showed how the ponies innocence glowed like a flame to the creature. Its anger at Sombra trying to fight it.



They all winced when they seen the thing pinning the unicorn down. And jaws dropped somewhat when he bucked the thing off him, then railed at it, telling it he may be a monster, but that he was what was needed to kill it!



"Whoa." Shining Armor stared. Sombra had accepted he was monster it seemed, and according to the girls, he’d shown elements of decency. Well, harmony. Could this really be possible?



"I don’t know Twily...I don’t like the idea.."



“Please big brother.." she said "I know it seems crazy, but I really think he’s different..."



"We reformed Discord, and he’s a good friend to us now....why not Sombra?" Fluttershy said.



"Alright, I’ll trust you girls." Shining Armor sighed "I still have to see it before I believe it though,"



--Close enough,-- Luna thought. It was up to Sombra now.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The next day, at Twilight Sparkle’s insistence, Sombra found himself tagging along with a group of Royal Guards as they did a patrol through town, checking everything was OK, and keeping an eye out for more monsters. People seemed to relax when they seen the scary unicorn with the Royal Guard alongside, it made them feel a bit safer.



Shining Armor bluntly asked questions about the darkness, to which Sombra gave equally short answers. The rest of the guards noticed the animosity between them and didn’t interfere...



They reached the centre of town, when a loud rumble split the sky and they all jumped a little.



"A storm?" Shining Armor asked.



"You WISH this was a storm.." Sombra growled. His eyes were locked on the sky tear "you may want to get your precious citizens out of the way, this is going to get nasty."



"How do you....whoa.." Shining Armor stared as a dark bolt flew from the sky tear, aiming right for them.



"SCATTER!" annoyed at their gawking, Sombra bellowed as loud as he could "NOW!!"



The level of his voice was enough to startle the more flighty one’s, who darted away from the open-air market stalls they’d set up, mostly selling jewelry and such stuff.



Shining Armor raced over to help an elderly pony move out of the way faster, and the bolt aimed for him.



Shining Armor looked up as he heard his guards shouting, and seen a black, horrible blur barreling towards him. He tensed, expected a heavy blow, but mid-flight the thing suddenly seemed to vanish.



A millisecond of silence then-



CRASH.



It was Sombra. The unicorn had charged the creature and knocked it off course, sending them both flying into a nearby stall.



Ponies screamed and truly began scattering now.



Sombra got to his feet, stepping back a bit as the dust cleared.



Shining Armor stared in surprise, seeing Sombra facing off against a shimmering blob of darkness. As eh watched, it shifted into a vague pony shape.



"Hmph...bring it," Sombra snarled.



"Pathetic fools.." it warbled "I’ll devour you all!"



Then they launched into an all out brawl, the dark pony clone against a one time king of darkness.



The shadow pony darted back, firing spikes of fluid darkness at the enraged Sombra. But despite being fairly big as stallions went, he was surprisingly agile, hunkering down and darting forward to sink his fangs into the shadow pony. It gave a pitched scream of fury, a sharp hoof strike catching Sombra in the ribs, causing him to snarl in pain, but his grip didn’t falter.



It did, however, when the thing whirled, and with a sudden speed, slammed him bodily into a crystal pillar. He collapsed it the base of it, coughing heavily.



The shadow pony turned towards him, an evil grin splitting its face. "Interesting..." it babbled "yet you aren’t at your best. This is hardly a fair fight!"



Then it got zapped by a massive bolt of attack power.



Shining Armor glared at the shadow thing. This creature thought it could attack his kingdom, forget it!



The thing began to charge towards him and the other guards, who aimed bolts of magic at it. Caught once off guard, it wasn’t going to fail twice. It zipped left and right, avoiding them with impunity.



Well, kind of..



With an almost feral roar, the dazed Sombra suddenly reappeared, pouncing onto its back the way a cat pounces on a mouse. This maneuver smashed it’s shadowy face into the pavement.



"Fire!" he yelled.



Shining Armor hesitated a second. Much as he hated the guy, if they fired now, they’d hit both;



"For Equestria’s sake-" Sombra struggled to keep it from getting free, sinking his fangs into its ear in an effort to distract it "FIRE!" he snarled, his voice muffled.



To their credit they did their best not to hit him, and the creature he was pinning got the full assault of their power. But, like electricity in a water puddle, it travelled, delivering a hefty shock to the pony pinning it down. The world went black for a moment, and he couldn’t breathe...



The shadow pony clone took that opportunity and threw him off it, aiming so he hit another pillar.



Coughing and spluttering, Sombra forced himself to his feet. He could see the thing advancing on Shining Armor and company. He looked around him, this thing was craftier then before, he had to fool it!



He closed his eyes, drawing upon every last bit of levitation magic he had in him..



All around, the spikes and joints of wood and crystal from the broken stalls began to lift up, swarming around where Sombra stood. Ready, he raised his voice and taunted the thing;



"Hey shadow-foal, why don’t you pick on something your own size?!"



Enraged it turned in midair, deflecting another bolt flung at it. It seen Sombra standing there, the shards hovering around him, and charged gleefully..



Sombra leveled every shard of wood, metal and crystal. These he flung like a barrage attack. But one shard on the right side of his defense wobbled, and dipped..



The shadow pony leered and shot towards the weakness with astonishing speed.



"Uh oh.." Shining Armor spotted the drop in sombra’s defense, was sure the plan was going to fail.



Shame he had the wrong plan in mind.



Once he’d judged the distance to be enough, Sombra surged forward suddenly, diving for the weak point. Grasping the big shard of crystal in his teeth, he kicked off from the ground, throwing himself at the creature. It tried to stop, realizing it’d been tricked. But too late. The crystal struck its core, eliciting a massive shockwave. Then it exploded, kicking up a massive cloud of dust and debris from the assault. But it exploded not into chunks , this time, in the aftermath of the shockwave, it split into many, many dozens of shards. The biggest of which embedded in sombra’s leg, the side of his left foreleg, where the armored shoes did not protect.



He didn’t feel it however, as the sudden impact of hitting the ground knocked the air from his lungs again, and a flash of pain from the earlier kicked rib flared up, not helping.



Silence rang for a moment, along with everypony’s ears. Shaking his head Shining Armor stared at the spot where the thing had gone head to head with Sombra. Who had won?



The ponies edged in closer, staring worriedly.



Then the dust began to settle, and they seen a silhouette of a pony struggling to its feet, with some difficulty. Then it cleared, and they realized it was Sombra, looking more then a bit disheveled, but the victor.



Ponies sighed in relief, some even cheered. Sombra being the lesser of two evils as it were.



"Comb the wreckage!" Shining Armor declared "we need to find out as much as we can from this thing!"



As he spoke, Sombra ambled by him, standing away from the wreckage, absently tugging at his cloak, trying to straighten it out.



He didn’t move for the whole time Shining Armor and the others were going around checking everypony was OK. Some folks had cuts and scratches, but otherwise fine. Nopony was seriously hurt.



One mare had been watching Sombra since he’d retreated from the messy battlefield. She snuck as close as she could, and noticed he seemed to be shivering a little. She was willing to bet he wasn’t feeling too well.



Being a skilled chemist, she knew about herbs and cures. And she recognized a sick pony when she seen one. So she grabbed a bundle from her shop, and quickly mixed up a personal family recipe for the ailing or injured. She tied it up into a little package, then, with a deep breath, approached Sombra.



Sombra looked up as he heard a cough. He had been sitting there, mercifully left alone. His body ached, and his head hurt. Now he was looking at a mare, with a kindly expression, standing in front of him.



"Here, take this.." she set it at his feet "it’s a home remedy, it'll help you feel better. You look like you could use it. Just mix a spoonful of the mixture into hot water, you'll soon feel better..." then she left.



Sombra stared at the little parcel, but eventually managed to levitate it and tuck it into his cloak pocket.



"They’ll handle repairs.." Shining Armour’s voice spoke from beside him "we need to report this to the Princesses."



"Hmh?" was all Sombra mentioned. He seemed a bit lethargic, Shining Armor noted, but put that down to the fight he’d just endured. They made their way back to the palace, waylaid by people pausing Shining Armor to ask what was going on, what were those things etc?



Sombra barely heard any of this, just focused on getting inside.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

But he only felt worse the longer time went on. Once inside they were joined by Luna, who walked with them to the throne room, where her big sister, Cadance and Twilight Sparkle were discussing matters.



"Twily!" Shining Armor called.



"BBBFF!" she cried, bounding over and hugging him "you OK, we heard that racket, somepony said there was an attack...?"



Shining Armor nodded "one of those creatures you mentioned. That thing was tough!" he shook his head "even our magic wasn’t as effective as we hoped. In the end it wound up being brawl between the shadow thing and that guy!" meaning Sombra.



"That explains the state of him.." Twilight Sparkle remarked. Sombra had stopped some feet away, and on the surface appeared to be staring out a window.



"Was anypony hurt?" Celestia asked. Shining Armor shook his head;



"Not badly anyway. We got small cuts and bruises, but nothing big. We got lucky.."



"And of the creature?" Luna asked.



"Gone.." Shining Armor shook his head "we didn’t find a trace of it, not even a crystal.."



“Really? The first one exploded..." Twilight Sparkle said.



"We combed the debris, nada," Shining Armor shrugged "whatever way he attacked it, it wiped it out of existence."



"Impressive," Celestia raised an eyebrow.



"Also, it spoke.." Shining Armor pulled a face "it said something about-?"



"Its going to devour you all..." Sombra finished.



"Anything else..?" Luna asked. Sombra tried to take a step forward, but the leg with the shard in it was hurting so badly he couldn’t even put weight on it, and lurched sideways as his balance took a nose dive. He steadied himself, trying to desperately stem the tidal wave of dizziness...



"What’s going on?" Shining Armor frowned.



"Something’s not right.." Luna frowned.



Ever helpful, Flash Sentry stepped forward to try and help, but Sombra stumbled back out of reach. Whatever was wrong with him, he couldn’t let it spread, he knew that much.



"Just leave it.." he snapped hoarsely, but truthfully his strength was fading. He closed his eyes, feeling just so tired.



"Sombra.." he opened his eyes, it was Luna "this way.."



Too dizzy to comprehend, he let himself be led over to a comfy pile of cushions, where his strength gave way and he collapsed.



"Take it easy..." Luna’s voice was oddly soothing, and he fell asleep a second later.



Luna watched the sleep spell do its work, then bellowed for somepony to fetch the doctor!



"What is it?" Celestia asked.



"I do not know...but I sense its something bad.."



"Is it an injury?" Shining Armor asked, a little lost "he DID get thrown about like a rag doll a few times.."



"No, this is something more insidious..." Luna said.



The doctor came in no time, followed by his aide, and Fluttershy.



"Oh my!" Fluttershy exclaimed.



"What’s going on Princess?" the doctor looked at Celestia "how many times are we gonna treat this guy for strange fits caused by the charm of yours?"



“This is not due to the choker or its spell.." Celestia aid calmly "the circumstances do not match. We fear this is something worse.."



"As you wish Princess..." the doctor nodded "i trust you know what you’re doing with this guy!"



"Oh we do," Luna said bluntly "now, please."



Once he was sure Sombra was heavily asleep and wouldn’t lash out, the doctor approached, doing a cursory check for injuries first. On the surface it appeared no more than a few bruises here and there.



Then he noticed a small pool of blood trickle to the floor when he was checking the unicorns forelegs for broken bones.



"Eep!" Fluttershy squeaked.



The doctor frowned, unlatching and removing the armored shoe on that hoof.



Behind him Luna, Celestia, and everypony else watching gave a startled gasp.



There was a wound on Sombra’s leg. The skin around the entry wound was black, and an almost crystalline black substance was spreading from the wound, winding around his leg like a black vine. As they stared, it seemed to shiver, then branched out again. Even asleep under some heavy magic, Sombra flinched in pain. It’d been hard to spot thanks to his dark coat, and had no doubt been spreading rapidly.



"I’ve never seen anything like this.." Twilight Sparkle whispered.



"It's spreading.." Fluttershy whispered.



Shining Armor crept closer to get a look, then he spotted something.



"Its embedded in his leg!" he cried "there’s a shard of black crystal.."



“Crystal..." Twilight Sparkle thought back to the sample Sombra had given her "that’s what’s poisoning him!"



"Remove it," Celestia ordered.



"He needs to go to medical.." the doctor objected.



But even as they stood there, the crystal shimmered again-



"Just do it here!" Luna barked.



"And fast!" Cadance looked pale. Shining Armor scooted up next to her, offering a hug for solace. Twilight Sparkle smiled at how happy her big brother was with Cadance.



The doctor nodded, fetching the supplies needed to remove it there and then. He was more grateful then ever that Luna had knocked Sombra out so deeply, because this was going to hurt big time!



But eventually he managed to pull the shard of crystal from the pony’s leg. His aide instantly set about cleaning and stitching the wound, while the doctor put the shard into a glass dish.



Twilight Sparkles eyes widened when she seen the shard that’d stuck into Sombra’s leg. It was a sizeable chunk, enough to cause serious pain.



Fluttershy put a hoof against Sombra’s forehead, wincing at how high his temperature was. So she carefully applied a cold compress to his head, noting he seemed to relax a little, even in his sleep.



"We'll need to keep him here for quarantine, sorry Princesses."



“It matters not. I’m sure we can manage without the throne room for a day or so," Cadance shrugged "we have other rooms.."



"He will need regular doses of medicine, I’ll get some anti-infection mixtures made. Somepony will need to stay with him, in case it gets any worse..." the doctor added as he left to get the herbs.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

As the hours went by, Sombra showed no signs of getting any better. He stirred briefly every few hours but soon sank back into exhausted slumber.



As it was getting dark, Luna said shed keep an eye on Sombra.



The doctor mixed the medicine and advised she get him to drink it soon as he regained consciousness.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Sombra fought to open his eyes. He was in a darkened room, his head hurting too much to understand it.



Pain, his whole body HURT. A shiver wracked his body and he groaned softly, unable to even get to his feet.



"Here," a familiar voice spoke, and he seen a cup full of a dark mixture floating in front of him. He recognized Luna’s magic "drink this."



Too weak to argue, he managed to hold the cup with his hooves, his magic scrambled by the sickness.



"What’s....going on..?" he croaked. Luna took the empty cup and set it aside.



"You fell ill after a shard of that insidious black crystal became lodged in thy leg. You shouldn’t try to move, you are very sick."



Sombra closed his eyes, another shiver running through him. A second later and he felt an extra warmth, and opened his eyes to see Luna placing an extra blanket atop him.



"It will pass, the doctor has removed the crystal from thy leg!"



Sombra hadn’t the strength to answer, and fell asleep again, wincing as he shifted how he lay, curling up on his side, so tired..



Luna felt sorry for him. Yet it was strange, without the armor, and the crown keeping his ears pinned back, he looked a lot less threatening. It was a strange sight, seeing him so vulnerable...

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The doctor had hoped that by confining "patient zero" aka Sombra, that whatever it was wouldn’t spread. But he was wrong. Unknown to anypony, all it took was one host in a vicinity, and everypony could get infected. This was no ordinary sickness. By the next morning, both the aide and Fluttershy were down with fevers, and little specks of the dark crystal had popped up on their coats, like a rash. The symptoms appeared to be sudden dizziness, followed by severely weakened strength, and high fever.



Even Luna noticed, on the second night of keeping an eye on Sombra, that she was feeling a little dizzy. Being an Alicorn, her strength was pretty high, so she wasn’t succumbing as fast!



Sombra appeared to be faring a teensy bit better. He was sleeping near constantly, but had been able to take fluids, even though food was out of the question.



On the third night, the epidemic had caught fire. Ponies that worked in the palace had gone home to their families and spread it even further. Even those treating the sick were falling prey.



"What will we do..?" Cadance said sadly, watching over a sick Shining Armor.



Their only hope lay with three particular ponies..

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

-



The fourth day, Sombra awoke, and his head felt clearer then before. The room was empty, nopony was about. Getting to his feet he stumbled around, wandering down the hall until he chanced upon a small room. It held a little room with apparatus for making tea, coffee and whatnot.



As he moved, he felt something bump into his leg. He’d woken up wrapped in his cloak and three blankets. He recalled the parcel of herbs the mare had given him. She’d said it was for sick ponies, so what was the harm. The stuff Luna had been persuading him to drink didn’t feel like it was having ANY effect, he still felt awful.



He dozed off briefly while the water heated, then woke up as the little bell dinged. Awkwardly he managed to mix the stuff like the mare had said. It smelled lovely. Taking a deep breath he swallowed the whole thing in one. Then staggered about coughing heavily. Once that was over, he wobbled back to the throne room, burrowing under the blankets. It was then he noticed the scroll left by his bed.



"Sombra.." it read "all of the empire is falling prey to this sickness, even my sister and I. If you are well enough to stand, and strong enough to walk, I beseech you to look for a cure. We urgently need your help in this matter - Luna"



"What am I meant to do? Why does she think...i care.." he grumbled. Closing his eyes he drifted asleep.



The substance the mare had given him contained powerful properties that were good for cleansing the blood. It was this that meant when Sombra next awoke, his fever was all but burnt out, and he felt a little stronger.



He got to his feet, just as a knock came at throne room door.



"Somepony there?" he called. The door opened, and the blue haired pony stuck his head round.



"Oh, thank Celestia, your awake!" he looked glad to see Sombra.



"Who’re you..?"



“My name's Flash Sentry, Royal Guard! We tracked one of those shadow things together, remember?."



"Right, yes. Wait, Why aren’t YOU sick..?" Sombra asked, gesturing to the scroll Luna had left for him.



"I don’t know..." Flash shook his head "I think I must be lucky...but there’s so may sick ponies, i don’t know what to do! You’ve been out of it until now, I've been trying to rouse you all day!"



Luna’s words echoed in Sombra’s head.



"I don’t know.." he muttered. "the medicine doesn’t seem to help, but yet..." he looked over at the parcel of herbs he’d been given "perhaps..?"



“Huh?" Flash asked.



He sighed "I don’t know why i give a hay, but I have an idea...I need you to give some of this tea to the Princesses. It worked on me, so maybe..."



Flash looked doubtfully at him.



"I’m not trying to poison anypony you pointy haired loon!" Sombra barked "just listen to me!"



"Ok!" Flash yelped, “I get it!”



He waited while Sombra mixed the tea once more, then took the cups to the Princesses rooms, starting with Cadance and Shining Armor's bedroom.



Cadance listened to his story, and when he told her Sombra had actually asked they trust him, she took the tea. Once she’d made sure Shining Armor had drunk some, she finished the rest off.



Then she fell asleep once more.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Celestia and Luna were next up, with the dozy Luna barely staying awake long enough to drink before passing back out.



Then Twilight Sparkle, who asked after her brother, and sighed in relief when she was told he was doing OK.



What was left, Flash gave to the Doctor and his aides.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"That’s all of it.." Sombra frowned.



"Where did you get it?" Flash Sentry asked.



"A mare, she came up and gave it to me after the fight with that thing. We need to find her!"



"Well, what was her name, what did she look like?"



Sombra described her as best he could recall.



"Oh, i know! That’s Healing Breeze, she’s the best chemist in town!"



“Then we need to find her." Sombra said bluntly "lets go, now."



He was still shaky, but managed to pull his cloak back on. Somepony had removed his armor while he slept, and his leg was still too inflamed to wear it, so he left it behind, only tying his cloak around himself.



They ran outside. The streets were silent.



"Where did everypony go?" Flash asked.



"They must be under quarantine, or they’re ALL sick.." Sombra muttered "lets go."

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Healing Breeze had drunk some of her own special tea the moment she’d started feeling a bit ill, so she had barely any symptoms at all. When she heard urgent knocking from the shop floor she trekked down to answer it.



She was surprised to see a palace guard and Sombra standing there.



"Oh!" she said "what’s going on?"



"That tea!" Sombra blurted "what’s in it?"



"Oh, that stuff I gave you?" she asked, "that’s a family recipe, its for helping ease aches and pains.."



“Well it’s doing a lot more then that!" Sombra pointed out "it cured the fever, put a stop to the infections gallop. We need more of it!"



"Oh my, of course...i didn’t think it would be so effective. It’s just a simple pick me up for when you’re feeling under the weather, not for treating major sickness!"



"Well it’s working ma'am!" Flash Sentry said.



"Come in boys, I’ll see what I have.." she ushered them inside.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

They soon discovered they had a problem. There was not nearly enough to cover everypony.



"We need to gather more herbs," healing breeze looked at the two ponies, noting how Sombra still seemed a little sick. "i hate to ask you both-"



“We’ll get it done!" Flash blurted "what do we need?"



She laid out a list of herbs, explaining where each one was found and what it did.



She found some saddlebags, which she gave to the two ponies.



"Hurry!" Flash bounded off. Sombra shook his head slightly.



"Amusing young fella," healing remarked.



"He’s got it bad for that Princess, that’s why he’s got a bee up his butt.." Sombra snorted.



"Which one dear?" she asked.



"The purple one...Twilight Sparkle.." he recalled at last. She just chuckled, then they left the house too, to start herb hunting.



It started to rain as Sombra pelted along the empty streets, heading for the woods at the very edge of town. He seen a few ponies glancing out of windows, but they soon ducked and hid when they seen him. Ignoring this, he forced himself to concentrate on the task at hoof, find the herbs!



Two hours later, soaked and bedraggled, he was at the door of the chemists shop. She opened it, telling him flash had just got back too.



The next hour or so was a blur of mixing herbs, boiling water, and bottling.



Mid-way through, Healing made some hot soup for all of them. Sombra mumbled about being fine, but she pretty much insisted he drink it. He was too tired to fight her, and was surprised by the fact it stayed down.



The plan was to leave a bottle on every doorstep with a note from healing breeze saying what it did.



"Will they believe me?" she asked. Sombra gave a snort "well they won’t believe ME!" he said "you’re the only one they’ll listen to.."



"Exactly.." Flash said.



"Well if you’re sure boys..." she sighed, before starting to copy the notes.



"This could take awhile..." Flash Sentry groaned "wed all better write them.."



Sombra yawned softly, and Healing Breeze cast a sympathetic glance.



"Get some rest.." she suggested. But Sombra shook his head "if I fall asleep now, i don’t know when I’ll wake up," he muttered "let’s just get this done. After that...I don’t care..."



"You’re still technically working off the same illness, take it easy.." flash added. Sombra just shrugged, and carried on stacking the bottles into the saddlebags.



20 minutes later, and all three had saddlebags filled to the brim with glass bottles. Tied around each one was a note explaining how to take.



"I hope this works..." flash fretted.



Back at the castle, it was already helping. Cadance awoke feeling a fair bit better, at least able to think clearly. Shining Armor was showing improvement too. Strong enough to get up, he went in search of his sister.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The rain didn’t let up as they ran. Sombra had realized his wet cloak would only slow him down, so he’d left it at Breeze's house. Running along the crystal streets, bare-hoofed and minus his cloak, he felt oddly free. He raced from doorway to doorway, pausing only to levitate a bottle onto each doorstep, then press the bell or whatever, then he bolted onward.



But one door opened just as he was setting the bottle down. He stepped back, tensed to get outta there. He didn’t have the strength to fight anypony right now..



"Sombwa!" he did a double take at that voice.



Little Bright Spark stood on the doorstep, peering worriedly at him.



"Can you help me? Mommy’s weally sick..."



"That’s what this is.." he indicated the bottle "you need to have her drink some of that, yourself too. Are you sick?"



"A wittle bit.." she sniffled "my head is achy..."



"Just give me a moment.." he darted off, dropping of the last three bottles, then returning to where Bright Spark waited.



"Get inside little one, you’ll get sicker..." he ushered her in, following after.



She led him down the hall to the kitchen, where he managed to boil the medicine and pour it into a cup. With Bright Spark at his heels, he carried it up the stairs to where Spark said her mommy was.



When they entered the bedroom, Spark carried the cup to her mommy, while Sombra stood in the doorway, looking at the rain pouring down outside.



"Dwink up mommy....its medicine fwom Bweeze, she says it’ll help you feel better..."



While she babbled away, Sombra thought back to how he’d gotten infected. What if...what if other ponies had shards embedded in them too? The whole scale of the problem hit him a second later.



The core had seemed to almost completely explode. What if it had in fact blown apart into dozens of little shards. They had to be removed or the sickness would come back, and get worse!



"Little one!" he said urgently "I must go, can you take care of your mother a little longer? I’ll try to return, but there’s something I have to do.."



"Okaayy..." she said, pottering over to him.



Half asleep, Bright Spark’s mother Shining Sea could blurily see her little daughter talking to a soaking wet pony who was waiting outside the room. Too tired to call out, she just managed to catch sight of a cutie mark of three red crystals...then she passed out.



Where had she seen or heard that before..? Red crystals..?

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Sombra made sure bright spark drank a little of the tea herself, a much smaller dose as she was a filly.

"You’ll come back, wight?" she asked.



"I’ll try," he aid at last "but there’s still so many left...and check your mother, see if she has any splinters!"

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

He tore back through the streets towards the chemist. Breeze listened to what he was saying and paled.



"We need a doctor....or anypony trained in first aid at least!"



"I gave some to the palace doctors and Fluttershy..." Flash spoke up.



"Then all we can do is wait until they awaken..." Sombra sighed "and hope its soon!"



"I’ll come with you boys to the palace...we can use their kitchen..." Healing said at last "I’m sure the Princess wont mind.."



And that was how the soaked trio came to end up at the palace.



Sombra found the doctors’ aide, curled up in the sickbay. He woke him up, perhaps a tad rudely, and pointed at a cup of the herb drink.



"More of this stuff?.." the aide sneezed.



"It’s a stronger dose," Sombra said bluntly "but we don’t have much choice. Everypony needs to be checked to see if they have splinters too, otherwise they’ll keep getting sick! Can you handle some patients if we bring them here?"



"I think so.." the aide stammered. Sombra shoved a bottle of the drink at him "make your boss drink this too, and fast!".

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Out in the empty streets, Sombra ran back to Bright Spark’s house. Shed done as he’d asked, and checked her mommy for a splinter. Sure enough, a tiny shard had gotten into her hoof. Before he’d left the palace, the Doctor had shown him how to remove a basic splinter. Any more serious cases, where it was really embedded, he told Sombra to bring them to him.



Luckily, Shining Sea’s was only a minor puncture, at an easy angle. With a pair of tweezers, and a massive effort, he used his levitation to carefully tweak it free. Bright Spark bounced forward with a pad soaked in antiseptic, which she gently dabbed on the tiny wound.



"Spark, sweetie.." Shining Sea smiled as she seen her daughter "you’re a good girl.."



"You’ll be OK mommy, we got wid of the spwinter, and you’ve had some medicine...you just need looots of sleep!"



Shining Sea smiled, and again noticed somepony hovering by the door.



She didn’t recognise him, what with his mane plastered to his muzzle and neck by the rain. Add to that the fact he wasn’t wearing his signature armor or cloak, and she hadn’t a clue who he was.



"Who...who’s that honey..?" she asked. The pony at the door startled slightly, turning to look over at her. She seen ruby red eyes, that unusual horn...



"Wait...it’s you...isn’t it?” she asked. Sombra cursed under his breath.



"Mommyyy!" bright spark rolled her eyes "i told you, he snot scawwy! He bwought the medicine!"



"How come YOU aren’t sick?" Shining Sea asked, a bit angrily. Why had he escaped?



"I’ve already BEEN sick," he said calmly "I had a large chunk of this blasted crystal buried in my leg, it came on a lot faster." he shifted how he was standing so she could see a neatly bandaged wound.



"Of course..." she said at last, the hazy memories of the market coming back "you were fighting that thing...i saw you..."



She’d watched the fight tin the town centre, seen how the shadow pony had gone for Sombra, how they’d bean beating the living daylights out of each other!



"See mommy..he’s not a bad pony..?" bright spark pleaded.



"I have to go, little one.." Sombra sighed.



"But..but.." she looked up at him "why?"



"I have to see to the rest...everypony has to be checked, otherwise this sickness will spread!"



"Lemme help!" she objected. he smiled faintly, patting her head with one hoof "your mother needs you, little one. You must stay and tend to her!"



Bright Spark nodded, then reached up and tapped his nose.



"Boop.." she said sadly. He turned and reluctantly returned to the seemingly endless quest.



Sadly not all ponies were as kind as spark had been. A lot of them shouted abuse, leaning out of windows rather then answer the door to him. Only when he unravelled the scroll showing the royal doctors seal did they listen to him. Many had little splinters much like Shining Sea. Sombra instructed them the way the doctor had told him. Remove the splinter, disinfect, cover with band aid, drink medicine. Rinse and repeat.



By the 20th house he’d been to, he was starting to feel the effects of all the running and the rain. He couldn’t stop shivering.



He looked like a drowned rat, but he didn’t care. He just wanted this over with.



One or two he came across had larger splinters, and he had to tell their families to bring them to the palace...



Those that weren’t so sick were encouraged to go check on their neighbors and so on.



By the time he got to the last street, something was bugging him. Aside from the hostile reactions he was getting, he had a headache. Had he not been so exhausted he might have recognized it for the premonition it was.



"We don’t need YOUR help, monster!" oh boy, that was getting old fast. He gave a snarl of fury and lobbed the scroll so it landed at the shouters hooves.



"Its from your kingdoms precious doctor, go take it up with HIM!" he raged, feeling sick and tired. This storm wasn’t helping.



The one yelling at him wasn’t done. He marched up to Sombra, even though the other stallion was bigger and going by looks alone, stronger.



Those red eyes bored into him, something lurking in their depths. But he didn’t back down, just stared.



"What the hay is wrong with you?!" the stallion, frightened by his wife and child’s sickness, was taking it out on Sombra "why the hay should we trust YOU?!"



“What other choice have you-?!" Sombra fumed. Then his attention was caught by a flicker amongst the rain behind the pony.



"Move!" he bellowed suddenly, shoving the pony aside and stepping forward.



"How dare you-" the angry pony grabbed Sombra’s tail in his teeth and yanked back, trying to make him pay attention.



Sombra jolted, whirling round to glare at the stallion.



"Honey!" he heard the pony’s wife shout out, and realized in his anger, he’d forgotten the thing he’d seen in the rain.



It pounced for him and the earth pony. So he did what he had to, gripping the pony’s coat between his teeth and throwing him aside, then facing the thing charging towards him.



The angry stallion got to his hooves, ready to berate Sombra for even daring to touch him-



His jaw dropped. Sombra was literally locking horns with a creature made of black shadows. They seemed evenly matched, then Sombra gave a furious roar and shunted it away from him with all his weight. It bounced a few meters away, and got up, its yellow eyes burning;



"How did you defeat my plague?!" it hissed "what are you, creature?"



"A monster, a thing of darkness. Perhaps you and I possess more in common than I thought, but there's a point where I stop-.." Sombra snarled.



"Oh really?" it mocked.



"Yeah.." Sombra smirked, suddenly grabbing a spade from where it’d been left outside in someponys garden, he leveled it at the creature and took a hefty swing;



"-Stop giving a hay!"



The creature was knocked flying by the blow, but go back up, twitching, its image distorting; But Sombra noted this one was far more solid then the previous ones! Clearly it had learned something from the previous battles...



"I‘ll teach you to mess with me, you fool!" it screeched, its equine shape dissolving into a vengeful blob of darkness. Barbs shot out and wrapped around the surprised and tired Sombra, lashing around his legs, his neck..



Those latter ones tightened, making black sparks dance on the edge of his vision as he fought.



"All it took was one little sick pony, and your whole empire would be mine," it hissed, "what can you hope to achieve.." it laughed, tightening its grip. Sombra was on the urge of blackout.



"Get OFF me!" he raged, and did as he had done in his dreams, and the previous times. He sank his fangs into the thing, even though the action made him retch. It flung him back, knocking him flat on his back. Before he could shift to his feet, it re-assumed pony shape and pinned him there. It was a sickening pressure, and all Sombra wanted was to get it OFF him!



"Didn’t you learn anything from our last "talk"?!" it sneered "these precious little ponies don’t WANT your help.."



"Doesn’t. Matter.." Sombra coughed "I’m all there is, like it or not..."



"Why don’t I do them a favor and just end you now?" it said manically "there’s no-one to miss you..."



Sombra thought about bright spark. He wanted to make sure she was OK, she and her mother..



"You’re....wrong.." he whispered "there IS somepony....even though I don’t deserve her kindness, she persists...SO YOU CAN GO-"



The rest of his words were drowned out by a rumble of thunder. The noise rattled his head, and the shadow pony took the opportunity to swing one hoof in a dizzying punch...



Out of the corner of his eye, Sombra spied the saddlebag he’d been wearing, it had fallen off in the struggle. From them had clattered a pair of surgical scissors, for trimming bandages with.



--I’ve got one shot...-- he thought, and tried to think clearly, turning his attention back to the shadow creature eh began inching the scissors towards him.



"Why do you want this world so badly.." he spat out.



"The innocence and purity of this world is just too enticing, There’s enough power here to sustain me for many a year...but don’t be sad, even a worthless thing like you still has SOME power to give me...you’ll still have a purpose..."



"Buck off!" Sombra snarled, He’d lifted the blades until they were directly behind the things back, now he pulled them towards him with as much force as he could. It threw it’s head back, laughing at its supposed victory, then-



THWACK.

Its eyes widened, then it screamed as its core began to crack apart. Sombra threw it off him, and pounced on IT instead, cracking the core into the road, where it finally broke. The usual shock wave followed, and he was pile driven into the pavement again, the wind knocked from his lungs.



Silence reigned alongside the ringing in his ears.



He didn’t hear the confused and scared whispers from the ponies that’d watched the bizarre fight.



"What ARE those things..?" was the first sentence he heard clearly enough.



"Mommyy...is the scary thing gone?"



“Looks like it.."



Sombra got unsteadily to his feet. The houses occupants exchanged murmurs of shock when they got a look at him.



There was a painful looking bruise along his jaw, bleeding cuts around his neck where that thing had tried to strangle him, and he barely looked like he could stand! As if on cue, Sombra wobbled on his hooves, having to pause a moment longer to get his bearings. The rain had flattened his mane so it hung over his eyes, and he was shivering.



"Oh my.." somepony said softly



Sombra ignored them all, somehow re-attaching the saddlebags. He steadied himself, letting the cold rain numb his injuries;



"Go to the palace..." he said softly "if you think you’re infected." he turned and started walking away, hoping that was the ONLY one of those things...if there were more, he was up a creek without a saddle.



Left behind, the stunned neighborhood exchanged looks. He’d just saved them...hadn’t he?



"Hang on a second!" Sombra sighed as a voice called out to him. It was the same pony that’d yanked his tail.



"The scroll has the details," he said dully "i cant force you to believe me, but that chemist made the cure. Trust HER."



He didn’t hang around for any more questions, just took off at as fast a trot as he could. He galloped through the empty streets, before realizing he couldn’t possibly check the whole empire on hoof. He needed something else..



He recalled the funny twinges he’d been having every time one of those things had shown up, the headaches. Deciding the empty street was as good a place as any he sat down, closed his eyes and tried to focus his mind.



He dug through all the pains and injuries he’d acquired, setting each particular pain aside once he’d figured out what part of him it belonged to. There. At the back of his mind, a memory of that strange throbbing pain. But it felt hollow, a shadow. A distant memory...



The whole time, while he’d been sitting there, the choker had started glowing, giving off a faint luminescence. Ponies that looked out their windows at that point would’ve seen a glimmering blue light amidst the rain, highlighting a hazy figure. Then it was gone.



Sombra got up, he couldn’t, to the best of his limited ability, say there were anymore. But once the guards were well enough, they needed to start patrol.



He staggered back to the palace. So the whole illness had been a trick, to try and lay waste to the whole empire, that thing had been on it’s way to begin harvesting them when it’d run into him...



Somepony tried to approach him, ask if he was OK, but he ignored them, snarling at them until they left him alone. He just wanted some peace.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"Sombra." a voice spoke from behind him in the empty hall and he jumped, looking over his shoulder to see;



Luna.



"Princess," he said at last, not turning to face her...



"Its seems we owe thee our gratitude for bringing us that medicine," she said. She looked better already, and he surmised it was a bonus of Alicorn magic.



"It was dumb luck I even remembered it.." he muttered "it was just a package of herbs that chemist gave me, go thank her!"



She frowned, wondering what he was hiding. She teleported round to face him, and when she took in the state of him, her eyes widened.



"What in my sisters name happened?!"



"Another of those things," he snapped "turns out the sickness was just a handy way to keep you all docile so it could drain your power.”



Luna gaped "wha?"



Sombra closed his eyes, recollecting the fight "it took a lot of it’s power to do it, that’s why it waited until it was sure everypony would be sick, but-"



“But it didn’t bank on YOU." Luna finished.



Sombra shrugged "serves it right," he muttered thickly, the room hazing at the edges.



"Whoa!" Luna darted forward, attempting to support him. She was shocked by how badly shaken he was, his body a myriad of scrapes and bruises by the looks of it...



He tried to make her leave him alone, but was too weakened to really put up a fight. She dragged him down the hall and into the hospital room. They halted in the doorway.



The room was pretty busy, lots of ponies were sitting or lying about, either asleep or being treated by the doctors.



Fluttershy looked up from where she was comforting a young filly, she was feeling much better now after repeated doses of that tea. She seen the poor, battered Sombra and let out a gasp.



"Lemme go.." Sombra muttered, but his words were slurring together.



"What in blazes-?!" the doctor stepped up beside Fluttershy "what on earth is going on out there?!"



"You don’t want to know.." Sombra said dizzily "Seriously..."



"Oh my...." Fluttershy seen the blood all over his coat, seen how he was shivering, barely able to stand "what happened?"



"One of those things..." Sombra muttered "it was coming here...to harvest everypony...."



Gasps and whispers ran around the medical bay.



"The whole...plague.." Sombra was fighting to get the words straight "was to put you...at its mercy.."



He turned to address Luna "you need to send out some guards soon as they’re well, i couldn’t sense if...that thing was alone-" he finally collapsed, his energy drained. Luna caught him best she could, frowning at how COLD he was!



"Eek!" Fluttershy looked around "we need somewhere to place him..."



"This is bad, were way over capacity.." the doctor muttered.



A young colt gave a cough and shuffled off the bed he’d been occupying;



"I’m good to stand, he looks kind of deadish..."



“Thank you!" Fluttershy said gently as she, with Luna and the doctors help, got Sombra to the bed, lying the injured unicorn on his side; Blood soaked into the bed sheet, a few ponies gasped at the sight of his injuries.



“What the hay was he fighting?" the colt asked.



"A creature of shadow and cruelty," Luna said somberly.



"And he won? I’d hate to see the other guy," the colt joked.



"I’m pretty sure the "other guy" was blasted to smithereens," Luna replied.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Once they’d patched him up best as they could, Luna summoned a blanket with her magic, and Fluttershy helped her tuck it around the sleeping Sombra..



"He's very cold.." Fluttershy worried.



"He’s also got a temperature higher then a giraffe on a trampoline!" the Doctor said. Some of the kids nearby giggled at this comparison "he cant keep fighting like this Princess..."



"I understand," Luna said "but he alone can target their weak spots according to my sister..."



She looked down at the sleeping Sombra "we need him..."

Facade & Memory

View Online

Some hours later, Sombra was awoken by the sound of somepony calling his name.



"Over there!" somepony pointed towards where Sombra was lying.



Sombra struggled to focus as he seen the Guard approach.



"We've done a sweep Sir, there have been no further reported attacks!" the Guard said. Sombra sighed softly.



"Good," he said shortly "It was just a lone attacker then."



"And I have a message from Princess Twilight Sparkle," the Guard added.



"Oh?" Sombra sighed. "What does she say?"



"Thank You," the guard said simply. Then he walked away. Sombra blinked. OK then.



He could feel a dozen gazes burning into him, and he just wanted some peace and quiet.



So he pulled the blanket over his head and drifted asleep, too weakened and tired to care about anything.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

He was awoken later on by voices not far from his bed.



"Well, it's been a long day, but I think we've finally treated the last of the serious cases..." That was the doctors voice.



"I’m glad to hear it," Celestia’s voice "but what of Sombra?"



"His fever is running dangerously high," the doctor said. "He did himself no favors by running about in the rain for so long, never mind fighting one of those things."



"I had wished to speak with him, but in these conditions, I will postpone it."

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Cadance called a meeting out in the town square.



"Citizens of the crystal empire, I am glad to say everypony is on their way to feeling all better!"



Cheers greeted this announcement;



"We narrow avoided a very serious crisis, and those that saved us deserve our thanks..."



She gestured to Flash Sentry who stood off to one side "One of our best Royal Guards, who helped gather herbs and carry medicines to ponies homes!"



An overwhelming cheer greeted this, and Flash blushed a little.



"And Healing Breeze, who so kindly assembled the tea that made us well again!"



The chemist gave a cheery wave, and another huge wave of applause swept through the crowd.



"But there is one other," Cadance said "I know many of you have had reservations about Sombra’s return here. But without his help, we would not be here now. I have pieced together the whole story of the events while I was sick;“


“When the core inside that dark creature exploded during that fight all those days ago in the market, it split into many little shards, which got under ponies coats and infected them with the sickness. As its opponent, the first to be infected was Sombra. His was a severe case, a shard the size of a small jewel was buried in his leg.”


Lots of ponies winced.


“By the time he got over the worst of it, most of the kingdom was infected. It was thanks to Healing Healing Breeze’s special tea he was well enough to get the others. These three managed to put a stop to a very nasty plague. A plague designed to keep us all weak and helpless so that thing from the sky tear could harvest the magic and energy within us all. A plan that ended after Sombra tore it to pieces.”



She shook her head “from what I have been told, that THING did not expect to encounter any resistance. We were lucky he was willing to help us, and not just abandon the empire.”



Shocked murmurs ran round the crowd, and one pony spoke up;



"So where is he?"



"He's still very sick..." Cadance explained "Running round in the rain only hours after taking the medicine, its left him in a bad state."



Surprised whispers ran round the crowd, Sombra had....helped them? The rumors were true...



"Thank you all for coming!" Cadance smiled sweetly "And I ask you all be vigilant, and be careful!"



The people cheered their Princess as she stepped down from the podium and, with Flash Sentry trotting alongside, went back to the palace.



The crystal ponies were surprised, but they knew their Princess wouldn’t lie to them. So it seemed the villain had been a sort of hero this time round...

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Having finally been allowed to return to his own room, Sombra got the peace and quiet he wanted for a further night and day. He got his appetite back a little and wobbled downstairs in search of food. And bumped into Twilight Sparkle and friends.



"Oh, Sombra!" Twilight Sparkle said brightly, looking all better "Luna told us you were the one who saved us by finding that medicine!"



"Yeah well, she lies." He grumped dismissively, unable to accept their thanks, it felt too awkward. He had no idea about the conference, and was convinced they’d all just thank Healing Breeze and Flash Sentry and leave him alone.



"I most certainly do not!" Luna’s voice bellowed from behind him, making him jump a mile. Making everypony jump.



"Geez.." he grumbled "Dial it down there!"



"Then stop lying!" Luna shot back "You helped cure an empire, what part of that bothers thou exactly?"



"That chemist is the one your looking for," he said bluntly. "Not me. Your little blue haired friend and I were just pack mules for that medicine..." he turned and walked away.



"Blue hair...ohh....Flash Sentry!" Twilight Sparkle caught on "I remember, he came to see me.."



Luna frowned "what sort of idiot doesn’t take pride in saving so many ponies? If he and the others hadn’t done all that work, wed be flank deep in severe cases of sickness by now! Or DEAD!"



"I don’t think he wants ta get his hopes up." Applejack said honestly.



"Come again?" Rainbow Dash asked her.



Applejack sighed "he aint exactly used ta ponies thankin’ him for nothin', I don’t think he wants to believe any of it happened. If it didn’t happen, he cant be blamed OR thanked for it...leastways, that how it seems to me.."



"What kinda way of thinking is THAT?!..." Rainbow Dash remarked. "I mean, he did good!"



"He should be happy...." Fluttershy squeaked "many of the ponies we treated said they wouldn’t have known if he hadn’t been knocking at their doors yelling instructions at them. I’m not sure they could believe it either..."



"Give him time..." twilight said. "I’m sure he'll come around."



Then somepony put a hoof over her eyes and she squealed in delight. She knew who it was;



"Twily!"



She hugged her big brother tightly.



"Feeling better big brother?" she asked.



"Yup, back in action!" he smiled as she hugged him again "most everypony’s been given the cure now. Celestia’s recommended to Cadance we give Healing Breeze a job as the official royal chemist!"



"She deserves it.." Fluttershy smiled.



"And apparently she’s not the only pony we need to thank, aside from Flash Sentry..." Shining Armor raised an eyebrow "I thought Cadance was pulling my leg, but it seems he really DID help us out."



“Yeah! But try telling HIM that!" Pinkie Pie said "he was just here.."



"Oh, where’d he go?" Shining Armor wondered.



"Off in a right strop," Rainbow Dash remarked "trying to thank him gets him in a bad mood it seems."



"Rainbow Dash!" Twilight Sparkle said, then looked at her brother. "He’s just not used to it, keeps trying to shift the attention away from what happened."



"Probably thinks your pulling his leg," Shining Armor mused.



"That’s what ah thought too.." Applejack pointed out.



"Ooh, I almost forgot!" Pinkie Pie waved a hoof in the air "I’m helping the school with a bake sale on Friday! Who wants to come?"



There was a whole chorus of yeses!

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Eventually, Celestia did request to speak to Sombra, who reluctantly made his way down to the throne room, which had been tidied up since his stay there.



"Ah, at last.." Celestia looked up as Sombra stopped a short distance away. "I assume you’re much better?"



He sighed softly. "The symptoms are all gone, if that’s what you mean. So are the stitches."



"Good," Celestia said "and it seems we owe you for your assistance-"



“I already TOLD your sister regarding that!" he snapped "I’m not the one who-"



"Oh but you ARE!" she said with such force he actually stopped short.



She fixed a stern glare on him "Had you just sat around on your rear after recovering, we would all be seriously ill right now. But the facts of the matter are thusly: one) you found out what that tea could do, and two) you made the conscious decision to replicate it, with Flash Sentry and Healing Breeze’s help. Had you not drawn attention to it, nopony would’ve even noticed, not until it was too late."



Sombra stayed silent, not wanting to admit to it.



"You may not comprehend it, but you saved a lot of lives that way. What could’ve been a serious epidemic has been brought under control. There’s also the matter of this letter..." she floated it over to him;



He unfolded it and began to read;

"Dear Princesses of the royal castle;



I want to thank you for sending that medicine to me and my daughter. Without it, I would’ve been very sick, and unable to care for her. It also seems I owe Sombra a great deal of thanks. My daughter is very fond of him, and he made sure he got the medicine she needed too. Please, thank him for me, and give him this little note, from my daughter,



Signed

Shining Sea."

A mini, sealed envelope floated over, hovering in front of him until he took it.



"Now do you understand..." Celestia asked. Sombra didn’t answer, he looked a little....lost all of a sudden.



"The crystal ponies aren’t fools, they trust Cadance. And when she told them you were responsible for their recovery-"



“She did what?!" Sombra sputtered, almost dropping the envelope, catching it just in time.



"-She told them the truth." Celestia eyeballed him "that is not the only letter.."



"I don’t want to hear any more..." Sombra groaned "if that’s everything, I think I’m going back to bed..."



Celestia sighed softly, but let him go.



"You weren’t kidding sister.." she said once he’d gone, "he really is reluctant to accept anypony’s kindness..."

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Upstairs in his bedroom, Sombra opened Bright Sparks letter.

"Dear Sombra," (her writing was adorably wobbly)



"Thanks for helping mommy get better. She’s OK now, and were making cakes for the festival on Friday. Please come see us,



Bright Spark."

He couldn’t help smile a little. Sparks honesty made him feel less like the monster he knew himself to be…or did he?

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

A further day in bed and he felt a little better. Sadly, his nightmares had increased lately, and he was waking up and being sick every time. The doctor seemed surprised when he came to check on Sombra, and the unicorn barely made a sound the entire check-up. He seemed listless and tired, even going so far as to doze off (sitting UP) mid way. A little concerned, the doctor went to see the Princesses in the throne room.



Luna was curled up asleep, but Celestia and Cadance were awake and alert.



"What is the matter"? Cadance asked.



"I’m concerned about that- Sombra. He’s not looking any better since he got infected by that crystal. I went to check on him today, and he was so out of it I don’t think he even noticed I was there! He fell asleep sitting up all of a sudden."



Cadance frowned "being shut up in that room isn’t helping him any, he needs to get some fresh air, I will see what I can do."



“Thank you Princess." the doctor bowed his head then left.



"Where is Twilight Sparkle?" Cadance wondered...

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Twilight Sparkle was happy to do as her sister-in-law asked, and persuade Sombra to go for a walk around the kingdom with her. But first Celestia wished to speak with him.



Shed been rummaging around in the old royal armory, and found something she figured she could trust Sombra with. It was a wrought-iron spear, very old but strong. It had a handle that hinged so it could be folded down and strapped to a pony’s side. This plus its carry pouch she presented to Sombra when he ambled in to see her the next morning.



"Where did you find this?" he asked, examining the ornate weapon. "this is from a long time ago..."



"It was in the depths of the palace, seems somepony has been keeping up the maintenance on even the OLD weapons. Its in perfect order."



He stared at it, it DID seem familiar, like he’d seen one of a similar style somewhere in his past....



"Before you ask," Celestia said "I have informed the guards you’ll be carrying this, that way they wont be surprised."



“Why are you giving me this?" he asked.



"So far you’ve managed to fight using whatever’s in hoofs reach. this should save you having to hunt for something to fight with."



Sombra nodded, and managed to lift the cloak and cinch the weapons carry pouch around his middle. Once the cloak was set back down, it perfectly hid the weapon.



"A perfect fit!" Celestia declared in amusement.



"So it seems..." Sombra murmured.



There was a knock at the door, and Twilight Sparkle stuck her head in;



"Oh, there you are Twilight Sparkle~" Celestia smiled happily at her student.



Twilight Sparkle stopped to chat a moment, then she left, and Sombra followed after her, pausing only to utter a gruff thanks in regards to the weapon. Celestia smiled, it seemed she’d misjudged Sombra, he wasn’t all bad..

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Twilight Sparkle noticed what Cadance had mentioned; Sombra seemed a bit slow to respond. He followed after her as she wandered into the centre of town. Ponies stopped to talk to her, and she cheerily replied. It all sounded like white noise to Sombra, his head aching something chronic. Last nights nightmare had been worse, it’d felt like there was an extra dimension to the darkness in his dreams, but he was too tired to puzzle it out. He was aware of the weight of the weapon strapped to his side. The special spear Celestia had found. It was a sturdy weapon, hopefully strong enough to shatter one of those spheres head on.



He stared out across the square, and felt his head ache so heavily he almost blacked out. Twilight Sparkle seen him sway slightly on his feet and ran over.



"Are you alright?" she asked, concerned "you don’t look well-"



“Its nothing, Princess." he said shortly.



Every time Sombra looked around, somepony was staring at him, or whispering to their friends whilst staring. Hadn’t they gotten over his being there by now?! He didn’t have time for this. Had he looked closer he would’ve seen they were curious looks, not hostile.



He was hovering outside a flower shop while Twilight Sparkle went in to order some centerpieces for Pinkie Pies latest dinner/party idea, when he heard a sudden cry. Blinking, he seen a pony standing over her friend, who’d suddenly collapsed according to her wailing. Sombra frowned, his head was aching, just like-



"Oh-" he swore subtly, getting the feeling he knew what had made her faint. He seen something move, a swift blur, only there for a second. He took off, running across the street, looking about. Nothing. Was he seeing things? Fatigue messing with his mind? Sparks danced around his vision as he moved a little too abruptly and almost lost his balance again. Surprisingly, somepony steadied him and waited until he got his hooves flat back on the ground.



"You don’t look well," a stallions voice remarked. "everything ok?"



“Wha..." Somrba fought to marshal his thoughts. "nothings...wrong..." but his head ached again and he groaned, a surge of frustration making him snarl softly.



"Got a headache?" The same stallion wondered.



"A massive one," Sombra sighed "where’s that purple Princess pony, I’m going back to the palace..."



The stallion wondered what he meant, purple Princess- oh, Twilight Sparkle!



"She’s right there," he pointed at where Twilight Sparkle was still deep in conversation with the owners of the flower shop.



"Ow, thanks..." Sombra winced again. He was partway across the road when something slammed into his side with no warning, sending him crashing to the pavement. His vision fuzzed, and he temporarily blacked out, unable to get up. The milling crowd came to a halt, wondering what was going on. Then another pony randomly fainted, crumpling to the pavement. Hearing screams, Twilight Sparkle ran back outside. She seen the collapsing ponies, and Sombra picking himself off the ground.



Barely had he gotten up then something darted out and slammed into him again, sending them both crashing into the pavement.



"Get, OFF!" Sombra’s fury provided the adrenaline he needed, and he threw the creature off him as he got to his feet. His head felt clearer, and he knew soon as he focused his eyes on the thing in front of him, what it was..



A shadow creature. Still mimicking a pony shape, it leered at him. He took a step forward.



"Uh-uh.." it grinned, its mouth a row of sharp teeth. "Don’t want to hurt any of these little creatures, do you? They'll really want you dead if you do that..."



Sombra faltered, his mind whirling, then he shook his head "don’t talk as if you know anything!" he spat out. He looked over at Twilight Sparkle suddenly, an idea forming;



"Create a bubble shield, now!"



She knew in a flash what he needed. She focused her magic and a transparent white bubble shield popped up around the shadow pony AND Sombra.



It began to expand, making the crowd of ponies back up, creating a big open space.



"There, room to wipe the floor with you, and your all outta batteries!" Sombra grinned.



"You-!" It snarled "What could they possibly gain by letting you live?!"



"You know WHAT," Sombra retorted "the same thing YOU fear, I can destroy you!"



"Hah!" it took in how tired he looked "what can you hope to achieve, you’re barely able to stand. Didn’t you learn your lesson with the plague?"



"Haven’t you noticed, I don’t tend to pay attention to that kind of thing..." Sombra laughed. He thought the bubble was soundproof, but sadly, it wasn’t. So everypony watching on the outside could hear them.



"You’ve sealed your own end, foolish pony. If I’m trapped here, then so are you. No gardening tools to fight with this time. Didn’t think this through did you?"



Sombra laughed loudly, and in one swift movement unlatched his cloak and threw it aside so it wouldn’t get tangled in the spear. He unfolded the weapon, the hinged shaft locking into place as he leveled the weapon in front of him.



"Wrong," he said, seeing the surprise on the shadow pony’s face.



"Graah!" it let out an animal roar and lunged at Sombra. The unicorn swung the spear round to meet it, the sharp point sweeping through its neck. having solidified its form to fight, this meant he pretty much decapitated it. It hastily swept back and reformed, only to get another swipe with the spear.



It struck out at him, but he used the spears shaft to block the bolts of dark matter it shot at him. The weapon was a perfect suit for him. heavy duty, but strong. Easy to swing around, it’d been perfectly balance by its creator.



The ponies standing at the outskirts of the fight gasped and winced as the two powerhouses went against one another. Flashes of teeth and fangs, the light glinting off the ornate spear as Sombra used it with an astonishing ease.



SLAM. the shadow pony got around Sombra’s spear and slammed him against the shield. It flickered, but Twilight Sparkle focused her magic and it reformed. Bearing in mind she couldn’t hold it forever, Sombra knew he had to end this.



He took advantage of the fact the thing was pinning him by the neck, off the ground, and swept one metal clad hoof up into it’s midsection. He felt his hoof connect with the things core, and it hastily dropped him. He landed awkwardly, his leg twisted underneath him..



"Just give up!" It screeched as he got to his feet "they don’t need YOU, just give in and die already!"



To one mare pressing her nose anxiously against the shield, she thought she seen a flicker of exhaustion, and defeat, cross Sombra’s face. He'd helped save them from these things, and by trapping himself in the shield with this creature, he was making sure he alone took the brunt of the attacks. Did he think they wanted him to die? She shook her head in response to her own question.



So she decided to speak up;



"Don’t listen to it!" she yelled, "IT’S the REAL monster here!"



“Yeah!” another yelled.


“Daddy said he saved us from YOU!” a little foal cried.



More ponies nodded, and waved their hoofs at the thing. Sombra blinked, a little surprised. They were cheering....for HIM?!



"Kick its flank!" somepony else yelled.



The mare who'd started it gave one more salvo. "You're not like that thing, not anymore!!" several inaudible cries followed this, all their anger directed at the shadow thing. Which looked momentarily confused.



Sombra looked from them to the monster, and smirked.



"You heard them..." he said shortly. "Time to buck off!"



"You wretched little-" it lunged for him again, Sombra retrieved the spear, keeping it at his side as he charged again. Distracting it by aiming the spears tip for its head, Sombra ducked under and, using the sharp tip of his horn, head butted the creatures gut. It hit the core, cracking it. It sent the shadow pony soaring into the air, then slamming into the ground. Sombra lifted the spear once more, aiming it at the core amidst the swirling mass...



"Can you really destroy me..?" it laughed. "An abomination like you?"



Its voice had changed, to one Sombra knew too well. His fathers. He felt a wave of sickness pulse through him again. The creature got to it’s feet. Its shape rippled, then to everypony’s shock, it transformed into a white pony with pale blue mane and tail. She had a crystal snowflake on her flank.



"You.." Sombra said, so softly nopony heard him..



"Stop this fighting Sombra..." the shape shifter mare said. Sombra just stared, he hadn’t seen her face in an eternity. He’d made a promise once, he hadn’t been able to keep it...



"Don’t you remember me..?" it was close enough now he could see the mock-sadness in her blue eyes "you promised-"



Sombra had aimed the spear at her, shaking his head.



"Her, not YOU." he hissed. Then, before the thing could regret using that appearance, Sombra drove the spear into its body. The image of the innocent pale mare flickered and died, showing its original shape, before the core exploded and it was erased from existence.



Sombra stared into space, at the spot where the shadow thing had stood. That form...how had it known..?



He thought back to his nightmares. It had to have linked to his mind somehow, during the sickness, while his magic was weak, his defenses downed.



He hurriedly de-assembled the spear, popping it into the pouch. Twilight Sparkle, still gawping at the spectacle she and everypony else had seen, dropped the shield. Sombra shakily replaced his cloak, hiding the weapon from view.



He felt sick, but his head no longer hurt.



Seeing the thing was gone, some ponies cheered, casting admittedly admiring glances at the oblivious Sombra.



Twilight Sparkle trotted over, noticing he seemed even more pale and shaken now then when they’d started out.



"So much for a walk helping," she said apologetically.



"Until that thing-" he indicated the sky tear "is gone, this will keep happening-" he suddenly felt the world spin, and hunched over, fighting to breathe a moment.



“Sombra..” He heard Twilight's voice, felt a hoof gently tapping his foreleg, but he couldn’t answer.



After a few seconds of battling to stay awake, the dizzy spell receded, and he opened his eyes. He got a shock when he seen not only Twilight Sparkle peering at him in concern, but a bunch of other ponies.



"…?" crud, how to get out of THIS situation. Why were they all staring at him like that?



"Any better?" Twilight Sparkle asked. He did feel a bit less likely to pass out or throw up. He nodded mutely.



"You both look like you need a rest.." they glanced at the pony standing by Twilight Sparkle "my cafe is just across the street, you’re welcome to take a rest there!"



Sombra’s instincts said to refuse and clear out ASAP, but by the time his brain told him to say something, Twilight Sparkle had already accepted. Figuring it was more trouble then it was worth to kick up a fuss, he reluctantly followed her.

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The cafe was quiet, and cool, away from the heat of the sunlight. Sombra almost felt like he could doze off sitting there...



Twilight Sparkle noticed the owner seemed to want to say something to Sombra, but the unicorns sullen silence made him nervous. On her way to the little mares room she whispered "just come right out with it, he wont bite your head off..."



Trusting her, the pony approached Sombra.



"You probably don’t remember it, but, you helped save my wife..."



Sombra opened his eyes, vaguely recognizing the pony now he got a good look at him.



"Anyway,” finding the silence unnerving the stallion babbled a bit. "You came to the house, told us to look for splinters. I know my family and I didn’t take kindly to you being there, W-well, id like to say I’m sorry if we didn’t listen at first. You were right, she WAS infected." he looked sacred. "She’s pregnant, but the doctors say the sickness hasn’t harmed her baby..."



"That’s good," Sombra said bluntly.



"My point is; we owe you for what you did. You could’ve left after we shouted at you, not stood out in the rain trying to argue." he gave a bob of his head. "Thank you."



Sombra fidgeted, unused to being thanked.



"Yes. Right.." he managed at last "it’s good to hear they all recovered."



The cafe owner noted how unused he seemed to ponies thanking him. Twilight Sparkle returned form the bathroom, and asked for some drinks..



A cup of some type of herbal tea, and Sombra felt a little better. Although Twilight Sparkle ordered some food, he found himself unable to eat much.



More ponies wandered into the cafe. Seeing Sombra in conversation with Twilight Sparkle they felt brave enough to approach.



Twilight Sparkle had to suppress a smile as another two ponies blurted out a thanks to the surprised Sombra, for helping them with the crystal plague. He’d seen so many faces he couldn’t recall them all. But one he did recognize-



"You stopped that thing from attacking me," the stallion said. Sombra recognized him as the one who pulled his tail and yelled at him. "if it you hadn’t come along...that thing would’ve destroyed us all."



"It’s gone now," Sombra said softly "there is nothing further to be concerned about."



"And that’s thanks to you," the stallion said bluntly. "My wife and I are extremely grateful." then he left.



Sombra stared at the second cup of tea, watching the steam rising from the cup.



"They don’t seem so frightened anymore.." he said dryly.



"You saved a great many ponies, you, Healing Breeze, and Flash. They are grateful to you all," Twilight Sparkle said "and rightly so. We ALL owe you-"



"I’m the only one that can fight them," Sombra said bluntly "they’re just happy to have something to fight back with."



“They have somePONY," Twilight Sparkle said "not a THING."



Sombra just drank his tea, not replying.



After that, they left, and Twilight Sparkle continued on her trip. Sombra looked a little better for the rest he’d had. A faint breeze was kicking up, and its coolness made him feel a little more alert.

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"Where are we GOING?!" he asked at last. Twilight Sparkle beamed, pulling a letter from her bag. "Cadance wrote this for the teacher at the preschool, we're delivering it."



"Oh," Sombra said softly.



Soon enough they reached the Crystal School. It was a big school, spacious and open. Twilight Sparkle remarked how big it was compared to Ponyville schoolhouse, which had a down home country feel, with its cosy little classrooms.



They asked a passing student where miss Petalbloom was. Sombra thought he knew that name somehow.



The somewhat nervous student directed them down the hall. The kids were running around the indoor gym hall, doing some sort of obstacle course.



"Miss Petalbloom?" Twilight Sparkle asked. the mare turned round, and seen the two ponies standing by the door.



"Princess! Sombra!" she trotted over "how can I help?"



“I have a letter from Princess Cadance," Twilight Sparkle handed it over. Petalbloom read it over, and smiled in delight;



"Tell her highness thank you so much, this is excellent!" she beamed. She glanced at Sombra "Are you feeling better? Princess Cadance said you were very ill for awhile..."



Sombra shifted on his hooves “Its fine now,” he said shortly.



“That’s a relief,” she smiled “I heard the tale of your fighting that THING. We’re all grateful you were able to stop it.”



“It was going to kill everypony” Sombra said softly “I wasn’t going to let it.”



"Well we're glad you’re here," the teacher said solemnly "Thank you.”



"SOMBWA!" Bright Spark, bouncing on a trampoline, spotted her friend mid bounce, and flung herself in his general direction. Twilight Sparkle chuckled as she bounded over and skidded to a halt in front of him.



"Ah, little one...." Sombra smiled softly. "IS your mother back on her hooves?"



“Yep!" Bright Spark nodded "she got better weal fast after you helped remove the spwinter!"



The rest of the class had noticed, after hearing Bright Spark bellow his name, that they had an odd visitor. They wandered over, watching Bright Spark admiring her reflection in his shoes, pulling faces and overall being goofy.



They were surprised to see Sombra laugh, and shake his head slightly.



Sombra seen one tiny foal gawking up at him, and when he caught the foals gaze, the startled kid blurted out;



"Good grief you’re TALL."



Twilight Sparkle giggled. It was true Sombra was a little taller then the average pony, but to the kids he must seem like a giant!



"Ooh, did you get my letter?" Spark beamed.



"Yes I did little one, and thank you." he said softly.



"Does that mean you'll come see us?" she asked hopefully. Sombra hesitated but seeing the puppy dog face she was pulling, coughed and finally relented.



"YAY!" she said.



"Ok, class!" Petalbloom smiled "back to your lesson!"



"Bye bye!" Spark waved at Sombra before bounding away.



"What that little filly runs on is beyond me.." Sombra murmured as he and Twilight Sparkle left the building. By now, the first student they’d met had told his class who he’d seen in the hall, so a lot of little ponies were peering out of classroom doors as the unicorn and Alicorn walked by.



"She’s full of beans alright..." Twilight Sparkle giggled "somehow she puts me in mind of Pinkie Pie.."



"Ah, cotton candy, right..."



Twilight Sparkle wanted to ask who the mare was that the shadow creature had imitated, but got the feeling Sombra didn’t want to talk about it. But the way he’d reacted to seeing her...

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They shared the latest attack with Celestia and Cadance. When they heard the thing was now shape shifting they were concerned. But Sombra refused to explain WHO it’d turned into, only muttering about it being a mare. Twilight Sparkle glanced at him, noticing how walled up he was acting again.



At last he returned to bed, and it was an easier sleep then before. But he still felt the reverberations of seeing her face again. For a short moment, he’d felt like that little colt again...how she’d cried when he left…

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Twilight Sparkle, her brother and Cadance remained in the library the rest of that evening, catching up on the latest regarding the sky tear.



They’d been talking so long they hadn’t realized it was evening time. And everypony was starving.



"Food time!" Pinkie Pie declared "lets go!" So they all headed down to the kitchen;

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Several minutes earlier, Sombra had snuck down for a drink.



Drawn by the faint hoof steps, the palace cook had left her living quarters and drifted down the hall to see who it was.



Sombra got a fright when the light snapped on, temporarily blinding him;



"Dangit!" he cursed.



"Oh!" the cook took a moment to recognize who ti was "sorry 'bout that.." she was a plump, cheerful pony with a big heart. Whilst she found Sombra intimidating like most everypony else, she didn’t see the harm in giving the guy benefit of the doubt for the time being.



"Why didn’t ya turn the lights on? Cant cook in the dark!"



"I am darkness, trust me, I’m used to it." Sombra said bluntly. ÒAnd I have no intention of "cooking" anything, so you needn’t be concerned."



She couldn’t reply to that. Sombra sighed, walking past her to get out of the massive kitchen. As he did so, his (unfed) stomach chose that moment to let out the loudest growl it’d ever done. He froze mid-step, one hoof in mid-air as the cook burst out laughing.



"Well that’s not what your stomachs saying!" she chuckled, walking over to the stove "my foods not that bad, stay and give it a try!"



Sombra hesitated, he knew he’d probably be sick the next morning, and this put him off food, his stomach was so unsteady…



But he was about to accept her offer anyway, when he heard voices approaching. He recognized Twilight Sparkles voice, then that of her big brother and her friends.



"I must go," he said bluntly. He was in no mood to face them right now.



Left behind, the cook frowned. Something odd had just gone on.



Then she was interrupted by the two Princesses and their group apologizing for not sending for dinner earlier. She promised to whip them up something delicious in no time!

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"You are so awesome!" Pinkie Pie told the cook. She chuckled, loving the pink ponies enthusiasm.



"Aw man, ah am so stuffed..." Applejack groaned "worth it!"



"Uh huh.." Shining Armor seconded. Cadance had to chuckle at her husbands appetite, he literally ate like a horse!



“Good to see you’re all eating well," the cook said kindly "maybe you could get that reclusive guy to eat.."



"Huh? who? OH, you mean grumpy pants!" Pinkie Pie giggled.



The cook chuckled at the nickname. "He does seem very abrupt, doesn’t he? I ran into him just before you guys came down!"



“Really?" Twilight Sparkle asked "Where’d he go?"



"I offered to make him some food. His stomach was giving off a blatant “I haven’t eaten since forever“ vibe! I’ve noticed he’s barely eating anything lately. But he suddenly got cold hooves and booked it out of here literally seconds before you..."



Cadance frowned "Its true he doesn’t leave that room unless he has to...but I didn’t realize he wasn’t eating.."



"But why’d he leg it?" Shining Armor asked.



"Well, if you get the chance, try and get him to come down here if he wants something. What else am I employed for if not to cook at all hours?" the cook chuckled.



"Word!" Shining Armor said, then burped.



"Big brother!" Twilight Sparkle scolded, but she couldn’t help laughing at his face.



"I get used to it..." Cadance laughed.



"Yeah, when he was little, him and his friends tried to form an acapella belching group!" Twilight Sparkle revealed.



"Twily!" Shining Armor tossed a balled up napkin at her, which she caught and threw back. This just made them all crease up laughing.

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Mid way back to his room, Sombra seen the library and figured he’d grab something new to read. But once he was inside, the warmth of the massive fireplace drew him over, then his stomach gurgled again and he passed out.

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They were walking past the library to get to the stairs leading to their respective rooms, when Twilight Sparkle noticed the open door and remembered she’d left her notes on the crystal Sombra had given her in there. They bumbled in, Pinkie Pie pausing to grab the cookery book shed been reading, then noticed somepony asleep by the fire.



"Aw, grumpy pants is taking a nap!" she giggled.



Sure enough, they noticed the dozing Sombra, his cloak wrapped around him.



Shining Armor cocked his head, taking in the suspiciously "collapse-y" angle he’d fallen asleep in. "I don’t think he’s napping, looks more like he passed out."



"OH," Pinkie Pie frowned, then bounded over and shook Sombra’s shoulder "wakey wakey, eggs and bakey!"



She jumped back a second later as the startled Sombra bolted to his feet, struggling to regain his balance for a few seconds.



"Wha..?" he grumbled, shaking his head.



"Ya feeling OK?" Applejack asked.



"Fine," Sombra said blankly "its noth-"



However, his stomach wasn’t letting him of so easily. It grumbled again, louder then the first time, if that was possible. He smacked a hoof into his forehead.



"Wow, the cook wasn’t joking...you are hungry!" Pinkie Pie said.



"You need ta eat somethin', that sickness did a number on ya, and the food here’s darn good.." Applejack thought back to dessert "hmm...I want some pie.."



"Its settled! Lets go get more pie, and you need dinner!" Pinkie Pie grinned at Sombra with her usual energy.



"There isn’t any need," he said bluntly. But the dizziness was getting worse. Since the sickness, he’d had little appetite, he looked exhausted and pale, the fighting fury behind those ruby eyes, dulled. As if on cue, it happened again, his vision fuzzed and he banged right into the edge of the open door, stumbling back a foot.



"Suuuree.." Shining Armor said "your just fine!"



Sombra snarled irritably at him.



"You GOTTA eat! Its important!" Pinkie Pie tried again, bounding up beside him. This made Sombra twitch and he whirled on her, annoyance on his face as he snapped;



"Where’s the point in eating, you ball of candy fluff, when these nightmares of the darkness have me throwing up all the time!" Then he seemed to realize he’d let slip too much and clammed up, backing up a step.



Silence reigned.



"Oh" Pinkie Pie looked sympathetically at him. "Still...maybe soup? My auntie always made me soup when I got sick, it never fails!"



Sombra hesitated. He WAS hungry for something that’d stay down, but he knew his dreams;



"NO," he said and strode out of there as fast as he could.



"Aw, party pooper!" Pinkie Pie sulked.



"I think we need to talk to Princess Luna," Twilight Sparkle said.



A poof of magic and a second later;



"You called?" Luna asked.



"Yes, can you see if you can somehow suppress whatever nightmares Sombra’s having?" Cadance frowned "he’s no good to us if he’s sick, he’s already sustained serious injuries, we cant afford to have him get any worse..."



Luna nodded "that would be the best course of action. Hath he said what they detail?"



"He just mentioned something about darkness" Shining Armor said. Luna nodded;



"Then we can assume they’re about the sky tear."



"Can I come with you?" Twilight Sparkle asked "it’ll save you having to report it all back to us later.."



"That makes sense.."




And so, once they were sure Sombra was asleep, they stood in a circle in the library. Luna closed her eyes. There was a flare of light, a feeling of dizziness, then they were-

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-All cramped into a little attic room inside a cottage.



"This doesn’t look like the empire," Rainbow Dash said to fill the silence.



"Cobwebs!" Rarity shuddered "please say the spiders have left!"



The door was suddenly flung open and a small blur was flung inside. It landed amongst a heap of blankets, and the door was slammed unceremoniously behind it. There was the sound of a padlock clicking shut just as the tiny creature untangled itself and flung itself at the door.



"Lemme out!" he wailed desperately.



"Shut your trap!" an angry male voice snarled "or you'll get another smack!"



The tiny pony sat on his haunches as the hoof steps receded, tears welling up. Creeping closer the audience seen one of the tiny foals eyes was swollen shut by a painful bruise. He was a small little thing, dark grey coat, jet black mane and tail, and when they got a look at the un-bruised eye, RED eyes. A unicorn horn could just be seen under the mop of mane.



"Could this be...?" Twilight Sparkle asked.



"Aww!” Pinkie Pie squealed loudly "he’s so cute!" she bounded over to peer at the tiny foal "poor little guy.."



"This must be his home..." Luna said. Rarity looked at the desolate attic, a cold and unfriendly place "well it’s hardly suited for a child!" she declared "its dank and awful!"



"Why is he being locked in here?" Twilight Sparkle wondered. As she spoke the pint sized Sombra got up at last, swiping a hoof over his damp eyes, then sniffling.



He cast about him for something, then seemed to spot it. He stared intently at something on a shelf above where they were all crowded. He closed the un-bruised eye and, with obvious effort, a dark purple aura began to swirl around his horn.



"His magic.." Luna said at last, shock lining her voice "Its already....dark?"



Above them, a small ball atop the shelf wobbled, and teetered over the edge, bouncing across the floor to land at Sombra’s hooves. This seemed to cheer the tiny unicorn, who batted absently at it with one hoof.



"How is that possible?" Twilight Sparkle asked "I’ve never read of anypony being able to use dark magic this young..."



"Maybe he was BORN with it!" Pinkie Pie blurted "he’s only a baby, he cant have mastered it already!"



"You’ve got a point there..." Luna nodded "even for a fully trained Alicorn, dark magic is a risky business..."



Tiny Sombra had ceased playing with the ball, and was now burrowing around under the blankets. After some moments he pulled out a battered book.



Twilight Sparkle snuck over to look. The little foal was looking at a sketch on the most recent page of the book, which seemed to be a diary of some sort. It showed a sketch of a mare with a tiny foal lying by her side atop a bed. The tiny little thing was curled up in the crook of it smothers foreleg, and she looked at it with an expression of motherly adoration.



"Sun Feather and baby Sombra" was written underneath it.



"That’s his mother...?" Cadance mused, looking over Twilight Sparkles shoulder. "She must’ve loved him very much, why would she, or his father for that matter, suddenly start hurting him?"



"Because of his magic.." Twilight Sparkle said softly. Little Sombra suddenly seemed to grow angry, and flung the book across the room. It hit the wall and landed on the floor with a thud.



"Quiet you brat!!" a voice roared from below. Little Sombra jumped and tensed fearfully. But after no hoof steps came thundering up the stairs, he relaxed.



"Well his fathers a real jerk," Rainbow Dash said at last. Little Sombra sighed and burrowed under the pile of blankets that seemed to serve as a hiding place.



The scene blurred, and refocused in the middle of a meeting in a storeroom.



Sombra’s parents were there, and six older ponies, three unicorns, one earth and two pegasi.



"We must drive the evil from this child," the oldest said, "then our village will be prosperous once more!"



The group of ponies led by Luna crept forward, and seen Sombra was there. Collared and tied to a stake that’d been buried into the hard packed earth floor. He was squirming and trying to get the collar off him, but he couldn’t escape. He was gnawing on the rope even now. He was sporting a fresh set of bruises, which were added to when the father stepped forward and cuffed him across the head, stunning him.



“Quit being a brat!” The midnight black earth pony snarled.



The unicorns took up places around Sombra, in a triangle formation. A strange chanting started. Sombra flipped about, trying to get free more vigorously then ever. But it was no use. Then a sharp bolt of magic hit him, and he let out a desperate cry.



"What’re they DOING?!" Twilight Sparkle yelped.



"Trying to change his magic, so far as I can tell..." Luna said.



The glow faded and Sombra collapsed to the floor, panting and whimpering.



Those around him stared in silence as the shivering child got to his hooves, looking thoroughly freaked out.



"Try your magic now, brat." the father, a massive midnight black stallion with dark grey hair and cold blue eyes commanded. His mother, a dark red mare with red and orange hair winced, just for a second, then the mask fell back down, and she looked as uncaring as her husband.



Sombra tried, and nothing happened.



"Success!" one of the elders cheered. But they were too cocky. They turned their backs on Sombra to talk to his parents and didn’t realise little Sombra was still trying to work his magic. At last something DID happen. There was a flash, a bang, and a sizzling sound. The next second, a stack of (luckily) empty wooden shelves burst into purple flames.



"What-" the elders looked at Sombra, who looked as confused as they felt.



"Put it out!" another yelled but it was spreading fast. It latched onto the rope restraining sombre and it fell to ashes. Little Sombra took the opportunity to bolt past the gaping crowd and out into the night.



"Everypony OUT NOW!" the lead elder shouted, and the scene faded..

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Now they were standing in the middle of a snowy field.



They heard a cry of pain, coming from the small farmhouse nestled amidst the snow. They raced over, crowding around an open window.



Inside, a slightly older Sombra was curled up on the floor, trying to shield his head. his father loomed above him, one hoof raised to strike. Through the open window they heard his words;



"What have I told you, you miserable little freak? You don’t use that power of yours where anypony might see it! We should’ve kept you locked in your room!"



"Stop.." the little unicorn gasped.



"You’re an abomination. NO pony on your mothers side OR mine has magic like that, you’re a freak! Our neighbors are suspicious of us because of YOU, they say you’re cursed, that you’re bad luck to this village. Elder Light Leaf is being too soft on you!"



More blows rained down on the poor unicorn, who curled up as best he could to shield his face.



"You are no son of mine!" the father roared, and reared up to deliver another blow;



"Just leave me alone!" the victim finally snapped. A dark aura swelled around him, then expanded outwards, knocking his father backwards into the wall, shattering the glass in the windows along with anything that wasn’t tied down. The door was flung off its hinges into the snow, along with the bricks the hinges were attached to.



Silence rang for a good many seconds. Then, at last, the unicorn uncurled himself from the floor, looking at the chaos with tear-filled eyes.



He got to his hooves and stumbled out into the snow, shivering from the cold. He got a few paces away from the stunned group of watchers, when a female voice called out;



"Sombra? Oh my goodness...what happened?!" a pale white mare ran up. She looked about his age, with blue hair. Twilight Sparkle stared, she was the mare from the market fight!



The young Sombra didn’t respond, just stood there shivering.



"This all must’ve been long before his transformation," Cadance murmured "his age is far from what it is now, he’s only a colt..."



"He hasn’t his cutie mark yet..." Shining Armor noted "wait, what IS his cutie mark, does he even have one?"



“Its a trio of red crystals.." Twilight Sparkle filled him in.



Back to the scene and the mare took a look at the wreckage and her eyes widened.



"It was my fault...I couldn’t control it..." he turned and started to stumble away.



"Where are you going?" she cried;



"I don’t know..." he whispered "but I cant stay here....I’ll end up hurting somebody I care about next time...what if its you.."



"This shouldn’t be happening...your magic’s just a little different. I’ll try talking to my father again, make him see sense about you.."



Sombra stopped, turning to face her. He gently nudged her damp cheek with his own "No, he'll come down to hard on you, I wont have it." he sighed "Maybe my fathers right, maybe I am evil...this is dark magic...its all in those books you gave me..."



"You cant believe everything you read. Dark magic it...its like a myth, nopony knows anything about it. I’m sure there’s somepony.?"



But the young Sombra shook his head. "Once they see its dark magic I’ll be hunted again. I’m sorry..."



She looked across the snowy field "Why are YOU the one suffering for this?!" she suddenly screamed at the sky "it isn’t YOUR fault! You cant blame a foal for being born with different magic!"



Sombra didn’t answer, just stared at the wrecked wall of his house. His father wouldn’t stay unconscious for much longer, he had to go. He turned to leave, and felt a sudden warmth as she hugged him.



"If this is what you need..." she let him go, then took her scarf off and wrapped it around his neck, and put a kiss on his cheek "promise you wont give up, OK? There'll be somepony out there that'll see you for who you really are...my friend..."



"Im sorry..." he said softly "for everything...."



"NO, the ones who should be sorry are the decrepit elders that run this village!" she shook her head "my father wants me to take over from him someday...until now I hated the idea. But maybe I can change this place, make people see sense!"



"If anyone can do it, it’ll be you..." Sombra managed a weak smile "goodbye..."



He took off running across the snow. The mare watched him go, tears in her eyes, the she turned and headed towards home.



Rainbow Dash was standing with her jaw hanging open, twitching.



"This is jerktown!" she bellowed. Then the scene changed.

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The scenes shifted again, through various quick flashbacks of him accidentally using his magic. Ponies reactions, the shouting, the fear, the harsh treatment. At last the memory came to the crystal kingdom, where a beaten, hungry Sombra stumbled into the middle of a wake being held in the empire’s centre.



Now they were in a plush room they recognized as being the hospital room now. A battered, shivering Sombra had just woken up in the warm, comfy room and looked thoroughly lost.



"Ah, awake at last.." a male voice broke the silence. Sombra tensed up, preparing to bolt..



"Its quite alright, you’re safe now. You were in quite the rough state my boy, what on earth happened?" It was the newly crowned King.



Sombra didn’t answer, just turned his head away.



"You’re not in trouble lad, you’ve done nothing wrong. Can I at least get your name..?"



Sombra regarded him for a few sullen moments, before relaxing a tiny iota.



"Sombra." he said at last.



"My, that’s an unusual name." the King chuckled "you look awfully young to be traveling alone...are you far from home?"



"I don’t have a home," Sombra said stiffly "I...had to leave.."



"Why on earth would THAT be?" the King asked, genuinely curious.



Sombra sighed, got up and padded over to the window. He looked out across the sparkling city "I suppose it doesn’t make any difference.." he murmured, then turned to face the King. Closing his eyes he summoned as much magic as he had. The dark aura swirled around his horn, and the bed he’d been lying on lifted up a few inches, before returning to the floor with a thud.



"Wha..." the King stared "that‘s dark magic. How on earth did you learn THAT, it is forbidden-"



“I didn’t learn it!" Sombra yelled, panic rising "I was BORN with it!!"



"Born.."? the King asked.



Sombra began to shake, weakness exacerbated by the magic display "yes, born! Since I was little, my magic has always been this way. That’s what got me into this mess in the first place! You have to believe me, I’m not a monster!!" He was on the verge of either crying or collapsing again, and the King could see the raw fear and pain in his eyes.



"I see...so you were running FROM something, not TO somewhere.." the King studied the young unicorns fearful expression.



Sombra began to pace, looking for a way out, he was trapped!



The King thought the poor kid looked famished so he made to move towards the door, to tell the guard to fetch some food. Sombra mistook this for a potential arrest and panicked, trying to scramble out onto the balcony underneath the window. the King ran over and wrapped his hooves around his middle, hauling him back.



"Lemme go!" Sombra flailed.



"Its alright, you’re not in trouble!" the King flapped his wings and pulled him away from the window and plonked him on his rear, looking down at him.



"I knew that window thing wasn’t a first.." Rainbow Dash said "he has a dangerous taste in escape plans!"



Sombra glowered defiantly up at the King. To his surprise, the Pegasus chuckled.



"You haven’t had much of a fair chance in life have you? How would you like to stay here? I could use an extra assistant..."



"Are you serious..." Sombra said at last, looking hopeful yet still guarded. "You don’t even know me!"



"I’m serious. You’re clearly a bright young thing, you just need a steady goal. And if you really were as bad as you seem to think yourself to be, I’d be out cold and you’d be long gone, am I right? Why waste time if you truly didn’t care about harming somepony?"



Sombra admitted he had him there "but, my magic....I’m..."



"I will have Scrollwork look into dark magic occurrences, see what I can find out. Somepony somewhere must know!"



Sombra still didn’t look like he trusted him, "why would you help me?"



"I believe everypony deserves a chance," the King said, which made Fluttershy smile, she thought so too!



"Even a freak...?" Sombra said darkly.



"You shouldn’t talk that way. I can tell you have a good heart under all that sulking," the King chuckled softly "give it a chance? You’re free to go if you want to."



Sombra stared at him a few moments, before reluctantly nodding.



"Good!" the King held out a hoof to the colt "welcome to the crystal empire, Sombra.."

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The next shard of memory was a slightly happier one. It showed Sombra studying a book on the various gems of the crystal empire. Then a little later, the King showing him various crystals, asking him to identify them. Sombra not only did that, but he was able to sense the magical properties of each one, even ones that weren’t in the books!



"Excellent!" the King congratulated him "you have quiet the talent!"



"I guess I do..." Sombra looked down at the crystal.



"Most ponies would have to hone their skills for years before knowing all that..."



Sombra couldn’t help feel a little surge of pride.



The viewing audience all watched as there was a little shimmer of light, and the red crystals cutie mark appeared.



"Well would you look at that!" the ruler chuckled "this is cause for a celebration.."



"What does it mean?" Sombra wondered "I can identify crystals...seems a little simplistic.."



"You’ll figure it out in time..." the King chuckled "Now let us see what we can get from the kitchens..."

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But it wasn’t to the perfect home Sombra had dreamed of. Pony after pony recoiled or turned away when they seen the taint of his magic. The King didn’t care, he did his best to teach Sombra how to become an advisor. But his right hand stallion didn’t trust Sombra, and told the King the colt was unstable.

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"Nonsense, Scrollwork," the King waved a hoof. The group of dream-watchers were stood a short way away from the partially open doors, where Sombra was eavesdropping on a conference between Scrollwork and the King!



"That magic is evil...you let that loose on your subjects, there’s no telling what he'll do!"



At the door, Sombra stepped back, his expression blank.



"He’s a little volatile, but he’s got a good mind. That he uses dark magic isn’t from teaching himself. I believe him when eh said he was born this way.."



"You cant be serious sire, we all know books on dark magic exist in the forbidden section of even the library in THIS castle...dark magic needs a dark heart!"



"No heart is entirely black. But his biggest enemy will be fear and suspicion,. he must learn to fight them before he can truly govern the kingdom!"



"Please heed my warning sire, he WILL put us all in danger.."



"They’re just the same.." Sombra muttered, eyes filled with bitterness. "everypony is afraid of me. What I am." a sudden burst of fury raged through him, and he glared at the door.



He stamped a hoof on the crystal floor. An aura of darkness swirled up around him. He grinned "in fact, they should ALL disappear!"



By now the advisor and the King heard his ranting, and ran to the doors.



"Sombra? Child, what’re you doing?" the King stared in shock at the blazing aura.



"You’re all just liars, you need to learn a lesson..."



“See your highness.." Scrollwork sneered "unstable and a threat!"



"SHUT UP!" Sombra closed his eyes. A ball of swirling dark magic appeared in the air above him. It drew itself in, then exploded. Everypony it touched disappeared.



"Just go, far away from me!" Sombra screamed.



At last the halls rang empty. Sombra stood alone in the empty castle, sides heaving, most of his magic spent it seemed.



"They’re no different.." he hiccupped, "they’re just the same." he ran into the now empty throne room, glaring at the kings throne.



"You were a liar too old man.." he said, anger entering his voice "you never intended to let me help you...you were scared of me too..."



On impulse he fired a bolt of dark energy from his horn, shattering the crystal throne to bits.



A bundle of scrolls fell to the floor. He leaned down to read one that rolled open. It was one of Scrollwork’s, recommending he, Sombra, be refused a spot on the council, stating he was violent and unstable. He read this out loud, his voice cracking a she reached the end all the fury seemed to vacate him, and he slumped to the floor.



"I give up.." he lay down amidst the wreckage and buried his head on his forelegs "I’m tired of fighting..."

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For a few moments, there was no sound save the muffled, heart wrenching cries from the angry, upset unicorn.



Then, abruptly, dark magic suddenly sparked along his horn. He sat up a little, looking freaked out



"W-what’s happening?" he panicked.



A pool of darkness opened up under his feet. He tried to get to his hooves, but dark coils lashed out and tied themselves around his legs and midsection, pulling him to the floor again. He panicked, thrashing desperately about trying to get free. But the darkness wouldn’t be stopped. Soon the dark ties had all but cocooned him. He tried to use his magic, but nothing happened.



The darkness wrapped around him completely. He reared in fright, but it flowed too thickly, surrounding him in seconds.



All watching shared winces as they heard a cry of pure fear and pain from the dark pony-shaped mass. For a moment it retained his original, lithe shape, then it seemed to grow, shifting and moving.



The darkness flowed down in one swift move. The pony that now stood there resembled the Sombra they all knew. Taller, more grown up, with the flowing mane and curved horn.



But the darkness wasn’t done yet. After waiting a moment, it split into different bits, all of them flowing over the pony’s body, forming the armor and cloak he wore.



Sombra opened his eyes, now a far darker red then they started, taking in his new appearance and letting out a laugh of mad enjoyment.



"Lets see them destroy me now.." he cackled "they want a reason to fear me, then let them have it!" his voice was different, more like how it was now, under-layered by darkness.



The darkness swirled in and they all snapped back to consciousness...

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For a moment they all just stood there. Digesting everything they’d seen.



Twilight Sparkle had tears in her eyes. "It just...took over him, completely!"



"That was.." Shining Armor shook his head "no wonder he went crazy. He was only young, and that darkness accelerated his age!"



"It granted his wish to be strong enough nopony could hurt him again.." Twilight Sparkle said softly.



"He must have been heartbroken when he thought the one pony that believed in him was gonna turn on him, but what was that darkness?" Applejack asked Luna.



Luna thought about it "Starswirl the Bearded did once say not everypony’s magic comes from the light. Dark magic was forbidden for a reason, its extremely powerful, and dangerous in the wrong hooves. It can be almost impossible to control. All of us subconsciously keep a barrier around our magic, stopping it from running rampant and destroying us, only letting it out when we need it. When his faith in the world shattered, it meant the barrier around his own magic faltered, and that was enough to allow the darkness to take over!"



She paused a moment "Much like how my jealousy got the better of me the night I became Nightmare Moon, so too did his despair overwhelm him..."



"He was born that way, it wasn’t his fault..." Pinkie Pie bawled sympathetically "but everypony was so mean!!"



"His own FATHER?!" Rarity shuddered "that’s just..heartless!"



"Perhaps if he HAD met the right pony that would have trained him, he may have grown to cope with it. So far as I know, he is the only pony to have been BORN with dark magic." Luna replied.



"No wonder he turned to cruelty to lead the empire, its what he was taught. Hurting ponies got him what he wanted..." Cadance shook her head "this could’ve been avoided had somepony just shown a bit of kindness..."



"He’s been seeing this every night?" Twilight Sparkle asked.



"Possibly..." Luna said. "The night I walked the dream about the sky tear, his mind was focuses on that incident, so I did not see these images..."



"Is there something we can do?" Rainbow Dash asked "I kinda feel bad for 'im...I mean, his childhood SUCKED!"



"Give him a chance..." Twilight Sparkle brushed a tear away with one hoof, and looked at her brother.



"Ok Twily...I’ll trust what you think. Maybe he DOES want a second chance at his life. Can’t say I’d blame him after all THAT happened!"



"I’m surprised he wasn’t alerted to our presence.." Luna mused "then again, such a nightmare would be all consuming, he probably wasn’t aware.."



"I wonder if the royal libraries special collection has any info we can use..." Cadance looked at Twilight Sparkle "There must be some information we can find out.."



Twilight nodded “He needs our help before he self-destructs completely!”



“When that shard of the crystal heart took up home in his own, it must’ve unearthed those memories,” Luna wondered “I’m guessing he’d suppressed them since the change.”



“That was…s-so horrible..” Fluttershy, like Pinkie Pie, was very saddened by what she’d seen “Nopony deserved that! No wonder he cant trust anypony, he‘s never had reason to!”



“Then lets find a way to show him the world isn’t so cruel anymore!” Twilight said, determination in her eyes.



“Yeah!” Rainbow whooped. The others all nodded, and the began discussing a way to help Sombra..

Friendship & Freedom

View Online

The next morning, Fluttershy came to find him. Weary from another nightmare the last night, he’d woken up gagging in revulsion the reminders of his own past, his mistakes. He’d been wrong, he knew that now. Seeing his own harshness, seeing his actions from a new direction, made him sick. No wonder they’d been afraid of him.



But it was strange, he hadn’t felt as lost and alone as those dreams normally made him feel. Reliving his childhood, seeing the fear in so many ponies eyes...



Fluttershy knocked at the door, no answer. Then she heard the sound of somepony being violently sick. Creeping into the room she hovered in front of the bathroom door. All she could hear was faint coughing.



"Uhm...Mr. Sombra?" she squeaked.



"What...what’re you doing in here?" his voice was croaky, strained.



"You didn’t sound well," she said.



"Its nothing...just...nothing." she heard the tap running, more pained coughing, then scooted back as the door opened and Sombra staggered out. He looked exhausted. The fire and spirit she'd noticed in him upon his arrival had dulled.



"What is it this time.." he said bluntly.



"O-oh well...y-you'll see.." Fluttershy managed a weak smile and motioned him to follow her. He sighed softly but did so without complaint. She nudged open the door to the library. Delicious food smells hit him soon as he entered. He was aware of Fluttershy shutting the door behind him and whirled on her. She stood resolute, looking from him to the table.



It was chock-a-block with various food dishes, and of course Pinkie Pies cakes!



"W-what..?" Sombra was too sleepy to form a coherent sentence.



"You’re going to get really sick if you don’t eat," Twilight Sparkle said "we seen your nightmares, we know-"



"What?!" he backed up a step, all the sleepiness wiped away now, then snarled "LUNA?!"



"Yes, but it was at MY request!" Cadance stood up and walked over to him "When you told Pinkie Pie nightmares about darkness were making you sick, we assumed you spoke of that thing out there. As much as you may despise it, you are the only clue to this crisis we have. Those fits, the lack of food, lack of sleep, the black crystal sickness! Its taking a terrible toll on your body!"



Sombra just glared at the door, where Fluttershy stood guard.



"Twilight Sparkle and I did some research, we know what happened. You were a once in a millennia phenomenon, a pony born with the gift to use dark magic," Cadance continued "I did some checking. None have been able to manipulate it at the level you have. I don’t know what caused it, save for an old prophecy."



"Prophesysing.." Rainbow Dash pulled a face at the word "what exactly?"



Cadance smiled at her before turning back to Sombra;



"A star of black fire shall sweep across the sky,

Heralding the birth of a new power.



Power in darkness, to balance the light,

One soul shall stand apart, but not alone,



But fear and distrust breed,

and darkness must step forward to march alongside light,

for the world cannot exist without both.



Although given freedom to fly, it will not run away,

Once hope has been returned to a powerful heart."



There was silence.



"Ooh....spooky!" Pinkie Pie noted.



"Basically, prophesysing a darkness that could live amongst the light. Its exact meaning could be more certain, but it has remained hidden for a long time.." Cadance added.



"You should really read less fiction," Sombra sneered "those old philosophers were talking a load of bunk!"



"You’re a unicorn, you have magic...and you say that? Seriously?" Rainbow Dash pointed out, earning a glower.



"She’s got a point," Shining Armor said "our whole world is magic..."



"What is the point of all this?!" Sombra snarled, the darkness sin his voice rising a pitch, Twilight Sparkle noted.



"You are the only one that can understand those things," Cadance said "we NEED your help. I will not see this kingdom overran by those things. I don’t care if I have to order the palace doctor to sedate you and use a drip feed, you are NOT driving yourself into the ground."



"You cant keep going like this!" Fluttershy said, looking at him "The doctor says your health is bordering on dangerously poor. Constant fighting, not eating, not sleeping...we seen the whole nightmare! The darkness, it forced the transformation because of how hurt you were! You’ve been getting sicker ever since those dreams started..." to everypony’s surprise she’d teared up.. "you didn’t DO anything wrong, nopony understood dark magic back then!"



Pinkie Pie instantly darted over and dabbed at her face with a colourful napkin.



Sombra was staring at her, in total surprise. Why was she crying over what’d happened to HIM?!



"See?" Pinkie Pie bounced up, right in Sombra’s face, making him actually back up a step. "Get it? See? Understand?!" She carried on until he backed into a sofa and was forced to sit down with a bump, gathering his hind legs underneath him. Even then she was still in his face. literally.



"Whoa Pinkie Pie.." Twilight Sparkle remarked.



"You were only a young colt, you weren’t gonna know any better! your parents were jerks, you lived in a crappy village full of superstitious meanies! That Kings assistant was a royal ASS! I seen it, that King was trying to get him to shut up about it, he was all "give the kid a chance", and that jerk assistant was all "I’m an idiot, I wont listen!" but it was too late! That lying Scrollwork was fibbing about you!" she paused, drawing a breath for what the room anticipated would be the motherload of all rants;



"So you lost your marbles, now you got a chance to get 'em right back in order don’t you see? You can control dark magic, that’s pretty cool right? Nopony has ever had that gift before! OK, you probably need to reel it in a bit with the crankiness, but you can get that under control! Were trying to help you, stop you destroying yourself and carking it-" here she did a mime, falling on her back with her legs in the air a la corpse. Then she was back up, nose-to-nose with Sombra once more.



"Yeah so maybe you hate us for kicking your butt that time, but in fairness...YOU WERE INSANE. Loco in the coco! Your not so insane NOW, crazy people don’t fight off monsters and carry a fainted pony back to the palace! They don’t find rare gems and give 'em to somepony as a thanks, they don’t allow small, kooky kids to introduce themselves via poke!" here she poked him in the chest for effect "they don’t run around in the rain delivering medicine! And crazy people don’t admit their crazy...just like a monster wouldn’t admit they are one. Applejack said you already pointed that out by yourself for Equestria’s sake!"



Sombra just blinked, literally stunned into silence.



"Maybe you cant hear us? Lets get this thing off-" here she snagged the crown-like artifact he wore on his head, which pinned his ears back along with his mane. She whipped it off, tossing it with perfect aim onto a nearby lamp stand and even went so far as to tweak his ears, so they actually stood up the normal pony way.



"Better! NOW can you hear us?!" she was out of breath by this point, sides heaving.



"...." Sombra just blinked, he’d never faced a tirade like THAT in his lifetime. Was she saying...



"We need you to help us.." Twilight Sparkle said at last "And we want to help you."



“That’s what we do!" Pinkie Pie beamed " you didn’t get the chance to make friends in that craptastic village, but this is what friends are!" she gestured at her friends, beaming "they make each other laugh,"



"And give ya an honest answer!" Applejack added.



"And do anything to cheer you up!" Rarity said.



"AND stick by you, always!" Rainbow Dash hovered above the table.



"A-and give everypony a chance, everypony needs kindness..." Fluttershy whispered.



"And use their talents to help their friends." Twilight Sparkle said at last.



"Get it now?" Pinkie Pie bounded up to sit next to him on the couch, waving a hoof at her friends "nopony needs to be alone! Friends are there to show you it isn’t all bad!"



Sombra still didn’t speak, but one ear did twitch.



Pinkie Pie giggled "Do that again!" she squeed.



His stomach answered for him, by growling loudly. And if Pinkie Pie hadn’t swiftly shot out a hoof to steady him, he’d likely have slid off the couch.



"Grr!" Pinkie Pie said, mimicking his stomach, before zooming to the table and back over with a bowl of delicious smelling soup.



"Auntie pies recipe for sick fillies and colts!" she beamed "seriously, she practically made a brand outta it!"



"So why didn’t she?" Rainbow Dash asked.



"Granny pie had a short attention span...she kind of forgot.." Pinkie Pie giggled, turning to face her friends "but luckily I found the recipe and she started making it again when I was a little filly!"



"I wanna try it!" Rainbow Dash spooned some into a bowl and took a swig.



"What do you think?" Pinkie Pie asked



"What’s in this and how can I replace my blood with it?" Rainbow Dash asked, which made everypony laugh out loud.



Behind Pinkie Pie, while this was carrying on, Sombra eyed the soup, then floated the bowl over, doing as Rainbow Dash had done and taking a big gulp. The Rainbow Dash one wasn’t kidding, it WAS nice. The warmth from the food felt like it was spreading through his whole body, easing the aching muscles, making him feel...better.



Pinkie Pie spun round, in time to see Sombra setting the empty bowl down, then hiccup.



"Whoa..." she said, eyeing the empty bowl "that’s got to be a record!"



"That a challenge?" Rainbow Dash sniggered to Sombra, then belched. Earning a few cross looks.



"THAT a challenge?" Applejack asked.



"NO!" the rest of the room cried, although Pinkie Pie was giggling when she yelled.



He could see the warmth and happiness sin the way they acted. The way Twilight Sparkle beamed at her beloved big brother. The way Applejack and Rainbow Dash shared cheeky grins, and Pinkie Pie clapped her hooves happily. They were so trusting, so happy, and it hadn’t hurt THEM.



Shining Armor glanced over at him, noting the way Sombra was studying their interactions, as if he hadn’t seen this before. Having seen the guys past through that nightmare, he wasn’t surprised that much by his cold, abrupt nature.



In a nutshell, Sombra was trying to shield himself from being betrayed the way he had when he was a young colt. He’d had it beaten into him, literally, that he was a freak, an abomination. So he’d lashed out, wanting to hurt the rest of the world the way he’d been hurt. That darkness had brought him to a stallions age, jacked up his power level and almost completely warped his mind. He’d gone power crazy.



Aside from that mare from his flashbacks, he’d never had a real friend, single or plural. All it took was one.



So he got up from the table and padded over to where a seemingly stunned Sombra still sat atop the couch, staring into space.



“Take it from me," he said "they wont stop until you accept what they’re saying, and my sister and her friends know more about love, light and life then anypony else. You lucked out there."



"I don’t understand." Sombra said flatly. He looked abruptly lost, like a tiny foal dumped into a pond at its deepest end.



He seemed calm on the surface at first glance, but the way his seemingly fixed gaze shook just a little, he was fighting warring sets of emotions. The deep-set, default feeling of disbelief and dislike, fighting an almost childlike desire to trust. A feeling he’d tried to discard 1000 years ago.



It seemed like he was in shock. Shining Armor figured they probably had this one opportunity to make the guy see sense, then Sombra’s inbuilt defenses would wall up his emotions again, and he’d shut himself away for good.



So he now did something he never thought he’d do after fighting Sombra before, extending a hoof to the stallion.



"You don’t have to understand it all right away, you got YEARS to catch up on, take it easy. What’ve you got to lose?"



"His mind?" Rainbow Dash joked, earning a glower from Twilight Sparkle.



"What the hay.." Shining Armor suggested.



Time seemed to slow for Sombra. This was something he’d never seen in his entire life. Seeing those nightmares about his past he’d wished he’d been able to stop himself. All he’d wanted was...understanding? a friend? a chance?



Hope?



And now, these crazy, colorful, kooky ponies were offering him all of this and more. Was it possible...?



He thought about his filly friend from back then. How shed begged him, after all those attacks by his father, not to give up. How she’d cried when she seen the state he was in sometimes, much like Fluttershy had.



Was it time he stopped living in the past?



Hoping he wasn’t making a big mistake...he raised one hoof...



Twilight Sparkle nearly cried with delight when she seen Sombra at last accept her brothers outstretched hoof.



"There ya go!" Applejack whooped.



"The worlds a lot different from when you were young," Cadance said "more is known now about dark magic, but nopony has a talent like yours. Undoubtedly there is much YOU could teach US."



"The darkness taught itself..." Sombra said dully "I have no memory of learning ANYTHING."



"Really?" Cadance asked. The stallion shook his head slowly.



"Maybe your memories fried," Rainbow Dash suggested "you WERE locked away for a long time.."



"1000 years.." Sombra muttered.



"Exactly, I'd be surprised if I could remember my own NAME after THAT length of time!" Pinkie Pie said.



"Can you remember anything about your home?" Rarity asked.



"...it...it was called Snowvale..." Sombra’s gaze went distant again. "Most of the year round it was snow, the whole place had some weird weather problem. The village elders were sure it was a curse.."



"It was probably just a weather anomaly," Twilight Sparkle offered. "You must’ve been pretty secluded.."



"We were," Sombra was surprised by the details he now remembered. "The nearest other settlement was a long way away. We had to be pretty self sufficient."



"Sounds harsh," Applejack surmised "and I know what yer saying"



"The storms began getting worse, the year I was born," lots of things were flooding back now "Everypony in the village was already on edge. Needless to say, when they found out a pony was born with dark magic they took it as a sign they’d invoked an even worse power. They tried all sorts of spells to try and correct my magic-"



"Yeah, we saw!" Twilight Sparkle looked aghast "that was horrible!"



"Try telling THEM that, the old goats." Sombra muttered "they tried every loony trick in the book. Some of them hurt. They tried locking me in LOTS of places. When I was younger I tried every trick in the book to get out. But eventually, I stopped trying. I wasn’t strong enough to escape both my imprisonment AND them."



"Who was that mare? The white one?" Rarity asked "she seemed worried about you.."



Sombra tried to think, and at last a name came back;



"Her name was Crystal Flake. She had a snowflake for a cutie mark. She was the daughter of the town elder. She would try and bargain with her father. It was thanks to her I didn’t spend my WHOLE life imprisoned. She reasoned if I wasn’t allowed to learn how to use my magic, there would be no reason to lock me up. But behind her fathers back she did her best, sneaking me a spell book or two. She’d get me to help with odd jobs at the manor house she and her father lived in. It was really just an excuse so she could make sure I wasn’t passing out from starvation at home. That mare cooked like nopony’s business, even thought there wasn’t a great a variety of food it always tasted nice."



"She sounds lovely.." Pinkie Pie said dolefully "could she not convince her father to just...leave you be?"



Sombra laughed abruptly "like you said cotton candy, they were superstitious to a fault. The slightest anomaly and they all fell apart. It had them on edge enough that I wasn’t locked up. In the end, my father had me confined to my room, except when he needed something done."



"What about ya mother? Surely she wasn’t all bad?" Applejack asked. Sombra shook his head.



"She was as in deep as the rest of the village. Eventually she chose to pretend I didn’t exist, live in a fantasy world. Perhaps she blamed herself for raising a freak of nature, who knows. She barely spoke to me. I think she paid attention long enough to name me, and that was it."



"Its ironic, in a way," Cadance said at last "as the old prophecy was written in an ancient language...and the word the palace language specialist translated as meaning "darkness", IS "Sombra."“



"Huh.." Sombra blinked "maybe she knew something was off from the start..."



"Or she just named you for your coat or mane.." Rainbow Dash pointed out.



"Well that’s all in the past now," Twilight Sparkle said "we’ve learnt a lot since you were sealed away..."



"I still cant remember how I learnt any of the spells I used back then. As you seen, most of my magic was summoned from desperation or threat.."



"It must be instinctive then," Twilight Sparkle added "your magic is trained through instinct and guesswork, as opposed to teachings."



A faint nod. He still hadn’t budged from the couch, perhaps still digesting everything he’d been told.



Fluttershy caught his eyes and smiled kindly, motioning towards the table.



"There’s lots of food.." she said softly.



"Yeah, c'mon!" Pinkie Pie tugged at his cloak "we cant eat all this ourselves!"


"There’s 8 of you.." Sombra spoke at last...



"9s better!" Pinkie Pie said, looking hopefully at him.



Sombra hesitated, unsure. He still couldn’t fully let go just yet, but Pinkie Pies words were still ringing in his ears, so he found himself being towed to the table by the pink pony.



"Oookk..we have muffins, cakes, scones...toast, jam, fruit..." Pinkie Pie babbled a list.



"Or if your tummy still hurts, just have more soup!" she added, seeing his hesitation at the massive spread of food.



"Toast!" Twilight Sparkle waved a hoof at the plate "mom used to make us toast when we were sick, remember brother?"



"Oh yeah," Shining Armor chuckled "and a little fizzy juice to settle our stomachs."



"Perfect!" Pinkie Pie grabbed a glass and poured some fizzy (not alcoholic) cider into it, setting this in front of the virtually mute Sombra.



He didn’t say much for a long while. He ate a little, but it was more then he’d been able to keep down recently.



"Nice isn’t it?" Fluttershy held up her soup bowl.



"Yes," he said softly "food tastes much nicer then anything I recall. There was nothing like those cakes..."



"They’re a Pinkie Pie specialty!" Pinkie Pie giggled "I LOVE cake!"



"You never had a sugar crash when you were young! Aw, you’re missing out!" Rainbow Dash laughed "hyped up on sugar, nopony could catch me!"



"I can just imagine the teeny little you on sugar, you’d have climbed the walls of that room!" Pinkie Pie giggled.



The full ramifications of that sentence came crashing down a second later. Wait. They’d seen his nightmares. Including the bit where he was a little foal...OH PONYFEATHERS.



"Talk about growth spurts!" Pinkie Pie giggled "you were teeny!"



"Speaking of which," Shining Armor butted in, noting how red Sombra had gone, and the fact he seemed to be twitching. To save Pinkie Pie from putting her hoof in it, he asked something that’d been on his mind;



"I couldn’t help notice nearly everypony in that village of yours is incredibly tall. By the time you got HERE, you were already taller then most ponies.."



"Our village was a Shyre settlement," Sombra said as the facts about his lineage came sneaking back.



"A whatta-what?" Pinkie Pie asked.



"Shyre horses?" Twilight Sparkle asked "I thought they were a myth!"



"No, we were real..." Sombra shrugged "as much as I wish my father was imaginary.."



"That’s amazing.." Twilight Sparkle’s eyes were wide. "There’s so little known about them! I don’t know how I didn’t think of that…"



"Well, we know they have very long leggies!" Pinkie Pie pointed out.



"They’re strong.." Rainbow Dash noted.



"Probably good farmers I’d warrant," Applejack pondered "betcha they could pull a field plough solo!"



"More than likely.." Sombra shrugged.



"We definitely know they fight like nopony's business!" Shining Armor chuckled.



Sombra managed a faint smile...



There was a knock at the door then. Flash Sentry stuck his head in and grinned at them.



"Princess Celestia wishes to see you all," he said. "You too.." meaning Sombra.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

And so a dazed and confused Sombra went along to Celestia’s latest debriefing, where they covered what they’d discovered so far.



She noticed Sombra seemed, well, spacey was putting it mildly.



"-feeling alright?" he finally broke form the haze and stared blankly at Celestia.



"...say what?" he said after a moments pause.



"You alright?" Applejack asked. He’d been acting spaced out since they’d confronted him. She had a feeling it was a lot for him take in.



"I will admit the whole business of that thing shape shifting is bothering me.." Celestia said "At some point it must’ve been able to latch onto your nightmares Sombra."



"Perhaps during the aftermath of the plague...or during it for all I know. I don’t remember a whole lot before the fever broke," he admitted "its just a blur."



"It clearly hoped it could use your past to make you back off attacking it."



“Big mistake." Sombra said curtly "All the people from my nightmares, they’ve been gone a long time, there’s no way they’d be here now."



“But it doesn’t know that," Cadance shook her head "it was hoping to use it as an emotional battering ram."



"It’ll have to do worse than that." Sombra said coldly "I’ve seen far worse than it can mimic."



Those that’d seen his dreams silently agreed.



"We must be on the lookout regardless.." Celestia said "if anypony sees anything, we can hope they will report it to the royal guard!"



"I’ll tell 'em all to keep an eye out," Shining Armor said.

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The next two days passed with seemingly no attacks at all. Not public ones anyway. But more and more ponies were turning up either at the doctors, or at Healing Breezes shop, complaining of feeling tired. She didn’t put two and two together until Sombra came by on a chance visit.



It’d been a busy morning; Twilight Sparkle had been trying to think up a way to help the guards see that weak spot, that so far only Sombra could point out.



"He’s one Unicorn on his own," she said to the others as they sat around the library "he cant fight a whole bunch of the if that thing decides to send out multiple scouts. I need to make SOMETHING..."



Pinkie Pie picked up a magnifying glass and peered through it. Twilight Sparkle blinked, seeing the magnified eye



"That’s it!" she cheered.



"What is?" Rainbow Dash asked, confused.



"If I can enchant an ordinary pair of goggles or glasses with a spell to see them. Sombra’s able to see it because of his type of magic, because its obviously on a similar wavelength to this thing!"



“So you infuse the goggles with dark magic and boom!" Rainbow Dash caught on.



"Whoo yeah, that might just work!" Applejack grinned "but, where are ya gonna get it from? Aint nopony with dark magic save fer..."



"...Sombra." Twilight Sparkle finished.



"But he cant use his magic, its all locked down right?" Rarity pointed out "that choker?"



"Exactly. I need to talk to Celestia and the others, but first I need some goggles..."

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Arduous studying and one pair of goggles later, and Twilight Sparkle approached the Princesses.



"So you need a shred of dark magic for the spell?" Celestia frowned "I think it may be possible. It WOULD involve temporarily loosening the choker on his neck. Not completely, but enough for the power to be extracted."



"I don’t think he’s going to lash out," Twilight Sparkle said.



"Even so, the rush of magic may be enough to make him do something crazy, even with that." She looked at her sister and Cadance "two of us can monitor the spell, whilst the other extracts the magic."



"That sounds perfect," Twilight Sparkle sighed, then asked "wait, will this be painful?"



“A little, perhaps." Luna said "but nothing too bad."



"OK," Twilight Sparkle sighed "I’ll go ask him..."

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Sombra was outside in the palace gardens, sitting under a tree, his nose in a book.



"Whatcha reading?" Twilight Sparkle asked. He floated the book up so she could read the cover;



"A History of Crystal Magic...wouldn’t think you’d need that. You could probably write it yourself.." Twilight Sparkle raised an eyebrow.



"I know, I just wanted to see if it’d jog any more memories..." he shrugged, shutting the book. Seeing her apologetic face he sighed "what is it?"



"I uh, have a teensy favor to ask you.." Twilight Sparkle began.



Sombra listened to her whole theory.



"Actually," he said after a pause "that may just work." he got up, grabbing the book as he started indoors.



"Then, you’ll do it?" Twilight Sparkle asked, racing after him;



"Why not? It’d be a lot easier if everypony else could see the core. It's pointless for the guard to fight them when they can't hit at its heart."



--------------------------



They decided to perform the spell in the throne room. All four Princesses in attendance. Twilight Sparkle sat ready with the goggles. The other three stood around Sombra, in the same way they’d performed the first spell in.



Sombra stared at the pattern on the floor, as the glowing lines of a spell fell into place around him. There was a loud CLICK, and he felt the collar loosen. A small flood of power loomed in the back of his awareness. His power, so much of it, yet this was a mere fraction, the spell contrived to keep the rest at bay... He felt it reach up to draw him in, he could fight off these Princesses, run free...



--NO.-- he shook his head. He’d made that mistake in the past, letting his darkness overtake his mind. NOT again.



Celestia watched in surprise, and admittedly admiration, as she seen him tense up, uttering a faint growl.



"Can you cope?" she asked.



"Just do it, and fast!" he said sharply. She nodded, stepping into the circle while Luna and Cadance held the spell. She pressed her horn to his, and for a moment there was a faint glow. Then she stepped back, at the same time Sombra uttered a cry of pain. Floating in front of Celestia was a dark purple crystal.



"A shard of dark magic..." Cadance whispered "it's strong.."



Celestia handed the shard to Twilight Sparkle, then turned back to Sombra. Closing her eyes she finished the spell, and he felt the sensation of the power vanish as the collar clicked shut around his neck once more.



The spell came to an end, the glow fading, and the three sustaining it sighed in relief. Sombra looked a bit pale.



Twilight Sparkle, during all this, had been completing her own spell. The crystal formed into two lenses, which bonded themselves to the goggles. Now she held up the finished product.



"Now we need to test it...." she said "perhaps my brother can use them.."



“That sounds like a good idea," Cadance nodded "ill go get him."



Twilight Sparkle wandered over to where Sombra sat, looking a little tired;



"Thanks," she said honestly "I hope this will help you end this..."



Sombra just nodded "my head hurts..." he muttered.



Shining Armor arrived, and Twilight Sparkle explained the plan.



"Sure, ill give 'em a go!" Shining Armor beamed at his sister "that’s great work Twilight!"



Sombra scratched at the choker with one hoof "dang thing.." he muttered.



"I suggest you go see Breeze," Celestia said "she will no doubt have something that will ease your headache."



Somrba nodded, getting to his feet with a sigh.



"Why don’t you come on the patrol with me? We pass right by Healing Breeze’s place," Shining Armor said.



Surprised he ASKED him, Sombra eventually agreed.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The other two guards were a little surprised when Shining Armor showed up with Sombra in tow. Even more surprised when the two began having a civil conversation. The last they’d seen them, at the market fight, they’d been outright hostile.



"D'you think it KNOWS who you are, or rather.." Shining Armor thought how to put it, but Sombra spared him the niceties.



"You mean WHAT I am? I don’t know. It knows I’m similar to it, that I’m different to the rest of this world. And going by its reaction, it’s not happy."



"Well of course not, its had its arse handed to it! Well, a ball doesn’t really have an arse does it?" Shining Armor sniggered "either way..."



"Its going to try anything and everything to get what it wants," Sombra said "I know that much. It wants to get me out of the way then let loose its power on this world."



"Not gonna happen," Shining Armor said firmly "I am not letting my kingdom fall prey to a power-hungry-GACK." Realizing who he was talking to.



But Sombra just gave a short, sharp laugh, the sound like a deep rumble, coming from him. "Why deny the reality of it?"

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

They reached Healing Breeze’s shop just as another pony was stepping in the door. She did a double take on seeing the guards plus Sombra.



"How much trouble are YOU in?" she said jokily to Sombra, looking at the guards.



"Good afternoon!" Healing Breeze came out from the shops storeroom. She greeted the mare who’d come in first, then spotted Sombra and his little guard group.



"Prince Shining Armor!" she beamed "good to see you, all of you!” She spared an extra smile for the quiet Sombra "How're things?"



"Need something for headaches ms Breeze!" Shining Armor said "and Cadance wants so more of that sleep-easy blend, she says its working wonders!"



"Of course!" once she’d served the young mare, she went to the storeroom again. The mare cast a last glance at Sombra as she left. Scary at first, she now thought when you got a good look, he was pretty handsome, in a bad boy sort of way..



"Dude," Shining Armor nudged him "I think she fancies you-"



Sombra twitched, and told Shining Armor not to be idiotic.



"Had so many ponies coming to see me complaining of feeling drained," Healing Breeze remarked "I think there’s a bug going round.."



Sombra’s ears twitched. Something was gnawing at the back of his mind.



On cue, the door opened and a very exhausted looking pony wobbled in. She’d woken up that morning feeling so awful.



Sombra stared at her. Something seemed odd about her. He could almost see it. Letting his gaze go out of focus, he seen-



"I knew it!" he said abruptly, startling everypony in the shop.



"Knew what?" a guard asked at last.



"There’s a faint aura...I can barely see it but I can sense it..." Sombra looked at the tired mare "one of those things has come into contact with you, drained you."



"W-what? You mean like that thing that everypony is saying tried to eat us when we were sick?" she stared at Sombra with wide eyes "how can you be sure..?"



"I can’t explain it," he said at last "but I’ve fought those things enough to know how they work..."



"Don’t worry ma'am," Shining Armor assured her "We have a plan to help us kick those things up their non-solid backsides."



"Don’t leave windows open at night," Sombra said randomly "I doubt those things will stop at breaking and entering, but trust me, keep them shut."



She looked up at him, then nodded "Everypony says you know what you’re doing, and I believe them. Thank you.." then she was gone.



"I’ll tell anypony else I see today," Breeze said, nudging a couple of packages across the counter. Sombra tucked them into his saddlebag and they left.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Sombra was deep in thought as they walked along. After several minutes, when he noticed the taller stallion hadn’t said a word, Shining Armor nudged him in the side.



"You OK in there?" he joked.



"Why didn’t anypony see anything?" Sombra muttered "if one of those things was hanging around, you’d spot it. That means its disguised itself again."



“As the blue haired mare?" Shining Armor asked. Sombra shrugged;



"Perhaps, but somehow I sense not. A lot of ponies seen her revealed as a fake during that fight. It will have spread by now that that form was an illusion."



“Could it..." Shining Armor wondered how to phrase it "have used another form from your memory?"



"That’s what concerns me," Sombra muttered "Those memories are from over a thousand years ago, nopony’d recognize or even remotely know them. They’d just assume they were another normal pony..."



"We need to speak to anypony that’s been ill recently..." Shining Armor nodded "lets go ask breeze.."



So they turned back.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Breeze was concerned to hear about this latest shift, and told Shining Armor and Sombra the most recent ponies that’d come to see her...



Shining Armor said he’d have all the patrols ask around at these addresses, telling Sombra to get some rest. Although he looked better after finally eating a decent breakfast, he still needed rest.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

By the days end, the guards had a lot of info for their captain. With her friends off at other activities, Twilight Sparkle had joined the other three Princesses. She greeted her brother with the customary hug before settling down to listen to what he and his guards had discovered.



"So far, what we’ve been able to find out is the same pony has apparently been spotted hanging around not far from the homes of everypony who’s been feeling unwell. Either they or their family seen what they described as a very tall stallion. Very unusual. One of them, as luck has it, is an artist, she drew us this sketch."



Shining Armor unfurled a canvas scroll, displaying a watercolor ketch and paint of a tall stallion. Midnight black coat with dark grey mane and tail. Completing the picture were cold grey eyes. A white star like a comet was displayed across his flank.



"I recognize him!" Twilight Sparkle blurted. Shining Armor nodded.



"Its from his memories, this is the same stallion from those flashbacks."



"Whose memories?" one of the guards asked.



Cadance sent one of the guards to fetch Sombra.



"This is...his father..." Twilight Sparkle shook her head "we seen him in Sombra’s nightmares, he’s an absolute brute!"



"That’s- whoa." One of the guards remarked "now you mention it, I can se the resemblance, they have the same build.."



"Yeah...like a tank!" somepony else muttered.



The doors opened and the guard returned with Sombra trailing behind.



"What’s going on Princess-WHOA." He cut off as Shining Armor turned to face him, the scroll swinging round to face him.



"Oh-" here he used an obsolete, ancient curse word that made Celestia raise an eyebrow.



"Let me guess..." he sighed "THAT’S what’s being attacking those ponies, draining them.."



"Seems so. It hasn’t reckoned on the fact that ponies that tall are something of an oddity and WILL stand out!" Cadance remarked.



The guards seen an expression of disgust flicker over Sombra’s face.



"Who next..?" he muttered darkly "it has a lot to choose from. It has a lifetime of memories to butcher."



Celestia was silent a moment "if you can," she suggested at last, "draw sketches of as many of them as possible. If we can identify them now, we can stop it from using them..."



"Right.." Sombra nodded.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

He went to the library and started drawing everypony from his weird and warped past. His mother, the elders....King Cloudspark, Scrollwork...



"Ooh, cool!" he jumped a mile when he heard Pinkie Pies high pitched voice.



"Geez, cotton candy.." he said lightly.



"Sorry!" she beamed "those are cool...."



"These are the most prominent from my memories. Then again, you know that don’t you? You seen it.."



Pinkie Pie nodded sagely "Yup." she said softly "they were sad memories.." she pouted, as if upset that his life had been so bad and she couldn’t make it better.



"Its nothing to be concerned about..." he said quietly "the past cannot be changed. But the future, THAT, I can do something about!"



"That’s the spirit!" Pinkie Pie whooped, poking him lightly "its dinnertime, you coming?"



He blinked, about to say no, he didn’t feel well...



When he realized he hadn’t felt sick all day. He actually WANTED to eat. So it was to his own surprise and Pinkie Pie’s delight that he nodded, set the quill down and followed her out of the library.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The cook was surprised, but pleased to see the reclusive Sombra FINALLY show up at the dining table.



"You should’ve just said you had a stomach bug that was making you sick!" she chided, as she set the dishes down "you have to give your body energy to fight something like that!"



Sombra cast a baffled look at the others. Cadance had a "you’re welcome" smile on her face, and he realized shed concocted the cover story to make things less awkward.



"Its...better now.." he said at last.



"Tuck in everypony!" Applejack grinned.



Sombra was surprised by how much he was able to eat. He listened to the others talking about this and that, funny tales…



"-daftest thing EVER!" Rainbow Dash had just finished telling a story, and everypony was giggling.



"What’s the silliest thing you’ve ever done?" the blue Pegasus waved a hoof at the table "who can beat face-slamming a signpost?"



Sombra paused before speaking up "getting, pardon the phrase, ROYALLY DRUNK, and being so bladdered you set off one of your own traps and almost get stuck in it."



"PFFT!" Shining Armor nearly choked on his tea "what the hay were you doing, drinking that much?!"



"Who knows? I don’t really recall. But I got the story from one of my guards the next morning. Apparently, when he finally found me, I was arguing with a potted plant about the furnishings-" his words were drowned out by loud laughter.



Sombra fought with a suppressed laugh, "I started ranting about how to achieve immortality with the use of burnt toast and a spell to implode space and time."



By now everypony was laughing their hindquarters off. Even Cadance couldn’t keep a straight face.



"Honestly, I was so drunk my MAGIC was drunk.." Sombra finished.



"You win!" Rainbow Dash declared "that is THE silliest THING I’ve ever heard!"

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

That night Sombra was awoken not by his usual nightmares, but by a painful throbbing in his head. He staggered down the hall, looking for Shining Armor, Celestia, anypony!



"Whoa!" the guard jumped on seeing a mussy-haired Sombra charging through the palace "what’re you DOING?!"



"Looking for somepony in charge...Twilight Sparkles brother, Celestia- One of those THINGS is nearby!" Sombra snarled.



“Things, wait, you mean?"



"Yes!" Sombra said shortly "a shadow creature!"



Before the guard could get even halfway down the hall, there was the sounds of screaming and something smashing at the front entrance. Sombra tore off, racing down stairs at the same time Shining Armor went racing out of his room. They reached the main entrance together, staring at what, or rather WHO stood there.



Sombra’s father. He was a forceful looking pony, black coat with white around his hooves.



"So...you don’t give up?" it said in a perfect mimicry of his voice. Sombra snarled.



"Drop the charade you charlatan!" he growled.



"What’s the matter? Not happy to see me, SON?" it stressed this last part with a mocking laugh. Sombra’s fury rose.



"Easy..” Shining Armor murmured, seeing how angry the unicorn was.



"Then again, cant say I blame you. Imagine having your pride and joy turn out to be an abomination, a freak!" the clone laughed "he despised you for all the trouble you brought!"



Shining Armor had slipped the goggles on while this thing was showboating. To his surprise, he could see a dimly glowing ball underneath the swirling darkness.



--It works!!-- he thought triumphantly. More guards were pouring in, some aiming spears. Sombra unlatched the one he carried and snapped it into its full size.



"How cute, but YOURE the only one I came to destroy!" it threw itself at Sombra, who dug his heels in and met the charge head on. They struggled a moment before the shadow thing darted back, glaring at Sombra.



"You pathetic little freak!" it spat, mimicking the past again..



"I’LL be the judge of THAT." Sombra spat "you have nothing to say to me that will make me give a hay!"



"How can you not be afraid?!" it hissed "this was the one that hurt you the most!"



"Because that time is long gone!” Sombra snarled "Buried in the snow. It’s been a long time. Your a thousand years too late to make me care!"



It stared, realizing now why Sombra had attacked it’s version of the pale mare.



Taking advantage of it being distracted, Shining Armor told all the unicorns to fire where he did. The end result was the creature getting a massive shock to its core. It roared in fury, spinning to stare at Shining Armor in shock.



"How can you-" it turned to look back at Sombra, who was smirking "YOU."



"Me," Sombra said tauntingly "guess you don’t just have one problem in your way anymore!"



"Then I guess I’ll rip you all to bits, starting with you!" the thing fixated on Sombra, who swung the spear around to point right at it.



"Bring it on." he snarled.



He swung the weapon round and launched for the thing wearing his fathers form.



Pure fury, and the memory of that breakfast with the ponies gave him a surge of hope. He didn’t have to keep fighting his past anymore...



"You-" he swung the spear at its head, and when it ducked, swiftly swung the weapon up and slammed it downwards through the fake fathers body like a butterfly to a corkboard. Having solidified to fight them, this meant it found itself pinned.



"NOW!" he yelled at the guards and Shining Armor.



Before it could express its surprise, the shadow blob was blasted with every last bit of magic the ponies possessed. It screamed in fury as its core exploded. Sombra jumped back as the shockwave pulsed out from the destroyed core.



Silence rang in the hall, then was shattered by sighs of relief.



Sombra glanced at the goggles shining wore "did they?" he asked.



"Like a dream!" Shining Armor nodded "if we can make more of these..."



Sombra nodded. “Exactly..”



Having checked nopony was injured, everypony returned to their post. Shining Armor and Sombra returned to bed. But the guards were extra vigilant, just in case…

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The next morning the Princesses got the whole story.



"So that’s what that racket was.." Twilight Sparkle shivered "glad you guys stopped it!"



"These goggles of yours are perfect, Twily," Shining Armor added "think you can make more?"



"Well, I can but its Sombra's magic that makes it work, we'll need a lot more then just a chunk next time!" Twilight Sparkle explained.



To their relief Sombra agreed to go through the odd process again that evening.

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But before they could get started, Sombra was told he had a visitor. She was waiting in the throne room with Princess Cadance.



"Sombwa!" the happy little filly raced over and beamed brightly at him.



"Little one," he said softly, a trace of warmth in his voice "what brings you here?"



"I was hoping you could help me wiv my homework.." she said sheepishly "we gotta do a weport on the cwystal empires histowy, and i figured you’d know plenty of fings!"



Sombra felt a smidgen of unease. What he knew about the kingdom? Well, his own personal history would probably give the kid nightmares, so-



"The empire itself has changed, it was a much harsher place back then," he said lightly.



"That’s perfect!" she smiled.



"We just have a little job to do," Twilight Sparkle told Bright Spark "Then he’s all yours~"



Bright Spark looked delighted. Sombra couldn’t help a small smile.



So Bright Spark sat to one side with the guards as the Princesses formed that same circle again with Sombra at its centre.



"What are they doing?" Bright Spark asked.



"We need a shard of his magic.." Twilight Sparkle explained "and in order to get it, that choker has to be removed. But Sombra has a very powerful, very different magic, so we have to be careful."



“He wont hurt anypony!" Bright Spark piped up in his defence. Twilight Sparkle smiled;



"We know kiddo, but we still have to be careful.."



Sparks eyes widened in surprise as she watched the powerful spell being laid down to safeguard everypony when the choker was off. She seen and heard it click open, seen Sombra shiver slightly.



But as Celestia stepped forward to gather the needed magic, every window in the throne room shattered at the same time. The other two Alicorn’s supporting the spell faltered, the lines wavering. It was enough. The shadow ponies, several in total, attacked at once, forcing Luna and Cadance to retreat.



Then a larger shadow pony soared in through the window, landing in front of Sombra, who was fighting to keep his magic in check. It grinned, and a shield of faintly greyed out magic swished up around the two of them. It was mimicking Twilight Sparkles magic from the market fight.



"Now we finally have a chance to talk, you and I.." it drawled.



"What’s happening?" Twilight Sparkle cried, as she dove aside to avoid a bolt of black magic fired at her. She and the others threw up shields of their own, Bright Spark huddled beside Twilight Sparkle.



"I’m just here to talk to your little weapon," the shadow pony grinned.



"Buck...Off!" Sombra managed to snarl.



"Now now, don’t be so hasty. We’ve had our disagreements, but I think you'll find your place is not here..."



"What’s he saying?" Luna murmured.



"Don’t you see it, "Sombra"?" the thing called him by name, "they collar you, use you as a weapon, how is this fair? You’re forced to fight over and over, and for what? A populace that will turn on you once you serve no purpose? Simply seal you away in that darkness with those dreams.."



Sombra felt a twinge at his defenses. He tried not to think about what would happen once this was over.



"Sombwa!" Bright Spark cried.



"You have such raw power, yet you’re always feared, mistreated for it," the thing paced back and forth in front of Sombra, "how is this any different? They want you to save them, yet they keep you under lock and key!"



"Shut up!" Sombra growled.



Sombra looked at the Princesses, all trying to fight off the other shadow clones. It was true Celestia had brought him back to save the empire from this thing, but hadn’t she said something about the crystal heart? That it had other plans?



He thought about the breakfast, the one where the ponies had revealed they’d seen his past, and wanted to give him a chance to have a REAL life. Real FRIENDS. He recalled Shining Armor’s outstretched hoof, even though the stallion had hated him for a long time!



"NO.." he growled.



"Ah, so willful.." it grinned, seeing the loosened collar. With the spell partly unwound so Celestia could extract the magic, it seen a weakness "you’ll feel better once I get rid of THIS!"



"NO!" Sombra blurted, too late, as he felt shadowy, slick shadow hooves on his neck.



There was a discordant snapping sound.



The Princesses all looked over at the sound. They seen the collar, its lock spell fully opened now, roll across the floor, coming to a stop by Twilight Sparkle.



"Oh no.." Celestia said, worry written all over her face.



The shadow thing laughed, stepping back. Sombra appeared to have passed out, hunched over on the floor, his mane obscuring his eyes.



"On your feet, my nemesis of darkness-"



Then Sombra looked up, and grinned. But there was nothing good about the gesture.



The dark pony laughed, but the sound cut off a second later as it was flung back by a powerful burst of magic. It’s shield shattered as it slammed into it, then hit the ground and quickly righted itself. It looked up to see Sombra striding towards it. His mane flowed like ripples on waters surface. His eyes glowed that unnatural green. A dark purple aura was swirling up around his legs and horn.



"How many do you think have tried to manipulate me for their own ends my whole LIFE?!" Sombra snarled, red eyes glowing.



"How can you deny ME?" the dark clone pony fumed "They treat you like a dog, I would let you have all you’ve ever wanted! I’ve seen it in your mind, who you are!"



"Times change. You’ve seen my PAST. Not my future. And I-" Sombra’s fury grew. Dark purple crystals burst up from the floor, surrounding the shadow clone, their razor sharp spikes inching towards its core.



"I AM NOT YOURS TO TOY WITH!!" The furious unicorn roared. The shards pierced the centre of the things mass shattering the core and eradicating it.



"Nice try.." its consciousness had simply shifted to another of the clones the Princesses were battling. "But you cant stop me, there’s too many of us!"



As it spoke, more swarmed in the windows.



Sombra gave a furious roar, and blasted the one that’d spoke with a shot of dark magic.



"Keep trying!" it mocked, popping up behind him.



--So many....why am I...fighting..?-- in the face of his full power unleashed, Sombra’s mind began to falter.



Then he seen Twilight Sparkle’s shield go down, as she was forced to dive aside again. In the chaos, Bright Spark was torn free from her hold. He seen the tiny filly tumble end over end into the middle of the room. And one of the pony clones dove for her, teeth filling its mouth-



"NO!" his voice cut through the shrill, cackling laughter, the terrified cry of the little filly branding itself in his mind..



Sharp fangs bit into the would-be attackers throat and threw it back. Bright Spark blinked, her scream tailing off. Sombra was standing over her, using his body to shield her.



"Sombwa!" she said, tears of relief filling her eyes.



"Don’t you DARE harm her.." Sombra’s voice was feral, a snarl of fury from deep inside.



As many as possible launched at him. He swiped them aside, buffering them back with a mix of shields and attack magic. But some got through. Their teeth bit into his legs, his neck, trying to get at little Bright Spark. But Sombra refused to let them get near her.



He wrapped her in a small bubble of magic, and resorted to using his other asset, brute strength. Powerful blows from his hoofs cracked core after core. With sheer numbers came a weakness sin the cores. But even with this knowledge, there was too many. The real one had to be nearby. These were ALL fakes, the real one wasn’t in this room.



--No time to search. Destroy them all!-- his mind crowed, feeling the euphoric rush of his magic, back where it belonged, at his beck and call.



"Sombwa.." Bright Spark didn’t like how Sombra seemed to hell-bent on fighting, even when he was bleeding. Wasn’t he in pain? What if he-



He glanced at her and deep in those red eyes she seen a flicker of the Sombra she knew. An almost apologetic look...



"I’m sorry you had to see this."



She blinked, seeing him closing his eyes and lifting his head. His horn began to glow, the dark purple magic dizzying to behold. Above his head a small dark ball began to grow. With it came a strange pressure, like an immense wave about to break.



"Oh no..." Luna recognised it, so did Twilight Sparkle and Cadance. It was the spell from his memories, the one he’d used to banish everypony from the palace!



"Sombra!!" Celestia cried "please stop!!"



But it was too late. There was a sudden stillness, then the ball exploded, a bright sphere of power that swept over the room, and beyond. It swept like a force of nature through the whole castle. Where it touched, the shadow ponies turned to crystal, becoming harmless statues. It swept on, encompassing the entire castle. Atop the castles roof, the one Sombra had sensed tried to flee, but it too was changed into a crystal blob.

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Outside, everypony looked up at the sonic boom that accompanied Sombra’s spell. They seen a bright purple aura flare out from the castle, enveloping it and the surrounding areas. It was a beautiful, yet frightening sight. So much dark magic...



Then it faded, the air going still once more.



"What was that?!" one mare panicked.



"That dark unicorn....Sombra!" someone said.



"What’s he done?"



"Oh will you calm down!" They all looked round as a mare spoke crossly "there’s probably more to this than just assuming he’s up to no good!"



"Exactly!" another mare "he’s been....saving us...."

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The Princesses had closed their eyes when the spell had swept towards them, expecting to be vanished away or worse. But all they felt was a strong tingling feeling, then they blacked out briefly. Bright Spark had stared in awe as the spell whooshed past her.



Her little bubble barrier had protected her. Now it’s job was done, it popped with a little PING sound.



Shaking her head to clear it, she seen Sombra standing there, the aura around him much dimmer now.



"Sombwa!" she spied something gleaming, and bounded over to it. It was the choker.



She bounced to a halt in front of him, the choker in her mouth.



"Pwease..." she pleaded. Sombra looked down at her. She could see he was fighting to draw breath, the aura flaring and dimming as he fought to control it.



"Ungh..." Celestia opened her eyes, lifting her head.



"Sister...?" Luna asked, blinking away stars.



"Wha...Sombra..." Twilight Sparkle groaned. Next to her, Cadance stirred.



They all looked over, and seen Bright Spark holding the choker. Sombra, his aura flaring powerful and bright, looking down at her.



"Pwease.." spark whispered "I want my fwiend back....boop?"



That one little word reached his heart. He blinked, the green glow fading from his eyes.



"Little one..." he uttered.



Unaware the Princesses were awake and watching him, he lifted the choker, staring at the spell embedded in it. Closing his eyes he completed the broken spell by instinct, returning the choker to how it’d felt before. All that remained...



He stared at it a moment. He’d relished the feel of his magic, having it back again. His spell had worked. the room was a gallery of crystal ponies, no longer a danger.



But he could not live in this time and still have his power. He was certain, wasn’t he? He was still a dangerous force. To keep what Twilight Sparkle and the others had offered him. He had to be kept away from his own power. It was simmering even now, no doubt wanting to break free and run rampant, overtake his mind and body...didn’t it?



"Sombwa?" Bright Spark looked worried "what’s wrong?"



So much uncertainty meant his self-judgement was clouded heavily. He couldn’t see how even now, he was keeping his magic on a leash..



"My magic is a threat everypony, if I don’t do this..." but the reluctance in his voice was clear. He took a deep breath, closing his eyes, and allowed himself one last glance inward, seeing the dark purple shimmer of his aura. Funny, it almost looked beautiful like this...



Forcing himself to quell the sense of disappointment and loss, and before he could regret it, he latched the collar back around his neck. The next second, the weight of its magic hit him like a hammer blow. A sense of shock radiated through him, as the connection to his power was sealed away. He felt a sense of loss, like he was being torn in two deep inside his heart.



Bright Spark seen the flash of panic in his eyes as he started to raise a hoof towards his neck, then shook his head vigorously, stamping the hoof back onto the floor.



The spell locked into place with a final surge of power, and he gasped in pain, feeling like he’d had part of his very core taken away. He’d woken up with a funny pain that first day. This was it now, magnified greatly. Back then, his body had been mourning the loss of his power, but being unconscious while this had been done, it’d made it easier, he hadn’t been able to identify the cause.



Bright Spark watched tearfully, seeing how much he was hurting.



He stood unsteadily on his feet, visibly shaken. Then the chokers gem glowed, and a fresh wave of pain made him collapse to the floor.



“Sombwa!" Bright Spark wailed, racing over to crouch by his hooves. She rubbed her cheek against his, hoping this would bring him round.



He opened his eyes at the contact;



"Little one..." he said softly "I’m sorry.."



“For what? You pwotected me!" she sniffled "you defeated the eviw ponies!"



"That was that power, that the ponies of the past feared so," he said softly "do you understand now?"



"I don’t CARE!" she blurted "Sombwa is Sombwa, magic is magic!"



"You’re a good filly..." he said, his voice laced with pain and tiredness "don’t let anypony take that from you."



The Princesses were standing together in stunned silence. They’d seen Sombra willingly lock his own powers down. They’d seen how much the process had hurt him.



"That is why I did not wish him to be awake when I first placed it on him," Celestia said "to feel his magic vanishing, its a painful process. I did not think such a situation would arise.."



Now Bright Spark was trying to get him to give her a smile, but he seemed too worn out to even lift his head.



"Sombra.." the little filly looked up as Celestia came over to sit in front of him.



"What..?" he said dully, staring at a point beyond her.



"You stopped them from hurting everypony. We misjudged your intentions with that spell. You saved us."



"...." he didn’t answer, just stared blankly into space. She frowned, he was really out of it this time!



He got to his feet with a monumental effort, still not speaking a word.



"Sombra..." Celestia sounded concerned. But he just stared straight ahead, not hearing her. Then he walked calmly past her, heading for the door.



"Sombra!” Luna teleported in front of him, almost eye to eye "snap out of it, listen to us!"



But he just stared at her, or through her. She got the feeling he was seeing something else. Then he simply walked past her, ignoring the guards that piled into the room.



"Sir." one of them tried to stop him, but Luna barked at him to let him go.



"He needs some space..." she said quietly.



"What happened here?" Flash Sentry asked, seeing them all looking a bit lost, and in Bright Spark’s case, in tears.



"A sacrifice, that’s what happened." Luna said shortly.



"Huh?" Flash looked confused "what was that purple blast?"



"Sombra’s magic." Celestia said "he eradicated the threat in one swift move. The darkness is gone, for now..."



"The choker glowed..." Twilight Sparkle said once the guards had left, with orders to remove and destroy the crystal statues.



"Yes, the element of magic, your element Twilight Sparkle." Celestia sighed "he was able to use his magic to help rather than hurt, it’s true purpose. But deep down, he still fears a reoccurrence of his past, losing his mind to it, so he cannot see the good in what he has done!"



"He had his magic, he could’ve run free, yet he chose to put the limiter back on." Cadance shook her head slightly "It wasn’t an easy decision, but I’m guessing he wants to stay in this time with everypony, he gave up his power again so he could.."



"That’s why he’s sad?" Bright Spark said "I thought his magic was so much awesome, it was pwetty, and stwong!"



"Its also a sore point for him," Twilight Sparkle said gently "he was made to fear his own power by ponies in his past. Nopony knew what dark magic really was back then."



"So why cant he use it? Why that neckwace?" Bright Spark asked.



"Its to make sure his magic cannot cause any undue damage.." Luna said gently "its hard to control, and if he were to lose control again, we’d be in trouble..."



"Oh...so it’s no his fault?" Bright Spark asked.



"Not entirely, no." Luna said "he should not fear himself. as the prophecy Cadance found explains, a pony born with dark magic is able to live in the light. He just cannot see that."



"He has overcome a great deal.." Celestia said "but the hardest hurdle is his own barriers. We cannot force that, he must do it alone.."

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Sombra wandered through the palace halls. Hearing only a faint ringing in his ears. He felt hollow, empty. NO emotion, nothing...



"Oh, hay, there you are!" Shining Armor looked up as he spotted Sombra walk past "what just happened...did you..?" He trailed off as Sombra appeared to not even hear him, just plodded on.



"That’s odd..." somepony remarked.



"I think something’s wrong.." Shining Armor frowned, and hurried after Sombra.



By the time he and Flash, who’d been trailing him since leaving the throne room, caught up to the taller stallion, he was outside in the gardens. Just standing there, staring into space.



"I tried to ask him was he alright, but he wouldn’t answer sir!" The guard by the door cast Shining Armor and Flash Sentry a concerned look "I’m not even convinced he can hear me.."



"Whatever happened, its to do with the purple ka-blam spell..." Shining Armor said "I’m going to guess HE did it..."



Flash had wandered up to Sombra by this point, and now tentatively reached out a hoof to tap his foreleg.



Sombra jumped, backing a few steps away from flash before apparently realizing he knew this pony.



"What..?" he asked, but he seemed dazed.



"You OK? You’re acting funny. And not ha-ha funny..." Flash said carefully.



"I don’t know..." Sombra said flatly "what’s going on?"



"Uhh...we were hoping YOU could tell US that!" Flash piped up.



"You need to see the doc," Shining Armor said carefully "you’re bleeding..."



Sombra blinked, looking at a cut on his left foreleg, which was trickling blood onto the grassy lawn.



"C'mon..." Shining Armor said lightly, realizing the stallion was probably in shock, it would explain why he was so unresponsive. "You can just sleep...that’s what you need..."



This seemed to get through the thick haze that had taken over Sombra. He allowed himself to be ushered back inside, to the doctor. Who took one look at how exhausted and spaced he was, and ordered some tea be made, the first step to helping treat shock.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Sombra sat through the check-up without a sound, without a word. The doctor was a little concerned, but he knew better then to push Sombra.



Luckily, there was enough magic in the crystals he’d summoned to fight the clone ponies with for Twilight Sparkle to make extra goggles. So she wouldn’t have to put Sombra through that again.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"Hey sugarcube!" Applejacks voice startled Twilight Sparkle and she jumped.



"Applejack...hay..." she sighed "sorry, I was miles away."



"Ya gonna eat dinner?" Applejack nodded at the food on the table



"Oops!" she said sheepishly with a grin "silly me, of course!"



"So what actually happened?" Rainbow Dash asked "suddenly all these things pop up, then the next thing we know, they’re turning to crystal!"



Twilight Sparkle let out a small sigh.



"Big mess Rainbow Dash.." she said. "Those things attacked just as we were about to extract a second batch of Sombra’s magic. One of them, the one with the sky tears consciousness in it, broke the spell on the choker!"



“WHAT?!" Rarity yelped.



"Seriously. It attacked just as Celestia had unlocked it. It got it off Sombra, tried to manipulate him. Make him turn on US."



“What happened?" Fluttershy gasped.



Twilight Sparkle blinked "it was something else...." she said at last "he turned on IT."



“Seriously, wow..." Rainbow Dash tried to imagine it "that’s..."



"He said he was sick of being used, and that he was not IT’S to toy with!" Twilight Sparkle shook her head "then he just laid into it!"



They were silent for a moment.



"Wow," Rainbow Dash said "that’s pretty cool. 20% cooler then I had him pegged!"



"I’m sure he’d be happy to hear that Rainbow Dash, but where is he?" Applejack asked.



"He’s, in his room.." Twilight Sparkle said "that’s the other part of what happened.”



They fell silent while Twilight Sparkle told the story of him using that massive spell, then putting the choker back on. About how painful it must’ve been to feel his magic being torn away again. How her brother had told her Sombra went into shock and was currently sleeping off a sedative.



“That’s why she put it on him when he was out cold.." she said at last "I got the feeling it really hurt him..."



"And he’s feeling ill because of it?" Rarity asked.



"No," Twilight Sparkle shook her head "I think he’s missing having his magic, and its making him miserable.."



"Aww ponyfeathers...." Applejack sighed "that sucks!"



"Getting it back then losing it again, that’s tough," Rainbow Dash sighed.



"He put it back on because he wanted to stay with us..." Fluttershy piped up. Twilight Sparkle nodded.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Celestia had a lot on her mind. She called a Princess summit the next morning, and put forward her thoughts;



"What that creature said, its been on my mind..." she began.



"What part?" Cadance asked.



"The part where it pointed out an unfortunate truth I’m certain Sombra was keenly aware of. That we ARE using him to fight our war for us, how are we any better than it? We rendered him powerless, and asked him to fight for us. I had expected his tactics and brute strength would be enough to ensure victory, but he cannot keep using that resource, it’s weakening him.."



They all thought a moment.



"We assumed he would be violent, uncontrollable," Luna said "but he has become a far different pony now..."



“He used the full force of his power to protect that little filly, and locked it away so he could keep living here." Twilight Sparkle nodded.



"What do you propose, sister?" Luna asked.



"I think we need to give him part of who he is back. Although I don’t think he can manage it all flooding back at once, after all this time without it, it could cause shock. But he has proven he CAN use it to do something good.." Celestia said.



It was a unanimous vote. Sombra deserved this much for all he’d done.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Celestia said she’d handle it, since Cadance and Twilight Sparkle were busy, and Luna slept in the daytime!



Sombra was surprised when she asked him to meet her in the throne room.



"Its easiest here, more room.." she remarked, reading a scroll as he walked in.



"What is..?" He trailed off when he seen that familiar spell circle "ah, you need to reset it, don’t you?"



“In a manner of speaking~" she smiled cryptically, but the subtlety was lost on Sombra, who just looked confused. But, with a barely audible sigh, he sat himself down in the circles centre.



"This may hurt a bit.." Celestia said "it’ll be brief.."



Sombra nodded, closing his eyes.



He tensed automatically as he felt the collar loosen, felt the power unfurl and stretch, relishing its freedom again. The sensation of it made his chest ache. He realized how much he missed it. With his eyes closed he was able to see the magic’s unusual aura. Like a glittering purple galaxy. He was aware of Celestia’s magic in the background, a pretty golden shade. Then, he felt the familiar tug of the collar.



The glittering aura began to fade...



Then it stopped, at about half its "size" as it were. He felt a pulse of panic and confusion, what was going on?



There was a click and he felt the room spin briefly as the spell settled down.



He opened his eyes, seeing the spell lines fading into the carpet.



"Something’s off, I think you left it too loose," he said quietly, not wanting to get his hopes up.



Celestia chuckled, making him glance up at her. She was smiling.



"I assure you there’s been no mistake or error Sombra," she said calmly "it is exactly what you think. I changed the spell. I didn’t want it to overload you, so I kept it back a bit. But the spell will retreat a little each day, allow your magic to return to full capacity-"



"Why?!" Sombra blurted, he looked confused. "You seen that chaos with the shadow things. I barely kept control of it THEN, after I lost my temper!"



"And yet none of us were harmed. You eradicated only the shadow ponies. Little miss Bright Spark was unharmed, she can see more then we can.."



Sombra thought about her getting upset when he told her his magic was bad. She grumpily responded magic was still magic.



"You see?" Celestia could see the emotions flickering through his eyes "she knows you wont harm anypony, she was very vocal in pointing that out after you wandered off..."



"I don’t remember much after the spell locked in again..." Sombra shook his head "I could see you al, but I couldn’t hear what you were saying."



"That spell was not designed to be used like that, not while you were conscious. It sent you into shock as far as I can tell.."



Sombra shuddered, it’d felt awful. The sensation of his magic being torn away again. Yet he could feel it now, less overwhelming, but THERE nonetheless.



"Take some time to get used to it..." Celestia said gently "get some rest..."



Sombra was still fighting to understand, but on autopilot he heard himself, saying something about thank you, he needed a walk...

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Then, when he next snapped back to reality, he was standing outside.



"How did I get here?" he muttered.



"Sleepwalking?" the bored guard at the door suggested.



"That'll do..." Sombra shrugged. he started to walk out towards the street outside, then realized nopony was trailing after him.



The guard responded to his confused look with a shrug "Princess Celestia’s orders, she said to leave you be..."



“Right..." Sombra looked a little wary, but eventually he seemed to accept it and carried on outside.



He wondered where Twilight Sparkle and co had gotten to? It felt odd not to have somepony following him, be it a guard or a little pony Princess.



"Sombra!" He snapped out of his daze as he heard a female voice calling to him. He stopped, seeing Shining Sea across the street. he strode over to her, and as he reached her, a tiny blur whooshed out from the shop-



"SOMBWA!" Bright Spark gave him another of her glomp-hugs "you feewing OK?"



"I’m fine little one.." he said gently "but what of YOU?"



"I’m fine!" she beamed "yesterday was scawwy, but you got wid of ther eviw ponies!"



"Yes, they’re gone. The statues were broken down."



"I couldn’t believe it when she told me what happened!" Shining Sea said "that so many would attack the Princesses like that! Still, they had your help, so they were in safe hooves."



"I told mommy about how your magic was supposed to be so scawwy, but I didn’t fink so!" Bright Spark bounded up and down happily.



"You’re a clever little spark aren’t you..?" he chuckled softly "your mother is very lucky to have you!”



Shining Sea nodded proudly, nuzzling the top of her daughter head, making her giggle.



There was a loud booming sound, and Sombra instinctively moved to shield the two. He looked up at the sky tear, and did not know what was going on.



"What is THAT?!" Somepony cried, seeing what looked like an inky tornado flowing into their world.



"I’m not familiar with the type of thing I’m seeing.." Sombra said at last. But he FELT it "it’s this things version of magic..."



"Eep" Bright Spark squeaked.



“Everypony, get out of here, RUN!" Sombra yelled. Some did, recognizing that he knew what he was talking about when it came to these things!



The swirling mass seemed to see the surge of movement and suddenly swept down, sweeping along the street like a ink tsunami.



Bright Spark screamed and clung to her mommy. Sombra closed his eyes.



--Come on magic!-- he thought --if you’re here, WORK!!--



There was a whoosh, and the trio vanished, appearing atop the shop roof.



"How in Equestria?" Shining Sea blinked. Sparks eyes widened.



"Your magic!" she said happily "the pwincesses let you keep it?"



"Part of it..." he said.



But down below he had more to deal with. The other ponies had been covered by the inky wave, up to their hooves in it. They struggled and fought to get free, as a dark shape shot out from the tear.



"Its trying another harvest!" Sombra’s fury rose "I have to stop it, can you two manage up here?"



"We’ll be fine!" Shining Sea said bravely "don’t worry about us, go get that thing!"



"Be carefuww!" Bright Spark called. He gave her a nod, then leapt off the roof, a crystal spike shooting up from the ground for him to perch on.



The creature seen him and launched right for him.



"Why wont you just die?!" It fumed. Sombra waited until it got close, then closer...



"What’s he doing?!" one mare yelped "he’s gonna get hit!"



But soon as it came with striking distance, Sombra vanished in a puff of purple-black smoke. And reappeared on another crystal platform a few meters away. With the creature’s back to him he was able to fire a burst of magic at its core. It hit it dead on, stunning it.



"Or he could do that..." the same mare said in surprise "I thought he didn’t have his magic?"



“Well obviously the Princesses did something!" somepony else added.



"How?!" the shadow creature snapped.



"Fight fire with fire. You have your little dirty tricks, and as it happens, so do I!" Sombra laughed. He closed his eyes, summoning the full limit of what Celestia’s spell had allowed him. When he opened his eyes, their trademark glow was back, the unearthly light making his deep red eyes stand out.



"Mess with something your own size!" Sombra declared.



It raged and drove at him again. But he simply vanished as soon as it got close, reappearing on another crystal slab that struck up from the black inky goo.



"Psyche" Sombra smirked.



"Enough tricks little pony!" it sneered. Flying upwards, it fried a bolt of black lightning at him. A semi-transparent shield flared up, deflecting the bolt away before it could hurt somepony. Sombra leapt from the crystal he was on, vanishing and reappearing on a rooftop further down. The thing kept attacking, focusing so intently on him it didn’t hear something move behind it.



"Sucker," Sombra snickered. It whirled round, seeing...a second one. Oh crap. An illusion. While it was staring at the one behind it, the version it’d been firing upon, actually still the real one, came to a stop on the next summoned crystal platform. He closed his eyes. In the air in front of him, a massive bow made of dark energy took shape, and without hesitating he freed the spear Celestia had given him from its pouch, slotting it in and pulling back-



Too late it realised it’d been tricked. It turned just in time to be speared through by the projectile. The creature exploded, the spear embedding itself into the side of a wall.



Sombra sighed in relief. That’d was close. He hadn’t been sure if he’d be able to do that spell, but it’d worked!



The ponies cheered, and would’ve clapped had they been able to move their hooves.



"How do we get out of this..?!" the pony speaking was gnawing at the black goop.



"Don’t," Sombra advised her "it tastes disgusting."



"Blecch! Good point..." she conceded.



Sombra stared at the inky goop. He had an idea. That spell again.



"Everypony stay still..." he said, raising his voice to be heard "I think I can get rid of it, just hold still..."



He closed his eyes, remembering that same spell he’d used to turn the shadows to crystal. It just needed a little tweak, but the basic element was still the same.



The ponies seen the glowing ball appear in the air above where he stood, felt their ears pop as the air pressure shifted.



"Ooh!" Bright Spark pointed a hoof at the ball "lookit mommy, this is so much awesome!"



There was a pop, the air displaced for a moment, then the ball exploded outwards, a rushing purple magic sweeping over the area in a wide circumference. Where it swept past, the black goop vanished in a flash of heatless, painless flame. Purple flame. Soon it was gone, only a little at the edges where the spell couldn’t reach was left.



The purple light faded, and Sombra opened his eyes. When he seen it’d worked, he gave a sigh of relief.



The ponies cheered properly, stamping their hooves in delight as they found themselves free. Sombra jumped down from the crystal platform, and another little spell got rid of those.



Just one thing left;



A puff of black smoke and Shining Sea and Bright Spark appeared in front of him.



"Wow.." Shining Sea blinked.



"Awsome!" Bright Spark beamed at Sombra. Sombra patted her on the head with a soft smile.



"Your magic, it’s amazing..." Shining Sea said at last "I’ve never heard or seen such a thing. And dark magic too..."



Sombra nodded, closing his eyes, quelling the fiery aura. When he opened his eyes, they’d returned to normal.



He then became aware of the ponies surrounding them. He wondered if that little display had scared them.



"Is everypony alright?!"



It was a patrol, running down the street towards them " what happened?"



Shining Sea spoke up.



"That thing attacked us again, but Its all taken care of."



"Sombwa’s magic did it!" Bright Spark bounce dup and down to get the lead guards attention.



"Your magic? Ah yes, the Princesses orders.." the guard nodded.



"Don’t look freaked out," Sombra sighed "its only...partial..."



"It was enough to wipe the floor wiv that fing!" Bright Spark, still bouncing, pointed out to the guard.



"That’s all I need to hear," the guard said. ÒSeems like you already dealt with the situation. I’ll report it back to the Captain."



Sombra was a little surprised when they didn’t question him. He’d expected a freak out. Unless...had Celestia already told Shining Armor to tell his guards she’d be giving him his magic back?



--Celestia is not somepony you underestimate-- he thought wisely.



They checked to make sure nopony was hurt, and carried on their way. Seeing her still bounding about,. Sombra caught Bright Spark up with his magic, floating her in front of him.



"I’m convinced you’re part spring little one, you’re very bouncy."



She giggled, reaching out and tapping his nose.



"Boop!" she cried happily.



Sombra chuckled, tapping her little nose very very gently with one hoof.



"Boop yourself!" he retorted.



Shining Sea smiled at the cute little scene. The ponies watching were stunned by the difference in Sombra. He looked different when he smiled. They’d never seen him so...contented. And his magic! They’d been a little scared when they’d seen him using it at first, but he’d dispatched that thing and freed them. No more, no less.



Sombra’s stomach growled, reminding him he’d skipped lunch. As if in response, little Bright Spark’s made a tinier gurgle.



"Tummy talking!" she giggled. "lunchy lunch mommy?"



“Of course dear," Shining Sea chuckled as Sombra set Bright Spark back on her hooves. She looked at Sombra "would you like to join us?"



"Pwease?" Bright Spark caught onto the idea and gave him a pleading look.



"If its...not a problem," Sombra coughed. ÒThat’d be excellent."



Bright Spark hugged him again.



"YAY!" She looked very happy.



By now the other ponies were clustered nearby. As Sombra turned to go, one of them called out to him. He stopped, looking over at them;



"Is somepony hurt?" he asked, thinking the spell had missed one.



"No, we just wanted to thank you!" the pony at the head of the gathering said.



Again Sombra wore a look of bewilderment for a second, then realized.



"I see..." he said at last “there’s…no need.”



"There’s plenty need. You don’t seem to see how much you help the ponies here..“



Sombra made a funny sound, and looked slightly awkward.



The pony continued “its YOUR magic that helped us, so why not thank YOU?"



Hoof steps to one side heralded one of the ponies bringing back Sombra’s spear.



"Yours I believe," the stallion held it out. Sombra folded it back up, tucking it away again.



"The Princess was right to do what she did," the same pony said "used the right way, your magic is far more powerful than that thing!"



"I’ve never seen dark magic handled so well," one pony spoke up "how on Equestria did you learn to use it like that?"



Curious murmurs and nods of agreement rippled through the group, their curious gazes fixed on him.



Sombra fidgeted, then figured he may as well be honest. Trying to make up a lie here and now wouldn’t wash, they’d seen the ease he’d used it with. Telling them he’d been trained in it probably wouldn’t pass.



"I was born with it," he shrugged at last.



Jaws dropped.



"Seriously?!" one mare yelped "all my years as a historian I’ve never heard of that happening? Why was there no record of this?"



Sombra shrugged "because when you’re born in a backwater village who’s elders practically wet themselves at the slightest anomaly, you generally don’t keep a record of it.."



"If I might ask," the same mare walked closer "where WERE you from?"



"A village called Snowvale, probably long gone by now...." Under his breath "if I’m lucky.."



"Snowvale...that name, I’ve heard it before..."



"It wasn’t anything special.." Sombra shrugged "unless you count being incredibly small minded and petty an achievement!"



"I must see what I can find out.." the mare murmured, lost in thought as she wandered off.



"Where’s Snowvale?" somepony else asked.



Sombra frowned "I cant remember much of that time anymore..." he said "but I think I was traveling for weeks before I reached here...it was always freezing there, hence the name. Beyond that, I cant tell you anything more..."



"Sounds very remote..." somepony said.



"In more ways than one," Sombra said oddly, then shook his head when he caught them looking confused "never mind."



"At any rate, thank you." the first pony that’d called to him spoke up again "we’re glad you’re here now.." then they dispersed.



Sombra felt a funny twinge, but not a bad or painful one. This felt...nice...

Crown & Comfort

View Online

Bright Spark chattered away happily, asking again was he definitely going to come to the festival on Friday? Sombra reassured her he wouldn’t miss it for anything, which made her smile widely.


When she and her mother parted ways from him, he returned to the castle, feeling better. He hadn’t felt this comfortable in an eternity. His magic swirled and shone deep inside, its presence comforting, a long missed companion.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The rest of that day he spent in his room, finishing the sketches of as many faces from his past as he could. These he then delivered to Celestia. When he showed up at her office, she indicated the tea set on her desk and asked him to talk awhile.



“I have been getting ever more letters, Sombra.” she said.



“I cant seem to destroy those things without causing collateral damage! They EXPLODE for the love of, well, YOU.” he grumbled. She just smiled and shook her head.



“That’s not what they’re about…”



“Then what..?”



“Dear princesses,” Celestia was reading from a letter now,

“We got our first glimpse of how Sombra’s REAL power works yesterday when one of those things attacked..”

Sombra didn’t speak, just watched her warily.

“-and I never thought id see the day when dark magic could do so much good. Its hard to believe his power was once feared when you see it the way we all did. Perhaps we judged the book by its cover. The old Sombra was a crazed lunatic, bent on controlling the Empire. The pony you brought back to help us is a far cry from the nightmare of the past. The only thing those two have in common is how they LOOK. Beyond that, they are a different as chalk and cheese..”

“Not if you’re eating with your eyes closed,” Sombra muttered, recalling something Cloudspark had said. Celestia made an amused laughing sound, but continued regardless:

“We tried to thank him for saving us, but I got the impression it was hard for him to accept. We owe him a second chance for all he’s done, especially regarding that plague. Please let him know. Maybe you can persuade him to come see us.



Signed, QuillPetal.”

Sombra was silent.



“You understand now? They sincerely want to thank you. You’ve pretty much single hoofedly protected them, this whole time. With Twilight Sparkle’s goggles you won’t have to bear the whole burden alone. You can rest, relax a bit more. Give them a chance to see you…”



Sombra sighed reluctantly.



“Give it a try, what have you to lose?” she asked, triggering Sombra’s memory. Shining’s words that breakfast, that he had a lot to catch up on..



Celestia was looking at the drawings he’d given to her.



"You have an artistic talent," she remarked "these are good. I will ensure Shining Armor gets them."



Sombra nodded, not speaking a word. Celestia studied the image he'd drawn of King Cloudspark. It’d been drawn with a careful reverence and kindness. Despite how he’d apparently lashed out in those memories Luna had seen, it was obvious he treasured the good memories of this pony.



"How have you been sleeping?" she asked as he turned to leave.



"Huh? Oh...better...." he said at last "I don’t see those images anymore. It’s just blank.."



"That must be better.."



He gave a nod "and yet I still feel tired.."



"A lot has changed, this exhaustion is as much mental and physical. The guards can respond to any further emergencies this day, you should get some rest."

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

But his mind still dwelled on how everypony had reacted to seeing his past in those nightmares. How sad and honest they’d been that weird morning. After all he’d done, did he have the right to get used to such kindness?



His head still buzzing, he curled up under the covers and fell fast asleep.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Darkness. Good. Wait, not good. Why was he standing alone in it..?



"Sombra." a voice spoke from behind him and he whirled round, tensed to fight-



"Oh....Princess..." he sighed, seeing Luna "I thought you were another of those things..."



"No, they do not appear to haunt your dreams as of late. I have been researching your past, your memories. I have something you need to see. It wasn’t easy uncovering this, your past is convoluted and distant, but this memory shone brightly."



Not sure what she meant, he walked to stand beside her. She stamped one hoof on the invisible floor and a blur of colours whooshed past them, making Sombra dizzy.



"Whoa geez..." he grumbled.



Luna nudged him a second later. They were in a small, cosy looking cottage. A familiar figure was hunched over a wooden desk, writing franticly.



"It can't be..." Sombra stepped forward. But it WAS. His old mentor and substitute father figure, Cloudspark.



"This is what happened after your spell was unleashed. The ponies in the palace were scattered across the wider area. Sanity alone knows how you pulled that one off," she remarked.



At the desk, Cloudspark finished the letter and folded it up, putting it in a small, ornately carved box.



"I hope someday this will reach you.." he muttered, before picking it up and heading outside.



Cloudspark walked off into the night. They walked after him in silence, until eventually the scene shifted and refocused. Cloudspark stood in front of a big tree. In the distance the Crystal Empires lights lit the night.



"What’s he doing...?!" Sombra said quietly.



"Watch." Luna said softly.



Cloudspark wrapped the box in a spell summoned from a special scroll, one that seemed to use up a lot of his energy, but meant he could safely bury it in the ground.



"What happened child..?" he sighed "How did you come to lose such hope in yourself. Am I to blame..?"



Sombra couldn’t bear to hear this, he knew what Cloudspark spoke of.



"I hope someday you'll find this. Maybe She will lead you. The dream walker, the Princess of the stars..."



--Of course, even back then Luna’s power was well known as a legend..-- Sombra recalled hearing the tale as a child.



"Don’t give up.." Cloudspark was still talking to the spot where he’d buried the box "i know the real you is still there. Not this facade you’ve become. I seen you from a distance. I had hoped to see you grow up, but not this way. That thing isn’t you."



Sombra felt about to be sick, this was physically hurting to watch. What he’d put this pony through. He stepped ahead of Luna, watching his substitute father. Seen the sadness in his eyes.



"I’ll always care about you. Like any real parent, I love my child, no matter what they might do. I’ll always forgive you. Don’t lose that part of you...please Sombra, even if it takes forever, fight it. I-"



"Don’t-" Sombra croaked, his voice barely audible. Pleading with the King not to say the words that would shatter his increasingly fragile grip on his heart.



"I love you, kiddo."



Each word was like a punch to the gut.



"Stop it!" he gasped at last, and Luna was surprised to hear the raw pain in his voice "just..stop! I’m begging you!"



The dream faded with Cloudspark bidding a farewell to the distant Empire and heading back..

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

He awoke with a shaky gasp. He sat himself up, feeling the reverberations from the dream ricocheting around his head. His heart ached, seeing the King again. He made a frantic, desperate attempt to breathe properly, but it felt like something had a vice like grip on his chest.



"I can take you to where that tree still stands. What he buried awaits you now.." Luna spoke from beside the bed.



"No. No more.." Sombra coughed, forcing the words out "I shattered his heart and took over his home. Why wouldn’t he give up?!"



"Because he believed deep down what you’ve been showing us all this time," Luna said "that you have a good heart. But it was broken, in turn, by a world too full of fear to comprehend your gift."



"Gift? This powers nothing but a curse!" Sombra spat out angrily.



"You used it to save all of us, but most of all you saved an innocent child. You wouldn’t have done those things if you truly didn’t care. Now, come.." she opened a portal and looked over at him.



For a moment she was sure he would refuse, order her to leave him alone, shout and curse. He looked on the verge of doing it, then he abruptly seemed to loose the will to argue, and nodded mutely, getting up and following her.



They emerged in the pitch darkness in the surrounding forest. Luna made her horn glow a soft brilliant blue, throwing the area into shadow and sharp relief.



"Here..." she said, pawing the earth with her hoof.



Together they shifted clump after clump of earth, until eventually a shimmering silver shape emerged.



"The shield, its reacting.." Luna murmured "this is it.."



Sombra freed the box and set it down.



"How do I open it?! I don’t recognize this magic.." he said, sounding flustered.



"Relax.." she told him, "focus.."



He closed his eyes, focusing on the box. For a moment it seemed nothing was happening. Then he seen an intricate lock, but one he recognized. It was the same one as on the door of the castle back then.



He fed a tendril of magic into the lock, seeing the gears turns and click, then with a POP, the shield vanished.



"Well done..." Luna’s voice brought him back to the present. "now lets return..."



They were swept up in a portal and deposited back in Sombra’s room.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"I will leave you to yourself, whatever is in there is something he wanted for you to have...." then she was gone.



Sombra felt dizzy as he looked at the box for a long time before lifting the lid.



Inside was something that made his guilt grow even stronger...



Before she’d passed away, the queen, had given her crown as a memento to her husband. He’d had it reworked into a leg band that he wore around his left foreleg, above the knee. The glittering purple jewel in it shaped like a star. This was the same object that looked back at him from inside the box, protected all that time by powerful magic.



"Why would you leave this for me?" he asked. Underneath it was a letter...

"My precious child,



I don’t know if you will ever read this, but I hope you will. The world must have finally overwhelmed you, despite how much I tried to shield you from it. I want to tell you now what I seen in you;



I seen a courageous, strong hearted pony, who had a so much hope and kindness to offer. A pony who was smart and understanding. You may scoff, but I feel like I got to see the real you on so many occasions. That first birthday you had at the Empire. You acted like you didn’t care, but I seen how happy you were. You don’t have to hide yourself away. Your magic may be dark, but I do not believe your heart truly is. The world had been cruel, I seen that in your eyes that first day we met. But I also seen an indomitable strength, a refusal to accept you could ever be denied.



I could see the influence of your father in you. You may have wondered where I kept vanishing off to in the months before the occurrence. I went to track down your family."

Here Sombra had to stop, his vision swam, and he was hit by the sheer enormity of what that meant.

"And I can understand where your fear stemmed from. Your father was cold and uncaring, and your mother may as well have never had a child for all the compassion she showed. So I told your parents I was taking care of you from then on. They didn’t respond kindly. I knew then they weren’t deserving of such a unique and gifted unicorn. So I decided that day, I’d officially claim you as my own. You deserved so much more then they could give. But I fear they may have done too much damage already, if what ahs come to pass is any indicator.



But please, if by some miracle this does find its way to you; know this:



You are MY son, you always will be. No matter what you do, I will always care for you. No matter how much you hate me, I still love you. You could never make me ashamed of you. I believe there is so much goodness in your heart, you just need the right ponies to set it free. By Celestia, I hope you find them. This ornament was a gift from my wife to me. Now, it is for you, as a reminder of all we achieved together. I was proud to see you achieve your cutie mark.



Cloudspark"

Sombra couldn’t take anymore. All the sadness, the grief, the anger. He could no longer contain it. He closed his eyes, the tidal wave too much to cope with.



The kings words echoed in his mind.



--I still love you. You are MY son.---



His vision blurred as he looked at the ornamental leg band, sitting there so innocently. What it symbolised.



A thousand year old barrier around his heart finally shattered, and he let everything he’d been carrying, go...



A single drop fell to the fancy bedspread. A second later, another fell onto the jewel set in the leg band.



--Stop it you fool!!-- the old part of his mind snapped. But yet again the ponies kind words flashed through his mind. The only mistake he’d made was turning on the King. Being born with dark magic, being different, those weren’t crimes. Had he just believed in the good the King could see in him, things may have been different.



But hindsight is a wonderful thing. Getting the proof that such a hope is not a waste of the part of you that is poured into it, isn’t easy. He’d learnt that so often. He’d kept giving up little parts of himself over and over. In the end, it’d felt like it wasn’t worth the heartache.



--Not anymore…-- he thought heavily --being who you are is not a crime. Everypony gets scared by what they cant explain or what doesn’t fit their expectations. Doesn’t mean its BAD. It just means you have to fight a little more to make yourself known.---



But overriding a lifelong lesson beaten into him by his parents wasn’t easy. Children were born to love their parents, even to the degree where it hurt.



He caught sight of the letter, and felt a small flicker of hope;



For he realized now, that Cloudspark HAD been his father. He’d said as much in the letters. No matter how angry Sombra had gotten at himself, no matter how much self-disgust he’d inflicted, the King had never given up telling him he was wrong. He WASN’T a bad pony. That he had just as much right to enjoy his life as anypony else.



Twilight Sparkle and her friends had seen his memories, his past. Fluttershy had started to cry because she had seen the pain he refused to acknowledge.



He lay curled up on the bed, the only sounds in the room his own muffled cries of grief and loss, but also of relief. This had been a long time coming, and for the first time in forever, he had accepted he wasn’t alone…

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Luna, concerned by how unstable he’d seemed by the time the flashback ended, had hovered around, a short distance from the rooms doors. Now she listened with a familiar sympathy to the sound of a much needed outburst.



She’d felt the same way after finally seeing her sister again. All the regret, all the apologies, it felt inadequate. So she could understand Sombra’s regret. She’d turned on her sister out of jealousy, him on the King out of fear and anger.



Now it was time for that grief to finally be excised. The sounds were heavily muffled but there was no disguising pure heartbreak. She decided he needed somepony to help him...



She teleported out, seeking one very special individual.

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She appeared in a dream world comprised of candy coloured bubbles. A giggling filly was bouncing from one to the next, like a little orange haired blur.



"Hewwo!" she spotted Luna "Pwincess Woona!"



Luna smiled at the child’s pronunciation, and flew alongside her.



"I need your help little one...well, Sombra does.."



“Whassa matter?!" Bright Spark skidded to a halt in mid air, floating there. Admiring this child’s grasp of crazy physics in dreams, Luna explained;



"Right now he’s more lost then ever, and he needs something good to remind him why things aren’t all bad. That, my child, is you. I must bring you to the palace, do you wish me to speak with your mother?"



"It’s OK, I don’t wanna disturb her. She needs her sleepy sleeps. But we gotta be weally quiet!"



"No worry there. Now, lets waken.."

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Bright Spark woke up in her bed, with Luna by her side.



They shared a look, then Luna teleported them both out. She deposited them outside Sombra’s room. Carefully and soundlessly, she nudged the door open so Bright Spark could slip in.



As the door slid shut behind her without a whisper, Bright Spark spied Sombra curled up on the bed.



She was concerned by the hiccupy, sad sounds she heard.



"Sombwa..." she spoke up as she trotted over.



"Wha-" he looked down, seeing her standing by the bed "w-what’re you doing here little one?" he lifted her up with his magic, setting her on the bed in front of him.



"Pwincess Woona said you were sad..." she said. She rubbed her cheek against his, making her little face damp.



"Why sad?" she asked, poking his nose with one hoof "boop?"



"I-its nothing little one.."



“Mommy cwied a lot when daddy was gone. Have you lost somefing?"



He shook his head, managing a faint smile;



"No, i found something in fact.."



“Somefing that makes you sad....is it a bad fing?"



"No, just something I wish I had known long ago. That he could forgive me after all those things I did. I don’t understand..."



"Sombwa..?" Bright Spark spied the letter and pounced on it, wondering was this making him sad? She struggled to read the kings writing, but she understood the last bits.



"Did he never say these fings to you?" she asked.



"He did, but I was too much of a fool to listen. I was so convinced he’d turn on me that it made me crazy. To prevent him from hurting me, I banished him from my life. I was an idiot...."



"He adowpted you?"



“In a way, yes..."



"Then he woved you vewwy much!" she decided "my mommy says a twue parents love is uncon...dizzy-"



“Unconditional?" Sombra guessed. She nodded.



"Yeah! The one fing a child can rely on is that their mommy and daddy will always wove them! This guy said so, so he was your real daddy! Not those meanies he visited...."



"He was. And I caused him so much strife, how could he keep forgiving me?"



“Because that’s what pawents do!" Bright Spark insisted "mommy said so! If he says he fowgives you, then I fink he did! He sounded happy he got to adopt you!"



Sombra closed his eyes, a fresh wave threatening to bury him "I don’t know.." he whispered.



"Don’t be sad, pwease..." Bright Spark begged "I cwied after daddy passed away, but mommy said to always believe he was watching over me. To make him as pwoud as I would if he was still here. You should do that too!"



"What right do I have? I didn’t just hurt HIM, I caused a lot of ponies pain by doing what I did...."



"But the ponies like you!" Bright Spark boop!ed his nose once more "I’ll teww you what mommy said to her fwiend, but you gotta keep it secwet!"



He could only nod. She smiled.



"Mommy’s fwiend said wasn’t she worried about letting her filly hang around such a big scawwy pony, and you know what mommy said? "He snot scawwy! He’s saved my daughter’s life over and again, saved all our lives. The past is in the past. I believe he’s learned from his mistakes. No monster would care fow a child as if it were their own the way he has. My Bright Spark adores him, and he’s made her shine bwighter then I’ve ever seen her! For that, I will consider him not only a fwiend to my family, but a fwiend to the Empire."



Sombra looked at her, seeing the honesty in her eyes.



"Mommy likes you, she says you’re a good pony under all the gruffness. Her fwiend said she’d never thought about it that way. That maybe its time they all gave you a second chance after you saved them fwom the plague. They wanna talk to you, but mommys fwiend says nopony ever sees you outside the palace! When they do, you shy away if they try to fank you.."



"I don’t know that I deserve their gratitude, in light of what I did in the past, little one.." Sombra began, but Bright Spark shook her head.



"Mommy said the past is in the past. Your pwotetcing the Empire, and the ponies. You’re not a meanie anymore....pwease believe them.."



She sat there, peering hopefully at his face.



"Little one.." Sombra said at last "...thank you.."



"Your my fwiend, and that’s what fwiends do!" she said.



He smiled faintly "so I’ve been told.." he said softly.



"So don’t be sad. I fink he loved you, AND he wasn’t angwy with you. You cant make yourself sad, he wouldn’t want you to be sad. I fink he wants you to be happy!”



She was surprised when Sombra hugged her gently a second later.



"Thank you...my little Bright Spark.." he chuckled, as he let her go. He tapped her nose gently.



She beamed, and then gave him a stern look;



"So don’t cwy or be angwy at yourself. He said he fowgives you, so be happy, ‘kay?"



A nod. She could see some of the sadness was gone from his eyes as he looked at her.



"Little child?" Luna’s voice spoke form the other side of the door "we must get you back to your mothers..."



“Alwight!" spark said. She boop!ed Sombra’s nose once more in farewell, then she was bounding out the door, waving one last time before she vanished.

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When Luna returned, Sombra still looked a bit flushed, but calmer.



"How did you know to bring her?" Somrba said lightly.



"She always seems to make you cheer up whenever she’s about, so I figured she’d be the perfect choice to make you think clearly."



Sombra gave a funny laugh, looking at the box with the ornament in it. Luna peered in.



"Wow...mind if I see?"



He shook his head, and she lifted it up, examining it from all angles.



"Such craftsmanship, its stunning.." she mused.



"It was the Queens, then his...." Sombra tailed off.



"And he left it for you." she finished.



"Its a royal decoration. I have no use for it. Perhaps its fitting it should go to the empires REAL rulers." Sombra said bluntly. Luna frowned at him.



"What?" he said crossly, "don’t give me THAT look!"



"You’re an idiot..." Luna sighed.



"I’m also exhausted." Sombra sighed, losing all energy to argue.



"THAT, I can help with.." Luna said,. Before Sombra could question what she meant, she’d cast a little sleep spell, and he was fast asleep in seconds.



--I just hope that wasn’t too much, but he needed to know...--

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

When Sombra woke up the next morning, he wondered why his head ached. He heard something clatter to the floor as he stretched, and looked down. An ornate box had fallen to the floor, and rolling away across the floor was a shiny golden thing. He chased after it, scooping it up, then realizing what it was.



The memories came back. Luna taking him to that flashback. Finding the box. King Cloudspark’s letter. His chest ached again and he hurriedly set the leg-band down, watching how the stone set in it caught the light and glowed. He recognized it now, it was the same as the stone he’d first spotted in the antique shop. That first day out of the castle with Twilight Sparkle and Fluttershy. A purple star jewel.



--It was the queens favorite..-- he remembered Cloudspark talking about it now. He sighed sadly. There were traces of magic lingering on the band. No doubt leftover from the spell that’d protected it, buried under the earth in that box for over a thousand years.



He picked up the box, frowning at how the material inside had gotten torn when it fell. Perhaps miss Rarity could help him.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

And so, having missed breakfast by this point, he trekked down to the room Rarity had commandeered as her sewing room.



She was in there with Applejack, who was reading out a letter from Applebloom. She tailed off as Sombra wandered in. He hadn’t bothered to wear his usual getup, aka the crown and shoes. As a result, his mane was loose, his ears poking up out of it. It gave him a much less stern appearance overall. As always, he was wearing the cloak Rarity had made him.



"Hay!" she greeted him, "we missed ya at breakfast!"



“I uh...overslept.." Sombra said softly.



"Sure ya actually SLEPT, sugarcube?" Applejack said sympathetically "apparently passing out don’t count as sleep!"



"I had bad dreams..." Sombra fibbed. Both ponies frowned this time.



"How bad?" Applejack asked "Its not.."



“No, that nightmare has stopped. This was a one off. It wasn’t that creature, I’m certain of it."



Deciding to get his mind off it, Rarity bobbed her head at the box floating next to him "what’s that?"



"This? It’s a long story. Ask Luna. She found it. "



He set it down and opened it. Rarity’s jaw dropped when she seen the beautifully crafted band inside.



"Whoa...." Applejack stared in amazement "that’s a stunner!"



"What is it? Its simply amazing.." Rarity lifted it up, turning it this way and that.



"It belonged to the King..." Sombra was glad he’d taken out the letter beforehand. the last thing he fancied was everypony reading it.



He shook his head to clear the thoughts from the previous night, that still lingered even now. Cloudspark’s kind words, his refusal to stop hoping...



"Anyway, the box got somewhat damaged. I was hoping you could repair the lining material?”



Rarity peered at the box, and nodded.



"I have something that matches this just nicely! Leave it with me!"



Sombra gave a small sigh of relief.



"Thank you," he gave a small yawn "I need to find food.." he drifted off.



"Am I the only one thinking he’s acting a trifle weird this morning?" Applejack said in the ensuring silence.



Rarity frowned "yes, he IS a bit spacey. He’s not STILL shook up from Pinkie Pie’s in-his-face intervention is he?"



“Nah, I don’t think so," Applejack shook her head "he seemed fine at dinner, remember?"



“True.." Rarity frowned at the box, and its fancy occupant "maybe its this?"



"He did say it used ta be the kings. Maybe he’s more upset about what went on then he’s sayin'?"



"I fear you may be right. He has a lot to deal with...oh!"



Rarity had taken the leg-band out and set it aside, and had started to lift up the lining material when she noticed something.



"What is it?" Applejack asked curiously.



"There appears to be something sewn into the lining here...hold on a second.."



With a professional care and concentration, Rarity unpicked the stitches, and extracted a square of tightly compressed folded paper.



"What the hay's that?"



"Beats me Applejack dear. But lets find out..." she carefully unfolded the pages, using magic to flatten the sheets of paper. They were old but very well preserved. The writing on them was clear as day.



The two ponies peered over, each reading one of the two sheets that comprised the discovery.



"Sweet toffee apples!" Applejack blurted.



"My heavens.." Rarity responded.



Applejack held hers up "this says this King fella officially adopted Sombra, it’s got his parents signatures and everything!"



"THIS one says he’s decreed Sombra as his heir!" Rarity pointed at her page.



Applejack let out a low whistle.



"This is a doozy," she said, shaking her head "what do we do?"



"We must take this to the princesses!" Rarity decided.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Celestia was as startled as they were to see the papers.



"Sorry fer pointin’ out the obvious, but don’t this mean he's..." Applejack began…



"-The empires heir. yes." Celestia set the papers down "I wonder if Sombra knows anything about this?"



"I doubt it, Princess, we found those things sewn into the box!" Rarity pointed out.



"They could be copies, he may know or recall the original..." she walked to the door, asking the guard to bring Sombra to the office.



He arrived a few minutes later.



"This isn’t gonna be pretty.." Applejack said ominously.



"I must admit I’m concerned how he’s going to react," Rarity whispered back.



Sombra looked surprised to see Applejack and Rarity there.



"What’s....?" he asked, dread gnawing at his stomach.



"Rarity told me of your discovery, the box my sister helped you find." Celestia began.



"That?" Sombra sighed in relief, she just wanted to know about the band right "Its a relic. When the Queen died, she gave her crown to her husband, and he had it made into THAT so he’d always have it to remember her by, that’s all it is."



"That’s not what I wished to ask you about," Celestia looked apologetic, and this only made him more nervous.



"What’s..?" he asked, voice trailing off.



She held up the sheets of old paper "were you aware King Cloudspark had gone to great lengths to track down your parents?"



"What?!" Sombra looked shocked "why in the name of SANITY would he do THAT?!"



"Because adoption laws require the parents signatures if they’re still living, that’s why." Celestia said. Sombra didn’t say a word. he looked too shocked to.



"Did you know about any of it?" she asked. A mute shake of the head.



"He never...all I remember is him leaving for a couple of weeks to go on some goodwill mission. That’s what he said to ME at any rate. There WAS a letter in the box with that thing, but it didnt mention anything specific. Why..?"



"He obviously wanted to make sure you never had to go back to them. It seems he wished you to have a proper family, and home, at the Empire."



Sombra was starting to feel a bit queasy, but he quashed the feeling, hearing Celestia continue.



"This was signed and dated before the events of the past began. He must have intended it as a surprise, perhaps as a birthday present."



Sombra remained silent, but Applejack seen one ear twitch, much like it had during Pinkie's rant. It seemed to be a telling sign when he was in over his head.



"And there’s one more," Celestia picked up the second sheet, turning it to face Sombra "this is a document stating he’s officially declared you as his heir. It's been signed by a palace notary-"



"Wha-haa..." Sombra gave a funny laugh, shaking his head "very funny. Is this part of Luna’s little night-time vision jaunt?"



"It is no joke," Celestia frowned at the fact he seemed to be laughing. "I have created and signed many a declaration in my reign, Sombra, and I recognise a binding document. This is very real."



Sombra gave another funny snigger "well whatever it is, you don’t need to be concerned with it, do you? Its a thousand years old, its obsolete."



"Its is essentially a last declaration of the official ruler of the Empire. You can’t get much more serious than this." Celestia frowned "I cant understand why you’re finding this so amusing.."



"Because this is all just a joke, right?" Sombra gave a dismissive shrug "this empire HAS a prince and Princess. Why on Equestria would you do anything about THAT?" he jabbed a hoof at the document.



"Because at the time the Empire vanished, the King was still its rightful ruler. He created this document and had it sealed away so it would survive. He meant for this to be a reality."



The very idea made Sombra’s stomach churn uneasily.



Celestia could see he was shaken by the news. When he’d walked into the room, she’d gotten the impression he was already struggling to deal with what Luna had shown him. Her sister had shown up in the small hours, worried she’d hurt more then helped Sombra by showing him that memory.



He winced suddenly, one hoof pressed to his stomach. The unease was causing a backlash.



“Sombra?” Celestia stepped forward, concerned by how pale he’d turned.



The pain flexed again, and he felt about to be sick.



“I’ll go get the doctor-” Applejack began, but the door swung shut, the handle surrounded by a purple aura.



“There’s no need..” Sombra spoke through gritted teeth, as he fought to get it under control.



“Ya know, Applebloom once made herself sick with worry once over somethin’. She was cryin’ from a tummy pain an’ all. it’s the same with you aint it?”


“Have you been up all night worrying about that ornament in the box?” Rarity asked.



“I think I slept at some point. Luna and her knockout spells had something to do with it…” he seemed to be breathing a little easier.



“I think Applejack is right,” Celestia said “you’re making yourself feel sick because you’re forcing yourself to carry this. I do not believe the King meant it as a punishment, to make you feel guilty. That he went this far for you only makes this all the more vital. For your own sake, I intend to show this to Cadance and Shining Armor, and ask them to consider it.”



“What?! No, Princess, PLEASE!” Sombra said loudly “no good will come of this! I’m telling you NOW!



“That’s where we differ. I think its just what you need to realize where your PLACE is.”



Sombra faltered, seeing the determination in her eyes.



“Its time to let it go, Sombra..” Celestia said, stepping up to him, her kind and gentle pink eyes meeting uncertain red ones.



Then she was out the door, leaving a stunned and confused Sombra behind.



Applejack was about to say something when Sombra hiccuped uneasily, and bolted out of there.



“Oh dear..” Rarity winced.



“He scared the ponies will riot or somethin’ if they hear about this?” Applejack wondered.



“It would seem that way, Applejack dear. What can we do?”



“Lets find him, then find Twi.” Applejack decided.



But despite checking the bathrooms on that floor they couldn’t locate him, so decided to get to Twilight Sparkle next!

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

When Rarity said she and Applejack had shocking news to tell, everypony else was curious. What could it be?



When Rarity finished explaining that it turned out Sombra was the kings heir, you could’ve heard a moth fart in the silence.



"Whaa....whaa...whoa!!" Pinkie Pie blurted at last.



"Did I hear that right?" Rainbow Dash asked "how-?"



“Luna traced an old memory belonging to the King. He’d buried the papers and whatnot in a box. He was hopin’ Sombra would someday snap outta his crazy and try and resume the life the King had meant for him." Applejack explained.



"Wow..." Twilight Sparkle was touched by the kings kindness "bet he’s pretty pleased, right?"



Seeing Rarity and applejacks "you’re kidding right?" expressions she winced "so, NOT happy?"



"He flipped out something chronic!" Rarity sighed "first he couldn’t stop laughing because he thought Celestia was pulling his leg about it, then he panicked!"



“He sure seemed pretty wigged out when she said she was takin’ the papers to yer brother and miss Cadance!" Applejack shook her head.



"I cant figure why he’s scared of everypony finding out?" Twilight Sparkle scrunched her nose as she tried to puzzle it out.



"I think he believes it'll cause nothin’ but chaos like before…” Applejack summed it up.



“Maybe he’s weirded out by how the Empire will react?" Rainbow Dash shrugged "I don’t think they’d be THAT adverse to it, but lets face it. It’s taken us THIS long to make him see he was putting himself through unnecessary stress!"



"How do you think your brother will react?" Fluttershy asked Twilight Sparkle.



"I don’t know.." she said "but I get the feeling, if he thinks it'll help, he'll do it."

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

While Sombra was trying to relax, Celestia found Cadance and shining armour. She told them what’d happened, and showed them the papers.



"So this means he’s the kingdoms heir, officially?" Shining Armor asked.



"Yes," Celestia nodded "its genuine as far as I can tell. But I will have the palace notary examine it."



"What has he said in response to this?" Cadance asked.



Celestia described the shock on his face when he’d found out. He’d had no idea. How he’d started feeling sick when she mentioned showing it to them.



“Why is he so afraid of this?” Cadance murmured.



“He last seen the King in that memory, when he honestly believed he was going to betray him. Now he suddenly finds out the guy was taking him away from his abusive life. He’s berating himself for getting it wrong..” Shining Armor said.



“He wasn’t to know…” Cadance shook her head “after everything we saw in those memories, for him to trust another pony that seemed to be keeping secrets was more then he could cope with. It was just a sad mistake. He misread the kings actions, assumed he was abandoning him…”



“Its up to YOU what you do,” Celestia said at last “but he already pointed out this Empire has the both of you. I do not think he believes he can accept it.”



“He’s put his life on the line for everypony here…” Cadance said as she looked at her husband “Even after that thing took the choker off, he still fought for US, for this place. Maybe this will give him what he needs. A sense of HOME, of safety.”



Shining Armor nodded in agreement “Exactly. He’s carried so much guilt and fear around since he was a foal. Even thought its no longer his domain, he’s still battled to save it, like Cadie said. I think he deserves a second chance at the life Cloudspark was planning for him. He’s changed enough to deserve it now, even if he wont let himself believe it!”



“Lets go talk to him..” Cadance smiled gently. Celestia watched them leave the room, smiling at how proud she was of the two of them.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

They found Sombra in the library. A cup of tea sat to one side, the steam curling lazily up into the air.



“Sombra..” Shining Armor tapped the table with his hoof. Sombra jolted, apparently miles away.



“What? Sorry…I…wasn’t paying attention.”



“There’s something we need to talk to you about-” Cadance began, but Sombra shook his head, staring at the surface of the liquid in the cup as he spoke, making it float into the air in little blobs, forming them into patterns...



“I know what you’re going to say. And I wont have anything to do with it. Things have changed. The Empire is in safe hooves. That doesn’t need to be any different. DISPOSE of those documents. Please…”



“No.” Cadance said simply. Sombra blinked, the liquid splashing back into the cup.


“W-what?” he stammered, genuinely surprised.



“We’re not going to ignore it.” Shining Armor said “but let me ask you THIS: What would you say our JOB is?”



“Are you being daft?” Sombra asked “this is your Empire. You protect it, you make sure those ponies are safe and happy. What else is there?”



“That is what you have been doing these last weeks,” Cadance said “your efforts have kept the Empire in one piece. You saved the lives of countless ponies when you worked to get that tea to us all. You could have ignored it, run away, let us all be consumed. But you DIDN’T.”



Sombra didn’t know how to rebuke THAT.



“And you made one shy, bullied little filly feel like she’d found the best friend in the world.” Shining Armor added “from what Twily and the others have said, you stopped that kid from falling into the same sadness you did.”



Cadance stepped forward as Sombra returned to staring out the window "Cloudspark loved you enough to go to these lengths to make sure YOU someday heard his wish! He did everything he could to make sure Princes Luna would find it."



"Have YOU forgotten the lengths you went to, to save your kingdom from me last time? And you want to put it in danger again?"



"Will you stop talkin’ like that?" Applejacks voice cut in. Sombra froze. The six ponies came in behind the prince and Princess.



"What’re you talking about?" Sombra asked Applejack.



"That King could see it, he pretty much said it the first time you met "ya got a good heart under all that sulking! Whaddya know, he was right! So why d'ya keep talkin’ like yer incapable of causing nothing but trouble? The filly, the plague, that malarkey with those shadow ponies attacking Twi and company. None of THEM turned out bad! And lookee here who was at the centre of all of them? YOU."



"You’re not some unfeeling monster you know.." Rarity came over "You care more about everypony then you show. Let me ask you: Why did you help little Bright Spark back in the market that first time?"



Sombra was surprised by the question. "I didn’t think.." he muttered at last "I just seen her. She was scared, all that cheerfulness dropped right off her face when she heard them looking for her. I’d seen that look a million times in a broken mirror in that attic. Seeing it on her face, at her age was.."



“Was like seeing what happened to you all over again, right?" Rarity said sympathetically. A nod was her answer.





"One of the letters was from miss Petalbloom, here.." Twilight Sparkle closed her eyes, summoning the letter from the throne room where Cadance had shown it to her.

"Dear princesses,



I’m a teacher at crystal pre school. One of my students, Bright Spark, ahs become very attached to Sombra. I know he rarely ventures out of the palace, so I’m sending this to you so that hopefully he'll understand. Until he came here, I was starting to fear poor little Bright Spark would stop coming to school. She would miss as many days as she could, despite her mothers pleas. She was often crying. She’s such a sweet child, it broke my heart to see her upset all because of her speech impediment. Then I seen her befriending Sombra at that class picnic. I was stunned at first, that she’d managed to walk up to such a fierce, seemingly emotionless pony. But he said something that caught my attention: "You have a very bright student, she lives up to her name."



He’d seen it clear as day, as I had. I don’t think he even noticed the way she spoke. Later that same afternoon, i came across him not only protecting her from the bullies, but giving them a stern dressing down about how the way Bright Spark talked has no bearing on the kind of pony she is! I don’t know anything about how or where he grew up, but I got the impression he grew up in a bad time. I realize I misjudged him. The history books all recount him as being crazy and barbaric, but that description does NOT match the pony I’ve seen charging around the Empire beating the stuffing out of those shadow things. When she told the tale of his safeguarding her during the attack on the princesses, the whole CLASS was riveted.”

"Gah, she told the-" facehoof moment for Sombra.



Suppressing a smile, Twilight Sparkle continued;

"They were ALL asking Bright Spark about him. And you know what she said "dark magic is just a more purpley type of magic. I don’t think its scary. Sombra's isn’t, it was awesome!". That child has a talent for being able to see the things some of us cant.



I hope he will understand, and that I am grateful for how much he’s brought Bright Spark out of her shell.



Signed,

Miss Petalbloom."

"Aww.." Rarity beamed "that’s lovely~"



"That filly adores you," Fluttershy smiled "She’s seen your magic at its worst, and she couldn’t be less frightened."



Shining Armor plonked the ornate leg band on the table in front of Sombra "this doesn’t belong with anypony else. Its YOURS."



Sombra looked at the letter, sensing how happy Petalbloom was over sparks increased confidence. But Applejack seen the jarring look in his eyes when he glanced at the ornament. A look of guilt and unease. The subtle way he inclined his head away from it, staring at the letter again instead.



"The only one who aint seeing what ya can do is YOU sugarcube...." Applejack said at last "ya cant spend the rest of your time beatin’ yerself up. You’ve carried around enough guilt to last a lifetime. Let it go."



Sombra looked at the band, so many memories of seeing the King wearing it, its history filled his head. Then he noticed an odd marking had appeared on the jewels main facet.



"What’s that..?" he muttered. He focused his magic on it, trying to work out what-



There was a bright flash, and everypony had to shut their eyes for a moment. When they reopened them, their jaws dropped.



A ghostly illusion of the King was standing on the table. He spoke looking off into the distance, but the emotion in his eyes and voice was clear.



"Heh, knew you’d get there eventually. That’s right, i locked this message into the jewel with dark magic. I studied what little information was available, and found a trustworthy unicorn to help me make this in order to ensure you alone would understand how this spell worked to unlock it."



Sombra blinked, and got to his feet to examine the illusion closer.



"I understand your fear of your power. Dark magic is powerful stuff. But I know you have a great gift in being born with it. You can control it far better then you think, you just have to trust yourself a little more."



"Whoa.." Twilight Sparkle was staring in amazement, along with everypony else.



"If I know you, you’re probably trying to ignore everything I’m saying." he chuckled "I know you’re reluctant to trust anypony, even me, deep down. But I’m not giving up on you. I’m sorry about how Scrollwork acted those last days. He was angry that I had gone to all lengths to adopt you. I personally think he fancied the job himself. I did not trust him with the declaration of succession. So I kept it hidden in my wife’s jewelry box. I knew he’d find all manner of ways to take it for himself. That business about the council job was just a ruse to distract him while I sorted out the REAL place I had for you; as part of my family."



Sombra was starting to feel sick again, it was all too much crazy...



"I realise I should have informed you about what was going on, but i naively wanted it to be a surprise for your birthday next month! I underestimated the damage those monstrous parents of yours had already done to you. I should have seen how frightened you were of being betrayed, and been more straight with you. I’m sorry Sombra, this wasn’t how I meant things to happen. If you’re seeing this, then you found the box I left for you. That band was a part of my life I shall always treasure, as are you. So it’s only right the two be reunited. Stop tearing yourself apart because of what your parents guilted you into feeling. I always knew you’d find a way out of that madness you trapped yourself in that day. I don’t know if we’ll ever meet again, but I can tell you now that the story of somepony who’s fought this much does not end so suddenly. Please, enjoy your life wherever you choose to spend it. And for pity’s sake stop sulking child!"



Sombra made a funny, almost amused sound.



The image vanished in another flash of light, and the room was left to squint and blink the dazzle dots from their eyes.



"Whoo....trippy!" Pinkie Pie cooed, watching the floaty lights in the corners of her eyes "almost got one!"



Applejack shook her head at Pinkie Pie.



Sombra didn’t seem aware they were in the room anymore. He stared intently at the leg band, looking so innocent sitting there atop the table. His heart in his throat he tapped it with one hoof, hoping to replay the message. Instead, it flashed briefly, then turned into a glowing bar of light, which shot out, darted this way and that around Sombra, then just as abruptly, wrapped itself around his left foreleg. In the place the King had worn it.



"Whoa!" Sombra shot back, trying to dislodge it, but to no success. Once it’d settled, the glow faded.



"Ooh!" Pinkie Pie cheered, peering at it "I think it likes you!"



"What’s with this THING?!" Sombra blurted "what the hay did he DO to it?"



"Is it stuck?" Rainbow Dash asked. Sombra calmed down, and after a second, discovered a latch had now appeared on the back of the ornament. He unclipped it, setting it back on the table.



"I can’t tell how the hay he got that spell on there..."



"It was probably a single use spell," Twilight Sparkle said "designed to adjust the thing the once, then go away."



"Great, what will it do for an encore?" Sombra asked weakly "explode?!"



"I doubt it," Twilight Sparkle chuckled "he was just making sure it got to the right pony."



Sombra groaned softly, his stomach was churning again. Oh boy, this wasn’t good.



"Your tummy sounds upset.." Pinkie Pie was beside him, one ear pressed to his side.



"That.." he said in an oddly steady voice "would be because I’m about to throw up. Pardon me."



And with that, he vanished so quickly Pinkie Pie fell over onto the carpet.



"Oof!" She squeaked.



"I think we really messed his head up..." Rainbow Dash said at last.



"Its not an easy thing to overcome," Shining Armor said at last "Ill go talk to him.." he picked up the leg band and left the room.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

He spotted Sombra as he staggered out of the nearest bathroom.



"You OK?" he asked. Sombra nodded weakly.



"He wouldn’t give up," he said, his voice croaky and strained "in the vision Luna showed me, he wouldn’t stop saying all those things!!"



“What things?" Shining Armor asked, walking closer. Sombra paced about the corridor, stopping to look out the window.



"That he didn’t blame me for any of it, that he was sorry. What the hay was HE apologizing for? He never...did anything.." he trailed off.



"He regretted not telling you sooner that he was adopting you. He didn’t blame you because you hadn’t done anything wrong. You’d just had as much as you could take and finally snapped. Yes, what followed, that whole "lost your marbles" phase, WAS a mistake. But if you ask the ponies now, I think they’d say its been repaid."



Sombra shook his head, but Shining Armor wouldn’t let it go.



"Like Applejack said, you’ve saved them so many times. You saved my sister and my wife, when those things attacked. For that alone I’M very grateful to you. You helped cure that plague, saved that little filly, the list is getting bigger and bigger!"



"I cannot expect an Empire I nearly destroyed to ever accept this whole business," he said, a funny laugh lining his voice "what’s that phrase, "insult to injury"?"



"If you wont trust your own judgement, then why not trust OURS?" Shining Armor suggested "We’re your friends, remember? You’re stuck with us man! Like I said at the intervention convention at breakfast, you’ve got YEARS to catch up on. You DID skip most your childhood and move ahead to an adult. You’ve got a few things to learn. And I have to point out you seem largely oblivious to how the ponies out there REALLY feel."



"Doubt it," Sombra said shortly.



"No, trust me, you’re missing big chunk of the whole story. Celestia showed Cadance an i all the letters that arrived after the plague and more recently. They all ask one basic thing: Why wont you leave the palace and come see them? The only times they see you, you’re charging around like a rabbit on roller-skates, beating the daylights out of the shadow creatures. Even then you seem to vanish before they can thank you properly!"



Sombra didn’t say anything, just shifted awkwardly on his hooves.



Shining Armor decided to try one last tactic "you know most the letters also mention they don’t even recognize you anymore! Have you fully taken it in? They don’t think you’re the same. They’re curious about who you REALLY are, now your not acting all crazy."



"Why..?" Sombra murmured "how can anypony be so trusting?"



"Because that’s who they are. YOU didn’t have the same luck growing up, all your family and townsfolk taught you was being born different meant you didn’t deserve to be treated humanely. They’re wrong. THAT whole business was WRONG. It scarred you badly enough that this all happened. Does that REALLY seem right to you? That ANYPONY should end up feeling that way?"



"Well...no-"



“Exactly!" Shining Armor said calmly "You got to STOP listening to what they literally BEAT into you. That mare, Crystal Flake, and the King, were the only ones who did anything right by you. But to your mind, THEY were the odd ones out. Those barbaric parents and elders pretty much trained you to despise your own power, your own LIFE. Living up to the little they thought of you must’ve been easier then fighting, right?"



"Begging and pleading got me nowhere..." Sombra muttered "I eventually figured I had to have done something wrong, that at some basic level I was WRONG. But Nopony would tell me how to fix it."



"That’s where the mistake happened. You assumed YOU'D done something wrong back then. But it wasn’t you, it was THEM. You got to stop assuming the ponies here don’t trust you. I can tell you now they won’t react how YOU’RE thinking!"



Sombra gave an amused snort of laughter, yet the sound was tinged with equal levels of sadness and relief.



“Listen to your friends, give it a chance. You’re not alone anymore remember?” Shining Armor said, seeing he may have just swayed Sombra’s opinion. He could see from the taller pony’s expression that he was torn between fear and a desire to follow his fathers wish.



“You’re being swamped by a whole lot of suppressed memories and emotions. Nopony can think easily with all THAT happening. But don’t forget, WE seen your memories too, and Cadance and I think you don’t just deserve this chance, you NEED it. We would be very pleased if you’d join us, help this Empire work.”



”If you really believe this…” Sombra seemed to find it hard to select the right words “then…I guess I’ll take the risk..”



“Good.” Shining Armor said bluntly.



“But let me say THIS:” Sombra added “this is YOUR home now, not mine. I have no plans to interfere with what you’ve created.”



“Eh, we can work on that later…” Shining Armor said causally “you’ve dealt with enough today. Oh, one other thing-" in a flash, he made the leg band appear back around Sombra’s foreleg, where it fitted like a glove. "there!"



"I suppose we’d better inform the others.." Sombra sighed.



Shining Armor suddenly grinned, looking suspect as heck.



Sombra twitched.



"They’re behind me aren’t they?"



A nod.



"They’ve been there the whole dang time."



Another nod, a muffled laugh.



"Cotton candy’s plotting something?"



Nod nod.



"And just to totally round this up, Celestia’s there as well."



"Wow, he’s good!" Pinkie Pie couldn’t keep quiet any longer.



"Are we SURE this thing doesn’t explode?!" Sombra said, actually trying to gnaw at the leg band, then giving up as Celestia appeared to one side.



"Please refrain form blowing up if you can, Sombra.." she chuckled "it wont do for you to explode before this news is announced to the kingdom!"



"Announced to the-I forgot about that," Sombra said in a funny tone "how did I forget THAT?!"



"Because your brains a bit scrambled?" Rainbow Dash offered.



"What she said." Sombra finished.



He wobbled on his feet suddenly, and Celestia and Shining Armor both moved quickly to help him stand.



"Are you feeling sick again?" Shining Armor asked.



"No...just...really tired..." Sombra groaned "I need to go to bed...."

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

He slept most of that evening, then again at night-time. But he woke a few hours past midnight. Unable to sleep he took himself up to the very top of the palace tower.



He snuck as quietly as he could out onto the tower. He’d once kept the crystal heart here, with booby traps surrounding it.



He realized a few seconds later he wasn’t the only one there.



"Oh, Sombra!" It was Luna, sat at one of the windows, watching the stars.



"Princess.." he said quietly "I didn’t intend to disturb you. I’ll leave you be-"



"Sit.." she said absently, tapping the floor next to her.



With a shrug he wandered over and sat down, looking out at the sky. She did a slight double take when she realized he’d discarded his usual armor. It suited him.



"Sister told me of your decision," Luna smiled faintly, indicating the band around Sombra’s leg. he looked down at it.



"I just hope.." he didn’t know how to finish that sentence.



"You will be fine," Luna said calmly "they have come to realize there is much more to you then just an entry in a history book."



Glancing at him she seen the shadows of worry that’d been hiding in his heart since shed shown him that vision.



"It was not my intention to cause you so much heartache," Luna said after a pause "I heard how much pain it caused you.."



"You heard me..?" he asked dully, too tired to feel embarrassed. She nodded, looking sympathetic;



Sombra just looked at the night sky "what have I agreed to...?" he murmured.



"Your fathers wish." Luna said without hesitation. "You are not alone in how you feel. After I was given a second chance by the elements of harmony, restored to my normal self, I too felt the way YOU do. I was ashamed of how I’d turned on my sister out of jealousy, how i threatened my subjects with eternal night. I seen how they were afraid of me at first..."



She told him the story of the nightmare night celebration. How Twilight Sparkle had showed her people loved her for being the fearsome Princess of the legend. How she just had to relax and accept ponies liked to be scared sometimes, that deep down they cared as much for her as for her sister. Nightmare night WAS her night. Everypony stayed up late, so they got to see her!



"I was scared, sad, and angry at myself for how i acted. But I realized i couldn’t just sit around waiting for them to come to me, I had to go to THEM. Go outside, speak with the ponies here. You might be surprised what you learn."



"I see what you mean.." Sombra sighed.



"And most importantly, don’t be so harsh on yourself," Luna added’ "You’ve made up for your actions in the past, I believe it. Many ponies would have lost their lives to that creature had you not fought it time and again, not to mention stopping that plague. Did Cadance show you the letter from little sparks teacher?"



Sombra nodded.



"That little child has become so happy and kind, all thanks to you. She adores you. Even though she’s seen everything you’ve done and can do, she couldn’t give a fig."



"She reminds me so much of Crystal Flake," Sombra said at last "she always spoke kindly to me, even when everypony else in that village despised me. She was the only one I cared about..."



"And now you have little Bright Spark," Luna smiled at her memory of meeting the little filly "she’s certainly very gifted. And she cares very deeply for her precious "Sombwa"."



Sombra smiled "she even makes darkness sound cute," he said proudly. Then something else seemed to occur to him, because he startled chuckling a second later.



"What is it?" Luna asked, poking his side "what’s so funny?"



"Heh...Woona!" he chuckled, recalling how Bright Spark had pronounced her name.



"Enough of that!" she said mock-angrily.



But he couldn’t stop laughing.



"Stifle thyself "Sombwa"" she chided.



"You first "Pwincess Woona!"" he shot back.



They attempted to have a stare-down for a few seconds, then Luna sniggered and they both started laughing. Proper belly laughs from nowhere. After the sadness of the vision, and Sombra’s subsequent discovery of his adoption, having a laugh felt good.



Then a funny blue glow lit the tower.



"What in-?!" Sombra realized it was the choker and tensed up, expecting a wave of pain like the other times. But all he felt was mildly dizzy. Luna used one wing to help prop him up until it cleared.



"What happened?" he mumbled.



"It seems thou has demonstrated another of the elements abilities.." Luna said, recalling the other incident "no doubt miss pie is somewhere about, raiding the fridge..."



"Cotton candy’s element?"



“Laughter," she said with a small smile "you finally laughed properly, for yourself and somepony else..”



"But the pain from before..." Sombra shook his head "I don’t understand.."



“Before, you were actively resisting the elements influence on your heart. Now, it seems you have come to accept them. So why would it hurt you so?"



"This is all totally crazy.." Sombra shook his head and sighed, but he looked better. Like the load had been lifted somewhat.



But the next second he gasped sharply as a lancing pain dove through his head. He hunched over, the headache excruciating in intensity.



"What’s wrong?" Luna asked, all merriment vanishing "Sombra?!"



"Agh....there’s something nearby...o-one of those creatures..." he snarled angrily and got to his feet "the perception of them, it’s hurting worse now. I have to find that thing!"



"NO..." Luna said, getting up "WE have to find it! I have been unable to do much to assist everypony so far. Now, it is time for me to do my bit!"



Sombra looked over at her, then nodded. "Then let us go!"



Luna teleported them out onto the empty streets of the Empire.



"Which way..?" she frowned.



"Give me a moment.." Sombra shut his eyes, honing in on the source-



"Follow me!" he called, taking off down the main street. Luna followed after him.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The mare screamed as she tried to keep the window shut on the blobby black mass outside. But it was strong, she couldn’t hold on-



At the back of the room her twin fillies huddled together, wide eyes fixed on their mother.



Just as she was about to give up, her strength drained, the thing was pulled sharply back from the window, uttering an angry scream.



She looked through the glass and seen-



Sombra. And Princess Luna! The Alicorn and unicorn stood in the glow of the streetlamp, both their magic auras flaring brightly. The creature was picking itself up from the ground several meters away where they’d thrown it.



"What do we do?" Luna asked, her gaze fixed on the creature.



"Stun it!" Sombra said, pulling free the ever present spear "i need to crack the core!"



Luna nodded. She’d seen the dreams and memories of Sombra’s work in fighting these things. He could see the core, so she would leave THAT part to him.



"Over here, whelp!" She bellowed, her Equestrian voice making the creature hiss in discomfort.



It shot towards her, and she summoned a big ball of glowing blue power. It ducked aside as she feinted throwing it dead on. Then realized its mistake as she crouched down too, and fired.



The blast sent it rocketing up into the sky, then smashing into the ground.



It geared up to launch itself at her, but something was stopping it from moving-



Twisting round, it seen a familiar spear was pinning its tail to the ground.



While it added up what was going on, Sombra reappeared beside Luna.



"Fire where I do," he told her. She nodded.



It swung round to hiss at them, and tried to reform its body to get free. but it was too late-



Dual bolts of magic, one after the other, struck its core. The explosion ripped up part of the pavement, but the thing was gone!



"Huzzah!" Luna declared "we win!"



"Indeed," Sombra smiled faintly "nicely done, Princess."



Luna looked pleased at finally being able to help defend the Empire a little more. The ponies awoken by the attack were all cheering and clapping their hooves. The mare and her children came out from their house to thank the two ponies directly.



"Its was our pleasure!" Luna declared. Sombra just smiled. They returned to the castle, and reported the attack to one of the night guard. Sombra was starting to feel sleepy, so he decided to return to bed.



But not before thanking Luna for what she’d said. He had some thinking to do..

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The next morning, he woke early, with a thought running through his head. Luna had seemed pleased to be able to help, but she could get hurt if she didn’t have a way to see the core.



So he went to Twilight Sparkle and asked her for a pair of the goggles, saying he had a theory to test. She was more then happy to give him a pair. She was just relieved to see he didn’t seem to be in the funny shocked state he’d been in the last day.



Back in his room, Sombra spent a while working on a seemingly, yet oddly complicated spell. At last, he tried out the finished result on the goggles.



The puff of smoke the spell had generated cleared, and he sighed in relief. It’d worked.



In front of him the goggles bore a new design. Dark blue with a silver trim, he’d changed the colour to match Luna’s. He changed the shape a little too, so they’d fit properly.



He teleported up to the tower and left them there, in a little box. This done, he decided to get round to doing what she’d advised the previous night. Go out. He left a note with Flash Sentry, should anypony wonder where he’d vanished off too, then left.



The market was setting up as he set off. He wasn’t wearing his old armor that day either. Somehow, he got the feeling he’d never wear it again. It no longer felt necessary!



Lots of ponies trotting back and forth carrying various things, chattering animatedly. It was busier then he’d seen before-



Out of curiosity, he asked a passing stallion and his mare friend, was something special happening?



They told him it was special festival held every year, in which everypony took a day off to celebrate their empires good fortune.



"There’s festivals and parties all over town, the whole Empire likes to get involved!" the mare smiled.



Something occurred to Sombra, "Does...that include the pre school?"



“Yes, they have a special Foals and Fillies day, why do you ask?"



“Because I’m running late! I promised a certain somepony I’d go see her. Thank you for your assistance!" with a farewell he took off at a gallop, heading for the school. He’d almost forgotten-!

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"Bright Spark?" a voice echoed in the hall. The little filly looked round from where she and her mommy were helping decorate the stall. There was a small crowd of them there, basically everypony running a stall and their kids!



She seen her class teacher, miss Petalbloom, and somepony else beside her.



"You have a visitor!" Petalbloom beamed.



"SOMBWA!" She all but bellowed, zooming off at such speed she looked like a little blur.



"Hello, little one!" Sombra chuckled, crouching down so he could greet her properly. She affectionately rubbed her cheek against his, like she’d done before.



"You came, I knew you would!" she beamed.



"I promised, didn’t I?" he smiled gently.



The other kids and parents shared murmurs of curiosity as Sombra walked over to Spark's stall. Shining Sea greeted him happily, seeing how happy little Bright Spark was to have her friend with her.



Sombra didn’t realize that, back at the palace, Cadance was looking for him.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

She was about to give the speech revealing Sombra’s inheritance, but the stallion was nowhere to be found!



"Any luck?" Shining Armor asked, Cadance shook her head. "I cant find him anywhere!"



"Are you looking for Sombra your highnesses?" Flash asked. "He’s not here."



"He’s not? Where’d he go?" Shining Armor asked. Flash consulted the note Sombra had left "he said he was "going out on somepony’s advice, he’ll be back later".



"Wow, like that’s not cryptic or anything.." Shining Armor shook his head. Cadance smiled.



"Sounds like he’s finally warming up a little."



"Should I go look for him?" Flash asked. Cadance shook her head.



"Lets leave him to his own tasks, we can carry on as planned!"

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

So while Sombra was helping Bright Spark, and being bombarded with questions by curious children, the ponies in the main square were awaiting their princesses announcement.



"Citizens of the Crystal Empire!" Cadance smiled lovingly. "We have some very unusual news to present to you!"



With a flourish, she made giant copies of the two documents that’d been painstakingly verified the night before by the palace historian and notary.



"We have been discovering more and more about the Empire from Sombra’s past, and of Sombra himself. He came here as a young colt, and was given a home by a Pegasus called King Cloudspark. He recognized that a pony born with dark magic was something to be explored, not feared, and sought to correct the damage the nightmare that was Sombra’s childhood had caused.“



She paused a moment, recalling the memories she and the others had traversed, “but sadly, it was too late to correct a short lifetimes worth of fear and abuse. Magic left untrained for so long cannot be easily controlled, and can have devastating consequences if unleashed."



The crowd shared curious and sympathetic murmurs. Was this why Sombra had turned so crazy?



Cadance continued, "King Cloudspark hoped that this was just a temporary phase, that the pony he had adopted would come back. From these documents we have deduced that he had intended for this to be a surprise on Sombra’s birthday. That he finally had a proper home, he didn’t have to keep running from his old life.”



“In the hopes of making sure they were found again even if it was long after he himself had gone, he put a special spell on it, to draw the object and its memory to Princess Luna’s attention. When she traversed Sombra’s dreams to better understand the shadow creatures attacks, the connection was set in motion. It has led to this: the discovery of these official papers, detailing that King Cloudspark adopted Sombra not only as his child, but as his HIER."



You could’ve heard that proverbial moth fart again.



"WHOA." Somepony said, and from that, excited babble broke out. Did this mean Sombra was the kingdoms official ruler? Was he now PRINCE Sombra?



Once they’d calmed them down, Shining Armor and Cadance resumed their announcement.



"He was, understandably pretty shocked by it," Shining Armor spoke "initially he was adamant we disregard the documents, dispose of them."



"Why?" Somepony piped up.



"He did not feel there was any need for him to become involved. He said, “This is YOUR world now, not mine."“



More confused murmurs. Sombra had refused to acknowledge the documents? Instead insisting he not become involved. They were surprised. Sombra was acting SO different from the monster they remembered from the past. He’d been shifting little by little towards being a stalwart friend of the Empire ever since his arrival.



"So, how he was before, did his magic do that?" somepony asked. Cadance and Shining Armor exchanged looks, deciding the populace needed to know a little of Sombra’s story;



"There is an ancient prophecy," Cadance began "that outlines the arrival of a pony born with a new power on the night a comet fell. A dark magic that could exist alongside light. It mentioned that despite ebbing given freedom, that pony would not flee. I believe this indicates the return of Sombra’s magic, but that he hasn’t changed his efforts in fighting those creatures."



Shining Armor spoke next, "A thousand years ago, ponies were incredibly superstitious. A child born with dark magic was pretty much the worst thing to ever happen in their view. By the time he came here, he'd already learnt some very bad lessons about how to treat somepony. An honest mistake led to him believing Cloudspark was going to turn on him too, and that’s when he lost control. the darkness was let loose, and it pretty much drove him insane, which was when you would have seen him..."



"With his arrival back here, his magic was locked down. Without it to influence him from the get go, we believe this enabled his shattered mind to heal. To help him see the mistakes he’d made, and to see the world how it really is." Cadance said. "We misjudged him too. That day, the attack on the palace, we seen him summon that spell and assumed he was acting like his old self. But we were wrong. he turned those creatures to crystal and saved our lives. He was willing to fix the chokers seal and lose his magic again, rather then risk hurting anypony. It was this that made the decision for us. Its not fully resorted yet, but his magic HAS been returned to him."



"So I have seen!" The historian pony who’d reacted to hearing Sombra’s explanation about his power that day spoke up now, "in all my years of research I’ve never seen dark magic handled with such fluidity, such instinctive ease! When he said he was born with it, I was surprised!"



"So far as we know, he is the ONLY such occurrence," Cadance nodded "a once in a lifetime occurrence. he has far more control over it then anypony Equestria has ever seen!"



"So, he’s refusing the crown then?" The historian asked.



Shining Armor chuckled and shook his head "At first, he was insistent it would be an insult to the Empire if we even considered it. But, after lengthy discussion, and Princess Twilight Sparkle showing him the letters you have been sending, we persuaded him to listen to us. This was his adoptive father. The desire to do something right by the former King who’d taken him in won out over his own fears. As of yesterday, he has trusted us in accepting his title. That his first concern was making sure this Empire did not come to harm shows an admirable change in character. He HAS however, still insisted that WE stay in charge. one thing at a time..."



Sounds of admiration and curiosity ran through the crowd.



"Does this mean he'll actually leave the palace once in awhile?" One colt asked.



"I think so," Cadance chuckled. "We actually couldn’t find him to be present now, as he’d left the palace to go see somepony!"



The crowd couldn’t help a laugh at the irony-



There was a whip crack sound, and a blaze of purple flame off to one side-



And to their surprise, Sombra appeared in a flash of flame!

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Things had been going well at the school. Almost everything was ready, and Sombra had been given a tour of Bright Spark’s classroom.



They were all helping clear away the mess caused by the preparations, when there was a massive ka-boom sound. Sombra tensed instinctively, throwing a shield up just in front of the nearby wall.



It was just as well he did, as the thing that came barreling through would’ve hit some of the teachers. As it was, it rebounded of the shield, giving them all time to run away.



But on reaching the auditorium doors, another creature was there, licking its chops and cackling. The children’s screams rang out as they ran back to the canter of the room.



Getting an idea, Sombra hurriedly rounded them and the staff, parents and carers up. The creatures dove for the small gathering, but smashed face first into the semi transparent shield Sombra generated.



The kids cried out in fright at the sight of the shadow creatures gnashing teeth. Sombra glared out at them. he couldn’t just sit here, he had to fetch help-



The kids, and Bright Spark of course, made concerned noises when Sombra abruptly dove out of the shield, the magical barrier reforming after him.



"Sombra?!" Shining Sea called.



"I’m going to fetch the guard!” Sombra said "don’t worry, you’ll be safe in there!"



All the creatures snarled and hissed, and one dove with astonishing speed as Sombra stepped out from the shield. It attacked as he was looking at Shining Sea, and he found himself tackled to the floor, its snapping jaws inches from his face.



"Get...off!" he snarled. He closed his eyes, but most of his magic was being focused on maintaining that extra strength shield. the rest was still held back by the choker.



--Please...just a little more..!!-- he pleaded, desperately wanting the spell to just-



He felt a strange tingling sensation round his neck. Opening his eyes he seen the creature was staring at the choker around Sombra’s neck in bewilderment. It was GLOWING. The light grew to an almost blinding intensity, then-SNAP. He heard that familiar sound from before...



The group within the shield stared as Sombra’s entire body was wrapped in the blue glow, then it pulsed outwards in a shock wave. This threw the creature off him, and did something else besides. The air filled with small sparks of blue light. The shadow creatures looked like they were wading in treacle as they fought to move. This was his only chance, he had to go fetch help!



He closed his eyes, trying to think. Then he recalled Shining Armor re-attaching the ornate band to his leg. There would be traces of magic still there. He channelled the power of his magic into finding Shining Armor.



With a flash of fire, the teleport spell kicked in. It was more ambitious then anything he’d tried in many a year, he just hoped it worked!



He hard the air crackle as he was displaced, then arrived somewhere else.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Shining Armor and Cadance, not to mention everypony else, stared in surprise as Sombra appeared on the stage. He opened his eyes and found the prince and princes staring in total surprise at him. Then he realized the mess he must resemble. The crowd started chattering as they seen the look on his face.



"Sombra?" Shining Armor looked at him "what happened?"



"There’s a whole crowd of those things attacking the school!" Sombra blurted "you need to send more of the guard, NOW!"



"Right!" Shining Armor yelled at the guards standing behind the stage, ordering them to gather a squad and move their butts.



"I’ve got a shield protecting the ponies there but-" he flinched suddenly "hurry, PLEASE!"



Then he was gone again.



While Shining Armor and his squad raced off towards the school, Cadance returned to the mic.



"Don’t worry everypony, they will not let those things harm anypony!"



She hoped Shining Armor made it in time.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

With him being further away, Sombra could feel the drain on the shield all the more keenly. He reappeared in the school hall, seeing the creatures gnashing and kicking at the shield.



"You want a fight you wretched cowards!" he bellowed. They turned back to face him, seeming surprised to see him return.



"So he came back?" One jeered to the occupants of the shield, " how fortunate for you!" but their mocking laughs indicated they didn’t believe it.



"Shut your traps!" Sombra snarled.



"Here to play hero and have them actually care about you?" One jeered.



"No. I’m here to get rid of YOU and keep THEM safe. There’s a difference!" Sombra spat back.



He closed his eyes, feeling the surge of his magic. He opened his eyes, the green glow highlighting the garnet red of his eyes.



He stamped a hoof into the floor, a line of razor sharp crystal spikes bursting up from the wooden surface in a direct line. They ripped through a rank of the creatures, spearing the cores of some, impaling others. He freed the old spear from its carry pouch, whirling it round and stabbing it into the closest one. By the time the core exploded, he was already moving towards the next one.



In no time he was positioned in front of the barrier.



Another blast of magic and a circular ring of spikes burst up from the floor, surrounding the shield. Those trying to attack it were swiftly caught. They bit and scratched as Sombra maneuvered the spear with an uncanny speed, slicing, stabbing and jabbing. One managed to carve a painful cut down Sombra’s cheek as the unicorn slung the spear into its core.



A scream from behind him told Sombra they were climbing over the spikes. One was pressing its hideous face up against the shield, leering at the scared kiddies.



"Buck off!" Sombra snarled, charging it at sending in smacking into the crystal spikes. The kids cheered, both because he’d got rid of the thing, and because they’d heard a swear!



More and more were swarming in. Sombra erected a fresh set of crystal spikes, but those inside the shield could see he was tiring a little.



"His magic’s amazing.." one teacher whispered.



"Told you so!" Bright Spark said "but I don’t fink he has enough to keep fighting..."



"She’s right, this shield must be draining a large portion of it..." Shining Sea watched another creature slam into Sombra from the side, driving him to the floor. Sombra kicked it off him with one powerful blow, but he was slower in getting to his feet. Then he seen something through the broken part of one of the crystals.



"Still want to play the hero little pony?" the one at the front jeered as it slithered over the top of the highest spike.



"I’m not here to play the hero..." Sombra said, "however..."



There was a whole volley of magical fire streaking towards the shadow ponies.



"I think THEY are!" Sombra grinned.



The unicorn guards' magic hit core after core, thanks to their new magical goggles allowing them to see the creatures' vulnerable cores.



Shining Armor appeared beside Sombra.



"Here comes the cavalry!" he grinned. Sombra heaved a sigh of relief.



"Excellent timing your highness..."



"How do we stop so many..?" Shining Armor asked.



"Give me a moment. I need to find the manipulator behind all these. Its the same as before..."



Sombra closed his eyes. He didn’t have enough power to re-enact that same spell form before. but he had something similar.



His whole body glowed again, this time a soft purple aura. It grew very bright, then pulsed out from his body in a swift wave.



"He mimicked the spell.." Shining Sea noted from inside the shield. "Incredible!"



The wave passed through the whole room, seeking, searching-



Sombra’s eyes snapped open, and a grin flickered over his face. He vanished in a flare of flame, re-appearing balanced on the metal girders criss-crossing the ceiling, usually used to hanging stage props and banners from. To everypony’s surprise he took a dive off the metal beam, zooming towards the floor.



Mid-way he twisted round to slow his fall. A crystal spire erupted from the floor, and he landed on it with ease. One of the creatures had been flying towards the shield from a height, but now its trajectory put it squarely in Sombra’s path. He pivoted on the crystal, kicking out with his back hooves in a display of precision and strength that would’ve made Applejack cheer. his aim was spot-on. the core cracked as his hooves struck it, and the creature was flung backwards. When it exploded, it was a safe distance away from Sombra, who watched in relief as the other shadow clones self destructed without their source of power there.



A quick spell from Shining Armor blasted the dust and debris away, and they seen all the things were gone!



Everypony cheered, and a second later the shield dropped and the kids parents and teachers were free.



Sombra jumped down from the crystal spike, making it vanish along with the others as he walked over.



"SOMBWA!" Bright Spark shot over and glomp-hugged him with her usual level of adoration!



"You alright everypony?" Sombra asked, patting Bright Spark’s head.



"We're fine!" Petalbloom assured him.



"That those things would target children.." Sombra looked furious.



"Tell me about it," Shining Armor agreed "pathetic and cowardly!"



"I’m just glad everypony is safe.." Sombra sighed.



"But the festival.." one kid sniffled, only now seeing the damage the battle had wrought.



Bright Spark sniffled sadly as she seen the mess. Sombra’s heart twisted. He hated to see her cry..



"Everything’s destroyed, we'll never get this fixed in time.." one teacher said. On hearing this many of the kids burst into tears.



"No." Sombra’s voice cut into their sadness. He walked over, Bright Spark at his side "it doesn’t have to be! I’m sure we can do something!"



"But we need to rebuild the stalls, and the shop is halfway across town! It’ll take forever to lug all the loads back and forth!" one teacher pointed out.



Sombra thought about it.



"Lets face it, brute strength is a speciality of mine. You leave that part to ME."



“We’ll get started cleaning!" Shining Armor backed him up. He turned to the guards "Can you guys go fetch my sister and her friends?"



“Yessir!" two of them nodded and raced away. The other Shining Armor told to follow him and grab a broom!



Sombra got the address of the lumber yard, and raced away. Shining Armor told him not to worry about cost, just tell them the palace would handle it!

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The owner of the lumber yard was startled out of his doze by the sound of thundering hoof steps. He and his assistant ran out in time to see Sombra skid to a halt in the yard.



"What’s-?" he began, but Sombra spoke up.



"The school was attacked by those creatures. The auditoriums been trashed. I need to get a duplicate of the order they placed with you before! Its urgent..."



"Wait..what…?" the owner shook his head "what’re you doin' charging in here and talking crazy! Who’s under attack now?"



"The school. Those creatures attacked it. Destroyed the kids hard work. They’re very upset, as you can understand. Were going to rebuild it all. It’s Prince Shining Armor's orders!" Sombra told him.



"His highness, of course..!" The pony said, not realizing this scary unicorn was here on royal business. "I’ll do what I can!"



"But I don’t know how you’re going to get it all over there, its a massive load." the assistant piped up.



"You let me worry about that," Sombra said bluntly. He spotted a transport cart off to one side "in fact, that’ll do perfectly!"



Sombra followed the manager, and with his instruction, was able to help gather and tie the wooden planks together into bundles and load them onto the cart. The Pegasus pony was gobsmacked by how much Sombra could carry. Even MORE surprised when Sombra insisted they hitch the cart to HIM.



"This is crazy. Sure you're built like a linebacker sonny, but even you.." he trailed off as Sombra stepped forward, showing little strain as he pulled the cart behind him.



"Buck me.." the assistant whispered, then got told off for his language.



"Thank you," Sombra said, the relief evident in his words. "Your efforts will help save those kids day!"



The manager gave a pleased chuckle. He hadn’t seen much of Sombra since his arrival there, just the odd glimpse of him here and there, usually escorted by the Princess Twilight Sparkle and friends, or shadowed by the guards. He’d heard rumors Sombra never left the palace unless he had to, so to have him come barreling into his shop like that had been quite a surprise. He only now noticed it, but there was a cut on Sombra’s cheek, the blood masked partially by his flowy mane. On an afterthought, he grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge and gave this to Sombra, saying he’d probably need it by the time he got halfway there!



Then Sombra was off, feeling every muscle in his body being put to the test as he picked up speed, racing through the streets hauling the massive load behind him. The few ponies that were wandering the residential area seen a Sombra-themed BLUR whoosh past, in accompaniment to a massive cart piled high with wooden planks!



"What is that stallion up to?" One mare asked.



"Shenanigans?" her husband suggested "woodwork project?"

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By the time Sombra was on the home stretch, almost at the school, Twilight Sparkle and co had arrived. Pinkie Pie was bearing a huge tray of cakes strapped to her back.



They were shocked when they seen the mess, but relieved to hear nopony had been hurt.



"What can we do?" Twilight Sparkle said earnestly.



"Well, we’ve cleared up the worst of the debris," Shining Armor told his sister "but there’s still more mess. But, Sombra should be here soon wi-" they looked up at the sound of thundering hoof beats. A second later Sombra skidded into view, slowing to a stop.



"With an absolute butt load of wooden planks! Great timing!" Shining Armor called to Sombra. The stallion gave an exhausted smile as he unhitched himself from the cart. He retrieved the cold bottle of water the owner had thoughtfully given him and emptied it in seconds flat!



"Whoa. You pulled all THAT, by yourself!" Applejack asked. He nodded.



"Hoooee, that’s impressive, nice work!" the earth pony nodded her approval.



"Lets get started!" Rainbow Dash zoomed over, and she and Fluttershy took the first set of planks, hauling them to the centre of the hall. Once he’d gotten his breath back Sombra joined them!



The kids clustered round him like magnets to a fridge, led by chief magnet Bright Spark!



He was rewarded with another happy hug, and couldn’t help but smile.

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Between himself, the guards and everypony else, they soon had the floor swept clean, and were starting on rebuilding the stalls. Sombra studied the diagram for setting up the stall. Then he levitated all the pieces, arranging them into the stall shape, the holding it there whilst somepony else drove the nails in. Seeing this method, Twilight Sparkle mimicked it, her brother too! Rarity plunged into the decorating, sorting out what materials she had that could be used on the stalls! When shed heard what’d happened, she'd taken as much supplies as she could from her stock, for the festival had to look fabulous!



Pinkie Pie was in charge of the balloons, naturally!



Sombra worked as fast as he could, zooming from one pony that needed help, to the next and the next. In this fashion, the stalls took shape in no time, and soon they were all fully built and arranged in the same layout as before.



"Half an hour until its supposed to start!" Petalbloom fretted.



"Don’t worry ma'am" Shining Armor gave her a grin "we’ll get there!"



Sombra was now back at Shining Sea and bright sparks stall, helping them with the decorating. Well, he and Bright Spark were. Shining Sea watched as her little daughter picked out what she wanted, and Sombra helped her attach it! Soon it was a colorful display in pretty silks and ribbons!



"Yayy!" Bright Spark cheered.



"Almost time!"



With just a few minutes before the festival was set to start, they were done. Shining Sea pointed out it was lucky they’d been focusing on setting the stalls up and decorating, and nopony had actually set any of their goods out on them! Everything was being stored in a nearby class room, or the kitchen if it was food!



Sombra wandered outside through the hole in the wall, feeling the fresh breeze on his coat. He was sweltering, having not removed his cloak the whole time (he honestly hadn’t noticed it!). So now he took it off, folding it neatly and setting it on a spare table near the jagged hole. That would be fixed later...



"You OK?" he turned at the sound of Shining Armors voice.



"Fine, fine.." he replied. Shining Armor stared at him a second "you got blood on you there..."



“What? Oh, horsefeathers.." Sombra grumbled "where did I see that bathroom...?" he trotted back inside, past the happy, relieved ponies and into the quiet halls of the school. There, the bathroom!



While he was occupied trying to clean himself up, Cadance had arrived to see how Shining Armor was getting on. The kids were amazed to see yet another Princess, and gathered round to greet her.



Shining Armor told her about the fight, and their efforts to rebuild.



"You all did a great job!" Cadance beamed. Shining Armor smiled at her.



"Sombra did most of the heavy lifting! Can you believe he towed the ENTIRE cart here on his own?!"



"Impressive.." Cadance remarked "clearly Shyre horses are built for work..."



"Whassa Shyre horse?" a little foal asked. So Cadance explained about Sombra’s breed, that that was why he was so much taller then the average pony, plus the heavier build.

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"Come to the sickbay, and I’ll patch that up for you.." the school nurse offered to Sombra when she seen the cut. And so Sombra followed her down the corridor…

"Are you planning to stay for the festival itself?" the nurse asked. Sombra smiled softly "I promised the little one I would," he said eloquently "I would not wish to disappoint her."



"Ah yes," the nurse smiled "she talks about you near constantly. I’ve never seen her so animated. She used to be such a withdrawn little filly, then she suddenly began to grow in confidence..."



"She should have nothing to fear," Sombra agreed "in truth, I do not see how anypony can find anything wrong with how she speaks. She sounds just like anypony else to me."



"I’m glad to hear that.." the nurse said "her mother was very concerned for the longest time. After her father passed away..."



"Yes, little Bright Spark told me of him. I have no doubt he’d be proud of her if he could see her now."

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Once he’d thanked the nurse for stitching the cut, he returned to the now busy festival. Lots of ponies had arrived during his absence, many from the meeting Cadance had been hosting. Sombra noticed them glancing at the gold and jeweled band around his foreleg. With the cloak off it was far more noticeable now.



"Sounds like you had quite the event!" he turned at Cadance’s voice, and nodded.



"It was so sudden," he recalled "I’m just relieved everypony is OK. I apologize if I interrupted you earlier."



Cadance dismissed the apology, saying he’d probably saved a lot of injury by coming to find Shining Armor.



"I’ve let everypony know about.." she indicated the leg band "that’s why they’re staring at you if your wondering. They’re glad to hear you’re going to help us..."



Sombra could only nod. He’d forgotten about that whole matter, in light of the mornings events. But he DID see what Cadance meant. The ponies were angling to get a look at the ornate band, a few asked about the stone set in it. Once Shining Sea heard the news, she told Bright Spark, who was amazed.



"Sombwa!" she bounded over. "Mommy said that you deciwded to do what that NICE daddy of yours said!"



"I owe him that much at the very least..” Sombra said softly, but there was an edge of sadness to his voice, the crowd noticed.



"Uh," there was the sound of somepony clearing their throat behind him. "Your highness, isn’t it?"



Sombra flinched slightly, geez it felt awkward hearing that!



"There’s no need to call me that.." he said lightly, laughing a little "is everything OK?"



"I just wanted to thank you for helping get this festival going again. If wed been on our own we'd have given up, but thanks to you and everypony else, the kids have their special day back!"



"Its been no problem.." Sombra looked down at Bright Spark, who beamed happily "my pleasure.."



She hugged him tightly, and several ponies went "d'awww" to themselves.



"Ooh...shinyy..." Bright Spark peered at the band. "Its so much awesome!"



Sombra couldn’t help chuckle at this catchphrase of hers.



"OK everypony!" Pinkie Pie bounded up onto the stage "lets get this party started!"

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Music filled the hall, and the kids danced and played while the older ponies went from stall to stall.



Sombra sat with Bright Spark and Shining Sea at their bakery stall. Bright Spark kept sneaking him cake when (she thought) her mother wasn’t watching.



Partway through, the kids took to the stage set up at the far end. They were performing a little play. Spark was playing the part of a butterfly, and had an adorable set of little wings on. When the play finished, and she seen her mother and Sombra applauding, she felt very happy!



Sombra could see what Petalbloom and the nurse referred to. Spark seemed to glow, her big smile erasing the once lingering sadness that’d been on her face when Sombra had first met her. She bounded over to him now, and he leant down to tap her nose and declare "boop!".

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He noticed however, that his mane got in the way. Without the crown pinning it back, not only did his ears stand up properly now, but his loose, flowy mane kept getting in his face! He batted at it in annoyance as he walked through the hall back to sparks stall. One of the stall owners noticed this and called out to him, grabbing something and flying over.



"Can I help with something..?" Sombra asked, wondering was there a problem.



"Just hold still a second..." the mare hovered close behind him, gathered the loose, ever shifting mane in her hooves, and deftly arranging git into a neat, low, side ponytail, held with a jewelled clasp from her supply. It was a red garnet jewel, carved like a triangle. It sort of matched his cutie mark she decided.



"What’s…?" Sombra seen the jewel now keeping his mane back.



"Consider it a thank you gift, your highness," the mare smiled, She’d been surprised to learn about Sombra’s unusual inheritance. But she, like so many others, felt he deserved the chance, for helping save the Empire!



Sombra winced ever so slightly "there’s no need to call me that..." he repeated.



"Nonsense! From what the Princess said, that kings decree means your royalty now! You’ve shown as much dedication to saving this Empire as the prince and Princess themselves."



"I just hope I can someday make up from the problems I caused.." Sombra replied softly.



"I think you already have your highness.." the mare said kindly.



Sombra didn’t know what else to say, so he just stuck to thanking her for the present.

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Cadance couldn’t help overhearing Sombra insisting people didn’t need to refer to him as "his highness". She seen the awkward expression he pulled, his repeated attempts to downplay the matter.



But she also seen him smiling so much more then before.



“Its incredible!” she overheard some ponies talking at one of the stalls, “I cant believe he was ADOPTED by the King!”



“And he never knew…” Another shook her head “I wonder what really caused that madness.”



“That wasn’t madness, it was total INSANITY. Look at him NOW-” she nodded her head towards here Sombra was sitting, with the kids clustering curiously around. He closed his eyes, there was a ka-poof sound, and a little crystal sculpture of a pony appeared on the table in front of him.



The kids giggled and clapped. One waved a hoof at him, trying to get his attention. He leant down to hear what the foal said, then nodded. Another ka-poof sound, and this time a crystal butterfly appeared! The foal who’d asked him to make it nudged it towards spark, and he and two fillies said something to her that made her beam.



”-there is NO way this is the same stallion. He’s much….gentler then I ever expected. I wonder if he‘ll ever talk about it?”



“Sombra’s past was traumatic,” Cadance decided to stop their speculating before they actually went over and ASKED Sombra what’d happened “He didn’t have the luxury of supporting parents like your kids do. He had to fend for himself. Its taken him a long time to accept anypony’s friendship, and to finally let go. Perhaps best not to ask about what happened.”


“Of course Princess!” The lead mare said quickly “ we’re just so surprised to see how different he is now!”



“I think everypony is,” Cadance smiled “but without his efforts, we’d be more than a little stuck..”

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When Sombra collapsed into bed that night, eh felt happier then he’d ever been. But he couldn’t let himself forget. Those things were adapting as fast as he was. He couldn’t let his guard down now!



--I’ll make sure I earn what you’ve given me…father..-- he smiled as he drifted asleep, the long forgotten memory of Cloudspark throwing him his first birthday party filling his dreams. But he knew this battle was far from over...

Posession & Incursion

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The next morning Sombra woke up with, initially, no recollection of the previous day’s events.



Then it all came stampeding back into his brain, and he woke up pretty snappy.



The festival. The kids. Rebuilding everything. Cadance telling the whole empire about-



This memory actually made him bury his head under the pillow. Right, right. The official decree left behind by the King, his foster father. He’d had it hidden away so only Luna would be able to uncover it. Along with the decree was the now famous leg band. Once worn by the King, and reworked from the Queens crown, it’d been left to Sombra by Cloudspark.



Sombra had tried, literally, to escape the issue. But to his total shock, Cadance and Shining Armor, far from rebuking it as he’d hoped, had approached him with the request he ACCEPT it. Even Twilight Sparkle and her friends had stepped in, reasoning he deserved the chance. That and he had to stop beating himself up, which was courtesy of Applejack.



The next day, after a suggestion from Princess Luna that he stop hiding away in the castle and go out, he’d wound up remembering a promise and hightailing it to the preschool, where little Bright Spark was running a cake stall with her mother. After an attack had decimated the families efforts, Sombra, together with Prince Shining Armor, three guards and a certain six ponies, had helped rebuild it. While all this madness had been going on, the rest of the empire was slowly finding out he was technically (also, legally according to Celestia), the Crystal Empire’s crown Prince.



He winced in remembrance as he recalled hearing somepony referring to him as "your highness". He’d spent a large portion of the festival either apologizing for being slow to react when he let his mind wander and someone spoke to him using that title, or insisting they didn’t have to.


Although he did smile at the memory of somehow ending up babysitting a group of foals and fillies. Spark had been so excitable, bounding around with seemingly endless energy. He’d been reluctant to see the day end, he had to admit.



With a groan, he realized he’d have to face up to this eventually. It just felt...weird. All that lunacy, a forced takeover, proclaiming himself the King of darkness, or crystals, or whatever hare-brained title he’d given himself. And the whole time this little surprise had been waiting for him!



That one stuck in his mind...Why he’d used the title KING. It was rarely seen in Equestria, and even Cloudspark had been on the verge of dropping it, insisting it sounded too formal. So why...?



His father. Perhaps, in some twisted way, he’d been trying to tell himself something. Trying to cling onto one last vestige of goodness, even as he went slowly insane. He gave a shiver as he thought about that time. The memories were hazy, locked away. Every time he tried, he got a sharp pain in his chest, and a feeling of abject panic. Was it that he didn’t want to see himself that way?



At last, his stomach put an end to his worried musings, by grumbling loudly, in protest of his sitting on his backside instead of seeking breakfast. Feeling decidedly woolly headed he pulled his cloak on and ambled down the hall.



"Morning, your highness!" One guard greeted the dozy stallion. At first he thought Sombra had simply either not heard him or ignored him, until, several feet down the hall, the taller pony actually stopped, went: "huh?"



Then he seemed to realize something, because he facehoofed, muttered an apology, insisted he didn’t need to worry about calling him that, then continued his way down the hall.



It was a little bit funny, the guard couldn’t help decide. The length of time between his using the formal greeting and Prince Sombra’s brain apparently realizing it was aimed at HIM was just long enough to be amusing.

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"Morning!" Twilight Sparkle greeted him as he walked in. He managed a sleepy greeting, and heard his stomach growl again.



"Mhh!" Pinkie Pie, mouth full of cake, waved at him and jabbed a hoof at the empty chair to her left.



He half listened to them chattering away about some place called Ponyville. When he asked what it was, Pinkie Pie waved a hoof in the air like a school filly.



"Ooh, ooh! It’s this totally awesome place where we all live! It’s got a bakery, library, a farm, a boutique and lots of nice ponies!"



"I see," Sombra blinked "I actually assumed you all lived HERE!"



"Nopey nope!" Pinkie Pie giggled.



"Although we do LOVE to visit!" Rarity piped up "I for one ADORE their fashion!"



"Two words: crystal. berries." Applejack grinned.



"But Ponyville is the best home we could have," Twilight Sparkle smiled, and they all nodded.



"Pee for Ponyville!" Pinkie Pie whooped, cheerleader style, as she chugged the last of her orange juice.



"You will be if you keep THAT up!" Sombra remarked.



Rainbow Dash let out a loud snort of laughter. Pinkie Pie started hiccuping loudly, between giggles.



Cadance and Shining Armor walked in at that moment, and this was the scene before them.



Twilight Sparkle and all her friends, giggling like loons, with Pinkie Pie hiccuping loudly, and almost toppling out of her chair every other second. Even the normally composed Rarity was keeping a hoof over her mouth, her shoulders shaking. But the biggest giveaway as to the culprit was Sombra. Being he was the only one not laughing his backside off. Also because of the level of attention he was suddenly paying to his breakfast.



"Morning-!" he said in a bizarrely restrained tone.



"P!" Pinkie Pie whooped. And he let slip a small snigger.



"Okaayyy...." Shining Armor and Cadance sat at the table, regarding the giggly, merry bunch around them, "what did you do?"



Rainbow Dash finally managed to recover enough to retell the random piece of toilet humor!

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When at last everyone calmed down, Sombra even relaxed and had a little chuckle at Pinkie Pies reaction. She did eventually stop hiccuping, but decided she’d had enough OJ!



"Now, onto less goofy matters," Shining Armor chuckled "Celestia showed me those drawings you did, I think we need to show them to everypony, let them know."



“But how? Just sticking posters around will be hard enough..." Cadance frowned "not everypony will see them.."



"I got it!" Shining Armor grinned "the stadium! We can gather everypony there, and you can explain the shape shifting!" This last part however, was aimed at SOMBRA.



"Me?" Sombra paused "why?"



"They’re YOUR memories, you can explain it better then we can. You understand that darkness, know how it works. They'll trust the information coming from YOU." Shining Armor insisted.



Sombra looked uncertain, but in the end agreed to the plan. "I’ll get started on it ASAP," Shining Armor said at last.

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Sometime before Sombra’s revival, Twilight Sparkle and her brother had stumbled upon the existence of a creature called a Crystal Bard. A shy, retiring creature, it’d been captured once by Sombra, and treated like a pet, albeit a pet that could read to him. One day it discovered one of the many secret passages beneath the castle and escaped. Despite setting numerous traps, Sombra never caught it again. The memory was long gone, he couldn’t remember it.



So it was a difficult matter to say who was more shocked when they met again.



The creature would oftentimes read a pile of books then go into a little hibernate-style slumber to dream. While Sombra’s arrival back in the Crystal Empire and all the mad shenanigans that ensured carried on, it’d been obliviously, deeply asleep. Now it awoke, stretched, and gathered up the books it had borrowed, ready to return them. It opened the secret door into the library, and potted out, focusing so intently on not dropping the books it didn’t hear hoof steps approaching, and bumped right into somepony.



"Oh no...mwhrr.." it said softly "I’m sorry-"



"Owch.." that voice. It looked up, eyes widening as it took in the stallion he'd knocked onto his hindquarters.



"Books? That you Princes Twilight Sparkle?" Sombra muttered.



"WAHHHH!!" the creature let out a terrified wail, catching Sombra’s attention.



"Whoa..." he got to his hoofs, cocking his head at the quavering creature staring at him in abject terror, "Who're you?"



"P-please let me go your highness..." it begged, hoping to distract Sombra by flattery then make his escape. He’d been told by Twilight Sparkle Sombra was long gone, and her brother the Prince had backed it up! So why was he here again?!



"I keep telling everypony they don’t need to call me that.." Sombra muttered to himself, then shook his head, frowning as he stepped closer "what’re YOU??"



The Bard shivered, confused. Why did the king not recognize him? He caught him after all. It was then he noticed a few differences in this version of Sombra. For one, he no longer wore the Armor of before. His ears poked up through the ever flowing mane, and the cloak he wore was a more modern affair. He also had a band around his leg with a stunning gem that caught the light and reflected it.



It stowed its tears, mesmerized by the light patterns inside the jewel.



Sombra realized what it was staring at, and slowly unlatched it, setting it on the floor and nudging it towards the crystal creature, "beautiful, isn’t it?"



Seeing the creature was still watching him in abject fright, he backed away, until a safe distance was between him and this odd creature. It scuffled forwards, picking up the jeweled band, its eyes lighting up as it watched the jewel.



"It’s a Purple Star Jewel, very rare now.." Sombra spoke very softly. The creature looked like a child that’d been given a new toy as it tilted it this way and that. Hopeful, Sombra took a step towards it, reaching a hoof towards it "If I might just ask you.."



But the movement startled the Bard, who ran off and vanished into a gap in the wall that hadn’t been there before. Soon it’d slammed the door behind itself. Sombra sighed, putting the band back around his leg. Who was that, and why was it so upset?



He was halfway out of the library when it hit him; he must’ve hurt or terrorized that timid looking thing.



A small swell of nausea reared its head, recalling the disgust he’d felt from his nightmares.

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He was lucky to bump into Prince Shining Armor as he and three of his guards, Flash Sentry among them, rounded the corner ahead of him.



"Hey bud!" Shining Armor offered a friendly grin "you alright?"



The guards all bowed their heads in acknowledgement of the new Prince, and Sombra winced awkwardly, resisting the urge to tell them not to. He knew it was just protocol, but he still felt at odds with it.



"There’s something very ODD in the library.." Sombra began.



"Define odd?" Shining Armor replied.



And so Sombra described the critter he’d bumped into.



"Oh, I didn’t know he was awake again!" Shining Armor smiled "That’s a Crystal Bard. Must go say hi. Anyhow, as to why he’s a little...jittery.."



"You don’t need to explain, it’s as I feared," the guards noted the deadened tone of Sombra’s voice as he gave a resigned sigh "perhaps it will believe it of YOU if you inform it things are not how it believes."



“Did you try to talk to it?" Shining Armor asked.



"Tried...failed. It only stopped crying when it seen the jewel in THIS;" Sombra indicated the leg band "but when I tried to approach, it got scared and ran away. Entirely understandable..."



Shining Armor was a little worried about that familiar haunted expression now hovering behind Sombra’s eyes.



"Anyhoof, Cadance wishes to speak to you," Shining Armor told him at last. Sombra nodded, bid them farewell, then left.

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To his surprise, Cadance had a task she wanted him to carry out. She mentioned she thought he needed to get this whole "you’re a Prince now and you need to get used to it" thing over with ASAP.



"It’s a lot to take in, I understand. Shining Armor took a while to get used to it when we first came here." she levitated a stack of letters over to him "but you need to let the citizens see more of you. Which is why THIS should make it less awkward. These are all responses to funding requests. This way you’ll at least have an excuse if somepony asks, right?" She caught the uneasy expression on his face and smiled knowingly.



"Am I that transparent?" he sighed, yet putting the stack of letters into the saddlebags draped across his back.



"I know you’re reluctant to trust yourself, or your own intentions," Cadance said seriously "as Applejack said, you need to stop doing that to yourself. Relax, just talk to them. Everypony out there is more curious than they could possibly be afraid.."



Figuring she had a point, but still feeling his stomach sink at what he viewed as impending embarrassment, Sombra nodded. She went over a few other things, and gave him some notes Shining Armor had said he may find useful. Sombra nodded, and tucked the notes into his bag, before turning to go.



Cadance watched him leave, and she could almost see the jumble of thoughts racing around his mind. He was still fighting an internal conflict. He seemed apprehensive about this second chance, even if it was his father’s wish!

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Sombra walked down the street, taking the long way round to give himself time to think....



His mind whirled, trying to recollect that creature in the library. But nothing came back. He still felt a strange emptiness when he tried to think back to his reign of madness in the Empire. None of the memeories were clear, all he had was hazy recollections and sensations.

A gleam of light caught his eye, and he stopped to peer at a shop window, recognizing it as the same antique store he’d followed Fluttershy and Princess Twilight Sparkle into that first day out. He wondered vaguely if they still had the same jeweled carving he’d seen, made of the same stone as the one that the leg band bore.



"You alright there your highness?" the voice startled him and he let out a startled noise, turning to stare at the shop owner in surprise.



"I-its nothing.." he blurted "Sorry to trouble you-" he started to trot away, but the owner held out a hoof to stop him.



"Please don’t feel you have to be uncomfortable. I’m sorry if I startled you. I recall the first time I seen you I reacted badly. But then, none of us expected you to be so unlike the history books. Come in..."



Surprised, but at the same time vastly relieved, Sombra followed him into the shop. A quick rifle through the list of letters revealed this wasn’t one of the places one belonged to.



"I had hoped you’d come by, I received an import of new antiques, and one bears a stone I am unfamiliar with. Ponies say your cutie mark talent revolves around crystals, so maybe you can identify this one."



"I will certainly endeavor to," Sombra replied "there was also something I wished to ask after?"



"Oh yes? What is it?"



So Sombra asked him about the stone he’d identified that first day.



"I knew it felt familiar but it was not until Princess Luna reconnected the memory of my father to this artifact that I remembered how I knew that stone," Sombra looked at the band around his leg as he spoke. The shop owner pulled out a small magnifying monocle, and peered closely at the set of the band and the stone.



"It’s a splendid cut, rarely have I seen such craftwork. Truly fit for the King, or a Prince as it would seem." he smiled genially, a little poke at Sombra’s new title.



He was surprised when Sombra looked a little guilty "I...everypony doesn’t have to call me that," he said hurriedly. "After all-"



"After all NOTHING. Prince Shining Armor said at that announcement you outright refused it at first. I don’t know why you don’t think you deserve it, but the ponies here think you do. So get used to it your highness. The latest rumour is when the formal coronation will be! Anyways, let me see about that stone a moment.."


-Coronation? Oh Ponyfeathers...i hadnt even thought about THAT!-- Sombra groaned to himself. HIs whole plan to try and make this fly udner the proverbial radar was rapidly unravelling it seemed!


The owner vanished into the back room and returned with the carving, setting it on the counter in front of Sombra "literally just about to dust it. Shame there aren’t more like it, its beautiful, and like you said, catches the light nicely.."



Sombra had been given a run down on monetary matters, and how to file expenses, should he need any. He opened his saddlebag to dig out the notes he’d been given on the palace's protocols, but the shop owner chuckled and shook his head.



"It’s clearly a valuable part of the happier times," seeing Sombra’s startled expression he continued "it’s obvious from the way you talk about it, that jewel holds a special meaning to you. So consider it a gift, for everything you’ve done for us so far."



Sombra took a few seconds to get his voice back, “I…thank you…”



The shop owner couldn’t help but notice how uncertain Sombra seemed when faced with any act of kindness. It almost seemed to scare him a little, as if he suspected whoever was being so nice was just WAITING for the right moment to turn on him.



But Sombra seemed to relax when he showed him the unidentified stone. The taller stallion closed his eyes, and there was a brief flash of magic between him and the stone. When he opened his eyes they held a curious look. He explained the stone was very old, quite highly prized for its texture and color. This and other details he knew both from his studies as a colt, and his natural instinct.



"Astonishing. Anypony'd think ya got a whole textbook in that head of yours.."



"I don’t know how the information got there, it just...WAS, always." Sombra shrugged "even the advisors at the time, they hadn’t a clue how I was doing it. They thought it was a trait of dark magic, and they went coocoo..."



"Ancient time, they thought EVERYTHING was bad news if they hadn’t already discovered it." the shop owner rolled his eyes "The Princess elaborated a little on that, told us how the ponies of that era reacted as if you a walking omen of their doom."



"That pretty much sums it up," Sombra laughed softly.



The door opened, the little bell jingling merrily.



"Hi honey, were back-oh! Sorry, didn’t realize we had a visitor!"



Sombra turned slightly, to see a blue-haired mare and a little filly standing inside the door. The filly stared in blatant wide-eyed curiosity. But it wasn’t an unkind stare, if anything she looked like she was overflowing with questions.



"Your highness, this is my wife and child, Waveflicker and Sunbeam."



Sombra gave an eloquent bow. “Good morning~”



"We know what this is now!" the husband smiled to his wife, holding up the rare stone "seems it’s quite a sought after gem for jewelry makers!"



"Wonderful, there should be no problem finding a buyer..." his wife smiled proudly.



"Uhm...Hi!" Sunbream blurted.



"Good morning little Sunbeam," Sombra smiled. She looked pleased he'd answered her, and decided to chance asking a question:



"Uhm...c-can i see the purple jewel? Spark said its really awesome.."



Sombra nodded, and actually took the band off to let her examine it up close.



"Oooh....its so cool!" she cooed, giggling at the fractal patterns the light made dance about her face. Curisoity more than satisfied, she gave the band back, along with a big smile and a thank you!



Not long after Sombra bid them farewell, thanking them, once again, for the ornament.

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Meanwhile, in town, Shining Sea was just after picking up Bright Spark from a morning extra-curricular activity session at the school. Her daughter was now bounding along, chattering away about what they’d done, promising to show her mother the pictures she'd drawn!



Then somepony called out to her mother, and they crossed the street to a small cosy cafe. Shining Sea began to talk to her friends, and Bright Spark soon got bored with adult topics. So her mother gave her some bits and sent her inside the cafe to get some cookies!



"What’re you researching?" Shining Sea nodded at one of the mares, called QuillPetal, aka the historian for the Crystal Empire.



"I did some research on Prince Sombra’s hometown," she held up some old papers "I was right, it WAS known for something! The origin of the comet called the Black Star! It was said to have crashed at the edge of the tiny settlement."



"Didn’t the Princess mention a prophecy-?" another mare asked. QuillPetal nodded.



"She did! I researched it, and it literally did foresee a pony being born with dark magic!"



"His power is certainly striking.." Shining Sea remarked, thinking about the shield he’d put up to guard them all, and that spell he’d used to trace the leader of the attacking swarm waves!



"It was just bad timing he was born in such a dark age..." QuillPetal sighed "as we’ve seen now, what he can do far outstrips anything in history books! To see him use it, you wouldn’t think dark magic is all that dangerous, yet it is known to be banned across Equestria. Most ponies that have tried it, simply burnt out. Research indicates it drains a lot of a normal unicorns power!""



"There’s still a lot we don’t know about him.." Shining Sea said.



"Well you must know SOMETHING!" one of the mares commented.



"What do you mean?" Shining Sea asked innocently, although she could already feel herself flushing slightly.



"You’ve probably spoken to him more than anypony else bar the castles occupants!"



“Actually, Spark has known him for longer," Shining Sea smiled faintly "I didn’t speak to him until the plague incident, when he took care of spark and myself."



“Speak of the pony-“ one mare bobbed her head in the direction opposite her.



They all glanced over in the direction she was pointing. Sombra was wandering along the pavement, seemingly consulting a length of parchment.



Spark trotted out of the shop, the cookies in a bag in her satchel. She spotted her favourite pony giving the list a searing glare, and shot over to the edge of the pavement, bounding up and down like a bouncy ball.



"Sombwa! Sombwa!" she hollered excitedly. He blinked, ears twitching as he heard her voice. Spotting her, he stowed the list in his saddlebag and started towards her. Once he was close enough, she pelted the rest of the way over and glomp-hugged him with her usual energy!



"Hello little one!" he chuckled, crouching slightly to speak to her. She beamed up at him, poking his nose and announcing, as ever; "BOOP!"



He chuckled softly, scooping her up and sitting her on his back.



"I believe I have something of yours~" Sombra said to Shining Sea as he reached them. "small, bouncy and giggly, familiar?"



Spark giggled from her place atop his back. Sombra clocked the other mares staring in obvious curiosity and inclined his head, greeting them politely. He was a bit confused by two of them turning slightly red.



The waitress came out, did a double take on spotting the new royal, and gave a flustered bob of her head before asking did the group want anything?



"You going to stay and join us?" QuillPetal asked Shining Sea.



Shining Sea looked tempted, but then she remembered she had her daughter....



Spotting her flustered glance, Sombra stepped in.



"I could take her awhile?" he said softly "Truth be told I have a bunch of errands to do, no clue where I’m going, and I could use her assistance."



"Would you like that sweetie?" Shining Sea asked her daughter, who nodded so fast it was a wonder her head didn’t pop off! She was also, to the other mare’s amusement, chewing absently on a stray, ever-shifting piece of Sombra’s mane.



"I don’t think that’s going to taste like food anytime soon." Sombra said in amusement, without even having to turn his head.



"Aww," she giggled, releasing it.



Sombra smiled softly, before agreeing to drop little Spark off at the house later. Then, with an appropriately well-mannered goodbye, he trotted off down the street.

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"That daughter of yours is entirely fearless!" QuillPetal chuckled as Shining Sea sat down with them.



"I know! At first I was a little worried when she first came home and said she met a shadowy, tall pony. I’d heard the decree by this point, so I recognized who she was talking about! But when she said he struck her as being lonely, I wondered if she was seeing more then I was? I nearly fainted when she said she’d introduced herself in the usual way, which involves walking up to ponies, tapping their nose and going "boop!" I was SURE he’d have snapped at her, you know how he was before? But he didn’t. She told me he just stared curiously at her; I think he was surprised she was so friendly! Then he helped her hide from those same bullies, even scared them away so they wouldn’t find her!"



The others listened in silent curiosity as she continued.



"Then, on the day of the class picnic, she comes home talking about pink ponies in the palace kitchen, and this time she called him by name! Said something about him telling those mean fillies off, that she was as bright as her name! She looked so happy, it was the most she’d smiled in quite some time! The next day even the class teacher told me she was stunned by how different Spark seemed after running into Sombra.." she paused for thought "I guess, in a way, they were both pretty secluded, different to everypony around them. He probably understood her instinctively!"



"I’m glad to see her smiling. I know you were so worried about her.." one of the other mares said to Shining Sea, who nodded in agreement.





"I never thought the key to making Spark shine so much would lie with a pony like him. But somehow he’s done it! When she told me about the attack on the palace I felt lightheaded! When she told me Sombra had put himself in the creatures way to protect her, I knew there was no way he’d ever hurt her...or anypony for that matter. If he would care for a child the way he did, I knew I owed him a chance...."



"I’m just surprised by how intelligent he is. Seems bizarre in a way, after how he behaved before, That his normal self is so...well-spoken…”



"All I know is it still bothers him...” Shining Sea remarked, recalling her daughter saying one morning she was worried how sad Sombra was, "He still can’t bring himself to accept anypony's kindness, not fully...”



"At least he’s leaving the palace." QuillPetal said at last "all the rumors were that he was afraid he’d get hurt, that he thinks we'll attack him..-"



"That’s not it, not quite.." Shining Sea shook her head "he’s been getting battered within an inch of his life since day one, so it's not physical pain he’s afraid of. From what I learnt from Spark, and Princess Cadance at the festival, he’s never had good reason to trust other ponies because of how he was treated in the past. Imagine being feared right from foalhood just for having a different power..."



"It’s like that old saying, "once bitten, twice shy"" another mare commented "any hoof held out to him before was obviously just used to hurt him soon after. Enough of that awful business and now he’s wary of anypony getting too close. Well, besides small adorable fillies..."


They all smiled at how cute the interaction between Sombra and Bright Spark had been!



"Spark always felt lonely and sad, because of her impediment," Shining Sea spoke lovingly of her daughter. "Despite my attempts, I couldn’t convince her to believe in herself. To a small child, belief is half family, the other half the rest of the world. And without faith in both halves, she grew despondent. I get the feeling he seen something familiar in her when she met him, that’s why he started watching out for her. Petalbloom told me his exact words were:

"How she speaks is irrelevant! The honesty of her words is enough to put her above anypony that tries to demean her!"."


"How eloquent~" was one response.



"She came home so full of smiles that day, despite the story of the bullies taunting her. And that Sombra told the teacher, in front of the whole class, that he considered her as bright as her name, well, it made her day!"



"I hope we can convince him to open up a bit more," QuillPetal mused sadly "he’s clearly got far more to him since that madness faded away..."



"Praise from others is pointless if you can’t believe it yourself..." Shining Sea murmured.

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While they were discussing his enigmatic nature, Sombra was feeling a lot more relaxed now, with his favorite little friend tagging along. She burrowed into his saddlebag, poking her head out the top, giggling. He had to laugh, watching her antics.



They soon came to the first shop, where upon Bright Spark suddenly declared she had an idea, and vanished from sight into the saddlebag. Getting the gist of it, Sombra nudged the door to the textile shop open.



"Morning- oh! Y-your highness!" The mare did a double take. She’d never personally spoken or even come face to face with Sombra before. Like many others, she’d seen him only in glimpses, between fights or simply legging it about the Empire!



"Princess Cadance requested I deliver this- hold on.." he turned slightly to peer at his bag "got it in there?"



She blinked; wondering why he was addressing his saddlebag, was he OK?



Then the bag flap popped open, and a beaming filly, envelope in her mouth, stuck her head out!



"Thank you, little one~" Sombra chuckled, magically taking the letter and floating it over to the shopkeeper.



She had to smile at this endearing display. Most ponies knew by now that a small filly had been the first to break through Sombra's barriers!

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Sombra and Bright Spark continued on in this manner, with Spark playing mail filly, popping out to proffer the necessary letter!

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One shop they went into seemed a little neglected. Sombra glanced at the letter, it was addressed to a Mr Shortcrust and his wife, Fruitybarks. Although there was an open sign on the door, he noticed there didn’t seem to be anypony inside!



He cleared his throat, his rumbly tones echoing around the store "Is anypony here?"



"Hewwo?" Spark called.



"Just a moment young ‘uns..." a careworn voice reached their ears alongside the sound of halting hoof steps. At last, a pony hobbled into the shop. He had a broken leg, and the crutches made it hard for him to move easily. He did a double take when he seen the Prince and his friend.



"Hay there, Prince Sombra, isn’t it? And who’s yer friend?"



"This is Bright Spark. We’re here to deliver a message from Princess Cadance."



Spark handed the letter to the pony; he opened it, smiled, and set it down.



Sombra noticed something off about the smile.



"Is...Everything alright?" he hazarded.



"Nothing to worry yourself over yer highness.." the shop owner tried to brush the notion away, but Sombra wasn’t to be deterred.



"Princess Cadance is adamant I learn the state of the modern day Empire, and surely the businesses within it are paramount? If there is something at fault-?" Sombra began.



The pony chuckled softly "It’s refreshing to hear a dialect like yours," he remarked "and I guess there’s no fooling you, huh?"



He sighed and sat down with a wince "truth is, my wife’s a bit ill at the moment, and I fell off my ladder last week, broke my leg. I was planning to decorate the store, but I just don't have the means to, not with this cast on my hoof. And baking so many cakes by myself is just impossible!"



Sombra frowned. Spark peered up at him, wondering what he was thinking about?



"I think I have a solution...one moment..." Sombra pulled a writing pad and quill from his bag, and set about writing a quick letter, Spark sitting up on the coutner, watching curiously as he did.



"I can think of two ponies in an instant that can be of benefit to you..." he sealed the letter, and with a quick spell, sent it off in search of its target. This was a fun spell, as he had to guide it himself. But he knew by now the "feel" as it were, of Twilight Sparkle’s magic, so he sent it to her, reasoning her friends were never far away.



He was right as it happened...

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"Right!" Rarity declared as they exited the fabric shop "that’s everything I need to make your new ball gowns everypony!"



"Yay!" Pinkie Pie squeed. "Will it be made of candy again?"



"We shall see~" Rarity said mysteriously, but she couldn’t hide an excited smile.



Out of nowhere, a scroll poofed into existence, falling to balance precariously on Twilight Sparkle's nose just as she turned to glance in that direction.



"Ooh! Mail!" Pinkie Pie clapped her hooves.



"Who’s it from?" Rainbow Dash asked.



"It’s from Sombra.." Twilight Sparkle said curiously. Then she unrolled it, and began to read;



"Princess Twilight Sparkle,



I have a request to make of you and your friends, particularly of Miss Rarity and Miss Pinkie (Cotton Candy) Pie. As per Princess Cadance’s request earlier this day, I have been all over the Crystal Empire to deliver these notices. One such shop however, is in dire need of-GACK.



This word was scrawled next to a large blot. With what looked like a teeny hoof smudge next to it.



My apologies- Spark, that feather is NOT a toy, heh..- a silly filly can’t resist the fluffy feather on the quill. She is prominently declaring it’s awesomeness as I write...Back to the matter at hoof, the shop in question needs assistance from the aforementioned duo, as it is not only in need of help redecorating- miss Rarity’s raison detre, but some help baking- miss Cotton Candy’s calling in life as far as I can tell! Please let me know if you can swing by the shop, the owner would truly appreciate the help.



Down the bottom was another hoof smudge, and wobbly letters spelling out "hello Princess Twilight Sparkle and friends!"



"Aww..." Fluttershy giggled "that filly is adorable!"



"Ooh, can we go?" Pinkie Pie was all grins.



"A shop in need of a makeover? Why, I would be absolutely horrified if I did not cheer it up!" Rarity decided.



So the merry bunch set off for the shop, Sombra having written the address on the back on the parchment!

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Bright Spark was entertaining the shop owner with stories of her and her mother’s cookie-baking exploits when the doorbell rang, and a familiar voice declared:



"Here comes the cake cavalry!"



"Ah, excellent.." Sombra sighed in relief they’d been able to drop by, though he hadn’t expected them so soon!



"We were just out shopping when we got your letter!" Rarity beamed. They introduced themselves to the shop owner, and began discussing how they could redo the store!



Sombra wanted to stay, but he still had more letters to drop off, so he reluctantly said farewell, Bright Spark hopping back into the cosy saddlebag once more.



"If that don’t beat all.." Shortcrust shook his head "a case of his bark was far worse than his bite, eh?"



"He looks fierce, but he’s not such a grumpy pants anymore!" Pinkie Pie nodded proudly.

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By the time he was done, Sombra had met most of the Crystal Empire’s shop owners. He’d also secured another job for Rarity if she wanted it, designing new uniforms for a cafe!



He dropped Bright Spark off at home, and before he left she gave him a folded picture from her bag, telling him to open it later, along with one of the three cookies she’d bought earlier that day!

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Wandering home after saying goodbye to Bright Spark and Shining Sea, Sombra made short work of the cookie, and then unfolded the piece of paper.



She'd drawn an adorably colorful picture of her, her mother..and him.



"My Family." Had been written in decisive letters across the bottom. Sombra stopped mid-step, feeling a sense of happiness from the picture he barely dared believe. He thought he’d adopted her, but now it seemed the other way around. She'd taken HIM in!



He tucked it safely away in his saddlebag, a genuine smile on his face as he walked back to the castle!

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Cadance was pleased to see him looking so relaxed, when he came to inform her he’d finished the task. He spoke briefly of the shop with the owner in need of help, how Twilight Sparkle and company were helping to liven it up! And of course, his impromptu assistant for the day!



--He’s slowly adjusting..-- she surmised after he'd left --I’m gad to see he’s opening up more..--

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Sombra left the small carved statue he'd been given, and a note simply saying he didn’t expect the creature to forgive him, but that he hoped it would accept the small statue as a peaceful offering?



These he put on the closest table to where he’d seen the reclusive Bard vanish that first meeting!



He didn’t think it would want to forgive him, but he felt an irrepressible urge to at least TRY say he was sorry.

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In its dark, twisted realm, the creature fumed. That blasted unicorn kept wrecking its plans. And putting a stop to said unicorn was proving impossible. Every traumatic memory it shoved in his face, the unicorn fought back. He had to be hurting, yet he didn’t back down! But that pony had a seemingly limtiless supply of secrets hidden away in his head, it was sure of it!


Suddenly, it grinned, a NEW plan forming. One that would be unexpected, not as showy as its prior attacks.. it would show that pony why it was to be feared by this pathetic world! But first it needed a certain poison substance...and a willing dissenter!


Slowly, bit by bit, it was learning how this worlds magic worked. Its careful study of the unicorn magic from those it had drained had helped it stitch together a spell, one that would serve its purpose nicely.

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It slunk between the trees, honing in on a certain brightly colored yet rare flower. It looked harmless, but mixed the right way, it was used as a sedative/nerve numbing agent. To the creature, it radiated danger. That was how it seen things. It needed no book to know this plant was what it sought. Like drew to like. This was what it required. It grabbed a bundle of the plant, cackling softly..

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That evening, Shining Armor asked if Sombra would come to the training grounds the next morning, to help teach the guards how to fight those creatures. Sombra nodded, and spent awhile that night formulating a lesson plan of sorts...



In the end he hit upon an idea, and started compiling the spell...

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Shining Armor noticed Sombra seemed a bit sleepy when he came to find him, but Sombra assured him it was worth it, that he was fine.



Wondering what he had planned, Shining walked them down to the barracks where the training was held. Rows of crystal guard ponies waited, and murmurs of curiosity abounded when they seen Sombra accompanying Shining Armor. Despite being literally hostile to each other at the start, it seemed to two Princes had established a genuine friendship.



Shining cleared his throat before stepping up to the mic so they could all hear him clearly.



"Alright everypony! By now you're all no doubt used to the goggles my sister created. But we have another goal, fighting those things efficiently to minimize injury to ourselves and the ponies of the Empire. So naturally there was only one pony I could ask on that front. That’s why I’ve asked him to come here today, so we can train all of you to better defeat those slimy creatures!"



They all cheered in acknowledgement, and Shining motioned Sombra to come stand beside him.



"These things are learning as fast as we are," Sombra’s low, rumbling tones silenced the merriment, and everypony listened intently. "They’ve gone from lone attacks to controlled swarm parties. And they’re getting evermore vicious with their attacks. Those present at the festival will have seen for themselves how easily they would attack children..."



Those who knew of the attack nodded, looking angry at the very prospect of innocents being targeted.



"They’re fast, fairly agile, but their cores are weaker than the one controlling them. So far I have not noticed any visible manner of telling them apart, aside from what Princess Twilight Sparkle has identified as an instinctive knowledge on my part, a rough spell that has been able to lead me to the controller. But locating it takes a moment or two, during which time the others under its control will attack en masse. I cannot so far find a way of transcribing the spell I use, so for the time being, we must do what we can with what we know. The cores will shatter with a corresponding amount of force. This is where we'll begin..."



More nods of assent and spirited cheering. Shining nodded in thanks, and then told everypony to get moving and do laps of the assault course to test their agility.



Sombra sat and watched the groups running the course with Shining Armor. He noticed some seemed to have a natural talent for speed and agility, they’d probably take to the fighting quickest of all.



"They’re exceedingly well trained," he remarked to Shining Armor "your work is exemplary."



Shining Armor couldn’t help looking pleased, and a little proud of himself. This job was a big part of his life; as it had been in Canterlot.



Once everypony had finished that little warm up, it was time to move on the next stage, which Shining Armor left to Sombra.



"It took some doing, but I have been able to create a construct for you all to use, one moment.."



They exchanged looks, what did he mean "construct"?



Sombra closed his eyes, letting his magic kick into high gear. Just in front of him a spell circle formed, and then a purple-black smoke appeared, swirling around before settling into the shape of one of the creatures. A glowing purple core could be seen without the goggles as the creature hovered above the grass, its yellow eyes staring, unblinking.



"Whoa.." one guard said nervously.



"Relax...” Sombra opened his eyes "it is but a fake, built using magic, not whatever those things are made from. It seemed to me the best way to learn is by facing one of them, and this seemed a far less dangerous method than some.”



"But is it...I mean, can it think...?" one stallion asked uneasily. Sombra shook his head.



"I discovered it cannot even maneuver itself properly unless I control it myself. Watch.”



He apparently turned his attention away from it somehow, for the thing just stood there. Then it stuck its tongue out and blew a raspberry.



The guards laughed. Sombra barely refrained from laughing himself. He’d been up late not just creating this thing, but amusing himself with how it seemed to react when he let go of its reins.



The guards had even more cause for amusement as it lost balance the next second, mid-raspberry, and fell flat upon its face, muffling the sound. They were in stitches as it proceeded to attempt to move itself around on its face, making that hilarious sound all the while. It scooted back and forth in this manner, accompanied by loud laughter.



"Ok...ok..." Flash Sentry was clutching his sides "we get it!"



"Why does this feel so familiar...?" one guard snorted.



"I don’t know..."



"OK," Shining was having to use Sombra to prop him up, he was laughing so hard "you’ve made your point buddy; please get your pet loony under control before I pass out!"



"Of course...” Sombra returned his attention to the thing.

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The guards were split into groups, and each had to show how they’d deal with the creature. From the vast knowledge he’d accrued of the shadow creatures fighting habits, Sombra was able to emulate them quite accurately. He used little force, to give them a chance to see how the creatures moved up close.



He explained how it was necessary to use quite a lot of force when kicking the cores, and of course to be careful when destroying them, as they exploded and could cause injury. So it was best advised not to stand too close at the time of detonation.



"-and before you point out the fact I’ve been doing that myself, I request you remember how THAT ended. As I believe the popular phrase is, I’m "built like a tank", and therefore capable of taking an insane amount of punishment. I don’t advise anypony else entirely follow my lead in that aspect, we need to minimize the risk of you getting hurt. Which is why I’d recommend a back-kick. The edge of the armored shoes you wear will help in this aspect, providing a bit extra force."



Some of the guards fidgeted guiltily, they’d been using the tank reference since the start. It was kind of accurate though. Sombra was in no way a pushover. Nopony could deny he was a formidable opponent, and they were gladder then ever he was on their side.

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After an intense and slightly exhausting training session, Shining let everypony go, telling them to get plenty of rest.


"Nice work," he said to Sombra as they left too, walking back towards the palace "you see? They’re glad you’re on OUR side, plus who better could they ask for then the pony who’s been knocking those shadow things about since day one?"



"I see your point. I’m just relieved my method worked, the construct seemed to aid their focus immensely."



"It does help to be able to directly "see" the enemy as it were, gives them a lot more motivation. Nice trick. Plus, I’m pretty sure you got bonus points for that hilarious display!"



Sombra couldn’t stifle a laugh "I spent a copious amount of time amusing myself watching it last night!" he shook his head "it’s a shame I cannot create multiple clones, but controlling one is the limit I’m afraid."



"Good enough!" Shining assured him.



Sombra decided to stay out wandering a little longer, and that he’d see Shining back at the palace. Waving a cheery goodbye, Shining set off back to his home. Sombra smiled faintly as he wandered a quiet street by himself. The guards seemed to be far more accepting of him now. Whereas at the start they’d ignored him unless they had to, keeping a strict eye on him so he didn’t harm anypony, they now readily accepted his help in fighting the kingdoms invaders.



Up ahead he could faintly hear the sound of the market, and wondered if Healing Breeze had her stall open that day? He wanted some more of that tea she made. This in mind he set off towards the sound.

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A guard named Light Shield hummed softly as he trotted into his room at the barracks. Unbidden, the door shut behind him and he whirled. When he seen the shadowy pony that blocked the door, his magic flared up, ready to start a fight!



Then he heard its voice, like it was in his head. Its cold yellow eyes seemed to bore into his, he couldn’t move!



"You distrust that corrupted unicorn, don’t you?" the creature whispered sibilantly as it walked around him in a circle "that abomination, SOMBRA."



"W-what? No, I mean.."



"You’re not convinced somepony like should be even considered royalty, am I right?"



"No, I mean...he’s not all bad..." but it was getting harder to fight it.



"Face it, now you guards can fight without him, why keep him around?"



"I..." the exhausted pony felt his mind crack, it was so much easier just to agree, wasn't it? It was true he was uncertain whether Sombra was truly changed, but the guy deserved a chance right?



"No!" the shadow pony was face to face with him. It's eyes flashed again, and the poor guard felt his willpower slip away like water down a drain as the spell took over.



"He needs to go..mm?" the thing postulated, smirking when the guard nodded.



"You have access to the palace? Well, all you have to do is put this in his food or drink at the next opportunity, and everypony’s worries will be over. Tonight would be best..."



The guard nodded dumbly. Get Sombra to drink this special...tea wasn’t it? Why, Sombra had a special variety of tea he was always drinking, it was kept in the palace kitchen.



"Good pony.." the shadow creature sneered.

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The Bard crept out later on, relieved to find the library empty once more. He'd spoken to Shining Armor earlier, the Prince had explained why Sombra was back, and told him the stallion was vastly different to before. It’d given the Bard a lot to ponder over.



Mid-musing, it spotted a shining statue on the table nearest its bolt-hole entrance. Curious, he picked it up, grabbing the note underneath it.



He read it over, and stared at it a moment. Was it possible this WASN’T the same Sombra? He HAD seemed vastly different to the one it recalled.



It scooted back to its hidey hole with the pretty statue and the letter. The statue was made of the same stone in that pretty leg band. Shining Armor had said Sombra was (although there’d been no official coronation), the technical heir of the Crystal Empire. And that, with his mind back in order, he was actually still getting used to his new role!



The Bard had felt a stab of sympathy when Shining Armor had genuinely said he felt sorry for Sombra after seeing what his own family had done to him. How the outright lunatic the Bard had encountered had been the end result of a spell of gargantuan scale that’d accelerated his age and shifted his appearance.

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Light Shield switched shifts with another guard so he could do the evening shift inside the palace. His singular goal raced around his mind, how to get that traitor to their species to drink the substance?



By dumb luck he ran right into Sombra as the dark magic unicorn was heading towards the kitchen. Feigning a level of subservience, he asked if the stallion needed anything?



"Just after some tea.." Sombra muffled a yawn, dark red eyes sleepily focusing on the pony talking to him.



"I can make that for you, your highness." the guard said cheerfully. He seen Sombra wince at the title.



"Just...Sombra, please." he sighed.



"Yes sir," the guard said, which Sombra figured was a good a compromise as any.



The guard said he’d bring the drink to his room. Feeling awkward, but seeing how eager this pony seemed, Sombra hadn’t the heart to refuse him. He was too tired to object. He just wanted some tea then he was going to pass out.



Light Shield made the tea, stirring in the extra ingredient the creature had given him. The tea didn’t smell any different; there was little chance the unicorn would notice.

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Sombra was sat at the table in his rooms when the guard knocked. Telling him to enter, Sombra glowered at the heavy book open in front of him and groaned.



"Here you go, sir." the guard smiled sympathetically "hopefully I got it right.."



Sombra floated the cup off the tray, emptying half of it in one go. With a relieved sigh, he nodded.



"Perfect," he smiled "thank you...”



He got up, wandering over to the window to shut it, "Have there been any further reports from the citizens of the Empire?"



"No further attacks at this point in time, sir." the guard said. Sombra nodded seriously, returning to the desk.



He was about to tell the guard he could go when the pony suddenly lunged for him. He seen a glint of metal, then a searing pain across his muzzle. He snarled in pain, pushing his attacker away on instinct.



"Have you lost your mind-" then he realized, in a way, the pony HAD. He could see a strange yellow glow in its eyes.



"Oh ponyfeathers..." he muttered. He had to stop this possessed loon. But as he made to strike back, he felt a wave of dizziness crash over him, and the room pitched awkwardly.



"W-what’s...?" he forced the words out.



"Time to die, traitor," the cold, almost mechanical voice made Sombra’s insides freeze. That didn’t sound normal...



The guard leapt for him a second time, Sombra just barely dodged aside at the last moment, and franticly called upon his magic...



The guard tried to swing round to get at Sombra again, but suddenly found himself tied to the floor by bonds of purple magic.



He gave an inarticulate screech of fury, snarling as he tried to pull free. Sombra had to really focus, his breathing rapid and shallow. He couldn’t hold this for long. He could see the darkness now he looked properly at this pony. Seen the dark outline that surrounded him. Whatever had been controlling him was really coming to the fore now. And maybe that would work to his benefit.



The possessed pony started to cease struggling as a purple aura wrapped round it. It drew the darkness into itself, despite the host pony’s protests. Then, with a last jolt, it let the guard go and returned to the spells caster.



"Only one way for this to go.." Sombra muttered "fight fire with fire..."



He closed his eyes, and returned the spell, darkness mixed in, to his own body.



The guard collapsed to the floor, out cold. Shivering with relief and dizziness, Sombra turned to go fetch somepony, but never got that far.



In front of him stood one of the shadow creatures, he hadn’t sensed its approach, that tea...



"Time to be rid of you, but we have something special planned..." with a leer it fired a hefty bolt of black electricity at its drugged prey.



Sombra hadn’t the strength to block it, and slowly felt the word fade around him before blacking out.

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When he awoke he was lying on something cold. Lifting his head he heard the rattle of chains. Looking down some of the haze was cleared by shock when he seen his forelegs were bound in chains, and so were his hind legs.



"Couldn’t risk you getting away, not after this has been going so well...." the creature stood a few meters away, smirking.



"Buck...you..." Sombra forced out. It smirked coldly, then marched over to the prone pony and delivered a hefty punch with one shadowy hoof. Sombra saw stars spangle over his vision as his head connected with the floor, and he gave an involuntary gasp of pain.



"Done well haven’t you? Fooled them into trusting you, giving you this precious little trinket, letting you believe you’re not that different from them..."



"Say...what you will.." Sombra spat out, causing it to halt at the tone of his voice "I’ll take whatever they have to say about ME, but I will not listen to YOU."



"You really think there’s a place for darkness amongst the light?" it sneered "you’re an aberration to their existence for pity’s sake!"



The words of the prophecy Cadance and Twilight Sparkle had uncovered flashed into his mind, and he surprised the creature by laughing.



"Darkness that can walk alongside light," he chuckled "they predicted this long before YOU showed your ugly mug! Don’t pretend you know this world or ME!"



This time it was a sharp kick to the ribs, knocking the wind from his lungs. He snarled in pain.



"It won’t matter anyway; they’ll never find you in time..."

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The guard lifted his head, feeling woozy. What was going on? Where was he? He opened his eyes, and seen-



A dagger. His memories came tearing back. The shadow thing, the possession, his attempt to poison Sombra. Then, the attack...



Then the door was flung open, and Celestia, accompanied by a royal guard came charging in. Dropping by to talk to Sombra, Celestia had been concerned by the lack of response. The door was locked, so he was in there, but she sensed something was off, WRONG, even. She'd fetched a guard, and they’d been hammering at the door for some minutes, only now busting it open.



When they learnt what’d happened, they were very worried.

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THWACK. Sombra felt the pain reverberate through his whole body as he hit the far wall of the cave, before crashing to the floor. He tried to get up, but the drug was making every movement a battle, he couldn’t take much more. His magic was unreachable in this state.



"Hah, not so smart now, are we?" the shadow pony laughed as it began to walk over to him.



But as it raised a hoof to slam it down on Sombra’s neck, something whooshed over and gave it a bodily shove, knocking it back with surprise.



Sombra weakly raised his head, blurrily identifying his rescuer..

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The Bard was an expert on all the paths and hidden passages beneath the castle. He was on one of his forays when he heard voices, and a sharp cry of pain. Concerned, he scurried towards the sounds, poking his head out from behind a rocky outcropping where the entrance to the tunnel was hidden. His eyes widened when he seen what was going on. A horrible shadowy thing was looming over Sombra, poised to strike. Sombra didn’t look like he could defend himself, struggling to even move. So when he seen it about to hit Sombra once more, he ran over, pushing the thing away with as much force a sit could.



It recovered its balance, and took in what’d interrupted it.



"What are YOU?" it laughed.



"Mhrr...A friend.."



"How pathetic," the thing addressed Sombra. "You convinced a walking ornament to help you-"



“Shut your mouth!" Sombra spat, anger blazing in tired eyes "how DARE you talk such garbage..."



"Step aside little fool, or should I destroy you too?" the shadow pony laughed.



"You’re not...mhrr...having him..."



"Fine, have it your way, protect this degenerate, see how far it gets you!" The shadow pony summoned more of its power, aiming to blast the crystal thing.



"NO-!" Sombra felt a jolt of adrenaline pierce the fog of pain. He couldn’t allow this placid little thing to be destroyed on his account!



In slow motion he saw a bolt of darkness heading for the Bard. He seen it shut its eyes, unprepared to budge from defending HIM.

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The bard waited for the thing to strike at him, but it refused to let it kill Sombra! He’d decided the poor unicorn deserved a second chance...



But the expected blow never hit home. Not HIM anyway. He heard a scuffle of hooves, a rattle of chains, and then he was shoved unceremoniously out of the way, skidding across the polished cavern floor. There was a sharp shout of pain, then the sound of something hitting the floor.



"Mhrrr...Sombra?" the Bard scrambled up, its crystalline hands pressed in tearful sympathy to its face when it seen Sombra had taken the attack full on. He’d been thrown several feet across the cave floor. He lay in a crumpled heap, barely awake. The shadow creature scowled.



"Enough of your false pretenses!" it spat, unable to fathom how Sombra could be born of darkness yet exist in this light, happy world, it was impossible, wasn’t it?!



"Somrba..mhrr.." the Bard whimpered, huddling over on the floor, watching the shadow creature advance.



As he lay there, stunned and barely conscious, Sombra fancied he heard the voices of his friends. One by one they seemed to shimmer into being around him, and he remembered each one, recalling what Celestia had told him of the Elements:



Cotton candy, Pinkie Pie. Giggly, bubbly, crazy. Laughter.



Applejack, bold and forthright. Honesty.



Rarity, gracious and polite. Generosity.



Twilight Sparkle, smart and level headed. Magic.



Rainbow Dash, fierce and dependable. Loyalty.



Fluttershy, gentle and patient. Kindness.



The Elements of his friends, of Harmony.



He felt a strange sense of warmth, the pain fading just a little....

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During all this, Twilight Sparkle and company had been alerted to the situation. She’d literally just opened the suitcase holding the box of the Elements of Harmony, when the lid flew open of its own accord! The elements launched out of it, each swiftly attaching to its owner. Then they glowed, and a bolt of rainbow magic shot out of the room and into the hall.



"Quick!" Twilight Sparkle blurted "after it!"



"What in tarnation’s happenin'?" Applejack asked "did YOU do that Twi?"



"No!" Twilight Sparkle shook her head as they all ran, Celestia included, after the errant magic "it just...went off!"



It led them on a merry chase from floor to floor, then into a room where it vanished into a wall. Seconds later Twilight Sparkle had opened it, and the chase continued. Down a set of carved stone steps, underground...

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It started to stride towards the drugged unicorn, grinning coldly.



Then it was suddenly blindsided by a bolt of colorful magic. Knocked on its ear, it seen the bolt wrap around its victim in a mini whirlwind, the light obscuring Sombra’s form completely.



The Bard watched, wide eyed. What was happening?



The shadow pony got to its feet just as the light faded. Sombra stood, looking stronger now. But his appearance was different.



The cloak he wore now had an aristocratic high collar, and a silken scarf looped around it on the outside, pinned at the front by a gem shaped like a crystal heart. The clip that’d held his mane back had changed too. It had transformed into a crown not unlike the one he’d worn before, only this time in gold. It was comprised of a stylized diamond pattern, and curved around behind his ears, allowing them to stand free. His shoes bore the same style.



The look in his eyes was clearer now, he looked bright and alert.



"How-?!" it sputtered. Sombra didn’t deign to respond, merely unleashed a furious attack. This time the attacker was the one in chains, and that was where its existence ended, as Sombra shattered its core with one blow.



"Mhrr...Sombra?" he turned to see the Bard looking at him, wide-eyed.



"I’m sorry..." Sombra said softly "I didn’t mean to hurt you. Before OR now.," he walked over to it, and held out a hopeful hoof "I cannot expect you to forgive me, but-"



"Mhrr....already forgiven!" the Bard declared, accepting the raised hoof, deciding the Sombra that’d protected him wasn’t like the bad one from before.



Sombra felt a sense of great relief, and hope...just as he set his hoof back down on the floor, he heard voices echoing from up ahead. On instinct he moved to shield the bard, body tensed...

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Twilight Sparkle and the others came haring down the steps, racing towards where they’d seen the bolt of magic flee. They skidded to halt when they clocked the two figures ahead of them!



The Crystal Bard, peering out from behind Sombra, who was looking ready for a fight. Shards of a detonated core littered the floor to one side. They also noticed the change in outfit.



"What we miss?" Rainbow Dash asked. Sombra realized it was them and relaxed, dropping the battle stance! The Bard seen the group and toddled out from behind Sombra, waving at them.



"Aww...hey there fella!" Applejack beamed, trotting over.



Sombra shivered slightly. Although the magic of the elements had undone the drug's influence, he still had all the aches and pains from his battle.



"Now THAT is a design I just ADORE, darling!" he turned as Rarity spoke. She darted around him, examining the new cloak, and squeeing in delight at the shoes.



"It did come from your elements it seems," Sombra said "perhaps it knows your designs?"



Rarity looked pleased at the compliment, and sincerely hoped it was true!



"Ooh, funky!" Pinkie Pie whooped.



"Somehow this style could only suit you!" Rarity declared. At Sombra’s baffled look, she explained. "You have JUST the right bearing to pull off such an aristocratic look, the style, plus posture, it’s a perfect match!"



"Straight from the horses mouth!" Applejack joked to Sombra, and everypony else groaned.



"Sorry y'all!" Applejack said with a chuckle.



Sombra managed a faint laugh, but even this seemed to make him feel weary. He was ushered back to his rooms, where a concerned doctor waited. Luckily, he wasn’t hurt, just exhausted. Once everypony left, Sombra curled up under the covers and passed out.

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He awoke sometime later, to feel a hoof pressing against his forehead. He jolted, temporarily disorientated by a rush of muddled up memories.



He made a frantic gasping sound, trying to raise his head-



"P-please calm down sir!" he recognized that voice. It was Heartrate, the doctor’s aide. Sombra looked at him fuzzily.



"Sorry..." he croaked at last "I didn’t know where I was...everything’s a little messed up.."



"You’ve been asleep for almost a day, take it easy," Heartrate regarded him cautiously "how do you feel?"



"Sick, my head aches...but otherwise fine..." Sombra let his head fall back onto the pillow "but..tell me, is that guard alright? I didn’t get his name.."



"The guard? Oh, you mean Light Shield! Yes, he was fine. Pretty freaked out really."



"Understandable.." Sombra murmured sleepily.



"He’s feeling pretty bad about attacking you, last I heard he was planning to quit-WHOA!" for as he spoke those words, Sombra suddenly sat bolt upright.



"S-sir?" Heartrate stared in concern "you should lie still-"



"What was that last thing you said?" Sombra blurted, wide awake now "he was WHAT?!"



"P-planning to quit- hey, you shouldn’t be up!" for now Sombra was staggering off the bed, grabbing his cloak and draping it over his back, his magic shakily doing up the clasp. The aide babbled ineffectively as Sombra put on the armoured shoes.



"I’m going to have a talk with that idiotic stallion!" Sombra muttered.



"Is there ANY point in trying to stop you?" Heartrate asked at last. Feeling sorry for him Sombra settled on a compromise;



"Let me go deal with this matter, and I'll be right back here! I promise."



Satisfied by Sombra’s honest, blunt tone, Heartrate sighed but nodded, and watched the taller stallion bolt out of the room.

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He trotted anxiously through the castle, hoping it wasn’t too late to find the pony.



In the end, somepony directed him to the guards barracks. The new armor and crown crafted by the elements caught the light, and shone. He had to admit it felt better to be wearing something on his hooves again, but he hadn’t wanted to wear his old armor any more. It’d felt...wrong.



The two guards at the entrance door were in the middle of a conversation and didn’t see Sombra at first. But when they heard somepony clear their throat they snapped to attention. They seemed a little surprised to see the unicorn, but quickly recovered their nerve.



"Is everything alright sir?" one asked.



"I need to find one of the guards, Light Shield." Sombra looked slightly concerned "it’s imperative I speak to him!"



Drawn by the voices at the door, one of the bases Commanding Officers came over. When he heard who Sombra was looking for, he said he’d take it from here!

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"Truthfully, if you’re here for the reason I hope, your highness, then you may be just in time!"



“Time for what?" Sombra asked as they crossed the big open training ground. There was some sort of speed-training course going on.



The commanding pony stopped to briefly bellow orders, telling them to continue until he got back. Sombra felt their curious gazes on his back as he strode after the other pony.



"As I was saying, you may be just in time to stop that idiot from leaving," the pony sighed.



"Why is he leaving? What happened was out of his control!" Sombra frowned as they approached the doors to the sleeping area.



"He was pretty shaken up. You must understand how it seemed to him. Its clear you’re still adjusting to your new job, but to a royal guard, attacking those were trained to protect is unthinkable. He’s adamant he has to go, but maybe he'll listen to YOU!"



"I’m certainly not leaving until he does!" Sombra said bluntly.



Light Shield was at his bed in the barracks, surrounded by his friends, who were also trying to make him change his mind, or at least feel better.



"Guardpony Light Shield!" he jolted as he heard his COs voice "There’s somepony here to see you!"



Light Shield noticed his friends all fell silent, but paid no heed.



"I’m sorry sir," Light Shield didn’t look round "but they'll have to leave it for now.."



"This is somepony I am NOT giving you the option of ignoring soldier!" the CO barked.



Light Shield sighed, backed away from the bed, and seen why his friends looked so startled. The pony accompanying his CO was none other than Prince Sombra!!



"Oh ponyfeathers.." he squeaked. The Prince must’ve come to give him a right chewing out over attacking him. He tried not to look as scared as he honestly felt. This was why he’d tried to quit, in the hopes of escaping before the furious Prince came looking for him!



He forced himself to stand still and look up at the taller unicorn as he strode over. The other guards noticed Sombra still looked very pale, flushed slightly from the mere effort of racing round the palace halls and beyond.



"What is this NONSENSE I was told about you leaving your job?"



"I could not continue after what I-"



“Listen," Sombra said sharply "don’t stand there and give ME a lecture on making mistakes. In case you haven’t read a history book- I’m pretty sure a lunacy-fuelled hostile takeover far defeats one count of possession. You screwed up once-"



“You don’t understand your highness!" Light Shield shuddered as he recalled "how it feels to have your mind enslaved by.." he trailed off as Sombra cocked his head to one side, his gaze unwavering.



"Finished?" Sombra said "let me tell you something: I was no older then Princess Twilight Sparkle and her friends when my OWN power got loose and drove me insane. It took over, changed EVERYTHING. More than just my mind was lost that day. Seeing it NOW, you think it doesn’t make me sick to my stomach? And I can’t even remember most of it! It’s just hazy images and echoes, but it’s enough."



Light Shield and his group were all stunned silent. Everypony was. Was he saying he’d gone from a child to an adult at the point of the takeover? It was the only way the history books made sense.



"Whatever you felt during that whole ordeal, I can sadly say I’ve been there, endured that. I KNOW what it can do to you. So listen NOW; do NOT let this small mistake stop you in your tracks. I made that mistake, and look what happened." he shook his head, the distant look fading from his gaze.



He jabbed a hoof at Light Shield, "I cannot fix what I did, but I sure as HAY can stop you from recreating my mistakes. If needs be I will hound Shining Armor until he changes your mind. OR I will persuade Cotton Candy to follow you around with a flugelhorn, playing THE most obnoxious tune I can teach her, until you listen to reason!"



Light Shields jaw was on the floor. He was shocked silly. So were his friends.



"Well?!" Sombra demanded almost imperiously "do you understand what I’m telling you?"



A mute nod.



"And?" the unicorn stared sternly at him. "What say you now?"



Light Shield opened and shut his mouth, unable to speak.



"Do it," one of his friends backed Sombra statement "it won’t be the same if you leave! You wanted to be a guard as long as I’ve known you! Remember when you first joined?"



"Yeah! And when Shining Armor said you had the best record for the agility course the first day he took over!"



Light Shield looked from them to Sombra. The Prince was standing there calmly, watching him with an expectant air. It struck not just him but a lot of them just how much he’d changed since reappearing in the Empire. Even the way he carried himself was different. The change in the armor he wore made him look ever more at home in the Empire.



"Do I need to inform Shining Armor you intend to stay, or-?" Sombra looked at Light Shield.



"No, your highness," Light Shield heaved a sigh of relief he hadn’t known he’d been holding "I will inform him myself."



"Excellent." Sombra’s expression softened slightly, he looked relieved to hear it. He turned to go.



"B-but...sire..." he paused mid step and turned to look at Light Shield again.



"I-I don’t understand something....well, THINGS."



"What would those be?" Sombra asked.



"How did that thing get into my head? And how in Equestria did you get it OUT again?!"



"The first one, and I think you will know this when you hear it, was because of your ambivalence towards ME. That creature is a master at manipulating, twisting. Since the start its been hounding me at every turn, trying to make me believe what isn’t true, hoping what happened in the past could be used to get me out of its way. Since that has so far failed, it has turned to using others. Undoubtedly it was random, there was no doubt a plethora of targets it could’ve gone for, you just happened to be the closest, I'll warrant."



Everypony was caught up now, more of them scooting closer to overhear the taciturn Prince’s speech. They heard a lot in his voice, the sharply chosen words. Sadness, regret, even a smidgen of hope.




"After that it was just a matter of crowding out every other thought but those that served its purpose. As for how I extracted it, i cannot explain the spell. It seems my magic cannot be controlled simply by studying spells, it is largely instinctive. Perhaps that is a fault of never being trained in it. It was simply a spell to bring that darkness to my own. It had taunted enough times our magic’s bear similarity that I hazarded a guess it could work in my favor. That’s all it was."



"All?" somepony said in disbelief "that sounds like advanced magic to me!"



"You weren’t trained?" one of Light Shields friends looked at Sombra, eyebrows raised "ever?"



Sombra shook his head "That is the theory behind why I lost control. A thousand years ago, dark magic was viewed as the end of all that was decent and right with the world. I was kept away from other ponies and spell books whenever possible. They were terrified of what’d happen if I were to ever master it!"



"Wow, that sucks." somepony at the back remarked.



"That’s how things were back then. Logic and common sense did not prevail then. Superstition and wild theory’s ruled their minds," he smiled, but it was dampened a wistful sort of sadness.



Light Shield was looking depressed again, so Sombra walked closer again, lowering his voice so only the guard and two standing near to him heard.



"Whatever it is you’re still clinging onto, it won’t do you a bit of good. Your objections to my being here are understandable. That thing just used that as a jumping point. It could’ve happened to anypony who shared your feelings. So drop it. Clear?"



A relieved nod.



"Good." Sombra turned and was part way to the door when Light Shield realised he wanted to say something else to the stallion. He didn’t feel half as nervous of Sombra as he’d first been. It was with this in mind that he held out a hoof.



"Thank you, your highness," he said with a surge of relief and gratitude "I will not desert those I swore to protect!"



Relieved to see his efforts had sunk in, Sombra was glad to accept the hoof shake.



Once Light Shield had set his hoofs back on the ground, he straightened his posture and snapped off a formal salute. The concerned CO could only grin to himself at how quickly Sombra had been able to make the recruit see sense.



Impressed by what they’d heard, and impressed by Sombra’s blunt honesty and admission of the past, the others copied the gesture. They had a new-found respect for the unicorn. The sound of hoofs stepping back onto the hard floor echoed around the barracks.



"And for the record sire," Light Shield said quietly to Sombra "I don’t think there would’ve been all that many for it to have chosen from. Not anymore."



"Looks like I got here just in time!"



The two turned to see Shining Armor standing there. He gave Sombra a grin.



"Hey buddy, been looking everywhere for you! The doctor’s having a fit, and his aides having a panic. Seems they’re a little concerned you’re pushing yourself too hard again."



"Ah, I had forgotten I promised the aide id return right away. I should get back.."



"I just got the letter you left!” Shining Armor looked at Light Shield "I came here to try and persuade you otherwise, but it looks like somepony already has."



Light Shield felt himself flush, feeling silly now for how he’d acted. He glanced at Sombra as he spoke "Yes sir. I wasn’t thinking clearly...I panicked."



"It’s over now, no sense in worrying about it." Shining Armor told him.



He stayed briefly to chat with the CO, and then he left, along with Sombra.

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That night, at dinner, Shining Armor recanted the tale of Sombra apparently averting the loss of a good guard pony.



"That’s a relief, tha poor fellah must’ve been scared silly!" Applejack said "But it weren’t his fault, that thing just...used him!"



"It took of advantage of his distrust," Sombra said softly "it’s getting desperate, trying anything and everything."



"To be rid of YOU," Shining Armor pointed out. "It worried me how far it’s going. But you are, literally, the backbone of this empires resistance to its takeover. It’s obsessed with defeating you, hoping everypony else will crumble."



"This empire could stand well enough without me," Sombra said bluntly "it underestimates what you are all capable of-ow!"



For Applejack, who was sat next to him, suddenly reached up and flicked his ear with one hoof.



"Knock it off sugarcube. Yer not going nowhere, so don’t go saying that stuff. We'd be galloping up crap canyon without a saddle if you weren’t saving our collective rears." she shook her head "we gotta train ya outta this self-depreciation thing ya got goin'. If anypony ever perfects time travel, I’m gonna go back and smack yer parents round the head so hard they'll be waking up a week later!"



This caused a wave of laughter across the table, particularly Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash! Sombra flushed slightly, Twilight Sparkle noticed.



But, and she seen the same knowing look on Cadance’s face when she glanced over, he didn’t look so uneasy about accepting what everypony said to him. He hadn’t been used to kindness and compliments when he arrived, and even now, she noticed he still automatically shied away from letting anypony thank him, although he was slowly getting better!

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A night later and Sombra found himself unable to sleep. So he took himself up to the tower again, where, as before, Luna was watching the stars.



"Sombra," she smiled gently "can thou not sleep?"



"Sadly no. Something feels unsettled...I wish I could explain more than that."



"No need, this strange phenomenon is beyond any of us..." she looked out at the rippling tear in the sky "what is its plan, one wonders?"



"All I know for sure is it wants this world, its own must be failing." Sombra trailed off. He glanced at the Princess, noticing she seemed to have something on her mind. She also had the goggles he’d made especially for her hanging loosely round her neck. She noticed, and tapped them with one hoof.



"We keep watch over the night, lest those foul creatures attack whilst everypony sleeps." Her smile faded somewhat, and Sombra sensed something bugging her.



"Something the matter?" he asked.



"We wish to ask your counsel, in regards to dark magic..."



Sombra blinked, surprised, but he knew she wasn’t fooling about, the serious look on her face said it all.



"I will try to explain it as best I can. What exactly do you wish to know?"



"How do you control it?" seeing his perplexed frown as he made to object she shook her head at him "thou has remarkable skill in reigning your power in, we have seen it for ourselves. You claim you fear it taking over, yet from what we seen, it is at YOUR beck and call! Perhaps, in the past, thou made mistakes, but at the present, you are the only one in the empire capable to fighting those things AND drive them back!"



"Guess I can’t argue with that..." Sombra smiled a little "but honestly? I don’t understand how I control it now. As I said to Princess Twilight Sparkle, my magic doesn’t function through spells and study, it just seems to BE. The spells I want just seem to weave themselves from my head. I wish I could provide a more lucid explanation, but that’s the best I can do.”



"As you may already know, my sister and I, we know a little of dark magic. So does Twilight Sparkle. But we only possess slivers of knowledge compared to the volume thou possesses. Long have we had time to meditate on our mistakes in the past. We had studied dark magic, shortly before our...transformation.."



“You think that’s what helped you change?" Sombra asked, getting the point quickly.



She nodded, looking worried "it has lingered in our mind on many a night. Even more so since you returned here. We had thought it prudent to wait and see how you responded to your return, before going after answers."



"To see if I was still crazy.." Sombra smiled very faintly "no need for concern. I would be wary of me too, were I in your place."



"Do not mistake past doubts for what they are now!" she said sharply, seeing the familiar resignation briefly flash over his features. He jolted slightly, and she smiled sympathetically "lest you forget, we both made similar mistakes in our pasts. And you have shown everypony you are more than just a piece of the past. Cease misjudging thyself Sombra, this empire is lucky you are here."



This silenced any retort Sombra may have had, and after a moment, he just nodded.



"Good," Luna said firmly "now, how do you think you keep your magic in check?"



"I’m not sure," Sombra said hesitantly "I guess there’s always the thought in the back of my mind, that I can’t have another incident like the past. Also, so many ponies keep saying this power isn’t a curse, that I...started to believe them I guess..."



"It is as any other pony would regulate their power. You have allowed yourself to become more relaxed around it, and instead of stress and fear keeping it supressed, you allow your natural instincts to watch over it."



“You’ve answered your own query there then," Sombra said curiously "surely all you need to do is keep calm if you should try to use dark magic-"



"It is not so easy. You are gifted in dark magic, but for the rest of us, it is an arduous, dangerous path to learn even the basics. It has been so long since we last thought about the nightmare moon incident; we did not think we could have used dark magic to change ourselves. But, we spoke with our sister, and she told us the truth of that night. When we lost our temper and lashed out at her, books about dark magic littered our private chambers. We know not why, but perhaps we thought we could make ourselves stronger with dark magic."



"I see why it has been forbidden all this time," Sombra said softly, looking at the stars "in the wrong hooves, it can cause corruption and madness. Even being born with it did not spare me from its influence. I do not know what it is like to possess any other kind of magic. I wonder just how I can possibly help you, Princess..."



"I wish to try a spell or two; I ask that you merely keep an eye on the proceedings. Even if you don’t know the spell, you know how it should FEEL when it is correct. Even Celestia has recommended you be the first port of call. You know more then you think. Perhaps this will encourage you to cease regarding your magic with distaste."



"No fooling you is there Princess..." he sighed softly "even knowing this power is a core part of me doesn’t stop me from looking at it and wondering how I would be if I had normal unicorn magic."



"You would not be YOU." Luna said bluntly "You would not be the crown Prince of the empire, the pony that has given so much to protect defenceless citizens and us."



Luna asked him to help her use a simple dark magic spell. He nodded, closing his eyes, and when he opened then, their familiar glow was mirrored in Princess Luna’s. He also seen the same trepidation he had felt on first regaining his magic in this modern day.



"You have to be firm-hoofed with it," somehow the words just came to him "you let your guard slip, that’s when the darkness will run rampant. Like a crack in a window, it will rapidly spread until it shatters. It’s STILL your magic, so make sure you tell it that."



Luna nodded, her expression becoming more resolute.



"What spell had you wished to try?" Sombra asked once he was sure she was comfortable with the power.



"Just a basic teleport spell. We have studied one that reminds us of how YOU teleport, it seems to have a bigger range then a normal one."



This was true, and Sombra related how he’d transported himself from the school to the podium where Cadance and Shining Armor had been holding their meeting.



"And whilst you maintained a shield?" Luna was impressed "thou underestimate thyself, thy talent is admirable."



"I had not thought about like that..." Sombra shrugged "in a way I’m still learning, myself. Not just from my past mistakes but from the sheer amount of power there seems to be within me.."



He got up and disappeared, reappearing atop a floating crystal platform a short distance from the tower. He turned to face Luna, who stood by the window.



"Just try to transport yourself over to me," he said, feeling a small shred on confidence grow. Maybe he COULD use his magic to help another learn to use dark powers.



Luna nodded.



"Control oneself.." she said firmly, before closing her eyes. In her mind she willed the spell to work, to transport her to beside Prince Sombra. From this distance she was aware of his power, in her mind it was like a purple flame, and she threw the spells anchor towards that glow.



With a flash of black-blue flame she vanished, and appeared face to face with him on the platform. Hesitantly opening one eye she seen his amused expression, and realized it’d worked.



"Huzzah!" she declared loudly.



"Indeed," he said with a nod "now for a little further..."



Then he vanished, but this time he wasn’t within visible distance.



"Sombra?" Luna frowned "what joke is this?"



When she got no answer she made a cross huffing sound, then realized this was part of the favor shed requested of him. He WAS trying to teach her.



"Very well, we will find you, post haste!" she declared, and shut her eyes once more. Doing as shed done before, seeking out the purple flare of his power- there!



There was a rush of magic and she felt herself disappear, and reappear elsewhere. The sounds of birds chirping answered her as she opened her eyes. Sombra was sat on the other side of the clearing, and nodded as he got to his feet.



"This is intriguing," Luna murmured "there is no mental spell set to follow, yet we found our way!"



"Perhaps that is the key to dark magic. It is controlled by the users mind, not spells like normal magic. I had never thought of it that way..." Sombra mused.

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He put Luna through a few more tests, hopping from place to place around the empire, winding up back in the tower.



He noticed Luna wince when she reappeared, and insisted she stop there.



"We can handle ourselves!" Luna said crossly, but Sombra shook his head.



"It is not that I doubt your magical ability Princess Luna, rather that I fear over exposure may harm you." she said softly "trust me in this; you must become accustomed to the darkness if you wish to embrace its power once more."



Luna realized he was very serious, and nodded. When she opened her eyes they’d returned to normal. She smiled, seeing his magical aura still shining.



"Somehow that look seems suited to you," she said, meaning the ethereal green glow, and the faint purple aura "it is as that prophecy says, you were born to wield this kind of power."



"Doesn’t always mean I’m ready to," he said almost sadly, then shrugged lightly "I would recommend we stop until another night."



Although a bit saddened she hadn’t progressed much, Luna understood what he was saying. Sombra understood dark magic the way everypony used normal magic. The tricky part lay in translating his natural gifted instincts into a way to understand the power.

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The next night he returned, and continued to show her little by little how he created the spells he used to summon those spikes of purple crystal. When Luna focused, and succeeded in making a bunch of spikes surround her, she looked so buoyed by this success he had to congratulate her.



"We will learn even more!" Luna declared "Perhaps one day we may be able to wield it as you do!"



Although pleased by the fact she was learning so fast and dealing well with the slow pace of the lessons, Sombra still felt a twinge of unease.

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The third night he was starting to feel the strain of playing Prince and protector by day, and teacher by night.



"Art thou alright?" Luna asked curiously as he yawned softly.



"I’m fine," he said softly "no need for concern, Princess..."



She studied him a moment, before letting it go. But just as he was about to launch into a demonstration of how to use those crystal spike spells strategically, he suddenly huddled over in pain.



"Is it one of those things?!" Luna blurted, recognizing the sudden onslaught of pain from the last time they’d fought one together!



Sombra nodded.



"Then let us defeat it, post haste!" she declared. Once the pain had faded, Sombra teleported the both of them to where he could sense the dark, creeping power.



"I...I think if eel it..." Luna said as they appeared a short distance away from what resembled a warzone. Those things were racing about, causing damage and trying to drag ponies from their homes. On realizing they had two very angry pursuers, the creatures turned on them instead.



But what at first seemed disorganized soon revealed itself to be a long-planned TRAP. They centered on Sombra, diving and whirling around him like a multi-pronged tornado. Luna, distracted trying to herd the citizens away from the fight, heard him cry out in pain and spun round, seeing him snarling and fighting to get free from what resembled a small tear in the very AIR.



"SOMBRA!" She bellowed, aiming a bolt of magic at the closest one that had its fangs sunk into his foreleg. She tried to help him tear free from the insipid darkness trying to drag him in. Shaking its head to clear it from Luna’s attack spell, the angry shadow pony charged her. Sombra tried to push her aside but her hold on him was too strong, and the creature barreled into both of them, knocking them into the mini tear, which wavered and snapped shut, the tenuous link severed by those that’d created it.



The ponies Luna had been helping exchanged frightened murmurs, and somepony ran to fetch the guards...

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"What? Gone?" Shining Armor stared at the guard who’d woken him and Cadance at the crazily late hour of the night.



"Y-yes sir...witness reports say the Prince and Princess were trying to fight a whole bunch of those things. They tried to drag Prince Sombra into the rip in the air, and Princess Luna almost managed to stop them. But then they attacked the both of them and they couldn’t get away in time, and were dragged into it."



Celestia was of course worried sick when she heard what’d happened. That both her sister and Sombra were confirmed missing, abducted by those things-!

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Luna winced as she slowly floated back to consciousness.



"Ow, my head.." she groaned.



"Take it easy.." she jolted awake at a familiar rumbling tone. Looking up she seen Sombra sat nearby, looking tired but alert.



"What hath happened...where are we?" she asked "last we recall is trying to help you.."



"Those things pulled us into their world.." Sombra looked gravely serious "I’m sorry Princess Luna, I should not have put you in such danger by dragging you into this-"



"Stifle thy prattling!" Luna objected "we volunteered ourselves to help defend this kingdom! If you can do it, why should we not do so?"



"Because apparently I’m built like a line-backer, and spoiling for a fight. Ask the palace doctor, he’ll tell you I’m sufficiently bull-headed to take as much of a clobbering as I give. I would not wish even a fraction of the battering I have endured on you, Princess. Those things are very dangerous!"



"And what propose you? That we sit by idly and watch you carry that burden alone? As I believe Twilight Sparkle and her friends showed you, you aren’t alone, there are we ways we can help thee. We will not risk you burning out because you are trying to shield us...”



Sombra faltered, unable to think how too dissuade her any further. She stared levelly at him.



"Thy courage is admirable, and your will to protect us all even more so. But we are all part of this, and we for one will not shirk our duty."



Sombra gave a worried sigh "then just be careful, don’t put yourself in the path of a fight...leave that part to me...”



She nodded, accepting he would always try to shoulder the entire burden alone, all she and the others could do was watch over him and try to keep him from going under.



Now she took in where they were hidden. The ruin of a strange looking building, all cold and seemingly made of stone and metal. Outside the air was humid and smoggy, giving it an air of perpetual darkness.



A small, brilliant purple flame blazed in mid-air not far from them. It gave off a surprising amount of warmth for something so little.



"Where are we...how can we get back?" was her next question. Sombra shook his head, uncertain.



"The tear is far from here. Wherever we are, it’s a fair distance from the exit. And I get the feeling that tear is heavily guarded. There are...I hesitate to call them spells, they do not have that quality. But SOMETHING is guarding that place. It would be one heck of a fight to get through there, one I’m not sure we would both survive..."



She noticed he winced as he got his hooves, and realised a wound on his leg was still bleeding.



She demanded he let her see, and he spent a good half minute trying to evade her, until at last she got him to hold out the injured right foreleg.



It had a nasty bite wound, which appeared, to her concern, to be infected. A familiar dark crystalline rash was appearing around the wound.



"The plague..." she said softly. He nodded.



"It seems different this time, even though I have already fought it once before.."



She reached out a hoof to inspect the wound closer, but Sombra shook his head sharply and moved away.



"I cannot risk this spreading. I do not know is it as rapid as it was the first time, but you best not come into contact if possible."



Luna nodded, "We must get back to our world. And fetch thou some of that miraculous tea you used to save the empire..."



He nodded, but she noticed how pale he looked, and how much the leg seemed to hurt.



"We must make our move now." she said, determined to get them out of there. She plopped the goggles over her eyes "we cannot linger on this plane..."



"No arguments there..." he said softly.



"Its strange..." she said a moment later "even though you are right there, I cannot easily sense your magic like before.."



"I have suspected many a time that my wavelength and the pattern of these things power bears some similarity. Perhaps here I merely fade into the background."



"No," Luna shook her head "your magic still burns brightly, but it’s as if something is muffling it..."



"Stay close.." Sombra said as he limped towards a crater in the side of the rotting building "you would not wish to be lost here.”

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They stepped out of the cover of the building, the fire that’d been keeping them warm now snuffed out. Luna was instantly hit by a wave of numbing cold and shivered.



Before she could voice her disapproval of the temperature, warmth draped itself over her back. She blinked realizing it was Sombra’s fancy cloak. She blinked at it, and then looked at him.



"What about you? You’ll put thyself at risk of the cold...”



"The cold doesn’t bother ME," Sombra smiled faintly, "the memory is fuzzy, but I recall a name one of my closest guards gave me after finding out where I’d come from. He referred to me as "Sombra of the frozen north". Appropriate really. I came from a place always steeped in snow and ice, remember?"



"Of course, the place from thy nightmares..." Luna realized he had a point.



"So I’m used to the cold, but you however, are not. Let’s keep moving, you’ll warm up if you move.."



Luna nodded, and then an idea popped into her head. She undid the length of fabric that was pinned by the brooch around the collar of the outfit, tying this around Sombra’s injured leg, in an effort to stem the bleeding. It still seemed to hurt him to walk, and his steps were offset by the awkward gait.



"Dost thou have a plan?" Luna asked.



"Regrettably no, I could not sense much from this world, I just know the point of the tear is the closest wall we can tear through, how to do that? I guess I’ll have to work something out."



"You mean WE will. And I do not mean the royal "we" either!" Luna said pointedly, striding ahead of him to make a point.



Behind her Sombra gave a small sigh, but conceded he could not fight this battle alone, he just hoped she didn’t get hurt!

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They trudged along in silence, both on edge, expecting something to lurch out at them from the shadows.



"This place is so strange...these buildings look like nothing back home. What is this creature’s true form..?"



"Who knows..." Sombra mused "but this place feels....fundamentally wrong somehow."



"It’s dying," Luna realized "that’s why it wants Equestria, isn’t it?"



Sombra nodded "that is my own guess also. The sheer level of magic there makes it prime real estate for that thing..."



Ahead of them a massive building loomed, it looked to be built of old weathered stone, although bricks showed through in patches. As far as they could see, with every other building blasted to rubble, it was the best way forward.



A large archway led inside. The two ponies trod cautiously, Luna swore Sombra would be asking what that thudding sound was, as her heart was hammering away so loudly. Inside the building was even stranger. The high ceiling stretched up high above their heads. The windows were so clogged with dust and cobwebs the light they let in was thin at best, and the further they went in the less they could see. Luna focused her magic, and a second later a sharp blue glow lit the expansive room. And she let out an involuntary gasp, and Sombra swore softly.



They WEREN’T alone. Around them strange creatures stood. To the two ponies they resembled a stretched pony, if that pony had stood up on its hind legs. Creeping closer they seen instead of hooves, their forelegs ended in funny spindly things, as if the creature had stuck a spider on the end of a long leg. The hind legs bent at an odd angle. Its neck was all wrong, short and skinny. Its head was the final indicator what they were looking at wasn’t a pony. It was rounded, with a tiny nose, and eye sockets like saucers. An ugly grimace took place of a mouth, and from these orifices ran smears of a blackish sludge. Its skin was like plastic, and Sombra likened it to one of Rarity’s dress dummies, it had that same look. At its joints, cracks and fissures had formed, and a crystalline coating prevented them from moving very well at all. Sombra cast a fleeting glance at his injured leg. The pain had dulled a bit, but the same crystal rash was spreading further from the wound than ever...



"Sweet big sister!" Luna whispered. A scraping sound followed her words...



Sombra turned his head slightly, and felt his insides freeze up. More had come out of the shadows, they were inching towards the pair. He noticed the taller ones heads were angled differently, that meant they were staring at-



"Princess!" he whispered sharply "it’s your magic, I think they can pick up on it, extinguish your light!"



"But how will we see?" she shot back.



"Let me try MINE," seeing her baffled look" please, I need you to trust me."



She nodded, switching her light off. A seconds worth of darkness before Sombra lit a small purple flame in the air above their heads, its slightly more muted light adding an extra layer of creepiness to the scene. Luna saw to her horror one of the spindly spider-hooves was on the verge of touching her mane. She shuddered and side stepped away from it. But she noticed the creatures gazes were now staring blankly up at the ceiling again.



"They crave the light," Sombra said softly "no matter how insubstantial.."



"Then our magic will draw them to us. I mean, mine. Thy fire appears uninteresting to these foul beings."



"For once, being born in darkness has its advantages," Sombra started to creep forward, edging between the creatures, then paused and added, "never thought I’d hear myself say THAT!"



Luna shook her head at him. "When will thou learn darkness isn’t always bad?"



"Father said the same thing..." was the reply. They managed to wriggle their way out from between the closed ranks of the strange creatures.



"Where is this place?" Luna observed all the strange things around them. Up above them, attached to the crumbling walls, were what looked like black glass windows but where they were smashed, and no sky could be seen.



"The last victim of this parasite," Sombra said grimly "I know this thing goes from place to place, eating everything good from the world before ripping the sky apart to find a new world..."



"We cannot let this happen," Luna said angrily.



"Whatever it takes to rid the empire of these things." Sombra said.



"My". Luna said.



"Pardon?" he asked absently, nudging at a battered wooden door, trying to avoid the shattered glass.



"Thy phrasing is wrong, it was to be "to rid MY Empire", are we not right?" she said.



A slight pause, then a faint, almost unreadable smile, before he turned back to what he was doing.



"We will see to it thou overcomes this awkwardness, one way or another, Sombra!" she said.



Sombra smart-alec remark was abandoned as he finally succeeded in getting the door open. They stumbled out into a strange room. They were stood upon a platform of stone, with pillars dotted about. Ahead of them the platform cut off. Peering over its edge they seen it wasn’t in fact a bottomless chasm, but only a few feet down to more stone, with what were different, but still recognizable as railway lines.



"Perhaps there are similarities after all.." Sombra muttered.



They stood a moment, wondering which way was the way out. Then Sombra noticed the flame was flickering, jabbing towards the left side. He nudged Luna and they headed off down that way, the small shimmering flame their only guide.

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Just as Luna was starting to feel distinctly claustrophobic, they emerged into a platform much like the last one, only this time it was on the opposite side. The place seemed deserted, but as they hopped up onto the platform, they heard a funny, clattering sound.



"What the buck...” Sombra said hoarsely as he seen what was staggering towards them. More of those things from before, only these ones weren’t as decayed as the others. The strange black sludge dripped from their ghoulish faces, and the cracks in their joints. But they could walk easily, albeit with a funny, lurching gait.



"What do we do?" Luna said, glaring at them.



"No choice, we’ll have to fight....that is-" He did a double take when he seen the familiar green glow around Luna’s eyes.



"I may not know much but I can help a little!" She said defiantly.



Sombra nodded, and charged forward as the first of the creatures reached out for him. He charged his full weight into it, sending it skidding back into several of its friends, knocking them over like skeletal bowling pins. He cursed in pain as he was forced to put weight on the injured leg. But when he felt strange spider-limbs grab his ear and dig in, the stab of pain overrode the other one. He snarled in fury, tearing free and kicking his attacker back. This one didn’t fall. Instead it merely staggered, its black sockets regarding him eerily. It raised the limb with the drops of blood on it and grinned evilly.



--That one, it’s the leader!!-- Sombra recognized this tactic. So when the creature tried to slink back into the crowd of its buddies, Sombra refused to let it out of his sight. Even when he felt other ones bump into him, their scrabbling spider limbs trying to grab his mane, he ignored them all.



Luna, meanwhile, was doing what she’d seen Sombra do, kick like a mule! She may have had a smaller build then he, but she put her all into it. Her hard-as-diamond shoes cracked the creatures limbs, disabling them, leaving them only able to crawl along on their funny looking forelegs. It was as she was whirling to duck another’s attack she noticed the weapons pouch still latched around Sombra’s middle. She briefly used her normal magic to pull the spear free from its holding, and started using it with gusto, swinging the heavy weapon with as much strength as she had. The sharp tip broke their brittle bodies, more dark goo spilling out of them. Some clattered to the floor when too much drained from them.



She was preparing to dispatch the next when it suddenly shuddered, and crashed to the cold stone floor, where it lay, jerking spasmodically. She turned, seeing Sombra standing above the shattered remains of another one.



"What happened?" she asked.



"Remember that day, when that thing took the collar off? Well there was ONE sole controller manipulating those others. It seems it’s an inherited tactic. These older things follow the same pattern."



They made good their escape, racing through the abandoned station and back outside into the eternal half-light. Luna was once again grateful for the cloak he’d given her, as the air was bitingly cold.



"Are YOU Alright?" Sombra asked. Luna nodded. But as they walked, she noticed him stumbling more, and it wasn’t because the ground was uneven.



"Sombra...?" She said in a worried tone "is it getting worse?"



Without speaking, he just nodded. She moved round to his other side, and felt a twinge of concern.



The infection was spreading, and much like the creatures that’d attacked them, it was making it hard to bend the leg. The swathe of fabric she’d tied over the wound was soaked through from what she could tell.



"We can’t stop.." Sombra said before she could suggest it "we have to keep going!"



Ahead of them the way seemed clear, visible gaps between the rubble piles giving them somewhere to head. But of course, nothing is that easy. They’d barely made it a few streets when the sound of rubble shifting split the eerie silence.



"Run!" Sombra barked. Luna didn’t argue. She pelted ahead; the spear held under her wing. Focusing the dark magic was hard, but she didn’t have a choice. Those things were drawn to her magic like moths to a flame! Bad enough so many were tracking them as it was! Sombra kept up with her as best he could, although the pain in his leg from every hoofstep made him start to feel sick and dizzy.



--I don’t think I can do this for much longer...we have to hurry!!-



But as they darted across an intersecting set of streets, what seemed like a whole legion burst out from the dirtied rubble. Luna skidded to a halt, readying the spear again. Behind her she heard Sombra growl an obscenity under his breath, and sensed the familiar presence of his magic.



Sombra was just barely managing to hold them off, when one of the craftier, less mangled ones tackled him from the side; its spindly limbs clawing at his injured leg. The flash of pain was so intense it didn’t just make his guard drop, it shattered it and his spell. The attack he’d been about to unleash short circuited as he was slammed into the cold ground. He tried to buck the thing off him, but these creatures strange body shape meant they were able to grab his legs and pin him to the icy ground. Looking up through pain blurred vision, he seen another above him, wielding a rusty pipe.



Luna seen this, and her anger spiked.



"Release him whelp!" she bellowed, her voice making the creatures disorientated. She closed her eyes, summoning up her magic, entwining it with the dark power she was able to use.



"BEGONE!" She shouted, opening her eyes and glaring at the creatures.



To her surprise, her words literally hurt those things. She seen the literal letters, carved from jagged purple-blue crystal, fly into the attackers, shattering their fragile bodies.



"Cease!" she yelled next, this round cleaving the body of the one wielding the pipe in two. The metal pole rolled to the ground, and the ones pinning Sombra released him in favour of her.



"Thou. Shalt. Not. WIN!" with each word she felt her power grow. It was strangely exhilarating.



Soon they were all gone, and she stood triumphant.



Then, she recalled why she'd been fighting. Funny, for a second there she'd almost forgotten...



"Sombra!" she ran over to him. He had a funny look on his face, underneath the mask of pain that is. "Can thou stand?"



"I-I think so...” he stammered. He staggered to his feet, but the first few steps caused him to snarl in pain. But he forced himself on, although he was limping badly now.



She tried again to make him let her take a look at the wound, but he shook his head, insisting he wouldn’t see this infect her too!

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Their trek led them to the crest of what looked from a distance like a hill, but turned out to be a cliff. This truly WAS a dark endless chasm. They stood at its edge, seeing no other way to bridge the gap between them and the floating, shimmering tear in the sky.



"We'll need to build it ourselves..." Sombra said softly.



Luna looked behind them, seeing what from this distance looked like a swarm of insects, but that she knew was more of those things.



"We destroyed so many of their kin, they hunt us." she said bluntly "the dark magic hides us somewhat, but eventually.."



“I know…” Sombra sighed. He closed his eyes a moment "I think I can make the spell, but it means asking you to fight any of those things that get too close..."



"Do not worry thyself," Luna responded, advancing back down the hill "We will not let them pass!"



Worry and fear gnawed at Sombra’s chest as he turned his attention back to the yawning chasm between them and escape.



He shut his eyes, using his innate instinct to form the spell in his mind, the way he’d always done.



In front of him, a purple crystal pathway began to form, inching its way slowly towards the rip in the sky. This seemed to agitate the creatures, as more of them seemed to appear.


Luna discovered her newest talent when she was almost surrounded. She flared her wings in an attempt to push them back, and was rewarded with several heavy thudding sounds. Blinking, she seen her wingtips were now surround by a weightless blue crystal. She tucked the wings in, and flapped them out again. The shards flew through the air.



She launched herself into the sky, spinning round in the air, sending a wide radius of spikes flying. Touching ground again she sliced another in half with the spear.



She looked over at Sombra, and knew time was running out. He was pale, and even from this distance it was obvious the pain was starting to win. He was laboring to breathe, his distant gaze fixated on the rapidly growing bridge. So she urged her power on, feeling it enveloping her normal Alicorn magic, transforming it into dark.



Then the creatures abruptly stopped, their gazes flicking towards the right. She looked over, and seen a flowing black cloud heading towards them. Two distant yellow pinpricks that looked like eyes. Familiar eyes.



She realized with a sinking feeling that this was what they’d been battling. The over-mind, the consciousness behind all those attacker scouts back in the empire.



"Sombra?!" she said urgently.



"I..I know-!" he gasped, a shudder wracking his body, threatening to make him collapse.



Meanwhile, another wave of those things was marching inexorably towards Luna. He heard her yelling, heard the damage her words did. The sound of thier brittle bodies cracking apart.


He turned from his task a moment, and seen something that sent a chill to his core. The grin on her face, that familiar look in her eyes. She was breathign heavily, eyes dilated to small dots.



--No, I have to stop her!!-- he panicked. The bridge was so close now, but he had no choice. Cutting the spell off he turned and ran for Luna, mentally begging her to forgive what he was about to do.



She felt a spell hit her, and before she could form another thought, she blacked out, heavily stunned.


Sombra grabbed her as she fell, nudging her so she lay across his back. Aware of the creatures teeth flashing in the half light as they bit and snapped at him, he turned tail and ran, heading for the almost finished bridge. The approaching cloud, sensing the familiar presence of its long-time foe, screamed with such fury his ear drums ached and his vision blurred. But he forced himself onwards, hoof steps kicking up flares of purple light as he ran along the crystal bridge he’d made, eyes focused on the wavering tear.



He sensed the creature changing course, it was swooping up behind him now. He couldn’t look back. He had to get him and Princess Luna safe, he would not see Celestia lose her sister!



This purpose drove him onwards, his heart racing in time to his hooves. The unfinished end of the bridge loomed, he had one shot at this-



As he approached the end, he put on as much speed a she could, gathered his hind legs under him. Felt something scrape the back of his hind leg..



And jumped.



Across the void. Silence and blood ringing in his ears. He closed his eyes and felt his hooves make contact with the tear. It was enough.



Much like how they’d been pulled in, it took the slightest contact.

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They appeared back in the empire, high up in the sky! He experienced a disturbing sense of inertia as they hovered there a split second, then gravity wreaked its revenge and they began to fall. He twisted round in mid-air, clumsily managing to grab hold of Luna with his uninjured leg, his gaze darting over the rapidly encroaching scenery.



There! The palace garden-!



He closed his eyes, dredging up a panic induced teleport, praying it would work. By some stroke of luck, it did. They landed in the flowerbeds, the soft, fragrant plants cushioning their fall by sheer numbers alone. He let go of Luna soon as they landed, and finally came to stop several feet from her. Dazed and winded, he fought to his feet, fighting his way over to her where she lay at the flower beds edge. He seen her eyelids flutter, her chest rise and fall. She was OK.



With relief came the end of adrenaline, and the pain from his leg was like a punch to the gut. He cursed in pain, trying to keep himself steady as he limped a few paces towards the castle.



Then the doors flew open and some blurred shapes were running towards him..

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Flash Sentry had been on his way back to his post after a trip to the little colts room, when he seen the flash of a teleport spell out in the gardens. Without pause he gathered Light Shield and another guard and the trio ran outside. What they saw made them simultaneously gasp in shock and sigh in relief.



The bright moonlight lit the scene of an unconscious Luna, and a barely conscious Sombra trying to shield her by the looks of it.



"Your highness?!" Flash Sentry ran towards him, but got a shock when he bumped his nose against a shield that sprang up the next second.



"Sire?" Light Shield blurted. Flash Sentry blinked, seeing it was Sombra who was trying to keep them at bay.



"D-don’t come any closer..." the taller stallion rasped, shaking his head. They were about to ask why when he shifted how he stood with a visible flinch of pain, and they seen it.



It was the black crystal plague all over again. Only this was far more severe an infection. The painful crystal had covered most of his right leg, and appeared to be spreading over his chest.



"This cannot be allowed to spread..." Sombra shook his head. He began limping away from Luna "I do not think this has spread to the Princess. Take care of HER, NOW. I-agh-!"



The next step he took was a step too far. Soon as his right foreleg touched the ground, it sent a bolt of pain so severe he crumpled to the grass. The shield sputtered and died as his reserves of magic ran dry.



He heard hoof steps run by, and sighed in relief. Good, they were tending to the Princess...



"Hey, c'mon big guy!" he sluggishly opened his eyes, seeing Flash Sentry standing by him.



He shook his head, tried to summon the shield again, but he was utterly drained.



"Get away!" he snarled.



Flash Sentry shook his head "Spearhead's gone to get the others. But we will not leave you to suffer alone like this sire."



Soon more guards came running, Shining Armor among them. He took in the fact that Luna seemed unhurt aside from being out cold, and turned his attention to Sombra. It looked bad, the unicorn was trying to keep everypony away from him, even forcing himself to his feet again to try and back away. But the injured leg offset his balance, and he was soon dragged back down by the crippling pain.



The Doctor and his Aide weren’t far behind the guard. He quickly gave orders for Luna to be brought to the medical bay. But Sombra needed to be isolated.



Shining Armor thought about how much agony the unicorn had to be in, and recommended they appropriate one of the ground floor studies. They had big open fireplaces, and the poor stallion wouldn’t have to walk far. Shining Armor stayed as close as he could, and they somehow got Sombra to the study. One of the guards had thoughtfully dragged every one of the big fluffy couch cushions over to the fire, and added more blankets! Ignoring Sombra’s feeble attempts to push them away, Shining Armor and the Doctor at last got him to lie down. Sombra gazed sleepily into the flames, shivering a little even so.



All the Doctor could do was clean and stitch the original wound. Shining Armor was sent to fetch more of the same tea, but a stronger dose this time!

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Meanwhile, as the tea was administered to the shocked and shaken Sombra, Celestia had been woken with the news Sombra and her sister were back!



She cried in relief as she seen her sister, fast asleep in the medical bay. She sat with her awhile, as the doctor explained the night Princess was under a sleep spell, but was otherwise unhurt and seemingly uninfected, although soon as she stirred she was going to be given a dose of the tea.



Celestia nuzzled her sister’s cheek and brushed a relieved kiss over her forehead, and then she asked after Sombra.

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She was told he was in a bad way, but even so she felt a stab of sympathy when she seen the extent of the infection.



"This appears to have been a different method of delivery," the Doctor told her "he says he was bitten by one of them, so tis likely only infectious via blood contact." Celestia nodded, and the Doc took a post at the back of the room as the Princess sat down not far from Sombra. He blinked, slowly registering her presence. Seeing her seemed to snap his mind back to focus, for the look in his eyes cleared and he managed to sit himself up..



"Princess!" he coughed "is Luna-?"



“She will be fine; she’s sleeping like a baby..." Celestia looked so relieved it made his guilt grow ever stronger "thank you for getting her back, for getting you BOTH back-"



"I’m sorry!" Sombra blurted. Celestia blinked, wondering why he was apologizing. The feverish stallion shook his head, and she seen a look of guilt and unhappiness on his face. "I had to stun her, stop her from...going too deep.."



“What do you mean?" she asked, concerned.



He rattle doff the tale. How normal magic had only spurred those things on, how he’d told her not to use it. She’d been able to pull off a couple of surprisingly adept spells. How she started to seem a little too eager to fight. How, at that moment he’d turned and seen a familiar grin on her face;



"I was worried she was going to lose control.." he closed his eyes as his vision began blurring again, but not from the pain "I’m sorry Princess, there was no other way, that thing was right upon us. I never should have shown her to use it. This whole thing was my fault."



He knew she was going to be furious, but he was too tired to do much more then try to apologize before she got mad. "Please let her know...I’m sorry..."



He was surprised when he felt a hoof lift his head a second later. He blinked, waiting for things to focus.



Celestia didn’t look mad, she still just looked relieved.



"She’s is FINE Sombra. And it was I who suggested she seek your advice on dark magic. After all, we know only a small amount of it ourselves compared to you, and it has long bothered her she knew so little about it. I would not have placed her in anypony else’s tutelage."



He looked surprised, yet so hopeful..



"I have you to thank for getting her back to me. Luna is strong, she will not repeat her mistake. In any case, she has all of us at her side, as do you. We will not lose either of you, in my name I promise that!"

A silent nod.


Celestia smiled kindly "fair to warn you though, sister will be in a bit of a temper when she wakes up. She is not used to somepony getting the drop on her like that, so be prepared for a stern telling off!"



Sombra managed a weak, shaken smile of relief "Princess.."



“You don’t need to apologize," she said firmly "I am grateful to you, and I know sister will be too. We're all relieved to see you back home now. So rest easy, you’ve done your part...."



Sombra could only nod, and she waited until he’d drifted asleep before leaving. The Doctor promised to keep a close eye on him…

Darkness & Decisions

View Online

The Crystal Bard was woken by the frantic ruckus the Prince and Princesses return had caused.



Curious, he slipped out into the halls, and bumped into Shining Armor. The Prince told him what’d happened, and the Bard felt a surge of pity for Sombra's condition. So he picked up a book he'd been reading and toddled along to the study where Sombra was being kept.



The doctor was surprised when the Bard stuck his head round the door, shyly asking if he could see Sombra.



"I don’t think its-" the Doc began, but Sombra spoke softly, having been awake for several minutes.



"Please...let him in..." he croaked. The Bard toddled in, setting down close by the Prince.



"Shining Armor told me...mhwrr....you were ill. Would it help if I...mwrr...read to you?"



Sombra got the feeling this little creatures voice might just help distract him from the pain. So he managed to gather a smile, and nodded.



The doctor made him drink another cup of the sweet-tasting tea as the Bard settled down by the fire and began to read.



Its voice was wonderful, soothing. Sombra felt his mind detach from the pains of his body, and he began to drift asleep after awhile, lulled asleep by the melodic voice.



The doctor was relieved to see this seemed a much lighter, happier state of sleep. He thanked the Bard, who happily curled up in a corner with one of the blankets. He seemed quite fond of Sombra....

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He felt heavy-limbed, like the black crystal had wormed its way into his very BONES. And so it was just nearing sunset, a day after the return, when things got crazy. A day spent in and out of consciousness, feeling his magic slowly, painstakingly, replenish itself..



When Luna’s reign began, he dozed off...

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He realised a split second after awaking in pitch darkness, that something was wrong.



"Princess Luna..?" he asked hesitantly, as this was how she'd appeared last time to bring him to that memory "have you found a new memory?"



“No.." a sibilant voice hissed "but I’ve found some OLD ones...!"



Sombra whirled, seeing a pair of leering yellow eyes staring at him.



"W-what's...?" he stammered.



"You’re not cured yet, little Prince. How shall I say this; my bite is far far worse than my bark if you catch my drift.."



Sombra began to feel sick. So the variant of the infection he'd received was a different strain to that used in the initial infection.



"Now its time for you to remember EVERYTHING. All those times I seen your dreams, you think I didn’t notice the skeletons in the closet? So much darkness, buried so deep..."



Sombra tried to force himself to wake up, but felt as if he was trapped, locked away.



"Nuh-uh..." the shadow sneered "you’re not getting away so easy...I’m not done with you..."



"Give it up!" Sombra snapped "I’ve seen your world, and I will NOT allow it to happen to this one!"



"Admirable, and I’ve come to accept you're so stubborn you’ll never listen to reason. Not while you have that kind of power anyway..."



“What’re you talking about?" Sombra said uneasily.



"Oh you’ll see...meanwhile, I'll leave you in the company of your deepest, darkest memories. Enjoy, little Prince.."



"Get back here!" Sombra raged, lunging for it, but it vanished.



"You see, I don’t JUST take their energy from them, sometimes I take knowledge too..." the disembodied voice laughed before fading. Sombra stood stock still in the silence, his heart thudding. What was it on about?



Then he was hit by a sudden deluge of pain, and he crumpled to his knees with a strangled sound.



"NO..!" he shook his head, eyes shut, trying to push it back. But the wave became a tsunami, and he could no more fight it then he could fight his father back when he was a foal! Like a demented slide-show the images tore through his head, seeming to blur yet be crystal clear at that same time.



Memories of what he'd done during his takeover. Enslaving the ponies, being a heartless beast, ruling his own staff with iron hoof. Having everything that reminded him of his "father", adoptive anyway, sealed away beneath the castle. Expressions of fear in the ponies eyes, as they hauled carts of crystals and gems, while he pored obsessively over the crystal heart. Determined to have its secrets for his own. The taint of insanity, growing and growing as time went by, until he no longer seemed himself!



---Stop it!! This is...I cant stand it..-- he felt like his brain was overloading. He'd known these memories were here, yet being unable to fully view them had led him to believe he could change who he was. But now he felt that hope fluctuating, bending under the onslaught.



Then came the final battle against Luna and Celestia. How they’d come for him, tried to reason with him. When that’d failed, they’d fought him instead. Sealing him away beneath the ice and darkness. But not before he'd unleashed a final spell, hiding the Empire for the next thousand years.



He struggled to breathe, his chest aching so badly it felt like his heart was going to stop. But there was one final scene to watch.



His defeat at the hooves of Twilight Sparkle and company. How he'd battled Shining Armor, tried to corrupt the empire once more. Seeing the crystal heart swooped away from him by Cadance. That bright blue light that’d enveloped him, and his memories ended there. To begin again when Celestia and the others summoned him NOW.



All those times that creature had been haunting his dreams, his nightmares, it’d seen glimpses of his memories. And with the pilfered knowledge it’d taken from its victims, it’d learnt about magic in this world, about spells. And it had woven a dark creation of it's very own. One designed to rip apart the defenses Sombra had erected, hiding his past, the worst memories.



It had seemed the unicorn had been on his own path to self destruction, revisiting those haunted memories at his own uncontrolled behest. Tormenting himself night after night. He'd started to fade, and the creature had hoped...



But then he'd changed, his fury and spirit re-lit, something had begun. He'd regained that dark magic, so similar to its own. Yet this creature, this "unicorn" was adapting, learning. His magic modifying with each attack, as he seemingly learnt more and more. Those other ponies were accepting this dark, twisted creature as one of their own, which spelled disaster for its invasion.



So it was with a perverse glee it’d finally seen the meddlesome pony drawn into ITS realm, along with that dark blue one. The bite had started to become infected the moment Sombra set foot in its world, as the poison within called out to the one that’d created it.



As Sombra had leapt for the exit, it'd sliced at his back leg, attaching a small shred of itself to the wound, infiltrating the host body. It made the invader feel sick with fury how this wretched creature had gained so much love from them, despite being an abomination.



Now it intended to make Sombra suffer, then take from him what it wanted.



Its grin widened as it heard Sombra's cries of pain back in the real world, as his mind was under assault from his own past, in his dreams!



But enough fun, it was time to launch phase two. His scouts were on their way. And with their early warning system effectively disabled, the castle was vulnerable.



Almost.

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It hadn’t counted on the goggles Sombra had given Princess Luna. She was sat atop the tower, staring rigidly into the distance, anger stewing inside at how that thing had nearly gotten her and Sombra killed! She would see that it paid for that!



It was this intense focus that meant she actually spotted the dark shapes as they whooshed silently towards the palace. Her heart jolted, and she got up, fleeing back downstairs bellowing in her equestrian voice for everypony to "wake up NOW!"



A mere minute after and the onslaught began.

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Celestia was woken by the sound of a window shattering. She bolted up from her bed, magic at the ready. So when one of those things came barreling through the door, it was blasted right back out of it by a torrent of golden magic!



Two guards came running to her soon as she stepped outside. One of them gave her a spare pair of goggles so she could see the cores.



Pelting down an expansive hallway, she nearly collided with Twilight and friends!



"Where are they all coming from?" Rarity gasped.



"I have no idea, where’s Sombra?" Celestia asked "an invasion of this magnitude and nothings exploded yet, it seems odd..." but for all the brevity, she was deeply concerned.



There was a split second silence, then Pinkie Pie suddenly blurted;



"Its after HIM!!" she cried, her whole body seeming to fidget, something the others recognized. It was the "Pinkie Sense" warning signs of a "right big doozy!".



"Find the doozy Pinkie Pie!" Rarity took charge, trying to steer Pinkie Pie in some semblance of a direction. In the end, this actually WORKED, and Pinkie Pie took off in a series of lurching jumps and bounds, heading towards the throne room...

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During all this, Sombra had been under assault from the creatures mental bombardment...



It appeared in the dream world, where Sombra's shivering form lay curled up on the ground.



"Time to just...give in, isn't it?" it jeered.



Sombra's mind tried, at a base level, to object, but what Sombra had just been put through rendered it mute. So much fear, anger, and heartache all at once had left the stallion dazed and susceptible to influence. The pain inside echoed the creatures words.



"Come now, it can all end now. All you have to do is be shot of that power and you won't feel this pain any more.." it said in a mocking, kind voice. It stepped forward, titling the pony's chin so he couldn't avoid the creatures gaze. And smirked when it seen the last threads of resistance snapping, a dullness sweeping over Sombra's mind.



"You can rejoin your father...I’m sure he misses you.." it lied, knowing the pony that'd given Sombra that band was close to Sombra's heart. Which meant he could use him to break it!



It worked. All the fight seemed to abandon Sombra, and he just stared blankly up at the creature.



"Now, awaken...we have much to do.." it sneered, before vanishing.

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Back in the physical world, Sombra opened his eyes. He got up from the bed, his movements mechanical, like a puppet.



He walked on auto pilot to the throne room. Everypony had been lured elsewhere by the tactical strikes of the lead creature's clones.



Soon as he entered the doors slammed behind him. He paid them no need, walking into the centre of the room and just...stopping there.



"Excellent..." the creature stepped out from behind an ornate crystal guard statue. These had been recovered from one of the many hidden chambers not long before Sombra's return. Their pretty colors deemed appropriate enough for the throne room. Decided to have been from before Sombra's occupation of the castle, which was then confirmed by Sombra, who'd pointed out he recognised them as belonging to his father, the four statues now stood two either side of the room.



Sombra didn't speak, he couldn't. Admiring its handiwork in the unicorns dulled expression, it cackled impatiently and gestured at the band around Sombra's leg.



"A most suitable container, it will suffice..."



Using its own warped imitation of equestrian magic, it unlatched the band, floating it in front of Sombra. The jewel caught the light and glinted, but Sombra didn't blink.



"Surrender your darkness, your power and you can finally rest..." it layered a false tone of kindness over its poisonous words.



Sombra at first looked like he was about to agree, then he suddenly stopped, giving a little shiver.



"N-no..I wont.." he said softly.



"Oh too bad!" It spat, all pretense of kindness vanishing "because I’m through ASKING!!"



So now it lashed out at Sombra, slamming him back into one of the statues, the sharp edges of its crystal spear slicing a neat cut across his left ear before he crumpled to the floor, pinning his already injured leg beneath him..



Before he could get up, a pain like a crushing landslide hit him, pinning him where he lay.



His tormentor stood there, grinning perversely at its triumph. As it forcefully extracted Sombra's magic, channelling it into the band. To absorb so much power at once would spell trouble, so it merely needed to store it all in this band, and it could make its escape and leave these pathetic creatures to try recover their precious defender!



At last it'd taken everything it could sense from Sombra. It noted with curiosity that the tri-crystal marking on the pony’s flank had faded and vanished. As too had the fiery crimson red in his eyes, dulling them to a faint reddish grey.



"So, this power is part of your core? Interesting...."



It held up the leg band, admiring the sheer volume of power within. Unable to resist, gloating at its plan to occupy the rest of the castle with its legions of decoys, it fed part of its own power into the band, to begin converting this mesmerizing power to its maximum destructive potential....



From his position in a crumpled heap at the statues base, Sombra watched this with a detached sense of emotion. His power, what was...HIM. Was gone. He felt empty, bereft, even the pain of his injuries paled before the mental horror of having his power ripped out of him!



"I may as well end you now! After all, who's going to have any use for you now you don't have your little party tricks-!"



"Y'all must be thicker than two short planks glued togetha with stupid glue if that's what yer thinkin'!"



It stopped mid -gloat as its spells on the door broke and the ponies streamed in, the angry orange and yellow one running her mouth!



"Yeah!" Pinkie Pie glowered "now give that BACK, Mr Thick, Thicketty Thick of Thicktown, Thickania!"



While they shot verbal barbs at the creature, Rainbow Dash looked over at Sombra. She felt a surge of panic when she seen the vanished cutie mark, as well as the dulled expression in his eyes. Even as she watched, he looked about to drift asleep, eyes closing-



"HAY!!" She drew in a deep breath and bellowed as loudly as she could, "PEE!"



What was this blue bobble on about? The shadow pony ignored her, figuring if she wanted to waste her time trying to get her monstrous friends attention by being potty-mouthed, she could go right ahead!



What it didn't see was a faint glimmer in Sombra's eyes. How he lifted his head, just a little, one ear perking up a fraction.



"Yeah!" Pinkie Pie copped on, somehow pulling a cheerleader outfit from thin air and chanting "Pee for Ponyville!"



"If this is the best you've got, no wonder you needed a degenerate monster to fight your battles!" The creature scoffed, still not realizing the effect all this madness was having on Sombra.



"The monster here is you alone!" Celestia declared, as she and Twilight Sparkle summoned their Alicorn magic "What we needed was a warrior, what we got was a friend!"



These words pierced the haze alongside Pinkie and Rainbow Dash's hollering, and the rainbow haired pegasus was relieved to see another spark behind those eyes.



Celestia and Twilight fired blasts at the creature, who waved the band tauntingly at them as it shot back swiftly.



"Uh-uh...you destroy this..."



Twilight Sparkle hesitated. She and Celestia knew if that band broke, the explosion of power that followed could do some serious damage!



"But I’m afraid you’ll have a hard time getting through to your "friend"," it sneered "See, I’ve left him in something of a mess, convinced his power going bye-bye will finally rid him of this burden! What you called your friend is lost under all his worst memories- deluded little fool, as if friends can help something like him!!"



Unable to refrain, it let out a mad laugh of triumph.



"In a way..." a soft, gravelly voice cut its speech short, and everypony's gaze swiveled to fix on Sombra. He'd raised his head a little, ears perked just enough to give them hope...



"You're right..." the sentence seemed to take an immense effort to force out.



"What?!" it spat, glaring absently at him as it strode over "has your mind entirely gone?!"



"Maybe..I am a fool....but you...YOU....returned those memories." his voice seemed to grow a little stronger, as he tried to get up "ALL of them."



With a sudden movement he lashed out, kicking the base of the statue behind him with as much strength as he could. With a whirr and a THUNK, the statue suddenly slammed the spear down. The force of Sombra's kick had destroyed the mechanism, which had been intended just to perform a simple salute. Now, with the safety broken, the spear came swinging down like a guillotine. Until now, he'd forgotten about these things...



"Wha-" was all it managed as it tried to get out of the way of the sudden attack. But its desire to gloat over Sombra was its own downfall. The blade slammed into its shoulder, driving it into the plush flooring. The band bounced out of it's grip, and it snarled in fury. Reverting to its blobby, amorphous shape, it tried to lunge for the band, but Sombra's friends weren’t about to let it have it!



"Yeeeehhaaww!" Applejack whooped, snagging the band with a rope lasso, then bounding up and catching it in her mouth.



"Catch!" she called, her voice muffled, spinning round and throwing the band with all her strength.



Sombra seen it arc through the air, and all those little sparks lit by Rainbow Dash and Pinkie combined to create enough fire to get his life back! A last ditch effort, and he bolted to his feet, lunging for the glimmering object. He was aware of shadowy claws raking at his leg, tearing the bandages covering the first wound, but when his hooves hit ground, the power-suffused band was held tightly in his mouth!



The shadow creature howled in fury but its angry cries were overridden by an almost deafening boom and a flash of light. Everypony was forced back a few steps, shielding their eyes.



"You...." Sombra's voice was laden with fury and anger. When the glare from the light explosion faded, the band was back around his leg, the purple jewel gleaming.



As if determined to take him down one way or another, with or without the stolen power, it lunged at him.



Furious beyond belief, Sombra pounced, pulling the crystal spear free form the statue and using it to impale his tormentor in one swing. The core shattered, with a deafening boom!



Everypony sighed in relief. Sombra closed his eyes. Now the threat to his life was gone..



Then he felt the situation hit him. His memories. Oh so many of them, of the worst times...and something else was there. He felt cold, like ice had invaded his veins as it sunk in...



"Aww yeah!" Rainbow Dash whooped, zooming over to where Sombra stood "way ta go-oof!"



Because what she hadn’t noticed was that the reason he was standing so still wasn't quiet contemplation, it was sheer agony. As she took off in his direction, sparks of black electricity crackled across the band, and he hunched over in pain. The floor shook, and smoky grey crystal shot up in what almost looked like a barrier around him. Which Rainbow Dash, luckily on a slow speed, bumped right into.



"Whoa.." she shook her head, "what's wrong?"



She frowned when she realized he wasn't answering her.



"Sombra...?" Celestia sensed something was off.



"Get back....miss Dash..." Sombra managed to force out.



"What? why?" Rainbow Dash asked worriedly "we know what your magic’s like, we're cool-"



"No, you don’t get it...." Sombra looked up at last "some of its....its power.....has already gotten in....I cant..."



He shook his head. He couldn’t focus, his head was overloaded!



"Uhm, darlings, I do hate to crash the reunion party, but we have company!!" Rarity cried, wide purple eyes fixed on an encroaching tide of shadows billowing down the hall towards them.



"Oh my...." Fluttershy squeaked.



"I thought that thing was the leader, how-?!" Twilight Sparkle asked, even as Applejack kicked the doors shut, and Celestia barricaded it with a spell!



"There’s....more than one..." Sombra forced out. Still hovering above the spikes, Rainbow Dash cocked her head at him.



"C'mon man!" Rainbow Dash waggled a hoof at him "stay cool! We got this! We'll find the guy!"



The door shuddered on its hinges, and Twilight Sparkle joined Celestia in trying to set up a spell to push them back!



Sombra closed his eyes, there was too much power racing through his head, he couldn’t think....



Then an idea battled through the haze. He felt a spark of hope...



Pinkie Pie scaled Rainbow Dash's tail to perch on the spikes, and Applejack scrambled up the rough edged spikes to peer worriedly at him.



Then he vanished in a flare of flame.



"Sombra?" Rarity asked.



"Where he go?" Pinkie Pie said with a frown.

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Sombra reappeared on the tower, where he and Luna had held their myriad lessons and conversations. He closed his eyes, actually drawing the excess power into himself. Had anypony been there to see it, they would've seen the tall, imposing unicorn glow a blinding purple, then, with a rumble that shook the building, a pulse of light exploded out, flowing down the crystal castle, its colorful facets reflecting the purple light.



The whole building seemed to rumble, and everypony glanced around, at first fearful this was some new attack, when they recognized that color, a rich purple. Dark magic.



"Sombra.." Shining Armor sighed in relief. Beside him, Cadance watched the shadow creatures explode into harmless piles of dust and core fragments. The final controller had managed to get into the heart of the castle, on the verge of attacking the guards trying to protect Cadance and Shining Armor.



As the light faded, everypony sighed in relief, but it was tinged with worry. Those things were becoming ever more determined.

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Back atop the tower Sombra was standing stock still, staring into space. He'd done it, he'd fought back. But he still felt hollow, like something was deeply wrong. Everything felt tangled up, so many threads he just couldn’t connect...





He'd known these memories were here. The worst ones. His time HERE, during the lunacy of his reign.



Images raced through his head, so solid and crystal clear. He stared out over the empire, recalling how it'd looked when he was here. At his feet, the ground seemed to drain of all color, and grey crystalline frost began forming. It rapidly spread, covering the door to the tower, climbing the pillars and racing outwards.



Luna, sensing something was off, had flown up towards the top of the palace. She'd watched the purple light encompass the massive crystal building, and sighed in relief. Once more, Sombra's intricately crafted spells had done the job!



Then she noticed he was just standing there, and she seen the grey crystal starting to form. She flew down, landing in front of him. She spotted with a frown that his cutie mark was gone. How had that happened? He clearly had his magic, so how-?



"Sombra!" she barked. He didn’t seem to see her, just stared. She was reminded of how he'd gone into shock that time he'd put the restraining spell back on that choker.



"They're back.." he said dully.



"Who is? Those creatures? But thy power just eradicated them, what is it you fear?"



"Not them.." he said, a heartbreaking sadness lacing his words "the memories...."



It took a second for Luna to realize what he meant.



"Of thy time before?" she asked.



"Its so clear....until now its been so blurred, as if they weren’t real. But now, its all come to the surface.." he gave a bitter laugh "the truth hurts, yet I should not be so surprised-"



ZAP. He jolted slightly as a bolt of magic zapped him lightly.



He broke out of his daze a little, blinking cluelessly at Luna.



"Cease that talk right this instant!" she bellowed, full volume "Did we not already cover this many times before with thee? It is true thou shouldn’t be surprised, for thou hadst already known of thy past, of thy previous actions. Seeing a few images should not sway thee so easily!"



Her voice dropped to normal levels "this is not the Sombra that taught us to do THIS!" She summoned her dark magic, looking directly at him "we feared ourself after what we did, much as you still do. But now gaze upon us, we wield only a fraction of the power thou has, but we do it with a clear sight!"



Sombra blinked at her as she walked over to him.



"Sister told us of how you brought us back safe and sound. While we were a little angry at first, we realized you were right, we should not have used so much dark magic so early. But we will not give up, if nought else, we are determined to become better!" she stared fiercely at him "without thy work, this would never have come to happen. We will not allow you to tarnish that!"



"But..."



"None of these "butts" you speak of!" Luna raised her voice again, even as she made the dark magic fade again "We do not wish to hear any more of them."



While she'd been speaking, the crystals spread had slowed, less of them forming over the pillars and ceiling. They were a dark grey, like the ones Twilight Sparkle said he'd summoned during his attempt to take the empire once more.



--His old spells have returned, but he does not need to necessarily fear them. What was once used for evil CAN be put to good use. He is living proof of this!--



She was about to voice this opinion when she seen Sombra sway on his hooves and dove forward just in time to stop him hitting the cold hard floor. She set him down carefully, wondering what to do..



Then the door to the tower flew open at last, spraying shards of black crystal frost everywhere. Her big sister charged in, followed by Twilight and friends.



"Luna.." Celestia was relieved to see her unharmed, but concerned by Sombra's condition.



"His memories, sister.." Luna looked concerned "we fear it has triggered a second fearful relapse.."



"Oh dear..." Fluttershy whispered "that shadow thing...."



"It uncovered the one thing it knew would hurt him." Applejack's tone was furious "All those times he was fightin' it, it must’ve been studying 'im.."



"Then it went for the most painful thing ever....IM GONNA KICK YOUR FLANK YOU HEAR ME!!" Rainbow hollered this last bit at the sky.



"Volume, Dashie!" Pinkie Pie winced.



"Sorry..." Rainbow Dash sighed despondently "but, it looked like it hurt bad, you seen that look in his eyes when we charged in!"



"If it weren't for you hopping about and calling out as you did, I fear the situation could have been worse," Celestia said "whatever the significance of this "pee for Ponyville", it got through. There will be a way to help, and we will find it!"



They got Sombra to his bed, where the doctor re bandaged the injury from before. Pinkie Pie forlornly tied a balloon shaped like a diamond crystal to the bedpost. Then she poked him on the nose, declaring "HONK."



Luna watched them all, thinking of a way to help, then at last it hit her. His dreams!



Once everypony was gone, she launched into action.

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When she opened her eyes, it was to a surreal landscape. She was inside what looked like a massive crystal cavern, made of that same dark grey crystal. As she walked further she seen dark grey threads, almost like ribbons, coming from the circumference of the cave, all heading for once spot.



"Sombra!" she called. He was sat on the cold crystal ground, the ribbons were wrapped around his legs and chest. He looked up as she called out, and seemed surprised to see her.



"Princess...?" he asked.



"What is happening?" Luna asked, looking at the walls of the cave. She could see flickers of memories playing across the walls, now she looked closely. Memories of fighting her and Celestia were showing now, a blinding light sealing him away in the darkness. Then it repeated.



"Stop!" she commanded, but Sombra shook his head, wincing afresh as a different set started to play. This time his defeat at the hooves of Cadance and the crystal heart. As Luna stood there, another coil of insidious dark ribbon appeared from one of the facets of the cave, lashing around his leg. He made a desperate sound and tried to shake free, but this had the opposite effect.



Rather than freeing the ribbons, it seemed to tighten their grip, and there was an ominous cracking sound. Luna stared in bewilderment as a fissure began creeping up the wall.



"Cease they flailing!" she realized "thou art only trapping thyself deeper in this!"



Sombra quit moving, looking up at her. He was literally bound in place by these memories and visions.



"I cant stop them.." he said faintly.



"Thy old memories are starting to bleed into thy current ones. We must separate them!" Luna stated. She had an idea, but it meant leaving Sombra alone briefly.



"We will return!" she promised. He nodded dully, resting his head back on his forelegs as she vanished.

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She instantly woke up Twilight and friends, and told them of her plan.



"But there is one more," she said cryptically, “we will be right back!"



She was gone several minutes, then she reappeared holding a certain little filly cradled in one hoof. Bright Spark gave a smile and waved at them.



"Course!" Applejack chuckled "who better?"



"Hewwo Pwincess Twiwight and fwiends!" Bright Spark looked up at Luna "where's Sombwa, Pwincess Woona?"



"He is trapped, in a very bad nightmare...." Luna said simply "his own memories are holding him hostage there, and each time he tries to free himself they drag him further in. It is up to us to get him out."



"Consider it done!" Rainbow Dash said in determination.



With a nod, Luna closed her eyes and transported them all into Sombra's nightmare world.



But things had worsened in the time she was gone. The floor was covered in sharp points of crystal, a sign Sombra's mental defenses were weakening. Bright Spark seen the dark ribbons and her eyes widened.



"Those are mean things.." she said softly. Sombra could be seen, curled up on the icy floor, the darkness and ribbons holding him prisoner.



"They are," Luna said quietly "the creatures from the darkness somehow took these memories from the deepest depths of his mind and forced them onto him. They now threaten to take the good memories his time here NOW hath created!"



"How do we get there?" Rainbow Dash asked "I mean, I know a bunch of us can FLY over, but what about everypony else?" she looked at her friends.



Bright Spark thought, then had an idea! She closed her eyes, concentrating her magic-



POP. A floating candy colored bubble appeared. She bounded onto it, bouncing up and down experimentally, like a space hopper.



"That filly’s a genius!" Pinkie Pie declared "this IS a dream world, so.."



She concentrated reaaallly hard. And with a loud POP, a big balloon appeared. She tied the end around her tail and slowly drifted up to float alongside Rainbow Dash and Bright Spark.



"Pinkie logic, who'd a thunk it?" Applejack shook her head. But she did her best, in the end summoning a floating apple.



"Eh...close enough..." she clambered on.



For Rarity, it was a floating footstool. When everypony looked at her, she shrugged "I guess my dreams have taste!" she declared as she sat down and floated alongside them.



Rainbow Dash and the other winged ponies helped to steer their friends as they drifted over to Sombra.



He looked up as they approached, and on seeing their mode of transport he seemed to break free of his sadness a little.



"Sombwa!" Bright Spark bounced over, setting her bubble down in front of him, and reaching up to tap his nose "boop!".



"Little one?" he asked, "everypony...?"



"We'll cut you loose!" Pinkie Pie declared as she drifted absently by "just give me a second..."



Fluttershy nudged her back on course, and Luna shook her head.



Rarity was looking at the crystal facets of the cave's walls and ceiling when Bright Spark poked Sombra on the nose. She seen, for a brief second, a memory flash up. A busy marketplace, from Sombra's view. Then he looked down and seen the same little filly that was here now. She giggled and poked him on the nose. Then it was gone.



“Do that again!" Rarity called to Bright Spark. Bright Spark looked nonplussed, and poked Sombra's nose again. He blinked, feeling the urge to laugh...



Rarity smiled as she seen a new ribbon appear, only this one was a pale golden shade. She grabbed it with her magic, and called Twilight Sparkle to help steer her footstool down to where Bright Spark was.



Bright Spark took the ribbon in her teeth, and pulled it over to Sombra.



"Lift your hoof, there!" she slipped the end of the shimmering ribbon under his hoof and watched as he set it back down, holding it in place.



Rainbow Dash seen a similar spark flicker in Sombra's eyes as he looked down at the filly and the memory ribbon.



"That’s it!" she declared "We gotta get the good ones out! Think, everypony!"



"Ooh!" Pinkie Pie had a brainwave, or possibly a brainfart, it was hard to tell sometimes. "Remember that breakfast? We all sat together, you finally joined us!"



She was speaking of the morning the intervention had occurred, where Sombra had been more or less told he was their friend, they were going to help him, so he'd better get used to it! He'd also finally started to get his appetite back!



"Woohoo!" Pinkie Pie cheered as a coil of ribbon seemed to magically appear from the wall where the memory was playing. She grabbed it and kicked off from the wall, whizzing by a little too fast and bouncing backside first off the other wall before Rainbow Dash got her under control and steered her in the right direction.



Again, Bright Spark tucked the memory ribbon under Sombra's hoof.



"When you first put on your new cloak!" Rarity remembered how surprised yet pleased he'd been "and you gave me that lovely gem?"



Sombra knew. The first real act of generosity he'd ever displayed. To thank her.



"That's it!" Rarity said in delight as she took the new ribbon and passed it to Twilight Sparkle, watching as it was added to the others.



"U-uhm...the festival...you brought all the wood to build the stalls?" Fluttershy hovered by Sombra, sparking another glimmer in his eyes, and a new ribbon uncurled from the ceiling, falling down so she could reach up and take it.



"See?" Bright Spark said, rubbing her cheek against Sombra's "There's lotsa nice memowies, you don’t need those bad ones, alwight?"



He still seemed to be having to fight to concentrate, but he was looking better!



"Pee for ponyville!" Applejack sniggered. This spawned another ribbon, which was added to the list. This one shone even more, since it was so recent.


"Making your first friend, my brother!" Twilight beamed. She'd been proud of both her brother for making the first offer of friendship, and Sombra for accepting it!


Luna thought, how could SHE help? The she had a flash of memory. She addressed Sombra.



"Recall our conversation, wherein you called us "Woona"?"



He actually smiled a little.



Luna was rewarded with another ribbon, which she brought to join the others. The six ponies were recalling more and more things they'd witnessed, the smiles, the laughs. Sombra's eventual acceptance of his inheritance! Soon there was a growing number of the good ribbons being brought back to their owner.



"See?" Luna said softly "thou has a myriad of memories that are worth fighting for, and you will make many more we are certain of it!"



"Yeah!" Bright Spark said "Pwicness Woona is wight, Sombwa!"



"And the letters from the empire!" Twilight Sparkle nodded "all asking after YOU, because they need you!"



All over the walls flowed copies of the letters he’d been sent. Asking after him, thanking him, and also praising him for what he'd done. Words he'd had trouble accepting. But there they were, and one phrase stood out in the split second flashes of memory:



"We're glad you're here."



This seemed to trigger something, for the next second golden lines of light speared through the dark ribbons, tearing them as they did. They joined up with the memory ribbons, forming so many more. The dark ribbons began to snap, their hold weakened as Sombra at last got to his feet. The golden ribbons blurred together to form one, which swirled up around his leg, replacing the old bandage with a new one of golden fabric, pinned in place with a small shard of red crystal.



All the lights lined up to from a path in Sombra's mind. A path that led back to his past, to the day when he'd gained his cutie mark. Crystals. How this ability had led him to finding out that jewel was valuable and giving it to Rarity. How he'd been given that statue of the bird made from the purple star jewel. That the Bard had thanked him for it, and accepted his apology. He'd made a new friend in that shy creature.



He closed his eyes, feeling a surge of childlike relief as the pressure in his head faded away, and he felt like he could breathe easier once more.



The others had scooted back when the light show had begun, watching in fascination all the memories flowing over the crystal caves walls. Memories of letters, of THEM, and of Bright Spark. But also, of his father, King Cloudspark.



"Look!" Twilight Sparkle cried, as there was a shimmer of light, and at last the missing cutie mark reappeared. With a final flash the walls changed, no longer grey, but a pale purple-white crystal.



The floor had returned to smooth crystal, so everypony ditched their floating seats and ran over to him.



Sombra shivered a little as he felt the sheer willpower it'd taken to accept all this take its toll. But that chill was overridden by warmth a moment later, as he sensed several bodies close by.



He opened his eyes, back to ther garnet red, seeing not just a gleeful Bright Spark crowded next to him, but everypony.



"Time to go.." Luna at last interrupted the happy scene, albeit reluctantly.



"Aww..." Pinkie Pie pouted. She poked Sombra's nose, re-declaring "Honk!".



"Sombra will require a deeper level of sleep in order to fully rest, and we cannot traverse that state...."



One by one they vanished, leaving only Luna. She approached Sombra, who still looked shaken, despite being freed.



"It will be all right." she assured him, then closed her eyes and set loose the spell to enable him to truly sleep...

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She reappeared by the others, having taken Bright Spark home, standing in the library. To their surprise Celestia was there.



"Sister?" Luna asked.



"Is he all right?" Celestia asked. Luna nodded.



"Good. I was concerned, and I had a feeling you’d have a plan," Celestia smiled softly.



The ponies sat around the table to tell her what had happened.



"I don’t get it.." Rainbow Dash said at last.



"What's that?" Celestia asked.



"Why does he keep doing this to himself? Didn’t he trust us when we told him things were cool?" she looked a little bothered.



Celestia shook her head "it is not a matter of trust Rainbow Dash. At least, not with US. The one Sombra cannot trust is himself.."



“Yeah, we’ve been getting that vibe since day one!" Applejack piped up "and its mighty worryin' to see him like that."



"A great deal of his life was spent in fear and doubt, as you well know from wandering his nightmares. As our core values of hope and friendship go deep, so too do his of fear and disbelief.



He has become so accustomed to being mistreated, despised and blamed that it has become second nature to him to feel this way. Even with all of us around him, he still fears the events of his distant past. Until now, that spate of madness was the only respite he had from it, so he doesn't know where to turn. Kindness and friendship are strangers in a way. He was taught to fear and hate his power, what makes him who he is. He's been conditioned to believe he is the one solely at fault because of his magic. As a result, he subconsciously seeks to find something, anything to hold himself responsible for, to recreate those emotions, whether he realizes or not."



"You’re saying he actually tryin' ta hurt himself like this?" Applejack asked.



"I’m afraid so. As much progress as he has made, there is still far to go. Such hurdles are not conquered in one triumph." Celestia sighed softly "I think he is finding his new position painful to accept. Cadance told me of how he shies away from anypony addressing him using the new title."



"You don’t have to do that.." Luna quoted "yes, one of the guards did mentioned that to us. He said it was just for a second, but he could swear Sombra looked...scared."



"So what do we do?" Rarity asked.



"There is little we can do I’m afraid, except try to coax him away from it as best we can. We are up against a childhood of bad memories, with few good influences. And now, with his memories of his past reign here AND his subsequent sealing, I fear he may lose hope..."



Pinkie Pie sniffled, and to Celestia's surprise, her poofy pink mane made a funny thrrrrp noise and went inexplicably flat.



"But..." Pinkie moped "he doesn’t have to keep blaming himself..."



"I know...." Fluttershy patted her back kindly "its not fair..."



"There's gotta be a way, something!" Rainbow Dash decided "we have to make him see just how big an impact he's made on the ponies here! That little cutie Bright Spark has managed to do it, so we gotta do it too!"



"But how?" Twilight Sparkle asked.



"He keeps beating himself up, right? Blaming himself and thinking he's somehow only fit to take the blame? Well what if we showed him just how many ponies out there WANT to see him as the crown-princey-thing of the Empire? He hides away and doesn’t see them, so lets bring them to him!"



"How?" Luna asked. Celestia had an idea. She looked at Pinkie Pie as she casually said "well, I HAD planned for a formal ball at some point, and invite everypony possible, so they'll finally get to see him. We could push it forward, but we'd need an emergency party planner..."



Pinkie Pie's brain clocked this, her eyes widened and a sparkle returned to them.



"Ooh, can I? Pleeease Princess Celestia? Huh? Can I?"



"Of course, Twilight Sparkle tells me you are the best at parties!"



"Yayyy!" Pinkie whooped, and with a POOF, her mane fluffed back up to its full springy self "This'll be the best party EVER!"



"I can make a formal outfit.." Rarity mused "battle armor is NOT suited for a formal ball!”



"Cakes, lots of 'em!" Applejack decided.



And so they decided, in three days time, there’d be a formal ball to officially introduce the Crystal Empires crown Prince.



But first they had to tell Sombra himself...

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The following day, when he came to breakfast, Shining Armor asked did he want to cancel the stadium announcement, in light of everything he'd been through?



"It cannot be delayed much more.." Sombra said softly.



"As long as you're sure…?" Shining Armor asked. Sombra merely nodded. and so it was set to go ahead.



Sombra looked withdrawn, uneasy. So far he hadn’t eaten much, to everypony's concern.



Pinkie Pie tried as long as she could to hold in her excitement, but eventually she couldn’t keep a lid on it any longer;



"Party!!"" she declared.



"Huh?" Sombra blinked at her "you want one or you’re throwing one?"



"We're ALL helping!" Pinkie Pie declared.



"I see," Sombra floated the teacup so he could take a sip, asking offhandedly "who is it for?"



Then he seen something move out of the corner of his eye and he nearly dropped the tea when he clocked Pinkie Pie was suddenly stood by his chair, staring expectantly at him.



"What? Oh no no no, there's no need for-"



Pinkie pouted, eyes big as saucers.



"It was Princess Celestia's idea," Twilight Sparkle explained "she’s a little worried the ponies here are starting to become disheartened, so she wants to throw a ball, most notably about YOU."



"Tell her it is unnecessary," Sombra sighed, trying to ignore Pinkie Pie. But when he opened his eyes again, she was now sat on the table in front of him, that sad expression growing by the second.



"Cotton Candy...." he started.



"C'mon.." Rainbow Dash shrugged "can you really say no to that face?"



Sombra didn't answer, he seemed to be trying to out-stare Pinkie Pie.



She started to sniffle and he groaned, facehoofing as he did.



"Fine." he growled crossly.



"YAYY!" Pinkie Pie whooped, all sadness gone as she bounded off the table "Fancy party! Fancy party!" she whooped.



Sombra slumped across the table "I honestly find the shadow creatures easier to outmatch.." he muttered.



"That’s our Pinkie!" Applejack said with a shrug and a grin.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Rarity hijacked Sombra for the morning in order to try out some new color schemes for a formal cloak, since it seemed he hated being without one.



He fidgeted absently as she rifled through her fabric swatches, holding up various colors and patterns.



"Is this really necessary?" he murmured.



"Yes, of course!" Rarity said, puzzled "you cant attend a formal ball wearing armor!"



"No, not that.." he said with a rueful smile "I mean, this whole business..."



"You worry too much," Rarity said "trust us, it'll be fine.."



Sombra hesitated a moment, then nodded silently. He couldn’t think of anything to say to that. After everything they done to help him, he knew he owed them this much at least.



After an hour or so, there came a knock at the door, and Shining Armor stuck his head round.



"You guys wanna come to lunch?" he had to chuckle at the sight of poor Sombra being made to stand perfectly still as Rarity worked away at the lilac-gold fabric he was draped in.



Rarity stepped back, cocked her head to one side, then nodded and smiled.



"I have it!” She removed the fabric and released poor Sombra from having to stand so still. She wrote a few things down and then followed the two stallions down to the dining hall.



Shining Armor went over a few things with Sombra about the announcement, but basically said he'd leave it to him!

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The next morning, when Sombra seen the size of the stadium he felt his stomach plummet. He had to explain how a creature of shadow was manipulating his memories!



A big stage had been set up in the middle of the field. On temporary thrones sat the Princesses. Shining Armor and his guards lined the area in front of the raised stage, where a microphone stood. At said mic was a certain unicorn.



"I'll set the magnification spell, then its all yours," Cadance said to Sombra. he nodded, looking at the copies of the drawings he'd done.



The crowd settled down, and Cadance gave a brief about the upcoming ball, then explained why they’d all been called there. That they had vital information to share with everypony. And that Sombra, being the one who understood it best, was going to explain it.



Sombra took a deep breath as he heard the crowd settle down.



"Good afternoon, everypony." His voice was clipped but clear "Some of you may have heard about a fight in the market, where, with Princess Twilight Sparkle present, I engaged one of the scout creatures in a fight. In an effort to protect itself, it took on the form of a young mare:"



The first image appeared, magnified by Cadance's spell. The pale, blue haired mare.



"She is a memory, from over a thousand years ago."



Surprised murmurs whipped round the stadium.



"It would seem that, during the onset of the black crystal plague, that thing in control of those creatures was able to attack my memories, unearthing a large part of my past. From this it has a multitude of disguises, one of which has been spotted already-"



Now the image of his father was shown, and several ponies nodded and called out that they recognized it!



"I.." Sombra halted a moment, how best to assure them? "I have been over those memories many times. This is as comprehensive a list as i have been able to compile. These are the clearest memories that thing will have access to.." he nodded to Cadance, who soon had more magnified images floating in a neat row at a height where everypony could see them.



Whispers ran around the stadium. Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash were flitting about with microphones, so the public could ask questions. Rainbow Dash soared over to one mare now.



"Who was that scary black stallion? I seen him, only briefly, but I couldn’t help noticing a resemblance-" Rainbow Dash had moved the mic slightly out of range and was giving the mare a frown.



"Its all right miss Dash," Sombra said "if its that obvious, I should explain. That particular memory..." he sighed, heart sinking at the impending reaction; "was of my FATHER. I'll make no pretense, he was every bit as terrifying in reality as he appeared to YOU."



He winced as shocked gasps swept around, followed by murmurs of curiosity. Sombra felt his stomach churn and sighed softly. Those closest in the seats could see the shift in his body language, showing visible discomfort.



"Uhm.." Fluttershy had drifted over to a stallion who was waving his hoof in the air "How come he, and well, YOU, are so tall?!"



“I’m from a Shyre settlement," Sombra said, relieved the question was an easy one to answer, "Everypony was of that sort of build. That's the other point; most of these ponies are of a similar height, although some may be mistaken for regular ponies. That is why it was deemed vital you all see these images, we cannot leave anything to chance. I understand very little is known about them, but there’s not much I can really tell you. I was...kept in isolation most of my life there, what little I know is from guesswork."



More whispers, what did he mean, kept in isolation?



"Who was that pale white mare?" somepony asked at last, sparing Sombra from his nausea.



"She...was a friend." he said shortly, unsure how to explain whilst saying as little as possible, "She helped me escape the village."



"Why did you have to escape?"



Again the pony asking the question was given a fierce frown by Rainbow Dash.



Sombra could see the curiosity was racing like wildfire. These ponies were very curious about him it seemed, including his past.



"A thousand years ago, superstition was rife. Many ponies actions were dictated by these beliefs. The village was remote, governed by a set of elders who followed some very old rules. A pony found to have been born with a dark power scared them more than they could cope. I was certain that, if I stayed there, they’d have killed me eventually..”



Wide eyes and startled gasps raced around the stadium like a sonic wave.



“There was no other choice but to leave. So one night I was able to escape, and got the-" a squeak of feedback muffled the word "-out of there."



Some ponies chuckled at the cleverly timed interruption.



"Thank you cotton candy.." Sombra peered off to one side, where Pinkie had been fiddling with the controls for the mic system. She gave him a grin.



"I wont perceive you to be fools and lie that this isn’t a dangerous opponent. You are all aware of the attacks by now. These things have begun invading homes, as Princess Luna and I discovered. They are getting desperate, this much is obvious. Be wary of anypony coming to the door late at night, keep windows shut. So far as we can tell, it has only gained MY memories, it does not seem able to launch an assault on anypony else's."



He raised a hoof as ponies clamored to know how and why.



"The theory is, that as my magic is purely derived from darkness, its wavelength is similar to that thing. I have noticed some aspects of its "magic" do correspond to this worlds to some degree, more dark than light, naturally."



"Was it trying to do some kinda mind control thing?" a young colt asked.



"It seems to have TRIED. It tried to attack me in my dreams numerous times, but none of its efforts made a blind bit of difference. Some of you may have seen the goggles the guards are wearing-" he gestured to the guards and Shining Armor "It wasn't until the second attack that we learnt I was the only one able to see the core at the centre of these beings. It seems this similarity in wavelengths works both ways. It was able to attack my dreams, I can see through its disguise."



"Whoa.." somepony said, the sound carrying even without the mic.



"What're they made from?" Rainbow Dash shot over to pick up the question, no need for a frown this time.



"They were created by Princess Twilight Sparkle," Sombra said "she figured out that by combining the goggles with an extract of dark magic, she could devise a way for a normal magic user to fight back."



The crowd applauded, and Twilight blushed happily, waving up at them!



"That is all for now.." Sombra felt a sense of relief "any further questions?"



One mare waved from near the front, Fluttershy flapped over.



"Yes, are YOU all right?"



"Me?" Sombra looked baffled as to why she needed to ask.



"We've all become a little concerned with how much strain you've put yourself through.." the mare and her friends nodded "don't feel you'll be misjudged if you take the time to relax. You're not fighting them alone now, right?"



Sombra was about to respond when he felt a shiver run through him. He shifted, the gold band around his leg catching the light and sparkling.



He looked up at the clouds. They'd been gathering steadily, but looked like normal clouds. Why did he sense something was off-



The clouds burst as an inky rain came sheeting down, covering the ground and seats in seconds, gluing everypony to their chairs. Sombra swore, the sound undetected by the mic.



"Heeelp!" Pinkie Pie squeaked, where she was stuck to the mic control box.



Lightning flashed in the darkening sky. A deluge of those creatures formed out of the rain, the biggest one fixing its gaze on Sombra.



"Well well, little pony prince," it mocked "it seems you're as trapped as your precious charges."



Sombra tried to summon the magic needed to remove the goop, but the substance was all over him, including his horn. It felt like he couldn’t reach his magic-



He heard frantic screams from around him, as the creatures launched out in all directions, intent on draining the ponies-



--No, I wont have it!-- he raged. Shutting his eyes he looked inside, at his magic. Seeing how it swirled like a stunning purple galaxy. Flickers of light like small flames dove in and out of it.



--Fire, that's it! I need something stronger then that first spell...but this gunk is restricting my whole body...there’s no way-- a sudden idea clicked into place.



--Unless I BECOME the flame!-- a surge of hope and triumph lit the spark, and he felt a surge of power as things began to change.



The shadow creatures, their razor-like teeth bared in anticipation of a veritable feast, were distracted by a loud WHOMPF sound.



Glued to their thrones, the Princess took a break from trying to free themselves to stare in shock at Sombra-



The black inky goop was burned away in a wide radius around him. But that wasn’t all. Normally, his mane and tail were a deep black, flowing like a streamer in the wind. Now it was like liquid fire. Purple fire of an ever shift hue, highlighted by bright purple flames at its outer edge. Similar flames surrounded the metal shoes that formed part of his new outfit. When he opened his eyes, they were a stunning golden hue. The purple aura was still there, evidence of his dark magic.



"What the-?!" the bigger creature, having set its sights on tormenting Sombra personally, now stare din shock.



Sombra spoke, his voice magnified by his own magic:



"Get the BUCK out of this place." then he vanished in a flash of purple flame, reappearing behind the creature, this time on a floating hunk of purple crystal. It swung round, but Sombra had already summoned a new weapon. In contrast to the spear, this new one was shaped like a heavy duty scythe. The curving blade shone with a purple gleam, magic infused. He swung it in a wide arc, and the burst of purple light from it cleaved the creatures core in two before it had time to speak. As with the previous attacks, it simply transferred to a new body.



With a screech, it directed all the shadow creatures to attack Sombra. the crowd were literally transfixed in their seats, although some closed their eyes, not wanting to see Sombra get hurt.



But Sombra had never felt so in control of his magic before. He shut his eyes, the flames seemed to grow bright, then a ring of flame appeared around him, expanding outwards in a frightening rush, eliminating several of the things in one swoop.



He didn’t stop there. Summoning more platforms he leapt agilely from one to the next, swinging the scythe at shadow after shadow. Seeing the ease he was dispatching its minions with, the lead controller lost its tactics to rage, and from its place hidden out of sight, it dove at Sombra, teeth aimed for his throat.



"SOMBRA!" Luna shouted in her equestrian voice, the loud shout reaching his ears. He spun a split second before the creature reached him and leapt aside, swinging the scythe. It caught it with its teeth, and Sombra released the weapon at the height of its swing, sending the thing off balance. grasping the weapon in its shadowy hooves, it leered at Sombra.



"This will NEVER be your world," Sombra snarled.



"It is no more yours, little prince!" it mocked. Sombra thought about what that mare had said not long before the attack.



"That is not how THEY feel, and in the end, I’m here because of them, and FOR them. They cannot defend themselves against you, not without help. So you’ll have to forgive me if I trust your opinion less then I trust my own!"



It glared at him, throwing the scythe at his head, forcing him to shift attention in order to catch it. Then it did something unprecedented. Dozens upon dozens of its followers swarmed towards it, and for a moment it became just a twisted gelatinous mass, then it shifted into the form of a frankly GIANT shadowy snake!



Sombra stared in surprise, this was new...



it screamed something inarticulate and dove for him, with a speed its size didn’t remotely hint at. He dove out of the way, his hooves slipping slightly on the shadowy goop. But he righted himself easily, glaring as it reared up for another strike. He focused one what was INSIDE its body. Dozens of the cores, now clustered around the central one, like a shield.



But its exterior was as thick as it was gooey, and his attempt to slice into its lumbering body fell short as it snapped round, its tail lashing out, slamming him into the sludge coated grass at quite a speed.



He fought to get back on his feet, wincing as his still healing leg objected the to strain. The flames of his mane and tail kept the goo from ensnaring him, otherwise he would’ve been in major trouble.



Barely had he regained his balance then it was rearing up to strike again.



--I’ve got to stop it, but how..?!-- he swore under his breath as he dove aside again, darting across the slick black ground, pulse pounding in his ears. He felt the ground shake as it came slamming down into the spot he'd been occupying moments before. He raced as fast as he could, seeing his shadow flickering across the shiny surface of the goop.



"Shadows.." he muttered, a faint hope taking shape. But right now it was all he had. He skidded to a halt, turning to face the thing as it reared up, its slitted yellow eyes glaring at him. He closed his eyes, shutting off the power keeping his mane afire.



Stuck in place atop the temporary thrones, the Princesses seen Sombra revert back to his normal appearance, making the scythe vanish.



"What is he doing?" Twilight Sparkle gasped.



Sombra closed his eyes, seeing the memories of that day, when he’d attempted to retake the Empire in his lunatic state. How Twilight Sparkle and friends had kept him at bay. How the shadows had served as a mode of transport for him, sliding from one to the next.



He could FEEL the air displacing as it tore towards him, its laughter filling his head. He opened his eyes, and smirked.



The ponies who could see through the goop stared in astonishment as Sombra seemed to turn into a shadowy shape, reminiscent of the attempted takeover. The shadow snake opened its snapping jaws, and Sombra dove right for it.



Muffled screams and cries ricocheted around the stadium as for all intents and purposes Sombra had let himself be consumed by the thing!



The thing seemed stunned by how easily it’d achieved its victory. Then it suddenly twitched and reared, uttering a bone shaking screech. Those close enough to the front row could see flashes of movement within its gloopy body, just little glimpses of a separate entity racing through it.



Within the creatures body, Sombra felt like he was slowly becoming bogged down by his efforts, but up ahead he seen the collective of cores making up this things greater intelligence, and he felt a surge of adrenaline. He was so close now, he couldn’t give up!



As he made the last desperate dive towards it, he summoned up everything he could, the bright purple of the spell lighting the way. He fired the spell, waiting only to see it connect before taking measures to protect himself…



Once one core detonated, the chain lightning of the spell ricocheted onto the next until it hit the one at its heart.

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Everypony's eyes were on stalks as the screeching, writhing giant suddenly detonated in a flare of purple flame, and a shock wave blasted over the stadium, like a heated blast of air. The creature was destroyed in a pyre of flame, which burnt away to reveal a crater dug into the once pristine grass of the stadium. Shocked cries and screams rebounded off the walls, where was Prince Sombra?



"Tell us we are seeing things!!" Luna kicked and fought even harder to get free, but to no avail "that boneheaded fool!"



Cadance was to stunned to speak. Shining Armor, stuck alongside his soldiers, had had a pretty good line of sight, and he hadn’t seen Sombra reappear. He felt a sickening pang of dread...



Then from around him came gasps of relief, as the ponies higher up caught sight of something as the smoke faded.



It was later described a little black ball of flame, or shadows.



Huddled in the centre of the massive crater it at first was mistaken for a remaining piece of the creature. But then it shifted, and two wide red eyes opened, blinking a few times as it checked its surroundings. It uncurled, revealing it had taken the form of a shadowy foal. Small enough to survive the explosion, it now stood unsteadily, looking worn out. Curiosity and relief abounded as Sombra scaled the crater in this form, stumbling onto the grass where, in a burst of purple flames, he reverted to his normal form and crumpled to the singed grass.



He lay there, so exhausted he could just sleep...then he heard the voices of the crowd and managed to lift his head just enough to see them doing their level best to get his attention.



Of course, he still had to free them. He forced himself to his feet, feeling about to be sick..



The crowds sounds of astonishment switched rapidly to concern as they seen Sombra try to summon his magic again, but the effort seemed to hurt him, and he pitched over to the grass again.



--Dangit!!-- he swore sluggishly --I cant...help..--



Luna put her royal voice to good use again, bellowing:



"Cease that! Thou hast expended too much power!" she scowled at the goop "if thou can stand and free us, we can use OUR dark magic to supplement yours. You cannot manage such a spell on thine own!"



Sombra looked over at her, common sense winning out. He nodded, getting to his feet once more and staggering over to her. The meagre power he had left was just enough to set her free. She shook her wings out, then took a few paces forward until they were face to face.



"We can change our power into that of darkness, and bequeath it unto you, understand?" she asked.



He nodded, knowing he had no other choice, and that Luna wouldn't let herself be overcome again.



Luna closed her eyes, feeling the darkness stirring inside But rather than fear it, she thought about what Sombra had been able to accomplish with it. She too could do that, she was going to make sure of it!



She touched her horn to Sombra's, and seen the spell unfold in her mind. It was astonishingly complex, layered like the tiers of a cake, different parts controlling different sections of the spell. Spell lines formed around the duo, a glowing ball of purple-blue power gathered in the air above them, it drew itself in, before exploding out with a victorious ka-BOOM.



The flames raced over the ground, sweeping up the aisles and seats, burning away the black gunk but leaving the ponies unharmed. They cheered and hugged as they were freed, whooping and cheering. At last, everypony was free, and Luna stepped back, allowing Sombra to shut off the spell.



As it faded away, so too did his strength, he collapsed once more, unconscious this time. Luna caught and set him down, feeling a little light-headed herself.

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Sombra was brought back to the palace immediately, where it was diagnosed he had drained himself beyond common sense and would require rest. The Princesses all shared glances before unanimously agreeing to transfer some of their collective magics to Sombra. His natural dark magic would adapt it, use it to refuel.

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And so, he woke up feeling a lot better then he expected. He detected his magic was not all of his own reserves, and realized what they’d done. Grateful, yet concerned they’d overdone it, he blearily left the hospital room (during the five minutes HeartRate went to the loo), and set off in search of them.



He heard their voices coming from the library, and nudged the door open...

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"So its settled?" Cadance said "we should ask him to consider our proposal date for the coronation?"



"So long as it isn’t in the next DAY, I could give a hay when you do it.." a sleepily amused voice drifted in.



"Sombra!" Twilight Sparkle looked vastly relieved to see him up, and smiled a genuine smile of relief as he approached the same table he'd had that first friendly breakfast at.



"How do you feel?" Celestia asked "was your magic able to integrate with ours?"



"Much better as a result," Sombra said gratefully "I am indebted to you for the assistance."



“We did not use too much of our power, so do not be concerned." Luna said, reading his expression.



"Yup! We're good!” Twilight nodded.



"It's good to see you up, we were worried after that attack," Cadance said.



"It was not my intention to concern anybody, it was the only plan i could concoct at the time," Sombra said weakly "Never thought those memories might serve a useful purpose.."



"See?" Luna said "we told, did we not? It was not thy power that dictated your circumstance back then, but what you USED it to do. What caused fear then, saved countless ponies today."



Sombra had to smile, just a little, at that.



"As we were discussing, there has been an influx of letters since yesterday-" Celestia began, and Sombra did a double take;



"Yesterday?" he blurted "I was asleep that long?"



"Yes, your body required significant rest to recover from such feats," Celestia said with a faint smile "and during that time there has been quite the influx of mail.."



She gestured to a massive stack on the table "to show but a few.."



Sombra couldn't think of anything smart to say to that, but the way his eyebrows raised indicated definite surprise.



"They clamor for a coronation!" Cadance said with a soft smile "and we were hoping you would agree to it shortly.."



"Shortly..?" Sombra asked.



"Within the next say, month?" Twilight Sparkle suggested. Sombra blinked "I-isn’t that a little...short notice?" he asked.



"Not really..." Celestia smiled "We did not wait all that long before Twilight Sparkle's coronation!"



Twilight Sparkle nodded to confirm this.



"If that it is what you wish.." Sombra began, but Celestia shook her head, and spoke;



"Is it what YOU want, Sombra?" she asked.



He faltered a moment, mulling it over. Not a question he was prepared for...but his fathers image flashed through his head, and he felt his chest ache again. He wanted so badly to do what Cloudspark had wished, even if it terrified him a little. And so, even though he felt a massive surge of nerves, he felt himself nod.



"Perfect!" Cadance said brightly "it will serve as a perfect announcement at the ball on Saturday!"



"The wha-oh." Sombra recalled Pinkie Pie's enthusiasm "right.."



Twilight Sparkle chuckled "Speaking of which, Rarity says she needs to make a few adjustments when you’re feeling up to it, and the shoes she designed have been finished if you want to try them."



Sombra nodded mutely.



The rest of that morning he spent in his room, resting. His appetite was back, and with the Princesses giving him some of their magic he felt miles better.

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Rarity dropped in to get him to try on his new outfit,. She'd made it out of a lilac fabric, with a gold trim, the collar was an aristocratic style, with a purple and gold silk ruffled handkerchief tucked into it. The clasp holding it shut was shaped like a stylized version of his cutie mark. A silken cloak patterned the same as the handkerchief completed the getup.



"Ooh, I love it!" Rarity squeed, as she seen him in it. The shoes were made of a bluish purple metal, the front piece mimicking the clasp on the cloak.



"It's impressive.." he said, amazed she'd made this so soon.



"Well, purple used to be reserved JUST for royalty a long time ago after all! Ooh, I’ll just move this stitch.." he held still while she bustled around him.



"You seem very withdrawn..." Rarity commented a minute later. Sombra jumped slightly.



"My apologies, I’m just not sure how to approach such a thing. An entire room full of ponies waiting for what...?"



"No particular thing, just to see YOU," Rarity said as she stitched another piece of the cloak, "When you think about it, until your little adventure criss crossing the shopping district, very few besides all of us here at the palace have gotten to see much of you..and despite your lingering doubts, the citizens here WANT to see you. You're the hottest thing on the agenda! You've probably saved more of them than you know, and not long after the fights have gone, so have YOU!"



Sombra had to admit she had a point.



"Hmm, how best to phrase this...ooh, one moment!"



Rarity raced off, and came back with Applejack.



"You tell him Applejack dear!" she trilled.



Applejack coughed, cleared her throat and said "We're throwin' this here shindig 'cause YOU need ta interact with the ponies whose behinds you've been savin'. And this way, you cant do a runner and escape the issue! Got it?"



A somewhat stunned Sombra nodded. Applejack grinned;



"Relax sugarcube, it wont be all bad! WE'LL be there, and parties tend to become pretty fun with all of us around, ask Princess Celestia about the grand galloping gala!" then she trotted happily off.



"See?" Rarity beamed "It wont be so bad!"



"Very well," Sombra chuckled faintly "I'll trust in your guidance on this..."



"Excellent!" Rarity beamed, removing the cloak and folding it neatly "there, it's ready for the ball!"



"What of yourselves?" Sombra asked curiously "Mistake it not for ingratitude, but I hope you haven’t neglected your own adornments for this occasion in favor of creating this for me? I recall from father that the outfits for such an event are an entirely new level of complexity in themselves!"



"Don’t fret over it darling! Fluttershy is helping with that!" Rarity assured him "She has an UNCANNY talent for sewing. Now that I have your outfit finished I can join her. We will have them finished in time to attend! We will shine like stars, I assure you!"



Sombra seemed to understand, as he nodded, inwardly glad all the fuss wasn’t being focused on HIM alone.

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But there was more to come. Scarcely had he left the room, bidding farewell to Rarity as she headed off to help Fluttershy, then somepony called his name;



"Prince Sombra! there you are!"



Sombra blinked, staring in confusion at the pony that came trotting up. She had a purple coat with golden hair piled into a bun atop her head.



"Can I help you madam?" he asked at last.



"My names Foxtrot. I'm the dance instructor." she raised at eyebrow at the taller pony's blank expression "I can assume you know why I’m looking for you your highness?"



"Give it a moment madam," Sombra paused, then it seemed to sink in, as his expression changed to one of mildly horrified realization "Wait, dance instructor?!"



She chuckled, requesting he follow her to the ballroom. As they walked, she explained.



"It is a tradition here in the Empire, at royal functions, for a Prince or Princess to select a partner for a formal display dance. Its an old custom, but one the current Prince and Princess have upheld."



A faint flicker from his past memories confirmed this, but Sombra nonetheless made a note to blame Shining Armor for this later.



"-and of course, given it's YOUR debut attendance at a formal party like this, the Princess asked me to teach you the required dance, so that you might join them."



Well, at least he wouldn’t be on his own in embarrassing himself then.



"I can assure you it is a much loved tradition, not one ponies are prone to laughing at!" she said in amusement.



Sombra jumped slightly "Am I REALLY that obvious?!" he said in exasperation. First Cadance seeing through his reluctance to leave the castle without an excuse, now THIS.



Foxtrot chuckled "No, but you are extraordinarily emotive in your facial expressions, and your ears. It is subtle in many ways, but it says so much."



"Perhaps that is why i always had them pinned back?" Sombra said dryly, which made her smile as she recalled his previous armor.



"Your default expression does seem to be one of fierce concentration," Foxtrot joked "yet you show so much else in just a few minutes of expressions.."



Sombra decided he'd work that one out later.

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It wasn’t as awful as he’d expected. Sure, it was humiliating having to learn to DANCE, but after what he’d been through the last few days, it barely measured on the radar.



Foxtrot had to admit he was surprisingly adept at it. She surmised his ability to fight with the level of agility he did lent him a surprising talent in this area. He also seemed a fairly quick study, able to mimic what she showed him very quickly.



"Does..everypony know this dance?" Sombra asked her at last, at the closing of their final practise dance together.



"Hm?" She'd been distracted by the deep red of his eyes. Closer, she realized there seemed to be multiple shades of the color, with an almost fractal pattern. Was this a trait of his Shyre lineage?



Recovering her wits, she nodded, as they stepped back and the music ended.



"Any time there is ever a ball, everypony, male and female learns this little routine. After all, its not everyday you get asked to dance by royalty! With Princesses Luna, Princess Twilight Sparkle and Princess Celestia in attendance, I suspect many stallions will want to brush up on it. For Princess Cadance and Prince Shining Armor, the first dance will be with one another, although after that they do ask somepony else for a second dance."



"I see..." Sombra realized he had a lot to mull over.



"If its any assurance your highness, you’re probably one of the fastest studies I’ve ever taught. All that fighting has taught you how to move without having to concentrate too heavily. Quite a useful trait."



She let him go once she was sure he’d be able to perform the whole thing without slipping up. She wondered off-hoof who he would ask at the actual dance? There was no denying he was handsome, a fact a lot of the mares in the empire had been discussing. But Sombra seemed largely oblivious to this as far as she could tell.

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By the time Sombra got to the dining hall, everypony was already starting their food.



"Hey bud!" Shining Armor waved "how'd it go?"



"Don't ask.." Sombra grumbled as he sat down.



"Ask what?" Pinkie naturally did the opposite.



"About this awkward tradition of dancing at the ball." Sombra said as he took a bite of the food.



"Ahh, that!" Twilight Sparkle nodded "I had to learn it too, it's not that bad!"



"Easy for YOU to say!" Sombra muttered, shaking his head.

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Foxtrot left the palace and headed straight for a posh resturant for a date with her friends. She knew what they'd want to know, and sure enough..



"What’s he LIKE?" One mare asked.



"And can he dance?" Another giggled. Foxtrot rolled her eyes slightly.



"He’s actually pretty quiet," she remarked, "I get the feeling he’s studying everything new and unfamiliar with a great curiosity. He’s still pretty guarded..."



"But can he-?"



"He learnt the whole THING," she said, "In next to no time. He'll have no trouble at the ball."



"I wanna know who the lucky dance partner will be?" One of her friends sighed.



"Nopony's gotten even remotely CLOSE, imagine what it’d be like to actually DANCE such a romantic dance..."



"He didn’t mention it," Foxtrot shrugged "I’m not sure he's given it much thought.."

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At last the evening of the party arrived. Celestia had taught Rarity a very useful spell for temporarily taming a wild mane. It worked on hers, slowing its ever flowing movement for a day.

Useful for when she wished to have it in a different style.



This, Rarity used to calm Sombra's mane, so it could be shifted into a low ponytail, held in place with a circular gold band designed to look like the band around his leg.



Sombra fidgeted almost the whole time, which Rarity figured was caused by his nerves. The closer the party came, the more he couldn’t sit still. At last she walked down with him to the library, and told him to wait there, she was going to get the others so she could take a group photo. She asked a passing guard, Sombra's latest friend Lightshield, to hang around and keep an eye on him.



Not realizing this, Sombra was talking to himself as he spotted his reflection in the window.



"Not that I deny miss Rarity her excellence in dressmaking, but I look a prize fool in such a getup." he muttered.



"Well, at least you have standards, sire!" the guard couldn't help himself. Sombra jumped, whirling round to see Lightshield grinning from the doorway.



"Yes," Sombra dead-panned "for I hold myself to a certain standard of hilarity..."



More sniggering.



"Oh, I give up." Sombra grumbled. Lightshield chuckled.



"Don’t worry sire, you'll fit in just right with everypony else.."



"Sure.." Sombra sighed, looking back at the window, "Dress it up all you want, I still stick out a mile."



"I wouldn’t be so sure sire," he said lightly "I think you'll find you fit in better than you imagine.."



Sombra looked over at him, and managed a weak smile, thanking him for his counsel.



Then Lightshield heard something behind him, and darted into the room just in time to avoid being run over by an excitable Pinkie Pie. She bounded in, wearing a floaty dress made to resemble a layered cakes. Little jewels shaped like berries and stars ran along its hem. The others, in varying themes of dress bundled in after her, with Luna and Celestia bringing up the rear.



"Big brothers on his way-wow, Rarity!" Twilight Sparkle had just clocked Sombra's outfit. Rarity had kept it a surprise, unable to help from premiring her latest royal number in style!



Sombra turned towards them at the sound of their voices, blinking at the clamor of colors and fabric.



"NOW thou looketh the part!" Luna declared in approval.



"DEFINATLEY 20% cooler then ever!" Rainbow Dash nodded. Sombra felt himself flush slightly, but he knew that catchphrase of Rainbow Dash's was a sign of approval.



They gathered round for a photo, once Cadance and shining Armor arrived.



"See?" Lightshield grinned to Sombra "you fit right in!"

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After a mass of photos, they headed off towards the party as a group. Rarity and the others fell in behind the royal group, as it was their entrance that was to be the most exciting!



All the ponies gathered in the massive ballroom ceased chattering as the double doors opened, a glorious fanfare announcing the royalty’s arrival, and the guard at the door announced the princes and princesses in a booming voice.



As soon as Sombra's name was mentioned, all eyes were on him. This was, after all, the first time he'd ever been seen in such a big gathering, aside from the stadium announcements, and those had been pretty informal.



Sombra felt his heart constrict at the momentary silence and hushed whispers, and quickly closed his eyes, mentally instructing himself not to bug out. He promised Rarity he-



The next second he opened his eyes sharply, as an almost DEAFENING cheer ricocheted around the expansive room. Celestia, who was standing just to his right, seen him jolt slightly, ears standing upright in apparent confusion.



Some of the closer members of the crowd seen his response, and found his reaction rather charming. He literally seemed to have trouble grasping how important he was to them!



He recovered in time to join them as they gave a collective bow of their heads. The light caught the gold highlights of his outfit, and the purple jewel in the band around his leg.



Then the rest of Twilight Sparkle's friends bounded in, joining the purple Alicorn as she and the others took a step into the ballroom.



Sombra felt frozen, he wasn’t sure he could move-



"SOMBWA!" a familiar voice broke through the self induced panic, and he looked down just in time to see a blur wearing a yellow dress whoosh up to him.



Bright Spark looked more adorable then ever, her mother had styled her mane so it fell in little corkscrew curls, with jeweled bows on either side. Her dress was a floaty, puffy style, in shades of yellow and gold.



"You look fantastic, little one.." Sombra smiled as she beamed up at him, then called behind her "I found him mommy!"



Shining Sea caught up to her daughter, smiling at Sombra. She was wearing a glittery blue dress decorated with pearls. She looked very pretty.



"The worst bits over," she joked.



He laughed "that obvious was it?"



"Only a little..." Shining Sea smiled "you actually looked pretty relaxed, if a little startled."



"I wasn’t expecting such a reaction," Sombra managed at last "I guess it never occurred to me that I..."



"Mattered so much to us?" Shining Sea tilted her head curiously. Sombra went slightly red, but he nodded at last!



"C'mon!” Bright Spark bounded up and down "there’s loads of ponies who wanna say hewwo to you Sombwa!"



Taking a deep breath, Sombra followed after the excitable blur that was his little friend, with Shining Sea walking alongside.



Quillpetal and the others Sombra had briefly met during his excursion to deliver the letters all did double takes as the new prince and two friends approached, little Bright Spark excitably chattering away.



There was one new mare with them, a pony with practically no fear it seemed, for as Sombra and shining sea came to a stop right in front of the group, she gave Sombra a glance over and nudged the mare next to her, declaring "You weren’t kidding. He’s not just handsome, he’s gorgeous!"



Cue Shining Sea quietly face hoofing, and Sombra just BARELY keeping his face from going beet red.



"Ignore miss socially tactless, your highness, she’s missing a filter between her brain and her mouth!" Quillpetal said with a giggle underlining her voice.



"Tell me, have you met Cotton Candy?" Sombra said at last "You two could be long lost sisters!"



More laughter, with even Shining Sea letting out a muffled squawk of laughter behind her hoof.



After THAT response, Sombra couldn’t really say it got stranger than that!

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"We must declare," Luna said to her sister "he seems to be faring rather well!"



"Indeed..." Celestia was relieved to see Sombra didn’t appear to be too unsettled by the mass of ponies vying to talk to him.



"It's good to see him relaxing around so many ponies," Cadance walked over with Shining Armor by her side.



"Hopefully now he'll realize what we’ve been telling him all this time," Shining Armor said, not unkindly "that everypony is glad to see him accepting his new role…"

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But it wasn’t to be an entirely peaceful evening. Sombra hadn’t realized, but when the guards had destroyed one of the attacking creatures the previous day, not ALL the cores had been destroyed. A passing mare had picked up what looked to her like a harmless shard of the core. Unlike the piece Sombra had retrieved for Princess Twilight Sparkle back at the beginning of all this madness, this piece was dangerous, for the creatures had evolved since then, storing a portion of their magic within them. The mare, a jeweler by the name of Sweetheart, had carved the jet black core into a heart-shaped jewel inlaid in a necklace.



Sombra was oblivious to all this, as he had a much bigger problem on his hooves.



For the moment, he was engaged in conversation with Flash Sentry, who was off duty and dressed to the nines. From what Sombra could tell, he was there to admire Princess Twilight from across the room, and not actually TALK to her. Confused by this, he walked over to the other stallion.



"She can't read your thoughts," Sombra said archly, raising one eyebrow "so you may have to go SAY something!"



"W-what?" Flash Sentry tried to look innocent but failed epically under Sombra's sarcastic glare.



Then Sombra heard the familiar strains of a certain song start up. The band was looping the songs intro, indicating the famed "traditional" dance was going to start. This display would serve as the opening of the evenings dancing, a performance by the Princes and Princesses to start things off!



"For the love of Celestia!" Sombra grumbled "you will have no finer opportunity than this!"



As Flash Sentry looked over at where Twilight Sparkle was in conversation with Rarity, when the purple Princess pony happened to glance over, see Flash, and send a quick, slightly blushing smile his way.



"Tell me you actually SAW that!" Sombra sighed.



"I don’t know what I’m supposed to do!" Flash blurted "I don’t want to make a fool of myself, your highness!"



"Argh, fine!" Sombra sighed "I am told embarrassment is easier to bear when a pony is not alone in doing so. That was my fathers mantra. Hence his repeated efforts to rope me and anypony nearby into his goofball moments!"



"What are you getting at, sire?" Flash asked.



"You will not be alone in "embarrassing" yourself!" Sombra said, feeling his stomach sink "as tradition demands, so too must I select a partner. Now MOVE. I will see you at the start of this madness!" Then he subtly shoved Flash Sentry in Twilight's direction before diving into the massive crowd.



There was only one pony he could think of that he could trust not to laugh too hard at this whole madness...



Shining Sea was pleased to see Sombra reappear beside her and Bright Spark. She therefore was exceedingly surprised when he asked for a dance!



Everypony else’s jaw hit the floor, when Sombra did an elegant bow and made his request of her.



Bright Spark nudged her mommy towards Sombra, and the stunned but flattered Shining Sea accepted his out held hoof...



Flash Sentry meanwhile, under threat of having a very cross Sombra on his tail, gathered the courage to trot up to Princess Twilight Sparkle.



"Flash!" Her eyes brightened as she seen him "hi!"



"H-hey, Princess...uh.." he coughed, and then, seeing Sombra out of the corner of his eye with a pretty blue mare stepping alongside him, blurted "May I have this dance?"



Twilight Sparkle's heart soared, and she nodded. She liked Flash Sentry. Sure, he was a little goofy at times, but his cheery nature and light hearted banter overcame that! He had helped her during the crystal plague, bringing her the tea and checking on her brother for her! So she nodded, and Flash could barely keep a relieved grin from his face as they followed Sombra to the centre of the floor.



When Cadance seen who Sombra's dance partner was, she smiled. She'd gotten the impression Shining Sea, from what she'd observed at the festival, cared for Sombra as much as little Bright Spark did.



Shining Armor seen his sister preparing to dance with Flash, and nodded his approval. Flash Sentry was a good guard. He could be a bit silly, sometimes liable to get carried away, but he had a good heart.



Celestia and Luna had both chosen somepony to dance with, and their chosen partners looked like they could hardly believe their luck!



Neither could Shining Sea. She knew about this dance, but she hadn’t connected this tradition with the fact Sombra was a Prince now until he asked her, and it all came rushing back!



Of all the prettily dressed ponies in the ballroom, he'd chosen her! She couldn’t believe it.



Then the music soared, and the dance began.



Foxtrot, standing on the edge of the crowd, nodded her approval as she watched the new Prince as he danced. He was able to focus on his partner, without seeming to worry about remembering the dance steps!



At the finale of the dance, the dancers finished quite close, with the mares hoof curved around her stallions neck, almost nose to nose.



Shining Sea couldn't help but admire the way the light caught Sombra's eyes as the dance came to a close. The way his mane, falling just over one ear, contrasted the smoky grey of his coat....



--OK...he’s cute.-- she admitted to herself at last --REALLY...cute...--



Then they stepped apart, finishing the move with a bow. The other royals finished in perfect sync with them she noticed.



Bright Spark had seen the entire dance, grinning so widely she couldn’t speak, just grinned ecstatically. Her mommy danced with her precious Sombra! How wonderful!



The crowd applauded and cheered as a new song began to play, and the royals and their partners dispersed off to one side.

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"See? Not so terrifying..." Sombra said softly to Flash, who nodded, looking giddily happy.



"That was beautiful darlings!" Rarity declared.



"Sweetest thing I ever did see," Applejack nodded.



"Sombwa, mommy!" Bright Spark zoomed over and hugged her mother, then Sombra.



"Fanks for dancing wiv mommy.." she whispered in his ear as he crouched slightly so she could declare "boop!" and poke his nose as per usual, "She weally likes to see you, and she woves dancing!"



Being a small filly, she hadn’t entirely grasped volume level, so her mother picked up on this too, and felt herself blush a little. She shot a quick look at Sombra, in time for him to do the same in her direction. They shared what seemed to be a look of amusement, adorable embarrassment, and even a slight smile, all in a split second before breaking eye contact again, and refocusing their gazes on the beaming Bright Spark.



"Please tell me I wasn’t the only one who saw that!" Rarity whispered to Twilight. Twilight Sparkle nodded, she'd seen it too!



"Seen what?" Rainbow Dash asked, looking confused.



"That LOOK!" Rarity declared softly, her eyes gleaming "the LOOK, Rainbow dear!"



"I don’t get it..." Rainbow Dash groaned.



"There's an entirely possible chance they may LIKE one another is what she sayin'!" Applejack said bluntly. "get mah drift?"



"Oooohhh.." Pinkie Pie copped on at last, and grinned widely.



"That’s so sweet.." Fluttershy whispered.



"Bleurgh..." Rainbow Dash groaned "not mushy stuff, please!"

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It was shortly after the adorable opening dance that Sombra met his next obstacle. Only this one would try to kill him!



He was walking past a group of fancily dressed stallions and mares from the staff of council at the palace, when one of them, in his haste to get the prince's attention, dropped the wineglass he was floating beside him. Sombra quickly activated his magic, catching it quickly and setting it upright on a nearby table.



"A masterful catch your highness," the stallion said gratefully "might we waylay you awhile?"



Sombra nodded, taking a drink from a passing waiter and taking a sip as the council began talking about the topics they hoped her might join Shining Armor and Cadance in working in the near future.



"Of course, we wont expect you to take on anything too heavy until the coronation!" Another stallion, an older gentleman, declared "but we would welcome your opinion at the next meeting if you're not busy chasing those foul beasts through street and alley!"



"With Princess Twilight Sparkle's goggles, I am no longer fighting this war on my own," Sombra replied "and if there is some manner by which I might assist, I...would be glad."



The group nodded and voiced their approval and relief. It was refreshing to hear somepony using the more formal grammar of the empire. It seemed Sombra's father had taught him well!



That innocuous little spell, catching a falling glass, had been enough to catch the attention of the limited consciousness still hiding within the core. Barely "alive" as it were, it was a basic intelligence, more feral then normal. But with the mare wearing it on her person as an adornment, it was all too easy for it to worm into her thoughts.



She swanned up to the table bearing the lavish spread of food, and stealthily snuck a small, sharp silver steak knife into the sleeve of her dress. She heard the music starting up, and under the darknesses control, she made her way confidently to Sombra.



“Excuse me,” she said, offering all the stallions a fleeting glance but letting her eyes linger on Sombra “Might a lady trouble a handsome Prince for a dance?”



The creature was manipulating her crush on the enigmatic unicorn, removing her nerves and putting words in her mouth!



Sombra was startled, but accepted her request nonetheless. But this dance was different to the one he’d had with Shining Sea. This mare wasn’t shy, it seemed. She smiled flirtatiously at him as they danced, stepping as close as she dared, during the bits where the dance moved them close.



Shining Sea watched them absently, feeling a little pang at how fearless that mare was. She'd been way too nervous to do much beyond admire the Prince and keep her mind on her hoofwork!



Then she seen a glint of something, and felt a stab of panic..

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The flirty mare spun away, then danced back in close. She pretended to stumble, bumping right into Sombra, "steadying" herself with one hoof resting on his chest, while with a subtle flick of her other hoof, she brought the knife up;



But it was this invasion of personal space that alerted Sombra to her plan rather then distract him. He was finding her sudden advancements a little much, and when she tripped and all but bumbled into him, he reacted instinctively, using one foreleg to stop her falling over (that would’ve been embarrassing!). But when she pressed a hoof to his chest, as if seeking a heartbeat, he felt a little uncomfortable. Something was weird about this whole thing, besides his distinct lack of understanding of romantic policies.



He glanced down at the aforementioned hoof, in time to see the other one coming towards him, there was a flash of light, just for a second. Quickly, disregarding the possible social backlash, he moved back. This saved him from a near lethal cut. As it was, the edge of the knife just nicked his jawline as he darted back, and the mare snarled.



Shining Sea seen this and let out an involuntary cry. Everypony looked over, spotting the gleaming knife sticking out of the fancy sleeve of the mares outfit.



"Freeze!" two guards appeared at the edge of the dance area, eyes fixed on the mare. Sombra quickly raised a hoof towards them, ordering them to stop!



The next second he felt a cold blade press to his throat.



"Smart move, little prince.." the mare warbled, her voice half her own, half shadow.



"Let her go!" Sombra snarled furiously.



"Must you spoil my fun, you demented little freak?" She spat.



"Call me what you fancy, I care not!" Sombra snapped back "your bluster fools nopony! Your tactics are pathetic!”



She glared furiously at him.



"You've run out of ammunition for your puerile attacks! All my memories, all the nightmares, i have been through them ALL now. There is nothing left you can use to try to stop me destroying you!" he did something incredibly risky then...



"You think this innocent mare is a toy for you to use? You are gravely mistaken" He looked at her eyes, appealing to the pony within "this is HER body, HER mind, and she will NOT become a part of your plan-"



"Cease your babbling little prince!" the mare spat, but stopped a second later as Sombra actually took a step CLOSER, pressing the blade against his neck even more.



"Go ahead, try it. She will fight you. We will ALL fight you!" Sombra declared.



By now everypony was fixated on this struggle. A mare holding Prince Sombra at knife point, the blade pressed to the elegant curve of his neck.



"We must do something!" Luna hissed to her sister. Celestia was itching to show this shadow creature it was mistaken to target Sombra, but one wrong move and Sombra could get seriously hurt. Then they all seen him take that step, putting the knife closer to his neck.



"Oooh.." Rarity swooned dramatically, unable to watch! Pinkie caught her and pulled a cushion from thin air, setting it under Rarity so her dress and mane didn't get creased.



The shadow creature decided to just be rid of somebody, since he was being so obliging! But when it tried to move, it found the pony's limbs frozen. It felt an angry presence lash out within its consciousness. The host was fighting back!



Sombra seen her freeze, and smiled knowingly. Then, in a flash, he transformed into the tiny, foal sized shadow version of himself from the stadium incident. He leapt up, grabbing the necklace with his little fangs and tearing it free, bounding away from her. She swiped at him as he did so, dropping the knife, but his diminutive stature made him impossible to catch! Then she froze again as the host mind dug its heels in! She cried out, the jewel still trying to exert its influence, for even though Sombra had removed the jewel, it had wormed its way into her head.



Reverting to his normal form, Sombra grabbed the sharp knife from the floor, and used the tip to prise the shard of the core out. He crushed it underhoof, causing the mare to screech in agony. She managed to free herself from the paralysis, and leapt for him, only to be restrained by the magic of the two unicorn guards that'd been standing anxiously by.



She was strong however, her possessed fury making it hard for them to restrain her as she twisted and fought.



Sombra closed his eyes, and a purple aura wrapped around her, making her freeze. It lasted only a second, and when it dispersed, there was a darker tint to it. She gave a muffled groan and collapsed. Lightshield seen this, and recognized it as the same spell Sombra had used to save HIM!



Assimilating the magic into his own and essentially nullifying it, Sombra felt a brief wave of dizziness, but it soon faded.



"Sire?" one of the guards was speaking to him, holding a handkerchief up to Sombra's neck.



"What...oh..." Sombra stayed still as the blood was mopped up. luckily it was a very shallow cut, no real harm done.



"W-what....what happened..?" the mare had come to. She shook her head.



"Are you all right madam?" Sombra asked, sitting opposite her as she raised her head to look at him



When she seen the Prince she'd just tried to essentially assassinate, she burst into tears, bowing her head in respect;



"I’m so sorry y-your highness! I couldn't stop myself..i-i.."



“It is fine." Sombra's slightly stern voice slowed her tears, and she looked up at him.



“What is your name?” he asked.



“I'm Sweetheart, your highness...” she sniffled.



"Miss Sweetheart, I have seen this spell one time before, and I will tell you now what I told that pony. There is no grounds to blame yourself, those creatures manipulate and warp your mind to serve their own ends. Besides, did you not fight back?"



She blinked, realizing he was right. She had gotten mad, screamed for the thing to stay away from Sombra, she didn’t want to hurt him!



"See?" Sombra offered a kind smile to the mare "The matter is dismissed. Are you hurt?"



She shook her head, unable to believe it. He wasn’t angry....and she wasn’t in trouble!

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One of the guards fetched her a glass of water, another, a chair. She was sat by the edge of the dance floor. Sombra stayed close by as the mares friends gathered around her, mopping her tears and consoling their scared friend.



He looked down at the golden necklace by his hoof. He floated it up, repairing the broken clasp, but the space where the jewel had been set...



He called for somepony to please fetch miss Rarity! Having recovered from swooning, she came over.



"Are you all right? That looked like a quite ghastly situation!"



"I am fine, it is but a scratch. However, I need your help." he showed her the missing gap where the black core-jewel had been "what color of gem would you suggest to replace this?"



Rarity studied the mare it belonged to. She had golden blonde mane and tail, and a pale pink coat.



"A ruby!" She declared, "That'd would look stunning, plus it's in the shape of a heart!"



Sombra nodded, asking if she had one she could give him? Rarity closed her eyes, summoning one from her workshop. Sombra used his magic to recreate the shape of the previous gem, and slotted the new ruby heart into the necklace.

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Sweetheart was dabbing her eyes with a napkin when Sombra approached once more, with Rarity beside him.



"Y-your highness!" she teared up again "I-"



“There is no further need to apologize, I insist." Sombra said firmly, then floated the necklace over and set it back around her neck "this is your I believe. I regret I had to destroy the gem, but the stone you carved it from was from one of those things cores."



"I though it was harmless, and it was...mesmerizing..." she wavered, then seen the stunningly cut ruby that had replaced "Your highness, I-"



"It seemed a shame to let such a valuable piece remain empty," Sombra remarked "and miss Rarity said a ruby suited you best."



Rarity nodded, giving the mare a comforting smile "it suits your coat just wonderfully darling!"



Sweethearts friends all fawned over the necklace, admiring how much better it looked then the black gem! She managed to thank him, unable to believe all this!



Sombra could hear the muted sound of the music, feel the tension in the air. Lightshield seen him frown unhappily. Then something seemed to occur to him, as he blurted;



"Of course, Cotton Candy-!"



"You rang?" a voice spoke from literally right beside him, and those nearby seen Sombra actually jump, giving Pinkie a stern look.



"Don’t sneak up on me like that..." he sighed "Anyhoof...i have just one question?"



"What is?" asked Pinkie Pie, hopping up and down.



"Can you get this party back on track?"

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While Pinkie Pie was setting her plan in motion, the Princesses and Shining Armor all clustered around Sombra, relieved to see he wasn’t hurt!



"You gave us quite a fright with that stunt!" Luna said "How did thou know she wouldn’t hurt thee?"



"I don’t know," Sombra said honestly "I just...did. I got the sensation she was really fighting behind the scenes there..."



"We're glad you’re not hurt, but please refrain from scaring us all like that!" Cadance replied.



Sombra nodded in apology "I’m sorry if I worried you, but I didn’t want to attack her. So I used that same spell as last time.."



"With Lightshield?" Shining Armor confirmed. Sombra nodded.



"Everypony's uneasy.." Cadance said sadly "the party may have to be-"



"Hold that thought Princess..." Sombra said. Looking up at him she seen he was smiling softly.



As she opened her mouth to ask what he meant, she heard a familiar voice from the stage that'd been set up for the band.



"Alright everypony!" It was Pinkie Pie. "That was super scary, but its okie-dokie-lokie now! And Sombra insisted we get this party back on track! You’re not gonna ignore him now, are ya?"



The gathered ponies shook their heads, and Pinkie Pie grinned widely.



"So lets get this party started, by ROYAL decree!" she threw a big ball into the air where it exploded, showering sparkly confetti everywhere. The assembled ponies cheered.



"Play something to dance to!" Pinkie Pie told the band "happy fun dancing!"



Figuring she meant a more upbeat tune, they swung into a jazzy, poppy melody, which Pinkie Pie began to sing along to, making the lyrics up as she went:

"Ohh whoa whoa,
Time to swing your mane, honey!
Ohh whoa whoa,
Time to feel the beat!


Ohh whoa whoa,
Let your worries go to-night!
Ohh whoa whoa,
Get up off your seat!”

She spun around before launching into a verse;

Don't frown, don't pout,
Don't let your tears flow!
Because tonight's a night where
We can all let our worries go!


We got a new reason, a new friend to celebrate!
To see him free now, a long time we have had to wait!


But from the past ashes,
a phoenix made of dark flame!
A new contender,
In a twisted shadows crazy game!


Light and shadow mix,
A changing heart marks the way,
A broken sky we must fix,
Our spirits will fight this day!


Ohh whoa whoa,
Time to let your guard drop!
Ohh whoa whoa,
Your heartbeat will never stop!


So dance, dance now!
Don’t worry about a thing!


So dance, dance now!
And let your heart SING!”

Massive applause rang out after this, and a slightly out of breath Pinkie Pie trotted over to the royal group.



"Wow pinkie!" Twilight Sparkle stared at her friend "Did you write that just for the party?"



“No, I made it up on the spot!" She beamed, before bounding away to the drinks table.



"That...is remarkable." Celestia said at last. Following the schedule, the second traditional royalty dance was due to begin, Sombra heard the music start up!



He looked about, hoping to find Shining Sea again, he felt comfortable around her.



He spotted her, and she caught his eye, then made a subtle nodding motion with her head, indicating-



He realized she was hinting towards Sweetheart, who was still sat on her chair surrounded by her friends. She looked cheered a little by her new necklace and Pinkie Pie's bouncy song, but he could see the embarrassment of the incident was hurting her still.



He knew what it was like, to lose control...to feel like an outcast. He shot Shining Sea a grateful nod, and walked over.



Celestia watched this exchange, realized what Sombra about to do, and smiled. He was learning fast it seemed...

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Sweetheart shook her head when her friends tried to persuade her to come get a drink with them, watch the dance...



Then they heard somepony clearing their throat, and turned, sweetheart looking up from the napkin she was currently twisting into little shreds. Her heart both jumped and sank when she seen it was Sombra.



But the two words he spoke next she barely dared believe;



"May I?"



And an out held hoof.



She heard her friends gasps and murmurs of surprise and slight envy as she took the out held hoof in a stunned daze, and let herself be escorted to the dance floor.

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She was nervous as all heck at first, but she soon relaxed as Sombra talked to her. This time her dancing was as perfected and polite as she had practiced it..



When the dance was over, she pretty much went bright red at being so close to Sombra. He'd been unexpectedly kind to her, after everything that’d happened she thought he rather keep away from her! But as they danced, he'd explained he knew there was no cause for her to feel responsible, he wouldn't hear of it!



She thanked him as she turned to go back to her friends.



Sombra sighed in relief, glad to see the attempted attack hadn’t cut the party short. He made a mental note to thank Cotton Candy later…

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And the party went on, as exciting as ever! Pinkie Pie requested MORE lively music, and Candace and Shining Armor did a sort of tango-foxtrot thing, which garnered a lot of applause, and lots of other ponies came onto the floor to join them!



Bright Spark caused a minor giggle-fit across the crowd when she literally went zooming across the polished floor on her rear, using the satiny fabric of her dress as an impromptu sled of sorts and her magic to propel herself!



"Wheeeeeeeee!" she hooted as she whizzed past Sombra, who was honoring a request for a dance from Luna. Both stopped mid-step, looked at her, then at each other, and cracked up laughing. It reminded them of that big laugh they'd had on the rooftop, where Sombra had jokingly called her "Woona", a la Bright Spark style!



Nopony managed to escape being amused by this random interval of madness. When Bright Spark reached the end of the polished floor and bounced off it onto the carpet, she was scooped up out of harms way by a certain Alicorn.



"That was quite a display little miss Bright Spark," Celestia commented as she set Bright Spark down atop a cushion, and swiftly mended a small tear in the child’s dress.



"Fanks Pwincess!" Bright Spark giggled "I thought it would be funny, and make the posh ponies stop wooking so bored!"



Celestia couldn't help but chuckle at sparks description.



Bright Spark was beyond thrilled, she was getting to talk with the sun Princess! This was so much awesome!



Sombra noticed Twilight Sparkle and Flash seemed to be pairing up for more dances, and got the feeling they were getting along quite well.



Then Celestia appeared beside him, saying Cadance was about to make a special announcement, and he recalled the topic.



Cadance was smiling as she announced the date had finally been decided for a very special event....the official coronation of Prince Sombra!



If Sombra thought the sound level the crowd had made when he'd walked in at the start of the party was loud, it had NOTHING on the sound level this announcement produced! Everypony turned to where he stood, flanked by Celestia and Luna, who both looked pleased and more than a little proud. After all, he’d shown it was possible to, as Pinkie Pie's song described, rise from the ashes of the past once more!

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"I’m glad to hear you’ve picked a date.." Shining Sea noticed Sombra looked a little flushed, but he nodded.



"Princess Twilight Sparkle and the others were right, its time I stopped putting this off. It was a little daunting, seeing just how big an occasion it turned out to be. I wasn't expecting it to be like this.."



"Your father left you a place at the forefront of an entire empire, i bet anypony would find that a little scary.." Shining Sea smiled "but you'll do fine. Bright Spark and I know it!"



Sombra smiled, a warm, kind smile that made her heart speed up. He really was very handsome, with those garnet red eyes and jet black hair...



Somepony bumped against Shining Sea in passing, and her efforts to sidestep the ponies following in the first ones wake put her even closer to Sombra. He blinked and tilted his head towards her, asking was she OK, and that these ponies needed to watch where they were going. She smiled and shook her head, telling him it was fine. As she turned her head to do so, their noses were within inches of one another...



Across the room, Rarity was holding her breath, mentally encouraging them to..to...



And just when it looked as if they were about to do something;



"Mommy!" Bright Spark bounded over, seeing her two favourite ponies, her mother and her beloved Sombra talking together!



Both adults scooted back from each other, turning their attention onto Bright Spark, and off each other.



Rarity let out a groan "so close..."



"Close to what?" Rainbow Dash asked, honestly not sure what Rarity was fussing about!



Rarity just sighed.

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But there was a compromise in the works. She'd snuck off now the party was ending and the ponies were headed home, to check her hair hadn't gone flat from all the dancing. As she was exiting the bathroom, she heard Sombra's voice, and Shining Sea's. She edged her face around the corner, ears pricked in curiosity;



"-for asking her, I know her from the school board, she's a very sweet natured pony! She must've felt terrible!" Shining Sea looked worried.



"I told her what I told Lightshield. It was through no fault of her own that she was manipulated. Although I’m not sure if the circumstances are the same.."



“How do you mean?" Shining Sea asked.



"The guard was targeted because of his distrust of me. But I didn’t sense the same animosity from madam Sweetheart. So what was it targeting? Curiosity?"



Shining sea chuckled and shook her head "Affection, more like!" She said.



"Wha-?" Sombra stared at her like she was mad "w-what do you mean?"



"She has quite a crush on you, and she isn't the only one. Didn't you notice how they smiled and tried to get your attention for the dances?"



"I thought that's what these parties were always like. Some protocol or something linked to the royal status. I mean why would they-"



He glanced aside, seeing his reflection in the window. He knew he was different from everypony else. His magic was dark, and he knew he still looked a fierce, intimidating sight, no matter what fancy clothes he wore..



Seeing the way he was regarding his reflection, Shining Sea spoke up.



"Shush," she said gently "I don’t want to hear you speak about yourself that way. OK?"



He blinked, unable to think of anything to say. When he turned his head, they were close enough that their noses brushed..She looked beautiful, with her opalescent dress catching the light.



Rarity had to gnaw her hoof to refrain from squeeing in delight the next second as, on a crazy impulse, Sombra kissed Shining Sea...

Meetings & Memorial

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This had to be a dream. She'd fallen asleep after a long day at work.



That was the excuse Shining Sea tried to tell herself. But no, this was REAL. Possibly the sweetest, most handsome stallion she'd ever grown to know had just kissed HER.



Like any mare, she'd daydreamed of such an occasion, but never had she thought it would be in such a glamorous setting! Part of her tried to say this was just a dream, but the thudding of her heart, the shimmer of his unique power at the edges of her senses, and most telling of all, the feel of his lips on hers...



This was no dream...it was a kiss of such warmth and tentative curiosity...



A wonderful shiver ran from nose to tail, and she made a note that this was the. Best. Night. Ever!



At last the moment had to come to an end, and they broke apart. For a moment, she seen him with the barriers dropped, just how much was hidden behind that protective shell.



They blinked at each other, before she felt herself blush. She was literally speechless.



"I-", Sombra felt a surge of embarrassment. How could he have just DONE something so rash?! She was sure to get mad. Why would she be interested in HIM? Had he gone too far, reading too much into what was probably something else?



All these fears and guilts ran through his head, and tripped his automatic "flee the scene" habit, born from his disrupted social learning.



"I have to go-" he blurted, hoping to excuse himself before she got angry "I'm sorry if I-mmh!"



He was cut off, as with a no-nonsense look on her face, Shining Sea reached up and snagged a hoof under his collar, pulling him back around to face her. Their muzzles touched, and his heart kicked off again, pounding so loudly he couldn't hear a thing. He tensed, expecting a good solid slap or the like. So he made a startled noise when she returned the kiss. A kiss soft as the silk of the cloak he wore.



--Sweet merciful Celestia,-- he thought, --don't let this be a dream…--



He blushed bright red as she let him go. Eyes widened, blinking soundlessly. This wasn't how he'd expected things to go. Heck, when it came down to it, he hadn't expected his own actions. If Cotton Candy had somehow eaten so much sugar she'd ripped a hole in common sense AND reality, gone skittering off to the future and returned to tell him he'd end the most astounding party with a heart-stopping kiss, with a mare who refused to see anything of the darkness he perceived to surround him-



Well he'd have probably told that hyperactive reality-shredding pony she was off her proverbial rocker. And the literal one too. And one in a dimension that doesn't exist-



-Where was he going with this? He realized he hadn't said a word in the ensuing silence, but she didn't look upset, more amused at his behavior.



"What made you think I'd push you away?" she chided kindly.



"I didn't-" he cut off, tried again "I don't-"



"I'll say it again, don't talk about yourself that way," Shining Sea said softly, reaching up and gently brushing her hoof over his cheek "I know you don't believe me, but there's a reason those ladies were so eager for a dance. You've become so kind." she blushed.



He still seemed speechless, so she added, in a soft whisper "you think your appearance pushes anypony away? You're wrong. Quite the opposite in fact..."



"B-but.." Sombra stammered, --come on brain, just work with me here!-- he pleaded with it.



"No buts." she said decisively.



"Ah- But-, I-" he blustered, his brain refusing point blank to say anything intelligent. This was a new and startling thing. He'd never had time to think about love, survival had always come first...



Shining Sea felt another tug of affection for the reserved, reclusive stallion as she watched him. The purple of his uniform made his dark red eyes seem to have even more subtle shades to them, and, with his mane tamed by the spell, it framed the exquisite curve of his jaw, his ears twitching subtly...



“-sheer audacity of-”



She cut off his half-formed sentences with a firm, but gentle kiss. He caught a scent of vanilla from her mane, a scent that would forever be branded into his mind as belonging to this special mare. He knew there was a risk anypony could wander down this hall and spot them, but that thought was quickly dismissed as the desire to return her kiss became undeniable.



Without the uncertainty of how she felt, this kiss was even sweeter, and the world around them seemed to blur, sounds phasing out to be replaced by the thunder of his own pulse...



She didn't say anything further when they finally broke out of their little moment, just angled her head to brush her cheek against his, the warmth of the contact making him feel so relieved.



They would've carried on like this, if not for:



"Mommy?" they heard Bright Spark calling for her mother, and they reluctantly stepped apart as she came bounding round the corner. If she noticed her mother and Sombra both looked a little flushed and slightly closer then she'd ever seen them, she didn't say a word.



"Mommy, Sombwa! Whachuu doing?"



"Just having a little chat honey..." Shining Sea nuzzled the top of her daughters head, making her giggle "you ready to go? Shall we go say goodbye to the Princesses?"



Bright Spark nodded, but first to say goodbye to Sombra! She raced over and hugged him tightly. She whispered a secret, which made him raise an eyebrow in amusement, but nod.



They disappeared off down the corridor, Shining Sea casting one last lingering glance at him before she vanished from sight.



He uttered a shaken sigh --cant believe I...let alone that she..--



Then he recalled the secret Bright Spark had whispered, and turned towards the other corridor...

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Rarity had gone into silent squee overload and swooned in glee behind the pot plant when Shining Sea had grabbed Sombra by the collar to stop him bolting and kissed him back!



She rolled back and forth on the plush carpeting – to hay with creases - squeeing as silently as she could. Oh, it was just SO romantic! The moody, enigmatic Sombra finally choosing a special somepony!



Then something blotted out the light and she stopped mid-roll, blinking.



It was Sombra, looming over her, wearing a resigned but bewildered expression.



"What exactly are you DOING, miss Rarity?" he asked.



"Eeh hee...its quite a story, darling!" she said lamely, getting to her feet.



"If it has you rolling around on the carpet giggling like miss Cotton Candy after sixteen cupcakes, I will admit I am curious." he said, deadpan.



She stared at him, but he didn't falter.



"OK, I was accidentally spying on you! I couldn't help it, it was just so sweet and- you already knew I was here didn't you?" she tailed off, seeing the amusement on his face



"Yes, I did fancy I heard something, but I was admittedly distracted," he said at last. "However, miss Bright Spark said something that gave it away...."



"She did?"



"Yes, her exact words were, "There's a pony having a giggle-fit behind that pot plant, I think she had too much fizzy!""



Rarity face-hoofed. Busted by a curiously astute filly!



"So you saw everything...?" Sombra sighed at last.



Rarity blinked up at him, seeing the way he stared almost defensively off to one side, not meeting her eyes, as if preparing to defend himself against some form of mockery. She noted this was an almost childlike aspect of his personality, this sullen taciturnity. Then again, he HAD skipped childhood and been forced to grow up amidst his own madness...



Her expression was kind as she carried on, "I didn't MEAN to intrude, I'd just left the bathroom when I heard you talking. I didn't want to interrupt, and then things happened! But listen to me, darling, I wouldn't DREAM of making fun of somepony for something so wonderful!"



Sombra blinked at her, looking slightly less embarrassed, but still wary.



Seeing him still looking undecided, her eyes sparkled in amusement as she had an idea!



"I swear!" She said, and demonstrated a playground oath she and the others had been taught by Pinkie Pie "Cross my heart, hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye!" Ending with her left hoof being placed over the corresponding eye.



He laughed, the tension draining from him at last. For her to go that far, he knew she was being as generous as her element, and as honest as her...no, THIER friend Applejack!



"Well, perhaps you can explain it to me." he sighed at last as she set her hoof back down.



"Explain what darling? She's clearly in love with you! What's to explain! You've got things started now!"



"And that's the problem!" Sombra blurted, sighing. "Things of this nature, they weren't exactly on my priority list. I have no idea what I'm supposed to do about this now!"



"Ah, that, I think I can help with!" Rarity had read enough romance books to know the general idea. "First up is a first date! technically this whole dance counts, since it's when the first kiss occurred-" she broke off to clap her hooves happily, "but now is the first PROPER date, with just the two of you!"



"Two questions; What does that entail, and why were you rolling on the floor again?"



"Ahem, that.." Rarity flushed a little "I have a soft spot for romance, darling! And that was possibly the sweetest thing I've seen, ever! You finally realized what she trying to tell you, AND she returned your affections, it's just like a storybook! You need to find out what she likes! For example, fancy dinners, picnics, things like that! Then plan something around that!"



This was way more complicated then Sombra had guessed, he needed to think...

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"We would say that was a success, wouldst thou agree?" Luna asked as the royal group plus twilights friends, made their way out of the now empty ballroom.



Sombra couldn't answer, save an exhausted yawn and a flushed nod. Celestia chuckled at the sight of him.



"Let's all get some sleep," she said happily "its been a wonderful evening..."

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Shining Sea woke up the morning after the party with an initially undetermined sense of happiness bustling around her brain. On auto pilot she ambled downstairs to start cooking little Spark's breakfast. Then she recalled exactly why she was grinning all over her face (as seen in the surface of the saucepan).



Sombra had KISSED her. Oh sweet CELESTIA, it'd been the most adorable thing...



He'd mistaken her stunned surprise and silent celebration for shock and dislike, and had tried to excuse himself and flee. But, determined not to let him get the wrong idea, and already concerned he did not consider himself deserving of such affections, she'd put a stop to his exit strategy and simply kissed him in return. Her heart had been hammering away so fast she was sure she would collapse.



She could feel herself flushing again. She recalled how close he'd been to her, the soft curve of his ears, the deep red of his eyes. The gentle feel of his coat when she nudged his cheek with hers. And of course, the heart-pounding warmth of that first kiss.



"Mommy?" she jumped when she heard her daughters voice.



"Hey sweetie!" she smiled as Bright Spark ambled in and took her place at the table. She tucked eagerly into the soft fluffy waffles her mother spooned onto her plate. Once her mother had made her customary coffee and joined her, they began to chatter.



"Did you enjoy the party sweetie?" Shining Sea smiled as her daughter drizzled syrup onto the waffle and took big bite out of it. she nodded rapidly, swallowing the food.



"It was so much awesome!" she cheered, and rattled off a list of things she'd done, from playing hide and seek around the ballroom with pinkie, to getting a dance lesson Applejack-style (rodeo style line dancing!), meeting Princess Cadance and Shining Armor, and finishing with her chat with Princess Celestia after her floor-skiing trick!



"Yes I seen the Princess fixing your dress!" Shining Sea chuckled. "Try not do too much of that OK?"



"Okayy..." Bright Spark giggled, finishing the last scrap of waffle and beaming happily at her mother!



She wondered how to broach the subject with her daughter. Bright Spark adored Sombra, she knew that, but how would she feel about Sombra and her mommy being close?

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That morning at breakfast, Sombra was given the latest statistics on attacks. They were ramping up, this much was obvious, but the guards were getting swifter too, at destroying them! The only thing missing was a way for THEM to sense what Sombra could, aka the core controller! Sombra promsied he'd try to think of a way, but dark magic was a tricky business, as it didn't seem to be confined to written spells!


He was also delivered a fancy letter in a stiff gilded envelope.



"What is it?" He queried, turning it over and frowning in puzzlement at it. Rarity spotted a logo on the front.



"The Crystal Theatre Company!" She gasped "open it, open it!"



Baffled, Sombra raised an eyebrow but opened the letter anyway. He unfolded the letter, and watched as two shiny gold and silver slips fluttered out.



"OOH!" Rarity grabbed them before they fluttered away and set them on the table "are these what I think they are?!"



"What's that then?" Sombra asked.



"Pineapples?!" Pinkie Pie suggested.



"They're tickets to this Saturdays performance...these are like gold dust!"



"Golden pineapples?" Pinkie was still stuck on the oddly nicknamed "Party fruit", so called because of its absurdly amusing shape!



"Seems that's what they're made of..." Sombra said absently "why on Equestria would they send those to me?"



"One of your five a day?"



"Pinkie!" Rarity sighed in exasperation. pinkie just giggled happily...



Seeing Sombra' genuinely baffled face, Rarity decided to clarify "It would be an honor for them if you decided to attend, darling! have you ever seen anything like a stage play before?"



"No." Sombra said, raising an eyebrow. "Are they interesting?"



"The story to this one is just exquisite!" Rarity beamed. "It's a wonderful love story!"



"Not sure how that's relevant to me..." Sombra said absently, tucking the tickets and letter into the envelope before stashing it in a pocket on the inside of his cloak as he got up from the table.



"Really now?" Rarity said conspiratorially, giving him a sly wink.



"Whatever on Equestria you could possibly be talking about, I cannot fathom, now excuse me-" and he was gone.



"That whole sentence didn't make a lick a sense." AJ pointed out after. Pinkie stuck a mustache to her face so she could look serious and twirl it.



"Beats me..." Rarity shrugged, having promised herself she'd keep it a secret unless Sombra mentioned it!



Going by AJ's expression, she wasn't buying it, but Rarity merely kept a calm exterior whilst giggling gleefully on the inside!



Twilight raised an eyebrow, wondering if her theory was correct. Was Sombra taking another big step in his new life?

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Sombra left the palace, the theatre tickets in his cloak pocket. Would Shining Sea WANT to see something like this? It was a big deal apparently, according to miss Rarity! At least it was something to go on, certainly more then he'd come up with so far!



The memory of the kiss was racing around his head, making his heart pound; to clear his head, Sombra decided to take a walk through the market.



He smiled to himself as he recalled seeing Bright Spark go sledding across the dance floor, whooping and hollering in total glee. Mid-dance, he and Princess Luna had barely been able to stop laughing they'd found it so funny!

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The market was in full swing when he reached it, and he spotted Healing breeze and made his way over.



"Your highness!" she beamed. "How're you faring?"



"Very well," Sombra said with a smile. "Might I trouble you for some more of that special blend you sent over?"



"Of course!" she beamed, preparing what was fast becoming Sombra's new favorite tea!



"I noticed that guard finally made a bid for the Princess' attention!" she chuckled, referring to Flash and Twilight.



"Yes, but only after I threatened to kick him up the backside if he didn't finally DO something..." Sombra said in amusement.



"I've seen worse incentives," Healing Breeze laughed. "these young folk are far more bold then my generation was! But, it was wonderful to see you looking so at home at that party, you're all anypony has been talking about!"



"Really...?" Sombra asked, still confused as to why. Rarity had said it too, that he was the "hottest item on the agenda!".



She leant in a bit closer "In fact, there's a fairly large crowd right behind you waiting to say hello, if you turn around..."



Sombra blinked, putting the tea in his saddlebag and cautiously turning round as she instructed.



Sweet merciful Celestia, she wasn't kidding. A small crowd had gathered soon as he entered the market, but due to his default state of obliviousness, he honestly hadn't noticed!



Healing Breeze noticed the way his ears went "poink" and stood up, a clear sign when he was startled it seemed, as this same reaction had occurred on his entering the ballroom!



--Don't just stand there you idiot..-- he told himself, staring at the sudden crowd with wide red eyes. They were looking up at him with bright, kind smiles...



Kicking his brain into gear he did the first thing he thought of, which was to incline his head in a formal greeting and bid them good morning!



--Smooth, genius..-- he told himself sarcastically.



But the crowd didn't seem to notice the Princes social awkwardness, they were just pleased to see him wandering about outside the palace! They were charmed by his old fashioned mannerisms, the reassuring rumbling tone of his voice suiting the old fashioned speech.



"The ball was just wonderful your highness!" One mare beamed. "Best party I've ever been to!"



"How were you not terrified by that attack?"



"Did you REALLY learn that dance in just one afternoon??"



Sombra laughed softly and tried to answer them all "Miss Cotton Candy will be overjoyed to hear that, it was all her hard work! As for the attack, I've had more death threats from those creatures then I can count! To be honest I've stopped noticing them by now."



Admiring murmurs ran through the crowd at how unaffected he'd been when held at knife point, in a potentially dangerous scenario!



"And as for the traditional performance, yes, it didn't take long to memorize. Really not all that different from studying battle tactic and theory, it all comes down to movement and the transfer of energy..."



"An impressive shift from one tradition to another, your highness!" An older stallion looked at Sombra with a fresh respect. "You have a very sharp mind if I may say so!"



Sombra was surprised but pleased by this compliment, and gratefully thanked him!



"Oh, your highness!" A mare with a set of red framed glasses perched on her nose finally managed to get through the crowds to catch the Princes attention, "Everypony's been asking who designed that outfit you wore at the ball? It was just divine!"



Her pencil hovered over her writing pad as she hoped for a response!



"That was miss Rarity's handiwork, she's been designing everything that followed after my old cloak got destroyed. Although all six of the elements bearers had a hoof in this..." he glanced down at the cloak he currently wore.



"It has a wonderful balance between regalia and function!" the unicorn studied the set-up of Sombra's day to day armor "I just LOVE the pin!"



"It certainly has a great significance to me.." was Sombra's reply. But what he meant went beyond what the crowd assumed. They didn't know that in order to bring him back, the crystal heart had given up a fraction of itself to awaken him! This shard resided somewhere, somehow inside his physical body. With his magic restored, he found he could sense it more and more now. It brought with it a strange longing...



The crowd noticed he was staring into space, in the direction of the spot where the heart normally stood.



"Where IS the heart?" One curious filly asked.



"Ah, what?" Sombra shook his head, looking down at the sky-blue pegasus filly, her navy hair cut in a spiky fashion.



"The heart?" she asked, smiling kindly, seeing he obviously missed it too, in some manner "That's what you were looking at, wasn't it? Where the heart normally is. Is it OK?"



Sombra had been told, once they'd ascertained he was no longer a danger, how the heart was now under heavy magical security deep below the castle. He had yet to see it, however.



"It is fine," He said at last "Princess Cadance is taking good care of it..."



"Is she worried those evil things will try and steal it if she puts it back?" the filly asked.



"Well, it was just ONE thing they were all concerned about initially," Sombra said jokingly, referring to himself back at the start "but yes, there's the constant fear those things may try to use it for themselves..."



"Eh, you'd just kick 'em up the butt if they tried, right?" she blew her fringe out of her eyes, their green depths full of a level headed kindness. "Ya know, how you do?"



Sombra smiled warmly, "exactly." he said softly.



"Rockin'..." she declared, nodding sagely.



He was starting to relax when he felt the ground rumble, and heard screams in the distance. The filly's eyes met his, her expression asked what was on all the crowds minds, was it those things? Sombra nodded in confirmation, and told them to keep away from the site until it'd been dealt with!

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Teleporting over to the disturbance, he appeared in time to see a smoking crater in the street.



"Is everypony alright?" he asked.



Nods and cries of confirmation met his ears and he relaxed a bit.



"How quaint...just as daddy intended you to act.."



Sombra froze when he recognized that voice. Out of the smoke climbed a figure familiar from history books. A pale yellow pegasus, he had white mane and tail with dark grey streaks in, like a cloud. The main was tied in a loose plait of sorts, with crystal in complimenting shades threaded in and out of it, which the crowd recognized as an ancient Crystal Empire style, like what Cadance had done for the Equestria Games inspector!



Sombra felt his stomach belly flop, anger and loss churning in his gut.



"I should have realized this all along, this was the one you treasured most, huh..." it gave its appearance a sneering appraisal "your species really hasn't evolved much has it? Almost pathetic but for the energy you possess..."



Sombra remained mute, although the closer members of the crowd sensed something was about to happen. Exactly WHAT, however, they didn't know!



"What's the matter, not so eager to attack all of a sudden? Still think you can preserve these worthless feelings? Its almost sad really this one, adopting a stray mongrel out of pity!"



Still no response from Sombra. He was too busy quashing feelings of vengeful hate at the imposter, and the emotional shock of seeing such a solid representation of his father.



"You haven't a clue have you? The only one of your kind, and you insist on spending your life being a lapdog? I've tried to give you a chance to be more then this, guarding these weaklings-" here something sparked behind Sombra's eyes, and he tensed subtly, but the creature ignored him "-but in the end even HE gave up on you didn't he-"



"Shut. Up." Sombra's voice was quiet, but carried within it such fury and cold hate that the creature actually stopped. It took in the still blank expression on Sombra's face.



"Guess it's time to do what this fool could never do for you, beat some sense into you-" It shot up into the sky and without warning fired massive chunks of sharp black crystal at Sombra. The crowd scattered as the missiles homed in on Sombra, but he just stared dead ahead at it. His heart was pounding, how dare this worthless piece of garbage wear his fathers form...-



WHOMPF. His anger sought an outlet and found it, in the form of his flame-mode from the stadium. The missiles were shot out of the sky by multiple bolts of purple magic, which blasted them in mid air...



"What?!" the creature sputtered. But it didn't relent, just changed summoned another round, bigger chunks, their deadly sharp edges glinting in the light! They were screaming towards Sombra in a deadly sweep. Sombra caught sight of the thing smirking at him, wearing his fathers guise, and he lost it. This was the stallion who given him a home, love, and a place in the Crystal Empire.



He'd given Sombra forgiveness for the worst of what he'd done. Like buck he was going to let this thing away with dragging this pony through the dirt. His view narrowed to only the fake father, and some sort of autopilot kicked in, channelling his magic into enhancing his teleport.



Jaws dropped collectively as Sombra seemed to go into some sort of overdrive. He appeared to phase right THROUGH the incoming projectiles, his gaze unwavering from the one he sought. Every obstacle he touched vanished as well, sent plummeting into the forest out of harms way!



"W-what....curse you-" it began, but Sombra wasn't done. Using the final rock as a launchpad and slamming into the imposter and knocking them both to the ground, Sombra glared down at the shadow creature masquerading as his father, utilizing his larger body type and weight to pin its limbs.



"You.." Sombra's voice had a level of anger the crowd had NEVER heard before, "are nothing. a wretched parasite, draining anything that's good from the world as if you have a right to even EXIST!"



He glared at the thing, and a flash of light seemed to rush over his eyes! With this flash of magic, the creature underneath him was suddenly changed back into its goopy black shadowy form. The flame maned unicorn glared down at it.



"How?!" It sputtered, feeling as if a heavy weight was bearing down on it, it couldn't move!



"You have NO right to wear his form!" Sombra was unleashing a lot of pent-up of fury and rage. He raised one hoof, sparks of dark magic crackling along it "you could search a hundred worlds and never find a better pony than him! The mere fact he was willing to GIVE a "mongrel" a chance is what puts him far above anything you've ever devoured! You can parade my whole family in front of me, past OR present, it wont make a bucking difference! You see, the right memories have been restored, the worthwhile ones! Princess Luna seen to it, they ALL did! Your little plan was a failure, and now you're out of ammo! I have EVERYTHING, I know it all. The past, the invasion, the mistakes, good and bad!"



He felt about to be sick his head hurt so badly, but he wasn't done;



"HE wasn't the one who gave up, I was! He should be here, not me! I cant change that, but YOU I will hunt down and wipe off the face of this world, I don't CARE what it takes from me!"



The thing was starting to panic just a little. It was immobile, and it could sense the way Sombra's power was growing!



"There is NOTHING you could say to me now that would make a single bit of difference! I've known what its like to almost DIE because of what I am, you think a few insults and fakery is going to change my path? You may have seen a few memories, but you DON'T. KNOW. ME!!"



With this final word he slammed the raised hoof down into its core. With a shriek, it exploded, but the heavy cloak and armor deflected the worst of it, bar one shard that cut across his left foreleg which he didn't even register.



It faded away, leaving the street cracked and strewn with cracked core shards. Sombra just stood stock still, looking like he was in shock. Those that crept closest first could see he was shaking a little, just subtly. Then he closed his eyes and reverted back to his normal appearance, mane returning to its flowing black. He seemed unaware they were there any more, and with a sudden flurry of movement, started to take off towards a gap in the rapidly reforming crowd, but a filly's voice called out;



"Hay! Wait!"



Sombra battled a moment over whether to stop or just keep running like he so badly wished to, but after a split seconds delay, he dug his hooves in and came to a halt, the cloak swishing around him. It took a second further to tamp down the feelings of abject dismay and embarrassment, but the closer ponies still seen the haunted look in the Prince's eyes as he turned to greet the filly, the way his ears had drooped a little, indicating he wasn't happy...



"You dropped this!" The filly proffered up the fancy envelope Sombra had received that morning, with the theatre tickets inside. It'd fallen out during his mad dash to kick that things flank! He recognized her as the same one who'd been asking about the crystal heart.



"Oh....thank you..." Sombra managed to respond on autopilot, tucking them away again.



The younger pony tilted her head to one side, noting how upset Sombra was. She'd watched Sombra the whole fight, seen how he refused to see somepony he loved demeaned and mocked. The things he'd said too, about how his adoptive fathers decision to re-home him despite his issues made him worth so much more to him, really got to her. Family was those who loved you for who you were, even if they weren't related. That was cool, and she had a new respect for the battle stallion after hearing this.



But Sombra seemed to be freaked out, the way he glanced at the crowds from under his loose flowing mane, looking unhappy, made the kid wonder. Was he embarrassed because he'd lost his temper?



"You OK?" she asked.



Sombra stared for a few seconds, then managed a nod, and finally speaking "I..my apologies for that, I shouldn't-"



"What're you talking about?!" she asked "that was AWESOME!"



"Huh?" Sombra blinked. The rest of the crowd watched this kid chattering to the Prince. Kids, they noticed, seemed able to get past Sombra's wary defenses and get to know the pony better!



"You don't let anypony talk smack about your friends and family man! Nopony here can say they wouldn't do that! So you got mad, so what? We all go a bit loco sometimes.."



"I think my temper alarms them still.." Sombra sighed softly. But the girl shook her head.



"It's cool man," she grinned up at Sombra "Take a look, they're all worried about ya!"



Sombra at last looked up and seen all the kindly looks being directed his way.



"Are you alright your highness?"



"Please don’t feel bad, that must have been horrible-"



"Is there anything we can do?"



He had to fight not to turn bright red from embarrassment at being caught acting so odd. But yet, they didn't seem bothered. Maybe the kid was right?



All these thoughts buzzed around his head and he felt suddenly light-headed, the sunlight seemed glaringly bright and he had to close his eyes to block it out.



"-sire? are you OK?" a new voice. Sombra opened his eyes with a wince, seeing a familiar face. It was the cafe owner from the day he and Twilight Sparkle had gone out, so as to force him to get some fresh air. It'd been shortly after the black crystal plague, and Sombra had been thanked by several ponies who'd worked up the courage to talk to the reclusive and distant stallion!



"Come and have some tea, you can rest awhile..." the owner offered. Sombra nodded, following after him.



"Thanks, what's your name-?" he asked the punk-rock filly.



"I'm Cymbal Clash!" she gave a grin and a mock salute "keep it cool, your highness!"



He nodded his appreciation as she walked off into the crowd, singing a tune he recognized as Pinkies song from the ball, the one about HIM.



Mid-way to the cafe, a mare stopped him and the owner, stating she was a nurse and asking Sombra if she could see the wound on his leg. He looked down, only now realizing there WAS a bleeding cut across his right foreleg from the fight. He gave her an accommodating nod. The cafe owner told her they had a med kit inside, and she followed after the two stallions.

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Once the Prince was sat down, the owner fetched the mare the medkit, and she set about gently cleaning and bandaging the cut.



"You're very pale, your highness!" she said in concern "make sure you rest here awhile, and please don't upset yourself over this. Everypony knows you've had a rough time of things up until now, nopony will judge you for getting upset, I promise you that!"



"I..." Sombra sighed guiltily "I should have known better then to lose my temper like that, I am aware it still unnerves some..."



But to his surprise she just chuckled and smiled kindly.



"Oh my, no, your highness!" she shook her head, looking kindly up at him "To you it might have seemed like just mindlessly losing your temper, but what I, and undoubtedly the others seen was a passionate defense of somepony you treasured dearly. And that comment you made about "he should be here, not me". Please don't think that way. What little any of us truly know about the King, why, we see those same traits in YOU!"



Sombra blinked, astonishment showing in his eyes. His ears perked up a little, but tentatively, such words meaning so much to him. She carried on.



"The books all describe him as kind, strong and a very smart ruler. You may not be his biological child, but you've managed to defy all our past assumptions and show the kings spirit HAS come back to us, just with his SON this time!"



The ears twitched, but didn't seem so droopy now. The hopeful acceptance in his eyes even now,while not as prominent as previous occasions, was still almost heartbreakingly sad, she could see what the rumors had said, that the poor Prince was still fighting to accept himself how they seen him! But he was making little steps, and bit by bit was developing a persona away from the taint of the past. It cant have been easy for him to put his heart on the line after everything he'd endured, but the fact he remembered ALL of his past and STILL managed to fight the sadness to defend them all really made her admire him.



"It will take time, but you'll feel completely at home here soon your highness, both in the castle, and yourself!"



A wordless nod.



She beamed, packed up the remains of the medkit, and gave it back to the shop owner.



As she was leaving, Sombra managed to speak up "Thank you, you've given me a lot to think about.."



"Any time, your highness!" She gave a little bow, then trotted outside into the sunlight.



Thinking he was alone still, Sombra murmured "am I truly that easy for others to read?"



"You do show a lot in your expression sire," the owner said, making Sombra jump a little "Maybe its a subconscious thing, since you don't find it easy to talk, your mind seeks another way to express itself?"



"You're probably right, its been a novel idea for a long time...." he trailed off, and his face went red "I'm sorry, I shouldn't be babbling like an incompetent foal-"



"Nonsense!" The stallion shook his head as he set a cup of freshly brewed tea in front of the Prince "its just a part of normal life, like that mare said, you'll be used to it in no time!"



"I hope so..." Sombra looked up at the other pony at last, relief and gratitude in his expression as he took a sip of his tea. Recalling this pony from before, he asked "How is your wife? She was expecting a child last we met, I believe?"



The owner nodded, and smiled widely. "She's due next month, your highness!"



"Well, I hope everything goes smoothly. May this new journey be a wonderful one!" Sombra smiled.



"Thank you your highness, she'll be thrilled to hear that!"



Sombra had been staring at the menu while he'd been sitting there, and now asked for, of all the random things, an ice cream sundae!

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It turned out to be one of the tastiest things he'd tried in ages. He was happily making his way through it when the bell jingled and he heard;



"Prince Sombra!"



He looked up, seeing Shining Sea stood there.



"I thought it was you.." she chuckled "how are you?"



"Good, thank you..." Sombra smiled warmly, happy to see her. The memory of that first kiss flashed into his head and he felt himself flush a little. The same memory must've occurred to her too, as she blushed more openly. Sombra invited her to join him, and asked the store owner for more tea, and after a quick question, an extra sundae.



"I love these!" Shining Sea smiled as she tucked in. "What pony can resist ice cream?"



Sombra smiled fondly at a memory "I do recall trying lots of sweets when I was here first, but memory cannot tell you how they taste!"



Shining Sea chuckled, reaching over to brush a hoof across his nose.



"Sprinkles.." she said in amusement. Sombra laughed, noted they'd gotten onto his cloak as well, and hurriedly brushed them off.



"Its impossible to eat ice cream without making a mess," Shining Sea told him. "Just ask Bright Spark!"



Sombra listened to her talking about Spark's progress at school, how shed brought home a new friend, named Lavender. How happy she was to see her daughter doing so well at school!



Sombra recalled Rarity's suggestion about a date, and figured now would be a good time to try...



"M-miss Shining Sea..." he began. "Wait, I mean-" was it Mrs?



"You don’t need to call me anything.." she giggled lightly "Just my regular name will do, your highness!"



"And YOU really don't need to call me that!" he smiled gently "you and Bright Spark know me too well. Just Sombra is fine."



She blushed at being given such a privilege, Sombra really was becoming so kind...



"I was hoping, that is..." he suddenly found his brain had abandoned him, leaving him struggling to think of an intelligent way to phrase this. "Would you happen to have some time free this Saturday?"



Her eyes widened a little, was he-?



"That is...if not-" he began, but she reached over the table and tapped his nose, stopping him before he got into a loop.



"Yes," she said simply, with a cute smile.



Sombra flushed a little before he could stop himself. He pulled the tickets from his pocket and set them in front of her. Her eyes went wide;



"This is.."



"Miss Rarity tells me this particular show is astounding, I was hoping you'd join me..."



"I'd LOVE to!" Her eyes sparkled "I've always wanted to go this theatre, but the shows sell out so fast!"



Sombra looked so pleased she couldn't help blush. Whether he realized it or not, he showed a LOT of expression through both his body language and those deep red eyes.



He asked about her thoughts on the party, and she said she'd loved it! Bright Spark had been so happy to get to attend such a fancy party, even if she did get a little hyper!



Sombra laughed again at the floor-skiing act, and Shining Sea smiled to see the way his eye sparkled when he laughed. But she noticed he still looked a little pale, and asked was he alright? So he told her the whole incident that'd just happened.



"I'm supposed to be here to protect and serve, not act like a loose canon..." he sighed. "Eveyrpony's saying they aren't surprised by it, but still, I feel foolish."



"Don't be silly..." she shook her head. "Nopony dwells on your old self any more. Why would they need to? They know they can trust you! You have to cast all these doubts aside, they're not necessary any more, I promise that."



Another soft smile, and she seen some of the darkness of worry fade from his eyes.



Ice cream finished, they set off out of the shop.

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Sombra accompanied her to the school to pick up Bright Spark. The other parents gathered around did double takes when they seen Shining Sea arrived with the Prince in tow!



"SOMBWA!!" Bright Spark spotted him soon as she exited the door, and tore over, flinging herself at her precious friend in a gleeful glomp. Then she exuberantly hugged her mother.



Bright Spark babbled about that days activities, how she and Lavender had played jump rope with some other kids, and she was getting good at it now!



"Excuse me your highness..." Sombra looked round, seeing Petalbloom there "Would you mind awfully if I borrowed you for a moment?"



"Of course not," Sombra agreed, before turning to Bright Spark and Shining Sea.



"I'll see you soon little one~" He said fondly, mimicing what Shining Sea did and playfully nuzzling her head. She giggled and hugged him once more, and Shining Sea looked up at Sombra, a question on her lips...



"Saturday, 7?" he asked, speaking softly so only she could hear it. She nodded, smiling again before nudging her giggly daughter.



"This way.." Petalbloom gestured to the front door of the school...

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In the staffroom, she showed him two things;



One: Spark's workbook, which showed just how much she'd grown, also showed how much a part of her life he'd become, and Two: a folder full of pictures the kids in the school had done of and for him. Sombra was touched by their imagination, and the cutely drawn images made him feel ever more cheered. These he tucked into his saddlebag.



"I just wanted to thank you for looking after the kids at the festival," Petalbloom said. "You know, it's their favorite playground game now? Pretending to fight those shadows as bravely as you have!"



This made Sombra chuckle at the mental image.



"So thank you, again your highness. The kids were scared when this all started, but they see you protecting them, and they smile again!"



"I'm just glad they're faring alright. To young ones like them, this must all be quite a shock."



Petalbloom nodded "but the young adapt the fastest it seems.."



Sombra nodded, Bright Spark was proof of this. She'd seen everything from dark shadow attacks to the full force of Sombra's magic before anypony else, and she hadn't batted an eyelid. The only times she'd been saddened was when he himself had been hurt or depressed.



She walked him out of the staff room, and they were a few meters down the hall when a classroom door not far ahead flew open, and a young unicorn colt shot out, shouting:



"JUST LEAVE ME ALONE!! WHAT DO YOU KNOW?!"



Sombra and Petalbloom stepped sharply aside as the kid charged blindly past, not even registering the Prince as he ran into the recently vacated staffroom, slamming the door and locking it.



"Hay!" a harried looking mare came racing out of the classroom after him, looking worried. Spotting the bewildered Sombra and Petalbloom, she ran to them.



"Who was that?" Sombra asked.



"I'm so sorry your highness.." she blurted "he's been very upset lately..."



Sombra frowned, wondering if he could help...

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The young colt, named Steel Wire, stamped in circles around the staffroom, kicking anything that he was strong enough to topple or tall enough to reach! He was a pale grey, with black mane, with a pair of white stripes in it and his tail.



"I hate them all!!" He cried hoarsely.



"Surely that can't be true.." a rumbling voice spoke up, startling the kid. He whipped round, prepared to yell at whoever it was to leave him alone, when he seen who it was, and his fury was briefly disrupted by shock.



"P-Prince Sombra?!" he gulped, staring at him.



"That's the one..." Sombra settled down on the floor, legs tucked under him, his rich red cloak fanning out around him.



"Why're you here? How did you even get IN?" he realized how silly this sounded straight after he said it, he WAS a unicorn after all!



"A small spell that lets me turn into a shadow.." Sombra chuckled at his surprised face.



"THEY sent you, didn't they?"



"Actually, I personally requested to be given the chance to speak with you. On condition they do not immediately intervene."



"Well, tell them I don't CARE! No offense your Prince-y-ness...Whateverer..." he was being distracted by Sombra's unwavering expression, a mix of sympathy and unruffled calm. He really didn't seem bothered a small child was attempting to insult him!



"I'm not going to drag you out there," Sombra said when the kid finally fell silent.



"Wow, that's comforting, not like I can STOP you if I wanted to! You're way stronger than I am!"



"If it is any consolation, I wasn't much taller then you are at your age."



"Gimme a break, your HUGE!"



"Shyre horses ARE larger then most, but we actually start off pretty small..." Sombra chuckled "this sort of strength doesn't come into it until much later..."



--Such as when I advanced to this "adult" stage-- he thought. It concerned him sometimes how little he knew about his own kind, but thanks to isolation since birth more or less, coupled with a sudden acceleration from his "teenage" years to an adult via his magic, things were a tad jumbled up!



"Besides, you think I'M big, you should've seen my father. The biological one that is.."



The kid was still giving him a disbelieving look, so he carried on; "I'm just curious as to why you're so angry."



"Why do YOU care!?"



"Because believe it or not, a thousand and more years ago, I was in this same situation myself," Sombra said bluntly. "So angry at the world that I refused to trust anypony in it. Let me tell you this; get off that path. No matter what it takes, let it go. By the by, what is your name?"



"Steel Wire." The kid grumbled, but did pause a moment to think. He knew the basic story of Sombra, as told by that sweet-natured little filly that had befriended him at the start. She'd said Sombra was sometimes surprised when treated kindly because his mommy and daddy hadn't been very nice to him...



"C'mon..." Sombra shrugged "I promise I will tell nothing of what you say to your teachers or anypony that asks."



"Oh yeah?" the kid tried to think up a suitable demand for sincerity. "You swear?"



Sombra gave a wry smile, and recited "Cross my heart and hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye!" Ending as miss Rarity had done it, with a hoof pressed over his eye "will that do?"



Steel Wire raised an eyebrow, but seemed impressed Sombra knew the oath.



"OK...I believe you.." Steel Wire admitted at last. He sat down, and sighed.



"Everypony laughs at me, they treat me like I'm a freak..."



"Why...?"



"Because I just moved here a short while before that thing up there appeared and YOU showed up. I don't like sports, I cant win any races, and I'm only good at making models..."



"Why were you angry at your teacher?"



"She's the same! Always assuming I'M the bad one! Those kids are just as rotten as can be, yet I'm the one who gets told I'M a bad influence!"



"Ponies like that are masters at hiding it, making everypony else see them as the wronged party. You cant let that beat you."



"Easy for YOU to say! You live in the palace, you're a PRINCE for Celestia's sake, nopony picks on YOU!"



"Maybe not NOW," Sombra actually sounded amused "But, you forget, I was also a cruel-hearted tyrant before. I had to learn a lot of painful lessons when I returned here, and I abhorred the process at first. In fact I think, back at the start, the only reason I didn't get my flank handed to me is the fact I'm built like a tank!"



Steel Wire snorted in mild amusement at this reference. "Well, you ARE. I can't picture anything knocking YOU on your ear!"



"Things can and have," Sombra said bluntly, and Steel Wire looked curious. "But here's the key; getting back UP. Everypony gets knocked down, but you only fail when you stop getting back up!"



A disbelieving eyebrow was raised at this.



Sombra decided to tell him a story. He closed his eyes, and a floating white square appeared in front of him. On this his set little pointy-shaped ponies. A small grey one with red eyes and a fluffy black mane, along with a larger black-coated stallion and a mare with flame-colors in her palette.



The kid stared, mesmerized by this puppet show of sorts.



"There was a little foal, he was born in a remote village. His magic was considered defective, bad. His parents hated him for it, said he was a bad omen." The mother pony turned her back, eyes closed, and the father loomed over the child, who cowered. The scene switched, showing an older version of the pony running through the snow.



"One day the foal ran away, desperate to escape. He found his way here, to the Crystal Empire, and a kindly king." Here the scene changed to show a huddled over grey foal and a richly dressed pegasus with a crown, pale yellow body and white and grey mane.



"The King felt sorry for the foal, and gave him a home." The pegasus hugged the small child, wrapping his wings around him to comfort him.



The scene changed to show staff ponies glaring at the slightly older colt, who looked sad. "But other ponies did not see him the same way, and he grew angry, jealously of their lives overwhelming him and turning kindness to hate."



It changed to the same colt facing the King and another pony. With a flare of purple magic the colt made the two disappear.



"He banished everypony in the palace, thinking if they couldn't be near him, they couldn't betray him. But the decision to shut off his heart to the kindness of other ponies had a bad effect..."



Steel Wire was riveted, watching this play unfold. He felt a sympathy for the colt. Ponies treated HIM the same, saying he was trouble because he'd had a bad time at his last school in Canterlot...



Sombra faltered a moment, recalling his memories, but he carried on regardless "he'd never been taught to use his magic properly, and when he lost faith in everything, darkness crowded his mind. Tired of being bullied, he made himself tough enough that nopony could harm him ever again!"



The kids jaw dropped as the grey stallion changed into what was undeniably the same pony telling the story.



"But this was a mistake. With this change came madness, and the Princesses were sent to stop him."



Here it showed Celestia and Luna flying through the sky towards the Crystal Empire, then the scene faded. Then suddenly the Sombra-puppet was back, this time facing three Alicorn Princesses.



"They gave him another chance, needing his magic to figure out the invaders. He decided he would keep them at hoofs length, not wanting to trust them, until one small filly..."



Here a Bright Spark puppet appeared, poking Sombra's nose and dancing merrily around him.



"She made him wonder if the world was really so bad. But the life of sadness made it too hard to accept this alone, and he still shunned the idea of kindness or trust."



A set of six colorful ponies appeared behind Sombra as the Princesses and Bright Spark disappeared. But a barrier popped up, blocking them from reaching him.



"But in the end, it was this same group of fillies who got through..."



The pink pony bounded forward and shattered the barrier with her hoof. She bounded round to face the Sombra puppet, and tweaked his ears so they popped free of his crown.



"They persuaded him to listen.."



The pink pony turned Sombra round to face the others, who hopped through the broken barrier to gather in front of him.



"The first to go even further and offer to be the first real friend he'd ever had was a pony who had every cause to hate him."



Shining Armor popped into view, trotted over and stuck a pointy hoof out to Sombra, who initially withdrew, then cautiously met the hoof with his own. Instantly the six fillies gamboled around him, seemingly cheering.



"And with that one choice, more followed..." Princess Cadance appeared beside Shining Armor. Princess Luna fluttered down to join them, and Princess Celestia walked over to join her. All of them gave Sombra big beaming smiles.



"It took just one pony to believe he wasn't a monster, much as the King tried to teach him. But this time, he chose to believe it..."



The whole set up faded away as Sombra shut down the spell.



He looked at the kid, who was staring at him in awe. "Do you see now? I know how you feel. But you cant push everypony away, the loneliness is unbearable. Nopony deserves to be alone, so please don't think you have to be..." he uncurled one foreleg and held out a hoof to the foal. "Trust me..?"



Steel Wire nodded, dumbstruck, placing his tiny hoof in Sombra's.



"There you go!" Sombra smiled gently. "See? It's not so bad. You just have to go from here, take your time."



Steel Wire nodded, then burst into tears. He was so surprised to find an ally in this adult, and so relieved, that he couldn't help himself. Sombra pulled a handkerchief from his saddlebag and dried the tears.



"It's OK, let it go.." he murmured softly. Steel Wire nodded, sniffling as he clutched the hankie.



"Do you have some of these models of yours here?" Sombra asked randomly.



Steel Wire nodded.



"May I see them?"



The foal nodded again. Then he looked at the still locked door "b-but.."



“I'll make sure nopony yells at you.." Sombra said gently "I asked them to trust my judgement and actions, I'm sure they wont shout at you."



He guided him to the door, opening it and stepping through. The two teachers lingering outside sat up and opened their mouths. Steel Wire flinched, eyes downcast, and huddled closer to Sombra's body. Sombra gave him a reassuring look before calmly saying;



"If you will please wait for us a moment or two, I have asked young master Steel Wire here to show me something."



Baffled, but recalling Sombra's request, they nodded, hanging back as Steel Wire showed Sombra down the hall to his classroom. He opened a cupboard door, and with a deep breath, held up his class project.



"Wow." was the first word he heard from the Prince. He blinked, surprised, having half expected him to ask what it even was!



What he'd made was a wire-frame replica of the crystal palace. It was made with incredible detail, a labour of love.



"That is astonishing, you got the detail so intricate...." Sombra was genuinely impressed "I cannot even get my cloak on some mornings without fumbling the catch!"



Steel Wire sniggered, finding the mental image funny, and he noticed Sombra smile at him.



"You should be VERY proud of yourself, this is amazing workmanship." Sombra stated firmly.



"You really think so?" the kid asked.



"I do. Now tell me, are you not proud of your art?"



"I...I guess I AM," the kid said at last. "I have to really concentrate to make these!"



"You have made many before?"



"Yeah, I got more at home!" his eyes brightened, and Sombra smiled triumphantly.



"There it is." he said.



"There what is?" the foal asked.



"That spark. Your pride in your work, no doubt it has been neglected a while, no?"



"I guess so, I started to hate working on it...but I guess I didn't want to give up..."



"That.s the key..." Sombra smiled again. "Always keep that feeling close. Nopony can make you feel inferior without your consent. So if you tell yourself only YOU have the right to decide what your talent is worth, then you'll find yourself getting stronger."



Steel Wire looked up at the Prince, then back at his sculpture. He nodded, feeling hope for the first time in what felt like ages. He loved his hobby, and even his parents had said they thought they were interesting, but parents were supposed to say that, right? Maybe he'd been wrong....



As he reached these realizations, he felt a funny tingling sensation on his flank. He blinked, setting the sculpture down to peer round:



"Well, this is cause for celebration!" Sombra said, as they both took in the cutie mark that'd appeared, of two intertwining strands of wire.



"M-my cutie mark....how..?" Steel Wire gaped up at Sombra "how did you do that?"



"I didn't do anything!" Sombra chuckled "YOU accepted your talent for yourself, no matter what the hardship. Congratulations!"



Steel Wire sat and peered at the cutie mark, fresh tears in his eyes, but this time because he was so thrilled to see his cutie mark.



"Thank you!" He blurted suddenly, looking up at the Prince "I guess maybe I did call them mean names back. I'll try not to any more..."



"That's a great start." Sombra said "take it one day at a time. You'll soon find you've had friends around you this whole time. Just as I did..."



"That'd be...cool..." Steel Wire nodded.



"May we come in...?" both looked up at the two teachers in the doorway. The foals teacher walked over to him, noting his cutie mark. Her eyes sparkled and she clapped her hooves.



"Your cutie mark! How wonderful!"



Steel Wire nodded, suddenly shy again, "Y-yeah..."



"Are you feeling better?" the teacher asked. Steel Wire nodded.



"I'm sorry miss.." he said softly.

She smiled gently; "its alright...just please come talk to me if you're upset, that's what I'm here for, OK? And I'll be having words with those bullies too, their conduct has gone on too long, I'm determined to see an end to it! I never meant for you to feel singled out, will you accept my apollogy?"

Recalling everything Sombra had just taught him, Steel Wire let his anger fly away and nodded up at her, feeling glad when she looked happy! Forgiving somepony could be hard when you'd gotten real mad at them, but it was worth it...

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Steel Wire walked alongside Sombra as they headed for the exit. He honestly though Sombra was the coolest pony ever at this point. He'd been through bad times too and he'd become a Prince, and shown everypony he could do amazing stuff!



--I wanna be like that, like a Prince...-- Steel Wire thought. Then they stepped outside, where he spotted his parents striding up to the gates, and hid behind Sombra's cloak on a scared impulse.



But they'd spotted him.



"Steel Wire!" His father said crossly "we've been worried sick-"



Now they both clocked who was shielding their son "-Prince Sombra?!"



Last pony they'd expected to see at the school.



"Good afternoon," Sombra said politely "I apologize for delaying your son, I had wished to-"



"You don't have to do this!" Steel Wire cut him off, stepping out from behind the Princes flowing cloak "I was kept behind because I was being bullied by some guys and I got into a fight." he blushed at the memory of losing his temper, "The Prince was just visiting miss Petalbloom..."



Before his parents could get cross again, he carried on "I'm sorry mom, dad. I should've said something, but I didn't think you'd believe me!"



"Oh honey-" his mother sighed in relief he was telling her this "Of course we would! We know you wouldn't lie to us about something that makes you that upset! We moved here to give you a fresh start, and as much time as you need to make it happen! We're not going to get mad because its not always smooth sailing! Of course you can talk to us. We might take awhile to understand you, but we will get there. We love you..."


Steel Wire sniffled, rubbing at his eyes, terror melting into relief once more.


"There is a silver lining to this cloud..." Sombra spoke up, catching Steel Wire's eye. "Care to show them?"



"Show us what?" the father asked, wondering what the Prince had to do with this? But this was forgotten when both parents spotted the cutie mark on their sons flank.


His mother gave a gasp of joy and ran forward, scooping him up and hugging him happily.



"I'm so happy!" she said, setting the blushing foal down. "We have to celebrate, right dear?"



"Of course!" His father said proudly, ruffling his sons hair. "How about we go to that nice restaurant we went to for your birthday last year?"



"Yeah!" Steel Wire said, eyes wide, grinning.



Sombra smiled at the happy reunion. Now that Steel Wire had finally told his parents what was going on, he was sure the kid would be making friends and growing more confident in no time! He turned to go, but the father snapped out of his daze to call out-


"Please wait a moment your highness!"



Sombra stopped, turning back to them.



Steel Wire came up and gave a little salute with one hoof. "Thanks man, for, y'know.."



"It's my honor.." Sombra assured him "just don't forget what I told you, OK?"



Steel Wire nodded, and his parents stepped up either side of him.



Sombra bid them farewell before setting off back to the place.

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The next day....


During the dream where he'd been force fed all his memories by that shadow creature, he'd seen a flashback of a sealed cavern full of his father's things. So now he enlisted the help of the Crystal Bard to find it, since the critter knew the palaces hidden passageways inside and out!

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It gleefully hugged him when he found it, and he smiled again at how glad he was he'd made an effort to befriend it instead of just avoiding the issue.



"Mhhrr...what're you doing?" it asked.



"I need your help!" Sombra told it "You know this place top to bottom? Well, I have a cave I need to locate, but I'm still processing many of my memories of this place, some things are a little fuzzy..."



Noting the sadness in his voice, the Crystal Bard patted his foreleg kindly, and merely nodded!



Sombra described what he could recall of the cave, including the fact it'd been sealed with his magic. The Crystal Bard ran this through his head, and nodded, he knew the one! They trekked off through the opening in the library wall, descending deep underground. Sombra felt a strange sense of loneliness and nostalgia, having hidden down here in the past, avoiding Scrollwork shouting or just wanting some peace.



--I really messed him about...-- he thought back, smiling faintly. He hadn't told anypony about his dyas in the palace. Although thinking about it now, misses Dash and Cotton Candy would love hearing about the pranks he'd played on the grumpy aide!



There was so much to think about, so many memories. Of his father, of the palace. So many actions he wished he could have undone. At least that he could’ve apologised to his father. But what good was that now?



His thoughts were halted by the Crystal Bard declaring "here!"



Sombra looked up, and focused on a solid wall of shimmering purple. His stomach shifted. The magic was laced with so much fury. This had to have been right after his madness, when it was still relishing its dangerous freedom.



The Crystal Bard looked worried as Sombra actually took a step back, paling slightly.



"Mhrrr...what's wrong?" he asked.




"Nothing...I..." Sombra took a deep breath and swallowed down the nausea "I can sense my emotions from the day this was created. Sweet merciful Celestia. I was so angry..."



"Mhhrr...this was...at the start of the...mhrr..." it stopped, unsure how to say it.



"The insanity? Don't worry, I'm not attempting to justify my lunacy. It was what it was..." Sombra said heavily.



He shook himself slightly, and turned his attention back to the door. Focusing on it, he could see how he'd locked the spell into place. It only took moments to unravel it, but it left him feeling a bit queasy.



The Crystal Bard clutched the edge of Sombra's cloak as the pair walked into open cavern. it was full of boxes, things under dust sheets and several treasure chests.



"I cant fathom how much stuff is IN here. If I sent even HALF of this to miss Quillpetal, she'd probably pass out from joy.." Sombra mused. Who knew, he'd probably need to have some of it recorded for history's sake!



They split up to delve into some of the boxes. Some contained jewels, or bits.



"Probably just had everything in his private rooms stashed here..." Sombra sighed at last.



"Mhrr....even then, you still cared...." the Crystal Bard said.



"What do you mean..?" Sombra asked.



"You kept the precious things even though you...mwwrr...were angry. You wrapped them up and put that spell there to keep them safe....you still had hope...."



Sombra blinked, the bards words hitting home. "hope..?" he asked.



The Crystal Bard nodded, picking up a book and toddling over to Sombra, holding it up to him.



"Mhrr...yes, hope. For yourself..."



The book was his father's diary, wrapped in semitransparent silken fabric. An additional spell had it locked, a spell of Sombra's making.



"Had you not cared, would you have...mhrr...done this?" the Crystal Bard said. Something in Sombra's brain clicked, and a sudden realization occurred to him.



He'd been told this three times now;



His father the King had said it when Sombra had first met him; "If you truly didn't care, I'd be out cold and you'd be long gone."



And Princess Luna: "You wouldn't have done those things if you truly didn't care!"



And now the little Crystal Bard.



So that fragment of him HAD been present all this time, trying its level best to make itself known, even in these small ways. Rarity had once said, during the whole "trying to make Sombra accept the crown" episode; "You're not some unfeeling monster you know! You care more than you realize!"



He thanked the Crystal Bard warmly, and the creature hugged him tightly, making a contented little noise. It was glad to see Sombra cheered up again!



But now they needed to figure out how to get this stuff up above ground. They left back through the passageways in search of some assistants.

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With the help of several guards, most of the boxes made their way up. Sombra opened a portal between the entrance of the cave and a mostly empty storeroom. The guards all stared in bug-eyed shock as Sombra walked by them, carrying one box balanced on his back, and another in front of him via his magic.

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It didn't take long to bring the majority of the boxes up from the cave. One that Sombra recognized as being particularly important (it was a fancy chest adorned with is father's cutie mark), he had placed in his room. He'd go through it later...



He thanked the guards for going out of their way to help him, which they all insisted was an honor! And once again the Crystal Bard seen a genuine spark behind Sombra's eyes as he smiled. He seemed happier in moments like these...

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After that, Sombra retired to his room to sort through the contents of the chest, and also his father's diary. Leaving the diary aside he opened the chest. It had a collection of small boxes, which were further pieces of the Queens jewelry collection, and a painting of her that Sombra set aside to be given to the historical society!



There were paintings of the palace and its gardens from back then, and Sombra recalled all the spots he'd used as hiding places during his most tempestuous moments. His father had always found him, and more often then not would just squeeze in beside him, giggling to himself at how long it would take before somepony came looking for him! His father's irreverent behavior had baffled young Sombra at first, but he'd started to get used to it.



There were also a couple of books on the empires old political policies, he made a note to give those to the current staff in charge of that.



He sat up on the bed and with a nervous sigh, pulled the diary out from its protective wrap and opened it...

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For the next two hours he didn't move an inch, so absorbed was he in the story contained within...



When he finally closed the book and set it down, his heart felt heavier, but not necessarily in a bad way.



So many things he remembered about his father, and many new thoughts that'd made him laugh, and miss the pegasus even more.



But one thing stuck in his head. Going by the diary, he knew it was his father's birthday in three days. His father deserved a proper tribute on this day, for all he'd done for Sombra.



But what had happened to him? Sombra knew from the memory Luna had found that he'd ended up in a remote village some distance from the Crystal Empire. But did it still exist, and could he get there?



Suddenly anxious to find out, he grabbed his saddlebag, put the diary on the desk and left his room.

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He trotted out of the palace and headed for the big public library. Twilight had told him it had a big comprehensive collection of maps of the surrounding area. He hadn't bothered putting on his usual armored crown and shoes, sometimes it was nice not to wear it, especially since it was a warm day!



So he just wore his cloak, his mane flowing loosely behind him as he trekked to the massive crystal library. On his way there he was greeted by several ponies, and he paused to offer a quick greeting to them all before continuing on, cutting through the market...



"Your highness!" He paused as he heard a voice, then a wonderful smell drifted over. There was a stall selling sugared donuts, something he HADN'T tried yet! So when they asked did he want some, he couldn't refuse!



He'd been a little awkward when offered anything at first, wary of such generosity, and honestly confused as to how to respond. Now he knew they offered these gifts from the heart, and were happy just to see him accept them!



Thanking them for the sugary treats, which made the stall owners smile in delight, he carried onwards...



He hadn't realised today was a baking-themed market, with stalls selling everything from savory snacks to sugar-laden goodies! By the time he got through the market, he'd stopped no less than 16 times, being offered numerous cakes and snacks! Those he took a fancy to, he ordered sizeable deliveries to be sent to the palace! Now he fully understood the palaces monetary procedures, he was able to wave aside the stall owners offers of no charge, thanking them all sincerely, but insisting he wanted to help his Empire's economy!



He didn't spot it, but the crowds sure did, and shared happy smiles. He finally used the correct wording. MY, instead of THE.

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Up above in the palace, Luna woke up, and sneezed as the co-incidence assembled itself in her mind. She'd told Sombra off for not using the right term before, now it seemed he'd finally gotten the hint! She smiled, then flopped back onto the pillow with a yawn, falling straight back to sleep.

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The library was quiet, but so peaceful. There wasn't anypony at the main desk, so Sombra tapped the bell with his hoof. Above the desk a big stained glass window let in colorful ribbons of light, giving the entrance a colorful tint.



"How can I help-oh! Hello your highness!" The librarian spotted the daydreaming stallion and quickly recovered her senses "what can I do for you?"



Sombra snapped out of his trance and smiled gently at her "sorry to disturb you ma'am, I was hoping you could point me in the direction of the maps?"



"Of course your highness, which particular area?"



"Anything on the outlying areas of the Crystal Empire, from as far back as possible...."



"Of course, we have many that have been recreated from the old maps left behind from before..." she coughed, not wanting to say it.



"It's quite alright..." Sombra said, without a trace of upset in his voice. Glancing up at him she seen a relaxed, kindly expression meet hers. She felt herself flush a little, he had a mesmerizing quality about him, the air of mystery that surrounded him only making the ponies more curious...



"Here we are.." she directed him to the maps "if you need anything further, just let me know..."



He thanked her and started sorting through the maps, rolling them out on the massive table off to the side. Eventually he located the most recent map, and going on his memories and everything he'd studied from the books about the area, he came to the realization the village was gone.



As far as he could tell the area had become impossible to live in after its water source dried up, and anypony living there had moved on.



Sombra found no mention of his father, until he came across a brief mention saying "a mysterious pony led the expedition to find a new home. Nopony knew where he came from, but he became the villages protector.."



--You helped anypony that needed you, didn't you father?-- he thought fondly --I hope you had a good life...--



Putting the maps away he thanked the librarian and left. Drifting home he wondered what he could do now?! He didn't even know what'd happened to his father.

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But midway back to the palace, he felt a sudden agonizing pain in his head. He stopped in the street, feeling multiple sensations stabbing into his mind. There were two attackers, at the same time, he had to-



He teleported towards the closest attacker, seeing no guards nearby he could send to the other! He would have to make this swift!

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The one Sombra was tracking had chosen to attack a flower shop of all places. It had smashed in through the window and was penning the shop owner and three terrified customers against the counter, grinning from ear to ear.



It sensed movement behind it and spat a gob of black ooze, trapping the huddled group like flies in a web, before turning to face;



"Ahh, little Prince..." it drawled, smirking as Sombra merely glowered at it "what's wrong, no smart remarks this time?"



"No, I'm a bit busy..." a voice spoke, but it came from BEHIND the creature. It turned, coming face to face with the REAL Sombra. A significant blast of magic sent it careening out the already broken glass window, smashing into the paving. Sombra stepped out after it, having freed the quartet from their gooey prison.



The dazed attacker gathered its scattered wits and dissolved its pony shape and morphed into a snake shape, like a singular-core edition of the one Sombra had defeated at the stadium.



--Nice try...-- Sombra smirked, and vanished, appearing above the street balancing on a floating crystal platform. The one HE was looking for was....



He closed his eyes, the glow of his magic surrounding his entire body before pulsing out-



Desperate to distract him, the controller sent the clone after him, its wide mass threatening to smother the pony, until:



FWOMPF. Sombra felt a rush of adrenaline and excitement as he reached into his memory and replicated the flame-maned mode he'd transformed into at the stadium once more. Mane and tail became a blazing purple flame, and his normally ruby red eyes were a stunning golden color. He swung round, his tail flaring brighter and catching the creature as it blazed towards him and unceremoniously setting it afire!



It recoiled, screaming in horror. Sombra summoned the scythe and chopped its core in half, teleporting to the ground to avoid the ensuing explosion.



"Show yourself, coward!" he bellowed.



"Oh, aren't you a boor?" a mocking voice taunted from above, and Sombra teleported away just milliseconds before the main controller smashed into the pavement. He reappeared a few meters away, unblinking.



"You're not the only one with a few tricks!" it giggled gleefully, and turned into its flowing gooey state, gliding across the gap between them as fast as lightning, wrapping around Sombra's forelegs and effectively holding him in place as it threatened to smother him, thus extinguishing the ponies flame!



Sombra swore, panicking slightly. But seeing it turn into a liquid shadow brought to mind how he'd gotten into the mass cores of the snakes body to destroy it. By changing INTO a shadow himself.



Shadow...plus fire....



The gawking, terror-struck crowd seen Sombra suddenly seem to vanish under the thick smothering goop, and for a brief moment they panicked that their protector had finally been overwhelmed, but it wasn't so.



The creature however was aware of none of this as it was attempting to take over the pony's body, intending to use this powerhouse stallion to really wreck the place. Then it noticed a small spark of light re-ignite deep inside the pony's body, and realized it could suddenly see right through a previously solid body!



Too late it realized its mistake, as Sombra's flame took his secondary shadow mode like a duck to water, and with an explosive fwompf, it felt itself being thrown back. The majority of its body separated from its core, and burned away as it hit the ground several feet away, only a small portion of its mass still surrounding it.



It couldn't even scream in fury as the blazing purple pony-shaped flame dove for the core, bringing its hooves down-



WHABOOOM.



The debris passed right through flame-Sombra's body, the heat from the blast barely bothering him!



The remains of its gooey shell dissolved away now the core controller was gone. Sombra shifted gears, returning to his flame-mane and tail only version, golden eyes glancing over at the ponies he'd freed from the flower shop.



"I apologize for any damage," he said, his voice a low rumble "ill have somepony from the palace contact you. But I have to go, there's still another..."



And with that he vanished, leaving a stunned, gaping audience behind.



"That was....amazing.." the shop owner blurted "how does his magic work? I've never seen anything like him!"

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The guards the second attacker had zeroed in on were doing their best to keep the thing contained, but after it'd revealed the two helpers it'd had hidden up its arse (not literally), they realized they were in trouble.



They were currently ensnared in a shadowy tornado with no way out, even for a pegasus, and things weren't looking good.



They tried to target the cores, but the things were whipping by so fast they couldn't even focus on ONE of them, let alone three!



With a flash of fire, a frankly startling sight appeared before them. Not all the guards had seen Sombra's flame mode, so this was a novel experience!



"S-sire...?" one stammered, seeing this enhanced version of an already formidable pony.



"Stay calm, I have a plan." Sombra said bluntly "shield yourselves!"



"But what about you-"



"Do not worry about me, my own fire wont hurt me." Sombra assured him.



The guard didn't hesitate, nodding and summoning a shield around him and his two friends. Through the haze of the shield they seen Sombra close his eyes, leap forward and-



WHOMPF. The tornado become a blazing whirlwind of purple fire, from inside which issued thee explosions in rapid succession. The flames blazed outwards, but the three in the shield still felt the heat wash over them as it faded into the still air.



"Whoa.." the shield dropped, and they gaped.



"Where'd Prince Sombra go?" one asked at last. But he didn't have to wait long for an answer. Sombra reappeared, the flames of his mane and tail burning brightly. He closed his golden eyes, and with a swift flash of light, he reverted back to his normal appearance. When he reopened his eyes, they were back to their crimson shade.



The three guards stared at him, slack jawed.



"You three alright?" Sombra asked, not a single hair on his coat singed, nor his cloak.



"How do you DO that without setting fire to yourself?" one guard blurted at last.



"Beats me, I just...created it." Sombra shrugged "Just don't stick me next to the curtains and I'm sure it'll be fine.."



This prompted amused sniggering, then they returned to their patrol and Sombra left for the palace.



The fight had briefly distracted him, but as he went inside, he was reminded of that afternoons failure.

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The others noticed his silence at dinner, asking was he alright? Sombra told them he was fine, just tired was all.

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But his spacey lack of attention continued into the next day even after a nights sleep. Shining Armor noticed a strange sadness in Sombra's expressions at breakfast, just for a brief second when the stallion clearly didn't think anypony was looking. He didn't get the feeling it was Sombra still berating himself, from what the guards had told him he'd been doing a lot better lately! So what was it that was bothering him?



Breakfast over, and unable to concentrate, Sombra walked out of the palace on auto-pilot, his mind still whirling about his father...

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Meanwhile, unaware Sombra had snuck out of the palace, Twilight Sparkle and company went looking for him. They walked up to his room, well, the rest did, pinkie as usual bounded ahead, and it was this that led to the discovery. Pinkie tripped on the rug by the door, rolled into a ball, and barreled into the door, which Sombra hadn't shut properly in his distracted state.



She hit the desk, knocking the diary off and onto her face. That was how her five friends plus Twilight's brother found her, prying the book off her face.



"Huh, he ain't here...whoops." Applejack noted.



"Now where do we look?" Rainbow Dash asked.



"He has an odd habit of sneaking off, he does know he doesn't have to right?" Rarity asked.



"Something is really on his mind, he looked sad earlier.." Fluttershy said sorrowfully.



"It's because it's his dad's birthday!" Pinkie piped up.



"Ahh, that makes sense- wait-a-second..." Rainbow Dash trailed off "how did you-??"



"This!" Pinkie held up the book "it fell on my face, and I seen an entry saying it was his fathers birthday. It's the day after tomorrow...."



"Of course..." Twilight Sparkle said softly, after thinking for a moment "he has all his memories back, he must be looking for a way to remember him!"



"Maybe we can find out what happened?" Shining Armor suggested.

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But they soon found out the same thing Sombra had learnt, that his fathers home after the takeover had moved on long ago.



"Awww..." Applejack sighed "we got nothin'!"



"Bummer..." Pinkie flopped across the library table.



"There must be something we can do," Rarity said, tapping the table with one hoof.



They fell silent, trying to think up an idea. Then pinkie got bored and pulled some pony-shaped action figures out of her bag and started staging a play with them!



"That's it!" Rarity declared.



"What's it...?" Rainbow Dash looked dubiously from Pinkie and her toys to Rarity.



"Why don't we make a statue?" Rarity asked "I'm sure if we all pull together, we can get one made by the date!"



"Hey yeah.." Shining looked to his sister "we can come up with the spell to carve crystal, all we gotta do is get some delivered!"



"I'll get right on it!" Twilight declared.



"We'll go get tha materials sorted!" Applejack shared a hoofbump with Rainbow Dash.



"Pinkie, Fluttershy and I can design it, but we need a picture of the king." Rarity said.



"We have that drawing Sombra did for the stadium announcement?" Shining offered "It's very detailed!"



"Perfect!" The plan back on the rails, Rarity was in full stride "shall we begin?"



A collective cheer and they set off to their respective parts!



By the days end they had formulated a plan to make a tribute, but they wanted it to be a surprise present. So Shining Armor planned to ask Sombra to give him a helping hoof with a training session at the barracks! He had been meaning to ask Sombra for an extra round of practice regarding the creatures, and this was the perfect time!



Later that day the crystal stone block was delivered in secrecy to the palace, and hidden away in a storeroom.

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That evening at dinner, Shining Armor asked if Sombra would mind helping him with a batch of new recruits who were learning to use the goggles. Sombra nodded, saying it'd be no problem. With the increase in attacks lately, they needed every pony available to learn to fight them, so Sombra wasnt battling by himself!



Shining Armor asked again was he truly OK, and Sombra just smiled and repeated that he was fine.

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But the training day wasn't as smooth as they'd hoped.



The new recruits looked mind boggled when the by now legendary flank-kicking stallion, Prince Sombra, show up alongside their Captain to personally direct the training session. The sunlight glanced off of the golden armored shoes and crown, the deep red cloak.



"Consider yourselves lucky gentlemen!" The CO barked as they lined up to await Sombra's instruction. "We got the best of the best here today, so look lively!"



"Yessir!" They all barked. Shining indicated for Sombra to begin...

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He went through the same tactics he'd shown the first group, ending in him creating the construct of the creature to fight.



There was a wave of surprised noises when the created clone appeared. It floated there, blinking.



"Relax," Sombra assured them. "It's a construct, a fake. See? The core is visible..."



"Psst...buddy.." Shining Armor hissed out of the corner of his mouth. Sombra blinked, looking over at him. Shining Armor very VERY subtly made a raspberry noise. Sombra had to employ all his ability to suppress his expression, although one of the guards did spot his ears twitch once. Shining Armor made a show of asking Sombra to, "Take a look at this a moment?"



While Sombra was peering at a sheet of paper with a doodle of a fuzzy pink thing with a goofy look on its lovable face, this meant his attention was off the creature.



The new guards had to stifle a laugh as the creature proceeded to stick its tongue out and blow a raspberry at them. But when it face-planted and started scuttling about the grass on its face, thbbbttt-ing merrily away as it did, they really creased up!



"Your highness, it's-" The CO looked over at Shining Armor and seen they were both looking very intently in different directions. Shining Armor was noticeably sniggering, and Sombra was staying bizarrely still, as if afraid moving would let the giggles loose.



The CO sighed, realizing this was Sombra's idea of a joke. Admittedly it was amusing, and the recruits were silently creasing themselves laughing...



The fun came to an end when the creature farted over to its creator and started trying to chew on his cloak. Sombra reset his control over it and set it back on its feet!



"Interesting display your highness..." the CO said to Sombra and Shining Armor once the trainees were off doing some practice with the construct and some spears, similar in style to the one Sombra STILL carried, only more modern.



Sombra and Shining Armor shared glances, and Shining let out an involuntary snigger, which set them both off on raucous laughing fits.



The CO rolled his eyes. Wasn't Sombra normally the serious one? The two Princes did seem to be thick as thieves at times like this, sharing a joint amusement and dedication to their respective roles! Still, he had to applaud Sombra for taking some of the tension out of the invasion prep.



Then there was a booming sound in the sky. Sombra whipped round, seeing something that looked like twin black comets shooting for where the soldiers were. On instinct he teleported to the forefront of the group and fired up the biggest shield he could create, some distance ahead of them. The twin objects rebounded off it, hitting the grass some distance away, digging up a massive furrow on their way.



Sombra took a few steps forward, his body tensed. The guards gathered behind and to the sides, waiting to see how their empires protector intended to handle it.



Those that'd seen the posters at the stadium recognized the two that the shadow creatures were masquerading as when the smoke cleared.



One was a big black stallion, identified as Sombra's father. The other was a dark red mare with flame-colored mane and tail. An earth pony and a unicorn, both as tall and long legged as Sombra himself. Shyre horses.



Sombra's PARENTS.



Those gathered could see the resemblance. He had his fathers build, but the wave of his mothers mane, and her deep red eyes had been passed onto him also.



"Oh, did we interrupt you?" his mother said smoothly, contempt in her eyes as she regarded Sombra.



"When are you doing to learn-" Sombra snarled. "You're a thousand years too late to make me give a hay!"



"Oh this isn't for your benefit, you little freak...." the father laughed.



"Yes, can't we give your "friends" a little insight into you?"



--Oh buck...-- Shining Armor began to creep closer to where Sombra stood. But one of them looked right at him, and he felt like he'd just had the worst brain freeze ever. Then his thoughts seemed to slip away like ice melting in the heat...who was this strange looking unicorn, why was he here? What was his name?



That was it...SOMBRA. The shadow freak.



--NO, he's a good pony...he saved my wife...sister...-- he tried to fight it, but the spell rapidly overwhelmed his mind.



Sombra kept his anger at bay, determined not to lose his temper twice, like he had in the town centre.



The mother looked at Sombra with a look of pure distaste. "Do you know how it must have felt for her? The only child she had, and it turned out to be a freak! That whole village ended up paying the price because of YOU."



Sombra didn't answer, and his father spoke next;



"They can fight well enough without you...why bother with you?"



Sombra shook his head. "Enough of your crap," he snapped, turning to glance at the guards-



And was met with a wall of animosity. All of them staring with such unbridled hatred at HIM. A jolt of shock ran through him, as he recalled that first nightmare he'd had thanks to these shadow creatures. Being trapped amidst a crowd of the townsfolk, nothing but disdain in their eyes, then they'd-



Taking advantage of the loop Sombra's mind had gotten stuck in, the two controllers ordered those under the control of their spell to get Sombra!



"Wretched traitor.." one of them spoke. Sombra, starting to get angry now, whirled round, a rebuke already poised on the tip of his tongue, but he never got that far. A blinding pain shot through his head as one of the spears sliced across his face, leaving a cut just above his right eye. He snarled, part anger and part surprise, and stumbled on his feet.



Before he could retreat, they pounced, and he was suddenly pinned to the grass by several pairs of hooves. He tried to throw them off him, and very nearly succeeded, but eventually the pressure on his back and spine meant he couldn't get up. That and the unicorns using their magic to tie his legs meant it soon became impossible to move.


The wind was knocked from his lungs as he was finally forced to his knees facing the fake parents, the sharp points of weapons pressing into his neck and sides.



But worse was to follow was Shining Armor, expression as blank as the rest, stepped between Sombra and the shadow creatures, and aimed a spear at his neck. It's sharp point pressed against Sombra's throat.



--Oh, BUCK.-- Sombra swore, this was bad. He could free himself, but with so many sharp weapons aimed at him, he'd risk hurting himself AND them! He tried to calm his rising anger, telling himself to use his head!



"Oh how easily they're swayed..." the thing cackled. Sombra stayed still, silently fuming, trying to think of a way out. A book he'd borrowed from the palace library was an anthology by a "Prancer Carbon Doyle", about a detective called Sherclop Pones! The fictional detective had said something smart about how once you'd discounted everything else, whatever was left HAD to be the truth, however strange it seemed!


--Nothing is out of the running, they're using something complex, why else would they be so boastful after all that's occured?--


The spell they used to possess Lightshield and Sweetheart somehow had a broader range now. But there had to be a limit to it, otherwise they'd have done this long before...it must have taken considerable effort to get this far, what was it's weakness??



Seeing the guards clustering around him, an idea formed.



When they'd attacked, they'd gone for the guards when they were all in one group. So it had a short range. Many clustering around one that was serving as a transmitter-



That was it. They were using Shining Armor. Having recognized his link to Sombra as a treasured friend, they'd somehow twisted this to their own ends.



--I'm putting them in danger by my association?-- he thought, his head aching as he tried desperately to work out a plan in the face of such cold anger.



"They'll ditch you soon as you have no use," the fake father smirked at the captive Sombra "You're just a novelty to them, an amusing distraction. A mascot for a short lived war. And that's the scenario if YOU somehow win. But, I'm still prepared to give you a new lease of life. One where you wont be treated as a freak, reviled for who you were, what you became! Look at you; a twisted parody of these creatures!"



Sombra shut his eyes, thinking of Shining Sea. That kiss, how she'd said those words:



"You think how you look chases ponies away? Far from it!"



She'd been upset, seeing him thinking himself sub-par because of how he appeared. She'd refused to let him escape after that first kiss, where he'd mistaken surprise for anger, and had kissed him in return, so much kindness in that one gesture. The way her soft lips had snared his...



Then there was the way madam Sweetheart had blushed as she'd thanked him for dancing with her. That smile hadn't been one of mockery! And Lightshield had said that he had fitted in just fine at the ball!



The smiles on the crowds faces when they'd heard his coronation date had finally been settled upon. How Luna had given him a nudge and a wink as if to say "see? You got it right this time around!"



"-you see?" the thing was still warbling on. "You're wasting your time defending these pathetic creatures-"



"THATS ENOUGH!!" Sombra's voice was like a razor sharp knife through marshmallow, cutting into the drone of their malicious lies. Beneath the normal undertone of rumbling darkness normally present in his voice, he'd added a minute spell, one that he prayed would slip their attention.



In front of him shining twitched, a flicker in his eyes. Sombra felt his heart thud in relief, and then, much like the spell he'd used to destroy the giant snake, it ran like chain lightning. The flash of recognition in Shining eyes was reflected in the guards, one by one, their salvation delivered via the very fact they all now stared at the Captain, awaiting orders to dispose of Sombra!



One by one, the guards began to realize something was wrong. Why couldn't they move? Why were they holding the empires most valued asset in this fight at spear-point? They were forcefully pinning the larger stallion, the whole scene looked like a potential execution. Sombra a prisoner at their hooves, with their captain, the Princes FRIEND, forced to be the one holding the proverbial axe, but he wasn't fighting them to get free, why??



Those standing to Sombra's side seen a seemingly limitless determination in Sombra's eyes, and something else...



"Just. SHUT. UP." Sombra said. He'd noticed the twitch in Shining Armor, but instead turned his focus onto the two masterminding this madness. There was a look of disgust and pity in his eyes as he spoke, battling with a bravery Shining would later describe to Cadance as being beyond admirable given the circumstances;



"I wouldn't expect you to have the brain cells to comprehend it, but that's what power is FOR! For the defense of those that cannot fight. Those that don't possess the strength that I or any of these ponies have! It's our duty, our responsibility, to guard them. Light cannot exist without dark to help it stand out, and strength cannot exist if it doesn't have something to be strong for!"



Shining Armor felt his limbs come back to life again, found he could move. And the first thing he did was minutely inch his weapon away from where it had been resting against Sombra's neck. The taller stallion shot him a quick glance, a plan being spelled out through one split-second look...



He continued, wincing as blood from the cut got into his right eye, “I had NO right to ask their forgiveness, not even CLOSE. Not after what I did. For the simple fact they have offered it to me at ALL, I will take whatever steps necessary to destroy you. If they no longer need me after that? Then that is THIER decision. I have been offered more in these shorts weeks than I ever had when all I cared about was power! Even if I'm not needed to rule, and I become merely a figurehead, I care not. This Empire will be protected regardless!!”



His heart hammering in his chest, he shot another swift look at Shining Armor.



--NOW-- Sombra's eyes flashed with that same light that'd raced across them in the street fight, when he'd robbed that thing of his fathers form. With that one look Shining Armor felt himself able to fully move again. He followed what he'd read in Sombra's expression, the minuscule movement of his head...



He flattened himself to the floor, hearing Sombra snarl in pain as he jolted forward, the spears slicing thin cuts into his flank, the injuries lessened by the thick fabric of the cloak. The fact his front and rear legs were still bound by the spells made balance a tricky matter, but he managed to leap over Shining Armor's prone form and stand at the front of the group, crouched lower to maintain his skewed centre of gravity. He closed his eyes and, free of an imminent swiss-cheese makeover, woke his magic!



Not a second too late, Sombra's shield flared up, deflecting the twin blasts aimed at them by the furious creatures.



The flash of purple light was the final key to snapping the guards from their trance. They stared in shock at Sombra facing off against the two attackers. Shining Armor got to his feet, yelling at them to get into formation!



The two creatures stopped firing at Sombra, seeing the guards assembling behind the shield, surrounding the Prince once more, but this time with the anger in their eyes directed at THEM instead!



"You want to die because of this creature?" The father said. "Have it your way!"



From the sky descended a double squad of lesser creatures, under the control of the main two. Clearly this was plan B in motion!



Sombra looked round at Shining Armor, seeing the other awaiting an order from him.



They ALL were. One hurriedly stepped forward, undoing the bonds around Sombra's legs, enabling him to stand properly instead of crouching.



Figuring he was past the point of hesitating over his abilities, Sombra found himself barking orders for the guards to use their magic or weapons to fend off the lesser clones, while he and Shining Armor dealt with wingus and dingus.



Sombra made what to the others seemed like an obscure movement with one hoof, but one Shining Armor recognized instantly. He grinned, nodded, and they turned as one to face the swarm, the shield dropping!



They took off from the ground and raced towards the two stunned antagonizers. Sombra teleported from one side to the other, lightning fast flashes of movement, which Shining Armor mimicked a second after. Catching his eye, Sombra gave a minuscule nod, and with that, the both of them vanished.



"What?" The two controllers seen a flash behind them and spun round, expecting the two stallions to appear there. Wrong.



They dropped in from above, pounding their opponents into the ground before leaping off and firing blasts of magic at them. The two creatures were knocked flying in opposite directions, stunned and disorientated. Sombra wasted no time in summoning his scythe and slamming it down into his attacker, feeling a momentary jab when he seen the creature's look of fear in his mother's guise. Then he reminded himself she was long gone, and he'd moved on.



Uttering a silent goodbye, he sprang away as she was wiped from existence.



Shining Armor meanwhile, had succeeded in heavily stunning the thing, slamming it into the ground repeatedly, cracking the core, and seemingly draining its magic. It's false form blinked out of existence, and a dulled core fell to the grass.



He was on the verge of shooting at it with the help of his goggles to destroy it for good, when he heard a scream. He seen one of the things trying to abduct one of the guards and fly off with him. Furious, he aimed the charge he'd built up at the thing as it shot by, striking it in the head and making it drop the poor guard. He ran over and helped the pony to his feet.



But the core wasn't down and out. Shards of black ooze flowed out from the broken core and surrounded it. It only had a little strength left, so it had just one chance-



Sombra felt a pain lance through his head and whipped round, spotting the orb cracking and sparking. And Shining Armor helping a stricken guard to his hooves not far away.



"Shining Armor!" He bellowed, launching himself towards the other Prince, vision narrowing down to getting to his friend. He reached them and fired off a makeshift teleport to get them out of the way, and shot a spell at the core to blast it into the air.



But the timing was just a moment off-kilter, so when it detonated, one shard slashed across his head, cutting across the previous cut from the spear, creating an x-shaped wound. Only the armored crown he wore stopped it from cutting any deeper into his head. The hit blind-sided him, sending him off balance and crashing into the grass. Heavy pain filled his head, and the world spun, before it faded to black...



With their chief controllers destroyed, the rest exploded into clouds of crumbled core, leaving a haze of dust across the battlefield.



"Sombra!!" Shining Armor yelled, as he was suddenly teleported, recognizing the purple gleam on that magic. The smoke cleared with a quick spell, and he spotted the larger pony crumpled on the grass...



"Oh bucking hay..." he said sharply as he ran over, crouching beside Sombra. There was a large amount of blood seeping into the grass from a nasty looking wound on Sombra's head. The guard he'd been helping didn't hesitate, and quickly used his magic to tear off the fabric from the underside of his armor, and Shining Armor quickly pressed this against the wound. The CO spotted the problem and barked at one of the guards to run and fetch the base doctor NOW!



The worried guards clustered nearby, as the dust cleared from the air and they spotted the injured stallion. His cloak was torn in several places, and blood was trickling slowly from a cross-cut over his right eye...



A quick check revealed Sombra was still breathing, and his pulse was steady.



"C'mon man.." Shining muttered to the unconscious Sombra. "Wake up..."



"What the BUCK happened there?" one guard whispered to another "why did we-"



"Try to attack a pony to whom we our lives?" The shaken CO barked, seeking an outlet "I'd like an explanation myself! We'd best hope, for the love of Celestia, that his highness does not think we supported this abhorrent act in any way-"



He was cut off as there was a spate of coughing, and a familiar voice muttering;



"Heh...I don't, if it's any reassurance."



They all whipped round to where Sombra had finally regained consciousness, and was sitting up with an obvious wince.



"Whoa, take it slowly bud.." Shining panicked.



"I-I'm alright..I-I've had worse.." Sombra said, his voice strained. Shining took the second swatch of fabric from the same guard, and used his magic to keep it pressed against the bleeding cut...



The CO was having a well-hidden fit of panic, and desperately tried to apologize for what'd happened, babbling as he stepped towards the Prince;



"Your highness, please-"



"You all know how that spell unleashed in the stadium worked, do you not?"



They took a second to absorb the question, then they nodded. Sombra had explained it to Shining Armor, about the chain lightning effect, who'd then passed this tactic onto the guards, who regarded the complexity of the spell as a thing of marvel!



"What just occurred worked much the same way, from one point, they used the targets magic to boost the strength of the spell, thus linking it onto the rest of you."



"So that's why that thing was looking at me funny?" Shining recalled it now. Sombra nodded. "It seems personal connections are at the most risk..."



Hearing Sombra's worried tone, and sensing the threat of the taller stallion blaming himself, Shining shook his head and made a noise like;



"Thbbbtt..." a raspberry, basically. This had the effect of Sombra giving him a baffled frown.



"That's about the same level of sense blaming yourself for somehow causing this makes," Shining shrugged "They've tried animosity, personal emotions, now a collective assault. And they all FAILED. Epically. Aint nothing getting through here!" he rapped his head with one hoof, his cheerful grin making Sombra laugh just a little.



"Hah, you laughed!" Shining snickered. "Now you're off the hook, agreed?" He held up a hoof.



Sombra recognized this. As a gesture of friendship, not long after that first breakfast where they'd banded together to help him realize he was not alone, Rainbow Dash had taught the old-fashioned Sombra the new gesture of hoof-bumps!



"By what logic does your mind work again?" Sombra couldn't suppress his amusement, even as his gold-clad hoof met the other pony's.



"Logic?" was the reply.



During all this, Sombra's loopy little construct had been scooting merrily about the far end of the field, startled by the ensuing fight! Without Sombra's direct concentration to guide it, it'd been on a sort of woolly-headed autopilot! Now that things had calmed down, it returned to its creator, popping up between where Sombra was sat and Shining Armor stood just a foot or two away from him. It popped up, stared blankly at them, then blew a raspberry and fell on its face again.



"What he said." Sombra remarked dryly, pointing a hoof at the creature, who made another muffled thbbbbt!



It was a spark in a powder keg. The worry and guilt they'd been feeling over attacking Sombra was soothed temporarily by a widespread fit of laughter at the comedic constructs actions.



This was the scene the base doctor arrived to, the construct darting about on its face making muffled fart sounds, and everypony acting like a foal again!



"OK, how many of you hit your heads?" he asked in exasperation;



"Just him!" Shining Armor nodded at Sombra between sniggers.



Sombra laughed a little, although the action made him wince. The doctor peered at the wound, and began mopping up the blood, which had thankfully slowed to a minimal amount.



Luckily the wound wasn't serious, a bit of a bleeder, but really nothing bad. At most it'd stunned Sombra, and after bandaging the wound, he was advised to go home and rest!



Sadly he had to de-summon the construct, to the guards disappointment! But he encouraged them to keep doing their training, and if he was given a report saying even ONE of them was having a fit of the guilts about what'd happened, he come back down and personally convince them otherwise. By which the CO translated to mean "a kick up the butt". But, given this threat was delivered with an amused, entirely forgiving look in Sombra's eyes, the guards knew he wasn't blaming them for anything.



As he and Shining Armor turned to leave, the CO asked them to wait a moment;



"I admire your strength your highness, all of us here do," the CO began, and the soldiers all nodded "I don't think I could have found the strength to think of a way out when faced with something like this. Your actions prevented anypony from being captured, or worse. You put your own safety at risk for all of us! Traditionally our job is to guard those in royal status, but in one scenario alone, your abilities have have outstripped us all. I intend to make sure we can become strong enough to guard your life, it would be our honor!”



With these words spoken, he and the other guards all saluted Sombra, much as Lightshield and friends had, that occasion in the barracks.



Sombra was literally stunned into silence by a mix of relief and happiness. As with the reaction of the citizens to his impending coronation, he could see the genuine expressions on their faces. Looks of admiration, of belief and trust. All aimed at, and for, him.



This effect was doubled when he seen a movement at his side and realized Shining Armor, as the Captain of the guard, had joined them! He gave Sombra a friendly grin, one that said he was pretty dang pleased for his friend!



Again he seen how Sombra's ears seemed to shift from slightly drooped to standing up as far as pony ears could. Meaning he was surprised, but not unpleasantly so...



These subtle emotions were picked up on by the closer members of the guard, and they were relieved to see Sombra was happy with what their CO had said! To the effect that he replied by way of a formal bow, no words necessary..



"Just one question sires," the CO asked of Sombra and Shining Armor. "How did you two manage to pull that double attack off without even needing instruction?"



Sombra raised an eyebrow at Shining Armor, indicating he should tell them;



Shining Armor cheerily explained how he'd been showing Sombra some of his old "Oubliette and Ogres" manuals from back when he was in high school, and the gesture Sombra had made was a reference of a teleport spell from a LARP!



"Psst...you think he plays?" One of the guards asked another, even more in awe of Sombra now...

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But as they headed back to the palace, Shining Armor noticed Sombra seemed worried.



"What's eating you? Or is your head just aching?"



"It's..." Sombra sighed "I was thinking.."



"Hay! You know better than that!" Shining Armor interjected.



Sombra made an amused sniggering sound as he realized the joke, and gave Shining Armor a mock-angry glare. Then he managed a weak smile and continued; "I know, but I was thinking about what I'm going to do once this is over. I literally don't know anything aside from picking fights and generally causing chaos. I haven't got a CLUE what I'm going to do when this ends, whenever that may be..."



"That's all?" Sombra blinked at Shining Armor as he let out a surprised chuckle "the political council has about a dozen reasons alone why you can't say you have nothing to do! We've never had a pony with a tactical mind like yours before! The amount you could teach the royal guard as a whole is staggering! Not just here, but Canterlot too! Heck, beyond if necessary..."



Sombra blinked, thinking about the world outside the Crystal Empire...



"We're not gonna keep you confined to the Crystal Empire, goofy," Shining clapped his friend on the back and grinned. "There's a huge ass world out there, and it's not one you've seen before! Its all brand new, buddy, think about it"



"I have often wondered what's beyond here..." Sombra murmured softly "I never saw anything outside of my village and here, the journey was so remote, I didn't pass more than a hoof-full of trading posts!"



"You'll LOVE Canterlot, it's where Cadance and I used to live, its pretty awesome! And naturally you gotta go see Ponyville with my sister and her friends. Pee for Ponyville remember?"



Sombra let out an amused laugh, feeling his mood lift as he recalled that signature phrase.



"You see? There's a hoof-full of reasons why you can't go getting depressed about having nothing to do! And if you're worried your abilities start and end with kicking things up the butt, don't be. You're already proving to be good at handling a crisis!"



"You mean.." Sombra jabbed a hoof up at the tear. "That?"



"Well yes. But not JUST that. At the party, remember? You not only talked that poor mare out of leaving and beating herself up, but put aside your plans to dance with that lady friend of yours to make that mare feel better!"



Sombra nodded, then something about Shining's phrasing made his ear twitch. What had he just said?



"AND, when Cadance and the rest of us were worrying about the party coming to a grinding halt, you'd already dispatched Pinkie Pie to get things going again. Whether you notice it or not, you have a knack for sorting out what the situation is most in dire need of! Heck, look at what you did back there for instance!"



"I see...wait, what was the last bit on the previous sentence again?!" Sombra's ear was twitching again. Shining chuckled "Sorry. I AM married to the Princess of love! You can be as subtle as you like, she'll STILL see it like its painted across a billboard-" Cue Sombra face-hoofing.



"Been there, done that, bud," Shining chuckled as he recalled how he'd first gotten together with Cadance. It'd involved attempted sabotage at a polo match, his Oubliettes and Ogres friends, foal-sitting, and a fluglehorn recital.



It had cumulated with him and his friends staging an elaborate prank on Cadance's date for the dance, Buck. She didn't like him, but had ended up going to the dance with him anyway. She hadn't stayed with him for long, admitting she didn't like him and finding Shining Armor instead! It'd been smooth sailing from there...



"So take it from me, you don't wanna let somepony like that slip away!"



Sombra nodded, still slightly red-faced, but feeling marginally less silly.



"Never thought I'd see the day I had the freedom to even consider such a thing.." Sombra amused. "Survival was all that ever mattered before, by any means necessary."



"You'll grow out of that in time, things are different now. With all of us to give you a hoof, you can relax and actually ENJOY your life!"



"So much has changed..." Sombra said "I try to think about it all and I feel dizzy. I was determined to hate everypony when I woke up here again, didn't see the point in being awake at all, let alone being billed as a solution to something like this!" he gave a funny laugh "but looking back, it took one word to make me start thinking..."



"What was that?" Shining asked. Although he had a feeling...



"Boop". Sombra said proudly, and shining recalled the tale of sparks first meeting with Sombra.



"Best phrase ever..." Shining grinned as they walked into the castles main entrance.



Sombra's stomach growled then, and he yawned "Hmmh...perhaps I'd best eat."



"Hay, you gotta keep awake, so no dozing off!" Shining reminded him.



He walked him to the palace doctor, who repeated the base doctor's instructions that Sombra wasn't to go dozing off before tonight.



They encountered Celestia as they were leaving. She spotted Sombra's latest battle scar and offered to use her magic to speed up the healing ten-fold. Sombra gratefully agreed, and she nudged him back towards her office so she could make tea and discuss a few things with him at the same time!

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With Sombra occupied, Shining Armor snuck off to see how their surprise for Sombra was going.



"Wow..." he whistled. They'd managed to start carving the shape out nicely. He joined them awhile, and he and Twilight Sparkle soon had the thing carved into the shape of Sombra's adoptive father.



Rarity began adding a few subtle highlights such as a jewel made to resemble the one in the leg band, which had originally belonged to the King. So the statue now wore a replica of the one Sombra had.



"Perfect!" Rarity heaved a sigh of relief. Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy beat their wings to clear away any dust from the shaping spell, and they sat back to admire their work.



"It's beautiful..." Fluttershy said.



"Woohoo!" Pinkie Pie clapped her hooves "it looks super awesome, do you think he'll like it?"



"I'm sure he will..." Shining Armor replied. In the meantime he went off to find his wife, he had another idea...

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The next morning Sombra awoke with a heavy heart. It was his father's birthday today, and he felt lost...



Then there came a knock on the door. He opened, and seen Pinkie Pie there.



"Cotton Candy?" he asked. She bounced up and down, her eyes seeming both sad and sparkling at the same time. She asked him to follow her, they had something to show him!



Figuring "they" to mean Twilight Sparkle and the others, Sombra dutifully followed her all the way out to the garden. The others were clustered around something that was hidden under a sheet. It was big, ending a foot or so above Sombra's head.



"What's going on..?" he asked, yet getting a funny sensation in his chest.



"We found out it was yer father's birthday sugarcube," Applejack said. "We didn't mean ta pry, Pinkie sorta head butted the door to yer room and ran headlong into yer desk.."



"The book landed on my face!" Pinkie jabbed a hoof at her muzzle like he might miss it. "And I saw the page about your dad!"



"I...I see..." Sombra wasn't sure what else to say "it's nothing to worry about-"



"Darling, its got you looking as down as Pinkie at the sight of an empty pantry!" Rarity declared, and Pinkie Pie pulled a sad face to illustrate this, "and we couldn't see you carry on like that! So we decided to make something to commemorate the occasion!"



"We borrowed that drawing you did for the announcement," Twilight added. "We hope you'll like it.."



The two pegasi flew up and pulled the sheet away. With it nearly falling on top of Fluttershy. While Rainbow Dash and everypony else freed her, Sombra took in the statue they'd collectively made.



Seeing this shimmering crystal representation of the first pony to offer him a real family made his heart ache, but it was beautiful. They'd caught that same irrepressible, amused smile of the drawing, and the shoes and crown had been highlighted in silver leaf to match the drawing, with dark turquoise in the eyes.



"Whatcha think hon?" Applejack recovered from Operation: Untangle Fluttershy first and came to stand beside him.



"It's perfect.." Sombra said. Just two words, but the level of happiness and gratitude in his voice spoke volumes.



"Yay!" Pinkie beamed.



"We know he meant the world to you.." Fluttershy said softly "So we wanted you to have something you could come see any time you want..."



Sombra couldn't think of a word to say, well, save for two:



"Thank you."



That was all he could manage, his voice and brain refused to co-operate, too many thoughts were racing through his head. But the genuine gratitude in those simple words reached them all.



"We're gonna go make cupcakes.." Twilight said.



"Yeah! You gotta celebrate a special day with cakes, right?" Rainbow Dash peered up at Sombra, seeing the melancholy expression on his face. She knew he had to be pretty swamped right now, and figured he needed some space;



"Race you to the kitchen!" She grinned "loser does the dishes!"



"OH HEAVENS NO!" Rarity shot off. "Cake batter?!"



Within a few seconds Sombra was alone in the area of the garden they'd chosen to show off the statue;



He settled himself down in front of the statue, looking up at his father.



"You were right, you know.." he said softly "I DID find those ponies you wrote about in your letter. there's so many of them. Six are the elements of harmony, others are royalty, one's a filly, and the other, well....I think I'm in love with her."



He shook his head "I wish you weren’t gone father, I....I miss you. I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you before. You were right the whole time. I....I'm NOT a monster after all, I was just so frightened..."



His vision blurred and he closed his eyes "I wish I could see you one last time, tell you this. I...I love you, father..."



He bowed his head, closing his eyes and remembering the last happy memory with his father before the paranoia had started.


They'd been in a meeting, with Scrollwork prattling on. Cloudspark was scribbling something in his journal, when he paused, and angled the book to show Sombra.



"Plural for moose? Meese? Moosen?" these two choices were underlined and a question mark between the two.



Sombra barely suppressed a snort. He tried to ignore his father, knowing the king was doing this solely to make HIM laugh most likely. But when his fathers wing poked him in the side, and the ruler raised an eyebrow at him, he sighed and subtly pointed his hoof at "Moosen".



"Of course! MOOSEN!" Cloudspark declared in a booming voice. Sombra let out a loud guffaw, unable to stop himself.



Scrollwork had a face as long as a wet weekend, and he directed a venomous glare at Sombra.


Burt the king and his young protege were giggling helplessly. The rest of the council had alternated between bewilderment and amusement, used to their kings eccentric ways!



Sombra laughed, but the sound was choked by tears.



"You'd love the Crystal Empire if you seen it now, father.." he managed to speak at last "The ponies, father...they..." a hiccup, another weak laugh. "They didn't have to even acknowledge I was here again, I didn't matter to them.



That day the crystal plague infected the whole Crystal Empire, I realized something. If I could care about the welfare of a small filly, what was an entire Empire? Guarding one life is the same as guarding them ALL. I decided I'd tear that thing out of the sky and maybe someday plead with them for a home here. But I didn't even have to ask..."



He blinked and looked up at the statues benign smile "Shining Armor, he had so many reasons to despise me, yet he offered to be my friend. And with him came six colorful ponies. They seen the whole story of my past, and one, she cried when I could not. Another got angry on my behalf when I was still too shocked to process it. She said so much in a short time. The others were concerned that I still could not forgive myself. The Prince and Princess stood in your place and offered me a second chance at helping rule the Crystal Empire."



"They waited....waited for me to stop running away and finally face what I'd been to afraid to confront; the feelings of the ponies here. They sent letters to the palace when I refused to leave it, wondering if I'd come see them when I was ready. But I still couldn't bring myself to believe what they wrote. I was afraid it would be a trick, and I couldn't so easily get my hopes up again. So the Princesses threw a big party, like the ones you used to love. They stood beside me so I didn't have to face it alone."



For a moment he couldn't even speak, his voice was growing hoarse, his vision blurry again;



"The citizens, they'd been asking for a coronation date. I did not think it meant that much beyond pomp and circumstance, but when Cadance read the announcement out at the party, they were smiling up at me. I realized what miss Applejack had been saying, that I'd been running from the issue, and that I needed to face it. And seeing it for myself like that finally convinced me. That if they could forgive and entrust their Empire to me a second time, what was stopping ME? Things will never fully move on, it'll always be there, unless I..."



He shook his head, uttering a shaky sigh....



"I guess...What I'm trying to say is...I'm home, father. I'm HOME."



He gave up trying to hold any of it back, and for the second time since finding the leg band, a long-closed floodgate broke, and he realized this wasn't just a coronation he was looking forward to, it was a homecoming!



For several minutes, the only sound was his muffled cries, as he sat, head bowed, in front of the statue of his father. He fought to draw breath, but he couldn't stop it, he'd had enough suppressing everything, it made him feel so weighted down...he felt such a sense of relief at letting this burden go, he couldn't stop himself.



At last the gut wrenching flood came to an end, and he as able to breath once more. He raised a hoof to rub at his eyes. But he was pre-empted by a feathery white wing popping up and brushing the stray droplets away. He made a startled, hiccuping sound, and felt another wing tap his right ear. He blinked, looking quickly from side to side. The other wing was dark blue.



Celestia and Luna. The wings overlapped around his back, chasing away the lonely chill.



Luna gave a sleepy yawn and smiled kindly at him.



"It's beautiful, isn't it?" Celestia said, nodding at the statue "Twilight Sparkle told me she and the others were working on something, but I never imagined this..."



Sombra just nodded, unable to speak. He thought he'd feel stupid, them catching him having a breakdown like this. But instead he felt happier just knowing they were there.



Luna levitated an object she'd been keeping tucked under her wing. It was a flag, with the emblem of the Crystal Empire sewn onto it in gold and silver threads. She set this at the foot of the statue.



"Sister and I decided to make it together, using our magic to make the thread!"



"This way, it will never fade," Celestia added "We're all happy to see your fathers memory honored this way..."



"It's perfect, he would have loved to see this..." Sombra said softly. "in fact, he probably would've stuck a mustache on it.."



Luna let out a snort of laughter, and even Celestia had to chuckle.



"He had quite a sense of humor it would seem." she smiled, and Sombra raised an eyebrow;



"This is the same guy who declared the plural for moose should be moosen!"



"Moosen..." Luna pondered. "We rather like it! MOOSEN!"



"Many much moosen.." Celestia joked, making Sombra laugh again.



"Feeling better?" Celestia asked. Sombra nodded.



"Shall we go seeketh out the pink candy pony and cakes?" Luna asked.



Another nod, then he asked;



"Out of curiosity, is there a platoon of ponies standing behind us with a picnic basket because I've been sitting out here so long Cotton Candy got bored and decided to bring the cake out here?"



Celestia turned her head a little, and did a double-take.



"Sweet merciful ME, you're good at this..." she blurted.



"Actually, I think I can HEAR Cotton Candy fidgeting so fast she's disrupting sound waves..."



"You've GOT to teach me how to do that..." Rainbow Dash said at last. "That's so cool!"



The three ponies stood and turned, the Princesses folding their wings back down to their sides.



"Cake time?" Sombra guessed, eyebrow raised.



"Cake time!" Pinkie cheered!



Behind the six Sombra noticed Shining Armor and Cadance, who was floating a scroll in front of her. She unravelled it as she sat down, showing it to Sombra. It was a suggestion Cloudspark's birthday be considered a holiday. She and Shining Armor were happy to pass it, all they needed was his signature. Sombra didn't hesitate, it was a perfect idea!



Together the group sang a traditional birthday song, with Sombra, unable to resist, teaching them the slightly ruder version his father sang. Fluttershy went bright red but couldn't suppress a giggle, and Rainbow Dash fell over, she was laughing so hard.



Pinkie started passing out the cakes, each one iced in a theme reflecting the pony it was going to. Luna's for instance, was a rich chocolate cake with blue and gold edible sparkles like the night sky. Luna took time to admire it before taking a big bite. The look of utter bliss on her face made Celestia chuckle and tuck into her own, white icing with red yellow and gold pearls.



Pinkie Pie had made one for Sombra with edible crystals formed like his cutie mark. Her friends had various candy themed shapes like apples, diamonds, a butterfly, clouds and rainbows, and a marzipan book atop Twilight Sparkle's. Her own had a giant marshmallow shaped like a balloon on it, which she stuffed whole into her mouth.



Applejack hiccuped drinking the fizzy cider and had a minor coughing fit, finished off with a belch when Pinkie slapped her on the back.



"Sorry y'all.." she coughed.



"Don't SUPPOSE that's a challenge?" Rainbow Dash joked, and Sombra laughed, recalling last time they'd done that.



"NO!" Her friends all cried, although half of them couldn't keep straight faces. Luna was even heard to go, "Drat, we can do quite a royal burp.."



Sombra had to laugh, he couldn't help himself!

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By the time they made their way back inside, they were all stuffed full of cake and other pastries.

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Rarity asked Sombra to come with her, she had something to show him. He was surprised when she showed him a tux she'd made, in a very deep red fabric, with black lapels, with his cutie symbol stitched onto the left side.



"If you're going to the theatre, a tux is a must!" Rarity beamed. Sombra blinked, wondering where she'd found time to make this?



"I always have time for a spot of fashion!" Rarity beamed at his surprised face "Now you don't have to worry about it!"



"Thank you, miss Rarity.." Sombra smiled gently "Its true I had not even considered there would be a dress code, I've never attended such a thing. Wait, how did you-?" he just realized she'd somehow known his plan!



Rarity giggled "I had a feeling, darling! After all, the theatre is a wonderful place for a date! I'm guessing she appreciated the gesture?"



"She was very happy, yes. It seems she has often wanted to go, but tickets cost too much."



"Excellent!" Rarity looked pleased "I also took the liberty of ordering some flowers, white roses are a popular color for her mane shading!"



"You really do have a knack for this.." Sombra mused. Rarity sighed dreamily;



"I cannot HELP but appreciate a good romance! One so fantastic as this, it would be a crime if I did not offer to help!"



"I am eternally grateful you have," Sombra said genuinely "alone, I would have no solutions such as these."



"You'll be FINE..." Rarity assured him.



"Oh-!" Sombra recalled the necklace he'd found in his fathers belongings, and told Rarity he'd be right back. He teleported to his room and back, returning with the jewelry.



"Wow, this is beautiful!" Rarity grabbed a magnifying glass and peered at the jewels "my my, these are very high quality gems, I haven't seen ones like them in a long time! Its very well made."



"It was in father's belongings, it used to be the queens." Sombra fidgeted awkwardly, wandering absently over to the window as he spoke. "Perhaps it is presumptuous of me, but I had wished to give it to her as a present..."



Knowing "her" to mean Shining Sea, Rarity was touched by Sombra's intentions. They were kind, in a genuinely hopeful, innocent sort of manner. She reflected on what she and the others knew about Sombra's past. He'd never exactly had the time to fall in love before, this had to be a startling change in events...



"She'll love it..." she said reassuringly, and seen an honest look of relief flash over Sombra's face.



"I'll clean it up nicely and check the setting!" Rarity promised. "it will be ready in time for your date!"

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He'd just gotten back downstairs when he was told he had visitors. Soon as he walked into the spacious, open tea room, he was greeted by "SOMBWA!"



"Hay there little one!" He said happily, sitting her up on his back before turning his attention to the other visitor;



"Hay.." he said softly as Shining Sea walked over to him. Her eyes sparkled as she greeted him. She noticed he looked a little flushed, and asked was he OK?



"I'm fine, truly..." he said softly. "Today is, in fact, a special day..."



"Why it's speciaw?" Bright Spark asked. Sombra could feel her batting at his mane and smiled softly as he responded;



"It's my fathers birthday. Princess Twilight and the others, they made a memorial for him. It's the perfect way to make sure I never forget him."



"That was wonderful of them.." Shining Sea said "you have some very kind friends!"



"I know." Sombra said, and he really did!



Bright Spark asked if they could see the statue? Sombra smiled and said of course they could!

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He led them out to the garden where the statue stood.



"Wow, it's amazing.." sea looked up at it. "Although, where did that fake mustache come from-" she sounded confused. Then she was surprised by Sombra starting to laugh!



"Cotton Candy...she must've heard me..." he laughed.



"Heard you what?" Shining Sea asked. Sombra explained how he'd mentioned to Luna and Celestia that if his father could see the statue now, he'd probably be his usual goofy self and stick a mustache on it!



Bright Spark was giggling fit to bust, she loved the joke!



Shining Sea couldn't help but laugh once she heard this, Sombra's father had been quite a joker, hadn't he?



Bright Spark went off to chase some butterflies, leaving the grown-ups to talk. Sombra told some more stories about his father's sense of humor!



"He..." Sombra tried to stop laughing long enough to talk. "He used to say his mind was like a steel trap, rusty and banned across most of Equestria!"



Shining Sea was laughing so hard she'd had to not only sit down, but was getting a stitch. She wobbled over and fell against Sombra, who was still chuckling himself. She felt herself go red and attempted to not-so-elegantly apologize, but he didn't seem annoyed.



In fact, the next second she felt his foreleg curve around her, and she let herself cosy up to him, barely able to believe her luck! She rested her head on his chest, hearing the soft thud of his heartbeat.



Sombra was just as nervous but happy as she was. Again, his actions had come from an instinct that said this was the proper thing to do...but he was still worried he might scare her off...



Now she was so close, her slim form fitting so comfortably next to him, the vanilla scent of her mane making his heart race...



She felt him nuzzle absently at her mane, and lifted her head, smiling curiously at him.



"That scent, it suits you." he said bluntly. She flushed, it was her favorite perfume!



"Bright Spark bought a bottle for my birthday last year," she smiled. "Saved up all the pocket money I'd been giving her to get it for me..."



"She's a good kid, I'm so relieved to see how much she's cheered since the first time I met her..."



She brushed her nose against his. "That's all thanks to you..." she said honestly, treasuring the soft feel of his coat, and the CLOSENESS of him.



"Ever since you defended her from those bullies she's grown and grown..."



Sombra thought back to that first real encounter, where he'd learnt her name, and shed first spoken HIS.



"She was so fearless, to march right up to me and go "boop!" he said, watching how the light caught her dark blue eyes. "I thought that if she could approach one with a reputation like mine and show no fear, she should have to fear nopony, let alone those bullies!"



"Petalbloom told me what you said in her defense, I was surprised when she told me how readily Bright Spark told her you were just as lonely as anypony else, not scary!"



"I am indebted to her for her constant faith in me," Sombra responded "she was the first to see something other than a tyrannical despot, and offer to be its friend!"



"I was amazed by how much she changed, and she always talked about YOU. I realized I'd misjudged you-" she looked apologetic, but Sombra shook his head.



"Back then, at the start, I didn't even know I could accomplish so much. I'm not surprised everypony else took a while to adjust!"



"Well now they have, and they can't imagine anything else," she assured him, seeing him flush happily. "Everypony's been talking about the coronation coming up."



"I know, and I hope yourself and Bright Spark will attend as honored guests?"



Shining Sea was surprised, but didn't hesitate to say they'd love that!



They could hear Bright Spark giggling off in the garden, the birds singing their trilling melodies. But they were distracted by one another...



Shining Sea gave a deliriously happy sigh as Sombra kissed her, her stomach a mass of nerves, but she couldn't have been happier. His kiss was so warm, so intense...



Cadance was walking down one of the palaces long hallways, half paying attention to the thoughts in her head, and half to the birdsong drifting in the window. She paused at the next window in time to see the aforementioned magical kiss come to an end. She blinked, as for a split second, she seen a phenomenon she hadn't witnessed in years. Above the pair, a small, bright red spark appeared, and rapidly etched out the shape of a heart in quick movements, before fading away.



--A true link...-- she mused --they're from different times, yet their hearts are destined for one another...--- she'd had a feeling from the start, when shed seen the dance at the ball, but now she knew for sure.



Down below she seen them both jump slightly as Shining Sea's daughter reappeared suddenly, startling the couple. She seen Bright Spark cock her head, taking in the way her mommy was snuggled up to Sombra, the way he held her.



Deciding to help the little filly out, Cadance made a bubble shaped like a heart appear soundlessly above the duo, having it hover there a second before popping out of existence. Spark's eyes filled with realization, and she pretty much dive bombed them, flinging her tiny forelegs around the both of them as far as she could.



"Are you OK with this sweetie?" Shining Sea asked once Bright Spark sat back on the grass, peering up at the adults. A rapid nod, and a big grin was the response! She may have only been small, but she could see how Sombra was taking the space in her mommy's heart left behind by her daddy!



"Mommy is best mommy-" she held up one hoof "and Sombra is best fweind-" the other hoof now. She brought them together with a little tap sound, and looked up at the two "best and best bewong togever!"



That was just about the sweetest thing Sombra had ever heard. Shining Sea's eyes filled with happy tears, and she held out a foreleg for a hug. Bright Spark nestled into her mommys hold, beaming happily at up her.



"My little Bright Spark..." she murmured, snuggling her daughters cheek, before looking up at Sombra "I'm so lucky to have you both in my life..."

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Sombra walked them back to the Palace door. Bright Spark bounded outside ahead of them, and Shining Sea paused a moment to look up at Sombra and say goodbye.



"Saturday?" She said with a sweet smile. A nod, then he was caught up in a surprise kiss. They reluctantly parted, and she left, Bright Spark trotting alongside her.

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The next morning Applejack announced they were getting some visitors!



"Who?" Sombra asked curiously.



"Three lil fillies, known as the Cutie Mark Crusaders of course!" Applejack grinned.



Sombra listened as he was given the low-down on this trio of fillies. Two were blood relations to miss Applejack and miss Rarity, the other was a bond-sister to miss Rainbow Dash!



"When are they arriving?" Twilight asked.



"Tomorrow..." Applejack said. "In tha mornin'!"



Sombra raised an eyebrow. Three small fillies from Ponyville? He was curious to meet them, but also wondered how they'd react to HIM?

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"So were gonna meet this, what's he called, Sombra?" Scootaloo, a filly with orange coat and purple mane, asked the filly sat next to her. Applebloom rechecked her letter, her red hair tied back by a big bow, the sunlight catching her butter-yellow coat



"Yep, sis talks about him quite a lot, there's this here photo too!"



They took another look at the photo from the ball, with Sombra and the others around him, all dressed to the nines. They looked so happy.



"He seems kinda fierce," Scootaloo said. "Is his magic really like all shadowy and stuff?"



"I dunno.." Sweetie Bell, her white coat groomed to a shine, shrugged, her duo-tone curls bouncing as she did "I mean, Rarity says he's nice, maybe he just goofed up back then?"

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The three fillies fidgeted eagerly as the train pulled into the Crystal Empire station. They hoped their sisters would be there! It'd been ages since they'd seen them last. The letters had given them a timeline of what'd gone on, from Sombra's arrival to recent. How theyd been presented with an ex-tyrant, and had ended up with a friend!



"Whoa..." Scootaloo gawked up at one of the guards standing on the platform "whats with the goggles?"



"They're to help us destroy the craetures that attack from there, little miss," the guard gestured at the sky tear "Unlike Prince Sombra, we cannot naturally see this weakness of thiers!"



"This guy sounds pretty tough..." Scootaloo raised an eyebrow.



"We're indebted to him for his help, so please don't judge him by the past," The guard smiled kindly "he's a good pony."



"Right ya are!" Applejacks voice rang out, and the guard turned, seeing six ponies standing behind the small group.



"Hi!" Pinkie grinned at the guard, recognising Lightshield from the party!



"Afternoon Miss!" He replied, smiling as the three fillies he'd been talking to shot over to three of the ponies. Applebloom all but tackled Applejack, and they collapsed in a giggly heap on the platform!



Rarity and Sweetie Belle shared a delighted hug, and Scootaloo bounded over to bump hooves with Rainbow Dash!



"We sure missed y'all!" Applejack said as she got to her feet.



"Who's ready for a tour of the empire?" Pinkie cheered. The trio whooped, happily trotting after thier friends and family, heading into the Emprie where thier Sister's letters were rooted....

Marefriend & Darkfall

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"Where we headed?" Applebloom asked her sister.



"Well, we're headin' to the training grounds to meet up with Sombra, then were all goin' fer lunch! The food here's darn tasty, wait until ya try it!"



"Uhh...what's this guy like?" Scootaloo asked, "he looks pretty fierce!"



"Aw, he's very kind really," Rarity said brightly. "he's a very good friend to all of us~"



"Dang straight!" Rainbow Dash nodded assuredly "I mean, sure he was a right grump when he first got here, and still a little loopy-"



"-but he just wasn't used to pony's kindness," Fluttershy piped up, smiling shyly "we found out he didn't have nice families like we do..."



"Wha' happened?" Applebloom asked.



"Put simply, he was bullied a LOT," Pinkie Pie looked cross as she recalled how Sombra had been treated. "His own family were meanies, and the palace staff were meanies too at times! Only the King ever gave him a chance!"



"Is that why he..uh...went a bit coocoo?" Scootaloo said tactfully.



"Sadly it did factor into it, yes," Twilight Sparkle carried on. "he was hurt a LOT in the run up to this takeover, he just couldn't take any more. By that point, he believed he WAS a monster, and it seemed to him that he had no choice but to become the thing everypony feared! Nopony would see him any other way, save for the King. But it was too late to undo so many bad lessons..."



"Aww..." Sweetie Belle sniffled, imagining the school bullies doing that to her and her friends, and the thought just made her tear up in sympathy. The other two looked pretty downhearted too.



"It weren't all his fault he went all loopy!" Applejack said firmly. "after everythin' he endured, and tha little kindness he'd been shown, he just couldn't take any more, and gave up."



"That's when his magic got all up in his head and took over," Rainbow Dash finished. "he hadn't been taught diddly squat about controlling it, so when he lost hope, he let his barriers drop, and this big smooshy bundle of magic got loose and took over!"



"That's awful..." Scootaloo said.



"Yeah! I mean, it's unfair those two uppity little ponies push US around 'cause we're blank flanks, but we got each other!" The other two nodded at Applebloom's words. "that guy was alone...?"



"For most of his life, yes." Twilight Sparkle said softly. "He truly didn't understand what it was like to have a real friend until my big brother offered to teach him alongside all of us!"



"Now they're thick as thieves or so Princess Cadance tells us!" Applejack chuckled. "seems a shared appreciation of doofy jokes is what ties 'em!"



"Thbbbbt!" Pinkie Pie blew a raspberry, then giggled. "ooh, we GOTTA get him to show you that!"



"Show us what? Fart jokes?" Applebloom asked.



"No silly, ooh...you'll have to wait and see!" Pinkie Pie giggled. After the first incident of the thhbbbt-ing construct, Shining Armor had insisted Sombra show Cadance and the others the trick. They'd all giggled like loons watching it fart around the dining hall!

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They reached the training barracks at last, and the guard bowed to Princess Twilight Sparkle before showing them to where Sombra was in the middle on conducting a display of fighting techniques.



The three CMCs clocked what was going on, and their jaws dropped.



Firstly, Sombra was as tough and powerful as the photos had hinted, but what surprised them was his speed. He flickered like a reflection in a rain puddle as he teleported here and there, focused on fighting a loosely pony shaped black thing. It charged him, shifting its shape to a snakes, attempting to wrap around him in a strangle hold. It got within a hairs breadth, and Sombra vanished, appearing behind it and grabbing it via his magic and throwing it halfway across the field. It got up again, screeched, and formed its hoof into sharp black claws. There was a clang as Sombra summoned the hefty scythe and swung it to block the hit. He ducked low, swung around and used a powerful back kick to launch it into the air. As it plummeted back down he swung the scythe, a crescent shaped bolt of purple magic slicing the thing in half, at which point it exploded.



The soldiers gathered at the edges hollered and cheered, stamping their hooves in approval and awe.



"Whuhhh...." Scootaloo was speechless.



"How's he doin' that?!" Applebloom screeched at last. "I've never seen anypony kick like that!!"



"Yeah, he'd be a real natural at applebuckin'..." Applejack chuckled.



"How'd he learn to do that?" Sweetie Belle asked the guard who'd shown them in.



"His highness appears to possess what many us would give anything for, a natural born talent for fighting! He's a Shyre horse, little miss, and what little we know of 'em shows they were built to throw down with things twice their size!"



"Are all Shyre horses that big?" was Sweetie's next question.



"So far as we know, yes. Sadly they're said to be extinct. His highness is the only known pure-bred Shyre horse in this day and age. But he's not all brute force!"



"I should say not!" The CO (Commanding Officer of the base) strode over to the group "Greetings young ladies, Princess~!" he bowed his head to Twilight Sparkle who greeted him with a smile!



He continued "It's an understatement to say we are indebted to Prince Sombra. Fighting alone we would have been galloping up diarrhea drive without a saddle!" Cue snickering from everypony with a young age tag or love of toilet humor.



"He possesses a great mind for battle tactics, and it is thanks to his teaching the troops that we have lowered the casualties since the start of this blasted war on these creatures! This, combined with the goggles created by her highness Princess Twilight Sparkle here," the CO tapped the goggles around his neck, "has been instrumental in protecting this empire!"



"Why d'ya gotta wear those?" Applebloom asked.



"His highness dark magic means he can discern their brand of "magic" far differently then we can. Normally the cores of those creatures are invisible to the naked eye, but Prince Sombra can see them clear as day, which makes it far easier to dispose of the creatures! But sadly none of us have that talent, so Princess Twilight Sparkle created these goggles using Sombra's magic and her own to help us"



"Cool!" Scootaloo said.



The CO nodded. "We consider it an honor that he has taken the time to help streamline the forces! He has fought a large part of this fight by himself, and it is my duty to ensure the troops can fight smart enough to stand along side his highness!"



"Sounds kinda scary..." Scootaloo said.



"His highness? Oh Celestia's name, no," the CO said, misinterpreting her response and shaking his head, "He might look fierce, but the only ones that incur such wrath are those that threaten the citizens of the empire!"



"Trust me kiddo," Rainbow Dash said to Scootaloo. "he's become a good friend of all of us, just give him a chance okay?"



All three nodded.



But they still felt a slight twinge of nerves as they seen the intimidating armored pony approach them. The sun shone off the golden armor, and the cloak swished as he walked. Dark red eyes framed by the unusual green and purple, and an ever flowing black mane made for quite a sight. As he approached, Sombra seen the trio staring at him in stunned silence and decided to tone it down a little. Without breaking stride, he teleported the armor back to the palace, so he just wore his cloak. He closed his eyes a moment, the dark magic aura gone when he opened them again.



"What's up sugarcube? That looked pretty flashy!" Applejack greeted him. He smiled softly.



"The soldiers, they requested a demonstration. It seemed beneficial to their morale, so I agreed to "show off", as it were." Sombra smiled softly. He looked down at the CMC. "who might these little misses be?"



"This is mah sister Applebloom!" Applejack said proudly.



Applebloom gawked up at Sombra, and said the first thing that popped into her head. "Good gravy yer ENORMOUS!"



Applejack face-hoofed. "Classy, sis..."



"Sorry..." Applebloom giggled up at Sombra "I weren't expecting to see a pony bigger than mah brother!"



"Well she takes after you in many respects, she's very honest!" Sombra chuckled.



"This is Scootaloo!" Rainbow Dash was next, grinning proudly.



"Hi mister Prince Sombra!" Scootaloo waved up at him, a big grin on her face, "That. Was. Kickass!"



"Thank you little miss..." Sombra chuckled.



"And this is Sweetie Belle!" Rarity said happily.



"HI!" Sweetie Belle waved. "your magic's pretty cool..."



"Thank you, I'm only just starting to truly realize it myself..." Sombra said with a gentle smile. "Anyhoof, its a pleasure to meet you three, your sisters have talked about you often!"



"Ooh, ooh!" Pinkie Pie jumped up and down to get Sombra's attention. "do the thing!"



"What thing, Cotton Candy?"



"Thhbbbttt!" Pinkie Pie said hopefully. Sombra nodded, understanding. With a poof of magic, another clone construct appeared. The kids jumped back, but Sombra assured them it was harmless.



"What's it gonna do?" Applebloom asked.



"Heehee...just wait!" Rainbow Dash snickered.



Sombra made a show of deliberately taking his attention off the thing, and sure enough...



It faceplanted, and began scooting back and forth on it's face, thbbbting all the way!



The kids cracked up giggling right away as they watched it, Scootaloo was clutching her sides she was laughing so hard.



When it honed in on their laughter, Sweetie Belle gave it a tiny jolt of her magic. It had an odd effect. The things body reacted like a mane to static. It puffed up. So NOW it resembled a black puffed up blob with wide yellow eyes, farting around on its face, only looking up when it wanted to change direction!



Sombra couldn't help but laugh when he seen it react this way!



"That's....so....cool!" Scootaloo squeaked between giggle-filled breaths.



Eventually Sombra reigned the farty little construct in, and dismissed it. The kids seen it vanish and sighed sadly, but their sides WERE aching from all the laughing!



Seeing the three giggling kids, Sombra couldn't help but smile. The CO chuckled, that little joke was proving endlessly amusing to the guards in training, and now to little fillies!

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Pinkie Pie blew raspberries for a good few minutes straight, until Rarity begged her to please stop! They took a long way through the Empire, to show the kids some of the sights, then it was on to the market.



As she walked along, Sweetie Belle seen the band around Sombra's leg, as his cloak swished aside with each step.



"Ooh...what's THAT stone?" she asked her sister.



"It's exceptionally rare Sweetie Belle," Rarity told her. "a purple star jewel, there aren't many left so far as anypony knows!"



"Wow, it's so pretty. What's the band for?" was Sweetie Belle's next question.



"That band once belonged to the empires former King, Sombra's adoptive father. He had it hidden away on the chance Sombra would return, in the right frame of mind that is..."



"So, if he came back and things were OK?"



"He could pick up the life his father wanted him to have," Rarity looked sympathetic as she glanced at Sombra. "it's a painful story for him to tell Sweetie Belle, he's only recently begun to accept he had another choice besides tyranny and evil..."



"Is he happy now?" Scootaloo, listening to the two ahead of her, peered up at her sister. Rainbow Dash nodded.



"He's doing much better, kiddo. When he first came back he was determined to hate us all, convinced we'd treat him the same way those in his past did. That once he'd figured out how to defeat those things, the Princesses would lock him up again! So he tried his darnedest not to get attached to anypony or anything..."



"But...y'all changed his mind, right?" from Applebloom to Applejack this time.



"We sure did kiddo, but it wasn't overnight. Even after we showed him he was safe around us, that we seen something good in him and weren't gonna let go, he still hung back for awhile. Heck, he only began leaving the palace under his own steam shortly after his magic was restored and he found out about his inheritance!"



"Was he scared or somethin'?" Applebloom asked. Studying the tall stately unicorn in his fancy cloak as he walked ahead of them, talking eagerly with Twilight Sparkle about magical theory, she found it hard to believe he could ever be frightened.



"In a way, yes.." Fluttershy piped up, bestowing a gentle smile on the young earth pony "but not of being injured or that kind of thing. What worried him was getting his hopes up about the ponies of the empire ever accepting him after the incidents in the past, and for those hopes to shatter..."



"But they love him really!" Pinkie Pie bounded up between the trio of siblings , her voice as happy as her smile "they wrote soooo many letters to say so, although it took awhile before he read them!"

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At last they reached a restaurant, and trooped inside.



"Good morning-OH! Welcome your highnesses!" The waiter by the door bowed elegantly to the two royal ponies, who bowed their heads in return.



"This way!” The pony directed them to the biggest table they had. Once they were all sat down he brought the menus over.



Pinkie Pie's eyes darted directly to the desserts menu. Sombra shook his head;



"There are other food groups, cotton candy..." he chuckled.



"I know, but caaaakkkeee..." she grinned, but eventually turned the page back to the main dishes.



"Why does he call ya cotton candy?" Applebloom asked Pinkie Pie, looking from her to Sombra.



Pinkie Pie giggled and nodded for Sombra to spill the beans.



"I just said the first thing that came to mind when I seen her," Sombra laughed "and since she never corrected me..." he shrugged.



Pinkie Pie giggled again "my tail DOES look like candy!"



"Luckily we left tha room before he gave us ALL silly names!" Applejack grinned at Sombra, who chuckled at the memory.



The CMC were filled in on the situation about the sky tear, and other things that’d happened.



After the delicious lunch they left, heading back to the palace.



Twilight Sparkle and Sombra had to pause every now and then, to respond to the ponies calling out greetings to the Prince and Princess.

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As they reached the main doors of the palace, Sombra spotted two familiar figures talking to a guard just outside it.



The guard spotted the Prince, and nodded his head towards him, and the two visitors turned. The next second a hyperactive blur whooshed over and glomped Sombra.



"SOMBWA!" Bright Spark cried happily. He chuckled, crouching to let her poke his nose and go "boop!".



"Bright Spark, honey..." Shining Sea sighed, but had to smile at how much her daughter loved to see her Sombra!



"Hay..." he sat Bright Spark up on his back and strode forward to meet her halfway. The CMC blinked, seeing this hyperactive little filly greet Sombra with such joy! Then they noticed the way the mare smiled up at Sombra.



"Who's the filly? And the other lady...?" Scootaloo asked.



Twilight Sparkle smiled "The little one is Bright Spark, she's been a big fan of his since she first met him. That's her mother, Shining Sea...."



"Are they-?" Applebloom began, tilting her head to one side. This reminded her of the disaster of the love potion they'd made for Cherilee some time back. It been a disaster, with her and Big Macintosh becoming obsessed with one another.



"Yup, seems like it..." Applejack chuckled "after seein' them two dancing at the ball, we kinda had a hunch."



Rarity gave a delighted squee. So cute!



Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes. Sea said something to Sombra, who listened, then nodded happily. The little filly cheered and hugged his mane, making Sombra and her mother laugh a little.



"Thank you...." Sea said to Sombra.



"Of course, its never a problem..." Sombra said kindly. "I will see you Saturday..?"



"I can't wait..." she said honestly then blushed, she really meant it! She trotted away, pausing to greet the Princess and her friends, before heading home.



"We got an extra guest fer the night?" Applejack guessed.



"Yes, her mother has a meeting to attend to this evening, and Spark's usual babysitter is ill. So I suggested she stay here tonight."



"Hewwo!" Bright Spark waved down at the CMC.



"Hay.." the surprised trio waved back, before their respective sisters introduced them once more. Then the entire group trekked inside.

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The CMC were given a tour of the palace, including their bedrooms and the gardens.



"Who's this guy, and what's with the mustache?" Sweetie Belle asked.



"That..." Sombra said, smiling at the statue "is of King Cloudspark, my adopted father. As for the mustache, well, he had a weird sense of humor..."



Bright Spark giggled.



Sweetie Belle looked from the replica band on the statue to the one Sombra wore.



"Wow, so he left you his entire empire as a present? That's quite a present!" Sweetie Belle looked up at him, noting he looked somewhat sad, or so she thought...



"I know, it's not one I'm fully used to yet..." Sombra murmured. He got worried every time he thought about someday handling the affairs of the empire. The political council had spoken to him numerous times, repeating their wish for him to join Shining Armor and Cadance in running the empire, but that they understood Sombra's duty lay with fighting the sky tear's menace.



Bright spark, still sat atop his back, tugged at his mane to get his attention. He set her down when she asked. She beckoned him to lean closer, then jabbed his nose, declaring "BOOP!".



Sombra blinked, his melancholy broken by her random behavior.



The CMC giggled at Sombra's bewildered expression, then Sombra himself laughed, and nuzzled sparks mane. She giggled happily, throwing her little forelegs around his neck and hugging him tightly.



"Thanks little one..." he stood up, the cloudy sadness banished from his eyes. As they stood there, a fading ray of sunlight broke through the clouds and highlighted the statue, seeming to make it glow from within.



"Pretty..." the CMC said as one.



"It's wovely..." Bright Spark agreed.



---------------------------------------------------------------------------------



Sombra led them back inside, where the kids went to get settled into their room, which Bright Spark was sharing with them. Her happy, bouncy personality endeared her to the CMC pretty quickly.



"Hay...how'd you meet mister Sombra?" Scootaloo asked curiously.



"I was expworing the market when these meanies from my school started chasing me. They said they were pwaying, but they don't pway nice. So I ran. I thought I lost them, and that's when I saw Sombwa. I'd seen his picture in the histowy books, but he didn't seem bad. He just wooked wonely..."



She thought back to that day and giggled, "so I jumped on some bowxes to get his attention since he's so tall, and then I went "boop!"" she lightly booped Applebloom's nose as a demonstration.



"What’d he say to that?" Sweetie Belle asked curiously.



"He didn't say anyfing, he looked so surpwised!" Bright Spark giggled "I twied to see if I could make him smile, and he kinda did, then I heard those buwwies looking fow me again.."



"What happened?" the trio of older fillies were absorbed in Spark's little tale. They were surprised by how brave she seemed for one so little.



"I hid under the cloak he was weawing, I asked him not to move, pwease!" she gave a nod "and he scawed the meanies away fow me!"



"Aww, that was nice!" Sweetie Belle piped up.



"He wooked kinda sad. He was all awone. Everypony was ignoring him, mommy said back then, that they all hated him. But, the Pwincesses wouldn't have bwought him back if they didn't fink he was going to be OK, wight? They're wovely ponies. So I figured they must've seen somefing good in him. I always felt wonely back then, the ponies ignowed me becauwse of my talking funny. So I fought I'd show him I was awone too, then he wouldn't feew so bad..."



She was surprised the next second when she was collectively hugged by the trio of older fillies.



"That's how we met!" Applebloom said when they let her go. "I was feeling sad because of Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon pickin' on me fer being the only one at her Cute-Cin–era without a cutie mark! Just when I thought I was going to be humiliated for the rest of mah school days, Sweetie Belle and Scoots told those two brats to bug off, and showed me they were blank flanks too. That's when we formed tha CMC!"



"CMC?"



"Cutie Mark Crusaders!" The trio cheered, posing heroically for the young filly. She giggled and clapped her hooves in glee.



"That is so much awesome!!" she cheered.



"We wanna find our cutie marks, so we're trying everything we can to get them!" Scootaloo explained.



"I wish there was a CMC at my schwool. I wanna get my mark too." Bright Spark sighed and peered at her blank flank "I wonder what it'll be?"



"Why don't you start one yourself?" Applebloom suggested. She seen Bright Spark's eyes light up.



"You fink I can?" she asked, her eyes brightening.



"Yeah!" Scootaloo nodded. She shared a look with other two, who nodded. "In fact, we name you the president of the Crystal Empire CMC!"



This time it was Bright Spark's turn to hug them!



They showed her their CMC capes, and Sweetie Belle made a mental note to ask Rarity to make Bright Spark a littler version of it!



"Hay, does Mr Sombra have a cutie mark?" Applebloom asked.



Bright Spark nodded, and described it to them.



"So why does he keep it hidden, wearin' that cape? I mean, IS he always wearing it?" Applebloom pondered.



"Pwetty much," Bright Spark nodded "its made speciaw, he told me. It keeps those big bad monsters from scwatching him! He has to fight those fings all the time..." she told them the story of Sombra protecting her and the other families at the festival!



"That's when we found out fwom Pwicness Cadie that he was the cwown pwince of the empire!" Bright Spark finished.



"Wow, dude can kick flank!" Scootaloo raised her eyebrows, impressed. Rainbow Dash hadn't been kidding, Sombra really was tough! 20% tougher then anypony she'd met apparently!



"Why did he look sad earlier...?" Sweetie Belle asked "before you boop!ed him?"



"He misses his daddy, they had a big argument, then everyfing changed, and fings went cwazy. His birth pawents were mean, they didn't like him because he was born wiv differewent magic. So he wan away, and the nice King here adowpted him. But Sombwa didn’t understand what a twue pawents love was. He though the King was going to get wid of him, and he panicked..."



"And that's when he took over." Applebloom finished.



Bright Spark nodded, and looked up at the CMC. "Pwease don't be angwy at him, it wasn't all his fault..." she looked despondent, "he didn't have fwiends like you..."



"He seems a decent sort. And if mah sister says he's solid, then that's good enough for me!" Applebloom assured her.



"Yeah! Rainbow Dash says he's cool, then it's settled." Scootaloo added.



"Rarity says he's got a good heart, I believe her!" Sweetie Belle said and she put a hoof around Spark's shoulders, smiling at her "he seems fierce, but kind!"



"And hay, he made that hilarious farty thing!" Scootaloo cracked up afresh at the memory.



"Thhbbbttt!" Bright Spark blew a raspberry and giggled. "Yeah, Sombwa showed me! It funny!"



All four tried to form an acapella raspberry group, but kept getting interrupted by their own gigglefits.



"Do ah even wanna KNOW what y'all are doin'?" they looked round to see Applejack in the doorway "dinners waitin'!"



"Whoo!" Applebloom raced after her sister, the others right behind.

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In the dining hall, Bright Spark raced over to Sombra and tugged at his cloak. She whispered something to him, and he nodded.



"See?" Bright Spark said as Sombra removed the cloak and draped it over the chair "Cutie Mark! Its pwetty!"



"Ooh.." the trio took in the diamonds, whose color matched Sombra's eyes.



"What's it mean?" Applebloom asked.



"Crystal magic," Sombra said "I can discern what a stone is, or what it can do, just as soon as I see it."



"It's true!" Twilight Sparkle said "it's like he has a whole library of knowledge about stones in there!"



"Wow. Neat-o." Scootaloo nodded.



"How old were you when you got it?" Sweetie Belle asked, trying to puzzle it out from the story so far about Sombra.



"I was around your sisters age," Sombra replied. "it wasn't until I came HERE that I was given any formal education at all, so didn't know I could understand crystals and their powers the way I do."



He smiled sadly "I was the only one in that entire village without a cutie mark back then...."



That one line hit a chord with the CMC, who decided Sombra definitely OK with them, he knew how they felt!

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The CMC were thrilled to meet Cadance and Shining Armor, and even Celestia and Luna dropped by to greet them. It was the most amazing dinner ever!



As they left the dining hall, Sombra split off from them, saying he was going to his office.



"Hay, don't you go working too late, ya hear me sugarcube?" Applejack said, although not unkindly.



Sombra nodded and smiled gently before vanishing down the hall. But not before saying good night to the CMC plus Bright Spark, who hugged him tightly!



"Sweep soon!" she said, before bounding away after the CMC. Sweetie Belle hung back to ask a favour of Rarity, who listened, then nodded happily.

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The four young ponies got into bed and talked for ages, even after lights out. Some hours later, unable to resist, they went sneaking downstairs for a close-enough-to-midnight snack!

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They crept into the kitchen, giggling softly, Sweetie Belle using her horn to light the way, Bright Spark yawning a little.



They located the likely place to find cookies, and were just in the process of getting up there, with Scootaloo buzzing her wings fast as she could, when the light snapped on and the quartet collapsed into a squealing heap!



The craned their necks to see who'd busted them.



To their surprise it was Sombra. He looked a little bleary-eyed, but vaguely amused.



They grinned sheepishly, and awaited a telling off. But what he did next surprised them.



Without a word, he levitated a plate from a nearby cupboard, then opened the very cupboard they'd been aiming for, and in a few swift movements, loaded it up high with various cookies and biscuits. He set this plate down in front of the group and offered an amicable smile.



"Just don't tell your sisters OK? Or your mother..." he said to Bright Spark.



She giggled, nodding rapidly. Applebloom balanced the plate on her back and they trotted past Sombra, grinning conspiratorially at him.



He chuckled to himself as he poured a cup of tea, hearing their muffled whispers off down the hall.



Then there was the sound of a window shattering, a scream, and a sharp pain dug into his head.



"Oh sweet Celestia, no..." he raced out of the room, tearing through the hallway towards the sounds. He skidded round the corner in time to see a blobby black mass abducting the four kids.



"The buck you are!" He roared, racing for them.



"SOMBWAA!" Bright Spark cried. He saw their desperate eyes, locked on him, begging him to save them. Then they were blotted out by another shadow creature popping up between him and the girls.



"Uh-uh little Prince. I need to borrow your little brat and her friends!" It sneered, launching for him.

He snarled in fury and shifted into his shadow form, hurling himself at his opponent, all fangs and fury!

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Two guards raced round the corner a moment later, in time to see what looked like two bolts of black lightning go at each other. One curved round, rebounding off a wall and zipping through a shadow cast by the bright full moon. Then it reappeared behind the first bolt and struck it HARD. They shielded themselves as there was a loud kaboom!



The unicorn guard cleared the smoke away and the duo seen the second black shape, now shaped like a pony, scaling the windowsill.



"It's ME!" Sombra thought to blurt, before they got confused and opened fire.



"Y-your highness?!" the guards stared in surprise.



The shadow nodded, and they both now noticed the familiar red eyes, and if you looked closely you could see shreds of purple magic flowing in and out of his shadowy form.



"A shadow creature has kidnapped the three visitors and Bright Spark! Alert Princess Twilight Sparkle and her friends, I will get the kids back, I promise you!" and with that he was gone.



The guards shared baffled glances, but knew the Prince wasn't goofing around. So they turned and ran for the Princess' room.

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Once they woke Twilight Sparkle, she gathered the girls up and the guards told them what Sombra had said.



"WHAT?!" Rarity screeched, then swooned. The guard nearest caught her and helped her sit up.



"Oh sweet toffee apples-!" Applejack looked distraught "if those cretins harm one hair on mah sisters coat, why I'll....AGH!" She stamped a hoof, looking frantic "ah have ta go after her!"



"Applejack!" Twilight Sparkle shot between Applejack and the door "think about it, you don't know where they've been taken! If anypony can find them, it'll be Sombra! You just have to have faith in him!"



"Ah DO Twi, I know there's none better to be searchin' for her, I'm just so worried!" she sat down with a bump, shaking her head.



"He'll find them.." Rainbow Dash assured a stunned Rarity.



"It took Sweetie Belle. This is THE. WORST. THING!" Rarity wailed.



"Lets get some tea, all we can do is wait..." Fluttershy said at last.

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Sombra leapt from shadow to shadow, racing out of the window. He couldn't see where it might have taken them...



He shut his eyes, thinking. He didn't know what Sweetie's magic was like, and Spark's was too weak. Then it hit him. The pain from the premonition. There'd been two! He replayed his memory, for each one had a signature in its own way.



So he focused on the first pain, which hit a dead end, it'd been destroyed. So now he locked in on the second one, and it was like a replay. The same pain struck him, and he gasped, hunched over.

A shivering bundle of shadows, he fought to marshal his powers, channelling his magic into tracing the pain to the one that'd generated it. It was a by product of their "magic" being used in this world. As he was the only one with fluent enough knowledge in it, only he sensed it with any real accuracy. Luna had been able to detect something at a closer range, but she was still learning...



He put everything he could into tracing the fading path of this creature. Ahead of him, once he opened his eyes, was a thin trail of crackling purple sparks. He took off running, slipping from shadow to shadow, heading into the forest...

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But as he honed in, he realized he needed to be subtle. Shutting the spell off, he relied on his natural instincts, picking out distinct voices amidst the trees...



So intent was he, he didn't hear familiar hooves behind him.

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The kids hollered and shouted, kicking and hitting the shadow that'd snatched them, but it made no difference. It flew into a small clearing, whose only illumination was a shaft of moonlight filtering through gnarled branches way above their heads. They knew running was pointless, more of those things hid in the trees, their glistening yellow eyes staring at the kids.



"No use screaming.." the biggest one, their captor, cackled "your precious little Prince won't find you! You don't have the magic for him to find!"



"Its twue," Bright Spark looked at Sweetie Belle "I dun have much magic."



"And I don't know enough to start a fight!" Sweetie Belle quailed.



"You're not going anywhere." The main shadow creature declared.



"Whatta ya want anyway, you big jerk?!" Scootaloo bellowed.



"What do I want? I want what you know of the world outside here. So few in this secluded little buffet know of the world outside, but you're outsiders like those bigger ones."



"He means our sisters..." Applebloom swallowed nervously.



"Exactly, but that bothersome Prince makes it not worth the effort to try and catch them! I was coming for ANY of your kind as a meal as it happened, when what do I sense but three fresh sources!"



"Sombwa will find us!" Bright Spark cried, and the thing turned on her, laughing.



"Did you ever think you'd be better off without that brute around-?"



"Shut up!" Bright Spark screeched with such volume it startled the creature.



"Yeah! You're the problem here, you moldy jelly pile!" Scootaloo snapped.



"Mouthy aren’t we? You're as bad as that pathetic Prince-"



“Well I take that as a compliment!" Scootaloo responded.



"No matter, he's not here to save you, and I'm free to take the knowledge I want!" it closed its eyes, starting to summon a spell circle around the four fillies.



Applebloom glanced around, panicking desperately, then she noticed something odd about one of the shadow creatures watching them.



Was its eyes crossed?



It hit her just what that was, at the same time the cross eyed one stuck it's tongue out at her.



Then it lunged out of the shadows, barreling into the lead creature, disrupting the spell. They slammed into a tree, and the real one wrestled with the fake, pushing it back at last.



"What-?" It looked at the goofy clone, wondering what was wrong with this one "how-?!". The culprits identity hit it a moment later, SOMBRA.



It glared up at the sky, and screeched something the girls couldn't make out. All the shadows took to the sky.

Sweetie Belle recalled what'd happened last time she'd met the construct, and shot a spark at the cross eyed creature. It puffed up, it's fur bristling with sparks. It bompf'd into the main creature again, smacking it into the base of a tree.



The four kids craned their heads up to see a shadow block out the moon above them, a shadow with a familiar mane and shape, and it was diving right for them! But the legion of clones were screaming towards it.



Abruptly, the incoming shadow slowed to halt in mid-fall, and shone a brilliant purple-



BLAM. Magical tracer fire burst out from the glowing pony's form. Like a multitude of purple fireworks they honed in on the encroaching swarm. Explosions rocked the sky, filling it with smoke.



"Begone wretch!" the leader at last succeeded in kicking the fuzzy clone off it. It landed on it's back, staring gormlessly up at the sky and kicking its legs about.



"Now for you-" it hissed, advancing on the kids. Then it noticed they were grinning.



"In three, two..." Scootaloo recited.



"Huh?" it looked up, and seen something hurtling towards it at maximum speed, blasting the thick smog of smoke away, red eyes blazing in its shadowy body. The kids blinked in surprise as they found themselves suddenly teleported out of the way, into a darker section of the forest, and wrapped in warm wings.



"Brace thyselves children.."



"Pwincess Woona!" Bright Spark cried happily. Luna nodded, as a massive kaboom rocked the ground, then faded to silence.



"Whoa..." Sweetie Belle stared "w-what was that?!"



"Those vile creatures explode upon destruction," Luna informed them as she let them loose from her wings shield, and they headed for where the fight had ended, "it can cause quite a mess!"



"Explode? But what about mister Sombra?" Applebloom went pale.



"He is well versed in fighting them, he will have protected himself!" Luna assured them. They wandered into the clearing, and Bright Spark cheered her friends name.



Sombra stood, staring up at the sky. The moonlight highlighted the flowing mane, and glinted off the crystal heart pin on his cloak.



When he heard Spark's voice he turned to face them, a relieved smile lighting up his face. Bright Spark bounded over and hugged him in delight. Followed by three new hugs.



"Thanks mister Sombra!" the CMC said wholeheartedly. Sombra assured them it was no trouble, he was glad to see them safe and sound.



"And thank YOU Princess..." he said, as Luna walked over.



"We are just glad we caught you in time, alone you would've taken a battering!" she said in an almost scolding voice.



She noticed Sombra looked sleepy, and frowned.



"Hmm, thy magic is depleted, no doubt down to that display of homing spells! Pulling off that many at once, we do wonder if thou knoweth the meaning of common sense!"



"Common what?" Sombra said, deadpan.



"Har de har." Luna said, and they proceeded to glower at each other, before Sombra sniggered, and they cracked up laughing.



"Adults...I don't get 'em." Applebloom said with a shrug.



"Heehee....Sombwa and Pwincess Woona are so much awesome!" Bright Spark giggled.



"You said it!" Scootaloo agreed.



"Lets us get you back little ones!" Luna announced. The kids nodded happily, they'd had enough spooky forest for one night!



"Uh..what about that?" Sweetie Belle tugged Sombra's cloak, pointing at the puffed up thhbbbbt-ing clone.



"Whoops!" He laughed, dispersing the spell "forgot about that! Nice work by the way little miss Sweetie Belle." referring to her zapping the clone.



She looked pleased, as she'd just done it on instinct, hoping it would distract the bad creature!

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The two adults sorted out that Bright Spark and Scootaloo would sit atop Luna's back, while Sweetie Belle and Applebloom would sit on Sombra's.



"Wanna race?" Applebloom hollered up to Scootaloo. Sombra and Luna exchanged glances, then Luna flew down to stand beside Sombra.



"Yes, let us race to the palace on hoof!" she declared. Sombra blinked, about to object, but the grins on the kids faces made him relent.



"It is ON, Princess!" he grinned.



Once they'd made sure their charges were secured via the use of magic spells that summoned shimmering ribbons for the kids to grip onto, looped around the older pony's necks, they stood side by side, ready.



"LETS WACE!" Bright Spark hooted. And the two took off.



"WOOOHOOOOO!" Scootaloo declared as they raced through the tress, heading for the edge of the empire.



"Whee!" Bright Spark cheered.

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They reached the edge of the empire in no time. Luna and Sombra were literally neck and neck, Luna's smaller size made her a good runner, but Sombra, once he had momentum, was startlingly agile for a bigger stallion!



They were so caught up in trying to outmatch one another they almost didn't see the palace approaching. It was only when Sweetie Belle spotted her sister and whooped her name that Sombra realized, followed shortly by Luna. They both skidded to a halt as the kid's sisters and friends came racing over.



"Shall we calleth it a tie?" Luna asked, sounding a little breathless.



"Fine by me.." Sombra laughed.

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By the time the kids were reclaimed, and on their way back, the group was sat outside, with Applejack pacing, Rainbow Dash fluttering agitatedly by, and Rarity alternating between fainting on a big cushion a guard had brought her, and swearing vengeance on the shadow creatures.



"Look!" Pinkie Pie cheered, spotting two shapes pelting along the straight road up to the palace.



"Yeehaw!" Applejack whooped on spying her sister perched atop Sombra's back.



As she, Rarity, and Rainbow Dash ran over to meet them, Twilight Sparkle cocked her head to one side...



"Are they having a race?" she asked.



"I think so.." Fluttershy giggled.



But they didnt hesitate, and ran over to where the two adults had stopped, catching their breath while the kids were hugged and fussed over by the respective siblings. Or Sombra in Bright Spark's case. She hugged him tightly, rubbing her cheek against his as he cradled her in one foreleg. Then she boop!ed his nose and he set her down.



"Oh man.." Applejack looked close to tears, but hugged her sister again instead of crying, "thank tha both of yer highnesses!"



"Yes indeed!" Rarity wiped away her tears and smiled at the two ponies.



"You two are AWESOME. Cant thank you enough for getting my Scoots back safe and sound!" Rainbow Dash hoofbumped both royals, Luna looking mystified but pleased at the gesture.



"Lets get inside!" Twilight Sparkle said happily "you guys must be hungry!"

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They made up some warm milk and cookies for the kids, and tea and more cookies for the others.



Sufficiently stuffed, the kids were taken to bed. Sombra talked with Luna little longer, thanking her for her assistance, then he too went to bed. He was so...tired...

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The next morning he awoke bright and early. With a still drowsy yawn, he slung his cloak on and drifted into the hall. He felt funny, there was an unnamed longing sitting on his chest, but he didn't know how to ease it.



"Morning!" he greeted the guards stationed at the end of the hall. They opened their mouths to return the gesture but did double takes for some reason and just stood there with their mouths hanging open.



"What? Why're you looking at me like that?" Sombra asked in bewilderment.



"At the risk of this sounding like a REALLY bad pun, I can see right through you sire." one guard said at last.



"You're right, that IS a bad pun. I'm not even plotting anything yet. Takes coffee for that!" Sombra joked, yet starting to feel concerned at the same time.



The pegasus guard looked around, then spotted a wall mounted mirror just ahead. "Take a look for yourself, sire!"



The two of them followed behind a bemused Sombra as he walked over. And got a SHOCK.



They weren't kidding. He could see right through himself, where he wasn't covered by the cloak. The flow of his mane seemed to have slowed a great deal as well.



"W-what...?" he stammered, fear overtaking humor now, as he took a step back.



"Were you practicing a new spell of some sort, your highness?" one guard asked. Sombra shook his head.



"I did no such thing." he said, stunned.



"I'll fetch the Doctor, you get back to your room sire! Stay with him!" he ordered the pegasus guard. The guard nodded and shepherded the Prince back towards his room.

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Once inside, Sombra removed the cloak and tossed it aside. He started pacing the room agitatedly.

The guard helpfully set the cloak back atop the specialized dressmakers dummy Rarity had given Sombra to set the cloak and armor on each night! When he turned back to the Prince he noticed something. At Sombra's core, where pony anatomy said a pony's heart was, there shone a faint blue glow.



"Your highness, look-" he tapped at his own chest to indicate to the stallion. Sombra stopped, looked at himself in the mirror and stared. That glow...



Worry in his heart, he looked over at the pin badge attached to his cloak. The crystal heart?



"Sombra.." he spun round as he heard Cadance's voice. She was standing beside the startled Doctor just inside the doorway.



"Princess!" he blurted. "what's-?!"



"It is as you seem to suspect, the Heart is- well, I hesitate to say malfunctioning, but something's wrong."



Sombra looked worried sick, he glanced at the replica pin again, and Cadance had an idea. Seeing the look of longing in the unicorn's expression, she had a feeling she knew what he needed.



"Come with me.." she said "it's time you and the Crystal Heart met once more..."



Sombra looked nervous, and she couldn't blame him. His last experience with the heart had been when it'd erased him from existence. Prior to that, he'd just held it hostage, never able to figure it out!

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They trekked down far below the palace, following secret passages that were heavily guarded at different sections.



Sombra remained silent, and Cadance felt a pang of concern, was he really that concerned the heart might erase him again?



"There's no reason why it would do that." she said at last. Sombra jolted, looked about to ask what was she talking about, when he seen the kind look on her face. He sighed softly, and nodded.



"So try not to worry." she finished, as they walked a long rocky hall towards a softly lit cave ahead. Sombra could see light reflecting off the armor of two guards standing in front of the door. Then he heard a soft scuffle behind them. Cadance did too, and they both tensed up, until Sombra recognized the sound the approaching creature made.



"Its alright!" He assured Cadance, and called out "have you been trying to catch up to us?"



"Mhhrrr....yes...I was curious..."



Cadance relaxed, it was the Crystal Bard. It toddled up to them, hands clasped, eyes bright as it looked at them.



"Hello..mhrr....Prince and Princess!" it said cheerily. Then it clocked Sombra was semi transparent. "oh...mhrr...what's happened?"



"Hello Bard~" Cadance said warmly "Sombra's power has run a little low..."



"That light..." the bard peered at the soft blue glow emanating from Sombra's body.



"There's a shard of the crystal heart in there," Sombra said lightly "we're guessing it needs a recharge from the main heart."



The bard nodded in understanding, and was happy to follow after them when Cadance asked it. They approached the guards, who bowed to the royals and their guest. After some intricate magic locks were opened by both them and Cadance, the ornate door fitted into the rock face swung open...

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The trio wandered in, the door shutting behind them. Sombra felt the longing to see the heart get worse, but his panic over this unknown situation made his unease grow as well. So it was that he faltered and hung back as Cadance strode over to the case where the heart was. She noticed his hoofsteps had halted, and looked back. The Bard was looking up at Sombra too, patting the unicorn's side with one paw, trying to get his attention.



"Mhrr...Sombra?" it succeeded at last, and Sombra blinked down at him.



"Sorry about that..." he said quietly "I just have some odd history with that thing..."



"Come closer, it wont hurt you, I'm certain of it..." Cadance said. She sensed the heart needed Sombra now it was freed from its guarding wards and fully able to sense its missing piece inside Sombra's body.



Despite his nerves, Sombra took a deep breath and approached the heart. His own began pounding uncomfortably fast as he approached, and he felt strangely dizzy, like he was going to unravel entirely. Cadance stepped back as he reached a hoof up to touch the heart.



She wasn,t sure WHAT she'd been expecting to happen, for the heart to channel some of its latent power into Sombra and leave it at that maybe? She certainly hadn't been expecting them both to VANISH!



"Mhhhrrr?!" the Bard clapped its little paws to its mouth, muffling a frightened wail.



Then it ran over to a frankly stunned Cadance, and patted her lustrous mane gently. She shook herself free of her surprise and looked down at the freaked out Bard.



"Where's Sombra?" he asked.



"I don't know..." Cadance admitted, "but wherever he's gone, the heart is with him. I'm sure it will look after him, and vice versa..."



The Bard still looked worried, but seemed to accept this. Cadance sent the guards to bring some tea and cake down to them. In the meantime, the Bard seemed happy admiring her mane, the tricolor hair was so soft....

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Sombra had closed his eyes when he'd touched the heart, and that bright light had flashed out. Now he finally opened them, and seen he was standing in darkness.



He glanced around, uneasy.



Then a soft blue glow lit the space a small distance away. As it drifted closer it started to change shape. By the time it was a few meters way it was fully formed. With a final flash it solidified, taking the form of a solid crystal blue unicorn.



She opened her eyes, smiling softly. But as she stepped closer, she noticed Sombra backed away.



--Stop it!-- Sombra snapped at himself, this was illogical. Cadance had said it was unlikely the heart wanted to hurt him. But his recently returned memories left him with a deep seated unease of the heart, and his last memory of it was being erased from history by its power. Recalling it made him feel sick and strangely disconnected, like he was losing grip...





So he backed away as she stepped closer, until he felt his hind legs bump into an invisible wall. He cursed softly, closing his eyes and trying to a) take a deep breath, and b) formulate the words needed to ask her to tell him what was going on.



"Please..." he couldn't say anything more, he didn't know how to say it. What did it want with him? Had it CHOSEN to disable its power, causing him to fade? DID the empire no longer need him? All these scenarios raced through his mind and he trailed off, voice abandoning him.



He heard no response, just the echoes of her steps as she approached. He tensed up, not understanding what the heart wanted from him??



The blue crystal unicorn titled her head, sensing Sombra's unease through their link. She couldn't blame him for being a little unsettled. So much had happened in such a short time, he'd done remarkably well in fighting through it all.



Her intent was to transfer the energy she still had within her to restabilize him. He possessed a tremendous amount of power of his own, but there was something about him that she'd noticed from the start.



There was a spell tied deep within him, it was a part of his body. She could not discern exactly what it was, Sombra's form was surprisingly complex. She'd known from the start the Princesses' power would be drained badly if they had to do this alone. So she'd broken off the shard, filled with a fraction of her power.



But now it was running out. Sombra was giving so much of his power so frequently, it'd started draining the power she'd supplied to keep his form intact. So she needed to refuel it.



First however, she needed to reassure and comfort the panicked stallion in front of her now. Via the shard inside, she'd been able to sense loosely how he was feeling. The magical wards surrounding the heart had blocked her from sustaining a constant or detailed link. But she detected how he'd gone from bei