"I see you've taken the time to make yourselves comfortable." Sombra grumbled, pointing to a stack of sandwiches in the center of the table. "Would you like to make popcorn as well, or perhaps some kind of juicy beverage?" He continued, narrowing his eyes in annoyance at Spike.
"Nah, this should be good. You did say it was going to take a while." Spike quipped immediately, taking a large bite out of a masterfully crafted sandwich of his own design. "Whenever you're ready." He added after chewing.
Sombra was staring forward towards Twilight, his left eye twitching in annoyance. "Finally." Placing his right hoof on his own journal, Twilight noticed a dark fog creeping from the ancient king that drifted onto the table. "The rules of my binding to this tome demand payment: information sought for information gained. Every question that you ask me from this point forward will be truthfully answered, and each answer will demand a question from myself towards you in return." Removing his hoof from the book, the tome vented out a purple miasma that scorched the table beneath it. "Are we understood?" Sombra asked, his face a mask of neutrality to match his grave tone.
Twilight gulped reflexively, noting the new holes that accompanied the table from whatever magic King Sombra had placed on his journal. "Got it." She replied stoically.
"As you are the seeker of knowledge, the first question to ask is yours." Sombra explained, taking a seat opposite the young Alicorn.
The possibilities of knowledge that Twilight could learn about the days from before Princess Celestia and Luna were staggering to her, an age of history from an alternative perspective that would never have been uncovered if not for this interesting, albeit dangerous meeting. Her own fantasies aside, she knew that there was an obligation to not only Princess Cadance and the Crystal Empire, but to the possibility of befriending multiple hives of changelings from this opportunity, if King Sombra was to be believed. From how seriously this 'copy' of the banished king was taking things, however, she hoped that he was going to be genuine.
Taking a deep breath and deciding on a question, Twilight's first question was for the benefit of the changelings. "How do we break the spell that affects changelings on the Crystal Heart?"
Sombra's eyes seemed to imply that he was searching for something in the wording of Twilight's question. "Another piece of information needs to be explained, it seems, for this is a complex question."
"Oh, give me a break." Spike grumbled, offering a sandwich to Twilight, whom was unfortunately far too focused on what was happening to notice. "Are you going to keep hiding the rules of your 'game' from us the whole time?"
A snarl from Sombra was followed by a red and purple whip of energy that snapped around Spike's snout, yanking behind his body and causing him to collapse backwards onto the hard floor behind him. "Keep your mouth shut, whelp." Sombra snarled, his teeth flashing to a jagged line that would make a shark flinch. "This is between the Alicorn and myself only."
Twilight looked to Spike with immediate worry, but found that he was mostly unharmed by Sombra's magic, if a bit winded from the suddenness of it all. "Spike, are you alright?" She asked, reaching out towards Spike with a hoof.
"Spike, is fine." King Sombra snapped. "Let me explain the rules, so that there are no further interruptions."
Making one quick glance towards Spike a final time, Twilight shifted her focus to the very agitated phantom of Sombra in front of her.
"Any question that requires further explanation, such as specifics to honor the intent of the original question, will not count towards the questions already asked. Put simply, if either party requires clarification in order to answer a question, the opposing party may not use those clarifying questions to seek additional answers from the defending party." Sombra explained, his temper quickly cooling along with his normalizing appearance.
"So if I need something explained, it won't count as a question that deserves an answer to you?" Twilight cautiously asked, her hoof half-raised as if she were still in magical kindergarten more from muscle memory than conscious choice.
"You ask, I request more information, I answer your question, then I ask a question. The same applies to you, yes." Sombra agreed, pleased that he wasn't dealing with the typical peasantry that had surrounded him for centuries. "Now, you asked about breaking a spell that affects changelings embedded within the Crystal Heart, correct?"
Twilight nodded in response.
"To which spell do you refer?" Sombra asked, his metaphorical mask giving way to a slight smirk.
There's more than one!? Twilight thought in a panic, her eyes going wide.
Spike held a single finger pointed to the sky from his prone position on the uncomfortable floor. "Eggs." He blurted, his head still dizzy from impacting the ground so roughly. It was at this moment he found new appreciation for dragon scales and the mitigating effect they provided against sudden impacts.
"Oh, right!" Twilight remembered, a wide grin across her face. "The changeling queen outside is worried that the Crystal Heart is going to infect all of the changelings nearby with some kind of disease that turns their carapace white. How do we remove that spell from the Crystal Heart?"
Sombra seemed upset by the question, his upper lip twitching more than once. "It is not a disease, nor an infection."
Twilight's ears folded backwards in worry, her tone equally cautious. "What is it, then?"
King Sombra's jaw tensed before answering. "It is a gift offered to their horrific species. One that they constantly throw in my face, even alleged centuries later."
"A gift?" Twilight curiously replied, her eyebrow raised. "What kind of gift, and why?"
"Is that another question, Alicorn?" Sombra asked, his evil grin creeping across his face once again. "You owe me two answers now, as dispelling my gift and the purpose behind the spell are two different subjects."
Twilight realized that she had been caught, her own need for information and context giving a new window for King Sombra to gain information on anything he wanted. Why am I putting up with this? Thought Twilight before looking to the sprawled out Spike on the floor next to her. She grimaced, realizing that she had no real idea of how powerful Sombra was, even if he was a ghost trapped in a book at the moment. If Sombra's journal had enough power to effortlessly throw Spike onto the ground, conjure magic and interact with the world around it, she really didn't want to think about what kind of Sombra had attacked the Crystal Empire on its return.
"Your question, Alicorn: dispelling my gift to the infighting Queens." Sombra continued loudly, interrupting Twilight's thoughts. "The Crystal Heart cannot break any enchantment cast upon it by myself. Nothing short of shattering it into countless pieces will break that spell, or any others that I've worked tirelessly to integrate it with."
Wait, shattering it? Flurry Heart already did that months ago! Does that mean that the curse was already broken? Twilight thought with increasing hopefulness. If Sombra is right, then I really don't have to do anything to the heart or the changelings!
"Why do you look so pleased with yourself?" Sombra asked, his face a model of suspicion.
"You asked a question." Spike pointed out from the floor before laying down again.
Sombra took a moment to close his eyes in silent frustration with his own mental slip before opening them again.
"Well, since the rules are to answer questions, I'll tell you." Twilight replied quite smugly. "The Crystal Heart has already been shattered, a few months ago in fact, and put back together again. No more curse!" Twilight added, accompanied by a 'hah!' of victory.
If the coat of a ghost king could become pale, Sombra's made its best attempt at it. "Y-you did what?"
"Shattered the Crystal Heart. Completely." Twilight replied quite proudly.
Sombra's eyes began to search the space in front of him, as if Twilight no longer existed at all. "No, no this can't be possible..." He muttered, his voice wavering. "It can't be shattered! That's impossible!"
Now Twilight and Spike were beginning to become worried. A defeated Sombra was one thing, and learning that a possible disaster was never going to happen was a great relief, but a panic induced ancient king? That was more than enough cause for worry, especially with the knowledge that any powers that Sombra wielded were entirely unknown. "Um, Sombra? Are you alright?" Twilight cautiously asked, backing away from the visibly upset phantom in front of her.
"I..." Sombra quietly replied, "I worked so long on that relic..."
"Sombra?" Twilight called, inching closer to the literally unstable apparition. "You're turning into smoke."
Sombra's eyes flicked up to meet Twilight's, and she saw they were filled with a deep sorrow. "How?" he asked, sitting on the floor, "How was it shattered?"
Twilight and Spike shared a look of worry, torn between helping and being suspicious that this sudden vulnerability might be a red herring to get more information out of Twilight than she was willing to share. Spike shook his head, thinking that it was too severe of a shift for Sombra's mood to be genuine, but Twilight was willing to give him the benefit of doubt anyway. "A baby alicorn broke it with her crying." She explained as softly as possible.
In an instant, Spike's suspicions were proven correct, although in a way not expected by him. Sombra's sad expression and defeated tone immediately switched places for one of absolute surprise. "A baby what!?" Sombra shouted, bouncing to his hooves. "That really can't be possible! Where is this baby, I must see it for myself!"
It took Twilight and Spike all of half a mili-second to protest in unison to that idea. "Not happening!"
"You misunderstand, Alicorn," King Sombra smirked. "This is my castle, not yours. I go where I please."
Twilight's eyes widened with worry in the same instant that she tried to hold Sombra with her magic, but the moment the ancient king finished his sentence did he shift into smoke, slithering away from the table and underneath the Library's main door to the courtyard beyond.
"We've got to stop him!" Twilight declared, leaping from her seat with Spike following closely behind.
"How long have we been in this forsaken mountain?" Queen Catalyst complained. "Has it been years, or merely months?"
Blue Sun was in the lead with the defective caretaker laying on her back like a saddle. "I know where we're going, but the walls are still holding up well. Don't worry, Queen Catalyst. We'll find out way out."
"You mean you don't know where you're going!?" Catalyst growled in anger. "You've been here long enough to know your way around, haven't you?"
"Well, I was inside a single room for a few weeks here. I've only seen the other hallways and rooms once or twice." Blue replied unphased. "Besides, this gives me more time to plan out how my hive is going to work now that my advisers are here."
Catalyst rolled her eyes, upset with Blue's nonchalant attitude towards being buried under a mountain. Though, that outlook could be entirely due to the fact that Blue Sun was a tunneler before she became a queen. "When your defective wakes up from my spell, you're going to be the one that deals with it this time." Catalyst grumbled.
"Of course I will; the defective is my drone after all. Would you have any other Queen... eh... nevermind." Blue replied, before swiftly cutting herself off.
"Do not talk about Chrysalis to me, Blue Sun." Catalyst darkly warned.
Blue decided it was best to remain silent after that near disaster, instead choosing to press onward in search of an exit. It would have been a far easier task if half the hallways hadn't collapsed under a heap of molten rock from Catalyst's own spikes of impatience and anger fueling her magic, which then lashed out against the surrounding interior. Further complicating things, the walls that had been painted to give directions had peeled away, giving the appearance of a decrepit old structure rather than one that functioned perfectly mere hours ago.
Continuing onward, Catalyst's attention was caught by a fairly imposing metal door. "Blue Sun, what is this?" She demanded, halting in front of the large vault-like barrier. "Do the Terrans keep a bank vault in their mountains?"
Turning around with curiosity at the front of her mind, Blue studied the imposing metal slab that was embedded within the wall before them. "I don't think I would've had the time to notice anything like this in a sealed room, Catalyst." She replied sincerely. "It does look sturdy, though."
"If these walls are any judge of integrity, I doubt it would hold against magic, do you think?" Catalyst reasoned, her horn already alight with a flaming orange glow. The nearby walls were beginning to blister simply from the ambient magic, further proving the orange queen's point.
"What are you going to do, steal from them?" Blue asked worriedly. "What if we harm whatever is in there with our magic?"
Catalyst huffed and waved her hoof dismissively. "Steal from the Terrans? What could they possibly have that I would want, aside from love?"
"Then why open their vault? Won't they be able to do that themselves?" Blue countered, taking a spot next to Queen Catalyst.
"It's not about what I want, Blue Sun. It's about how appreciative the Terrans will be when they hear we've rescued their prized possessions from this collapsing pile of rubble!" Catalyst answered with a smile, her horn becoming brighter and wrapping the entire door in orange magic. "Shield us so that we may avoid death by squashing, would you?"
It seemed like a good idea to Blue, whom was not entirely fond of being squashed. Her own magic of blueish purple created a dome overhead before she realized that the ground beneath them was beginning to bubble. Instead, she conjured a sphere of magic entirely around them, causing the two queens and single defective to hover in the air as the hallways and mountain was reduced to slag around them.
"Come on, you bulk of metal. Give way!" Catalyst shouted for catharsis, using her magical might to incinerate the door itself, the surface bubbling and dripping onto the floor.
"Can't you just pry it off the hinges?" Blue asked, straining from the weight of rubble and debris rolling off of her shield and creating a pool on their sides and beneath them.
"This door is thicker than Queen Chrysalis' skull, Blue Sun. It's going to take a moment!" Catalyst angrily quipped, focusing her anger into her magic and causing the door to buckle.
"I thought you said not to talk about her?" Blue smiled.
"Focus on your shield!" Catalyst snapped, causing the center of the metal vault door to crumple like a tin can. "Finally!"
The vault door was soon pulled towards the Queens, laying it on its front and allowing it to melt into the floor beneath them. Thankfully for the Queens, the temperature in the room was only a bit warm to them. For any human that might have been in the area, however, it would be a different story.
"You can set us down now, Blue Sun." Catalyst reminded Blue, wiggling her hooves impatiently as she was suspended in the air.
Landing in a puddle of molten steel and magma from the mountain's rock combined with concrete, Catalyst flicked away what little of the material that had attached itself to her hooves. Curious to Blue was the bittersweet smile that spread across Catalyst's face.
"Reminds me of the volcano." Catalyst explained, taking the first steps through the melting door to the room behind it.
Walking into the sealed room, paint was already peeling and flaking from the walls. Various boxes of unknown things were stacked around, some of them accompanied by stray papers and clip boards marking an incomplete checklist of items. Towards the back of the room, however, was something unique. Catalyst walked towards the strange object, a rainbow light shining through a small view port that revealed several floating orbs. She immediately withdrew from the thing, her frills raised with suspicion.
"What is it?" asked Blue, joining Catalyst in looking through the view port. "Rainbow rocks?"
Queen Catalyst's response was drowned out by the screeching of protest from the nearby support beams that had been slowly melting into a puddle from the amount of magic concentrated in the vault, giving cause for both queens to whirl around and stare at the ceiling with worry and the expectation that it might collapse at any moment.
"That can't be good." Blue observed nervously.