The Life of Penumbra Heartbreak

by Unwhole Hole


Chapter 5: Unknown Rivals

Sombra stood at the edge of his great throne room, waiting and contemplating. As a pony who did not think, he had a great deal of time to do so- -even if time was a luxury he would never again know in his immortal existence.
The room around him was vast and dark. The only light came from crystals that generated a sickly, unnatural light. Dark tapestries of unspeakable events hung on the wall, their edges in tatters and their age unfathomable. They were the last remnants of the race from which Sombra was derived, apart from himself. While they decayed, the crystal below remained strong and unchanged.
He could sense them before they arrived. Their heartbeats, the warmth of their bodies- -but most importantly, their fear. Of all the creatures in the world that could be defined as living ponies, there was only one able to escape Sombra’s detection, and Twilight Luciferian had already departed back to whatever foul tower he chose to repose in.
They entered from the far side of the room. A pair were thralls, dressed in their characteristic masks and rusted armor. Between them stood two ponies: one, a Pegasus with limp, crippled wings; the other an astoundingly beautiful unicorn mare, nearly nude save for her extensive jewelry and a scarf of the finest silk.
Sombra moved silently through the shadows, appearing before them in an instant and without a sound greater than the gasps from each of them. Even in their surprise and fear, both bowed deeply.
“Freeflight,” said Sombra. “I see Crozea’s work is impeccable as always. The weather today is excellent, is it not?” He smiled. “A beautiful day indeed for flying.”
Freeflight forced a smile and held back the tears. “Yes, my lord, thanks entirely to your grace and expertise in the weather preparation.”
“The weather, like all things, is merely a manifestation of my will. Its creation is trivial and largely pointless.”
“Of course, sire.”
Sombra turned his attention toward the mare. She smiled, demonstrating a practiced ability to create a perfect and sincere smile on command. She bowed a second time. “My lord,” she said. “I am- -”
“Topaz Clarity.”
The mare blinked, and blushed beneath her makeup. “You remember me, sire! I am truly honored!”
“I remember the names of all my stablemares.”
“Well.” She curtsied. “I am also honored that you chose me for today. The other girls were very jealous. You come to visit us so seldom!”
“I do run this kingdom, Ms. Clarity. Or do you have a better recommendation as to how your king spends his time?”
Her eyes widened, her composure shattered- -but only for a moment. She bowed. “Forgive me, my lord. I spoke out of turn.”
“Such a thing is not of concern.” Sombra turned away and walked toward his throne.
“My lord?”
“Tell me, Clarity. You were Hope’s closest friend.”
Even without looking, he saw the girl’s expression fall, and the sadness in her eyes. “Yes, my lord. We were purchased at nearly the same time. The breaking process was...hard for me. And the others were cruel. Only Hope stood by me. Helped me. I would not be what I am today without her.” She lowered her gaze. “What happened to her is horrible. She was special. And...for what little I can do for her...it may be out of turn, my lord, but she loved you. She truly did.”
“Even after all I did to her?”
“Yes, my lord.”
Sombra smiled. He looked over his shoulder, and his red eyes met Topaz’s blue. “Love does not exist. You are aware of that. She hated me as much as the rest of you.”
“My lord, no! That isn’t true!”
“It is,” said Sombra, calmly circling the others. “But it is to be expected. It is the purpose you serve. I do not seek companionship. Not with your kind. I stocked my stables because I enjoy watching you and your sisters suffer. To see your pain, to watch you break. To insult what few fathers you have left, for they stood against me as dissidents.”
Topaz smiled. It was as sincere as the first one she had given Sombra. “As is your prerogative, my king.”
Sombra stopped. “But thank you for telling me. If she truly did love me, then she is better off in her current situation. YOUR situation, however? That is a bit more precarious.”
“My lord?”
“You knew that she was pregnant. And you conspired to hide it from me.”
Topaz’s eyes widened, and this time she did not gain composure. She turned sharply to the Pegasus beside her, who could neither meet her eyes nor hide his tears any longer. “Freeflight! I trusted you!”
“I’m sorry, Topaz,” he whimpered. “But my- -my loyalty to my king must come first!”
“The king who took your stallionhood, and your wings? Now you let him take your honor too?!”
“Please, Topaz. Please...I did what I had to.”
“His course of action is correct,” added Sombra. He turned sharply, facing Topaz from across the room, near his throne. “You knew she was pregnant. She confided in you. Yet you lacked loyalty. You betrayed your king.”
“My lord! I did no such thing! This child was meant to be a joy, to be Hope’s greatest gift to you! How many times she talked about raising it, to watch her grow into a mare as kind and beautiful as her, with you at her side!”
“So it was meant to be a surprise? Or did you fear that I would intervene?”
Topaz froze, and could not at first meet Sombra’s gaze. Then she looked up, and did. “I did what is right. Hope loved you. She didn’t understand. But I know what you are.”
“A monster? That’s common knowledge.”
Sombra’s horn flashed red. Topaz and Freeflight both recoiled, but no blow came. Instead, an object was lifted from a silver dish beside Sombra’s throne.
At first, the pair stood, confused, not knowing what the object was. As Sombra slowly walked closer, though, both of them understood. Freeflight’s knees buckled, and Topaz screamed.
“Hold her,” ordered Sombra.
The thralls grasped her in an instant, even as she cried out in terror and struggled at the approach of the Mask.
“No! NO! My lord, please, PLEASE! Let go! LET GO!”
“I will not tolerate betrayal, Ms. Clarity. So much pain could have been avoided if you had been honest and loyal. You disgust me. I cannot bear to look upon your face any longer.”
Topaz resumed her struggle, screaming and desperately trying to break free- -but the thralls were stronger. Behind their masks, they watched, fully aware of what they were doing but powerless to stop. They held her firm.
She turned her head. “Freeflight! Please! Help me!” Tears were running down her face, smudging her makeup. “I don’t- -not like this- -”
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” wailed Freeflight, covering his ears and closing his eyes.
Sombra stopped walking. He lowered the Mask of Red Death, and one of the thralls held Topaz Clarity’s head. Her eyes were wide and terrified when the Mask was placed over her face. Sombra could not help but smile.
As soon as the mask touched her face, her screams of fear rose to an impossible pitch, forced from her by pure agony. Her body bucked, and one of the thralls was thrown free. Freeflight was weeping, and covered his head with his forelegs against the unnatural sound of a pony experiencing a pain that so many had known all-too-well.
Topaz Clarity stood, and in a flash of magic the other thrall was blasted across the room. It was green, her natural color, but already infected with scarlet.
She arched her back and raised her head. The screams of agony became more terrible, transforming into a bellow of rage. Magic cloaked her, changing and hardening, synthesizing a costume of many layers of red leather fastened by numerous straps. It draped over her, reconnecting and applying itself as the molten remnants of her jewelry dropped free. In a matter of seconds, Scarlet Mist stood before her king.
“Sombra. What happened? How long have I been without a host?”
“A matter of days. Long enough to clean up your mess.”
“My mess? How is this possibly my fault?! YOU were the one who insisted on a crystalling!”
“An admitted mistake. But your last body was a trained mage, a young mare with a natural aptitude for magic. She lasted three weeks. The bodies you use are expensive. Must you be so wasteful?”
“My body...” Scarlet Mist froze, and looked down. “What the...what did you put me in this time?” She looked up at him. “What is THIS?”
“She was one of my most beautiful consorts.”
“You put me in the body of a SLAVE?! A host this inferior- -how do you expect me to accomplish anything like this?!”
Sombra’s eyes narrowed. “Be glad, Scarlet Mist, that I did not affix you to an earth-mare. Or perhaps to Freeflight.”
Scarlet Mist grumbled to herself in her native language. “Yes,” she said at last. “I am grateful you bothered, to the extent I can be. But surely you were not hoping to get any more use out of this body.”
Sombra sighed. “I could not bear the embrace of a mare who has betrayed me so horribly. I have given you this body freely, and with no expectations of its use apart from that you do not waste it.”
“There is not much to waste. One strong spell- -”
“You will not be using such spells for a time. I have a task for you.”
“To increase production, no doubt.”
“Your mask production is already outpacing the rate at which we can breed conscripts. No. It extends beyond that.”
“Then what?”
Sombra did not hesitate to give his order. “You will train my daughter in the use of magic.”
“Me?!” Scarlet Mist leaned forward and gestured to herself. “Do I LOOK like a teacher to you?!”
“You are half of one of the most powerful purebloods ever to exist.”
“Which does not mean I have time to waste foalsitting an infant!”
“Crozea has been placed in charge of accelerating her development. I need her prepared for battle, post-haste.”
“Then have Necrophilo do it. He has plenty of students.”
“Students who hardly need to be taught the basics of magic. Besides, Necrophilo of Canterlot is strictly skilled in necromancy. While a valuable skill, it is largely impracticable on the battlefield.”
“Then Twilight Luciferian, your favorite. He spends most of his time in that infernal tower, let him do some real work.”
“Luciferian is required for other tasks.”
Scarlet Mist paused. “You don’t trust him.”
“I trust none of you. But not every heir is born. Some might also be made.”
“Fair enough. For what it's worth, I will aid you in his elimination, should you desire it.”
“Meaning you desire his body.”
“I would even take a male if I could have power like that.”
“Even me?”
Scarlet Mist laughed. It was a terrible and unnatural sound. “Yours is hardly worth my time. Being trapped in this city does not further my goals in the slightest.” She paused. “Why do you not teach the girl, then? Or are you too busy?”
“I am her father. It is not my duty to raise her.”
Scarlet Mist paused, and then laughed again, this time more softly. “Or you do not want her to know you. Speaking hypothetically, Sombra: you could easily rectify her role as a potential usurper if she happened to become a subservient, submissive queen.”
“I have considered it. But it will prove far more useful if she meets a glorious, heroic end in mortal battle against Celestia. I will even commission a tapestry to commemorate it.”
Scarlet Mist chuckled. “I do not regret taking this position. I do hope you one day rule this world. Perhaps once I have my body, you could even consider me for the position of queen.”
“Perhaps. Only if you prove yourself worthy.”
“I suppose I will do my best.” Scarlet Mist turned toward to where Freeflight was now cowering in a pool of fluid. “Now. Let me see just how well this body works...”
A red mist escaped her form, and drifted down. Freeflight gasped and tried to hold his breath, but it was too late. His eyes widened and he choked as the visions filled him, and Sombra’s throne room was once again filled with unearthly screams.

Far below, in a distant, isolated part of the Crystal Citadel, a white unicorn moved in silence. The spells that perpetually coated him muffled his sound and obscured his location and vitals, a process that would normally take several powerful mages in a state of absolute concentration. For him, though, it was a trivial expenditure of energy but a trick of significant value. It meant that Sombra could not trace him- -at least not directly.
Twilight Luciferian came to a long-forgotten door and moved it aside, disassembling the spells that kept it sealed and invisible. The room behind it was dark, save for a horrid sickly glow cast from its center. The air was filled with the dull and quiet noise of machines and fluid pumping through narrow tubes, and the smell was as strong as ever- -a scent of chemicals and metal.
Apart from the sound of machinery, the only sound audible was of distant humming.
“Eternity?” asked Twilight.
He heard a gasp cutting into his mind. If he had not been using shielding spells, his mind might very well have been sliced in half. “TWILIGHT! You came to visit! I NEVER get visitors!” This was followed by a girlish squeal, then silence. “I hate visitors. Go away. Do you know what I can see right now?”
“No, Eternity. I do not.”
“Two ponies, Golden Clasp, age twenty two, height eight hands, color off-teal, and Facet, age eighteen, seven point two hands tall, color sort of a pinkish red.”
“Do you occupy time staring at lovers?”
“Lovers? Didn’t you just hear? The king just said that love isn’t even real. Also, Scarlet Mist is back.”
“She never left.”
“And the two of them, they are plotting a beautiful meeting.”
Luciferian raised his eyebrows. “The king and the parasite?”
“No, you idiot. The crystal ponies. They have a plan to poison the king’s wine!”
“I already tried that. He is...durable.”
Eternity Gaze laughed, both in Twilight’s head and from her real mouth, the latter sound being nearly inaudible. “I’m going to direct some soldiers to them. Gxurab will be so happy! His new anatomy text is almost finished, have you seen the pictures? They’re so pretty!”
“He comes to visit you?”
“No. I don’t like him. I don’t like his books either. I don’t like you. But I can see him. For the sake of the Occulus, I CAN’T STOP SEEING.” She giggled. “Did you know that Celestia lost her hair brush? Not now, but a month ago. I’m just getting it now. Also other things I don’t understand. Today is a good day. Does the name Harvestor mean anything to you?”
“Eternity, calm down.”
“Why?”
“Because you’re yelling. And it might literally render me a vegetable.”
“Corn is a vegetable. I can count the exact number of kernels in the kingdom right now. Do you want me to?”
“No. That isn’t why I came.”
“No.” Eternity paused. “You came because you WANT something.”
“You perceived that with your powers?”
“No. I perceived it because I am not an idiot. No one comes to me if they do not want something. Specifically, something they will not get. Go away. Also, shake your tail on the way out. Your rump is so...rumpish.”
“How flattering,” muttered Luciferian. He took several steps forward, approaching the ghastly remnants of what had once been a pony. Perhaps even a beautiful one, although none alive could recollect what Eternity Gaze had once looked like. At this point, not even herself.
Luciferian smiled and began to circle her. “Eternity. Did you know that I am over two hundred and fifty years old?”
“Not unreasonable for a wizard. Which reminds me, you should wear a wizard hat.”
“It’s actually quite young, especially compared to Sombra. But in that time I have already mastered virtually every discipline of magic, even if only in theory. Telekinesis, dueling, pyrogenesis, biomancy, necromancy, cromniomancy- -I’ve even studied the fine details of chronoplexy, even if its horrible impracticability makes it impossible for even me to use.”
“Exactly. A wizard hat. To cover your big head. And that massive, long horn. Ooh! Look! She’s checking under the bed! You’re not going to find it there, Celestia!”
“But even in all my studies, I never managed to even comprehend your gift. The magic that you wield. Because no theory exists for it. None of you even exist any longer. You are the last seer.”
“And for good reason. If I knew then what I knew now. But to do that, I’d have to be a seer. Oh wait. I am. Or was. Or will be. But you wouldn't understand that.”
“That’s what I came here to talk to you about. I understand that you can see everything within the Empire, and hear the thoughts of ponies. But I have heard that you can do so, so much more.”
“Do not press further, Twilight. You are treading down a road that certainly does not lead to Celestia’s hairbrush.”
Twilight stopped walking. He stopped in front of her, to where she could see her with her own eyes- -if they could even still see. Twilight could not imagine the horror of being able to actually see or, worse, feel in her state. “I require a prophecy.”
“No. You do not. You don’t even comprehend what you are asking for.”
“You can do it, though.”
“Of course I can, but a simple mage has no concept of how much work is required even just to PHRASE a prophecy, let alone the unspeakable risk for...well...speaking it. One wrong word is all it takes. Just one wrong word...”
Luciferian frowned. His patience was running thin. “Necrophilo already has a prophecy. He generated it by speaking to those passed to the Other Side. He foresees an Empire of the Dead, a kingdom ruled by an eternal Litch King in the shadow of the One True Goddess.”
“And I will tell you what I told him! His prophecy is unstable! You don’t understand! You can’t! No stallion can...there are an infinite number of possible futures, and possible pasts! Sure, the necromancer sees one, perhaps, but not necessarily OUR one. Or the RIGHT one. Those threads don’t matter.”
“Then what does.”
“The CANON. The Canon is absolute and pure. There is only one, from which all pasts and futures derive from. It is unbreakable and perfect. A prophecy told from the Canon...it’s like trying to break a block of cheese. The kind that does not break. Do you know what I mean?”
“Cheese? What?”
“Of course not. I knew you wouldn’t.”
“I think you are insane.”
“You would be too, if you knew what I knew. I see our thread. I can tell you the exact hour, time, and method of my own demise. What would you do with that knowledge? Could you survive it?” She sighed. “Sombra keeps me, because he is wise. He remembers when my sisters still walked the earth, before the madness took them. He would never ask what you ask of me because he knows the consequence. He knows that the cheese must not be broken and the acorn never formed. You don’t.”
“Well. I could come over there and decant you, couldn’t I?”
“A threat?” Eternity Gaze burst out in laughter. Twilight was knocked back; his protection spells had not compensated. He was in too close of proximity to her center. “I already told you! I know the exact date I meet my...well...meat. You know. And it’s not today. It was not yesterday either. Or the day before that. There’s your prophecy. It is so much safer to know the past...why can’t you ask me for that?”
“Would you answer?”
“Of course not. I hate you. Your stupid rump. So round and firm...”
Luciferian shivered. “Please,” he said. “I rarely say that word, at least not sincerely. I must know.”
“It will destroy you. Do you not understand that? No, of course not. Fine. As long as you know that nothing good will come of it. Just to get you to turn around. Then, ideally, leave. I don’t like you looking at me. Not like this.”
“Then stand and deliver.”
Eternity scowled, and then sighed. “So be it. I will tell you the truth, and what you were never meant to know. The Princess will indeed sit upon the throne, and ruling the Crystal Empire by her side shall be her beloved, a white stallion of House Twilight.”
A hideous grin crossed Luciferian’s face. “I knew it.”
“If you knew, why did you ask? Now go away. Slowly. Then I want to watch the cute couple meet Gxurab. The look on their faces is always so funny.”
Twilight Luciferian, the scion of House Twilight and its last, final heir, bowed deeply. “I thank you, seer. I look forward to working with you in the future.”
And so he left, his plan resolved, needing only to be put into action.