Of all the follies of all the fools in all of the lands of Equestria, the greatest is this: they cannot, will not, and will never kill me.
When I ruled over them, they called me a tyrant. From impure crystal I carved a city of glass, an empire of steel, and when they witnessed my power they wept for lack of their own, crawled sniveling back to the gods I had rendered obsolete. They begged for freedom instead of progress, comfort instead of security. They buried their heads in the muck of mortality, blind to the eternal heavens so far out of reach their mortal minds could not hope to comprehend. When they came for me, they called me Sombra—emperor of darkness, enemy of light. They struck me down out of ignorance, locked me away inside the arcane void. I saved my empire out of spite, bound them to myself, gave them life at the expense of my own.
But still, I did not die.
When I returned, I was reborn in shadow. Conquering the black magic I had wielded before robbed me of my mortal body, silenced all but the simplest words from my mouth, but as recompense gave me strength beyond anything a mere mortal could command. The Crystal Heart—the lifeblood of my ponies, the instrument of my undoing—tormented me, its very essence profaned by the presence of true arcane might. For the good of my empire I sealed it away, and when the little ponies found me I showed them a world free of willfulness: docile, efficient, incorruptible. I offered them freedom from all their earthly bindings, but they only pulled them tighter. They used the Heart against me, tortured me, tore me into pieces and banished me to a realm yet unsullied by ephemeral hooves. I lived as a ghost of my former self. I lived as less than nothing. I lived in agony.
But still, I lived. I did not die.
I will never die.
And now, I am free again. Without a body, without the means to so much as pluck a dandelion… but alive. I am little more than a presence now, an etching of a spirit’s ghost, but it is enough to lift me back into the plane of the living. It will be enough to carry me across the crystal plains towards the sleepy little Equestrian township of Ponyville. It will be more than enough for what I plan to do once I get there.
I have spent the past months rebuilding myself, gathering my strength, meditating on the target I will soon once again pursue. Her name haunted me as the Heart burned me to ash, echoed in my mind as I stitched it back together: Twilight Sparkle. My nemesis. My impossible, undeniable conquerer.
I know her through her mentor the oppressor, through her brother the fool, through her pitiful servant whose blood runs colder than his ancestors dared imagine: a strong-willed unicorn clad in violet coat, precocious in all forms of magic she encounters. She serves Harmony as I do Order, has meddled in darkness where I once embraced it. In a different world we could have been allies, but in this one she stunted her potential for the sake of those she thinks are her friends. Through little more than poor timing and good fortune, I did not confront her when last we met. It was a mistake that cost me my kingdom. I will not make it again.
Her mind may be of no use to me, but a glimpse inside her attendant’s proved much more valuable. When I am free of this accursed realm, I will come for her first, in her little treehouse she leaves open to all of the backwater hamlet she calls home. I will possess her body as my own, use her magic to fortify my own. I will reclaim my empire with her as my vessel, let her watch as the light leaves her usurping compatriot’s eyes. Then I will take her to Canterlot, strike down the old gods, let the terror of my name chill the tongues of every citizen in Equestria. When the dawn comes, it will rise not over a kingdom, but an empire. My empire.
And when it does, I swear on every star in the sky and beyond it: I will have my revenge.
• • •
Even for autumn, the night is cold. I can feel the chill tingling at the edge of my being as I pass through the air, prickling like the numbness of a limb slowly waking up. I don’t mind the odd sensation. It reminds me that I am awake at last, that my power will only grow as my earthly strength returns to me. My arrival in Ponyville—just a few minutes away now—will only expedite the process.
My plan, I cannot help but think, is devilish in its simplicity. While all of Equestria slumbers under the full harvest moon, I will sneak in right under their noses before any of them can suspect a thing. Instinct—and, I must admit, pride—drives me to meet the coming dawn in fury and flames, to lay siege to Canterlot and challenge the old gods in full view of every creature in their kingdom. The idea of slithering into their territory like a serpent hidden in the grass would have turned my stomach in a time when I still had a gut to contain one, but the contrarian nature of the plan is precisely its genius. No one will see it coming. No one will be prepared. Provided the old spells still work as they should, no one can possibly stop me.
And in truth, the spell is the simplest part of all. Though forbidden by the old gods and thought to be unfathomably dangerous by the mortals who heed them, the murkier side of magic holds no such cowardly notions. A temporary possession spell requires only a sharp mind and a keen focus on the being meant to be possessed. I have always boasted the former, and I have spents weeks upon weeks honing the latter to a razor-sharp point. I know Twilight Sparkle’s name, her face, her home, even her exact location—up the stairs, first door on the right, at the top of the loft so she can watch the stars each night.
With my return to glory so close at hoof, not to mention so assured of success, I cannot help but feel excited. The extra jolt of energy heightens my dulled senses, enough that I’m gifted with a momentary glimpse of the approaching horizon. Ponyville unfolds below me like the tapestries I will hang in Canterlot once I’ve conquered it, the eternal record I will install to remind all who gaze upon it of what befell those who stood in my way. If memory serves, Twilight’s home stands near the center of town, just west of the market square.
As the sense that I would grin like a fool if I only had the teeth with which to do it bubbles inside me, I decide I am at long last ready to begin. The preliminary spellwork feels second nature to me by this point, after the countless times I rehearsed it over the last months. The possession spell will become autonomous once I have cast it, but only as long as the energy I have reserved for it lasts. If my recollections of the ancient spellscrolls and a few ad-hoc calculations are all correct, I will be able to maintain the spell for three full days by my own power. By the time three days have passed, though, I will not need to maintain it. Twilight’s life force will serve as a splendid substitute for my own, perhaps so much so that I can restore myself to my true form in due time. With a talented magician like her under my hoof, the possibilities could very well be limitless.
Another tingle informs me of the spell’s activation, and only a few moments pass before it pings off what must be my target. I scan over the sensory response just to be sure, but I already know what it will show me: genus equus, species unicornum, fur a lovely shade of violet. I even catch a flash of the dream she’s having: a colt standing before her, mane shimmering, teeth gleaming in her star-struck eyes. How precious it all is, she and her secret romance. Maybe later she’ll even assure me that he’ll come to rescue her before I dispose of her myself.
Entrancing as the thought is, I shake it from my mind. There will be time later for reveling in the misery of the equine race. Right now, I must focus. My descent steepens as the spell zeroes in on Twilight’s slumbering form, and deep inside my being a phantom heartbeat begins to pound. I am so close to her I can taste the air rushing past me, feel the night splitting apart to allow me passage, watch the ground expand below me as I near the swaying leaves and the creaking bark and the tightly shut windows of the—
The tree house.
I can’t see the tree house.
The tree house is gone. A smoothed-over stump is all that remains, all that proves it once stood just there. There are no leaves to push aside, no windows to shatter as I enter straight through them. There is no Twilight. There is nothing.
There is no tree house.
Where in all hellfire is the moondamned treehouse?
I fly over the stump, rocket through the empty space where Twilight’s bed isn’t, and then the spell yanks me off to the left so fast my crystallizing vision blurs again. Instead of a tree house, the spell guides me towards a beige wooden one across the street, two stories tall with a yellow thatched roof. From the second floor—the bedroom on the right-hoof side—my target’s prone form echoes in the spell’s ephemeral chime. My vision fails before I can see her, but the imprint of her mind lingers overtop of mine. She’s stirring in her sleep, wincing at the sudden bite of the air against her exposed neck. I hurtle towards her room, blast through her window, roar in pain as the spell smashes me against her chest, wraps me around her horn, sinks me through her skull to the very edge of her mind…
She’s thrown clear of her bed by the impact, her legs spasming and her spine locked into an inflexible arch. I writhe against the carpet, every nerve on fire, every sense ablaze with color, sound, sensation, panic. The window hangs open on one hinge behind her—me—us. For a moment she resists, blind instinct fueling a futile push against the presence invading her mind, and then the spell completes with a flourish and a flash of deep green light. I wrestle one of her twitching forehooves under control, straighten it out by her side, gather it underneath her quivering barrel as the other three bend to the same command. When she stands, I stand with her. When I tell her to take a single trembling step forward, her body obeys without the slightest hesitation.
For the first time in months, I can feel the muscles tighten in my face, feel my lips curl away from teeth that glow red as blood under the harvest moon. There is no more planning left to be done, no more time left to be wasted, no more life doomed to be whiled away in formless, senseless exile. Even destroying her home and moving here wasn’t enough to hide Twilight Sparkle from me. The spell tracked her down anyway.
Sparks of magic flit from my horn, raise the fur lining my scalp and back, crackle across my legs and shower onto the floor. The spell worked. I own Twilight Sparkle absolutely. I command every iota of her arcane power.
I am free. I am powerful. I am unstoppable. I am…
… shorter than I imagined.
My skin crawls as my mind forges connections to my new body’s nerves, from the tip of my tail all the way to the rims of my… shouldn’t my hooves be farther from my nose? Twilight Sparkle was fully grown when she faced me before. I know she was. Picturing her with this mind is easier than ever before. In moments I conjure an image of her standing in her absent library—speaking to a dumbstruck crowd—bowing before some imperious dignitary—looking at me.
Looking down at me.
It can’t be.
I couldn’t have.
The spell wouldn’t have.
Not now. Not after all this time. Not this close.
I will my body’s legs forward, stumbling over my overlarge—no, too small—hooves. A vanity glass—three times my height—blooms into view in front of me, inches from my violet—not violet enough—snout. Dim moonlight streams over me from the shattered window, just enough to illuminate my new face. Wispy strands of golden-yellow mane hang in a tangled mess over a stubby, immature horn. Sleepy amber pupils dilate under the glare of the gangrenous green haze that surrounds them. Another consciousness stirs beneath me, splits my vision as it gazes upon the same sight I struggle to comprehend, murmurs the name scrawled on cardstock taped to the mirror’s rim, printed on a saddlebag flap next to the glass, echoing through the consciousness of the pony whose body I’ve just irrevocably possessed.
As one mind, we reach the same conclusion. As one body, a horrific chill seizes our heart.
The spell would have.
I am stuck inside the body of a pre-pubescent, colt-crazy unicorn filly named Dinky Blasted Doo.
I’m not even granted the small comfort of screaming before my own forehoof smacks me square in the nose.