• Published 1st Oct 2014
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Story Shuffle - FanOfMostEverything


Thirty-one one-shots inspired by thirty-one random Magic cards.

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7
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Alone in the Darkness

I can see the shadows.

I have been able to see them since the day I found my destiny, when the black-burning candle appeared on my hips. From that day on, I have seen wisps of darkness wavering through the Empire, like smoke that never disperses. Some float free. Others coil within the hearts of ponies, eerily visible through their glittering coats.

At first, I tried to tell others of what I saw. They didn't believe me, and I can not blame them. I had only my own sight for proof, and what only one pony saw could easily be dismissed as illusion or hallucination. For all they knew, every unicorn saw something that wasn't there. Who could say for certain? I was the first unicorn who had ever been born in the Empire. Before me, the only horned ponies it had known were the imperial family, and they are divine, immortal, and unquestionable. Their clarity of vision is what has seen the Empire this far.

When they thought I couldn't hear them, less kind ponies whispered about the madness of unicorns, the folly of Platinum that had called the windigoes forth, freezing the Valley of Dreams. They began to call me "Sombra" for my doomsaying. The new name was quick to overtake the old, for my warnings had made me infamous. Sombra, the mad unicorn, afraid of shadows. Darkness lurked in the hearts of those who mocked me, and for a time I was not certain whether it was making them cruel, or if I just imagined something that would explain them, forgive them.

But I knew by my mark that what I saw was real. However, my talent was unique. Nopony else saw what I did, not even the emperor himself. I was alone in this, but that was not new for me. I have always stood out, like a lump of coal in a dragon's hoard. It is the nature of ponies to fear and distrust the unusual; I could not begrudge them their suspicion. They could call me mad all they liked; I would still keep them safe.

To do that, I needed to know more. Between the great library and my own fateful intuition, I soon found cause for the shadows. The Crystal Heart's light should've purged them, but the Heart was only a lens. It needed the hope and joy of ponies to function, and centuries of safety had made us complacent. Arrogant. We took the Heart's protection for granted, and in so doing made it wane. The greater horrors of the wastes still could not get through, but these leastmost menaces were able to slip in unnoticed.

The path ahead was clear. As the shadows nested in ponies' hearts, they would further occlude the light that powered the Heart. Thus greater darkness could enter and clear the way for greater still, on and on until the Heart stopped working at all, or worse, was inverted in its purpose. All would be laid to waste, and only snow would move through the Empire's streets.

But now I saw the purpose behind the shadows, and it was still early in their plan. Even alone, I could thwart them still. But at the time, I did not know how. The great library was well named, a vast archive of the Empire's collected wisdom, but it held little on unicorn magic. There was barely anything on how to work my horn at all, much less turn it against the darkness.

After mastering what few scraps I did not already know, I dedicated myself to new research. If the wisdom of the past could not help me, then I would trust my mark and magic to discover what I needed. It took many trials and a great deal of error, but in time I stumbled upon the secret. I doubt I could've done it any faster; it was my frustration at my own lack of progress that led to the epiphany. By instilling my magic with that anger, helplessness, and self-loathing, my magic went from aura to umbra, burning against my horn and startling me enough that I ended the spell.

In that moment, I knew this was what I was seeking. I grasped this new magic quickly, soon growing accustomed to the sting. I channeled my hatred of the darkness, my fear of failure, and even my envy of those fortunate enough not to know of what was to come if I did.

Strangely, other ponies seemed to sense this. I kept mostly to myself, kept my experiments contained, leaving my home only for the necessities, yet the mockery of others turned to fear. Merchants filled my orders with undue haste. Conversation died as I approached. Parents took their curious foals and fled my presence. I have never been a social pony, but I will not lie, this hurt to see.

But I also saw the shadows, which seemed more numerous every day. Some of this was because my second sight grew more acute as I practiced the darker arts. Some was not. The shadows' presence reminded me why I had isolated myself from my fellow pony, and I took heart in this. I was the only one who could even see the threat. I was the only one who could stop it. Better for everypony that my efforts went unrecognized, that they lived their lives never knowing of the doom that might have befallen them.

Still, I helped clear the way for any who might follow me of their own choice. If another found the secrets that I had, if I failed and needed to leave a legacy, if by some miracle another unicorn was born in this fragile jewel of a nation, I would see to it that they did not struggle as I had. As my umbramantic mastery grew, I wrote my findings. First and foremost, I made it clear that these were not the only ways to use this power, that any who might read it should not show slavish devotion to the insights of only one stallion. I have always been of a scholarly bent, and I could not bear the thought of an entire field of magical study going unexplored simply because I had charted but one path.

When the time came to bind my discoveries into a single codex, I dedicated it to those I sought to protect. It was a moment of some whimsy, for good humor was needed for any who would follow me. The way I unsettled others was likely a symptom of my studies, and keeping a light heart around them kept me from resenting them for what neither of us could help. Rather than dwell on what I had become, I chose the title to reflect my earliest attempts to aid ponykind and the reward they had earned me. Thus was written the Sombranomicon you hold in your hooves or, unlikely though it may be, your magic.

What follows may be my final discovery, my magnum opus. This spell opens a gateway between our world and the home of the darkness. I do not know what I will find there. I do not know if my skills will be enough to destroy it, banish it, or even survive it. But I can sit and study no further, not while the shadows thicken and the Empire slowly drowns in darkness. I go to this dark realm swathed in every defense I have penned, the enchantments that will turn the darkness's hunger against itself, that will make me seem a thing of shadow myself, that will let me use the light of my own heart as a weapon.

Should I return, I will record my findings. If this is the final page of my Sombranomicon, then do not let this knowledge be lost. Stand vigilant against the darkness, lest it worm its way into all things. And if you are fortunate enough to have others who are willing to fight by your side, do not forsake them. I have had no choice in doing this without aid, but this is an unnatural state for a pony. If I do not survive this journey, then together you may triumph where alone I failed.

Author's Note:

Starring Jon Finkel as he who will be King. (For non-Magic players, the Magic Invitational was a tournament where every participant submitted a card, and the winner's was made into reality. Sadly, it hasn't been held since 2007.)

Say what you will about Sombra's minimal characterization, but it does give us a lot of leeway when it comes to his backstory. I really like the idea of him being a tragic figure, what we see in the show a twisted parody of his original intentions.

On an amusing note, I drew quite a bit of inspiration for this chapter from the World of Darkness homebrew Princess: the Hopeful. Sombra is best magical girl.