• Published 25th Apr 2016
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Sombraverse Book I: A Grim and Darkening World - Cadejo Jones



Trapped in the Sombra timeline by two shadowy figures, Twilight Sparkle and Spike try to adapt to their new world and find a way to get back home.

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The Pieces Placed

Memory, like time, is tricky.

Not in the same way, mind you—but still tricky. Everypony knows almost all of what they know from memory. There’s a part of the mind that’s instinct, of course, but even some of those are built from memories repeated long enough to establish a pattern. The problem with all of this is that memories aren’t fixed. A pony can lose memories, for example. Ones made under the influence of cider are often blurred or disconnected from the reality they happened in, perceived through an altered state. Yet even accounting for those things, the average pony thinks that memories are almost always accurate. The question is not if the memory itself is unreliable, but instead the mind is reliable in retrieving a memory. It’s not wrong, per se—even if a memory is established to be different than the reality of the event, it may be considered that the memory is instead a perfect recollection of its owner’s perception of the event.

This does not make it any less terrifying when an established memory turns out to be wrong. Not something trivial, like grabbing the wrong loaf of bread at the store, or being convinced there should still be half a cookie left in your hoof when you have in fact eaten it faster than the mind can process memory. It’s when a fundamental or very large memory turns out to be false. Have you ever felt it? It’s like the floor disintegrating from beneath your feet. Imagine walking out on a high branch, convinced that it is sturdy. Halfway out you hear it snapping. It is one thing to describe, but another to feel.

Stranger still it might be to remember someone who, as it turns out, doesn’t exist at all and never did.

Twilight didn’t have that particular problem, fortunately for her, but the nature of memory was very much on her mind. She stood at the first landing of the steps down into the floors beneath the library. Crossing the threshold of the steps themselves had broken the spell of disinterest in the basement. She remembered now what her subconscious had been trying to tell her for hours, how at the last second when any of the three of them tried to descend the steps found they had forgotten something somewhere else or were distracted by something petty. She couldn’t recall any of the reasons she herself decided not to investigate. She reasoned that this was because there were none, and that even if there had been, they wouldn’t have by any means justified such a glaring lapse by all three members of their little search party. She also remembered the steps to the basement being different, but that was no result of any external force. She never looked at when the library had been built in her own time, nor when if ever there had been additions or renovations. The stairs before her ended another set down from where she was. They led into an open hallway with doors instead of the one door that led to what she had used as lab space. In that regard, it was one of the few things she preferred about the castle. The size of it left more space that could be delegated to research, and as a result her lab was actually organized with coherence. The only differences between this world and her own should be after when Rainbow Dash’s first Sonic Rainboom happened, but given that she didn’t know the history of her own library in that regard, the difference was not impossible. It could very well be that the basement was modified before she ever arrived in Ponyville, or that for some reason it was changed in this time. The same might apply to the guest room as well.

That was only a temporary distraction from the bigger problems at hoof. Why was the house stocked to her liking, if, in fact, Applejack was right about it being unoccupied for years? Where had that voice come from earlier, if not Spike? Was it the same voice she’d heard in her head, trying to point out to her that her coat had changed back when they were chasing Ridley Box? Who was really pulling the strings behind Ridley? Why did she suddenly find one of her best friends incredibly attractive? What was going on with Spike, anyway? Was it this world changing them both, or the other way around, or maybe both possibilities at the same time? Was that a light on in one of the rooms at the end of the hall? When was the last time anypony had dusted around h—

She sneezed hard.

Oh no.

She extinguished what little light came from her horn, put a hoof over her muzzle, and pulled herself as much as she could against the wall. She tried to move as little as possible and hoped that the blouse she was still wearing didn’t stand out too much against the wall.

The door at the end of the hall opened. Ridley Box poked her head out. Her mane was wrapped up in a towel, and the makeup she had on earlier had smudged all over her face. Steam billowed out from the room. A shower. She’d been down here long enough and felt safe enough to take a shower.

“Boss, was that you?” The orange mare whispered.

Twilight felt her heart stop when she heard footsteps in the main hall of the library coming towards the steps. A large upright figure came to the top of the stairs, a stack of books under each arm. She hoped they were arms. Other than the silhouette of the thing, it was too dark to see. It turned around and put one of the piles on a table, before coming back and starting down the steps. Twilight didn’t move. Whatever it was didn’t have a light, but moved as if it saw everything. There was no way it didn’t see her standing there. She couldn’t be squarer in its line of sight. It stopped inches from her. She could feel heat rolling off of it in waves.

It spoke.

“Did you say something, Ridley?”

“Yeah. Did you sneeze just now?”

Twilight clamped the hoof tighter over her mouth. She didn’t breathe. She began to sweat. The thing before her took its time to answer.

“No.”

“I swear I heard one.”

“I didn’t.”

“You sure?”

“Dead certain.”

It had to know. It had to! It had to have been in the main hall while she and Spike discussed things upstairs, as it definitely had not been there before she had flown herself and Spike up to the bed, nor had it passed her on the steps. She braced herself as it started to move, ready to scream out if it grabbed her and…she refused to think about what might happen past that point.

Instead of exposing her, it continued down the steps, as if it hadn’t seen her.

“Maybe the blood loss is getting to you, Ridley.”

“Yes, this time is different from all the others and suddenly losing a pint makes me hallucinate. Lemme guess, next you’re going to tell me it could have been a mouse?”

“Maybe it was the dragon. Or one of the Ponies, in their sleep.”

“But you didn’t hear a sneeze.” Ridley walked across the hall and opened another door. She flicked a light on inside the room. She turned off the light and shut the door to the bathroom, then waited for the figure to arrive.

“No, I didn’t,” it said. Twilight inhaled a little, and the thing paused for a second. It heard her, she was sure of it. It kept walking. “Why would I say a mouse?”

“Of course, how silly of me. That would be beneath you.”

“It’d be an insult to your intelligence. I’m just concerned. You took quite a beating from the blonde one. You said you even passed out.”

Ridley stomped a hoof. “Only for a moment!”

“You weren’t prepared for it, and that’s on me. I don’t know why I thought Applejack wouldn’t be with them. It won’t happen again.”

“Well…apology accepted, I guess. I know I heard a sneeze, though. And it was too—girly? Is that the word I’m looking for? Feminine! It was too feminine to be Spike.”

Twilight lost track of the conversation as the Pegasus and the thing walked into the room at the end of the hall and shut the door. She collapsed to the floor, gasping for air. Her heart made up for lost time, and it felt like it was going to break her ribs. There was no doubt in her mind that she’d been seen. Whatever had come down from the library was the thing who sent Ridley here in the first place. It was strong, too, in the sort of way that villains like Discord or heroes like Celestia tended to be. It was an inner power radiated outward, something more than just physical strength or dizzying intellect. To make it worse, whatever this thing was, it had it in for her, and was willing to jeopardize the fate of Equestria to get what it wanted.

Her instincts told her to run. To let this thing clear out, or to get help, or to be anywhere that it wasn’t, and yet—

She gave her horn just enough glow to find her way down the remaining stairs, then turned it off. She worked her way on the tips of her hooves to the door, hugging the wall the entire time. The door hadn’t been shut all the way, and Twilight peered through the gap. The room was small and lined with shelves, save one wall at the end of the room. That wall had a small dresser and an old wooden desk pushed up against it. Several long tables filled the middle of the room, all as antique as the furniture at the wall. The shelves themselves were more like cases, with glass double-doors covering each section. The books on the shelves were of varying ages, but from the few titles Twilight could make out, it was clear this was the special collection room. The tables were bare and dusty, but at the end of one there were a few saddle bags and a large duffle bag. Ridley Box stood before the mirror atop the dresser, trying to remove what remained of the smudged makeup. She was talking to the thing. He, thought Twilight. Ridley kept calling him ‘He.’

He was six, maybe seven feet tall. Applejack had been right about it being a wolf on two feet, but it wasn’t quite a wolf. It reminded Twilight of the times she ventured beyond the mirror into the realm of humans, in that it was upright, and wore clothes, but there was something else, too. She recalled seeing an animated cartoon in that world with a roadrunner and an unfortunate coyote. Whatever he was, he reminded her of the latter. The clothes he wore—a ratty-looking zip-up hooded sweatshirt and a pair of faded jeans—were ripped in places. It wasn’t anything that suggested struggle or conflict, but instead accidents and general apathy in regard to maintenance. He had a wolf’s head, but the jaw was long and flat like an alligator’s mouth. His tail was long, but not very bushy—almost ragged in the same way as his clothes. He walked around on his bare back paws. His shoes lay at one end of one of the tables closer to Twilight. They were stuffed full of newspaper. They were the same kind that the other human universe’s Rainbow Dash wore, the kind with the white rubber on the toes, solid color, flat sole, and a circular logo around the ankle. One of them was covered in mud. The whole look gave him the appearance of something silly, much like the cartoon she was reminded of, a predator made unintimidating by the shambles of its appearance. Although the teeth she saw when he spoke and the claws on its decidedly human-hand-shaped front paws were sharp, she found it hard to believe he was as powerful as Ridley had let on. He had several books in his paw, and occasionally opened the glass doors of the shelves to look at a book. Sometimes he put them back. Sometimes he took them to the bags on the table. She listened to the two banter back and forth.

Ridley stopped scrubbing with the towel for a moment, and looked in the mirror at the beast. “Do you ever, like, not speak in references? Ever? Can you even hold a normal conversation?”

He ignored her and held up a book. “—I mean, look at it, Ridley! The hero of the wastes in front of the stable door, engraved on the cover. And…wow. The author signed it. In my world, no one knew anything about her, besides that she wrote the story. I mean, I was familiar with her work before this, which is a secret of its own, but even then I wasn’t any closer to figuring out who she was than anyone else. This has her signature in it! Her pen name, but…definitely this one. Or how about this one? It’s The Star In Yellow.” he placed an ornate book on the table. The cover must be fantastic, Twilight thought, because it seemed to shimmer and bend the light around it. “…and I’m not talking about the story about the Star In Yellow, I mean an actual copy of The Star In Yellow itself. No, don’t—” He leaned over and pulled it out of Ridley’s grasp. Ridley seemed surprised she was standing at the table instead of the dresser. Twilight realized that she had pushed the door a bit further open to get a better look at it. “—Don’t open that. And do not—do NOT—read it. We’re taking that one, but we’re burning it.” He shoved it deep in the duffle bag, along with a few other books, and zipped it up. In a quick motion, he hovered his hand along the zipper, and it disappeared, leaving only solid fabric with one seam. “What I want to know, really, is how the hell any of these ended up here. This place hasn’t been touched in years. How is it possible that things like that”—he gestured toward the duffle bag— “end up in a place like this?”

Ridley shrugged, but didn’t turn away from the mirror. “Ur Books, maybe?”

The wolf frowned. “Now who’s making obscure references?”

“Hey, you got that one, at least.”

“You’re being snide.”

“Me? Snide? Perish the thought, good sir! Facetious? Often. Obsequious? Now and again. Bellicose? Pugnacious?”

“Just because they’re ten dollar words doesn’t mean you get paid to use them.”

“I thought it would appeal to your literary mind, O master.”

“Do NOT call me that.”

“But this is all your master plan, isn’t it?”

“It’s my design, but I’m no master of it.”

“What happened to your godhood, then?”

“When did I once—ever—say I was a god? And I’m not counting that night we were all hammered and you bet me that…you know which time I’m talking about. Not the point.”

“You bend reality to your liking. You could save thousands of lives if you wanted to. Maybe even just one. You’ve certainly ended enough for a few lifetimes.”

“It’s out of my hands more often than not. You know that.”

“Do I?”

“You may work for me, Ridley, but you’ve seen what I serve. You’ve been conscripted same as I have. A Child of Orion.”

“You work for her?” Ridley dropped the towel and turned to face him. “She’s the one behind all of this?”

“You know that’s not how it works. Still, I’ve been working for her as long as I can remember, even if I didn’t know it at the time. Even before I left my own world, I was serving her. Gods aren’t real, Ridley. We’re all just monsters. There’s always something higher up the food chain.”

Ridley paled. The wolf walked down between the tables. He picked up the sneakers, banging the caked one against the table to knock off the mud. He sat on the table, pulling out the wet newspaper from the sneakers. Ridley stared at him for a long time. After a while, she sighed and began packing up her saddlebags.

“You know, boss, you never told me what you settled on. For the dragon, I mean.”

“U-235.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. Pu-240 is too unstable.” He struggled to pull the sneaker on his hind paw. “Like—stupid thing—what if it just went off before he got to it? Could you imagine? I put too much effort into this to have it literally blown to hell at the last minute.”

“So where’d you get it?”

He put the other shoe on his foot, and stomped it the rest of the way home on the floor. “Somewhere else.”

“Another world?”

“Somewhere. Else. Don’t worry about it.” He tied one of them without looking. “Now, have you got everything? I want to get going. You do still have the spell, correct?”

Ridley pulled it from one of the saddle bags, waved it, and put it back. Damn! Twilight didn’t think she could distract either of them long enough to get it.

“Excellent, my dear.” He set in on the other shoe. “Ugh. I’m a hypocrite for ever mocking anyone about function over form. These may look old-school cool, but they are about as waterproof as a sieve. This one’s gonna smell. You told her what her task was, right?”

Ridley stopped packing up her bags. The wolf stopped tying his shoe. “Right, Ridley?” He looked at the Pegasus. She shuddered. He finished his shoe, and stood up. “It’s not fair to have her play the game if she doesn’t know the rules now, is it?” She looked at the ground. He walked toward her. “Because, of course, we both know that it’s dangerous to all of us the way you used those bubbles as shields, or folded yourself out to hide, or tore a wormhole to come down here, but that is probably forgivable, so long as you did what you were brought here to do…” His pace was slow to the point of cruelty.

Ridley backed away from the tables. “Listen, I had to bail, alright? I’m not used to not killing. All I’ve ever fought were monsters, things I didn’t have to let live. Otherwise Applejack wouldn’t have beaten me! I w-was barely able to stand, and she would’ve killed me if Twilight hadn’t stopped her! I had to back off and recoup! You understand, r-r-right? They’re still up there, we can…” She stopped when her flank bumped up against the desk.

The wolf continued his slow steady gait, looking at one of his hands and scraping the claws together. He didn’t seem so cartoonish anymore. “Ridley, please. I don’t really want to hear it. It wasn’t about the spell, at all, and you knew that. If I wanted it that badly, I would’ve taken it myself. What I want is for her to play the game with me. I want her to prove a challenge. All of this was a setup for that. The game can’t really start until she knows how she can win—”

He towered over the Pegasus. Twilight could hear her whimpering prayers to Princess Luna. She cried out and covered her face as he reached down. He stuck two claws between her broken wings and gently pulled out the charmed stone, holding it up to the light. Ridley looked up through tears at it, jaw agape.

“—and already she’s cheating. Didn’t you notice? Why would she fire magic at you if she was intending on letting you go? I suppose you don’t feel enough back there to notice it, but didn’t you think it was odd? Honestly, I’m more impressed it didn’t come loose in the shower. Oh, get up. I wasn’t going to hurt you. Do you really think me that petty?” He rolled the stone between his claws, and Twilight could see—even feel—the charm unraveling, the magic dissipating into the air. “Quite clever of her, too. This will be more exciting than I thought. Already it’s going places I didn’t expect.”

“Where is all this going, really? What’s the point, Boss?” Ridley asked, throwing the saddlebags over her back. “Boss. Boooosss. No. B-O-S-ughbossbossboss. Damn it! Why can’t I say your name? Are you doing that? Boss? Are you even listen—” As she turned around, the words died in her mouth.

The wolf was grinning. It wasn’t a warped smile like the one Ridley Box could give, but it was unsettling all the less. “I’ve traveled a thousand different worlds, Ridley, and there’s an infinite number more. You know what I’ve learned with all that sight-seeing?” He closed his hand around the stone and squeezed. “Love rots. Dreams die. Who the heroes and the villains are is all a matter where you stand and watch from. If you watch while walking around, it turns out there aren’t heroes or villains at all. It’s just like real life, and it’s boring as hell. I drifted. Somewhere out in the vastness of the endless multiverses it came to me. I’ve got this incredible power, right? Something akin to a sort of god, possessing the ability to spin worlds and characters and places into being. So why not take that power and make a world where there is good and evil? Pit them against each other. It came to me as I crossed the endless wheels of time spinning in place that I wanted a part in this story I was building. Not the hero, no. That’s not fair with all these resources at my disposal. I had to become the villain of the tale. Who, then, to play the part of the hero? I needed someone. Someone who has to be able to take me on. Someone worth rooting for. Someone who could challenge me.” He opened his hand, and held up the stone. It was black and glassy. “And I found her. Sometime just before I met you, I heard about her. She can’t take me now. She needs to be pushed to her limit, live up to the fullest of her potential. She’s more powerful than Celestia or Luna, but she doesn’t understand it. She has qualities that put her above and beyond. And I want to see if she’ll hit her apex, or shatter under the pressure. Part of me even wants to her beat me. See her win.”

He laughed, and held a hand up to his face. “HA! Listen to me! I’m monologing right now! That’s how excited I am! I’m giving some grand speech like some fucking cliché, and you know what? I don’t care. It’s too much fun. I’ve been waiting for this too long.” He took his hand down from his face. He turned, and whipped the stone along the length of the nearest table. It half-rolled, half-skidded across the wood. When it reached the end, it rocketed off, hit one of the bookshelves, ricocheted high, and then bounced to a stop at twilight’s hooves.

She looked up. The door was wide open now, and the wolf stared her in the eye.

“Ridley, I should apologize. I lied to you. I did hear the sneeze. Twilight Sparkle was hiding on the stairs and she’s been listening to us this whole time. I thought I was upset about you not doing your job, but you know what?”

The wolf clenched a hand into a fist, then splayed out his claws. The sound of a bonfire reached Twilight’s ears as the change rolled over the wolf’s body. He grew taller, more muscular. His fur turned to black smoke, whisping and whirling constantly away from his body. His eyes began to burn green. It was him she’d seen earlier, lurking in the darkness. Watching her. His jaw changed, and now Twilight could see the visage of the wolves she’d only read about in textbooks before, the kind long since passed from Equestria. This was more than that. Fangs and claws glistened in the smoke. The ratty sweater was gone. When it spoke again, its voice was low and full, but didn’t echo. It was not loud, nor was it soft, and it came to Twilight’s ears without any reverberation or dynamic effect.

“I like this version better.”

He began to walk down between the two tables. He let one set of claws drag loose behind him on the tabletop, enjoying the sound of them scraping the wood.

“It’s an honor, Princess, It really is. I’ve been searching for you for years. Spike too, but his part in this doesn’t come close to yours. You are my perfect little hero. Do you know how many times I’ve met you? Hundreds. Thousands, maybe. We’ve played match after match, game after game, and I always get the checkmate. World after world after world. But none of them were you. Not the real you. No, I tried and I could not breach your real world. It never worked. My greatest effort collapsed under its own weight and nearly took all realities with it.” Twilight could not break eye contact with the demonic thing before her, but she noticed out of the corner of her eye that Ridley flinched at the last sentence. He reached the end of the table and tapped his claws on the wood. “I thought for sure that all my effort was in vain, that I’d never get through to you. To the Princess I wanted. To the real Twilight Sparkle.”

He looked away from her, leaning back and spreading his arms. He laughed as he stared at the ceiling. The emerald suns of his eyes burned even brighter. “Ah, but as always, I was blessed with serendipity. A unicorn I’d taken for granted turned out to be my saving grace. When Starlight Glimmer redesigned dear old Starswirl’s spell, she didn’t just drag you through time, but opened up infinite worlds of possibility that were sealed to me before. All I had to do is find the one you’d be dragged to first, and I could set my trap. I couldn’t complete my grand epic in your world, but that isn’t a problem anymore.” He turned to face her. When he arrived in front of her, he bent to one knee, almost like a knight before a queen. The smell of woodsmoke rolled off of him with such intensity that Twilight’s eyes started to water.

“Only one version of you even came close to defeating me. I miss her, to be honest. She winked from existence when she had her hoof on my throat, and I couldn’t bring her back. Now? I’ve got the real thing. I won’t pass this up. So, here’s the rules of our little game. All you have to do to get the spell back and set everything right is be able to defeat me. You can’t handle me yet. Not even close. Taking you on now would be unfair of me. Cheating. What would be the point? All this effort would go to waste. I’m not going to give you the chance to fight me until I’m sure it’s a fair fight. To be honest, if you make it that far, I doubt I’ll win. What do you have to do to prove yourself? It’s simple.”

Ridley was standing to his left. She had the duffle bag over her back, and had another smile of a million switchblades. The wolf leaned forward. It was like standing in the middle of a blast furnace. Twilight started to choke on the fumes. Her eyes burned with pain. The wolf reached out and took her chin in one clawed hand. He tilted her head up to meet his eyes. His breath smelled of molten metal and forest fire.

“Save this world for me, Twilight Sparkle. Save this world, and you’ll be free.”

Twilight felt she was about to pass out. A rushing sound filled her ears. The smoke pouring off his body curled inward, and then the two of them were gone.

Twilight staggered over to the table, coughing and hacking. A game. This was all a game. Trapped with only Spike to rely on. She trusted the new Applejack, but she couldn’t say for sure when the cards were down that they’d really see eye to eye. She shook her head. The dizziness from the lack of air wasn’t going away. She coughed again. What was that thing? Did he have a name? Why was he so obsessed with her?

No answers came. She was out of her depth. There was going to be a lot of research. She stopped at the pile of books the devilish pair had left behind. They were all classics of Pony literature (it reminded her of the reading list for her early college classes, actually), but there wasn’t any particular pattern to the titles or themes. Next to them was a bag full of bits.

“I almost forgot,” the wolf said.

Twilight jerked around. He was standing at the desk, his back to her, and he’d regressed to his raggedy, cartoonish appearance. Ridley wasn’t anywhere to be seen.

“I hate to ruin that exit. I think I nailed it, don’t you? Not leaving without this, though.”

Twilight opened her mouth, but no sound came out. The wolf was holding a book in his hands. He didn’t look back at her.

“I’ll be borrowing some books, some of them, ah… permanently, as it were. The bag there on the table is for the current librarian, which—heh—I guess is you again. You can take the page out of the library, but not the library out of the page, huh? Either way, consider that late fees in advance. I won’t be back to check on you for a while, so… man, coming back really spoiled that exit, didn’t it? I’m not usually so adept at theatrics like that. I don’t make a good star of the show, unlike Ridley. Or you. I can’t wait to see what you do with this place. Reality is what you make it, although it makes us back a bit in the process.”

He held up the book over his shoulder so that Twilight could see the cover. “I almost feel bad taking this. It’s the crown jewel of this library. I’d say it’s beyond compare. But you already knew that, didn’t you?”

The cover of the book was pink, light purple and blue patchwork. It read Of Ponies and Peril, by Twilight Sparkle. A crooked grin spread out across his jaw, and he looked at her out of the corner of his eye. Out of everything so far, the look on his muzzle disturbed her the most.

“After all, you wrote it.”

He wasn’t there anymore. There were no longer claw marks on the table, and the pile of books disappeared. All that remained was the bag of bits.

Spike found himself jerked from a heavy sleep as Twilight finally found her voice again.

Author's Note:

Now the story really begins. This chapter's pretty dense, but that's the way it has to be for the story to move forward. with introductions out of the way, we can finally set in on the world. There's a lot of references buried in here. There's no prize for guessing them all, except maybe a bit of smug satisfaction. If you think you know who the villain is, keep your mouth shut! don't spoil it yet!

any further notes before the end of the story from this point on will be solely for clarification.

Comments ( 2 )

I think that Twilight should try to free as many crystal ponies from their mind control helmets as possible. Without killing them.

What the bloody hell do you mean cancelled now?!

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