• Published 8th Jan 2017
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The Lunar Chalice - Spirals95

A magical chalice prized to Princess Luna has resurfaced in the collection of a wealthy Griffon family. To retrieve the enchanted cup, she sends one of her followers and his friends. But some of Equestria's enemies have plans for the chalice.

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Chapter 31 - Dreams of Darkness

Chapter 31

My mindstones project is nearly completed. Sombra's generous lab equipment and manufacturing practices has helped me push my dream forward. I hope if you read this, dad, you'll have started to appreciate what I like to do.

Midnight finished making his entry into the notebook bearing his mark, enjoying the use of the fountain pen and paper over quill and parchment. Page after page was filled with a log of his journey so far, how they had boarded the train, met and fought against Rosseth, all up until this very point where Sombra wanted to crown him as his own son. It was a huge contrast to his life just a few days ago where he was struggling to maintain a magic shop on his own. Now instead of taking a break to work on his hobbies and dreams, he was taking a break from his hobbies and dreams to work on how to be an effective leader. Surrounded by parts and pieces, he had spent all of last night and today working on the project and was just about to achieve the most effective way to energize and activate the mindstones. While he worked, he remained in ignorance of the golem forge continuing to mass-produce soldiers for his army.

The unicorn heard the door open behind him, but without the telltale sound of armor jingling, he didn't know for sure who it was.

“Midnight, it's time for your training,” Sombra announced, approaching him from the back of the workshop, “this is perhaps the most important piece of your journey to becoming the next King of Shadows.”

“I'm close to a breakthrough,” he declared.

“Bring some of your work with you then in the event that we can incorporate it into your exercises,” Sombra insisted, “but this is not something we can put off any longer, Midnight. I know you appreciate being able to work on your dreams more often, but you still have your responsibilities, my son.”

“All right father, I can drop it for now,” Midnight answered, turning around with a few of the amethyst stones tucked neatly into a saddlebag.

Am I really getting used to referring to him as my father? How long do I have to keep this up?

Sombra seemingly appreciated the respect and willingness to compromise, “Good. Follow me, Midnight. You're about to learn what it really means to be a Shadow Pony.”

As they exited the room, Midnight felt a slight twitch of surprise when the laboratory doors failed to open to the musty staircase he had been used to descending. Instead, a long hallway had replaced it, with a blue carpet in the middle of the stone floor seemingly going off into infinity. He wondered if Sombra somehow possessed the ability to re-arrange the structure of his castle to see fit, so that he didn't have to walk. A true show of force and ability over mere teleportation, which was draining enough for a unicorn.

“This is the way to the inner sanctum,” his elder told him, standing at his side, “keep your eyes forward as we enter.”

Midnight obeyed the command, keeping himself focused onto the darkness ahead. The floor beneath him felt solid to the touch, but the hallway got even more dim the further they went. Eventually it was pitch black, rendering sight impossible and depriving their eyes of any information whatsoever. It was a little cooler in the room than the hallway before, and a very muffled sound of flowing water was audible.

“We are here,” the king declared, “pause for a moment.”

His son had no answer for him, just the cessation of his movement and patience.

Sombra asked through the darkness, “What do you see, Midnight?”

“Absolutely nothing. It's darker than any place I've ever been in.”

“And yet it doesn't scare you,” the king asked, his voice seeming to move despite the lack of hoofstep noises on the stone below, “why is that, Midnight Blaze? A pony ought to be terrified in these conditions, we rely on sight for so many things after all.”

Midnight gave a complex, deep answer, figuring since it was training he needed to show wisdom and depth to make his master happy, “The dark isn't scary just like how a blind pony isn't scared all the time. They can sense the warmth of the sun, the cool of the breeze, they can hear voices... things like that. I still have all my other senses to use, so the dark doesn't make me afraid.”

“Midnight, the answer is far simpler. You are not afraid because you know I'm here in the room with you, and I would alert you to any hazards in this room,” Sombra groaned, “please do not overthink what I am trying to teach you.”

“Oh... sorry.”

“No matter,” he answered, “you understand the point I'm trying to make. Ponies are afraid of the dark because they do not know what is lurking in the darkness. If they are aware that there was nothing but a friendly cotton rabbit in this room, there would be no panic.”

“What does this have to do with my training?” questioned Midnight.

A loud snapping noise came from behind his tail, making him jump in surprise and notching up his heart rate slightly.

“You jumped out of fear,” Sombra said, “a small fear that I might take advantage of this darkness to smack you for your immature question. Would you have jumped if I had declared my intent to stomp my hoof behind you?”

“No, I'd see it coming!”

This seemed to be where the king was going with the lecture, “Exactly. You see Midnight, no matter how great, realistic, or emotionally terrifying a pony's fear is... the cure for it is information. Or, in reverse the only real fear that exists... is the fear of the unknown. Flaming Ivory, for example, doesn't know if the intent of every bug he meets is to leave him be or devour him alive. So he's afraid of them, and avoids all bugs just in case. The same logic applies to every fear.”

“And you're going to teach me how to manipulate fears,” Midnight said dully, knowing he was supposed to eventually succeed him.

Sombra took a moment to ponder a response before answering, “Only if that is how you choose to manifest your abilities. Your training will largely be about the use of Dark Magic, and how you as a Shadow Pony can manipulate it in far greater measures than the other pony bloodlines.”

“Dark Magic corrupts its user,” Midnight responded with concern, “I feel like you're going to teach me how to play with fire, considering you burnt yourself up to maintain control over the Crystal Empire.”

“Where did you get this idea that Dark Magic corrupts?” questioned the king, “Princess Celestia? Your biological parents? That's why I need to train you, Midnight... you do not understand the truth.”

The room illuminated all of a sudden, shrinking Midnight's pupils from the struggle to adjust to the sudden amount of light. When they had adjusted again, he saw that the sanctum was a plain, but large room ornately decorated with lines of gold running up marble columns and a beautiful tile floor covering every square inch. There were no windows, but the walls were built out of equally pretty bricks of carved marble, and a giant rounded blue carpet featuring Sombra's cutie mark spread all across the floor. Strangely, the room seemed to have no entrance or exit, and Midnight realized that Sombra was indeed capable of summoning a way into and out of the room, likely as his means of keeping it secret. Six silver fire pits circled the room, providing even more light with a set of blue flames likely powered by an unknown source burned with a soft crackle, providing further light. Sombra was standing across from him, on the opposite side of the carpet, half of the room stood between them.

“Welcome to the inner sanctum, Midnight Blaze. Here is where I practice spells and other skills in the art of Dark Magic. As you can see, it is not a very twisted room, given its purpose.”

“This is beautiful!” Midnight exclaimed, “I've never seen a magic practice room as nice as this before.”

“Kept clean, any space is great for practice,” Sombra smiled, “but when you're a king, well... you can afford the best! Everything about this sanctum is designed to facilitate casting. It is quiet, lit only by arcane light, and is kept cool with running water in pipes behind the walls.”

Instinctively Midnight babbled, “Will this be mine too?”

“Absolutely. I will teach you the pathway to access this room. But first, we train you,” he answered, “it is time you learn your first Dark Magic spell.”

“What do I need to do?” Midnight asked, starting to feel nervous.

“I want you to focus your mind just like you would with any other kind of magic,” Sombra declared, taking a deep breath, “you are aware just like any unicorn, that magic comes from within. While the other ponies express their magic in different ways, you are capable of emitting it from your horn, your point of focus, and changing the world around you actively. But how do you cast a spell, Midnight?”

“It's... it's second nature,” the other unicorn answered, confused, “you just told me not to overthink this, Sombra. So I'm not sure what....”

“You tap into your physical, mental, and emotional energy when you cast spells,” Sombra interrupted, “surely they taught you this in school, correct?”

“R... right,” Midnight stuttered.

“Now, I want you to cast any kind of Dark Magic at me,” he said.

Midnight blinked, “Excuse me?”

“I want you to attempt to cast a spell using Dark Magic. Whatever you believe it to be,” the king explained, “tap deep into your magical abilities and aim them in my direction. I am perfectly capable of stopping anything you can come up with, Midnight Blaze.”

Not wanting to back down from the challenge, Midnight charged up his horn, energy spraying from it in every direction. Yelling out of anger and concentration, a snaking beam of light blue energy crackling with electricity and plasma raced from his horn towards King Sombra. Smiling, the ruler phased into a cloud of dark smoke, the energy attack disappearing into the void of the new form. Loud shrieks of electrical dissipation sounded out, before the beam was completely absorbed and its target dismissed the dense shadow fog. Midnight looked Sombra in the eyes, breathing heavily from the exertion of energy.

“A very powerful plasma bolt, but that was not Dark Magic in any way,” King Sombra said, “I know you have incredible potential with your magical energy, Midnight Blaze. Perhaps that is why your birth father wanted you to become a soldier.”

“I put everything into trying to hit you,” Midnight said, growling, “I got angry for that.”

“The basis of Dark Magic is not anger, I'm afraid,” Sombra informed him gruffly, “that is a common misconception among those fools in Canterlot. 'Oh, if you get angry, you will begin to use Dark Magic', they'll tell you.”

“Then where does it come from?!” Midnight demanded to know, stomping his hoof out of impatience, “Why drag me through all of this training if you're just going to keep asking me questions?”

Sombra rolled his green eyes, and then gave Midnight what he was looking for, “Dark Magic, my son... is all about taking, rather than creating.”

Total silence from Midnight meant to Sombra that he was a bit lost on the subject.

“Allow me to explain,” he chuckled, “when you launched that plasma arc attack against me, you created that wave of energy using your horn. Something new came from you, and was used as a weapon against me. Dark Magic requires you to control something that already exists, is already in the real world, and use it for yourself.”

Midnight pondered the meaning of the statement for a minute, and then the light dawned on him, “So, when you went to control the ponies of the Crystal Empire, you weren't casting something onto them, you were directly taking control of their thoughts?”

“Exactly that. I reached into their minds, and forced them to experience their fears again and again, bringing back the doubts they had about the future, sending them into depression and anxiety,” he answered, “Did you notice that Ignitus's stranglehold on Rosseth was Dark Magic? His aura may have been visible, but he did not hold his aura around the zebra's throat. He was instead seizing control of the cells in his airways and forcing them to shut the tube.”

Midnight stood there, thinking about the implications of what he was hearing from Sombra. He had seen Rosseth get choked, flopping about in the air, desperate to draw breath again before he asphyxiated. Dark Magic seemed incredibly cruel, and yet, Midnight did not feel bothered by the thought of it. Rather than add to the world around him using regular magic, he could take away things he didn't like using Dark Magic, if Sombra was correct and the power was truly available to him.

“Now, if you think you can, Midnight... try to hit me again using your own spell,” the king suggested, “we will see if your power can truly be unleashed.”

The sapphire stallion took a deep breath, and closed his eyes. He thought carefully, focusing on what he could take control of instead of what he could emit. A stream of dark, sinister smoke started to form on the very tip of his horn.

“Yes...” trailed Sombra, smiling to let his canines show, “you're almost there, Midnight. Now concentrate, seek out control for yourself! Exert your power over your chosen target, and dominate...”


King Sombra felt his own hoof strike across his cheek, leaving a soft red mark across his face. Smoke puffed from the end of his hoof, and he regained his composure without another word, waiting for Midnight to open his eyes.

“Motor control curse,” Sombra said, shaking his head, “well... I did say try to hit me again, didn't I?”

“You're the only thing in this room to control. Anything else would be me creating a bubble from my aura and levitating it,” Midnight answered, smirking, “I figured you'd sense me doing anything to your mind right away, so I went for your hoof.”

Sombra nodded, “I see. Do keep in mind you can cast a regular attack, and then immediately control it as well. Shadow attacks have quite devastating results, if you recall the bombs my amulet generated for Shadow Breeze.“

The unicorn realized that he wasn't supposed to actually land a hit on the king, but he didn't care. He felt a glowing sense of pride and accomplishment by forcing him to slap himself like he was delirious, nothing quite like the joy he got from learning any other spell. Of course, the king was aware as to what that feeling was, and he continued to bear a smile despite the humiliation.

“I know that look anywhere. The sense of power and fulfillment knowing anything can be under your control and in your hooves,” he said, clicking his tongue against his teeth, “it feels very good, does it not? And think of it like this: if you were able to overpower my own muscles, imagine what you could do to anypony else.”

“I... I could make them do anything I want them to!” he answered, starting to laugh.

Midnight's horn wrapped itself in shadows, sending out a curving path of dark energy into the nearest pillar, punching a hole clean through it and causing it to crumble from the inside-out as if it were rapidly eroding from water exposure. All that remained was a pile of marble dust and an ornate cage of gold left over from the column crumbling within it.

“Excellent!” Sombra laughed, “You manipulated your own plasma spell to corrode the column! Now you understand Dark Magic, Midnight.”

“This is more power than I could have ever imagined,” Midnight said, his voice sounding somewhat deeper and more masculine like Sombra's, “it feels great!”

Sombra had him right where he wanted him, “I think there's just one final test in order, then, and your first lesson will be complete.”

With a flash of red energy, Sombra brought in a random earth pony slave from among his captives, and a wicker basket with a blue cushion visible from the outside. The earth pony, a stallion with a light brown coat and terrified gray colored eyes, shrieked and looked around the room rapidly. The four walls of the sanctum seemed to close in around him tightly, and his blood ran cold as ice.

“There's no way out!” he panicked loudly, sweat pouring down his face, “Sombra, I'm sorry! Don't send me to the blade outside, please!”

Blade?” thought Midnight curiously.

“Oh no, you little worm,” roared Sombra, shoving the stallion down, “your fate was sealed the moment you tried to help the mares assigned for their 'special purpose' escape!”

Special purpose?

“But,” continued the king, getting in the stallion's face and forcing him to scoot back on the cold floor, “the blade is way too good for you. No... I have an even worse fate in mind!”

Sombra looked at the basket to the right of the stallion, and whistled loudly. The other two ponies in the room waited in suspense as the basket started to shake, and then...

A small wolf pup, not even more than a few months old, wiggled his way out of the basket and pattered along the floor on his paws, large enough to indicate that he would grow to be quite strong someday. He had jet black fur, and bright green eyes, looking very much more like a husky than a wolf. When he walked over to the formerly terrified stallion, he rolled over and exposed his belly, showing a patch of fur that looked like a white star. The little one's pink tongue flopped out of his mouth, and he looked more in the mood for a belly rub than a fight.

“A puppy?” the condemned slave asked, hoping he wasn't going insane.

“Aww, what a cute little wolf!” said Midnight, walking up to the youngster, “I remember reading about the cold-weather black wolves when I was in school, but I never thought I'd ever get to see one.”

“Midnight, this wolf pup was abandoned by his mother because he was the runt of his litter,” Sombra explained, “but look at the hope for a future in his eyes, despite having been left for dead! I want you to understand that even the runt can become the strongest of his kind if given strength. He is your pet to command now, Midnight.”

Midnight responded while rubbing the puppy's tummy with his hoof, “He has hope for a future huh? Like a dream? I'll call him Dreamer then.”

The belly rubs were met with a wagging tail and bliss from the wolf, who kicked his little hind leg joyfully.

“You must use Dark Magic to turn Dreamer into a beast to serve your needs,” Sombra commanded, “a diet of insubordinate ponies should be plenty to keep him sustained.”

“WHAT?!” shrieked the captive, “You don't mean he has to turn that poor dog into a monster do you?!”

“He does... and he will,” Sombra insisted darkly, “perhaps you ending up as dog meat will teach the others not to rebel.”

Midnight glanced again at the puppy beneath him, rolling around as cute as a button.

“Turn him into a monster?” he said, bowing his head and keeping his face out of view, “No. Not going to happen. I won't turn a small puppy into a terrifying monster.”

“Midnight, show your power over this stallion and this dog,” Sombra said, “don't you love the feeling of being in control of your lives and others? Think about how everypony else wouldn't let you be in control of your destiny, like your previous father!”

The unicorn thought about Sombra's words. He had everything he wanted now, the ability to work on his projects, the secrets of Dark Magic at his disposal, wealth, and the ability to seize control of anything he desired. He thought deeply about how his father had treated him, what his friends thought about him, and how... little they had actually been able to do about his situation. Now he had something way better than that stupid military career his father had in store for him. The pain of his mother and brother from their father's antics came back to him, and how Cadance wasn't able to do a thing about it in her terrible weakness. Maybe Rosseth was right...

“Hmmm?” Sombra mused, his lip curling, “Midnight, what's wrong?”

Midnight was lost in his own thoughts, but slowly felt a feeling creep through his mind that he had never experienced before in his life. It was a bizarre mix of anger and happiness, knowing he could finally surpass Ignitus and do everything his own way. In fact, no other ponies were ever going to bother him again. The little wolf beneath him was likely the only innocence left in the room.

When Midnight Blaze raised his head again, his irises had turned a red color, “Ohhh, pardon me father. I was trying to say that turning this wolf into a monster and having it snack on this loser over here's a waste of my talents! I can do way more than that!”

“Oh thank goodness,” whimpered the enslaved earth pony, “I'm not gonna be wolf food.”

“Get out of my sight you coward,” midnight growled, shooting a red ray of energy into the stallion.

He vanished in a flash of light, finding himself chained back to his post in the castle's storage room.

“Amazing,” King Sombra said, proud as any father could be, “you've brought forward the Shadow Pony blood deep within you already.”

Midnight nodded and with a flick of his head, threw a blast of shadowy smoke onto the wall, creating a hallway the size of a pet door. He then petted the pooch on the ground one more time, and dismissed Dreamer with a smile. The dog seemed a little concerned, but gave a happy woof and ran down the hallway, which vanished behind him.

“There's something I have to try with my mindstones project,” Midnight said, his eyes returning to their original color, “let me just get Flaming Ivory here.”

With a loud report and flash of light, Midnight ripped Flaming Ivory out of his current location and dragged him into the room, shocking the musician who dropped the instruction manual to the Omnichord electric piano. The teleportation had come so fast and without warning, that he had been caught in the middle of his work.

“Hey! I wasn't done!” he shouted, darting looks between the two stallions, “Where the hay am I?”

“So, Flaming, welcome to my inner sanctum,” Midnight Blaze laughed, “I've been wanting to do something like this to you ever since we met.”

The unicorn's eyes widened, “Woah, Midnight... what's wrong with you? You've got this crazy grin and your eyes keep flashing red... thought only my eyes changed color when using magic.”

“Your eyes are a defect, mine are from my own skill and talent,” Midnight answered, putting a hoof to his chest haughtily, “you know, you've been a real jerk this whole trip, making fun of ponies and raging at the stupidest stuff. That's why I'm going to test out my newest creation on you.”

King Sombra watched Flaming Ivory turn pale and smiled, “Such passion, Midnight. I love what you are doing!”

Midnight levitated a mindstone out of his saddlebags discarded on the floor nearby, and brought the purple gem in front of his face. Zapping it with a nasty beam of black colored light, the stone vibrated and sparked as it was changed by the exposure to the spell Midnight was casting. Then, he screwed it into place on a bright silver ring he had also saved from the workshop, and held the finished product in front of him using his ordinary turquoise colored aura.

“It's finished!” he said, “I knew it would work! Now Flaming, come here please.”

Flaming Ivory knew that the Midnight Blaze he had befriended was not who was in charge of the similar pony in front of him, and tried to turn around to run only to see the fact that the room had no escape. He cursed his lack of knowledge of teleportation spells, and could only watch in horror as his legs started to feel warm. Midnight was casting a curse on him to force him to walk towards him, one slow step at a time.

“Don't make this hard, Flaming. I only need to finish my experiment!”

Screaming, the piano player tried everything he could to get himself to stop, to the point of trying to use his own magic to halt his legs. But he took step after step with his muscles no longer under the control of his own nervous system, and soon he found the ring Midnight had created being jammed over his horn.

“Not another inhibitor!” he shouted, “Come on, man, snap out of it!”

“Shut up, Flaming,” Midnight growled, “Sombra made it clear you're my servant now, and that's just what you'll be!”

The formerly purple mindstone was now a sickly red and green color, and Midnight manipulated it with his mind with Flaming helpless to stop it. He found himself doing a backflip, performing a spectacular feat of acrobatics that he wasn't capable of before, and landed facing King Sombra, who was quite surprised.

“what did you do to him, my son?” he asked.

“I reverse engineered the mindstones to be able to control ponies,” he said, “they now act as a channel to seize control of the victim's mind and body by making them want to obey orders rather than forcing them. Honestly I don't plan on shoving one of these on every pony in the castle, just Flaming Ivory since he's such a jerk. Since he can't seem to be nice on his own, I'll help him learn!”

And just like that, Flaming Ivory felt his brain turn into a mass of chewed gum, thoughts being scrambled and rewired. When his mind solidified again, he looked over King Sombra and spotted his bright red cape first thing. Previously he would have taken a stab at his enemy's appearance, but now all he could think about was how neat his clothes were.

“Hey, never noticed this, but your cape's pretty sweet Sombra, did you make it yourself?”

“Well thank you Flaming Ivory,” Sombra snickered, having not had this much fun in years, “but it's a family treasure. Older than myself.”

“Yeah but you don't look any older than me,” Flaming Ivory said.

It was amazing how the unicorn's speech pattern did not give away what had happened to him. He didn't drone on or force words out of his mouth as was typical with true mind control. Instead, Midnight's version seemed to be geared towards rewiring the brain to the desired effect. The mindstone on the top of the ring mounted to Flaming's horn was now colored brown and orange, and it sparked and flashed as if something was banging on the inside of the gem.

“Ah well thank you, I try to keep my appearance up as a king,” Sombra said courteously.

“Hey can I get back to the piano now?” Flaming Ivory asked, picking up the instruction manual with his magic, “I was a bit busy, and I want to be able to play it for you guys later.”

“Sure! See you around Flaming,” Midnight answered, smiling.

He teleported his friend back out of the room, satisfied with what the mindstone had done. King Sombra felt nothing but pride for his adopted son, and threw his hoof around his side.

“Your talents perhaps surpass even mine,” he said, “in just a moment you figured out another magical tool that serves the purposes I've taught you about today. Keep practicing your art, and you will become the greatest stallion Equestria has ever known.”

“I only wanted to show up my former dad,” Midnight answered, “and anypony else who hurt me.”

“And that is exactly what Dark Magic is for,” Sombra agreed, “to make things right again, not to destroy. You, like Rosseth, just wanted justice for your treatment. And I have reached out to both of you through that chunk of horn material to help you learn how to do that!”

Midnight hugged him unexpectedly tightly, “Thank you, father.”

Sombra was not expecting an actual warm hug, but he returned it with his own strong hooves. When the parental embrace ended, the king felt that perhaps Midnight was a little more than an adopted child now. A subtle beeping noise interrupted their moment, and Sombra noticed that there was a glow coming from a small band of silver he was keeping in his cape.

“It looks like Shadow Breeze has reached the Crystal Empire. We should go give our little speech for our future servants,” he said, cracking a terrible joke, “After that, there’s a few more lessons planned for today. Shall we?”

“Yes,” answered the new prince, “I want to learn!”

Forming a new hallway out of the room, Sombra and Midnight left side-by-side, with the same vengeful happiness in their hearts. Once they were out, the flames surrounding the enclosed room flickered, and then extinguished to shroud the room in darkness once more.

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