• Published 20th Oct 2018
  • 9,063 Views, 567 Comments

A Sparkle in the Darkness - tom117z

Following the return of the Crystal Empire, Twilight begins some intensive research into the history of the Empire and its late king. What she finds changes everything she knows about herself.

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10 - Return


By Celestia, it was definitely good to be home.

Twilight had ended up spending the night in Canterlot, dropping by the old tower Princess Celestia had given her above her school. Twilight still owned the old place, though it had fallen somewhat into a dusty mess in her absence. But she had bigger fish to fry than a little bit a spring cleaning, and so she had departed again once the sun had risen.

From there, she’d caught the first train back to Ponyville. The journey had been made in almost complete silence, the spectre inside her head keeping to himself the entire time. Twilight was thankful for that at least, she didn’t feel much like making conversation with the unicorn.

But now, hopefully, she could find the mares she did very much want to talk with.

First, she just had to figure out what exactly it was she was going to say.

She walked through town with bated breath, keeping her eyes peeled for any of her friends amongst the crowd. She had yet to spot any of them within the colourful ocean and she started to slowly make her way towards the market.

If none of them were there, then she’d have to try a house call. She could hit up Rarity’s boutique or maybe pop into Sugarcube Corner. She could always fly over to Sweet Apple Acres, knock on Fluttershy’s door, crash through Rainbow’s window…

Why was it suddenly so hard just choosing who to go to first?

As the alicorn stepped into the market, none of her friends were immediately visible among the swath of shoppers going about their day. The stand for the Apple family was sadly vacant for the time being, and instead Twilight felt her eyes being drawn to the nearby rooftop of Sugarcube Corner in all its fake delicious-looking dessert glory.

If she was going to go grovelling to one of their homes, she might as well make it the closest.

Carving a path slowly through the market, Twilight soon found herself free from the sea of bodies and making her way towards the colourful restaurant. Approaching the front entrance, she saw a young couple exit the building with their foal, the child’s mouth smothered in recently demolished treats. They gave Twilight little respectful nods as she passed them by, watching as the Princess of Equestria seemed to hesitate by the door before taking in a deep breath and pushing her way inside.

The inside of Sugarcube Corner was decently busy, with ponies eating their meals at the various tables while a few others ogled at their food options at the counter; Mrs Cake patiently waiting to take their orders.

There was no sign of Pinkie Pie, though.

“Oh, Princess!” Mrs Cake greeted on sighting the alicorn. “Why, Pinkie Pie was awfully worried about you. I do hope you’re okay?”

“I’m fine, Mrs Cake,” Twilight assured the plump mare. “Is Pinkie here? I… kinda need to talk with her.”

“She’s in the kitchen,” she confirmed. “Give me a second, and then I can-”

“TWILIGHT!” came a shout from the pink blur that shot through the kitchen door and barrelled into Twilight at Mach 4. “I knew you’d be okay! From whatever it is you needed to be okay from! But I was worried but then I had this itchy knee and ruffly tail and I knew you were back and looking for me and YAY!”

“Hi, Pinkie,” Twilight patted the mare on the back, though was very self-conscious at being pinned to the floor beneath her friend’s glomp. “It’s okay, so… can I please get up?”

“Two seconds,” Pinkie replied, tightening her hug for precisely that amount of time before hopping up onto her hooves and offering to help Twilight up. “There we go!”

Twilight accepted the helping hoof, brushing herself down and glancing at the ponies around them. They’d all only spared the odd amused look at the sight, all quite accustomed to the antics of the party pony. That was fortunate.

“Soooo, how’d it go?” Pinkie asked.

“How’d what go?”

“The super-secret research project, of course!”

Twilight rubbed the back of her head. “That’s, uh…”

Pinkie deflated a little. “Still secret, huh?”

“Sorry, Pinkie.”

She scuffed the ground. “Yeah, well…”

“Pinkie,” Twilight addressed. “Could you get the rest of the girls together and meet me back here. Or maybe upstairs would be better. We… we need to talk.”

She brightened, giving a salute. “Okie dokie lokie! Sergeant Diane Pie is on the case! And then we can have a big party to celebrate whatever it is you did!”

“No party,” Twilight rebuffed.

“Awww, but why not?”

Twilight sighed. “I don’t feel like it. It’s not like I did anything worthy of a party. Not yet, anyway.”

She huffed. “Well… okay. But it’s only postponed, got it!”

“Got it.”

With that, Pinkie gave a determined nod before rushing out from the restaurant to gather the others. Twilight, meanwhile, just let out another sigh before catching a glance from Mrs Cake.

“I do hope you won’t be keeping my best chef from work for long?” she asked with a chuckle.

“I’ll try to make it brief,” she promised. “Can I wait upstairs?”

“Of course, dear.”

With Mrs Cake’s permission, Twilight offered her a quick word of thanks before making her way up to the next floor. From there, she ducked into Pinkie Pie’s room and started her waiting. She just stood right in the middle, giving the room a look over as the time ticked by. She caught Gummy’s eye at one point, just watching the small alligator lick its own eyeball while otherwise remaining stagnant.

“What a curious reptile,” Sombra suddenly stated, appearing before the creature who reacted in no way whatsoever, humming as he studied it. “I can almost sense an unusual intelligence behind those vacant eyes.”

“I didn’t know you had a sense of humour,” Twilight deadpanned.

“Who said I was joking?” he asked, turning from Gummy and giving Twilight his focus. “But let us discuss you. Coming back here to grovel before your lessers? Why?”

“Because they’re my friends,” Twilight retorted. “And they deserve an apology.”

“They got in your way, and you cast them aside accordingly. You really should only surround yourself with followers at most, friends are always such a waste.”

“So, what was Radiant Hope to you?” she shot, the King’s expression darkening at her words. “I saw her in the book, remember? Who was it that captured the tyrant’s heart?”

“I was the only one capturing hearts in that city, my granddaughter.”

“Of course you were,” Twilight replied doubtfully, turning from the apparition and starting to pace back and forth.

“You are still resisting the very inclination of your inner ambition,” Sombra noted. “Rebelling against your birthright.”

“What ambition?” Twilight scoffed.

He rolled his eyes. “Do not deny it. You were proud to be considered the most gifted unicorn in Equestria. Just as I can sense your pride at your newfound wings. You are a seeker of the magical arts, and always strive to improve upon yourself. How is this any different?”

“Taking over Equestria never really equated into my studies,” she shot back.

“Then let us put it aside for the moment, the day is still young,” Sombra decided. “Instead, let us turn to what does currently interest you. My spells.”

Twilight didn’t meet his gaze. “What are you talking about?”

“Magic. Pure and simple. The darkness is just one aspect of many, and one you have yet to even pierce beyond that simple burst taught to you by Celestia.”

“I recall it hurting. A lot.”

“Only because you are not used to containing such raw strength,” he rebutted. “It is no different to learning anything else, it gets easier with practice.”

“It’s evil!” Twilight shouted. “I would never use it if I didn’t have to!”

“You used it when provided with that potion to see things that were,” Sombra noted, smirking triumphantly as Twilight flinched. “The zebra explained it would work only for alicorn magic, any alicorn magic. You chose to default to the darkness. Why was that?”

“I… don’t really know,” Twilight admitted. “I guess I thought it would give the strongest reaction.”

“And you were right. You succeeded in your goal, and dark magic helped achieve it,” the King pointed out, stopping Twilight in her tracks by stepping out in front of her. “It may happen again. A puzzle the light cannot solve. A creature it cannot touch. One day, our knowledge may save the lives of those ‘friends’ you hold so dear.”

“I… I guess I can see the logic in that,” Twilight conceded, biting her lip in conflict. “At the end of the day, I suppose it’s the how it’s used rather than the magic itself that can be good and bad. And… I am a little curious about how it all works. I tried asking the Princess once, just after the Crystal Empire returned, but she wouldn’t say anything else on the subject.”

“And now you know the reason, yet another branch of her lie,” Sombra sneered. “Don’t you see? Your potential is so much greater than any of those other alicorns. But Celestia would not allow anypony to surpass her own raw ability. But you must break her chains, discover what you are truly capable of!”

“Just the spells,” Twilight decided, looking Sombra directly in the eyes. “Start from the bottom up. The theory, the practice. Everything I can study and learn.”

He grinned. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

“Good. Because then we can also get to know each other a little better as well.”

He frowned. “Can we now…?”

“Yes,” she replied brightly. “And I can show you all the friendship lessons you’ve been missing! I teach you while you’re teaching me! It’s perfect!”

He looked less than enthused. “I see. I think you would find me a poor student on that topic, Twilight. But do as you must, so long as you learn between those wasted breaths.”

“They won’t be wasted. You’ll see!”

“No. You are the one that shall see, as it must always be.”

There was a click as the door opened, Sombra vanishing as his visage was replaced with that of five mares who all seemed, to some degree, to hole a sense of nervousness about them.

“Hey, girls,” Twilight gingerly greeted as the door was closed behind them. “I’m back.”

“Are you okay?” Fluttershy was the first to ask. “Oh dear. You seem… pale.”

“It’s… been a trying time,” Twilight admitted, sitting down by the bed. “It’s not exactly been fun.”

“I can tell,” Rainbow Dash remarked, getting a frown from some of the others. “You look horrible, Twilight.”

“Pinkie said you wanted to talk to us all?” Applejack asked, adjusting her hat downwards a little. “You were mighty agitated when we last talked, Sugarcube. What’s all this about?”

“I just wanted to say…” Twilight sighed, fighting back a stray tear or two. “I’m sorry. Girls, I’m so sorry for how I acted.”

They all glanced between one another.

“Darling, none of us are really holding it against you. We’re just concerned for your wellbeing,” Rarity pointed out. “And I trust things in Canterlot went at least somewhat smoothly?”

“Not exactly,” Twilight admitted.

“She still doesn’t want to tell us the big secret,” Pinkie recalled sadly.

“I figured,” Applejack muttered.

“Girls, please…” Twilight quietly replied. “It’s… personal. Family related, you know?”

The apple farmer’s eyes widened, and a little bit of guilt of her own crept onto her features. “Well… shucks, Twilight Why’d you now just say so? An Apple always knows how family can be.”

“I’m sorry…” Twilight repeated. “But, well… Things aren’t exactly better. I can’t say why, but… I just need to know you girls are here, you know? It helps… But I just… just…”

They all looked between one another again, though seemed more resolute as they suddenly approached Twilight and surrounded her closely.

“Don’t sweat it, of course we’ve got your back!” Rainbow Dash said. “So don’t tell us, whatever! We’ll still be behind the whole way! Right, girls?”

“Definitely,” Rarity agreed. “Just let me take care of that coat and mane, they do look to be in dire need of some care and attention.”

“I haven’t had time to manage my appearance,” Twilight sheepishly admitted. “It’s, uh… been a bit hectic since I left.”

“Well, you’re home now,” Fluttershy said with a small smile. “And if you need some peace and quiet, you can always come around for some tea. I have a new mix in from Saddle Arabia.”

“Naw, what she needs is a home cooked meal!” Applejack suggested. “That’s how an Apple lifts spirits! Apple pie, apple crumble, applesauce… You name it!”

“And a party!” Pinkie Pie stressed her point once again.

“Later, Pinkie,” Twilight again rebuffed, getting a small whine from the pink mare. “But right now, I think I want to get back… after taking Rarity up on her offer. Maybe the spa? I could use some relaxation about now.”

“What a wonderful idea!” Rarity agreed. “Why, I have the perfect treatment in mind! I shall pay, don’t you worry or even think about protesting! Why, the very idea of a princess being in such a state demands my contribution to rectify the issue!”

“You can go ahead. I need to get back and feed Tank,” Rainbow stated. “But enjoy all that frilly stuff anyway. It’ll probably help.”

“Sure you really don’t wanna join us, Rainbow?” Applejack asked with a jab at the pegasus.

She blushed. “N-no! Why would I ever want to be in a place like that! Stupid relaxing spas…”

“I can go. The animals are already taken care of for the next few hours,” Fluttershy said.

“I need to get back to work, treats won’t make themselves!” Pinkie noted. “Unless they’re self-making treats. But it’s faaaar better if I’m the one making them!”

“Well, that just leaves me then,” Applejack stated. “Eh, guess I’ll tag along. I suppose a steam bath might take a load off the ol’ shoulders.”

“Then it’s decided. We must not delay!” Rarity declared, lighting up her horn and proceeding to drag the others along and out the door.

Twilight happily went along with her friends, feeling untold relief at their quick reconciliation. And with what was on the horizon, she would cherish every single moment of the spa day Rarity was now physically dragging them to. Every moment spent with them would be a treasure, and yet also added to the weight of what Sombra had said about protecting them…

And he knew this, watching on from within her subconsciousness. As much as he felt dismay at her lax attitude towards those other ponies, he knew this was not to be a quick process. But he had started to bring her into his form of sense already, whether she realised it or not. The first step had already been taken. Her willingness to learn, and with his guidance, well…

It was a victory.

His distant granddaughter was, from that point onwards, his student. One he would teach all he had, morphing that deliciously brilliant mind into one worthy of both itself and their bloodline!

Piece by piece, spell by spell, he would surely start to unleash the Midnight within.