• Published 20th Oct 2018
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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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12 - Among Shadow

The day Twilight Sparkle had been taught her first dark magical spell by King Sombra had quickly come and gone; caused by a mix of euphoria onset by her usual studious bliss and an added joy of spending the rest of the day with her ever so faithful assistant Spike. Her joy was captivating, a far cry from her formerly dour mood. Something Spike, and her friends, weren’t remiss in noticing.

So, when the next day had come, Twilight’s eagerness only increased in anticipation for the next lesson ahead of her. That, and the thought of continuing the reformation of one of the worst tyrants in Equestrian history.

If you were to ask her, she was ‘in the zone’.

There was one thing that bothered her, however.

“Why are we going into the Everfree Forest?”

Indeed, Twilight was now approaching the dark patch on the face of Equestria. The forest was considered, perhaps aside from the Frozen North, the last true wild land in the entire country. Even the Appleoosian Desert existed as more-or-less a pony-controlled environment. However, like the Frozen North, the Everfree Forest was a place that operated entirely under the feral forces of nature. Beyond that, it was also a haven for dangerous wild animals both mundane and magical in nature.

Not to mention that rampant magics that attract or even create such creatures, some of it dark in nature.

Considering that detail, she could understand why Sombra might take interest in a forest that was still blighted by the conflict of the two alicorn sisters.

And yet she was more than a little perplexed at why it’d be a good place for any kind of practice by, for all intents and purposes, a dark magical novice.

“The embers of dark magic that infest these trees isn’t why we walk the path on this day,” Sombra said as he appeared next to Twilight, physically accompanying her as they fully entered the forest. “It is the isolation. Away from any who might… interfere.”

“I was able to convince Spike that the last lesson was benign,” Twilight pointed out.

“I would not be so sure about your next lesson, Granddaughter.”

So, clearly the next lesson as going to lack in any kind of subtlety. That explained it.

“Well, the forest’s dangers rarely come close to the path,” Twilight noted, glancing up the trail leading to Zecora’s hut. “I guess pony-made structures make them nervous. Recent ones, anyway.”

“We shall need to depart it before reaching the zebra’s abode,” Sombra informed her. “And from there, locate a clearing where we can undergo our lesson in relative peace.”

“Oh…” Well, she did recall certain spots that would be suited from her previous experiences with the Everfree Forest. The Castle of the Two Sisters would be another option, but that was a little but too deep in, perhaps. “Well, I might know a place. Let’s just hope we don’t run into anything on the way.”

“I am certain you can handle annoyances.”

“I’ll remind you of that if we run into a hydra,” she deadpanned in turn. “Been there. Done that. It’s not fun.”

“For all its many heads, even a hydra is a simple being in comparison to ones such as ourselves,” he dismissed. “And simple beings respect power. If they recognise it, they will not approach.”

“And if they don’t?”

He smirked. “Make them.”

Twilight felt a shiver run down her spine at his sinister tone. It would probably be better for everything involved that she simply didn’t encounter anything, the alicorn feeling no desire to be feared by anything.

The disapproval that appeared on Sombra’s face the moment she thought that was evident, but he otherwise didn’t appear all that concerned. That did worry Twilight, however, the mare remembering just how manipulative the dark mage could be.

Her mood fell a bit, the mare now a bit more alert in regard to the stallion. They might be teaching one another, but she couldn’t forget that he hadn’t exactly accepted friendship as of yet.

Speaking of…

“Have you through about what I said?” Twilight asked him.

He raised an eyebrow. “About what?

“About having other ponies at your side, you know?” she responded. “Friends, even just acquaintances. Ponies who are more than just ‘servants’.”

“Only that there is little point in further discussing the matter. It is a fool’s errand, Twilight Sparkle.”

“Then I guess there’s a little bit of that fool inside of you that I inherited,” Twilight claimed brightly, much to the King’s annoyance. “You could build a life in Equestria, you know. Even Ponyville, I’m pretty sure the town is used to weird occurrences by now.”

“I’m sure they are.”

“I’m serious!” Twilight retorted. “If everypony knew that you’d changed, and who you are to my family, then they would accept you. It might take some work, but it could happen.”

“I am considered a monster, do not be so foolish in your sentiments.”

“Oh, our legal system is quite forgiving if the reformation is genuine,” she informed him. “And I’m a Princess of Equestria, I have some say in these things.”

“So, you would have me live a quiet life?” he asked mockingly. “It is not our destiny to live in obscurity, Twilight. Our power places us over the common masses, and the need to support from any other being. I shall return to your society, but only to see our family’s rightful dominion over it.”

Twilight sighed. “Haven’t you ever wondered what it would be like to lead a normal life?”

“I do not require ‘wonder’, I have already lived it,” Sombra rebuffed, stopping Twilight in her tracks. He looked back at her, nothing but disdain in his eyes. “I shall not return to such a pitiful state, and neither shall you.”

And with that, he vanished. Twilight was left with his words, again wondering just what led the King to his current state. What exactly his relationship with Radiant Hope was, and who he was before the dark magic.

It would be a long road for those answers. For now, she would just have to leave it be and move on.

Twilight didn’t need to walk for long, eventually locating a spot that, if her memory was hopefully serving her, would put her on track for a sizable clearing in the canopy. All she would need to do was get through the forest safe and sound, not to mention getting back again afterwards.

Maybe a teleportation spell would be safer for the latter.

Either way, Twilight let out a deep breath before stepping off of the relative safety of the trail and headed deep into the treeline. Almost immediately, most of the sun’s rays were blocked out by the thick layer of leaves and branches high above her head, only small patches managing to break through that much of the smaller plant life seemed to be locked in eternal combat over the possession of. All of it just served to illustrate the kill or be killed nature of the forest, the creatures inside fighting and killing one another in far more frequency than even normal predator-prey relationships. All forged by over a millennia of magical corruption and the formation of a habitat that seem to bleed chaos wherever it spread. A world affected by ponies in the worst possible ways, leaving nature warped and twisted into a parody of itself.

Hard to imagine that it was in this place that the Tree of Harmony resided.

Still, if any of the forest's denizens had their eyes on her, they didn’t show themselves. Twilight could occasionally hear the scuttering of some of the more benign inhabitant, small herbivores that somehow managed to call the place home despite all the odds. Though it was likely in part due to them hiding from anything that came remotely close to their dens, just like they were doing to Twilight now.

But the lack of any visible wildlife only served as a relief for Twilight, even more so when the treeline opened up and the sun returned upon her entering the desired clearing.

“Here we are,” Twilight announced, glancing around the space they’d be practising in. “Right where I thought it was.”

The clearing was an imperfect circle in shape, filled with soft blades of grass and a few thankfully normal flowers that were taking advantage of the open skies. Where it was filled with flora, it lacked in any fauna, likely because such open spots would open animals up to aerial attacks by the forest’s flight-able population. Still, there wasn’t any indication that a Roc was nearby, so Twilight felt a large degree more comfortable here than she had beneath the trees.

Now, she just had to see what Sombra had up his metaphorical sleeves.

“So, we’re here,” she said to the apparition as he appeared once again before her. “So maybe you could explain just why I need to be in the middle of a dangerous forest for this to work?”

“Your quick mastery of a basic spell was telling,” Sombra began. “So now we move onto the intermediate. A spell far beyond the reach of any talentless fool with delusions of grandeur, and even challenging for those who hold a modicum of gift. And yet, contrary to what it might seem, it is not among the most volatile of spells I designed.”

“Okay, so what is the spell?”

“One I believe you yourself have witnessed me perform to great effect. Twilight Sparkle, to understand shadow, you must embrace it fully. To that effect, you must learn the ability of shadowform.”

Twilight blinked. “Shadowform? You mean that spell turning you into that big… cloud thing with eyes? Sombra, that seems… extreme for our second lesson.”

“It is as I said it to be,” he denied. “It is a difficult spell, that is not to be denied. But any being with a firm grasp on magic both light and dark, and with significant ability in using that magic, should be able to master it with time and practice.”

“And you want me to do it in a few hours?” Twilight asked in a deadpan.

“Not at all,” he replied with a shake of his head. “I simply want you to maintain a form of shadow for a mere few moments, before letting the spell collapse. To further prove your ability to learn it at all, and to take the first step towards mastery.”

Well, he wasn’t asking much then…

Twilight inwardly groaned, mulling over what she knew of the spell from her previous observation. It would turn the user into a nearly indestructible mass of shadow, though certain bodily features could be formed at will, such as the eyes and horn. Though doing so didn’t come without risk, as those features were always vulnerable to attack.

Not that the shadow was completely impervious itself. Like all dark magic, it was severely weak against magic powered through love. Cadance would certainly have the advantage if they were to hypothetically spar with it, but other types of magic would certainly have a tough time dispelling the effects of shadowform. Not to mention the fact that physical entities were all but useless against the spell, except against the aforementioned bodily features the user to manifest.

Still, it’s complexity was of interest, that was not to be denied. Neither could the spell’s usefulness, despite its few weaknesses. Not to mention the versatility of the spell, Twilight could think of many more uses than an offensive weapon. Squeezing in through small spaces, travelling long distances in a short space of time…

Actually, she was also pretty certain that Luna knew the spell. Or at least was capable of something similar to it, forming into a cloud of shadow and slipping around unseen… She had done it the first time they had met, escaping from the town hall and towards the very forest she now stood in.

Yes, the more Twilight thought about it, her interest was increasing by the moment. Not as a weapon as Sombra would use it, but as a tool for a whole variety of situations. Already she was thinking of a whole manner of tests to perform in order to find out just how versatile it truly was…

Of course, she had to be able to do it first.

“Shadowform. Alright then,” Twilight stated, repeating the previous day’s process and replacing her usual magical aura with the corrupted energies of dark magic. Was it her, or was it getting even easier? “How do we begin?”

Sombra just smiled.

And then they got to work.

“Feel the magic in your horn, focus on it,” Sombra began. “Feel the flow, the power, the hatred. Embrace it, understand it, let it grow.”

He waited for a few moments, letting Twilight release a breath as she closed her eyes, the dark magic trails still visible from their lids. She waited for her to do as he asked, listening in through her mind until she had reached a point where he thought her ready to begin.

“Now, do not prepare to unleash the magic as you would any other spell, but spread inwards,” Sombra instructed, sensing confusion within her mind. “Spread the energy throughout your body. Every bone. Every inch of blood. It is not to be cast from your horn unto others, but to change your entire form.”

Twilight inwardly frowned, trying to reverse the flow of the dark magic from her horn and back into her own body. It wasn’t like casting a normal spell on yourself, where it would erupt from her horn and spread around her body outwardly. This was trying to spread the magic into her own system from the inside, something usually quite dangerous due to the potential for magical feedback. Neither did it normally serve a purpose, aside from simply flooding your body with raw mana for one reason or another. Still, Twilight has certainly never encountered a reason to do it, so she was heading into unfamiliar territory…

As evidenced when the spell collapsed, and her horn blinked out.

“That’s ridiculous,” Twilight growled. “No spell works that way! Everything I’ve ever studied screams just how bad an idea it is to even try!”

“Is it now?” Sombra rhetorically asked, clearly unamused.

“Yes!” she answered anyway. “Hay, I think the only time I can recall it ever being remotely useful to invert your horn’s spell flow was one time where Starswirl the Bearded was infected by a type of parasite while with the Pillars of Equestria. He flooded his body with magic to force the parasite out, but… Well, that was a very unique event. Otherwise, there’s no point to it!”

“Everything you’ve learned until now was using ‘normal’ magic,” Sombra pointed out. “You are attempting to turn your entire body into shadow itself, and this is how it is to unfold. Put aside what you have learned, embrace what I am to teach.”

Twilight groaned, but he did have a point. He was the expert on the mechanics of dark magic, not her.

If she was going to change that, she would just have to trust him for the time being.

She calmed herself down, taking some deep breaths until she was ready to try again. And when that time came, she once again lit her horn and attempted to spread the dark magic inwards. It was certainly an alien sensation, and the fact that it flew in the face of all her studies was painfully apparent. But she did it anyway, trying to reach every inch of herself from the inside. Her instincts stood in protest, and it took every inch of her will to not cut off the spell entirely.

“Do you feel it? The darkness? Let shadow become a part of you, let your physical mass bleed into it. Let it burn away at your flesh, dissolved your physical until, finally, it is ready to be unleashed!”

There was a burst of shadow.

And then Twilight hit the dirt.

Her whole body felt like fire, her eyes wide and unblinking as she panted heavily from her spot in the grass. She could hardly think, breathing felt like it was taking her whole being just to maintain! Little tufts of shadow radiated from her body, slowing fading away as normality began to return. But still, the pain had been unbelievable!

“W-ha…”

“Again,” Sombra declared.

“What?” Twilight asked, weakly looking up.

“Again,” Sombra repeated. “The moment you give up, the lesson shall end. And that would not be an ideal outcome, Twilight.”

“But what was that?” Twilight asked, shakily getting up to her hooves. “It was like… like…”

“Being torn asunder?” he finished for her. “You reached the transition between the two states, but the spell collapsed there. For a brief moment, you were left in a reality neither fully physical or fully shadow. Being in between two worlds, both a hoof in the grave. You returned to your normal state before the corpse could be realised, but the pain is only a natural effect of your failure.”

“Does it always hurt like that to change?” she asked through her pained breaths.

“Only if incorrectly realised,” he replied. “A true shadowform spell creates a seamless transition, you are merely embracing the better half of yourself. But to trap yourself between the two creates conflict, and that creates the pain.”

“Right, no stopping halfway. Good to know that now,” Twilight stated, calming herself once again for another try.

This was quickly going to become her worst spell-learning experience, she could tell.

And that’s coming from a mare who had inadvertently placed herself in a time loop one time.

Still, Twilight wasn’t one to give up on a spell after one bad screw up. Not if the spell had a real chance at success, and she knew for a fact that this spell worked when applied correctly. She just had to try. She just had to do what she knew she could.

Magic.

Her next attempt sadly ended up almost identical to her last, the magic building to that final point before failing during the transition. The pain had not lessened from the first time, and it left Twilight in quite the sorry state.

So, she tried it again.

This time she almost reached the end point, but then felt a creeping instability in the magic itself. She cut it off, letting it harmlessly bleed away before any harm could be done.

Her head started to ache, but she was not done yet.

Once again, she started to channel the spell, letting the darkness spread through her own body and reaching that critical stage. And then… it happened again.

The darkness exploded out, Twilight inwardly swearing that she saw a single manifested tendril this time, but the spell nevertheless collapsed part way through the transformation and left Twilight tumbling to the ground.

And then she heard the almighty screech of the Roc.

She only could see the giant shadow covering her body before her inert form was scooped up in a giant set of talons and dragged high into the air! In but a moment, the clearing had been left behind and the alicorn was being taken for a feast!

“Twilight!” Sombra shouted in alarm from inside her head.

She didn’t need to be told twice.

Despite the severe pain and nausea she was feeling, a part of her brain was aware enough of the current situation that her horn started to glow with lavender magic before a ‘POP’ indicated her teleportation.

And then she was falling.

Sense starting to return to her, Twilight opened her wings in an attempt to stop her rapid descent and control her spin. She fought against the forces of gravity and her own disorientation to try and bring about a soft landing. And yet the tops of the trees and then the ground each came up quickly, Twilight forcing herself to prepared for the incoming impact.

She hit the ground hard, kicking up a large chunk of dirt as she rolled to a halt. Her pain was now a more permanent fixture, every inch of her body aching as she coughed and started to get her bearings. Despite the bumps and bruises, she appeared to have been fortunate enough not to break anything in the crash landing. Her feathers were in disarray, but the wings themselves seemed to be set as they were meant to be.

But the Roc wasn’t finished.

With a caw, it turned around and started to dive back towards the young alicorn. She lit her horn, firing a beam of destruction magic at the oversized bird as it approached. The beam went wide, her focus diminished from all she had just put her body through, leaving her only with the option of jumping aside as the creature tried to grab at her.

She succeeded, the talons only grabbing dirt as the creature banked and rose back into the air, intent on making another pass.

Twilight, meanwhile, was not doing so hot. Her vision as still swimming, so any attack she made would be grossly inaccurate. She could keep dodging, but it would only be a temporary measure. And in her state, moving back into the forest wasn’t a wise idea either.

She watched the Roc as it turned to dive. Ready to claim its next meal, one which would mean the demise of both herself AND Sombra. She would never see her friends again. Never find out why Celestia did what she did. Never save her distant grandfather’s soul.

All because she’d been stupid.

Stupid.

STUPID!

Her horn bubbled, the Roc reaching down and enveloping the alicorn once again in its talons.

And then it could only screech in fear as a formless mass of shadow erupted from within its grasp, spreading out from its claw and expanding quickly around the beast. It flapped its wings in a surprised panic, regaining height as the mass battered against its body. Feathers were dislodged as a tendril emerged and grasped at its wings, others clawing at its head as it struggled to break free. Fear reeked from the animal, its attempts to free itself futile as the shadowy mass enveloped it entirely, plunging its surroundings into a realm blacker than night itself.

And then it was let go.

The mass started to fall away, the Roc making good on it retreat and soaring away as fast as its wings would carry it.

Meanwhile, the mass started to get smaller. It fell away from the clearing, heading directly to the edge of the forest. By the time it reached the border and crashed into the field between it and Ponyville, the shadow had burned away to be the same size as a pony.

And then it started to reform, darkness giving way to lavender fur as Twilight Sparkle came back into view.

“Well done, Twilight,” Sombra complimented calmly, showing no sign of ever having been fazed by the Roc’s attack. “You held the spell longer than I would have expected, and under such dire circumstances. But it held, for a time.”

Twilight sat up silently, looking around herself in disbelief. She felt sick. Disconcerted. She had been acting in self-defence, but… For a moment, and just a moment, she had wanted to hurt the Roc for what it had tried to do. And this time she couldn’t even blame it on the magic, she had been in perfect control the entire time. Those feelings had come entirely from within herself, born out of a desperation to live.

She was just glad that the spell had collapsed when it did.

“Would you have let yourself die?” he asked.

Clearly not, since she had chosen to live in such a manner herself.

“I know,” she just replied, shivering uncomfortably at her own display of power. “But I could have just scared it off. I… don’t think I will ever tell Fluttershy about this, I know that much.”

“But you are capable of doing what must be done, dark magic or no,” Sombra said victoriously. “You have that part of me, it seems. And it is something you must embrace. It is that which allowed you to live past this day, not a naïve reliance on friends.”

“There needs to be restraint,” Twilight retorted.

“Perhaps,” he conceded. “But you show too much.”

“Or maybe you don’t show enough.”

Still, despite their disagreement and the… unfortunate circumstances, the lesson had been a success. Twilight, if ever so briefly, used the shadowform spell.

She just wished she could feel good about it this time around.