• 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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16 - Fears of the Dark

Well, Sombra was right about one thing at least.

Studying was definitely the distraction that Twilight had so desperately needed.

The investigation after her talk with Luna had been… less than enlightening. The sum of all that she had learned was that nopony else had learned anything at all. There were no leads, no suspects, barely a scrap of evidence to go off of. At least, no evidence that they had yet found. All that was truly known was that the perpetrator was a unicorn dark mage who may have been someone who had access or at least detailed knowledge of the castle and its guard rotation.

Of course, even the latter piece of information was only speculation. There was no reason to think that he had simply used a dark magical spell yet known to them to gain access without being seen. After all, if the likes of Nightmare Moon or King Sombra would be capable of that, why not this new threat?

And there was the problem. Speculation. Way too much of it. There were too few facts, no true certainty, and that left the trail cold and dead on arrival.

It was frustrating to everypony involved. A solution was required, but Twilight had yet to form any ideas as to how they could achieve it. Even Sombra himself had provided sadly little insight on the matter, only knowing as much as Twilight herself was able to ascertain.

So, at least for the time being, the dark mage remained concealed in the shadows.

For the time being.

Still, it did provide Twilight and Sombra ample opportunity to return to the Princess’ room and go over what the former King of the Crystal Empire had taught the mare before they were whisked away by this new mystery. And ample time for Twilight to pick back up where she’d left off and continue trying to make use of Sombra’s fear spell.

And, rather than a scroll, the target for enchantment was now a quaint little hoof mirror recovered from the nearby dressing table.

And with each passing moment, each attempt, she got a little bit closer to completing the sinister spell.

But that attempt had yet to come.

As before, Twilight’s horn fizzled out and the mirror sat on the table in the same idle position it had been in for the past couple of hours. She gave a huff and a noise of disappointment at the latest failure but wasted no time in mentally and physically preparing herself for another attempt.

“Focus,” Sombra urged. “Remember, the intent is key. You must want the object to suffer your wrath, be beholden to its inner demons. Unleash your strength without hesitation, and all will bow to your indominable will.”

“As you’ve been saying for hours now,” Twilight deadpanned. “Still hard to do on a mirror. I don’t hate myself that much, you know.”

“It would have made this lesson far simpler,” Sombra said in what Twilight hoped was his attempt at humour. “But as it is, all preconceptions must be conquered. All hesitation denied. You are faced with an obstacle to your ascension, even if it is a simple mirror, would you truly let such a trifling trinket stop you now?”

Twilight gave a low growl of frustration, focusing her eyes back on the mirror as dark magic started to flow from her eyes and her horn lit up with the sickly hue of dark magic. She started to focus on forming the spell, forming the necessary matrices as she started to let her negative emotions build up inside her to power the spell. The energies bubbled and crackled as it built up along the surface of her horn, the alicorn’s eyes narrowing as she started to focus back onto the mirror.

And yet, still, the connection just wasn’t forming.

This was ridiculous! She was better than this, she could learn any spell she set her mind to! Magic was such a huge part of her life, she would not let this thing stop her. On that, Sombra had been completely right. This stupid and insignificant thing thought it could get in the way of academic progress? No, it would not. She wouldn’t let it. It would not stop her!

IT WOULDN’T!

There was suddenly an almighty gust that blew through the room and dislodged anything not nailed down as a beam of pure dark energy shot out from Twilight’s horn and impacted the mirror. The dark magic in her eyes deepened as her red slit-like pupils narrowed spitefully.

The mirror almost seemed to come alive, writhing in sheer agony as the crackles of dark magic assaulted the object and dug their way inside of it any way they could. The surface started to splinter, the mirror cracking as the stress became too much!

And then it stopped.

The dark magical stream stopped, the mirror popping back together like nothing had happened as the last vestiges of the spell gave their last pops before retreating inside its frame.

Twilight, panting heavily from the exertion, couldn’t help but feel her lips slowly crack into a humungous smile. She had done it! She had completed the spell! Take that mirror! Science wins!

Sombra noted the extreme amount of pride Twilight was feeling in herself at that moment, the sheer elation of having conquered yet another magical spell. He gave an amused, if still slightly sinister, chuckle at the sight.

“Very good, Granddaughter. It appears you have yet another triumph to your name. As it was expected.

“Well, there’s nothing like magic studies to get the blood pumping!” Twilight said, giving a nerdy little snort that she followed up with a small blush and a giggle. “Sorry, but this is so exciting! I live for magic!”

“As I have long noted,” he responded. “Now, you have proven just how far your prowess extends. Your capabilities are worthy of the most advanced of my spells, as I had hoped. Yes, I can teach you all I have to offer.”

“Great! Where do we start!”

“Patience, there shall be plenty of time to learn all I have to give. For now, let us continue along with your elation and further your mastery of fear itself.”

“Oh? There’s more to the spell?”

“Recall, my descendant, the other use of the spell beyond simple enchantment on household objects.”

Suddenly, Twilight felt her bad mood start to return.

“Please tell me you’re not suggesting that again.”

“To cast upon a living being is quite simple now that you have achieved it upon an inanimate object,” Sombra confirmed with a fang-filled smirk. “I am certain there are plenty of individuals deserving of such punishment in this wretched city. Oh, I can see a few right now, festering within the pits of your memories… Hm, this ‘Blueblood’ would be a valid target, yes?”

“No!” Twilight protested. “There are plenty of jerks in the castle, but looks who is talking, Sombra! They don’t deserve that! Nopony does!”

Sombra rolled his eyes. “It is ultimately harmless, and not so dangerous. They need not know what happened, it could be but a simple nightmare they experience during their sleep. Or their memories could be clouded by their fear, for that is the beauty of it. Fear is an eternal tool, and with it, any of these entitled fools will serve our lineage until their dying breaths so not to experience it again.”

“I’m not doing that! No fear slaves! At all!”

“But think of how things could improve. You could make the selfish become selfless. The greedy give all their possessions to charity. Their terror will make them slaves to your will, with which you could improve the lives of those they would ignore.”

“N-no, it’s still wrong. You can’t just… mess with a pony’s head like that! The moral implications are so messed up and… I mean, what if their will was too strong?”

“They need not recall the encounter should they prove too powerful a mind. No, there are more… direct methods for individuals of such calibre.”

“Sombra. Stop. I’m not talking about this!” Twilight shouted, her blood starting to boil and her patience wearing thin. “I don’t care what I could use them for, it’s still wrong! A pony’s mind is private, it’s not happening.”

Sombra’s face curled into a deep frown. “Do not let moral sentiments blind you to your potential, Twilight Sparkle. We are beyond the grips of what is ‘right’, we do as we will.”

“That’s not how this works!”

“We are above the petty lives of the common pony. Even those so-called ‘nobles’ are but ants in a giant’s playground. They are ours to command, it is our legacy!”

Your legacy! You really are a monster, you know that!”

“You seek to learn from me, you are my very own blood,” Sombra growled. “Yet you still slave yourself to the false teaching the Celestia!”

“Don’t mention her!”

“Her plaything. Her puppet. A tool. Weapon. Piece of a perverse game of chess. Celestia is-”

“FINE! YOU WANT ME TO TEST MY STRENGTH ON A JERK, THEN I WILL!” Twilight bellowed, a wave of magical energy cascading around her as she turned on Sombra, her emotions finally bursting from all of the stress she’d been under since his arrival. The whole world became a blur, all except for the flinching phantom who was the blame.

Sombra!

Twilight’s dark magic seemed to shift and mutate, the darkness increasing while the sickly green highlights shifted hue until they were more of a ghostly blue. Both the magic coalescing around her horn and streaming from her eyes underwent this shift, the slits that were her pupils going from a deep red to a darkened lavender.

Sombra, on his part, met his descendant’s gaze. His eyes narrowed as his mind raced, analysing this… unexpected outcome. This darkness was new, feeling and looking different to type he was used to. It felt… powerful. Hungry.

And it was searching for him.

He didn’t have anywhere to go, attached to the mare as he was. And his strength, still recovering, was insufficient against the wave of magic heading towards him.

There was nothing he could do as it consumed him, the last thing he saw being Twilight’s eyes returning to their natural state as she seemed to realise with great horror what she had done.

Then she too entered the darkness.


The Crystal Empire.

Twilight examined her surroundings, her body and mind feeling numb with shock as she tried to process the last few moments.

She had been in her room with Sombra, studying that spell and then… then…

“Oh, Celestia…” Twilight muttered. “Sombra? Where are you? Are you okay!? I didn’t mean to… to…”

The King was nowhere to be found.

And for that matter, why was she in the Crystal Empire?

And why was it daytime now?

“Radiant! Wait up!”

The sound of the colt’s voice caused Twilight’s ear to twitch, and she started looking around to locate the source. And, while it wasn’t immediately apparent as to who had spoken, in quick succession a small pony came scuttling around the corner in a fit of giggles. A filly, one who seemed to enjoy being pursued by… by…

Twilight’s eyes widened, her horror increasing as she began to put the pieces together.

The colt was a grey unicorn with bright green eyes and a deep dark mane. He had yet to gain his cutie mark, and he looked so… innocent. But Twilight recognised him all the same.

Sombra. So young…

“I’m in his mind…” Twilight realised with a wave of guilt. “Did I use the fear spell? What am I…? No, I don’t want to be here! I shouldn’t be here! How do I…”

Twilight tried lighting her horn, but nothing seemed to happen. The foals didn’t even seem to notice her as they passed right on by, and upon examining a hoof she did note an almost ethereal quality to it.

“Oh no. I… I don’t know how to stop this! Oh, why didn’t I ask him about that earlier?”

The two foals stopped a short distance ahead, Twilight’s gaze returning to them. A new curiosity came to her mind, though it was heavily outweighed by the guilt. She hadn’t meant to lash out, but she’d just gotten so angry at him for what he was suggesting. But now Twilight just wanted to stop this in any way she could, but with her current knowledge that didn’t appear to be possible.

Her guilt increasing even further, the alicorn realised she had no choice but to watch and discover just what it was that the Master of Fear himself had to be scared of.

“You are such a slowpoke!” the filly teased.

Sombra huffed. “No, I’m not! You’re just super-duper fast!”

“Well yeah! I will be the fastest filly in the Crystal Empire, or my name isn’t Radiant Hope!”

“You wanted to be a princess last week!”

She puffed up her cheeks with a blush. “Well… that would be nice! But you know I really want to be a doctor…”

“Bleh.” Sombra faked a gag. “That means you’ll be working with yucky leeches and stuff.”

Twilight snorted. She forgot that this was a thousand years in the past.

“I’ll just use magic! It’s what we have this for!” Radiant replied, pointing at her horn. “Queen Amore is really good with it! I need to be as well!”

Sombra seemed to slump, kicking a crystal fragment idly.

“Huh? What’s wrong?”

“It’s fine for you, everypony likes you,” Sombra muttered. “I’m just the orphaned freak.”

Radiant Hope took on a safe expression. “Oh, come on. You’re not a freak!”

“Yeah, he is!” a new voice bellowed, and Twilight turned to see a small gathering of about six crystal pony colts come wandering up. These six lacked horns, earth ponies. “So stop bothering her, horn head!”

Sombra seemed to slink back timidly, though Radiant stamped a hoof indignantly.

“Hey! I’m a unicorn too!”

“Yeah, but you’re pretty. Like the Queen and the Princess!” the colt replied, causing Twilight to roll her eyes and Radiant to blush awkwardly. “He’s just a loser. He can’t even do magic that well.”

“And he’s not all colourful like the rest of us!” another colt added in as all the others cheered in jeering agreement.

All but one, a little purple colt who seemed to be younger than the others. He looked rather like he didn’t want to be there, not joining in while the others taunted the future dark mage.

Wait, was that Crystal Shield?

“Maybe we should go…” the memory of the young Crystal Shield quietly muttered, unheard by the other colts.

The ringleader scoffed, trotting up and standing domineeringly over the cowering Sombra.

“Think you’re so tough because you got that horn, do you?” he taunted, Sombra shrinking down further while not responding. “Not talking? Answer me!”

Still nothing.

“Ugh. This is why your parents didn’t love you!” he shouted, before he then turned around in a huff and bucked out while Twilight watched helplessly.

Radiant Hope gave a yelp as Sombra was hit square in the face, the colt almost doing a backflip as he was kicked backwards and landed hard on the crystalline road. Radiant tried to rush towards him, but the ringleader stepped out in front of her and blocked her path.

“Yeah, you don’t want to hang out with him. You’ll be better off with somepony else,” the colt dismissed, his gathering of colts all surrounding Radiant and trying to lead her away from Sombra as if to ‘protect’ her.

“Hey! Stop that! He needs help!” Radiant begged, trying to push past the group of far stronger colts. “I’ll tell on you! Sombra! Let me help him!”

The mob forced Radiant away from Sombra, the colt now curled into the fetal position as sobs wracked his body. Crystal Shield was the last to walk, looking like he was about to approach Sombra before one of the other colts sharply barked his name and frightened him into submission. With a heavy heart, he left the bleeding foal behind and re-joined his ‘friends’.

The world started to fade, the laughs of the foals and shining crystal architecture growing distant before vanishing altogether. By the end, all that was left was the sobbing colt and a distant, frozen opaque visage of Radiant Hope, desperately trying to push her way back to her stricken friend.

Slowly, shocked at the level of bullying that had just been put on display, Twilight started to approach the colt. He was curled up as tightly as he could make himself, his muzzle pouring with blood as tears flooded down his cheeks.

So, this was what the King of Shadows feared. A childhood of abandonment, a colt left unwanted by the world with only a single spark of light in the form of Radiant Hope. A spark that was forced away, leaving a young child feeling so, so alone.

Twilight glanced towards Radiant. The future mother of Sombra’s son, another of Twilight’s ancestors. What had she thought of him by the end? The stallion who had been born from a world where he believed friendship a lie, and where you had to forcibly take everything you wanted.

Despite it all, a small bit of resolve returned to Twilight’s heart. It confirmed what she already believed, that there was something yet redeemable deep down in Sombra’s soul. A small foal who so desperately wanted somepony to hold him tight and tell him everything would be okay.

And then Radiant started to shift, a new form taking its place. Another stallion, so like Sombra, and yet…

The son he never knew?

But the change in scenery didn’t stop there, and Twilight watched as new images started to play before her eye. And as she did so, the sobs of the colt only seemed to grow more despairing. Twilight fell onto her rump, her eyes unable to be torn away from what she was witnessing.

“Oh, Sombra…”

And then, with his greatest fear of all now known to Twilight, the spell had run its course.


When Twilight awoke, she was on the ground.

Her head hurt, feeling like a thousand molten needles had been forced into her skull slowly and painfully. She let out a small growl as she tried to plant her hooves under her, panting heavily as an influx of emotions wracked her being.

And then, upon looking up, she found Sombra looking down at her with a conflicted expression.

“So,” he began in a low growl. “It appears you have completed the lesson after all.”

“Sombra, I…” Twilight stopped as she got up, her mouth gaping as she tried to think of some way to apologise for the monstrosity of her actions. “I…”

“I am impressed,” he said sincerely. “Offended. But impressed. Your display of power was… intriguing. Yes, your potential is greater than I had ever hoped.”

Twilight was silent, averting her gaze.

Sombra’s eyes hardened. “But I know what you saw. It was not for your eyes, or for that of anypony but myself. This desecration is one I cannot forget.”

“I didn’t mean to hurt you…” Twilight whispered sadly and with great shame.

Twilight sniffled, and Sombra suddenly found surprise within himself as he felt some of his spite drain away at the sight of her sadness. His frown faded, suddenly finding himself assaulted by emotions he had no desire to experience.

But experience them he did, the dark mage inwardly cursing his traitorous heart. Something he had thought himself beyond, and yet was now reignited at the sight of this mare’s first fallen tear.

Sombra sighed. “I… know, Granddaughter. Perhaps our lessons should be placed on hold for the time being.”

Twilight gasped. “No! I mean… I don’t want to stop. I don’t want to use them on anypony either, not like that. Not even to ponies like Blueblood or Trixie. But this… I want to continue, this is my legacy, right?”

A small fragment of what might be considered pride lit up within Sombra.

“Indeed, it is. Very well, I shall refrain from bringing us to live experimentation… for the moment. But you must one day recognise our place in this world, Twilight. You saw the lie that is friendship, another of Celestia’s methods of control. Mine are just less bathed in deception and more transparent in what they are.”

“That’s not true,” Twilight said with a shake of her head. “What you need is a friend. I don’t know what to think about the Princess, but everything I know about friendship came from what I have seen personally. I can show you that too, that there is a better way.”

Sombra shook his head. “There is no better way. The only way to protect those you love is through total control.”

“Is that why you did what you did? It was the only way you and Radiant could be together, even if she didn’t want it to be so?” Twilight asked carefully. “Even if you weren’t the colt she’d known anymore?”

Sombra turned away, closing his eyes. “You will see, Granddaughter. The security of our line is all I care about, but you hold a great many more things close to your heart. One day you must be prepared to cast them aside, or else be prepared to do what you must in order to safeguard them forever.”

“We give each other that. I don’t need dark magic for it.”

“We shall see.”

And with that, Sombra faded away. Twilight stared at the empty spot with a look of sadness, thinking upon the very nature of the stallion as she now understood it. The greatest tragedy of all was that, despite prior beliefs, his conquest had never been about power. Not really. No, the truth was far more terrifying.

It had been about love. For both a mare who no longer knew him, and for a son he never got to know.

And now, just maybe, for a distant granddaughter he had discovered so many years later.

Corrupted love. No wonder the Crystal Heart despised his very being.

But even more terrifying? A small part of Twilight, a deep dark niggling voice from the deepest depths of her subconscious, was wondering whether or not he was right. To sacrifice the needs and rights of so many in order to ensure that those you loved were able to go on in a world that could never hurt them. A world where she saw and ruled all, a world to morph as the alicorn saw fit.

No. She had to shut out that voice, it was wrong. Like Radiant, they never would care for such a world. A world devoid of colour and joy, even for the security such a reality would bring it was not worth it. Creating such a world out of love would destroy the very spirit of that love, leaving nothing but a cold hard shell where nopony was truly happy.

Twilight believed that truth wholeheartedly. She had to.

The Princess glanced at the nearby mirror, remaining right where she had left it after completing the spell. Picking it up, Twilight stared right into her own reflection. The face that stared back seemed, on the surface, to be as it ever was. And yet a cold shiver made its way down Twilight’s spine, a sense of unease filling her as she saw her own inner conflict in the newfound bags beneath her eyes, recalling the strength she had felt when attacking Sombra as she had.

Her grip on the object tightened.

If the wrong magical signature were to touch it, like some poor unsuspecting maid, then they would be forced to live out their worst nightmares.

Twilight took a deeper hold of the mirror and, in a flash of her usual magic, rendered it to ash. Gone was the foul trap of her own regretful creation, and so too was the reflection caught in the glass.

It was probably for the best.

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