• 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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2 - Historical Exuberance

One Thousand Two Hundred Years Later…



“Spiiiiike!” Twilight Sparkle shouted up the stairs of her home, the Golden Oaks Library. “Have you got it yet?”

“Coming!” Spike shouted back from somewhere upstairs. “Just one… second… or two…”

“Oh, come on…” Twilight muttered to herself, slowly prancing on the spot.

Her friends, the other bearers of the Elements of Harmony, all seemed quite amused by this.

“Come on, Twi. I’ve seen you calmer in life or death situations,” Rainbow Dash remarked from the chair she was lounging on. “What’s the rush?”

“The rush, Rainbow Dash, is that Princess Celestia wants me to join some of the most accomplished historians in the whole of Equestria to research and catalogue Sombra’s sanctum in the Crystal Empire! There’s so much we don’t know about him, not even the princesses, and they were there! The history that place could hold…”

“Is that any reason to prance?”

“…I’m excited, okay!?”

“Yes, leave the poor dear alone. Everypony needs a hobby,” Rarity gently scolded the prismatically maned pegasus. “Still, the thought of you going back into that horrible place… I’m not sure I would.”

“It does sound scary…” Fluttershy noted worriedly. “Not that I think you can’t handle it, though…”

“King Sombra was a really big meanie pants!” Pinkie Pie huffed with a cross of her hooves. “I bet he wouldn’t have even liked one of my parties! And that’s the MEANEST kind of meanie pants!”

“None of you are wrong, but that’s why Princess Celestia wants only the best on this,” Twilight explained proudly. “There are risks, there could be more traps down there we don’t know about. But the things down there could tell us who King Sombra actually was, whether he had a family, why he decided to become a tyrant one day… Even just a general history on the Crystal Empire itself. Most of Queen Amore’s own correspondences and personal items all vanished after her death. He could have kept them down there for all we know.”

“Seems like a mighty big responsibility,” Applejack said. “Just a shame we’re not coming with ya.”

“So am I. But I’ll only be gone for a week or so, and you all have your lives here. Besides, I’m sure some of you would get bored with all the history.”

“Hey!” Rainbow Dash protested. “You had me at the word ‘traps’!”

“Because it sounds like Daring Do?” Applejack teased.

“Yeah. And Daring Do is awesome!”

“Got them!” Spike suddenly announced, appearing at the top of the stairs with some saddlebags in his claws.

The young dragon quickly plodded down the stairs and delivered the bags dutifully to Twilight, who levitated them up and onto her back.

“Thanks, Spike!” the studious unicorn said with a smile at her oldest friend and ward. “Everything’s packed?”

“Everything you’ll need!” Spike confirmed. “And I’ll keep the library nice and tidy until you get back. I AM your number one assistant for a reason!”

“You are indeed,” Twilight agreed, giving Spike a nuzzle on the head. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

“Heh, I’m sure you’d manage,” he replied, though her puffed with pride anyway. “I wish I was coming along, though. Especially with Princess Celestia’s other task.”

“Wait, hold up a minute ya’ll,” Applejack interrupted. “What ‘other’ task?”

“It’s nothing big, don’t worry. Princess Celestia just has another job for me to do while I’m there,” Twilight quickly explained to her curious friends. “As we’ve said, there could be a lot of dangerous stuff down there. But not just traps and things like that.”

“What could be more dangerous than traps in a creepy dungeon?” Rainbow Dash asked.

“Knowledge,” Twilight said simply.

Rainbow Dash did not exactly look convinced. “…Knowledge. As in the words in a book kind. Seriously?”

“Yes, Rainbow Dash,” Twilight responded sternly. “King Sombra was the most powerful dark magic user in recorded history. The princesses think they only saw the tip of his true range of dark magic abilities, and whatever knowledge he held are probably down there as well. And that’s just his teachings, who knows what magical artefacts could be down there as well?”

“Yes, I think we all do recall that incident with the alicorn amulet,” Rarity noted, and they all shuddered at Trixie Lulamoon’s recent reappearance with the dark magic item around her neck. “If something could be worse than that, I do not want to even consider it getting out into the general public.”

“Exactly,” Twilight confirmed. “Any artefacts and dark magical knowledge we find is to be taken to the princesses for judgement, where they will either be kept in a secure vault or destroyed depending on their danger levels. My job is to collect them and make sure they get to Canterlot safely.”

“What are you doing with any of the other things you find?” Fluttershy asked.

“The rest of the team plans to take things like journals and the less dangerous artefacts back to Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns for study. After that… who knows? Some will probably be stored for later study, while others might go into a museum.”

“Well, I’m just glad the Princess chose you for the job,” Rarity praised. “I wouldn’t trust anypony else in the disposing of those horrible items.”

“Yeah, they’d be real party poopers,” Pinkie Pie agreed. “Imagine what Sombra would have done with them if the Crystal Heart hadn’t made him blow up.”

Twilight hummed in agreement, thinking back on the Crystal Empire’s return only a short while previously. How the city had appeared from being displaced in time, only a second having passed for the occupants. Sombra’s failsafe spell, designed to bring the Crystal Empire into the future where the corrupted unicorn had intended to start his conquest anew. Still, Twilight and her friends, with the help of her brother and newest sister-in-law, had recovered the Crystal Heart and used it against King Sombra to… deadly results.

The thought of having contributed to the demise of a pony was still a little… disturbing to Twilight. But he had been a monster, one who loved nothing but his own power and probably never had. The Crystal Heart had protected itself and the long-enslaved people of the Crystal Empire from his darkness, and now they were once again able to live in peace and safety under the rule of the Equestrian Triumvirate.

Still…

Twilight shook her head, getting the thoughts of that and the other crazy events of her life to transpire over the past year since coming to Ponyville out of her head. She still had a train to catch, after all.

“I need to get going, girls,” Twilight said to the others, lighting up her horn and opening the front door. “Coming to see me off?”

“You couldn’t stop us, Egghead,” Rainbow Dash remarked with a chuckle, before flapping her wings to be the first one out of the door.

Twilight shook her head in amusement, and then followed the pegasus on out of the library.

Ponyville, as with most days, was both sunny and filled with its joyful residents going about their days. Marefriends Lyra and Bon Bon gave the Element Bearers respectful nods as they passed, trotting towards a bench with a small saddlebag full of their lunch in tow. One of the local mailmares, Derpy Hooves, flew clumsily overhead with a letter in her maw and a massive smile on her face that just seemed to ooze joy into even the most stone-faced pony’s heart. And that was only to name a few, for the town was host to a whole manner of ponies whom Twilight had gotten to know to varying degrees over the past few months.

Not that Lyra particularly counted in that regard, seeing as she had been one of Twilight’s few friends as a filly.

She had to wonder how the others were doing…

Still, after leaving the library the seven of them made quick progress through the streets of Ponyville. The market was the busiest to go through, the lunchtime rush fully underway. But after that ducking past the various houses and businesses that made of the town it was relatively easy work. Soon enough the number of buildings started to thin out a little, and they followed a signed dirt road towards the local train station.

“You will tell us all about it when you get back, won’t you?” Rarity said after an unrelated debate between Rainbow Dash and Applejack about pears came to an end. “It sounds like you will be hard pressed to find this trip dull, darling.”

“I know! All of the Crystal Empire’s lost history could be ready for all the cataloguing!” Twilight gushed enthusiastically. “Even if I have to use dark magic again, that part isn’t so great…”

“Huh? Dark magic?” Applejack questioned with concern. “Why in Equestria would you want to use that?”

“I have to get into the sanctum. Another reason I need to be there, I’m the only one Celestia taught that particular spell. It’s a pretty benign spell as far as dark magic is concerned, and it seems to be more a key of sorts than anything. It’s actually quite basic, just a build-up of dark energy released onto a relevant item. That, and making a small crystal formation as an alternative usage.”

“Hm, well… I still don’t like it.”

“Neither do I,” Twilight muttered, rubbing the base of her horn with a hoof. “It honestly felt like somepony was taking a drill to my skull.”

“Yeah, it was… pretty scary,” Spike recalled with a shudder.

“It was, though maybe it’s just because I’m inexperienced. I don’t recall Celestia having that much trouble with it.”

“Is it weird that Princess Celestia is experienced enough with dark magic not to be badly affected by using it?” Pinkie Pie mused thoughtfully.

Twilight opened her mouth to retort, but then closed it again with a frown. She’d… never really thought about it that way. Princess Luna knew dark magic because of her time as Nightmare Moon, but Celestia…

Twilight shook her head. What did it matter anyway? The Princess was hardly a dark mage. Maybe she’d just studied it once to figure out ways to fight Sombra during the war. Or maybe she went through a rebellious stage as a teenage pupil of Starswirl the Bearded.

Rebellious teenage Celestia… Now there was an image that Twilight found oddly even more disturbing that the whole dark magic thing in general.

Honestly, the whole war theory seemed the more likely of the two. Especially since the way she’d used it was in direct relation to Sombra’s return. Perhaps that was she’d ask the Princess about it later, but first…

They had arrived at the train station, and just in the nick of time by the looks of it. The Crystal Express could be seen in the distance, and it was rapidly barrelling down the tracks towards the station. As it got closer the vehicle began to slow at a steady rate, before it pulled up into the station and came to a complete stop almost perfectly next to the platform.

The door opened up, and a variety of passenger, crystal ponies and otherwise, began to disembark and continue on with their days.

“Well, talk about timing,” Pinkie piped up. “I suppose you’d better get a shift on, Twilight!”

“Yeah, though I’ve probably got a minute or two,” she replied. “I’m going to miss you, girls! And Spike, look after yourself, okay?”

“It’s fine, I’ve got Owlowiscious to help me keep everything in check,” he pointed out. “We’ve got this.”

“And you can always ask your friends for help as well, Spikey Wikey,” Rarity said to the dragon, patting him on the head and eliciting a heavy blush from the hopelessly crushing drake. “I’m sure the dear has everything in hoof, Twilight. Now go on, enjoy yourself!”

“Thank you, Rarity. I’ll see you girls in a week!”

The others all waved her on and said their goodbyes as Twilight trotted over to the crystal decorated train and stepped on into the carriage. The conductor was expecting Twilight, seeing how she was going to the city under the invitation of the princesses, and allowed her to pick a compartment and take a comfortable window seat.

She could see the others out of the window, and Twilight gave the one last wave of farewell as the train gave a jolt and started to pull away from the station. Pretty soon her friends all left her vision, the train moving along the tracks to depart Ponyville and continue back towards the Crystal Empire.

Sitting back on her seat, Twilight made sure her saddlebags were safely sat next to her as she readied for the several-hour-long journey. Opening one of them, she smiled to see a book she’d been in the middle of reading was packed right at the top. With a mental word of thanks directed at Spike, she extracted the book and cracked it open right onto the bookmark.

This trip was going to be amazing, she just knew it.

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