• 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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21 - Investigation

Eight sets of hooves clopped along the crystalline floors of the Crystal Palace, followed on by the patters of claws from their more draconic companion. Crystal Shield was leading the way while the others filed in behind him, heading back through the halls with intent to exit the palace and depart for the site of the most recent disappearance. The visitors from Ponyville spoke to one another in worriedly hushed tones as Twilight pulled ahead, coming up beside Crystal Shield and giving him an inquisitive look.

“Something on your mind?” Crystal Shield asked the Princess. “You seem a bit distant.”

“Oh I have a lot on my mind,” Twilight answered honestly, if vaguely. “But right now I’m more wondering what we’re wandering into, though.”

“Specifically?”

“Who is the latest victim?” Twilight enquired. “Where was it? What are we actually walking towards?”

“The victim was a mare by the name of Shiny Sapphire, I believe she was a recent addition to the city,” the guard began. “Moved here from Manehatten but a week ago as I understand it. I don’t know much about her beyond that.”

“Bad timing,” Rainbow remarked.

Rarity hummed. “And nopony saw a thing?”

“Just like the others. Not a thing,” Shadow Flare said. “Poof, gone. It’s been a bit of a pattern, but the foalnappings themselves don’t paint a cohesive picture.”

“What is that meant to mean?” Applejack deadpanned.

“It means that they’re random, sporadic. There’s no clear area with more disappearances than the next, it’s happening all over the city,” Crystal Shield explained. “If it was condensed in a single area we could get a better idea of where the culprit might be hiding out. But as it is, we’re strapped for clues.”

“They are cautious, never hitting the same singular area twice,” Shadow Flare further noted. “They also tend to happen in the night, we think. Which makes sense for a dark mage, the shadows are their domain.”

“An accurate observation,” Sombra said in a mocking tone. “Your fellow students of the sun at least can note what is an obvious fact.”

Twilight, as usual, ignored him.

“And the place she vanished from?”

“Her own home,” Crystal Shield answered. “As Shadow Flare said, dead at night. Witnesses say she went home as the sun set and never emerged when it arose. Seeing as her absence was strange, combined with all that has happened, we were quickly alerted.”

“Did you happen to find anything when you arrived? Signs of a daring struggle? A cryptic clue or message left behind in taunt? Perhaps a single blackened rose?” Rarity asked enthusiastically, though quickly stammered back with a blush when all eyes turned towards her questioningly. “Ahem, apologies. I do like a good mystery and intrigue.”

“Only this ain’t some fancy spy book, this is real,” Applejack pointed out.

“Indeed. Which is why we must know all the details!”

“Then I’m sure you can pick them out when we arrive,” Crystal Shield deadpanned. “But the house itself seemed fine. Nothing obviously displaced, no signs of any kind of fight… Just an empty home.”

“Aside from the empty bed, covers thrown aside,” Shadow Flare stated.

“Yes… The poor mare probably didn’t know what hit her.”

“Oh my…” Fluttershy muttered sadly. “I do hope she is okay…”

“I’m sure they’re fine, darling,” Rarity gently assured he pegasus. “Just waiting somewhere for us to rescue them.”

“Imagine how super happy they will be to see us!” Pinkie Pie added.

Fluttershy paused before hesitantly nodding along. “I… guess so…”

“Is it all the same with the other incidents?” Twilight asked. “Empty homes? Disturbed bedsheets?”

“On a few cases,” the crystal pony confirmed. “One young stallion was returning from the bar one night with his friend and wandered into a dark alley to… Well, relieve himself according to his friends. He never came back out.”

“Somepony snatch him up and take him out of the other side?” Rainbow Dash asked.

“Thing is, the alleyway was a dead end.”

“Oh…”

“The ruffian is clearly a unicorn,” Rarity reminded them. “A teleportation spell seems more likely, yes?”

“I would agree with that assessment,” Shadow Flare said with a nod. “It’s the logical conclusion. Teleport in when the chosen victim is alone, incapacitate them with whatever terrible dark magic they have in mind, teleport back out again.”

“If it’s just a teleport, then I doubt they’d leave a magical trace. Not unless it was a particularly large scale spell,” Twilight mused with a hum.

“Dark magic on the other hoof…”

“Did you find dark magic at the scene? Like we did in Canterlot?”

“That is also consistent,” Shadow Flare confirmed. “Nothing we can really use, but it certainly makes it clear that our culprit and yours are one and the same.”

Crystal Shield sighed. “But the others haven’t been able to make much use out of it. We don’t exactly have much in the way of recorded dark magical signatures to compare it too. Unless you could count King Sombra, but I think Sir Spike and the Princess saw to him already.”

“We did do that, didn’t we?” Spike said with a puffed up chest, but he then suddenly blanched as he remembered a ‘certain’ detail upon making eye contact with Twilight. “Uh… But it’s really not him, eheh...”

“We did check for a match anyway, though. Some of the crystal ponies grew fearful that he was returning,” Shadow Flare noted. “You are right, of course. It wasn’t a match.”

“What we would really need is a normal magical signature,” Crystal Shield mused. “That we could use and get some results.”

“What if the culprit ain’t recorded?” Applejack asked.

“Then we’d compare it to every damned unicorn in the Crystal Empire to find them.”

“Hopefully it won’t come to that,” Twilight said. “What little we know points to the Crystal Empire being of some importance to this dark mage. Working together, we can make sure this is one corner he can’t back out of.”

“For he leaches on our family’s legacy. It cannot last.”

For that reason, and for other far more pressing ones, Twilight had to agree.


From the outside, the crystalline home looked friendly and unassuming. Yet another humble abode along the street full of humble abodes. This one was no different to the rest, just a cosy place for a pony to spend their time in safety and comfort.

That had been the idea, anyway.

Unfortunately, for this one’s owner, it hadn’t exactly panned out that way.

“An otherwise innocent-looking home hiding dark secrets and unimaginable mystery!” Rarity said with perhaps more enthusiasm than should be held for the present situation. “My, doesn’t it get the mind racing?”

“Meh. It could use some death traps,” Rainbow said with a shrug.

“Oh shush. The more subtle the threat, the greater the excitement!”

“Subtlety may be good for you, Rares, but this pegasus needs actual adventure in her life.”

“Do ya’ll think you’re getting a tad ‘too’ into this?” Applejack asked in bemusement.

“This was a mare’s home until recently,” Fluttershy scolded the two ponies.

Rarity awkwardly coughed into a hoof. “Yes, quite right, Fluttershy dear. I should focus on the task at hoof, our minds need to be sharp to solve this conundrum.”

“What do you think, Twilight? You’re good with magic and stuff!” Pinkie Pie stated.

“I have to actually get inside to look at it first,” Twilight pointed out, heading off towards the front door. “Come on, let’s see what we have.”

Crystal Shield trotted ahead, nodding to a pair of guards outside for them to admit the group. They did so quickly, the ponies and dragon ducking inside to find themselves in a modest entrance hallway. An arch to the right led to a living room conjoined with a kitchen holding a round crustal dining table in the centre. Everything was neatly arranged, almost like the home was expecting its owner to arrive back from a hard day’s work at any second.

Twilight looked from that to the end of the hallway. A staircase was leading upstairs, a doorway also sitting nearby that probably led either to a storage cupboard or a downstairs bathroom.

“Well, this is oddly creepy,” Pinkie noted with a bite of her lip.

“Looks normal to me,” Rainbow said.

“That’s the oddly creepy part. You know, seeing as what happened to the mare…”

“This is everything we saw when we first arrived,” Crystal Shield stated. “The downstairs is completely normal. Not a drop of dark magic was found.”

Rarity hummed, heading into the living room and looking it over with a well-trained critical eye. But whatever it was she was looking for, she didn’t seem to find it judging by the whinny of disappointment she gave off a few moments later.

“Yes, it all seems quite neat and tidy…” she mused. “Perhaps some of you should stay down here to check further anyway?”

“I can take some of your friends around the place if you so wish,” Shadow Flare volunteered. “Unless you have other plans.”

“Some of us check downstairs, some of us head up,” Twilight agreed. “I’m heading up. Who wants what?”

“I’m with you, Twilight,” Crystal Shield said.

“Ditto,” Spike agreed.

“Ah, even more reason!”

“I think I’ll stick with the other egghead down here,” Rainbow Dash declared.

“Then Flutters and I will stick right with you, Rainbow!” Pinkie decided, dragging the buttery pegasus in question into a side hug while eliciting a little ‘eep’. “Detective Diane Pie and pals are on the case!”

“Then I suppose Applejack and I are also with you, Twilight dear,” Rarity noted.

Applejack shrugged. “Fine with me.”

Twilight nodded. “Alright, girls. Keep an eye out for anything we can use. We’ll head upstairs and I’ll see if I can glean anything about our dark mage problem.”

And so, they all got to work.

Twilight started to trot up towards the upper floor, the others following closely behind her as the second diverging group started to better examine the ground floor. The alicorn swiftly ascended and reached the top landing, examining the space awaiting her.

The hallway was much like the previous, only adorned with a few more picture frames showing who she assumed was the missing mare alongside friends and family. There were three doors here, two on Twilight’s left, facing what would be the front door below them, with a single other door on the right. Whatever the lower floor’s door led to, the one to Twilight’s right up here was slightly ajar to reveal a tiled bathroom floor. It clashed with the otherwise crystalline architecture, but who was Twilight to judge?

The other two doors, meanwhile, were closed.

“The bedrooms,” Crystal Shield said helpfully. “One guest, one master.”

“Thank you. I think we should check the master bedroom as a priority.”

“We should be thorough and check the guest room as well,” Rarity suggested. “If you take the guard here and Spike, Applejack and I can nosy around the place.”

Twilight nodded. “Alright. Meet up with us in the main room when you’re done.”

“Lead the way, Detective,” Applejack said with a snort of bemusement.

Rarity just rolled her eyes, opening the first of the two doors as directed by Crystal Shield and slipping inside with the apple farmer.

“And next stop would be ours…” Spike muttered.

“Indeed,” Crystal Shield confirmed, taking point and leading the alicorn and dragon into the room in question.

The bedroom was quite the space, a dresser sitting up against the window to the outside city with various drawers and cupboards lining the room. Against the wall also sat a double bed, sheets flung aside as if in a hurry as described to Twilight previously.

And the feeling the room gave. The moment they stepped through the threshold they could all sense it. Cold. Dark. Wrong.

Whatever dark magic had been used on the poor pony, it was sickly and vile.

Spike shuddered. “Uh… All of a sudden I’m thinking I should have stayed downstairs and helped them.”

“It’s the same story wherever ponies have vanished,” Crystal Shield sadly expressed. “It’s… a little too close to home.”

“Says the tormenter of children.”

Twilight frowned. Crystal Shield hadn’t been like that.

“The inaction of the weak is just as damning as the actions of the cruel.”

Then Twilight supposed Sombra and Crystal Shield were each as damned as the other.

The King flared up inside Twilight’s mind, clearly not liking the comparison.

Twilight lit her horn up, not losing her frown as she sent a wave of her magic around the room. The wrongness got even worse as she did so, but it probably wasn’t that bad as it would have been if she didn’t have her own subdued dark magic bubbling around inside her. On the first scan, much as Crystal Shield had said, there was no detectable ordinary magic beneath the darkness. No trail, no mistakes.

Not yet, at least.

“I’m going to run every scan and test I know. It might take a while,” Twilight told the others. “It might actually be best for you to help the girls until I’m finished.”

“You’re sure you don’t require assistance?” Crystal Shield asked.

“I’m sure. Besides, I bet you’re gagging to ask Spike a thing or two,” Twilight pointed out knowingly.

The guard scratched the back of his helmet with a hoof. “Well…”

“Think you can oblige?” Twilight then asked the drake in question.

Spike saluted. “Aye aye, Princess!”

Spike turned towards Crystal Shield, leading him back out into the hallway as they began to talk. Once they were gone, Twilight lit her horn once more and moved one of the drawers in front of the door to block the entrance.

And then her eyes lit up with dark magic.

She started to infuse the corrupted energies into her usual scanning spells, experimenting with the frequencies to see if she could get a read on anything. It was a long shot, but they wouldn’t know its effectiveness until they tried.

And as she did, a dark unicorn materialised beside her once more.

“To at all compare me to that-”

“Oh, hypocrite me later, Sombra.”

“What?”

Twilight gave him a bored look. “You want a tormenter of children? Look in a mirror. You tormented a city full of them!”

“It was necessary.”

“Not really. No.”

Sombra bristled under her scrutiny. “I made the Crystal Empire safe. This ‘dark mage’ would not run amok with me on the throne!”

“They wouldn’t need one, because he would be sitting on the throne.”

“Do not mock me, Granddaughter.”

“Then please don’t insult my intelligence,” she shot back, annoyed. “Those colts were jerks, but it doesn’t exactly justify why you became what you did. I can understand. To protect yourself, to protect your family… But I just can’t agree with it, Sombra.”

“And just when I thought you might have been coming overcome your foolish connection to the light.”

“Excuse me?”

“Your rebellion is getting tiresome. I did what I did to protect us. Only those willing to take power can rule. Only those of strength can protect those they care for. Lesser ponies exist to be under the hoof of those like us. It’s how things should be, and only then can they themselves be safe, even if they are ungrateful.”

“You’re not disproving my point,” Twilight stated. “Why can’t you see that you became the bully! That, in the end, you are no different.”

Sombra barely flinched. But he did flinch, his eyes flashing for the briefest of moments with the memory of Radiant Hope being torn from him by those who had tormented the youthful unicorn. But then, all too quickly, it was buried again.

“It is different.”

“How? How in Equestria is it any different?”

“Because I do what I must for you! And yet you fail to understand, even as you were previously starting to,” Sombra proclaimed. “Perhaps you never will, perhaps you will cling to your faux notions of friendship and never be worthy of the throne… Not unless you were to lose what is close to your heart.”

Twilight considered his words, and then she narrowed his eyes.

“Please tell me you didn’t just threaten my friends.”

The King of Shadows growled. “Just… an observation.”

In truth, Sombra was becoming increasingly frustrated by Twilight's strong link to the light, and he had growing doubts inside his mind as to her being worthy as a successor. But she was his blood. She had his mind. All the potential was there, and yet it seemed that nothing short of losing her friends in a terrible manner would turn her.

And yet, despite seriously considering it, he couldn't help but feel a sense of dread at causing Twilight such a large amount of pain. The torment that it would cause for that realisation to sink in. Would it… Would it be worth the throne?

He had to make her see before it came to that.

Twilight, meanwhile, simply gave off a tired sigh. She wondered just what she would have to do to convince him. If there was anything she could actually do as determined as she was. Their argument seemed to sit on a turntable, coming back around after each go.

Who knows? Maybe she was having a subtle effect on him. Maybe that momentary flinch was a sign.

But… what of the other? Twilight had to admit, things were… different now. Right now she just felt… angry. Frustrated.

All. The. Time.

It was certainly fuel for her dark magic. And… He hadn’t really done any lasting damage to her psyche, or so she surmised to herself. Her friendships were strong, as were her beliefs… But would she ever really be the same?

Another sigh, trying to cast their quarrels from her mind and get back onto the task at hoof.

“So… any bright ideas?”

“Your technique will yield little results. And without a body, I cannot help.”

“Not wanting to take me out for a joyride?” she asked sarcastically.

“My strength is not returned to that level,” he responded. “But the feel of this magic… I would not hold much hope of finding the victims in a pleasant state. It’s… necrotic.”

Twilight cringed. If that were true… If they really were…

She would not mention that to the others for the time being. Especially Fluttershy.

“Perhaps you should rest, Twilight,” Sombra suggested. “Your mental state is not at its peak.”

“I wonder why that is,” she deadpanned. “Look, Sombra… Our whole philosophical debate thing, can we just try to hold off on that for a while? I… We really need to focus on this.”

On that he had to agree. “Very well. When our work is done and the lessons resume, then we shall talk.”

She couldn’t wait…

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