• 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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22 - A Terrible Finding

The Next Morning


“Is all of this really necessary?” Twilight asked dubiously.

“Why do you always ask that? You know the answer,” Shining retorted with a chuckle. “Going into a dark spooky hole in the ground chasing after a probably murderous dark mage? Nooo, why would you ever need a guard escort, Princess?”

“You shall be fine by yourself… That being said, having bodies to step between yourself and impending doom is not something to be easily dismissed,” Sombra, surprisingly enough, agreed with Shining Armor… Not in a way Shining would probably agree with himself, but there you are. “Let them come, see the worth of having those who serve you.”

“You know I hate being surrounded by guards,” Twilight whined at the both of them. “But fine, I guess I’ll have to deal with it…”

“Unfortunately for you, your very protective brother was a guard,” Shining pointed out with a smirk. “Besides, you’re probably going to be seeing a whole lot more as your time in a crown progresses.”

“Don’t remind me.”

Twilight leant back in her seat, picking a bagel off of the dining table and floating it idly in front of her with her magic. Shortly after they finished breakfast, Twilight was going to be taking a guard escort down into Sombra’s old sanctum to search out for the dark mage. It had to be related to why they were here, it was just such an obvious spot. A couple of guards had protested at the idea that the mage had gotten by them on a daily basis to get inside via the throne room. But if they could break into the archives in Canterlot then they could probably do the same in the Crystal Empire.

Besides, Crystal Shield had mentioned that they couldn’t get a bead on the mage’s hideout in any one area because the disappearances were scattered all over the city, no single district having a significantly higher rate than any other. But, in that case, if you were to take all of the various sites into account to find the central point where the mage was most likely hiding out, what did you get?

The Crystal Palace itself. It had to be.

And again, it was about the only lead she had to mind. The whole investigation was like a narrow slope leading straight back to where all of this began. All other possibilities were, well, non-existent at the moment. The lack of evidence in any regard made sure of that, but all logic told Twilight that they had to be looking right beneath their own hooves for the answers.

The lack of success the previous day only vindicated Twilight’s train of thought. She had yet to reveal what she sensed in the mage’s magic, the stench of death it had given off… Nothing else had been found, her friends all but hitting a brick wall. They had returned shortly after that, a little demoralised but determined to keep trying.

Thus, they had all heavily protested when she told them that they would remain in the palace while she was in the sanctum. Part of it was a desire to keep her friends safe. Part of it was so that they were up there just in case things were to go wrong elsewhere in the city, those in the sanctum left unaware. They would help Cadance, Shining Armor and Shadow Flare keep things in check while she and Crystal Shield led their group of ponies into the depth; she trusted in them to do so.

“Waffle for your thoughts?” Cadance asked gently, holding out said food item. “I would offer you another bagel, but you’ve been staring at that one for the past several minutes.”

“Huh? Oh, sorry…” Twilight apologised. “I’ve just got a lot on my mind.”

“You always have a lot on your mind. Studying usually, but I still want to hear about it,” Shining Armor mused. “So come on, Twily. Spill the beans.”

Twilight sighed. “I guess I’m just worried about what we’ll find. And… I didn’t tell the guards what I found yesterday.”

Her brother and sister-in-law stared at her, the latter raising an eyebrow at her statement.

“I thought that you and your friends didn’t find anything?” the Princess of Love enquired. “That’s what Crystal Shield reported. You found the exact same things the Crystal Guard did.”

“uh… That’s ‘technically’ true…?” Twilight chuckled sheepishly. “But I was able to get a better idea as to the nature of the dark magic left over from the foalnapping.”

Shining Armor blinked. “You did? How?”

“It’s… complicated.”

“Twily…”

“Okay, I might have used a bit of dark magic to do it.” She felt Sombra almost facehoof when she admitted that, as her family just had their eyes widen in horror. “It’s not as bad as it sounds! Really! I just weaved it into my usual scanning spell to see if it could get a better read! And it did!”

She obviously neglected the mention of how much more proficient she had become with other spells as well.

“Are you alright?” Cadance asked worriedly. “That magic is…”

“I’m fine!” she quickly reassured the other alicorn. “Just a small and very beneficial experiment! Though… I didn’t want to share the results in front of the girls…”

Shining Armor frowned. “Why? What is it your ‘experiment’ found out…?”

Twilight’s expression became more sombre, the mare biting her lip as she thought back on the dreary feeling the spell had brought upon her. The decay, the entropy… All indications that the room may have been the site of the missing mare’s final moments…

“The magic was… necrotic,” Twilight reluctantly informed them. “I… I don’t think…”

“I get it,” Shining thankfully stopped her explanation in the middle. “You don’t think the vanished ponies made it.”

Twilight grimaced, but then she nodded.

Cadance gave a gasp of horror. “You both think they were… murdered!?”

“I don’t want it to be true,” Twilight muttered. “But…”

“You want your friends to stay hopeful that we will find them alive,” Shining noted. “I understand. In the guard, we had to… Well, we had to do something too similar to the families of certain ponies. Those were the bad days.”

“Shining…” Cadance said sympathetically, putting her hoof atop of his.

“But it’s even more of a reason to send our guards down with you,” the Prince then pointed out. “He already killed a few guards in Canterlot, and if what’s happened here is what you think, then I don’t think he’ll hesitate to do whatever he can to evade capture.”

“I’ll be fine, Shiny,” Twilight assured him. “I know how to handle myself.”

He sighed. “I know. But I still don’t like it.”

“I can’t say I do either…” Cadance admitted. “But I also know that you are probably more used to life-threatening situations than you really should be at the age of nineteen.”

“When you put things like that…” Twilight muttered sarcastically.

“Just be careful, Twilight. Do try and stick with the escort we’re sending down with you,” she pleaded. “And… be careful with any future ‘experimentations’ with dark magic spells. The simple technique we now share is disturbing enough, I dread to think of what might happen if something went wrong.”

“I’ll stick to my normal studies,” Twilight lied smoothly. “I know what I’m doing.”

“Yes, you’re right. But Shining isn’t the only one who has to worry about you twenty-four-seven.”

“You’re so my mother!”

“Hey, she’d probably be telling Twilight to go knock the mage’s lights out,” Shining mused with a tinge of amusement. “Worrying while she did it, mind you. But she still would.”

“Your mother is always one for excitement,” Cadance replied with a titter. “So, one of us has to be responsible.”

“Oh, I am definitely telling her that when we next see each other!”

Cadance gasped. “Hey! Traitor!”

Twilight giggled at the two’s continuing bout of playful bickering, each promising Equus shattering vengeance upon one another’s subsequent vengeance plots. They mostly involved hogging the covers at night and stealing all of the ice cream from the kitchens so the other couldn’t have any, simple foalish things like that.

But it was simple, light-hearted and, most importantly, normal.

It almost made Twilight’s mind wander away from the coming horrors.

Almost.


“Come on, you just gotta let us come with you!” Rainbow Dash protested for the twelfth time by Twilight’s count. And that was just in the past few minutes. “We’ve let our Sparkle run off enough for one forever!”

Twilight paused in the middle of the hallway, turning to give Rainbow an odd look. “…’Our Sparkle’?”

“Yeah, you are our egghead!”

“I think what Rainbow is trying to say is…” Rarity interrupted the pegasus, much to the latter’s irritation. “…that with everything that has happened, we would just be loath to let you go now.”

“Yeah! Friends do these things together!” Pinkie Pie added in.

“I agree,” Twilight responded. “But I need you girls here. If I’m wrong about this and something happens up here while I’m gone…”

“You want us to be here to make sure everything is still standing when ya’ll return,” Applejack noted reluctantly. “I do get it, really. Makes sense, but it still ain’t a comfortable thing letting you go back down there by yourself.”

“But she won’t be by herself,” Fluttershy pointed out.

“Yes, I suppose you do have a sizable contingent accompanying you,” Rarity hesitantly continued on. “Which does make things a tad more reasonable. But still…”

“Girls, really, it will all work out okay,” Twilight stated. “When doesn’t it?”

“Do all the explosions between the start and end of every big thing count?” Pinkie pondered.

“No.”

“Then only some of the time!”

Twilight groaned.

“And what about the you know who floating around right now?” Rainbow asked. “I know you are here, jerk!”

“Childish foolishness…”

“Don’t worry, Rainbow. I know how to make him behave.”

“Truly? This is news to me…” Sombra deadpanned.

“Shut up.”

Rainbow Dash and Applejack glanced at one another.

“Guessing he didn’t take too kindly to that, hm?” the apple farmer noted.

“As I said, I got it handled.”

“Uh-huh…”

“Ah, Twilight Sparkle. Good morning.”

All eyes turned towards the purple stallion approaching from the opposite direction, the stallion perky and with a relieved grin on his features.

“Oh, you were… Shadow Flare, right?” Spike asked.

“That’s the one, Sir Spike,” he confirmed. “I’m relieved to see you prepared. I think Crystal Shield and the other assembled ponies are eager to put this all to rest.”

“You don’t have to call him Sir Spike,” Twilight deadpanned, much to Spike’s indignation.

“It’s what the ponies who popularly refer to him as, actual knighthood or not. I have been somewhat immersing myself in their culture as of late, new and old! A fascinating study…”

“Isn’t it just?” Twilight lightly gushed before coughing into a hoof. “Well, were you looking for us, or…?”

“Well, Prince Shining Armor wants a word with the Element Bearers if they have a moment. I was asked to relay the message if I ran into you. I can lead you to him if you wish.”

“If he has need of us, then that would be most welcome,” Rarity agreed. “Thank you very much, my good stallion.”

He nodded appreciatively. “You’re very welcome. You should say your farewells now; I do believe the Princess has important business awaiting her.”

“I do,” Twilight confirmed, turning towards the others. “I’ll see you girls when I get back. Either we’ll have everything solved or at least be a step closer, I’m sure of it.”

“Well, still wishing we could accompany ya’ll,” Applejack said. “But we know you will. Good luck to you, Twilight!”

“Yeah, what she said,” Rainbow agreed. “Just give him one form me, yeah?”

Twilight rolled her eyes. “I’ll see what I can do… be careful yourselves, girls. Just in case…”

“Oh, we’ll be fine. You should worry about yourself,” Fluttershy replied. “Down in the dark cavern…”

“Eh, we got each other’s backs!” Pinkie Pie claimed. “If he shows up, we’ll have a ‘surprise party’ waiting!”

“Damn right!” Rainbow agreed, sharing a hoof bump with the pink mare.

Twilight knew the Crystal Empire would be in good hooves while she was down in the sanctum. She was brimming with confidence that, wherever the mage was bound to turn up, they’d soon have them in custody!

“I wish I shared your confidence in their abilities to do so without your guidance…”

Twilight huffed at his words, but she nevertheless shared a few final fond farewells and good lucks with her friends, not missing their continued reluctance. But everything was in place and, hopefully with a bit of help from the king himself, she could now get his old sanctum scoured from head to hoof.

She had a good feeling about all of this.

Once Shadow Flare had disappeared with her friends, Twilight continued on her previous path towards the throne room. There were no more interruptions as she reached the giant crystalline doors, being admitted by two very tense guards who hurried her inside before securing the entranceway behind the Princess of Equestria.

“Ah, there you are,” Crystal Shield greeted the lavender alicorn as she entered. “We are all ready for your word.”

Twilight stopped, tilting her head at the already visible staircase sitting right before the throne. The guard followed her expression, giving an understanding nod.

“Princess Mi Amore Cadenza opened it last night, there have been many guards in this throne room keeping watch,” Crystal Shield explained. “The ponies here are those who have descended into its depths on both previous occasions. They are all eager, and confident, that something may come of it this time.”

“Way to pack on the pressure,” Twilight joked. “Well, if they’re eager I don’t want to keep them waiting. Don’t wait around on my account.”

He smiled. “That’s our job, Ma’am.”

But with her word, the formation was already beginning to descend. Crystal Shield and another guard flanked either side of the royal pony as she too started to go down into the darkness of Sombra’s sanctum. The blackened staircase was familiar to both Twilight and, even more so, Sombra. She heard his hum in her mind, the unicorn seemingly contemplating something.

She left him to his musings, keeping up her pace until she was once again back in the long corridor leading to various rooms Sombra had previously decked out with his knowledge and artefacts. Very little remained now but dust and cobwebs, no signs of recent intrusion beyond the guards immediately visible.

Twilight really hoped they were on the right track…

“As you can see, nothing is immediately suspicious,” Crystal Shield noted. “Well, as much as such a dark place could ever be, at least.”

Twilight hummed, her eyes peeling off towards the rightmost room. She trotted inside, her escort following while the rest of the force started their own searches. The room was filled with rows upon rows of dusty, cobweb-ridden shelving. All of it was made up of innately carved stone, looking perhaps like it predated Sombra. Twilight had already looked into their origins previously, but the exact dating still eluded her. Sometime during the era of the three tribes…

“I could tell you about it later if you so wish, I know their origins quite well.”

Twilight lit up, clearly eager for the idea. She stayed quiet, however, not wanting to attract unwanted attention from Crystal Shield or the others.

Twilight lit her horn, starting with a basic scanning spell as she delved through the maze of shelving whilst leaving all but her two escorting guards behind. Nothing was immediately visible, but perhaps that was where her recently formulated dark magic-entwined scan could help.

But she also knew that the ponies with her might not be comfortable with such a display…

“Go examine the units over there,” Twilight commanded the two of them.

Crystal Shield frowned. “All due respect, Twilight, but we’re meant to remain with you.”

She snorted. “Come on, I’ll be fine. Besides, it’s only over there. If anything happens, you’ll hear it and be over in a second.”

“A second too long for me…” he grumbled.

“Crystal Shield…”

“Alright, if it is your command…”

“It is. Don’t worry, I know what I’m doing.”

“I’m not disputing that, but this place is not one I’d wish to be alone in,” he responded. “Keep an eye out. Shout if even the slightest thing happens.”

“Really, I will be fine.”

“Well, alright then. I don’t like it, all due respect. I wouldn’t want anything to happen to you of all ponies. But I will do as commanded.”

“I know. But thank you.”

Crystal Shield hummed in displeasure, clearly not wanting to let the royal alicorn out of his sight for even a moment. But with her authority far superseding his, he gave his fellow guard a nod before turning away and heading into the shelves. He turned back briefly, giving Princess Twilight a look of concern. But then he turned back again and vanished from view.

Now the real work could begin.

Twilight lit her horn, beginning to replicate the process she underwent the previous day in the missing mare’s house. And yet, as she went to do so, Sombra’s voice cut in to interrupt her concentration.

“Hold.” The spectre of the dead king appeared by her side. “I would have you listen a moment, Granddaughter.”

“Huh? What is it?” she asked in turn, letting the dark magic ebb away. “Some insight you want to share about this place.”

“Indeed,” he confirmed. “There is… one section you did not discover during your previous searches. But one that, by some chance, the culprit may have.”

Twilight blanched. “W-what? Another section!? Where!?”

He turned towards a blank wall right by Twilight. “As fortune would have it, right here.”

Twilight turned towards the wall, giving it a critical look. How did she miss it? She found his son’s room! What was he hiding? Why was he hiding it? How could the dark mage have found it!? So many questions!

But that was moved aside for one moment, Twilight relighting her dark magic and letting loose a similar spell upon it that she would on the throne to reveal the sanctum. She assumed that she was correct in doing so due to the lack of any objections from Sombra, pressing forth with her spell to peel away the façade of a wall.

As the dark magic washed over the space and rid the falsities, a simple wooden door much like all the others was revealed.

“You weren’t kidding…”

“You didn’t believe I practised all of my art within the confines of my study, right by my own son’s bedroom, did you?” he asked with a dark chuckle. “No, the most dangerous and unpredictable of my spells and experiments required their own dedicated space. One with the heaviest of protection, ready to seal within anything… unfortunate I may have produced.”

“Did you ever?”

“Seal it? No, but many of such spells never saw the light of day beyond its walls. Too unpredictable to be of practical use to me.”

Oh, but if the dark mage had found it…

“Some of that research was also contained in the journals taken by the thief,” he continued. “So, it is a reasonable conclusion that he could be utilising it.”

“But how would he have found it before the theft? He must have known, must have set up before…”

Whatever the case was, Twilight wouldn’t find out by just standing around staring at a doorway. So, with that in mind, she carefully slipped inside.

“What is this!?”

Sombra’s declaration of surprise would have startled Twilight if she too wasn’t perplexed by what she saw. Beyond the doorway was another corridor, a single door to her right with another at the far end. And yet, while both doors were almost closed, each had a gap in which a long modern-looking wire was running between both rooms. Magical torches also lined the walls, looking quite recently placed.

“This…”

“Isn’t meant to be here,” Twilight surmised. “That wiring isn’t from your time.”

“Clearly,” he growled. “So, they have made it here. What do their unworthy hooves touch within these walls?”

“Let’s find out…”

Hesitantly, Twilight started towards the closer of the two doors. A large part of her was screaming to go back and get Crystal Shield, but with everything she had been searching for potentially right in front of her muzzle…

Just a peak, then she would run to get them.

The alicorn reached the door, ready to burst into combat spells at a moment’s notice. And then, carefully, she started to open the door.

And Twilight almost screamed.

The room beyond was large and circular, almost looking like an arena. A place where Sombra once tested a whole manner of sinister magics, now laden in even more modern technology that did not belong. The wires were hooked up to various machines, most of which giving print outs for research Twilight was as of yet uncertain as to the purpose of. And yet her blood ran cold as her eyes moved past the machines, moving towards the rows of pulsating dark magical bubbled the machines were clearly monitoring.

And inside each of those bubbles were the seemingly lifeless bodies of the missing ponies. The one closest to her, the most recent one to be placed, even held the very mare whose house she had so recently visited. The mare’s eyes were closed, her still features looking almost pained, the dark magics entrapping and violating the carcass in ways that made Twilight sick to her core.

They were being harvested. Collected. But why? Who would do such a thing?

And then something hit Twilight. Hard.

“Twilight!” Sombra’s alarmed cry sounded out, sounding a little distant as the mare hit the floor with a hard thud.

Her world swam, her subsequent attempts of calling upon her prepared spells now failing her. Her glazed over eyes weakly glance dup to try and spy her attacker, to see the face of the dark mage who had been plaguing the Crystal Empire and Canterlot both.

The equine figure above her was dark, his features obscured by the heavy blow she had taken to the head. But they leered at her from above, their eyes almost hungry… And yet with a tinge of regret. The figure’s horn was lit, a wave of magic washing over Twilight and only serving to increase the grogginess she was now feeling.

And then, with Sombra’s futile attempts to keep her awake sounding in the back of her mind, Twilight Sparkle lost consciousness.

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