• Published 20th Oct 2018
  • 3,466 Views, 491 Comments

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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23 - The Mage

“Twi… light…”

That was the first thing Twilight registered within the darkness. A single distant voice, the mare unable to make out who it belonged to. It was like a whisper on a consistent wind, existing within the cold void around her. The alicorn couldn’t hear anything else, couldn’t feel anything. It was just a blank expanse of nothingness, filled with nought but her own growing sense of unease and alarm.

She tried calling out… But, as it was, she had no lips to shout from.

“Twilight…”

There it was again, calling out to her with the barest increase in clarity. She still couldn’t really make out any details in its tone… But it still sounded familiar. More than that, it sounded… Insular? Like it was coming from somewhere deep inside her own head…?

“Twilight!”

It was male. Urgent. Distressed, even. The empty void seemed to vibrate at its increasing presence, filling Twilight with yet more concern at its tone. There was something about it… Why was it here? For that matter, where was here? Why was she…? What was happening?

“Wake up!”

Wake up? Twilight was certain that she was awake. She never recalled going to sleep… For that matter, she didn’t remember much of anything. What was going on?

“Twilight Sparkle!” Sombra’s voice finally broke through with an edge of indignation. “When I command you to wake, you shall wake!”

Twilight gave a sharp gasp, attempting to shoot upwards as her eyes opened with a start. Something stopped her movement, however, keeping her restrained in a position laid on her back. A bright light assaulted her eyes, all but blinding her by sheer contrast to the dark void she had just experienced. But, sure enough, her eyes steadily began to adjust as she felt her brain pounding against her skull. Something had hit her…

She tried to move again, but upon looking down she realised that she had been strapped to some kind of operating table. Her wings were also tied, and the moment she tried to use magic she felt a kind of resistance that would insinuate that a magic suppressing ring had been placed upon her horn.

In short, she wasn’t going anywhere.

“What is this!?” Twilight shouted in alarm, regretting it as her headache flared up at the action.

She was definitely still in Sombra’s sanctum if the room’s architecture was anything to go by. A glance revealed she was also still in the secret area Sombra had led her to, inside the second of the two rooms with the ajar doors. The cable here was leading to yet more machinery scattered around her. That, and more of the dark magical sphere containing pony corpses. Only these ones seemed far more desiccated, almost like they’d been experimented with…

The horror of her situation was not lost on Twilight. Especially since she might have been moments away from joining them in their terrible fate!

“Calm yourself,” Sombra cautioned as his apparition materialised beside the table. “Panic will not help.”

“You’re not the one strapped to a table!”

“On the contrary. If you die, I die,” he pointed out.

Twilight groaned, attempting to let her breathing steady as she thought through her situation. Maybe Crystal Shield had seen something happen?

“If he did, he is dead,” Sombra theorised. “If not, he will not know you are here. Only that you vanished, the wall once again but that. A wall.”

“You don’t know which one?” Twilight asked in annoyance.

“When you were hit, I also lost recognition of all outside of your own mind,” he explained. “I never even got a view of our attacker. But his identity is obvious…”

“The dark mage…” Twilight muttered. “So, he IS down here!”

“It would seem to be so, yes…”

Twilight looked at their surroundings once more, her eyes looking specifically at the equipment said mage had set up. Now that she had a chance to study them without interruption…

Oh.

Of course.

Sombra felt a moment of realisation from Twilight. “What are you… Ah, I sense your thoughts. I see…”

Twilight bristled, a sense of anger and betrayal coursing through her. She should have seen the signs before! It made sense! But she had been so focused on it being somepony else that she wasn’t paying attention! Gah, how could she have been so blind!? She was meant to be better than this!

“Even the best of us have our follies,” Sombra mused. “If we did not, I would never have been defeated by you.”

“Maybe I was just better?”

Sombra scoffed. “Not yet, Granddaughter.”

“Well, your ‘Brilliance’, maybe you can help me out of here?”

Sombra shook his head. “I can still do little. None of it will be of use to you.”

Great. So, what was she meant to do, just wait until the culprit returned and did… whatever it is he intended to do? No, she couldn’t let that happen. If nopony knew she was down there, or even that this particular part of the sanctum existed, then it was up to her. Up to her to both save herself AND warn the others about the threat in their midst.

Her magic was useless. Even with her alicorn enhanced strength, the restraints were sturdy and didn’t budge as Twilight pulled experimentally on them. Her wings were likewise perfectly trapped, and anything she could potentially use around the room was out of reach.

Though, on the note of the ring…

Yes, perhaps the ring would be the answer. She glanced at a nearby side table with a concerning number of scalpels and other sharp things on it. But alongside those, there was also a small metal container with polished surfaces. She could just about make out her own reflection, if blurrily, in the metal. Enough so to make out the ring.

Yes, the pattern and layout of the mana crystals around the ring’s surface indicated it was a higher end model. Prudent, anything lower and any magic user of significant strength could brute force their way through it. But saying that, it was missing certain arcane pathways that the absolute best magic suppressors on offer had…

But even so, she wasn’t sure if any of those were designed and graded against dark magic.

The sound of the door being sharply opened ejected Twilight from her scheming, her eyes darting aside to see the entrance of a pony adorned head to hoof in a simple black cloak. Nothing extravagant, but it did the job of concealing. Twilight stared at the pony’s obscured face a moment, before he turned and walked around the table.

“What are you doing?” Twilight demanded to know, trying to suppress any fear in her voice. “Why are you doing this!? Answer me!”

He did not, instead, moving to fiddle with one of the machines while purple magic idly arranged the knives on the side table. Twilight gulped, staring at the dark mage as he worked. And yet the pony continued to pay her no mind, almost like he was trying to ignore her entirely…

“Come on, speak to me. It’s not too late to stop this.”

Silence.

The mage turned from one machine to the next, briefly stopping to glance up at one of the suspended corpses before crouching down. His horn lit up from beneath his hood, the device reacting and starting to whir at his touch.

“Shadow Flare!”

The stallion froze. Dumbstruck, the pony remained routed for several moments before, finally, he stood. He began to turn; the hood of the blackened cloak being pushed aside as Shadow Flare regarded Twilight with an expression of shock.

“…You knew?” he asked, bewildered. “I was careful…”

“Yes, you were. But it’s obvious now that I really think about it,” Twilight chided herself. “Your interest in this place. You returning to the Crystal Empire right after the theft. Your access to both Canterlot Castle AND the Crystal Palace, not to mention in-depth knowledge of their layouts.”

Twilight paused, nodding at the machinery that Shadow Flare had just been working on.

“Also, those things are marked as property of Celestia’s School of Gifted Unicorns. You are an alumni of that school, just like me.”

He was silent a moment, letting the list of clues sink in for a moment. And then, humourlessly, he chuckled.

“Well, that was good. You are every bit as smart as they say,” he said with a hint of regret. “I didn’t want you to be here with the others, Twilight. We were classmates. And… I am quite fond of you. But I knew if anypony would find this place, you would. So after I delivered your friends to the Prince I followed you down. Sure enough, you opened the passage.”

“I’m more interested to know how you found it.”

He smirked, his horn lighting and retrieving something from a saddlebag beneath his cloak. A book came into Twilight’s view, one that she recognised after a moment of scrutiny.

“So nice of you to point this out to me and leave me alone with it all those months back,” Shadow Flare thanked. “While you and the rest of our team examined the rest of the sanctum, I was able to simply pocket the tome and read it in my own time. It made mention of a place that King Sombra used for his most advanced spell crafting, and here it was…”

A pang of guilt hit Twilight’s heart, her eyes glancing up at the bodies of Shadow Flare’s victims. Had she known...

“Getting this set up was tricky, but as you say, free access from the Princess herself helped,” he said smugly. “And when I was ready, all I needed was his research from the archives. Then, my work began.”

“Work!? You call hurting innocent ponies work!?”

“A necessary sacrifice for the greater good. Only fresh subjects would do.”

“What do you mean?”

“Think about it… Do you think we can rely on you and your friends forever? Our other protectors surely have fallen short as of late, the ‘guard’ indeed…” he scoffed. “And then we have the dead. Bodies are memorialised but left to rot, a waste. They, like anything else, are a resource to be used. An army of the dead at Equestria’s call, unflinching and unwavering, ready to protect the living!”

“Draugr,” Sombra stated. “As we suspected from what he stole, he is making draugr.”

Twilight’s eyes widened. “You’re insane…”

“Open your eyes, Twilight! Equestria has faced more dangers in recent times than in the last several centuries! For all his errors, King Sombra’s power was something to be admired. I’m using that strength for Equestria!”

“By killing the ponies who live in it!?”

“Only to prove my point! I will face the music when my task is complete, but by that point, my new army’s effectiveness will be undeniable!”

“You expect the other princesses to accept violating the dead like this?”

“They won’t have a choice.”

“This is folly. For all his idolisation of my magic, my experiments into such things seldom left the theoretical. Necromancy is a technique far too unpredictable, and the soldiers they produce far too stupid,” Sombra informed Twilight, studying Shadow Flare. “And this fool is but a novice. No teacher, only second-hoof accounts. And to go straight to such a high-risk task, mistakes are inevitable.”

“So how has it been going for you?” Twilight asked, following on with Sombra’s point. “Messing around with necromancy has been flawless, I’m sure.”

Shadow Flare hesitated, averting his eyes momentarily. “…The flaws will be worked out. I just need time and bodies.”

“What have you done?”

“Sombra’s notes, mixed with my own ingenuity, were enough to raise a simple mindless corpse. At first,” he started. “But then, trying to turn them into soldiers… I couldn’t get them to obey me. The ones around you are the failures, ones I had to dispel to save my own life.”

“So you can’t get them to work for you. Do you even know where to begin solving that problem?”

“The King’s journals didn’t go that far into the subject, it is true. I don’t believe he ever actually tried to.”

“He would be correct,” Sombra confirmed.

“But I can figure it out! It just requires some trial and error, even if recent results have shown some… compilations…”

“Shadow Flare…?”

The dark mage actually looked a bit nervous. His eyes were darting left to right, his gaze constantly returning to the corpses surrounding them. He almost looked like he was scared of his own creations.

“Shadow Flare?” Twilight asked again. “What complications?”

“There may, uh…” He gulped. “Yes, I have to admit that there have been some unexpected variables. The last draugr I produced tried to… ‘spit’ at me. I immediately terminated the creature and studied the substance. It was heavily necromantic, not unlike the spells I have been experimenting with to make them in the first place. Had it hit me…”

“He would have turned into one himself,” Sombra surmised after Shadow Flare trailed off. “Abominations and monstrosities, just as I said.”

“I have no idea how it mutated so, but I will fix the flaw!”

“You’re creating a plague!” Twilight shouted at him. "Shadow Flare, please stop this! You’re not experienced enough, you’re nowhere near Sombra’s level and even he wouldn’t go this far! If you keep going, you will just hurt more ponies!”

“I will not fail!” Shadow Flare raged. “I will make history with this; ponies will thank me for it in future generations!”

“You’re not good enough!”

“Oh, I am perfectly suited. I’ve already started to solve the intelligence issue!”

Sombra blinked. “What?”

The stallion chuckled at Twilight’s confused look. “Oh yes. A hive mind of sorts was the answer. Alone they’ll be dumb as rocks, but the more there are, the smarter they become.”

“I find his claims unlikely, but even if it’s true…” Sombra mused. “Then he is increasing their intelligence before he even controls them. He is beyond reckless.”

“Shadow Flare, you need to listen to me,” Twilight tried to say both sternly and calmly. “No matter how brilliant your mind is, never mind the moral implications, you are new to dark magic. You are not ready to handle something like this.”

“And what would you know about dark magic?”

“Enough to say that I wouldn’t jump straight to the riskiest spells. Just like any other type of magic,” she answered, Sombra nodding along in agreement. “You can still end this. You can.”

He shook his head in denial. “No, I have come too far. I need to do this. And you, Twilight… I’m so sorry…”

Twilight locked eyes with the unicorn. “W-what are you going to do to me…?”

“I can’t have you leave here. And… there’s a lot your biology could help me with in regard to my experiments,” Shadow Flare said regretfully. “Once I have sufficiently prepared, you will help me with my research. I wish it didn’t have to be this way. I wish you never came here. But this is the end of the road for Princess Twilight Sparkle.”

And with that, Shadow Flare could no longer look at her in the eyes. He hesitated a moment before he turned away, trying to ignore Twilight as she started to frantically struggle against her restraints. She called out his name as he reached the door, but he slipped through it and shut it behind him.

Once again, Twilight was left alone with King Sombra.

Yeah. It was time to leave.

Dark magic lit inside Twilight, the flow of sickly energies travelling up to her horn. A few embers tried to light, but the ring went into overtime trying to stem the flow. Fortunately, however, Twilight doubted it would have the capacity to try and stop what she was going to do next. It simply wasn’t designed with such spells in mind.

Twilight inverted the magic flow, letting the dark magic spread throughout her body and into every cell.

And then the alicorn evaporated into shadow. The formless mass slid out of the restraints with ease, the horn ring coming loose and clattering to the ground alongside the wing straps. The mass swirled around the room and came to a rest next to the table, coming back together to reform Twilight Sparkle.

“Good thinking,” Sombra complimented. “Now, let us be done with this foolish unicorn.”

“One second,” Twilight interrupted, looking around the room and spotting a desk containing an inkwell and some parchment.

Trotting over, Twilight figured that the parchment was usually used for research notes and checklists. It’s how Twilight would do things, after all. But when she picked one up and started to write, she used it to write a warning. It was a warning addressed specifically to Cadance, and on that parchment she wrote everything she could as quickly as she managed. Shadow Flare. The secret section of the sanctum. Everything she could.

And then she took hold of the parchment before her, lighting her horn with dark magic and watching as it burnt up.

“Sending it straight for the Princess of Love,” Sombra noted. “I am glad to see my lessons have not gone to waste.”

“They were bound to come in handy someday,” Twilight agreed. “And unlike Shadow Flare, I was smart enough to start with spells inside my ability.”

“You mean I was smart enough to teach you said spells inside your ability,” Sombra refuted with a smirk.

“Same difference. Family secrets, right?”

“Hmph, indeed. But now…”

“We need to go. I know.”

Twilight started to move back through the chamber, lighting her horn with normal magic as she went. She prepared an array of combat spells, all ready to go when she ran into Shadow Flare. He may have been a gifted unicorn, but she was still far better than him in every way. If he wanted to fight, then that would be his own folly.

Twilight reached the door, carefully prying it open and looking out into the corridor. Everything seemed clear, the exit out of the secret area being closed tightly up ahead. However, Twilight heard a noise coming from the room where the Princess had first been incapacitated, a shadow passing by the door from Shadow Flare somewhere within.

Twilight ruffled her wings, increasing the build-up of magic in her horn as she took a step out into the corridor.

And then she gave a blood-curdling scream.

Pain erupted throughout every nerve in her body and bolts of magical electricity seemed to streak out every surface around her! The magical energies violently lashed out at the alicorn, Sombra’s spectre vanishing in a puff of shadow as Twilight felt all of her strength abandon her. For several agonising moments the assault kept up, before finally she was allowed to hit the ground in a pained heap.

Twilight’s head swam, her vision fading as she saw the other door open back up. Shadow Flare stepped into view, giving Twilight a look of sadness as he approached.

“Twilight, not a good idea,” his distant voice professed. “For all the dark magical ability you believe I lack, I did graduate Celestia’s school. I have my own array of spells. And with an alicorn on my table, did you not think I would prepare a countermeasure in case you escaped?”

Twilight tried to respond, but all that came out was a groggy murmur.

Shadow Flare shook his head. “I won’t deny your magical superiority. But even you are just flesh and blood, Princess. A simple shock trap designed to hit every pain receptor in your body was an easy choice. And now, I’m sad to say, this is goodbye…”

Darkness claimed Twilight again, unconsciousness depositing the mare back into the empty void.

Author's Note:

And so we have our culprit, bringing us into the final collection of chapters.

Twilight, like much of yourselves, has seen the writing on the wall. And yet something worse may stir in the dark...

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