• Published 20th Oct 2018
  • 3,490 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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24 - Unleashed

Pain. It was a familiar feeling. Perhaps too familiar.

But it was a feeling, so that was already an improvement on the also increasingly familiar void of unconsciousness. It was subdued at first, subtle. Much like the voice trying to, once again, rouse her from her slumber. But second by second the feeling grew. It was like every nerve in her body was both numb and on fire at the same time, every single one having taken their fair share of the trap’s magical energies. It wasn’t the same level of pain that the alicorn had felt when the trap had first activated, but it was still an extremely uncomfortable experience.

And it is with that sense of pain that Twilight Sparkle’s eyes opened again, taking a moment to adjust as the mare held a profound sense of Déjà vu as her situation. She was strapped once again to the very same table as she had been before, looking up at the same ceiling with the same ominous blades and machinery around her.

Twilight groaned.

“Do not make this a habit, Granddaughter,” Sombra jeered. “It is most tiresome seeing you fall to this pretender’s machinations.”

“Ughh…” Twilight moaned in response. “I will admit, I think I underestimated him a little…”

“Indeed.”

“But it’s not like you warned me either!”

“That’s beside the point,” Sombra swiftly deflected the accusation. “Your Shadow Flare is once again making preparations in the next room. At least, that is what I presume. If you are to escape, now would be the time to do it.”

On that, she had no argument. Maybe it would be best to stick to the literal shadows until she was truly out of danger, only returning to her natural form when she could safely find the undoubtedly frantic guards outside for help. Maybe her message had gotten through and they were already on the way? She couldn’t have been unconsciousness for that long if Shadow was still preparing and rescue had yet to arrive.

Well, she wouldn’t know for sure musing on it there. Especially not while a certain corrupted unicorn was preparing unspeakable things right next door.

Twilight let her dark magic bubble up inside her again, preparing to repeat the process of turning her form into a featureless black mass that would slip out of her restraints without issue. She ran through the motions, redirecting the darkness into her own body, into every cell, and…

And…

Nothing?

Twilight tried again. And again. And once more for certainty. But every time she received not even a hint of the shadowform spell coming to fruition. She knew she had not missed a step. She could feel it inside her, the spell wriggling about as the shadows all but begged to be free from her physical body.

But every attempt was blocked.

Sombra frowned, his eyes glancing at the ring on Twilight’s horn. The ring that, now that he considered it more closely, had seemingly undergone a small modification.”

“Ah.”

Before Twilight could question the King’s statement, the door opened and admitted Shadow Flare once more. He carried with him a few vials of… something. Twilight couldn’t determine what, but the swirling masses inside each bottle was enough for the mare to know that she really didn’t want to find out.

“Awake? I see… It would have been better for you to remain asleep until death came for you,” he noted regretfully. “But I suppose it will give better results this way. Forgive me.”

“I will if you don’t try to turn me into an undead monster,” Twilight retorted. “That’s always an option.”

“Not anymore,” he dismissed, placing the vials down on the table next to Twilight and moving to retrieve a piece of parchment.

Twilight just watched as he made some notes that she could not see, the alicorn continuing to try and probe at the ring for any small weakness. This only continued for a few moments, before the unicorn moved the parchment aside and approached her once again.

Shadow Flare stared down at her for a few moments, Twilight glaring back up and causing him to shamefully avert his eyes. He then gently moved her head to one side, seemingly examining the ring on her horn. He gave a low hum, seemingly finding whatever it was he was searching for. He then released his grip on her skull, Twilight returning to glaring at the stallion.

“Dark magic, hm? You surprise me.” Twilight’s eyes then went wide at his words. “I had suspected as much after I saw no damage to your restraints. Not to mention an aura left in the air that I was certain wasn’t mine. And sure enough, my modification to the ring has blocked a surge of it from that horn of yours already. It looks like I’m not the only one taking what Sombra left behind to heart.”

“The difference is that I’m not hurting ponies with it!” Twilight growled. “You’ve gone too far!”

“You’ve studied his work. I don’t believe you don’t see the merit of my work!”

“Lay where I am and then talk about the ‘merit’.”

“You know I can’t do that. If you understood, you could have helped me in other ways. But your morality gets in the way of what will really protect the ponies out there. Protecting the ponies you love.”

“Now you really ARE sounding like Sombra!”

Shadow Flare raised an eyebrow. “And how would you know what Sombra sounded like? I wasn’t under the impression that you spoke at length.”

“I… Never mind that,” Twilight redirected. “What you’re doing won’t protect anypony. You will just hurt them more. Even if you succeed, nopony will want their loved ones to be turned into that when they die! And even then, they’re dangerous. You’ve seen how unpredictable this magic is. If they ever got free…”

“I will solve the problems. Given time,” he stubbornly insisted. “You just need to believe in me!”

“You’re kidding, right?”

“ENOUGH!” he suddenly shouted with what could only be described as madness dominating his features, his horn lighting and a scalpel bring brought into the air right above the squirming alicorn. “I will save Equestria. I don’t need your approval now! Not when you will be one of our new protectors soon…!”

The scalpel started to descend.

And then it fell out of his grip and onto the ground, both Twilight and Shadow Flare startled by a sudden deafening boom from somewhere beyond the room. Their eyes locked onto the door, the sound of hooves rapidly approaching assaulting their stunned ears.

And then the whole situation changed.

The door burst open as a flare of magic came hurtling in, igniting in a blinding spark of light that causing their vision to instantly become one solid colour. Twilight just cringed and averted her eyes while listening to Shadow Flare’s startled shout, before it was joined by the angry shouting of several ponies seemingly charging into the room.

There was another shout and a crash as Twilight’s vision started to return.

“Room secure,” a pony reported. “We have the Princess.”

The blurred equine shapes around her started to focus, allowing Twilight to make out that a whole squad of Crystal Guard had stormed the room, one of them having his Shadow Flare around the head so hard with the butt of their spear that the stallion was now out cold as two others moved to restrain him.

Her eyes then locked onto one stallion in particular, none other than Crystal Shield, rushing over to the table and immediately starting to undo her restraints.

“Next time I’m not letting you out of my sight,” he stated irritably. “Ever.

“Sorry,” Twilight apologised sheepishly as the last of her restraints were undone and the guard helped up get up to her hooves. “On the bright side… I found the culprit!”

He gave her a deadpan look, her title seemingly a moot point at the moment.

“…Never running off again. Got it.”

Crystal Shield hummed, looking around to give Shadow Flare a surprised and disappointed look. The dark mage was still out of it, his legs bound while another guard was busy preparing an appropriate horn ring to suppress his magic. A small ping of satisfaction came from the back of Twilight’s mind at the latter point.

“Shadow Flare…” Crystal Shield muttered, before he then regarded Twilight again. “Are you alright? What was he about to do to you?”

“Same thing he did to them,” Twilight replied sadly, gesturing to the failed draugr around the room. “I’m really glad my message got through. Thank you.”

He nodded. “Anytime. We were already searching for you when we got word, so we mustered and stormed this place as quickly as we could. Still, I can’t believe that he was the one we were looking for the whole time.”

“He played us well,” Twilight admitted. “I should have spotted it earlier, but… Ah, it’s over now. He can’t hurt anypony anymore.”

“Aye. We’ll finish securing him and then stick him into a cell. I’m sure Princess Cadenza and Princes Shining Armor will-”

“N-no!” Shadow Flare suddenly shouted, thrashing as hard as he could as consciousness returned to him just as they were attempting to apply the horn ring. “Idiots! Not now! Not now!”

“Hold him still!” the guard trying to plant the ring commanded the two attempting to keep the struggling stallion restrained.

Twilight’s blood ran cold as Shadow’s horns started to bubble with dark magic, the alicorn lighting her horn to help restrain the stallion as Crystal Shield leapt into action to assist his fellows. Twilight’s magic and Crystal’s strength halted all attempts at movement, the ring going on just as Shadow Flare let out a gigantic shout of anguish and unleashed a pulse of dark energy all around them!

But with the ring on, all dark magic ceased. So too did the sickly magic suspending the corpses around the room fizzle out, the bodies no longer being suspended and falling to the ground with a stomach-wrenching splat.

But then everything was silent sans for the heavy breathing of everypony around the room.

“Ugh, get him up,” one of the guards said, the others dragging the defeated-looking Shadow Flare to his hooves. “Shadow Flare, for murder and treason against the Equestrian crown you are under arrest.”

“I was… so close…” he lamented, looking around the room with an almost expecting gaze, one that was increasingly devastated and disappointed.

“Princess Twilight and Princess Mi Amore Cadenza trusted you, Shadow Flare,” Crystal Shield stated, not hiding his profound sense of betrayal. “Why…?”

“Bah. Somepony like you could never understand, Crystal Shield…”

“That’s enough,” Twilight interrupted. “All of this… Everything you’ve done… I still hope there’s something in your heart still open to friendship, Shadow Flare. Maybe I can help you find it. I hope you might come to realise just what kind of pony you’ve become, for your sake, before it’s too late…”

“No more than I can…” Sombra chided.

“I haven’t lost all hope yet,” Twilight said to her distant grandfather as much as to Shadow Flare. “I can’t change what you’ve done. I can’t bring back the ponies you… hurt. But this doesn’t have to be the end of everything…”

Shadow Flare shook his head. “You can’t save everything, Twilight Sparkle. Some things you just can’t control…”

Twilight gave him a saddened look. Maybe he was right. Maybe she couldn’t save his soul after all he had done. Maybe she couldn’t save Sombra either. Their souls might have become even darker than Nightmare Moon’s. Than Discord’s. Maybe her efforts would be futile… But she had to keep trying, that’s just who she was.

“Someday soon, Twilight, your optimism won’t be enough…”

Twilight was silent.

“Come on, let’s get out of here,” Crystal Shield said to the Princess as they started to take Shadow Flare away, the stallion now offering little resistance. “We can handle him for the time being, I think you need some rest.”

“Yes… You’re probably right…”

Twilight started to turn away, ready to put this whole incident to rest.

And then something moved.

The Princess shot back around, Crystal Shield looking at her with confusion. The guards leading Shadow Flare away also stopped by the door, turning to see just what had startled the alicorn so much.

And then the bodies started to move.

The desiccated corpses, despite being allegedly deactivated as failures, started to rise. Their dead eyes opened, a green tinge flowing behind those otherwise milky soulless orbs. All of the ponies couldn’t help but recoil in horror at the sight of the dead rising to their hooves, just standing there with blank expressions. All except for Shadow Flare, who suddenly seemed sadistically overjoyed.

“It worked!” he exclaimed excitedly. “My servants! Now do you see? They come to my aid! Their loyalty knows no bou-”

He never finished his sentence, one of the undead ponies giving a loud wretch as a glob of black and green magic was spat straight from its maw. The energy streaked right at Shadow Flare, the only pony speaking, and struck him directly in the face.

The dark mage screamed.

“No!” Twilight shouted, her horn lighting and firing a bolt of lavender magic at the newly resurrected draugr.

The creature was struck, flying back into the wall hard enough to crack its surface. Its spine broken, the monster fell to the ground while shrieking like a wounded animal. It then reoriented itself, started to crawl on its forelegs.

Almost as if the dinner bell had been rung, the other draugr awoke.

The guards dropped Shadow Flare’s limp body as they drew their weapons, Crystal Shield standing protectively close to Twilight as the draugr struck. Two more dark magic projectiles were spat towards the Princess, the mare lighting her horn and concocting a shield to protect herself and the Crystal Guard.

Several of the creatures pounced on the others, the ponies pushing back with their spears and swords. One was impaled on a spear and yet kept on coming, dragging its body down the weapon’s shaft until it was upon its owner. The guard tried to pull back, but their assailant and a few others started to swarm and maul them. Another struck at Crystal Shield, but he swung his sword and batted the creature aside with a new gash along its torso.

Twilight released the shield and converted it into a wave of magic, brushing the other swarming draugr from the other two remaining guards. From the open doorway, Twilight could also see draugr emerging from the other room and charging down the hallway. And as if the situation wasn’t already morbid enough, Shadow Flare started to rise back to his hooves, his movements noticeably more sluggish and feral-like.

“His arrogance and inexperience was his doom,” Sombra mused. “He belongs to them now.”

The other guards fell back towards her and Crystal Shield, batting away at the draugr as they made grabs for the group.

“Leave this place,” Sombra commanded. "Now that the gate has been unlatched, headstones pushed aside; corpses shift and offer room, a fate you must not abide!"

Twilight replied by pushing back against the undead horde with another wave of magic, she was not leaving them.

“Princess, stay behind me!” Crystal Shield warned as another glob of their infectious spit barely missed her.

Only for a second to come streaming in and hit Crystal Shield’s front armour plate. The crystal pony stuttered in shock, before trying to clear the substance off of himself in a hurry. And yet, almost as if it had a mind of its own, it had already started to seep in through the armour and soak into his skin.

“Crystal Shield!” Twilight shouted in a panic, trying to move to help him only to be forced to step back and raise a shield as all of the draugr started throwing their projectiles at the Princess.

The other guards were hit, all falling and screaming in pain as Crystal Shield’s pained eyes turned to look at Twilight’s horrified ones.

“Run…!”

And then he grew silent.

“It is time to leave,” Sombra further urged. “Lest you too join the chorus of those that are dead.”

They were dead. Crystal Shield. Shadow Flare. All those ponies…

But there were so many. All of Shadow Flare’s victims now joined by the dark mage himself as well as Twilight’s former saviours. They pounded against her shield, all seeking to claim her too as the mare’s eyes glanced over them.

And then she spotted something else.

In the chaos, some of Shadow Flare’s things had been roughly knocked aside. Among them was a now-open box, a box from which a curved red horn had clattered out.

Sombra’s horn.

Tears filling her eyes, Twilight released the shield and rolled to the side. She grabbed both the horn and a saddlebag, planting the latter onto her back and the horn into the pouch in quick succession. She then screwed her eyes shut and redirected her magic into a teleportation spell. She popped out of existence just as the draugr charged again. They found nothing but empty space, but all heard a second pop outside of the secret chamber further back in Sombra’s sanctum.

Twilight came out of the teleportation spell sprawled on the ground but wasted no time in trying to get to her hooves and frantically examine her surroundings. A few more guards were arriving behind her, staring at the Princess in shock before their eyes went to something else. Something far more terrifying.

The draugr had already turned around, spilling into the sanctum.

“Everypony out!” Twilight ordered as she fired two bolts of magic with as much energy behind them as she could muster.

Both attacks hit the lead draugr, all but turning the creature to ash as another projectile was spat out and hit another guard. As she started to turn, the others got the message and began to fall back with Twilight following closely. They started to move back towards the stairs, one draugr following them out closer than the rest before being struck by a spear thrown by one of the crystal ponies. It didn’t destroy the creature, but it did at least temporarily pin it to a wall as the living made to abandon the sanctum to the undead.

A light appeared above them, the survivors emerging out into the throne room and into the view of Prince Shining Armor and several other bewildered ponies.

“Twily?” Shining addressed with both relief and confusion. “What’s going on!?”

“We need to close the sanctum!” Twilight shouted, turning around and starting to ready the spell. “There’s-”

Too late.

Shining Armor bit onto Twilight’s mane and pulled his sister aside on instinct as the first draugr appeared and fired its corruptive substance at her. Thusly, Twilight’s spell went wide and impacted harmlessly against a wall.

And then the horde started to emerge into the palace with alarming frequency.

Shining erected a shield of his own as the swarm surrounded them, the other guards unable to assist the royal pair and rapidly either falling to the infection or retreating to safety outside of the throne room. As her brother glared at their attackers, Twilight again lit her horn with a teleportation spell that surrounded both siblings.

Then they were elsewhere, falling to the ground in a random corridor in the palace.

Shining helped Twilight up, giving his sister a stern look. “Twilight, what just happened!?”

“Shadow Flare has let loose a horde of draugr, they can infect other ponies really quickly!” Twilight warned him. “We need to evacuate the palace, try to hold them here! Use the Crystal Heart if we have to!”

Shining Armor studied her for a moment, but then he nodded.

“Alright. We find Cadance, and your friends, and then we do just that. Come on!”

He turned to lead the way, Twilight following on. All the while, a certain stallion’s horn remained silent in her saddlebag. And, for some reason, it was filling Twilight with an even larger feeling of dread than the army of the dead.

All the while, despite his ever-present concern for Twilight’s safety, King Sombra looked on with growing interest.

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