• 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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25 - Evacuation

The Crystal Palace was being overrun.

Had the horde remained the small number Twilight had encountered down in the sanctum then there could have at least been a little time to form some kind of buffer between the dead and living before they spread out too far. But with almost all of their victims being turned rather than mercifully slain, the infection was spreading like wildfire. The ponies of the Crystal Empire were seeing the beginnings of a plague, one that threatened to spill out from their seat of power and into the rest of the city.

If that happened, then what could they truly do but watch as civilians, who unlike the Crystal Guard didn’t even have weapons and armour with which to defend themselves, succumb to the epidemic.

At least the Frozen North would prevent its ascension into Equestria and beyond as a pandemic. Or, at least, that’s what Twilight Sparkle hoped.

But it had yet to spread beyond the palace, so maybe there was yet hope of containment.

They just needed the Crystal Heart.

Shining Armor led the way with his little sister following on, both briskly moving through the palace in their attempts to find Princess Cadance and the Element Bearers. A group of guardsponies rushed past them, moving down an adjacent corridor to undoubtedly join one of the lines trying to keep the draugr from spreading their dark influence throughout the rest of the palace.

Twilight feared she would not see any of them return.

“How could this happen?” Shining Armor lamented. “They’re just chewing through us.”

“Whatever Shadow Flare did in his experiments, the spread was an unintended mutation,” Twilight explained. “I don’t think he ever really appreciated just how dangerous necromancy was.”

“How dangerous all of Sombra’s magic is,” Shining remarked. “I can’t believe how much of an idiot he was. How much I was for not to see this happening before it grew out of control!”

“None of us did…” Twilight did her best to comfort her brother.

“Then we’ll have to make up for it by stopping it here.”

“But if we can’t…”

“I know. Hopefully, Cady had already sent somepony to begin evacuating the Crystal Empire.”

Twilight did some quick math in her head, but she didn’t like the results. The train station was still small, even if it had been built up a little more since it was first erected many months prior. It only held a single line, a single train at the station at any given time, more akin to Ponyville than Canterlot or Manehatten. More trains could be diverted if a message was sent, but that didn’t change the fact that only one could ever be present at the station. Not to mention the time it would take for more of said trains to arrive. Even if the Friendship Express could get into the station so soon after the Crystal Express left with the first wave of evacuees…

It would take too long. Too many trips with too few of the several thousand civilians on board, even if the train was overloaded to capacity.

And that meant that, unless they could come up with a solution, most of the ponies in this city were going to die.

Shining Armor saw Twilight’s panicked look, glancing at her with a grim expression of his own.

“…I know, Twily. We have a lot of ponies to get out,” he said. “When this is all over, remind me to increase the railway company’s funding so we can get more than one platform.”

That would probably be a good idea. After all, how else were ponies meant to leave? The very same barrier of snow and ice that might save the rest of Equestria from the horde also meant that the crystal ponies couldn’t just flee via their own hooves.

A double-edged sword if ever there was one.

The duo came upon an intersection, one of the conjoining corridors leading further into the current floor while behind it also sat one of the staircases leading further down into the lower levels of the palace. A small contingent of the Crystal Guard had set up here, a unicorn erecting an orange magical barrier while the earth ponies accompanying them prepared their weapons. Each looked terrified and determined in equal measure, them being the only thing between the draugr and the staircase.

“Guard,” Shining Armor addressed the ranking officer in the group. “Where’s my wife!?”

“Prince Shining Armor, sir!” the guard greeted with a salute. “I do not know, your Highness! She may be in the lower levels!”

“Have the draugr gotten there yet?” Twilight asked worriedly.

“Not from this staircase they haven’t,” the pony responded. “As for the other barricades, I cannot say…”

Shining hummed. “Alright. We’ll head down, you-”

“Contact!”

Following the alarmed shout of the unicorn, several globs of tainted dark magical spit hit the barriers they’d erected, the magic sparking and hissing from an almost corrosive effect. Twilight’s wings flared even as Shining Armor stepped in front of her defensively, the guards taking up their positions as a stream of bodies appeared down the other end of the hall.

This group was almost entirely comprised of ponies adorned in the armour of the Crystal Guard, mixed in with a few of the palace’s staff. Twilight could only spot a single pony amidst the crowd who looked like one of the first she’d encountered in Shadow Flare’s lab. A testament to their growing numbers.

And they, seeing their initial attack blocked by the shield, all gave feral growls as they charged forward. A mass of bodies all struck the barriers, the dead pounding their hooves and gnashing with their teeth against the barrier as its caster gritted their teeth from their assault.

And then, clumsily, one of the deceased guards drew their sword from its scabbard. The blade joined the pounding as yet another draugr, one who used to be a unicorn, lit their horn and unleashed a primitive and uncontrolled burst of mana.

It was just like Shadow Flare had said. With more bodies and minds among their number their intelligence grew.

And now they were learning.

“Most fascinating indeed.”

With the increasing damage the barrier was taking, the unicorn keeping it up looked increasingly pained as a crack split along its surface. And then, with little time to react, one final strike of a sword came down onto the weakest segment of the barrier which then proceeded to shatter like a pane of glass.

The draugr all darted for the hole.

It was a horrific sight, so many bodies all trying to fit in such a small gap. But the unicorn was unable to repair their own shield as the draugr made their rush, leaving the first few to start making their way through.

Two projectiles were launched through the air, the first being batted aside by a burst of Twilight’s magic while the second made its mark and hit a guard between their chest plate and neck. As the pony’s dying scream rang out, the guard got to stabbing and piercing the first of the intruders. The first took a spear through the skull and fell limp, but the others were only enraged by their garnering wounds and lunged outwards.

Twilight stepped forward, sending a wave of magic towards the draugr as they clambered through the barrier. All caught in the blast were sent sprawling backwards, most out of the breach and back into the corridor beyond the barrier. One, who had already gotten completely through, was simply pushed up against the barrier’s interior with a terrible shriek. Two more spear-wielding guards struck forwards and skewered the draugr, the previously infected guard simultaneously starting to rise up behind his former comrades.

Shining Armor saw this, lifting the creature in his magic and forcibly levitating it through the breach. The act caused the new undead to barrel into some of the others as they returned to try and make their way through the shield, knocking them aside before both of the royal siblings added their own magics to the barrier and sealed the breach.

The unicorn who had erected the original barrier gave them a grateful look, regaining their composure and sealing up the hole in their own orange layer between the lavender and pink.

“Thank you,” the officer said. “We will continue to hold here. Private, you have the shield?”

The unicorn nodded. “I-I can do this, sir!”

Twilight glanced at Shining Armor, the stallion looking reluctant to leave his ponies behind. But they still had to find Cadance and the Element Bearers, especially if they wanted to stop the infestation in its tracks.

“Alright,” the Prince conceded. “Good luck. Come on, Twily.”

“I’m coming,” the alicorn confirmed, letting her shield drop alongside Shining’s as the undead kept up their assault.

As the royal pair retreated down the staircase, their ears could not miss the unicorn’s strain as the guards prepared for the next inevitable breach. They hurried down to the lower floors, all but galloping their way down the steps with an urgency befitting their current situation.

“There is a fascinating modern game in here…” Sombra mused. “Chess, I believe. Suitable for the pawns to be sacrificed so their Queen might live.”

Twilight gritted her teeth. She did this both out of distaste… and out of a personal horror that she could see the cold logic of it. But those were living ponies whether they were guards or not. She didn’t want to think so casually of such a brave stand against hopeless odds, and their likely coming fate. She couldn’t afford to let herself think that way…

But the logic was there.

Twilight grunted, ridding herself of those terrible thoughts as she focused back on the task at hoof. As long as the undead were held upstairs they could-

They were already down here.

The first thing they saw was a draugr pounce upon some poor mare, teeth biting into her shoulder and keeping her pinned before, with a dreaded finality, the creature reared up and wretched its corruptive goop onto her.

“Get off!” a raspy voice bellowed, a prismatic blur flying down the corridor and bucking the creature with all four hooves. “Gah, dang it!”

Twilight and Shining Armor stared on in shock as the rest of Twilight friend’s trotted around the corner to the sight of a writhing, albeit recovering draugr alongside with the newly turning mare. All of them looked ashen at the sight, even more so as two pairs of hungry eyes turned towards them. Twilight already had a spell prepared to protect her friends…

…And then she let it die out, both creatures frozen in place as a certain buttery pegasus stepped forward with a burst of courage, her eyes wide open with a stare capable of drilling terror into even the undead.

With the two paralyzed by the Stare, Rarity gave a wince as she lit her horn and levitated the two up and into a nearby cupboard. Pinkie Pie followed this up by grabbing a plank of wood from… somewhere before having Applejack buck some nails in to keep the door shut.

“Phew, lucky I kept that around for zombie apocalypse emergencies!” the party pony commented.

“Not exactly ‘zombies’, but close enough,” Twilight stated as she approached her friends. “Are you all alright?”

“We’re plum tuckered, but in one piece,” Applejack replied. “You, Sugarcube?”

Twilight nodded. “I’m fine. It’s… just been a lot to take in.”

“You’re telling me! This is totally like the zombies in my comics!” Spike blurted out.

“Again, not quite,” Twilight retorted. “Draugr are a dark magic entity in possession of an empty body, not literally a pony coming back to life with a hunger for flesh.”

“Psh, the dead are coming back to life, who cares about the technicalities?” Rainbow Dash deadpanned. “They’re everywhere, and while I can kick flank all day long, this is WAY crazier than fighting off that changeling invasion!”

“We’ve seen p-ponies… they… d-d…” Fluttershy whimpered, tears breaching their eyes before she found Rarity’s hoof placed comfortingly on her shoulder. “The changelings didn’t hurt anypony this badly…”

“Chrysalis wanted us alive,” Shining Armor pointed out. “But they were still dangerous.”

“Yeah, we’ve been in more than one life threatenin’ scrap,” Applejack mused. “We gotta do right by the ponies who don’t know how to fight back.”

“Where’s Cadance?” Twilight asked. “Is she alright?”

“We got separated from the Princess,” Rarity said apologetically. “But I believe she was going to try and claim the Crystal Heart.”

“Then that’s where we go!” Shining announced. “Put an end to this nightmare!”

Suddenly, Twilight felt a build-up of alarm inside of her subconsciousness.

“Granddaughter, if the Crystal Heart once again activates with its accursed magic…”

Oh! Twilight had completely forgotten! But… with everything that was happening… She would find a way. Teleport outside the Crystal Empire if she had to. But she would have to be careful when interacting with the Crystal Heart, she wasn’t willing to let all this effort be put to waste because of Shadow Flare’s mistake!

But his creations needed to be stopped before more ponies got hurt.

“Girls, come on!” Twilight addressed her fellow Element Bearers. “We have a city to save!”

“That’s the spirit!” Pinkie Pie encouraged. “Let’s get the sparkles going!”

They all returned her determined look with nods and determination of their own. With that said, the group quickly got back on the move and weaved through the corridors. More shouts and shrieks of the undead could be heard throughout the palace, the eight of them trying to avoid the worse off areas as they descended down through the palace. But, with more of the creatures coming into existence by the second, it was all but impossible to avoid them all.

They were almost to the last staircase leading down to the Crystal Heart when a loud screech sounded behind them. The group whipped around in time to see a barrage of three dark magic projectiles heading their way. Twilight raised a shield to catch two, the third having been aimed high towards the flying Rainbow Dash. The pegasus, however, was no slouch when it came to avoiding unwanted objects seeking her demise. Her acrobatics in full form, she flipped around the spit as it harmlessly hit and dissolved against one of the crystalline walls.

And then they saw their attackers.

Six of the creatures were charging down at them, three with spears raised at the ready for combat. Even now they seemed to be gaining more of a handle on using the weapons, the implications of their still rising intelligence more than a little worrying.

The first draugr leapt forwards, pouncing through the air before the far faster Rainbow Dash swooped in and kicked it away. Another two came in with gnashing teeth, Applejack retrieving a coiled rope from a saddlebag and twirling it in the air, letting it fly and snagging one of them by the muzzle. Its mouth shut up tight, it started to thrash as it found itself unable to produce more of its infectious spit.

The other, meanwhile, had attempted to launch one such projectile at Fluttershy. Fortunately, Rarity had quickly moved the mare aside and blocked the attack with a panicked burst of her magic. Pinkie followed up on this by producing her party cannon and blasting the culprit away amidst a flurry of confetti.

While Rainbow Dash against kicked the first of the draugr down, swiftly swooping around to buck the back-most of the creatures, the three armed of the undead focused on charging down Twilight and Shining Armor.

Shining lit his horn and promptly yanked away the first of the spears, spinning it and pummelling the former wielder to the floor before driving the sharp end into the next one’s skull. The third one barrelled towards the Princess, the tip of its bladed weapon glinting much like the reflective crystals all around them.

This creature would hurt her. Her friends. Twilight’s eyes narrowed dangerously at the monster, at the aberration created from her family’s own stolen magic. With all that in mind, Twilight redirected her magic into another bolt of destruction and fired it at her attacker.

The spear clattered to the ground, ash following it.

Twilight didn’t miss the shocked looks the others gave her as she followed in her brother’s example and picked up the discarded weapons, driving it aside and into the one that Applejack was wrangling. Shining drew his own blade and finished off the one he’d knocked aside, Rainbow Dash picking up the two she’d been running circles around and throwing them towards Twilight.

The alicorn kicked briefly into the air with a flap of her wings, firing two more bolts of mana at the creatures and rendering them too to dust.

In a bid of desperation, the lone remaining draugr stood back up from the confetti assault and spit back at the ponies. All sidestepped it, the goops splashing down onto the floor near to Spike. He recoiled as, even as it dissolved, it seemed to reach out towards him. The drake reacted with a burst of fire, leaving nought but a scorch mark where the substance had been.

Then, rather than press the attack, it decided to turn tail and attempt to regroup with more of its kind.

Twilight fired one final bolt as it retreated down the corridor, its form crumbling down into dust.

The corridor was once again clear and, Twilight not wanting to waste even a moment, the alicorn turned to continue towards the exit.

“Come on, we need to- Guys?”

She turned, seeing them all staring at her like she’d grown yet another pair of wings. Suddenly feeling rather self-consciousness, Twilight returned their gazes with a confused one of her own.

“Uh, sorry for staring there, but you…” Applejack started sheepishly.

“I’ve never seen you kill anything before,” Shining Armor noted with no hesitation, looking a little disturbed. “Not that I’m criticising you, Twilight. They’re dark magical abominations. But… You seemed rather calm about it, that doesn’t seem right to me.”

“Yeah, that is a little weird,” Rainbow agreed. “You’ve never fought like that before.”

“Y-yeah…” Fluttershy agreed nervously. “You… looked a little scary.”

Scary? Twilight had looked… scary?

Spike tapped his claws together. “Are you okay, Twilight?”

“Fine!” Twilight protested. “We don’t have time for this! Besides, how else are we meant to stop them!? You know, since there isn’t another cupboard nearby!”

“I’ve seen a few unfortunate things in the guard,” Shining said calmly. “Things that bother me. It’s not that you did it, but for a first I’m just worried how it didn’t even phase you. Of all things, that doesn’t seem like you, Twily.”

Twilight cringed. Truth be told, until they’d just called her out on it, she hadn’t even considered it. Maybe that is in of itself was the problem, striking these creatures down, killing them, hadn’t bothered her in the slightest. But it should have done, shouldn’t it? Even if she had to. Even if it was the only way. Should she not have felt something for the act of killing for the first time?

But she had done it to protect her friends. She’d do anything to protect them.

“Exactly. Because only we know what is best for those that we love…”

Twilight froze.

She… He…

A cold shiver ran its way down Twilight’s spine, now extremely aware of just how jaded she had been in the midst of this infestation. Her mind flashed back to the Roc that had attacked her, just how good she had felt hurting it. How similar destroying these draugr had felt.

“W-we can talk about this later,” an extremely disturbed Twilight stuttered, trying not to think about how Sombra’s influence may have successfully started to change her. “Let’s just find Cadance…”

Maybe it was Sombra. Maybe it had just been the heat of the moment. But the horn in her saddlebag felt all the heavier as Twilight started to walk once again.

She had to protect those around her, but she could also control herself.

She could…

Plagued by the realisation, Twilight tried to remain focused as the others followed on. She could still feel their confused and worried eyes on her back, but they had more pressing matters. They could deal with the Sombra situation later, they had to find Cadance. Just at the bottom of these steps they were bound to find the solution to this mess. Just a few more steps.

They reached the bottom, Twilight latching onto the entranceway and letting the door swing open.

“GWAH!”

“Eep! Twilight screamed, a burst of magic sending the draugr that had jumped out at her hurtling across the courtyard.

They were outside the palace.

They could all hear screams as they rushed out of the palace, the Crystal Guard deep in combat with the horde of undead as they flowed out of the other exits. Nearby civilians were scrambling to flee as other guards bellowed orders for evacuations, a cordon being set up around the base of the palace in further efforts to contain the infection.

They also realised, with growing horror, that there was a growing chill in the air. The reason was clear, one look at the central two crystal spikes showed the Crystal Heart absent. Indeed, if one were to glance at the ground amidst the rampaging hooves of the undead, the glimmer of the discarded artefact could be seen.

“Cadance!” Shining shouted, all eyes turning to where he had spotted and was now bolting towards the pink alicorn.

She was on the ground being helped back up by a guard. Residue of the infectious spit was all around her, dissolving into nothingness. She looked dazed; her horn charred beyond any practical usability.

“What happened!?” Shining asked urgently as the group reached her, two unicorn guardsponies stepping up to provide magical barriers against incoming projectiles.

“Got hit…” she murmured sluggishly. “On my horn… Channelled all the energy I could to stop the infection…”

“You burnt out the dark magic…” Twilight realised, glancing at her sister-in-law’s ruined horn. “But you’ve really done a number on your horn. I don’t think you’ll be able to use most magic right now.”

Cadance winced in pain. “I know. Which means I can’t encase the palace in a shield spell to contain this…

“What about your husband?” Applejack asked. “Or Twi?”

“It’ll take time for me to get one up like that, the same process I did for our wedding,” Shining explained.

“And I don’t think I can get one that big,” Twilight admitted sheepishly. “At least, not one will last long against constant abuse. Cadance’s was uniquely suited against them due to being based on love, dark magic’s counter.”

“The one thing I’m better at magically,” Cadance noted with a small chuckle before it was cut short by the pain. “Ugh, I was trying to use the heart. But it got knocked from my grasp…”

“Which means winter is coming!” Spike stressed.

Rainbow Dash groaned. “As if we didn’t have enough problems!”

“We have to move!” one of the guards stated urgently. “The dead are pushing out!”

“Twilight,” Cadance addressed. “Take your friends and try and help the evacuation of the city along. We’ll do what we can here.”

“I’m staying with you. Especially if you’re hurt,” Shining demanded.

Cadance gave him a weak smile. “I won’t even try to argue.”

“Then I think we should make an exit,” Rarity said with growing alarm. “I don’t believe the guard can hold them here.”

“Spike, can you send a message to Princess Celestia?” Twilight asked, successfully finding some parchment and a pencil that had already been inside her pilfered saddlebag.

“On it!” he confirmed, taking them and urgently scribbling away.

“Princesses!” the guard bellowed in a panicked tone, many guards falling back around them as more joined the dead.

“Twilight, go!” Cadance told her.

Reluctantly, Twilight started to move away with her friends as her family joined up with the Crystal Guard as they reformed a defensive line. Both were dishing out orders, particularly Shining Armor for his experience. Twilight wasn’t sure how long they could hold before the line was pushed back again and again, but she hoped they would be okay.

There was a rush of green flame from Spike, so at least Celestia and Luna would now be aware of the crisis. If they could get to them in time with help…

They would have to take any hope they could get, the sheer hopelessness of the situation even more apparent by the terrified ponies fleeing all around the Bearers of Harmony. How many were caught up in the fray behind them? How many more were coming? Even now there were more ponies by the minute heading down the grand highway towards the station, ponies could be seen attempting to board the Crystal Express even from their position.

“The dead toil as their graves burst open. The ponies around you are all going to join in their march,” Sombra taunted. “Because the lesser cannot protect themselves, cannot be in charge of their own lives. True safety for these foals lies only within chains.”

Twilight tried to ignore him, the chill returning to her spinal column as she recalled the ecstasy she had felt back at the palace and beyond. The power she’d felt in defeating the Roc. Of destroying the draugr…

No, she couldn’t let that bother her. Couldn’t let Sombra’s dark view of the world distract her. She had to remain focused on the ponies around her, on keeping them safe.

The dead were coming for them all.