• 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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27 - Desolation

There was a cold chill in the air.

They could all feel it, a malignant aura that pervaded the landscape around them. From the ground to the sky high above, all exuded the feeling of bleakness that all the ponies on route to the Crystal Empire felt. The physical chill spreading through their bodies was all the more disturbing due to the fact that nought but green fields were sprawled out beneath them, still far from the threshold of the Frozen North.

Even as the sun started to dip into the horizon, as willed by the Princess of the Sun presently taking in their situation, there should have been some warmth remaining from the celestial body to counteract the strange breeze in the air.

Something was very wrong.

“Sister,” Luna called out worriedly, seeing Celestia stop mid-flight to consider the horizon. “Are you well?”

The large pegasi escort all glanced at their two princesses as they faltered, slowing their speed but not stopping entirely. The Crystal Empire was still some distance away, and delay would be unfortunate given the dire circumstances that brought about their flight. Many had chalked that strange feeling they were all being subjected to towards knowing what laid ahead, the monstrous abominations that had allegedly invaded the distant city.

But the alicorns knew that this was no mere sense of nervousness in the face of an uncertain enemy. This was… something else.

Something worse.

“I do believe so,” Celestia lied. “I have set the sun on its final descent. Soon your night shall be upon us, Luna.”

“Yes. A shame I shan’t have time to showcase the constellations,” she lamented in turn. “A moderate brightness tonight shall have to do. Not that too many ponies will pay much mind.”

“You know the constellations are what make the night breathtaking,” Celestia retorted. “You always know just how to make them shine through the best.”

“An artist lives to see their work appreciated,” Luna said, clearly flattered. “But you are also deflecting. I can feel it too.”

Celestia sighed, giving a flap of her almighty wings and starting to move back towards the squadron of pegasi. Her younger sister did the same, keeping pace with Celestia and looking expectantly into her sister’s troubled eyes. The elder alicorn didn’t satisfy her with a response, at least not right away. Celestia took more than a few moments to collect her thoughts, her eyes turning in the direction of the distant Crystal Empire.

“Nature is unbalanced,” Celestia finally announced. “Something is happening, but I am unsure as to what.”

“I would endeavour to agree,” Luna replied. “Darkness is brewing in Equestria, a darkness I could almost describe as feeling familiar. It has soiled the very magic leylines running throughout the world, leaving them in quite the state.”

“Thus, what it is we feel.”

“I imagine we are feeling it far more acutely than our escort,” Luna further noted with glances at the pegasi. “And with what young Spike has warned us of, these abominations summoned by Shadow Flare, I cannot fathom it as a coincidence.”

“It would be convenient timing,” Celestia agreed. “But Twilight and her friends are there. I know they can keep our ponies safe until our arrival.”

“In the city of her lineage,” Luna noted, causing Celestia to inwardly flinch. “I fear what else this unicorn dark mage has unleashed.”

Celestia had considered it. A student at her school had attempted to emulate Sombra, continue his work. For a novice, who knew what other consequences messing with such dark forces could have held? And for how it had to be for Twilight, facing it all in light of recent revelations.

A pang of fear hit Celestia's heart, her speed increasing ever so slightly and causing Luna to falter a moment before she quickly compensated to match. The quicker they could help Twilight and her friends, the better.

“But for all our concerns, we should tread lightly,” Luna then noted. “The infectiousness of these draugr is deeply troubling.”

“We should keep the pegasi to the air as much as possible, remaining mobile and a difficult target for any of their attempts at spreading the plague,” Celestia stated, glancing around at the guards around them. “But our primary task should by the Crystal Heart. Spike said it is at the centre of the horde, so I believe it is clear where we should go.”

“Let us hope we can prove suitable replacements for Cadenza,” Luna said. “One would hope that it is little different from activating the elements.”

“On that, it has also been a long time. But with our intent being pure, the Heart should abide by us on this occasion. It has to, for the sake of all our little ponies.”

“Then let us do what we must,” Luna remarked confidently. “I look forward to facing these abominations and showing them what true power over the shadows looks like!”

Celestia rolled her eyes, albeit with a small smile. “As much as I admire your enthusiasm, Lulu, just remember to-”

And then there was a flash.

An almighty light erupted, just for a moment, in the distance. As it did, that feeling of dread multiplied exponentially within the alicorns. It was an aurora the colour of the twilight, a wave of magical energies washing out over the distant Frozen North.

It was only momentary, gone within the blink of an eye.

But then the sky above the region, so far off and yet still visible to the naked eye, started to warp and darken despite the continued rays of the setting sun. A darkness that hung entirely over the Crystal Empire, radiating heartbreak and hopelessness in its wake.

They could feel her.

And in that momentary flash, seen only to the alicorns, they had seen her. Eyes warped and twisted, filled with dark magic and complete soul-crushing despair. Tipped over the horizon, gripped with grief to the point of no return. Her beautiful lavender coat darkened and sinister, her wings almost predatory and promising a swift demise. A visage clearly of one singular pony, but one twisted into a strange mirror of herself.

And Celestia’s eyes grew wide in confusion and terror at that tormented face.

“Twilight…?”


A colossal beam of magic trailed through the horde of draugr with unparalleled destruction, a mix of light and dark magics interwoven as if they were always supposed to exist that way. It carved a chunk through the undead as the rest scrambled to part as the attack came their way, the alicorn responsible gliding over the mass of bodies with hatred in her eyes.

The horde immediately started to disperse, moving into smaller groups as they turned to fire their infectious projectiles at the dark alicorn. Dark magical masses flew high through the air, the beam of magic ceasing as Midnight weaved through them in a manner that would impress Rainbow Dash. She flipped and dived down towards the ground, flicking her head and sending a wave of magic that dislodged one of the groups and sent its members sprawling to the crystalline ground all around them.

The ground cracked as she landed on all four hooves, the surrounding crystal corrupted at her very presence into a dark colouration.

“The crystals… Can you feel them? The voice of the empire, ready to serve its Queen?”

“I do…”

“Let it tear them asunder, buried beneath our power.”

Midnight’s eyes flashed, a shadow reaching out from her body as her distant grandfather helped guide her magic. She looked towards the first two draugr to recover, likewise planting up a shield as yet more tried to fire on her one more.

They saw her.

She smirked.

Two black crystals shot out of the ground, impaling both of the creatures with horrific screeches. They struggled and thrashed, their movement becoming more difficult as yet more crystal grew from the shards inside their bodies.

Then they went limp, the dark structure having grown out of almost every orifice they had.

Midnight turned as the impacts against her shield ceased, her glowing dragon-like eyes examining the abominations around her. They had stopped, their milky eyes locked on her as they almost seemed to hesitate. The fallen alicorn observed their reactions with scholarly interest, a fanged smile emerging as she reached a revelation.

They’d claimed enough bodies, enough intelligence, to know fear.

And they feared her.

Good.

Midnight Sparkle reared up onto her hind legs before slamming her forehooves down onto the crystal road, countless shadows shooting forward as the draugr scrambled toward safety. Most managed to avoid what was coming, but an unlucky few were too slow as a wall of spiked black crystal shot out of the ground and skewered all in its path.

The centre of that crystal then started to morph, a crude staircase emerging as Midnight ascended. She stood on top of the wall, eyes examining the scene.

Then she saw it. Even with her strike, the horde had continued to lash out at the ponies holding them back from the station. As she had predicted, without her help, several were now being overwhelmed by the horde.

Weaklings. Must she do everything?

A draugr leapt through the air towards her, Midnight catching it within a levitation spell and planting the creature between herself and several more of the infectious spit. A magical blade bubbling with dark magic was then conjured out of the air, slicing through the restrained draugr and dropping it to the ground.

Then Midnight burst into shadow, whipping around several more strikes before returning to a corporeal form close to the collapsing shield wall. Her horn lit up, another beam of magic trailing along through the beasts closest to the defensive line. As the magical fire burned through the undead creatures, the ponies took several steps further backwards and reformed themselves.

Many looked towards Midnight Sparkle with confusion. Should they stop her? Assist her? Friend? Foe? Dark words she had spoken, yet assistance was what she now provided.

And then Midnight’s eyes locked onto the tracks leading out of the Crystal Empire.

“That will no longer be needed,” Midnight announced, leaving the guards to do their jobs for the moment as she flapped her wings and started towards the station.

“Twilight!” a familiar raspy voice shouted, a prismatic blur quickly catching up to her. “What are you doing!? Stop!”

“I shall protect you all, Rainbow Dash, and I do not wish you to leave.”

As Rainbow went to protest, Twilight lit up her horn and vanished the cyan pegasus amidst the pop of a teleportation spell.

“Our slaves must stay…”

Midnight streaked forward, her horn lighting once against as she flew over the tracks leading into the Crystal Empire.

And then she destroyed them, more dark crystals springing forth to create a barrier no train would be able to pass. There would be no running for them, no fleeing what had to be done. After she had dealt with the present threat, the ponies would be categorised accordingly. Sombra would help, he had done it all before.

The system she would create was going to be the most efficient in history, and all beneath her would be safer…

Even if it cost them their free will.

Midnight suddenly shouted as something cut her hide, the corner of her eye barely catching sight of a spear thrown up from below and just scraping her barrel. Her eyes narrowed as she shot around to find the culprit, finding the guards in front of the station running along the ground towards her.

Fools.

Her horn was lit, and immediately the Crystal Guard found themselves unable to act. A magical aura had surrounded their entire bodies, encasing them and restricting all but their breathing and eye movement. Midnight could feel their growing fear, each would be shaking in their boots if they were able. Their lives were now in her hooves, and it would be so easy to punish them for what they had just tried to do.

“So, my granddaughter, do just that.”

A simple squeeze and it would be over…

“Let their education begin on the folly of disobedience.”

There was a flash of Midnight’s horn…

And the guards fell down into unconsciousness.

“I see…”

“There would be little use in it. There are other ways to punish,” Midnight dismissed, her eyes returning to the horde. “But for now, there are bigger issues than they.”

And so she took flight once more, her shadow casting down onto the screaming ponies of the Crystal Empire. There was no doubt in their minds now to just who she was.

An enemy.

And now they were trapped, caught between Midnight Sparkle and the draugr as they continued to fight. And, no matter who would ultimately come out the victor, it seemed that they were destined to lose either way. Consumed by an undead horde or reduced to slaves once again…

Neither was an appealing prospect.

And that was no more apparent than to those closest to Midnight’s rapidly shrivelling heart, who had only been able to watch her final descent into madness and her ensuing onslaught. Even now, still right behind the lines as Applejack helped the dazed Rainbow Dash back to her hooves and the others rushed back through the crowd towards them, they could hardly believe their eyes as Midnight started to glide over the side alleys in search of lingering draugr.

“What’s going on!?” Spike asked in a panic as he and the other Element Bearers rushed towards Princess Cadance and the others. “W-was that T-Twilight…?”

“I was putting on a show for some foals and then BOOM everything went wibbly and then purple snooty came flying over and I was like OH MY GOSH Nightmare Moon’s cousin and then things exploded and-”

“Pinkie Pie!” Rarity interrupted the mare’s tirade. “Breathe!”

“B-but… Was that her!? Because that’s just completely bonkers!”

“Tell me about it…” Rainbow muttered as she finally seemed to recover from the sudden teleport. “Her eyes…”

“She’s just trying to help… Right…?” Fluttershy asked.

“I think so…” Shining Armor noted, but his expression was grim. “But I’m not sure she really realises just what her ‘help’ will bring.”

Either that... or she no longer cared.

“What was this about Sombra!?” Cadance finally shouted. “What did you girls do!?”

They all flinched, looking a little guilty and scuffing the ground as Cadance and Shining Armor gave them expectant looks.

“He’s all up inside her head,” Applejack was the first to respond, seemingly glad to finally speak of it even as the Prince and Princess baulked. “She’s been learnin’ dark magic from him. And it also looks like ya’ll are related to him, Shining Armor.”

“WHAT!?”

“Super crazy, right?” Pinkie remarked.

“Hold on,” he adamantly protested. “No. Nuh uh. No way. You’re making that up!”

“I don’t think so…” Cadance muttered with a frown, looking into Applejack’s deadly serious eyes. “Not with everything that’s happened.”

“But… That’s…”

“Something for later,” Cadance decided, grimacing as she spied Midnight shoot by overhead amidst another beam of magic that made the buildings around them shake. “We need to stop these draugr, and then we need to calm her down.”

Shining sighed, nodding. “Agreed. We need to get that bastard out of her head!”

“How do we do that?” Spike asked.

“We’re her friends, we have to do something,” Fluttershy said hopefully.

“Flutters is right about that,” Rainbow Dash agreed. “But… We can’t let the draug-whatevers through to all these ponies! So, maybe we should let her finish up first? She really seems to be doing a number on these guys!”

Cadance bit her lip, glancing up towards Midnight as she made another pass. The dark alicorn landed on a roof, her determined eyes glaring daggers at the horde even as they turned to attack her again. And yet, even as she brimmed with power, Cadance noticed the subtlety of her panting.

It reminded her of Twilight as a filly, deep into some new spell she’d seen during her studies under Princess Celestia. So determined, fire in her eyes as she continued well into the next morning with no signs of stopping. And yet, Cadance could always see the signs of wear and tear in her favourite little filly. A twitch in her eye. A frazzled mane. Heavier breathing.

New spells were always more taxing than ones you were familiar with.

Exhaustion came easily.

“They’re pushing!” a guard bellowed in alarm, the line sliding backwards as more draugr now came in like a wave to replace the ones Midnight had slain.

“We need to help!” Applejack stated.

They all hated it, but they all knew the truth. While the undead roamed the streets, none of them could do a thing to help Twilight. Not without putting more ponies at risk.

If only she hadn’t damaged her horn…

And from that nearby rooftop, watching the group return to their previous jobs helping the surviving denizens of the Crystal Empire with heavy hearts, Midnight glared. No doubt they were trying to figure out how to ‘save’ her.

She loved them, but they just didn’t have a clue.

“They never do.”

Another projectile deflected off a shield quickly implemented in an almost casual manner, Midnight turning her glare towards the beast. She leapt from the roof, her wings stretching outwards as she loomed over them like a spectre of death. A single bolt of magic shot forth from her horn and vaporised the undead abomination, the alicorn banking and sending another wave of magic against a few who had clambered up onto a conjoining rooftop in some poor attempt at catching her off guard. They all went flying off the roof in a flail of limbs, each landing on the ground below with a crunch.

It was extremely satisfying to the alicorn’s eyes to see the horde far thinner than it had previously been. And yet, even now, still some turned their dead eyes towards either her or the ponies cowering up ahead.

She would destroy them all.

Midnight’s flight took her over another set of alleyways to the side of the defensive line. And there, sure enough, a small group of about five draugr had been sneaking through an alleyway. During their jaunt, it seemed that they’d come across one of the small groups of guards sent out to scout for any such incursion.

Midnight landed in the middle of the skirmish, her sudden appearance causing a lull in the fight.

The corrupted mare ignited her blade, striking through the first two draugr before bucking the third into the ponies where they instantly laid into it with their weapons. The final two lunged at Midnight, only for each to have crystal structures emerge beneath each of them and tear them asunder.

“S-Sombra! He’s back!” one of the crystal ponies shouted fearfully.

Midnight rolled her eyes, batting aside their weapons with her magic. Then, with such wonderful ease, she put them into a state of unconsciousness much as she had with the last group to oppose her. Oh, what was she to do with them?

She heard an animalistic growl from behind her, Midnight turning to see a few more turned guards coming towards her with intent to either maul or convert the winged pony. She huffed, resisting the urge to yawn at the annoyance.

Maybe it was time to stop playing.

Dark magic spread along her horn, the spell inverting into herself as the first projectile came in. But, as intended, they harmlessly passed through shadow as the alicorn burst into pure darkness.

Then the darkness struck.

The shadow shot down the alleyway, enveloping the draugr for mere moments before leaving behind their still bodies. Through the system of alleyways it snaked, claiming any stragglers it came across before bursting out back onto the highway with a low rumble. The mass quicker grew and spread, rising high into the air and looming over the remnants of the horde and ponies alike. All eyes moved up to view the terrifying sight, struck by the magnitude of the darkness. And from within, glowing eyes emerged alongside an elongated horn.

The draugr started to wretch, sending as many projectiles as the horde could manage up towards Midnight Sparkle. The shadow simply laughed as they passed through without even touching her in any meaningful way, her eyes glancing over what was left while deciding just where to begin.

Then the shadow condensed, shooting downwards and into the horde. And weaved skilfully through the undead ponies and swatted them aside like bugs. Oh, how she could have used this during the changeling invasion! Against Discord! Against them all! Who needed friendship!?

“Let the dead fall still, and the living know all that shall be.”

A bolt of magic struck the shadow from one of the draugr, causing Midnight to hiss in pain as something finally touched her. She created a tendril that lashed out at the creature in question, swatting it like it had so many others.

But now the horde knew how to affect the shadow.

More bolts of magic started to fly from the few unicorns among the dead, each striking and chipping away at the mass and causing Midnight to recoil.

They dared!?

More tendrils came forth, reaching through the crowd and focusing on the spellcasters. One by one they started to fall, the horde all but collapsing before the might of the corrupted alicorn. Her horn sent a wave of magic through some of the horn-less abominations, the shadow contorting and continuing to move through the horde and claim all in its path.

Most of the spellcasters were gone now, they were but a fraction of their former strength! Her dark magic, her will to do what needed to be done, it had assured her victory. Her friends, her family, they would be safe. It was all certain now, it… it…

A wave of nausea fell over Midnight, and with a start did she realise that her shadowy form was starting to distort and shrink. Her horn burned, her eyes glazing over as, all of a sudden, the shadowform spell just collapsed with little warning! Pain rippled through Midnight’s body at the experience, not dissimilar from her original attempts at learning the spell, the mare falling through the air and landing against the crystal with a loud smack.

“Twilight!”

Midnight Sparkle’s world was one of pain, the familiar sensation of magical exhaustion filling her being. She could vaguely make out the approach of the remaining draugr, now leaving the shield wall be as they turned to finish off their most pressing foe. And, try as she might, the energy to stand simply didn’t exist inside Midnight’s body.

How could she have been so stupid? She should have known better than to exert herself in shadowform that much, far from experienced with the spell as she was. But the euphoria, her new form, she had actually thought…

Stupid…

As the projectiles came, intent on making a draugr out of the alicorn, she mustered up what little she had for a shield spell that flickered and cracked on contact. She wasn’t even certain how she was managing it… Desperation, that was really all there was to it.

She had been so close. And yet, in a single moment, everything had been ripped away. Her power, her ability to save anything…

She had failed.

“Twilight…” Sombra said, then materialising beside her with a look of extreme alarm on his face. “I should have realised, I apologise. But you must continue, regather your strength. Little remains of the dead, the Crystal Empire is soon to be ours again!”

“Sombra…”

Sombra grimaced, looking at the sheer exhaustion on Midnight’s features. Even the magic trailing from her eyes seemed to be thinner, as did the ethereal nature of her mane. Moreover, he could feel the extent of the burnout inside her. And, with the draugr surrounding the two of them and pounding on the already ready-to-shatter barrier, he realised with horror that his descendant had reached the extent of what she could do.

“I will not let our dynasty end here,” Sombra growled. “We shall rule. No mere beast emergent from an empty grave shall stop it.”

The King then looked down at the saddlebag Midnight had continued to carry during their fight. It was blackened from the shadowform transformation, but the contents within…

It was time.

“Twilight,” he spoke. “Retrieve my horn.”

She looked up at him. “What…?”

“Do it.”

She hesitated, but then weakly complied. Out came the curved blade-like horn of Sombra, levitating in an unstable field out before the two of them. More cracks built along the surface of Midnight’s shield, mere moments from shattering entirely as she dead scratched and pounded on the construct.

“What do we do…?” Midnight then asked him. “Grandfather, how do we win?”

“You have done all you can, and for that you have my pride,” he responded. “But your inexperience is telling, and now the master must do his part.”

Sombra then knelt down and looked her in the eyes, one corrupted pony to another.

“Let me in. It is easier with consent; I ask that you trust me.”

Midnight paused, studying the stallion. But then, with her death imminent, never to see those she loved again, what more did she have to lose?

“Do it.”

Sombra vanished, Midnight giving a sharp gasp as her body convulsed. The shield around them seemed to bolster itself, the colour steadily turning a deep green as the magical trails out of Twilight’s eyes did the same, red pupils looking out at the world from their descendant’s own.

And then Sombra lit Midnight’s horn, dark magic bubbling up its surface all the way to the tip. Through her eyes, he glared at his horn with finality.

“Long live the King.”

The magic was fired out, striking the horn which immediately started to violently shake. Midnight’s eyes steadily became her own again, the dark magic stream continuing on for many moments more. But then, after what seemed like an eternity to the dark alicorn, it cut.

The shield shattered.

The horn exploded into shadow.

The ears of the crystal ponies burned as a familiar, dreadful laugh rang out over the city. The draugr backpedalled as the shadow spread up into the air, two green eyes and a red horn emerging through the darkness. Midnight Sparkle, as if being rejuvenated by the presence of the second being of shadow, too started to rise again.

Back on her hooves, Midnight couldn’t help a strange empty feeling. It was like a piece of her had permanently departed… But she knew it was close by.

And there, up above her, she saw King Sombra look out over the Crystal Empire. His eyes were momentarily transfixed on the horde as they scrambled to recover, but then they trailed up to glare at the thousands of living eyes all staring up with terrified recognition.

“Did you think me defeated!?”

King Sombra had returned.

Author's Note:

He's back~