• Published 20th Oct 2018
  • 9,041 Views, 567 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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7 - Heist

There was a chug and a bump as the Friendship Express started to pull into Canterlot’s train station, readying to allow the departure of passengers and the embarkment of their replacements. Sombra hadn’t said another word since his disappearance, much to Twilight’s pleasure. The rest of the journey had been made in blissful silence, allowing Twilight to think through her plans quite thoroughly. Plans she had no doubt the dark mage was listening in on inside her own head, but there wasn’t much she could do about that, was there?

No, she just had to find the solution before he gained any more of his power back. Then she could be rid of his influence and tell her friends everything, fix what he’d broken…

Resolute, and with the train coming to a full stop, she stepped out of her compartment with her saddlebags firmly on her back before making her way off of the train.

Hopping down onto the platform, Twilight got a few surprised glances and even one or two bows after the ponies in question had a moment to even register the fact that a Princess of Equestria had just stepped off the train. Facts that Twilight, as consumed in her own thoughts and task as she was, failed to really register as she trotted past them all and into the city itself.

The city was bustling, ponies going about their days in a seemingly more rigid manner than one might expect in Ponyville. Ponyville, being such a small town, was a place where everypony knew everypony. Naturally, as big as a full city was, it was impossible to get the same sense of community and fellowship. A couple of ponies could be seen stopping in the streets to greet a friend they’d bumped into quite by accident, but the vast majority went about their business without so much as a glance towards the pony walking right beside them. It was something that, as a Canterlot-born pony herself, Twilight had never thought much about once upon a time. But having lived in Ponyville for over a year now, the contrast was startling.

But it was also of no matter. She was hardly here to conduct a survey on cultural differences based on the size of a settlement (though that was definitely now on her to-do list), her destination lay right at the very top of the mountain-based city. Canterlot Castle, and more specifically, the royal archive where books deemed too important or sensitive for the vast library most ponies frequented in the city were kept.

Quickly the Princess had left the lower sections of the city behind, moving into the sector where the nobility were more inclined to spend their days. Actually, the street she walked through wasn’t that far from her parents’ house. Perhaps she would visit them… when she didn’t have a dark magical undead parasite inside her head.

That still sent shivers down her spine no matter how many times she thought it to herself.

Said parasite was also still being unusually quiet, and Twilight kept expecting him to pop up at any moment to make some derivative comment on Canterlot or another. But as the front gates of the castle finally approached, he had still yet to make a single peep.

Maybe he was just saving his strength and barbs for later?

Twilight shook her head, casting Sombra from her mind for the moment. The guards at the front gate were clearly surprised by the Princess’ unexpected arrival, but they nevertheless gave a curious nod to the alicorn as she passed, not hindering her entrance in any way. From there, Twilight veered away from the giant ornate doors leading into the main structure and instead veered off into the grounds, aiming for the smaller building sitting just off to the side.

Its architecture was seamless with the rest of the castle, surrounded by painstakingly decorated bushes and other foliage. There was also a small artificial stream between Twilight and the building, a small bridge crossing over it that was flanked by two statues; one being of two ponies dancing with one another while the second was of a unicorn pulling a dramatic pose.

Like the rest of the castle, the Royal Archives had guards posted at every entrance, another patrolling the pathways around the building. The latter didn’t appear to visibly react to Twilight as she walked through the area, though the two ponies of the Solar Guard at the front entrance looked towards the Princess as she approached.

“Your Highness,” the guard greeted, one who’d been assigned to the posting for as long as Twilight could remember. And one she could just see the inward smirk for all the times she, before her coronation, unnecessarily broke into the library even though she had full access as Celestia’s pupil… In hindsight, the guards probably just left her to it each time. “Conducting a research project?”

“Uh, sort of,” she replied cautiously. “Just… checking up on a few things, heh.”

“I see,” he replied. “Well, I wish you all the best, Princess. I do know your fondness for our little archive.”

She just felt that unseen smirk get a little wider.

Puffing up her cheeks indignantly, unable to stop a light blush gracing them, Twilight trotted past the guards and into the main reception area of the archive itself. The room was decorated with ornate wood panelling, three doors leading out of the room excluding the one Twilight had just walked through. Two would lead to staircases leading to an upper floor, the third led straight on into the base level of the archive. To the right, tucked into a corner, was a desk were the elderly keeper of the archive was sitting with golden rimmed reading glasses on her muzzle, said muzzle being deeply buried in a sheet of paper that Twilight couldn’t quite identify. Twilight quietly approached the mare, waiting for a moment before coughing into a hoof to get her attention.

“Huh, what…?” the mare stuttered, placing the paper down and adjusting her glasses before looking towards the alicorn. “Oh, Princess! I wasn’t informed of your arrival, but I suppose that’s to be expected as far as you’re concerned. What can I help you with? Papers on international economics? A history of the noble houses’ butlers…?”

“Nothing quite like that…” Twilight replied. “I’m just here to… check up on a few things among that collection we confiscated from the Crystal Empire.”

The mare hummed in curiosity. “That dark old thing? Why, nopony has bothered to disturb them since they arrived here. Probably because it’s only accessible to you princesses, but even Princess Celestia has seen fit to leave them be.”

“Well, not anymore. So, can I have a look?”

“You have more authority on the matter than me, your highness,” she pointed out. “I don’t see why not. I’m sure you remember where they were kept? Top floor, in the restricted section?”

“I remember,” Twilight confirmed with a bright smile. “Thanks.”

“You take care now,” the mare said to the Princess as she trotted to one of the side doors and started to make her way up the stairs.

On reaching the top floor, Twilight found herself in a small section with two bookcases and a couple of tables for ponies to read on. These bookcases were bypassed quickly, however, as it was the doorway beyond them that she was interested in. The door was large and black; the head of a gargoyle carved into it as part of an intricate lock designed only react to certain magical signatures. As it was, four magical signatures were currently allowed access. Of course, it was the magic of the four alicorn princesses.

Twilight lit her horn, her magic gently interacting with the lock as it took note of the caster. There was then a loud ‘click’, and the lock turned into place before the doors parted and opened up for the alicorn. The open entrance to the restricted section, where much of Equestria's forbidden knowledge was kept from causing harm until such a time as it may be of careful use or in need of destruction.

As Twilight passed through, she was all too aware of unseen wards scanning her further, their purpose being to ‘uncomfortably’ repel would-be thieves and intruders who somehow managed to breach everything else. They’d never had to be used even after a millennia of service, but they served nevertheless.

With the doorway closing up behind her, Twilight lit her horn to light the unlit candles lining the walls. No electricity was spared for this place, everything inside was low-tech and old school. It certainly fits the creepy aesthetic of being in a place filled with such horrible dark magic, all of it sealed away from the populace to protect them while being kept intact for situations such as the one Twilight herself now found herself in.

Twilight glanced through the dusty bookshelves, devoid of any webs you’d expect to see in an area so disused, not even spiders were allowed through the wards surrounding the section.

She walked past several shelves, many of the books they contained looking much like any other at first glance, though others eerily seemed to be made up of materials such as patched together skin… Twilight really hoped it wasn’t pony skin at that.

Fortunately, Sombra hadn’t been quite so macabre in his own collection.

“Using skin is but an unnecessary fetish on the part of a deranged user,” Sombra spoke, electing a yelp from Twilight as his apparition appeared directly in front of her. “Entirely unnecessary and a waste of a good slave. I am far more practical and efficient in my designs, something we may yet have in common.”

Twilight would hate to admit having anything in common with the stallion. But when it came to using skin versus simple paper binding, the latter would win every time.

“You’ve been quiet,” Twilight deadpanned, pulling herself together and continuing on to where Sombra’s collection was stored.

“You have been aware of my presence but a few hours, you would not miss my presence for a short while.”

“I guess I was getting hopeful,” she replied, reaching the first bookshelf to contain some of the King’s work.

“A mistake you keep repeating,” he noted. “It is but a fickle thing, a lifeline for fools while the strong prosper through certainty.”

“I’m certain,” Twilight shot back as she collected a tome from the shelf, glancing at the title before depositing it into her saddlebag. “We’re here, aren’t we? All your work, and all the clues I need to beat you.”

“And yet you fail to realise what I have,” Sombra announced, trotting up beside the mare and giving her a strange and yet knowing look. “And that is that it is not in my collection you must look for answers, but perhaps books of a far more mundane nature may provide answers for what you seek.”

“All the dark magic knowledge is here. Everything you ever wrote is here,” Twilight pointed out. “I know this place like the back of my hoof, there is nothing else that will help me.”

“Would you assume I speak of my presence?” Sombra asked mockingly. “No, I speak of something else that continues to eat at your bright little mind. My son.”

Twilight paused, turning to look at Sombra suspiciously. “You refused to say a word on him earlier, and now you want to shed some light on the whole thing? What’s the catch?”

“The catch is that I too seek the answers of which I desire. Knowledge that must be mine… and so too must be yours. For it may yet be our duty to know which she would have us forget.”

She frowned. “She? What are you talking about?”

“The answers you seek may lie in a mere book of bloodlines. Genealogy, as you would call it.”

“I’ve looked in every relevant book across Equestria and back again,” Twilight dismissed, resuming her work in collecting any of the King’s work that might be of use. He was clearly trying to distract her, playing those mind games he loves so much. “Nopony knows what happened to him, though I wish I did. There’s nothing to find.”

“Not in the places the Sun would have you look.”

“Celestia?” Twilight questioned, turning back towards the dark mage. “What about her?”

“You believe me deceitful? I am but one player on the vast board, your apparent mentor is another. And she is most practised at moving her pawns,” Sombra said factually. “I believe she has positioned us both to an extent, but I am on to her move. Her personal collection is where we must seek our answers, and her deception shall become clear.”

“Celestia’s personal collection?” Twilight muttered in disbelief. Each princess had their own personal collection near to the Starswirl the Bearded section, each accessible to only their assigned ruling alicorn. Twilight’s was bone empty, as was Cadance’s as far as she was aware. But Celestia and Luna’s…

Especially Celestia, a mare who had ruled alone for a thousand years. All of the personal items she must have that would never see the light of day…

“I can’!” Twilight protested. “Not there! It’s her… her… everything! Personal things! You don’t do that to somepony, and especially not her!”

“Then she has you positioned well, unless you judge your own move with care,” Sombra chided. “Answers to my son and his fate will be found, of that I am certain. She wouldn’t have failed to notice what I too have come to suspect, and if what I feel without the very blood you wield is simple truth… Then, perhaps, your other problem too may become but a moot point.”

“You’re saying that finding out about your son would save me from you?” the Princess scoffed. “No, there’s no way you’d help me do that.”

“It is my move, and the pieces are looking increasingly favourable… for the both of us. If I am wrong, then nothing has changed, and you will be but a corpse in time. But either way, could you truly afford not to know?”

Twilight bit her lip, glancing between the King’s collection and the unicorn himself.

Ah, curse her own innate scholarly curiosity!

Feeling quite like the cat from that one saying, Twilight sighed. “Fine, but I’m finishing up here first.”

“Collect what you must, none of it will be of use. I shall wait.”

“Fine. I’ll just get what I need and then… then… Oh dear, am I really breaking into Celestia’s personal collection? Gah, how are we even going to do that!? It’s more warded than this place!”

Sombra her gave a fang-filled smirk. “That is an area of which I may be of assistance.”

Twilight raised an eyebrow. “How?”

“Digging… seriously?”

Twilight was standing along the outer wall of the archive building, looking nervously over her shoulder as a patrolling guard passed her by with a small look of curiosity. The room containing the personal items of the princesses were actually underground, the doors in the archive leading to a set of stairs. Twilight was pretty confident she was currently standing above where Celestia’s private collection was, and her nerves were quite thoroughly being dragged through a shredder.

Sombra’s bright plan of how to commit this blatant heist didn’t fill her with much for confidence either.

“Unless you wish to force your way through a door warded with the full might of the sun,” Sombra suggested with more than a little sarcasm. “I can deal with what protection I imagine she will have placed on the walls below the surface.”

“I hope you’re right…” She still couldn’t believe she was going along with this at all! “Alright, let me just… There!”

With a flash of her horn, Twilight cast a simple perception filter around herself and where they’d be digging. Any guard or servant walking past would be compelled to ignore the location through simply manipulating their senses to believe the place is of no note whatsoever.

The ultimate ‘nothing to see here’ spell… assuming Celestia or Luna didn’t walk by and see through it, which Twilight had to believe they were capable of. It was a pretty low-level perception filter after all.

But she had to save her magic as much as possible. Who knew what Sombra could do to her if she got worn out?”

“Prudent,” Sombra complimented.

“Well, this isn’t exactly going to be subtle,” she replied, her horn lighting up again. “I’ve also added a bubble of silence; the noise would probably break the effect. But now…”

Now, she had to dig.

She was actually using her magic to dig a hole in the ground of the castle to break into a private and heavily warded collection of Princess Celestia herself all while under the direction of an undead tyrant who was probably going to try and kill her later. It was in that moment of realisation that Twilight had to ask one simple question… When exactly did her life go so amazingly off the rails?

Still, with a mix of magical apparitions of drills and simple scooping and blasting away at the dirt, Twilight was making progress. True, the dirt was also getting into every tuft of fur she had to her name, enough that Rarity would have an aneurysm, but it was working.

With the hole large enough that Twilight could hover in it under the power of her wings, she soon hit the jackpot. And that jackpot came with a very painful sting as her magic hit something that didn’t agree with it, the feedback travelling back up into her horn and throughout her whole body!

Luckily, before she fell onto the patch and potentially had something worse happen to her, Twilight instinctively teleported out to the side of the hole and hit the dirt, panting for air.

Then, slowly looking back inside and using her magic to carefully clear away the dirt at the bottom, the top of a previously hidden stone structure emerged.

“That would be it,” Sombra noted, reappearing beside the alicorn. “Our prize lays within.”

Twilight hummed, lighting up her horn and scanning the wall very carefully. The moment she started to feel feedback, she cut the connection to avoid a harmful shock. But she’d seen enough.

“Yeah, there’s no way I’m getting through that,” she deadpanned. “I might be an alicorn, but Princess Celestia is still far more powerful than I am by virtue of having lived for over a thousand years. I’d need either a big boost to even begin trying to find a way through all of that, or I’d need a really convenient spell…”

Sombra gave her that infuriating smirk again.

“…I guess I should have figured that. Okay, what do I need to do?”

“And therein lies our problem,” he started. “The spell required would take significant time to teach, and that’s after you become affluent in the dark magical arts.”

“Not happening.”

“So, one way or another, you cannot cast this spell.”

“Great,” Twilight huffed, sitting up and fighting off an incoming migraine. “So, all this was a waste of time?”

“No, I said you cannot cast the spell, Twilight Sparkle,” Sombra stated. “But it is one of my own design.”

“Can you even cast something like that?” Twilight questioned. “You don’t even have a real body.”

“But don’t you see, young alicorn?” he asked. “The answer is simple.”

He vanished, and Twilight convulsed. She dropped to the ground, silently screaming as a terrible bubbling pain rippled throughout her body. Dark magic started to pour from her horn and eyes, and she could do nothing but try and bear what was happening to her.

And then she stopped, her breaths steadying as the dark magic from her horn ceased.

But not from her eyes.

Slowly, one hoof at a time, the alicorn got to her feet with steady breaths. And then, victoriously, she grinned.

“I just need yours for a while.”