• Published 22nd Jul 2019
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The Life of Penumbra Heartbreak - Unwhole Hole

The seven-month life of Penumbra Heartbreak, the alicorn daughter of the King Sombra

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Chapter 4: The Weapon

It had been many centuries since Sombra had felt pain. It had become an abstraction, a distant thing of little relevance to his immortal self. Even merging his own magic to the power of the Heart of Darkness had felt more strange and disturbing than anything else.

Now, though, he remembered what it felt like. Every muscle in his body ached, and his head throbbed just beneath his horn. Though it was minor, it bothered him, and his mood reflected his annoyance.

As he sat atop his throne, the others stood in silence. All of them who had come back, anyway. To Sombra’s left sat a large silver dish. It contained a particular artifact called the Mask of Red Death, the one and only true possession of the mage known as Scarlet Mist. It now sat inert and unused, although Sombra was in no hurry to actually touch it. He understood the consequences all too well.

“Are none of you willing to speak?” he said, turning to the still-living members of his elite corps of generals. “Report!”

Of all of them, the steward was the first to step forward. “Cleanup has commenced ahead of schedule,” she declared. “All afflicted peasants have reverted to their normal states and resumed their occupations. Over the past several days we have commenced with a standard propaganda retcon, with moderate success.” She paused. “Though some still whisper. A dangerous sentiment moves through the city.”

“We will dispose of dissenters, as always. Let us hope that doing so is enough.” Sombra turned his gaze to the others. “Al’Hrabnaz?”

“Yes, master?” The stallion moved forward, careful to keep out of kicking range of the others. The shadows indoors were deeper, so his motions were more bold. Even then, this was the most that many save for Sombra had seen of him in some time.

“The repairs?”

“Are complete. All operations have resumed as normal. Shield integrity is within normal parameters, and both fear acquisition and transmission is continuing.” He paused. “But you already know this, my king, don’t you?”

“I do. But I would prefer for you to explain to me. For your own sake. What is the condition of the Heart?”

“The crystalline structure has been altered. The facets have changed, although I have recalculated the interface matrix and made the appropriate adjustments. Most interesting, though, is that the power output has changed.”

Sombra’s expression darkened. “Changed?”

“Transmission intensity has increased by nineteen percent, and inversion loss is down by four points.”

“Then the event can hardly be called a failure.” Necrophilo slid forward. He moved as though he were almost hovering.

“Our fourth member manifested,” snapped Twilight Luciferian. “Do NOT underestimate how serious this was, or how close we came to disaster.”

“We have gone many a rising of the sun without having witnessed the rise of the Nameless One.”

“And where were you when it happened?” asked Twilight, slowly circling Crozea. “If I recall, you were holding the source of our problem for the duration.”

“Before you try to tan my zebra hide, know, Twilight, that I was trapped on the incorrect side.”

“As was I,” said Sombra.

“With your help, we surely would have stopped it together.” Necrophilo’s empty eyes narrowed at Twilight Luciferian. “Your spell would not destabilized when we needed it most.”

Twilight Luciferian glared back at the taller unicorn. “Perhaps if that filthy rock-pony had drawn his blade.”

“...and plunged it square in your back while you were distracted, mayhaps?”

The entire room looked upward to Sombra’s side. A small red filly with ridiculously long and curly sky-blue hair appeared from the shadows. Sombra did not even look up.

“Infiltrator,” he said. “You have returned from your sojourn.”

“I have,” said the filly. “And just in time to a rather shameful sight.”

“If you were there, you ought to have helped!” cried Necrophilo.

“By doing what?” She gestured to her empty forehead. “Do I look like a master mage to you?”

“Perhaps you found something that will improve my mood.” Sombra’s red eyes turned slowly toward the red filly. “Because if you have not, your interruption is most unwelcome. And most unwise.”

“I would not have bothered to come if I had nothing useful.” She stepped forward, her immensely long mane and tail trailing on the stairs behind her. “My journey was not easy. The Solar-Lunar kingdom has grown increasingly more difficult to navigate. Nightmare Moon’s legions grow by the day.”

“Which is to be expected,” said Luciferian. “They have already conquered Canterlot, and they have their eyes on the Crystal Empire as well. The twin goddesses will not stop until they have dominated the world.” A smile crossed his face. “Of course, if that makes your job harder, perhaps you would be willing to retire?”

“Harder. Not impossible.” Infiltrator produced a crystal. It levitated before her, suspended in a field of green magic. It vibrated, and then projected several dark red lines that traced through the air, forming a text composition. “I was able to infiltrate the Royal Library. I am well-versed on the current affairs of the Empire. It appears that our king has succeeded where even Starswirl himself had failed.”

Twilight Luciferian approached the projection. As he did, he grimaced; he had walked through Infiltrator’s mane. “Could you do something about this?” he asked. “You’re being excessive.”

Infiltrator glared at him. In a flash of green, her mane shortened instantly to a blue pixie-cut. “How about now?”

“Better, but only marginally. You reek.”

“There’s nothing I can do about that. Learn to live with it, or leave.”

Luciferian ignored her. He instead directed his attention at the transcripts the girl had stolen.

“It is certainly the fool’s writing,” said Necrophilo. “Illegible as always.”

“The provenience hardly matters,” muttered Luciferian. “Only the theory.” He read through it in an instant, his mind immediately processing and compiling the spells. In an instant he understood, and his eyes widened.

“This is absurd,” he said. “My lord- -”

“I can read as well, Luciferian. Infiltrator, can you guarantee that this is indeed active research?”

“Not anymore. It was the last spell he created before his disappearance. That I assure you.”

“This is a spell to create an alicorn.” Luciferian looked up at in awe- -and in well-disguised excitement. “The fool...he was trying to become a god.”

“He clearly failed,” said Infiltrator. “The spell is incomplete.”

“Can it be applied?” asked Sombra.

Twilight Luciferian looked back through, quickly scanning the key parts. “No,” he said. “Look here. The spell is powered by the Elements of Harmony. Only the twin goddesses possess them.”

“We could steal them,” said Infiltrator. “It would not be hard. I once stole Celestia’s hairbrush.”

“Lies. She has plasmatic hair- -that’s not the point. I have studied what remains of Dee’s original work on the subject. They are too unstable. Even under my orchestration, this spell would not be practical. Even Starswirl failed.” Twilight sighed. “However...”

“However what?”

“Celestia was Starswirl’s greatest protege, and is a powerful sorceress. It is only a matter of time before she determines how to complete the spell.”

“She is already an alicorn,” protested Infiltrator.

“Then she will use a sacrifice. My point still stands.” Twilight addressed Sombra directly. “With this spell, Celestia will, in time, create an alicorn of her own. Perhaps many. Of this, I promise you.”

“This makes sense...yes...”

Several individuals jumped; they had not realized that Al’Hrabnaz had moved in front of the projection, or that he was reading it.

“What?” demanded Sombra.

The black-draped stallion turned to address his king. “This spell. It can be extrapolated. If the Heart of Darkness is substituted for the Elements of Harmony- -”

“Ridiculous,” spat Twilight. “That would be impossible.”

Al’Hrabnaz glared at the unicorn through his opaque mask. “No, no, it is reasonable!” He turned back to Sombra. “The Citadel itself is a transceiver designed to harness the power of the Heart. According to my archaeological research- -”

“Of course! The archaeology AGAIN!”

“Let him speak, Twilight. Right now, he is the only one offering me an explanation as to why my daughter was born a monstrosity.”

“The Citadel and the Heart receive and disperse power,” continued Al’Hrabnaz. “That power has a direct impact on living things. I have evidence that the crystal ponies are not the original inhabitants of the Empire; rather, the Ancients who built the Citadel and harnessed the Heart brought them here, as a kind of cattle or slave-race. Exposure to the radiation from the Citadel caused their current mutations, over time.”

“While greater knowledge is always a plus, what impact does this tripe have on US?”

“If this spell is to be believed, then the energy produced by the Heart could theoretically be harnessed to produce an alicorn. Sire, since you are directly linked to the Heart, it may have manifested through you. A second mutation event.”

“Which would explain her connection to the Heart...” Luciferian paused for a moment, considering. “If this is true, she is incredibly dangerous. Her presence could produce catastrophic interference with the Heart.” He looked up at his king. “Sire, she is a danger to us all.”

“But her link to the Heart has already been shown to increase its power!” Al’Hrabnaz stepped forward. “If we could harness it, in a controlled fashion- -”

Sombra raised a hoof. Al’Hrabnaz recoiled in fear.

“Sire?” asked the steward.

“I have come to a decision.” Sombra stood and slowly walked down the stairs to his throne. When he reached the floor, he addressed his disciples on equal ground. “Luciferian. Are you capable of performing an age spell?”

“Of course I am. It’s hardly even difficult.” Twilight’s frowned. “You mean on her, though. On your daughter.”

“As you said yourself. It is only a matter of time before Celestia creates an alicorn of her own. How long, do you think? A month? A year? Three? We no longer have time to wait on this project.”

“Sire.” Crozea stepped forward. “I do not mean to offend, but what is it that you intend?”

“To protect my kingdom. By creating a weapon that can engage our enemies on equal terms.”

Crozea stiffened, and was silent for a moment. Then she spoke. “Were it any pony but you, I would doubt that what you speak is even true.”

“I assure you, Crozea, this is what must occur. She is unstable, and a danger to my work so long as she remains untrained. The crystalling ceremony was evidence of that. But the project must be accelerated. I have no use for an infant. I need an adult to serve my purposes.”

Twilight continued to frown. “I understand. And yes. I could use an age spell to accelerate her growth. But even with what the Infiltrator has brought back on them, we know precious little about alicorn biology. Even if she were a unicorn, there would be severe physiological and psychological consequences.”

“I never took you for one with empathy, Luciferian.”

“I would never waste our time on it. I only want you to be sure in your decision. Doubtless she would survive, but what is left over may not be usable.”

“I am willing to take the risk.”

“Wait, I must object!” cried Crozea. “My king, forgive me if I interject.”

Sombra slowly turned to her. “I am listening, Crozea, if only for the risk you have taken by interrupting me.”

“By herbs and grass and the seeds I sow, I can brew a tonic that shall make her grow! The change will be slower, but still quite brisk; most importantly, there is far less risk. While in both cases she will surely survive, with my method she is likely to even thrive.”

“A potion. I am not familiar with it.”

“I need only grasses, and the bark of a tree, but of its success you have my guarantee.”

“I do not trust her method,” interjected Twilight Luciferian. “Zebra alchemy is imprecise and impossible to quantify. But if what she says is true, it may be the better option.”

“While I think the same, it sounds to me you wish to avoid the blame.”

“You wound me, filthy zebra.” Twilight smiled. “I simply have our dear princess’s best interest at heart.”

“I am sure you do,” said Sombra. “Crozea. Attempt your herbs and spells. I put my faith in you. But do not fail. If you do, we will use Twilight’s spell instead, and you force me to eliminate a valuable asset. Violently.”

“As the Sun and Moon are halves of one, what I have promised you shall be done.” Crozea bowed, and Sombra nodded. Yet, even though she knew she may have saved the girl’s life, Corzea felt dirty and foul inside. She had sealed her fate, and condemned the princess to a life of torment. Crozea only hoped that whatever spirits still watched her could forgive the choice she was forced to make.

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