Ch. 1: Decision
Twilight stood frozen, as she stared at the horn on the ground before her. “It can’t be…” She whispered as she started to get over shock. Creeping forward, she reached out a hoof to touch the horn.
It was cold. Not the frigid cold of ice, but rather the creeping cold of a shadow blocking the warmth of the sun. When nothing worse happened, Twilight gingerly picked it up to examine more closely. There was no mistaking it; this was King Sombra’s horn. From the deep, blood red color, to the sinisterly pointed tip, to its elegant curve.
Twilight paused at that. Perhaps it was having read his journal that made her want to see another side to him, but it still felt odd to think of any part of the cruel tyrant as ‘elegant’. Shaking away such thoughts, Twilight pondered what to do with it.
“I suppose I should take this to Cadence.” Twilight said to herself.
“’Tis not enough that my physical form be shattered, but now you would deny me even this half-existence?”
Twilight shrieked and dropped the horn as a sinister whisper seemed to echo all around her. “W-what!? Who? Where?” Staring at the horn on the ground, she realized that it was the source of the voice.
“Defending yourself is understandable, but crushing your foe when he is already helpless?” The voice, which Twilight now realized had to be King Sombra’s, went on. “I thought you ponies considered yourselves better than that.”
Hearing the disdain in his voice, Twilight protested, “We are! Besides, I never said anything about ‘crushing you’!”
“And yet you intend to drag me, powerless, before the Crystal Princess.” Sombra shot back without hesitation. “What do you think she would do? I’ll tell you, she would expose me to that accursed Crystal Heart, and let its power wipe the last of my remnants from existence.”
Twilight opened her mouth to argue, but stopped short. Sombra had nearly re-conquered the Empire, and his mere presence had thrown everypony into a panic. She wanted to believe that Cadence would be reasonable about it, but she really did not know how Cadence would react to finding out Sombra was alive… sort of.
Scowling, Twilight shouted, “Well, what do you expect me to do? I can’t just let you roam free, after all you’ve done!”
However, silence was her only reply. After a moment, Twilight realized she was yelling at a dismembered horn. Suddenly, she wasn’t sure if she had really heard a voice at all. She was glad there was nopony else around, or else she would have looked crazy.
Sighing, Twilight picked up the horn, and tucked it into the saddlebags she had brought along to carry anything of interest she found. “I guess maybe this place is getting to me.” Twilight muttered, before turning to the stairs and beginning the long ascent back up.
“Twilight, is everything alright?”
The unicorn looked up to see her sister-in-law gliding down towards her, a worried expression on her face. “Cadence? I’m fine, but what are you doing back down here?”
Cadence landed on the stairs next to her and said, “I’d just gotten back to the top when I heard you cry out. And it sounded like you were talking to somepony afterwards. Did you find something else?”
“Oh,” Twilight replied lamely. She was about to tell the alicorn about Sombra’s horn, but remembered the horn’s words. She still wasn’t sure whether she had imagined it or not, but decided not to say anything, all the same. “No, I just got scared by a shadow. I guess I should get some fresh air, too.”
“Well, as long as you’re alright.” Cadence said with a smile. The two sisters climbed the stairs together, and Twilight put Sombra’s horn from her mind.
As Twilight watched the Crystal Empire receding behind her, she settled into her seat on the train back to Ponyville. As she did, her mind returned to the horn still tucked away in her bags. The train car she was in was empty except for her, so she used her magic to levitate the horn out of its resting place to hang before her eyes. “Why didn’t I just give you to Cadence?” She thought aloud. “You would have deserved whatever she did to you…”
“Because you didn’t want to be responsible for my death.” Came the whispered voice once more. “Something I am grateful for, as my life is nearly all I have left.”
Twilight’s eyes widened at hearing Sombra’s voice again, but it no longer surprised her as much as it had before. “So, I didn’t imagine you! Why did you stop talking earlier, then?”
“I don’t exactly have a mouth anymore. My magic is all that sustains me, and communicating taxes what little power I have left.” Twilight could hear the strain in his voice, leading her to believe that he was speaking the truth.
“Well, I still think you deserve it.” Twilight said, though with less conviction than before. “And I still need to decide what to do with you. I can’t exactly bring you back to Ponyville. Then again, Princess Celestia and Princess Luna are busy for the next few days, so I can’t get any help from them right now.” Glancing back at the horn, she said, “Alright, I’m taking you to Ponyville for a few days, but if I detect even a trace of Dark Magic from you, I’m taking you back to the Crystal Empire right away, got it?”
Sombra was silent for a moment before assenting. “…If that is your demand.”
Nodding in satisfaction, Twilight tucked the horn away again, before turning to watch the countryside pass by.
As she stepped off the train in Ponyville, Twilight was immediately greeted by her assistant, the baby dragon Spike. “Twilight! So, how was your trip? Find out anything interesting?”
“A few things, Spike,” Twilight replied. “We found King Sombra’s journal, for one thing. C’mon, I’ll tell you about it on the way back to the library…”
Twilight headed back to her home, but all thoughts of Sombra and his journal were swept from her mind, when she had to deal with a strange situation of her friend somehow making duplicates of herself. By the time she had dealt with there being too many Pinkie Pies, Celestia was already starting to lower the sun.
When she finally returned to the library, all Twilight wanted to do was get some sleep, after the long day she had. However, once Spike was safely asleep, Twilight's 'passenger' spoke up before she had the chance to join him.
“I’m impressed,” Sombra said suddenly, right after Twilight had set down her bags. “Finding a solution to such obscure magic so quickly is quite impressive indeed. I feel a bit less bad about my defeat, knowing that it was due to such a talented unicorn as yourself, Twilight Sparkle.”
Twilight blinked in surprise, caught off guard by the unexpected complement. “Um, thank you, but it really wasn’t anything special.”
“Nothing special? My dear Twilight, I have lived for over a thousand years, and not since Starswirl the Bearded himself have I met a pony that could have resolved that situation as swiftly or cleanly as you did.” Sombra’s flattery of her continued. “You might even be talented enough to handle a few of my spells…”
That got Twilight’s attention. The lure of new magic was something that had never failed to intrigue her, ever since she cast her first spell. Excitedly, she pulled his horn out of her bag with her magic, and asked, “Really? Like what?”
“Oh, shapeshifting, manifestations, illusions, all the staples of Dark Magic.” Sombra replied offhandedly.
Twilight wilted when she heard him. “Oh, never mind, then.” She muttered, rubbing her horn at the memory of the last time she tried to use such power. “Dark Magic hurts too much to use, I’ll pass.”
“Let me guess, hornaches? Dizziness? Blurred vision?” Sombra replied in a knowing tone.
Twilight’s head whipped up in surprise, her eyes widening as Sombra described her symptoms perfectly. “What? How’d you know?” She asked, before coming to a realization. “Oh, right, you used Dark Magic all the time. I don’t know how you can stand it.”
“Actually, it doesn’t hurt me at all. I find using Dark Magic quite enjoyable, in fact,” the fallen king said smugly, before explaining, “Those symptoms only occur if you’re trying to use it incorrectly.”
“Using it incorrectly? What do you mean?” Twilight asked, intrigued once more. If she could use Dark Magic without it hurting her… suddenly Twilight remembered the different spells Sombra had listed off, and her mind was immediately filled with the various ways she could use such magic. However, when she got no response, she prompted him, “Sombra?”
“…My apologies… but it seems my powers are beginning to wane… and I must rest.” The horn said slowly, his fatigue starting to show in his voice. “I’ll be more than happy to tell you more tomorrow, however.”
“Oh,” Twilight said softly, disappointed about having to wait. “Well, good night, then.” Setting Sombra’s horn on her desk, she got ready for bed. Twilight quickly drifted off to sleep, dreaming of the joy of learning new magic the next day.
However, while she needed sleep, someone else did not. Although resting, Sombra remained fully conscious, just as he had while sealed away. And just as he had then, Sombra spent his time gathering his strength, and thinking.
Unlike when he was trapped as a shadow, however, Sombra wished he had a mouth, if only so that he could grin. ‘Things aren’t exactly going to plan,’ Sombra thought, ‘but this situation may actually work out even better for me. Not only will I not be trapped in my study while I recover, but now…’
Sombra turned his attention to the unicorn sleeping nearby. ‘Twilight Sparkle,’ the fallen king’s thoughts continued. ‘You were one of the ponies most pivotal in my second defeat, and now, you may very well be the key to my revival… and perhaps more. But I’ll need to be careful. Other than your actions against me in the Crystal Empire, and what you did today, I know nothing about you. And I don’t like surprises.’
While it was true that speaking without a mouth require magic, Sombra had greatly exaggerated how much when talking to Twilight. In truth, it was barely noticeable, though every moment he spent speaking was one less moment that his power was building to the point that he could restore his body. Now, however, there was more at stake, and sometimes sacrifices had to be made, in order to gain greater power.
Sombra’s horn glowed with dark magic, as he focused his magic for another purpose. Magic made anything possible, when used correctly. The magical aura lifted off his horn, and changed into a floating green and red eye. With the smoky purple glow of dark magic around it, it bore a strong resemblance to King Sombra’s eyes before his form was shattered.
The eyed floated about Twilight’s residence, examining everything there was to see. He quickly came to realize one thing about his ‘host’; she REALLY loved books. While that knowledge wasn’t particularly useful to him, further examination revealed that most of the books were on magic, some on subject far more obscure than the casual practitioner would bother to read.
‘Excellent, it would seem her desire for knowledge is even greater than I could have hoped!’ Sombra thought, happier than he had been in a millennium. Of course, that was not saying much, considering the last thousand years had contained nothing but misery, imprisonment and defeat, for him.
Returning to the bedroom, he got his first good look at the mare that had given him this opportunity. True, he had seen her briefly in the Empire, but he far more important priorities at the time. And while he had spent most of the day in her presence, had had been unable to see before casting his most recent spell.
The first thing he looked to was her cutie mark. A cutie mark represented a pony’s special talent, and could give further knowledge to help manipulate her, if needed. ‘Stars? Is her talent astronomy?’ Sombra thought, before putting what he saw together with the contents of her home. ‘No, MAGIC! Oh, the potential for such a talent! Hmm… perhaps thinking of her as merely a pawn would be a waste…’ He looked further, taking in her multicolored hair, and the color of her horn… ‘What a lovely purple, almost like…’
For a moment, it was not Twilight he saw lying there, but another unicorn who had lived a thousand years before.
Immediately, Sombra canceled his spell, his vision going dark once more. ‘No, Radiant Hope is long gone. And I’ll never make the mistake of opening my heart to another pony ever again.’
Although he could not sleep in his current state, Sombra did the next best thing, falling into a deep meditation, his mind wandering to what could have been, possibilities long lost.