Ch. 5: I Dream of Sombra
Twilight weaved between levitating pastries, as she dodged another blast of magic. The situation seemed familiar, but she had no time to dwell on it. Gathering Dark Magic, she began launching attacks of her own at her opponent. Two attacks collided, causing a blast of light and smoke to obscure the ornate hall.
Before Twilight could react, her opponent leapt through the smoke, bringing her face-to-face with… herself. The second Twilight had a manic grin on her face, as she lunged forward, her horn lowered to skewer the original. She had gotten too close, too fast, and Twilight knew there was no way she could dodge in time. Closing her eyes and clenching her teeth, she braced for the pain.
…Which never came. Slowly cracking one eyelid, her eyes snapped open as she saw her double frozen in midair, held there by Dark Magic that definitely was not her own.
A deep voice chuckled behind her. “Fighting yourself in your dreams? Sigmare Freud would have had a field day with you, my dear student.” Turning around, Twilight saw that the voice belonged to Sombra, as he stood there, looking at her in amusement.
And then it hit her; he was standing there, in all his regal glory! Even his cloak, crown, and armor were somehow restored.
“What? How? When?” Twilight found herself unable to form a coherent though, confronted as she was by the ancient tyrant, no longer trapped as a horn or crystal.
“What’s the matter, my dear student?” Sombra asked. Stepping closer, he gave a fanged grin. “Are you not happy to see your teacher made whole once more?” As he spoke, the floating pies and second Twilight both vanished, and obsidian crystals spread over the walls and ceiling.
“But how did this happen? What’s going on?” As she got over her shock, Twilight’s confusion only grew. “Where are we, anyway?”
“I should be asking you that, Twilight,” Sombra replied wryly. “This is your dream, after all.”
“Dream!?” Twilight repeated in surprise.
“Well, of course,” Sombra replied smoothly. “Why else would we have gone from the Canterlot chapel, to my castle, to your library, in less than five minutes?”
Looking around, Twilight saw that they were indeed back home. This being a dream answered most of her questions, but one remained. “If this is my dream, then why are you here?”
“Why, indeed?” A knowing grin spread across Sombra’s face as he said all-too-innocently, “I am quite a fine specimen of a stallion, so I suppose it’s no surprise that a young mare would be dreaming of me.”
“WHAT!? NO!” Twilight’s eyes snapped open wide, and a heated blush spread across her face, as she sputtered out a denial. “This may be my dream, but I don’t- I mean, I never- I wouldn’t-!”
Her protestations were cut off as Sombra burst into laughter. It was not the sinister laugh of a tyrant lording over his subjects, but a genuine laugh of amusement. “F-Forgive me, my dear student. I meant it merely as a slight jest, but your reaction was more than I expected!” Sombra said as he began to calm down. “By crystals, I have not laughed like that since I was a colt!”
“…Well I’m glad one of us found it amusing.” Twilight growled through clenched teeth, glaring at him as she tried to get over her embarrassment.
“In all seriousness, I am here, but I am not actually a part of your dream.” Sombra explained. “I used the telepathic link to enter your dream, and because this is a dream, I was able to take on the form I am most familiar with.”
“That makes a bit more sense,” Twilight said, “but why are you here?”
“To teach you, of course.” Sombra explained. “We cannot truly train your magic, since any new spells will behave as you want them to, rather than as they would in reality, but that won’t stop us from training your mind.”
“Really?” Twilight felt excitement quickly overriding her previous annoyance at him. “I thought you were just going to teach me Dark Magic, though?”
“Twilight Sparkle,” Sombra’s voice was the most serious she had ever heard, “you are the only unicorn I have ever even considered being of the appropriate caliber to be my student. The aptitude you have shown for my style of magic is only further proof of your worth. To squander your potential by only encouraging your growth in a single aspect of study would foolhardy.” He brought a hoof up under her chin, to ensure she looked him in the eye, as he went on, “I have only known you for a short time my dear Twilight, but I can already tell that yours will be an important role in the future of this world. Besides, it would reflect badly on me, if you were not prepared for what is to come.”
Twilight could not think of much to say at first, caught off guard by his words. Celestia had always been supportive of her, but she was kind to everyone. Coming from a former tyrant like Sombra, however, such words seemed to carry more weight.
Sombra, on the other hand, had thought long and hard about exactly how to phrase his words, to ensure they had the biggest impact on his student. He needed to ensure that she felt enough of a connection to him so as not to hand him over to one of the Princesses before he could regain his power. However, his words were not lies either, and he had begun to truly believe that Twilight could be more than just a means to recover in safety, if she could be turned to be loyal to him.
“Thank you.” Twilight said. Wanting to break the serious atmosphere, she asked, “So, what are you going to teach me? Are you going to use the dream to show me things, or perhaps use the time for a lecture on something?”
“Not quite,” Sombra replied. His grin returned, but it was no longer a friendly smile, but rather the cruel smirk much more common to grace his features. “Although, there is one thing I could show you, to explain what I am about to teach.”
One of the library’s walls faded away, revealing a familiar scene beyond. Floating animal’s filled the night sky, as ponies watched them happily. Among the onlookers was Princess Celestia and two foreign ponies. Twilight immediately recognized the night in question, and quickly picked herself out as the one putting on the performance.
The performance drew to a close, and Twilight saw Celestia approach her past self, and heard her say, “That was most impressive, Twilight. Your control has gotten even better than I expected. I have a few moments before the delegates will be prepared to leave, so would you like to give me the latest report on what you’ve learned in person?”
The past Twilight thought for a moment, before saying, “Well, I learned that some ponies don’t fight fair, and sometimes you have to do things that make you look like the bad guy, in order to protect those you care for. Real friends will understand, even if others do not.”
Celestia nodded, and smiled as she said, “Life is filled with difficult choices, but it would seem that you understand that quite well. Even more than usual, Twilight, you’ve made me proud to be your teacher.”
Suddenly, the memory froze, and Sombra’s voice whispered in her ear, “You can only imagine my shock when I heard that particular piece of information. Strange how you failed to mention that your current teacher was one of my worst enemies, is it not?”
Twilight immediately jumped away from the stallion. She would have expected annoyance, even anger, but the cold emotionless tone with which he spoke caused an icy trickle of fear to run down her spine. His expression was just as neutral, giving no hints as to what he was thinking. “I wasn’t trying to hide it,” Twilight protested, “it just never came up.”
“Oh, do not misunderstand me.” Sombra said, still unnervingly calm. “I can appreciate why you would keep it from me. You are no fool, and must have been worried that I wouldn’t teach you if I knew. However, knowing would have saved me some time, since Celestia would no doubt ensure that you have a satisfactory knowledge of geography, history, mathematics, basic and advanced Unicorn Magic theory, and many other subjects.”
“Then… you’re not angry?” Twilight asked hopefully.
The silence that stretched out before he responded was very telling. “…I believe it is time to start your lesson.” As soon as that was said, Sombra calm veneer shattered, his Dark Magic forming an aura more powerful than Twilight had ever seen.
She barely managed to dodge the attack that immediately followed.
“Tonight, we will be focusing on strategy, tactics, the difference between the two, and your reaction time,” Sombra continued to speak as if he was not currently trying to kill his student, while simultaneously launching one attack after another. “Since this is a dream, even an attack that would be fatal in reality will merely wake you up, here.” A feral grin spread across Sombra’s face. “You pass the lesson if you manage to get a good night’s sleep.”
Needless to say, Twilight was quite tired indeed, when Celestia rose the sun that morning.
Twilight was not the only pony who had trouble sleeping that night. Princess Celestia walked through the halls of Canterlot Castle, struggling to come to a decision.
‘Did I just imagine it?’ Celestia thought, as she remembered her recent trip to Ponyville. ‘When I said I was proud of her, I thought I felt Dark Magic coming from her for a moment. Did I make a mistake exposing her to someone like Sombra?’ Remembering her other, failed student, her resolve firmed. ‘I must do something. I can’t let her end up like Sunset Shimmer.’
Looking out a nearby window at the night sky, her thoughts continued. ‘If Twilight has found a way to learn Dark Magic, though, she said nothing about it to me. Will she even listen if I try to talk to her about it?’ As her gaze met the moon, and idea struck her. ‘If not me, then maybe somepony who has already struggled with such corruption…’
Rushing through the castle halls, Celestia quickly came to the balcony where Luna spent most of her nights, while her minds oversaw the dreams of their subjects. Taking a moment to compose herself, Celestia spoke up, “Luna, do you have a moment?”
Drawn back to reality, Luna looked over to Celestia in surprise. “Sister? Should you not be asleep by now? It has already been some time since I raised the moon.”
“I… would ask a favor of you.” Celestia said hesitantly. She was used to truly asking for help. “It’s about Twilight…”
“What’s wrong?” Luna asked. “Has something happened to her?”
“That’s just it, I’m not certain.” Celestia sighed before explaining, “During my most recent trip to Ponyville, I thought I felt Dark Magic coming from her.”
Smiling softly, Luna said, “When she triumphed over King Sombra, you said yourself that she was nearly ready. Are you sure you’re not simply jumping at shadows?”
“What she said is also bothering me.” Celestia went on. “She mentioned having to ‘do things that make you look like the bad guy, in order to protect those you care for.’ Combined with what I felt…”
“…And you want to warn her against temptation, but are worries that doing so will only make it worse… as it did with me.” Luna finished for her, and grew serious at hearing her words. “I have no desire to see Twilight become corrupted as I did. I will be happy to speak with her.”
Relieved, Celestia asked, “Shall I tell the Night Watch to prepare a chariot?”
“No need, my sister.” Luna replied. “As it is, it is about time I pay another visit to Twilight’s dreams.”