It was as silent as the grave right now. Twilight sat there, at the other end of the table from Celestia, staring at her beloved mentor with her mouth hanging open. It felt like an eternity since Celestia had spoken, but no amount of passed time could make what she'd said any easier to swallow. It wasn't true, Twilight told herself. This was some sort of joke. There was no way that what Celestia had said could possibly be real. Maybe this was a dream, or even a nightmare.
But deep down, she knew that it wasn't. No matter how much she might wish it to be untrue, she had to face reality, however terrible that reality might have become for her. Not wanting to spend the rest of the day with her mouth hanging open, Twilight finally broke the silence.
The words had been hard to get out, almost as though her mouth refused to register them. Celestia meanwhile, merely sat on the other side of the table and quietly nodded. She said nothing, merely waited for Twilight to say something else. But what could she possibly say? What could any sane pony possibly say to hearing that their monarch was the mother of one of Equestria's most notorious despots? How could this have happened? How?
That though finally gave Twilight something to ask.
Celestia closed her eyes and sighed. It was obvious to anypony with eyes that this was not a happy subject for her. A part of Twilight wished she hadn't asked. There was no chance this story she was about to hear would be a good one.
"Sombra....was born twenty years before his imprisonment in the north. When he was young he was....a different pony to what he would become."
Celestia opened her eyes and looked at Twilight. The young unicorn was enthralled by the princess' words, much like she would be when she was younger and being taught spells as Celestia's protégé. But this story brought Celestia no joy to tell. It was something that had gnawed away at her for centuries, never speaking about it to anyone, not even her sister. But now that Sombra had targeted Twilight and hurt her, she no longer had any choice but to speak out about it.
"When he was growing up, my son had a great love of magic, and of learning. He would spend many of his days reading and trying new spells. He was always so enthusiastic about it, always eager to learn and to become better at his magical skills. And as the days passed on, he became very talented."
Twilight looked upon her mentor. For a brief moment, there was a look of comfort on her face. Perhaps she was remembering happier times before Sombra turned, before everything went bad, but she could not tell, for that look descended back into the sour look she bore before.
"He was like you."
Those words, needless to say, Surprised Twilight a great deal. The notion that she had anything in common with that monster would upset anypony. But, given what Celestia had just told her about him, it wasn't hard to see why she would think that. After all, her description made him seem very much like Twilight was back when she was a young filly, being tutored by Celestia after being taken in as her apprentice. This notion piqued her curiosity even more, so she listened even more carefully as Celestia continued.
"And, much like with you, I saw great potential in him. It was my hope, my dream, that one day he would achieve what you achieved, to reach the highest levels of magic and become and alicorn. I even told him as such when he was but a child. I encouraged him daily to work on his magic, to try and strive to improve himself. And along the way, he made friends. His life was good, and everything seemed to be going well. I truly thought that the day would come when he would finally be ready to cast his father's spell."
Twilight raised her eyebrow in confusion. His father's spell? If Celestia was referring to the magic that changed Twilight into an alicorn, then there was only one spell that she knew of that could do that. Then, as she dwelt on that, her eyes widened in shock. She looked up at Celestia, whose expression made it clear that she knew Twilight had figured it out.
"His father.......was Starswirl?"
"Yes. Starswirl the bearded. Although, back when he and I first got together, he was simply Starswirl. He wasn't exactly the easiest stallion to get to know, always cooped up in his home trying new magic. But over time we grew closer and closer. Eventually, we had a child together. Sombra. Starswirl was a good father to him, always helping him out with his magic. Sombra's love of spells and experimentation with them definitely came from his father. If anything, he pushed our boy towards attaining alicorn status even more than me."
A thought came to Celestia and she concentrated, making her horn glow bright yellow with her magic. There was a bright blinding flash and soon, hovering next to her, as a small picture-frame. She used her magic to levitate it towards Twilight, who took it in her hooves. Shae stared at the picture, not quite believing what she was seeing. On the left side of the picture was Celestia, far younger than she was now. Her hair was not the same multi-coloured look it was now, but a bright pink. There was a grey stallion standing next to her, no doubt Starswirl, who was somewhat shorter than her, and not garbed in the outfit he became famous for.
But what surprised Twilight most was the small figure in-between them. It was a young colt, barely six years old. His coat a dark grey and his mane a deep black. Sombra. But this was not the same person who only recently had assaulted her. The colt in this picture bore no malice in his eyes, no dark tint of evil magic. He was.....happy. He was smiling and looking up lovingly at his parents. Twilight could not help but feel sad at looking at this picture. This was a happy and loving family. What could have happened to tear it apart like this?
Looking up from the picture, Twilight saw Celestia, looking very down. Although she knew she'd regret it, she knew she had to ask.
"What happened to him?"
Celestia's eyes shut tight, signalling that what was about to be told would not be good.
"What happened........was that my love, my Starswirl......died."
Twilight knew that Starswirl had died around the time when Sombra was supposed to have tried to take over the Crystal Empire, but the exact details had never been reported.
"But it wasn't some grand battle against evil that took him from us. He was, despite all his prowess in magic, still mortal. Over time, he simply.....grew old. And the day finally came when he simply went to sleep one day and.....did not wake."
The pained look on Celestia's face was evident. Clearly she had not spoken about this for years, not that Twilight could blame her.
"After that, something changed in our son. Sombra had never really understood the briefness of mortal life before then, never witnessed the death of a loved one. It caused something in him. A fear. A desperate fear to not have this happen to himself. For he knew that, as a unicorn himself, this could very well be his own fate one day. And so, he went back to his studies. But this time, things were different. No longer was he learning and developing his magic for it's own sake. Now, there was a purpose behind it. A selfish purpose."
Twilight had no doubt that a traumatic event such as that would affect anypony. And from what Celestia had told her, Sombra was still quite young when his father dies. She'd seen this sort of thing before. Young ponies changing, and not for the better, due to the passing of a loved one. In many cases they were able to cope with such change and move on with their lives. But for those few who didn't, those who clung to that pain, it was a very different story.
"He began to drift further and further away from his friends, becoming isolated, lost to his work. He began all sorts of dangerous magic, in the hopes of increasing his own power and the span of his life. To that end he forged many magical artefacts. Objects of great power that could bestow mystical prowess on their users. In most cases these creations failed. But there was one which proved even more powerful than even Sombra himself could have predicted.
Celestia looked up and Twilight and narrowed her eyes.
"The alicorn amulet."
Twilight's mouth opened a little and her eyes widened with surprise. The alicorn amulet? She and her friends had encountered that object before. It had been used to greatly increase the power of an old acquaintance of theirs. Trixie. Her power had become great indeed, casting spells that were beyond even Twilight's ability. But it had also corrupted her, made her aggressive and selfish. This brought to Twilight something her friends had told her that Trixie had warned them that she would be in trouble. Perhaps there was a connection? If so, she would have to talk to Trixie to find out.
Although she'd known of the amulet from stories, she'd never once suspected that Sombra was the one who made it. It made sense in hindsight. Sombra was a very powerful unicorn, and only one of great magic could create such an object. A terrible notion then came to her. If the amulet's power had increased the magic of a unicorn like Trixie, what in Equestria would it do to a powerful unicorn like Sombra? one whose power had dwarfed hers without even being near the thing.
She looked up and Celestia as the princess continued.
"He named it the alicorn amulet because it was created for that purpose. To increase his magic to such a degree that he could make himself into an alicorn. But as great as his power became under it's influence, he failed to achieve that change, so he discarded it. He finally concluded that the only was he could achieve the immortality he so desperately wanted......was to come to me."
Twilight knew in her gut that this would not have lead to anything pleasant. The look on Celestia's face, a combination of pain and regret, was a sure sign that, as bad as things were, they would only get worse from here.
"He came to me. He marched right into the throne room of my sister and I and said, without hesitation, "make me an alicorn." At this point I had known about the changes that had happened in him. I knew the deep fear of death that had gripped him. Despite all my attempts to alleviate him of those fears, they had taken root in him like a disease, infecting his very thoughts. He had alienated all those who had once been close to him in this quest to achieve immortality. And that had hardened his heart, deprived him of all the qualities that made one worthy of being an alicorn."
Celestia then got up from her cushion and walked away from the table, with Twilight keeping her eyes on her. Celestia walked over to the window and looked out, keeping her face hidden from the young unicorn.
"And I refused his request. The spell to make one an alicorn must be cast by the one who must change. And even if he had cast it, it would not have affected him, not now. Not after he'd become so......lost."
Celestia hung her head, still feeling the pain after all these long centuries. The memory had lingered in her every day these past thousand years and they had never let go. Twilight meanwhile had a hard time taking this all in. When she was younger, she had often shut out other ponies, not letting them become friends with her. There was always "something more important" that she needed to do, some task or another that would keep her from forming attachments to others. If Celestia had told her from that start what she planned for her, to become an alicorn, would she have followed Sombra's path? Would she have shut out the world to focus on herself and the task Celestia planned for her? To deprive herself of friends and love to that end?
Could she have become like him? It was, to say the least, an unpleasant notion. But Twilight tried her best not to let it Distract her as Celestia continued.
"When I told him that, that I could not change him even if I wanted to, he said nothing. No argument. No shouts. No attempt to change my mind. He simply left. But the look he gave me when I refused him.......those were not the eyes of the happy child I had raised. He had become something.....else. He left the court, the city, and travelled elsewhere. I did not try to stop him, for I knew there was nothing I could have done to change his mind. It was over a year before I heard word of him again, when he......"
The princess turned back around and looked at Twilight.
".....when he tried conquering the Crystal Empire".
Twilight looked saddened by this news. For am other and child to part ways, only to meet up again as enemies. She had no idea what Celestia must have gone through when she'd found out what Sombra had done, nor would she want to know.
"His quest for eternal life had finally forced him to cross the line. He had taken to trying to harness the great power of the crystal heart for his goal. And when the ponies of the Empire had tried to stop him, he fought them. He had grown immensely powerful by this stage, to the point where even the collective strength of the crystal ponies could not halt him. He defeated them. Enslaved them. And when all in the Empire were in chains, he declared himself king."
Celestia then walked away from the window and right up to Twilight, who was still enthralled by her tale.
"And that is when my sister and I finally intervened. For Sombra had crossed the line. He had taken to harming others to pursue his own selfish ends. And so, Luna and I knew what we had to do. We journeyed to the Empire and gave him a choice. Give up this mad quest, or face us. He chose the latter and......well, you know the rest."
The two stared at each other in silence for ages. Twilight did indeed know the rest of the story. Celestia and Luna had done battle with Sombra over his actions in the Empire, which eventually led to them defeating him. That defeat had cast him deep into the ice sheets of the north, which served as his prison for a thousand years until his eventually release about a year ago. Twilight could hardly believe all this. Hearing this story, this tale of how a unicorn could become a monster, it boggled the mind.
But there was something else on her mind. Something she knew would only lead to more pain for the princess, but she had to ask anyway.
"Princess. Wasn't there another way? He was......he was your son."
Celestia shut her eyes tight. When she opened them again, they had the distinct look of holding back tears. It was a look Twilight knew all too well, for she had seen it in herself many times.
"By the time he took the Empire, he was no longer the colt I once knew. When Luna and I flew above his palace, and saw him stand on that balcony, I knew that. The look in his eyes had become twisted and cruel, filled with a darkness that could not be purged. A darkness of his own making."
Celestia opened her mouth to say more, but her lips were practically trembling at this point.
"Yes, he was my son once. And Luna was my sister. Yet when the time came when she too threatened the balance and well-being of Equestria, I enacted the same punishment. I am a princess of this land Twilight. And that mean I am bound to serve as its protector. The vows I took mean that I must protect it's citizens from any threat. Those vows have been tested twice in my life. And in both cases I chose the people over my own family. And both times.......it broke my heart".
Twilight could not bear to see her mentor like this. Over the years, Celestia had become a sort of second mother to her. To see her in this state, so distraught over the things that had happened to her family, it was not a sight she ever wanted to see. After putting down the picture of Celestia and her one-happy family, she got up off her own cushion, Twilight gently placed a hoof on the side of the princess in an attempt to comfort her. Celestia gave a small smile in thanks, but Twilight knew that there was nothing she could do to make this situation any easier for her.
"Princess? Hasn't Sombra already achieved immortality? I mean, if he was able to survive under the ice for so long, and the blast from the crystal heart, doesn't that mean he already has eternal life?"
Celestia considered this for a moment before shaking her head slowly.
"No. His sheer power has made him more resilient than most. Vast reserves of magic keeping his life force going like a life-support system. But it would have been all but drained after his recent attempts to re-claim the Empire. After that, he would have been so drained that his body was barely holding together."
Twilight had no doubt of that. Before he regained his original form, Sombra had cloaked himself in a black garb of some sort, complete with a mask. He’d most likely suffered serious injuries after his failed conquest. It made her shudder to think just how mad a condition he must have been in. That explained why he needed her. If dark magic was what kept him going, he would have needed an external source: her. His body, after all that damage, had become incapable of regaining it's former power by itself, so it needed to take power from somewhere else. But as she considered this, Celestia spoke again.
"And I am sorry Twilight, but my failures have led to you being hurt over all this."
Twilight raised an eyebrow, clearly confused.
"Sombra's failed quest to become an alicorn has led, over the years, to developing an intense jealousy of them. And that jealousy grew within him until it became a hatred for them. That is where, I think, his decision to craft a spell to change one back into a unicorn came from. He wanted to hurt me, and so hurt you to do this. And for that I am truly sorry."
Celestia hung her head low before Twilight. The princess was clearly hurting over what had happened, both with Sombra and with what Sombra had done to Twilight. And Twilight herself had no doubt, after hearing that story, that this was indeed Sombra's plan. All this. Taking the changelings as allies, turning her back into a unicorn, all of it. He wanted revenge. He wanted to hurt the ponies of Equestria, and more specifically, it's leader. His own mother. Such pain was evident in Celestia's final words to her.
"Everything that is happening.....is my fault. My failure to guide him properly, to prepare him for the inevitable mortality of those around him. My inability to help him out of his own fears. All of it has led to this darkness. And I can never make it right."
Twilight felt bitter over that thought. That one who was so close to her was being harmed by her own flesh and blood. Twilight wanted to do something, say something, to try and make this all better. But, as smart as she was, there was nothing she could do. All she could do was stay here, with the princess, and try to bear this pain together. She had n idea what Sombra would do next, or when. But she knew one thing. He would continue to move against them.
And knowing what she now knew, and having lost what she lost, she did not know if they could win.