Something was wrong. Twilight knew that. All there was around her was darkness, and she could not see anything anywhere around her. She had no idea how she got to this place. The last thing she remembered was lying down on her hospital bed, still tired from her fight with the dragon. The next thing she knew was that she was in this strange place. The darkness was bad enough, but on top of that, it was cold. She was shivering as though it was the middle of winter right now.
"Hello? Is anyone out there?" She called out.
Nothing. No sound. No voice. No sign of any life. Against her better judgement, she tried to walk forward despite not being able to see anything. She started with a slow walk, before eventually starting to run. No matter how far forward she moved, she could not make contact with any kind of solid object.
Still nothing. What was this place, she asked herself. Was this a dream? That seemed the most logical explanation, given what happened immediately before coming here. But there was something else in all this. A strange feeling within her. There was something very familiar about all this, as though she'd felt this before. But she couldn't put her hoof on what.
Before she could dwell on that further, she heard something. She thought it sounded like a breeze of wind. Spinning around, she strained her eyes to try and see, but saw nothing.
"Is someone there?" She asked.
But there was no response. She started to walk in the direction of the sound, but felt nothing. Then, all of a sudden, the noise happened again, this time behind her. She still couldn't see anything, something which was starting to annoy her. She concentrated, tried to use her magic to conjure a light spell, much like she had done when imprisoned in the crystal caverns beneath Canterlot. But despite the purple glow of her horn, she could still see nothing.
She began to think this was indeed a dream, albeit a very strange one. She'd never had a dream like this before, but she took solace that, eventually, she'd wake up and everything would be fine.
"I assure you....you are NOT fine."
The voice had come from nowhere. Twilight spun around again to try and see it's source, but in truth it sounded like it had come from all around her. The voice was disturbing to say the least. It may have given the impression of calm, but there was an edge to it that made her shiver, even more so than the cold.
"Who's there?" She called again.
After a few silent moments, the voice spoke again.
"Oh, you don't need me to tell you the answer to that. You're a smart girl. You've felt this before, this darkness. Think hard, and you will know me."
Twilight had indeed felt this before, but only now was that memory vivid. It had been almost a year ago, when she had attempted to find the crystal heart in the northern Empire. She had come across a powerful magic, dark and corrupting. it had seeped into her mind and heart, attempting to force her to face her deepest fears. It was one of the most horrific experiences she'd ever known. But as she dwelt on that memory, her eyes widened with shock as she suddenly realised what this meant.
"No.....it can't be......Sombra?"
The voice laughed. It was cold and hard, much like her surroundings.
"Yes child. I am King Sombra. I must confess, you and your friends put up quite a fight back at my Empire. But as you can plainly see, or not see in this case, you failed to undo me."
Twilight's expression of shock changed to one of anger.
"It id NOT your Empire! The crystal heart purified it of your influence. It's free from you now."
"Oh yes, I can see. But you're naive if you think one defeat is enough to stop me. I am more powerful than you know."
Twilight could hear the sound from before whirring around her. Although she could not see Sombra, she knew that he must be circling her right now.
"But you.....you are also powerful, as proved by your defeat of my dragon. I see why Celestia chose you for ascension. Great users of magic have always caught her eye."
Twilight raised an eyebrow, confused at that remark.
"What do you know of the princess?" She asked.
The dark unicorn laughed again, a sound becoming increasingly unpleasant to Twilight's ears.
"Oh my dear child, you don't know anything, do you?" Celestia and I know each other, from long before our conflict in the Empire. She might have told you that if she trusted you."
Twilight stepped forward, now angry at the remark he'd just made.
"She DOES trust me! I'm her student, her friend! We've known each other since I was a filly! How dare you say such things about her!"
"Oh, she may trust you to bear great power, but not to use it. A fragile thing like you, she'd want out of harm's way, much like all the others around you. They wouldn't ever think you capable of facing one like me."
Twilight stamped her hoof down.
"You're wrong! Princess Celestia trusts me, just like all my friends! And if you think that you're so high-and-mighty that I can't beat you, then you’re wrong about that too!" She stated angrily.
"Oh am I?" Sombra replied.
Before Twilight could react, she suddenly felt her limbs freeze up, as though some unseen force was holding them in place. She tried resisting, but could do nothing to break free. She couldn't even see what was going on with all this darkness. Concentrating, Twilight even tried using magic to help her, but to her dismay it was not working like it had done before. But as bad as all of this was, what horrified her more was what now lay before her. For there, emerging from the darkness, was the face of Sombra himself.
It was as he'd shown himself back at their journey to the Crystal Empire. He was mere smoke, with only a face emerging from it. His bright green eyes piercing her with his gaze.
"Such a confident young mare." He said coldly.
His face approached closer to her, unnerving her to no end. With every inch he drew closer, Twilight struggled harder and hard to break free from her restraints, to no avail. Eventually, she merely steeled herself for whatever Sombra had in store for her. And judging from the smirk on his face, it wasn't anything good. From the darkness, emerged what was undoubtedly his hoof. He raised it and placed it on the side of her face. He was cold to the touch, and the feeling of him touching her was sickening in itself.
"An intelligent mind. What secrets is such a mind hiding I wonder?"
Twilight didn't have time to ask what that meant as she suddenly felt something strange. It was a feeling she'd never experienced before, but instantly knew was bad. It was as though something was seeping into her mind, something twisted. It didn't take long for her to figure out that it was Sombra. He was doing something to her, to her mind. She tried resisting, but had no idea how to do so.
"Such happy memories. But where's the one I'm looking for?"
The young alicorn felt utterly helpless from this. She was completely at his mercy as he was doing....whatever it was he was doing. The feeling in her mind was growing, making her dizzy and weak. But she did her bust to keep standing, though it did little good. Sombra's piercing green eyes frightening her far more than they had done during their first confrontation back at the Empire. After what seemed like an eternity, Sombra's smile grew as he finally let go of her, the feeling of restraint lifting from her. She buckled and fell to her knees, looking up angrily at him.
"I have what I came for young one. If you seek an audience, find me in the mountain at the centre of the wastelands. I'll be waiting."
Sombra's face backed up and disappeared once mote in the shadows. Twilight felt strange, as though her mind was beginning to lift from the haze that had been put on it. The darkness began to disappear and was replaced by a light of some sort. The entire world around her changed from a strange and hostile environemtn to one very familiar. Twilight looked around. It was her room in the Canterlot hospital, and she was still in bed. After looking around, she placed her hoof on the side of her face.
"It....it WAS a dream." She said.
Then, after a sigh of relief, her eyes widened and her heart filled with worry.
"I have to tell Celestia!"
She leapt out of bed, her strength having returned at last, and bolted for the door. She didn't even bother to close it behind her, instead charging down the hall, oblivious to the shouts of all the doctors and nurses around her.
"I have to tell her he's back!"
Closing her eyes, even as she ran, Twilight focused hard on her magic, and within moments, she was engulfed in a bright purple glow. The next thing any of the ponies around her knew, she was gone in an instant. In truth, Twilight had used her teleportation spell, one she was quite familiar with. But since becoming an alicorn, the power of that spell had increased greatly, and was now capable of transporting her across far greater distances than before.
And so, she had used it to travel immediately to the front gates of the royal palace of Canterlot. The guards at the gates were, needless to say, quite surprised by the sudden appearance of the nation's newest princess. But they soon got their bearings and saluted dutifully. Twilight however was too busy to even notice them, and charged right past, making her way into the castle. She ran as fast as she could, going to where they would undoubtedly be, the meeting room. It was the logical place to look, given that her brother, Shining had told her that Celestia wanted to meet with him.
She knew this castle like the back of her hoof, having spent so many years here, and so had little difficulty in eventually locating the large wooden doors of the meeting room. The two guards adjacent to it saluted like the guards at the front gates, and this time, Twilight nodded in response. She stopped immediately outside the door, pausing for a moment to catch her breath. The run to get here, especially after she's only just recovered, was tiring.
But as she panted, she began to hear voices within the room. One of which she recognised immediately as that of her brother.
".......I would ask that Twilight not be involved in this."
That statement caused the young mare confusion. Shining didn't want her involved in something? In what? She glanced on either side of her to see the two guards. She gestured to them with her hoof and, after giving another salute, they walked off as commanded. With them gone, Twilight concentrated on the voices on the other side of the door. She could hear another voice, one that was responding to her brother. It was muffled, but it sounded an awful lot like Celestia.
She couldn't make out what she was saying, but that didn't matter as she soon heard her brother's voice again. But like with the previous voice, it was hard to make out everything he was saying, so the words came out in sparse fragments.
".......But as you said........Sombra may not be as big of a threat now........I would rather Twilight not........I know she's a princess now. But......."
Twilight felt crestfallen by the few words she had managed to make out. Shining knew that Sombra was involved in all this? He knew that he was responsible for the dragon attack? And in spite of that, it seems he still didn't want her to go out and try to stop him. But this was Shining. Herr brother. Sure he knew that she could handle herself, right? But then her mind called forth the memory of his visit to her in the hospital. The way he'd talked to her, scolded her from going against the dragon, like a child who'd over-stepped her boundaries. Perhaps.....perhaps he didn't think she could handle it, even after everything she'd accomplished.
But before she could think more on that, she heard the second voice again. This time it was spoken louder, so Twilight could tell that it was indeed the voice of Princess Celestia.
"........I will not involve her....."
Twilight had not caught the last words, but she didn't need to. She stepped back from the door, not wanting to believe what she'd heard. It was true. What Sombra had told her was true. Even after everything she'd done, all the evil she'd stopped, they still thought of her as a child, needing protection from the dark forces that worked against them. They didn't think her capable of handling this. She'd been given the great power of the alicorns, but for what? To stay at home and do nothing whilst others did her duty for her?
Her expression of sadness changed to one of determination. No, she told herself. An alicorn can beat Sombra, that much was proved when Celestia and Luna fought him a thousand years ago. And now that she was an alicorn, she could do it as well. Although the desire to prove others wrong had never been inherent to her, Twilight decided then and there to show her friends, and her family, that she was a worthy defender of this land and it's people, even if she had to do it alone.
Turning from the door, she concentrated on her magic again and was once more engulfed in purple light. There was a flash, and she was gone, just before the doors opened to reveal Shining Armour and Princess Cadence starting to walk out of the meeting.
He woke from his trance, having felt somewhat drained by the effort. Although he still possessed magic far above that of many unicorns, Sombra's present state made it difficult for him to focus on it. But still, he took solace in the fact that his efforts were successful. The invitation had been sent out, and now all he had to do was wait and see if it would be answered. As he regained his senses, he soon became more aware of his surroundings, the cold stone chamber that had been given to him as his quarters while he stayed here.
And, as his sense of sight returned more, he noticed that he was not alone here, as he had been before going into the dream-trance. For there, leaning against the egde of the entrance to his room, was his host. Queen Chrysalis, leader of the hive of changelings which called this mountain stronghold their home. She give him a disturbing smile as he brought himself back to stand on all four hooves.
"I take it your task went well?" She asked coldly.
Sombra nodded. If he had a mouth right now, he'd be smiling back at her.
"Yes. Twilight knows where to find me, and, unbeknownst to her, I found the memory I was looking for."
Chrysalis nodded. She turned and made a series of clicking noises. A few moments later, Sombra noted a changeling drone enter the room and bow before his Queen before she spoke again.
"Inform Sombra's little helper that she'd required." She commanded.
The drone didn't reply, but bowed once more and left the room. Chrysalis faced Sombra again.
"It must have been fun, toying with a pony's mind like that." She stated.
Sombra afforded himself a chuckle.
"Indeed. To have one so strong in my grasp. To hold her close and see the look of utter terror in her eyes and she realised there was nothing she could do. To hold her life, her dreams, in my hands as I entered her mind.....was most gratifying."
Chrysalis raised an eyebrow and tilted her head.
"A little young for you, isn't she?" She asked jokingly.
Sombra chuckled again before shrugging his shoulders.
"Well, I was trapped in a block of ice for centuries. Can't blame a guy for wanting a little "quality time" with a pretty young mare, now can you?"
The two shared a laugh over the sick joke he'd made, just as they heard the sound of hoof-steps approaching. They turned their heads to see the green form of Lightning Dust arrive. The mare looked wary as she passed by Chrysalis, who kept her gaze locked on the pegasus. Lighting tried her best to distract herself from the changeling Queen by moving towards Sombra.
"You sent for me?" She asked.
"Indeed I did. I've found where the ponies hid my property. You will go to a cave deep in the Everfree Forest, near the border between it and the wastelands. Once inside, you'll find it in a locked box. Bring the box here, to me."
Lightning looked from Sombra, to the Queen, and back to Sombra, a moment of hesitation in her eyes. But she sighed before nodding. She turned and began walking out the door, all while the other two kept their eyes on her. Chrysalis faced Sombra once more, her expression more serious than it was before.
"You are taking a big risk Sombra. By giving away you location, we could well have the entire Equestrian army bearing down on us soon. How do you know the little princess will come by herself, without aid?" She asked.
Sombra faced her, his masked visage giving away no trace of emotion.
"Oh, believe me your majesty. Twilight WILL come alone.......right into the belly of the beast."