Opera Diaboli


Foes, Fiends, and Flames

Dark clouds pressed down against the world like the collapsed remains of an old funeral pyre, cold and dead. Trees shivered in the wind. No animal made a sound. None dared.

Five ponies approached an old, crumbling castle. The old Mage and the Knight charged their horns while the Brute crouched at the gate, ready to kick it open as soon as the locks broke. A weathered creak rang out and the band blinked in surprise when the gate began to rise on its own, admitting them without a struggle.

They moved forward cautiously into the courtyard, on guard for an ambush. The Knight raised his sword and the Twins held their bows at the ready, but no attack came. Finally they pressed on into the great hall.

“Welcome, heroes!” boomed a voice from the throne, “to the lair of Inimicus Mal.

The Twins gasped. The Mage frowned and took a slow step backward. The Knight narrowed his eyes and gripped his sword more tightly in his aura.

“Nopony said anything about an Alicorn.”

The red-and-black demon smiled, rising from his perch, fangs glistening. “Indeed. I like it better that way. Better if everypony thinks I’m just some monster in the night.” He lowered himself onto the stone floor. “The others love the prestige, the influence, the hordes of admirers. The pure, raw power. Even the ear of the gods. But not me.”

“You’ve been terrorizing the countryside for months!” the Knight shouted. “If not power then what do you love, Alicorn?”

Serpentine pupils dilated. “The thrill!” The beast launched himself at the band. He was almost too fast, but they scattered just in time.

With practiced efficiency the Brute moved in to strike with his mace while the Pegasus Twins launched themselves to the ceiling, unleashing a double-volley of enchanted arrows at their target while the Mage began casting protection and healing spells on himself and his friends. The Alicorn raised two magic shields to deflect the attacks but failed to raise a third before the Knight threw himself beneath the enormous foe, cutting a horizontal slice across his belly and somersaulting to a halt on the other side.

The demon roared in pain even as he lit a healing spell to stitch the flesh of his barrel back together. Infuriated, he fired blasts indiscriminately around the room.

“No! Hellcat!” screamed one of the Twins as her sister vaporized before her eyes. “You’ll pay with your life, you monster!”

He laughed and prepared to eliminate the second Pegasus but was forced to dodge the Brute instead. Macehead rocketed to the floor at his feet, bashing a crater into the stone. He used one leg to buck the Brute away and turned to the Knight, raising a shield just in time to block the incoming sword. They dueled with sword, shield, and blasts of magic, circling each other. The Alicorn did his best to dodge the arrows flung by the lone Pegasus but some of them landed true. While not enough to fell him, they took their toll as the fight wore on.

“I have you now!” The demon growled as he unleashed a supercharged blast at the Knight.

“Hah! You missed!”

Inimicus Mal only grinned.

The Knight’s eyes went wide as he realized the Mage’s spells had faded away. He looked back to where his old friend should be but found only a body instead. The Mage was their most powerful protection. Without him this fight would likely be over in seconds. One way or another.

As if all three had the same thought, the remaining comrades lunged together at their massive foe. The Alicorn raised a dome-shield but the Brute’s mace, the Knight’s sword, and the Twin’s daggers impacted all at once. Energized by a spell from the Knight, it was enough to shatter the barrier.

“Now!” the Knight shouted, and the heroes threw their final blows.

The Alicorn braced himself, charged his horn, and waited.

In the forest the wind stopped. There was silence, and then there was cacophony. Trees bent from the force of the cyclone. The stones of the castle shook.

When the Knight opened his eyes everything was quiet again. He looked to his comrades but the spark of life was gone from their eyes. The demon Alicorn lay lifeless and broken, mighty inferno reduced to soot.

The Unicorn adventurer lifted himself slowly to his hooves, sheathed his sword, and began his long journey home, unsure if he would even survive the journey.

Behind him, the corpses began to fade.

Inimicus Mal, demon Alicorn, rubs his eyes with his hooves. “Buck. I am never living that down.” He glances at his clock. “Mmmmmbleh.”

He logs out of Ogres and Oubliettes Online, powers off his computer, flops lazily off his gaming bench (it’s supposed to be ergonomic but it’s slightly too small for him), and slides into bed. His legs jut out from under his blanket and over the edge. He turns on his side and curls up, pointing his rear hooves toward his nose in the fetal position. That’s a little bit better. He drifts off to sleep.

The next morning he stands at the front of the bus, one hoof around a pole to keep himself steady. Earbuds in his ears, his head bobs slightly to the comfortable cadence of some angry rapper raging at the world. The volume is up and the beat thumps with primal fury but it’s so familiar it might as well be background noise.

He stares disinterestedly out a side window, barely registering the sights as they pass. The same neighborhoods. The same storefronts. The same pedestrians. The same grey clouds in the sky portending the same regularly scheduled rain shower. For a moment his eyes focus on his reflection in the window but it’s the same too so he goes back to watching the world as it slips by.

In the corner of his eye he notices that the foal who has been staring wide-eyed and pressing up against his mother since the first stop has started shaking. Inimicus sighs and removes an earbud. “Relax, kid. I’m not gonna eat you.”

The foal cowers but musters the courage to respond. “W-w-what if you cast an evil spell? Or t-take over Equestria?”

The mother scowls at her foal.

“I don’t have magic. How am I gonna do that?”

“B-but you have a h-horn! And wings!”

“Do you know what ‘vestigial’ means, kid?”

The foal shakes his head.

“It means I couldn’t levitate you across the room if I wanted to and I get to take the bus to work. Shouldn’t you be back home on your farm, Earth pony?”

“My family doesn’t have a farm.”


The bus comes to a stop and Mal disembarks, ducking his head to avoid the doorframe. A short walk later he scans into the front door of the Lucky Swift offices, nods to the security guard, and ambles toward the production floor entrance.

Lullabye smiles and waves at him from her desk in the third row as he passes. He settles into his desk at the head of the second row and checks his email. There’s a message from Pointer complaining about something Soft Skills said, some automatic server notifications from overnight, Soft Skills complaining about some process Pointer didn’t follow correctly, a conversation among the morning shift about whether anypony wanted to order breakfast, assorted griping about tightened rules over computer use on company time.

His eyes lose focus and he becomes aware of the low, steady drone of ponies talking into their headsets. He often finds the sound depressing—a  thrumming reminder of who and where he’s not—but today it’s comforting. The work here isn’t glamorous, but it could be worse.

A pair of midnight-blue ears peeking over their divider on the third row catch his attention. Lullabye is beautiful, smart, charming. She has an earnest kindness that city life squeezes out of most ponies. Maybe today he’ll finally ask her on a date. Yeah, today’s the day for sure.

Mal snaps back to the present and dismisses a beeping appointment reminder on his computer before getting up and walking to the nearest conference room. As he approaches the door he can hear Crackerjack already talking to the new guy.

“He’s really a nice guy but try not to use the ‘A-word.’ And don’t freak out.”

“Uh, okay. Why would I freak o…”

Inimicus Mal grins inwardly, puts on his most regal posture, and raises his wings slightly off his body to look more intimidating. He enters the conference room and the newbie sputters wide-eyed.

“A. Ah! A-a-al…”

“Always a pleasure to meet a new team member!” the Alicorn booms. The new recruit lets out a terrified squeak and cowers while Crackerjack does his best to suppress a laugh. Inimicus chuckles, falls back into a relaxed posture, and sits in the nearest chair. “You have nothing to fear, I promise. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr…?”

“Um. Guh. Greenhorn, sir.”

Greenhorn. A green Unicorn named Greenhorn. And he’s new here. Sure, name isn’t necessarily destiny, but still. Seriously? “Well I’m glad to meet you, Greenhorn! No need to call me sir; so long as everypony’s doing their work, I try to keep things pretty informal on my team. My name is Inimicus Mal. You can call me Inimicus, or Mal, or Your Lordship Prince of Darkness. Just kidding, don’t do that. You’ve already met my right-hoof stallion CJ.”

Crackerjack waves and Greenhorn nods politely.

“I want to apologize that we’re not able to give you the full experience. Usually we bring in five to ten new ponies at once and do a nice training course but it’s the slow season right now and we won’t start hiring for the busy season for a couple of moons. Fortunately tier one customer support is pretty easy as long as you’ve got good pony skills. How much do you know about the product you’ll be supporting?”

“Not a lot, s-uh. Not a lot.” Greenhorn replies. “Just that it’s an online game. I think my sister plays it.”

“That’s right. O.W.T. Online isn’t as popular as, say, Ogres and Oubliettes Online, but it makes enough money to keep the lights on and the investors happy. It’s really not much more than a glorified threedee train ride with some game and chat features tacked on. Supposedly it’s based on a novel or something.

“Anyway, you’ll spend the rest of the day reading through our procedures and learning the ropes. Tomorrow and Wednesday you’ll listen in on CJ while he takes phone calls, and on Thursday you’ll start taking phone calls yourself. Sink or swim, baby!”

The green Unicorn chuckles nervously. “What if I don’t feel ready by then?”

“You won’t. Nopony does, but you’ll be fine. Terrified, but fine. It’s the best way, and you’ll feel like a pro in no time.” Mal stands up. “I’ll leave you in Crack’s capable hooves now. He should be able to answer any question you may have, but let me know if you need anything. It was nice meeting you, Greenhorn, and welcome to my team.”

He ducks back out of the conference room and returns to his desk. No sooner has he unlocked his computer than Al Ray, manager for the Tier 2 ponies, appears.

“Inimicus Mal! Hey guy!”

The Alicorn cringes. “Hi Al. Uh, what can I do for you?”

“Listen, my buddy, my main diamond dawg. I wanna be straight with ya. Can I be straight with ya?”

“Sure, Al. What—”

“Great! Great. Of course I can. So, here’s the thing. I just got word from my guys that your guys are still sending my guys stuff that they shouldn’t. You know, easy stuff like refunds, or simple problems but no trouble-shooting done before sending it up to us. Stuff your guys should be doing for themselves. The whole point of my team is to do the heavy lifting, the real work. I need you to make sure your ponies are doing their jobs so mine can do theirs, mmmkay?”

“Alright, thanks for letting me know,” Inimicus sighs to the diminutive Unicorn. Al Ray isn’t abnormally short by any means, and the Alicorn towers over most ponies anyway, but he’s certainly on the small side of average. “Can you send me some recent examples so I can coach the ponies involved?”

“Oh Innie, you’re a riot,” laughs Ray. “Of course not. Your team should be doing their jobs regardless. The other tier one team isn’t having this problem. I don’t care how you do it, just make sure you don’t send me any more mis-escalations. Thanks baby, good talk.”

The Unicorn turns and walks away before Mal can respond. Instead he rolls his eyes and snorts. “Rut that guy,” he mutters once Al Ray is out of earshot.

A few hours, three one-on-one coaching sessions with his agents, and two dozen inane emails later, and he starts to feel hungry. As if on queue, an instant message from Lullabye pops up on his screen.

“Hey, im takin my lunch break now. u coming?”

“Sure. 1 sec.” He finishes and sends an email reply he had been working on and stands up to seek out the Pegasus. Her desk is empty so she must be in the break room already.

The two of them had been eating together in the break room most days for several months. His infatuation aside, her company is a welcome island of heterochromatic sanity in a drab sea of fluorescent lighting and ponies with, uh, other-than-orthodox social and/or grooming skills. She seems to feel the same way as far as he can tell.

Lullabye is already sitting at one of the tables by the time he finds her, home-made salad at the ready.

The petite Pegasus has a dark blue coat and mane, much like Princess Luna but a couple of shades lighter, and her cutie mark is a treble clef embraced in the arms of a crescent moon. Her mother is a nearly pure-blooded Pegasus from a very long line of weatherponies, and her father is a modestly successful Unicorn author. Somehow it makes sense that a flier and a writer would create somepony like Lullabye: her voice is like a cool breeze on warm summer night, and the subtle freckles of slightly lighter-blue fur on her cheeks hint at her mixed heritage.

Now she’s here in Manehattan, working at Lucky Swift to make ends meet until she gets her big break in the music business. Mal thinks any recording executive would have to be deaf and devoid of good taste not to hire her on the spot, but he acknowledges to himself that he may be biased. Still, he wishes sincerely for her success.

He takes a deep breath, steeling himself for the task ahead. This is it. He’s asking her on a date today. Now. Soon. Maybe after some conversation to get in the right mood. He takes his tuna sandwich from the refrigerator (hey, a demon’s gotta get his protein. These fangs ain’t for show) and sits at the little table across from Lullabye.



“So, have any exciting calls this morning? I saw you getting pretty animated earlier.”

“Actually, yeah!” she says, still chewing a leaf. “Holy buck. So. I’m talking to this mare who’s having trouble getting the game to run on her notebook.”


“And we worked on it for half an hour or so. I guess she was drinking something because suddenly I hear the sound of glass shattering and a cat screeching. The mare goes ‘oh dear. I’ll call you back,’ and sets down the phone. But she forgets to hang up. Then I hear a dog bark, the cat hiss, and then what sounds like the dog and cat fighting. Then there’s a loud thud, the animals stop fighting, and everything goes quiet. Then what sounded like the mare’s son said ‘oops,’ and the last thing I heard was a fire alarm going off.”

He laughs at the last line. “Wait, what? I hope they’re okay.”

“Me too. It was pretty funny though.”

They chuckle together and fall into an easy silence as they eat. Suddenly he feels a hoof bump into his beneath the table. He looks up at her, head cocked slightly.

“Oh. S-sorry.” She pulls her hoof away and avoids eye contact, blushing slightly.

This is it, he thinks to himself. This is the perfect time. Ask her out. Do it now.

“Hey, Lullabye?”

She looks up at him hesitantly. Her expression is so cute it nearly makes his heart stop. “Yeah, Mal?”

Right now. Date. Ask her on a date. Do it. This is the moment. You can do it.

“Um. Do you have any gigs lined up for the weekend?”


“Yeah, some bar said I could sing on Saturday night, and Osten & Boheme wants me back Sunday.”

Luna dammit. Really? It was literally the perfect moment! How in the world did you choke?

“Osten & Boheme? That stuck-up coffee shop?”

Lullabye giggles. “Yup, that’s the one.”

“Well good luck! Maybe some stuck-up music executive will hear you while ordering his overpriced unpronounceable coffee and you’ll be a superstar by Monday.” He sticks his tongue out at her and she retaliates by punching his foreleg.

“Oh hush,” she grumps, trying to seem upset and failing wildly.

He beams at her. “Your name in lights! I can see it now! By the next Friday you’ll have been on at least three late-night talk shows. The Princesses and the Elements will all fangasm when they meet you. Just don’t forget about the little ponies when you’re rich and famous.”

“Little, huh?” She looks up at the giant, craning her neck dramatically. “Do you get snow up there, or just jet streams?”

“Neither, but Princess Luna has to call me every night to make sure she doesn’t hit me with the moon. Tell me, what’s it like living with your nose so close to other ponies’ rears?”

They glare at each other for several seconds before exploding into fits of laughter.

Inimicus sighs, kicking himself for failing to ask Lullabye out yet again. There’s always tomorrow, he supposes. And the next day. And the day after that. And the day after that. He tosses his saddlebag onto his dining table, scrounges up an evening snack, and powers on his computer. Maybe he’ll play TLR tonight instead of Triple-Oh.

Inimicus Mal, notorious pirate, lurked silently behind a small moon in a star system just outside of civilized space. This system didn’t get a whole lot of traffic, but it was part of a minor trade route and had a few small settlements so it got just enough to be appetizing. His eyes focused on his ship’s sensor readouts, waiting for just the right morsel to jump into range.

There! An Oliphaunt-class medium freighter appeared on the scopes. Small enough not to be heavily armed, but big enough to carry a reasonable amount of profitable cargo. Mal’s engines roared to life and hardpoints deployed as he powered toward his quarry.

“Yarr,” he said quietly to himself, and opened fire.