CHAPTER 5: Meeting with the Devil
Luna's convoy was nearing ground zero. "Princess Luna," asked the captain of the guard, "we're approaching the coordinates of the release. Should my men go first?"
Luna shook her head. Though the guards had sworn their lives to the Princesses, it was also the sisters' duty to protect all of their subjects. It was a simple fact that Luna would be able to survive more than her protectors.
"No. Whatever it is, it's trying to attract attention. I'll go first, but keep me covered."
"Of course princess."
A small pegasus flew to the front of the formation. "Sir, scout report."
"Out with it then."
"Not a klick ahead there seem to be... stairs, though this part of the forest is well mapped. A fly over from not three days ago had no mention of these, yet they seem ancient."
"Did you go up these stairs?"
"Negative, sir. I believe the source of the release was directly up them, and thought it better that I tell the group what I had found before foolishly endangering myself or the patrol."
"Very good, corporal. You'll be getting a promotion once we return. Back in line with the others." After the scout fell into formation, the captain leaned over to Luna. "Any idea what it could mean, Princess?"
Luna thought for a moment. Something about the situation seemed familiar, but she couldn't quite place it. "Nothing solid. We'll have to see what we run into."
A few minutes of walking confirmed the scout report. Ancient stone stairs ascended out of sight, and here the canopy was too thick to easily fly out of. The only way to see what was above was to climb. Luna tentatively set her hoof on the first step. When nothing abnormal happened, she strode up the stairs confidently, her guard following, eyes alert for any sort of ambush.
She didn't voice it, but Luna had a growing feeling of dread. This situation seemed so familiar, but she couldn't quite place it. She prided herself on remembering details, yet something as important as a potential threat to Equestria escaped her memory.
Here it was. The moment of truth. One more step would allow Luna to learn what held so much power. She took that last decisive step, and gasped at what she saw.
At the top of the stairs, the path continued a short distance to an imposing, dark altar. Deep black crystals towered over it, humming deeply with energy. The sound was enticing. Luna could feel herself being pulled towards the altar, and took all of her willpower to keep her hooves grounded. Something about this... thing, this situation. She knew that she knew it. She frowned. She'd been feeling that half déjà-vu often lately, and she hated it. She was a pony of logic and reasoning, and to be confronted with something she couldn't solve frustrated her.
The next thing she saw was Twilight Sparkle, not a hoof's reach away. How Luna had missed Twilight, she had no idea. "Miss Sparkle, what are you doing here? Did you cause this?"
Twilight, who was facing the altar and thus away from Luna, gave no response.
"Miss Sparkle?" Luna reached out and gave Twilight a light prod.
Twilight shook her head. "Uh... what happened?"
"You were just standing there, in some sort of trance."
"Princess Luna! What are you doing here?"
"I could ask the same of you."
"I... don't quite remember."
The rest of the patrol caught up behind her, and stopped in their tracks.
"What... what is that?" asked one of the guards.
"What?" Asked Twilight, who turned around once more. "Oh."
"I'm not certain." said Luna. "Twilight, we're here to investigate the power surge I'm certain you felt. I'm glad you're safe, but I must ask you to let me take control of this." She turned to her patrol. "Stay close, but be ready to retreat. Who knows what it's capable of?"
Luna finally relented to the mental pull, her eyes fixated on the strange construct. As she approached, she could see that there were seven orbs in the black altar, which seemed to be made of the same material as the crystals above it. The orbs themselves were a metallic gold, placed in perfect semi-spheres hollowed out of the top of the altar. The six smaller orbs were equidistant from the center orb, which was quite a bit larger than the others.
Seven orbs. On an altar of darkness. Stairs. A massive release of energy.
Suddenly everything became clear. How could she have not seen it before?
"The Devil!" cried Luna.
"The... what, princess?" asked Twilight.
"The Devil, Twilight Sparkle. 'Tis a childhood tale. Have you never heard it?"
"Never, Princess, and you know me. Perhaps it's been phased out over the last thousand years?"
Luna nodded consent. "It could have, though the message was so clear and powerful, I'd be surprised if it had. First things first, though. The Devil is a powerful and dangerous creature. Though I believed the story as just that; a story, all of this," she said, sweeping a hoof around the altar and plateau, "fits the descriptions in it. If this is the real thing, we could be in for trouble."
Luna stepped forward. "Devil! Answer me!"
The golden orbs remained motionless.
She cleared her throat and tried again. "Princess Luna of Equestria demands an audience with The Devil!" Still nothing could be heard except the humming of the crystals.
"Those orbs do seem to contain a awful amount of power, Princess, though they're holding it really well," said Twilight, thinking back to her earlier studies. Now that she was close to the orbs, she could sense the minute yet highly condensed field of energy around the orbs that at a distance was completely overpowered by the radiating crystal towers above it.
"Indeed, Twilight Sparkle. Yet the intelligence within is either gone or asleep. Either way, we must take advantage of the situation. Come, help me with some restraining spells while I tell you the tale of The Devil and the Jealous Brother. Guards, keep a perimeter. Celestia has to see these before something happens to this strange place. Or worse, us."
Luna levitated the orbs, and the two of them began placing spell after spell on them. Physical barriers, protection fields that would contain as well as expel, stasis fields, everything the two knew. Which, between an Alicorn and the most studious unicorn in Equestria, was quite a lot.
"The Devil and the Jealous Brother is a cautionary tale,” Luna began. “Two brothers loved the same beautiful and kind mare. The elder won her over with his heart, while the other tried in vain to win her with worldly goods. The second brother became jealous of the first, and took a walk in the forest to vent his anger. After he had walked his usual route, for this walk was his standard way of relieving stress, he took a different path instead of returning home, still too angry to confront his brother. Due to the deviation, he became lost, and just when he thought he would never find his way out of the forest, he found a stone path that lead to stairs. Thinking the stairs meant civilization, he quickly ascended them and found himself looking at an altar made of deep black crystal. He approached it cautiously, and found seven golden orbs in fitted slots."
Twilight looked closer at the orbs she was restraining. They were both beautiful and mysterious. They glowed with a visible energy, and though they seemed peaceful, gave a sense of dread.
Luna, seemingly reading Twilight's mind, continued. "The brother too felt the sense of dread, and began to turn back, thinking he'd rather take his chances in the forest than deal with strange magic. But the orbs began to call out to him, in his mind. 'Stay with us...' they said. 'We could use the company, as you yourself know you could. You are lost, yes? As are we.'
“'Who are you? What are you?'
“'We are many and all. We are the darkness, the temptation, the Devil...'
“The brother recoiled in horror. 'Then I have no further discussion with you.' He began to run down the path. Yet the voice stayed with him.
“'You want something, do not deny it. A mare. You have been unfairly slighted by your greedy brother.'
“The jealous stallion foolishly stopped. 'It's true.'
“'We can help you with your problem. A deal with the Devil isn't so bad. We won't even ask your soul... We just ask your help.'
“The brother, after a brief pause, began to go all in. “I'm listening.”
“'We have restraints on us. We have power to tempt and listen from here, but we cannot take any physical action. The restraints are weak and can be undone by any magic user except ourselves. You are a unicorn, you could free us.'
“'Free the Devil? I'm sorry, but I can't do that, not even for the most beautiful mare in the world.'”
Twilight stopped Luna for a moment. "To clarify, Luna, was 'The Devil' a common term? I don't think I've heard it before."
Luna blinked. "Why, yes. In a metaphorical sense, it's somebody who wants to work towards your destruction and enslavement. In a literal, it's this very creature that we're restraining, that the story is about."
"And the Devil, why does it speak with the Royal We?"
"I'm actually not certain, Miss Sparkle. It may be because it was just speaking with the language of the time. Or perhaps it truly is more than one pony, as the Devil claimed. Shall I continue?"
"Of course Princess. I'm sorry for the interruption."
"Ahem. 'It's not what you think,' said the Devil. 'We are only freed to carry out your wish. The one rule is that we carry out the wish in whatever way we decide is best. After you've freed us, you cannot control us until the deed is done. Understand?'
“'I do. So I can give you my wish?'
“'State it, free us, and it shall be done.'
“'Very well. I wish for the mare to forget my brother and to love me instead.'
“'We agree to the demands. Do you agree to the terms?'
“'Then free us, and by the time you return home, the mare will be yours.'
“The brother did as he was told, touching his horn to the orbs. The darkness drained as smoke from the crystals and a black stallion formed out of the shadow. Its eyes were flaming white and its mouth was a gaping maw lined with many sharp teeth. The brother unconsciously took a step backwards. 'We shall return to this place when the deed is finished, and we will be restrained once more. Go, return home.'
“The Devil galloped down the path at a frightening speed, and leaped clear over the stairs and into the forest. The brother followed at a more comfortable pace, pondering what he had just done, though regretting nothing.
“When he finally made it home, it was well into the night, and the Devil was nowhere to be seen. He entered his house, and called for his brother. There was no answer. Typical, the brother thought with some disdain, He must be out with the mare. The foolish brother then called upon the mare's home. As he reached a hoof up to knock, he heard weeping behind the door. He opened it, not sure what to expect. There, in the darkness, lay the mare, her normally beautiful mane soiled by her tears and the earth. She hung over the kind brother, who lay dead upon the ground.
“The foolish brother immediately regretted his deal, but couldn't bring himself to tell the mare what had happened. So she told him her story. The kind brother had been working in the stone quarry as he normally did, for he was a mason. A loose rock from above that the workers had thought was safe had fallen, heading towards one of the water-colts. The kind brother had sacrificed his own life by tackling the child out of the way, only to be crushed by the rock. His fellow workers had carried him to the mare's home, where he lived just long enough to say he was sorry that the last he had spoke to his jealous brother were words of harshness, reprimanding him for his childishness.
“The foolish brother could feel nothing but the deepest guilt and sorrow. Though he had been jealous, he realized deep down inside that he had still loved his brother, even more than he had been infatuated with the beautiful mare.
“In this moment of deepest sorrow, the younger brother heard a dark whisper with no source. 'We kept our end of the bargain. We have no blame in this matter.'
“Over the next couple of weeks, the brother found that the Devil had indeed kept his word. The mare cried often for her lost lover, and the jealous brother comforted her. As time went on, the tears became fewer and she expressed the greatest appreciation for the younger brother's strength in this horrible matter. Little did she know that she was beginning to see him in the same light as she had the older brother."
At this point, the two had finished their spells, and Luna now began to head back, the guards following close behind. Twilight, after a moment's thought, unearthed one of the smaller humming crystals and placed it in her bag. She ran to catch up, and Luna finished telling the story.
"One night, the mare finally expressed her feelings for the younger brother. With this last weight on his conscience, he couldn't take the guilt anymore. He ran away without saying a word, leaving the mare confused and heartbroken.
“He returned to his home, where he wrote a note explaining all he had done, and he disappeared back into the forest. Nobody ever saw him again, but the story goes that he returned to the altar and begged his brother's life back. The Devil resisted, saying the sin was the foolish brother's. Finally, the brother came to a decision. 'The sin is all mine, yes. But my kind brother was innocent. Bring him back, and you can have me.'
“The older, kind brother, was miraculously found the next day in the woods, stunned and confused but very much alive. When he read the note, though he feared for the worst, he hoped for the best, and watched the path out of the woods every evening, hoping that his brother would someday return so they could laugh again as they once did. The younger brother never came."
Luna looked at Twilight, who was quiet and somber. "Twilight, now you understand my urgency in this matter. If these orbs are the Devil incarnate, we are holding the purest evil in existence. The cleverest and oldest entity known to ponykind."
As Luna continued quickly down the path and into the forest, her thoughts turned to her sister, who was anxiously watching the path out of the woods.