CHAPTER 6: Keep Your Enemies Close
By the time the patrol stepped out of forest, Luna's moon was high in the sky. “We have to contact Celestia somehow. This was originally a scouting mission, but we had no idea we'd come across –this–” Luna said, lifting the seven orbs for effect. “I don't want to carry these any further than we have to. Flying with them could be unpredictable, and as strong as our spells are, I'm not sure they'd be enough.”
“If we get to the Ponyville Library, I could have Spike send her a letter.”
“That would be perfect, Twilight. Though, I don't want to disturb the citizens of your city, nor worry them with my escort. Will most be asleep?”
“They should be. Especially since the nights are getting longer, with the Winter Solstice coming up.”
“Thank you Twilight. Though it may have been a coincidence, I am glad to have you along.”
In short order, the patrol made it to Twilight's library. “Huh?” came a sleepy voice from upstairs. “Hey Twilight, I'm glad you're back. I wish I could say I was kept awake with worry, but– Oh! Princess Luna!” exclaimed Spike, who tripped down the stairs as he attempted an awkward bow.
“Good to see you again Spike.” said Luna calmly, completely unfazed by the dragon's blunder. She knew his species was tough, and sure enough he got up immediately, unhurt except his pride. “I'm sorry to wake you, but we have royal matters to attend to. Would you mind penning a letter to my sister?”
“Of course not, my lady.” said Spike, glad for an opportunity to redeem himself.
I have some potentially grave news for you. The release in the Everfree seemed to have been caused by what can only be identified as the Devil from our childhood stories. I have, with the assistance of Twilight Sparkle, restrained the seven orbs that form the Devil's physical body. We need your wisdom and experience. We've taken a temporary refuge in the Ponyville Library. I ask that you come as soon as possible, with any resources you can find that may help.
Yours truly, Princess Luna.”
“Speaking of which,” Luna continued as Spike began to roll up the letter, “we should probably search your books for any reference to the Devil. Knowledge is the best way to fight any enemy.”
“Well, I'm not sure if I have any. I've read them all before... no, wait, there was something in an astrology book, but I can't quite remember which one.”
“Try looking for it. My guards will be happy to help you in your search.” The guards nodded consent, and stepped forward, awaiting Twilight's command.
“Alright, you, look in the book titled Astronomical Astronomer's Almanac to All Things Astronomy. Boy, I'm glad I remembered to buy another copy. You, in The Concise Constellation and Comet Chronicles. I'll see what I can find in these general history books.”
As the ponies began searching the old tomes, Luna regarded the orbs which were causing so much trouble. Try as she might, Luna could not budge the satellite orbs out of their slow, careful orbit around the center orb. The condensed energy field saw to that. It seemed to be there for that very purpose; to protect this minute solar system. What was the purpose of the orbs? Were they the prison for the Devil? Or the life support?
The purple unicorn looked up from her book. “Sorry Princess?”
“You called, didn't you?”
“Odd. I could have sworn I heard a voice.”
A soft knock came from the door before Luna could think about it any further. The guard that had been posted to the door looked through the eye-hole, his posture snapping to perfection as he saw who was on the other side.
“Princess Celestia,” he said, opening the door for her.
Twilight noticed the library was becoming just a bit crowded, but felt no annoyance at seeing her mentor and sovereign. “Princess Celestia!” she said, abandoning her work. “I'm sorry we called you out this late.”
“No trouble at all, Twilight. Especially for something so important. May I see the orbs, Luna?”
Luna's horn glowed just a bit brighter as she poured more energy into the levitation spell, passing the orbs to Celestia's telekinetic grasp. “Yes, these do seem to fit the description,” Celestia remarked. “Did Luna tell you the story behind these, Twilight?”
“She did Princess. But I thought all the dark creatures were locked up in Tartarus, guarded by Cerberus?”
Celestia hesitated before turning to Twilight, setting the orbs on a table Twilight had cleared. “Well, they are. But the Devil must have not been around at the time of the Purging. As Luna's probably already told you, the Devil is a childhood story villain of ours. A figure that embodied everything we needed to fight against. I'm just as surprised as you are that it exists, that it's here, now. Any idea of what could have caused it?”
Twilight's mind turned back to her secret meeting with Eclipse. If she remembered correctly, those stairs and the altar were in the very spot the book burning had happened. Could her meeting somehow have triggered this appearance of the Devil?
“Um... nothing comes to mind.”
Celestia turned to one of the guards attending her, who was carrying several books. “I've brought some books that may help us know what we're dealing with. And I've called in my personal advisor, The Doctor.” Luna took the books and began looking over them.
“The Doctor? Have I met him?” asked Twilight.
“Possibly. He travels around the kingdom a lot. He's a bit unpredictable, but his advice is always sound.”
They sat down and got to work reading from the dusty tomes. Besides the occasional turning of a page or slight sniffle, the library was silent. Finally, one of the guards that had been assigned to the books cleared his throat. “I think I found something my Princesses.” He held the book out for Celestia to read. She looked over it for a moment before her eyes lit up.
“Here's a reference; it says the orbs were found in a crater after a bright flash lit up the night sky for a whole minute. No specific date, but definitely before our reign began, Luna.”
Luna trotted over. “A meteor then?”
“Sounds like it. Though this book's so old it doesn't name it as such. Calls it a 'sky scar.' Poetic, though not scientific.”
“I found something as well,” said Luna. “Apparently the myth of the altar appears in more than just that storybook you used to show me. The characters and setting change, but there are two constants; a foolish pony wants something, asks it of the Devil, the Devil always manages to find a loophole that ruins the asker's life, and then it claims their soul. That also explains, conclusively, why the creature refers to itself as 'we'. At first, I wondered if it, like I used to be, was just out of the times and used the Traditional Royal Canterlot Voice, perhaps out of jealously for the position of the Alicorns. But it turns out it's literally more than one being; it accumulates the knowledge of every soul it leads astray. Though each individual was foolish enough to listen to it, gather enough of them...”
“And it doesn't matter how foolish they are,” finished Celestia tiredly. It was the first time in a long while that Twilight had seen the weight of the kingdom so heavily on Celestia's shoulders. “I thought this was nothing more than a cautionary tale. Mother used to read it to me, even before you were born. Never did I think it was based on fact.”
“The best cautionary tales are about real dangers.” reminded Luna. “It takes the souls of the lost. Is that what it's here for now?”
“If it is, Equestria has a real problem on its hooves.”
“We have a problem on our hooves, sister.”
“I know. But this creature is older than us, and probably even cleverer. Definitely more deceptive.”
“We can't keep something so dangerous around. Let's take care of this now.” Luna rose, her horn flaring up. She channeled arcane power through her legs and into the tips of her hooves, much like Nightmare Moon had when she had shattered the physical Elements of Harmony. With a crack of thunder and the power of lighting behind the strike, Luna smashed her diamond clad hooves into the orbs and through the table. A terrific crack could be heard as the glass table shattered and vaporized due to the force and magic behind the blow. The orbs were driven into the ground, maintaining their formation as Luna pressed ever harder. “Come on... Come on...”
Suddenly, the force was turned on her, the orbs giving off a blast of light and physical force. It threw Luna across the room and into a bookshelf, the recently shelved books toppling around her. Twilight saw Celestia suppress a morbid giggle as Luna stuttered for words. “Wha-that's a move powerful enough to destroy the Elements! How could it not-”
“Remember the energy field, Princess Luna,” offered Twilight. “The one protecting the orbs?”
“Well of course! But I thought I could simply overpower it! Whatever barriers, physical or magic, should have shattered under that attack. But it seems to be not only retaining its energy almost perfectly, mine was completely returned. How is that even possible? There's no such thing as a completely closed system. Something has to be lost.”
“This might help us understand.” Celestia pulled out another one of the books she had brought: A Discussion on the Theoretical Magic of Soul Based Energy Manipulation.
“Soul based energy manipulation? Why haven't I heard of this?” asked Twilight.
“Like it says, it's theoretical. Nobody's ever had the chance to test it out, because once the soul is separated from the body, it's hard enough to find the body again, let alone control other objects. But think, if your soul was in a physical form...”
Luna's eyes widened. “Your entire consciousness could work as a horn does, a guiding center of external control. But keeping the soul in a physical form would make it really vulnerable. OH! That's why the Devil's placed the energy field!”
“Exactly. As good as the Devil is at destroying others, it's even better at preserving itself. So it's invulnerable to any sort of physical attack, it seems. And any sort of magic would probably just be absorbed. We might be able to overwhelm it with either type, but it's more likely that it would just tire us out first.”
Yet another knock came from the door. The door burst open before the guard could even reach for it. “The Doctor is in!”