• Published 29th Jun 2014
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Samael's Prison - Craine



When he came, he promised mercy. When he left, he promised life. When he returned, he promised wisdom. Soon enough, Celestia learns the pros and cons of trusting a demon.

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Chapter One

Samael’s Prison

By Craine


Wrong. Everything was wrong.

Princess Celestia’s eyes snapped wide open, her chest shifting and crackling with a sharp inhale. She threw herself to her hooves, only to crash back down onto the cracked marble of her destroyed throne room.

She tried again, now feeling every quake of her own brittle legs. She straightened her posture to breathe normally, which four broken ribs and the bleeding gash on her side made quite impossible.

She glanced back at the marred amethyst throne she so graciously crashed into from the roof, then glanced up at the jagged hole she made in that roof.

She saw him. Through the darkness molded with thick black clouds, savaged by lightning and bellowing winds, Celestia saw the winged beast hover before that hole in the roof. Deformed, inverted wings flapped once, twice, then folded aside as their owner fell to the throne room.

Those arched, three-clawed feet—callused like diamond—crushed the marble beneath his weight. Celestia’s hooves planted wide apart and dared not wince at her torn hamstring as she prepared for another attack.

“You seem winded, princess.” His voice coiled and sprang into the white mare’s ears, deep like mountains crumbling into molten lava. “Surely the great Celestia of Equestria has more to offer than flailing and a few sparks.”

Had this been the beginning—where Celestia stood proud and still against the beast with a stare honed by eons of battle, compassion, and leadership—she’d have smiled at the challenge. Which she had, at first.

Had this been the climax—where all of the now-charred and broken Canterlot had become their battlefield, and the skies cried with thunder and hurricanes—Celestia would’ve answered him with spells that would melt diamonds, bend iron like clay, and, by some stretch of the imagination, throw him into the sun.

But now… Now, Celestia stood trembling and broken, her blood decorating his sharp, golden gauntlets, and her horn—with barely a shimmer—gathering what energy she had left.

That three-clawed foot lunged forward, and Celestia flinched at how suddenly loud the chains hanging from his sashed waist rattled. The other foot lunged forward, and her nostrils flared; a snort that filled her head with the smoldering decay of her castle and her impending doom.

She watched his gangly, lunging walk; how his back always lurched forward—like he would attack any moment—how his shoulders sank with every step. She studied his fire-red, half-armored hide, searched for some weakness, some way to pierce that fortress of muscle, bone, and steel.

Celestia’s cracked hoof scraped at the floor.

“She’d be disappointed, you know,” he said with a toothy grin. “And who could blame her, really? Just look at you… legs ready to snap like toothpicks, gasping for air, racking your brains trying to figure a way out of this mess…”

Celestia snorted again. “Never… never speak of her, Samael!” she spat.

“Personally,” Samael continued, his lunging steps bringing him closer, “I don’t think your sister would’ve enjoyed this, despite her… situation. After all, five-hundred years on the moon could make anyone forget. Perhaps even forgive. But you’d never know that now, would you, Celestia?”

The alicorn charged.

With burning legs and stiff wings, Celestia soared at the horned demon with speed that lifted tides of debris in her wake.

Then she blinked.

Samael was already gone when something like sharp steel clamped around her ankles. To Celestia, the throne room bounced, flipped upside down, then plummeted right-side up again when her body slammed into cold, unyielding marble.

That same cold grip slapped onto her shoulder and flank, grimy claws sinking into her flesh. The floor fell away from her, then rose to meet her again with a deep, earthy shatter.

Three more ribs bent into her lungs and snapped as a giant foot swung into her chest. Celestia tumbled across the room, every bouncing roll spitting chunks of marble, blood, and feathers.

Celestia crashed to a halt, a deep groove in the marble leading to her broken body. She shut her eyes tightly, like the sun was too bright, her limbs became rigid and cramped as if she’d been running for days. Her left wing felt awkward and misplaced, like it was turned the wrong way with bone protruding from…

Oh.

Her breath burned inside her lungs, clawing to get out. She tore her eyes from her maimed wing and back at the cackling fiend sitting on her throne. A skin-crawling, stomach-twisting laugh that echoed through the castle’s crumbling hallways. A laugh with which thunder and lighting were all too happy to boom.

His breath slithered from his stony chapped lips like boneless snakes, and the room suddenly reeked of ash and sulfur.

“Pathetic…” Samael muttered.

He rose a single fist and Celestia yelped to attention, her horn coursing with yellow magic. A bright circle surrounded the alicorn, tiny jointed lines clicking and interweaving beneath her, forming a sickeningly familiar symbol. Suddenly it was hot. Scorching hot.

With the roars of thunder and a crumbling kingdom, Celestia was swallowed by a column of fire.

Seconds passed, Samael grinning widely as the orange light reflected in his dull-yellow eyes. He flicked his wrist and the fire wisped away like it was never there. He leaned forward in the throne, petting his horned chin as he waited.

The smoke cleared and, sure enough, a yellow protective bubble was left in its wake. Samael laughed again.

“You surprise me, Celestia,” he bellowed, rising from the throne. “I was sure you’d try to escape with the energy you’ve been storing. But I suppose fortune doesn’t always favor the foolish.”

Celestia’s protective spell vanished, and she once again fell limp to the floor, panting like a dog in the desert.

Her ear flicked at Samael’s heavy footsteps, and she winced. She brought her hooves beneath her and pushed. She fell. She tried again, her torso lifting a few inches that time. She fell again, crying out from the broken ribs shifting and grinding in her chest.

Samael’s winged shadow cast over Celestia and she dared not look up. She just lay there, panting and rueing the moment she’d ever thought Samael could be trusted, nevermind reformed.

“Tell me something, princess,” the red demon demanded, crouching over Celestia and bathing her with breath that could burn forests and petrify oceans. “In all these years—this entire century—surely you saw this coming.”

Celestia coughed, slapping blood onto the marble like an angry painter.

“So, why then, do you persist when this very moment was predestined when I got here?”

The toxic breath started to burn her nostrils and dampen her lungs. Her own breathing became more labored, as though her every breath might rid her of the stench.

Iron claws clutched around her neck, and Celestia’s legs kicked and shook like a startled spider. Slowly, she was lifted off the floor, her hooves dangling under her, her muzzle now disgustingly close to that cracked red face.

“Could it be that you still hope? Hope that ‘friendship’ can be salvaged out of… all this?”

Celestia’s lungs burned again, beating in her chest, crying for air that simply couldn’t fill them. She choked and gagged.

“Or maybe you are simply throwing your life away. Perhaps you finally realize I was right all along—that your ‘Harmony’ is but a farce,” Samael growled.

The sad truth of it all? Celestia did see this coming, ever since the day they’d first met. Her eyes rolled back, and Samael’s gravel-like tone faded in and out of her ears. He lifted her higher.

“Huh. You always were more of a negotiator, weren’t you? Always one to talk before plunging head first into conflict. But this…” Samael dropped the now twitching alicorn like a broken tool. “I expected far better.”

Celestia writhed on the ground, coughing and gulping for air. She blinked the blur from her eyes and darted them to Samael.

To her amazement, he was no longer upon her. He was, in fact, clear across the throne hall, staring out over the pillars of fire and smoke scattered around Canterlot, his hands folded behind his back, his pointed, snake-like tail grazing the cracked floor.

Miraculously—stupidly—Celestia willed herself up again. She fell.

With a chaste grunt and teeth gritting so hard her gums hurt, Celestia found only the strength to glare.

“I almost can’t believe how long I’ve been here,” Samael said. “More so, how many times I’ve looked down over this pitiful city. Just… watching.”

Celestia became maddeningly aware of her tongue as she kept silent. It wasn’t a submissive gesture by any means, no. Celestia wouldn’t allow a lick of authority to this cretin. But his words promised her answers that’d escaped her for years. Decades.

“I’ve learned a great deal from you all, truly,“ Samael continued, a quiet but deep shudder in his voice. “Even if I was trapped here for the longest century I’ve ever endured. Such was the punishment for my insurrection, I suppose.”

Celestia’s uninjured wing twitched a little—a habit she cursed behind her breath. She’d learned very quickly that sudden movements around Samael were… problematic.

“Strange…” the demon muttered, staring at his stone-calloused hand. “When I devoured the final heart of the Chosen, and restored my powers, I swore I’d never come back here.” His hand crackled with red lightning. “In a way… I’m still unsure why I did.”

Celestia remained silent, her vast patience keeping her mind open and calm. Personal experience with Samael’s cryptic nature may have aided that, she thought.

“But I cannot leave,” he said, turning to the alicorn with smokey glowing eyes. “Not without a lesson to share.”

Celestia kept still, recalling—with a thick taste in her mouth—how adamantly Samael called her stupid and weak. How sharply he said that her ‘Harmony’ would doom her and her people. How proudly he claimed he could change that given the right time.

“Have you not wondered why I spared so many lives here, knowing how easy they are to take? Have you not wondered why I observed your festivals, studied your politics, and dissected your history? Have my actions held no impact? No teaching?”

“What…” the mare’s voice was cracked and dried as the very demon she squinted at. “What could you possibly teach me from all this?”

Samael chuckled deeply. “Surely I’ve told you. This peace you’ve projected toyour subjects—this ‘Harmony’ you’ve imposed upon the world—it blinds them from truths that could push them forward. You’ve set them all up, like glass walls ready to be toppled and shattered.”

“No…” Celestia croaked. “You’re wrong, Samael.”

“Am I? A third of your ‘Royal Guard’ would likely disagree. If they weren’t dead, of course.”

Celestia hissed through her nostrils. “You… treacherous… filth!” She jumped to her hooves… and whinnied loudly as her cracked hoof finally snapped apart. She collapsed in a squirming heap.

Samael laughed and turned to the window again.

“Yes… There was one in particular that fascinated me. His determination was unparalleled. He lead his troops to their doom without even batting an eyelash, not that it served him; clearly, as you lay bloody and broken in my wake, he sacrificed his life—his entire clan—for nothing. Poor Captain Dusk. Such a waste of life,” Samael said.

Celestia tore her wide eyes from her snapped hoof. “They… they had nothing to do with this. And you slaughtered them all…” she muttered.

“One cannot be blamed for self-defense. The test was yours to endure, Celestia. This was your battle, but what could they know of it? They merely saw fang, wing, and claw lashing at their fearless leader and acted. A mutual reaction, as it were.”

Celestia ground her teeth. “They had families, Samael… A future to look to. Peace to maintain.”

Samael scoffed and said, “Ah, yes… ‘Peace to maintain’. That was always the problem, wasn’t it, how they all threw themselves into Hell just for that? Just for you…”

“Murderer…” the alicorn hissed.

“Oh, the pride in their calls. So sure of themselves and the so-called ‘Harmony’ they swore to protect. So bold. So blind. The Sparkle-clan was truly something.” Samael’s inverted wings stretched, and a deep groan rumbled in the throne room like grinding stone. “To think they might’ve still lived… if they hadn’t stared into the sun for so long.”

Celestia’s eyes stung from the tears she’d held back, and she eased her teeth off her now bleeding lip.

“I don’t… I don’t understand.” The alicorn tried and failed to even her tone. “Why do you do this? What are you trying to prove? Why do you crusade to end all we stand for? Haven’t we shown that we are capable? Haven’t we proven Harmony’s benefit?”

The demon turned his head to the left.

“Surely you’ve seen it too, Samael. Surely you’ve seen all the wonderful things we ponies have accomplished. The unity that spurs our every step. The cities raised from magic and bare hoof alike. The economy that flourishes to this day, never fading, never stopping. The peace we’ve forged between nations great and small—griffins, goblins, minotaurs, dragons.”

A shy bit of hope returned to Celestia’s face as she awaited Samael’s response. Until it came, that is.

“Dragons? Dragons?” Samael’s shoulders crackled with tension. “After what you and your sister did to the Wyverns?”

Celestia blanched. “I… No! We never meant…! We didn’t know the Elements would…!” Her argument wilted like a burning rose. “We were young. We didn’t know what to do.”

“So that’s the foundation of ‘Harmony’? Destroying what you don’t understand? To prevent war through death?” Samael prodded.

“Stop it…” Celestia whispered.

“So very flawed,” he said, turning to the fallen princess once more. “Your race is young, Celestia. Too fragile and inexperienced to know the terror—even the spoils—of war.” He chuckled at a joke only he understood. “As they are now, your people are doomed to suffer, to behold slaughter and genocide by neighboring lands. Lands that’ll grow withered and hungry while you grow fat reaping your lush grounds.”

Celestia stared at the demon like he’d laughed at the Equestrian anthem. “You… You’re wrong. War is not the answer. It’s never had to be. Negotiations can be made, treaties agreed on. The spoils of our lands can be shared. They have been for centuries.”

“And what will happen when the tiny dish of fertility you’ve given them isn’t enough? What happens when their hungry eyes turn to your treasures, lands, and food? What happens when they stop scraping the bottom of the barrel and move to the buffet?”

Celestia’s mouth just hung open.

“The cosmos was founded on war. Nations, great and small, have risen and crumbled because of it. Be it by other nations, or their very own. Outcasts—their very purpose lost with their extinct people—have learned from it. Grown from it. What of you, your Highness? Would you learn the same?”

As Samael’s words sank in, a tearing force yanked at Celestia’s heart, and with it, her composure.

“You! You won’t lay a claw on my little ponies, you… you…!”

Samael laughed.

“Celestia, I’m crushed! You think me a genocidist? I’m merely... an observer of sorts,” he said.

Celestia winced at the grinding pain in her mangled wing. “Is that why you were condemned here to begin with?! Is that why you betrayed the one you call ‘master’ like the traitorous dog you a—”

Samael vanished in an orange flash, and Celestia’s sentence finished with a long, wrenching gag. Her eyes rose into her sockets as grimy claws squeezed her tongue.

“Guard your tongue, horse, or I will tear it out!”

A mighty fist met her muzzle and buried it into the cracked marble. Celestia looked up at the glowering demon, her eyes slitted and teary, her brows scrunched together.

Calm again, Samael stood tall above the alicorn. “Though, to be fair,” he began, “many of your questions have been unanswered, and as such, many shall remain. But surely, I can at least tell you how I came to be here,” he said.

Celestia said nothing.

“As I said, I am an observer: a well of information, a book without chapters, a story with no end. I’ve watched the rise and fall of many a civilization. I’ve watched creatures evolve from even the tiniest amoeba. I’ve watched countries, kingdoms, and empires touch the skies of countless worlds. This knowledge and observation, I shared with my master.”

Celestia found little else to do but lay there and listen.

“But when I learned of a betrayal that threatened the Balance of all things, and that my master allowed it, I took a more… direct role. I tried to restore the Balance myself by destroying the one who bent it to his whim.”

Celestia’s ear flicked at a certain memory, a snippet of information from their very first actual conversation decades ago.

“The Destroyer…” she whispered.

“Indeed. I challenged the Destroyer and failed. For my insurrection, I was stripped of my power and banished to the Scalding Gallow. How I ended up here, unnerves me to think about,” Samael said with a microscopic grimace.

“I… I still don’t understand,” Celestia said. “Why did your master allow this? Why incarcerate you?” Truthfully, Celestia wasn’t sure she wanted to know. She did know, however, that asking gave her more time for the healing spell gathering in her horn.

Samael petted his horned chin. “What stands before you now, Celestia, is what the Destroyer faced during my resignation. My powers rivaled my master’s, and—I won’t fool myself—many in the Dark Kingdom have called me a ‘threat’, that I’d one day overthrow the Prince of Darkness. Disagreeing with his word did not quell the rumors.”

Celestia’s tongue swam in her mouth, her horn giving merely the tiniest crackle of power. “And when you questioned him,” she kept her prone face still and impassive, her wounds shifting and soothing, “did you want to dethrone him?”

Samael was silent for but a heartbeat. “Well, I did not approve of the Destroyer’s reign. His influence… it corrupted the realm. It drove greater demons to undirected madness. That insufferable dullard would’ve sail the universe in a blistering inferno, with no purpose but destruction! I would not stand for it!”

A numbing pain sat in Celestia’s stomach like a block of ice. She was unsure how long she’d been outright staring, but couldn’t stop even as she realized it. It seemed impossible, of course, but she saw something else in the demon right then.

For one who’d once cursed and threatened without end, she saw not hatred, but grief. For one who’d bared his fangs to her with every extension of friendship, she saw not fear, but pride. For one who’d learned and tolerated their culture, only to smash through the throne-doors, march to her, and swear to all Creation he’d prove her so utterly wrong, she saw not arrogance, but compassion.

Celestia searched the marred floor like it would tell her what to say. “I… I…”

Samael vanished in another flash of orange and sat on the throne again.

“Save your breath, horse. You don’t understand, but you will soon enough.”

“Help me understand!” Celestia demanded, yelping when she hit the floor with her snapped hoof. She collected herself with short ragged breaths. “Just… let me in, Samael. You’ve lived here for a hundred years, and until today, never raised a claw to my little ponies. Why? What are you hiding? What is your purpose?”

The barest hint of trembling vibrated his flesh. “To change the inevitable,” he said.

“Speak plainly, damn you!” Celestia cursed.

“War will find this world. Famine, Pestilence, Death? As surely as you raise your sun and draw breath, your civilization will succumb to the endless cycle of the universe. But…”

Celestia froze, her every breath shooting ice through her lungs.

“I see much potential in your people, Celestia—the first, among countless others, who may just have a place in the Second End-war eons from now.”

Celestia’s squinted eyes opened a bit. “End-war?”

Samael vanished again, and for an impossibly relieving moment, Celestia felt the crippling presence leave with him.

Then a binding, suffocating pressure gripped every curve and crook of her body, and squeezed her like a clump of wet sand. She gasped, yelped, then screamed as her every wound protested at once, and her horn spat out the fizzled healing magic.

She heard Samael’s voice behind her.

“I offer you a choice, princess,” he said, the unseen bindings tightening evermore. “Webbed of many paths, and many possible ends.”

The hallways sang to the music of Celestia’s screams, growing louder and louder; a deafening choir of pain from inside, but a quiet groan from outside. Samael twisted around and swung his arm down. Celestia followed the motion through the air and crashed to the floor with another earthy shatter.

Samael took a lunging step, his chains rattling again. Celestia’s efforts to rise were now completely gone, broken by pain that left her gasping on the floor.

Samael took another step.

“You can fight until the bitter end—down to your last fiber of strength—and die a warrior’s death. I would disappear and you would be remembered as the monarch who gave herself for her people. From the afterlife, you’d watch your very kingdom crumble without you. You’d watch the throne be taken, bargained, fought over, killed over, and inevitably destroyed by a civil war led by deprived uneducated horses who’d think they know better.”

Those heavy footsteps grew louder, and Celestia could only twitch on the floor, watching him close in.

“Or you can live on, and make three other choices.” He stepped closer still. “You could drag your broken carcass before your people, and tell them that the image you’ve contrived through centuries of lies means nothing, that your ‘Harmony’ is an illusion, and that you must prepare for the wars hanging over you like a ceiling of nooses.”

Samael was upon her again, his breath as molten-hot and withering as ever.

“Or you could live on, and keep the dream alive.” His fist cracked deeply as he clinched it. “You could erase all evidence of this entire century any way you choose. You could erase the memories of me and my time here from your fellow horses--or have them executed. Heaven forbid you make me happy. You could continue your pointless pursuits of peace, while your so-called ‘allies’ rally together and end you.”

Celestia’s eyes stung again, shutting tightly as if it would block out the harrowing words.

“Or…”

Samael’s fist raised, and beside the two, a blackened, gangly statue arose from a pond of fire. Hunched over with tattered wings. Claws resting on its bent thighs. Its corded, muscular arms and torso riddled with spikes and chains. Its reptilian head, jaw gaping open with empty eye-sockets, staring at nothing and everything at once.

“Or you could live by what you’ve learned here, and prove me wrong. You could watch your kingdom flourish and strengthen without ever knowing the thirst for blood and conquest. You could eternalize your ideal, instill it in your people. And your progeny.”

Celestia found herself entranced by the statue, her chest tightening with something she was too afraid to figure out.

“And when you’ve achieved a prosperity that countless nations across the universe have destroyed themselves to attain,” Samael’s hand flashed with a smoky red, and an obscenely large key fell in his grip, “you can open the gate to the Dark Kingdom, invite me to chat, and tell me all about it.”

Any other time, Celestia would’ve scoffed at this proposal. Clearly, it was a trick, a promise smothered in half-truths and unspoken threats. The key dropped to her side with a frightening clank and her shoulders jumped a bit.

“And… and what will you do, Samael?” the alicorn found the courage to ask.

“I am free now, my full power returned to me. There is much to restore because of my absence, “Samael said solemnly. “Much to rebuild...”

Celestia looked up and her eyes widened at the clawed hand fuming with raw power and volcanic heat.

“Live or die, Princess Celestia?” Samael offered. “Either way, it will be quite a show.”

Author's Note:

First four chapters already drafted, and revision is sailing right now. This. This will be fun.

Craine...