• 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 Four

“And I want the vanguard bolstered at the front gates immediately.”

The crystal mare saluted, her hoof clinking against her helmet. “Yes, Your Highness!” she said.

Cadance held back her grimace, shifting in her amethyst throne. “Status report on our reserves?”

The armored unicorn nodded again. “All accounted for and ready for combat, ma’am! Pegasi units await in the clouds, and all others guard every corner in squads. Underground forces are preparing as we speak. Ma’am!” she declared.

Finally, Cadance grimaced. Perhaps it could’ve been blamed on the light glaring off the crystal walls. Or maybe her shoulder was kneaded the wrong way by the ponies at her sides. It might’ve been the armored cherry-colored pegasus standing beside the other soldier, her jaw shifting side to side, and her hooves clicking here and there. Clearly a fresh recruit for the Crystal Guard.

“I… Very good, solider,” she said with her best smile.

The princess of love turned to an ivory mare—her personal advisor—who gave only the smallest flinch.

“Quartz?”

“Y-yes, Your Highness?”

“Where is my prince,” Cadance asked.

“Prince Shining Armor is detained helping the underground reserves. As far as we know, he hasn’t learned of your,” Quartz cleared her throat, “return.”

Cadance winced a bit, caressing a sore wing. Her horn shimmered, as did her feathery limb, and the stinging cramp disappeared.

“I see,” Cadance said, carefully pulling herself from her gentle massages. “Then I shall tend to my subjects.”

“B-but, Princess Cadance, ma’am!” the soldier exclaimed as the alicorn rose. “Forgive my audacity, but you took a helluva drop. Hit four spires on the way down, no less! Shouldn’t you rest a bit more?”

Cadance grimaced again, but she blamed the ache in her hooves when she stood. “I assure you, I’ve rested enough. For now, I must ensure the Empire’s safety.” She walked down the staircase, every step grinding her joints. “Then, I must take my leave.”

She dared not wince at the resulting protests. Instead, she remained stoic as she sauntered past them. Cadance turned to the bickering crystal ponies and raised her hoof. They all fell silent.

“I understand your concern, my little ponies,” she began as gently as her hidden pain would allow. “But the enemy is ahoof, and he is very powerful. Once I’m finished here, I must confront him again.”

Quartz stepped forward, concerned. “‘The enemy’? You mean… your meeting with Samael wasn’t…?”

Cadance adopted a sad frown. “No. Samael has turned on us. He rejected our friendship and now threatens to engulf Equestria in war. And in his grasp lies the only way to stop it: a key that closes the gate from which he entered.”

The unicorn soldier stepped beside Quartz. “Then we shall stand with you, Your Highness! On your word, the Crystal Guard will rally together and—”

“No.”

The soldier sputtered to silence.

“Your task, along with every Crystal Guard unit, is to protect the Empire.” Cadance’s voice gently reverberated off the crystal walls. “I will not throw any of you into this fire. You may be needed in time, and if that time comes, you will defend your people and your empire till your last breath,” she said, taking a quiet breath of her own. “Is that clear?”

There was a beat of silence, the armored mare’s brow furrowed in hesitation. She straightened her back and saluted.

“Crystal-clear, ma’am!” She turned to her now trembling subordinate. “You heard her, Private! I want this message delivered to every squad leader yesterday! Flap to it!”

The pegasus managed a clumsy salute, her hoof keeping her helmet above her eyes. “Y-yes, Lieutenant!” And so, she flapped to it, zipping out from the throne balcony.

Cadance nodded and said, “You’re all dismissed.”

The pink alicorn watched the ponies bow, break away, and leave the throne room to their respective tasks. All except one. Cadance cleared her throat and leaned toward the unicorn soldier with a gentle.

“You’re dismissed, Lieutenant,” she said evenly.

The mare nodded stoutly. “My apologies, Your Highness,” she said, now a lot more calm. “But I was assigned by Prince Shining Armor himself to escort and protect you at all costs.”

Cadance pursed her lips and raised a brow.

“Should he not be available upon your return,” the soldier added.

Cadance rolled her eyes and smiled with a sigh. “Of course he did,” she said. “Very well.”

She walked to the throne balcony, gazing out over the crystal-cut expanse of her empire. She’d always thought, every single time, that the view would never cease to delight and amaze. This time, she couldn’t stop thinking of all the terrible things that would go wrong if she failed.

“Permission to speak freely, ma’am?” the soldier requested from behind her.

“Granted,” Cadance replied almost too quickly.

The unicorn’s posture nearly crumbled like toothpicks holding a cinder block. She released a mute sigh and stared at her leader’s back.

“You’ve briefed us on your task, said exactly what your plan was and what you hoped to gain from it,” she began. “You’ve only told us his name, but not much else. Tell me, princess; just what are we up against?”

Cadance froze. For some ridiculous reason, she didn’t expect the question. But her answer was clear.

“I… I don’t know.”

“Ma’am?”

“I don’t know what we’re up against. I’ve never seen or felt anything like it. When I first saw him, I didn’t know what to think. Clearly, from what I’ve learned of him before his visit, I should’ve expected the worst. But when he spoke to me, I felt so much more.”

The unicorn was silent.

“It was like staring at a piece of Creation itself; a denizen of history, ancient history, lost history… even history yet to be written. In him I saw something old. Primordial. For a moment I thought he’d actually accept our offer, that he’d find reason to teach us, to show us more than we could even imagine.”

The unicorn gulped dryly as Cadance turned around, glaring at the crystal floor.

“I was wrong from the start, and I knew it,” she said, turning toward her escort. “We were all wrong to trust Samael. Now, our naivety has put Equestria in mortal danger. I… I put my subjects beneath the demon’s blade. I could’ve stopped this, if I’d just said ‘no’.”

The unicorn stepped forward, her eyes bright with fury and her brows knitted. “Permission to speak, ma’am?!” she accidentally shouted.

Cadance sprang back, her left hoof raising a bit. She straightened up and smiled at the determined mare.

“I’ve already granted that, soldier,” she said.

The unicorn’s ears folded back, her blue cheeks slightly reddened. “Right. But…” She hardened herself again. “Princess, it’s not your fault. You did what you did for Equestria’s benefit. You meant no ill will toward your kingdom; only knowledge and peace.”

Cadance suddenly found eye contact very disturbing. But she didn’t look away. “We all knew the risks… and we did it anyway.”

“Yes.” The soldier stepped closer. “For the greater good of your people.” She glanced at the ground for only a moment, then returned to Cadance. “We did the same.”

Cadance titled her head without quite knowing it.

“My clan… we were once a powerful force in the Crystal Guard... before he rose to power,” the unicorn said. “When Sombra slayed Princess Platinum, he took everything—rights, laws, money, food, even the guards. He ordered the entire Crystal Guard to capture civilians, to enslave them to mine more crystals.”

Cadance grimaced again, but only for the recurring sickness in her stomach every time she heard this.

“But not all in the Crystal Guard succumbed to the king’s influence. One segment—a unicorn family—defied him by the very blade. That was my kin. They fought Sombra’s tyranny for days on end until they realized they waged war on old friends and allies. They… could no longer stand to slay their own, so they fled.”

Cadance stopped, and the memory projecting parallel with the soldier’s story snapped apart at the seams. That information was new.

“Only a few had escaped, but swore they’d return a thousand strong and overthrow the mad king,” the mare said. “They never did.”

Cadance’ brought a hoof to her lips, her eyes gleaming with pity. “Do you know what happened to them?” she couldn’t help but ask.

The soldier’s hind hooves clicked on the floor. “It’s said they migrated to Canterlot soon after their escape. Which, I imagine, is how the Sisters of Night and Day learned of Sombra’s takeover. They arrived alone, battled the king, turned him to shadow, and…” She stared back at the floor, her eyes hidden by shadow. “Well, you know the rest princess.”

No. She didn’t. Cadance thought she knew the rest before that day. She thought, after months and months of pillaging the Crystal library for information, she’d know everything a princess of the Empire would ever need.

Cadance brought a gentle hoof to the soldier’s chin and raised it. She was crying but made no sound. Her tears fell but her eyes remained strong and impassive.

“What happened to you?” the pink alicorn asked.

A brief flicker of broken faith and honor flashed in those eyes, but they quickly returned to that stony ‘royal guard’ face.

“My husband… and my son.”

Cadance nearly puked. Her hoof swam from the unicorn’s chin to her withers.

“He wanted me to kill them. It was my duty as a Crystal Guard to kill all traitors, but… I didn’t. I couldn’t. I let them escape, I aided their escape. I watched the only family I had left flee the Empire, and I stayed to serve the ‘justice’ of a tyrant.”

Cadance’s hoof stroked the soldier’s crystalline withers, on the verge of tears herself.

“I couldn’t go with them. I wasn’t worthy. Not after I’d killed my own parents for disobeying Sombra. I was a traitor to my people, to my princess, to myself. I wanted to…”

The unicorn stopped, and stepped away from Cadance out of sheer instinct, drying her tears. She straightened again, her face dry but twice as shiny.

“I stayed behind to atone for my sins. I freed many slaves from Sombra’s hold, pretending I was still following orders. I brought them food, provided shelter, and killed any corrupt soldier that discovered me,” she said, again staring at the floor. “It didn’t last.”

Cadance was tempted to close the distance again and reconnect with the mare. She didn’t.

“Word got out that a traitor had been freeing slaves. And I was discovered, captured, and brought before the king. I… heh. I was sentenced to death.”

By now, Cadance could barely stand. She wanted to sit on the floor like a filly riveted by an elder’s tale. Which, ironically, was very much the case.

“That’s when the Royal Sisters came and defeated the king. And now, here I am. One thousand years later. Wielding the armor and sword I’ve lost every right to wield. Without a husband to kiss and touch.” Her voice fell into a whisper. “Without a son to guide and nurture. I… I never even got see him grow up—”

Pink arms latched around the soldier’s neck, and her breath hitched. Her wide eyes dilated and focused again before she realized Cadance was hugging her. And shaking.

“I’m so sorry,” the alicorn whispered. “I didn’t mean to open old wounds. I shouldn’t have asked.”

Hesitating, trembling blue arms reached up and returned the embrace.

“I… I meant no sentiment, princess. It’s just…”

Cadance pulled away, both hooves now on the unicorn’s withers, and eyes wet with tears. “Nonsense. To us, the Crystal Empire vanished for a thousand years. But to you…”

The armored pony gently pulled away again, and Cadance finally got the hint that this pony didn’t like being touched. She regained her stoic expression.

“My point is this, princess: The Crystal Guard took up the sword and oath, facing war and death for the greater good of their people. My family left the only home they’d ever known for the greater good of their people. And I…” She hesitated for only heartbeat. “I betrayed my leaders and allies, foreswore my family for their freedom, threw myself before the mercy of a bloodthirsty king, and was damned to a millenium of purgatory. All for the greater good of my people.”

“And now, you…” The unicorn continued. “You, my princess, have risked the very sovereignty of Equestria in order to lift it to a golden age of wisdom and peace. And you’d condemn your guards to defend the helpless and wage war against Samael alone.”

“For the greater good of my people…” Cadance found herself whispering.

A mutual, companionable silence fell between the mares. One who’d known only peace until that day, and one who hadn’t know peace for over a thousand years.

Cadance stepped up to the crystal guard.

“Brave soul,” she began smoothly, invitingly, “what is your name?”

The unicorn put a hoof under her helmet and lifted. Cadance’s jaw dropped. Not for the unicorn’s feral, chest-tightening beauty, or the long faded scar grooved over her dulled right eye, but for a white streak that ran along her mane and—after a second look—her tail.

“Sparkle,” the unicorn said. “First-class Lieutenant, Diamond Sparkle.”

Eventually, Cadance found the sense to realize she needed air, and that gawking at the now-shifting unicorn didn’t give the best impression. Her jaw clicked shut, but her eyes remained vivid.

“You… You’re an ancestor of the Sparkle-clan. I never imagined I’d…” Cadance trailed off.

Diamond nodded and said, “Yes. Fourth generation, to be precise.” She curled an arm to brace her jeweled helmet. “I’ll say this much: I’m prouder of my clan now than I ever was. They’ve, at last, ascended to royalty, and still maintain the pride of the Royal Guard. Hence Prince Shining Armor.”

Cadance’s eyes wandered a bit, a smile tugging her lips. “Yeah,” she murmured.

Cadance imagined Shining Armour standing strong at her side, wearing his usual dopey grin, and she immediately felt the tight knot of anxiety in her breast unravel.

She snapped from her musings and focused on Diamond.

“Wait. You know of Twilight Sparkle?” Cadance asked.

The armored mare smiled. “Element of Magic? Newly crowned Princess of Friendship? Yes, I know of her.”

Cadance’s smile widened, as did her eyes. “Oh? Have you spoken with her?”

Diamond’s smile dropped, and Cadance’s followed.

“But… there were plenty of opportunities to meet,” the pink mare said, her brows curled in concern. “What stopped you?”

Diamond was silent for a disturbingly long moment. Long enough for Cadance to bash herself for, yet again, asking things that didn’t concern her.

“I don’t deserve to speak with her, or any of my descendants, really. I imagine most of the Sparkle-clan today don’t even know I exist. Perhaps it’s better this way,” Diamond said. She flinched at her princess’ sharp gasp.

“So you… you haven’t heard?” Cadance asked with a hoof to her lips.

Diamond stared blankly for a few second, then blinked with a tilted head. “What do you mean?”

Cadance hesitated, her ears falling flat. “You haven’t… heard anything from your other clan-members since the Empire’s return?” she asked.

The unicorn sighed. “As I said, it is no longer my place. Especially not with Twilight. Her, a matron of friendship itself? With me, a traitor to my people?”

“H-how could you think that?” Cadance cried. “I’ve no doubt that Twilight Sparkle would trip over her own tail to meet you!”

Diamond almost stepped back, but pressed her hooves to the crystal floor.

“I… I cannot. I’ve watched her during her few visits here. She’s such a sweet young thing.” The crystal mare paused, her eyes, again, meeting the floor. “If she ever learned of what I’ve done…”

Cadance wanted to reach out and touch her, but knew better by now.

“I mean, it’s hard enough speaking to the prince. Especially after…” Diamond stopped, her muzzle a bit red.

Cadance raised a brow, noting the other mare’s blush.

“Especially after what?”

“I… Let’s just say, I’ll never speak to another new arrival without a full briefing on who they are. Again. Ever.”

A natural instinct, honed by years of marriage counseling and pony-watching in Canterlot parks, answered Cadance’s question right there. It also told her to drop the subject without another word. It told her that very, very loudly.

“You flirted with him before you knew you were related.” Cadance smiled at Diamond’s darkened blush. “Didn’t you?”

“Shamelessly.”

It was no surprise, really. Given Shining Armor’s reputation and new status as ‘Prince’, mares had thrown themselves at him more than usual. But Cadance trusted him. He gave her a reason to trust him. Every single night. Again and again and again.

“Ah.”

Diamond’s face lit up with terror, her eye contact now forced. “F-forgive me, princess. I meant no scandal.”

To the unicorn’s surprise, Cadance giggled behind a hoof. “Think nothing of it,” the alicorn said. “I’m curious though, Diamond; The Sparkle-clan derived from you—from the crystal ponies. So…”

“When crystal ponies mate with, well… ordinaries, the newborns lose their shine. When that foal matures and propagates, the results don’t change,” Diamond said.

Cadance tilted her head, her eyes bright. “Huh. A lot like mules…”

Silence.

Every muscle in Diamonds face was frozen—no, permanently grafted—in place, her stare empty and crushing all at once. Cadance cleared her throat.

“My apologies. Bad comparison,” the alicorn said.

Diamond held up a blue hoof with closed eyes an easy smile.

Another blanket of silence fell over the two, and finally, Cadance returned to the balcony view, her eyes hard and determined.

“There’s work to do.”

That was all it took.

Diamond deftly flipped her helmet and slipped it back on. “Yes, ma’am,” she saluted.

Cadance’s shoulders dropped just a bit. She turned back to Diamond and said, “Please, call me Cadance.”

Diamond dropped her salute, her stony look faltering a bit. “I-I’ll work on that, ma’am,” she said.

Cadance smiled and said, “Fair enough.” She turned back to the task at hand, her smile fading. “Come. There’s no more time to waste.”

Her eyes closed and her horn flickered with light. When she opened them again, she and Diamond stood outside the Crystal Palace. Her wings stood stout, and her ear leaned toward strong, steady hoofsteps. She turned to a focused Diamond Sparkle, who adjusted the strap of her sword.

“Our assignment is simple, Diamond,” Cadance began. “Ensure the people are safe. After that, I must go.”

Cadance saw another crack in that stony expression. Clearly, Diamond still disliked that last bit, but reassurance could wait.

Without another word, the two marched toward the barricaded homes. Cadance listened to the steady pattern of hoofsteps, nearly in sync with her own. Then she heard only her own. With a raised brow, Cadance turned back at a perplexed Diamond, who stared at the ground.

“Is something the matter?” the princess asked.

Diamond’s eyes returned to the other mare, then behind her, then to her side. The unicorn frowned.

Cadance followed her eyes, and saw it too. It wasn’t long until they both realized they were standing in a winged shadow. The alicorn’s eyelids slowly, painfully rose.

Oh no.

Her head whipped up, squinting at the afternoon sun blaring behind the Crystal Palace’s pointed peak. A shadowed figure butchered the sun’s rays.

“No…” Cadance whispered. “How did he get in here? I spent days fortifying that protection spell.”

Diamond was immediately at her side, prone for combat. “Princess, is that him? Is that Samael?”

The shadowed blot dropped from the palace, falling like a stone broken off a cliff. Both mare’s heads followed it until the distant, rattling boom.

“No! The Crystal Heart!” Cadance shouted, unfurling her wings and jetting forward.

Diamond’s every muscle snapped taut and, without a word, she galloped after her princess toward the jagged pillar of debris.

As they approached, they saw legions of crystal guards—unicorn and pegasus alike—bound toward the danger with them. Soon, they all arrived, the guards forming a circle of swords and spears with hurried steps. Another squad of guards did the same around the Crystal Heart, spears aimed straight toward the thick rising dust.

A great wind burst out, and everypony squinted or shielded their eyes. Cadance stood still and focused as the dust wisped and streamed away.

There he was. His bulging, winged back to the princess and her guards, facing the slowly rotating Crystal Heart. She noted every widened eye on the Crystal Guard; how some of them nearly dropped their weapons, or how some stumbled back. Some even audibly gulped.

Then Cadance turned to Diamond Sparkle. Her body was as still as death. Her eyes like the calm before a storm. She was actually ready.

And it nearly gave Cadance a heart attack.

The princess of love placed a hoof on Diamond’s shoulder, and the soldier turned to her.

“Stay here.”

“I… What?! Your Highness, I—”

“That’s an order.”

Cadance very nearly apologized when Diamond flinched with a hung jaw. The alicorn kept her stern gaze.

Diamond closed her mouth and nodded. “Y-yes ma’am.”

Cadance turned to Samael, inhaled with a raised foreleg to her chest, and exhaled with a clean swipe of her limb. Her eyes softened, and her chest loosened a bit. She marched toward the demon, ignoring all the gawks and hushed whispers from the guards.

She stopped only feet away from him, her wings closed against her sides.

“Samael,” she greeted.

Samael looked left, and that half of the guards trembled and tensed. He looked right, and that half did the same.

He stared back at the Crystal Heart and chuckled. A deep, rumbling, terrible thing, like a volcano’s molten snore.

“Did you enjoy yourself, Cadenza?” Samael asked, turning toward the mare. “The Princess of Love and the last Wyvern: saving the Crystal Empire. He laced his clawed hands together, smiling. “No fairytale could ever compare.”

“H-how did you know about Sp—” Cadance blinked, and closed her eyes with a long sigh. “Dumb question…”

Samael hummed and stepped forward, ignoring the clinks of spears and swords pointing at him. “Yes, isn’t it, though? But you didn’t answer my question, princess,” he said. Cadance opened her eyes and frowned. “Did you enjoy yourself? The Heart’s power coursing through your veins? The mindless reverence of the crystal horses?”

Samael paused, grinning at more hushed whispers among the guard. Cadance held her frown.

“Or was it killing Sombra that put it all in place?” he asked.

Cadance’s frown hardened. “I told you,” she began through gritted teeth, “we didn’t know that would happen. We didn’t expect that much power.”

Samael’s smile dropped.

“‘The Crystal Heart has returned. Use the light and love in your hearts to ensure King Sombra does not’,” he quoted with a gesturing hand. “Face it Cadenza: you wanted him dead.”

“No,” Cadance growled.

Samael strode toward the alicorn, his every step a thick clap on the crystal ground. “You wanted the Heart to destroy him—to establish peace in the Empire.”

The guards jutted their weapons toward the approaching demon. Cadance held up a hoof, and every weapon receded like a shore before the tide. Soon, Samael was upon her, hunched over, face-to-face.

“Without all that power, what would’ve happened?” Samael continued. “Your precious empire would’ve crumble into a black, reeking cesspool , carved with the bones of everyone who stood against Sombra. The ones you’ve sworn to protect—those who cower in their homes, even now—would roam these very roads in chains, spurred only by cracking whips and a tyrant’s sickening gaze.”

Cadance’s lips pulled over her teeth.

“Do you deny it?” Samael asked.

The alicorn said nothing. She glared fiercely at the crystal road, her brows twitching, her mane dampened by Samael’s scorching, withering breath.

She wanted to gouge her own eyes out when she felt tears stinging them.

“I... If there was any other way…” she muttered if only to hide her shaky voice.

Samael stood tall again, laughing deeply, triumphantly.

“But I approve, Cadenza!” he boasted. “What other way was there? The Elements of Harmony? The Royal Sisters? The same means by which Sombra would simply return? How many times would you’ve had him defeated? How many wayward generations would you have damned to that cycle? Ten? Twenty? A hundred? A Thousand? Would you have squandered eternity fighting a problem no one could’ve just wished away?”

When blood started dripping off her chin, Cadance was vaguely certain she should’ve stopped biting her lip. She glared up at a clawed finger pointing at her.

“Whether you like it or not, you’ve made the right choice. For the greater good of your people.”

Cadance gasped, and Samael stroked his chin, studying her.

“Makes me wonder, princess, what else you’d do for your kingdom? What other sins you’ve buried from every ear and eye? From the questions they give? From your beloved prince?”

At the mere mention of Shining Armor, Cadance nearly gored Samael with her horn. She inhaled with a hoof to her chest, then swiped the air, exhaling. She looked back up at the fiend.

“The key, Samael…” she said.

Samael’s fingers left his chin, and he hunched over to face her again. “Ah, yes. That. Have I not told you what to do, Cadenza? Was I not clear? If you want that key—if you wish to stop the torrent of wings, claws, and blades from washing over Equestria—you’ll have to stop me.”

Cadance closed her eyes as Samael got even close, his chapped, smiling lips only inches from her twitching ear.

“And that requires strength you don’t possess,” he said. He backed away from the twitching ear, once again face-to-face. “Or are you actually relying on these insects,” he gestured toward the Crystal Guard with a shaking, cracking fist, “to fight your battles? Don’t tell me you’ve picked up Celestia’s habits.”

Diplomacy was quickly becoming an impossibility. Both for Samael’s constant taunting, and Cadance’s crumbling patience. Of course, a frowning Diamond Sparkle stepping up beside the princess didn’t improve matters.

“You’re stalling, demon!” the armored mare barked. “You give your legions time to group at your gate! Relinquish the key and begone with you!”

Samael looked at Diamond like she wore a hat made of wood-shavings and a bendy straw. Cadance caught the look and swore she felt a lung collapse. She narrowed an eye at the brave soldier.

“Diamond, what are you doing?” she demanded. “I told you to stay back.”

The blue unicorn hardened her stance, her sheathed sword glowing as her horn did. “Surely you see his trickery, princess. He means to distract us and gain the advantage! If we strike now, if we give no quarter, we can end this before it begins!” Diamond claimed, shooting the alicorn a harsh look.

Cadance faltered for only a second but frowned again. “Stand down, Lieutenant--”

“Wait.”

Both mares shot Samael a dazed look. The demon considered Diamond for a moment, stroking his horned chin yet again.

“This one is… unique. Familiar, in a way,” Samael murmured. “Though, I’m curious, little one.” He dipped past Cadance, even lower to the ground, a clawed hand on the road. “Who are you to meddle in my affairs?”

Diamond threw her chest out and looked right up at Samael’s yellow eyes. “One who loves and protects her people! Prey on us, and I’ll see our land cleansed of you, demon!”

Between Samael’s quaking silence, and the symptoms of an oncoming stroke, Cadance started to think she should’ve just stayed in bed that morning.

Samael’s eyes glowed that eerie yellow glow.

“I see,” he grumbled. “Interesting. You look at yourself, and see a redeemed mare. Humbled by experience. Tempered by conviction. An absolved soul who destroyed herself for her people.”

Diamond was clearly trying—and failing—to hide the crack in her steeled expression.

Samael frowned and said, “I look at you and see only a traitor. Murderous filth. A short-sighted dog who follows any order, even the murder of her own parents.” He paused with a raised brow, studying the now-shaking unicorn even closer.

His eyes slowly—ever so slowly—widened, and the next word left his lips with hushed awed.

“Sparkle-clan…” Samael smiled.

Whether she noticed or not, Diamond’s jaw hung open, her horn and weapon losing their glow.

“You… How… When…”

Samael pushed himself from the road and stood tall, his arms spread, his fists clenched. Laughing long and loud, he coiled his legs and sprang off the road, vanishing in orange light.

“No!” Cadance shouted, unfurling her wings and shoving Diamond behind her. “Samael! Show yourself!”

Her answer was the deafening cry of a crystal guard, reminding her that they were even there. All eyes darted to the screaming unicorn, the closest ones backing away. His body crackled with violent power, and he dropped his spear, clutching his armored chest.

Another guard did the same. Then another. And another.

It spread like a virus with no cure. One became four. Four became ten. Soon, Cadance and Diamond were surround by screaming guards, all surging with red and orange electricity.

Then, as quickly as it began, it ended with a loud boom and a blinding flash. Cadance and Diamond stood amidst the fading light, shielding their eyes with arms and wings. When their eyes opened, the guards were gone.

Diamond started to shake. “No… No, what happened?!” she yelled, galloping to and fro like it would somehow bring them back. “Where are they?!”

Cadance just gaped.

A sharp gleam caught the alcorn’s eye. She looked up, and there, floating from the sky, was a head-sized, blood-red orb. Diamond stopped her frantic search when she saw it. The shining ball touched the ground with the barest clink.

Then, they saw them, heard them. All writhing in that tiny orb. The crystal guards’ muffled scream bounced within, tiny faces swimming beneath the surface like trapped tadpoles.

“My stars!” Diamond shouted, trotting toward the ball.

“Diamond, wait!”

Cadance called too late.

The armored unicorn was inches from them--just a swipe with her arm and she’d have had them. An orange flash, a dropping foot, and a shockwave of broken crystal and power destroyed the notion.

Diamond bounced and rolled away, stopping at a gasping Cadance’s hooves.

“Diamond! Are you—”

“FIEND!” Diamond roared, flipping to her hooves and glaring at a laughing Samael. “Release them!”

The demon knelt before the orb, clamped his iron-like claws around it, and stood rigidly.

“This just got interesting. I dare say, Sparkle-clan,” Samael growled,staring at the red ball, “Had you not interfered, you may have joined these… poor souls.” He caressed the screaming jewel.

Diamond breathed for a retort, but choked on her first syllable when Samael brought the orb to his opened mouth.

“W-what are you…?” Cadance, too, choked on her own words.

His jaw parted with a sickening crack, and large, powerful fangs clamped around the orb.

“No!” Diamond cried.

Samael’s jaw slammed shut, and a loud, gurgling gulp burrowed into their ears. His throat bulged and veins tunneled through his neck. And like that, the deed was done.

“Hmm. Captured more than I thought. I wasn’t aware your underground reserves were so… numerous,” he said.

Cadance’s eyebrows twitched up.

“One of them is particularly strong; familiar too.” Samael stroked his chin. “Hah. So once again, the Captain of the Royal Guard falls to me. A pity.”

Cadance breathed, but only felt ice in her lungs. She swallowed, but only felt needles in her throat. She blinked, but only saw red.

Shining Armor was still underground, helping the reserves.

“You…” Cadance hissed.

Samael vanished.

The moment Cadance blinked, Samael was upon her, knee raised, fist reeled back. Time slowed to a maddening crawl. Cadance knew it was coming, she could see it, could almost feel it. Yet she could do nothing but gawk and feel the raw force collecting in that iron fist.

Time snapped back to normal, and the fist burrowed into her cheek. Her eye squinted and rolled, her mouth clicked open, her tongue flicked out, her head twisted painfully.

Then she flew.

Like a rock thrown across a lake, Cadance bounced along the shattering road, cast through buildings, poles, and statues. A distant boom and a rising cloud of debris ended her journey.

Samael’s arched feet touched the ground, hands on hips, nodding at the marred trail Cadance left behind.

“I trust that will give you time to think on your failure.”

He raised a finger just before a sword sliced at his neck, the blade clanking harmlessly against his flesh. Samael smiled at a small gasp and slowly turned his head toward a now-shivering Diamond Sparkle, her glowing horn levitating the weapon.

Samael flicked the sword away, out of Diamond’s grasp. It flipped and stabbed into the road, and the crystal unicorn planted her hooves wide apart. Ready.

Samael turned completely to the mare.

“Why so hostile, Sparkle-clan? Why the glare? Are you not grateful to be free, so that you may fulfill your duty?” Samael asked with a gesturing hand.

Diamond glared harder and growled.

“Or perhaps you’d like to join your compatriots,” he added, patting his shredded red belly. “Heaven knows you’ve failed them enough ti—”

“Shut up!”

A bolt shot from Diamond’s horn, and was swatted away like a ball of yarn.

“You speak like you know the first thing about me, demon!” the unicorn snarled. “I won’t tolerate your insults!”

Samael just laughed.

“Oh, but I do know, Sparkle-clan.” He stepped forward, Diamond stepped back. “I know the tosses and turns that keep you awake.” He stepped forward again, she stepped back again. “I know the tears you shed every morning for your lost family, and the role you played.”

“Lies!” Diamond’s horn glowed again, her teeth gnashing together.

“Foolishly, you chose duty above all, and lost everything. Your clan, your honor. A mere shell of a mare, trying to justify her existence by dying for a noble cause,” Samael continued.

Diamond’s horn glowed brighter, her eyes sharp and vivid.

“Your husband resented you.” Samael clenched a cracking fist. “Your son hated you. You were branded a traitor, a deserter. When the Crystal Empire fell, all of the Sparkle-clan cared not whether you lived… or died.”

“Enough!” Diamond fired a more powerful bolt. It bounced harmlessly off Samael’s smiling face.

The unicorn glowered, the grain of her teeth cracking together, her horn blazing again.

“I am a being of many gifts, Sparkle-clan. To Equestria, my gift is truth,” Samael said, leaning forward. “And it hurts. Doesn’t it?”

With a shrill cry, Diamond jerked her head aside. Samael turned left with a raised hand. Her screaming blade stabbed and lodged right into that hand. He turned to the feral pony now lunging at him. She snatched her blade’s hilt with her teeth, pressed all fours to Samael’s arm and yanked upward with all her might.

Thick bright-orange liquid trailed the sword as Diamond flipped away, landing deftly on her hooves before a growling Samael.

She stood ready, sword in teeth, only barely aware of her own tears.

Samael stared at his wound in fascination. His hand was split in half, a pair of fingers on each flaccid slab of meat. That orange liquid gushed from the wound and dribbled down his arm, onto the crystal road.

Sizzling smoke rose from the growing puddle.

“My, you’re a bold one,” the demon muttered, the gash searing itself closed. “Now I understand where the mean streak derives. I see much of you in Princess Twilight.”

Diamond stopped breathing, her eyes wide.

“Twilight Sparkle? W...what have you done?” the unicorn demanded through the sword handle, steeling herself again. “If you’ve lain one claw on her…!”

Samael gave a short laugh and cast a thoughtful gaze to the southern horizon. “She fights valiantly; a soldier hiding beneath all those books and social depravity. I’ll admit, I’m enjoying her struggle.” He turned his eyes back to Diamond. “Besides, I’ve no intent to finish what I started centuries ago. Not yet…”

At first, Diamond simply frowned in confusion. The next instant, the frown shattered to terrified realization.

“Who… who are you?! What did you…?” Her shouts slowly fell into whispers. “No. You couldn’t have. You couldn’t have.”

Samael leaned forward, his smile faded. “If you want answers, Sparkle-clan… they’re not for me to say. That task belongs to your prin—”

A red wave took Samael right off his feet. Flipping and ripping across the air, his roar faded in the distance. Diamond Sparkle stood dazed, the sword falling from her mouth.

Gold-clad hooves stomped the ground and Diamond jumped back, staring up at a glowing Princess Cadance. The alicorn’s horn smoked like a fired gun.

“Lieutenant,” came the alicorn’s call. “You will leave me to my task, and see to our fellow ponies.”

The blue soldier couldn’t even fathom how Cadance was still standing to acknowledge orders.

“P...princess? A-are you—”

“Diamond Sparkle.” The unicorn gasped at the crushing gentleness in that voice. “I won’t say it again.” Cadance turned slightly to Diamond, a bleeding eye tightly closed. “Diplomacy is now impossible. Samael must be stopped, and you will only hinder me.”

Every word battered her armor away and brittled her bones. Cadance’s gentle, reverberating voice destroyed her will and left her a shaking, gaping simpleton. Right then, Cadance was no friend, who lent an ear and listened to a dishonored mare’s tales. Or an equal, who swam in the muck alongside her subjects—drank, laughed, sang and danced with them.

She was a goddess. A very angry goddess.

“Go.”

Diamond stumbled back, as if the command itself had pushed her. She stumbled back again, her bottom lip trembling, her vision blurred with tears. She stumbled back a final time, finally realizing how far in over her head she’d jumped.

“Cadance,” Diamond whispered, gaining a softened look from the glowing alicorn. “Stay alive…”

The unicorn warrior turned tail and galloped. She never looked back. Cadance shivered but only from within, and only for a moment. Her conviction was well-placed; Diamond had to leave, lest Cadance lose another to Samael.

Like she’d lost Shining Armor.

“Why didn’t you tell her, Cadenza?”

Cadance straightened out again, closing her good eye. An orange flash, a shattering landing, and a burst of dusty wind hit the pink mare. She opened her eye and saw him. Smiling.

“Are you doing with her what Celestia does with Twilight Sparkle? Are you hiding the truth to protect her?” Samael asked, striding forward with his heavy steps. “Is that why you didn’t tell her what happened five-hundred years ago, that her restored clan was completely slaughtered during the Great Skirmish?”

“A slaughter that you committed,” Cadance spat.

Samael offered a upturned palm and said, “One can’t be blamed for self-defense. My business was with Celestia.”

Cadance scoffed, her wings stretching out as Samael stepped ever-closer. “Your ‘business’ destroyed half of Canterlot and endangered the Equestrian Monarchy! How dare you feign innocence after all you’ve done!”

Samael stopped, chuckling with a palm against his forehead. “Are you so different from me, Cadenza?” he asked.

“Don’t ever compare us…” the mare hissed.

“You, who hides her lust for battle behind prim smiles and tawdry wishes.”

Cadance’s right leg twitched.

“You, who led a destroyed, battle-worn soul to believe she could redeem herself.”

Cadance’s horn sparked.

“You!” Samael pointed an accusing claw. “You, who keeps a loving husband’s own child a secret from him.”

A sharper spark crackled from her horn, her teeth bared, her body quaking with rage. Light exploded from her and beamed to the sky. Samael looked up and saw that light encircle them in a sky-blue dome.

He chuckled low. “You’re sealing your own fate,” he said, looking back to the glowering princess. “You know that.”

A final expulsion of power filled the sky, the magic dome gleaming like a polished window. Samael observed his surroundings, noting the spacious new arena, how no building was trapped inside with it, and how the Crystal Palace oversaw it like a patient king.

The demon grinned at the crystal princess.

“I won’t let you hurt anypony else,” Cadance declared. “There are no more guards. No more bystanders. And no one gets in or out of this dome.” Her wounded eye opened, and the blood-streak beneath it slowly vanished. It healed in seconds. “Now, demon, only you and I remain!”

Samael’s smile dropped. He lifted a heavy foot and stomped the ground with a guttural roar. A fiery ring flung out from him, chunks of crystals shot about, and hissing electricity danced around him.

“Then come for me, Princess Mi Amore Cadenza.”

And she did.

Like a thrown dart, Cadance soared at Samael, her focus sharper than any blade. Her horn beamed brightly, the light swirling around her like a drill. Getting closer. Closer.

To her amazement, Samael didn’t vanish.

The demon roared and threw his fist forward, meeting the alicorn’s charge. The union lifted chunks of crystal, spouted razor-sharp spires, and strobed of power and might.

With a grunt, Samael pushed, and Cadance careened into a spire, falling prone. She shook it off and glared at the fiend striding towards her.

“Was it worth it, Cadenza? To keep your Sparkle-clan husband in the dark? To deny him an heir?” Samael said.

The alicorn gritted her teeth and spread her wings, rising to her hooves.

“Is the idea of a half-breed son so alien, so unheard of, you’d foreswear your loyalty—your trust—just to hide it?”

“Be silent!” Cadance shouted.

She vanished in a white flash, and Samael closed his eyes. Waiting.

He whirled around with an open-clawed strike, his steel-like fingers grazing Cadance’s mane. The mare gawked as her colorful strands danced in the wind, the burly arm centimeters from her cheek.

Samael smiled and said, “You’re too slow.” Cadance blinked rapidly at him. “All that training with Shining Armor, and nothing to show for it.”

Cadance’s gawk crumbled into a scowl, her lips pulling over her gums.

“Keep his name out of your rotten mouth!

“A tall order, considering I’ve already…” Samael trailed off, patting his belly. “Well…”

A screaming alicorn pushed her head forward, and Samael slid back several feet, his clawed feet stopping his trip. His eyes darted up, noting the floating crystals above him. The unusually sharp crystals. Unusually sharp crystals pointed right at his head.

He vanished, and the shards darted to the cracked ground. Cadance mimicked him.

And their explosive return cratered the arena’s center. Power and might again strobed like mad, winds and crystal chucks flying and hitting the impregnable dome. Cadance grunted and shouted, her white-hot horn pushing and pushing against Samael’s glowing palm.

“You had no right, damn you!” Cadance cursed, pushing even harder. “Damn you!”

Samael scoffed and pushed back. Cadance shut her eyes, crying out as a funnel of raw molten heat bore down on her, gusty clouds wisping from under her.

“Oh? Had no right, did I?” Samael taunted. “Is it Shining Armor writhing in my bowels that ails you, Cadenza?” He reeled back pushed harder, a stronger heat forcing a shrill scream from the mare. “Or was it your pitiful inability to stop me?”

Cadance whipped her eyes at the demon, a seething hatred brightening them, widening them. Her lungs erupted with a deep, deafening whinny, and pushed. She pushed, and pushed so hard that sweat dotted every inch of her tense, shaking frame.

“He was my husband!”

Samael’s hand was actually pushed back, and he raised a brow.

“Hmph. You lack discipline,” he spat.

Samael lifted his hand away, and Cadance stumbled. She barely regained herself before that same hand fell and drove her face into solid, unforgiving crystal. Her body flopped up, hind hooves standing tall. Like a deftly cut tree, her limp frame fell to its belly and lay still, the same hand bared down on a now-frazzled mane.

That hand clenched tight, lifting Cadance off the ground with a fistful of mane. With a dry groan, her eyes fluttered open, only barely aware that her hooves were dangling.

A large fist drove into her body, curling her backside to the sky.

Cadance hit the ground with a weighty thud, curled into herself like a fetus in the womb. She shook and shivered, her stomach and lungs spinning and burning, breathing all but impossible.

“Look at you…” Samael muttered with a shrug and a shaking head. “Pathetic. Weak. All that barking and you’re finished after a few blows?”

He kicked her side and watched her roll to a crystal boulder. He strode toward her prone body as she shook, her breaths shallow and short.

“Even Princess Twilight fought harder than this. I’m truly disappointed,” the horned beast said. “It’s a wonder you’ve managed anything at all, never mind ruling an empire. How have you gotten this far?”

Candance’s closed her eyes tighter, her teeth bared, her tears falling freely. With a final rumbling step, Samael stopped before the alicorn, stroking his chin.

“Hmm. How, indeed…” he murmured. “That was the most defined thing about Celestia all those years ago; she found her strength in something—her people, her kingdom. I see something similar in Twilight Sparkle: her friends. She’d always protect them, even at the cost of her life. But what of you, Cadenza?”

Cadance coughed.

“What sordid, misguided nonsense spurs you through insurmountable odds?” Samael was silent for several heartbeats, studying, learning. His eyes brightened. “Of course. Love.”

Cadance’s eyes shot open.

“So that’s your muse, your power. The same power that sired you into Equestrian royalty, that vanquished the Changelings.” Samael threw a curled glowing hand toward Cadance, and the mare hissed at her binding limps. “A feat utterly impossible without your Sparkle-clan mate. A shame, really.”

Cadance shut her eyes again as her body lifted toward Samael, the pace tortuously slow.

“And ironic to say the least,” the demon continued. “Such a deep and powerful thing. One that heals any wound, cures any sickness. Yet so remarkably fragile, so easily broken and cast aside. Clearly, yours is no diff—”

“Why…?” Cadance croaked.

Samael raised a brow.

The alicorn’s eyes peeled open, narrowed and fierce, tears falling like curved rivers down her face.

“Why, Samael?” Her even tone was cracked to pieces by her shaky throat. “What did you gain… by taking my husband?”

Samael snorted black fumes from his nostrils. “What does it matter? Despite what you may believe, my being here isn’t for your personal history.” He clenched a fist, bending a mewling Cadance’s limbs harder against her body. “You’ve all asked for my knowledge and teachings, and you shall have them.”

A tiny glint caught the demon’s attention, and his eyes darted left to see a group of crystal ponies. They huddled together with terrified shudders. Samael frowned and looked right, seeing the same thing. He scanned around, smiling at the growing number of spectators.

Gathering by the hundreds.

Samael opened his palm, the glow fading, and Cadance fell listlessly to her side, gasping for for air.

His winged shadow fell over her. She didn’t see it, but Cadance could most certainly feel it. Samael crouched down, an arm resting on a knee.

“But you must earn them,” he said. “You must face your demons, your sins and regrets.”

Cadance dared to open her eyes, and swore she would choke on the demon’s very presence. She squirmed away, pressing her back against a broken crystal spire, scowling at her enemy. Then she saw them; the growing swarm of her subjects gathering at the translucent arena.

“I regret nothing,” Cadance declared.

“Spare me your lies,” Samael said a careless wave. “Remember, there is little you can keep from me, once I’ve a mind to know it. And one regret burns deepest within you: a child. His child… Her child.”

Cadance drove her hooves into her temples, her horn sparking weakly.

“Uhn! Get out of my head,” she groaned.

“Did it sicken you, Cadenza? To listen to the Changeling Queen? To learn that she carried your husband’s foal, because you were too weak to stop her invasion?”

Cadance’s hooves moved over her ears. “Shut up…” she whispered.

“Or were you honored in some way? Honored that your sworn enemy would trust her offspring to you?” Samael continued.

“Shut up.”

“Perhaps it inspired you,” he persisted. “A union of equine and changeling. A catalyst of unity itse… Oh, who am I fooling? Surely you would’ve enlightened your husband if that was the case.”

Cadance shrieked, her horn blasting a blue lightning right at the demon’s eye. His roar rattled the houses, the spires, the statues, the very sky itself. The colorful blanket of ponies backed away from the arena like a receding tide.

Samael stopped, the echo fading into the sky, a hand against his face. Smoking orange liquid seeped between his fingers.

Then he smiled.

“Quick on the draw, I see,” Samael said, his bloodied hand glowing. “That’s one advantage you have over your sister-in-law.” His hand stopped glowing, lowered from his face, and revealed a perfectly healed eye.

Cadance’s scowl melted right then and there. Despair’s icy grip closed around her heart, her breath now ragged and shuddery.

“I’ll ask again Cadenza,” Samael said, his arm resting back on his knee. “Was it worth it?”

“Shut up!”

Cadance vanished in a white flash, and Samael didn’t move an inch. He smiled at the sound of ragged breaths far behind him.

“You don’t know what it was like!” the alicorn shouted, standing on her rickety legs. “The hiding, the lying! Telling him I was fine when he caught me crying! All to keep it from him! To protect what we had!”

Samael rose and turned to Cadance, unsurprised by her returning tears.

“What was I supposed to do?! Tell him that he fathered her child?! That I was too scared to tell him from the start?!” Cadance choked, finally aware that she was crying. “I… I couldn’t. I couldn’t risk losing him again. Not again…” Her brows furrowed, her voice raising again. “You. You could never understand!”

Samael stepped forward, and despite the distance, Cadance stepped back.

“Oh, but I do understand, princess.” He took another step. “In fact, it’s perfectly clear to me now. You thought he’d resent your secrecy, take the child, and leave you unloved.”

He continued to stride toward her, and she continued to stumble back. Her rump hit the impervious dome that trapped them. A few more steps and he was upon her, his inky shadow spilling over her shaky, coiled frame.

He once again brought his face to hers and whispered, “Selfish. Cruel.”

“No! I-I did for him! For us! For all of Equestria!”

“Hah! Is that right? Not once did you think of cold, lonely nights, staring at an empty bedside? Not once did you believe he’d lash out, and denounce your marriage?”

No!”

“Or perhaps,” embers wisped from Samael’s grinning mouth, his voice steadily rising, “you did hide it for the good of your kingdom. Perhaps you knew, as well as I do now, that without love—without his love—you’d be the same trifling waste of flesh that shudders before me now!”

“STOP IT!”

Cadance’s eyes dilated, a deep, long-suppressed instinct breaking it’s restraints and flooding her veins.

The need to escape.

Piercing blue light shot from her horn, into the dome. In that instant, the dome shattered like glass, and Cadance darted away, leaving the panicked chatter of crystal ponies. She cared not where; she just picked a direction and went.

Samael shuddered with a predatory growl, his grotesque wings flinging out.

“You can’t escape your demons forever, Cadenza!”

Then he roared. Like a shattering thunderclap, it shook windows and buildings, and sent the crystal ponies on a screaming stampede.

Cadance heard him—she was already yards away, and she still heard him. But she didn’t listen, oh no. She flapped her poorly trained wings as hard as her body and spirit allowed, tears spraying from her eyes.

Then she felt it; that scorching, sulfur-like breath, that crushing, debilitating presence. She turned left and saw him. Flying with her. Grinning at her.

“Face it,” Samael said, his voice somehow overwhelming the whistling wind. “Without his love, you’re powerless. And without power, you can’t protect your empire. You can’t protect anything.”

“Leave me alone!” Cadance flapped harder, her feathery limps flinging sweat.

Samael met her speed with ease, his giant wings beating the air with deep steady wisps.

“That is your secret, Cadenza! That is the risk you pose to your kingdom, to your love, your tolerance, and your ridiculous ‘Harmony’!”

He vanished. And before Cadance could breathe a syllable of confusion, an elbow drove between her wings. She heard a sharp crack, and plummeted, screaming her throat dry.

A flip.

A spin.

A corkscrew.

A nosedive.

And finally, she crashed front-first before the gargantuan Crystal Palace. She slid beneath the royal spire, decorating the road with a long, jagged gouge. She stopped before the spinning Crystal Heart, her arms squashed flat beneath her, her backside raised high.

Just as she became self aware, Cadance felt the long anticipated agony. She mewled at her twisted and useless wing.

But soon, nearly as fast as the pain, a wave of relief washed over her aches and gashes. A reservoir of love and light opened within her, and her horn started sparking to life. Her eyes opened and finally saw the glowing Crystal Heart.

A blue light shined in her eyes, a new hope riveted in her chest, a bright new future flashed before her eyes!

A cold, steely grip on her horn shattered all that. She screamed as that hand yanked and bent her horn, pulling her off the ground. She screamed, and screamed, and screamed so loud the Empire sang of it, bouncing off the crystals like cymbals.

The floor and sky suddenly couldn’t decide where they wished to be, flipping and tumbling up and down like they had nothing better to do.

Cadance smashed back-first into a crystal beam, falling limply on her rear, her legs sprawled apart. Her eyes creaked open at familiar, terrifying foot steps. Those eyes widened at the very sight of him.

“No…” Cadance groan, leaning aside and falling prone. “Stay back, you… you monster!” She slithered away, her every bone shifting in protest.

Soon, as she knew he would be, Samael was upon her again, and she realized escape was utterly impossible. Even from the very start. She lay curled on the crystal road, trembling like a beaten child, her last pillar of strength crumbling to ash.

She turned her head up to him, no longer hiding her terror or grief.

“Why are you doing this?” she pleaded. “What have we ever done to you?”

Samael threw his head back and laugh deeply. Again. “You misunderstand me, Cadenza,” he replied. “If Equestria had wronged me, it would’ve burned by now. But that is not my wish.”

“Liar,” Cadance sniveled. “You lie. You threaten us with war. You… you killed my Shining Armor!”

Samael merely scoffed that time. “Killed? How sad, Cadenza, that your love for him is so weak, so superficial, you cannot sense him,” he said.

Cadance’s trembling jaw slowly parted, her tears now spilling.

“No. Stop lying to me,” she cried.

“He is alive. As are his comrades. They writhe within, wandering aimlessly in that orb, waiting for their failing princess to save them.”

Cadance was breaking at the seams. Her breath was haggard, her eyes were cracked with red, she turned away from Samael, staring hopelessly at the sky.

“Please stop…”

“And your Shining Armor?” Samael paused with a soft laugh. “He is most distressed. He, along with the others, see what I see. Hear what I hear.”

“No more. Your words are venom,” Cadance whined.

“He finally knows the truth, Cadenza. He knows what was kept from him, yet he still wonders.” Samael crouched beside her again. “He wonders why you let me take him.”

Cadance finally screamed.

She crossed her forearms over her shattered heart, her neck beating wildly with her reverberating howl. Her lungs burned as her breath left her. And burned even more when she inhaled and screamed again.

“It wasn’t supposed to be this way!” Cadance shouted. “We were meant to be together! To guide Equestria with love!”

Samael’s smile faded, his yellow, unblinking eyes set on the broken mare.

“We were supposed to lift our world to light and peace, not drag it into darkness! We wanted for nothing but Harmony!”

Samael blinked that time, and found his eyes wandering from her.

“I admit it! I’m nothing without my love—nothing without him!” Cadance paused only to wallow in her sobs. Then lifted her head again. “NOTHING!”

Samael’s eyes returned to Cadance, but he wasn’t really looking at her. He stared through her, at nothing, at everything. But mostly, he just stared. The shattered mare turned lifted her sopping eyes to him.

“What more can you take from me…?” she cried. “What more?”

He turned away and marched, leaving the sobbing alicorn to her suffering.

“No! Give him back!” Cadance yowled, crawling after him like an earthworm in the sun. “Have mercy, Samael…!”

He raised a fist, and a swirling orange and red portal opened before him. He stopped, and so did Cadance.

“Even if I did, Cadenza…” Samael turned to the trembling mare. “Could you face him?”

Cadance choked on air.

“As you are now—so woefully broken and distraught-—could you really find any peace with a life turned upside down? With the truth revealed, would you butcher it with more lies, or live by it? Would you hide as you always have? Or would you atone?”

Samael waited for an answer, and it shook Cadance to pieces. “I… I-I…”

He turned back to his portal and said, “Beyond this point lies your final test, one that shall deliver your absolution. Soon, you will know what to do. Soon... you will finally understand, Princess Mi Amore Cadenza.”

He stepped into the light and was gone.

Cadance was left a quaking wreck beneath her own palace. Her face was matted with tears, her throat was hoarse and dry, and everything she ever stood for toppled over her and left in shattered useless pieces.

She could deny it all she wanted. She could shout and curse the demon for what he’d done, for single-handedly ruining her wonderful life, for humiliating her before her subjects. But she brought it to herself—a fact that stabbed at her chest with every reminder.

She wasn’t worthy of her crown or her wings. She wasn’t worthy to grovel on that shiny road, or to even stand on that shiny road. She was a failure, a miserable husband-betraying failure. And she knew it—she always knew.

Her sobs blotted the clop of hooves against crystal, but stopped when one of those hooves caressed behind her ear.

She looked up into sad purple eyes, no longer crowned by a battle helmet.

“Diamond…” Cadance whispered. “I’m nothing.”

The crystal mare shook her head, partly in disagreement, partly to ward her own tears away.

“Never,” Diamond whispered back. “You’re far from nothing. You’ve pledged yourself to save us. You have then, and you are now. You’re a hero.”

“What kind of hero keeps her husband’s child away from him?” Cadance’s tears fell harder, her throat trembling. “What kind of hero thinks she can protect her people when she can’t protect herself? What hero am I?”

Strong, calloused hooves pressed to the alicorn’s withers.

“The same hero who held a barrier around an entire empire for three days. The same hero who tore through darkness itself to get the Crystal Heart, who showed us we control our fate.” Diamond sat on her haunches. “We’d forgotten once before, and may have never remembered without you.”

In that moment, Cadance finally realized they weren’t alone. Hundreds—no—thousands of them. Some still emerging from their homes. Her eyes shifted to and fro, from crystal pony to crystal pony, all of them smiling. Understanding.

Loving.

“I used to think only I had any real problems, that everypony else complained about their perfect lives, “Diamond began. “But hearing you, seeing you… The sacrifice you made, the sacrifice you’ve yet to make… I was foolish to think you’d never understand me, even for a second.”

Cadance gave a hollow, humorless laugh. “You shouldn’t compare us, Diamond. You are strong. You knew the risks… knew you’d never see your family again when you betrayed Sombra, and you did it anyway. Me?” Fresh tears brimmed at her eyes and her throat trembled. “I knew everything would change forever if he knew, and, still, I hid his own flesh and blood away. Like a coward.”

Diamond frowned, but immediately softened. Her eyes turned to the still-swirling door of power and light Samael had left. “What about now, princess?” she asked.

Cadance blinked, and her tears fells again. She shared Diamond’s glance.

“Even if Samael was telling the truth—even if our prince still lives and now knows—what does that mean to you? What is there left to do?” the unicorn asked.

Cadance couldn’t begin to recall when she started staring at her own hooves, or for how long. But she knew she was still crying, still broken and pathetic before her own subjects.

She lifted her eyes back to Diamond. “I don’t know. I just…”

Diamond’s crystalline hoof found Cadance’s chin. “Then what do you wish to do?”

Cadance, no matter how infinitely smaller she felt compared to this mare, couldn't look away.

“I… I just want to make things right,” the alicorn said.

Diamond allowed a tiny smile.

“I want to see my Shining Armor again,” Cadance continued. “I want… I want him live, to grow old, to have a family and watch it grow with him.”

Her eyes brightened as it all became clear; her task, her mission, her very reason to live. And a chance she could only take once.

“Then you have our blessing, princess,” Diamond said, stepping back. “You are, and always have been, an inspiration to us all.”

She bowed.

They all did.

The shiny road beamed like a Hearth’s Warming tree. A warping sound turned Cadance’s attention to a now-spinning Crystal Heart. A thick wave of light washed over her, and her jaw hung open.

Everything made sense. All of it.

She’d nurtured a budding young filly who would later become one of the most powerful mages in Equestrian history. She’d spurred a brash young stallion to break his apprehension, follow his dream, and join the Royal Guard. She’d swore herself to love and light, and swore to spread it wherever she roamed.

She helped kill a tyrant that lived and breathed against everything she stood for.

And she’d do it again. For the greater good of her people.

The light brightened and boundless relief swelled within Cadance. Her bones healed and hardened. Her gashes closed and sealed. Her wing untwisted and loosened.

She stood slowly, a near-forgotten peace returned to her. She stared down at Diamond, who stood tall again, smiling back up at her goddess. Cadance brought her hoof to the unicorn’s cheek, and couldn’t help but see Twilight Sparkle through all those scars and rugged mane.

In seconds, Diamond’s smile fell. “There’s something I want to ask you, princess,” she murmured. “My clan back in Canterlot… H-how are they?”

Those words were like a stomp on the ribcage.

Cadance was silent. Deathly so. Her eyes never left Diamond’s, though, nor did her hoof leave that shining, expecting face. The silence continued seconds longer, and Diamond began to shake, her eyes trembling.

Finally, Cadance closed her eyes and bowed her head in shame. And everything became clear.

The unicorn’s bangs curtained over her own eyes.

“Go,” Diamond said firmly. “Go and win this thing. Bring our ponies back to us.”

Cadance stood still for several moment, fully comprehending what she heard, but fully immersed in a soldier that had an entire world of knowledge to give, and an ocean of unshed tears.

The pink mare nodded smoothly, her hoof falling from Diamond’s cheek. She turned with unfurled wings and marched toward the still-open portal. With every step, a new uncertainty was disturbingly certain—with every inch, so was death.

“Cadance.”

The princess stopped inches before the swirling light, and turned back to a downtrodden Diamond Sparkle.

“When you see her again, tell her I…” She paused. Then snorted with a sad smile. “Nevermind. I’ll tell her myself.”

Cadance smiled back and nodded a final time. She turned back to the portal with a resolute frown and darted forward.

One way or another she’d make things right again.

Author's Note:

Phew!

Alrighty folks, important author note here, so listen up. As some may recall, only the first four chapters of this were pre-drafted before posting, and the fifth is still underway. I must say, though it wasn't as well-received as I'd hoped, it elates me to an unhealthy degree knowing how much you guys love this story. Rest well knowing it will continue and it will finish.

First big story in a while that HAVE finished.

You guys are the best.

Craine...

PS: Chapters may take longer to update, because of drafting and editing stages, but I'll ensure they'll be worth the wait. ;)

PPS: If anyone loves Cadance, I have only this to say...

Comments ( 23 )

samael bringing out ALL THE DIRTY SECRETS I LOVE IT

I really wonder what Celestia's and Luna's tests will be. Will Celestia have to face what her prized student is becoming, so corrupted with hatred that she is? Keep up the good work!

Damn.
You continue to be one ruthless motherfucker.
I like that.
Break them all.
Like a Kit Kat bar.

Once again you have amazed me with what you did to sa male and used his personality to make art.
*sniff* I love you man!

Darksiders Crossover

Fucking Damnit, not again! I got tricked into coming to another one of these! Does nobody on Fimfiction actually know that 'Samael' originates from Christian Folklore?! To boot, it's an ANGEL's name, not a demons. I'm...I'm tired.

4670930
This is, in fact, a Darksiders crossover. While Samael is from Christian folklore (I actually didn't know that. Thank you.), the Darksiders universe uses a character named Samael as a demon instead of an angel. Don't blame the author of this story. Blame whoever created Darksiders.

No ill will intended whatsoever towards you, Ikio. This story isn't a Christian folklore crossover though.

Two princesses defeated. Two to go. Cant wait :-)

2 down and 2 more to go

Q: will old Discord be making an appearance? I would love to see what Samael would have in store for him

4671599 That's something I would actually pay to see, though. If you really want to look up Samael, Wikipedia has an amazing article dedicated to it.

4645268 I... Oh my... *retreats to thinking-cave*


4670609 Then you may want a change of pants when the next chapter arrives. :moustache:


4670736 goodbadbrohugs.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/bro-hugs3.jpg


4670930 Much as I'd like to ignite a religious debate over whether Samael originated from Christian folklore or Hebrew folklore, I'll point out, instead, that I've read much about both. Samael's personality was very briefly touched in Darksiders, but they've got this much right:

1) Accuser, seducer, and destroyer.

2) Considered both good and evil

3) Desires--often coaxing or manipulating--others to do evil OR go to unethical extremes.

Also, in Hewbrew folklore, I'm pretty sure I read that Samael is one of the Sons of Paradise that have fallen from grace. Hence the demon with upside-down wings. Don't quote me on that, though.

Besides, I don't see how you've been tricked when the description outright says--in big bold letters, no less--Darksiders Crossover.


4671747 What I have in store will satisfy both parties; those rooting for Samael AND those rooting for our lovely alicorns. Patience, my friend, you will enjoy yourself.

4671913 Ha. Haha! WAAAHAHAHAHAHAHA... *steps into the shadows*

4674470
such a fucking tease!

4674470 I saw the title first, didn't read the description because there wasn't one on the main page. I neither like, nor dislike Darksiders, but I was pointing out his status as 'Archangel'. I'd really like to read a fimfiction story including the hierarchy of the two opposing factions introduced as angels and demons. I think it'd be amusing to see something that goes to such lengths of research in a fanfiction.

4670688 Actually... your predictions are getting pretty close to home. I can promise you, with complete certainty, though, that when you read the end of the sixth chapter... your jaw will drop. And stay that way for a while.


4670690 Oh my God, you haven't the FAINTEST idea how delicious that sounds right now.

Why can't I stop reading this? It's so addicting... why has this not made it to the featured board yet?:rainbowhuh:

4679215 please tell me you will continue this its freaking great. words just cannot describe.

so when is a next chapter going to be?

A new chapter has to happen soon

4618636 Actuly it was the opposite. after the battle Samaeal is panting and wezzing but Death is of no change, Death is a massive :trollestia:.

4674470

Here's something interesting: DC/Vertigo Comics uses Samael as the original name of Lucifer; in fact, one character describes him as such: "They used to call the devil the father of lies. But for someone whose sin is meant to be pride, you'd think that lying would leave something of a sour taste. So my theory is that when the devil wants to get something out of you, he doesn't lie at all. He tells you the exact, literal truth. And he lets you find your own way to hell."

7280565 Holy Hell... What are the odds...?

7280565
I have to say as a listener to the psychological lecture of Jordan Peterson this story has given me the chance to cross reference some deeper meanings with other text and say that we really are created in Gods image because of our copasity to create stories like these that can reflect lifes miserys and unfairness. I can’t wait for the 5th chapter I’m definitely sure it’ll be on Luna and that idea with the side fic with Spike and the Wyverns? do it I want it I LONG for it like seriously who wouldn’t be curious about the influence Samael had on spike?!

So is this just dead? I sincerely hope not, but I figure I should ask anyway even if I know the most likely answer.

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