• Published 14th Jan 2015
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Machinations in the Dark - BaryonBrony

There is a secret held in the dungeons below Canterlot, deeper than the crystal caverns into the roots of the mountain. This secret is a creature imprisoned by the Princesses. It is a source of great knowledge, but may ultimately be a great enemy.

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Chapter 2 - Deals with a Devil

The thunderous boom of the door closing settled with barely an echo. The green aura oppressed and consumed the light spell emitted from Celestia's horn. Where it had been blinding moments before, it was now meager and barely more than a bubble around her body. The clicking of the metal on her hooves gave no echo, as if sound too was cowed by the oppressive atmosphere. She passed beyond the web of chains and stood just within, bathed in the venomous green light from the floor and immersed in the hum that emanated from the barred cell. There was a sensation within, deeper than the darkness and unnerving emptiness of before. A feeling that crept into her mind, just outside the realm of focus. A baseless fear dwelling outside reason.

"Well, isn't this an unexpected surprise." The voice was calm, collected, and nothing about it gave any indication of malice. It's effect was quite the opposite; a cold chill ran down Celestia's spine. The fur on her neck pricked, and she clenched jaw as she ignored the shiver down her back. The creature was still sprawled on the ground. It didn't even look like its mouth had moved. Was it still asleep? If it was, was it still aware? She'd wondered this before, as well as many other things about this prisoner. So many mysteries remained, but none related to Celestia's purpose today.

"I would speak with you. Rouse yourself," Celestia said.

The creature murmured, then opened its eyes. It did not move from its face up position, though its eyes shifted to the Princess. They were a muddy brown, and very little about them seemed out of the ordinary. That was the perplexing aspect of this Sapien being. There was nothing about this being compared to all other monstrous creatures that hinted to the cruelty it was capable of. This creature lacked the ever-present aspect to the eyes of all other villains that revealed their nature, their ferocity. The plain brown eyes of this one made its past deeds all the more diabolical.

With a single blink, Celestia missed the transition of the Sapien from supine to standing and staring at her. She had forgotten just how swift it was, the reminder breaking through her composure enough to cause her eye to twitch. She steeled herself, pressing on with the business that brought her. "You were right," the Princess said in a dull tone.

"I tend to be," it said dully. "To what are we referring?"

"Discord--he was not utterly lost. One of the Elements of Harmony was able to reach him behind the veil of chaos and conceit," Celestia spoke pointedly as she stared at the occupant of the cell.

"Told you. Let me guess, the Element of Kindness."

"Yes." Celestia kept her voice level, no hint of emotion bleeding through. She knew all too well what could happen if she wavered.

"It just made the most sense. That element has always been resistant to corruption," it said as it waved an arm to emphasis its point.

"I still want to know how you do that, make these predictions so nonchalantly."

The creature smiled as it shrugged its shoulders. "Logic, as I've said before. My knowledge of past experiences as well as the progression of current events dictate how the future will unfold. I am not entirely trapped in here, you know. Dreamers are untethered from the worldly bonds. This cage doesn't really hold all of me."

"I have been told you sleep quite often, despite not needing it," Celestia said, indulging herself with another question. "Is that how you do it, how you spy on my kingdom?"

"Without so much as a book down in this rank cesspool, do you honestly blame me?" The Sapien interlocked his fingers behind his head and leaned back, though his gaze never broke from Celestia's. "I don't eat either. It doesn't mean I am not hungry. Better than what you give me, anyway."

"You have been offered meals."

The movement was so quick, had Celestia blinked at that moment she would have missed it. The Sapien rushed the bars and slammed its fists against them. There was a crackle of magical lightning as the spells warding the bars flung it back. It cried out in pain, but quickly composed itself, staring at its sizzling hands. With gritted teeth, it looked up at the Princess. It was no longer entirely composed, she could see. Its face was growing calm again, but there was hatred in its eyes.

"I will not eat your rabbit food!" It snarled at her, but otherwise did nothing as it nursed its healing hands. Within moments its hands were perfectly whole again.

"Then you will not eat."

"Pfeh. Figures. All the promises your tongue can spare, but you've never kept a single deal between us," it said angrily as it pointed a finger towards her. "Not once."

"I will not sell my soul for your comforts," the Princess said harshly. "I will take what is owed me."

"I don't want your soul, you stupid horse. What would I even do with something like that?" It flung its arms in the air in frustration as it turned around, pacing about the cell. "I want a decent meal, I don't care if I don't even need it. A walk through the grass, maybe. Though it does pain you so, any semblance of hope for my freedom."

With a steady gaze, the Princess spoke in a hard tone, "You would have slaughter for a meal."

The Sapien scoffed and buried its face in its palm as Celestia continued.

"The grass on which you walk is bloody. The freedom you speak of is doom to any who mistakenly fall upon your path."

"Come on, Big C. That's just insulting."

"Princess Celestia is my name, and that is how you will refer to me."

"See, there you go. Always needing that little extra bit of control." The creature chuckled to itself. "What are you going to do if I don't, your Princessness? Flog me? Torture me? Ponies and torture?" Its voice took on a mocking tone. "Oh no, keep those pillows away, I can no longer handle the fluffiness!" Its face morphed from the jeering sneer to a glare as it stepped forward again. With that same evil gleam of hate in its eye, the Sapien grabbed the bars of its cage.

The protection wards burst to life, lashing at their prisoner. Lightning and fire surged from the bars into its arms, the flesh on its hands beginning to sear away. The entire time, it did not even flinch. "I have been your prisoner and slave for more years than I can keep track of. Deal after deal made, and never once have you made good on your promises. Come on, Celestia," he raged as the flesh of his arms turned black and began to wither away from the destructive magic he was unleashing upon himself. "Bring your righteous wrath on me. Let's see if you can do worse than you already have."

The Princess turned away as the Sapien continued to cling to the bars. Such self-harm she wished no part of. "You have brought this upon yourself," she rebuked curtly.

"Not true!" It yelled, squeezing the bars all the harder. "I didn't choose to come here. I never wanted to be here!" Finally releasing the bars, the Sapien held up its hands to show the seared and crumbling ruin that remained. It took a deep breath, staring at the damage before once again speaking in a calm voice, "But providence does work in wondrous ways. So, tell me my sweet Princess, what bargain can we make today? I'm so excited to find out the new and intricate ways you plan to utterly screw me over." It turned its blackened hands over, showing all that remained was charred sinew and bone with remnants of muscle clinging hopelessly to the ruined appendages. Then, with a wave of its arms, the flesh regenerated completely.

Celestia scowled. It was showing off now; the containment spells were no longer sufficient to keep its powers locked away. She composed herself, desiring to move on rather than to argue. "You were correct about Discord; he has turned from his chaotic ways." She kept herself calm, despite the ugly feeling in her stomach from the display it had just shown her.

"He might have learned his lesson once, but don't think he's been tamed. He'll return to old habits once or twice--I think. I can't be certain, chaos is not exactly easy to predict."

"You seemed to predict his actions fairly well on both accounts of his villainous past. Now you cannot be certain?" The light from Celestia's magic intensified as she raised her voice. "You must do better than that. I will not have a being that powerful be free among my subjects without knowing for certain."

"It depends on what you are willing to offer," the Sapien said as it folded its arms across its chest. "I believe my last deal with you was for a certain remnant piece of a defeated unicorn king. A piece I know you recovered, but I haven't seen the smallest sliver. Before that, I was promised an actual meal--another empty promise. Before that, a respite from this sunless cavern," it said gaudily. "When that promise went unfulfilled I thought maybe I could barter for items instead of freedom, especially ones with a bit of sentimentalism. I guess not. Perhaps if I make a deal for a piece of string in return for my services, you will actually keep your word."

"To allow you to possess such an item as that remnant is too dangerous."

"For you."

"For Equestria."

"For you." It settled its hands behind its head again. "But very well. I'll make a new deal with you. First, what do you want?"

"Tartarus has been sundered for some time. From what we know, the guardians have returned nearly all of the escapees. Several have eluded them, some of whom have the darkest of powers and the will to use them to do harm."

"That is not something you need to be worried about for now. At this moment, your attention would be better used focusing on your protégé."

"How do you," Celestia's voice trailed away as her eyes shut in resignation. She did not wish for the headache that arguing with it would cause. She knew it spied, she couldn't stop it, and that was enough. "What does Twilight Sparkle have to do with this?"

"She has proven herself readily, correct? If you're worried about Tartarus and the beasties it held, then Twilight is your best hope. Perhaps an acceleration of plans? Before you deny it, don't bother. I know how Twilight Sparkle fits into this grand scheme, and you are better off including her. She'll make a better example than you ever did."

"I will need more than riddles, prisoner." She could not prevent the note of disdain from invading her tone when she spoke. The Sapien was pushing her, just as it always did.

"Ouch, I guess a demotion from honored guest was inevitable. Oh, how I am wounded."

"Stay your babble, and answer me."

"Fun as a wet graveyard--fine. If we are so insistent on answers, the only way to survive what is coming is to put every hope in her. She is already the Host of Elements, now she must ascend beyond that. A true icon of harmony, like you Princesses were. Starswirl had the right idea, and you've been planning this yourself. Maybe not this soon though, so do something about that."

"What you suggest may very well destroy her," Celestia said, her voice low.

With a deadened chuckle, the Sapien shook its head. It had control of the discussion now, and its reaction made Celestia feel as if she were a child being scolded. The temptation to silence it with force was unnervingly strong.

"It better not, at least if you like being alive and stuff like that. The baddy coming your way is not like those before it. Eternal night, eternal chaos: neither of these aimed to specifically destroy what lay before them. This will, it being death and all."

"How can you possibly know such things?" Celestia pressed, bringing up the old question once again. "You are entombed in the roots of a mountain and yet you have never been wrong."

"I can smell it. I see it in dreams. Its reveling, really. I would rather see your little utopia razed to the ground and make you watch--but unlike some I have a conscience. So I offer this. Lead Twilight through her ascension; do not leave her to flounder in her new-found abilities. I figure she'll have her fair share of problems, Fate has her methods of testing us you know. If she can handle it, she'll be the one to put faith in."

"And if she should not?"

The Sapien snorted as it shook its head. "How hurtful, lacking faith in your own student. I assure you she will. It's her--heh--destiny."

"As if you know of such things." Turning away, Celestia made her way towards the chain web surrounding the cage. The prisoner's voice halted her dead in her tracks.

"Was I wrong about your sister? Was I wrong about your connection to the elements withering like a dying flower? Was I wrong about the Crystal Empire all those years ago? You should start trusting me some day--it might do you some good."

"You enjoy my suffering."

"Quid pro quo. You loved torturing me first. All those delightful experiments when-"

"That is enough. I have had my fill of you." She passed beyond the chains, stepping back into the dark of the cavern with the ominous green to her back. She had to still her heart; she could feel dark tendrils almost reaching out to her as the creature watched her from its cage.

"Are you not forgetting something, fraulein? I never work for free. Every deal we make comes with a price, whether or not you care to pay is irrelevant. You're already in debt so what's the harm in a little more? What is one more coin on the pile?"

The Princess halted, and after a deep breath she turned her head to stare.

The Sapien grinned at her. "Ooh, chilling. Tell you what, I'm going to make this one easy. So simple that you won't lose a thing. You won't miss it."

"What is it?"

"A kiss," the Sapien chuckled to itself when he saw her reaction of disgust. "The price of this knowledge is a kiss."

Celestia actually felt her stomach turn. That she would deign to come into contact with this beast in such a fashion was utterly unthinkable.

"You can leave, rant about how nasty I am, call me a monster. Despite all that, I am still keeping track of your tab in my head. One of these days, I will collect what's owed me."

"We shall see," Celestia said as a bolt of blue light shot from her horn into the door ahead of her.

"Yes," the Sapien growled as the great door began to drift open, its voice drowned in the cacophony. "We shall."

Its eyes stayed fixed on the Princess as she moved beyond the door. It just stared, watching it slowly drift shut. It slammed closed, and silence enclosed the vast chamber. Sitting in the gloom, the prisoner let out a slow sigh, then leaned back. "Ten million bottles of beer on the wall, ten million bottles of beer. Take one down, pass it around..."

Author's Note:

Another edit bites the dust