Chapter Eight: For Sake Of Kindness
The winged unicorn strode calmly down the path leading to the barn, Applejack, Rainbow Dash, and Twilight apprehensively following as she said quietly: “Remember the plan, my friends. Keep calm, and keep thy heads down. We shall give this wolf exactly what it wants.”
Twilight nodded slowly even as Rainbow Dash winced and Applejack grimaced a little, but Luna only carried forwards, ignoring the security personnel that clustered either side of the road in small groups, many of them armed with crossbows and melee weapons and none of them seeming to know quite what to do as Luna simply led her ponies forwards through their ranks.
A tunnel had been built in front of the fortified building that had once been a barn: it was long and ugly, like some giant’s fallen umbilical cord made of tarpaulin and thick wooden walls, two ugly, grated doors guarded by minotaurs in battle armor in front of this. They looked as surprised as the other security forces to see Luna… and then one of them turned and roared a command before the two giants pulled the gates open, even as one muttered something quietly in his own language with a slow shake of his head.
Luna only smiled and shook her own, however, striding fearlessly into the tunnel, the others following… and she didn’t bother to look up even as Twilight Sparkle, Rainbow Dash, and Applejack nervously looked back and forth at slits that had been cut into the wooden walls of either side of the corridor, through which crossbows were being aimed and the dark, distrustful eyes of ponies watched. It made the twenty feet or so they had to travel not only unsettling, but seem to stretch into eternity, before Luna halted in front of the sliding steel doors leading into the compound, looking calmly up at another pair of armored minotaurs.
One of these saluted her sharply, smashing the butt of its battle axe against the ground and its fist against its breast, and Luna bowed her head respectfully for a moment before the two bull-giants turned and grasped the handles of the steel door, yanking them open and stepping to the sides of the wide, tall hall of cloth and wood. For a moment they were able to look ahead, Luna’s eyes sweeping over at least a dozen security ponies, before bright spotlights flashed on at the back of the room, and a voice shouted: “Drop onto your stomachs, hooves on your heads!”
Luna compiled in silence, slowly lowering herself to the ground, placing her hooves on top of her skull, keeping her features passive and calm as the others apprehensively did the same… and security ponies strode forwards around them, several with glinting crossbows already aimed down at them apprehensively as others came forwards with manacles attached by heavy, short chains.
The winged unicorn only closed her eyes as they shackled her forelimbs tightly together, then half-hauled her to her hooves, security guards standing nervously around her as a chain was quickly thrown over her back and around her body to bind her wings down as well. Twilight was silent through the process of being restrained, while Applejack cursed them loudly and Rainbow Dash gritted his teeth and fidgeted before wincing when a crossbow was shoved into his face, breathing hard but calming slowly.
Out of the compound, a unicorn hurried nervously towards them, his clipboard floating beside him: Sol Seraph’s assistant. He glanced anxiously over the four, then shook his head, muttering to himself as his quill jotted several notes before he stuttered worriedly: “G-G-Get them inside! Bring them straight through, straight through to the Coliseum Theatre, no… n-no isolation booths for these ones yet!”
A moment later, the bright lights inside the barn flicked off, and the unicorn turned and hurried inside, past enormous spotlights that were still faintly glowing and operated by ponies in gray coveralls to a large set of double doors. The security guards half-dragged, half-ordered the four ponies forwards, Pegasi taking to the air and slowly flying just overhead so they could continue to aim their crossbows as other security ponies walked with one hoof resting on the now-captives as they moved at a slow, awkward pace due to the short chains.
Luna bowed her head forwards as the double doors were pulled open, striding through this… and she grimaced as her eyes flicked back and forth as they passed into this room, taking in the enormous white cylinders that stood at either side of the room with only slits for windows, one standing with the door open to reveal the gleaming ivory interior… and Twilight shuddered a bit before Luna looked up as she heard a quiet curse from Applejack.
As they were guided into stepping up onto a wide, circular white platform that took up most of the floor, raised only a few inches higher than the dirty cement, Luna’s eyes roved silently over the heavy, short steel fortification that spread out over one end of the room. It was topped with a walkway and an enormous balcony, looking more like battlements or some kind of grisly viewing theatre… and built into the structure were several enormous, dome-shaped window walls of glass that looked in on cells beyond.
Through one of these, Luna could see Scarlet Sage, laying with a splotch of red over her flank… and splotches of red over the cold concrete floor, the filly shivering and bruised in an empty, tiny room. And in the center cell, the winged unicorn gazed silently in to see Scrivener Blooms, held in a standing position by arching, studded metal bands that pushed up beneath his body, taut chains welded to manacles that encompassed his legs and several bands and collars of steel over his head and neck, with more chains extending from these and hooked into the walls of the cramped cell to force him to stare ahead. His eyes were open, but he blinked slowly, tiredly… before giving a weak smile to Luna through the misty glass, and Luna shuddered a bit before she whispered, as the security ponies surrounded the white platform: “I’m here to save thee, daydreamer. Worry not.”
Scrivener Blooms gave a faint smile… and then there was a click, and Luna frowned a bit as she looked down for a moment before electricity surged over the white platform, the winged unicorn snarling and arching her back as the ponies behind her screamed in agony and shock, their bodies convulsing before the platform clicked again and the attack ceased, and Rainbow Dash crumpled forwards with a wheeze, large body flexing a bit as Applejack snarled and barely maintained her balance.
Twilight hung her head, breathing hard, horn sparking quietly as Luna forced herself to stand straight even as electricity zapped through her starry mane, shouting: “I am not here to indulge thy sick fantasies, Sol Seraph! I am here to end this!”
“And end this shall…” Sol Seraph’s voice said quietly, and a moment later, the Pegasus strode slowly into view on top of the raised balcony, looking calmly down at them. She was bruised and battered, but clean, her wounds already tended to and a new, fresh silk shirt and suit jacket covering her body. Smoke furled slowly up from her cigarette as she looked down at them with both disappointment and triumph, leaning calmly against the wide metal railing… and then Luna snarled slowly as Fluttershy silently dragged herself forwards.
She was beaten and bruised, and even from here, Luna could tell her wings had been broken before Sol Seraph had bound them with chains. Heavy weights dangled around her neck, and her mane hung in ugly tatters, the Pegasus trembling as she carried a large steel tray strapped over her lower back as if she was nothing more than a servant or even less, like a living table.
Sol Seraph didn’t bother to look as she pulled the cigarette out of her muzzle… then reached back and slowly put it out against Fluttershy’s face, the Pegasus crying out, then whimpering weakly as tears streamed from her eyes, shivering violently as the creature that was somehow this Pegasi’s mother said quietly: “I expected much more from you, Luna. So much more. But here you stand, beaten…”
She paused, then stomped her hoof once against the ground, and there was a clanking as a door in the side wall opened past a row of isolation booths, her two lumbering, armored minotaur bodyguards striding forwards and around the white platform to stand calmly in front of the cell containing Scrivener Blooms, one resting with heavy battle axe in hand as the rest of the security forces raised their crossbows and dropped to ready positions. “I didn’t think you’d surrender… and I’m not sure what possessed you to do so. I expected an attack… not you giving in, and simply walking into my embrace. That is not the behavior of either predator or prey… it is… disappointing.”
She paused for a moment, then looked coldly down over the four, saying quietly: “Your magic will do you no good here. If you even think about using your unicorn powers, that security stage will pacify you with electricity, then release a concentrated anti-magic pulse. You and all your friends will die. You have no choice now but to surrender and submit to my demands, Luna. If you refuse or become difficult… I can just as easily have Scrivener Blooms maimed, mutilated, or killed.”
“If thou dares to harm my husband before mine eyes, even if thou kills him… I shall live for more than ample enough time to give thee an eternity of suffering and death.” Luna said quietly, and Sol Seraph smiled coldly before the winged unicorn added darkly: “But I would not expect thou to understand anything of love or loyalty, considering what exists in thy limb.”
“I am a predator.” Sol Seraph said quietly, looking darkly down at them, and then she rolled the sleeve of her suit jacket back as her scar glimmered faintly. “My husband was weak, and ‘affection’ is a flaw that I was quick to weed out. I believed him to be powerful because of his magic, but he never once used it to his own advantage… and I would not permit such an anchor to drag me down; instead, I made myself stronger.”
“No…” Fluttershy whispered, trembling violently… and Sol Seraph closed her eyes as she lowered her head forwards, the Pegasus whimpering. “Mother… please… listen to reason…”
“I have had enough of you. I have given you too many chances, Fluttershy… but I will not tolerate your weakness any longer.” Sol Seraph said softly, and then she flicked her wrist upwards… and on the tray, a long, thin-bladed dagger glowed with dark, malicious light, raising into the air, pointing down like the cursed blade of Damocles as the others looked up in horror, even as Fluttershy only continued to stare at her mother pleadingly. “In this world, only the strong survive.”
Without looking, she flicked her hoof downwards… and the dagger shot like an arrow from where it had raised high, slicing into Fluttershy’s back just above the tray and making her body arch as she gasped in shock, tears flying from her eyes as her mouth fell open… and for a few moments, she simply breathed hard in and out, staring sightlessly at the sky… and then she slowly collapsed forwards, objects clattering off the tray as Luna stared in horror and Twilight shrieked in denial, Rainbow Dash and Applejack yelling Fluttershy’s name uselessly to the cold air… and then Sol Seraph simply smiled down at them, not even bothering to look back at the corpse of her own daughter as she said calmly: “Don’t do anything silly now. I want to savor your defeat. Not kill you all at once.”
“Shut the hell up, come down here and fight, you goddamn monster!” Rainbow shouted, and then he arched his back with a howl of agony as electricity ripped through the platform, the other ponies snarling as lightning tore across the platform again, bringing even Luna down to her knees this time as Twilight sprawled weakly out and Applejack fell slowly forwards, wheezing painfully as shudders ran through the group.
Then, slowly, Luna forced herself back up to her hooves, breathing hard before she looked weakly to the side… and there was another presence here now. The Pale unicorn from before stood beside her, staring with pity up at Sol Seraph, more solid now and yet all the more invisible to the eyes of the others… and Luna gritted her teeth before she faced ahead and asked harshly: “How could a mother kill her own daughter out of hoof, like nothing more than vermin? Does thou know no love, no respect?”
“What do you know about how I feel, how I felt?” Sol Seraph said quietly, her voice calm… but her eyes betrayed emotion, anger, her features tensing as she leaned forwards and continued as fury began to tinge her words: “Do you know what it was like? I gave up my pride, my purity, to a male who fathered a daughter who was weak, and sniveling, and spent all her time thinking about inferior beings, talking about… emotions, and valuing… protecting them! I killed her father to protect her from his way of thinking, from his… broken, weak philosophies! Everything I did, I did to try and cure what was wrong with her, to try and make her strong like me, and I gave the worthless whore more chances than any mother ever has, more chances and more love than she deserved from me or anypony… she was weak. She was pathetic. She was useless. And now she’s only another dead body to me, nothing more, and what disgusts me most is that I was too blinded by ancient, worthless instincts to do this sooner.”
And, without looking around, she rose a rear hoof and slammed it back into Fluttershy’s face, her daughter’s body flexing silently once, and Luna felt only a hollow, terrible void inside of herself as she stared up at this Pegasus, unable to believe what she had just seen, what she had just heard. Then something brushed against her, and she looked weakly to the side to see the Pale looking at her silently, imploringly… before it silently turned ahead, striding towards the fortification even as it stuttered quietly out of existence.
Luna gritted her teeth, knowing and yet not knowing what the Pale wanted, then she looked up and asked quietly: “Then tell me, Sol Seraph, why thou made her such a part of thy agenda here… why not simply ignore her?”
“Because she was a shame upon the family name.” the Pegasus said softly, and then she shook her head in slow disgust. “A family of warriors, and hunters… ended by one foul spawn that was the opposite of everything we valued. I should have thrown her from the window when she was born… I should have broken her skull under my hoof when she was a foal, and already beginning to show signs of… strangeness.
“But no. In my moment of weakness, I gave her that one last chance… and as you saw, still, she insisted on pleading, even after I punished her, just like in the old days.” She grimaced in disgust, shaking her head slowly. “I never needed so many punishments as a child. I knew my place. I knew what I was to become… my parents were proud of me. Fluttershy was weak from birth, stillborn in spirit, worthless.”
Luna breathed slowly in and out, lowering her head in disgust… and then Twilight Sparkle slowly dragged herself a pace forwards, the unicorn looking up and whispering: “You have so much power, Sol Seraph… a Pegasus able to use magic, I never thought it was possible. Yet you’re so… weak… for all of it. So blind…”
Sol Seraph shook her head in disgust at this, and then she said coldly: “Speak to me again, unicorn, and I’ll have you killed. That goes for your slave-hoof friends too… Luna is who I am after. Luna, and the filly… they are both dangerous to the people I work for.”
“And ‘twas not Bucephalus, was it? Who holds thy leash, monster? Whose name is writ upon thy collared neck, who has set the rabid wolf loose in the forest?” Luna looked up coldly, and Sol Seraph’s eyes narrowed slowly, dangerously, at this. “Or can thou only bark when thy master commands it?” Stall her. Anger her. Make the wolf howl… lure the wolf into the hunt…
“I am no slave-hoof, and I am no inferior prey-pony, I am a hunter… and I was given the chance to hunt the thought-greatest game of all, Nightmare Moon.” Sol Seraph said darkly, leaning forwards as she breathed hard in and out. “You proved pathetic and disappointing, but I am also a professional… and the hunt does not end until my trophies are acquired. Yes, the hunt was assigned to me… not by Helios Mutual Holdings, not by the idiot Bucephalus, so blinded with patriotism he never realized who was actually pulling the strings.
“No, Luna, if you must know, it was Ekleíp.” Sol Seraph smiled coldly, and Luna stared up in shock at this, her eyes widening at the name of the lunar cult they had heard whispers of from the Nibelung they interrogated, the dark sorcerers that were said to make their home in the awful fortress-between-worlds, the Black Baroque. “Yes, Luna… they are well-aware of my reputation, and I have a network of contacts throughout Equestria, I’ve made alliances in places dark and bright to increase my influence, and to better prove my strength, my necessity, in these dark and dangerous times. I am the ultimate predator, Nightmare Moon… and with you as my prey, it is the fate of this whole accursed nation I control in my hooves.”
Sol Seraph leaned back, her features arrogant and ruthless, her eyes cold and proud as she rose her front hooves for a moment… then she leaned forwards and rested one against the railing, saying darkly: “They want you for a special purpose… just like they wanted me to kill the filly, because she could become dangerous. But I think with some reeducation, some proper molding… and this time, ensuring that the only influence she receives comes from me instead of trusting others to look after her… Scarlet Sage will make a powerful ally.”
“Thou hast no idea what thou tampers with! Ekleíp wish for Nightmare Moon to destroy Equestria, believe that she is the bringer of Ragnarok, does thou not understand what that means?” Luna shouted desperately, looking up at the Pegasus with horror, but Sol Seraph only looked back down with calm, cold vindication. “Truly, art thou so lost thou would meddle in the affairs of unicorns so maddened with power they wish to bring only death and destruction to their own home?”
“I am a predator, Luna… I am the ultimate predator.” Sol Seraph said quietly, leaning over the railing and looking down at her with eyes that burned with a zealot’s fervor. “I have mastered myself, overcome all the limitations of being born prey… I have fused my husband’s horn into my own body, and once again, through sheer force of will, learned to bend and break what little of his spirit remained in the material to harness the powers he once possessed. I have hardened my bones and body through constant training and battle and bloodshed and magic… I have been hurt and cut and bled so often that now, pain brings me pleasure and excitement. And now, you shall entertain one last game, Nightmare Moon.
“I am going to come down to you. We are going to duel… we will battle to the death, like the predators we are. I do not care about Ekleíp and their aims… you are my trophy, you are my prize, and as they sought to invest in me to capture you… I have instead used them to further enhance my reputation and the sway of my power.” Sol Seraph tilted her head back arrogantly, her eyes almost glowing as she leaned over the railing and looked imperiously, eagerly down at Luna. “You are a winged unicorn, among the last of your kind. If you are truly Nightmare Moon, fated to bring Ragnarok… you are the greatest predator in Equestria, you are a predator of an entire country, an entire world. To fight you, to kill you, to prove myself superior… will be my crowning achievement. Your horn will be my greatest prize… is the trophy I have always sought.
“And if you kill me, you will be bound and dragged with Scrivener Blooms for Ekleíp to do with as they please. I will honor you that way, Nightmare Moon. I will give those fools their prize, knowing that if you kill me, you will surely slaughter them, you will surely destroy this entire world.” Sol Seraph grinned coldly, licking her lips slowly as she leaned forwards, almost trembling in excitement now. “How do you like the sound of that?”
“Thou art mad.” Luna whispered, and Sol Seraph threw her head back and laughed in the chilling silence that followed before she turned… and in the awful quiet, there was a sound, indescribable, filling the air… and then a soft, disbelieving gasp.
The others stared up, and even though Luna could not see from the angle of the walkway, she somehow knew. She knew, as clearly as if she was watching… as Fluttershy trembled hard, staring into her mother’s eyes and half-supported by a glowing, translucent unicorn, the deep wound in her back bleeding slowly, still clutching the hilt of the long-bladed dagger that was buried in Sol Seraph’s chest. The predator looked down at this, disbelieving, stupefied, before her eyes roved slowly back and forth, seeing her husband and daughter… and then she slowly snarled in disgust, spitting to the side and rasping: “How… disappointing.”
Fluttershy staggered backwards as Sol Seraph tried to step forwards… but instead, she drunkenly stumbled to the side before flopping back against the railing of the balcony, staring silently upwards, the light fading from her eyes and her last expression one of contempt and disgust as she stared up at the ceiling… and silently, the Pale unicorn smiled faintly to Fluttershy as she collapsed onto her knees, before he tenderly kissed the side of her face… and then he strode slowly forwards and leaned down, kissing Sol Seraph’s forehead.
He lingered, glowing brighter, security ponies and the minotaur bodyguards staring up in shock at the sight of the ghost before it simply vanished… and Luna smiled faintly, lowering her head even as Fluttershy’s quiet sobs began to rise into the air from the balcony above. For a few moments, it was the only sound in the silence, her soft crying filling the air before Luna gritted her teeth and flexed her body, then snapped the chains between her forelegs with a grunt.
A security pony halfheartedly raised his crossbow, but the others were only staring back and forth in horror, lost and confused, before one of them asked weakly, even as Luna began to yank her other bonds free: “What… what do we do?”
And, as if in answer, one of the armored minotaurs stepped forwards and seized his battle axe in both hands, raising it high as Luna looked up sharply… and then it swung the weapon savagely through the air in a wide arc, slamming it into the window wall of the cell Scrivener Blooms was trapped inside, shattering it completely before it took a second hard swing that severed the restraints on one side of the earth pony, letting him gasp and relax slightly as the other minotaur tossed his own weapons down and said calmly: “Is over. Volk is dead.”
“But, no, wait, we have orders-” one of the security officers began, sounding almost angry as he looked up at the minotaur who had just thrown away his weapons… and then he squeaked when the minotaur’s hand lashed out and seized him by the throat, slamming him savagely back against the metal wall and pinning him several feet in the air.
“Is over!” the minotaur shouted in his face, and then he flicked his wrist disdainfully and tossed the Pegasus to the ground, the security officer bouncing against the concrete before he rolled over and scrambled away, looking terrified… and the rest of the security soldiers followed suit as Luna smiled up at the bull, who surveyed the ponies for a moment as the others began to pick themselves slowly up. Then he bowed low to them, saying quietly: “Minotaurs owe great debt to Yaga Baba. She has helped bring about death of volk. She has restored honor of minotaurs.”
“Nay, ‘twas not I alone.” Luna said quietly, gazing towards Scrivener Blooms as the other minotaur carefully helped the male out of his bonds, the pony wheezing in pain before Luna looked quietly up at the top of the walkway… and then she returned her eyes to the minotaur, saying softly: “Please aid my friends and free the captive filly.”
The minotaur nodded, and Luna flapped her wings as she leapt into the air, propelling herself easily up to land on the balcony beside Sol Seraph’s fallen body. She grimaced a bit at this, then turned her eyes to the still-living Pegasus, her horn glowing and a blue aura surrounding the weights and other objects strapped to Fluttershy, chains snapping and locks clicking open as she said softly: “Come child. All will be fine.”
“I… I killed her…” Fluttershy whispered, trembling violently, looking up in horror and despair. “Luna… oh… oh, what have I done…”
“Shush now, ‘twas a kindness… ‘twas a kindness, just as thou art in every manner of the word.” Luna soothed quietly, stepping forwards and silently hugging the battered, bloody Pegasus, and Fluttershy whimpered as she pressed close instinctively, shivering violently before Luna stroked slowly through her tattered mane. “That thing was not thy mother. Perhaps, once, it tried to be… but thou did not just us, but the sad creature a great favor in releasing it from life. Some souls… they are born broken, blasted with evil, tortured from the beginning. Nay, she does not deserve pity… she has done much to earn hatred. But ‘twas not hatred that guided thy hoof. ‘Twas not necessity. ‘Twas mercy, my little Fluttershy, ‘twas mercy.”
Fluttershy nodded silently against her, still trembling, tears still leaking down her face… and Luna continued to hold her quietly close against her body, her horn taking on a faint sapphire luminescence as the Pegasus shivered against her, her wounds glowing and slowly sewing closed as they healed before the winged unicorn said gently: “Come, my friend. Thou shall feel better if we leave this awful place.”
The Pegasus nodded silently, but hesitated for a few moments all the same as they both turned, looking at Sol Seraph’s corpse… and then Fluttershy lowered her head forwards and whispered: “Goodbye, Mother. I tried my hardest to love you… I’m sorry… it didn’t work out.”
She stopped, then stepped forwards and silently leaned down, kissing her mother’s forehead slowly, softly, as tears dripped down her cheeks and spilled onto Sol Seraph’s face, wetting them and leaving faint trails that gleamed like light over the cruel darkness of the predator’s dead features. Then Fluttershy leaned back, looking at her for a moment longer before she nodded slowly, then winced as she tried to spread her wings, and they only fluttered weakly… but Luna carefully took the air and reached down to hug her gently up against her body, carrying her like a child over the railing and settling her quietly down to the ground below.
The others looked at her… and then Twilight, Applejack, and Rainbow Dash traded tight, silent hugs with Fluttershy, before Scarlet Sage barreled across the platform and buried her face against Fluttershy’s stomach, the filly hugging fiercely into her as she whispered: “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry…”
“Shush now… it’s all okay. It’s all going to be okay…” Fluttershy murmured, hugging Scarlet Sage tightly back against her body and closing her eyes… and then she shivered a little, glancing over her shoulder and whispering: “But I… I really would like to leave.”
“Let’s not linger, then.” Scrivener Blooms said quietly, smiling a little over at Luna… and she nodded firmly, gazing back at him, their eyes locking and a thousand thoughts flying back and forth before they traded a short, silent kiss for a moment, then fell quietly into step.
The others came behind them: Twilight Sparkle and Fluttershy, with Scarlet Sage safely between them, and Rainbow Dash and Applejack bringing up the rear as the minotaurs walked slowly on the flanks of the group, one of them still carrying his massive battle axe. And, as they strode out through the double doors and the wide entranceway, other minotaurs saluted them… while others still spilled chemicals and fuel around the interior of the barn, as a few pony security guards only sat and stared dumbly.
They were silent as they strode through the tunnel of cloth and wood, no security guards watching from behind the tunnel now… and as they emerged into daylight, the found the unicorn assistant being booted back and forth by a group of angry minotaurs, his clipboard broken and body already bruised and covered in dirt and muck before Luna held up a hoof, calling to the minotaurs calmly: “I need a moment with this wretch.”
The unicorn toppled forwards with a wheeze from one last boot from a minotaur’s hoof, and then he groaned in pain as he looked up weakly, picking himself slowly off the ground as he whimpered and shook his head. “P-Please… I… I just coordinated things for Sol Seraph, honest, I… I had no choice, I had nothing to do with her, just… please let me go…”
“Perhaps I shall, perhaps I shan’t.” Luna said quietly, leaning forwards as her eyes narrowed slightly, and the unicorn whimpered a bit as he shrank down with a shiver against the ground. “It depends wholly upon thine own actions, wretch. Now, tell me what thou knows.”
“I… I was assigned by HMH to keep an eye on Sol Seraph and… and keep them informed of what was going on, but she discovered and countermanded the watch order, then started assigning me to… correspondence, and running errands and… I really don’t know anything!” He covered his head, shivering violently. “I took notes for her, they’re… all the records are in my tent, okay? If you want them I… I’ll gladly get them! I… oh god, but what’s going to happen here? There’s… security… what do we do? You killed her. Y-You killed her.”
Fluttershy looked away silently, and Luna stepped forwards, saying quietly: “The monster killed itself, coward. And it sounds as if thou were Sol Seraph’s assistant… and lackey or not, this makes her the closest to a second in command as she would deign to have, does it not? It means that thou art in charge now, and if I were thou, I would hasten to order a full retreat to Hoofston, or wherever these soldiers hail from.”
“I… I… but… why would they listen to me?” the unicorn looked up stupidly, and then he winced a little as Luna only smiled grimly. “I’ll try, okay, I’ll… I’ll take your advice but they’re not gonna want to leave-”
“Then my large, burly friends will ensure their cooperation.” Luna said calmly, glancing up at one of the armored minotaurs… and the bull grunted and slammed his fist into his palm, making the unicorn swallow thickly before the female returned her eyes to his, locking gazes coldly. “But the condition is this: thou all shalt leave… but the minotaurs are free to walk their own paths. And believe me… thou does not want to make war with me, no matter what baubles and trinkets and weapons thou has, no matter how many thy number are. It will not end pleasantly.”
And then Luna paused and looked up, watching as flames greedily began to spread over the fortified compound, greedily spreading over wood as minotaurs walked calmly away from the inferno and security forces scampered with yells from the burning barn, and the unicorn on the ground whimpered again before nodding rapidly as he picked himself up, saying weakly: “Whatever you want, okay? Whatever… whatever you want, I’ll… I’ll try and make it happen just… I don’t wanna die.”
“Mistake me not for a murderer, and do not insult me by thinking I will renege on our deal. Fetch the papers, bring them to the library, then scamper on thy way and drag thy forces with thee, Ponyville does not need the protection of cowards and criminals.” Luna retorted sharply, and then she turned and gestured to the others, saying quietly: “Our business is done here.”
They left in silence, striding with a group of minotaurs that walked like an honor guard around them, no pony knowing what to say… and then, finally, Luna looked up and asked an armored minotaur, as they reached the gates of Ponyville: “Tell me, friends. What will thou do now? Return to thy homeland?”
“We cannot return. We are exiles now, for serving beneath claws of volk.” the minotaur paused meditatively, then he glanced back and forth, saying in a thoughtful voice: “But Ponyville… is nice place, yes? There is good food, and four-hooves are not unpleasant. If you have needs, we fill. We help four-hooves and Yaga Baba in return for freeing us from claws of volk.”
The winged unicorn looked thoughtful at this, and then Twilight glanced up and asked hesitantly: “Now that… the volk… is gone, can you tell us why you were working for her? From what I’ve seen of your people… you’ve been very kind to us.”
“We are not kind, we are honorable.” the minotaur replied brusquely, and this earned a small smile from Luna as the bull hesitated, glancing at the other armored minotaur… but when it only shrugged, he nodded firmly and then looked down at the ponies, saying quietly: “Years ago, four-hoof volk came to homeland. The volk was on a hunt, for a monster that had killed many of our clan, which we called Alklha-illych. Was wicked, evil dragon… and at first, we laugh at four-hoof. But four-hoof trick us… the volk had found the roost of the Alklha-illych. The volk had already poisoned the dragon with tainted meat and sent it into deep sleep. And after the volk convinced us to wager our clan’s honor against her, she slaughtered the monster while it slept. She was savior, and she was destroyer.
“She ordered us to carry corpse of Alklha-illych for her, made entire tribe follow her into four-hoof country. We have no other choice but to obey, we knew we must honor our deal. Volk enslaved us, knew our ways, crushed our spirits many years ago now, knowing only when volk was dead would our punishment end.” He stopped, then said quietly: “But our punishment, it never ends. We are defeated tribe, we were bested by murdering volk. We can never set hoof in homeland again, or face our brother clans. But now, maybe we do good. Maybe now, we have chance to redeem honor of our people.”
Luna nodded slowly as they trudged onwards towards the library, and the minotaur smiled a bit as it straightened, reaching up and pulling the heavy helm off its chestnut-furred features, saying quietly: “Yes. Rough times ahead, four hooves, but do not despair. There is always good to be found.”
“Thou art wiser than thou looks, great burly beast.” Luna said softly, and she smiled a little in return despite herself, nodding slowly in agreement as her eyes roved slowly up to the blue sky, finally beginning to feel a great weight lifting from her shoulders.
Luna and Scrivener Blooms ensured everyone was alright, talked a little with Rarity and Pinkie Pie when they showed up… but then made their way quietly back to the Everfree Forest, walking in silence down the path, yet speaking with their bodies, with their minds. They had promised to help explain everything, to go over all the details they needed to… but first, they needed to rest. They needed to recover, before they discussed what had happened and what to do… and so did everyone else, from battered, almost-broken Fluttershy to still-shellshocked Twilight Sparkle.
They reached the cottage, pushing inside, striding quietly down to the den… and then Luna flicked her horn towards the fireplace, blue flames bursting into being before she looked at Scrivener Blooms, and he gazed silently back, their eyes locking before they stepped towards each other and kissed firmly for a moment, then tightly embraced, pushing their bodies together as Luna’s mane sizzled and she clung to him, tears leaking down her cheeks as she whispered: “Horses of Heaven damn you, Scrivener Blooms…”
“And damn you to Helheim too, Luna, because you shouldn’t’ve done that… I screwed up, not you.” Scrivy muttered, and then he winced when Luna pummeled savagely on his back with her hooves, making him flinch even as she felt the same pain radiate through her own body. “Luna…”
“Nay, nay, enough!” Luna muttered, and she shoved her face against the side of his neck, trembling a bit as they continued to cling tightly together, and then she let out a long, shuddering sigh as she murmured tiredly: “I would be angrier with thee, and angrier yet with myself, if I was not so exhausted. And did not crave thy comfort so direly after such an awful day.”
“Made all the worse because of what happened with poor Fluttershy…” Scrivener Blooms shook his head slowly, pressing back against her and silently playing his hooves through the female’s mane, feeling it sizzling quietly against him as it curled silently towards him, tickling against his body. “And… was it just me or…”
“Yes, Scrivener Blooms. The Pale was there… doubtlessly, Fluttershy’s father.” Luna stopped, then she laughed a little, shaking her head slowly and murmuring: “I think… Fluttershy knew he was there. Recognized his presence, perhaps… and that it guided her in what to do. Yet all the same, I believe what I told Fluttershy, too… ‘twas not hatred. ‘Twas mercy that guided her… that guided them both, and did not just destroy the creature… but saved us all.”
She stopped, then silently pushed Scrivener down onto his back before curling herself down overtop him, closing her eyes as she kissed his throat and laid her body over his… and he quietly laced his hooves behind the back of her neck, their eyes locking, seeing his own tumultuous emotions reflected in her cyan irises as she murmured: “Daydreamer… never let me become a monster like that creature was. Not even Nightmare Moon at her worst was like that… that creature… there is nothing that can describe her. She was… vile.”
Luna fell silently, resting down against him and shaking her head with a slow sigh, and Scrivy nodded slowly before he gazed up at her, asking quietly: “And Scarlet Sage… you called her a Blood Seer?”
“Aye, I recognized her emblem immediately. ‘Tis a very rare gift, treasured and kept secret, and sad as it makes me, we shall have to bring her to Celestia so she may determine the foal’s future.” Luna shook her head slowly, murmuring: “For now, her talents… I doubt are great. She can likely prophesize the likely course of a pony’s future from contact with their blood… but as she grows older and stronger, as she develops this terrible gift… she will become a prophetess and powerful sorceress, capable of many different feats, both great and terrible. Either she is blessed by the Aesir or cursed by the forces of Helheim… only time will tell.”
She stopped for a moment, then murmured: “And to think… that Ekleíp are involved, the cult of Nightmare Moon… the fools who live in the broken-open Black Baroque.” She grimaced a little, shaking her head slowly. “I fear Ignominious may have once more escaped from Helheim to work with these foolish cultists, who likely fail to understand what they are trying to bring about, seeking only power.”
Scrivener Blooms nodded slowly, leaning up and pressing their foreheads together as he said quietly: “The Black Baroque, the fortress that stands as a gateway between this world… and the dark levels beneath it. The tunnels that stretch all the way down to Hell… the cult that believes Nightmare Moon’s return, the great eclipse and Celestia’s defeat… it all signals the descent to Ragnarok, when the Black Wolves will purge the world in darkness and flame, guided by Nightmare Moon.”
“Aye, but is rotten lies. Nightmare Moon was guided by jealousy… not by lust for destruction.” All the same, however, Luna grimaced and pressed closer, and the two gazed into one-another’s eyes as she murmured softly: “Besides. I have thee now, do I not? We are like one being… and thou art what completes me. Thou art what settles Nightmare Moon into calm… and even now, for all her earlier desires of vengeance, she instead feels… relief. ‘Tis strange to say…” Luna smiled a little. “Darkness, relieved to have its little foal Scrivener Blooms back in its safe embrace.”
“Oh, shush.” Scrivy laughed a little all the same, however, and then Luna curled herself down against him, horn brushing silently beneath his jaw as she rested her head on his neck, the two hugging one another tightly, impulsively. “I… I am glad you both are there to watch out for me though, Luna. I wasn’t exactly any match for Sol Seraph, after all.”
“And even I fled from that beast. I commend thee for trying thy best to fight the monster off… ‘twas noble, brave, and utterly stupid. The three reasons why I care so deeply for thee.” Luna smiled a little, straightening over him and gazing down at him thoughtfully for a few moments, and then she said quietly: “I have a gift for thee.”
With that, she pushed herself off him, heading down the hall towards their bedroom, and the male sat up slightly and looked curiously after her before he glanced to the side as Sammy chirped at him apprehensively, the small, skeletal dragon running forwards and inspecting him… then nipping quietly at his face, making the pony wince back a bit before he reached out and petted him softly. “I know, old friend, I know. The world doesn’t always revolve around you, though, and… well, Luna and I just had a hell of a day. Don’t worry, we’ll never forget about our little replacement foal-dragon, though.”
Sammy huffed a bit at this, but then pushed his skull firmer up against Scrivener’s hoof as the earth pony smiled a little at their pet… before he glanced up curiously as Luna returned with a warm smile on her face, saying quietly: “I was saving these for a surprise, Scrivener Blooms… but ‘tis difficult to keep even so small a thing hidden from thee, and moreover… thou deserves a small, albeit strange reward.”
Scrivy tilted his head at this before his eyes roved to the small, neatly-tied gift box floating beside Luna’s head, and then it hovered towards him as he smiled slightly, sitting up and reaching out to take it. He undid the bow, not rushing even as Luna looked at him impatiently… and then he winced when she tore it out of his hooves as he tried to wiggle the box slowly out of the wrapping paper, saying grouchily: “Oh, here!”
The wrapping paper all but disintegrated as Luna shredded it violently with a flick of her horn, then she thrusted the box back towards him and the male cleared his throat, taking it awkwardly and looking at her pointedly. Luna only looked challengingly back, however, and then the male snorted in amusement and rolled his eyes before he flicked the box open… and blinked before laughing in surprise as he picked out a small pair of black glasses with rectangular, narrow frames. “Hey, they look just like my old pair!”
“They are, as a matter of fact, only a little enlarged for thy fatter head and with the lenses replaced with simple glass.” The winged unicorn smiled slightly after a moment, bowing her head towards him as Scrivy slipped them onto his muzzle with a smile, almost crossing his eyes to peer at instead of through the glasses, and Luna laughed a little before she stepped forwards and kissed his forehead firmly, saying quietly: “Forget not why I love thee, Scrivener Blooms. Forget not why I married thee. ‘Twas not because thou were a warrior… it was because of thy insufferable, stubborn, painful personality and thy ridiculous habit of following me through the worst of dangers, all whilst complaining loudly that thou art nothing more than a writer… when to me, thou art… truly a hero.”
She blushed a little, shuffling her hoof against the ground, and then she cleared her throat and turned quickly, almost knocking Scrivener over as she half-skipped towards the kitchen with a cheerful: “I shall put on coffee, Scrivener Blooms!”
Scrivy couldn’t help but laugh a little at her behavior, then he smiled as he climbed to his hooves and strode silently into the kitchen, walking up behind her as she sat humming in front of the coffeemaker before he hugged her firmly from behind, and she smiled softly, bowing her head forwards as her horn glowed, the scoop, can of coffee, and carafe floating silently around their heads as he kissed her cheek and said softly into her ear: “Thank you, Luna. I won’t forget. I promise.”
The night passed in peace, and much-needed comfort: Scrivener smiled, adjusting his glasses every so often, reflecting on when he’d stopped wearing them and looking almost bashful when Luna remarked how handsome he was in them. They had been together, giving to one another what they both needed, tending to each other in romance and love and affection and eventually, lust… until finally, come morning, Luna arose with renewed resolve, nodding firmly as she reached up and silently touched the black pearl hanging around her neck… before she smiled slightly at the male and said quietly: “Come Scrivener Blooms. To lower the moon… to watch the sun rise. To share a story.”
Scrivy smiled a little at this, knowing what was on her mind with only a glance at her soft irises… and quietly, they made their way outside, then around the familiar path to the top of the cliff. They sat for a moment, lingering as they gazed at the morning sky, so dark, the moon resting near the horizon amidst a veil of dark clouds that seemed almost to cradle it and clutch it, as if trying to keep the great ivory sphere in the sky.
Luna bowed her head forwards, and Scrivener automatically mimicked the motion, both of them breathing slowly as the glow around Luna’s horn built higher, higher… and in the distance, the moon trembled, then slowly sank down, the clouds dissolving slowly around it and fading quickly from sight.
For a few moments, there was darkness, only the stars of the night sky lighting the shadows… and then slowly, the sun began to rise to their backs, the sky gradually brightening like a great multicolored veil being drawn back bit-by-bit, and Luna smiled softly as she and Scrivener closed their eyes, enjoying the warmth of the radiant light spilling over their forms, making Luna’s starry mane twinkle all the brighter for a few moments before she murmured quietly: “To this day I remain amazed at what thou did, Scrivener Blooms, and if anything speaks worlds of thy character, ‘twas that silly, silly thing thou did… after we decided to be married, and thou wished to give me a proper… what was thy term for it?”
“Hell if I know, I remember making some fancy term up so you wouldn’t beat the horseapples out of me. Not that it worked, but you treasured that thing ever since…” Scrivener smiled slightly and nudged her gently with his shoulder, and she laughed quietly and nodded, gazing affectionately down at the carved black pearl. “And as it is, I’ve never been so glad I did such a stupid thing in my entire life as getting you that out of the Dark Barrens.”
“Yes, thou silly, silly creature.” She nudged him firmly back, shaking her head with a warm look towards him. “Amazing how thou can’t remember ninety percent of what I tell thee… and yet I mention once, and only in passing at that, that the seahorse drakes that live in the swampy depths of the Everfree Forest’s grottos make their caverns around the Barrens… and too late I realize thou hast gone off on adventure! And worse, adventure without me!”
“Would have killed the surprise, though, if I had you come along for it.” Scrivener pointed out, and Luna laughed and nodded, gazing at him affectionately as he reached up and automatically adjusted his glasses with a slight smile. “All things considered, though, it’s a good thing you found me when you did… I mean, okay. Maybe I got a little overconfident at the end… but I’d snuck into their caverns, looted a bag of black pearls for a necklace from their treasure stash, and had just about reached the entrance before they caught me.”
“Aye, and ‘twas a very amusing sight for me, perched up upon the cliffs, watching with a fool’s gape as thou scrambled ahead of the half-fish, half-serpents, flinging pearls and rocks at them and yelling like an idiot all the while until thou were down to thy last pearl… and thou tripped, as I remember…” She grinned and leaned forwards, their noses touching as Scrivener rolled his eyes before she looked at him insistently.
“And I fell, yes. Worse, the damn black pearl was still in my hoof and I smashed it into a rock on the way down, fracturing the whole front of it… but then who should drop in but my savior, the mighty hero Luna Lightblade, protector of idiot poets everywhere!” Scrivener made a grand sweeping gesture, smiling amusedly at her, and Luna threw her head back and laughed. “As I recall, there was lightning shooting everywhere and you sent them fleeing back to their cavern, all while yelling at me for being an idiot.”
She nodded firmly a few times, then picked up the story with a wink to him, saying softly: “But when I turned around to perhaps finally crack open thy stupid skull to see if a brain exists inside, I see thee holding up that damnable black pearl to me, and when I gaze down upon it, I see the fractures are shaped almost just like the petals of the black rose that adorns thy flank. It looks perfectly engraved, as if the gods themselves willed this… and when I looked at that stupid, stupid grin upon thy face as thou gazes up at me… ‘twas when I knew that no matter what, we were meant to be together. That we… were soulmates.”
Luna looked at him tenderly, and Scrivener gazed back before they quietly kissed for a moment… and then she smiled a little, looking down at the pearl and murmuring: “And yet thou was unsatisfied all the same. Thou took it, refined it, worked tirelessly until thou had finally woven this band of ivy thyself, and engraved the perfect image more luck than anything else, as we both know… and that was thy wedding gift to me.”
“And yours was to share your vitality, your life essence with me… linking us eternally.” Scrivener said softly, and Luna nodded, meeting his eyes as they studied each other tenderly. “And later… you mixed our very souls. Gave me your soul… took mine for yourself.”
“Merging the intangible… all very simple, truly.” Luna said imperiously, looking up towards the blue sky with a smile… and Scrivener laughed before she shoved him lightly, making him scramble a little at the edge of the cliff with a wince. “Of course, it’s all gone and done nothing about thy sordid fear of heights. As if such a fall would kill thee now!”
“I really don’t want to test that theory, Luna. Not because I’m scared of dying, but because I’m scared of surviving and ending up with my everything broken.” Scrivener replied delicately, and Luna simply laughed again before she softened when he looked at her and asked quietly: “So should we head to Ponyville?”
Luna hesitated, then nodded slowly, saying quietly: “Yes, we had best. I am surprised, to be honest, we received no word from Celestia last night… but perhaps instead she was offering counsel to Twilight Sparkle. In any event, they will wish to hear our stories… will thou be prepared to discuss what happened?”
“Well, by now, I’m used to telling stories of females beating me up.” Scrivener said blandly, then he started down the path as Luna rolled her eyes, before she smiled a little as the male added quietly: “No, it’s not that. The only things that bother me about Sol Seraph’s death is that she died before we could figure out everything she knew… and that poor Fluttershy was the one who killed her. Even if it was… fitting, in a sense… I can’t imagine it’s something that Fluttershy will get over very quickly.”
Luna nodded, following behind him and saying softly: “Perhaps, though, she will at least be able to find comfort in the fact that ‘twas her hoof that freed the minotaurs… and aided her father’s own spirit to find peace, whatever the Pale did to assist Fluttershy… whether it was guiding her hoof or only helping her stand.”
Scrivener nodded musingly in return, and Luna fell into step beside him curiously… before she smiled and leaned forwards, inviting quietly: “Go ahead.”
The male smiled awkwardly at her, hesitating all the same… and then he looked ahead as they rounded the path and began to stride through the yard, saying softly: “’Twas mercy that slew the predator, as beauty maims the savage beast… ‘twas kindness that smote it to the soul, that brought the hunter down unto its knees.”
Luna smiled wider, and Scrivener grumbled a bit under his breath, looking embarrassedly away before he winced when she nudged him playfully. “Thou should write more poetry, my beloved scribe. ‘Tis thy special gift… and more importantly it is what makes thee happy, and boosts thy confidence almost as much as my kisses.”
“Lame poetry books can wait, I’ve still got like. Fifty or so pages to update and transcribe for your latest Sleipnir story first.” Scrivener said mildly, and then he winced when Luna headbutted him firmly even as they strode over the bridge together, grumbling as they started down the forest path. “Oh stop it. You know I enjoy writing those out, too… it’s just… harder. Because I have to make sure I do your brother justice, I have to actually try… with my poetry, no one but you reads it anyway, so who cares?”
“Oh, silence, Scrivener Blooms, thou great insufferable twit. Only I read it because thou refuses to have any of it published, and ‘tis well-worthy of that!” Luna argued, and Scrivy huffed at her, the two continuing to bicker on and off through the forest… and yet at the same time, it was lighthearted, strangely-supportive, romantic in an eccentric way that kept them from plunging into darker thoughts until they emerged onto the dirt road leading into Ponyville.
They both looked up at the open gates, guarded by two minotaurs and a volunteer soldier who waved at them excitedly, and Luna and Scrivy both nodded with smiles to the guards, the minotaurs looking much more amiable now even as they saluted sharply.
To the surprise of both, they found Fluttershy in the square in front of the library, smiling faintly to herself and with her wings carefully bandaged. She stood and quietly watched as Scarlet Sage ran around with several other young foals. She glanced up as they approached, then nodded slowly to them as Luna and Scrivener sat beside her, watching as the Pegasus filly danced out of range of a young unicorn that tripped over its own hooves trying to catch her.
“Kids are strong.” Fluttershy said softly, and she smiled a little, glancing quietly towards Luna and Scrivener Blooms as they gazed back at her softly. “I understand that now, more than ever… but that’s no reason we shouldn’t take care of them. Just like I understand, more than ever… why I feel so compelled to take care of children, not just animals. Why… despite everything that happened… I think I’m okay.”
She stopped for a moment, then gazed towards Scarlet Sage as she finally fell over, exhausted and yet laughing as another foal pounced on her, and then another added to the pile, all smiling brightly, one young earth pony – a filly with a red mane and gorgeous warm eyes, her sun-yellow coat bright over her body – glancing up as bright pink bow bounced on her head, and she waved excitedly at the two… and Luna smiled warmly as Scrivener rose a hoof to Apple Bloom, Applejack’s younger sister. Fluttershy smiled at this, then she continued quietly, her sea-green eyes roving hesitantly to gaze over Luna’s features. “My mother… never loved me. She just wanted… impossible things out of me. She just wanted to make me into something like her… something in the image of the family that had bred her. But… my father loved me. And I’m just like him… and now I think I know who tucked me in the nights when I felt so alone, and who gave me Mr. Bearingtons, and why no matter how bad things got… I knew things would be okay. I think he was watching out for me… and trying to watch out for Mother, too. Trying to show her the error of her ways, until… until the very end. But she just wouldn’t see… but I saw him. And I think you did too, didn’t you?”
“Aye, Fluttershy. I did. I saw the Pale… the ghost.” Luna said softly, Scrivener nodding quietly as well… and then she smiled a little before reaching a hoof up and stroking back the Pegasus’s mane, saying quietly: “And thou has others who will care for thee, and take care of thee, friends and family both. Will thou come in with us, to discuss yesterday’s events? And Scarlet Sage too… we shall need to speak to her as well.”
Fluttershy paused, looking down silently for a moment… and then she gazed up at the filly, and she smiled a little as she and Apple Bloom hopped side by side together, joined by the other foals, laughing, their cutie marks almost glowing: scarlet mirror edged in black, bright white apple blossoms. “Can we give them… and me… just a few more minutes, Luna? I like… I like this.” She stopped, then laughed quietly, looking over the foals affectionately. “They… watching them like this, it washes away… all the pain and heartache.”
“I know what thou means… yes, this… this is good.” Luna murmured softly, nodding after a moment as she rested quietly back, watching the young filly tenderly as she leaned against Scrivener Blooms, and the male smiled a little at her as her eyes roved towards him. “Daydreamer… one day, we shall have a foal, I swear by means fair or foul… and I swear, too, that I shall take greater care of it than I do even of thee, my beloved.”
Scrivy laughed quietly at this, beginning to open his mouth with a warm retort, and then Fluttershy smiled softly across at them, saying gently: “You two are already fine parents to Scarlet Sage, Luna… as much as I treat her like my daughter, even though she spends most of her time with me… I’m still more of her aunt. But to her… you’ve always been like mother and father. You love her like she’s your own foal… you treat her wonderfully.”
Fluttershy stopped, then looked ahead, and Luna gazed over at her, swallowing and lost for words… and then the Pegasus simply smiled softly before she called quietly: “Scarlet Sage! Come now, we need to head inside.”
The filly looked up even as the others foals whined, but then she nodded and smiled to her friends before heading quietly towards them, becoming more serious as she gazed up at them quietly, and the three looked back down… and then Luna leaned forwards and hugged her firmly, leaning down and kissing her forehead softly, and there was no need for words as they looked at one another for a few moments before Fluttershy pushed open the door to the library, and they headed quietly inside, together.