• Published 7th Sep 2013
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Glory Be - BlackRoseRaven

Luna and Scrivener struggle to set right all the wrongs from their past and save their family and friends. Tenth and final story in the Blooming Moon Chronicles/99 Worlds Saga.

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In Our Time Of Judgment

Chapter Ninety Five: In Our Time Of Judgment

The rebels were fighting with all the strength they had, but the forces of Greater Heaven were vicious and ruthless. Magic artillery rained down across the battlefield even as they struggled to push forwards, and the air above was full of wyverns and Angelic Knights, who did their best to keep them pinned. And worst of all, some of their strongest allies had vanished, leaving mortals and demons to try and fend for themselves.

Yet still the soldiers fought fearlessly on, charged through the hail of artillery fire and engaged Pious and Devout and converts. Demons defended ponies and Blessed that wanted only to retake their home, and beasts snarled and fought ferociously beside their masters and the Phooka, struggling against the blinded Hounds of Heaven and brainwashed creatures of the Light.

For all their bravery, however, they were being held back: the Light had created an impasse by razing several buildings and destroying a set of bridges across a river that was running red with the blood of the slain. At this rate, they would never reach the Castle of Valhalla... and yet still, they fought on, as they desperately struggled to cross the Vale.

But they didn't know how important their fight was, as they drew attention away from the Castle, which was being slowly gutted from the inside out. Many of the defenses had been disabled, and Whistlers lay dead and empty here and there, with their puppetmaster destroyed: gates had been smashed open, and Avalon, Aphrodisia, and Pinkamena were engaged in a heated battle on another side of Valhalla... unaware that in front of the main gates they had only recently cleared open, a rift had just sparked into existence.

A living motorcycle tore out of this, smashing to the ground before skidding to a halt as Luna looked coldly up, feeling the purification in the air and snarling slowly at the perverted, poisonous quality of the energies of Heaven around her. Scrivener and Twilight both also looked up sharply, and the sapphire mare's eyes narrowed before she said quietly: “This is where we must part ways, Hex. But I shall call thee if I need thee, faithful steed.”

Hex rumbled to her, and then the sapphire mare leapt off the Iron Horse, absently reaching out to rest a hoof on top of the silver skull as she looked straight ahead. It was eerily quiet... or rather, it looked eerily quiet. She could see blood splatters over the fallen drawbridge, and other signs of combat, including a few corpses of Paladins and Devout... even if behind her she could also hear a fierce battle raging only a few kilometers away.

Twilight and Scrivener both looked in this direction, and shivered a little: there were pillars of smoke rising through the air, and they could hear screaming and roaring, could even see wyverns and the occasional, glowing boulder flying through the air. But apparently at least someone had made it through whatever defenses the Light had set up, by the sights in front of them... and Luna sighed after a moment before she said quietly: “'Tis time for us to go.”

The two nodded, before Luna paused and reached up thoughtfully, her galactic mane pulsing before swaying forwards to stroke over her hoof and gently drop the object that Hel had slipped her into it. She studied it curiously: it looked like a simple sphere of crystal to her as she tilted it back and forth. But it emanated a strange, necromantic magic, and the sapphire mare asked after a moment: “Does thou recognize this, Twilight Sparkle? Thou hast spent much more time researching the articles of Helheim than I have.”

The Lich stepped forwards, and then her eyes widened in surprise before she leaned forwards and studied the sphere intently, whispering: “Oh wow... I do, yes. This isn't a Helheim artifact, but a Soulcatch: reapers use them to bind souls to their bidding.”

She hesitantly reached up and touched it... and the moment she made contact, the orb thrummed quietly with dark purple light. Twilight winced and drew her hoof quickly back, and the life died from the orb, Luna and Scrivener looking over at the mare with surprise before Twilight gave a faint smile, murmuring: “It must be because I have Kismet's bell... but it shouldn't be reacting unless there's lost souls nearby...”

“Well, we know that the Cardinal keeps souls somewhere in Valhalla...” Scrivener said slowly, and then he and Luna traded a look and a quick flurry of thoughts before the stallion returned his gaze to the Lich, asking hesitantly: “Do you think we should split up? The three of us can be apart for about an hour... maybe you can use that Soulcatch to find those souls. I know it's not pleasant to think about, but... we need every advantage we can get.”

Twilight shifted a little... and then she nodded a little before saying quietly: “As long as we let them go afterwards. And while I do that, you two should go and find whoever's inside here... team up with them and get everyone together in one place, then we'll all join forces to find the Cardinal and finish this together.”

Scrivener and Luna traded looks, then they both smiled and nodded in agreement, the three trading emotions, reassurances, encouragement... and promises that no matter what happened, they weren't going to do anything stupid. Then Hex growled loudly, and Luna couldn't help but laugh and shake her head slowly, saying wryly: “Aye, I have not forgotten thou, Hex. Yes, we shan't forget about thee. Fear not, I am sure we will be calling for thou again.”

The living motorcycle rumbled in agreement, and Scrivener smiled a little before nodding awkwardly to the machine. But Hex seemed to grumble in appreciation before it reversed and then turned away, driving off down the road... and then simply vanishing in a burst of blue flame.

Scrivener and Twilight both stared in surprise, but Luna grinned wryly, saying with entertainment: “Same old Hex. He always has been of a particular, peculiar mind, thou sees. 'Tis refreshing, though, that he still fearlessly throws himself towards the fray... but come, friends. We have our own missions to attend to.”

Both charcoal stallion and violet mare nodded firmly, the Lich lifting the Soulcatch with telekinesis to float beside her, and it hummed back into life. She could feel it pulling her in the direction of the lost souls already, and as they quickly crossed the bridge, Twilight muttered: “There must be quite a few souls to get this kind of reading, especially through the purification...”

“I am somehow unsurprised. Our enemy is the worst kind of enemy.” Luna muttered, and Scrivener Blooms grunted in agreement as they ran past corpses bearing large, open wounds... “This looks like the handiwork of Pinkamena. Only she wields an axe large enough to leave this kind of devastation... and there is just enough hint of demonic essence left behind to tickle my nose...”

“Pinkamena... I wonder who else is here?” Scrivener murmured, and Twilight looked up almost hopefully towards the two ponies, but they both quickly shook their heads at her unasked question. “No, we better not send out a pulse. The Light could lock onto that just as easily: if the Cardinal isn't aware by some miracle there's someone else in here, we'd just be screwing everyone over.”

Luna grunted and nodded in agreement as the three hurried down the corridor to the first intersection, and then Twilight Sparkle hesitated as the others skidded to a stop, looking at her curiously. “You guys go on ahead. I'm going this way. I'll try and be quiet, avoid setting off any alarms... you two should probably do the same.”

“Thou hast our thanks for thy faith in our abilities, Twilight Sparkle, 'tis truly most invigorating. Almost as refreshing as thy clear belief in our intellect.” Luna Brynhild said dryly, and the Lich gave the sapphire mare a lame smile as Scrivener simply shrugged. “Good luck to thee, all the same.”

“You two too.” Twilight replied quietly, as her eyes told them how much she loved them. And they smiled back and returned it with their own gazes before quickly spinning around and running down the corridor, not looking back... and yet all the same, Twilight felt their minds brush against hers, and felt the faith they had in her. She only hoped she was up to this task.

She took a breath, then turned and hurried down the attached hall, before following the orb to a stairwell and hurrying up it: as she moved, the glow brightened little-by-little. She was disturbed by the emptiness of the halls, however: she only slipped past one group of the Light's soldiers, and they were busy attempting to clear a massive jumble of debris out of an archway.

The Lich made her way slowly onwards and upwards, to a floor that seemed abandoned: it made her shiver, the sheer... emptiness of it. Numbness tickled along her body, and her horn vibrated faintly, as something bit at her senses... something awful and empty. Something unnatural, and that filled the silent air around her with hatred.

She shivered a little as she made her way forwards, eyes flicking back and forth before she frowned uncertainly. Something was definitely wrong here... but the Soulcatch pointed in this direction all the same, and it was glowing like a warm lantern. But another part of her was warning her that there was something dangerous and vile ahead... something that would threaten her very soul, not just body.

Another twisting corridor... and then she found herself at a gilded, golden doorway. The Lich hesitantly pushed this open, then frowned a little as she found a curling, spiraling staircase beyond, the Soulcatch starting to vibrate lightly in her psychic grip as it almost lunged up these.

Twilight grimaced a little, then she began up the steps, looking uncertainly back and forth as the Soulcatch tugged at her telekinetic grip, urging her upwards. At the end of the staircase, she found a door, left invitingly open for her, and the Lich strode slowly through into what looked like some kind of abandoned archive.

It was perfectly circular, and the roof was high above: the shelves that lined the rounded walls were almost all empty, however, and there was neither furniture nor blemish across the plain stone floor. But at the far side of the room, there was a set of rune-covered iron bars that formed a narrow gate over a small, rectangular niche that stretched all the way to the ceiling.

She frowned, approaching this hesitantly... and then winced when the Soulcatch yanked itself out of her grip, flying forwards and then dropping lifelessly to roll between the bars and into the cell. Then the Lich's eyes widened as she drew close enough to look through the magically-reinforced bars, realizing that the cell walls were lined with narrow, slotted racks... and in each and every space, there was a glowing vial, each containing a captured soul.

“Beautiful, aren't they?” asked a quiet voice, and Twilight spun around and found herself staring at a death entity. But this one was nothing like Kismet: this one was hollow, and empty, and awful. This one radiated bitterness and malice, serpentine mask glinting and the darkness of its sockets glaring into her soul, already appraising her like she was a piece of meat in the butcher's shop. “I suspect that you must understand their value.”

“I do. And what you've done to them is wrong.” Twilight Sparkle said quietly, slowly setting herself. The death entity only chuckled quietly in response, and the Lich shivered before she shook her head slowly and whispered: “Look at you. You're supposed to be helping conserve the balance... not acting like a slave to the Light.”

“You are not one to speak of balance and the cycle's worth, child.” the death entity replied with soft derision, and then it added in a disdainful voice: “And a slave is a slave, no matter who he serves. But I am a Judge of Death. I am Lord Minos. It is my duty to pass judgment on the souls of the living. The cycle only slows these efforts down.”

The Lich shook her head slowly, then she rose her head high and readied herself as her enormous bell appeared beside her, tolling grimly. Minos' hollow sockets flicked to this for a moment, and then he chuckled again, a cruel smile lacing his words as he said: “Ah, Kismet. I thought I recognized that presence... the cycle's lackey. The patsy to the balance. And as I always told him they would... his failings overcame him, it seems. You bring me pleasant news, child; for that, I will not destroy your soul. I'll give you a special place among the ones I value most.”

“Kismet was wise and brave and... everything you are not.” Twilight said coldly, glaring defiantly up at the death entity before she flexed her body, her horn glowing brightly with charged magic. “I'm going to give you one chance to surrender, Minos. I don't want to have to hurt you.”

Minos only looked at her, calmly, emptily... and then he vanished from the spot before reappearing less than an inch away, seizing her by the throat and hefting her above his head as his other arm extended towards the bell, scrolls quickly stretching out from around this limb and snaring around the instrument. “And I will only hurt you for a moment.”

Twilight Sparkle felt the Great Reaper's claws tearing into her spirit, gasping in pain before she snarled, and her horn flashed before unleashing a burst of blue flames that seared the death entity's mask. He hissed and jerked his head back, and Twilight Sparkle rocked her body forwards, slamming her rear hooves into the monster's breast and flapping her wings at the same time to launch herself free from his grip.

He stumbled backwards,but yanked hard on his scrolls, tearing her bell free from her psychic grip and flinging it across the room as he vanished from sight. Twilight winced as the instrument collided with the shelves, smashing several apart with a loud clang before she only flicked her horn, and the massive reaper's tool vanished.

Before she could do anything else, Minos appeared beside her, arms spread wide and scrolls snapping out to try and seize her: but before they could, the violet mare shielded herself with a spherical forcefield, the scrolls snagging around this before Twilight arched her back and unleashed a pulse of power.

The forcefield exploded into shards of energy that tore through Minos' scrolls and hammered against the death entity's body, and he hissed before vanishing again. But this time, Twilight Sparkle's eyes glowed as she spun around, then she snarled and snapped a horn sharply forwards.

Several spikes of dark energy tore through the air, and then smashed Minos back into reality, the Great Reaper staggering backwards in surprise before Twilight followed up with a sapphire fireball. He barely managed to shield himself with his cloak, the flames charring this but the worst of the damage absorbed into the strange, dark material.

The two looked at each other, and then Minos flexed his claws slowly and lowered his head, saying softly: “So you can see me, even when I step beneath reality. But do not overestimate yourself, Child of Angmar. I have judged much more powerful than you.”

Twilight Sparkle smiled faintly at this, dropping back to the ground and flicking her horn, her bell reappearing beside her in a burst of smoke as she said quietly: “Maybe. But power isn't everything, Minos. And I'm not just fighting for myself, I am not alone... not like you.”

“Emotions... you still cling to them. You believe they give you strength.” Minos calmly flicked one arm out to the side, and Twilight's eyes were drawn upwards in surprise as there was a surge of energy above before a dark, floating sphere appeared in the air, thrumming with malevolent power. “I will instruct you on how wrong you are.”

Minos leapt at her with ghastly speed, scrolls lashing out like tentacles, claws raised, but Twilight Sparkle intercepted him with a hard swing of her bell, smashing him to the side. His claws tore against the reaper's tool even as he hissed in pain as it clanged against his body, his scrolls lunging past to attempt to snag the Lich.

Twilight leapt backwards, then she winced when the onyx bell was shoved at her by the death entity: she cursed as she leapt upwards and revolved her body, catching it back in her psychic grip and using momentum to twist it around her form, slamming it down in a full hammer into Minos when he clawed at her.

He was knocked off his feet with a snarl of pain, vanishing into the ether: it made him weightless and formless, letting the pulse of energies that was the Great Reaper streak off to the side before reappearing in a calm stance... before he twitched a little, and slowly reached up as Twilight landed neatly on her hooves and turned to face him.

His claws gently scraped along a large crack in his mask, and there was silence for a moment before the Great Reaper vanished, moving rapidly through the ether. But Twilight only leapt around in a circle while giving a wide, vicious swing of her bell, and the huge weapon caught Minos in its arc and smashed him out of sub-reality, sending him flying into a wall.

The broken shelves snared him for a moment, but Twilight hesitated, and Minos used the moment to step out of reality and quickly put distance between himself and the mare again. She gritted her teeth as she turned to face him, then implored: “Enough! Can't you understand what you're doing is wrong? You're going against your own nature, your own-”

“Do not speak to me.” Minos said coldly, holding up a claw and sending a blast of black flames at the mare, and she winced and quickly deflected it with her horn, before her eyes widened when it curled around in midair and attempted to home in on her again.

She slashed her horn into it a second time, but this time it exploded, knocking her backwards as Minos vanished, and reappeared behind the Lich, catching her by the back of the neck and slamming her cruelly down into the ground. Then the Lich gasped as she felt him beginning to drain the spiritual energy out of her, and she snarled in pain before one of her forelegs turned to black shadows and transformed into a large, onyx sword, the mare viciously, blindly slashing this backwards.

It tore through Minos' thin chest, shredding parts of his scrolls and knocking him staggering with a hiss as he dropped the Lich. She began to turn to catch herself as her foreleg returned to normal, but Minos punted her viciously in the stomach, sending her flying across the room before the death entity's scrolls snatched up the reaper's bell and flung it cruelly after her.

Twilight bounced painfully off the shelves before wincing and snapping her horn at the bell as she began to fall: it turned to smoke just before it could hit, smog rushing past her as she flopped to the ground on her stomach, before she gasped as Minos seized her by her flowing, ephemeral mane, then turned and flung her hard upwards.

She flew towards the floating black rift, and the Lich winced before spinning around and flapping her wings wildly, trying to pull herself away even as she felt a powerful gravity seize her, yanking her slowly back towards the portal.

And she looked up too late to see Minos with a claw extended, a black fireball shooting through the air to hammer into her face and knock her flying backwards into the orb above, the mare crying out in agony as she flipped wildly through a darkness that tore and bit and screamed at her...

And then she simply fell, landing painfully on her back with a gasp. She shivered a little, then opened her eyes and stared back and forth in surprise at the strange, swirling world of reds and blacks all around her, before Minos calmly appeared a few feet away.

“Welcome to my home. Don't worry. You won't be here long.” Minos said softly, and then the death entity calmly flicked an arm upwards, and his scrolls rapidly extended from around his body, cocooning his form as Twilight snarled and stood up... but feeling unstable, the world around her a sickening swirl of hellish, permanent sunset and black night, no floor beneath her, no real air above her, only colors and sounds and Minos, as the cocoon of scrolls bulged and trembled. “Just for a quick meal. That's all.”

The scrolls burst apart, and there was a rush of smoke before Twilight stared in horror at the sight of the death entity: he was now enormous, his upper body skeletal but at least a dozen feet across at the shoulders, tapering down int nothing but insubstantial smoke. His serpentine mask moved like it was flesh instead of metal, and his socket eyes were locked mercilessly on her as he flexed claws big enough to crush her like a toy on either side of her.

The Lich trembled a little as she looked up at him, and he stared callously back down at her, ten, fifteen times her size, the colossal death entity saying quietly: “You are nothing but an insect to me. And when you die, as all who have died before you in this place, I will devour your essence... and through you, I will take the souls of your precious family as well.”

“No!” Twilight Sparkle shouted, and then she rose her horn... and stared up in shock as her magic refused to work, only feeling a strange ringing in her mind. “What?”

“I have blocked your childish spells. Your powers make you a nuisance. Let us see how long you last without them.” the Great Reaper said softly, and then he held up one claw before attempting to crush the Lich beneath one large, sharp digit, the mare wincing as she stumbled to the side, then cursed as he tried to crush her again, looking down at her with such patronizing disdain, such hatred, such... bitterness. “Good. Struggle. Hope for your victory that will never come.”

The Lich only snarled, then looked over her shoulder in surprise when Minos rose his other claw behind her, forming a wall with his palm. She spun around and slashed at it with her horn, but barely left a mark before two fingers crushed down on her spine, squishing her beneath them as she screamed in agony, feeling it ripping into her spirit as well as her body.

And then the pressure was gone for a moment before Minos plucked her up by the scruff of the neck, the violet mare gasping in pain as the death entity said softly: “How pathetic. As simple as crushing a beetle.”

For some reason, this made Twilight's mind jump to Scrivener and Luna, and the thought of how... neither of them would ever give up. No matter how the odds were against them, they would both fight until the very last breath, pulling up every skill, every trick, every cheat they had. And the Lich gritted her teeth as Minos brought her forwards, opening a mouth that reeked of death and putrefaction, a long, serpentine tongue lolling out of white gums around blackened teeth...

Twilight spread her wings and when Minos dropped her, she flapped them hard: she was shocked when she only launched a short distance through the air, but it was enough to let her catch the end of the golden mask, yanking herself over Minos' nose as he looked down at her with distaste.

His claws began to reach down for her, and Twilight scrabbled wildly at his features before she kicked off and launched herself upwards, bringing both hooves high above her head as she cried out for help... and a moment later, her massive reaper's bell appeared just above her, her hooves gripping the huge handle and then swinging the weapon down as if it was lighter than air, but it smashed with a tremendous bang into Minos' muzzle like the hammer of a wrathful god.

Minos was knocked backwards with a roar of shock, grasping at his features as Twilight Sparkle fell to the invisible ground as the onyx instrument crashed into the unseen earth beside her and reverberated, making the air tremble. Then she gritted her teeth, yanking it upwards and half-spinning to fling the bell straight at Minos' unprotected chest-

Countless scrolls stretched around from his back, catching the reaper's tool before several calmly retracted with this held tightly, the scrolls and bell taking on a faint, poisonous glow. The other scrolls twisted back and forth through the air around Minos as the Judge of Death slowly leaned down, placing his claws on either side of Twilight Sparkle as he said coldly through his broken mask: “Now I will make this hurt. And I will make your lovers pay for your crimes”

Twilight only glared up at him defiantly, her blood bubbling in her veins, breathing hard before she shouted: “I'm not afraid of you and I will not let you hurt them!”

“You should be, and you will.” Minos leaned calmly back, pointing at her with one claw, and a beam of black light shot out from the digit, the Lich wincing and dodging away from this. He traced it unhurriedly towards her, however, as his scrolls lashed out like snakes, attempting to constrict and slash her: the mare dodged most of them, but some still managed to glance her, knocking her staggering and tearing wide cuts against her body as she cursed in frustration.

She jumped back and forth, then winced as the ray of darkness vanished only so Minos could create a massive, black meteor in his hand, the scrolls quickly withdrawing before he launched this at Twilight Sparkle. She leapt into the air and flapped her wings hard, but there was no air for them to catch, and she fell just as the massive black ball of flames collided with the ground beneath her and exploded, sending her flying backwards.

She hit an invisible wall, and a scroll shot forwards and smashed into her stomach, pinning her back against it before Minos calmly rose one claw, meaning to crush her skull beneath the single digit. Twilight snarled, battering at the scroll as the claw sunk through the air towards her before her skin burned with pain as she tried in desperation to focus her powers...

And her forelimb boiled painfully before transforming into a blade of shadows, Twilight Sparkle slicing viciously through the scroll and freeing herself as Minos snarled in disgust. The Lich didn't have time to guess why her powers were working, however, or to even feel thankful for it as a mass of scrolls snapped towards her, the Lich instead clenching her eyes shut as her entire body became shadow.

The scrolls slashed upwards like razors, tearing through her body, ripping her into shreds of dark ooze that splattered down over the invisible earth... then rapidly drew back together, reforming into the shape of a winged unicorn that leapt upwards and took to the air, Minos' eyes widening as he hissed: “How can your powers be outside my control?”

Twilight didn't know... and didn't care the moment, snarling as she felt her energy returning to her in shadow form now, shooting straight for Minos' features... but apparently the death entity was done playing games as well, as one large claw lashed up and attempted to seize her. Twilight let herself be crushed into black liquid, wincing in only faint pain... but then she screamed silently as Minos' claw burst into blue flames, burning away her spirit and attempting to force her back into solidity.

But instead, Twilight transformed into a spiked ball of shadows, long blades ripping through Minos' gauntlet and claws as he hissed in frustration before flinging her quickly away. In midair, Twilight transformed back into winged unicorn shape, snarling as she caught herself against the invisible wall with all four legs before springing off and shooting back towards Minos.

His scrolls launched upwards, attempting to catch, crush and tear her apart as they glowed with blue flames, but Twilight's forelegs transformed into blades, the Lich slashing and ripping viciously through the mess of blazing paper tendrils. Minos snarled down at her, then both of his claws burst into sapphire hellfire before he tried to clap them together around her, but Twilight launched herself sharply upwards before thrusting both forelegs towards him, and blasts of black energy shot from her and smashed into the death entity's face, knocking his head back with a hiss as he flinched.

Twilight Sparkle flapped her wings hard, snarling in return as she floated backwards before a blue light flared to life in her chest, her soulstone heart lighting up brightly through the shadows before black smoke ripped itself away from either side of the mare, creating identical, shadowy winged unicorns that floated to either side of her. Minos looked up this with disbelief, and then the middle Twilight Sparkle framed the glowing blue sphere in her chest with her hooves as magic energy sparked around her.

A bright blue laser of energy shot from her soulstone core, smashing down into Minos' forehead with enough force to crack the mask protecting his features and knock him off balance with hiss of pain. And then both shadowy copies of the mare shot viciously down, going into violent corkscrews as the death entity's scrolls tried to rise up in feeble defense.

They tore straight through the paper, and then straight through the death entity's body, ripping back and forth through his form as he was battered back and forth and left massive, smoking tunnels behind. Then Twilight Sparkle streaked down herself, ramming straight through his chest as he howled in pain before tearing out his spine and lunging straight at the scrolls still holding her bell, tearing through the tendrils before curving sharply around to catch the huge instrument by the handle as she streaked up above the goliath's head.

Her copies flowed after her, both slamming into the shadow mare but only making her form ripple as they smoothly rejoined with her. Then she dropped straight down just as Minos began to look up, swinging her bell down with all her strength and shattering the top of his mask.

The force was so great that her bell was torn out of her hooves and launched high into the air as Minos' head was crunched down between his own shoulders, and the top of his mask shattered into dust. What was revealed wasn't flesh or skull, however, but a single, staring white eye, as Twilight flipped upwards... then dove sharply down, and ripped straight through this in a blast of white gore.

Minos screamed in agony, covering his head with his claws... and then a massive spike of shadow ripped out through one side of his mask, and then another, and then another. He limply swayed back and forth with each enormous blade of shadows that tore out from inside his head, before there was a tremendous pulse of energy, and the colossus simply exploded into smoke and torn paper and black flame.

Minos' broken, limp body began to fall from this, his scrolls and cloak torn to shreds and hanging in pieces off his body, his mask shattered and bleeding dark essence as he fell... and Twilight Sparkle launched herself straight down after him, slamming a hoof into him viciously and sending him rocketing down into the invisible floor below.

He struck the ground, and it shattered away like glass, the entire subdimensional trap around them breaking into pieces that hailed down through the archives as Minos limply shot down to crash into the ground below. And above, Twilight Sparkle caught her bell as it fell free of the dimensional rift, before she flung it downwards with all the strength left in her body.

It smashed straight down on top of the death entity, crushing what little remained of Minos into the floor before the winged unicorn of shadow dropped smoothly down beside him, panting silently. She trembled a little, then gasped softly as the shadows slowly bled off her form, her body smoldering faintly, her wings flexing weakly, her horn sparking.

One of Minos' claws twitched once... and then burst into blue flames, spasming weakly before boiling rapidly away into black smoke. Twilight Sparkle watched as the death entity evaporated bit by bit, and then her bell gave one silent, mournful ring... and the purple mare lowered her head slowly as she realized that it was over.

She smiled faintly after a moment, then reached up and slowly rubbed at her features before shaking herself quickly out. She stepped forwards, silently reaching up to touch her bell and then drop her head against it, trembling a little... and then, as it faded away to smoke, she looked slowly up and asked quietly: “It was because I'm your daughter, wasn't it?”

There was no answer, but Twilight smiled faintly as she turned slowly around, reaching up to touch her soulstone core and... knowing Hel was listening, and watching them, all the same. She shook her head briefly, then sighed softly as she strode quietly towards the iron bars, studying them silently for a few moments before hesitantly reaching up and touching one.

It burned faintly, but not as much as she'd expected. But that could be in part because the magic had faded from them... which at least was a confirmation that Minos was dead. She shivered a little bit, but then shook herself out quickly before murmuring: “Just concentrate on this, Twilight.”

She paused, then smiled faintly as she felt the tickle of Luna and Scrivener's worries, asking her hesitantly if she was okay. And after a moment, she nodded briefly, lowering her head a little and murmuring: “Yeah, I am. And the fight's over... where are you?”

A flash of images passed through her mind... and then she smiled warmly, raising her head as she saw Pinkamena, Aphrodisia, and Avalon. And her heart thudded harder, her smile growing brighter and tears threatening her eyes as she heard what their friends had told them. Celestia had become Freya, but was still alive... and Innocence was... was doing her best to lead them, with honor. Had become a Valkyrie... “Oh, Sin...”

She swallowed a little, then rubbed quickly at her face before shaking her head and looking through the iron bars before she laughed a bit as she realized she was being stupid about this whole thing. But maybe eagerness to reunite with her family helped give her the boost she needed, as she transformed into shadows and quickly darted between the bars, then returned to her natural shape as she picked up the Soulcatch, holding it tightly in her hoof.

It thrummed violently as Twilight looked up over the countless vials here, apparently all souls kept as some kind of sick trophies by Minos. She looked slowly back and forth over them, then shook her head quickly before taking a slow breath and thrusting the sphere above her head on instinct, gritting her teeth as she focused a little bit of her remaining energy into the sphere.

It gave a bright pulse, and the vials lining the shelves all began to reverberate violently before shattering one after the other, each releasing a spirit into the air. They swirled through the narrow space and back and forth through the walls, but all of them slowly settled as they glowed with faint violet light, drawn in by the Soulcatch and unable to escape its allure.

Twilight Sparkle was left gazing over the faces of spirits of all shape and size, some great heroes, some terrible monsters, but all of them exceptional and bound to her will, looking down at her silently as she breathed slowly in and out. Then she rose her head as high as she could and licked her lips before saying quietly: “I need your help.”

Some of the spirits sneered at her, while others only shrugged and a few looked down at her with more curiosity and compassion. And after a moment, the Lich steeled herself before she said in a clearer voice: “I need your help, and I'm going to have to insist that you help me, too. That's why I have this. But afterwards, you will all be set free, I promise. No matter who you are or what you've done, you'll be allowed to... go where you want.”

The spirits looked less pleased at this, but Twilight Sparkle forced herself to swallow all her emotions for now, explaining: “The place you're in has been invaded and taken over by a force called the Light, from Greater Heaven. They are being manipulated, but we have no choice except to fight them back... even to hurt and kill our own, who have been turned into mindless puppets.

“This castle has to be cleared of enemies. The Angels of Greater Heaven are called the Pious and are very dangerous. Even as spirits, they can still hurt you, kill you, thanks to their ability to drain energy. And if you can... bind down or possess the ponies infected by the Light, don't kill them unless you have to.” Twilight continued sharply, looking back and forth. “I need your help. Help us, and I'll set all of you free.”

The spirits shifted above... and then one of them floated down, a mighty, proud looking Pegasus who locked gazes with Twilight Sparkle. The two looked at each other steadily for a few moments, and then he simply gave a brief nod before turning and shouting a silent rallying cry to the others: little-by-little, the rest of the group began to pick this up, before rapidly spreading out, vanishing in all directions, and Twilight Sparkle smiled faintly after a moment before she looked down at the Soulcatch as it thrummed with violet light.

She made it vanish after a moment, then she shook her head quickly before turning around and dissolving into shadow to pass back through the iron bars, only hoping that at least most of the army of souls would do what she'd asked them to do. The reaction of the Pegasus, at least, had reassured her quite a bit...

The Lich didn't linger in Minos' chamber: everything about this place bothered her, and she was eager to reunite with Luna and Scrivener. She made her way quickly back down the spiraling staircase, following her instincts and the gentle, mental calls of her partners, able to sense them making their own way through the castle as ghosts occasionally shot by now and then. They had almost definitely alerted the Light to their presence now, but it didn't seem like the Cardinal had a lot of forces in this Castle... or maybe the others had already taken care of the brunt of the soldiers that had been left here.

But no one had seen Innocence or Prestige... or Antares... and it looked like most of the paths deeper into the castle had been sealed or barricaded. Twilight Sparkle felt a nervous shift at this before she heard a mental message to meet them at a place she had passed on her way up to seeing Minos, and the Lich quickened her pace.

After only a few minutes, she arrived and gave a warm, enormous smile at the sight that greeted her. Luna and Scrivener, grinning, with a beaming Apps and Avalon and grouchily-smiling Pinkamena, and Terra and Celestia... although the Lich was shocked to see how different Celestia looked, how battle had made her both more beautiful and yet more... ghostly. She stepped towards her worriedly, but the ivory mare only shook her head before suddenly stepping forwards and pulling her close in a bone-crushing hug, curling around her as tears rolled down her cheek and she whispered: “I'm sorry.”

“For what? Celestia...” She stopped as she felt a gentle mental nudge from Luna, before the violet mare smiled faintly and said hesitantly: “I mean... Freya...”

“Freya, yes... and for being... for being weaker than I should have been. For making mistakes.” Freya said quietly, straightening and looking silently down over the ponies. “I thought I'd lost you all. I thought I'd lost everything... I wanted...”

“Aye, you wanted something foolish, but none of that is important now. What's important is that we're nearly at the end of this entire mess.” Terra said firmly, and the others nodded quickly before the Ironjaw winced a bit as several ghostly ponies galloped past and through the rubble still covering the archway. “We need to get through there. Do you reckon you can make a path?”

Twilight glanced at the rubble... and then ponies and dragon stared in amazement as the Lich transformed into shadow and easily slipped through the wreckage. There was silence for a few moments as Luna grinned proudly and Scrivener smiled and sat back, and Pinkamena looked at him and said wryly: “You three really have learned some new tricks.”

“Yeah. We have.” Scrivener laughed a bit, reaching up to grasp her shoulder, and she grumbled but didn't shrug him off, instead silently dropping her head towards him and giving a small smile.

Then Twilight's voice came from beyond the wreckage, muffled but still audible: “Okay... I think you can get through here! Uh... Scrivy, yeah, let's try this!”

“Got it!” Scrivener called back, and then he gave Pinkamena's shoulder one last squeeze before stepping forwards and shoving his claws into the wreckage, mentally counting to three with Twilight Sparkle before he gritted his teeth and pushed forwards with his powers, rapidly beginning to melt the rock and stone into black sludge as sheets of ice spread over the walls and roof, stopping the walls or ceiling from giving away as the wreckage shifted.

The path was cleared in only a few moments, and Scrivener smiled slightly as Aphrodisia clapped and Avalon grunted, nodding a few times before she hesitated and said finally, as Twilight rejoined them: “Hey, you guys have this, right? I... my Mom is out there, fighting, and I can hear the artillery fire from here. I... I want to go make sure she and everyone else...”

“Aye, lass. Good for you.” Terra said softly, and then she smiled and nodded firmly. “If you want my advice... a little one like you should be able to fly in quick and hit those artillery batteries before they even know what's going on.”

“I'll go with you, Ava!” Aphrodisia volunteered, and Avalon smiled at her before the demon turned her eyes towards Scrivener and Luna, adding quietly: “I'm really gonna miss you when you're gone, but... we'll meet again in Helheim, maybe, right?”

“Definitely.” Scrivener Blooms said softly, even if he felt a little curious by the phrasing. But the Aphrodisia flung herself at him, and he laughed and hugged her tightly, losing his thoughts to the warmth of the welcome hug.

Aphrodisia traded tight hugs with Twilight and Luna as well, then vanished quickly with Avalon as Pinkamena looked after the two of them, before she shook her head slowly and murmured: “More courage than I'll ever have. Brats. And that stupid runt beat me by one goddamn Paladin, can you believe that? Kid's a menace.”

Scrivener shrugged a bit as the group turned forwards, striding down the corridor as he began: “Well, at least you can go ahead and kill a bunch now, right?”

Pinkamena shrugged moodily, beginning to reply, and then Luna's eyes widened as a pulse ran down her horn. She looked into the room beyond, and saw a winged unicorn leaning over Innocence, Prestige laying in a broken heap nearby... “No!”

The winged unicorn looked up, and Luna snarled even as she saw it was her son, charging straight at him as she remembered what the others had said... and as much as she hated what she had to do, she did it anyway, streaking across the room and then slamming a hoof into his face to knock him sprawling back into the vines behind him before she landed on him and pinned the stallion.

“Oh holy hell it's me!” Antares howled, and then he blinked stupidly before gaping up through his bloody muzzle at his mother, as Luna stared blankly down at him. “M... Mom?”

“Antares?” The two looked at each other for a few moments, and then the sapphire mare bared her fangs before punching the stallion in the nose, making him squawk as she shouted: “Antares Mīrus, damnation! Look at thou! What has happened to thou? What hast thou done to thine own accursed family? Did I not raise thee better than this? Damnation!”

“Oh Horses of Heaven, get off me!” Antares shoved wildly at his mother's face, and then Luna squawked as Freya seized the back of her collar and almost flung her off her son before the ivory mare seized the stallion by the throat and hauled him up into the air with a snarl.

Antares winced, curling up into a ball, his blackened, crystalline wings feebly trying to curl around him as he rasped weakly, then managed to wheeze out: “Hey, Aunt Tia... uh... please don't kill me, like you've taken to killing pretty much everything.”

There was silence for a few moments... and then a smile quirked at Freya's mouth, the mare saying softly: “Well... I think I can put up with that nickname from you, little one.”

She dropped him calmly, and Antares stumbled a bit, before he rose his head and smiled faintly, looking disbelievingly over the group in front of him. He trembled at the sight of Scrivener and Twilight, but he was quick to put on a grin and turn his eyes back to his mother, taunting: “Hey, took you long enough. Or were you just waiting to make a big dramatic entrance, Mutt?”

Luna snorted through her nostrils at this, but she felt a burning joy in her heart... a happiness that grew all the greater when Scrivener gently pushed a Talon against Innocence and said softly: “Prestige doesn't seem too badly hurt, and Sin just needs energy. She looks exhausted.”

“She kicked my ass.” Antares confessed, and Luna and Twilight both looked up with warm smiles as the stallion laughed a little, then hesitated before he softened and looked over at Freya, saying quietly: “I'm sorry. I cost the rebels a lot.”

“It's okay. You weren't yourself, and...” Freya hesitated, then rose her head and said softly: “And all the killing will stop soon. Once we defeat the Cardinal, then... then the war will be over. The Light can go its way in peace and we'll start the rebuilding process.”

Antares looked surprised, raising his head as Luna looked over at Freya and asked curiously: “So thou knows that 'tis the Cardinal behind all this as well?”

Freya nodded, saying quietly: “De Sade, the Whistler, revealed it to me when I locked onto his psychic conversation a long time ago now. But I never told anyone, because... I wanted the Light to suffer. And I didn't want my soldiers hesitating to kill them. I wanted...”

She stopped, and then Luna shook her head slowly and said softly: “Freya, Freya, Freya. Look at thou, having lost thy way yet again... thou shall never change, will thou?”

Freya smiled faintly at this, and then all eyes glanced down as Scrivener smiled and stepped back from Innocence as she coughed a bit. The scaled unicorn could feel a distinct tingle running through her body, a sense of love and familiarity that she hadn't felt for years... and then her eyes widened in amazement as she looked up and saw... Freya, and her brother, and... and... “Momma! Daddy! Móðer!”

She flung herself upwards, and her parents embraced her. She trembled, feeling how real it was, barely able to believe what was going on as Antares looked at them softly... and then he smiled faintly, glancing down as Prestige's eyes opened and she looked up at him before whispering softly: “Hero... I think you owe me dinner.”

“I know. I'm sorry... I'll even make you breakfast, too.” Antares said tenderly, reaching down and gently stroking the mare's face, and she smiled faintly at him before he reached down and carefully helped her to sit up. For a moment, the group was simply together, marveling over what they had survived beside each other, how they had all met here, all of them determined to finish this fight off... before Pinkamena laughed sourly.

The demon shook her head, then muttered: “I keep expecting Slap to show up out of nowhere... but hey, at least I'm not the only chick here with an AWOL boytoy.”

“You are a sodding bitch.” Terra said sourly, and then she shook her head briefly before turning her eyes towards the others, adding wryly: “And perhaps it's wrong of me to take such pleasure in this, but family reunions can and should wait until later. There's still much work to be done for us... we haven't yet even laid eyes on this Cardinal, have we?”

The others nodded, and Innocence hesitantly slipped back from her parents, studying the changes in them with amazement before she blushed a bit when Antares reached up and touched her shoulder, murmuring a quiet apology to her. But the scaled unicorn only gave him a small smile in response before she said quietly: “I'm coming with you. We have to end this together.”

“Aye, she deserves that.” Terra added firmly, and then the Ironjaw smiled when Freya nodded after a moment. “Then let's not dally. We have a little red bird that needs to be plucked.”

The group began to turn... and then a thrum passed through the entire Castle, and Freya grimaced and looked up in disgust as the others all flinched. Then all present gave varying sounds of pain and surprise as the purification in the air around them increased, Scrivener snarling and Luna's soulstone horn pulsing powerfully as Twilight hugged herself tightly.

And horribly, a cruel voice spoke through their minds and the minds of every sentient creature within the castle, saying icily: I never expected the Guardians to return... but it does not matter. You reek of darkness. Of chaos. Of disorder. But I am defended by more than brutes and traps: I am defended by Heaven itself. I am defended by the full power of the Light. And even if you survive this... you will never reach me.

The ponies shivered and flexed, and then Innocence gasped in horror as her scales began to petrify, even as Antares stepped forwards and hugged his sister fiercely, wrapping his wings around her as if he could protect her from the purification in the air. Prestige grimaced, but her horn was glowing brightly, pulling in the holy energy around her to restore her strength as Freya did the same, the ivory mare saying coldly: “There's nowhere you can hide from us! And your holy energies might hurt some of us, but you can't turn up the power enough to harm me!”

Oh really? mocked the Cardinal, and then the ponies flinched as the purification in the air began to increase around them, growing to higher and higher levels as Luna gasped, she and Twilight and Scrivener all beginning to turn to rock as Innocence whimpered and Terra cursed, metal scales trembling violently as she was slowly forced to her knees.

But Freya was smiling coldly, and Luna looked up, and then grinned even through the pain, before she knew that look. And then the ivory mare said calmly: “And þrír... tveir... einn...

There was a muffled explosion from somewhere far beneath them, powerful enough to shake the entire castle, and then simply silence. The purification faded rapidly from the air, and Freya smiled thinly as she looked up towards the roof before saying coldly: “Did I forget to mention I went ahead and made some adjustments to that toy you hid away in the basement? It was already showing quite a bit of stress damage, just running normally... I imagine turning up the power must have caused it to overload with the beating Terra and I gave it.”

“I still say you're crazy for what you did, lass... but I suppose this means you were right about what you broke and what you didn't.” Terra said wryly as she straightened, shaking herself out briefly before adding mildly: “Still, it was my idea first.”

Freya rolled her eye as Luna grinned widely, and Antares stepped back with a wheeze... then winced when Prestige slapped the back of his head before Innocence punched him in the stomach, the scaled unicorn smiling even as she mumbled: “I don't need your protection. But thanks.”

Antares only grumbled moodily, then shook himself out before spreading his charred alicorn wings, feeling the purification sizzling through them before he muttered: “These things are going to take some getting used to.”

“We all change, my son.” Luna said softly, and Antares looked up at her, and at Twilight, and at Scrivener Blooms... and then he smiled faintly, his eyes drawing slowly over the others as well, at how much Freya had changed... at how much even Innocence had changed, since the last time they had really seen each other.

“But now it's time to finish this. Let's find the Cardinal and put an end to this.” Freya said calmly, and Luna nodded firmly in agreement as Innocence picked herself up with a determined smile. It was time for them to finish this, and to finish it the right way... no matter what was going to happen when everything was over.

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