• 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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The Price Of A Miracle

Chapter Ninety Six: The Price Of A Miracle

Antares led them through the halls beyond, explaining with only the faintest bitterness in his voice to the ponies and Terra: “I still remember a lot of what happened, and... what it was like. I won't lie; it was... I was happy. But I'd rather be free than happy.”

“Then thou art stupid. But stupid in the best way, and the way that I raised thou to be, Antares.” Luna said softly, and the stallion gave her a faint smile over his shoulder before the sapphire mare shook her head briefly, then grimaced as they passed another corpse of a Paladin. “Damnation. These souls thou hast summoned must be fierce indeed, Twilight.”

“Kind of disappointing. Here I was hoping for at least a little bit of a bloodbath.” Pinkamena muttered, and then she shook her head quickly before asking distastefully: “When we get to the Cardinal... do you think he's going to put up a fight? Or is he just some douche in a funny hat walled off somewhere?”

Antares shook his head at this, murmuring: “His goal is... ultimate power. But to him, power is... power is just having everyone else as slaves. As servants. The happiness, the fulfillment the Light brings you... it's just a side effect. He doesn't care if you're happy or not. He doesn't care if you like him or not. He only wants everyone to obey.”

The others nodded uneasily at this, and then the sapphire mare shook her head briefly before she murmured: “What a pathetic creature this Cardinal must be, then. 'Tis too bad for him that we have never been very good at obeying.”

Scrivener Blooms grunted in agreement as Twilight Sparkle laughed a little, and then Antares grimaced as he gestured at a set of double doors, shoving them open to reveal a throne room beyond.

There was a single Devout inside, perched on the table... but it only grinned at them, eyes glowing with supernatural light as it giggled a little and rubbed slowly at its features with a broken hoof. It was clearly possessed, and Pinkamena made a sour face at the creature as Antares led the group around the table, the demon muttering: “I dunno if they're so tough after all. You don't have to be all that tough when you can just take over someone's body and wear it like a suit of clothes.”

Innocence only shivered a little as they entered a long hallway, the group striding down this before Antares halted in front of the double doors on the other side, breathing quietly in and out before he shook himself briefly. He nervously studied the doors, then smiled a little before murmuring: “Standing here is so... well... goddamn uncomfortable. This... this is the throne room.”

Luna smiled faintly, and then she strode up beside him and gently rested a hoof on his shoulder, saying quietly: “Fear not, Antares. There is nothing upon the other side of these that thou cannot handle. I am here for thee, and thy father is here for thee, as is thy whole family. And believe me when I say... 'tis better if thou does this thyself.”

Antares nodded after a few moments, breathing slowly before he steadied himself and pushed the doors open, gritting his teeth-

Icy hands seized him, and the stallion winced as he was pulled up into the air and into a tight embrace, Hel laughing loudly as her puppet spun happily around with Antares and said gleefully: “You came, you came! Oh, we're so glad you came, aren't we?”

The Mad Hatter looked up with a warm smile from where he was currently sitting at a little table, nodding fervently in agreement as he said positively: “That we are indeed, oh, we certainly most definitely are indeed! And White Queen, why, look at them all! They're all here, and the party can start... oh, but there's not nearly enough seats and far too much tea! Whatever shall we do? And of all the guests that are here, we're still missing the Dormouse and the March Hare!”

“Oh, leave them alone, Theophilius, they used to be at every single one of your tea parties in the past!” Hel chided, and then she huffed when Antares managed to pry himself free, jumping down to the ground and glaring up at her. “Just like a cat. Why don't cats like me?”

Luna growled irritably, and then Hel huffed again and gestured at her imploringly several times. “I said I was going to help, wasn't I? And I totally am! Let me guess, you guys are looking for the Cardinal, right? Well, now that you've taken down that nasty contraption in the basement, all my powers work here in Heaven. His too. But his always worked. He was just too much of a selfish jerk to ever use them to help others.”

“Because you've been so generous with information, letting us know what was going on, that my family wasn't entirely destroyed.” Freya said in a voice so cold it made Hel's ice puppet shiver and shrink a little. “Perhaps if you'd been a bit more forthcoming and given any of us a little bit of hope that, oh, I don't know, we actually stood a chance...”

“I was trying to give you guys hope!” Hel whined, gesturing pointedly at Luna and Scrivener and Twilight. “Do you know how many favors I called in, strings I pulled, rules I broke? And that's just in Helheim! You don't wanna know what we went through to get them up here!”

“You really don't.” Scrivener muttered, and Twilight grimaced a little before the charcoal stallion sighed and looked moodily over at Hel. “So what now? I mean, it seems like you've known essentially the whole time how this was going to play out, and how the Cardinal works... can you take us to wherever he's hiding?”

Hel shrugged a bit, saying mildly: “I know stuff, sure. But a lot of it I figure out on the way, just like you guys do. And I might be all powerful, but I'm not like All Daddy... you want freedom? You got freedom, sure! But part of that means solving your own damn problems. Miracles ain't worth much if they happen every time you're in trouble, and you guys aren't really free if you have a big babysitter sitting around, fixing everything for you. Sorry, sweet-peas. Freedom's a double-edged sword.”

“Yes, it seems like freedom can be rather terrifying at times... but I think I'd choose this, being completely scared out of my mind about possibly being hurt, but being here with you all... trying to save my... my darling Alice...” Theophilius smiled faintly over at Terra, slowly putting down his teacup. “Than happy and content in a Wonderland made of rules and laws and... happiness, but low-fat happiness. Rulered happiness. Happiness that requires... giving up everything else.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Terra said softly: “Aye. That's right, Kvas... I mean... Theophilius. That's why I always loved you, because you always believed in one of the most important beliefs of our clan: better to die on your feet, fighting for freedom... than live on your knees as a slave.”

“I don't mind it when you call me Kvasir, Alice. None of me does.” Theophilius said almost meekly, putting his fingers together and giving her his childish, endearing smile, and the Ironjaw dragon nodded firmly and smiled warmly back before Hel made a gagging noise.

Pinkamena grunted in agreement before the dark goddess said mildly: “Well, all this lovey-dovey crap aside, we still have one big problem to take care of, and he's right through there.”

Hel pointed at the archway, and the ponies frowned as they turned around before Twilight's eyes narrowed a bit, carefully drawing her eyes over the edging and muttering, as she caught faint flickers of strange magic energies: “There's a portal of some kind hidden in the doorway, isn't there?”

“Precisely! Oh, will you ever cease to make me proud?” gushed Hel, swaying back and forth with a delighted smile before she tipped a wink towards the Lich, who looked uncomfortably over her shoulder at her. “I sure hope not. But now we just gotta charge those runes up with enough holy energy, and that portal will activate, and you boys and girls can go marching on in. I'm more of a hooker than a fighter myself, so I'll stay back here and interior decorate, but I'll send some friends to help you.”

Antares grimaced a bit, and then he looked over at Freya, but the one-eyed mare was only looking steadily at Hel, who grinned cryptically back. There was silence for a few moments, and then Freya finally shook her head slowly and said quietly: “I don't think I'll ever fully understand you, Hel.”

“Good. That's the way it's supposed to be, Queen Freya. Because between us... you're the crazy one.” Hel said pleasantly, as she reached up and calmly twisted her frost-puppet head upside down. “Now let's get going, shall we?”

The dark goddess laced her fingers together before cracking them loudly, and then she rose both her hands and grinned viciously before shoving them forwards, white lightning bursting from the puppet's fingers and tracing rapidly up the line of runes. The ponies and dragon all looked up at this, and Freya gave a thin smile before she muttered: “Holy energy. And yet somehow I can't exactly say that I'm surprised.”

“That's disappointing.” Hel said cheerfully as she continued to charge the line of runes, and then she laughed as she reached the top of the arch and the set of runes glowed brightly, a portal thrumming into life before Hel shoved both her hands towards it, the image rippling violently as she said wryly: “Too bad the Cardinal's not as bright as he thinks he is. Following him would have been impossible... you know, if he hadn't left the portal keyed to where he's hiding. Now go, get on through, little ponies! And draggy!”

Terra growled at her, and Hel held up her hands as if in apology before she leaned to the side and calmly snapped her fingers. And Luna grinned wryly as Antares, Prestige, and Innocence stared when a portal opened and an enormous, armor-plated golem strode out of it, with tree-trunk arms and a massive, heavy body. It growled as it looked back and forth behind its visor, drool dripping from its jaws as several Ironjaw and metallic, grinning demons strode out after Hel's beloved Theodore Bear, the goddess saying casually: “You wanted a little bit of help, right?”

“And I'll be coming too, of course!” Theophilius added positively, hopping forwards and waving happily at them, even as he adjusted his collar nervously with his other hand. “I certainly can't have you going down that rabbit hole alone, Alice! Why, you might get tularemia!”

“Thank you, Kvas... that means a lot to me.” Terra said softly, and then she turned a wry grin over the Ironjaw, adding: “Cosgrach, Maon. Been a while since I've seen either of you. Holdin' up well, I do hope.”

“Aye, Lady Terra. Better than you.” replied one of the Ironjaw, and the other sniggered as Terra focused a sour look on both of them. “Still, you carry the right name for Queen of Heaven. An outsider's name.”

“Father just liked me most, 'tis all. Not like you sodding lot, who he was glad to have leave Cairnmór.” Terra retorted, and both the Ironjaw growled at her loudly. Then her eyes flicked towards the Destroyers, nodding to them curtly before she turned around and said mildly: “I'll lead the way in. I am Queen of Heaven. It is my duty.”

Freya turned a moody look on Terra at this, saying calmly: “You should be protected... Lady Terra... by your brothers. The warriors.” She smiled as the two Ironjaw grinned widely at Terra, who scowled darkly up at Freya. “I am Queen of the Valkyries. I'll-”

Luna, Scrivener, and Twilight Sparkle ran for the portal, with Antares grinning widely as he followed quickly after the three, and Terra and Freya both stared for a moment before giving almost identical swears and running sharply after them before the Queen of Heaven smiled despite herself when Theophilius sprang onto her back to ride her with a whoop. Prestige and Pinkamena ran for the portal close behind, and the demons and dragons followed last after a brief pause, Teddy roaring as he lumbered after the four at the rear of the column.

Hel laughed loudly as she watched the group vanish into the portal, and then she reached up and calmly twisted her cow-head rightside up on her puppet before giving a small smile, whispering softly: “Heill, my darlings. And goodbye, my loves, until we meet again... but I'll always be around, and don't you ever forget you can ask for my help when you need it. Especially you, Twilight Sparkle...”

Hel gazed longingly into the portal, knitting her fingers together... and then she took a deep bow before vanishing in a puff of blue smoke. And on the other side of the portal, Twilight could swear that she felt something... a gentle touch, a physical blessing, before she shook her head quickly and focused ahead as Luna shouted over her shoulder: “So thou decided to join us, Freya, Terra, instead of all thy damnable arguing? Good! Look ahead, there are more foes for thou to either bore to death or take sword and claw to, whichever thou prefers!”

“Aye, we get the point, lass!” Terra said flatly, but she had her eyes focused sharply ahead as they ran into a wide square that seemed to be floating in nothingness, with a massive cathedral in its center. But two gargantuan constructs were calmly pulling themselves away from the building, and an army of Paladins and Angelic Knights was waiting for them, all with weapons and shields raised high and standing at the ready.

Luna's eyes sharpened: the constructs reminded her of the Gatekeeper they had brought down. It had taken all their combined strength to tear it apart, as she remembered... but they were much stronger than they had been back then, and they had friends and family fighting alongside them whom Luna would trust with her life.

The sapphire mare grinned over at Scrivener Blooms, then her soulstone horn sparked as she looked back forwards, roaring: “Get out of our way, or fall before us, fools! We shall drive thy master out like the scuttling vermin he is!”

A Paladin leapt towards Luna and slashed down its axe, and she simply flicked her horn upwards, blasting the weapon out of the holy knight's hands before she leapt forwards and went immediately into a vicious corkscrew, ripping through the armored soldier in front of her in a blast of sapphire flame and mist. Then she landed neatly on her hooves and flicked her horn forwards, launching Prúðbikkja out of her mane and straight through the stomach of an Angelic Knight in front of her, before she snarled and yanked her spear cruelly to the side, flinging the angel away as her weapon whirled to a ready position beside her.

Scrivener Blooms skidded to a halt as another Paladin swung at him with a mace, reaching one claw up to catch the end of the flanged weapon with a cold smile, his other Talon shoving into the ground and transforming the floor of the square around him into black mire, before several enormous blades of crystallized corruption tore upwards and ripped through the legs of the Paladin. It stumbled and crumpled, and Scrivener easily yanked the heavy mace backwards out of its grip, catching it by the handle before leaning forwards with a growl and slamming the weapon down across the holy knight's head.

Terra roared furiously as she charged into the fray, spraying blue hellfire across the battlefield, and Freya coldly snapped out her horn, a golden fireball shooting high into the air before exploding and peppering the battlefield with small, aureate bursts of flame that tore straight through whatever they manged to touch. The two moved parallel to each other, raining as much destruction over the battlefield as possible as Theophilius blurted: “Oh dear, Alice, I really hope that this isn't going to end in spilled milk and crumbled cookies!”

“I won't let a single one of these sodding wretches touch you, Kvas!” Terra replied with a growl, a claw lashing out and smashing aside a lance that attempted to thrust into her before she replied with a vicious swipe, hitting the Angelic Knight hard enough to send it crashing backwards into another group of armored warriors, and then she half-turned and roared, tracing another line of blue hellfire through the ranks of angels.

A Paladin began to run in at her side, and Antares smashed into the holy knight's side to knock it stumbling before he zipped in front of it, hooves beating in a rapid tattoo up its chest before he punched it across the face hard enough to send it crashing backwards. And he couldn't help but grin as his black, crystalline wings flapped, muttering: “Horses of Heaven I missed this.”

He dropped, creating a platform of energy beneath him that he used to trampoline himself in almost a straight line across the square, his wings flapping hard to give himself an additional boost before he half-flipped and slammed a vicious double-kick into the chest of another Pious, launching it crashing through several more angelic knights like dominoes as he gracefully twisted his body and landed with a wink beside Prestige. “Come here often?”

Prestige flicked her horn forwards, launching a fireball just past Antares' nose and making him wince back before it collided with the head of an Angelic Knight, knocking it back off its feet. “Concentrate, hero!”

“I am!” Antares half-spun and lashed his horn out as an Angelic Knight stabbed a spear towards him, the stallion deflecting the weapon before he snapped his horn forwards and blasted its feet out from beneath it with telekinesis. It flailed wildly as it fell face-first in front of him, and then then stallion viciously stomped its helmed skull beneath his hooves before he lashed his horn out, slicing off its wing-segments and flinging them through the crowd of armored angels swarming around them with telekinesis, knocking several of them crashing backwards.

Prestige snapped her horn out again, but she gasped in pain as the blast of lightning drained most of her strength, the thunderbolt chaining back and forth between the Pious but leaving her stunned for a moment from fatigue. And then she stared up in disbelief as one of the Gatekeeper constructs slowly stepped forwards, ignoring the Paladins and Angelic Knights as it leaned down and swung a fist towards the ground-

Innocence leapt forwards and lashed her horn upwards, sending a black fireball into the giant's fist that exploded with enough force to knock it off-course, the enormous construct leaning back as it struggled to keep balance before Twilight Sparkle flapped her wings, shooting up into the air... and then earning stares of amazement as her body transformed into shadow, her arms becoming blades of darkness that she stabbed viciously into the stomach of the colossus before tearing upwards, leaving long trenches through the stone chest of the creature.

The other Gatekeeper began to walk forwards, and Scrivener Blooms slammed his Talons down into the ground, a massive blast of mire erupting from the earth, slamming Angels of Greater Heaven backwards and splashing down over the stallion before an earth-shattering roar tore out of the dark pillar. And after only a few moments, a massive Tyrant Wyrm lunged out of the thick spray of black mire, smashing down several Paladins before crushing them as he leapt forwards through the crowd of Pious, knocking them in all directions like bowling pins as he rushed straight towards the colossus.

The giant attempted to stomp on top of him, but Scrivener was fast, perhaps more agile in his Tyrant Wyrm shape than he was as a pony, easily evading the attack, then dodging back out of the way of a punch that smashed only the ground.

His armor gleamed over his body still, looking as natural stretched out over his frame as it had been while he had been less than half the size he was now... except that on the Tyrant Wyrm, it seemed to give him extra ridges and edges, turned his body into more of a living weapon that he used to great advantage by flinging himself forwards against the stone goliath's shin, nearly knocking its leg out from beneath it and making it stumble for balance.

As it swayed, Scrivener Blooms leapt forwards with a growl, slamming his claws into the creature's stone limb and rapidly scaling the colossus. He leapt up to its stomach, then slammed a claw forwards once, twice, thrice, punching a deep hole in its body before kicking off the giant when it tried to grab him with one hand.

Instead, the Tyrant Wyrm landed on one of its wrists, ripping up stone plates as he half-spun himself around to quickly climb its large arm. The colossus shook this firmly, starting to bring the other stone hand up, but then Luna streaked forwards before going into a violent, whirling spin, transforming into a maelstrom of blue fire and black lightning that hammered directly into the hole Scrivener had already punched in the giant's stomach before angling upwards.

The colossus shook wildly back and forth as Scrivener Blooms launched himself rapidly up its arm, before leaping straight up into the enormous construct's face as Luna tore out of the creature's upper back in a hail of stone, reforming into a winged unicorn on the other side with a cold grin to twist quickly around the creature as the Tyrant Wyrm slammed a Talon through its stony features and unleashed a thrum of corruption through its stone skull.

The construct finally managed to reach up and seize the Tyrant Wyrm, yanking him off and throwing him away, but Scrivener Blooms grinned widely as his Tyrant Wyrm body lost all consistency in midair, becoming black ooze that the stallion leapt out of. And Luna shot down, Scrivener neatly landing on the sapphire mare's back before she twisted to the side and smoothly angled to glide down towards the ground.

The construct began to step forwards, and then it grasped at its features as chunks of stone plate began to fall from its head, corruption rapidly spreading through and rotting away the foundations of the goliath's skull. In almost a panic, it suddenly yanked on its stony skull, tearing the rotting head away from its neck to toss hurriedly aside, but veins of corruption were already leaking down into its body, black ooze bubbling out of its neck like blood as the goliath struggled to maintain balance.

Freya was amazed, even as she continued to fight: the strength of her siblings had increased drastically from their time in Helheim. She ducked as her three swords whickered out around her, evading the cut of an axe before Drengr slashed out and bit through the handle, decapitating the weapon as Gæfa neatly hooked the curve of the blade before flicking neatly, and sending the axe head shooting into the chest of a nearby Angelic Knight, crunching in its armor and knocking it flat.

Dómr swung out in a wide circle, crashing across the leg of the Paladin that had been left with just a pole, and then Freya slammed all three short swords down into its chest, crunching it flat as her horn glowed bright with energy, her single eye locked on the stumbling, headless titan. Then she snapped the spire forwards with a snarl even as magical recoil blasted across her features and left long scalds, and a massive meteor shot from the sky, hammering into the colossus' chest and shattering away most of its upper torso in a hail of stone and false flesh and black muck.

It staggered backwards helplessly, one of its massive arms tearing loose from its body to fall with a rumble, smashing down in front of the cathedral and crushing angels beneath it before they could scatter: a moment later, Scrivener Blooms leapt off Luna's back and rose his Talons above his head, and Luna flicked her horn to send a blast of lightning into these, making them glow with energy.

The stallion hit the ground and slammed both Talons viciously into the floor of the square, and a thunderous pulse of electricity ripped through the ground around him, knocking Paladins to their knee s and flinging the smaller Angelic Knights into the air. Then Scrivener Blooms grinned even as he growled in effort, shoving his Talons deeper into the not-earth and transforming it in a ripple into mire all around him, before black spikes tore upwards in all directions, shredding the Paladins unlucky enough to be nearby.

The other colossus swept out a fist at Twilight Sparkle, smashing into the shadow mare as Innocence began to cry out... and then she stared in shock as Twilight transformed into what looked almost like liquid that clung to the creature's limb, only to race forwards and slip into several cracks in the stone armor. And then a moment later, the colossus' limb began to tremble violently before the lower arm simply exploded in a tremendous blast of black energy, Twilight ripping out of this back in winged unicorn shape, but still textured with inky darkness.

Innocence stared for a moment up at her mother, then winced when a Paladin attempted to drive a spear into her... but she was saved as Antares leapt forwards, his shield now on his foreleg. He used it to easily slap the weapon aside, then he flapped his wings hard and launched himself forwards, slamming a hoof through the armor protecting the Paladin's stomach before flicking his horn and blasting it sprawling with telekinesis. “Hey, watch yourself, Sin!”

“You... you watch yourself!” Innocence retorted lamely, and then she glared at Antares as he turned around to grin widely at her... before her eyes widened as the Paladin he had just knocked down leapt back to its feet, wing-like appendages both readying to strike-

The mare reacted on instinct, snapping her horn upwards, and several enormous vines ripped free of the ground behind the Paladin, seizing around its limbs and throat and constricting it. Then the scaled unicorn staggered as recoil blasted over her horn, but more brambles and ivy tore through up from the floor of the wide square, seizing and yanking down angels, snaring legs and even ripping up around one leg of the colossus that Twilight Sparkle was battling, distracting it for a moment.

Antares winced as he turned around, quickly stabbing his horn forwards through the armored breast of the Paladin before he yanked to the side, tearing its chest apart. It crumpled back to the ground, and then a blast of lightning shot past him and struck another Angelic Knight before it arced to a Paladin, but this time transformed into flames that spread rapidly over the vines wrapped around it, cooking the Pious inside its own armor.

Prestige leapt up beside Innocence with a smile and a firm nod, then she snapped her horn to the side, blasting another angel backwards with telekinesis as she shouted: “Hero! Stop dawdling and help your mother deal with that monster!”

“I'm not Avalon, I can't just run headfirst into everything and kill it!” Antares retorted, before he squawked when Pinkamena seemed to appear out of nowhere and jumped on the stallion's back, using him like a step to launch herself into the head of a Paladin.

She drove its skull to the ground beneath her rear hooves, crushing it as her axe whickered down and slashed another Angelic Knight almost in half, the demon growling as she expertly whirled her massive weapon around her and reaped limbs from angels and smashed weapons out of hands. “Stop arguing and do something, morons! Even with the head start I've already got half a dozen kills on all of you!”

Pinkamena slashed the legs out from another Paladin, then hammered her axe down into the creature's front, tearing through its armor and deep enough into its form to lodge it on the blade of the weapon. It spasmed, and the demon grinned as she rose both weapon and holy knight before slamming the axe down again, and again, and again, until the Paladin was torn into two distinct halves.

This actually seemed to make the angels around the demon hesitate, and Pinkamena grinned as she looked up, eyes glowing with bloodlust as she roared: “Come on! I don't got all goddamn day! Are you defending your goddamn god or not?”

Angels swarmed her, and Pinkamena laughed as Antares, Prestige, and Innocence ran forwards to help her... while on the other side of the battlefield, Luna's spear batted angels around like toys and speared through the chests of others, her mane a swirl of black and blue flames that swung like a weapon of its own against any Pious that drew too close. Freya fought beside her sister, short swords whickering back and forth with precision before her eyes flicked up as a Paladin charged at her, a heavy shield raised, clearly meaning to run her down.

She waited until the last moment... and then Tyrfing tore off her back and slashed down with a bang that could be heard across the battlefield as the Paladin's shield was torn in half and it was smashed away like a tin can from the force it was struck with. And there was a pause in the ranks of angels remaining around her, the Pious hurriedly falling back and regrouping as Freya slowly rose Tyrfing, saying clearly: “When this sword is drawn, it means I will no longer show mercy. Any who stand before me now will die.”

“Aye, because before thou wert just playing with them.” Luna said wryly, before she grinned widely when Freya only smiled slightly and shrugged. “Well, I shall leave thee to thy work. I have a meeting with a Cardinal ahead.”

“We'll hold our ground here. Make your sisters proud, Brynhild.” Freya replied calmly, and Luna nodded firmly before leaping into the air and flapping her wings hard, shooting across the battlefield towards the doors.

Both colossi turned towards her, but the closest was the badly-ruptured, slowly-rotting giant that all the same dredged up the strength to stagger forwards and swing a fist out. But instead of hitting Luna, it smashed into a red barrier that formed suddenly in front of it, the stone fist bouncing uselessly off the strange, web-like shield.

Theophilius Carter leapt off of Terra's back, a hand raised and long lines of red extending from beneath one sleeve as he shouted: “Dirty pool, sir, dirty pool! Proper etiquette to issue a duel is a slap, not a fist, like...”

He half-turned, standing up one leg, raising a gloved hand high as the red barrier transformed into a massive red glove, the colossus slowly regaining its balance and weakly raising an arm in defense at the sight of this. “So!”

Theophilius slapped his hand through the air, and the enormous crimson hand swung through the air and smashed through the body of the golem, shattering its stone torso completely in a hail of rock and splatter of black mire. The Mad Hatter winced at this as the red glove rose one finger and waggled it at the collapsing Gatekeeper even as the god of chaos said awkwardly: “Well, perhaps I went a little bit overboard there. My apologies.”

Luna Brynhild shot down in front of the double doors leading into the cathedral, stabbing Prúðbikkja forwards into the heavy wood, but it barely sank into the gates as the sapphire mare grunted. Then she spun around, tearing Prúðbikkja free from the heavy doors as she pulled Sting Mk. IV off her back and flicked the lever on, the runes over the barrel glowing brightly as she said clearly: “Scrivener Blooms! I require a battering ram!”

Scrivener grunted as he let a Paladin drive him backwards instead of moving towards the doors, and then he smiled slightly as there was a loud roar from behind him. And then the stallion simply sidestepped, and the Paladin looked slowly up before one of Theodore's huge, flat fists crashed into the holy knight's face, sending it flying bonelessly through the air like a cannonball, clearing a narrow path through the crowd for him. “Horses of Heaven it's nice to have you on our side.”

Theodore only roared again as he lumbered forwards, as the Ironjaw and the Destroyers joined the fray, as if they had been waiting for the army to be weakened... or maybe, in a strange gesture of respect. Terra seemed to appreciate it anyway, grinning widely as her Ironjaw brothers leapt up to either side of her with fierce roars, the Queen of Heaven shouting: “For Valhalla! For Isenertos!”

The Ironjaw roared again, then leaned forwards, breathing streams of hellfire over the angels closest to them. And Terra checked quickly over her shoulder as her war-brothers protected her, nodding sharply to Theophilius as he followed behind them, randomly lashing out with his powers and flinging everything from pots of tea to bursts of chaos energy that sent Pious staggering away, clutching their heads in what looked like panic.

As Scrivener Blooms ran towards the heavy doors, the other colossus stepped towards him, turning its back on Twilight Sparkle... and the mare of shadows calmly flapped her wings to launch herself backwards, tilting her body just slightly as a blue light shone out of her shadowy breast. She framed this with her hooves, and there was a tremendous ripple of energy before a concentrated laser of sapphire energy tore from her soulstone heart, ripping through the narrow waist of the construct just above its hip.

The colossus lost balance, staggering to the side before Twilight Sparkle shot down, then streaked into the gaping wound she had torn in the beast, smashing straight through its lower spine. The colossus arched its back, limbs flailing weakly at the air before the little stone and pseudo-flesh that held upper body to legs tore loudly, lower limbs crumbling away as the torso flopped to the ground with a tremendous bang.

And Twilight Sparkle simply shot onwards before shedding her shadows to land beside Luna, who was calmly taking potshots with her gun into the crowd of Pious, magically-accelerated bullets tearing through armor like paper. Then the sapphire mare smiled slightly, glancing over at Twilight before saying wryly: “There he is. Took long enough.”

Scrivener slapped an Angelic Knight aside as he ran out of the crowd, charging straight for the doors, and Luna and Twilight Sparkle both flicked their horns, shields of sapphire flames and black fire wrapping around the stallion. He gritted his teeth, then suddenly leapt upwards and curled himself into a ball, and both Luna and Twilight snapped their horns firmly, violently accelerating him with a double telekinetic yank and smashing him into the doors.

The heavy wood was shattered into splinters, and the stallion landed on his claws and skidded forwards down a wide nave, Luna and Twilight both leaping in after the stallion as the sapphire mare rose Prúðbikkja at her side and Twilight summoned her enormous onyx bell.

The three stood at the ready as Pious looked up from the pews that lined this worship hall, but none of them moved to attack them: instead, they recoiled, as if in disgust and fear. Luna growled as she aimed Sting Mk. IV slowly through the room, before pointing the large gun towards the creature standing on the raised stage at the head of the hall.

Luna was tempted to pull the trigger, but first, they had to be sure this was their enemy, not another trick. Not another manipulation, as she called clearly: “And would thou be the Cardinal, the false god of the Light?”

“If you must insist on calling me that, yes, I am.” the Cardinal replied with distaste... and that made Luna's eyes narrow as she and her family slowly approached, the mare keeping her gun raised high as Twilight Sparkle's bell rumbled ominously and Scrivener's Talons flexed slightly, his eyes narrowed. Thanks to the acoustics of the hall, they could barely hear the battle raging just outside: instead, it was the Cardinal's voice that rang through their ears, as he said calmly: “And it's very interesting that you seem to know who I am... as interesting as the fact that I am well aware He Of Many Countless Faces destroyed you both, but you seem to have returned. Your feat has piqued... Lord God's interest.”

He smiled at them, as if he was telling a sly joke, and Luna gritted her teeth as she realized he wasn't just mocking them... he was mocking his own congregation. And in her mind, pieces clicked together, and she shouted: “So that is thy trick, puppetmaster! Thy god is dead, but thou continues to speak as his voice all the same... that is how thou controls the Light!”

“Your claims are ridiculous.” the Cardinal lied comfortably: it was clearly a lie, but he did it so naturally, so smoothly, that for a moment the three almost believed He Of Many Countless Faces was still alive. “That is why I stand before you, unafraid: I believe in my god's power. I believe in my god's might. And I believe that if I were to die... many, many others would die as well. As retribution.”

The three ponies halted near the top of the nave, as the Cardinal glanced over the crowd of Pious before he said calmly and clearly, his voice reverberating through the halls not just with clear, spoken precision, but psychic power: “Hear me, servants of the Light! Lord God has decreed that we are one.... that as I am Voice of God, to kill me is to try and kill He Of Many Countless Faces himself! If I die... then all of you will fight, fight until your lives are given in service to He Of Many Countless Faces, you will punish these blasphemers and nonbelievers with the full and glorious wrath of the God of Light! And if you do this, he will reward you by returning each and every one of you to Greater Heaven, to be reborn in transcendence!”

Luna snarled at this, her gun shivering in the air before the Cardinal said softly: “And as a special note for you three... I have already spread this message far and wide. I merely felt it was worthwhile to repeat it: we wouldn't want any accidents while we have a... civilized discussion on our differing values, now would we?”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Luna slowly holstered Sting Mk. IV, and the Cardinal gave a pleasant smile at this. “Good. You may be a disgusting animal, but you seem to have a grasp of basic logic and reason. This is good. We can skip the banter and proceed directly to negotiations, which I will begin with this generous offer: surrender now, and be Baptized. You and your friends have resisted me for a long time, proven extremely detrimental to the empire I have been trying to build... an empire where there will be no war, no hunger, no suffering, only happiness. But you can all become my greatest assets, instead, and together... we can build that world. That unified Empire of Light...”

“Where there's also no freedom, and everything conforms to the same thing. Where there's no individuality... only you, and what you want.” Scrivener Blooms said quietly, and he shook his head slowly. “And what about the people who can't handle the Light, or won't join you?”

“You only care about them because you have yet to join the Light. Once you do, you'll be happy. It's as simple as that.” the Cardinal replied calmly, gesturing towards them with one hand before he said softly: “These arguments are only academic theory. That's very different from reality: when your reality becomes happiness and servitude to the Light, you won't be discussing these trivial philosophies any longer.”

“We will not be erased.” Luna said coldly, looking up before she bowed her head forwards, gritting her teeth, and the Cardinal gave a quiet laugh.

He slowly stepped around the altar, leaning against it as he gestured down at the pool between them: it glimmered faintly with holy energy, as the Cardinal said softly: “Your denials amuse me, but even you must recognize that ultimately, your surrender is inevitable and this continued resistance is a childish inconvenience at most. What will you do? Kill me, and the Light will spread out of Heaven and slaughter your entire world. You cling to freedom and the idea of free will because it gives you false hope, and the belief that you matter. Well, you do not matter: you are not visionaries, or gods, or anything but beasts that have learned to talk and developed some crude social norms.”

Luna lowered her head, and then Twilight looked up and asked quietly: “And what about you? Why don't you serve the Light? Why do you think you're above all of us?”

“Because I am superior. I have mastered the Great Webwork, and I have served Lord God as his second for many countless years, organized and overseen the overthrow of many other worlds. You are not unique in your resistance to me, but you will fall, as all others fell. I am in control, and the Light will be victorious. I am merely trying to appeal to your better nature by offering you the 'choice' you so desire...” He smiled coldly. “Even though there is no real choice at all.”

The ponies looked up at him silently, then looked at each other, trading thoughts and emotions before Twilight leaned forwards a little, giving a small nod to them. Scrivener and Luna both frowned at her... but then the stallion's eyes widened slightly, and Luna gave a thin, grim smile, hoping that Twilight Sparkle was right... and wondering uneasily if Hel had planned this, too, all along.

Slowly, she looked up and said quietly: “We desire to know what our position is to be, then, in this Great Webwork. We desire to be named and accepted as nobles, as we are now.”

The Cardinal chuckled at this, saying charmingly: “And so it shall be. Very well, you are hereby ordained as nobles of my Royal Court, to have... whatever titles you desire. I will even be so generous as to allow you to choose your own estate.”

“Thou art generous. Then, as nobles, we surrender to thee.” Luna said calmly, bowing her head, and there was a whisper through the crowd of Pious around them before the sapphire mare took a slow breath and looked up. “We are ready to be Baptized.”

The Cardinal smiled at this, then he rose a hand and said clearly to the crowd of Pious: “And look upon Lord God's might, the Light's glory so great that even the nonbelievers must acknowledge it, and seek to join with us! Now, my flock... it is time for us to help them be born anew, into our fold!”

Pious all rose up, striding forwards, almost eagerly swarming around the three but grasping them and guiding them forwards gently to the edge of the pool. The ponies didn't resist: in fact, Luna allowed Prúðbikkja to be taken away, and Twilight her bell to vanish.

The Cardinal calmly sauntered his way down from the stage to stride to the edge of the pool, and he smiled and placed his hands together before looking towards the Pious, saying calmly: “Go ahead. Baptize them, in this holiest of waters, where they will see the Light's full glory.”

The Pious began to step forwards, grasping into the ponies, beginning to push their heads forwards... but Luna said sharply: “Wait! We are noble!”

There was silence for a moment, and then the Pious... relaxed. And the Cardinal scowled at this, saying contemptibly: “And your nobility does not earn you any favors. You will be Baptized, like all the others who join our flock.”

“And we shan't resist.” Luna said calmly, looking up, and the Cardinal tilted his head before the sapphire mare said softly: “Thou must Baptize us, thyself. And thou must cleanse thyself for the process, must thou not?”

The Cardinal scowled darker at this, then he shook his head in distaste, saying disgustedly: “You are in no position to make demands, especially upon me. I am-”

“We are nobles. All nobles must be Baptized by the highest officer of the Light present... is that not so?” Luna asked almost pleasantly, and the Cardinal looked down at her in disbelief, shaking his head weakly before she continued in a voice that her false friendliness only made even colder: “And before passing upon the blessings of the Light... must this officer of the Light not be cleansed before he does this task?”

The Cardinal stared, and then he shook his head slowly and leaned back even as the Pious all turned their gazes towards him, before he snarled: “You do not know of what you speak! I was ordained by Lord God himself, and serve as his Voice! I will make the rules here!”

“But it does not give thee permission to defy the orders of He Of Many Countless Faces, does it?” Luna countered evenly, and the Pious slowly began to turn as the Cardinal shook his head slowly, staring at the ponies. “'He of highest rank present shall bless those who desire to serve Lord God, if they be noble; for it shall grant great honor to them both.'”

“You... you... I will not soil myself with you!” shouted the Cardinal, and then he pointed at the pool, snapping at the Pious. “Baptize them! It is Lord God's command!”

“Art thou unwashed, unblessed? Fear not, Cardinal... we are humble, ready to be blessed willingly by thee. And does it not say that all the congregation may participate in the cleansing of the priest, so they may all pass their blessings upon the new children of God?” Luna smiled, and it was a cruel, icy smile as the Pious began to slowly step away from the ponies, as the Cardinal staggered backwards, his eyes widening with fear.

He shook his head weakly, then stared in shock as a Pious grabbed his arm. He tried to jerk away, but another Pious seized him, and he shouted furiously: “R-Release me! I am... do you not remember who I am? I am Metatron! I am Regent! I am... I am the Cardinal!”

But the Pious didn't relent: instead, they grabbed at him, their psychic voices whispering prayers and blessing and reassurances as they dragged him forwards, and the three ponies calmly stepped out of the way so they could drag the Cardinal in front of the consecrated pool, hands pressing over his head, pushing him slowly down as he tried to resist, screaming and shouting until his head was forcefully shoved into the holy waters.

And there was a ripple through all of Heaven, from the moment the Cardinal's Baptism began: the forces of the Light, from outside the Cathedral to the furthest reaches of the Vale of Valhalla, ceased to fight. They dropped their weapons, and turned to face the Castle of Valhalla, and the Cathedral hidden within, and the Cardinal that had been the center of the Great Webwork of Light.

His body went limp, his hands spasmed as the grasped the edge of the tub... and then, slowly, the hands of the Pious pulled away, the angels all stepping back before the cleansed priest rose his head... and smiled as he scooped up water from the pool and poured it over his own features. He stared, blissfully unaware of anything else but the Light, and the messages of He Of Many Countless Faces as he spread his arms slowly and tears rolled down his face, mixing with the water masking his features as he stared up at the symbol of the God of Light above. “I... I see! Oh, I see!”

He breathed hard in and out, and the three ponies smiled faintly before the priest slowly turned around, smiling warmly, saying softly: “It is a miracle. I understand! Oh, glory be! Praise the Light, and praise the wisdom and love of He Of Many Countless Faces, for... for God is Love!”

“Yes. God is love.” Scrivener Blooms said softly, looking back and forth between Luna Brynhild and Twilight Sparkle, and then the three ponies looked up as the priest put his hands behind his back and gazed down at them with all the fervor and radiance of the Light. The true Light, that had been manipulated and twisted by this same creature... now only another victim of his own designs and desires, and yet... perhaps better for it, in a strange and twisted way.

“Now, my children... you wish to join our flock, yes?” the priest asked calmly, and Pious stepped forwards around the ponies again, but their grip was gentle as the priest smiled over the three; there was no sense of being forced, no weight, no burden: it was an honest question. “Are you ready to know the full glory of He Of Many Countless Faces, Be They So Beautiful And Divine?”

“Before you bless us, I... I was wondering if you could quote a piece of scripture for us. I think it's from the Psalms...” Twilight said hesitantly, but the priest looked at her with kindness, his former personality completely erased and replaced by true devotion. Ironically, by what the Light had been before the Cardinal had twisted it to his own ends... “It's regarding... nonbelievers...”

“'And as to those who do not believe in the glory of the Light, do not raise weapon against them; let them go in peace, to find their own path. For God is Light, and loves all, regardless: and if they practice good, then they follow the path of Light even lacking their zeal in our True God.'” quoted the priest of the Light immediately, and the three ponies smiled faintly.

Then Scrivener Blooms said softly, glancing up: “Then I'm sorry, Cardinal. I don't think we walk the same path... and even if we somehow did, I don't think we see Lord God the same way you do. It's not that we don't believe in something... it's that... we believe in something else.”

The priest nodded, then he stepped forwards and reached up to squeeze Scrivener's shoulder gently, saying softly: “Well, God's grace is boundless, and his forgiveness is infinite. One day, our paths may converge again; should that day come, know that you will always be welcome here, with He Of Many Countless Faces.”

The three ponies nodded calmly, and the Pious all bowed their heads respectfully before Luna gently took back her spear. There was silence for a few moments before the sapphire mare glanced over her shoulder, and saw Freya standing in the doorway, smiling, with their family and friends gathered around behind them... and the sapphire mare chuckled quietly before she turned her eyes forwards, saying softly: “We do not wish to make demands, Cardinal... but we believe a mistake has been made. One that we wish to rectify without further loss of life...”

“I understand. Yes, I understand well...” The priest of the Light was smiling, though, and then he bowed his head and said softly: “We shall return to Greater Heaven. It is where we belong, and Greater Heaven must be informed that Lord God has left us.”

Twilight Sparkle shifted awkwardly at this, and Scrivener and Luna both looked up lamely, but the priest only smiled again at their expression, saying softly: “Fear not. He Of Many Countless Faces shall return to us, when the time is right. I understand why he left now: it was because we betrayed him. We must earn back his trust and love... and then he will return. He will return, when I have made up for all the wrong I have encouraged and help do, in my hubris, my arrogance... my refusal to embrace the Light.”

The ponies looked up, at such unshakable faith... and then, not knowing what else to do, they simply nodded. The priest nodded back, and then he spread his arms and said softly: “I have a vision, of an Empire of Light, unified as one: that all shall feel the warmth and love of the Light, and know that they are safe, no matter what their beliefs, or who they are. When we achieve this, and through love, not force... then Lord God will return to us. For now I see his beliefs fully in my mind... and so, in accordance with what he would have desired, we shall leave in peace. Those who desire to come with us shall be free to. Those who do not... shall not. Those who desire to be cleansed by the Light shall be Baptized. Those who do not... shall still be treated as our equal; perhaps even as our betters, for showing such strength to love our Lord God even without his greatest blessing.”

Luna Brynhild smiled warmly at this, and then she nodded firmly before saying softly: “I am glad to hear it. I am sure Heaven shall assist thee with leaving, Cardinal... and with making peace between the Light and our own. But if thou will excuse us, my friends are eager to know what is going on, and will desire to hear that... all is well.”

“And I must speak to the Light. We will speak again, friend.” The priest of the Light bowed low, and the three ponies bowed back before turning and striding towards the exit, giddy, barely able to believe that everything had fallen so well into place...

And then their attention was drawn past Freya and their smiling family to something in the battlefield outside. Luna frowned at this, and her family and friends shifted uncertainly before parting for them, opening a corridor... and the three ponies strode out towards Hel and La Croix. The dark goddess was grinning widely, sitting comfortably back on Hex as the living motorcycle grumbled away beneath her, while La Croix calmly rose his hooves and started to clap, saying wryly: “I gotta say. You pulled it off in a damn nice way.”

Luna narrowed her eyes, and Scrivener Blooms grimaced as Twilight looked up at Hel with silent curiosity, and the icy puppet sniffed loudly before she straightened and snapped her fingers, a portal ripping open in reality. “Okay kids. Back to the place named after me! Teddy Bear, hup-hup!”

Theodore rumbled, and the Destroyers and Ironjaw bowed quickly to Terra and Freya before turning and following, the five vanishing into the rift. And then there was silence for a few moments before Hel cleared her throat loudly and gestured pointedly at the portal as La Croix frowned a little.

“No.” Luna said defiantly, looking up and baring her fangs. “We will not return to Helheim. And thou cannot make us.”

La Croix looked flabbergasted as Hel slowly lowered her hand, the rift vanishing and the ice puppet looking displeased, before the zebra snapped: “Look, I told you this would happen! Stupid ouaouarons, you let 'em out of the pot and they hop all over the place! Nanny Hel, I don't mean to be bossy or nothing, but now you gotta lay down the law here, don't let them-”

“Oh shut up, La Croix.” Hel said irritably, and then she snapped her fingers, a muzzle of ice appearing over his mouth and silencing him with a squeak before she turned her eyes back towards the ponies. “Let's try this again. We made a deal, and you three are going to come back to Helheim.”

“One day, Hel, we will... I promise.” Twilight Sparkle said softly, and then the Lich looked slowly up and said in a voice that trembled only a little: “But it's not going to be today.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then La Croix tore off the muzzle of ice and shouted: “Traitors! You... Hel, Hel, you got the power, right, Nanny? Explode 'em all the way back to the frozen little bayou y'all call home!”

Hel sighed... then suddenly smiled and put her hands behind her back, swaying back and forth as she said conversationally: “I can't.”

La Croix stared up at her with disbelief, and Hel shrugged amiably, saying pleasantly: “See, we're in a pocket dimension right now. It's kind of like having a limited internet connection. I can only send so much energy through my puppet at a time and... well, outside of Helheim, I can't order demons to do anything, anyway. See, I can't lie to you, La Croix, I can't lie to anyone. But I don't have to tell the whole truth, either. I know, I know, I'm a bitch.

“You and your bosses, I really needed your help, and I really love and appreciate all you've done.” Hel said positively, and then she slowly leaned down and smiled at the zebra, reaching up and flicking off his top hat. “But now it's time for you to go away. Because, you know. These three big nasty psychopaths are currently out of my control, and I just sent my bodyguards back to Helheim. Silly me!”

Hel posed with her fingers over her mouth, batting her eyelashes, and La Croix gaped at her for a few moments before Luna grinned and stepped forwards with a growl. And the zebra immediately picked up his hat and bolted for the portal leading out, shouting furiously over his shoulder: “We ain't gonna forget this, Hel! We ain't gonna forget none of this, salope!”

“Yes, that really hurts my feelings while you're running away like a weenie! Don't forget, my demons are way bigger and scarier than your stupid little zombies!” Hel shouted back as she waved a fist after him, and then the dark goddess sighed as he vanished through the portal, before she slowly spun on her heel back towards the ponies, smiling at them and saying quietly: “This is all I can do for you, my darlings. Life and death has rules, and oh, we have to honor our deals... but we can make a game of it, at least.

“My hunters are going to come after you. Demons are going to want to sell you out or capture you for a nice big reward. Helheim is going to chase you, my darlings...” Hel reached down and tenderly stroked along Hex, saying softly: “But even my best hunters aren't very good at chasing lost souls that flit between worlds. You know, just throwing that out there.”

“Hel...” Luna halted, and then she smiled faintly, shaking her head slowly and asking quietly: “All along... was this thy plan, all along?”

“I'll never tell.” Hel winked, and then she grinned suddenly as the others strode forwards, flexing her hands slowly and saying mildly: “How about one last duel, for old times' sake, Valkyrie? Let's see who's faster, me or you. I gotta at least make some token gesture to capture you, after all.”

Luna calmly shoved Prúðbikkja into the ground beside her, and the two readied themselves: Luna's hoof rose slowly up to shoulder level as her horn glowed, and Hel's fingers clenched and unclenched, their eyes locking... before Hel suddenly shoved a hand forwards, electricity crackling-

A bullet smashed through Hel's ice puppet, shattering it into diamond dust as Luna stood calmly with the gun fully extended, her head proudly raised as she said calmly: “'Tis I, of course.”

She spun the gun once, then flicked the lever on the side to power down the runes before tucking it back in her holster as she slowly turned around. Scrivener and Twilight turned as well, and Freya smiled faintly and shook her head slowly, whispering: “All this. Just to lose you again.”

“Nay, Freya. Not at all...” Luna laughed and smiled warmly, looking back and forth over her family and friends. “We will visit, now and again, when we are able. We will be pursued, certainly, and it may be some time before we are able to come back to thee... but we always shall. And when the game is over... we will let thee know what has happened, one way or another.”

“And somehow, I think that even after we get caught... we might still see each other. You know, Helheim isn't completely secure, after all.” Scrivener Blooms added softly, smiling a little before he held up a Talon, and Innocence trembled before leaping forwards and into her father's embrace, the stallion hugging her tightly close and kissing her forehead before he murmured: “You be good.”

Innocence trembled against him, and Antares laughed a little, trading looks with Prestige before he said softly: “You three just can't sit still, can you? Always gotta be running around, starting fights, causing all kinds of trouble... when the hell am I finally going to get to come along on one of your stupid adventures too?”

“When thou finally asks Prestige to marry thee. Then I shall know thou hast the testicular fortitude to survive more than a week without thy cushiony bed and other comforts.” Luna replied mildly, and Antares growled at her before the two leapt forwards, punching their hooves together... and then slipping forwards into a fierce embrace.

Innocence trembled as she pulled away from Scrivener, only to leap over to hug Twilight, who pulled her close and soothed her gently as Pinkamena and the charcoal stallion looked at each other. Then they punched their hooves lightly together before she said quietly: “If you see Sleipnir anywhere, tell that jackass I'm going to make him sleep on the couch for the next year or so for all the crap he's put me and our kid through.”

“Got it.” Scrivener said softly, and then he smiled a little as Prestige stepped forwards and traded her own quick hug with him. “Take care of my son. He's like me: needs a good mare to help keep him from being too stupid about things.”

“I will.” Prestige promised, and then she smiled a little as she stepped back, Antares huffing loudly at his father.

More hugs were traded, but almost everything that needed to be said had been, and there was more in the embraces they traded than the murmurs that reached each other's ears. Theophilius and Terra sat back, the god of chaos dabbing at his eyes with a hankie as Terra sighed softly, then said quietly: “How I wish I could offer you sanctuary... but I cannot risk a war with Helheim, especially while Heaven... begins to recover. But you deserve this. You deserve Valhalla, after all the years of service you've given to us. You deserve better than Hell.”

“No... we deserve worse.” Luna said softly, as the last of their family pulled away, and Freya frowned at her before the sapphire mare chuckled quietly and shook her head slowly. “Nay, fear not. 'Tis nothing bad... 'tis just... balance. We have learned much of balance in Helheim. We have...”

She stopped, then shook her head and smiled slightly. “Another time, perhaps. For now... we do not doubt that we are already overstaying our welcome here.” She stopped, hesitated, then added softly: “And besides. We must first find Scarlet Sage... was she teleported here with the others?”

All eyes turned to Theophilius, who shrugged a bit before he said kindly: “Only the partygoers were brought. If there were other guests, than I fear they must have gotten stuck at the door. They were late, late, for a very important date, so they must still be where they were. But perhaps that's for the best, since it was all very hectic here.”

“Well, 'tis fine. We will stop by Looking Glass World, anyway, after we ride through Heaven and say our goodbyes to those others we can find.” Luna said easily, and then she cocked her head curiously as Innocence suddenly stepped forwards, scrabbling quickly at her armor.

“Wait, wait, just...” The mare grumbled as she managed to fling one of her metal gauntlets off, and then the scaled unicorn shook her foreleg hurriedly before finally managing to pull something loose from her limb... and she blushed deeply before thrusting this out towards Twilight Sparkle, the Lich's eyes widening as she recognized it. “I... I already have something to remember you by. And... and I gave this to you, anyway.”

Twilight Sparkle silently took the bracelet, gazing down at it warmly and trembling a little before she looked over at Scrivener and Luna, and when they both nodded and smiled, she slipped it quickly on and whispered: “Thank you, Innocence... you... I'm proud of you. I want you to know that. And to know how much I love you.”

“I love you too, Mom... and you too, Dad and Móðer. I'm...” She halted, then laughed a little, looking up with warm eyes as Antares stepped up on one side of her, and Freya gazed down at her with a small smile from her other side. “I know what's important in life now. And I'm going to do my best to live up to that, no matter what.”

The three nodded, and then Luna grinned as Hex rumbled behind them, rolling up to them before the sapphire mare easily spun around and jackknifed onto the bike. Scrivener sighed, then he grumbled and walked around to climb on the back of the living motorcycle as Twilight Sparkle slipped into the sidecar.

Then Luna Brynhild looked up at them warmly, confident eyes glowing with pride as she teased: “Why so glum, my family? We shall meet again, all of us! But until then... there are other worlds to see, adventures to be had, ponies to be saved and pummeled... so we must not keep them waiting! Farewell!”

And with that, Hex roared, and Luna drove the motorcycle around in a circle before shooting towards the portal in the distance, ramming through it and vanishing in a flash of light, leaving her family and friends standing together and sending all their love and luck to the ponies as they fled into exile... a place, Freya couldn't help but think with a smile, where it seemed like Brynhild had always found the most happiness, against all odds.

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