• Published 7th Sep 2013
  • 2,793 Views, 391 Comments

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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Business Interests

Chapter Thirteen: Business Interests

Subterra was a pleasant escape, and Scrivener and Luna were both trying to put their problems out of mind as they lay side-by-side on the sloped roof of the Thorn Palace. The building itself was a strange design: a massive, U-shaped fortress that surrounded a step pyramid topped with a reflecting tool and a towering statue of Nightmare Moon, with bridges leading back and forth between various levels of the pyramid and the fortified, immense manse behind it.

Scrivener and Luna were on the high roof that overlooked the flat top of the pyramid, directly beneath one of the larger, more-recently installed crystal lamps that had been enhanced by corruption. The stallion couldn't help but look up at this meditatively behind the sunglasses he was wearing, reflecting that they were using this poison for more and more... he just hoped they really were turning this toxin to the use of good, and this wasn't some... subliminal subconscious evil desire.

“It likely is. But all the same, 'tis fine and well.” Luna said mildly, her prosthetic horn pulsing in time with the massive gemstone above, hooves behind her head as she rested back on a large pillow, and Scrivener shrugged absently as the sapphire mare peered at him overtop her own black shades. “Well. Now that is quite the relaxed response from thou. Normally by now thou art whining.”

Scrivener grunted, closing his eyes and replying after a moment: “I'm just. Trying not to admit you might not have had a stupid idea here, that's all. Now I know why the demons always try and do their whole... gemstone-bathing thing. That feels really nice.”

“Aye, but the shingles are all scritchy. We should have a platform built up here, Scrivener Blooms.” Luna paused, then she smiled slightly and rolled slowly across the roof until she and Scrivener were pressing together side-by-side, and she settled her head comfortably into the crook of his neck as she slid a foreleg around him and let the other tickle down his chest gently. “Or perhaps 'tis better because anypony can see...”

“Stop. Stop that.” Scrivener slapped at her lightly, and Luna huffed before nestling herself closer, and the stallion shook his head with a slight smile as he closed his eyes. “Anyway, we're both... we gotta leave soon. It's almost mid-morning and I have all those appointments in Canterlot today.”

Luna grumbled at this, then she complained: “And why does Twilight Sparkle get to stay with our daughter, and I have to come with thee?”

“Because, uh. Twilight doesn't die when she's more than forty feet away from us.” Scrivener said mildly, and Luna huffed loudly at this. “Hey, it's not my fault. It's yours. You're the one who bound our souls together all those years ago.”

“Well, yes, I did, but 'tis thy fault because thou stabbed mine own damned horn through thy own damned heart.” Luna prodded him firmly several times, glowering at him. “As if I would not have eventually simply beaten Ignominious out of thee. The demon was no match for me, Scrivy.”

Scrivener only smiled despite himself, then he leaned over and kissed her temple gently in reply, and Luna looked a little pacified before she said thoughtfully: “Technically, I suppose 'tis our bodies that must be always close. Therefore, I decree that Twilight Sparkle and I should switch bodies, and that way I can be free to work with our daughter and she can go with thee to deal with thy damned bookery, as she likes to do anyway.”

“No one likes to deal with Underbrush, he's scary. And old now, so I'd feel worse about punching him again.” Scrivener paused meditatively. “I can't believe you actually kept his teeth. They're still sitting in your stupid jar at home, with all your other creepy artifacts, you know.”

Luna huffed at this, complaining: “They are important, Scrivy! For one, they are the first time thou ever really dredged up the courage to pummel a pony who well-deserved pummeling... outside of combat, I mean. Thou art a... a strawberry cream puff when thou art out of the fight. 'Tis frustrating how thou whimpers and cowers away so much.”

“It's because you like to beat up everyone, Luna. I always figure that if I don't let you defend my honor, then you'll just beat me instead of them for taking away the fun of hitting things.” Scrivener replied, and Luna looked thoughtful at this explanation before the stallion added: “And I've hit a lot of things since then, by the way. Also, I'm already rude enough as it is. I like to think that my words hurt people in ways my hooves can't.”

“Great pompous writer. I shall hurt thee with words. I shall bludgeon thee with them.” Luna grumbled, mashing her face against the side of his neck, and the stallion shifted with a smile despite himself before the sapphire mare shook herself quickly out and looked up at Scrivener with determination. “While we are here, we shall have a day of freedom, agreed? A day where we shan't restrain ourselves in the slightest.”

“You never restrain yourself. I mean...” Scrivener halted and softened, looking at her, and Luna huffed and blushed slightly as she looked away with a grumble.

“I do not mean that, of course, I mean only... the other pleasures. Things we may find with ease and security in this place so dedicated and peaceful but... not in other places.” the sapphire mare said finally, and then she glanced up and grumbled a little as she wiggled herself half on top of Scrivener, mumbling: “And now I hear Twilight Sparkle's worries in my mind. Tell her that we are fine.”

The charcoal stallion smiled despite himself, reaching up and stroking his hoof gently along Luna's face before it quietly clicked apart into a claw as he slid it into her mane, and she closed her eyes with a soft sigh as her ephemeral, sparkling locks tickled silently around his digits. There was quiet for a few moments, and then the mare's eyes opened as they gazed at one-another tenderly, the sapphire winged unicorn finally saying quietly: “Damn us both, Scrivy. But thy evils shan't distract me from what I desire. For not just us, either, but Twilight as well... she must learn to relax, and spend at least a few hours away from Sin. For her own sake: she is doing well but I fear that all the same, Innocence... well, is becoming grouchy.”

“I don't know, Luna. It's... they're doing really well together in this kind of place. There's less stress, less judging, Innocence doesn't feel that she has to... you know, hide as much. In any way, shape or form.” Scrivener shrugged a bit, smiling a little at Luna. “I think you just want to hog Twilight to yourself.”

Luna shrugged back agreeably, and then she bumped their muzzles together and smiled when the stallion drew his claw away and closed it tightly back into a solid hoof. “Well, then... let us try and make a promise to each other, Scrivener Blooms. We shall try and do what is good for us, without interfering too much with all the rest of our family. For at times we can both be very controlling.”

“Yeah, that's me. Controlling.” Scrivener said finally, and then he winced when the starry-maned mare punched him lightly in the chest before she sat up and poked at him a few times, making him flail and huff. “You know, we we were so close to just having a nice, quiet day together...”

“And that is boring. Come now, up on thy hooves: besides, thou must get ready for thy silly meeting, must thou not?” Luna poked him again, and the stallion grunted before he sat up and nodded grudgingly. “Precisely. Besides, I desire to make mischief in Canterlot. In many ways 'tis still a place rife with Celestianess, after all.”

“Celestia isn't even rife with Celestianess anymore.” Scrivener said pointedly, and then he winced when Luna grabbed him and hauled him forwards, sending him stumbling towards the edge of the roof before he cursed as he tripped and fell off, flailing violently as he fell towards the surface of the concrete bridge below.

Luna cheerily jumped off the roof after the stallion, childishly cannonballing through the air as there was a loud thump below. After a second of freefall, her rump collided with something soft instead of hard concrete, and she nodded firmly once as she looked at the mass of Nightmares that had popped into existence over the bridge, Scrivener blinking dumbly from where he sat amongst the herd of dark entities before Luna said cheerfully: “Thou hast our thanks. I may soon come to officially like thee if all thee keep up this wonderful there-ness.”

“It is... a little difficult at times, Mistress, but we do live to serve. Please try and give us some warning next time, though.” said one of the Greater Nightmares mixed in with the group of smaller smoky equines, and Luna shrugged amiably before she waved a hoof at them, and Scrivener winced as he landed on his rump as the mass of creatures vanished.

“Do you remember when a few Nightmares almost killed us? Well, we're going to get attacked by them again at this rate if you keep this up.” Scrivener said mildly, and then he shook his head and grumbled, as he rubbed slowly at his flank: “And we might even deserve it. They're not... I don't even know what the word is for what we were just using them as. Safety mats?”

“All I know is that they do not complain when we land on them, buttocks-first.” Luna paused to giggle, then she cleared her throat when Scrivener gave her a flat look. “Well, 'tis true. Besides, 'twas a long time ago, and we were not smart, nor strong, not well-prepared in those days.”

Scrivener grunted, then he stood up and shook his head as Luna strode quickly up beside him, smiling over at him as she added: “And besides. They could not use the same trick upon me they did before. The darkness in me is no longer bottled away, after all.”

The stallion looked thoughtful at this, then he shrugged a little before the two strode calmly over the bridge and onto the wide, square top of the pyramid, both ponies softening a bit as they walked around the massive, grinning statue of Nightmare Moon in her full, terribly glory. Selene has made that statue... and Selene had always spent much of her time resting on the reflecting pool in front of it. Not inside it, but rather standing on the water like it was glass, staring at herself, studying herself. But considering what the Pious looked like...

Scrivener and Luna traded looks, then smiled a bit as they headed to the steps that led down from the pyramid and into the gorgeous and dark undercity, Scrivener quickly pushing his sunglasses onto his forehead before he asked almost impulsively: “Do you remember when we first met her?”

“Aye, in our dreams. We thought it was nothing but a funny, linked dream... and Selene did little to contradict that notion.” The sapphire mare shook her head, murmuring softly: “But she was studying us. Pretending she was Moon Blessed, hiding amongst our fantasies... perhaps she found her way into our mind from the very first time we visited Looking Glass World. For 'twas not long after that we began to imagine the Moon Blessed, was it?”

The charcoal stallion nodded a little, and he and Luna traded smiles, shifting a bit before the sapphire winged unicorn added softly: “And aye, Scrivy. At times I do... think there are candidates who would... enjoy being such, and I would enjoy making such. But I know that perhaps the world would not be comfortable with that and... we have much already, do we not?”

“I wonder if maybe the Draconequus are all watching us because we're going to destroy everything ourselves, Luna.” Scrivener muttered, and the sapphire mare gave him a flat look, but the stallion only looked pointedly back. “Hey, it's possible. We've gotten... with Innocence growing up, and us having more time again and maybe being... bored from the lack of conflict, from being able to just hang around and do more on our own and not getting that reminder about why we act the way we do, fight for what we do, and try to avoid being terrible ponies...”

Luna only huffed loudly at this, then complained: “Oh, so what, we have made Greater Nightmares. We have created a facility where we may permit more dangerous things to be researched... but 'tis for the greater good! After all, think of the poisons we have gained the antidotes to, and the ways we have found to strengthen those frail and weak; we are not good ponies but we are far, far from doing terrible things.”

Luna stopped, then she looked down and smiled a little, adding quietly: “And anyway, Scrivener Blooms, perhaps this is silly but... I believe that as long as we do not give in to our worst weaknesses, we shall always maintain a certain level of... rightness. Aye, Scrivy. We may be monsters, but we are far from losing our honor yet.”

Scrivener nodded after a moment, and they shared a soft look before both ponies gazed ahead as they made their way slowly through Subterra's streets. The citizens of the dark city greeted them and called out to them with warmth and respect, and the two smiled a little at what they had helped establish: a place where demons and undead and things considered terrible evils all worked together in harmony, shared a civilization that was strikingly similar to Canterlot above... except there was also more of a sense of peace here, a sense of right over wrong. And that fascinated Scrivener: yes, the crimes that did occur were also often far nastier in nature than those that happened in Canterlot above, but they were also far, far fewer.

It didn't feel like a long walk through Subterra, but it never did: even with all the time they'd had to get used to all the sights and sounds, the sense of comforting darkness and sanctuary coming from the most unexpected of places, it was always fascinating to them. It still held that same sense of pride and warmth and community for them, and Scrivener thought it always would... at least until everything got screwed up, one way or another, but that might just be his cynicism talking.

Luna gave the stallion an amused look as they entered one of the few public access tunnels that led up to Canterlot: these were still warily-guarded, since not all the ponies in the city above this city were exactly happy to have an enormous metropolis of demons and dark creatures below them, but several of the entrances had become more accessible over the last decade or so, and more ponies were making their way down into Subterra, if only to try and show off to their friends how brave they were. Other ponies came down here to buy goods and services that were illegal in Canterlot; something that had caused quite a bit of consternation throughout the city.

All the same, Canterlot had learned to embrace Subterra: it attracted a lot of interest, and the demons also provided excellent protection and reinforcement. Equestria's military was strong and well-known to the world by now, but no one was pretending the fact these ponies also had demons and other creatures at their disposal wasn't a major reason why even the warlike griffins were trying to remain neutral instead of picking on pony settlements near the border.

Scrivener and Luna both glanced up as they neared the end of the wide, curving tunnel, and the sapphire mare grinned widely at the Royal Guard stationed at the mouth of the tunnel. They both looked a little strained... possibly because there was a large demon sitting complacently upside-down on the roof, its dark blue eyes looking inquisitively back and forth as large, bat-like wings fluttered on its back.

Luna paused beneath the demon, peering up at it, and the demon cocked its head to look back down at her before it suddenly smiled brightly, showing off needle like-teeth. It waved at her, and Luna waved childishly back as Scrivener rolled his eyes in amusement before he turned to keep going, saying mildly to the guards as he passed: “Good luck, guys. Try not to worry too much though, most Hollowjaws feed off carrion.”

Then Luna bounded up beside him, the sapphire mare baring her fangs in a wide grin as her sapphire mane swirled backwards as she caught sight of a trio of foals near the entrance, the children looking up at her before she exclaimed: “Although all we demons do adore devouring little foals!”

The group of children yelled in terror and scrambled away – along with one or two adults who had been lingering – and Luna threw her head back and laughed. Scrivener sighed tiredly, then he looked pleadingly over at the mare, saying finally: “Please try and remember this isn't Ponyville, okay? These kids might actually be terrified out of their minds and. Not having fun.”

Luna huffed at this, flicking her mane as she replied pointedly: “I am a champion of Equestria, Scrivener Blooms. I am an important pony. I am that which the universe revolves around. All know my name, just as all shall gaze upon me with delight when they see me. Delight, and terror.”

Scrivener sighed at this, looking back and forth before he turned to walk down the sidewalk, glancing moodily up at the pretty architecture of the beautiful city around them as he muttered: “I really do wonder sometimes what it must be like in Luna world.”

“Thou should know, thou lives in it.” Luna grinned, checking him lightly as they walked along, and the stallion sighed again and shook his head, trying his best to resist smiling. Then Luna leaned over and blew a raspberry against his cheek, and the charcoal stallion laughed even as he shoved at her lightly, grinning and hating how much the mare made him enjoy even the dumbest things with her.

They strode easily side-by-side, finding that natural, easy pace with each other, both gazing around at the late-morning energy of the city. It was filled with ponies, many of them hurrying on their way towards lunch or hurrying back to work... or just hurrying because that was what most ponies seemed to get caught up in around this city, the hurry, the bustle, the... getting-thereness. It wasn't like Ponyville or Subterra, where you tended to think more about the journey than you did your destination.

Less ponies greeted them, but it wasn't like Luna was unknown here: the fact she was the previous Baroness' sister, combined with how well it was known by now that Luna Brynhild all-but-ruled over Subterra and the forces of the night across Equestria, made her quite a well-known figure. And admittedly, the fact that Scrivener had ended up with quite a bit of success with his book, I Am, You Are years ago now had probably helped her notoriety.

Scrivener liked that he had kind of sunk back into obscurity, and he was very content to just sail along until Underbrush got sick of him. Luna, on the other hoof, delighted in being infamous and getting herself noticed wherever she went, as she held her head high and proud. Something Scrivener was... was glad for, in spite of everything, as the sapphire mare's prosthetic horn gleamed.

Luna felt his eyes and his thoughts, and she huffed a little, looking grouchily over at the charcoal stallion as she said pointedly: “'Twas very quick that I learned not to cry over spilt horn, Scrivy, as thou should remember. Aye, there are problems, but... it has been quite some time since I accidentally damaged the soulstone now, has it not?”

“Yeah, maybe three whole weeks.” Scrivener said mildly, and then he ducked when the sapphire mare swung her horn at him with a huff.

They continued onwards, making easy conversation until they reached a massive, imposing stone structure. Scrivener sighed as Luna took the lead, flicking her horn to throw the glass doors open so she could stride imperiously inside, and the stallion followed her across the wide, spacious lobby as ponies hurried to get out of the mare's way.

Luna poked the button for the elevator at the end of the hall with her horn, then fidgeted impatiently before glaring over her shoulder at the counter and the clerks behind it. All three hurriedly turned their eyes away, and Luna nodded firmly once before turning back around as Scrivener sighed tiredly. It hadn't taken more than two visits for them to quickly learn not to try and make Luna wait politely or sign the guestbook.

The doors dinged open, a few ponies filing out, and Luna hurried into the elevator, followed by a more-dour Scrivener. The mare had already hit the button for the top floor and was now standing at the ready, eyes gleaming and a wide grin on her features as the doors slowly slid closed.

The moment they clicked shut, Luna hopped into the air and began to flap her wings, hovering on the spot as the elevator rumbled, then began to rise. And Scrivener watched mildly as Luna seemed to 'fall' through the air until her rump hit the floor, her wings flapping one last time before she grinned up at him as he looked down at her with the same bemused expression.

Finally, the stallion reached out and gently bopped her nose, and she glowered at him, saying sulkily: “Well, 'tis like tradition now.”

“This is why I'm scared of modern technology.” Scrivener said dryly, and then he shook his head slowly before glancing up as the doors dinged open.

A pony in a suit began to stride into the elevator, then stopped and stared at the two ponies in the cabin. Luna and Scrivener stared back, and then Luna climbed up to her hooves and said pointedly: “If thou desires to use my magic lift, thou must sit in my husband's lap.”

Scrivener glared at Luna, and the pony in the suit winced and hurriedly stepped backwards, letting the doors closed before the winged unicorn turned a grumpy look back at Scrivener Bloom. “Well, 'twould be nice if now and again thou would cuddle with a handsome stallion for me. I enjoy watching the squirming.”

“You're squirming.” Scrivener muttered, then he looked up as the doors opened... and sighed tiredly as in the elevator car, Luna rapidly pressed all the buttons on the elevator before bounding out just as the doors began to close, the charcoal stallion saying mildly as she hopped up beside him: “There really is too much wrong with you.”

Luna only sniffed loudly at this, raising her head and replying firmly: “All that is wrong with me is that I am but one pony.” She paused, then glowered around the empty, expansive waiting room before her eyes locked on the double doors at the end, and she strode towards these as the secretary at the desk only sighed tiredly, not looking up from the typewriter she was poking away at.

Scrivener followed the sapphire mare, knowing it was useless trying to stop her from barging in... and admittedly not entirely inclined to do so, anyway. All the same, he did feel a little bit of pity when Luna smashed the oak double doors open with her head before striding into the massive office beyond, the mare grinning widely at the moss-green earth pony seated behind a titanic desk, an expensive gray suit over his body that matched the color of his short, peppered mane, his hooded, dark eyes glaring fearlessly at the winged unicorn as she announced: “We are here!”

“I never would have guessed.” Xeric Underbrush said sourly, and then he smoothed out the lapels of his suit, scowling as Luna flopped herself into one of the large chairs and Scrivener Blooms followed the mare in, giving a lame smile to the earth pony and feeling perhaps a moment of sympathy... and a little bit of that same old anxiety he always felt when it came to the mogul. Underbrush, after all, identified himself only as a publisher because he was a former 'slave hoof' from the north, where literature was considered one of the pursuits suitable only for a unicorn. In reality, Underbrush probably owned half of the businesses in Canterlot: he had begun at a newspaper, eventually become its owner, and then expanded rapidly through every other business earth ponies had been forbidden to touch by unicorns.

Scrivener Blooms awkwardly took the other large chair in front of the desk, and Underbrush leaned back in his throne-like seat. He glared at them, and Scrivener reflected moodily again how unsettling that was with the enormous portrait behind the publisher. A portrait from when he was much younger, but that fire in his eyes was the exact same.

“What do you have for me?” Underbrush asked in a sourly-expectant tone, and Scrivener opened his mouth... then slowly closed it and paled slightly as he realized that, like an idiot, he and Luna hadn't brought the goddamn manuscript with them.

But Luna grinned widely at this, looking almost excited as she rose her soulstone horn as it began to glow. Underbrush gave her a sour look, but admittedly Scrivener Blooms was impressed by how the mogul didn't flinch like most people would. “Fear not, I shall call for aid. Scrivener Blooms, explain thy new silly little story, I am busy.”

The charcoal stallion sighed tiredly, and then he began awkwardly: “Well, uh... it has to do with. Um. I mean, the main hero is an earth pony, who... it's a fiction story...”

Underbrush was glaring him into the ground, and Luna was attempting not to laugh as her horn gave short, rhythmic pulses. Scrivener cleared his throat and sat back, then he forced himself to look up at the mogul as he recited: “A hundred and twenty thousand words, divided into sixteen chapters, plus prologue and epilogue. And Luna already sketched some cover art and some internal pictures.”

Xeric Underbrush closed his eyes tiredly, reaching up and rubbing a hoof slowly at his forehead before he asked crankily: “And what is the story about?”

“Uh... a pony... he becomes a detective and... there's demons.” Scrivener cleared his throat, and Underbrush scowled at him past his hoof. “I know you hate detective stories. I really worked hard on this though, I did all kinds of research and... you know I have a lot of-”

“You are not a suspense writer. You write romance and fantasy and stories that are taken as fiction, whether they are or not. And you write your sappy little poems.” Underbrush said distastefully, and Scrivener Blooms' features slowly puckered. “I asked you for another book of poems.”

“I... well... I didn't want to write another book of poems.” Scrivener said defensively, and then he looked over his shoulder dumbly as hooves strode calmly into the room, Luna looking pleased with herself as the glow died out from her soulstone horn.

The hooves belonged to a gorgeous sea-green mare with glowing blue eyes, who looked almost like a beautiful pony... except her mane and tail were made of thick seaweed, and she had sharp teeth that were currently lightly biting into a sheaf of papers bound with a simple string. Not to mention her hooves were cloven, and the way she moved was almost too liquid, too graceful to belong to any mortal mare.

Scrivener Blooms reached up as one of his hooves clicked apart into a claw, taking this from the familiar demon as he smiled at her gratefully. “Thank you, Hevatica.”

“It is my pleasure, Scrivener Blooms.” the Kelpie replied with an easy nod, then she sat primly down, politely nodding to Underbrush but otherwise clearly intending to hang around for the rest of the meeting. And Scrivener sighed, since he wasn't exactly in a position to ask the demon to leave, and Luna looked like she was ready to veto any attempt to kick the Kelpie out anyway.

So instead, the stallion tossed the manuscript onto Underbrush's enormous desk, and the publisher reached out and swept it up as Scrivener said mildly: “You know, I should be dealing with your editors, not-”

“I invested a lot of money into you. I am the one who made you famous in the first place, and who continues to control how the public perceives you.” Underbrush answered in an icy voice as he ripped the string off and paged through the script, and then he looked up darkly. “And this isn't what I wanted or intended to present next.”

Scrivener shrugged, looking challengingly over at Underbrush... but after a moment, the publisher rolled his eyes and shook his head, looking back down at the sheaf of papers before he asked finally: “Is this it?”

“I... guess. If you're asking if I have any other additions or any further plans along this line, then no, it's just this one-shot. And I don't have anything else good for publishing right now...” Scrivener bit his lip, shifting a little before he said finally: “Well, I mean. I have a few poems I could mail in, since you own like... what... twenty magazines?”

“Twenty-three. Have your idiot agent mail them to me.” Underbrush said moodily, and Scrivener nodded awkwardly. Then the publisher looked up and frowned as he drew his eyes slowly from Scrivener to Hevatica.

The Kelpie only smiled, staying seated calmly back between the chairs, and after a moment Underbrush turned his eyes back to Scrivener and asked distastefully: “If I ask you to write a nonfiction collection about demons and Subterra, will you do so? I need it done within a few months, but it's becoming a hot topic again. It would be very easy to capitalize on, especially with your experiences.”

“Money money money.” Scrivener mumbled, but all the same he tossed a questioning look to Luna and Hevatica. The demon nodded to him encouragingly, while the sapphire mare only pointed at herself a few times hurriedly, and the charcoal stallion rolled his eyes before turning back to Underbrush and saying finally: “I'll do it, but you know I'm going to have to interview Luna and Twilight for it, too. And you know that's going to be miserable.”

“Then I'll assign you a collaborator to make it seem like you're not biased.” Underbrush shook his head slowly, almost patronizingly. “There's always a market, and the right advertising and reviews shape the rules of the game.

“One last thing.” Underbrush sat up, frowning a little as he looked over at Scrivener Blooms. “These Pious. I visited their Sanctuary recently with some business partners and was less than pleased with what I saw. What are you going to do about them?”

Scrivener tilted his head at this as Luna looked at the publisher with surprise. “Thou gained an audience with the Pious? But 'tis said that only their believers are permitted in the Sanctuary, and they have denied every request that-”

“Money talks.” Underbrush said shortly, and then he grinned, showing off perfect teeth... several of which Scrivener knew were fake purely because he'd punched them out of the publisher's jaw a long time ago. “They're just another stupid religion. Religions run on the same lifeblood any other corporation does: money.”

“Horses of Heaven, you really do make me look pleasant some days.” Scrivener said dryly, and then he hesitated and added: “And the Pious always seemed... I dunno, very zealous. Like true believers in their own faith.”

“They are. But they're looking for pony followers, now, and some of these ponies that have joined have the same business interests as I do. They know they need money if they want to get this brand new religion that's come to Equestria off the ground.” Underbrush replied with a shrug, shaking his head slowly. “They need advertising, to influence powerful ponies, to ensure that they can convince the right people to spread their influence for them. Exactly the same way I sold millions of copies of your stupid book.”

Scrivener didn't exactly know what to say to that as he cleared his throat awkwardly, then he said finally: “That's... I don't know if I should be touched or freaked out or what.”

“Try saying 'thank you' some time then, you ungrateful whelp.” Underbrush growled, and Scrivener glowered back at him as Hevatica sighed and Luna grumbled. Then the business mogul sat forwards and said moodily: “Let me put it this way. The Pious are trying to sell a product. Ponies, other business ponies like me, are now moving in to help them try and sell that product, in the hopes that they can benefit from the 'profit.' I recognize that all these big words and concepts might be going over your heads, but take a moment and try to use the little brainpower you have.”

Luna bared her fangs as Scrivener looked darkly at the earth pony, but Hevatica surprisingly rose her head and said softly: “So it's just like the days of the past, is that what you're saying? When the Equestrian Templars ruled by power and wealth, declaring anyone who stood against them sinners... and the merchants...”

Underbrush nodded, looking with what seemed almost like the tiniest amount of approval at the Kelpie. Then he grunted and turned his eyes towards Scrivener picking up for the demon: “The merchants would join the church and praise god alongside the Templars, for protection from them. Of course, the 'church' would always take a cut of their prophets, but unicorns... they've always been greedy and stupid.”

Luna rolled her eyes, and then she leaned forwards and asked ironically: “And what about thou, Underbrush? Need I point out the decadence and treasure thou girds thyself with?”

“The difference between me and the unicorns is that I'm not stupid.” Underbrush replied, and then he sat back and looked down at the manuscript, tapping at it slowly. “That's why I can sell even garbage like this. That's why I can seize any and every opportunity that comes my way. That's why I continue to put up with an asshole, mediocre writer like you, Scrivener Blooms. Because even though you're a moderate investment, I can find a way to sell you to an audience, and unlike any other writer part of any other publishing house, you're not going to get old, you're not going to suffer disease, you're not going to decide one day to stop writing.”

Scrivener blinked slowly at this as Luna snorted and Hevatica smiled slightly, and then the charcoal stallion asked awkwardly: “You know I fight monsters all the time, right? And... I mean, I live with Luna. That's pretty dangerous too. And... how do you know I won't suddenly stop writing one day, just because?”

The publisher snorted at this, shaking his head slowly as he bared his teeth in an almost-nasty grin. “No, you won't. Because you're too stubborn to die, and because I've seen you at work. You're neurotic, and broken, and probably brain-dead, but all that crap you go through, slave hoof... it bleeds into your writing and it's what makes you not entirely a failure at what you do.”

“I'm. I'm going to leave now. Before I either hit you again or have to thank you, and I don't know which is worse.” Scrivener Blooms said after a moment, and Luna grunted in agreement as Hevatica only shook her head with a soft smile. “Are you... were you serious about the-”

“I don't joke. It somehow fails to surprise me that you haven't learned that by now, though.” Underbrush said irritably, and then he gestured dismissively at them. “Get out of here. You have ninety days to get me at least a hundred pages of information on Subterra and two interviews, and it better be goddamn interesting. And send those poems in.”

“Yes, sir, master, sir.” Scrivener intoned sourly, and Underbrush only grunted, already turning his attention completely away from the three. Luna narrowed her eyes and slowly began to raise her horn as it glowed, but the charcoal stallion sighed as he reached up, grasping the soulstone prosthetic and gently turning her head away as he gestured at her lightly.

She grumbled but nodded, falling into step after him as Hevatica turned and joined them, gazing kindly over at the two before she dropped her head towards him and said pleasantly: “You are a very patient person, Scrivener Blooms. It's no wonder we can't help but admire you so: it's the virtue of a worthy king.”

Scrivener smiled lamely at this as Luna huffed loudly, leading the way through the waiting room. “Oh shush, foul demon.” She paused, then poked at the elevator button with her horn even as she pushed her sunglasses back up her muzzle, adding: “Tis good to see thee, though. Even if thou art a terrible flirt.”

“Well, I can't help but feel grateful to you both. And you are very good friends and allies.” Hevatica said softly, smiling between them before she looked over her shoulder towards Underbrush's office. “Although you do keep strange company, but I think that itself is testament to the kind of people you both are, and the lengths you'll go to for this world.”

Scrivener grunted at this, shrugging a little as Luna grinned wryly and replied easily: “Or 'tis perhaps simply testament to the fact that my husband is a great wimp.”

“You're a wimp.” Scrivener retorted lamely as the elevator doors hummed open, and then he winced a bit when the mare huffed and glowered at him, stepping quickly into the open car. “Okay, okay. You're not a wimp. You're. Horrible.”

“Aye. I am.” Luna said proudly, raising her head as she and Hevatica joined the stallion in the elevator. It began to descend, and the sapphire mare hurriedly leapt high into the air , flapping her wings as Hevatica and Scrivener both winced before the winged unicorn seemed to slowly rise up through the air until her head thudded into the roof, and then she winced even as she giggled before dropping to the floor.

Hevatica and Scrivener Blooms both winced as the elevator shuddered, but thankfully it seemed otherwise unhindered as Luna shook herself out and said mildly: “These magic boxes should be fixed, Scrivy. I wish to be able to hover inside one without bumping either head nor rump.”

Scrivener sighed as the doors dinged open, and then he strode out of the elevator, mumbling: “Let's just go back to Subterra and see if we can find Innocence and Twilight. I can probably get Sparkles to do most of the research for me on that new book. I hope.”

“Not if you're going to be a jerk, Scrivy.” Twilight mumbled as she glanced upwards, feeling a distinct train of thought run through her mind, and then the presence twitched awkwardly before the Lich smiled a little despite herself, adding softly: “Hey, it's true. Now hurry back. Innocence wants to work with the mire and I don't think I can keep her practicing magic for much longer.”

Twilight paused, then she gazed through the training room with a small smile. It was little more than open, flat stone with iron girders crisscrossing the ceiling, but the plain-looking walls were regenerating the magic damage that had been done to them from Sin's spells that missed target, and there was more than sixty feet of open space: more than enough to accommodate the thick glass globes Twilight had charged with magic and left to fly wildly and randomly around the room, sometimes bouncing off the walls and ceilings as Sin attempted to hit them with magic.

The crux of the exercise was that Twilight was making her use only the magic reserves in her armor: it forced her to work with the gemstones that stored her energy, and she cursed as she was forced to recharge them over and over as she fought to find a balance, and to figure out what kinds of spells she could even fling from the reserves alone.

It was frustrating, and Innocence glared as she rose a foreleg and concentrated on it: a bolt of magic was released from the gemstone on her bracer, but then the light faded out from inside the ruby. And more annoyingly, the magic bolt missed hitting anything except the ceiling above: the glass orbs were simply whipping around too fast for her to manage to target them.

The young unicorn growled beneath her facemask, then looked at her other foreleg, but it had lost its charge as well. And the magic battery over her breast didn't really seem to work all that well: any magic released from it seemed to go in a straight line, and it was hard as hell to try and aim her entire body in one specific direction.

Innocence shook her head angrily, then stomped her front claws down as she lowered her head, her horn glowing as she recharged the magic batteries on the bracers. Unfortunately, the act of pulling in so much magic energy had a nasty side effect: it drew the attention of the charged spheres buzzing around and made them all twist towards her.

The young mare looked up too late and took one sphere straight to the face just as she finished charging the magic spheres, squeaking as it bludgeoned her backwards and she was knocked flat on her back. Then she cursed and covered her face with her forelegs as the other various-sized spheres, smashed down into her body and around her, making her wheeze before she snapped angrily: “Mom! Come on, just let me use my magic properly!”

“No, Innocence. Please, you can handle this. I know you can.” Twilight encouraged, smiling a little before she began: “Use your mind, that's your most powerful tool, Innocence. Try and think about how you can-”

“How can I think when these stupid things are pummeling me? Why'd you make them so fast?” Innocence cursed as once bounced high over her head, and then the mare leapt up and clawed wildly at another sphere as it passed, but all she managed to do was knock it off course.

“You can do this! Just concentrate!” Twilight encouraged, and then she winced a bit when her daughter glared furiously up at the buzzing orbs and her horn began to glow. “Innocence...”

For a few moments, it looked like the young unicorn was going to lash out anyway, but then she grumbled and lowered her head, the glow dying out as she instead rose one of the bracers and growled: “Fine. I'll do it this way. I'll prove that I can do it.”

Twilight sighed in relief, then she suggested, not wanting Innocence to get too frustrated: “Why don't you try and use-”

“I got it, Mom!” Innocence swung a claw outwards, unleashing another bolt of magic that drained the battery entirely, and it missed the sphere she was aiming at by several meters, making her curse before she sat back and started to focus her magic as one of her eyes twitched, a wild, almost desperate idea striking her. She couldn't fail... she refused to fail!

As she concentrated her magic, the spheres were drawn in towards her... and on a last-ditch effort, the mare threw her head back as she focused on releasing the built-up magic energy in the gemstone batteries on her armor in one raw, fierce wave. Electricity blasted through the air around her, hammering through the glass spheres and shattering them into powder as they were drawn in like magnets.

Then Innocence grinned as she dropped back to her claws, shaking herself out and raising her head proudly. Her horn was still crackling with power, and Twilight sighed even as she began to smile warmly... and then a glass orb hammered firmly into the back of the mare's head, knocking her flopping forwards with a yelp and sending her facemask flying off before she blinked stupidly and looked up, staring at the last lone orb whizzing through the air.

A snarl passed over her features, and then Innocence leapt to her claws and snapped her horn viciously outwards, and the sphere simply exploded in a tremendous blast of light and electricity, Twilight wincing away at the surge of raw power before Innocence cursed under her breath and stomped a claw angrily several times. But slowly, her anger settled until she slumped a bit with a grumble, shaking her head moodily and muttering: “Fantastic.”

Twilight Sparkle sighed softly, then strode towards her daughter as Innocence picked up her fallen facemask, the young unicorn looking down at the snarling motif... and thinking silently about how really, she wasn't a unicorn at all, was she?

“Innocence. You have to learn to control your temper... I know it's hard, but...” Twilight bit her lip, seeing the way her daughter stiffened, glared over her shoulder, looked so... frustrated. “I know. I know you hate it when I say that. I'm just trying to help.”

The young mare sighed quietly and lowered her head, then she closed her eyes and murmured: “I know. I know. And I know you and Mutt and Daddy... you're different too, but... you weren't always different, were you?”

“I don't know, Innocence.” Twilight smiled a little, shaking her head slowly. “I wasn't always a Lich, and I wasn't always a winged unicorn. I was always a little different, though, from everyone else... and people notice it when you're different in here...” She tapped the young mare's forehead gently. “More than when you're different because of your looks.

“I have a lot of expectations for you. I know it's stressful. I know that you don't like me floating around, watching you and pushing you to be better.” Twilight hesitated, then bit her lip again and looked down. She wanted to say things like 'but I'm not that bad a mom' or 'I spoil you' or other pseudo-defenses that were emotional, not logical. That whether true or not, really had no bearing on the situation: she didn't want to say things to her daughter solely with the intent of making her feel bad or that things could be worse, because... things were already going to get worse, and her little girl...

Twilight reached up and touched Innocence's scaled face, tilting her head up and meeting her eyes. “But I think you need that, whether your like it or not. You're going to make mistakes, Innocence, and... I know that whether I like it or not, you're not going to always take my advice and... maybe sometimes I'm even going to say the wrong things to you, do the wrong things for you, because it can be really hard to acknowledge you're your own person. And I'm so happy that... it seems like all the good parts of me, and Luna, and Scrivy were passed down to you. And it worries me sometimes that all our bad parts were too.”

Innocence blushed and lowered her head awkwardly, and there was quiet for a few moments before the mare looked up and said softly: “I'm not gonna be a disappointment. I can handle myself, and I'm going to be strong, and...”

The young mare shook her head quickly, before she smiled a little, seeming to loosen up as she gestured awkwardly with her mask. “I just don't want anyone to... to force their ideas on me or to try and push me a certain way, I guess. I want to follow my own path, make my own mistakes. I want to find out for myself what should be important and... how I have to live.”

Twilight sighed a little, and then the violet mare nodded hesitantly before she said finally: “Okay. I'll... I'll try to let you do that, Innocence. But try and listen to what I have to teach at least, alright? I want to help make you strong, teach you how to take care of yourself and others.”

Innocence nodded hesitantly, and then she looked down and scratched at the floor with a claw before she finally cleared her throat and quickly put her facemask back on. “Okay, Momma. I'm... I'm gonna try, then, I just...”

Twilight only nodded in response, giving a small smile. She studied her daughter for a few moments, then finally shook her head before turning and saying softly: “Well. Let's get out of here then. Your Dad and Mutt are coming back from Canterlot, and I'm sure Antares must be around here somewhere, so maybe we can get him to help, too. He can help us out if you want to work on learning to control the corruption again.”

Innocence nodded grudgingly, even as she complained: “I like Antares and all, Momma, but... do we really need his help? Can't Daddy just... I don't know, tear it out of me if it's really starting to go that bad?”

“That would probably hurt you even more than Antares purifying you.” Twilight said gently, and Innocence grumbled under her breath before the Lich smiled and leaned over, nudging her daughter gently as they headed for the steel door leading out into the halls of the Thorn Palace. “Don't worry. Antares really does want to help you as much as possible.”

“Well, I don't want help, like I said.” Innocence grumbled, and then she sighed a little and dropped her head, adding despondently: “It's not like I have any friends or anything, anyway. So why should I even bother to care?”

“Innocence, you have lots of friends.” Twilight encouraged, and the young mare only grumbled before Twilight hesitated, then ventured: “I'm sure that Clinker, well... still wants to spend time with you... he and you seemed...”

“It was... it was nothing, I really don't want to talk about any of that.” Innocence grumbled, looking ruffled, and the Lich decided to drop the subject. They walked on in awkward quiet, heading for the front of the palace, and then Innocence mumbled: “Anyway. I'm pretty sure that after what happened I'm not going to have any friends in Ponyville. Ever.”

Twilight smiled awkwardly, then she cleared her throat before saying finally: “Well, when I was just a foal, I accidentally destroyed a lecture theater in the magic academy. And I still... well... that was how I was made apprentice to Celestia, back when she was Princess of Equestria!”

“But did you have any friends?” Innocence asked pessimistically, and Twilight shrugged lamely, which made the young unicorn sigh grumpily. “Exactly. And I'm pretty sure you probably never did anything like that again.”

The violet mare looked mildly over at her daughter, and then she said: “You really do think I'm kind of... boring or something, don't you?”

“No offense, Momma, but well, you're... you're my Mom.” Innocence looked a little awkward, clearing her throat as she looked over at the violet mare. “You're... all about books and learning and... making sure I eat right and well... you know. Mutt's Mutt and Daddy at least goes along with her. You just kind of... well...”

“I'm boring.” Twilight said flatly, and Innocence grinned lamely up at her mother, blushing slightly as she shifted on her claws, then she nodded a little. The violet mare grumbled under her breath at this, then shook her head and muttered: “I just like structure and... when things make sense and all. I'm not that boring. I mean, look at us, we're in Subterra, I'm a Lich, and-”

“And most of the time we spend... reading, or at the library, or studying theory and magic and all that and it's not... I'm sorry, Mom, but I really don't find that interesting.” Innocence complained, and Twilight looked at her daughter with dumb surprise.

“I... I thought you liked studying things like that, though, you always told me that you really enjoyed reading with me.” Twilight replied, feeling strangely hurt, and Innocence sighed and gave her mother a faintly-exasperated look and a bit of a smile.

“When I was a filly, Mom. But I'm... you know, I'm not really a kid anymore. And... you know. I want to be more... active.” Innocence said finally, and then she looked ahead and hurried forwards, mumbling something about getting the door despite the fact the end of the hall was some thirty feet away.

Twilight slouched a little, dropping her head with a tired sigh and looking morbidly up after her daughter, still feeling a little hurt. She wasn't boring, after all, and she made a face before she promised herself childishly that she was going to prove to her daughter that she wasn't boring. And maybe, finally, that would help her really get through to the little girl she cared for so much.

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