• 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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Too Many Questions, Too Few Answers

Chapter Fifteen: Too Many Questions, Too Few Answers

“So much for a calm little vacation.” Scrivener muttered, and Luna grumbled in agreement, the two ponies trading quick looks as Twilight sighed quietly, but felt like she had to grudgingly agree all the same. “Well, at least we started getting Innocence into training, and Antares and Excelsior got us that emergency meeting with Terra, but...”

Scrivener didn't have to finish, as Luna lowered her head meditatively and Twilight Sparkle closed her own eyes. The three were resting in a private bedroom at the Thorn Palace: Celestia was in the next room, and Excelsior and Antares were across the hall. Innocence was in a smaller room, a little further down, with Eventide and Hevatica: at all times now, the young mare was to have a bodyguard with her. Just in case.

Not that they were fooling themselves that it would even slow Gymbr down... rather, they only hoped that it would be enough to alert them if something happened. And the Greater Nightmare and the demon could both keep an eye on Innocence and keep her company. Innocence was a little... confused right now, after all. She didn't know what to make of Gymbr, and she almost seemed upset that her parents weren't ready or willing to give the strange god a chance.

Twilight shook her head a little, then the Lich asked quietly: “But we're making the right choice, aren't we? Gymbr hasn't... we know the way he works. Or at least, we all think we do... and we can't really afford taking a risk , can we? If we help Gymbr exterminate the Pious, and he hates them because... well...”

“Aye, and as Celestia said, the Pious were attacked by what was likely the Whistler.” Luna frowned and lowered her head, muttering: “But the puzzle only gets more complex if that is true. And I am loathe to admit what an easy scapegoat the Pious make... aye, we will have to speak to Hel and Terra. Terra I am very tempted to pummel for whatever she has kept from us.”

Scrivener smiled wryly at this, glancing up and saying dryly: “Terra is an Ironjaw and the new Queen of Valhalla. I think she'd probably pummel us, Luna.”

“That's funny, isn't it?” Twilight murmured, and the Lich glanced up with a faint smile and a slow shake of her head. “I remember how there was all that... stupid yelling and fighting and debate over Terra even being at Kvasir's side... now they won't let her even give up the position. They're all so scared, but she's big and tough and a demon they can all hide behind, just like everyone always was scared of us but then hid behind us when the going got rough...”

“Wow, Twilight, that's uh... a little bitter for you. You okay?” Scrivener asked awkwardly as he sat up on the bed, looking over at the armchair Twilight was curled up on as Luna rose her head with her own soft concern from beside her husband.

Twilight only shook her head a little, then she slipped out of the armchair to cross the distance to the bed and slip into it, wiggling herself between the two. Scrivener hugged her gently as Luna smiled a little down at the sapphire mare, and there was silence for a few moments as Twilight mumbled: “I just don't like that... everything's dumb. Everything is dumb.”

“Everything's dumb.” Scrivener agreed, sliding his forelegs around her and hugging her gently back against his chest. Twilight settled against him, closing her eyes as she reached up a hoof to touch the stallion's own, and then the Lich smiled a little when Luna flopped over and nestle her head against her, soulstone horn gently rubbing along scratchy stitches.

They rested together in quiet and comfort, all closing their eyes, just trying to sift through things. There wasn't much else they could do right now, after all: Morning Glory was gathering their allies, Celestia was working through other channels, they still had at least ten hours before Antares and Excelsior could open the portal to Valhalla and they would join them to meet with Terra.

Their thoughts twisted together, trying to reassure each other, sharing all the information they had between them. Luna's instincts, Twilight's intellect, Scrivener's powers of observation spoke to one-another beneath the conscious mind, as images and emotions played between them, simultaneously calming the three as it helped sort out all the information they had to process.

Luna was proud enough to believe they could fight Gymbr. Maybe they couldn't win... hell, they definitely couldn't win if he had his Three Fates around... but in a three-on-one confrontation, Luna thought there was a slim chance that their numbers could overwhelm Gymbr's power. Assuming, of course, Gymbr was around the strength they'd seen in their nightmare memories of him, and that soulstone core in his chest didn't grant him some kind of extra protection or other abilities.

Twilight was more cautious, and was a lot more concerned about the soulstone core: she had done a lot of research on the substance over the years, since Luna was more into stressing her prosthetic until she managed to damage or break it than she was in doing any theory work. But in theory, soulstone could massively amplify any source of energy pumped into it: it wouldn't shatter or become damaged by any charge of magic or energy running through it, but only antimagic or physical force could hope to break it.

Scrivener Blooms thought that the way Gymbr was showing it off, though... it was like a challenge. It was a false draw, meant to look like some gaping 'weak point' that someone would want to charge at and try to punch in, only so Gymbr could use that opportunity to rip them apart at close range. Scrivener didn't just remember Because Love Conquers All and the nightmares Gymbr had showed them of its decadent and vicious life... he knew himself and Luna inside and out. And he knew that if Gymbr was anything like them, even if he had all the magic power in the world he'd still want to get up close and personal in a fight.

And they were all well-aware of their greatest advantage, and what would give them that slim but all the same still-there chance, if things came down to a head-to-head: Gymbr was made from some evil version of Luna and Scrivener that had existed in a twisted story, but he was all the same only one entity. There was only one of him, but there were three of them, sharing mind and soul: they couldn't match Gymbr's power, but they could outwit and outmaneuver him.

The three shifted together before Twilight hesitantly bit her lip, then she asked quietly: “Twilight Shadow... you'd never... I mean, I'm linked to you two, but you'd never...”

“We'd never do that to you. Besides, it didn't...” Scrivener hesitantly looked past to Luna, who nodded uneasily, the stallion not needing to finish his sentence. Something about Twilight Shadow seemed completely different from Twilight Sparkle... something about all of Gymbr's so-called 'Three Fates' seemed... strange.

“He might have... if he really has started to go back to his old ways, then he might have used some kind of enslavement charm on them...” Twilight shivered a little, shaking her head a bit before she murmured: “That scares me, a lot. To force someone to become dependent on you, to make it so that they literally can't live without you... the way they looked at him and they always smiled...”

Luna grunted, shaking her head and shivering a little as she muttered: “Aye. 'Tis sick. 'Tis an act of great evil. And I do not desire to think what has happened to the Equestria Gymbr must have attacked, or how it could have gone unnoticed...”

“If it was within the last few years, he might have been able to... or maybe he was able to confuse the Watchers somehow.” Twilight suggested, glancing up and shaking her head a little. Then she sighed and closed her eyes as Scrivener hugged her up against his body and Luna mumbled and nuzzled into the Lich's body.

They lay together in silence for a little while before there was a gentle knock at the door, and Luna groaned loudly before looking moodily over at the entrance, shouting: “This had best be important! Or strippers! Or food! I shan't accept anything else!”

The door clicked open, and Celestia poked her head in with a mild look at Luna, making the sapphire mare huff and say dryly: “Please tell me that the appearance of Dusk has not revived thy silly dreams of one day being Whore Celestia.”

“I'm not your First Concubine, Luna. And I highly doubt you'd impress me in bed.” Celestia replied mildly, making Luna glower as Twilight and Scrivener traded amused looks. Then the ivory mare shook her head quickly before saying quietly: “Morning Glory has returned, and Subterra is filling back with demons. A lot of them are anxious, and want to know how to swear their loyalty to you again. Morning Glory has also selected several demons she thinks should be allowed to undergo... enhancement. Including herself.”

“Greedy prostitute that she is.” Luna paused, then looked wryly up at Scrivener, saying mildly: “Well, 'tis nice, Twilight Sparkle, that everypony desire my husband's liquids. My husband's hot, black liquids. Is it not nice, Twilight, how many-”

“You made your point.” Twilight gently dropped a hoof on Luna's head, then she looked up and asked hesitantly: “How much Prometheus Elixir do we have left? I'm not saying we should use it, but... well, Scrivy, maybe we should make more.”

Scrivener nodded slowly, sighing and burying his face between Twilight's ears, inhaling the scent of her mane: like flowers and that soft soap she liked. He didn't know why, but it comforted him, helped him think and decide on what he felt comfortable with, even though it was Luna who answered in a loud, brazen voice: “Scrivener Blooms shall donate more blood, and we shall look at select Nightmares first. I still do not desire to grant much of the elixir to any demons. Not until we have studied its effects more in depth.”

Celestia smiled a little at this, and Scrivener and Twilight both nodded in agreement before the ivory mare said softly: “I think... that we should give in to Morning Glory's wishes. She doesn't just want to be strong anymore, Luna. She wants to be strong for us. She's dedicated to us.”

“'Tis funny to hear thou say we should empower a demon. Particularly a Destroyer such as Morning Glory.” Luna said wryly, and then the starry-maned mare chewed on her lip for a moment before grumbling and nodding. “Aye, perhaps. But still, I am more comfortable with the thought of feeding it to Nightmares. The Greater Nightmares do not lose their minds... if anything, they seem to become more loyal, although 'tis perhaps just because they are all the more eager to receive my gifts, and know that if I so please, the corruption can be drained back out of them. For my husband does have some certain talents.”

The sapphire mare smiled slightly up at Scrivener, who only grumbled as he squeezed Twilight closer and muttered: “I really think you should just go away sometimes, Luna. Twilight and I are going to... I dunno. Put you in a box or something.”

Luna huffed and leaned up, attempting to poke past Twilight with her horn at Scrivener Blooms, but the stallion managed to lean away before Celestia politely cleared her throat and said calmly: “One more thing. Kismet is here, and has agreed to lend the assistance of a few reapers. He also said he'd be very happy to see if he can trace where Gymbr came from... but I told him to hold off for now. I think it would be safer if we wait until we're in Valhalla, and if the Watchers can see anything from there. We don't want to put Kismet in danger.”

“Oh, I do not care if Kismet is in danger or not, 'tis a death entity. 'Tis a Great Reaper. He can well take care of himself in danger.” Luna retorted grumpily, and then she shook her head and added hesitantly: “But aye, 'tis smart all the same. I would rather not have the eyes of Gymbr drawn to our friendly death entity. Gymbr may tear him into tiny pieces and send him back to us, and 'twould be incredibly frustrating to try and piece him back together.”

“You're always so compassionate, Luna. It never fails to impress me.” Celestia said gently, and then she shook her head and smiled a little. “I want you to keep one thing in mind, by the way. I'm not your First Concubine, but I am your big sister. I'm here to fight by your side, don't forget that.”

The sapphire mare laughed quietly, bowing her head and nodding a little, and there was silence for a few moments before Twilight glanced up and questioned: “I just had a thought... can Kismet reach a place like Ginnungagap?”

“Oh ho, aren't you a smart one?” Discombobulation's head poked in through the doorway above Celestia, and the ivory mare sighed as the Draconequus pushed the door open, comfortably perched on the white winged unicorn's back. “But there's a little problem with that idea, too, Twilight Sparkle: you see, we Draconequus are like greasers. We're great in musicals and fights and fixing cars. Sometimes motorbikes. Kismet is like... he's a nerd. Completely different school. Greasers and nerds don't get along very well, that's all there is to it. I mean, on the bright side, he isn't a jock... then we really wouldn't be able to get along. But nerds and greasers still don't mix all that well, either. We're like orcs and... well... pretty much anything that isn't an orc. Or. Other orcs. Orcs are famously bad for getting along with others, too.”

Scrivener sighed, and Celestia glanced up mildly at the Draconequus standing on her back. Discombobulation looked back down at her, then leaned forwards and twisted his head around until they were almost nose-to-nose and eye-to-eye, saying pointedly: “You are also a nerd. And very possibly a fascist. But I mean that in the best of ways.”

“You always know just what to say.” Celestia replied with a slight smile, and then she shook her head before reaching up and gently pushing Bob's head out of the way, saying softly: “Kismet is a force of natural order. The Draconequus would not take kindly to him being in Ginnungagap. Remember that our friend Discombobulation is... a little different from most chaos entities.”

“Well thank you, Tia, it's such a pleasure to hear you think so very highly of me.” Discombobulation said wryly, and then he straightened and cleared his throat, placing a hand over his chest and posing atop the mare's back. “I am so clever that sometimes I don't understand a single word of what I am saying.”

Celestia smiled amusedly up at the Draconequus as Scrivener Blooms nodded agreeably, and then Twilight said softly: “And I think we're all happy for that, Bob. I'd hate for you to be any other way than you are now... I wonder what it must be like for the other Draconequus who are still... bound by chaos, who haven't really gotten... free of Ginnungagap.”

“I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything that I do.” Discombobulation replied eloquently, and then gestured easily to the side as he continued: “I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do.”

“And finally, after so many years, we hear real wisdom from thee.” Luna said with a smile, nodding firmly a few times. “For that is precisely the way I believe life should be lived as well.”

“Well, I think that's just gone and made that advice worth less instead of more.” Discombobulation said dryly, and Luna glowered as Scrivener shrugged agreeably and Celestia smiled despite herself. “Then again, some hear wisdom in the barking of dogs and others just hear lies.”

“I thought cats were liars, not dogs.” Scrivener said mildly, and Bob gave him a dry look as Twilight nudged the stallion lightly, but he only nudged her gently back before kissing the side of her horn lightly, making her twitch and smile softly as her eyes slid closed and she curled back against him a little. “Okay. We promise to get up soon, but... I think the three of us need a minute or two longer.”

“Look at thee, taking charge, dragging thy mares into bed in front of Bob and dear sweet sister. I am so very proud of thee.” Luna grinned wryly, then she paused and winked over at the two, adding cheerfully: “Unless thou would both like to join us, of course. 'Tis nothing wrong with it as long as we are not touching, aye?”

Discombobulation cleared his throat loudly, tugging at an invisible collar before he suddenly swung a hand out to the side, a top hat appearing in this. He gestured at it calmly, posing on Celestia's back, then he neatly made the brim dance along his fingers before he rolled the hat down his arm to his shoulder, popping it up on top of his head, then reaching up and seizing it to yank down firmly as he hopped upwards, and simply seemed to vanish into the hat with a pop.

It glided slowly down through the air to land gently atop her head, and Celestia glanced up at this curiously before Luna remarked mildly: “Now thou looks like a burly dancer.”

“Burlesque, Luna. I think you mean burlesque.” Twilight corrected gently, and Luna sniffed loudly at this, shaking her head vehemently.

“Nay, I mean burly! Look at Celestia, 'tis an optical illusion, thou looks at her one way and sees only stringiness, thou looks another and sees naught but muscle! 'Tis no wonder she would break stallions.” the sapphire mare declared, raising her head high.

Celestia only smiled at them, then she turned and called calmly over her shoulder: “Don't take too long. And try not to hurt yourself, Luna, I know sometimes you try a little too hard.”

The sapphire mare huffed at this as the door closed quietly behind Celestia, and then the starry-maned winged unicorn sniffed loudly and looked up at her partners, saying mildly: “Now, decide between thee who shall feel my wrathful pleasures first. Make it quick or I shall decide for thee both.”

Twilight and Scrivener both looked down at the mare, and then they both shoved a hoof against the sapphire pony's skull and gently pushed her down, Luna flailing at them childishly as the two sat up and shared a laugh. And sure, the future felt uncertain, they all still felt worried, but... the laughter was genuine. The enjoyment was real. They all felt... good together, and safe, and like no matter what happened, they would always be together and nothing would ever be able to take this little bit of sanctuary away from them.

After a few minutes of half-cuddling, half-shoving at each other, the three finally slipped out of the bed together. Or rather, Scrivener and Twilight got up, and then Luna half-flung herself onto Scrivener's back, the earth pony wincing a bit and then only sighing as the sapphire mare sat astride him imperiously.

They headed out into the hallway, and Luna lightly heeled Scrivener's sides to try and make him go faster, earning a horrible glare from him as Twilight rolled her eyes. The sapphire mare cleared her throat and grinned lamely, but was saved from having to make any kind of response by a door opening down the hall and Innocence hurrying out, with Eventide in her wake.

Her parents looked up in surprise as the young mare stumbled to a stop in front of them, then gazed up almost pleadingly as she asked hurriedly: “Can... can I please come with you guys, please? I want to understand what's going on and... and I'm supposed to protect the world, right?”

“Not yet, Innocence, thou art no Valkyrie quite yet.” Luna said with quiet amusement, and then the sapphire mare hesitated before glancing over to Twilight. The Lich looked uncertainly back up, their eyes meeting for a few moments, speaking to each other through their gazes... and then the two traded nods, and the violet mare turned her eyes to her daughter.

“You can, but you have to promise to listen. And Eventide, I'd appreciate it if you could come with us.” Twilight halted, then she smiled a little, adding quietly: “And Innocence, we might have to ask you to leave at some point, okay? Just so you're aware. Some of the conversation we might get into might be a little bit sensitive for us.”

Sin didn't look entirely thrilled with this, but she nodded awkwardly all the same before smiling up at her Móðer as the sapphire mare said kindly: “Fear not though, daughter. Thou shall still have many of the answers I am sure thou art eager for, and we have no secrets from thee. Rather, 'tis simply... to avoid frustrations.”

Innocence nodded, and Eventide bowed her head politely, staying back to trail behind the family as they began to make their way down the hallway together. The quiet was a bit awkward with Innocence shooting them glances constantly but never quite daring to ask a question... until Luna, finally, said pointedly: “Simply staring... 'tis not quite the right way to go about find out information, Sin. Thou can ask whatever thou likes, just bear in mind that we may not answer.”

Innocence smiled lamely, nodding hurriedly as she licked her lips nervously before plunging forwards and asking the question bothering her most of all: “Why don't you trust Gymbr?”

There was silence for a few moments, and then both Twilight Sparkle and Luna Brynhild looked down at Scrivener Blooms, who groaned mentally. Even though he felt their thoughts twisting with his own, aiding him, he hated always being the one who got to deal with the fun questions like this.

He shifted a little, then looked up and hesitated. He didn't know how to phrase it, because so much of it was instinct; so much of the rest was based on their previous knowledge of Gymbr, what he had done and the kind of creature he was. But finally, the stallion thought he found the words, as he said softly: “It has to do with... what we know about Gymbr, and what Gymbr warned us about himself. In the story he came from, he lost himself to his hungers, and his attempts to try and right his wrongs only made everything worse. That's the thing that... worries us all the most, I think. The fact that Gymbr's good intentions never seem to work out well.”

“He did manage to aid us greatly in Decretum... but 'twas not really his good intent there, was it?” Luna mused, and then she shook her head slowly and murmured: “Aye. He did not desire to redeem himself, only not to fall deeper into darkness and to put his evils to use... now he returns, seemingly with the intent to drag us down into the shadow with him...”

“Is it really... a question of right and wrong?” asked Innocence quietly, and her parents looked at her as the young mare shifted uncomfortably, then gazed back up with a faint smile. “I mean... would it really be so bad if... I'm not saying that we should, but happiness is happiness, right? Keeping everyone close to us safe, making sure everyone is strong, and feels good...”

“Sometimes pain is better than pleasure.” Scrivener said softly, smiling a little back at Innocence, who only shifted awkwardly. “Freedom is important. Responsibility is important. And honor is important, too.”

Innocence didn't say anything, only nodding a little, and there was silence until the group reached Morning Glory's throne room. Inside, they found Celestia and the Overseer, as well as a tall figure calmly cradling a thick black tome in his silver, segmented claws, black robes seeming to flow around him like liquid and a purple stole draped around his shoulders.

His silver-masked features looked calmly over at them, golden light glowing out of metal that had been hammered into the shape of a deer's skull, golden, rounded antlers standing up high out of this. He exuded a strange sense of serenity, now that they were used to his presence: when they had first met him, under far less pleasant circumstances, they had mistaken that peaceful feeling for the sensation of impending doom.

But now they were used to Kismet, and the death entity had long gotten used to all of them, too. He seemed to smile beneath his mask, bowing his head pleasantly and saying softly: “My friends. It is good to see you, even under these dire circumstances... I would like to say again I will do anything I can to help. Nothing against your partner, Valkyrie Freya, but I dislike feeling like the Draconequus have set their eyes on our world.”

Celestia only smiled at this, shaking her head and replying softly: “It's alright. I'm fairly certain Discombobulation strongly dislikes it himself. Luna, Scrivener, Twilight, we were just discussing what we should try and focus on, and I think that after Terra we should attempt to get in contact with Hel. Assuming she's not watching us right now herself...”

“Of course she's watching us right now.” Morning Glory said moodily, and then the Destroyer shook her head, stomping one steel hoof and muttering: “Hel likes to keep an eye on every little thing that happens in the layers, and we all know she has some kind of interest here in Subterra, whether any of you will admit it or not. She's probably waiting for us to beg for her assistance or send a messenger to her. Stupid games.”

“Or she's waiting for us to go to Valhalla to get in contact with us there. It would be an opportunity to create a point of conflict between us and Terra, if what we've heard from Gymbr is true, and I highly doubt she would pass up the opportunity to try and play off our tensions.” Celestia added calmly, shaking her head slowly. “She wants us to be more dependent on her than on Valhalla.”

Luna grunted, then she turned her eyes curiously to Kismet, but the death entity only shook his head and said softly: “I know what you would ask, but I cannot do it: I can enter Helheim and pass between the slices as I please, but I cannot go into the Underdark, where Hel's fortified home is. There are too many defenses, and it is a dimension Hel created solely to serve her: it does not follow the same laws and rules as the rest of the worlds do.”

“Wonderful.” the sapphire mare grumbled, and then she shook her head slowly before asking distastefully: “And is there no other way to summon Hel for conversation? I am sorely not in the mood to walk into Valhalla, only to end up entwined in some stupid debate between Paradise and Punishment. And it frustrates me endlessly that there is no way to reach Hel's home, yet she can invade all ours' with ease! Wicked old ice witch.”

Celestia sighed tiredly, but grudgingly nodded in agreement as Morning Glory muttered: “The people you can't kill are always the ones who are the most annoying.”

Kismet only chuckled quietly and shook his head slowly, then he said gently: “It is only our perceptions that make things welcome or unpleasant. If we learn to modify our perceptions, then we change the entire world around us.”

“Then why don't you make it possible to get to Hel and go and do that? In fact, why don't you just perceive Gymbr and Ginnungagap away.” Morning Glory said icily, and she glared at Kismet as he only looked at her calmly, completely unfettered.

“Our perceptions augment reality, but never change fact... but all the same...” Kismet looked thoughtful, then he glanced over at Luna and said softly: “I cannot take you to Underdark. But I can take you into Helheim, and there is perhaps one place that with an ally's help, you might be able to gain entrance to Hel's dimension if you feel it truly is important to reach her.”

Luna looked up in surprise, and Morning Glory smiled wryly after a moment, shaking her head and saying distastefully: “No, it wouldn't be that easy, Kismet. I know what you're thinking of: Cairnmór, where the Ironjaw Dragons gather. But to pass into that stone city, Luna Brynhild would have to gain the respect of the dragons... and getting respect isn't something she does very well.”

Luna scowled over at Morning Glory, while Celestia looked down in thought before she nodded and murmured: “It's something to consider. Thank you, Kismet, I appreciate your input on the subject. I hope that we won't have to force a conversation with Hel, though...”

Twilight nodded slowly, then she hesitated before looking over at her daughter, saying softly: “Innocence asked earlier why we don't trust Gymbr, and... I've been thinking about it a lot, and I'd like to hear your thoughts on the subject, too, Celestia.”

Innocence looked a little embarrassed, but Celestia only smiled and nodded, replying quietly: “Of course. It's something I've been thinking over myself, though, and right now the biggest problem I have is the fact Gymbr doesn't seem to be telling us the truth. The Pious don't seem to be making any moves to assimilate us, and Gymbr has a very clear hatred of anything that represents what he calls 'light.' The idea of Greater Heaven alone seems like more than enough to offend him.”

Innocence shifted uncomfortably, and then she asked slowly: “But don't you and Mutt always say to trust your instincts? My instincts... I mean, I look at the Pious and they scare me. I look at Gymbr, and... I mean, well...”

“There is no shame in that, child. Gymbr is a dark reflection of your parents, but he reflects them clearly all the same. Whether good or bad, children tend to trust in their parents.” Kismet bowed his head towards the mare, his tone gentle, but never patronizing, and despite herself the young mare relaxed a little with a smile up at the death entity. She never felt scared of him, for some reason, even with all he represented.

Scrivener nodded a bit, then he cleared his throat and looked pointedly up at Luna, who was still seated on his back. But the sapphire mare was only looking mildly at Kismet, before she asked dryly: “And who art thou to lecture others upon parentage? I doubt that death ever had parents.”

“Nature nurtures us all.” Kismet said kindly, and Luna groaned and rolled her eyes as Celestia smiled despite herself with a slow nod of agreement.

“Oh, aye, grand, 'ts no wonder thou and my much loved but much-stupid brother get along so grandly.” Luna said flatly, shaking her head with a huff. “Great silly creature. Thou should be marshaling zombies and whispering in shadows, not... speaking so politely of the earth upon which we live. For I am not entirely sure thou lives thyself.”

“Since I am not dying, Luna Brynhild, I must be living. And I think it is well-known by now that some rocks do a better job of living fulfilling lives than those of mind and society.” Kismet replied equably, and Luna glowered at him before she heeled Scrivener's sides and yanked on his mane, attempting to make him approach the death entity. Scrivener only stumbled a little with a wince, though, then glowered over his shoulder at Luna and shook himself violently with a grumble, making the sapphire mare flail for balance.

Twilight Sparkle grumbled at the two, and then she turned her eyes towards Morning Glory, asking: “Who did you select for possible... enhancement?”

This subject caught Innocence's interest, and she looked up quickly, almost leaning in; Morning Glory clearly caught the mare's eager body language, her eyes flicking almost imperceptibly to the young unicorn for a moment before they returned to Twilight Sparkle, and the Destroyer answered calmly: “I'm still sorting out the candidates. I know you and Luna are hesitant to continue this research but... I'm afraid it's necessary. I'm sure we can rationalize all kinds of nice little loopholes to your moral quandaries, but at the end of the day it's what we're going to need to do, especially if Gymbr has forces of his own. I doubt they'll be willing to play fair, and I doubt they won't be strengthened themselves in some way.”

“We have to do what's right, and what won't violate the honor code we've created for ourselves, first and foremost.” Celestia said quietly, and Morning Glory grimaced at this, but nodded grudgingly all the same. “If we can't obey the rules and laws we set for ourselves in the worst of times, then we can't hold others to the same.”

“I think we actually can, considering the power we have at our disposal.” Morning Glory said moodily, holding up a hoof, but then she shook her head slowly and said finally: “But as you wish. I will respect your decision.”

Luna cleared her throat loudly, glaring over at the Destroyer before she asked in a cranky voice: “And I forget, Overseer, to whom does thou bow thy head?”

“To the Valkyries. Both of them.” Morning Glory replied sourly, and Luna grumbled under her breath before the Destroyer added distastefully: “You may be my Mistress, but you I unfortunately have no choice but to obey. Abeyance does not automatically mean 'respect.'”

“Well it should.” Luna said grumpily, and then she heeled Scrivener's sides lightly, and the stallion grumbled under his breath before wincing when Luna kicked him firmly several times with one lower leg, scowling down at him. “Oh, damn thee, thou art worse than a damned donkey! Hex was a far more dependable horse than thou art, Scrivy!”

“Hex was a riding horse. I'm a pony. Kind of. Mostly. I don't really know anymore.” Scrivener mumbled, and then he winced when Luna heeled him again before he looked up and complained: “Is this how you treated your goddamn steeds? Because seriously, you're being a bitch right now.”

Innocence giggled despite herself as Celestia shook her head, and then Luna huffed and yanked on Scrivener's mane as her horn sparked, the corruption in the stallion's veins boiling and making him wince before he staggered around in a circle, cursing under his breath as Luna declared: “Enough talk! My horse requires a jaunt before we prepare to head to Valhalla! Now hie, away, Scrivy!”

Scrivener yelped as Luna drove her lower hooves against his sides, and then he leapt forwards and charged out the open doors and into the hallway, cursing loudly several times. Twilight stared with disbelief after the two as Innocence laughed and took off after her Móðer and Father with Eventide hurrying after the young mare, leaving Celestia to tap a hoof slowly against the ground before she said in a conversational tone of voice: “If I had ever caught a Valkyrie treating their riding horse like that, I would have tied the offender to the horse and sent it running from one end of the Vale to the other. To the underbelly of the horse, that is. And which way they faced would have been according to my discretion.”

“I've always enjoyed the way you think. You would have fit in well in Helheim.” Morning Glory said mildly, and then the Destroyer shook her head and turned her eyes towards Twilight Sparkle, saying quietly: “Watch out for your daughter, for her sake.”

The Lich grimaced a bit at this, looking up and saying quietly: “Morning, she's... she's fine. She was just confused about Gymbr, but we've talked to her about it and we'll continue to talk to her about it. She knows better than-”

“I knew better than to believe in my own little brother. Look where I am now anyway.” Morning Glory said moodily, patting her own chest. “Perhaps no one else will say it, but I will. Your little girl lit up at the promise of power from Gymbr, and she's questioning honor and everything you believe in. You can keep talking to her, but what's that going to accomplish? You have to set more expectations and be harder on her when she fails to live up to them.”

“Please don't tell me how to raise my child.” Twilight said quietly but firmly, and Morning Glory sighed and sat back a bit before the violet mare shook her head and murmured: “And I understand your concerns. I do. But Innocence is just going through a phase right now where she has to... question things, look at things differently, try and understand things. And I'd much rather have that than her acting like some kind of little drone, just doing what we tell her to do. It's part of growing up.”

“It wasn't when I was a child. I was given a job and I did it. I was expected to become a shieldmaiden and to be the very best that I could be, and so I was.” Morning Glory replied evenly, shaking her head slowly. “There was no questioning any of that. My brother was the one with questions, who didn't fall in line, who didn't know his place. And no matter what kind of stallion he is now, back then it only led to trouble.”

There was silence for a few moments, then Celestia smoothly changed the subject, asking calmly: “But you now want to reward the free-thinking demons and nightmares, all the same?”

“There is a time and place for it. Furthermore, the candidates are all loyal, and all follow Luna Brynhild's... peculiar style.” Morning Glory grimaced a bit, then she returned her eyes to Twilight Sparkle. “I think I well deserve a little more power, and I don't fear losing my lucidity. Also on the short list of demonic candidates is Ersatz Major: not because she's useful at all, but she quickly volunteered, she's loyal, and it would be an excellent way to study the effects of the Prometheus Elixir.”

“I get so afraid that we're just doing what Valthrudnir was always doing... when does this go from acceptable research to monstrous experimentation?” Twilight murmured quietly, shaking her head slowly, and Celestia smiled faintly as she strode over and reached up to gently touch the violet mare's shoulder comfortingly.

It was Kismet who answered, though,the death entity saying softly: “Everything is about understanding and consent. You know this already though, young one: I think you just need to hear the words from someone impartial. Although I don't know if I can honestly count myself among that number... after all, I'm very fond of your Looking Glass World and you ponies that inhabit it.”

Twilight Sparkle nodded a little, gazing up at the death entity before Celestia said softly: “We can't let our fears of what might happen overwhelm us. If we do, then we'll put ourselves at risk of not being prepared when the time comes: once upon a time, Twilight Sparkle, it was considered a terrible sin to examine the bodies of the dead instead of letting them rest in peace or burning them. But if we had never started perform autopsies and doing research on corpses, we never would have learned about hundreds, if not thousands of diseases, or been able to discover many of the secrets of our own anatomy.”

Twilight smiled a little, glancing up and murmuring: “And I guess that I wouldn't be around either, would I? It just seems... different. A dead body is only meat, the casing that's left behind after our life leaves us. Living people, though...”

Celestia nodded, looking down into the Lich's eyes softly. “It is different. But what's different is what we've been over before. They can make that choice. And even though I'm not always comfortable with the thought of the Greater Nightmares myself, they are necessary.”

Morning Glory grunted, looking up and saying moodily: “This petty morality often comes across more like a weakness than a strength we should be trying to uphold. I suppose as long as the demons like me continued to be annoyed at all the little hoops we have to jump through to get a single thing done, and all the hoof-holding and coddling, you'll never have to worry about losing your idea of honor and moral righteousness.”

Kismet chuckled at this, opening his tome and looking calmly down at the page as he replied kindly: “If you really believed that, Destroyer, then why do you have so much respect for those who maintain it? More, why struggle so hard to imitate them?”

“Because it's what's expected of me. I think we went over that before.” Morning Glory said icily to the death entity, but the way she shifted told them all a different story, the Destroyer glowering as she muttered: “Believe me. I was happier when the concept of honor didn't stretch any further than beating the enemy on the battlefield and proving you were stronger than the enemy.”

Twilight and Celestia both looked up with smiles all the same, well-aware there was much more to the Destroyer than this, and both more glad than they could say they had the strong, straightforwards demon here to help them push through the harsher decisions they would have to make as they continued to trace the line in the shadows between wrong and right.

Innocence shifted moodily on the bed, then she sighed tiredly as she flopped back against the covers, staring up at the ceiling. Eventide glanced towards her curiously, and Hevatica looked up from the book she was reading with a small smile, the demon saying quietly: “I know you're anxious, Innocence, but please. Try and relax a little.”

“I... I am relaxed.” Innocence mumbled as she rolled over, and then she shook her head a little and sighed a bit, fidgeting again nervously before she finally looked up and said hesitantly: “I just... do you know why they... Gymbr was scary, but...”

“Do you know the story of Gymbr?” Eventide asked softly, and Innocence bit her lip, not knowing how to explain it: in a way she did, in a way she didn't. It was something she might brag she knew about but... really, she didn't... know.

Eventide seemed to pick up on this, and the Greater Nightmare gave a small smile after a moment, saying softly: “Then I will explain... what I feel I have the right to explain. Perhaps you can help me, Hevatica... you've always been good with stories, and close to Luna and Scrivener.”

Hevatica laughed quietly at this, and the demoness shook her head slowly as she replied quietly: “Yes, but you know just as much as I do, darling Eventide... and you're just as close to our masters. But I think I understand what you need to hear, Innocence, and what has you so worried. It's understandable, don't worry... many of us demons were drawn in the same way by other masters over the years. But just because it's something that can happen to any of us, doesn't make it right.”

Innocence blushed a bit at this, shaking her head hurriedly and mumbling: “It's... it's not like that at all...”

“Oh?” Hevatica put down the book and slipped over to the bed, leaning over it and giving a faint, sorrow-tinged smile to Innocence, looking at her like she was gazing into the unicorn's very soul. “There's trust, because you sense your parents in him... and he's handsome, and charismatic, and most of all, powerful. And he offered to share that power with you... and darling, we're demons. But whether or not we can read your emotions, it's as clear as the horn on your head, how much you were drawn to that... to power.”

Innocence shifted uneasily, looking down awkwardly and mumbling a little to herself, but Hevatica only laughed quietly and shook her head slowly, closing her eyes. “That's a failing very common to every species, you know. A promise of power makes an easy lure...”

“But power should be earned. Your parents are just as capable as Gymbr of giving power to their loyal subjects and their friends and family... look at me.” Eventide reached up and touched her own breast, smiling faintly. “But my powers were earned, Innocence. They weren't simply given to me, and I am grateful to Luna and Scrivener for it. If I had been simply... given power, I may have used it wrongly. Or I may have never valued it... started begging for more and more at your parents' doorstep.”

“Power does ugly things to us.” agreed Hevatica in a soft voice, and then she turned her eyes towards Innocence, who was keeping her eyes away from the Nightmare and Kelpie... but there was a hint of shame in her body language, as much as there was embarrassment. “Oh, darling. It's alright. The drive for power itself is nothing bad... it's how you choose to attain it that helps decide the kind of person you are.”

“And what you do with it.” Eventide added, and Hevatica gave a quiet laugh and a nod of acknowledgment as Innocence hesitantly brought her eyes back towards the two. “But you wanted to know more about Gymbr, and perhaps if you hear more about him... you'll feel less anxious about the way your parents treated him.”

Innocence sat up a bit, and the Greater Nightmare tilted her head towards the demon, who gave a wry smile. “Oh, if you insist. Gymbr is a difficult subject, Innocence, and your parents and brother know much more about him than we do. He first came to your brother, Antares, when he was only a child... and he did help your parents in the final battle against Decretum. But whether or not he was ever truly a friend is... up for debate.”

“But why? If he helped then, why would they be so worried he's not helping now? And I mean... those... other versions of...” She bit her lip, not wanting to say their names. “Those ponies he brought with him were scary, but they seemed like they... they more than just had faith in him. And they seemed happy... isn't happiness what's important?”

“Is it?” Eventide and Hevatica traded looks and slight smiles, and Innocence scowled a bit at them both before the Greater Nightmare gave a quiet laugh, bowing her head and saying gently: “Excuse us. But think about it for a moment, Innocence: would you trade away your freedom for happiness? What about your mind, your strength, your memories?”

The unicorn shifted a little, then she looked down and mumbled: “There's a lot of things I don't really want to remember, though. And I just... I wouldn't be happy without... you know.”

“Then do you think they're truly happy? Or is it just a trick of their minds and Gymbr's powers?” asked Hevatica pointedly, and Innocence shifted a bit before the Kelpie reached out and gently touched one of her forelegs. “That is why your parents don't trust Gymbr. Your parents welcome darkness, but Gymbr brings more than just darkness with him... he brings destruction, and hatred, and suffering, and greed. Gymbr is malicious, and willing to do anything that will benefit himself in the long run, with no care or compassion for others.”

Innocence made a face, and Eventide added quietly: “Gymbr made slaves of those ponies he called 'family,' Innocence. They are not willing servants, as we are to your parents... they are slaves, with no choice but to obey and to be loyal. While some would argue this is a fitting use of his powers... you would be wise to consider the price of such selfishness.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Innocence nodded a little before she murmured: “Okay. I... I guess I understand where you're all coming from. But still... he'd be a powerful ally, wouldn't he? And he wants to give us... he said himself, he wants us to be... equal to him, even better. I know that he's not one of the... 'good guys,' I guess, but... why is it so important to be a good guy?”

“It's not. But it is important to do the right thing, and your parents have always followed a code of honor. A strange one, yes, but honor all the same.” Hevatica replied gently, giving a small smile to Innocence. “Gymbr lacks honor. That is why your parents are hesitant to make any deals with him.”

The unicorn mumbled a little, and then she dropped her head and sighed, muttering: “Still. I don't... I guess I just don't get honor that well, maybe. And the Pious really are creepy and... they give me this awful feeling. It's not like Mutt is jumping to make friends with any of them, either... it seems really dumb to me, not to pick one side or the other.”

Hevatica and Eventide both smiled again, and Innocence scowled a little before she buried her face down against the bed with a sigh. She fidgeted a little, her mind nervously playing through all kinds of different thoughts and scenarios, but she kept coming back to Gymbr... thinking about him, wondering how strong he must be, worrying that maybe... Hevatica and Eventide were being more affected by her parents than they liked to believe they were.

Maybe Gymbr just embraced the darkness more than her parents did... maybe they were just afraid of Gymbr's power, and what we could do or... well... she didn't know, really. Gymbr was a mystery to her, and he really was powerful and he seemed... he scared her, sure, but in a way that drew her all the more to him, what he could maybe offer.

But then again... those ponies. What he had done to those ponies... that frightened her, too. She would never want to end up like that... some kind of... toy to a self-proclaimed god. And hey, if her parents were afraid of him because they were afraid he was going to come in here and try to take over... she could understand that, too. She'd do anything to try and protect the little she had herself, after all.

The unicorn sighed a little, and then she finally sat up and rubbed at her face as she murmured: “It's too bad you guys can't come to Valhalla with us. I like having you both around. But I guess us freaks have to stick together, right?”

“You're not a freak, Innocence. You're a very pretty little girl. You just need to learn to be more comfortable with yourself, like Twilight Sparkle is.” encouraged Eventide, smiling and nodding. “I know that it may be difficult at times, but believe us when we say you should never feel that you have to hide who you are.”

Innocence smiled wryly at this, reaching up and rubbing slowly at her scaled features as she mumbled: “Easy for you to say. Hevatica, you're really, really pretty, and Eventide, you're a Greater Nightmare. All the other Nightmares look up to you as a big sister and both of you have a place where you really belong... and well... I'm just... I look like a dragon-pony baby.”

Hevatica laughed quietly at this, saying softly: “Innocence, hiding your face won't change who you are. That's something we all learn, quickly: perhaps looking like a pretty, natural pony will help soften the first meeting, but if you have to continue to put on a mask just to spend time with these 'friends...' then are they truly friends at all?”

Innocence mumbled a little at this, then she complained: “Well, it's not like Mom goes out and tells everyone she's a Lich!”

“And nor does she hide it. She simply is what she is, and she refuses to allow others to dictate what she should look like or how she should act. You should be proud to have such a strong mother.” Eventide said kindly, and Innocence mumbled and shifted a little bit before the Greater Nightmare soothed: “All things in time. You'll find what's right for you, Innocence. You'll understand that only very few opinions should be taken without a grain of salt.”

The unicorn mumbled a little, then she sighed and flopped back on the bed disconsolately, nodding and closing her eyes. Still, her mind danced with a thousand questions, none of which she had any answers to... and she only hoped that soon enough, she'd start to figure things out on her own.

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