• Published 7th Sep 2013
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Glory Be - BlackRoseRaven



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

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The Machineries Of Joy

Chapter Eighteen: The Machineries Of Joy
~BlackRoseRaven

It seemed that they were going to end up spending more time in Valhalla than expected: three days had passed so far, and there was no sign they were going home anytime soon. But Celestia, Scrivener and Luna were training fiercely all hours of the day, and here in Valhalla they were able to heal faster than they would even in Subterra's energized atmosphere, and Luna and Celestia both just seemed... stronger. Better. It was like the air of this place was helping restore their Valkyrie instincts, like Valhalla itself was strengthening them and urging them on.

Sometimes Innocence and Twilight would train with them, but for the most part, Twilight kept Innocence busy with theory and magic training, and occasionally Prestige or one of the other new Valkyries would help out with more physical exercises and drills. Antares was always there for his little sister as well, but he liked to spend a lot of his time sitting back and watching his parents and Celestia, cheering for them occasionally and treating it a lot like a prize match... which, well, Twilight supposed from how rough and active the two got, it was.

Not that Antares was slacking off at all: he was running messages throughout Valhalla, helping out in the Archive Wing of Heaven, and training with Prestige for what felt like an inevitable conflict. After all, Luna and Scrivener knew the answer they were going to give to Gymbr the next time the god put in an appearance: a resounding 'no' to whatever plans he had. They couldn't trust him... even if none of them were precisely fond of the Pious, either, and they hadn't received any answer to the messages that Terra had sent to the Cenobium that stood outside Valhalla's walls.

The Pious inside Valhalla, on the other hoof, seemed... agitated. They weren't spreading their word to every unguarded pair of ears like they normally would, instead going about their cryptic business, coming and going from Valhalla constantly, and only hugging themselves and refusing to answer any questions the ponies had. Celestia and Twilight had both come to the conclusion that they were actually afraid of something... which didn't help Gymbr's case very much, Celestia had noted. If they were actually interlopers of some kind, now would be their only time to either strike or flee: for now it just seemed like they were in a panic.

Twilight sighed softly as she strode quickly through Valhalla, then she shivered a bit and halted for a moment, barely aware of the Blessed that passed her as she felt a twist of... it was hard to describe. It was like excitement and adrenaline, but that went through a sieve before it reached her, draining all the energy out of it and turning it into this strange, lethargic pleasure that made her muscles go wobbly. She hated it and she loved it: it was the thrill of feeling Scrivener and Luna as they smashed into each other like animals, and she could feel the poise and grace in their disciplined bodies but the way their primal minds roared at each other...

Twilight closed her eyes and tilted her head back, stitches writhing for a moment, almost threatening to pop... and then she shivered again and shook her head quickly, blushing a little as she hurried onwards and rolled her shoulders to adjust her sweater over her body. It got so awkward sometimes with the way they were all linked and how they were all continuing to influence each other...

She sighed a little, then glanced up as she reached her destination, knocking perfunctorily on the door before pushing it open and stepping into the office. Inside, a speckled brown and white earth pony glanced up with surprise at her, and then he brightened, tossing his messy chestnut mane. “Oh, Lady Sparkle! I've been waiting for you!”

The lanky earth pony almost tripped over his own robes as he hopped out of his seat, stumbling around the messy, paperwork-piled desk as Twilight smiled and said softly: “I didn't mean to keep you waiting, Pipsqueak. I've got some letters to mail down to Looking Glass World... it's not too much of a problem, is it? I just don't want anyone to worry too much while we're here.”

“Oh, not at all, miss, not at all.” Pipsqueak shook his head quickly, then he smiled and straightened, adjusting his robes as his eyes gazed almost fawningly over Twilight, and the violet mare gave him an awkward smile before the stallion cleared his throat hurriedly and strode out into the hall. “You... you really don't need my help though, Lady Sparkle, I'm very sure, more than sure that the Watchers would respect your status and all that...”

“Well, I want to do things properly, that's all. I don't like throwing my weight around.” Twilight smiled over at the earth pony, nodding once as they began down the halls. “Besides, it's not that urgent... I just don't want any of our friends or family to spend too long without knowing what's going on. It's important we all stay in contact with each other.”

“Yes ma'am, knowledge is power as they say, isn't that right?” The pony smiled at her brightly, and Twilight couldn't help but give him an entertained look: even for a Blessed, Pipsqueak was always so optimistic and cheerful. He was also an aide to Terra, and helped Excelsior out with a lot of his paperwork: apparently Kvasir had hired him after some kind of conflict with another former assistant, Aria. “Then I'm just very happy to help, Lady Sparkle.”

“Twilight. Just call me Twilight.” the violet mare said kindly, and Pipsqueak blushed a little as he nodded hurriedly several times, before the Lich glanced ahead and asked: “So, how have things been going around Heaven? I was... actually rather surprised to find out how much work Taruos does around here... or tries to do, I mean... I'm not sure how good he actually is...”

Pipsqueak only chuckled at this, shaking his head quickly. “Oh, you'd be surprised, Miss Twilight. He's quite the very talented little boy, as a matter of fact, very talented indeed, and I think that he's going to make a fine ruler of Valhalla one day, very fine.”

Twilight smiled despite herself at this, then she asked after a moment: “Do you ever find it strange, taking orders from... well, a child? I mean, I saw that he even sits in on the Heavenly Council with his mother... I don't suppose all the angels and Blessed are as positive about that as you seem to be yourself, Pipsqueak.”

Pipsqueak shrugged a little at this, saying thoughtfully: “Well, no, but he's the prince and everyone respects that, that's all. I mean, just speaking between you and me ma'am, not everyone here was really thrilled with Terra being Queen at first, but after Kvasir vanished no one wanted her to step down and they all certainly respect her, if only for the sake of public face. And whether young or not, Taruos is very competent, very intelligent, very strong.”

The violet mare nodded, thinking for a moment of how brazen and bold the child was... but also how... no, not moody, but maybe sullen was a good word for it. He was such a mix of serious and sad... “It can't be entirely good for him, though... I mean, the way he behaves...”

“Yes, it's... it is rather rough, I'll be the first to admit that.” Pipsqueak's smile toned down as he gazed over at Twilight, shaking his head a little. “But at the same time, miss, I don't think there's any real better place for him. There are precious few other children in Valhalla, and if I may be frank, the young prince isn't very good with them in any regard. He prefers to keep his own company, and he prefers to spend most of that time working. He seems so serious when he's busy but when he's not, he just seems to be so... angry.”

“I think I understand what you mean.” Twilight said softly, nodding a little and thinking of Antares: how after he'd lost his parents, all he'd wanted to do was... look for them, and do whatever he could to make himself stronger, better, more ready to try and find them when the time was right. And how when she tried to do something to make him take his mind off that goal, he'd gotten less focused, more frantic, more... angry. That really was a good word for it.

They continued on for a moment in quiet, Pipsqueak fidgeting before he suddenly glanced over at her and asked in a tremendously awkward voice: “So uh. Valkyrie Princess Luna, is... how's she doing, Miss Twilight?”

Twilight sighed inwardly, giving Pipsqueak an amused look before she replied gently: “She's very good, and you should ask Luna herself. Just Luna. Like I'm just Twilight, okay?”

“Yes, of course Miss Twilight.” Pipsqueak smiled over at her, and Twilight felt both amused and exasperated before the young stallion gave an awkward grin. “And what about... Sir Blooms? Sir Scrivener Blooms, yes, her husband?”

“Scrivy is fine too. Honestly, you shouldn't be so afraid of them, Pipsqueak. They're good ponies.” Twilight paused, then winced as she stopped in the hallway and she felt a twist of pain over her face, reaching up and absently rubbing at her cheek as a bruise slowly formed over it. Pipsqueak was staring at her with wide eyes, and the Lich blushed a little as she glanced over at the stallion, mumbling: “Sorry about that. They're sparring, that's all. I think Luna just managed to get a good hit in against Scrivener... she likes to use her hooves.”

“I uh... I see then, Miss Twilight.” Pipsqueak said lamely, and then he cleared his throat and gestured awkwardly forwards. “Shall we carry on then?”

“Yes, definitely.” Twilight did her best just to nod in return, and the two continued on in quiet as the violet mare repressed a shiver as best she could. Not of pain... oh, it wasn't pain that had bothered her while they had tried to fight Teddy, it was the humiliation that had hurt... but the fighting itself...

She closed her eyes and shook herself briefly, then looked up in surprise when Pipsqueak announced in a positive voice: “Well, here we are, Miss Twilight! The Watcher's Temple!”

They had reached an enormous set of open silver doors, both beautifully patterned and with a massive eye decorating the tall archway. Blessed were flooding in and out through this, and Twilight smiled a little before following Pipsqueak through into the enormous, circular lobby beyond as he chattered away cheerfully: “You know, when I first came to Valhalla I thought this would be the most fantastic place, the most fantastic place to work at, but oh, there's so much paperwork, and of course it's so hard to enforce all the rules and keep everyone with their fair share and it really can be just an awful business. I really couldn't stand more than a few weeks here, making Blessed pay just to see how their loved ones were doing.”

Twilight only nodded absently, looking first towards the enormous, dome-shaped structure in the center of the room: it was like an immense ticket booth, lined with windows where clerks were passing out schedules and tickets for the hundred or so 'Viewing Rooms' that lined the walls. The violet mare's eyes were soon drawn to these, slowly looking to the side, then up the immense, rounded walls: a massive, spiraling staircase surrounded them, stretching up toward the ceiling barely visible countless feet above. So many rooms, for ponies who had passed on to visit to get a few minutes to gaze into the simple scrying glasses contained inside each and see what their loved ones were doing with their lives... it was no wonder the Blessed were all in such a rush.

Pipsqueak politely cleared his throat, and Twilight Sparkle looked up in surprise before she smiled lamely as the stallion gestured towards a less-crowded area, where a long counter formed a squared off little nook. Only a few Blessed were there, quickly being attended to by the clerks. “Come along, Miss Twilight. You have your letters with you?”

“Oh, yes, right.” Twilight's horn glowed brightly before she simply flicked it to the side, and a bundle of letters appeared in a flash in front of her, Pipsqueak looking surprised before Twilight blushed a bit as she easily levitated them beside her. “It's nothing special. Just a simple calling charm.”

“I don't know about that... that really is quite impressive, Miss Twilight!” Pipsqueak said cheerfully, nodding as he bounced along beside her. “The only other pony I've ever met who could do things like that without any preparation beforehoof was... well, Lord Kvasir.”

Pipsqueak quieted a bit, and Twilight softened as she asked almost hesitantly: “Did you know him well? I mean... you worked together for a few years, didn't you?”

“I'm not really sure. Excelsior certainly knew him better than I did but... I like to think that he was a friend, all the same.” Pipsqueak replied after a moment with a firm nod, and Twilight nodded back, smiling a little at the stallion. Then the young stallion cleared his throat, raising his head and gesturing towards an open space of counter and an angel that was looking at them curiously. “Here we are, ma'am.”

Twilight turned her attention to the angel, approaching and nodding politely despite the odd appearance of the creature: it was a true angel, not a Blessed, which meant that it had been born – or perhaps created, Twilight wasn't sure – in Heaven. The Blessed, after all, were all once-mortals who had passed on. Many of them referred to themselves proudly as 'angels,' but there was really quite a bit of difference between the two.

This divine being didn't even look like a pony, or a demon: it was tall, standing on two legs, but had no fur like the Nibelung, just smooth skin mostly covered by a thick cloth cloak. It had large wings and a slightly hunched posture, with most of its smooth face covered by a metallic horse's mask, dun-colored eyes looking through these with interest. Apparently they wore these masks to try and fit in a little more around Valhalla, which Twilight thought was a little funny. But it seemed to at least half-work, especially since many of them had long, flowing hair like manes, and they were friendly enough. More importantly, they were inquisitive, talkative, had emotions; they weren't distant and alien like the Strange Ones, or haughty and unapproachable like the Pious.

“My good friend Lady Twilight Sparkle would like to send a few letters to her friends in Looking Glass World.” Pipsqueak proceeded, looking up at the angel as if nothing about him was strange, and Twilight smiled despite herself: she supposed that in time, you really could get used to anything. Then again, she should know: she had been a Lich for long enough now it had started to feel like her natural state of being. “My name is Pipsqueak, and my authorization is-”

“I know who you are, Pip. You've been here plenty of times in the past.” the angel said mildly, raising a hand, and Pipsqueak huffed a little as Twilight smiled despite herself. She dropped the bundle of letters on the counter, and the angel picked them up, flipping quickly through them. “Alright... names and addresses, I can pass these on to a courier as is. Are you paying the service fee or does this count as a government expenditure?”

“I'll pay.” Twilight flicked her horn, and a bag of coins appeared in the air beside her in a spark of violet light. Pipsqueak began to protest, but the Lich shook her head quickly, giving him a warm smile. “No, honestly, don't worry about it, I've got more than enough. Ten... silvers per letter, right?”

“That's right, miss.” The angel nodded, and Twilight began to fish coins out of the tiny bag: it seemed like the little sack couldn't hold more than ten of the silver dollars she pulled out, but more and more simply floated up out of the bag until there were five even stacks on the counter, the angel nodding once before simply sweeping his hand to the side.

The coins neatly lifted into the air and formed into a silver dollar serpent that twisted past him towards a large bin presumably filled with more, clinking into this as the angel said kindly: “The next messenger leaves in three hours. These letters should be delivered within half a day's passage.”

“Thank you very much.” Twilight smiled as her horn glowed, the bag vanishing in another puff before she turned to leave, and Pipsqueak followed her with an enthralled look on his features. The Lich glanced awkwardly over her shoulder at the earth pony as he looked at her with awe, and she laughed lamely after a moment before saying finally: “Time-space distortion only sounds difficult, and... I mean, it's much easier to exponentially increase the size of a small bag than a larger one, too, of course, since making something smaller ten times bigger is like making something larger twice as big... and... it really isn't that impressive...”

“Oh, but it is!” Pipsqueak said brightly, nodding firmly a few times. “I've never seen any pony wield their magic so efficiently as you do, not even any of the Valkyries! It really is incredibly-”

But he was interrupted by Twilight wincing, her head twisting to the side more out of reflex than anything else as a large cut appeared over her features before she glowered straight ahead. Pipsqueak turned pale as he staggered to a halt and several passing Blessed stumbled and stared, but Twilight didn't see any of them as she glared into thin air, feeling a bit of blood leaking down her features before she said loudly and clearly: “I think that's enough.”

And, on the other side of Valhalla, Luna and Scrivener Blooms both froze together, the stallion grasping the body of Prúðbikkja, the tip of which was digging into his skull just below the temple after leaving a long tear through his features. The wound was already healing, but it had been deep enough to leave a bloody gash over Luna's own features... and presumably Twilight's as well.

The two traded lame looks, both breathing hard, dressed in armor that had been dented and damaged and stained from their fierce sparring. They had taken over a sandy arena lot, parts of which had been turned to mire here and there, trampled and broken vines scattered through the sand along with broken pieces of crystallized black poison.

Luna stepped back, shaking her head briskly as Scrivener cleared his throat and yanked Prúðbikkja away from his head, then dropped it and gave the sapphire mare an awkward grin. There was silence for a few moments between them, and then they both looked dumbly up as Antares stood up in the seats above the low wall surrounding them, raising his forelegs high and cheering loudly as Prestige dropped her face in one hoof.

The sapphire mare huffed and half-spun towards her son, flicking her soulstone horn to send a sapphire fireball shooting towards him, but the spikes that ran along the top of the short wall glowed and a dim barrier sprung into life that absorbed the blue flames.

Antares grinned widely from the seats that half-encircled the arena, then he called cheerfully: “I think Dad won that round, Mom! You're kind of losing your edge!”

“Come down here and say that to my face! And then my hoof shall say... 'tis... time for a party... to thy face in response! A hoof party! And it shall be in thy face's house!” Luna shouted back up at her son, flailing a hoof at him uselessly, and Antares only blew a raspberry at his mother in return, making her grumble disconsolately and drop on her rump as she glared over at Scrivener Blooms. “This is all thy fault. I miss the days when our son was whiny but manageable. Now, now he is just like... well...”

“You.” Scrivener said dryly, and then he winced when Prúðbikkja poked him several times, slapping at it crankily. Then he rolled his shoulders and grimaced a bit as he added in a mumble: “Although he did pick me as the winner, so I guess I can't really complain there.”

“Thou art not the winner. Thou art never the winner, at least not when it comes to the everlasting war between us.” Luna grumbled, shaking her head briskly before she glanced over at her floating spear, and her prosthetic horn gave a brief flash, the spear glowing with the same light before it shrank quickly down and spun towards her. It disappeared into her starry locks, and the mare absently rubbed at the bloody cut on her cheek, complaining: “Heal thyself, Scrivy. This itches. And 'twill itch more if sand gets in it.”

“Then maybe you shouldn't rub your dirty hooves all over it.” Scrivener said mildly, and Luna huffed before turning towards the stallion and attempting to shove her hooves into his face, Scrivy flailing at her with a wince before he tipped backwards and landed on his spine with a grunt of pain, cursing as Luna's hooves mashed down against his face and made him groan in frustration as she attempted to shove his head into the sand.

Antares snorted in amusement as he leaned over the wall, feeling the magic energy that filled the short but supple barrier tickling against his hooves before Prestige tapped his side lightly and said mildly: “You're going to get a nasty shock again doing that, hero. Come on, sit back here. Your parents will be done soon and then we can go down and train a little.”

The glossy-black unicorn smiled at this, dropping back into the comfortable seat as he gazed across the arena at the other seating section, where Celestia was watching his parents tussle with what he guessed was exasperation... although he wouldn't be surprised if there was a bit of worry there, too. He was worried himself, whether he wanted to admit it or not.

The stallion glanced over at Prestige Luster, and she softened as she gazed back at him, seeing beneath his smiles as she asked softly: “Why don't you just go talk to them about it?”

Antares shrugged at this, looking back down at his parents and rubbing a hoof slowly against his face before he murmured: “Because I don't know what else to suggest, mostly. I mean, hey, I could go out there and say 'we really need Hel's help, and we should do whatever she wants to get it,' but... I don't think I really believe that. I don't trust Hel, Prestige. And part of me still wants to trust Gymbr.”

Prestige nodded slowly, then she reached up and gently touched his shoulder. He studied her, then smiled a little as he silently reached up and stroked a hoof against the simple scarf she was wearing: it was a blue that seemed to reflect in her eyes, making them look like a stormy sky over the sea, but... in a pretty way. Especially with that red fleck she had... “You know, you're pretty weird.”

“Thanks, hero.” Prestige smiled despite herself, shaking her head slowly before she nudged him gently. “But try and be serious for a moment, Mir. I mean, I thought you were over this whole... 'I'm too scared to try and talk to my parents' thing.”

“I... I'm not scared. It's not like that at all. Shut up.” Antares said defensively, and then he added in a mumble: “Also, I have three parents who are all linked together so even when they're alone it's like talking to all three at once. Most kids, even grown-up-adult-kids like me, have trouble just talking to one parent about something.”

Prestige shrugged a bit at this, then she reached up and ruffled the stallion's mane, making him huff. “Well, you're not most grown-up kids, are you? You're Antares Mīrus. Prince of the Night and the son of the mighty Valkyrie Brynhild and Equestria-reknowned author, Scrivener Blooms.”

Antares snorted at this and shoved the mare lightly away, saying wryly: “And none of that translates to 'talks good with Mom and Dad and Mom.' Or Mutt. Horses of Heaven am I ever proud of Sin for coming up with Mutt. It's perfect for... well, Mutt.”

“I can hear thou mocking me!” Luna shouted loudly, and Antares only grinned, turning his eyes down into the arena, where Luna was now sitting just in front of the wall and glaring up at him. “Be wary, Antares Mīrus. Thou art an adult. This means I can beat thee as much as I like and 'tis no crime or cowardice. And thou has a habit of making it truly oh-so-tempting.”

The stallion only shrugged with a wry grin at this, looking entertained before he replied easily: “Hey, I wasn't saying anything that wasn't true, and you can't punish me for that, can you? I mean, you could, but then you'd be setting a really bad precedent. Aunt Tia might start beating you for all the true things you say about her all the time.”

Luna pondered this for a few moments, then she nodded firmly once before stomping her hooves childishly. “Well, come down here anyway, Antares, I desire to pummel thee a little for old times' sake! And thou, Prestige, thou must come down too, but thou art not required to accept my love-pummels, although 'tis very impolite if thou does not.”

Prestige sighed tiredly, then she winced when Antares leapt over the magic barrier and easily landed in the arena in front of his mother in a puff of sand. They glared at each other challengingly for a moment, then both suddenly laughed and leaned forwards, sharing a fierce, tight hug as Scrivener smiled despite himself and Prestige headed for the stairs with an amused roll of her eyes.

Mother and child parted, then they looked at each other warmly before Luna leaned forwards and asked kindly: “Now come, child. What hast thou been talking about? What is worrying thee? Thou must know that thou can speak to us about anything by now, for Mimir's sake we share jokery most foul often enough.”

“I know, Móðer. But I respect you guys and I don't want to make it seem like I'm subtly calling you stupid. When, you know, I prefer to just call you stupid out loud.” Antares replied reasonably, and Luna poked at him with her horn, but the glossy-black stallion easily slipped backwards before he softened and hesitated as his mother looked up, then he said quietly: “I'm just not sure that this stuff with Hel is coming from the right place. I might not be as old as you, but... I have learned a few lessons about pride along the way.”

The unicorn's eyes flicked towards Prestige as she pushed open a small gate leading into the arena, and Luna grumbled a bit, but lowered her head and nodded grudgingly as she studied the approaching new Valkyrie. Prestige was toned and strong and fit, even her cutie mark of three interlocked swirls of red, blue and white seemed to glow with her strength.

But more than that, she had grown wise; to this day, Luna could still barely believe that apparently in the past, this same unicorn had once been a racist, proud mare concerned only with the purity of her bloodline. The winged unicorn supposed they had all changed, though, to one extent or another: after all, Scrivener Blooms had begun his life in the northlands too, treated as nothing better than a slave... although really, his strange story started before that, with a plan of Valthrudnir's and a needle containing dark and terrible life...

Luna shook her head quickly, and both she and Scrivener looked awkwardly up out of the shared reverie they had almost fallen into before the starry-maned mare asked impulsively: “Prestige, what would thou do in this situation?”

“Seeing as I've been humbled more than once in the past, and I know that I'm better for it... I would honestly stop and consider everything that's happened. Why I ended up in that situation and... if this advice is worth following, or in your case, if the game with Hel is worth playing.” Prestige halted, then she smiled a little and bowed her head. “And I hate to say it, Luna Brynhild, but... sometimes what hurts the most is the best thing for us.”

“Thy advice is stupid.” Luna grumbled, but she looked down thoughtfully all the same, clearly considering her options before she sighed and shook her head slowly, mumbling: “Honestly, I do not know what to do, though. Aye, Hel would be a powerful ally, but 'powerful' does not automatically mean 'useful,' and... I fear what gifts she would bring us, and what the cost of such would be. Thou knows already that she tried to tempt Innocence. Furthermore, Terra has informed me that Heaven has been running much smoother without fear of one of Hel's puppets popping up to do harm.”

Antares grimaced a little at this, nodding slowly. “Yeah, I remember. And that's definitely not something Sin needs to be going through right now... she's already confused as hell as it is about Gymbr. And speaking of Gymbr, Mom...”

“Oh, do not say it. I am frustrated enough as it is with Hel.” Luna groaned, shaking her head quickly before she looked sourly over at her son. “Speak honestly. Speak honestly, Antares, can thou honestly tell me that Gymbr can be trusted, that Gymbr is not pursuing something selfish and wicked that shall perhaps have dire consequences for our entire universe?”

“Even the actions we take for the sake of others are selfish if it makes us happy to see them happy. And every single day we take actions that could bring harmony or despair to the universe in someone else's perceptions.” Antares said mildly, and Luna stared at her son with disbelief before she huffed and turned to Scrivener Blooms, firmly bopping him with her horn and making him flinch away.

“What the hell did I do?” the charcoal stallion complained, and then he awkwardly ducked out of the way when Luna swung her horn at him.

“Listen to our child! 'Tis thy fault that he acts like this!” Luna grumbled, and then she glanced moodily at her son as he rose a hoof pointedly.

“Actually, it's from a book I'm reading on Taoist philosophy.” Antares corrected, and there was silence for a moment before Luna turned and whacked Scrivener with her horn again.

“See? 'Tis thy fault! Thou taught him to read, and to read such rubbish as that!” the sapphire mare grumbled, and then she and Scrivener Blooms slapped at each other like foals for a few moments before Luna finally managed to shove the charcoal stallion over.

Antares rolled his eyes at this, then he said dryly: “I'm just pointing out that even if, yes, it seems like Hel and Gymbr are both complete assheads... there might be more to this than it seems. Maybe Gymbr really is trying to stop something, I dunno. I just know that we need more information. And probably about everything, at that.”

“I think we have all the information we're going to get, though.” Celestia said softly as she approached, and all eyes turned towards her, Luna grinning slightly at the sight of a pint-sized Discombobulation sitting placidly on the rainbow-maned mare's head. Celestia glanced up to show that she was aware of the Draconequus before she returned her eyes to Antares, asking curiously: “But even now, you still think that Gymbr...”

The glossy-black unicorn nodded, shifting a little as he gave a small smile. “Yeah. I know it probably doesn't make any sense, but... for some reason, I still can't help but think that Gymbr is here to try and... and help us. I still want to believe in him.”

“Kvasir said the same thing many times in his journals, and eventually Gymbr betrayed that trust.” Celestia said pointedly, and Antares shifted a little before the ivory mare hesitated and turned her eyes towards Luna. “But I will admit the timing is strange. During his first entry, Gymbr attacks Kvasir... but it's also one of the last times on record that Gymbr does so, apparently out of many occurrences in the past. I don't just find it incredible that for so many years this was going on right under our noses, that Kvasir must have been... far, far stronger than we ever gave him proper credit for... but it just doesn't seem like Gymbr's mounting insanity would be enough alone to drive Kvasir to writing the confession he did. It's framed that way, but...”

Luna frowned at this as Scrivener picked himself up, then the stallion asked hesitantly: “You think there's something else? That Kvasir maybe sensed something else on the horizon?”

“Kvasir himself says as much.” Celestia nodded, then she added softly: “There's a lot of information to be mined out of the main journal, and I'd like your help with that, Scrivener Blooms... you're better at close reading than I am. Twilight Sparkle and I can handle the appendix, but you should likely look through the personal journal, too. A lot of it seems irrelevant, but I don't want to risk missing any clues, and more than that... Kvasir does describe several meetings with Gymbr that aren't in the main journal. Meetings where they seem much more like friends than anything else...”

Antares smiled a little at this, and Celestia turned her eyes to the charcoal stallion, saying softly: “Unfortunately, I don't think that confirms anything either way. It could be that Kvasir's feelings of friendship weren't truly returned by Gymbr, or the book could have been edited by Hel or possibly others, and of course they might just be literary exaggeration. Authors overemphasize their own life events all the time, don't they, Scrivener?”

“Ouch, Celestia. But yes. It sounds like Kvasir was just recording information, though...” The charcoal stallion hesitated, then he and Luna traded a look, sharing thoughts back and forth before the sapphire mare nodded firmly, and Scrivy turned his eyes back to Celestia. “Does it ever list a moment where Gymbr gets angry at Kvasir?”

Celestia nodded, saying softly: “The first moment that jumps to mind is before Kvasir was attacked by the assassin. After his wedding with Terra... do you remember when Kvasir stepped aside for a moment? First Hel threatened him because she believed he was trying to gain the loyalties of Terra's entire clan to use against her, and then Gymbr threatened him in some kind of... temporal distortion. From what I've read, his power must be incredible.”

Scrivener nodded back, looking down meditatively before he murmured: “You can learn a lot about people from how they treat you when they're angry. I'll take a look at that passage tonight. Antares, maybe you can help me with some of the reading.”

Antares only snorted at this, shaking his head and saying dryly: “Hey, I might sound smart, but there's a lot of pictures in my philosophy book. I don't know if I'd be a whole lot of use to you, Dad.”

The charcoal earth pony only smiled, though, and after nudge from Prestige, Antares finally nodded hesitantly, saying finally: “Well... I guess it can't hurt to try at least, okay. Just don't be surprised when I don't figure anything out.”

“Then let that be enough thinking for now. Bob, do something amusing, I require amusement.” Luna said mildly, looking up at the Draconequus: he rolled his eyes sourly at the mare, but after a moment rose his hand, and with a snap of his fingers, a pie fell out of thin air and splattered over Luna's features, sliding slowly off her face and leaving her staring through a mask of thick whipped cream and lemon-scented filling.

Slowly, the mare gritted her teeth, then she yelled wildly and threw herself at Celestia's face: Discombobulation hurriedly vanished from the spot, however, and Celestia winced as she ducked low, then caught Luna with telekinesis and tossed her quickly over her shoulder, sending the sapphire mare flying backwards to collide with the sand and roll up to her hooves, cursing and spitting pie filling and sand in all directions. “Oh damn thee both! Thou art truly made for each other, Bob and Tia!”

“That has nine letters.” Celestia said before she could stop herself, and Luna froze before she slowly, creakily turned her head towards the ivory mare, who did her best to try and look innocent even as she said calmly: “'Bob and Tia.' Nine letters. And as you and I both know, the number nine is-”

Luna shouted in frustration, then she lowered her head and charged straight at Celestia, and the ivory mare smiled despite herself before she sidestepped at the last moment. Scrivener Blooms winced at the sight of Luna hurtling towards him, and then he simply covered his face with a curse when the sapphire mare leapt forwards and flipped her body gracefully, kicking off him like a springboard and knocking him flat as she launched herself at Celestia's back... only for the ivory mare to easily, smoothly duck, and instead the starry-maned winged unicorn shot uselessly through the air where her head had been a moment before. “Oh damnation!”

Luna Brynhild spun her body around and dropped to her hooves, skidding backwards through the sand and opening her mouth... and then she gagged loudly as Discombobulation appeared beside her and shoved a large grapefruit into her jaws, the mare cursing and shaking her head wildly back and forth as the chimerical creature said mildly: “I was going to go with a ball gag, but I was afraid that might just give you awful ideas, Scrivener Blooms. The last thing I want to encourage are kinky bedroom antics, after all.”

Celestia smiled slightly at this, the rainbow-maned winged unicorn tilting her head towards Discombobulation and asking mildly: “Are you sure you're talking to my little sister, or is that a sly comment towards me?”

Discombobulation turned, pondered for a moment, and then said mildly: “Sometimes I wonder what Twilight Sparkle's letters would have been like if you had tried to raise her in the image of the terrifying you of now instead of the all cordial you of then. I imagine her letters would have gone something like 'Dear Princess Celestia, today I taught Applejack a new set of knots with her rope... you could say that we were tied up for hours!'”

“Can you not talk about my one sane parent like that, please?” Antares asked mildly, and then he shrugged awkwardly at the pointed look Scrivener Blooms gave him. “Sorry Dad but. You kind of married Mom and all. That's kind of scary in and of itself. At least Twilight took two decades to feel out the territory first.”

Scrivener grumbled at this, and Luna huffed loudly and pawed at the sand before she finally narrowed her eyes and forcefully bit down, the grapefruit exploding in a hail of juices, fruit-flesh, and torn rind as her teeth clacked together and all eyes stared at her. Then she spat to the side several times before raising her head proudly and declaring: “All of thee are stupid. Scrivy, we are taking our leave of them to find Twilight Sparkle and Innocence.”

“Where is Sin, anyway? I was looking for her myself earlier, couldn't find her anywhere.” Antares said, glancing over at the sapphire mare, and Luna smiled slightly at this.

“With Terra, as a matter of fact. As young... Prince Taruos...” Luna made a sour face. “Is 'busy' overseeing mighty Valhalla from his playpen... Terra said that she would be glad to take some time to help train our daughter. I both like and dislike Terra, but this was admittedly much appreciated. There is quite a lot she can learn from the great fat dragon.”

Prestige laughed at this and shook her head slowly, then she said mildly: “With all due respect, Luna... I wouldn't go trying to press Terra's buttons if I were you. She's got a lot more than just raw physical strength, after all, as an Ironjaw-”

“Yes, yes, yes, Terra is a magnificent specimen of a magnificent race.” Luna huffed loudly, turning to stride away as Scrivener smiled despite himself and fell in step behind the mare. “Ironjaw, Ironjaw, Ironjaw. 'Tis all we hear about now, Scrivy, and 'tis preposterous!”

The stallion shrugged a bit as he fell into pace beside the sapphire mare as they headed for the arena's entrance, and then he began to glance over his shoulder... but then Luna poked at him with her horn, and instead he looked at her with a huff, shoving at her grouchily as she said moodily: “Oh, do not give them the satisfaction of looking back, as if thou misses them already. Especially Discombobulation. And our wicked, evil child.”

“You're just mad because Antares is going to have Twilight's brain and your... fun-ness. Without your douche-ness.” Scrivener said mildly, and Luna huffed and poked at him a few more times with her soulstone prosthetic, making the charcoal stallion wince a little.

“Thou art a doucheyness.” the sapphire mare grumbled, and then she glanced up before wincing a bit as she heard a soft whisper in her mind, muttering: “No. No, no, no, thou can go and bugger thyself, Nightmare Moon. I have been ignoring thee for a reason. As a matter of fact, all of us have. And we are in no mood for a conversation with thee now.”

And I have been patient. Nightmare Moon murmured softly to them, as they stepped out of the arena gates and into the narrow field between them and a set of open gates leading into the labyrinthine halls of Valhalla. But my patience is wearing out, and our time is growing short. We need to have a short chat, Luna Brynhild... with or without our beloved King of the Night and Twilight Sparkle...

Luna growled in irritation at this, shaking her head moodily... and then she cursed as there was a flash of light in front of her eyes, a sensation of something trying to drag her down, and she stumbled to a halt in the middle of the field. Scrivener felt it, too, but there was less pressure for him, and more the allure of a soft caress, the feel of a muzzle in his mane, of a tongue licking slowly up his neck before sharp teeth nipped against his ear as a seductive voice whispered: You need my help to understand Hel and Gymbr because I am closer to them than you are right now...

“Monsters?” Scrivener muttered, and there was a soft laugh in his mind... that then bled into reality through Luna's mouth, and the charcoal stallion winced as he looked to the side and watched as Luna's eyes began to glow, turning envy-green as her pupils became slits.

“No. Gods.” Nightmare Moon said softly through Luna's mouth, and she smiled... even as her mane sparked and whipped around the winged unicorn, limbs quaking and shivering as Luna visibly fought to take control back over her own body. “I've been a good girl. Nice and quiet, even through all your hardships. And maybe that was cruel of me, too, to not be there to offer you advice, to leave you out on your own... but that's what you both wanted, too.”

Scrivener Blooms gritted his teeth, and he could feel Luna's fury and Twilight Sparkle's own concern as she felt what was going on, and the stallion wanted to shout, wanted to tantrum, wanted to just... run away when he felt all that pressure coming down on him. Because as Twilight's anxiety filtered in and Luna's anger twisted through his mind, he could feel them depending on him to make the rational decision, to make the choice, because Nightmare Moon seemed to listen to him the most... and he cursed under his breath before muttering: “Let Luna go, and... we'll find a quiet place to come and talk to you. But no games.”

Nightmare Moon smiled widely at this... and even though Luna's features, it looked so cruel, so predatory, and yet so needy, as the dark passion entity whispered lovingly: “Then we will be waiting, my King of the Night. Please don't keep us waiting very long.”

Those poisonous and sensual eyes slipped closed... and then Luna's shivering body stilled before she gasped as her eyes opened, shaking her head roughly and gritting her teeth for a moment. Scrivener Blooms only looked at her quietly as they stood in front of the open maw to the sacred halls, and then Luna shuddered once and murmured: “It has been a long time since Nightmare Moon has forced control over me... has even been able to do such a thing. She... she truly must have something important to tell us, Scrivener Blooms... or perhaps...”

Luna shook her head slowly, breathing slowly before she looked up at the stallion and hesitated, then leaned forwards and kissed him quickly. Scrivener kissed her softly back, but as they parted, he felt her nip his lip: just enough to draw a droplet of his black blood, that she swirled back into her mouth and painted her gums with, shaking herself briskly before she smiled at him with the faintest blush in her cheeks.

He looked at her silently for a moment, knowing he shouldn't, couldn't encourage her. He loved her with all his heart, wanted to give her everything, thought of themselves as one person... and yet at the same time he was a living poison to her. A living, addictive poison that, on the bad days, when she was stressed or hurting, Luna still had the habit of turning to... of... trying to sample. And he hated himself because part of him... enjoyed it, craved her needing him as much as she craved the corruption.

But that's what it was. Corruption. Poison. And he was here, letting her feed off it, letting her try and drown her worries and emotions in it, and he, all he could do was... “Let's... let's go. Maybe Nightmare Moon might actually have something useful to say.”

Luna nodded, studying him silently as he looked back at her, their eyes meeting, trading emotions and images and thoughts and so much more and... even with their link, Scrivener couldn't say and share all the things he wanted to, just as the sapphire mare couldn't explain herself, couldn't reassure the stallion she loved so deeply, needed so badly... and honestly had this maybe-sick, perhaps-twisted, but so very real happiness that she was glad that need was literal in more than one way.

They strode quietly into the halls of Valhalla together, and Luna silently slipped herself closer before she closed her eyes and buried her face against Scrivener's neck. She nestled into that perfect spot she had long ago found to take comfort in: right above the collar, feeling the soothing, almost soft-textured metal against the side of her head and feeling her pulse, how his heart beat in time with her own against the side of her muzzle. Every th-thump, th-thump helped soothe her all the further... the thought of that black blood racing through his veins, poison made not to take life away but give life, make it better, racing through his veins almost made her giddy...

She swallowed a little as she felt Scrivener's mental touch brush against her mind, silently push at those thoughts, and a faint blush rose in her cheeks even as she snuggled closer against him. It was half in defiance of him, half in challenge to herself, and the stallion sighed softly but didn't push her away with mind or body, and she closed her eyes as she murmured: “I am not weak, Scrivener Blooms. I am not. I am merely a little... a little confused now and then, I simply need a little... reassurance, in this special form. That is all... and 'tis not so bad, is it? Nay, it could be far worse.”

Scrivener Blooms didn't respond only looking softly down at the mare before he shook his head a little and turned his eyes ahead, murmuring: “I don't know if you're right or wrong, Luna. I do know that you're not weak, but... I don't think you're well, either. I don't think either of us are very well. And you know Twilight's going to be angry and Celestia's going to know.”

“'Twas only one drop. I am sure even the drunks are allowed to drink one drop now and then.” Luna grumbled, and Scrivener Blooms sighed tiredly and gave the sapphire mare a dry look, but she only sniffed loudly and rose her head high, saying crankily: “Well, thou all look down on me like some damned addict all the time, so I should be damn well allowed to mock other addicts as I see fit. Drunks and junkies and... sexomaniacs like Celestia included.”

Scrivener Blooms sighed tiredly at this, shaking his head slowly as Luna grumbled under her breath, and they only pushed and prodded at each other a little as they made their way up to their private quarters. For now, they would just hope that Terra wasn't pushing Innocence too hard... but it was better that they had a little bit of privacy for this part.

They pushed the door open... and then both ponies smiled a little at the sight of Twilight Sparkle already sitting on the bed and waiting for them, the violet mare sighing softly and shaking her head slowly before she murmured: “You two really don't need to protect me anymore... as a matter of fact, Luna, I'm starting to think that I need to be the one protecting you.”

The sapphire mare shrugged a little, and then she said softly: “'Tis not as if I can rightly argue, Twilight Sparkle. I am... I understand that I am more than a little damaged, after all. But... well, 'twas only one drop, and-”

“A single drop of basilisk venom can kill an entire town. A single phoenix tear is said to be able to heal any wound. And a single drop of that poison is enough to put your hungers into overdrive, Luna.” Twilight said quietly, and Scrivener and Luna both shifted awkwardly before the violet mare smiled faintly and shook her head again. “Look, I... just please. Please try and resist it, okay? I know it's hard, but... you have to.”

Luna mumbled a little at this, dropping her head a bit: she wanted to make all kinds of arguments, but saying things like 'you can't understand what I'm going through' became too childish even for her when the ponies you were saying it to were soulbound to you. So finally, she just nodded a little, then glanced up and asked almost pleadingly: “Then can we at least focus upon the more-pressing concern at hoof for the moment? Nightmare Moon demands an audience.”

Nightmare Moon laughed quietly in her mind at this, and Luna grumpily did her best to block the force of passion out as Twilight Sparkle nodded hesitantly. The Lich glanced over at Scrivener Blooms, and the stallion shrugged a little before he awkwardly rubbed at his armor and mumbled: “Let's at least get out of this stuff first. Then we can settle in and talk to your... better half.”

“Hilarious, Scrivener.” Luna grumbled, and the sapphire mare shook her head briefly before she sighed tiredly and muttered: “Aye, I suppose that there is no longer any need for this gear. And perhaps I should put down Prúðbikkja, lest I am tempted to drive it into mine own skull to try and pry out Nightmare Moon from wherever the coward hides.”

Scrivener Blooms gave an awkward smile as Twilight Sparkle shook her head slowly, and then the Lich slipped off the bed and strode over to the sapphire mare as she began to pull off her gear, the purple pony murmuring: “Here. Let me help you.”

“Oh damnation, I am an addict, not an invalid.” Luna huffed, and then she winced a bit at the glower Twilight gave her, the larger mare clearing her throat and saying lamely: “Blame Scrivy. 'Tis his fault. His whole 'take nothing seriously' quirk has rampaged into my mind and made an idiot of me, my gorgeous mare.”

Twilight muttered under her breath as she helped pull Luna's armor off, grimacing a bit as they removed the breastplate and pausing to look down at the dents and scratches through the etchings. Her eyes roved to Luna almost accusingly as the sapphire mare tugged off the layer of cushioning maille beneath her plated armor, saying quietly: “Look at how much damage you did... and Scrivener's is banged up almost as badly. You two are supposed to be sparring, not trying to kill each other.”

“Well, Antares enjoyed watching our attempts to kill each other. This means our son either knows and trusts us more than thou does, or he enjoys the idea of his parents attempting to maim one another. It makes him either a very good or very bad son.” Luna replied mildly, and when Twilight only looked at her darkly, the sapphire mare shrank her head back and mumbled: “I shall leave the humor to Scrivener Blooms.”

“We're okay.” Scrivener soothed, and Twilight made a bit of a face as she looked over at him. But the stallion only gave a small smile in return as he pulled off his breastplate and set it down, saying softly: “Well, maybe we're not... you know, okay-okay, but we are... okay. Okay?”

Twilight sighed softly at this, shaking her head slowly before she finally, slowly gave a nod in return, then murmured: “Okay.” She stopped, watching as the two finished taking off their gear, and then she murmured: “Horses of Heaven. We all have problems, don't we? You two with your... everything, and me, with... you two.”

Luna and Scrivener both only gave mirroring shrugs, then they slipped back onto the bed, and Twilight Sparkle smiled faintly as she slipped forwards and joined them. She slipped into that space between the two where she fit perfectly, her eyes slipping closed as she dropped her head back against Scrivener Blooms and felt Luna slipping up behind her to sandwich her into that safe little place where she belonged, even as she murmured softly: “There's so much wrong with all three of us, though.”

“Yeah, well. I don't mind most of the time.” Scrivener squeezed her gently, and Luna laughed quietly before the two traded looks as the Lich mumbled and closed her eyes between them, silently reaching a hoof up to tightly grasp one of Scrivener's as her other hoof slipped down, forelimb half-embracing her body as it caught one of Luna's front hooves without looking.

The sapphire mare stretched her other foreleg up as Scrivener reached down, the two locking their free hooves together to complete their link, both slipping closer in around Twilight before the starry-maned winged unicorn murmured: “Well, Scrivy. There is no time like the present, aye? We have a meeting to attend.”

Scrivener Blooms grimaced a bit, then he nodded a little, and Twilight sighed softly as all three ponies closed their eyes tightly and lowered their heads in tandem. Luna's soulstone horn vibrated, giving a faint, singing pulse... and then the three opened their eyes and gazed upwards, no longer curled together but now standing in the middle of a black forest, and in front of them there was a massive, sacrificial altar of stone that had been stained red from all the death and use it had seen over who knew how many years of Nightmare Moon slaughtering dream and nightmare and imagination on its back.

The dark entity herself was standing on the other side of the altar, smiling at them with excitement in her eyes before she bowed her head forwards and murmured: “Let me begin by showing you something, my love, my ruler, my self. You look at me with such worry and fear and contempt, but you've always mistaken my intentions... allow me to demonstrate.”

Calmly, deliberately, Nightmare Moon slid slowly onto the altar, smiling lovingly at them as the trees around them all rustled with unnatural life, and a poisonous vitality gasped through this altered reality. Twilight shivered, eyes widening as she leaned back, while Luna only snarled and shook her head, then snapped: “I thought thou said no games, wretched monster, but I see thou has again lied to us about that, which I suppose by now-”

“Now, now, Luna... this is important...” Nightmare Moon smiled coyly as her starry locks twisted past, spreading her limbs over the altar to grasp the edge of it in her bladed, cloven hooves. “I just want to take a quick moment to teach a short, simple lesson, that's all. About who I am, and what I will do for you three, and why you need my help... and why all of us are going to need the help of Hel, if we're not going to take the simple solution and ally ourselves with Gymbr...”

Nightmare Moon closed her eyes, and then the three ponies winced backward as the torture implements buried through her back all began to shiver. Then, one-by-one, they yanked free from their imprisonment in the mare's flesh to float above her like grisly ornaments, dripping with red blood and black ichors.

The ponies stared, watching as the trails of blood and darkness dripped from the blades as they began to slowly sway through the air, twisting in a grisly ballet that sent swirls of red and black painting over the sacrificial altar around Nightmare Moon. Runes were painted into being all around the smiling, blissful-looking passion entity, the altar thrumming with unnatural power and a terrible, growing eagerness.

Luna realized what the ritual was, and it only made her shiver all the harder as Nightmare Moon's eyes slowly opened, gazing at them as if she was in ecstasy even as, one by one, needles and knives, screws and sawblades all began to sink slowly back into place along either side of her spine. As the torture implements pushed with sensual slowness into the open lips of her wounds, as the red and black liquid bubbled up from the stretched hollows in her body and spilled down taut and gorgeous ebony hide to the stone below...

Scrivener Blooms swallowed thickly: the air was thick with the scent of flesh and blood and sweat, and as Nightmare Moon slowly arched her back and rose her head, her whole body flexed, features that were still beautiful despite the scars that crisscrossed them stretching into a sultry smile. “Erotic, isn't it? Wonderful, isn't it? Have I made myself clear now? I only want what is best for you all. I want to make you stronger. And I am you, Luna Brynhild: I am all your darkness, made beautiful and powerful. I am the pleasure in the pain.”

The stallion and Twilight Sparkle traded uneasy looks, and they both shifted a little before Luna murmured: “Thou makes promises I do not know if thou could keep, creature. Oh, sure, thou says thou art our sacrifice... and aye, I know that it is because of thee that we have become stronger. But thy existence alone makes us more animal, as well... makes us hurt each other...”

“No, I have simply opened up new facets of pleasure for you to explore.” Nightmare Moon replied calmly, and then the creature slowly stood up on the altar as runes glowed and pulsed around her slowly. “Blaming me is pointless. Considering me an enemy is foolish. And refusing to bow your head, even falsely, to Hel.... will not turn out well, Luna Brynhild. Apologize to her: you do not have to mean the words, and I do not expect that Hel means you to, either. But she does want to see you pretend humility: she wants to feel a moment of superiority and control.”

Luna growled moodily, then the sapphire mare shook her head slowly and said sourly: “'Tis funny how thou sounds almost eager to give Hel what she wants, at that. And perhaps a little sickening as well, Nightmare Moon. I am not like thee, though... so... eager to please. Eager to be cut. Eager to bleed... especially not for a false master.”

Nightmare Moon only smiled calmly, then she flicked her eyes towards Scrivener Blooms, saying softly: “Have you not learned anything from how we conquered Valthrudnir together, my friends? Sometimes we must simply give the appearance of seeming weak to deceive our enemy... and then, when they become complacent... we will strike, and teach them who are true master is.”

She licked her lips slowly, and Scrivener winced a little before Nightmare Moon's eyes turned lovingly towards Twilight Sparkle. “And you. Our beloved mare... don't you appreciate all the gifts we've lavished upon you? Don't you feel fortunate with how generous, how tender we have been? We have taught you much, and you have learned well from us...”

The Lich shifted uneasily, and Luna looked up with a growl, saying moodily: “Watch thyself, creature. Do not try and wheedle thy way-”

“I am doing no such thing. Scrivener Blooms is our beloved King of the Night, but Twilight Sparkle is our masterpiece. We have no desire to harm her, in any way, shape or form.” Nightmare Moon said softly, and then the sapphire mare laughed quietly and shook her head slowly as she looked tenderly at Twilight, who swallowed thickly and lowered her head. “And you are being selfish, Luna Brynhild. It is for the sake of Twilight Sparkle and Scrivener Blooms that we should bow our heads to Hel. You desire to keep them safe, do you not?”

“I do not trust thee, monster. Thou desires...” Luna shuddered a bit, then she shook her head slowly and looked up, growling: “Hel's gifts do not come freely! Thou art a fool if thou thinks-”

“Nothing comes without a cost. But you have chosen to make an enemy of Gymbr. Therefore, we must work not to lose allies, Luna Brynhild. Otherwise, the cost could be higher than you expect.” Nightmare Moon replied calmly and quietly, and then she smiled as she said softly: “I've made my feelings clear now. I hope in time you come to understand that those who seem like your enemies may in reality be your closest friends. Thesis was our opponent, but both Gymbr and Hel are more complicated than a child who wants to deny his parentage.”

Nightmare Moon slipped backwards, her form becoming black smoke and starry mist as she whispered softly: “We are always here to advise you, little Luna Brynhild... do us all a favor, and try to listen to us in the future.”

And with that, the dark entity of passion faded away, leaving the three standing huddled together for comfort in the dream world in front of the sacrificial altar. Luna gritted her teeth as she stared at it, and Scrivener swallowed thickly as Twilight tried to draw her eyes away... but even when she closed her eyes, she could still see the glow of those runes written in blood and shadow in her mind, whispering promises of power. Promises that they would always be safe in her dark embrace... no matter how Nightmare Moon had to lie, cheat, and torment the outside world.

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