• 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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A Fatal Flaw

Chapter Nineteen: A Fatal Flaw

They had spent nearly ten days in Valhalla now, and Twilight Sparkle was taking a break from sorting through the immense glossary of information Kvasir had recorded over the years. Instead, she was laying back on the bed in the quarters she shared with her partners, reading over a letter she had received from Looking Glass World.

Pinkamena had sent it up to them, although she recognized the hoofwriting as Pinkie Pie's. The Lich couldn't help but smile a little to herself as she glanced slowly through the letter for the third or fourth time since she'd received it, feeling a welcome warmth run through her body.

Apparently Avalon had moved into Sweet Apple Acres and was getting used to running the farm now, and she was apparently determined to try and keep the business going... although no one was really sure if the mare wanted to actually live and work on a farm, or if she was just going to keep things going until she had the chance to wind the business down and sell it off. Rainbow Dash and Applejack didn't seem too concerned, though: as a matter of fact, they had already left on the pilgrimage they had long planned to take around Equestria.

They were also a little concerned about Gymbr, Subterra, and Hel: apparently Aphrodisia was back in Looking Glass World on leave, worried about Luna. Helheim was thankfully still allied and cooperative, but apparently Hel's Archives and her Inquisitors had all been told Luna was no longer in their goddess' good graces. All aid was to be rescinded specifically from Luna and her two soulbound companions, and that admittedly had Twilight a little worried: the last thing they needed was for Hel and Luna to be at odds and forming two distinct factions of darkness, especially with the problem of Gymbr lurking just beyond the horizon...

But Luna was being as stubborn and ever, and if anything, Nightmare Moon had only reinforced the notion that accepting any help from Hel would be a bad idea. She had refused to send any messengers to Helheim, to try and start negotiations, to do anything but keep plowing forwards on her own, and while Twilight understood some of her concerns were valid – like how Hel might really have no intent of helping them at all, and she just wanted to cause more trouble for everyone and spy on them – she also didn't think just ignoring Hel was a long-term solution.

She was also worried about what it might mean for them and their friends: she was afraid that if Luna just kept trying to deny Hel, eventually the malicious goddess would start targeting their friends and allies as well. Likely starting with people close to them, like Innocence, and Twilight Sparkle didn't want her daughter to have to go through that on top of everything else...

The violet mare shook her head a little, then she folded the letter closed and put it aside for the moment. She rested back on the bed, resting her front hooves on her stomach and gazing quietly up at the ceiling before her eyes slipped closed, sensing out Luna and Scrivener: they were sparring again, but this time with Celestia.

The Lich smiled a little, almost able to see their movements in her mind, the profiles of Luna and Scrivener white-bordered shapes in the blackness. When something hit them or they collided with something, the sound and sensation made her mental images ripple, take on flashes of color and life, like she was seeing through echoes.

Slowly, a hoof caressed across her sweater, feeling out the stitching beneath it. The more she concentrated on Luna and Scrivener, the clearer she could feel their bodies... the flex of their muscles, the way Luna's wings would make almost imperceptible movements and motions to better her agility, the way Scrivener's claws flexed and grasped and moved with such precision and speed...

Twilight Sparkle rolled her head back as she felt Luna concentrating magic: so far away, but it was like she could feel the energy building in her own horn, sparking through it, and it was hard to remind herself she was really here in reality, not out there with them. But concentrating like this, she felt Luna's and ferocity twisting through her mind, just as she felt her blood boiling like Scrivener's did, that strong, potent corruption that filled his veins making his muscles thrum...

The violet mare flushed and shook herself quickly, reaching a hoof up and touching her features with embarrassment as she realized how much she was... losing herself to daydreams, to put it politely. She pulled herself awkwardly away from her partners and out of those thoughts as she sat up, then looked down at the hoof still silently rubbing over her breast before she closed her eyes and tightly squeezed into the sweater above her breast.

The only thing she missed anymore was her heartbeat. It was strange, to have a body kept working by magic, to have blood that only stayed hot and flowed because of her movement and body temperature, and to have organs that were there mostly for aesthetic purposes. Well, mostly aesthetic: she could still do pretty much anything a normal pony could do. She could eat, and sleep, and cry, and make love...

Twilight shook her head a little, then she slipped quietly out of bed, feeling... she didn't know. A little moody, maybe, a little... distracted. All this business with Gymbr and Hel had her worried, and spending all this time in Valhalla was beginning to feel a little uncomfortable for her. Especially because, somewhere out there, in the Vale of Valhalla, her parents were living their afterlives peacefully away... or who knew, maybe they'd gotten word that their daughter was in Valhalla and they were waiting for a visit, and well, she hadn't yet found the time, really, to go and see them, and it was always so damn awkward because she was so damn not normal and-

“All thy thoughts are making it impossible to concentrate!” Luna shouted furiously, and Twilight, halfway across Valhalla, winced at this. Scrivener, meanwhile, stared stupidly over Luna in mid-grapple with Celestia... and then he was promptly flung on his back before the ivory mare pinned him beneath her armored body, making him squeak in pain.

Luna, meanwhile, was only glowering at the sky: they had taken over the sandy half-arena for their sparring session, and it was once more marred by both mire and magic, some of the sand turned to glass in places from the ferocity of Celestia's spells. But the sapphire mare had apparently lost interest in training for now, and Celestia shook her head slowly as she continued to keep Scrivener helplessly pinned on his stomach beneath her, the ivory mare saying mildly: “It's both bad etiquette and bad form to not pay attention to your sparring partners.”

“Oh shut up, Celestia.” the sapphire mare grumbled, and then she huffed a little as she turned towards them, complaining: “'Tis Twilight's fault anyway! And I thought thou wert supposed to be... reading thy silly books, why art thou out here attempting to molest my husband?”

“So that's what that is.” Scrivener mumbled before he could stop himself, and then he cleared his throat when Celestia gave him a dry look. “Uh. Sorry. Luna's moods and... you know.”

Celestia only shook her head with a sigh, then she stepped back off the stallion and allowed him to climb to his hooves, and then she returned her eyes to Luna. “Twilight needed a break. She's been working non-stop, Luna, and you clearly know that she's frustrated and a little... worried. Not just about what's going on now, either, I take it, but about the future is going to hold if we... keep on this course.”

Luna sighed softly, lowering her head before she closed her eyes and nodded moodily once. “Aye. I know. And do not hide behind Twilight, Celestia. Thou art clearly worried about me and my decisions as well, but... come now. Thou must see for thyself that there are many reasons not to trust Hel, and to stay the course against Gymbr.”

The ivory mare nodded hesitantly, and then she said softly: “But Hel also extended a warning to us through the narrative itself, as I've gone over with you. She knew that this was going to end up in the hooves of others, and so she spoke to us through Kvasir in more than one segment, making it clear she was talking to 'all of us.' And likewise, I've been reconsidering my stance and I've concluded that Antares is right. Let's get more information before we make any final decisions. We'll question Gymbr about his methods, his plans, what he's seen, in as much detail as possible, and if he actually gives us answers, let's consider listening to them before we label him an enemy or not.”

The sapphire mare shifted back and forth crankily, and then she shook her head vehemently and grumbled: “I do not know, Celestia. The damned creature is like us, but without honor. And even with honor I still cause enough mischief as 'tis. I do not want to imagine the lies I would spout to serve my purposes if I did not have any.”

Celestia smiled despite herself as Scrivener Blooms brushed himself off, then he looked up and added, as he approached the starry-maned winged unicorn: “Or the lies you would tell if it wasn't so easy to tell whenever you were lying?”

“Shut up, Scrivy.” Luna gave him a sour look, then she shook her head and returned her eyes to Celestia. “As loathe as I am to say this... I know that between us, thou art the wiser, the more knowledgeable. And Antares has instincts that perhaps are sharper than mine... but Gymbr was also Antares' childhood protector, and what I fear most is that Gymbr is us, and thou art... we are a vulnerability to thee, Celestia.”

The ivory mare smiled faintly at this, then she shook her head slowly and said softly: “Gymbr isn't you, though. Yes, I know he's... made from the evil Luna and Scrivener from that story, but at the same time he's long become his own... life, he has a personality of his own. He's not you. And I'm also not as blind to you both as you seem to think.”

“Maybe it is that very assuredness that assures me thou surely are blind.” Luna retorted, and Celestia gave her little sister an amused look. “Precisely. The wise cannot say they are wise, Celestia. For 'tis not wisdom to do so.”

“The confident can say anything they want, Luna.” the ivory mare replied calmly, and then she hesitated before murmuring: “I just want us to be prepared for what's coming, Luna. It feels like this is just the beginning, that Gymbr isn't just a possible threat, but a herald of something even worse that's on its way...”

“Paranoia. That is all, paranoia.” Luna grumbled, but she shifted uncertainly as she and Scrivener Blooms traded uncomfortable looks, and then they both sighed and lowered their heads at the same time. There was silence for a few moments, and then the sapphire winged unicorn leaned over and nudged the charcoal stallion lightly, mumbling: “This is all thy fault.”

“I somehow knew you would say that.” Scrivener said dryly, glancing over at her mildly, and then he sighed and shook his head a little before he and Luna both dropped their heads forwards, skulls gently clunking together.

Celestia shook her head slowly, and then she frowned a bit and looked up as a Knight of Valhalla hurried through the gate. The pony stumbled to a halt in his distinct silver armor, then he dropped his head low, bowing deep and saying hurriedly: “Lady Terra requests your presence urgently, Queen Freya! She's in the war room now, with Prince Taruos!”

The ivory mare only had to glance up, but Luna and Scrivener were already standing at the ready, both nodding firmly to the winged unicorn. Celestia smiled at this before she turned her eyes to the anxious-looking Knight, saying calmly: “We'll go there immediately. Are there any details about what's going on?”

“I'm not sure, ma'am. All I know is that an alarm of some kind has been triggered.” the Knight replied quickly, and Celestia nodded before striding forwards, nodding calmly to the pony as she passed. Scrivener and Luna both fell in step behind her, the sapphire mare looking up with a mix of anxiety and frustration at her older sibling, but refused to hurry her pace any faster than she was already moving... although with her long strides, Scrivy and Luna already had to jog to keep up to her as she walked with purpose towards her destination.

“An alarm... if it was something already in Valhalla, it wouldn't be a messenger telling us. That means either something happened on one of the physical layers, or there's some other signal that's been detected.” Celestia said quietly, shaking her head quickly. “If Twilight hasn't already picked up on what's happened from your minds, you should send a message to her. Perhaps tell her to find Innocence and Antares and to meet us at the war room.”

“Aye, it's already done.” Luna replied quickly, and then the sapphire mare grimaced and muttered: “I have the feeling that 'tis the latter, though... perhaps this is Gymbr's way of knocking at Valhalla's gates.”

“Why would Gymbr come to Valhalla, though?” Celestia murmured even as she kept her focus straight ahead, leading the two ponies quickly into the halls of the fortress of Heaven, the possible answers made both Luna and Scrivener grimace and trade uneasy looks. But the three kept moving and tried not to leapt to any conclusions before they knew more about what was going on, even if it felt like there was only one possible answer.

The war room wasn't that far away, and Celestia was glad to note on their short walk through Valhalla's halls that while it seemed like there was a sense of anxiety present, there was no panic, nor any blaring alarm. It was hopefully a good sign: it meant that it wasn't something that had started to interrupt daily life in Valhalla... or at least not yet.

The door to the war room was open, but Knights were positioned to either side of it: and these weren't ponies, but bipeds who were covered from head-to-toe in plate mail that made it impossible to know what was really beneath their equipment. Their eyes were hidden behind grills in their masking helmets, but they both struck rigid salutes when Celestia approached, the ivory mare nodding calmly in acknowledgment as he passed into the room beyond.

The main section of the room was shaped like a large oval, but the ivory mare knew there was a hidden offshoot to either side, and both had stairs that led up to a second floor overlooking the first. The design was such that you wouldn't know you were being spied down on from a balcony above until it was too late, thanks to the slanting roof.

Celestia's eyes were drawn automatically to the round table in the center of the room, where an enormous, magical lens in the center of the furnishing was projecting a three-dimensional map of a section of Valhalla Halls... the section that contained the portals for movement between worlds, Celestia realized even as she called clearly: “What's our status?”

The ponies, demons and angels clustered around the circular table all looked up, and Terra grinned widely before Pipsqueak looked up from beside her and blurted: “Ma'am, Celestia, miss, it's an energy surge... but, but it's not from any of the known layers! Valhalla's defenses automatically kicked in to shield us from it, but something is attempting to force open all our freestanding portals to force its way into Valhalla! I've never seen anything like it!”

“Then the portals have to be either shut down or destroyed.” Celestia said calmly, and several of those gathered looked up in surprise. “It's the fastest way to deal with this problem; this might be Gymbr, this might be whatever Gymbr was pursuing. Who is in the area?”

Terra frowned at this, but before the dragon could speak, Taruos grabbed the edge of the table and hauled himself up onto it, standing and glaring over at Celestia with that defiance he seemed to show absolutely everything. “No, that is not acceptable. Those portal rings are the only means we have of traveling to restricted layers. If we destroy them, we severely impede our own mobility.”

“Lad, please, get off the table.” Terra chastened, and when Taruos looked at her with frustration, she sighed and shook her head, picking him up by the back of the robes and plunking him down on the ground. “You're a bright boy, Taruos, but this is not your area of expertise. I'll leave administration to you so long as you remember to respect your mother and leave dealing with Valhalla to me.”

Then the dragon turned her eyes upwards, adding calmly: “And aye, Celestia, I already have engineers working on it. But even if they were just going to smash the rings to bits, there's no way they can get to all of them. The power surge has caused that entire section of Valhalla to go into lockdown: I can either focus on getting civilians to safety or have the soldiers trying to pry those portals open.”

“Lockdown? But it seems like most of Valhalla is unaware of what is going on.” Luna said with surprise, and Terra smiled faintly at this, nodding slowly.

“Blame Kvas for that, Valkyrie. The different sections of Valhalla have been arranged so that even if chaos were to run rampant through one, the others would be unaffected. The moment the power surges started, security doors fell closed and our soldiers and escort teams moved into positions. Even the civilians getting pulled out of the portal chambers likely don't know what in Hel's name is going on.” the Ironjaw explained with a brief smile. “Kvasir always believed one hand should wash the other, but none should ever have to suffer for lack of the other parts.”

“I understand that you don't want to cause a panic, and I'm impressed by the system in place, but I think you may want to consider broadcasting an alarm all the same.” Celestia said quietly, and Terra frowned at this. “If it is Gymbr, you're taking a great risk by not sending out an alarm. You need to treat this like you would a Level One event.”

“Kvasir would want to maintain order, and I'm no coward, Celestia Freya. I am Queen of Heaven, and I am striving to rule this place as my husband would want to see it ruled.” Terra replied firmly, shaking her head sharply. “I will not have my people be intimidated into running and hiding just because something bad might make it through that energy surge, and by the sacred stones, if something does make it through, I'll smash it myself!”

Celestia looked evenly across at Terra as Scrivener and Luna both winced, and then the golden-armored mare asked softly: “And was Kvasir willing to risk his people being hurt to maintain order?”

Terra's eyes widened slightly, and then she slowly rose a claw... and Scrivener realized that on one of the digits, there was a ring, hidden between the metal of her scales. A strange, golden ring, with an ornate crown decorating it... and the dragon cursed as she suddenly balled her claw into a fist before slamming it against the table and nodding once, calling curtly over her shoulder: “The Valkyrie's right! Excelsior, raise the alarm, have everyone withdraw to safety until we know what's here!”

“Thank you.” Celestia said softly, and Terra smiled wryly even as Excelsior saluted hurriedly from the balcony above, then spun around and staggered hurriedly out of sight. Then Queen of Heaven and Queen of the Valkyries locked gazes again, and the ivory mare began: “I want to take Luna and Scrivener with me and see what's going on for myself. Maybe we can stop this.”

Terra shook her head, opening her mouth, but then only glancing up as the eyes of many of the others gathered here all did the same automatically at the sound of klaxon blaring, and an amplified voice calmly warning all civilians to find a safe zone. Then the dragon shook herself out briefly before returning her eyes to Celestia, replying slowly: “I'm hesitant to let you three go waltzing off into there. My teams are already working as fast as possible, and these lads aren't mortals. These are demons and angels, the very best at my disposal.”

“This isn't a contest of strength, Terra, or of utility.” Celestia's voice rose a little, the mare raising herself higher... and in response, Terra proudly rose her own head, the two glaring at each other a bit. Luna and Scrivener were both surprised by it, staring between the two as the rainbow-maned mare continued firmly: “If it is Gymbr, my siblings are similar to him... all of us, in a way, are similar to him. That will make us that much more effective in interrupting his magic, especially if we pool our efforts together.”

But Terra only shook her head again, shooting back: “Aye, but he will be just as receptive to you, and for all any of us know your presence is acting like a beacon to him even right now! And we don't even know that this isn't some Hræzla-”

“Don't say their name! The last thing we need right now is to attract the attention of Terrors from the Void!” Celestia snapped, her eyes widening slightly as Luna and Scrivener both winced at the way the air itself seemed to curl at the use of the word, feeling a surge like static run through the room as several officials stared up in shock.

The Ironjaw only rolled her eyes, however, shaking her head and scoffing: “Oh, come on now, that's not but Valhallan myth! Now I've asked you to this table and respected you enough, lass, you can at least have the self-respect to not be afraid of a word when we're discussing the Hræzla them-”

The alarm suddenly cut out, and all eyes stared upwards as there was a distinct crackle of energy through the air as the lamps lighting the room flickered. It felt like reality itself had twisted for a moment at the invocation of the name of the things from beyond the Void...

Then all eyes turned to the table as the floating image vanished, replaced by a crackling, distorted voice that yelled as the gemstone pulsed: “S-Something... unknown... need reinforce-”

And then the communication was lost, and Terra paled beneath her steel scales as she shook her head weakly before Celestia looked up and said coldly: “I am not afraid of the monsters from the Void. But I am also not stupid enough to hammer on a door that the enemy is trying to break down. Luna, Scrivener, let's go. We'll find out what's happened ourselves.”

Terra winced, beginning to scramble around the table, but Celestia shook her head shortly and said quietly: “You are Queen. You have to remain here. We'll deal with this ourselves.”

The Ironjaw gritted her teeth, but she didn't say anything as Celestia turned to stride out into the hallway, Luna and Scrivener Blooms quickly following after her. As they moved, the sapphire mare flicked her head to the side, tiny Prúðbikkja springing out of her mane and bursting up to full size in a blaze of blue flames as Scrivener's hooves unfolded into claws.

They ran through the halls of Valhalla, and were shortly joined by Twilight Sparkle and Antares, the young stallion with a buckler over his back as he said wryly: “I think Innocence is following behind us. I tried to get one of the Valkyries to look after her, but she'll pull her sweet little filly act and then use an invisibility charm the moment Brill looks away.”

“Aye, 'tis what I would do. Well, the most we can do is hope that we are able to deal with whatever is head before Innocence finds her way to us, then.” Luna Brynhild muttered, and Twilight grimaced even as she gave a short nod, and the sapphire mare gritted her teeth as several large gemstone lanterns along the wall suddenly went from dead and dark to too-bright a moment before they exploded in surges of energy. “By Mimir's head...”

“Magic pulses. Immense magic pulses, at that.” Celestia said quietly, not looking back at the ponies behind her as they ran through the dim halls, her eyes instead watching the flicker of the gemstone lanterns that lined the walls. “These aren't aftershocks. Something must have established a link... reality was already frayed around the portals, that extra push from Terra finished the job.”

“'Tis not like thee to blame others, Celestia, don't start such a bad habit now.” Luna called up to her sister, and Celestia smiled faintly after a moment, giving a short nod before her attention refocused ahead as they locked on a massive set of closed armored doors. She began to lower her head as Luna grinned widely... but then the group of five skidded to a halt, falling into battle formation out of habit and luck more than anything else as the doors both swung open in a burst of sapphire light.

The radiance faded, but electricity continued to spark between the invitingly-open doors as several ponies and angels ran out between them, yelling and panicking. The five set themselves, and Twilight shuddered as she noted that one of the doors had partly melted despite being who knew how many layers of what looked like tempered steel... “The energy...”

“We have much to talk to you about, our friends. Our family...” It was Gymbr's voice... and there was no surprise, Luna realized, as she bared her fangs and she felt Scrivener and Twilight both tensing up... and yet at the same time, the tension wasn't real. They were posed for battle, they could put on a good show, oh yes... but would they really fight if push came to shove? Was it even possible for them to deny Gymbr, when there was that... that surge not of power, but eager familiarity?

Celestia and Antares both looked uneasily at the three soulbound ponies: Luna's eyes seemed... terribly afraid, in spite of the snarl on her lips. Scrivener was breathing hard as his claws clenched against the ground, and Twilight was shivering as her stitching writhed over her features. And they could both feel Gymbr's draw as well... that strange charisma, that allure he was exuding even without being in sight, that made Antares feel like there was an old friend waiting just ahead and around the corner, and Celestia like... like...

She shook her head quickly, then stomped a hoof, startling the others out of stupefaction before she said calmly and clearly: “Keep your eyes open and your minds focused. I don't know what's going on, but Kvasir described again and again being drawn to Gymbr: it's possible that Gymbr has found a way to affect people's emotions. To create a lure he's attempting to bait us all with.”

“You wound us, Celestia.” came Gymbr's voice softly, and the glow coming from between the doors faded further... but there was still something in there casting a powerful, supernatural light. And while Luna thought she could see Gymbr standing in there, there were more shapes than just him... and she didn't think they were his allies, either.

Slowly, the five made their way forwards, entering into what had once been an enormous, rounded lobby of some sort, and was now... it was hard for any of them to believe what had happened. Once beautiful marble and polished golden metal had been melted and scorched by energy, several security gates were nothing but mangled twists of metal. But the worst part was the black gemstone that had spread like lichen over the walls and floor.

It had crushed in furnishings here, and formed into totems and strange pillars... except it only took a moment of looking at these statues of black crystal to realize there were actually people, trapped inside... and it was impossible to know if they were alive and dead. It made it much easier to throw off Gymbr's strange allure as Luna looked forwards with a snarl, striding faster to walk side-by-side with Celestia as she shouted: “Damned, stupid monster! What has thou done?”

“Nothing irreversible.” Gymbr said softly, and he smiled calmly from where he was seated: in front of a pair of enormous shutters that had been smashed open to reveal the room beyond, where an immense portal ring was glowing with energy as a swirling vortex of blues and whites cycled inside the frame. “We do not desire to harm any of them, any more than we wish to harm any of you. But we will do whatever is necessary to move our plans forwards, and it is crucial that we speak to you now... that we try and make you understand, one final time, that we are not the enemy. That we are trying to save you all from the enemy.”

“So what are you planning on doing? And... you did this just to talk to us?” Scrivener shivered as he glanced back and forth, making a face at what had once been the the hub through which Valhalla had sent its messengers through countless worlds when it was necessary, and now... now it just looked like a broken playground for bad-tempered giants.

“No. This, unfortunately, is a necessary first step.” Gymbr glanced over his shoulder at the thrumming portal behind him, before he smiled and turned his eyes calmly back forwards. “We will be direct, my family. We require a base of operations... and we require the resources that Valhalla has available. We ask you to join us, and we ask you to help us negotiate with Terra to build a facility here... or we will be forced to be... persuasive.”

Celestia narrowed her eyes slowly at this, leaning forwards as she asked in a deathly-serious voice: “Are you daring to threaten Valhalla? Do you dare to say that you should be the master of Valhalla, that somehow... giving you the keys to the kingdom of Heaven is the only way that you can save us from... this 'light?'”

“No. Only a small piece, Celestia... only a small piece.” Gymbr said softly, and then he smiled gently when Celestia stepped forwards, her horn flashing as three golden swords formed in front of her in bursts of flame, and Luna snarled as she and Scrivener leapt up to either side of the ivory mare, the sapphire winged unicorn with Prúðbikkja ready to strike and the stallion with claws flexed and ready to pounce. “Please. Listen to us.”

“No. No, I told my little sister that we should listen... I was willing to give you a chance, after time and thought. But now you force your way into Valhalla like this, threatening what was my home for so long... threatening Odin's legacy...” Celestia bared her own teeth, leaning forwards as lightning sparked through her ephemeral locks. “I will not stand idly by and allow you to threaten Heaven!”

Gymbr only shook his head slowly, closing his emerald eyes as he bowed his head forwards, silent and unresponsive. Antares was staring with disbelief, and Twilight had her head raised high, horn glowing and her body trembling as she looked at this... this monster across from them. This creature that was so arrogant to think... “Stop. We can feel your emotions, your thoughts... all of you think so little of us, that we are nothing but destruction still... but we are more than that now. So much more... we are trying to help you. You must accept our help.”

Gymbr halted, then slowly rose his head, eyes opening to glare at them coldly before he murmured softly: “But even if you do not... we will still do what we must to save you. Even if we must break each and every one of you first.”

“Gymbr... what are you talking about?” Antares whispered, and then the glossy-black unicorn shook his head in disbelief before he stepped forwards, saying almost desperately: “Don't you remember what happened when you tried to take over the first time, when you thought you knew what was best for Equestria in your own story-”

“We are free of our story!” Gymbr shouted, its black mane and tail flaring up violently as it rose its head sharply, and the creature's eyes flashed before it shook its head slowly and bared its teeth. “We are free, Antares Mīrus. We are free. And you are no longer a child that we must protect...”

Antares set himself with a curse as Twilight stepped quickly up beside her son, dropping her head forwards and spreading her wings slightly as Luna and Scrivener's eyes both burned with fury, but Gymbr gritted his teeth before one of his silver hooves snapped apart into a claw, the god reaching up and grasping at his skull as he visibly swallowed back his anger. All the same, there was a tense, terrible feeling in the air before the creature looked slowly up and whispered almost pleadingly: “Please. Please listen to us. Please stop trying to fight us, even if just for a moment... we are trying to help you. We only want to help you... especially you, our family. But we are... frustrated. we know you may not agree with us. We feel you set against us already. And we know that we must carry out our plans anyway. It hurts us...”

“Is that all thou can think of? Thyself?” Luna asked with disgust, and then she shook her head slowly, her eyes locked coldly on the strange, monstrous god. “Even when thou talks of how worried for us thou art, thou always comes back to how it affects thee. Oh, I know thy kind well, Gymbr: all things are only a reflection of thee. And if we cease to bring thee happiness one day, thou will doubtlessly discard us like so much garbage.”

Gymbr's eyes narrowed at this, and then he shook his head slowly and murmured: “That you think so little of us... it angers us, Luna Brynhild. But we are better than anger. We know what is best, and we shall not waver from the path we have chosen. We shall save all of you, and we shall ensure that Valhalla is safe first and foremost from the claws of the coming light, which will doubtlessly attempt to stretch its poisons into his sacred place. But we shall fortify it. We shall make it anathema to self-proclaimed 'good.'”

The god stood and stepped forwards, and behind him, the portal crackled with energy before his Three Fates strode out of it one after the other, all of them glowing with energy and eagerness. Myre was grinning widely, Dusk had a calm, confident smile on her face, and Twilight Shadow was looking almost hungrily over at Twilight Sparkle as Gymbr said softly: “Do not fear us. Do not resist us. We shall not allow this universe to be made safe. We shall not allow peace. We shall not permit order. We will fuel everlasting chaos.”

We shall not permit thee to.” Luna growled, and the five ponies all stepped forwards as one line, setting themselves as the Three Fates immediately moved in front of Gymbr, forming their own ready battle line. “Thou shall have to go through us, Gymbr. And thou art in the house of the enemy: others will come, and if we cannot best thee with skill and strength, then we shall suffocate thee with numbers alone.”

The god only shook his head slowly, studying them almost with disappointment before he said softly: “And you accuse me of arrogance. No, Luna Brynhild. At my back is a tunnel not into another reality, but into a dimension that I created myself. Where I have built an army of puppets and constructs... and where I have shaped the ponies I have already rescued into beings greater than they once were.”

The Three Fates all smiled and bowed their heads as if in gratitude for this creature behind them, and Luna shook her head weakly as Celestia's eyes widened as she caught what the god was really saying, but it was Antares who spoke first, whispering: “You... you did this to more of them... how could you think ponies want to become like... like them?”

Antares almost spat the last word, but Gymbr only laughed quietly before he responded calmly: “Perhaps because of the happiness that they now feel. Because we have given them meaning as well as power, and while you would say that it is better to suffer in the truth than be ignorant in bliss... I doubt that you have ever experienced the latter.”

“I do not need to in order to know 'tis nothing but poison.” Luna replied sharply, and Myre grinned widely at this as she stepped forwards.

“Yeah, you know all about poison don't you, Luna Brynhild?” she mocked, and Luna snarled as her eyes slid over to this twisted version of herself, as the corrupted mare leaned forwards and continued cruelly: “The way we hear it, you've got an addiction to sucking up your husband's blood, and that makes me wonder whether or not you also need to suck-”

Luna roared furiously before she snapped her horn forwards, Prúðbikkja sparking as it was flung with all of the mare's strength and telekinetic rage backing it. The spear tore through Myre's head as it easily as it tore through the air, leaving more than half of the spear sticking out the back of a skull that had been almost torn in half.

Myre was only staring with her remaining eye, her shoulders slumping, whole body seeming to slouch as her body quivered... and then Scrivener Blooms saw it. The black droplets, slowly dripping off the spear; the way her skull began to melt, and the way even her armor seemed to turn from metal into sludge...

And then Myre blinked a few times before she shook herself briskly and reached up, seizing the body of the spear and slowly yanking Prúðbikkja back, inch-by-inch, then foot-by-foot until she was able to toss the spear to the ground in front of her. It clattered and rolled back towards a staring, horrified Luna Brynhild, the polished metal smeared and stained with blackness that wasn't blood as Myre looked up and grinned widely, as the stuff she was named after rapidly filled in the wound and transformed back into solid features. “Alright. Maybe that was a bit of a low blow. But you don't have to get so snippy about it, Brynhild.”

“We are not fools, my family.” Gymbr said softly, shaking his head slowly as he stepped calmly forwards. “We knew there was a chance you would deny us. So I have not just modeled my Three Fates in your image... I have given them powers you can only dream of. That you do dream of; they will be more than a match for you.”

“We'll see about that.” Celestia said quietly as she stepped forwards, her eyes narrowing. “Our negotiations seem to be at an end, Gymbr.”

Gymbr looked strangely disappointed even as he gave a nod of agreement, and when the Three Fates all looked back at him, he said softly: “Engage them. Do not kill them: humiliate them and hold them at bay until Imago arrives with our army.”

“I've always wanted to beat you up, Mom!” Antares said with a wry grin, and Luna only had to give her son a quick glance before she nodded sharply and flicked her horn upwards, Prúðbikkja bursting into blue flames as it snapped back into the air to fall in beside her.

And without another word, Antares' horn gave a bright white flash and he flung himself backwards as a slanted platform of energy formed behind it. It sank backwards under his weight, then catapulted him forwards as he snapped his horn out, the glossy-black unicorn streamlining his body before he collided with Myre headfirst like a cannonball, tackling her out of the way with a squawk.

Dusk snarled, and her eyes made the mistake of looking away: it was an opportunity Celestia immediately took, lunging forwards and snapping her horn to the side, a wave of golden flames smashing into the twisted twin of the ivory mare. Dusk stumbled with a curse, looking forwards, but Celestia was moving fast, flanking in from the side and ramming into the bejeweled mare to send her crashing backwards with a curse of shock.

Twilight Shadow winced as Dusk was almost smashed into her, ducking backwards before her eyes widened as Scrivener Blooms and Luna Brynhild charged straight for Gymbr. She tried to get between them and her master, but Luna only slapped her out of the way with her spear, the Lich staggering to the side before a snarl of fury crested her features.

She began to turn... then arched her back with a howl of agony when blue flames burst into being over her body, charring her cloak and searing her flesh until she was able to snap her horn almost wildly outwards and dispel the magic. Her eyes turned with fury towards Twilight Sparkle, who was looking across at her dark twin steadily, the violet mare saying steadily: “I think you should worry more about yourself than your master.”

Twilight Shadow bared her fangs, her horn glowing as she set herself: and for all their similarities, no two ponies ever looked more different in that moment than Shadow and Sparkle did, as one pony stood with quiet grace and looked calmly at a Lich who was snarling and glowing with fury and malice, growling: “You're nothing to me! You're what I once was: too weak to acknowledge my own power, or the strength the anger, the hate, the darkness gives me!”

“You have no idea what true darkness is.” Twilight Sparkle said quietly, and Shadow hissed before lunging forwards, snapping her horn back and forth to send blades of black flame rending through the air towards her alter-opposite. Sparkle allowed herself to be driven back, moving nimbly on her hooves and only needing to deflect the occasional attack with her own horn, luring Shadow away from where Gymbr was fighting its own opposites.

Luna was driving forwards with a snarl, horn lashing out and spear thrusting and snapping back and forth, but even when she thought her weapons found purchase, Gymbr only seemed to shrug off the attack or deflect it to the side. And all the while, he was watching her with those terrible, poison-green eyes, as Scrivener tried to circle around towards the god's back... but like he could see what Scrivener was doing in Luna's eyes, Gymbr kept sidestepping or reversing away, making it impossible for the stallion to get into position.

The sapphire mare drove suddenly forwards with her spear... and then her eyes widened in horror as Prúðbikkja halted in midair just inches from Gymbr's features, the spear quivering violently as if confused. And then the alicorn speartip trembled before the weapon suddenly reversed itself, the butt of the spear smashing into Luna's face and knocking her stumbling backwards as Scrivener skidded to a halt with a wince.

Both ponies stared incredulously at Gymbr as he looked at them calmly, Prúðbikkja shivering violently in the air before the god simply rose one silver claw and flicked it to the side, and the spear spun wildly up into the air to vanish in a crackle of electricity. Luna and Scrivener both stared in disbelief at this, and Gymbr said softly: “We share all things. We are Gymbr. And one day, you too... shall be Gymbr.”

Luna and Scrivener both shuddered even as they glared at the god, at its terrible certainty, its callous undeniability... and then both ponies did the only thing they could do, throwing themselves at the god, the monster, the thing that was made up of all their darkness and fears as Gymbr only waited patiently for their attack.

Gymbr's Fates weren't faring quite as well as their master: they were all powerful, and they all clearly retained the knowledge and expertise of the lives they had lived, but none of them real warriors. A fact that infuriated Celestia all the more as her golden swords hammered cruelly away at the barrier Dusk was attempting to protect herself with, the bejeweled mare cursing as she tried to focus more magic into the shield in a vain attempt to keep it stable.

All three of Celestia's short swords stabbed into the barrier, a spiderweb of cracks forming in the magic-made-almost-solid before the Valkyrie's horn flashed as she focused her magic through her swords, unleashing a powerful blast of golden fire that tore the barrier apart and peppered Dusk with magical energy. She cried out in pain, shaking her head wildly back and forth as her aureate mane snapped and wove around her, and Celestia leapt forwards to slam a hoof up under her chin, knocking Dusk rearing before one, two, three swords slammed into her chest like darts.

The last thrust with enough force to knock Dusk sprawling and rolling, her body going limp, and Celestia looked coldly down at her opponent before she yanked all three of her swords free with a flick of her horn. Dusk convulsed once on the ground, breathing hard... and then her sharp teeth bared in a snarl as her amber eyes opened, glowing with hatred and fury even as Celestia said quietly: “No matter how precise the imitation, cheap plastic can never compare to the real thing.”

Dusk leapt up to her hooves with a cry of fury, snapping her horn out and sending a golden fireball rocketing at Celestia, but the ivory mare only smiled slightly and easily sidestepped. The sphere of flames missed her by bare inches, shooting across the room... and directly for Antares Mīrus, who grinned widely as he swung one hoof out in a wide, hard slap as his horn glowed white.

The fireball ricocheted straight into the face of Myre, who didn't even have enough time to slow her charge before she was blown backwards in a hail of muck by the explosion. Antares winced in surprise, staggering backwards as well: he hadn't expected Dusk's attack to carry so much magic power. It made him afraid that they might be underestimating their foes...

As the smoke cleared and Antares steadied himself, he saw that Myre was laying in a broken pile, her body and armor both melting slowly into a pond of black ooze around her, her starfire mane and tail both gone. Then the mire trembled before it twisted quickly into her body, reshaping itself rapidly as her dark ephemeral locks sizzled back into existence, the mare picking herself up as her black armor was simply absorbed into her blue-black body as she flexed slowly. “You little asshole...”

“Your mouth might be worse than my Mom's.” Antares commented, and Myre snarled at him before she charged forwards. The stallion only grinned, however, snapping his horn upward and ending out a short wave of white flames that rippled over the ground and struck Myre's charging hooves, the Fate howling in pain and frustration as the purification immediately neutralized the corruption that apparently composed her entire body and turned her hooves to stone.

She managed a few clumsy steps before tripping over her own hooves and landing on her face in front of Antares with a loud splat, black ooze flying in all directions as the stallion said mildly: “Watch your step.”

Myre gave a long, loud growl of frustration before she all-but-exploded, black fire flying in all directions as she erupted in a geyser of corruption. Her body became nothing but a vague, pony-like upper torso stretching out of a long tail of liquid smoke, her mane nothing but hell-blue fire and her eyes glowing pits of the same as she roared: “I'll rip our your heart and eat it!”

“That's probably pretty fattening!” Antares shouted back fearlessly, and then he leapt upwards, grinning widely as his horn glowed and his hoof lit up with white energy as Myre dove at him before he swung a hoof savagely into her features.

The monster howled in shock and agony as she was repelled, Antares' blow turning part of her face and upper body to stone even as it smashed her backwards, and the monster was knocked crashing and rolling over her back before she snaked quickly back up to her legs, long, serpentine lower body twisting uncertainly behind her as rock slowly crumbled away from her semiliquid form and she stared at the stallion with disbelief.

Antares looked across at her, confident, strong, leaning back as if he was relaxed... but she could still see the white glow around his horn. He outmatched her in skill and his purification neutralized anything and everything she had to throw at him, despite the fact that he looked and sounded like some dumb kid... but he didn't act that way, oh no. She was starting to see there was a lot more to him than that.

Myre's serpentine body folded in on itself as she became bluer in hue, letting herself return to winged unicorn shape and texture as she narrowed her eyes at him and said coolly: “I'm going to rip you apart when I get the chance, kiddo. You might be able to hurt me, but I don't think you have enough strength to kill me.”

“No, I have enough strength to not kill you. I don't want to kill you, Myre.” Antares replied evenly, and the Fate looked surprised, raising its head and clearly knocked off guard by this response before the stallion winked at her. “I just want to kick your ass.”

The Fate couldn't even form a coherent response, staring dumbly at Antares before the stallion grinned as he ran straight at the mare. Myre cursed and leapt forwards as she snapped her head upwards, dark goop erupting upwards out of her own body and forming into black blades that shot in a torrent towards Antares, but without slowing, the stallion dove forwards as he spun his body in an agile spiral, the blades of corruption only managing to leave scratches and rip minor wounds through his body before he landed in a low crouch, then flung himself forwards and smashed bodily into Myre in a tremendous flash of ivory radiance.

The burst of light was almost enough to blind Twilight Sparkle, and Twilight Shadow grinned as she saw the mare ahead of her wince, the savage Lich framed in the white light for a moment before she snapped her horn forwards to send a black fireball rocketing at her twinned opponent. But Twilight Sparkle quickly swung her horn to the side, slashing through the magic and dispelling it, and Shadow snarled before she stomped her hooves viciously into the ground.

Massive, dark vines ripped out of the earth all around Sparkle, and she hurriedly leapt straight upwards and flapped her wings, snapping her horn down at the same time to hammer the floor with raw magical force. The ground rumbled and shattered as section of stone were knocked loose and rocky shrapnel flew in all directions, slicing apart the whipping vines and knocking them tangling into one-another as the Fate looked up and shouted angrily at her twin: “Fight me! Stop using all your weak defensive magic and fight me!”

Twilight Shadow snapped her horn out, and there was a crackle of power before a gust of wind ripped through the air, powerful enough to rip several of the vines out of ground and lift several small stones as it twisted around on itself and became a miniature tornado, Twilight Sparkle wincing as she was pulled into this. Shadow grinned, the darker Lich looking up eagerly as dust and debris obscured the air for a moment before the tornado dissipated... and then she stared in disbelief at the sight of Sparkle braced against a platform of magic she had created, her wings and mane only looking slightly ruffled and her own horn glowing, the broken pieces of stone she had caught with telekinesis levitating around her.

Shadow didn't have the time to react before the chunks of stone shot at her one after the other, smashing with pinpoint accuracy into the base of her horn and cracking her skull. The vicious Lich staggered backwards under the sharp hail of attacks, then she snarled furiously and snapped her horn out, a tremendous blast of lightning ripping down from the sky and hammering into Twilight Sparkle with enough force to drive her back through her own barrier of energy with a cry of agony, the mare crashing down into the ground and bouncing several times as Shadow shouted: “I am not here to play games with you, weakling!”

The Fate began to approach her fallen twin, then she snapped her horn sharply outwards to blast Sparkle backwards with a psychokinetic hammer, knocking her crashing and rolling in a puff of feathers and charred sweater to land painfully on her side. Then Twilight Shadow lashed her horn out again, a torrent of black flames flinging the Looking Glass World pony almost into the wall as the furious, more-animal Lich hissed: “Just stay still and let me do your masters a favor...”

“They're not my masters.” Twilight Sparkle said quietly, slowly looking up, her eyes fearless despite the fact half of her face had been burnt away, leaving raw skull exposed as charred feathers floated down from one broken wing. “And between us, you're the weak one.”

Twilight Shadow bared her fangs before she lashed her horn down, unleashing a flare of dark magic... and calmly, almost casually, Twilight Sparkle flicked her horn out, knocking the blast of black energy back at Shadow and amplifying it with all the energy she had stored up in her body over the course of the fight.

The blast hammered straight into Twilight Shadow's horn, and the Lich's head snapped back as she screamed in agony as the top of her skull was almost ripped off as the spire was blown loose from her head, flying in a high arc to hit the ground some thirty or so feet away. Twilight Shadow looked over her shoulder in shock, then she turned disbelieving eyes back towards Twilight Sparkle as the mare slowly stood up, cracking her neck and looking grimly across at her counterpart as she said quietly: “All the power in the world doesn't matter if you don't know how to use it.”

Twilight Shadow stumbled backwards, and Twilight Sparkle's horn began to glow as she narrowed her eyes, readying herself as she said sharply: “I'm not going to just sit back and let you threaten this world!”

She snapped her horn out, and Twilight Shadow screamed as a blue fireball smashed into her and engulfed her in a sapphire inferno that began to devour not her flesh, but her spirit, the Looking Glass World mare leaning towards her and pouring all the strength and energy she could into fueling the flames.

Shadow's legs wobbled before she fell with a gasp, her eyes glowing as her body began to thin rapidly beneath the cloak, her blood evaporating from her veins and entire form starting to shrivel up as more and more of her strength was eaten away. But Twilight Sparkle was as merciless as she was calm, even if her eyes were not without a spark of sorrow and pity for this creature even as she burned away all its energy, all its magic, all its life...

And then Twilight Sparkle gasped, her back arching as blood sprayed from her mouth, her eyes widening in horror as the aura flickered out from her horn. The blue flames flickered out from Twilight Shadow's body, and the emaciated Lich staggered up to her hooves, glancing hurriedly over at Myre and screaming: “Switch!”

Without hesitating, Myre flung herself up into the air, flapping her wings hard and snarling as she snapped her forelegs down, black goop springing out of her body and forming into a hail of spikes that rained down around Antares. The stallion winced as he flung himself out of the way, and Myre used the moment it gave her to shoot hurriedly through the air and dive towards the still-stunned Twilight Sparkle.

Antares immediately turned to try and help his mother... and he almost ran straight into Twilight Shadow. On instinct more than anything else he was able to turn his run into a lunge, slashing his horn down, but the Lich blocked the attack with her surprisingly sturdy forelegs before she seized into his shoulders, attempting to drag him inwards as her jaws gaped open and her eyes glowed unnaturally, Antares' eyes widening in horror as he felt the magic energy being ripped out of his body and horn and drawn into the Lich.

He snapped his horn down, and a flash of purification jarred Shadow loose, making her snarl and cover her eyes as Antares retreated to a safe distance... but then the Lich laughed quietly as she dropped her foreleg away, and he stared at her with horror: she had absorbed the magic from the spell he had hit her with, and just from that and the little she'd managed to rip out of him, much of the color and shape had returned to her body. “You're going to be delicious.”

Myre, meanwhile, dropped in a dive towards Twilight Sparkle, who was still almost paralyzed with pain. She could feel it in her chest, and behind her clenched lids, she could see what was happening: Gymbr's claw had torn through Luna's armor and was rending into her flesh as he pinned her to the floor, while his other claw held Scrivener tightly by the throat.

She wanted to run to them, to help them, to save them, but her body was paralyzed by the sudden shock, and she wasn't even able to avoid Myre's divebomb. The Fate hit her full-on, slamming the Lich onto her back before Myre stomped her hooves savagely up and down against Twilight Sparkle, who cried out in horror as spikes of corruption ripped through her body with every contact.

Twilight barely managed to kick Myre off, and then she dragged herself up to her hooves, flinching and then cursing as she realized the crystalline spikes were acting like iron rods, refusing to bend or break and making it harder for her to move or concentrate. Worse, she felt like... like the corruption was attempting to spread out, forming into barbs and hooks in her muscles and veins, impeding her even further as Myre growled: “The rest of them we're not allowed to kill... but you, we were told to tear apart.”

The Lich cursed weakly... and across the room, Celestia glanced over her shoulder and gritted her teeth at the sight of how the tide of the battle had changed for her family. She wanted to run to them to help... but the fight had changed for her, too, as her eyes flicked back towards Dusk as the Fate slowly ripped one of Celestia's swords out of her foreleg, then tossed it to the ground with a furious glare at her counterpart.

Dusk was no warrior, and she was no Lich, either... but she was more than some brainwashed version of her, too. There was magic, powerful magic, protecting and empowering her: Celestia's swords couldn't sink deep into Dusk's body, and as the Fate grew angrier, her magic was growing stronger. And more, Celestia could swear that her body was changing in places, that there were tips of horns poking through her writhing, golden-fire mane now...

The Fate snapped her horn towards the Valkyrie, but Celestia deflected the predictable attack before her own horn pulsed, raising her three short swords back into a ready position. She set herself, her eyes locked on Dusk as the perhaps-not-entirely-pony snarled at her furiously. “Why won't you just give up and die?”

“Because it seems to upset you that I won't.” Celestia replied calmly, and Dusk looked further infuriated at this response before the ivory mare lowered her head slightly as she murmured to the air: “Her hide is too thick for these swords alone to cut through it. I'm going to need something heavier.”

“If you're praying, then let me remind you that Odin is dead. I've been told that's all your fault.” Dusk said coldly, and Celestia's eyes narrowed dangerously before the Valkyrie reined her emotions in, giving a calm smile.

“And I see that even with all your jewelry and finery and the title of First Concubine, Gymbr seems to pay you less attention than he does himself. But I suppose you already know your so-called master has no interest in a dress-up doll.” Celestia responded clearly, and Dusk's eyes glowed with her fury before she roared and charged forwards, her horn glowing and her body bursting into golden flames as she sprinted straight for the Valkyrie.

And without hesitation, Celestia stepped forwards and then smoothly slipped to the side as she slashed one of her golden swords down: the blade struck the mare's leg with such force that it shattered into pieces after tearing to the Fate's bone, and Dusk was knocked off her hooves, flying forwards... and straight into a vicious, two-handed swing of Tyrfing as Discombobulation appeared in mid-slash.

Dusk was knocked flying backwards in a fine spray of crimson blood, landing on her back with a gargle, chest caved in and eyes bulging as she rolled to a dead sprawl. The Draconequus wheezed as he slumped forwards, and Celestia smiled over at the chimerical creature, saying quietly: “It's a good thing the curse on this weapon is very specific.”

“Well, I am no man of woman born.” Discombobulation muttered, and then he looked up and grimaced, dropping the sword and stumbling backwards as Dusk slowly began to crawl to her hooves, snarling in fury. “Tia, this is the part where you charge up the railgun.”

Celestia's sharp eyes were already focused on the creature, however, locked on its breast: through a long, large rip in her hide and a broken cage of bone, there was something visibly moving inside Dusk. Something twisting and turning as it pulsed, and it wasn't a heart, but...

A terrible, red eye rolled open to stare at them through the wound in Dusk's chest, and the Fate snarled before her flesh knitted itself quickly back together, her thick hide healing... but becoming scalier now as larger horns pushed up through her mane and she rasped: “You have no idea the gifts my master has given me... the power I possess... or what I am going to do to you for continuing to insult my master by denying his gifts!”

Dusk charged straight at Celestia, who gritted her teeth as she snapped her horn out, flinging both swords at the scaled features of the no-longer-winged unicorn, but Dusk completely ignored the swords bouncing harmlessly off her scales. Celestia's eyes widened as Dusk dove at her, but Discombobulation leapt forwards and winced even as he slammed his metal fist as hard as he could into Dusk's cheek, knocking her crashing and rolling along on her side as the chimerical creature said hurriedly: “Unless you've got some spare kryptonite, I think it's time to run!”

Celestia shook her head almost desperately, picking up her golden swords even as she looked back and forth, seeing Antares struggling just to keep Twilight Shadow at bay, and Twilight Sparkle had lost one of her wings and a back leg to Myre, who was savaging her with attacks, and Scrivener Blooms and Luna Brynhild and Gymbr were... were...

There was no hope. Luna knew there was no hope, and yet she and Scrivener kept fighting, even if neither of them was entirely sure of why. But they were both covered in blood and wounds, and Gymbr was spotless. He was just playing with them, and this battle was nothing more than a pointless game they were destined to lose... but all the same, they both fought.

Luna leapt at Gymbr's side, her soulstone horn glowing with energy... and Gymbr ducked low, moving with sinuous grace to avoid a punch of her hooves before the heel of one claw slammed into her chest and knocked her upwards with a gurgle, her limbs flailing uselessly outwards. Then the god leapt up, seizing Luna's forelegs and yanking her through the air like a pillow... a pillow that weighed almost a full ton in her armor, which he slammed down into the back of Scrivener Blooms to crush him into the ground.

Both ponies cried out in agony, and then Gymbr threw Luna up into the air like she weighed no more than a feather, her body flipping like a circus acrobat's before Gymbr seized her back legs this time and slammed her down on top of Scrivener Blooms again. The pain was bad enough, but the sense of vertigo and nausea from being whirled around was what left Luna unable to respond as Gymbr yanked her into the air again and roughly flipped her one more time, catching her again and slamming her a third time cruelly down towards the crushed stallion.

Scrivener gritted his teeth, and as much as he hated himself for it, he flung himself out of the way: Luna both cursed and approved, but most of all he felt her telling him to take this opportunity, this one vulnerability. And even though he was dazed and he felt the same agony that Luna did when she was smashed into the hard ground, the stallion flung himself upwards, both claws stretching out towards Gymbr's face, determined that whether or not they were going to lose they could still make this god bleed-

Scrivener's claws were caught and intertwined with something, and the stallion's eyes widened as he saw that somehow, Gymbr had gotten his own silver claws up to grapple with Scrivener. Stupefied chestnut irises stared into burning green eyes, and Gymbr said softly: “One good turn deserves another; you wanted to make us humble, to make us bleed, to leave a scar on us so we would remember your power, remember that we are not above you... well, we are above you. Above you both. And one good turn deserves another.”

With that, Gymbr's claws clenched... then he twisted savagely to the side, crushing down, and Scrivener arched his back and screamed in agony as he felt his digits snapping, ripping, breaking, being simply destroyed. Blood burst from Luna's hooves as her own cracked, her eyes bulging in horror as she gasped and stared up with disbelief, and across the room, Twilight Sparkle's eyes widened as one of her own hooves exploded and the other shattered, sending her spilling onto her face as Myre stepped backwards with surprise... and then a cruel grin.

The fighting stopped as all eyes turned to see Gymbr crushing down on Scrivener's shattered claws, and then the god yanked cruelly back as he crushed down again, and the ends of Scrivener's limbs were left almost completely unrecognizable as he collapsed forwards on his face, staring sightlessly and trembling on the ground as he gasped weakly for breath. Luna snarled, tears running down her cheeks as she slowly rose her head towards Gymbr, who gazed down at her calmly... and then, in a terrible, disdainful gesture, he simply swatted her soulstone horn, shattering it into pieces as Luna arched her back with a cry of agony as her mane and tail sparked, then lost their glow and became nothing but smudged and bloodied hairs.

There was one powerful pulse from the broken base of the prosthetic, and Gymbr winced back in distaste as his own soulstone core gave a thrumming reverberation, energy sparking over his body before he settled calmly. Twilight Sparkle gargled weakly on the ground as blood ran from the base of her horn as cracks slowly formed through it, and Antares turned away from Twilight Shadow, stumbling back and shaking his head weakly as Celestia closed her eyes tightly and Discombobulation touched his lips, staring at the broken ponies.

Then Gymbr glanced up and smiled as a black pony strode out of the swirling vortex, but no one could really focus on the newcomer as Gymbr said pleasantly: “Imago. We appreciate your good timing... Fates, our army will shortly arrive. Celestia, Discombobulation, Antares Mīrus... the game is over, and you shall now leave. You may take Twilight Sparkle with you, but... leave Scrivener and Luna. We must speak to them for a moment.”

“We will not back down... bring on your armies, and lead them yourself if you dare, Gymbr, but I will not leave Luna and Scrivener in your claws!” Celestia shouted, stepping forwards, and the god sighed softly as he shook his head slowly, looking almost disappointed.

“How foolish you have grown. You do not need to prove either your bravery or your loyalty, Celestia... we know you have plenty of both.” Gymbr said softly, shaking his head slowly before he rose a claw calmly as his soulstone core started to glow. “Very well. Because we do not desire to see anyone here hurt any further because of pride and blind emotion...”

Celestia began to step forwards... and then she simply froze, the air around her rippling strangely. A moment later, Discombobulation was caught in the same grip, and then Antares... and lastly, Twilight Sparkle, halted in mid-reach towards Luna and Scrivener, as if she was going to attempt to drag her broken body towards them. Her eyes were pleading, and Luna and Scrivener could feel her pain: she wanted to stay with them. She wanted to be together with them, as an equal, to share even in their suffering at the claws of this creature; to be excused from it was a worse punishment than anything that Gymbr could put them through together.

But in a blink, she was gone, along with the others, and Luna and Scrivener both forced themselves to look up as best they could. The stallion lay on his side in a pool of black, and Luna was on her stomach, barely able to raise her tearstained face from the ground to stare up at... at this awful, terrible god looming over them, looking down at them with palpable sadness in his desolate green eyes.

The Three Fates encircled them as Imago sauntered up to Gymbr's side, almost pressing against the god with a sultry smile. Straight blue-green hair spilled over one side of her pretty features, and her coat was black and smooth, yet somehow chitinous. And as they looked up at her, they realized her body was segmented, like an ant's, with a fat, wasp-like abdomen instead of a tail. Likewise, her wings were long and slender and dragonfly-like, almost forming a gorgeous cape over her body, but her horn was a twisted lightning bolt, a memento of the chrysalis this oversized insect had likely emerged from.

“Are you going to make them like us, Lord Gymbr?” she asked eagerly, but Gymbr only shook his head, and Imago looked disappointed as she turned her eyes towards the two, before she licked her lips slowly as a new, more-vicious light glowed in her eyes, asking hungrily: “Then can I have them? I'm sure there's a hundred things I could do with them...”

“No. We must not kill them. We are going to protect them and save them.” Gymbr said forcefully, and then he shook his head slowly and looked down at the soulbound, silent ponies. “They will eventually come to understand that they are hurting only themselves by trying to fight us... that we are not the threat they think we are. Until that day comes, though, Luna and Scrivener... we will defend ourselves vigorously against you and yours. We will do whatever we have to in order to continue our plans. We will not let you interfere... and in the future, we shall allow our Fates and our armies to fight you with all the strength they have. We will never kill you, no... but we may not be so compassionate with your other friends and allies.”

Luna snarled at this, shaking her head, opening her mouth... but there were no words. What could she say? What could she do? There was nothing... and she trembled as tears filled her eyes at that feeling of helplessness. She wanted to fight, she wanted to scream, she wanted to temper-tantrum... but she couldn't even stand up. She smelled of blood and mire and sweat and death and suffering, and she could feel Scrivener beside her, laying half-dead with his claws so... so mangled, and broken...

She felt a silent caress, and Luna looked up in surprise, startled out of her thoughts as Gymbr frowned. Scrivener Blooms felt the presence too, but Gymbr didn't seem to sense it... not even Twilight Shadow did, the Lich frowning in confusion even as Twilight Sparkle's spirit clung quietly to Luna's back, unseen by all but the ponies she was soulbound with. Then Gymbr simply shrugged, saying softly: “You have no tricks left, Luna Brynhild. Give up. We are superior. We are Gymbr. And we shall do what must be done to protect our universe.”

“The universe is not protected by a cage.” Luna whispered, forcing her eyes up... and then she smiled faintly as Scrivener slowly rolled onto his stomach, the stallion gasping in pain, but using it to force his head up and glare at Gymbr.

“We're not going to stop... you can keep breaking our bodies, but we'll keep coming back as long as we're alive... and even if you kill us, we'll crawl out of Hell and find a way to drag you down with us.” Scrivener looked up... and it wasn't fearless, because there was a lot of things he was afraid of this monster doing to him. It wasn't confident, because he knew their chances of stopping Gymbr were slim to none. But it was determined, because he felt Luna and Twilight beside him, and all of them were focused on one thing: putting a stop to this god before it was too late.

Gymbr looked down at them silently, and then he shook his head slowly before he rose a claw, his soulstone core beginning to glow as he said quietly: “Let's hope that you learn, or at least your friends do in time: we will not always be this merciful in the future. Now, we have much work to do, so we are going to say goodbye.”

Luna and Scrivener both snarled as Twilight's eyes widened before the spirit vanished, taking quick refuge inside her soulmates: and a moment later, as Gymbr's soulstone core flashed, both Luna Brynhild and Scrivener Blooms were simply gone.

There was silence, apart from the thrumming of energy from the portal as the Fates and Imago looked lovingly up at Gymbr, and then he god's green eyes roved up curiously before he smiled, inviting gently: “Come here, child. Come and speak to us. None of us will hurt you.”

For a moment, there was no response... and then Innocence uneasily stuck her head around the doorway, trembling, staring inside the ruins of the room before she hesitantly stepped through the portal. Her mouth was dry, her heart thudding, but... her eyes were locked on Gymbr, and he stared back at her with fascination and tenderness as he rose a silver claw to her, beckoning gently. “You do not need to be afraid. We bring gifts. We bring strength. We bring glory.”

Innocence stared at the god, licking her lips slowly, breathing harder as her eyes roved over Myre and Dusk on one side of the god, and then Twilight Shadow and Imago to Gymbr's other... and then her eyes widened in awe and horror as a column of metallic ponies and other creatures began to emerge through the portal, the young mare staring in disbelief before Gymbr spread his claws slowly as the column split into two, their ranks beginning to fill the room.

Innocence began to stumble away, terrified, and then she froze as Gymbr said softly: “Come to us, and listen. We shall not force your hoof, Innocence... but if you agree with us, then you can help us. Help us make your family safe, your friends strong... help us protect this world. And all of our power... can be yours.”

The young unicorn stared, swallowing thickly, her heart thudding in her chest as those intense emerald eyes gazed into her very soul, saw her in a way she felt no one had ever seen her before, made her feel weak and lightheaded and like she craved, hungered for, needed, needed, needed him...

Innocence took a step towards Gymbr, and Gymbr smiled.

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