• 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 Trials Of Clan Isenertos

Chapter Twenty Five: The Trials of Clan Isenertos

Scrivener and Luna both followed the Chieftain through town, Terra bouncing beside the male she treated with so much respect not because he was lord of the tribe of Ironjaw, but because he was her grandfather. Others called out loudly to Stiúir as if he was a good friend instead of a respected official, but Stiúir always returned it with a friendly greeting of his own.

Ironjaw lined the streets, gazing with interest at these new dragons... well, dragon-lookalikes, since Scrivener was fairly sure Tyrant Wyrms had little to do with dragons despite their appearance, and Luna, no matter what shape she was in, was still Luna. Twilight Sparkle was nervously walking alongside Terra, but all the attention for the moment was on the dragon strangers, the Lich feeling almost surreal at how well she was blending in alongside these giant Ironjaws and how... welcome she felt here all of a sudden.

Scrivener Blooms was trying awkwardly to keep his head down, while Luna Brynhild had her own raised proudly, all-but-basking in the attention from the metallic demons. Everyone seemed to be aware of what was going on, but for some reason that didn't surprise Scrivener: everyone had probably heard the roars, after all, and in a place like this he didn't imagine much went on that escaped the attention of everyone else.

The Tyrant Wyrm looked awkwardly back and forth as they made their way down the street, and Stiúir glanced over his shoulder before he asked easily: “Are you mocking our primitive cultural ways again, black drake? Well, I fear I can't quite see how a boggy creature like yourself can look down upon us wee metal beasties.”

“I... I wasn't. And I'm not a Marsh Drake.” Scrivener said flatly, although he did his best to restrain his sarcasm: he figured somehow it wouldn't have quite the same effect on Stiúir as Luna's brash temperament did. Then again, Luna could somehow get away with being a jerk even when he couldn't. “I'm a Tyrant Wyrm.”

“Oh, a Tyrant Wyrm?” Stiúir's voice was dripping with false awe, and he grinned and winked over his shoulder at the sour-faced male. “Well, do excuse me, but I wasn't aware you came in snack-size varieties, friend. I suppose we were all wee babes once, though.”

Luna giggled, and Scrivener shot her a foul look, but the blue-scaled dragon only huffed and said defensively: “What? 'Twas funny!”

“You're funny.” Scrivener muttered, and then he winced a bit when the sapphire dragon bodychecked him before poking at him with her horn, and he slapped at her grouchily, biting back a wince at how much that made his claws sting.

He flexed them as they continued along, and Luna softened a bit, studying him for a moment before she turned her eyes forwards to ask a question... but she saw her answer ahead, so instead she only whistled slowly, surveying the massive stone coliseum in the distance and saying mildly: “I suppose that is what we are headed towards, aye?”

“Aye” Stiúir agreed, nodding and smiling over his shoulder at Luna. “And I hope neither of you fear being watched, for there will be quite a few gathered in the seats already. These trials are great entertainment for our Clan: in recent years, only Lord Kvasir passed, out of the hundred or so warriors we've seen. Demons and dragons of all shape and size seek us out, after all, but few earn the right to attempt the Trials... many die in the attempt to simply gain entrance, and the rest in the challenges themselves. They are nothing to be taken lightly.”

Scrivener winced and Twilight looked up worriedly, but Luna only smiled wryly and remarked: “Then 'tis fortunate with us we are friends with an Ironjaw ourselves, I suppose. So what dangers shall we face ahead?”

“Oh, I cannot ruin the surprises for you now, can I? No favors, no mercy, no exception: no Ironjaw would ever ask for it, no Ironjaw would ever blur the rules. We are bound by duty and honor.” Chief Stiúir replied calmly, looking up and nodding once before he smiled pleasantly over his shoulder as they approached a set of massive iron gates in the wall of the colossal coliseum. “But don't fear. We Ironjaw waste not and want not: should you die, we'll hold a great feast in your honor, ,where you'll have the... place of honor, so to speak.”

“Oh. How. How nice.” Scrivener said finally, and then he cleared his throat before asking impulsively: “Also, not to stir the pot, but if you don't ever make any exceptions or anything... why was Terra able to bring us right to see you?”

Slowly, the Chieftain looked over his shoulder at the Tyrant Wyrm, and Scrivener gave a lame smile as Luna glared at him and Twilight Sparkle sighed tiredly. The black-scaled reptile shrank a little as Terra cleared her throat awkwardly, and Scrivener felt all too aware of the fact that the Ironjaw along the sides of the road and following behind them all had their eyes focused on him as well.

But finally, Stiúir smiled and turned an amused look towards Luna Brynhild, saying mildly: “I suppose that your husband has taken a knock or two too many to the head, aye?”

“Well, that is usually what we tell people, but the truth is simply that Scrivy cannot resist saying things we shall all regret later.” Luna said pointedly, turning a glower towards the Wyrm, who only mumbled a little in awkward agreement. “I suppose 'tis different for family, isn't it?”

“Isn't it always?” Stiúir smiled again, before he turned back ahead and gestured at the enormous Ironjaw dragons to either side of the heavy portcullis. “That, and of course, proving to a seasoned Ironjaw that you're worthy of joining the clan is one of the first steps. I know Terra wouldn't come to me, and tell me that you two were worthy unless you truly were... and unless there was no better hope to save her own noble clan.”

“You mean Heaven.” Twilight Sparkle said softly, and Stiúir only nodded before all eyes looked ahead as the guards to either side of the portcullis grasped heavy chains hanging beside them, growling as they yanked claw-over-claw at the same time to quickly raise the enormous portcullis.

The Ironjaw Chieftain gestured to them politely, and Luna and Scrivener both took the lead. Twilight began to hesitantly follow, but Stiúir gently caught her and smiled down at the Lich, saying kindly: “Nay, this is where you must part ways. Terra, take our friend 'round the side and up into the stands. I'll escort Scrivener and Luna the rest of the way myself.”

Terra smiled, then stepped forwards and traded a quick hug with the Chieftain, Twilight wincing and ducking awkwardly back to avoid being squished. Then they parted, and the Ironjaw dragoness smiled over at Twilight Sparkle, saying kindly: “Daideó will take good care of them, fear not. Come along, Twilight Sparkle, we'd best be moving ourselves if we want to get good seats!”

The Lich nodded uncertainly, turning to follow Terra... while meanwhile, Scrivener and Luna were being led down the tunnel that led into the coliseum by Stiúir, who had his eyes ahead, but somehow made both transformed ponies aware that he was sizing them up as he said softly: “You might not entirely agree with the customs we have... but I can feel that you're all determined to push through the tests you're about to face, and I appreciate that. I warn you, though: there will be killing ahead, and there will be the very real possibility you will die.”

“Aye, we figured thou wert not kidding about us being made into meals should we fail.” Luna said mildly, and Stiúir gave her an amused look before the dragon mare traded looks with Scrivener Blooms, and then they both nodded firmly. “We are ready to do whatever we must. Bring on thy challenges, and we shall rise to each and every one of them.”

The three halted in front of a smaller gate, only one guard standing at the ready here, but this dragon was wearing heavy battle armor over his steel scales, making him all the more imposing. He saluted Stiúir when the Chieftain looked at him, and Stiúir smiled before his eyes flicked back towards the two, saying softly: “Then very well. I have no more advice, no more warnings for you. Out into the arena with you, greet the crowd, and I'll announce that it is time to begin the trials.”

Both Luna and Scrivener nodded as the guard yanked down a lever, the gate creakily rising, and Wyrm and sapphire dragon breathed slowly before striding out into the snowy field of the coliseum. Immediately, they were met with roars of excitement from all sides, and both looked up in surprise, gazing back and forth: Ironjaw dragons of all shape and size filled the stands and were leaning eagerly over the high, pockmarked walls, and Luna and Scrivener both were amazed by how much energy they could feel in the air, and how even now, more dragons were arriving to push into the enormous seats and gaze eagerly down at the newcomers below...

“Well, at least some of them seem to be cheering for us.” Luna said mildly as the gate rolled shut behind them, looking up over the audience before the sapphire mare shook herself briskly, then absently leapt into the air and flapped her leathery wings several times, hovering and giving a sigh of relief. “For a moment I was afraid we would both be stuck upon the ground. But nay, 'tis not too heavy to fly... and I am rather attractive even like this, am I not?”

“Yeah, you fit in very well with everything else around here.” Scrivener remarked absently, looking back and forth before he shook his head briefly as he surveyed the arena: it was massive, and he could feel solid ice beneath the thin veil of powder. The Wyrm could also note a few large chunks of rock and icy, teeth-like banks here and there... “Probably to keep things interesting...”

Luna dropped to the icy floor, shaking her head briskly and adding: “There is also a charge of energy in the air... I do not believe I can fly out of here. High, yes: probably quite high at that, but likely not high enough to vanish towards the... rocks. I suppose I should say rocks instead of sky.”

“Technically you should say 'air,' but that's another conversation for another time.” Scrivener said dryly, and then he muttered: “Something tells me what we're getting into is going to be a lot more complicated than just playing gladiator, though...”

The blue dragon grunted, eyes flicking moodily back and forth before she said thoughtfully: “Well, 'twould be rather disappointing otherwise, aye? Even if thou keeps acting like such a picky fruit, Scrivy, being so hard on them for their traditions.”

“I am not being... did you just call me a 'picky fruit?' What the hell does that mean?” Scrivener glared over at her, and the sapphire reptile snorted in amusement and waved a claw at him, then giggled and looked down at her own digits, grabbing her face with her claw and peering through them to giggle harder as the Wyrm slowly closed his eyes.

“I hate everything.” Scrivener Blooms muttered, and then he sighed and dropped his head, saying almost pleadingly over to Luna: “Can you please remember why we're here? I feel Twilight almost herniating with the emotional overload.”

“Aye, and that is why I must be a little silly. Why I must try and find a little good amidst these times, which are among the worst we have all ever seen.” Luna softened, becoming more serious as she dropped her claw away from her face, and Scrivener quieted as he looked over at the dragon. “What will being sad and upset and panicky accomplish? Nothing. What will trying to rush these dragons in their ceremony accomplish? Nothing. What will smiling accomplish? Perhaps nothing. But perhaps 'twill be a good sort of nothing... the sort of nothing that leads to nothing bad, instead of the bad nothing that leads to nothing good.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then a small smile quirked at Scrivener's mouth as he looked up and said softly: “You used that word so many times it means... nothing to me anymore.”

“Very funny, poet.” But Luna smiled back all the same, before both Wyrm and polymorphed dragon rose their heads as the roar of the crowd rose when the Chieftain took his seat on a balcony across the arena, Terra and Twilight both beside him and leaning over the short wall with anticipation.

“My kin! Today, these dragons have come to prove their strength to us! They and one other seek to become kin and join our clan today, to earn our loyalty and respect... shall we test them?” Stiúir shouted, looking back and forth as he rose a claw, and there was a roar of approval from the audience before Stiúir waved his forelimb. “I hear you, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters! Then let the trials begin!”

Another roar of excitement, and Luna and Scrivener both stepped forwards and set themselves before Stiúir grinned, leaning forwards and calling easily: “Then let's show our hospitality, and allow our new friends to warm up with a simple game of catch, first! Aye, send out the Frost Pixies!”

There was laughter at this, and Scrivener looked up sourly as Luna winced a bit, dropping low and concentrating her magic to shield her entire body with magic as the Wyrm said dryly: “I swear, all he seems interested in is making fun of us. Pixies. What the hell are pixies going to do?”

Before he could check on what Luna was doing, the Wyrm's attention was drawn by the sound of panels in the walls sliding open, and there were several odd flashes of light as Scrivener frowned and cocked his head curiously. Then he blinked in surprise as something insectile and tiny appeared suddenly in front of his eyes, the Tyrant Wyrm staring blankly at this before he snorted and said dryly: “Oh yes, just terrifying, really.”

He studied the dancing shape of light, which had little, spindly limbs and dragonfly-like wings as it seemed to blink back and forth with a faint crackle of energy, emanating a blue glow. Then the Wyrm frowned in surprise as another shape appeared: this pixie looked the same, but this one was surrounded by a bright crimson aura.

Scrivener looked back and forth, then he cleared his throat as several more appeared, most of them glowing blue and a few others thrumming with crimson energy. They seemed to communicate through flashes of light, and the Wyrm frowned a bit as he studied them: he was aware that some pixies could be nasty little creatures, but he was fairly certain that as an enormous Tyrant Wyrm, there wasn't a whole lot they could do to him.

He began to turn towards Luna, then grimaced when one of the pixies landed on his muzzle, drawing his attention. He wrinkled up his snout, then huffed and swatted at it, slapping it firmly aside-

Promptly, the swarm of pixies began to dart violently back and forth around him, leaving thin trails of ice where they hit and sucking up his body heat instead of trying to physically hurt him, the Wyrm shouting and dancing back and forth as the crowd roared with laughter. He pranced around in a circle, but the pixies were far faster, and much, much swifter than he could move, feeling like he was trying to grab them in slow motion with the speed they whizzed around him.

Thin sheets of ice were spreading over his scales, and he could feel them devouring his energy quickly, draining strength from him with their touch alone. He gasped and cursed, then roared furiously as he snapped his head around, filling the air around him with toxic blue mist.

Other pixies were swarming around Luna, but the sapphire dragon was simply sitting contently, an amused smile on her face as she watched Scrivener writhing and flailing around. His toxic breath was able to kill the pixies off, but they were agile enough to dodge around the poison for the most part, which seemed to only be serving to frustrate Scrivener further.

Luna, meanwhile, had electrified her own body: every time a pixie dove into her, it squeaked and simply fell out of the air. The sapphire dragon calmly stomped them after they fell, the process a slow but sure one as she called mildly: “Do not allow them to form larger plates of ice, Scrivy! They will use them to bind thee down!”

“Dammit!” Scrivener danced back and forth, then seized one of the pixies in a claw and yelled in frustration and pain when it fought back by trying to suck all the warmth out of his arm. He immediately slung it down and squashed the pixie, then he cursed and danced back and forth as the nasty little creatures continued to harry him with attacks, calling in a strangled voice as the last of the pixies hovering around Luna was electrified and crushed: “Do something!”

“I could tell a joke?” Luna suggested positively, and then she grinned widely at the flurry of curses from Scrivener, laughing even as she felt faint pains starting to tickle her own body from the loss of energy Scrivener Blooms was suffering. “Oh very well, but thou art the one who always takes such pleasure in warning ponies of the danger of fairy tales. One would think thou would take thine own advice, but... thou never were very smart.”

Luna paused, then she grinned and simply flicked her horn, and the netting of electricity dancing over her scales was launched from her body, striking into Scrivener and ricocheting off him to chain from pixie to pixie. A moment later, Scrivener landed on his back with a groan, the pixies falling in a hail of smoldering, tiny bodies around him.

This was followed by laughter and cheers from the crowd, Luna making a half-playful bow to the audience... which only increased the merriment and applause. Scrivener sighed tiredly and blew a dead pixie off his face, then he muttered: “Pixies. You have to be kidding me.”

“Oh shut up, Scrivener Blooms. 'Tis thine own fault, anyway, assuming pixies of Helheim would be the same as flesh-eating pixies of our world. Nay, Helheim is a place where most predators have evolved to attack the spirit; the spirit in most creatures is softer and easier, after all.” Luna strode over to the Tyrant Wyrm, then grasped him with a claw and shook him firmly once before smiling despite herself. “I enjoy these.”

“Good for you.” Scrivener mumbled, and then he picked himself up and shook himself absently off, tossing a few pieces of ice away from his body as he grimaced and looked up at the cheering crowd. “This is all starting to make me nervous. I've got a bad feeling about this.”

Luna glared at him, but before the Tyrant Wyrm could say anything further, Stiúir leaned forwards and shouted, as the roar of the crowd quieted: “Friends and kinfolk! Now, was that not an interesting show? The Marsh Drake and the battlemaiden make good partners, don't they, much like the training dummy and the sword!”

There were laughs at this, and Luna grinned over at Scrivener Blooms as he sighed and dropped his head forwards, saying sourly more to himself than anyone else: “I'm not a Marsh Drake.”

The sapphire dragon gave him a flat look, but before she could say anything or he could respond, the Chieftain of the Ironjaw continued clearly: “We have witnessed how they deal with what are nothing but pests, so now let us witness how they handle something a little more dangerous, shall we? Aye, we have at least one strong dragon in our arena today, and another who has succeeded even with some... little help...” A few more laughs, and Scrivener glowered. “But now let's see how their strength holds up against not just the strength of numbers, but unity and teamwork!

“Unleash the Hellhounds!” The crowd roared its approval at this, and Scrivener and Luna both grimaced and quickly got into ready positions beside each other, setting themselves: they both had the feeling this next set of demons wasn't just going to be a few vicious hell-beasts.

A large gate beneath the Chieftain's balcony slowly opened, and the cheers increased in volume until a pack of Hellhounds can charging out, barking and baying. There were at least seven of them, all large and slavering eagerly, blue hellfire eyes glowing in faces of polished bone. Their skulls were exposed, and their ribs were likewise naked to the eye... and more frightening than that, the frosty organs beneath, pulsing with terrible vitality as claws like diamonds scraped the frosty earth and black, rubbery-looking hide flexed and rippled over their limbs and backs.

And every one of the Hellhounds had a tight collar of iron locked around their necks that was inset with a bright crystal. Twilight leaned forwards worriedly as she looked down at the backs of these creatures, studying them intently as Stiúir declared: “Let the trial begin! And fight with honor!"

There were roars of agreement, of eagerness, of dragons urging them on and dragons wishing them luck... and both above and beneath it all, a silent plea from Twilight Sparkle. She didn't just want them to be careful, or do their best: she wanted them to not hold back, to tear their way through these demons as fast and hard as they could. She wanted them to do more than survive: she wanted them to pass these Ironjaw trials with flying colors, so they could move on as soon as possible to find a way into Underdark, to get to Hel... to save their daughter.

Scrivener and Luna felt their minds locking together, felt Twilight passing information on to them even as the Hellhounds snarled and organized themselves quickly into their own aggressive formation, fearless of the sapphire dragon and Tyrant Wyrm across from them. But alone, Hellhounds were used as dangerous hunting animals for both animal and intelligent prey: a pack of beasts as large as this one...

The lead Hellhound roared, then leapt forwards, leading a charge straight towards Luna and Scrivener. Tyrant Wyrm and sapphire dragon both turned their bodies slightly, tensing themselves and recognizing the tactic as he felt Luna's mental order to hold on, hold on...

Then they both leaned forwards, roaring furiously: the Hellhounds skidded to a halt, dropping low in a V-formation, all of them setting themselves and snarling back. The Alpha seemed surprised that neither reptile had panicked, and there were laughs and cheers from the crowd, as well as a few shouts clearly trying to get them to hurry up.

But Luna and Scrivener weren't paying attention to the crowd: only the enemies across from them. The sapphire dragon already had an idea of what those collars were, and her horn was glowing faintly as she tested her theory with the barest bit of magic.

A faint spark sizzled through the air around the Alpha, and Luna growled in irritation: the collars were shielding the demons from magic. She straightened, baring her fangs before muttering: “They will attempt to sweep us from all sides and make us panic. We must not strike out at them, but counter their attacks. Speed is more vital than strength.”

Scrivener simply nodded, and then both transformed ponies set themselves as the leader of the pack bayed before barking loudly several times. The other Hellhounds seemed to listen attentively, shifting their positions as they shared growls before the Alpha suddenly leaned forwards and roared, cold blue mist bursting out of his jaws in a wave towards the two.

Luna flicked her horn as it pulsed, a blast of icy wind ripping apart the freezing smoke before her eyes shifted to the side, narrowing as two Hellhounds sprinted past. Three others were flanking in towards Scrivener's side, aiming to drive them in that direction as the Alpha and another Hellhound paced forwards, growling, looking to corner.

But Scrivener refused to budge, snapping at the Hellhounds and raising one claw, and he felt the sapphire mare take several slow, careful steps backwards as she faced the Alpha. She was leaving Scrivener's side exposed, but the Wyrm trusted her plan, even if it was a little dangerous.

Luna could hear the two Hellhounds starting to creep up behind her, and she knew her timing had to be perfect. If they screwed up, the Hellhounds were going to start ripping into them and drive them straight into the wall, where they would use their numbers and teamwork to tear the two apart.

The sapphire mare narrowed her eyes as she tensed her body, half-shielding herself behind Scrivener Blooms as the Alpha seemed almost to grin greedily at the sight of the male's exposed side. The Wyrm himself was trading quick claws and nips with the three ice wolves in front of him, keeping his attention forwards: but he could see through Luna's link, feel what she was about to do, and Twilight above had her eyes locked on the group, feeding them every detail before she mentally cried a warning as the Hellhounds attempting to sneak up behind Luna lunged at the dragon's back.

Without hesitation, Luna leapt forwards, her tail snapping out more by accident than skill to smash one of the beasts out of the air with a yelp. Her wings spread as her front claws shoved down against Scrivener's back and her hindclaws kicked as hard as they could against the ground, flinging herself into the air before she flapped her wings, pouncing out of the sky to crash down right on top of the surprised Alpha.

The Hellhound was surprisingly-strong, and Luna bared her fangs as it attempted to wrench free of her claws as the other demonic beast lunged onto her back, clawing at her and trying to find a place to bite into. But Luna reared, flinging it off before it could do too much damage as she yanked the flailing Alpha into the air with her, then she spun around and slammed it down onto its back as she put all her weight on her front claws... and beneath those, the monster's chest.

The Hellhound howled in misery, clawing, biting at the air, vomiting out frosty blue smoke... and then Luna shoved down hard, snarling, and there was a sickening crack as the creature's ribs collapsed into its own frosty organs, crushing and ripping them apart.

The Alpha screamed before it exploded into shards of ice and bone, knocking Luna onto her back with a curse as Scrivener Blooms gritted his teeth and arched his own in pain, and then he snarled and batted a Hellhound out of the air when it attempted to pounce for his neck. The demon was sent rolling backwards, and like it was a signal, the other Hellhounds leapt forwards, attacking both reptiles ferociously... but now lacking the teamwork they had shown before, only flinging themselves at the Tyrant Wyrm and sapphire dragon as viciously as they could.

Scrivener slapped another of the icy demons backwards, even as he hurriedly backpedaled to avoid being tackled before cursing as another of the Hellhound leapt onto his back, trying to scrabble its way on top of him. The Wyrm responded to this by quickly bucking forwards, launching the Hellhound over his head and swinging a wild claw at the beast that struck it across the face, sending it crashing down on top of another Hellhound with enough force both demons were bounced backwards like coins.

Then Luna smashed another of the demons through the air with a fierce hammer blow from one claw, the demon flipping rapidly towards the Tyrant Wyrm before Scrivener smashed his own claw into it, the monster exploding into chunks of icy shrapnel. Without slowing, Luna was already pouncing onto another Hellhound, crushing it down before she leaned away with her teeth grit as her claws simply snapped its neck and the demon burst apart.

Four were left: two of these were badly injured, and one of them was hissing at another Hellhound as if trying to goad it forwards. One of the demons was whimpering a little and trying to keep itself low, shivering more out of fear than anticipation, but the other three seemed ready to fight: looked, in fact, like they were trying to organize each other a little.

Scrivener and Luna didn't want to give them that chance: they didn't even have to trade a look as they both rushed forwards, and only one of the Hellhounds managed to react in time, leaning forwards and breathing a blast of icy smoke out to try and slow their charge, but the Tyrant Wyrm simply leapt over the stream of toxic smog, crashing down on top of the Hellhound and crushing it beneath his body as Luna charged straight into the middle of the remaining three, scattering them in all directions with yelps and barks.

Luna grinned as she looked back and forth, and a Hellhound made a sloppy leap at her throat, but the sapphire dragon half-spun to meet it, slashing it with one claw and knocking it away; and, moving in perfect rhythm with the transformed mare, Scrivener dragged the crushed, dying Hellhound out from beneath him and flung it into the trajectory of the dazed demon.

They collided in midair, and the already-crushed demon exploded in a hail of icy shrapnel and bone fragments that knocked the wounded Hellhound to the ground, leaving it rasping for breath, its organs and body peppered and punctured by its ally's remains. Luna and Scrivener were already moving forwards, the sapphire mare tackling one of the remaining Hellhounds onto its back as Scrivener chased after the other, which was fleeing with a series of yelps and whimpers.

There was no mercy here: even if Scrivener grimaced as he pinned the Hellhound by the spine with one claw and grasped the back of its skull with the other, even if he always felt dirty when it came down to this... all the same, he pulled hard, cracking its upper spine and almost tearing its head from its body. Quick, mostly painless... and it gave the Tyrant Wyrm enough time to step quickly back and cover his face as the Hellhound died in a burst of shrapnel and frost.

Luna had already dealt with the other Hellhound, grimacing a bit as she brushed shrapnel off her body before looking up at the roar of the crowd. The last Hellhound was still twitching a little as the last of its life spilled out of it; close enough to death that the crowd roared its approval as Tyrant Wyrm and sapphire dragon both gazed up at the eager audience.

Then Stiúir stood and rose his claws, and little-by-little the applause died down to an excited chatter. Stiúir smiled back and forth at this, then leaned over the wall of the balcony and declared: “Strength is in unity! As one we are strong, but it is our Clan that makes the Ironjaw indomitable! We are all one family, we are all of Isenertos, and these two have shown that... and how to break that in the foe! They have passed this trial, and so, my kin, let us give them the true challenge of Isenertos: send out three of the traitors! Let us see if these two truly carry honor in their veins!”

There were roars at this, and Scrivener and Luna both felt that now the real challenge was beginning. And after a moment, that large gate beneath the balcony slid open again, and it wasn't monsters or captured beasts that strode out, but three Ironjaw dragons, and the crowd roared and booed and shouted at their entrance.

Stiúir remained calm as these three Ironjaw looked up with growls at him, the Chieftain meeting their glares without fear as he said evenly: “If you win, you will be freed, and allowed to escape into Helheim. If you lose, you will be dead. Do I make myself clear?”

Luna gritted her teeth as she and Scrivener studied their opponents for a moment: their scales looked rusted, their bodies were thin and emaciated, and each of them was marked by a large burnt patch on their bodies or faces that looked as if acid had been splashed over them. In a way, they were miserable more than they were threatening, but then one of them turned and gave a cruel grin, whispering: “I'm going to have my way with the bitch before I kill her.”

The sapphire dragon's eyes slowly narrowed as Scrivener Blooms grimaced, then he carefully anchored himself as he started to gently push with his powers into the frosty earth, as Stiúir looked up and declared: “Let the trial begin! Prove your strength and honor: if you are truly worthy to join our clan, then first you must overcome those who have failed to uphold our name and laws.”

One of the Ironjaws snarled at this and spat a blast of blue flame at Stiúir, but it was repelled by some invisible force as the crowd booed and writhed with disapproval and anger. Scrivener could hear more of the Ironjaw urging them on, and he gritted his teeth as the three prisoners turned towards them, the Tyrant Wyrm muttering as the ground around him slowly began to turn to black mire: “Well, now we really are playing gladiator, aren't we? Not to mention executioner...”

“I do not mind, Scrivy. 'Tis better than playing the role of murderer of good dragons.” Luna replied in a growl, her eyes locked on the dragons and sizing them up: one had that strange acid-marking on his face, and one was missing large patches of his scales, and the last was the smallest, lingering behind the others.

Scarface was the most aggressive, leading Patches and Runt forwards: Scrivener and Luna both set themselves as they sized up their opponents, choosing to lock onto the front two Ironjaw. Not that they wanted to underestimate Runt, either: he was a marked prisoner of some kind, and whether or not he really was afraid and uneasy, he was still an Ironjaw, a dangerous dragon-demon. They couldn't afford to underestimate their foes.

And Luna felt... excitement, too. The rest of the Clan was cheering them on, watching them, and her Valkyrie instincts were alive with the need to prove her strength... to do more than that, to crush and humiliate her opponents. And she bared her fangs and snarled even as Scarface roared furiously, his rusted scales bristling out before he set himself, eyes blazing as his body flexed and grew larger, his burnished metal claws scraping hungrily against the ground as he hissed: “Make it easy on yourself and beg for a quick death...”

The sapphire dragon responded by snapping her horn towards Scarface, and he cursed and staggered backwards as spikes of ice jutted up all around him, scraping off loose scales and denting his natural armor even as they shattered on impact with his metallic body. Scarface growled in fury, but Luna only looked evenly back, saying calmly: “Does thou desire to keep wasting our time or shall we move into the main event?”

Both Ironjaw roared in fury at this, then lunged forward, charging side-by-side for the polymorphed pony. Runt followed in their wake, stumbling a little and keeping his head low, clearly not wanting to be involved.

But there was no turning back, no surrender... and neither Patches nor Scarface knew or wanted mercy. They both dove for Luna, meaning to try and tear her apart, but Scrivener Blooms leaned forwards with a roar that unleashed a toxic blast of blue mist, washing over Patches and driving him backwards in surprise with a howl of pain as Luna met Scarface in a grapple.

They pushed and struggled against each other, locked claw in claw as Scarface leaned in and bit at her face like an animal, but Luna drew her head away before slamming her skull into his muzzle. There was a crack and a gush of blood as Scarface hissed... before Luna's horn gleamed with energy before she rammed it forwards and straight through Scarface's eye.

The crowd roared its approval as Scarface screamed in pain, then yanked himself quickly away from Luna, skittering backwards and bleeding heavily from his socket. Luna only smiled coldly as the Ironjaw's blood trickled from her horn and down her features, the sapphire mare saying quietly: “It looks like I have been the first to penetrate thee, coward. Maybe thou should be the one to whimper and beg for a quick death.”

The Ironjaw trembled with rage, and then he charged straight for Luna, remaining eye blazing with hate and fury and fear... and meanwhile, Scrivener Blooms was wrestling with larger, bulkier Patches, the two rolling through the mire together before Patches managed to fling the black-scaled reptile onto his back.

Scrivener bounced twice, then covered himself with a snarl of pain as Patches leaned forwards and breathed a stream of ravaging blue hellfire over him, the Tyrant Wyrm feeling it charring his scales and his spirit as the dragon spat something at him in the Ironjaw language.

He pounced forwards, looking for a fast kill, and Scrivener reacted on instinct as he slammed one of his claws into the mire, hissing in agony at blood burst from his frail appendage even as crystalline spikes erupted up out of the blackened earth around him, and Patches screamed in agony as landed directly on these, the spears of hardened poison tearing through his mostly-bare flesh and his weight only dragging him deeper onto the spikes. Scrivener winced as he was pinned... but above him, Patches was unable to fight, unable to move, unable to do more than weakly try and brace one leg against the ground and scream in agony from the crystal buried through his body.

He could feel the dragon's blood spilling down over his scales, over his body, could feel that crushing weight and smell the creature's scent; like rust, like sweat, like savagery. The Tyrant Wyrm bared his fangs as all those sensations mixed together and made his instincts writhe and tremble, made the animal inside him rise up before he buried one claw into the dragon's stomach and shoved the other against the mire beneath him.

Patches gasped, then arched his back with a howl of misery as the spikes of crystal began to twist as they grew larger, ripping further through the Ironjaw, shedding more of his blood as he felt poison rushing through his veins. His head snapped back and forth as black poison began to drip from his jaws and his eyes rolled in his head, and Runt gave a cry of disgust even as he ran forwards to try and yank the Ironjaw free-

Scrivener's jaws lashed up and bit through rusted metal and into the throat of the dragon before he ripped cruelly back when Runt yanked at the same time, trying to save the prisoner... and instead, helping the Tyrant Wyrm's teeth to rip out the Ironjaw's throat. The spikes of poison shattered as the heavy Ironjaw's body was yanked off the Tyrant Wyrm, and the crowd roared with mockery, with laughter, with anger as Runt was almost dragged beneath the much-larger Ironjaw, and Scrivener was freed from where he'd been trapped.

He grinned, his eyes backed by a faint blue light, covered in dragon's blood he felt working its way into his pores. He could taste the Ironjaw blood in his jaws, mixed with his own poisons, and Patches' corpse was trembling on the ground as the crystalline spikes of mire began to dissolve into poison that would further flavor and concentrate inside the corpse...

Scrivener's eyes roved with animal hunger towards this, licking his teeth slowly as he lumbered forwards... and Runt whimpered and tried to drag himself backwards. Unfortunately, he dragged himself right on top of the half-frozen corpse of the Hellhound, tripping over it and landing heavily on the creature's remains, and the Hellhound shattered with a sound like breaking glass.

It was more than enough to get Scrivener's attention, the Tyrant Wyrm's cruel grin stretching wider as his eyes locked on what part of his mind told him was the enemy, and the baser, primal mind beneath told him could be a delicious meal. And both parts wanted Runt dead.

Runt looked towards Scarface... just in time to watch as the Ironjaw was flung backwards by Luna before the sapphire mare tackled the dragon and stabbed her horn through his throat, then ripped fiercely to the side. The Ironjaw gargled, blood spurting out over the sapphire dragon as his eye bulged in horror before her teeth sank into his sliced-open neck, then her jaws twisted... and it was over. Two Ironjaw prisoners lay dead, and their killers were dripping with blood and barely wounded as Luna breathed hungrily in and out, eyes glowing out of her bloodsoaked features as she whispered: “And what a pathetic little lizard thou art... crying already?”

Runt scampered backwards as the crowd shouted and roared, egging them on, watching as the two transformed ponies strode slowly forwards as Runt shook his head weakly, whimpering: “D-Don't hurt me... don't hurt me... please don't hurt me, I'll... I'll do anything.”

Luna growled, then leapt suddenly forwards, and Runt tried to turn to run. But the sapphire dragon was on top of him in moments, seizing his hindquarters and yanking him around in a circle to fling him in Scrivener's direction. The Ironjaw crashed down on his front and skidded over the frost, then looked up before whimpering when the Tyrant Wyrm's claws seized into his throat, crushing in the rusted scales before he leaned down and breathed slowly over Runt's face.

Runt stared back up with terrified eyes, and Scrivener's jaws opened slowly... before he frowned as he felt a tremble run through his mind. He and Luna both halted, looking up in the direction of the balcony... and while Stiúir was only watching intently, Twilight Sparkle was trembling, giving the faintest, smallest shake of her head.

Slowly, Scrivener and Luna looked back at Runt: at how he was crying, broken, defeated, and... past the scars and the torture it looked like he had suffered, they saw that he was just a kid. A stupid kid, with tears streaming down his cheeks and blood running from were Scrivener's claws had sunk into his neck, as he stared up at them pleadingly, whimpering piteously.

The Tyrant Wyrm closed his eyes as he felt the glow fading from them... and then he flung Runt to the ground before looking up and asking clearly, as a strange hush fell over the audience: “What was his crime?”

“He is not Ironjaw. You can see it for yourself: he's a coward, weak. He is not of our proud race, and not welcome to be part of our proud clan.” Stiúir replied calmly, and then he pointed down at Runt. “And his only redemption will come with dying an honorable death! So stand and fight, Airid! Aye, they are stronger than you can hope to be, they are true dragons, but you can at least die on your claws instead of your knees!”

Runt... Airid... only covered his head, shaking it violently as he huddled up, and Luna grimaced at this before she strode forwards and shove the Ironjaw over. He curled up, whimpering, staring at her with terror, but then the sapphire mare looked up and said coldly: “We do not kill in cold blood. Send other prisoners against us if thou must have us play the role of executioner... but this is only a fool. A weak, stupid fool. In our world, 'tis no crime to be a fool, or a coward... 'tis only a failing. We do not jail fools, nor kill cowards, as tempting as it is sometimes.”

“Isenertos must be kept strong. This is Helheim: weakness is not just a failing, it is a crime. All weakness will be stomped out.” Stiúir replied, but his voice wasn't sharp or angry, only continuing to remain calm, as if he was simply trying to explain how their world worked. And somehow, that made it all the harder to listen to, as Scrivener closed his eyes and shook his head briefly, and Luna looked coldly up.

Then she turned her eyes down to Airid, and she studied him as he looked up with a tremble before the sapphire mare turned her eyes upwards and said coldly: “Then kill him thyself. I will not interfere with the ways of thy Clan, and I will not plead for his life. But nor will I chill my hooves with his cold blood. We are not thy executioners!”

There were roars at this, and shouts of disbelief and denial, but Luna and Scrivener only looked up calmly as Stiúir gazed back down thoughtfully. Airid trembled on the ground, looking weakly up before Scrivener Blooms muttered: “I really hope we don't have to fight our way through here, Luna. I shouldn't have to point this out, but those two idiots were... well, idiots, and weak. They must have spent years in captivity.”

“The Ironjaw won't kill their own... prisoners are drained of strength and tortured for hundreds of years, then sent out into the wilds to die... or killed here, in the arena. They give us... potions, to enhance our strength, to make us feel like we have a chance... but...” Airid trembled, slowly looking up. “I just don't want to die...”

“Oh, be miserable somewhere else.” Luna grumbled, and then she turned her eyes upwards uneasily, growling and shifting slowly on her claws. They could hear the elders talking to the Chieftain, and Twilight making her own pleas for them, and the sapphire dragon grumbled under her breath before she muttered: “What a wonderfully twisted little society. 'Tis little wonder Terra is so strange herself.”

Scrivener only grunted at this, not quite knowing what else he could say, but then their eyes were quickly drawn upwards as Stiúir rose both claws and said clearly: “Enough!”

The arena went silent, the Ironjaw all leaning forwards, and slowly, Stiúir reached down to rest his claws on the edge of the balcony, studying the two below intently. Then he gave the briefest nod to them before he said quietly: “We do not see much in the way of mercy here... it is an alien concept in Helheim, one that is not welcome in this place. So I will ask you one last time: do you relent? Or will you kill this prisoner?”

Luna and Scrivener both only looked steadily up, and then Stiúir nodded, saying calmly: “Very well. Then I suppose I have no choice, but-”

“It's my fault.” Twilight interrupted quietly, and Stiúir frowned, turning: the audience rumbled uneasily as they saw their Chieftain turn away, unable to hear what was going on, but Luna and Scrivener still could... could feel Twilight's dedication, as the violet mare looked up with a small smile. “I suppose... I'm not a dragon inside after all. You know my soul is linked to them: they can hear my thoughts, feel my emotions. I pleaded with them to spare him, and... I think sometimes that I'm what makes Luna and Scrivy weak. They have... they have a hard time saying no to me. It's one of those flattering and worrying things, you know?”

She laughed awkwardly, then looked down and closed her eyes. “There were three prisoners. Luna killed one, Scrivener killed one... I demanded Airid be spared. So it's only fair that I fail the test, and they continue.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Stiúir nodded once before he turned and said clearly: “Brothers and sisters, my kin and family... the waters are murky, the metal blemished. Some of you I see declare them weak-” A roar from the crowd. “And some of you think them strong!” Another roar, and none of the trio could tell if it was louder or not. “So I propose we skip the games and move on to one final trial: we shall pit the strength of our Clan against the strength of these dragons that want to join Isenertos! Let us see if they can overcome a true Ironjaw warrior!”

There were roars, yells, shouts, and then a chanting began: a single name, that rose louder and louder through the air as Stiúir grinned slightly, then he straightened and pulled off his crown, looking back and forth. “Do you insist?”

Another roar, and Stiúir shook his head slowly, but he looked entertained all the same before he leapt suddenly forwards off the balcony, landing on the frosty earth below and raising himself calmly to full height. Airid squeaked and bolted across the battlefield as Luna grinned slightly and Scrivener cocked his head, before the Chieftain said kindly: “I hope you don't find us too barbaric, friends. We are an old people that live by old ways... even if I can appreciate your act of mercy, I also do not know if it's in the Clan's best interest, or your silly 'modern morality' getting in the way.”

Luna only snorted and shook her head, saying wryly: “Oh believe me. 'Tis no great shock to me. Besides, 'tis all Scrivener's fault, really. Thou should blame him, not Twilight.”

“Shut up, Luna.” Scrivener looked moodily back and forth, noting the body of the dead Ironjaw that he could feel in his mind pulsing with corruption, while the other corpse was flayed open, laying brokenly on the frost as he said softly: “I get it. Animals and weakened prisoners, to make us cocky. Then you send a real Ironjaw warrior or two in. If we thought the Ironjaw were really that weak...”

“No, never more than one. And rarely a seasoned warrior. It's unfortunate that we're going to have to fight now, friends... there are much more to the Ironjaw that tooth and nail and metal.” Stiúir said softly, and then he rose his head proudly and shouted to the arena: “I am Isenertos! I am the Clan! And now, let us see if they are worthy to join us!”

“We must fight to kill, Scrivy.” Luna said calmly, and the Tyrant Wyrm nodded as Stiúir faced them with his same calm in his eyes and the slight smile on his features, all three combatants ignoring the fierce roars of the crowd as Airid did his best to simply hide in a corner.

Slowly, Stiúir set himself, his head lowering, stretching out his body as far as he could as he pushed himself low to the ground; Scrivener and Luna both anchored themselves in place, but the Tyrant Wyrm could feel his claws aching, and he knew he wouldn't be able to risk much in the way of combat. Luna only grinned at this, however, her eyes gleaming with the challenge ahead: the idea of fighting the Chieftain of the feared Ironjaw dragons one-on-one in melee thrilled her. And the handicap of having to remain in dragon form the whole time only added an extra spice to the challenge.

Then they both stared in surprise as Stiúir gritted his teeth and slowly rose his head, flexing... and his body growing, doubling, then tripling, then quadrupling in size as the audience roared with approval. Suddenly, they weren't looking at a metal dragon who was small in comparison to most of the species: they were looking at a metal dragon who was a behemoth even by draconic standards, as enormous metallic scales trembled and twisted themselves half-off his body like blades and barbs, his eyes glowing pits of power as smoke floated slowly up from his jaws.

Scrivener and Luna both stared blankly up at their immense opponent, and then Stiúir rose his front claws before slamming them down against the ground, and the frosty earth erupted into a freezing hell of icy spires and blades of frost. Both Tyrant Wyrm and dragon were flung into the air, but Luna managed to flap her wings and catch herself, launching herself higher with a curse as Scrivener Blooms crashed painfully down through a spire of ice before he managed to roll and catch himself on another thick pillar of frost, scrabbling quickly up it even as the ground shook violently and new chunks and blades of ice began to rip up out of the quaking earth.

Luna shot straight for Stiúir's face, and he leaned forwards and snapped at her with jaws that could probably bite her in half if he managed to catch her: Luna, however, halted herself quickly in midair and swung a claw out, putting all the momentum from her acceleration into the blow and slamming it in a downwards hook against Stiúir's nose.

The Ironjaw's head was knocked towards the ground as his eye bulged in surprise, losing his concentration on the magic he was channeling through the earth, but then shifting his weight forwards to try and slam his skull into Luna. The sapphire dragon shoved both forelegs out and did her best to deflect the attack, but she was still knocked zigzagging backwards before the giant dragon's jaws stretched open as he lunged up towards her-

Luna snapped her horn down with a wild grin on her face, shooting a blue fireball straight into his throat, and it erupted with enough power to not just knock his head back but fling Luna backwards as well. Scrivener cursed in pain as Stiúir choked and shook his head wildly, then he swept a claw up, lightning-fast, and attempted to bat her out of the air.

This time, he managed to catch the sapphire dragon before she could catch herself, and she hissed in agony as one of her wings was flayed almost in half and the others left deep rips over her body, sending her out of the air to bounce painfully over the spiky, uneven ground on her back. Stiúir began to lean down as a dark glow poured out of his jaws, but Luna flung herself backwards with the last bounce and landed smoothly on her claws, her horn glowing brightly as she snapped it upwards.

A translucent barrier formed in front of her just as Stiúir breathed out a ravaging blast of black flames, the fire deflected around the shield for the moment, but the barrier was already cracking and melting under the barrage, even as Luna cursed and poured more magic into the spell. Scrivener Blooms, meanwhile, looked back and forth in desperation before his eyes locked on the corpse of Patches, and he leapt over to this before ripping it free of the frosty earth by the hind legs and dragging it violently around in a circle, building up his momentum before he flung it with a roar at Stiúir.

The Ironjaw's eyes widened even as he reached up to bat the body aside, and Scrivener lashed out with his powers, his eyes flashing as he concentrated on the corruption inside the body-

He'd meant to turn the corpse into a giant wrecking ball, possibly with spikes. Instead, the body of the Ironjaw exploded in a massive blast of metal scale, boiling black poison, and shards of crystal that ripped through Stiúir's polished body like paper. The enormous dragon was sent crashing backwards from the blast as both Luna and Scrivener gaped, Stiúir bouncing bonelessly off the arena wall with enough force to crack the stone and make a magical barrier spark into being, and then he flopped limply forwards even as his size rapidly decreased.

He crashed down to the ground, once more his normal height, and the crowd went silent as Stiúir lay brokenly on the frosty earth. Scrivener and Luna traded looks before the sapphire mare shook herself briskly, silently studying the mirrored wounds over Scrivener's body... but his were only bleeding a little, which told her that even if the slashes on her own form looked nasty, she was pretty much intact.

Then, both ponies looked up as Stiúir shifted, before he picked himself slowly up and shook his head out, grimacing and glancing moodily up at his one whole horn. It had become cracked and damaged, and there were black veins of poison already pulsing through his veins as he shivered a little, badly scalded from the blast before a wry grin twisted over his face as he remarked: “And you call us the barbarians, Scrivener Blooms.”

The stallion groaned and rolled his eyes, and a roar of approval rose up from the audience, the Ironjaw all leaning forwards eagerly as Luna laughed and set herself. Stiúir cracked his neck as he shook himself out a bit, and then he licked his lips slowly and looked down thoughtfully as he muttered: “Yes. I'm going to have to try and make this quick. This poison is trying to get... into my mind... it's making me...”

He frowned, then shivered as he reached up and grasped his skull for a moment before straightening quickly, eyes studying the two sharply before he muttered: “So one truly is the other. Let's see if that applies to death as well as life.”

Stiúir dashed suddenly forwards, and Luna snapped her horn up, creating a wall of ice... but the Ironjaw simply barreled through it and crashed into Luna, knocking her rearing before he smashed several vicious claw swipes against her, then slammed her down on her back with a vicious double hammer, tackling her onto her back as his jaws lunged down-

Luna smashed his head to the side with her horn before he could hit her neck, and Scrivener rammed a shoulder into Stiúir's side before the Tyrant Wyrm leaned over the sapphire dragon, roaring furiously and unleashing a stream of both concentrated sound and toxic mist. Stiúir was driven back several steps before he roared in return, his own black-fire breath burning away the mist before both Wyrm and Ironjaw were driven back several steps, Stiúir's jaws smoldering and Scrivener spitting black blood to the side.

Luna leapt back to her claws, breathing hard, feeling her body trembling, the pain and the surprise both nearly enough to overwhelm her and drive her into reverting her polymorph. But she kept it under control as she studied Stiúir: he was a powerful warrior, fast and agile, matching the strengths of both herself and Scrivener with his own. But those black veins of corruption were spreading further through Stiúir's body, pulsing so powerfully they were sticking up through his metal scales and popping them loose in places, and much as Luna loathed it...

Her soulstone horn began to glow as Scrivener Blooms concentrated his own powers through her, and Stiúir frowned... then gargled, grasping at his throat before he snarled and leapt forwards. He did an impressive job of overriding the pain, despite the way he half-staggered, half-flung himself at them... but Luna's magic was enhancing the potency of the corruption, making it rush faster through his veins, turning the poison into something even more cruel and dangerous...

Stiúir threw himself at her, and Luna gracefully caught one of his front limbs in her own before half-turning, flipping him onto his back before she twisted viciously and ripped the limb out of its socket. Stiúir cursed in pain, then did his best to bite back a cry as Luna leapt backwards and snapped her horn out, a sapphire inferno bursting up over the Ironjaw's body... but more than hurting him, it distracted him. It made all his attention focus on her, and allowed Scrivener Blooms to slam a claw down on Stiúir's chest and focus all the pain in his own body straight into Stiúir's own.

Stiúir arched his back... and then he screamed in agony, his eyes glowing bright blue before he attempted to cover them, shaking his head in denial as he writhed on the ground. His disjointed limb flopped uselessly as Scrivener stepped quickly backwards... but there was no need for it, as Stiúir writhed back and forth as blue flames continued to burn around him and speckle his body, as black poison pumped through his veins, as his heart twisted with enough pain to stutter its beats, as his mind danced with phantoms and voices and terrible images.

The Chieftain of the Ironjaw covered his face and choked back sobs as Scrivener and Luna stood over him, then slowly rose their heads to look up at the silent audience around them. They both grimaced after a moment, wondering uneasily if they had gone too far... given too deeply in to the darkness, fought too desperately, too savagely...

And then, Stiúir reached a claw up and seized into Luna's shoulder, and the mare looked down in surprise at the Chieftain as he rasped for breath before whispering: “Go ahead. Finish the job.”

“The job is finished, Stiúir. Thou cannot stand, thou cannot fight us. Thy body is broken, thy mind ravaged...” Luna closed her eyes, lowering her head and giving a faint smile. “For which both Scrivy and I feel we should perhaps apologize. With most creatures, his bittersweet poison empowers, but forces loyalty. It seems with someone as strong-willed as thou art, however, it has only caused... madness and pain.”

Stiúir breathed hard in and out, and then, as Luna and Scrivener stared, the Ironjaw rolled over and slowly pushed himself up to all three limbs, and he gritted his teeth before saying harshly: “Now I am standing. Now, will you kill me?”

“As I have heard, Stiúir... Ironjaw do not kill other Ironjaw.” Luna said calmly, straightening as Scrivener smiled despite himself, and the sapphire dragon rose her head proudly before she looked up and shouted: “Nay, Ironjaw do not slay their kin! And I am Ironjaw!”

Silence greeted this for a moment... and then Stiúir laughed after a moment, shaking his head slowly before he murmured: “You are strange, Luna Brynhild. And so are you, Scrivener Blooms... I'd call you monsters, but you give us this childish mercy. I'd call you idiots, but you argue with reason. I'd call you naïve... but I agree, that aye. You are Ironjaw. These are Ironjaw! These are worthy of the name of the Clan Isenertos, and any who disagree are more than welcome to come down into this arena and challenge them, and challenge all who would stand with them!”

There were rumbles through the crowd, which built little-by-little until the dragons were all roaring and shouting... and after a moment, Scrivener looked up in disbelief as he realized they were shouting their names. His, and Luna's... and Luna grinned widely before she turned her eyes to Stiúir and asked evenly: “And Twilight Sparkle, she is a dragon too, is she not?”

Stiúir shook his head slowly, shifting... and then he fell forwards, gasping in pain before grimacing when Luna half-caught him. The dragon resisted at first, and then he sighed and slumped a little when she grouchily shoved herself against him and forcefully propped him up before the Ironjaw turned an almost-apologetic look on Scrivener Blooms. “I had no idea of what you must go through with this lass every day, friend. Had I known, perhaps I would not have underestimated you in the first place.”

“I get that a lot.” Scrivener Blooms smiled and shrugged a bit, and Luna rolled her eyes as Stiúir laughed. And all around them, the audience roared, and Twilight Sparkle and Terra both sighed in relief before the Lich closed her eyes, hoping that now they could continue forwards on their journey into Underdark, to find Hel... and she already knew that no matter what happened there, she would convince the goddess to help save her daughter.

No matter what she had to give up, no matter what it took. They were going to stop Gymbr, cleanse Heaven... and save Innocence.

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