• 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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Time For The Teddy Bear's Picnic

Chapter Twenty Seven: Time for the Teddy Bear's Picnic

The three ponies approached a massive, closed portcullis in the immense wall surrounding Hel's manse. High above, they could still see flicker of fire and lightning through the clouds, while snow and frost sparkled beneath their hooves... but the air seemed thick and heavy and dark, making it hard to see anything more than thirty feet away, the world seeming to simply... fade out into listless shadows.

But the portcullis was well-lit by two immense statues of dragons that held up enormous cauldrons of flame... and well guarded by demons all along the almost-invisible ramparts above, clad in gleaming metal armor and armed with crossbows already loaded with bolts. Some of these were already trained on them, while other demons sat at the ready behind the heavy portcullis: these latter all had long spears, to drive into the chests and heads of anyone stupid enough to try and force the gates open by brute strength alone.

Luna noted that many of the demons were Ironjaw, however, and she cleared her throat before raising her head and declaring: “I am Luna Brynhild, and by the bonds of Isenertos, I demand-”

“Now, now, no cheating!” cooed a voice through the air around them, and Luna snarled and set herself as one of Hel's ice puppets appeared in a whiff of blue smoke, the goddess grinning and waggling a finger slowly. “That's sly, Brynhild... but sly is also naughty-naughty-naughty... and naughty little girls get spanked. Ironjaw, your loyalty is to me. Do not open the gate.”

“Isenertos, family trumps business. By these bonds and thy own honor, I ask that these gates be opened.” Luna overrode coldly, and Hel frowned... before her eyes widened in disbelief as the massive gates clanked loudly before slowly beginning to rise.

“What the me is this?” the goddess asked incredulously, and then she snarled furiously before snapping a hand out, an enormous wall of ice ripping up out of ground to bar the entranceway, reaching tendrils of frost spreading rapidly up the portcullis and holding it in place as metal screamed against metal and hidden gears clanked loudly.

Hel slowly shook her head, then she glared over her shoulder at Luna Brynhild as the sapphire mare grinned in challenge, baring her fangs and asking calmly: “Didst thou not desire to see us, Hel? Is that not why we are here?”

“Oh yes, but you were supposed to try and find a way in on your own, and I was going to laugh at you and amuse myself until I took pity on you and gave you a way to get inside. You weren't supposed to use the cheat codes.” Hel looked at them with disgust before she knitted her fingers together and cracked them firmly. “That makes me a little bit unhappy. So I'm going to have to punish you a little. Don't worry, I won't leave any marks... it'll be just bad enough to remind you never, ever to do something like this again.”

Luna growled, and Hel rolled her shoulders before she began to bounce from foot-to-foot, raising her fists gamely and saying firmly: “Okay, let's see what you got, put 'em up, put 'em up-”

Twilight Sparkle snapped her horn out as it gave a sharp pulse, and Hel squeaked as Luna and Scrivener both winced in surprise at the static that tore through the air. The goddess glared furiously at the violet mare before pointing at her... and then staring blankly at her own hand as nothing happened, shaking it wildly. “My clicker! What did you do to my clicker?”

“I was thinking about it on the walk here, and your power to control and bend this reality is based on the energy you're taking from those tormented souls... so I'm channeling my own energy into that frequency.” Twilight said quietly, her horn glowing faintly as her eyes locked on the ice puppet. “Do you know why I'm telling you this?”

“Because you're a little miss know-it-all?” Hel asked disgustedly, glaring at the Lich with her fury radiating clearly through the puppet's eyes.

But Twilight only smiled, a vindictive, nasty pleasure in her own as she replied evenly: “No, because it bought me enough time to channel enough energy into you to do this.”

She snapped her horn down, wincing in pain as recoil blasted down the spire, but Hel's puppet glowed brightly before exploding in a hail of fragments and magical energies. The air rippled, and a scream of outrage echoed through their minds as Luna grinned and Scrivener shot Twilight a half-entertained, half-disbelieving look at what she had just done.

But Twilight Sparkle had already raised her head, ignoring the laceration that had opened over her face from the tremendous exertion as her legs wobbled a little... but the latter wasn't because she was tired. No, if anything, she felt... good. She felt almost righteous. And she felt eager to push forwards as she said quietly: “Let's get moving.”

“Not so fast.” snarled a voice... but it overlapped strangely, and came from either side of them. And Luna and Scrivener both looked up in disbelief at the sight of two more ice puppets, both perfect replicas of the one Twilight had dispelled, both frosty Hels glaring furiously as they snapped at the same time: “Now, that just wasn't very nice at all! I'm going to have to hurt you for that trick.”

One of the ice puppets snapped a hand out, icy smoke zigzagging out from its hand and transforming into a hail of frosty shards, but Luna leapt forwards and snapped her horn down, repelling the attack with a blast of telekinesis as she shouted: “Twilight!”

“Don't think so!” Both Hels distorted for a moment, becoming nothing but frosty mist before solidifying as the ice puppets snapped: “I'm not about to use the same wavelength and get hit by that same stupid stunt twice! So what if I have to discipline you a little slower, all the more fun for me!”

One of the Hel-puppets flung another round of ice shards, but Luna again deflected the attack with telekinesis: at the same time, however, the other swung both hands down and hammered into the ground, a wave of snow and screaming, terrified spirits ripping out of the earth in a straight line towards the ponies. Twilight gritted her teeth and snapped her horn sharply out, a crack ripping through the field before a chunk of the ground vomited upwards, and the wave of snow and death crashed uselessly against this and puffed out.

The puppet that had created the wave snarled as it leaned forwards, making a vicious swiping motion, and the barrier Twilight had ripped out of the earth exploded, hailing rock and chunks of ice over the ponies. The Lich winced, snapping her horn out and blasting most of the debris backwards, and then she gasped a spear of ice smashed into her armored chest, shattering on impact with her armor and knocking her backwards in a surprised sprawl.

The puppet grinned as it created another spear of frost... then promptly dropped it when needles of black crystal peppered its face, the Hel puppet staggering backwards with a snarl as Scrivener cursed and grasped at his aching claw, even as he grinned at hit he'd managed to score.

Luna, meanwhile, was dodging back and forth as she closed in on the other Hel, her eyes glowing with fury before the puppet suddenly cackled and burst apart into blue smoke that easily flung itself past Luna, knocking the winged unicorn sprawling with a hiss of pain as he felt a thin coat of ice spread on contact over her flesh. Then the frosty cloud transformed back into a puppet that reached down and snagged Scrivener's mane with both hands, yanking him backwards by the hair as his eyes bulged with agony.

He was flung towards Twilight Sparkle, and the Lich winced as she caught him with telekinesis, and the stallion's eyes widened in horror at the rushed apology she gave him before he was flung back at Hel with a bang like a cannon, smashing the puppet in front of them into pieces. He crashed face-first a moment later in the snow, his body still glowing faintly with telekinetic energy as he skidded painfully to a halt through the frost.

The second puppet's attention was drawn towards him, raising a vengeful hand... and then its arm was blown into fragments, and the puppet had enough time to stare towards Luna before the sapphire mare grinned and pulled the trigger of Sting Mk. II thrice more, blasting apart the puppet's head, upper body, and then shattering the rest of her into snowdust.

She knocked the cylinder out of place and flicked the gun to toss the casings loose, and then her horn glowed, yanking four more rounds free from the bandoleer to lock them into place in the rifle before she said calmly: “Had I known they would be so brittle, I would not have wasted so much time. Good work, Twilight. And thou did well too I suppose, Scrivener Blooms.”

Scrivener mumbled something unintelligible from where he was laying on his face, feeling a bit of energy trickling out of his body from the distance he and Luna were at, and this was his only motivation to eventually slowly pick himself up and shake his body briskly off. Twilight smiled apologetically at him when he began to stride towards them, beginning to open her mouth... but then her eyes were drawn to the side, widening slightly as a faint rumbling echoed through the air, and something prickled along her horn...

Luna and Scrivener had enough time to turn before the ice beneath the gates was smashed apart, and the immense, terrifying Theodore charged out into the field, roaring furiously at them and with another ice puppet clinging to his back, Hel grinning insanely above the titan as she howled: “Mommy's got a big bad stick for the naughty little girls!”

Teddy pounced towards Luna, and the winged unicorn reacted on instinct with a snarl, launching herself upwards and narrowly dodging past the massive arms of the golem to smash a hoof up beneath its chin: the monster's head was snapped backwards as its huge body tried to keep going forwards, making the beast half-flip before Luna kicked viciously off its stomach and knocked the giant crashing down onto its back.

Hel's ice puppet squeaked as it was crushed beneath Teddy, most of its lower body shattering... but this time, the puppet only huffed as Theodore clawed his way unevenly up to a standing position, the armor-plated behemoth growling and drooling through his lipless maw, looking completely unhurt by his brief clash with Luna as Hel complained loudly: “Now precisely what is up with that, you jerkwad? We haven't even really gotten started yet! He was just going to give you a big damn hug.”

Luna snorted in distaste at this, shaking her head and replying coldly: “I am not in a hugging mood at the moment, Hel.” She halted, then leveled her rifle towards the ice puppet as the broken pieces rose into the air and snapped themselves smoothly back together. “Unless thou wants thy precious Teddy to die, I think that thou had best signal a retreat. Do I make myself clear?”

“Oh, as crystal, sweetheart.” Hel smiled calmly at this, then she rose a hand and snapped her fingers, sending a ripple through reality. For a moment, there was nothing further... and then unnatural, echoing howls tore through the air around them before countless icy claws on long, enormous limbs ripped out of the ground all around the field, locking them inside a roughly fifty-foot wide arena with the massive monstrosity.

Scrivener gritted his teeth as Twilight set herself, grimacing at how the air above the eagerly grasping, waving claws seemed distorted and red, making it clear there was no easy way past the freakish barrier Hel had created. The Lich's horn glowed as she scanned the area quickly with magic... and then she cursed when the ice puppet reached up and rubbed a finger and thumb together, creating a faint vibration that made Twilight's head ring with pain and Luna's horn vibrate uncomfortably.

“No tricks this time, little lady.” Hel said darkly, and then she rubbed her hands together, her cow-like features twisting into a nasty grin. “Tell you what, though. I'll give you a fighting chance against good old Teddy here. And Theodore, now, you be a good boy for mommy and don't kill them. Just... maim them a little. Maybe smash the pretty pony's horn, oh, you can do that for me, can't you?”

Teddy growled, punching a fist against the ground before he leaned forwards aggressively, but Luna only glared fearlessly in response as she continued to aim past the monster at Hel. “This game is pointless, witch! And when we get into thy estate, no matter how grand or cunning thy lair, we shall find thee, and I am going to greatly, greatly enjoy pummeling thee.”

“Yeah, like I haven't heard that one before.” Hel huffed, flicking an icy hand disdainfully before she looked over them with fury, with dark glee... and was that maybe not just paranoia, but very real, very sane fear in her eyes too? “Teddy-bear, smash 'em!”

Theodore leaned forwards and roared furiously, and Luna only grinned widely as she spun Sting Mk. II before holstering it quickly on her back. Scrivener and Twilight both set themselves as Theodore roared again, and Luna's eyes flashed as she said coldly: “Thou wert warned, Hel.”

Theodore lunged forwards, charging towards them with another roar... and Luna snapped her horn forwards, flinging Prúðbikkja out of her starry mane. The spear burst to full size as it shot through the air, slamming home into one of the many holes on Theodore's chest, and even though the giant barely shuddered with the impact, there was a loud clicking before Luna leapt forwards and seized the body of her spear as the monster drew one massive arm back.

He hooked a wild swing towards her, but Luna yanked Prúðbikkja free as she threw herself over the giant's shoulder... and with the spear, one of the many plates that covered Teddy's body was torn open before the speartip tore its way into another hole on the giant's back, and Luna twisted the weapon as she used the polearm like an axle at the same time to spring further away from the creature, ripping the spear free with her just as the monster tried to spin around.

Another plate was yanked open on its back as Prúðbikkja tore backwards, and Luna flapped her wings to launch herself up into the air, spinning around with a wide grin as she spun her spear at her side before lifting it to a ready position with telekinesis, shouting: “Pray, monster! Pray for a quick death, for 'tis the only mercy I shall grant thee!”

Teddy only roared loudly, seeming to glare up at her beneath the black visor hiding its features from view before its head suddenly snapped downwards, and instead it lunged into a rough, shambling charge towards Twilight and Scrivener, yanking itself forwards like a goliath ape as the Lich's eyes widened and Scrivener gritted his teeth. His instincts and Twilight's mixed together for one sharp moment, and then the violet mare was leaping backwards as the stallion flung himself forwards.

There was no way he could match Teddy's raw strength: even if he found a chance to go Tyrant Wyrm, the only thing he'd succeed in doing was make himself a bigger target. But they seemed to have two minor advantages: Theodore wasn't very smart, and nor was he very well-balanced with his giant body and squat little legs.

The stallion slammed his claws down into the ground, pushing with as much strength as he dared despite the agony that ripped through his system. The frosty earth around him rippled, then exploded upwards in a blast of black sludge, spreading in a wide puddle before Scrivener flung himself hurriedly to the side when Teddy attempted to slam a hand down on top of him.

Instead, the monster only punched into the soft mire, and Teddy overbalanced with a roar of frustration as he sank through the sludge almost to the forearm and went face-first into the frost. His other hand grabbed wildly at Scrivener, and the stallion winced as he stayed just out of reach, attracting the beast's attention so that Twilight could rush forwards and lunge at the monster's shoulder, sinking her horn into a hole on its arm before she unleashed a wild blast of energy as she twisted her horn firmly to the side.

She gasped in surprise as she was flung backwards by the force of a plate springing upwards, but she managed to flap her wings and launch herself backwards, eyes wide as she watched Luna crash down into the distracted monster's back and stab both her own soulstone horn and her spear into two more holes. Theodore grunted, beginning to shove himself up to his feet and turning his attention towards the sapphire mare, but then Scrivener Blooms hissed in pain even as he flicked a hoof out, creating a set of black needles that shot into Teddy's face and distracted him as he snarled in fury.

The monster leapt forwards, completely ignoring Luna even as the mare channeled a double-blast of energy into the monster's back before she kicked off as the plates sprang open. And Twilight noted that the plates that were side-by-side had extended the furthest open on thin but durable arms, and inside, she could see... it wasn't just flesh, it was-

“Hey! Knock that off!” Hel's voice snapped as the ice puppet waved her arms angrily from where she had been all-but-forgotten, and Scrivener Blooms made the dumb mistake of looking over at her... allowing Teddy to step forwards and slap the stallion a good twenty feet away like a ragdoll, Luna spasming in midair in agony as Twilight winced, then cursed and flung herself backwards, wings flapping madly and hooves scrabbling at the air as she narrowly avoided being dragged down when the behemoth made a wild grab for her.

Then the eyes of both winged unicorns widened in horror as all the plates across Theodore's immense body glowed and snapped loudly shut, before the giant straightened and rolled his head on his shoulders as a blue mist wrapped around his body, ice rapidly filling in the holes in his armored frame and forming a thick, solid layering overtop the near-indestructible plating armoring his body. Luna and Twilight both stared in shock as Hel cackled, her ice puppet doing a little dance as she called cheerfully: “Try and get through that, kiddies! Get 'em, Teddy!”

Theodore lunged forwards, attempting to clap Luna between his huge hands, but the sapphire mare quickly swung Prúðbikkja in front of her and the goliath's hands collided with butt and speartip of the pole. He was so strong that the polearm bent with a groan despite being made of all-but-indestructible gianttooth, but then it sprang back straight and knocked Teddy's enormous hands apart, the monster stumbling before Luna shot down and kicked both rear hooves viciously into his chest.

It cracked the icy armor and knocked him another step backwards, and Twilight Sparkle gritted her teeth before she snapped her horn out, following up with a fireball that smashed into Theodore's chest and exploded with enough force to send a hail of ice fragments hailing down.

But they hadn't done more than crack the front of the icy shell safeguarding the monster, and the enchantment was already sluggishly healing itself as Hel shouted from the sidelines: “You can't win, morons! Sure, you might have figured out how to open up Teddy-bear's maintenance hatches, but what good is that going to do you now?”

“Shut up, old witch!” Luna snapped, as she flicked her horn firmly and hammered Teddy's head with a blast of telekinesis, but the monster only growled even as his skull painfully twisted to the side before he slammed his hands into the ground and ripped up a large chunk of frozen earth, flinging it viciously back at the mare.

Luna attempted to deflect it with her spear, but the glacial meteor all-but-exploded when she struck it, blinding and battering her painfully. She was driven down a few feet even as she struggled to remain in the air... and then her eyes widened in horror as she felt a vise-like grip on one leg before she was flung savagely down into the earth, bouncing backwards several times before Teddy flung himself forwards and attempted to crash down on top of her.

The sapphire mare did the only thing she could do: she curled herself up as small as possible and stabbed the butt of her spear upwards. It struck into Theodore's breast, almost ripping completely through the armor of ice even as the spear was buried almost halfway into the ground before halting, Theodore's massive arms smashing down on either side of the sapphire winged unicorn and his huge body propped up by the spear, leaving him stranded for a moment.

The sapphire mare cursed in pain, glaring up at him before Theodore started to bring one huge hand up to squish her... then roared in frustration when he lurched to the side and almost toppled as the ground beneath him transformed into black mire.

Scrivener gasped in agony, but all the same, forced himself to continue pushing with his powers, rapidly transforming as much of the ground as he could into black mire in desperation for some kind of advantage against this unstoppable giant.

It gave Luna enough time to scramble backwards and spread her wings, flapping them hard to launch herself away with a curse and narrowly avoid a wild swing of Teddy's arm. All he managed to do was crush in the ground where she had been a moment before, and then the monster shoved off the earth and managed to ungainly manage its feet, half-stumbling around in a circle and making a wild claw at Scrivener's head.

The stallion leapt backwards, wincing at Theodore's reach: ten feet away and he wasn't even close to being safe from the gorilla-like beast. Then Theodore sprung forwards, and Scrivener was forced to make a wild dive backwards, crashing and rolling painfully as he narrowly avoided being smashed by both Teddy's arms.

Mire splashed in all directions as Theodore's limbs sank deep into the ooze, the monster snarling as the muck grasped into his massive arms and clung to them tenaciously, refusing to let him yank them back. And Luna's eyes widened as she saw their chance, shouting mental orders to both Scrivener Blooms and Twilight Sparkle as she snapped her horn back to rip Prúðbikkja free from the frosty field.

And in spite of the pain, in spite of the fear, in spite of all the things that could and likely would go wrong, the stallion shoved his own claws into the edge of the mire beneath him, gritting his teeth with a curse of pain even as the mire rippled violently, then surged upwards and along Teddy's arms even as it hardened rapidly into black crystal.

The monster's limbs were cemented into place, and Theodore yanked uselessly back on them, grunting as he failed to do more than make the crystal grind against the metal of his arms. All the same, Scrivener Blooms continued to pour his energies into the mire, keeping it hard and repairing any damage done to the crystal before it could spread, the stallion's body beginning to quake from the pain rushing through his forelimbs and claws, but all the same refusing to give in, using that same intense agony to push all the harder with his powers.

Luna, meanwhile, shot down and hammered into the giant's back, stomping savagely up and down with her hooves as her spear stabbed down again and again, chipping away large chunks of ice. At the same time, Twilight Sparkle was concentrating, warping the enchantment protecting the behemoth and forcefully fusing the plates of ice to the ground and into each other, trying to lock up the monster's joints and pin him in one place.

Teddy didn't even seem to notice Luna as he simply hauled again and again on his arms, the black crystal beginning to crack and twist even with all the power Scrivener was pouring into it, the stallion snarling as pressure built through his body and a stream of black poison ran from one eye like tears. Then the stallion yelped as the monster tore viciously upward with a furious roar, not simply shattering the crystallized mire but instead ripping a massive chunk of dark stone out of the earth.

Scrivener was catapulted in one direction by the upheaval of stone while Luna was flung off the monster's back. Then Luna's eyes widened in horror as Theodore spun awkwardly around, its huge arms raised high and that massive chunk of black crystal suspended between them, making the monster look like a grisly lollipop... or maybe a giant flyswatter was a better metaphor, because it was already moving to swat her like nothing more than a pesky insect.

Twilight Sparkle snapped her horn out with a cry of denial, and to the Lich's shock the mire responded to her energies it immediately became thick, viscous mud instead of hard stone as the giant brought both arms down in a cruel hammer. It still crashed down over Luna with the force of a tidal wave, knocking her backwards, scalding her body as her eyes widened... but when she cried out, it wasn't just pain driving her. Oh no, it wasn't pain at all, even as the muck threatened to cement around her and swallow her up, but for a moment she was lost to the madness of pleasure as she felt that delicious poison pushing into her body from every angle...

Then the off-balance Theodore lunged forwards as a huge hand grabbed at her through the mud; it was slowed enough that instead of killing her, Luna only felt the armor denting inwards and her ribs snap like brittle twigs, making her cough blood and black ooze... and even through the rage and shock, the desperation and excitement, she felt shame at how the first thing her mind locked on was anger at the monster for interrupting her reverie in the poison.

Luna launched upwards, flapping her wings hard, feeling the dark, concentrated mire still coating her body, that she could still taste in her mouth, flooding her with strength. It boiled over her horn as she lashed this down at Teddy as he grabbed at her wildly, and Twilight was beside her, sending out her own flurry of spells as they hammered fireball after fireball into the monster's head and body, shattering more pieces of the heavily-damaged armor of ice over the goliath's frame before Theodore swept up a handful of sludge and slung it at them.

Twilight and Luna reacted like one person: the Lich's powers transformed the ball of muck into a solid, spiked ball, and the sapphire mare caught this with telekinesis, grinning savagely as she made the sphere curve upwards into the sky before she snapped her horn down and fired it straight into Teddy's face.

It struck with enough force to knock Theodore's head snapping backwards, the giant stumbling... and tripping right into the crater left behind from the monster tearing his arms free. He fell with a tremendous bang, trapped prone on his back with the weight of his own enormous arms pinning him, and Luna and Twilight both launched themselves forwards, snapping their horns out at the same time to send paired blasts of blue and red flames crashing down into the beast.

They burst into a mixed conflagration of crimson and sapphire hell, one fire eating up the magical energies sustaining the armor, the other melting frost with such intense heat water was immediately transformed to hissing steam. Theodore bucked back and forth before he managed to roll over and seize the edge of the shallow pit as Hel shouted furiously from the sidelines: “That's not fair! You leave him-”

Luna snarled as she flicked her horn, Sting Mk. II yanking itself free from her back and flying into her hoof as she half-turned to unload all four bullets in the cylinder at the puppet, each bullet cracking the brittle ice puppet before the last shattered it completely... but the distraction served another purpose, as Theodore lunged suddenly out of the crater, yanking himself forwards with one arm as he grabbed wildly at Luna with the other.

The sapphire mare cried out in agony as enormous fingers clenched around her and threatened to crush her like a toy, hauling her high into the air as her gun was knocked out of her hoof... and without thinking, Twilight dove in towards the monster's upper limb, slamming her horn home into a hole in the wet metal plating and unleashing a sharp blast of energy.

The plate over its bicep sprung open, the Lich wincing as she was half-flung backwards, but all the same Teddy easily reached up and caught the violet mare in his free hand, crushing down against her and making the mare wince and wheeze. Not in pain, but the pure pressure was enough to force the air out of her lungs... although with Teddy's attention on the Lich, his grip on Luna loosened enough for her to lean back and glare at where her spear had fallen, before she snapped her horn towards Theodore.

The weapon flung itself off the ground and shot through the air, hammering into Teddy's breast and twisting to pop a maintenance plate open, even as Theodore began to raise both ponies above his head, Twilight snapped her horn down on instinct and sent a blast of lightning hammering into the narrow, open space, striking what looked like a mixture of synthetic, spongy flesh and thick cabling.

Theodore's fingers spasmed as he gave an injured howl, stumbling in a half-circle as his arm snapped out and he flung Luna to the side. The sapphire mare hit the ground on her back with a wince, but rolled quickly to her hooves as her eyes blazed with fury, Prúðbikkja snapping to the ready beside her as she ran forwards and Scrivener Blooms flanked in from the side with his teeth grit.

Teddy turned to face them, raising the fist holding Twilight high before attempting to slam the Lich down on top of Luna, but the sapphire mare dodged smoothly to the side, then hissed in pain as she felt agony light up through her hooves... but it was as good a signal as any other as Scrivener's back arched in pain, feeling two of his claws cracking, threatening to simply break off entirely as he forced more of the earth to transform into mire.

Twilight gargled as she smashed face-first into the ground, then gritted her teeth, fighting off the sensation of vertigo when Teddy yanked her backwards before he threw her like a cannonball at Luna. But the sapphire mare smoothly ducked under the Lich's body, and Twilight hit the ground hard and bounced high before she spread her wings and flapped them, awkwardly catching herself in the air with a gasp despite the fact her body was almost cartoonishly crushed inwards, plates of broken armor and cracked crystal falling away from her form.

But a strange fury boiled through her veins as she watched Theodore try to smash Luna beneath his huge hands. This stupid mechanical puppet was putting up such a difficult, dangerous fight, but they had finally found a way to hurt it... and now Twilight wanted to put an end to this, smash this pathetic little wind up toy before it could hurt her partners any more than it already had... before it could delay them any longer from getting to Hel, and to Innocence.

Theodore rocked as he stumbled in the mire, and the giant turned away from Luna, ignoring her even when Prúðbikkja stabbed into a hole on its limb and twisted another plate open. The monster instead lunged at Scrivener Blooms, the stallion wincing and staggering out of the way of a wild swipe from the monster before Twilight snapped her horn upwards when it gave a sharp pulse.

Massive vines and brambles surged upwards out of the dark slime, seizing around Teddy's forelimbs and yanking them savagely downwards to pull his heavy limbs down and into the muck. Scrivener immediately leapt forwards, shoving his own claws into the mire and hardening it as Theodore roared, even as Luna shot down and used both horn and spear to open as many panels over its back as she could, while Twilight dove down and angled herself up to slam into the monster's front.

The Lich's horn stabbed into the slots in plates around the arm that already had a panel opened around its bicep, and she managed to get three open before Teddy lunged backwards and tore his arms free, ripping apart her vines and shattering the mire. Twilight looked up in shock before a massive forearm crashed down on her, breaking bones, turning organs to mush, crushing her into an almost unrecognizable shape... and then Teddy howled in pain when Luna's spear ripped past the opened plates and into the cable-fused flesh of his back, whiteish goo splattering out of his body as Luna shouted: “Do not touch her, worm!”

Theodore spun around in a circle, swinging both huge arms out, but Luna flapped her wings and launched herself backwards, dropping to the earth and skidding through the snow as she spun Prúðbikkja up to the ready at her side. Her eyes glowed with fury and determination before Theodore pounced forwards, swinging one huge arm down, but Luna was ready: in a moment, she had lunged herself, stabbing her spear through an exposed network of cables and synthetic muscle that made up Teddy's bicep as her glowing soulstone horn slashed into the thin, extended arms that kept the plates locked in position over Teddy's body.

Prúðbikkja tore through the cables like they were nothing but kite string, then bashed a plate on the other side completely out of position, smashing it loose: at the same time, other plates of metal collapsed amidst shards of brittle steel extenders. And Teddy staggered, his arm crashing down as he stumbled and almost fell on his face as if he didn't understand what had just happened.

But Luna was merciless, spinning around with a snarl and launching her spear forwards as the alicorn speartip burst into blue flames, ripping a massive swathe through the now-exposed synthetic flesh that made up the beast's shoulder before the winged unicorn followed with a sharp sweep of her soulstone horn as it glowed almost white with power. White machine-blood burst up over Luna's features as her horn tore through the monster's flesh, and Teddy arched his back with another howl as he stumbled to his feet, dragging one arm with him... and the other limb flying away from his body to crash down in a hail of white goo, plastic flesh, and broken bits of metal.

Teddy's shoulder sparked as eggshell-colored liquid dripped from it, the behemoth drunkenly turning to face Luna as the sapphire mare set herself and bared her fangs at the beast. The sheer force behind her attack hadn't just severed Teddy's limb, but it had knocked the collar protecting his throat loose... and several other thin metal arms had shattered, leaving a few polished black plates either hanging loose from the goliath's body or broken away completely.

Theodore leaned forwards and roared loudly, even as he put most of his weight on his remaining arm just to stay stable, and Luna bared her fangs before she launched herself forwards, smashing into the giant's chest and kicking off with enough force to send her hooves ripping swathes through the soft flesh of the creature as her horn snapped upwards with a sharp flash.

Luna landed on the ground behind Theodore a moment later... and within seconds after that, the golem's head spiraled out of the air and bounced several times across the snowy earth in front of the monstrosity, white gunk pouring out of the stump of neck remaining behind as a metal rod it had in place of a spinal column sparked. The sapphire mare turned around and spat to the side as Twilight and Scrivener both stared... and then Theodore half-staggered, half-yanked himself towards where the violet mare was only able to gape and slapped her hard to the side.

She flew bonelessly through the air, and Scrivener cursed before he leapt in front of her, wincing in pain as the violet mare collided with him like a cannonball before both Lich and charcoal stallion hit the frost and rolled into an awkward sprawl. Luna's eyes widened at this, and then she ran forwards... but Theodore half-spun around, and the sapphire mare barely had enough time to blink before its remaining arm slammed into her like a wrecking ball and sent her crashing backwards in a broken heap some thirty feet away.

Theodore's fingers caught the frosty, mud-splattered ground as it managed to keep its balance, and then it growled before it slowly dragged itself back around in a circle, towards the ponies that were closer to it. The headless, one-armed golem seemed to study them for a moment as Luna coughed blood, her vision hazy, Prúðbikkja trembling on the ground beside her before it slowly rose into the air as she raised her head, her soulstone horn cracked and sparking weakly as she whispered: “I am here.”

Scrivener and Twilight both looked up as Teddy continued to lumber towards them, crushing his own severed head beneath one squat leg as his huge hand clawed into the ground and half-dragged the shambling golem forwards, and Luna stared in disbelief before a snarl spread slowly over her features, shouting at the monster's back as she yanked herself to her hooves, even as she felt her whole body begging for some kind of relief: “I am here! I am your opponent, and I am here!”

Theodore ignored her, continuing to drag himself towards Scrivener and Twilight, and the Lich cursed before Scrivener shoved a hoof against the ground, then cried out in agony even as he forced a puddle of black mire to form; and he continue to push, even as his claws began to splinter apart, even as terrible bruising started to spread all along his forelegs- “I am here!”

Twilight Sparkle snapped her horn upwards as Theodore's hand swung down, and a spike of mire ripped out of the puddle: narrow, but long and solid, shattering when it struck the monster's fist but still deflecting it enough to knock the golem's hand aside and almost overbalance it. It fell to its knees, a waterfall of white gunk splashing out of its neck as Scrivener and Twilight both shoved themselves backwards, cursing- “Damn thou, face me! Face me!”

Blue fireballs hammered uselessly into Theodore's back as the monster grasped the base of the shattered spike, yanking itself forwards as Twilight and Scrivener forced themselves backwards, and Luna's eyes glowed as her mane and tail burst alive with blue flames, electricity sparking over her body and damaged horn and Prúðbikkja burning beside her like a torch as she roared in wordless fury.

The sapphire mare charged forwards, a burning blue star as she shot towards the back of the seemingly-unstoppable machine-monster pursuing her lovers. She leveled her spear at the goliath's back, only hearing her blood-hunger, her dark instincts, the hiss of Nightmare Moon before the winged unicorn flung herself into the air and corkscrewed violently towards the golem's back.

Her body burst apart into starry sapphire mist and burning blue flames that spun like a massive screw of nothing but raw energy, raw hate, raw power: it slammed into Theodore's back, and loose armor plating was ripped out of place and flung in all directions as the living tornado drilled its way into the golem... and then ripped out the front of the monster in a blast of armor plating and white sludge, the maelstrom of energy reforming after a moment into Luna, who dropped and skidded to a halt through the frost and mire with her spear raised beside her and teeth grit.

She looked over her shoulder at what remained of Theodore, streaked with white gunk and with a few splinters of metal standing out of her body. But she was grinning, and chief amongst her emotions wasn't pain, but pleasure, as Teddy's remaining arm slowly ripped free of the thin strip of synthetic torso that remained, smacking loudly to the ground with a wet squelch.

Theodore's legs trembled, then collapsed to their knees, feeding up onto a broken waist that looked like an exploded white fruit. A few plates of armor clung tenaciously to flayed and destroyed flesh, but there was little left intact: the rest lay in a mess all around the ravaged golem and the sapphire mare, who was breathing hard in and out before she looked up as Hel howled miserably: “Teddy-bear! You killed my Teddy-bear!”

The air rippled and vibrated with energy, and then the frosty claws that had walled them in quickly withdrew into the ground as the sense of magic in the air lifted, and Hel's voice echoed furiously around them: “Don't you think I'm just going to overlook this! Don't think I'm ever going to forget this, you little monsters! You killed my Teddy! And oh, sure, I could build another one, but that one was mine and was my Teddy!”

“Thou art next, Hel.” Luna said coldly as she tilted her head towards the sky, and then she smiled grimly as she looked towards the portcullis, watching as the remaining ice freezing it in place shattered away, and the gates were able to start slowly rising again. “That's what I thought. Get ready for us, witch. We are coming for thee.”

Luna shook herself quickly, then she turned her eyes towards Scrivener and Twilight as the two picked themselves up: the sapphire mare winced at the sight of the Lich, the way her body seemed so... contorted, squished, beneath her damaged and crunched-in armor, but the violet mare only gave a small smile and shook her head quickly, murmuring: “I'm okay. It's... Scrivy, though...”

“I'm fine. I'm... I'm fine.” Scrivener muttered, giving Twilight an almost angry look as he tried to hide his claws, but Luna quickly stepped forwards and forcefully yanked one up, making him hiss in pain and clench his eyes shut. “Okay, I'm... I'm mostly fine.”

“Scrivy, this... this is not something to make light of.” Luna whispered, her eyes widening slightly as the thrill of battle, the bloodlust, the sense of triumph all fell away. Her own hooves hurt, sure, and one looked a little chipped, a little cracked... but Scrivener's claws were mangled, broken and splintered and bleeding not just black blood and sludge, but some kind of sick, diseased-looking substance. “Twilight, I cannot but... perhaps thou, if thou still has the strength...”

The Lich only smiled faintly, replying quietly: “I might look pretty bad, but I feel okay still. I honestly do. And I already... I don't think there's anything we can do to help.” Slowly, she turned uneasy eyes towards Scrivener Blooms, studying him uneasily as the stallion carefully pulled his claw back from Luna, then wheezed as he slowly set it down. “But Scrivy, you can't... use your powers anymore. At least, not right now.”

“I... I know.” Scrivener murmured, shivering a little before he smiled faintly over at Twilight, adding quietly: “But... you were able to shape the mire. You've never done that before.”

“I never really... tried before either, though. I never thought I could... that's not magic, or at least not the kind of magic I do.” Twilight halted, then she softened as she looked over at him, saying quietly: “But maybe in the same way you can pull on Luna's powers and experiences... I can draw on yours, too. It just seemed to leap out of me by itself, after all...”

Scrivener Blooms nodded slowly, and Luna sighed softly before she glanced back and forth, then her cracked soulstone horn glowed and lifted Sting Mk. II from where it had fallen, carrying it over and popping the cylinder open as her eyes roved towards the now-open portcullis, muttering: “We should not stay here, though, and we can discuss this on the move.”

The others nodded as Luna quickly reloaded her gun before sliding it onto her back, and then Luna took the lead, Twilight and Scrivener Blooms following behind her as the Lich continued to toss worried looks at the stallion. Scrivener only kept his eyes ahead as much as he could, though, breathing slowly in and out as he tried to concentrate on anything except the pain throbbing through his claws.

They headed through the open gates... and were surprised to find not only gorgeous acres of field and strange, snowy flowers on the other side, but that now they could see perfectly all around themselves, like light was trapped in the air itself. In the distance, there was a massive mansion of some kind, structured almost like some kind of massive lodge: but Luna had no doubt that its beauty only served to better hide the dangers lurking inside.

What truly surprised the trio, however, were the half-dozen demons gathered on either side of the pretty stone path they had stepped onto. Three were immense Ironjaw, and three were looming Destroyers: all of them were not just armored by their own metallic bodies, but clad in thick, crystalline plating and matching, skull-like masks.

They looked far from hostile, though: the Destroyers seemed curious, perhaps even... excited. The Ironjaw were smiling, nodding to the ponies before one of them greeted: “Hail, new clan-siblings! Stiúir told us that you were fierce, but none of us would have guessed you were not just dragons in name, but true Ironjaw in action!”

Luna only smiled wryly, and one of the Destroyers leaned forwards, asking calmly: “Are you here to kill Hel?”

“Only if she forces my hoof. I would prefer to keep the old witch alive... not because I believe she can serve any good purpose, but because she is a necessary evil. And we have need of her strength.” Luna replied honestly, looking calmly up, and the Destroyer looked back at her thoughtfully.

“Interesting. I do not know if that is weakness or wisdom.” the Destroyer said finally, and then it traded a look with the others before they bowed their heads to her politely. “We will not interfere with you. And if you do destroy Hel, we will serve you.”

“You will serve me even if I keep Hel alive.” Luna said calmly before she could stop herself, but despite the faint blush that rose in her cheeks when both Scrivener and Twilight stared at her with surprise, she didn't lower her gaze or turn her eyes away. She only continued to meet the gaze of the Destroyer, who seemed both thoughtful and interested at this response.

There was silence for a few moments, and then the Destroyer simply gave a nod, saying softly: “Interesting proposal, Luna Brynhild. Very well... I shall discuss this with my brethren. We Destroyers respect power, and we will respect your power if you prove yourself a better leader than Hel.”

Luna Brynhild smiled after a few seconds, nodding slowly before she turned and gestured with her head to her partners, murmuring: “Come, then. Let us make our way forwards. We have taken great strides towards what I had hoped to achieve... perhaps even greater than expected. We shall make allies... and we shall force alliance with others... and we shall prove our own strength, once and for all, to Hel herself.”

“Yeah, you keep thinking that, sugarcake.” came Hel's disgusted voice, but Luna refused to look back even as Scrivener scowled over his shoulder and Twilight grimaced when one of the ice puppets hurried along behind them. It began to raise a hand, and the Lich hurriedly gritted her teeth and lowered her horn challengingly, a faint glow sparking to life around it and making the puppet distort slightly.

Hel growled in frustration, but Luna only calmly continued down the cold stone road, refusing to look back as she said icily: “It seems thou hast taught thy allies well, Hel. They are intelligent enough to know when to abandon a sinking ship and look for a better master.”

“You have no idea what you're walking into, Luna Brynhild. You have no idea who you're dealing with here. And you know what? I've gone and been a naughty girl and put my real home... my true home, beneath this ugly shell... on full lockdown. There's no way you morons are going to get to me.” Hel said contemptibly, crossing her arms as she bounded along behind them, and Luna couldn't help but give a grim smile: no matter what Hel said, her actions revealed something a little different. She wasn't antagonizing or attacking them... she was just trying to stall and delay and confuse them.

Luna refused to slow down, however, keeping her gaze firmly ahead as the meadows of snowy flowers swayed quietly to either side of them. She could see strange but beautiful decorations here and there, too, made of wrought iron and gemstones that glowed with a beautiful warmth, and standing here and there were massive guard towers, from which demons calmly watched with enormous crossbows.

Scrivener couldn't help but admire the strange, chaotic beauty of this place, even as his claws tingled painfully and he limped visibly, while Twilight kept nervously looking back at Hel, keeping her energies concentrated on the ice puppet to ensure she could shatter the goddess before Hel could do anything hostile. But Hel was only glaring at them sourly, her gaze like daggers, her teeth grinding together in her bovine features before she said disgustedly: “I hope you realize I could destroy you right now if I wanted to. Oh, sure, maybe because of smarty-smarts over there, my puppets are cut off from the big power source... but I could just change wavelengths. I could just swarm you with slaves and toys. I could just drown you in peanut butter. Or I could come outside and kick your asses all my lonesome self.”

“I don't know about that.” Scrivener Blooms muttered, looking over the fields, the decorations, the... simple gorgeousness. How even though it was still raining fire and chunks of soul from above, how lightning was dancing through those swirling dark clouds... oh, there was still such beauty here. There was chaos, yes, in the lack of arrangement, in the way things were left to thrive, in how the plants that seemed to thrive in snow and ice overgrew the stony path here and there, but... there was also a fragile, delicate beauty, a sense of... of serenity, even of balance. “I think you're weaker in Underdark than you are in Helheim, for some reason.”

“Say that to my face, you wet bagel!” Hel snapped, and then she scowled when Luna grinned over her shoulder, the sapphire mare's eyes narrowing.

“Oh believe me. We intend to, very shortly.” Luna replied almost calmly, and then she shook her head moodily and forced herself to focus on the manse in the distance, studying the painted windows spaced evenly over its surface, the enormous logs that made up the lodge-like structure, the iron decorations that stood out here and there over its face... “There is some detail here that... my mind is telling me doesn't quite fit with all the others... what is it, Scrivy?”

Scrivener Blooms frowned a little as he drew his eyes up, then he shrugged a little as they stepped from stone onto snow-speckled planks that led towards a wide patio in front of the lodge. It was bordered on either side by iron fencing, and runes glowed quietly beneath their feet, melting away snow for them and feeding a very welcome warmth into Scrivener's claws as he muttered: “I dunno. Everything's so... pretty, I guess. I don't feel anything-”

“You guys are complete morons. You guys, like, you guys really suck.” Hel grumbled, and all three ponies stopped to glare over their shoulders at her, the ice puppet huffing loudly and keeping her arms crossed as she looked sourly between them. “You guys are like playing trivial pursuit with really stupid people. You go from trying to win to trying to let them score a few points to wanting to shout the answers at them and flip over the gameboard, pie be damned.”

The three simply continued to glower, and then the Lich glanced down at the runes as she rose a hoof with surprise, then turned her eyes towards the ice puppet, the bottom of which was melting slightly even though Hel was actually a few inches above the ground, striding through thin air. “That energy...”

Hel leaned forwards almost as if in anticipation, her hands half-covering her mouth, and then Twilight gestured to Luna, murmuring: “We'd better get moving. It's actually really hot.”

“Oh come on!” Hel squalled, flinging her arms up in the air in frustration before she clawed a hand out at the fencing on one side, ignoring the steam that burst up on contact with the metal. “Look! Use your eyes, morons! There's iron everywhere, the stuff that's bad for demons! That's holy energy pumping up out of the deck and warming your little toesies! Hoovesies! Whateversies!”

Hel's puppet dropped to the patio, and the construct of ice had enough time to look dumbly down before it simply burst apart into water, Twilight wincing as recoil twisted over her horn and Luna and Scrivener both staring before the stallion muttered: “Well. I guess that's what that tingling sensation is, then. I guess she really doesn't want demons in her home.”

“Or only demons of a certain caliber.” Luna muttered, then she gestured ahead, and they continued down the long, wooden walk until they reached the sprawling deck. They ignored the pretty furnishings that sat here and there, though, even if Twilight felt her curiosity draw by several boxes of gorgeous-looking plants that seemed to be made of frost and snow.

Instead, they headed straight for the doors... but Luna slowed and then frowned, looking moodily back and forth as she realized those weren't immense statues posed on either side of the doorframe... they were Ironjaw guards. Both of them were staying perfectly still in challenging, proud positions, and Luna whistled a little before she peered up towards one, then rose Prúðbikkja little by little as Twilight and Scrivener both stared, until the tip of her spear poked under the Ironjaw's helm and into one cheek.

It refused to move, so Luna poked a little harder, and she grinned as she succeeded in making the guard wrinkle up his muzzle before he muttered: “Little sibling, we do not kill our own clan. But that doesn't mean I can't hurt you.”

“Be quiet, I can still hear Hel and I do not desire to change positions again.” grumbled the other guard, and the first one grunted moodily, giving the smallest nod in return.

Luna frowned between the two, then glowered over her shoulder as she heard a quiet whistling, finding herself somehow unsurprised to see one of Hel's puppets gliding effortlessly through the air towards them as if it was being pulled along on strings. “I bet you think you're real cute, Brynhild. That you got things all worked out. Well, boys, why don't you do the lady a favor and hold the doors for her? Just step to the side and keep 'em closed to keep out the draft and the unwanted guests.”

Luna only snorted as both Ironjaw relaxed slightly and looked uncomfortably up at Hel, and then the sapphire mare simply flicked her soulstone horn, and the heavy double doors leading into the Goddess' manse were both yanked open with a resounding rumble. Both Ironjaw caught the handles and the edges of the doors, and then Scrivener looked up and said mildly: “Hey, look. It looks like they're holding the doors for us. Just like you wanted.”

“Oh, cute.” Hel growled, but Luna was already leading her partners through the open doors, passed the awkward-looking Ironjaw and into a sprawling entrance hall as the puppet continued darkly: “Maybe I should start playing some word games of my own and see-”

The moment the puppet passed over the threshold of the doorway, it shattered apart into pieces that evaporated before they could even hit the ground, Luna looking surprised as Twilight and Scrivener both stared for a moment. The trio stood on the soft carpet of Hel's mansion, feeling warm air and the faintest tingle of magic energies all around them before Hel's voice muttered: “I knew I should have had that double-checked.”

Luna looked up, but Twilight had already turned her eyes curiously down, her eyes taking on a pale glow as she looked beneath the purely physical and caught the glowing outline of magic runes hidden along the doorway, murmuring: “A pretty powerful banishment charm is here... something to make sure no one can call in some friends, I suppose.”

“It annoys me that you made it inside, though. That annoys me a lot, as a matter of fact.” Hel's voice came from another puppet that appeared just outside the doors in a hiss of blue smoke, hovering ominously as she glared at them before reaching her arms out to grasp the edge of both doors. “Why don't you make yourselves at home, though, check in, put up your hooves? Because I just about guarantee you won't be checking out.”

And with that, Hel slammed the double doors closed, leaving the trio of ponies standing in the deceptively-beautiful entrance hall of her own mansion: but all three knew that there was no turning back now, and all three were ready to move forwards and face whatever evils stood between them and the goddess at the center of this whole nightmare... and, one way or the other, force her to end this charade so they could focus on the real enemy waiting in fallen Heaven.

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