• 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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Blessings From Helheim

Chapter Thirty: Blessings From Helheim

Luna felt a little uncomfortable. Here they were, after all, accepting the gifts of the Goddess of Helheim, in preparation to attack Valhalla... to bring down a dark, alter-evil version of themselves. It wasn't just because it felt surreal, or like everything was bound to go horribly wrong... it was because through all of this, Hel hadn't been holding her superiority over their heads, or making them do more than grunt awkward 'thank-yous' to her now and then. It was actually making her feel surprisingly guilty: Hel had given them new equipment, helped repair their gear, shared some of her caches of soulstone and gianttooth with her – not to mention the magically-enhanced satchels that carried these stores of raw material, the bags enhanced to be much larger on the inside than they were outside and yet never weigh more than twenty pounds – and that was only the beginning of what Hel had given the three ponies.

She glanced absently up at the new soulstone horn standing out of her head: it had a slight, spiraling edge to it, and was a little taller and more ornate than her old horn. It also had hurt a lot more putting in, although both she and Scrivener had been surprised by the fact that with the Talons now on, it seemed like the stallion's control over the mire had actually increased... not to mention the potency...

Luna shivered a little and shook her head briefly, trying not to think too much about the poison. The sweet, delicious poison she had only managed to lick a little of off her muzzle... Cease, Luna.

She closed her eyes, then cleared her throat awkwardly as she turned to look at Hel. The old crone was leaning on her cane and looking meditatively down at Twilight Sparkle as the violet mare rambled about some magical theory, and neither seemed to notice her attempt at being polite, so the starry-maned pony simply leaned forwards and interrupted loudly: “Hel, thou hast our thanks.”

Hel cocked her head towards Luna curiously, and then she simply smiled wryly and shrugged, replying after a moment: “For what? Using you three as the big sharp sticks I'm going to take all the credit for pummeling Gymbr with?”

Luna scowled at this, and Twilight Sparkle sighed before Scrivener Blooms looked up mildly from studying his Talons, saying dryly: “Yeah, precisely that. Thanks for making us your living weapons and being such a... a real delight.”

“You're welcome, choco-flakes. Now take vanilla tart and cinnamon swirl over here and get out.” Hel gestured crankily at them with her cane, shaking her head and adding wryly: “You've really all been a fantastic waste of time, though. We should do this again. But after I can put down newspapers and plastic all over everything.”

Luna only grunted in response, then she shook her soulstone horn back and forth, asking for the dozenth time: “So we shall be able to return here to thine Underdark whenever we please now because of my-”

“Yes. Yes, for... I don't know, the thirteenth, eighteenth, hundredth time, yes.” Hel groaned, rolling her eyes and holding her arms up towards the ceiling. “Is it really that hard to understand, just... really? The horn is keyed to here. The horn is made by me. The horn will let you make a jump to Underdark, but please, just. Try not to come back here. Ever. I'd rather wait until you're dead and you have to be my servants for eternity.”

Luna scowled at this as Scrivener Blooms looked up mildly; only Twilight Sparkle seemed to think there was any possibility of truth to this statement as she shifted uneasily. But then Hel only huffed and shook her head, saying wryly: “Except I really don't know what I'd even do with 'servants' like you. The thought kind of makes me sick to my stomach, actually, since it's not like I could ever trust any of you with any kind of work around here.”

Twilight sighed as Luna and Scrivener both glowered up at the goddess, and Hel looked moodily back between them before she waved at them crankily with her cane. “Shoo, shoo. And oh, if you see one of my puppets again, don't you go blocking up my wavelength or anything. I'll have to send Theodore Bear after you once I sew him back together.”

“Then I shall merely have to rip him apart again.” Luna retorted haughtily, raising her head and glowering over at Hel, who glared back at this and leaned forwards aggressively. “Machines and toys and puppets and the living dead... thou must truly live in fear if thou must spend all thy time around sexless drudges.”

“Why does it always have to come back to sex with you Valkyries?” Hel groaned and rolled her eyes. “Sex sex sex followed by violence violence violence followed by sexual violence and violent sex, always. You know that you're just acting exactly like All Daddy programmed you to, right?”

Luna slowly, dangerously narrowed her eyes as one twitched slightly, and Hel winced a bit and shuffled backwards before Twilight Sparkle said awkwardly: “Uh. I... I'm ready to open a portal outside. You're... sure that'll work, right?”

“It takes control, Twilight Sparkle, to maintain a portal at a low energy level... but a short range portal to Outer Underdark only needs ten bæns of energy.” Hel shrugged, resting her hands on her cane before she tilted her head towards the violet mare, saying pleasantly: “Unless, of course, what you meant is that you don't think you can handle doing that.”

Twilight Sparkle made the slightest face, and Luna couldn't help but smile amusedly despite herself. She had to admit that Hel was very, very good when it came to prodding just the right nerve... and after a moment, the Lich sighed and nodded, muttering: “Okay, okay, I... I can do this, yeah. Just... I just need a moment, then.”

Luna and Scrivener both fell in on either side of the Lich, nodding to her supportively, and the violet mare smiled a little back before she took a slow breath as she faced forwards. Hel stepped politely out of the way, watching with a strange intentness on her features as Twilight focused herself with the help of the reassuring thoughts coming from her partners.

She rose her horn as it glowed, brightening slowly but steadily before she took a slow breath as the aura around it steadied out. She bit her lip as she leaned forwards, concentrating on the spell that Hel had taught her and told her would work here in Underdark, concentrating on the stone path she remembered following to reach the mansion...

She gritted her teeth, automatically wanting to pour a little more magic into the spell just in case, but she resisted the urge, instead focusing on making the magic precise, sharp, making every molecule of energy count...

Twilight slashed her horn downwards, and there was a powerful thrum of energy before reality in front of her split open with a crackle, then transformed into an oval, glimmering portal thinly-edged with silver radiance. The violet mare blinked, raising her head and staring in awe at her own accomplishment before she blushed as Hel waved at them hurriedly, the goddess looking both pleased and anxious. “Hurry, hurry, go go go! You're going to let all the bugs in, and a chill and... oh, just pop out of here so I can throw you out of my Underdark.”

“Thou hast our thanks, old witch.” Luna said softly, and Hel gave a wry smile even as she nervously squeezed and fretted at the neck of her cane. Then the sapphire mare gently nudged Twilight forwards, and the violet mare smiled lamely before hurrying towards the portal, passing through and making the surface ripple.

Luna and Scrivener hesitated only a moment longer, both looking up at the dark goddess before turning and hurrying into the breach... and a bare second after they had passed through, the portal blinked out of existence, leaving the three ponies standing on the stone road roughly halfway between Hel's manse and the great wall that protected her home.

The ponies traded looks back and forth, then small, relieved smiles. Twilight Sparkle couldn't help but laugh a little as Scrivener Blooms reached up a Talon and squeezed her shoulder gently, and the Lich automatically gazed at this with a faint, odd blush in her cheeks.

Luna understood that reaction well, as she gazed softly between her partners. Yes, they all loved to repeat, again and again, that... they were just ponies, just people. They always talked about how they loved each other for the way they fit together, their personalities, and that was very true; all the same, though, there was something... fascinating, and darkly erotic about having a partner who could be called 'monster,' who bore such... powerful and handsome and dangerous traits... and how all three of them had come to reflect each other's darkness, and sometimes ended up baring those faces that lurked inside them to the light of day, to each other...

Then the attention of all three ponies was drawn upwards by a throat clearing loudly, and Luna scowled at a bovine-headed ice puppet as it leaned in towards them, looking pointedly down at the ponies. “Are you three done all... being all creepy or crybabyish or whatever? Because you know, you should really get going.”

“Please just open the portal for us, accursed goddess.” Luna said tiredly, and Hel huffed loudly, but then the ice puppet nodded with a grumble as she turned and rubbed her hands lightly together.

“Well, I'm sure I'll miss you when you're gone, but for now I can't stand you being here.” Hel remarked, then she rose her hands and wiggled her fingers. “Now, I can't make rainbows and hurricanes, but what I can do is take you from A to pick up that B before you head to C Looking Glass World. Ha, I'm a punner!”

Luna glared up at the puppet, but before she or anyone else could say anything, there was a crackle of energy, a blinding flash, a whirl of vertigo... and Luna stumbled dumbly before she caught herself and stared around as she realized they were standing in Cairnmór, and Ironjaw were gaping at them with disbelief.

“Hey, Terra! Get out here if you want a ride back to your kid!” Hel shouted loudly to the air, and there was awkward silence for a moment before it was broken by the sound of a door banging open as Terra hurried out into the street, a wide grin on her face.

A terrified-looking Airid was following her, and Hel cocked her head curiously at this before she looked mildly down at Luna, jerking a thumb towards the smaller male Ironjaw. “What are you, the humane society? You have to go and adopt every lost little stray lamb you come across?”

“Oh shut up, Hel, and just take us back home as thou promised. Or else we shall have to tell all the dragons here about their origins.” Luna replied mildly, and Hel looked less-than-thrilled with this before she sighed loudly and nodded a few times, the puppet making a few exaggerated bows towards the sapphire mare.

“Whatever you command, moon pie. Oh, and since we're on the subject of adopting wild animals... stop trying to kidnap my pets. I'm going to have to give those Destroyers of mine a firm talking-to for thinking they can up and leave me for you.” Hel said mildly, and the puppet looked moodily at Terra and Airid as the two Ironjaw approached and bowed their heads low. “Oh, don't even bother. Your loyalties are clear. And I'm hurt. Hurt, Isenertos, that you would all favor Luna over me. I'm going to have to give your clan a firm talking-to as well. By which I mean I'm going to boil you all in a giant pot of acid.”

Twilight Sparkle winced as Scrivener looked up slowly at how sincere Hel sounded, but the sapphire mare only grinned wryly before she remarked: “Well, Hel, if thou does that they may turn their loyalty over to me entirely. After all, I am a dragon myself now, or did thou not hear? And likewise... I would ask thee not to toy with the Destroyers that desire to join me. I could use their aid... and if they willingly choose me as Mistress over thee, what right do either of us have to refuse them? One does not antagonize a Destroyer... especially not in one's own home.”

Hel looked moody at this, and then the puppet rose a hand and said sourly: “Get out of my pet shop, Luna Brynhild, and don't you ever come back.”

With that, she simply snapped her fingers, and there was pain and flashes of light and sound and a sensation of traveling across some incredible distance before Luna, Scrivener, and Twilight all flopped to hard stone ground in stunned sprawls, the violet mare coughing a few times and the stallion groaning as his Talons sparked with energy.

Luna grimaced, soulstone horn reverberating and forcing her to open her eyes... before she popped up to her hooves in surprise as she looked back and forth with amazement. They weren't in Helheim anymore, but Subterra, and there were demons staring at the ponies and two Ironjaw that had just appeared out of thin air with amazement... amazement that grew all the greater as Scrivener slowly picked himself up and Twilight shook her own body out, murmuring: “She did it. She kept her promise and... we did it.”

“We stand a chance now.” Luna said softly, glancing up at her soulstone horn and giving a small smile and silent thanks to Hel, before the sapphire mare looked straight down the road. Not just towards the Thorn Palace, but towards the ivory winged unicorn who was calmly but quickly flying down to meet them.

All the same, the sapphire mare felt... a distinct anxiety coming from Celestia when she landed in front of them, even if it was relief that she gazed at them with. Luna smiled a little, and Scrivener self-consciously rubbed at his forelimbs as Twilight Sparkle felt an odd moment of... near-guilt. But then again, she had almost been treating Hel like a mentor, and even these days the Lich felt that odd loyalty to her friend and former teacher.

The ivory winged unicorn drew her gaze over them, then gave a small smile... but it didn't quite reach her eyes, and Luna frowned uneasily. Not just at the way Celestia had apparently dismissed both the fact they had an extra Ironjaw with them and Scrivener's forelimbs, but how simply troubled she looked... and after a moment, the ivory mare sighed softly and said quietly: “It's good to see you back. We have a lot to talk about.”

Twilight Sparkle sat with her head lowered, trying to process everything they had just discussed. She felt Scrivener Blooms silently rubbing a claw along her back as Luna sat forwards, staring across at Celestia before she gritted her teeth. “We shall not stand for this. We must go, immediately, Celestia, to stop Gymbr.”

“I understand how you feel. My heart cries out for the same thing... but my mind tells me that we need to wait just a little longer.” Celestia said quietly as she sat back in the chair on the other side of the library table, her eyes silently sizing up her sibling. “We can't rush, though. If we rush in... we won't accomplish anything. We'll either be killed or forced to retreat: and at this point, both of those things mean that we lose this war before it even begins.”

Luna grumbled, then lowered her head and nodded moodily before Celestia gave a brief smile. “And don't forget there's good news as well as bad. And I see that you accomplished your own mission, although... Scrivener...”

The stallion smiled faintly as he held up a Talon, murmuring: “Prosthetic. Permanently fused to... whatever's left of my forelegs. But Hel gave us... lots of stuff and told us that we were her backup plan the whole time.”

“I wish I could say I was surprised.” Celestia laughed a little and shook her head slowly, then she looked up and said: “No, maybe that's a little unfair. I am a bit surprised; I get the sense that Hel's been very generous, and you've made new allies who might be able to help us with the siege on Heaven. Who are going to help us ensure that... we can stop Gymbr before we lose... anyone else.”

Twilight looked down at this, closing her eyes and nodding silently: she hurt. Not because Gymbr had already begun exterminating the Pious, or because his forces had apparently begun to occupy and suppress dragon aeries and wild demon nests to try and prevent them from making possible allies, but because while they were gone... Applejack had died. Peacefully, in her sleep, halfway across Equestria while staying in a cozy little cabin in some dusty little nowhere-town. She had died a perfect, gentle death... and all the peace and comfort of it was going to be robbed, because the place her soul was going to rise up to was a nightmare made reality, and Twilight Sparkle was terrified of what Gymbr was going to do to her spirit.

But neither she nor Rainbow Dash had known about what was going on. Sure, they had sent out messengers across Equestria to warn as many ponies as they could, but Dash and AJ had never left an itinerary behind, never made any kind of schedule... they had just been roaming around the country, going wherever their hooves took them. But it all only added to the guilt wracking Twilight's heart: she should have done more. She should have tried harder. She should have ordered the demons to search without rest until they hunted down her friends, to warn them...

She felt a hoof squeeze into her shoulder, and the Lich looked up as Luna leaned in with a faint smile, shaking her head slowly and murmuring: “Stop that, Twilight Sparkle. If thou truly desires to help thy friend, then thou must focus on the here and now, not the past. We need thee here with us. Between thyself and Celestia, there must be a way for us to get into Asgard, if not Valhalla itself...”

“We won't be able to use the Bifrost to get there. Gymbr will either lock it down or simply have an army waiting for us. He can't open the Gates, but he can still use fluxes and portals to move his troops.” the ivory mare said quietly, and Luna frowned at this.

“Well, Hel told us she could modify the Hourglass, and I was inclined to believe her... she seems to excel in all areas of more-peculiar enchantment.” Luna gestured pointedly at Scrivener, who lamely rubbed at one of the Talons. “She told us already that she has reversed the flow of time, made it so that instead of an hour here being days or weeks there, 'twas the opposite...”

“I don't doubt her either. But what I do doubt is that Gymbr isn't monitoring the Hourglass somehow, and I don't think he cares about the risk of overworking the Hourglass by forcing it immediately to reverse momentum.” Celestia grimaced and shook her head slowly. “He's going to cause a quantum flux that will demolish half the Vale at this rate.”

Luna grunted moodily in agreement, and then she said wryly: “If I did not fear 'twould make me sound very much like thy old self, Celestia, then I would suggest that may not entirely be a bad thing.”

The ivory mare sighed a little, but before she could reply, a sour voice said: “Maybe it wouldn't be, but it would defeat the entire purpose of this mission. Heaven is territory we're trying to reclaim. You don't burn your own territory unless it serves a purpose or takes something valuable away from the enemy, Luna Brynhild.”

All eyes turned towards the doorway to watch as Hecate floated in, the head looking moodily back and forth. “Believe me, I don't care how many little ponies die. What I do care about is winning, and not giving him an extra advantage. I'm sure that even with Gymbr present, the Vale is either attempting to lock itself down or revert to its former state.”

“That's what I thought it should do as well: without the presence of any Aesir, Heaven and Valhalla should essentially shut down. But Gymbr...” Celestia shook her head slowly. “He either took so much of Kvasir's blood that Heaven thinks he's Aesir, or because he's half-Valkyrie...”

The sapphire mare grimaced at this, then she hesitated before asking quietly: “But would my blood be enough, Celestia? I am not like thee... thou wert a goddess, Freya. I was Brynhild. I was... I was not born, but created.”

“You were a person all the same though, Luna. Don't ever think of yourself as any less: I don't think gods or goddesses are any different, after all. Something creates us, and... we have no choice but to serve whatever we seem to be created for, to pursue our natures.” Celestia reached up and touched her own breast, smiling a little. “And besides. You were always different, Luna. You were the Night Maiden, and you were always my closest sister.”

Luna looked up with the faintest blush, and then Hecate made a loud gagging sound, earning glares from the rest of the ponies before the head asked irritably: “Are you done? Good. Because I have a way for you to get up into Asgard and to blow the gates open.”

The others leaned forwards intently at this, and Hecate smiled coldly. “Good. That got you all to stop whining and pay attention. And thankfully, it's very simple: across several Midgards, Valthrudnir kept portals, as you already know. But one of these in particular is an old one-way portal into Asgard. Valthrudnir had it built so he could sneak into the highest realm and hunt down any of the stray gods that escaped Valhalla's destruction. It should still be functional: he had the bad habit of never shutting down any of his toys.”

Celestia nodded slowly as Luna asked quietly: “What of that Midgard? I do not desire to walk into another Decretum and be ambushed by Clockwork creatures, after all.”

“They won't ambush you anymore. Not if he's willing to give a few orders.” Hecate gestured towards Scrivener Blooms irritably, and then she added: “And there won't be anything there anyway. Valthrudnir couldn't exactly set the world on fire or build his Clockwork technologies without attracting attention, after all. That would defeat the whole purpose of 'ambush.'

“I'll be coming with you.” Hecate looked disgusted with herself even as she said this, while the ponies all looked up in both surprise and interest. “You'll need me to open the portal. Unfortunately, my body is not yet prepared... so the gun dyke has put together... a method for me to... travel long distances with some assistance.”

Luna slowly grinned at this, and Celestia hesitantly nodded before she glanced over at Luna. “We should ask Sleipnir and Pinkamena to come with us, and Morning Glory as well. A full strike team: even if we can keep this hidden from Gymbr until we jump to the Midgard where the portal is, he'll undoubtedly try to step in the moment he realizes we're heading for something.”

“If you're bringing your idiot brother, don't tell him we're going to a portal. He'll say it out loud somewhere along the route and I have no doubt Gymbr will seek it out to destroy it the moment he understands what we're doing.” Hecate said grouchily, and then she looked moodily towards Scrivener Blooms. “Now, the real reason I came here. If you're willing to wait ten hours, I'll have the beacon finished and I'll be able to call the remaining Clockwork Ponies to join us.”

Scrivener and Luna traded looks, then both turned their questioning eyes to Celestia, who nodded slowly, saying quietly: “I know it's hard. But we do need to be patient. We should assemble our strike force and inform everyone of what's going on, have them all be ready in... twenty hours' time to move out. That will give us more than enough time to prepare, and hopefully enough time to organize the army we're going to need to raid Valhalla. There's no way we can win this battle just by ourselves.”

The others nodded slowly, and Hecate smiled grimly before she slowly turned around and floated away, saying calmly over her shoulder: “Then I'll take that as a go-ahead. Don't worry: I'm sure a lot of the Clockwork Ponies will just take a bit of recharging and cleaning up.”

Twilight looked uneasily after Hecate as the head left, then she turned worried eyes to Celestia, asking quietly: “Are you sure this is a good idea? It's not that I don't trust you, I just... it feels again like every second is precious. And like no matter how much we prepare, it might not be enough.”

Celestia nodded slowly, then she said softly: “I understand. And we're going to need to exploit every resource at our disposal...” Celestia turned her eyes towards Scrivener Blooms, studying the stallion for a moment before she gestured at the satchels at his side. “What else did Hel give you?”

“Oh, uh...” Scrivener Blooms took the two satchels off as Luna removed their worn equipment bag. “Books, some strips of gianttooth, soulstone, other... stuff...”

“And we have these still.” Luna added positively, as she held up one of the Ironjaw potions. “'Tis a miracle they did not break, but I suppose the Ironjaw know to make everything as sturdy as they themselves are. 'Tis some kind of elixir, it works very well.”

Celestia cocked her head curiously, and Luna slid one of the potions across the table to Celestia. The ivory mare picked it up and popped the cork open so she could sniff at the fluid, and then she frowned slightly, murmuring: “It only has a trace of Helheim's essence. It must be brewed in some special enclosure... no wonder it's so potent, then. Good.”

She put the cork back in place, then slid the bottle across the table, adding: “I have two bottles of Yemaya's Tears, as well. We'll pack these potions into a shell in one of your expanded bags so they don't get broken, and it'll give us something to recharge ourselves after we reach Asgard and break open the Gates. I have no doubt that at some point we're going to end up in a skirmish with Gymbr or his forces, after all... we have to be ready for that.”

Luna nodded grimly, then she hesitated before asking finally: “But because of the time difference, Celestia... even if we reach the Gates of Valhalla, even saying that we fight Gymbr there and drive him or his lackeys away... will they not simply retreat into Valhalla, then return what may be hours later for them, and seconds to us?”

The ivory mare smiled a little at this, shaking her head slowly and saying softly: “We're just going to have to hope and fight. But I remember correctly... with the Hourglass' time distortion, it will take them quite a bit of time to heal. They also may not be able to lock on to our location right away once we use the portal, especially if Hecate was telling the truth about Valthrudnir using it for stealth.”

Twilight nodded slowly as Luna rubbed moodily at her features, saying finally: “But a lot will all the same be up to luck, skill, and our enemy's arrogance. This is going to be difficult, Celestia.”

“It always is.” Celestia only smiled and shrugged a bit, and then the ivory mare shook her head slowly before she murmured: “But we should be able to assemble a force that will hold Gymbr's own at bay... except in order to do it, I think I have to ask you to do something, Scrivener Blooms. Even if it makes me a hypocrite with everything I've always said.”

The stallion looked up uneasily, already knowing what was coming as he shifted slowly. He felt Luna and Twilight turn their eyes towards him, and he felt that whirl of emotions through their minds: worry, hope... greed. And as always, that soft whisper of excitement in Scrivener's own mind as some part of him relished just how powerful he had become after spending a childhood as nothing more than a miserable slave hoof.

He shook those thoughts off before looking down at one of his metal claws... and he flexed it slowly, studying the way solid-seeming metal moved with all the beauty and suppleness of real flesh. Then the stallion smiled faintly and mumbled: “Well, if it'll help.”

“Blood; it's in you to give.” remarked a voice wryly, and all eyes looked upwards to see Discombobulation sitting on the ceiling, the Draconequus absently cutting a shape out of a folded piece of paper as he remarked: “Although really... I think blood is there to keep your organs and muscles and everything else in your body functioning. Also, if you apply the 'give a hundred percent with everything you do' rule to blood, you die. Well. Most of you die. I guess you just shrivel up, Twilight Sparkle, and then you'd be a prune instead of a grape.”

“I know. I'm purple. That's the joke.” Twilight said tiredly, looking up at the Draconequus, and Bob only nodded seriously in response before he calmly tossed the scissors away, then flicked the sheets of paper a few time to send down a slowly-falling hail of confetti before he pulled on either end of it, revealing a banner of cutout prancing ponies.

The others looked up at him for a few moments, and then Celestia asked softly: “So will you be joining us with this, Bob? We could use your help.”

“Oh, as if you really have to ask, Tia. As much as I'd like to, I know that I can't just abandon you. Contractual agreements and all, which are voided only in the event that I catch you cheating on me with that cat you tried to marry.” Discombobulation paused, then he said seriously: “I suppose if someone did love and want to marry a cat, it wouldn't be so strange: there are plenty of either gender who enjoy a nice pussy.”

Scrivener Blooms slowly closed his eyes as Twilight Sparkle stared a little and Luna giggled childishly, and Celestia smiled despite herself as she looked up at the chimerical creature, saying softly: “I think I've been a bad influence on you, Bob.”

“Why? There's absolutely nothing wrong with that sentence. I love cats.” Discombobulation replied candidly as he crumpled the paper banner together, then pulled it out again, and this time the paper shapes were of varying felines instead of equines. “It's all about perception, you know. What you perceive modifies the reality you choose to live in; it's something we should all attempt to apply a little more to our lives.”

Celestia nodded slowly, then she looked towards Scrivener Blooms, saying softly: “Bob is right. And I want this to be a good thing, I want to see what we have to do... as a good thing. Freeing the Clockwork Ponies and using your corruption to enhance demons we trust. I want to see it as extracting the greatest benefit we can in the short amount of time we have.”

Scrivener Blooms smiled faintly after a moment, looking down and silently studying his claws before he simply nodded and murmured: “I do too. But sometimes just looking at things one way or another doesn't change the fact you're still shoving poison down someone's throat. Telling them it's candy doesn't make it candy.”

“Oh shut up, beetle. Stop being so depressing.” Luna punched the stallion lightly in the armored shoulder, and he winced a bit before the sapphire mare looked across at Celestia and gave a firm nod. “I agree with both of thee. And I also agree that pussy is good.”

She continued to look serious for a moment, then giggled childishly and covered her muzzle as Celestia sighed and Discombobulation smiled wryly, saying mildly: “Vulgarity isn't comedy. Except, you know, when it is.”

Then the Draconequus hopped off the ceiling, neatly rotating his body to land in a sitting position on the table next to Celestia, tenting his hands in his lap as he gazed down at her kindly. “Now, Tia, do you mind if for a moment I take over? I have one little last order of business I feel that I should bring to the table, you see. It's rather important.”

Celestia nodded, her eyes curious, and Discombobulation smiled at her and reached out to gently cup her face in a gentle, affectionate gesture for a moment. Then he spun around, swinging his lower limbs up to sit crosslegged as he said softly: “Now, I know that a lot has been going on. There's much to wrap all your minds around, and we all have the feeling that even if we do manage to make like a famous international clubbing brand and get into Valhalla, it's only going to be the start of this whole miserable mess. This sordid subject. This pitiable party.

“But, instead of trying to helplessly imagine or plan for some penultimate peril, we should start at the bad beginning: all of you saw the Hatter, after all, and the Mad that came with him.” Discombobulation looked back and forth, and Luna frowned as Celestia nodded slowly: they had tried to put those events out of mind for now, since Gymbr felt like a more pressing issue. There hadn't been any serious spikes of chaos lately, after all, and Draconequus weren't in the habit of genocide, like Gymbr was.

“Now, we Draconequus don't really like listening to things. Not even each other, not our betters, not the government or the authorities, and certainly not to our better judgment.” The Draconequus nodded calmly as he ticked these things off on his fingers. “But there is one thing that we do have to listen to, no matter what happens: the Mad must obey the Hatter.”

“Who or what is he? Do you know?” Celestia asked quietly, and Discombobulation shrugged a bit, smiling a little. Their eyes met, the two studying each other, and then the mare said softly: “Please.”

Discombobulation hesitated for a few moments... and then he finally sighed and nodded, saying wryly: “Well, I can't answer that question, but... I suppose all the same I can at least tell you what I know. An old Draconequus folk story, because we have our stories, too, our prophecies and our fairy tales... although in summary, this one is really quite simple, and both a little sad and a little scary, especially for Draconequus.

“The Hatter is said to be upside-down order, chaos so profound that we Draconequus are made to feel sane from his presence alone. If Discord is the big dog of the Draconequus, then Theophilius Carter is the epicyon haydeni.” Discombobulation said mildly, gesturing with one hand easily. “Personally, I think the fact the word 'epic' is in there is a good point towards 'do not poke.'”

“Then I should be known as an epicorn. I am an epicorn.” Luna said mildly, raising her head proudly, and Scrivener and Twilight both gave the sapphire mare sour looks as Celestia sighed a little. “And this epicorn does not fear an... epicy hatty. I shall pummel him if he gets in our way, 'tis as simple as that. But for now, I have no desire to go chasing around a gaggle of Draconequus that Hecate let in from Ginnungagap, whether or not he has any clue about what is going on. 'Tis clear enough it would be a waste of our very valuable, very precious time to chase after him, after all.”

Celestia nodded hesitantly at this, but all the same, she studied Discombobulation for a few moments before asking quietly: “But there's something else, isn't there?”

The Draconequus shrugged slowly, saying finally: “Well, yes and no. The prophecy goes on a very silly tangent about the balance between order and chaos, but... and this is just off the top of my own head, so you'll excuse me if I'm not making as much sense as if it came from the top of yours, Tia; Gymbr desires eternal chaos. The Hatter is chaos so mad that we Draconequus must obey him.”

“So I was right to be worried that Gymbr may have been the one to revive him... is the Hatter an idea, or a spirit, a living thing? He was a Jötnar... but his presence was that of a god... and yet he controls chaos entities...” Celestia broke off, frowning uneasily as she looked away and rubbed slowly at her features. “He's a riddle.”

“Why is a raven like a writing desk?” Discombobulation shrugged, the question clearly a rhetorical one before he said softly: “The Hatter has a role to play, and you can't forget about him, as much as I know we'd all like to just push him aside. I know all our heads are full of fluff and we're very much confused, and there's nothing I can say or do to change that; the only promise I can make is not mine to give, but I'll remind you of it anyway. Very soon, friends, we're going to get all the answers we're looking for... it's just very likely that none of them will be the answers we want.”

Twilight Sparkle smiled faintly at this, looking down and shivering a little before Luna muttered: “Then I shall simply pummel them until they are a better fit for the vision of the world I have in mind. 'Tis as simple as that.”

The other ponies looked for a few moments at Luna, and then Scrivener Blooms couldn't help but smile a bit, remarking: “So back to the usual solution we use for everything, huh?”

“Well, it has not failed yet.” Luna replied reasonably, shrugging a bit before she reached up and rubbed moodily at her soulstone horn. “But... we cannot waste time, sitting here, moping and pretending to be philosophers and great thinkers, for whom our academics will solve all problems. We have the battlefield to attend to, and the realities that come with it. Come, Scrivy. And thou as well, Twilight Sparkle: we must get ourselves moving.”

The charcoal stallion nodded as Twilight glanced across at Celestia, asking: “Do you want us to just leave what Hel dropped off with you? I figure you might want to take a look through some of these things yourself.”

Celestia smiled at the violet mare, replying softly: “I do, thank you.” A pause, and then she glanced over at her sister as the sapphire mare headed for the door, saying calmly: “I am going to go ahead and speak to Sleipnir and Pinkamena, by the way. And I hope you're aware that Antares and Aphrodisia are both going to want to at least be in the assault squadron, if not part of the initial attack team. Even Scarlet Sage-”

“Oh, cease thy troublemaking, accursed Celestia.” Luna huffed loudly, and then the sapphire mare shook her head grumpily as she halted at the door to let Twilight catch up. Then the starry-maned winged unicorn finally nodded hesitantly, mumbling: “Aye. We shall... send out letters to our family. Scarlet Sage is still in Ponyville, correct?”

Celestia nodded, and Luna smiled a little before closing her eyes: she knew her children deserved their say, too. She just was afraid because... of what had already happened to Innocence. A subject she and Scrivener were direly trying not to think about, even if Twilight was worrying constantly at it in their minds.

Finally, Luna simply nodded a little back to her sibling before heading into the hall, lowering her head and mumbling: “Damnation. Damnation, damnation, damnation. All is... all is stupid. Here I was, ready and willing to battle, and then I think of what else awaits us above and how... to rescue our daughter, we might... oh, damnation.”

Scrivener only smiled a little as he lowered his head, and Twilight Sparkle shook her own slowly as she murmured: “It hurts, but... honestly, Luna, I hope that we are the ones to see her. Or someone else who's family... I don't know if she could actually hurt us.”

“But we're going to have to treat her like she is. It kills me to say that, but...” Scrivener closed his eyes, thinking of their training sessions in the past, when his little girl had shown she was so strong, so talented already... and then feeling his gut twist as he thought about how Gymbr had modified time in Heaven, made it so the last time he had seen his daughter, decades had passed... and now it had likely been years more, and...

He shook himself out. He didn't want to go down that road. He didn't want think... all these awful thoughts starting to run through his head. Instead, he gritted his teeth and muttered: “We... we should find Morning Glory. She can assemble those demons she picked out for possible enhancement and we'll get that over with now. Just in case there's any side effects.”

Luna grunted in agreement after a moment, and Twilight nodded silently before she murmured: “I swear if Gymbr's done anything more to our daughter, though... I'll kill him myself.”

Scrivener and Luna both looked at Twilight for a moment... and both of them believed her. Twilight Sparkle was among the gentlest, kindest, most compassionate people they had ever met, but deep inside her, under lock and key, there was a darkness. A darkness that Luna and Scrivener had exacerbated, but they both understood had always been there; a part of Twilight that she was afraid to give full release, to show even to them, because it had always been hidden in the bright, almost-blinding light of her soul.

They understood what it was, and that was part of the reason that she loved them so much; and they knew how to keep that darkness in check, and how to help her use it for good things, like protecting her friends and innocent lives. But that darkness fed on good things: that darkness didn't draw power from hate and sadness and her negativity: that darkness grew stronger the more light and love and joy surrounded it. And when something she cared about was threatened, that darkness began to rise up no matter how hard Twilight fought to keep it down, to consume whatever was in her way.

Her partners studied her quietly, then Scrivener slipped carefully over to Twilight's other side so they could comfortably sandwich her between them as they walked, and the Lich smiled faintly and closed her eyes, bowing her head and swallowing back her emotions. They didn't disapprove, though: they just both were telling her it wasn't yet the time for that, and she understood. Just as she understood that if something else had happened to Innocence... after they took Gymbr down, death was the least the god would have to worry about.

Luna leaned over and gently kissed Twilight Sparkle's cheek, and the violet mare blushed a little before she shook her head briefly, trying to get rid of all the... the awful and unwelcome thoughts attempting to force their way in. They had too many other things to worry about right now, after all.. and within a day, they would be taking whatever steps they had to in order to free Valhalla and save their daughter. The best thing she could do right now was concentrate on everything they had to deal with leading up to that point.

Morning Glory seemed to be waiting for them in her throne room. Her armored body flexed as she politely bowed their head at their approach, rising from her throne... a little eagerly, Scrivener thought. Not that he could really blame her: she clearly had some idea about what they wanted, and she had been asking for this for a long time.

They halted in front of her, and Luna looked back and forth before she asked softly: “Where is Eventide? I do not sense her presence. 'Tis strange.”

“In seclusion. She feels that she failed you, Luna. Her duty was always to look out for Innocence, after all.” Morning Glory glanced up, adding with a strange gentility: “Perhaps she needs a little encouragement from her Mistress. Perhaps she could do with... a gift. I'm sure she'd make exceptional use of it in service to you.”

Luna looked down for a moment, then she hesitantly looked over at Scrivener Blooms, who grimaced a little and leaned back as he said slowly: “You... really can't be considering that. A Greater Nightmare feels bad so we should pump more corruption into it?”

“I know thou art being so hostile to the idea not because thou art such an ass, Scrivy, but because thou art actually worried for the creature. And for ourselves.” Luna halted, then she grimaced a bit and muttered: “But 'tis not a bad idea, really. From a utilitarian point of view, she will not betray us, even if she becomes animal or maddened. Guilt and shame and loyalty will not let her. And if it creates... something more than a Greater Nightmare, we will know what thy poisons are capable of in great amount. And of course, we must bolster our strength against the enemy... by any means necessary at this point. Or will thou shirk at committing a sin to save Heaven?”

“You're the poet here. Not me.” Scrivener muttered, and then the stallion shook his head slowly before he looked at Morning Glory. She only looked calmly back, and the earth pony couldn't help but hold up a metal claw, saying wryly: “Look. We match.”

Morning Glory responded to this by reaching out and seizing his foreleg, then slowly twisting to the side, Scrivener's eyes bulging in pain as he grabbed wildly at his limb as she easily bent it backwards before slinging him to the ground. Luna and Twilight both winced at this, then glared up at the Destroyer as the demon said sourly: “No. We don't.”

“Great, tremendous wench. Help my husband up to his hooves, thou great bully.” Luna huffed, pointing at Scrivener Blooms, and the stallion winced and hurriedly began to scramble to stand... but a little too late, as Morning Glory seized him by the back of the neck and yanked him into the air before dropping him painfully on his rump, the stallion wincing and grasping at his backside as Luna twitched, then glared up at the Overseer. “This is not the best time, nor the best way to make a good impression on me if thou desires the corruption thyself.”

“I do. But I'm also not going to play games for it or beg.” Morning Glory replied evenly, leaning down towards Luna. “And that is why I deserve it and why you can trust me with it, because I'm not going to pretend and be on my best behavior for you now, and then go back to acting like myself after I've gotten what I wanted. I am who I am. That's all, Valkyrie.”

Luna smiled wryly at this, and then she nodded slowly and sighed, saying after a moment: “Well, thou could at least learn to be a little less forceful with thy hooves.”

“I dislike it when little colts compare themselves to me. Even if they've been given fancy little gifts from Hel herself.” Morning Glory leaned down meditatively, studying Scrivener Blooms for a few moments before she shook her head slowly. “I don't know how you got these... but I sincerely hope that you understand no one wins in a deal made with Hel.”

“Then I suppose we will be the first. Besides, we did not have to make many negotiations. Shooting her with Sting was enough to get the majority of my points across.” Luna replied wryly, gesturing absently at the handle of her gun.

Morning Glory frowned, studying the mare intently as Luna only rose her head high and looked evenly back, and then the Destroyer slowly grinned before throwing her head back and laughing. “Well, Luna Brynhild, it looks like you can live up to your enormous boasts after all!”

“I can whenever I please to, wretched harpy.” Luna replied with a huff, then she shook her head and said after a moment: “Ask the candidates thou chose to receive the corruption to assemble. It... it is time that we granted them this gift. I only hope, sincerely, that they are all truly ready for it.”

“They are. We are. And if any of them disappoint you, you may hold me personally responsible.” Morning Glory replied calmly, once more serious... but a smile still lingered around her lips, and now there was a gleam of excitement in her eyes. “I'll have them gather and await you in Hollow Hall. Should I prepare anything else?”

Luna shook her head, then she hesitated before saying finally: “Have Eventide come to us here. We will speak to her and... see what can be done in private. I do not have any desire to make my Greater Nightmares jealous and... I wish to do this carefully.”

Morning Glory nodded, then bowed to them respectfully before she strode past, saying calmly as she headed for the door: “Hesitance, arrogance, and cowardice are what form tyrants, Luna Brynhild. Those who must impose their own rule over others are almost always those who fear being recognized they are of a weaker breed themselves.”

Scrivener grunted at this, and then he lowered his eyes, muttering as Morning Glory left the hall: “Well, I did always say I was a coward, right?”

“Oh stop it, beetle.” Luna's tone was soft, however, and she leaned over to only gently bop the stallion's head, making a faint ding against his skull. “Thy cowardice is cowardice of a different sort. Thou knows that Morning Glory is only attempting to push and prod us into... doing things more to her liking. She is a wretched creature in that regard.”

Scrivener Blooms only grunted, nodding a little as he looked down for a few moments before sighing and rubbing moodily at one of his Talons. He studied it silently, then held it up and said finally: “I have to wonder just how much Hel knows about us sometimes. I mean... these are... these just fit. And they focus my abilities so well...”

Luna nodded moodily, and Twilight Sparkle smiled a bit as she turned her eyes towards them. “But it's a good thing, right? I mean, her fascination can be a little creepy at times, yeah, but... she doesn't seem like she wants to hurt us. I think she honestly wants to help. And I mean... I did feel-”

“If thou says thou felt bad for her as well, I swear to Asgard I will shoot thee.” Luna threatened, glaring over at the Lich, and Twilight only smiled and rose her hooves as the sapphire mare sighed and mumbled: “And I refuse to speak of what I felt about the crafty, conniving creature. For that is what she is and we must not forget that. For all we know, 'twas nothing but a bundle of lies.”

“I thought she couldn't lie, though.” Scrivener said after a moment, glancing over at Luna... and then wincing at the curdling glare she fixed on him, the stallion shrinking his head back and muttering: “I'll just. Keep my thoughts to myself from now on.”

“Good. Thou should do that.” Luna grumbled, and the two childishly bumped and shoved against each other for a few moments before the sapphire mare finally shook herself briskly and looked up at the ceiling, feeling herself settling even as worries tried to cloud her mind.

But she didn't let them: she just focused on the ponies she had with her, and all the plans they had to make for what was coming. She let a few selfish thoughts rise up to muddle with her ideas, balancing her mind between things as best she could. It was better that she have a few uncomfortable fantasies swirling through her mind right now than she worked herself – and her partners, though their link – into a ball of frustration and anxiety.

Then the sapphire mare glanced up at the sound of hooves before Eventide appeared, the Greater Nightmare running headlong towards them... and to Luna's surprise, barreling right into the sapphire mare's chest, clinging to her and burying her face against her as she whispered: “Oh, Mistress Luna... I cannot apologize enough. This is all my fault; I could not save her from turning to Gymbr, and I could not save her from herself...”

“Hush now... hush.” Luna's tone softened a little as she reached up and caught the Greater Nightmare by the shoulders, looking down at her almost tenderly. “Do not blame thyself. Especially not for that... nor is it my daughter's fault. This is all Gymbr's doing, and we are going to make him pay.”

The Greater Nightmare nodded several times, looking up almost like a faithful servant begging for mercy from her idol... and Luna smiled faintly as she realized that was exactly what she was. She was their Mistress, their goddess... she was the Night, Incarnate. She was their savior... but like Hel, she was a trickster, too, and she was dangerous, and her gifts...

She hesitated, she thought of the consequences of what she was doing... she worried for a moment, whether or not it was fair, whether or not it was an abuse of her power. But all her rationalizations overwhelmed her, and the emotions... the fear, the anger, the simple curiosity, they all told her to push ahead even when a voice whispered that this was a dangerous road to take. That they were at risk of pushing too hard, delving too deep... becoming too much like the very thing they were trying to fight.

And all the same, Luna couldn't stop herself from asking, almost eager for the Greater Nightmare's answer: “If we give strength to thee... even greater power than what thou already possesses... then will thou come with us into Valhalla, and fight by our side?”

Eventide's eyes brightened: yes, with her own tricky, selfish nature, at the thought of power... but Luna thought there was an honest desire to help Innocence there, too. An honest willingness to go to whatever length it took to help save the little pony that the Nightmare had always seemed to care about... “Yes! Mistress, I... I don't deserve such wonders, but...”

Luna only shook her head, smiling... and then faltering as she looked over at Scrivener and Twilight. The stallion had his head lowered, his eyes closed, shivering... but she could taste his thoughts, sense his own eagerness. How he wanted to grasp the Greater Nightmare, poison her with darkness, transform her into... a slave, a thrall, a monster... but all for the greater good...

And Twilight Sparkle, her head lowered, her eyes closed like she knew this was wrong but was trying to block it out, to turn away from it, to deny that they were doing something that was... so malicious. But it was all for her daughter, and she'd do anything for her daughter... anything...

The Lich felt Luna's gaze and looked up, as Luna asked a mental question without meaning to, and Twilight trembled even as her soul spoke back to Luna; and for a moment, Luna glimpsed a world where Innocence had been wrestled back from Gymbr, but was still so... twisted, so warped, so corrupt... but there, Twilight was cradling her daughter all the same, and they were a family, even if all around them the ground was nothing but mire and ice, and they were surrounded by monsters from the lowest level of Hell, the only creatures who they could now call 'friend...'

The mares hurriedly looked away from each other, and Luna shivered... then gritted her teeth before looking towards Eventide, saying before she even realized what she was doing: “Then we shall give a gift to you, Eventide. But not of poison or corruption, but... a soulstone pendant. Aye, a pendant I shall shape quickly myself, and which shall allow thee to track down Innocence. When we enter Valhalla, thou shall be in charge of... of leading thine own team of those chosen to find our daughter to her, and assisting in her rescue. Can thou handle this task?”

The Greater Nightmare stared at Luna for a few moments, and then she slowly sat up and bowed her head low, whispering: “I will not fail you. I will die before I fail you, Mistress Luna.”

Luna smiled faintly at this, and then gave a brief nod before gesturing at Eventide and saying finally: “Go and tell Celestia that I will require a piece of soulstone. Thou may inform her if thou desires of its purpose: she may have advice for thee or perhaps is willing to put her skills to work to better benefit thee.”

“Thank you, Mistress Luna. I will not fail.” Eventide promised again, and then the Greater Nightmare gave a last smile to them before she turned, and was simply gone.

The sapphire mare sighed a little as she lowered her head, and then she held up a hoof when Scrivener began to open his mouth, grumbling: “Speak but a single word, poet, and I swear that I shall smite thee so mightily that all of Helheim will ring with it.”

Scrivener Blooms cleared his throat awkwardly and nodded a little, and Twilight Sparkle shook her own head slowly before saying softly: “Well, even if Scrivy won't say anything, then I will: I'm... I'm glad that you made that decision, Luna. I'm glad that we know our boundaries still. That we're not... I believe that we're not going to become Gymbr.”

Luna looked over at Twilight Sparkle, and then she gave a small smile before murmuring: “That is something I would like to believe myself, my darling mare. But very well, my family: 'tis time now for us to be on our way. We have gifts to give to our loyal subjects... but only small gifts, in careful moderation. We must be careful.”

Scrivener Blooms nodded in agreement, and Twilight Sparkle gave another small smile before the three ponies turned around to head towards the doorway. And Luna Brynhild closed her eyes for a moment as she reflected that maybe, in spite of everything that was tempting them, pushing them, pressuring them... they could still gaze down Gymbr without having Gymbr gaze too deeply back into them, and drown the few small islands of light inside them, that floated bravely upon the black seas of their dark and turbulent souls.

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