• 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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Overplaying One's Hand

Chapter Thirty Two: Overplaying One's Hand
~BlackRoseRaven

The forest was cool, and calm, and pretty; it was a far stretch away from any civilization, be it pony or griffin or any of the other intelligent races. There were only birds and beasts, and countless trees of every shape and size.

It was far from silent, but the atmosphere was a gentle one: even the shrillest cry from the loudest bird had its distinct place, like a cacophonous chord played on a piano to only make the beauty of the harmony all the clearer. Insects made up a chorus, and the sound of larger beasts moving along well-trod naturals paths through the trees formed a steady backbeat to the music of the jungle.

But soon, another sound began to rise: a humming, that soon drove the other sounds in the forest into silence as it rose higher and higher, became a growling, then a rumbling thunder. And moments later, the sky itself above the forest seemed to shatter as a hole was torn in reality, a rainbow wreathed in white flames lunging out of the rift and crashing down to the ground.

There was a powerful pulse of energy, and then a blast of energy that sent birds and animals scattering as a sapphire mare tore into this world, leaping down the rainbow bridge to land in a narrow field, skidding to a halt with a calmer smile than she would usually wear after breaking into another plane via the Bifrost. Luna breathed slowly in and out as she looked back and forth, her partners already falling in on either side of her... and following shortly after, the other people who made up this group, who in one way or another had all become family to her.

On her back, Lucy twitched before Hecate muttered out of her protective prison: “The Bifrost has charged up the soulstone shielding. It should give my magic an extra boost.”

“So that means thou art actually going to help?” Luna asked absently, even as she checked back and forth quickly before asking quietly: “In which direction do we travel?”

Hecate wiggled a little on Luna's back before her horn glowed for a moment, and then the head nodded and muttered: “Straight ahead. We landed closer than I had expected.”

“Good. Do not tell me distances, only directions. I will trust in thee to tell us if thou senses anything thou must absolutely warn us of.” Luna said quietly, looking back and forth before she glanced over her shoulder at the others. Sleipnir was breathing deeply, his head thrown back and his eyes closed as he dug his hooves into the soft soil, and Pinkamena was grumbling as she looked back and forth warily, like she could already sense something.

Morning Glory had her own eyes narrowed, looking up towards the sky, but Celestia only had her head bowed, eyes closed, her pose almost meditative. Beside her, Discombobulation was uneasily fidgeting, dancing from paw-to-paw... but he looked less like he was afraid of whatever was coming and more like he was anxiously excited, like a kid about to take part in something he'd always wanted to but wasn't sure he actually had the courage for.

Luna frowned slightly at this, cocking her head curiously, but then Terra leaned forwards and asked quietly: “May I request position holding the back, Luna? I have the feeling 'twould be good for me to be there for some reason. And I think you must have learned some respect for the Ironjaw instincts while you were in Cairnmór.”

“Aye, thou art a rough people, but a good people, I think... although 'tis wasteful, really. If thou has no cowards in thy society, then where shall thou get thy entertainment, who do the children look towards to see an example of what they should not be like?” Luna glanced back and forth again, lingering on purpose as she continued pointedly: “Extinguishing all memory of evil does not cut it at the root: if we wipe out the memory of all that is wrong in our world, then we wipe out the memory of its cost, and the reasons we must remain unified as one.”

“Yeah, great pep talk Nightmare Moon. Let's get going before you preach anymore or we're all going to reek of the mint from your soapbox.” Pinkamena growled irritably, and then she strode up and shoved Scrivener firmly before glaring at him when he looked at her... but her eyes flicked sharply to one side, and when the stallion grumbled and lowered his head, it was to mask a nod in return to the demon.

They were already being watched. Not by Gymbr, no... but something else was here. Something was keeping an eye on them, and for now, that was fine: they would pretend not to notice, and lead it along... and then, if whatever it was followed them all the way to the portal, they would flush it out of hiding and deal with it then. But until that point, it was better to let what was likely the enemy think it had the upper hoof.

Luna grumbled: she hated this game of cat and mouse. The sapphire mare shook her head in distaste before she turned with a sigh, muttering: “Well, let us be on our way then. Terra will bring up the rear with Celestia and Bob, Sleipnir and Pinkamena will take the middle, Morning Glory shall follow behind us. Let us move quickly.”

The others nodded, assembling without argument even as Pinkamena growled and Discombobulation glanced back and forth, mumbling something about turkeys. Luna only took one look over her shoulder to ensure that everyone was following, and then she smiled and nodded briefly before turning her eyes forwards.

They walked onwards, and Scrivener Blooms couldn't help but glance around them at the strange plants they passed: This jungle was vibrant with life, but he sensed something else here, too: old magic, powerful magic, hidden in the trees and beneath the soil. It made him shiver a little, as he thought he felt a familiar presence in that tampering... but it was strange to look around and see an area that had been left wild and unblemished from Valthrudnir.

Luna glanced at him, giving him a mental nudge, and the stallion nodded a little as he drew his eyes back and forth. Even drawing on Luna's memories of all the places she had been, these trees all looked strange and simply different from anything he could identify. But that magic in the air... he didn't need to be able to feel Twilight and Luna's instincts to know that it had affected things, caused such rampant growth... such beautiful mutation.

Scrivener shook his head briefly, and for ten minutes or so, they continued on, undisturbed. The others settled, that sense of being watched faded, and Discombobulation grew more serious and uneasy, worrying his fingers constantly against his steel bicep. Pinkamena, of all people, kept looking at him oddly, which told Scrivener there was something they were missing... but they were all a little focused on not getting ambushed right now, and couldn't think on five different things at once like certain malicious ponies could.

Soon enough, they found themselves following a natural trail, heading into an area that was darker, more bog-like... where the magic was more concentrated. The trees here were squatter but thicker, tapers and vines hanging from them almost like serpents waiting to drop on prey when they tried to pass below, and the reedy, weedy ground crawled with life that made Scrivener wince a bit.

Then Luna slowed to a halt, her eyes narrowed slightly. Ahead, there were several bent and gnarled trees, twisted to form almost a fence, and thick vines formed a grasping netting between these. And now, Luna could feel it... that tickle along her spine, that sense of something lurking and watching them, and that growling in her mind that could only mean... “Gymbr.”

Gymbr laughed quietly, apparently unsurprised they had sensed him as the group automatically took up a defensive formation. But his voice echoed from all around them, and they could hear noises from every side as the god murmured: “What are you doing here? Will you not show us?”

“Come out here so I can kill thee.” Luna growled, and Gymbr only gave a quiet laugh again, but there was a melancholy echo to it, which just incited the rage of the winged unicorn all the more as she shouted: “Thou hast done unspeakable, unforgivable things! Come out here and accept thy punishment, coward, traitor... fool!”

“We know that we have. We know there is no turning back...” There was silence... and then the trees in front of them rumbled and moaned as if in pain as they were forced to bend apart, vines tearing and leaves spilling down as Gymbr calmly strode towards them. “But we cannot accept your punishment yet. Nor can we risk giving you our gifts, we see... you have gone to Hel, and believe her foolishness. That we are weak. That we are stupid. But we know what we are doing... we know what must be done. We know what we must do to defeat the Light, and Hel fears this; you are being used by her, Luna Brynhild. You are the fool and traitor here, not us.”

“So now thou accuses Hel of being the destroyer of the universe.” Luna shook her head bitterly, gritting her teeth in disgust. “To have fallen so far... oh, pathetic wretch. Thou art a victim of thine own power, so obsessed with it and with thyself that thou believes anyone who could do harm to thee is an enemy. That thou hast truly come to believe thou art some... savior. Some chosen one.”

“We are neither. But we are not afraid to do what must be done... and anyone who would stand in our way is an enemy.” Gymbr replied calmly, before he leaned forwards and added softly, as a second pony strode out of the trees: “But we have learned with enough time, with enough effort, with enough love... anyone can be made to see from our way of thinking.”

Twilight leaned forwards with a frown... and then her breath caught in her throat as Scrivener and Luna looked at her with sharp surprise, then back at the newcomer with disbelief when the Lich choked out: “A... Applejack?”

“Hey, sugarcube.” It was Applejack's voice... but the mare herself was enormous and statuesque now, and her skin was like... bark, hard and pebbly, cracked here and there in places, yet if anything only all the more imposing because of it. A thick rawhide cowboy hat rested on her head, and a simple bolo tie hung around her neck, the obsidian, apple-shaped stone at the center pulled tight as she said calmly: “But they've taken to calling me Wormwood now... a new life, a new name and all that. Oh, sure, scared me at first, but... Twilight... it really is down to do or die now. You know I wouldn't lie to you, you know I wouldn't... be here if there was no other choice. But there ain't, now. If you would just take a look at what's coming...”

“No...” Twilight trembled, staring with disbelief at her friend, barely believing what he was seeing. The Lich trembled, then gritted her teeth as Myre and Dusk both emerged as well: the former was grinning and her body already seemed to be roiling as the corruption that made her up flowed freely, and the latter was only clad in her aureate chains and jewelry, her golden-fire mane and tail burning brightly as they wafted around her.

“This is our last offer of peace. We are more powerful than you can begin to imagine: you cannot stand against any of these three ponies alone, much less ourselves.” Gymbr said softly, but Luna only laughed shortly before she glanced over at Scrivener Blooms, and the stallion nodded calmly.

Twilight clenched her eyes shut as she felt Luna and Scrivener's thoughts, and then she looked up and across at Wormwood, saying pleadingly: “Don't make me do this. Don't make me fight you. Don't make me... hurt you, AJ. I don't want to.”

Wormwood smiled, reaching up and tipping her hat politely to Twilight. “I don't want to hurt you either, Twilight... but I'll do what I have to. You're the ones who are all mixed up now, like I was in that horror story... and sure, I ain't fond of Gymbr. He even scares me more than a little. But unfortunately, he's also right... and I'll do anything to protect my home, my family, my friends. Even if what I have to do is put you down for a little while.”

“Enough talk.” Morning Glory shoved her way forwards, glaring icily as plates of metal snapped over her features, forming into a mask as her eyes locked on Dusk. “The concubine is mine. I hope that I don't have to deal with the rest of them for you after I'm done with her.”

Dusk only gave a patronizing smile, tilting her head towards the Destroyer as Myre's eyes locked greedily on Scrivener Blooms. “Good, because I want to see what Brynhild's husband can do. You and me... we're the same.”

“We're nothing alike.” Scrivener said quietly, and then he traded a look with Luna before the two nodded as the sapphire mare turned her cold eyes on Gymbr.

“This is thy last chance to surrender. To relinquish thy hold on Asgard... on my daughter.” Luna leaned forwards aggressively as Terra stepped up beside her, the Ironjaw growling low in her throat as her metallic scales over her limbs bristled. “Elsewise, thou dies... if I am merciful.”

“We are not afraid of you.” Gymbr replied calmly, and then he ordered softly: “Separate them and cripple them. Then we shall bring them back to Valhalla, and we shall force them to understand the plight they have made themselves blind to.”

Luna snarled in fury... before she twitched with a curse of shock as Myre shot forwards like lightning and tackled Scrivener Blooms up into the air, seizing him in a crushing bear hug and attempting to simply carry him away. But her tail was seized by Discombobulation's metal arm, and the Draconequus half-spun as he yanked her around and slammed her down on her back with a splatter of ooze as Scrivener's weight crushed her down into the ground.

But Luna didn't have the time to turn to help herself, or even do more than begin to look towards Scrivener before Gymbr was in front of her in a flash, already swinging a claw down. Just as fast, however, Terra reacted, seizing him by the wrist and crushing down on the surprised god's forelimb as her eyes glowed with blue energy, snarling: “Goirde shaogail duit abhus 7 ifrenn thall!

With that, she yanked Gymbr into the air like a ragdoll, then slammed him viciously face-first into the ground before she swept her other claw in a rising hook into his face and knocked the god crashing backwards. But before he could hit the ground, Terra tackled him out of the air with a roar and slammed him down on his back, then leaned down, breathing out a torrent of blue hellfire straight down into the god's face.

Dusk rushed forwards to try and save her master: understandable, perhaps, but a near-fatal mistake. Morning Glory smashed into the mare's side and flung her into the air with a flick of her horn, Dusk gasping in shock before she was seized by the Destroyer's chains and hurled into a nearby tree with nearly enough force to break it in half.

The demon grinned viciously as she charged after her quarry, entirely focused on her prey. She didn't look up even when Terra was flung off Gymbr, the dragon skidding backwards with a wince as Luna, Celestia, and Sleipnir ran towards the god as he straightened, eyes glowing with fury as he shouted: “You are trying our patience!”

Twilight Sparkle wanted to run to one of her partners, but instead, she forced herself to look forward and focus on Wormwood as the mare calmly strode towards her. Then the Lich looked up in surprise as Pinkamena fell in beside her, the demon growling: “So did he make you ugly or stupid first, AJ? Just so I'm clear.”

“Gymbr made me better.” Wormwood responded evenly, raising a hoof that looked more like metal than wood or flesh before she stomped it down and smiled grimly. “You two are my friends. I don't want to hurt you, any of you. But I'll do what I gotta do.”

“Yeah, I always felt the same way. So let's see how tough that skin of yours is.” Pinkamena growled, and then the demon leapt forwards, yanking her axe off her back at the same time and slashing it viciously down into Wormwood's face, even as Twilight cried out in shock.

The blade slammed home, and the wooden mare was knocked staggering with a cry of pain, dark blood squirting up from the wound as Pinkamena growled and clutched the handle of her axe as if trying to grind it forwards, even as the Lich shouted: “What are you doing? You can't kill her!”

“Oh, don't you worry about me, Twilight...” Wormwood reached a front hoof up, seizing the neck of the axe and shoving backwards, Pinkamena stumbling in surprise as her axe was torn free from the mare's features... and Wormwood grinned at them as her sap-like blood rapidly hardened in the wound, becoming like amber. “I'm just fine.”

Pinkamena began to swing her axe out again, but this time Wormwood caught the blade, eyes flashing as she said coldly: “You're makin' hurting you a whole lot more appealing.”

“Good.” Pinkamena growled as she yanked her axe back, and then she grinned coldly as Twilight readied herself behind the demon, the Lich gritting her teeth as she realized... they had no choice. Applejack... Wormwood... wasn't about to give up or get out of their way. “That's the way I want it to be anyway. Let's see how many licks it takes to get to the center of the maple candy.”

Twilight bared her fangs... then twitched as she felt a sharp, stabbing pain, felt Scrivener's shock... and then the stallion's rising anger as he shoved Myre away. She was almost tempted to look, but she trusted in him as she lowered her head, her horn starting to glow as she said quietly: “I'm sorry, AJ. I promise that I'm going to make this as fast as possible.”

Scrivener Blooms could feel Twilight's determination, even in the face of her friend, and it helped give the stallion strength. He could feel power flowing in from Luna as well as she, her siblings, and Terra all threw themselves at Gymbr with all the strength they had... and even though none of them were landing any blows and Terra's surprise counterattack hadn't left a single mark on him, the god seemed off-balance somehow, like he hadn't expected such resistance, such ferocity.

The stallion leapt forwards, and Myre laughed as she met him, shoving a hoof against him, sending corruption through every crack, every flaw in his armor to burn his flesh, transform literally inside of him into spikes and razors. It knocked Scrivener backwards, and Myre grinned savagely as she pressed forwards, slamming blow after blow into his chest that ripped enormous black blades through Scrivener's armor that impaled him completely through his body, piercing organs, making him gasp in pain... but also boil with rage, with fury, with hatred.

He slammed a Talon up and knocked Myre flopping onto her back, then he simply shrugged and flexed, and the spikes of crystal that had been torn through his body shattered into black goo that his body rapidly absorbed. She could cause him pain, but her attacks weren't hurting him that much physically, even when she tore right through his body. Her mire healed him... and filled him with anger, and cruelty, and hatred, and... and a terrible hunger for more.

And he seemed to be having the same effect on Myre as she charged towards him, her eyes almost glowing as she flung herself at the stallion, but Scrivener viciously slammed a claw across her face and knocked her headfirst into the ground; a moment later, however, Myre transformed, becoming a massive serpent of black poison that wrapped tightly around him and crushed him, the stallion hissing in pain as Myre's upper body formed out of the top of coils, the mare leaning eagerly over him as she grasped his face with her hooves and whispered: “You really are just like Lord Gymbr!”

“I'm better... and I'm worse!” Scrivener snarled as he yanked one foreleg upwards as hard as he could, just managing to tear a Talon free and rip a swathe out of Myre's serpentine body. He turned the mass of dark goo he lifted free in his claw into a stake of crystal without even thinking, slamming this home into Myre's surprised features and knocking her crashing backwards with a shriek.

Her coils loosened, and Scrivener slammed his Talons into her snake-like body, focusing his powers into her and beginning to transform her rapidly into black crystal. Myre howled and arched her back, then twisted and ripped her upper body free from lower, snaking coils, rolling backwards as her legs almost instantly reformed and she snapped her horn upwards.

The long, serpentine body pulsed with poisonous light before it exploded in a massive blast of black goo and onyx shrapnel, knocking Scrivener sprawling and rolling backwards with a snarl of pain before he managed to skid up to his hooves, his eyes flashing and adrenaline, anger... excitement, all pulsing through his veins as his muscles swelled and his eyes glowed.

Myre laughed, leaping forwards, eager for more... while her sibling, Dusk, was not having quite as much luck. Even as scales spread over her features, even as she snarled in fury, her amber eyes were filled with shock and desperation as Morning Glory continued to advance on her, countering or simply ignoring every attack that the Fate could fling at the Destroyer.

Dusk forced herself to straighten before she leaned forwards, eyes and horn glowing as the earth rumbled, before cracks tore through the ground beneath and around the approaching Destroyer, golden fire and spikes of rock vomiting upwards and hammering against the enormous demon's sides and body. Morning Glory was battered back and forth by it, cursing in pain before Dusk snapped her horn upwards, sending a blade of aureate flame slamming into the demon's face and knocking her skidding backwards with a snarl.

Dusk leaned forwards, grinning widely as her body began to expand, making the golden chains go taut against her body, her hooves splitting apart as the golden flames whiffed out from around the now-long, now-reptilian tail... but her transformation was halted by pure shock when Morning Glory roared and snapped her head back, all-but-obliterating the spikes of stone jutting up around her and suffocating the golden flames with the pure force of the shockwave.

Then the Destroyer charged with a furious snarl, and Dusk cursed in desperation, her eyes widening as she channeled the energy she was using to transform instead into a desperate fireball... one that Morning Glory only slapped aside with a front hoof as she pounced.

A metal hoof slammed down into Dusk's features with a sickening crunch, knocking her backwards before she was forced to bow under vicious, hammering strike after strike, cruelly stomping into each and every attack to almost drive Dusk onto her belly. Her shoulder snapped, her skull cracked, her body was bruised and battered before she roared in outrage and humiliation as she tried to fling herself upwards, grabbing wildly at Morning Glory with a gnarled claw and cloven hoof... and instead threw herself right into a savage uppercut that knocked her rearing far back on her hind hooves.

One, two, three blows slammed into her vulnerable breast and body, crunching in her ribs, making her vomit blood helplessly before Morning Glory's horn flashed as she slammed a punch backed by all her Wrath into the Fate, sending her smashing into a tree with enough force that the ancient trunk was bent backwards.

All the same, Dusk nearly managed to land on her hooves, howling in fury and misery and denial... and Morning Glory smashed bodily into her a moment later, crushing her back into the tree, her horn ripping deep into the mare's breast as her chains lashed out, catching her flailing hooves and seizing around her throat and body, yanking the helpless Fate into the air even as Dusk roared, as if she could drown out the reality of what was happening to her: “I am First Concubine! I am Guardian, I am going to-”

Morning Glory flung the mare above her head, then caught her by all four limbs with her chains, lashing her downwards as she slammed both hooves straight up into Dusk's stomach. There was a bright splash of blood as Dusk's eyes bulged... and then Morning Glory tore in both directions with both hooves and her chains, and there was a sickening ripping sound before Dusk's lower body flew in one direction as her upper body was left dangling by the Destroyer's chains.

Dusk stared wordlessly at Morning Glory, and the demon seized the mare by the throat, holding her easily above her head with one hoof as her chain dropped the mare's limp forelegs. “You're going to what? Bleed on me? You are nothing but a disappointment. A dead disappointment.”

With that, Morning Glory viciously slammed the mare downwards once, twice, thrice, then flung her into a tree before the Destroyer grinned coldly as she snapped her horn forwards, and spikes of pure light shot from the air, pinning the upper body of the crushed, torn-apart mare into the tree. Dusk gargled, broken, beaten, her body twitching once... but as her head fell limp, she grinned weakly all the same, whispering: “No. I am not.”

Her eyes closed, and Morning Glory's own widened in surprise as Dusk began to dissolve, the mare laughing even as she broke apart into energy and light. Then the Destroyer snarled in fury as she realized what was happening, shouting sharply to the others: “She's soulbound!”

Luna's eyes widened in shock at this, and Gymbr smiled as the surprised pause in the fighting let him leap quickly backwards, breaking away from the conflict before he looked to the side as the ghostly image of grinning Dusk appeared beside him for a moment. Then the spirit faded, and Gymbr's soulstone core glowed brightly as energy sparked over the winged unicorn. “Yes, they are soulbound to our core... they shall never die. They shall always know power, and joy. And when an arrogant fool does do harm to those we so cherish... their death will only strengthen us.”

Gymbr flexed slowly as his soulstone core reverberated with energy, and then he half-turned and slashed a claw toward Morning Glory, and the Destroyer was knocked backwards as massive, bloody wounds were torn through her breast, eyes bulging in shock before she grabbed at her head as a terrible, poisonous aura surrounded her horn and glowed out of her eyes, visibly fighting not to scream. “Dusk asks us to punish you. So we have put her pain into your mind.”

Luna snarled at this, then snapped Lucy off her back before she even realized what she was doing, flinging the heavy metal ball straight at Gymbr's face as the spikes shot out to full length. Gymbr only grimaced, however, and the sphere halted inches away from his features, floating eerily in the air... before he frowned in surprise as he saw a pair of eyes glaring furiously out at him from inside the weapon.

There was a massive blast of electrical force from the sphere, and Gymbr howled, knocked staggering backwards and clutching at his chest as Hecate's magic was pulled into the soulstone core, making it glow brighter as the metal sphere fell out of the air. Luna didn't care whether Gymbr had been hurt by a lucky strike, if the soulstone core had been overloaded or what happened; all she cared about was that she was able to yank Lucy back into the air and swing it around it a wide circle as she seized the chain with both hooves, slamming it with all her strength into Gymbr's face.

There was a satisfying crunch... but the sound wasn't nearly as welcome as the sight of blood and the god being knocked off his hooves in a helpless, wild spin before he crashed down on his back. And Luna yanked Lucy back with a vicious grin as both Celestia and Sleipnir ran forwards, before the sapphire mare snapped the ball down in as hard a hammer drop as she could, aiming to crunch in the self-proclaimed god's chest.

Gymbr, however, managed to catch the spiked sphere between his claws, snarling in fury before he hissed in pain as Hecate unleashed another blast of electricity, arching his back in pain. But at the same time, he managed to fling the sphere in Sleipnir's direction... except the stallion only grinned widely and slapped it aside with a hoof, and the metal sphere arced perfectly in front of Celestia, who already had Dómr cocked back.

She slammed the wide, rectangular blade into Lucy and sent it rocketing at Gymbr, who barely managed to raise a foreclaw and deflect the weapon: the force of collision was still enough to knock him off balance, however, and something more than his composure had just been lost from the fact they'd wounded him. It was like he'd lost his confidence, lost his omnipotence, lost his invulnerability... and Sleipnir and Celestia were eager to take advantage of this as Luna roared: “Thy cowardly powers will be of no help to thee here, maggot! Stand and fight!”

Celestia lashed one of her swords toward Gymbr, but the god slapped it aside by the flat even as he flung himself to the side to avoid a hard punch from Sleipnir. Then the god snarled, lashing out with a blast of telekinesis that sent Celestia skidding backwards... but the ivory mare had a strange grin on her features, and a moment later, Gymbr's eyes widened in shock as Terra leapfrogged the white winged unicorn and swung both front claws down in a savage rending slice that the god was barely able to stagger out of the way of.

And then he howled in pain as an elbow drove down into his spine, lashing out with his horn... but Sleipnir caught this against his free hoof, his grin inches away from Gymbr's face as he said kindly: “I apologize for this, friend.”

A hoof slammed up into Gymbr's soulstone core, and the god was knocked backwards with a gargle in an awkward half-hop, half-stumble, even as his core released both a blinding flash of light and a painful shockwave in self-defense that was powerful enough to knock both Terra and Sleipnir skidding backwards. Then Gymbr looked up, his emerald eyes glowing with rage, his soulstone core beginning to glow brighter and brighter, drool and blood running from his mouth as he shouted in two distinct voices: “We will not stand for this humiliation!”

The wave of raw hate and power was almost enough to drive everyone in the field to the ground, trees and plants around them groaning and twisting as if the waves of humiliation, of rage, of agony ripping through the air had granted them a terrible, painful life. It made both Wormwood and Myre flinch, and then the former straightened with a snarl as the latter threw her head back and yelled a raw battle cry to the skies.

Then Myre shot straight for Scrivener Blooms, her body burning-black, her eyes glowing with both rage and excitement as the stallion tried to ready himself. But she was too fast, leaping forwards as one of her forelegs transformed into a massive axe before she slashed this cruelly down into the junction of Scrivener's neck and shoulder.

The agony was incredible, but along with it, he felt her emotions pumping into him; he felt his heart spasm, but then thud all the stronger, like it was pulling the corruption out of the mare and pumping it straight through his own body as his muscles bulged, and his eyes glowed, and his teeth bared in a challenging snarl.

A challenge she was clearly all too eager to meet as she laughed and slammed a hoof into his chest, her eyes glowing as she ground down with the axe and tore into him again and again with blades and spikes of mire. And Scrivener was responding before he even realized it, ripping his Talons through her soft not-flesh, smashing holes in her body that healed rapidly, turning entire sections of her own form into hard crystal.

They ripped and ravaged each other with fury, with hate, and with lust, before Myre yanked her axe limb suddenly back and free as it transformed into a claw that she used to seize at Scrivener's scalp, tangling in his mane as her jaws snapped down, aiming for his neck. But one of the stallion's own Talons shot up and seized her by the throat, halting her with a squawk before he half-spun and flung her down onto her back, Myre bouncing once with a gargle of pain before Scrivener leapt on top of her, slamming savage blow after blow down into her face and her body.

She howled beneath the fury of the attacks before she transformed into a puddle of ooze, twisting quickly away before the dark mass lunged upwards, reforming into a pony that dove at the stallion. But a lucky swipe from a Talon caught her in the face and knocked her flat to the ground, before Scrivener Blooms grinned savagely, eyes glowing as he seized her by the skull with his other Talon and simply pumped his own corruption into her before he realized what he was doing.

Myre spasmed on the ground, then arched her back, gasping and shoving her head eagerly up against Scrivener's hoof as her eyes blazed with delight. Then her eyes bulged with surprise as her body began to twitch and melt as corruption clashed with corruption, the mare howling as she tried helplessly to yank away, but it was like her skull was magnetized to the Talon as Scrivener snarled: “You know why we can't always get what we want?”

He yanked his Talon back, then simply glared down at Myre as Myre looked up almost desperately, the corruption that made up her body losing cohesion as she started to bubble violently in places. “Here's a hint.”

Scrivener's eyes flashed as he focused all the fury, all the pain in his body on the poison, and Myre's body writhed before she belched loudly... and then simply exploded in a hail of black goop that splattered in all directions, the stallion wincing backwards... then staring at what he'd just done.

He had just lost control for a moment, and now Myre was... wait.

The larger puddles of ooze were bubbling... and Scrivener stared in disbelief as these black slimes twisted and rapidly began to pull towards each other, forming into one mess that Myre's upper body slowly rose out of. She was semisolid and dripping watery black ooze into the puddle of sludge around her, but she grinned all the same as her mane sparked into existence, black flames floating eerily around her head as she rasped: “Now it's my turn to get inside you.”

Myre lunged up out of the puddle, and Scrivener winced backwards... before an enormous glass jar neatly scooped through the air, Myre's face comically thunking into the bottom of this as the rest of her body followed her into the glass. Then the jar neatly, speedily flipped, the mostly-liquid creature squawking and flailing before Discombobulation popped into existence beside the jar and quickly spun a manhole-sized lid on top of it.

Myre gave a muffled shout of outrage, splashing violently back and forth inside the jar, but she didn't seem to have enough strength to solidify herself, and she couldn't so much as make the jar rock with her surging around inside it, let alone damage the glass walls. Scrivener gaped stupidly as Discombobulation simply smiled pleasantly, then sat calmly down on top of the jar, saying mildly: “My apologies for taking so long, but you have no idea how far away the nearest Safeway is from here. Now uh, you might want to go and help the others. I can handle the literal baby-sitting.”

Scrivener nodded sharply, then he turned to hurry towards where most of the group were dealing with Gymbr; meanwhile, Twilight Sparkle and Pinkamena were both fighting hard to suppress Wormwood, but the demon was getting more and more frustrated: every time she managed to tear through the bark-like hide of the mare, that sap-like blood quickly filled up the space and hardened, becoming like stone. The more Wormwood bled, the more that sap spread over her own body.

And more than that, this was no longer just Applejack, an earth pony with surprising but not supernatural strength: this was Wormwood, who was strong enough to shove Pinkamena around and who had preternatural powers of her own that she kept using to interrupt Twilight's spells.

The Lich cursed as she leapt into the air, but she only managed to hover uneasily for a moment: one of her wings was broken and mangled, and it couldn't support her weight. She managed to stay in the air long enough to avoid the wave of roots and vines that clawed up at her from the ground before they settled, however, and the Lich dropped quickly to the side of this netting before she snapped her horn out, shooting a fireball into Wormwood.

The mare was knocked staggering backwards with a shout of pain and frustration, shaking herself violently as the flames flared up over her sides, burning rapidly into her bark-like skin. But even though the amber armoring her was burnt and half-melted by the flames, fire alone wasn't enough to get rid of it. “Goddammit, Twilight, that's enough of that!”

Wormwood stomped a hoof down into the ground, and a large root tore suddenly up out of the earth, seizing around the Lich's throat and yanking her down as Wormwood ran towards the Lich, grinning... and then Pinkamena's axe slammed into her face, sending her flying backwards with a burst of bright orange blood as she howled in misery. She bounced violently several times, then rolled unsteadily up to her hooves, a large rip torn through her features and one of her eyes already swelling shut. “What the hell, Pinkamena?”

“You forget the part where you're the bad guy or something?” Pinkamena asked darkly, then she shook herself firmly, dislodging several large stakes of wood that were half-hanging out of her armor. “Besides, I'm only doing what every other pony on the planet is going to want to do to you now. You might never have been a beauty queen, Applejack, but now you've gone and made yourself the goddamn ugly stick instead of just someone who took a beating from it.”

Wormwood snarled, her blond hair hanging raggedly around her features, and then she stomped both front hooves savagely into the ground, sending up a blast of dirt and clawing roots in front of Pinkamena. But the demon fearlessly swung her axe down, chopping back and forth and tearing the grasping plants apart as she snapped: “Not even a useful goddamn power! Yeah, and what's Dash going to think? Guess he never cared about you selling your body, but I bet he isn't going to want to pork you himself anymore for fear of splinters in his-”

Wormwood roared in rage, charging straight at Pinkamena, and the demon grinned widely before she made as if to leap. Immediately, Wormwood lunged, bringing a front hoof back... and with startling grace, Pinkamena dropped low and chopped her axe outwards, cutting into the mare's rear hooves and knocking them out from beneath her.

The bark-armored mare bellyflopped to the ground with a gargle, and Pinkamena spun around and slashed her axe down with a snarl, Wormwood screaming in agony as the axe bit almost halfway through her spine. The demon stepped quickly back, brushing her hooves off as she looked contemptibly down at the weakly-writhing mare as Twilight Sparkle only gaped. “Nothing more than chopping wood.”

Twilight began to open her mouth, but she was cut off as Wormwood managed to shove a hoof against the ground, roots exploding up around Pinkamena's limbs and holding her in place. Then Wormwood shoved down, snarling, crying tears of bloody sap as a massive spike of wood tore up out of the ground and ripped through Pinkamena's stomach, impaling her and hefting her into the air before it ripped out her back as she vomited blood.

Twilight began to step forwards... and then halted when Wormwood slowly forced herself to her hooves, shuddering before she bucked hard, and the axe was knocked loose from her back as she gasped in pain, the huge weapon flipping through the air before crashing down beside her. She looked slowly up at Pinkamena, then whispered: “You stupid bitch, I didn't want to do that.”

“You stupid bitch... it'll take more than this to kill me.” Pinkamena rasped in reply as her eyes opened, and she and Wormwood glared furiously at each other as the demon pulled weakly against the roots binding her limbs, her body trembling around the spear of wood impaled through her. “Let me down and... then we'll start the real party.”

“Sorry, Pinkamena. First thing's first...” Slowly, Wormwood turned her eyes towards Twilight Sparkle, the mare beginning to drag herself forwards as she glared furiously at the Lich. “I'm gonna destroy your body now. Don't resist and I'll make it hurt as little as possible. I can see it in your eyes, Twilight... you're not gonna fight me. You're not gonna kill me. You know how this has to end.”

Twilight looked back and forth almost desperately, trying to think of something, anything she could do... and then she gritted her teeth and clenched her eyes shut, wildly grabbing at the first thing that came to mind: maybe she couldn't kill Wormwood, but she still had one tool she hadn't tried to use. A tool, furthermore, that came from a being with dominion over the dead.

She snapped her horn forwards, and Wormwood scowled as nothing seemed to happen, stepping forwards and saying sharply: “I've had enough fake fireballs and dumb tricks and you-”

Then a toll rang out through the air, and Wormwood looked up blankly at a flash of light above her, before a massive obsidian bell simply fell from the sky and crashed down on the wounded creature's back, nearly snapping the wooden equine in half and driving her flat to the ground. More, the bell gave a tremendous clang when it struck the ground, and Twilight and Pinkamena both winced in pain at the vibrations that carried through the air... but Wormwood howled in misery as her back arched, the vibrations shattering the amber sap that had clotted up her wounds, her eyes bulging as she felt every wound across her form bleeding and slowly trying to seal closed as broken bits of bark spilled off her frame.

Then her eyes rolled up in her head, and she dropped her face to the ground, prone and unconscious from all the blood she had lost. Twilight and Pinkamena both stared, and then the demon grinned wryly before saying weakly: “Hey. Not bad.”

“I meant to try and banish her back to Valhalla. Not drop the bell on her.” Twilight mumbled, and then the Lich winced and looked up as she felt a bolt of pain shock through her system, turning her eyes towards where Gymbr was savagely fighting back against the ponies attacking him.

“Go get him.” Pinkamena jerked her head in the direction of the god, and Twilight gave a brief smile and sharp nod before she sprinted past the fallen Wormwood, dodging past trees as she headed in the direction that the group had managed to drive Gymbr.

The trees here had been leveled from the force of conflict, and Twilight's eyes widened in shock as she leapt into the scarred battlefield just in time to watch Gymbr fling an unconscious Morning Glory away. The Destroyer hit the ground limply and rolled to a halt, and the god looked up at the rest of the battered group facing him down as he said coldly: “We will not continue to be this merciful.”

Terra was snarling, her hide armor torn apart but the crest of Valhalla still visible through the rips and the blood spatter, the wounds over her body only seeming to have energized her more. Celestia had her three short swords at the ready, but Tyrfing was lodged in a tree, and held in place by black crystal that had spread along both it and the tree itself. Sleipnir was standing to one side, breathing hard and doing his best to ignore the burns covering most of his body, more than half of his mane seared away to reveal raw, bleeding scalp.

Scrivener and Luna were side-by-side, their armor dented and torn-apart and nearly broken, Luna with Prúðbikkja floating to one side of her and the heavy, spiked ball of Lucy resting on the ground in front of her The stallion, meanwhile, had both Talons flexed and readied, but one had the distinct mark of a claw in it from Gymbr attempting to crush the prosthetic.

Gymbr himself was almost glowing with power, breathing hard in and out as his soulstone core thrummed with energy. His wings were spread wide, and his mane and tail wreathed back and forth like snakes as his claws tore at the ground almost compulsively. But he seemed both disbelieving and uncertain, like he had lost all that confidence, like even his arrogance had been forced to crumble away beneath the brutal assault he was barely facing down.

All the same, he leaned forwards and shouted: “You are making a mistake! We cannot allow you to do this, to fight us, to threaten our Valhalla and what we are trying to prepare! If we so desired, we could destroy all of you with nothing more than a thought!”

“No, you couldn't. Even the most powerful magic doesn't work like that, Gymbr. Especially when you start losing faith in yourself.” Celestia said quietly, and then she leapt forwards, breaking into a charge so suddenly that it seemed like even she hadn't been aware she was going to make the attack. Yet all the same, Luna and Sleipnir shot forwards with her, as Scrivener Blooms turned a quick look and mental order to Twilight Sparkle, who nodded grimly.

Celestia slashed down at Gymbr with two of her swords, but the god flicked his horn and nearly blasted the weapons out of her telekinetic hold before he rose a claw without looking and caught Sleipnir's hoof. The earth pony had enough time to look surprised before Gymbr crushed down, his horn glowing as he snarled furiously, and Sleipnir fell to his knees as he burst into bright, terrible flames... and yet all the same, he refused to cry out, refused to give in as he pushed fiercely back against the claw that was slowly twisting his hoof.

Then Gæfa thrusted suddenly forwards, hooking around Gymbr's foreleg and forcibly dragging it away, the god cursing in agony as it cut deep into his limb as Celestia said calmly: “Luck opens.”

Gymbr snapped his horn out with a shout of fury as he yanked his foreleg away, and Gæfa was blasted out of the mare's grip, but she responded to this by slashing down Dómr, the heavy blade smashing down on Gymbr's wounded limb with so much force it nearly knocked the winged unicorn to the ground. “Judgment overthrows.”

The god staggered, his claw flexing helplessly, snapping his horn out with a wild roar and blasting Dómr backwards: the sword tore across Celestia's face, ripping a bloody wound from chin up along her cheek as it rocketed away, but the mare was unstoppable, almost glowing with her rage and determination as she thrusted her last short sword forwards as Gymbr tried to raise his wounded claw in defense... but the straight blade pierced through his foreleg with ease as Celestia gritted her teeth, Gymbr staring in horror as she said coldly: “Honor transcends.”

She twisted Drengr, then sawed savagely forwards, the teeth on the bottom of the sword ripping through Gymbr's foreleg, and he howled in misery as Celestia ripped the weapon smoothly to the side before she thrusted it forwards again, aiming at the soulstone core-

The core pulsed with light, then released a tremendous blast of energy that sent Celestia crashing bonelessly backwards, landing on her back as her last sword flew through the air to stab down into the ground. Gymbr glared at her beaten, prone body with fury... and his eyes widened when he saw Luna too late, the mare leaping towards him as she flung Lucy at the same time with all her might, shouting: “And when honor fails, cheat!”

Gymbr snapped his horn out, deflecting the spiked ball with magic, but then a massive spike of crystallized corruption shot up from the ground and smashed into his soulstone core, knocking him rearing with a cry of agony as the blue sphere gave a strange, vibrating cry of pain. A moment later, an immense, black meteor of flames smashed down into his back, knocking him face-first into the ground and skidding through the field.

Twilight Sparkle gritted her teeth, only wishing she had been able to make the spell larger as she slumped a bit... and then stared in horror as Gymbr slowly climbed to his claws. He was trembling and breathing hard, looking both disbelieving and almost rabid with rage as he slowly looked down and studied his mangled front claw, before he whispered: “You pathetic fools...”

He closed his eyes as his soulstone core thrummed, before a bright glow washed over his body... and then he looked up with a snarl, eyes blazing as the glow faded and he was left completely healed. The ponies stared in horror as Terra bared her own fangs, before Gymbr shouted furiously as his soulstone core continued to glow: “Enough!”

He gestured sharply to one side... and Twilight Sparkle had enough time to look down as she felt a massive spike of magical energy before the earth beneath her hooves simply exploded. She felt similar agonies rip through Luna and Scrivener, and their joined minds were savaged by vertigo and claustrophobia as something wrapped tightly around them, then slammed the three viciously back down to the earth, leaving their bodies trapped in tight prisons of crystal.

Gymbr shook his head in disgust, and Luna snarled as she looked back and forth: only her head was free of the dark stone that had snared her, while Twilight was completely covered, and Scrivener was gasping for air out of a small hole in the rock, one of his Talons clawing helplessly at the ground. The sapphire mare gritted her teeth, then her eyes locked on the sight of Prúðbikkja as Gymbr said coldly: “We may have been... surprised today, but we are a true god. We could have destroyed all of you, at any moment, but we do not desire to do more harm to you than we have to... than you force us to do. Your power means nothing to us!”

Gymbr stomped a claw furiously, and there was a shattering sound, followed by a yell of pain: a few moments later, Myre slithered past, semisolid and gazing fawningly up at Gymbr as she hurried to his side. He only looked coldly back, however, and after a moment Myre dropped her head before he ordered icily: “Luna Brynhild has a weakness that you can exploit. Share your corruption with her. We shall make a slave of her.”

“Did you forget that I'm standing right here, Gymbr?” Terra asked calmly, and Gymbr looked contemptibly across at the Ironjaw as she stepped slowly forwards, bristling and glaring at him furiously. “Or is it shame that makes me invisible to your eyes? You betrayed Heaven... you betrayed Kvasir! Wretched and honorless bog-dog, at least have the guts to kill me instead of pretending that I don't exist, as if I may slink away like a coward like you!”

“We owe you no allegiance, Terra. You do not understand this... but what we do now, we do with Kvasir in mind.” Gymbr replied calmly, but this only made Terra's eyes flash with rage, the dragon roaring before she charged straight for the god.

Myre immediately leapt forwards... and without slowing, Terra breathed out a terrible blast of sapphire flames, the Fate's eyes widening as she tried to shield herself too late. The intense heat of the hellfire turned Myre's soft body to stone as it burnt away her spirit at the same time, and Myre had no chance to recover or try to escape before Terra smashed through the now-statue and then dove at the winged unicorn who had declared himself master of Heaven.

He caught Terra by the throat and stepped forwards, slamming her down onto her back: she clawed at him, but found no purchase. His own claws, on the other hand, buried deep into her breast, and then Gymbr shattered ribs and ripped up enormous swathes of scale as he tore backwards.

He stepped away from her as she was left gasping, chest crunched in, her body spasming weakly. For a moment, he regarded his handiwork... then almost absently reached up and caught Prúðbikkja before the spear could bury into his skull, saying quietly: “We have grown tired of your childishness, Luna Brynhild.”

Gymbr paused as Myre's spirit flickered into being for a moment beside him, the specter bowing her head as if ashamed before she vanished and the soulstone core glowed brighter. Gymbr resonated with power as his emerald irises locked on Luna's own dark window of the soul. “And so instead of encouraging this any longer... we will break you, here and now.”

The god's horn and eyes glowed as his soulstone core took on a brighter and brighter radiance, and Luna's eyes widened as she felt reality itself quaking at the god's power. He was drawing energy into the core... no, more than that. She could feel her own energies beginning to be pulled into that core, she could see the ground around him fading and dying as he began to absorb the life essence of everything around him, to pull it in, to feed and add to his never-ending supply of power...

Luna shook her head wildly, and Scrivener and Twilight shoved at their prisons, trying to resist, trying to do something, anything they could to fight off this awful dark power. And as Luna looked back and forth, her desperation grew greater as she saw Terra was beginning to gargle, and Celestia and Sleipnir were both literally being dragged towards the monster, as if he wanted to do more to them... as if Gymbr wanted to make new puppets out of the ponies she loved most...

Luna's eyes flashed, and then she snapped her head back with a roar as a raw surge of energy blasted out of her body. It shattered the prison of crystal around her, and Gymbr looked down in surprise before the sapphire mare snapped her horn forwards, releasing a blast of electricity.

The lightning struck home into the god's core... and then, to the shock of both Luna and Gymbr, it formed itself into a tether, like a physical wire between them. Luna yanked her head back in surprise, and Gymbr gasped in pain as the soulstone core itself was yanked on. He staggered forwards, his concentration lost, the dire pull of power ending, and then he snarled and yanked hard back, and Luna cried out in agony and staggered forwards, feeling like someone with the strength of Sleipnir had just attempt to pull her soulstone horn out of her skull.

Then the sapphire mare bared her fangs before dragging her head back, and Gymbr hissed but attempted to pull back as well, shuddering and rasping for breath as they both attempted to yank free from the tether. The agony it caused them both was excruciating as Gymbr cursed in pain and trembled violently, and Luna felt blood running down her face as her limbs trembled, but she refused to give in, she refused to do anything but-

Gymbr's soulstone core suddenly glowed brightly, and a blast of energy shot through the tether and hammered into Luna's horn, sending her to the ground with a scream of agony and shock. She dazedly attempted to channel her own magic, but with her concentration shot and her soulstone horn now vibrating violently, all she managed to do was a few weak putters of energy... while Gymbr, on the other hoof, snarled and set himself, the god glowing with power before he leaned forwards and roared.

Luna couldn't describe the blast of energy that hit her. There was just light and sound and blurs, as Twilight and Scrivener both howled in misery, and then Luna was on the ground, bleeding from her mouth and her eyes, struggling to breathe. And Gymbr was there, standing over her, looking down at her before he said quietly: “You have become a threat to us. We will not stand for that. We will end it, here and now.”

“Now, old chap, there's no need for that. You promised us you wouldn't resort to that, didn't you?” chided a voice, and Gymbr looked up with surprise... then he staggered backwards, shaking his head as his eyes widened at the sight of Theophilius Carter. He was standing with a bouquet of white roses that had sloppily been painted red, his hat jauntily tipped to the side, a pleasant smile on his face... and Luna was too incoherent at the moment to realize any of this was strange at all.

“No... you... this is not your concern! We are doing what must be done!” Gymbr shouted, and then he winced when Theophilius suddenly bounded forwards and shoved a finger against his lips, giving the smallest shake of his head.

“No, no, no. You've gotten all confused, haven't you?” Theophilius clicked his tongue quietly, shaking his head slowly again before he suddenly thrusted the bundle of roses towards the god. Gymbr stared at this blankly for a moment, then he reached up and almost hesitantly took them as Theophilius said softly: “Now, listen, my friend. You need a nap. You need to cool your head, and possibly your feet, even though you don't have any. You need to go have dreams of puppies on skateboards, and kittens with... oh, I don't know what cats like, pogo sticks? And you need to leave all these nice little people alone, especially yourself.”

Gymbr stared blankly at Theophilius... and then he slowly snarled before flinging the bouquet down, and Theophilius looked oddly hurt at this as the god shouted: “Enough! No, we will not obey you, because you are in our domain now! Get away, Mad Hatter, you denied us your aid, you betrayed us, you said you would leave the universe to die, but we will not; we will not allow the universe to die, or to be saved! We are the bringers of eternity and chaos, not you!”

“I made those for you.” Theophilius said in an injured voice, and he sounded so sincere, so honest, that Gymbr actually looked rebuked for a moment.

Then the god suddenly snarled and shook his head before saying harshly: “Enough! We are sick of you. We do not need your advice, nor your rules: get out of our way so we can force Luna Brynhild and Scrivener Blooms to see why they must join with us... why they must help us-”

“Hey, look, spoilers are against the rules and just... really goddamn rude, okay? You need to stop this, right now. Or else.” Theophilius crossed his arms, stepping in front of Gymbr, and Gymbr snorted in disgust before he leaned forwards with a challenging sneer.

“Or else what, Mad Hatter? You are alone. You are no warrior. We are a god beyond even Jötnar, as you witnessed yourself!” Gymbr proclaimed, raising his head high, proud and arrogant... and maddened, it looked like. Almost insane, delirious with his own power and potential.

But Theophilius only smiled, and then he leaned forwards and beckoned with a single finger at Gymbr. Gymbr scowled, but leaned in all the same as Theophilius covered his mouth as if to whisper something... then instead leapt backwards and howled to the skies: “Draconequus Dogpile!”

A swirling vortex appeared only a few feet above Gymbr, and the god had enough time to look up stupidly before dozens of Draconequus fell through, the god yelling with fury and indignation as he was buried beneath a mountain of chimerical creatures. Luna stared in disbelief as the mountain of bodies wriggled, but then she cursed in surprise as her soulstone horn sparked painfully, realizing all these Draconequus were emitting chaos energy... and in such amounts that all magic...

“And now, for a little editing!” Theophilius yanked some kind of magical object out of his jacket, holding the rectangular screen up and saying cheerfully: “Cut!”

A click, and the Draconequus all froze before simply vanishing in a spark of energy, and then Theophilius looked down at the screen in his hands and tapped on it a few times, finishing positively: “And paste you right back into Heaven, since it looks like there's some pretty young girl scouts coming to sell you cookies soon enough anyway.”

With that, Theophilius tucked the device back into his jacket, then he spun around and smiled at Luna Brynhild before his eyes roved towards Terra. They widened slightly at the sight of her, and Theophilius bounced excitedly over to the Ironjaw as she slowly started to pick herself up. Fearlessly, he seized one of her claws, and Terra winced as she looked up in surprise as the Mad Hatter leaned down, saying warmly: “Alice! How are you? Have you been looking after the Dormouse and the March Hare? Oh dearie me, I'm so sorry about your Wonderland...”

Terra stared up at the god... and then her eyes slowly widened. She mouthed wordlessly, then reached up and grasped the Hatter's collar, and he looked down curiously as there was a strange pulse of light beneath his shirt.

The Ironjaw slipped a claw forwards, touched something, drew slowly back... and trembled violently, tears spilling down her cheeks at the sight of a necklace, much like her own, of fangs and claws... but also pretty, silvery beads. A necklace that glowed faintly with magic as Terra breathed hard, then stared up and whispered: “Kvasir?”

Luna looked on in disbelief, and Celestia slowly rose her own head as all those still standing managed to look up, to see what was going on... and then Theophilius gave a faint smile as he reached up and took his hat slowly off, his messy blond hair spilling around his features as he lowered his head, closed his eyes, took a deep breath...

“I'm sorry. Yes... and no.” whispered the Mad Hatter, and then he studied Terra for a moment longer before he suddenly leapt backwards and put his hat tightly back on, trembling even as he bowed to her and cried out: “Take care of the others for me, Alice! Until we meet again!”

“No! Kvasir! Come back!” Terra flung herself up to her claws as the Mad Hatter vanished into the trees around them, but the dragon gave chase all the same. And Luna could only stare in disbelief as Terra vanished into the forest, and left her with her shocked, beaten family, none of whom knew what to do next, or even able to process the miracle and disaster they had just witnessed.

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