• Published 7th Sep 2013
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Glory Be - BlackRoseRaven

Luna and Scrivener struggle to set right all the wrongs from their past and save their family and friends. Tenth and final story in the Blooming Moon Chronicles/99 Worlds Saga.

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Time Comes Crashing Down

Chapter Thirty Three: Time Comes Crashing Down

Five minutes: if the Hourglass was still running in Valhalla at maximum speed, then the five minutes that had just passed could be equal to at least a month. Maybe two. And it was that thought that made Twilight Sparkle pick herself slowly up off the round, shaking her head out before she looked around and said in a shaky but determined voice: “We need to get going. Gymbr could already be on his way back to attack us again.”

“I... not yet, no. I don't think so... but you're right all the same, Twilight. We need to get moving.” Celestia agreed after a moment, nodding slowly and picking herself up before she cursed quietly to herself, closing her eyes tightly as her body trembled with pain. “We can't afford right now to slow down. We need to reach Asgard, and then we can heal.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Sleipnir chuckled quietly before he carefully picked himself up, murmuring: “Aye. Aye, this world is... steady and comfortable enough. Terra will be safe here, although my heart cries out for her, but nature promises me that...”

Sleipnir coughed a few times, then he shook his head briskly and grimaced a little, looking back and forth. “Nay, best not to waste time. Go onwards. Phoenix and I will catch up to thee as soon as we can, but 'twill be a slow start for us, I fear.”

“The idiot slave hoof is right. Let's move.” Hecate growled from inside her prison-sanctuary, and Luna sighed tiredly before she nodded briefly and slowly picked herself up, shivering a few times. She felt... no, it wasn't the pain that was the worst thing right now, or the confusion at what the hell they had just seen. It was the sense of violation, as she felt alien energies flooding through her, tickling her senses, making her see things from a skewed, warped perspective. She guessed that it was because Gymbr's energies must be compatible with her own powers... but at the same time, it felt like it was an entirely foreign, repulsive invader that was tickling through her veins.

Scrivener Blooms shook himself off, then looked for a moment in the direction that Terra had gone before Hecate ordered calmly, even as Luna reeled in Lucy to magnetize back in place: “Head towards where the energies get stronger.”

Luna nodded briefly as she picked up her spear and shrank it down to tuck calmly away, and then she took a slow breath before straightening. She let her soulstone horn guide her in the right direction, and Scrivener and Twilight fell awkwardly into stumbling gaits behind her as the sapphire mare started in the direction she was compelled towards. But they could all feel that rising sense of urgency, that every second that passed made their chance of success slimmer and slimmer, meant Gymbr was closer and closer to gaining back his full, terrible strength.

Yet something had been revealed there. Gymbr did have a vulnerability, and one that Luna could exploit, now that she felt herself putting together what had to be done in her mind. The sapphire mare grunted to herself, then smiled faintly as they passed Pinkamena, who was pale and shaky but had managed to free herself and even roll the onyx bell off Wormwood. Twilight smiled faintly at this, pausing as Luna and Scrivener slowly kept moving forwards – more because both ponies were afraid that if they stopped, they would just collapse, than anything else – and Pinkamena looked up at the Lich for a few moments before she said quietly: “Get the hell out of here. She's not going to be any trouble... even if Gymbr made her strong, AJ's never taken well to being abandoned. She'll think twice.”

Twilight almost laughed at this, but then she only shook herself out and almost hesitantly turned her eyes towards the onyx bell. She studied it, then closed her eyes and concentrated... and when she opened them, the bell had vanished, and there was again that sense that it was gone, but... not.

The violet pony lingered for a moment longer, and then she finally looked back at Pinkamena and murmured after a moment: “Take care of yourself, too. We'll be waiting for you to catch up.”

“I know. We'll see.” Pinkamena grumbled, and the two traded nods before the Lich turned and hurried after her partners, quickly catching up to them as she felt her strength and a little bit of her sanity returning.

She wanted to ask them a thousand different questions. She wanted to put forwards theories and voice her thoughts, especially because right now, all their minds were fuzzy, their link was riddled with static from the pain and the hostile energies that Luna had been struck with. But for now, Twilight kept her mouth shut and her head lowered, and did her best to drown out everything with one all-important thought: soon they were going to be pushing their way into Valhalla. Soon, one way or another, they were going to make their attack on Gymbr. Soon, they were going to fix everything, stop this madness, and save Innocence.

It was ten or so minutes – more than enough time for Twilight's anxieties to start taking over – before Hecate said calmly: “It's just ahead. Do you feel those energies?”

Luna nodded, grimacing a little and muttering: “Aye. 'Tis no longer just Gymbr's poisons running through my veins that make me feel so unwell... what is this miasma in our minds? It is not antimagic, nor is it any enchantment I am familiar with...”

“No, it's not. That would be too obvious. Look around at the trees and the grasses, how everything's stunted and struggling. This area was simply irradiated with negative energies... the stuff of psychic pain. Probably amplified by alchemical powders sewn into the ground a long time ago.” Hecate muttered, and Scrivener made a face, barely able to understand a single word of what Hecate was talking about... and for once, not just because most of what she said tended to go over his head. “Still, no one will be able to see inside here, not Heaven, not a weakling god like Gymbr, not a patchwork doll of a Draconequus.”

“Where is Bob, anyway? I hope he wasn't drawn into that pileup.” Scrivener muttered, looking back and forth before he added quietly: “But he does have the tendency to always show up at the right time and the right place.”

Twilight Sparkle smiled faintly at this, nodding slowly before she asked hesitantly: “Shouldn't we... not talk about things yet, though? Just in case... we don't want to underestimate what Gymbr is capable of, especially if he's trying to watch-”

“And we don't want to feed him more power by being afraid of him, or by overestimating his abilities. He is a fool, and he is weak.” snarled Hecate, and even Luna was surprised by the sudden ferocity of the head, glancing awkwardly over her shoulder as they passed into a thicket of small, leafless trees. “He bleeds. He suffers. He can be killed, but you pathetic little ponies have no killing instinct. Even weak-kneed Celestia fought as if to disable, not kill... not that I'm surprised by how miserable her showing was...”

“I guess you missed the part where he altered reality and simply rolled us all up inside rocks.” Scrivener said sourly, but Hecate only smiled thinly out of her prison, her eyes glowing with contempt.

“Yes. And you missed the part that those 'rocks' were made of corruption. You in particular should have found it simple to escape.” Hecate retorted, and then she added distastefully: “The portal is twenty feet away. Stop here.”

Luna frowned at this, looking back and forth in confusion: all she could see were brambles, thin, scraggly trees, a few ugly rocks in the dirt. She didn't think that this static in the air was confusing and hurting her mind so much that she was about to miss a giant magical portal to Valhalla, either. “Is it hidden by magic?”

Hecate laughed sourly at this. “I'm already regretting this. Take me off your back and hold me out in front of you. I'll show you, since I have to activate it anyway.”

The sapphire winged unicorn grumbled under her breath, but nodded and easily grasped the heavy metal sphere with one hoof, shoving it out in front of herself. Hecate's horn began to glow immediately, her eyes drawing over the ground as she muttered: “Valthrudnir was never much of one for subtlety. It's time that's hidden things... although badly.”

A cold wind blew straight down into the earth in front of them,sending sand flying in all directions before it twisted into a miniature tornado. Luna and Scrivener winced away from the small but fierce storm as Twilight shifted uncomfortably, surprised by the level of magic Hecate was capable of even locked in a little metal ball, with only a weak prosthetic horn to focus through.

Then the miniature tornado suddenly blew apart, and the ponies were left gazing at a deep, bowl-shaped indentation in the earth. But standing out of this distinct bowl were three large, ominous-looking obelisks covered in ancient runes that still glowed faintly with magic, and Twilight was surprise she hadn't felt that thrum of magic before now... except maybe, with the earth so insulated with negative energy, it had enough to muffle-

“Please stop gaping and do something.” said Hecate with disgust, and Luna scowled at the metal sphere before flinging it down into the ground with a bang, but Hecate only laughed sourly from inside the prison. “Fine. I'll do it myself. Pick me back up so I can see.”

“Thou art like a terrible, tyrannical baby.” Luna muttered moodily, even as she lifted the sphere into the air again and held it out in front of her, and Hecate only snorted in disgust from her prison before her horn began to glow brightly.

“Just shut up and stay out of my way.” Hecate growled, and the runes over the three obelisks began to glow brightly. Reality around them stuttered, and the head leaned forwards slightly, making Luna wince and almost lose her grip on the sphere. “Hold on to me, idiot!”

Luna only grumbled in response, keeping Lucy steady as Hecate seemed to strain against the interior of the prison, and the sapphire mare felt her skin crawling as the magic grew. Twilight gritted her own teeth, tempted to try and add her own strength to whatever Hecate was doing, but this magic felt alien to her, felt... poisonous somehow.

Electricity sparked between the obelisks, forming a sudden net that cycled energy between the rune-covered stone prisms, and reality above them rippled before a portal slowly rumbled open. But it wasn't like any portal Luna was familiar with: it was spherical, surface rippling as if unstable, looking more like some kind of flux in reality or an enormous singularity that was just waiting to gobble up anything stupid enough to touch it.

“Like I thought. Throw me into it, and wait for me to pull on the chain before you come through.” Hecate said disgustedly, and Luna frowned uneasily at this. The head seemed to sense her hesitation, looking coldly at the portal as she said distastefully: “Unlike you, I'm willing to do whatever it takes to see my enemies crushed. This portal was secured and trapped: Valthrudnir was stupid, but not stupid enough not to take precautions when it came to dealing with the gods of Asgard. So unless you want all the life energy sucked out of your body, throw me into the damned portal, and do it now.”

Luna growled in disgust... and then she finally stepped forwards and flung Lucy as hard as she dared into the floating flux. Hecate vanished through the breach, and the chain snapped taut as the sapphire mare grimaced, holding her foreleg out and muttering: “Make it fast, Hecate. And whether I believe thou really would or not... do not die for our sakes.”

Scrivener and Twilight were silent as they stared at the portal: slow minutes passed, during which Luna continued to stand with her foreleg raised high to give the head as much slack as possible. She could feel vibrations up and down the chain, could see it moving slightly as the surface of the portal rippled like water around it, and she wondered what the hell Hecate was doing... what was even going on inside wherever the portal had taken her.

They were joined shortly by Celestia and Discombobulation, and a few moments after they arrived came Sleipnir and Pinkamena, the former carrying a quietly-rasping, unconscious-looking Wormwood. None of them spoke, only waiting and watching until Morning Glory arrived last, the Destroyer looking as if she was already healing as she muttered: “I'm sorry. Terra is gone.”

“It's alright. She'll be fine.” Celestia halted, then she looked calmly over at Wormwood, adding softly: “I know you're awake, Applejack.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Wormwood slowly opened one eye, giving a wry smile before she murmured: “Sorry. Figured I'd try not to make this so awkward for any of us. Besides, I've been around most of you for most of my mortal life... even I ain't dumb enough to think I can fight any of you in this condition.”

“No, you can't. And I won't hesitate to kill you if I have to.” Celestia said softly, looking calmly towards the portal, and Wormwood stared at her before the ivory mare smiled a little and returned her eyes to her. “I'm just kidding.”

“Right. Yeah. Sure.” Wormwood swallowed a little, offering a lame little smile before she said almost pleadingly: “But you're... you're making a mistake here, don't you see? You-”

“Applejack, it doesn't matter if Gymbr is right or wrong anymore.” Celestia said quietly as she faced towards the portal, and Wormwood looked surprised at this before the ivory mare closed her eyes. “Look what he did to you. You're not an angel... you're closer to a demon than you are an angel now. If this is what he's doing to Valhalla... then he has to be stopped. He has to be punished. Whether there's some killing light or this is all just Gymbr's madness... I will not allow him to turn the place I still consider a home to be turned into a monster factory.”

Luna growled in agreement, and Wormwood glanced down before she whispered: “I chose this though, to protect my family... I would do anything to protect my family, Dashie, Big Mac, Ava...”

Celestia only nodded briefly, before Twilight said softly, looking over her shoulder at the strange, wooden equine: “It's never as simple as that, Applejack. What are they going to think of what you've done to yourself? Who you're helping? The best choice... isn't... always the best choice.”

There was silence, and then Discombobulation held up a hand and said awkwardly: “Perhaps this is just my inner coward speaking, but I'll stay behind with the ent. We'll talk about hobbits and bread and old wizards, and wait for Alice and the Hatter. Because I'm very, very sure that Theophilius will be by again; a Hatter is never late for tea, you know.”

Celestia nodded, giving a small smile to Discombobulation, and the Draconequus reached out and gently grasped Wormwood off Sleipnir's back, almost cradling her. The mare gasped in pain just at being moved, tears welling up in her eyes before she grinned weakly and whispered as Discombobulation gently set her down on the ground in front of him: “Reminds me... of when I broke my damn fool back...”

“The difference is you'll heal this time. So long as you don't make any of us cut you in half first.” Pinkamena muttered, and she shot a moody look at Wormwood before giving her a brief nod and adding quietly: “He abandoned you. He's crowbait. But we're still here... even only so I can say 'I told you so' later for being such a stupid bitch.”

Wormwood smiled wryly, but she didn't seem to have the strength to reply otherwise. Luna looked hesitantly over her shoulder, wondering for a moment if they should try and restrain her... except that enormous wound in her back looked like something that would have killed most lesser demons, and whatever Wormwood was, it was more Applejack's inner strength than the supernatural powers of her body that seemed to be keeping her going.

There also wasn't any time, as she finally felt a firm double tug on the chain, and the sapphire mare glanced at her partners before turning her eyes towards Celestia. “Hecate calls. We shall go first; if in thirty seconds we do not return, follow. And hope thou does not find us dead.”

“As always, sister.” Sleipnir said with a smile, and Luna sighed as Celestia nodded with her own quiet laugh. Then the sapphire mare turned towards the portal, Scrivener and Twilight Sparkle automatically falling in step on either side of her as all three ponies studied the rippling sphere silently.

They traded uneasy looks in front of the floating rift, and then steeled themselves before leaping forwards and into the flux in reality. Vertigo tore at the ponies as they clenched their eyes to try and shield them against the flashes of light that sparked through their minds, and then they landed and skidded painfully over hard stone as Hecate's voice came contemptibly: “Took you long enough.”

Lucy, and the head inside, were simply floating in the air, and Luna stared with surprise... but when her mind finally registered the environment they were in, a floating head ceased seeming like anything that was strange or out of place at all.

They were on a long, concrete bridge, an archway filled with light behind them, and another similar archway at the opposite end of the bridge. All around them, up and down and at their sides, there was no reality: just purple emptiness and wild fractals of chaos energy, dancing around massive, floating statues...

Scrivener grimaced as he looked up at one of these, a dragon's face grinning coldly down at him, empty sockets for its eyes and the rough outline of a suit sculpted over its body. Valthrudnir... they were all statues of Valthrudnir, all of them seeming to glare down at them like hateful, listless puppets. The malice he felt from them... that wasn't just in his mind, was it?

“I shut down all the security. Stop basking in the energy and let's keep moving.” Hecate said moodily, and the ponies nodded awkwardly as Hecate floated calmly across the bridge. “You should draw in the power you can though, Brynhild. Your soulstone should be able to hold a charge, if it's anything like the soulstone netting inside this... protective shell.”

The sapphire mare grunted and nodded a little, pausing for a moment as she glanced up at her horn, realizing that she could definitely feel an odd tickling along her horn, a sense that magic was gathering there. She hesitantly attempted to focus her magic, to see if she could draw in the energy in the air, and she was pleasantly surprised when that energy didn't just crackle around her horn but flooded through her entire body, restoring some of her strength as she murmured: “What intensity...”

“Just hurry up. And don't make me explain anything.” Hecate grumbled, and Luna rolled her eyes before looking at Twilight curiously as the Lich winced a little, feeling the magic in the air almost attacking her as her body automatically attempted to absorb it.

Hecate grumbled when she realized the ponies had stopped on the bridge, turning around... and eying Twilight Sparkle meditatively as the Lich twitched, even as she felt her wounds healing, her spiritual energy restoring, and that strength feeding into both of her partners... “While it would be entertaining to watch you explode, this tunnel between realities is powered by a self-replicating magic. If you absorb too much of this your body will overload and detonate.”

Twilight winced a little at this, and Luna and Scrivener traded looks before staring at Twilight as the Lich twitched a little, then all three ponies scrambled hurriedly for the portal on the other side as Hecate floated grouchily along, refusing to be rushed even as the ponies ran past her. “Idiots.”

Scrivener, Luna, and Twilight ran into the archway on the other side of the portal, and there was a bright flash that made the three stumble and wince. Luna gritted her teeth, then opened her eyes as she rose her head, daring the light... and staring upwards in amazement as she saw bright sunlight and a blue sky, the world around her thrumming with a warmth that made her feel... renewed. Stronger.

At their backs, a sphere of violet energy floated above the earth, and Scrivener could swear that he could faintly see the bridge and the strange tunnel between realities they had just passed through when he stared hard enough. But maybe that was just his eyes playing tricks on him, and he shook his head quickly before turning back around and glancing down at himself, muttering: “It feels like I'm-”

“Greetings.” A voice cut off, and the three ponies winced and looked up sharply: standing some twenty feet away, near a large, ancient oak, was a Pious. Its arms were crossed over its chest, but it had its head bowed and seemed... humble, at least by the standards of these strange and distant creatures. “We have been expecting you.”

“Oh... I am... glad, then.” Luna said awkwardly, grimacing a bit at the way the shadow and light played over the entity, how they seemed to make its pale, almost-polished skin ripple and glow. “We are in Asgard?”

It probably wasn't the best question, but it was the only one Luna could think of at the moment. The Pious simply nodded in response, and there was silence before the angel half-turned and gestured politely with one long, twisted limb. “We have promised our assistance in this matter. I shall open a portal to the Gates of the Vale of Valhalla.”

Luna couldn't help but frown slightly in surprise at this, nodding hesitantly. “Then I am... indebted to thee. Will thy kind be prepared if Gymbr attacks?”

“The False God you call Gymbr will not attack us. Our Cenobium sits outside the gates, and our faith and magic protect us.” the Pious said with strange confidence, and Luna frowned a bit at this before the portal rippled behind her, and Hecate floated out before cursing and falling to the ground with a thunk now that she could no longer tap into a perpetual supply of magic power.

Luna only absently snapped Lucy up to her hoof and placed it on her back, winding up the chain as Hecate muttered from inside her prison-sanctuary: “The others are coming. I told them not to dally. We should hurry to the Gates.”

“I will portal you there.” the Pious said, and for some reason it made Luna grimace a little. The creature sounded... a little too eager for her liking. It made her hesitate as its voice hit her mind, feeling like she was picking up on some of its alien emotions before it stepped forwards and bowed... but kept its arms crossed in that warding gesture. “The Pious desire this to end. It does not benefit the One True God to allow such conflict to continue any longer than it already has.”

Luna was saved having to make any kind of response as Celestia, Sleipnir, Pinkamena, and Morning Glory emerged through the portal. The ivory mare immediately looked towards the Pious, and the angel repeated for the third time: “I will portal you to the Gates of the Vale of Valhalla.”

Luna opened her mouth, but Celestia cut her off by raising a hoof, bowing her head politely and replying tactfully: “We would appreciate that, and moving forwards with all haste. Every moment we waste gives Gymbr days to prepare.”

The Pious nodded, then simply rose one long-fingered hand as the odd limbs on its back flexed and twitched and reality shuddered before expanding into a gold-edged window, like a fiery doorway into another room. Luna grimaced at the sight of this, but Celestia leaned down as she passed, saying quietly: “We can discuss this in a few minutes. We need to press this advantage.”

The sapphire mare grumbled, but nodded and hurried after the mare, the other ponies striding quickly – if uneasily – towards the portal. Stepping through it was jarring, if only because there was no great flash, no sense of magic, no light... one moment, they were in some wild forest, the next, they were standing on a barren patch of dead land in front of a steel gate of countless crisscrossing bars and girders so tall and wide even a pack of dragons could pass through it with ease if they flew a hundred feet in the air and with comfortable space between them. If the gates were open, that was...

And to either side of the gates, there was the impenetrable wall that enclosed Heaven, the Giant's Denial. It looked like it was made of simple blocks of massive gray stone, but it stretched even higher than the gates stood, reaching towards the sky... a sky, Luna was disgusted to see, that was rippling with magical energy that all the same couldn't hide the black smoke and swirling stormclouds that formed a ceiling over the Vale of Valhalla beyond the barrier.

There was a terrible sense of malice and crushing psychic force on this side of the Gates, but at least above their heads was blue sky, and beneath their feet the ground was dead but not corrupt; yet eking out beneath the Gates, Scrivener could see poisonous bogland, and in the sky, blue clashed with black static that no doubt blotted out the entirety of Heaven. Scrivener grimaced in disgust, then he looked up with surprise as Hecate said coldly: “I'll break open the Gates, but I think you ponies can spare a little bit of assistance. This entire area is being filled with psychic static and this weak horn is making it impossible for me to concentrate.”

“It's alright to ask for help now and then, Hecate.” Celestia stopped, then looked at the metal sphere as Luna took it off her back and looked down into it with surprise. “How much energy do you need us to supply?”

“Whatever you can spare, princess do-gooder.” Hecate growled in response, and then Luna winced as the spikes popped out of the metal ball, Hecate adding coldly: “You can supply the brute force, Luna Brynhild. That seems to be what you do best.”

“And believe me. I will be more than glad to.” Luna retorted before she lifted the sphere with telekinesis, striding calmly forwards until she was only ten feet away from the Gates of Heaven. She could feel such energy spilling out between them, and it made her snarl as she saw the way they were shuddering, as if fighting to keep the malice inside them, to contain all the power thrumming through the air... “Raise your heads high! Valhalla will be ours again before the night falls!”

The sapphire mare tossed the sphere into the air, then caught it by the chain and began to whirl it above her head, her eyes glowing as the spiked ball began to glow with energy. Twilight Sparkle and Scrivener Blooms both locked their gazes on Luna, filling her with energy... energy that she pumped up into the sphere, as Morning Glory and Celestia both anchored themselves and poured all the power they could into the spinning metal ball.

It became a blazing star of light as Hecate snarled inside of Lucy, the weapon leaving a tail of fiery white energy behind it as lightning crackled around Luna, the sapphire mare baring her fangs before she roared as she snapped the weapon forwards. The spiked sphere smashed into the Gates of Heaven, and time seemed to freeze for a moment, everything going still... before three tremendous ripples tore through reality around them, and then Luna and all others present were blown backwards by a massive gust of force as the Gates of Valhalla all-but-exploded, hinges ripping out of place and bars shattering like glass, others crumpling into bizarre shapes as metallic shrapnel flew in all directions amidst fireworks of lightning and energy.

And time distorted terribly around them, speeding up their movements, then catching them, leaving the ponies moving in slow motion as reality around them threatened to crack, rippling, twisting, bending and quaking. It filled their bodies with agony... but all the same, Luna grinned viciously, even as she hit the ground on her back and skidded backwards, and Hecate laughed with insane delight from inside the half-shattered sphere of Lucy, half the face of a twisted goddess revealed and grinning cruelly despite the fact her horn had shattered and she was covered with her own bright blood. But both of them knew that if the shockwave had hit this badly here, then across Gymbr's corrupted playground...

As the last ripples of distorted time passed over them, Luna rolled up to her hooves and caught herself, skidding backwards and looking sharply back and forth. The others were more or less in the same condition as she was, and Celestia slowly picked herself up from the ground before the ivory mare said softly: “We can't lose this chance, but we have more time now. One of us will have to carry a message back to the mortal world-”

“We have already taken the liberty of informing the Pious below that you have arrived. They will speak to your assembled forces and tell them that it is time for the attack to begin.” Luna turned with surprise to the Pious that had apparently followed them through the portal, and it bowed politely to them. It seemed completely unharmed from the energies that had passed over them... but then again, it was a fair distance back from the walls, and it hadn't been putting its energy into helping them so it hadn't been struck by recoil, either.

Celestia frowned over at the Pious, but the creature only gestured to a shape in the distance: from the fact it looked like some kind of building near the edge of Asgard's sprawling forests, it was likely the Cenobium. “The False God threatens us. It is in our best interests to defend ourselves. To make alliance and assist those who also desire to fight the False God. That is all.”

Celestia nodded slowly, and then she shook her head briefly before Morning Glory looked up and rolled her shoulders slowly: in spite of all the damage she had taken before, it looked like she had almost completely healed in the short time since their confrontation with Gymbr. “I don't care if you're friend or enemy, angel. Just stay out of our way.”

“We do not intend to interfere. We will watch and wait.” the Pious replied calmly, and then the angel bowed its head to them and simply fell silent. Celestia studied it for a few moments, and then the ivory mare shook her head and turned her attention to Scrivener Blooms, apparently putting aside whatever worries or anxieties for the moment to focus on the task at hoof.

“Get the potions. Luna, Twilight, we should quickly patch our armor: repair spells won't be very effective, but they'll do for now.” Celestia glanced towards the others, Sleipnir and Morning Glory both looking up attentively but Pinkamena only moodily sharpening her axe. “Sleipnir, scout ahead, thirty seconds. When you get back, I'll heal you. Morning Glory, please help with repairs.”

Sleipnir saluted with a wink, then he picked himself up, shook himself briskly once, and shot into a sudden sprint, through the open gates and down the path. Celestia smiled a little after him, then she nodded to Scrivener Blooms as the stallion awkwardly wiggled a heavy lockbox out of the satchel he'd put down in front of himself.

As the stallion wrestled the too-large box out of the too-small bag, Luna, Celestia, and Twilight used what little energy they all had left to repair their equipment. Lucy, however, was broken beyond any easy fix at this point, but Hecate looked strangely-pleased with herself from where she was laying amidst the broken mass of metal, her eyes closed and for once almost seeming at peace.

When Sleipnir returned, he looked disgusted... even angry, a rare emotion for the gentle giant as he shook his head and rumbled: “Awful, Celestia... 'tis awful! I have never witnessed such devastation, and certainly never imagined that I would ever see our ancestral home so... so besot with evil! Damnation, Celestia, we cannot allow this to continue unchecked... but oh, how it pains me to see what we have done...”

“Do you think he even attempted to shut down the Hourglass?” asked Celestia, even as her horn began to glow, and Sleipnir grunted and shook his head before wincing as a soft aura surrounded him, wounds visibly healing and his body flexing as soreness faded from his rejuvenated muscles.

“Nay, I do not believe he did... a foolish thing, big sister. He may not have known where we were, but I think 'twas clear enough where we were headed... perhaps he thought he would have more warning, or maybe he was truly foolish enough to believe that we were too weak to batter down his gates without sending up some alarm.” Sleipnir smiled after a moment, looking over at Luna and winking to her. “But my little sister has always been good at forcing open unwilling gates.”

“Thou make me sound terrible, Sleipnir. I am offended: 'tis rare that gates did not open willingly before me.” Luna replied with a grin, and then she glanced over at Scrivener as the stallion tossed a bottle of the Ironjaw potion to her. “Thou hast my thanks, beetle. Although it took thee long enough.”

Scrivener only grunted as he pulled another potion out of the case, tossing it to Twilight. “There's about a dozen locks and layers to this thing. Although nothing's broken, so... you know.”

“Just hurry up, moron. I want a drink too.” Pinkamena growled irritably, and Scrivener Blooms sighed tiredly even as he passed other, clearer bottles of potion to Celestia, Sleipnir and Morning Glory. Then he uncorked his own reddish Ironjaw potion and began to drink, as Pinkamena licked her lips and grinned. “There we go.”

The demon slipped her axe back in place on her back, striding over, and Scrivener winced and closed his eyes before he felt the demon's jaws latch onto him. He cursed quietly as Luna and Twilight both winced a bit, but the Lich only breathed slowly and looked away while Luna glared at the Devourer, feeling a streak of jealousy, anger, protectiveness and... pure, simple greed. Pinkamena was drinking down that black, delicious blood that she couldn't have except for special circumstances, the demon, the friend was getting all the delights that Luna craved herself...

The sapphire mare shook herself out, forcing herself to relax, to block out the senseless hunger and hate for now. Instead, she turned her attention towards the Vale of Valhalla, asking finally: “How much damage does thou think was done?”

“You saw how brittle the gates themselves had become... I can't imagine how much the rest of Valhalla has been weakened.” Celestia replied as she finished healing Sleipnir, then picked up the bottle Scrivener had tossed her and examined it meditatively. “The Hourglass itself would have been completely destroyed, and even with his powers, Gymbr won't be able to repair it... as a matter of fact, if Gymbr was caught in the blast...”

“I doubt it will be so easy.” Luna remarked wryly as she looked over at a nearby piece of the broken gate: one of the few larger pieces that had survived and not simply turned to dust. “In fact, I do not want it to be... although aye, I do hope he was hurt.”

Scrivener grunted as Pinkamena finally pulled away and wiped her lips clean, body shivering and visibly rippling before the demon calmed herself, then met Scrivener's eyes and smiled wryly. The two looked at each other for a few moments, then traded a brief nod before the Devourer shoved him lightly backwards and asked calmly: “So are we ready to go, or are we going to wait for these bastards to regain their strength and footing?”

“Almost.” Celestia said softly, tossing away the empty bottle before she closed her eyes and bowed her head, murmuring a soft prayer and promise. Luna and Sleipnir both smiled faintly at their older sibling, and then Celestia looked up and asked calmly, without looking at Hecate: “Will you be alright here, or should we bring you with us?”

“Throw me in the satchel. And if you find a unicorn, rip his horn off and give it to me, then I can be more useful.” Hecate said almost pleasantly, and Scrivener made a face as Luna rolled her eyes before the sapphire mare carefully lifted the head free from the broken ruins of Lucy with telekinesis. She was much less gentle about dropping the head into the bag, and after a moment she flicked her horn firmly to toss her broken weapon in after the head.

The group surveyed each other: seven ponies, in damaged armor shoddily and quickly repaired by magic, none of them in top form or at full strength. But all of them determined to use all the strength they had managed to regain during their short rest to put a stop to Gymbr, to save Valhalla and its inhabitants... to save Innocence.

Twilight Sparkle nodded to herself, closing her eyes for a moment before he looked up as Celestia's horn glowed brightly, and there was a spark of energy before an oval portal ripped open, the mare smiling grimly. “Reality's thin, easy to manipulate... let's move in. It sounds like the others must already be here. And friends... good luck.”

“And good hunting.” Luna added grimly, and then the sapphire mare charged towards the portal, Scrivener and Twilight falling in beside her. They winced at the bright light that blinded them as they passed through, but didn't slow as they emerged in front of Valhalla... or rather, what Valhalla had become, and Luna couldn't repress a snarl of horror at the sight of it.

They were running down a path made of black crystal for a listing, broken drawbridge that led into... it didn't look like a castle anymore. Only a jumble of stone, massive chunks of broken crystal standing out of it here and there, dead vines hanging across the shattered walls and down into a moat filled with boiling black corruption. The orchards that had once surrounded Valhalla were now filled with dead stumps and tormented, misshapen things that Luna couldn't identify, couldn't tell if they were truly plants or some kind of hideous, rooted monstrosity.

And all around them, there was battle: Destroyers, demons, and other forces from Looking Glass World and Helheim were clashing with insectile monstrosities and horrible beasts and mechanical ponies made of metal and gears and black crystal.

“Push! Push forwards, into Valhalla! We must stop this!” Luna shouted furiously as they bolted past monsters and soldiers, demons and puppets. She didn't dare look behind herself even as she heard Celestia catching up with the others, any more than she dared to turn her gaze away from the drawbridge they were rapidly approaching-

The wooden bridge all-but-exploded as something rammed into it from below, sending chunks of wood hailing down into the moat, and Luna's eyes widened in horror as huge claws seized the bank and a grinning, golden-scaled head reared up, dripping with black muck and with glowing, hellfire-blue eyes. The draconic creature chuckled at the sight of them, and then the Tyrant Wyrm rasped: “Little brother. We have been waiting for you.

Scrivener shivered at this as its very words seemed to injure the air, made reality twist on itself in pain before the stallion stepped forwards and responded sharply in the same language: “Get out of our way! We don't-

I do not want to stop you, little brother. Your foolish war only brings destruction to both sides and paves the way for the Void.” The Tyrant Wyrm slowly drew to the side, and Scrivener Blooms stared in disbelief as a bridge of mire pushed up out of the moat, rapidly hardening into crystal.

The stallion didn't know what to say, and the Tyrant Wyrm laughed as it drew away and sank back into the moat before Morning Glory said coldly: “Go. My job is to assemble and lead the demons. We'll make short work of these armies and wipe out the rest of Gymbr's forces throughout Valhalla.”

Luna nodded after a moment, looking back over her shoulder at the Destroyer, but Morning Glory was already turning away and heading for the nearest group of enemies. The sapphire mare smiled briefly, then turned back around... and stared in surprise as several familiar figures shot by, the leader tossing a grin over his shoulder at her and calling: “Better hurry up, Mutt, several divisions are already inside and stealing all your fun!”

“Damnation, Antares!” Luna shouted, then she leapt into a run, Scrivener and Twilight hurrying after the mare with winces. The other ponies followed, Sleipnir grinning widely in spite of everything and looking proud; of his nephew and niece, of his daughter, of the new Valkyrie who all ran fearlessly into the corrupted, broken castle in search of lost Innocence.

Luna's group caught up to the four, and the sapphire mare traded quick nods with her son: he was dressed in his own gilded black armor, with coronet that cradled his horn locked tightly around his head. Aphrodisia was only in lightweight armor, but there was an enormous Reaper's scythe over her back that was almost thrumming with excitement as she traded a quick, reassuring smile with her parents.

Luna, Scrivener and Twilight couldn't help but let their eyes linger on Scarlet Sage for a moment, however: the Pegasus was flying sharply along, dressed in silver scale mail and with crosshatch blades over both forelegs, her red mane and tail streaking out behind her like fire. It had been a long time since she had been in battle, and all three were worried about her... but all the same, proud of her too, for wanting to be here: for being willing to do anything to try and help her little sister.

Then Celestia called a warning, and Luna looked sharply ahead down the warped, half-collapsed hall to see a group of those gray, mechanical ponies ahead. There were at least twenty of them... but Luna only grinned coldly as her body blazed with excitement. That only meant there weren't enough of these toys to properly share.

Aphrodisia grinned, then vanished in a black puff of demonic smoke to reappear right in front of the nearest puppet, making a sharp rising gesture with one foreleg that sent the enormous scythe spinning off her back and slashing upwards, slicing the construct into two halves. Aphrodisia vanished in another puff of dark smog, then reappeared behind the group of puppets, raising her front hooves to catch the scythe with ease before she leapt forwards with it and slashed into the thick of the constructs.

Then the rest of the group collided with the battle line of puppets, crushing them beneath hooves, smashing them out of the way, ripping through the brittle toys with ease before continuing down the hall to a fork. And here, Luna and Antares traded sharp nods before their groups split down either hall.

Luna Brynhild grimaced as she saw another slew of puppets ahead down the route she had chosen... except these ones were clearly on the move, and the mare narrowed her eyes before she said coldly: “Cut through the river.”

Scrivener grimaced a bit, then he nodded and lowered his head as both Twilight Sparkle and Luna's horns began to glow, an angled shield of energy forming in front the stallion as his entire body was armored by a bright aura. He gritted his teeth, charging forwards as the others let themselves fall back slightly, then simply smashed through the marching platoon, smashing puppets apart and sending pieces of mechanical monstrosity flying in all directions until he finally tore out the other side of the group of soldiers, skidding to a halt and looking over his shoulder with a wheeze as the magic protecting him flickered out.

Luna ran past, and Scrivener stumbled to catch up to her and fall back in with the group of other ponies, Pinkamena calling loudly: “Hey, reject, next time save some for us, huh?”

The sapphire mare only grinned wryly, then flicked her horn out as they approached a set of sealed double doors, blowing the rotten-looking wood apart with a blast of telekinesis. Her eyes widened in surprise at the area they entered, however: it was almost a miniature jungle, floored with dark mire and filled with enormous trees and vibrant, alien life...

And then Luna skidded to a halt as a roar ripped through the air, before a blast of golden flames burst through the forest toward them, turning the trees in its way to stone before they were shattered from the raw heat and force. Luna snarled, but Celestia leapt forwards, snapping her horn out and creating a shield of the same flames that absorbed the holy fire.

The moment the stream of flames ended, the shield twisted and folded in on itself, transforming into a sphere of flames that Celestia launched with a simple flick of her horn. It shot through the air... then struck into the white-scaled cheek of the massive thing approaching them, exploding with a tremendous bang that made their opponent cry out with rage and frustration.

And all eyes gazed upwards as the smoke cleared as an enormous, ivory Tyrant Wyrm anchored itself only twenty or so feet away from them, at least thirty feet high at the shoulder. Her eyes glowed with amber fury, and a proud crown of six immense black horns stood out of her head, gleaming in the light cast from the mane of golden flames burning around them and down the back of the Tyrant Wyrm's neck. The flames nearly covered the six distinct pistons of bone that all Tyrant Wyrms possessed, the ivory spikes sparking with energy as they pulsed up and down.

It was all too clear who it was, even before Dusk leaned down and snarled: “You cowards. You weaklings! This is our home now, and you dare to destroy it? You dare to attack Lord Gymbr, to destroy everything he's built to try and protect you?”

“We won't allow you. We'll kill you.” hissed Myre's voice as she slowly rose up out of the dark ooze, glaring furiously at them as she rippled and slowly solidified. “No games this time... not after this betrayal. You've hurt Lord Gymbr, and for that... we're going to kill you.”

“You think you're strong... you have no idea just how weak you really are.” added a third voice, soft and disappointed, and Twilight Sparkle shivered as Twilight Shadow strode up along the other side of the massive Tyrant Wyrm, perching herself on top of a fallen, half-petrified tree as torn black robes fluttered around her. “We're the powerful ones here. You can't kill us. All of us are soulbound to Lord Gymbr's heart: as long as his soulstone core exists, so do we. And when we die, we are drawn into the core... if you kill us, you'll only make our master stronger. And angrier.”

“Good.” Luna said coldly, and all three Fates frowned before the mare slowly, proudly rose her head. “I am Valkyrie. I am going to destroy Gymbr for what he has done. And it will only make it all the sweeter if he is at the peak of his strength when I bring this false god crashing to the ground.”

“False God... just like the Pious call him. Pathetic. So you trust them... well, they'll betray you.” Twilight Shadow said quietly as she set herself, eyes cold. “We're going to kill you now. But only so that we can bring you back, present you to Lord Gymbr lifeless and powerless, and then our master can do whatever he desires with your remains.”

“Stop trying to talk us to death and fight.” Pinkamena said disgustedly, and Twilight Shadow snarled as the demon yanked her axe off her back, pointing at each of the Fates in turn as she recited: “Eenie, meanie, minie... mo!”

The demon leaned forwards and flung her axe viciously at Twilight Shadow, and the undead Fate winced and barely managed to deflect the massive weapon with a blast of telekinesis; Pinkamena had already flung herself backwards into Sleipnir's waiting hoof, however, and the giant earth pony grinned as he leapt forwards and flung the demon as hard as he could.

The Devourer smashed into Twilight Shadow's face and tackled her off the trunk of the fallen tree, savagely crushing her head down into the ground before starting to rail punch after punch cruelly down into the Lich's features. Twilight Shadow shouted in frustration more than pain, helplessly trying to ward off the crushing blows bruising and bloodying her face as Dusk turned with a snarl, swiping a claw down towards the demon-

Sleipnir leapt forwards, slamming a punch backed by all his monumental strength into the Tyrant Wyrm's wrist, and Dusk roared with shock as her limb was knocked wide with such force that she stumbled to the side, almost toppling over. “Keep thy claws to thine own opponents, foul beast!”

Myre, meanwhile, turned a vicious grin towards Scrivener, charging straight for him, and the stallion gritted his teeth before he lunged forwards, the two crashing into each other. And this time, he was heedless of the spikes that ripped into his body, only clawing viciously back with his Talons before he flung himself into her and tackled her to the ground, but Myre laughed as they rolled like animals, shouting between bites at his face: “Maybe a little bit of playtime!”

Luna shot over to help Scrivener, snapping her horn to free Prúðbikkja from her mane before she launched the shrunken-down spear at Myre when she rolled on top of Scrivener, and the Fate made from corruption arched her back before glaring furiously over her shoulder at Luna, snapping as she started to raise a foreleg: “Keep your stupid little spells to-”

Luna's horn flashed, and Prúðbikkja burst up to full size, Myre's eyes bulging as the speartip ripped out the front of her body and the nine foot pole tore out her back. Luna leapt forwards and seized the body of the weapon, gritting her teeth as she skidded around on her rear hooves and then swung the spear in a savage arc, yanking Myre off Scrivener and slamming the monster face-first down into the ground on her other side, before Luna channeled a blast of telekinesis through the weapon and blasted Myre's upper body apart.

Then the sapphire mare winced, distracted by a furious roar from Dusk as the Tyrant Wyrm stomped up and down with enough force to shake the unnatural forest they were in, her massive body leveling trees as she chased after Sleipnir and away from the others. But he grinned, seeming to vanish behind a tree only to hop out from behind another some thirty feet away, calling cheerfully: “Over here! Thou truly are most wretched at this game; but perhaps I am comparing thee too readily to the pretty mares that were always able to find me no matter where I hid.”

Dusk roared in frustration and attempted to pounce on him, and Sleipnir grinned as he leapt backwards, narrowly dodging her claws as her head snapped down, then he jumped forwards and swung a hoof viciously out, smashing it into the end of her muzzle and knocking her head snapping to the side as she howled in pain.

The Tyrant Wyrm began to straighten, all her fury and attention focused on Sleipnir... and in the dark skies above, Celestia's sharp eyes narrowed before her horn began to glow, her body bursting into golden flames. The holy fire writhed and glowed around her, growing brighter and brighter until she was like a miniature sun, and then the ivory mare launched herself downwards with a hard snap of her wings before furling them tightly against her sides as she simply dropped.

Dusk sensed the magic too little, too late, and the living meteor of Celestia smashed directly into the back of her neck, the Tyrant Wyrm's head snapping upwards as she howled with pain, scales tearing, bones snapping, huge body driven down to the ground. Her head fell in a daze... and before it could hit, Sleipnir leapt up and slammed an uppercut into the falling Tyrant Wyrm's chin, knocking her head lashing straight back with a gargle as Celestia calmly spread her wings and began to fly backwards as her three short swords yanked themselves off her body, harrying and slashing and stabbing in a trail along the Tyrant Wyrm's spine.

Dusk slowly picked herself up with a snarl of fury before she roared furiously... but this time, the sound was almost drowned out by the massive explosion a short distance away, as Twilight Shadow glared furiously in the direction of Pinkamena and Twilight Sparkle. “You can't even fight! You are weak and pathetic, Twilight!”

“I wonder if she's talking to herself.” Pinkamena muttered from behind the fallen log where she had taken cover, and then she grimaced as another fireball smashed into the rapidly-crumbling barrier. “It'd be fantastic if you'd do something, though.”

“She's the same as last time, just angrier. Let's hit her from both sides. I'll draw her attention.” Twilight Sparkle said quietly, and Pinkamena nodded. The Lich gritted her teeth, then took a slow breath before she stared in surprise as a fireball arced over their heads and fell to the ground far past them, but then to Twilight Sparkle's horror, bounced back towards them.

On instinct, the violet mare leapt forwards and slashed her horn into this, sending it flying away... but the explosion that went up released a wide shockwave of flames that struck her squarely in the face, blinding her for a moment. She was knocked crashing backwards... then yelped in shock as the earth beneath her exploded and sent her flying high into the air, back arching awkwardly and almost flipping upside down as she saw Twilight Shadow grinning, horn glowing as she prepared a spell that would finish the fight-

Pinkamena leaned over the log and flung a chunk of petrified tree at Twilight Shadow's face, and it collided with one of the undead Fate's eyes, Shadow shouting in frustration as she sent a black fireball shooting high into the air instead of at Twilight Sparkle. And the Looking Glass World Lich gritted her teeth before she forcefully half-spun her body and spread her wings, flapping them hard and sending herself rocketing straight at Shadow before she even realized what she was doing.

She crashed headlong into the Fate, driving her to the ground before her hooves seized into Twilight Shadow's throat, choking her as she slammed her down into the earth. For a moment, there was shock, there was fear in Shadow's eyes as Sparkle leaned over her, fangs bared, eyes blazing, hooves crushing down... and then Twilight Shadow snapped her head forwards and blasted her twin off, rolling back to her hooves as she rasped: “Well, what do you know? There's a little fight in you after all... but that doesn't make you any less weak. You don't know what strength is.”

Twilight Shadow's horn lit up with a dark aura, and then both mane and tail burst into obsidian flames, her robes ripping and stitches popping as her body rapidly expanded into something hideous, something monstrous, something otherwordly and more than twice the size of the pony in front of her. Her eyes turned into glowing pits of blue light, new teeth pushing eagerly into too large jaws and giving her an uneven, vicious grin of fangs as her hooves split apart into claws on the ends of limbs that were covered in gangly muscle, some of this bulging through torn hide as Twilight Shadow hissed: “This is real power.”

“No... that's giving in.” Twilight whispered in reply, shaking her head weakly as she studied the hideous, corrupt undead thing in front of her, and then she gritted her teeth and set herself, shouting: “If your power rules you, then you have no power at all!”

“Power is power! Might is right!” Twilight Shadow roared back, and then the monster leapt forwards and seized Twilight Sparkle by the shoulders, slamming her cruelly down onto her back before she leaned down and began to inhale loudly, and the Lich cried out in horror and agony as she felt her spiritual energy starting to drain from her body and up into this hungry, terrible wraith.

Then Pinkamena's axe slammed into the frenzied beast's head, and the undead behemoth yanked itself back as the demon snarled: “Looks like you've forgotten some of the basics, loser.”

Twilight Shadow's eyes glowed, then she snapped her horn forwards, shooting a black fireball at the demon. Pinkamena cursed and used the wide blade of her axe like a shield, however, the blast knocking her skidding but doing little harm to her before she jumped out of the way when the monster leapt forwards and tried to stomp a claw into her.

The demon was blasted backwards by a telekinetic surge before she could counterattack, but Shadow was prevented from any followup magic by a blue fireball that smashed into her shoulder and knocked her staggering, although it didn't seem to hurt her otherwise. The undead behemoth roared again as she leapt into the air, spreading massive, now-leathery wings to begin to carry herself skywards as her horn started to glow with warning black light, and Pinkamena snorted in disgust before leaping upwards and bursting apart, axe and all, into black smoke.

The demon shot upwards and swirled around the undead creature, but Shadow arched her back and unleashed a pulse of telekinetic wrath from its body: the demon was smashed back into physical reality by it with a curse, flailing wildly in the air before one of the monster's claws smashed into her and knocked her towards the ground, and Twilight Shadow grinned as she started to lower her black horn, the air around her thick with malice and hate and wrath...

And too late, she saw Twilight Sparkle shoot up past her before the violet mare swung her own horn fiercely down into Twilight Shadow's even as she covered her face with her forelegs... and there was a monumental bang as a massive blast of black flames went, knocking Twilight Shadow backwards through the air and sending the Looking Glass World Lich rocketing out of the sky to crash and bounce bonelessly across the ground.

Twilight Shadow, meanwhile, was covered in black flames from her prematurely-activated spell, screaming and flailing helplessly, much of her skull caved in and her precious horn lost. She clawed wildly at the sky as her wings flapped hard, as if trying to carry her away... but then Pinkamena's axe whirled violently up through the air and chopped neatly through the base of one wing, sending the behemoth crashing out of the sky in a hail of blood and ashes.

Twilight Shadow began to get up, burning, gargling, large pieces of her body drained of energy and burnt into twisted ruin... and then she screamed when one of Pinkamena's hooves smashed through a rotten bicep, knocking her upper limb free from her body. She began to turn, and Pinkamena tackled the behemoth backwards, snarling: “Not so tough now, are you?”

The monster howled as a hoof smashed down into her face, and then she suddenly rolled, at the same time shoving her remaining upper limb out and pinning the demon to the ground beneath her by the throat. Twilight Shadow grinned widely, her eyes glowing as she leaned down and began to inhale, and Pinkamena rasped as her eyes widened, shoving uselessly at the leg restraining her as she felt her soul beginning to leak up out of her body...

Twilight Sparkle picked herself up as she gritted her teeth, her eyes locked on the sight of the monster, knowing she only had a few precious seconds to figure out a way to knock the beast off Pinkamena... but no spells she could cast quickly would do enough damage to stun the creature or knock it away. And the demon wouldn't last very long before all the energy was drained out of her body and she was left nothing but a lifeless husk by a soul-reaping-

That gave her a stupid, insane idea, and Twilight Sparkle's horn glowed brightly as she ran forwards: above her, summoned, she felt, more by her desperate call than her magic, the massive onyx bell appeared, ringing out once... and then the Lich simply leapt forwards and snapped her horn down as hard as she could, swing the enormous instrument like an oversized metal mallet.

It crushed Twilight Shadow's lower body like an egg, the undead behemoth arching her back with a cry of shock... and true agony, as the bell rang out and channeled its vibrations through her very spirit. Pinkamena gasped as she felt the forced link between herself and the undead monster snap, and she flung herself out of the way as Twilight Sparkle rose the bell, then slammed it down again, a sudden rage almost blinding her, a sudden hatred making the darkness inside her roar as she shouted: “You want power? Here's your power!”

The massive bell rose and fell, slamming down into Twilight Shadow again and again and again, pealing and clanging as the monster was reduced to little more than a thick, bloody paste and a few broken pieces of pony. The creature's spirit was rudely ejected from these remains, the Pale of Twilight Shadow screaming silently and covering her ears as she flickered with static, then simply vanished from sight.

Dusk roared with wounded fury at the death of Twilight Shadow, then leaned forwards, trying to pin Sleipnir and Celestia beneath a blast of sound and golden flame... but Sleipnir only grinned from behind his crossed forelegs as he rebuffed the worst of the raw force, and Celestia diverted the flames into the ground, turning the mire-like bog into ashes and dust.

Myre, on the other hoof, didn't even seem to notice that Twilight Shadow had been destroyed... but perhaps there was simply no more room for fury as she and Scrivener smashed into each other again and again, all-but-foaming at the jaws as her mane burned with black flames, transforming so rapidly between shapes that it seemed like she was just an ever-changing mass of black mire. She laughed as she swung a foreleg forwards as it became a massive blade, tearing through Scrivener's chest and out his back... but the stallion's eyes only glowed as he seized her shoulders with his Talons and held her in place as his body absorbed most of the mire weapon.

Then Luna's spear stabbed viciously into Myre's side, blowing most of her body away... but again, as happened every time, the black goo only surged down into the ground, then exploded upwards into a newly-formed, fully-healed Myre that threw herself rabidly back into the fight. She had lost almost all cohesion and all sanity, and Scrivener Blooms could rip her apart, blow her up, even pull off pieces of her and absorb her into his own body... but she just kept coming back. And while there was no fear of death... he and Luna were getting closer and closer to a brink of a madness they knew must have affected Twilight Sparkle as well. They wouldn't die fighting Myre: they would go insane. And already, some part of Scrivener Blooms had become so excited and eager and pleased that he never, ever wanted this war to end.

They couldn't kill her, and they didn't have the power to neutralize her, and Scrivener snarled as Myre leapt on top of him and tackled him backwards before she started to slam punch after punch down into his face. But even those blows didn't hurt, even those strikes transferred enough corruption into his system to even out the damage... no, I think... I think she wants to corrupt us, not hurt us...

Scrivener caught her hooves in both his Talons, and Myre laughed even as Luna tore Prúðbikkja through the corrupt Fate's lower body, shouting: “We are not going to become weak and pathetic like thou art!”

“You have no choice.” Myre grinned, twisting her head towards Luna, eyes blazing with fury. “It's better than what Dusk is going to do to your siblings, isn't it? She's going to burn them to death with her purification. I want to save you two with my corruption.”

Luna snarled furiously... and then her eyes widened before she yanked her spear back as a wild, desperate idea came to mind. “Scrivy!”

The stallion thought it was insane... but with a snarl, he leapt up, slashing a claw through Myre, and the Fate was knocked off him even as she laughed, her body losing some of its solidity from the damage before Scrivener lunged forwards and seized into her with both Talons. He concentrated all the power he could into her, and Myre's laughter was choked off with a gargle as the stallion's claws crushed into her and twisted... and in a splatter of black ooze, Myre herself was transformed into an enormous black spear.

Scrivener spun around, and he roared as he flung Myre as hard as he could straight at Dusk, who was simply incinerating the land around her, breathing golden flames in every direction. And Luna snapped her horn hard as she focused on Myre, forcing the spear of corruption to twist unnaturally through the air as Dusk strafed her flames outwards... and the spear passed right through this, turning to solid stone before it hammered into Dusk's breast.

The Tyrant Wyrm gargled, stumbling backwards as her flames choked off, and she looked weakly down at the spear embedded partway into her body... before Sleipnir sprung forwards, and Celestia snapped her horn towards her brother, his hoof bursting into golden flames before he slammed a punch directly home into the base of the spear, sending it rocketing through Dusk's breast with such violence that much of her chest was simply crushed in.

She gurgled, stumbling backwards, a terrible golden light shining out of the cracks in her crumpled front... and then the Tyrant Wyrm threw her head back and howled mournfully as her body burst into golden flames and rapidly started to dissolve into ashes and motes of light. And from these ashes rose two distinct spirits, Myre and Dusk staring at each other before they both snarled down at the gathered ponies, who all looked fearlessly back up at the Fates they had overcome.

“Aye. And not the first Fates we have overthrown, either.” Luna said quietly, before she gave a small smile to Sleipnir, Celestia, Pinkamena... and most of all, Twilight Sparkle, as the Fates above faded out of sight. “But it was much easier with thy aid, my family.”

“Yeah, cut the crap. Let's get moving, because we're not nearly out of the woods yet.” Pinkamena said coldly, gesturing across the burned, half-collapsed forest, and Luna nodded firmly: the demon was right. All they had done was get rid of three obstacles in their way: the true challenge was still waiting for them up ahead in his stolen throne, struggling to keep control of the Heaven that he had already damned. But even if they couldn't save Paradise... they could still stop Gymbr from ever infecting another world with his idea of salvation ever again.

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