• 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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Righting Wrongs

Chapter Thirty Four: Righting Wrongs
~BlackRoseRaven

Antares Mīrus led his team quickly through the Halls of Valhalla, doing his best to avoid getting drawn into any skirmishes and making their way towards the center of the corrupted, destroyed castle. But it was harder going than he'd thought it would be: not only did he have to constantly fight the urge to charge brazenly into battle with every puppet, Clockwork monster, and other enemy soldier they saw, the entire layout of Valhalla had been changed by Gymbr.

“Horses of Heaven, to transform a bajillion year old structure like a frigging... one-floor house remodel...” Antares grumbled as they turned down another side hall, the stallion's sense of direction telling him they were probably still heading towards the castle core... assuming Gymbr didn't just go 'hey let's turn the laws of time and space upside down too!' “I... crap, ahead!”

“Got it!” Prestige said sharply, her horn glowing brightly before she snapped it out, sending a fireball rocketing into the mass of puppets that had just marched out from around a corner. It struck and exploded in a blast of not just flame, but a tremendous rush of hot air that flung the puppets into the walls and ceiling, smashing many of them apart on impact... but more importantly, getting them out of their way.

The group ran through the broken line of enemies, and Scarlet Sage grimaced, muttering: “I feel so out of shape... I'm having trouble just keeping up to you guys...”

“That's 'cause you're old, Scar. Old and motherly and stuff.” Antares replied without looking up, sprinting forwards down the twisted, transformed hallway and grimacing as he easily leapt over a collapsed statue. “This place is a nightmare. Look at all the damage that's been done... and I'll bet you anything that when Gymbr goes down, half the glue holding this place together with however he's altered reality is going to just... dry up and die...”

“Mommy says glue's made out of ponies. I'm sure there's lots of ponies around here we can kill and mash up and stick Valhalla back together with.” Aphrodisia said positively, and Antares gave her a flat look as Prestige grimaced a bit, apparently not finding this thought all that amusing.

“These are brainwashed ponies. Ponies I was supposed to protect, mixed in with all the puppets and...” She shook her head and cursed under her breath, and Antares softened as Aphrodisia gave an awkward smile, a faint blush rising through her cheeks. But after a moment, Prestige forced herself to look ahead, muttering: “No. It's okay. I just.. I need to focus on the objective right now.”

The others nodded, and then Antares made a face as they turned a corner and came face-to-face with another group of enemies. This one wasn't just composed of puppets, however: there were hissing, half-pony, half-insect monsters among the group, with chitinous black bodies and glowing green eyes, large, mantis-like blades in the place of forelegs and enormous wasp abdomens instead of tails. Their bug-like wings buzzed as their lower jaws splitting apart into grasping mandibles, raising themselves up eagerly to attack their prey.

But without slowing, Prestige snapped her horn out, a burning ember of dark flames shooting in a high arc towards the crowd before it detonated in a blast of not flame or force, but foul-smelling smoke that flooded the area and sent the bug-like creatures into a confused frenzy. Antares grinned widely as he snapped his own horn forwards, a blast of purification cutting a tunnel through the dark fog and blowing apart a bug unlucky enough to be in the way.

Antares shot through the tunnel in the clinging smog, followed by the three mares before Scarlet Sage grimaced as one of the insect-things leapt out of the cloud and shot after them, screaming a challenge at the ponies. It shot towards them, but without slowing, Scarlet Sage spun onto her back and slammed both rear hooves into its face, knocking it flying backwards with a squeal to bounce down the hallway on its back.

Then she rolled back forwards, and Antares gave her an entertained look over his shoulder despite himself, saying wryly: “I gotta say, Scar, it looks like you're not that rusty after all.”

“Yeah, well, Apple Bloom likes to wrestle. Fighting I'm fine with. It's all this running and flying that's killing me.” Scarlet Sage muttered, and then she dropped to the ground, letting herself trail a little behind the others as they rounded another bend and Antares' eyes finally locked on an open set of doors ahead, guarded by a pair of crumbling statues. The stallion's sharp gaze noted the arch detail, the heaviness of the wood, and how it was the first real doorway en route through the corridor, and he gave a brief grimace, raising his head slightly and making a gesture that these three mares who knew him so well were able to clearly read as 'stay on guard.'

They entered some kind of massive ballroom... and Antares skidded to a halt as he heard a crash behind him, the stallion not needing to look back to know they had just been sealed inside. Scarlet Sage was the only pony to wince over her shoulder, staring at the wall of black crystal that had sprung up out of the earth: the attention of the other three ponies, meanwhile, had all automatically been drawn to the beautiful black mare slowly striding towards them, smiling as she shook her head slowly, gorgeous mane swaying around her features and zigzagging horn thrumming with ill light.

“Hello, children. I am Imago.” she said almost tenderly, and then her eyes glowed as she leaned forwards, a poisonous but alluring feeling washing over the four ponies as she ordered gently: “Come and bow down before your new mistress, and then we'll go and protect Lord Gymbr together.”

Scarlet Sage shivered, then closed her eyes and shook her head briskly as her blood boiled in her veins, adrenaline surging through her and fighting off both the lethargy and the seduction of the creature. Prestige, meanwhile, only glared coldly as Aphrodisia gave a very large, very visible yawn, and Antares remarked in a cheerful voice: “Wow, you kind of suck. Not even one out of four. Well, I'll give you half a point for Scarlet, but she's kind of a wimp.”

“Oh shut up, Mir.” Scarlet said flatly before she could stop herself, but even as he winked over his shoulder at her playfully, she saw the seriousness in his eyes, that this foolishness served more of a purpose than it might seem at first. Although she had no doubt that Antares was certainly taking a mischievous little pleasure in things, too.

Imago stared at them blankly for a moment, her mouth working slowly as the glow faded from around her horn... but then she gave an icy, calm smile and closed her eyes for a moment, nodding briefly. Antares turned his casual grin on her, but his eyes flicked over her body, picking up every twitch, every tic: the way she pawed a hoof at the floor, how her weight was shifted all to one side, the slight tilt of her head and the way the flesh of her neck pulsed.

She smiled, and he had to give her a little credit: she was pretty good at putting up a facade, staying in control. So Antares turned up the pressure a bit, purposefully waiting for her to open her mouth before he asked as loudly and cluelessly as possible: “So this is like... this is like a dancey-room, right? Like for dancing? Dancing, right?”

Imago stared for a few moments at the stallion, and then she narrowed her eyes slightly and shook her head slowly, saying softly: “You can try to be cute all you want, little colt, but it's not going to do you any good. I'm not going to take pity on you or let you distract me. So why don't we try this again? I'll call. You come. And then we'll go see Gymbr and your precious sister.”

“I'm going to go see my precious sister myself, thanks.” Antares replied mildly, and then he glanced over his shoulder at Scarlet Sage, adding: “I don't mean you, by the way, I mean Sin.”

“I figured.” Scarlet Sage said dryly, and Antares nodded helpfully a few times before he looked back towards Imago, who was studying them intently. He could almost feel the strange, gorgeous pony swallowing her emotions down and steadying herself, and the stallion sized her quickly up before he suddenly straightened and set himself.

His eyes flicked back and forth as his instincts whispered a warning to him: this massive ballroom looked empty, sure, but there was more here than cracked walls and floors, and the pony waiting across from them. There was something crawling and twisting beneath the tiled surfaces, something that was stupid and slothy but obeyed Imago...

“Apps, keep her off balance. Prestige, do me a favor and take care of any problems that... crop up.” Antares said calmly, his eyes flicking towards the new Valkyrie, and she nodded briefly to him to show she understood. “Scarlet, well... I guess you can punch her. You're good at that, right? Punching ponies? I mean, you got that from Móðer, right?”

Imago was starting to look frustrated again: less at Antares' words, more the way he was treating this so casually, looking as if he was refusing to take any of this seriously. But she smiled icily all the same as she leaned forwards, warning them coldly: “I don't have to keep you alive. Lord Gymbr is more interested in ensuring that the universe is saved by his glory than in keeping a few ungrateful little children around.”

“Yeah. That's not the creepiest thing I've ever heard at all or anything.” Antares said pointedly, and then he leaned over and nudged Aphrodisia a few times. “So what do you think? Would you trust us little children or Gymbr more to save the so-called universe? I mean, we're not exactly glorious or anything, but apart from eating paste and drawing all over everything with hoofpaint we're pretty cool, right? I mean, right?”

“Wouldn't that be cannibalism if it's really made from ponies?” asked Aphrodisia curiously, turning her eyes towards the stallion and cocking her head as she seemed to relax completely, and Imago's eye flashed before the beautiful but buglike mare stomped a hoof savagely against the ground, and the floor beneath Aphrodisia erupted as thick vines lashed cruelly upwards, snapping viciously back and forth through the air.

Antares leapt backwards, gritting his teeth at the sight of this strange, mindless organic as Aphrodisia flew limply upwards.... then suddenly vanished in a puff of black smoke, Imago looking surprised before the demon appeared in another burst of demonic smog behind the mare in mid-lunge, her scythe already cocked back.

She slashed viciously down, and the blade tore across Imago and sent the insect-like creature headlong into the ground with a scream of pain before the demon lunged forwards and shoved the upper edge of the curved blade down against Imago's neck, pinning her by the throat as she said kindly: “If you even think about trying something silly like that again, I'll aim for a limb next time.”

Imago gritted her teeth, looking furiously up at Aphrodisia before her horn glowed brightly, and the demon 's eyes widened before Imago blasted her with a ray of green energy. Aphrodisia was knocked flying through the air, scythe spinning out of her grip... but she was only defenseless for a moment before she flipped herself smoothly and landed on all four hooves, skidding to a halt as her scythe embedded itself in the ground beside her.

“Keep your toys to yourself, stupid little girl!” Imago hissed, and then she snarled as she looked at her side: there was a thin, pale wound there, dripping green, toxic-looking blood. “I will not stand for this... I will not be made a fool of, touched by you... you worthless little foals! My body is for Lord Gymbr's pleasures alone!”

“Wow, that's pretty gross.” Antares remarked almost cheerfully, and Imago snarled at him as the vines that had torn out of the floor trembled with similar rage, crawling and twisting themselves towards the stallion, but he simply stepped pointedly away from them. “I have to wonder, though... are you like, brainwashed? Does Gymbr, I dunno, pay you, or-”

Imago threw her head back and roared, and Scarlet Sage cursed and leapt to the air as the room vibrated violently around them before cracks ripped through the floor, the walls, even the ceiling. Chunks of plaster hailed down, and tiled floor exploded upwards as vines ripped out in all directions, snapping back and forth wildly as they tried to grasp and smash anything in range.

Antares only stood calmly even as the other ponies scattered, the stallion watching as an enormous, dark-green skinned plant tore out of the ground in front of him before it slapped down. But he didn't so much as twitch, even as the end of the vine passed within an inch of his face before it struck the ground.

Imago was glaring at him balefully, her eyes and horn both glowing as she hissed: “You have no idea the kind of power Lord Gymbr has given us. I am immortal, invulnerable, beautiful! I have an army at my beck and call, I can consume all in my path, I-”

“But you shouldn't.” Antares interrupted seriously, nodding a few times. “You shouldn't consume everything in your path. Because that's bad for you and, you know, you're already kind of fat and everything.”

Imago stared at him, and Antares gave the biggest, brightest grin he could summon up as he said positively: “But hey, some guys are into that, and if Gymbr likes you that way, that's cool. More cushion for the pushin'. More flank to spank. More-”

Imago flung herself into a berserk charge at the stallion, her eyes and horn blazing, unleashing blast after blast of green flames at the glossy-black unicorn as she shouted furiously: “I'm going to cut out that ever-flapping tongue of yours and make you swallow it, boy!”

Antares backpedaled, knocking away an emerald fireball with his horn before he ducked under the next, then flung himself out of the way of the third streak of magic while narrowly avoiding one of the whipping vines that had torn up through the floor. Imago cursed as she chased after him, then twitched and hissed, skidding to a halt as Aphrodisia slashed apart a cluster of organic stalks. “I said keep your toys to yourself!”

A terrible, poisonous radiance built around the mare's horn before she lashed it forwards and unleashed an arrow of green light... but Prestige skidded in front of Aphrodisia and created a barrier of magic, wincing as the arrow struck with enough force to crack it but was deflected.

The insectile mare cursed, then began to prepare another spell... but then something seized into her tail and yanked her backwards before Antares' hooves slammed down into her lower back, making her screech in pain and automatically arch as she tried to pull away. And the moment she reared, Antares seized her by the shoulders and yanked her with him as he dropped onto his back, then kicked both rear legs savagely into her spine to launch her through the air, body flipping violently out of control.

She crashed down to the ground with a gargle, and Antares grinned, horn glowing white as he stomped both hooves savagely downwards, and a wave of purification rushed through the floor and erupted beneath Imago in a pillar of light, sending the stunned mare rolling backwards with another howl of misery before she was barely able to skid around to her hooves, snarling and looking up furiously. Antares continued to grin, even though part of him was admittedly surprised: he had hammered her with quite a bit of force and she only looked a little bruised, and a lot more pissed off.

She picked herself slowly up, snarling furiously before she rose her head and roared: “Come and get dinner, babies!”

Rumbling filled the air, cracks ripping through the ceiling above before clusters of new vines tore through, ripping new holes before they spread almost like blossoming flowers, letting hissing, bug-like insects swarm their way inside. Antares looked up with a curse before Imago tried to pounce on him, but the stallion only leapt up and smashed his head into her own, knocking her backwards with a squeal of pain.

The Queen's cry attracted the attention of her horde, however, and the monsters immediately converged on Antares, buzzing down in a frenzy and slashing, grabbing, biting at him as he leapt away with a curse. One large mantis claw managed to tear across his shoulder, almost ripping the pauldron off and digging into bone as he cursed in pain, then snapped his horn out to unleash a shockwave of white energy, driving the cluster of bug-creatures back for a moment.

Aphrodisia slashed through another cluster of vines before she looked sharply towards Antares and leapt into the air. She left a puff of black smoke as she became ethereal and invisible, her weightless body shooting through the air with ease and a speed no physical pony could match before she slashed her scythe out as she became visible and real again, polearm cutting one of the bug creatures in half at the waist before she lashed the weapon upwards and sliced through another.

Scarlet Sage shot in from the other side of the group, her crosshatch blades lashing back and forth to drive the monsters out of the air, blood splattering up over her body, tasting it on her lips as she aimed for veins and arteries and anything that would bleed. Her red eyes were beginning to glow as two of the creatures veered up to attack her, but she met their mantis claws with her own harder, sharper metal blades, deflecting several slashes before she sundered a forelimb completely near the shoulder, the bug creature striking out at her with the other claw wildly as it shrieked and hurriedly retreated for one of the holes in the roof.

But more of these bug-creatures were coming in from above: they were trickling out alone and in pairs every few seconds from the holes throughout the roof, and starting to swarm not just Antares, but the other ponies as well. Imago was using the distraction her so-called children were making to withdraw from the fight, slinking slowly backwards as her horn glowed and she summoned up more of the strange, thick vines from the floor and out of the walls, making it harder for the ponies to move and fight as she grinned and licked her lips eagerly.

Prestige winced, letting one of the bug creatures drive her backwards before the new Valkyrie snapped her horn out and blasted the bug into a group of monsters rushing greedily for Antares, knocking them all over like dominoes. Then the unicorn's eye flicked upwards before she nodded sharply and snapped her horn towards the nearest hole in the ceiling, and a bug just passing through squealed as both it and the entrance were sealed in thick, gleaming ice, the vines around the edges of the hole twisting and writhing wildly before they rapidly wilted and fell apart.

The new Valkyrie had enough time to seal a second hole closed before one of the bug creatures pounced on her from the side, tackling her to the ground and pinning her as it hacked wildly at her armor and attempted to yank itself into a position where it could bite at her throat. Others, seeing her vulnerable, swarmed in as well, not caring as they scrambled over each other, not even seeming to notice even when their claws scratched and tore at each other's chitinous hide.

Prestige cursed, then snapped her horn upwards and unleashed a blast of both force and thunderous electricity in all directions, and the monsters were blown away from her as Prestige leapt to her hooves before she slung her horn down and smashed the nearest monster away with a psychokinetic hammer, either killing it or knocking all the sense out of the creature as it was flung away to land in a boneless, broken heap.

Imago crept slowly around a cluster of vines as her horn glowed, watching as the unicorn mare blasted another creature away. She was powerful, emanating intense magic and fierce emotions, and the insectile pony licked her lips slowly as she slipped sinuously towards the new Valkyrie, opening her mouth as long fangs slid slowly into place in her jaws, ready to pierce the pony's flesh, drink down her emotions, add her strength to her own...

The Queen readied herself to pounce... then gave a cry of frustration when several of her own brood crashed into her like cannonballs, knocked on her side and clawing at them in confusion before a white fireball smashed into the group of stunned and half-dead bug-monsters, exploding with enough force to send them hurtling in all directions with screams of pain as the purification spread greedily over their bodies.

Imago shrieked and staggered back and forth, shaking her burning mane violently, and Antares turned his eyes to Prestige; the unicorn mare was already on her hooves, however, and most of the insectile creatures had turned their attention to Antares, rushing and buzzing towards the stallion as he looked back and forth before trusting in his instincts and springing straight up into the air. He kicked viciously off a monster before it could claw him, launching himself safely away before he spun around and leapfrogged off another bug in midair, then rammed headlong into a third and slashed his horn down with a blast of force, launching it hurtling backwards into Scarlet Sage.

The Pegasus caught the bleeding, broken body of the beast against herself, then she gritted her teeth in disgust before leaning down and licking up the dying beast's neck, swallowing back its bitter blood before her eyes flashed bright red as a buzzing filled her mind.

She dropped the bug's corpse and kicked it hard in the back with both hooves, launching it into the swarming insects before she shoved a hoof out as she gritted her teeth and focused her powers, making the blood in the dead body boil, superheating the corpse as blood became poisonous fuel-

The beast's body exploded, chunks of burning bug-creature flying in all directions and pelting both monsters and flailing vines and setting whatever they touched aflame. The beasts went into a panic, scattering in all directions as the vines lashed back and forth in frenzy, and Imago staggered backwards as she howled in denial: “No! My babies! My home!”

She snarled in fury and lashed her horn out at Scarlet Sage, and the Pegasus cried out as a blast of emerald flames hammered into her and knocked her out of the air to crash to the ground in a smoking heap. Antares gritted his teeth at this, then he lunged forwards, his own horn glowing as he charged straight at Imago, but the creature turned to face him with a furious snarl as she stomped her hooves down, massive vines ripping out of the ground all around the glossy-black unicorn.

He dodged back and forth, gritting his teeth and trying to muscle his way forwards even as the plants lashed at him and struck him like clubs, before one of the vines managed to seize around his throat and the others snagged his limbs. They started to yank in all directions, but in only a moment, Prestige was at the stallion's side, snapping her horn out to set the organic aflame and allow Antares to rip himself free.

Imago snarled as Prestige and Antares both set themselves side-by-side, glaring at her through the spreading flames as the fire greedily consumed the vines and spilled over the floor, but left a neat circle of open space around the two ponies. For a few moments, there was little sound apart from the crackling flames and the hissing breaths of the bug creatures as they assembled themselves around the ponies protected by the wall of flame, and then Imago snarled, eyes blazing: “Kill them!”

She snapped her horn forwards, sending a blaze of emerald light at them as her howling children leapt in from all sides, and time seemed to slow for Antares as a grin crested his features, unafraid, proud, and beside Prestige... invincible. And without hesitation, he simply slapped the blast of green flames aside, sending it rocketing into one of the insect monsters as he used his momentum to half-turn and slam another blow into the face of another bug, knocking it back into the wall of flames it had just torn through.

Prestige snapped her own horn upwards, living tendrils of flame snapping upwards beside her to seize the monstrous bugs and yank them down into the inferno, bugs howling in misery before the new Valkyrie lashed her horn outwards. A great arc of flame shot from the firewall, hammering into Imago and driving her back before the twist of flame became a living serpent of lightning that blasted itself down into the creature, knocking her flat with a shriek; and again, the living energy transformed even as it spread out over her body, turning to ice that cemented the mare against the floor.

Antares kicked both rear hooves backwards into the face of another half-mantis creature, then snapped his horn forwards as Imago ripped herself free from the ice... only to be hammered by the blade of white flame flung at her from Antares, the mare knocked crashing backwards with a howl of torment and misery.

She crashed and rolled several times, then scrabbled to her hooves, snarling through features that had been skinned by Antares' purification. Her horn glowed a sickening green as she snapped her head forwards, and Antares and Prestige both winced as four bright green fireballs arched out of her horn, zigzagging wildly back and forth before they homed violently in on the two ponies.

Prestige managed to snap her horn out and deflect the two heading for her, but the explosion was enough to drive her backwards and consume the protective barrier of flames around them, while Antares only dodged one of the fireballs: the other curved suddenly upwards of its own accord, hammering into his chest in a massive flare of emerald flames and knocking him limply skyward.

Imago grinned viciously, then she reared back, her horn glowing as Prestige cursed and set herself... then stared in horror as the horns of the bug creatures around her lit up brightly before they simply crumpled lifelessly to the ground, bodies turning pale as they died... as they sacrificed all their life force willingly to their Queen. Emerald veins of energy pulsed through Imago's body as she laughed loudly, a massive fireball glowing brighter and brighter around her horn. “Die, colt!”

She lashed her horn down, firing an emerald meteor at Antares as he fell helplessly into the path of the attack. He didn't even have time to blink before it struck... or rather, before something struck into it, the blade of Aphrodisia's scythe piercing deep into the emerald boulder as the demon herself appeared behind the weapon a moment later, snarling furiously as her body rippled and her features went from beautiful to emaciated and skull like, roaring: “Leave him alone!”

The demon lunged forwards, slashing out with all the supernatural power in her body as the scythe unleashed a blast of energy that repelled the powerful magic, and Imago's eyes widened before the meteor smashed into her and exploded. The force of the blast was immense, shaking the castle around them, causing chunks of ceiling to collapse and knocking the three ponies flying away to crash to the ground in stunned, stupefied heaps.

Antares slowly rose his head... and stared at the sight of Imago, bleeding and gurgling, her hide blackened and burnt, her limbs nothing but gnarled sticks, her mane and tail completely burned away. She dragged herself weakly forwards, then bared her fangs as she rose her head, horn starting to glow as she whispered: “I'm going to drain the life out of you... and then Lord Gymbr is going to r-reward me... you just... stay nice and still for me...”

The stallion gritted his teeth, breathing hard before he and Prestige both slowly climbed to their hooves, and Imago snarled at them as she began to lean forwards... then gasped in shock as a crosshatch blade buried into the back of her neck before it yanked viciously free. Imago stumbled around in a circle, eyes blazing as Scarlet Sage hurriedly leapt away, her red eyes glowing as she licked up the blood from the blade before Imago rasped: “Fine, you can die first, little miss-”

Scarlet Sage thrust a hoof towards the mare and twisted, and Imago vomited blood before her eyes widened in horror, trembling and staring weakly at the ground as the Pegasus said quietly: “Sorry. But I have to stop you now.”

Imago began to raise her head even as the aura around her horn stuttered, her mouth opening wide, but Scarlet Sage made a sharp cutting gesture to either side, and the insectile pony simply dropped her head, looking blank for a moment. She frowned a little, tilting her head back and forth as if she had forgotten something, and then her eyes rolled up in her head before she tumbled over with a sickening squelch as Scarlet shivered and half-turned away.

A pool of blood steadily grew around Imago as it leaked out of torn apart veins and arteries, her body twitching weakly before it burst into green flames. Scarlet Sage winced backwards in surprise, then stared as a spirit slowly rose up out of the corpse, the ghost glaring furiously at her before the Pale of Imago flickered and vanished from sight.

Antares only grimaced at this, shaking his head briefly before he looked over at Aphrodisia, but the demon was slowly picking herself up off the ground with a wheeze, her features returning to normal and her body settling. She smiled almost embarrassedly at Antares, but he nodded his gratitude to her before he turned his eyes towards Scarlet, asking finally: “Why didn't you just make her head explode in the first place?”

“Because that's messy, and it's hard to just run in and get someone's blood.” Scarlet Sage said moodily, and then she looked uneasily back and forth, but most of the bug creatures were either dead or dying: either sacrificed to their Mistress, or apparently lost and broken without her. “We need to keep going. But how do we...”

“That way.” Antares gestured past a few clusters of large vines that were steadily wilting, the stallion grimacing a bit as he pointed at a half-collapsed wall. There was a gaping hole through it that looked like it led into another corridor, one that somehow felt... like it was the right way to go to the stallion. He had no reason to trust that other than his instincts, but as he'd learned... sometimes that was all he really needed.

The three mares nodded to him, brushing themselves off and shaking themselves out as Antares rubbed slowly at his features, trying to get himself back in check. Imago had slowed them down, and he had the feeling that was precisely what she had been meant to do. He also had the feeling that his parents had probably run into something even worse, but then again, all three of them had always been magnets for trouble...

What he had to focus on was finding Sin. And the stallion thought he was catching hints of her here and there, like he could sense her... but she was trying her hardest not to be found, not to be noticed, to stay away from him and from her family and maybe... from Gymbr. And for some reason, that made him more nervous than he wanted to admit.

He shook himself out with a grunt, then quickly headed for the hole in the wall, breathing slowly. In spite of how corrupt the air felt, he still felt like some part of Valhalla was trying to feed him strength: like Heaven itself was struggling to throw off Gymbr's rule and return to its good and rightful order. And he really hoped that wasn't just his optimism playing tricks on him, as he studied the hole for a moment before smiling slightly and glancing over his shoulder. “Apps smash?”

“Apps smash.” Aphrodisia brightened at this, then she shook herself firmly several times before leaping forwards, drawing a foreleg back before her eyes glowed as demonic energy surged over her body, her limb transforming into a disproportionate, massive claw before she simply punched the cracked wall below the hole and reduced it to crumbled rubble.

She drew her arm back as it flexed and returned to normal, breathing slowly as she lowered her head for a moment to get the Wrath side of her demonic heritage under control. Antares reached up and squeezed his cousin's shoulder firmly, smiling to her supportively before he stepped past and through the archway into the corridor beyond that had been formed.

His eyes flicked back and forth, and then he nodded, saying quickly over his shoulder: “Stay on guard, but it looks like this area is mostly clear. Most of the soldiers must have been drawn out.”

The others nodded, and then fell into position behind Antares as he led them quickly down the hall in single file, his eyes flicking back and forth as he grimaced in disgust at how distorted and cracked these halls seemed to be. He felt sparks of static run down his spine as they made their way forwards, saying with disgust: “Horses of Heaven, it feels like Gymbr must have tried to turn reality completely upside down here... everything's just...”

“Twisted. Broken.” Prestige muttered in agreement, and there was silence as they ran around a corner and past a large chunk of collapsed ceiling that left only a narrow, thin gap the four slipped hurriedly through. None of them wanted to slow down: not just in case there were still wandering soldiers, but because everything looked and felt like it was about to come down any moment.

Then Antares looked sharply up as he sensed a distinct energy, looking towards a closed door to one side of the hall before he leapt towards it and smashed through. The others were surprised, but scrambled to follow all the same as the stallion took a shortcut across a reading room, tore through a beaded curtain, and then ran down a narrow hall and smashed into a bedroom where a wall had been blown completely out, the stallion using the rubble-covered bed as a step to fling himself through the hole in the wall to land in a narrow corridor beyond and rush past several massive, half-destroyed statues of Tyrant Wyrms and crumbled black crystal towards a golden archway...

And the stallion slowed to a halt as he entered a large, circular room with a bright gold floor, huge pillars half-embedded into the wall holding up the domed ceiling above. A massive chandelier made of black crystal hung from this, huge lanterns burning with golden, holy fire hanging from this by heavy chains and casting light over the area.

Standing in the center of the room, beautiful and arrogant, was Innocence. Her head was raised high, horn gleaming, and she was even taller than Antares now... lithe, gorgeous, strong, her polymorph making her look perfectly like a unicorn. Her eyes glowed with power and she was dressed only in a thick black cloak that swirled slowly around her... but Antares grinned widely as he loitered towards her, saying calmly: “You can try and hide it, Sin... but looks like you got a booboo or two from the time flux, huh?”

“Screw you, Antares.” Innocence said coldly, leaning forwards as her eyes blazed with fury. “Do you know what you've done? How much you and our parents have put at risk? Now Gymbr had to seal himself away, to try and heal himself...” She gestured sharply at another archway, leading down another hallway. “Heaven was almost destroyed. Is that funny to you?”

“Yeah, kinda, since. You know, you guys were all like, 'oh, let's put it under new management and kick out the old tenants,' and we were all like 'haha no.'” Antares replied mildly, and Innocence ground her teeth together furiously as the stallion succeeded in getting under her skin. But her polymorph didn't stutter at all, and the glossy-black unicorn said in a softer voice: “Practicing, huh?”

“Yeah. I have been.” Innocence set herself calmly, smiling coldly at him. “You're not much, Antares. You're just my brother. My little brother now. I've spent years at Gymbr's side... shared blood, love, life with him... gained power like you couldn't believe, you could never understand. I am a goddess. And he is going to make me his queen and allow me to tie his spirit to his, so we will never be apart, and you and all our family are going to be my wedding present to him, because you just won't understand, you just won't stop.”

“No, so you'll be a slave.” Antares smiled at her, and Innocence gritted her teeth... but he saw something in her eyes. Some flicker, some fear, some... something. But it was a start, as he continued softly: “But no, that's fine. Because it's not going to happen. I'm here to ensure that doesn't happen... now you can either be a good girl, Sin, or... we can play rough.”

He stopped, then held up a hoof when Prestige began to step forwards, saying softly to the mare without taking his eyes off his sibling: “Sorry. But this is a big brother, baby sister kind of thing.”

Innocence laughed at this, grinning widely. “I have more power than you ever will, Antares! And I've lived for decades, training beside Gymbr in ways you and Móðer could never believe, would never have let me! And all that forbidden magic Momma always tried to keep from me... it's mine now! Antares, I can bend reality! I am a goddess! I am...”

Innocence's horn and eyes glowed white, and then she roared and arched her back as a cyclone of black energy ripped up through the air around her, rapidly expanding into a terrible cyclone before it left a monstrous Tyrant Wyrm in its wake, with scales of black crystal and eyes that glowed white with raw power through the skull-like features as a set of eight ivory pistons pumped over her back, crescent horn now enormous and burning with black fire as dark smoke rasped out of her jaws. “I am Mistress of Heaven! What were you, but its messenger boy?”

Antares calmly faced the Tyrant Wyrm: she was as big as Scrivener Blooms could become, but there was no fear. This transformation struck him as... synthetic, forced, and for all the power she exuded... he felt a hurt little girl in there, too. And he felt that she was already foolishly straining herself, just to show off. Just to make him scared.

She leaned down and roared furiously at him, then charged... and Antares opened his eyes as his features went cold before he leapt up as his horn glowed white, slamming a hoof directly into the Tyrant Wyrm's face. There was a shockwave of white energy, and Sin's head snapped back as the Tyrant Wyrm's features filled with disbelief.

Then Antares dove forwards and slammed into her breast, viciously hammering a flurry of punches across her crystalline chest, sending up blasts of black smog and shattering crystal like brittle ice before he snapped his horn forwards, white energies blasting over the dark gemstone and making them pulse eerily. He leapt backwards when Sin tried to stomp on him savagely, before she leaned forwards and roared, unleashing a blast of black flames, but the stallion strafed sharply to the side before he snapped his horn upwards, sending a blast of white fire at her.

She grinned, eyes flashing as she glared at the fireball and her own horn pulsed, and the magic was simply dissipated before she arched her back and roared, a terrible obsidian wind ripping past, reeking of ash and death as Antares felt his entire body light up with pain. Then he looked sharply to the side as he saw Prestige hurriedly creating a barrier to protect herself, Apps, and Scarlet, and the stallion shouted angrily: “This is between us, Sin!”

“Oh, that upsets you?” Innocence laughed and stomped a claw in the direction of the three mares, and spikes of black crystal ripped up through the ground around the barrier, making Prestige snarl as she fought to maintain the shield before the Tyrant Wyrm flung herself forwards and slammed her claws down against the forcefield, half-cradling it and half-crushing it as Antares stared with horror at the mare. “Honor is for the weak! Mercy is nothing but idiocy and has no place in the world! Power, power is all that matters, and Gymbr is giving me all that I can handle and more... and if he wants my body, my heart, my soul in return, let him have it as long as I can have more power! I'll give him all of that... and I'll give him you, and our parents, and anyone else as sacrifice for my pleasure, my power!”

Innocence rose a claw to deal a crushing blow to the shield, laughing, grinning... and Antares created a wall of white energy behind himself before he flung himself back into it, using it like a trampoline to launch himself in a streak of white energy towards the mare, a snarl on his face as he shouted furiously: “That's enough!”

He smashed into the Tyrant Wyrm's face, knocking her head to the side and the Tyrant Wyrm stumbling, off balance, before she screamed in agony as Antares struck down again and again into the base of her horn as they glowed with white energy, shattering the crystalline horn before he slammed both front hooves in a savage tomahawk into her cracked skull. Innocence screamed as she flicked her head upwards, launching Antares free, but the stallion flung himself with her, flipping upside down before he created a barrier of white energy above himself, landing upside down against this before he shoved off hard enough to make the air around him ripple.

He crashed through the Tyrant Wyrm's face like a wrecking ball, obliterating its muzzle and the entire front of its features in a hail of onyx gemstone, revealing Sin locked inside the head of the monster like a queen upon her throne. The head snapped back, but Antares had already landed on another angled wall of energy that he had created beneath him, springing himself upwards through the rain of stone and smashing into the mare, driving her back into the skull cavity of the crystalline Wyrm.

All the air was knocked out of Sin's lungs, the mare too shocked to fight back, to do anything but howl in horror as Antares slammed hoof after hoof down into his little sister, the volley of blows hammering her forcefully backwards down the throat of her own creation as his horn glowed brighter and brighter, until he finally snapped it downwards as he swung a blow into her with all the might and fury in his body.

Sin was smashed bonelessly through the back of the Tyrant Wyrm's neck, only to crash down into its spine and rip completely through its crystalline body, the entire behemoth twisting as if in agony before it shattered like glass as the mare tore out its stomach and hit the floor of the arena on her face, bouncing bonelessly backwards several times until she rolled to a halt, gasping weakly for breath. Her polymorph had vanished completely, and her clothing hung loosely around a body that wasn't as lithe as she had made it, that was a little smaller than Antares still, and that was now covered almost head-to-claws in scales as her eyes stared blankly into the distance with disbelief.

She slowly, weakly attempted to pick herself up, coughing and trembling. Her body shook with pain, and her eyes looked weakly, disbelievingly over her shoulder through the hail of black stone and the fading dark mist all throughout the arena, watching as Antares slowly, calmly approached as he shook his head slowly and said quietly: “I don't ever... ever... want to hear you saying things like that again. You have no idea what you're talking about, the trouble you're going to get yourself into... and sure. For you it's been... what, fifty, sixty years? But all of that was lies, accelerated time, energy playing tricks on you. If you're lucky, maybe half that training is going to stay with you. And if you're lucky, you didn't shorten your lifespan by more than a few years. Because even we immortals have a lifespan, Sin... no one escapes their expiration date.”

“Antares...” Innocence whispered, clenching her eyes shut and trembling, and the stallion softened as he strode closer to her, reached down and touched her shoulder gently. Innocence closed her eyes, breathing unevenly, close to sobbing...

And then she spun around and snapped her horn out, and the stallion was blasted backwards with a howl of agony in a torrent of black flames before Innocence leapt to her hooves, snarling in fury even as tears fell from her eyes as she shouted: “I'll never bow to you! Never! I won't let you or anyone else be stronger than I am!”

Her head snapped upwards, horn sparking with so much energy that the magical recoil almost drove her to the ground, but a massive blast of black lightning hammered down into Antares' surprised body, enormous, terrible obsidian flames bursting up all around him as he howled in pain and writhed back and forth. And Innocence only laughed, grinning into the conflagration even as lunacy burned in her eyes, stomping her hooves wildly and screaming: “You should have just given up! You should have just given in! You're nothing, nothing, nothing to me!”

The cries of pain faded as Prestige shouted Antares' name and Scarlet Sage stared with horror at what Innocence had become, while the strange, twisted unicorn only grinned into the black inferno, rasping for breath, black blood running from wounds that were already beginning to heal. Soon enough, there was only smoke rising from the floor, and the mare giggled a little to herself, twitching a bit before she began to turn... then froze when there was a groan from beneath the pall of black smog.

The smoke slowly cleared, and as it did, Antares forced himself to sit up, shaking char off his body and reaching up to rub at his burnt mane as raw flesh flexed here and through through his coat... and then he grimaced when several clumps of white hair fell away, muttering: “Great. But is that the best you got, Sin?

Innocence bared her fangs at him with a snarl, staggering into a ready position even as a bolt of disbelief, even fear twisted through her as Antares glared at her with determination, with anger, with... with disappointment that somehow still hurt her worst of all, even with everything she had told herself... but just as both ponies began to lunge, a voice interrupted them, making them both stagger and stare towards the speaker. “What are you doing?”

Luna's group hadn't encountered any other enemies after dealing with the Three Fates. They had pushed hard forwards from there, smashing down any locked doors they came across and moving quickly through dilapidated halls, ignoring the few puppets they saw on the way: but these rarely made any aggressive moves towards them. Then again, it wasn't like they stopped to chat, either.

Then they had entered the half-collapsed 'yard' of sorts: it had likely once been beautiful, but the fountain in the center was now nothing more than a broken, twisted wreck of metal that was bleeding black poison over the humped-up earth, and trees had fallen and come uprooted here and there. One had actually fallen on top of a sentry golem and crushed it... but the other three massive, pony-shaped statues came quickly to life once they started to approach the stairs that led up to a door. A door that could only lead to Gymbr, judging by the powerful magic barrier protecting it.

Pinkamena and Sleipnir had leapt into the fray with grins, eager to get the first blows in against Gymbr's personal guards... and now the demon was sitting on top of the ruins of one of the machines, looking disappointed and sulky as she childishly slammed her axe down into its face again and again, sending up rattling clangs. Celestia, meanwhile, was studying the magic barrier as Sleipnir and Luna both pounded on it, trying unsuccessfully to break the glowing shield.

Scrivener Blooms was sitting back and curiously studying one of the broken golems, while Twilight Sparkle was off to the side, gazing at one of the open doorways and frowning a little. She could feel something... some tickle of magic coming from that direction. No, more than that... there was a sense of familiarity, of... Antares and... was that Innocence? Had he found Innocence?

The charcoal stallion looked up in surprise as he caught Twilight's thoughts, and Luna shoved away from the barrier, turning with a frown and a tilt of her head. “Truly? I do not sense it... but... perhaps 'tis because all I can think about is accursed Gymbr at this moment. And my horn... I do not know. It is responding to him, it is... I can feel him...”

Luna shivered, shaking her head briefly as Celestia frowned and Sleipnir halted after another punch, leaning against the solid magic barrier as he turned his own gaze to Twilight Sparkle. And the Lich hesitated, licking her lips... but then smiled faintly when Scrivener said softly: “Go ahead. Go take a look, Twilight... we'll be here. It looks like it's going to take a little bit to get through that barrier, anyway. You might as well find out what's going on.”

“Aye, but mark my words, by the time thou returns this barrier will be dust... I only hope thou returns in time to get thine own pummeling in on Gymbr.” Luna growled as she turned back towards the golden wall of light, and Sleipnir chuckled before he turned a smile to Twilight Sparkle.

“Fear not, Twilight. My big sister and I shall do well to ensure that little sister here does not go attacking the beast without thee. 'Twill take all of us and more, I fear, to bring this monster to his knees. We will be cautious. And thou well deserves thine own chance at vengeance; something I know Luna understands much better than rational fear.” Sleipnir said gently, and Twilight nodded with a small blush as Luna huffed a bit, but nodded grudgingly herself.

Then the Lich turned towards the archway that had drawn her attention, hurrying into it and running down a hall floored with ripped carpeting. It wasn't very long, but the sensations as she moved down the corridor became exponentially stronger, and she felt like she was passing through some kind of muffling curtain and into a completely different, completely hostile environment.

The violet mare frowned as she strode towards the end of the corridor, where another archway opened on some kind of immense, golden room beyond... and then Twilight looked up sharply at the loud, thunderous bang and the distinct pulse of magic she felt.

For a moment, she stood, frozen. The energy felt twisted but familiar... she recognized that magic all too well, but at the same time it was different than anything she'd ever felt, upside-down, like a blackened, cracked mirror-image. The violet mare trembled as something inside her twisted at this thought, before she suddenly threw herself forwards, stumbling into a sprint that carried her down the rest of the hall in seconds.

She staggered out, unnoticed, into an enormous, golden arena... and stared in disbelief at the sight of Innocence trembling and backing away from Antares as he slowly picked himself up from whatever magical attack she had just blasted him with. Twilight could feel the crackle of negative energy in the air, could smell the reek of dark energies as clearly as she did charred flesh as Antares faced Innocence and set himself, and the violet mare trembled before she leapt forwards and asked sharply, just as the two began to throw themselves at each other: “What are you doing?”

Her children stumbled, staring at her with incredulity for a moment before Innocence snarled and snapped her horn fiercely towards Antares, and... it hurt Twilight's heart to see. Not only did she lash out with childish rage and toxic energies, there was no honor, there was no... meaning in what she did. There was just anger and hatred and a desire to hurt Antares... who took the blast of dark energies and skidded backwards with a curse, then looked up with anger and frustration and disappointment in his eyes that told her... this wasn't the first time Innocence had displayed a startling lack of honor.

“Good, Mommy's here. She can watch me rip you apart, Antares. And then I'll take her apart, piece-by-piece, and bind her soul to this world so I can drag her to Gymbr... no, I have a better idea.” Innocence glared at her with, with such... such malice. Such hate. Such... irate childishness, that hurt Twilight to the core. “I'll drain your soul myself. You always kept so many secrets from me... you wanted me to be weak! Well, I'm not weak anymore, mother, I'm strong, stronger than all of you put together, and one day I'll be stronger than even Gymbr!”

Twilight Sparkle closed her eyes, lowering her head silently... and Innocence snarled, leaping forwards and slashing her horn out, sending a blast of black flames hammering into Twilight's face as Antares shouted in fury. The flames smashed against Twilight, but she barely felt them even as they seared away part of her features and left bare skull exposed: she only felt hurt, and upset, and so... so goddamn disappointed. In herself, for not being a good enough mother to have prevented this, and in Innocence, for... throwing away everything she'd ever learned.

Antares leapt at Sin, who turned to meet him, and overestimated her own strength and underestimated her brother's skill as she tried to grapple. In a flash, he grabbed her wrist and slammed her face-first into the ground, then pinned her by the horn to the floor, saying coldly: “If you weren't my sister, Sin, I'd-”

“Enough, Antares. Let her up.” Twilight Sparkle said quietly, and Antares frowned, looking uncertainly up at his mother as Sin only grinned, like she sensed weakness, like she thought they were making a mistake she could take advantage of. But Twilight's next words caught both her children by surprise, as she said softly: “If you think you're stronger than me, Innocence, this is your chance to prove it. If you think you can kill me, go ahead and try. But I think you've started mixing up strength with savagery. I think you've forgotten that the practice of honor itself makes us-”

Sin lunged up to her feet, yanking herself out from beneath Antares and shoving him away with one claw as she snapped her horn upwards, enormous spikes of crystal ripping from the floor all around Twilight... and not one hit her as the violet mare's own horn gave a brief flash, her own magic twisting the spikes into useless, contorted shapes before they could make contact as she closed her eyes. “I'm so disappointed in you.”

Innocence snarled, then stomped childishly as she trembled furiously before screaming: “You did this to me! If you had just... just shared your strength with me, if you had stopped treating me like a stupid little girl... what else was I supposed to do when Gymbr offered me power? Gifts? Everything you failed to give me!”

Antares slowly stepped backwards, keeping contemptible eyes on Innocence as he withdrew and the others stared on, Scarlet Sage trembling as she hugged herself before Innocence suddenly whirled around and hissed: “I'm not like this... stupid, fake big sister of mine, adopted into the family, absolutely worthless because she's too weak to use her own powers! You never even let me train with strong demons, and the dumb barbarian whore of a cousin of mine gets to live in Helheim! And look at Antares and Prestige... pretty little lovebirds, oh so cute, always getting what they want because they're supposed to be good and special; well, I'm special too! I'm better than them! I'm the best, and I wanted you to experience that beside me but oh no, Sin is evil, Gymbr is bad, and we're going to turn on you instead! Call you a monster, throw you out, and I wanted to love you... I would have shared power and pleasure with you and Daddy and Mutt that-”

“I've heard enough, Sin. You're only going in circles now.” Twilight Sparkle said quietly but firmly, and Sin looked almost surprised at being cut off, mouthing wordlessly for a moment before the Lich slowly set herself, breathing evenly and knowing that she had to do this. That she had to be the one to do this... that it was the only way to set things right, no matter how much it hurt her to even consider, let alone act on.

Her daughter, the arrogant, twisted creature that had once been her beautiful little girl, stared at her with disbelief... and then a nasty grin spread over her face as she mocked: “Aren't you going to call on Mutt and Daddy? They always had to drag your carcass behind them, didn't they... fitting as that is for you, Mommy.”

Twilight Sparkle only gave a brief, sad smile, murmuring quietly: “You're not going to make me angry, Sin. Yes, your words can hurt me, and I'm so disappointed in you, and so upset... but... I'm not angry. Because part of this is my fault... but I'm going to make things right now. As much as I hate to do this, Sin... I'm going to stop you.”

Sin smiled coldly at this, then she snapped her horn out, sending a wave of black, crystalline spikes ripping out of the ground, rapidly spreading in the direction of the Lich, but the violet mare only grimaced and leapt quickly aside as Innocence said disgustedly: “I've mastered my mire thaumaturgy, and dozens of so-called 'forbidden' branches of magic! I can steal souls, I can force the dead to do my bidding, I can do anything and everything you can but more, better, faster! I am a goddess, and what are you but the stupid slave who gave birth to someone you could never measure up to, Twilight Sparkle?”

Innocence lashed her horn back and forth, and swords of black energy appeared in the air around Twilight, the Lich feeling tears welling up in her eyes even as her own horn took on the faintest glow as she leapt back and forth. She dodged most of the hail of energy blades, but several still managed to strike into her body all the same, ripping through her armor and leaving hideous wounds in her flesh that reeked of rot and brimstone. But the pain in her spirit barely made her stagger, and the wounds stung less than Sin's cruel words as she continued harshly: “You don't know anything about real darkness, or mastering yourself! You're the plaything of two superior ponies, you take all your strength from them... but after I devour your strength I'll show Luna and Scrivener that their little girl is all grown up better than they could ever be!”

A missile of terrible, malignant energies shot at Twilight, and the Lich rose her foreleg and blocked this with a wince, skidding backwards at the blast of force and dark flames before Innocence laughed loudly as she snapped her horn forwards, a ray of dark energies following this sharply and striking into Twilight's defensively-raised limb, melting through the metal armor and burning slowly through the flesh below. The young mare grinned insanely, her eyes glowing with hate and power and... emotions Twilight was beginning to think might not really be there, might just be a trick of her own desperate hopes, as Sin stomped her claws back and forth against the ground, every heavy clawfall sending a blade of black crystal ripping up from the ground around Twilight.

The violet winged unicorn managed to dodge most of these even as she kept her foreleg raised and the beam of energy blocked, before the Lich's own horn gave a sharp pulse, and Innocence's head snapped back as she gurgled in surprise when recoil blasted across her horn and her laser of energy was cut off. She stumbled stupidly backwards, then shook her head and quickly regained her stance, looking more frustrated than anything else.

She took a sharp breath, then leapt into the air as a dark aura surrounded her body... and Twilight stared in disbelief as Innocence calmly floated into the air, her head raised high, her eyes glowing faintly as she said coldly: “You never helped me fly. But Gymbr has given me the power to overcome everything... to do anything I put my mind to. Power is truth.”

“No, Innocence...” Twilight shook her head slowly, smiling faintly. “I would have helped you fly if you'd asked me to. I would have given you my own wings if you would have asked me to...” These spread, the Lich flapping them slowly and lifting silently into the air, under her own strength, under her own natural ability. “But I wanted you to really learn. I didn't just want to give you apples... I wanted to teach you to grow your own orchard. No matter how magnificent you think your powers are, Innocence... without the ability to harness it, to understand it, all the power in the world is worthless.”

“All the power in the world is mine!” Innocence shouted, and then she shot forwards, stretching her claws out towards Twilight Sparkle, a terrifying dark comet... that Twilight only smiled faintly at before she calmly slipped just a few feet to the side, and Innocence shot wildly past her before veering awkwardly around in a circle.

Her horn began to glow, but Twilight noted that as her daughter tried to concentrate a spell, her flight path became jagged, the dark energy insulating her body weakened. And when she sent a blast of dark magic at her, it was sloppy, underdeveloped, and the Lich grimaced as she rose her foreleg and blocked the magic blast as her own horn thrummed faintly with power.

Innocence shot in behind the attack, grinning viciously, claws raised and burning with dark energy as she lunged... and Twilight Sparkle simply flicked her horn down, an almost gentle telekinetic slap knocking Innocence's head down and sending her diving past, spiraling wildly out of control to smash face-first into the ground

The corrupted unicorn trembled, then snarled furiously before she flung herself into the air again, shooting up high into the sky before she spun around and slashed her horn out in a wide arc, a massive blade of black electricity surging through the sky. Twilight Sparkle only smiled faintly at this, shaking her head briefly before she covered herself with her forelegs and took the brunt of the blast, knocked backwards and grimacing in pain as dark lightning sizzled violently over her.

Then she simply shrugged the worst of the dark magic off, her eyes calm and steady as Innocence glared at her furiously before she shot suddenly upwards, and Twilight frowned in surprise before her eyes widened as Innocence smashed her way through the chandelier, chunks of black crystal flying in all directions as several lanterns tore free from the ruins of metal and mineral.

Innocence tore out the other side and spun around with a savage grin, and Twilight stared in shock as many of the pieces of dark gemstone were caught in a malicious telekinetic hold, revolving slowly in the air before the corrupted mare snapped her horn forwards. Countless blades and pieces of crystalline shrapnel were launched into a deadly storm, and Twilight's eyes widened before she realized that Innocence wasn't just targeting her: the rain of sharp crystal was going to hit their impromptu audience as well.

Twilight gritted her teeth as her horn glowed brightly, flinging herself backwards as she lashed out with all the strength she dared, and the dark rain was simply... frozen. For a few long, amazed seconds, the deadly, glittering shrapnel floated and trembled, halfway between Innocence and Twilight Sparkle as the corrupted unicorn stared in shock... then howled in frustration and pain as black gemstones exploded like fireworks, dark, dirty powder choking the air.

In frustration, Innocence snapped her horn forwards, and the powder was blasted down in a stinging torrent that nettled Twilight's body and blinded her, making her cry out as she half-turned away. And Innocence's eyes widened before she shot down with a grin, seizing one of the loosely-hanging lanterns from the ravaged chandelier and snapping her horn out to tear it free and send it flying down towards the violet mare.

Twilight looked up too little, too late, before the lantern smashed into her and exploded, crying out as holy fire washed over her body, violently eating its way into her as she flailed back and forth and began to topple... then rose her forelegs just a moment before a meteor of raw energy smashed into her with a tremendous bang, sending her rocketing out of the sky and crashing to the arena below with a sick thud of flesh-on-stone.

Innocence laughed as she slowly lowered from the skies, grinning in victory as Antares snarled, stepping forwards... then cursing as Prestige caught him. He trembled, wanting to help but knowing he couldn't interfere, even as Innocence looked over at the audience and jeered: “Honor. That's just another word for cowardice, right? Hiding under Mommy's skirts, because you know that you're no match for me... but Twilight's always been expendable. Isn't that right, Mommy?”

The corrupt mare strode over to her mother and slammed a hoof into her stomach, then stomped on her, and again, and again, and again. Twilight barely twitched with any of the blows, body smoldering, only the trembles running through her showing she was still with them. Her armor was burnt and blackened in places, chunks of the crystalline undercoating fused into her flesh from the power of Innocence's magic, and she looked beaten and broken... and yet still Innocence hit her, snarling down at her, looking torn between anger and...

Twilight looked up, and Innocence met her eyes for a moment, trembling... then snarled in fury and shouted: “Don't you look at me! Don't you dare look at me! You are not my equal, you're not even my inferior... you're nothing to me!”

Innocence snapped her head down, and Twilight's body burst into black flames... but all the same, the Lich kept her head raised, her eyes locked on Innocence's before the corrupt mare snarled... then staggered backwards, as if afraid, when Twilight began to stand. Sin snapped her horn out, and black swords of energy formed in the air around Twilight Sparkle before shooting forwards, ripping through her body... but all the same, Twilight stood; Twilight ignored them, and the rotting wounds they left, like they were unimportant. Like they wouldn't be enough to kill a lesser pony.

The corrupt unicorn staggered backwards, and Twilight Sparkle shook herself briefly as her horn pulsed, the flames whiffing out around her as the mare said softly: “You were given so many gifts, Innocence. So much power, so much magic... but you don't know the basics. You've forgotten everything that we taught you, replaced it with what Gymbr taught you...”

Sin snarled and lashed her horn out, sending a blast of energy at Twilight, but the mare blocked it with one foreleg, gritting her teeth and twitching backwards as she continued calmly, rationally: “You're sloppy. You're crude, and you've wasted so much energy in this fight alone... you aren't even wearing your armor and you think all these sped-up years have made you into an adult, but really... I can see that if anything, emotionally and mentally you've regressed...”

The corrupt mare snapped her horn back and forth, and Twilight Sparkle blocked every blade of black energy, interrupted every blast of magic, simply canceled out some of the strongest, fastest spells in Innocence's repertoire. And, enraged, humiliated, and terrified out of rational thought, Innocence charged almost clumsily forwards before slashing her horn down... and wincing as Twilight Sparkle caught her against her foreleg, feeling her mother's blood running down her face as her front claws dangled just above the ground, as Twilight Sparkle said quietly: “I'm disappointed in you. And all the same... I'm sorry.”

Twilight's horn glowed brightly, and Innocence's eyes bulged as the crystal plates embedded along the violet mare's foreleg lit up with the same aura before the corrupted mare tried to yank herself away... but too little, too late, as the Lich's body and the armor designed to absorb magic all siphoned a massive chunk of unguarded energy straight from Sin's horn.

The young mare's head snapped backwards, drool flying from her muzzle as her mind reeled with confusion and vertigo, and Twilight drew her foreleg back as she grit her teeth, her limb crackling with the energies she had absorbed into it over the course of their fight. Then she stepped forwards into a simple, savage punch backed by a tremendous amount of magical energies.

A massive surge of energy slammed into Innocence, knocking her flying backwards as her eyes bulged, her ribs breaking, her head snapping back, her entire body filling agony... then going completely numb as she bounced bonelessly backwards and landed in a bloody, broken heap, gurgling weakly and shivering brokenly on the ground. And Twilight trembled from where she stood with her hoof still stretched out, smoldering slightly as energy glowed around it, her eyes clenched shut as she whispered: “I'm sorry. I love you.”

Innocence rasped weakly for breath, twitching a few times... but her body refused to move, to do more than shiver and grasp loosely at the air with her claws like a baby. And she stared up, with disbelief, with fear, with misery as Twilight Sparkle strode slowly forwards and looked quietly down into her daughter's eyes, saying softly: “Listen to me, Innocence. I'm your mother... and no matter what, I'm going to always love you. I'm going to always be there for you. I'm going to always help you, and support you. And most of all, I'm always going to try and steer you down the right path.”

The Lich reached down, silently sliding a foreleg around Sin's neck as the corrupted mare trembled, confused and not understanding anymore what was going on... not understanding why she wasn't dead, or being drained of her power, or even how she had lost... and most of all, why Twilight Sparkle was hugging her and promising to take care of her, even in spite of everything Innocence had said, promised, would have done...

They were weak, weren't they? This was weakness, as Twilight Sparkle laid her gently back down and touched her face, smiling at her... crying for her. Gymbr never would have cried for her. Gymbr would have just reaped the energies he could or brought her back as servant... just like there was a mutual understanding that if the day ever came when Gymbr would die, Innocence wouldn't hesitate to siphon all of his strength that she could and make herself even more powerful. She might kill what killed him, sure, but not for vengeance... only so she could get that power, too.

But that was all pipe dreams now... or were they? She stared up at Twilight Sparkle, at this mare she'd thought was so weak, as the Lich stepped backwards and rubbed at her face before murmuring: “Antares, stay here until Eventide arrives. She and her group must be moving through Valhalla by now, and she'll be able to home in on Innocence like you did. I... I have to go and help stop Gymbr.”

Antares nodded and gave a supportive smile to his mother, knowing it was better not to argue as Scarlet Sage strode up beside Innocence, taking one of her claws and squeezing it gently. Innocence only tuned her head away... but she stared silently at Twilight's back as she felt conflicting emotions roil inside her. But one thought did slither its way into her mind that pleased both her hungers and that piece of her from the past she had never completely gotten rid of: if her parents did succeed in destroying Gymbr, then they were truly stronger than him... and Innocence would be glad to abandon Gymbr and return to her parents if it would further her pursuit of power.

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