• 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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The Midnight Hour

Chapter Thirty Five: The Midnight Hour

Twilight Sparkle strode quietly back into the courtyard, and she smiled faintly at the sight of Scrivener and Luna both waiting silently for her. They embraced her tightly, and she closed her eyes and dropped her head against them for a moment, taking a long, shuddering breath before she nodded and whispered: “I'm okay. Antares will wait for Eventide and then... I think he'll come and join us.”

“Aye. Alright Twilight.” Luna gently kissed her temple, and then the sapphire mare sighed a little and sat back, saying quietly: “We are having troubles with this damnable barrier. Perhaps thou can help us figure out a way to break it down.”

The Lich smiled faintly as Scrivener reached up and squeezed her shoulder gently. She appreciated their kindness, and she appreciated them letting her handle Innocence. But she appreciated most of all not lingering on the subject, and instead moving forwards with what they had to do: with being reminded that if they really wanted to save Innocence, they had to stop Gymbr.

The three ponies returned to the barrier, which Sleipnir was still childishly pounding on as Pinkamena moodily examined it beside Celestia. The ivory mare nodded slowly to Twilight as she approached, and then explained calmly, returning her eyes to the shield: “It's being generated by something inside. I don't think Gymbr himself, but some kind of machine or construct. Normally we'd be able to simply overload something like that, but in this case...”

“Can't make a goddamn dent in it, can't set it on fire. It's stupid.” Pinkamena muttered, slamming her axe home into the shield before she glowered over the golden barrier. “Feels like holy energy, too. Not as pure as purification, but still pretty high up there. Almost Princess Sunshine-worthy. You know, if you can stand that metaphor, Princess Sunshine.”

Celestia only frowned at the shield, raising her hoof and muttering: “I thought so myself, but there feels like... there's an undercurrent in the magic as well. Something that's helping the magic to replicate and perpetuate. Not holy power...”

“Oh, you idiots.” muttered a voice, and Scrivener looked with surprise at the bag hanging from his side before it rustled loudly, and Hecate said sourly: “Pull me out of here so I can solve all your pathetic little problems for you.”

Luna grumbled, then punched the bag firmly before she flicked her horn to open the satchel, digging into it and muttering: “Damned oaf of a head. Thou art... thou art st-”

Then the sapphire mare yelled in horror and yanked her hoof back, and Scrivener and Twilight both reared back and gaped a little at the sight of Hecate clinging to Luna's hoof with her teeth, growling and glaring at the sapphire mare. Luna squawked and flailed her hoof violently up and down, shouting: “Oh ingrate! Oh monster! Oh, damn thou, release me this instant or I swear I will use thee as the flail with which I shall smash down this great golden gate!”

Hecate clung on tenaciously for a few more moments, then finally spat Luna's hoof up when the sapphire mare flailed her leg again, the head launching herself towards Celestia. The ivory winged unicorn's eyes widened as she caught the head in a telekinetic grip, the two looking at each other for a few moments before Hecate said contemptibly: “Since you're too weak to do it yourself and you've never interfaced with technology through magic before, I'm going to use you like a horn and you're going to follow my orders. Do you understand?”

“More flies are caught with honey than vinegar.” Celestia replied pointedly, bowing her head forwards, but Hecate only bared her teeth in a grin.

“A dollop of honey will never come close to catching as many flies as the spider will, though. And you'll do what I'm telling you because it's necessary for them to keep moving forwards... even if it means that you won't.” Hecate said coldly, and Celestia smiled briefly as Twilight looked up with worry in her eyes, and Luna and Scrivener both frowned.

Before anyone could speak, however, Celestia only rose a hoof and said quietly: “No. We can't wait around for this barrier to shut down on its own. This means that Gymbr must be vulnerable... and as anxious as I am to fight, I'm more anxious to provide all the help I can.”

Celestia stopped, then gazed over at Twilight and smiled faintly to her before she leaned down, closing her eyes as her horn glowed. The Lich's eyes widened in surprise as she felt energy flood through her body, restoring her... and with it, there came the scent of lavender, but also metal; the feel of silk, but that had iron beneath it; love, and with love, passion that could burn, and blast, and banish.

Then the ivory mare took a soft breath as she straightened, and as Twilight stared up at her, the ivory mare smiled softly and murmured: “You're still like a daughter to me, Twilight. And what you did for Innocence is something I can only envy and struggle to replicate, because I don't think I ever could have been so merciful and compassionate even for my own. A little piece of lifeforce is nothing to feel such gratitude for.

“Now, Hecate... what do I have to do?” Celestia asked calmly as she turned to face towards the barrier, and Hecate only laughed before her cracked stump of horn sparked, before it began to thrum with energy. A moment later, Celestia's own horn took on a pale, toxic aura, and the ivory mare clenched her eyes shut and lowered her head as she felt Hecate linking to her.

“Nothing. I'll do it. Just keep your head down.” Hecate replied coldly, her eyes glowing with power as she drew on all of Celestia's strength, then she grinned widely as a blast of electricity shot from Celestia's horn, hammering over the barrier as Hecate growled: “Like I thought. Stolen Decretum technology... improperly maintained, modified badly... and yes, this is only the visible portion. The forcefield extends through the walls, likely in all directions...”

Hecate leaned forwards, stump of horn shimmering brighter as Celestia gasped in pain, her own spire taking on a darker glow before a string of light formed between her horn and the barrier. It was almost invisible at first, but gradually grew larger, thicker, into a tether as Hecate rasped almost eagerly: “It's been a long time since I've interfaced with anything... yes, easy, though. Magic is all signals and wavelengths anyway, I just have to send the right message...”

Celestia flexed, then her head snapped back as she cried out in agony, then outright screamed, and Luna and Sleipnir both shouted desperately at Hecate as Twilight yelled and Scrivener stared in horror, but Hecate only grinned, her mane writhing around her, her eyes glowing as she shouted: “It's a little too late to have regrets now!”

Hecate's horn flashed, and Celestia gave another scream of agony as electricity tore through her mane and tail and her entire body shook with agony, the light around her horn building, building, building as the golden barrier rippled violently, electricity tearing back and forth along its face before it shattered... and yet the blast that knocked the group of ponies backwards was not nearly loud or fierce enough to drown out the explosion from beyond the doors, which made the walls shake, dust and debris crumbling down from the ceiling.

Then, silence settled, and Luna groaned and shook her head weakly before her eyes widened at the sight of Celestia. The mare was laying unconscious, blasted and burned, on the steps leading up to the blown-open gates the barrier had blockaded. Her mane was charred and white, all the rainbow energy drained from it and leaving only ragged ivory locks behind.

Luna and Sleipnir rushed to their sister's side, but Twilight beat them to the ivory mare, almost falling over her and staring desperately over the winged unicorn before her horn began to glow... but to her surprise, Sleipnir caught the spire and squeezed it, suffocating the magic as he said quietly: “No. No, my... my sibling clearly knew what might happen to her. We must honor her wishes, Twilight Sparkle, and... we must pick up and continue forwards once... once we are sure...”

A dry chuckle rose up from nearby, and Luna snarled as she looked up at the sight of the head. But Hecate only grinned even as blood ran from her mouth and the melted ruin that was all that remained of her horn, whispering: “And what, if she's dead, you're going to waste this chance and cry? No. Get out of here. She's just down for a reboot, you'll see... I wouldn't kill her, oh no. I need her alive... she's the only one I can really configure with, isn't she?”

“Shut up, Hecate. Do not think this shall go unpunished... wretched monster.” Luna muttered darkly, shaking her head briefly, but Hecate laughed, and Luna was well-aware her own threats were empty. If this got them to Gymbr, especially before the god could heal whatever wounds he had taken... then painful as it was to think, this was a fair trade.

The sapphire mare shuddered, and then Pinkamena strode calmly up and looked down at Celestia for a few moments, studying her meditatively before the demon nodded and said moodily: “Got guts at least, I'll give her that.” She paused, then looked up and whistled sharply before shouting: “Hey, kid, get over here if you can hear me!”

There was silence for a few seconds, and then Aphrodisia appeared in a puff of black smoke, skidding to a halt and looking worriedly at Celestia. But Pinkamena only reached up and ruffled her daughter's mane, saying calmly: “Keep an eye on your Aunt. You know she's always been good to you. Now it's your turn to be good to her, got it?”

“Yes, Mommy.” Aphrodisia nodded firmly, smiling warmly up at her mother and gazing almost shyly for a moment at her father as he looked at her with gratitude, and then Apps quickly turned towards Luna, adding quietly: “Nova is gonna head over here as soon as he can. He sent up a beacon for Eventide, but we're pretty sure that the problem isn't Gymbr's soldiers, but the fact that so much of Valhalla has collapsed.”

Luna nodded with a grunt, and Aphrodisia hesitated before she looked over at Twilight Sparkle, adding quietly: “Once, a long time ago, I was in a dark place like Innocence was. But you'll see, she'll come out of it, you'll see; she just needs guidance, and love. And kicking her butt now and then when she gets really stupid, but you did a really good job of that already.”

Twilight Sparkle smiled faintly despite herself, nodding and blushing a little before she murmured softly: “Thank you, Aphrodisia. I... I appreciate it.”

Aphrodisia only smiled back and shrugged a little, and Luna gave her niece a brief smile before she looked first to Scrivener, then up to Sleipnir, grinning a little and asking calmly: “So art thou ready? 'Tis time we pay our friend Gymbr a visit, after all, and show him what we think of how he has chosen to remodel Heaven.”

“Aye, little sister. Let's go.” Sleipnir stomped a hoof and grinned as well as he turned in the direction of the shattered gateway. “'Twould be rude not to take advantage of big sister's gift to us after all, would it not? Although 'tis too bad she will be missing out on all the fun with her little nap.”

“Enough talk. Let's go before Princess Sunshine wakes up or you two jabber so much Gymbr has time to fix everything.” Pinkamena said irritably, turning around and striding towards the open gate, and Luna, Sleipnir, Scrivener Blooms, and Twilight Sparkle all followed after her as Aphrodisia smiled after them, and Hecate grinned but looked up with perhaps the smallest bit of grudging admiration for these ponies striding to face almost certain death.

The room beyond the gates was nothing but a wreck: the walls on either side had once perhaps been solid crystal, but now were just piles of steel and metal and gemstone and destroyed machinery. More broken gears and equipment littered the long, open room, but left a distinct, zigzagging path leading past destroyed golems, ruins of puppets, and a few dead bodies towards a flight of stairs and a set of broken doors that had almost fallen free from their hinges.

Luna led the way quickly forwards, and she grimaced as she looked back and forth and thought she caught flashes of movement here and there, caught glimpses of warped and monstrous ponies staring up at them fearfully, almost pleadingly, but not daring to let themselves been seen. They reached the doors without any conflict, and Luna took a slow breath before she snapped her horn forwards and blew them open, sending them crashing and rolling over a ruined red carpet and into a mauled, barbaric throne room.

Two massive statues of Tyrant Wyrms had once acted like pillars, supporting the high ceiling: now, one of these statues lay in broken ruin. Shattered gemstone lanterns sparked uselessly on cracked and crumbled walls, and the floor was humped up in places, strewn with rubble and ruin.

Luna looked up at a shattered skylight, gazing silently through it at the black, swirling clouds that writhed above Valhalla, and then she drew her eyes downwards to gaze across at Gymbr. He was seated on a throne made of black platinum, claws resting on the skulls of demons and a third, enormous dragon's skull forming an overhang, making him look as if he rested in the maw of some mighty, terrible beast. To either side of him, braziers burned with eternal blue flames, and he was breathing heavily, his body shivering, his soulstone core pulsating with energy.

He didn't look hurt, and at the same time, he looked more humiliated, more injured than they had ever seen him. But often, a wounded, cornered animal was more dangerous than a healthy one in the wild... and as Gymbr snarled slowly, the feeling of malice in the air around the intensified into something almost tangible, seemed to make the room shudder as he whispered: “How dare you...”

“That is a question we should ask thee, monster. Coward, I should say instead, perhaps; and not as insult, but only as fact, now that we find thee hiding here in thy throne, behind thy Fates, thy broken armies... my daughter.” Luna snarled in response, and she stepped forwards, flicking her horn as Prúðbikkja flew out of her mane before the weapon sprung up to full length in a burst of blue fire, the mare saying coldly as her own starry locks roiled into sapphire flames: “Either grovel, and die... or fight, and die. I have no mercy for thee.”

“You have no idea what you're dealing with.” Gymbr said coldly, and then he shoved himself out of his throne, baring his fangs as he shouted in a voice that echoed throughout the throne room: “We are trying to save you! Even now, we could have ordered all those we have made strong in the Vale of Heaven to flood in and destroy your armies, but we have only sent our expendable forces to stop you... you fools, we have let your armies in, thinking we could cut off the head of this incompetent, traitorous serpent and show the rest of your army mercy... but we see there is no reason left anymore! If we must kill you, then we shall wipe you out of existence!”

“Come and try it, asshole.” Pinkamena growled, and Sleipnir grinned wryly in agreement before the demon leaned forwards, her eyes glowing brightly as horns twisted out of her head, mane writhing as if it had become alive as her body and jaw expanded. Her armor popped and clicked loudly as pieces snapped out of place, ashen wings bursting free from her back before the fully-transformed Devourer slammed a cloven hoof against the ground and roared her furious challenge at Gymbr.

Gymbr set himself, then he smiled briefly before saying coldly: “Very well. If death is what you all desire, we shall give it to you. First, we shall even the odds.”

The god rolled his head slowly on his shoulders as his soulstone core glowed, and the ponies could only stare in shock as two strange, flickering images seemed to stride out of the monster before they both solidified: both were featureless winged unicorns, and one was glowing white while the other was dead black, both standing silently on either side of Gymbr as he arched his back like a predator and bared his fangs. “And now, we kill.”

He lunged forwards, and Luna snarled as she stabbed her spear out, but Prúðbikkja was deflected by... nothing, it seemed. It simply refused to bite into Gymbr as he lashed a claw up towards Luna, but she was able to block this with the pole of her weapon before Scrivener Blooms lunged in at Gymbr's side... but was promptly blasted away by a bolt of energy from the White Shape that had emerged from the god.

Pinkamena snarled and leapt towards the White Shape, swinging her axe down at it viciously, but the weapon bounced off, knocked back with as much force as she'd swung it and making her stumble. All it managed to do was get the doppelganger's attention, and it snapped its horn towards her and blew her backwards with a torrent of holy flames that made the demon howl with agony as the amorphous entity calmly leaping up into the air to hover.

Sleipnir, meanwhile, charged at the Black Shape, and it leapt forwards to meet him, swinging a bludgeoning black hoof towards the stallion, but Sleipnir slapped this out of the way and struck in hard... except the Black Shape blocked with its foreleg, trembling only slightly from the exertion of holding the giant back as Sleipnir grinned widely. “Aye, now that is fine!”

The Black Shape tried to swing its other hoof into Sleipnir's face, and the earth pony simply dropped, the Black Shape's own momentum causing it to flop forwards over Sleipnir. And in that moment of vulnerability, the earth pony slammed a crushing uppercut into the Black Shape's underbelly with enough force to send it skywards, the doppelganger cringing in silent pain as it was knocked into the air before a fireball from Twilight Sparkle struck it-

The fireball ricocheted off its body and shot straight back at Twilight, who was knocked skidding backwards with a curse of pain and surprise. She shook her head out, then winced and looked up as Pinkamena again failed to make a dent in the White Shape, her axe again deflected before she was thrown into the air by an explosion of magic, then smashed by a mallet of ice.

The Black Shape, meanwhile, had landed and was again in the melee with Sleipnir, leaping back and forth and trying to use its speed to its advantage, but Sleipnir was surprisingly graceful for a stallion his size... and when the Black Shape did finally get a blow in against the earth pony's side, Sleipnir swung his elbow back into the Black Shape's face, making its head twist violently to the side before he half-spun and walloped it with a haymaker from his other hoof, sending the doppelganger crashing bonelessly across the floor.

Twilight's eyes lit up, before she cursed and staggered as Gymbr slammed a claw into Scrivener's face, then seized his mane and smashed his face down into the ground. The stallion gargled in pain, and Gymbr yanked his head up again, but Luna swung the neck of Prúðbikkja down into the monster's wrist and then up into his jaw, knocking him staggering.

But again her spear refused to cut, refused to pierce, didn't do more than startle the god, and Luna snarled in frustration before she simply flung the polearm away, shouting: “Andlitstingar!”

Twilight opened a wing and yanked the baton out, flinging it through the air, and Luna caught it with telekinesis, spear exploding up to full length before she stabbed it fiercely forwards. And now she grinned, as Gymbr swung a claw up: the weapon was deflected upwards, but the speartip still slashed across the god's face and knocked him staggering.

He trembled with rage as dark blood ran from the wound over his cheek, then opened his mouth, and Luna yanked Sting Mk. II off her back to fire a round straight down Gymbr's throat, sending him staggering backwards with a howl as the mare snarled: “I have heard enough of thy prophecies, false god!”

Scrivener Blooms charged forwards, then leapt up and rose a claw out to the side on instinct as Luna snapped her horn down: lightning hammered into the stallion's Talon, and the prosthetic glowed with energy before the charcoal pony slammed it into Gymbr's features with a flash and bang like thunder, knocking Gymbr crashing backwards.

The god picked himself slowly up, staring in disbelief as blood ran from his nose, and then he looked to one side; Sleipnir had the Black Shape on its back, and was slamming hoof-after-hoof down into the doppelganger's features. And to the other side, the White Shape was writhing in agony in the air as Twilight Sparkle hammered it with sapphire flames again and again, and-

Pinkamena charged in and slammed a cloven hoof under Gymbr's chin, hefting the god into the air with the force of her blow before she seized her axe in both front hooves and slammed it down into Gymbr's back as he was still flying upwards, crushing him back down into the ground with a howl of agony. The demon grinned widely before Gymbr's soulstone core flashed, and then both Pinkamena and her axe were knocked flying by the pulse of force that emanated from the god's body.

She crashed to the ground, but rolled quickly to her hooves as Luna and Scrivener both anchored themselves: a moment later, Twilight Sparkle and Sleipnir were both standing at the ready as the Shapes simply dissolved with Gymbr's concentration so broken.

Slowly, he dragged himself up to his claws, then his emerald eyes glowed as he rose a claw, and Luna stared in horror as the gun still in her hoof was bent violently backward into a knot. She snarled and flung this aside, then leapt forwards and thrust out Andlitstingar as the others all dove in-

Gymbr threw his head back with a roar as his soulstone core glowed, and a shockwave tore through the air around him, knocking the five away as energy sizzled and burned painfully over their bodies. And the god snarled as his eyes flicked back and forth before he said coldly: “Goodbye.”

His soulstone core glowed, then a bright flash filled the room, making Luna wince before she slowly picked herself up. She looked back and forth in confusion, seeing Twilight standing, Scrivener raising himself as well... and then her mouth went dry as she realized that Pinkamena and Sleipnir were simply... gone. “What hast thou done?”

Gymbr smiled ruthlessly, his emerald eyes blazing with fury as his soulstone core continued to glow and pulsate before he answered contemptibly: “We got rid of pests, that is all. A slave hoof garbage demon dared to touch us... well, we hope she enjoys wherever she is now. We hope it is a place that will kill them... but slowly.”

Luna trembled with fury, and Twilight clenched her eyes shut as Scrivener Blooms set himself with a snarl. Gymbr coldly looked over the three, then said icily: “We would do the same to you, but we desire to rip you apart with our own claws.”

“You're lying. You can't just nix us, as much as you want to. And you have no idea why.” Scrivener Blooms said as his eyes flashed, seeing into Gymbr for a moment; seeing everything Gymbr was, and everything the god was feeling; seeing, for a moment, himself within that abyss. “I don't either. And I don't care, either.”

“We do not need these powers to kill you.” Gymbr said coldly, and then the god lunged towards them, and Luna roared, rallying her partners as she leapt to meet the monster.

Andlitstingar snapped out, and Gymbr caught the spear and flapped his wings hard, ripping the weapon out of the air as he sprung forwards and used the spear like an axle, kicking both rear hooves hard past and into Luna's features. The sapphire mare was launched backwards with a grunt of pain, but she hit the ground and rolled back to her hooves as Scrivener lunged in at Gymbr's side.

His Talons lashed out, and Gymbr caught them in his own silver claws, the two grappling for a moment before the god's eyes flashed and he half-spun, flinging Scrivener Blooms into the path of a sapphire fireball Twilight had shot at the god.

But without hesitation, Scrivener reached his Talons out, catching the sapphire fireball in midair between them as Twilight's eyes widened: but as Scrivener hit the ground and bounced onto his back, she dropped her horn towards the caught fireball and pumped more magic into it, electricity shocking through the sapphire flames before Scrivener Blooms slung the sphere of magic as hard as he could at Gymbr's face as he charged at Luna.

The fireball struck the god in mid-lunge, and he was blown high into the air with a howl of pain as sapphire flame and electricity tore across his body, before he managed to spread his wings and catch himself with a furious snarl, his soulstone core humming before Twilight Sparkle leapt forwards and rose her horn, creating a barrier of energy as a blast of terrible, focused sapphire light shot out of the soulstone core in Gymbr's chest. It hammered into the shield, cracking it as Gymbr snarled in fury, and then the beam faded into motes as he half-spun to slap Andlitstingar away when Luna flung it at him. “We are not amused by you!”

He rose his claws, soulstone core glowing brighter as the three ponies were lifted into the air as if by a powerful gust of wind, and then Luna felt like a physical weight slammed into her as she and her partners were crushed down into the floor, Gymbr shouting: “Valhalla is ours! The laws of time and space obey us here! We are God, and you cannot kill God in our own Heaven!”

He swung a claw down, and the surviving statue of the Tyrant Wyrm glowed before it came to life with a roar, the crystalline golem stomping eagerly forwards even as every movement caused cracks to form in its brittle frame, shedding crystalline scales even as it smashed a claw into Twilight and launched her into the wall.

Its tail snapped out, smacking Scrivener Blooms away as Luna leapt to her hooves, cursing... then screaming in agony as her body burst into blue flames, before her eyes glowed with wrath as she snarled up at Gymbr. She felt Nightmare Moon twist inside her, come alive, roar... and as agony became pleasure, Luna's body flexed and she grinned even as her skin charred and her flesh began to burn through her armor, lunging into the air and shooting straight up at the god.

Gymbr reared back, eyes widening as he was left stupefied and terrified for a moment before Luna snapped her horn forwards, and the flames mauling her body were yanked upwards, coalescing into a fireball that hovered above her horn for a moment before it launched forwards with enough force to send Luna herself flying backwards from the magical recoil.

It smashed into Gymbr's face and exploded with enough force to knock the god flipping violently backwards until he hit the wall and fell. He crashed down by his throne, then snarled in fury as he seized on this, using it to pull himself up before he yanked it forwards and flung it savagely even as he stumbled and fell over.

Luna caught the metal chair with her front hooves and telekinesis, slipping backwards through the air as her muscles groaned at the effort, and then she half-turned and quickly slung the heavy throne down into the rampaging Wyrm golem. It smashed through one of the construct's shoulders, knocking a limb off and tearing out a large chunk of its back, and most importantly of all, drawing its attention away from the violet mare pinned beneath one claw and up to Luna.

Twilight Sparkle gritted her teeth and snapped her horn upwards, blasting the monster's ankle apart and causing its upper body to overbalance, toppling past her to smash and shatter against the ground, as Scrivener Blooms grasped the end of Wyrm golem's tail and yanked hard on it, ripping the lower quarter or so of it off and feeling the corruption in it, making it easy to quickly reshape into a long spear that he flung at Gymbr.

The spear collided with the god and shattered on impact, knocking him sprawling backwards and peppering him with shrapnel, and Luna snapped her own horn out as she saw her chance. A blast of lightning hammered directly into Gymbr's core, and the mare gritted her teeth as she felt the tether form, sharply pushing her energies down the long line between herself and the god-

Gymbr shoved a claw out with a snarl, even as panic filled his eyes, and the massive Wyrm statue exploded in a tremendous lash of force and black flame, knocking Twilight and Scrivener both crashing into the walls and to the floor. Scrivener gasped in pain, his body twitching in agony as it tried to separate corruption from solid gemstone, while Twilight grasped at a limb that had almost been separated from her body, her wings torn apart, a large chunk of her body simply... missing.

Luna was hit by all that pain, her back arching, losing her concentration... and Gymbr shoved a pulse of raw force straight up that long link before she could react, hammering into her soulstone horn and sending a blast of agony through her body before she was blown free of the tether, flying backwards to smack bonelessly into the wall before she flopped forwards... and stared stupidly as she was caught in a single strong limb. She breathed uneasily, dangling from this arm before it ever so gently set her down, and the mare slowly, weakly looked up to see Theophilius... Kvasir... smiling down at her, saying softly: “Alice sent me. It would be most rude of me to refuse a request from her, you know... and while I'm a lot of things, I'm very much not rude. Perhaps I used to be, but I swear it was only ever from an overabundance of lemon tart, which as you know, Gryphon, often makes one very bitter.”

“You are not wanted here, Theophilius! You are not needed here! Leave this place immediately or we will destroy you as well!” Gymbr roared, and then the god lashed his horn out, sending a blast of black flames at the Hatter, but Theophilius simply flicked out his wrist, and there was a bright splash of red from beneath the lapels of his coat that formed into a crimson barrier. The black flames couldn't even catch against this, dissolving almost upon contact before the barrier vanished; was almost pulled back beneath the Mad Hatter's sleeve.

“Not by you, certainly, but by others I seem to be.” the Mad Hatter replied pleasantly, sketching a little curtsy to Gymbr before he popped his hat off his head and rolled it cheerfully down one arm to his hand. “Alice is very upset with you, dear friend. But haven't you heard that Kings and Jacks can never rule Wonderland? Only Queens of White or Red, and all I see before me is a Jabberwock.”

Gymbr snarled at this, then he leaned forwards and said furiously: “You are demented and broken! We saved your life, we fought side-by-side-”

“And by side again when there were three of us... perhaps four, I should say, since we both come in pairs, don't we?” Theophilius remarked pleasantly, tossing his hat easily back onto his head before holding up his hands as several playing cards appeared in them, and then he sighed and tossed these aside as he added kindly: “I know you want to save Wonderland... but what you've done is turned it topsy-turvy into a nightmare world. How is this saving our Wonderland, Gymbr?”

“It is their fault! They would not work with us, we are... we are only doing... stop judging us! We have had enough of your patronization, your games and insults!” Gymbr raved furiously, and then his soulstone core glowed brightly before he snapped his horn out, and Theophilius was knocked staggering by a fearsome blast of force that slammed all three ponies back to the ground before they could even stand up, the walls of the room vibrating from the blast.

The Mad Hatter only calmly brushed himself off, then he set himself and pointed at Gymbr, saying firmly: “Now I understand that my presence makes people a little, shall we say, mad... but that's no reason to give up your sanity entirely. Why, I'm perfectly sanely insane, you see. You, on the other hand... you seem...”

Theophilius grasped at his skull for a moment, clenching his eyes shut... and then he looked up sharply, and it was clearly Kvasir's voice that spoke as he said coldly: “You seem to have lost your lucidity, Gymbr. I trusted you. Part of me still wants to trust you... but even that part knows that first, we have to remove that core. You've gone from one extreme to another: insane with your own lack of power, to insane because of the power you possess. Your shortcuts have only led to suffering.”

“We will die before we allow you to take our power away! It is... it is the only way we can stop the universe from being saved!” Gymbr shouted, but his eyes were wide with very visible fear, his body was trembling with what almost seemed like... shame, even as he threatened: “We will not tell you again! Leave, Theophilius, leave us to our victory.”

“No.” the Mad Hatter said quietly, and Gymbr snarled before he snapped his horn forwards, sending a blast of black flames at Theophilius. But fearlessly, the tall... well, Luna was no longer sure what he was. But all the same he was strong enough to slap the attack away before snapping a hand out.

Crimson burst through the air, and Luna's eyes widened as she realized what it was a moment before it formed into a long whip: blood. But it had all the solidity of actual chain as it snapped viciously back and forth, driving Gymbr back several paces as Theophilius pushed forwards with hard, quick lashes.

Gymbr roared, then snapped his horn out, a blade of energy cutting through the whip... but just as quickly as the upper half evaporated, it reformed, and Theophilius lashed the whip forwards and around Gymbr's throat. The god choked before he was yanked viciously in, the Mad Hatter's hand catching him by the throat as his other grabbed the soulstone core, and Gymbr cried out in denial, in refusal, in utter horror.

And Twilight shouted in disbelief when a blast of blue energy ripped through Theophilius' limb, blowing it apart into nothing but blood and scraps of cloth as he was knocked staggering backwards. Gymbr yanked himself away, his eyes burning with rage, his horn and core both glowing brightly... and Theophilius had enough time to grin weakly before he shrugged and said finally: “I've always been a lover, and not a fighter. Tea-lover, that is, not-”

A beam of energy from Gymbr's core smashed into Theophilius and drove him across the room, sending him hurtling out the open doors, and then Gymbr shook his head in disgust as he whispered: “You were never a fighter, old friend. You were always weak. And now, we shall finish this game and kill... ourselves. Ourselves, and ever-loyal Twilight Sparkle...”

Gymbr slowly turned towards Luna, and the sapphire mare grasped Andlitstingar with telekinesis, raising the spear... before her eyes widened as Gymbr's core pulsed and the spear was encased in black crystal that defied her telekinetic hold, falling with a thunk to the ground. “We do not think so. We have had enough. We are going to simply destroy you three now, and by our own claws.”

With that, the god flung himself forwards... but after such a long battle, after so many uses of his powers, after the interruption from Theophilius, he seemed... off balance, somehow. Confused, and unsteady. He staggered a little in mid-lunge, and Scrivener Blooms slipped quickly into the path between Gymbr and Luna, reaching his claws up as Twilight Sparkle gritted her teeth at the mental command Luna gave her.

Gymbr and Scrivener collided and grappled, shoving against each other before the stallion felt Gymbr trying to slip his claws forwards, to attempt to crush his Talons, to rend and rip, and the charcoal earth pony let those silver claws slip past and free... then caught Gymbr by either wrist and crushed down with his metallic claws, the god's eyes widening before his soulstone core began to glow even as he snarled in pain.

Twilight Sparkle's horn snapped upwards, and the ground beneath Gymbr erupted, knocking the god off balance and into the air before Scrivener Blooms roared as he slung the god down into the broken, spiky floor as hard as he could. Gymbr bounced backwards once with a snarl, raising his head high before he lashed his horn out to send a blast of energy at Scrivener Blooms, but the stallion leaned forwards and slammed a Talon into this, knocking the blast straight back into Gymbr's features

The monster staggered backwards with a shout of disbelief before he rose his head... and saw Luna directly in front of him a moment before one of her hooves slammed into his chin, knocking him rearing back and exposing his glowing soulstone core. And Luna did what she did best, slamming hoof after hoof directly into the vulnerable crystal heart of the god, Gymbr gargling as the soulstone core glowed brighter and brighter and steam began to rise up from his body.

He tried to lash a claw forwards, and a spike of ice hammered into it the moment he rose it, knocking it into the wall behind him before the ice solidified and fused to stone, leaving him helplessly hanging by one claw, half-raised on his rear legs, his eyes desperate and disbelieving as he leaned forwards and shouted: “We are Gymbr! We are God! We cannot be-”

Luna snapped her horn forwards, a blast of lightning hammering into the core, tethering her horn to it, and Gymbr's words broke off into incoherent growls and roars. A glow of energy began to build on the short line between them as Luna anchored herself with a snarl, leaning forwards and attempting to push forwards as Gymbr shoved back with all the strength of his dual, lunatic nature... and then the sapphire mare felt new energy filling her up, pouring through her as both Twilight and Scrivener lowered their heads, gritted their teeth, and put every last ounce of strength they could into Luna Brynhild.

Gymbr ripped his claw free, but it was too late: the light glowing up the tether was blinding, and he couldn't force the flow of energy back as he raved and tried to yank wildly back and forth... but all for nothing before Luna grinned and snapped her horn forwards, giving one last shove on the crescendo of energy pouring down the tether.

It shot into the core, and Luna was blasted backwards by the resulting explosion of force and energy: it hurt like hell to be bounced again across this room, but the energy itself felt... warm. Felt like victory, even as she crashed and rolled onto her stomach, clawing at the ground to try and stop her skid as she looked up at the burning star of blue light that was Gymbr.

Scrivener and Twilight stared in disbelief as well, watching as Gymbr staggered back and forth, his body steaming and burning with energy that his body couldn't contain. He was literally melting like wax, wings flapping madly as arcs of energy discharged from his body in all directions, his horn warping and twisting, his eyes rolling in his head as he howled in disbelief.

One of his wings tore off halfway down, hitting the ground with a sickening squelch, and a leg buckled beneath him, sending him to the ground to writhe and kick as some of his hide sloughed off like wet dough. He rose his head, staring pleadingly at them, and Luna only looked coldly back as she slowly stood up, before the monster tried to speak. Tried to beg for mercy... and then gasped as the soulstone core finally flickered out, and the flames of energy over his body died as well.

He collapsed to the ground... and slowly, the three ponies picked themselves up and approached the fallen god. Luna grimaced at the sight of the soulstone core as it pulsed erratically, and then she frowned as she reached down and hesitantly touched Gymbr's face.

It looked almost as if... his features had changed. One side was more masculine, the other more feminine. One side, similar to Scrivener, the other, Luna...

“You have done it.” said a voice, and Luna looked over her shoulder in surprise to see several Pious were standing calmly at the foot of the stairs. The sapphire mare turned around and nodded uneasily, and the lead Pious approached: it crossed its arms over itself as it drew nearer, but managed a little bow... even though it didn't even try to hide its eagerness as it looked at Gymbr and asked: “Will you turn this false god over to us?”

“No. He is ours, Pious... what art thou doing here?” Luna asked with a frown, and the Pious bowed politely in return.

“As we said. We would wait for the conflict to boil, then join you. We are... reinforcements.” the Pious said slowly, as if trying to use a term that was unfamiliar to it, and Luna scowled. Then she frowned as the Pious slowly unfurled one limb from around itself to reach down and point at the soulstone core. “That is what holds the creature together. You must destroy it. You must kill the god to destroy it: as long as it is attached to the god, it will heal itself.”

“Do not tell us what to do. Gymbr is not one creature, in any event... he is two. I understand that thou must be pleased to see him fall, but stay back.” Luna growled, and the Pious finally drew back a bit before the sapphire mare muttered: “Although thou could have shared thine information before we went through all the troubles we did, angel...”

The Pious only bowed its head, and Luna didn't really feel like listening to its explanation as she turned her eyes back to Gymbr. That soulstone core gleamed alluringly in his chest, and Luna shivered a bit... then she drew her eyes back to Gymbr, looking at him for a few long moments, wondering...

“Scrivener.” Luna said quietly, and the stallion frowned at her with surprise, then hesitantly nodded, even though the idea sounded... well, more than a little bit insane to him. All the same, though, he strode over to Gymbr's other side... the side that looked male, as Luna jerked the unconscious god around and grasped the shoulder of the side that looked female.

Scrivener settled his own Talon against Gymbr, and he felt that pulse. That sensation of sinking his claws... into something, grasping more than flesh as Luna felt the same. Twilight Sparkle looked at the two uneasily, but stepped slowly backwards as the two began to pull, slowly but steadily...

Gymbr's eyes snapped open, and he gasped and writhed, struggling against them as his mane of black flames sparked with energy and he looked wildly back and forth, pleading: “No, no, no, stop, you do not understand, we are begging you, stop!”

Luna gritted her teeth: that reaction didn't make her want to give up. That made her wanted to try harder, as she gripped tighter into Gymbr, and into what she could feel beneath Gymbr, pulling harder, harder, as Scrivener yanked in the other direction, seizing into Gymbr with his other Talon as well as the monster howled between them. Both ponies could see the god rippling, distorting, his waxen form changing as twisted and shook back and forth, then arched his back and screamed as the soulstone core gave one final, brief flash...

Luna and Scrivener both tumbled backwards as they felt something... separate. And Twilight Sparkle could only stare in disbelief even as the enormous, perfectly-spherical soulstone core that had been in Gymbr rolled up to her hooves, the Lich staring in disbelief at... at Scrivener and Luna. But not her Scrivener and Luna; a very different, mangled and... sad... Scrivener and Luna.

The stallion was darker than charcoal, blacker, and his limbs and haunch were covered in scales. He didn't have hooves, but gnarled claws... and likewise, his tail was long, reptilian, ending in a point. Slowly, he rose his head, then stared lethargically around... and Twilight shivered as she saw blind eyes, in pallid, faded features.

The mare's coat was also almost black, and her mane and tail sizzled weakly with energy as she breathed unevenly in and out, hooves shivering against the ground. Her head was lowered and her eyes were staring around, but her ears hung floppily and blood was leaking out of both of them, like something inside had been mangled.

“We are... Gymbr...” both ponies spoke as one, and they trembled, together, they moved their heads back and forth together... everything was done in perfect, unconscious synchronization with the other half. “N-No... we cannot... the world... hurts...”

Twilight Sparkle looked silently down at the orb of soulstone, then she carefully picked the core up and closed her eyes as she hugged it against her chest, trembling a little. Knowing they would have to keep this safe somehow, as Luna slowly faced herself, and Scrivener Blooms studied his own blind twin with fascination. There was no malice in them now... but of course, there wasn't any strength in them, either. They were just two broken, twisted souls that magnetized the attention of the ponies in the room with what they... what they were.

Which was what made it so easy for one of the Pious to calmly stride up behind Twilight Sparkle and simply send one of the blades on the wing-like arm appendage on its back through the back of her skull. The mare had a moment to gurgle, staring weakly before the Pious grasped the back of her her neck with one hand, then crushed down and yanked upwards with the blade.

Scrivener and Luna both staggered around to stare in horror as a Greater Angel tore Twilight Sparkle's head off with all the ease of a child ripping open a candy bar, and then Luna snarled and roared... or began to, at least. Another Pious seized into her mane, and Luna had a moment to stare before she was smashed face first into the ground as all the energy was torn out of her body, her mane fading into light blue locks. Meanwhile, the Pious that had attacked Twilight calmly picked up the soulstone orb and said softly: “A tribute, for the true God of Light, he who has given us this mission.”

“Destroy them. They are heretic. They are infidel. They are atheist.” said the third Pious as it approached, and the first looked down at Luna Brynhild, then over at Scrivener Blooms, seeming to size them up. The second, in the same moment, simply flung Twilight's head to the ground, the Lich gasping weakly as she bounced across the stone to roll to a halt with tears in still-living eyes.

The two were laying on the ground, drained of all strength: in a moment it had been there, and then, with the Pious' touch, all that energy was gone. Luna trembled, gasping for breath through the hairs falling over her eyes. Her mind was confused and addled, and all she could do was stare weakly across at the Gymbr Luna, who gazed at her not with retribution, but... despair...

The Pious began to reach down... and then ice rapidly spread up the body of the angel, freezing it in a solid block of frost. Scrivener rose his head in disbelief, and then a voice snapped angrily: “Hey, it ain't nice to take things that don't belong to you, you know!”

The third Pious began to turn, and a hand from one of Hel's puppets slammed into its face as the construct strode past, crushing down before there was a sizzle of dark energy, and the body fell limp and dead. The second Pious started to raise a hand as it began to back away from Hel as she approached, grinning and dragging the dead angel with her, but the goddess only snorted in amusement and snapped her fingers, and the Pious let out a raspy screech as its forearm was simply severed in a flash of energy.

The soulstone orb flew through the air and landed neatly in Hel's outstretched hand, and the goddess grinned widely even as an oval portal opened behind the wounded Pious, saying loudly: “Yeah, get out of here! Here, take your friend, too!”

The ice puppet flung the dead Pious into the wounded one, knocking them both back into the portal before Hel made a sharp zipping motion, and the portal distorted violently, imploding on itself. The goddess snorted at this, then she looked moodily down at the soulstone core, muttering: “Well, that should slow them down at least. Hey, Gymbr, you're looking pretty fantastic. Not every day one person can look like two. Especially of either gender. That's like a... transsexual wedding or something, right?”

The two halves of Gymbr glared up at Hel, and the goddess sniffed loudly, saying flatly: “Hey, don't give me that look. I run Helheim. I don't have to be politically correct like you retards. I can make all the homophobic, racist, sexist and rude jokes I want.”

“What the hell is happening?” Scrivener managed weakly, and Hel grunted before she glanced back and forth... then grimaced at the sight of Twilight Sparkle's head, looking more than a little displeased. “I... but Gymbr was... the Pious, we thought...”

“Well, you see, I got to thinking and looking around after what you told me, after thinking about what Gymbr was doing... and it turns out that the Pious are... we don't have time for this.” Hel suddenly became more serious, turning cold eyes on the halves of Gymbr as they struggled to pick themselves up. “Listen, moron. If you work with us and keep yourself lucid instead of tripping out, we might all survive. Better for you, I might ask these ponies real nice if they'll keep you alive. I bet you'd like that, right, muffin-top? So are you going to be a good little... whatever the hell you are?”

Gymbr Scrivener and Gymbr Luna both nodded, replying in the same honest voice: “Yes, Hel. We... we have no choice but to bow to your wisdom and your strength in this matter. We will do whatever it is you ask of us... and Luna, Scrivener... we are sorry. Perhaps this is not the time-”

“Nope, it's not. You can absolve yourself later. And Luna, sweetie, honeycake, I'm gonna ask you really really nice not to rip Gymbr's intestines out just yet. He might still have a few uses. You can hold a big fat fake trial for him, you can throw him in jail, you can torture him – it, them, whatever – and in fact I encourage the last, but right now we need the help of... it. Whatever it is.” Hel said pointedly, and then she simply snapped her fingers.

Luna blinked, and then she gasped, stumbling up to her hooves in surprise as energy surged through her body before she looked back and forth uncomprehendingly, as if she could find rhyme or reason somewhere else in the room. She shook herself out slowly, then gritted her teeth and glared up at Hel, shouting: “What in thy own accursed name is going on?”

“Bad things, sweet pea. Bad things.” Hel responded mildly through her puppet, and then she held up a finger and said pointedly: “Hold that thought for a moment, will you, cinnamon? Gotta make a collect call. It'll just take me a second.”

With that, Hel grasped the soulstone core tightly between her hands, gritting her teeth as her puppet glowed with energy: energy that built and built, the magic growing more and more powerful as Scrivener slowly stood up and stared before he winced backwards in shock as two twisting spirits of light shot out of the orb. They zigzagged wildly through the air around them, and then two distinct shapes formed out of ice and snow: one was Myre, and the other was Dusk, both looking surprised as they glanced back and forth before Hel whistled loudly to get their attention.

The puppet was sagging slightly, large cracks that were very slowly healing pulsing over her body even as she held up the soulstone orb and waggled it pointedly. “I only... had enough energy to yank two of you out of this thing for now and give you freezie-pop butts, but... you gotta obey whoever holds this thingamajig, right? Well, I want you popsicles to run through Heaven, close down all the gates and everything and get everyone the me out of here, got that? And stay away from the Pious. I don't have the time or patience to revive you guys constantly.”

Both of the resurrected Fates simply smiled and nodded sharply, then they turned, Myre breaking down into a puddle of black water that raced over the floor as Dusk charged quickly away and into the hall. Hel nodded, then she made a face over at Twilight Sparkle before simply gesturing at her fallen head, and the violet mare squeaked before her eyes bulged as ice and chunks of broken black crystal rapidly assembled themselves into a body beneath her stump of neck, choking and coughing out frost before her makeshift body quaked, then slumped and shivered violently.

“Best I can do on short notice, vanilla bun.” Hel said kindly, and then she looked over at Luna and Scrivener and gestured irritably to them. “Get up, get up, hurry up, we don't have a lot of time, lazybones! And speaking of lazy idiots...” Hel looked back and forth, then leaned back and shouted one of the few things that could make Luna's current state of incredulity collapse into all-out-disbelief: “Theophilius Carter! Get your butt out here!”

All three ponies looked up, Scrivener feeling his mind trembling and Luna mouthing wordlessly as Twilight unsteadily managed to climb to rocky hooves, staring at the doorway as the Mad Hatter pranced into the room, leaping up and clicking his heels before he landed with a bright smile, spreading his arms – his whole, perfectly fine arms – wide. Hel smiled over at him, and the Gymbr Halves sighed, before both said with bitter amusement: “Of course. We should have known...”

“Oh, don't be a sore dandelion now, friends... I am terribly sorry, but you really left me no choice in the matter. I'm but a child, so really I had to go to the only responsible adult in the room. We're just all very well and fortunate that the White Queen was ready to hear my pleas for you, Jabberwock; that she is merciful and gentle as she has ever been, in spite of how the thorns may try and hide her rosy petals.” Theophilius replied with a kind smile, gesturing calmly towards Hel with the same arm Luna remembered seeing blown apart, and then he clucked his tongue and snapped his fingers, exclaiming: “But White Queen, what about tea?”

“Tea can wait. It's only ever teatime when you sit down to have it, after all.” Hel replied reasonably, and then she said calmly and patiently: “I want you to throw a party for the Pious. A going-away party. And get your Draconequus to help you with that. And Kvasir, I know you're still in there somewhere, honeybutt. I need you to hold on, just for a little, and focus, sweetie. I need you to focus on Valhalla, because you know we're about to lose it again.”

“I... I know. All we can do is... save as many lives as possible.” The Mad Hatter gritted his teeth, grasping at his face and trembling for a few moments before he lowered his hands slowly... and again, it was clearly Kvasir once more, as he breathed slowly and straightened before muttering: “I can't fight off my insanity for very long. I recommend you make this quick.”

Hel grinned wryly, shaking her head and saying in an amused voice: “Never gonna change, are you? But I like that about you, Kvasir... you're made of tough stuff. You're no cheeseball, you're a-”

Kvasir narrowed his white eyes and Hel cleared her throat and quickly covered her mouth with her hands, then he looked distastefully over at Luna Brynhild as the sapphire mare gaped at him. “I don't have the time or mood for dealing with you in small words right now, Luna Brynhild. Excuse me. I have to ward Valhalla for as long as possible.”

With that, he was unable to resit giving an awkward little bow before spinning around and heading quickly out, visibly fighting to repress the bounce in his step. Hel looked after him with a sigh, rubbing at her face and remarking wryly: “Little god's all grown up. Okay, Valkyrie, we're on the clock. And the clock says five to midnight: grab your uglier self and let's scoot.”

“What is going on?” Luna shouted, as Twilight Sparkle approached with uncomfortable bounces and winces, and Scrivener Blooms only stared at the two halves of Gymbr as they looked calmly up at the goddess.

Hel turned towards the sapphire mare and leaned down, almost shoving their faces together as she replied calmly: “If you want to find out... if you want to get all the answers, cinnamon bun... then you gotta play the game. Because playing the game is the only way to make sure you're going to get out of here alive, got it?”

The sapphire mare bared her fangs at the goddess... then she cursed and nodded shortly, asking disgustedly: “What must I do? And why must Gymbr remain alive?”

“Because Hel is sly, and knows that we are not foolish enough to leave ourselves undefended.” Gymbr's halves replied, and then they both closed their eyes, lowered their heads and whispered: “We wish that you would just kill us, though. Half of us is blind. Half of us is deaf. We feel weaker than we have ever been and-”

Luna turned and punched Gymbr Luna across the face, and the black-coated mare all but crumpled under the glow as Gymbr Scrivener mirrored her exact movements. Both whimpered and writhed as Luna growled: “Puling sissy. And Hel, damnation, wert thou-”

“I always know what's going on, sweet cheeks.” Hel's puppet looked back and forth, then held out the soulstone orb, and it gave a brief pulse before there was a flash as a rip in reality opened. “Come on, let's get going! We have a very important stop to make before we can leave, pick up the moron and let's go, go, go!”

The sapphire mare cursed under her breath, then she nodded shortly, seizing Gymbr Luna and yanking her up onto her back. But then Gymbr Luna wailed piteously as Gymbr Scrivener convulsed weakly on the ground, the deaf mare pleading: “P-Please, we... we cannot be apart! We... we are n-not Luna and Scrivener... we are still Gymbr!”

“Their link...” Luna muttered, and then she shook her head slowly before glancing over at Scrivener Blooms. The stallion nodded with a grimace, then he picked up Gymbr Scrivener and half-dragged the weakly-writhing stallion over to Luna, tossing him up onto her back and half-overtop the other Luna.

The two settled after a few moments, their movements mirroring as they shifted and whimpered, and Hel snapped grouchily: “We really don't have a whole lot of time to waste here, ponies! Come on, come on, come on, let's get moving before the manure really hits the fan, we can still stall the bastards!”

Luna nodded briefly at this, then she looked to the side, eyes locking on her spears: Andlitstingar was still half-covered in melting black sludge, and Prúðbikkja was reverberating strangely, the weapon almost shivering. But with a flick of her horn, she lifted both over to her, Prúðbikkja shrinking down to vanish into her mane in a whiff of blue flame as Andlitstingar floated at the ready beside her.

Scrivener picked up the wrecked hulk of Sting Mk. II, then he quickly shoved this back into the saddlebag before hurrying after Luna, tossing an uneasy look to Twilight when the Lich asked worriedly: “What about Antares and Innocence? What about-”

“Oh come on, ponies! Do you really think I'm about to let everyone else important to you wash up on my icy shores?” Hel asked grouchily, and then she vanished through the portal. Twilight was half-tempted to go and chase after her children, but Luna shot her a reassuring look and a faint smile: Hel was many things, but the goddess wouldn't do anything to jeopardize her new alliance with them either, she thought. And their family was strong: they had to have faith in them while they took care of... whatever was making Hel herself so nervous.

The ponies hurried through the portal, wincing a bit at the moment of biting cold they all felt before they stumbled out into what had once been Valhalla's transport hub, and was now a half-collapsed ruin. Behind them was a set of sealed gates, while across the circular room was a pair of locked golden doors... but otherwise, the room was ringed with portals instead of private rooms, following a ramp that spiraled seemingly endlessly into bright light high, high above.

And many of the portals were sparking with energy: a few were even glowing, trying to form a coherent rift as Luna gazed around in disbelief, as Gymbr whispered from its two mouths: “Our arrogance... has become our own downfall. We refused to shut down the Hourglass, and it destroyed Valhalla... more than ninety percent of our army was annihilated by the surge of power, all our magical machines save those we insulated ourselves.. gone. And the countless portals we built here will now all be used against us...”

“What's going on?” Twilight asked in disbelief, and Hel smiled wryly, gesturing at a nearby portal as it sparked violently with energy again.

“The Pious are probing different wavelengths to try and tap into these portals. It's smart: they're going to lock into our own magical devices and use 'em against us.” Hel replied almost conversationally, and then she shook her head and muttered: “Should have caught it when it first started happening in Heaven years ago. But Gymbr here doesn't like to share, no no no.”

“We do not believe now is the time to discuss our failings.” the two sides of Gymbr muttered, and then it shook its head and straightened, gesturing at the locked door ahead tiredly. “The power source for this entire room is contained inside there. You and Scrivener Blooms can open the door, Luna Brynhild... it is keyed to our magic. Which means that it will respond to yours.”

Luna grimaced all the same this as she strode forwards, then Twilight winced a bit as Hel kicked her rocky, frosty side lightly, saying mildly: “That won't slow 'em down much. You start with the portals down here, I'll start with the portals up top, we'll meet somewhere in the middle.”

“Start... start what?” Twilight asked blankly, and Hel rolled her eyes before the ice puppet flicked her hand to the side, and one of the arches that shaped the portal energies simply exploded in a tremendous bang, the Lich wincing backwards. “I... okay. I'll... I'll do my best.”

“You can do better than that, sweetie. You're a lot better than the 'best' you put forwards, because when you're the best you can be, you're the worst, too, aren't you?” Hel replied kindly, and Twilight only looked confused as the goddess turned away, then wiggled her body before the ice puppet launched into the air in a burst of blue smoke, heading for the white light high above.

Luna grumbled as she strode forwards and poked at the doors with Andlitstingar, Scrivener Blooms following a little behind her before the stallion asked finally: “So does this mean... everything that Gymbr said was...”

“No, it does not.” Luna growled, purposefully bucking at the same time make Gymbr groan on her back in pain. “Thou heard... Theophilius, Kvasir, whatever the Hatter truly is. Gymbr has gone and made a mess of things, and the false god even admitted its own failings! He... it... whatever!”

Luna stabbed the armored doors several times with her spear, leaving divots in the gold before her soulstone horn glowed as she leaned forwards with a snarl... and the mare's eyes widened in dumb surprise when the doors flew open, as if they were made of wood. Apparently her magic really did work on anything Gymbr had created...

But any triumph was drowned out by disgust and contempt as she saw what Gymbr had powering the portals. Massive batteries, like Hel had in her own lair, but these didn't have First Tier demon prisoners. Instead, the glass cages were crammed full of demons and ponies and Blessed, and Luna gritted her teeth slowly before Gymbr almost pleaded: “Please. We only did what we had to do... and many of them are in a state of brain death or prisoners who we suspected of aiding the Light-”

“Yeah, because that makes it okay to suck the life out of someone.” Scrivener said sourly, and then he shivered as Luna's horn glowed brightly and she lashed it out at the glass tank, shattering the wall of it and sending dead, half-rotten bodies pouring out with a wave of black, brackish liquid. The machinery squealed and sparked, and the stallion shook his head slowly as he murmured: “Eternal order or eternal chaos... neither is good for us in the long run, Gymbr.”

Both sides of Gymbr were silent, shifting together over Luna's back as the sapphire mare closed her eyes, breathing slowly... and feeling whatever temporary boost of energies Hel had given her starting to fade out. She slumped a little, dropping her head forwards as questions and confusion and worst of all, doubt, all assailed her mind... and then, finally, she looked up and asked weakly: “Have we just been used as pawns by Hel, in some game of thrones and power?”

“No.” came Hel's voice gently, and Luna and Scrivener both winced and staggered around in surprise, then stared in disbelief: another ice puppet was standing beside them, and there were at least two more steadily destroying more portals, buzzing back and forth around the room with ease as the original puppet slowly made her way down from the light above, destroying every portal she came across on her way.

The puppet in front of them smiled, then Hel pointed at Gymbr and said quietly: “Say it. Say it, or I'll tell them to leave you here as a gift for the Pious. And you know they will. They've kind of had more than enough of you, I think.”

Both sides of Gymbr sighed, then closed their eyes, lowered their heads – mirroring, but at least this time in parallel directions – before they finally murmured: “We are willing to recognize... we may have made... errors. But everything we were doing was in Valhalla's best interests...”

Hel rolled her eyes, then reached out and flicked the gnarled horn of Gymbr Luna, making both sides wince a bit before the goddess said sourly: “You lost your frigging mind again. You're one part drunk and one part junkie, and you thought it'd be fine and swell to make yourself one part ruler of the entire universe too. After you apparently fought for years, uselessly, against these guys?”

“We fought the Light. These Pious... they are only part of the Light. They fear the Light.” Gymbr muttered, and Luna couldn't help but buck firmly, making the two groan in pain. Then they closed their eyes and both sighed loudly, before the dual entity murmured: “You cannot blame this all on us. We put fear into the Pious... we... we needed to do something that would stop them! We needed to avenge Kvasir, our friend, even-”

“At the cost of Heaven, banana cake.” Hel said gently, and then the ice puppet reached out and patted Gymbr Luna a few times on the head, earning scowls from both sides of Gymbr. “You really gotta get better at math, sweetie. One minus one is still zero. Whether they're apples or oranges, you take one away, you're still left with dirt.”

“Go away, goddess. Crow your victory and go away.” Gymbr growled, but the ice puppet only snorted, rolling her eyes and crossing her arms as she leaned back. “We are not amused-”

“Well, this isn't really an amusing time.” Hel retorted blandly, and then she looked down at Luna Brynhild, who was scowling up at her. “I know, you want answers. But I want to make sure everyone gets out of here, first. Here's a hint, though, if you kill Gymbr right now, then Valhalla will start to lock down. And the first thing that'll shut off is that energy in the air that makes it easy to portal around. Meaning if we kill Gymbr, or we leave a little too early, we won't be able to save the Looking Glass or the Broken Mirror.”

The sapphire mare looked moodily over her shoulder at this, nodding uneasily before she gritted her teeth as she murmured: “The Pious waited until our armies had clashed, weakened each other... and now they have moved in and started culling, haven't they?”

Hel smiled slightly at this, reaching up and tapping a finger against her temple calmly as she said wryly: “There's those old Valkyrie instincts finally kicking in. That's right, cinnamon, and the moment they felt Gymbr fall, they started moving in.”

“And thou art saying...” Luna looked up silently, watching as another ice puppet floated down to Twilight, and she could almost hear it telling the golem-bodied mare that it was time to leave. “Thou art saying we are supposed to abandon Valhalla. That the Pious... are going to take over Valhalla. That we have rid it of one cancer only for another to move in!”

Hel smiled faintly, and then she leaned slowly down and said quietly: “They took you out with a touch, cinnamon. Look, you and chocolate pudding and vanilla wafer all have to go and recuperate for now, and sweetie... I might not have much love in my heart for this place, but I still have a little. And I'm greedy. Which means that we're going to lock down these ruins of Valhalla as much as possible. But the Pious are going to spread through the Vale all the same... they're going to try and expand their Empire of Greater Heaven and...”

Hel glanced up, cocking her head thoughtfully as she rose a hand to one ear, before grunting and waving her hands hurriedly at the ponies as Twilight Sparkle approached. “Okay, time for you to leave. Take Gymbr with you: if you want answers, keep the twins alive. If you wanna kill him I'm fine with that too. Either way, it's all gonna come out in the wash next time we get a chance to talk. But you have to get Gymbr out of here now, to force Valhalla into lockdown.

“And take this, too!” Hel's voice came from another puppet as the soulstone core flew down out of the sky, and Scrivener Blooms caught it more by luck than anything else with a wince. “Just keep it away from half-and-half there.”

Gymbr only scowled at this, and then Hel snapped her fingers, a vortex of energy slowly swirling open as her other puppets continued to flit throughout the portal room. Luna looked uncertainly up at the dark goddess, but Hel only gestured at the portal, meeting her eyes and saying quietly: “You don't have to trust me, honey. All you have to do is trust what happens when you step through that portal.”

Luna was silent for a few moments... and then she, Scrivener Blooms, and Twilight Sparkle strode into the vortex, knowing no other choice, filled with questions they couldn't even begin to guess at the answers to, and carrying with them a broken god split into two halves, that closed its eyes and wished miserably with both parts of its dual mind that it had never been born.

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