• 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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Chain Reactions

Chapter Thirty Six: Chain Reactions
~BlackRoseRaven

Luna and Scrivener were in Ponyville, trying to make sense of what had happened. Trying to figure out what the hell they could even do at this point, as the sapphire mare kept obsessively playing with the soulstone core, rolling it back and forth and making it glow every now and then, but never really managing to summon up any of the tremendous powers contained within. She thought it might have to be fused into her body to do that, and the sapphire mare thought one chunk of soulstone sticking out of her was more than enough.

She sighed quietly, lowering her head and closing her eyes. It had been three days, and there was no sign of Terra, Pinkamena, or Sleipnir. And of course, Theophilius was nowhere to be found. Or Kvasir, or... whoever, whatever the hell he really was. It... well, none of it felt very good. Especially because the little they'd heard about what was going on in Asgard...

Valhalla was sealed, and if anyone was still inside... then they were probably stuck there. The Vale, meanwhile... well, on the one hoof, now they understood why Gymbr had gone to such lengths, why he had warped and spread darkness throughout Heaven. The darkness was trying to hold back the so-called 'purity' the Pious were bringing with them... but the Angels of Greater Heaven and the fact that the Vale itself was being drained of strength from the mighty castle that ruled Heaven closing itself off meant it was a losing battle, even before considering the fact that somehow, the Pious were overriding the Vale of Valhalla's lockdown.

Hel hadn't been by yet, and Gymbr... well, once they'd gotten back to Looking Glass World, and Luna had realized they were right outside Ponyville, she had flung Gymbr Luna as hard and far away in one direction and kicked Gymbr Scrivener in the other. The screaming and howling of the two had eventually drawn other ponies from Ponyville as well as a few demons, and with some wheedling and a few sour remarks from Monkshood, she had finally picked Gymbr Luna up by the horn and dragged her over to Gymbr Scrivener so they would stop... well, melting, it almost looked like.

“I suppose we cannot traumatize the innocents of Ponyville.” Luna mumbled disconsolately from where she was laying on the library floor, and Scrivener shrugged moodily, looking up as the sapphire mare picked up the soulstone orb between her hooves and rolled onto her back, studying it crankily. “And I suppose we cannot put off visiting the bastard any longer. Or bitch. Or... I need a new swear for them, or it, or whatever Gymbr is.”

“Two genders, one pronoun.” Scrivener muttered, and Luna gave him a wryly-amused look, the stallion looking up and shrugging a bit. “Hey, I hate them too. My form of being cranky and upset is just. A little different than yours.”

From the table, Celestia sighed quietly, and Luna and Scrivener both softened as they looked towards the ivory mare. But she only looked back at them tiredly: her mane was still long, ivory locks that didn't help much with her ghostly appearance, even though she had knotted and braided most of her long mane, if only to keep some kind of order to it. And more than that, there were the lines of scar tissue up along her chin and over her cheek: gifts from Gymbr that likely would never heal. “You should go and speak to Gymbr. Find out what he knows. And then you should help Twilight Sparkle out with Innocence. I've never seen her try and force a jump between host bodies so quickly. She's upset, and Innocence is...”

“Aye.” Luna nodded a little, looking down before she sighed softly. “But Twilight desires to try and... mend her daughter herself at this moment, and neither Scrivy nor I are in any position to argue with her. Furthermore, Innocence is restrained: three layers of antimagic rings around her horn, three layers of weighted bracelets around her legs. Not that I think any of them are necessary... she is...”

Luna shivered a little, not wanting to talk about it, not even wanting to think about it as she looked away before softening and returning her eyes to her sister. “Besides, look at thou. Hurt. Drained still. Thy mane will no longer even glow, and thou still art all sore and cranky.”

“I'm cranky because we just gave Heaven up to the Pious after saving it from Gymbr, like pathetic little foals scampering away because Mother told them to.” Celestia muttered, and Luna and Scrivener both looked up at this uncharacteristic fit of pique. The ivory mare rose a hoof to her mouth after a moment, lowering her head and closing her eyes. “I'm sorry. I'm... I'm in pain. And finding out about Hel not only being Odin's daughter but now the one to save us...”

“I should have told thee sooner, but...” Luna smiled briefly, and Celestia only nodded a little, lowering her head. “So thou... truly did not know?”

“No. I was Vanir originally, remember... my brother and I came to Odin after he took control of the Aesir.” Celestia rubbed slowly under her chin, then she sighed a little and smiled faintly. “It shouldn't bother me that Odin kept it secret. I can understand why he did. But it does. And it bothers me we're going to be forced to work alongside her now, to fight off these Pious... these invaders...”

Celestia dropped her front hooves against the table, then slowly flexed them as she closed her eyes and lowered her head. “The fact Gymbr is alive and we have information to grind out of him frustrates me. What Innocence has done, sacrificing her honor and everything up to her very soul for more power kills me inside, and makes me want to beat her within an inch of her life. The thought that Kvasir might be Theophilius Carter... that something has happened to him, created this... I don't have the answers and I can't do a single thing to help!”

The ivory mare suddenly yanked up a heavy book and flung it across the room with a snarl, the tome hitting the shelves with enough force to knock more spilling out in every direction, and all eyes stared for a few moments at this before Celestia looked down at her own hoof and clenched it tightly, trembling and breathing slowly. “I'm... I'm sorry. I don't know what came over me...”

“Anger, Celestia. That is all. Thou art no different from usual, do not worry.” Luna soothed, and she smiled as she stood up, lifting the soulstone orb with telekinesis to float it beside her. Celestia glowered at her sourly, but Luna only shook her head and said gently: “'Tis true. The only difference is that right now, thou seems... unable to completely repress thy emotions. And that is a state I am all too familiar with, big sister.”

The ivory mare looked down, then she sighed a little and slowly relaxed, murmuring: “Alright. Alright, maybe you're right. I suppose it's stress, adding onto whatever Hecate did to me. That's all. I need to... I just need to relax and regain my energy.”

Luna smiled supportively, and then she poked at her older sibling a few times with her horn, making Celestia wince and push her away before the sapphire mare chastened: “And thou must stop sending Bob on all these silly little missions, fling him into bed, and ride him until he breaks. I am sure that will help with thy mood too.”

Celestia smiled a bit despite herself, sighing and lowering her head before she said softly: “I'll keep that suggestion in mind Luna, thank you.” There was a pause, and then she reached out and hesitantly took the soulstone orb from Luna's telekinetic grip, studying it slowly and murmuring: “Maybe I'll... do some work on this to get my mind off things for now. I've been hesitant to attempt to interact with it at all, since it seems to be composed of both Hel's arts and Gymbr's energies, but... I suppose since it hasn't hurt you...”

“And what is that supposed to mean?” Luna scoffed, but even Scrivener Blooms gave a bit of a smile at this: after seeing Luna lick the soulstone orb yesterday, he had already become pretty convinced himself it seemed to lapse into dormancy without a living body fused to it. Or maybe because it was designed for Gymbr, it only works for Gymbr... a combination of us...

Luna glanced over at the stallion, then she shook herself briskly before striding over to him and poking at him a few times with her horn. Scrivener simply rolled onto his side and pawed a Talon against her face to try and discourage her, but Luna huffed and leaned forwards to beat her front hooves in a light tattoo against the stallion's side. “Up, up on thy hooves... or claws, or... bah, whatever! We are healed, we are here, and we do not need to be either useless or helpless right now. We must go and speak to Gymbr, find out what he knows about everything that has been happening... after all, he said... 'twas the Light that was the true foe upon the march, aye?”

Scrivener Blooms nodded slowly, and he grimaced a bit: he really didn't want to go and talk to Gymbr. He was all for giving second, third, more chances, sure, but there were certain things he felt kind of made you deserving of being sent to Hel's sandbox for forever and a day. Included in that short list of things was destroying all of Heaven in a retarded bid to try and save it.

“Well, we are not offering atonement. We are offering them a chance to... try and make things make sense.” Luna said after a moment, shaking her head and grimacing in distaste. “It does not mean we shan't punish the creature, nor that we will ever let them out of that cell beneath the engineering lab... except perhaps to move him to a better cell in Subterra.”

The stallion nodded again after a moment, and then he sighed and picked himself up, muttering: “Alright. Alright, I guess you're right. Still, I do kind of hate that he's alive at all.”

Luna smiled wryly, replying: “Well, perhaps he won't be alive for very long, Scrivy. We shall see what he has to say, and then we shall judge from there. 'Tis well in our right to, as Gymbr is...”

She only grimaced and shook her head, and Scrivener smiled a little before he and the mare dropped their heads together with a quiet clunk for a moment, both ponies closing their eyes. Celestia gazed over at them softly, resting a hoof on the soulstone core before she said quietly: “Don't hesitate to do whatever you have to in order to get the information.”

The sapphire mare looked over her shoulder at Celestia for a moment, then she simply nodded and gave a small smile as Scrivener looked down at one Talon, then flexed it slowly, studying the runes that danced almost invisibly over it for a moment before he dropped the claw back to the ground, the two ponies turning to head towards the exit and let themselves out of the library.

Ponyville was bustling, busy... but there was a sense that all the same, these ponies were afraid. Not for themselves, but for the ponies who were about to pass on. Heaven was a battlefield right now, after all, between a force of blinding light and a force of corruption and darkness... and who knew what was happening to the souls caught between?

Scrivener smiled faintly, shaking his head briefly as Luna glanced over at him curiously, before the stallion muttered: “All the atheists are laughing at us right now. I mean, what's the point of Heaven if you just end up miserable and tormented for an eternity or two? At least dying and going to nothing must be... kind of peaceful-like.”

“How can it be peaceful-like if there is nothing to be had?” Luna argued as they walked side-by-side down the street, and Scrivener shrugged a little as he looked skywards. “Given the choice between death and torture, Scrivy, many ponies say they would choose death... but the body will fight to live all the same. Our instinct to survive and fight... 'tis powerful. 'Tis rare that it is ever truly drowned or beaten.”

The stallion nodded a little, looking down thoughtfully and studying his own strange claws before he murmured: “Not that our instincts are always good though. Not by a long shot.”

Luna gave a brief smile at this, and they were mostly silent as they made their way slowly through Ponyville. Ponies looked at them worriedly, a few even approached and asked if they could help... which was usually a veiled, careful way to ask about what was going on.

They were as gentle as they could be in reply, since they didn't want to start a panic, and sometimes the ponies were... a little scared of them. Not that Scrivener could blame them: they were both big, scarred warrior ponies, and Luna had a frightening soulstone horn and Scrivener had his Talons. He flexed these again as they walked onwards, and as glad as he was for these prosthetics, at the same time... he regretted that this had ever happened in the first place. That he'd had to give up so much... that he would never be able to just, remove them, and have his hooves back...

Luna bopped him gently with her horn as they stopped in front of the engineering building, and Scrivener Blooms grunted a 'thank you' to her before she flicked her horn and threw the doors open. They walked inside and let themselves into the employee area, walking down halls that were much busier than usual... but then again, Cowlick was already working on defense systems that would help them deal with the Pious.

Neither Scrivener nor Luna wanted to imagine what would happen if the Pious decided to try and bring war to Looking Glass World, however: things were bad enough as it was. Instead, they focused on just continuing to move forwards, heading into the bowels of the facility.

They had to pass through two security checkpoints: the first was just a sealed door Luna growled at as the magic eye scanned over her, then opened. The second had several Nibelung in armor, who scanned Luna and Scrivener after having them walk through an antimagic field. The stallion flexed his Talons uneasily as they buzzed and hummed with energy, and Luna glared at a Nibelung that stepped forwards to frisk her, the dwarf staring at her for a few moments before awkwardly stepping back and away, simply giving a thumbs-up to another Nibelung on the other side of a narrow plate-glass window.

The massive, vault-like door unsealed and was pushed slowly open by two dwarves, Luna huffing as she strode through with Scrivener Blooms in tow. The passage they entered into was dim and dark and narrow, deep, deep below Ponyville: this was a place where Clockwork Ponies and other dangerous technologies of Valthrudnir had been kept, and where a few particularly dangerous prisoners were locked away and kept under close watch in iron cells.

Nibelung and demons patrolled the halls, and Luna looked moodily back and forth as they walked along, checking the layout for any possible vulnerabilities until they reached the prison block. They had to pass through a heavy gate, then stop in a security area for yet another check before the last set of gates slid open and let them into the prison, Luna grumbling: “They should be focusing on not letting those inside escape, instead of making it so damnably difficult to visit these cells.”

Scrivener only shrugged absently as they walked down the middle of the prison hall to the last cell in line: like all the others, it was sealed by a heavy, armored door, but what set it apart was the circle of runes glowing quietly over the front of it. It prevented mindreading and psychic intrusion, meaning even a gifted psychic wouldn't be able to see into the room.

Luna flicked her horn, and the sealed door glowed before it clanked and slowly swung open. The occupants of the cell looked up at the same time, calmly tilting their heads towards their visitors as they sat back-to-back, before Gymbr Luna and Gymbr Scrivener both smiled and said: “We've been waiting for you. We suppose you have questions: we will do our best to answer.”

The two ponies entered the cell, and Luna calmly closed the door behind her, letting it seal shut. Gymbr studied the two silently, as they gazed back, before the linked entities asked softly: “Or have you decided that our information has no worth, and you are simply here to torture us, perhaps kill us?”

Luna and Scrivener traded looks, and the two sides of Gymbr again closed their eyes, acting as one. “We will be disappointed if you are: not that you would torment or kill us, no... we are you. We would do the same in your position. In fact, we tried to do the same when we feared that you were a threat, did we not?”

“Reverse psychology. Telling us that we're doing what you would, in the hopes that it'll make us not want to do it.” Scrivener said sourly, and then he halted and grimaced as he looked around the twenty foot square cell, muttering: “The horrible part is that it's kind of working. Except I also want to put you in a kennel like I used to be stuck in.”

“We remember that. It was not the cold that was the worst... it was not the cramps, or the pain. It was the sense of the world passing by...” Both sides of Gymbr smiled faintly, looking down as they closed their eyes. “And the smell.”

Scrivener Blooms found himself almost murmuring the last part along with them, and he shivered a little: that was precisely how he'd described it once to Luna, and the sapphire mare herself looked unsettled before Gymbr slowly looked up and whispered: “We do not like being apart. It hurts us. We are one: we are not meant to be apart like this.”

The charcoal stallion and the soulstone-horned mare traded uneasy looks, both feeling chills run down their spine at what sounded... prophetic to them. Then Luna grimaced and shook her head, muttering: “Thou can be together when thou art both dead. And for thy information, I do have many questions for thee... perhaps if thou answers enough of them I shan't have to torture thee. Because we are not like thou, Gymbr. The night must bring justice as well as vengeance.”

The linked ponies both only smiled and shook their heads, and then they said quietly: “Such things are determined by history and the eye of the beholder. And how do you presume to bring justice upon us? Is there any judge who has not already declared us guilty before the trial begins? Is there any jury of our peers, who can understand us, who are not already contaminated with hatred for us? Is there any lawyer to defend us to the full extent of his ability? Well, we suppose there is always the last. There are always the greedy, and always the idealists.”

Luna and Scrivener were silent for a moment, and then the sapphire mare stepped forwards and slapped Gymbr Luna hard, knocking them both sprawling, the two perfectly reflecting each other even as they both chuckled and stared at the ground, whispering: “Yes. We are too weak to fight back, completely at your mercy, unable to use any of our powers in this broken state. Perhaps your idea of justice is not so different from our own.”

The sapphire mare bared her fangs at this, but Scrivener reached up and caught her shoulder, glaring down at the dual entities before he said moodily: “Maybe we should just move on to business.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then both sides of Gymbr nodded and closed their eyes, saying quietly: “We realize that we made a grave error of judgment. Fuse us back together: we do not ask for our soulstone core, only that we are... again made one. We have no beating heart, we have no Kundalini... we do not even know how we are still alive. Perhaps it is simply because of our will to survive... perhaps it is our punishment, for what we have done wrong.”

“Life alone is not enough punishment for thou.” Luna growled, leaning down and glaring at the copy of herself, and then she shook her head and said quietly: “I promise thou this, here and now. I will not work beside thee. I will ensure thou art not freed. And already I have asked my servants to prepare a special cell for thee, deep, deep in Subterra. The only thing I am willing to offer thee is this: if thou provides us useful information, I shall not have thine other half dragged to the other side of Equestria. And it is only after this... whatever-it-is with the Pious is over that I shall permit thee to die. Either thou lives as prisoner until the Pious are driven back, and then executed for thy treason... or thou lives as prisoner, does not tell us all thou knows, and I shall ensure the Pious find thee and are able to do whatever they desire to thee if we are defeated.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then both sides of Gymbr closed their eyes and murmured: “Well played, Luna Brynhild. You are cunning and cruel, and... remind us of a younger us. By which we mean no offense: perhaps the younger us was a better us...”

Scrivener Blooms only grunted moodily, while Luna Brynhild shook her head slowly before simply glaring at the creature, and both sides of Gymbr tilted their head back and forth as if in thought for a few moments before nodding briefly. “Then today we shall tell you of what we saw of the Light, and who we fought beside.”

“Greater Heaven?” Scrivener Blooms asked quietly, and Gymbr laughed quietly at this: the way the sounds overlapped was... beautiful, but also frustrating, and purely creepy from the fact this was... this was essentially some unfused version of himself and Luna and...

Scrivener shuddered a bit, as Gymbr explained: “No. Greater Heaven is a place of absolute peace, where there is no toil, no work, no anger. It is a place without hatred. And it is a place without love. It is a place where all things move according to the Light.”

“What the hell is this Light?” Scrivener asked sharply, gesturing with a Talon as he shook his head with a grimace. “And I mean, yeah, Greater Heaven doesn't sound good for us but... it sounds like some people's idea of-”

“Do not defend them!” It was the most emotion Gymbr had managed to summon up so far, and it was somehow unsurprising to see that it was coming from anger. Gymbr Luna's horn flashed, and Gymbr Scrivener's claws flexed... but then both sides of the entity gasped and fell weakly against each other, closing their eyes, rasping for air.

Scrivener and Luna traded looks, and dual creatures shuddered weakly before they whispered: “Greater Heaven is nothing but a lie of order. A soulless, empty machine, worse than Valthrudnir's Decretum, where at least the Clockwork Ponies act with some semblance of intellect. We have seen Greater Heaven. It is awful, and it is empty, and everyone there is calm... calm, peaceful, and utterly alone. We would not wish that upon even Hel.

“And that is all aside. We fought the Light upon another world. A world the Light had already cut out of our cluster of countless worlds, but one that even while it was dying, took much semblance to our own. They were careful: they chose a world we did not know about. A world that has not been mapped, or even visited by any outside presence for many years.” Gymbr continued quietly. “The Light is careful. It desired to learn about us before it challenged us, now that the one thing it feared is gone...”

Luna and Scrivener frowned, and when Gymbr smiled at them, they understood. They both reared back, unconsciously mimicking each other as the dual entities nodded to them, even as Scrivener Blooms whispered: “Valthrudnir?”

“Yes. The parasite kept the disease at bay. The Pious and the Light would not dare attract Valthrudnir's attention.” Gymbr's heads shook briefly, and then the dual entity smiled again, with bitter amusement. “We wonder often what Valthrudnir would think, if only he had learned that it was his presence that kept the Light at bay for so many years... it was not until they were sure that he was gone they began to make their intrusions against our world, after all.”

“But the Pious were here before... Selene was buried here.” Scrivener said slowly, as Luna only remained silent, trying to work out facts in her mind: besides, they always did better this way. Scrivener handled the conversation; she dealt with hitting and threatening whoever they were dealing with when it was necessary. “She was made from... a demon and a Greater Heaven Angel, right?”

Gymbr nodded calmly and said softly: “The Pious retrieve powerful demons to use as breeding tools, to create Nephilim. The Nephilim are their siege artillery... incredibly powerful, but their bodies are... unstable. Frail.”

“Selene.” Scrivener murmured quietly, nodding slowly. There was silence for a moment, and then both Scrivener and Luna looked pointedly at the two sides of Gymbr, and the dual entities nodded, both closing their eyes.

“We are remembering.” they said softly, and for a few moments there was silence before they picked up their story. “The world of the ponies was much like ours, but... vulnerable, soft. It was a world where Nightmare Moon had never existed, nor Veliuona, nor... many other things. Even the dragons were... soft. They did not have hard scales, nor did they breathe fire. They were tamed by earth ponies... we taught them to use the dragons as mounts in war, instead of play... we... we tried to save them... we tried to so hard to save them...”

Gymbr looked down silently. “But we did not. We failed them. We failed Kvasir, and we failed Foldraumr. The Light was more powerful than we had anticipated, and more numerous: the Light washed over us, and even after we drove it back with darkness... even after we freed so many souls from the Light's cruel grip... the Light wounded Kvasir. And Foldraumr made... a mistake.”

“Foldraumr...” Luna frowned, lowering her head and thinking hard... and then her eyes widened before she looked up and whispered: “The Jötnar messenger? We remember him...”

“Yes. Who our brother doted on whenever he came to our court. Who even Odin did not raise weapon against. And who was one of the first of his own kind to be slain by Valthrudnir's treachery. But the Jötnar do not die, and Foldraumr's spirit was not pulled into the Void. He only wandered Niflheim, watched as it collapsed into Helheim, watched as Valthrudnir struggled to find the core world. And for many years, he searched for someone who could commune with him. And who he eventually found was the Goddess Hel, after being drawn into the special purgatory she keeps for her fallen... compatriots, we suppose they are.”

There was silence for a few moments, as Scrivener and Luna tried to digest this, and then Gymbr smiled faintly. “We think it is her idea of honoring them. A strange one perhaps, but... we neither know nor like Hel. Not as well as we came to know our... friends.”

Gymbr was quiet, the two ponies that made up this dual god looking away silently for a few moments before they both nodded, then said softly: “Hel gave a locket to Foldraumr, that she filled with holy water that would contain his essence. It acted as an anchor, and she taught him to create a body for himself of ice and snow, like her own puppets. Hel sent Foldraumr to find us after Kvasir's disappearance: she thought a Jötnar would be able to stand against us. Would be a match for our glory.”

The linked ponies both smiled grimly, closed their eyes, bowed their heads forwards. “Of course, he was nowhere near our power, our majesty, our might. But he did not have a chance to test us: his presence in the world... the Blinded Realm, it attracted the attention of the Pious there.”

“So there were Pious there. Not just this... Light.” Scrivener said slowly, and Gymbr nodded before the stallion asked finally: “The Pious are... they're controlled by the Light? But if I remember right... you accused the Pious of sending the assassin after Kvasir, too. But the Whistler can't have anything to do with the Light. He killed the Pious.”

“Yes, he did. He killed Pious that had made contact with the unwashed. Your mind is telling you, showing you what you want to see... but see the entire picture. See how they were killed.” Gymbr's sides encouraged, and then both sides of the god gritted their teeth as Gymbr Luna struggled to make her horn light up with magic, gasping for breath as she concentrated on a spell, and both Luna and Scrivener looked at her not just with wariness, but pity.

The Gymbr Luna cursed weakly, straining, her body trembling with the effort as her horn flickered weakly in and out as she stared up at Luna Brynhild almost desperately, and after a few moments the sapphire mare finally sighed quietly and lowered her own head, saying dryly: “This had best not be some stupid trick, Gymbr, or by all of Asgard I shall smite-”

A spark of energy flew from gnarled, twisted alicorn to soulstone horn, and Luna Brynhild winced backwards before her eyes widened: for a moment, she saw a flash of images overtop reality, of Gymbr's memories... of the Blessed that had been butchered sloppily in Heaven, and the Pious, so neatly, calmly killed, by something that...

“The assassin killed them quickly, was intimate with the knowledge of their bodies... but it was not brutality, not viciousness that made him so sloppy with the others. He did not know where to strike, how to cut or hurt the Blessed, because they were not... something like his own.” Luna's eyes widened, and then she shook her head hurriedly, exclaiming: “But the Whistler... he was so different! He-”

“We enjoy your name for him. Yes, he is different... because he is not made as the Pious are. We have told you already... the Light has more at its beck and call than just the Pious. The Pious are merely the servants we see most often... the Pious are enraptured with the Light, that they call the True God, He Of The Many Countless Faces.” Gymbr replied softly, shaking its heads slowly. “Foldraumr was to be taken before him, but we saved the Jötnar. And in gratitude, he joined us... until Kvasir was wounded, and dying.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then both Gymbr halves looked down and said quietly: “Foldraumr believed that his life essence would save Kvasir. He only meant to give Kvasir a single drop... but Hel leaves not even the hearts of her servants without trap or cunning trick. The moment the locket was opened, Foldraumr's entire life poured out, his spirit absorbed into Kvasir: it was clear what Hel intended. To overload whoever attempted to claim her servant's powers for their own and kill them.

“But Kvasir is made of many gods, of many ages, mixed together by Valthrudnir. The essence of the Jötnar and the powers of so many gods mixed together...” Both sides of Gymbr lowered their heads silently. “These opposing forces created chaos. Chaos, that could not be controlled nor contained. Chaos, in the form of what the Draconequus call the Mad Hatter.”

“God and Jötnar, mixed together in the same vessel...” Luna shivered and shook her head, then she asked finally: “But he was with you, on this... blind world?”

“The Blinded Realm. But he was... it was not our fault.” Both sides of Gymbr looked up, as if asking for mercy, as if pleading for a chance to explain itself. “We... we had no choice but to banish him. His powers were too great, too out of control... at first, he was not... he was both Foldraumr and Kvasir, fighting for dominance in the same vessel... we did not know he would survive, and he was attracting the eyes of the Pious! We had no choice but to send him to Ginnungagap and flee to continue our battle with the Light!”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Luna closed her eyes and shook her head slowly, murmuring: “No. Thou did have a choice. And the decision that thou made is what sets thou apart from us... what makes thou Gymbr, and us Brynhild and Scrivener.” The sapphire mare looked up coldly, shaking her head as she bared her fangs. “We never abandon an ally... we never toss them into the seas of chaos, and we never flee the enemy!”

“And look at how that's turned out for you!” shouted both sides of Gymbr, the mare side a little louder than the warped stallion half. “You have destroyed us, the only being capable of standing up to the Light! You have lost Heaven to the Pious, the very enemy we were working to stop!”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Luna gave a thin smile, shaking her head slowly as she said softly: “Oh, aye. Our fault, aye. Our fault that thou art a coward, and a waste of life and energy. Thou had powers beyond that of a god, and thou wasted them all. Pathetic, weak and stupid creature. Loathsome, broken wretch. Nay, even wasting these words upon thee... 'tis a crime. 'Tis a crime, because to even acknowledge what a worthless wastrel thou art... that is giving thee far too much credit, far more than thou deserves.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then both sides of Gymbr smiled bitterly and shook their heads slowly, saying quietly: “You are so quick to judge us. You are so quick to tell us that we are fools. But what about yourself, Luna Brynhild? You are not without flaw and weakness. You are not without your own crimes and sins... such as your desire for milking Scrivener Blooms of his vital essence any way you can. That was never a weakness we had, as we recall...”

Luna snarled furiously at this, her eyes flashing, but Scrivener Blooms only shook his head in disgust and muttered: “No. Now you're just trying to get us mad at you. Which is stupid, considering that we all kind of want to kill you, but I guess it also goes to show that you really must hate yourself for what you've done. Which somehow... I don't find all that comforting.”

The sapphire mare growled moodily in agreement as she settled back slightly, her eyes narrowed, her expression dark and foreboding as she muttered: “Aye. Well, keep this up, Gymbr, and we shall introduce thee to our own tortures. We know well what thou liked to pride thyself in, twisted creature... we shall see what thou thinks of us after we demonstrate that we are just as capable as thou art in such arts.”

“We would welcome it.” Gymbr replied quietly, and Luna and Scrivener traded uneasy looks. There was silence for a few moments, and then both halves of the god lowered their heads, closing their eyes and saying softly: “We know, do you not understand? We know that we have... ruined everything. And now we fear for the future, because... you are us, Luna Brynhild, Scrivener Blooms. You are us. You prove that with every day that passes, more and more... you are us.”

The two ponies traded uneasy looks, shifting silently as there was a long, uncomfortable pause, and then Gymbr said quietly: “We have told you what we know. We nearly defeated the Light... we drove it back, for a time. And we discovered that our darkness could blot out the Light infecting people's hearts. We will teach you this, and we will give you all the rest of our knowledge as well. We only ask that you keep your promise, Luna and Scrivener: keep us alive until this war is over. And when it ends, you will kill us.”

“Thou shall make no demands of me.” Luna said icily, and then she looked down for a moment, licking her lips slowly before glancing up and asking impulsively: “The soulstone core. Will it be of any use to us?”

Both halves of Gymbr only laughed quietly, looking down before they whispered: “We saw that the Pious tried to steal it. They must know it is the source of our power. He Of Many Countless Faces must desire it, to continue to make himself stronger, to make his Light... shine, through this universe, and blot out all lunacy, and anger, and hate, and reason.”

“You know, it's because you say things from the absolute worst possible viewpoint that might have helped convince us you were nothing but a lying asshole.” Scrivener said sourly, and both sides of Gymbr scowled up at him. He only glowered back, however: Gymbr was too weak to hurt him, and it wasn't as if he was afraid of physical pain anyway. What scared him was what Gymbr had said before: that they were just like him. That they were him.

Luna shook her head fiercely as she picked up these thoughts, looking over at the stallion and muttering: “Nay, we are not. And I think we have had enough storytime for today, unless thou can tell us... what we should expect from the Pious.”

Both halves of Gymbr only smiled at this, raising their heads before they said softly in unison: “We know that if you are anything like us, you have already begun to piece together what they are capable of in your mind, Brynhild. Just as we know you would prefer to find out for yourself what they are capable of... we only ask that you will keep in mind that turning your back upon one is a bad idea.”

“I remember its touch... how that alone was enough to steal all the energy from my body...” Luna murmured, and then she shook her head briefly before glowering a little at the dual entities. “Very well, be useless, Gymbr. But if we die-”

“The Pious are not among the worst creatures you have faced. Yes, they are powerful... but they are very... brittle. You will discover how easy it is to rip them apart with your bare hooves soon enough.” Gymbr replied pleasantly, and Scrivener and Luna both traded awkward looks before both halves of the god bowed their heads to them. “We must keep some information to ourselves to ensure our survival. We fought the Light for years, until...”

“Until what? Why did thou give up in thy fight, Gymbr, if thou claims to have beaten the Light back, to have come from another world where thou wert ruler, King? Why wert thou so convinced thou had to take over Heaven, and not simply warn us of what was coming?” Luna asked pessimistically, and Gymbr only smiled with silent calm in return, looking up steadily until the sapphire winged unicorn snorted in disgust. “Very well, I see then. So be it. We shall speak of this at another juncture.”

Both halves of the god nodded calmly, and Luna glowered between them before she reached out and smacked her mirrored half. It almost knocked Gymbr Luna over, her straggly blue mane falling over her face, and Luna trembled as her hooves dug against the cement, as she felt her shoulders hunch up and her breathing quicken. Her hooves itched to just... to keep hitting. To pummel this twisted version of herself until there was next to nothing left of her, just blood, and a smear on the ground.

She breathed slowly in and out before Scrivener Blooms reached up and squeezed the mare's shoulder gently. Luna grumbled under her breath, but she nodded after a moment and shook herself briefly, muttering: “Yes. Let us leave, before I give in to urges I should better resist.”

Scrivener Blooms smiled a little, and then both he and Luna before the sapphire mare sighed and flicked her horn lightly as she turned, and the heavy armored door behind them clanked loudly before swinging slowly open. There was silence as they regarded the halves of Gymbr, their alter selves, for a few moments... and then finally, they turned and headed outside, the stallion saying finally: “We'll be back, Gymbr.”

“Tomorrow, or the next day. We know. We look forwards to our next meeting.” the entity shared between two bodies replied, and then both broken pieces of the god smiled and bowed their heads as Luna and Scrivener left, saying softly: “We look forwards to it with great expectation.”

Innocence growled as she paced slowly around the den room of her old home... a home she hadn't been inside of for almost sixty years. Well, sixty years to her: her parents kept whining that it had been around a week for them, but she just found these complaints pathetic and annoying. Just because it was a week for them didn't automatically make it a week's worth for her, yet that was the way they were treating her, all the same.

She wasn't polymorphed: she couldn't. Her cutie mark kept glimmering with alien radiance, and she hated that she wasn't allowed to wear so much as a single scrap of cloth over her body. Her dark purple scales flexed and glimmered in the light as she shook her blade-like horn crankily, but there were three rings sealed around it, and she couldn't yank these off, nor use her magic to simply overload them.

Well, maybe she could do the latter, but what purpose would that serve? What these idiots didn't get, most of all, was that she didn't want to run away. She wanted to be with them: they were her parents. Not that it meant she loved them, of course, or anything like that... but there was this soft, weak little biological connection with them she could manipulate, as if their blood ties actually meant something, which was stupid.

But she would gladly use that to her advantage, all the same, if it would help her pursuit of power. If it would help her learn all the things Gymbr had apparently been too busy to teach her... and she snarled as she stomped a claw against the floor, her eyes glowing with anger, the weights around her lower limbs jangling together lightly. He'd blinded her with all his big flashy parlor tricks he'd taught her, promised her she'd be invincible, but then her stupid blood-mother had gone and taken her apart, piece-by-piece, like a helpless, worthless little toy...

But her Móðer and her blood-father had destroyed Gymbr... and then the monsters that Gymbr had been fighting, had taught her to fight, had swept in and ambushed them. It disgusted Sin that they had been forced out of their own home by the angels, but she understood that. What she didn't understand was why they were sticking around at all. Hell, she didn't understand why Gymbr had been determined to stay in Valhalla, trying to eke out every little bit of training and creation he could... which the moron had lost everything from, thanks to refusing to shut down the Hourglass.

So her mother and father had proven themselves superior, stronger than Gymbr. She guessed that meant Twilight Sparkle probably was, too, but... she found it harder to take advice from and simper up to her blood-mother for many different reasons. Innocence scowled a bit at this, and then she flung herself down on the bedding and closed her eyes tightly.

For now, she was stuck here, trying to pretend, to make nice with Mommy Dearest, though. What she really wanted was to go and find Luna and Scrivener, however... to try and convince her parents, her real parents, that their way of thinking was outdated and outmoded, and wouldn't help them survive against the Pious. And most of all, to get power from them: she would do anything, anything, in order to have them start teaching her, to sample their energies, to learn how her father controlled corruption so well and study the enhancements he had made upon himself...

She would do anything. For now, they wanted her to be their little girl, which she did her best to do. She would have much preferred if they wanted her body or even the position of slave... although after all her years with Gymbr, and the palace of pleasure they'd lived in, the hedonism and the power, and just the... the getting to do whatever the hell you wanted feeling, so long as you listened to the God Gymbr and worshiped him however he asked to be worshiped... and she had come to take a twisted enjoyment in serving the whims of others, so long as they were more powerful than her.

Innocence shook her head briefly, then he reached up and rubbed grouchily at her horn again. She had been out of touch with so-called 'normal' ponies so long that it was hard to remember how she should act. After all, almost all her time in Valhalla had been spent either training, letting Gymbr experiment on her, or simply enjoying her time with her lover, her master, and all his many admirers and... hobbies. Like causing pain: sometimes to her, but in a good way... sometimes to others, in a very bad way. He had taught her the finer things in life: how to absorb the energies, even the souls of others to enhance her own strength; how to torture and maim; the best ways to use her body to pleasure others... and pleasure herself, especially by hurting others.

Then Innocence looked up crankily as Twilight Sparkle entered the room. Her coat looked bleached, and she had stitched herself up with heavy string painted with an elixir that would help keep her spirit locked solidly into her body. She was trying to smile, and like a child, Innocence blew a raspberry at her when she entered, making the Lich sigh and lower her head a little.

There was awkward silence for a few moments, and then Twilight Sparkle shook herself briefly before she straightened and said quietly: “Innocence, I think today we should go for a walk to-”

“Ponyville? Yeah, let's parade me around like a war trophy. Maybe I can meet all my old friends, who, as you keep reminding me, are only a week older than we last met. I'm older than Antares now, immortal, and a goddess! I don't want to play... hopscotch with Clinker, or waste my time with little baby foals and little baby foal games.” Innocence retorted icily, and Twilight Sparkle sighed and dropped her head, closing her eyes. “Why don't you go cry a little, Mommy Dearest?”

“Stop calling me that.” Twilight said quietly but firmly, even as her eyes stared down at the floor with almost-tangible melancholy. She sighed a little, glancing over her shoulder and stretching her discolored wings: they looked a little waxy still, like they were only half-formed... mostly because they were. She had never jumped between bodies so fast before... she was surprised her magic even worked, but this corpse had come from a unicorn. A donation from the hospital, if she remembered right... but age, weight, gender, none of that mattered. A corpse was just raw materials to be reshaped into... well, her. She just always felt it worked better when the dead body was at least given up willingly.

They were silent for a few more seconds, caught in an awkward standoff, and then Innocence looked up and said quietly: “Look. I'll be nice to you. I'll even... pretend to be your daughter, if that's what you really want. But take these rings off my horn and these stupid weights off me, I'm not going to run away or fight you. You beat Gymbr. You proved you were superior to him. I want... you... and Móðer and Daddy...” The end of the sentence was almost rushed, before she put on her best pleading smile, leaning forwards as her eyes glowed. “I want to be a family again.”

Twilight trembled, looking away. It was all so transparent... and it hurt so much, so goddamn much, to see Innocence behaving like this. To see her daughter, her own flesh and blood, willing to give up so much of herself just to try and get a little more strength, a little more power... “Please stop it, Innocence. I want that, I do... but we can't trust you right now. And it's not because I think you're going to run away or hurt us. I know...”

She shivered a little, thinking of the way Innocence had fawned over Luna and Scrivener. Thinking of how... obsessed she was, with power, with doing anything she could to get it. Offering them love, companionship... her body, her spirit, her very... soul. She had lost.... all her morals, forgotten everything they'd taught her, simply... stumbled off the path, and Twilight was determined to somehow find a way to drag her daughter back into the light, one way or another.

Innocence cleared her throat loudly, drawing the Lich's attention up before the strange unicorn asked sourly: “So what do you want me to do then? What the hell do you want me to say? Am I just supposed to sit around until you suddenly start trusting me and loving me, remembering that I'm your own daughter, your flesh and blood again?”

Twilight shivered at this, at the way Innocence manipulated her so compulsively, plucked at her emotions with a terrible... naturalness. The Lich shook her head briefly, then said quietly: “Well, I'm not going to take the rings off as long as you keep doing this, Innocence. Because you are my daughter and I do love you. And whether it's been a week or a lifetime, I still love you, and I'm still here for you. But I'm not going to just... give in and give you whatever you want because you think you can manipulate me or hurt me.”

“I can hurt you.” Innocence growled, and then she shook her head and snapped: “Any time I wanted, I could break out of here! It wouldn't take more than... than half a minute for me to blow these rings off and then hit you with a dispel so powerful it would-”

“Snap my stitches, and weaken me, but it wouldn't kill me, Innocence.” Twilight replied quietly, shaking her head briefly before she closed her eyes and said softly: “You're arrogant. That's arrogance, not confidence, Innocence... that's a weakness, not something to be proud of.”

Innocence only growled moodily in response, and there was silence for a few moments before the Lich suggested hesitantly, taking a few steps forwards: “Why don't I call Luna and Scrivy and Antares? And I'll invite Scarlet Sage too... we'll have a family night together. How about that?”

“Is that suppose to make me go teary-eyed and turn over a new leaf or something? Or are you going to actually all show some spine and maybe listen to what I have to say instead of just... whining and whimpering and complaining and trying to make me a good little girl again?” Sin asked with disgust, shaking her head briefly. “What does it matter? Say I do honestly enjoy myself. Say I do try and make nice with you all. Say that everything goes according to plan. Well, why do I feel that even if all that happens, you're still not going to believe me, no matter how honest I am, how open I am, how truthful I am?”

“I can tell when you're lying, Innocence.” Twilight said softly, and the strange unicorn gave her a moody, almost disgusted look. But at the same time, there was a childishness in her eyes that the Lich found oddly reassuring. It was a reminder of the past, of how strong-willed her daughter had always been, about how they had always clashed... and yet how, all the same, they had always found some level of friendship, camaraderie, trust between them. They had always been mother and daughter.

Innocence huffed in response, and Twilight smiled faintly in reply to this before the Lich asked gently: “Would you like me to ask Scarlet Sage to bring Mercury and Lily too? It's been a long time for you since you saw your cousins... but... you have to promise to behave around them.”

The strange unicorn scowled at her mother, but then Twilight leaned forwards, voice even as she continued: “You could consider it a little bit of a challenge, maybe. If you can behave yourself around your cousins tonight, if you're willing to show that you can play well with others and that you can swallow all this... bitterness and hatred you've learned... then I promise I'll remove your rings. But if you upset anyone, especially those foals... then I'll leave those rings on for at least a month.”

Innocence shivered at this, reaching up and touching her horn as she felt a twist inside her stomach. A month without magic... her powers would probably start to weaken. As it was, she felt... weaker than she had been before, and she blamed that on Twilight Sparkle. Sure, Celestia and Twilight had both tried to explain to her that she had been stronger because of Asgard's energies, and that now that she was out of accelerated time her body was going to get weaker... but she thought it was all lies. It was just something else for them to try and leash her with, which was strange, considering... she had already promised to bow to them...

She shook her head briefly, then sighed tiredly and studied Twilight Sparkle for a few moments before licking her lips and saying slowly: “I don't think my cousins are going to like see me in these heavy manacles and these rings... you better remove them for tonight. I know you can always put them back on me later.”

“And I know that the moment I take them off you, you'll lash out with a blast of pure magic energy and attempt to destroy your restraints.” Twilight replied quietly, and Innocence bared her teeth almost in challenge before the Lich said softly: “And I'm asking you right now not to, because I will.”

“I promise.” Sin said immediately: she didn't mean it, of course. The moment Twilight took off her restraints, she planned to disenchant them into oblivion... and possibly smash Twilight with an exorcism just to show her she wasn't afraid of her.

Twilight sighed quietly, studying her daughter intently before her horn began to glow. Innocence looked up eagerly as the suppression rings started to lift slowly free of her horn... and the moment she felt all three of them slide free, she lashed her horn out, focusing all the magic she could into a wild blast-

It did nothing. There wasn't even a spark, and Innocence mouthed wordlessly before she cursed as all three rings slammed back into place on her horn, staggering and trying to reach her claws up to grab at her horn... and instead only toppling over thanks to the weight of the restraints around her forelimbs, groaning in pain as Twilight said quietly: “I'm very disappointed in you, Innocence. For not keeping your promise... and for not even being able to detect an antimagic charm.”

Innocence blinked stupidly, then slowly stretched one limb out, staring at it with disbelief. Antimagic runes were glowing over it... and the strange unicorn trembled before she shook her head fiercely and shouted: “Y-You tricked me! That's not fair!”

Twilight smiled faintly at this irony, then she said quietly: “That's not our fault, Innocence. You tricked yourself, not bothering to check your own restraints over. You at least recognize those weights are enchanted, don't you?”

Innocence flushed in humiliation, shivering a little before she snarled as she picked herself up, snapping: “Look, shut up! I'm stronger than you, I'm better than you, you won because I was weakened from the pulse and you... you cheated! F-”

Then Innocence winced as there was a faint spark along her forelegs, looking down dumbly as Twilight gave a small smile and said softly: “I just put that enchantment on you. I learned it back when I was trying to find alternatives for a swear jar, because... Luna wasn't really getting the idea of it. I put it on you while you were busy temper-tantruming.”

The young mare mouthed wordlessly, then looked stupidly down at her faintly-glowing bracers before she looked up and snarled: “You b-”

A sharper blast of electricity shocked over her, silencing her with a wince, and Twilight couldn't help but smile a little wider. Innocence shouted in wordless fury, then stomped her claws angrily before her horn began to glow brightly... but a moment later, the glow was absorbed into the rings instead, an the strange unicorn stumbled backwards with a wince of pain before she trembled, then simply collapsed forwards on her front.

Twilight gazed at her daughter, her smile becoming fainter, sadder. She studied the mare as she trembled... and whether she was supposedly Antares' age or not thanks to the time distortion of the Hourglass, right now she looked... every inch just the upset little girl she had once been, beaten after too many attempts at spells above her level, or who had tried so hard, for so long, to learn to fly... but every attempt had ended in this. Well, more scrapes and bruises, but the feeling of misery and self-pity and self-loathing was there, and all the same.

That was Innocence. That was her little girl, that was Innocence. The Lich smiled faintly, shaking her head briefly, taking a strange... reassurance in this in spite of everything, before the violet mare said softly: “Tell you what. Why don't we sit down together and have some ice cream? And then we can go to Ponyville, see some of your old friends, and pick you up a nice little outfit for tonight. Then we can go to Scarlet Sage's and politely invite her and her family to come and have dinner with us tonight, and stay around afterwards for a little while to play games and... spend time together. Get to know each other again.”

Innocence scowled at this, then she slowly pushed herself up to a standing position as she asked with disgust: “So you think that after all this, you can make everything better by... by sitting down and having some ice cream with me? You really think I would be spending any time with you at all if I had any choice whatsoever in the matter?”

Twilight Sparkle only shrugged a little at this, then the Lich said softly: “I'm reaching out to you, Innocence, but I can only stretch halfway. One day, I'm going to find the one thing that's going to make you stretch back to me... no matter what it is. I love you. I love you, and Scrivener and Luna love you, and we're all determined to... to help you find yourself and remember who you are.”

There was silence for a few moments, as Innocence trembled a little, looking down and closing her eyes for a moment, fighting off these strange feelings that rose through her before she sighed tiredly and looked up, asking in a tired voice: “Alright. Fine. Whatever. I could care less, just... stop talking to me and stay away from me.”

The Lich only shrugged and smiled faintly, and Innocence chewed on her lip before sitting back and silently watching as Twilight headed to the kitchen to put together a few bowls of ice cream for them... and even with as hard and cold and greedy as she had become, she couldn't fight the sense of nostalgia that washed over her, tinged with longing, and regret that she pretended was just more anger at being denied her right to pursue both power and freedom.

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