• 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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A Normal Family Gathering

Chapter Thirty Seven: A Normal Family Gathering

Mercury was gazing adoringly up at Innocence, while Lily looked a little more nervous at the sight of her cousin. Luna kept glancing at Sin and giggling despite herself as Twilight looked less-enthused: for tonight, she had removed the rings from her daughter's horn, since the enchantments on her bracers were more than enough to keep her magic in check.

To draw attention and questions away from her bracers, Innocence had picked out some clothing: a flowing black cape, and much-more-notably, a spiked costume collar locked around her neck. Mostly because it upset Twilight, Scrivener thought wryly, but he wasn't about to go and say anything. Besides, at least Innocence was... trying. A little.

Most of the family was clustered together in the den room: Antares and Prestige were both glowering now and then at Innocence, and Aphrodisia was trying to be nice to her cousin, although she was a little bit distracted; understandable, with her parents still missing. Apple Bloom looked more than a little uncomfortable, slowly sipping whiskey from a tall glass as she leaned over the kitchen counter, while Scarlet Sage kept studying her sibling intently.

But Celestia, Luna, and Scrivener were trying to sit back, trying to give Innocence a little space, and Mercury and Lily seemed... their normal selves, really. Sure, one was excitable and one was a little... worried-looking... but then again, that was the usual state for both of the young fillies.

They had eaten a small, awkward dinner outside: Innocence had loudly, clearly asked her father to make her steak as rare and bloody as possible. Which almost made Lily throw up and Mercury grin widely and look excitedly at her parents, but both of the mares had only glared at her, and the Pegasus filly had promptly and meekly asked for just a little bit of green salad.

Then they had all come inside, to have drinks and conversation... well, sort of. There wasn't much of either. Apple Bloom was the only pony drinking anything, let alone anything with alcohol, and Luna, Celestia, and Scrivener were the only ponies keeping up any conversation.

Eventually, however, Mercury cleared her throat and sidled a little closer to Innocence, asking finally: “So... so you... it was a long time for you, right, even though like... for us it wasn't. I mean... you look so huge and strong, Sin!”

Innocence wanted to glare down at the foal, but after a moment she only grunted and nodded. And after a few seconds of Mercury looking up at her excitedly, she finally said almost grudgingly: “Yeah. For me it was more than sixty years, actually. I'm an adult now, Mercury.”

“Oh.” Lily said in a very small, very quiet voice, clearly getting the hint, although Mercury only frowned up at Innocence.

The strange unicorn rolled her eyes at this, starting to open her mouth to snap something... and then she caught the curdling glare Apple Bloom was giving her, and Sin felt... she felt odd, for a moment. It woke up memories that seemed... fresher somehow these days, while everything that she had experienced in Valhalla was starting to feel... more faded, was breaking up in her mind, like she was losing those memories because her mind and body were adjusting to this world's time again.

No, that was impossible, that was just... a trick of her mind. She just felt... all the things she did from Apple Bloom's glare because... she was letting herself feel too much, she was indulging nostalgia too much. But maybe tonight that wasn't entirely a bad thing, she thought, as she shifted nervously... and then said almost abruptly to the two fillies: “But I remember... I remember the times we spent together. I didn't... I didn't have friends like you in Valhalla.”

Innocence tasted these words and realized with surprise... it was true. She hadn't really had any friends in Heaven. Dusk and Myre and Twilight Shadow had been... servants, really. Puppets, almost, serving Lord Gymbr... and because Gymbr had told them to, serving her. Doing her every whim. Teaching and sharing with her all their forbidden knowledge but... not friends. Even when they were good to her they still weren't... friends.

She shook these thoughts hurriedly off, then forced a small smile as she asked: “Do you two remember when we were kids and we went into the Everfree Forest on our own? Well, you didn't want to go, Lily, but Mercury and I convinced you because I said the forest would protect me, so it would probably protect you too... and Mercury just threatened to beat you up...”

Mercury huffed a little, but the young Pegasus had flitted into the air, looking warmly down at Innocence as Lily looked up a bit less warily, a bit more openly. And most important of all, Innocence felt Apple Bloom loosening up a bit, her gaze more appraising now as Innocence continued the story with a bit of a smile: “But then we ran right into that giant tree spider...”

Across the small room, Twilight smiled a little at her daughter, even as Luna said softly: “She is trying, I think... but she is like thou art, Celestia. Or wert... always assessing others, never able to sit back and simply have a conversation, constantly seeking to twist things to her advantage. I... I am very worried for her.”

Scrivener and Celestia both nodded a little, and then Twilight Sparkle said quietly: “Don't judge her right away, Luna... I mean, look at Applejack. She's... Avalon still has her under careful watch at Sweet Apple Acres but she's... she seems okay. She seems like her old self, even if Gymbr... got his claws into her and...”

She fell quiet, and Celestia murmured: “But the long-term effects remain to be seen, Twilight Sparkle. Anyone... even someone as honest as Applejack, I'm sure, can put on their best face for a few days. We won't truly understand how she's perhaps... changed... for a few days yet.”

The Lich looked down and nodded slowly, giving a quiet sigh and murmuring: “I guess you're right, yeah. I'm... I'm getting a little bit ahead of myself, but I can't help it. I just hope... I need things to work out with our little girl, one way or the other.”

Luna nodded slowly... then frowned and looked up uneasily as Nightmare Moon whispered through her mind: Then let her choose: if she chooses us, to come to us, prostrate herself before us... so be it. She is an adult, powerful, almost a goddess as she claims to be, and she is filled with desire for more... we understand it, do we not? We should... feed her... we should give her, anything she begs for...

“Silence, monster.” Luna hissed through gritted teeth, and when Celestia frowned over at her, the sapphire mare shook her head and muttered: “Nightmare Moon has an... unwelcome opinion on the matter, that is all.”

Twilight Sparkle shivered and nodded a few times, then closed her eyes as she felt Nightmare Moon slide into her thoughts for a moment, trying to be soothing, reassuring... and in all the wrong ways. In ways that made her tremble, made her angry, and made her... terrified, with how rational and delightful they sounded despite how... awful they were at the same time.

“That worries me.” Celestia said quietly, and all three ponies looked up as the ivory mare lowered her head a little, her eyes flicking across the room towards Innocence to study her as she said softly: “Nightmare Moon might attempt to take advantage of this situation with Innocence. In a way, she and Gymbr... have similarities.”

Yes, except I am not weak and stupid. Nightmare Moon replied calmly in the minds of the three linked ponies, and then Scrivener winced as he felt her invisible hooves slide up along his spine, sending chills through him as her voice whispered seductively in his ear: We remember the story, Because Love Conquers All... we saw the mistakes we made there, the weakness we showed. We will not show that weakness again. Don't you want to give your little girl what she wants?

Scrivener Blooms grimaced and didn't reply, looking silently up into the corner of the room, while Twilight Sparkle gazed across at Innocence, then shook her head and said softly: “Our daughter... I believe our daughter is in there somewhere. She's... she's a good girl. She's strong. She... she's just a little... lost right now, but we can help her find herself, with love and support and compassion.”

That's all I want, too. Nightmare Moon said gently. And the awful thing was, that in this masochistic, twisted passion-entity's mind... she was speaking the truth. She wanted to make them all strong, lock them all together with unbreakable bonds, give them love and affection... Yes, yes! Exactly. So why do you still refuse me... Lord Scrivener Blooms, my King of the Night, my god. Do you like that? Or do I need to add more emphasis to the word... worship you more... or perhaps I should prove that I am loyal to you all and share my affections with Mistress Luna, or Twilight Sparkle...

“Get out of here. Get out of our minds, now, we will... we will deal with thee later.” Luna growled to herself, and there was a flash of eyes and smiling teeth in their mind before the sense of Nightmare Moon finally faded away.

Celestia studied the ponies, watching as they relaxed, but also traded almost ashamed, worried looks, before the ivory mare simply nodded a little to them and said quietly: “I know and trust that... Nightmare Moon still serves a purpose, Luna. She's part of you... and part of Scrivener, and you too, Twilight. It's hard for me to say this right now, with frustrations running high, but... please try and work with her, not against her.”

Luna grumbled moodily, then she sighed and nodded before looking to the side as Antares slipped a bit towards them, the glossy-black unicorn saying quietly: “Maybe, guys, we should... play a board game or something, I dunno. But I think we kind of need to stop... talking. About each other. Just in case because... you know.”

The sapphire mare looked at her son for a moment, and then she sighed a little and nodded grudgingly before glancing over at Scrivener Blooms questioningly. The stallion only shrugged lamely, and the mare rolled her eyes as Twilight only looked almost longingly, lingeringly, at her daughter. But the Lich felt the briefest spark of hope, too: Innocence didn't seem like she was paying as much attention to the world around her as she was to Mercury and Lily, though, and Mercury was laughing and Lily was smiling hesitantly...

“Let's play charades.” Twilight suggested suddenly, and an awkward silence fell through the room as all eyes stared at her, the Lich blushing slightly before she said firmly: “Team Charades. Let's play charades, two teams, and-”

“We'll lead!” called a voice hurriedly, and a moment later Discombobulation bounced into the room from down the hallway, carrying an excited-looking Pinkie Pie with him. He dropped the pink mare to the ground, and she stumbled only a little, giggling and seeming only the slightest bit disoriented as the chaos entity explained awkwardly: “Well, you know. When we hear there's a party, we have to come... knocking. No, that's not the saying. When the... boat's rocking? Don't come... how would you knock on a boat?”

“It could be a flying boat. Or you could have your own boat. Or maybe you can fly!” Pinkie Pie suggested positively, and Discombobulation nodded meditatively a few times before the bright pink pony called brightly: “Kids versus adults!”

Innocence immediately scowled at this, clearly feeling like she had just been labeled as one of the children, but a moment later Antares, Prestige, and Aphrodisia were pushed firmly over to sit with her, Mercury and Lily. That left Scrivener, Luna, Twilight, Celestia, Scarlet Sage and Apple Bloom on the adult side, as Pinkie Pie happily bounced between them, Discombobulation flicking his wrists as cufflinks popped into being around his wrists and a small bow tie appeared around his neck. “Okay, fantastic! Now, we need paper. Scrivy, where's all your paper?”

Scrivener only stared at Pinkie Pie, much like a rabbit in a snare, but after a moment Discombobulation made a large top-hat appear out of thin air, holding this by the brim and reaching inside to pull out a large book labeled 'IDEAS.' “Not to fear, my beautiful assistant. I'll just put this back in here, and with the magic word...”

Discombobulation dropped the book into the hat, and there was a puff of smoke before he looked up and declared: “Klaatu baarada n... n...”

He broke off into a fit of loud coughing, then paused and peered down into the hat, then looked slowly back and forth, clearing his throat and saying awkwardly: “So I... I said the magic words. Yep. Just.. going to take this and go now, I guess...”

A moment later, a skeletal hand shot up out of the hat and seized into his face, and Discombobulation winced as Mercury squealed in terror and Celestia sighed in exasperation even as a smile crested her features. Luna snorted in amusement despite her moodiness, and Twilight rolled her eyes before Discombobulation yanked his head away from the skeletal hand and it vanished back into the hat, the Draconequus muttering: “Well, at least I still have my hand. And there's no Evil Bob running around with a shotgun.”

Discombobulation paused, then shook the hat firmly, and the skeletal hand popped out after a moment, but this time held up several scraps of paper. “Alright, Team Patronized, you'll go first. One of you will come up and grab a ticket, and then act out whatever that ticket has on it to the rest of your team. If they can guess it with the time limit, you get a point. If they fail to guess it, then Team We're Better Than You 'Cause We're Old gets to play. It's the same setup, but if I have to repeat myself because you're senile, I won't hold it against any of you. Except you, Tia. I'll hold you against me any time you like.”

Celestia smiled softly, her mood visibly lightening as Aphrodisia stuck out her tongue and Antares called loudly: “Hey, Bob, I think that mean you have a fetish for old people. No offense, Aunt Tia. But he's right, too, you know: you're kind of old and stuff.”

The ivory mare only gave the stallion an amused look, and Discombobulation sniffed loudly before replying mildly: “At least I'm not technically committing necrophilia. Although I suppose in this particular room, that accusation has all the indignity of 'your girlfriend has remarkably normal sized breasts.'”

“My bosom is far from normal sized.” Luna declared loudly, and Antares slowly dropped his face in a hoof before the sapphire mare began to sit back, but Scrivener and Twilight both winced and grabbed her, halting her and making her huff. “Oh, damn thou both. And damn my teats.”

“Damn your teats.” Scrivener muttered in agreement, and Luna glowered at him before she firmly bopped him with her horn, making him wince a bit before he blurted, unable to stop himself: “You should be glad they're hard to see because they're hard to see anyway.”

Luna stared at him, and Scrivener stared back before the mare punched him across the face, knocking him sprawling even as her own head twisted to the side in pain. Twilight Sparkle only closed her eyes and covered her face, not just in embarrassment, but because here they were trying to make Innocence feel welcomed and remind her of her life and family...

But amidst the laughter, Twilight heard a sound that made her ears twitched, looking up past her hooves with surprise and hope... and seeing Innocence, a claw over her muzzle, maybe... maybe a real smile on her face as she stared at Luna and Scrivener. As she studied them, watched how they interacted with each other... and even as hopeful and optimistic as Twilight was, she didn't think that Innocence was actually being suddenly healed. But she did think that Innocence was... maybe, just maybe, starting to remember how life had been...

After a few moments, Celestia dragged Luna off Scrivener Blooms, and the stallion sat grumpily up, his bruises faintly reflected here and there on Luna's features. They glared at each other, leaning slowly in until their faces were pressed together before Discombobulation remarked: “If you're done providing the sideshow, let's move on to the main event.”

Luna grumbled under her breath, then nodded moodily as Scrivener Blooms reluctantly drew his eyes towards Bob as he shook the hat, and the skeletal hand sticking out of said hat waved back and forth, still clutching a set of tickets. “Alright, come on, Team Patronized. Send up the first victim.”

Mercury immediately leapt over and shoved Lily forwards, and the young filly winced and shook her head hurriedly, panicking a little as she babbled: “N-No, I can't be first, I... I don't... I mean, I can't act in front of... I'll just, I m-mean, I'll j-j-just-”

“No, no, me me me!” Aphrodisia declared, leaping forwards with a bright smile, and she bounced happily over to yank a ticket away from the skeleton hand sticking out of the hat before looking down and reading it with a giggle. “Oh, I love-”

Discombobulation winced and reached his metal hand out, hurriedly covering her muzzle as Pinkie Pie said quickly: “No, no, Aphrodisia, you can't talk now. You have to act out whatever it is, you gotta do it silently. You know, like... if I was doing bicycle...”

Pinkie Pie hopped into the air, then floated eerily as she pedaled for a few moments, forelegs out in front of her as she swayed cheerfully from side to side before she dropped back to all four hooves and smiled over at Aphrodisia. Apps only smiled brightly back and nodded as if nothing was out of place, as Scrivener and Luna both slowly tilted their heads and wondered – not for the first time – whether or not Pinkie Pie had some other latent psychic power apart from precognition.

Then the demon spun around and looked down at her card again before tossing it in her mouth and swallowing it. Antares gave his cousin an amused look as Lily and Mercury both stared and Innocence only looked sourly at the demon... then frowned when Aphrodisia began to make large, awkward strides on the spot, hopping from hoof-to-hoof.

“Uh. Are you... dancing?” Antares asked awkwardly, and Aphrodisia huffed at him and shook her head violently. When the rest of her team continued to look dumbfounded, she groaned before leapt into the air, wildly flailing her legs beneath her before landing on the ground and bouncing high again, repeating the motion violently.

Antares leaned back, staring at her, as Innocence mouthed wordlessly and Mercury giggled stupidly behind her hooves. Prestige only dropped her face in a hoof as Aphrodisia began to make urgent little squeaks and waved her head wildly back and forth, until Lily finally asked meekly: “Swimming?”

Aphrodisia halted in mid-flail in midair, coming down on her hooves neatly and nodding brightly several times before she peered over her shoulder at Pinkie Pie. Her aunt cocked her head curiously, and the demon leaned forwards, asking in a loud whisper: “Can I talk now?”

Pinkie Pie nodded firmly a few times, and Aphrodisia bounced happily on her hooves, calling cheerfully: “Yes! You got it right, Lily! Does that mean I get to go again?”

“No, it means you go join your team and someone else comes up here.” Discombobulation replied mildly, and the demon nodded a few times before prancing over to Innocence, the strange unicorn staring in disbelief before she winced as Apps happily bulled her over to the Draconequus, even as a bit of a hush fell over the room and Antares glared horribly at his cousin.

But Aphrodisia only smiled insistently, then she firmly kissed Innocence on the cheek, making the strange mare wince to the side and groan with a roll of her eyes before she scowled up at Discombobulation. He looked back at her sourly, then cleared his throat and held the hat towards her, the skeletal hand shrinking a bit away even as it nervously offered her the tickets.

The mare reached up and yanked one free, feeling moody as she glowered around the room, coming a little back to her senses from the... the stupidity, and the silly nostalgia she had almost let herself get drawn into. She sighed as she held up the card, studying it for a few moments before snorting in disgust. She didn't understand what the phrase was, but all the same, she thought she could handle it well enough.

She held up four claws, and Aphrodisia looked blank, but Antares said mildly: “Four words. 'I am a butt,' right? Or maybe it's just 'big dumb stupid butt.'”

Innocence glared at Antares, and Twilight winced and gestured sharply at the glossy black unicorn, but he only grumbled a little before settling as Innocence sourly held up her middle claw, gesturing pointedly at Antares. The stallion rolled his eyes at this, then gave a few dry little chuckles before saying flatly: “First word, right?”

Innocence nodded with a saccharine expression, and then she suddenly... stopped. She felt everyone's eyes on her, and all her confidence drained completely out of her body as he mouth fell a little open, her eyes darting back and forth as she realized that... maybe she actually couldn't handle doing this stupid, mortal game after all. Maybe she actually couldn't... all the power in the universe, and here she was, more helpless than her stupid cousin to play this stupid game.

How the hell was she supposed to act this out, anyway? What the hell made her so cocky to think she could just waltz in and do everything right? And why in the name of Helheim itself did this suddenly become such a huge thing to her? Except she knew what it was at the same time: it was that they expected her to act like an idiot, to put herself on the same level as them, and they were all watching her, staring at her, judging her, like she had never been judged by Gymbr: Gymbr had just given her more, and more, and more, and more...

Antares opened his mouth... then he softened a little as his sharp eyes picked up on Innocence, realized that she was actually very close to having a panic attack. He could almost feel her writhing emotions, and by the way Aphrodisia looked worriedly up, he knew that she did too: and suddenly, Innocence was just his baby sister again instead of... something he was much less fond of, and the stallion sighed a little to himself before he looked up and asked: “What, did you forget how to play the game already? Come on, Sin, act it out. It's not that hard.”

Innocence glared furiously over her shoulder at him, and Antares felt her mood tipping lower... but as he'd learned, sometimes you had to give them a nudge and make things worse to open up the right avenues to making things better. And the stallion smiled a little at her, asking: “Volcano? Or a dragon? That'd be pretty cheap, seeing as you already got the face for it and all.”

The strange unicorn bared her fangs at him, and Twilight gestured violently at Antares as Luna and Scrivener both stared at their son, before the glossy-black unicorn questioned curiously: “Anger? Hate? Frustration? None of those things? Because you know, if you keep this up, you're gonna run out of time and just prove me right, that you can't do it, baby sister.”

Innocence's eyes blazed, and then she sat back, hissing through her teeth before she dropped her head, grinding her teeth together before she suddenly looked up and started to wave her claws around her head, glaring horribly at Antares the whole time. She made awkward swaying motions, and the ponies all stared as Antares grinned at her, teasing: “Saddle Arabian bellydancer?”

Innocence twitched, then made a horrible face and wiggled her claws... and Twilight could only gape at her daughter's back as both Luna and Scrivener stared with disbelief at Antares. But that was their son's talent, wasn't it? Reading into people, understanding them, doing or saying just the right thing at just the right time.

“Oh, I get it. Ghost.” Antares said in a knowing voice, and Innocence grinned as if in victory as she snapped her claws, nodding firmly before biting her lip and quickly holding up four digits. “Okay, fourth word, right?”

Innocence nodded several times, then the strange unicorn shifted back and forth. She began to hesitate again, and Antares leaned over, saying mildly over to Aphrodisia: “Totally called it. One hit wonder. Starts great, then crashes, just like Móðer on her motorcycle.”

“Oh shut up, great cheater, with thy... cheaty eyes! I demand my son blindfolded!” Luna shouted, and Discombobulation and Pinkie Pie traded looks, then both shrugged.

“Roulette is a bit of an adult game, Scrivener Blooms. And it's a very awkward game to play when there are family members all around you.” Discombobulation commented, and Celestia cleared her throat and looked away as she covered her muzzle to hide a smile. Mercury and Lily looked up quizzically, and Pinkie Pie punched Bob lightly in the hip, smiling amusedly up at him as he looked innocently down at her. “Clearly I was referring to gambling. Whatever else could I be referring to?”

Innocence, meanwhile, was glaring at Antares again... before she suddenly wrapped her forelegs around the top of her head, squishing herself down a little. Antares only grinned a little at this, while the others looked dumbfounded, and Innocence growled in frustration before she flopped over on her side and curled up in a little ball, wriggling around on the floor.

“Ball? Bally? Uh... pinecone?” guessed Aphrodisia wildly, and Innocence let out a very loud groan of frustration before she rolled to all fours, then pointed several times at her back. “Spine? Floss? Uh... uh... tree?”

“How the hell did you get 'tree' and 'floss' from that?” Antares asked incredulously, looking over at Aphrodisia, and the mare huffed loudly.

“Hey, shut up. You've never been to Helheim, okay? Spines are perfectly good floss. They're all nibbly on your teeth and stuff.” Aphrodisia said defensively, and all eyes stared blankly at her for a moment before she brightened when Innocence slowly, ponderously began to move around while still gesturing at her arched-up back. “I know, I know! Cat! No, no, wait, turtle!”

Innocence nodded several times, then pointed at her back wildly, and the demon flailed her cloven hooves as she declared brightly: “Ghost Turtle Cat!”

“That's... that's three words, genius, not four.” Antares said after a moment, and then he winced when Aphrodisia punched him firmly in the shoulder, yelping and rubbing at this... then cursing when Prestige smacked his other shoulder, giving her an injured look. “What did I do?”

Prestige only glared at him, and then Lily nervously held up a hoof, asking uncertainly: “Is it... is it 'shell?'”

Innocence nodded brightly, grinning widely as she hopped to a standing position before quickly holding up both claws. She rose one digit on one, and two on the other, and Antares sat back and looked pointedly over at Prestige, who sighed and nodded as she said: “Second and third words.”

“Thirty seconds!” Discombobulation declared, and Innocence's eyes widened before she panicked a little, looking back and forth before quickly making a dropping motion, like she was holding something and putting something inside a container...

The others shouted answers, overriding each other, and Innocence panicked a little as Antares watched Discombobulation's head ticked back and forth, counting down the seconds... and in the last few moments, the stallion looked up and said mildly: “Ghost in the Shell.”

“Oh, Masamune. I bet if I was named after a famous sword, people would love all my work, too. But really, who would own a blade known as the Discombobulator?” The Draconequus paused, looking thoughtful as he tilted his head back and forth. “The Discombobulator. That's not bad, actually, if I do say so myself. Fear my wrath, for I am the Discombobulator.”

He paused, then glanced at the others and added mildly: “Also you guys are totally disqualified because Antares was using his special eyes. We don't like special snowflakes here.”

Antares and Innocence both shouted in indignation at this, Mercury and Aphrodisia both hopping forwards as well as the four swarmed around the Draconequus, but he winced and swung his hat back and forth at them as the skeletal arm sticking out of it waved and shook threateningly. He stumbled backwards as Pinkie Pie awkwardly pleaded for them to calm down while the others watched, before Luna huffed and said grumpily: “I desire to be part of the fight as well. This is nonsense.”

With that, Luna hopped forwards, then spread her wings and dove into the fray, tackling Discombobulation over and sending the hat flying out of his grip, cards scattering everywhere as Antares winced and leapt out of the way. Then he dove forwards and into his mother, knocking her sprawling as Scrivener Blooms dropped his head and Twilight sighed, but smiled faintly all the same even as a miniature riot started in the middle of the den, as Innocence shouted angrily and swung wildly at the ponies around her.

At least their daughter was getting involved with the family again.

It was late, dark night, and everyone had gone home. Antares was staying the night in the guest room upstairs with Prestige, and Innocence was sitting quietly outside, moodily attempting to pry off her restraints and feeling... uncomfortable, simply put.

She felt so... so weird, that was all there was to it. Memories and the past, the way she had been raised and what felt like... something in her blood, in her muscles, was warring with all the years of experience with Gymbr she'd had. She lowered her head silently as she rested back on the steps of the deck, then looked up moodily at the dark night sky above.

She tried to remind herself that either way... this worked to her advantage, right? They trusted her more. They thought she was getting soft... when really, all this 'niceness' was just something for her to practice hardening her heart against. And if it gave her an in with her family, then it was all worthwhile, right? For more power, she'd do anything... until she was the one sitting high on the throne, and they were the ones licking her claws, worshiping her as goddess, until she was... she was a true goddess. Until she was able to rule over the entire universe, if she so chose... but she didn't think she wanted that. Maybe... maybe a world or two, yes. But she didn't really care about the weak, or worship from or love from the weak. The weak were just toys to her, to be used however, whenever she pleased: she wanted to attract the strong. She wanted to bend and break the strong to her will. She wanted to make the laws that the strong would have to obey, to have enough power and influence... one day, her parents would be there, carrying her throne for her, doing anything and everything she asked... anything and everything... and oh, when that day came, she would ask quite a bit.

But at the same time... she would always make sure she treated them fairly. Sure, she wanted to be supreme. Until that day came, she understood her role, her place... and even though she had no problem with the idea of killing, consuming, stealing from almost anyone and everyone... she felt... she felt strange about Luna and Scrivener. And even Twilight... and okay, maybe even Antares and her... other... blood-related biological relatives. She didn't... she didn't want to kill them or trample them.

Gymbr... at the end of the day, if Gymbr had stood between her and ultimate power, she would have had no hesitations about trampling and destroying him. Just like she never had any hesitations of doing anything, everything he asked her to do while he was superior, because he was superior, more powerful, and she was weaker. She had come to believe that was his given right. So she licked his hooves and thanked him for the experience. She made herself love him, worship him, adore him. But ultimately, if he had ever shown weakness, if she had ever grown stronger... she would have crushed and consumed him. Even right now... there was never a thought of trying to rescue him, or even visiting him. She had two new idols now, even if her attachment to them... her actual love for them... it made her feel uncomfortable.

She rubbed slowly at her shoulder, looking to the side... then she frowned over her shoulder when the door opened, and she made a face at the sight of Twilight Sparkle. The Lich stepped out with a small smile and sat beside her, and there was an awkward quiet as Innocence fought not to say anything. That was something else awkward: with Gymbr... hell, even with anyone Gymbr ordered her to serve, to please, to do things to – good or ill – she'd never had a problem making herself do it. She never had a problem putting up a false face, remembering it was all being done in the pursuit of greater power, and greater glory.

But Twilight Sparkle... made her mad. Made her upset. And sometimes, made her feel... ashamed of herself, which was the worst feeling of all, because it was so... pathetic. So weak. And she made her lose her false faces and lash out nastily and say things she regretted later. No, not because she cared about Twilight, of course not, she was just the piece of meat that had been used by her parents to give birth to her... she didn't owe Twilight Sparkle anything. She didn't love her, not one bit: it was just... a discrepancy. Twilight just got under her scales, that was all. Or maybe she liked to see her squirm, maybe she just couldn't resist picking and poking at the stupid... mare.

“You did okay today. Thank you for not upsetting Mercury or Lily... I think Scarlet Sage feels a little safer around you and... I know Apple Bloom settled down a lot once she saw you were treating the twins so well.” Twilight said softly, and the strange unicorn only rolled her eyes. “Innocence...”

The Lich fell silent, and Sin kept her gaze moodily away from her mother... before her eyes widened in surprise as the restraints around her limbs glowed before simply falling free. She looked down at her claws, staring back and forth over them before she looked dumbly at Twilight Sparkle, and the Lich smiled faintly, saying quietly: “We had a deal, right?”

“You... kept your word?” Innocence asked with disbelief, and then she bared her fangs at Twilight, snapping: “Look, if this is some kind of trick, I'm not falling for it. Only an idiot would keep their word after seeing what I can do, I just... it's clear that I just looked after the stupid brats because I was in a bad position and you promised me this, why the hell would you-”

“Because if I want you to remember the value of honor, I have to teach by example.” Twilight shrugged a bit, and then she leaned forwards and hugged her daughter tightly, Innocence freezing up and staring blankly over the mare's shoulder before the Lich drew back and smiled faintly. “I love you. Please don't stay out too late and tomorrow... well, maybe it's better if we just play things by ear.”

There was silence for a few moments, as Twilight turned away and headed for the door, and Sin trembled a little before she looked over her shoulder and blurted: “If you love me, teach me how you beat me. Share Mutt and Daddy with me...”

Twilight dropped her head, and then she looked over her shoulder and studied Innocence for a few moments before the Lich hesitantly nodded and said quietly: “If I'm going to teach you anything... we have to start over at the beginning, alright? I have to teach you the basics all over again. And I need you to listen to me. Even if you're just pretending. You don't have to respect me, you don't have to love me, you don't have to do anything but... listen to me, okay?”

Innocence scowled a little at this, shifting uneasily and wondering if there was some trick before she leaned forwards and asked quietly: “So I can tell you I hate you, that I never considered you my real mother, that I know you're nothing but a flesh sack my parents use like any sex toy in the closet between them, and you'll still teach me?”

Twilight Sparkle trembled a little, lowering her head as she breathed slowly in and out, and then she calmly nodded once. Innocence frowned uneasily, shifting backwards and raising her head in disbelief, and the violet mare reached up and rubbed silently at her eyes as she murmured: “I want to believe you don't really mean those things. I don't think you do, but I know that... that you're a very different person now from who you used to be, Innocence. That hurts me, but I'm trying to find a way to accept it and... establish those old bonds between us so I can... show you that power isn't everything. That pleasure isn't everything. And I know that a lot of this is coming from the fact that you're angry at me. Maybe you think I failed you, or maybe you really have become so petty that you can't get over the fact I beat you.”

Innocence lowered her head at this, flushing and gritting her teeth, trying to convince herself that was anger, that was hatred... that wasn't shame and embarrassment and she didn't feel like... like a chastened little filly. But what she found strangest of all was the fact that she looked up, she saw the unshed tears in Twilight Sparkle's eyes, and it didn't give her any pleasure. It almost made her own heart twist a little...

Twilight turned around, heading back inside, and Innocence looked up and said quietly: “I'll listen to you, Twilight. You're... for now, you're my superior.”

Innocence gritted her teeth, as if expecting pain as the violet mare looked over her shoulder... and then she smiled softly and shook her head slowly, closing her eyes as a single tear rolled down her cheek. “No, Innocence. I'm not. I think your magic might be even stronger than mine... once you learn control, you'll be able to do things I don't think I ever could. But even if I was... I'm still not your superior. Superiority has nothing to do with strength. It has everything to do with how we use the powers we're given.”

The strange unicorn frowned at this, tilting her head slowly, but Twilight Sparkle only smiled at her again before striding inside. The door began to close... but at the last moment, it swung back open a little, and Twilight leaned out to say softly, honestly: “Goodnight. I love you. Please try and get some sleep if you can. Tomorrow morning, we'll... start training, and I know Luna and Scrivener are going to be anxious to see what kind of powers you have, too.”

“Goodnight...” Another word formed in Innocence's mouth, but she told herself she wouldn't let herself speak it. Except really, she couldn't say it, whether she wanted to or not. It felt like mud turning to cement in her mouth, and she shifted awkwardly back and forth as Twilight looked at her... then simply smiled faintly a last time and slipped away.

She turned around, looking back and forth with a soft sigh before her eyes slid to the doorway to the master bedroom, and Twilight dragged herself towards this before opening it with a tremble, fighting to repress her sadness, her pain... and strangest of all, that sense of... optimism. It was a bitter optimism, flavored thickly from her sorrow, but... it was hope all the same.

“Yeah, hope. I guess you could call it that.” Scrivener Blooms said softly from where he was resting in bed, Luna smiling faintly and sitting nearby, the covers thrown to one side as Twilight closed the door behind her to lean against it and gaze at her partners silently. “You know, we could beat her up for you or something. Luna was going to suggest it, but... she figured it would sound a lot more threatening coming from me. 'Cause I'm a big scary stallion and all.”

Twilight Sparkle laughed a little and shook her head slowly, gazing silently over the two before she murmured: “You two always know just how to make things better... or, well, so much worse that I guess I can't really help but feel like everything's going to be okay after all.”

Luna and Scrivener both gazed tenderly up at the violet mare, and then she dropped her head and mumbled: “Okay. I'm going to come over there and cuddle with you both and you're going to remind me I'm not just a piece of meat.”

“Luna and I could find much better pieces of meat if that's all we cared about.” Scrivener said helpfully, and Luna huffed and punched him in the shoulder, making him wince a bit. But as always, Twilight couldn't help but sigh and feel... strangely reassured by the stallion's stupid comments. Partly it was because he could feel the intent, the emotion coming from him... but mostly it was the way he never took anything seriously, he always said something that would probably offend her... but he never tried to hurt her with his words.

She strode over the low mattress and flopped down onto the bedding, and her partners hugged her from either side, pushing their bodies close, sandwiching her in the safety, the sanctuary between them. She curled up quietly as she closed her eyes, and the world fell away, making her feel like there was nothing but this bed and the two ponies she loved so desperately. Making the hurtful words she'd heard over the day fade away until they meant nothing, cutting away the anxieties, the false leads, the flickers that seemed to dominate her mind but were really just shadows, obscuring the real worry, until she was finally able to whisper: “I'm sorry about Innocence.”

“That is not thy fault.” Luna soothed, silently stroking Twilight's mane back as Scrivener Blooms kissed the violet mare's forehead gently. “That is not thy fault at all... and no matter what, Innocence is still a blessing. And together, we are going to help her, to heal her, to fix her, are we not? This... well, I suppose this is just experiencing Innocence's angst-ridden teenage years, aye?”

Twilight laughed faintly despite herself, looking away for a moment before she said softly: “I like that I can be open with you... that I can tell you my every thought, literally share my dreams and my nightmares with you... but I get scared, too. Normal people... normal relationships... we all have our secrets, right? We don't reveal that we have thoughts like... if we weren't soulbound, or we weren't like... this, I don't think I'd ever tell you that I actually keep considering what Innocence wants, what Nightmare Moon wants. I think I'd pretend to be strong and pure and good and say... I never ever considered it in my wildest dreams. Because normal people wouldn't... would they?”

“Normal relationships last about three years before a breakup. Normal marriages these days are somewhere around like. A fifty percent chance of divorce.” Scrivener said mildly, and Twilight smiled faintly as she nuzzled silently into his chest.

“Thirty-eight percent, actually.” she said softly after a moment, and Scrivener Blooms gave her a quietly-amused look as Twilight closed her eyes and added: “The highest rate in Equestria, though, was... fifty-two percent. I think that was... sixty years ago, when marriage laws were being revised and civil court remedies were being discussed.”

“I hate it and love it when you use big words.” Scrivener said after a moment, and Twilight looked up at him as he gazed back down at her, before the stallion leaned down and shared a gentle kiss with the violet mare.

Her eyes slid closed, and she smiled softly before rolling over when the kiss parted, nestling back against the charcoal stallion's strong, broad chest as her mouth automatically rose to meet Luna's next, enjoying the kiss between them... enjoying the sense of being the connection, the conduit, between her partners. Sharing love with Scrivener; sharing love with Luna; mixing both together.

Their lips broke, but then Luna stole another kiss, and Twilight melted against her as she felt Scrivener's Talons slide along her form, making her shudder a little, shaking away the pain and the memory. His claws tingled against her body, and touched her just the way she wanted to be right now: he made her feel loved, and attractive, but didn't stray near those parts of her that were for more intimate purposes, didn't touch any of those zones that strayed towards sexual pleasure instead of sensual, softer comforts.

They knew her, inside and out, even without the soul link between them. They knew her, every detail of her spirit, every inch of her body, what she wanted, what she desired, what she hungered for. They knew her strengths, and her flaws: they loved her, and they knew how to make sure she knew it.

She breathed slowly in and out, gradually relaxing, her body losing its tenseness as she smiled a little and closed her eyes. Her mind settled, her eyes fluttered a bit before closing again, and she snuggled herself comfortably between her partners as she rubbed a hoof silently up Luna's chest, and the sapphire mare gazed down at her with soft affection in her eyes.

Scrivener Blooms squeezed the sapphire mare gently back against his body, looking down at her tenderly before he and Luna glanced up and traded small smiles. They gazed between one-another softly, then traded slow nods as emotions and mental images swirled between them through their linked souls, linked minds, linked, single heart.

Luna closed her eyes and smiled a little: she wasn't really sure anymore whether or not that was a metaphor, considering the fact that Scrivener Blooms... something beat in his chest, powerful, rhythmic, but she didn't know if it could precisely be called his 'heart' anymore. But then Twilight Sparkle laughed a little and nestled closer into her partners as she murmured: “A heart is more than just a thing that pumps blood through your body. Scrivener has a heart.”

The stallion blushed a little, smiling despite himself as he silently reached up and stroked a Talon through her mane, and the violet mare sighed softly in pleasure, enjoying the feeling of those strong, those mental, but so gentle claws stroking their way through her locks.

She shivered a little, enjoying his touch, enjoying the closeness of them all, wanting it to last forever... but after a few moments, her eyes opened so she could look quietly up at Luna, saying softly: “I... I know that we have to speak to Nightmare Moon. I'm ready to, if you want to... and... I want us to consider whatever she has to say. No matter what it might sound like, no matter how insane it might seem. I know we need to look at this from every angle.”

Luna and Scrivener both shifted awkwardly, then grumbled a little as they traded looks and moody nods after a moment as they felt Twilight Sparkle's quiet plea to them. There was silence for a few long seconds, and then Luna hesitantly reached up a hoof to touch Twilight's face, saying quietly: “Thou does not have to join us if thou does not desire to. And I know, more than worried about Nightmare Moon... thou art worried about Innocence. Thou can go spend time with her, and ensure she does not commit some folly or foolishness during the night.”

“I'm not worried about her hurting anyone. I'm not even worried about her doing more than wandering the Everfree, or maybe trying to help herself to a little bit of Ambrosia from the tree... not that it'll do much for her, considering what I imagine Gymbr must have been pumping into her system.” Twilight shivered and shook her head a little, then she looked down and murmured: “I'm worried about what she might do to you two. How she might try and... lure you both in.”

“As if she has not tried plenty of ways already. We may have to lock our door at night... not because I fear her harming us, because I worry...” Luna shivered a little and shook her head, before she looked away and murmured: “She was to be a Valkyrie, Twilight Sparkle. I was so proud of our beautiful little girl... and... look at what she has become now. At what Gymbr has done to her... 'tis unforgivable. He stole her bloodline, her heritage.”

“Gymbr... I can't believe what he's done to her. She was just a kid... I don't want to imagine the kind of brainwashing he put her through for his own sick pleasure. And... she has...” Scrivener looked down, closing his eyes. “You can't blame yourself, Twilight. All of us have flaws that... we know were mixed up dangerously inside of Sin. And Luna and I... well...”

“We did encourage things we perhaps should not have. Laughed at her antics when... mayhaps we should have been stricter with her. Better with her, more like thou wert.” Luna added quietly, shaking her head slowly, but Twilight only laughed quietly at this and closed her eyes.

“I'm the one she hates now... maybe I'm the one who should have tried to act more like you.” the Lich murmured in response, but then she gave a quick shake of her head and a small smile, glancing up quietly. “But none of that is really useful to think about right now, either. We should try and focus on the present, on helping Innocence any way we can. And on... dealing with the Pious, too.”

Luna nodded, then she grumbled after a moment: “And neither of those things really require us to speak with Nightmare Moon, do they?'”

She only received faintly-amused looks from both Twilight and Scrivener, and the starry-maned mare sighed tiredly after a moment, quietly dropping her head forwards to gently bop Twilight with her soulstone horn. “Very well. Well... since thou art the one prompting us so, thou can be the one to get back up out of the comfort of bed and lock the door. I do not desire to awaken in the morn to find Innocence leering over us.”

Twilight sighed a little, but she nodded after a moment and wiggled carefully up to a sitting position. Her horn glowed as she focused on the door, but it took her a moment to come up with an actual spell: Innocence, after all, was quite talented and quite powerful, even if she was also a little... rough around the edges.

So she went with something basic: something that wouldn't require raw power to open, but knowledge and skill. Runes slowly scrawled into life in a spiral over the door, glowing brightly before their luminescence faded as Luna grumbled and rolled away, mashing her face down into the pillow as she mumbled: “No light.”

Scrivener smiled despite himself over at the mare... then winced as one of her front hooves swung lazily out and managed to thwack him in the face before it simply settled against his features, Luna very content to apparently just push on his head. He glowered past it at her, and Luna only shrugged and huffed a bit... then squawked when Twilight Sparkle dropped down on top of her foreleg, making it bend awkwardly. “Damnation!”

Luna rolled onto her side, hugging her limb against her chest and rubbing at it crankily despite the fact both ponies could clearly feel it was perfectly fine. For a few moments, the three only laid together, in their odd, half-combative fellowship... and then Luna finally sighed and gestured at Scrivener, saying moodily: “I need thy neck.”

Scrivener smiled despite himself, then he and Twilight looked at each other before he slipped forwards, the two ponies half-embracing before they rolled together to switch positions. And once Scrivener was between them, Luna grumpily buried her face in his neck as he slipped a foreleg around him, and Twilight smiled as she rested her head against his chest, breathing slowly, listening to the steady thud in his chest and letting herself be soothed by it.

For a little while, they just rested together as Luna breathed slowly in and out, before she finally nodded and muttered: “Alright. Scrivy, Twilight... if thou art both ready and both so damned insistent, we shall go and see Nightmare Moon.”

Both ponies nodded, and Luna mumbled as she mashed her face almost into the collar, muttering under her breath before she finally gave a quiet sigh and settled. Her eyes closed as she breathed slowly in and out, and she nervously allowed her mind to stretch in the direction of Nightmare Moon... and Nightmare Moon greeted her eagerly.

No sooner had she heard the dark entity, she opened her eyes... and found herself inside a dark forest inside her own mind, mire thrumming beneath her feet, blackened trees swaying slowly around her. She turned slowly around, and saw nothing behind her; she turned back around... and couldn't help but grimace a little at the sight of the enormous table lit by candles in tall holders made of iron and bone, and ghostly lanterns that looked like they had been stolen from willowisps hung from the trees. The table itself was covered in food that smelled of blood and death and corruption, arranged as prettily as possible among ornate decorations over the spattered and stained tablecloth, the places all clearly marked by plates and placemats that seemed like the only clean islands among a sea of... blood.

Nightmare Moon sat calmly on the other side of the furnishing in an enormous black throne, her head bowed calmly, her eyes gleaming with pleasure as she said softly: “Hello, Luna Brynhild. Scrivener Blooms, Twilight Sparkle... we are delighted to see you both. And of course, my darling mare, the greatest pleasure comes from your willingness to consider what we have to say; your patience with us is vastly appreciated.”

“Patience. That's a good word.” Scrivener Blooms muttered as he and Twilight Sparkle approached from the forest and fell in on either side of the sapphire mare, and then the charcoal stallion shook his head moodily before he said quietly: “We're patient with you because... you know, sometimes you manage to not be entirely useless. Or horrible.”

Nightmare Moon only chuckled quietly at this, the mare bowing her head forwards before she said softly: “I always strive to be of some use to you, my King of the Night, Scrivener Blooms. Perhaps I do not always succeed, but you cannot say that I am not zealous. That I do not do my best. That I have not always been loyal, always been trying to do what is in the best interests of yourself and all of us gathered here today...”

The charcoal stallion only shook his head, saying after a moment: “I don't know about that. What you always seem interested in is your own gain. It's just that... we seem to be what makes you happy, so... you try and make us happy. But it's for your own benefit, not ours.”

“Yes. That is how the world works. The most altruistic are only those with the resources to act so selfishly through their gifts to others.” Nightmare Moon replied pleasantly, bowing her head forwards politely, and the stallion couldn't help but grimace a little before the dark entity gestured politely at the three spots that were side-by-side on the other side of the table from her. Just in front of them: clearly set for them, each plate inscribed with the same emblem as their cutie mark. “Please, sit. We shall pretend to be civilized. We shall indulge the fantasy of cultured and polite society.”

There was silence for a few moments as the three traded uneasy looks, and then Luna huffed and grumpily headbutted Scrivener, making the stallion wince and stagger to the side into Twilight before she hurriedly scrambled forwards and sat pointedly down in Scrivener's place at the table. The stallion gave her a dry look, but when she glared back at him insistently, he grumbled a little but strode forwards and sat down at Twilight's place at the table, as the mare sighed and walked over to seat herself in Luna's.

Nightmare Moon gazed at them kindly, smiling in a strange way even as Luna looked up at her challengingly, and then she rose her head proudly and declared: “I wish to eat off of Twilight Sparkle. That is how the expression goes, yes?”

Scrivener Blooms slowly dropped his face into the plate with a thunk, and Twilight turned beet red as she stared over at Luna, but Nightmare Moon only gave a quiet laugh before replying tenderly: “Not quite, but if that is what you want to do, Luna, you know I won't stop you. I live to serve, and to assist you with your pleasures.”

“Thou ruins all the fun of it, twisted voyeur.” Luna muttered after a moment, shaking her head briefly before she sighed a little and said moodily: “Perhaps we should skip this... foreplay, then, and move straight into business, Nightmare Moon. I wish to be done with thee as soon as possible, after all, so I may return to reality and thou may return to thy sordid tumor.”

The enormous passion entity only smiled calmly, then she shook her head slowly before saying softly: “I don't think you'll want me sealed away this time, Luna Brynhild... you may ignore me, you may pretend I don't exist, you may and try to block me out... but every time you need an advantage, an edge, to defeat a powerful foe, it is me that you call upon.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Nightmare Moon leaned towards them as she gently flicked her horn, and food floated over to their plates, settling gently into place: each was served some of their favorite things to eat, sumptuous delicacies that all the same carried a hint of... blood about them. “I can manipulate your senses, and how you perceive reality. And in the raw, I am stronger than you, Luna Brynhild. And most of all.. I am darker.”

Luna felt strangely insulted by the last, narrowing her eyes as Scrivener hesitantly picked up a dumpling and studied it silently. It felt real, and if he knew it would taste real... it would even make his stomach feel nourished if he ate it.

He sighed a little after a moment as Twilight Sparkle looked uneasily at Nightmare Moon, suspecting some kind of dangerous endgame, and the passion entity looked almost eagerly back and forth before she said softly: “You need my help. More than ever before... you need darkness to blot out the Light, and now that you have destroyed Gymbr... I am the greatest source of such darkness left.”

Nightmare Moon rose her head proudly, and there was silence for a few moments before Twilight Sparkle said quietly: “I'm surprised you didn't say Scrivener... or Innocence.”

“Oh, our King of the Night is many things... but least of all is he ours to command or thrust into battle.” Nightmare Moon replied gently, gazing affectionately over at Twilight Sparkle before she smiled softly. “And Innocence has much to learn yet. Although I think that you should teach her... all three of you should give her the power she craves. And perhaps I am bias, but there is nothing wrong with wanting to serve you both; I think her desire for power, her desire to learn from you, her desire to please you... it makes her a good daughter, does it not?”

“Not.” Scrivener said with a shiver, looking away and closing his eyes as he muttered: “Remember Because Love Conquers All? Hell, remember Gymbr, who we just creamed the corn out of? That didn't turn out very well, did it?”

“Gymbr is stupid and weak.” Nightmare Moon said coldly, and all three ponies looked up in surprise at the vehemence in her voice before the black mare was suddenly sultry and gentle again, smiling tenderly as she drew her eyes slowly along the three in front of her. “And he would betray you in a moment. We would never betray you... you know that.”

Scrivener Blooms shivered a little: it was true. There were few things he was certain of with Nightmare Moon, but he knew that she meant every word she said about being their slave, their servant. Even about doing everything that was in their best interests... the problem was that she got a little... her idea of what was 'best' for them rarely coincided with their own.

Then Nightmare Moon rose her head, saying softly: “We believe that we have earned a chance, with all our years of loyalty and love. And as Luna and I cannot share one body effectively... we desire a body of our own.”

The three ponies looked up dumbly at how... simply, brazenly, the mare put this. They traded uncomfortable looks back and forth, and there was silence for a few moments before the stallion cleared his throat and said awkwardly: “Do you... think we can just... run over to the store and buy one for you or something? You know, we'll just... unzip Luna, pull you on out of there, and plug you into a new body and... yeah. Yeah, I don't think that's how it works.”

Nightmare Moon only smiled softly, meeting Luna's much colder gaze... and in a way, much more fearful, little as she wanted to admit it. Nightmare Moon was part of her, after all... held many of her instincts, perhaps was fused into that part of herself that craved war and battle and pain and vengeance; if they removed her...

“Now, don't be scared, Luna Brynhild. I wouldn't suggest this if it lessened you... perhaps, in fact, it will make you even stronger.” Nightmare Moon said gently, and Luna frowned at this uncertainly before the passion entity continued: “I only long for my consciousness to be given form. All my magic, all my current strength... I will leave it behind inside you. I will only take my mind.”

There was silence for a few moments, and Nightmare Moon smiled softly as they considered uneasily, what sounded too good to be true... “Oh, it isn't. I will still be of great use to you... as my body develops after I am born, I will regain my powers. I think I will gain new ones as well, and new talents: after all, right now I am... held back in how much I can explore. And we will still be linked, my beloved family. I will be your humble servant: I will be Deathless.”

“Deathless...” Luna shivered a little at this thought, and even Twilight Sparkle winced at the thought. That wasn't like her: a Deathless was a slave, a servant, to whoever its existence was bound to. They couldn't argue, couldn't disobey, had no privacy and no secrets from whoever they served. They couldn't die... but in return, they gave up all semblance of freedom.

“Yes. Deathless. It would let us maintain our link, but I would be... less intrusive.” Nightmare Moon replied softly, gazing between them and smiling slightly. “And unlike Twilight Sparkle... we would not be vulnerable to attacks that target the spirit. It would still do harm to us, but we would never have to fear loss of soul or life, just as we could travel to other planes and still remain firmly linked with you. And even should our body be destroyed, it could be restored.”

“I get it. Gymbr's Fates... you think he can help you become some kind of Deathless that would still retain individuality, personality. That you can have the best of both worlds... near-invulnerability, and still remain yourself.” Scrivener Blooms said quietly, and Nightmare Moon looked at him with a calm smile and a nod of agreement. “And you... want that? They were so-”

“Happy.” Nightmare Moon said simply, and then she closed her eyes and smiled softly. “At times... I do grow restless. I become... frustrated, that I am not understood. I have my flashes of temper with my Mistress. And it upsets me. But I think about them... and I envy them. Ignorant, without will, lost or broken... call them whatever you desire, but they are happy. They gaze upon whoever is their master at the time, and they are happy.

“I want to be happy.” Nightmare Moon turned her eyes towards Scrivener Blooms, smiling softly. “Gymbr's Fates were not true Deathless, because their physical bodies could die. But we know the old ways, don't we, Luna? We can create Deathless... and we shall take Gymbr's research and add his findings to our own glorious experimentation...”

Scrivener and Luna both shivered a little as Twilight shook her head slowly, murmuring: “You won't... Nightmare Moon, you won't really be happy, you'll be-”

“How do you know?” Nightmare Moon interrupted softly, gently, and there was silence for a few moments before the passion entity smiled again. “Precisely. You do not. But let us agree to this, then: I will find out for myself. And if I am not happy, then we shall take steps to remedy the situation.

“As to Innocence...” Nightmare Moon paused and looked thoughtful for a few moments, looking over the three slowly. “Teach her. You must teach her. And above all, you must make her loyal to you. No, listen to me.” She cut off, as all three ponies began to look defensive. “I am not speaking of enslaving her, or considering her offers... generous as they might be. Until she learns that you must be able to trust her, until she learns that she must truly be loyal, and not simply serving her whims and interests at the time... she will be weak.”

There was silence for a few moments, the three ponies trading uneasy looks before Nightmare Moon flicked a hoof gently, and a large, bloody steak floated over to drop onto her plate. The passion entity smiled after a moment, then looked slowly up and said quietly: “Loyalty is a quality we can admire. Generosity is what we strive to achieve. And it will be through kindness that Innocence's heart is won: that, and a powerful grasp of magic.

“She has lived for years in a world of pleasure, but pleasure without laughter: she does not understand the value of honesty, and keeping one's word.” Nightmare Moon said softly, as she guided a knife down with telekinesis to cut a piece off the steak, then spear it and guide it up to her mouth. She chewed slowly, thoughtfully, then smiled softly and glanced up. “But you will earn her loyalty. She already understands that Gymbr is weak: you must teach her to believe in you. That you are powerful. And once her loyalty is earned... her offers can be considered.”

Scrivener and Luna traded uneasy looks as Twilight Sparkle gazed silently at Nightmare Moon, shifting uncomfortably and closing her eyes. Nightmare Moon spoke so tactfully... and yet beneath her words there was such malicious eagerness, that made it clear her loving designs had some ultimate end... and one that likely was not nearly as pleasant for Innocence as the path to her endgame seemed.

After a moment, Twilight couldn't resist, leaning forwards and asking quietly: “And then what? It... I mean, that's a lot of what I've been doing...”

“Apart from teaching her that you are strong, yes...” Nightmare Moon cut and speared up another piece of steak, swirling this in some of the blood on the plate before she smiled slightly as it lifted towards her jaws, saying softly: “You need to stand up to her, Twilight Sparkle. It is all for the best, towards our ultimate purpose.”

“And what is that?” Luna asked quietly, and Nightmare Moon turned a calm look towards her even as she chewed slowly on the steak, not a drop of blood escaping her jaws as sharp teeth tore up soft, almost-alive meat.

There was silence, and then Nightmare Moon swallowed and said softly: “We thought that was clear enough. We desire to give Innocence the tools to decide for herself what course she should follow in life. We all do: I simply want to make sure that you are all forced to realize that if she decides to serve you... it is a decision you should accept and appreciate.”

Twilight Sparkle bit her tongue, remembering her own words, and Nightmare Moon bowed her head forwards with a slight smile as she sawed another piece of meat free, then took her time slowly digging the knife into the flesh, looking down and saying softly: “I would think it an honor. To have a daughter who truly adores her parents... to be chosen and loved by so many...”

Scrivener Blooms shook his head slowly as Luna Brynhild bared her fangs, but Twilight was the one to respond, looking up and saying steadily: “When she... she does trust us again... then she's going to decide to be her own person. She's going to want to make up for the wrongs she's committed, and she's going to... she's going to be a Valkyrie.”

There was silence for a few moments, and Nightmare Moon slowly twisted her knife into the meat, looking a little less pleased... but after a moment, nodding grudgingly. “If that is what she chooses, so be it. But don't wipe away all her darkness, Twilight Sparkle... we may have need of it in the future. And you might regret the path not traveled.”

Twilight shivered and shook her head fiercely as Scrivener Blooms and Luna Brynhild both glared at the dark creature of passion-made-real... but Nightmare Moon only smiled knowingly as she rose her bloody knife free of her mangled steak, licking slowly up along the blade as her eyes drew over the three of them and saw into the deepest, darkest parts of these three ponies before her... knowing that no matter how they might refute and refuse her, there would always be that shadow in their hearts that couldn't help but consider even her blackest offerings.

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