• 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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Renewing The Sibling Bond

Chapter Thirty Eight: Renewing the Sibling Bond
~BlackRoseRaven

Morning was awkward: the conversation with Nightmare Moon hadn't gone well, even by their usual standards, and all three of the ponies were apprehensive about the thought of leaving their room. Finally, Twilight's anxieties twisted in a different direction, and the Lich was the first to hurry out into the morning light, striding into the den... then relaxing and smiling as she found Innocence flopped out on the cushion, deep asleep.

She had several books out, Twilight noted: two old notebooks of Scrivener's, and Because Love Conquers All, the story of how Gymbr had come to be, of Luna and Scrivener after they gave in to the darkness. A small mistake that had caused catastrophe after catastrophe as they'd become greedier and greedier for power... until finally...

Twilight Sparkle shook her head slowly, then she picked up the books with telekinesis and neatly set them aside. She frowned after a moment, however, as she realized Innocence had something else with her, and the mare leaned down before she softened and smiled faintly.

Dinah: the stuffed, well-worn black pony doll stared up at her with its chipped black crystal eyes, purple mane and tail stringy and rugged after all the years and years of abuses it had survived. Twilight touched it gently, closing her eyes and thinking silently of the pony the doll had been designed after for a moment, before she sighed softly and shook her head briefly as Scrivener Blooms walked out, with Luna peering suspiciously past his shoulder.

Twilight couldn't help but smile a little as she glanced over her shoulder at them, and then she said softly: “Pancakes and bacon maybe, Scrivy. I don't know if Innocence still likes them or anything but... you know. Since Antares is upstairs too and all...”

“Right, and Prestige. I'll make enough to go around.” Scrivener paused, then glanced over his shoulder at Luna, who was still glowering suspiciously. “Would you stop that, you butt? Do you really want Sin waking up to see you trying to hide behind me and looking at her like that?”

“Aye, true. She might get the idea that thou art actually her father, not I. 'Twould confuse the poor filly more than she already is.” Luna said after a moment, and Scrivener rolled his eyes before he started towards the kitchen. Then Luna stepped forwards and slapped his rump firmly, making him wince and glare over his shoulder at her as she declared: “Into the kitchen where thou belongs, wench! Then to the bedroom so thou can work off some of the fat on thy flabby buttocks.”

Scrivener grumbled under his breath as Twilight looked sourly over at Luna, and the sapphire mare simply shrugged innocently before huffing when the Lich picked up the books with telekinesis and pointedly strode away from her. “Oh, very well. I shall... I do not know.”

She grumbled under her breath, muttering to herself before she walked into the kitchen to poke at Scrivener with her horn, but he rose a rear hoof and gently shoved her away by the face, saying dryly: “If you want something to do, put on coffee. And please remember the filters.”

“I am not an idiot.” Luna huffed crankily, and then she muscled her way up beside him and bodychecked him towards the fridge, but Scrivener simply allowed himself to stagger lethargically in front of the appliance so he could open it and pull out the eggs and milk. “Chocolate! And the chocolate liquid, I desire this in my coffee as well!”

“You put that in your cup afterwards, dearest. We're not pouring it all over the coffee grinds.” Scrivener said, and Luna grumbled under her breath but nodded as the two worked side-by-side, surprisingly doing quite well at keeping out of one-another's way.

Ten minutes later, and Innocence awoke to the crackle of frying bacon and the smell of pancakes. She shook herself out, then carefully pushed herself up to her hooves, looking back and forth blankly for a few moments until she realized where she was with a start.

Scrivener smiled over his shoulder at her, and a much-calmer Luna greeted her daughter with a a nod, a cup of mocha clutched tightly in her hooves. “Good morning, Innocence I hope thou art feeling much less crazy this morning.”

Scrivener glowered over his shoulder at Luna, and Innocence rose a claw before giving a smile as she rubbed at her head slowly, murmuring: “Móðer... Daddy. It's like a weight's been lifted off my mind, I... it was all just a nightmare, wasn't it? I'm so sorry how I treated all of you...”

There was silence for a few moments as Innocence blushed, holding her forehead by one claw, and Scrivener only returned his eyes to the stove as Luna looked mildly at Innocence, until the strange unicorn sighed and asked sourly: “Not working, huh?”

“No. No, we are not that stupid, Sin. Besides, the time to do thy whole act would have been shortly after we rescued thee from Gymbr. Timing is important.” Luna replied evenly, and then she sipped at her chocolatey coffee before adding after a moment: “I am not in a terrible mood this morning, Sin, so I will excuse this little endeavor of thine. Applaud it, even, so long as thou does but one thing for me. Can thou do this one thing and behave thyself today, Sin?”

Innocence grumbled a little, then she sighed and sat back, asking moodily: “Well, what exactly do you want from me? And what do I get in return?”

“Not being punched in thy face, for one. Sin, I would never, ever strike a foal, and that goes double for one of mine own. But thou art no longer a foal, art thou? Thou continues to claim to be older than Antares instead of my sixteen year old daughter.” Luna said mildly, bowing her head towards the strange unicorn, who winced back a little. “And Scrivener and I seem to have healed quite well, so do not think we are not in any condition to... what is the saying? Beat thy ass, yes?”

Scrivener simply shrugged as he tossed another pancake out of the pan, then picked up the messy mixing bowl, pouring a new one as he muttered: “Well, you're the one who's always had such a way with words, Luna.”

“I wouldn't complain if you wanted to.” Sin said softly, and then she smiled, deciding to try a different tactic. “Gymbr often enjoyed beating me, you know. Hurting me. Teaching me pain and pleasure, and how to survive both-”

“Can. Can we wait until after breakfast to get into the psychological warfare?” Scrivener asked from the kitchen, and Luna grumbled in agreement. There was silence for a few moments as Innocence slowly deflated, and then the strange unicorn sighed and flopped down grumpily, pawing silently at the futon with one claw as the other absently hugged Dinah close.

Luna softened as she looked at this, a small smile cresting her features before the mare said softly: “Does thou remember Cheshire? Or at least how thou came to have that doll?”

“What doll?” Innocence looked down curiously, then blushed deeply and hurriedly shoved Dinah away, shaking her head and mumbling: “I... Mom... I mean, Twilight must have put it there or... yeah, it was probably Antares... I don't... of course I don't, I mean...”

The sapphire mare only smiled widely at her daughter, and Innocence grumbled and shrank down a bit, crossing her forelegs sulkily and dropping her head across them as she muttered: “I guess I just... thought he was... a pillow.”

“You're as bad a liar as ever. That's kind of reassuring, though.” Scrivener said softly, and then he glanced up curiously as Twilight entered the room, levitating a large tome beside her. The stallion tilted his head, but the Lich only gave him a smile before she slipped carefully past and into the living room, and the charcoal earth pony turned his eyes back to the stove even as his mind focused on Twilight, letting him understand a little more about what she was up to.

Innocence looked up, then her eyes widened as she realized it was a book on magic. She began to lean up eagerly, until her sharp eyes managed to settle on the title, and then she scowled in disbelief as she exclaimed disgustedly: “Is that.... you used to read me that book when I was a foal!”

“And now you're going to read it again and memorize the lessons.” Twilight said gently, offering the book titled 'Preparing For Magic' to Innocence, who reared away from it like it was some kind of disgusting, poisonous vermin. “Once you read it through, then I'll start teaching you magic.”

Innocence gritted her teeth, but she felt Luna looking at her intently... and as much as she wanted to shout a volley of insults that would drive her mother away and probably off into a corner to cry like the little baby she was, the young unicorn finally cursed under her breath and dropped her head, mumbling: “Fine. Okay. I guess... sure.”

Sin grouchily reached a claw up, taking the book before she glowered down at the title. It looked big and heavy, but it had enormous font and all kinds of pretty pictures inside, if she remembered it right, and she sighed tiredly as she opened it and looked over the contents. Yes, it clearly was the same book as she had thought: all theory, meditations, practices, nothing that had anything to do with actual magic spells. Just how to train to prepare spells.

She sighed and paged through it until she reached the introduction, then shook her head and muttered: “It's not like I forgot all this. I just... I've learned more important stuff than how to reduce the glow of my horn, or how much energy I'm outputting. My magic reserves are nearly infinite, thanks to all the training I did in Heaven and Gymbr teaching me to Blood Draw.”

“Blood Drawing is incredibly dangerous, Innocence... you shouldn't be doing that, even in a desperate situation. You might not regret it right now, but you will when you're paying that price in the future.” Twilight warned, frowning worriedly, but the strange unicorn only rolled her eyes with a snort. The Lich looked down at her daughter for a moment, but then sighed and decided to just let it go for now, giving a small smile as she reached down and touched the book, saying finally: “Maybe if you read the first few chapters tonight, we can... talk about practicing a little with magic tomorrow.”

“And it seems thou art skilled in more fields than just magic alone, but... Scrivy and I shall speak to thee of this after breakfast. For now, I think we should just try and enjoy our meal together.” Luna paused, then peered up at the ceiling before turning a slight smile towards the strange unicorn. “Perhaps thou could go and fetch Antares and Prestige for us.”

Innocence made a bit of a face at this, but then she sighed and nodded after a moment, telling herself it would be a good way to earn her way into her parents' favor a little... and that even if they didn't believe a word out of her mouth right now, so long as she kept pretending to be a good girl, they'd eventually start giving her chances. That was the kind of ponies they were, after all... they had to try and help everyone, even when it was stupid to do so. Not that she was complaining about that quality, especially right now... “Okay, Mutt.”

Sin picked herself up off the pillows... then paused awkwardly and looked down at the doll hanging from one claw, blushing a bit before she mumbled and hurriedly tossed it across the room. All the same, she couldn't stop herself from glancing at Dinah as she left and feeling... a little bad. So okay, maybe she had sentimental attachment to a few things around the house still... maybe wandering around here, seeing those things, touching old toys and books was waking up a few more memories inside her and making her feel... well...

She shook her head briefly as she strode out onto the back deck, then paused to look at the ambrosia tree growing in the back yard. It was so stupid to leave it just sitting out there, where anything could get it... and sure, maybe it was like poison when it was raw, and okay, there were a few simple wards but... still...

On the other hoof... even for her, it didn't offer much interest. In Heaven, ambrosia had been prepared and served with a lot of their meals, and they drank elixirs made of it just to refresh themselves and restore their energy... but the fruit itself no longer had much effect on her. She'd gotten used to much stronger, much darker elixirs...

The mare smiled to herself as she wondered idly if she could procure the right ingredients down here to mix some of those potions up, as she headed up the stairs to the second floor and shoved her way inside. She walked down towards the guest room door... then stopped and stiffened up when it opened and Prestige Luster stepped out, the Valkyrie immediately tensing up at the sight of Innocence.

The two unicorns studied each other for a few moments, and then Prestige finally cleared her throat before she asked in an almost-civil tone: “What do you want?”

“A lot of things. Some of your blood would be nice. But my parents sent me up here to fetch Antares for breakfast.” Innocence paused for effect, then added nastily: “You weren't invited, by the way, so you can just stay up here and whimper.”

Prestige gave a chilling smile, then said in an-equally icy tone: “Thank you for informing us. I shall wake up your big brother and let him know the little demon-spawn he beat to tears is behaving like a toddler instead of a newborn and has learned to improperly carry messages from place to place. I'm sure he'll be thrilled.”

Innocence growled, and Prestige set herself, energy sparking between the two as their eyes locked, both refusing to be the first to drop their gaze. Their horns shimmered with energy as they both challenged each other, daring the other to do something, to say something, to push their patience just a little further, glaring at each other with frustration and anger and flat-out hatred.

Then Antares stuck his head out of the guest room, the stallion clearing his throat loudly and getting the attention of both mares before he said pleasantly: “Nice as it would be to watch you wrestle another mare, uh... can you do it with one that isn't my baby sister?”

“I'm not your baby sister. I'm older than you now.” Innocence said sourly, and Antares only looked at her, then shrugged amiably, earning a growl from the strange unicorn... but then Sin simply dropped her head, muttering grumpily as she turned around: “Just come downstairs and eat so we can get this over with. Got it?”

Antares shrugged again, then he cleared his throat loudly as he stepped out into the hall, and Innocence sighed and looked moodily over her shoulder at him. But the stallion only gave her a smile, saying calmly: “I'm going to take you out for a little while today, okay? Just you and me, like old times. I got a few things that I want to show you and talk to you about.”

“No.” Innocence said sourly, and then she scowled, saying darkly: “Why the hell would you ever think that I would willingly waste my time with you, anyway?”

But the glossy-black unicorn only shrugged, looking undeterred: pleasant, even, as he continued to smile, and Innocence felt a suspicious twist inside her gut before he said pointedly: “Because I'm going to tell Móðer that you and I are going out for a nice, pleasant little walk. So you can either choose to come with me willingly, or, you know...”

“I hate you. I hope you know that.” Innocence said disgustedly, and then she shook her head and growled in irritation, adding flatly: “Fine, I'll play along. But don't expect me to make nice with anyone. I'm not interested in 'play-dates' with Lily and Mercury, or with wasting my time with Clinker, pretending he's anything more than a slovenly retard.”

“You're so hurtful these days. You're like a... like a big mean squirrel or something, I dunno. Hey, have you seen Abaddon or Ratatoskr, on that note?” Antares asked, gesturing absently to either side with his head as Innocence glared at him and Prestige fixed a dry look on her coltfriend. “What? What? Stuff makes me think of other stuff.”

Innocence rolled her eyes and turned away, adding crankily over her shoulder: “Just hurry the hell up and get downstairs, okay? I want to eat breakfast, and then get your stupid little walk over and done with so I can go back to being treated like an idiot by Twilight.”

Antares only shrugged, then he leaned up and called loudly as Innocence left: “Well, hey, I'm always treated like an idiot by Luna and it's not that bad!”

The strange unicorn only rolled her eyes as she left, and then Prestige shook her head slowly and muttered: “I don't see how you can be so willing to give her another chance. You or your family both. She's a traitor. She helped turn Valhalla into... a nightmare. And she's part of the reason we had to flee afterwards... if she hadn't gotten in our way, and if we hadn't been forced to go looking for Eventide, we wouldn't have wasted so much time, ended up spread out over Valhalla and easy targets for the Pious...”

“So you blame her for... life.” Antares said after a few moments, and the unicorn scowled at him, but Antares only cleared his throat and held up a hoof. “Look. I know you don't like her. I understand why you don't like her. I emphasize with your pain-”

“Shut up, hero, or I'll punch your face down your throat.” Prestige grumbled, and then she shook her head and muttered: “She makes me so angry, Antares. She makes me so angry... and I know that part of it is because she's... so...”

“It's not just the whole Valkyrie thing, and the fact she pretty clearly traded out being a Valkyrie for being a complete bitch. It's because you don't see her as a... Wyrmy lady thingy. You see her as a pureblood unicorn, doing what pureblood unicorns do.” Antares said softly, looking over at her with a small smile, and Prestige looked surprised... then she simply nodded after a moment, giving a faint smile to him. “I know. You love it when I read your mind, right?”

“You keep dreaming, hero.” Prestige gently shoved Antares backwards, and then the Blessed mare sighed a little before she lowered her head and murmured: “I guess if Luna Brynhild and Lady Celestia Freya can look past what Innocence has done... so can I. We should go and see her today. Or at least you and your... your little sister.”

Antares nodded as he headed towards the door, the mare falling into step behind him as he said: “It's one of the first stops on the list, actually. I mean, if Sin wants a glance of power... then that's power right there. But Aunt Tia's a whole lot of other things, too, and... she needs to see how there's more than just raw power in the world.”

The stallion paused at the end of the hall, however, biting his lip before he muttered: “But then again, well... Aunt Tia's not in the best of shape right now, either. Still, I know she wants to see Sin, too... and weird as this is to say, maybe Sin can help her. Maybe they can help each other.”

“That sounds a little too optimistic, even for your standards.” Prestige said softly, but she was smiling a little all the same as Antares only shrugged, looking over his shoulder at her with that easy smile that even now made her feel comforted. Feel simply... good.

“Well, you know. Someone around here has to be.” the stallion replied easily, shrugging a little before he turned back towards the door and opened it with a light shove, then he simply hopped the rails like he was still an athletic foal and landed with a thud on the patio below.

Prestige was going to scold him, but no sooner did Antares land than Luna came charging out of the door, yelling wildly, and she flung herself at him in a full tackle. Antares only grinned, however, launching himself backwards to land on his back, and Luna came down on his rear hooves before he kicked her easily back through the doorway, the sapphire mare giving an indignant squawk as the glossy-black unicorn shouted: “You gotta do better than that, Mom!”

Antares rolled back up to his feet, then snorted when a blast of electricity shot out of the doors, snapping his horn into it... before staring dumbly upwards as the lightning clung tenaciously to his horn instead of being dissolved. He had just enough time to figure out what was going on before the lightning tether suddenly yanked downwards, and the stallion's face smacked down into the patio, his rump raised high in the air and forelegs sprawling out as he mumbled: “Ouch.”

“Thou hast not bested me yet, Antares. Now come inside, there is bacon and pancakes and little pieces of fruit.” Luna called mildly, and the glossy-black stallion shrugged and picked himself slowly up, shaking his head out briefly before he smiled and trotted into the kitchen. He traded a quick, one-limbed hug with the sapphire mare, and then the two strode out into the den, where Twilight Sparkle had set up a small table and Scrivener Blooms was setting out plates.

“Food, Scrivy! Food! We shall starve in the time it takes for all these niceties, why can we not simply eat as we usually do?” Luna complained, and the stallion gave her a dry look as Twilight cleared her throat loudly.

“Actually, this was my idea. I thought that since we're having sort of a family breakfast, it might be nice for us all to sit down with each other.” Twilight replied softly, glancing over at Luna pointedly, but the sapphire mare only huffed.

Innocence, from where she was seated at one of the open spots at the table, grumbled moodily in agreement and tapped her claws irritably against the surface, muttering: “Mutt's right. This is dumb. I just want to get this over and done w-”

“So Sin and I are going to go on a walk into Ponyville later.” Antares announced blatantly, and Innocence glared up at him furiously. “Isn't that right, Sin?”

“I hate you.” Innocence seethed, and then she looked sulkily down at the table and nodded grudgingly after a moment, muttering: “Yeah, we're... going to go out. Walk around with all the stupid ponies. See Clinker and let him feel me up or something, I dunno.”

Luna looked mildly over at her daughter, and Innocence looked defiantly back as Twilight grimaced a little. Then the sapphire mare leaned forwards, saying seriously as Prestige entered the room: “Thou must make him work for it, Innocence. And it also depends very much upon where his hooves wander, what thou must make him do. For example, the slope and curves of thy rump are often seen and enjoyed by all, but one does not simply walk backwards into the hooves of a waiting pony. One must instead-”

“Mutt!” Innocence shouted, a consternated, flushed look crossing her features: and in spite of how Twilight and Scrivener were glaring furiously at Luna, there was also a funny sort of relief. In spite of everything Sin had said, in spite of everything Sin had offered herself to them... here she was, getting embarrassed over some of Luna's admittedly-perverse motherly advice. “I... I don't... I know plenty about how to please a stallion already!”

“Not as much as I do! Or your father. Or even Antares.” Luna said cheerfully, and Scrivener's glare grew more horrible as Antares slowly soured and turned a moody look on his mother. “Well, 'tis true. After all, Antares pleases himself constantly when Prestige is not present. Furiously, one could even say. He-”

Twilight cleared her throat loudly, and Luna turned towards her innocently before the violet mare said dryly: “We have a rule. No inappropriate subjects during breakfast, Luna. You know that.”

“Rules were made to be broken.” Luna argued, and Twilight shot her a scalding look, which made the sapphire mare wince and shrink a bit before she grinned lamely and held up a hoof. “Well, I suppose for a time they must be honored and obeyed. Or at least whilst one is in... authoritarian company such as thyself.”

“Thanks, Luna, really.” Twilight said sourly, and she shook her head slowly before gesturing awkwardly to the table as Scrivener sighed and walked back into the kitchen. “Sit down, guys. Scrivy, I'll come and help you.”

Luna huffed and sat beside Innocence as Prestige and Antares sat on the sapphire mare's other side, and Innocence looked over at the starry-maned winged unicorn with a small smile. She studied her Móðer with interest, shifting a little as she looked at her, feeling... all sorts of things. Confusing things, good things, thing that made her... happy that her parents had proven they were stronger and better than Gymbr. She felt closer to them than she ever had to the dark god.

After a few moments, Luna Brynhild cocked her head curiously as she looked back at Innocence, but the strange unicorn only smiled before bowing her head towards her and murmuring: “I agree with a lot of what you said, Luna.”

“And that is fine, Innocence. Thou must remember, though... there is a time to listen and learn as well as carve thine own path and make discoveries for thyself.” Luna said softly, turning a smile towards her before she bowed her head and added gently: “When thou returns with Antares, we will discuss thy powers more in depth. But I very much like the idea of thou reacquainting thyself with Ponyville. There are many practical reasons for it.”

Innocence nodded grudgingly after a few moments, then she sighed and bowed her head forwards, mumbling: “Okay. I guess you're right, yeah. I just don't promise that Antares is going to return in one piece.”

Antares shrugged, rubbing absently at the underside of his muzzle. “Hey, from what I recall, the score is still one-nothing, and that's all me. I'm your big brother, Sin: I'm always going to be able to kick your flank.”

Innocence growled, but before she could say anything, Scrivener and Twilight returned to the table and set down an enormous platter of pancakes, a dish piled high with bacon, a full pot of coffee, and assorted sugars and sweet syrups and other condiments. And almost immediately, Luna snatched most of the bacon for herself, Scrivener Blooms rolling his eyes at this and muttering: “I'll go get the other batch. Sit down, Twilight, eat something.”

Innocence looked like she wanted to make some rude remark, but she thankfully swallowed it as Twilight sat down beside her and smiled encouragingly. The strange unicorn shifted grumpily, then hurriedly reached out and swiped the rest of the bacon when Antares reached for some, making him glower at her.

By the time Scrivener returned with another bundle of bacon wrapped in paper towels, Luna had gobbled most of hers down and also started in on several pancakes. The others had all served themselves, and Innocence was eating as fast and messily as Luna, making the stallion reflect on how apparently some things never changed: then again, Gymbr probably hadn't been all that big on table manners.

The charcoal earth pony was careful to take a good clawful of bacon for himself before tossing the rest onto the plate... and then simply watching as Antares, Luna, and Innocence all immediately began to grab up as much as they could. He sighed as he sat back, studying them mildly: Luna was greedy, Antares was hungry, and Innocence simply didn't want her brother to get any... although it did seem like she still enjoyed the meal, too. And that was nice to see.

Scrivener ate slowly, more interested in watching the way his family interacted than the food itself. He studied Innocence and saw how much Antares was annoying her... and noted how at the same time, that annoyance was making her seem like the old Innocence. Like it wasn't just tenderness and love, but simple sibling bickering that was really helping Sin... find herself. Remember who she was.

The charcoal stallion smiled a little as Innocence glowered and wrapped her forelegs around her plate, protecting it like a dragon guarding its hoard. Then he looked across at Antares, asking: “While you're in town, can you pick up a few groceries for us? I mean, it'll give you a chance to run over and see Avalon, too.”

“Why do we need apples? No one here eats apples.” Luna complained, and then she paused before asking curiously: “Unless thou art making apple mush, or apple pies?”

“It's called applesauce, Luna, not apple mush.” Scrivener corrected, and then he grimaced and slapped absently at the mare's horn when she huffed and leaned around Innocence to poke at him. “Stop that. Anyway, you do so eat apples, they just have to be sliced up. That's still apple, Luna, it's just in slices. We also need eggs and some other things, I'll write a list down for you.”

“Yeah, no problem, Dad.” Antares smiled and nodded, then he looked pointedly over at Innocence, who narrowed her eyes at him moodily. “It'll be good for Sin, too. Won't it?”

“I don't see how. But I guess I can do it, yeah.” Innocence muttered moodily, shaking her head briefly before she sighed tiredly and added grumpily: “You do recognize I'm not just some little filly you can boss around though, right?”

Antares smiled at her sweetly, leaning forwards and saying seriously: “No, you're a big filly who can do stuff all by herself, isn't that right?”

Innocence scowled at him, and there was silence for a few moments before Luna said proudly: “She is. And she is much better at being cute than thou art, Antares. Look at her, even sulking she is cute! I may love her much more than I do thou!”

“Ouch, Mom. Ouch.” Antares said mildly, putting a hoof over his breast before he sniffed loudly and turned his head away. “That's fine, though. I like Twilight a lot more than I like you. You're dumb and you look like butt.”

Luna glared at her son, and then Innocence muttered moodily: “Then we'll trade. Because I like Luna a lot more than I like Twilight Sparkle.”

An awkward silence followed this as Luna rubbed lamely at her face and Twilight simply looked away, picking up her cup of coffee and sipping at it slowly. The rest of breakfast was eaten quickly and in quiet, with Innocence simply scowling at her plate and Antares studying his sister mildly the entire time.

When they finished, Twilight gathered up the plates and Scrivener followed her into the kitchen to wash them. Antares traded a quick kiss with Prestige, then slipped away from the table; he returned a moment later with a satchel hanging on either side of his body, watching Innocence mutilate the remains of her pancake with a fork before he finally said: “Come on, killer. Let's go for a walk into town together, then. We can get you a carcass or something to chew on.”

“Fine.” Innocence grumbled, reaching a claw up to rub at her face lightly, and then she paused and sighed. “Wait.”

The strange unicorn's horn glowed quietly, before that aura crawled quickly over her body... and when it faded, it left her taller, gorgeous, and more lithe than toned. Prestige scowled at her as Luna tilted her head curiously, before the sapphire mare murmured: “That was not just a polymorph. Thou hast reshaped thyself.”

“I've mastered the corruption in my bloodstream. Although I prefer to think of it less as corruption, more as... blood fitting for a goddess.” Innocence rose her head proudly, a confident smile crossing her features... but was that longing for approval in her eyes? Was that anxiety faintly tingeing her tone? “Gymbr taught me how to harness it to create more permanent polymorphs, that won't vanish in the heat of battle.”

“Then I guess you need more practice, huh?” Antares said casually, rubbing a hoof against his chest, and the mare flushed a bit as her features darkened and she glared at him. The stallion looked evenly back, studying her before he said bluntly: “I don't like it when you polymorph yourself. You look like a bitch. A baby-eating bitch. I like you, Sin. I think you're prettier without it.”

The last bit caught Innocence off guard, and she shifted awkwardly before finally managing to retort: “Well... I... I don't think... you should be flirting with me in front of your girlfriend, Antares.”

“Oh, but, like, you think it's fine if I was flirting with you when she wasn't around, even though you're my sister? Horses of Heaven, Gymbr messed you up.” Antares replied glibly, and Innocence blushed and scowled as Luna giggled and Prestige rolled her eyes.

Then the glossy-black unicorn turned around, calling mildly: “Anyway, come on. Let's go into town. The faster we're out of here, the faster you get to call me names and argue with me, and the sooner we get back and I can ditch you.”

The polymorphed unicorn grumbled moodily, then she nodded before turning a smile to Luna, saying softly: “And when I get back, I can tell you all about my powers, now that we're getting along better... I can even try and help Daddy better master his own, how about that?”

Luna looked moody at this, then she nodded before saying wryly: “Aye, but do us a favor, Innocence: remember that thou art not nearly as alluring as thou seems to think thou art. To be seductive, Innocence, one must first not make it clear thou art a black widow.”

“I would never kill you or Daddy. I... I would never do that.” Innocence said after a moment, and she frowned a little: not at the half-accusation, but... at the fact that what she said herself was true. No, she never would kill her parents... hurt them if it served her purpose, perhaps, but... no. She couldn't stomach the thought of killing them. Because... well... just because.

She shifted a little, then turned and hurried awkwardly off after Antares, running through the open front door and closing it behind her... before wincing as she almost ran right into her big brother, the glossy-black stallion smiling at her before he asked quietly: “Would you kill me?”

“Yes.” Innocence grumbled in response... but her eyes flicked away, a claw pawed lamely at the patio, her shoulders did that twitchy thing they had done even when she was a little filly and had been nervous about something, and Antares smiled wider. He didn't know if that was progress or not, since he didn't think even to start with she would have killed him... but it did help him feel better about her, and about trying to... to help her out of this dark place she had fallen into.

Innocence scowled at him, and then Antares suddenly stepped forwards and kissed her forehead, and the mare's jaw simply dropped as she gaped after the stallion before he said softly: “Come on, kiddo. And just like old times, we can maybe stop and screw around a little on the way with magic. You can show me some of your new tricks.”

“Don't call me that.” Innocence grumbled, even though she already knew it was useless; at the same time, she was frowning a little, her eyes moodily surveying Antares. “And what do you mean? I think you just want to see my magic so you can try and copy it yourself.”

“Yeah, because like, I'm so good at dark magic.” Antares said dryly, rolling his eyes. “Come on, filly. Even when you were little, you were still better at magic than I was. Remember how you used to blink around everywhere?”

“That... that was stupid.” Innocence said grouchily, looking awkwardly away. “I trained myself out of that. I don't blink anymore.”

Antares smiled a little, leading her across the lawn and onto the path through the forest as he said softly: “I know. It sucks.” He paused, then looked over his shoulder when the mare frowned at him before he shrugged a little. “It does. I mean, if you could still blink, then I probably wouldn't have punched you so many times.”

He halted, then cleared his throat and added in a softer voice: “And... hey. I am sorry for... you know. How I lost my temper. We were on opposite sides of the battlefield that day, but like I've learned from some demons I've met... just because we were enemies doesn't mean we can't get along. Doesn't mean we have to always be. And I shouldn't have hurt you so much, even though... well, you know. You sucker-blasted me with magic, so really, we're pretty even.”

Innocence looked at him moodily, even as she felt a twitch of guilt run through her, before she mumbled to try and hide her feelings: “And you know I'd do it again, too.”

Antares snorted in amusement at this, rolling his eyes and muttering even as he felt a smile bridge his lips: “That's you, Sin. Always so damn thoughtful and understanding.”

“Shut up.”

It was a surprisingly-easy walk through the forest: Innocence wasn't in the worst of moods, and she kept sneaking little looks at her brother now and then as the stallion occasionally teased her or rambled on about something or other. He was good-natured and friendly and... Innocence admittedly felt comfortable with him. More comfortable than it was smart to feel, really.

They reached Ponyville in good time, not stopping... although Antares had seen Innocence's gaze draw towards some of their old training spots. It made him feel a little better about her, although he was still aware that... even if Innocence was behaving herself now, there was still a very large part of her that was trying – however unsuccessfully – to manipulate them to her advantage.

Yet he still cared about her. But then again, she was his sister... and hell, there was plenty to admire in her. And he thought that even if she'd lived in accelerated time for fifty, sixty years... she was still a cranky sixteen year old inside, and she hadn't grown up quite as much as she seemed to think she had. That somehow, she had retained her youth, no matter what her physical body looked like.

So he was writing off a lot of her outbursts and rudeness, and it helped that from what he remembered of his little sister... she had been pretty whiny and bossy and obnoxious anyway. But what he didn't like...

He became a little more serious as they exited the forest, slowly walking along the forest path and towards Ponyville... towards what was now a small city, really, more than a small town. It wasn't yet that big, maybe, but it had all kinds of city things now: nightclubs, and recreation centers, and a few fancy restaurants and tall, tall buildings that stretched towards the sky... but even though they had changed, grown up, evolved...

“Sin, listen to me. Just for a moment. If you listen to me now, I swear I won't lecture you the rest of the day.” Antares said softly, and then he glanced back over his shoulder, judging his little sister's reaction before he added: “Or maybe I should say that if you don't listen to me, I'll spend the entire day patronizing you and telling you what to do. And I know you won't try and attack me because of how I already beat the crap out of you.”

Sin growled at him, but he saw a hesitant, moody agreement in her eyes all the same. So the stallion nodded encouragingly before he smiled a little. “Funny, you know. You could almost call that whole 'I won't fight anything that's beaten me' honor, if... you know, you didn't act like a coward.”

“Call me whatever you want. I'm not a coward, though... and I will kick your ass one day. The only reason I'm not attacking you is because I know you have all kinds of friends around here, and I don't want to upset Luna and Scrivener.” Innocence said moodily, and then she shook her head and said distastefully: “Please tell me that's all you wanted to talk to me about.”

“No. I wanted to tell you that...” Antares stopped in the middle of the path, glancing back and forth at the swaying plains, then drawing soft eyes over the animal care center, the corral where he could see Phooka working with both domesticated and rescued wild animals, and past that, towards a new farm that had been built nearby that catered mostly to supernatural beasts like Hellhounds and basilisks and a few other creatures that could be tamed, but certainly weren't for the faint of heart to work with. “Look.”

Innocence looked, then she shrugged and said finally: “It looks the same as when I was a kid. So what? What's the big life lesson here?”

“A, you're still a kid, and B... well, it doesn't look the same as when I was a kid. Not by a long shot.” Antares said softly, then he smiled a little and said quietly: “Change is often good, sure. Getting better is good. But evolution and change for its own sake... not so good. You might think you're on some path to greatness, you might even become truly... spectacular one day, maybe someone in a league of your own. But Innocence... mountain peaks are lonely places. Not a lot of people will follow you there. You'll be all alone, looking down on your legions of admirers and enemies without any friends at all if you keep trying to outrace everyone, if you keep trying to change and climb instead of... even just one time... taking a moment to let everyone else catch up to you. Or just... maybe choosing not to change at all, and embracing what you have.”

“You suck at advice.” Innocence said after a moment, and the glossy-black unicorn simply shrugged, continuing to look at his sister, studying her silently. She looked back at him, then shook her head slowly as she turned her eyes downwards, muttering: “I don't care who I leave behind, Antares. You should try and get that through your head. What I'm interested in is power... not family, friendship, or companionship. Power.”

“You say that, but I see you doing more than just cozying up to Luna and Scrivener. I see you trying to follow in their hoofsteps.” Antares said quietly, meeting his sibling's eyes, and the two looked at each other steadily before he gave a brief nod and added: “One last thing. Stop being such a bitch to Twilight Sparkle. No matter what way you look at it, Sin, that's pure stupidity right there: if you want to continue with your 'I'm an evil villain only pretending to be nice' act, then you're ruining an amazing resource you could exploit. Or, you know, if you just want to be honest for a change, and be nice to your mother because she's your mother and she's done her god-damnedest to take care of you.”

Innocence was only silent, looking sharply away and feeling the faintest stirring of shame... but over that, there was irritation, and anger that Antares was treating her like such a child. Like an ignorant, ungrateful child at that... but she was just doing what was in her best interests, and she'd never lied about that. Never pretended to be someone she wasn't, which was more for them than she'd ever done for Gymbr. And she wanted to make them realize that, and recognize that she wasn't going to have some miraculous epiphany and suddenly be their nice little girl again. That Innocence was gone.

Antares sighed a little after a moment, then he turned ahead and said quietly: “Come on. Let's go see Aunt Tia, anyway. Maybe you can be nice to her, at least... and I think you will be.”

“Why?” Innocence asked moodily, glowering at the stallion's back suspiciously... and her eyes only narrowed further when he tossed a wry grin over his shoulder at her.

He winked, then replied pleasantly: “Because, silly. If you aren't nice to Aunt Celestia, then she's probably going to put you through a wall with the kind of mood she's been in lately. Yesterday, and I'm not even kidding here, I saw her pick up a merchant cart: thankfully she didn't fling it anywhere, she came back to her senses before then, but uh... yeah. I wouldn't go pushing her buttons right now, that's all.”

The strange mare made a face, then grumbled and fell into pace after him before she said moodily: “I was more powerful than Dusk, even at her full Tyrant Wyrm size. I was even more powerful than Twilight Shadow. That's why Gymbr chose me to be his queen.”

“That's so gross. That's so gross, on so many levels.” Antares responded with a mock shiver, and Innocence rolled her eyes before the stallion asked curiously: “So... what do you know about the Light, then, Sin? Did he ever tell you anything?”

“He told me everything. He trusted me with everything... there were never any secrets, any restrictions.” Sin replied calmly, raising her head proudly, and there was silence for a few moments before the young mare lowered her head and became a little more serious, frowning a bit as she said hesitantly: “And Gymbr told me... a lot about the Light. He told me about how he and Kvasir and Foldraumr fought the Light back... how he took over an entire world and bathed it in his darkness, became god of it. He promised to take me there one day. He promised I could be a goddess there, able to do anything I wanted...”

She stopped. For some reason, she didn't feel the same eagerness she once had... but maybe that was because... no. She looked uneasily up at Antares as they passed through the town gates and into Ponyville, and the young unicorn licked her lips before saying, despite the fact that part of her felt this really wasn't such a good idea to confess: “But he said he didn't save the people from the Light all the same. He said all he could do was wash the Light out of them, but the ponies were left... changed, forever. They were servile to us, they seemed happy... but at the same time, they were... hurt.”

Innocence looked away, gazing back and forth and grimacing a little: she was getting stares here and there from ponies, and she shook her head briefly before muttering: “In Heaven, no one would even dare to look upon me without the permission of myself or Gymbr. That's how far above them I was. That's how powerful I was.”

There was silence for a few moments, and the stallion smiled a little before he asked mildly: “Are you sure you're not just saying that's how ugly you were?”

The polymorphed unicorn rolled her eyes, and then she said moodily: “I think when I'm free, when I'm powerful enough, I'm going to have you put in a collar and chains, and then I'm going to take my time experimenting on you and turning you into a monster.”

“Ain't you a ray of sunshine?” remarked a wry voice, and this was followed by several loud coughs as Antares smiled and turned, and Innocence looked up with a frown as Cowlick approached. She smiled at them around the cigarette in her mouth, then grimaced and coughed hard several more times into a hoof before spitting loudly to the side, and Innocence winced back at the large, bloody glob of phlegm that splattered down near her claw.

Antares frowned, sharp eyes looking up, but Cowlick only growled loudly at him, and the glossy-black unicorn gave a lame smile instead of saying anything, simply nodding and clearing his throat. There was an uncomfortable silence for a few moments, and then the earth pony gestured at a large pack over her back, saying tiredly: “I just made the trip in from Subterra so I could finish up the Mk. III in the comfort of my own lab. Sucks but I figure... what the hell. I'm gonna die soon anyway.”

The stallion softened, opening his mouth... then he grimaced and winced away when Cowlick simply flicked her cigarette at him, the mare cutting him off. “Shut the hell up. I am, and ain't nothing going to fix it.”

“Please. There's a hundred ways to fix whatever's wrong with you. You just don't have the tools or the strength to.” Sin said moodily, before her horn glowed, and Cowlick growled as magic sizzled lightly along her body. “Yes. Even Twilight could handle something like this. But I guess they don't think that you're worthy-”

Cowlick seized Innocence by her shoulders and yanked her in, the mare's claws and hooves leaving thin trenches through the ground as she stared in dumb surprise at the engineer's strength, before the mare leaned in and said icily: “You listen to me. They and plenty of others have offered plenty. But I don't need no favors. I'm old, I'm ready to go, and hey, it sucks that I ain't goin' to a big black void but instead Helheim. Before all this happened, I didn't really believe in any happily-ever-after anyway... at least not for me... and now that I know where I'm goin', it sucks. But I do not need help to hide like a coward from what's gonna happen to me no matter how I might try to run.”

There was silence for a moment, and then Cowlick shoved Innocence backwards, the polymorphed unicorn stumbling away before she snarled and rose her horn as it glowed brightly... but then she only swore and snapped her horn to the side, bad-temperedly blowing apart a mailbox instead of lashing out at the engineer, who was just glaring at her fearlessly.

“Thought so. Look at you, Sin, you used to be such a great, courageous little lady. Now you're nothing but a big bully and a big coward.” Cowlick said distastefully, and Innocence glared angrily across at the earth pony, but she gave the faintest tremble, the faintest flush as well. “You don't even have the balls to hit me, and I'm right in front of you.”

“I... I just don't want a swarm of demons and Antares to all gang up on me. Not to mention what'll happen to me back home... it'll ruin all the work I've done with Luna and Scrivener. That's all.” Innocence muttered, looking down, and Cowlick chuckled, earning another glare from the polymorphed unicorn. “What?”

Cowlick only shrugged, saying wryly: “Home is where the heart is, ain't it? And logic don't make you any less a coward, by the way. When Dash and I first met, I took him out for a few beers back before everyone got used to him being all... well, a him. Anyway, I was making fun of him. He wasn't being a good sport about it, made it even better. Then some morons came over and turned good old fun into assholery, and logic dictated that I let Dash get shoved out of the bar and I just keep drinking my damn drink.

“But reason makes a coward out of the best ponies. And I ain't either a reasonable pony or one of the best. So I pick up my bottle and smash it into the face of the nearest pony and well... that was how Dash and I became friends.” Cowlick shrugged a little and looked over at Innocence. “It was him and me against the goddamn world, but we kicked its ass. Then I got to meet his wife and I asked him whether or not that made him a lesbian. Moron finally laughed at that and started to loosen up.”

Antares smiled at this, but Innocence only rolled her eyes and looked away. She didn't say anything, at least, and Cowlick shrugged before saying moodily: “Well, that's my bit, anyway. You keep on being a dumb little pain in the ass if you really want to, I don't care much either way. Still, kid. You got a lot to learn, and a long way to go.”

“Hey, Cowlick.” The engineer paused in mid-turn, looking towards Antares, and the glossy-black stallion gave a brief smile. “Don't die too soon, okay? We need your help still.”

“Screw you, kid. I'll die when I'm ready. Not before or after.” Cowlick retorted, and then she coughed a few times before rubbing slowly at her pale face... but when she smiled, it was a real smile, and it wiped away the bags under her eyes and the tenseness in her features. “I'll see you punks later, okay? Don't you two go screwing with each other too much or anything.”

Both of the ponies watched as Cowlick turned and headed away, and then Antares glanced over at Sin and said softly: “Couldn't do it, huh?”

“I could. I could have easily. She just...” Innocence gritted her teeth and turned her head away, flushing slightly. It wasn't like anything she had expected. It wasn't like all the training she had done with Gymbr, where they had fought powerful enemies and sparred with his Fates but... she'd always won, and rarely did any opponent show so much... ferocity. So much confidence and determination. Was someone that, when weaker than her, didn't cower before her might...

She lowered her head and shivered a little, then muttered under her breath: “It's nothing. You know what? It's nothing, it's just... nothing. Let's just go see Celestia.”

Antares smiled and shrugged briefly, and there was silence for a few moments before the stallion turned and said: “Yeah. That sounds like a good idea. I'm pretty sure that if no one else can get it through your head that honor isn't weakness, she can.”

Innocence grumbled a little under her breath, then she nodded briefly and looked down with a quiet sigh. There was silence for a few moments as they walked down the busy road, and then Antares glanced down and said finally: “Do you remember when Monkshood brought up the idea of having all these streets paved, or at least cobblestone put down, and how angry Luna got? I mean, Móðer was not at all pleased. That's that whole 'change for the sake of change' thing I was talking about before.”

“I thought you said you weren't going to lecture me about this.” the polymorphed unicorn said moodily, and the glossy-black unicorn shrugged amiably.

“Ain't lecturing, as Avalon would say. Or growl, probably. She growls. I'm just pointing something out, that's all. I am asking your opinion on the merits of construction and roadwork.” Antares replied pleasantly, nodding seriously a few times, and the mare rolled her eyes.

She opened her mouth to spit a retort... and then both she and Antares stumbled to a stop and stared into the square in front of the library as the door in the tree-building flew open, and several terrified ponies fled outwards, followed by an angry Celestia. The ivory mare caught herself just before she could shout anything, her white locks swaying around her features before she bit her lip and only gave a frustrated growl, and then she spun around and strode moodily back into the library.

The two stared, and then Antares grinned slowly and turned his eyes towards Innocence, remarking with relish: “Oh, this is going to be fun. This is gonna be real fun. I can't wait to see Aunt Tia actually get mad at you and punch you across the room.”

“Her mane is still... but she hasn't lost her magic, has she?” Innocence asked, and the stallion blinked at the fact she almost sounded worried before she cleared her throat and added awkwardly: “It's... it doesn't matter to me either way, I just... I know that... it makes a pony a lot more unpredictable when they don't... when they aren't able to use magic anymore. And if she's lost her magic, I wouldn't be able to tap into her powers.”

“Right.” Antares said dryly, and then he shook his head before saying pointedly: “You know, even if we all know you're just trying to cover up whatever little fee-fees you might actually have, Aunt Tia might be cranky enough to take you seriously. So whether you really care about her or not, you might want to pretend that you do. Invest a few skill points in charm or lying or something.”

Innocence grumbled under her breath at this, then she looked crankily over at Antares... but to his surprise, actually gave a short nod. He nodded back, admittedly feeling a little relieved: the last thing he needed was for Innocence to end up smeared all over the library floor. Partly because he'd probably have to clean it up, and partly because he really didn't want to explain to his parents exactly why the mare was... well... a puddle, when they were trying to fix her. Not just violently beat her into submission. Technically they had already done that part.

He smiled despite himself as they headed towards the library, and Antares knocked twice before the door was pulled open and Discombobulation stuck his head out at them. He peered down at them thoughtfully, then turned and said mildly: “Tia, darling? It looks like Bart and Lisa are here. Except Lisa's evil and Bart's supposed to be smart instead of dumb. But I'm sure there's an episode that deals with that: they've had quite a few seasons since they started on that other show no one remembers anymore, after all. It must be nice to be able to come so far, the world forgets our humble beginnings.”

“Just bring them in, Bob.” Celestia said tiredly, and Discombobulation smiled over his shoulder as he stepped back, the two ponies entering and looking awkwardly past the Draconequus at Celestia.

The ivory mare was sitting with her face in her hooves, her eyes closed and her expression sullen. She glanced up as they approached, then gave a brief smile that curdled when one of her braids slipped forwards over her features, batting it grouchily out of the way.

Antares tilted his head towards her mildly, and Celestia shook her head briefly before she lowered it and murmured: “I apologize. My mood lately... I've been a little... crankier than usual, I suppose you could say. I feel... unpleasant.”

“You feel unpleasant, or you are unpleasant?” Antares asked pointedly, and Celestia looked at him for a few moments before she gave another brief smile and nodded.

She hesitated, then gestured with a front hoof at the door, saying finally: “Those ponies. Snips and Snails. Troublemakers, ever since they were foals. But they're not bad ponies, not really: Snips helps prepare a lot of raw materials and fabrics for Rarity, and Snails works with Fluttershy sometimes at the animal care center. But they're not very smart.”

Celestia paused, briefly considered the way she was talking about other ponies, then simply shrugged as he brushed her mane back and her horn glowed faintly, knotting and tightening several of her braids in what Antares recognized as a subconscious tic. “They were badgering me about books. And I could hear them whispering behind my back about my hair. For some reason, they thought it should be pink.”

“It should be. Everyone knows that this is so not-canon. Or fanon. Or whatever, these words are beyond even my comprehension.” Discombobulation waved a hand absently as he walked around the table, then he reached up to squeeze Celestia's shoulder gently, making her smile a little up at them. “I swear I didn't have anything to do with it. But if you force me to cross my heart and hope to die, I might not last long enough to stick a needle in my eye.”

The ivory mare sighed a little, and then Antares said slowly: “So you. Chased them out of the library for that?”

“No, I chased them out of the library because they didn't have library cards, and then Snails spilled my tea all over my book.” Celestia gestured at the table, then paused and looked a little embarrassed as she touched the book in question, next to an empty, clean cup. “Well. I suppose you can't really tell anymore. I just used magic to clean the mes up... which does make me feel a little bit sillier about everything, yes.”

Antares smiled amusedly and shook his head briefly, and Innocence studied the clean, organized table before she asked after a moment: “So your magic is fine? But... you yourself...”

“I haven't lost any of my power. I think... I've lost the blessing of the Sky Kingdom I visited very long ago because Hecate awoke something else in me. I've remembered a past... long before I visited the realm in the clouds and the Watcher of the World that once existed there...” She stopped and looked down, reaching up and touching her white locks as she murmured: “But that could just all be stupidity on my part, too. Except, honestly... I do feel more like Freya than I ever have before, except... in the heat of battle.”

Celestia tossed a smile towards Discombobulation, who cleared his throat and tugged at an invisible collar before he gestured pointedly at the top of the archway, where a large red squirrel was perched on a bust. “Hey. Not in front of the kid.”

The ivory mare shook her head, then she sat back and turned her attention back to Antares. “What can I help you two with? I'm glad to see you, but I'm... a little frazzled at the moment. Not in the best state to entertain at all.”

The glossy black unicorn shrugged and grinned a little, replying easily: “Hey, I think that's part of what makes this the best time of all to visit, if you don't mind me saying, Aunt Tia. And anyway, I wanted to show Innocence a little bit of how power isn't everything. I thought of you.”

To Sin's surprise – and admittedly, a little of Antares' as well – Celestia smiled before simply laughing openly, and even Discombobulation leaned a little away from her with a cock of his head, looking pointedly at her. But after a moment, she regained her composure, reaching up and covering her mouth as she murmured: “Excuse me. That would be... Freya coming out.

“I am, though, too. I am. Look at me, chasing foals. Chasing whatever makes me angry or excited at the time, like an errant puppy. All the power in the world, and a sly enemy would just wait until I distracted myself with something shiny before shooting me in the back of the head with an arrow or something equally pathetic.” Celestia replied calmly, and then she shook her head slowly and looked down with a faint smile. “Power isn't everything, Innocence. Not by a long shot.”

Innocence looked awkwardly up at Celestia, half-tempted to argue... but now here, after some time to take in her presence, she could feel the magic radiating off the ivory mare. More than that, she could feel something else beneath the raw power... something deep and ancient and powerful. Something that made her feel... humble.

She lowered her head and simply nodded, and Celestia nodded back, studying her before she leaned forwards as she became a bit more serious, saying quietly: “I hear that you've been treating Twilight Sparkle a little roughly, by the way. There are dozens of points I could make against treating her badly, and only a few of those are threats because of how much I care about her.”

Sin gave a weak grin, dropping her head a little: one thing she had learned with Gymbr was that she had to obey those who were more powerful than her. It was something that had been very literally beaten into her, as she'd started at the bottom of the ladder... then slowly begun to prove her worth, slowly increased her power as she'd conquered first guardians, then Fate after Fate after Fate, and then finally, Imago: perhaps not Gymbr's strongest, but who had always been Gymbr's most favored.

Celestia, though... it wasn't just the power she felt. It was her determination, it was the sense of something ancient, something that demanded respect emanating from her. Sin barely knew what to make of it: she had only felt something like this once before, during Gymbr's rare rages. “I... I will try and... I'll try and do better.”

“I appreciate that.” Celestia said softly, sitting back and studying Innocence for a few moments before she gave a brief smile as she turned her eyes towards Antares. “I think... this has something to do with whatever Hecate did to me. Whatever she channeled through me... I have to speak to her on this. And if you're truly interested in getting stronger, Innocence, you should as well.”

Antares frowned as Innocence looked up with interest, her eyes gleaming, and Celestia only smiled as she said softly: “But Hecate won't teach you anything for free, either. You'll have to pay a price... she'll likely want information on the Light, the Pious, and your own magic and abilities, Innocence. And she'll want your own power to help her rebuild her body.”

Innocence nodded quickly, smiling wider, and Antares slowly nodded, feeling both entertainment and a wry admiration at how skillfully Celestia could manipulate... not to mention how cruel she could be. Hecate certainly could teach Innocence some new, very scary magic... but the price she'd undoubtedly ask in return might help Sin understand better why she should value honor, and that sometimes, more power wasn't worth the cost it carried.

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