• Published 7th Sep 2013
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Glory Be - BlackRoseRaven

Luna and Scrivener struggle to set right all the wrongs from their past and save their family and friends. Tenth and final story in the Blooming Moon Chronicles/99 Worlds Saga.

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The Clock Winds Down

Chapter Forty One: The Clock Winds Down

The clock was ticking. It was the only sound apart from Cowlick's rough breaths in and out in this entire room. This private room... not at home, no. She would never do that to Ross: instead, she was in the place that had been most of her life; a place she had built from the ground up; a place that was her Heaven, and her Hell.

Cowlick looked silently around this dusty, empty office. This room had never been cleaned, never been used, because it had been special. The desk covered by a thick sheet was her old desk from Manehattan: those shelves covered in plastic she'd put together herself. The textbooks... all from her personal library. And yet she hadn't touched anything in this room since it had been put together. Since she had designed this office for her son, as a surprise for him. She had wanted to wait until after they'd destroyed Cancer, though, and... well, Rustproof had sacrificed himself long before that had been over and done with.

The mare closed her eyes. The last few days for her had been a blur, and hellish; her mind ached with visions of her lost child, draining the little sanity, the little will to live she had left. Her death party had been a screwed-up, sordid affair where she'd gotten drunk and mean, and she'd been taking too many pills. She missed her little colt. She missed having a body that didn't hurt all the goddamn time. She was in pain, and she had long overstayed her welcome here. She knew that now: she just wished... she could apologize to everypony she had hurt, and that she was going to hurt.

She hadn't told any ponies anything, really... except for Ross. Poor goddamn Ross... she had looked into his naïve but so-intelligent blue eyes, touched his still-handsome features, shared one last kiss with him before telling him gently that it was time for her to go to sleep, and she wouldn't be awake for a long, long time. And she lied to him, and told him that one day, he might go to sleep, and wake up beside her... but Horses of Heaven she hoped not. She hoped Ross went somewhere better. Somewhere better than Hell, better than Heaven, because what was Valhalla but another screwed-up layer of life-that-could-be-worse?

She looked down silently at the set of melted keys in one hoof... Rusty's keys. All she had left of him. She jangled them quietly, then squeezed them slowly before glancing up as the door opened, and Hecate floated calmly inside, levitating a box beside her.

The two looked at each other for a few moments, and then Hecate bit her lip before the head said finally: “You shouldn't do this.”

Cowlick smiled wryly, then she held her hoof out silently, and Hecate sighed before muttering: “Fine. I can finish my body on my own. I'm not an idiot, Cowlick, I know what's in this box-”

“Then you can tell Greece tomorrow what happened. Now get lost, Hecate. I want to finish this alone.” Cowlick replied roughly, and Hecate was silent for a moment before the head looked down with a grimace, shaking herself slowly as the case floated uneasily beside her.

“I don't understand this. I've chosen to live in spite of... everything. I know you've been offered help. Do you truly hate yourself this much?” Hecate asked contemptibly, and when Cowlick only smiled bitterly at her, the head sighed, then wrestled with itself visibly before saying finally: “I'll... take all your research notes, and-”

“Put them to use.” Cowlick said softly, and Hecate frowned before the earth pony gave a faint smile, then coughed a few times before rubbing slowly at her throat. She wasn't coughing as much anymore... but she also didn't have much lung left anymore. “In my wall safe, there's some schematics. All neatly filed and organized for you. Some ideas for your new body, since I saw the frame you were building, got an idea of what you're probably after... and a few weapon designs for you. There's also an electron sphere... fix up Lucy and put that thing in it. It won't give it as much a kick as I'm sure you did, but it'll do the trick.”

Hecate was silent, and then the head simply nodded before saying softly: “You're nothing but a rude slave hoof with too great an opinion of herself... but all the same, you were one of my favorite ponies here. I hope you survive Hell.”

“I got to. I gotta find my colt.” Cowlick smiled faintly, glancing up at the head before she said wryly: “Get out of here. I'd shake your hoof, but... since you don't got one, I'd rather you just leave so we don't have to make out or something stupid like that.”

Hecate gave a brief smile, then tossed the case into Cowlick, who grimaced but managed to awkwardly catch it, hugging it against her body. They looked at each other for a few moments, and then Hecate nodded slowly before she turned and floated out the door, her horn glowing to close it behind her without looking back.

Cowlick looked after the strange, strange mare that had been a business associate, a creative rival... and a friend, really. In a 'we hate each other' way, sure, but a friend all the same... and the earth pony took a slow breath before she silently looked down at the wooden case Hecate had brought her, stroking gently over the simple, polished oak before she smiled faintly as her hoof gently stroked along a few stickers on the top of the case.

Then she grimaced and leaned to the side, coughing heavily a few times, blood and spit flying from her mouth before she gasped and choked for a moment, clutching at her throat as tears welled up in her eyes before she snarled furiously and spat to the side, struggling for breath. She was dying, and not in a pretty way, a dignified way. And that was okay with her, because she was going to head off a slow, miserable decline with something that would be quicker, if rougher, perhaps... messier. But she thought it was only fitting to die the same way she'd always lived.

Cowlick silently sat back, breathing hard in and out before she rubbed her wrist convulsively at her lips, then she reached down, patting rapidly over her vest before finally seizing on a bottle of pills in one pocket. She yanked them free, staring down at the bottle, trembling for a few moments before she popped the broken cap off... then shook her head slowly and whispered: “Yeah. Time to go.”

She rose the bottle and knocked it back like she was drinking down a shot, then she flung it away as she crunched bitter pills between her teeth, watching as the rest of the bottle's contents sprayed out like foam. The foam of the sea she was descending into, as she breathed hard in and out, wiping convulsively at her lips as her body quaked but she forgot the pain for one brief moment...

Her hooves slid along the case, then opened it and grasped what was inside, lifting it free. She studied the weapon she lifted: it was like a miniature version of Luna's Kingmaker, designed to be held in a single hoof... in her hoof, as she flicked the cylinder open before lifting a single bullet out of the box, and let it topple away.

It clattered loudly against the ground, golden bullets flying in all directions, gleaming as they rolled along the floor, like motes, like pearls and treasure sliding to rest along the ocean floor. And she was sinking deeper and deeper into darkness as her trembling hooves forced the bullet into the chamber, before she cocked the hammer on the revolver, her breathing growing rougher as she turned the gun back and forth, a trembling smile spreading over her face as she whispered: “Live by the sword... die by it. Die by it, rough, risky, hard... no goddamn sure thing for you, Cowlick. No, die like you always goddamn lived...”

Cowlick spun the cylinder violently, breathing hard, staring out and seeing... the sea. The endless dark sea, so deep and beautiful and betraying, because there was a storm on the horizon... a storm of ice and cold and freezing death, and it was coming for her... coming to claim her now no matter what she did... so the only thing left to do was rise to meet it with as little fear as he could.

She rose the gun, felt it press against her temple, pulled the trigger; click.

She trembled, closing her eyes tightly even as she kept smiling, and pulled again; click.

She breathed harder, tears rolling down her cheeks, and the storm was coming; click.

She opened her mouth, opened her eyes, laughed weakly, and pulled the trig-

Luna and Scrivener were silent as they stood at the front of the small crowd gathered outside the little office where Cowlick had killed herself. Twilight Sparkle and Rainbow Dash were both crying, both trying to comfort each other, and the elderly Pegasus was leaning heavily on Applejack today, who stood with Apple Bloom, Avalon, and Big Mac; today, they were a family. Maybe tomorrow they would go back to all being wary of Applejack, but today they were a family.

The coroner had already determined suicide: not that it required anything more than a single glance to confirm, anyway. Especially not with how vocal Cowlick had been about her plans to... end everything, one way or another. Although they were all a little disturbed by the method she had chosen... even if part of Luna understood.

Antares and Prestige were near the back of the group with Tender Trust and her siblings, all of whom were murmuring quiet prayers for the deceased. Innocence was standing a little bit away, shifting uncomfortably, feeling... guilty. Especially when a voice murmured from the crowd: “She never said a thing... and I thought she wasn't going to until... you know...”

“Well, there's no note... but it wouldn't be like her to leave one, anyway. No apologies, no explanations... that was Cowlick.” replied Greece's voice quietly, and then he added, lower, but Innocence still able to hear: “Hecate must have known earlier, though, because she was already taking things out of Cowlick's safe when I stopped in there this morning...”

“Excuse us.” Luna muttered, and the sapphire mare growled as she turned around and headed quickly through the crowd and down the hallway, the starry-maned winged unicorn shaking her head in disgust as she muttered: “Damnation, Scrivy. The wicked witch cannot even wait until Cowlick's corpse is cold before she ransacks her treasures... pathetic, carrion-eating scavenger...”

Scrivener only grunted in agreement, his own eyes dark as the two ponies strode quickly down the corridor, neither noticing Innocence hesitantly following along behind them. The two plus one made their way through the building and down a level into the research laboratories, and neither were surprised to hear there was at least one soul here, working away in spite of what had happened upstairs.

They found Hecate perched on her little buggy, thin mechanical arms sticking out of the sides of this machine and carefully piecing and welding together some kind of metal frame, as Hecate's horn glowed brightly and powered the device with magic. As she welded and fit metal together, she studied several blueprints floating around her head, muttering without looking up: “I'm busy.”

Luna responded to this by childishly walking up and flipping Hecate's buggy onto its side, the head wincing in surprise as her papers fell around her and the mechanical arms flailed uselessly as the torch on one sputtered out. Then the head gave a long, slow sigh before saying moodily: “Boo hoo, I'm so sad that the pony who was going to die in less than a week shot herself in the face.”

Luna took a slow breath, then carefully righted Hecate's cart, and the head began to smile... and then the winged unicorn's hoof smashed into her sallow face with so much force it knocked her loose from the buggy, eyes bulging as she flew across the room to bounce like a rubber ball along the floor in a stream of cables and electric mane.

She finally hit the back wall and bounced off this to come down straight on her face with a splat, groaning in frustration before looking blearily up as Luna growled in disgust: “Do not forget, foul, ungrateful, wretched monster... thou art at my mercy here. And I shan't hesitate to make thee experience at least some of the pain thou well deserves, if I think it may make thee finally begin to consider others apart from thine own accursed self!”

Hecate only laughed sourly at this, and then she shook her head slowly as best she could from where she was laying on the ground, looking up moodily at Luna as he said flatly: “I don't care about anything or anyone apart from myself, Brynhild. But you're not going to get rid of me, because now that Cowlick's gone, I'm the only pony around who has intimate knowledge of Clockwork technology.”

“Not entirely. Apple Bloom knows her way around, and there are always the Nibelung, too.” Scrivener said moodily, and Hecate gave a sour smile at this.

“Yes, dwarves. Trust the dwarves. It's not like the Nibelung have agendas and codes of their own to follow.” Hecate replied sourly, and then she grimaced and attempted to roll herself up onto her neck cap, but only succeeded in awkwardly flopping her head forwards a little. “You truly are nothing but idiots if you think this is all going to be without cost.”

“Thou art truly an idiot if thou art... anything.” Luna growled, and then she flicked her soulstone horn, and Hecate scowled as she was lifted by Luna's telekinetic grip and dragged through the air to hover in front of the sapphire mare, the two glaring furiously at each other.

Then they both looked back at almost the same time as Innocence leaned awkwardly into the doorway, and Scrivener winced a little as he asked quietly: “Sin. What are you doing here? It's... well, actually, maybe we should all just... head somewhere a little... not here.”

“You're right, Scrivener Blooms. You and your whores should leave so I can work.” Hecate smiled icily as Luna snarled and Scrivener's eyes narrowed slightly. “She's your daughter, yes? And like mother, like daughter, isn't that-”

Luna firmly flung Hecate at the ground, the head squawking as Luna bounced her violently several times like a basketball before punting her through the air. The head thudded into a wall and fell almost straight down to land with a fleshy thud and a dizzy groan. “Yes, like mother, like daughter. I am her Móðer, Hecate and I am proud of her... Twilight is proud of her, and for all of Innocence's barbs 'tis Twilight whom I see in her most! And she is no... flesh mistress!”

“Yes, more like just a flesh puppet.” Hecate muttered, but she sounded sulky and beaten, and Luna only growled grouchily in the direction of the head before Hecate sighed tiredly and said sourly: “Fine. Perhaps we're all... sensitive right now. Why don't you do us all a favor and just leave?”

The sapphire mare grumbled under her breath, then she turned around to look at Innocence, who was frowning uneasily as she looked up at Luna, unable to stop herself from saying: “I'm nothing like Twilight Sparkle. I'm a lot more like you, Mutt, and like Daddy...”

Luna smiled wryly at this, shaking her head slowly before she said softly: “Nay, Innocence. For I am stupid, and so is Scrivy. And thou art anything but that: thou remembered how to form runes off the top of thy head, and thou art gifted, and intelligent, and strong. I imagine thou must be like a young Twilight, if Twilight had only possessed... a little more confidence, and been a little more brash.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Innocence smiled faintly and shook her head slowly, unable to stop herself from arguing quietly: “I have more darkness in my heart than Twilight Sparkle ever will.”

But at this, Luna shook her head slowly, leaning down and saying softly: “Nay. Thou may not understand it now... but for all that the tenderness and compassion Twilight possesses, how bright her skies are... there is great, great darkness inside her as well. 'Tis only kept hidden, and repressed, and in a place where few will ever see it. And that is how things should be.”

Innocence frowned uncertainly, tilting her head, but then Scrivener strode forwards and said softly: “Hecate's right about one thing, though. We should get out of here and... leave her to whatever she's doing.” Scrivener grimaced a bit over his shoulder as the head moodily picked herself up, then flung herself forwards with telekinesis... and with a roll of her eyes but not a glance over her shoulder, Luna's horn glowed brightly and caught Hecate's head before she could smack back down to the ground, the nasty version of Celestia wincing in surprise before she was almost-gently floated back to her buggy and dropped down on top of it. “Please don't... take dead people's stuff next time.”

“I'm glad you think I'll be around long enough to watch more of your friends die. But insulted you think I'd be interested in helping myself to their things. Cowlick's designs are a little different than some hoof-full of bits or material waste.” Hecate muttered, shaking her head with a look of distaste as she carefully righted herself, then gave a thin smile as her neck-cap clicked into place in the buggy and it fizzled a little. “There. Now get lost.”

Hecate turned her attention back to whatever she was working on, and Luna huffed grouchily before muttering: “Accursed witch.”

With that, the sapphire mare turned and strode out of the door, and Scrivener shrugged briefly before he turned to follow as well. Innocence lingered for a moment, silently studying Hecate as she picked up the fallen blueprints, and then the polymorphed unicorn shook her head before turning and following her parents out. Part of her wanted to approach the head, question her, speak to her more about the subject of power and what she could learn from her... but she figured that now might not be the best of time for that.

They silently made their way through the mostly-empty, shut-down building, making their way out a side exit and into a narrow alley that smelled of smoke and was littered with cigarette butts. Luna and Scrivener both looked down silently for a few moments, thinking of Cowlick; thinking of how she had taken her life, before Scrivener looked up, and the sapphire mare heard his thoughts as clearly as she did her own. She must have hated herself.

Luna simply gave a brief smile, lowering her head forwards and nodding silently after a moment, and then both ponies sighed before Innocence looked up uncomfortably and asked: “Can we... I'd really like to train with you two.”

“But you have to promise us that tonight you'll read at least two chapters of the theory book with Twilight.” Scrivener replied with a pointed look down at Innocence, and the mare sighed tiredly before she grumpily nodded, the stallion smiling at this. “Good. Thaumaturgy?”

Innocence brightened immediately, nodding firmly a few times, and the two ponies traded looks before Luna said finally: “Then go and find us a spot along the forest path where we may practice. Scrivy and I must speak to Twilight Sparkle and ensure our friends are faring as best as possible before we join thee and train.”

The polymorphed unicorn nodded... then hesitated for a brief moment before she turned and hurried off. But they both thought the hesitation was good... it was maybe a step forwards, breaking through the sociopathic tendencies that had been ingrained into Innocence.

Training wasn't anything either pony wanted to do right now. But their daughter was... right, in a strange sense. They had to keep their lives going, they had to keep themselves moving, and take on some kind of normalcy. For not just their own sake, but everyone else's... yet all the same, Luna shuddered and sighed quietly, murmuring: “'Tis very difficult, Scrivy.”

“'Tis.” Scrivener echoed after a moment, and then he shivered a little as he reached up and touched his head. Cowlick's corpse had been thoughtfully covered, but all the same... “What about her funeral? Do you think...”

“I am sure Twilight will wish to help Rainbow Dash as much as possible... I am not sure whether Ross will... should... be there or not.” Luna smiled briefly, glancing over at Scrivener Blooms. “I realize now how... how little we ever knew about Cowlick. We do not know if any of her family is still alive, who her associates in Manehattan were... anything apart from that mare she has mentioned now and again, Narcissa.”

“And we know she didn't like her... I guess... we'll just have to hope there's specific instructions in her...” Scrivener fell silent, then he reached up and rubbed at his throat slowly before glancing up and asking quietly: “Do you think we'll ever see her again?”

Luna was silent for a moment, and then she closed her eyes and murmured: “Perhaps, when we pass on ourselves, Scrivy. Twilight Sparkle may yet find Heaven but I fear that we... we deserve Hell.”

Scrivener Blooms grunted, and then both ponies winced at a sharp shock of static through their heads, feeling Twilight's violent reaction to Luna's words, and the stallion quickly looked up and said lamely: “Hey, it wasn't me, it was Luna.”

“Coward! Tattletale!” Luna exclaimed, and then she swung a hoof at the stallion, but he winced and swung a Talon up, narrowly catching her hoof. The two gritted their teeth, forelimbs flexing as they tested one-another's strength, and then the sapphire mare cursed and yanked her foreleg back, glaring daggers at the stallion as he glowered moodily back at her. “Thou art a blamer. A blame-maker. A blame-shifter. Well, shall we discuss the time I caught thee putting on Twilight's undergarments?”

“No. Because you forced me into those undergarments because you insisted on setting up that... pole.” Scrivener shuddered as memories he'd rather forget surfaced, and then he said moodily: “Cowlick just died. Try and be a little respectful.”

“Cowlick would not want us to be respectful. Cowlick would want us to get drunk and take medication for not-intended purposes and... I do not know. Drive fast vehicles.” Luna paused, then softened a little as she looked out down the alley, saying quietly: “We should do something to honor her memory, Scrivy, but I do not know what is fitting. I do not know what she'd truly want.”

“She wanted us to be safe, and to be happy. And she wanted us to spill a little blood, because... that's just the kind of pony she was.” Scrivener smiled a little, looking down and shaking his head briefly. “She wasn't a bad pony. But she wasn't your average pony by a long shot, either.”

Luna nodded a few times, and they both looked down before the stallion said softly: “And she did love Ross. No one could ever doubt that... she was probably the only pony who treated him like an equal a hundred percent of the time. Well... almost, anyway. I don't know if... at the end...”

“No. If thou wert dying, Scrivy... I may act the harsh mistress, the uncuttable Valkyrie... but I remember when thou wert sick, I greatly preferred to think of thee as...” Luna halted, then laughed quietly. “Nay. I could not even stomach the thought that thou might not... survive. That is how badly it hurt me so, Scrivy. And that is precisely why...”

She stopped, then looked over at him with a faint smile. “'Twas only cruel to Ross... 'twas only a lie, if he did not understand. And Cowlick said that somewhere inside... Ross understood. Aye, we... we must invite him to the funeral. We shall tell him that she sleeps now, but this is his last chance to tell her goodnight, and how much he loves her, before... well, I do not have the rest of the words, but I am sure thou shall think of something.”

“Alright. I think that's a good idea.” Scrivener said softly after a moment, giving a small smile, and the two looked at each other before they both lowered their heads, the charcoal stallion adding quietly: “I just hope... we don't screw things up.”

“Cowlick would not mind.” Luna said softly, and the two traded faint smiles again before she held a hoof out, and Scrivener reached up a Talon and gently took it, squeezing it tenderly, stroking his thumb-claw along the edge of her ankle. “Damn everything, Scrivener Blooms.”

The stallion grunted and nodded, murmuring in reply: “Damn everything, Luna Brynhild.”

They stood for a few moments in quiet in the back alley, before both ponies looked up as puffy-eyed Twilight pushed through the door, rubbing slowly at the trails of red tinged tears. Both Luna and Scrivener stepped forwards and embraced the Lich from either side, and the violet mare clenched her eyes shut before dropping her head forwards, whispering: “She... she's gone.”

“Aye.” Luna nodded as she and Scrivener slipped back, both ponies grasping one of the Lich's shoulders, and the violet mare looked back and forth as her lip trembled before she stumbled forwards and hugged them both fiercely around the neck, dropping her head between them and breaking down into quiet sobs. They could feel bitterness, selfishness, regret coming from her... mixing both beautifully and blackly with sorrow for Cowlick, and what the engineer had been driven to.

After a few minutes, however, Twilight regained control of herself, straightening and shaking herself out as she mumbled: “I... I'm sorry. It's just... it reminds me that not everyone... it makes me think about how Applejack died, and even if she came back, that was a complete fluke. If... when... the others die... we might not be so lucky. And Cowlick... Cowlick's... gone. There's no way Hel is going to give up her soul... is there?”

“No. And I would not dare to ask, Twilight Sparkle. Even asking such a question could have terrible consequences.” Luna said softly, shaking her head briefly before she turned her eyes towards Scrivener Blooms. “But we should make our way out to see Sin, and... train with her. 'Twill not be very fun, but it may be... a step towards resuming daily life. Cowlick would not want us to sit and weep over her, after all...”

Twilight nodded and rubbed at her eyes quietly, then she sighed a little and lowered her head, murmuring: “I know that's right, but... it doesn't make anything any easier at the same time. I already miss her... how... how forceful she was. How it seemed like even after she got so sick... nothing and no one could stop her. I... I always admired her. For so many different reasons.”

Luna nodded in silent agreement, then she gave a faint smile and shook her head briefly. “Aye, I did as well... she was truly fearless. Truly strong. Truly a friend to us as well, and worked for our benefit until the very end. And that is what we must remember and strive to honor.”

Twilight nodded, then she slipped back a step and looked up hesitantly, asking after a moment: “Do... do you think Sin understands what's going on at all? Or is she like... like a foal that's not old enough to... to grasp what happened? Or did Gymbr change her so much that she just... she doesn't...”

“She cares, Twilight Sparkle. I do not think she would have seemed so uncomfortable if she did not care. She has a great depth of empathy inside her... 'tis... 'tis just difficult to see it sometimes.” Luna said soothingly, and the Lich nodded hesitantly after a few moments, giving a small smile up to the winged unicorn she loved and trusted so dearly. “Please look after Rainbow Dash and the others here, Twilight. Thou wert always a good friend to them all, and... thou must not let Rainbow attempt to take all the burden of managing Cowlick's affairs onto himself. His loyalty can be a crux at times; especially when he knew her best and longest.”

Twilight nodded a little, then she licked her lips slowly before murmuring: “I wish... Pinkamena was here. She'd know what to do... and she and Dash are close, too. She'd... she'd keep us all moving, too, by berating us and shoving at us and just... making us move forwards whether we wanted to or not. She was good at that. That's... what we need right now.”

“Well, I can do that, Twilight Sparkle. I am giving thee all manner of orders at the moment right now, am I not? 'Tis close enough for the moment.” Luna replied softly, and the Lich laughed a little as she glanced up quietly before Luna leaned forwards and kissed beneath the mare's horn gently. “Do not fear, Twilight Sparkle. All shall be well.”

“I hope so.” Twilight said softly, and then she smiled a little when Scrivener reached up and gently stroked the Lich's face, giving her a supportive smile as she rested her cheek into his Talon for a moment, their eyes locking and emotions whispering back and forth. Then the Lich watched almost longingly as Luna and Scrivener turned away, half-wanting to call them back for a thousand different reasons... but resisting the urge to, knowing she had to deal with this on her own, she had to not be selfish... and that they all had their own burdens to deal with during this trying time.

Luna and Scrivener strode out of the alley and in front of the engineering building, and both looked with surprise at the crowd that had gathered: Cowlick, after all, hadn't exactly been the most popular mare in Ponyville. She spent ninety percent of her time cooped up in the engineering lab, and most of the rest of the time drinking, drugging-up, and shooting things. And all with a healthy dose of verbal abuse in the mix for good measure.

Then Luna scowled as she realized many of these ponies had cameras, while others were wearing suits and didn't look as upset as they did irritated. The winged unicorn narrowed her eyes as she approached the group, and Scrivy winced a bit but followed behind her as he smelled the stale stench of bureaucracy long before Luna asked the nearest pony in a suit: “Art thou a lawyer? Thou has the look of a lawyer.”

“Yes.” The earth pony glanced at Luna, then he did a double-take, but hurriedly regained his composure, trying to look nonchalant as he asked calmly: “Do you know when this facility will be open for business? I have an order to serve on behalf of Hellhorse.”

“Good luck. I'm here on behalf of HMH Holdings. As most of this technology is reverse engineered from the designs of the company I represent, you're wasting your time.” said another lawyer, and then he gave a wry grin. “Unless you're just here for the show and the money.”

“Hey, you guys fight it out as long as you want. I'm getting eighty bits an hour just to serve a letter. Of course, my boss is getting something like a hundred, and he's just sitting back at home. But I guess it looks more impressive when you show up yourself.” blandly stated a pony in a courier's uniform, before another pony – clearly another lawyer – chuckled quietly.

“Server's fee. Five hundred bits for the first hour. Three hundred for each additional hour. A 'good faith' service charge for being present to present the letter myself. Seven hundred and fifty bits an hour for my company's services if and when we go to court with the rest of you over ownership rights.” said the silver-maned unicorn, and one of the other lawyers whistled, looking unperturbed. “Manehattan Defense Systems. We have a thin claim from when a government and semi-public weapons lab merged with us to form the present company. Kilby Kwolek was an employee there for quite some time, and it was recently discovered that she was never officially terminated, nor did she quit. Under her contract, any designs she made can be claimed by us.”

“I'll look forwards to seeing you in court, then. Well, my boss will. Sounds like we're all going to make a lot of money.” noted one of the lawyers, and another one shrugged as he reached into his coat, pulling out a pocketwatch to study it with boredom.

“Yeah, but it's whichever one of us wins that takes home the big prize. And no offense to any of you, but that's going to be me.” said this stallion dryly, and then he sighed and glared at the double doors, shouting at one of the camera-toting ponies near the front: “Hey, you, knock on it! Tell them to open up, I have a deposition in Canterlot in an hour!”

“All of Cowlick's ideas were her own property. They will be passed to her husband and her friends, whatever has been stated in her will.” Luna said stiffly, and this drew a variety of looks from the crowd before she narrowed her eyes at them. “How did any of thee even hear that she had already... that she was...”

The lawyers only smiled to each other, looking pleased with themselves, and one of the reporters said almost defensively: “Kilby Kwolek was known throughout Equestria as a dangerous weapons designer, responsible for the creation of guns that have taken hundreds, if not thousands of lives! The public has a right to know about her death!”

Another reporter suddenly turned, the Pegasus flapping his wings to launch over the crowd and snap a picture of Luna and Scrivener, making them both wince before he asked eagerly: “Did you know her well? Is it true that she committed suicide with one of her own weapons? Can we see the body?”

Luna's eyes widened, then blazed with fury as she snarled and her horn glowed, shouting furiously: but if she said any coherent words, it was lost in the blaze of lightning that shot down from the sky, driving the crowd of ponies into panic before she charged angrily straight at them, the herd of reporters and lawyers turning and bolting as more streaks of lightning shot down from the sky around the and Luna roared furiously: “Out, out, out of my Ponyville, out of this sanctuary, and never return! Damned scum and filth and rot, get thee hence back to thy kingdoms of dung and never return here to my sacred home, get out, get out, get thee gone!”

Luna – with Scrivener lagging behind with his head lowered tiredly, but a faint sense of both anger and justice thrumming in his veins – chased the herd of ponies all the way down the street to an intersection, where they hurriedly scattered in all directions. The sapphire mare huffed angrily, her soulstone horn pulsing slowly as Scrivener Blooms strode up beside her, then he kissed her cheek gently and said softly: “I think Cowlick would have liked that.”

There was silence for a moment, and then Luna closed her eyes and smiled faintly, dropping her head as she murmured: “Aye. She would have, would she not? Then... perhaps I should thank these idiot curs for giving me a moment to honor her memory, and the chance to fight for her, one last time. Perhaps it shan't stop the gears of bureaucracy and greed from attempting to grind down the engineer's memory... but all the same, I think they shall at least think twice before daring to intrude into our sanctuary again, our beloved kingdom of Ponyville.”

“I've always loved how you refer to everything as your kingdom. You're not a king, you know.” Scrivener said mildly, and then Luna grinned over at him as she straightened, breathing slowly and feeling a hundred times better as she met his eyes warmly.

“Nay, I am so. I am a mighty King, amongst all stallions.” Luna said proudly, reaching up and touching her chest before she winked over at the charcoal pony. “I am in possession of a most mighty battering ram, am I not?”

“Just stay away from my closed gates.” Scrivener said mildly, and Luna giggled for a moment... then threw back her head and laughed, and with laughter, came a relief, a release, a feeling that in spite of what they had lost... they still had plenty to be thankful for, and that there would always be some good to be found in this wide, wild world.

Scrivener smiled as well, unable to help himself, relieved by the mare's happiness as he felt her whirlwind emotions changing, strengthening like they always did: her moodiness was sometimes one of the things he hated most about her, but at the same time, it was something he adored. He always seemed to be at the same level of vaguely-nihilistic cynicism... Luna could be in despair one moment, and in delight the next.

They looked at each other for a few moments once the mare's laughter faded, and then Luna finally nodded to him before leaning forwards and nuzzling him quickly. He smiled at her, reaching up to run his Talons through her ephemeral locks, and her eyes slipped close as iridescent mane flowed like water around his digits before she said softly: “Come beetle. We've been keeping our daughter waiting. We should go to her and... make the very best of things that we can.”

The charcoal stallion nodded after a moment, and the two studied each other again for a few moments before they traded a soft, quick kiss. Then they both turned to stride down the road side-by-side, their heads raised, smiles on their faces as they made their way towards the gates leading out of town and onto the road that led into the Everfree Forest.

But both ponies became a little more somber as they looked back and forth, seeing how the news of what had happened was spreading. Maybe a lot of ponies hadn't liked Cowlick... but they were both beginning to realize that all the same, a lot of ponies had respected her, and for good reason. Cowlick had been the reason they had been able to keep so many enemies at bay, after all; Cowlick had been a large part of what had kept Ponyville safe, and helped put the town on the map, industry-wise. It was Cowlick's facility that had provided a lot of jobs, and Cowlick who had been responsible for a lot of the technologies shipped in and out of Ponyville, making lives easier for everyone.

The Nibelung at the gates had their heads bowed, standing still, hands behind their backs: they were mourning, in their strange way, for the mare that had passed on. But Cowlick had been one of the few ponies glad to employ the dwarves, and had reached out to more than just the architects: after all, who knew how many Nibelung workers were from the dwarven lower-classes that had thought they were destined for nothing but moving dirt around and living short lies as expendable soldiers? Cowlick had changed all that by giving them a home, training them to pursue long-lost crafts... she had given them hope, and a chance at a better tomorrow.

Scrivener Blooms and Luna Brynhild strode side-by-side out towards the Everfree Forest, and both ponies looked towards the animal care center as they passed it: it looked like Nirvana was on duty with Fluttershy, but the Pegasus seemed a little off-kilter today, a little upset. Then again, even if Apple Bloom was responsible for a lot of the repairs and upgrades on the building and it surrounding area... Cowlick again. Just like the walls around Ponyville, and... everything else.

Luna shook her head briefly, and Scrivener hesitated before he looked over at the sapphire mare, saying after a moment: “So one of those guys... said he was from HMH Holdings. But that's... well, technically he's saying Helios Mutual Holdings Holdings, right?”

“Shut up, Scrivy.” Luna said gently, and the charcoal earth pony gave her a lame smile before the sapphire mare frowned a little, looking ahead and muttering: “Although aye, thou art correct, but they did not all seem intelligent insomuch as... self-assured and sleazy. I did not like them, Scrivy. Any more than I enjoy the fact I only managed to set one of them on fire.”

“You'll do better next time, dear. Besides, we're trying not to kill innocent ponies, remember? Even when they're jerks.” Scrivener said delicately, and Luna huffed.

“There is no such thing as an 'innocent' pony.” the sapphire mare grumbled, and then she shook her head briefly before muttering: “Buzzards. Of course the cowards wait until she is dead before they try and make their move. Cowlick would have done far worse to them than I.”

The stallion grunted in agreement, nodding a little before he nudged her gently with his shoulder, saying softly: “Well, don't worry, Luna. All-in-all, I think you still did pretty damn good.”

“Thou art my husband. Thou has to be supportive. Fie on thee, thy words are nothing but pleasant nothings. I shan't believe a single thing thou says on the subject.” Luna paused, then looked meditatively over at Scrivener Blooms before poking at him lightly with her soulstone horn, making him wince and shove at her absently. “But thou should still tell me more about how well I have done and further extol my greatness. There is much greatness to be extolled, after all.”

“I should start with how modest you are.” Scrivener said dryly, and Luna nodded seriously a few times before the charcoal stallion sighed tiredly, but smiled a little all the same at the mare. “Have I ever told you that I wish I married Twilight first?”

“Have I ever told thee I wish the same?” Luna shot back, then she furrowed her brow and added awkwardly: “For... myself, I mean, that I had married Twilight first and not... thee. Thou... thou art stupid. And fat. And a buttocks.”

Scrivener Blooms sighed a little, but he was smiling in spite of everything, gazing with entertainment over at the sapphire mare as he shook his head slowly. Luna only huffed at him again, then she leaned forwards and bopped him lightly with her horn, making the stallion wince only a little before the mare said mildly: “'Tis very fortunate the foals take after me. But 'tis no real surprise, as they are intelligent and not silly like thou art.”

“Hey, you said yourself that Innocence takes after Twilight.” Scrivener pointed out, and Luna nodded thoughtfully a few times before the charcoal earth pony softened as they entered the forest, adding quietly: “And you know, it's funny how right you are about that. I mean... there's similarities. They're weird and you gotta look hard for them, but they're there.”

“Such as how Twilight may be a good leader, but she seems to enjoy when instead we are the ones in the lead, giving her direction and guidance.” Luna smiled wryly and shook her head slowly, murmuring: “A unicorn of spectacular power and prowess, and a Lich... and still she looks up to us and Celestia as if the old days had never faded into memory. 'Tis wonderful, but at the same time... I wish she would try and lead more, not just follow.”

Scrivener smiled a little, shrugging a bit and saying softly: “She likes to organize things, and keep everything moving behind the scenes, but not headline. You're a headliner, Luna. You like to show off and kick things in the face and yell and complain until you get your way. Me, I just let you do your thing, shrug along with most stuff, and bitch and moan and refuse to do anything when I really want something in particular.”

“Aye, 'tis most annoying.” Luna said agreeably, and Scrivener Blooms rolled his eyes before the sapphire mare shook her head, then halted and looked down curiously at a smear of black goo on the trail, reaching out and touching it gently. “'Tis from Innocence's powers... strange, what is it doing here? I do not sense her nearby...”

Scrivener frowned a little, then he stepped forwards and touched the corruption himself, and he felt it resist only for a moment before the almost-alive black goo suddenly became... docile, servile to him. He grimaced a little, feeling a little awkward like he always did: he didn't know why the corruption was always so willing to obey him, even though there were things Sin could do with her so-called 'Panacea' that he could only dream of.

The stallion closed his eyes and breathed slowly in and out, concentrating on the poison... before a shiver ran through his body as he muttered: “Her emotions were a little... turbulent. She didn't mean to create this... but she was angry, and upset about... something. I can't read that deeply into it...”

Luna nodded uneasily, looking back and forth before asking slowly: “Can thou tell if she was hurt? Or was it just...”

The stallion bit his lip, closing his eyes... and then he winced a little, rearing back as he felt the corruption almost speak to him, an image flashing through his mind. “It was just lashing out, yeah. And I can feel it... yeah. She's a little way ahead. There's a whole lot more corruption, and it's... broadcasting her emotions. I can almost tune in to it...”

Luna looked curiously at Scrivener Blooms, and the stallion looked back at her before he made a face and shook his head hurriedly, saying sourly: “Hell no, Luna. I'm not about to go spying on our daughter. I don't care if she might be secretly plotting to kill us, she deserves privacy at least in her own mind. We're not Gymbr.”

“Gymbr would not spy upon her mind. He would simply appear before her and torment her until he got what he desired. Or perhaps an order would be all that would have been required.” Luna scowled a little, then she shook her head briefly when Scrivener Blooms gave her an awkward look. “I am fine, I am fine, simply... simply aggravated, that is all. Damnation, Scrivy.”

She stopped, then hesitated to speak, looking over at the stallion even as they started forwards again before she asked quietly: “Does thou think that perhaps... this has something to do with Cowlick? I know, I know, it makes little sense but... the other night, perhaps they passed on the path. And Innocence is no masterful manipulator but she at least usually has some control over her emotions, or does better at hiding her spats of anger from us. With what has happened and how eager Innocence has been to get away, I cannot help but think...”

“I don't know. I don't know if I want to know.” Scrivener said truthfully, and the sapphire winged unicorn grunted and nodded, looking down meditatively. There was silence for a few moments, and then the two traded awkward look before the charcoal stallion finally shrugged and sighed a little. “It could be, I guess. Again, though... I'm not about to spy on her. We can just... ask her, I guess, if she seems... off at all when we talk to her.”

Luna grunted in agreement, nodding firmly a few times before they both fell into quiet as they continued along: but in their minds, they traded thoughts and images back and forth, both frowning a little as they strode onwards towards their goal; their daughter. The two ponies were unsure of precisely what they might find or what could be troubling her, but both had more than just a promise to keep to her: they were worried about her, and about what this could mean.

After all, it seemed like if they really wanted to help Innocence... if they really wanted to get her to heal... they were going to have to reopen old wounds, and make the mare re-experience as many bad emotions as she would good ones: in order to learn to trust, she was going to have to understand how Gymbr had betrayed her. If she was going to learn she was safe, she would have to understand that her current behaviors were too often leading her into danger. If they wanted her to learn to be compassionate again... then she was going to have to feel pain for those ponies who were suffering themselves.

Scrivener and Luna traded looks again, and faint smiles: you couldn't have darkness without light, or right without wrong. Life, the entire universe, was about balance: that was why they had been forced to take down Gymbr, and why they would next have to conquer this Light. Extremes would lead to nothing but the scales tipping over, and if the scales fell too heavily to either side, all that would result... was destruction.

They reached Innocence after only a few more minutes: she had cut off down a little side trail from the main path, but left clear tracks behind her, and a few claw marks on the trees. That meant she was truly frustrated or upset about something, and Scrivener halted to study one of these marks uneasily, noting that there were black stains in them. Little droplets of poison and infection... she wasn't even keeping her powers under control that well right now.

Something that became all the clearer when they entered the field she was in... or rather, the bog. Innocence hadn't just transformed the area around her into mire, however, she had transformed the trees all around the edge of the field, and she was half-clutching, half-sprawled over a boulder that had turned entirely to black crystal from her powers. Her body trembled a little, and Luna softened at the sight of her daughter as she and Scrivener stepped into the mire.

And as always, the moment Scrivener touched the dark goo, he felt it ripple beneath his hooves and Talons... then change, as if fawning over him, as if abandoning Sin and choosing him as master instead. Thankfully, Sin didn't seem to notice, not even looking up until he asked: “What's wrong, Sin?”

She jumped, startled by the sound of her father's voice as she spun around, then attempted to force a smile to him, whispering: “N-Nothing. I was just... sleeping.”

That was an even worse lie than Sin's usual lines about 'oh, just thinking,' or 'I was just admiring you.' Luna and Scrivener both looked at the mare curiously, and Sin looked uncomfortably back and forth before she silently lowered her head and murmured, trembling faintly: “I... I just can't stop thinking about... Cowlick. She... I mean... I don't know why, she shouldn't matter to me, she shouldn't matter, but I feel...”

She swallowed back the word 'guilty,' instead looking up and whispering: “Bad.”

Scrivener and Luna traded looks, both ponies softening visibly, and then the sapphire mare said quietly: “Aye. And that is perfectly alright. Nay, it's not pleasant, but it is alright, Sin... and thou should not be ashamed of this, nor fight these feelings.”

Innocence only shook her head, looking down and reaching up a trembling claw to grasp her features before she stared up at her parents, her eyes filling with tears. She didn't understand the guilt wracking her, or the emotional pain running through her body. She didn't understand why she kept failing to try and put all her plans in motion, and just kept settling contentedly in with her... her family. And she hated, most of all, this feeling that she was... she was utterly helpless to do anything except play this role she didn't want to but she found so goddamn comforting at the same time...

“Mutt... D-Daddy...” Innocence trembled, and then she ran forwards, and Scrivener and Luna caught her. They caught her, and they held her close, and they made her safe, and they comforted her. And for a little while, all she could do was cry, held tight in their embrace, both loving and hating how they made her feel as part of her screamed for more power, and the other part whimpered and begged and pleaded to remain safe here, forever, to serve her parents, to make them happy... to be their good little filly again...

For now, she did her best to block everything else except the safety and the sanctity she felt in her parents' embrace. She closed her eyes, breathed uneasily in and out, and trembled a bit as she silently wished that everything could be easier... that she could have both her family and all the power she desired, and she wouldn't be forced to choose between one or the other.

Little-by-little, she felt herself calming down: her emotions were coming back under control, and she smiled faintly, feeling the faintest tinge of embarrassment run through her system... but almost all of that was overwhelmed by a mixture of relief and gratitude. She blushed a little, nestling herself further, closer in against her parents as she breathed slowly in and out, then she murmured quietly: “I'm... I'm okay. I'm sorry. I don't want you to worry about me, I'm just... I'm upset. We never... cared about each other...”

It was a weak deflection, but Luna and Scrivener both smiled down at her, nodding slowly and clearly believing that she was telling the truth. She felt a strange kind of relief at this, mostly because... she was afraid of appearing too vulnerable to them, or having them understand why she was really feeling the way she was, what was really bothering her.

They didn't press the issue, and the mare was able to recover a little bit more, finally awkwardly pulling away and smiling lamely up at her parents. Here she was, claiming to be older than Antares... and yet acting like she was younger than she had been when she'd left. She was all too well aware of the irony, and the mare silently lowered her head before she cleared her throat and said finally: “Well, if it's okay with you... I'd like to maybe... practice my thaumaturgy now.”

She quietly rubbed a claw through the mire, then frowned a little and looked down curiously, concentrating on it. It responded to her, rippling silently... but at the same time, there was something... different about it. And it only took a few hesitant pokes before she realized what it was: the mire was no longer keyed to her. Just by stepping into it... her father had taken dominance of the entire bog, just like the mire had always obeyed Gymbr over her as well.

She looked up at him with surprise, and Scrivener tilted his head... which only further added to Innocence's amazement. Her father wasn't even aware of what he'd done, that the mire was keyed to him now instead of her, and she opened her mouth... then hesitantly closed it, instead asking impulsively: “Can you feel the pulse in the Panacea?”

“Corruption.” Scrivener mumbled, but then he nodded slowly, closing his eyes and grimacing a little. “And I can, Sin, yeah. It always feels... so alive. Like it's got a mind all its own... it always bothers me. More than I should let it, really...”

Innocence smiled faintly at this, looking down before she murmured quietly: “You shouldn't be afraid, Daddy. It feels alive to you because it... obeys you, it's attached itself to you. It desires your orders, your leadership, your mastery. There's nothing bad about that, now is there?”

“I guess it depends on how you look at it.” Scrivener muttered, and then he shook his head briefly before grimacing a bit and asking finally: “Does it... feel the same way to you?”

Innocence simply nodded, not wanting to reveal quite yet that he had taken control over the mire over her, that right now, it felt like something that would obey her only so long as Scrivener didn't try to override her control... and even him offhoofedly willing the mire to do one thing when she was trying to order it to do another would be enough right now to override her. Because the Panacea, Corruption, Clay of Prometheus, whatever you wanted to call it... it didn't have sentience, but it did have its own life.

There was silence for a few moments, and then the mare finally gave a small smile and leaned forwards, saying quietly: “I know you don't like it when I say this, but... I'd like to try and teach you a few things, Daddy. Will you listen to me, try to do what I do?”

Scrivener Blooms looked less than thrilled, but when he turned his eyes towards Luna, she simply shrugged and gestured at him moodily, saying finally: “Do not look at me, Scrivy, I am no mare for advice on these matters. But even I did swallow my pride when Antares offered to teach me how to use earth pony magic.”

“He taught you how to plant flowers without killing them. Which is impressive, considering Scarlet Sage couldn't teach you how to tend to the damn garden without having to get up and leave every five minutes because you'd kill something.” Scrivener said wryly, and Luna huffed. “It still amazes me that we can grow our own night-thriving crops, but you try and plant a single flower and you end up killing it.”

“Well, as thou will recall, I made thou and Twilight Sparkle do most of the gardening and planting.” Luna remarked mildly, and then she shook her head and turned a small smile to Innocence. “I wish to ask for a small favor, a small promise, my daughter. Do not... do not do harm to thy father, nor press him with thy more dangerous arts. We must all start small.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Sin nodded uneasily before she looked down, then smiled faintly and said quietly: “Okay. Can you... make objects float?”

“I'm not a unicorn.” Scrivener said mildly, then he frowned and looked awkwardly up. “Well...I mean, I guess I am a unicorn, but I mean I don't have a horn, so... I'm not... really a unicorn even though I am by blood, and there's the whole Clockwork Pony thing too...”

Luna leaned over and firmly bopped Scrivener with his soulstone horn, making him wince and then glower at her, before he sighed and turned his eyes back to Innocence, saying dryly: “No.”

Innocence shook her head slowly, then she easily swept a claw out over the mire beside it. Immediately, it hardened into a small, crystalline island before she simply made a rising gesture while very pointedly raising her horn to show she wasn't using her magic at all. And Scrivener and Luna both stared in surprise as the small platform of mire hovered silently into the air, dripping a bit of excess before Innocence said softly: “The Panacea contains a lot of energy... that power can be focused in all kinds of ways. I'm... a little disappointed, actually, that you and Mutt only use it for... well, you know. Simple things. Valthrudnir used this to power massive machines, didn't he? Gymbr used it for many of his own artifacts and machinery as well. All you have to do is... try.”

She didn't know how else to phrase it, but Scrivener Blooms nodded hesitantly, studying her silently before he gave a small smile and mumbled after a moment: “Here I am, getting a lesson from my own daughter in stuff that... well, I used to be the only pony around who could actually do this stuff. It's a little scary, especially seeing... how far you've come.”

Innocence smiled faintly, shrugging a bit as she silently reached up and touched her own feature with a claw, murmuring as she lowered her head: “I'm the darkness, Daddy, that's all... you just have to look at me, and you see that I'm... a Tyrant Wyrm. I was fated to do this, to have this kind of power and control over other forms of darkness.”

“No, Sin.” Scrivener said softly, looking down with a quiet laugh. “You look the way you do because of me. Because you were born between a Clockwork Pony that was supposed to be some kind of... Tyrant Wyrm, shapeshifting... monster, I don't know, and... and a Lich. I hate to say it, but your... our... genetics were against you from the start... and who knows how the fact you were born from... well, my... uh... stuff... and in the womb of a Lich, a pony powered by magic, by belief in self, by conscious and subconscious desire...”

Scrivener looked down, shaking his head briefly. “I'm sorry. I've always seen myself as a Tyrant Wyrm. I feel sometimes that that has something to do with why you look the way you do... as well as all the Tyrant Wyrm genetics in my body and... everything else. And Twilight... I know you have a hard time believing this, but she sees me the same way. And sometimes she sees herself as a little bit of a monster, too... a monster like... us. Not a monster as in... you know. I'm... I'm sorry, Sin, I doubt I'm making any sense here.”

His daughter was looking at him, though, and Luna was smiling faintly, so Scrivener lowered his head and finally continued on awkwardly: “I know what you look like, and I know that... it must be hard for you at times, and I see your powers, but... Sin, none of that matters. The only thing that matters is what you choose to do with yourself, and your abilities. That's all. You can choose to stay in the darkness if you want, to use nothing but... darkness, and shadow. Or you can choose to... to stride into the light. You're not trapped in darkness, and you're... a good person inside.”

That sounded so naïve... and yet all the same, Innocence gave a faint smile as she lowered her head, blushing a little. She felt... just to hear her father say those words, it comforted her in a way she didn't want to admit to, as her eyes roved back and forth and she breathed softly in and out before finally nodding a little, murmuring quietly: “Thank you. I... I just want to be the very best that I can be. I want to be strong, strong enough to...”

To rule? Or to keep others safe? To have everything she wanted? Or so she could protect others... although in her mind, that protection was a form of control, of rulership, of maintaining power over the weak. She looked down, shifting a bit before she reached out and touched the platform of black crystal, and it readily dissolved back into mire that spilled down into the bog already around the, the mare looking up almost shyly as he invited: “You try, Daddy, okay?”

Scrivener Blooms hesitated, then he sighed a little before reaching uneasily out to the side, touching the mire... and grimacing at how easy it was to create his own island of black crystal, looking down at this for a few moments before glowering at Luna when she hopped on top of it. She looked at him pointedly, and Innocence only giggled a little before the mare said softly: “Yes, Móðer. Daddy shouldn't have a problem lifting you too. Just concentrate on what you want it to do, like you would with... anything else.”

The charcoal stallion grunted, then he touched the edge of the island as he focused on it uneasily, not entirely sure of what was about to happen... but to his surprise, with the simple command from his mind, the platform of crystal shivered before it lifted slowly into the air, floating a foot or so above the black ooze as Luna swayed awkwardly on it before looking down and saying thoughtfully: “Well. This is not bad at all, Scrivy. Perhaps thou might actually have more use now than just throwing mudballs at thine enemies.”

Scrivener rolled his eyes before glowering at her, and a moment later, the island of crystal dissolved into muck and sent Luna spilling back to the ground with a squawk, sending up a splash of black ooze as Innocence laughed. Luna looked less thrilled as she stood slowly, wiping grouchily at herself as she muttered: “Fantastic, Scrivy. Just truly fantastic. This does not at all make me desire to pummel thee into unconsciousness.”

“I hate to point this out, but if you do that, you'll pummel yourself into unconsciousness too.” Scrivener said awkwardly, and Luna huffed at him loudly before the stallion turned his eyes towards his daughter, clearing his throat a bit and giving her a small smile. “It wasn't that hard though, you were right. It just took a thought, a push in the right direction... I have to say, Sin, I really am impressed that you seem to know your powers so well.”

He stopped, looking down and flexing a Talon slowly: not a single trace of mire would stick to the strange, silvery metal, and he hesitated before looking up at his daughter and asking quietly: “Have you ever... I mean, when you use your powers excessively... do you ever feel like they're taking you over? Like you're losing control?”

Innocence shook her head hesitantly, looking down and thinking of when she'd been a child, first learning to practice her thaumaturgy... “No. Remember how they used to make me sick, though? Well, all it took was... practice and a little... a little help from Gymbr. But I think it was mostly the practice, mostly learning to master myself, getting used to it over the years that helped me. I know you avoid using your powers as much as possible, Daddy, but... if you don't master them, what's going to stop them from mastering you?”

Scrivener was quiet for a few moments, then he reached up with a smile and quietly ruffled his daughter's mane, making her huff but blush a little in pleasure all the same before he said softly: “Maybe you're right. We really are lucky to have such a brave little girl, aren't we?”

“I'm not a filly.” Innocence grumbled, but she couldn't deny that it gave her an awkward sort of pleasure to feel like no time had passed, to act like she really was just a sixteen year old again... and her rational, logical mind tried to tell her this was because it would help make it all the easier to get what she was after, nestle herself in the safe comforts of her parents while beginning to pull their strings and guide their actions to her desires...

But the rest of her only relished the sight of Luna and Scrivener smiling at her, bowing her head forwards silently and gratefully to these ponies she adored: to the parents that she still loved in spite of everything she had been through and claimed, even if now she was a little twisted, now even her love came with motives, and spiderwebs, and complex schemes... and beneath it all, a desire to always be the center of attention and the most important thing to these ponies, no matter what kind of masks she would have to wear... or what she would have to do to anypony else to make sure no one could ever take her Mutt and Daddy away from her.

Not even Twilight Sparkle.

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