• Published 7th Sep 2013
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Glory Be - BlackRoseRaven

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

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A New-Old Friend

Chapter Forty Two: A New-Old Friend

Luna smiled a little over at Celestia from the library table, watching her big sister pacing back and forth throughout the room before the sapphire mare said softly: “'Tis funny, Freya. Usually thou wert always the one calming me down... even in the old days, when thou wert more of the 'stab first, question later' persuasion, thou would at least want to strategize, while I would simply desire to mount Hex and ride into battle.”

She stopped, then giggled stupidly to herself. “Mount Hex. Now I suppose 'tis Scrivener Blooms that I mount. And on occasion, Twilight Sparkle.”

Twilight looked up sourly from the end of the table, where she had several open letters draped out in front of her, and Scrivener Blooms sighed tiredly from where he was simply sitting with his head in his forelegs, the stallion muttering: “You really have great comedic timing, Luna.”

Celestia grunted in what sounded like agreement, scowling slightly at her little sister beneath her braided, tied-back ivory mane, and Luna huffed a bit before she said pointedly: “Thou of all ponies should know that I am just as concerned about what is happening in Asgard and Valhalla as any Valkyrie. But anxious as I am, we cannot get any information... 'tis blocked. So unless thou desires to go marching into Asgard thyself, which thou knows I shall full-well support, all we can do is wait. 'Tis far from enjoyable and further still from what we may desire, but... it is not as if we have nothing to attend to in the meantime.”

She quieted a little, looking over at Twilight Sparkle, who smiled faintly as she glanced down at the letters and said softly: “I think I finally found Cowlick's half-brother... and as... as much as I don't like it, I finished sending out the invitations for her little funeral service. Closed... closed casket, very small ceremony to be held at Better Pastures. Then they'll cremate her and we'll bring her ashes and her... the coffin... to the engineering lab. She already had... some special hazardous materials authorization signed and verified...”

Twilight Sparkle laughed a little, shaking her head slowly and closing her eyes. “I guess... she really knew just what she wanted. Funny though, isn't it? All these hoops, just... just so we can try and put someone to rest the way they wanted to...”

Celestia softened a little, halting in her pacing before the ivory mare lowered her head and nodded slowly. “I... I know you're right. You both are: we have no better option right now than to wait, and we have... more than just one lost friend to attend to. We should be using this time to remember Cowlick and honor everything she contributed to... and we should be looking for Sleipnir and Pinkamena as well. I'm focusing too much on what I want to change, but can't, instead of what I can change but... isn't as important.”

Luna looked up with a wry smile at this, tilting her head pointedly, and Celestia shook her head and murmured: “You know what I mean, little sister. It's not that I don't care about our brother and demonic sister... it's that I believe wholeheartedly they can both take care of themselves. If they're out there, they're going to find their way back to us.”

The sapphire mare nodded with a grunt, lowering her head before she said finally: “Aye. I believe this too, Celestia. 'Tis the only reason I have not pushed thee to help us find them... well, that and thou seems rather... twitchy, lately, if thou does not mind me saying so.”

“I do, but it's also the truth, and I know I need to be reminded of that now and then.” Celestia said after a moment, shaking herself briefly before she smiled faintly over at the sapphire mare. “But it's funny. At the same time, I feel more alive, more vibrant than I ever have. All my emotions are coming in stronger and clearer, but... it does seem to have made it harder to... think.”

Luna grunted and nodded, studying her sibling before she said gently: “'Tis alright. We all have some adjusting to do, I suppose... look at Innocence, and Antares and Prestige. And Hecate and... well, all of this. Ponyville is... our lives are more complex than usual as of late, big sister.”

“They are.” Celestia looked down for a moment, and then she shook her head slowly before murmuring quietly: “I just wish we had some idea of what was going on in Valhalla. I hate being left in the dark... worse, waiting for Hel of all people to get in contact with us...”

“Well, that's cause you're the sun, carrot cake. But all light is surrounded by darkness, don't you know?” remarked a cheery voice, and even Celestia jumped as all eyes turned sharply to stare at the sight of one of Hel's ice puppets, the bovine head grinning widely as it leaned casually in the archway leading further into the library interior. “Maybe this is a bit egocentric for me to say, but... you speak of the devil, and here I am.”

“We have been speaking of thee for a long time, and it took thee long enough to show up.” Luna said flatly as she hopped out of her seat, and then she shook her head before asking quickly as she walked towards the puppet: “What of Valhalla and Asgard? And the Pious, and-”

“Slow down! All of you, give me two minutes here.” complained Hel, shaking her head quickly as she held her hands up, and then she peered over at Celestia and whistled a little. “Well, don't you look pretty. Or wasted. Pretty wasted, I guess, huh?”

Celestia only narrowed her eyes, visibly biting back a retort, but Hel grinned and reached up to lick one of her fingers slowly. “And there's a taste of Valkyrie emotion right there. Wow. Someone hit your power switch, didn't they, cupcake? Turned up the heat and locked up all the fuses. Although that's kind of dangerous, you know. You might melt the penny, burn the house down. Other bad things.”

The ivory winged unicorn took a few slow, calming breaths as Hel grinned widely, before her eyes flicked curiously towards Twilight Sparkle as the Lich asked quickly: “We... while you... I mean, do you keep records of-”

“Deity-patient confidentiality, sweetums. I ain't allowed to talk about the recently done died.” Hel said kindly, bowing her head politely towards Twilight Sparkle, who looked a little disappointed. Then the ice puppet straightened and easily flicked a wrist, and the four ponies couldn't help but stare in disbelief as the soulstone core Hel had left with them appeared in her open hand with a quiet pop. “Besides, I got lots more important information to pass on to you. I get that you're sad and all about your little engineer friend, but hey... one little mortal death is nothing in the grand scheme of things.”

The Lich shifted uncomfortably as Luna frowned, but the goddess only continued in a quieter, more-serious voice: “Now listen. The Pious have locked down the Vale, and they already got a brand-new set of gates to replace the old crapped-out ones. Also, they aren't nearly as retarded as Gymbr, so they have a hell of a doorman. Doorstallion. Doorperson. Oh screw it, they have a giant asshole with a giant axe waiting to smack anyone who tries to get near Heaven silly. We're gonna need big guns.”

“And what about the Vale itself? With Valhalla locking down, shouldn't the Vale start to decrepify as well?” asked Celestia quietly, but Hel only shook her head slowly.

“These Pious are a little different from your average invader.” Hel said softly, and then she stretched her arms out to either side on an angle, rolling the soulstone orb all the way from one hand to the other. Then she caught it and easily spun it on one finger like a basketball, continuing: “They're laying down wards and enchantments, setting up these nasty little antennae everywhere that channel their energies right down into the ground and let them take it over. Soon enough, most of the Vale isn't going to look like Vale anymore... it's going to look like Greater Heaven.”

Luna and Celestia both gritted their teeth, trading sharp looks before Hel shrugged and said mildly: “Hey, on the bright side, they still haven't gotten into the halls of Valhalla yet. And while I'm sure it's only a matter of time before they do, we can actually use that as kind of a jumping-off point for when you girls want to go attacking Heaven. Or you could just leave well enough alone, I guess.”

“What?” Celestia looked up in disbelief, then she snarled furiously, stepping forward as her eyes blazed and energy thrummed around the ivory winged unicorn. “How could you even suggest that? The Pious, the Light, they're invaders, parasites, preying on the souls of the living... and who knows how long or short they'll wait before they use Heaven to-”

“To what, invade your crappy mortal worlds?” Hel asked mildly as she caught the soulstone orb between her hands, and then she smiled grimly and leaned forwards, saying softly: “But that's just it, cupcake. They got no interest in attacking Midgard... why would they? They have what they want. They don't give a rat's ass... sorry, crowbait's flank, as you pony-wonies are so wont to say, about Midgard or any of the layers, or even the center of this wretched little universe. They have what they want. Ponies live out good, peaceful lives, happy-happy-happy... and then all the good little colts and fillies go to Heaven, Heaven, rhymes with seven... and then the Pious... well, I dunno. Eat their souls? Add them to their flock? Engage in bestiality?”

Hel shrugged, and there was silence for a few moments before Twilight Sparkle said slowly, disbelievingly: “You... you think we should just... abandon Heaven, leave ponies to... to become... thralls, or food, or... who knows what for the Pious?”

“It's no skin off my teeth, honeycake. I run Helheim. And I can always use some further investment.” Hel replied kindly, holding the soulstone orb in one hand and rubbing the fingers of her other together slowly. “Cream, sweetheart. Cash rules everything around me. And in this case, kitty's cream is souls, and the optimist in me says Heaven's stock is about to take a nosedive, and Helheim's going to go way up in value.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Celestia snapped her horn sharply forwards, and the construct simply exploded into fragments. The soulstone orb flew through the air as Hel's puppet collapsed, and Celestia caught this and gritted her teeth, looking disgusted as she said coldly: “Even if I didn't care about the souls being taken by the Pious, Valhalla is my ancestral home... in some ways, more than even Vanaheim was. I will not sit back and let it be tainted by the scourge of the Pious!”

There was a quiet laugh, and then Hel's shattered puppet rapidly pieced itself back together, the goddess reforming and stretching leisurely out before she smiled and said softly: “Good. I like that. I mean, it's plenty stupid, sure. But that's probably part of the reason why exactly I like it so much, tootsie pop. Doesn't take too many licks to get to your center anymore, now does it?”

Hel paused, then absently flicked her wrist, and the soulstone orb was yanked out of Celestia's grip and pulled back to the goddess. “We're in luck, by the way. It seems Kvasir feels the same way as you do... Mad as a Hatter or not, honeybutt is determined to push forwards and into Heaven. But we're going to need some extra artillery, do some extra planning, and not be too hasty... so here. Let me introduce you to your new BFFs.”

Hel knocked twice on the soulstone core, then she held it out as it glowed brightly: the ponies were blinded by the flash of light, wincing back as there was a strange, collective gasp... and then all four stared in disbelief at the sight of Dusk, Twilight Shadow, Imago, and Myre, the four standing and all looking unharmed, all with their heads proudly raised. “Oh, this is so fun! Now, Team Bad Guys, you see those ponies over there you were originally told to slaughter? Now they're your best friends, your masters... especially Luna Brynhild. She's co-captain with me, got it? Sorry, Freya, but you just didn't make the cut thanks to blowing me the crap up.”

Celestia scowled, and Luna stared blankly before the four former enemies all bowed their heads low, Dusk murmuring respectfully: “Anything you say, Mistress Hel. Mistress Luna... we will serve you as loyally as we did Gymbr.”

Hel grinned widely, and when Twilight Sparkle stared up at her, the goddess reached up and silently tapped the soulstone orb. “Poor little bastards. They just don't have all that much brain in there anymore... well, okay, let me rephrase. They don't have much will left, that's a bit more accurate. Dusk and Twilight Shadow are plenty brainy. But they have to do anything and everything whoever holds the orb tells 'em to... oh, like, like watch this, watch this. Hey, hey, hey, Dusk. Hey Dusk. Punch yourself in the face.”

Dusk sighed tiredly, but then she rose a hoof... and Celestia winced in revulsion when her gold-fire maned twin slammed a hoof into her own features, sending up a splatter of blood. But the Fate barely flinched, and Myre covered her muzzle to hide a giggle as Dusk glanced over at Hel, asking: “Is that good enough, Mistress?”

“For now. Myre, shut the me up.” Hel said absently, and the mare made from corruption nodded awkwardly and immediately stopped giggling, covering her mouth with a hoof. Hel's attention was already back on the other ponies, however, and she narrowed her eyes thoughtfully as Luna shifted uneasily, asking curiously: “Now why do I feel like you have a request for me, Brynhild? Oh, do ask, do ask, I do so love requests!”

There was silence for a few moments, and both Twilight and Scrivener looked at their partner encouragingly and reassuringly, Luna shifting awkwardly before the sapphire mare sighed and said hesitantly: “'Tis... 'tis simply that... Nightmare Moon had a desire.”

Celestia frowned uneasily, and Myre looked up curiously, tilting her head. She looked like she wanted to ask a question, but she was still unable to speak thanks to Hel's order, so Luna awkwardly did her best to keep her gaze on Hel as the goddess looked at her with marked interest. “Nightmare Moon says she would better be able to assist us... if she were given a body of her own. And she desires this body to be tied to myself and mine partners, to be Deathless... but obedient, like these puppets that stand before me.”

Luna looked uneasily over the four ponies, and Imago smiled softly before she bowed her head forwards, saying softly: “We are not puppets, Luna Brynhild. Puppets don't feel anything. We are loyal and obedient, but we have our own thoughts... and we feel pleasure when we serve our masters. Even when that master... annoys us.”

The sapphire mare glowered a little at the beautiful but insectile pony, while Hel looked thoughtful as she rubbed at the underside of her bovine muzzle, saying meditatively: “Nightmare Moon... I've heard good things about her. Well, bad things, but you know. Bad is good, good is bad, blah-blah-blah... giving your evil alter-ego a body, though, now that is a delicious little idea. And I also wouldn't have to waste my time and energies digging up a new bodyguard for you.”

“We do not need bodyguards.” Luna hesitated, then added moodily: “Unless thou art not as sure of the Pious staying in Heaven as thou would like us to believe... and on that note, I remember now that Antares saw the Whistler-”

“Honey, the Pious are happy in Heaven, but they're not stupid. You little ponies are a thorn in their side: they probably want to study you, see what make you tick, makes you squirm, then crumble you like a brownie.” Hel said pointedly, and Luna grunted moodily at this, looking down with a frown as Celestia grimaced a little. “Especially once they realize we're all going to be moving towards fighting them... well, you guys are, anyway. Me, well. I'm going to have a chat with Gymbr, and then I'll send you soldiers and resources and whatever help I can, but you know I'm a 'cheer on the sidelines' kind of person. Besides, this whole mess with the Pious... something just don't make sense.”

There was silence for a few moments as Twilight looked almost pleadingly at Hel and Scrivener Blooms frowned, before Celestia said quietly: “You're worried that they could attack you. That they could exploit your vulnerability, your connection to your puppets.”

“Got it in one. And do I ever hate you for it, Freya. But you and me never did get along all that well.” Hel said ironically, shaking her head briefly before she turned her eye towards Luna. “Yeah. I'm not going to do it for you... but I can teach you how to make her a body. You just aren't going to like what you're going to have to do.

“Likewise, I know you're all eager to get ramming Heaven, but as I said... the Vale ain't a safe place to be right now, and the Pious move faster. Faster than I would have thought possible, but they do seem to share one big hive mind... must really cut down on the paperwork they gotta fill out.” Hel straightened, playing with the soulstone core between her hands. “All of you are going to need to be at top peak performance levels, and that's just if you want to find the way into the Vale: if you want to drive the Light out, we're going to need a lot more information. Information that Gymbr has, or at least we better hope he does. And you might have to give a little tit to get a little tat in return.”

“As long as we do not have to promise to spare his life.” Luna muttered, but Scrivener and Twilight both felt the sapphire mare's hesitance: if Gymbr could actually help them drive out the Light, maybe they could spare him. Not set him free, certainly, but... perhaps life locked away in some vault was better than death and nonexistence. “Why can we not simply portal to Asgard, or into Valhalla itself, as the Pious have apparently not breached the castle walls as of yet?”

“Because I don't know how long Valhalla's going to hold out, with their weird-ass enchantments and gizmos and magic constantly trying to convert everything to their way of thinking, and even if there wasn't the new ivory gates and the giant gatekeeper, they're generating all kinds of antimagic around Valhalla. So unless you want to walk like, a hundred miles through a haze of Piousy-static and wild Asgardian forests where we could get ambushed at any point and time, I don't think it's such a great idea to go tromping in there.” Hel replied, huffing and crossing her arms. “Besides, we got a big to-do list now. Can't just ignore the to-do list.”

Celestia cursed under her breath, pawing a hoof irritably at the floor as Scrivener grimaced and Luna shook her head slowly, and then Twilight asked quietly: “Is it... is it just the Pious?”

Hel was silent for a few moments, then she looked down at the four soulbound guardians in front of her, who all looked curiously back over their shoulders at the icy puppet. Then the goddess smiled wryly, turning her eyes back up to the four who were actually interacting, speaking... truly alive. Not puppets. And so much more than simple ponies. “This is so weird, looking between you two. I'm getting all creeped out by how quiet they are... you're quiet too, Clockwork Pony. Answer your ladyfriend's question, which she probably already knows the answer to herself anyway.”

Scrivener sighed a little, but he had already figured out what Hel was thinking, the charcoal stallion biting his tongue before he looked at Twilight and said quietly: “Even if it is just the Pious right now... it sounds like by the time we're ready to attack Valhalla, the Light will have moved in. And remember, the Whistler... he's not Pious.”

“Not bad. Not entirely the answer, but good enough for me. Then again, I've always been light when it comes to marking.” the goddess said mildly, shrugging amiably. “You know. Generous. Catching flies with honey and all that, even if I make tasty cookies out of them later.”

Luna shook her head briefly as Twilight looked up uncertainly, and Scrivener couldn't help but mutter: “Then I can't help but wonder if you refer to us by these pet names because you don't think of us as cute, but rather... like bugs.”

Hel smiled contritely at this, then she leaned forwards and replied calmly: “You, sweetie? No. Not you four. You and some of the other ponies 'round these parts... you're special. But these other four right in front of me? Sure, why not? One even is a bug, though, so... you know. Not sure how much an insult or downgrade that really is.”

Imago only smiled, although Luna thought the expression was maybe a little bit strained. Then Hel looked up, shaking her head and adding: “No, you're not bugs. You're special. I like you, even if sometimes you and Brynhild especially do try my temper. I'm doin' my best here, you know!”

She nodded fervently, and Scrivener Blooms made a bit of a face before Hel reached up and tapped her own nose gently. “Now, I'm gonna assign you some jobs while I go and get some work done, okay? Your first job is to make sure there's no Pious hanging around your Equestria here. I'd say the whole of Midgard, but... that might be a bit much, even for you ponies. Send out your demons, your monsters, your lawyers, and burn their homes and seize their assets.

“I also want you to talk to Gymbr. Rake him over the coals, like. Squeeze all the information out of him you can, because he is a very valuable, very important resource.” Hel continued calmly, clasping the soulstone orb in front of her. “If you get sick and tired of playing games with him, just tell him that you'll come and tell ol' Auntie Hel if he refuses to cooperate, and she'll give him an attitude adjustment. That should get him to straighten up right proper.”

Scrivener and Luna traded uneasy looks, but Hel only grinned widely, saying kindly: “Oh, now, don't you fret. I wouldn't maim or kill. I'm just real talented when it comes to poking the sensitive spots. You could call it a gift.

“Last but not least...” Hel smiled, leaning forwards and saying softly: “Prepare for war. We got lots of time, oh yes we do, and I know you've still got soldiers at the ready, all kinds of equipment spick and span and polished thanks to the first attack on Valhalla... but we're gonna need lots, lots, lots more. If the Pious have one thing, it's numbers, and whether they're fragile or not they've got a real nasty pinch-hitter in the background. We're gonna want to delve deep and dredge up the most dangerous weapons we can handle if you want to stand a chance against them. Especially because I get the feeling there's something else going on behind the scenes; we're up against more than meets the eye.

“And that's why I'm leaving these four behind, too. They're gonna be good little girls and do everything and anything you ask, and tell you all about what Gymbr was doing to boot.” Hel said pleasantly, smiling and patting Dusk on the head a few times, making her sigh but nod even as she gave an odd expression: it was like unwilling enjoyment, like she couldn't entirely mirror or attune to Hel's emotions, but she was still feeling some kind of pleasure all the same.

“Their forced loyalty scares me a little.” Scrivener muttered after a moment, and Hel huffed at this before the charcoal stallion looked wryly up at the puppet. “Hey, if you like it, good for you. But I just hate to think what they'd do if they ever slipped that leash.”

“We'd die. We'd lose all our powers and die.” Twilight Shadow said softly, and then she smiled a little and bowed her head towards Twilight Sparkle, who studied the other Lich uneasily. “I look greatly forwards to working with you. I think we can learn a lot from each other.”

Twilight Sparkle only gave an awkward, uncomfortable smile, and there was silence for a few moments before Hel said pleasantly: “Look at us, all getting along swell, ain't that... well, swell? Sure it is! Okay, well, my yummy little bakery, it's time for the chef to go and work with some raw meat down in Helheim. Don't you fret now. I'm going to do all the dirty work with the steak so you don't have to.”

Scrivener grimaced a little as he understood all too well what Hel was likely talking about, shivering a bit and wishing for a moment he didn't have that awkward fascination with wordplay. Of course, Hel's malicious grin and the way she knowingly tipped them a wink made it clear what she was going to do anyway... but to the surprise of the others, Celestia only looked up and said quietly: “When you're done, I'd like a copy of everything you find out.”

“Of course, Freya. I'm glad at least one of you is getting into the holly-jolly spirit of the season.” Hel smiled again, eyes gleaming before she reached up and blew them a kiss. “I'll see you pretty little ponies real, real soon.”

With that, Hel vanished, taking the soulstone orb with her, and the four puppet-like ponies all looked over their shoulders longingly for a moment at the space where the goddess had been a moment ago. Then they all looked forwards as Luna cleared her throat, glancing uneasily over the Fates and Imago before she asked: “Thou shall all serve me?”

The four responded by bowing low, and Luna Brynhild straightened, feeling a bit more confident now as she nodded firmly. “Excellent. Then first I desire to know precisely what thy functions were when thou served Gymbr.”

Myre seemed to take this as her cue to talk again, looking eager to do so as she informed: “Bodyguards, overseers, and personal custodians. We provided for Gymbr's desires and needs: anything he craved, we either submitted to or fetched for him. He was very fond of me.”

“He was fond of experimenting on you. Not actually you yourself.” Imago said mildly, and Myre scowled over at her before the beautiful mare smiled and rose her head high. “I was his second-in-command. I was the one he was fondest of.”

Dusk only shook her head slowly as the two glared at each other, and then she turned her eyes forwards and explained softly: “Our titles were different, but our duties were all essentially the same. Grand Vizier, First Concubine, Champion, Minister... all of us were simply servants.”

Luna scowled a little: for some reason the thought of them all just acting as tools and toys for Gymbr bothered her more than she wanted to admit. She shook her head briefly, then meditatively drew her eyes over the four, saying finally: “I cannot tell if thou hast more personality or less than when we first met. And moreover, 'tis strange to have thee all so... eager to work with us.”

Dusk smiled and shrugged, replying calmly: “Why wouldn't we be? We are bound to serve whoever holds the soulstone core, and Hel has ordered us to treat you as our mistress. And I would much rather serve you than I would Lady Hel, Luna Brynhild.”

Celestia sighed a little at this, but Luna looked pleased as she nodded firmly. “Excellent. Then perhaps we shall get along after all. I am going to assign thee now to each of us, so that thou may tell us more details of what Gymbr is doing and we may process the information faster. Twilight Shadow, Dusk... thou should both perhaps work with Celestia here in the library. Imago, do not be creepy and treat Twilight Sparkle as thou would thine own kin. Myre, thou art with us. I desire a twin.”

Myre looked proud of herself, while Imago smiled, baring large fangs as she said tenderly: “In the Hive, there can only be one Queen. I had to devour my siblings to rule. But I suppose that you mean I should act like ponies treat their family; it'll be nice to have a nice sister.”

Twilight Sparkle smiled weakly, and Luna scowled over at Imago, saying flatly: “Thou art being creepy now. Celestia, art thou alright with working with two of them?”

“I'm sure we'll be able to put together quite a bit of information. I look forwards to it.” Celestia said calmly, and then she glanced over at Luna, adding quietly: “You may want to consider going to see Gymbr now. Or perhaps speaking to Antares and Prestige, letting them know what's going on. I plan to send word to Subterra to get in contact with the refugees from Heaven and the rest of our forces.”

Luna nodded, then she looked down with a grimace and muttered: “Terra... I wonder where she is. Perhaps we should have a message sent to the Ironjaw as well. They would make good allies in the coming war... and I think they would have incentive to fight beside us, as Hel seems to desire to save Valhalla in her own odd way... she just is challenging about it.”

“I don't think she cares as much about Valhalla as she does about destroying the Pious. That's all, Luna.” Celestia muttered, and then she shook her head briefly before saying finally: “Not to give orders, but you should also find Innocence. I know you're trusting her more, working with her more... but she's still keeping secrets. Maybe if she sees that Gymbr's former servants are now all working with us, she'll be less reluctant to open up to us... and maybe it would just be comforting for her to see them. They must have been the closest things to friends she had in Valhalla.”

“Yes, we were.” Twilight Shadow said softly, lowering her head with a faint smile, and Twilight Sparkle looked uncomfortably away. The two similar-yet-so-different Liches shifted at the same time, and then Shadow looked up and smiled over at Twilight Sparkle. “I bet she's hard on you. But she's funny like that... you should know that, though, she's your daughter. She just has trouble expressing her emotions. She was never... given the gift that we were.”

“Aye, and the better for it.” Luna muttered, and then she looked moodily over at Myre. “Come then, creature. Beetle, let us go and find our daughter. I suspect she is likely with Hecate.”

Luna paused, then looked meditatively between her big sister and Dusk before she said wryly: “Now we have three Celestias in this Equestria, and not one of them goes by that name any longer.”

Celestia Freya laughed despite herself, shaking her head slowly before she said softly: “But I haven't entirely abandoned that identity either... I don't think I ever will. There's too many memories I cherish attached to it, both good and bad.”

She smiled faintly over at Twilight Sparkle, who gazed quietly back at her former mentor for a few moments before Luna nodded and turned, heading towards the door with Scrivener Blooms in tow and Myre trotting happily along behind the two. “And thou would not want to become either a prostitute or angry head, now would thou?”

With that, Luna pushed out into the streets of Ponyville, Scrivener stepping up on one side of her and Myre the other. They immediately got a few surprised looks, and Luna relished it: she always enjoyed causing a little harmless mischief here and there, after all, as she grinned over at Myre. “Creature, while we walk, tell me about thyself. Is it true thou came from a world where there was no Nightmare Moon?”

Myre nodded a few times, eager to respond as she replied quickly: “Yes, Luna Brynhild... shall I call you Lady or Mistress?”

“Thou shall call me Luna Brynhild, or just Brynhild. Titles are simply words behind which to hide derision, not show respect.” Luna replied with a firm nod, and Myre nodded back with a smile, looking... oddly delighted by this. “And Scrivener Blooms thou may also refer to any way thou likes. I often call him beetle, for he is hard shelled and cranky and is always found in the most unwelcome of places, but survives anything done to him. He is a beetle.”

Scrivener sighed a little, and then Myre suddenly grinned before turning dead black as her mane and tail sparked out of existence, and Luna and Scrivener stared as the creature reformed herself into a gigantic beetle, mandible clicking and six legs clacking against the ground as the ponies around them stared in horror. “Now I'm a beetle too!”

Luna blinked slowly... then she covered her mouth with her front hooves and began to giggle madly as Myre leaned over and bumped her head against Scrivener a few times, the stallion looking horrified as he reared helplessly away from Myre and pushed at her with one Talon. “Oh Horses of Heaven, I liked you more when you were trying to kill me.”

“Oh shut up, Scrivy! 'Tis wondrous!” Luna retorted, looking with fascination over the massive beetle-Myre. “Even I cannot polymorph myself with such ease and to such vast extents... tell me, Myre, can thou become anything? And before, thou generated armor from thy body...”

Myre nodded a few times, then the beetle lost its consistency, its body folding and crushing in on itself before there was once more a black pony standing in front of them; but a moment later, Myre reshaped herself further, and instead she became a miniature dragon, spreading large wings proudly and holding a scaled head high. Obsidian hide armored most of her body, but she had actually turned the softer, smaller scales lining her underbelly to a bright red, the now-dragon declaring: “Easily! And...”

A pause as she shifted, and then black essence bled up from between Myre's interlocked scales before it formed rapidly into a breastplate that protected her upper body, looking pleased with herself. “There. Touch it, go ahead.”

Luna reached up and rested a hoof against the breastplate, then she smiled and nodded, looking interested: it did indeed feel like actual metal. If she hadn't seen for herself how Myre had formed it, she would never have guessed it was anything but. “But if I remember correctly, thou cannot maintain this consistency under duress... and Scrivy, thou wert able to use thy powers to reshape her as well, were thou not?”

Scrivener grunted, a little less thrilled by the whole experience. And admittedly, he was a little less than pleased with the fact Myre was so quickly cozying up to Luna, too, but he grimaced as the sapphire mare gave a delighted grin when she caught his stream of thoughts and emotions. “Scrivy! Thou art jealous!”

“I am not. I'm not jealous. You're... dumb. Shut up.” Scrivener huffed a little, looking grouchily at the mare, but Luna was only continuing to grin at him with entertainment gleaming in her eyes. “Seriously, I'm not. She's just weird. And creepy.”

Myre looked at him for a moment, and then she smiled suddenly before rapidly transforming, in a matter of moments once more reverting to her normal form... then grinning and half-lidding her eyes as her body increased just a bit in height, a collar forming around her neck and scars over her body, her horn changing consistency as Scrivener gaped a little as he found himself looking at a perfect copy of... Brynhild. But. I. No way. “How about now?”

“Oh. Oh. Oh, that is most delicious indeed.” Luna's eyes gleamed with delight as she studied the mare up and down, then she licked her lips slowly and said roguishly: “I shall have to check thee over in detail to ensure thou hast been entirely accurate in thy mimicry...”

Myre grinned back and winked at Luna before her eyes flicked to Scrivener, her slightly-darker mane the only real difference between her and the actual Luna Brynhild as she said easily: “And I can copy Scrivener Blooms just as-”

“I hate you both.” Scrivener winced and staggered around in a circle, striding hurriedly away, and both Lunas laughed before following, Myre gradually shedding her transformation as she walked and looking utterly delighted with both herself and the two ponies.

Luna glanced over at Myre, smiling... and surprised, to be entirely honest, by how real her smile was. But she thought that in turn was because of how Myre seemed to be... well, enjoying herself. And was much more pleasant than she'd expected her to be: it all felt very natural, even if... “Thou art not simply mimicking my emotions, art thou? I cannot imagine thou was ever this playful around Gymbr.”

Myre shook her head briefly, then she shrugged and said finally: “I don't know. All I do is what my instincts tell me... I act in the way, take on the role that my master desires, but...”

She paused, then simply shrugged and turned a smile towards Luna. “I used to be my own pony. I used to rule the night, and I was happy then, by my sister's side. She would watch out over the day, giving them care and guidance and compassion... I ruled the night, and it was my honor to keep them safe while they slept, and to give them the joys of pleasant dreams.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Myre looked down and said softly: “We were happy. We were loved. Our Equestria was strong and fruitful... until the Light came and burned it away, and... stole everything...”

Myre stopped and frowned, then she reached up and touched her features as Scrivener and Luna both looked back at her, before the mare smiled faintly and glanced up. “That's it. Gymbr ordered us to be happy, to love him, made himself... our drug. We needed him to be happy, because the soulstone core was built into him... it let him send us his commands directly. It made us feel his emotions clearer. Hel summoned us, can control us from afar if she pleases, but left us in your care... and you haven't ordered us to become anything but... allowed us to be ourselves.”

“That is what I desire all of thee to be. What I wish for all the world... that we are able to celebrate both ourselves and each other, without fear or hate or prejudice.” Luna said softly, and then she smiled a little and shook her head briefly. “Be thyself, Myre. Be our friend. That is all I desire from thou and thy... siblings, I shall call them all.”

Myre nodded, bowing her head respectfully, and Scrivener felt himself loosening up a bit despite himself before he asked finally: “Gymbr said... you willingly became this way, though...”

“We did. We all did.” Myre looked down, shaking her head slowly before she reached up and touched her own breast, murmuring: “Because we were all infected by the Light. And to be a servant like this, a puppet... better to be Gymbr's, than to be controlled by the Pious.”

Scrivener and Luna traded uneasy looks, before the sapphire mare asked quietly: “Can thou tell me as we walk about what thou experienced?”

“Of course. I have to obey you, Brynhild.” Myre smiled and nodded, and Luna nodded back as she turned, keeping her pace slow but steady as Scrivener let himself fall back a bit so he could better examine Myre as she began: “The Pious came to our world in the same way I imagine they first came to yours. Peaceful. Only wanting to spread their Holy Word. We were fascinated with them, with their strange concepts, with the stories they had... we let them set up a Sanctuary in Canterlot. It was the greatest mistake we ever made.

“They began to invite ponies in to join their flock... and ponies were... were changed by them. They would enter the Sanctuary, and come out peaceful, smiling... complacent. They tried to spread the Holy Word of the Pious to friends and family, inviting them to join the congregation... and any who did became the same way.

“We didn't notice until too late.” Myre smiled faintly. “But how were we supposed to? They still functioned. They didn't become monsters, or start lashing out at nonbelievers. They just became very gentle, very quiet... good little ponies. It wasn't until the Holy Word began spreading through Canterlot Castle that Celestia and I realized... something was very, very wrong.”

She looked down, then licked her lips slowly and murmured: “Celestia... I haven't spoken that name in a long time. Strange... I... I wonder how much I changed for Gymbr. And I wonder how much of right now is really me, and how much is... me, trying to please... you.”

Scrivener and Luna traded looks, and then Myre shook her head and smiled a little. “But it's okay. Because I'd rather be this way than a slave to the Pious... the Pious, they... they dragged my sister and I into their Sanctuary, and... 'Baptized' us, I think they called it. It was... it was painful. Water, and oil and... magic that they blinded and poisoned us with, then they left us to let their Light seep into our mind. And we tried to resist but...”

Myre shook her head slowly, looking down with a faint smile. “It was too powerful. It took us over, and... there wasn't happiness. Just calm. Just a sense that... we were all little pieces of some great, divine plan. I don't want to experience it again, Mistress... please don't make me experience that again.”

“Never. I would never, ever force thee to go through such a terrible thing. 'Tis alright, thou may put it out of mind for now.” Luna responded gently, and Myre nodded, straightening and smiling immediately, seeming relieved. That, admittedly, disturbed Luna a little... made her question how much of Myre's personality was really coming through, and how much was just reflecting her own sense of mischief and pleasure.

All the same, though, it was... good to have made an odd kind of friend in the creature. Even if Scrivener still seemed a little wary and uncomfortable around Myre, Luna felt that this strange twin of hers could be trusted, if only because of how she had been ordered to serve them. What she was curious about, though, was what Myre must really be like: she just didn't want to risk giving the strange pony a stupid order that might nullify that loyalty to her in order to find out. The last thing they needed was Myre and her 'siblings' deciding that if they were free, they should try and get a little revenge, after all.

They reached the engineering building after some time, and both Scrivener and Luna stopped and softened as they gazed at the doors. This building had some old, dusty name attached to it that no one ever bothered with, but it was now officially being renamed Kwolek Laboratories... and Luna thought she might actually have to start using that name.

She gently nudged the doors open with telekinesis, then smiled faintly: straight across from the doors was a framed portrait of Cowlick, mounted on the wall, head raised proudly and bandanna holding her mane out of her eyes. In the last few days, Luna had felt a different emotion every time she'd gazed at that portrait: joy, anger, sorrow, self-loathing... but today, it was pride. And she was so glad that Cowlick had been her friend.

Myre looked curiously around, and then Luna cleared her throat and said finally: “Come, then, creature and beetle. Let us find Hecate and Innocence. I only dread to imagine what the foul head might be teaching our daughter right about now, Scrivy.”

“Sin always learned fast. But she was also...” Myre bit down on whatever she was about to say, but it didn't take more than a curious look from Luna to get her talking again, even as the pony of corruption looked distinctly nervous. “She received... powers from each of us. Gymbr modified her with our powers, and powers from others, too... gave her Kvas to drink and other elixirs... he did many things to her. We... we all did.”

Myre looked awkwardly away, and Luna grimaced before she closed her eyes and took a slow breath, muttering: “Well... the past is the past. And I say that not for thy own sake, Myre, but for mine: to remind myself that no matter how much I desire to hurt thee and the others, it would be pointless now. Especially as Gymbr is responsible for what has happened... not thou. Thou wert but... puppets.”

The Fate shifted awkwardly, and Scrivener looked over at her before he asked finally: “Are you the reason that Sin's thaumaturgy is so strong?”

Myre looked surprised at this, then she hesitantly shook her head and said after a moment: “I taught her what I could, but... she had plenty of talent and power to begin with in that field. Gymbr wanted to harness it for himself, but for some reason... he never could. He was able to create corruption when he desired, certainly... he... remade me with the Clay of Prometheus, clearly... but he was never able to use it the way Innocence does.”

Luna and Scrivener both nodded, both looking thoughtful before the sapphire winged unicorn shrugged and strode forwards, flicking her horn to open the door. The stallion and Myre both followed after her, Myre glancing back and forth even as she added: “But Gymbr never really trained her.... he just gave her power. I think... he feared what she might one day do. But she would never submit to becoming like we did... she was strong.”

“Did Gymbr actually ever free you? I mean... did Gymbr actually give you a choice, or did he just... purge the Light and transform you into... well, what you are now?” Scrivener asked curiously, glancing over his shoulder at the Fate, and Myre opened her mouth... then simply closed it and looked down thoughtfully, struggling visibly with herself.

That was more than enough of an answer for both Scrivener and Luna, even before Myre murmured: “I don't know. I don't remember clearly enough anymore... I don't... want to think about being part of the Light. And all I remember early on from meeting Gymbr is... loving him, because that was what we were told to do. Was being addicted to him, because he told us that if we ever disobeyed him, we would die... but so long as we did what we were told, we would remain powerful and whole and in constant pleasure from his presence alone.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Scrivener finally said quietly: “Gymbr was a real bastard to you guys too, huh?”

“Yes... I suppose he was.” Myre smiled faintly, looking down before she murmured: “But he also saved us from a fate worse than death. I don't... entirely know if that's me talking, or what I've been programmed to think... but it doesn't change the fact that he did.”

“Gymbr does not understand... empathy, or compassion. He tries to, but... it is not in his nature, and he...” Luna struggled for a moment with how to phrase it, then she looked over at Scrivener, the two trading a flurry of thoughts back and forth before the sapphire mare nodded firmly a few times as several images brushed through her mind. “Precisely! He sees a world that is always either black or white... it never contains any shades of gray. Things are simply good or bad to him... all pleasure becomes good, all pain bad. He does not understand that sometimes... we must be hurt.”

Myre smiled and nodded a little, and the three continued onwards in quiet until they reached Hecate's workshop. Luna frowned curiously as she heard a clanking sound from inside, beginning to lean around the corner... and then a metal claw seized her by the throat and yanked her forwards, choking her as it hefted her up into the air.

Scrivener stumbled and stared in shock as Myre leapt forwards immediately, but was quickly caught by the skull in a second claw and raised high. And all three ponies could only stare for a moment as Hecate grinned at them widely, her head feeding down into a steel collar that held her securely onto a bipedal body of plated metal, the design masculine and powerful and terrifying as she said coolly: “Brynhild. You brought a guest who looks just like you, too. I'm happy to see it.”

Luna growled, looking slowly over Hecate and feeling a moment of... of pure disbelief. She had known her body was being built, but she hadn't expected that the head would put it together so quickly... or that it would be so fierce and imposing. The metal plates had no adornment, no decoration, but they didn't need any: they were shaped to imitate large, powerful muscles while at the same time providing seemingly-impenetrable armoring over whatever circuits and wires and machinery powered her body. Her claws were large and complex, and she stood on wide, sharp-edged hooves that gave her towering, at least ten foot tall body an extremely stable base; it wouldn't just make her impossible to knock down, it would let her put all the more strength and weight into everything she did.

But the most worrying thing of all was the new horn standing out of Hecate's forehead, Luna baring her fangs as she stared at the light radiating out of the holes in the steel case it was concealed beneath. She could feel it, more than see through the slots that would allow magic to be channeled and escape; the horn was soulstone, and tremendously powerful, as Hecate drew Luna in so their faces were only inches apart. “I've waited a long time for this day, Luna Brynhild. A long, long time. I have my body back, and I've got weapons on the way that you can't begin to comprehend. I have a horn even more powerful than the original one you destroyed. I can once more feel like the goddess and ruler I am, and was meant to be.”

Hecate paused, then tossed Myre down as the mare began to turn to dark sludge before she simply pointed a single claw at her distastefully, and her horn shimmered through the steel sheath protecting it. A moment later, Myre was locked in a bubble of energy before she could solidify, the Fate looking stupidly back and forth before Hecate turned her cold eyes back towards Luna Brynhild, who was still dangling helplessly from her claw. “I should snap your miserable little neck. It would be easy. I would enjoy it. And with a single command and broadcast, I could take the entire army of Clockwork Ponies I helped you gather and leave. I could head to Decretum, and replace Valthrudnir as the goddess that will fix this broken slew of worlds and create one mechanical, everlasting empire, all bowing down to me.”

“Aye, thou could...” Luna grinned widely, looking fearlessly up at Hecate. “But I know thee better than that, Hecate. Thou art no empress. If thou art a goddess, 'tis a goddess of war, like Freya has always been: if thou kills me, if thou runs away to thy own machinations, then thou shall lose the chance to assault Heaven a second time... to fight a greater enemy... and the few friends thou hast made in what I can tell has been a long, miserable, otherwise pathetic life.”

Hecate snarled, then slung Luna savagely down into the ground before raising one metal hoof over the sapphire mare as she cursed in pain, Scrivener wincing as bruising spread over the side of his body... but both he and Luna glared defiantly up at Hecate even as she loomed over them, large hoof raised over Luna's head as if to crush the life out of her.

Then it trembled... and slowly withdrew, as Hecate looked coldly down at Luna, saying quietly: “I am not your friend. I am not your 'sister.' But I suppose... you have a point, Luna Brynhild. If I kill you now, I'll get dragged into the crossfire between your family and the Pious. It would be messy... and more importantly, it would be a waste of my valuable time. And I suppose I've yet to complete a few of my experiments here.”

She paused, then glanced over her shoulder after a moment at Innocence, who was looking uncertainly up at Hecate's back, breathing quietly in and out. “Your daughter's interaction with the Clay of Prometheus is extremely interesting. I'm going to run several experiments on her to see how well she metabolizes different concentrations and compounds.”

Luna grunted as Scrivener looked awkwardly up at the enormous mare, and then the stallion cleared his throat before he gestured over at Myre, who was still glaring from the prison of the energy bubble. “Could you uh. Let her out?”

“No.” Hecate said sourly, and then she looked down moodily when Luna poked her in the shin several times with her horn, sighing tiredly before she muttered: “You're making it very tempting to kill you again, Brynhild.”

“Thou art making it tempting to... shut up thy... stupid face.” Luna retorted lamely, and there was an awkward silence for a few moments before Hecate moodily looked at the energy sphere as her horn glowed. The prison flashed out of existence, and Myre shook herself briskly before trotting up beside Luna, mimicking her stance and glare as the mechanical-bodied goddess looked down at them with disgust through the electricity and cables of her mane.

Then she finally rolled her eyes in distaste and stepped calmly out of the way, gesturing irritably towards Innocence. “I suppose you're here for your daughter. Take her, take your freakish new companion, and get out. I have weapons to build and new machines to begin designing.”

“We are here for both of thee. And I do so enjoy the marked and serious interest thou takes in the fact there is a pony here who looks just like me, but is composed entirely of mire. Which is also her name, by the way. 'Tis Myre.” Luna said mildly, and Innocence blinked and straightened before hurrying forwards to lean around Hecate, staring disbelievingly at the Fate as Myre gave the unicorn an awkward smile in return.

“What... but... but how? I didn't think anyone except Gymbr...” Innocence looked sharply at her parents, her breath catching in her throat as suddenly the impossible felt possible and a crazed idea invaded her mind, making her blurt out fearfully: “Gymbr isn't back, is he?”

“What? No, child, of course not. Do not be ridiculous.” Luna scoffed, but all the same she was sharply watching Innocence: the way the mare, who often spoke of Gymbr with such idolatry tones, suddenly seemed terrified. So perhaps now we see her true feelings on the subject... “Gymbr is still imprisoned in his cell, precisely where he belongs.”

Innocence nodded awkwardly, dropping her head a bit as she smiled uneasily after a moment, before Scrivener Blooms said quietly: “Myre and her... well, Dusk, Imago, Twilight Shadow, they're all here on loan from Hel. She brought them out of Gymbr's core for us, and they're going to help us... figure out what to do about the Pious.”

“And fight to put a stop to them.” Myre added firmly, stepping forwards and nodding quickly, and Innocence smiled a little in surprise; surprise that only grew greater when the Fate lowered her head and said quietly: “And I want to apologize on behalf of all of us for what we did to you, Innocence. Even with Gymbr controlling us, it wasn't right.”

Luna looked over at Myre, and Scrivener shifted awkwardly as well: neither of them could tell whether or not Myre really meant that, or if she was just reacting based on what Luna and Scrivener would want to hear. And the annoying part was that even knowing it could be nothing more than false apology from a puppet that was only doing what it was programmed to do.... it still made both ponies feel a little more comfortable about the creature.

Innocence smiled faintly as well, lowering her head before she whispered: “It's a surprise and a relief to see you too, Myre. I thought you, Dusk, Shadow...you were all gone forever. I... missed you.”

It wasn't entirely true, but... she did feel gladness at the sight of Myre. Except it was like the affection she had for a lost toy, and not even an important one like Dinah. The Three Fates and Imago were all just puppets, after all, and Innocence was relieved to see that they were apparently in fine working order, continuing to simply act out whatever behaviors would please their current master most.

And now her parents clearly had control of at least Myre, even if Hel had apparently been the one to bring them back to working order. Innocence studied the Fate curiously, then she licked her lips slowly: this was a fortunate turn of events. Myre's corruption was particularly potent, and would increase her strength... and with a little bit of the right nudging, she thought she could get Myre to start siphoning energy out of other organics to pump directly into her. If the other Fates and Imago were all here, though, then Innocence's luck really might be about to turn around...

Luna frowned a little at the way Sin was staring so greedily at Myre, and the sapphire mare gave Scrivener an uneasy look before Hecate said distastefully: “I think this is the point where all of you leave, if introductions are done with. I have no interest in disposable puppets, no matter how easy they are to recycle.”

“I am not disposable.” Myre said irritably, glaring up at Hecate, and the mechanical goddess rolled her eyes before turning around.

She looked down at Innocence, who awkwardly drew her eyes up to meet Hecate's, and they studied each other for a few moments before the head said softly from her safe perch between her steel, synthetic shoulders: “Don't do anything stupid, filly. Show some patience, and I'll turn you into a goddess if that's what you want, or a monster if that's what you desire. But you're too good of a specimen to end up like me.”

Hecate reached up and calmly yanked on her head as the collar around her neck opened, for a moment lifting herself free from her steel body and making Innocence wince, before she dropped her head back into position as the collar locked firmly around her neck, reconnecting her to her mechanical body. “Now get out.”

Innocence nodded, looking almost chastened as she scurried past Hecate, and Luna watched her daughter hurry out of the room before the sapphire winged unicorn turned her moody eyes upwards, saying calmly: “I suppose there is no way I can persuade thee to do... anything, really. But all the same it does not seem I have to. Thou art already making weapons, aye?”

“For myself, mostly. But later I plan to upgrade the Clockwork Ponies, and perhaps I'll work on another beacon.” Hecate paused, then she looked over at Scrivener Blooms, asking him softly: “How badly do you want to win the war against the Light?”

Scrivener looked uncertainly up at Hecate, licking his lips slowly, afraid to answer with the malevolent look he saw in Hecate's eyes... but Luna answered for him, raising her head proudly as her prosthetic horn glimmered quietly. “We will do whatever it takes.”

Hecate smiled coldly, then she turned away, saying softly: “Good. Then come back later, and we'll discuss how to create Tyrant Wyrms.”

The conversation was over; for all the arguments, all the denials, all the anger Luna wanted to express... the silence that filled the air, punctuated only by the clicks and clanks of Hecate's heavy steel body moving through the room, was too absolute to allow her to speak. To say or do anything, as she breathed slowly in and out, and Scrivener Blooms looked down with a shiver, barely able to process what Hecate had just said, let alone what it implied...

And then, knowing no other course of action, the two ponies left... and Myre followed in their wake, mirroring their anxieties and worries, and yet the way her eyes stared back and forth and the shivers that ran along her spine suggested that at least some of that fear was her own, and not reflected from the ponies she now played eager servant to.

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