• 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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Of Clockwork And Wyrms

Chapter Forty Three: Of Clockwork and Wyrms
~BlackRoseRaven

Scrivener Blooms silently rubbed a Talon along Abaddon's back, the pseudodragon in his lap making a soft sound that was half-purr, and half... well, it sounded like worry. It made the stallion smile a little at how intelligent his little friend was, and he shook his head slowly as he rested back in his chair in his office.

His and Twilight's, really... she rarely used it, but she always insisted on keeping it so damn clean and tidy. He appreciated the help she gave him in keeping it organized, though: Horses of Heaven knew that left to his own devices, he'd end up in that awkward state of neat messiness, where everything had a particular place, but none of it liked to stay in said place for very long.

Twilight was still in Ponyville with Celestia, and their new set of 'servants,' working hard on assembling several dossiers of information about the Pious. Innocence was napping – he highly doubted that was what she was actually doing, but it was what she had said she was doing, and he and Luna were willing to give her a little privacy – and Luna was just aimlessly doodling.

They hadn't visited Gymbr: neither he nor Luna had felt much up to it. They might do it late tonight, when they headed back into Ponyville to talk with Hecate about Tyrant Wyrms... and how they could be created.

That thought terrified him. What scared him even more was that he and Luna were actually considering it... if he could keep them under control, after all, then well... they would be a useful asset, right? And Tyrant Wyrms, as it is, seemed like they were already compelled to obey his orders... even though they hadn't seen one for years now, apart from their excursion to Valhalla. But the Wyrms were either going dormant or fading out, he thought: they had no master to follow now, after all. Even with their instinct to destroy, to try and end all life, they were as much a puppet as the Fates and Imago likely were... no free will, no ideas of their own, just programming to respond to.

Tyrant Wyrms... he didn't doubt Hecate knew how to build them. And the fact that she wanted him meant... his powers would help her do that? Or could he make them himself, or... maybe she was just going to call them from other worlds and layers, like she had with the Clockwork Ponies. That had worked out just fine after all... right? Right?

The stallion sighed tiredly, then he gently picked up Abaddon between his claws, the little pseudodragon chirping quietly before he reached up and lightly grasped at Scrivener's nose with both his own little foreclaws. Scrivener smiled faintly, then he shook his head briefly before asking quietly: “Well, what do you think I should do, huh?”

Abaddon shrugged a little, then chirped at him quietly, and the stallion sighed again and curled the pseudodragon awkwardly up against his chest, muttering: “Great. Well. I do appreciate the well-informed and thoughtful response, Abby, I do. And I mean... Tyrant Wyrms. Now that would be some powerful cavalry to have to call in... but... aren't we already on a slippery enough slope as it is? Decretum technology... Clockwork Ponies... using Gymbr's old servants... and now considering Hecate's proposition about using Wyrms? Doesn't that say something bad about where we're headed?”

Abaddon chirped at him, then wriggled around a bit in Scrivener's forelegs before hopping up to his shoulder and climbing quickly onto his head. The stallion looked up at his pet mildly for a moment, and then he rolled his eyes as Abaddon kneaded at his mane with his claws before flopping peacefully down, the stallion saying dryly: “You know, all you're proving is that you're really not as smart as I pretend you are.”

The pseudodragon's response was to yawn loudly and slap the side of Scrivener's head with his tail, making the stallion wince a bit before he grumbled under his breath and said flatly: “You know, if I create Tyrant Wyrms one day, I'm going to feed you to one of them. I bet you'd be a tasty little snack and it would be a much better pet. I just... I dunno how you train something out of being a world destroyer... treats? One of those clicker things?”

Scrivener rose a foreleg, absently opening and shutting his claw as he made clicking sounds with his tongue until a throat loudly cleared from the doorway, and the stallion awkwardly half-turned to see Antares looking in at him with a slight grin on his face, the glossy-black unicorn asking mildly: “I'm not interrupting anything am I, Dad?”

“Uh. No. When did you get back? I didn't hear you and Prestige come inside.” Scrivener said awkwardly, slipping out of his chair and glancing awkwardly around at the shelves to double-check that everything was relatively neat... and more importantly, nothing was out where it could be easily snatched and read. “Hey, uh, let's go downstairs and see your mother.”

“Dad. Seriously. Overprotective.” Antares gestured around the office, saying mildly: “I'm not going to read any of your stuff, you know that. At least, not right now while we have more serious things to deal with. I can harass you after we save Valhalla.”

Scrivener frowned a bit at this, both loosening and tensing at the same time as neurosis faded, but honest worry took its place. “What happened?”

Antares hesitated, then he shook his head briefly and said quietly: “Prestige and I went ahead to Subterra, like Celestia asked us to. Morning Glory's been taking care of that little brat, Taruos... and a damn good thing, too. Someone tried to snatch the kid. We're assuming it's related to the Pious, of course, but we won't really know anything until the assailant is captured... it could just be some asshole who thought he could ransom the Prince while everyone's confused as hell about what's going on, or maybe sell him to the Pious or something. But if the Pious want to take over Valhalla...”

“Getting Taruos is the fastest way, even if Hel said they have other methods to override the enchantments protecting the Vale.” Scrivener finished in a mutter, and he could sense Luna listening in now, felt her prompting him with a question of her own. “So is Prestige looking out for Taruos?”

Antares smiled slightly at this, then he leaned forwards and said loudly: “Hi, Mutt.” A pause before he became serious again, nodding quickly. “A lot of the new Valkyries were originally trying to help track down wherever the hell Terra could be. But now all of them and Prestige are all trying to keep an eye on the poor kid. He's... he's a tough little bastard, though. Way stronger than I was at his age, I'll tell you.”

Scrivener smiled a little, shaking his head slowly before he said softly: “Yeah, but he's also still just a kid. Has anyone told him about...”

“Kvasir?” Antares shook his head and laughed a little. “Like you just said yourself, Dad. He's still just a kid. Besides, I think it's better if none of us say anything until we know exactly... what the hell is going on, you know? Theophilius Carter... I still can barely make any sense out of it.”

The charcoal stallion nodded a little, and the two were quiet for a little while until Antares finally shook his head and drew his eyes upwards, giving a small smile. “I wanted to talk to you about something though, Dad. You know how fast word spreads around here sometimes, and on my way through town I heard some Nightmares gossiping about how you're considering listening to Hecate's craziness and creating Tyrant Wyrms. I don't think it's a good idea.”

Scrivener nodded again and sighed a little as he looked up at the pseudodragon perched on his own head for a moment, before asking his son quietly without needing to look at him: “And do you have an alternative suggestion?”

Antares was silent, then he shook his head slowly and murmured: “Nothing feasible. Nothing that would even stand half a chance of working nearly as well as those things would... but what if you lose control? What if Hecate decides that once this is over and done with, she wants to take not just the Clockwork Ponies but those things with her? And Dad, no offense to you and Mom, but... what if everything goes perfectly according to plan, and you two are left with a bunch of pet Tyrant Wyrms? What... what would you do with them?”

Scrivener looked away at this, grimacing a little. He knew what he wanted to answer, but he wasn't sure how honest that was... and that even if it was, if he'd really be able to follow through with giving up... all that power.. worse, what if I didn't destroy them so much as... took that strength for myself, like Valthrudnir made me take the Grand Vizier's Kundalini... “I... I don't know.”

“I know, Dad. That's what I'm worried about.” Antares smiled faintly, giving a brief shake of his head before he said quietly: “I love you guys too much to lose you again... you understand that, right? And I've seen what happens when... you lose all honor and all compassion for others.”

Scrivener looked mildly over at the glossy-black unicorn, and then he smiled a little and said softly: “Hey. That was your fault, not ours.”

“Yeah, Dad. Way to go. You want your 'asshole' sign on your forehead or your back?” All the same, Antares smiled back at his father, shaking his head slowly before he added quietly: “You know what I mean, though. I just don't want to see you guys tempted by stuff that's... better off avoided altogether.”

“Hey, you're the kid here still, Antares. I'm your Dad.” Scrivener paused and looked down, rubbing at the underside of his muzzle. “At least most of the time, anyway. After how much you've ended up taking after your dumb-mother, well...”

Luna huffed loudly into Scrivener's mind at this before there were several loud thuds against the floor, and the charcoal stallion smiled amusedly as he stomped a hoof firmly in response before turning his eyes back up to Antares. “I want you there with us tonight while we go and talk to Hecate. And I want Innocence there, too.”

“See, you were making sense right up until the part where you said you want Innocence to come and see the angry head that wants to experiment on her and create world-destroying parasites to invade Heaven.” Antares said pointedly, gesturing back and forth with his hooves as he gave a flat look to his father. “Do you see the part where I might have gotten confused, or should I explain that in a little bit more detail to you?”

“Use the small words this time.” Scrivener said ironically, and Antares huffed and poked at him with his horn before he winced when Scrivener caught it with one Talon, saying mildly: “ I can probably snap this off, you know.”

“If you were using your... butt.” Antares said lamely, and Scrivener sighed tiredly and closed his eyes as they both heard the muffled cackle of laughter from downstairs. “Yeah, I bet that's happened to you a few times, right Mom?”

Scrivener glowered at Antares as Luna's laughter cut off into mental grumbles, and the charcoal stallion said dryly: “You know, you're really being a capital-j Jerk lately. How many other kids do you think get to get away with this?”

“Only the other great ones like me.” Antares said seriously, and then he actually became more solemn, leaning forwards and saying quietly: “I really don't think it's a good idea to bring Innocence, that's all. This is going to sound really stupid coming from me, but... she's not ready. She needs time to... she needs time somewhere without any temptations hanging over her head. Like a... I dunno. A supernatural rehab center or something. I know you guys have seen what she's been doing lately, and I just... I don't get how you can continue to overlook it.”

“We're not.” Scrivener's tone was a little sharper this time, more serious, and Antares immediately lowered his head a little and smiled awkwardly. With his acuity, he always knew when he crossed a line... and he always felt the worse for it, too. “Look, Antares. We're not going to just... lock her away because she's trying to be sly and cunning and thinks she's running some game on us. She's not... and she's confused, if you haven't noticed. It's like the more she tries to manipulate us, the more her emotions are rising to the surface, getting in her way. She's hurting over what she's doing, and she needs to be forced to... deal with that.”

He stopped, then looked down and shook his head slowly, saying softly: “Because if she really can't... give up this stupid quest for power... if she really can't do anything but continue to try and think of herself and block out whatever else is going on in her mind... then yeah, you're right. She does need help. Help we probably can't give her, except by... sending her away for a little while, yeah. Making sure she's somewhere she can't hurt anyone.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Antares looked down and rubbed at the back of his head, saying awkwardly: “Well, I guess... that makes me feel guilty. Sorry.”

“Always about you, isn't it, Antares?” Scrivener asked softly, and the glossy-black unicorn looked up with a wry smile and a bit of a shrug.

“Hey, you know me. I'm a selfish bastard... I want my whole family around with me for a long time, until we eventually piss each other off to the point where none of us ever want to see each other again... so you know, we all hang around together even more than usual to constantly keep each other angry and unhappy.” Antares said softly, and Scrivener smiled wryly and shook his head slowly.

“You're getting as bad as me.” he replied with entertainment; something Antares clearly took as a compliment by the way he grinned a little and straightened. Then both stallions looked up at the sound of a door opening and closing, and both smiled at the sight of Luna poking her head around the corner before she hopped towards her son.

He spun around, swinging his horn out so their spires clashed, the two fencing sharply for a few moments before suddenly both flinging themselves forwards and sharing a fierce, tight embrace. They clung to each other for a second, both smiling, both feeling relief and warmth before they pulled apart, Luna letting her hooves rest on her son's shoulders as she nodded firmly to him and said softly: “That is my little colt. Remembering his place as our child: to question us at times, and remind us that we can be idiots. Idiots, worser, with impure motives.”

“I think just 'worse' works fine there.” Scrivener remarked, and Luna turned a glower on her husband before she leaned over and firmly bopped him with her horn, making him wince a little. “Okay. Forget I said anything, then.”

“'Tis always the best thing to do.” Luna said wryly, and Scrivener gave her a flat look as Antares grinned and shook his head in amusement. Then the sapphire mare turned her eyes back to her son, smiling a little as she added: “I do agree with thy father on the thought that thou should be present with us, though... and that Innocence should attend as well. She may learn something beneficial from it... about power, and the price of power, and why we must always strive to maintain our honor, even when it seems to weaken us.”

Antares nodded hesitantly, and then he muttered: “Yeah, but it just feels like... a lot of those lessons could get twisted upside down in her head, that's all. It would be pretty crappy if she just came up with more reasons she should pursue power from all of this.”

Luna huffed at this, giving Antares a mild look as she said dryly: “Why, thou art just a fountain of positive thought, art thou not? Perhaps thou could save some wishes of well-fortune for later, as I am sure we shall direly need thy endless optimism in the future, to help us through the pessimism that will come with such perils we are sure to face.”

“Okay. Sounds good.” Antares said blandly, and then he grinned even as Luna huffed and bopped him firmly with her horn. “Just trying my best to be helpful, Móðer. That's all.”

“Oh, aye, I'm sure thou art.” Luna said flatly in return, and then she shook her head briefly before asking finally: “What did thou think of the so-called 'servants' Hecate has left us? Those strange trappings from Gymbr... thou must have at least seen them, aye?”

Antares shrugged a bit, then he said after a moment: “I don't entirely know. It's... creepy as hell, for starters, seeing them walking around here, smiling and helping out and interacting with everyone like they're normal ponies who've been here forever... I mean, I like to think of myself as pretty welcoming and openminded, and they bother me.”

Luna rolled her eyes, while Scrivener Bloom shrugged meditatively, looking over at Luna and saying in a faintly-exasperated voice: “You only want to defend Myre. And the only reason you want to defend Myre is because of how she can shapeshift and because she's like a nicer version of you. But did you ever stop and think about how maybe she's only like a nicer version of you because that's what you want her to be?”

“They do seem to reflect pretty much... everything.” Antares agreed after a moment, looking down uneasily. “Except for Sin. They're nice to Sin but they don't reflect her... I don't think they look at her the same way as they look at you guys, and anyone you've told them to listen to. I kind of wish I could get inside their heads, but even with my acuity... that's hard when so much of them seems to just change for the situation.”

“Hel would not give us...” Luna stopped, and then she looked down and grimaced a bit, muttering: “Well, I suppose she would not consider puppets of this kind to be broken in the first place, either. Still, I do not believe they are simply... reflecting us. There must be pieces of who they truly are somewhere in those shells...”

Scrivener shrugged a bit, and Antares looked wryly over at Luna, saying softly: “Well, unless they act bizarrely different in some what or another, there's no way even I'm going to be able to tell. They're too... they've been puppets for too long. You can't read a block of wood.”

Luna grumbled at this metaphor, and Scrivener only shrugged briefly as they lapsed into silence for a few moments, before the mare said finally: “Well, it does us no good to simply sit around here. Antares, go fetch thy sister. Since thou lost the argument against us, thou gets to be the one to awaken her from her map. And hope that she is not... touching herself or somesuch.”

Both stallions looked at Luna mildly, and Luna huffed after a moment, saying flatly: “What? 'Tis all I can think of that a mare could do in her room by herself when she is very clearly not napping! After all, I do not feel any magic energies, nor is there any sense of-”

“You know what? I. I really don't want to hear this. I'm going to just not argue with you and do what you said.” Antares said finally, shaking his head quickly and hurrying out of the room as he gave a little shiver. “It's no wonder me and Sin turned out so weird. Just imagine if Twilight hadn't been there to try and make us normal...”

He heard Luna huff loudly at his back and gave a slight smile to himself as he headed out the door at the end of the hall, then he simply hopped the railing and landed heavily on the back deck. The stallion strode up to the back door and yanked it open, raising his head high and shouting so Sin would know he was coming: “Hey, Mutt and Dad want you to come along to see Hecate, okay? You hear me, li'l sis?”

Antares strode through the kitchen, turning into the hall and hammering on Sin's door... and then he frowned uneasily when he didn't hear anything at all from the other side. Not a frustrated groan, not muttered curses, not tantruming or even heavy breathing that would indicate the horrible possibility his mother was right... and Antares hesitated only a moment before he grasped the handle and quickly shoved it open, gritting his teeth and already expecting the worst-

He was left staring in disbelief when he saw Sin laying in bed, surrounded by a translucent 'egg' of energy, and the stallion mouthed wordlessly a few times before he began to raise his horn... then faltered as Sin yawed silently inside the oval forcefield and he realized what it was. It was just a simple sound barrier, the magic energies emanating from it so minimal he could barely feel it even from where he was standing inside her room.

Amazingly enough... Innocence had been telling the truth. Antares stared at her for a few moments, and then a faint smile crept over his features before he shook his head slowly as he studied her, how she was curled up, resting fitfully and clutching Dinah up against her chest. Something that he took as a good sign, as he sighed a little before shaking his head slowly and shifting back and forth, not entirely sure of quite where he should go from here.

Thankfully, Innocence solved that problem for him by stirring inside of her soundproof cocoon, the mare yawning quietly before her eyes opened... and she jumped slightly at the sight of Antares, but then only scowled faintly at him. Antares looked back at her before he began to mouth nonsense words at her, and after a few moments Innocence rolled her eyes before she flicked her horn to pop the magic bubble around her, asking distastefully: “You think you're real cute, don't you?”

“Cute, well, I dunno about that. Handsome and awesome, yes, I am.” Antares replied wryly, posing and flexing for a moment as he held his head high, then he winked over at her and said mildly: “You're kind of cute, though. You know, all curled up with Dinah and everything.”

“Don't... don't read into it. She was just... here and... shut up.” Innocence grumbled crankily, shifting embarrassedly before she shook her head firmly. “What do you want, anyway? It's creepy to have you spying on me in my sleep, even by your admittedly-low standards, Antares Mīrus.”

“Oh, that takes me back. That's the same tone Prestige always used to use on me. Same kind of words, too.” Antares said almost dreamily, and Innocence glared at his exaggerated tone as he added cheerfully: “And well, you see how that turned out. One day even you'll stop being such a bitch to me.”

Innocence rolled her eyes, then she slipped out of her bed and tossed Dinah onto her pillow, muttering: “You wish. If you don't want anything, then get out of my way. I want to have a shower and then get something to eat.”

“Wait, I actually was here to give you a message.” Antares said mildly, and Innocence frowned at him, tilting her head. “Mutt and Dad are upstairs. They want you to come with them to see Hecate tonight. I think they're planning on leaving pretty soon, and they're going to be discussing... Tyrant Wyrms. Trying to make them and control them.”

Sin frowned at this, then she looked down and scraped a claw against the floor before murmuring: “Gymbr created Tyrant Wyrms. But they weren't what you'd call... successful experiments. They refused to listen or obey him, they just... lounged around listlessly, making fun of everyone and covering themselves in mire... and if he couldn't control him, what makes anyone think that Daddy and Mutt will be able to? It's not that I don't think they're strong, in their... in their own way... it's just that Tyrant Wyrms live for destruction.”

“But they do follow a hierarchy. Dad kind of is at the top of that, thanks to the fact he's got genetic information from both a Grand Vizier and the big momma of the Wyrms. Not to mention Valthrudnir... I'm guessing Gymbr had none of that.” Antares stopped, then he laughed dryly. “And yet I still think this is a bad idea too.”

Sin smiled faintly at this, looking up at her brother before she shook her head slowly, muttering: “I can't believe we actually agree on something, then. Next we'll be hunting jackalopes together.”

“Jackalopes are totally real.” Antares said defensively, and his childish tone, his seriousness made Innocence blink and look up... then giggle in spite of her best efforts not to. Antares huffed at this, but his eyes gleamed with warmth and happiness at the sight of his sister... actually acting, even if just a little, like the filly he had known not so long ago... and what at the same time felt like a lifetime away now.

He smiled down at her, and after a moment, Innocence hesitantly smiled back up at him before she shifted a little on her claws, then asked curiously: “Do you think you could teach me some of your purification spells, Antares?”

The stallion looked surprised at this, cocking his head curiously, and Innocence grumbled a little before she said finally: “It would just be... they would be very useful to have in my arsenal, that's all. Purification on the level you use it isn't something that's easily controlled, so I just... I figured that I would ask. That's all.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Antares cocked his head curiously, asking slowly: “Can you even harness purification, Sin? I mean, your magic is all kind of... dark. Unholy. Some would say... evil.”

Innocence looked crankily up at the stallion, and then she huffed and rose her head arrogantly. “I can mimic any kind of magic, and memorize any spell I see or experience firsthoof. I was just asking you to help me because I wanted to give you a chance to feel like you can actually contribute to something useful for once in your life.”

The stallion scowled down at Innocence, then he said flatly: “I used to make you breakfast, like, all the time, kid. Without me you wouldn't have had the most important meal of the day. So you'd be malnourished and probably dead from having no energy to survive your kinky times with Gymbr.”

Innocence looked stung at this, snarling up at the stallion before she snapped: “Well now I no longer need to eat, so it's not like that's... that's not useful at all!”

“You just told me you were going to have a shower and then get something to eat!” Antares complained, and the two glared at each other before he huffed. “Fine then. Let's see how well you use purification trying to learn it all by your lonesome. I'll be looking forwards to hearing all about how you managed to blind yourself or turn yourself to stone, miss I'm-So-Evil.”

The mare only blew a raspberry at her brother before huffing and shoving past him, grumbling: “Go tell Mutt and Dad that I'll be up soon. I'm going to have my shower and my meal. Not because I have to, because I want to.”

“Well, I'd say you really need the shower!” Antares called irritably as Innocence strode grouchily away, and then he added loudly as she entered the bathroom: “Because you're dirty!”

Innocence slammed the door behind her, and the stallion grumbled a little under his breath before he turned with a sigh, mumbling as he headed back towards the kitchen: “When did I end up being the messenger? And for the love of poop, everyone's in the same damn house.”

Antares shook his head briefly as he strode outside... then, without looking up, his horn glowed brightly before he made a light poking gesture upwards, creating a platform of white energy between himself and Luna Brynhild before she could land on top of him. She crashed into this instead, face smacking awkwardly into the thankfully-soft barrier as it dented deeply inwards... then flung Luna straight up into the air with the same force she'd collided with, making her yelp as she flew past the roof on a narrow parabola.

Scrivener and Abaddon both looked calmly up as Luna shot past, then the stallion sighed and shook his head slowly, the pseudodragon chirping cheerfully atop it as he muttered: “There's apparently no such thing as seriousness in this family. And I don't know why that always surprises me somehow.”

A moment later, Luna thunked loudly down on the roof as Antares looked up mildly, the barrier of energy vanishing before he called up to his father: “Hey, Sin's having a shower and then she insists on eating something before we go. Okay?”

“Okay, thank you, Antares.” Scrivener replied, and then he calmly took the stairs down to the deck as Luna leapt off the roof with a huff, landing a few feet away from the glossy-black unicorn and eying him warily. Antares glared back at her, and then the two slowly slunk in a circle like cats, backs raised, growling lightly at one-another until Scrivener Blooms rolled his eyes and said sourly: “I swear I'll go get the spray bottle.”

“Thou talks down to us so much! Truly, Scrivy, thou art... thou art a big fat butt.” Luna whined, and Antares nodded fervently in agreement, both ponies glowering at the charcoal stallion. “How would thou like it if I... I do not know... told thee to get a spelling book?”

“A dictionary?” Scrivener asked dryly, and Luna huffed at him before the mare strode over and began to poke at the stallion with her soulstone horn, making him wince and shove at her awkwardly. “I've been asking for several dictionaries for years, by the way. But all you ever buy me are large, sharp objects and things that I'd rather not talk about and quietly have to get rid of.”

“Aye, thou great derider. 'Tis pathetic, I shall have thee know.” Luna huffed, raising her head imperiously and scowling at Scrivener Blooms. “After all, we are completely aware of one-another. 'Tis like if I were just to pretend Antares was not in the room with us while I call him a froo-froo, and expect him not to react.”

“We're not in a room.” Scrivener said mildly, and Luna stuttered to a halt as Antares blinked, then both unicorn and sapphire mare glowered over at the charcoal earth pony. “And sometimes, just pretending a little is enough. Especially with your short attention span.”

Luna growled, then hopped forwards and battered Scrivener's head with her front hooves, making him yelp and flail a little before she shoved him down and pinned him against the deck by the head. The stallion mumbled disconsolately, and there was a moment of silence before the winged unicorn finally looked over at her son, saying moodily: “I think I will fear these Tyrant Wyrms more if they end up taking on thy father's personality that I would were they simply beasts of destruction.”

Antares grunted a little, then he said dryly: “Not to be patronizing or anything, Mom... but maybe you really shouldn't joke about that stuff.”

“Oh shush. Besides, I shall joke about whatever I please.” Luna huffed in response, and then she shook her head and added wryly: “It was in my nature as 'twas to always make light of things supposedly 'sacred.' So thy father's influence has not done much for my sense of what should and should not be joked about... and of course, even if Scrivener keeps his foolish mouth shut, he still thinks plenty of quite inappropriate things, such as the joke about-”

Scrivener reached up a Talon and managed to grab Luna's muzzle, covering her mouth and making her glower down at him before she stomped a few times on his head, the stallion wincing in pain before she jerked her head free. They glared at each other, and then Luna finally huffed and said sourly: “Thou art always so damned touchy. Why must thou worry so much about... well, everything, I suppose. Great endless fountain of tears.”

“Hey, I haven't cried in like. Well. A really long time.” Scrivener Blooms defended awkwardly, and then he cleared his throat and shook his head. “And it's perfectly fair for me to worry about you badly repeating things that I already know are offensive. Because you always somehow manage to make them sound even more offensive.”

Antares shook his head slowly, then he turned around and strode into the kitchen, sighing and muttering wryly: “Well, at least this family's never boring.”

Twilight Sparkle was waiting anxiously for her family at the edge of town, and she sighed in relief when they finally came into sight, smiling awkwardly at them as she waved lamely. Scrivener rose his head curiously as Abaddon leaned over his skull with a chirp, while Innocence only muttered: “Great. And we all know where Momma's going to stand on the subject of Tyrant Wyrms.”

“You say it like it's a bad thing you and her are actually going to have the same opinion on something.” Antares said mildly, and Innocence only grumbled under her breath, the glossy-black unicorn shaking his head slowly as he looked at her mildly. “There is seriously so much wrong with you, Sin. Really. You might want to get your head looked at.”

“You might want to shut up.” Innocence said flatly, and the siblings glowered at each other even as Twilight shared quick hugs with their parents. Then the Lich strode past, and Antares willingly traded a smile and embrace with her... but Innocence only huffed and looked away when Twilight turned towards her, the polymorphed unicorn blowing some of her dark mane out of her eyes and refusing to acknowledge the Lich.

Twilight sighed a little, and Luna scowled as Scrivener shifted slowly on his Talons. But after a moment, the violet pony gave a small, only half-forced smile, saying softly: “Let's just head into town. Hecate is waiting for us... I think she's eager to discuss the whole Tyrant Wyrm idea.”

“Yeah, I bet.” Scrivener muttered, grimacing a little and shaking his head slowly before he said uneasily: “I have to wonder what she must know about them... I mean, Thesis had at least two, right? And Endworld... we saw signs of their presence there too and everything.”

“Aye, well... they did seem to be a favorite of Valthrudnir's.” muttered Luna, shaking her head briefly before following calmly behind Twilight as the violet mare started towards town. Scrivener fell in step with her, lowering his head thoughtfully as Luna continued: “I think, all things considered, 'twould have been strange were there no signs of the Wyrms.”

“They're dangerous, but they're stupid, too.” Innocence muttered, and both Luna and Scrivener looked curiously over their shoulders at her. The polymorphed unicorn only shrugged briefly, however, looking down and saying finally “They're just machines. They're designed to destroy and infect but... ultimately, they're just machines. No intelligence except what they're ordered to do, but... half the time they won't listen to orders. So they're stupid.”

Scrivener and Luna traded looks before Twilight Sparkle said softly: “But they will from you, Scrivy, because of... well, what happened before. And I'm not... I'm not at all fond of the idea of creating them... but I think right now if I had to choose, I'd unfortunately have to say... we need to listen to Hecate and consider her ideas.”

Antares and Innocence both looked up with shock at Twilight's words, but the violet mare only smiled faintly, keeping her eyes ahead. Scrivener and Luna were also gazing at the Lich, but with much more tenderness, the stallion saying quietly after a moment: “It's okay if you think we're going to screw this up, you know.”

“I know. But I don't. And Innocence is right... even... even if their purpose is to destroy, they're just machines at the end of the day. Organic constructs, although by a... a rather broad definition.” Twilight shivered a little, shaking her head briefly before she gave a faint smile to her partners over her shoulder, sharing her emotions and thoughts with them in that gentle look even before she murmured: “And I trust you two.”

The two nodded slowly as Innocence shifted uncomfortably, frowning uneasily at the ground, while Antares was only gazing ahead and chewing slowly, nervously on his tongue. Then the glossy-black stallion sighed a bit before he said finally: “You know what's awkward? That we're the ones against this and Twilight's now gone and said she's for it and just... I feel very backwards right now.”

“So I guess that means you can't be angry at me for learning from Hecate... or if I choose to accept her offer of letting her make me a true goddess.” Innocence said: she tried to sound brazen and bold, but instead she sounded like a child trying to test her parents' anger.

But Twilight only smiled a little and shook her head slowly, saying softly: “You're free to try that if you want, Innocence... but I'd be careful if I were you. Hecate's promises... they can be a little tricky to untangle from time-to-time. You might want to find out exactly what she means before you get involved with that... and exactly what the cost to you is going to be in return.”

“Well, do not ruin it, Twilight!” Luna complained loudly, and Scrivener smiled despite himself as Innocence frowned uncertainly. “Some things are meant to be discovered on their own. Sometimes, mistakes must be made, silly adventures taken, and that is all there is to it.”

Twilight sighed a little and shook her head slowly, while Innocence shifted awkwardly, uncertain of precisely what her parents were talking about but getting the distinct feeling that trying to work with Hecate might not be the best of ideas after all. Which made her wonder – and not for the first time – why they were attempting to make-nice with a being that was ninety percent nigh-indestructible machine-body and ten percent goddess-head.

But she was powerful, in every sense of the word, and her parents seemed to recognize that... maybe even respect it. It confused her, though, with all their talk of honor and mercy: Hecate was the opposite of so many of their beliefs, and yet they asked her for help, yielded to her advice, let her do... whatever she wanted, from what Innocence had seen. That made them either hypocrites or cowards who just wanted an easy scapegoat to keep their hooves clean... and Innocence didn't exactly find either of those things very appealing.

She kept quiet for now, though; it would be better to watch and wait, study just how her parents treated Hecate and see if she could figure out why the nasty-tempered head was allowed to simply do whatever she pleased.

Luna and Scrivener both felt Innocence's too-obvious eyes on them, watching them, studying them, and it made the sapphire mare fidget before Twilight said, in an awkward attempt to try and distract her partners: “We're... well, it's nice tonight, right?”

Luna grunted, looking meditatively up at the night sky as Scrivener Blooms glanced back and forth: there were both old-fashioned oil lamps as well as newer, brighter electric lights, and similar lamplight shone out of many windows. Not that electricity had been that rare before, but it was the quality of the light and the fact it was powered by technology, not magic, that was drawing his attention: it was like artificial day was peeking out of each and every lit-up window they passed, strangely threatening for something that should be comforting.

“The stars are harder to see.... all this damned light pollutes the air. And I can hear the buzzing hum of the wires in mine skull.” Luna grumbled moodily, glancing up at several thick cables that were strung along the tops of tall wooden posts. “Damnation. I do not desire to see my beautiful little kingdom become... become some technological nightmare like Canterlot and Manehattan are becoming. 'Tis painful to even imagine.”

Scrivener grunted, then he smiled a little as he looked back and forth again, noted how the architecture had changed here and there, not to mention the composition of home: more and more was artificial and synthetic, and- “Oh stop it, Scrivy. Damnation. 'Tis like poison in my mind.”

Luna grumbled under her breath, and Scrivener leaned over to nudge her gently with his shoulder as Twilight said softly: “Not all change is bad, Luna... and much as I want Ponyville to remain the same way forever, much as I don't want things to change any more than they already have... change... change happens. That's it. And there's not a whole lot that any of us can do about it, either.”

“There is so. We can simply pummel whatever is trying to change until it changes no more.” Luna mumbled, earning an amused look from Twilight and an amiable shrug from Scrivener. Antares snorted, while Innocence only continued her awkward staring, which by now Luna was itching to say something loud and obnoxious about, but she was barely managing to keep herself in check for her daughter's sake.

Then Antares cleared his throat loudly as he looked over at his sister, and she winced a bit and hurriedly shook her head, turning her attention to him and snapping irritably: “What?”

“I was just curious about what Valhalla must have looked like. I mean, you said it was the kinetic pulse that left it all busted up, right?” Antares asked mildly, and Innocence looked at him suspiciously, narrowing her eyes like she suspected he had some hidden agenda. Which he supposed that he technically did, but that was beside the point, really. “Did Gymbr use a lot of Decretum technology? And what kind of architecture was he into? Something tells me he was probably a fan of revival-era gothic stuff.”

Sin's mouth puckered as if she'd bitten into a lemon, ad then she gave a tired, drawn-out sigh before saying distastefully: “Yes, Antares. He used quite a lot of Decretum technology, most of it powered by soul batteries and various crystal cores.”

Antares made a bit of a face even as he nodded, then the glossy-black unicorn muttered: “Well, I guess that really shouldn't surprise me. He always was a little... rough.”

“He did whatever was necessary to achieve his goals. I respected that.” Innocence retorted, and then she smiled contemptibly and shook her head slowly. “What other use are prisoners and captured enemies going to serve, anyway? At least inside the batteries they're kept alive.”

“That's not really living.” Antares said quietly, and there was an awkward few moments of silence before the stallion cleared his throat and looked up, saying finally: “Well, at least we're almost at... Kwolek Labs.”

He smiled a little at the name, and Luna and Scrivener both nodded slowly as Twilight gazed at the shape of the gleaming metal building in the distance, then she said softly: “I wonder what Cowlick must think of it. I hope... I really do hope that she doesn't mind.”

“I'm sure she doesn't.” Scrivener Blooms said softly, and a quiet fell, staying with them until after they'd entered the engineering building and passed into the brightly-lit maze of corridors beyond the 'employee's only' door.

They took their time heading down to Hecate's workshop, and Luna was unsurprised to see the goddess herself was standing in the hall outside her room, waiting for them with an irritable look on her features. The group halted to look up at Hecate as she drew her eyes measuringly over them, then surprisingly decided to spare her usual mockery and reprimands as she turned and headed into the room instead, saying moodily: “I have a lot to do, so let's not waste time.”

“Oh, Hecate, time spent with thee is never wasted.” Luna remarked wryly, and the goddess growled at her irritably as the sapphire mare opened her mouth... then winced and looked back and forth in surprise at the sight of several Clockwork Ponies, all of them calmly going about different tasks at different tables. “What are these creatures doing here?”

“Assembling tools. Data mining. Dealing with calculations that I don't want to. A variety of things.” Hecate gestured moodily over the mechanical ponies, and Scrivener opened his mouth... then grimaced a bit as he tasted something strange, not entirely unpleasant to his senses even as Antares visibly wrinkled up his muzzle. “What's wrong? Are your weak little lungs already suffocating?”

Luna looked back and forth as Innocence only looked confused... and perhaps the slightest bit worried about Antares, who simply covered his mouth and nose as he shot back in a muffled voice: “Don't worry, Hecate, the smell isn't nearly as bad as looking at you. And I'm sure I can get used to the former, even if the latter makes my eyes barf every time.”

“Cute.” Hecate said sourly, and then she backhanded Antares and knocked him flat. Immediately, Luna snarled and leapt forwards, but Hecate only rolled her eyes and held up a hand moodily. “Go ahead, start a fight. Waste time. I can kill you later, Brynhild: right now we should concentrate on smarter things.”

Luna grumbled moodily at this, but after a moment she grunted and nodded, drawing her eyes out over the Clockwork Ponies as she said sourly: “Very well, but from now on thou shall keep thy claws to thyself. And if thou must put them to use upon a pony, then thou shall at least strike at something that can strike thee back, great abhorrent coward.”

“I... I could hit her back. I just don't want to, that's all.” Antares said awkwardly, and Luna gave her son an amused smile as he picked himself up and looked flatly up at Hecate. “Well, I could.”

“Good for you.” Hecate rolled her eyes, then glanced over her shoulder, snapping: “Gasp, shut down for now... Node, move that junk off the table, your programming was not for sloppiness!”

Scrivener looked up in surprise as there was a loud clanking before a Replicant calmly stood up on the other side of the table, while another bowed his head humbly and hurriedly began to straighten up the workspace around himself, looking a little embarrassed. Hecate looked less-than-pleased still, but she nodded moodily after a moment, saying distastefully: “That's one step in the right direction, at least. Get those circuits adjusted or I'm going to have your other eye removed.”

Node dropped his head, his eye wincing as the mechanical scope sticking out of the other socket shrunk back with a self-conscious whir, and Scrivener studied the Replicant for a moment before glancing at Hecate, asking uneasily: “There were three others, right?”

“Yes. But these two are the only ones with any purpose or use right now.” Hecate replied dismissively, and then she gestured calmly towards the table. “Sit. This won't take very long to explain, even in small words.”

“Then perhaps we should stand.” Luna said evenly, although she was undercut slightly as Antares looked awkwardly back and forth, then carefully crept around the ponies and made his way over to the table, Luna groaning as the glossy-black unicorn seated himself beside Node, who looked uncertainly at the newcomer. “Oh. Oh grand, Antares, truly tremendous. Thou art doing such a wonderful job of sticking up for thyself.”

“Hey. Hey. I just wanted to sit down, okay?” Antares defended, and then he turned his eyes to Node, studying the Replicant for a moment before shrugging a little and asking finally: “So uh... what are you doing?”

“Do not address my staff. Pay attention here, little idiot.” Hecate said sourly, and then she strode calmly over to the table, looking with equal distaste over at Luna. “And fine. Stand if you want. Either way, take a look at this.”

Hecate extended a mechanical hand, her horn glowing and a faint aura surrounding her metallic digits as well before an illusion projected itself beneath the claw, and Scrivener stared in disbelief at the translucent outline of what looked like an egg, with some shifting, reptilian shape inside of it... “The original Tyrant Wyrms created by Valthrudnir are made from the corpses of gods and Jötnar, among other hard-to-acquire samples. Essentially, the Kundalini is built, and then placed into a mold in which the Clay of Prometheus is poured and treated with energy until the Tyrant Wyrm takes shape.

“We do not have this luxury, and as you are aware, Brynhild, a class of Tyrant Wyrm was developed that could spawn other, lesser entities. Broodmothers.” Hecate looked calmly over at the ponies before she gestured at the illusion of the egg beneath her claw. “Broodmothers were able to reproduce by ingesting large quantities of organic matter and spiritual energy, mixing this together inside their bodies, and then birthing the result. The egg will protect the Wyrmling while it begins to develop, but within a week the egg will hatch, and the Wyrmling will emerge.”

“Aye... for a short time it will be docile, even curious. It can safely be picked up and carried around, it will not attack anything unless 'tis hostile, 'twill be easily frightened but just as easily comforted.” Luna said softly, shaking her head with a small smile. “But after two weeks, it will seek a place of safety to hide and cocoon itself in mire... and within days, it will emerge as a fully-grown Tyrant Wyrm, with all memory of its childhood lost, programmed only for evil.”

“I should have suspected that Celestia would have studied them.” Hecate said softly, and then she flicked her claw to the side, nodding as the illusion vanished. “That is correct. As Valthrudnir phrased it, the Wyrmlings have the instincts of rats. They seek out crevices, nooks, society, and allies they can shield themselves behind. Then they metamorphosize into predators capable of tearing down the places they have infiltrated.

“Their programming activates thanks to genetic augmentation. Once they're cocooned in the mire, it triggers a... multitude of changes. Like puberty.” Hecate gave a half-mocking smile. “Not that you entirely understand that, puppet, do you?”

Luna looked sourly up at the goddess, and then she asked distastefully: “So is it possible for us to harness the powers of the Wyrms or not?”

Hecate rolled her eyes, and then she pointed at Scrivener Blooms, who winced a bit... before looking surprised when the goddess gestured towards Innocence as well. “More than that, once the Wyrmlings cocoon, it should be a simple enough matter to prevent the programming from being locked in. Then we can train them similarly to drake steeds when they awaken.”

“But... I mean, modifying... genetics and memories and programming, I don't know...” Innocence started awkwardly, and then he winced when Hecate only glared at her, the polymorphed unicorn slowly lowering her head and falling into awkward silence.

Then Hecate turned her attention to Luna, as the sapphire mare asked dryly: “I have a feeling I shall regret this, Hecate, but where are we to find a Broodmother?”

“We have one. Don't we?” Hecate turned her eyes towards Innocence, who stared blankly for a few moments before Hecate said coldly: “Dusk. Or am I incorrect in my assumption that's how Gymbr created his Tyrant Wyrms? Breeding with her?”

Innocence's eyes widened, the mare spluttering for a response before she finally flushed and lowered her head, mumbling out an affirmation after a few moments. Scrivener and Luna both stared at this, and then the sapphire mare snarled over at Hecate, spitting: “So let me guess, thy grand idea is that Scrivener Blooms shall... shall mate with that wretched, disgusting, stupid, fat-”

“That's not necessary. It may not even require actual fertilization, only a trigger: help me prepare what you call Prometheus Elixir and we'll inject that into Dusk's womb and examine the results.” Hecate said distastefully, and Scrivener and Luna both shared stupefied looks before they both shuddered a little. “What? Would you prefer being treated like farm animals being set out to stud?”

“Well... no.” Luna mumbled after a moment, and then the sapphire mare sighed tiredly, slumping a little before she said uneasily: “But I do not like it all the same. These Tyrant Wyrms... they are going to be like... his children...”

That thought made nausea twist through the stallion, and he wheezed quietly and lowered his head with a shudder as Luna winced, then smiled at him apologetically. Scrivener only mumbled quietly in response, however, then he shook himself briefly out as Hecate said moodily: “Only so far as part of his genetic material was used to make them, in order to better make them respond to his orders and because it will make them easier subjects to manipulate and control. This way, even if you fail to extract Valthrudnir's programming, they should still be subservient to you. And depending on Dusk's design, we may be able to breed a small army of Knights.”

“There's that word again. Breed.” Scrivener shivered a little, shaking his head weakly before he looked up and asked finally: “Isn't there... any other way?”

“Yes, actually.” For a moment, Scrivy and Luna and Twilight all felt their hopes rise stupidly, before Hecate said contemptibly: “We kidnap mares that I torture and modify into Clockwork Ponies that possess heavy Wyrm genetics, so you just have to mount whatever's left of their meat and-”

“Okay, okay, I... I take it back. Just. Stop. Just stop.” Scrivener grimaced, raising his Talons and shivering a little before he asked hesitantly: “Isn't there... if Sin and I work together, can't we create Tyrant Wyrms that way?”

Hecate opened her mouth... then frowned moodily, turning her attention towards Innocence and asking: “Your thaumaturgy: have you ever used it to create homunculi, or at the very least, golems?”

For some reason, Innocence didn't want to answer... so she ended up wincing and glaring all the worse at Antares when he looked up from the table and said helpfully: “She completely concealed herself inside this giant Tyrant Wyrm construct when we first fought. I thought that she had actually turned into a Tyrant Wyrm... ish... thing. I mean, you could see that it was made of crystallized corruption, but all the same...”

“Interesting.” Hecate muttered, turning her head towards Sin and studying her intently, and then she glanced over at Scrivener Blooms and said calmly: “We may be able to manufacture a new type of Wyrm. But the experiment will require the assistance of both yourself and your daughter, and I believe we should go ahead with Dusk to begin creating Knights all the same. You cannot run away from what you know is the sane course of action just because you think it's unpleasant, Scrivener Blooms. I never ran away from Thesis.”

Luna and Scrivener both looked up at this, startled and a little... uncomfortable? Even ashamed? Because the first thing Scrivener wanted to retort was that it would be nothing like that, but even as he was about to say it, he realized it was true, but not in a sense that defended him... in a sense that made his discomfort seem minimal compared to what Hecate would have gone through. She had just shown she was every bit as sly as Celestia, and cornered them with the one form of logic that Luna and Scrivener responded to. Emotional logic, which wasn't really that logical at all.

There was silence for a few moments, and then Twilight Sparkle finally smiled faintly and nodded, closing her eyes and bowing her head as she murmured: “I'm terrified of what this could all mean. I'm terrified of what could happen... but I'm even more scared of what happens if we don't make use of every resource available to us and we fail to stop the Pious. Who knows how many of our friends, our family in Heaven...”

She bit her lip, and Hecate turned a cold, ruthless gaze on the Lich, saying calmly: “If you really want to help, Twilight Sparkle, then you'll learn to put that Reaper's bell to good use... and you'll stop hiding your true face behind that ridiculous mask of niceness you wear. It's annoying and pathetic. And it makes you look weak.”

Luna and Scrivener both glared up at Hecate as Antares grimaced and sat back slightly, while Innocence turned a frown towards her mother... and after a moment, Twilight silently rose her head, saying quietly but evenly: “I'm not wearing a mask, Hecate. Not like you are. But even if I am weak, and I am too nice, too naïve, too... pathetic... I'm still going to do everything I can to help you prepare for what's ahead. I promise.”

“See that you do.” Hecate said calmly, and then she turned her eyes towards Innocence, saying contemptibly: “And for your sake, I hope you have even half your mother's stubbornness and your father's endurance. We have much to do.”

Innocence shifted, feeling chastened as she snuck another look towards Twilight Sparkle... and wondered silently how all these ponies that seemed so different could work together so well, while in spite of all her best efforts and manipulations, she still felt as different from them as the murky bog was from the clear night sky above.

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