• 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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Time And Decay

Chapter Forty Four: Time and Decay
~BlackRoseRaven

Sugar Cube Corners was closed today: not for any particular holiday or celebration, but because Pinkie Pie had simply found it too difficult to get going in the morning. After all, normally Pinkamena was the one who got everything going for her, and finished the cleaning and the preparations for opening the store. But Pinkamena and Sleipnir were both gone and Pinkie Pie... Pinkie Pie had started to get old a long time ago.

All the same, she'd managed to drag together the dregs of a party: her younger self would have been embarrassed by it, but her friends reassured her that it was all okay. She smiled a little around at them, but they could all feel it: the weight of their age, and of recent events. And even more than that, the burden of change, and the futility of trying to... to keep up with it all.

Pinkie lost some of her poof, making her wrinkles stand out further, her features more sallow, her whole body losing its spring and instead slumping, limp as a lost marionette. But a moment later, a hoof gently grasped her shoulder, and the ivory unicorn seated beside her at the little round table they had set up smiled and encouraged gently: “Come on, dear. Chin up. Your sister and Sleipnir are just fine, I know it.”

“Thanks, Rarity... but it's not just that.” Pinkie Pie sighed a little, smiling a bit as she drew her eyes slowly over the ivory mare. Her coat was beautiful, almost shimmering, but her once so-vibrant violet mane was thinning and turning gray. And she looked so... fragile, in the silk gown that couldn't hide how thin she was, and a shawl wrapped several times around her shoulders to try and keep away the cold. “It's... everything.”

“I hear you.” Rainbow Dash mumbled moodily across the table, and Fluttershy nodded sympathetically as the stallion sipped slowly at his drink. “Applejack... I still don't know what to do about her. Part of me says that... she's gone way too far. But Ava's... mad at us both, really, and Big Mac says I'm being an idiot, and Apple Bloom keeps telling me... well, the same thing. And I guess they're the only ponies in the world who knew... know... AJ better than I do...”

There was silence for a few moments as Rainbow Dash sighed, then shifted to bite down on the straw sticking out of his smoothie, sucking up some of it before he mumbled through a mouthful of juice and ice cream: “Everything's dumb, huh?”

Fluttershy smiled faintly, and then she said softly: “I'm sorry about Cowlick, Rainbow. I know that we haven't talked about it much-”

“And I don't want to.” Rainbow half-shoved himself away from the table, but then he only gritted his teeth before sighing and slumping, clenching his eyes shut. “I... I just can't believe what she did, still. What... what gave her the right?”

The mares only looked at him silently, and then Rainbow slumped a bit and sighed softly, reaching up and rubbing a hoof slowly at his forehead as he murmured: “It's just all so... not fair. And now she's gone, but Applejack's back, but... Heaven is worse than Hell and so who knows what the hell that makes Hell and... we're... out of this fight.”

Rainbow looked up silently, and Fluttershy gave a small smile, shaking her head slowly as she said quietly: “Not entirely. I heard that you volunteered to carry messages for-”

“Yeah, and they denied me. Said I was... too old.” Rainbow Dash grimaced, muttering: “Old. So what if I'm old? I can still outrace any of these damn stupid 'kids' who think they're so fast and so tough... the only Pegasus in the world faster than me is my little girl, Avalon...”

The stallion continued to simmer and grumble for a little while, and Rarity sighed and shook her head a bit before she suggested: “Why don't you come and work with me and Spike? Ponyville has been asked to make a whole array of armors and equipment... they all say war with Heaven itself is coming, and everyone wants to be as ready as possible.”

“The Phooka are nervous. They said that the balance is off... many of them have been trying to ask Kismet about it, but he always just shakes his head and looks... sad.” Fluttershy murmured, and then she smiled a little. “I'm... really worried about our friends.”

“Twilight... she's caught up in the middle again with everything.” Pinkie Pie said quietly, and she looked up, shaking her head and laughing faintly. “It's silly of me, but the thing that really upsets me these days is... now everyone's so busy. And you guys are the only ponies I really know in Ponyville anymore... I... I can't claim to be friends with everypony when I can barely leave the house some days.

“And you guys are all so busy too, but Pinkie Pie...” She smiled faintly, looking down and closing her eyes. “She's silly ol' Pinkie Pie. But I was happy, you know, with big sister to take care of me and Sleipnir helping out and making me laugh and smile. I wish a lot sometimes... I had found someone special. And I never did, and that's okay. It is. I never really... got out there that way. Being a friend is one thing... playing games and 'playing games' with ponies was one thing. But I don't think I'd make a very good marefriend to anyone... my attention span is too short, and I just... I would have hated to gotten involved with someone, then just annoyed them or upset them.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Rainbow Dash looked up and said softly: “You would have been a great mom though, Pinkie Pie. Maybe even better than...”

He fell silent, then shook his head slowly before looking down into his smoothie, murmuring: “I wish Applejack and me had gone ahead and had more kids. I wish there were dozens of little foals running around, all me and her's... even if they all turned out crazy as Ava. Hell, especially if that, because she was a nightmare to take care of as a kid but I look at her... and I'm so goddamn proud of her, you know? She's come so goddamn far... and I wish I could tell her... to just go, and leave me behind. Pursue her dreams. Don't let her old dumb Dad slow her down...”

He stopped, reaching up to silently rub at one wing as he murmured: “They were right to reject me. I am old, and I am tired, and I look at all the records I set when I was young and think... 'how did I ever manage to do all that?' And I look at Applejack and... I get so mad, I realize, because I'm actually jealous of her. Isn't that a laugh? I'm jealous of what she suffered through, because... it gave her her strength back, at least. And I hate Cowlick, because... because I think sometimes...”

Dash fell silent, and Fluttershy reached up to quietly squeeze his shoulder as Rarity gazed at him softly. Then the ivory mare gave a faint smile and lowered her eyes, murmuring: “And beauty wilts too, you know... we're all old, Rainbow. We're all losing... little bits and pieces of ourselves, sad as I am to say that. But I guess there's both good and bad that come with age...”

“Name one good thing.” Rainbow Dash said sourly, and when Rarity smiled a little behind her hoof and even Pinkie Pie couldn't help but giggle a little, the stallion added flatly: “And no 'good memories' or 'wisdom' or crap like that. Because I sure as hell don't feel any wiser than I've ever been, and if I wanted good times, I had plenty of those when I was young between... all the everything else.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Fluttershy looked up and said softly: “I think we've learned a lot about ourselves and each other, and gotten stronger from these experiences, though. I remember, a long time ago, we were defined only by one thing: the Elements of Harmony. We let ourselves... become, be seen as, those elements... but were we really? How much did that benefit us in the long run... and how much did it just take away? Because now I look at myself, and I don't think that I'm Fluttershy, Element of Kindness... I'm Fluttershy. I'm a mother, a leader to the Phooka, I help take care of Mother Nature for as long as she'll have me... and I'm kind, but I would never dare to think I am and embody Kindness. I have my moments of anger, and sadness, and... everything else. There's more to me than just one label.”

Rainbow Dash looked silently over at Fluttershy, but he'd risen a bit, and the others were paying close attention as well as the sunshine-yellow Pegasus blushed a bit... but then smiled faintly even as she half-covered her mouth with a hoof, murmuring: “I liked that the Elements of Harmony linked us. But that's all I ever really thought of them as, a link we all shared. They always sounded so pretty on the outside, but... they bothered me, when I stopped to think about them. I didn't like the thought that they made us look more special than the average pony... I think we were just the six friends lucky enough to be able to use them”

“Yeah.” Rainbow Dash stopped, then he studied Fluttershy for a few moments before smiling a little. “All those speeches you give out at the Phooka den must be wearing off on you, Flutters. I don't think I've ever even imagined you stringing together that many words before.”

Fluttershy laughed and blushed a little, and Pinkie Pie sat up straighter, a warmer smile crossing over her features, some of her poof and vitality seeming to rush back into her as she said warmly: “Yeah! I'm really glad to see it too... and I know what you mean! I mean, what pony doesn't like to laugh though, seriously?”

“Scrivener Blooms?” Rainbow suggested mildly, and when Rarity gave him an amused look, the stallion huffed and rose his hooves. “Hey, I got nothin' against him except maybe the fact he isn't going to get any older, like we are... except considering that every few years he seems to lose another body part, I'm starting to feel like just maybe I've got the better end of the deal here anyway. Still, though. Dude doesn't laugh that much. And his humor's not like. Laughing humor.”

“It's mean humor sometimes. But not really mean. He's like my big twin sister in a lot of ways, I think.” Pinkie Pie said positively, and then she smiled warmly. “And you know, just because you don't laugh much doesn't mean you don't like laughter and all! Pinkamena almost never laughs, but she loves Sleipnir more than anything else in the world, and he's pretty much nothing but laughter.”

Rainbow Dash snorted in amusement at this, shaking his head and saying wryly: “There's a lot more to Sleipnir than laughter, Pinkie Pie. Like all the muscle, for one thing. And I dunno, he laugh a lot, sure, but he's also always like... so happy. I can't tell if he's brain-damaged or just that optimistic.”

Pinkie Pie smiled, reaching up and rubbing at her head slowly. “I wish I was his kind of brain damaged, then. Because my brain seems to do nothing these days but get weighed down with icky thoughts... hey, guys, let me get you some stuff from the back, and I'll grab you a new smoothie, Rainbow. Looks like that one's about out.”

“Here, Pinkie, let me help you.” Fluttershy said softly, quickly climbing to her hooves, and Pinkie Pie began to shake her head vehemently, but the one-winged Pegasus smiled and bowed her own, murmuring gently: “I insist.”

“If that's okay with you.” Rainbow Dash added with a small smile, and Fluttershy laughed and blushed a bit, shifting shyly on her hooves before the blue stallion said quietly: “I remember when you used to be scared of your own shadow. Now look at you... Nirvana... being out there with the Phooka... it's all really done wonders for you, hasn't it?”

“I think it was our children, mostly. Having the triplets, being like an aunt to Avalon and Antares, helping look after everyone's foals...” Fluttershy looked down for a moment, and then she smiled a little. “I learned how strong I was from all that, more than even when... I had to confront my mother, all those years ago. And having you there... trusting me, that helped a world too.”

There was quiet for a few moments,and then Fluttershy nodded a few times before turning to fall in step beside Pinkie Pie, letting the earth pony lean on her a little as they headed for the swinging doors leading into the kitchen. Rainbow Dash and Rarity watched them leave, and then the stallion sighed a little before his eyes flicked towards the ivory unicorn, the stallion picking up his mostly-empty glass and knocking the little that remained in it back.

Rarity gazed back at him softly for a few moments, and then she smiled a little as she smoothed out her dress, saying softly: “I remember, a long time ago now, that a certain mare used to always hate hanging out with us... oh, we were friends, certainly, but all this girly business, talking, enjoying these little drinks... they weren't her style at all.”

“They weren't. And she didn't get how the hell Pinkie could put up with it, putting on weird little tea parties with that whiny unicorn with the big hair and Fluttershy, who... you know, she was a good friend and all, but she wasn't all that fun.” Rainbow Dash murmured, smiling a little despite himself. “Nah. She always wanted to go out and daydream on the clouds about a certain other mare, or spy on her in the orchards... or sometimes, just... try and find some guys to hang out with. Although there's always been a shortage of colts here in Ponyville.”

Rarity laughed quietly, and then the ivory mare shook her head slowly before saying softly: “I always thought you were a little strange, Rainbow Dash. And admittedly, after all was said and done those... long ago days now... I was a little worried. When you actually decided that you wanted to permanently be a stallion, and I realized this wasn't just some... fling, or some one time thing, yes, I was a little worried indeed. But... I saw how important it was to you. I learned a lot from you, Rainbow Dash. Enough to help me put aside some of my own fears and prejudices and... well, I just think in a strange way you helped me realize I could do much worse than I did with my entire life.”

Rainbow Dash shrugged and gave an awkward smile, and there was silence for a few moments before the stallion said finally: “We maybe were never the very best of friends, Rarity, but... I think we got along pretty well. And you never made me feel like a freak. A little weird sometimes, sure. And that time you fitted me for a suit was awkward as hell, but. You know.”

“Well, I'd forgotten you weren't a mare any longer. Or rather, my hooves had. I'm too used to fitting other fillies instead of colts.” Rarity smiled slightly and shrugged, then remarked mildly: “I remember that you turned just beet red...”

“I really don't want to remember, thank you.” Rainbow Dash said pointedly, and Rarity laughed and shook her head, before the two ponies traded smiles again, bowing their heads to each other and feeling a strange... companionship between them. An easy warmth, a welcome friendship, before the stallion looked down and said softly: “Thanks for everything, though. I'm glad you were in my life.”

“And I'm glad you are, Rainbow Dash, because our lives aren't over yet.” the pale white unicorn chided gently, and then she reached up and carefully brushed her mane back, softening a little. “Don't go doing anything silly now. Applejack is back: even if Cowlick is gone, Applejack is back, and she gave up everything not for power, but to try and protect you and us and everything she holds so dear from this... this awful Light that we can't do anything against ourselves.”

Dash looked down, nodding slowly before he sighed a bit and murmured: “That bothers me. So goddamn much... up until this point, I mean, we've always done... something. And now all we can do is sit on the sidelines and... watch Twilight fight for all of us.”

“She's always done that, though.” said Pinkie Pie softly, and both unicorn and Pegasus looked up as the pink earth pony slowly approached, the mare balancing a large tray loaded with drinks and foodstuffs over her back. Fluttershy was following just behind her, another tray balanced carefully over her single wing: she didn't fly anymore, but she did use it quite a bit for things like this, so it was still strong from the regular exercise it got.

Pinkie Pie bit her lip as she reached the table, then attempted to buck the platter off her back... and instead almost spilled it. Thankfully, Rarity caught it with telekinesis, keeping too much from spilling, and the earth pony blushed deeply before smiling embarrassedly as the unicorn gently used telekinesis to shift the tray to the table, Pinkie mumbling: “Sorry, guys. I guess... I'm not as spry today as I thought I was.”

Fluttershy only nudged the mare gently as she walked past, laying the rest of the things on the table, and the two ponies rejoined their friends. Pinkie Pie rubbed absently at her back as Fluttershy stretched her wing and flapped it a few times, and there was quiet between the little group as they resettled, giving each other faint smiles.

They really were all getting old. And that was awful to feel... but Rainbow hurt a lot more for his friends than himself. He and Fluttershy were probably the best off, after all... Rarity looked so damn frail, like a sharp breeze would just... blow her away and into the skies to be lost forever... while Pinkie Pie just seemed so... so weak, and rusted up, and like she had lost that once-endless euphoria that had made Pinkie Pie Pinkie Pie.

And him? He wasn't flying as much these days... didn't have the heart, didn't have the strength, didn't really... have the courage. He could still go plenty fast, was better in the air than he was on the ground... but all the same, he felt... a sense he hadn't since he'd just been a foal... and a filly, at that, before he'd really understood that he wasn't a mare, even if he'd had a mare's body at the time. He felt the fear of going out of control enter into his mind these days, the panic that he was going too fast...

He shook his head briefly, then sighed a little and looked up. They had all... gotten old. Even Fluttershy, even if she seemed to be holding up the best these days out of all of them. But maybe she'd been the smart one: she had a family – even if it was a little strange – and she kept up with all her business, and she'd found some... deep meaning in the spirituality of the Phooka. She belonged with them more than she did normal ponies, even if she'd always striven to maintain her friendships here in town with them.

Rainbow smiled a little and shook his head briefly, then he looked over at Rarity and asked finally: “How's Spike doing? He looked good, the last time I saw him, but that was a while ago. He work the forge a lot, right?”

“He likes to keep busy, yes.” Rarity hesitated, then she softened a bit and said quietly: “I think sometimes he has regrets about our life together. Not... not so much what we both gave up... more what we never seized the opportunity to do. We never had children, and there were plenty of options for us. We never went on any of the vacations or adventures we promised each other we would one day... we never put together the photo album we said we would, so that whoever lived longer... would remember what the other had.

“And I feel bad about... letting him do what he did for me.” Rarity shook her head slowly, giving a small smile. “Allowing him to put on that silly enchantment... but it was all so romantic at the time, and it was... it was literally a lifetime ago, wasn't it? I'm only so glad we both have plenty of years left, but... think of all the things Spike could have gone onto. It was selfish of me.”

“It was selfish of him, too.” Rainbow Dash said mildly, picking up a pastry and taking a bite out of it, and when the other ponies looked at him curiously, the stallion smiled a little and shook his head slowly. “Starting over's hard. Sometimes it's easier just to just... do one race, fly with all your might... and then walk away.”

A quiet fell over the four, and they dug into the assortment of treats, none of the ponies speaking much, not a whole lot running through their minds. Just memories, and nostalgia, and all the time they had spent together over the years...

Fluttershy eventually looked up, glancing back and forth between the others before she said softly: “Nirvana has... asked me to take part in a little ritual with the Phooka. He's scared about this whole business with Heaven. The Phooka really don't like it when their cycle is interrupted or damaged, and he says he wants... to make sure that in case something happens, I won't end up in a bad place. A place I shouldn't be.”

The others nodded, and Fluttershy gazed back and forth as she said softly: “It would really mean a lot if you could all come... and bring your families if you want or... well... if you don't mind, that is, and...”

The Pegasus blushed a little as she looked at Pinkie Pie, but the earth pony only smiled faintly and shook her head briefly, murmuring: “I'll ask Aphrodisia. She's been around whenever she's off duty these days... she misses her Mom and Dad even more than I do. And, well, hey, you never know: Sleipnir and Pinkamena could be back any day now after all, right?”

She tried to smile, to put on a brave face, and Rainbow Dash gave his own faint smile in return before he nodded slowly and sighed a little, even as he answered as supportively as he could: “They could be, Pinkie. You just... you can't lose hope, okay?”

“Hope...” Rarity smiled a bit, and when the others looked at her, she simply shook her head and said softly: “I just wonder why that's not an Element of Harmony. There aren't many things more important than hope in the word, after all.”

“The Phooka don't know anything about the Elements of Harmony... but they say that hope and love give strength to two of the most pure and powerful forms of magic in nature. That their fire is the only thing powerful enough to banish the evils that spawn out of hatred and despair... and that we have to aim not to destroy those afflicted by evil, but to heal them. That all the darkness in the world... with patience and understanding and nature's medicine, can be driven out, instead of just killing the host it's infected.” Fluttershy said softly, and then she laughed a little as she blushed a bit, picking up the teacup in front of her. “But I guess that's pretty silly. We're not fillies anymore, after all.”

“It's funny, you know?” Dash looked up with a faint smile. “You start off as a kid, thinkin' that the whole world can be healed by all these nice things... then you grow up, and suddenly all you see is everything behind the curtains, all the... bloodshed and the hurt, you find out how every nation is founded on war and strife and greed... and you think, well, maybe violence is the solution. And now, here I am, old and cranky... and I still can't help but think that maybe a little love really could go a long way towards fixing everything that's wrong with our world after all.”

The other ponies nodded, and then Rainbow Dash sighed and picked up a glass of his own, drinking back the cola in it and muttering: “But hey, I can think of a few ponies that might need a smack more than they do a hug, too.”

Scrivener Blooms sneezed, then rubbed absently at his nose with the back of one Talon as Luna wrinkled up her muzzle, then she huffed and scrubbed at her features, grumbling: “Damnation, poet, every time thou sneezes I feel the snot fly out and 'tis very uncomfortable for me.”

“Yeah. You're uncomfortable right now.” Scrivener said tiredly as he settled back into a sitting position inside a heavy, wrought-iron cage, and Luna smiled lamely at him from where she was safely on a little balcony outside of it, Twilight Sparkle lingering on a catwalk near a simple control lever as the stallion mumbled: “This is the worst thing ever. How the hell... why the hell did Cowlick even build this?”

“I cannot say whatever went on in her mind, Scrivener Blooms. She was a genius, aye. But she was also completely mad.” Luna replied with a shrug, then she looked thoughtfully up and down the cage structure, at the huge chain it was suspended by, the pulley system... and then downwards and into the depths of the shaft that dark, thick mulch was spilling into. “Although much of this has the reek of Hecate about it... well, a reek, anyway...”

“Yeah, because it's filled with garbage. Literally.” Scrivener said sourly, and Luna nodded cheerfully, making the stallion scowl at her before he sighed tiredly and looked miserably around the large cage. “Let's... let's just lower me down again, okay? I'll convert more of the stuff to mire and hopefully I won't... puke all over myself...”

“The moment I feel thou getting nauseated, I am having Twilight yank thee back up. I do not care how long it takes thee to begin making the mire here self-replicating, but I refuse to vomit.” Luna grumbled, and then she added moodily: “'Tis genius, though. All the facility's waste, much of which is organic and the rest mineral and metal, all of which should react well to thy powers and is softened and ground up into this... reeking paste...”

Scrivener shuddered and shook his head slowly, then he mumbled: “Please let's just stop. Talking and thinking about it. Twilight, can you... I dunno, black out my senses or something?”

The Lich only smiled lamely at him from where she was standing by the lever, and the stallion sighed tiredly after a moment before he finally just nodded, giving in to the inevitable. “Alright. Drop me down until you hear the splash and... I'll start turning everything to mire before I get too... icky.”

Luna giggled a little despite herself, earning a horrible scowl from Scrivener Blooms, but the sapphire mare hurriedly cleared her throat and smiled lamely, saying awkwardly: “I... apologize. 'Tis uh. Well. 'Tis just a very humorous thought, thou... fearful of getting a little dirty when thou art making... well, dirt.”

Scrivener looked at her for a few moments, and then he sighed and lowered his head, almost pleading: “Twilight? Now? Please? I'd like to go.”

“Alright Scrivy. I'll uh... try and lower you gently.” Twilight said after a moment, carefully pulling the lever forwards... and Scrivener yelped in surprise as the cage immediately dropped, the Lich wincing and hurriedly shoving the lever back into position as the stallion yelled at her incoherently and clung to the rusted, mossy bars with a terrified expression, while Luna giggled madly. “Sorry, sorry, sorry!”

“Who designed this and why were they such tremendous assholes?” Scrivener Blooms shouted in a strangled voice. He winced as he swayed back and forth through the pit, breathing hard in and out... but the fumes he was inhaling were making him feel ill and lightheaded, and that stink was all around him, surrounding him, suffocating him, as the mushy... ground-up... gross, disgusting filth he was supposed to turn into mire poured down the walls of the shaft...

He covered his mouth with a Talon, retching, and Luna grimaced above before she grasped at her throat, then shouted down into the tunnel: “If thou vomits, Scrivy, if thou vomits I... I will make thee eat it!”

“Not the best thing to say when I'm feeling like this!” Scrivener wheezed loudly, wincing and shaking his head before reaching up and covering his eyes with his Talons, pushing his metallic palms firmly into them as he forced himself to calm down and breathe heavily through his mouth.

Luna grimaced a bit, then Twilight Sparkle rose her head and recited quickly and clearly, sending soothing images to the stallion: “And once there was a pony, pony, who walked a hundred miles, miles...”

“He walked with me over land and sea and biting crocodiles...” Scrivener Blooms mumbled, his palms still pressed tightly to his eyes, but his body gradually relaxing as he concentrated on the nursery rhyme, blocking out everything around him... and admittedly, surprised and a little touched that Twilight Sparkle remembered... the very first poem I ever memorized... “We walked all day and walked all night through rain and snow and sleet...”

“We walked all day and walked all night through rain and muck and heat...” Twilight Sparkle continued with a faint smile, and Luna looked over at the Lich with an envious smile. She never would have remembered this or thought of this... calming Scrivener with something from his past... something of particular importance...

Scrivener Blooms had his eyes closed, his Talons reaching out to grasp the bars of the cage silently... but his mind was far away, and he felt like a foal again, grasping not iron bars but instead the ratty caging that made up the surprisingly-tough door of the kennel he'd been locked in so many times as a foal. Yet this wasn't a bad memory, because what he remembered was one of the rare times he'd turned his prison into a sanctuary: he had managed to hide some ripped blankets in here before Bramblethorn had thrown and locked him inside. And even better, he had a stub of candle, a book with only a few torn pages, and some matches he'd swiped from the store.

And outside his kennel, down the alley, he could see the wind whipping through the streets, kicking up drifts of snow as ponies fled indoors from the ferocity of the blizzard. And the foal smiled a little as he drew back and used one of the ripped blankets to cover up the cage door, forming a little nest with the others that he was able to back into and feel... warmth. Such a rare treat; rarer still on a night like tonight, when winter's wrath ripped through the air...

And when he lit the candle, there was light, and a little more heat. Heat, the most precious resource, the greatest blessing he could receive here... no, second greatest. The greatest was the book he rose in front of himself, smiling as he began to read with natural ease, eyes flicking over the pages as he let the little stories take him away and making up all the missing parts in the narratives and poetry with ease...

Scrivener Blooms opened his eyes, then blinked in surprise as he looked dumbly back and forth. The cage was now at the bottom of the shaft, and the stallion mouthed wordlessly before he grimaced in disgust as he leaned forwards and shivered in horror at the... the squelchy, semisolid pool the cage was resting on top of. It made his stomach turn a little, but he thankfully remembered not to so much as breathe for the moment as he sent a mental 'thank you' up to Twilight, while at the same time letting her get a glimpse of his surroundings.

The Lich nodded a little, turning her eyes to Luna, and Luna childishly felt like refusing to cooperate for a moment before she smiled awkwardly when Twilight gave her a worried look. The sapphire mare shook her head quickly, holding up a hoof, and then she said softly, speaking to both her partners as she felt an uncomfortable twist from the distance between herself and Scrivener: “There is no time like the present, Scrivy. Remember, thou must create enough corruption concentrated at such volumes that 'twill become self-replicating.”

“The fact Hecate knows everything about all this stuff scares me.” Scrivener mumbled: it was so low that even had the ponies been down beside him, they likely would have just heard grumbling. But thanks to the link they shared, both Twilight and Luna heard him as clear as day.

Moving carefully, he slid up to the edge of the cage, then reached a Talon through the spaced bars, breathing slowly as he carefully settled it into the mush beyond. He groaned a little at how it felt... warm, even against his less-sensitive metallic digits, and then he clenched his eyes shut and pushed outwards almost frantically, feeling his blood boiling and churning in his veins as he concentrated on turning sludge into the potent Clay of Prometheus...

Scrivener shivered at the name for this poison seemed to make something in his mind spark, feeling unwanted memories whisper through his brain before he closed his eyes tightly as a voice whispered in his mind: You will never be rid of me, pathetic little plebeian...

Except he was. He knew that he was. He knew that voice wasn't real... but likewise, he knew that there was no escaping Clockwork World and everything that came with it. There was no running away from his past, who he was, what he was... and who was responsible for making him that way. He just wished he didn't have this goddamn writer's mind that insisted on giving every single thought its own voice, that turned memories into characters dancing around in his stupid head that liked to pretend they had their own personalities, that made it sound so real when they decided to speak up...

Valthrudnir was gone. They'd never have to deal with him again. But his memory remained, and refused to simply go quietly into the long, dark night. The stallion leaned forwards as he tried to focus only on creating the mire, breathing through his mouth and trying to ignore the reek around him he was growing more and more aware of, the awful feeling of the garbage against his claws, the voice in his mind trying to get his attention...

And then his eyes opened with surprise as the organic mush seemed almost to come alive beneath his claw, splashing upwards in all directions... but it was no longer reeking garbage, it was black, dark mire that splashed up.

The cage rocked back and forth as mire spread violently beneath it, twisting and splashing around him and making the stallion curse as he pushed down against the dark goo outside the bars to avoid being thrown headfirst into them. His body pulsed with pain as he felt something trying to fight back against him, something trying to resist the mire's transformation, like all this goop and garbage had taken on its own life after all the muck and gunk and who-knew-what had been poured down in here over the years...

Scrivener cursed again under his breath, shoving forwards as hard as he could, but the distance between himself and Luna was starting to take its toll as the stallion gritted his teeth, feeling his body aching, his muscles flexing, his eyes narrowing as the black blood in his body boiled. Then he yelped as a ripple of darkness tore beneath the cage, making it bounce before the stallion was knocked rolling backwards, crashing into the bars opposite before he stared in surprise as a wave of mixed garbage and black ooze splashed violently into the side of the cell.

“Up, up, up!” Scrivener shouted in a strangled voice: he didn't know quite what the hell was going on, but what he did know was that it was probably nothing good. The stallion yelped as something smashed against the side of the cell again before his eyes widened in horror as he saw something... some thing seize into the side of the cage, bubbling against the bars, making them bend and twist as that half-corrupted, half-alive thing moaned and roared at him-

The cell yanked away and started to rise quickly, almost knocking Scrivener over again before he sprawled forwards and whacked face-first into the wall of bars, catching them with his Talons a little too late... then staring in disbelief through the spaces and down into the muck, mouthing wordlessly as he saw the goop churning beneath him and that... whatever it had been dissolving back into the pool of sludge and muck and gross.

The stallion grimaced, breathing hard as he clung to the cage bars before he looked uncomfortably at one of his forelegs: a bit of his black blood was leaking around the rim of one Talon, where it fused into flesh. He guessed that was from pushing too hard with his powers... I need to be more careful. But what the hell was that?

The latter wasn't just a rhetorical question: it was something he asked to both Luna and Twilight as he bowed his head forwards, and the Lich and sapphire mare traded awkward looks as the cage continued to rise quickly towards the top of the shaft. The two mares traded thoughts and uncertain ideas back and forth before Twilight shrugged and yanked the lever to the stop position when the cage rose completely free from the shaft.

Scrivener looked lamely out of the cell as Luna and Twilight looked back, and then the Lich said finally: “It... it could be because there's lots of energized and charged matter being poured down into here. That, combined with your corruption...”

“Created some kind of pissed-off life.” Scrivener mumbled, and he shuddered a little at this thought before looking uneasily over at Luna. “You're. You're not going to dump me back down there, right? Because I'm just fine with letting that settle.”

“Oh, coward.” Luna grumbled, shaking her head and giving the stallion a flat look before she leaned moodily forwards over the edge of the balcony, then loudly cleared her throat before she leaned forwards and spat over the edge of the balcony. Scrivener looked sourly at the sapphire mare as Twilight Sparkle sighed and shook her head slowly, and then the winged unicorn flapped her wings and hovered calmly up in front of the cage, peering in at Scrivener and saying mildly: “Thou great dumb idiot. Did thou at least accomplish the objective?”

“I dunno. I think so, but...” Scrivener looked moodily at the streams of churned-up organic waste pouring down into the pit. “I assume there's an outflow, and there's always more gunk flooding in... so I guess it's plenty possible that it's going to just dilute like crazy. But I think it should be spreading and self-replicating. I think.”

Luna looked at him, and Twilight hesitated before she said awkwardly: “Well, uh... maybe we should... try again. Just to make sure, that's all.”

Scrivener glowered over at the Lich, and Luna nodded meditatively before she grasped the rusted cage door and yanked on it. The stallion winced as the whole cage rocked, rust and slime spilling down from the damaged door before he grimaced at the sight of the metal seeming to bend a little here and there, the stallion saying awkwardly: “Uh, Luna? Luna, maybe you shouldn't-”

Then Luna yanked firmly back again, and stared dumbly as the entire cage door was torn off the cell, Scrivener Blooms groaning and dropping his head into one Talon as he mumbled: “That's fantastic. Now if I do accidentally create a monster that wants to eat us, it can reach right in and do so. We'll be like raisins. Raisins in a box.”

The sapphire mare huffed loudly at the stallion, then she simply dropped the door and let it fall into the pit below before she glided down and landed beside the stallion, making the cage rock slightly. “Shut up, Scrivy. We are not about to be eaten by a golem of corruption and poo.”

“Please don't say that. I'm really, really hoping that none of what's down there is sewage.” Scrivener muttered, shivering a little and flicking his Talon lightly before he looked down at it awkwardly, then hesitantly sniffed at the claws. But they only smelled very faintly like copper, the stallion looking relieved. “I'm glad these things seem stain-proof.”

“Thou great idiot, why would thou smell them if thou fears what thou hast put them in?” Luna grumbled, punching him lightly in the shoulder, and Scrivener winced a bit before huffing and shoving back at her grouchily.

Twilight Sparkle shook her head slowly, then she said almost pleadingly: “Do you think that you can maybe focus just for now, both of you? We really need to have this ready by the time Hecate and Innocence get here, after all.”

Scrivener and Luna both looked up at Twilight, then traded glances between themselves before they both nodded and settled a little, sharing awkward smiles. Twilight only lowered her own head, though, laughing a little and mumbling: “Sorry. I know, I know, we've got lots of time yet and everything, but... it's just that... I'm worried about everything.”

The stallion nodded, and then he smiled a bit, glancing up and saying after a moment: “Well, try not to worry too much, okay? We've been working all night on things and... Hecate seems to have some weird... I wouldn't call it a soft spot, because, well, I don't think she really has any soft spots...”

“Sin is to Evil Celestia what thou wert to... Less Evil Celestia.” Luna said helpfully, and the Lich sighed a little before Luna grinned widely and shrugged easily. “Well, really, 'tis something to be proud of, I think. After all, it is not every day thou can say thy child has been rehabilitated by the evil floating head that is another version of one's former mentor.”

“That is sort of true.” Scrivener paused, then he shrugged a little, glancing up at Luna wryly. “You know, so long as Hecate doesn't just teach Sin to be a world destroying tyrant. Or to sell her body for endless head.” Scrivener paused again as Luna giggled madly behind her hooves. “That came out wrong. But I bet Hecate doesn't give away the secrets of head all that easily. Even though she probably knows a whole lot.”

Twilight looked moodily over at her partners as Luna only giggled harder, and then the Lich reached out and pulled the lever back, dropping the cage into the shaft as Scrivener and Luna yelled and flung themselves into each other's forelimbs. Then Twilight shoved the lever back into locked position, and the cage stopped with a bang and a bounce hard enough to send her partners almost into the domed ceiling of the cell.

Luna managed to painfully catch herself in midair, however, wheezing and looking awkwardly up at the roof just above her head before she glanced down at Scrivener Blooms. The stallion was cradled in her forelegs, looking awkwardly up at her as he clung to her neck with his Talons, and the sapphire mare sighed and rolled her eyes before she said wryly: “Thou art such a damned idiot.”

With that, she simply dropped him, and the stallion slipped free from the winged unicorn and flopped heavily to the cage floor with a loud thud, flailing his legs stupidly at the air as he laid on his back. Then he scowled up at Luna, and she huffed a bit before dropping suddenly out of the air, the stallion flinching and curling up slightly as she landed overtop him with a wide grin, their noses almost pressing together, eyes glinting as she said cheerfully: “Thou art my idiot.”

He glowered up at her, and then they both heard a mental bell ring through through their minds, the two looking awkwardly up before Twilight said flatly, her voice clearly sounding in their ears despite her being so far above: “I won't hesitate to drop you both right into the sludge.”

“Fun killer.” Luna muttered, and then she sighed and stepped back, reaching down and half-yanking Scrivener to his hooves as she became a little more serious, asking quietly: “Can thou feel the connection with the mire?”

“Kind of. I think it's... trying to spread further. But I'll need to actually make contact again... there's just too much changing, going on, for me to be able to transform or even order it from a distance.” Scrivener replied, shaking his head briefly, and Luna grunted and nodded. Then the cage began to lower, slower and steadier this time, and the stallion strode over to the open doorway and grimaced a little as he leaned out, muttering: “It looks a little like it's starting to settle, at least...”

Luna strode up beside the stallion, peering out as well as the cage continued to rumble slowly lower, and then she scowled a little as she muttered: “Damnation, Scrivy, how can thou not feel that? That sense of magic in the air... 'tis like that sludge has a life of its very own. An unpleasant life, at that... I do not know if Hecate's idea was so wise after all...”

Scrivener grunted as an idea came to mind that he knew probably rolled through Luna's mind as well: maybe Hecate had been so insistent precisely because she had known that this place was so inundated with magical energies.

Scrivener and Luna both shivered a bit as the mare's soulstone horn glimmered strangely, the two staring down at the mix of mire and sludge before the stallion grimaced over at one of the waterfalls of mush, adding moodily: “I wish we could turn those off. I don't want to imagine how so much garbage is pouring down here, though...”

“Slurry, and castoff, and likely garbage from the rest of Ponyville comes in here... I dare not guess how deep this shaft goes, after all, nor what is at the bottom of it. I feel powerful magic...” Luna muttered, and then she glanced up, calling clearly: “We are close! I am going to take Scrivy down onto the sludge itself!”

Scrivener groaned, but then he simply nodded, and Luna smiled slightly over at him before she flicked her horn firmly, and the stallion arched his back with a wheeze of pain as a splatter of dark muck erupted from his back with the formation of large, leathery wings. He slowly turned a glare on Luna, but the sapphire mare only huffed and shrugged, saying dryly: “Well, 'tis not my fault polymorphs have such a strange effect on thee with thy silly... silliness.”

The stallion rolled his shoulders uncomfortably, and then he flexed his wings before spreading them and flapping them several times, tossing gunk away and shaking himself roughly out before he muttered: “Great. Of course, yes, it's all my fault, yes, that you have to keep trying to transform me even though it doesn't... work.”

He flexed absently: that wasn't quite correct, as he flapped his leathery wings a few times and reflected on the way that he could actually fly better than he had been able to in the past, before he'd really gained his strength as a Clockwork Pony. He took a breath, then leapt out through the cage, feeling his leathery wings catch the air as he sailed slowly downwards.

He spread his Talons, concentrating carefully as he stretched them down towards the mix of gunk and mire, focusing his powers on the muck to try and make it solidify before he landed carefully on the marshy... well, he didn't really want to think of what it actually was, as he shivered a little before quickly digging his claws into the muck, beginning to concentrate the corruption again...

Scrivener Blooms felt something shift beneath his claws, wincing, before he stared in disbelief as a column of green sludge erupted into the air a few feet away, stretching high upwards before taking on an awful solidity when veins of black shot through it, the appendage of sludge twisting around and lashing itself towards the stallion. He cursed, but in a moment, Luna was there above him, snapping her horn firmly out to blast the surprisingly-solid tentacle backwards with telekinesis.

The slimy thing twitched, and there was a loud, awful moaning before the veins of black pumping through it began to spread like ink, the mire taking over this living, awful thing and greedily consuming it, dragging it back down into the rippling, semisolid gunk around them. Luna flew in a sharp circle, looking back and forth with disgust as more slimy appendages erupted out of the surface, shouting: “'Tis not sentient, Scrivy! Use thy powers, break it down!”

“Then why the hell is it trying to kill me?” Scrivener snapped, and the stallion cursed as he leapt out of the way when one of the grasping appendages lashed down at him, wincing. But he already knew: this awful mess of organic had been given accidental life from all the magic energy running through it, and all it was trying to do was stop the infection that Scrivener was trying to forcibly spread through the living muck.

Scrivener ran quickly over the corruption as Luna snapped her horn down, blasting one of the tendrils with lightning... but the living slime only absorbed the magical energies, Luna cursing under her breath before she said disgustedly: “All thou can do is continue to spread the poison Scrivy... eventually, the corruption will outweigh the magic and will destroy this accursed thing!”

The stallion grunted, slamming his claws down into a thinner edge of mire, pumping poison down through the deep pit of gunk and mush, and the living tendrils immediately all snapped towards him. Two fell short, but one of them managed to hit the stallion in the back, knocking him flat, while Luna barely deflected the other with a hard lash of telekinesis.

Scrivener rolled over as the appendage yanked him into the air, and then he seized it between his Talons even as it began to crush down: an awful, wailing cry rose through the tunnel as Scrivener Blooms poured his corruption directly into the tentacle, however, and the appendage lashed back and forth before flinging the stallion away.

He rolled in midair, guided more by Luna's instincts than his own as he managed to catch himself in a hovering position, and then he grimaced and straightened himself out, flapping his wings firmly. Below, the remaining tendrils snapped back and forth as one melted slowly down into the ooze, before the stallion grimaced. “What the hell do we do? And this thing... I can feel it chewing on the mire, trying to fight off the conversion...”

It's an Illrhapp! Twilight Sparkle said suddenly, and both Luna and Scrivener looked up, hovering safely out of reach of the tendrils as they lashed slowly back and forth. It's... it's a lot larger than your usual Illrhapp but it's an accidental construct, all the same, Aberration Class 3, primordial type, I'm guessing created due to soulstone residue mixing with improperly disposed magic cores...

“Aye, now thou art making less sense to me but I understood what thou meant about Illrhapp at least.” Luna muttered, and the mare shook her head before muttering: “More fungus and slime than 'tis beast. Reacting only when threatened, or when it requires food... but I suppose that it must receive all the nourishment it desires from the constant flow of garbage from above. Which means...”

But above, Twilight Sparkle was already moving, leaping over the railing and gliding into the shaft as her horn glowed brightly before she snapped it firmly to the side as it gave a pulse. And immediately, the liquid-mush spilling down both sides of the tunnel splashed outwards as it tuned blue, transforming quickly into ice and spreading rapidly between the walls, forming into a solid cap that blocked up the mouth of the pit entirely.

The sludgy water immediately began to fill up the corked top of the abyss, and Twilight smiled faintly as she flapped her wings hard, raising herself up. Luna, meanwhile, grinned widely as the mass of gunk beneath them was cut off from the mush the gigantic slime was feeding off of. The Illrhapp noticed the lack of nourishment after only a few moments, a moan echoing up from the creature before its tendrils felt carefully towards the walls, touching over them as if searching for the source of food-

Scrivener Blooms glided back down to the mire, stabbing his Talons into the muck as he gritted his teeth, pouring his powers downwards... and the Illrhapp squealed as Scrivener focused the corruption downwards, seeking not to convert the surface of the beast, but force veins of darkness down into the slime, trying to find-

The mire beneath the stallion exploded as geyser of slime erupted upwards, the earth pony flailing stupidly as he was flung through the air before he remembered his polymorphed wings: a moment too late, since he slammed painfully into the wall before flopping off and wildly flapping his leathery appendages, awkwardly lifting up into the air. He cursed under his breath, glowering back and forth before he stared as the bog he'd formed cracked and twisted, lifting and twisting back and forth as more feeling tendrils emerged up from the slime.

“It is trying to eat the mire.” Luna muttered, and then she grimaced a bit when a splatter of black ooze shot up. “Apparently it is not fond of it, though.”

“I think I must have nicked its core. It seems more than a little pissed off now, after all.” Scrivener muttered, and then he flexed slowly before glancing up with a grimace. “If I can hit the core I can melt it. I need you to distract it-”

The sapphire mare huffed and then shot high up the tunnel, and Scrivener stared blankly after her before she flipped around in a circle, and shot straight down, beginning to spin her body violently as her soulstone horn glowed brighter and brighter. She burst apart into sapphire mist a moment before colliding with the boggy, mushy surface, spinning rapidly and drilling violently down into the dark ooze as the Illrhapp gave a squeal of pain and surprise.

Luna drilled viciously downwards, sending up chunks of black mire and splatters of ooze in all directions, and electricity sparked violently through the tornado of sparkling mist tearing slowly deeper and deeper through the mess of mush and corruption and slime. Then the mass of glittering smoke suddenly erupted upwards, reforming quickly into Luna as she shouted with a wide grin over her shoulder: “Hold on, Scrivy!”

“Oh no, no, no!” Scrivener winced and tried to spin around, flapping his wings and flailing his limbs madly before a telekinetic aura wrapped around him and crushed him into the shape of a ball, a sapphire glow surrounding him and making him glow like a star before Luna spun around and snapped her horn toward the tunnel she had carved. And Scrivener was shot violently through the air with a loud bang of magical energies, spinning out of control before he smashed bodily into something and bounced off it with a curse.

He flailed wildly, then fell back down into the pit, swinging his claws down on instinct to dig them into whatever he had just struck. He gritted his teeth, Talons scraping against some kind of brittle stone as a flash of murky light washed over him before he opened his eyes and stared down at a massive, tumorous heart of the Illrhapp with horror.

It was some kind of massive core, mechanical parts, broken bones, and debris that simply hadn't dissolved, all held together by thick, mossy-colored gemstone that had formed some rough, vague sphere. Then it pulsed again, and the stallion felt the sides of the tunnel around him beginning to crush inwards, so he did the only thing he could: he pushed, sending corruption spilling directly into this living slime's mangled core.

The beast writhed back and forth, cracks ripping through the stone as it rapidly began to rot away, and Scrivener cursed as he leaned forwards, flexing hard... and then the core simply exploded, the stallion launched upwards with a groan of disbelief before the sapphire mare snapped her horn firmly downwards, netting the charcoal stallion with telekinesis before she gritted her teeth and yanked her head back, jerking the stallion out of the tunnel before it could collapse.

He flailed a bit, then managed to catch himself, flapping his wings firmly and straightening out as he wheezed loudly, and both ponies looked down, watching as the Illrhapp beneath them writhed... then with no great fanfare, no incredible burst of magic, no final gasp of power, it simply gave a gurgling whimper and began to rot.

Scrivener and Luna both looked down with surprise, but also relief: they hadn't wanted to get into any huge brawl, especially here, in a garbage pit beneath their own home. And as the slime turned to mire, the level of organic garbage was lowering little-by-little, steam hissing softly up from the remains... before Luna gagged loudly as the stink from the Illrhapp's rotting remains struck their noses, and Scrivener covered his mouth with his Talons as Luna groaned and shook her head vehemently, rubbing at her stomach with one hoof as the other stayed over her nose. “By all the Horses of Heaven, Scrivener Blooms... can thou imagine anything worse than this wretched decay?”

Then there was a loud crack from above, and Luna and Scrivener both had only a moment to look up before a hail of icy shards fell around them. The pain of the thin rain of frosty shrapnel was nothing compared to the horror of what felt like hundreds of pounds of liquified garbage washing over the two in a thick wave, however, and both ponies were dragged down with the cloud of gunk as it splashed overtop the rancid mire below before beginning to blacken itself.

Twilight slowly covered her mouth, staring down into the abyss with horror before Luna and Scrivener both managed to surface. The stallion looked shellshocked and as if he was about to cry, while Luna was snarling furiously... before she suddenly leaned to the side and loudly heaved up her breakfast, shortly becoming just as miserable as Scrivener Blooms.

They both half-floated on the surface of the sludge as it turned gradually to mire around them, and then Luna dropped her head forwards, mumbling: “And once we leave this place, then let us never again dare to speak of what has transpired here. Ever.”

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