• 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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Hel's Schemes

Chapter Forty Nine: Hel's Schemes
~BlackRoseRaven

The library was silent, and had been for what felt like hours now, as Luna, Scrivener, and Celestia sat at one side of the table, and Hel sat on the other. Discombobulation was grouchily serving them all tea and cookies even as he nervously looked at the dead Pious now sitting in a grotesquely-casual pose on the desk at one side of the library. No one else gave this much attention, however, the ice puppet instead smacking her lips and rubbing her hands together in delight at the sight of the tea as she said brightly: “Now I'm ready to begin! Oh, Freya, what a cute little hubby you have!”

“He's not my husband.” Celestia smiled a little over at Discombobulation, adding quietly: “He doesn't need to be my husband. He's already the person I always find myself coming home to at the end of the day, and that's all that matters.”

“That's disgusting.” Hel said tenderly, and then she tipped a wink to the ivory mare before picking up her teacup and taking a long guzzle from it before tilting her head back and belching loudly. “Oh, fantastic! Well... of course I can't actually tell but... you know. It's fun to pretend.”

“Will you tell us now, about this... bomb you mentioned?” Celestia hesitated, then she leaned forwards, asking slowly: “You meant to use it on Valhalla, didn't you?”

Hel shrugged innocently, holding her hands up. “Look, me and the Jötnar used to get along pretty well, and Ymir always wanted... a little insurance against Odin. You know as well as I do there was kind of a magical arms race going on... gods and giants all trying to make each other bigger and badder and stronger than each other. Not to mention... well, come on. Look at Odin's spear, Gungnir. The damn thing carries a killing curse. A huge 'screw-you' killing curse, as a matter of fact.”

“That which it pierces, is always pierced to the heart. Aye, 'tis even more wicked than my Andlitstingar, and that has taken the life of more than one Jötnar and Jötnar servant in its time.” Luna muttered, nodding briefly before she glanced over at Celestia. “And as I recall, Freya, thou wert the one who made that damned death-mallet for Thor.”

Celestia sighed, looking almost embarrassed for a moment as she said finally: “In those days, we knew our brother mainly for his physical strength, not for... his cheer, or his simple goodness, even though he had both of those in great supply as well. He-”

“Thor was hot.” Hel said dreamily, and Celestia slowly turned a moody look to the goddess as she clasped her hands over her breast with a long, theatrical sigh. “And now, Sleipnir? He's still very pretty. He is the only horse I would ever consider having sex with.”

“Because I am sure thou hast had that in plenty since thou wert locked away in Helheim.” Luna said flatly, and the ice puppet slowly turned a horrendous scowl on the sapphire mare as Celestia closed her eyes, Scrivener glared at his soulmate, and Discombobulation cleared his throat, mumbled some excuse, and hurried away. “Beside. We are talking about great bludgeoning hammers, not great bludgeoning-”

Celestia reached up and lightly smacked the back of Luna's head, making her squawk, and then the ivory mare said clearly as she turned her eyes back to the ice puppet: “We should focus on the present. This bomb's purpose.”

“Gate-crashing, of course. See, this was back in the days when Vally-wally was still trying to figure out a way to take down Valhalla. He came to me, back before anyone would take him seriously, and told me he needed some help with making a big-ass bomb. And those were his exact words. 'I need a big-ass bomb, Hel.'”

Scrivener Blooms couldn't help but look up sourly, saying dryly: “Yes, I'm somehow sure he came up and said that to you. Right before he flew away on a rainbow to the magic world of 'Everyone's Niceness.'”

“No, he did that later. And you should watch you mouth, jerkhead, since you use a rainbow to travel between worlds all the time.” Hel said pointedly, and Scrivener Blooms grumbled under his breath as Luna looked at the stallion with wry amusement. “But sure, I can be serious, all you gotta do is ask politely. Failing that, just don't be a moron.”

Scrivener looked sourly at the goddess, and then Hel shook herself briskly before she continued in a quieter voice: “But here's the problem. This big-ass bomb is definitely potent enough to blow open the Gates of Valhalla... and unlike last time, sweeties, you're going to need something special to get past the Gates. The Pious got Heaven shut up real good like, on top of the guards, and they ain't dumb enough to modify time for a temporary advantage. This bomb will get you in.”

“The only reason Valthrudnir would have to hide and store a bomb like that is if he was afraid it would be used against him.” Celestia said quietly, looking over at Hel calmly, and the goddess grinned widely as she reached up and slowly tapped her bovine nose.

“I like to be prepared. And since I helped him make it, I knew how to set off the trigger... just like I knew how to turn it off the day the idiot tried to drop it at one of Helheim's own gates. That silly-billy... he thought he could force open the gates into another world for a quick and messy mop-up, but he and I weren't on speaking terms anymore, so I went ahead and sent an Inquisitor to shut it down. And oh, you should have seen the way he sent his Tyrant Wyrms and Clockwork kooks scrambling to retrieve it!” Hel cackled at the memory, clapping her hands childishly together. “Sure, I could have snatched it up at any time. But I liked watching him panic more, all afraid I was going to double dramatic irony his big scaly butt and shove that bomb up his ass.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Hel smiled and shoved a finger against her temple. “So the genius decided to store the bomb somewhere... in one of the few places where I couldn't go myself. He had his cronies run off to another world he thought I had a blind spot in – spoiler alert: I didn't – and built a nasty thing there that he dropped the bomb in, figuring I'd never go after it. And I never did... until now. 'Cause now we kind of need it.”

Scrivener and Luna frowned uneasily over at the puppet, and then Hel grinned widely, saying softly: “The garage-door opener is floating right above the bottom of a giant grinder. A Soul Well, with a vortex at the bottom leading to... the Void? One of Vally-wally's machines? A personal private hell? I don't know. I just know it isn't good... and oh, yeah, you gotta be dead to go inside, because otherwise it'll rip your life energy out of your body and turn you into a nasty, nasty zombie.”

Luna shivered a little at this, and Celestia frowned uneasily, saying slowly: “Your construct...”

“Can't. Won't, either. But mostly can't.” Hel's ice puppet poked itself absently. “Tried already. My puppets can't control reality inside the Soul Well... sub-dimensional loophole thing. Made it about halfway, then got torn apart by zombies. It was pretty sucky. But technically, these things run not just through my magic, but tidbits of my vital energy, which meant the puppet was bleeding and doomed from the get-go. Something else that say, mimics being alive but really isn't... something where most of the soul is kept in something else... say, not-dead, not-alive...”

“Twilight Sparkle. A Lich. But... alone? Thou hints that these zombies are not the slow, shambling sort.” Luna said moodily, and Hel smiled kindly even as she shrugged.

“Hey, she's strong. Tell you what... I'll even get her a nice, reinforced body for the journey. Something her powers can fit all nice and snug inside.” Hel said kindly, and then she added mildly: “And you got a friend or two who could come along for the ride as well. That big boy reaper friend of yours, Kismet... bet with a few nice words, you could get him to go with that cute little buttertart.”

Scrivener and Luna traded uneasy looks, and then Hel paused and cocked her head, closing one eye and adding mildly: “Also, I don't really see you coming up with any alternate solutions here. Believe me, angel cake. There's nothing in your magic repertoire that's gonna be nearly strong enough to blast down the doors of Heaven. Even if you pieced that humpty-dumpty Gymbr together again, I doubt that he could manage it. Plus you're gonna want to save most of your strength for dealing with the Gatekeeper guarding Heaven.”

Luna grunted, and Celestia hesitated before she asked quietly: “Do you have any news about the Vale? Anything at all?”

“Yeah. The Light won.” Hel said softly, and Celestia reared back in shock as Luna looked up sharply, before Hel shook her head and said quietly: “What else did you really expect? Darkness was going to last forever? Sweetie... night and day... they both end.”

Luna shivered a bit, and Celestia closed her eyes before she shook herself out and muttered: “Then we'll put an end to the eternal day the Light has brought... because as I've learned myself, a day that lasts forever is no better than a night that never ends.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Hel smiled a little before she studied Celestia quietly, then said finally: “I'm kind of proud of you, Freya. You've gone from a completely psychotic, murderous bitch to someone... almost bearable. That's pretty darn impressive, sweetie pie. Maybe one day... you'll even be allowed to come and give me a little visit in Helheim.”

Celestia looked at Hel for a few moments, and then she gave a brief, uneasy smile before looking away, saying finally: “I just want to do what's in Valhalla's best interests, that's all. And you and I... perhaps we have more in common than I want to think.”

Hel laughed quietly at this, and then the goddess shook her head slowly before glancing over towards the side of the room at the dead Pious. “Oh, maybe, maybe not. All I know is that we have a common goal, and a common enemy, and so that gives us a lot in common, right? So let's work together, dance around, be friends for a little while. That's a cute notion. Silly, but cute.

“Just don't forget who I am.” Hel turned an almost-loving smile over the three ponies, drawing her eyes slowly, almost tenderly along them. “And don't forget... I want you all on my side. One day, sweeties... I hope you all end up with me, locked down in the icebox, stuck in my embrace... forever.”

Scrivener shivered a little, and Luna looked slowly down, feeling like that was inevitable anyway; only Celestia was able to meet Hel's gaze, the two looking at each other silently for a few long moments before the ivory mare said evenly: “Help us save Valhalla, then, Hel. And we'll see what happens after that.”

Hel smiled slowly, the bovine-headed puppet licking her lips eagerly before she looked down at her teacup and stuck a finger in the liquid, stirring it slowly and making the digit steam quietly as she said softly: “Good. I like a challenge. Few things make me happier than that, because oh so few things challenge me anymore, honeycake. And I really do get the nicest feeling from helping you all!”

“Aye, that is why thou continues to provide for us. Not because of the benefit thou hopes for in the future, as thou just confessed.” Luna said wryly, and Hel shrugged peaceably before the sapphire mare hesitated as Twilight's spirit shifted inside her and Scrivener, before she asked finally: “Thou can... truly provide a body for Twilight? I... 'twill not be...”

Hel huffed, cutting Luna off as she pasted an injured look on her face and put her hands over her own breast. “You wound me! Please, as if I can't mix up a body... flesh is the easiest thing to grow and build. Do you know how often I used to make puppet demons just to keep myself entertained before Vally-wally came along and I stole... uh... 'borrowed' all those robot thingies from him? Exactly, lots and lots, so there!”

Scrivener and Luna traded look as Celestia shook her head with a quiet sigh, and there was silence for a few moments before Hel sniffed and snapped her fingers absently. “Anyway. I used to know a whole bunch of Liches. You know, I am the Goddess of Darkness and that place named after me and everything. Which is named after me, let me reemphasize that to remind you dumb little ponies that I'm familiar with everything dark and nasty and not good.”

She halted, then frowned a little and rubbed thoughtfully at her puppet muzzle, saying slowly: “You know... it's really silly that you're working so hard to use these bad-person or scientifically-donated corpses, and you got all that nice setup in Subterra but no way to make your own... I think I'm going to be extra generous, and the next time Aphrodisia cutie-Pie comes downstairs, I'm gonna send some new servants her way. They can come back upstairs with her after she's done her Inquisitor training, and bring some good new goodies with them. Now wouldn't that be nice?”

“Thou art being generous. Too generous.” Luna said quietly, and Hel smiled before the sapphire mare added moodily: “Nay, that was not a turn of phrase. Thou art literally being too generous, and I have to ask why.”

Hel shrugged, absently reaching up and making a twirling gesture beside her head, replying pleasantly: “Well, you know. Sending you guys into the jaws of almost certain death, the fact that I'm personally going to do everything I can to avoid getting caught up fighting the Light myself, and... well, let's just say there might be a few other reasons I want a strong bargaining position in the near future. Although if you're thinking of that old famous saying, no one gets a free lunch... you might be on to something, Luna Brynhild.”

“I am not so sure about that. If thou eats from nature's table, lunch is always free. Dinner and breakfast too.” Luna replied evenly, the sapphire mare raising her head high and proud. “Furthermore, I have never been a fan of economics. 'Tis all foolery and folly to me. Why should we strive so hard to calculate what we already have?”

The goddess only looked at Luna with entertainment, and then she suddenly reached across the table and easily poked the mare's nose, making the starry-maned winged unicorn wrinkle her muzzle. “That reminds me, cinnamon, of another reason why I need to get you that body-mix recipe. We gotta make your dark-chocolate inner self her own outer self, isn't that right?”

Luna shifted uneasily at this, and Celestia grimaced a bit, looking up and opening her mouth... then hesitating and slowly closing it. Her gaze dropped, and Hel looked with interest towards the ivory mare as Scrivy and Luna both frowned uncertainly at Celestia.

Celestia only remained quiet, clearly thinking, checking her words before she nodded to herself and slowly looked up. “After they return from fetching the... door opener, as you called it... will you help create a body for Nightmare Moon?” She stopped, then gritted her teeth before adding with visible effort: “And I feel that... you can help me... find...”

“Oh, don't hurt yourself now, sweet cake!” Hel sounded delighted all the same, clapping her hands together as she grinned widely, her eyes gleaming before she reached out and stroked slowly up the scar that ran along the side of Celestia's face, making the ivory mare scowl and glare a little in spite of her best efforts to control herself. “But oh, Freya... you miss the old you, do you? But once you wake up, oh, it's so hard to get back to sleep, isn't it?”

Celestia looked moodily away, and Hel smiled slightly, drawing back and saying slyly: “But you know... nothing comes without a price. Well, nothing like this. This? This is big, Celestia... this is something that bears weighing and turning over and even fretting. This is... a special, custom order.”

Luna frowned worriedly over at Celestia, and both she and Scrivener felt Twilight twisting with anxiety, waking up inside them but little more than a flurry of emotions... yet somehow, Hel seemed to pick up on this, waving a hand and scoffing: “Oh come now, as if I'd get rid of this pretty pony self of Freya's... as if I'd even want to! Look at you, Brynhild... skills of a Valkyrie, strength of a horse... literally! Ain't that great?”

Celestia shook her head, then she closed her eyes tightly and muttered: “I don't... I don't want to lose myself, Hel. I... don't want to lose either of my selves. I need... help... to balance them.”

“Gosh, you look like you're going to herniate.” Hel said mildly, and Celestia gritted her teeth and glared up at the goddess, one eye twitching and a faint flush crawling up her neck before she growled in frustration when the ice puppet calmly patted her head a few times. “Oh stop that, little miss hard-ass. I already said I'd do it, and I can't lie, I can't break my word. You should know that. I'm just teasing to make sure you don't blow a gasket. Or. That you do, and let all that steam pressure out before your head explodes.”

Celestia slapped away Hel's wrist, and then she said shortly: “Just tell me your terms.”

There was silence for a few moments as Hel looked considering, and then the goddess suddenly smiled slightly, leaning forwards and saying softly: “You have such pretty eyes, you know that? Eyes can see a lot of things... can see into souls, and further than any scrying magic ever could. The right eyes, that is... with the right beneficial enchantments. Mimir knew that, and that's why he took one of Odin's eyes. He's the only person in the entire universe who can see further than I can... because he has the still-alive eye of a god, watching the way the world turns for him. But if a certain still-quite-reasonably-called-a-goddess would give me one of her eyes... I could probably do a little 'seeing' of my own, if you get my drift.”

Luna snarled at Hel, and Scrivener Blooms began to open his mouth, but both ponies were cut off as Celestia looked up fearlessly and said calmly: “And I suppose you want your payment in advance, don't you?”

Hel laughed at this, clapping her hands together as she licked her lips slowly. “Oh, there's no need to rush quite yet: I'll take your eye when Aphrodisia returns from her training. My Inquisitors will drop off all the necessary ingredients for making bodies to serve whatever purposes you have in mind, my lovely cupcakes, and then you can go secure that artifact of Valthrudnir's. I'll give you... oh, a week, then you can go and fetch it. You do good with week-long deadlines, I find. So a week it is.”

Hel halted, and then she added mildly, gesturing almost dismissively to the three: “By the way, the Fates already know where the bomb's located. But don't think about chucking any of them into that Soul Well: even Twilight Shadow would get mashed up by the vortex, because she's not a true Lich. Nor am I really sure their spirits would survive going through the grinder at the bottom and all that.”

Luna grimaced at what this implied: that Twilight Sparkle wouldn't survive being pulled down into the bottom of the vortex either. The sapphire mare shook her head slowly at this, but Celestia only looked up gamely, nodding shortly once and saying coldly: “We'll retrieve it, one way or the other. And then we'll marshal our forces here and prepare for an attack on Heaven.”

“Maybe. Or maybe not right away. Once the Pious get wind of what's going on, they're going to do anything and everything they can to slow you down and stop you. They'll use all your weaknesses against you, exploit your vulnerabilities... hurt you, to put it simply. You'd best keep your eyes open.” Hel said gently, and then the goddess looked down at her tea before she smiled and picked up a biscuit from the untouched tray of treats, studying it silently and murmuring: “Cookies were always my favorite thing. But since All Daddy sent me here, I haven't had a single munchy. They're all crumbly anyway, I'd have to clean my room for hours... Theophilius and his annoying habit of popping up when I don't want him to is bad enough as it is, anyway.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Hel shrugged and simply crushed the cookie in one hand. She absently wrung the crumbs out from her fingers, then brushed her hands together a few times as she stood and said kindly: “I've got business to do. Meat to cut, fresh souls to torment, administration to administrate. You boys and girls keep playing nice with the friends I made you, and I'll see you in a week or so.”

With that, the goddess bowed with a few twirls of her wrists, and then she vanished from sight in a puff of icy smoke. The three ponies were left looking uncertainly at the space where Hel had been a moment before, and then Celestia shook her head when Luna looked at her, the ivory mare preempting her little sister quietly: “No. It's... alright. And I've made my decision. Let's just let this rest, Luna. Let's just try and focus on what we have to do now.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then the sapphire mare sighed quietly before studying her sibling quietly, murmuring: “I believe thou could handle this fine and well on thy own, Celestia. Thou does not need Hel's help to become Freya... 'tis who thou already are inside.”

The ivory winged unicorn only smiled faintly and shrugged slowly at this, replying quietly: “Maybe I could. But we don't have the time for that, Luna. And to be entirely honest, I'm not sure whether or not I have the sanity, either.”

She stopped, looking down for a moment before giving a faint smile and shaking herself out briskly, looking up and saying quietly: “Innocence must be worried about you both. I'll be okay here, I know that... Discombobulation is around, and I can keep busy.”

“If... if thou art sure, big sister.” Luna said finally, looking uneasily over the ivory mare, and then she sighed a little when Celestia only gave her a half-imploring look. “Very well. Scrivy, well... let us go. Innocence likely is... well, not worried about us, but wondering where we are.”

“I think she might worry in her own way.” Scrivener said quietly, and Luna smiled a little before the charcoal stallion turned a glance up towards the ivory mare, adding: “If... you need anything, don't hesitate to ask, okay?”

The mare looked down, then she nodded briefly before turning a small smile towards the stallion. The two studied each other, and then Celestia shook her head slowly and laughed quietly, silently reaching out and touching one of his Talons as she murmured: “I won't. Because you and Luna and Twilight are the only ponies who I think would really understand... at least, since Pinkamena...”

She looked down, and Luna huffed softly at this, smiling a little up at the ivory mare. “What, thou thinks that our demonic friend is gone forever, Celestia? No matter where Gymbr threw her, be it a roaring volcano, the bottom of an ocean vast and deep, or even the Void itself... Pinkamena will return to us, mark my words. And Sleipnir, too... Mimir knows that all that has slowed him down has likely been the many mares he has decided to please along the way!”

Celestia nodded a few times after a moment, smiling a little wider as she said softly: “You're right, Luna. They'll both be back. I just... find it hard to find that belief all the time. I'm not nearly as optimistic as you are.”

“Bah, do not call me such a cruel name, I am no optimist. I merely believe in our siblings, strange as they are.” Luna replied with a firm nod, and then she reached up and touched her big sister's shoulder, saying kindly: “Be well, Celestia. Scrivy and I shall come to check up on thee when we can.”

The ivory mare simply nodded, and Scrivener and Luna finally pushed themselves away from the table, heading towards the library door as the sapphire mare hesitantly glanced over her shoulder once, then shook her head briefly and gave a small sigh as they pushed outside. They stood for a moment beneath the shimmering sun, and then the sapphire mare shook her head again and murmured: “Oh, what madness this is, Scrivy. Hel an ally, almost a friend... Kvasir, Mad and the Hatter... Celestia, confused and trying to find balance with her old self, her Freya self. And let us not forget... Innocence.”

Scrivener Blooms nodded slowly back to her, and then he closed his eyes and tilted his head to the side, both soulmates clearly hearing Twilight Sparkle's voice murmur through their minds: But we're going to make it through. We're going to stop the Light... without giving in completely, right?

“We'll find a way.” Scrivener said after a moment, and Luna smiled faintly, nodding slowly in agreement. Then both ponies sighed and lowered their heads, before unconsciously mirroring each other as they rolled their heads and shrugged their shoulders, loosening themselves up as they turned towards the familiar route out of town.

They weren't interrupted on the walk out of town, at least: either parents were too busy celebrating with their returned foals, or both Luna and Scrivener's almost tangible moodiness was doing a good job of keeping everyone away.

Both stallion and mare could feel themselves slipping a little into... it wasn't quite depression, it wasn't quite anger. It was a lack of ease, a glumness, an unhappiness that was tinged with anxiety and perhaps a little bit of insecurity. The ponies traded faint smiles before they both shook their heads with matching sighs as they exited the city gates, feeling Twilight Sparkle twisting inside with worry and compassion for her partners.

“Thou art too generous, Twilight.” Luna said softly as they strode along the path towards the Everfree Forest. “Worry about thyself. Thou art the one who has lost thy body, not us.”

There was a subtle, almost embarrassed shift inside the two, and then Luna and Scrivener both smiled faintly, both shaking their heads before the mare added softly: “One day thou shalt give too much to us, my darling mare. And then what shall we do?”

“We'll probably die.” Scrivener remarked mildly, and Luna gave him a half-amused, half-exasperated look. “Well, it's true. Twilight is kind of like our sane, logical mind and all that. If she was gone, we'd just be... emotional morons.”

“Thou art a moron. I am at the very least an idiot.” Luna retorted with a sniff and a flick of her starry locks, and then she smiled slightly over at the stallion and winked. “Then again, 'tis not as if we have not had our own beneficial effects on darling Twilight, aye? She would be boring if not for us. And that is a far worse thing than being a moronic idiot.”

Scrivener nodded thoughtfully after a moment, and inside their mixed soul, Twilight Sparkle's emotions fluttered into a smile. Both ponies felt it, and both closed their eyes and bowed their heads forwards, thinking again of how... how special that was. Of how much Twilight meant to them, and how she was what gave them the strength to push through everything that kept coming their way.

The walk along the forest path was quiet, relaxing, and... just what they needed, too. Time in the quiet, time to work through things, time to just... feel better about everything they were trying to deal with. It helped settle their moodiness and bring them up to... if not happiness, then at least a calm that they direly needed.

They reached their home in good time, and Scrivener and Luna both halted in the front yard to smile and gaze thoughtfully at the thrumming energy sparking through the air where their house normally stood. Not that it was gone... it was only cloaked, and shielded by several layers of magical warding and barriers. It would be completely invisible from a distance, while up close those sparking distortions betrayed the house's location... but of course if anyone wandered this deep into the forest, they would clearly know what they were looking for anyway. Better to make sure that no one would be able to see it if they happened to pass over the structure from above.

Luna Brynhild poked the stallion a few times with her soulstone horn, and he slapped at her absently before saying mildly: “We could really just yell and throw things until Innocence notices us or something. That would be the smart thing to do.”

“Oh shut up, Scrivy, and go turn the wards off. Great... poof.” Luna ordered, poking at the stallion a few more times, and he grumbled and grabbed her horn with one Talon. She growled and shook her head wildly back and forth, the charcoal earth pony wincing as his claw grasped wildly at the crystalline length, squeezing and stroking over it before there was a small burst of magic as Luna's mane whirled back, the mare flushing and giggling slightly. “Now Scrivy, 'tis not the time for that!”

The stallion groaned, then he pulled his claw away from her horn as if he had grasped something icky, flicking his Talons a few times as he muttered: “Thank you for being such a freak of nature, really. You just always know how to make my day complete.”

“'Tis my pleasure.” Luna shook her head quickly, grinning slightly and licking her lips and then she poked lightly at the stallion's rump with her horn as he strode away, making him grumble and kick at her lightly with one rear hoof before he hesitantly slowed as he reached the edge of the energy field.

He studied it for a few moments, then hesitantly reached a Talon up and pushed it into the blurry energy: it made the air itself seem to ripple before a translucent blue forcefield appeared, the charcoal stallion studying this with a bit of a grimace before he stepped forwards through it, holding his breath and wincing at the sizzling sensation that spread over his skin as he stumbled through the layers of barriers and wards to the deck with a wheeze, leaving his body steaming painfully as he dragged himself tiredly to the door as his link with Luna filled with static.

He reached up a claw and hammered several times on the door, and there was a scrambling from the other side before it was yanked open, and the wards and barriers all vanished in a puff, his link with Luna restoring as the sapphire mare gave a sigh of relief. Scrivener, meanwhile, winced in surprise as Innocence almost flung herself into him, hugging him tightly around the neck and trembling as she buried her face against him, whispering: “I was so scared.”

“I... Sin...” Scrivener bit his lip, and then he simply smiled faintly and wrapped a foreleg around her, hugging her close and kissing her scaled forehead silently: she hadn't even bothered to cloak herself with her polymorph, so she really must have been distracted. “I'm glad to see you.”

Innocence nodded against him, breathing slowly in and out before the earth pony looked up gratefully as Antares approached, saying leisurely: “Took you two long enough. You guys could have come back a little faster, you know.”

“We could have.” Scrivener shrugged a little, smiling a bit. “But we had a chance to talk with Hel and... for a moment, an... old friend. Can't pick and choose, can we?”

“I guess not. Besides, Sin's a big girl, even if she forgets that sometimes, right?” Antares nudged his sibling pointedly, and Innocence shifted lamely before she hurriedly pulled herself away from her father and composed herself. “Anyway, we would have kicked the ass of the Whistler or anything else that came this way, right?”

Innocence only mumbled, looking almost uncertainly at her brother: they hadn't exactly been on the best of terms, especially since he had clearly shown up with the intent of 'protecting' her in case anything happened. Not that she needed protection at all... not that she had been glad at all to have him around, to remind her how to activate all the wards and... to just stay with her...

The strange unicorn shook herself briefly, then she turned her eyes towards Luna as the sapphire mare said easily: “Well, 'tis no shame, Antares, in desiring a sibling to be close while the danger is high. Even if the sibling is annoying and bratty.”

“Hey. Hey. That hurts, Mutt.” Antares smiled and touched his own breast as if injured, but his eyes were gazing over them, studying them intently before he became a little more serious as he said softly: “So Mom had to... go for a little while, huh? I wish you guys would take better care of her. I mean, come on, you two have died once under her watch, and that doesn't even count because you assholes had to run off to deal with things on your own.”

Luna and Scrivener shifted awkwardly, even as the sapphire mare grumbled: “Thou cannot call us assholes. We are thy parents. How dare thou speak to thy parents such? Thou art an asshole.”

The charcoal stallion sighed tiredly as Antares huffed, while Innocence frowned uncertainly and looked up, feeling a strange pang inside her chest. Was that... no, that made no sense. She couldn't be... worried or upset about stupid Twilight Sparkle, could she? That didn't... no. It was just concern for her real parents that was bleeding over to Twilight because she didn't know... “What happened?”

Antares looked up as well, and Luna and Scrivener traded looks before the sapphire mare gestured pointedly with her head, and the two unicorns turned to head down the hall and let their parents enter. Luna made a beeline for the futon, flopping herself down over it with a sigh of relief and almost immediately relaxing in spite of everything as she mashed her face into a large pillow... and smiled faintly at the smell of Twilight Sparkle. Sweet, just like she was... “Well, as thou both have guessed... aye. Twilight is... is at rest. But we have been promised a strong, supple body for her from Hel... and while this makes me nervous...”

“It's not something we can afford to just turn our noses up at, right?” Antares said, and Scrivener nodded a bit as he walked through the room, heading to the kitchen. Luna, meanwhile, rose her head, looking wryly over at Antares.

“Thou art more like Twilight than I think sometimes still, my child. For I would never say such a silly thing as that.” Luna said mildly, and the glossy-black unicorn huffed a little at the sapphire mare. “Aye, a knife is a knife, as they say. But we fought... Nephilim. Sin, perhaps thou knows about these creatures, since thou did... spend time with Gymbr.”

For some reason, that almost made Innocence feel... embarrassed. She smiled awkwardly, shifting a little before nodding lamely and mumbling: “Well... I... I researched into them a little but I never really experienced anything they could do myself... almost everything I know about the Light comes form Gymbr. You should ask him or maybe... I should ask.”

Innocence looked up steadily, and Luna frowned a bit as she sat up slowly on the futon, while Antares turned a meditative look to his little sister before the glossy-black unicorn said mildly: “I don't think we're in such a bad way, Sin, that we have to rely on torture quite yet.”

Sin huffed over at her brother, glaring at him before she rose her head and said calmly, almost arrogantly: “I'm just trying to contribute, to prove where my loyalty lies... to do anything that has to be done. What about you, Antares, what are you prepared to do to help Mutt and Daddy? Anything at all? Or are you just going to sit back and keep making bad jokes?”

Antares smiled at this, shrugging a little before he replied evenly: “I'm going to do what needs to be done, Sin. Not what everyone wants me to do, not what I'm good at, maybe... but I'm going to make sure that whatever has to be handled gets dealt with. Not poke my broken former boss with my horn just so I can try and get in better with my own damn parents.”

Innocence growled a little at this, and Luna cleared her throat loudly before she said firmly: “We do not need Gymbr's assistance... we have... other forms of help. Perhaps just as dangerous ones, but all the same I feel better about accepting help from Hel than I do from a creature the likes of... a god that literally possesses two faces.”

Scrivener grunted in agreement from the kitchen as he went about the process of putting on coffee, muttering: “And I guess that in spite of all the bad things we might have to say about Hel, she seems honest about... well, always being honest. Even though I have this bad feeling the reason she gives us so much rope is because she's eager to see us hang ourselves with it...”

“Well, we shall be sure to twine it around her neck long before we twine it about our own then, Scrivy, so that if we do hang ourselves than she shall be strangled along with us.” Luna grumbled, and Scrivener nodded meditatively a few times at this before the sapphire mare turned her eyes back towards Sin, softening as she said gently: “We all have our roles to play. We must not neglect Gymbr as a source of information... perhaps even other... positives. But we must also not allow ourselves to grow dependent on certain resources.”

“Although we should still get that stuff Gymbr asked for... I mean...” Scrivener looked uneasily over his shoulder at Innocence as their daughter looked up with a frown. “He... or, well, they, I mean... they can't do anything horrible with some paper and pencils, right?”

“I... don't think so.” Innocence replied finally, looking almost confused before she shook her head and murmured: “It doesn't matter, anyway. Without his core... Gymbr will be weak. I'm surprised they're still alive as it is... but I suppose the state it's in isn't quite life, now is it?”

Luna frowned a little at Innocence's vindictive tone, while Antares' eyes quickly drew along his sister before the stallion gave a slight smile, changing the topic as he remarked: “Because I'm sure you know a whole lot about life and stuff, right? I mean, what did you even do in Valhalla between pretending you were the murderous queen of everything?”

“I... had hobbies.” Innocence said defensively, glaring at her older brother and shaking her head vindictively. “I... I liked to do a lot of things! Magic was fun for me as much as it was work!”

“Wow. Now you really sound like Mom.” Antares said with relish, making it clear he was talking about Twilight Sparkle, and his sibling glared furiously at him before he added mildly: “You know, you seriously need a hobby. Come on, Móðer and Dad obviously have other stuff on their mind right now and don't need you getting all... creepy on them, so let's go and find you a hobby. A real hobby. Even I have a real hobby, you know.”

Sin only scowled at her brother, then she said snidely: “Touching yourself while thinking about your marefriend is not a real hobby.”

Luna coughed loudly at this as Antares blushed slightly, and Innocence looked proud of herself before the glossy-black unicorn retorted: “You should stop listening in on what I do at night, Sin, I may be handsome as hell but I am your brother and all.”

Innocence only snorted and rolled her eyes, muttering: “If that's the best you can do, Tarry, you're losing your edge. You used to be a lot better at being a big jerk.”

Antares blinked, then he smiled suddenly as Luna looked up with her own soft, glad surprise. Innocence scowled a little, shifting uneasily before the glossy-black unicorn said softly: “Yeah, you're right, Sin. Of course, it can't be all bad. That's the first time in forever you've called me by the old nickname you always used to use for me.”

The strange unicorn shifted embarrassedly, reaching up and touching her lips before Antares winked at her, then looked around at his parents, asking: “So the coast is clear, right? We're safe for now, do you think?”

Luna nodded, replying softly: “Aye. I am... quite certain that there shan't be any difficulties for a time. This was either test or assassination attempt, and either way the Pious do not do as Gymbr did, manipulating time to their advantage. But Hel has warned us we must be on guard in the future. They may strike at thee, Antares, and at thyself as well, Innocence, in order to distract us. They may also target our other allies...”

“So we'll make the most of the little freedom we have now, and I'll head into town and see about getting everyone on alert. I'll send a message to Prestige at some point too, have her ready up, and establish pairs and parameters.” Antares paused, thought for a moment, then added: “I'll alert the Phooka, too, and ask Fluttershy about the Hellhounds in training. A few of 'em are being trained as protectors, and if we let 'em loose in the forest, they could come running at a whistle. They're nasty enough to give any angel pause.”

Luna smiled softly at her son, studying him silently for a few moments before she simply nodded and said quietly: “I am proud of thee.”

“Don't be. I haven't proven anything yet.” Antares replied with a smile and a shrug. There was silence for a few moments, and then the glossy-black stallion turned towards Innocence, adding mildly: “Now come on, you butt. Dad and Mutt need some time alone now. Probably to do things together I really don't want think about. Let's clear out, they'll be done in ten minutes or so.”

“The cheek!” Luna laughed all the same, however, even as she flung herself up to her hooves and leapt playfully towards Antares, but he grinned and slashed his horn out at her. Luna easily parried this with her own, though, and the two clashed for a few moments before they slung each other backwards, stumbling away before the sapphire mare poked threateningly in her son's direction with her soulstone horn. “Do not make me bend thee over my knee and spank thee... as much as I know Prestige oft does the same and thou squeals for more, dandy!”

“Oh oh oh, hey. Hey, don't make me come over there, Moon Butt. You might be my Mom but that doesn't mean I won't beat you up. I'm too old for you to send me to my room now.” Antares threatened, and Luna grinned at this like it was a challenge.

“Oh, really, Antares?” Luna said in an almost eager voice, and then she stepped forwards, leaning up and looming over him imperiously, making the stallion wince a bit as he cleared his throat. “Thou speaks as if I used to do that often, but I never did. I would never punish thee in such a way... it seems silly to me, thy room had all thy comforts in it. Nor would I ever throw thee out of our home, for 'tis ours, not mine alone, not thine. 'Tis ours.

“But.” Luna paused, then whapped Antares with her horn, making him wince. “There are many other ways I punished thee as a child, that were all about making thee learn responsibility.” She bopped him again, making his head shrink a bit further. “And thou shall never be too big...” Another whack. “Or too old...” Yet another whack. “For me to punish thee as I used to. And furthermore, thou art an adult. I can pummel thee without guilt now.”

Antares huffed loudly, and then he blocked the last swing of Luna's horn with his own, meeting her eyes and saying flatly: “Yeah, and I can fight back without feeling like I'm picking on an old mare, because even though you're...”

Luna's eyes slowly narrowed, and Antares grinned lamely after a moment, his head shrinking back before he cleared his throat and said awkwardly: “I mean, uh... I... I can fight back fairly because... we're... like... the same age, really. Right?”

“Right.” Luna looked pacified... and then she suddenly lashed her horn around and parried sharply and almost viciously upwards, knocking Antares' head back with a squawk before she seized him by the skull and flung him face-first into the floor with a loud thud, the sapphire mare looking down at him with a pleased expression. “There. I am very glad thou hast turned out to be such a good colt after all, Antares. I must admit, for a little while I was worried thou wert going to grow up to be... oh... I do not know. Pedantic? Whiny? Boring?”

Antares only mumbled into the floor, and then he looked up and smiled a little after a moment, saying wryly: “Well, we wouldn't want that, would we? Now come on, Sin, before Mutty here makes me lick her hooves or something.”

“Mutty. Thou art mutty. Mutty like a... a mutt.” Luna grumbled, swatting lightly at Antares' face with one hoof, and the stallion winced away before he shoved himself back up to a standing position. “Go pick thy flowers. Dandy.”

“I get it from Dad.” Antares whined loudly, and Luna looked meditative at this as Scrivener Blooms rolled his eyes and gave a tired sigh. Then the glossy black unicorn turned his eyes to Innocence, gesturing at her with a smile. “Now come on, kid. Let's go.”

“Don't call me that. I'm at least as old as you, probably older.” Innocence growled, and Antares simply shrugged peaceably, making the strange unicorn sigh and glower moodily at her brother. “You are nothing but a giant pain in my flank, you know that?”

Antares shrugged again, then turned to lead the mare away down the hall, and she grumbled before looking hesitantly over at her parents before giving a small smile to them, saying finally: “Let me know if I can do anything at all for you, okay? I can still provide... some insight, I think, into what you can use to stop the Light. And I'm willing to do anything... anything at all... to help you. To make you and Daddy... feel better, feel good. To help us all get stronger.”

Luna only smiled a little, then she nodded briefly before gesturing at her children. Innocence lingered for a moment, and then the young mare sighed and turned around to stride after Antares, who had already reached the door and was waiting for her.

She hesitated all the same, and Antares gave her a reassuring smile and a shrug, shoving the door open and saying softly: “I trust Mom and Dad, and my own instincts. Furthermore, I grew up being taught not to live in fear, Sin, no matter what. Even if it's not the logical thing to do, even if it's not the bright thing to do... I'm not going to live in fear.”

“I'm... I'm not afraid. I just... don't want to spend time with you, that's all. You're stupid.” Innocence mumbled, blushing and looking down with a fierce shake of her head before she glanced lamely up and said finally: “I hate you.”

“Good. You should a little.” And with that, Antares leaned forwards and very gently planted a kiss on Innocence's cheek, making her stare and twitch a little before he grinned and bowed to her. “After you, mademoiselle.”

Innocence's muzzle wrinkled up as she glared at him furiously, and then she huffed and stormed past, muttering to herself as she strode out over the deck and onto the front lawn. She halted and looked moodily back and forth, then scowled as Antares strode calmly out beside her and looked at her with an almost-sly smile before tipping a wink slowly in her direction. “My hobby is pissing off Mom. Come here, quick.”

Sin frowned curiously, turning around and watching as Antares hurried across the lawn, and then she scowled as she strode after him and muttered: “Why do I have the feeling this isn't going to turn out well? Antares, look, let's just... I don't know. Go get drunk. I haven't gotten drunk in a long time. That might actually make you bearable.”

“No, I have this feeling if we get drunk you might try and make out with me.” Antares said absently, and Innocence twitched and glared furiously... then paled slightly as the stallion approached the garage with a grin and flicked his horn, causing the magical locks on the ramshackle door to pop open and the doors to come slightly ajar. “Come on, let's go.”

The strange unicorn mouthed wordlessly as Antares calmly opened the doors of what was more like a shed than a real garage, shaking he head in disbelief before she winced and looked towards the house with something like terror as the glossy-black unicorn strode inside. “Tarry! Are you complete insane? Oh Horses of Heaven, Mutt will murder us!”

“Live a little.” Antares grumbled as his horn glowed brightly, and there were several clanks from inside the shed as he muttered: “Keys in the ignition still, it's like you want me to take it... and... oh come on, Mom, seriously? You didn't even bother changing the combination?”

He paused as there were several loud clicks and the sounds of chains spilling loose, and Innocence whimpered, suddenly a sixteen year old mare again who just wanted to impress her parents and was deathly afraid of touching this one, absolutely forbidden thing... “Tarry! Tarry, come on! You can't do this, you can't!”

“Sin, stop being a giant pansy and remember you're arch-goddess evil bitch queen of... dark Valhalla or something! Give me a... oh, fine, just. Just stay there and don't hyperventilate yourself into fainting.” Antares rolled his eyes, and then he carefully began to stride backwards, horn glowing brightly... and, pulled by his telekinesis, a massive motorcycle rolled slowly out of the shed, the armored bike glowing faintly with the stallion's magic grip as he muttered: “Mimir's head, this thing weighs a damn ton... Cowlick... Cowlick really went all out on her.”

He softened, then shook his head firmly as the black and sapphire, only slightly-scratched up motorcycle rolled completely out of the shed. It was wide and huge, with thick, studded tires and a small, oval-shaped sidecar attached to one side to better balance the large, motorized vehicle over harsh terrain. The windshield that extended up over the elongated saddle seat designed to allow a pony to comfortably sit up or lay forwards over it was almost as tough as the polished armor plating that covered the body of the motorcycle, and short and sloped to maximize the aerodynamics of the vehicle... although the silver demon's skull mounted over the front tire was there just to make sure the bike was as clearly intimidating as it could possibly be.

Antares' favorite part of the motorcycle was on the back, though: on either side above the rear tire and small exhaust port, there were two enormous, cylindrical boosters that his own motorcycle didn't have. Iron Horses like this were a rare sight around Equestria, but several had been produced and sold off to daredevils and rich ponies looking to show off their wealth and hipness. “Although anyone who uses the word 'hip' is so clearly not hip...”

“Stop muttering to yourself and let's get out of here!” Sin hissed, and Antares snorted in amusement as he continued to pace slowly backwards, dragging the motorcycle out to the start of the wide dirt path leading though the Everfree Forest. And then Innocence whimpered, grabbing at her face with one claw and looking terrified out of her mind as Antares spun around and calmly leapt up onto the motorcycle, grasping the handlebars and grinning widely as he set himself snugly into the seat.

Since it was custom-made for his mother, it was maybe an inch too big for him, just enough to make it a little awkward. He breathed slowly as she checked the various gages, then his horn glowed, gently grasping the key already in the ignition and grinning despite himself again. His mother had been so sure that the tire locks and chains and alarms and everything else would stop someone from stealing her precious baby, but... “Okay, Sin. Here's the deal. We're going for a ride.”

“Hell no!” Sin probably would have screamed the words if she wasn't so afraid of what Luna would do if she even caught them looking wrong at her motorcycle, let alone Antares daring to ride her cherished Iron Horse. The strange unicorn was rasping in and out for breath, sitting back and grasping her face in both claws as she stared at the runes etched along the lip above the front wheel-well, forming the cherished motorcycle's name: Epona. “We are not... if... if we don't put it back right now, right now, I... I'm... Mutt will...”

“Sin. Listen to me.” Antares said seriously, straightening and looking calmly over his shoulder at her. “If you don't get over here right now and get in this sidecar, I'm going to leave you behind in the dust, do you understand? And Luna is going to come charging out here, and she's going to just see you, sitting here, having allowed me to drive off with her baby. And she will beat your brains out of your skull with her bare hooves. So you're going to come over here, and we're going to go for a ride.”

Innocence mouthed wordlessly, then twitched and opened her mouth, and Antares interrupted mildly: “No, you're not going to try and yank me off this thing. Because then you'd risk damaging Epona. Imagine if she gets so much as a dent in her, and it's your fault, just for a moment.”

Innocence stared at Antares, and then she asked in almost a whimper: “And... and what about when we have to come home?”

Antares grinned and shrugged easily, replying cheerfully: “We'll burn that bridge when we get to it. Come on, Sin, hurry up.”

Innocence dropped her head forwards, and then she groaned and strode quickly over to the motorcycle, the stallion grinning widely and nodding fervently. “That's what I thought! Alright, let's go have some fun!”

The strange unicorn crawled miserably into the sidecar, and then she clung to the little bar inside it, opening her mouth... and then she paled and her eyes went wide as Antares turned the ignition and gunned the engine, grinning widely as Epona roared. And maybe a second passed before the front door was smashed open and Luna leapt out onto the patio, a horrified look on her features before her eyes blazed and her horn sparked as she roared: “Antares Mīrus!”

“Borrowing your bike, Mom! Love you!” Antares called cheerfully, and then he gunned the engine and shot forwards, flying down the path as Luna shook her head wildly back and forth, roaring and yelling curses as spittle flew from her jaws, hooves stamping madly up and down against the deck before she flung herself into the air and shot like a bullet after her motorcycle.

Antares grinned wider, swerving easily out of the way of a wild half-grab, half-violent pummel of Luna's hooves before he twisted the throttle higher, shooting down the path as Luna continued to fly furiously after them, Innocence squeaking and trying to make herself tiny... before blinking and looking over her shoulder in surprise as Luna suddenly went into a violent spiral before she crashed face-first into the dusty road, and Antares said with relish: “And the soul doggy leash kicks in.”

“You're completely insane!” Innocence howled at the stallion, and Antares simply shrugged with an almost benevolent expression, winking over at her and making his sibling twitch and then slap wildly at the stallion with her claws, ranting furiously: “What made you so stupid? Why are you such a... a... a giant stupid jerk, you're a giant stupid jerk, oh my god Mutt is going to kill us!”

“Oh Horses of Heaven I'm losing control of the motorcycle you psychopath!” Antares shouted, yanking the handlebars back and forth and making the machine bounce violently, and Innocence screamed in terror and dropped into a tiny ball in the recessed seat of the sidecar, looking wildly back and forth before she twitched when Antares easily straightened the motorcycle out and slowed smoothly to a crawl, Epona's motor gearing down to a peaceful purr that made it sound horribly like the machine itself was in on the joke with him. “Oh, wait, nope. We're totally fine. Cool, huh?”

Innocence stared at her big brother... and then slowly snarled, her eyes blazing, her horn sparking, her claws reaching up as if to strangle him before she thew her head back and roared in fury and frustration, sending birds scattering across the Everfree and animals bolting towards the safety of the forest's depths.

Almost a hundred feet back along the serpentine road, Luna Brynhild sluggishly looked up as she twitched a bit, then she slowly picked herself up, scowling moodily into the distance as a wheezing Scrivener Blooms approached and mumbled: “You know, you could... not go taking off like an idiot like that. Oh my Gods, I think you nearly made us both herniate, you... dumb.”

“Thou art... thou art a dumb, thou dumb... dumb.” Luna managed to grumble out in response, and then she shivered a little and shook herself before carefully clawing her way up to her hooves, wheezing loudly and looking over her shoulder before half-flopping against Scrivener when he sat down beside her, the stallion closing his eyes and dropping his own head forwards as his entire body pulsed with pain. “We... we must go spank Antares. No, as a matter of fact, we should... pummel him entirely. Pummel him to a pulp. But... coffee first.”

“No, let's die for a little while first. Then we can have coffee. And then Antares has to come back sooner or later, we've got all his stuff here. We can... I dunno, put something dead in his bed or you can pee in his cereal or something.” Scrivener muttered, and after a moment Luna huffed and then nodded grudgingly in agreement, shivering a little and shaking herself out. All the same, she couldn't help but smile a little when she looked up; at least even if Antares was being suicidally reckless and a massive pain in the flank, he had convinced Innocence to go along with him. And that was worth all the motorcycles in the world to her.

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