• 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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Back From The Brink

Chapter Fifty One: Back From The Brink

One of the hardest conversations Luna ever had to have was the talk with Innocence about the corruption. Sure, Sin knew a little. But she had never seen Luna and Scrivy... at their worst. She hadn't been there when Luna's addiction had first started to form, nor when it had really come to light. And she honestly didn't know how to respond or deal with it.

And what frustrated Sin most of all was the fact that... she felt like a little filly, sitting here, trying to understand. She felt scared, and uneasy, and like she couldn't do a damn thing to help... and it made her shiver all the more when she thought of how Gymbr had used to make her drink concentrated corruption, how he had fed her so many substances she realized only now... she could have developed more than a liking for. Had that perhaps been Gymbr's goal, to make her addicted to something only he could provide? Worse, had he... had he succeeded in that, by making her constantly crave power the way she did?

Either way, both mother and daughter hated it. As much as Scrivener did, as he'd tried to explain things himself, but even with all the words and metaphors and imagery and... every other damn stupid writing and speeching trick he had at his disposal, he couldn't figure out a single goddamn thing to say. How was he supposed to explain something like this? How the hell was anyone supposed to try and tackle and explain something like this?

What Sin had seen in that room wasn't her parents, but two monsters. Both predators, and both prey: Scrivener held himself just as responsible, hated himself as much – if not more – as Luna did her own self, for what he kept allowing to happen. What he all-but-encouraged... and both of them were ashamed that Innocence had seen them like that. A single rub, a single touch, a single push into her sensitive nerves, and Luna's addiction, fought down for so many years, had come surging back in full force. It had never reared up so strong since... since Innocence had only been a baby, Scrivener thought.

One thing that her parents told her did have an impact, though, and made Sin... worried. And that was when they had fumbled through describing why it was so hard to fight, and how part of that included the sense of power that came with the poison. The feeling like they were unstoppable, the sensation not just of pleasure, but the ecstasy of being... stronger than everything else around them, of suddenly having the strength of a hundred, a thousand ponies, of the sense of not having to answer to anyone and... burying themselves in darkness.

Power. Comfort. Pleasure. So much... so many things that Sin desired, they described feeling, taking them over, and turning them into... something that had terrified the strange unicorn. That made her wonder if power really was worth it, in the long run... but part of her also wondered silently why her parents didn't just give in. If the corruption truly made them so much stronger, made them feel so good... why fight it? Why not bury themselves in it, why not... become... whatever it was trying to make them? Why fight what felt good?

But that part of her... Sin thought it was growing tinnier, and weaker. And there was a growing part of her that was glad that her parents were fighting it, because... she was scared of what she'd seen in that room. What it looked like her parents had been becoming. And strangely, she found herself wishing that she had the power to 'fix' them, even though part of her argued that the only thing broken about her parents was the fact that they refused to give in to the hunger and the passion and how the corruption was trying to change them.

Innocence looked up quietly and rubbed at her face. It was two days after she'd had a discussion with her parents about the corruption and Luna's addiction and... I hate that word. That's an awful word. Mutt... Mutt isn't an addict, a junkie. They don't look like that.

If only it was that simple, another part of her felt. After all, what she'd seen... well, that hadn't exactly been... no, she didn't want to think about it. She wasn't going to think about it right now. She just wanted to... focus on something else right now.

The mare sighed a little and reached up to silently rub at her cheeks with her claws. She was polymorphed, and she had decided to take an extra step today and cloak her body in a simple little charm she had developed herself while in Valhalla. It made her difficult to recognize and befuddled those around her, made them respond to her more readily and more positively, but also made it hard for them to remember her the moment she was gone. She had used it quite a bit while in Valhalla, to sneak around Heaven a little without Gymbr knowing.

She was seated at Sugar Cube Corners, quietly watching ponies, Nibelung, and a few demons walking back and forth in the evening light. Behind her, the shop was still open, the door left ajar to allow some air to pass in and out of the store, carrying with it the delicious smells of the baked goods being prepared for some late-night order. There were a bunch of ponies in suits and dresses inside, so Innocence guessed it was a wedding party. Not that she cared.

She looked down moodily: she was beautiful, and tall, and apart from her curving horn and claws there were no hints that she was anything but a gorgeous, normal-looking unicorn. And with both her charm and the deep-flesh polymorph, not even a demon could tell by just looking at her face she was anything but a unicorn. Sure, concentrated purification could still blow holes in her disguise, thanks purely to the fact that her own dark essence reacted violently to it, but otherwise, not even physical blows alone could make her change back.

That was the marvel of not just her magic, but the Panacea in the bloodstream... the dark elixir, her version of the Clay of Prometheus. Part of her wondered silently, now that she knew about Luna's... problem... what her Móðer might do to her if, say, the craving for poison became too strong and Scrivener Blooms was inaccessible, but she thought this part of her was just scared and stupid. And more than that, she was like... a weak beer compared to the concentrated whiskey running through her father's blood. No, not whiskey, but one of those grain alcohols that were somewhere around a hundred and ninety proof...

Innocence mumbled to herself, dropping her head and sulking a little. It was funny: all the useless crap she had learned in Valhalla was what was sticking in her head now, instead of anything useful she'd learned from Gymbr. The mare sighed a little, then shook her head slowly before glancing up as several stallions strode out of Sugar Cube Corners, two of them carrying boxes of goodies, and the last only grinning widely before his eyes flicked towards Sin.

She looked away, then winced when she felt a hoof on her shoulder. She looked up at the stallion as his buddies paused a few feet away, and the earth pony leaned down towards her, his smile getting a bit goofier as the charm she'd perfumed herself with tickled through his mind. Unfortunately, it didn't just make people more susceptible to her: it made them stupider and more daring as well. “Hey, sweetheart! Why don't you come with me... it's my friend's wedding, but I feel like I could be the one getting lucky tonight if you'll just give me a chance.”

“I don't think so.” Innocence said icily, and then she flicked her horn, and the stallion winced as a cold wind suddenly tore past to accent her point, the other two hurriedly grabbing at the boxes on their backs to stop them from spilling out before she said moodily: “Get lost. Moron.”

“Bitch.” muttered the stallion, and he grumbled and stormed away as Innocence glared after the three ponies, then snorted and crossed her forelegs over the table, sulkily dropping her head on them.

A few more ponies went by: stallions, laughing and giggly and bubble-headed mares, other ponies she was less-than-interested in and didn't so much as toss a glare. After a few minutes, there was silence, and she thought she was safe... before she sighed tiredly when a hoof grasped her shoulder, and she looked up, beginning disgustedly: “Look, I don't want-”

She stopped in surprise, looking up with a blink as she saw a familiar Greater Nightmare who was dressed in her own customized silver armor. They looked at each other for a few moments, and then Innocence sighed and lowered her head, mumbling: “Hi, Eventide. It's nice to see you but I really don't need a nanny.”

Eventide only shrugged and gave a small smile before the Greater Nightmare reached up and silently touched a locket hanging from around her neck, saying softly: “I'm not your nanny now, Innocence. I'm your friend. Probably one of the few friends who can... understand you.”

The polymorphed unicorn snorted at this, keeping her head on her forelegs as she grumbled: “Understand me, right. I'm sure that you really do. You're just like me, a freak of the darkness that-”

“Longs for power, and to be loved; that feels trapped in the darkness and unwanted and unnecessary. That has few friends and... trouble remembering the past she once lived.” Eventide smiled faintly, and Innocence looked up and frowned uncertainly, shifting and feeling an odd pang of guilt. “I am, Innocence. I am. And you're as confused, and lost, and... lonely, as I am, even with all the friends around you, aren't you? The only difference between us is that I at least the small mercy of being... so happy to serve your parents.”

“Yeah, so we're nothing similar, because... you have what I'm after. At least... for now.” Innocence looked away, sighing and mumbling: “But what I do not appreciate is being given a bodyguard. A nanny. Or you holding yourself up as anything but my servant, because you're nothing but a... a pathetic undead vessel anyway.”

“You don't mean that. You're just lashing out.” Eventide said softly, and then she shook her head slowly as she stepped forwards, soothing rubbing along Innocence's back... and the polymorphed unicorn clenched her eyes shut and cursed herself silently, unable to fight how comforting that was. Unable to pretend that she didn't need a friend right now, as she slumped and sighed and finally gave a small nod to the Greater Nightmare.

Eventide smiled at her, and then she said softly: “You've been spending too much time trying to hide, Innocence. You do have friends, even if you're... afraid right now-”

“I'm not. I'm not afraid of them.” Innocence mumbled, and then she sighed and dropped her head forwards, saying after a moment in a half-surprised voice: “I really... I'm not. I just know that Mutt and Daddy... well... they don't really want me around right now. They're afraid of what I'm going to do, and... how I might hurt them.”

Eventide only shook her head slowly, saying gently: “They aren't, Innocence. They're worried for you, that's all... and self-conscious. You know yourself what it's like to feel weak, and trapped. Your parents feel that way right now... embarrassed about themselves, concerned about what you must think of them. Please, consider... coming home now. For a little while. Or at least letting them know you're safe. That's very important to your entire family.”

“They should know I'm safe. I'm... I'm a goddess. I'm powerful, the most powerful pony in Ponyville, if not Equestria.” Sin mumbled, but it sounded more like a child protesting for her freedom from her watchful parents than a true goddess professing her strength. And she felt... silly, and arrogant, saying all these things. The mare sighed and shook her head grouchily, and then she looked up and said finally: “Look, okay. Whether I am or not, I... no matter what I am or who I am, I don't... why should they worry about me? They have enough to deal with themselves.”

Eventide nodded, and then she said gently: “And perhaps that's why you shouldn't be doing something that's only going to worry them further, Innocence. They greatly care about you, and the Light... is not a force to be underestimated. And it may... sense your parents' weakness, or inattention. You should try and be there, to support the ponies you love, especially if you truly do wish to serve your parents... but serve them as a daughter. Not as I do.”

The polymorphed unicorn grumbled, then lowered her head and mumbled: “I don't know. I don't think I can please them in the same capacity as I could just... being their daughter. It's not fair, I want... I want to be more. And yet part of me is... I... I don't want to say afraid...”

“The word doesn't matter. What you feel does: express it as you will and just be honest, Innocence. That's all you have to be.” Eventide said gently, and then she reached up and touched the polymorphed unicorn's face, smiling at her faintly. “Did you know that your parents worry about you more when you hide your true self?”

Innocence frowned at this, then she shook her head and laughed faintly, looking away and muttering: “I guess they've both always liked monsters though, haven't they? I... no offense.”

Eventide simply shrugged, gazing tenderly over the mare before she shook her head slowly. “They call themselves monsters, Innocence. But they have never called me a monster, and I've never heard them refer to you as one either. Nor even the lowliest demon... to your parents, all of us are only people and equals.”

“I find that hard to believe.” Innocence muttered, and then she slumped over the table and sighed quietly, dropping her head over her forelegs again. “Well... I just... I just don't want to go home then, Eventide. I don't want to be seen and I don't want to deal with this. This isn't fair and it isn't my problem so... just... leave me alone.”

Eventide shook her head slowly, and then the Greater Nightmare calmly strode around the table and sat across from the mare. Innocence grumbled and ignored her, and there was silence between the two as seconds stretched into minutes. And the silence remained, until Eventide finally said softly: “The reason I've been away for so long is partly because of shame, Innocence. I failed you. I failed to protect you, and I failed to save you in time from a cruel, manipulative beast. It hurts, and it brings back... memories of other failures.”

She looked away as Innocence shifted a bit, then shook her head and only buried her face deeper into her forelegs, not wanting to hear this... not wanting to feel her heart going out to the Greater Nightmare in spite of everything. But she was hearing it, and her heart did go out to her and... like it or not, Innocence did care about Eventide, as the dark entity looked up towards the deepening dusk sky and continued quietly: “And that is why, Innocence, no matter what you say or do... I'm going to continue to keep an eye on you. To follow you when you run away, to seek you when you hide. You are both my ward and my friend, and I will do anything and everything I can to ensure that I keep you safe, no matter what the cost may be.”

Innocence sighed at this, and then she looked up moodily and said after a moment: “I don't want to just be a burden to you, Eventide... treated like some little filly who can't take care of herself. I am strong. I am powerful. I am-”

“You are many things. Wonderful things. But to me, you're also still a little girl who sometimes needs to be looked after, whether that's entirely fair to you or not.” Eventide smiled faintly, and Innocence grumbled a little to herself as she glowered sourly at the Greater Nightmare. “I know it annoys you. But don't forget that my kind reads emotions very well, and that's not just annoyance I feel coming from you.”

Innocence looked awkwardly away at this, and then she dropped her head back across her forelegs and mumbled: “I... I don't want to go home just yet. Let's just spend another few minutes here at least and... I don't know. I guess... I've started watching... the ponies. Watching everyone go by...”

She stopped, then sighed a little, looking silently out over the darkening streets as several cheerful ponies strode past. Young ponies, healthy ponies, happy ponies... ponies who had no real care or idea about what was going on above their own heads, in what was no longer Valhalla, but a part of Greater Heaven. “They don't even care, do they? And why should they? It's not their fight... the only ones who really have any reason to care are the ponies already dying or dead. Even then, it's only the ponies that are actually going to Valhalla... and it can take up to a week for a soul to make that journey. In a week, maybe...”

“It won't be that fast.” Eventide said softly, and Innocence scowled a little as she looked up, but her gaze was uncertain as Eventide smiled at her faintly. “No. You know I have all faith in your parents, and all the love in the world for them. But I also know that even should everything go according to plan... and it never does... they will still have to rest, and regroup. They will still have to work out how to get to Asgard, and how to ensure the new gates guarding Heaven will be torn down. There are... a thousand details that all promise this campaign... even at its smoothest... isn't close to being finished yet. Perhaps this war even has yet to really start.”

Innocence looked down at this, and then she grimaced and muttered: “Gymbr... Gymbr would have just torn down the Gates of Heaven himself and gone straight for the throat.”

“Gymbr was the entity that allowed Heaven to fall in the first place. And if his strength was truly so great, then why did he never simply attack the Light in its own home, by that exact method?” Eventide questioned, and Innocence looked up lamely, no answer rising to her mind. “Precisely. Gymbr is not ultimate. Gymbr, no matter what his origins, is nothing more than a pale imitation of your real parents, Sin. Power is measured in more than what we can do with the aid of a magic stone.”

“I... well, I...” Innocence shifted awkwardly, and then she shook her head out before dropping it forwards and mumbling: “It... he was more than that. He was... I mean, he was so... he just...”

“You love your parents. He confused you... he used lures, and promises, and betrayals, and manipulated you in ways that... I do not desire to think about.” Eventide looked down, then she shook her head slowly and smiled a little again. “How I wish that I had done more... taught you more. And how I wish that now... no, I'm sorry Innocence. It is my... selfish, and sometimes cruel instincts. I have no place to tell you what to do.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Innocence sat up and rested back in her seat, the two looking at each other before the polymorphed unicorn finally asked: “Have you ever... if I told you that I want a chance to honestly put myself...” She stopped, struggling, trying to find the words before she asked finally: “Do you really think I should be a daughter, not a servant?”

“Your parents have many servants. But apart from you, they only have Scarlet Sage... and Scarlet Sage has grown up, while you are in an enviable position, Innocence... all the strength and privilege of an adult, all the responsibilities of a child.” Eventide smiled a little. “If you desire to be their servant, then first be their daughter: because that is what they would ask of you.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Innocence looked down and rubbed slowly at her features with a claw before she sighed and turned her eyes down the road, studying the ponies walking along the path before she murmured: “I wish that I could fix everything. If I had a little more power... maybe I could. No, if I... if I even had all the power that Gymbr said I would, I could, but... he lied to me, didn't he?”

“You know that he did. And I know what you're actually asking, Innocence... and no, he can't hurt you anymore. He is broken, and defeated. And your parents will not let him even think about you, let alone harm you.” Eventide said gently, and Innocence trembled a little as she looked over at the Greater Nightmare, who smiled faintly at her in response. “You don't have to make yourself property of another pony in order for them to love you and protect you. Your parents are better than Gymbr, especially in that regard.”

Innocence shivered a little and looked down, clenching her eyes shut... before she looked up in surprise as a sour voice added moodily: “Besides, you might not see it, Sin, but that sick bastard Scrivener is pretty rough on toys. He and Luna have a habit of breaking their playthings. You don't want to be that.”

Sin stared at the pony standing at the entrance to the patio, and the dull-pink mare simply looked moodily back, a toothpick sticking out of her mouth and her straight hair hanging in greasy tatters, her armor badly dented, mashed, and hanging off her emaciated body, her axe rusted with blood... but all the same, Pinkamena looked strong and vital, her head raised high and maybe the slightest smile on her face as she grunted and said mildly: “Hey, kid.”

“Aunt Pinkamena!” Innocence blurted, and then she flung herself out of her chair before she even realized what she was doing, leaping over to the demon and hugging her fiercely around the neck. Pinkamena grimaced and rolled her eyes, rearing slightly before she sighed and patted Innocence on the back a few times... then silently squeezed her closer in a moment of hidden affection, almost clutching the unicorn against her as Innocence babbled: “We... I was so... we were so afraid and... you... you were gone, and now... now you're... oh Aunt Pinkamena!”

“Where's Slap?” Pinkamena asked moodily, looking back and forth... and then she frowned when Innocence quieted and stepped backwards, looking up at her silently. The demon looked resolutely back, studying the younger mare for a few moments... and then she simply sighed and nodded, saying wryly: “Great. Bastard's probably off having fun or something. I swear if he brings another prostitute home I'm gonna cut her up and feed her to him.”

In spite of everything, Sin could hear the worry in Pinkamena's voice, the hidden edge of anxiety. She looked uneasily at the demon, but Pinkamena simply shook her head out before she looked back and forth, asking: “So what the hell are you doing here all by yourself? You already completely ruin your relationship with your family or something?”

“I... no. I haven't.” Innocence looked awkwardly up at Pinkamena, and then she cleared her throat and straightened, realizing this was the first time... she'd really seen the demon since... well, since before Gymbr. I didn't realize how much... “What happened to you? I heard that Gymbr...”

“Yeah, as if that's going to kill me.” Pinkamena smiled wryly. “Nice to know you care, kid. Really, gives me all kinds of warm fuzzies inside. Still doesn't explain why the hell you're sitting here with a smoke-horse wanting to know if you should be Daddy's little whore instead of Daddy's little filly, though, so I'm guessing not everything's been magically fixed by you coming back.”

Innocence shifted a little, then she shook her head quickly and mumbled: “It's not... it's just... I dunno. I just guess I'm glad Gymbr didn't kill you. Don't... don't read into it. And things here are... are fine. They're fine.”

“Do you know about the Pious? Would you like me to tell Luna and Scrivener that you've returned?” Eventide asked quietly, and Pinkamena looked meditatively over at the Greater Nightmare for a few moments before the demon simply nodded briefly. Eventide smiled at this, then she hesitated for a moment before saying softly: “Please keep an eye on Innocence while I'm gone.”

Pinkamena shrugged moodily, and then the Greater Nightmare calmly slid out of her seat and gracefully launched herself into the sky like she was weightless even in her armor, vanishing quickly into the dark air. Innocence looked up almost enviously, then blinked when Pinkamena simply strode past, the demon muttering: “I ain't your babysitter. And I ain't here to tell you that everything's okay even when everything ain't okay at all, either.”

“But... I... Pinkamena, wait, where were you? Do you actually know about the Pious?” Innocence couldn't help but stumble after the demon as she strode for the open door of Sugar Cube Corners, and then the polymorphed unicorn winced a bit when Pinkamena simply smashed it open, adding hurriedly: “What happened to you?”

The demon halted and glowered over her shoulder, and Innocence winced a bit before the demon asked sourly: “You ever go on a vacation with your ex-boyfriend Gymbr? Because I bet his taste was either real good or real bad, depending on how you look at it. Me, I ended up in some other world, in some... goddamn ocean. Sea monsters make me look pretty.”

Innocence didn't really know how to respond to this, but before she could, there was a gleeful shout: a moment later, Pinkie Pie came bursting out of the back, her eyes wide and sparking, a bright grin on her face as she almost squealed: “Big twin sister! Big twin sister, you're back, you're back!”

“Shut the hell up, sissy!” Pinkamena barked, and it was useless at the bright pink mare charged at her, tackling her in a hug that made the demon groan and roll her eyes before Pinkie Pie pulled back and began to dance around her excitedly, for a few moments acting as young and vibrant as she had once been as Pinkamena slapped at her own forehead and grumbled: “Oh come on, you idiot, calm the hell down!”

Pinkie Pie only continued to dance around her, though, saying excitedly: “I've been missing you so much, worrying about you, oh, but oh, now you're back! You're back and we can get the store running again and... and... and... we're gonna...”

Pinkie Pie stumbled, and Pinkamena turned towards her, eyes widening before the bright pink mare gasped and lost her balance. In a moment, the demon was beside her sibling, catching her as she fell, and Pinkamena shook her head violently even as Pinkie Pie smiled weakly up at her. “No, no... your... oh goddammit, you can't do that, sissy, you're not... your meds, have you been taking your pills? Come on, answer me!”

The bright pink mare blinked slowly, and then she laughed a little and trembled, whispering: “I just... forgot for a moment... I'm not as young as I used to be. That's all. Maybe I sprained an ankle, it... hurts a little, and... I just need to catch my breath, my... my chest... feels...”

Pinkamena's eyes widened slightly, and then she cursed and looked over her shoulder at Innocence, snapping: “Upstairs, go to Pinkie's room, in the drawers by her bed there's a bottle of medication, go get it right now! Now, dammit!”

Innocence staggered backwards, then turned and bolted for the stairs at the demon's glare, the polymorphed mare stumbling up the steps and almost falling over herself before she reached the second floor hall, running down to the room at the end and flinging herself into Pinkie Pie's gaudily-painted bedroom.

She looked wildly back and forth, then ran to the nightstand and ripped the drawers open, snatching wildly at the contents... but there were no bottles, no vials, no plastic containers of pills. Just candies and papers and assorted junk...

Innocence looked desperately back and forth, then scrambled around the room, searching high and low, ripping open drawers, almost knocking over a shelf before Pinkamena roared from downstairs: “Innocence, hurry the hell up!”

The polymorphed mare panicked for a moment longer, then looked up and into a mirror as her horn gleamed... and she gritted her teeth at her reflection, turning and charging back out into the hall. She flung herself down the stairs, then skidded around in a circle on the first floor as Pinkamena snarled at her, the demon's body rippling as she snapped: “Goddammit, how hard is it to find-”

“Just shut up!” Innocence shouted, sounding much braver than she felt under the demon's eyes, but she forced herself to focus, reminded herself of precisely who and what she was: a goddess, a unicorn with no equal, a pony who... who didn't need silly, stupid things like mortal medicine to do anything she put her mind to...

Her horn glowed brightly as she leaned over Pinkie Pie, who gasped, eyes fluttering open as a weak light suffused her body, and Pinkamena reared back in surprise before staring as Pinkie Pie silently floated into the air, Innocence glaring back and forth along the levitating pony before several points over Pinkie Pie's body began to glow brighter, and the unicorn muttered: “Not important, come on... where is the...”

Pinkie Pie half-revolved towards her, hanging limply, eyes fluttering weakly, and Innocence's eyes locked on a glowing point on the earth pony's breast before she flicked her horn sharply. Pinkie Pie whimpered and convulsed as that glowing energy grew brighter before breaking into streaks that spiderwebbed across the mare's body before fading, and then Innocence grimaced a bit and calmly lowered her horn. Pinkie Pie floated silently down to the ground to land on her back, gasping weakly for breath, trembling and covering her breast with one hoof as she fought back tears of pain.

There was silence for a few moments, and then Pinkamena looked disbelievingly over at Innocence as the polymorphed unicorn shook her head briefly, then gave a wry smile over to the demon. “I can do anything pills can do, but faster. I pumped magic energy into her veins. It hurts, but I healed the worst damage. I saved her life.”

Innocence rose her head proudly for a moment... and then she winced, head snapping to the side when Pinkamena punched her. The unicorn's jaw fell open, and she mouthed wordlessly before the demon turned her attention to Pinkie Pie, walking over to her and silently touching the mare's breast. “Are you okay, sissy?”

Pinkie Pie smiled faintly after a moment, and then she nodded a little and murmured: “I'm okay... I... it just hurts. I'm... I'm sorry I'm so... so silly...”

“Now stop that. Stop.” Pinkamena said gently, reaching up and silently touching her sister's features with a small smile. “Look at you, getting in another goddamn mess... you forgot to take your pills while I was gone, didn't you? Then you have to go bouncing around like such a goddamned idiot... Pinkie Pie, you moron.”

“Sorry, Pinkamena... I... I guess my memory's all full of holes now, and you know I've never been good at paying attention to stuff and...” Pinkie Pie shook her head, then her breathing slowed as her eyes fluttered closed, murmuring: “I'm... I'm sorry. Innocence, thank you for... saving me. And it's not her fault, I... probably moved them...”

“It is so her damned fault, all the magic in the world and she can't use her ugly-ass horn to find a few bottles of pills.” the demon growled, but when Pinkie Pie looked up at her almost pleadingly, she sighed and slumped a little, mumbling: “Yeah, yeah. Fine, then, just... fine. Thanks, Sin, for fixing what you screwed up in the first place.”

“It's not my fault.” Innocence glared at Pinkamena, but the demon only rolled her eyes and made a dismissive gesture. The polymorphed unicorn immediately bared her fangs at this, her temper flaring as she started to threaten: “You know, just as easily as I fixed-”

Pinkamena slowly turned a moody glower on Innocence, and all the bravery of the self-proclaimed goddess went out the window, fizzling slowly out as she dropped her head low with a bit of a wince. Then Pinkie Pie reached up with a faint smile, touching her sibling's shoulder as she murmured: “Stop that, okay? You don't have to be mean to her after she saved me. Because she did save me, she's... she's just having a hard... time right... now...”

“Pinkie, hey... hey, keep your eyes open...” Pinkamena grimaced, turning a worried look down at her sibling, but the earth pony mare only smiled reassuringly even as her eyes slipped closed, curling up a little... but Pinkamena relaxed after a moment as she sighed quietly, shaking her head briefly and muttering: “Pinkie Pie... you goddamn little idiot. Come on.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Pinkamena looked moodily up at Innocence, saying finally: “We still need to get her to the hospital to get checked out. You're going to help me and I'm not taking no for an answer. Understood?”

Innocence muttered a little under her breath, then she sighed and nodded a little before looking down at Pinkie Pie and adding grouchily: “I could probably go ahead and wake her up, you know... maybe even heal her here instead of-”

“No. We're going to go to the hospital and have her checked out. By professionals.” Pinkamena said moodily, looking pointedly over at the mare. Innocence scowled back, but then the demon shook her head briefly and added dryly: “It's not that I don't trust you, kid. And it's not that I don't like you. But you seem a little more arrogant than you used to be and you were already plenty goddamn arrogant as it was in the past. I don't need you screwing up my sister any more than you likely already have.”

Innocence glared at her, then she snapped: “If it wasn't for me, Pinkie Pie could be dead right now! How dare you-”

“Pinkie Pie has a heart condition. She probably had a blood clot, you moron, and if your magic didn't dissolve it and just shoved it out of her heart, it could shove it up into her brain, into her liver, into some other area of her body.” Pinkamena said flatly, and Innocence mouthed wordlessly for a moment before the demon sighed and said tiredly: “Just put her on my... oh, yeah, right. Get lost, you.”

With that, Pinkamena grabbed the handle of her axe and half-turned, flinging the huge weapon off her back and sending it burying with a crunch into a nearby table. Innocence winced away from this automatically, and Pinkie Pie stirred on the ground before the demon reached down and gently brushed some of her sibling's poofy mane away from her features, saying softly: “Now don't gimme that, you know all this stuff needs to be replaced anyway. Okay, kid, lift her up onto my back. Real gentle. You shake her I'll break you.”

Innocence grimaced, then she sighed and carefully hefted the mare upwards with telekinesis, saying irritably: “I could just carry her myself like this...”

“I don't think so. For one thing, I doubt you're strong enough to. For another, I seriously doubt you have half the control you seem to like to think you do.” Pinkamena retorted dryly, and then she shook her head quickly and softened as the unconscious Pinkie Pie gently settled down over her back, the demon sighing quietly before she murmured: “Yeah. Okay. That's good. I got you, you stupid idiot... now come on, let's go. And do something to let your parents know where we are, if you got so much goddamn magic at your disposal.”

“Fine.” Innocence snapped crankily, and then she flicked her horn to the side, a spark of energy shooting through the air before becoming a floating, eerie ball of light that hovered silently near the ceiling, Innocence looking up at this and ordering clearly: “Guide Luna Brynhild and Scrivener Blooms to us after they arrive. Tell them this: 'We're at the hospital, Pinkie Pie is... sick.'”

She stumbled a little over her own words, not really knowing how to properly phrase it. But Pinkamena simply shrugged and muttered: “It'll do. Come on, kid, let's get going. Keep an eye on her for me and help me keep the do-gooders away, last thing we need is to be slowed down by whiny ponies wanting to help but will just delay us from getting to any ponies who can actually do something about this.”

Innocence grumbled, but nodded all the same as she hurried up beside Pinkamena before she said finally: “I can strengthen my enchantment...”

Pinkamena laughed shortly at this, the demon shaking her head before she said dryly: “Is that what that's supposed to be, some kind of... 'get lost' aura? Because it really doesn't seem like it's doing jack-all. Then again, I guess I'm a demon, and you probably don't have the power to really pull the wool over my eyes like you can these other cute little lambs.”

Innocence glowered at Pinkamena for a few moments, and then she said stiffly: “When I was in Valhalla, I used this magic to sneak around Heaven however and whenever I pleased. It let me walk amongst all the slaves and servants and soldiers of Gymbr like I was only one of them, not Gymbr's favorite, a... a princess of Heaven!”

“Even Princess Sunshine doesn't refer to herself as a goddamn princess. Go back to calling yourself a goddess, at least then you sound like an arrogant lunatic instead of a stupid filly who's gotten too big for her britches.” the demon said moodily, and then she snorted and added sourly: “Look at that, I can't even talk at you like you're a real adult.”

Innocence only grumbled under her breath, but something kept her from lashing out or giving any retort. Maybe it was concern for what the demon might do to her, or maybe it was some strange form of respect, she wasn't sure... she just knew that swallowing back her arguments felt like the right thing to do, as she sighed and lowered her head.

They passed a few ponies that turned uneasy looks on the strange, beaten-up looking mare carrying a pony who... well, Innocence had to stop for a moment, and just look at Pinkamena and her twin sister. Except, for all their similarities, they no longer looked like twins: instead, they looked like a mother and a daughter who bore a striking resemblance to each other in spite of how old and frail one was, how... bruised and young and fearless the other was.

The polymorphed unicorn shook her head briefly, and Pinkamena shot her a moody look before she muttered: “Stop your goddamn staring and just focus on keeping people away from me. Oh, goddammit, look, right up ahead. Get them to move.”

A few ponies were hurrying towards them, and Innocence hesitated before she said finally: “But wait, that's... the sheriff, it looks like-”

“Coming to accuse me of murdering my sister again, probably. I'm not slowing down. You either get him out of my way or I will.” Pinkamena grumbled, and something told Innocence that she probably didn't want to see what Pinkamena's method would entail, wincing a bit before she quickly strode forwards and flicked her horn sharply forwards.

A blast of cold wind tore across the ponies heading towards them, making them stumble before they simply froze in place, and Innocence sighed in relief as Pinkamena looked meditatively at the paralyzed group, then simply shrugged. “I guess that works.”

Innocence's jaw dropped a little as she stumbled to a halt and stared in disbelief after Pinkamena, and then her eye twitched as she leapt after the mare, snapping: “You... you 'guess' that will work? What do I have to do to impress you, kill them all? Do you know how hard it is to mix a paralysis spell and an elemental spell of any kind together?”

“No. I don't care, either.” Pinkamena retorted, and then she grimaced a bit as Pinkie Pie shivered and shifted weakly on her back. “Come on, we don't have time for screwing around. Let's keep going. And on the way you can fill me in on what the hell is going on around here. The air feels weird but everyone's carrying on like normal... or almost everyone, anyway. A lot of demons seem freaked out over something.”

Innocence grumbled and lowered her head sulkily before she muttered: “Not that you probably care, but the Pious took over Heaven. Gymbr was right about them... and now we're all trying to work with Hel to... or... at least Mutt and Daddy are trying to do something. A lot of all these other stupid people seem happy to just sit and live out their lives and... I don't even know why we're trying to save them. It doesn't seem worth it.”

“Maybe it ain't. So what? Doesn't change the fact that we have a responsibility here all the same.” Pinkamena shrugged moodily. “Better for them to stay out of our way and not be crying like little fillies who just spilled the ice cream all over themselves anyway.”

There was silence for a few moments, and Innocence hesitated before she frowned as she realized they weren't heading for the hospital at all, the mare saying slowly: “Aren't we supposed to be going out of town?”

“We're going to the good hospital. Not the retarded hospital built outside of the goddamn town like they forgot to put one in the actual village and had to yank its placement out of their flanks.” the demon replied flatly, and Innocence stared blankly at Pinkamena before the dull, gray-pink mare gestured up ahead with a grunt. “The one where your sister works.”

“She's not really my sister. She's adopted.” Innocence said testily, and then she walked right into Pinkamena when the demon halted dead.

The mare stumbled backwards, and the unicorn squeaked when one of Pinkamena's hooves kicked firmly under her chin, knocking her flat on her back as she blinked dumbly a few times. She stared stupidly at the sky as Pinkamena turned around, then seized her by the throat and hauled her back up to her hooves, making her wheeze and stare in disbelief as the earth pony demon leaned in and growled: “Don't you ever say something like that again. To me, to anyone else, to your own goddamn reflection. You don't talk about your family like that. Because you have no idea... no idea... how good of a life you've got, Sin.”

With that, Pinkamena shoved the polymorphed unicorn backwards, and she shrank back before gritting her teeth and looking up... but what threat could she make? Everything inside her boiled with rage at being talked down to and shoved around by the demon, who, First Tier or not, was still a filthy slave of Helheim, a servant of the darkness that she had been born to rule... but...

Innocence shivered a little, and then she cursed quietly under her breath as Pinkamena simply strode onwards towards the clinic. After a moment, the strange unicorn finally shook herself out, then hurried after the mare, head lowered and looking visibly sulky before she glanced up as the very mare they had been talking about strode out of the clinic with a worried look on her features.

“I'm glad to see you back, Pinkamena, but... what happened?” Scarlet Sage asked quietly, and the demon halted so that the Pegasus could quickly reach up and touch the side of the unconscious mare's neck, and she softened a little. “She's sleeping... naturally. I don't feel any... no. There's pain, thickening of the blood... oh, she hasn't been taking her pills, and when she saw you...”

Pinkamena grunted, saying moodily: “It ain't her fault. It's mine. I know she's like a dog that pisses on the floor whenever she gets too excited and what do I do? Make a ruckus coming inside. Let her dance around. I should have-”

“You're overreacting. About what happened, and right now.” Scarlet Sage said softly, and she looked undeterred even when Pinkamena growled at her, the mare only looking calmly back at the demon before she said quietly: “Let's bring her inside and keep her for observation and fluids overnight, but... she's okay, Pinkamena. She's okay.”

“I heard that the Pious took over Heaven. I even heard a little about it while I was downstairs... had to cut through an old Helheim slum to get back here.” Pinkamena said moodily, rubbing at her face slowly before she followed Scarlet Sage inside. The Pegasus looked curious, while Innocence followed with newfound attention, almost slinking behind the demon as she listened intently. “Didn't think it was as bad as I'm starting to put together but... I got a whole lot of reasons to make sure Pinkie Pie doesn't go kicking the bucket just yet.”

Scarlet Sage smiled despite herself as she led the mares through the waiting room, and then she pushed open the door, holding it for the demon to get past. Innocence blushed a bit as she looked up from how she'd awkwardly been following, but the Pegasus simply gestured to her, saying quietly: “Come on, baby sister. You can help me set up the IV line and make sure Pinkie really is okay. Your magic can probably scan better than any of our old machines.”

“I... I'm not a...” Something about Scarlet's look, something about how... maternal, and how adult and professional her older sibling was, however, made the polymorphed unicorn feel... very small, especially considering what she had said only a few minutes ago. So she dropped her head and nodded awkwardly, then strode quickly through into the back of the clinic with a quiet sigh.

Pinkamena had already carried Pinkie Pie to one of the wards and was carefully shifting her into an open bed: there were only a few ponies back here right now, most of them asleep, one of them sitting up and watching them with interest for a few moments before he shrugged and went back to reading the open book in front of him.

Scarlet Sage approached, and Pinkamena growled at her when the Blood Seer reached up and touched the demon's temple before she frowned a little, saying quietly: “Your temperature's higher than normal, Pinkamena, you-”

“Demon. Hell. I run hot.” Pinkamena said shortly, but then she winced and cursed under her breath when Scarlet Sage simply twisted her hoof a little as her eyes gave the faintest glow, and the demon growled: “If you don't demagnetize your goddamn hoof from my goddamn head...”

“Quiet.” Scarlet murmured, her eyes closing, and the demon groaned before slumping moodily, looking distinctly sulky before the Pegasus frowned and nodded a little. “You have a fever. But you're a mix of Gluttony and Wrath... how can you-”

Pinkamena only growled irritably, then she said flatly: “I'm not pure Gluttony, though. And I ran into a few Gluttons on my way back upstairs. Look, I'll be fine, I don't need-”

“I'm going to see what I have in stock regarding supervitamins, and I'll do up a diet chart for you. I know what you eat affects your recovery time from being injured.” Scarlet Sage said mildly, sitting back and glancing back and forth before she turned around to head out of the ward and towards the nurse's station across the hall. “I'll ask Daddy for some corruption, too. You metabolize it well and it should help-”

“I don't need your damn help! I'm fine, concentrate on sissy!” Pinkamena snapped, and then she scowled when Scarlet Sage returned, giving the demon an appraising look, a clipboard tucked neatly beneath one wing.

Then she shifted this forwards into her front hooves as she sat back, starting to write quickly across it as she muttered: “That's not what I see. Look at you, your healing rate's slowed to a crawl and you're running a temperature and... you're just lucky that I don't want you to stay here overnight too.”

The demon glared furiously at the Pegasus, before Innocence looked uneasily up and asked slowly: “Should... should we really be... giving her that poison?”

Scarlet Sage softened as she looked over at her younger sister, and Pinkamena frowned before her sharp mind quickly figured out what must have happened, the demon sighing and nodding before she said quietly: “So you saw something bad, huh, kid? That's the real reason why I saw you hiding out there in front of the shop.”

“I don't want to talk about it.” Innocence muttered, looking down before she hesitantly reached up and touched her foreleg, then glanced quickly up at Pinkamena. “Why don't you take some of my blood, my Panacea? It's different from Daddy's... I don't know if it's more or less powerful but... it's... different. It might be better.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Scarlet Sage shrugged slowly as Pinkamena looked moodily over Innocence. Then the demon gave a slow shake of her head, saying quietly: “Your Dad and I go a long way back. It's not that I don't trust you, don't believe you. It's just... a traditional thing, kid. And I ain't afraid to hurt him, because he and I... we're both monsters. You're just a little freak, and a scared little filly.”

Innocence glared up at the mare, but Scarlet Sage was quick to slip forwards before she could say anything, gesturing calmly towards Pinkie Pie. “Will you please scan her with your magic? I just need an idea of-”

“I already did back at the store. She had a few pain spots around her body but I just flushed out her heart, even though Pinkamena here said that I could have killed her.” Innocence said moodily, glowering over at the demon. “Because it's not like she might have died or anything from the heart attack or whatever.”

Pinkamena gave a sour laugh, then began to raise a hoof, and Scarlet Sage stepped quickly between the two with a sigh, keeping them apart as she said flatly: “Do you think we could just concentrate for a moment on Pinkie Pie? Innocence, that was at least ten minutes ago, I need to know what's happening right now. Pinkamena, you should be thankful. Innocence is very talented, and if she really did have a heart attack, it could have been fatal. Especially given how frail Pinkie's become.”

“She's not frail! Shes just... she's... just old.” Pinkamena growled, and then she shook her head roughly before lowering it and muttering: “And I am thankful. My gratitude is just outweighed by the fact that I think your baby sister is nothing but a stuck up sh-”

“Oh, and look at this, Scrivy, 'tis a family reunion of sorts.” came a familiar voice, and Innocence looked awkwardly over her shoulder to see Luna and Scrivener both approaching, the sapphire mare shaking herself briskly out before she gave a small smile as the demon looked up with a growl... but also a flash of relief in her eyes at the sight of the two. “Honestly, Pinkamena. Could thou not have waited five minutes before thou put thy sibling in care? I wasted a perfectly good teleportation spell to get to Sugar Cube Corners and attempt to ambush thee!”

“Well, you know me. The sight of me alone is enough to put dumbass ponies who can't take care of themselves in the hospital.” Pinkamena replied dryly, and then she softened and glanced over her shoulder at her sibling as she stirred. “Yeah, I'm talking about you, Pinkie Pie. Come on, sissy... wake up, friends are here.”

“No, let her sleep.” Scrivener said softly, and he and Luna smiled a bit as they stopped a few feet away. Scarlet Sage gazed warmly over at her parents, then reached up and silently, reassuringly squeezed Innocence's shoulder as the younger mare looked uneasily at the two ponies she loved, admired, respected... and yet was a little uncomfortable around right now too.

Luna smiled faintly over at her, and Scrivener couldn't help but give his daughter his own softly-worried look before he shook his head a bit and turned his gaze back towards Pinkamena, saying quietly: “We were worried as hell about you.”

Pinkamena shrugged moodily, then she said finally: “Tell you all about everything if you tell me about what the hell has been going on here. Deal?”

Scrivener and Luna traded looks, then they both nodded firmly to the demon as Pinkamena's eyes flicked towards her sister, and then she turned around and rested her front hooves on the bed, leaning down and silently kissing her sister's forehead before she sighed and straightened, glaring over her shoulder at them. “Then come on, let's get the hell out of here. Dumb Daughter number one tells me that I need to get a pick-me-up from you, Scrivener, and Dumb Daughter number three keeps wanting me to thank her for not killing sissy and not helping carry her here.”

“Does that make Antares Dumb Daughter number two?” Scrivener asked mildly, and Pinkamena rolled her eyes... but all the same, a smile quirked at her mouth. “Hey, that's what it sounds like. And I mean, it's not like either me or Luna could say it's completely wrong. Antares can be pretty dumb. And pretty. Daughterly.”

“Aye, I agree. All his primping and preening, his whimpering and poetry...” Luna paused and looked wryly over at Scrivener Blooms. “Aye. He sounds like thyself, as a matter of fact. Accursed Scrivener Blooms. Thou art the reason we can only have daughters.”

“Well, if you guys clear out of here, I'll set Pinkie Pie up for the night, and you can come back and visit her in the morning, Pinkamena.” Scarlet Sage pushed in gently, before the conversation could continue, and then the Pegasus gave a smile as she squeezed Innocence's shoulder again. “But Sin is going to stay with me for a little while longer. I'll send her over to Sugar Cube Corners in a few minutes, but we're understaffed at the moment and I could use her help. All we've got is the clunky X-ray and that doesn't do a whole lot of good with stuff like this... I'd kill for one of those new CT scanners they just started to make.”

“Doctors shouldn't threaten to kill people in the clinic they run.” Scrivener remarked pointedly, and Scarlet Sage gave her father an amused look.

“For one thing, I'm not a doctor. For another, I can threaten anything I want.” Scarlet Sage replied equably, and then she smiled a little, shooing the three with the clipboard. “Look, just go wait in the waiting room, then Sin and I will come out and tell you what's going on, okay? But get out of here. I can't show you guys too much favoritism.”

Luna huffed at this as if insulted, and Pinkamena rolled her eyes, saying flatly: “Yeah, right. I bet you don't say that to Ross whenever he has to drop Cowlick here.”

There was silence at this, and the demon frowned as Scarlet Sage looked down and Scrivener shifted uncomfortably, before his eyes flicked to the demon's. And that was enough to make Pinkamena understand, and she closed her eyes and dropped her face in her hoof as she said softly: “Aw, hell... what happened? Ross, Dash... how are they handling it?”

“We'll... come on.” Scrivener said softly, and he and Luna traded faint smiles before they both turned, and the demon studied their backs for a moment before she strode after the two.

It left Innocence and Scarlet Sage sitting alone by Pinkie Pie's bed, and the polymorphed unicorn shifted uncomfortably before she looked uneasily over at the earth pony, asking after a moment: “So you... you want me to... to scan her?”

“No. I want you to take a deep breath, compose yourself, and then go out there and talk to Mom and Dad.” Scarlet Sage smiled faintly, and Innocence winced as she looked up at her older sibling before the Pegasus put her clipboard aside and reached up to squeeze the younger mare's shoulders. “They're not going to hurt you. They aren't any different from... yesterday, or a week ago, or a year ago. You just saw something about them you never knew, and that made you realize... they're not infallible, they're not perfect, they're not omnipotent. But they're still our parents, and they still love you. And they need your support, which they deserve after everything they've put up with from you.”

Innocence looked down, then nervously rose a claw and chewed at it before she looked up, unable to stop herself from asking: “But she's... Mutt, is... okay?”

“Not yet. But she'll be okay faster if you support her and show a little consideration for her.” Scarlet Sage said softly, and then she reached up and touched her baby sister's face gently. “They're strong ponies, and they deserve our support because they fight it, with all the strength they have... and... we'll talk about it more, later, but if you really want to understand... then you'll go out there, and you'll take a look for yourself, and try to be there a little for them.”

Innocence sighed a little, and then she started: “I wish...”

But then she caught herself, looked up at the Pegasus, and then pasted a moody look on her face as she turned around to head for the doors. But all the same, Scarlet Sage smiled, seeing through the veneer her little sister was putting up and glad that finally, maybe Innocence was starting to at least pretend to look out for things apart from herself.

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