• 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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The Way The World Ends

Chapter Fifty Two: The Way The World Ends
~BlackRoseRaven

They were supposed to be using this time to get ready and prepare themselves for whatever was coming next, but another important obligation came up that they couldn't ignore... and one they were very glad Pinkamena was here for, because her friendship, support, and... strange talent for this kind of thing was all very much needed: Cowlick's funeral.

Scrivener Blooms sat quietly back in one of the pews: they were in some... he guessed it was supposed to look like a chapel. Really, though, it was just a large hall with a vaguely-churchy feel to the whole thing, a few pews like the one he was sitting in placed near the back and up either side of the walls. It was all designed to naturally draw attention to the front, where electric light streamed through painted-glass windows to give the impression that some kind of peaceful radiance was spilling over the coffin, and the collections of flowers, and the pretty portrait of Cowlick. Except to Scrivy it didn't look like heavenly radiance. It was just a giant bug zapper glowing through some plastic panes of glass.

Luna grunted in quiet agreement from beside him, looking uneasily back and forth before she sighed and dropped her head against his shoulder. Greece was standing at the front with Ross, who was half-sprawled over the coffin and half-asleep with how hard he'd cried. Pinkamena looked stoic, but she kept tossing little looks now and then in the direction of Rainbow Dash: he was seated on another pew with his face in his hooves, trembling as Applejack rubbed along his back silently and Avalon shifted uncomfortably on her father's other side, looking like she wanted to say something, do something, but... had no idea what.

There were a few other ponies here, but... Better Pastures was all the way in Canterlot, and not everyone who wanted to be here could make that journey anymore, especially for a short, hour-long service. Scrivener looked up at the door leading out of the hall and back through the funeral parlor, and he could swear he could hear one of the employees lurking behind it, waiting to rush them out so they could get the next dead body in here.

Luna grunted at this quietly, then she gazed up at the dark, polished coffin before gesturing at it and saying softly: “This is not even what she wanted. 'Tis a different coffin, and I do not recognize half the ponies here and... were those truly 'professional mourners' who assailed us on the way in?”

“Yep.” Scrivener Blooms muttered, and then he shook his head slowly before glancing over at her mildly: “Do you want to try that as our new job? Cry and make speeches at people's funerals? I don't know if it's a hobby or a full-time thing, but they were asking for something like twenty bits an hour. Hit a few funerals and we'd be good for a week... not like we ever spend a whole lot of bits on anything, after all.”

The sapphire mare nodded thoughtfully at this, looking down meditatively before she glanced up with a small smile. “Aye, but I am not very good at crying, Scrivy. Nor am I suited for making fine, long speeches. And to be honest, the venture does not sit well with me... I would be insulted were ponies paid to cry upon my grave. I would rather my grave be wetted with honest piss than lying tears any day, Scrivener Blooms.”

The stallion laughed, then hurriedly slapped a Talon over his maw as he immediately received a slew of ugly looks from around the room. He shrank slowly down in the pew, and Luna grinned widely over at him and shook her head slowly before she reached up and gently stroked through his messy white mane, murmuring: “Damned troublemaker. But I do not think it any insult to Cowlick. She would not have wanted all this... drudgery.”

“I agree.” Scrivener muttered, and when Luna looked at him almost hopefully, he grunted and shook his head. “No way. The last time I decided to do things your way, I got tackled from behind by a crazy publisher who tried to beat the crap out of me.”

“Aye, Underbrush. I am surprised he is not present: the vulture seems like the type who would find his little joys in attending the funerals of others.” Luna said wryly, and then she shook her head slowly and sighed. “But perhaps I only wish for distraction. This is... suffocating.”

Scrivener grunted, and the two ponies shifted before looking up in surprise as the door opened, and a gorgeous earth pony in a flowing white dress strode calmly inside. She took long, slow movements, her pale blue coat only a few shades lighter than her darker mane and eyes, and she was covered in jewelry and sparkling gemstones and other things that would all attract eyes and attention her way. She seemed to revel in it, smiling back and forth even as she headed straight for the coffin with some clear purpose in mind.

Luna frowned at this, and Ross slowly looked blearily up, trembling a little as the mare studied him dismissively, then leaned forwards and grasped the lid of the coffin. She started to pull it up, but then Ross quickly grabbed the top of the casket and shoved it down, trembling before he whispered, even as a tear rolled down his cheek: “We can't. She's sleeping. Cowlick doesn't... doesn't want to be disturbed right now.”

“Oh, sweetie. She won't mind. She's dead.” said the earth pony mare kindly, and Luna and Scrivener both stared in disbelief as Ross simply... crumpled, looking down and trembling as his hooves shook hard, rattling against the casket before they fell away. He gasped, and the mare only smiled at him before she turned back towards the casket and half-shoved it open, leaning down and peering inside as she murmured: “Kilby, Kilby, Kilby. You were always lecturing me about being an idiot, but look at what you've done to yourself...”

“Who the hell are you?” Rainbow Dash growled, and the mare was caught off guard, looking surprised as she turned around to see the Pegasus stallion striding slowly towards her, his eyes glowing with anger as Applejack followed with a frown of her own and Avalon snarled on her fathers other side. “This is private. Friends only. Family, only.”

“My name is Narcissa. I'm an old, dear friend of Kilby's. Or was, I suppose.” The mare smiled and almost gingerly extended her hoof, but Rainbow Dash only looked down at it with distaste until the mare sniffed a little and dropped it, saying in a less-enthused voice: “I suppose your... country town must be less-versed in etiquette than here in Canterlot... and Kilby always did hang out with a rowdy bunch. Well, it takes all kinds to make the world go around, we can't all be... intellectuals.”

She slowly looked up and down Rainbow Dash, then glanced uneasily at Applejack, clearly not knowing what to make of the pony-shaped creature with her rough wooden hide. “Well. You are an... interesting bunch, I will give you that... now, I'm looking for a certain pony here who was a business partner of Kilby's, apparently inherited all her functions as the primary designate of that research and development corporation and related subsidiaries...”

Scrivener frowned at this, and Luna bared her teeth before Greece politely rose a hand and said, before any of the many angry-looking ponies could speak: “That would be me, and I'm not a pony. Miss Narcissa... this isn't a place or time to discuss business.”

“Well, I'm sorry, but this is the only time I could afford.” Narcissa's voice was half-pleading, half-whining, and entirely the sound of someone who had spent their whole life spoiled and pampered begging for something they thought they had a right to. “You can surely spare a few moments to talk with me about what Kilby would have wanted, yes?”

“Her name was Cowlick, and she didn't even want you here.” Rainbow Dash growled, and Narcissa huffed at this before wincing when the stallion stepped forwards, leaning aggressively towards the mare. “Get out of here. Get out of here, right now, before I do something you'll regret.”

Narcissa winced back, then she huffed a little before striding around the Pegasus, raising her head high and saying grouchily: “Very well. Then we'll settle this matter legally through the courts. Excuse me. And oh, yes...”

Narcissa stopped and opened her purse, digging in it for a moment before she pulled out a small photo, and she smiled as she tossed it gently in the direction of the casket, saying kindly: “Just a memento. I hope you're happy, together.”

Rainbow Dash followed the picture with his eyes as it floated slowly down to the floor, and then he snarled furiously as he half-turned, trembling... but Narcissa was already gone. And Ross, meanwhile, was staring down at the photo and trembling... a photo of Narcissa and Cowlick, the engineer captured in mid roll of her eyes as she looked almost like she was trying to yank the newborn in Narcissa's forelegs away from her...

“Rustproof...” Ross whispered, and then he clenched his eyes shut and fell forwards, and Greece winced as he dropped to one knee and grasped the stallion even as Ross began to cry, trembling and shivering as he clawed towards the picture, eyes wide and tears running down his cheeks as he yelled hoarsely: “Cowlick! Cowlick, come back! Come back! Don't leave me!”

Luna and Scrivener traded looks, and Rainbow Dash stumbled over to Ross through his own tears, dropping down beside him and trying to help, trying to do... something, anything... but there was nothing anyone could do for Ross right now as the unicorn finally grasped the photo and yanked it up against his chest, crumpling it against his body as he laid on his side and cried, and cried, and cried.

The whole world felt... a little muted. Luna and Scrivener had stayed with Pinkamena while the remains were cremated, and they had been handed the urn of ashes by a vaguely-creepy, pallid white pony Scrivy thought he knew from somewhere, who had said in a voice slightly-too-bright for his job: “Still warm.”

Now they were slowly meandering their way back to Ponyville, but the three were taking their time. Pinkamena was grumbling under her breath, her body still looking a little bruised from all the Hell – both literally and figuratively – that she had been through, and Scrivener and Luna both just felt... quiet, uncomfortable, and cranky.

Narcissa had certainly gone and thrown a wrench into things. Scrivener shook his head slowly before he sighed a bit, then he looked up as Luna grumbled: “We should kill her. 'Twould be easy, too. Let us send an assassin to do it... or Pinkamena, perhaps thou could. Thou could make an example of her, that would be most welcome.”

The demon grunted at this, then she shook her head moodily and muttered: “I wouldn't mind that. But you know, the funny thing is that you two almost sound serious. She got under your skin that much, did she? And here I thought you were both infallible.”

Luna and Scrivener traded looks, and then the sapphire mare laughed shortly as Scrivener said sourly: “You know, you're making it very tempting to just punch you in the face right now. Because coming from you, that's an insult.”

“Yeah, yeah. I'm screwing with you two, don't take it so goddamn personally.” Pinkamena rolled her eyes, and then she sighed a little, looking at the sidepack hanging on Scrivener Blooms before she said quietly: “I guess I'm more shook-up than I wanted to admit, finding out... goddammit. What if Pinkie Pie had gone and had a heart attack while I was gone? What if your kid hadn't been there to flush her blood? What if... Pinkie Pie was... as big a coward as Cowlick turned out to be?”

Scrivener Blooms smiled faintly, and Luna Brynhild glanced up and said softly: “Cease. Thou knows she was not. Maybe... she gave in to self-loathing, but 'twas not cowardice. Not with what she knew was waiting for her, and not with... what she suffered through.”

“There was cowardice. It wasn't what she did, though. It was the fact she wouldn't let a single one of us help her sorry ass.” Pinkamena muttered, and then the demon lowered her head and added roughly: “And it's not like you two really have to care, do you? Twilight's always going to be there. Your kids, too. Your whole goddamn family is made up of immortals.”

“So they don't age. They still die. We all die. And maybe it'll suck more: one day Antares could end up getting tortured to death instead of dying peacefully in his sleep. That's probably how all of us are going to, through something... horrible and awful and... that none of us deserve to suffer through, but we will all the same.” Scrivener muttered, and Pinkamena looked at him moodily before the stallion shook his head and grumbled: “And great. Don't I feel cheerful now?”

“Both of thee, shut up. Pinkamena, thou art whimpering and whining, 'tis most unbecoming. Scrivener... thou art stupid.” Luna leaned over and bopped him firmly with her horn. “So silence.”

Scrivener Blooms grumbled, and Pinkamena rolled her eyes before the demon said sourly: “My point still goddamn stands, especially right now. I have to watch Pinkie Pie, wasting away... that stupid... pathetic... retarded... other half of me. My... goddamned twin, like it or not. And...” Pinkamena stopped, clenching her eyes shut, baring her teeth as Scrivener and Luna both softened and slowed to a halt to gaze at her silently. “What if she does die? That... that hurts enough, but what if she does die and she goes straight on up to Heaven? I... I can't let that happen...”

There was silence for a few moments, and then she took a slow breath before sighing and slumping a bit, shaking her head and muttering: “I won't let that happen. I won't. I'd rather her go to Hell than Heaven, and that's not because I hate her. That's because I... I mean I... I...”

She grimaced, then turned to the side and spat, and Scrivener said after a second: “You know, if the word 'love' is so hard for you to say, you could just go with 'really really don't hate.'”

“You know, one day, I'm going to just break your face open and drink your brains.” Pinkamena said moodily, and Scrivener winced a bit at this as Luna looked meditatively at the stallion. Then the demon rolled her eyes and started forwards again, shoving past the two and grumbling: “Come on. I need to figure out how to keep sissy alive.”

“She's going to be fine, Pinkamena.” Scrivener Blooms said softly, and the demon laughed dryly at this, shaking her head slowly and almost snarling over her shoulder at the earth pony.

“Yeah, really? You mean like me and Slap were supposed to be fine? You mean like how I clearly wasn't flung halfway across the goddamn universe and Sleipnir is still Hel-knows-where and Heaven oh certainly isn't invaded by.... killer goddamn angels from another biggest, nastier not-quite-at-all-Paradise, right?” Pinkamena spat, glaring at him. “No, but everything's fine, right Scrivy? Everything's goddamn peachy and perfect and nothing at all is the matter, right?”

Scrivener Blooms shrugged after a moment, which just made the demon's fury visibly increase before Luna Brynhild said quietly: “When He Of Many Countless Faces is defeated, I believe the Pious will... I do not know. But I carry the hope that even if they rule Heaven, they have not yet managed to convert every soul to their cause... they have only taken the world, not its people.”

Pinkamena snorted and shook her head slowly, muttering: “Guesswork. That's all that is. You don't know, I don't know anything for sure... all we have is guesswork and lies. I'd rather make sure that Pinkie Pie doesn't have to... end up a pawn on the white side of the chessboard, thank you.”

Luna and Scrivener both sighed and shook their heads at the same time, and Pinkamena hesitated before she looked uneasily at them, adding: “And stop doing that. More and more, you two keep... mirroring each other. I hate it. You remind me too much of... that asshole, Gymbr. We don't need another one of him.”

Scrivener grunted as Luna grimaced and shook her head violently, then she said finally: “'Tis just... an effect of our soul link. But even if Scrivy and I ended up as... as one being, we would not become Gymbr, Pinkamena. We are...”

She broke off, not knowing how to phrase it, and Pinkamena laughed dryly, looking down and muttering: “I don't know what you two are. But you know what? I also don't know whether or not I find that idea reassuring... because something tells me you two could become something a whole hell of a lot worse than Gymbr as well.”

Scrivener and Luna were both silent, and the three walked along in quiet for a little while. But just as Ponyville was coming into sight, Pinkamena lowered her head and asked quietly: “Scrivy, Luna... if I... if I ask you to help me make... save Pinkie Pie... you'll do it, right?”

“You just said you were afraid of us becoming Gymbr, and now you're essentially asking us... to do something right out of Because Love Conquers All.” Scrivener Blooms said quietly, and Pinkamena looked up with a faint smile and nodded.

“Yeah, I am. Because I'm scared... for you, not of you. Never of you...” Pinkamena looked away, laughing faintly. “We're cellmates in the psych ward together, aren't we? I trust you... your family... you're the only ponies I've ever trusted apart from sissy and Slap. And without Slap in my life... I need sissy. I need... you both.”

“He will be back, Pinkamena. He has to come back to us.” Luna said quietly, the sapphire mare looking down for a moment, and the demon grunted and shrugged slowly before the winged unicorn laughed faintly and shook her head fiercely, muttering: “Fie upon thee, wretched... wretch. Very well, be pessimistic. Then may my brother be gone forever and thou shall never feel a stallion's touch again, wicked cur.”

The demon snorted in amusement, rolling her eyes and muttering: “Sex, sex, sex. All you freaks ever seem to think about. You and your brother and Princess Sunshine... no wonder your new little girl grew up to be such a wannnabe whore.”

Scrivener and Luna both glared at the demon, and Pinkamena grinned wryly and shrugged, saying mildly: “Can't help sticking a needle in a nerve when you two are being assholes. You don't want me to hurt your precious little feelings? Then don't go lecturing me and trying to make me feel like a stupid little filly.”

“Thou made thyself feel like a stupid little filly.” Luna grumbled, and the demon shrugged before slowing to a halt and turning a meditative look towards Scrivener Blooms, prompting Luna to say sourly: “No, thou hast not earned the right to make Scrivener Blooms make thee feel like a stupid little filly. Even though he surely could.”

Pinkamena rolled her eyes, turning around and looking moodily from one to the other before she asked quietly: “Do you two losers have that nasty little habit of yours under control yet? Because we went through this once already and I really don't want you strung out and whimpery on top of everything else we're trying to deal with.”

Scrivener's eyes flashed, and Luna snarled immediately, which made Pinkamena smile grimly. “Nope. I see that we're still sitting pretty rough right now, aren't we? Normally you two would shrug or laugh me off, so I know you must be feeling the urge pretty intensely even now... but I saw the way you licked your lips when I just took a little nip off the top this morning. Goddammit, you idiots...”

Pinkamena shook her head slowly, then she softened for a moment, murmuring: “Part of me is so glad you're broken. The rest of me wishes I could do something to fix you morons. Look at you two, not even able to read me anymore... even though, hell, Scrivy, I know that if you really thought I was serious you'd be tearing me apart with those Talons of yours. But it's all those emotions, all that loss of control, making you overreact... how the hell am I supposed to fix that?”

“You aren't.” Scrivener said after a moment, and then he smiled faintly and lowered his head, feeling that anger becoming... shame, and self-loathing, and understanding that the demon was right. “We're... a pretty far damn sight from our best right now, after all. We're just trying to survive... the here and now. And hide the fact that... well...”

He looked uncomfortably over at Luna, and the sapphire mare looked away, silently cursing Scrivener in her mind... but even as she did so, she felt a soothing, forgiving warmth from both the stallion as well as the Lich, and that blast of unfocused rage melted away into shame as she lowered her head a little and nodded silently once. She felt the presence of both Scrivener and Twilight Sparkle slide around her, even as the stallion only reached a Talon up to gently squeeze her shoulder, and then she murmured quietly: “It has been worse than ever before, Pinkamena. Myre... Myre touched something inside of me that...”

She shivered a little, then looked up and smiled faintly, asking after a moment: “Between thyself and Sleipnir... hast thou ever vied for power, made a game of... who is on top? I know what we see between thee all the time, but...”

“Rarely. I mean...” Pinkamena looked almost uncomfortable, licking her lips, vulnerable for a moment before she gave her usual grin that worked so well at hiding her emotions, even as... so much showed through in her eyes. Nostalgia, warmth, and worry for where her husband was now, as she said mildly: “Sure, now and then we wrestle to see who's really in charge, but... you know Sleipnir. All that stallion, all that meat, but he likes being on the bottom. And I mean that in every way, since I figure your perverted mind already went there anyway.”

Luna nodded agreeably, smiling a little despite herself before she glanced over at Scrivener Blooms and said quietly: “My husband and I... we are blessed because we are both... rough in nature. And we are very similar as well, in our... longing for power and control... but our delight even in pain. It makes things... interesting for us.

“This... this facet... is not a good one to have opened with all our other flaws in mind. It makes us... hungry, and wanting, and... cruel.” Luna murmured, shivering a little before she looked over at Scrivener and smiled faintly. “I... I wonder sometimes, Pinkamena, if I could make my husband into a monster. If he would taste better as a Tyrant Wyrm... a true Tyrant Wyrm. Part of me would like to see him in chains... but only because it would make it all the sweeter when I find myself... beneath him...”

She shivered a little, and Scrivener Blooms looked down and murmured: “And you know me. I smile, I say it's okay, I... act like this big dumb lout but... I look at Luna, and I think of the power I can hold over her now, the... way I can make her more mine, and more my... my...”

“I don't want to hear any more. From either of you complete morons.” Pinkamena growled, and then she shook her head shortly before stepping forwards and swinging a hoof out, smacking first Scrivener and then Luna and making both their heads wrench stupidly to the side. “Look. You two do whatever the hell you want with each other, so long as it doesn't screw with us. You wallow in self-pity, or in each other's... assitude, I don't give a crowbait's flank, but you make sure you control that darkness enough that it doesn't spill all over ponies like sissy, got it?”

Both Luna and Scrivener nodded awkwardly after a moment, and then Luna reached up and moodily rubbed at her cheek, saying wryly: “I cannot believe thou just slapped us both at once. Are we really so pathetic to have deserved such? And is thy foreleg really so damned long to allow that or art thou secretly an octopus?”

Pinkamena rolled her eyes, and then Scrivener Blooms tilted his head a bit before he asked quietly: “I have to wonder, though... no ponies like them. What about ponies like you, Pinkamena?”

The demon snorted at this, then she stepped forwards, their noses almost touching as she glared challengingly into the stallion's eyes, and he looked resolutely back. There was silence for a few moments, and then Pinkamena reached up and silently grasped his face, then tilted his head to the side so she could slip forwards, her maw opening... then teeth digging into flesh, spilling black blood into her jaws as Scrivener closed his eyes and shivered.

This no longer hurt. There was that tingle of almost-pain, and then just pleasure now... and Luna felt it too. But more than that... her body shivered, her legs buckled a little beneath her, she felt a heat flood her system that sharpened the edge of her hunger and made her lean forwards as her cheeks flushed with what looked almost like excitement. She saw the black blood, drip down to the ground, and she fought hard to repress a whimper before Pinkamena slid away, and Luna had to fight back against the instinct to kiss her... to try and steal that black blood still in her mouth, still coating her lips, still on her tongue...

Pinkamena reached up and wiped the black blood away, before the demon closed her eyes and shook herself roughly, then gasped once for breath: a single moment, but one that revealed so much, how the poison in Scrivener's veins even affected her before she gritted her teeth and looked up coldly, catching herself. Scrivener was smiling a little, and Pinkamena narrowed her eyes at him dangerously before she growled: “I am not your whore.”

“I know. That's why I like you. Because you fight, every step of the way.” Scrivener said quietly, and then he held up a Talon and closed his eyes, and Pinkamena frowned, then snarled as the corruption in her stomach boiled, before she flexed as she felt it flowing into her body, felt like it was burning holes in her even as a strange strength flooded through her veins as the corruption concentrated, meshed with her, tried to change her...

She looked up, eyes flashing, and seized Scrivener by the throat before hauling him into the air, glaring into his eyes as he only grimaced and supported himself on his hind legs as the demon growled: “I ain't your toy, either. So don't think you can experiment on me like you do your Nightmares and your other freaks. Not without my permission.”

Scrivener bowed his head forwards, but then he gave a brief smile as he reached a Talon out and gently stroked her waterfall of a mane away from her eyes. The demon grumbled at this, looking awkwardly away before she slung him backwards, and the stallion barely caught himself on all fours as Luna said softly: “I felt the connection fo ra moment, demon. I feel it in my horn... in the... the poison in my own veins. Does thou?”

Pinkamena looked moodily between the two, and then she said sourly: “If you two morons think that I'm going to sit back and allow you to make some creepy connection with me, you're both a lot more stupid than I thought you were.”

“As if we would want to be connected in such a way to thou. No, idiot, 'tis more like... 'tis more like...” Luna struggled for the word, and Scrivener looked up, simply feeling the demon's presence and what Luna was going for, but finding himself unable to think of-

“A beacon.” Pinkamena muttered, and the demon looked down and frowned a little at her hoof, saying quietly: “And you could modify it inside me. Change... me a little. I...” She stopped, then shook her head shortly, muttering: “Just like one of those Nightmares I was just talking about after all. I like to think I'm so different and... maybe I'm not.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Scrivener Blooms said quietly: “You are. You honestly are, because-”

“Don't want to hear it. Don't even care anymore, as a matter of fact.” Pinkamena said shortly, holding up a hoof and shaking her head, and then she hesitated for a few moments before looking down and murmuring: “Maybe I don't even want to care, and don't want it to matter. Still, though... there's no way I can give in completely. Not to you, not to... my own stupid self... not to anything. Not until I know if Slap is...”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Luna smiled faintly, murmuring: “He will return. Mark my words. And he will mock thee incessantly for not believing in him, wait and watch.”

Pinkamena only shrugged, then she turned back around and said finally: “Come on. We're keeping Ponyville waiting... and what are you going to do with that urn?”

There was silence for only a moment, but Scrivener Blooms found it surprisingly easy to pick up the change in conversation, shrugging a bit as he and Luna followed after the demon. “Well... Cowlick had a whole bunch of plans, but... thanks to all the interference from other organizations and lawyers and stuff, we've had to change a whole bunch of things around. Speed things up a little, and put some of the money that was meant to be used for her funeral into a legal defense fund instead and... unfortunately... pay a lot of attention to legalities and red tape. Greece, for example, was really worried that if we misstepped somewhere, someone would... I dunno...”

“Civil dereliction, old Equestrian ordinance, probably. There's a few others they could use, too.” Pinkamena simply shrugged, looking moody, and Scrivener Blooms looked blankly at the demon's back before she said sourly: “Screw off. Slippers is a big friendly giant, but the people who hate him really hate him, and like to take advantage of the fact he probably wouldn't hurt a wasp if it stung that giant nose of his. He might be some proud heroic warrior but he's pretty goddamn crappy when it comes to defending himself against normal people.”

“Aye, he always has been. And I envied him for that. He could ignore both rocks and words slung against him with the ease of a mountain shrugging off the rain.” Luna sighed and shook her head slowly, smiling faintly. “But 'tis a good thing, even if it means he can be too... giving.”

“And forgiving.” Pinkamena grumbled, and then she shook her head quickly before looking down and muttering: “So yeah. I'd always have to save his ass from all these... stupid little laws... not surprised he never mentioned that to you, though. He can be a real idiot.”

“Yeah, but he loves you. You know he loves you. And he tells us all the time how much you take care of him, how many times you've bailed him out of trouble.” Scrivener added mildly, and then he smiled slightly. “He just tends to make it sound more like you punched a dragon for him than anything else.”

“Only once. And that was mostly for my own fun, not saving him. But of course that selfish crowbait has to go and make it all about him.” Pinkamena muttered, shaking her head slowly. Then she fell quiet, and remained that way until they entered through the northern gates of Ponyville, the dull-pink mare sighing a little before she asked almost grudgingly: “You guys... want to come and visit sissy with me? She might like the company.”

Scrivener and Luna traded looks, and then they both smiled a bit before the charcoal stallion said finally: “Maybe later. I don't think it would be the greatest thing in the world if we showed up carrying Cowlick's ashes around and everything.”

“Cowlick can come too. I never really... minded her that much. She was tough, and not all talk, and she was good to Dash.” Pinkamena shrugged after a moment, glancing away and shaking her head briefly. “It would give Pinkie a chance to say goodbye. You know she wanted to be there for Dash and Cowlick and everyone else, she just...”

“Yeah. I'm glad you convinced her to spend a little time at the clinic.” Scrivener said quietly, smiling a little. “Look, she's going to be-”

“If you tell me she's going to be okay, I'm going to punch you in the throat and then rip your head off your shoulders and stuff it up your dumb wife's butt.” Pinkamena growled, and Scrivener cleared his throat before glowering at Luna when she began to giggle stupidly.

“I wish that Scrivy would-” She started, and Pinkamena rolled her eyes and slammed both rear hooves back into Scrivener's features, knocking him sprawling in a burst of black blood as Luna cringed and her head twisted to the side, a large pair of hoofprints appearing over her features as mouthed wordlessly for a moment.

Then she twitched and glared furiously over at Pinkamena, but the demon simply sniffed and shrugged disdainfully, saying sourly: “Don't give me that look. You're the morons who keep ruining everything, you... morons.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Scrivener Blooms slowly picked himself up and shook his head quickly, grimacing even as he felt his bruised face quickly healing. “You know, one day you're going to actually kill me. Or at least piss me off.”

“You're used to pain. Suck it up.” Pinkamena growled in response, and the charcoal stallion muttered under his breath before the demon jerked her head forwards, Luna scowling and huffing as she rubbed convulsively at her features, while Scrivener Blooms only sighed and dropped his head forwards. “Come on. Ain't got all day. Then we can go get Dash and he can pay his own last respects with us when we do whatever you're doing with Cowlick's ashes.”

Scrivener glanced up at this, and Luna smiled a little despite herself, but she knew better than to say anything and risk another shot to the face from Pinkamena. Instead, they only focused on the here and now... although both ponies felt their minds wandering, found themselves... thinking too much, and getting lost in their own little world.

The two felt.. distracted, as they stood side-by-side in the clinic, not even realizing when they were at Pinkie Pie's bed. Scrivener tried to keep up conversation, but he felt dozy, and his mind kept flicking to the strange daydreams he and Luna had been having lately; Luna tried to focus, but mostly ran on autopilot, nodding and shrugging and smiling along with Pinkie Pie, but shifting a little back and forth on her hooves, licking her lips, rubbing at her foreleg as more and more she thought of how she just had to make it home, just had to get home, just had to push through a few hours here and now, and then her needle would be waiting for her to make all the itchiness and the crankiness and the discomfort go away...

Pinkie Pie was tired, and didn't seem to notice: in fact, she barely seemed to notice them leaving, let alone the fact they had shown up at all. But Pinkamena, on the other hoof, sighed tiredly as they walked out of the clinic, before she asked rudely: “So are you going to keep doing the junkie shuffle or are you going to come back down to Midgard and pay a little attention to the real world?”

Scrivener and Luna both winced, the awkwardly traded looks before the sapphire mare dropped her head forwards, mumbling: “I... I apologize, Pinkamena. Even though most of me would rather punch thee in the face until thou stopped moving, but... I suppose I am glad that there is at least one pony here who insists on treating me... the same as she would any other pony.”

Pinkamena grunted, then the demon shook her head slowly as she glowered over at them. “And I'm not about to be buttered up by you two, either, so don't even bother. Let's just keep going, and you two try and stay in reality instead of whatever freakshow Wonderland you keep heading off into.”

“Because you'd be such a darling Alice.” Scrivener Blooms muttered, and then he winced when the mare bared her fangs at him. “Or maybe you're more of a Red Queen.”

“Except we already have a Mad Hatter on the loose, don't we? We don't need to be going and doling out even more names on his behalf.” remarked Discombobulation's voice, and Scrivener and Luna looked dumbly back and forth as Pinkamena only rolled her eyes. “Isn't it wonderful, how some stories and metaphors are shared between entirely different worlds? I guess that's why you're able to recognize so many of the references I make to other repressed homosexuals.”

The stallion sighed tiredly at this, and then he looked up and replied dryly to the air itself: “You know, poetry used to be something all the tough warrior dudes were trying to do-”

“And I'm loathe to point this out, but there was a time when if you wanted to be cool, you had to wear a skirt and no underwear. Not that it really matters to you ponies but... skirts on stallions does scare me slightly.” Discombobulation interrupted mildly, and then he added thoughtfully: “And you know. It's not like we don't have bizarre trends in society today. I mean, have you even seen all these silly things that ponies get up to? Conventions for elves, and ghosts, and brothers who fight ghosts, and worst of all, furries? Although personally, my favorite are skeptic conventions, even if I find it hard to believe they actually exist.”

The stallion rolled his eyes and gave a small smile despite himself at this, and Luna looked thoughtfully back and forth before Pinkamena muttered: “Either come out of wherever you're hiding or I'll punch you out.”

There was quiet for a moment, and then a tiny Discombobulation poked his head out of the sea of Luna's starry locks, the sapphire mare glancing over her shoulder in surprise as the Draconequus said mildly: “I'm missing a yellow submarine, but I could play you part of a soundtrack from a game about a vengeful Dishwasher, if you like. Well. Technically the sequel.”

“Scrivy could be a vengeful dishwasher.” Luna said thoughtfully, and then she glanced up as Discombobulation calmly swam his way through her locks to her horn, the chimerical creature carefully hauling himself up onto this and climbing slowly towards the top as Luna twitched back and forth, then giggled stupidly. “Bob! How that tickles but pleases!”

Scrivener winced a little at this, and Discombobulation awkwardly looked down at her horn before clearing his throat and saying dryly: “I forgot what you use this thing for. Tia, well. You can touch her horn all day, she doesn't care. Not. Not that I do, or that I would, of course, I'm just pointing out that she's a lot less gross than you are. And I'm going to get off this thing before it becomes sticky, you fetishist.”

With that, Discombobulation hopped off her, at the same time expanding to land beside the mare at his full height. He brushed at himself a few times, then straightened before flicking his wrist to the side, a pair of sunglasses appearing in one hand that he calmly placed over his eyes before he asked: “So are we going to commit the final remains of Cowlick to the bosom of the pacific ocean now?”

Scrivener and Luna looked for a few moments at the Draconequus, and then Pinkamena glanced over her shoulder and said wryly: “You know, it's funny. I think that Cowlick would have actually liked you continuing to be such a disruptive jackass.”

“It's what I do best.” Discombobulation shrugged, peering over the sunglasses before he said finally: “Besides, what else am I supposed to do with myself? It would be very silly if I were to say my last goodbyes as someone else, after all.”

Scrivener and Luna traded small smiles at this, and Pinkamena grunted in agreement, looking forwards and saying quietly: “I couldn't've put it better myself. Funny. I guess you and I can actually agree on things now and then.”

“It's nice.” Discombobulation nodded agreeably, and then he smiled a little after a moment, looking down and shaking his head briefly, but he didn't say anything further. And Pinkamena didn't ask, the demon leading the little group onwards.

They headed straight for the engineering facility, and found Rainbow Dash in Cowlick's old, messy office. Apple Bloom was with him, and the two smiled a little as Pinkamena leaned in the doorway and said flatly: “Stop your goddamn crying. Come on, we're going to say our goodbyes.”

“We should get Ross.” Rainbow Dash said softly, and the demon grimaced a bit at this, but the Pegasus looked up and shook his head fiercely. “He deserves to be here a hell of a lot more than the rest of us do, Pinkamena, he was her... her special somepony.”

“I haven't heard that in a long time.” Pinkamena looked down, and then she sighed and shook her head slowly, muttering: “Fine. Just... fine. Go ahead and go get him. Make his life suck even more than it already does by bringing him to the burning-up of his dead wife.”

“They were never married.” Apple Bloom smiled a little, glancing up and shaking her head briefly. “Not officially, anyway, they were just... they just were what they were, you know?”

“Yeah. Semantic arguments. Great, thanks for that.” Pinkamena rolled her eyes, then she sighed and asked finally: “Where the hell is he, then? Someone looking after him or something?”

Rainbow Dash gave a small smile at this, then he murmured: “Funny, Pinkamena. You being so hard on Ross when you're... you know.”

There was silence for a moment, and then the demon scowled over at the Pegasus, saying moodily: “Remember when your wife died, and someone had to babysit you because otherwise you would have just sat and cried in bed the whole time she was gone? Not that you didn't already reek of piss and the booze you were trying to drown your sorrows in.”

The Pegasus looked sourly at the demon, and Apple Bloom sighed tiredly before answering dryly: “He wanted to be left alone, and he's at home. And like Cowlick always said... there ain't nothing wrong with Ross. Besides, all kinds of ponies and Nibelung are coming and going, to pay their respects and just wish him well.”

“Yeah, and Fluttershy never used to cut herself between visitors. I don't think Ross is a moron. I do think being all sad and stuff does make people moronic, though.” Pinkamena said dryly, shaking her head briefly before she looked over at Discombobulation. “Go grab him and bring him here. And make sure he hasn't done anything dumb.”

“That's what we all admire about you, Pinkamena. How you always see only the very best in people.” Discombobulation said mildly, and then the Draconequus shook his head briefly before he brushed primly at himself and rose his head. “The Dude abides, though. Tom Cullen was a hero, after all, no matter what way you slice the M-O-O-N.”

With that, Discombobulation vanished, and the demon grumbled under her breath before she looked over at Dash and Apple Bloom, saying flatly: “Come on. Let's head down to the... wherever. The incinerator I guess, right?”

“Down in the labs, yeah. We can at least do that right.” Scrivener shook his head, muttering: “When you can't do what you want with your own dead body...”

“Well, there's profit in it, that's all.” Pinkamena snorted, shaking her head moodily and saying sourly: “But I don't want to get into a long, pissy economics discussion with you morons. Let's just keep ourselves going and get done what we need to do. Fair enough?”

Scrivener Blooms shrugged, Rainbow Dash sighed, and Apple Bloom managed a bit of a smile as Luna muttered: “Bossy, bossy, bossy. And ponies say that I am bossy. But thou art just a... a taker-overer. A great bossy taker-overer.”

“I'm channeling Cowlick's spirit.” Pinkamena grumbled, shoving her way back out into the hall, but even Rainbow Dash only sighed tiredly at this. They all knew better by now than to take anything Pinkamena said seriously, though: it was all about what she did, not the constant foam of insults and aggression that spilled out of her mouth.

'Tis like... angry diarrhea. Luna thought moodily, shaking her head briefly. Scrivener gave her a wry look at this, but the sapphire mare only huffed at him, swinging her horn in his direction and making Rainbow Dash wince a bit before the Pegasus automatically took to the air... although both soulbound ponies couldn't help but look over their shoulders at the quiet wheeze of effort the Pegasus gave just to hover a few feet above the ground.

Inside them, Twilight Sparkle shifted, raising her head, and Luna and Scrivener hesitated... but then decided to only follow on in quiet as Apple Bloom smiled faintly up at the stallion. Her Uncle Dash... and Scrivy thought that, when you combined what she called him with the look the engineer was giving the stallion, you could see there was admiration there as much as affection for him. That even if she never called him brother, he was still more than a welcome part of the family in her eyes... he just fit in a funnier way.

They were quiet as they made their way down into the laboratory, and found Greece waiting for them with another few Nibelung Architects. Greece was smiling faintly, and another tuskless dwarf beside him was shaking his head slowly, rubbing at his features as he murmured: “She always was a strange one. I could never... being fed to one of my own machines, particularly a... disposal unit...”

“Different philosophies, Architect Tenochtitlan. I, for one, hope my body is entirely destroyed when it's time to move on.” muttered another Nibelung in robes, and he rubbed slowly at one shorn-down tusk as he added sourly: “And no offense to the dead mare.... but it will be nice to see her literally going up in smoke.”

“Illyria, have a little decency, please.” Greece almost begged, and then he smiled awkwardly as he turned back towards the ponies, gesturing at the open door to the incinerator room. “We'd... we'd like to be there, just to watch... maybe say a few words. She... helped us find our own places here, after all.”

Pinkamena shrugged, then looked questioningly at Apple Bloom and Rainbow Dash, and the earth pony mare smiled faintly before she murmured: “I think she'd like that. And I think she ain't so different from you, Illyria, wanting to make sure... everything's moved on.”

“The past has to make way for the future.” Illyria muttered, and then he sighed tiredly, turning a sour look towards Luna Brynhild. “A lesson that I think a few certain ponies here have yet to learn.”

“I like to think that while I hail from the past, Illyria, I am also part of the future that is still slowly coming to be.” Luna replied evenly, and the two glowered at each other for a few moments before she shook her head and muttered: “But... let us put our arguments aside for now.”

“Cowlick would like that. She would really like that a lot.” murmured a voice, and Luna and Scrivener turned around as the dwarves looked up and Pinkamena sighed tiredly. Rainbow Dash and Apple Bloom both smiled faintly at the sight of Ross quietly approaching with Discombobulation, however... even if the unicorn's features were tear-streaked, his mane frazzled, his eyes darting back and forth as he stumbled a little over his own hooves.

But at the same time, he was here: he wasn't locked up in his room at home, he wasn't trying to avoid interaction, he was struggling, but... he was here, speaking to them, working to stay stable. And the ponies knew that would have meant everything in the world to Cowlick, as Ross trembled a little before he lowered his head and whispered: “Cowlick's... asleep. I understand. I don't want to understand, but I do. Cowlick's asleep...”

“Yeah. She is.” Rainbow Dash hesitated, trading looks with Apple Bloom, before he smiled a little and said quietly: “Listen, it's not... really our place anymore, but if you want to come and stay at Sweet Apple Acres, I'm sure Avalon won't mind. We'll... help you out.”

Ross looked up uneasily at this, trembling a bit, and then Pinkamena said distastefully: “Yeah, that sounds just like you, Dash, trying to drag someone into the house you already gave away. No, moron. You've seen Cowlick's place, it's big and comfy, and there's a whole lot of junk that needs to be cleaned out of there. You guys should go stay with him.”

Rainbow glared, beginning to open his mouth... but when Ross meekly looked up a little, the Pegasus softened a bit before he gave a small smile and nodded. “Yeah, that... okay. That would be really okay. And Cowlick told me to say that... to tell everyone that it's really okay if they want to... take anything they want, or... it's okay.”

He nodded a few times, looking down and struggling with his words, fighting back tears and to breathe and just to remain coherent, and then Pinkamena said quietly: “She's asleep right now, Ross. But I want you to remember something: everyone goes to sleep. And everyone... everyone... gets a chance to wake back up. Sometimes it ain't as what they were before. Sometimes, they don't remember who or what they were. Sometimes, they're... in the grass, or the sky, or the stars. But they wake back up. Ross, when Cowlick wakes up, what do you want her to see?”

Ross looked up, and he gave a faint, trembling smile, and his only response was to nod violently, not able to form or find the words. But Pinkamena laughed quietly as if he had told her all too much, and the demon looked down as she murmured: “Good. That's what I was hoping for, Ross... that's kind of what I want to see too.”

She closed her eyes, then looked up and turned around, gazing silently into the room beyond, looking at the massive, metal incinerator at the far end of the room as she murmured: “Okay. Let's take care of things now. We've wasted enough goddamn time chatting like little fillies and crying over Cowlick. Let's say our goodbyes, be done with it, and then get back to what's important.”

Pinkamena stopped, then glanced down the hall, and she was unsurprised to see Hecate leaning silently a few doors down, simply watching them. Demon and mechanical goddess studied each other, and then the Devourer slowly nodded, and Hecate gave a thin smile, then simply straightened and turned, walking calmly away. Luna and Scrivener both frowned and looked up at the sounds of the machine-bodied evil version of Celestia walking away, but when Luna opened her mouth, Pinkamena cut her off curtly with: “She was here. Doesn't that say enough?”

Luna closed her mouth, then nodded briefly once before she sighed quietly, looking down and muttering: “I suppose it does. And... thou art right. We will remember Cowlick. We will finish her projects and protect her memory... and we will get back to the living. That is what she desired.”

“Good.” Pinkamena said quietly, and then the demon turned around and strode into the incinerator room. She was followed by the Nibelung, then by Rainbow Dash, and Apple Bloom, and Luna and Scrivener.

Ross trembled a little, then forced himself to walk forwards, breathing unsteadily. He was followed by Discombobulation, who helped the stallion along as he made his way into the room... and the only reason Ross was able to stand for the ceremony, was able to watch as the urn that a very deep part of him understood contained the little that was left of Cowlick without bolting for the exit, was because of all these ponies here. Who accepted him, who helped him... who had been friends with Cowlick and helped make this place of loud noise and metal and roaring flame and things that scared him and he didn't understand... into something habitable. Into a reflection of Cowlick herself: brazen, bold, rough, not someone who everyone could understand but... all the same... had provided warmth, and light, and protection.

He stayed, as they held their impromptu service... and he didn't leave, even after the dwarves did, and the Draconequus did, and the demon did and the ponies did. He stayed in the cement room, feeling the biting heat of the snarling incinerator and watching through the open grate on the front as flames swirled and danced inside it, terrifying and dangerous, all-consuming as it fed up into a smokestack that belched smog into the sky. And even though it was so frightening to him, when he closed his eyes, he thought that the growling turned to a purr; the heat softened into warmth; he smelled not sulfur and ash, but tobacco and sweat. When he closed his eyes, he was no longer alone... but sitting, for this one last time, with Cowlick, as she slipped off into one last, long sleep.

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