• 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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Clockwork Hearts

Chapter Fifty Three: Clockwork Hearts

Scrivener Blooms was sitting outside the animal care center, looking lamely over at Fluttershy as she stared in disbelief at the Tyrant Wyrm he had brought with him. Poe, meanwhile, was calmly studying a large rock he'd picked up in one claw, and Luna was grinning brightly, seated astride one of the Mire Beasts Scrivener Blooms had created as it cantered calmly around, the sapphire mare calling cheerfully: “They are very fun, Scrivy!”

The stallion sighed tiredly, and then he looked lamely over at Fluttershy, gesturing awkwardly up at Poe. “So uh. Could you and Nirvana... examine him or something? Or maybe see how he'll get along with other animals or... I don't... really know. Celestia just suggested we get him checked out and see how he responds to other ponies and stuff and we thought that... well, since you're so good with animals and everything and uh... you know...”

Fluttershy continued to stare past Scrivener Blooms at the Tyrant Wyrm, and then Luna rode calmly over on the Mire Beast, adding: “Mostly, though, it is because Poe and these silly pets have insisted upon gobbling down every bird and beast in sight of their little den in the forest. And 'twas quite messy and disgusting too.”

The one-winged Pegasus shivered a little at this, then she shook her head quickly and mumbled: “Well... they are clearly carnivores and... well... I suppose that I could try and train them a little, and socialize them and... are they... how intelligent are they?”

Luna grinned at this, then she turned and shouted and roared loudly at the other three Mire Beasts, making Fluttershy squeak and several of the animals in the corral look sharply up before the sapphire mare cried: “Beware, 'tis Celestia!”

Immediately, all three Mire Beasts dropped their heads low, covering them with their claws as they raised their rumps high in the air, and then Luna flailed her forelegs, barely managing to shout over her own chortling: “No, fools! Thou will only attract her attention all the faster like that!”

The Mire Beasts all dropped flat, grabbing their behinds, and then they started to squirm in all directions over the ground as Scrivener slowly dropped his face in one Talon and Fluttershy stared in disbelief, and Luna grinned widely as she turned her eyes to them mischievously. “While Scrivy was busying himself with Poe, I busied myself teaching them the facts of life. Is this not true, my mighty steed? And Scrivy, be not jealous.”

Scrivener Blooms only glowered at her from between his digits, and Fluttershy gave an awkward smile before she said finally: “I can... I suppose I can do... well, will Mr. Poe listen to me?”

She looked lamely up at the Tyrant Wyrm, who finally put the boulder sized rock down and peered at the Pegasus before Scrivener Blooms sighed and looked up over her shoulder at the goliath, saying flatly: “Stop pretending you don't understand us.”

I am not pretending anything, Father. This whole world is... strange. Beautiful and... strange.” The Tyrant Wyrm said almost pettishly, and then it winced a little to the side when Luna rode over to it and growled up at it. “I mean no disrespect. I will listen to the pony.

“Good. Listen. Don't eat her. Don't eat anything except what she gives you to eat. And share with your... little... brothers. Or whatever the hell they are.” Scrivener Blooms said tiredly, gesturing moodily at the Mire Beasts, and then he shook his head slowly and turned back towards Fluttershy, who was looking at him uncertainly: “He promised he'll listen but... well... why don't you try and get him to do something?”

Fluttershy smiled lamely, and then she cleared her throat before looking up at the Tyrant Wyrm as Poe looked grouchily down at the Pegasus. “Uh... hello there, excuse me, Mr. Poe. I... I have to examine you for anything that might be wrong with you, so... would you please walk over to the barn, right over to the entrance there? We don't usually get such... big, powerful creatures like yourself here, after all, but... I'm sure we'll be able to make you comfortable in the corral afterwards. You can even make some new friends.”

Friends.” the Tyrant Wyrm said moodily, and it scowled a little. “I do not need friends. Why does the little one speak to me like a child?

“She is not speaking to you like you're a foal. You're just being sensitive and whiny. Which is really dumb for a Tyrant Wyrm.” Scrivener Blooms said mildly, and then he shook his head briefly and added: “Also, you promised to listen to her, so like. Listen to her. Or Luna and I will treat you like you really are a giant foal. And you really won't like that.”

The Tyrant Wyrm huffed a little, then growled in irritation before nodding briefly and muttering: “Very well. We have promised to listen. We will listen. But we do not desire to be treated as anything less than what we are.

“A great giant baby is what thou art.” Luna huffed, then she shook her own head quickly, hopping off the Mire Beast and slapping its rump firmly to send it skittering quickly over to join where the rest of the creatures had grouped up. “And cease speaking in that damned dark language. 'Tis difficult for mine ears to comprehend. 'Tis like attempt to decipher the curly-swervy language of this day and age, I do not like it.”

Scrivener Blooms sighed and shook his head slowly, and then Fluttershy looked uncomfortably up even as Poe started to storm off towards the barn, saying hesitantly: “I'm not... exactly good with dragons and their kind, and... maybe... maybe you should... well, he just doesn't seem all that happy to be here, that's all...”

The stallion only smiled wryly at this, saying after a moment: “He is a giant force of destruction, Fluttershy... not a dragon. Just... you know. Just do what you do best. Make him remember who's the boss and... you know. All that.”

There was silence for a few moments as Fluttershy only looked plainly at Scrivener Blooms, and the charcoal stallion looked back with a lame grin before the Pegasus sighed quietly and slowly lowered her head, mumbling: “I'll... do my best, then. And what about your... smaller friends? They look... well, they look... I'm... not sure what I'm looking at. But they seem... friendlier?”

“Fluttershy is thy new friend! Thou shall all listen to her!” Luna shouted at the pack of Mire Beasts, and they all winced back before the group of creatures nodded quickly, and the sapphire mare gave a grunt of approval before she grinned and added positively: “Make her feel welcome!”

“N-No, that's fine! Wait!” But Fluttershy's yelps came too late before the Mire Beasts all charged at her, tackling her back with a squeak and nuzzling into her and pawing at her as she flailed a bit on the ground. Scrivener groaned and dropped his face in his claws, and Luna laughed loudly until the Mire Beasts finally calmed a little and allowed Fluttershy to sit up between them, blinking a bit but then only smiling despite herself when one of the creatures leaned in and licked up the side of her face. “Well... thank you, I suppose.”

“Thou art welcome.” Luna said comfortably, and then she winced when Scrivener Blooms smacked her before the sapphire mare huffed and turned, heading towards the road... where Epona was parked, Sting Mk. III sticking out of the large holder on the side of the vehicle as she grumbled: “Fie. Great idiot Scrivener Blooms. Very well, come and off with us, let us leave. We still have yet to see Hecate and all.”

Scrivener sighed tiredly, and then he nodded moodily before pausing and tilting his head when Fluttershy caught his eye. He turned towards her, and the one-winged Pegasus smiled awkwardly, shuffling a little before she said finally: “I have a... the Phooka are giving me a... celebration, so to speak. It was supposed to be earlier, but so much happened and... we decided to put it off, for a happier time. I'm very glad we did, because I was hoping that you and Luna could attend, and... well, I know Twilight doesn't... have a body right now, but... if you were both there...”

“She can be there in spirit. Literally.” Scrivener smiled a little after a moment, and then he glanced to the side as the Pale of Twilight flickered into being, gazing warmly at Fluttershy, and the Pegasus blushed a bit and almost half-hid behind her mane in an old, meek habit that made Scrivener smile wider despite himself. “We'd be honored to, though. Right, Luna?”

“Aye, yes, Fluttershy is having an orgy with the Phooka and we are invited, can we please go?” Luna complained loudly, and Scrivener closed his eyes with a pained look on his features as Twilight Sparkle twitched and glared over her shoulder, and Fluttershy turned beet red, shaking her head violently and spluttering out denials.

“N-No, nothing like that not at all, oh, no no no!” Fluttershy looked awkwardly over at Luna after she regained a little bit of her composure, looking nervously over at Luna before she shook her head quickly again. “It's... it's a blessing ceremony...”

A grin spread slowly over Luna's face before she opened her mouth, and Scrivener Blooms immediately whirled around and glared at her, the sapphire mare looking dumbfounded as her soulstone horn glowed brightly before vibrating violently as it unleashed electricity in all directions, knocking her sprawling off the motorcycle with yells and curses of pain. She flailed wildly on the ground as Scrivener twitched a bit, then he carefully wheeled back around in a circle before bowing his head and saying politely to the staring Pegasus: “Thank you very much for agreeing to take care of Poe. I really appreciate it, and we look forwards to attending your... Phooka blessing ceremony, uh...”

“Tomorrow.” Fluttershy said awkwardly, and Scrivener repeated the word, smiling at her lamely before he turned and sprinted for the motorcycle as Luna began to get up. Twilight Sparkle's Pale sighed and shook its head slowly, then looked up with a supportive smile before nodding firmly to Fluttershy, and the Pegasus smiled back before blinking as the spirit vanished, then hurriedly raising her hoof and waving at Scrivener and Luna as Epona started up, calling: “I'll... we're all going to meet at Sugar Cube Corners for brunch early in the morning!”

“We'll meet thee there! Then we shall go to the Phookaing!” Luna called clearly, waving a hoof back as she clambered into the saddle seat of the motorcycle. Scrivener had already squeezed into the sidecar, and the sapphire mare huffed at him and at the feeling of Twilight squirming around in her mind, grumbling: “Oh, I am not going to say it. But 'tis not like either of us really know how the Phooka bless and celebrate, is it? For all we know, could very well be an orgy. Or a boo-kakka. Or whatever that word is that sounds nothing like what it means.”

“I'm. Not correcting that.” Scrivener muttered as the motorcycle revved up, then he winced and shrank into the sidecar seat, grabbing at the safety bar as he added grumpily as they shot towards the gates of Ponyville: “We're going way too fast, and. You're really dumb. And none of the names for sexual acts sound like anything... well, what they're describing.”

“Aye, 'tis very silly. Why must ponies be so silly? And so prudish. 'Tis annoying.” Luna said mildly, nodding a few times before she added thoughtfully: “But well. I am very glad at least that-”

“Luna, come on!” Scrivener shouted in a strangled voice, pointing ahead, and Luna glanced absently up before she easily zigzagged between several ponies, sending them scattering a little late in terror before the stallion glared at her, one eye twitching as he snapped: “Can you please just please keep an eye on the road! Please!”

Luna looked at him thoughtfully, slowly turning so she was completely facing him, and Scrivener stared ahead in horror before the mare easily swerved around a cart of apples, then shot into the square and calmly yanked the handlebars to the side, the tires squealing as they spun in a narrow-U around a light post before zooming straight for the library as Scrivener ducked as low as he could, and Luna simply said mildly: “An eye on the road. Really.”

Then she suddenly hit the brakes, skidding to a halt with a screech of tires, the mare looking flatly over at Scrivener Blooms still as he nearly fainted before she reached out and smacked his cheek firmly. “I see what thou sees! Our senses are attuned perfectly, therefore mine eyes are always on the road! Eyes on the road... damn thou, Scrivener Blooms! Eyes on the road! As if I am not totally aware of everything that is happening around-”

And then a hail of water splashed down over Luna, and she spluttered to a halt before slowly staring up to see Celestia standing calmly on a balcony above with a bucket, looking moodily down at her little sister before she said in a sharp voice: “I would really appreciate it, Luna, if you could please try and keep it down. We don't all have the ability to smile and laugh even when we happen to be completely falling apart.”

“Damnation, Celestia, this is how I deal with the entire damned world being made of stuff and nonsense!” Luna snapped, her starry mane fizzling as Scrivener Blooms awkwardly leaned away, then winced and half-covered his head when Luna shook herself violently out like a dog, sending droplets of water in all directions and making the stallion grumble before the winged unicorn glared up at her sister and complained: “Thou can always renege on thy damned deals, anyway, and 'tis not like we are-”

“We have decided on a course of action and we are not about to alter from it!” Celestia snapped, and Scrivener looked dumbly up at the mare's ferocity before she suddenly flung the bucket down at Luna's head, but the sapphire mare quickly deflected this even as she winced in surprise. “We've discussed this enough! We've lost enough ponies and we have enough to deal with, now keep yourself calm for a few days and stay out of trouble!”

With that, Celestia turned and stormed inside, and there was an awkward silence for a few moments between the soulbound ponies before Twilight Sparkle appeared beside them, the Pale looking worriedly at them. But Luna only sighed softly and shook her head slowly, smiling a bit as she murmured: “Thou cannot blame her. She has been asked to give up something important... more important than her eye, even. She has been asked to bow her head to Hel and forget all that we were taught as Valkyries. For one goddess of war to bow to the goddess named enemy...”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Luna smiled a bit and added in a brighter voice: “And really, 'tis not so strange. Why, in the old days, Celestia often snapped at myself and Sleipnir... and well, in the days long, long past, such an outburst from Freya would have been considered tame. More than once she stormed in on we Valkyries from what seemed like the air itself, be we at play or work, to punish and humiliate us for some trespass or failing...”

She shook her head briefly, laughing quietly and gazing down as she murmured: “Aye. She was rough with us. Hard on us. But she loved us dearly... all of us. She made us strong. She encouraged us. Punishment did not come unless earned or provoked, although... it likely helped that all of us knew from our birth, if it can be called such... she was our superior. To be obeyed and listened to, but... we were never puppets. And I know that I especially, with my free will...” A smile quirked at Luna's mouth. “I had to test her. Push her. Upset and irritate her. And most foolish of all, anger her... and yet for all the broken bones she gave me, I still loved her more... and I think that she loved me all the deeper for how much I frustrated her too. 'Tis funny, is it not? The fires that burn the hottest... they cast the most warmth but scorch flesh with the greatest ease.”

“You and your metaphors.” Scrivener said softly, and Luna simply laughed and shrugged, gazing over at him warmly. He looked back with a small smile, then sighed a little as he glanced towards the library, saying quietly: “So where do we go from here?”

“We will return here, to see Celestia, but... unless thou wishes to see her in a rage and to have large, heavy objects flung at us with great speed, we should go for now.” Luna said mildly, and then she shook herself again and complained: “And I am wet. Scrivener Blooms, I do not like being wet. Not in this regard. 'Tis gross.”

“You're gross too. So I guess it's perfect for you.” Scrivener said plainly, and then he winced when Luna firmly bopped him on the head with a hoof, rubbing awkwardly at his skull before he asked finally: “Well... Hecate?”

“Hecate, aye.” Luna paused, then looked uneasily upwards and muttered: “'Tis... 'tis so strange to not have the enemy pressing at our gates, though. To know that there is something out there that wishes great harm unto us but apparently is content to sit back and watch from afar. 'Tis... uncomfortable, to say the least.

There was silence for a few moments, and then Scrivener Blooms said quietly: “We'll be moving against them soon. And we can talk over with Celestia what's going on and... well, you know. It's a good thing, Luna. Don't look this gifting horse in the mouth.”

“Gifting horse. Bah. I always look at my fellow horse's mouth. How else do I know whether to kiss them or punch them?” Luna said pointedly, and Scrivener Blooms gave her a mild look before the sapphire mare shook her head and added: “Now look, foolish Scrivy. Do not be so pessimistic and do not complain about the peace we are experiencing. 'Tis not something complainingful. 'Tis good.”

“I love how often you make up words and blame me for when you get depressed or say depressing things.” Scrivener Blooms said dryly, and Luna huffed at him before bopping him firmly with her horn, making the stallion wince a little before he added sourly: “And you being a jerk, too. Oh. I just love that about you.”

“I know. I am very loveable. Thou loves me for many reasons, I see.” Luna leaned over and kissed Scrivener's nose gently, the stallion blinking before the sapphire mare grinned and shoved the motorcycle into reverse before shooting backwards into the street. Scrivener yelped as he was almost flung from the sidecar, wildly grabbing at the sides of it as Luna proclaimed cheerfully: “Now, to see the wicked witch!”

Luna shoved the motorcycle back into drive, then shot down the road, ponies scattering again and a few yelling at her, but the sapphire mare was only giggling to herself as she tore through Ponyville, then skidded around a corner and zoomed down a side street. Scrivener was staring in terror, shrunk back into the sidecar as far as he could manage as Luna twisted around both people and obstacles, and the stallion loathed that she had purposefully chosen one of the busiest, narrowest routes she could before he stared in horror at the sight of a pony harnessed to a cart blocking the narrow exit they were heading for, staring at them with horror as Scrivener shouted: “Luna Luna Luna do something do-”

But Luna's horn was already glowing, and she snapped this upwards as she leaned back on the bike, grinning widely as she accelerated instead of trying to brake: and at the same time, a steep ramp of ice rose up out of the ground between them and the caught pony, which they hit a sheer second after it formed and shot up the length of, then arced through the air over the pony and his cart to slam down on the road behind him before Luna yanked the handlebars to the side and hit the brakes.

They half-spun, skidding violently to a stop in front of the engineering center, and Luna very gently and carefully shifted the motorcycle to 'park' before she shook herself out, then pulled the keys from the ignition and absently stuck them into her starry mane, saying kindly: “Now, Scrivener Blooms. We have arrived. Shall we go?”

Scrivener wheezed slowly for breath before he slumped to the side, then gradually allowed himself to simply tip out of the sidecar and slowly slide down to the ground, landing with a gentle thump on his face as he whimpered a little and twitched weakly. Luna looked mildly at the stallion, who was almost upside-down now with his face on the ground and rear legs still stuck in the sidecar, and then she reached up and shoved his raised rump firmly, knocking him onto his back with a thump. “Thou art laying in the dirt. That makes thou a dirty stallion. Dirty, dirty stallion. Dirty stallion.”

The charcoal earth pony sighed tiredly, staring up at the sky and calmly lacing his Talons together before he said finally: “You suck.”

“Thou art suck!” Luna retorted, and then she hopped off the motorcycle and yanked Sting Mk. III free, quickly harnessing the holstered rifle on as she grumbled: “Now come, come, 'tis time for us to go inside and see Hecate. Hopefully she will have things I can hit thee with.”

Scrivener sighed a little, then he nodded before picking himself up and brushing himself absently off. He followed the sapphire mare inside, and she absently swatted at him as they headed through the building, helping get some of the crud and sand off his body until they reached the bottom of the facility, and the research area where Hecate had apparently sequestered herself.

They could hear more than Hecate working down here... but when they entered the laboratory, they were somehow unsurprised to see it wasn't Nibelung she was working with. It was a variety of Clockwork Ponies, and as they had noted in each place before, the Replicant Gasp was in the back corner of the room, laying complacently with his vents open and his body spilling poison into the air... well, poison to others. To them, it was breathable, healthy air.

Hecate herself was at a large steel table, but what Luna and Scrivener couldn't help but stare at first was the fact that a unicorn was beside her: a Clockwork Pony, yes, from his bulky metal body, but he was one they knew very well. “Shiny?”

Shiny looked up with a faint smile: he had handsome features and a white coat, and a sharp blue mane spilled around his features. He smiled faintly, his sky-colored eyes downcast as he murmured: “Hello, Luna, Scrivener. I... I've been... helping Lady Hecate as... to try and make up for not being there for Cowlick when...”

“Stop it. You were never programmed for emotional variability like this and it annoys me.” Hecate said irritably as her metallic claws dexterously fused and puzzled out wires of various color and length inside some kind of open hatch on a large machine. “I am also extremely tired of doing grunt work all by myself. I'm going to build several drones so I no longer have to waste my time putting together the simple science equipment this place still lacks. Considering this my polite warning.”

There was silence for a moment, and then Luna shook her head and turned her eyes towards Shiny, asking calmly: “So why weren't thou there?”

Shiny looked down silently, and then the Clockwork Pony sighed and closed his eyes, murmuring: “Because I... I was scared. Cowlick... took care of me. She stopped in to see me before she died, but we just sat together, and... I don't... I feel like I failed her. And when I couldn't make her funeral it felt so... vain... so stupid... to try and be there for her cremation... and I was...”

“You were afraid, because you are a machine that will never die... but you fully appraise what death is. What loss is. You are afraid because you've gone and removed the neural limiter that kept you from feeling fear, that kept you from having memories, that wiped out who you were and replaced your personality with a synthetic defense program named Vallation.” Hecate said coldly, not looking at Shiny as she finished bundling several wires together, then slammed the hatch closed on the device. “Maybe now you understand that I wasn't half as cruel as you ponies like to think I was. I made you a puppet, but I think being a puppet is better than being a coward.”

Luna snarled up at Hecate, but Shiny only lowered his head and closed his eyes, murmuring: “I know. You're right. I am a coward... I couldn't... I couldn't face Cowlick's death and... I... I regret it so much now... I was scared. I lost... I lost and failed all of Equestria and I thought I couldn't... see another life lost and-”

“Stop whining.” Hecate said shortly, and then she lifted the prism-shaped machine in front of her and turned, shouting: “Node! Install this drive into the computer!”

The familiar Replicant looked up with a wince from where he was working on a large machine near the wall, then he hurried over to take the device and stumble his way back towards the steel framework, as Hecate turned moody eyes towards Scrivener and Luna. “Come here. I have some things to show you.”

Without looking, Hecate's horn glowed as she rose a metal claw and snapped her digits, and a vault door at the back of the large room beeped loudly before the handle spun on it spun violently. Steam hissed out as it clanked ajar, and Hecate turned around to stride towards it, saying coldly: “I've already begun work on several weapon prototypes and made repairs and modifications to others. Cowlick left me plans for devices and weaponry beyond her skill or knowledge to create, but not beyond my abilities and Decretum technology. I want permission to travel to Decretum and harvest what I can from the Atrium and Cortex.”

Luna snorted at this, then both she and Scrivener looked at Shiny, but the Clockwork Pony only gave them a small smile before he shook his head and gestured at them that it was okay. So they both nodded, then quickly strode around the table to catch up with Hecate, the stallion saying after a moment: “You're crazy if you think-”

“I do not 'think' that you will. I know that you'll allow me to. Which is why I've already started building a portal down in the garbage well you've conveniently transformed into a massive mire battery for me.” Hecate said moodily, and Luna and Scrivener both glared at her before the machine-goddess easily grasped the handle of the vault door and yanked it open... like it didn't weigh probably upwards of half a ton, thanks to how thick and large it was, even Luna wincing at the sight of this as Hecate looked coldly over her shoulder. “I don't have time to play your moralistic games or diddle with you on what's right and wrong. It's simple. You listen to me, or you die. And the only reason I'm sticking around for this is because I want to see the Light dead. But once it's gone... I have every intent of leaving this place.”

The stallion shook his head slowly, and the sapphire mare felt strangely... stung by this, looking up and asking before she could stop herself: “Art thou sure? Could we not convince thee to stay?”

Hecate looked surprised by so quick a response... and then she simply snorted and turned around, muttering: “Idiot little ponies. Trying to make friends with everyone... well, it doesn't work that way, now does it? I'm not going to turn into some nice, pleasant mare just because you want me to.”

“Yeah, who would want that?” Scrivener asked wryly, and then he stared back and forth as they entered the vault, while Luna's eyes slowly widened like a foal in a candy store. “What... what the hell are all these things?”

“Toys.” Hecate said shortly, gesturing around the rectangular vault at the weapons and equipment that lined the walls, her horn still glowing faintly through the metallic casing. “Now shut up unless you want to get dosed by neurotoxin. The security system is still active, I need to verify and disable it.”

Luna ignored the steel behemoth, skittering past her with a giggle of glee as she instead hurried up to the wall and stared in awe at a large gun with an octagonal barrel, something she thought she recognized, except... “Aye, 'tis! This is Parsimony, but smaller!”

“That's right. It's a miniaturized vulcan cannon. I'm calling it a minigun for short. Now shut up.” Hecate growled, looking up at a camera on the roof as her horn continued to glow, and then the goddess finally sighed when there was a loud click, and the camera withdrew into the ceiling as several thuds sounded through the roof above. “There. You owe me your lives.”

“Oh shush, I would have simply held my breath.” Luna said reasonably, and Hecate slowly closed her eyes and dropped her face in a claw before Luna pranced over to another object in a mount on the wall. “And this! This is Lucy!”

“Lucy Beta. It's no longer a casing but instead has a system of supports inside it and a core of voltaic topaz. Highly-charged with energy. The chain is on a winch system.” Hecate said moodily, and then she shook her head briefly. “Now stop running around like-”

Luna completely ignored the behemoth, skittering towards the next object in line... before her eyes widened as she caught on something at the back, bolting immediately towards it and skidding to a halt in front of the massive, rectangular weapon. She looked back and forth over the purple steel, whistling slowly at the enormous, triangular body and the twin wide, rectangular barrels that extended from it, the mare poking at it pointedly before scowling at the handle and trigger. “I cannot use this! Well. I suppose I could with telekinesis, but... such a tiny thing! Look at this great big weapon and thou hast put such a tiny trigger on it, 'tis like a great big stallion with a tiny-”

Hecate calmly reached down and grasped the back of Luna's neck, and the sapphire mare gave a yell of shock more than pain as electricity raced through her body, making her spasm violently before she flumped to the ground. Scrivener Blooms winced and looked back and forth... then stared blankly down at one Talon in surprise. He felt a little pain, and a little... sore, was probably the best way to describe it, but while Luna was laying in a faintly-smoldering heap, he was otherwise standing fine on his hooves.

He looked dumbly at Hecate, and she looked moodily over her shoulder at him, saying sourly: “You can thank me later. It's because I didn't affect her physically or do more than overcharge her body with a current that reacts negatively with the energy already present. She'll be fine in a moment: the effect isn't severe enough to transfer through your link since there's interruption but not damage.”

Scrivener Blooms stared blankly, and then he said lamely: “I didn't really understand a thing you said, but uh... thank you.”

Hecate grunted, then she reached out and grasped the enormous weapon, one claw grasping the handle and fitting it perfectly as the other held it up by a second, almost-hidden support just behind a huge, round drum. “This is another improvement on a design of Cowlick's, and it's too heavy for you to use, Luna Brynhild. But if you insist.”

With that, Hecate moodily tossed the gun at Luna as she sat up, and the mare had enough time to try and dumbly reach up before the huge, heavy weapon squashed her onto her back, Scrivener wheezing in surprise and pain as Luna cursed and shook herself, pinned by the weapon. Hecate smiled sourly down at her, then shook her head and said moodily: “All the same, these toys are... crude. Inelegant. But I suppose that's fitting for ponies like you, and I'll make due with what I have to until I'm able to finish off my other designs.”

“Damnation... why... why does it weigh so damned much!” Luna wheezed: but as her strength returned, she was able to fight her way up to a sitting position, cradling the nearly-pony-sized gun in her forelegs as she glared over the purple weapon, noting not just where the plating was thicker, but the vents in the side and other technical parts she'd never seen before. “This thing... 'tis like... is it another many-firing gun?”

“It's a hybrid of two designs. An automatically-firing shotgun.” Hecate reached out and grasped the weapon easily in one claw, yanking it away from Luna and shoving it back into the holders. “It'll be good for turning a crowd of ponies... or Pious, I suppose... into organic slime.”

Luna and Scrivener traded looks, then they both shivered: they had seen what a weapon like Parsimony could do, and they had seen precisely why Cowlick had always been so fond of her shotgun. Imagining those things combined together... “But no. This is what I wanted to show you.”

Hecate strode over to a nearby rack on the wall that was filled with vials, and Luna and Scrivener both frowned, looking up as the mechanical goddess brushed through them before grasping one that was filled with a glowing white liquid. “White Matter.”

The stallion grimaced a bit even as he hesitantly took the vial when Hecate offered it, the charcoal earth pony uneasily gazing down at the liquid before he murmured: “We stopped engineering this stuff a while ago. Cowlick has... I mean... she put a bunch of it into the chemical storage vault, but... this looks... fresher.”

“It is. I had my workers dust off and tune up the machinery, and adjusted the chemical blend slightly to purify it further.” Hecate paused, then flexed one mechanical arm, and Luna and Scrivener both stared as plates all along the limb lifted and clicked out of place, raising up on thin mechanical limbs and hinges to reveal a thick, mesh framework, what looked almost like synthetic, polymer muscle... and glass veins full of white, curdled liquid. “I'm testing it as a carrier and amplifier to keep my systems running. So far it seems to work better as a coolant, though: it has more of a base nature than corruption does, and it doesn't transmit energy quite as well.”

Luna and Scrivener both looked awkwardly up at Hecate, and then the sapphire mare questioned slowly: “So thou art... going to assassinate us?”

Hecate slowly closed her eyes, and then she straightened as the plates across her limb folded back down before she snatched the vial of White Matter away, saying moodily: “No. What I need is purified corruption, the kind that runs in your bloodstream, Scrivener Blooms.”

The stallion winced a bit at this, reaching up and awkwardly touching his own foreleg before he said lamely: “And you're telling us this by-”

Hecate only rolled her eyes, then flicked her right claw upwards, and Scrivener Blooms had a moment to stare as a large glass needle sprung out of a slot in her wrist before she stabbed this down into his neck. The stallion wheezed, then gurgled, eyes bulging as his dark blood was rapidly drained into the needle before Hecate yanked it back and free, vanishing as quickly as it had appeared.

Luna and Scrivener both swayed woozily, then glared up at the mechanical goddess, but Hecate simply shrugged and said sourly: “Next time I won't even bother with asking. I'm trying to be as open and honest with you both as I possibly can be. I am warning you that I am making things that could potentially threaten you. But I realize that trying to ask you for anything is only going to result in dumb looks and flank-pats, so I'm not going to ask anymore. I'm just going to take what I need.”

“Don't forget arguing. Or you know, all the reasons I could give why you shouldn't walk up to ponies and stab them in the freaking neck.” Scrivener winced, twisting his head back and forth before he rubbed awkwardly at his aching neck with one Talon, muttering: “Why is it that everyone seems to think they can just walk up and do whatever the hell they want to me, and I'm not going to do anything about it? Well. I might not, but Luna might. One day.”

The sapphire mare grunted in response, then she shook her head out quickly and glowered up at Hecate, who only glared back down at winged unicorn before the goddess said moodily: “Because I can do things like this, too.”

Hecate flexed slowly as her left limb sparked with energy, and then she clenched her claw into a fist as a pale white glow surrounded it. Then the metallic digits unfurled to reveal a faintly-glowing ivory crystal, the goddess saying moodily: “The right concentration of opposites, pressure, and ionization causes crystallization instead of neutralysis. Here. Squeeze it.”

Luna winced, catching the orb when Hecate lightly tossed it to her, and then she looked awkwardly down at the sphere and shuddered as it made her nerves tingle, a faint burning sensation spilling through her hooves before she mumbled: “'Tis like holding something very hot. Not... entirely unpleasant, but... hot. Why did thou...”

“Experimentation. Hold onto it for a few more moments.” Hecate said moodily, studying the two, and Luna hesitated before she frowned a little, then shifted uncomfortably as a strange... numbness tingled through her entire body, spreading up from her hooves, making her feel... unpleasant. Unpleasant, but at the same time...

She shook her head briefly, then scowled a bit as she looked down at the sphere, realizing there was a faint energy humming through it. Slowly, she licked her lips, then said finally: “I feel... I feel strange. And I just now sense that thou added magic of some kind to this...”

Hecate smiled wryly, then she half turned and slashed a claw down, cutting across Scrivener's neck. Luna cursed in shock, eyes widening as she stared at Scrivener, who had his head tilted to the side and was whimpering weakly in pain. And for some reason, Luna's fury only increased when she realized the wound wasn't lethal, just agonizing, deep enough to make him bleed but only a thin stitching of blood forming along her own neck as she growled: “Damn thee, Hecate... how many times must we repeat ourselves...”

Then she scowled as Hecate only smiled grimly down at them, before the goddess said calmly: “It worked better than I expected. This is why you need me, and why I continue to play your games and spend my time with you idiot ponies... you entertain me. Your puzzles entertain me. And even if I can't repair your addiction without surgery, I can at least help control it.”

Luna snarled up at this, but she was flushed with humiliation as she snapped: “I do not need any help with that! I am fine and healthy and strong and thou art... I do not even know what thou art speaking of! Damnation, Hecate, I am not even... there are no cravings, and-”

“And yet Scrivener Blooms is bleeding right in front of you, but you barely paid any attention to the corruption when you looked at him.” Hecate said calmly. “The inhibitor you're holding in your hooves works. I know, because even if you recently fed your addiction, every other time there's been even a speck of your husband's blood in sight, you've stared and drooled over it like a dog salivating over a treat. I doubt the inhibitor will help with stronger cravings, but it will keep your mind more... intact. Which is apparently something you need.”

Luna gritted her teeth, even as she turned a deeper shade of red and she almost felt tears springing to her eyes, body trembling... how dare Hecate do this? Impose herself like this, shove her way into personal, private affairs and... and...

She wanted to smash this thing. She wanted to shout and tantrum and storm around. She wanted to... she wanted to do a thousand different things, but what she forced herself to do was look down at this orb, trembling, even as Hecate said moodily: “Although it clearly doesn't do anything for the rest of your emotions. It only inhibits the-”

“Shut up.” Luna whispered, and then she shook her head and shivered again before taking a slow breath as she very carefully set the orb down as Scrivener rubbed his healing neck, grimacing a bit as he looked away from Hecate. “Do not... do not overstep thy bounds again, Hecate, I will not... put up with it. I will not, does thou understand? I... I will not.”

There was silence for a few moments, and Hecate finally sighed and looked away, crossing her arms but thankfully not saying anything. And after a few moments, Luna managed to get herself under control before she silently picked up the orb, asking quietly: “So thou knows.”

“Everyone knows. Most ponies are just far too afraid of you to say that they do. To point out your erratic behavior or to stop you from being weak and pathetic.” Hecate said moodily, and when Luna snarled up at her, the mechanical goddess only narrowed her eyes and replied coolly: “it is a weakness. It is pathetic. Your addiction is a failing, and I will not cuddle you or coddle you, but hold you accountable for anything and everything it costs us.”

“Thou has no idea what it is like! Damnation, now I truly see the resemblance between thou and Celestia!” Luna shouted, stepping angrily forwards before Hecate swept a claw down and seized her by the throat, yanking the sapphire mare into the air as her other claw yanked up the orb and held it up in front of Luna's face, looking coldly into her eyes.

“No. I didn't say that it was your fault, and I did not say that it's something in and of itself we should hold you accountable for. But I will hold you accountable for what it costs us, if you can't keep yourself at bay, because I am giving you the tools to keep it at bay.” Hecate said coldly, squeezing into the White Stone with one claw as the other crushed down on Luna's throat, as the sapphire mare flapped her wings uselessly and kicked her rear hooves helplessly, but found herself unable to even get close to touching the ground. “A broken leg is still a broken leg, is still a vulnerability, no matter how it got that way. I won't give your weakness any more consideration than I will the handicaps of others.”

With that, she flung Luna to the ground, sending her skidding on her back into Scrivener before Hecate slowly squeezed the White Stone, then calmly held it out, saying quietly: “But I have a tendency to try and fix what's broken. Not because I care about any of you. Because I dislike when things aren't running at optimum efficiency.”

There was silence for a few moments, and Luna trembled a little against Scrivener Blooms before she looked up and asked quietly: “Then why does thou offer me this instead of... nailing shut this weakness inside me, Hecate?”

Hecate looked down silently, squeezing the White Stone again and gazing into it before she looked up and said evenly: “Because that would require removing parts of you that give you your irritating form of strength. And I would prefer not to do that.”

Scrivener and Luna traded looks, then they both smiled faintly before Hecate tossed the White Stone to them, and Luna caught it with telekinesis as the machine-goddess straightened. “I can implant smaller nodes into you if it becomes necessary. Or we can attempt electroshock therapy or brain surgery. Or we can take this the other way... and replace your blood with Scrivener's. I imagine that would fix your addiction as well.”

Luna laughed shortly, looking down and shaking her head briefly before she murmured: “I cannot lie and pretend I have never thought of it. But it would mean... giving up much. And it might affect Twilight Sparkle and... we would upset and harm our families. Perhaps these things mean nothing to thee... I do not know. Thou art...”

She looked down, then shook her head briefly before sighing a bit and murmuring: “Well, in any event. I... suppose I must say thanks to thee, little as I am inclined to. Even if thou art a great and terrible monster.”

Hecate gave an icy smile at this, and then she rubbed moodily at one metal forearm before gesturing around at the weapons and saying finally: “Many of these need a test run. I'll come with you to retrieve the explosive device. You'll need someone who can check its integrity and transport it, in any event. That's best left up to someone who actually knows what they're doing.”

Luna looked up with surprise, and then she nodded hesitantly, studying Hecate for a few moments before smiling a little, murmuring: “We... we would be happy to have thee on board with us, Hecate. Thy assistance is always-”

“Good. Get out. And take Necrophage and that crybaby Vallation with you. I hate both of them.” Hecate said sourly, and Scrivener and Luna traded dry looks before the sapphire mare grumbled and dropped the White Stone into her mane. She shivered as her mane sparked faintly, but a moment later, that strange, numbing hum began to travel through her body before the mechanical goddess said dryly: “Don't irradiate yourself for too long with the White Stone. You'll eventually adjust to the effects and make it useless, or it might start to leave a radiation rash on whatever's suffered intense, long-term exposure. This will lead to... future problems.”

“Oh. Oh, wonderful.” Scrivener Blooms said moodily, and then the stallion sighed and shook his head slowly before he mumbled: “Well. Let's get out of here, anyway. I do agree that we've... overstayed our welcome.”

“Good.” Hecate said distastefully, and Luna rolled her eyes as she turned around, shaking herself briefly out before she and the stallion strode out of the vault. Hecate didn't follow them, but neither pony minded: as it was, both of them were surprised at the 'gift' she had half-forced on them, and even more, her volunteering to come with them when they went to fetch the 'door opener.'

“But I suppose it is in part a sneaky manipulation.” Luna muttered as she looked back and forth around the laboratory. “She will come with us, we will all think she can be up to no good, and when we return her Clockwork Pony servants will have raided Decretum and transformed part of Ponyville into... evil. Hecateland.”

Scrivener only shrugged and grunted, then he glanced over at Shiny, who was mostly sitting back as several Clockwork Ponies worked beside him. Scrivener softened, looking around, seeing how industrious the more-than half-dozen Clockwork Ponies all were... how there was a strange sense of... almost happiness in the air as they all worked together.

He smiled a bit, then shook his head slowly before glancing over at Shiny, calling: “Hey, uh... Hecate wants you to come with us somewhere. And where's Necrophage? We're supposed to take her with us, too.”

“Present, Scrivener Blooms.” remarked a dull voice, and the stallion winced a bit as he looked over at the Replicant, who was gazing calmly up at him. “I am ready and prepared to leave when you are. I believe this is a significant improvement on my current position.”

“Uh. Emotions on?” Scrivener said after a moment, and Necrophage brightened, popping happily into the air before sitting back and saluting with a giggle, and Scrivener winced a bit as Luna smiled despite herself. “Hi.”

“Hi!” parroted back the Replicant mare brightly, and then she smiled widely over at Shiny as he approached with a small smile of his own. “Hi, you! Are you ready, ready, ready to go? We're gonna go! Oh, where are we going, though?”

“I'm...” Scrivener stopped, unable to form a coherent sentence before he cleared his throat and looked over at Luna. Luna looked back, then simply shrugged before the stallion sighed and said finally: “We're going to see Celestia. You two can tag along and uh... well, Necrophage, you're... you're the highest ranking, right?”

Necrophage's eyes widened at this, and Scrivener thought he'd said something wrong for a moment before the Replicant covered her mouth and giggled excitedly, exclaiming: “You remembered! You really honestly truly remembered! Oh, thank you, sir! Yes, I am, glad to assist in-”

“Emotions off!” Hecate shouted from the vault, and Necrophage slumped, her body going slack and her face becoming expressionless, eyes staring vacantly. “Get her out of here, then turn on her emotions if you have to!”

“Whine whine whine. Great damnable harpy.” Luna muttered, and then she grunted and poked at Necrophage and Shiny with her horn, the Clockwork stallion wincing a bit as Necrophage only shifted lethargically. “Let us go, creature.”

Scrivener Blooms smiled a bit, and then he said quietly: “Well, let's... go see Celestia, then. And uh... once we get outside, you can turn your emotions back on Necrophage.”

The Replicant simply nodded, then turned and led the way out... although Scrivener Blooms noticed that she matched her pace to theirs, so even if she was ahead of them, they were really the ones leading her. Shiny moved as fast as his heavy body and mechanical limbs would allow, but he was bulky and a bit slow... although really, it was good for them to slow down now and then.

At first, Scrivy found himself wondering awkwardly whether or not Necrophage was able to process a command like he had given her... but the moment they left the engineering building, the Replicant bounced excitedly away on her hooves and trotted in a quick circle, looking delighted as she said warmly: “Thank you, thank you, thank you sir! I'm really so super glad to be helping out, any and every way I can, and it's great, fantastic, really great just to be around you, sir! Really great!”

Scrivener Blooms only smiled awkwardly, and then he and Luna traded looks before the stallion cleared his throat and gestured forwards, saying finally: “Let's uh... just head over to Celestia. And... oh, right, your motorcycle.”

Luna grunted, then she reached absently up and squeezed Sting Mk. III's handle, saying sourly: “Aye, but 'tis very good I did not think of my gun while with Hecate. I would have shot her foul face otherwise. Shiny, how much does thy body weigh?”

Shiny grimaced at this, then he shook his head and said finally: “Why don't I just walk over to Celestia's? You don't have to wait for me, and... I promise I'll get there eventually. I know Hecate probably just wants me out of the lab, anyway, I just... I just don't know where to go right now...”

He looked down, and then Scrivener and Luna traded looks before the charcoal stallion asked finally: “Did you... have you ever thought of maybe going over to see Ross? I hear Rainbow and Applejack are staying there now, but... well, I'm sure they could use a little more help and... you could use a little help yourself.”

Shiny looked down, shifting uncomfortably... and then he winced when Luna grabbed him and shook him firmly a few times. “Do not be a coward, great coward! This is thy mission, thy mission is to help Cowlick... thou does not desire thy big sister Twilight Sparkle to be mad at thee, does thou?”

“Twilight was my younger sister. I was-” Then Luna bopped Shiny firmly with her horn, making him wince a bit before he sighed tiredly and slumped, then looked moodily up and said finally: “I wish you wouldn't invoke her name every time you want me to do something. It's a little... it's just a little bit... obscene.”

“That is not obscene. If thou desires obscene I shall speak to thou as I speak to Scrivener Blooms on the mornings he refuses to make me coffee.” Luna said huffily, raising her head proudly and sniffing disdainfully. “So listen to me, thou-”

“Don't listen to her.” Scrivener said dryly, giving Luna a flat look, and the sapphire mare huffed loudly before the stallion smiled a little over at Shiny. “Just... well... just try and do this maybe, okay? See how things go and... you know.”

“I do. I... do.” Shiny hesitated, then he sighed a little and dropped his head. He gave Necrophage an awkward look as she gave a trill of agreement and nodded violently several times to him, and then the Clockwork stallion shrugged briefly before lowering his head and mumbling: “Okay. I'll... I'll try and stop in to Lady Celestia's later on, anyway. I... I want to be part of protecting Ponyville while you're gone. Cowlick helped me because... she believed I could help protect people. I want to live up to that, not just... being this machine.”

Scrivener and Luna both nodded firmly, and Necrophage smiled warmly, the three watching as Shiny smiled a little before he turned and strode away. There was quiet for a few moments apart from the sound of people passing by, before Necrophage almost suddenly turned to them and asked: “Do you think that I can help protect Ponyville too? And my sister, and the other Replicants, and the Clockwork Ponies? Do you think we can really help?”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Scrivener Blooms smiled a bit and nodded, turning his eyes to the Replicant as he said softly: “Yeah. We're... we're all people.”

“We're all people...” Necrophage's eyes shone like this was the most inspirational thing she had ever heard, and then she nodded vehemently, saying brightly: “We are! We really, really are! We're all people, you and me and everypony!”

“Y-Yeah.” Scrivener said awkwardly, leaning back before he cleared his throat and gestured at the motorcycle, Luna grinning widely and shaking her head as she clambered up onto Epona with an entertained look at the two. “Luna. Luna and I are going to go to the library now and uh. You just... follow whenever you're ready. Okay?”

“Okay!” Necrophage chirped happily, and Scrivener and Luna traded a look before the stallion winced when Epona roared to life, but the Replicant didn't even twitch, only continuing to look brightly up at the two ponies before she said positively, as the engine settled down into a growl: “I promise not to show up too soon!”

“Uh... thanks.” Scrivener said awkwardly, and Luna shrugged before the sapphire mare twisted the throttle and sent them shooting forwards, the charcoal stallion wincing and dropping down into the sidecar as he glared over at the mare, but she only grinned widely as she zoomed down the street.

They arrived back at the library in under a minute, which made Scrivener wheeze loudly and slump weakly, trembling a little as he mumbled: “That. That was awful.”

“Oh shut up, Scrivy. At least I did not break my old record... which I damn well could if I so took the urge!” Luna said proudly, raising her head high, and Scrivener winced a little at this before he sat up with a sigh as the sapphire mare yanked the keys out of the ignition and tossed them back into her mane, then she hopped off the motorcycle and strode towards the library door. “Come, Scrivy, we have to harass Celestia now.”

Scrivener grumbled, then he carefully slipped his way out of the sidecar, following Luna to the door before she kicked it firmly and strode forwards-

And whacked face-first into the still closed door, the mare blinking stupidly before prying herself off the door and shaking herself out. She glared at it, then grabbed the handle and shook it wildly, trying uselessly to open it before flinging herself forwards and hammering her hooves childishly against it. “Celestia! Celestia, open this damned thing at once!”

Her only response was silence, and Luna scowled a little as she stepped back before hesitantly leaning forwards and calling in a quieter voice: “Freya? 'Tis Brynhild. Open the door, I am worried about thee.”

Scrivener shifted uneasily, frowning a little at Luna, but she simply held up a hoof before Celestia's voice came quietly from behind the door: “Alright. I'm not that disoriented, Luna, I'm just... well... come inside and I'll show you.”

Luna frowned as the door clicked, then swung open, and the sapphire mare and charcoal earth pony both strode inside... then stared despite themselves. Celestia smiled faintly, looking a little embarrassed: her three swords were buried in the floor, and the furniture had been flung around the room and several shelves were bleeding books and laying in overturned messes, Celestia looking down awkwardly before she simply pointed when Luna opened her mouth.

The sapphire mare frowned at this, then she and Scrivener Blooms strode towards a ripped letter on the floor. Luna lifted with telekinesis and turned it around, and Scrivener read it over... then stared in disbelief, shaking his head and mouthing wordlessly before he looked over at Celestia with shock, but the ivory mare simply shrugged and sighed quietly.

Luna frowned at Scrivener, and the stallion looked up to meet her eyes, sharing the knowledge clearly with her, and her blood ran cold in her veins. She shivered a bit, then shook her head vehemently before snarling over at Celestia, snapping: “Well, thou must do something, thou art-”

“Ambassador at most, and right now, I'm... it's not like my mental state has gone completely unnoticed, Luna.” Celestia replied quietly, shaking her head slowly before she sighed softly and looked down, muttering: “Besides, it's all... legal, and the most we can do is meet it in court, but... with the expectation of losing.”

“I cannot believe this... Narcissa has a legal claim to the laboratory? How... how did we never know this? How is this even possible?” Luna asked disbelievingly, shaking her head violently before she snarled again and looked up at Celestia. “I will kill her!”

Celestia smiled briefly, looking down and muttering: “Part of me wants to tell you to go ahead. The rest of me knows... we can't operate like that. Even if I direly, direly want to...” She shivered a little, then looked up and said quietly: “It's because Narcissa is representing a pool of interests. It's very clear she's going to betray them all and it's going to collapse into infighting, but there's several very powerful corporations here and their legal teams. They're moving very quickly, which means they're desperate... but of course they are. You saw what Cowlick was able to engineer. And half of this equipment is repurposed Decretum technology anyway. They have a claim on upwards of eighty percent of the facility's assets.”

“Then we burn down the building.” Luna snapped, and Celestia looked moodily down before, to the sapphire mare's surprise, she nodded briefly.

That made both Luna and Scrivener stop and stare, and after a moment Celestia looked up and said quietly: “No matter how much we do destroy, they'll be able to salvage something from it. Unless we erase every molecule, unicorn mages and technology experts will be able to pull a few basic ideas just from sifting the ashes. But I will not... I will not allow technology as dangerous as Decretum's to fall into the hooves of ponies who are interested in using war solely as a method of profit.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Scrivener Blooms said uneasily: “Won't it be... pretty obvious that we've... well, you know.”

“I could honestly care less.” Celestia smiled grimly, shaking her head briefly and asking in a contemptible voice: “What are they going to do? Attempt to charge us, bring us before a federal court, or throw us in prison? Sue us for fraud, negligence, sabotage, and anything they can think of? They can try and punish us, but how? There is no prison that can hold a Valkyrie. Money is nothing but worthless gold and gemstone anyway. Their words are meaningless, their actions insult!”

Celestia stomped a hoof, snarling for a moment as she shook her her braided mane violently, then she clenched her eyes shut and took a slow breath, getting herself back under control before she slowly straightened and said quietly: “I need to protect Equestria. I need to.”

“Aye, but... that is not the way thou should be doing it, Celestia.” Luna said gently, smiling faintly and shaking her head briefly. “Burning down the engineering facility because 'tis no longer ours... that is my method of dealing with things. 'Tis not thine. 'Tis not really Freya's, either, Freya would simply smile and wait calmly until Narcissa and her ponies arrive, then disembowel them all and leave them to be picked over by the crows.”

“Freya is trying to be less... unfriendly.” Celestia said moodily after a moment, and then she sighed a little and shook herself, looking down and muttering: “I just want to find a decent middle ground between doing nothing and doing something, Luna, because... the ponies-”

“Can't take care of themselves?” Luna asked pointedly, and Celestia smiled a bit and shifted, already realizing where this conversation was headed as the sapphire mare laughed quietly. “Aye. Look at thou, all-controlling Celestia. Well, thou does not mind the technology spreading here and there, aye? And the Royal Council is great and stupid but... we are becoming more and more a republic of the ponies, are we not, and the ponies are ruling well, are they not?”

Celestia looked down for a moment, then she murmured softly as she rose her own hoof and gazed at it silently: “But what if that's because of us, Luna? Or more precisely, the fear of us... the fear of what we will do to these ponies if they step out of line? We're not controlled by the government. They cannot make us bow to them like they can normal ponies. We're an outside force that protects Equestria... but they know we're not on any leash. They know we're powerful, and they fear us.”

There was silence for a few moments at this, and then Scrivener Blooms looked up, unable to stop himself from asking: “But should they?”

Celestia looked thoughtful at this, before she glanced off to the side and said finally: “A government of any kind should exist to serve the welfare of the people, although many clearly turn to serving only themselves, their ideals, and a core set of those who are very well off, or very powerful for another reason. That is why I believe in law and order: to prevent corruption, and to prevent the excuse that all power corrupts absolutely: people on both sides throw that around; as an excuse to start a rebellion, as if it's a defense for those in power. But it's ultimately our own decision. I will not just say 'power corrupts' and take all the responsibility off the tyrants, the dictators, the heroes who started off with such good intentions but became monsters somewhere along the way.”

Luna and Scrivener shared uncomfortable looks, but Celestia gritted her teeth, her eyes filled with self-loathing and determination as she looked up and said finally: “People are fallible. Prone to mistakes. And many of us refuse to do anything any other way than our own, thanks to pride and hubris and... other stupid mortal flaws. So even if I don't... I don't entirely know the answer to your question, Luna... Freya, on the other hoof, says yes. Says they should fear us. Says they even should pay tribute to us. What do you think, Luna Brynhild?”

“I think that honor and tribute, when it comes from a crawling coward afraid for his own life if he does not pay this token, has no value.” Luna replied evenly, shaking her head slowly before she sighed and looked moodily across at Celestia. “And I think that Freya is even more bloodthirsty and vicious than when we last met. Even if... I agree that there must be something in place to ensure that the power-hungry do not become the power-mad. But us? I do not believe we are the ponies to properly do that. We are not the best examples of ponies, Celestia... look at what thou did to the country, and thou art supposed to be the smart one! Imagine what Sleipnir or I would have done if left to our own devices to try and rule!”

Celestia shook her head slowly, but she smiled faintly after a moment before looking towards her three swords, then she sighed and flicked her horn, ripping them free from the floorboards in a hail of splinters. They revolved quietly through the air, and then vanished one by one before the ivory mare said quietly: “I know. I know. Maybe I just... I'm still trying to adjust to Freya...”

She stopped, then looked slowly around and smiled faintly, shaking her head slowly. “Look at this mess I've made, throwing a tantrum like... like a foal. And look at me, talking about things that could... you're right, there's more that could happen than just lawsuits and us being threatened with prison. Imagine if they moved a military garrison here, or set up a security firm...”

The ivory winged unicorn shook her head slowly, then looked up with a small smile, asking finally: “So what do you think we should do, Luna? Honestly?”

“I do not think we should just give in, but... but I know that we may have no choice.” Luna thought of the letter, grimacing a bit: it was an immediate seizure warning, giving them twenty-four hours to shut down the facility so it could be inspected and then taken over by Narcissa. “Hecate. We shall speak to Hecate. We shall return there immediately.”

“I'll go with you. We can talk on the way.” Celestia said quietly, and Luna smiled a little before the ivory mare glanced over her shoulder... and then, with a single flick of her horn, the library shuddered before furniture righted itself, books piled themselves neatly, and minor damages polished themselves away as she murmured: “That will have to do for now.”

Luna only smiled faintly, and Scrivener shook his own head with a quiet laugh before Celestia turned around and calmly headed for the exit. And sapphire mare and charcoal stallion followed after a moment, feeling that in spite of everything, as long as they kept working together... everything was going to turn out just fine.

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