• 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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Beginnings And Endings

Chapter Fifty Four: Beginnings and Endings
~BlackRoseRaven

Luna grumbled, riding her motorcycle slowly forwards through the open gates of Ponyville. The machine was rumbling quietly, the engine an almost soothing purr to their ears, and the stallion sighed a little as he looked up at the early morning sky, saying quietly: “Big day today. That thing with Fluttershy and... then...”

“The engineering lab, aye. And can thou believe that Narcissa was sending demands to Celestia already or that... that...” Luna bared her fangs and cursed under her breath. “Damned traitorous Nibelung! I cannot believe that they have already been subverted or that... that damned, foul, loathsome cur of a pony plans to steal and destroy so much! And we had just... just officially made it... some Heaven-be-damned memorial for Cowlick!”

Scrivener Blooms smiled faintly, then he sighed a little and said quietly: “Well, our Greater Nightmares have been moving in and out of the facility all night, at least... they should be able to hide Decretum technology all over Equestria and the Everfree Forest. Narcissa will never find it.”

“And Celestia thought we should burn it down... what a lack of creativity.” Luna said wryly, and then she shook her head again before sighing a bit and turning her eyes upwards, murmuring: “But I suppose we have many things preying upon our minds, do we not? So we should... perhaps we should not be so judgmental. Besides, yesterday... was a rough day all around. To return home and find Innocence doing what she was...”

“It wasn't that bad.” Scrivener said after a moment, and Luna hesitated... then she grumbled and nodded a little, knowing that the stallion was right. It could have been a lot worse, but it didn't change what Innocence had been doing all the same, what her intent had been: mixing up a vial of particularly-potent, temporary magic amplifier. Clearly she had been trying to cast some very powerful spell... and knowing Innocence, it probably hadn't been a particularly friendly spell, either.

But all the same, she had been caught, she had grumbled but thrown it away, and complained she was just 'practicing' magic... and Luna smiled a bit before she said finally: “We need to be tougher on her though, Scrivy. And thou should not excuse her. We cannot simply say ''twas nothing bad' until the day comes when our Innocence does commit some atrocity we cannot overlook. After all, she uses Blood Drawing and other forbidden magics, does she not?”

“Yeah, but that's my point.” Scrivener Blooms said softly, and Luna looked curiously at the stallion. “She was using a potion. She wasn't trying to Blood Draw, which would have easily given her the boost she needed. So... you know. It could have been a lot worse.”

Luna nodded thoughtfully after a moment at this, and then she hesitated before looking over at Scrivener, asking quietly: “But what if the potion was not meant for her? Aye, she said it was, but... what if instead, she meant to slip it to us, Scrivy? To try and get us to... relish our power further?”

“Wow, you're paranoid. And that's coming from me.” Scrivener Blooms said mildly, and Luna huffed at him before firmly bopping the stallion with her horn as the motorcycle zigzagged a little, but thankfully they were going slow and there weren't any ponies out at this time of the morning, anyway. So even in spite of his usual fear of Luna and motorized vehicles, Scrivener couldn't help but smile a bit and gently push Luna back into her seat, saying softly: “I'm just trying to stay positive. And trying to give my daughter the benefit of the doubt.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Luna nodded firmly a few times before she sighed and said wryly: “But still. We are bad parents, Scrivener Blooms. Look at Antares.”

“Antares is fine. Yeah, he was out all night, but... he's also kind of old now. Our kid's... all grown up.” Scrivener smiled despite himself, looking over at Luna, and she simply huffed and shook her head, gazing at the stallion with quiet entertainment dancing in her eyes.

“Antares is not grown up. And do not ever wish that upon our child, cruel, vindictive Scrivener Blooms.” Luna said gently, shaking her head briefly before she glanced up and added: “Still. I do understand what thou means, Scrivy. I just wish that... things were not so difficult. That I did not have to think that... it may have been a good thing we were away for so many years. Imagine how Antares may have turned out with naught but exposure to us.”

“I could argue with you, but then I'd sound like a hypocrite and you'd hit me. Not that I think you're not going to hit me anyway but... you know.” Scrivener Blooms shrugged a bit, and then he smiled despite himself when Luna gently bopped him with a hoof as they rumbled quietly onwards through the town. “Precisely.”

Luna grunted, then she shook her head briefly before saying softly, as her eyes roved ahead down the road: “But 'tis not all bad, Scrivy. We have each other, in a world that... does not entirely hate us. Aye, many people and things outside this world do, and we have many troubles and enemies but... all could be far worse. All could be far, far worse than they truly are. 'Tis hard to remember at times but... 'tis true, too.”

Scrivener looked down and nodded thoughtfully at this, and there was silence for a few moments before the sapphire mare glanced up with a small smile. “Aye. We must fight to keep this in mind, Scrivy, most definitely. Not all is against us, even when it feels as such.”

“I suppose you're right.” Scrivener said softly, and then he shook his head with a quiet laugh and gazed over at her as they continued at an easy pace down the street. They were quiet, both listening to the rumble of the engine before the stallion looked up at the sky, studying the gray clouds and murmuring: “Funny. I see clouds these days and I worry... are there angels hiding on them?”

The sapphire mare gave her husband a wry look, then she shook her head slowly and muttered: “Do not say such things, Scrivy. 'Tis an awful thought. And 'tis not as if we do not already have enough worries to plague us, after all.”

Scrivener only shrugged absently, and Luna rolled her eyes before she tossed her own meditative look at the sky, knowing just what the stallion meant. They were quiet for a little while as they continued onwards, and then the sapphire mare smiled a bit as they steered towards Sugar Cube Corners, rolling to a halt beside the gates before Luna murmured: “Here we are. Now, try and behave thyself, they are nice ponies and thou should not scare them. We will make nice and then walk with them politely to see Fluttershy's ceremony, Epona does not need thou to be trying to ride her all over the other ponies today, great foul fool.”

“Yeah. You're one to talk.” Scrivener muttered, and Luna huffed at him, the two flailing at each other for a moment before the stallion slipped out of the sidecar and the mare turned off the motorcycle, yanking the keys loose to toss into her starry mane as they both turned to look at the sweets shoppe: the door was already invitingly open, though, and they could even hear the faint sound of voices from inside, so...

“Aye. Not early at all.” Luna nodded firmly, then strode forwards and across the patio, heading to the door and shoving it open before she smiled warmly at the sight of the people gathered around a table that had been set up in the middle of the room: Pinkie Pie, Pinkamena, Rarity, Spike, Rainbow Dash, Applejack, Apple Bloom, Scarlet Sage, Avalon... and of course, Fluttershy and her entire family. “Friends! Well met!”

The others all replied with their own greetings, and then Pinkamena grumbled and shoved herself away from the table, turning around and heading towards the kitchen as she shouted: “Scrivener, get your flank over here and help me bring in the food!”

“Oh, come on, big twin sister, you can't just order a guest to do that!” Pinkie Pie complained, but Pinkamena only stopped and glared horribly over her shoulder as Scrivener winced a bit and awkwardly strode around the table towards the demon.

“Scrivy wants to help... right?” Pinkamena glared at the charcoal stallion, who mumbled and shrank down a bit further, opening his mouth even as he reached her, and then he flinched when she smacked him and said moodily over to Pinkie Pie: “Scrivy says yes. There. You happy?”

“You're a bad liar. You shouldn't lie.” Pinkie Pie said disapprovingly, and Pinkamena groaned and rolled her eyes, giving a loud sigh of disgust. Then the earth pony wiggled a bit before starting to climb out of her seat, beginning: “Look, I can help, I can honestly help-”

“Nay, nay, be seated, Pinkie Pie! There is no need for thou to put thyself at ends for us, now sit thyself down and let Scrivener Blooms do his housewifery, he works very well with Pinkamena.” Luna said pointedly, and the charcoal stallion sighed even as he followed the demon back through the swinging door into the kitchen.

Five minutes later, he emerged, carrying several large trays on his back. He sighed in relief as he shifted them off onto the table with a little help from Spike and Luna, muttering: “Horses of Heaven these things are heavy. You guys must have really went all out on breakfast.”

“I think Pinkamena did, but not me.” Pinkie Pie smiled a little, then she glanced back and forth before adding in a bright but almost-furtive voice: “I'll tell you guys a secret! Pinkamena, when she gets stressed, all she ever wants to do is cook cook cook. And I think she's kind of worried about me.”

“Yeah, worried you're going to die and leave me stuck here to take care of this stupid place by myself.” Pinkamena muttered as she strode into the room, and Pinkie Pie smiled awkwardly at her from her chair, gazing with a mix of affection and embarrassment over at her big sister. “Look. You just got back from the goddamn clinic. Just keep your flank in the seat so I don't have to waste my time dragging you back there, okay?”

“Okay.” Pinkie Pie said softly, and then she smiled a little and reached out, grimacing a bit as she pulled the large, domed lid off a platter and put it down with a wheeze, revealing more pancakes than should have rightly been able to fit on that single plate. “We got a few different kinds and stuff!”

Pinkamena sighed as she yanked a plate off her back and almost flung it onto the table, miraculously avoiding spilling the contents of the jars and carafe on it before she said flatly: “Pinkie, sit. And you losers, get eating. Except for you, Scrivy. We have another platter to bring out.”

“It looks great.” Applejack said with a smile, glancing awkwardly up beneath the shade of her hat: kept on not just out of habit, but because she seemed the slightest bit embarrassed, here with all her old friends but so different from the pony she had been.

Avalon looked moodily over the table, then grunted in agreement with her mother before she snatched up several pancakes, adding grouchily as she looked over at Scarlet Sage: “But your brother should be here. Bad enough that your parents showed up so late.”

Luna huffed at this, then retorted across the table: “Well, thou art certainly not one who should complain about anypony coming up short! Thou art both vertically challenged as well as a pony whom, as I do recall, all-but-abandoned Ponyville!”

Avalon growled as Scarlet Sage sighed, but Luna only sniffed disdainfully before her horn glowed brightly, and she firmly snapped this to the side, ponies, Phooka, and dragon all ducking and wincing as the other tops of platters were yanked off and flung into the air. But with another flick of her horn, Luna caught these and dropped them off to the side, making them clatter loudly before she licked her lips as her eyes drew over the bevy of baked breakfast goods. “Manna from Valhalla!”

She reached out and snatched up a muffin, then used telekinesis to seize the coffeepot before glaring, an eye twitching when Avalon snagged the handle and yanked it back towards her. “Thou art playing with fire, fool!”

“Mom. Share.” Scarlet Sage said in an exasperated voice, and Luna only grumbled at this as Avalon poured herself a cup of coffee, then grouchily offered the carafe to her mother. Applejack smiled and took it, and Avalon reached for her cup... then snarled when Luna flicked her horn firmly and yanked the mug away from the Pegasus. “Mom, that's not sharing.”

“Shut up, Scarlet Sage. Thou art not my mother. Even if thou must act like it constantly.” Luna grumbled, and Scarlet Sage shook her head slowly as Apple Bloom nodded with a grunt, then snatched the pot of coffee away from Rainbow Dash before he could pour himself a cup, making him huff at her.

Tender Trust looked up, gazing with fascination over the gathered group as Fluttershy calmly cut into a blueberry pancake. Nirvana was grumbling away to his sons, pouring them both orange juice even as the brothers looked almost sulky, and then Scrivener Blooms and Pinkamena returned with another set of platters, setting these out over the large table before they were finally able to sit down for breakfast with friends and family.

Breakfast went well, once Avalon and Luna were done bickering, and after Pinkamena had smacked Scrivener a few times. And Luna and Scrivener reveled in it: a reminder of all the family and friends they had, what they were fighting for, and that even if times were changing, they could still celebrate together. They were all still alive, able to celebrate, to fight, to simply live even if there was a fear not of death, but of what would happen after death in the air.

When they finished eating together, Pinkamena smacked Scrivener until he agreed to help clean up with a grumble, and he and the demon worked together to quickly clear the plates, the half-eaten food, the dirty dishes and everything else. Luna simply sat back and belched contentedly, earning a glower from her daughter and a giggle from Pinkie Pie as most of the others ignored the sapphire mare, and Luna huffed after a moment before snagging a carafe of coffee that was still half-full, hugging it up against her breast as she grumbled: “Thou art all stupid. And fat. Even if, damnation, I have eaten well enough to become fat mine own self.”

Scrivener and Pinkamena worked quickly, and once the table was cleared and the varying people had rested a little, they climbed to their hooves, ready to set out. Fluttershy smiled awkwardly around at them all, blushing and shifting almost meekly before she murmured softly: “This... this really means a whole lot to me, it really does... you know, you don't have to... I mean, Pinkie, you were just in the hospital for a little while...”

“I wouldn't miss it for the world.” The bright pink earth pony gave a warm smile over at her friend, and Rarity laughed quietly in agreement as the rest of the group of old friends all turned towards the one-winged Pegasus, giving her reassuring looks. “We're all here 'cause we want to be here... right, everypony? And even Twilight's here, kinda sorta really, right guys?”

She looked over at Luna and Scrivener, and the sapphire mare smiled after a moment as she reached up and touched the black pearl in her collar, saying softly: “Aye. Just as none of thou would miss this, Twilight Sparkle will be here for thee, Fluttershy. She will be here, in more than just our presence alone.”

Fluttershy smiled and half-hid behind her mane with a faint blush, nodding a few times as she gazed warmly over at the two ponies, and then murmured: “We really do appreciate it... my whole family does. In fact, I think the entire den is going to be... really happy to see you. I really... we're all really looking forwards to this. This... this is important.”

Rainbow Dash smiled a little, while Luna cocked her head curiously: she and a few others couldn't help but notice the strange emphasis that Fluttershy seemed to place on things. There was quiet for a moment, and then the Pegasus simply shook her head, blushing a little as she looked up and said softly: “Well, I suppose we should go. I think... Nirvana would like to lead the way. It's important.”

The Phooka gave a wry smile over at Fluttershy, who gazed back at him softly, and there was silence for a few moments before he nodded and said quietly: “Very well.”

He glanced pointedly at his sons, and they shrugged, then both nodded after a moment. Tender Trust, meanwhile, smiled warmly, looking proudly up as she fell in pace beside her mother, looking more like a fawning child than an adult... but even if Phooka were physically adults and expected to take on mature duties after only a few short years of life, the triplets all the same were absolutely adored and cherished by the entire tribe like they were still foals... but then again, so were other Phooka even older than them. Apparently foalhood had a strange extension in Phooka culture.

Pinkamena grumbled and picked up Pinkie Pie, who giggled a little despite herself at getting piggybacked by her sister. And the others arranged themselves as Fluttershy and Nirvana spoke for a moment by themselves in the sibilant and flowing language of the Phooka, before Nirvana finally nodded and gazed meditatively over the group of ponies as they readied themselves for the walk.

When he saw that everyone was ready, the Phooka nodded briefly before simply grunting and gesturing with his head, and Luna looked with mild amusement over at Scrivener as the group began to file out of the building, saying wryly: “Truly, a pony of few words. Fewer than even thou, Scrivy.”

“Yeah, it's not like you or I do anything but like, talk at each other.” Scrivener said mildly, and Luna gave him a flat look before poking at him with her soulstone horn.

“Well, little of it is substance, therefore little of it counts as talk!” Luna complained, then she huffed before adding flatly: “Thou art fat and stupid, Scrivener Blooms. Fat and stupid. The only reason I do not rain a thousand torments upon thy head is because they would strike mine own as well. Except for damnable Hecate.”

“Yes, because you know. Otherwise it's well and fine to be around her.” Scrivener Blooms said mildly, and Luna grunted moodily in agreement as they headed down the street at a leisurely pace, the stallion half-tempted to complain about the pace but managing to rein himself in, if only because he was afraid Fluttershy would take him seriously.

It took them about two hours to reach the Phooka Den at their modest speed and with breaks for the aged ponies to rest now and then, Pinkamena grumbling away the entire time and Pinkie Pie insisting on singing a little now and then to try and help make the time pass faster and keep up everyone's spirits. Scrivener eventually joined Pinkamena in complaining despite his best efforts not to, and Luna eventually slapped them both and then giggled stupidly about it, declaring her revenge on Pinkamena complete as the demon gave her a terrible, ill look.

By the time they wended through the forest all the way to the strange village of the Phooka, however, there was a feeling of both... joy, and respectful warmth in the air. Even Pinkamena had her mouth shut, looking moodily around as they walked between hollowed-out hills and little caverns carved into the smoothed-out stone faces to either side of the tiny vale they entered.

It was a beautiful, safe little place, a society that was one with nature, with a pond on one side where a natural island of stone formed a sort of stage for important rituals like this. Phooka were already gathered around it, looking both anxious and eager as they parted for Fluttershy and Nirvana, and the one-winged Pegasus smiled and blushed a little as they came to a halt in front of the pool, turning around to say softly: “Before I... well, first I just want to... I want to say thank you to everyone for coming here. To all my friends from Ponyville and to the tribe... to our ka peyakoskânewihk: to have all of you here is... a blessing.”

Nirvana nodded in what seemed like both agreement and approval, then he reached up and touched Fluttershy's shoulder: after a moment, she nodded with a blush before they both turned, calmly walking around opposite sides of the pond as the Phooka moved in almost perfect synchronization, the tribe seating themselves and raising their heads as they began to sing in sonorous, undulating voices.

Scrivener and Luna and the other pony guests all sat on instinct, loosely clustered behind the Phooka tribe as they sang their strange melody to Fluttershy and Nirvana as the two slowly strode onto the raised stone platform in the middle of the pond.

They both stood tall and proud, their head raised, smiles on their faces.... and it was so strange, but at the same time so welcoming to see Fluttershy standing without her meekness, to see her with her head high like a leader of ponies... which she was. She was smart, and she was still strong, and her age had only made her into a wiser and better pony: of all of her friends, she had probably been the least affected by the rigors of age, probably because she had embraced them instead of trying to ignore or turn away from them. Fluttershy had embraced her age, and who she had become, without fear.

The Phooka swayed slowly back and forth as they sang and chanted and prayed, and Nirvana and Fluttershy stood before their tribe, their clan, their family. And Luna and Scrivener smiled, gazing past the Phooka and feeling so honored to be counted here among friends; among Applejack and Rainbow Dash, Apple Bloom and Scarlet Sage, Rarity and Spike, Pinkie Pie and Pinkamena, and Twilight Sparkle's spirit, which glowed more with pride than her own phantasmal magic.

The ritual was long and strange and conducted mostly in a language that not even Scrivener nor Luna could make heads or tail of. But it didn't matter: it was still beautiful, and they understood enough from the gestures and the feeling in the air, from the way the entire tribe reacted to the actions on the small stage of stone, from tone and expression and... well, the feeling in the air itself. It was like nature was celebrating along with them, and it made the ponies smile in delight.

The ceremony continued, in its strange, half-understood beauty: Fluttershy clearly knew her role, responding perfectly to every question, never shying away, always keeping her head high and a smile on her face. But she was comfortable here in nature, alongside the Phooka... more comfortable than she'd ever been in Ponyville, surrounded by ponies and other people.

Luna and Twilight both felt it as the ceremony continued, though: old magic, deep magic, working its way through the world around them, brought up by the Phooka from wherever nature had hidden her secrets away. Whatever it was, it wasn't pony magic, nor from any other realm they were familiar with... but the Phooka were creatures of the earth, and the earth had her own ways, her own paths, her own blessings and miracles.

The ritual ended with the Phooka singing, and a feeling of that magic fading back into the earth... but something had clearly changed, as the Phooka lowered their heads respectfully and Fluttershy and Nirvana gazed warmly at each other, then bowed their own before stepping forwards and embracing tightly.

There was a moment of silence so still in spite of so many gathered, that it seemed sacred... and then Luna threw her forelegs in the air and cheered loudly. Slowly, Scrivener Blooms shrank down into the ground as Twilight Sparkle's Pale twitched and stared with horror at the sapphire mare... but a moment later, Avalon and Dash were cheering as well, and it spread first through the audience from Ponyville, and then into the crowd of Phooka.

Fluttershy blushed at the yells and cheers and congratulations she received, smiling warmly, while Nirvana only sighed and shook his head slowly. But after a moment, he looked up and simply gestured at Fluttershy, and she laughed before stepping forwards and calling warmly: “Migwetch! Thank you! Thank you all so much!”

And the crowd continued to applaud as Fluttershy gazed with joy over both the tribe that had become her family, and the friends she had never forgotten, glowing with happiness... and the faint radiance of the blessing of nature that the Phooka had placed upon the Pegasus they had long accepted as one of their own.

“What a strange but pretty ceremony that was.” Luna said thoughtfully, as they headed back into town with Apple Bloom and Scarlet Sage: as much as they wanted to stay with the rest of their friends and enjoy the pleasant company of the Phooka Den further, they were all well aware that they had a much-more-serious task to attend to: Narcissa's inspection of Kwolek Labs, and the trouble that would no doubt follow.

“Kinda pissed Antares wasn't there. And yet I guess I'm kinda glad, too.” Apple Bloom said after a moment, and Luna and Scrivener both looked at her curiously as Scarlet Sage smiled a little. “Well, you know. Antares is reliable, and he isn't as... well, he doesn't let his emotions run him as much as we do. He puts that silly grin on his face a lot, but he's more rational than... I almost wanna say any of us here, considering how you get some mornings, Scarlet.”

“I'm still better than you, Red. Before you have at least two cups of coffee you're not even a pony.” Scarlet replied mildly, and the earth pony mare huffed at this even as she gave a grudging grumble of agreement. “It is kind of funny, though, now that I'm thinking about it. I mean, Antares kind of went from duty-duty-duty to friends-friends-friends.”

“Well, that assumes Antares has friends.” Luna said cheerfully, and Apple Bloom and Scarlet Sage both gave her an amused look, before the sapphire mare's smile toned down a little as she said softly: “Antares protects and celebrates with the living. But our son also honors the dead... 'tis because of who Cowlick was and what she meant to him that he does so. Cowlick was... a guide to our son. As she has been a guide to thee, Apple Bloom. As I think she helped many ponies, whether she was aware of it or not.”

Apple Bloom looked down and smiled a little, nodding a few times before she murmured: “I don't think she ever really was, Luna. You know that she... well... she was hard on herself. That's... I think that's why at the end, she felt...”

The engineer halted, then she shook her head slowly and murmured: “But it's funny, you know? I'll never know guns and machines like she did, even if I built my own special rifle, even if Cowlick trained me in how to build and care for even a weapon like her monster of a rifle, Artemis. I... I'm better with solar arrays, and irrigation systems, and things with life, with movement. I'm better at building, and she always said that... she never wanted to see me getting better with the guns.”

She stopped, then looked down and shook her head, giving a faint laugh. “And yet I always wanted to. Not because... I wanted to be better at making things that could kill ponies, but because I always wanted to impress her. When she was my age... she was already making technology that could match Decretum's. Me? I can follow her instructions. I'm almost as good as an Architect. But I ain't no Cowlick, not by a long shot. We were... we were blessed to have her here, to have that lab here. And now... all that...”

“Could be lost. Which is why Antares stayed behind. He will honor and congratulate Fluttershy... but he will also do all in his power to avoid letting Cowlick's work go to waste, to protect everything that... she was trying to achieve.” Luna looked down and smiled faintly, closing her eyes. “Because aye, Apple Bloom. What Cowlick desired most was to protect us, all of us. Even from her own machinations.”

There was silence for a few moments as they continued down the path, before all four ponies looked up as they began to approach the forest exit. But all of them could almost feel it, as they stepped out of the Everfree and looked uneasily towards the village before Luna muttered: “Chemicals. I smell a reek of chemicals... but do not sense danger, no, even though... is that smoke I see?”

“Come on. Let's check it out.” Apple Bloom said quietly, looking uneasily up at the sky and tracing her eyes over the faint lines of smoke spreading up into the gray clouds. Scarlet Sage looked at her worriedly, but Apple Bloom shook her head quickly, saying quietly: “Ain't a chemical fire. I dunno what those are... what I'm smellin' smells like... bleach.”

For some reason, Scrivener didn't like this, and Luna growled a little as they headed quickly towards the town. And what disturbed them even more was that there were no Nibelung guards on duty here, but even if they often seemed lax or lazy, they never abandoned their posts and it was extremely unlikely that Monkshood would have called them off duty...

They crossed the town quickly to the engineering lab, where a crowd had gathered: many of them were Nibelung, leaning worriedly back and forth. And Luna was surprised to find enormous, rectangular machines on huge, heavy metal wheels rested here and there on the road on either side of the building. They looked like... ugly boxes, with tall smokestacks sticking out of their fronts, each on at least a dozen chain-covered wheels and each with a covered sitting area at the front. They were ugly, and graceless, and like... clunky land-trains.

They were all also still running, machinery rumbling loudly and pumping smoke up into the air, but the reek of the smoke was overpowered here by the all-consuming stench of bleach and solvent, coming from several rumbling tubs guarded by uniformed Nibelung. Ponies in thick masks and rubber suits were carrying machines and mechanical parts out of the building, carelessly tossing them into one of the open vats to be rinsed off with clangs and bangs before they were vomited out some awful, automated birthing canal, where these reborn pieces of metal were quickly picked up by more ponies in hazard suits and carried off to be wrapped in plastic.

Narcissa was standing to one side with a pleased look on her face, several ponies in suits and a tall, sullen-looking Nibelung Architect beside her. And Luna snarled at this, shaking her head fiercely before she shoved her way through the rest of the crowd and into the area, storming past the wide vats and shouting: “And precisely what is it thou art doing here, wretched harpy?”

The mare looked up at this curiously, then she smiled, calling warmly over the clanking machinery: “Oh, there you are, dear! We're just sterilizing the equipment to take it back home for reengineering, that's all!”

“What?” Apple Bloom's eyes widened, the mare bolting forwards and almost knocking Scrivener and Luna over as she ran towards Narcissa, then skidded to a halt with a curse when a pony in a rubber suit almost tackled her before she could reach the smiling mare, snapping: “You're crazy!”

“No, not at all, darling.” Narcissa turned an almost kind look on Apple Bloom, shaking her head slowly before she said gently: “You see, I was well-aware that you'd take away all the valuable technology the moment that court order was sent over... it's what I would do myself, and I would have been disappointed otherwise. But you see, the rest of this is all mine, to do with what I desire... and so I'm having this place stripped of all its technology, boiled for quick sterilization in concentrated sodium hypochlorite. Please don't get any on you, darling, you really won't like what will happen.”

“Yeah, I know, you're... some of that stuff is sensitive! You're gonna destroy it!” Apple Bloom snapped, looking over her shoulder and wincing as a terminal, wires and all, was dumped carelessly into the one of the vats to be battered around, then vomited out of the tub.

“Yes. Some of it will be.” Narcissa said carelessly, and Apple Bloom stared in disbelief before the mare smiled and glanced over at the suited ponies. “My lawyers have advised me that I have to follow through with my end of the deal I made with the other companies but... reassured me that it was ensuring delivery that mattered. Not necessarily what state the goods were delivered in.

“So we'll provide them with what we promised, after we map everything we can learn from these parts... and I'm sure the engineers will be able to discover all sorts of things. Maybe not as much as we could from the technology you've hidden away, but... that's perfectly okay.” Narcissa gestured easily at the building behind her. “Even if I'm only removing the framework and a few switches and buttons, even if you have all the sensitive information... I'll have everything else. You'll have nowhere to plug in your batteries, nowhere to reattach all your microchips... and of course, no one to do it for you. Isn't that right, Chief Architect?”

The Architect only shook his head calmly, then he crossed an arm over his chest and bowed politely when Luna stared up at the Nibelung before asking sharply: “And what is any class of Architect doing with a monster such as this?”

But the dwarf was unperturbed, saying calmly: “I am working towards building a new Academy. I require equipment, and capable Architects. Unfortunately, that requires retrieving adequate technologies as well, to better compel my fellows to return with me.”

Luna snorted at this, saying sourly: “So thou art the vulture, and she is the wolf, and thou shall feed upon whatever carrion she leaves behind, is that it?”

“Not precisely. But I understand your anger. Please understand my position: mortal lifetimes are short, and their manipulations... are far from as intelligent or subtle as they think they are.” The Chief Architect looked calmly over at Narcissa, who only smiled kindly in return, even as one of the suited ponies scowled. “So, in return for providing her with technology, and a single mortal lifetime of service, I will receive the land and money and technology... and most important of all, the hands required to build a new Academy, for the Nibelung.”

“And I could have provided all this as well!” Luna snapped, but the dwarf only chuckled quietly, bowing his head and tenting his fingers together, the Architect smiling calmly around the nubs of tusk sticking out of his muzzle.

“Yes. And you are also far from mortal. How many years would I have to spend repaying my debts? How long until you stopped feeling like you had every right to walk through our sacred halls? How much Valkyrie Law would you want to impose on our culture, when you ponies have already made the Nibelung live by your rules for so long?” the dwarf asked evenly, and then he shook his head slowly. “No, the Nibelung have spent long enough under pony's hooves.”

Luna snarled in fury at this, her eyes glowing with anger before she leaned forwards and shouted: “Great and pathetic wretch! We saved thee from Niflheim, and from Helheim! Odin spared all of thee, and gave to thee jobs and duties, honorable and good work, and the ponies accepted and helped thee and asked for what? That thy kind would not kill each other with axes? Damnation, all thee so-called Architects are pacifists!”

“Still, we are deprived of our cultural rights. We're forced to live by the set standards and rules of others. Could you live this way, Valkyrie, even if everything you were told to love was what you loved anyway, what you were told you hate was anathema to you even by your own choice? Is not the sense of rule enough reason to rebel in and of itself?” asked the Chief Architect reasonably, and Luna twitched, her eyes blazing as Scrivener Blooms slowly gritted his teeth, before the Nibelung glanced calmly up and smiled as several dwarves emerged from the engineering building. “There you are. Greece. I see you have Illyria and Tenochtitlan with you, good.”

“I... Chief Architect Akkad, this... I mean...” Greece rubbed at the back of his head, looking torn as he trembled a bit before giving a faint smile over to Luna Brynhild, who felt... betrayed, as she looked almost pleadingly at Greece. Illyria simply had his arms crossed and looked almost disdainful, but Tenochtitlan at least looked downcast and ashamed, shuffling a little on the spot before Greece said finally: “This isn't... I'm sorry. This isn't the way I wanted to leave.”

“Leave?” Apple Bloom whispered, and she shoved herself away from the rubber-suited pony that was still half-holding onto her, turning around and striding towards the dwarf as she shook her head in disbelief. “No, you... you can't leave! You've always been here, always been glad to help us, ever since-”

“Yes, I was. Ever since the laboratory was built... I moved here from Canterlot to work with Cowlick, and to work at the engineering facility, and to help protect your people. But... my people need me now. Moreover, the Chief Architect has asked for my help and... he was a teacher at the old Academy, I can't turn him away. I've helped rebuild and protect your nation, now I have to try and do the same for my own.” Greece explained gently, but he sounded like he was pleading, like he was trying to convince himself more than anyone else as he shook his head slowly. “I'm sorry. I truly, honestly am. But... all the reasons I had to stay...”

“What about us? What about these ponies? And damnation, I do not care if this dwarf was master of the Academy!” Luna snarled, glaring furiously over at Greece, and even Illyria shifted uneasily at that look. “I always treated thee as equal, as honorable, thou wert always so... so wise, so good and now, now thou art-”

Greece only held up his hands, smiling faintly and shaking his head slowly as he murmured: “This is hard on me, too. I'm sorry. I really, truly am. But I'm a Nibelung. I'm an Architect. The Chief Architect has asked me to come with him and... again, what can I do here? Nothing. We have no technology. We have no supplies. This entire building is being gutted, searched top to bottom, and I'll be surprised if it's still structurally sound once all is said and done. I'm sorry.”

There was silence for a few moments, and Luna shook her head weakly, her anger fading into a plea, but the dwarf only turned his eyes away before Akkad said gently: “The time has come for us to move on. All things must, that is simply the way of the world. You should know better, Valkyrie: allies have always come and gone, disposed of just as quickly as they were made by your kind.”

Luna looked up with a snarl, eyes flashing, before Tenochtitlan said abruptly: “I... excuse me. I don't think... I don't think that I'll be coming with you.”

Greece looked surprised at this, beginning to turn, but Akkad quickly held up a hand and caught the engineer's attention even as Ten hurried away with his teeth grit, the Chief Architect saying quietly: “Remember what I said. Challenges and tests are many, and those who can pass them very few. We have laws and honor, and you were always a good student, well-versed in our lore, our rules, our expectations. Again, I will not stop you from helping the ponies... but you can spare a few years to help us rebuild our own home and escape servitude.”

“Servitude... how thou disgusts me.” the sapphire mare snarled, shaking her head fiercely as Narcissa simply watched with an interested smile. But Luna had shoved her out of mind for now: losing the technology, even the base, after all, wasn't nearly as devastating as coming to understand that now, this Chief Architect was trying to withdraw the Nibelung's support... probably from across Equestria. “Thou hast been given a second chance-”

Akkad shrugged, and Luna almost bit her tongue, her soulstone horn flashing and her eyes blazing before the Chief Architect turned towards Greece and said calmly: “Ignore the ponies and remember that you are Nibelung, and an Architect. You have pride: it is better to assist this one pony in her petty squabble than it is to indebt yourself for eternity and longer to this immortal Valkyrie.”

“Thank you, Akkad. I'm very glad you feel that way.” Narcissa sounded almost playful, smiling amusedly over at the dwarf even as Luna snarled like an animal and Apple Bloom trembled violently, visibly fighting back the urge to either lash out at Greece or turn around to try and tackle Narcissa.

Greece lowered his head silently, and Illyria awkwardly reached up and squeezed his shoulder as the two dwarves walked over to Akkad, who smiled pleasantly before nodding and turning to lead them away and over to one of the large, rectangular machines. Luna shook her head violently in disgust, trembling with fury, and Narcissa smiled calmly over at the sapphire mare, saying softly: “Everything has a price, that's all there is to it. Kilby was always trying to... well, to be honest, I don't know who she was living life for. It certainly wasn't herself, though... she never cared an iota about taking care of herself. And we all see where that got her, don't we?”

“Get out of here.” snarled Luna, turning towards the mare as her mane burst into blue flames, energy sparking along her soulstone horn. “Get thee gone, monster!”

But Narcissa looked unperturbed, only shrugging before she said softly: “You won't attack us. I know you won't, Lady Luna, because of what that will risk. If you attack me, I'll file suit in Canterlot and the security companies working with me will all volunteer their services. A bounty will end up on your head, one way or another, and you'll end up in one of our detention facilities. Oh sure, you could fight, or you could flee, but... what would either of those things accomplish? You can't kill an entire army and you can't give us a reason to search every household in Ponyville, can you?

“It's very simple. I'm going to get what I want. I always get what I want.” Narcissa smiled, reaching up and coyly brushing her mane to the side. “Then you can go back to your business and I'll go back to mine. You can make this building into... oh, I don't know, a daycare center or something. Kilby liked foals. She took mine, as you'll recall.”

Luna trembled furiously, and Apple Bloom gritted her teeth, dropping her head forwards before she said coldly: “You ain't got no idea what you're doing here. No idea what this is going to cost you, Narcissa... I'll... I'll dedicate my entire damn life to-”

Narcissa shrugged, smiling up at the sky. “No, I do, and today is a good day. Today's the day I make enough money to finally retire in comfort like I've always wanted to. I'm going to run away and live happily ever after, that's all there is to it, on a secluded little island with plenty of handsome servants to tend to my every need, and guarded by my own private army. I'm going to be beautiful and in luxury until the very end of my life, and that's all I've ever wanted.

“Oh, one last thing. About twenty minutes ago, two ponies went into that facility. Either to try and hide some things or to use the little legal standing they have left to at least watch us tear this apart from the inside out. You should probably go make sure they're okay.” Narcissa said kindly, and Apple Bloom's eyes widened before she turned and ran for the doors of the facility. Narcissa clearly, purposefully waited until Apple Bloom was through them, and then she rose her head and added: “Oh, dear me, I forgot, you should have taken a suit... not that we have a spare, of course. But that whole place is just slathered in chemicals...”

Luna bared her fangs, and Narcissa looked back calmly even as the ponies in suits around her winced backwards. “You have a very nice smile, dear. I know, since you're so special... why don't you go in and look for your friends yourself? One of them was a very handsome black stallion and the other, I believe, was your sister... say, you don't think that I could negotiate a business deal with the former Baroness, do you?”

“I would recommend thou art far, far away by the time Celestia leaves that facility. 'Tis funny to say, but her restraint is not as great as mine own.” Luna growled, glaring over at Narcissa, and the mare simply smiled... but something in Luna's eyes made her shift uncomfortably, before the sapphire mare looked over her shoulder and shouted to Scrivener Blooms: “Look, poet, that land-train looks as if the wheels are sore... do it a favor, and soften upon what it stands!”

Scrivener grimaced, but his own head was throbbing with pain and anger as he gritted his teeth and turned around, simply slamming his Talons into the ground. And streaks of darkness radiated out through the earth from his claws, rapidly spreading outwards to transform the earth beneath the machine Luna had dubbed a land-train into black, soft mire.

The vehicle tilted back and forth as the tires sank into bubbling, brackish slime, and Narcissa simply shrugged and said pleasantly: “If you wanted some of our technology as a fair trade in return for yours, all you had to do was ask, Luna Brynhild. Although I'll be the first to admit that our... 'land-trains,' as you call them, aren't quite up to par with the machinery you're used to.”

The sapphire mare growled in frustration, and then she opened her mouth... but thankfully, Scarlet Sage ran up beside her father and caught him by the shoulder, leaning forwards and whispering sharply into his ear: “Stop it, this is playing right into her hooves.”

Luna heard it as clearly as Scrivener did, and the winged unicorn shuddered before she finally growled in irritation and pawed a hoof at the ground, nodding grudgingly. Narcissa smiled at them, and then she simply turned around, saying clearly to the businessponies: “It's about time for a little lunch, I think. There's not much in the way of gourmet out here, but I'm sure we can still find something palatable. Shall we?”

She gestured towards one of the land-trains, and the ponies wearing suits all nodded in agreement, turning to follow her towards the machine. Luna growled and looked up in frustration as Scrivener Blooms and Scarlet Sage walked up to stand beside the mare, and the three watched as Narcissa and her associates all circled around to the back of the vehicle as a driver hurried to the cabin at the front.

They watched until the vehicle slowly rumbled backwards, sending the crowd at the edge of the streets hurrying out of the way before Luna looked to the side with a grimace as the doors of the engineering building were smashed open by Celestia emerging. The ivory mare was glaring furiously back and forth, her eyes burning with anger before she shouted at the land-train as it slowly backed away: “Cowards! Show your faces, stand before me, let's see how long you last in the face of true strength! Maggots and scum, come back!”

But the land-train only continued to rumble calmly backwards, veering out onto the road behind it so it could turn and drive slowly away, and Celestia trembled before she shook her head violently, teeth bared, emotions naked as she breathed hard in and out before shouting in fury and stomping her front hooves angrily as she snapped her head back and forth. Her braids flew around her as the air reverberated with her energy and rage, and Luna trembled for a moment before she ran in front of her sister, looking up as Celestia dropped her head and whispered: “Cowards.”

“Freya. Look upon me.” Luna said quietly, and for a moment Celestia only gritted her teeth, but then finally forced herself to raise her head, the sisters gazing at each other for a few moments as Luna slowly calmed, mane settling back into starry ephemereality, constellations pulsing and swirling with worry more than rage as she said quietly: “Swallow thy anger for now. There is a better outlet for it than this.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Celestia simply nodded briefly before she looked down and said quietly: “I know. I'm... in control, I am. This is just...” Celestia looked over her shoulder at the engineering building, then she shook her head slowly as several ponies in rubber suits emerged, carrying several heavy pieces of equipment on a sling between them. “This is not what we need right now, Luna.”

“Nay. But when do we ever have the blessing of getting what we need at the right time?” Luna asked softly, smiling a little, and Celestia laughed a bit despite herself before she looked silently over at the rumbling chemical vats, and Luna closed her e yes and shook her head quickly before she asked in a mutter: “Are the cells intact?”

“And hazardous materials and secure storage.” Celestia stopped, then gave the briefest smile. “They also had a brief encounter with Hecate, which convinced them to steer clear of the lower levels. But they're attempting to break into the garages and hangers and... we can't legally stop them. Only refuse to help them. But I think Narcissa's gotten what she wanted...”

“The Nibelung. That was what she was after all along, aye?” Luna looked up quietly, and Celestia sighed softly and nodded slowly.

“Hecate is rerouting as much power as possible to her own laboratory area, but... even if she manages to maintain an entire level of the building to herself, they're doing too much damage to the structure for it to remain viable. Furthermore, the building is technically hers... the only reason Hecate can get away with what she's doing is... well...” Celestia smiled briefly and shrugged a little, and Luna simply nodded and smiled wryly in return.

There was silence for a few moments, and then the sapphire mare said quietly: “So what will we do, Celestia?”

“They're taking everything they legally can. Hecate's lab is questionable property, and furthermore, guarded by Hecate and Clockwork Ponies. They won't risk it. Antares and I have destroyed all the scientific data we could find, but they still retrieved several schematics and files. The prison section beneath Kwolek Labs is technically a separate structure, like the disposal area and several of the other sublevels that were built apart from the main building.” Celestia shook her head slowly, then she hesitated before saying quietly, gazing with pain over the front of the structure: “I hate to say this... but after they leave... we should consider condemning, then destroying this building and... replacing it with something new.”

Luna gritted her teeth, but she had no response to this: all she could do was sit back and watch as another pony in a rubber suit calmly picked up part of the machinery they were dismantling and threw it into the chemical vat, to be bleached, burned, and reborn dead for dissection by uncaring hooves. All they could do was watch as the life's work of a dead friend was dismantled and burned and bludgeoned by ponies who had less talent in their whole bodies than Cowlick had possessed in a single hoof, and all Luna could bitterly hope was that even if they couldn't have justice in this life, they would have vengeance in the next.

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