• 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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A Difficult Departure

Chapter Fifty Six: A Difficult Departure

Scrivener Blooms and Luna Brynhild were back at the facility, back in the prison cell with Gymbr, and the sapphire mare was looking with both disbelief and... oh, why pretend otherwise? “Damnation. Damnation, Gymbr, this is... I mean, this is... not... bad.”

“We missed drawing.” both sides of the dual entity said gently, and Luna grumbled grouchily before she enviously looked back at the picture that Gymbr Luna had drawn: it was utterly gorgeous. Perfect, in almost every detail, a full sketch portrait of her family in varying hues of gray, the paper faintly tinted red to make it stand out all the more, making Luna think- “We hope you do not mind that we used our own blood.”

Luna slowly stared over the reddened paper, and then she looked sourly up at the creature and said dryly: “And here I thought thou possessed enough magic to simply change the tincture. Well, fantastic, Gymbr. I am made less envious by thy... rather-sordid attention to... 'detail.'”

“We felt it was important. Besides, it makes the line work stand out much clearer... we think that it greatly improves the impact of the overall piece.” Gymbr replied pleasantly, both sides of the dual entity straightening and gesturing easily towards the red paper. “We cannot help but note that you are tired, and worn... and worried. Was the meeting with Hel really so unproductive?”

“Nay, 'twas very productive, Gymbr... as I am sure thou art also aware. Thou art no idiot, even if... well, thou art very much an idiot.” Luna replied wryly, straightening and shaking her head slowly. “So I will ask thee to get to the point.”

Gymbr was quiet for a few moments, and then both halves of the god turned: mimicking each other's motions as Gymbr Scrivener carefully picked up a booklet of papers and held this out to Luna. The sapphire mare frowned uneasily at this, but then took it, even as she began to open her mouth to make some derisive comment... but she was surprised into silence by the sight of the top paper, holding it quickly up before she paged hurriedly through the sketches. “These... I... these are all of the Pious...”

“Yes. We feared our memory would falter, or our hooves would betray us, but neither did: we have provided all the information we can about the different types of Pious we are aware of, and about the Nephilim.” Both sides of Gymbr bowed their heads politely, then looked up with calm smiles. “We hope that this will help you in the future.”

Luna nodded slowly as she looked uneasily down at the small bestiary, and then she licked her lips before glancing up and asking quietly: “And what does thou desire in return? For I have learned that thou art never without motive.”

“Our motive is simple kindness. We desire you to see that we are willing to help. That we may not be friends, but we do not have to be enemies. And we...” The two sides of Gymbr shifted slowly, uncomfortably, before they both sighed softly. “We are prepared to... speak with Hel. We know she desires to meet with us, even if she has not spoken to you of it. But she is known for being difficult in her affairs as well.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then the sapphire mare shook her head slowly before she said softly: “We shall mention it to Hel should we see her, but... I do not know if 'tis because, as thou says, Hel has her own ways... or if 'tis because thou has an overinflated sense of self. What would Hel want with thee, Gymbr?”

“Many things. We still have secrets. And if only we could combine again... we could become strong once more. Or at least we would die quickly instead of suffering this slow agony.” both sides of Gymbr murmured, and then they silently stretched out their forelegs, mirroring each other... and Luna softened despite herself as she watched the two halves of the singular entity attempt to put hoof and claw together unsuccessfully.

Gymbr Scrivener looked away as Gymbr Luna looked towards him, and the sapphire mare sighed at this pitiful sight: they mirrored even when they just wanted to try and look at each other. That hurt her to see... but all the same, the sapphire mare took a slow breath before she rose her head and asked quietly: “What if we told thou, that we believed thou had become... unnecessary?”

There was silence for a few moments, and then both sides of Gymbr quietly looked up before replying: “We would say that you are making a mistake... but acknowledge it is yours to make. And perhaps... we would be grateful as well. For the unnecessary are cast off, cast down, and destroyed. We will take whatever death you offer: it is all the same in the end.”

Luna looked down meditatively, then she turned her eyes upwards and said almost abruptly: “We have begun rallying our forces, Gymbr... we have sent messages out across Equestria to those friends we have that we can count on in this time of need, to begin gathering and readying for another assault on Heaven... one that shall be much longer this time. An... experiment I would rather not delve into the details of is being attempted with Dusk and Imago, and we are forced to rely on Hel's all-too-generous offers of assistance... although at least this time, 'tis very clear why she is so eager to help us. She has many reasons to, after all.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then the sapphire mare shook her head slowly before she murmured finally: “But we require more aid. Thou constructed... armies of puppets, when we fought against thee. How quickly can these be constructed? And are there more?”

“There were... but now, since we have been defeated and weakened and the Light knows this... undoubtedly, the Light has attacked the world Kvasir, Foldraumr and ourselves fought so hard to free.” Gymbr said quietly, looking up and shaking his head slowly. “We cannot risk travel there, or even attempting to make contact. It will only invite the Pious in.”

“We were told that the Light cares not about the mortal worlds, but about Heaven. Perhaps it has left thy blackened world alone... and furthermore, how can thou be okay with simply giving up on thine own kingdom, when it may not even yet face danger?” Luna asked as her eyes narrowed slightly, and both sides of Gymbr laughed quietly and shook their heads almost condescendingly.

“You do not understand, Luna Brynhild... but we do. The Light has achieved its goal, yes: but it will destroy what it senses could threaten it. It will show neither mercy nor compassion, as you do: and we have no attachment to that world, only disappointment that a useful tool has been destroyed.” Gymbr replied calmly, both sides of the creature looking evenly up at Luna. “We will not jeopardize the safety of what we have now for the safety of what is already lost and useless.”

“Wise words, Gymbr.” Scrivener Blooms said ironically, and then he shook his head slowly before looking over at Luna, saying quietly: “We should probably just go.”

Luna grunted, but all the same, she found herself hesitating. She studied the wretched, broken pair in front of her, then shook her head slowly and murmured: “'Tis almost like thou hast learned nothing in spite of everything thou hast lost. I see old habits rise anew again and again... is this the fate of all things? To repeat our past mistakes, over and over?”

Gymbr shook their heads at this, then looked up with surprising vehemence, saying sharply: “We are not the Gymbr that was! We do not understand why you insist upon comparing us to him, when we are not! We are not a failure and we are not about to doom ourselves, to end our own story, because of petty foolishness!”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Luna looked evenly down at the creature before asking quietly: “And despite thy words and promises, was not this very thing the instrument of thy defeat? Thou squabbled with us like a petty tyrant-”

Both sides of Gymbr scrambled up to their hooves, shouting in one cacophonous echo: “We did what had to be done because you would not believe us! We are not to blame! All of this is your own fault for refusing to believe us, for chasing ghosts!”

Luna shook her head in disgust, then traded a look with Scrivener Blooms before she said coldly: “Nay, thou shan't lay this upon our doorstep, creature. Thou art a fool. Thou wert the one who refused to divulge any details, and only now do I truly understand why. 'Twas because of what happened to Kvasir, was it not?”

“He made us promise to tell no one what had happened to him!” Gymbr shouted, and then both sides of the creature shivered violently before dropping their heads, whispering: “He made us promise to keep his secret. And so, we have risked everything to keep our promise, to our... our only friend... who now cavorts the world in eternal torment as the Mad Hatter. Yes, we are a failure. We deserve your hatred. We allowed... anger, and our hunger for power to overwhelm our common sense. But you sided with the Pious over us, over everything we told you, showed you...”

“You showed us nothing, Gymbr. And you took our daughter, and wasted thy time with sick delights and foolishness instead of...” Luna shook her head slowly, clenching her eyes shut. “I still cannot believe that we were used against one-another so effectively. But the Pious... never did they seem... hostile. Not once...”

“Because they are different.” Both sides of Gymbr sighed quietly, shaking their heads slowly as they settled uncomfortably back to the ground, their bodies trembling as if just that burst of rage had proven too much for their frail forms to handle. “If you have never seen a color before, how do we describe it to you? They are not creatures easily comprehended, and to understand them is like learning to understand a rainbow from the perspective of the blind.”

Gymbr looked down, then gazed silently up with both sets of eyes, saying almost pleadingly: “We are not the Gymbr of that story, or of the past. And we are not even the Gymbr that you defeated... we are better than that now. We do not care if you destroy us... but please. This is all we ask... not to compare us to the failed entity that we once were.”

“I make no promises.” Luna said moodily, then she shook her head and added distastefully: “And thou art in no position to make any demands, in any event.”

“We do not make demands. We... it is a request.” Gymbr replied after a moment, both ponies shaking their heads quickly. Luna only looked wryly at the halves of god, and then they both lowered their heads and muttered: “Very well. We... respectfully withdraw our... demand. We only request it.”

Luna shrugged moodily, then she sighed a little as she looked down at the bestiary of Pious, hesitating before saying finally: “I wish for thou to be honest with us. I wish for thou to... admit thy failing. I wish to hear it, Gymbr, even if thou must just mouth the words... I am sure one of thy faces can do it. Scrivy has always been very good at lying.”

Scrivener looked mildly over at Luna, then he turned his own curious eyes back towards Gymbr. The dual god had both heads of both creatures lowered, shifting uneasily back and forth before they both sighed quietly and murmured: “We admit that... Hel was right. It was not only our promise... it was... the power. The power intoxicated us. The power made us question why... you did not simply obey our generosity. The power corrupted us. And it was the power that... we did not desire to let go of. Yes, we wanted to make you both powerful as well, but... we cannot pretend... it was all in ways that we desired. It was all for an end that we desired...”

Gymbr shifted silently, then smiled faintly and murmured: “Antares, for all his insight... does not understand how we could put so much at risk for what must seem like so little. And you pretend that you do not understand... but you do. We know that you do. Because our failing is your failing as well, is it not? The hunger for power... and what you shall do to maintain it. But we... power is all we have ever truly had. Ever been able to truly maintain...”

The dual entity shook their heads slowly, then both sighed and lowered them, saying quietly: “What foolishness. You insulted us. You threatened our power... you did not give us the respect we thought we deserved.”

“And thou proved that thou did not deserve it with thine own actions. Thou hast put the world at risk, and thou shall live only for as long as the Pious are present...” Luna stopped, hesitated, then sighed and shook her head slowly, saying finally: “I will... allow thou to try and prove thy honesty in the future, though, Gymbr. And I shall start by passing thy message on to Hel. If she truly does wish to speak to thee... perhaps it will prove thou still has some use after all.”

Scrivener Blooms nodded in hesitant agreement, and both sides of Gymbr looked up silently before they hesitated, then said quietly: “Then we shall only thank you, and... wish that we were able to swallow our pride in your example. But we fear that... what is broken with us, cannot be mended. Cannot ever be mended...”

They both looked down silently, and Luna grimaced a little before she swatted Gymbr Luna with the note pages, both sides of the god mirroring each other as they flinched backwards slightly. “Cease whining, 'tis unattractive and thou art already ugly enough as 'tis. Thou cannot fix the past. Thou shall always regret what thou hast done. But thou can at least face the world and the fate thou hast shaped for thyself with a little dignity, creature.”

Both sides of Gymbr looked moodily up, then shook their heads slowly before the dual entity replied quietly: “That is much easier said than done. Especially when all we have to do is reflect upon past sins and past mistakes.”

Scrivener and Luna traded small smiles, and then the sapphire mare said softly: “And how better to learn the cost of the evils thou hast wrought, creature? But... enough. Scrivy and I have business to attend to. And I admit that I do not entirely mind the idea of allowing thee to marinate in thine own guilt and suffering. Thou hast earned that.”

Both sides of Gymbr sighed and lowered their heads, and there was silence for a few moments before Scrivener and Luna traded looks, then they both shrugged and turned around, pushing through the ajar armored door. Luna hesitated as she looked over her shoulder... then shook her head briefly, flicking her horn and closing it with a rumble as the paper booklet floated beside her. She tossed a quick glance at this notebook, then shook her head briefly before murmuring: “Well, we should return to Twilight, Scrivy. Perhaps by now Celestia is... awake.”

“And we can check on that creepy cauldron.” Scrivener muttered, then he shook his head briefly and sighed a little, saying wryly: “Well, hey, maybe we'll go out to get a giant bomb and come back to find... Nightmare Moon waiting for us. But I have to wonder how the hell that's going to work... Deathless can't be on different worlds than their, well, master, right?”

Luna grunted turning and gesturing easily at the stallion, and the two fell in step as the sapphire mare said mildly: “I do like how easily thou says the word 'master' these days, Scrivy. 'Tis cute.” A pause, and then she added in a quieter voice: “And remember, the Fates can apparently travel as they please... somehow, their spirits must be anchored in those bodies, but... tied all the same. 'Tis... a strange idea. Invulnerability, nearly...”

The sapphire mare glanced over at Scrivener Blooms, and the stallion looked back at her for a few moments before he shook his head quickly and said dryly: “Hell no. I don't want to know what it's like to have my body destroyed and then reconstituted, thank you.”

“Oh, as if thou doesn't go through something like that every time thou becomes a Tyrant Wyrm. Great ninny.” Luna slapped at him a few times, and the stallion winced a little and shoved back at her before the two grumbled at one-another. Then they both quieted as they began to make their way up through the halls, and the sapphire mare was unable to stop herself from letting her thoughts start to get the better of her, as she mumbled: “Damnation, Scrivy.”

“Damnation.” Scrivener agreed quietly, and both ponies sighed a little as they made their way onwards. But even after emerging from the facility, into the usually-welcoming night... they didn't feel all that much better. Not even the sight of the demons on calm patrol alongside ponies helped... it was just a reminder that the Nibelung had left them.

Scrivener and Luna traded faint smiles, then they both shook their heads and forced themselves to keep moving. They reached the library in good time, and pushed the door open to find Twilight Sparkle was going over a theory book with Sin... and for once, it looked like Innocence was striving her hardest to actually pay attention, and maybe even show her mother the respect she deserved.

It was good to see, Luna and Scrivener both smiling as the Lich looked up with a quiet laugh... almost as welcome a sight as Twilight looking so... so vibrant, so alive again, as she gestured gently at the Agony Pot and said softly: “It's finally starting to cool. I don't know what's going to come out of there, but... something in there is developing, just like Hel said it would.”

Luna grunted and nodded, then she closed her eyes for a moment... and as if she was listening to the echoes coming from deep within a cavern, she heard something... murmuring sleepily, she thought. Nothing sane, just... something that told her there was still something alive back there.

The mare shook her head briefly, then opened her eyes and turned to ask about Celestia, but Scrivener punched her lightly in the shoulder and instead she huffed and grumbled at the stallion. He looked pointedly back at her, and after a moment Luna rolled her eyes before she drew them back towards Twilight Sparkle, asking instead: “And how hast thou been with our daughter?”

Innocence smiled at this as Twilight gave the two an amused look: this was much more for Sin's benefit than hers, since they were able to share information just from a glance at each other. But maybe that was why the Lich was so glad to answer honestly: “Good. We're getting along well, right Innocence? And we've been able to start on some moderate-level theory work.”

“Good.” Luna said firmly, and Innocence simply gave an awkward smile and nod before the sapphire mare turned her curious eyes up towards the guest room. “Hast thou sensed Bob?”

“He left a little earlier, but I'm not sure... if Celestia's up, or if he just had to go for a walk. He's been sitting there for... quite some time now. I didn't want to go and check on her, though, I figured... I should leave that to you.” Twilight looked up at Luna with an awkward smile and a small shrug, and the sapphire mare nodded slowly after a moment before she sighed a little and turned her thoughtful eyes upwards.

“Well... aye, Celestia may not precisely desire to come and face the day. That is understandable, though...” Luna shook her head briefly before she smiled a little. “Well, come, Scrivener Blooms. Thou can act as my shield in the event that Celestia desires to lash out at something.”

“Wonderful. I feel I should point out that if she pummels me, you'll still feel it.” Scrivener mumbled, but Luna only shrugged agreeably, making the stallion sigh and drop his head as he said dryly: “So long as I'm the one actually getting beaten on, you're fine, right?”

“Right!” Luna said cheerfully, and Scrivener Blooms grumbled and shook his head again before the sapphire mare became a little more serious, adding finally: “But well... I do not honestly know what we will find when we approach, Scrivy. I do not entirely know what deal that Hel and Celestia... Freya... have made. I only know...”

She looked down, then shook her head briefly before smiling a little over at Scrivener Blooms. “Well, come then. Let us... see what there is to be seen, beetle. I am sure that either way, 'tis time for... for my sister to awaken.”

Innocence watched uneasily as her parents headed towards the stairs, and then she looked up with a small blush as Twilight Sparkle gently touched her shoulder, gazing at her softly and saying gently: “Don't worry. It's all going to be okay.”

“I... I know that. You don't have to treat me like a filly.” Innocence muttered, shrugging the hoof off... not because it made her feel patronized, but because she didn't want to admit how... comforting that was.

Twilight only smiled a little, then turned her own nervous look up towards the second floor... where Scrivener and Luna were now awkwardly sitting in front of the guest room door, the two trading looks before the sapphire mare poked at him a few times with her horn, saying finally: “Well, go ahead then. Open the damned door, Scrivy.”

“You. You open the door.” Scrivener said awkwardly, and the two slapped at each other for a few moments before they both winced at a loud sigh from inside the room, the stallion mumbling: “I hope we didn't just wake her up.”

Luna only shrugged, then said helpfully: “Well, if we did, then she takes to being awoken better than I do. And better than I recall.”

“Just open the door.” Celestia said tiredly through the wood, and Scrivener and Luna traded another uncomfortable look before the sapphire mare stepped uneasily forwards, grasping the handle and shoving it open.

Celestia was sitting out on the balcony, draped in shadows, looking silently up through the boughs of the tree at the stars above. She sighed quietly again as they entered, Luna becoming more serious, more worried, before the ivory mare turned around... and smiled faintly at the way Luna and Scrivener both flinched despite their best efforts not to. “Yes. I had trouble... looking at myself at first, too... but I think... I'm getting used to it.”

The ivory mare strode towards them, and with a flick of her horn, the lanterns around the guest room burst into life. Vibrant, almost sunny light shone over the pallid features of the mare, making the shadows that her curtain of braided mane cast over her features seem all the longer, and the scarring that now surrounded her left eye stand out all the more.

She looked at Scrivener Blooms, who looked uncomfortably back before the ivory mare asked quietly, as she reached up and touched the simple cloth patch covering her eye: “Do you ever get used to it? To people... looking at it. To feeling like their eyes are always staring at it, even if they're just...”

She quieted, looking down and slowly licking her lips, and Scrivener Blooms smiled faintly as he reached up and touched the scarring around his own eye. Then he turned his gaze back up to Celestia, studying her for a few moments before saying finally: “No. You don't, not really.”

“I appreciate your honesty.” Celestia paused, then she reached up and silently pulled off the plain eye-patch, and both Scrivener and Luna looked up in surprise: Celestia's socket wasn't empty, but now housed not precisely a glass eye, but what looked more like a sphere of blue crystal, and Luna thought that she could see something etched on it, as she frowned and leaned intently forwards...

“It's the sigil used by Hel's Archives.” Celestia said calmly, and Luna's eyes widened in shock before the ivory mare smiled faintly as she reached up and touched this crystalline eye. “It's something I don't want to... share with the world, but at the same time... I want to be honest with you both.”

She stopped, looking down and murmuring: “I can't see through the crystal. But it emanates... an eerie magic. It is resonating with me and Hel said that it would... help. And also that it was a symbol of our new... friendship. Freya and Hel...”

Celestia shook her head slowly, smiling faintly before she let her hoof drop away as she returned her eye to Luna and Scrivener. “I feel a little... off-balance, still. I don't think I'm having depth perception problems... but I suppose I won't know that for sure until I do some target practice. My head hurts a little, but I feel more...”

The ivory mare looked down thoughtfully, and then she nodded slowly, murmuring: “I feel that with ease, I could act on any impulse...” She reached up, gently stroking under Scrivener's chin and making him wince a bit as Luna smiled despite herself, before she smiled wider when Celestia's hoof dropped away and she simply straightened, looking more like her old, regal self. “But I can also resist the urges. I feel my discipline intact, but... my passion is there. Not tame, but listening. I feel... more complete than I ever have before, in spite of...”

Celestia glanced meditatively at her braids, then she simply shook them easily back and forth before her horn glowed brightly, and she smiled as the long, loose braids were tightened and pulled gently but firmly back, then allowed to settle around her, the ivory mare murmuring: “Yes. I haven't lost part of myself at all... no more false, bright colors to hide who I truly am.”

She shook her head briefly again, then turned her eyes towards Scrivener and Luna, smiling and studying the two before she said finally: “I honestly don't know what I'd do without you both in my life. You've helped each other and helped me more than I can say, and I just hope that I can repay you both one day somehow.”

The ivory mare looked down, then reached up and slowly rubbed at her crystalline eye, and Luna smiled a little as she reached up and gently pulled her sibling's hoof down, squeezing it gently as she said softly: “Now do not poke at it, Celestia. Thou art not a foal. And... I am only glad that we have been able to take this journey together with one-another.”

Scrivener smiled a little as Celestia laughed quietly and looked down, nodding slowly as she closed her eyes, and there was a moment of silence before the mare looked up with eye and strange blue crystal, saying softly: “I don't regret it, Luna. I know you're worried about me, and I'm worried about... what might have happened, what the cost might be, and what I might have given Hel... but all the same, I think I'd do it again. I think this is for the best.”

“I hope that is truly thou talking, and not the crystal.” Luna said wryly, and Celestia shook her head with a small smile before the sapphire mare reached up and gently stroked along the scarred side of her sibling's features. “It... it does not hurt, though, thou art being honest? And thou art neither dizzy nor confused nor-”

“I'm fine, Brynhild. Honestly.” All the same, Celestia seemed to enjoy Luna's touch, tilting her face against the hoof and closing her eyes again, and Luna cleared her throat awkwardly before carefully drawing her hoof away, gazing up at the mare with quiet entertainment and a slight grin all the same before the ivory mare answered calmly, despite the way her eye half-opened seductively and she studied them with sultry interest: “No headaches, no major pain. Tenderness, certainly... and I'm a little swollen and sensitive... in certain places...”

“And I suppose thou wants us to take care of that for thee? Naughty Celestia!” Luna said cheerfully, winking up at the ivory mare before she shook her head with a wry grin. “'Tis tempting, I will not lie. But I do not think we have the time for such. And I suppose we should pretend to have some moral ambiguity, still, even if... more and more, I feel that fading.”

Luna stopped, then began to look down, but Celestia caught her little sister's chin with her hoof and gently tilted her back up to gaze into her eyes, saying softly: “If that was true, Luna, then you wouldn't have been so worried about what Hel was going to do to me. If you were becoming like Gymbr, you and Scrivener would have taken one of the many, many chances I've given you to turn me into a servant. And I'm only grateful that you and Scrivener have so much strength of character.”

Scrivener Blooms smiled despite himself at this, trading a faintly-amused look with the sapphire mare before he said softly: “I don't know if we really have that, Celestia. I think we might just both be... well, stubborn, and... determined to at least pretend we can avoid becoming... that.”

“Although I wonder whether or not 'tis inevitable...” Luna smiled despite the line of thought she was traveling down, though, looking up and adding softly: “As it seems thou art always inevitably a great prostitute, big sister. Well. Prostitute and dreaded warmonger.”

Celestia shook her head slowly, then she gently reached up and squeezed Luna's nose, making her huff and wrinkle up her muzzle like a foal as the ivory mare said softly: “I'm not your First Concubine, and nor am I a warlord... but I am the Queen of the Valkyries, still. I'm Freya, and Vanir, and Aesir, and Celestia. I'm a lot of different things, but most of all... I'm there for you, Brynhild. And you, Scrivener, and Twilight Sparkle and all the rest of our family. And yes, that includes Bob.”

She smiled a little, reaching up and gently flicking the key hanging from one ear before she reached down and quietly touched her own stomach. “What do you think Hel would charge for a working womb, Luna?”

“She would ask for whatever thou wert willing to part with... and haggle with thee until thou wert willing to pay even more than thou had thought at first. That is dangerous business, Celestia: besides, perhaps all thou needs is more sex.”

“True. I should rule that out first.” Celestia agreed thoughtfully, nodding a few times as she licked her lips slowly, and Luna grinned as she shook her head in entertainment before the ivory mare became serious again, gazing down and saying softly: “But business before pleasure. Do you need me to do anything?”

“Aye. Rest, Celestia. Damnation, thou just lost a damned eye. We do not need thee rushing about, making it clear how much better than everyone thou art.” Luna said crankily, and the ivory mare smiled a bit before nodding and lifting her eyepatch with telekinesis to carefully slip it on, Luna adding wryly: “And perhaps find thyself a better covering for thy eye. Thou looks a little silly, Freya, with that floppy patch of cloth. Even Big Mac has a better eyepatch than thou does.”

Celestia absently reached up and carefully smoothed out the eyepatch, murmuring: “That's true, isn't it? Well, any excuse to talk to a handsome stallion is a welcome one.”

“Oh shut up, Freya.” Luna huffed and poked at Celestia few times with her soulstone horn, and then winced when Celestia reached up and caught this, then squeezed the spire gently; her expression was compassionate and almost regretful instead of playful, however, as she studied the horn in silence before sighing a bit and smiling faintly.

“We've felt the sting of battle more in these bodies than we ever did as Valkyries.” Celestia said softly, and then she gently released the soulstone horn before smiling a little. “Well, Luna. No one can escape it forever, can we? And I suppose we don't have the tenacity that our old bodies did, either.”

“'Twas nice to be able to reattach limbs without the use of magic.” Luna said wryly, and then she sighed and absently flexed one of her forelegs before looking up with a slight smile. “But I suppose that really, we are very fortunate all-in-all, aye? We have survived things no pony should go through. I suppose if we were luckier, we would not have gone through them at all, but... perhaps this is the price for our livelihood and the great joys we do find and share together.”

Celestia nodded in agreement, giving a small smile as she said softly: “I think you're right, Luna. But if it is... I think it's more than fair. We've lived long, interesting lives that have been very hard at times... but I think all the more worthwhile for it. Right, Scrivener Blooms?”

“That's what I tell myself, anyway. You know, to avoid feeling like my life is really just a complete, miserable train wreck.” the stallion said mildly, and Luna huffed before bopping him gently with her horn, making him wince a little before he shoved lightly at her. “Don't be a butt.”

“Thou art a butt.” Luna huffed, and then she reached up and shoved a hoof into his face, the stallion sighing tiredly as she mashed this against his features before she turned a smile to Celestia. “And thou. Thou art also a butt, Celestia. I demand that thou either rests up here or comes down to spend time with thy family. Thou may flirt with Twilight Sparkle and I can make fun of thee for acting so incestuous. 'Twill be good all around.”

Both Scrivener and Luna felt Twilight's mental sigh at this, and Celestia smiled slightly before she glanced towards her bed and murmured: “Maybe later. For the moment, I think I'm going to... rest my eyes. I mean... my eye.” She shook her head a little, then reached up and touched the patch again. “I don't think I'll ever really get used to that.”

The soul-linked ponies gazed up at Celestia, and then Luna grasped Scrivener's face and shoved him around in a circle, making him wince and stagger with a grumble as she declared: “Thou art being too creepy, Scrivy, cease ogling my sister. 'Tis time for us to go and let her rest, we can play more with Freya afterwards. Be a good colt now, Scrivener Blooms.”

The stallion sighed grumpily, then winced as Luna shoved him out the door before the sapphire mare hesitated and looked over her shoulder, adding quietly to Celestia: “And thou had best take care of thyself, if only for one damned day. Thou hast all my love, big sister.”

The ivory mare smiled softly at this, and then Luna turned and bulled Scrivener Blooms out of the guest room before all-but-flinging him down the steps, the charcoal earth pony staggering wildly for balance before he smacked face-first into the floor and skidded painfully forwards, ending up with his rump in the air.

And then he winced as Luna leapt down and landed awkwardly overtop him, grinning widely with her hooves pinning him down by the center of the back and her body posed awkwardly over his raised rear, the mare saying cheerfully: “Now Scrivy, this is not the time nor the place for that.”

Innocence stared dumbly at her parents as Twilight Sparkle dropped her face in a hoof, and then the stallion sighed tiredly before he mumbled: “Well, at least soon we'll all probably be dead.”

The early morning found Luna Brynhild in full armor, checking over the last of her gear: Sting Mk. III was holstered over her back, and her spear Prúðbikkja was floating beside her, spinning slowly as the alicorn speartip sparked with energy. She was standing out in front of the library, while inside, she could sense Twilight Sparkle having one last quick conversation with Innocence.

The door opened behind her, and Luna smiled over her shoulder as Scrivener Blooms emerged, dressed in his own dark armor and with a saddlebag of equipment hanging on one side. They had no real idea what they were getting into, but they were only bringing minimal gear: their one major advantage was that this wouldn't just be a group of ponies, after all, but instead a unit of exceptionally-powerful and varied creatures.

“I think Bob referred to us as Justice League Dark.” Scrivener said mildly, and then he hesitated before looking over his shoulder, back into the library: Celestia was seated calmly at the table, drinking a cup of tea, and the Agony Pot was rumbling silently nearby. “I'm... a little worried, to be honest, about what's going to happen with that. Especially since it seems like that's going to hatch while we're gone.”

“Hatch. That is not at all a creepy way of putting it, Scrivener Blooms.” Luna said dryly, and the stallion shrugged awkwardly before the sapphire mare sighed and mumbled: “Perhaps 'tis so creepy because it works so well to describe what is happening, though. Nightmare Moon... I still hear her, murmuring away. What dreams come to a Nightmare, I wonder... what dark imaginings cavort through her mind, or is she faced with her own trials and tribulations in the darkness?”

“Stop being poetic.” Scrivener said mildly, and Luna glared at him before she huffed and swung at him with her horn, but the stallion quickly held up a Talon and winced a bit as she dug a faint scratch along the surface of his metallic foreleg, sending up sparks. “Hey, watch it!”

“Thou should watch it. Thou great stupid. Thou art stupid.” Luna grumbled, and then she shook her head quickly before softening as she turned her eyes towards Innocence, who actually looked... almost worried. Of course, it was clear a lot of that was selfish fear, but... all the same, she was still treating Twilight Sparkle... a little better, expressing a little more towards her... “Look at them. It brings me hope, even if... 'tis taking a damned long time.”

“Well, after what Innocence lived through... I'm only surprised she hasn't been more... proactive in getting our attention, really. I'm just glad that she still seems to be in there.” Scrivener said softly, and then he smiled a bit, drawing his eyes along Twilight Sparkle: her body was enshelled in her own full set of armor, to hopefully help it last a little longer. She was also carrying Andlitstingar under one wing: more out of habit than anything else, really.

Luna glanced up with a smile at Prúðbikkja as the weapon swayed back and forth almost pleasantly, and then the sapphire mare chuckled quietly and shook her head slowly, saying wryly as the spear burst into blue flames before shrinking quickly down as it hid itself in her mane: “'Tis nice that my weapon has a sister, though. And that Twilight Sparkle and I can share these, although I do hope that she uses her damned bell. Also, this reminds me. The bell requires a name. 'Tis thy job to come up with the damnable names, do thy job. Shirker.”

Scrivener Blooms sighed at this, rolling his eyes before he said dryly: “How about we call it Luna's Butt? Because that's what it looks like. It has a crack and everything.”

Luna slowly narrowed her eyes at Scrivener Blooms, who cleared his throat before awkwardly turning his gaze away, and there was silence for a few moments before the sapphire mare said sourly: “If we were not heading into another world and a dangerous snare, rest assured, Scrivy, I would be beating thee to a pulp right now.”

“Guys.” Twilight Sparkle said tiredly, and both Luna and Scrivener looked up lamely as the Lich approached the open door, Innocence following uneasily behind her. “I know this is how you work out your stress but... can you try and take things a little more seriously today? We're heading into a pretty rough situation and everything. I'm a little worried.”

The two traded awkward looks, and then Innocence volunteered quickly: “I could come with you, too! I'd... I'd be really happy to, to prove how strong I am and... you know...”

“Thou simply does not want to be stuck here with Antares and Celestia and creepy Nightmare Moon and her creepy egg.” Luna interrupted mildly, and Innocence made a bit of a face before the sapphire mare shrugged and looked meditatively past her daughter towards the approaching ivory mare. “Methinks thou scares my daughter, sister one-eye. I cannot entirely blame her.”

“I used to scare you, too.” Celestia said softly, and Luna opened her mouth... before the ivory mare leaned suddenly forwards, her three swords appearing in flares of golden light positioned around Luna's head, and the sapphire mare froze up as her eyes widened in shock before Celestia winked, and the mismatched triplets withdrew before vanishing from existence one after the other. “I see that I still can, too.”

Luna huffed and grumbled even as a faint blush suffused her cheeks, before all attention was thankfully drawn by a clanking sound and a voice asking sourly: “Are you ready to go, or did you just send these little dollies over to annoy me?”

The sapphire mare rolled her eyes as she turned towards Hecate, who was striding grouchily towards them with the Three Fates half-escorting her. Then Luna couldn't help but grin wryly, noting how Lucy was attached to the mechanical goddess' hip and wrist, chain slack to give her arm plenty of freedom to move. The butt of a massive rifle was sticking up over one shoulder, and the cable-and-lightning mane of the mare was twisting back and forth, betraying maybe a hint of nervousness in spite of her vindictive glower.

“Is that thy autogun?” Luna asked curiously, and then she paused before asking mildly: “If thou has such a contempt for these designs, why art thou bringing it at all? Thou art a giant, metal, angry Celestia. I am somehow certain even Freya would hesitate to quarrel with thee, Hecate, without the fancy toys... or art thou just finally going to confess thy desire to simply smash things?”

“Because even I can take pleasure in the delicious irony of smashing Valthrudnir's 'advanced' technologies with these brutal clubs designed by you savages.” Hecate said distastefully, and then she flexed a metallic claw slowly, adding moodily: “Let's just get moving. We're losing time.”

There was a quiet chuckle at this, and then Luna smiled warmly over at the sight of Kismet approaching, his silver claws gently cradling the tome he always carried as he joined them. “We should take care, not make haste: the enemy moves only as quickly as we ourselves do. It is precision that will make the difference.”

Hecate only looked contemptibly over at Kismet, and then Luna turned around to face Celestia, studying her before she asked quietly: “Will thou be alright here, by thyself?”

“I have Innocence with me, and Antares will be here too, running back and forth between Subterra and Ponyvile... yes, with Prestige. We're going to be careful.” Celestia promised, and Luna nodded hesitantly before she turned around, looking between Kismet and Hecate as the ivory mare stepped past Innocence and up beside her sibling, smiling a little between the two tall entities. “Take care of my sister. And thank you both for doing this.”

“I'm not doing it for anyone other than myself, Celestia.” Hecate said moodily, and then she shook her head before crossing her metal arms, glowering over at Kismet as the death entity simply shrugged. “You're pathetic. This is exactly why you were made into a slave.”

“Not quite, Hecate, but I cannot hold your damaged view of the world against you. Betrayal and hurt can make us wound ourselves worse than any outside force ever could.” Kismet bowed his head towards her politely, and Hecate rolled her eyes before moodily looking away. “Are we waiting on anyone else, Luna Brynhild?”

“Nay. I did desire to ask more, but... 'tis better to leave Morning Glory in Subterra, to protect Taruos and help manage Heaven's army while Terra is still... gone.” The sapphire mare shook her head briefly, murmuring quietly: “Perhaps we should contact the Ironjaw upon our return. They may know how to find her. But then again, for all we know, she could be in some sanctuary, safe and sound.”

“Hel likely knows where Terra is. She just hasn't felt like it was necessary to inform us.” Celestia said quietly, and Luna grunted in agreement before the ivory mare smiled a little. “I think between yourselves you're well-equipped to handle any situation you might get into. Will you be taking any of the Fates with you?”

Luna looked thoughtful at this, turning her eyes hesitantly towards the three strange pseudo-puppets, who all looked eagerly up... and then the sapphire mare shook her head with a grunt. Dusk and Twilight Shadow continued to smile as if their aid hadn't just been rejected, while Myre did shift and look a little downcast... but again, there was that needling question of reflection there, and Luna studied her for a few moments before saying finally: “'Tis better they stay here. The Pious may not make an attack, but... there are many other worries to be had as well.”

“Don't worry, little sister. I'm not going to have too much fun while you're gone.” Celestia said softly, and Luna gave her sibling a wry smile. Then they both reached up a front hoof to punch firmly together, the ivory mare adding quietly: “Don't rush into Heaven without me.”

“Nay, sister, I shan't.” Luna nodded firmly once, then she turned her eyes towards the Fates, asking calmly: “Can thou and thy so-called sisters open the portal for us, Dusk? Or should we call Imago as well?”

“We can open the Bifrost ourselves.” Dusk said calmly, bowing her head politely, and Luna nodded firmly before she simply gestured at the Three Fates, and Dusk and Twilight Shadow both turned with hesitation, raising their heads high. Myre was a little slower to respond, looking for a moment like she wanted to say something, but then she quickly staggered around in a circle as well and joined the other strange servants in starting to focus on their magic.

Innocence bit her lip even as her parents turned their eyes to her, and then Scrivener Blooms said softly: “Be good for Celestia, kiddo. Help her with things around here. Strength... real strength... comes with a lot of responsibility.”

Luna grunted in agreement as Twilight Sparkle smiled a little, and Innocence grumbled as she shifted a bit, mumbling: “I... I know, I'm going to help, I am. I'm not a filly.”

“I know. But we all need a reminder sometimes.” Twilight replied gently, and the strange unicorn smiled awkwardly. “Just do the best you can, okay? I know that'll be more than enough. We'll be counting on you, Innocence.”

There was something in Twilight's tone that made this less patronizing, and more... honest. And it made Innocence blush and drop her head a little, nodding awkwardly a few times before she shifted almost uncomfortably back and forth and pawed a claw nervously at the ground. But Twilight only gave her daughter another reassuring smile before she looked up as Hecate said moodily: “Stop simpering. They've almost opened the portal.”

“I hope thy bucket of bolts body will hold up under the duress of the Bifrost. And Kismet, I look forwards to watching thou run.” Luna added with relish, and Kismet simply half-bowed politely... then simply vanished in a puff of black smoke, and the winged unicorn scowled horribly at this as Scrivener cleared his throat awkwardly. “Oh horrible cheat.”

But before Luna could lament or complain any further, there was a rumble through the air before a cyclone of golden fire tore suddenly and violently up from the ground, smashing into the air itself and shattering it like glass before it transformed into a rainbow shrouded with white flames. And without hesitation, the sapphire winged unicorn lunged forwards, charging straight for this as Twilight and Scrivener followed, Hecate rolling her eyes in distaste before she loped forwards after them, her heavy metal body moving with surprising nimbleness.

They headed up into the hole in reality, passing into it and charging through the tunnel between realities, Hecate cursing as her mane of lightning sparked with a multitude of colors and she grabbed convulsively at her body as she ran. The Bifrost's energies were making her glow, loose pieces of metal twisting upwards like paper to pop free from her form as they rushed onwards.

It was seconds, and it was both too short and too long before they ripped through reality and leapt down the other side of the rainbow bridge, running down the ramp to hit the ground and skid to a halt, Kismet reappearing as Hecate touched the ground last and visibly shrugged off the magic effects of the Bifrost, as the rainbow bridge behind them shattered and dissolved.

Luna looked meditatively back and forth at the wilderness around them: they had landed in some sort of scrubland, sparse and unwelcoming, bordered on all sides by tall and distant cliffs... and... “This does not feel entirely like Equestria. I... I can almost recognize this place, but all the same...”

“Problem.” Hecate interrupted moodily, and Lucy fell to the ground with a heavy clank against the dust and hardened earth, the three ponies turning around as Kismet looked up with palpable sorrow.

The hole in reality hadn't vanished, even though the Bifrost had: on the contrary, it had grown larger, the ends of it flaking as cracks spread through the thin air around it, pulsing like a sick, diseased wound. Luna snarled as a terrible white light started to glow out of the hole, and then she snapped her horn to the side, Prúðbikkja tearing out of her mane and expanding to full size.

Twilight Sparkle and Scrivener Blooms dropped into ready positions on either side of the mare as the stallion dug his claws into the ground, the sandy earth rippling before transforming rapidly into black mire, and Hecate slowly ran Lucy's chain through her metal claws as she narrowed her eyes and smiled coldly. Kismet, meanwhile, simply shifted his tome to one claw as he flicked the other to the side, an ashen wand appearing in it as he said calmly: “If I may make a suggestion... as I am the least suited for combat here, I will do my best to ward our location while you...”

“Deal with the garbage.” Hecate said coldly, and then she smiled ruthlessly as several Pious glided out of the trembling wound in reality, sailing down to the ground with an awful, unnatural grace. “Try and keep at least one alive. I've always wondered whether or not I could make a zealot talk.”

“The heretics. The blasphemers. End their lives, or make them see:make them understand that all must be one with Lord God, and Lord God must become one with all. They will either feel God's Love or God's Wrath.” said one of the Pious softly, and the other two Angels of Greater Heaven immediately lunged forwards, their bony, wing-like appendages seeming to grasp into the air itself to fling them forwards as they stretched their long-fingered hands eagerly forwards-

Lucy smashed directly into the face of one of the angels, knocking it flat on its back before Hecate snarled and lashed the heavy spiked ball down, slamming it into the stomach of the Pious before she jerked the chain hard to the side to try and lash the weapon into another angel.

It caught another Pious across the face, but the third quickly halted and leaned calmly backwards, narrowly avoiding both whipping ball-and-chain and the flung body of the angel that had been caught by the weapon.

Then the Pious flung itself forwards again, and Luna leapt forwards to meet it as Scrivener gritted his teeth: despite its grievous wounds, the Pious that Hecate had crushed into the ground was calmly climbing to its feet, looking as unfettered over the bloody, gaping injuries as a dragon would be over a few bruised scales. And worse, three more Pious managed to leap in through the wound in reality before the hole in the sky shuddered and imploded in a burst of sound.

Prúðbikkja stabbed forwards towards a Pious, but the angel easily caught the spear by the neck before one long, bony wing-frame stabbed viciously down towards Luna's face: the sapphire mare deflected the attack with a flick of her soulstone horn, however, and then the spire flashed as the alicorn speartip at the end of the weapon glowed brightly before unleashing a tremendous surge of energy, lightning ripping through the Pious and setting it aflame, knocking the angel staggering backwards with a hiss of what sounded almost like pain.

Hecate slung the spiked ball forwards again with a cold grin, and when a Pious attempted to dodge, her horn gave a flash to redirect the weapon with telekinesis and slam it directly into the face of the angel, knocking it flat. This time, instead of driving the weapon down into the angel, Hecate yanked Lucy back to her claw as her horn glowed brightly, and massive spikes of rock ripped up from the ground, tearing through the angel and shredding it apart as she said coldly: “They're fragile.”

Scrivener Blooms grunted as he launched several needles of corruption at one of the Pious, keeping it at a distance as Twilight Sparkle snapped her horn out, driving another two backwards with a wave of blue flames. Then both Lich and stallion winced, matching cuts forming along their faces that not just blood, but energy steamed out of, as Luna's own head twisted to the side from being slashed by one of the Pious' wing appendages.

She snarled in fury, despite the fact that part of her was shocked at how much energy she had felt siphoned out from the angel's touch. But fury provided her with more strength as she stabbed her spear violently forwards once, twice, thrice towards the angel, driving the faceless Pious backwards before Luna suddenly leapt forwards as her weapon twisted around in midair, catching it and using it as an axle to swing herself beneath and slam both rear hooves into the face of the angel of Greater Heaven.

The creature was knocked staggering as its features cracked... then its faceless visor shattered like glass as it reached up to cover itself for a moment before slowly raising its head, a single massive, bulbous eye staring out of fish-like gray flesh straight at Luna, as two smaller eyes to either side of this central glaring organ wildly rolled back and forth.

Luna wrinkled her muzzle in disgust: but thanks to the 'anatomical model' Hel had provided them with and Gymbr's own drawings, the only surprise came from how accurate they had both been. All the same, it was a repulsive sight, as the Angel of Greater Heaven straightened and calmly brushed broken visor away... a strange gesture, since the little that remained of the faceless mask was bleeding, like the protective covering was some kind of enormous, tumorous eyelid.

The sapphire mare charged forwards, and the Pious' eyes focused on her as its upper appendages stabbed cruelly down towards her, but Prúðbikkja shot between the mare and the angel and deflected the attack before Luna snapped her horn fiercely forwards, sending a sapphire fireball into the face of the Pious and blowing it off its feet.

As Luna reengaged the angel, Twilight Sparkle ducked under a reaping slash from one Pious' wing-frame, then she flicked her horn, summoning thorny vines and brambles that tore out of the earth and seized around the angel to drag it face-first down into the ground. Immediately, the creature began to tear itself free, seizing into the vines with its long, gangly claws to drain the life out of the organic as its wing appendages slashed and hacked at the ivy around it.

Twilight winced as another Pious quickly leapt in towards her: they were terribly fast and almost shockingly-vicious in spite of how calm and emotionless they seemed. The Lich was barely able to avoid a grab from the creature before its upper limbs slashed towards her in an attempt to rend her head from her shoulders, and the Lich ducked low before arching her back as she let out a snarl of exertion at the spell she unleashed.

A massive blast of earth and stone ripped upwards, sending the Pious rocketing into the air before it flumped bonelessly backwards, and Twilight gasped as she staggered backwards, recoil zapping over her horn. Too late, she realized the other Pious had clawed its way up to its feet and was diving towards her, and she couldn't call up another spell in time, which left-

On instinct, she summoned something her mind had forgotten but her spirit was well-aware of, and as her head twisted to the side, her massive Reaper's Bell appeared in a burst of black smoke before it slammed into the side of the Pious with a crunch like a beetle being crushed underhoof, sending it flopping to the ground before the Lich winced as the bell awkwardly followed the angel down, crashing and rolling over it, flattening what little hadn't been smashed by the initial blow.

Twilight blinked a few times, as Scrivener Blooms did his best to ignore the distraction for now. But even as he slammed both Talons down into the face of a Pious and drove it headfirst into the ground, he made a mental note to harass Twilight Sparkle later as he ducked beneath a wild swing of one wing appendage before driving a metal fist down into the creature's head hard enough to shatter its visor and either kill it or knock it unconscious.

Hecate slung Lucy towards a Pious that had already been badly battered, but the angel knocked the spiked ball aside, despite the fact that its limb was almost torn off its body by the impact of the weapon. All the same, it stumbled into a charge that let it leap forwards and slash a claw down at Hecate, the mechanical goddess snarling in fury as its claw tore through her mane before ripping a gash in her breastplate. “Worthless swine!”

Hecate dropped Lucy as her other claw shot up and seized into the Pious' throat, crushing down and bending it backwards... then grimacing in disgust as, even as she rose her other claw, the Pious' neck snapped from the strength of her grip alone. All the same, she reached forwards and seized it by the face, then forcefully turned its head in one direction as she crushed down and pulled on its neck in the other, causing a grisly ripping sound and a hail of blood to slosh out from the nearly-wrenched-in-half head before she slung the corpse to the ground.

The remaining two Pious both suddenly drew back: one had been flanking Hecate, and the other was covered in stab wounds from fighting Luna. They both seemed like they had lost their taste for combat, though, and for a moment, Luna started to grin... before staring in horror as three massive metal sarcophagi all fell from the sky, crashing down one after the other into the ground as they trembled with malevolent energies.

“Glory be to the True God of Light, he who directs us and instructs our holy mission here in the name of He Of Many Countless Faces. May our sacrifice bring glory to the Light.” both Pious said in perfect synchronization, and then they both calmly reached up and simply tore out their throats in the same moment. They managed to stay standing for a few moments, Luna's eyes widening in disbelief before both bodies toppled backwards in dying sprawls, the wing-frame of one angel stroking down the metal face of one casket.

The three iron maidens groaned, before runes began to ripple up along them as screaming and eager howling sounded from the coffins, all three metal prisons beginning to shake violently. Luna snarled and readied herself before heavy black chains swirled up around one iron maiden, crisscrossing over it as Kismet said clearly from the safe distance he was standing at: “I cannot promise anything, but I will do my best to at least prevent one of these from opening.”

“Damned Great Reaper, what grand help thou art!” Luna growled, but she was grinning slightly all the same as she readied herself. Prúðbikkja rose high as Scrivener dugs his claws into the mire, absorbing energy out of it and feeling his muscles flex and bulge as he bared sharp teeth, and Twilight readied herself on Luna's other side, unconsciously bringing her enormous bell to hover beside her.

Hecate snorted as she dropped the spiked ball to catch the chain, spinning it calmly at her side as her eyes flashed coldly, saying icily as the runes continued to spread along two of the caskets as they vibrated all the harder, but the third fell still as it was sealed by the black chains: “Nephilim, correct? What a waste of their precious resources.”

Howls came from both iron maidens as the runes finished spreading over them, and then flickered out of existence as the prisons popped open. Both coffins fell still, gasping and rasping the only sounds coming from both metal sarcophagi before the doors of both were pushed slowly open as the Nephilim began to unfold themselves from their too-small caskets.

They were both terribly tall, terribly thin, draped in chains as the other had been, but they both had their differences as well: one had draconic, warped features with an uneven mishmash of eyes on either side of its face, clumped and running together like an oil painting that had been splashed with wine. This one gargled, shaking its ugly head back and forth, a single large horn twisting out of one side of its skull and giving it a freakish half-halo that several strips of ripped cloth dangled from.

It had one large, leathery wing that flapped on one side of its body, while the other was just a skeletal, bony frame. There were ugly patches of scale here and there over its body, and Scrivener shivered a bit as he saw what he could become in that monster: half-freak, half-puppet, and now nothing but a mindless thrall bent on hurting others because it had been ordered to.

The other Nephilim was blindfolded and more securely bound, its limbs forcibly folded up in front of its body and chained together, and then its wrists bound by a single large, iron ring that was hooked onto another metal loop on the collar around the beast's neck. This one had some kind of shell-like, jagged-edged protrusion over its back, and long, ragged hair fell around its shoulders as it rasped for breath through oversized jaws, looking back and forth hungrily before its glare settled on Hecate through its blindfold as the mechanical goddess stepped fearlessly forwards.

Without hesitating, Hecate slung Lucy at the monsters... and the weapon bounced off some kind of invisible shielding protecting the blind Nephilim, as the half-dragon one belched smoke and turned its drooling features towards Hecate as well. But the mechanical goddess was unperturbed even as she caught the spiked ball in one steel claw, saying coldly: “Good. Better fodder.”

“Do not underestimate them, Hecate. The Nephilim are strong, even if brittle. Bricks may be crushed but one still does not try to get struck in the face by them.” Luna muttered, and Hecate only snorted as Luna grimaced and then flicked her horn sharply out, sending a blast of lightning hammering into the draconic Nephilim before it chained quickly towards the blind Nephilim.

The blast of electricity only struck the shielding that surrounded the creature, however, uselessly sparking over the translucent shell protecting the creature but making the forcefield around it glow a faint blue, Luna snarling as Hecate said distastefully: “Wonderful. Kinetic and energetic interruption. We'll have to smash through its barrier.”

Twilight opened her mouth to ask a question, but she was cut off as the half-dragon Nephilim roared before charging forwards, leaning aggressively towards the ponies and breathing out a gout of smoke and sulphurous red flame, the violet mare's eyes widening in shock. The monster was burning itself with its own heat and fire, but it clearly didn't care as it charged through its own wreathing path of hellfire, breathing more in their direction-

Scrivener Blooms slammed his Talons into the mire with a grimace, and a wall of black ooze burst up before solidifying into black stone, the flames battering uselessly against this before Luna grinned savagely and snapped her horn downwards as Scrivener focused a raw burst of energy through the wall, shattering it into black splinters that flew in a telekinetic torrent into the charging Nephilim.

The half-dragon was knocked sprawling, but in spite of the shrapnel sticking out of its body, the roar from the creature was clearly more one of frustration than of pain. It shook back and forth on the ground as Luna began to lean forwards, but then she and Twilight Sparkle were both driven backwards by a scream from the blind Nephilim that tore into their minds and made their horns spark painfully with toxic energies.

The sapphire mare shook her head wildly back and forth, her senses reeling, nausea ripping through her stomach as Scrivener Blooms gritted his teeth... and then, to his surprise, Lucy shot past the stallion's head and smashed into the invisible barrier, bouncing off it before Hecate lashed the chain down to strike the forcefield hard enough with the spiked ball to leave cracks in it. But the damage to the shield healed almost immediately, even if the blind Nephilim turned its attention back towards the metallic goddess and unleashed another focused, sonic scream.

Hecate grimaced, her mane sparking and her horn pulsing once, but then she replied by simply flinging Lucy forwards again, hammering into the forcefield and making the blind Nephilim hiss as it winced away from the impact to its protective shell. “It's not antimagic, but you weak little ponies are so sensitive that-”

She was interrupted by a blast of flames ripping up beneath her metal hooves, knocking her staggering backwards with a squeal of machinery before she stomped down and steadied herself, glaring furiously at the half-dragon Nephilim as it hissed loudly, its claws buried into the ground as cracks pulsed with magmatic light in the earth around it. Hecate snarled, then flung Lucy at the Nephilim's face: the spiked ball crashed into this with a sickening crack, almost knocking it onto its side, but one of the half-angel's claws shot up lightning fast and seized the chain just behind the spiked ball, the Nephilim hissing in fury before yanking viciously on this.

Hecate seized the chain anchored to her wrist with one claw, jerking back on it with a snarl as her metallic body flexed and machinery growled beneath her steel shell, as Luna and Twilight shook off the last of the poisonous magic. Then the sapphire mare glanced quickly at the Lich, who nodded sharply to the mental order she received, picking up her heavy bell with only a thought and rushing quickly off to the side.

The blind Nephilim howled at Hecate: one long, awful, focused scream that almost made the air literally ripple, and Hecate roared in frustration and pain as her body quivered, electricity sparking here and there over her metal form as the other Nephilim hauled itself up to its feet by the chain of her weapon and began to slowly drag itself closer to her, snarling as it yanked hand-over-hand towards the goddess. And Hecate couldn't lash out with magic, was almost paralyzed by the screaming angel as the half-dragon slowly closed in, growling eagerly all the while.

Scrivener Blooms gritted his teeth before he slammed his Talons into the ground, a black ripple tearing through the earth before the ground exploded upwards beneath the half-dragon, massive black spikes of crystallized mire ripping up into its stomach as it howled in misery and dropped the chain. Hecate's eyes widened, and Scrivener began to lean forwards... then arched his back with a howl of agony as the blind Nephilim dragged its hypersonic, focused howl away from Hecate to instead wash over the charcoal earth pony, grabbing at his ears and shaking his head wildly back and forth as Luna staggered and Twilight gargled, stumbling stupidly and nearly falling on her face as her heavy bell clanked down to the ground beside her.

The half-dragon Nephilim turned towards Scrivener with a snarl even as it hugged itself with one arm, almost falling over as it tore itself off the spikes and turned towards the stallion. It began to open its maw... and then Hecate snapped Lucy up off the ground and swung it viciously out as the sphere at the end glowed with telekinesis, the chain wrapping several times around the Nephilim's throat before the spiked ball smacked into the skull of the half-dragon, and then the monster was yanked down to the ground with a squeal before beginning to scream and convulse as electricity burst out of the sphere and sparked violently along the chain.

The blind Nephilim turned back towards Hecate, gasping for breath for a moment before leaning forwards and screaming at her, and the mechanical goddess cursed but refused to give in this time, slowly beginning to drag the tormenting, electrified half-dragon towards her. The blind Nephilim's screams turned into a snarl, and then it anchored itself before howling viciously at Hecate, the waves of force and sound almost knocking her off her metal hooves as lightning sparked around her collar and over her trembling steel body.

Machinery began to grind and whine inside of her, her frame jittering, plates of metal starting to come loose as the half-dragon Nephilim gurgled on the ground and slowly started to try and pull itself loose... and then Twilight Sparkle's bell slammed into the back of the blind Nephilim's shield, the ring sounding even over the screams and cutting the monster off as it hissed loudly and flexed as if in pain, arching its back as cracks formed through the forcefield around it before Twilight Sparkle snarled and slammed her massive Reaper's Bell into the shield again with all the strength she could muster.

The forcefield shattered in a blast of energy, Twilight Sparkle and her instrument both flung high into the air before they crashed down one after the other, the Lich flinching in pain as the massive bell sounded and sent vibrations rippling through her very spirit. But the blind Nephilim fell to its knees with a gasp, blood running from beneath its blindfold as it shivered, paralyzed for a moment.

Hecate grinned savagely at this, then she roared as she yanked back on the chain, ripping the limp half-dragon into the air and yanking him past her before she stepped forwards and swung the weapon down on a cruel arc, the Nephilim's neck snapping before it crashed down into its blind kindred.

There was a sickening crunch... and then a tremendous double-blast: first of fire, then of sound and force. The ponies were knocked sprawling as Hecate covered her face with a forearm and a grimace, Lucy shooting out of the pillar of flames that spiraled up towards the sky before she absently yanked her arm to the side and swung the spiked ball down into the ground with a thud nearby, not caring that she almost clobbered Luna with it.

Scrivener, Twilight, and Luna could only stare at the pillar of flame that was still erupting towards the sky, smaller blasts sounding now and then throughout it as a long, awful cry of agony and hatred and... perhaps the faintest bit of relief rose up from the firestorm. They watched as it twisted into a tornado that spun lazily on the spot before beginning to spread outwards... but as it spread, it lost cohesion, fading even as it grew until it was nothing but embers floating harmlessly down through the sky, as the sound of the eruption faded slowly from the air.

Scrivener and Luna traded dumb looks as Twilight Sparkle shook herself briefly out, then she blinked a few times and slowly rubbed at her face, asking hesitantly: “Is... is everyone alright?”

Hecate grunted, and Kismet nodded politely to the Lich, replying as he lowered his wand: “For the moment. But we still have one difficulty to take care of, and my seals will not last forever.”

Twilight looked uneasily towards the iron maidens: one of them had been torn to pieces by the storm of fire and sound, but the other two had both simply been battered backwards: one lay sprawled with its doors open, and the other was trembling on its back, faint gargles coming from inside it as the black chains holding it shut rippled strangely. But Twilight could sense the magic was starting to give out, and when it did, the iron maiden would probably start to open again...

“The tormented soul inside is contained more by magic than by metal. Its powers are suppressed within the cage... this is our best and only chance to offer it a quick release.” Kismet said quietly, and Twilight frowned as she looked over at the Great Reaper, but he simply shook his head and gazed back towards the Lich with softness in his glowing golden eyes. “It is not something I would promote if we had another choice; but the other choice in this matter would leave us in grave danger. I cannot disrupt the magic in this air for much longer, any more than I can keep the creature caged forever. Do it a kindness: release it.”

“I'll do it.” Hecate said coldly, raising a claw, but Luna shook her head and strode forwards, glowering at the mechanical goddess.

“Nay, we shall do it. And we shall do it quickly.” Luna muttered, shaking her head briefly as she strode over to the iron maiden, and then she carefully rose Prúðbikkja as she stood over the casket. All the same, she hesitated for a moment, then closed her eyes and murmured a quiet prayer before taking a slow breath and simply stabbing the spear viciously downwards.

It pierced through the metal casket, sank into something soft beneath, and there was a pitiable moan before Luna gritted her teeth, Twilight closing her eyes tightly and Scrivener's features tightening almost imperceptibly as electricity flooded down the spear and through the Nephilim trapped inside the iron maiden. It wailed... and then simply sighed, and there was no thunderous boom this time, but instead a noise like water shifting and sludge spilling apart.

And then Luna yanked her spear back as the black chains holding the casket closed turned to smoke, before the sapphire mare looked grimly up as Kismet said softly: “Requiescat in pace. Come, friends. Let us make haste before we are tracked by the blind zealots.”

Luna nodded with a grunt, Prúðbikkja spinning once before falling to the ready beside her as Twilight and Scrivener both nodded, the mare's heavy bell vanishing in a pall of smoke. And as they walked away, Hecate paused briefly to reel Lucy up to one claw, her eyes moodily studying the iron maiden before she muttered: “How pathetic.”

With that, the mechanical goddess kicked the side of the iron maiden, then strode after the others, rolling her shoulders moodily as she rose her head high, only hoping that Valthrudnir's machinations would prove a better challenge.

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