• Published 7th Sep 2013
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Glory Be - BlackRoseRaven

Luna and Scrivener struggle to set right all the wrongs from their past and save their family and friends. Tenth and final story in the Blooming Moon Chronicles/99 Worlds Saga.

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The Suffering

Chapter Fifty Seven: The Suffering

The wasteland wasn't completely inhospitable: there were small animals here and there, mostly scavengers and insect-feeders, as well as some bushes of berries, some weird-looking trees with wide, fern-like leaves, a few bits of brush amongst the scrub. The afternoon sun seemed... distant from these plains, leaving it feeling dry and cool instead of hot despite the fact so much looked choked and thirsty, like it had been a long, long time since these plains had seen any rain.

There were no signs of intelligent life, however: no griffins, no ponies, no nothing else. So it made finding the monolithic structure sitting out in the middle of nowhere a relatively easy task: with this particular piece of nowhere flat all the way to the border of cliffs that could be miles and miles away still, the geometric step pyramid was quite easy to find and close in on.

The group stood at the foot of this, around the weedy base of the stained and weatherbeaten stone structure, and then Scrivener Blooms said wryly: “If I didn't know this was made by Valthrudnir, I'd think it was some leftover piece of some ancient civilization.”

“It was. Valthrudnir just repurposed it, that's all.” Hecate said moodily, and then she pointed calmly at one of the pictographs etched along the bottom section of the pyramid. “This was originally a burial temple for the tribes that existed before ponies did. Valthrudnir did some pathetic, lackadaisical research into their evolution, but as always, he figured he was intelligent enough to simply know everything already. I was the one who was assigned all the actual research.”

“As if thou art complaining. Every Celestia I have met has been a great nerd.” Luna muttered, and Hecate looked sourly at the sapphire mare. Luna only shrugged, however, then looked curiously back and forth between Twilight Sparkle and Scrivener Blooms. “So friends. Thoughts?”

Scrivener glanced up over the structure: the step pyramid had five distinct levels to it, including the small, square top, and the actual set of stairs running up its face had half-crumbled away. “It looks beaten up. Is this really...”

“Maybe the rest of you can't sense it, but I can. There's a very loathsome energy emanating from this building.” Hecate said distastefully, glaring over at them. “And for another thing, this is the only structure sitting out here.”

“Hecate is correct. Do not search for magic energy, it is not that: feel with your senses, it is a sense of... slow decay. Pain, and suffering. The abuse of death.” Kismet said softly, squeezing his tome slowly between his silver claws before he shook his head slowly. “But perhaps I am better able to sense it not only because of my own nature, but because of the method by which this corruption of the cycle was sealed...”

Hecate smiled coldly over at the Great Reaper, saying moodily: “What's wrong, Great Reaper? Dislike seeing your own arts bastardized?”

“Yes.” Kismet replied simply, and Hecate glowered a little, clearly not expecting such an honest response before the Great Reaper said quietly: “We should not dally, though. The Pious will be upon us again... and a place like this, I desire to have as little to do with it as possible.”

Twilight nodded a little, looking uneasily up the steps before Luna sighed softly. Scrivener Blooms could feel her hesitation and worries, heard her going over in her mind what Hel had told them before... and then he shook his own head slowly, looking over at Kismet and asking finally: “So are you going to be able to... go in there?”

“I do not think so, but I can still be of assistance. Let us wait until we reach the top, though, Scrivener Blooms: once I know more about what we are dealing with, I can be of better service.” Kismet replied gently, and the stallion nodded a little, the group falling into silence as they continued to ascend the stairs.

The top of the pyramid was rather small: perhaps a twenty foot square space, and in the center of this was what looked only like a recessed well. This was filled with muck and moss, but with a disdainful flick of her claw, Hecate set the gunk aflame, burning the fungi to ash and evaporating the slime and murky liquids.

This circular hole was only a foot or so deep, but it was floored with what was clearly some kind of gleaming metal cap, that unlike the rest of the structure seemed pristine and polished. Luna scowled at this as Kismet reached up and rubbed at his chin slowly, and Twilight felt something in her mind before she leaned forwards and narrowed her eyes as they glowed faintly.

Then her eyes widened slightly as she saw a mess of runes made out of dancing, ghostly flames written over the cap, Scrivener and Luna looking curiously at the Lich as she mumbled: “I see... something... but the language is ancient, I can't make it out...”

“They are symbols used by the Great Reapers, used to seal away souls. But I suspect this vortex beneath us must be made of spiritual energy, twisted into a sub-dimensional space...” Kismet shook his head slowly. “What a terrible waste of life.”

“No waste at all.” Hecate smiled callously. “It's a self-collapsing dimensional rift, absorbing whatever souls are stupid enough to wander inside, and with a nasty defense mechanism in place in the event it's left open. I expect this covering is designed to close behind whoever opens it... but just in case it's ever torn off by some idiot soul, the rift itself will collapse after being open for so long and all that spiritual energy will cause a massive explosion of magic energy.”

“Hel said something about... how only Twilight Sparkle could do this, because she's a Lich and anchored to us. That even the Fates, because they're not truly...” Scrivener Blooms looked awkwardly at the violet mare. “Undead... or, you know...”

Kismet nodded calmly, saying softly: “A living being that enters the vortex would be torn apart. The flowing spiritual energy is likely charged: imagine a thousand powerful magnets lining a single shaft, and a small, brittle piece of metal dropped into the center of that. Now imagine those magnets are constantly spinning, and sharp, and burning hot.”

Scrivener winced a little, and Hecate rolled her eyes before she added distastefully: “But Twilight Sparkle doesn't emit the same energy. To play on the death entity's metaphor, she's not magnetic. But all the same, the force of energy inside that shaft is going to be tremendous. There will be no gravity, no real sense of up or down, and constant surges of power... not to mention whatever other defenses Valthrudnir has in store.”

“Zombies.” Luna said moodily, and then she looked uneasily at Twilight Sparkle, asking finally: “So she... she will be able to pass into the breach... but thou art saying...”

Kismet glanced over at the cap, then easily held a claw out and simply made a rising gesture: Luna, Scrivener, and Twilight all winced backwards in surprise at the screams that echoed through the air as the heavy steel cap slowly rose, chains attached to the bottom of the heavy metal cork jingling loudly before the death entity grimaced at the glow of energy that thrummed out of the hole.

Then he simply relaxed his hand, and the cap fell back into place with a clang, cutting off the shrieks and the pulse of sickly energies as he murmured: “No. Twilight Sparkle will not be able to use any great feats of magic. Small spells, perhaps, but... I do not know if that will be enough to allow you to defend yourself adequately.”

Twilight shivered a little, before Kismet said softly: “I cannot enter the vortex safely. I will be able to survive for a longer period of time than either of you, but ultimately, it will result in my demise. But I can still be of assistance through another means.”

With that, his eyes flicked towards Luna, gesturing gently towards Scrivener Blooms. “For a short period of time, I can transfer your life energy into your husband's body, as you are both already linked. He will act as a phylactery, and you will not be a proper Lich... but living dead all the same. Or close enough, at the least.”

Luna stared dumbly up at Kismet, blinking slowly as Twilight winced and then shook her head almost desperately, saying hurriedly: “No, no, I won't... I don't want Luna to become like me, to go through what I do-”

Kismet chuckled quietly at this, turning a tender look on Twilight as he held up a claw and said gently: “There is no need to fear, Twilight Sparkle, I would not betray the cycle, nor would I hurt you or Luna Brynhild in such a way. It would be a temporary change: you must avoid serious injury to your body, but for a short time very, very little physical damage would transfer between yourself and Scrivener Blooms. Within a few days, your energies would naturally begin to return to you: you would regenerate from a state of undeath.”

Luna nodded hesitantly, and then she looked over at Twilight Sparkle before smiling faintly and saying softly: “'Twill be fine. I trust the death entity...” Luna turned her eyes towards Kismet, looking up at him steadily. “And I am ready to do this. I desire to do this.”

The Great Reaper nodded calmly, and Hecate rolled her eyes in distaste before saying moodily: “Just ensure that no matter what happens, you retrieve the bomb. You have a limited amount of time to do so before the rift begins to collapse on itself.”

“Can thou not simply shut it?” Luna asked curiously, and Twilight winced at this thought even before the Great Reaper answered.

“That would be a grave error. Allowing that cap to close will cut off both yourself and Twilight Sparkle from Scrivener Blooms, and render you both... unwell.” Kismet paused, then he added in a softer voice: “Whenever you are ready to begin, we shall. Bear in mind that while you shall not feel pain, nor will physical wounds harm you... your body will heal much more slowly. Scrivener Blooms, this may have... peculiar effects on you, as well.”

“I just wish I could go with them. No, let's do this.” Scrivener Blooms said softly, looking up before he gave a small, reassuring smile to Twilight Sparkle. “Hey, don't worry, okay? Just take care of each other and... come back... you know, sort of alive.”

“Thanks, Scrivy. You always know just what to say.” Twilight Sparkle smiled faintly all the same, then she stepped forwards and traded a quick hug with him before Luna did the same.

The sapphire mare nestled her head against him for a moment, and Scrivener's face pressed into her starry mane, the ephemeral locks twisting and flowing silently around his head before he sighed softly as they pulled apart. They gazed into each other's eyes, trading a swirl of thoughts and emotions before she bit her lip and then looked over at Kismet, saying quietly: “Do it, Great Reaper. Fill my husband with my essence. Perhaps 'twill make a stallion out of him.”

Scrivener smiled a bit despite himself as Hecate rubbed slowly at her face as if pained, and Kismet said softly even as he rose one metallic claw: “I have always admired your ability to deflect even in the most straining of situations.”

Luna began to open her mouth... and then she gasped as a mist of energy began to bleed out of her body, twisting and snaking through the air to ram into Scrivener Blooms. The stallion's eyes widened as it surrounded and encased him like an aura, and then he gritted his teeth as he felt his nerves lighting up and a sensation like a thousand tiny ants were attempting to burrow their way into his body at once, trembling and cursing in pain as he shook his head back and forth.

The sapphire mare, meanwhile, had her back arched, her sapphire mare swirling violently before it began to pale, the color fading from it as she felt numbness and a terrible hollow sensation twist through her body. But in moments, it was gone as she dropped her head forwards with her teeth grit, breathing hard in and out before she simply... stopped.

Panting had been voluntary, a tic, an urge... now, she didn't breathe, and didn't feel her lungs working... or aching, for that matter. There was no pulse in her chest, no clench of her stomach, no tingle in her nerves... but when she flexed, her muscles rippled, and when she moved, her body responded as if was light as air. When she inhaled, her lungs ballooned... but then simply held the oxygen, neither begging for release nor relief.

Luna's pale, ghostly mane whispered around her, a lighter blue now, more misty than it had been. She shook her head briefly, then reached up and silently touched this before saying softly: “I feel... I do not know...”

She began to look up towards Scrivener... then halted as she realized she didn't need the eye contact to send her thoughts, to make him feel her emotions. The moment her mind began to turn towards him, she sensed his presence all around her, and it made her smile, and feel comforted, and instantly able to share everything she wanted to with him. He felt... stronger, and she felt more dedicated, more in love with him, more like she needed him...

She licked her lips slowly, drawing her eyes towards the stallion and understanding it was all the effect of the soul link as she murmured quietly: “Damned mare-hating poet. I hope thou art happy with us all but crawling all over thy mind.”

Scrivener Blooms only smiled a bit as he shivered a little, then he reached up and silently touched his own breast. He felt... he felt strong, and strange, and almost alien to himself. He felt like all of Luna's passion had been pushed into his body, and he felt like he had been gifted with the power he'd always longed for: the strength to protect her.

Luna licked her lips slowly, then shivered before she thoughtfully flicked her mane: Prúðbikkja spun out of it, reacting her her as naturally as it always had, and Twilight Sparkle stared at the sapphire mare for a moment before shaking her head violently, beginning a little too late: “No, wait, you don't-”

The spear violently extended to full length and slammed home into Luna's body, in the thin niche between breastplate and collar. She gritted her teeth, shivering for a moment before the spear glowed as it shoved deeper... and then Luna grinned widely, her eyes glowing with eerie light as she said delightedly: “I cannot feel it at all!”

“Luna just... you just. You just stabbed yourself in the heart. Are you trying to kill yourself and Scrivener?” Twilight asked in an exasperated voice, and then she added, wincing a bit as the sapphire mare turned towards her with a cheerful grin and the spear still sticking high out of her body at an angle: “You can't do things like that, especially if you're supposed to have enough of you left over to heal at the end of-”

“Enough.” Hecate snapped, and then the metallic goddess strode moodily forwards, reaching out as she passed to seize Luna's spear and rip it firmly out of her body. Luna huffed,then shouted in consternation as the mechanical goddess slammed the spear home into the lip of the metal cork, using it to lever the cap firmly out of place before she grabbed the loose metal with telekinesis and firmly jerked it up out of the well.

The chains jangled before Hecate flung it aside, one of the tethers snapping but the others managing to hold tight as the cap landed on the side of the now-open well. Screams and eldritch light shone up out of the vortex as the machine-bodied mare looked coldly up, saying moodily: “Let's not waste time. Get in there before I throw you in there myself.”

Scrivener grimaced as Twilight winced, but Luna only looked coolly, challengingly back before giving a calm smile. The sapphire mare strode to the edge of the abyss, then looked down inside, taking her spear back from Hecate with only a flick of her horn as she murmured: “By the Aesir.”

The shaft was a straight drop down countless feet, massive arcs of energy shooting back and forth throughout the passage, which was walled with swirling, toxic-looking energy that spiraled eternally downwards. The light and depth made it impossible to see the bottom of the well, and Luna shook her head slowly before she grinned wryly over her shoulder at Twilight Sparkle as the Lich approached, before Hecate snapped: “In case you weren't paying attention, this rift is going to erupt in a burst of energy that will kill us all if you are not fast. Five minutes!”

“Four.” Luna replied confidently, and then she dove fearlessly into the hole, and Twilight Sparkle followed her a moment later. Almost immediately after the two deathless ponies threw themselves into the rift, the metal cap began to shudder violently before the chains started to tense and drag it back into place, but Hecate only stomped one metal leg down, one tether shattering and her immovable limb halting the cap from sliding any further towards the opening.

Scrivener strode towards the edge of the hole to gaze down into it, as Kismet laced his hands together and bowed his head, praying silently. The stallion smiled a little at this, feeling... confident in his partners; more than that, feeling like no matter what happened, it was going to be okay. Because no matter what, he could feel Luna with him... just as he could sense Twilight there, too, like they were both still right there, in his embrace.

As they propelled themselves down through the tunnel, the Lich shivered a bit before she tossed a look at Luna, biting her lip. She could feel the energies nipping at her, could feel it causing a faint ripple of static up and down her horn that made it hard to concentrate, but Luna was still grinning widely, her eyes glowing... and Twilight could understand. Because at first, when you woke up like this... you were invincible. You were indestructible. No one could hurt you, and you were both as powerful as you believed and you believed you were powerful.

That was before everything else started to set in: Luna wasn't going to experience being shunned, or being alone, or how your emotions were the same they'd ever been. And Twilight Sparkle looked down for a moment before she said suddenly to Luna: “Keep focused.”

Luna looked surprised at this, and at the violet mare's tone... but then some of the unnatural light faded from her eyes, and she nodded shortly, becoming more serious. She took her mind out of where she had almost been drawn towards toying with Scrivener while reveling in her power, to the situation at hoof as they shot down through the tunnel... before the sapphire mare gritted her teeth and pointed ahead with her spear, shouting: “There!”

Twilight thought – and hoped – she was gesturing towards the artifact they were searching for: unfortunately for her, what Luna was indicating instead was some wretched thing forcefully tearing itself out of the wall of energy. It looked like a Pegasus, dressed in the torn remains of explorer's clothing, the mare looking up with a rasping hiss and lifeless, dead eyes as it flapped its wings eagerly and launched itself towards them.

Luna and Twilight both felt it: the Pegasus' life was long gone, and instead it was filled with the same energies that swirled through this entire rift. And without hesitation, the sapphire mare stabbed Prúðbikkja outwards the moment the Pegasus drew close, tearing through its skull before she twisted and flung the corpse backwards.

But the body went limp only for a moment before it spun around with a gurgle, the wound glowing with energy as it rapidly began to heal. Luna cursed, and Twilight looked back and forth with a wince as more of the puppets began to emerge from the walls, ripping themselves out of the energy as the violet mare shouted: “Luna, they're going to block us in!”

“Let them try, we must get that weapon!” Luna replied sharply, the sapphire mare propelling herself fiercely downwards as Twilight raced after her. Then the Lich winced, barely able to snap her horn to the side to blow a zombie into the wall with telekinesis when it shot down towards her: these were nothing like any zombies she had ever come across before, though, or even read about. They were fast, vicious, and flew through the air with the ease of wraiths.

Luna's spear snapped to the side and batted another monster away, then her horn glowed as she lashed it out and blasted apart another zombie with a lash of psychokinetic wrath. But the creatures were fast to catch themselves and lunge forwards, eagerly pursuing the two down the tunnel even as the sapphire mare forced herself to glance sharply ahead.

Her eyes widened slightly before she shouted: “There! There it is, that platform must... and damnation, look!”

Twilight blasted another zombie backwards, sending it bouncing off a trio of the ghouls and knocking them all scattering upwards through the weightless air before she looked forwards and stared in horror. Not at the platform with the large, oval-gray device placed on a large pedestal... but past it, at where the swirling walls of energy converged into a tight whirlpool. And as they drew closer, Twilight could more and more feel the pull wanting to yank them down, gritting her teeth as she veered towards the platform and Luna did the same-

The violet mare caught a spark. A faint, small spark, a ripple in reality... and she realized what was wrong just a moment before it was too late, the Lich suddenly turning to slam into Luna and seize her by the shoulders, jerking her backwards. They didn't stop, but they slowed... and were immediately slammed into by three overeager zombies, Luna shouting in frustration as she and Twilight tumbled and attempted to fling the monsters off as they grabbed and clawed at them eagerly.

Finally, Prúðbikkja stabbed upwards, ripping through the body of one zombie before half-twisting and slinging viciously to the side, smashing into a second and sending both it and the impaled undead flying through the air. The last zombie Luna simply shrugged off her back and flung hard down towards the platform, at the same time opening her mouth to ask Twilight what the hell was the matter, but her question was answered before she could even begin it as the zombie she'd flung went straight through the platform.

The zombie hit the maelstrom behind the illusion, and it screamed and reached upwards before it seemed to simply vanish from existence. Luna winced at this, then realized she and Twilight were still in the grips of the maelstrom's pull, the sapphire mare cursing under her breath before she asked sharply: “Have we ever practiced orbiting?”

“Luna, this is a really stupid idea!” Twilight winced, but all the same she grasped the butt of Prúðbikkja, knowing there wasn't really time to think or argue. The zombies were coming down from above, and they were being dragged towards the whirlpool below, and in only a few seconds they would end up swarmed from one side or devoured by the other...

So Twilight didn't argue: she simply wrapped one foreleg around the spear as tightly as she could before Luna growled, seizing the neck of the spear with her front hooves as well as telekinesis, and then she leaned down and roared as she forcefully yanked Twilight on an arc, the violet mare yelling as she was swept down towards the illusionary platform and the hopefully-real egg-shape on it, spreading her wings and swinging a hoof out as she felt the hungry yank of the vortex beneath her-

Her hoof seized the bomb, and as Luna turned and hauled her upwards, Twilight flapped her wings wildly and then flung herself up towards the horde of zombies, clutching the large egg-shape against her chest as she snapped her horn down and released all the magic she could in a single powerful blast. In this atmosphere, she couldn't focus on any spells, but the pure power behind her wild blast was enough to send zombies flying in all directions and open a path upwards.

Twilight shot up through the air, and Luna followed beside her, the sapphire mare grinning widely before she held out a hoof, and the violet mare gladly passed the egg over to her so she could concentrate on flying. Both ponies rose through the swirling tunnel of energy, Luna's spear swinging back and forth to slap zombies aside as Twilight flicked her horn out, expending the little spare energy she had left to blast away other undead emerging from the walls before she turned her eyes upwards, locking on the sight of the exit growing nearer, nearer, nearer...

A zombie lunged at Luna, and the sapphire mare snapped her horn to the side, blasting it away. Twilight winced at this, looking down at the horde of monsters surging up the tunnel after them before glancing in Luna's direction when another zombie shot upwards, the sapphire mare stabbing the butt of her weapon down to smash in the skull of another creature... and completely missing the sight of a zombie pushing out of the wall above her.

She looked up too late as it lunged, tackling her and knocking her into the sapphire mare, who shouted as she was sent to the side before she grit her teeth, beginning to spin around... but Twilight Sparkle managed to sling the zombie off, despite the fact it ripped a swathe through one of her wings. All the same, in this weightless world, they were both able to lunge upwards with little trouble again, more like they were rising to the surface of a flooded well than hurtling through the air, before both ponies gasped as they slammed up into the cold air of reality.

Luna grinned in exhilaration, and Twilight Sparkle began to laugh even as she bobbed awkwardly through the air with her hurt wing... and then claws ripped up through the vortex, seizing into her, and the violet mare cried out in horror before she was jerked savagely down and back into the rift as Hecate snarled and Scrivener shouted in denial.

The sapphire mare began to turn... and her mane was caught by Hecate before she could dive forwards, the mechanical mare jerking her backwards as she shouted: “The rift is going to implode if it's left open for much longer, and you are not going to endanger the weapon we worked so hard to get, idiot slave hoof!”

“I will not abandon Twilight Sparkle!” Luna shouted furiously, raising the large gray egg as if to fling it into Hecate's face... and then all eyes were only able to stare as Kismet dove fearlessly into the rift, as unhesitating and direct as ever.

The Great Reaper looked calmly forwards as he focused on the Lich, who was flailing helplessly in the grips of a horde of zombies as they dragged her down, down, down the length of the energized shaft. Kismet's glowing eyes sharpened, streamlining his body as much as possible as he flicked his wrist to create a wand of ash, even as he felt the insidious energies of the rift beginning to slowly tear at the fabric of his body and suck his energy out of his frame.

Several zombies looked up from the group swarming Twilight, then launched themselves upwards: soulless, dead-bodied ponies that raced without life towards living death. Kismet narrowed his eyes at their approach, grip tightening on his wand before he quickly pointed the implement towards the closest.

A blast of white light hammered into it, knocking the soulless creature backwards and leaving it floating helplessly, the energy hammered out of its form. And without hesitation, Kismet's free claw shot out as another zombie lunged straight at him, the Great Reaper catching it by the face before the zombie burst into black flames, and the death entity slung the burning corpse straight down into another undead pony, blowing both of them apart.

Twilight Sparkle lunged upwards, jerking back on the horde trying to drag her down like a sacrifice for the whirlpool at the bottom of the pit, and her horn glowed brightly before she gave a cry and snapped it hard upwards, a surge of magic ripping through the world around her with enough force to knock plates loose from her own armor and fling zombies in all directions. Some of these were knocked senseless while others eagerly lunged at her again, but even as one seized into her, the other two were blown away by jets of black flame.

Twilight flung the last zombie off with a curse, even as it seized into one of her wings and managed to rip the appendage off with it, before the violet mare looked up as Kismet stretched a silver claw towards her. And the Lich reacted immediately on instinct, reaching her own hoof up to tightly seize the death entity's hand.

Kismet gracefully twisted his body around as he lashed his wand downwards, and there was a tremendous blast before she felt them launched violently upwards by magic, leaving a streak of dark smoke behind them as they shot upwards through the weightless air and back towards the exit. Twilight Sparkle laughed in relief, a grin cresting her face, daring to think they were going to escape...

And below, the zombies snarled up after their quarry before suddenly twisting to the side, lunging into the walls of energy itself. And in only moments, in flashes of life, the living corpses began to rip out of the walls all around the death entity and the Lich, grabbing into both of them, ripping at them with their claws, eagerly trying to block up the passage above.

Twilight jerked back and forth as Kismet shifted and tried to fling the monsters off, his wand glowing as he lashed it across zombies and batted them away. Then the death entity cursed, feeling both his energies rapidly dwindling as well as the monsters drawn to him purely because of what he was: a Great Reaper, in the abyss of the undead.

He looked up: the exit was above, so close... but so far, too. And more zombies were flooding in, grasping into his robes, ripping into his body as they tore and gouged and grabbed at Twilight Sparkle as well. There was nothing he could do for them both, and their numbers seemed endless, their bodies all-but-indestructible in this vast pit of energy...

So Kismet did the only thing that he could do: he took one last look at Twilight Sparkle, then said softly, despite the ripping claws and hooves, the jaws biting at him, the dead bodies surging forwards on all sides: “Good luck, child.”

With that, the Great Reaper gave a grunt as he flung the Lich upwards as hard as he could, and Twilight shot through the mass of bodies, spiraling out of control with a cry of disbelief and denial before she looked down; she looked down, and she saw the Great Reaper gazing up at her through a mask that was already beginning to rust and peel, but his eyes were smiling and kind in spite of the countless mindless thralls screaming and grabbing at him like animals before he pointed his wand upwards even as the Lich desperately turned to try and fling herself down towards the Great Reaper.

Instead, a blue flare shot from the Great Reaper's wand and smashed into Twilight, driving her upwards before it exploded: not with fire, but raw force that launched the Lich hurtling upwards even as she cried out in denial. She was barely aware of when she passed back into the real world, flipping wildly before she crashed bonelessly down into the stone roof... and then Hecate seized the cap of steel, and without hesitation, flung it forwards and let it slam into place over the shaft, cutting off the undead, the screams, the wildly-pulsing energy... and Kismet.

Twilight screamed as she shoved herself up to her hooves, and Luna and Scrivener both snarled... and yet they knew. Even before Hecate glared at them, they knew; they knew, even before the machine goddess argued in her implacable voice: “He's already gone, and the only thing we can do is not die with him.”

“Open it back up, open it back up! We can save him!” Twilight shouted, stepping forwards, not noticing her bloody stump of wing, her broken armor, the scratches and bite marks covering her body and face... and then her head wrenched to the side as Hecate backhanded her, the violet mare trembling as tears filled her eyes before she swallowed thickly and looked up at the cold, sallow immortal.

“No.” Hecate said coldly, and then she straightened and turned towards Luna Brynhild, holding out a claw and almost ordering: “Give me the explosive. I'll check it over and transport it.”

Luna looked up at Hecate, wanting to lash out, to hurt her, to do... a thousand awful things... but instead, the sapphire mare only shook her head and forced herself to calm down, gritting her teeth before she slung the explosive upwards. Hecate caught it and looked down at it as her horn glowed, and Twilight trembled before she clenched her eyes shut and dropped her head forwards, biting back a sob.

The sapphire mare and the charcoal stallion gazed over at the Lich for a moment, then both silently strode towards her as Hecate turned her back to them, refusing to look at the ponies as her horn glowed brighter and the egg rumbled with the same aura. Then the mechanical goddess nodded before several plates along her abdominal section slipped apart and folded open, Hecate carefully fitting the explosive into the recess in her body as she said coldly: “This is more than powerful enough to get the job done. Fusion components, and elements I've never seen before. The damage will be massive.”

“Good. I hope that amuses thee, Hecate. And now that we have retrieved what we have come for, let us make haste away from here.” Luna said quietly, one foreleg wrapped tightly around Twilight Sparkle and hugging the Lich against her chest as Scrivener silently rubbed a Talon along the violet mare's back.

Hecate shook her head in contempt, but then simply shrugged and gestured moodily towards the stairs... before frowning darkly as her horn pulsed. Luna and Twilight both felt it as well, looking up as Scrivener Blooms gritted his teeth: he could sense it through the two mares, as clearly as they had. That distinct pulse of magic... “They found us.”

“We should have been faster. Or maybe they were watching us the entire time, waiting for us to retrieve this toy for them.” Hecate said coldly, her sharp eyes gazing into the distance at the sight of several portals ripping open in midair around the scrubland. “We have a fight on our hooves.”

“Good.” Twilight Sparkle whispered, and she trembled violently before looking up and rubbing furiously at her eyes, breathing hard as Luna and Scrivener both looked at the Lich with surprise. “This is all their fault. Gymbr, Kvasir, Kismet... my own daughter... if the Pious didn't think they knew what was best for all of us, none of them...”

She gritted her teeth, then shook herself out as Luna slowly rose Prúðbikkja and Scrivener felt their angers, their passions, their beliefs mixing and twisting with his own. He felt their emotions, and they felt his, and all he knew was that they could all feel the darkness rising up around them... darkness, and a desire for revenge, whether it made sense or not. Whether it was truly the fault of these angels or not... they were the ones who were going to suffer for it. They were the ones who were going to be punished first.

“But in time... we will hurt all those who hurt us.” Luna promised quietly, and as much as it made Scrivener Blooms shiver, he didn't want to correct her, either. No, especially not with their link so much closer... especially not with how it seemed like with all her energy stored inside him, she could travel to any distance she pleased, she was invincible, she was goddess.

Luna flushed slightly and grinned a bit at this, her eyes gleaming. Goddess... yes, she was. She liked that. And she gladly embraced that hungry, violent side of her for the moment as the angels began to pour in through the portals in the distance, as Twilight shivered but faced forwards, only wanting to lash out, only wanting to strike back at these creatures that were threatening so much, that had caused herself and the people she cared for so much pain.

The three readied themselves as they glared down into the field, and then as one they launched forwards, charging down the stairs of the pyramid and into the wastes. Without fear, without hesitation, they ran to meet the much-larger horde of Pious flowing down from the portals as Hecate stood calmly atop the temple, gazing moodily out over the scrubland before she flexed her metallic claws as she looked between the portals before glancing over her shoulder thoughtfully at the sealed shaft.

The Pious were swarming down: there was no organization, no attempt to form into coherent units, nothing but the Angels of Greater Heaven sweeping down from the holes they'd torn in reality in pursuit of the ponies they had made the mistake of thinking 'vulnerable.' Luna roared in fury at the oncoming force, her mind awash with hate and battlerage and a sense of invincibility, shouting her challenge to the Pious as Twilight snarled and Scrivener Blooms skidded to a halt first, but only so he could grin viciously as he slammed his Talons into the ground, his body flexing, muscle making hide stretch and nearly tear in places as he was able to draw on not just his own strength, but all the energy of his partners stored inside him, making the entire field ripple and rapidly begin to transform into bubbling black mire.

Luna half-laughed, half-roared again in delight at it: she felt the new, dark energy blast up through her body as the ground beneath her transformed into mire. She felt the black poison giving her strength and further helping to blot out the pain, to help her bathe herself completely in bloodlust as she sent sharp mental orders to Twilight and Scrivener Blooms.

The violet mare could feel energy rushing back into her body from the darkened earth beneath her, and she bared her fangs as she rose her horn, pulling more energy from the mire as she snapped her spire upwards on instinct when a Pious shot towards her.

Massive blades of black, crystallized mire tore out of the ground, ripping through the Pious, and Twilight gritted her teeth before she snarled and slammed her hooves down into the black ooze, dropping her head as enormous brambles and vines tore out of the earth all around her. Tendrils spread rapidly through the earth around them, viciously attempting to snare any angels that came too close as the Lich gasped: not at the exertion, but at the amount of raw power starting to flood through her body, and how little energy she had to expend to control the mire. It was like her own spirit had connected more solidly with Scrivener's, letting her harness more of his powers... but then again, with all of Luna's energies in Scrivener's body right now...

And the charcoal stallion, meanwhile, was creating not just needles, but large spears of black crystal, sending them rocketing at the Pious. Many of these dark lances were deflected by the Angels of Greater Heaven, but those that did strike left horrendous wounds or at least knocked the Pious sprawling: if they landed in the growing, festering marsh, they were rapidly dragged under the bog by green brambles, or flung back into the air by the rippling, almost-alive earth.

Luna lunged eagerly into her own crowd of Pious, then snarled as several claws hooked down, dodging two but taking a slash across her features from one of the Pious' wing appendages. Her eyes widened at the pain it caused her: real pain, actual pain, like she was still a frail, living being instead of the beyond-alive goddess she had become-

Another Pious lunged at her, and even as Luna ducked under its grab and leapt upwards to spear her horn through its stomach, she realized where that line of thinking was taking her. There wasn't enough time to fight these dark urges now, though: all she could do was risk giving into them, as she snarled and blasted the Pious into two halves with a raw burst of telekinesis before she landed on her hooves and skidded backwards, slashing her horn back and forth... and laughing, eyes beginning to glow with preternatural light and glory again as enormous blades of black crystal ripped up through the mire. “Finally! Finally, it obeys me!”

Luna grinned viciously as she lashed her horn upwards, focusing all the magic and rage she could into the mire... and an enormous tornado of darkness, sapphire lightning, and swirling black ooze ripped out of the bog, rumbling forwards and yanking Pious into the air, flinging them in all directions and tearing apart others unfortunate enough to be in the path of the column of death. It made the sapphire mare laugh in delight, stumbling backwards as her body flexed and thrummed, black veins starting to spread through her form as a wild grin crossed her features. “Yes! Yes! Power, Scrivy... more power! We need more power!”

Twilight flexed and gritted her teeth, feeling that whirl... and even in the grips of anger and sorrow, she felt a need to turn, to call out to her partners, to try and rein them back in. But stupidly, they had charged into an entire army... and now, not only were more Pious leaping from the portals, iron maidens were falling from the rips in reality, slamming into the battlefield like meteors. Some landed on Pious and crushed them, but these only immediately began to tremble violently and open, while the others only sat and waited like grim, toxic seeds.

There was no turning back, Twilight realized, as she snapped her horn upwards and sent out a blast of blue flame into the face of a Pious. This was the path they had chosen: to lash out at the Pious, to make war, to risk the darkness. There was no running from that... and she snarled as she snapped her horn to the side and blasted apart another angel, letting her emotions rise up, forcing down all the worries and the fears and drowning her anxious conscience with darkness and anger and hatred.

Scrivener Blooms slammed a Talon down into the mire, and a nest of spikes ripped out of the dark ooze, impaling several angels before the stallion half-turned towards another Pious... but both the angel and the stallion were blasted flying by a fireball, the angel thankfully taking the brunt of the blast as it was nearly torn in half and Scrivener Blooms crashing down on his side, skidding through the dark ooze as both Twilight and Luna cursed in pain and surprise.

A Nephilim was quickly approaching the stallion, hideous and mottled and mutant as its chains dragged through the mire behind the hobbling beast, and Twilight snarled as her eyes flashed. Without hesitation, she snapped her horn upwards, and vines shot up out of the mire: but these didn't seize the Nephilim, instead catching the loose chains and snaring the monster in place before it could get any closer to Scrivener Blooms.

The deformed beast roared, stumbling and then falling to one knee, and Luna snarled as she snapped her horn out to fling Prúðbikkja through the monster's skull before she even knew what she was doing. The beast gargled, then simply exploded, immolating the vines and the angels around it, and sending Prúðbikkja hurtling out of the rising pillar of smoke and flame to crash down beside the stallion as he picked himself slowly up.

Luna reached up and touched her side: it was badly burnt, like she imagined Twilight's was. For the first time, she truly understood the dangers of having a living anchor like Scrivener... and now, surprised out of her battlelust, she looked up and cursed as she saw the portals were still open... were still pouring more Pious, more Nephilim, more monsters of Greater Heaven into this world, before she shouted: “We must find a way to seal these beasts out!”

Twilight gritted her teeth, but then her instincts screamed at her, and she barely ducked under a reaping slice from an angel before another dove at her. Her horn snapped out just before a third Pious could grab her, and black blades ripped out of the mire all around the Lich.

At the same time, Luna was pushing quickly towards Scrivener Blooms, snapping her horn back and forth to send large waves of lightning and black slime ripping across the bog: but for all the Pious she knocked back, there were always more. Countless more, sweeping in from all sides, and Luna snarled in fury before she leapt into the air and snapped her horn straight down, and a massive shockwave ripped through the black ooze just beneath her, spikes of black crystal jutting in all directions as she felt the anger, the hate, the immeasurable power wanting to take over again, but she fought it back even as she harnessed these new abilities, shouting: “Scrivy!”

Scrivener gritted his teeth as he slammed his own Talons into the dark ooze, not just making it ripple, but pushing more energy into it, giving the dark terrain further cruelly-protective life. A Pious attempted to slip in behind the stallion, but a geyser of black ooze erupted beneath it before rapidly turning solid, leaving the Angel of Greater Heaven cemented in place by dark, hardened strings.

Then Scrivener cursed as a Pious managed to catch him with a claw even as he started to throw himself away, and he was flung down into the mire with his teeth grit. Wing-blades lashed down towards him, but the mire almost acted on its own as it surged over the stallion to form a protective, slanted wall, the angels uselessly tearing into this and giving the charcoal earth pony more than enough time to half-scramble away.

The Pious pursued, but then many of them were knocked sprawling as Prúðbikkja tore through the crowd, the spear burning with sapphire flames as it ripped through several Pious before spinning violently back to Luna's side, the mare easily guiding it with telekinesis as she continued to hurry forwards. She was snarling, only hoping they could kill enough of these creatures to drive them back up through their portals... but with how many were spilling in, she was beginning to wonder if they even stood any chance at victory at all. She hadn't expected to see so many Pious, or for them to drop in Nephilim amidst these angelic thralls...

A Pious caught Luna by the throat and yanked her up into the air, and the mare cursed as she felt blades sink into her back and claws seize against her wings and body. But before they could attempt to literally rip her apart, she roared in fury and unleashed a shockwave of blue flame and lightning, hammering the Pious away from her and freeing herself as she landed with a growl, then looked sharply over at the sound of another massive explosion ,seeing mire and waves of blue flame erupting in all directions, flinging Pious like dolls into the air.

But it wasn't just the numbers that were against them: it was the fact that the Pious kept calmly getting up even with grisly wounds torn in their bodies, and that they could do harm just from touch alone, even to Twilight and Luna. And for all the power the mire was giving them, endless numbers were quickly beginning to overwhelm even tireless strength.

Then the Pious all suddenly halted and looked up one of their portals sparked out of existence, and several angels immediately leapt to the air, their strange, wing-like appendages propelling them impossibly through the air as Hecate only smiled coldly from atop the temple. Her horn was glowing brightly beneath its metal shielding, and her metallic arms cradled the massive automatic shotgun as her eyes flicked to another portal.

She concentrated, electricity sparking over her body as she drew on energy from not just herself and her synthetic horn, but power cores hidden throughout her form, and a moment later a second portal slammed shut. Now that she had found the right wavelength, it was foal's play to shut the holes in reality. Their magic was easy to interact with, but she guessed that the Pious weren't exactly used to having their own tricks used against them.

Hecate glanced up as several of the Pious shot towards her, then she leveled the automatic shotgun and squeezed the trigger as a cruel grin spread over her face. The sound of the gun firing was a boom-boom-boom that drowned out the explosions of magic in the distance, the barrel beginning to tip ever-so-slightly upwards as she twisted slowly to the side, heavy steel slugs ripping apart the Pious and knocking them crashing out of the air.

Hecate laughed coldly as she released the trigger and grinned callously, then she shifted the massive weapon to one claw so she could yank Lucy off her hip with the other, then sling it down the steps and into the face of a Nephilim trying to shamble up towards her. The half-angel was knocked crashing and rolling down the stairs with a squeal, and Hecate yanked the spiked ball back to her claw as she anchored the massive gun against her shoulder and rose it, smiling coldly as she took aim at another Pious flying in towards her before she blasted it out of the skies, relishing the explosion of blood and gore and the strength of her metal body.

As the Pious fell, she took a moment to turn her attention to another portal, focusing in on it and concentrating her magic to seal the wound in reality back closed. The Pious were all distracted by this again, and more launched themselves away from the horde in the direction of Hecate, giving Luna, Scrivener, and Twilight a better chance at fighting back as they steadily pushed towards each other, towards the center of the mass of monsters.

Scrivener bared his fangs as he ducked under a sweep from a Pious' claws, before jumping towards another angel, rending savagely downwards with both Talons to knock it sprawling: but before he could land on the angel to finish it off, a blast of raw force caught him and sent him rocketing across the field, crashing and skidding painfully on his back through the mire with a curse before he managed to roll himself backwards as the bog around him rippled.

He began to look up... and a wing-appendage slashed across his face, sending him staggering mindlessly to the side as blood and spiritual energy burst up from the contact. Just as he began to look dumbly up, a sphere of nearly-translucent energy hammered into him and blasted him backwards in a hurricane of concussive force, hitting the ground with a gasp, his entire body wracked with agony.

Luna and Twilight both cried out and stumbled, and a Pious stepped forwards, slamming a wing appendage down with such force that it tore completely through Twilight's armor and then out the other side of her body. The Lich snarled, flexing in pain before she snapped her horn to the side, severing the appendage with a crescent of magic energy before she arched her back and swung her horn around in a wide arc.

There was a tremendous clang before her massive bell appeared in mid-swing, leaving a trail of black smog behind it as it smashed Pious in all directions. The bell rang out again, reverberations tearing through the air around her and driving the Pious backwards as cracks formed in their porcelain bodies from the weight of the sound, before Twilight slammed the bell fiercely down into the mire in front of her on instinct.

The sound of the bell was channeled through the poison, making the earth around her ripple and flinging Pious high into the air before she leapt over her bell even as she yanked it free from the ground, the massive, ominous instrument tearing through the air behind her as she bolted for Scrivener Blooms. And at the same time, Luna Brynhild was rushing forwards as well, snapping her horn back and forth with a snarl and blasting Pious and Nephilim out of the way even as the last portal sealed closed.

Hecate slung Lucy forwards, and a Pious attempted to catch the spiked ball, but the mare only grinned savagely before she jerked both Lucy and the Pious clinging to it straight down into the stairs, smashing the stone into dust and tearing the Pious apart as she rose her automatic shotgun and fired several rounds into another angel trying to circle in towards her. Then she grimaced in distaste as the massive weapon clicked dry, and Hecate calmly slipped this over her shoulder and holstered it on her back, saying coldly: “Fine. I'll kill them with my own bare claws.”

She didn't notice the Pious that dropped down from above until almost too late, feeling its claws seizing into either side of her face, and the immortal head winced as it was jerked roughly upwards, her metal collar quaking as she spasmed before snarling and snapping her head back. And there was a tremendous blast of thunder before the Pious was launched away in a charred, smoldering comet, crashing bonelessly to the ground as the mare reached her free hand up to moodily adjust her loosened head, snarling in contempt.

The other Pious floating eerily in the air seemed to take note of her vulnerability, beginning forwards... then they and the two Nephilim crawling up the stairs all stopped at some silent signal, and instead they turned around to converge back onto the scrubland. Hecate narrowed her eyes contemptibly as she realized they were all going back to join the enormous horde swarming in around the three ponies, and she looked moodily down at them before shaking her head in distaste and only watching coldly from the top of the pyramid. They had chosen their own path, made their own stupid mistake: either they would prove that they could handle it, or they would die.

Scrivener cursed as a Nephilim spat another sphere of concussive force at him from hideous, distended jaws, but Luna leapt in front of the charcoal stallion and swung her soulstone horn out, deflecting the sphere of translucent energy off to the side and into the crowd, where it exploded in a tremendous bang and scattered several Pious. Twilight Sparkle, meanwhile, fell in behind Scrivener, her massive bell swiping outwards and driving back the Angels of Greater Heaven as she shouted: “We need to work together, we need to focus!”

“I... I know! The power is... damnation, it makes me desire to drive back all these beasts myself and...” Luna gritted her teeth, shaking off the fury and the hunger before she tossed a quick look over her shoulder. “But we... we are one! Why can't we use all our powers together if we are one?”

Luna and Twilight both snapped their horns out as Scrivener shoved his claws down into the mire in unconscious time, and massive blades of black crystal tore out of the ground all around the three, for a moment cutting off the Pious from the ponies. But the angels immediately began to rip down the wall, using brute force and their ability to sap energy from whatever they touched as the Nephilim staggered forwards and pelted the barrier with magical force.

But for a moment, the three had all worked together, in unconscious synchronization. They traded looks, and they felt the energy flowing between them, minds linking up, their bodies flexing and mirroring one-another's before Luna looked from Scrivener, to Twilight's bell; then she rose her own soulstone horn high, snarling: “We only have one chance! Scrivener Blooms, we must drive them all back at once! The Black Verses, thou must use the Wyrm's power!”

Scrivener gritted his teeth, and Twilight looked up before nodding sharply, giving her silent promise that she would help as much as she could. The stallion nodded back as the walls around them began to crumble, and then he clenched his eyes shut as his Talons dug into the mire, drawing on all the strength he could before he arched his back, and began to sing.

Twilight and Luna both clenched their eyes shut, bodies shivering before all conscious thought was blacked out as Scrivener's features twisted into a grin, the stallion beginning to gesture violently back and forth as he swayed on the spot, the terrible, dark language of the song rising higher, becoming stronger as he felt his body filling with indescribable power and pleasure. The Hymn rose higher and higher through the air as the walls around them crumbled and the mire rippled, transforming into a stage of crystal as the ponies emanated malice and hatred and fury.

And all around them, the Pious grabbed at their heads: they didn't scream, they didn't cry out, but they stumbled, and blood ran out from beneath their visors as their very bodies darkened and corrupted from the awful, poisonous language. Massive vines began to tear out of the ground here and there, seizing around the angels, crushing some, constricting and pinning others, and yet they acted like they weren't even aware of the pain.

Twilight Sparkle gasped, and then her horn started to glow darkly, head bobbing up and down, and with her movements her bell swung back and forth, clanging and ringing out in time with the awful poisonous hum of the Hymn as Luna's laughter rose up, her mane and tail becoming wreathes of hellish blue fire as she snapped her horn back and forth, and massive peals of thunder ripped the air as lightning slammed down into the battleground, setting both Pious and their own vines aflame; the former burned rapidly, while the latter barely noticed the flames spreading rapidly over them as they continued to lash out and crush down on angels, the three ponies unleashing hell beyond hell with all their combined might.

Scrivener gestured back and forth, lost in the haze of power and pleasure and sadism, his mind twisting and distorting as he felt corruption boiling through his blood. Twilight Sparkle looked mindless and enraptured as she rang her Reaper's Bell, every clang sending out a wave of force that kept the angels at a distance from them, while Luna was laughing insanely, spittle flying from her jaws as the black veins pulsed faster through her body, her horn snapping back and forth as she hailed thunder and hellfire around the battlefield.

Nephilim screamed as they were dragged down to their knees, many of them torn apart and dying in vast blasts of magic and sound and adding to the chaos ripping the army of the Pious quickly into tatters. A few Pious tried to escape, but they were quickly dragged back to the fray by lashing vines or the raw waves of force washing over the battlefield, as Scrivener screamed the Hymn to the skies sightlessly, and Twilight and Luna provided his hellish chorus.

And then Scrivener gargled as his back arched, his eyes flashing as something in his mind snapped, and he went from gesturing and swaying and almost dancing with his song to very, very still. He stared sightlessly into the air, and for a moment, thought he saw something looking back at him, heard a gentle voice tell him to stop... and then the stallion's eyes rolled up in his head before he collapsed backwards in a dead faint into the mire.

Luna fell forwards on her face, sending up a splatter of dark ooze, falling into a stupefied daze even as she continued to grin, her body shuddering with ecstasy and pain. She couldn't make sense of anything around her, or even her own chattering, babbling thoughts as Twilight Sparkle and her bell both slumped to the ground, the massive instrument giving a final listless toll before it burst apart into smoke as the Lich drooled into the earth, staring sightlessly, out at the corpses and mess of mire and murderous vines all around her...

And Luna's last thought, as she laid in the mire, as she smelled blood and decay, as she saw the struggling, dying angels, and felt the all-but-omnipotent presence of her partners... was that this hell on earth they had created was Heaven; was that this wasn't just where she belonged, but what some sick and growing and cancerous part of her desired to last forever, trapped in a nightmare of sadism and hell and torment, in a body of deathless flesh and blood and sweat... this could be her paradise.

It was the darkness where she belonged: and at that moment, Luna knew the truth. That no matter what path she chose... at the end of the day, she and Scrivener Blooms were monsters, and they couldn't avoid that destiny forever. And her only regret was that they had dragged Twilight Sparkle down this dark and devouring path with them.

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