• 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 Way Back Home

Chapter Fifty Nine: A Way Back Home
~BlackRoseRaven

Scrivener Blooms scowled as he laid grumpily in a barn, surrounded by bales of hay and with chickens clucking cheerfully around him, some of them pecking along his scales and others simply strutting around him fearlessly. Luna was giggling wildly as Twilight looked awkwardly and apologetically up at Scrivener Blooms, while a nearby earth pony said kindly: “Now y'all have been very patient with us, and I appreciate it. I know your boy here didn't really enjoy last night, but any port in a storm, am I right?”

Scrivener replied to this by snorting blue smoke, and Luna rolled her eyes before saying with relish: “Aye, but I must admit, 'twas very, very nice to spend the night in the bed despite my... loyal steed staying out here for the night in thy barn. And I must thank thee again for thy hospitality! Pancakes and delights and warm blankets and comfy beds for myself, my partner, and... a quiet cellar for our... nefarious friend. And I am very sure my mighty steed Scrivy enjoyed the barn, did thou not? Speak Scrivy, speak!”

Scrivener replied to this by leaning down and blowing a stream of sapphire smog into Luna's face, and she wheezed loudly as the farm pony only smiled awkwardly over at them. “I really do wish I could have provided you with more, or a better place, but... well, I just don't have a whole lot of room here, I'm sorry.”

“No, no, don't apologize, uh...” Twilight looked awkwardly up at Scrivener Blooms, gazing at him almost pleadingly even as she gave another silent apology. “Scrivy, you really enjoyed it out here last night, right? I mean, it was really nice, wasn't it?”

Scrivener looked moodily down at Twilight, but when she gave him a small smile, he finally sighed quietly and dropped his head forwards, grumbling: “Yes. Great.”

“Glad to hear it.” the earth pony farmer said cheerfully, and she gave a warm look up at the Tyrant Wyrm before adding thoughtfully: “You know, I seen a lot of things in the last few days I ain't ever suspected even existed, but I still don't think I've ever heard of a marsh drake that talks afore.”

Scrivener smiled and shrugged moodily, and Luna waved away the last of the blue smog as her nose wrinkled up, but Twilight was quick to interject: “Scrivy was raised in... captivity, though, a little bit different and... you know. I guess that has a lot to do with it.”

The farm pony nodded a few times, then she smiled again, asking: “Y'all sure I can't interest you in staying at least for lunch? It looked like you had quite a long, hard journey, after all, and I wanna be sure I'm offering all the hospitality I can.”

“You've already been far too kind to us. And we just need to get into town anyway, and... well, we wouldn't want to impose any more than we already have.” Twilight said, and when the farmpony looked like she was about to argue, the violet mare added awkwardly: “And besides, we uh... have to let Scrivener hunt.”

The Tyrant Wyrm grumbled moodily at being used as the guaranteed escape option again, and then he said grumpily: “Yes. I have to eat. Probably puppies.”

“Oh cease being such a poo-head, Scrivy! Thou art a poo-head, Scrivener Blooms.” Luna informed, and Scrivener scowled down at her before the mare added informatively: “Fear not, Scrivy is just being cranky. He mostly feeds upon bugs. And rarely, he gobbles up ponies.”

Scrivener Blooms growled moodily down at the sapphire mare, who huffed and poked her nose pointedly several times, and the farm pony gave an awkward laugh before she said finally: “Well, uh... all the ponies around these parts are... real nice, real friendly-like. So I do hope you won't decide to uh... eat up any of them-all.”

“Luna's just kidding, don't worry.” Twilight stopped, then softened and added: “And if we can do anything for you before we leave... please, let us know. I like to think I come from a pretty friendly place, but... even there, I don't think we would've welcomed strangers that looked like us so warmly. We really do appreciate it.”

“Well, you clearly weren't looking for any trouble, if I can say so.” the farmpony said delicately, and then she smiled and shook her head before adding kindly: “And I guess it's just the family spirit. The Apple Family always does its best to help out everyone, everywhere. We're all over Equestria, but we Apples are the same everywhere.”

“You sure are.” Twilight Sparkle said softly, and then she smiled and shook her head when the mare looked at her oddly. “Don't worry about it, Miss... uh...”

“Butterscotch. Butterscotch Apple, Miss Morgan.” the farmpony said kindly, and Twilight smiled warmly over at her as Luna turned her eyes back towards Scrivener Blooms, looking up at the Tyrant Wyrm and meeting his eyes to trade thoughts and images with him between their link.

They both remembered last night: trudging through a miserable rainstorm that had kicked up, the ponies on his back grumbling beneath the wet, humid hail. Then thunder had started to rumble, and Twilight had awkwardly, carefully pointed out that Hecate was likely not someone who wanted to be out in the middle of a thunderstorm.

Hecate had grumbled sourly at this, and then said distastefully that she was rather sure she could diffuse the electrical charge into the world around her, and was well-aware that was what they were actually worried about. Luna had called her a few names, Twilight had just shifted lamely and tried to think of something nice to say, Scrivener had trudged moodily onwards acutely aware of the living lightning rod on his back as thunder cracked the air... and then they had all seen it. A farmhouse in the distance, lit up as bright as day.

They had continued down the road at a bit of a faster pace, even as they tried to decide on whether they should stop or keep going, whether Scrivener should try and transform back into a pony or they should just pretend he was their... pet dragon or something. But they had been spared having to figure out what they should do when a pony had bustled out in front of them in a rain slicker, calling up to them: “Hey y'all, I don't know if I got enough room for the big fella in the house, but I can at least invite all y'all out of the rain!”

Scrivener had ended up in the barn, with the pigs and the chickens and the other domestic animals, and the drenched ponies and Hecate inside. Hecate was actually relatively dry, but her body was sparking with electrical discharges here and there, and she had simply glared suspiciously at the nice little farming family the whole time until they'd shown her to the cellar. Hecate had simply called herself a golem in service to the traveling mages, after all... giving them a surprisingly good cover story on top of everything else. And the rain hadn't done much for their damaged armor, but it had at least washed away all the blood and grime of battle.

Luna was honestly surprised: both that she was still undead, and also that it was still letting them stretch their link so far and so comfortably. Both Scrivener and Luna found it strange to be able to look around, and not see, not even feel the other nearby with him out in the barn and her in the household... and there had come with it a strange sense of what could almost be called homesickness, a longing to see each other that hadn't ended until they had finally reunited this morning.

And that was how they had spent the night. In the generous company of Apples, who had graciously treated them like members of their own family, giving them a meal before showing them to a guest room so they could get some sleep.

Luna and Twilight hadn't really slept, but they had curled up together, just resting with one another and enjoying each other's company as they'd gone over everything that had happened over the last while. Scrivener Blooms had listened in while he'd rested in the hay of the barn, rumbling slowly in and out and half-tempted to transform back into a pony, but understanding that it would all be a little bit difficult to explain where the so-called 'drake' had vanished off to and who the strange stallion was if any of these farmponies came out to check on him.

So they had decided not to press their luck, and Luna had behaved herself for the night as much as possible. Well, she and Twilight had shared a few affections, mostly to make Scrivener groan and shuffle around in frustration. But then more serious thoughts had taken over as fun and games had ended, like how Scrivener had transformed from the massive influx of energy... and he wasn't sure he could change back.

Pony and Tyrant Wyrm looked at each other softly, and there was silence for a few moments before Luna cleared her throat as she realized Butterscotch was staring at her curiously, the sapphire mare saying finally: “I apologize. 'Twas uh... well. I have greatly missed my steed. I am very rarely away from him, thou sees... how many nights and days have we spent together, with us riding upon thy back and thou always there? Landship, protector, bed, and friend... and great whiny, needy pet, too.”

Scrivener Blooms smiled a bit despite himself, shaking his head briefly before he murmured quietly: “Well, you know. I learned it from watching you and all that. You're right, though: I guess one way or another I've always been carrying you. Even if it's just because you're lazy.”

The sapphire mare gave a quiet snort of amusement at this, and the farm pony looked between the two curiously before Twilight Sparkle asked awkwardly: “So uh... should I go and get Hecate? Our... uh... golem, I mean. She's probably pretty anxious to leave...”

“I gotta say, that I am curious... what are two magicians like yourselves doing so far from a place like Canterlot? I'd think that would be where ponies like you would really want to go, unless I'm missin' something.” Butterscotch questioned curiously, and Luna smiled slightly before she gestured easily towards Twilight Sparkle, and the violet Lich nodded before turning to hurry towards the pretty ranch house.

“Well, I cannot say that Canterlot is unfriendly to us these days... but... 'tis not a place where our kind used to be welcomed. Our magic is very different from the magic practiced by the unicorns... is that not so, Scrivy?” Luna winked up at the Tyrant Wyrm, who grunted in response. “Besides, 'tis enjoyable to wander the world as we do. There are many worldly sights to be seen and good ponies to meet, such as thyself. I would not trade this for a thousand Canterlots.”

Butterscotch smiled warmly at this, and then she asked finally: “So you're sure I can't compel you to stay just a little while longer?”

“Nay, nay. We shall be on our way shortly, to head into the nearest city... which is... Canterbury, aye?” Luna cocked her head, and Butterscotch nodded before the sapphire mare murmured: “I have not been there for some time. As a matter of fact, I have not been on this side of Equestria for quite a long time...”

Scrivener grunted, and Luna grunted back at him, the two looking at one-another mildly before she gestured quickly a few times at the Tyrant Wyrm, and he sighed and nodded. He studied her for a few moments, looking over the mare: Prúðbikkja was hidden in her mane, and her rifle was holstered over her back, but she and Twilight Sparkle had let Hecate take their armor last night down into the cellar with her.

Luna was half-afraid Hecate had probably turned their suits of armor into some kind of awful mechanical friends, but at the same time she was also curious about how the mechanical goddess had grumbled that she could fix things. If Hecate really could or had fixed their armor, well. That would admittedly be a bit of a blessing, considering they had no idea what they were getting into. The city ahead, Canterbury, could be either very pleasant or very awful... and they still had a few miles of barren road to cover over which the Whistler or Hounds or other forces of the Light could easily attempt to ambush them, too.

Scrivener Blooms carefully strode out of the open barn, a few chickens clucking loudly and hurrying alongside him, almost as if they were attempting to herd the much-larger creature. One or two fluttered and pecked at his scales grouchily on his back, but the Tyrant Wyrm only grumbled even as Luna grinned wryly, remarking: “Thou hast always been one for the birds, Scrivy.”

“Shut up, Luna.” Scrivener said mildly, and then he reached up one large, Talon-covered foreleg to step on her, the sapphire mare squawking as she was pinned into the ground before he added awkwardly to the farmpony: “And... thank you very much for... you know. Letting me use your barn to get out of the rain. You've been very hospitable.”

“That's just what our family does. Besides, I was right, now, wasn't I? You and yours might be a little strange, but you definitely ain't bad ponies. Well. Ponies and drake.” replied the farmpony warmly, then she cleared her throat and gestured towards the farmhouse, where two large, burly earth ponies were awkwardly attempting to chat up Twilight Sparkle as she smiled lamely at them. “Excuse me, I gotta go knock some sense into my brothers. I don't think they quite took the hint yesterday.”

“Aye, they are very silly. They should be flirting with me, not Twilight Sparkle.” Luna said cheerfully as she finally shoved Scrivener's Talon away to pop to her hooves, and the farmpony gave the sapphire mare an amused look, which only made Luna huff loudly. “Well, 'tis true! Is it not true, Scrivener Blooms? Am I not most flirtable?”

“Flirtatious.” Scrivener corrected, and then he winced when Luna stomped on one of his claws, denting the metal slightly and making him retract the Talon and shake it awkwardly. “You are a tremendous jerk.”

Luna simply growled at him, and Butterscotch laughed before she turned to stride away, shaking her head in warm amusement. For a few moments, Scrivener and Luna watched the mare leave, and then the Tyrant Wyrm mumbled quietly: “I don't know how much longer I can stay a Wyrm, Luna. For one thing, it doesn't feel safe. For another, I can feel the Wyrm instincts creeping through my brain. I think this is the longest I've ever gone without spreading corruption in this form.”

“Aye, Scrivy, 'tis by far, I think. I am very impressed with thee.” Luna said gently, and Scrivener Blooms smiled despite himself: she sounded a little bit patronizing, but she had clearly meant to sound a little bit patronizing, too. He reached out and shoved at her gently, but she only smiled and leaned against his claw before saying softly: “Last but a little longer, Scrivy. Look at mine own self, I am not turning into a little filly merely because I am still dead.”

“Yeah, but... you're creepy and enjoy being undead.” Scrivener said mildly, and Luna shrugged and cheerfully reached up to yank her eye out of her socket, Scrivener Blooms staring in horror at her before Luna easily shoved it firmly back into place, and the Tyrant Wyrm leaned away as he said weakly: “I think I'm going to have to go throw up now.”

“Oh, thou great coward! I shall have thee know that once as Brynhild, I was forced to lace mine own intestines back into my stomach after they were wrenched out!” Luna declared, and Scrivener looked down at her with a wince before the sapphire mare continued pleasantly: “Furthermore, 'twas not nearly as terrible as thou would think. 'Twas just very difficult to put them all back in their proper place. They are very long, I shall have thee know. Like sausages. And slippery. Which is also like sausage. Oh, we should get sausage, Scrivy!”

Scrivener slowly closed his eyes and lowered his head, shuddering once, before he opened one eye slowly when he realized Luna was grinning up at him with that horrible look on her face that always meant she had come up with some twisted, horrendous new idea. The stallion looked at her uncomfortably in the silence for a few moments, and then she said seriously: “Thou could eat out of me, Scrivener Blooms, very literally, and I would enjoy it right now.”

The Tyrant Wyrm slowly shivered again and closed his eyes, dropping his face in a Talon before he said in a strained voice: “Okay, for one thing. That's not the right expression. For another... what the bloody hell is wrong with you?”

Luna only laughed, however, shaking her head and grinning brightly up at him. “The expression on thy face, Scrivy! Oh, it makes it all so well-worthwhile! Besides, Scrivy, thou knows that ultimately I pursue pleasure and experience. Having a body such as this, one that does not feel pain precisely... one that does not need these weak little internal organs to live, one powered by raw will and magic and connected so much to thee...”

The sapphire mare shivered a little, and then she hesitated as she reached up and silently touched a wound that hadn't yet healed, stroking the bruising around it as Scrivener softened a little. “Although I must admit that... aye, there are... drawbacks. Things that I wish I could change... and the connection, perhaps is... well, it is leading me to thinking in ways that would normally repulse even my usually-steady mind. I... I do not know, Scrivy. But look at us, at the creatures we are... is it so bad? Why must we not turn all pain into pleasure?”

“Because pain exists for a reason, I guess.” Scrivener said softly, and Luna looked at him for a few moments before she sighed softly and nodded hesitantly, studying the stallion silently. He gazed back at her with a small smile, then shook his head briefly before muttering: “Well, anyway. I think we're twisted enough as it is, Luna. Stop. Trying to be even more of a freak than you already are. I might stop finding you so cute.”

“Thou art cute. Shut up.” Luna huffed up at the stallion, and he smiled a little despite himself before the mare glanced back and forth, then added wryly: “And there shall never be a time when I am not cute. Even were I feasting upon the flesh of my enemies and covered in spoor and blood, I would still be cute.”

“Spoor. That's an awful word.” Scrivener remarked mildly, and Luna rolled her eyes before poking at him with her soulstone horn, the Tyrant Wyrm grimacing a bit and absently pushing at her as he grumbled: “Don't be such a butt.”

Luna grumbled a rather predictable response, and Scrivener simply rolled his eyes before both pony and Tyrant Wyrm looked up curiously as the cellar door by the farmhouse was flung open. The farmponies and Twilight Sparkle all looked curiously towards this, and then Luna winced as several sets of armor were flung out of the opening, the sapphire mare grinding her teeth together as she muttered and watched Hecate storm out: “Oh damnation. Our armor may be in tatters and thine own set all-but-destroyed, but still, 'tis no excuse to treat it so badly!”

“I've always really liked how defensive you are over your armor. Especially since, you know, it's usually your own damn fault that you've busted it up so much.” Scrivener muttered, and Luna gave him a sour look before the Tyrant Wyrm winced a bit as Hecate simply held a claw out and picked the jumble of metal pieces up with telekinesis, pointedly ignoring the other ponies as she began to walk towards them. “Is it just me, or does she seem to have infinite battery life?”

“I recharge.” Hecate said shortly as she drew closer, bearskin cape fluttering around her, and the Tyrant Wyrm gave a lame smile before Hecate dropped the pile of armor in front of Luna, who stared down at it blankly. “There... Mistress. Everything is repaired. Including your butler's equipment.”

Luna smiled slightly as Scrivener Blooms scowled grouchily, and then the sapphire mare said wryly: “I do so look forwards to seeing my lovely butt again.”

“Horses of Heaven.” the Tyrant Wyrm muttered, and then he sighed tiredly and looked almost pleadingly at the sapphire mare. But she only grinned brightly in response to him, and after a moment, the Tyrant Wyrm shook his head grumpily, realizing there wasn't really any kind of response he could make that wouldn't make the farmponies more suspicious than they likely already were.

Hecate only rolled her eyes, and then she crossed her metallic arms, looking up at the sky. “I believe we should get moving shortly. We have business.”

“Aye. There is always business to be had, though. Hecate, at least pretend to be nice and thank these good ponies.” Luna instructed, and the mechanical goddess sighed tiredly before looking sourly in the direction of the approaching farm ponies and nodding to them, and Luna rolled her eyes before she muttered: “We will have to work on that in the future.”

Hecate's only response was to grunt, and Scrivener and Luna traded looks. Then Twilight strode up to the mechanical goddess' side, reaching up to touch her metal leg gently as she said softly: “Thank you very much for helping us with our armor, Hecate.”

Hecate swatted grouchily at Twilight with the edge of her cape, looking... a little embarrassed, Luna thought. The sapphire mare grinned wryly at this, shaking her head slowly before her horn glowed, easily picking her own pieces of armor out of the pile and lifting them up before they began to slowly swirl around her, Luna looking thoughtfully back and forth at the pieces of armor before she murmured meditatively: “Well, thou did quite a good job at least... aye, I am rather impressed, Hecate. Thou hast my honest thanks for this.”

The mechanical goddess shrugged moodily, then reached up and swept back her mane of lightning and cables, asking distastefully: “So can we leave? There's a lot we have to get done today. Even if you've conveniently forgotten about our mission.”

“I have not!” Luna huffed loudly, glowering up at the metallic behemoth before she grumbled: “Thou art annoying, Hecate. Annoying and fat. Loathsome metal cur.”

Hecate only shrugged grouchily, and then one of the earth pony brothers looked up and said helpfully: “Well, I think you're real pretty-lookin' all the same, even with all that metal and stuff.”

“Why are you ponies so naïve?” Hecate asked sourly, and then she shook her head disdainfully before turning her eyes grumpily towards Scrivener Blooms, asking the Tyrant Wyrm: “Did you heal without any mire?”

Scrivener nodded, looking curious, but Hecate didn't answer the unasked question or show any sign of wanting to continue the conversation... and Scrivener didn't exactly want to start what could end up being a very revealing conversation with these three farmponies right here. So instead he only looked at her for a few moments before asking awkwardly: “Did you. Have a nice rest?”

Hecate didn't even look at the Tyrant Wyrm, didn't show any sign of acknowledging the question, and there was an awkward silence for a few moments before Scrivener Blooms cleared his throat and looked down grouchily. Twilight Sparkle smiled despite herself as she lifted her own equipment off the ground with telekinesis to begin slipping it onto her body, surprised at how well the repaired plates fit as well as the fact that Hecate seemed to have somehow synthesized a remarkably-similar metal to that which made up their equipment.

Luna and Twilight were quick to slip on their armor, while Hecate shoved Scrivener's into a burlap sack she had gotten from... well, Luna didn't want to know, since none of the farmponies were objecting to it. Then Hecate flung herself up onto Scrivener's back, the Tyrant Wyrm grumbling a bit as Twilight shook her head and Luna turned her eyes to the farmponies to make their last goodbyes.

Butterscotch and her brothers walked them to the road and sent them on their way from there: shortly afterwards, Luna finally took to the air and landed on Scrivener's head, gazing down the road they were ambling their way along as Twilight walked comfortably at the Tyrant Wyrm's side and Hecate simply sat sullenly on the black-scaled reptile's back, arms crossed as she glowered at the road trailing out behind them.

The sapphire mare didn't have to say anything to start their conversation, and Scrivener Blooms hesitated before he looked down and muttered: “I don't know. First I was surprised that I transformed. Then I was really glad my Talons changed too. And now I'm just kind of freaking out a little, because I don't know if I can change back... I don't know if I know how to change back.”

“Could we help at all?” Twilight suggested, and Scrivener Blooms smiled a bit at the Lich, softening. She always wanted to help them... help everyone, really. He loved that quality about her, even when it got them into trouble, even when it just sounded childish; they were all childish, though. Just in very different ways.

“I don't know.” he said honestly. He hesitated for a moment, then looked down and shook his head, adding quietly: “I kind of want to say no, but... that might just be me being pessimistic. Because you two were the ones who got me to transform in the first place without the mire... and unlike most ponies, the three of us are fused together and all.”

“Soulbound. But if you want to be fused together literally, I can arrange that.” Hecate said sourly, and Scrivener rolled his eyes as Luna glowered over her shoulder at the sapphire mare.

“Oh quiet, foul Evil Celestia.” Luna paused, then she frowned and asked thoughtfully: “But as we are on the subject of souls and binding and all such things... I have been meaning to ask thee this for a long time, Hecate, but what was it that thou did to Celestia before?”

“I killed her.” Hecate said calmly, and Luna stared blankly for a few moments at the mechanical goddess, who smiled dryly after a second. “Alright. I killed part of her. The part that was restraining her magic: an inner, petulant little voice. I killed it. Like I killed... myself.”

Hecate flexed one metal claw slowly, looking down at it silently before she muttered: “That... stupid rainbow mane... that was the sign of a particular blessing. It was also a mental set of training wheels to help keep Celestia's focus on positive emotions. So I ripped them off and forced her to experience uninhibited pain and power. Because of her past... all the old powers of Freya were able to rise up. I killed that which was 'good' in Celestia, and now she's stronger for it, and you've just silently thanked me for helping bring Freya back.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Luna growled in frustration before she said moodily: “Well, now I shall... foil thy wretched plans by saying... thou does indeed have mine honest thanks for... perverting Celestia. Although I must note that I have seen my sister in full rage before. She was not incapable of anger, or sorrow, or feeling pain. Nor was she incapable of acting selfishly.”

Hecate smiled thinly, looking over her shoulder for a moment at Luna as she replied softly: “She was not. So just imagine what those emotions are going to look like now that she's uninhibited.”

Twilight shifted uneasily as Luna looked moodily at Hecate, and then she said grouchily: “Then thou had best hope that Celestia does not find herself aroused around thee, Hecate. Or else thou shall like as not end up giving Celestia head. Not that thou does not give head to every pony everywhere as 'tis, since... thou art one.”

Hecate glared, grinding her teeth together even as she visibly fought not to respond to Luna's half-senseless insult, and Scrivener Blooms sighed tiredly and dropped his head forwards as Twilight Sparkle mumbled: “The only time I ever feel really frustrated with you these days is when you try and use slang like that.”

“Like that, bah, what does thou mean, 'like that?'” Luna huffed, and when Twilight simply glowered at her and Scrivener grumbled, the sapphire mare awkwardly drew her eyes away before saying lamely: “So. It seems at the least we are not being tracked.”

Hecate only shrugged moodily, looking up and muttering: “Not on this world, anyway. There may be eyes in Heaven watching us, though... so I wouldn't be too eager just yet, Luna Brynhild.”

The sapphire mare grunted, tempted to make some witty retort, but then she turned her eyes forwards and frowned a little. Scrivener Blooms rose his own eyes from the road ahead after a moment, and then he nodded hesitantly when Twilight looked up as well. “That must be Canterbury.”

“What a funny name for a town.” Luna said mildly, and when Twilight and Scrivener both looked up at her with amusement, she huffed at them. “Oh silence, both of thee. There is nothing funny about my name whatsoever. Hecate has the funny name. 'Tis like Hex, but with a crow and a kite.”

“One day I'm going to write a book of all your witty sayings.” Scrivener said wryly, and then he paused before scowling and muttering: “Crap. I owe Underbrush a new book, don't I? And telling him I'm in the middle of a war with Heaven will probably just make him order me to write faster. I hate being his lackey. His henchpony. His... pomegranate.”

Luna and Twilight both looked at the Tyrant Wyrm, and he cleared his throat before saying awkwardly: “It's... it's a fruit associated with Hades and Tartarus, it's supposed to-”

“Shut up, Scrivy.” Luna patted him tenderly on the head a few times, and the stallion dropped his own sulkily, muttering under his breath before the sapphire mare asked curiously: “So should we attempt to size thee down, Scrivy? We can at least attempt to drain the energy out of thee to force thee to transform back, at times that works with transformation spells that have gone awry...”

“I think we should leave him like this.” Hecate said mildly, and when Luna looked sourly over her shoulder, the mechanical goddess shrugged and said sourly: “I'm serious. The way those farmponies reacted to us... how they almost invited us in... I don't like it. It was too nice.”

“Oh, aye. Niceness. 'Tis surely a sign of the Gotterdammerung to come. No, wait, that has already happened several times and we still continue to persevere, do we not?” Luna said mildly, and then she glanced up and added meditatively: “Although... well... they did not seem to think it at all unusual we were riding upon a great serpent.”

“Hey. Hey. I'm a giant lizard, not a giant snake. Giant snakes have no legs. Wyrms are not worms, so... you know. Respect that.” Scrivener said finally, and Luna absently stomped on Scrivener's head a few times, making him grumble and shut his mouth.

Then Luna looked up and said thoughtfully: “We shall bring Scrivener into town like this. If there is no great panic, we shall find a place where we may get appropriate lodgings, under the guise that Hecate has prepared for us. We will work not to draw attention to ourselves, and before any of thee say anything, I realize full-well how silly I sound saying such. Even in the old days, 'twas oft Sleipnir and I causing trouble whilst Celestia attempted to maintain our covers.”

“I don't know how you can be some secret master of disguise and even stealth when you want to, when you're so obnoxious and loud and you can't lie worth... I mean. Well. No offense.” Twilight smiled lamely as Luna glowered at her.

Then the sapphire mare sniffed loudly and rose her head high, stating proudly: “A peacock displays its feathers to tantalize and confuse and intimidate, Twilight Sparkle, but all the same it is graceful and noble a beast, is it not?”

“It's not. It's a bird.” Scrivener Blooms said mildly, and Luna slowly glared down at him before the Tyrant Wyrm shrugged innocently. “Just sayin'. That's all.”

“Just saying. Thou art just stupid. That is what thou art just saying, thou taxonomically-obsessed invertebrate.” Luna grumbled, and then she shook her head and said moodily: “Well, onwards, beetle. Let us see what is to be seen in yonder city ahead.”

“I can't believe you just called me an invertebrate.” Scrivener muttered, and Twilight sighed and shook her head even as she smiled despite herself at the two, as Hecate only rolled her eyes and grumbled under her breath.

They reached the city of Canterbury in good time, and as always, Luna couldn't help but smile at the lack of guards or real security. And she smiled wider when somepony called a loud greeting to them, as if it wasn't at all unusual for ponies in this world to ride into cities on the backs of large, carnivorous reptiles.

Actually, as they continued into the city, Luna realized that they weren't being treated as casually as she'd thought at first: but it wasn't fear they were getting, but rather respect. Luna looked thoughtfully back and forth as she calmly rode atop Scrivener's head, then she firmly rapped on his skull before remarking: “I believe we are in a draconian culture, Scrivy. 'Twas how some of the Barons ruled in the old days, by maintaining and using dragons as both steeds and signs of status.”

“So I'm a royal steed. That makes you a princess again. Twilight too, but I don't think she minds that as much.” Scrivener said mildly, and the violet mare laughed quietly at this and glanced up, shaking her head slowly.

“I wouldn't want to be a princess. If it was too restrictive for Celestia, then there's no way I could handle it, being stuck with royal duties all day instead of.. well, everything else we do.” Twilight Sparkle said softly, and she smiled a little as she shook her head slowly. “And anyway, princesses are supposed to be... I don't know, regal, and above, and... probably not dead.”

“I do not know. I am sure there is a dead princess somewhere we could find. Shall we go on a quest to find the dead princess?” Luna asked curiously, and Scrivener rolled his eyes in amusement as Twilight laughed, the Lich easily keeping pace with the Tyrant Wyrm as he calmly sauntered down the street. “Oh, neither of thee are any fun.”

Hecate cleared her throat loudly, then rose her head and said distastefully: “Let's just find a place where we can stop. Then we should try and transform the idiot back and ensure that no parts of Luna Brynhild are rotting.”

“If thou desires to feel me up, Hecate, all thou must do is ask.” Luna said cheerfully, and Hecate rolled her eyes with a mutter of disgust. Then the sapphire mare glanced back and forth before muttering: “But damnation... tall buildings all around, of brick and brack, and such narrow streets that a small carriage can barely pass beside us... where is there to house a beast like thee in this town?”

Twilight shrugged, then the Lich looked back and forth before smiling as she saw a newspaper vendor, sending Scrivy and Luna a mental image to wait before the Lich hurried over to the stallion and asked: “Excuse me, sir, can you point me in the direction where my uh... drake can rest?”

“Oh?” The stallion looked up in curious surprise, then he smiled and nodded, gesturing down the road. “About four blocks down is a stable for royal steeds. You can't miss it.”

“See, I was right!” Luna called triumphantly, and she stomped several times on Scrivener's head, making the Tyrant Wyrm grumble as he shook himself quickly out. Luna winced, but held on gamely and crowed even as she was flung back and forth: “Deny it all thou may like, but it changes not the fact that I was right!”

Scrivener grumbled, and Twilight gave a lame smile to the staring newspaper vendor before she awkwardly turned around and hurried back to the Tyrant Wyrms' side. The male began to stride onwards with no further prompting required, grumbling a little under his breath as Luna cheerfully held her head high and Hecate only glowered around at the city they were passing through.

They reached the stables with little incident, but were again surprised at the deference and the overall friendliness towards them: several uniformed stallions hurried right out to get their information the moment they turned towards the massive double doors leading into the stable, asking all sorts of questions and inviting them in. Luna had at least expected some kind of fee, but they were told that the first night was always free for first time guests, and they would provide basic board for the steed without any money: only amenities, luxuries, and food would have to be paid for.

The enormous gate-doors were opened, and they were brought into an enormous row of stalls: many of the doors stood open, but there were still at least a dozen dragons and drakes of varying size and pedigree around the area. Some of these were being flaunted by pony owners in what Luna thought were riding uniforms, which made her giggle... although what truly brought a grin to her face was the jealousy that many others looked at her with as Scrivener strode down the dragon stable, before she hurriedly punched his head and ordered: “Strut a little, Scrivy!”

Scrivener grumbled under his breath, about to argue with her... and then he saw the unicorn rider in golden, silk riding clothes glaring at them as the longest, thinnest, weirdest dragon Scrivy had ever seen peered over the stable door in their direction, and the Tyrant Wyrm cleared his throat before raising his head high and putting a bit of bounce in his claws, strutting the very best he could. Which wasn't very good at all, but the display infuriated the jealous riders even more, and that was what counted at the end of the day.

Twilight only sighed at the behavior of the two, while Hecate rolled her eyes and muttered disdainfully: “If the two of you would put as much energy into your responsibilities as you did into pissing other ponies off, Greater Heaven would have fallen by now.”

“Oh shut up, wretched harpy.” Luna complained more than snapped, and then she added dryly: “Besides, perhaps 'tis our very lack of seriousness that is precisely what keeps our enemies at bay. 'Tis very hard to hit a target that shan't stop mocking everything around it.”

“Not at all.” Hecate flexed one metallic claw, lightning bouncing between her digits, and Luna smiled wryly as Twilight looked up at the mechanical goddess. But she had quieted again, and now was simply looking back and forth, studying the other dragons in their little pens and stalls as she muttered: “What a strange idea. Taming dragons.”

“Well, I suppose in a sense we have always tamed dragons... C...” Luna paused as she realized their two guides were now looking at them oddly, so she cleared her throat and said carefully: “I have heard that in certain places around the world, dragons are made assistants and apprentices to mages.”

“Oh, yes, they do that at the magic academy for the most gifted students! Those dragons often grow up to be battle mounts and royal steeds.” said one of the pony assistants cheerfully, before he paused and added brightly: “Here we are, ma'am, a stall big enough for your black dragon. I must say, he's quite a handsome fellow... yes, aren't you, boy?”

“Hi.” Scrivener said sourly to the assistant, who winced and wilted a little as the other uniformed pony coughed violently into a hoof in a failed attempt to hide his giggles. “I can talk. I can think. I can even dance a little.”

“Aye, he can. He is a very good dancer.” Luna informed, and then she bounced a little on top of Scrivener's head before asking suddenly, eyes gleaming with interest: “So, does Princess Celestia ride a mighty dragon herself?”

“The greatest! Helios, the mighty king of all dragons!” extolled one of the uniformed ponies brightly. “They say that it's the fire of Helios that powers the sun... that without him, the sun would go dark. He and Princess Celestia work together to maintain harmony across our world, without them, there would be no Equestria, no seasons, no day or night.”

Luna smiled a bit at this, then she said softly: “And I suppose there is not a younger sibling on this world... rather, in this country, then? No Princess of the Night?”

“Well... there's the legend of Nightmare Moon, who rode the terrible dracolich Tartarus. They say that his bones now form a prison where Princess Celestia banished countless demons and monsters, but I'm sure it's all just legend. It was all over nine hundred years ago, after all.” said the other pony dismissively, and then both uniformed ponies turned to yank open the doors to the stall... and froze completely at what was inside.

Luna, Scrivener, and Twilight all leaned forwards and stared blankly, but they at least were able to process a little of what they were seeing: Hel – or rather, an ice puppet of Hel – sipping daintily at a teacup with her pinkie raised, as the Mad Hatter giggled at the other end of the table, happily prancing around in a circle as he stirred up something in a teapot with a wooden spoon. A bevy of Draconequus filled the seats between the two, as well as one unexpected guest seated dejectedly near the center of the table: Terra.

“What in Helheim's name art thou all doing here?” Luna shouted, and Terra blinked in surprise before she looked up as the Mad Hatter toppled off the table and the Draconequus all winced. Then Terra leapt to her claws, gaping in just as much surprise, the remains of a torn-and-slashed blue dress hanging off her body and a matching little bow behind one horn. “Damnation, we have been worried about thee! And Hel-”

Hel held up a finger of her free hand as she guzzled the tea from the cup, most of which ran down her chin and out of her mouth as steam rose up from the puppet, and the uniformed ponies traded stupefied looks before the dark goddess simply snapped her fingers. A moment later, they were both frozen in thin layers of ice, and she let out a sigh of relief as she lowered the teacup and tossed it away, smacking her lips and not seeming to care that the rest of the tea she had 'drank' was now leaking out of her puppet's jaws and staining the dress of snow she was wearing. “There we go! Oh, I miss teatime, but with the Hatter, it's always-”

“Bless your souls, friends, is it ever good to see you and to be out of this madhouse!” Terra cried, and then she leapt over the table... and stupidly stumbled to a halt as she realized she was only half Luna's height, mouthing wordlessly. Scrivener and Luna both blinked, then did a double table as they realized the stall wasn't that big, and the group wasn't that far away: they were just... that small. “What in the name of... Hel!”

“That's my name, don't wear it out.” Hel paused, then she touched her own chest innocently as Terra glared furiously at her. “Oh come on now. I might regularly abuse my powers to modify time and space as I please for really silly, childish things, but that doesn't mean I'd just use it to make you short, sweetiepie. And if I did make you short, I wouldn't make me short. It's the Hatter's fault, not mine.”

“Don't call him that!” Terra thundered, and all the Draconequus quailed in terror, covering their heads at the same moment even as Theophilius Carter popped dumbly up on the other side of the furnishing. Terra caught this in the corner of her eye, and stopped herself from shouting any further at Hel, gritting her teeth before turning her eyes towards the god of chaos, saying quietly: “Kvasir. I would like you to please return me to my normal size.”

“Well, I can't. I didn't do it. That's part of Wonderland's rules, my dear, because even chaos has to have rules, which is such a funny thought, isn't it?” Kvasir chuckled, then he shook his head before adding pleasantly, holding up a platter of scones that appeared out of thin air: “Here. Have a biscuit. A nice biscuit will always help you grow, my dear, just like precious, precious cake.”

There was silence for a moment, and then Terra sighed softly before she quietly approached the table. She shoved two Draconequus out of the way, making them both wince, and then she reached up and snatched a scone, studying it silently before murmuring: “Thank you, Kvasir.”

“Theophilius, my dear, but you can just call me the Hatter if that's too hard to recall!” the exuberant god said cheerfully, spinning easily around on the spot and holding the platter out wide, bouncing the scones without sending them scattering before he skidded to a halt and looked at her tenderly. “Kvasir isn't here right now, you see, and neither is Foldraumr. But believe me, my dearest Alice, when I say they say they both very much want to be.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Terra simply bit into the scone and chewed slowly on it. In a few moments, she began to grow, returning to her normal size as she looked silently down at the Mad Hatter, who only smiled kindly up at her in response before he spun suddenly around and leapt onto the tea table, tossing the platter away in a spray of biscuits before he seemed to pull the teapot he had been mixing something in earlier out of his jacket, looking back and forth as he tossed it from hand-to-hand while asking brightly: “And who would like some tea?”

All the Draconequus attempted to hide, apart from one: a confused-looking Discord, who was whimpering a little before he squeaked and grabbed at his head when the Hatter leapt over to him, saying hurriedly: “I don't know what I'm doing here! I don't know who you are! I don't know what I'm fighting for, or why I have to scream... wait, wait, no, I know that part!”

“Your sum is only forty, Discord, therefore I cannot allow you to consume any light, poke any wombs, raise any armies or take part in any frivolous group activities. No apocalypse for you.” The Mad Hatter lightly bopped Discord on the head, then easily poured him a cup of tea and shoved this to the terrified-looking Draconequus. “Now, I know. You just woke up. You were stone. And why, I have been stoned many times, but never quite like you were. You just must do me a little favor and you can go back to quiet time.”

“I don't like it here. The ponies ride dragons and said dragons may attempt to eat me.” Discord whined, but then he simply huffed when the Mad Hatter cheerfully ruffled up his mane, sulking and crossing his arms as he mumbled: “And I'm supposed to be the Hatter.”

“Oh shut up, chaos spirit, no one likes you anyway.” Hel said disdainfully, and Discord glowered at her before the dark goddess clapped her hands together and smiled brightly over at the still-staring Scrivener, Luna, and Twilight.

Then Hecate suddenly shoved her way through the three, almost knocking the undead ponies sprawling. She brushed past Terra, and the Mad Hatter looked up brightly before he hopped off the table, thrusting a teacup out towards the dark goddess as he ran towards her, opening his mouth cheerfully... and then he squeaked when Hecate picked him up by the collar and tie before flinging him across the room and into a wall, not taking her eyes off Hel as she asked darkly: “You used us as bait for the Light, didn't you?”

“What? No. No! Not at all, never!” Hel looked injured, putting her hands over her chest before she looked up and smiled almost slyly at Hecate. “But I did decide to keep an eye on what was going on after they attacked you. Which, by the way, you should be thanking me for. Had things gone south, I was totally going to jump in and save you, you know. Or at least Theophilius here was. Oh, we both hate it when people can't attend the tea party, after all!”

“Indeed we do!” Theophilius nodded firmly several times in agreement, then he paused before rubbing thoughtfully several times at his face, looking like he'd already forgotten that the large, angry metal behemoth had just thrown him across the stall. “Say. Why didn't we bring the tea party to them, since they've failed so many times in the past to come to us?”

“Well, because here they are now, of course! Think of what silliness it would have been to have had brought the tea party to them in the past instead of having the table all nice and set, the guests all arranged in the now... why, now might be a very different now if we'd shown up then!” Hel exclaimed in response, making a wide gesture with both arms towards the Mad Hatter, and he smiled warmly and nodded violently several times in agreement.

“Right you are, White Queen! But you always did know best, now didn't you?” he said cheerfully, and Hel pretended to blush and dropped into a curtsy... a moment before Hecate slammed a fist into the ice puppet and shattered it into pieces, the Mad Hatter wincing and reaching up to grab both sides of his top hat, yanking it down to half-cover his eyes as he mumbled: “Well now. You don't have to be so fierce, Miss Carpenter. She is not an oyster.”

Hecate glared over at the Mad Hatter, but before she could make any kind of retort, Hel quickly reformed in front of her, the ice puppet moodily cracking her neck before she complained: “Do you know how much of a pain in the ass it is for me to go through that every time one of you jerks decides to throw a temper tantrum? Seriously, it's like... when you go out the door and you realize you forgot something and you turn around and it's locked but you know you gotta go get what you lost and you dig around for your keys and-”

Hecate swung a metal fist at Hel again, but this time the ice puppet caught it and squeezed down on the steel, rupturing the claw and making Hecate's arm sizzle with electricity as the dark goddess said in a suddenly soft, dangerous, sane voice: “I wasn't finished talking.”

There was silence for a few long moments, Hecate staring in surprise at Hel as Hel looked evenly back... then suddenly smiled, saying positively: “I forgot what I was talking about! Oh well!”

She looked down at her hand, then giggled and swung Hecate's limp arm back and forth a few times before tossing the metal fist down, almost making the mechanical goddess stumble as Hel said in a friendly voice: “But the big point of all this is that I'm watching you guys, keeping an eye on you, and getting all the information I can on the Light. Now, you got the garage door opener, right? That's swell, real swell... and we're gonna put it to use oh so very soon, don't you girls worry about that.”

She paused, then looked meditatively over Scrivener Blooms, then turned her eyes curiously towards Luna Brynhild before leaning towards her, saying conversationally: “You know, I could make that whole undeath thing permanent if you were interested at all-”

“Silence, Hel!” Luna snapped, baring her fangs, and Hel pretended to recoil as the Mad Hatter yelped. Terra only frowned for a moment, then suddenly looked sharply at Luna Brynhild, her eyes widening in horror, but the sapphire mare shook her head quickly and muttered: “'Tis a long story and the enchantment... I think it has finally started to fade. I feel... I feel a tingling in my hooves.”

“There's a fancy science term for that, but I completely forget what it is.” Hel said helpfully, and Scrivener Blooms sighed tiredly but forced himself to otherwise not respond, as Luna only scowled and Hecate grumbled under her breath... but didn't dare risk the wrath of Hel again, the others couldn't help but notice.

Only Twilight seemed to be effectively rolling with the punches... but that was in part because she was smiling faintly over at Terra, keeping her focus on the Ironjaw as she said quietly: “It's good to see you. You'll be happy to know that Morning Glory has been looking after Taruos.”

“That demon? Oh, sod it, I'm going to get home to find my son even more rude and obnoxious than he already is.” Terra said disgustedly, but there was clear relief in her eyes as she nodded a few times. Twilight only laughed and shook her head, understanding after all the years with Luna and Scrivener and all their other strange friends how this was Terra's way of expressing affection for Morning Glory... before both pony and dragon looked up in surprise as the Mad Hatter popped up beside them, smiling from one to the other.

But he suddenly seemed... his smile was thinner than usual, his eyes almost haunted as he looked back and forth before he leaned forwards and said curiously: “Taruos... oh, Taruos, I don't know him at all, Alice, and yet, I think... I think I think I think that I do... oh Alice, you've all grown up since the last time you came down the rabbit hole with me, and its so hard to keep up with you when you're not just a little girl anymore...”

Terra smiled faintly, and Theophilius shivered before hugging himself and murmuring: “Oh dear me. I think my grave just walked over a ghost. It was very inconsiderate of it, and now I feel so... strange and guilty, but I suppose one's grave is one's lifetime responsibility, is it not? Even though one certainly doesn't want to be responsible for it, but much like a cat, it's there at the end of the day and you have no real choice but to take care of it despite the fact it does so little to take care of you...”

The Mad Hatter halted, then he shook his head and suddenly hopped backwards, grabbing wildly at his coat and spilling tea towels and cups and spoons in all directions from his pockets before he managed to yank a watch free, fumbling it back and forth before holding it up and whispering: “Oh my, look at the time. It's changed, and that means I must make a change myself. Excuse me, Alice, and dear flower of the garden. I must make haste, and making haste is a very difficult recipe that takes a very long time indeed.”

With that, the Mad Hatter bowed even as Terra began to lean forwards, but he vanished before she could say anything... and the Ironjaw gritted her teeth before slamming her fist down into the ground in front of her, then punching the hard floor of the stall twice more, leaning forwards with a curse of frustration.

There was silence for a few moments as all eyes were drawn towards this, before the Draconequus at the table began to pop out of existence, one after the other. Finally, only Discord was left, looking blankly back and forth before he cleared his throat and held up his lion's paw, saying lamely: “Excuse me, miss large, strange, and scary, but my ass appears to be glued to this seat.”

“Yeah, sorry about that, kid.” Hel said absently, and Discord's eyes widened before he touched his own chest, looking incensed.

“Kid? Kid!” The Draconequus flailed as if outraged, opening his mouth... and then he squeaked when Hel burst apart into blue, freezing mist that quickly reformed right beside him into her ice puppet, bovine features grinning widely and almost shoved into Discord's, half-hanging off the chair he was sitting in as she glared at him.

“Kid!” she confirmed, then she leaned back, creating a pacifier in one hand and shoving it forcefully into Discord's mouth before clapping her hands together, a bonnet and pink bib appearing and fastening themselves tightly onto the Draconequus despite his flails of protest before he winced and fell still when the dark goddess loomed towards him threateningly. “And really, you're more like a toddler to me like this, so here's the deal: be a good little boy for me and I won't put you in a diapee for your snuggle-butt, got it?”

Discord nodded lamely a few times, and Hel sniffed disdainfully before she straightened and brushed at herself, then scowled. “Oh my name, I forgot what we were talking about again. Great. My memory is just all full of holes today.”

“We would like to go home.” Luna said as diplomatically as possible, and Hel nodded a few times as she absently jerked a thumb over her shoulder at Discord.

“Yeah, I figured. Why do you think Tweedle-don't is here? He's going to make you a portal. Well, with a little bit of help from yours truly.” Hel preened for a moment, then she brightened and snapped her fingers, looking up at Scrivener Blooms. “That's it! That's what I wanted from you guys... you gotta do me one little itsy-bitsy favor before you go. Don't worry, this isn't an... eternal damnation thing or anything. And it's definitely a story-related quest. You cannot progress through the story unless you complete this quest.”

She paused, then leaned over and whispered loudly to Discord: “I'm trying to be more like that Discombobulation guy. You know. Who does all the references?”

“I hate that guy.” Discord said immediately, and then he winced when Hel glared at him, sucking back on his pacifier before managing around it: “But I really like you!”

“Oh you sound so cute!” Hel giggled, then suddenly stomped down on the ground, freezing the Draconequus solid in a block of ice as she grumbled: “But I hate brown nosers, you twinkie. Anyway, cinnamon bun, vanilla wafer, chocolate pudding. My favor.”

Luna narrowed her eyes dangerously, but Hel only smiled before he puppet began to glow strangely. A moment later, a distinct ripple went through her stomach, leaving behind an open window gazing in on Hel's inner sanctum... and inside it, Hel herself.

She was attempting to push something through the window, and the ponies winced before Luna finally stepped hesitantly forwards and reached out before grimacing as her hoof passed into the portal. Hel – both the puppet and the real Hel on the other side of the shimmering gateway – looked surprised, but then the goddess smiled and carefully placed something in Luna's hoof.

She drew it back... and stared blankly at an empty little porcelain box, the sapphire mare opening it and looking dumbly inside to realize there was nothing there. Hel's puppet stepped backwards, and the window into Hel's domain vanished before the puppet touched its stomach and gave them a big set of puppy eyes, whimpering: “I'm hungry.”

“Thou... thou wants us to feed thee?” Luna asked incredulously, and Hel nodded firmly several times before the sapphire mare slowly gritted her teeth, one eye twitching as she hissed: “We are carrying a bomb that could make or break the destiny of Heaven itself... we are being tracked by Heaven and Mimir knows what kinds of evils and... and worse, goods... and... thou desires us fetch thee a snack!”

“Preferably cookies! I need a munchy.” Hel said cheerfully, rubbing her stomach pointedly. Luna stared for a moment at this, and then her whole head ticked to the side as she let out a gargle of incomprehensible fury, looking like she was about to herniate as Scrivener Blooms only gaped disbelievingly and Twilight Sparkle winced.

Terra was only sulking, looking utterly unsurprised, and Hecate was glowering at Hel... but strangely, looked almost like she'd expected something like this. Luna opened her mouth to shout at Hel, ready to break into a furious tirade, but Twilight leapt hurriedly forwards and said awkwardly: “It'll just be a second, right? And Luna, we can... we can get a snack for ourselves, too and... well... we can... use this... I mean...”

“Oh, wait, no. Conditions. Only one of you is allowed to go get my snack.” Hel informed, and Luna slowly turned her eyes towards the goddess again, looking even further infuriated by this. “It's like. It's like a uh. Challenge. Super challenge. Like a battle arena. Except for cookies. Please get me cookies. I'd really like some cookies.”

“I'll go!” Twilight volunteered hurriedly, even as Luna rose the porcelain box as if to smash it, and Luna turned a disbelieving look at the Lich. But Twilight met her eyes almost pleadingly, and Luna grimaced a bit: there was kindness, and compassion, and logic, too: this would make Hel happy, and a happy Hel was more likely to work with them and help them. And of course, Twilight mentally pointed out this might just be what Hel wanted: making Luna angry and upset so she did something stupid... which would inevitably make them even more indebted to Hel when she swooped in to save the day or share some other long-lost secret with them.

Luna grumbled under her breath, the she finally relented, glaring over at Twilight and saying moodily as she held out the porcelain box: “Thou had best get the best damned fudge for me that thou can find. The very best. And do not leave us alone here for long with this... creature.”

“Oh shush, Brynhild, there's a candy store right around the corner with all kinds of treats on display, Twilight Sparkle can easily find it.” Hel said crossly, and then she absently snapped her fingers, the block of ice around Discrod melting away as she added: “Now, go get my cookies. And I'll fix what you've gone and done to the big boy here and have Discord over there fix up a portal for you.”

“Yes, then we can all go somewhere else. You can go back to your... oh, I don't know, wherever the puppy is these days, and eat all the ginger snaps you want with him.” Discord said grumpily, and Hel blew a loud raspberry at him before she pointed threateningly at the Draconequus, and he winced a bit and lowered his head, muttering: “It's no fun when other people have more power over reality than you do. I'm supposed to be chaos! You can't tell chaos what to do!”

“I can if I can also bend chaos over my knee and spank it like a dominatrix spanks her submissive accountant when he tries to shortchange her for that new whalebone corset.” Hel argued, and then she paused and asked meditatively: “Was that example too creepily specific? Because I swear, I swear up and down, that's never once happened to me. I don't even own a whalebone corset. I don't even own a whale.”

Then she simply shrugged before snapping her fingers, and Discord yelped as his chair toppled over with a loud thump before launching itself upwards and slamming him face-first into the table, leaving him flopped over in a stunned pile before she turned her eyes forwards... and huffed when she realized Twilight Sparkle was already gone, whining: “Oh come on! I was being funny! You can't just up and leave while I'm in the middle of being funny!”

“Thou art not funny. Thou art trying the patience of us all.” Luna said grouchily, and then the sapphire mare shook her head slowly before she closed her eyes and bowed her head forwards, saying slowly: “I understand that in thine own way... thou art trying to help us. That... perhaps thou even has some... grand designs behind fetching this... cookie. But for once... just once, Hel... could thou not simply... do, instead of... playing ridiculous mind games with us?”

For a few moments, the dark goddess looked at them meditatively, and then she simply rose a hand and snapped her fingers. And Luna gargled, staggering as agony ripped through her system before she snarled furiously up at Hel... then blinked in surprise when there was a dull thump behind her, followed by a groan and a mumble of: “Ow.”

She looked over her shoulder and stared in surprise at the sight of Scrivener Blooms: he was once more in the form of a stallion, but he looked... wet, in a word, and there was a puddle of dark ooze slowly spreading through the stall around him that Terra stepped away from with a wince. He shivered a bit in pain, and Hel shrugged before she said mildly: “There you go. Fixed that for you. Next time you want to turn him into a Tyrant Wyrm, don't just pump him with as much energy as you can. That causes bad things to happen. I hope you've learned this valuable lesson.”

Luna mouthed wordlessly a few times, and then she looked dumbly back at the dark goddess before Hel waved a hand absently. “Oh, you kids would have figured it out on your own eventually... and hey, that's what I'm really all about you know, getting you to figure stuff out on your own! But in this case, you asked... I answered. Simple as that, cinnamon stick. So let's not make too much of a big deal out of this, okay, and we'll just keep rolling forwards as if everything is fine and dandy as normal, shall we?”

Luna shifted awkwardly back and forth, and then Hecate looked up from absently adjusting her damaged steel wrist to say with what sounded almost like disgust: “Then I suppose you actually have faith in these ponies?”

“More than you can imagine.” Hel gave a big smile, and Luna and Scrivener both stared as the stallion picked himself slowly up. But no one said anything further: Terra half-drew away from the group to her own thoughts, Luna simply shifted embarrassedly and dropped her head, and Scrivener watched as his Talons settled into place around his forelegs, a bit of dark blood oozing around the edges. They had shrunken down with him almost as quickly as he had, but were taking longer to lock into place, so-to-speak... and the stallion grimaced a bit as he shook one limb slowly, feeling the way it seemed almost loose and how much it hurt right now before he sighed and looked uneasily up.

Hel was still smiling at them... but after only a few minutes, they were thankfully spared any further awkwardness by Twilight Sparkle striding back to join them, the two ponies looking at her with relief as she smiled warmly over at Scrivener Blooms, before the stallion frowned a little as he saw a thin cut on her face. But the Lich only shook her head as she passed, saying softly: “Don't worry about me. It's just... my spirit is starting to stress this body. But it's held up really well, Hel, and... I want to say thank you for... letting me feel a little more alive again than I usually do.”

Hel shrugged, looking pleased with herself as she almost snatched the porcelain box away from Twilight before she could even offer it, and then the dark goddess opened it and peered greedily down... before blinking in surprise, head rearing back before she said almost disbelievingly: “Ginger snaps?”

“Yeah, I... I guess you could call it a... hopeful guess and... I...” Twilight looked hesitantly over her shoulder at Luna, and although the sapphire mare groaned loudly, she nodded reluctantly after a moment: Hel had just essentially fixed Scrivener Blooms, so... “I can go get something better if you... you know...”

“No, this... this is...” Hel stopped, then shook her head slowly and laughed quietly, studying the little porcelain box silently before she whispered: “Yes. This is wonderful.”

She cleared her throat, then smiled again before simply flicking her wrist and making the box vanish, the goddess dropping her head forwards for a moment before she looked over at Discord and said mildly: “We're going to open a portal now. You get to act as a conduit. Don't worry, it's gonna hurt the you on the other side just as much.”

“Oh, yippee.” Discord said drolly, and then he opened his mouth before howling in pain as Hel pointed at him, flailing his limbs wildly as the table and chairs all vanished.

Twilight Sparkle winced and leaned uncertainly forwards as Luna grimaced and Scrivener looked dumbly up, and then Hel cleared her throat loudly before she said moodily over her shoulder to the floating, flailing Draconequus: “Hey, dummy. The pain part hasn't started yet. This is just the 'getting you into position' part.”

“That's why I'm screaming, I'm terrified of what's going to happen next.” Discord said almost reasonably, and then he winced as he floated around in a circle, trying uselessly to curl up as Hel rolled her eyes before snapping her fingers, large pillars of ice appearing and binding the Draconequus in midair. “Oh, Momma, your little boy is coming home!”

“Chaos entities. So dramatic.” Hel said wryly, and then she glanced mildly over her shoulder as Luna shifted uneasily. “I'm going to open the portal, since you completed that nice little job for me so well. You're going to go home, get the garage door opener to a safe place. And I'll come visit soon to let you know the game plan once I take care of a few things.”

“That... that's it?” Luna asked incredulously, and then she winced, looking up at Discord as energy sparked around him. “And what... what art thou doing? Thou art capable of creating a portal-”

“Yeah, genius, what happened when you used the Bifrost last time? This is a little different. A direct hop from one point of contact to another. You'd just better hope your Discord is out on the town, not in his hidey hole below reality.” Hel said mildly, and then she snapped her fingers, and Discord arched his back with a groan of pain as a strange green portal began to swirl into being in front of him, arcs of chaotic energies sparking between the Draconequus and the portal. “Hey, that was easier than I thought it would be! Okay kids, get going!”

“Yeah, p-please! Hurry!” Discord pleaded through gritted teeth, and then he cursed and twitched, wheezing: “I'm trying to be a big boy about this but lady, I'm going to start c-crying soon if you don't... oh, Loki!”

“I... come, into the rift!” Luna finally ordered, not knowing what else to do or say: and in spite of all her hesitations, all the questions she wanted to ask, she forced herself to stumble forwards into a run, charging straight into the hole in reality and vanishing through it with Scrivener just behind and Twilight following. A moment later, Terra cursed and ran after the three ponies, vanishing into the rift herself and clearly trying to look anywhere except at Hel.

Hecate came last, stopping in front of the portal for a moment and looking coolly over at Hel, but Hel simply smiled and gave a little wave as Discord whimpered in pain. Then the mechanical goddess snorted before stepping forwards into the rift herself, even as she shivered: not at Hel's power, not at what Hel was doing to the Draconequus... but at the strange way the dark goddess kept looking at these ponies, like she had more plans for them than they could even begin to imagine.

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