• 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 Rebirth Of Nightmare Moon

Chapter Sixty: The Rebirth of Nightmare Moon

They were back in Ponyville, and Luna was peacefully laying on the library table, smiling up at the ceiling. Scrivener Blooms looked pale and ill, and Twilight was doing her damnedest not to stare, feeling almost as sick to her stomach as Celestia calmly extracted another organ from Luna's cut-open body, the ivory mare oddly detached and her mane tied tightly back as she murmured thoughtfully: “Interesting. More effects of corruption.”

“Aye, 'tis. And wouldst thou both cease being such great, infernal wimps? The undeath enchantment still holds over me, I barely feel myself starting to live again. Aye, I am at least feeling it when Celestia pokes and prods me...” Luna giggled for a moment, and ignored the horrible looks both Scrivener and Twilight shot her. “But all the same 'tis most certainly not pain.”

“That doesn't take away from how disturbing it is, Luna. You're being. Dissected. So that Celestia can assess what my corruption's done to you and...” Scrivener shuddered, then he turned his eyes uneasily towards the massive cauldron resting nearby: earlier, it had given a long, loud sigh, and the stallion lowered his voice as he asked quietly: “And shouldn't we... not do this kind of thing around... that? I mean... Nightmare Moon...”

“I believe she is awake, but I am not about to go and drag the entity of passion out of bed. That strikes me as a rather foolish thing to do, considering how cranky Scrivy and Twilight tell me I can be if I am dragged out of bed before I choose to get up.” Luna paused meditatively, adding wryly: “And I dare not guess at what is going on inside that awful pot in any event. All I am sure of is that she will emerge when she is ready.”

Scrivener Blooms nodded moodily after a moment, then he sighed and turned his eyes back towards the library table... and shivered as Celestia removed another organ and gently laid it down on the wooden surface, the stallion asking awkwardly: “Is that... that really can't be... sterile...”

“Thou art sterile!” Luna snapped, sitting up a little, and Celestia sighed and gently pushed her sister back down, the sapphire mare grumbling before she complained: “Scrivy, damnation, cease this... audience... seat... hoof-guiding. Thou art stupid. Cease being so stupid. Besides, I am not bleeding everywhere. 'Tis only liquid that is gross.”

Scrivener slowly closed his eyes as Twilight Sparkle sighed tiredly, and Celestia said absently: “The library is closed until further notice right now. Try not to worry too much about it, either of you... besides, we all know what diseases Luna is carrying and what she isn't.”

“I... oh shut up, Celestia.” Luna huffed and flailed a hoof blindly in the ivory mare's direction, and then she suddenly flinched when Celestia poked something before mumbling: “That I actually felt. What did thou just poke?”

“Your heart. Which also seems... different. The muscle is larger than it should be, and the flesh is more durable... although it seems that your nerves are starting to act up. I'd better start putting everything back.” the one-eyed mare said softly, and Luna grimaced a bit and nodded with a grunt before she sighed and slumped, gazing moodily up at the ceiling as Scrivy and Twilight traded uneasy looks between themselves.

The stallion began to open his mouth, and Luna smiled faintly over at him, shaking her head and murmuring: “Do not be such an idiot, Scrivener Blooms. This is not all thy fault. Much of this... is all upon my own head. I am to blame. So. Do not be stupid.” She stopped, then looked down for a moment, watching as Celestia carefully slipped organs back into her body, and then she murmured: “Come here. Help Celestia. Thou knows me inside out, does thou not?”

Scrivener couldn't help but smile at the pun even as he strode forwards, shaking his head slowly and saying softly: “That's awful, Luna.”

“Aye, mayhaps. But still. There is a strange romance in this, is there not?” Luna said almost encouragingly, and Scrivener shrugged a bit as he carefully lifted a kidney, looking at it awkwardly before Celestia reached out and gently took his Talon, guiding it to its place inside Luna's open body.

It made him feel uncomfortable: not because it was all so strange, but because Scrivener could find... beauty in it. And he felt love for Luna, and felt her love for him, and the mutual trust and respect between them: for her to be able to do this, and for him to be able to help put her back together, as he automatically concentrated a bit of corruption into the organ... and Luna sighed in what was almost pleasure as veins and tubes and other parts sealed back together as easily as a puzzle piece snapping into place.

And there was that sense of lingering power still, and lust, and... he enjoyed this. It scared him a lot, almost as much as it scared him what that Tyrant Wyrm part of his mind was whispering to him. It felt almost like while Hel had easily changed him back into earth pony shape and form, his mind was still that of the beast he'd become... but then again...

“Shut up thy thoughts, poet, and concentrate on the here and now, before I come alive with no stomach or liver or anything else.” Luna said softly, and Scrivener smiled a bit and nodded before he sighed a little, beginning to carefully piece her back together as Celestia simply sat back and wiped her hooves on a rag, shaking her head absently to let her ivory braids spill down around her shoulders.

Twilight Sparkle simply sat back and watched, gazing tenderly at the two before she shook her head briefly and turned her eyes towards the covered cauldron. The Lich studied it silently, almost feeling a pulse coming from inside it before she asked quietly: “What are we going to do? I mean... we're going to have to attack Greater Heaven soon, right?”

“That is the hope.” Luna muttered, looking moodily up at the ceiling. “And 'twas fortunate we ended up in Subterra, although Discord was understandably upset at being used as a waypoint. But Terra will marshal what forces of Valhalla remain and call upon her Ironjaw brethren, and we can assume that Hel will bring her own forces to bear. Subterra's armies have gathered, and there are several small but elite units of mortal ponies that desire to help us...”

She fell into a moody quiet all the same, looking down for a few moments, and then Celestia said softly: “We're going to do whatever we have to. The Fates will be helping us, and Dusk and Imago are both going to have... forces of their own to bring to the fray. Disturbing as that may be. And you have at least one Tyrant Wyrm, Scrivener Blooms. Normally I'd be against that but...”

Celestia gave a small smile and shook her head, muttering: “No. Let me rephrase: in the past, I would be against that. In the present... I only wish we had more like it at our disposal.”

Scrivener gave an awkward smile, and then Celestia looked over her shoulder at the Agony Pot, adding in a murmur after a moment: “And we'll have another ally at our disposal soon... in all likelihood, a very powerful one. I just hope that she was honest about what she said before.”

Luna nodded with a grunt, looking down and licking her lips slowly, and then she sighed softly and said quietly: “'Tis strange, but I am somehow sure she is. I am... almost eager to see her awaken.”

“That's because you're a masochist. And a sadist. A sadomasochist.” Scrivener muttered, and then he grimaced as he held up an organ and looked awkwardly over at Celestia, saying lamely: “I. Don't know how the hell this goes in. Or what it even is.”

“Oh, over here.” Celestia said gently, pointing to an empty section before she added: “You have it upside down. See the duct?”

“Right, okay. Thanks.” Scrivener grimaced a bit again as he leaned down, carefully reattaching the organ before he looked up at Twilight Sparkle, unable to stop himself from wondering if she'd ever... well... oh dammit, stop that, they're not puzzles.

Twilight blushed and looked awkwardly away, and there was silence for a few moments before the Lich said softly, her eyes almost shy as they returned towards Scrivener. “But you know that... you just have to ask, Scrivy. I'm... I don't mind.”

Scrivener blushed a bit at this, then he smiled awkwardly as he finished slipping the last organ into Luna's body. That left her ribs to reattach and then flesh to fold down, and the stallion rubbed slowly at his face before grimacing as he accidentally smeared blood along his cheek. He absently touched this, and then looked up as Twilight's own hoof settled against the streak, the Lich saying softly: “You're not a monster. Try to remember that.”

“We're all kind of monsters, Twilight. As much as I hate to say that about... all of us. But we all kind of are.” Scrivener Blooms replied softly, and Twilight Sparkle smiled faintly as she lowered her head and nodded slowly after a moment. Then the stallion gave a bit of a smile, adding softly as the studied the stitching over her cheek: “Of course, you'd be a lot less of one if you'd just stop being so codependent with us. Luna and I are bad influences.”

“Oh shut up, Scrivy. And thou should... lick my organs.” Luna waggled her eyebrows, but Scrivener only rolled his eyes and turned to grab one of her ribs from the neat line Celestia had made, locking it into place and concentrating corruption into it. It made Luna shiver, but also huff a bit as it healed, the sapphire mare complaining: “Thou could lick my womb! Imagine it! Licking my birth sack, this could be thy only chance!”

“Chance missed. Please stop talking. Forever.” Scrivener said dryly, and Twilight grimaced before she picked up a rib with telekinesis and slipped it into place on the other side of Luna's body, fusing bone back to bone with magic. The result was cleaner than Scrivener's corruption, but it made Luna twitch a bit and grumble moodily, looking sulkily between the two ponies.

They worked quickly and efficiently while Celestia turned to a notebook, jotting down some of her findings, until they finally closed Luna up: Scrivener left a trail of corruption over the wound that Luna's body greedily absorbed, the sapphire mare smiling and shivering in pleasure... then hissing and flailing a bit when Twilight Sparkle used magic to cauterize the rest of the injury closed, before the starry-maned pony settled against the desk and grumbled: “Thy magic is waking up my nerves. 'Tis extremely unpleasant.”

Twilight smiled awkwardly, but then all three of the soul-linked ponies looked up as Twilight slipped off the table, as Celestia said quietly: “Your internal organs are changing, Luna. I think all of them show traces of corruption... but they don't look entirely like a pony's organs. And while I can't do a complete autopsy or analysis, I saw more veins than normal. As well as...”

She hesitated, then shook her head slowly, saying quietly: “Your body craves the corruption because it's... changing in such a way that it might be trying to generate its own. Or at least mimic what I'm guessing is how Scrivener's own body is configured... with extra veins to carry more of the poison, and better administer it when necessary.”

Scrivener looked uneasily down at one of his Talons, flexing it slowly, and Luna shook her head before she muttered: “So... so what, Celestia? It does not matter at this point, does it?”

“Luna, you're already an addict, and the corruption has... dangerous effects on you. Do you really want to become something... worse?” Celestia asked quietly, meeting her younger sibling's eyes, and Luna shifted uneasily before her own eyes flicked away.

There was silence for a few moments, and the ivory mare sighed quietly... then she frowned and looked slowly to the side. The others followed her gaze towards the cauldron, and they realized after a moment what had drawn Celestia's attention: it was trembling, the lid giving an almost inaudible rattle before it suddenly stopped.

Everything was still as the seconds passed, the ponies not daring to move as they gazed upon the cauldron, which only sat as silent and still as they were, as if it was waiting for them to make the first move. And finally, Luna gritted her teeth before she strode forwards, breathing slowly in and out and feeling a strange weight and fear in her chest before she forced her head to raise high, her voice not to tremble as she shouted: “Nightmare Moon! Show thyself!”

The Agony Pot trembled once... and slowly, the lid finally lifted, black smoke belching out and pouring upwards. It smelled of sulfur and mire and strangest of all, something sweet and almost intoxicating, something that brought back old, ancient memories...

It cleared quickly as the lid fell free, clanging loudly to the library floor, and the Agony Pot gave a final long, weak sigh as a shape slowly unfurled itself from inside. A shape that smiled and showed off large fangs and carnivorous teeth, a shape with a coat of blackest night, and a mane of misty blue flames that swirled and danced around it. A shape with brilliant green eyes locked on Luna's bluer-green irises. A shape that was beautiful, from its cloven hooves to the tip of its horn as it half-languished over the lip of the cauldron, leaning forwards and saying in a soft, silky voice: “And finally... we are able to look eye-to-eye instead of simply sharing gazes...”

Nightmare Moon smiled softly, her eyes flicking slowly over the ponies in front of her before she unfurled herself from the cauldron, climbing out of it, her dark coat gleaming as she stretched up to her full height, a long, whip-like tail ending in a tuft of sapphire fire flicking. She was noticeably taller than Celestia, casting an immense shadow across the room before she curiously looked over her own shoulder... and smiled softly at the sight of her cutie mark. Not just the crescent moon, but the crescent moon with a black rose blossom cradled within the curve, the mare saying tenderly: “Yes. You are part of us and we are part of you forever. I am, I should say... it's so strange to be apart, dear Luna...”

Nightmare Moon's eyes gleamed as her gaze locked with the sapphire mare, and Luna shivered as she felt a ghostly grip on her shoulders, heard the passion entity whisper in her mind: But we're never truly apart. Any of us.

“It is... good to see thou art finally awake.” was all that Luna could manage to say, keeping herself as cordial as possible before she scowled a little despite herself, adding wryly: “Thou art very pretty. Vain creature, did thou spend all thy time in the cauldron primping and preening?”

Nightmare Moon frowned at this, reaching up a hoof to touch her own face before her eyes widened slightly, and then she murmured: “Of course. This body is new... I haven't yet earned my honors, declared my loyalties. I shall have to do that as soon as you will allow me.”

Luna grunted as Scrivener Blooms shifted awkwardly, before Celestia stepped slowly forwards. Her eye burned as she looked up at Nightmare Moon, who gazed calmly back down at the ivory mare before Celestia asked quietly: “Will you obey me?”

“No. I will not, sister.” Nightmare Moon smiled, then she stretched a hoof towards the three soulbound ponies, saying softly: “But I must obey their orders.”

Celestia studied Nightmare Moon intently with her single eye, and Nightmare Moon looked calmly back at the ivory mare, letting her eyes draw across her features, taking in the hard, golden leather patch now covering the crystal she had in place of an eye. Then Nightmare Moon suddenly smiled, adding softly: “But if my King of the Night or either of my Mistresses deemed that I should serve you... then I gladly will.”

“Then thou must do whatever Celestia asks thou to, Nightmare Moon, although I had hoped that would go without speaking.” Luna said quickly, and the enormous, dark entity nodded without hesitation, without fear, without anything but... that same, almost-strange smile. It made Luna feel a little uncomfortable as she shifted, then asked in spite of herself: “Damnation, creature... does thou not realize I have just forced thee to bow to the mare whom many still think of as thy archnemesis?”

“Many are fools. And more than that... I am happy. I obey you, and I am happy. There is no fear, no anger, no envy, no scorn... just happiness.” Nightmare Moon smiled softly, closing her eyes. “Ego, pride, aspiration... they've all been washed away. I have no freedom... and even that thought makes me happy. I am in chains, forever bonded to the three ponies I desire, to serve their every whim... but I know that as long as I obey you, I will continue to be happy. And I know that you can never, ever abandon me now... and that is well-worth trading away something as stupid as freedom.”

Luna snorted at this, and Scrivener shifted uncomfortably as the sapphire mare argued moodily: “Freedom is the most important thing-”

“I respectfully disagree, Mistress. Life is nothing without those you love in it.” Nightmare Moon smiled tenderly, gazing affectionately at Scrivener Blooms, then towards Twilight Sparkle, and both ponies gave her awkward smiles in return. “But I'm sure we can all agree on that.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Nightmare Moon laughed quietly, saying softly: “I will listen to your orders, Luna Brynhild. You are my Mistress, and now it will be much easier for me to remember this. I will never be alone again, never be unappreciated again, and I will never have to fear losing you or others. Our powers will grow: in serving you, we will master everyone else.”

“Stop talking.” Luna grumbled, and then she looked up in half-surprise as Nightmare Moon calmly nodded. There was silence for a few moments, and then the sapphire mare grinned wryly, saying mildly: “Perhaps this shan't be so bad after all.”

“We have to introduce her to Innocence, and set some ground rules.” Twilight said softly, and Luna scowled a bit: both at the thought of letting Nightmare Moon in the same room as Innocence, and at her fun already being ruined. “And if Antares hasn't left for Subterra yet, maybe he can meet her too... and Scarlet Sage would probably-”

“Oh, aye, the grand Nightmare Moon family reunion, 'twill be wonderful!” Luna said flatly, and Scrivener Blooms cleared his throat and looked to the side, making the mare huff at him. “Oh shut up. Besides, thou should be praising the gods above and mine own damned self for this. Look at this, another mare, one that desires to serve thee! How did thou get so fortunate with thy life?”

“Well, I am a writer. So I suppose it makes sense that I'm up to my neck in plot.” Scrivener said blandly, and Luna glared at him... giggled stupidly... then cleared her throat and glared again as Twilight only shook her head and Celestia smiled despite herself. “I'm... out of jokes for now. Besides, no offense or anything, Nightmare Moon, but I'm not. Exactly eager. To have... well... a 'servant' like you around. It's uh, kind of creepy, to be completely honest.”

Luna grumbled at this, then muttered: “Only because thou hast a tremendous lack of imagination. Pathetic, Scrivener Blooms. Thou art pathetic.”

Scrivener sighed, then said dryly: “Look, if you want to sleep with her, just. Go ahead. Then you can say you slept with your evil twin or something, and you'll be happy, and Twilight and I will just. Give you some time alone or something.”

The sapphire mare glowered at the stallion, but before she could derail the conversation any further, Celestia said calmly: “Your children do deserve to know. Ponyville, even, deserves to understand that Nightmare Moon is now here, in our midst.”

Luna sighed tiredly at this, and then she looked up at Nightmare Moon, who was still only smiling affectionately. And for a moment, Luna almost envied her, and wondered uneasily whether or not the passion entity really had made the best possible choice before she cleared her throat and shook her head slowly, looking down and muttering: “Very well. But first, we should introduce her to our children, aye. And to the other important ponies in our lives, perhaps, but... first Antares, and Scarlet, and Innocence. And thou must behave around Innocence, Nightmare Moon, I cannot stress this enough!”

Nightmare Moon simply nodded, then bowed her head low and said softly: “It will be my pleasure, Mistress Luna.”

Luna shifted a little again, hating and liking the way the creature referred to her before Celestia said softly: “I can send a letter to them... I'm not sure where Antares is, but Innocence should be visiting with Scarlet Sage right now.”

“Keeping her out of trouble, I assume.” Luna said wryly, and then she shook her head slowly before saying hesitantly: “Aye, mail a letter. Ask if we should go there, or they come here. And Nightmare Moon, I must ask thee: what kinds of powers does thou have at thy disposal?”

“I don't know.” Nightmare Moon said honestly, and then she held up a hoof, saying softly: “This body... still feels very strange to me. But it's my own body... not yours, simply transformed for my purposes. It will require some work and testing.”

“Work and testing. Grand.” Luna muttered, and then the sapphire mare shook her head briefly before she sighed a little and asked finally: “Will thou be ready for when we assault Heaven? I do not know when it will be-”

“I will be as ready as I can.” Nightmare Moon bowed her head low, nodding once before she glanced up at Scrivener Blooms, adding softly: “Perhaps we should try passing your corruption into my body, to see what happens.”

“Nay, I think not.” Luna said shortly, and then she shook her head grumpily before turning her eyes towards Celestia, who was already calmly and quickly composing a letter at the library table. “Can I trust thou not to kill Nightmare Moon if I decide to leave her in thy care? Thou will be able to work with her better than I will, I think. Thou hast always been the better teacher.”

“Not always.” Celestia said softly, glancing up and giving a small smile to Twilight Sparkle, who blushed and shifted awkwardly before the ivory mare shook her head and looked over at Nightmare Moon hesitantly. “But yes. As long as she promises to listen to me, I'll ensure that she's at the best of her ability. And as much as I'd like to see her going with you to serve as nothing but a barrier between yourselves and the enemy, I'll let you know honestly what I think she's prepared for. But we should save making any battle plans until Hel arrives.”

Luna nodded after a moment, even as part of her rebelled at the thought they were going to yet again have to wait for the goddess and likely play by her rules if they wanted to get into Heaven. Hecate, at least, had the bomb safe and sound in her little laboratory beneath the abandoned engineering facility... although I suppose that too is technically Hel's work. Damnation.

“Yes, but it is your strength and your efforts that are required to see things through until the end. Yourself, Scrivener Blooms, and Twilight Sparkle. You three are important, are the key... and I don't just believe this because you are my rulers, my masters.” Nightmare Moon smiled knowingly, and Luna looked up her moodily.

“Cease all thy... grinning and smirking, 'tis annoying. I prefer thou to be sultry and attempting to spread thy legs for us at every juncture over acting so... content and pleasant.” Luna grumbled, and Nightmare Moon only gave the sapphire mare a pointed look. Twilight Sparkle turned her own pleading gaze on Luna, and the starry-maned winged unicorn only relented when she felt both Twilight and Scrivener's mental worries that she was going to shove Nightmare Moon into behaving hostilely towards them just because that was what Luna was making it sound like she wanted. “Oh fine, damnable paranoiacs! Be nice, Nightmare Moon. Be Nicemare Moon.”

The dark-coated passion entity bowed her head forwards, and Luna grumbled... and was still grumbling moodily by the time they left. She managed to keep up her incoherent growling and muttering almost all the way to Scarlet Sage's, and Scrivener couldn't help but point out: “I think you're attracting more looks than Nightmare Moon is, you know. I mean, you look kind of like someone pooped on your head.”

“Poop on my head. I shall poop on thy head. Thou art a poop.” Luna huffed, and then she shook her head quickly before saying sourly as she glared over her shoulder: “Well, look at the damned waif! Of course no one suspects she is the evil Nightmare Moon, she is all... pretty and happy. 'Tis annoying. And worse yet I can feel her joy in mine poor head and 'tis making me vexed. I am vexed. I am vexed, Scrivener Blooms, Twilight Sparkle. I am vexed.”

“You're vexed, yes, I get that.” Scrivener said dryly, and then he shook his head before turning his eyes back to the road, adding in a mutter: “No wonder Celestia stayed behind.”

Luna huffed loudly at this, then strode quickly up beside the stallion and bopped him firmly with her horn, making him wince a little. He glowered over at her, and she glared back before bopping him again, and the stallion flailed a Talon at her uselessly before Twilight almost pleaded: “We're just about there, so... can you two please not kill each other yet?”

“Scrivener started it!” Luna accused immediately, and the stallion glowered at her. Twilight sighed and shook her head slowly, but Nightmare Moon gave a quiet laugh, earning grumpy looks from the sapphire mare and charcoal stallion as the Lich looked almost uneasily up.

“This is wonderful.” was all Nightmare Moon said, however, and Luna and Scrivy were left a little confused, trading dumb looks as they continued down the road. And Nightmare Moon didn't speak again until Scarlet Sage's home came into view, and her eyes brightened as she saw the twins out in the front yard, whispering: “Look. Our grandchildren.”

“No, our grandchildren. Thou art a hobgoblin to them.” Luna said nastily, but when even Scrivener gave her a pointed look, the sapphire mare dropped her head sulkily and muttered: “Oh very well. Thou art a... shadow to them.”

“I will be a guardian to them, as I am to all ponies.” Nightmare Moon strode forwards maybe a little too eagerly, and Luna loudly cleared her throat, the passion entity sighing but slowing and nodding as she said softly: “Of course. I will be gentle.”

Amma!” Mercury was looking at them brightly, already zipping towards them, and Luna smiled warmly before she reached up and caught her granddaughter easily in a hug as Lily approached nervously, looking uncertainly up at Nightmare Moon... more because she was a stranger, Scrivener thought, than because she looked like a demonic horse of shadows and blue fire. “And... who the hell is this?”

“Language!” Luna mock-scolded, and Mercury blushed before Luna grinned and looked back and forth, adding quickly in a teasing whisper as she tickled Mercury's stomach: “Thou must be more careful, silly little filly, one of thy mothers could hear and then we will both be in trouble.”

Mercury nodded firmly in agreement, and then Luna sighed before answering finally: “And this... this is Nightmare Moon. We have created a body for her.”

It wasn't much of an explanation, but it was enough, and both of her grandchildren stared up with amazement at Nightmare Moon as the passion entity gazed down at them almost nervously, then reassured quickly and gently: “But I'm a friend, though. Family, even, little fillies. I would never harm you. Those are all nothing but stories.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Mercury scowled a little up at her and said distrustfully: “You don't look like Nightmare Moon. Is this some kind of trick?”

“No, 'tis not. And of course she does not look like Nightmare Moon, her body was only completed today, child. Furthermore, I cannot have a creature as fearsome as Nightmare Moon in full form strutting around beneath broad daylight in Ponyville, now can I? We already have enough to deal with as 'tis!” Luna replied sourly, holding her free leg up towards the blue, cheerful sky overhead before she easily tossed Mercury backwards, and the filly flitted around in a circle before dropping onto her hooves with a grunt beside Lily.

The twins traded looks, then they both shared firm nods before looking at Nightmare Moon, and Lily said hesitantly: “Well, our parents say we should treat other people like our equals... even if they act kind of mean and stuff...”

“And we're not supposed to clobber them unless they start doin' bad stuff. But if they do bad stuff, then we can hit them.” Mercury added, and Luna nodded firmly before holding out a hoof, which made the filly leap forwards and smack her own against it with a wide grin.

Scrivener and Twilight traded half-amused, half-exasperated looks, and then their attention was drawn towards the house as the front door opened and Scarlet Sage strode out, smiling a little even as she looked warily at Nightmare Moon. But a moment later, Antares almost knocked her stumbling as he cheerfully bounced out of the house with Innocence moodily following behind him in her unicorn polymorph guise.

Antares strode quickly through the yard and up to Nightmare Moon... and without stopping, headbutted her directly in the face, knocking her staggering back as she stared in surprise, Antares saying challengingly up to her: “That's for all those years you spent making us all miserable and all the screwing around you did with me when I was a kid!”

A pause, and then Antares cleared his throat and sat back, adding mildly: “And now, well. Thank you for everything else you did for me. When you weren't being a complete bit... uh... butt, you... I think you really helped me. And I've never forgotten that I owe you my life.”

“You don't, Antares. All I was doing was returning a favor.” Nightmare Moon said softly, bowing her head towards the glossy-black stallion before she reached up and touched her nose with a slight smile. “I'm surprised. I expected your mother to be the first pony to strike me.”

“And now I am very disappointed that I did not slap thee earlier.” the sapphire mare grumbled, and then she shook her head before scowling at Antares, who only grinned widely and looked proud of himself. “Oh, cease that, damned idiot. Thou art not old enough to preen yet, at least not in front of me. Wait another fifty years or so.”

Antares huffed at this as Innocence strode up beside her brother and looked almost meekly up at Nightmare Moon, but Nightmare Moon only smiled lovingly to the young mare, studying her unicorn polymorph for a few moments before saying softly: “You have some skill. But tremendous, incredible power... some of which I think is still hidden inside you, Innocence. We are eager to work with you... if your parents will allow it, of course.”

Luna growled, and Scrivener made his own face... but in the backs of their minds, both were also considering it. Nightmare Moon was a powerful ally and a powerful resource after all... and if Nightmare Moon kept at least a little bit of the magic she'd had in the past, then she would be able to teach Innocence very powerful, and more importantly, very useful skills for the conflict ahead. Not offensive spells, per se... but Nightmare Moon's most powerful magic had always been spells that twisted pain into pleasure, turned what you were supposed to hate into what you craved more of. The ability to control your own emotions was worth a thousand more aggressive spells.

It was Twilight who looked up towards Nightmare Moon, and Luna and Scrivener both looked at the violet mare as she said quietly: “If Scrivy and Luna are okay with it, then I am too... but only so long as I get to be there and see what you're doing. She's my daughter.”

“As Antares is my son.” Luna interjected pointedly, and Nightmare Moon only gave the sapphire mare a strangely-gentle look. It was almost enough to make Luna feel uncomfortable, but she only grumbled and shook her head quickly, adding grouchily: “But I suppose... if Twilight is alright with this, and Innocence desires to... aye. We shall not deny thy... assistance.”

“I don't think I have enough room for everyone inside, but Apple Bloom is setting a table up in the back yard. Mercury, Lily, go help Mama, at least help her bring some food out. I made fudge and some other treats.” Scarlet Sage smiled, and Luna brightened at this. “I thought you could use a little break from things. That's all.”

Luna nodded firmly a few times, and Scrivener and Twilight traded smiles before Nightmare Moon said softly: “You truly are a wonderful daughter.”

Scarlet Sage only laughed a little and shrugged, studying the strange, tall passion entity as her foals finally excused themselves to go about what their mother had asked, and Antares and Innocence traded looks before the stallion lightly slapped his younger sister on the shoulder, and she grumbled a little before turning to follow the younger ponies.

The silvery Pegasus and the glossy-black unicorn both looked up at Nightmare Moon, then turned their eyes towards Luna, who frowned a little before her son said softly: “Mom, I just want to make something clear, okay? We're going to take part in the attack on Greater Heaven. I don't know how it's all going to work yet, but both of us are. And we both think that Innocence should be allowed to fight, too, if she wants to.”

“What?” The parents of the two looked surprised by this, trading looks between themselves before Luna said disbelievingly: “Aye, I understand the first but... Innocence, well, Innocence is still-”

“We're going to need all the help we can get, and when I was Innocence's age, I was fighting awful things with a lot fewer skills.” Antares shook his head, smiling faintly. “No. I don't think she's as old as she thinks she is. She's still a kid in a lot of ways... but I also believe she really is strong, and she really can help. This isn't just about Heaven, either. This is about her: teaching her, showing her, that she can use even the darkest powers to help. That stopping the Light isn't going to just be about killing them, but about saving all the lives we can.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Luna shook her head slowly, saying moodily: “No. 'Tis not, but it is not by... killing Pious that Innocence is going to learn this! How is she to learn that power and destruction are not everything by being out on the battlefield?”

“Because she needs to experience what combat and war really are. Why... I've tried to spend my whole life avoiding getting sucked into fighting, and why brute force alone isn't going to take her anywhere.” Scarlet Sage said gently but firmly, and Luna shifted a bit, biting her lip but feeling some of her defenses coming down just at the fact that the Pegasus was speaking out like this. Luna never found it very hard to argue with Antares, but when it came to Scarlet Sage, on the other hoof... “Neither of us is saying she needs to be on the front lines. But she needs to be out there. She needs to see the cost firsthoof. And she needs to find where she belongs.”

“I guess it's a rite of passage for ponies in this family, anyway. We're all kind of... baptized on the battlefield.” Antares paused, then winced a bit at the glower Luna fixed on him. “Please don't hit me. You know what I mean.”

“Aye, I do... I... I do.” Luna muttered, shifting back and forth indecisively, and then she sighed softly and turned her eyes towards Twilight Sparkle, the Lich meeting her gaze and sharing thoughts back and forth with her, Scrivener Blooms closing his own eyes and listening in on their mental conversation, giving the occasional little mental nudge here and there.

Finally, Luna grumbled, and Twilight looked up, saying quietly: “Maybe you're right, but at the same time... I want to wait and see how things go before I settle on anything. It might be better that she stays back here for a variety of reasons... and if she does go, I'm going to have to ask one or both of you to stay with her at all times.”

Antares winced a bit at this, holding up a hoof and asking lamely: “Then can I change my vote? Because babysitting Sin is kind of hard enough as it-”

Scarlet Sage smacked the back of his head with a hoof, and he grumbled and rubbed slowly at his skull before mumbling: “Fine. Okay, yeah, of course. We'll look after Sin if and when that... stuff happens. But I want a leash for her. No, even better, one of those foal harnesses.”

“'Tis creepy enough when Sin is trying to flirt with us, thou best not start as well.” Luna said dryly, and Antares gave his mother a sour look before he suddenly leapt forwards, but Luna leapt up on instinct at the same moment as they both swung their horns at each other: but with the narrow space between them, instead of clashing horns, they rammed their skulls together, and both ponies flopped painfully down on their sides with matching groans of pain.

Scrivener winced a bit, feeling the faintest throb in his head before he sighed and said finally: “Well, it seems like that enchantment is finally wearing off, Luna... although I have to say, with how often you do stuff like this, I'm going to miss it.”

“Nothing is forever, Scrivener Blooms.” Nightmare Moon gazed affectionately over at the stallion, who looked awkwardly up at her as Luna glowered on the ground. “But if it means so much to you... and we all know that Mistress Luna enjoyed it... why not take serious considerations into enjoying the experience again in the future? I'm not saying you should become a Lich like our beloved Twilight Sparkle... but then again, there's nothing wrong with that, either, is there?”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Scarlet Sage cleared her throat before she said finally: “Maybe we should just... go and eat for now. We can forget about the serious stuff and... Nightmare Moon, you can maybe start to... to settle in. I'm... it's nice to finally... meet you like this.”

Nightmare Moon smiled softly down at Scarlet Sage, then simply nodded before saying quietly: “I feel the same way. I plan to make the very most of our time together, my beloved family. I plan to prove in what time we have left that you are truly all that matters to me... no matter what I must do.”

And Luna couldn't help but shiver at that, at the prophecy she heard hidden in those words as she climbed to her hooves: that even if they made the best of all the time they had left together, that time might be very short indeed.

The day was a good one, and Nightmare Moon settled in not just surprisingly-fast, but surprisingly-well. Luna found it hard to believe how gentle and kind she was with the foals... but then again, Nightmare Moon had only ever been after love, affection, and respect. Once the foals warmed up to her, her strength won over Mercury, her knowledge won over Lily, and the way she fumblingly played with the foals – so clearly an adult who wanted to be good with kids, but really clearly had no idea what the hell she was doing – won over Scarlet Sage. And maybe Twilight a little, too.

Now, Nightmare Moon was back at the library with Celestia, and they were likely discussing... battle strategies, and troop counts, and going over everything they knew about the Light and the Pious together. And it would all probably go out the window when Hel came in... which Luna thought Nightmare Moon knew, but the passion entity wanted to impress Celestia, even more than she wanted to make it clear she wasn't the enemy.

Luna could vaguely feel Nightmare Moon's emotions, even sense what she was thinking: when she focused on this, she came to realize that she could even give Nightmare Moon little mental nudges, modifying her behaviors here and there. But it didn't really give her any sense of... well, rightness. After all these years of wrestling with her inner demon, here it was, in a world that she could easily make reject it... and she couldn't bring herself to make Nightmare Moon do more than dip Celestia's braids in an inkwell like a school filly without feeling like she was doing something bad and wrong.

“Big softie.” Scrivener Blooms said gently, and Luna glared at him across the firepit they had dug in the front yard. She picked up a nearby stick, swatting at him over the quietly crackling flames, but the stallion only smiled and leaned back.

Then Luna huffed and mumbled under her breath as she sat back, looking back and forth before glowering as Scrivener held up the bag of marshmallows she was looking for. The stallion tore it open, then pulled one free and tossed it to her, and Luna caught it in her mouth and loudly chewed it up as the earth pony reflected: “You know, though, that's a good thing. I mean, it means you have to have some kind of faith that Nightmare Moon isn't going to be. Pure evil.”

“Well, 'tis not really that. 'Tis more the fact that Nightmare Moon was telling the truth: I do not think she can disobey us. Furthermore, she is only happy when following our instructions to the letter.” Luna hesitated, looking down meditatively. “We will have to be very careful with that. Especially as she is the same conniving creature as ever, even with this in mind. But it is almost as if... happiness has tamed much of her, all the same.”

“Happiness does that.” Scrivener Blooms said softly, and then he shook his head for a moment before picking up a stick beside him and poking several marshmallows onto the end of it. “Imagine if we were happy. We might not want to beat people up all the time.”

Luna grunted, then greedily beckoned at him a few times, and the stallion rolled his eyes before tossing the bag of marshmallows over the campfire. Luna caught it with telekinesis, then yanked about half a dozen marshmallows free and shoved them firmly into place on the stick, then she shoved the stick into the fire, and Scrivener winced a bit as he said awkwardly: “That's not how you do it-”

“Silence, Scrivener Blooms!” Luna thundered, and then she blinked and leaned forwards as her marshmallows burst into flames. A moment later, she dumbly held the stick up, then shrugged at the flaming sugary treats before saying positively: “Well, they shall cook faster now... shan't they?”

Several had become blackened and burnt messes already, and Scrivener closed his eyes and dropped his face in a Talon before Luna stared as one of these melted completely away, the flames whiffing out but the mostly-liquid sugar sludge dropping to the ground. And Luna growled in frustration before shaking her stick wildly to put out the rest of the flames... and with such vehemence that several other marshmallows flew off it, landing with splatters in the grasses.

It took Luna about half an hour to understand the dynamics of marshmallow cooking. But finally she got the basics, complacently burning several at a time as Scrivener chewed on the few he had made, the two studying each other before the sapphire mare sighed and said softly: “I hope this is not the last moment of peace we have, Scrivener Blooms. But at the same time...”

“Yeah. I'm worried too. But not as much as you seem to be about the whole... dying thing.” Scrivener said softly, and Luna smiled a bit before the stallion looked up and asked hesitantly: “Speaking of which, you think that...”

Luna nodded, knocking firmly twice on her chest, and Scrivener Blooms felt both blows without needing to concentrate on their link. “Aye. The enchantment has worn off now. I am alive again, so 'tis not just the natural worries of an undead... whatever I was. 'Twas not a Lich, for I was... less in control of myself than Twilight Sparkle is. Except... that may also be simply because I do not have the same will as our beloved mare does.”

“You're the strongest-willed mare we know. Both Twilight and I agree on that, Luna. You just... also...” Scrivener Blooms smiled a little, then he shook his head slowly and said softly: “Look, it's not your fault, just... remember that. And also, nothing horrible is about to happen. Well, that's a lie, what I'm trying to say is... just because it feels like...”

“Scrivy, I... I cannot explain it. And I do not entirely know if this is because of all the bad karma of late or 'tis truly the psychopomps calling us, but... I fear that this will be our last great venture. That we are going to die in Heaven.” Luna said quietly, and then she smiled faintly. “And damnation, it makes all my promises to survive seem so weak now.”

“Well, we did promise. We gotta try and keep our promises, right?” Scrivener Blooms said softly as he looked across the fire at her, and when Luna sighed and rose her marshmallows away, silently staring up at them, he shook his head before quietly scooting around the flames to sit beside her, reaching up a Talon to squeeze her shoulder gently as he murmured softly: “You're the last mare I'd ever expect to be afraid of death, anyway... what's really bothering you?”

“I...” Luna bit her lip, looking down silently, then she closed her eyes and murmured: “What if we fail, Scrivy? What if we cannot stop He Of The Many Countless Faces, or Greater Heaven, or... only make things worse somehow? I do not know how, no, I just... I am afraid.”

“We're all afraid, cinnamon bun.” Hel's voice said kindly, and Luna was startled... and yet at the same time, not at all surprised as she looked up at the ice puppet, who was smiling on the other side of the campfire, kneading the bag of marshmallows Scrivener had abandoned between her hands as she looked at them almost tenderly. “I don't mean to interrupt. But I know a little something about anxiety and paranoia, you know. And depression, too, but no one wants to talk about that.”

Luna grunted moodily, glowering a little as she rose her head, and Hel absently brushed at herself before she said softly: “There's nothing you can do about the past, and nothing you can do about destiny, either. No Fates, but still plenty of destiny around... but it ain't so bad, Luna Brynhild. Should be a weight off your shoulders, Valkyrie: it means you're not responsible for everyone who lives and everyone who dies.”

The sapphire mare shook her head briefly and looked down with a quiet sigh, and Scrivener Blooms shifted uneasily before Hel smiled and pushed a finger into her own temple, cocking her thumb back like the hammer of a gun. “You know how it works, Brynhild. I could put that big nasty toy of yours right up against my head and pull the trigger. If it's my day to die, I'll die. But if it's not my day to die, I won't die. No matter how many times I pull that trigger... the gun'll probably still fire, sure, but it'll bounce off my skull or maybe misfire and blow my hand off instead or who knows what? It'll still suck, but I won't die. You only have one death day.”

“We had our death day already, Hel. We are living on time borrowed... and we have borrowed much.” Luna said softly, looking up, and Hel laughed and shook her head slowly at this.

“Have you really? Because you don't look very dead to me. And you were lost, sure, lost in the darkness, but... I think I'd know if you two were supposed to be dead. Not just... off-grid. Phone lines cut. Temporarily deficient in electricity.” Hel smiled and shrugged, then she looked down at the marshmallows and mashed her face into the package, making both Luna and Scrivener simply look at her. “Squishy!”

Scrivener sighed, and Luna wondered moodily for a moment whether or not this was how other ponies felt about her before Hel looked up and said kindly: “We need to confuse the Light if we're going to stand any chance at all of getting your butts up and outside of Valhalla. Now, the Light can't track us here very well. I've made sure of that, with the help of a few friends. Not really friends, more like... indentured servants, but hey, you know what I mean. It's a saying.

“Unfortunately, even if the Light can't target us or listen in to this world, it can still interact with portals. That's a problem. But there are worlds that create too much magical static for the Light to interfere with them, or that haven't been mapped yet, so it wouldn't be able to see us there or tell what the hell we're doing until too late.” Hel continued pleasantly. “One of the best worlds for this would be a world with one of All-Daddy's anchors on it, protecting the Core. As long as no Pious have landed on that world yet, that anchor will create a static that won't let the Pious reverse any portals coming from there so they can send their own Light forces through to ambush us. And yes, before you ask, I know where all the anchors are placed.”

Luna scowled a little, then Hel huffed and touched her own breast, saying flatly: “Well, someone has to keep inventory of everything! Anyway, the moment all the worlds started to form and split, I was there, calculating and keeping an eye on all of it. A process Kvasir had thankfully only just begun in Heaven. Which is good, since. You know. The Pious and everything.”

The sapphire mare grimaced at this, then she shook her head and muttered: “Then 'tis very likely that the Pious know about the anchors... and... the core reality. Could they attempt to take over the core reality?”

Hel only shrugged, replying mildly: “Why? Sweetie, the Pious already have what they're after... Heaven. They're not all that interested in our worlds, in you mortals... it's Heaven and the souls they're after. Oh sure, they do some basic converting and message-spreading and holy-wording, but don't forget their original intent on being in these worlds was to soften 'em up, to check out the competition before they really laid into Heaven. Which they've now done, and I wouldn't be surprised if Greater Heaven has started to push forwards on the hunt for other realms and other little bits of paradise.”

Luna grimaced at this thought, shaking her head in disgust before Hel clapped her hands together and said positively: “But it's not all bad! Not by a long shot. Like I said, we bounce from a world with an anchor up into Asgard, we should be able to ambush the Gatekeeper. Take that big bastard down, and then we blow open the gates. Then you guys run like the place named after me, and I'll create some rifts the Pious won't be able to close. From there, we let our armies do the talking until the Light is sufficiently distracted, and then I'll bring you guys into Valhalla itself through the back door. The Light hopefully won't be able to react fast enough while we ambush from behind, bring the Castle back up and running, and hopefully shut down the Light's ability to portal in or out of Heaven.”

“You have this planned well.” Luna said softly, and Hel smiled wryly, shrugging and looking evenly across at the two ponies.

“I've worked on a few battle plans in my time. Which is why I know that no matter what happens, the plan's only going to work for a few minutes, then it'll all go upside down.” Hel replied calmly, shrugging easily. “But it's nice to know you think I know what I'm doing. I don't, really, but I put on a nice show, that's all.”

The two ponies traded looks, and there was silence for a few moments before the sapphire mare asked softly: “Thou desires to exterminate them all, is that it?”

“Oh no. No no no. What I want to do is minimize the body count.” Hel said gently, and Luna frowned before the dark goddess said softly: “He Of Many Countless Faces is not in Heaven right now. A lot of these Pious are mail-order, because they think they're just so damn tops with portals. So, cinnabun, if we can get Valhalla geared back up and quickly shut down all portals in and out of Heaven apart from my rifts, the Pious won't be able to reinforce Heaven. Most importantly, we'll avoid having to deal with Lord God at all. And once we destroy all the forces of the Light in the Vale of Valhalla, that'll be that. No more Pious are gonna come knockin' on our door. We'll have shown them it's just not worth it to try and conquer our Heaven.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Scrivener Blooms muttered: “I hope you're right. But somehow I get the feeling it's just not going to be that easy.”

“Because it never is. Something will undoubtedly go horribly wrong along the way, but. I got backup plans. I got lots of plans.” Hel smiled kindly at them, winking easily in the direction of the ponies before she added mildly: “Oh, by the way. I want to recharge Gymbr's batteries a little.”

Luna glared over at Hel at this, but the goddess hurriedly rose her hands, shaking her head and saying quickly: “I ain't talkin' about putting humpty dumbass back together, I'm just sayin' that I want the zombie twins to be able to stand on their own feet. Hooves. Claws. Whatever. No magic, no power, no real anything... I just want them to be able to stand in Valhalla and not die so it'll gear up faster. Then you can use them as bait for the Pious if you want, or kill them or do whatever sick little fantasies you've got in mind to them.”

The sapphire mare grumbled under her breath, and then she nodded moodily after a moment before saying finally: “Their power is shared between them, so... only strengthen one. They will divide the power naturally, there is no need to risk giving them more strength than is necessary.”

“You really do hate them.” Hel said admirably, and Luna growled before the goddess laughed quietly. “Oh, don't you worry, cinnamon stick. I'm not very fond of them either. You and chocolate pudding, on the other hand, I could just gobble right on up.”

Scrivener Blooms grimaced a little bit at this as Luna Brynhild grunted moodily, looking distastefully at the goddess, and Hel sniffed and complained: “That was a compliment! You should be thanking me for it, not looking at me like you're going to shoot me. Again.”

The sapphire mare only shrugged grouchily, and then she hesitated before asking finally: “Our daughter, Innocence... it has been suggested that she join this battle. Not on the front lines, but... somewhere along the way. I do not even know why I am asking thou this, but... well... what does thou think, Hel? She is at least trying to listen to Twilight Sparkle, even if she continues to snap now and then, and she is no longer attempting to woo us...”

“Oh, believe me. The little girl's just confused and trying to figure out what's going to help her the most on her road to success, that's all.” Hel said kindly, and Luna growled moodily at the goddess before Hel asked gently: “Do you love her?”

Luna frowned, nodding without hesitation, and Hel chuckled quietly as she looked down at the marshmallows before suddenly ripping the bag open and flinging them into the fire. The flames flared up as Luna shouted in consternation, glaring furiously across at Hel, and the goddess said kindly: “I love you guys. And even though I love you guys, I tossed what you love into the fire. Why? Because it's all full of sugar and bad for your health. So even though it annoys you and upsets you, I'm getting rid of what could make you fat.”

“Thou destroyed my sugar, after telling us to prepare for war!” Luna snapped, glaring furiously at Hel. “For all thou knows that could have been the last sugar I shall ever devour! Thou awful, fiendish harlot! Thou horrendous beast! Thou... bitch!”

“I am rubber, you are glue, what bounces off me, sticks to you. Because you really are glue.” Hel said pettishly, and then she smiled and vanished, even as her voice floated eerily around them: “You'll thank me if you live through the war. Words to live by.”

Hel laughed, and as her laughter faded, Luna and Scrivener Blooms traded uneasy looks... then they both sighed and nodded at the decision they knew they had to make, as they both gazed into the fire and at the burning, melting mass of marshmallows, thinking about how far they had come... and both wondering how far they had left to go, and whether or not they would be able to do what was necessary to protect everyone they cared about along the way.

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