• 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 Last Party

Chapter Sixty Four: The Last Party

Luna and Scrivener Blooms were both in the blacksmith's at Ponyville, the stallion feeling relatively useless as he helped keep the forges running: he shoveled fuel into the furnaces, he covered himself in dirt bringing loads of coal and specially-treated and dried wood inside, and he awkwardly slid up beside large, sweaty ponies – and dragon, in the case of Spike – to fan the flames, adjust this or that on the forge, or just check the fires and the heat.

The sapphire mare, meanwhile, was naked except for her collar, a forge hammer in one hoof as she sang battle songs along with Spike and the large, muscular stallions working alongside her to help pass the time, grinning through the rivers of sweat running down her body as she pounded away at armor and weapons. Forging was a skill she had built up over many years, and even if Scrivener could mimic all her actions, do the same things Luna did, he could barely be trusted to repair his own armor, let alone prepare gear for others. Like Luna couldn't completely steal his knack for writing, he couldn't mimic her artisan's eye.

It had been three weeks, and they were moving into late autumn now. For the first time in... forever, Scrivener Blooms thought, they hadn't celebrated either Antares' birthday, nor Nightmare Night. And Ponyville had noted their absence, but Monkshood was still trying to keep what was happening on the down low: all he had really said so far to the public was that Ponyville's exterior properties were being used as a gathering point for military forces because of their proximity to Canterlot and Subterra, and they were in no danger. In other words, he hadn't really said anything at all, but the ponies were satisfied with knowing there was no major attack on the way.

Luna, Scrivener, and Twilight had only seen the battlefield occasionally over that time: for the most part, Celestia, Morning Glory, and Terra had been leading the attacks against Heaven, and at the current point and time, a base camp had been established right outside the ruins of the Gates of Heaven. Luna had admittedly been impressed: Celestia hadn't just razed the Cenobium for whatever she could use to better fortify the camp, she had managed to remember some of her old, thought-lost magic and tap into the powers of Asgard to create massive fortifications and housing of living wood.

Freya had been Vanir: a nature goddess, even if a particularly brutal one. And somewhere, deep inside her, she retained that link to nature. In fact, Luna sometimes reflected, Celestia had more in common with nature than she did: her calm and discipline and grace that bore all the majesty of a kirin or some other regal, thought-mythical beast, and then her primal fury that was equal to any chimera's, any dragon's, any natural disaster of primordial Midgard. She was like the fields and the earthquakes, the soothing breeze and the raging hurricane. She was nature's glorious fury.

Scrivener Blooms smiled despite himself at this as he shoveled another load of coal into the furnace, and then Luna called cheerfully: “Having fun, Scrivy? I bet thou art with all these sweaty stallions around! And let us not forget handsome friend Spike, just look at his biceps flex! 'Tis fantastic, how jealous I am of Rarity!”

Spike and several of the other smiths laughed, and Scrivener only sighed tiredly, rolling his eyes as he stepped back and absently brushed at himself with his Talons. “And what about you, Luna? Do you count as a big sweaty stallion?”

“Of course, simply look at me!” Luna said easily as she finished hammering a dent out of a shield, then she lifted it with telekinesis and studied it thoughtfully before grunting and nodding once, setting it back down on the anvil as she shouted at the doorway: “Lackey! Wench! Whatever thou art, come and fetch this!”

Scrivener gave Luna a flat look even as a young pony came hurrying in through the archway, wheezing loudly and pushing a heavy rack on wheels already laden down with gear in front of himself. He stopped beside the sapphire mare, and gave her a lame smile before quickly grabbing the still-hot shield in his mittened hooves, sliding it into a free spot on the rack even as Luna teased: “Now come, why are there still so many pieces of armor and weapons not yet sent out? By the Gods of the Aesir, half of our military must be naked and weaponless!”

“Luna. Seriously. You're being a jerk right now.” Scrivener Blooms said mildly, and the sapphire mare huffed at him as the charcoal earth pony approached, then said gently: “Just keep it up, kid. You're doing a good job.”

The young pony gave an awkward smile, and then he turned and grabbed the cart, hurriedly pushing it back out of the forge room as Luna said blandly: “Scrivy likes foals. Scrivy is sick and twisted and a lover of small foals.”

“Yeah, that explains why I married you.” Scrivener said dryly as he turned around, and Luna glared at his back as there were several more laughs, before the sapphire mare leaned forwards, her soulstone horn starting to glow brightly-

Something thunked painfully into the back of her head, Luna blinking stupidly and Scrivener frowning as he halted and turned around, and then both ponies stared as at a floating, crystalline orb hovering in the air a few feet away before runes glowed over it, and Hecate's voice said sourly: “Stop playing around, wherever you are, and come to the Clockworks. We have a situation.”

Then the flying orb spun around and shot off through the air, and Luna sighed before calling wryly over her shoulder: “Spike, I will be by later tonight to steal thy still-handsome body from off Rarity. Pray I do not plunder her too. Scrivy, come, let's go.”

Scrivener Blooms sighed tiredly, but nodded all the same as Spike straightened and smiled, brushing sweat from his forehead as he called easily: “Thanks for helping out again, guys! We really appreciate it... hey, let me know if I can do anything for you, okay?”

“Thou art already doing more than enough, Spike.” Luna replied easily as she strode out through the archway, Scrivener Blooms following behind her and absently shaking as much dust and grime from his body as he could.

They followed a short corridor, heading out of the area where the forges were kept, and Scrivener shook himself out as he muttered: “I'll never understand how you people can be so goddamn happy in a place like that. The heat is absolutely unbearable.”

The sapphire mare only shrugged, looking with mild entertainment over at Scrivener Blooms as she replied easily: “Well, it helps we people are not weak little mares like thou art. Or thou, whatever thy name is. Wenchy. Silly Wenchy.”

The young stallion looked lamely up from behind the desk, but Luna only continued past with her head raised haughtily, and Scrivener shook his head slowly before he said dryly to the mare's back: “I know it's like. Some weird tradition for you big buff stallion types to pick on the new young guys trying to get into the business, like the whole... opening a bag of cement on someone when they prove they can lift it over their heads, but... do you have to be a jerk?”

“Yes.” Luna said staunchly as they exited the forge, and then she shook herself briefly, Scrivener halting and glaring at her as he was splattered by her sweat before the sapphire mare simply grinned, then leaned in and licked slowly up the bridge of his muzzle, stunning him into silence as she said thoughtfully: “Salty. And perhaps a little stalliony. But we have yet to make thee into a real stallion yet, my handsome mare.”

Scrivener cleared his throat awkwardly as Luna turned around and cheerfully strode away, and the stallion dropped his head and hurriedly shook it out before he trotted quickly after Luna, saying lamely: “I really wish you wouldn't do stuff like that to me. I'm almost as big as you, and bulkier, and I have claws and can turn into a Tyrant Wyrm and-”

“And does thou remember when we were making out that one time, and those stupid ponies sauntered past and one of them called us... what was the word? 'Twas one of those silly words that used to mean something else entirely... yes, fagot.”

“Faggot. You're using an older pronunciation.” Scrivener replied absently, before he added mildly: “Although I do love you for that. I'll always remember that time we tried to take a nice little vacation, and you spent forever looking at that weird house that belonged to the old couple before finally telling them cheerfully: 'thy home is really quite bastardly!'”

“Well, 'twas!” Luna complained, shaking her head with a huff. “It looked like a great turnip! 'Twas huge and 'twas so weirdly shaped, and there, there are two bastardly things already about it!”

Scrivener only smiled over at her, and Luna glared at the stallion before poking at him several times with her soulstone horn, but this time the earth pony only laughed and staggered to the side, grinning and pushing at her in response. “Okay, okay. I won't make fun of your verbiage anymore if you don't make fun of my mareness.”

“Oh shut up, horrid... tart.” Luna grumbled, huffing at him before she said crankily: “Thou grand and scurrilous wretch. I am weak but for a moment, and here thou art, speaking of me so! Am I not bitch and sire to thy own children?”

“Now you're doing that on purpose.” Scrivener said mildly, and Luna poked at him a few more times with her horn before they both came to a halt, watching as a heavy carriage rumbled slowly past, drawn not by ponies, but by an immense ox-demon. And they both became more serious as they looked up at the transport, and saw that it was loaded up with Starlit Knights in their distinct blue armor. “I hope that Celestia isn't sending them far from the encampment.”

“Thou knows she shan't. She will not risk mortal lives unless necessary, but... they are soldiers, Scrivener Blooms. To fight for one's country may be noble in some circles, to fight for friends and family first nobler still in others... but... they are fighting not only to protect the living, but to save who knows how many of their dead friends, family, ancestors... and to give themselves and others a place to rest in peace.”

Scrivener smiled a little over at the sapphire mare, studying her for a few moments before he said quietly: “You can always find good stuff in even the bad stuff, Luna Brynhild. You know that?”

“Aye, I do. But 'tis a talent I learned from a certain obnoxious mare that thinks herself a stallion.” Luna said gently, gazing softly over at the charcoal earth pony, and they traded smiles before turning to walk onwards, making their way to where the engineering building had formerly stood.

Now, that building had been gutted, torn down by Clockwork Ponies, and in a matter of days Kwolek Labs had been reconstructed into what most ponies just referred to as the Clockworks. The building was ominous and metal, the ugly architecture completely alien to the rest of Ponyville around it, and Clockwork Ponies of all shape and size were constantly making their way in and out of the structure as some strange kind of beacon thrummed slowly on the roof, constantly emitting a strange signal that made Scrivener's bones tingle when he looked for too long at it.

Scrivener and Luna both halted outside the doors, noting a Clockwork Pony was calmly focusing some kind of cutting beam over the metal around the doorway, carving complex runes around the edge of the structure. It had a goggle locked over one eye, and its body was heavy and bulky, the laser of energy coming from some cylindrical device fused into its foreleg... but the real reason it drew their attention was because they had never seen this Clockwork Pony before.

It stopped, then turned to look at them before bowing deeply, and Scrivener smiled faintly as Luna shook her head with a grimace, before the sapphire mare quickly strode onwards. The stallion followed, even though he couldn't help but look back at the Dogmatist, who seemed to stare at him with a little more of a sense of awe than Scrivener was used to seeing... you know, assuming he'd ever get used to having Clockwork Ponies obeying him so readily.

But then again, it had been part of their deal. Hecate could continue to try and wake up and attract the Clockwork Ponies, but only so long as they were programmed to obey Scrivener and Luna. Hecate didn't seem to have a problem with it, and it reinforced the notion that both the soulmates had that Hecate was, in part, sticking around simply because they were here. Because they were the closest things Hecate had to friends, and the closest thing she had to having a reason to try and live at all. As much as she talked about her Empire, after all... she clearly didn't care that much about trying to rule some kind of hollow mechanical world like Valthrudnir had.

The ponies entered the Clockworks, heading straight to the end of the long hallway they stepped into and following the spiral staircase at the very end down into the earth. This connected into the subterranean levels of the former research lab that Hecate had heavily modified, but also attempted to salvage, and included her own now-greatly-expanded laboratory facility.

But they didn't have to head all the way to her personal lab to find her: instead, they found the mechanical goddess calmly working in one of the rooms that was filled with racks of weapons, Luna peering curiously in through the open doors at the sound of Hecate lecturing someone. “-care of it. And you were designed to survive higher-danger targets than these Pious. Stop letting your emotions get the better of you, and try and fight.”

“Sorry.” muttered Shiny, and Luna and Scrivener both stepped forwards, watching curiously as Hecate fitted something large and rectangular over the Clockwork Pony's back. His head was down, and his eyes seemed a little... hollow, as he said quietly: “But Cowlick is gone... and... I saw her. I swear that I saw Cadence, and what-”

“Cadence is gone and dead.” Hecate said coldly, and Shiny looked up almost desperately, but the mechanical goddess simply backhanded him before she straightened and said calmly: “I've wired these pods into your auxiliary systems. They'll each contain twenty rockets: it might sound like a lot, but you'll exhaust your payload fast. For now, I've only loaded firecrackers, test missiles. Go and try it out in the room across the hall, I have business to discuss with Brynhild and her toy.”

Shiny nodded hesitantly after a moment, and then he sighed, biting his lip before he forced a small smile over at Scrivener and Luna. They smiled a little in return, then watched as the mechanical stallion lumbered by, the large, octagonal-shaped missile packs on either side of his body swaying slightly with his movements.

Then Luna and Scrivener both looked up at Hecate: she was clean, pristine... no, better than that. Over the last few weeks, she had been taking whatever scraps of armor her Clockwork Ponies had been dragging back from Heaven to convert to her own purposes. They were encountering Pious now who carried heavy shields and wore strange white plate mail over their bodies, which was extremely resilient to magic and physical damage. And Hecate had several drone ponies who scraped the battlefield for any of these precious materials after Celestia or Morning Glory or Terra moved their armies through... although the Clockwork Ponies certainly weren't shy about taking the equipment from their own dead allies, either.

Now Hecate had a gleaming, white metal body, with silver pistons and servomotors over her legs and arms. And Scrivener and Luna could both feel the power of the concentrated Elixir of Prometheus running through her synthetic veins, helping to carry and convert the raw power from her soulstone and crystal cores into usable energy, which kept her goliath body running.

Her features had long healed from the damage she had taken: if anything, her features looked healthier... well, apart from how the slight shine to her white coat made the black rings around her eyes stand out all the more. And Luna couldn't help but smile wryly before she said dryly: “I cannot help but reflect upon how of all of us, thou seems to be the only pony here who is profiting from what is going on. I also cannot help but note that I believe we told thee thou wert not allowed to simply outfit the Clockwork Ponies as thou pleased.”

“Shiny is different, I thought.” Hecate shrugged, then she turned around, striding calmly over to one of the large tables in the middle of the room and gesturing at it quickly. “But come here. I have something to discuss with you.”

Luna and Scrivener traded looks, then approached, and Hecate held a metal claw over a table before an image projected from her steel hand, forming into what the ponies quickly recognized as a map of the Vale of Valhalla: they had seen this quite a few times over the last few weeks, after all. “Celestia, as you know, has been pushing hard from the Gates of Heaven. But destroying the Gates didn't just open that one way in and out of Valhalla. It allowed for portals to be created, which is something Hel has been quickly taking advantage of.

“Hel has set up several base camps, and there are forwards camps from our own Midgard faction here and here.” Hecate continued calmly, and Luna couldn't help but look up with a slight smile: Hecate had just included herself with them. “These need to be fortified and protected. I can do that, if you're willing to trust me. I want to build drones, and I want to enhance demons and ponies.”

“Yes, oh, sure. Go ahead. Go kidnap foals off the street, Hecate, why ever would thou think I would object to that?” Luna asked sardonically, and Hecate smiled contemptibly at the two of them as she let the holographic map vanish.

“I'm not interested in working with creatures who may not be trustworthy, nor ones that I would have to brainwash and reprogram. That would take too long. Mechanical and magical enhancements can be easily added and modified in a much shorter period of time.” Hecate said almost pleasantly, straightening before she gave a half-contemptible, half darkly-amused look down at Luna. “I suppose I'm appealing to your sense of free will, since you lack the intelligence to understand that sometimes necessity overwhelms your trifling notions of 'good' and 'evil.'”

The sapphire mare grumbled moodily at this, narrowing her eyes before she finally gritted her teeth and looked up, saying quietly: “They must be aware of what they are getting into. We must be permitted to help thee select these ponies and demons. And thou art not permitted to argue with us if we turn down an... applicant. For any reason. Is this understood?”

“Good. Then I suppose there's no more reason for me to cease arming the Clockwork Ponies to their full potential?” Hecate half-asked, half-demanded, and Luna growled moodily before the mechanical goddess said softly: “Think of it this way. If I militarize as many of the industrial-class Dogmatists as possible, then I'll require fewer applicants for... enhancement.”

“Very well.” Luna sighed tiredly, dropping her head forwards and shivering once before she murmured: “I suppose... Scrivy and I both knew this day would come, in any event. We have lasted long without this, but... there are more and more wounded and more dead every day, and if we stand on high moral ground for too long... it will simply become a stage from which we can watch the rivers of our friends' blood flow by.”

Scrivener grunted, then Hecate said after a moment, almost as if she was trying to be comforting: “You lasted a surprisingly long time without even creating any Greater Nightmares. I would not have been that... stubborn.”

The two ponies looked up at her awkwardly, and she looked moodily back before shaking her head briefly and saying distastefully: “Enough, though. I have what I need. Go away.”

“Thou art just so splendid with ponies, 'tis such a shock thou art not a diplomat.” Luna grumbled, and then she hesitated as she studied the enormous, armored mare before asking abruptly: “Will thou come and get drunk with us? Obviously Scrivener Blooms and I are not going to get drunk, but if thou likes, thou may do so. We have fine wines and finer still whiskeys. Come get drunk.”

Hecate looked disbelievingly at the mare, blinking slowly... and when Luna only looked at her, a disbelieving grin slowly crested the muzzle of the enormous, mechanical goddess. Hecate shook her head slowly back and forth, then started to laugh, the sound rising louder and louder until she threw her head back, Luna and Scrivener both glowering up at her.

And finally, Hecate got herself enough under control to turn a patronizing look down over the ponies. “You really can't be serious, can you? Have you even looked at me lately, or at yourselves? Are you that stupid, that naive, that... invested in the belief that you can actually be my friend?”

“Yes.” Luna said simply, and Hecate actually looked surprised before Luna smiled up at her and shrugged, asking kindly: “So what will thou have to drink tonight?”

There was silence for a few moments, and for the first time in maybe... ever, Scrivener saw Hecate shift almost uncomfortably, watched as she rubbed one metal claw at the base of her steel-sheathed horn in an awkward, anxious gesture before she said finally: “It's been a long time since I've had absinthe.”

“Oh, come now! Thou... wretched wretch, absinthe? Of all the damnable alcohols in Equestria thou goes and asks for absinthe? Where in Hel's great frozen rump am I to... oh, damnation, to the liquor store, Scrivener Blooms, for... great and terrible Hecate who roars as if she guzzles vodka but now mewls like a kitten for absinthe.” Luna complained, and Hecate looked almost awkward before the sapphire mare poked a few times at Scrivener Blooms. “Come, come, let us go. Thou can buy another great gigantic bottle of whiskey and set it proudly on the shelf and speak of what a drunk thou art.”

“Yes, Luna, that's. Fantastic. Wow. I love you so much more than usual now.” Scrivener said sourly, and then he sighed and shook his head grouchily as he followed after the mare, adding moodily: “By the way, Twilight and I have decided you're sleeping on the couch tonight. You know she's touchier than I am about drinking and everything.”

And Hecate could only watch as the two ponies left, making that awkward rubbing gesture at the base of her horn again before she realized what she was doing and grimaced, quickly flicking her mane out of her face as she muttered: “What a waste of my valuable time.”

The night was relaxing for Luna: she, Scrivener, and Twilight were all off-duty, and so were Innocence – although Innocence's duties never took her so much as near one of the rifts into Vahalla – and Aphrodisia and Pinkamena. So there was a little bit of a get-together, and to their surprise, Hecate did actually show up... making it a good thing Luna had insisted on getting at least three bottles of absinthe as a just-in-case measure for this occasion.

Friends drank, and Scrivener Blooms pretended he wasn't thirsty as he guzzled down coffee after coffee and cola after cola, and Luna laughed and eyed her husband a little too greedily every now and then, licking her sharp teeth hungrily... but all-in-all, the night was a good one, with no major accidents, no attacks, no ambushes, no real problems. Just... actual good times, spent in the awkward company of friends who were almost all family, too... and Scrivy guessed that in a way, Hecate was a weird sort of cousin or something.

In the morning, he and Twilight Sparkle woke up curled together in their bedroom. Pinkamena was roosting in a corner, just looking at him moodily, but Scrivener was undeterred by the demoness as he sat up with a yawn, and the Lich shifted and buried her face into his stomach, murmuring: “Don't go. Too tired.”

“Please don't put on a show for me. That's not my kind of thing.” Pinkamena said moodily, and Twilight blinked, her eyes opening as she blushed and stared awkwardly up at the Devourer, but the demon only shrugged and said flatly: “Mostly because I'm pretty sure you two would be boring as hell. Then again, all things considered...”

Pinkamena reached out and poked the large line of stitching Twilight had been forced to add a week ago over a wound in her chest, and Twilight glanced away, then turned her eyes up towards Scrivener Blooms. And the stallion sighed quietly as he slid his forelegs around Twilight Sparkle, one Talon gripping her shoulder as the other stroked slowly through the violet mare's mane before he said softly: “You could just try talking about things for once, you know. Although it's getting awkward that whenever I see you creeping in the shadows somewhere, I'm no longer freaked out. It's just kind of one of those things, like... seeing a cloud in the sky or a squirrel in a tree or something.”

Pinkamena glowered at this, but then she only sighed a little as her eyes roved upwards, the entire atmosphere of the room seeming to change with her mood as she murmured: “Our kids are upstairs right now. My little girl, talking to your little girl about... I dunno. Whatever the hell mares like them talk about. Mine's too smart to act her age, after all, and yours is too dumb to realize what a good thing she's got, getting... fifty years of her life back or whatever.”

“Sixty, she says, but... you might be more accurate. And I don't think that time was ever... ever settled in, so to speak.” Scrivener Blooms shook his head briefly, smiling a little. “We all basically agree she's nowhere near that age now, after all. And she seems to be... settling a little.”

“Although I guess we're both worried she's just... trying really hard to make a good impression on us again.” Twilight Sparkle said quietly, shaking her head slowly. “But she's a good pony inside. She's just fighting against what she's been taught.”

“My daughter's a bad pony inside, but Slap and I raised her right. Look at her, makes your daughter look like a big evil wimp.” Pinkamena said sourly, and Scrivener and Twilight traded dry looks before they both looked grouchily at the demon, but she only grunted and shrugged, saying grumpily: “Not my fault it's the truth. Just the truth. That's all there is to it.”

Scrivener grunted, and Twilight sighed and shook her head before saying finally: “She's... she's not a wimp. And she just needs a little more time and help adjusting, that's all. She's had it tough.”

“So what? So did I. I didn't get cut any slack.” Pinkamena said moodily, but Twilight and Scrivener only gave her an amused look, and the demon rolled her eyes and muttered: “Well, okay, I won't stretch my sob story. But... your sweet little girl might not be coming back. If she hasn't learned that we can't just kill everyone we don't like by now, do you think she's ever going to?”

“She's not like that.” Twilight said forcefully, sitting up, and then she blushed a bit and lowered her head, murmuring: “She's not like that at all. Her problems aren't... I think you even know that her problems aren't that kind. It's that she has this...”

“Desire for power. But that's going to lead to killing, and worse. And I know you three are the only reason she hasn't gone off the deep end, pursuing Gymbr or... who knows what... but you three aren't going to be around forever. What if something bad happens and you're not here before you get done teaching her the slow, stupid way how to deal with her problems?” Pinkamena asked coldly, and Scrivener frowned a little as Twilight dropped her head silently.

But the stallion was looking across at the demon silently, and Pinkamena met his eyes evenly, fearlessly, even as it left her a little exposed, let him understand what she was really saying... and he smiled faintly after a moment, saying quietly: “Look. I know stuff is awful right now, but... there's no guarantee we're going to die.”

Pinkamena grunted, looking down and opening her mouth as she began to turn cold eyes up towards Scrivener Blooms... but after a moment, she fell quiet again before finally lowering her head and murmuring in a surprisingly-soft voice: “I don't want to lose my best friend.”

“Would it help if I tell you some corny platitude about how I'll always be in your heart?” Scrivener asked softly, and Pinkamena sighed as she punched him in the shoulder... then gripped into it tightly instead of pulling her hoof away, rubbing it slowly as she gazed up at him through her curtain of mane, and the stallion said quietly: “But you won't lose me. Even if... even if something bad does happen to us, I'm sure you can always come and visit us down in Hell.”

“Very funny.” Pinkamena shook her head slowly, then she said softly: “I can't... I lost Slap. And I'm losing Pinkie. And you three are all running stupidly into this war with the Pious, even if you've got a bad feeling about it and... yeah, I've got a bad feeling about it, too. I don't even know why: I've been on that battlefield, and even though they have numbers and artillery and armies, we have the same. It's all just a matter of time before we'll rout them. They're strong, but we're stronger.

“So I know it doesn't make sense. But I feel something is going to happen before the end.” Pinkamena looked up evenly, and Scrivener looked back at her before she suddenly leaned forwards and embraced him tightly for a moment, the stallion silently hugging the demon back as Twilight Sparkle smiled faintly. “Look. Don't die yet.”

“That I can promise.” Scrivener said softly, and then he winced when Pinkamena shoved him backwards before the demon snorted and turned, heading to the door. She yanked it open, then hesitated, looking back over her shoulder and nodding once to him before stepping through it, and a moment later the stallion heard the front door open and then quickly close behind her.

He looked awkwardly over at Twilight Sparkle, and the violet mare simply shrugged, gazing silently at their ajar bedroom door before she murmured: “She has good intentions at heart. But she's scared, too, and... I understand that. Sort of. I know it's obviously different between me and her, our... feelings for you and everything.”

Twilight smiled a little over at him, and then she nestled her cheek into his palm when he stroked a Talon over her face gently, saying softly: “I'm glad you don't get jealous like Luna does. Because yeah. It is different. She and I just... clicked as friends.”

“I'm glad for it, though. You help each other out. And well... she helps all of us out, really.” Twilight stopped, then looked down and shook her head slowly, murmuring: “And she's right. I don't want to admit it, but she's right about Innocence.”

“Let's not give her too much credit now.” Scrivener said after a moment, and Twilight Sparkle gave him a small smile, but the stallion only shook his head and said softly: “Hey, I can be protective of my little filly too, you know. Besides, Pinkamena's a pessimist. We all know that.”

Twilight Sparkle nodded a little, and there was quiet between the two for a few moments before they traded a gentle kiss, and then the stallion stood and helped the Lich up to her own hooves. She didn't need the help, and it was a silly gesture, really, but Twilight always liked that little bit of extra, romantic treatment, no matter how cheesy or silly it seemed. But maybe what she really liked was just the contact... was being treated like a normal mare instead of...

“A mistress of undeath?” Scrivener asked mildly, and Twilight gave him a mild look before he headed to the door, adding: “I'm glad for it, though, don't get me wrong. The last thing I need is Mistress Twilight and Mistress Luna both bossing me around. I'd end up all tied up in vines and leather until I got really frustrated with you both and. I don't know. Hid myself in a cocoon.”

The violet mare only shook her head and smiled amusedly, striding after him as she murmured: “Now come on, Scrivy. You know that there's no real... order between us. We're all equals. Or well... we're all supposed to be equals, anyway.” She paused, then hurried quickly forwards and suddenly kissed the side of Scrivener's neck, and they both paused in the entrance to the living room as the stallion smiled and closed his eyes, letting his head fall forwards before Twilight Sparkle said softly: “Besides. Protecting you two is more important to me than any kind of title or status or anything silly like that. I love you both. I'm indebted to you both.”

“No you're not. You're very definitely not.” Scrivener Blooms replied softly, and then he paused before slowly drawing his eyes with a frown to where he realized Luna was curled up in a pile of blankets, as he realized that wasn't a pillow she was cradling... “Oh for the love of...”

Twilight looked dumbly up, then stared at the sight of Luna snuggling with Hecate's head, the sapphire mare still snoring complacently. Hecate seemed to be asleep herself – and Scrivener couldn't help but note with a lack of surprise that she scowled even in her sleep – with her face mashed awkwardly into Luna's chest, her mane twitching and strangely reminding Scrivener of how a dog's paws might twitch in its own slumber.

The stallion and the Lich looked awkwardly at this for the longest time, and then they slowly traded looks before both ponies shrugged lamely and Scrivener finally said: “I'm just. Going to go and make pancakes. Do you want bacon or home fries?”

“Bacon.” Twilight answered without thinking, looking awkwardly at the two before she blushed a bit, but Scrivener only gave her a smile and a nod. Yet all the same, the violet mare found herself... drawn to the past for a moment, thinking of how she once would have rejected any kind of meat, and now here she was. Asking for bacon over potato.

The Lich smiled faintly and shook her head slowly, and then she and Scrivener traded looks before the charcoal earth pony reached up and easily mussed up her mane with a Talon, and she laughed and shoved at him before smiling again. The stallion let himself be pushed away, turning it into an awkward half-spin into the kitchen and heading towards the refrigerator as he said softly: “Don't worry. I guess I kind of like the way everything's turned out. Even if...”

He didn't let himself descend into those thoughts: instead, he made himself concentrate on cooking the pancakes and bacon. And within a few minutes, Luna was sniffing the air sleepily and then sitting him, looking meditatively back and forth and still clutching Hecate's head against her chest before she asked through a yawn: “So shall I be allowed back in bed tonight?”

“Maybe not.” Twilight said mildly, gesturing pointedly at Hecate. The head was still mostly-asleep even if she was grumbling moodily to herself, and Luna looked thoughtfully down at this for a few moments before she rose it and violently shook it a few times, Hecate's eyes springing open as she shouted profanities, and then Luna easily flung her upwards, the head flipping wildly through the air until Luna caught it easily in her front hooves by the cheeks, Hecate staring up at the sapphire mare in disbelief as Luna grinned cheerfully back down at her. “Good morning... sleepy head!”

Luna giggled at her own horrible joke, and Twilight slowly closed her eyes and turned away as if pained. Hecate, meanwhile, only glowered horribly up at the sapphire mare before she glanced back and forth, then muttered: “Great. I don't know where I left my body.”

“'Tis outside still, I think. Thou drank quite a lot of absinthe. Seeing as thou has no stomach, I have to wonder where it all went.” Luna paused and poked thoughtfully at Hecate's temple, the head grinding its teeth together as the mare said meditatively: “Perhaps it all went into thy great and terrible brain. Or is now circulating in thy veins. We should find a vampire, if it gets drunk from biting thee then we shall know.”

“Leave me alone, Luna Brynhild.” Hecate said moodily, and then she rolled her eyes and added disgustedly: “I am also not going to discuss bodily functions with you, you have enough flesh-obsessed mortal ponies to do that with.”

Luna only huffed, then tossed Hecate in the air, the head wincing and her mane sparking before she fell back into Luna's hooves, only to be childishly hefted skywards again as the sapphire mare looked thoughtfully over at Twilight Sparkle. “What is on our agenda for today?”

“First you should probably stop that. Hecate does have to go to work.” Twilight said delicately, and Luna huffed, catching the head... then absently reaching up and covering Hecate's nose even as her horn began to glow. And Twilight stared blankly as Hecate cursed, the glow on her horn dying down as she writhed uncontrollably, wrinkling up her muzzle in a vain attempt to try and free it from Luna's hoof. “What... what are you doing?”

“What? Oh, 'tis like a tickle spot on a foal!” Luna said helpfully, nodding a few times as Hecate grumbled and gave the faintest blush. “Thou knows, one that makes it difficult for it to concentrate magic! I discovered this last night while-”

“I swear if you don't shut up I'll self-destruct and kill us all.” Hecate threatened, and Luna stared down at the head as the head glared furiously back up at her. Scrivener, meanwhile, gave a silent groan as Twilight looked with almost a wince at Hecate.

And then Luna brightened little-by-little, looking like a foal entering a candy store before she declared cheerfully: “See! I knew it! 'Tis more proof that one day mine own beloved sister will go up in a great rumbustious blast of her own ill-making, just thou wait and see!”

Scrivener groaned as Hecate scowled horribly and Twilight Sparkle shook her head tiredly, and Luna only huffed loudly and said mildly: “Mark my words, 'tis all true. Thou art all merely fools for not seeing it, I say.”

Luna settled down by breakfast, in part because Scrivener Blooms spiced up her coffee for her with some cinnamon and vanilla in measured doses, and Luna slurped greedily at this surprisingly-sweet tasting concoction between gobbling down pancakes and attempting to feed the head in her lap every so often. Hecate only cursed at her grumpily, looking sulky but not risking any magic with her embarrassing nose issue revealed.

All-in-all, though, breakfast went well. Hecate declined food but drank a little bit of coffee, and Twilight Sparkle noted the way her collar glowed, smelled the faint aroma of steam mixed with the beverage, and Hecate muttered grumpily after she caught the Lich looking that yes, the cap at the end of her neck boiled the useful substances out of liquids and emitted the rest as steam. And Luna had then made a comment about having thought that heat had been coming from other certain parts of her own body and Hecate had refused to speak in anything but growls for the rest of the meal.

Aphrodisia and Innocence joined them after a little while, looking like good friends... although Scrivener thought there was a wariness to Innocence, and a kind of sadness to Apps. He guessed they had shared some conversation, that Aphrodisia had probably tried to get Innocence to return a little more to her old, childhood self and see past her delusions of power and grandeur and everything else she had been blinded by.

But Innocence was trying. Scrivener could see that: she had stopped asking for Ambrosia juice in the morning, had started using 'please' and 'thank you' more, was grudgingly talking to Twilight Sparkle and working with others instead of just bossing them around when Scrivener and Luna weren't watching... little steps, maybe, but all the same... progress. And when he looked between Apps and Sin and saw all the things that were different and the same between them, well... he just wished that he and Luna were better parents, like Pinkamena and Sleipnir clearly were.

Luna smiled a little at this, looking up at him, and there had been an awkward quiet until the last of breakfast was done with. Then Twilight went over the schedule for today, Luna took Hecate's head out to put on her body – and Twilight and Scrivener both felt and heard the crunch of the sapphire mare being punched into a wall, but both Lich and stallion felt an odd sense of relief at this – and then the whole group had gotten ready and headed into Ponyville.

They split up outside of town: Hecate stormed towards one of the groups of tents, Aphrodisia vanished in a puff of black smoke, Innocence traded hugs with her parents before hurrying off towards the animal care center. And Scrivy, Luna, and Twilight just stood for a few moments, looking up at the cloudy sky before trading nods and heading into town.

The Lich trotted towards the library: she needed to help with the research they were doing on the Pious, trying to understand how their artifacts and their magic worked. Scrivener and Luna, meanwhile, headed towards the Clockworks: they had a meeting they had been putting off for too long now to deal with.

The Clockworks were alive with activity: there were all kinds of Clockwork Ponies in the halls, many of them already outfitted with new weapons and technology from Hecate. Luna wondered moodily if the mechanical goddess had actually started before they'd given her permission... but even assuming she had, Hecate had worked incredibly fast.

Scrivener Blooms grunted in agreement, but they hadn't made any small talk as they'd descended: not between themselves, not with the few Clockwork Ponies they passed who might be capable of actually holding a conversation. They had just kept going down, down, down, past the labs, past the testing areas, past the vaults, until they'd reached old prison area.

Gymbr was out of his cell, but behind a locked gate: then again, none of the cells were occupied anymore, leaving the strange dual god to rot alone with only some crates of supplies and spare parts for company. But both sides of the entity smiled when Luna and Scrivener Blooms approached, staring out at them as the two sides slowly, painfully climbed up to a standing position. “We have not seen you for a long time now. You have been avoiding us. You never even took us to our new cell... although we appreciate having this entire 'yard' to ourselves. It is a small but welcome blessing.”

“Aye, well, we have been too busy to make thee a new royal home.” Luna said shortly, and then she shook her head slowly before leaning forwards, studying the creature silently through the bars. “Our war with Heaven is going well. Slower than anticipated... but 'tis a war. Soon, though, we plan to strike an ambush that will effectively seal the Light inside Heaven-”

“No, not the Light. The Pious, and the forces of the Light. The Light itself is what you are trying to avoid... but fair enough. One day we will have to fight it and destroy it, but... taking back Valhalla is your priority. We understand.” Gymbr said calmly, almost patronizingly. Luna growled at this as Scrivener shifted and grimaced a little, and then both halves of Gymbr tilted their heads and gestured with one forelimb, asking: “What do you need from us?”

“A renewed promise. We shall place a power core in...” Luna hesitated, looking between the two sides of Gymbr before saying slowly: “Inside Luna Gymbr. But only if she... or... he, or they, or however in Helheim's name thou wishes to refer to thyselves... only if thou will wear an inhibitor ring upon thy already vexed horn.”

The two halves of Gymbr attempted to trade looks – although their mirroring made it impossible – then both halves nodded calmly before they turned their eyes back towards Luna Brynhild, saying quietly: “As you desire. We sense that you have a purpose for us... and that it is nothing so noble as seeking the battlefield.”

“Thy kind does not deserve the battlefield.” Luna said moodily, and then she shook her head before saying calmly: “Thou will come with us to the Valhalla thou betrayed and ruined. Thou will sit, like a good dog, in one of the secure rooms of the castle, and thy presence alone should bring Valhalla and its many treasures out of dormancy. We will do the rest: I have no desire to spend my time explaining our plans to thee.”

Gymbr simply smiled and shrugged, then asked with interest: “How have you been handling the Paladins? Or have you only fought their Angelic Knights and Low Born? We have prepared another gift for you, telling you about these soldiers of Heaven and others that we have seen.”

“Thou art a little late in this regard. We have become very familiar with the soldiers of Heaven... not to mention the Whistlers and Hounds and constructs.” Luna said moodily, and both halves of Gymbr simply shrugged before they carefully scraped together a booklet of parchment... or rather, one half did. Gymbr Scrivener only mimicked Gymbr Luna's motions, making it look like he was pulling together an invisible pile of papers before picking this sheaf up and striding forwards to offer it, perfectly mirroring the mare with the actual booklet. “Damnation.”

Luna shivered a bit, but then took the booklet with telekinesis and hurriedly pulled it through the bars, the sapphire mare paging quickly through this before she shook her head and muttered: “The two of thee need to learn to act like two separate creatures.”

“But we are not. We are Gymbr. There is no more Luna, no more Scrivener... there is only Gymbr.” replied the dual god quietly... and then both sides of the creature shook their heads slowly before saying softly: “We sincerely hope that the war with the Pious will end soon.”

“When the Light is gone... I hope thou understands that thou shall be made gone too, Gymbr.” Luna said quietly, looking evenly across at the two halves of god, but both sides of Gymbr only smiled faintly at this, shaking their heads slowly.

“We hope so.” they said quietly as they turned around, and Scrivener and Luna both shivered a little as Gymbr retreated across the prison hall, towards their... his... open, lonely cell.

Luna and Scrivener traded looks, and then the sapphire mare sighed quietly before rolling the set of pages tightly up and tucking them into her mane. She shivered again, feeling like something had just walked over her grave, then turned and muttered: “Come, Scrivy. Out of this den of inequity, and... well, I suppose we shall return to the forge. Or perhaps we should go and help the zebra and the Phooka in the medical camp.”

Scrivener Blooms shook his head briefly as the two began to make their way down the hall, leaving the prison facility and heading for the stairs leading up from this lonely, mostly shut-down level of the Clockworks. But as they stepped out into the weapons testing floor above, they were both surprised to see one of Hel's ice puppets waiting for them with a slight smile, the Three Fates and Imago clustered around her.

The two ponies looked at her, and Hel gazed back at them almost tenderly before the ice puppet reached out, resting her hands on the backs of Dusk's and Myre's necks. “So you went ahead and finally closed the deal with Gymbr, right? Good. I'll be having a little chat with him myself. I just wanted to give you some last minute instructions.”

Luna scowled at this as Scrivener looked up, grimacing a little as he said moodily: “You know that we don't really take... 'instructions' from you all that well, right?”

“Oh, this is important!” Hel half-pleaded, half-reprimanded, and then the ice puppet smiled over at Dusk, saying kindly: “The cute little Wyrmlings sitting out there with Big Old Poe are going to cocoon shortly. You need to program them with your special touch, chocolate pudding. Then Dusk will take over and command and train them. Cinnamon bun, Imago needs you and your hubby-wubby and possibly wifey-fiefy to come out and get introduced to her new breed of bug pony things. They're gross, but once they know you, they'll listen to you, so. I'd do that.

“Myre wants a little lick of your blood and chocolate sauce's, to make her stronger and better at protecting your crazy little girl. And even though I brought like fifty demon corpses up from the place named after me, Twilight Shadow and I both thought we should ask before we turn them into puppets. You guys have that whole... thing. With morals and... you know, pretending you're the good guys and all that. It's kind of annoying.”

Scrivener Blooms and Luna Brynhild traded moody looks, and then the stallion shivered a bit: Poe, he was still fine with, since the Tyrant Wyrm was well-behaved and a little... well, strange, for a Tyrant Wyrm. His mire beasts, unfortunately, had all already been destroyed in the battles with Heaven, something he hated to admit he was still a little upset over. It was life he had created, sure, but... still, he'd been stupid and let himself think of them as something more than just... war-beasts or expendable assets or... anything like that... or at least, that's what he told himself.

But the other Tyrant Wyrms... well, the Wyrmlings hadn't been... awful, surprisingly enough, after they'd hatched roughly two weeks ago, although it still scared him to think that... a little bit of his corruption mixed up inside Dusk had yielded... these. It made him question a little what the Clay of Prometheus really was, what it had actually been meant to do and shape...

Hel clapped her hands loudly a few times, and Scrivener winced and looked up out of his thoughts before the goddess said mildly: “You know, we could really use you two just. Pretending to listen, even. That would be swell.”

Scrivener Blooms sighed tiredly, and Luna said moodily: “Very well. As I know thou plans to do whatever thou must, and thou...” Luna grimaced in disgust, hating what she was saying, agreeing to, but feeling that it was necessary with how she knew they needed the soldiers. “We will do as thou has asked. And thou may create... more undead soldiers. But these demons...”

“Taken from the Abyss, the big prison where we throw all the demons who refuse to do anything but try and murder and destroy each other, yes, yes. The psychopaths, the destroyers, the ones who won't learn their lessons or serve any other purpose. Those few, those proud few, who deserve their eternal damnation.” Hel posed for a moment, smiling almost dreamily upwards. “The ones I'd normally take great delight in reprogramming for my own personal guard, in other words.”

“We get the picture.” Scrivener said sourly, and then he hesitated, drawing his eyes down. Imago, Dusk, and Twilight Shadow were all smiling calmly, but Myre, as always, seemed a little... different, somehow. She looked a bit apprehensive, maybe even a little embarrassed... and Scrivener couldn't help but smile at her a little before he said finally, after a mental nudge from Luna: “Well, if that's all, then the servants can go... Myre, you can stay, though, if you want.”

Hel nodded agreeably, then made a shooing motion at the others, and Dusk, Twilight Shadow, and Imago bowed their heads before turning and leaving. Myre looked relieved to stay, striding over and smiling at them before the goddess said kindly: “You know she's kind of like a cow. The intelligence you're attributing to her... well, it's not really there. It's reflection, and it's instinct: she's not telling you where the flies are she wants you to swat with her gestures, she's just reacting to their bites.”

Scrivener and Luna both looked up at Hecate, and then Luna said softly: “Nay. Her instinct is to reflect what we desire. So if I desire her always be herself, then she is her own pony, is she not?”

Hel snorted at this, then held up her hands and said mildly: “I don't get in philosophical debates anymore, kids. Not since Vally-wally tried to...”

Hel waggled her eyebrows, then produced an icy pair of sunglasses with a flick of her wrist and put them on as she declared: “Put me on ice.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Luna snapped her horn forwards, and Hel's ice puppet shattered into pieces, the frosty sunglasses flying off and shattering against the ground with a tinkle. Scrivener Blooms gave a sigh of relief as Luna shook her head in distaste, saying crankily: “As if one punning Draconequus is not enough. Put thee on ice. 'Twas terrible!”

“Which is admittedly part of why I'm surprised you didn't make that joke.” Scrivener said mildly, and Luna huffed loudly at him before the charcoal earth pony watched meditatively as the frosty puppet rapidly reassembled itself, Hel sulking visibly as she crossed her arms. “Are you sure Valthrudnir didn't try and kill you for any other reason? I mean, any other reason at all.”

“No, no. It was definitely our heartfelt intelligent discussions.” Hel said mildly, and then she absently flicked a finger to the side, and both Luna and Scrivener winced as their muzzles were frozen shut. “Now shut up you two. We'll never finish our business if you keep yapping away.”

The goddess paused for a moment, then crossed her arms and lowered her head as she became more serious, murmuring quietly: “A heart for a heartless god... all to reopen our beloved Valhalla. Yes, ours, I love it too. Well. I love my old room and stuff. And some of the gardens. And there's good memories of Kvasir up in there, too. I always liked him...”

Hel looked moody, rubbing slowly at her chin before she shook her head and said quietly: “This isn't the last time I'll ask you to trust me, cinnamon and chocolate pudding. But trust me, won't you? I might be the devil, but the devil don't do nothing she don't say she's gonna. God and the Light and All Daddy are the types who like mystery... liked, in the case of Odin. And I say that with all the love in the universe, too.”

She stopped, then smiled slightly and said softly: “I've got a soulstone heart for Gymbr. One that should give him all the kick he needs, and then some. That's why I'm asking you to trust me here: it's more power than I think you'd honestly appreciate me giving him. And I know you want to kill him, but... he's valuable. No, no, don't get me wrong... I haven't turned a new leaf on him quite yet. But I am prepared to... let's say... be a little bit understanding about this whole situation.”

Scrivener and Luna traded uneasy looks as the ice melted away from their muzzles, and Myre frowned, shrinking her head a little as if afraid. That likely wasn't just reflection, but an honest reaction, considering all the things Gymbr had done...

The soulmates traded thoughts and worries, and felt Twilight Sparkle, even from the library, joining their mental conversation... but at the end of the day, what it really came down to, was... “If Gymbr goes out of control...”

“Oh, I'll keep him on a tight leash. That'll be part of our deal. And if he screws up, he blows up.” Hel said easily, smiling and shrugging almost casually. Scrivener and Luna both grimaced at this, shifting again, and then the dark goddess said softly: “Oh, don't worry, Luna, Scrivy. I've got lots and lots of backup plans. I've got lots of 'just in case' scenarios. And I've got one final solution at the end of the day... so don't you fret. I can handle this.”

The two ponies traded uneasy looks again... and finally, Luna nodded slowly, even in spite of how nervous it made her to agree again to the goddess' terms.

Hel smiled across at them, then she reached up and tapped her nose, saying kindly: “I won't say you won't regret this: that's a recipe for disaster if there ever was one, after all. But what I will say is that you're doing the best possible thing you can do in this situation. Now get out there. Stop stressing out. Have a little fun between your short skirmishes on the battlefield. And when I'm sure He Of Many Countless Faces has turned his gaze to the other battlefields he's stupidly started fighting on, and all the meat's left alone in sun, I'll take you up there and we'll shut God out of Heaven and take it back. Just you wait and see.”

Luna nodded uneasily, shifting slowly again, and she didn't know what else to say or do before Hel simply vanished, leaving the sapphire mare alone with Myre, Scrivener, and her own worries about what fate she had just chosen for herself with the decision she had just made.

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