• 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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Be They So Beautiful And Divine...

Chapter Sixty Five: Be They So Beautiful And Divine...

The war continued: troops went to Heaven, to fight a war that few mortals really knew anything about. It was all stuff of legend now, more mythical than even the usual stories of war and battle, and there were quite a few ponies who were eager to try and join the elite ranks being sent to fight the Pious. Only the best of the best were going to the Vale of Valhalla, after all, and the rumor that they were fighting in Heaven, well... that was certainly adding to the interest.

Weeks passed, and then months as autumn became winter: Pegasi did their best to keep the encampments around Ponyville fairly clear of snow, and unicorns and demons both kept the tents and small structures that had been erected warm and comfortable. Subterra and Canterlot were both thriving, drawing warriors from across Equestria who wanted to contribute to the rumored cause.

The Vale of Valhalla was becoming a war-torn battlefield, as Celestia and Terra led ruthless attack after attack, bent on exterminating the Pious. More and more, they were seeing Blessed who had been 'blinded' by the Light and the Pious, who rarely interfered in any of their battles but who were all-but-servile to the forces of Light, and who treated their former friends and allies like they were anathema and evil.

Hell and Hel were both helping out heavily with the takeover of Heaven: demons were constantly being sent up from Helheim, apparently promised all kinds of rewards if they did their jobs well, and all kinds of punishment and torments if they failed to or attacked any of their newfound allies. So for the most part, even with their brutal tactics, they were working very well alongside the mortals, the demons that proudly identified themselves first and foremost as servants of Mistress Luna and the Night, and the forces of Valhalla that were struggling to reclaim Heaven.

Scarlet Sage, Meadowlark, and several others had all been put in charge of medical teams that were tending to the wounded on the battlefield, while Zecora and her kin were working hard back on Midgard, tending to the injured and the dying brought back from the battlefield. Innocence sometimes was allowed to help Zecora... and on rare occasion, put her powerful magic to use up in the base camp in Heaven: unlike the other healers, Sin's Panacea allowed her to cure the so-called 'blindness' that the Light inflicted on the Blessed and snap them out of their dazes.

Antares Mīrus was in charge of one of Celestia's hoofpicked attack teams: he, Aphrodisia, Avalon, and several powerful demons were a small but incredibly-dangerous unit, that Celestia often deployed in high-risk areas where they absolutely couldn't afford to lose ground. But they had been able to push, and push, and push against the Pious, and were only driven back when the so-called 'Miracles' were called down from the skies, or Whistlers mounted ambushes in large number, using their melodies to confuse entire platoons of soldiers.

Scrivener Blooms and Luna Brynhild had only rarely took to the field: Celestia was still trying to keep them out of the line of fire, asking them to fight only when Hecate was rolling out some new project or they had to quickly build some kind of fortification... or, as had happened once or twice, they needed to repeal some massive attack. Twilight Sparkle had technically been in the fight more often than they had... but whenever Celestia needed Twilight somewhere in Heaven, Luna and Scrivener often just ended up being ordered to stay back at the base camp or one of the outposts.

Celestia had also been deploying the Three Fates and Nightmare Moon on a regular basis, although she found that Imago worked much better from a command standpoint than fighting on the battlefield. But the Fates were vicious fighters, and Nightmare Moon was as cruel and cunning as she had ever been in Luna's mind: her powers seemed to be developing further and further with every passing day, every confrontation she fought through... and she collected scars like badges of honor, waded fearlessly into even the most dangerous fights without a care in the world thanks to the fact that unlike her allies, there were precious few things that could even harm her, let alone kill her, with her connection to Luna Brynhild.

And as much as Celestia and most of her other officers hated to do so, they were also using other tools of darkness to their advantage, letting Imago flood sections of the battlefield with her Drone Soldiers, and allowing Dusk and Nightmare Moon to lead groups of Tyrant Wyrms into battle: more than this, Hecate had actually outfitted several Tyrant Wyrms – including Poe – with carriers, decks, and even weaponry she'd fused directly into their bodies, turning them into monstrous troop transports and land warships that demons – and a few brave mortal soldiers – could ride into the fray.

Terra and Celestia were sharing the duties of monitoring the forces of Valhalla and forming battle plans: Terra handled more of the administrative duties, however, and Celestia worked with a council composed of Ironjaw, demons, and a few personally-chosen advisors to put together her strategies and conduct operations. But the army at their disposal was a truly monumental force, even if the greatest difficulty wasn't with managing the size of the force, but coordinating their attacks with other battalions and their allies from Helheim.

Hel was very fond of 'ripping:' an ambushing tactic using portals to send a vicious, often kamikaze force directly into the flank of an enemy unit already engaged with an opposing army. Celestia or one of her Commanders would be trying to rule the battlefield, shouting orders and directing troops, and then all of a sudden there would be twenty or so Wrath demon Berserks attacking the enemy battalions from behind, slaughtering anything stupid enough to stand too close. Often this was a good thing, exposing more flaws in the enemy formations and forcing Pious to turn their backs to deal with the problem, but sometimes these rip ambushes got between the Pious and a flanking unit of Valhalla, or worse still, prematurely revealed a trap or set off some other alarm.

Hel was fantastic at causing chaos, and chaos could turn the battlefield upside-down. The problem was, that was a double-edged sword, especially since Hel often acted like she had no apparent interest in keeping mortals, demons, or anything else alive unless it was absolutely necessary. Worse yet, the Light wasn't stupid: when Hel attracted too much attention with ripping attacks or kamikazes or disorganized ambushes, the Light would turn this chaos to its advantage by sending down a rain of holy arrows or massive rays of purification to try and scatter entire units.

The Light was ferocious: they hadn't encountered many Paladins so far, but the regular Pious and the exalted Angelic Knights in their white, magic-repelling armor were dangerous enough as it was. Sometimes the hypnotized, Light-blinded Blessed rioted against them, and sometimes they ended up fighting stone constructs that had to be torn completely apart before they would stop moving. Sometimes they ran into packs of Hounds of Heaven, or other former forces of Valhalla that had been purified – or perhaps the word was more something like 'parasited' – by the Light.

And there were challenges other than the Light's soldiers as well: the vastness of Heaven, the fact that portals could be formed almost anywhere, almost any time, magic traps, artillery, and bombardments... and that was just to start with. Many of their worst difficulties were actually things that had nothing to do with the enemy: a lack of supplies, tracking difficulties due to magic fluctuations, changes in terrain thanks to all the fortifications and the purifying the Pious had been doing so they could better control the Vale of Valhalla.

But they had fought the Pious back, and scouts had noted that the Light was engaging them offensively less and less often: in fact, it seemed to be withdrawing troops from many of the battlefronts, and Hel was able to confirm these were being portaled out of Valhalla in great numbers. As Hel had predicted, He Of Many Countless Faces had likely made the mistake of thinking the Vale of Valhalla was secure, and had gone on to other worlds: now he was trying to maintain at least two fronts, and apparently he had decided the Vale wasn't as important as whatever else he was doing.

It was midwinter on the mortal world, while the Vale was as sunny and beautiful as ever. Today was an important anniversary, though: today marked six years since Kvasir had vanished, and the empty halls of the Castle of Valhalla seemed to mourn their lost lord.

The Castle of Valhalla had been spared the worst of the Pious' purification: the exterior walls had been blanched and stained, and windows had been broken and removed here and there... but the doors and gates were still holding fast, and inside the massive fortress itself, enormous slabs of immovable, magic-proof stone cut hallways into small, inescapable cells, and the entire structure reverberated with a potent hollowness that made the air feel thin.

And then there was a spark: a single, solitary spark in the grand foyer near the front of the castle, and Valhalla stirred like a sleeping giant, a pulse of life running through the whole of the building. Then silence, and for a moment, Valhalla shuddered as if betrayed, as if struggling to shift, and return to slumber...

A ripple of energy tore through the air of the foyer, and Valhalla snapped awake, the walls taking on a brighter gleam, the massive slabs of stones barring the doors trembling and stirring as dust hailed down from the ceiling before there was a flash of light... and Hel's laughter cut through the glow even before it faded, the puppet grinning widely and standing in the center of the room, surrounded by stunned-looking ponies. “Excellent! Excellent, and none of you got spliced or disassociated!”

“Neither of those things sound very pleasant. But what we just went through wasn't very pleasant. Maybe next time you can try and warn us about things not being pleasant.” Scrivener Blooms muttered, and Luna groaned in agreement as Nightmare Moon shook herself out and Twilight Sparkle slowly picked herself up. The three soulbound ponies were all dressed in full armor, Andlitstingar holstered over one of Luna's shoulders and the handle of Sting Mk. III sticking out over the other. They were all dressed in polished, repaired armor, and Scrivener's Talons flexed uneasily against the ground as Twilight Sparkle turned her eyes nervously over her shoulder, towards another pair of linked ponies.

Both halves of Gymbr calmly picked themselves up, perfectly mirroring each other: neither was wearing armor, however, and the Gymbr Luna half had several large ribbons sewn into her chest, crisscrossed over what looked like a glowing eye embedded in her breast. Around her horn, a single piece of string had been wrapped... but for as harmless as it looked, it stopped Gymbr Luna from focusing any kind of magical power.

Hel began to open her mouth to reply... and then she looked up excitedly, holding up a finger as Valhalla shuddered around them before the dark goddess said gleefully: “Yes, yes! It's working! Do you feel Valhalla coming alive around us? And just like I said, the Pious weren't able to break in...”

“What do you need us to do?” Nightmare Moon asked calmly as she straightened: she refused to wear any armor, clad only in a simple spiked iron collar, several large silver stakes and knives sticking out of her back. Scrivener and Luna couldn't help but look uneasily at the passion entity: both of them had noticed that Nightmare Moon hadn't just been growing more powerful... she had started to change, little-by-little, become less beautiful and more monstrous in appearance. And neither Luna nor Scrivener wanted to admit that was actually making her more attractive to them both.

Hel only smiled with entertainment over at the passion entity, seeming to study her for a few moments, gazing over the thin scars here and there on her body from holy weapons, the bony spikes beginning to protrude from her body like thorns, the way her wings were losing their feathers and becoming more draconic in nature. “Well, first of all, we're going to wait just three, two, one, and...”

Hel put a hand by one ear, pretending to listen, and then the ice puppet grinned as a rumble roared through Valhalla. The ponies stumbled, Gymbr's halves mirroring each other perfectly even as they fell heavily on their sides, and Hel only giggled before pointing excitedly as the massive stone slabs covering the doors began to rumble slowly up into the ceiling. “There! There, it's all going perfectly according to plan! Okay, kiddies, Valhalla's going to gear up from the inside out: the bridges and gates aren't going to open up until all of this castle is filled with energy again, but that doesn't mean we're going to be safe inside here until that happens. Once the Light realizes what's going on, Pious will probably try and fly in and try to sneak in through the courtyards, the windows, the balconies. So we have to get the defenses up and running tout de suite, and that's not going to require a lot of power, but instead...”

The dark goddess rose her hands to either side of her head and snapped her fingers, and energy sparked through the air before several portals ripped open near the back of the foyer. The ponies all looked up, watching as Nightmares, third-tier demons, and Knights of Valhalla began to leap into the room through the rips in reality, Hel grinning widely before she hugged herself and laughed as the portals vanished... then suddenly flung her arms wide and shattered into pieces.

Fragments of ice puppet swirled in either direction before solidifying into two identical copies, both grinning widely before the one on the left said cheerily, waving a hand: “I'm A!”

“And I'm B! Now, split yourselves up nicely into one-two-three groups! Nightmares with us, Valhallans with the three-foursome!” trilled the other puppet, and both ice puppets laughed before turning their eyes with sudden sharp seriousness to Luna and Scrivener, both saying quietly: “Cinnamon, chocolate pudding, take cupcake and vanilla wafer upstairs. There's an overlook that's going to serve as a huge landing pad for the Pious. Protect it and I'll get the defenses up and running.”

Luna and Scrivener both nodded: there was nothing else they could really do or say in the face of Hel's sudden near-solemnity. And without hesitation, armored Knights of Valhalla came forwards, saluting the sapphire mare and nodding to her as Twilight Sparkle gave a small smile, and Nightmare Moon bowed her head in deference.

They had to move forwards, and do what they set out here to do. All the same, Luna and Scrivener both looked uneasily at Gymbr, but the weak halves of dual god only sat slowly down, saying quietly: “We will wait here, as instructed. We have no magic, and this sealed core only gives us enough power to move, in spite of everything Hel promised. But we are not surprised she is a liar.”

“I'm not a liar, crumble cake. I can't lie, as a matter of fact. I just added some training wheels to make sure you didn't go all guano on us.” one of the Hel puppets retorted, as the other made a swirling gesture with its fingers to either side of its head. “Now get going, the defenses are gonna drop any minute! You want the high ground before the Pious can claim it!”

“Thou art bossy. But aye, we do. Come, no time to dally.” Luna said clearly, and despite her misgivings and the sense of apprehension growing through her system, the sapphire mare turned around and strode towards the uncovered double doors, giving a faint smile as she flicked her horn and knocked them easily open.

She didn't hesitate, leading the others through the faint misting of dust that had been kicked up along the floor and into a wider entrance hall, feeling the pulse of almost-life through the structure as Scrivener Blooms and Twilight Sparkle fell in on either side of her, Nightmare Moon following behind and smiling almost reassuringly to the small platoon of soldiers walking in their wake.

The enormous doors at the end of the entrance hall were still barred shut by iron gates and crisscrossed bars of heavy stone, but on either side of this there were curving flights of stairs, leading up to narrow landing and an open archway. Luna strode towards one of these, grimacing at the fact the archway was already open as she muttered: “What a silly design. But I suppose 'tis purposeful, as well: lure in those who can fly to this bottleneck, then engage them in a place they cannot take to the skies to escape. But unfortunately, also one that requires a constant defense, lest the enemy take this area first.”

Scrivener grunted as they reached the landing, and the three soulmates strode out onto what was almost a wide stage, Luna looking back and forth in surprise as she murmured: “Well, so it seems that not all of Gymbr's handiwork has been undone. This was not what I remember being here... 'tis no wonder Hel desired it to be defended.”

This overlook was guarded only by thin and shallow ramparts, tooth-like blocks of stone forming a half-wall around the edge of the enormous, semicircular field of marred, ashen cement. The half-circle had a slight downwards slope and formed what was almost a wide amphitheater, thanks in part to the large, cylindrical watchtowers to either side of the sprawling, open area.

Luna led Scrivener and Twilight forwards as Nightmare Moon halted in front of the archway, the soldiers filing past as the sapphire mare grimaced a bit. She hesitated near the center of the wide overlook, then glanced over her shoulder and shouted: “Archers, stay near the wall! Unicorns and mages, form a line in front! Any of thou who have no training in ranged combat, either pick up a loose bow or drop thy swords and raise thy shields: if the Pious attack, they will bombard us first at range before they enter the melee!”

The platoon began to assemble themselves as requested, and Luna Brynhild slowly strode to the edge of the narrow wall, leaning through a gap between the stone teeth and grimacing a little as she looked down at what the Pious had done to the Vale of Valhalla around the castle. But it was no longer a Vale: instead, there were white stone buildings and white stone streets and white stone monuments... although... not a single Pious...

Luna scowled uneasily, looking back and forth: as expected, here in Heaven's core, the Pious had transformed the world into something more reflective of their own Greater Heaven. But there were no soldiers, no beasts, nothing but abandoned homes and structures. Had the Light already staged a full retreat? Were these soldiers that remained nothing but abandoned puppets, holding defenses that were no longer necessary so the Pious could escape without being seen? Or was there something else at play here, an ambush waiting to happen, or...

The sapphire mare stepped backwards uneasily, then frowned over her shoulder as Nightmare Moon approached, the passion entity saying quietly: “Do you feel it, Luna Brynhild?”

“I feel nothing but still air.” Luna said softly, and Nightmare Moon smiled and nodded. At first, the sapphire mare scowled, but then she slowly lowered her head and murmured uneasily: “Aye. I feel nothing but still air. No Pious, no Light. No sense of purification. I feel abandonment and hollowness, even if Valhalla thrums with life beneath mine hooves. What is going on?”

Nightmare Moon looked up into the sky silently, and then Luna, Scrivener, and Twilight all looked up in sharp surprise as there was a terrible rumbling in the skies above before soft blue began to bruise a compassionless, empty white, and the enormous black mare murmured with a complete lack of surprise: “It means that we have been played for fools, Luna Brynhild.”

“By the Aesir...” Luna stared in horror as the whitening sky above began to visibly curl inwards, then slowly twist into a spiral, streaks and arcs of energy bursting through the air around this as shapes began to pour out of the vortex in the skies above. And the ponies could only stare in horror at the sight, watching as riders on the backs of massive and terrible beasts flew down alongside mighty white dragons and other creatures that even from here, inspired terror and disbelief in the eyes of the soldiers who gazed upon them.

They formed themselves into squadrons in midair, winging in every direction except towards the Castle of Valhalla. Many of them carried banners, others rose battle horns and sounded them as they clearly organized themselves, and the sense of order and practice in their movements only increased Luna's horror. It felt like this had been planned and organized from the very start as she was left mouthing wordlessly, before her eyes widened in horror as something else came out of the portal: something immense, and spherical, and accompanied by a rider that was seated upon what looked like an enormous bird...

And these two were heading down towards them from the vortex high above, Luna stumbling backwards before she snarled over her shoulder, shoving past Nightmare Moon to shout at the staring, slack soldiers before they could panic: “Scrape thy courage off the ground and steel thy heads and hearts! Whimper and flee like vermin or hold thy heads up and stand true and honor thy duty!”

The soldiers shook themselves out of their trances, shoving at the ones who were slower to respond as Scrivener Blooms and Twilight Sparkle both backpedaled slowly until they were beside where Luna had positioned. Nightmare Moon was much calmer, watching the approach of the rider and this monstrous, spherical entity before the passion entity gave a cold smile as she turned around, striding slowly to the side of the trio, but positioning herself a little ahead of them, ready to leap in front of the ponies she had willingly enslaved herself to if necessary as she said softly: “Until death do us part, my family.”

Scrivener gritted his teeth, flexing his Talons as Luna flicked her horn, summoning Prúðbikkja forth from her mane in a burst of blue flames. Twilight Sparkle shivered, and then looked up almost in surprise as her bell seemed to appear of its own accord, resonating faintly as if it was trying to reassure her, and the Lich steeled her nerves and breathed slowly as she looked up, whispering: “That can't be... Him, can it?”

Luna didn't answer: she didn't have time to, as the enormous white bird touched down, its long, flowing tailfeathers trailing behind it before displaying with a flourish in a fan, much like a peacock. The beast tilted its head almost arrogantly so it could glare at them with one merciless black eye, as the rider on its back let the reins fall slack before turning a cold, contemptuous smile over the ponies.

It was dressed in red and flowing robes gilded with gold, as well as a tall, spired red hat that had golden chains and divine ornaments hanging from it. The creature had almost fish-like features, with mottled white skin, its eyes black and compassionless pits, but with points of burning crimson looking out at them with calculating intellect. A silver chain hung around its neck, with the same symbol on it that had been embossed on the Gatekeeper's shield: a horseshoe-like symbol embracing a circle.

“The Lord God approaches in his divine chariot: all revel in the glory of He Of Many Countless Faces, Be They So Beautiful And Divine!” this creature shouted, and then it bowed its head, its phoenixian mount seeming to mimic the motion as the spherical shape slowed its descent through the air, coming to a halt just at the edge of the massive overlook.

Luna, Scrivener, and Twilight looked up in horror: the chariot looked like it was composed of eyes, noses, a single closed mouth with bulbous lips... faces. Not countless, but far more than one, oh yes: it was hard to tell just how many with the seemingly-random placement of staring eyes along the top, the protruding noses and nostrils in the center, the way the single set of lips around the bottom curved and swelled and bulged here and there.

And from the top of the malformed orb, there were massive, scaled serpents, half-wrapped around the head and curled here and there like stray hairs, ending in eyeless, fanged maws that slowly rasped, sucking in air, exhaling smoke and steam. These twisted and curled slowly as trumpets blared through the air and the floating head shifted, mismatched eyes blinking slowly, emitting awful gurgles before the rider accompanying this awful chariot looked up and declared coldly: “Bow before Lord God, and give yourself over to His glory, or you shall be shown no mercy!”

Luna shivered slowly, then bared her fangs before she rose her head proudly, even as soldiers behind her trembled at the malice and the raw power this awful, mind-wounding thing exerted. It gave Scrivener and Twilight the strength to do the same as Nightmare Moon only smiled evenly, and the rider on the pale phoenix drew its eyes slowly over them before nodding once and saying quietly: “You have no idea what you are dealing with. Lord God is the brightest of all suns, brings with him the greatest of all glories. He asks only that you bow your head, and offers you paradise in return: submit to Him, and His Glory be yours.”

The sapphire mare snarled at this, and then she stepped forwards and said coldly: “Nay, I have seen the likes of gods and know their ilk for what they truly are... powerful, aye, but flawed... and in the case of thy own 'True God,' pathetic! He steals the will and the minds of his followers, and subjugates all to his glory... for peace? Tell me truly, how is this peace? And if your Lord God be so powerful, why does he not speak for himself?”

“Because He is generous enough to allow those who love Him to speak for Him. Because His voice be so great, that it cannot be heard.” The creature smiled coldly, turning its eyes towards the chariot as the serpents shifted and slowly began to draw themselves away, bowing his head as he said softly: “But it is not my place to pass judgment: that privilege belongs to He Of Many Countless Faces alone. And His will, be done.”

Slowly, terribly, the lips of the face parted, the head tilting back as the upper section of the head folded slowly back to reveal a cradle of not flesh, but smooth stone and thrumming crystal. And seated back upon a cushion, with its head lowered and its body wavering and distorted, the color and texture of flowing ink and ashes, was He Of Many Countless Faces.

His... its limbs were spindly and almost insubstantial, hunched forwards and almost folded over itself, with a rounded, oblong head that bore a large white smear over its faceless features. It cocked its head almost quizzically, seeming to distort as it moved, to bend in and out of reality as it slowly, stood... and when it stood, it was terribly, awfully tall, towering over them before it took long, shambling strides out of the jaw and down onto the landing, head cocking and tilting back and forth with sudden, uneven movements as Scrivener, Luna, and Twilight all set themselves with shivers at the awful sense of... loneliness, and sadness, and hope-gone-wrong that this terrible thing radiated.

It shifted back and forth, raising limbs that ended in hands that looked like they had been drawn on by a child, fingers cracking as it daringly drew its hands close to them, but never quite touched them, stroking wonderingly through the air around the ponies. And then, in a sudden movement, it stepped away and swung one hand up-

A Blessed Pegasus choked before he was yanked through the air, bow flying from his grasp as he was yanked into the grip of the awful thing. Luna shouted at it, but He Of Many Countless Faces ignored her completely as it skittered backwards with its prize, then gripped the stallion tightly in both hands, turning the soldier back and forth like an interesting toy, bending it painfully even as Twilight cried out and Scrivener growled.

“Put him down!” Luna shouted, and He Of Many Faces seemed to look at her for a moment, hands gripping into the soldier. She glared into its faceless void, and it looked back at her... and then its hands shifted, and there was a sickening crack as the neck of the Pegasus snapped loudly, the soldier's body falling limp as the god turned almost curiously towards the stallion as Luna cursed quietly, barely holding herself back from leaping at this so called 'God of Light' then and there.

There was only silence, silence that seemed to blot out even the trumpets and roars of beasts in the distance, until He Of Many Countless Faces simply dropped the pony's body. The sound cut through the soundlessness, snapped reality back into movement, and the speaker's mouth curled into a contemptuous smile as the distorted god drew itself back to its warped chariot before the rider on the white phoenix said calmly: “Lord God has decreed that you are not worthy. But He will confer upon you one last kindness: before you die, you shall feel His glory, and His might. Praise be to the Light!”

And with that, the phoenix spread its wings with a shrieking cry and leapt to the air, taking flight as the chariot slowly closed and Luna snarled in fury, her eyes blazing and her mane and tail becoming a swirling storm of blue flames as she shouted: “I would have it no other way! Thou thinks thy title, thy mighty name frightens me? I am Valkyrie! I have slain Jötnar! And before the day is done thou shall tremble at my might!”

The chariot only rumbled in response, rising a little higher as the serpents coiled and twisted around it, and then the dozen or so coiling tendrils all rose up as one, opening their jaws wide and breathing out streams of purifying white flames with a terrible, cacophonous roar. But Nightmare Moon was quick to step forwards, her horn glowing as she stomped a hoof into the ground and a wall of black fire exploded upwards in front of the ponies.

Holy and vile flames mixed together and became solid stone, and without needing to think, Twilight Sparkle swung her massive bell forwards with a flick of her horn and struck into this, shattering it into stony shrapnel that Luna launched forwards with a roar and a blast of sapphire flame. The monstrous chariot was pelted by this hail, tearing cuts along the awful, mottled flesh as Luna shouted without looking back: “Soldiers, retreat! Find Hel! Find-”

She was cut off as one of the serpentine tendrils vomited a blast of white flames at her, the sapphire mare barely managing to parry this to the side with a swing of her spear before she snapped her horn forwards, flinging her own blue fireball in return. But this exploded uselessly against the chariot's face, as did the additional fireballs that Nightmare Moon and Twilight Sparkle both followed up with, the chariot replying quickly and viciously with several more blasts of purification from its serpentine tentacles.

Scrivener Blooms winced as he rose a Talon, one of the blasts of purification striking into this and sizzling around the metal claw before the stallion leaned forwards and grunted, flinging the bolt of purification back at the monstrous chariot. He was surprised when it actually worked, a white bolt of light hammering into the distorted head... although it didn't seem to have any effect whatsoever, like any other magic they hit it with.

“Twilight Sparkle, necrotic fire.” Nightmare Moon said calmly, and there was no time to argue: the Lich could only do as she had been half-ordered, raising her horn high as black lightning sizzled along it, and then both she and Nightmare Moon snapped their horns together in perfect time, lobbing twin fireballs of black flame into the face of the monstrous chariot.

They exploded with a tremendous double-bang, and this time the monstrous head was finally rattled, swaying slightly in midair with a hissing groan, the serpentine tentacles writhing around it before several of them snapped forwards and downwards. These seized into the edge of the overlook, ripping up sections of rampart and flinging them viciously outwards at the ponies, who scattered apart with winces, the blocks of rock all but exploding where they struck the ground.

Luna growled as splinters of stone bounced off her armor, before snapping her horn out and catching her gun as it was yanked out of its holster, aiming forwards as she rammed the lever to the 'on' position with telekinesis. Her hoof squeezed the trigger as one of the serpents tore up another block of stone from the edge of the overlook, but then a fortified iron round tore through the neck of the snake-like tentacle, sending up a spray of green blood as the appendage screamed in misery and dropped the stone a moment before it tore loose itself from the chariot.

The sapphire mare grinned savagely as Scrivener Blooms slammed his claws into the overlook, gritting his teeth and conscious of the fact that he couldn't turn too much of this massive balcony to mire without risking stability: but all the same, he was able to turn the area around him to black ooze in moments before raising a Talon, a crystalline spear jutting out of the dark bog before he lashed his claw outwards, and the spear of corruption shot like a missile through the air, hammering into the frontal face of the chariot and tearing through one of its eyes.

The monstrosity gave a strange, echoing growl as it tilted back and forth in midair, and waves of force and purification thrummed from the strange and terrible entity, the raw force enough to send the ponies skidding backwards as Nightmare Moon grimaced in distaste, half-shielding herself with one wing even as several of the feathers over it turned to rock.

The spear of corruption that had pierced into the creature half-crumbled as what remained turned to gleaming marble, and then it glowed with holy energy as it was ripped free of the chariot before it spun around and shot itself back at Scrivener Blooms. The stallion couldn't duck fast enough, the javelin tearing across his back and ripping through armor like butter as it flew past to strike the wall and shatter. Scrivener himself was caught in the force of its drag, bouncing and rolling painfully over the cement to land in a sprawl, cursing as he felt blood spilling out of the trench torn along his back.

Luna stumbled and Twilight gasped, gritting her teeth in pain before her eyes blazed as she drew her horn back before snapping it savagely forwards, and another black fireball shot from her horn: this time, however, it didn't simply explode when it smashed into the monstrous carriage, it instead struck it like a mallet before bursting apart into at least three miniature fireballs that arced themselves into different sections of the floating head, each exploding in a tremendous blast of thunder and toxic, spirit-gorging flame.

The massive head tilted back and forth, the serpentine tentacles squealing, and Luna snarled as she rose her rifle, anchoring herself before pulling the trigger and stumbling back all the same under the massive magical recoil. But the round smashed directly into one serpent-like tentacle, splitting it almost down the middle before it simply peeled apart and collapsed in a hail of green blood.

But the chariot's eyes flashed before there was a tremendous pulse of force, the wave of gravitational energy cracking the ground beneath the ponies as Luna and Twilight Sparkle were knocked rolling backwards, Prúðbikkja sent flying away as Twilight's bell clanged and bounced along after the Lich. Only Nightmare Moon stood up to the wave of force, setting herself and gritting her teeth even as blood ran from her eyes and mouth just at the effort it took to resist, before her teeth curled into a grin as her tail snapped behind her and her horn glowed brightly.

The knives and torture implements in her back trembled before ripping themselves free, floating eerily above her as they glowed with malicious energies before shooting forwards and beginning to slash and harry the remaining serpents around the chariot, drawing their attention as Nightmare Moon started to rear back. But before she could unleash a follow-up spell, the chariot leaned forwards as its mouth opened slightly, breathing out a white mist that suddenly seemed to come to life, shooting forwards and twisting itself violently around Nightmare Moon as she screamed in shock.

Her blades fell limp one after the other, and Nightmare Moon herself was left trapped in a featureless statue of marble: Luna could still feel her in there, trembling with surprise... but also growing rage, as the stony shape started to shiver violently. But the cocoon refused to break open, and when Luna snapped her horn towards it, she only felt magical recoil strike her as her telekinetic hammer was repelled: whatever it was, it was magic resistant, too.

Scrivener Blooms shook himself out as he felt his back healing little-by-little, gritting his teeth as Twilight Sparkle picked herself up before her eyes widened as the chariot tilted its head back, the snakes that hadn't been killed all rising high... and all eyes stared as a vortex of white formed in the sky high above as a terrible light shone around the stallion. Twilight realized what was coming even as Luna fired off a round from the ground, desperate to try and interrupt the monster's concentration, but her bullet only ricocheted off one of the many faces uselessly.

Twilight acted on instinct, snapping her horn out as she felt almost a call from the one thing she could use: the mire. It surged upwards, forming an archway over Scrivener that the beam of purification called forth from the vortex struck into, and the corruption turned completely to hard marble, which cracked only slightly from the tremendous boom of force that ran through the air as the blast ended. Scrivener was knocked flat by the shockwave, but Twilight only stumbled... and even as she did so, she snapped her horn to the side as hard as she could, ripping the entire pillar of marble free and flinging it towards the chariot.

It smashed into the head and knocked it off balance, sending the many-faced chariot crashing down into the edge of the overlook with a growling whine, serpents snapping around it and grabbing wildly at the rocky edge. It managed to secure itself, but the distraction allowed Luna to leap over to the cocoon holding Nightmare Moon and slam a vicious headbutt into the stone, kicking off it with her hooves at the same time to send cracks tearing through the marble, and Nightmare Moon smashed her way up out of the shell a moment later with a roar of fury, eyes blazing white with rage.

She landed and grinned viciously as she stomped her hooves into the ground, not missing a beat as she saw the monster vulnerable, and the ground shattered before an immense jet of black flames shot upwards over the crashed chariot, serpentine tendrils screaming as they burst into dark flames and writhed wildly, helplessly back and forth. The chariot started to rise listlessly, trembling violently back and forth even as white blasts of purification vomited in all directions from the maws of the panicking serpents, and Luna snarled before shouting at Scrivener Blooms: “Blade!”

The stallion reacted on instinct, gritting his teeth as he lashed a Talon up, cursing in pain as he felt corruption gush into the air from his claw before it formed into a sharp, elongated blade in mid-launch towards Luna, and the sapphire mare leapt forwards and caught this with telekinesis before slinging it viciously with all her might at the chariot. It struck dead center into the forehead of the front face, and chariot's jaw gaped slightly as it howled, black veins spreading through the faces as the obsidian fire seemed to burn all the hotter, the ponies setting themselves as the chariot trembled wildly in the air and floated slowly higher, higher, higher...

And then it fell, smashing to the overlook with a terrible, resounding bang, eyes rolling and serpents falling dead with weak hisses. It was nothing but a burning mass of slowly-melting flesh and stone, Luna smiling grimly... then stared in disbelief as the entire mass, flames and all, turned to solid white stone.

And this crumbled away into ashes and dust, as He Of Many Countless Faces calmly rose up, undaunted and undamaged, spreading its long, gangly limbs wide before it slowly slumped. The white ash swirled around it like snow, and the ponies stared at it as it seemed to look back at them with the same calm curiosity, before Luna Brynhild cursed and rose her gun.

She fired a single shot, and the bullet slammed into He Of Many Countless Faces, knocking it stumbling back a step... and then it almost curiously tilted its head down towards where the bullet had lodged into its shoulder, reaching up and gently flicking this free from his body. The inky, flowing strangeness of its form immediately filled itself back in as it looked down at the crushed bullet, then suddenly leaned down and swept it up, studying it with interest as Luna lowered her rifle and whispered: “What in Mimir's name...”

He Of Many Countless Faces tossed the bullet aside with a flick of its wrist... and before the bullet could hit the ground, the God of Light had seized Luna by the throat and was holding her above its head, the mare gargling as she dropped her gun to clutch at the amorphous being's wrist, her eyes filled with disbelief as Scrivener and Twilight both staggered in shock.

Nightmare Moon leapt forwards, and without even looking at her, He Of Many Countless Faces reached up and caught her by the horn. Its hand and the spire both glowed bright white, and Nightmare Moon's eyes widened in horror before she screamed in agony, shaking her head uselessly back and forth before she was slung backwards, her horn transmogrified into useless marble even as her mane and tail both continued to burn with blue flames.

The True God turned its eyes away from Luna to tilt its head with interest in Nightmare Moon's direction... and then Twilight Sparkle's massive Reaper's Bell slammed into the entity's back, reverberating violently, and He Of Many Countless Faces was knocked staggering as it dropped Luna from its grip, its whole body spasming from the vibrations of the death entity's tool. It twisted back and forth unnaturally, color flashing through its inky body as if displaying its pain to the world, and the moment Luna Brynhild landed, she flung herself back upwards, soulstone horn glowing bright white as she slashed it viciously into the amorphous creature.

He Of Many Countless Faces was knocked staggering backwards in shock, and then the mare flung herself forwards again, flapping her wings hard as she tackled the God of Light backwards. It managed to catch her even as it was bowled over, however, flinging her childishly away, but Scrivener Blooms landed on the entity's chest a moment later and slammed a Talon directly into its face, gritting his teeth as channeled his corruption directly into the body and spirit of the creature, along with all the hatred, the negative energy, the violent feelings he could.

The God of Light spasmed, then slapped Scrivener Blooms off before it simply vanished from the ground, reappearing several feet away. It seemed to stare at them, but no longer with curiosity: now it was emanating both hate and anger, and a sense of intense, growing fear.

But Luna and Scrivener both only grinned, and Twilight Sparkle and Nightmare Moon fell in on either side of them a moment later, in spite of the blood running from the base of the passion entity's useless horn and the fear that ran through the Lich's body. Four faced one, and yet Twilight felt that this was nothing but a futile gesture... felt already like they were going to lose.

All the same, the four charged as one... and as one, they were blasted backwards by a wave of purification that left pieces of each pony paralyzed and frozen beneath a thin skin of marble, all four gasping in pain before He Of Many Countless Faces simply gestured outwards, and a massive ray of pure energy blasted down from the skies above. Scrivener Blooms barely flung himself out of the way, his rocky shoulder cracking when he landed on it before he gasped in pain as he rolled and the plates fell away, revealing black, flexing muscle and bubbling corruption beneath skin that had literally just peeled off with stone.

Luna Brynhild snapped her horn out, but the blue fireball vanished long before it could contact He Of Many Countless Faces. She snarled, then instead her eyes lit on Prúðbikkja, and the spear snapped up into the air in a moment, launching over to her even as she drew Andlitstingar at the same time, polearms floating on either side of her as she charged forwards.

She stabbed viciously outwards in a flurry, and He Of Many Countless Faces swayed backwards and glided through the air as his body twisted back and forth bonelessly, impossibly, evading the series of attacks before he simply caught both of her spears by their necks... and then Luna choked as two more hands shot out of the amorphous entity's chest and seized into her throat, squeezing, choking, twisting to try and disjoint it-

Nightmare Moon leapt over Luna Brynhild and slammed into He Of Many Countless Faces, crushing it into the ground and letting Luna draw hurriedly back as she gasped for breath, her spears shivering in the air. And then the passion entity was slammed skywards as the God of Light rose up before something seemed to catch her in midair, flinging her like a missile into Twilight Sparkle as she began to move forwards and knocking the Lich and enormous black equine backwards into a broken, crumpled heap.

Scrivener Blooms gritted his teeth as he slammed his Talons into the ground... then stared in horror as his own mire revolted against him, launching upwards, seizing around his shoulders and forelegs before it turned bright white, effectively trapping him in marble. He began to look up... and then a spike of white tore into his chest, before a second and third narrow blade of stone tore up into his stomach, the stallion vomiting black blood as both Twilight and Luna clenched their eyes shut in pain.

He Of Many Countless Faces was only staring at Scrivener Blooms, and the stallion looked up with a snarl at the entity before Twilight Sparkle all-but-threw Nightmare Moon off, the Lich leaping to her feet as she snapped her horn outwards and simply flung her massive bell in the direction of He Of Many Countless Faces. The God of Light turned a little too late to see this coming, and the enormous instrument smashed into him and knocked him flat, again driven to the ground and this time covering his head in a very easy to read gesture of agony.

The Lich rushed forwards, eyes blazing before she swept up her bell, raising it high... and then the violet mare simply froze before He Of Many Countless Faces made a sweeping gesture. And for a moment, Twilight felt the creature's anger, and hate, and fear, and pain, and... sorrow?

It blotted out everything for a moment, leaving her blind and stunned and deaf... and then she realized she was laying on her back, missing a wing and a foreleg and most of her shoulder. Something was wrong with her face, too... and when she reached her other hoof shakily up, she felt cracked, bare bone that had been scraped thin by some tremendous force.

She breathed slowly in and out, staring up at the sky, and then she slowly forced herself to look up... and she saw Scrivener was free of the stone, and Luna was in the air, and Nightmare Moon was picking herself up despite the fact her horn was shattered and there were several enormous spikes of white rock buried through her face.

And He Of Many Countless Faces was there, alone and yet not alone: a massive serpent of white was twisting around the entity, guarding it... but really, the construct was nothing but an extension of the True God. Another piece of itself, brought to life by its terrible powers...

Twilight Sparkle breathed slowly, and watched as Luna Brynhild launched herself into the air, both spears at the ready: she faced a fifty-foot serpent fearlessly, roaring as she stabbed her spears forwards in a violent hail against its features, forcing its head to bow. Then, as it tried to snap its head upwards and knock her away, she slammed both spears downwards and hammered its features down into the ground, Scrivener Blooms taking the chance to immediately leap on top of it and bury his Talons into the beast.

Black veins tore through its head, and the serpent wailed as it began to rapidly melt away... and then the entire monster erupted upwards in a wave of boiling white, knocking Scrivener crashing backwards with a howl of agony, body scorched and steaming from purification burns as Luna twitched away through the air... and then gargling in agony as several sharp arrows of white shot upwards and hammered into her.

Her spears fell, and then her body fell, and Twilight trembled and clutched at her chest even as Scrivener forced himself to leap backwards, catching her in his forelegs as the tidal wave of white crashed downwards... but Nightmare Moon ran in front of them, shielding them with her body and wings, gasping even as more than half of her form was turned to stone. And then, horribly, the white wave transformed into a massive hand that seized the passion entity and slung her cruelly across the battlefield, smashing her into one of the towers and sending her falling in a bloody, broken mess to the ground below, staring blankly at the creature that had formed.

He Of Many Countless Faces stood calmly near the edge of the roof... but now, it was enormous, his limbs constantly flowing and changing and rippling, made of what looked like purification forced into the form of a gigantic biped. Except the real He Of Many Countless Faces was seated on this immense copy's head, clearly visible thanks to their inverted colors as it seemed to gaze down with interest at Luna and Scrivener as they slowly struggled to stand.

Luna picked up Prúðbikkja, and Scrivener pushed his Talons against the ground... and He Of Many Countless Faces simply stomped on them like they were bugs, Twilight vomiting blood as they were crushed down into the ground. The Lich trembled, staring almost sightlessly before she scrabbled for her hooves, watching as the creature rose its foot, then stomped down again.

The Lich fell forwards, gasping for breath, staring weakly in disbelief, before the God of Light rose its foot a third time... and then suddenly stopped. It balanced there, and slowly, the enormous head of its puppet-self turned to stare as two ponies limped into the battlefield, shouting in echoing voices: “We are your enemy, God of Light! Did you forget about us?”

He Of Many Countless Faces looked coldly down at the halves of Gymbr as they dragged themselves forwards, and then the massive puppet stomped past Scrivener and Luna, the two gasping for breath before Luna trembled, looking up... then simply dropping herself onto Scrivener, biting viciously into his neck, feeling pleasure even amidst the panic and disbelief running through her system and trying to focus on regaining as much strength as possible in the little time they had with Gymbr's distraction.

The God of Light had completely forgotten about everything apart from Gymbr for the moment, however, the massive puppet twisting on itself as it leaned down and He Of Many Countless Faces craned its own body strangely down to stare at the halves of broken god, and Gymbr glared back even as both halves of the dual entity struggled for breath, the core buried in Gymbr Luna's chest pulsing wildly as the ribbons holding it in place began to smolder and peel.

They glared at each other in silence... and then He Of Many Countless Faces suddenly rose almost scornfully, and both sides of Gymbr snarled before mirroring as they pointed up at the creature: “Do not turn your back on us! Do not dare look away from us, we are-”

The massive white puppet's foot stomped down and crushed both ponies like they were nothing but a cockroach, twisting slowly and painfully as Twilight cried out and shivered, falling forwards... and then staring in disbelief as a thrum went through the white puppet that He Of Many Countless Faces was standing on. Luna and Scrivener both looked up in shock at the growing hum, and then the God of Light suddenly flung itself backwards, a moment before its white puppet turned to stone and simply exploded in a tremendous burst of electricity and black flames, and a winged unicorn shot high up into the air with a triumphant laugh, eyes glowing as Gymbr roared: “We are whole! We have-”

He Of Many Countless Faces made a sharp throwing gesture, and a massive anchor of white energy shot through the air and slammed through Gymbr's chest, the dark god gasping in surprise before he was slung viciously downwards by a glowing white chain and into the ground with a resounding, terrible crunch. He Of Many Countless Faces landed calmly a moment later, holding the end of the white chain... but it was only a second before this exploded into black flames as Gymbr roared in fury and leapt back to his hooves, the purification dissolving even as he bled from a gaping hole in his breast, body shivering as he whispered: “We are not as strong as we once were... but it does not matter. We will destroy you. You hurt us, so we will destroy you.”

“You haven't changed at all, Jabberwocky. I suppose that's good and bad, but aren't all things?” remarked a calm voice, and Gymbr looked up with surprise... and then a faint smile as the Mad Hatter appeared in a puff of green smoke beside him, seated on a tall stool and sipping calmly at a cup of tea. He Of Many Countless Faces leaned back in shock at this, but the Mad Hatter only chuckled quietly before kicking off his chair, tossing teacup and saucer aside and kicking the stool over before flicking one wrist, a thick stream of blood bursting out from under his sleeve and forming into a rippling whip as he murmured softly, in a voice that for a moment, had all of Kvasir's sanity: “One last fight, side-by-side... my friend.”

“One last fight. We understand.” Gymbr whispered... and then the black-fire mane of the winged unicorn flared up as he rose his head proudly, green eyes glowing and silver claws flexing as he shouted: “We shall teach you true glory, false god of false faces!”

“You can't force others to love you, you know. That's not real love.” the Mad Hatter said gently, and this seemed to strike more fear into He Of Many Countless Faces than Gymbr's malign rage, before whatever the God of Light was feeling turned clearly into anger as it lashed both hands forwards and sent a ray of blinding white light at the two.

But the Mad Hatter leapt forwards, swinging his whip upwards, and it transformed into a massive crimson barrier that blocked the ivory blast before Gymbr's horn glowed as he snapped it sharply out. And a black beam tore through the red shield, smashing into the white ray and turning the entire length of the beam of light to stone as He Of Many Countless Faces staggered backwards, recoil zapping over its amorphous body... and then both Theophilius and Gymbr leapt forwards as the crimson barrier vanished, slamming their palms into the stone pillar floating in the air and sending it smashing like a battering ram into the inky entity, knocking it skidding across the ravaged battlezone.

It caught the other end of the stone pillar, and a moment later, this turned white before transforming into a massive serpent that twisted quickly around the god and launched itself back towards the two... but with a sharp laugh, the Mad Hatter snapped one hand upwards, a whip of blood lashing upwards and wrapping around the neck of the serpent before he slung it viciously down into the ground, and Gymbr pounced on top of the snake a moment later, burying his claws into its skull before it simply exploded.

But in midair, white goo transformed into knives of marble that shot at the pair from every direction: the Mad Hatter yelped as several of these tore through his clothes as he danced back and forth, wincing at one that almost halved his hat, while Gymbr staggered back and forth amidst the cyclone of stone knives before he threw his head back with a roar, a pulse of force ripping out of his body and shattering the remaining blades of marble. But for all his former might and glory, all his animal, inexhaustible rage, his body simply wasn't healing, wounds weren't closing, and his powers were far from what they had once been... and even with his soulstone core and in top form, Gymbr had only been able to ever hold this God of Light at bay.

Gymbr gasped and slumped... and then looked up too late to see He Of Many Countless Faces was right in front of him, a hand reaching towards him. But just before the monster could make contact, a chain of electricity snapped around its neck, and Luna Brynhild roared as she hauled to the side, yanking the God of Light stumbling towards her... just as Scrivener Blooms used Luna like a step, sweeping a Talon up through the chain of lighting to add a charge to his claw before it slammed into the face of the God of Light with an agonizing crunch.

But in retaliation, a blast of purification hammered through the air, sending Luna and Scrivener flying as Gymbr howled in pain and the Mad Hatter staggered... but as Twilight watched, a film seemed to cover the world. Light faded, and colors grayed as time slowed, and the Lich stared wonderingly out at what was going on before a tender voice called to her gently: “You don't have very long, Twilight Sparkle. If you want to save your loved ones, come with me.”

Twilight Sparkle breathed weakly, then looked slowly upwards to see one of Hel's puppets standing beside her. It smiled down at her, then reached down and gently touched her stump of shoulder, and the Lich gasped before a foreleg of ice formed, one that she could flex and move as easily as the real thing as Hel said softly: “Not a lot of time, sweetie. He Of Many Countless Faces is too strong... the only reason I can distort reality at all is because he's so distracted. Now trust me, sweetie, okay? We don't have time to argue right now. We only have time to do.”

For a moment, Twilight could only look up the dark goddess, who smiled almost pleadingly... and then she looked relieved, smiling all the wider when the violet mare silently nodded and began to carefully stumble forwards, half-guided towards the archway as the dark goddess reached down and silently twined fingers that felt strangely warm into the Lich's mane. “Good. Good, that's very good... now come along now...”

Twilight Sparkle stumbled a little, limping her way forwards, letting Hel guide her. Trusting in the dark goddess, if only because she had promised her a way... “You... I can save them, right? This isn't a trick, right?”

“No, darling. No, not at all. You're special, you see, Twilight Sparkle: this moment, this is the moment now, that you've been waiting for all your life. That I've been waiting for since I got to know you. And I know how important Brynhild and Nihete are to you... yes, I know the name his creator gave him. And no, I don't mean anything bad by that, sweetie. It just is what it is.” Hel smiled, strange and kind, and as Twilight Sparkle looked silently up at the ice puppet, she realized that she was doing more than just being led forwards by Hel, through the archway, down the damaged stairs and past soldiers that were still standing here and there, not brave enough to charge into the fray, not cowardly enough to retreat completely...

This was Hel. This was the real Hel, behind all the masks and the mockery and the puppets, and the goddess stroked lovingly through Twilight's mane as she said softly: “You and I... we're very much the same, Twilight Sparkle. And I'm going to offer you a choice like I was given, so many, many years ago... but unlike my Father, I'm not going to lie to you, or deceive you. I don't give you this choice to gain power, but maintain what I have...”

She laughed quietly, then looked down as they strode through the open doors, past a soldier that was slowly falling forwards through them, and into the room they had first entered. And Twilight Sparkle trembled a little as Hel gently led her onwards, towards a second puppet that was frozen in time on the other side of the room, grinning widely, the Deathless Servants laying in a circle around her, slightly-overlapping each other in an endless loop... and clutched in the puppet's hands was Gymbr's soulstone core.

Except as Twilight Sparkle approached, runes flared over it, and she stared into these and past them, at her own reflection in the core, as the puppet beside her stroked soothingly through her mane. And Hel smiled faintly as she murmured: “A time comes, my sweet, when we have to make a choice. I can give you the power you need to save them, oh yes... but that power will come with a cost. And that power will mean sacrificing everything else you've clung onto for so long... will mean joining us, here in the darkness. No more sitting on the fence, Twilight Sparkle. Choose: let the Light win, or become the night.”

Twilight Sparkle trembled violently, then looked up at Hel as she whispered: “I don't care what I have to give up, Hel. I won't let Scrivener and Luna die. I won't let this Light hurt anyone else. I'll... I'll do it. Make me into a monster.”

“Sweetie, no one makes monsters, not really. Monsters, real monsters, make themselves.” Hel said softly, and then she reached out and gently took the orb from her other puppet, the runes glowing ominously as she offered the soulstone heart to Twilight Sparkle. And the Lich trembled as she looked down, her armor already broken, her heartless chest already gaping open, eager to receive... but her hooves trembled, not as eager as her body to take this final step. Hesitating, until... “It might not mean much, but I believe in you. I wouldn't offer you this if I didn't think you were going to handle your new position with more grace and gusto than I ever could.”

Twilight Sparkle looked up, saw honesty... and then she reached up and took the soulstone core. And she knew, as she touched it, that it truly had been made for her. She breathed hard as she slowly drew it back, and stared as Myre and Dusk, Imago and Twilight Shadow all burst apart into smoky energy, sucked up into the orb, which thrummed with even greater power in her hooves as Hel said gently: “Good girl.”

Twilight Sparkle hesitated only a moment... and then she hugged herself tightly, and the soulstone core found the opening in her chest as naturally as a puzzle piece slipping into place. She felt flesh separating around the large orb as she gasped quietly, then she gritted her teeth, eyes beginning to glow as her icy foreleg cracked and her whole body shook violently... but in spite of the fear and the pain, the feeling of the darkness inside her beginning to flood out from where she had tried to seal it away, there was... there was a sense of rightness, and destiny, as Hel only smiled and stepped back, lacing her hands together as she murmured again: “Good girl.”

Outside, Scrivener and Luna felt something change... but they were lost in the whirlwind of battle, smashed backwards again by another pulse of raw power from He Of Many Countless Faces. Gymbr was lagging, blinded by his own blood, wings disheveled and refusing to let him to take to the air, while the Mad Hatter was dancing around the entity, fighting with surprising ferociousness but able to do little apart from match the God of Light's powers.

A blast of purification smashed into Theophilius, knocking him staggering as he pinwheeled his arms wildly, and then he gaped in shock as the flames of white clinging to his body transformed into ivory pythons, these quickly wrapping around the Mad Hatter before one bit savagely into his neck, Theophilius howling in pain. Gymbr's eyes widened before he leapt across the overlook toward his friend... and was snatched out of the air by He Of Many Countless Faces, afterimages fading slowly in the entity's wake with how fast it had moved.

Gymbr's claws seized into the God of Light's shoulders, baring his fangs as his head was slowly, forcibly turned back and forth by the strange, inky entity, his hind legs kicking weakly as he glared up fearlessly despite being as helpless as a kitten in the hands of the entity. Then one semicorporeal hand grasped into his horn, and Gymbr's eyes bulged in pain, claws seizing helplessly into He Of Many Countless Faces' wrist as he tried uselessly to jerk his head free, bringing up his rear hooves to attempt to push against the God of Light... but the entity's other lanky arm quickly snaked around Gymbr's back, using his own strength against him as he bent him backwards around the limb.

The dual god howled in agony, and Luna cursed in pain, feeling a shudder run through her body even as her heartbeat staggered and some strange feeling bit at her mind, but there was no time to think. No time to do anything but act as she shot Scrivener an order, and the stallion ran forwards before leaping into the air, the sapphire mare lunging and snapping her horn out with all the strength she could to send the heavy body of the earth pony cannonballing straight towards He Of Many Countless Faces-

The God of Light swung Gymbr into Scrivener like a baseball bat, knocking the earth pony flying backwards in a out-of-control, flipping arc before he crashed down on his face and bounced several times, gargling in agony. Luna staggered stupidly with a gasp of pain, barely managing to catch herself... before staring in horror as Gymbr was slammed down into the ground with a sickening crack before He Of Many Countless Faces kicked the dual god in the face and knocked him bonelessly onto his side, laying in a broken, bloody heap with a distinct, ugly bend in his lower back, one rear hoof kicking weakly.

“Leave him alone!” Theophilius swung his arms out, and the white serpents trying to bind him simply exploded before the Mad Hatter rose a hand, a javelin of red crystal forming before he slung it at the God of Light. He Of Many Countless Faces only ducked under it, but his attention was drawn to the Mad Hatter as the chaotic creature charged forwards, a scarlet whip taking shape in one hand before he lashed it viciously back and forth, driving the God of Light backwards.

Then Theophilius suddenly swung his other arm up, lobbing a teapot out of nowhere, and this smashed into the face of the inky entity before the red liquid inside formed a mask over the creature's features. The God of Light stumbled backwards as it grabbed wildly at its own face, before the crimson whip snapped around its neck, the Mad Hatter shouting: “This tea party is invitation-only!”

He yanked the entity off its feet, then snapped it forwards, smashing it down into the ground face-first before the Mad Hatter spun around and slung the God over his head, slamming it down on his other side before he began to spin on the spot, hauling the inky entity into the air and yanking him into orbit around himself.

Scrivener and Luna stared as they picked themselves up, watching as the Mad Hatter hauled He Of Many Countless Faces around and around and around in a faster and faster cyclone, the inky entity clutching helplessly at the red rope of blood around his throat before Theophilius suddenly snapped the creature upwards as a hole shattered in the sky in a burst of green energy, the Mad Hatter grinning widely as He Of Many Countless Faces flipped wildly out of control up towards this rip in reality...

And then it caught itself against the edges of the green, sparking rift, He Of Many Countless Faces seeming to glare down at them before it simply shoved itself away from the hole in reality, which snapped uselessly closed behind it. Theophilius looked blankly up for a moment, then blinked in surprise before digging in his coat quickly, sorting through it before pulling out a pocketwatch and saying thoughtfully: “Oh. I didn't realize it was that time already. Well, I'd best-”

A massive blast of purification shot down from the sky, hammering into Theophilius and knocking him flat with a gasp as the shockwave sent Scrivener and Luna rolling backwards, waves of white energy crackling along the ground... then transforming into massive, snaking chains that shot backwards and seized tightly around Theophilius' limbs, body and neck, the Mad Hatter gargling before he looked up in disbelief as He Of Many Countless Faces slowly floated down, Theophilius beginning hurriedly: “Now let's just talk about this, shall we? How about a cup of tea?”

He smiled... and He Of Many Countless Faces simply tilted his head before the chains all pulled taut... then yanked viciously in every direction, ripping Theophilius apart in a tremendous burst of red gore. Luna cried out in horror, then snarled in fury and charged blindly forwards... only to be repelled by a simple look from the entity, which studied her with curiosity before it seemed to lose interest and instead strode over to Gymbr.

It placed a foot on the neck of the body, but Gymbr didn't even look up, trembling and broken, staring weakly at the rain of red still falling amidst the tatters of clothing where Theophilius had been only moments before. Luna picked herself up, gazing desperately at the creature as Scrivener Blooms cursed and dragged himself to his feet... but then both ponies gargled and were slammed back to the ground by waves of psychic pressure, and He Of Many Countless Faces studied them with that strange, childlike curiosity again, as a sense of confidence replaced fear, and anger became spite.

Luna and Scrivener struggled weakly, then both stopped and stared: not at each other, not at broken Nightmare Moon or dying Gymbr or the stains of red and ripped fabric. Not at He Of Many Countless Faces, but into the ether as they felt that surge in their minds again, and this time it was overwhelming, consuming all their thoughts as they felt like something... something powerful and awful and beautiful was coming.

A massive explosion ripped through the air, rattling the very foundations of Valhalla as He Of Many Countless Faces looked sharply up towards a pillar of black flames now rising from the roof of the castle... and then it stumbled backwards, staring in seeming disbelief as its inky body flickered, a single lone winged unicorn flying slowly down towards the overlook before she smiled coldly as she hovered in the air, eyes glowing with unnatural light and terrible, poisonous energies.

Her black-feathered wings flapped powerfully, enormous and holding her easily aloft as her tail and mane flowed like the darkest depths of space, licks of obsidian flame twisting here and there through the shadow-made-tangible. Her body was lithe and gorgeous, dark purple hide like carved stone, sealed tightly around the glaring eye of the soulstone core thrumming in her breast, and locking firmly into the flexing darkness of the black stone that composed her right foreleg. An extra set of horns had twisted out of either side of her head, these curving strangely in opposing directions to form a black halo above her skull.

Her collar was still tight around her neck, and her stud earrings still gleamed in her ears, and when Luna and Scrivener forced themselves to look up, they saw Twilight Sparkle in this dark and terrible goddess. Maybe no one else, not even Celestia would... but Twilight had her own darkness, a secret they had been privy to. And this was all that darkness given form and shape and a power that felt absolute, as this... this goddess said calmly: “I should give you a chance to surrender.”

He Of Many Countless Faces stared up at her, and she looked back down at him before easily raising a hoof and flicking it almost disdainfully to the side, and He Of Many Countless Faces was slapped backwards by a surge of telekinetic force before Twilight Sparkle said quietly: “But I'm not going to. I've been kind enough.”

He Of Many Countless Faces slowly straightened, and Twilight Sparkle smiled coldly before glancing calmly to the side, and her massive bell floated slowly up from where it had lodged in the ground, hovering ominously beside her as dark lighting crackled over the gigantic instrument. Then her eyes roved towards Luna and Scrivener, and her horn gave the slightest glow...

Scrivener Blooms flexed, gritting his teeth as energy surged through his body, before he arched his back and dug his claws into the ground as he felt muscle bulging and tissue healing. And Luna snarled, her eyes glowing, her mane bursting into blue flames as she shoved herself up to her hooves, feeling her strength returning... and as they were healed and made strong, that power was passed on to Twilight Sparkle, the Goddess fueling her own strength through them as her eyes flicked back towards He Of Many Countless Faces. “Your time is at an end, Light.”

The God of Light looked calmly across at Twilight Sparkle, who gazed coldly back even as she sent Scrivener and Luna both a sharp mental order to stay back. And it surprised both ponies, cutting through their new strength and battlerage, making them both obey even as the inky entity suddenly flung a blast of purification at Twilight's face.

The undead goddess smiled coldly and slapped it away like it was no more offensive than a ball of paper, before glancing up almost in boredom as the sky above her shattered, a massive beam of purification shooting down towards her: but above the hovering goddess, a wall of swirling black smoke formed, absorbing the ray of purification into a roiling, galactic sphere that Twilight Sparkle calmly flung at the God of Light.

The black and white orb exploded in a tremendous surge of energy, sending the inky entity flipping wildly through the air as a multitude of colors spilled through its system before it caught itself in midair, looking up; but too late, as Twilight grinned viciously, already dashing through the skies towards the entity and swinging her massive bell down. He Of Many Countless Faces was slammed flat into the edge of the overlook with a resounding crunch, before Twilight Sparkle dropped down on top of him, hooves crushing him into the stone as she unleashed a shockwave of black fire on contact, before she leapt upwards with a laugh.

Her horn swept upwards, and the rocky overlook around the God of Light exploded, flinging the entity helplessly into the air in a burst of stony shrapnel before Twilight's massive bell lashed down and smashed the entity through the flurry of shattered stone and past the broken edge of the overlook, followed by a rain of sharp stone fragments.

Twilight Sparkle smiled coldly as she flapped her wings firmly and sailed backwards, dropping down to the ground as her bell slowly settled beside her, before the mare's eyes flicked towards where Nightmare Moon was laying. The passion entity was staring up at her with disbelief, and the undead goddess smiled before flicking her horn: and a moment later, Nightmare Moon gasped as dark flames scoured her body, not harming her but instead eating away the stone half-imprisoning her and cauterizing her wounds, letting her slowly climb up to her hooves.

But the undead goddess had already turned away, striding towards Luna and Scrivener... then stopping as the overlook rumbled before she slowly turned around with a snarl forming on her face as a massive claw seized into the edge of the overlook. The world shook as an immense, three-headed white dragon yanked itself halfway onto the structure, huge talons seizing into the towers on either side as the three heads roared furiously, and Twilight Sparkle leapt back up into the air as she snarled in disgust: “You think you can fight me? You think you have any idea what you're dealing with?”

Scrivener Blooms and Luna Brynhild both began to step forwards, but Twilight looked sharply over her shoulder, snapping: “No, stay back! This is my duty and I am going to protect you! I will protect everyone from the Light, no matter what I have to do!”

Her eyes turned back towards the three-headed dragon as it roared at her, the heads twisting back and forth on enormous necks before the middle head suddenly lunged forwards, jaws biting at her savagely... but Twilight Sparkle only snapped her horn forwards, her bell swinging up between her and the beast, and its jaws uselessly slammed down on this. One of the other heads was already lunging in to follow up the attempt, but the undead goddess simply tore her bell to the side, and both instrument and the dragon head still trying to cling to it were slammed into the lunging set of jaws, the bell ringing violently.

The monster wailed, then screamed when Twilight Sparkle lashed her bell savagely to the other side, tearing it free of the jaws it had been trapped in and smashing the remaining head hard enough to shatter its muzzle even as the tool was flung aside, the bell tolling again and sending shockwaves through the dragon's body that made its scales ripple, its mottled white flesh distort and literally melt.

Twilight flicked her hooves towards the ground as the three-headed beast swayed, stunned, and the rock rumbled before transforming into bubbling mire: a moment later, three enormous spikes of crystal shot up from this mass, each spearing through the underside of a dragon jaw above, the beast squealing as it tried to yank backwards. But each spike was attached to a chain of dark crystal that stopped the beast from pulling away, the mire rippling as the chains began to slowly reel the beast's heads downwards.

It was forced to bow, the undead goddess grinning savagely before she launched herself forwards, her right leg transforming like liquid into an enormous blade she slammed into the middle skull of the dragon, shattering it like cheap porcelain to reveal He Of Many Countless Faces inside. The inky entity was already turning, trying to scramble away, but Twilight Sparkle seized it and flung it out of the beast before she lunged after the entity, slamming it into the ground and beginning to smash her right foreleg down into its face and body as her shadowy leg transformed with every blow into a different hammer or spike or blade, its form writhing with agony as her hooves burned with black fire.

It finally managed to fling her backwards, then desperately made a sharp beckoning gesture, and the half-melted dragon became a tidal wave of white before an enormous hand lunged out of the mass and seized the undead goddess. Twilight Sparkle gasped as she was yanked back into the swirling white sea as it became a writhing tornado, and He Of Many Countless Faces made panicked, sharp motions, the tornado spinning faster as purification flashed through it and blades of white shoved out of the mass in wild disarray.

Luna and Scrivener both charged forwards, and the sapphire mare leapt onto the God of Light's back as Scrivener Blooms slammed his Talons into the ground, transforming the stone beneath the entity into mire: the creature was knocked off balance by the paired attack, staggering before it flung Luna off into Scrivener Blooms and stepped forwards, punting them both viciously backwards. But it was distracted, losing concentration for a crucial moment, and the swirling storm of white sparked before exploding in a thunder of black electricity, the vengeful Lich-goddess tearing through the air as she snarled: “You are not worthy enough to even touch them!”

She smashed into He Of Many Countless Faces' back, then slammed the inky entity down into the ground before skidding off the creature and around in a circle to swing a hoof up into its face as it tried to push back to its feet. The God of Light was knocked in an arc through the air, but as it fell it twisted itself around, a malformed white beast ripping itself up out of the ground, all screaming jaws and beaks and claws and horrible, animal faces without any shape or sense to it.

Twilight Sparkle only laughed sharply, then her eyes glowed as she looked over her shoulder, and Scrivener Blooms fell forwards with a howl that became a roar as his body warped, bone pistons ripping through his back, armor tearing off his body as he corrupted into the shape of the Tyrant Wyrm.

And Luna's own eyes glowed, staring down at a hoof in disbelief as it split into a three-toed claw, her teeth growing larger, a pair of draconic horns pushing out of her skull as her own set of pistons ripped through the armor on her back. Her body expanded, growing not quite as large as Scrivener, yet all the more fearsome as her soulstone horn thrummed violently, before she threw her head back with a challenging laugh as power, power, power filled her up, made her feel so good, so complete, like this was what she had meant to become her entire life!

He Of Many Countless Faces reared back as harnesses of chain formed around the two ponies-made-monster, Twilight Sparkle holding the ends of both these leashes as she smiled coldly and leaned forwards, a vicious, dark eagerness burning through her body. She felt her own omnipotence clearly, and it made her all the more eager to strike out against the creature that had caused all this suffering in the first place as Scrivener and Luna both yanked at their leashes, snarling hungrily, viciously. They wanted to be part of the fight, and she couldn't deny the ponies she loved so dearly: but the only way she could ensure their safety was to feed her power directly into them. She could feel that they both appreciated the theater, though, even through the rage and hunger and raw, delicious power.

Energy pumped down the chains, poured into Scrivener and Luna, made them feel invulnerable... and Twilight Sparkle trembled in delight. This was only the start of what she was capable of. This was only the beginning of what she could do... and all for the ponies she loved. And she laughed, not even needing to watch, only grinning viciously as the Tyrant Wyrm suddenly lunged and Luna loped eagerly beside him, crashing into the steed of the God of Light and ripping it apart like a toy as He Of Many Countless Faces was flung backwards, before one of Luna's claws seized into his leg and the sapphire, monstrous mare dragged him forwards as Scrivener stomped over the corpse of the monstrous steed that had been dismembered and savaged in literal moments.

He Of Many Countless Faces panicked, slung a claw up and blasted Luna backwards with a blinding flash of purification... but it only served to irritate the mare as she snarled, staggering before lashing her claw out when the God of Light tried to flee. She tore down his back as a few small trails of stone fell off her features, but the corruption and the power flowing through her were both too strong now for such a paltry attack to harm her.

Scrivener Blooms lunged forwards, seizing the God of Light's shoulders, and Luna lashed one claw down, sinking it into the inky blackness of the entity as Twilight flew overhead, almost drooling as she eagerly gave her partners all the power they desired, watched as Luna's claws began to pierce the not-flesh of He Of Many Countless Faces as it shoved and flailed wildly at them, flashing through a myriad of terrified colors-

A massive pulse of force knocked the others flying, and then He Of Many Countless Faces swung a claw upwards, reality bending around it with the force of the blast of light energy he unleashed. The bolt of purification slammed into Twilight Sparkle, shattering her right foreleg and leaving the stone floating eerily in the air beside her as she stared blankly down at this for a moment, and then her rocky limb rapidly reformed and solidified, flexing slowly.

But it still hurt, leaving white cracks shining through the material like wounds... and for some reason, it filled Twilight with reasonless, absolute rage that this pathetic little false god had tried to hurt her. She turned a furious snarl towards it as her soulstone core glowed brightly, and Luna and Scrivener both roared, neither able to see reason, both only able to respond to the rage of their undead goddess as Twilight Sparkle snarled: “You don't deserve to die! You deserve worse!”

She rose her black hoof, and it split into a claw as her horn glowed, both Luna and Scrivener bowing their heads as they grinned viciously, pumping all the energy they could back into their goddess, their sword and shield, their beloved mistress and most-loved slave. And Twilight Sparkle laughed as a singularity formed above her hoof, swirling slowly, pulling in light and sound and all the world around her as He Of Many Countless Faces stared, then attempted to turn and bolt, swinging a claw wildly out to create a vortex-

“No running!” Twilight Sparkle snarled, flinging the swirling singularity after the God of Light, and the drag tore at its body as it flashed with all variety of color before it leapt wildly for the portal, trying to vanish into the tunnel before the singularity attempted to follow it through...

And something happened. Two forces of time and space collided, and the portal twisted on itself, vomiting the God of Light backwards: the creature was turned almost inside-out as it passed through the singularity, the lack-of-colors of its body inverting as it fell limply to the ground before clawing wildly at the broken stone as the three soulmates laughed. But laughter was cut short as the singularity expanded even as it was sucked backwards into the portal, and the tunnel in reality sparked violently as cracks formed through it, Twilight's eyes widening as she realized what was happening too late to do anything, even with all her impossible power.

An explosion of raw, uncontrollable energy ripped out of the hole in reality, and the three were slammed backwards by it, electricity shocking over their bodies as the soulstone core vibrated violently and Twilight Sparkle screamed in agony, her rocky leg falling away, her eyes bulging in horror as her wings burst into flames. Antimagic sparked along her horn and Luna's as the monstrous mare writhed on the ground, and Scrivener Blooms felt the corruption in his veins coagulating, howling in misery as his head lashed back and forth.

None of them were aware they were being pulled towards not a portal, not a black hole, but a terrible, empty void. A gaping, hungry maw leading to nothing but Nothingness. He Of Many Countless Faces was still grabbing wildly at the ground, but the pull was growing stronger moment after moment as the three ponies writhed blindly...

And then the God of Light managed to reach forwards and seize Scrivener's tail, and the Tyrant Wyrm snarled and automatically lashed this to the side. It flung He Of Many Countless Faces away as Scrivener roared in fury and pain after the entity, beginning to turn... but then he could only starie stupidly as he instead felt some invisible force yank on him, felt like gravity had just turned sideways as he fell heavily on his side before looking up to gape into the hole in reality.

Luna roared and jumped after him, but the pull of gravity caught her, too, and Twilight Sparkle tried to fling herself forwards, reaching her remaining hoof wildly for the chain leashes... but then these were swatted out of her reach by a telekinetic blast, and the violet mare looked up weakly to see He Of Many Countless Faces was standing over her. It seemed to stare down at her with hate and anger and most of all, fear, before its claws reached down, seizing into her face and shoving her to the ground before it reached a claw towards her soulstone core as the Lich cried out, shoving at the inky entity, her wings still burning, static energy still torturing her body, both core and horn refusing to respond-

Gymbr slammed into the entity, tackling it onto its back, and the two broken gods fell into the pull of gravity. They skidded over the ground, shoving and grappling with each other, and Gymbr snarled furiously down at He Of Many Countless Faces as the God of Light shook its head wildly in denial, but Gymbr's only response was to pin the monster beneath him as he wrapped his forelegs tightly around the creature. Then his eyes were drawn up towards the rip in reality leading into the void, watching as Scrivener and Luna both struggled against the ever-mounting pull of the nothingness before he whispered: “We deserve this.”

He Of Many Countless Faces clutched into Gymbr, the two locked almost in an embrace, and then looked back towards the rip in reality... and then both the inky entity and the broken god slid between Luna and Scrivener and into the rift. And as if in victory, the hole in reality pulsed, sending cracks through the ground around it... and Scrivener Blooms felt the ground beneath his claws shatter as Luna Brynhild looked weakly up at Twilight Sparkle, watching the violet mare as she screamed and jumped towards them... before the sapphire mare smiled faintly, her features losing some of their monstrosity, as Nightmare Moon caught Twilight Sparkle before she could follow. Because with that soulstone core, Twilight Sparkle had a chance at survival, even without her soulmates... but she wouldn't have any chance at all if she sacrificed herself trying to save their lives.

And Luna Brynhild let go, savoring her last look at Twilight Sparkle as she was pulled backwards into the portal, before she turned around to see Scrivener Blooms... and they were not monsters, in those last moments of life. They were only Scrivener Blooms and Luna Brynhild, collars glowing around their necks as they collided in midair and lost all sense of time and direction as they caught each other as they whirled through the endless white... until they were simply gone.

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