• Published 7th Sep 2013
  • 2,754 Views, 391 Comments

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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Luna Brynhild and Scrivener Blooms slowly crawled to their hooves, in... nothingness. Everything around them was simply empty white, with no corners or contours, no light or darkness, no shadows, no nothing.

They looked at each other, saw ponies who were standing in all this nothing, and shared winces. Then Luna shivered a bit as she looked down, muttering: “We cast no shadow here. And... our armor, our weapons... all our gear is gone.”

Scrivener reached up automatically to touch his collar, and Luna smiled a little as she touched her own silently, murmuring: “Aye, these are still here. But they are a part of us, I like to think.” She stopped, then looked back and forth uneasily before frowning and gesturing forwards, Scrivener following her eyes as a faint tapping sound reached his ears.

The ponies watched as a figure approached... a Draconequus, in a tattered, patchwork purple suit. A dragon-headed cane was held in a scaled hand bedecked with silver rings, and his other hand was tucked away in one pocket as thin, pony-like features looked out at them from beneath his hat. He smiled a little, mismatched green and chestnut eyes studying them for a few moments before he said softly: “Haven't seen you two in a while.”

“Allonym.” Luna said softly, and the Draconequus nodded calmly before the two traded looks, and then the sapphire mare murmured: “Last we saw thee.... well, last Scrivener Blooms saw thee, 'twas in that battery...”

“Yeah. Yeah. I was having a nice, peaceful death, and then some jackass comes along and decides to use my slumbering spirit to power his machines.” Allonym absently rubbed at his face, murmuring: “Well, it's all a big joke anyway, you see. Hell, I'm just a big joke, I think.”

He stopped, then spun his cane up to grip it by the neck and gestured easily around at the emptiness, saying finally: “This is the Void, if you didn't guess that already. This is what's past death. Where we all just... wait to dissolve back into pure energy, which then becomes matter and new life back in reality. This is the end of the story, just past Heaven and Hell.”

Scrivener and Luna both lowered their heads, and there was silence before Allonym shrugged and simply walked past, the sapphire mare blinking before she looked over her shoulder and called almost pleadingly: “Wait! Thou must have some advice for us, at least! Thou must serve some... purpose, the last time we encountered thee-”

“I'm off the clock. So are you. We're dead. We're beyond dead.” Allonym shrugged a bit as he came to a stop, and then he hesitated and rolled his head on his shoulders before sighing and looking over his shoulder. “Well, maybe for... old time's sake, I can throw you a bone. Just keep walking... it doesn't really matter what way. There's no such thing as time or space here, there's just... going where you're going, and not going where you're not, at least until you reach a path. When you reach the path, stay on it... don't risk getting off. Just follow it, and maybe you'll reach Town.”

“Town?” Luna asked curiously, but Allonym only shrugged and smiled, turning around to stride off and vanishing faster into the distance than he should have. Luna scowled a bit in his direction, then grumbled and shook her head, muttering: “Idiot Draconequus.”

“Yeah.” Scrivener agreed quietly, then he looked uneasily over at the sapphire mare, asking quietly: “Is it just me, or is our link acting weird? And what about... Nightmare Moon?”

“Probably dead.” Luna grumbled, and Scrivener Blooms slowly closed his eyes before the winged unicorn gave a small smile. “And aye, it is... thy thoughts and emotions are not coming as clearly to me.”

The stallion nodded a little, sighing a bit before he and Luna both looked up into the distance. There was just... nothing. No other sounds, no sights, no sense of up or down, and Scrivener Blooms hesitated before he shrugged and said finally: “I guess... we should just get going.”

“Aye. We may as well.” Luna muttered in agreement, and then she and the stallion traded faint smiles again before they began to walk forwards, the two striding silently through the emptiness of the Void, feeling a strange lethargy starting to settle over them, making them both feel a little numb, a little... disheartened, in spite of the fact that...

Scrivener softened as he looked over at Luna, and then he said quietly: “I'm proud of you.” He paused as Luna gave him a moody look, and then he smiled a little and shrugged. “Hey, I am. You... we saved Twilight, right?”

“I... I hope so. I do not know, though... after all, a piece of her has come with us.” Luna said quietly, looking down and shaking her head slowly before she sighed softly. “But I am not proud of myself, Scrivy. All I did was chase after thee, silly, stupid brute... I am proud of Nightmare Moon. And oh, how I am loathe to say that, but... did thou see her?”

“I saw her through your eyes. And I can kind of see her now, too, in your memories.” Scrivener Blooms said quietly, and the sapphire mare gave him a small smile before the charcoal stallion turned his eyes forwards, adding quietly: “Still, Nightmare Moon... is you, right? So I guess I can still be proud of you. And I know you would give up your life for Twilight Sparkle in an instant... I guess... we both did, really, didn't we?”

Luna grunted, looking down and shaking her head again before she stepped silently closer to Scrivener, and they pressed their sides together as they walked quietly through the bland whiteness. Time was impossible to tell: Scrivener tried counting, but he never managed to get very far before he'd get distracted, and Luna shook her head a little as she murmured: “Freya used to tell me a time to wait, and I would always be able to wait precisely that amount. Now I cannot fathom how long a single second takes to pass in this wretched place.”

“My mind feels... fuzzy. My attention just keeps... going all over the place. And our link keeps giving me your thoughts and emotions randomly. Why were you just thinking about chocolate sauce?” Scrivener glanced over at the sapphire mare, who smiled slightly back at him, and he rolled his eyes with a tired sigh. “You know what? Nevermind. I don't want to know.”

“Oh shut up, Scrivy.” Luna laughed, and then both ponies blinked in surprise and looked down as they heard a crackling beneath their hooves, before staring in disbelief as they realized they had stepped onto what looked like some kind of chitinous plating. Their eyes roved upwards, and they realized that there were small gray walls and a narrow path composed of more of these plates, that looked like they had been formed from the shattered shells of giant beetles.

“This must be the path Allonym spoke of.” Luna said softly, and Scrivener Blooms nodded slowly, the two staring down it before they traded looks, shrugs... and finally, began forwards. And as they walked along the narrow road formed by the littered pieces of shell, they felt more of a sense of time returning, some of the fuzziness fading from their brains.

The path curved downwards, and they followed it down an invisible slope, which made both ponies shiver a little and feel strange as they looked back and forth at the empty whiteness, wondering how often they had been going up and down and... who knew in how many other directions through this intangible, unseeable world?

They reached a bridge made of massive, bleached bones, and Scrivener and Luna looked at this for a few moments before uncomfortably gazing across the 'chasm' it crossed, at an enormous skeleton that belonged to no creature Luna or Scrivener had ever seen before. The path curved around this, and the ponies traded uncomfortable looks before starting forwards: the thought that creatures actually lived in this place...

Eventually, the path they were following became a wider road, in some places almost a field. And there weren't just plates beneath their hooves anymore, but powder and dirt: here and there, there were even strange, twisted 'trees,' although they looked dead and spindly and their roots often stretched out great distances through the nothingness. Scrivener and Luna shortly realized that a few of these trees had been cultivated, and these roots formed guidelines between several 'islands' of solid ground that the ponies were able to carefully follow.

They quickly learned to keep one hoof on something solid at all times: Luna made the mistake of taking her hoof off a root for just a moment, and suddenly found herself thirty feet away from Scrivener, standing in the middle of the nothingness. The stallion had shouted to her almost desperately as they both felt their link filling with static, agony tearing through their bodies as energy started to steam off them both, and Luna had hurried back to his side. By the end of the experience, she was only glad she had made it... although all the more worried, now that they had just found out they couldn't risk being very far apart in this awful void without rapidly starting to... break down.

They stopped to rest on the next island... and then both looked up stupidly as a black unicorn glanced down at them curiously as she began to calmly stride past, before smiling gently and stopping at the looks on their faces. “Oh, hello strangers. You must be new here... have you met anyone else?”

Luna and Scrivener both slowly stood, staring at this gorgeous unicorn, before Scrivener's mouth fell open as he whispered: “With curls of silver all around her face, but eyes of spring oak's red, her beauty was known to inspire the most reluctant muse with a voice that could bring tears to the dead... you're... you're...”

Melinda the Sky Witch laughed loudly at this, shaking her head and saying kindly: “Foal's tales! Either you're a poet or a mage... but in spite of your accoutrement, I don't think it's the latter. I'm just a foolish mare who made a few foolish choices, and who now helps the other lost souls try and survive here. We're all exiles, but it doesn't have to be a torment.

“But I'm sorry. I have business to attend to... listen, Town is that way. And keep your eyes open on the way... the Void is funny. There's thousands of us, but... well, you'll see.” Melinda smiled, winking at them before she turned and calmly strode off the island... and she was simply gone.

Scrivener and Luna stared after this legendary mare, the stallion still mouthing wordlessly before the sapphire mare finally sighed and slapped the back of his head, making him wince a bit. “Come along, stop thy drooling and... let us try and continue forwards to this Town. Even I am not so stupid to think we should distrust the Mother of Witchery.”

“Witchcraft.” Scrivener Blooms corrected before he could stop himself, and Luna leaned over and firmly whacked him with her soulstone horn, making him flinch before he mumbled: “Why the hell couldn't that have vanished, too?” He stopped, then scowled down at one of his Talons, holding it up and adding: “And why the hell couldn't these have vanished too?”

“Because the Void hates thee. Come along, Scrivy.” Luna said mildly, and the stallion sighed tiredly before he nodded moodily, looking uneasily back and forth and not sure if he was relieved or just more terrified that there were apparently other people trapped in the Nothingness along with them.

They strode onwards, and then Luna looked up curiously: a tree had fallen on one side of the path, leading over to a narrow, nestled little alcove of gravel and piled-up stones. And sitting inside this was a pony with a black coat and a purple mane, a pile of ancient-looking books around him, some bound in leather, others in hide and skins. Scrivener and Luna both stopped to stare over at him, and the stallion looked up curiously past his book once he realized he was being watched... before smiling warmly to them, simply raising a hoof that had split into a ragged claw as he nodded briefly.

Scrivener and Luna both smiled back, the sapphire mare waving wildly and Scrivener laughing a little, before he shook his head slowly and nudged Luna when she made for the tree, saying quietly: “No. Let's leave him be. He looks... content.”

“Oh, very well... but I hope that if we are stuck here, Riordan will share his damnable books with us. We will have little better to do.” Luna grumbled, and her eyes lingered on the Clockwork Pony for a moment before she smiled again and shook her head slowly as the two ponies continued onwards.

It rose their spirits, as they headed along the path, until Luna saw another figure in the distance staggering mindlessly around a small island. The unicorn looked up at them, eyes brightening before he half-stumbled, half-ran towards them, shouting: “Luna, oh, oh my love, my sweet! I knew you'd return to me one day, how I've waited and waited!”

“Ignominious?” Luna asked disbelievingly, staring over the dark coated unicorn before she shook her head in disgust and caught him, shoving him backwards and sending him sprawling on the ground with a yelp when he jumped at her. “Idiot and wretch! And I had happily forgotten about thee, craven coward... and here I had hoped to see more pleasant company than thou!”

“Also, hi. Luna's husband. Right here.” Scrivener said mildly, raising a claw, and Ignominious glared at him from the ground before the unicorn staggered up to his hooves, and after a moment Scrivener couldn't help but whistle, saying mildly: “Wow. You're short.”

The unicorn huffed: he was actually only a few inches shorter than Scrivener Blooms, but the way he held himself made him seem much smaller. But after a few seconds, his eyes turned to Luna and he whimpered beseechingly: “Oh, but you need a guide, don't you? I'll walk you to Town! I'll help, I'm very helpful, Luna Lightblade... wasn't I your mighty stallion once? Wasn't I your charger, your knight in shining armor? Oh please, have a little mercy on me, all I did I did for love...”

Scrivener and Luna traded looks, and then the sapphire mare said softly, shaking her head slowly: “And that is precisely why 'twas such a cardinal sin. Nay, I shall not accept thy help, and Scrivy and I can find this... 'Town' easily enough upon our own power. Goodbye, Ignominious.”

“You can't leave me again!” Ignominious shouted angrily, stomping after them... but he quailed away when Luna only glared over her shoulder, before the unicorn flung himself down in the dirt, half-wiggling and half-crawling as he cried out: “Please! Please don't leave me!”

“Goodbye, Ignominious.” Luna repeated quietly, and she and Scrivener Blooms turned to stride onwards, leaving the unicorn whimpering weakly in the dust as he stared disbelievingly after them at being abandoned so easily. And Luna resisted looking back as long as she could, as they traveled down a curling, narrow pass... until finally, she sighed and glanced back over her shoulder, murmuring: “I would feel more pity for him if only he had grown a spine.”

They had stopped by a tall obelisk that neither pony could read, a smattering of ground and dust around this. Luna thought she could vaguely hear Ignominious wailing in the distance, but he was high above and around a corner, apparently too afraid and pitiful to even pursue them, and the sapphire mare shook her head briefly before she looked onwards: the path was thin and gravelly, but she thought she could see where it connected to another larger road... “Come. Let us continue.”

Scrivener leaned over and kissed her cheek gently, and the sapphire mare smiled faintly before nodding firmly, and the two strode quietly onwards, continuing their strange journey through the Void. They reached the road without event, and began to make their way down it... but not far along the thick, black-dirt highway, they came along a strange and terrible sight.

A stagecoach made of bones and black wood was rumbling slowly towards them, driven by a creature the likes of which they had never seen standing on top of it. It had greenish, slimy skin, with a whip clutched in one webbed hand and a set of reins held in the other; its eyes were as black and emotionless as the Void around them, and tentacles hung from its squid-like features, flexing and writhing slowly. But it was no beast, nor any barbarian: the clothing it wore looked like dyed silk, the cape that hung around it woven with complex patterns, its body clad in a pristine, pressed uniform.

The carriage was pulled by a team of six ponies: four of these were pale and lagging, but the two in the lead had their heads raised proudly, jaws locked around their bits, not seeming to care about the chains binding their wings around their bodies or the harnesses that were digging into their flesh. They were both Pegasi, and one was stallion with a silver beard that framed his callous features, while the other was a mare with a red mane. And they both had the same gold hue to their hide...

The driver allowed the carriage to slow to a halt as the lead mare's eyes locked on them, and Scrivener and Luna both froze, staring in disbelief at this awful creature. This monster, as Sol Seraph said distastefully: “What a surprise. I would have expected you to dissolve in the wastes.”

“And look at thou: well, I see even if thou hast not tasted Helheim, thou art at least still suffering some of what thou deserves for the life thou lived.” Luna growled, and the stallion laughed coldly as Sol Seraph only shook her head in distaste.”

“Suffering? In this place? I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, though... to the weak, this must seem like punishment. But it's not: this is only another test. A worthy test, after years of failures.” Sol Seraph replied calmly, shaking her head slowly. “In this place, only the truly strong survive the hardships. This is not exile, or death, or hell. This is Heaven.”

“This is the place our Order searched, for our entire lives. And one day, I will outlive all of you. Including you, Sol Seraph. You're lazy and incompetent.” said the stallion contemptibly, and Sol Seraph simply looked at him for a moment before the strange creature on the carriage cracked his whip loudly over their heads, the four ponies behind the two cold Pegasi whimpering and cowering.

But neither Sol nor the stallion flinched, both only glancing back once before they nodded and turned their eyes forwards, Sol Seraph saying quietly as she began to lead the carriage onwards: “This is not torment. This is just a place where the weak are culled and destroyed. This is paradise. A paradise I will one day rule.”

“Don't get ahead of yourself, daughter.” reprimanded the stallion, and Scrivener and Luna both shuddered as the carriage passed. They watched it as it rolled onwards until it reached the end of the road in the distance, then simply vanished into the nothingness.

“This is a strange place, Scrivy. I... come. But I do not know how much more of this I can stomach.” Luna murmured quietly, and Scrivener Blooms shivered a bit as he nodded slowly before they turned their eyes upwards, silently striding on down the dusty path.

They found themselves entering a strange mess of foothills of gravel and broken metal, and here and there were small huts. Outside one, they saw a zebra silently carving charms out of bones, and when she saw them looking, she all-but-flung herself backwards in a panic before rushing into her hut, crying out: “Please, please! It was all a mistake! I just wanted to save my tribe!”

Scrivener shook his head slowly, and Luna smiled faintly before the two continued onwards: they reached a large wooden bridge, and beside it, found a cart carved out of bone, with wooden wheels and some kind of painted, massive carapace forming the back of it. Luna knocked on it, but there was no answer before the sapphire mare smiled faintly, stroking slowly over the stars and moons that made up the almost-childish patterning over its face, and she whispered: “Our love goes with thee, Trixie, if thou art still here.”

Then they pushed onwards: the crossed the bridge, and followed a winding path through a small forest of strange trees and reaching roots and odd plants: creatures played through these they didn't recognize, and foals and ghostly ponies peeked at them from the safety of the twisted woods. But Luna and Scrivener only strode onwards, even as they smiled faintly back and forth at the strange beauty they had found here and there in the Void.

Finally, in the distance, they could see larger shapes: what looked like buildings, or at least some kind of landmarks. What had to be town... or maybe it was Town, Scrivener mused, since it sounded like it was a name, not just a place. He guessed there probably weren't a lot of cities here in the nothingness, though...

But this place, at least... Scrivener Blooms realized they were actually crossing a cadaver of some massive beast, and he shivered a little before he realized that its hide was composed of those large, chitinous plates they had been walking along. Then he and Luna both halted, looking up in surprise as several enormous, serpentine beasts passed by above, gray-scaled and swimming through the airless world with ease, giving almost mournful cries as they sailed slowly onwards.

The two ponies watched silently for a little while, then forced themselves to stride onwards, past the corpse and into a wide, curved valley. But Luna's eyes narrowed as she noted that near the end of the road, in front of another bridge, there were two strange creatures dancing around...

Scrivener and Luna both halted and set themselves as they drew close: one of these monsters was grinning and white, with red, bug-like eyes. It giggled insanely, dressed in a top hat, a bow tie, and oversized white cuffs, lowering a bruised brass trumpet as it said delightedly: “Well look at this, honey, looks like they're givin' us the evil eye!”

The other creature giggled, grinning over at them: it had draconic features overshadowed by its heavy helm, and gangly, insect-like limbs, its body emaciated and covered in chains and cables. Its body rippled like liquid despite being made almost entirely of steel, and the beast rasped: “Boss, oh, boss, that's Luna and Scrivener, boss!”

“What? You ain't pulling my leg, are you?” The mottled-white monster looked down at one of its rear legs, then held it up and reached back to seize this, yanking it off with ease... much to the merriment of the other destruction entity, although Luna and Scrivener only glared before the monster said wryly as it simply plugged its rear leg back into place: “Tough crowd. Okay, hey, why don't I introduce myself? Fafnir, let's ring around the rosey up song number ten, and-”

“We know who both thou art. Fafnir, we shall never forget, and thou must be Cancer. We have heard much about thee, destruction entity.” Luna said coldly, raising her head high and studying them both with contempt... but they were both only grinning mockingly, and Scrivener Blooms shifted uneasily as the sapphire mare asked distastefully: “And what, perchance, are a star-crossed pair such as thyselves up to?”

“Well, darlin', we just happen to be practicin' for our big show tonight!” Cancer replied brightly, and Fafnir nodded several times in agreement. Scrivener and Luna both frowned a little, but then the mottled white destruction entity threw his head back and cackled. “Oh, I get it! You think me and dragonface here are gonna attack you or something, right? Well, you're out of your damn mind! Why the hell would I go starting trouble in a place like paradise?”

“The Void, the Void is home, the Void is good, the Void is destruction, destruction, everything constantly breaking down... it's magical.” Fafnir sighed dreamily, grasping at his own features and giggling quietly even as he slowly scratched thin lines along his own face, sending up hisses of steam. “It's everything we ever wanted, yes yes oh yes...”

Cancer nodded with a wide grin of agreement, before he added easily: “Besides, we know the rules and we're good little boys, now ain't we, big guy? Yes, oh, even if in the past we might have killed y'all and skinned you and worn you as caps, here we're all friends! Ain't it great that we can all be friends? And me, I'm happy, happy as hell, happy as can be! I got one, two, three shows, count 'em, three shows a week in Town! Our song and dance is the greatest damn thing you ever did done see, pretty mare, don't you go doubtin' us now, and we make people hoot-holler-and-howl!”

Fafnir nodded agreeably a few times before Cancer leapt suddenly upwards on top of the other destruction entity's head, the two swaying back and forth as the mottled white creature declared: “It's great, greatest damn thing you ever did done see, it's just goddamn great and I ain't scared, I ain't afraid, I ain't scared of no one or nothing!” Cancer's voice crescendoed, baring his teeth, his red eyes flashing as he screamed: “I ain't scared I ain't scared I ain't I ain't I ain't!”

He dropped his head into his claws, trembling violently as Fafnir only swayed drunkenly back and forth, vapid and idiotic... and then Cancer looked suddenly up with another bright grin on his face, clapping his claws happily together as he said in an upbeat voice: “I should give you guys tickets! You're the Mommy and Daddy to that Antares brat, ain't that right? Yeah, me and him, we were great friends, go back a long way... I mean, I even dated his girlfriend for a while, you know that?”

Luna and Scrivener both looked at the destruction entities for a few moments, and then the sapphire mare strode forwards and shoved past Fafnir, who stumbled to the side with a giggle as Cancer yelped and flailed his limbs wildly before toppling from his high perch. Scrivener Blooms shook his head as he followed after his soulmate, as Cancer picked himself up and shouted after them with forced, almost panicked cheer: “I'll put you down for two seats then, huh? Two seats! Two seats, great, I'll see you guys, give... give you a special shoutout and everything! Don't miss it, you can't miss it, gonna be great... I'm gonna be g-great, nobody's ever gonna forget about Cancer...”

The two ponies strode onwards, over a bridge of gnarled wooden logs and onto a large, flat plain of gravel that spread out in front of what could only be Town. As they approached, they realized it was surrounded by a dome made from the carapaces of strange creatures and enormous blankets of hide, with a pair of tall pillars topped with bone statues marking the entrance: from the lack of gates, it was clear these walls likely weren't for security purposes, though, or rather, not to keep anyone from getting in. Considering the Void all around them, these walls were probably to prevent people from accidentally falling out.

It was strange and alien, with a dignity to it that was more twisted than Helheim's. Scrivener and Luna stared back and forth with something like awe as they strode inside along the main road, and found many ponies and other creatures were striding through these streets, plenty of them seeming to go about their business like this was any normal day in any normal place.

The two ponies strode slowly into Town, looking back and forth with awe, and then Luna Brynhild grabbed one of Scrivener's Talons, surprising him, as she pointed almost childishly at an eagle-headed giant calmly ducking his way out of a jagged-shaped tower. He almost bumped into a pony, the two gesturing apologetically to one-another before he calmly crossed the street towards one of many square, ugly stalls that lined the wide, main road through town. “Look! A Jötnar! And pony and Frost Giant act as naturally as if they have always known each other!”

“That's a Frost Giant?” Scrivener stared at the eagle-headed creature, noting that it did at least have blue feathers, and the sheer size of it fit the whole... giant thing... but it looks more like Odin than it does anything else. And Odin apparently only looked like that because of a screwed-up polymorph.

“Stop thy wretched thinking, Scrivener Blooms. Thou art being a buttocks.” Luna complained, and then she headbutted him lightly, making him wince and flinch a bit. “And aye, that is a Frost Giant: nay, 'tis not what they truly looked like, picky Scrivener Blooms, but each associated itself with a different and mighty beast, so perhaps that is why it bears such a face.” She stopped, then frowned thoughtfully, looking down at herself and murmuring: “I wonder, Scrivy. Why do I look like this when my soul is that of a Valkyrie...”

“Because this is who you are?” Scrivener suggested after a moment, and Luna looked at him curiously, but the charcoal stallion only smiled and shrugged a little before he sighed a bit when she glared at him. “Right. I can't just. Link to you right now. Okay, uh... well... you're not Brynhild anymore, and you're sure as hell not Princess Luna from any other world. You're... you're Luna Brynhild, second only when you deem yourself so, master of anything you put your mind to, gorgeous mare and incredibly powerful, virile stallion.”

Luna looked at him thoughtfully... then she nodded a few times agreeably, smiling warmly. “I think I understand what thou means. Thou means that I am a horse because precious few other beasts could bear up such a mighty battering ram as I do.”

“Yes, Luna. It's all about your penis.” Scrivener said flatly, and Luna grinned brightly before the stallion sighed tiredly and strode onwards, muttering: “I'm never, ever helping you feel better again. This is why we get weird looks when we go places. People think you're serious and that you actually mount me every night. And probably that I'm actually a mare.”

“Oh shut up, Scrivy, they do not. Thou art so sensitive, and... well...” Luna quieted, looking back and forth as they slowed their pace, emotions trading back and forth between them for a moment. They softened as they looked at each other, and the starry-maned mare smiled faintly as she murmured: “'Tis not like we will ever have to worry about such ever again at this rate.”

Scrivener nodded briefly, giving her an apologetic look, but Luna only leaned over and nuzzled him silently before the two continued onwards... and then both ponies looked up in disbelief as a voice said coldly: “Well, look what the manticore dragged in. If it isn't pathetic little Nihete, and the Valkyrie whore Brynhild.”

Scrivener and Luna both halted and turned slowly towards a half-collapsed, uneven stall, and the stallion shivered and Luna snarled at the sight of none other than Valthrudnir standing behind the counter. But the mighty Jötnar, for all his pride, for all the anger in his voice, looked bruised and beaten, white scales peeling here and there, his once-beautiful suit ripped and torn and hanging in tatters around him... and strangest, perhaps most telling of all, there was a large, mournful-looking earth pony sitting beside him, with a deep, metallic blue coat and a brush-cut silver mane, his ivory eyes full of bitterness.

“Thesis.” Scrivener Blooms said quietly, but Thesis only trembled and snarled, turning his eyes bitterly away before the charcoal stallion sighed, then slowly looked up. And he saw Valthrudnir, but this time also saw Valthrudnir, through more than the eyes of a servant who had always been so afraid of the Frost Giant that had hurt him and Luna so badly, so many times... “You look like crap.”

Valthrudnir snarled, digging his claws into the countertop... but there was no great surge of power, no sudden, time-warping crush of magic, and Scrivener and Luna both felt themselves relaxing as the stallion drew his eyes over the stall. Countless dolls of metal and wood ponies hung from little hooks around the top of the shop, and there were tiny models and stacked-up puzzles and books all along the countertop, including a metal, dragon-shaped bobble head that seemed to giggle as the head bounced and jangled up and down.

“And you're selling toys. Is this a... father and son business?” Scrivener Blooms asked meditatively, and both Thesis and Valthrudnir glared at him sharply, but the charcoal earth pony shrugged and said moodily: “You two look like you've been doing some catching-up.”

He gestured at the metal plating over Thesis' back, and the Clockwork Pony spat to the side before saying angrily: “You talk all you want, Scrivener Blooms! You go ahead, make fun of me, keep taking everything away from me... if we weren't in Town, under watch, I'd kill you and Brynhild!”

“You can't kill them, idiot. This is the Void. Everything is decaying but sentience is perpetual.” Valthrudnir said icily, reaching down and slapping the side of Thesis' head, but the Clockwork Pony only shoved angrily back at Valthrudnir's hand, and the dragon grimaced in disgust before adding disdainfully: “Watch yourself, Thesis.”

“Why don't you make me, Father?” Thesis asked contemptibly, and the two glared at each other even as Valthrudnir visibly twitched from the word, before the pony looked away and said bitterly: “Betrayers. Everyone, everything... you're all betrayers! Even Cheshire won't have anything to do with me, doesn't even come into Town, won't look at me! And now you, you strut in here... taunting me, mocking me!”

Scrivener Blooms shook his head slowly, and Luna Brynhild sighed before muttering: “What a foul-tempered creature thou still art, Thesis. And selfish, and childish. Has no sanity returned to thy mind, or art thou striving to take more after thy 'father' than thou already has?”

“Shut up! You don't know anything!” Thesis shouted angrily, and then he shook his head violently before rasping hard and trembling, clutching at his chest as his body began to steam, clenching his eyes shut as Luna and Scrivener staggered backwards and stared in disbelief. “Y-You... you d-d-don't...”

“Enough, Thesis, you're only exhausting your own supply of energy.” Valthrudnir said contemptibly, reaching down and grasping the metal plate on the pony's back to shake him violently, and Thesis coughed and shivered a few times before the Jötnar dropped him disdainfully, looking uneasily back and forth. “And your childish tantruming is attracting unwanted attention.”

“Yes, yes, because business is all important to you now, because it's all... a-all you can do... scared of your own brothers and sisters, terrified of Ymir and Odin...” Thesis coughed a few times, and Luna and Scrivener both looked up sharply before the Clockwork Pony shook himself out, trembling and looking across at Scrivener Blooms with half-pleading, half-insane eyes. “Look at us, brother... all I wanted was help. You threw that away and killed everyone I ever cared for... took them all away from me! If you had helped me, we both wouldn't be here!”

Scrivener Blooms shook his head slowly, looking down as Luna Brynhild murmured: “Perhaps not. But somehow... I think we would be in a place far, far worse. Even if we had survived, thou would have warped all of the universe.”

Valthrudnir smiled icily at this, reaching up and adjusting his collar... although Scrivener noticed that his previously ever-present choker was gone. “Yes, Thesis. You should be happy you didn't succeed. You would have altered the core world to reflect you, and thus made the ponies even more pathetic than they already are with all your puling and whining.”

Thesis cursed under his breath at this, shaking his head angrily as he glared up at Valthrudnir, but there were almost tears in his eyes before he said roughly: “I'm going for a walk, Father. You have fun visiting with your friends. All you ever do is talk about your revenge on them... well, here they are! Have fun looking helplessly at them and trying to sell your cheap little dollies to them!”

Thesis smacked a bunch of toys off the stall counter, and Valthrudnir snarled, swiping a claw out, but he missed the Clockwork Pony as he almost flung himself out of the stall, tearing down part of the hide wall on his way stumbling out. He ran down the road as Valthrudnir staggered forwards, something clanging loudly as he leaned out of the stall and shouted angrily: “Thesis! Thesis, get back here, that is an order! I order you to come back here, immediately!”

But Thesis ignored him completely, and for a moment, Valthrudnir looked powerless, helpless, only staring after his son before he suddenly sneered again and turned his amber eyes towards Scrivener Blooms... but the stallion had lost all fear of this Jötnar. This Jötnar, who was now only a shadow of his former self; this Jötnar, dressed in the rags of his old suit and hawking toys; this Jötnar, who had once been one of the most powerful monsters in existence... and was now couldn't even get his own son and soldier to listen to his orders.

“So, Nihete. I knew you'd end up here eventually, along with Brynhild... but where's Twilight Sparkle? Don't tell me your playtoy has already given up all hope and dissolved away entirely?” Valthrudnir mocked, leaning forwards, and Scrivener Blooms only smiled in return, visibly making the dragon falter slightly.

“We think we saved Twilight Sparkle, actually...” Scrivener Blooms stopped, looking over at Luna before he added softly: “And that makes things a lot easier to bear. Besides, this isn't the first time we've died, Valthrudnir. And after we died, everyone kept going. Yeah, we're scared and it's... it hurts... but I guess I wouldn't really expect you to understand what I'm saying. What did you have that was worth living for, anyway? Nothing. I guess that's why you spent your whole life just building bigger versions of these.”

Scrivener Blooms picked up a fallen toy pony in one claw, and Valthrudnir snarled down at him before he held his hand out, saying icily: “You shouldn't touch things that aren't yours. And you should remember who your master is, Nihete.”

“Or what?” Scrivener asked challengingly, even as he slammed the doll down on the countertop. “Are you going to make my insides explode? Turn my skin into salt? Make me dance a hula for you? I don't think you can even punch me in the face, Valthrudnir, and somehow I think that even if you did punch me, it wouldn't hurt half as much as when Luna does. You're weak, and broken, and you look like you've had the crap beaten out of you more times than even you can count. And with your big and mighty brain, I bet you can count real high, too.”

Valthrudnir snarled in fury, before Luna smiled coldly, asking distastefully: “The Jötnar do not die, is that not so? No, thou does not seem as... incorporeal as many here are. Ponies, even myself and mine husband... there is a faint aura about us. A faint sense that we are gone... but thou, thou looks solid as any sack of chicken meat. And about as squishy and powerless as well.”

“I am a Jötnar! One day, I will escape the Void, and regain everything I've lost! I... I came back from death, I am invulnerable, immutable!” Valthrudnir shouted angrily, and Luna and Scrivener traded looks before the ponies both simply shrugged, then turned to walk onwards.

Valthrudnir stared after them, then snarled and smashed his way through the already damaged wall, staggering out into the street. Then the ponies heard a loud clank and a curse of frustration before they looked back in surprise... and saw Valthrudnir's leg was manacled and chained to something inside his stall, the dragon trembling as he reached helplessly towards them, his amber eyes wide and hurt and scared and so lonely as his fingers stretched and trembled...

And they turned away, turned their backs on the dragon, and both ponies forced themselves to keep their eyes forwards even as the Jötnar whispered: “Come back... we... we can play a game...”

But neither Scrivener nor Luna were interested in games, or giving Valthrudnir another chance. Even if beneath all the dragon's arrogance and bravado, there was just a scared little child there, they had already tried to help him in the past, trusted in him too many times... and always been rewarded with more pain, and more suffering. Now, there was no more sympathy left for him. He had earned where he was, trapped in limbo and chained to his toyshop, apparently a prisoner here in Town in spite of the fact that even destruction entities were left to roam free.

Scrivener and Luna made their way calmly down the wide road, forcing themselves not to look back... but it grew easier the further they got from the stall, and the more they looked around, seeing the strange sights of this... well... Town. There really wasn't any other word for it, and the ponies traded looks before both halting in front of an open stall where a stallion was trying to interest several other creatures in strange-looking armor. “Made of Void Eel! The only way to travel safely through the nothingness for long distances, you mark my words!”

Scrivener and Luna both looked curiously at the mottled, ugly gear: it looked like it was made of the same material that made up much of the ground and the buildings, but just miniaturized and thinned out. They studied this with interest, then traded looks before both ponies shrugged in time with each other, turning to walk onwards as the peddler continued to extol all the virtues of the gear to the other curious onlookers. But for now, Luna and Scrivener had all of Town to explore before they tried to go wandering out into the Void...

“Aye, it is there, isn't it?” Luna said softly, and Scrivener smiled faintly at her, not needing their link to understand what she was talking about: that hope. That strange, twisting hope inside both of them, the refusal to believe that they were going to be stuck here, that they had really died and gone beyond Heaven and Hell... that in spite of all the faces they had seen, all the other souls that had been banished to the Void or died in the afterlife and were now here, in the after-afterlife, the end of endings... they were special somehow. That they would escape this realm of nothingness somehow... that they were still alive.

They strode onwards... and then both ponies hesitated and slowed as they passed some kind of strange monument. It was carved crudely from ugly stone, the figure standing tall unidentifiable and alien. But seated at the base of the statue was a much-more familiar pony: Thesis.

Neither Scrivener nor Luna felt all that much sympathy for him... in fact, a lot of what they both felt was disappointment that even now, Thesis was so... broken, and insane, and child-like. They just looked at him until Thesis finally glanced up, then asked quietly: “What do you want?”

“Uh... you mentioned Odin and Ymir.” Scrivener said finally, and Luna nodded quickly, locking on to this as well. Thesis only gazed at them silently, and the charcoal stallion cleared his throat and rubbed awkwardly at his own features before looking at Luna almost pleadingly, but she simply looked hurriedly away, and he glared at her for a moment before turning a lame smile back to the Clockwork Pony, prompting: “Do you... happen to know where they are?”

Thesis sighed tiredly, then gestured grumpily down the road, both ponies turning to look down the path and towards a large, dark shape that seemed to sit at the rear of Town. “Yes. There.”

“Do they... rule, or war?” questioned Luna Brynhild after a moment, glancing curiously along the street, and the Clockwork Pony gave a bitter laugh, shaking his head slowly and looking down with a cold smile.

“Yes, that would be all you think about.” he said bitterly, then snorted and shook his head, muttering: “No. There's no rulership here. There's no war, no defeat... and no victory or freedom.”

“We're uh. We're going to go now.” Scrivener Blooms said delicately, and Luna nodded awkwardly before the two ponies began to turn, before Thesis stumbled off the block and glowered at them. Both ponies couldn't help but look back, uncomfortably slowing to a halt as the Clockwork Pony glared balefully after them, and then the charcoal earth pony said lamely: “You know, if we're all already dead, killing us isn't going to solve anything.”

“No, it wouldn't.” Thesis said moodily, and then he looked up before reaching out and grasping a sharp spike of stone sticking out of the statue, wiggling this back and forth before tearing it loose. Scrivener and Luna both winced and set themselves, preparing to fight... and then they stared in disbelief when Thesis rammed this into his own neck before ripping to the side.

But there was no wound left, not a drop of blood, nothing but a faint distortion through the Clockwork Pony before the spike of rock fell out and hit the ground, the stallion saying coldly: “We can't kill each other. We're all constantly in the grips of a slow, painful death, but we're nothing but... sound, and sentient energy. Believe me, I want to hurt you, but I can't.”

He fell silent, then looked up and asked finally: “Why are you here? To torment me further? Leave me alone, I have no friends, no family anymore apart from Valthrudnir... if you want to hurt someone, then hurt him. All he ever does is talk about you...”

Scrivener and Luna both shivered a little at this, then they traded looks before the sapphire mare muttered: “Nay, we have no interest in simply harassing anyone... not unless we are stuck here, then perhaps we shall be more petty. Although it looks like Valthrudnir has already felt his share of stings.”

Thesis laughed bitterly, smiling icily and looking almost vindicated for a moment. “Yes. Yes, he has. Jötnar do not die: even in the Void, they take longer than you or I can conceive to break down. They were the ones who founded Town, who discovered how to hunt the Void Eels and the Voidcows, who discovered that there are floating 'masses' that can be mined... the dust bunnies of the Void, the collective crap from a thousand universes that's been swept carelessly into this giant pit.”

“You're uh... clearly adjusting well.” Scrivener said awkwardly, and Luna grunted as Thesis gave them a contemptible look, before the charcoal stallion hesitated and looked back and forth. “So this... this was built by Jötnar? But they don't... rule?”

“What's to rule? Tell me, what's the point of conquering a Nothing, where everyone is already dying? And sure, they have immunities, some scant traces of power... but they can't kill any of us. In trying to kill one pony, they'd just exhaust what little strength they have. You can't kill energy.” Thesis touched his own breast, looking down silently. “This is our eternal punishment. I was right all along: this is the end of the journey and the meaning to life. Nothing.”

“Thesis...” Scrivener looked silently at the stallion for a few moments, and then he shook his head slowly as the Clockwork Pony only looked bitterly away. “Then why are you sitting there with Valthrudnir? He's a prisoner in his own little shop... that means someone must get him all those materials and help him. If everything means nothing, then why are you staying with your father?”

“Because he's all that I have left.” Thesis said quietly, looking up for a moment before he suddenly seemed to push through whatever madness and despair was gripping him, the Clockwork Pony striding forwards and pleading suddenly: “Stay with us, brother! He's like your father, too! We can be a family, please... please, let's be a family...”

Scrivener and Luna traded looks, the stallion opening his mouth... before Luna suddenly cut him off, saying quietly: “First we must visit Odin, Thesis. For he is like my father, and thou knows the value of family, I see. But I shall tell thee what: after we have seen Odin, when we settle in this Void... we shall return to whittle away our time with... thou and Valthrudnir. We spent most of our lives with him... I suppose 'tis only fitting we spend our death alongside him as well.”

Thesis nodded several times, looking at them with something like excitement. He staggered from hoof-to-hoof, almost dancing before he spun around and ran off, and Scrivener and Luna watched him go before the stallion said quietly: “Your nose didn't wiggle.”

“I do not think I was lying.” Luna murmured, and Scrivener looked at her curiously... but he understood, too, even before she gave him a small smile and shrugged slowly. “It seems fitting, Scrivy. Besides, 'tis... petty, really. But if I must spend the rest of my not-life here, 'twill either be exploring or picking on all the people who so frustrated me in life, and are now helpless to do anything to me in this beyond-death.”

Scrivener Blooms sighed a little, but he couldn't hide his feelings of entertainment all the same as the two strode slowly onwards, heading down the road and towards the structure in the distance. They looked back and forth at the creatures they passed, noting giants and ponies and other creatures, from tall minotaurs to fey and even a few demons... although many of the demons were wearing what looked like bodysuits of some leathery material, as if to try and protect themselves from the Void's atmosphere of nothing.

They eventually came to a halt at the crude steps that led up to a half-collapsed dome, the structure rumbling quietly under its own weight. There were fewer people back in this section of Town, where the road ended, and no stalls or shops... even the other jagged and warped structures seemed abandoned, older... lost, somehow. Scrivener and Luna looked uneasily back and forth, then both simply shrugged as they walked up the steps to the double doors, pushing them slowly open and striding into a dusty hall.

There was no light and no darkness even inside the building, but... it felt good to be out of the nothingness, to feel like they had escape the omnipresent whiteness, if only for a little while. The two strode down the hall and into an open foyer, with several doorways leading off it and a spiraling staircase that wrapped brokenly around a listing pillar.

Everything was made of dark carapace and gray and black wood and that strange stone... and neither Luna nor Scrivener could tell where the hell they should go. Everything looked so old, so unused, and both ponies sighed, mirroring each other before Luna muttered: “Damn thou, old cyclops. Art thou really here? Or is this some trick?”

“No trick, Brynhild. I'm up here.” called a calm, familiar voice, and Luna and Scrivener both looked up in surprise before the sapphire mare hurried towards the stairs and up the first few steps. She stumbled to a halt, however, hesitating as she gazed up towards the second floor even as Scrivener shifted awkwardly behind her, and then the winged unicorn took a deep breath before striding quickly and carefully along the creaking, damaged stairs.

A sound reached their ears: the sound of wood being peeled, perhaps carved. Scrivener and Luna both looked up curiously at this as they made their way higher, the sapphire mare feeling her heart thudding in her chest before they stepped up into another wide foyer at the end of the spiraled staircase... and she and Scrivener both gazed through the half-collapsed room at the sight of two large figures, calmly seated together, one holding a heavy ceramic mug and the other slowly carving what looked like a flute.

Odin rose his feathered head and smiled at them: he looked just like they'd last seen him, a not-god with a falcon's head and a single eye. Hide and carapace clothing armored his body, and the knife in his hand was made of gleaming ivory bone, using this to carve a cylinder of wood slowly and unhurriedly, not seeming surprised in the slightest as he said softly: “Brynhild. And Scrivener Blooms.”

“So these are the two you keep rattling on about, are they?” asked the other figure, and Scrivener couldn't help but stare a little: he was enormous, taking up almost a corner of the room by himself and seated on a table that was little more than a short stool to him, the tankard in his hands more like an entire keg, and made of the same stuff that seemed to compose everything else in this world, including the leathery armor and rough hide cape that protected the giant's body. He had the head of a wolf, his fur a deep, ashen gray that was streaked with white, his eyes as piercing as clear ice. “A Valkyrie and a mud puppet.”

“Scrivener Blooms is no mud puppet, Jötnar.” Luna said sharply, stepping forwards before she added brazenly: “And 'tis funny to find thee here, Odin, for normally hunters do not keep company with the ilk of scavengers.”

Odin sighed tiredly, but the wolf-headed Jötnar laughed and shook his head, saying mildly: “Fierce. A fierce woman... but still, it says little for the man who hides behind his wife's skirts.”

“My wife doesn't wear skirts, thank you. Also, I'm not a man. I'm an earth pony.” Scrivener Blooms said dryly, and then he looked uneasily over the Frost Giant before turning his eyes back to Odin, the falcon smiling slightly as he calmly continued to carve what looked like a flute. “It's... it's good to see you. Were you the one who... well...”

He looked awkwardly back at the Frost Giant, and Odin chuckled quietly as he murmured softly: “I have seen very little of Valthrudnir, apart from passing him whenever I walk through the town. Ymir here has seen him more often than I have. But Ymir is a scornful old goat.”

“And sadly, my scorn diluted into anger in your father and a childish petulance in you, grandson.” Ymir replied wryly, brushing absently at his breast before he turned his eyes towards Luna and Scrivener curiously. “So it's true, is it? You two have had many a crossing with Villtrnir?”

Luna snorted in amusement at this as Scrivener Blooms only looked up dumbly, and then the sapphire mare leaned over and said mildly: “'Tis a play on Valthrudnir's name. And 'tis a little more accurate about his so-boasted intellect, as well.”

“Oh, Valthrudnir was always a bright flame, able to learn and memorize anything he was ever told, doing calculations and always coming up with great new ideas. But those who become very smart also often become very stupid. Why would I need this device he calls a 'telephone' when I could send orders by magic to anyone I desire? Why do I need a mechanical ram when my fists can punch down any door or barricade?”

“Aye! Precisely!” Luna brightened a bit at this, nodding firmly in agreement, and she and Ymir studied each other thoughtfully before the sapphire mare decreed: “I like thou.”

Ymir chuckled at this, and Odin sighed and shook his head slowly before he said wryly: “Of course you two are going to get along. You both have many of the same world views: if it bothers you, just keep hitting it until it stops moving.”

“What isn't complex in life, Odin, is very simple. And even many of the complex things are only complex because of our own faults.” Ymir replied with a shrug, and then he sipped slowly at his tankard before sighing and looking down into it moodily. “What I would do for ale. We'll have to distill more water from the Voidcows.”

“And perhaps this time you can put it to better use at the forge, instead of drinking our supply away.” Odin said calmly, and the giant only shrugged in response before Odin turned his eyes back towards Luna, becoming a little more serious as he said softly: “So. What do you plan to do, Brynhild? Do you understand that there's no leaving this place?”

Luna and Scrivener looked at each other, then both glanced down, gathering their thoughts, feeling their link working for a bare moment... but that second was all they needed to trade their thoughts, their emotions, what they believed and what they wanted to believe, and the sapphire mare looked up after a moment and whispered: “No. I... there must be some way out of here, Odin. We died before, sealed away...”

“You had a warm death before, Brynhild. Your spirits were sealed in your bodies, within the poison... they never pulled free of the crystal. That was why you were able to be revived... and why now, not even a miracle could bring you back.” Odin stopped, then looked up with a sigh as a whimpering cut through the air, both Luna and Scrivener frowning at this. “Ymir?”

“It wasn't me, you canary. I think it came from the Hollows.” Ymir looked over his shoulder, then sighed and shook his head slowly, muttering: “I don't want to go back there again, whether it's a child or not. The Grips have claimed their prize.”

“What?” Luna frowned, stepping forwards and looking uneasily back and forth between the former King of the Aesir and the Jötnar Patriarch. “A child? What are these Grips, and Hollows?”

“In time, Brynhild. It's alright... no one is in danger. Danger in the Void is relative.” Odin soothed, and then he looked over his shoulder and added quietly: “We told the child not to go in there, but he ignored us. I suppose he's been terrified ever since he arrived here, though... young minds find the Nothingness... more overwhelming than we do. It's harder to control your emotions, but at the same time, we're all powerless to do anything about it... which is why despair overwhelms so many souls, so very quickly.”

Scrivener and Luna shivered a little, trading looks before Ymir shook his head and said quietly: “This is a funny place. You can't die here, unless you surrender to the Nothingness and allow it to take you... but how many souls have given up? Even Jötnar, even gods surrender.”

“Was that almost a compliment for us lowly gods, Ymir?” Odin gave the giant an entertained look, and Ymir only shrugged as he put his tankard aside, before the falcon-headed not-god shook his head slowly and said in a quieter voice: “But more of your brood remain than mine, old wolf. So few gods remain. Not even my wife is anywhere to be seen, and of my children... how is Sleipnir?”

“I do not know. Gymbr banished him from our world when we fought him...” Luna shook her head slowly, sighing softly and looking down before she shook her head vehemently. “But if he is not here, he must still be alive! He must just be... somewhere else.”

She quieted, and Scrivener Blooms looked up, studied Odin for a few moments before he said quietly: “But you have at least one child still alive. Your first daughter, I think she was.”

Odin looked up at this for a few moments, and then a faint smile crested his features. “So Hel told you, did she? She always had an interest in the Valkyries, but I never thought she would reveal that secret... but I'm glad. Perhaps it's a sign that... she will not make the same mistakes that I have.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Luna looked up and asked quietly: “All those years, Odin... all those years that we fought Helheim, all the lessons we were given, all the stories we were told about Hel, the archenemy... they were all lies, weren't they? Propaganda and stories to fuel the wars that were all of thine own creation... and Frigg... stood by. Thou made a monster of thy daughter but Frigg stood by and allowed it to happen...”

Odin looked silently down, resting his knife and flute in his lap as he closed his eyes and bowed his head forwards, and then he murmured: “Yes. I did, and she did, and that sin was the cement of our entire marriage. She could not leave me and I could not leave her: so I suppose I have Hel to thank for that as well, on top of playing her role so perfectly all those years, of... willingly being the victim to her father's foolishness.”

Scrivener and Luna both looked down, the sapphire mare shivering a little, the charcoal stallion barely able to fathom how Odin had been able to do that all those years ago... and then they both looked up again as there was another mournful cry. Ymir sighed tiredly, then he shook his head and said dourly: “I could care less about the child, Odin, but if it continues to make such a racket...”

“Oh, damn thee both, callous wretches!” Luna almost exploded, glaring from one to the other in a sudden fit of pique. “I shall go and fetch the child, then! Come, Scrivener Blooms, let us... well... where are these Hollows?”

Odin sighed and shook his head slowly, but then he only looked mildly over at Ymir, calmly holding up a hand. “No. It's pointless to argue with Brynhild when she gets an idea in her head. But the Hollows are an abandoned section of Town: it's been sealed off and taken over by parasites that normally live aboard the Voidcows, called Grips. They keep mostly to themselves, in the corpse of a Voidcow and the surrounding area, and we try to leave the Hollows alone unless we need to harvest the Grips to make weapons and silk.”

Ymir shook his head moodily, then he gestured at the double doors, saying mildly: “Tooth and claw won't do you any good here, Valkyrie, and nor will your magic work. The only way to harm creatures of the Void is with their own flesh and bones. Go ahead and help yourself to a spear, and just pray you have enough strength left to use it properly. But I don't know if all the effort is worth it to save a single little soul.”

“Thou hast our thanks.” Luna said moodily, and then she sighed and strode towards the double doors at the back of the room, reaching up and shoving them open as she muttered: “Great craven cowards. A life is still a life.”

“Don't get caught by the Grips. We won't come in to save you if they drag you off to their nest... and while you may not be able to die, you won't like them using you as food.” Ymir called helpfully, and Luna rolled her eyes as Scrivener looked uneasily at the various weapons that rested against the wall and overtop a broken table in this short hallway that apparently led into the Hollows beyond.

Luna turned her eyes to these a moment later, frowning a bit before she tried to lift one of the black, leather-wrapped spears with telekinesis... and cursed when she couldn't get so much as a spark before she sighed tiredly and stepped forwards, reaching out and picking it up. It had a crudely-knotted strap, so she shrugged and slipped it on, letting it rest across her back.

Scrivener Blooms took a spear as well, and they looked for a few moments at the other primitive-seeming weapons of bone and claws and teeth before shivering a bit and deciding to simply head onwards. The doors at the other end were heavier, and took both ponies to shove open, slipping quickly through before the heavy gates swung shut behind them.

The stallion and the sapphire mare both looked uneasily over their shoulders at this, and then they slowly gazed around the decrepit hall they had entered: it curled to one side, and had completely collapsed to their left into a hole that gaped down into Nothingness below. It made both ponies feel a little queasy, so they turned and started down the bend, keeping a distance from the rotten-looking rails around the outer edge of the hallway, neither really wanting to check if there was floor below, or if the floor had worn away into raw Void.

The hall sloped slightly upwards, although here and there the cracks in the floor had caused the ground to form into stairs or it had simply fallen away. They also noticed that here and there, sticky splatters of silk had been left hanging, and that some of these formed distinct, long strings and the beginnings of what could almost be webs. And the further they ascended this slowly-spiraling hall, the more they saw.

Then something clattered loudly, and there was a skittering sound behind a half-ajar door to the right that was blocked by a pile of rubble, gravel rolling down off this as Luna and Scrivener both stared for a moment at the passage. The two ponies traded uneasy looks, and then they both turned to look up towards what looked like the end of the hall... or at least, as far as they could go, thanks to the fact the floor had collapsed away and the ceiling was hanging in tatters, like something had gnawed a hole through it.

But a second later, both ponies looked up sharply as they heard the child's cry: much, much louder, and much closer as well. They both spun towards an open archway, where it looked like something had torn through a silken web and left it in broken tatters, and the mare and stallion both ducked quickly through this and hurried forwards towards the source of the cries.

They shot down the narrow hall, stumbling a little over the uneven ground and the sticky threads that covered it like roots, before bursting into a circular room with a broken, cracked floor and a ceiling covered in silk.

A small form was struggling wildly, trying to squirm through the rubble blocking the doorway on the other side of the room, but it clearly wasn't getting anywhere. But Luna and Scrivener's attention was quickly drawn to the other creatures in the room, who were slowly creeping up on the child: ugly, scaly green beasts that stood on four large limbs that looked almost like fingers, each ending in a cracked nail. Ashen, dirty capes floated around their fat bodies, forming shawls and hoods around thin, vulture-like heads, and they had elongated arms that ended in large, long-fingered hands.

They looked like giant hand-taurs, that instead of ending in wrists, had those supernaturally-thin bodies and freakish vulture-heads. They stalked slowly towards their wriggling, caught prey, then all of them shrieked when Luna stomped forwards and roared: “Get away from him!”

The monsters spun around, and one immediately lunged towards the sapphire mare: but Luna was quick, dropping her shoulder and ramming forwards to smash herself into the Grip-

She bounced off like she was lighter than air, even if the Grip seemed surprised, and Luna cursed as she rolled across the ground. Scrivener Blooms stared at her with disbelief, then cursed as he quickly shrugged off the spear as another Grip skittered in towards him, hissing loudly as the stallion gritted his teeth, then stabbed the weapon forwards.

The bone tip at the end ripped into the Grip's shoulder, sending up a spray of watery blood, and the Grip squealed and hurriedly retreated. The others warily scattered backwards as well, Luna picking herself up and shrugging her own spear off as she growled: “We must kill these freakish aberrations quickly, Scrivener Blooms, before more of these pack-parasites-”

She was cut off as a Grip leaned forwards, and both ponies stared in surprise as its front 'fingers' began to click and tap quickly in front of it, bleeding a whitish substance from beneath its nails that Luna realized almost too late was silk before it suddenly snapped both front finger-limbs forwards, launching a crude bola of sticky string at the mare. Luna ducked beneath this with a wince, then leapt forwards, flapping her wings hard and thrusting the spear out at the parasite's breast.

She didn't launch herself very far in the airlessness of the Void, but all the same, the spear tore into the Grip's body and she was able to shove the weapon deep, the monster screaming as its head lashed back and forth before it unceremoniously fell forwards. Its weight knocked the spear out of Luna's hooves and sent her sprawling, the sapphire mare cursing, but Scrivener Blooms was already moving quickly forwards, shouting as he stabbed outwards at the parasites.

The beasts squealed and screamed at them, but when Scrivener's spear managed to knock a thin wound in the breast of one and Luna forced herself up to her hooves, the parasites shrieked and turned to flee. Scrivener and Luna watched the three Grips scattered up the walls and out through the archway, and the ponies traded relieved looks before Luna muttered: “Damned pack-maggots. Scrivy, go retrieve the foal, let us ensure 'tis not hurt.”

Scrivener nodded a little, tossing his spear down and giving one last look at the corpse of the Grip Luna had managed to kill before he strode quickly over to the little creature trying to scramble through the wall. He reached out and gently gripped it with a Talon, pulling it back as he tilted his head curiously at its strange shape...

It stumbled, almost whipping around, and it seemed to stare up at him as Scrivener stared back in disbelief. He shook his head weakly, mouthing wordlessly for a few moments before whispering: “You. But... you're...”

He Of Many Countless Faces cowered, the size of a small child, a whimper escaping it that vibrated strangely through the air. Its inky body was pale and coagulated in the nonexistence of the Void, and that strange white splatter over its face was pulsing wildly as Luna strode slowly forwards and looked down at the creature, not knowing what to think... nor knowing what to do.

There was silence for a few moments, and Luna's eyes shifted down, towards the spear beneath one hoof. She pushed down against it, flexing a little, tempted to ram it forwards through this tiny, terrified thing... and then she cursed quietly and lowered her head, muttering: “No, it... it would be useless, as we have seen. And I will not... I will not... damnation.”

She and Scrivener looked at He Of Many Countless Faces, before the sapphire mare sighed tiredly and looked over at Scrivener Blooms, saying finally: “Let us... let us bring him back to Odin, Scrivy.” A pause, and then she frowned, saying uneasily: “Scrivy? Scrivener Blooms, listen to me.”

But Scrivener was only staring down at the child, his Talon gripping tight into its shoulder even as it shifted and helplessly tried to pull away, his other claw trembling against the ground before he clenched his eyes shut as Luna carefully, gently gripped into his shoulder and leaned in by his ear, whispering into it: “Cease. We must bring him back to Odin. He will perhaps know what to do, better than we do. We are too... close.”

“I... yeah. And this is... does anything in this Void even really matter?” Scrivener muttered bitterly, his claw squeezing tightly into He Of Many Countless Faces before he finally sighed and slowly relaxed his grip, looking moodily down at the broken entity. “What the hell even are you, anyway? Do you even understand what's going on?”

He Of Many Countless Faces simply looked back and forth, the creature hugging itself and looking... frightened, Luna thought. She sighed a little, then shifted a little before finally nodding and carefully reaching out to pick the creature up and place it on Scrivener's back.

The former God of Light grabbed immediately into the charcoal stallion's mane, seeming to stare back and forth as Scrivener Blooms grumbled and lowered his head. Luna smiled a bit at how sulky the stallion looked before she swept up their spears, strapping them on as she said softly: “Come now, Scrivy. We will at least get answers before... finding our place here.”

Scrivener sighed a little and nodded briefly, and Luna smiled a bit before she and the stallion turned to head back the way they came. Thankfully, it was an uneventful trip, although Luna noted a few Grips seemed to be stalking them nervously: less like they were waiting to ambush them, though, and more like the parasites wanted to be sure they were leaving.

Getting the heavy doors they'd come in through back open was a little tricky, but Luna finally managed to use a spear to wedge them apart and let Scrivener hop through, so he could shove one door the rest of the way ajar and hold it for the mare to pass quickly inside. She sighed in relief, simply tossing the spears aside and grumbling as she and the stallion headed out into the room, even as her ears twitched at the soft hum of a flute playing.

Odin was calmly playing the instrument, while Ymir was now sitting back and sharpening a black stone knife that glowed with dangerous-looking runes. Scrivener shivered at just the sight of this, while Luna glowered at Odin until he finally came to a stop and smiled a bit, letting the flute settle in his lap. “I see you've returned with the child.”

“Child, pah. This is no mere child, but the god responsible for our deaths.” Luna said flatly, but Odin looked unfettered, and Ymir only glanced up moodily for a moment before turning his eyes back down to the knife he was sharpening. “Does thou know him, Odin? He Of Many Countless Faces, True God of Light or whatnot, and many other titles are all apparently his to bear. He-”

“The world we lived in doesn't matter anymore, Brynhild. It's only a child now... although that distinction itself means little.” Odin shrugged slowly, smiling a bit over at Ymir. “There's no reason to carry any more conflicts on, past the end of our lives. And nothing to be gained from it but self-destruction, in any event... revenge wastes so much energy that it only invites dissolution.”

“Nay, Odin. What we still have left are answers, answers to the questions we asked in life, but never found... and... and I will not give up!” Luna said suddenly, looking up as Scrivener Blooms shifted a bit, but rose his own head after a moment in agreement. “Did the Jötnar not escape the Void, if only for long enough to drag Valthrudnir to his just reward? If others fall into the Nothingness as we did, does it not mean that others may escape through those very same such holes? Do the Hræzla not sometimes escape into our realities?”

“It is not wise to call to a bear in its own cavern.” Ymir said moodily, and then the Jötnar shook his head slowly and added quietly: “What do you want us to tell you? Woman, I don't know any more how the Jötnar came to accidentally make the gods and first mortals now than I did back when it happened. Even now, with everything over... I don't know all the answers. And you shouldn't want to, either: leave that to fools like Valthrudnir and his pony-child Thesis, who would criticize every miracle and scoff at every mystery.”

Luna shook her head slowly, then she looked over her shoulder at He Of Many Countless Faces, saying finally, struggling for the right words: “That is not... I... I just... I feel that I must know! It connects, somehow... do not ask me how, but I feel that if I can find the truth, then I can perhaps find an escape from... Scrivy and I do not belong here!”

“Knowing the answers will not free you from what happened to you, Brynhild.” Odin said quietly, and then he shook his head slowly before looking at He Of Many Countless Faces, saying gently: “If I tell you that he is just a child who wanted a family, and tried too hard to create one of his own... does it change anything? Does it alleviate your anger, or sharpen your bitterness?”

Luna dropped her head forwards, and then Scrivener Blooms shook his head a little, his eyes lowering even as he felt this child on his back clinging into his mane for dear life, felt its trembles, heard its psychic whimper before he murmured: “It's not... it's not that it's not fair. I guess it's just... all this anger, and this despair, and... wishing we could do something, anything, to get home...”

The sapphire mare smiled faintly in agreement, then she looked up at Odin and said quietly: “We just do not wish to show it mercy. Any more than we desire to believe...”

She quieted, looking down, and Odin smiled faintly before he replied tactfully: “I know, Brynhild. But if you pick and choose to show mercy when it best suits yourself and your own feelings, then it's not really mercy, is it?”

Luna looked down at this, grinding her teeth together slowly, shifting back and forth... and then she sighed softly and mumbled finally: “Very well, old lech. Then what will you have us do with the... I am not saying his wretched name. Inky, is more what he looks like, with his damnable facelessness; so what will thou have us do with Inky?”

“Ymir?” Odin glanced up curiously, and Ymir shrugged a little before finally nodding, even if he looked uncertain. But the god only smiled, saying quietly: “It's for the best. And what would you do, given my situation?”

“If everything you've told me about the Valkyrie is true – and I still have my doubts – then I would probably want them both helping on the next expedition. Not send them chasing after a wild hope.” Ymir replied moodily, and then he reached out and easily plucked He Of Many Countless Faces off Scrivener's back, dropping him on a knee with a quiet sigh and looking down at the entity. “Pure energy. He might be able to do it.”

“What? Do what?” Luna asked quickly, looking up and feeling a sudden spark of hope, and Scrivener Blooms tilted his own head with a frown.

“The Jötnar do not die. We only... after years and years... dissolve into energy. That is why our powers work... and this little one, he too is energy. But he is not Jötnar, and I do not think he is really a god, either, are you boy? Maybe he's faith, idealized.” Ymir said softly, and he gently poked the creature a few times with his knife, the child shifting awkwardly and pushing a little at Ymir, but the Jötnar only chuckled quietly. “Stop that, lad. This knife wouldn't kill you. Death, it seems, is not so simple for any of us.”

“Thou thinks he can... find a way out? Or open one, perchance, that we could return to life?” Luna asked eagerly, and Odin shrugged slowly before trading another look with Ymir.

“No. I don't think you can live again... but you may still be able to die.” Odin responded musingly, and both ponies looked up, not understanding before the god suddenly looked over at Ymir, saying quietly: “They deserve this, Ymir. I owe them this, and they haven't been in the Void long enough for their spirits to have decayed permanently. We can still save them.”

Ymir sighed, looking at Odin for a few moments before he simply nodded: Luna began to open her mouth, to question, even as her eyes drew towards the giant... and she stared in horror as he spun his knife around and seized He Of Many Countless Faces by the head in his other hand, jerking it backwards and yanking the blade roughly across the child's throat, and the runes flashed brightly before a torrent of energy exploded from the wound.

Odin only calmly rose his flute to his beak, beginning to play a sonorous, echoing melody as Ymir held the struggling, convulsing He Of Many Countless Faces up by his head, energy gushing from his neck into a swirling torrent as Luna stared in disbelief, then shouted: “What in Mimir's name art thou doing? By the Gods, thou pleas mercy for him, then promises not to harm him, then does this? Cowards, fools! Wretches and outlaws!”

“I did not say I would not hurt him. Only that I would not kill him, Valkyrie. This is all for your benefit, so shut up.” Ymir said moodily, as the child continue to twist and jerk in his grip, and Odin only played the song onwards. Luna cursed as Scrivener stared in horror, and then his eyes widened as the hum of the song grew louder, and the swirl of energy grew larger in response, the Void quaking around them and the passage flexing like an eye that was struggling to open, like lips that were struggling to part as the energy responded eagerly to the music of the god, while the Jötnar literally seemed to be squeezing it out of He Of Many Countless Faces-

And too late, Scrivener and Luna realized they were being pulled by something before both ponies stared into the vortex as it became a black, endless hole, and a moment later, they were both consumed by it, feeling like their bodies were being torn apart, their spirits were being dragged out of their bodies as they whirled through chaos and darkness and light, only able to desperately reach out and cling to one another's hoof...

And in the Void, Odin's song came to an end, the flute cutting off before it shattered into splinters as the god winced to the side, and the flow of energy halted as He Of Many Countless Faces fell limp, dangling weakly from Ymir's grip as the wound in its throat closed. The giant looked moodily down at the colorless child, then he slapped him gently a few times with the flat of his knife, saying mildly: “Now none of that. Your strength will come back, unless you give up and surrender to death. But we have no room on this ship for weaklings.”

“Says the Jötnar who went out of his way only days ago to play with the younglings.” Odin remarked wryly as the giant set the child down on his knee, absently wiping a few splinters away from his face before he smiled a little over at him. “But it's no failing, Ymir, to have gotten a little softer.”

“I suppose it's because I can no longer kill or step on whatever annoys me. And besides, younglings today are tomorrow's warriors. Better that they learn to respect and be loyal to me now than I am forced to teach them respect when they are older and harder.” Ymir replied flippantly, and then he patted He Of Many Countless Faces on the head once.

Odin only smiled again at this, giving the giant an entertained look before he responded calmly: “But you realize that the younglings here will never grow old, yes?”

“Oh quiet.” Ymir replied with a dismissive flick of the knife, and then he hesitated before resting a hand on the stunned, slack entity's shoulder. “I know it's too late to take it back... but still, grandson. I question what you've done here. And I question your motives, too.”

Odin laughed quietly, shaking his head slowly before he lowered his gaze and murmured: “I would be lying if I said they were pure. My hope is that they'll protect my daughter, Ymir. And my hope is that they'll protect these worlds that I owe so much to... they are all I can give to the worlds, and all I can do for my people. Do you understand that, Patriarch?”

“I do. I still remember, that fateful, foolish day... fighting Surt in Muspell, and emerging triumphant but not unscathed, to find you waiting for me. Asking to parley... but the only language you spoke came from your blade.” Ymir halted, looking down and saying softly: “I find it strange, how bitter I still am over that quarrel... knowing I would have done the same myself. We're a race of father-and-son killing bastards, Odin. But at least you're trying to protect what little you have left.”

“I could not do it without you, though, Ymir. And for that, I cannot thank you enough. You could have denied me, and used that portal to return to the world.” the old, former god said quietly, and Ymir chuckled softly and shook his head slowly.

“Returned to what? Without the Clan I died for? Without friend, or family, or reason to exist? I am no Valthrudnir, looking to sate my own ego... at least, not anymore. No, I died. I accept how I died, it was fitting, and it's in death beyond death that I seem to have found my calling.” The Frost Giant smiled a little, looking down at He Of Many Countless Faces, squeezing the child's shoulder gently. “Now you, little one. I know it's strange, to be in a place where you know this is the end, and there's nothing more for you. But believe you me: there's no better time than now to find how you fit into the grand puzzle. But stay with us, and you'll understand.”

He Of Many Countless Faces only looked up, but Ymir smiled and shrugged, and then Odin reached out and gently touched the entity's arm, saying softly: “The depth of honor is shown in the mercies you do not wish to give. That is the first lesson you have been taught from Brynhild and her husband. Now, learn from us old fools who were once more like you than you may believe. Town will always need a caretaker... Inky, did Brynhild call you? Well, let us teach you, and we will see what you can learn.”

The entity only looked back and forth, in clear confusion... and yet all the same, Ymir and Odin both smiled. Strange as the creature was... they had taught stranger, and stronger, and weaker all alike. And they would continue to teach, whether their students learned or not, until someone came to take their place, and teach new generations not to follow old follies.

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