• Published 7th Sep 2013
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Glory Be - BlackRoseRaven



Luna and Scrivener struggle to set right all the wrongs from their past and save their family and friends. Tenth and final story in the Blooming Moon Chronicles/99 Worlds Saga.

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The Pre-Show

Chapter Five: The Pre-Show
~BlackRoseRaven

Luna Brynhild hummed absently to herself as she calmly polished one of her two spears: the nine foot pole had a spiral of runes etched all along its length, made of a fantastic, near-indestructible metal known as gianttooth. But the body of the weapon was nothing compared to its tip: locked tight in a ring of the same metal was Luna's own alicorn horn, lost during a battle but now put to use in a new way that let her keep it, in a sense, as part of her own body. She had always treated her Valkyrie weapons as part of herself, after all.

Luna glanced up and smiled at Scrivener Blooms, who was grumbling and had his claws unfolded so he could clean a much-more complex weapon: Sting Mk. II. It was a weapon of the modern age, a rifle with a rectangular, fortified barrel with a weighted, thick underside and an attached, six-inch double-edged bayonet. The stock and handle were enlarged to be comfortably gripped and utilized by a pony's hoof, with a large, revolving cylinder that could hold up to four different bullets at once. Apple Bloom had given her the first version of Sting, then heavily improved upon the design to create the cherished Mk. II.

It was currently disassembled in front of the stallion, who was cleaning it piece-by-piece as he tried to remember which part went where. He was pointedly doing his best to ignore Luna's occasional, clearly 'accidental' pokes at him with her spear, which he couldn't help but think was all the more fitting bore the name Prúðbikkja. That name described Luna all too well.

Luna huffed loudly, then she poked firmly at Scrivener a few times as the speartip sparked at him, but the stallion grimaced and slapped at this, warding it off. And a few feet away from them, Twilight Sparkle rolled her eyes where she was cleaning Luna's other spear, Andlitstingar: a much simpler weapon with a nine foot long, tensile alloy pole and simple diamond tip, but which had the advantage of being able to collapse into a baton. “I really shouldn't have to be the one to tell you two this, but these are very serious, very dangerous weapons...”

“Aye, and they are also pieces of mine own self, Twilight Sparkle, which means that they are also fun when 'tis possible. Dangerous fun, but fun.” Luna said mildly, and then she brought her spear up and bopped Scrivener firmly with it, making him wince. “Besides, we may tell foals not to play with fire and take away their matches, but 'tis only so that we may then set off great firecrackers and colored flames and other marvelous pyrotechnics.”

Twilight sighed tiredly and shook her head slowly, opening her mouth to argue... but she was interrupted when Innocence came bounding into the room, looking anxiously back and forth before she asked impatiently: “Aren't you guys ready yet? Come on, we gotta go to Clinker's party! We gotta go and get everything ready!”

Scrivener looked blankly at Innocence, her form polymorphed to make herself look more pony, while Luna only huffed and said: “Clinker does not have friends. We are the entire party, so 'tis safe to say that we shall not miss it.”

“Mutt!” Innocence whined loudly, and then she huffed and spun around, heading back into her room with a grumble as Twilight and Scrivy both looked flatly at Luna.

Luna only looked defiantly back, then she rolled her eyes and grumbled, tossing her spear into the air. It floated for a moment as the alicorn horn tip glowed, and then it burst into blue flames before dropping down behind one of the winged unicorn's ears in the shape of a fountain pen, as she said grumpily: “Oh fine, fine. Then we are most of the party. And 'tis not anything mean, besides, 'tis simply... the simple truth.”

Scrivener rolled his eyes, then he carefully began to reassemble the large gun as Twilight twisted Andlitstingar and collapsed it down into a baton, the Lich noting: “Yes, but you know how protective Innocence is of him. It's very important for us to try and extend a sense of... of friendship and positivity towards all of Innocence's friends.”

“Yeah, all one of my friends.” Innocence's voice floated sulkily out of her room, and the adults traded lame looks before Innocence added moodily: “So I really really don't want to show up late. Because I really don't want to lose my only friend.”

“You have more friends than Clinker, Innocence.” Twilight tried to encourage as she hopped up to her hooves, dropping Andlitstingar to head towards her daughter's room. Luna huffed, but Scrivener smiled a little over his shoulder as the Lich leaned hesitantly into the doorway.

Innocence looked up with bit of a pout from her bed, and Twilight softened as she saw beneath the angst and saw the honest worry and hurt. Sure, Sin had her faults and her virtues, but... she was also a sixteen year old girl who had one friend in a world that almost ran on friendship. The Lich sighed a little, then she strode up to the side of the bed and sat down beside it, smiling a little as she said softly: “When I was your age, I didn't have many friends either. It really wasn't until I was an adult that I started making friends... and a lot of the friends I made, I carried through my entire life. I'm good at getting along with ponies, but I don't know if I really am that good at the... the magic of friendship.”

Twilight laughed as Innocence only cocked her head curiously, but the violet mare shook her head and murmured: “Sorry, I guess it's kind of a... an inside joke these days. What I mean is that... you're going to find your friends, Innocence, as long as you hold on and keep looking. They're out there. And your family is always going to be here for you, too.”

Innocence nodded a little, glancing down and shifting hesitantly before the young unicorn brought her eyes up and asked quietly: “But what about after... you became different? I mean, Móðer and Daddy are different too, but... I know that they can keep it hidden. You can't, and... I mean...”

The young mare shifted a bit, then she sat up and sighed, looking down at one of her claws as she flexed it slowly before mumbling: “I hate that I was born like this. Born such a freak.”

“You are not a freak. Don't ever think that, okay?” Twilight said quietly but firmly, striding forwards and sitting down beside her daughter, and Sin shifted a bit before she lowered her head and nodded with a mumble. The Lich gazed at her softly, then she smiled faintly and reached up, touching her daughter's shoulder gently. “Look, after I became a Lich... my real friends stayed with me, and more than that... I met some of the greatest people I've had the fortune to ever know, too. Like Burning Desire, or Morning Glory.”

“I know, but they're demons and... not normal people.” Innocence said after a moment, and Twilight smiled again but let it slide for now: she knew what the young mare meant. She sat back, letting Sin wrestle with her own thoughts for a moment before she looked up and asked finally: “Am I... should I just try and make friends with demons, then? Should I just give up on mortals?”

Twilight shook her head at this, saying softly: “Like I said. Some of my best friends stayed with me even after I changed... almost all of them mortals. Look at... look at Cowlick, and Ross, and Rosewood and Scutum... there's a lot of good people out there, Innocence. And I know that sometimes it doesn't seem that way, because the people you don't want to deal with are always louder, are always trying to block you from seeing that there's plenty of other people out there... but you're strong. You can push past the bullies and the bigots and the idiots. I know you can.”

Innocence smiled a little and nodded, and then she lowered her head with a sigh before she mumbled: “Okay. Well. Then can I please head into town myself, if you guys are going to be busy still? I really want to be there for Clinker.”

“Fear not, Sin, Scrivy is just about done putting Sting back together, and I have already gathered what foodstuff we are supposed to bring.” Luna strode up into the doorway of Innocence's room, and the unicorn brightened as she sat up, looking past her mother towards her Móðer. “Does thou have his gift?”

“Yep!” Innocence said brightly, leaping off the bed and snatching up a satchel bag to throw over her back, and then she bounced past Twilight Sparkle and almost ran into Luna, who laughed and caught her easily in a one legged hug for a moment. Then Innocence slipped past, and Luna gave a lame grin and a faint blush as Twilight only looked wryly at the sapphire mare for a few moments, the Lich doing her best to ignore that awkward twist of almost-jealousy inside her.

But she shook it off after a few seconds, standing up and striding over to Luna, and they shared a quiet, gentle kiss for a moment before the violet mare let her head drop forwards and rest against Luna's shoulder, as the mare nuzzled her quietly. “You need to teach me how you get along with her so well, Luna.”

“Well, it helps that she's the moon. Gravity and all.” Scrivener said ironically, and Luna slowly glared over her shoulder at Scrivener as Twilight smiled a little despite herself. “Oh sorry, dearest. I didn't mean to imply that you're fat. You're pretty.”

“I am very pretty.” Luna grumbled, and then she muttered: “And I am not fat. Thou art fat. Thy fat head is fat. Fat headed Scrivener Blooms.”

Scrivener only shrugged amiably, and the Lich leaned forwards, nudging the sapphire mare gently with her shoulder. “Come on, Luna. Let's get going before Innocence runs to town without us. This is important to her.”

“I know, I know!” Luna groaned, throwing her head back and rolling her eyes, and then she grunted at Scrivener as he approached, Sting Mk. II pieced back together and resting in a rune-covered leather holster over the stallion's back. “Bring that with us. We shall shoot things.”

The stallion looked dryly at Luna, and the sapphire mare gazed pointedly back before the charcoal stallion mumbled: “Fantastic. Because the other parents in Ponyville don't already hate us enough as it is.”

“They hate thou, and 'tis not my fault they do. Thou art a terrible conversationalist.” Luna replied, spinning on one hoof and striding towards the door, and Scrivener rolled his eyes before the sapphire mare added: “And besides, we have promised to provide entertainment, have we not? Therefore, let us provide the best entertainment we know how!”

“I don't think Bean Counter actually thought we were going to do anything. I think he was just agreeing with you so you'd go away, because you both scare him a little.” Twilight said pointedly as she followed Scrivener and Luna outside, and Scrivy shrugged agreeably as Luna only huffed loudly over her shoulder.

They strode across the deck, Twilight absently flicking her horn to close the door behind them before the Lich smiled a little at the sight of Innocence waiting eagerly in the yard. She wasn't entirely alone, though: she had been joined by the smallest member of their odd family, who chirped loudly at them as he hopped up and down on the young mare's head as she bounced excitedly on her hooves. “Come on, come on, come on!”

“You coming too, Abaddon? Usually you like roaming around, pretending you're the boss of these woods because everything intelligent here knows that trying to eat you will end up getting blasted by one of us.” Scrivener said mildly, and the tiny pseudodragon on Innocence's head huffed and leaned forwards: it had black scales over most of its body, but a rubbery white underbelly. Its sapphire eyes glowered at Scrivener, clearly showing it was intelligent enough to understand at least the tone of what was being said to it, and its wings stretched out as it tried to make itself look intimidating, tiny crown of horns gleaming and tail snapping back and forth like a cat's... but it was all rather ruined when it made a little growl that sounded like a kitten's purr.

The stallion cleared his throat, while their daughter glanced up with a giggle before she shook her head quickly and stomped a claw against the ground several times, saying quickly: “Okay, let's go, we can go now, right?”

“Calm down, Sin.” Twilight smiled and shook her head slowly, then she glanced over her daughter before turning her eyes towards her family. Luna and Scrivener both nodded... and then the stallion winced when Abaddon flung himself through the air to smack loudly into his face and cling to his features with a huff.

Scrivener did his best to ignore the pseudodragon attached to his face as Innocence shifted back and forth on her hooves, tossing little looks over her shoulder now and then while the Lich double-checked that they had everything. Then the violet mare finally nodded, saying: “You can go ahead to Clinker's, and we'll go to Sugar Cube Corners to picked up the cake like we promised, and-”

“Okay! See you there!” Innocence said brightly, spinning around and sprinting down the path, and Twilight blinked and stared after the mare as Luna laughed and Scrivener shook his head in entertainment, then reached up and awkwardly pried the stubborn pseudodragon off his features.

He dropped Abaddon to the field, and the little reptile huffed at him before scurrying quickly over to Luna and up one of her legs to her shoulder. He sat himself down and glowered pointedly over at the stallion, who looked dryly back at him as the three ponies started to make their way towards the path and into town for this festive occasion that they were doing their best to try and be excited about.

It wasn't that any of them disliked Clinker, it was... parental frustration, maybe. Here they all were, trying to help out a kid that would probably have quite a big party: yes, Innocence would probably be the only guest, but Bean Counter spared no expense for his son. And furthermore, this would be his son's eighteenth birthday, and Scrivener and Luna both were really not looking forwards to attempting to mingle with Clinker's family.

Innocence apparently ran full-tilt all the way to Ponyville, because they didn't catch up with her on the path or even see her ahead by the time they reached the end of the trail through the Everfree Forest. Of course, Twilight was now the one anxious to stay on schedule, while Luna and Scrivener were loitering a little, both trying to come up with excuses as to why they wouldn't be able to stay for very long.

It was about noon as they made their way towards Sugar Cube Corners, the most popular bakery and candy shop in Ponyville. But as they were walking through the streets, the ponies glanced up with surprise to see two familiar faces heading down the road, one of them belonging to a certain pony they hadn't seen for years now. “Avalon? Is it truly thee?”

“I... oh, hi, Scrivener, Luna, Twilight!” Avalon smiled awkwardly, blushing a little as she flitted towards them. Tender Trust followed behind the tiny Pegasus, bowing her head respectfully, and Luna grinned widely as she marveled over the mare that her family had known since she'd been a baby. “Uh... been a while, yeah?”

“Did you get to see Antares and Aphrodisia last night?” Twilight asked curiously, and when Avalon cleared her throat and nodded lamely a few times, Luna leaned forwards eagerly.

“Well, tell me more!” the sapphire mare said pointedly, but when Avalon only looked at her awkwardly, the mare huffed loudly. “Oh come now, thou cannot have gotten into that much trouble. A strip club? Drunken debauchery? Believe me when I say that no matter what thou wert up to, Avalon, in the past mine brother and I indulged far, far worse.”

Avalon winced at this, shaking her head rapidly as she said hurriedly: “No, nothing like that, seriously no! It was just that... well, uh... yeah, we got pretty drunk, but... I ended up coming here and... woke up in the barn instead of apartment in Canterlot...”

The tiny mare stopped, hesitated, then asked on impulse: “Hey, uh... if you had a choice between a really great job, getting looked up to, feeling like you're finally somepony, you're finally an adult... and comin' home, to everything that's familiar and that you've kind of maybe missed in spite of what a big shot you are in the big city... what would you choose?”

Scrivener and Twilight both smiled as Luna only laughed loudly, and Avalon frowned before the sapphire mare said mildly: “Avalon, thou art speaking to a pony who was once Princess of Equestria, but abandoned all that to flee into a cottage in exile. Aye, I would give up anything to... to be home, with those I care for.”

She looked back and forth, softening, before the starry-maned mare shook her head and added gently: “But thou art not me. Thou art thou, and it sounds as if thou shall have to make an important decision for thyself in the future. Look at what thou art truly doing with thyself and do not just think of what will make thee happy for the short term, but what shall fulfill thee over the long term. Think hard on it, and remember to act with honor.”

“I... that's a lot to think about.” Avalon grumbled, but she nodded and sighed, rubbing a hoof through her short, bristly mane before she muttered: “Fantastic. And by the way, your son's a jerk.”

“Then I have raised him right.” Luna grinned widely and winked over at the Pegasus, who groaned and rolled her eyes before the sapphire mare added cheerfully: “I know! Thou should come with us to Clinker's birthday party! 'Twould make it much less boring.”

“Uh. What?” Avalon asked dumbly, and then she shook her head, pointing awkwardly away and saying lamely: “Look, I really have to get going, okay? I mean... there's kind of a billion things I gotta get done, and a lot to think about, and uh-”

“I'll let thou shoot my gun.” Luna wheedled, and Abaddon whimpered as both Scrivener and Twilight Sparkle stared over at the starry-maned mare.

Avalon only scowled, however, saying flatly: “You know I'm not just some dumb kid anymore, right? I'm the Captain of the Thunderbolts. I don't treat weapons like toys anymore, that's just a waste of ammunition and time and makes the whole unit look bad.”

“Oh, wonderful. Thou hast become a little Celestia.” Luna retorted, looking ruffled before she rose her head in the air and sniffed loudly, brushing past as Scrivener and Twilight awkwardly followed. “Well, very well then! Go off and deal with thy silly sordid business, I shall be rude and undisciplined and stupid and we shall see who has the last laugh.”

Luna accented this with a loud 'ha!' before she headbutted the door of Sugar Cube Corners open, and Twilight gave one lame, last apologetic look over her shoulder as Scrivener only sighed and let his head drop forwards. But the moment they were inside the shop, Luna seemed to immediately forget about Avalon as she turned her eyes towards the counter at the front of the store, bouncing gleefully up to it as the pink mare behind the counter glanced up and smiled. “Hey, guys! Hey, big twin sister, they're here!”

A shout from the kitchen told them Pinkamena was busy with something, but her twin sister only laughed before turning warm eyes back towards her friends, looking at them overtop perpetually-broken glasses held tightly on with a thick strap. She was a little too thin despite the fact she lived mostly off sugar and sweets – which made her sparkling, perfect teeth a bit of an odd sight as well – and her cotton-candy mane and tail had thinned out some over the years, making them less of a wild tangle and more of a shallow nest.

She was growing older. All the ponies of Ponyville were getting older, except for Luna and Scrivener and Twilight and a few others, who were unable to do anything but sit back and watch it happen. And some days it was hard, while other days it was difficult to believe that these ponies were...

Twilight shook her head quickly, then she turned a smile back up to Pinkie Pie, who awkwardly adjusted her glasses before she gazed brightly over at Scrivener. He smiled at her lamely, feeling a little dumb and embarrassed behind his own: his were just glass lenses, after all, and he wore them because Luna liked them on him. Not because he was losing his vision, like Pinkie Pie. “I really don't know how you can keep yours so intact still, Scrivy, I broke mine again just the other day!”

She was loud, but not just because Pinkie Pie was Pinkie Pie: she was a little deaf. Luna only smiled warmly at her, though, and Twilight did her best to smile, too: this was just hard for her, seeing her friends like this, faced with their mortality and feeling like she couldn't do anything to help them. The Lich knew that it was difficult for Luna, too, but Luna had spent her life immortal, and seen five hundred years of this in the past... not that Twilight thought her experiences with seeing society and ponies change and grow and pass on made it easy to deal with. She knew it didn't.

Pinkie Pie turned towards her, and the two looked at each other for a moment before the still bright-pink mare said kindly: “You're lookin' real well, Twilight. I'm real happy to see that... hey, did you hear about Avalon? She's going to be taking over Sweet Apple Acres!”

“We figured as much. She seems to have a difficult choice ahead of herself, and I pray that she makes the right one.” Luna said softly, and the ponies glanced from one another before the starry-maned mare added thoughtfully: “'Twould do her good to come back, though. She may be less of a Celestia if she returns to the farm.”

“Hey, your big sister is really nice these days.” Pinkie pointed out, and Luna grumbled and tilted her head back and forth even as the friendly earth pony continued: “She's always coming in here, buying treats for herself and Bob, and she buys all sorts of baked goods to just give away to ponies who visit the library, and she always pays way more than she has to, and-”

“Will you stop trying to suck up, sissy?” asked Pinkamena crankily as she emerged through the swinging doors leading in from the kitchen, and Pinkie Pie gave her twin sibling a flat look before the demon glowered over at the three guests and their pet. “What the hell are you here for? The goddamn store isn't even open today.”

“What? Lemon Drop, we can't just close the store because we feel like it!” Pinkie Pie complained, and then she turned to walk around the plain, polished marble counter, but Pinkamena simply sat down in her path and crossed her forelegs, refusing to move.

Pinkie Pie huffed at this, then turned and strode quickly in the other direction, past the racks filled with fresh-baked goods and into the half of the store clearly run by her less-friendly sibling: here, the counters were painted black, the shelves were left purposefully off-kilter or slanted, and the decorations were of a much more horrific nature while the food items were all shaped like body parts, bones, and other items that followed the dark theme.

But the store's schizophrenic quality was a large part of what drew in so many customers, and why they were so popular. And, even if Pinkamena would never admit it, she was proud of this place she had run with her twin sister for many years now, and almost entirely by themselves: they had two assistants, but the twins still did all the baking and preparation on their own.

Pinkie dropped low and wiggled her way beneath the divider at the end of the counter, wheezing a little before she popped through despite the fact that Scrivener was very sure the little space she'd squeezed through was far too small for the average pony to fit into. But Pinkie only smiled as she stood up and shook herself out: maybe she could no longer bounce like she used to, but she was still plenty spry and flexible for her age.

Pinkamena only sighed tiredly as Pinkie Pie strode triumphantly towards the door, and the demon's eyes flickered with softness for a moment before her gaze turned sour again as she looked at the trio and their pet. “You're here for the weird kid's cake, right? Fine, I got it in back, along with a box of goodies that sissy insisted we make up. It's probably just a bunch of balloons, since she has to put her trademark flank everywhere.”

Pinkie Pie only looked mildly at her twin sister over her shoulder as she flipped the sign on the door to 'Open,' and then she glanced after a moment at her cutie mark of yellow and blue balloons before asking curiously: “Can't a whole bunch of ponies have the same cutie mark? It's funny, I never really thought about that.”

“Maybe if they were background ponies or stock characters, but all you moneymakers are unique and copyrighted.” said a mild voice, and all eyes looked up with surprise before Luna grinned widely and Twilight smiled despite herself at the sight of the Draconequus complacently seated on the ceiling. His inverted white pupils studied them thoughtfully, black eyes flicking back and forth as his draconic, red-scaled features furrowed in thought. “Although of course, some of the background characters are now rather unique specimens of their own. It's rather funny what people will cling to, isn't it?”

“Get the hell off my ceiling. I just washed that.” Pinkamena said irritably, and then she added acidly: “And you tell your goddamn mistress she owes me eighty goddamn bits. I ain't making these donuts just so she can give them away to stupid foals who probably smear crap all over her precious books, you hear me Discombobulation?”

The chimerical creature sniffed, then arched his back and casually somersaulted off the ceiling to land primly on his mismatched giraffe and feline legs. He smiled pleasantly as his long, purple kangaroo tail flicked to the side, then he crossed his arms over his black scaled chest: one of these had a gray skinned hand and was covered in shaggy orange fur, while the other was completely different even from the rest of the chaotic creature: it was made of shaped and interlocked metal, designed to look and function as much as possible like a real limb, from dexterous, claw-shaped and complex hand to the rounded cusp that locked tightly over what remained of the Draconequus' shoulder, a tight harness holding this firmly in place on his body. “I hear something, Pinkamena. But hearing voices no one else can hear isn't a good sign, even in the wizarding world. Not that I would ever want anything to do with your Chamber of Secrets.”

Pinkamena slowly narrowed her eyes at the Draconequus, and he cleared his throat and bowed to her politely, the shark-like fin and almost-translucent, spiny frill beside it both flexing. “And now I have introduced my character in the best way possible. By making possible innuendo out of a children's story. Or implying what we all know already and that you have a terrible dungeon somewhere.” He paused, then threw his head back and flailed his arms, shouting: “Soylent green is people! Soylent green is people!”

“I don't eat greens.” Pinkamena said flatly, and then she stomped viciously down on his feline paw, making the Draconequus yelp and hop backwards, grasping childishly at his injured appendage as he glowered at her. But she only glared back, saying distastefully: “And I would never share my meat with you losers, anyway. Either you whine about it or you steal all the best cuts.”

She turned a dour look to Luna, and the sapphire mare huffed before retorting: “Well, thou offered! What did thou expect, that I would simply leave behind the most tender morsels and take only the bits and bobs that were ill-prepared or scarred?”

“No, I expected you not to take ten pounds of steak out of my goddamn freezer.” Pinkamena retorted icily, and then she shook her head and glared at Scrivener Blooms, who winced away as Abaddon squeaked and hurriedly scrambled down to hide on the earth pony's back. “And you helped her, so you're just as responsible and just as bad. Asshole. This is why I'm not nice to you stupid people. I'm the Gluttony demon but you're the gluttons.”

“No, believe me, your Wrath is definitely showing.” Scrivy muttered, and then he winced when Pinkamena punched him in the chest, letting out a slow wheeze after a moment. “Just... proves my point. Thanks for that.”

“Call it another favor.” Pinkamena said moodily, and then she jerked her head at the doors leading into the back. “Come on, mule. Let's load you up with the stupid cake.”

“Hooray.” Scrivener grumbled, and he smiled wryly over his shoulder at Luna and Twilight as Abaddon hurriedly hopped off the charcoal stallion's back. Discombobulation, meanwhile, quickly drew the attention of the others: if he was always good for one thing, it was causing a distraction.

Pinkamena and Scrivener slipped into the back, and the demon sighed and shook her head slowly, giving a quieter glance over her shoulder at the stallion. “This is all your fault. If you morons hadn't shown up or just come around the back, then I wouldn't've had to... put up with kids today.”

Her tone softened as she snuck a look over at Scrivener, and the stallion smiled a bit. He could always see through her, and not because of any of his strange abilities. Instead, it was because they were the best of friends, even if Pinkamena liked to try her hardest to avoid showing it at all.

He walked towards her, but she only turned and gestured at the enormous, several layer chocolate cake sitting on the middle of the island in the center of the kitchen, and Scrivener stopped to whistle a little as he slowly drew his eyes along the towering dessert. “You two went all out, huh?”

“Pinkie insisted. She always does.” Pinkamena sighed a little again, shaking her head and muttering: “Maybe if she'd stop spending all her time trying to make friends and show off and kiss everyone's butt and play with all the stupid kids, she wouldn't be dying alone.”

“She's not alone. She has you and Sleipnir.” Scrivener said softly, and when the demon glared at him, he met her eyes and smiled a little in return despite himself. “Okay, I know what you meant, yeah, but you know what I mean, too.”

Pinkamena grunted, then she muttered: “It's stupid, anyway. Help me box this up so you can take it over to weirdo. That kid's more of a freak than your daughter.”

Scrivener rolled his eyes, but he strode over to help the mare put the cake into a stiff box that would hopefully protect it a little. Then they slid onto Scrivener's back, and the stallion grimaced as Pinkamena tied it down to him, saying moodily: “You look like a camel with a stupid-tall hump, so try not to walk into anything and ruin all my frigging work. And make sure you get me a hefty tip from the weird kid's dad.”

The charcoal stallion grunted, and then Pinkamena hesitated before reaching up and catching him by the shoulder. Their eyes met for a moment, and the demon asked quietly: “You're gonna stick by no matter what happens, right?”

“We're cellmates in the asylum, right?” Scrivener replied with a slight smile, and Pinkamena grunted and gave a brief smile before the stallion added: “Just... enjoy your time with her. You have years yet, remember that.”

“Years are seconds to a demon.” Pinkamena said softly, and then she shook her head and shoved Scrivener forwards through the door, saying crankily: “Look, this ain't no therapy session and you could never afford me, anyway. Get the hell out of my shop.”

“At least it's not a pet store.” Discombobulation said helpfully, and then he winced and ducked when Pinkamena flung a muffin at his head. Then all eyes stared as Luna charged after it and went into a long dive, spinning around in midair and catching it in her jaws before she hit the floor with a loud thump on her back... and promptly started to choke, grabbing wildly at her neck and flopping around like a fish over the floorboards.

Scrivener winced and wheezed, twitching a bit as he felt the same distinct lodging in his throat, and Twilight flinched before hurrying forwards... but a moment later, Luna managed to roll over and spit out the offending baked good. It landed with a splat on the floor, and Luna stared down at it for a moment before she swept it up as she sat back, peeled off the wrapper, and ate the muffin in two large bites, to a mix of horror and exasperation throughout the room.

Ten seconds later, three ponies, a pseudodragon, and a Draconequus were all flung or shoved out the door, Pinkie Pie calling an awkward goodbye behind Pinkamena as the demon snapped: “Don't come back unless you're bringing me money from Celestia or the weird kid!”

With that, she slammed the door, and Discombobulation slowly brushed at himself before he said mildly: “I bet if they were on Kitchen Nightmares, she would definitely be the one to make Gordon Ramsey cry.”

Scrivener only grunted as he glanced awkwardly up at the cake on his back, while Luna huffed a little and said loudly: “There is nothing wrong with what I did. 'Tis not like when Scrivener Blooms was eating that scone and I stole it out of his mouth.”

Scrivener shuddered, and Twilight grimaced and looked away as Discombobulation looked mildly over them, then said dryly: “You know, you might not want to say things like that right now. I have this sense we're not entirely alone, after all.”

“No, Bob, truly? Thy powers of perception, truly they are without rival.” Luna said ironically as she stood up, gesturing absently with her head at the road, the buildings, the curious people passing by. “So art thou coming with us to Clinker's birthday?”

“No, no I am not. I'm not fond of birthdays, particularly ones that aren't my own.” Discombobulation said mildly, rubbing absently at his metallic arm before he added dryly: “Besides, I'm fairly certain that Tia wants to do awful things to me that I won't be able to remember later.”

The Draconequus began to walk away, and then he halted and looked uneasily upwards, and this time it caught Luna's attention. The way he was posed, the expression on his face, the seriousness that seemed to breathe through the chimerical creature for a moment... and Twilight asked quietly, as she picked up on both Luna's emotions as well as the Draconequus' own flare of nervousness: “What is it?”

“Like I said, we're being watched, but before I thought I was simply being cute. Because clearly, I'm cute as a button. Now, though, I think I might have instead been something I very rarely am, which is factual: we are being watched.” Discombobulation paused, then scowled up at the sky, tilting his head back and forth as he made a frame with thumb and forefinger of both hands and peered through it with one eye at the blue sky above, the other ponies looking up dumbly. For a moment, Scrivener wondered moodily if this was some joke, but any paranoia about possible pranks was washed away when he muttered: “Oh great. It's my brothers and sisters from the great orphanage in the garbage dump of a plane I come from. And they've got a cave troll.”

The Draconequus paused, then dropped his fingers and huffed. “Wait, that's a bad reference. I mean, it's a good reference but a bad reference for the situation.”

“Why are Draconequus watching us? And what could be with them, what else survives in Ginnungagap?” Luna asked incredulously, and then she frowned up at the sky and asked moodily: “'Tis not Loki, is it? If 'tis Loki, I have yet to pummel him for all the times he grasped my buttocks.”

“I thought you didn't mind it when someone slapped your flank.” Scrivener said mildly, even as he looked uneasily up at the sky himself, despite the fact that he knew the chance of seeing anything were next to none.

“Aye, I do not, but a slap is friendly, but to pinch or squeeze or grope is unwelcome unless 'tis a special occasion.” Luna replied absently, as Twilight stepped up on her other side, her horn glowing as she scanned the area around them with magic.

“I can't sense anything... wait, could they be looking for you or Discord? We don't know much about Ginnungagap or Draconequus culture, after all...” Twilight said uneasily, glancing hesitantly towards the chimerical creature. “They're not going to... I mean, you won't have to...”

“Twilight Sparkle, how many times do I have to repeat Steinbeck for you? You can't go home again.” Discombobulation smiled a little, and then he turned his eyes back upwards, murmuring: “No, they're just gathered on the balconies and piling into the seats, why, sometimes two to a chair. As a matter of fact, they look like they're going to be down to standing room only for the latecomers... which is silly, really, because you can do so much more than stand in a room, even if you must be very quiet and very attentive to the players upon the stage.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Discombobulation shook his head and said softly: “They're all watching and waiting, eager and yet afraid. I think the curtains have yet to draw back on our stage and the show to begin, my friends, but... I fear that with such an audience, we must have quite a play for our cast indeed. But what bothers me most of all is the fact there's that special guest in the audience, and I really don't know who it is...”

“Please tell me there's not going to be a flood of Draconequus released by the... Draconequus King into our world or something. Having two of you around here is bad enough.” Scrivener said with a grimace, but his eyes revealed how he was far more worried than he wanted to let on.

Luna snorted in amusement as Twilight Sparkle shook her head slowly, but Discombobulation only smiled dryly over his shoulder at Scrivener Blooms. “Kings are for countries that want order. We just had powerful not-leaders we were obliged to obey, or they would be obliged to throw us out. And the garbage heap of Ginnungagap may just be a festering mess of nonsense and lies, with no law, no rule, no order, but definitely no anarchy, either, because we can't have anything whole or defined in that senseless attic... but it was still home to us.”

There was quiet for a moment, and then Discombobulation shook his head and quickly gestured at them. “Well, business as usual, but fear not: I'll tell Tia promptly about this, since it'll keep her from putting her dirty hooves all over me while she tries to puzzle it out.”

“Your selflessness is astonishing.” Scrivener Blooms said mildly as Luna rolled her eyes and Twilight continued to look concerned, but the Draconequus only shrugged before he sidestepped and vanished into thin air as if passing through a curtain.

The three ponies traded looks, and then Luna shook her head and murmured: “Keep thy eyes open, my friends. Thou both possess eyes that may see other omens of what Discombobulation says may be coming... a show that will garner the attention of all of Ginnungagap. And I remember them not being so interested in the events of our universe since the fall of Valhalla.”

“Draconequus are drawn to chaos...” Twilight tossed another worried look upwards, and then she shook her head and looked back and forth slowly. And even though she knew what Luna was worried about, she couldn't help but ask: “You want us to keep an eye open for Grimm?”

“Aye, and possibly reapers. We shall speak to Kismet: his kind also often know and gather before... certain events.” the sapphire mare replied quietly, and then she shook her head and added hesitantly: “And... I do not know if we should warn Innocence of this...”

“We have to tell her. I don't want to, at all, but we have to. What if something went wrong tomorrow, or what if she saw a cluster of Grimm and didn't know what it meant? She... we have to try and make sure she's prepared for whatever might happen.” Twilight almost pleaded, and Luna and Scrivener traded looks before they both nodded slowly.

The Lich smiled at them faintly after a moment, nodding quickly back, and then she blushed a little and shook her head, murmuring: “But maybe we're all just... you know. Scared now, because we've had peace for so long, but ever since Kvasir vanished there's been this... sense of waiting...”

“Yeah.” Scrivener said quietly, and then he grimaced and glanced over his shoulder at the cake on his back, muttering: “Well, come on. We still have to head to the kid's party. After that... we'll figure things out as we go, like we always do.”

Luna and Twilight both nodded in agreement, then the sapphire mare trotted ahead to take the lead on the way to Clinker's party, even as worries twisted through the minds of all present.

Celestia felt a chill with what Discombobulation told her: it brought back memories of her past life, during one of the few times she – then Freya, and well known to be a favorite mistress of Odin's as well as the battle-eager Queen of the Valkyries – and Frigg – Odin's controlling, all-knowing wife – had put aside their vast array of differences to discuss a strange omen. Draconequus clustering in Ginnungagap... just like they were now.

And then, less than a week later, she had helped Odin slaughter her own former kin, the Vanir. Shortly after, while Valhalla had been weak from the senseless war that had started with finding her brother's severed head, Helheim had flooded Valhalla and razed it to the ground.

She still wondered sometimes why Hel hadn't intervened: the goddess could have marched her Inquisitors into Heaven, or done countless other things to try and help. But Celestia thought it was likely the same reason that Hel had never done anything else to try and prevent Valthrudnir and his forces from destroying their universe to reshape into his own image: fear. Fear of the one creature in the entire universe who could have destroyed her.

Celestia sighed and shook her head slowly as she headed towards the engineering lab, giving a faint smile as he glanced up over her shoulder when something tickled her senses in time to sees everal fireworks explode high in the sky in the northern half of Ponyville. The vibrant colors left streaks through the air as they became shooting stars, dragged down by the supernatural gravity on that side of town: the effects of Selene's final grand goodbye still hadn't faded, even if many businesses had been rebuilt, and ponies and Nibelung had even made comfortable homes in the high-gravity zones. It just took some getting used to.

The ivory mare turned her eyes back towards the engineering building, and she absently adjusted the thick purple scarf around her neck, hoof sliding over the beautifully embroidered sun that ornamented it, the same design as her emblem. The only thing she wore these days, apart from her earring... the key to her heart. She smiled a little to herself before her horn glowed, opening the doors and letting her stride inside.

The stallion at the desk almost fell over at the sight of her, but Celestia ignored him as she strode towards the door leading into the employee area. She ducked through, and strode calmly through the sterile halls. They smelled of chemicals, machinery, the modern age: she wasn't entirely fond of all these new, self-propelling things. She was worried about the effects that this technology was going to have on society, as it became more and more common.

But Equestria had survived everything thrown at it: it had survived the dissolution of the laws that allowed only certain unicorns to practice magic, and it had survived magic-based technology spreading slowly through the nation. It had survived being separate baronies, and one united nation. It had survived anarchy, conformism, monarchy, and being completely destroyed to be rebuilt here, in what they called Looking Glass World. And most impressive of all, it had survived her being Baroness, Princess, and Queen.

Then Celestia paused and glanced through the open door of a small, clustered office to see a pony she knew, arguing with a Nibelung Architect leaning against the wall. “Excuse me, Cowlick. I hope I'm not interrupting.”

“Well, you are, but that's fine, Greece is just being a...” Cowlick leaned to the side and coughed a few times, then she grimaced and hammered on her own chest before sweeping up the cup of coffee on the desk and slurping at it loudly, asking disgustedly: “God, you trying to poison me? I think that piece of pizza you made just tried to crawl back up my windpipe.”

“It wasn't that bad.” Greece said plaintively, and then the Nibelung smiled awkwardly over at Celestia: he had no tusks, and was wearing a traditional kilt and an open vest. The shorn-down – or in this case, completely removed – tusks were the major tell that he was an Architect, a dwarf who had been trained and educated at the last-standing Academy in Niflheim, the only place that retained any traces of their culture before the dwarves had become barbarians, mercenaries, and footsoldiers for Hel.

He turned his eyes to Celestia, nodding to her respectfully as he said: “It's good to see you, Valkyrie Celestia. I would offer you some food, but I'm afraid Cowlick ate it all.”

“And now feels like she's got spiders trying to crawl out her various orifices, thanks.” Cowlick said flatly, and Greece sighed before the engineer burped, grimaced and shook her head, then looked moodily at Celestia. “You better not be here to pass on some new law or something I'm violating. I like you and all, Celestia, and I respect you, but I'll still shoot you.”

“No, I'm actually here to speak to... Hecate.” Celestia made a face, and Cowlick grinned widely at this as Greece looked curious. “It's... a matter of some importance.”

“I guess it would have to be. You and her remind me a lot of a game the biologists upstairs at Manehattan used to play, where they'd put a lab rat and a giant bug in the same cage and see which ate each other first. Sick bastards. Bug usually won, by the way.” Cowlick paused, then she shook her head and slipped out of her seat, adding in a more serious voice to Greece as she passed: “I want you to head downstairs and check on the munitions line, my guys at the end of assembly keep telling me every few boxes is coming up short, so someone's clearly stealing bullets. Figure out who it is so I can shoot 'em.”

Greece sighed, but he nodded reluctantly as Cowlick strode past Celestia and gestured at her to follow, the earth pony leading the mare down the corridor as she cleared her throat loudly. Celestia looked awkwardly at the engineer as she followed, and then she said carefully: “While I appreciate you doing this, Cowlick, I think-”

“Hecate is back in a restricted area, as always. She's less fond of dealing with ponies than Pinkamena is. So you're gonna need my help to get in there, since there's no way in hell I'm ever going to be giving you more than research access.” Cowlick said mildly, and Celestia smiled a bit despite herself. “Last thing I need is you screwing with my toys on top of all the goddamn bureaucracy and hoops I have to jump through. You gotta talk to Rosewood for me, get her to change some of the laws.”

“I'm not a politician anymore, Cowlick. Sometimes I serve as an ambassador, and sometimes as an adviser, but I'm not a politician.” Celestia said softly, and Cowlick rolled her eyes. “Besides, changing laws requires time and effort and... feeling things out.”

“Yeah, yeah. Cover your flank all you want, I'm still gonna shoot you in it at this rate.” Cowlick grumbled as they reached the end of a side hall, and the mare gestured absently for Celestia to stay back as she stepped in front of an enormous armored door with a crystalline orb inset near the center.

This glowed brightly, the neon light shining out over the engineer as she winced backwards a bit, and then machinery inside the door clanked loudly before the light died out and the heavy, several-foot-thick gate swung open.

Cowlick stepped forwards and grabbed the edge of this, then she wheezed as she slowly began to drag it open before Celestia smiled slightly, her horn glowing and pulling it easily the rest of the way with telekinesis. It earned a sour look from the engineer, who then grumbled and strode quickly into the narrower, more-industrial looking halls beyond. “Come on, hurry the hell up, we need to find-”

“I smelled her reek the moment she stepped inside the building.” said a disgusted voice, and Celestia's eyes narrowed slightly, her smile tightening on her features as she stepped into the hallway and looked up at the strange shape hovering slowly towards them.

It wasn't the flying disc, kept in the air by a large dome of magical crystal that stood out of the bottom of it, that was strange: Celestia had seen that and stranger. But she had never seen anything like Hecate before: nothing but a sallow head with living blue lightning and thick rubberized cables for a mane that swirled around her in midair, her eyes pieces of purple ice in black-rimmed, sunken sockets. A stump of neck was locked into a thick metal cap that had a large connector on the bottom of it, letting her interface with anything she was literally plugged-in to, and a synthetic horn made of wires and magic-charged crystal in a protective steel housing stood out of her skull.

And to make matters worse, Hecate had a face and voice that matched her own. She was a ruthless, murderous Celestia from a destroyed world... but little as most of them liked her, she was also someone who they could use the vast knowledge and expertise of.

Also, as nothing but a head with a low-power prosthetic horn, Hecate's ability to stir up problems was limited in a world that wasn't dominated by Clockwork World technology. Although Celestia often mused on what kind of horrors Hecate had been able to unleash in a world filled with thousands of machines at her beck and call.

Hecate spent all her time in one of two places: she was either floating around Subterra, helping with administration in her malicious, punish-everything-that-breathes way, or she was here in Cowlick's engineering lab, sorting through machine parts and old artifacts, helping them understand and even build Clockwork World technology while spitting nasty remarks at anything that came within a hundred feet of her.

“You really should wipe off the Draconequus' sweat before you start shoving your muzzle into my business. A little hygiene isn't much to ask.” Hecate said moodily, and then the floating head zipped a little closer to Celestia as the ivory winged unicorn's eyes narrowed. “But unless you're here to tell me that you're finally letting me rebuild a proper body, you can take your horn and shove it up your-”

“I need your help with an analysis.” Celestia interrupted calmly, and Hecate frowned as Cowlick looked up in surprise. In the silence that followed, Celestia pushed forwards, meeting Hecate's eyes evenly to hopefully help get the point across that this could be serious. “Discombobulation told me that many, many Draconequus are currently watching our world, or perhaps something in our vicinity. He said they were 'inspecting the cast,' which means-”

“I speak idiot well enough, I spent my entire life dealing with plenty of people who only spoke that dialect.” Hecate said icily, and then she frowned for a moment, floating back and forth before the hovering saucer carrying her head spun around and flitted down the hall. “Follow.”

Cowlick grumbled, but Celestia kept her mouth shut for the moment as they headed a short distance down the hall to an open door. Hecate flew inside, and Cowlick followed... then groaned in disgust at the sight of the laboratory, which had objects strewn everywhere across it, the engineer angrily kicking a broken burner aside as she snapped: “Some of us have to walk in here!”

“The important person here does not.” Hecate snapped back as her saucer hovered over to what looked like a large, rectangular platform on thick rubber treads, seated silently on top of a steel lab table. A little basket was on the front of this, which someone – very likely not Hecate – had decorated with a few brightly-colored stickers.

The head and its carrier lowered onto this, and there were several loud clicks before the platform rose up slightly as it activated, energy thrumming through the cubical machine. Celestia made a face as Cowlick looked moodily at the vehicle, then she said irritably: “I know this is hard for you to process, Hecate, but the rover stays on the floor. Not on walls, not on furniture, especially not on the goddamn roof, ”

“This is my lab, and my excuse for a body. I'll do whatever the hell I please.” Hecate retorted as she flicked her mane grouchily, the rover humming as it geared up before turning carefully in a half-circle so that Hecate could look at them moodily. “Alright, Celestia. Putting aside how much I hate you, I understand why something like this would scare you. You suspect something massive is going to begin: something more chaotic than war or Armageddon. Something truly terrifying is the only thing that could attract, and more importantly, hold the attention of chaos beasts. Something that promises either a beginning of a brand new world of anarchy, or an end.

“One world being destroyed isn't enough. One world, in the grand scheme of things, is unimportant... apart from the core world.” Hecate paused, then grinned slowly, revealing her steel, sharp teeth. “My. Maybe that's it, Celestia. Maybe they're watching because someone is here to torture you Valkyries into revealing the position of the Core World. Or someone else knows about the beads.”

Celestia remained silent, and Hecate snorted before Cowlick asked moodily: “Can't you build some kind of scrying glass to look into Ginnungagap?”

“I could.” Hecate said calmly, and then she smiled coldly and glanced up at her horn. “But not with this. I need a better horn... and I want a better body than this stupid go-kart. If you little fillies extend a little more trust and privilege to me, I will gladly show you how to build a scrying glass.”

“I already know how to enchant a scrying glass, and furthermore, am in possession of a powerful one. But no scrying glass can look into Ginnungagap. Even Discord can't do more than catch and interpret any larger spikes of chaos energy... he can't communicate with them unless he's able to somehow get a message through to someone on the other side.” Celestia said slowly, but as she spoke, she frowned thoughtfully, thinking that maybe, since so many Draconequus were watching them...

But Hecate only laughed, shaking her head almost in disappointment before she said moodily: “Impossible? Not at all. You're just too weak, and never bothered to learn more than you needed to stay alive. As for myself, I learned under a crueler tutor than you apparently did. I can do it, without the help of your Draconequus concubinus, and without you having to get your poor hooves dirty.”

Cowlick muttered several words that Celestia couldn't help but agree described Hecate, but the ivory mare forced herself to consider the proposition before she nodded hesitantly and said reluctantly: “I'll speak to my little sister and the Overseer about... having your privileges enhanced. But if you betray us, Hecate-”

“You'll kill me. I'm not afraid of that.” Hecate replied steadily, looking up and meeting Celestia's eyes as her own almost glowed with malice. “But you'd all be so lost without me I can't help but want to tend to all you pathetic little ponies. And I suppose I'm very interested in one day finding out which of us is the better Celestia... if my so-called evil makes me as weak as you think it does, or if you're even half as strong as you think being such a nice girl has made you.”

Celestia only smiled grimly, and the two looked at each other for a few more moments in silence before the ivory winged unicorn turned away, saying quietly over her shoulder: “Then I hope you're not half as stupid as you act, Hecate, and you should try and remember I'm not half as kind as I pretend to be.”

Hecate only laughed at this, then grinned widely, licking her lips slowly as Cowlick gave the head a dark look before the engineer tuned to follow Celestia quickly out, moodily wondering what the hell could be so bad it wouldn't just draw the attention of Ginnungagap, but compel even these two opposites to try and work together.

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