• 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 Cardinal

Chapter Sixty Six: The Cardinal

“It has been three years, Metatron Luxferre. Three years since you claimed that Lord God retreated into seclusion, after the battle with the fierce warriors of this Heaven. And for three years, we have continued to give our Lord God absolute veneration, done everything He would ask us through your voice... but we are becoming... concerned.” said a figure seated at the round table quietly, the rubber-skinned creature looking slowly up, dark eyes focused on the red-robed figure calmly standing in front of a tall set of ivory double doors as he crossed his arms over his own red-robed chest. “Never have we waged war for so long on one Heaven. Never have we sacrificed so many lives. Never have we forced Converts to kill their own brothers and sisters!”

“It is His Will. That is all.” replied the tall figure equably, his red robes swaying around him, a pleasant and yet dismissive smile spreading over his strange and fish-like features as he said softly, even as the ten other red-robed figures gathered at the table stirred uneasily: “I am the Voice of God. And as you may recall, I was the only of our noble order to be at Lord God's side when He defeated the guardians of this castle we have now made our own, and brought the Light to this Heaven, to drive away the darkness that had infected it. But He mourns, at the refusal of these people to put faith in Him, even now. At how... tenuous, they continue to be, even though the Pious have long spread our Holy Word among the people of the worlds below.”

“Which is also strange. The Pious have not just been spreading the joy of the Light, but have been campaigning aggressively. Particularly on the world we have come to know is called 'Looking Glass,' which is also where resistance is highest against Lord God's beliefs.” spoke another similar figure, who frowned and shook his head slowly. “I believe I speak on behalf of all the Cardinals of the Holy Table when I say that we have trouble believing our Father Highest would encourage this.”

“My fellow Cardinals, please. Lord God has retreated from the world for years at a time before... and what are three years to us, truly? We have lived for thousands of years, and helped spread glory through a thousand civilizations. We are Lord God's chosen ones, who serve Him out of zeal and love, even without the Baptism we bestow upon so many others.” the Metatron said calmly, half-bowing for a moment before he gestured around at the other ten, red-robed creatures almost pleadingly. “I do not ask you to believe in me. Only to swallow your jealousy of my especial position and believe in Lord He Of Many Countless Faces, Be They So Beautiful And Divine.”

The Cardinals looked back and forth, and then one of them shook his head slowly, tenting his fingers as he said quietly: “He has always given us some omen. Some signal... and never has He spoken alone through you, Metatron. You would accuse us of jealousy, but all we have questioned is why He is acting in such a way.”

“We all remember, three years ago, when for a moment all was thought lost. For a moment, the Light left the minds of all our many disciples and guardians, and many of our Divine Markers crumbled. Reality tore itself apart in many places for reasons we still do not understand, like there was a great cataclysm... and it was only after many souls fled Heaven that we were able to seal these holes in reality. Holes that seemed... almost purposeful.”

“There are many strange defenses in this Heaven. And do not forget the goddess who still stands against us, who rules the Netherworld. It was likely her doing.” replied the Metatron calmly, giving a shrug as he continued to smile pleasantly. “But we have discussed this many times. Perhaps instead we should focus on tending to our flock, and helping spread the grace of our Lord.”

The council of Cardinals shared looks and frowns, thinking the subject over... until one finally looked up and said quietly: “No. This bears discussion, Metatron. We will not be guided away from the subject again. We wish to know of Lord God's condition.”

“I have told you. He is well. He only wishes for us to carry on the mission, and bring Light to the world. To bring peace, and order, and ensure that good will triumph over evil.” the Metatron replied with that same smile, but his eyes narrowed slightly as he reached towards them with palms bared in supplication. “Will you not trust in our Father Highest?”

“We do trust in Father Highest. It is you we do not trust.” a Cardinal said with matching calm, and the other councilors went silent as the being that had spoken slowly stood, his head raised high, his eyes narrowed slightly. The Metatron looked across at his accuser, as the Cardinal rested his hands on the table and leaned forwards, asking quietly: “You were the only Cardinal present in this Heaven when Lord God went to face this realm's guardians. You were the only Cardinal present when the telepathic link that exists between all creatures of Light came unraveled, even if all of us even worlds away felt the dismay of the Light. Had Lord God faltered because of the battle, He would have restored the link immediately. Instead, it was days before you invited us here: days that we spent restoring the webwork in Greater Heaven ourselves between the scared and pained flock.”

“Lord God created us to serve His interests. We do not question what He asks of us: the trials He gives us make us stronger. He helps us by forcing us to help ourselves, because we are not incapable children. We surmounted the trial, did we not?” asked the Metatron evenly, but none of the Cardinals looked convinced, and after a moment, the Metatron sighed quietly and asked reasonably: “Do you really think that, alone, I could have restored all of this Heaven to the glory you found it in when you were summoned here?”

“Alone? No. But as we have seen, there are resources here that you have instructed us many times to make use of. Chaos energies, weapons, tools of foreign gods and unknown idols.” countered the Cardinal standing at the table, looking back and forth at his fellow councilors, and they all gave hesitant nods in agreement before several looked up at the Metatron, putting more weight on him, making their allegiances clear. “My faith in Lord God and the Light are both absolute. My faith in you, Metatron, is being tried at the moment... and perhaps found wanting.”

“That is disappointing to hear.” the Metatron said softly, and there was silence for a few moments as he laced his fingers together and looked down before finally giving a brief nod and a quiet sigh. “Very well, fellow Cardinals. If you desire answers, then I suppose the time has come to give you answers. I only pray you'll understand that everything I've done is for the glory of the Light.”

The Cardinals all looked up expectantly at the Metatron as he stood with his head bowed, his fingers laced together and eyes closing... and then he looked up and smiled, saying kindly: “De Sade. Please bring the Cardinals their answers.”

The councilor standing at the table frowned... and then an assassin appeared in a puff of black smoke on the table, its equine features twisted into a wide grin as it sank a silver knife into the breast of the Cardinal standing in front of it. The councilor gasped, staring down in disbelief as the other Cardinals shouted, one already beginning to throw himself to his feet... but far too late, as a copy of the assassin appeared and wrapped its arms around the Cardinal's neck before it could flee, then twisted it viciously to the side, snapping it.

The Metatron calmly turned around as more assassins appeared, laughing loudly, knives lashing out and covering the room in splatters of blood as the councilors panicked and yelled and pleaded too late for mercy. But the Metatron only casually strode out through the doors, hands lacing together behind his back, red robes flowing around him as he strode down a wide marble hall filled with gorgeous stained glass windows.

He smiled, tilting his head back and closing his eyes, enjoying the warmth of the sun even through the heavy, multicolored glass. This was such a pleasant Heaven... even if he could still hear the councilors screaming as De Sade and his pawn-copies butchered them. But even if De Sade made a mess, he would just have the servants clean it up, and as disappointed as he was that his fellow Cardinals would no longer be around for him to make use of their power... well, this had been a long time coming, unfortunately. Three years... he was surprised that he'd been able to manipulate them for that long. But faith was a powerful weapon.

The Cardinal sighed in relaxation as his eyes opened, then he paused in front of the large, polished wood doors at the end of the hall, glancing over his shoulder as he heard something slogging towards him. He made the slightest scowl of distaste at the sight of De Sade: not so much at the blood splattered over the leather armor covering his body, but at the pony-like features of the assassin. De Sade was one of the good Doctor Greller's first experiments with the mortals that dominated this realm: the Metatron had to admit he was... effective, even if he was also... inefficient.

“I did it! All of them, all of them, gave them the answers like you told me to!” De Sade said eagerly, almost bouncing on the spot in excitement. “I did it, boss!”

“Yes, you did as asked, De Sade.” the Cardinal soothed with the faintest hint of exasperation, before he made a brief gesture forwards, and the assassin hurried awkwardly to the doors, half-stumbling and half-falling into them to slam them open.

The Cardinal continued forwards through the archway with complete disregard for the creature attending him, entering into an empty throne room that was lined by massive pillars carved in the shape of leviathan serpents, forming a narrow hall floored in red carpeting to a gorgeous, white platinum throne. The Cardinal slowly strode towards this, lacing his hands together beneath the long sleeves of his robes and sighing as he heard De Sade following, the assassin quibbling: “But I did good, yes? I did good, just what you asked, ain't that right? I did good, right?”

“Fetch Greller.” the former Metatron ordered disdainfully, and the creature nodded hurriedly several times before vanishing in a puff of smoke as the Cardinal sighed and settled himself into his gorgeous, enormous throne.

His throne... his Heaven. He planned to do great things with this place, planned to spread the Light faster and better than He Of Many Countless Faces ever had... but 'God' had never had any real vision. No sense of how far his reach could have extended... no idea of everything he could have accomplished if only he'd been willing to make a few sacrifices, to recognizes these Devout were only tools, not... treasures, or anything of even moderate value.

He Of Many Countless Faces had always been... foolish. And the other Cardinals had been so blind and obedient, always failing to ever try and stretch for any real goals beyond what their Father Highest desired. Never looking beyond what they were told by the visionless God; unity, equality... these were not things to be 'achieved.' They were nothing but lies and limitations and lows to settle for.

The Cardinal rested back in his throne, closing his eyes and feeling both pleasure and disappointment in what he had accomplished today. The Council, for these last few years, had handled much of the heavy pulling for him and made it all the easier to keep his Heaven functioning smoothly and towards the ultimate end he had planned for it. So he was disappointed that he would now have to handle all these details himself, until he could delegate the work to trustworthy servants... and he was admittedly also disappointed in the Council's ultimate lack of vision. Their inability, proven time and time again by their puling and mewling for God's advice, to see beyond blind loyalty to the beliefs of a flawed savior who had authored His own defeat and demise. After all, why had He wanted to face the Guardians of this Heaven Himself? Why had He not used the tools or peoples of this or other realms against this rebellious Heaven?

The answer was simple: because of his lack of vision. Because of his fixation with unifying all things, of honoring invisible rules and imaginary credos, of trying to ram happiness down the throats of creatures that were too stupid to accept it.

What foolishness.

The Cardinal sighed softly as he relaxed little-by-little in the embrace of the throne, letting his mind rove to better thoughts, like how he had outwitted them all. As he reflected on his achievements, his prosperity, and the ease with which he had stolen power out from beneath the council, a smile spread over his face. Yes, it had been so simple... until, of course, they had started asking all their questions and outlived both their usefulness and their welcome.

But for all the pleasure he took in it, it also irked him that it had been as easy as it was: an explanation that hadn't really been an explanation later, and they were all happily following the words of God he mouthed and made up.

But of course, He Of Many Countless Faces had never been exceptionally intelligent Himself, so it came as no surprise his followers and admirers were about as bright. Bent only on His single-minded mission of spreading peace and the Light throughout the entire universe, His goal had been to wipe out darkness, fear, hatred... which was foolish, because the Cardinal had learned they really were such excellent motivational tools.

He chuckled quietly to himself, then looked up with a small moue of distaste as he felt the psychic resonance a moment before De Sade appeared in a puff of smoke, already looking up at him slavishly, already prostrating himself in front of his the throne. “Master, Doctor Greller is on the way!”

“Good.” the Cardinal replied distastefully, giving a brief shake of his head and studying the creature with a slight grimace. Useful as De Sade was, he regretted authorizing the experiment in the first place now: what a disgusting aberration this creature had turned out to be. Greller's first experiments with the flora and fauna of any new world they invaded never turned out very well, though... but of course, back then, He Of Many Countless Faces had been alive and it was always so much harder to do work with Him lingering over their shoulders, watching everything they were doing with His childlike fascination.

De Sade was still staring up at him eagerly, but after a moment, the Cardinal sighed and made a short, dismissive wave. The assassin looked almost disappointed, but nodded quickly before dropping his head and vanishing in a puff of smoke. The Cardinal felt De Sade retreating, and he sighed tiredly again, reflecting that at least now Greller would be able to produce higher quality results... or at least he wouldn't have any more excuses about why his projects always turned out so... discommodious.

The Cardinal shook his head slowly, tapping his fingers against the arm of the throne before he sat up and frowned a little at the door. Greller was taking his sweet time... the Cardinal shook his head in disgust before he closed his eyes, touching into the hive mind that connected all creatures of the Light: a hive mind that only he, the Cardinals, and precious few others he had already dealt with or helped understand his vision for Greater Heaven, had been excluded from. A Great Webwork that he and any other Cardinal could completely control... hence why he had been forced to get rid of the others immediately after they began to question him so openly. Fortunately, De Sade had been specifically engineered to obey only himself and He Of Many Countless Faces, who he saw as one and the same thanks to a little psychic engineering.

“Greller! Get in here!” shouted the Cardinal, as he felt the scientist's presence lingering in the room beyond, and Greller squeaked from down the hall before the former Metatron sat back with a tired sigh at the sound of the creature approaching. It was unfortunate that Greller was such a necessary cog in his plans... otherwise, he would have dearly loved to get rid of the neurotic scientist.

Doctor Greller staggered through the doors, falling on his knees and barely catching himself on his long-fingered, gray hands, looking up with a pleading grin on his features, sniveling and whimpering as always as he crawled forwards and babbled: “I apologize, I apologize, oh sir I apologize but oh, they had.... well, the cleanup crews were already at work and a sample, I just needed a pinch, a touch, a small sample from those other... friends of yours...”

The Cardinal shook his head slowly, and Greller staggered up to his feet, his back hunched, his head misshapen and his body clad in a heavy white robe that all the same did little to hide his deformed, ugly body. One leg was much larger than the other, and his torso was broad and thick, with his tiny, malformed head and staring eyes. A smattering of hair stuck up from his lumpy, gray-skinned head, and a toolbelt hung around his waist, filled with metal picks and needles and small vials, some of which already contained strange-looking liquids.

“So you have... dealt with the council, sir, I see, sir... that's good! And that's wonderful timing, sir... I've just finished a genetic assessment of these ponies and discovered, oh, many similarities, sir, many a many many similarities!” Greller said excitedly, smiling as if begging for a little acknowledgment, a little approval from the Cardinal. But the red-robed usurper only sat back in his throne, looking meditatively at Greller, who whimpered and then hurriedly continued: “They all come from the same genetic base, sir. This is good for us, very important, very good!”

“And why is this important?” asked the Cardinal in a bored voice, tilting his head with a slight scowl, irritated as always by Greller's refusal to just get to the point, his need for theater and drama and dragging out every little conversation... “I am not here to amuse you, Greller. I am not here to... make flippant comments on your inane discoveries. If they have no bearing on our situation and this ongoing war, then it bears no interest to me.”

Greller whimpered and fell silent, and the Cardinal looked at him for a few moments. He was about to speak, but then Greller suddenly lunged forwards again, saying hurriedly: “But it is important! It means that we can modify the ponies to suit us, how... however we like! Even the weak ones, we could give them horns and wings with ease... it would be simple!”

The Cardinal frowned at this, tilting his head with interest, and Greller nodded violently several times, giving a weak giggle before he cleared his throat and held up his hands, explaining in a rush: “They all have the same base! I can restore the defunct genes, easily, oh, very very easily, sir! I can make them grow wings or horns or both, both definitely both... and oh, of course, of course I can still modify them, too, like De Sade, sir...”

“We do not need another De Sade.” the Cardinal said moodily, but he sat up, looking down with interest all the same as he tented his fingers together, asking quietly: “Why is this any different than the modifications you make to other mortals? Surely you could add wings or horns or powers to them before this... you re-engineered De Sade with abilities foreign to these animals after his initial failure, after all.”

Greller nodded a few times, then explained quickly: “Sir, of course but it's... it's different. My modifications are... unnatural, require time to adjust and do not always function quite as well because I can't account fully for biochemical reactions and structural integrity. Anatomy and genetics are trickier sir, than it would seem, and I am no god, only a humble scientist, serving the cause of the Light... I mean, I mean your supreme Light, sir.”

The Cardinal sat back, looking displeased, and Greller gave a weak, whimpery little giggle before clearing his throat and saying hurriedly: “But no, in simple terms, if I relocate certain genetic triggers and bring them back towards the state these evolutions split off from, they can grow horns and wings and... they'll be able to use them on instinct! And alicorn is a most precious, most interesting material, sir... we can weaponize it! Give me time and effort and I'll grow mortals that will serve merely as alicorn mines for you, it's perfect, it's a wondrous mineral capable of channeling such a fantastic magic-”

The red-robed being held up his hand, and Greller fell silent before the Cardinal asked softly: “But how much energy will this require? How many souls will have to be liquidated?”

Greller shifted back and forth before he rubbed at his face slowly, then he looked up and said hurriedly: “Well, if my experiments are successful, Lord Cardinal, sir, then I would be able to produce alicorn in infinite supply, and it's an excellent conductor, very receptive, will enhance our existent magic and-”

“How many, Greller?” the Cardinal questioned sharply, refusing to allow himself to be distracted by the doctor's ceaseless cajoling and whimpering.

The scientist dropped his head with a weak murmur, shifting back and forth before he slowly tapped his fingers together, then mumbled embarrassedly: “At least a hundred to power the initial alchemization. And this is assuming that I am correct in my calculations, sir, and oh, I'm very sure I am, certainly, nearly a hundred percent, but... there is always room for error, of course, one must always... make sure one has taken into account the... possibility of failure...”

“Enough, Greller. You forget that I am now in complete control of this Heaven. And unlike Lord God... I fully recognize that greatness often requires sacrifice.” the Cardinal said calmly, holding up a hand before he closed it slowly into a fist, studying his fingers meditatively before he gave a brief nod. “A hundred souls. In time, I will send a message to Greater Heaven to fully enlist their cooperation, but for now, take your souls from the Converts. If your experimentation is for the betterment of the mortals, then they can pay the price as well.”

Greller nodded excitedly, then hesitated before asking hopefully: “Then, Lord Cardinal, sir, then maybe... you will allow me to begin drafting experiment fodder from the Pious? I can make them better, sir, please, oh please let me make them better... there's so much I want to do, so many things I desire to attempt with Lord God's creations-”

“You may, but in the future, Greller...” The Cardinal paused, straightening slowly as he sat back in his throne, then he said in a quiet voice: “In the future, do not refer to He Of Many Countless Faces as either 'Lord,' or 'God.' He has proven himself as neither. Do not honor... him. He was merely an insolvent.”

It felt good to finally be able to speak his feelings for the miserable god he had been stuck under the service of, mouthing platitudes for so long. The Cardinal smiled at this, closing his eyes and tilting his head back: taking away the proper noun status, the respect, the title and even the name of He Of Many Countless Faces felt so good to him... helped him feel more like he was taking the next crucial step into securing his dominion and his rule. No, he couldn't declare himself as 'God' in place of He Of Many Countless Faces... but after he dealt with the other forces of Light who would likely not agree to his viewpoints, he could declare that He Of Many Countless Faces had left securing this Heaven and its related worlds to him, and the blind faith of the followers of the Light would mean they would believe him. And more importantly, that they would follow him, no matter what he ordered them to do or where he led these nescient lemmings.

Greller looked up at the Cardinal uncomfortably, shifting back and forth before he finally held up a hand and said uneasily: “But sir... I do... I do have to ask, sir... Greater Heaven... the Great Webwork there is different from the Great Webwork here that connects these minds... won't they grow suspicious as well, that He Of Many Countless Faces is... gone?”

“We simply will avoid communications with them, Greller. And with the Cardinals deposed and disposed of, the only possible threats to my rule are the Muses and the Abbots. But I will have them eliminated quietly, and place the blame upon infiltrators from the rebel camp.” the Cardinal said calmly, and Greller nodded hurriedly a few times, smiling nervously at the Cardinal. “I will continuously draw forces from Greater Heaven into this one: they will be absorbed into this new hive mind that I alone will control, until eventually our number and strength grow much greater than the Great Webwork of Light in Greater Heaven. Then we will absorb all of Greater Heaven into our empire in one fell swoop... but it all begins with these worlds. Fortunately for us, there are many realms of easily manipulated, crude but sapient beings beneath us.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Greller nodded hesitantly, slowly tapping his fingers together before he began quickly: “Well, any time you like, sir, any time, I can always give De Sade better weapons if you-”

“I said I want them eliminated quietly. I have at least a week before the Cardinals are noted missing... and weeks more before even the most judicious Abbot takes notice.” the Cardinal said meditatively, shaking his head slowly. “Besides. Our best weapon against the rebels is not the anger of the masses, but attrition. The Holy Word is spreading faster beneath my vigilance than it ever did under the indolent care of He Of Many Countless Faces.”

Greller whimpered a bit and shrank back a little, and the Cardinal looked at the scientist with disdain for a few moments before he sighed and gestured towards him. “Go back to your laboratory, Greller. De Sade!”

The assassin appeared in a puff of smoke beside Greller, who squealed girlishly and stumbled away from his own creation, and the Cardinal sighed tiredly as he shook his head in exasperation. Then Greller stumbled around in a circle and hurried off, half-falling every few steps, and the Cardinal watched the scientist flee with distaste before he said calmly, not bothering to look at De Sade: “Tell Minos that I require his presence.”

De Sade nodded a few times hurriedly, then vanished in a puff. And for a moment, the Cardinal was alone again, able to sit back and tent his fingers together calmly as he rested his elbows on the arms of the throne, closing his eyes and bowing his head together. But not praying, no... prayer was a useless waste of time, best left to the ignorant masses who were all so eager to look for a 'higher power,' for answers, for justifications and rationalizations and guidance on how to live their own lives.

He pitied them, but he also wasn't about to go out of his way to try and fix their pathetic little lives for them. If they desired guidance, he would give it to them, and they could serve him in the only capacity they were any use to him: tools, and fodder for his empire of Light. After all, if any of them were intelligent enough to seize power, they would do the same thing, wouldn't they? Assuming they wouldn't be as blind as He Of Many Countless Faces had been, that was.

The Cardinal smiled, then he shook his head slowly: of course, he highly doubted that they would be able to handle the many tasks of keeping Heaven in order the way he had, or that they ever would have been able to react in time to seize control of the hive mind, as well as turn the strange rips that had formed across Heaven to his own benefit.

The Army of Heaven could have engaged the Archenemy that ruled this region of the universe's Hell, and the rebellious former masters of this Heaven... but He Of Many Countless Faces had ordered his forces to subdue first, kill only if necessary. He had never understood that all this did was leave His own forces vulnerable, especially when fighting such depravity as demons and angels so desperate they had allied themselves with a force of Hell.

Furthermore, in that moment that He Of Many Countless Faces had died, the very center of the Great Webwork of Light had collapsed, unraveling the hive mind. The Cardinal knew that if the enemy forces seized the initiative, they would be able to deal devastating damage to the Army of Heaven... and the Cardinal needed to conserve his forces. A Pyrrhic victory against these demons would not only be as humiliating as a defeat, it would leave the hive mind he planned to reestablish all that much weaker.

He had been able to reestablish the Great Webwork of Light by himself, knitting the first set of threads together and then expanding quickly outwards through the forces of Heaven, ordering the army to quickly gather. Others, even disconnected from the hive mind, had followed on instinct. But perhaps suspecting another wave or a concentrated assault, the forces had begun to retreat, and the Archenemy had shown her cowardice by beginning to open portals and ordering a full withdrawal.

And the forces that had formerly owned this Heaven, equal cowards to the Archenemy and her demons, had retreated alongside Hell. Oh, sure, they had begun to grab Blessed and former Converts who had been freed from the... encouragements granted by Baptism, but they were no great loss. In fact, it worked to his advantage: they were removing all the possible rebels and non-converted who had just been mouthing their prayers or hiding out amidst the loyal flock.

Now, his most annoying pests were all gathered in one quarantined world below: Looking Glass World, they called it. Their rebellion had no name: they were just a mess of demons, and escapees, and renegades, and blasphemers. And the former protectors and rulers of this Heaven who had yet to acknowledge that a superior being had taken over: as was the cycle of nature, the strong had denounced and dominated the weak.

The Cardinal paused in his reflections to look up, and then smile when he saw that Minos was already present. The tall, thin figure stood calmly in the center of the room, his long cloak hiding his body from view and a strange, everpresent mist of black smoke swirling slowly around the bottom of the dark cape. Large, twisted spikes stood out of his armored shoulders, and his features were covered by a dark gold mask in the shape of a snake's skull, large white fangs gleaming at the end of this. The mask covered his entire head, the helm that it locked into hammered into the shape of a cobra-like hood, and over his brow the metal rose up in a crown of thorns and spikes that stretched back into frills running down either side of the serpentine fan.

Tiny flecks of white light gazed up at the Cardinal before Minos slowly bowed, and a necklace of black bones and small, golden bells quietly jangled with his movement. He kept his head low as he spoke, his voice soft but clear as he asked calmly: “How may I serve you, Cardinal?”

The Cardinal tapped his tented fingers together, then gestured with these towards the death entity, replying softly: “We have fomenters in our midst. I would like them gently and quietly removed from their current capacities, preferably in ways that will resemble tactics used by the Archenemy. I wish for these thorns to be removed over a period of time... shall we say, three weeks?”

The death entity nodded after a moment, straightening slowly and seeming to think before he replied slowly: “It will be done. I shall pass judgment on them, as you so desire, Cardinal. And are there others to be judged?”

“There will be many to be judged, Minos. Do not fear, your hungers will be appeased.” the Cardinal replied in gracious tones. At least one his loyal servants could be trusted to perform complex tasks adequately, and wasn't just a mass of turmoils and frustrations. But he had been fortunate to find that his goals and Minos' often aligned: the death entity sought to judge all souls that passed his way, and to see the unworthy destroyed and cast off, while the worthy were transformed into servants... and those that seemed truly especial under his meticulous examination were sealed away in a vault as the rarest of treasures.

Minos nodded in return, then bowed his head in thought again, and the Cardinal gave him a few moments before the new master of Heaven suggested kindly: “I am looking to create new laws and ensure that my rule... or rather, the rule of God... goes unquestioned. Perhaps I can benefit us both: once you have delivered judgment on these dredges, I will have make it law that blasphemy and heresy will both be punished by forcible atonement through sacrifice. You can have one of your reapers or other servants present as a... say...”

“Facilitator.” Minos said softly, and the Cardinal smiled at this, giving a pleased nod. This was precisely why they worked well together: they thought on the same wavelength.

“Precisely. He can deliver these souls directly to you, for dissolution or helotry.” the Cardinal answered, and Minos nodded once more in response, tilting his head back and forth. Then the serpent-masked death entity simply bowed his head forwards, and the Cardinal bowed his own head as he recognized the gesture. “Of course, do what you must. When you have a free moment tonight, send a reaper to me. My campaign against the rebels will begin in earnest tonight.”

Minos looked up curiously at this, but then only gave a final, silent nod before fading out of reality, leaving only a few curls of dark smoke behind that quickly vanished. The Cardinal looked meditatively at the place the death entity had been for a moment, and then he finally stood up from his seat and placed his hands behind his back, striding calmly through the throne room and towards the large archway.

As he approached, he rose his hand, and a glow filled the doorway before there was a faint thrum and flash. The Cardinal only continued calmly forwards even as the light faded and revealed the throne room now no longer looking out on a long hallway, but instead a set of stairs that led down into a massive circular room filled with massive pillars of crystal, each of these glowing brightly and capped with a heavy steel dome. Enormous chains fed out of these, electricity crackling along the lengths of metal feeding up to one large, octagonal anchor in the ceiling.

This was the Soul of Heaven: it was a massive channeling device that kept this living castle firmly under his control. The castle of this Heaven had been incredibly resistant to any and all attempts to intrude upon it, much less modify it to their will. But this wasn't the first Heaven they had spread their glory to, even if it had proven frustratingly resilient, and nor was this the first sealed fortress they had ever dealt with forcing open.

The Cardinal smiled to himself, looking slowly back and forth as he walked between the enormous, glowing pillars, striding slowly towards the altar in the center of the room. The Soul of Heaven served a different purpose as well, allowing him to do more than commune with the hive mind, or send orders along the Great Webwork of Light: the Soul of Heaven allowed him to manipulate and puppet those who had been Baptized by the Light, who were blind to anything but the glory of the beliefs that had been forced into their minds.

Brainwashing? No, nothing so crude, the Cardinal thought. This was more like... giving them the gift of transcendence, giving them a greater purpose in life. The Light: all things would serve the Light, and he would be standing there behind that glorious gleam the entire time, using these peons and serfs and zealots to build his glorious golden empire.

But they would have purpose. Order, structure... in a way, the unity that He Of Many Countless Faces had always been trying to achieve. He was just willing to reach so much further, try so much harder, do so much more to achieve his goals and aims than the so-called God of Light had ever been willing to. And he would not be nearly as foolish as his former patriarch: those who did not desire to be unified would not be given second or third chances, would not be left alone, would not be permitted to make strides against his kingdom before he struck out against them. If they didn't embrace or surrender to unification with the Light, he would simply destroy them.

The Cardinal placed his hands on the rectangular, stone altar in the center of the room, and it thrummed briefly, white runes pulsing over its plain surface before he said calmly and clearly: “The Voice of God speaks to you, children of our Lord. I carry a message from Him the Highest: he says to celebrate, because a new age is coming. A new dawn shall rise, heralding the ultimate glory and victory of the Light. All shall contribute, and all shall be rewarded.”

He paused, then smiled and drew his hands back, flexing them slowly as he felt a tingling running through his body and his mind as he breathed slowly in and out. It was a short, pointless message, but he could feel the delight of the foolish masses at his words, could feel how they drank in the nothings and the hollow epiphanies he gave them. It was nothing but verbalized baby mush, but that was what these masses needed: to be patted on the head like small infants and promised a reward in the future. And these blind, waddling sycophants would revel every time they heard the empty promises, their faith renewed, their belief blinding them to the simple truth that they were never going to be paid back for any effort they put into helping create his effervescent empire.

The Cardinal turned around, then strolled slowly back towards the staircase, humming softly to himself as he put his hands behind his back. His dark eyes trailed upwards, wondering idly what he should do next, what further steps he should take to securing his reign and dominion.

Oh, already, he had the Pious spreading the Holy Word through dozens of mortal worlds, building Sanctuaries, Baptizing mortals to add to their flock. At first gently, but as their numbers expanded, more and more aggressively... the same tactics that the Cardinal had instructed them to use when they had first arrived in this set of worlds. It had been effective then, and it was very effective now: already, entire mortal nations had become zealous believers in the force of Light, and were channeling the energies provided by their rituals and faith up to Heaven, bolstering the hive mind's power further.

The Great Webwork of Light would grow stronger and stronger, connecting more and more worlds, more and more lives, more and more people... and he would be right there, at the center of it, pulling those strings as necessary to gain more followers and more power. The larger the hive mind, the more energy and strength he would be able to draw out of the Great Webwork, and the further it could expand: by himself, he was only one Cardinal, of moderate powers in a frail body not suited for barbaric or physical pursuits. But with the Great Webwork at his beck and call, he would be able to call upon the powers of thousands of different entities at once, and use all that energy to smite his opponents with a strength equal to that of He Of Many Countless Faces... if not greater.

The Cardinal slowly sauntered up the stairs, taking his time and half-regretful that he had to leave this room already. He enjoyed looking over old victories: some might call it bragging, others might refer to it as gloating, but he thought it was simply focusing on the positives. Besides, he would rather be a victor, crowing of his victory, than a loser complaining that someone else's triumphs were making them feel bad.

Because this was his triumph. After so many years of serving the Light, of being loyal, of struggling to always make his ideas heard and to get He Of Many Countless Faces to understand that the only way he would achieve his peace was through the destruction of those who would oppose him, he finally had everything in his grasp that he had ever desired. He could finally rule, establish true power, ensure that the Light became the ultimate force of good and right in this universe... and that no one, no matter how larger or small, would dare to question him, or the glory of the Light he wielded.

Yes, certainly, there had been struggles at first, and at times, it had almost seemed like it wasn't worth it. There had been instigating attacks on both sides, and learning how to modify the Great Webwork so that certain Pious would obey his word over that of any other Cardinals, there had been intrigue, espionage, and politics both bloody and benign. But it was all worth it, now. It was worth the effort he'd put into pushing He Of Many Countless Faces to attack this Heaven, making it seem like it was so much more full of darkness and evil than it actually was. But a small favor had been the fact that so many of the forces of Heaven, even Heaven's so-called Queen, had all been tainted with darkness, and with the energies of the evil goddess that the Cardinal had been quick to call the Archenemy, associating her with the Two-Faced God that had scared and hurt He Of Many Countless Faces so badly when they'd first started to investigate this set of worlds.

The Cardinal had been in charge of negotiations with this world, while He Of Many Countless Faces had been in Greater Heaven, promising to do his best to spread the Light's salvation and glory to these new ponies now that the White One had been destroyed. And the Cardinal had been very, very careful at first, ordering the Pious they sent to investigate these mortals to be gentle, to negotiate, to not yet push their agenda. He had ever selected a world that seemed remote from the other realms... although the fact there had been so many parallel and alternate worlds, all existing so close to each other, had been such a fascinating draw in and of itself. It meant there would be an almost inexhaustible supply of mortals... and of souls.

The mortals hadn't had any knowledge of the White One, and He Of Many Countless Faces had been distracted with Greater Heaven... so the Cardinal had been left to do as he desired, and he had begun with aggressively spreading the Holy Word of the Light to these mortals, to see how susceptible they were to the divine influence.

They were surprisingly perfect vessels for it: but from what little the Cardinal had bothered to learn about them, they were obsessed with harmony and many trivialities that all masqueraded as 'good.' So of course they fell quickly to the Light, even their powerful monarchs. And when He Of Many Countless Faces had arrived, the Cardinal had been able to gain great favor by showing the Lord God that he had almost completely converted an entire nation to the Light's cause.

But then the Two Faced God had come. The Two Faced God, who had lashed out at He Of Many Countless Faces, blaming him for what had happened to these ponies. And it was then that the Cardinal had realized that all his suspicions about the God of Light were true, with how he'd quailed and trembled and whimpered under the Two Faced God's wrath and misguided retribution.

The Cardinal had only been relieved to escape blame, from either side. And he had quickly begun his chicanery, espousing the power and righteousness of He Of Many Countless Faces and gently nudging him towards engaging the Two Faced God in battle, because he represented everything that the God of Light had been attempting to remove from the universe. And when the Two Faced God had started poisoning the mortals and transforming them into mockeries and monstrosities, how easy it had been to convince He Of Many Countless Faces he was not only righteous, he was defending the concept and the faith of the Light itself.

So their war had begun: a war over the course of which other forces had made their appearance, and the Cardinal had carefully manipulated the words of the God of Light to incite hatred and anger against the nonbelievers. It had become more than just a war against darkness, but a war against all who didn't believe in the Light... one that He Of Many Countless Faces was unknowingly leading, and Greater Heaven was backing. And even after the Two Faced God had been destroyed, the Cardinal had still hoped – prayed, he supposed he could say, if he wanted to enjoy the titillating irony – that the forces that had destroyed the Two Faced God would rally against He Of Many Countless Faces, and eliminate him as well... and oh, they had. Even better, those Guardians of Heaven had destroyed themselves in the process of doing so.

The Archenemy, the dark goddess, was the only thing that the Cardinal had left to fear... but she feared them as well. She had overplayed her hand in bringing the Guardians into Heaven the way she had, revealing the extent of her abilities and allowing them to quickly prepare defenses against anyone attempting to breach Heaven through portals, rifts, or worldstepping. The dark goddess had almost slipped through these several times, but she was never able to enter any portion of Heaven unnoticed; furthermore, the constructs she used could be cut off from their controller by psychic interference, and that was a field the Pious excelled in.

He had no intention of trying to reason with her: He Of Many Countless Faces had often left Hells alone, or reached some kind of truce with them. The Cardinal planned to subjugate and enforce his dominion over Hell instead. He could burn the unworthy souls for their energy, to power Greller's machinery and pay the fees reapers and certain other allies liked to charge for their services.

All-in-all, the Cardinal had great plans for the future, and he smiled as he strode back into his throne room, the archway behind him filling with light for a moment before the long hallway leading into the council chambers reappeared behind him. Without any hurry, he made his way to his throne, then turned around and settled himself leisurely back in the platinum-cast seat.

He had worked long and hard to get here. And now, here he was, ready to bring his vision to the world, ready to share the true glory of the Light and of the Greatest Heaven he would build. All would worship the Light and the God they believed shone such radiance down on them... and behind that golden idol, there he would be, the Cardinal, the former Metatron, the Ventriloquist of God.

The Cardinal smiled, closing his eyes, settling back in contentment. Let them worship God's name, let the loyal subjects think they were obeying He Of Many Countless Faces, let them sing his praises to the sky. He would encourage them to: it would only serve to better protect him in the future, and strike all the more fear into his enemies, thinking that the God of Light was still alive, looking for him... not a lowly Cardinal. Soon to be... the only Cardinal.

And one day, when his plans had ripened and the time was right, he would take over Greater Heaven, and begin spreading the Light that would bring to life his own empire in earnest. For now, he would harvest souls, allow Greller to run his experiments, and see that no flaw in his plan was left unattended, that new laws, new codes, and new testaments were passed down to the many passionate proselytes of the Light, so they would deal with the heretics and rebels for him.

The Cardinal chuckled quietly, gripping into the arms of the throne before he sighed in relief and tilted his head back, eyes closed and body relaxing, nestled in the heart of Heaven itself, kept safe by the ten thousand machinations he had begun... and a blinding Light that gave him entire worlds of slaves who were all too willing to throw themselves into harm's way in service to a god that had already been slain by his own most trusted servant.

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