• 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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Three Years Of Rebellion

Chapter Sixty Seven: Three Years of Rebellion

Antares Mīrus' eyes were cold and hard as he strode through Ponyville, wearing a heavy raincoat and large, wide hat to avoid recognition. It was a late, rainy evening, and Innocence was stumbling along behind him, splashing through the puddles and breathing hard, hidden beneath her own rubber jacket and wearing boots and a shawl tied around her head, her body polymorphed to look like a large white stallion for an extra layer of protection.

Not that the Pious wouldn't be able to tell all the same who she was, of course... or that they would really stop and ask before they killed her. But dying was better than getting captured, and Antares grimaced and shook his head before he looked over his shoulder at his sister, saying quietly: “Hurry up. We can't be in town for long.”

Thunder rumbled above, and Innocence bit her lip, wanting to retort... but too afraid to. Antares wasn't the same pony he'd been three years ago... he could still be funny, and protective, and good to be around, but... he could get so angry, too. And whenever they were on a job, big or small... he always got so serious. Even with Prestige, he got so... serious.

The rain was so thick, and the skies so dark that they could barely make out the flickering electric lights along the street, or the lamps shining in houses along the road. Just the way Celestia had wanted it: they had made this storm, after all. Storms and darkness were the only ways that they could safely meet their informants anymore, with the eyes of the Light always watching.

They finally slipped into a side alley, and Antares looked back and forth, the checked skywards before he ran quickly to the other end of the narrow passage. Innocence only stood, shifting uneasily back and forth and swallowing thickly. She hated this. She hated these jobs. She hated turning herself into a stallion to walk through the rain and the mud. She hated that her parents were gone... that... that so many of them were... gone.

Innocence reached up and silently pulled a small good luck charm she kept out of the inside of her cloak: it was a tiny silver statuette, taken from the top of the broken remains of a music box. It was shaped like Móðer... but it was special to her not because of that, but because it still faintly resonated with her mother's energies.

“I told you not to bring anything with you they could use to identify you by.” Antares said sharply as he returned, and Innocence looked up and flushed, trembling a little as she hurriedly tucked the statuette away. Antares glared at her for a moment longer... but then he finally sighed and shook his head before knocking twice on the brick wall. “Fine, we're... here. Let's just get inside, find out what's going on, and get the hell out of here. Celestia is probably already wondering what's taking so long.”

The polymorphed mare nodded silently, then looked up as a section of brick wall slid slowly backwards, then rolled to the side. The moment it was out of the way, Antares ran inside... and Innocence could already hear him telling her to move faster, so she stumbled quickly inside and almost ran into her brother, then she winced as the brick door was slammed closed behind her.

A light flashed on in the darkness, and Antares didn't flinch, looking coldly up despite the crossbows aimed at them from all sides by trembling Pegasi. But Monkshood calmly rose a hoof, stepping forwards as Antares reached up and shoved his hat back, before he grimaced a little as the earth pony sniffed at him, then turned his eyes towards Innocence, nostrils flaring a little. “You creep me out when you do that.”

“Shut up, Antares. We have to make sure it's you, and I happen to be the only pony who can do that, thanks to most of our unicorns being Light-brained and the demons getting exorcised every time they come to town.” Monkshood said distastefully, and he brushed slowly at his chest before gesturing moodily at another pony near the back of the square, empty room. “Go get the package. I suppose you want the quick version.”

“Yes. We don't have time to waste. Tonight we're moving to another safehouse.” Antares said calmly, and Monkshood smiled thinly as Innocence grimaced a little at how easily Antares told the lie. They had actually moved to another safehouse three days ago... but Antares and Celestia were both always concerned about spies and espionage... or maybe 'paranoid' was a better word for it.

Innocence looked down silently, breathing slowly as she reached up and touched her cloak, squeezing the statuette through it as Monkshood said without further ado: “We have a report that the Light is restructuring its current administration. Apparently the Metatron that serves as God's voice is the only one staying behind, and the other Cardinals have either been disbanded or withdrawn back to Greater Heaven. It means-”

“I know what it means, that they likely intended to focus on this world more. He Of Many Countless Faces must want to engage us more directly: we need to capture or kill his Metatron to send a message.” Antares said coldly, and Innocence shivered a little as Monkshood only laughed sourly.

“Yeah, because that would be easy. You're not going to draw him out. I'm only telling you this because I have no real useful information for you, except that it means you'll have to keep an eye open for other changes that might start happening. The Light might be doing this because they want to get serious with the war. Don't go kidding yourself, thinking that they've been trying this whole time: if they wanted to wipe us out, they've had more than enough time and resources to. Something else must have been going on behind the scenes that was keeping them distracted.” Monkshood said coldly, and Antares dropped his head and nodded a little.

“It means we have to get serious, too.” the stallion muttered, and then the glossy-black unicorn shook his head slowly before looking up as a pony returned with a package. “What's this?”

Monkshood shrugged, taking it and almost flinging it at Antares, who winced and caught it, opening his mouth... then staring as his eyes caught on the symbol on it. The symbol of their rebellion, the crescent moon, adopted from... “It's from your 'admirer.' So who knows what it is.”

Monkshood stopped, then he shook his head and looked up, his ears twitching at a peal of thunder as the sound of rain beating against the roof intensified. “Get out of here. The storm's getting worse. Tell Celestia to get herself under control.”

“I'll pass the message on. But she is under control, Monkshood... besides, who can really blame her right now?” Antares asked quietly, and Monkshood sighed a little, looking down and giving a brief nod. For a moment, there was a flash of the old Antares as he gave a small smile, lingering for a second to reach up and touch the mayor's shoulder comfortingly, and then he once more became serious, turning as his horn glowed and yanked the brick secret door back open on its rails. “Come on, Sin, we're moving.”

Innocence followed silently after her brother, hurrying out with him, and the two slipped out into the alley before Antares led her quickly to the end opposite the way they'd entered. He stuck his head out, looking back and forth before gesturing briefly for Innocence to follow, and the polymorphed mare in stallion's body nodded and hurried after him, hating how much trouble they had to go through just to safely get in and out of town... but then again, she had also seen what happened when ponies weren't cautious. They all knew what happened when ponies weren't cautious.

The rain poured down around them as they made their way towards the northern end of town... a town no longer gated, the walls long dilapidated and falling into disrepair. A town that was alive and excited and filled with the brightness and the warmth of the Light, a feeling that couldn't be smothered even beneath the rain. But in the world they lived in now, good feelings were bad and bad feelings were good and it was all upside down...

The Light had infected almost all of Equestria. The Light had blinded countless ponies, as the Pious had aggressively Baptized and subjugated everything in their path. Those who would not surrender or could not be submitted were destroyed, imprisoned, or hobbled and left as warnings to others what would happen if they refused to obey... warnings that it was like only those not in delirious bliss from the Light could see.

Innocence hated it. She was used to being the darkness, she still thought honor was stupid, she believed firmly that the powerful should overrule the weak... but looking around, seeing so many ponies happy, fighting to... to quell and kill that happiness against a force that was just so much more powerful than them... being made the bad guys, whether or not they were fighting for... for freedom... she found herself questioning whether or not freedom really had the value they all said it did. They all seemed so... lucky... and they were living constantly on the run, constantly fighting losing battles, constantly watching friends die and suffering themselves...

She sighed softly, and Antares glanced back at her before he shook his head, saying finally: “We'll be back at base camp soon. You'll have time to rest then, Innocence. Then we're going to have to move on, catch up to the others. We have a long journey ahead of us, though.”

“I know. Through the underground, too, right?” Innocence asked quietly, and when Antares gave her a pointed look, she only gave a brief smile in response. “Tarry. No one is going to know what the hell we're talking about, even if someone can magically hear over the pounding rain.”

“I... I guess you're right.” Antares relented after a moment, but then he only looked forwards, and they were silent until they passed through the open face of the northern wall. Then the stallion gritted his teeth before he looked up and said finally: “Innocence... I'm sorry.”

Sin looked up with surprise, and the stallion smiled briefly, not needing to look back to see this as he lowered his head and they walked slowly through the pouring rain. “I know I'm hard on you. I know I'm hard on everyone, that... this war has changed me. I've let these experiences change me... but losing our parents, all three of them, and even Nightmare Moon... losing... losing all the friends we have over the war, seeing so many ponies being slaughtered or converted into mindless drones, who only ever think about doing what the Light tells them to do... watching Scarlet Sage and Apple Bloom both getting... caught up... in the Light's first big 'crusade' against us and... none of us can even go and tell their kids what happened...”

He sighed quietly, shaking his head briefly before looking up into the distance. Part of him wanted to just keep walking along this road, until they came to Sweet Apple Acres, just so he could look at it... at this place that had once belonged to Avalon, and now had been wrenched completely out of the Apple Family's hooves and given instead to some zealots of the Light. But that would be pointless, a waste of time, would just... bring back bad memories.

Antares forced himself to stride off the highway and into a field, and Innocence followed before she said quietly: “I miss them too. I just... I just wish I knew what happened.”

“Me too. Every day, me too.” Antares said quietly, shaking his head slowly before he closed his eyes. “Look. I want to promise you something, right now, okay? We're going to find out what happened to them... and we're going to make He Of Many Countless Faces suffer for what he's done. You and me, together. We'll take Heaven back. We'll put a stop to the Light.”

Innocence nodded a little, shifting uneasily all the same: for some reason, that prospect filled her with worry. Part of her, though... part of her actually liked the worries it brought up, the feeling of being... so free, they were being seen as evil. It reminded her of the good things about living in Heaven, beneath Gymbr's claws. There had always been lingering worries then, too, but that had made everything so much more exciting...

Not that she wanted to live like this. Excitement and thrill and delight didn't really last through long marches through the mud and muck and slime. She shook her head briefly, looking down for a few moments before she said quietly: “I don't know if we can bring them back, Tarry. I don't want to imagine what must have happened to them.”

“Neither do I, Sin.” Antares said quietly, sighing a little as they made their way past a dilapidated, empty barn, and his eyes flicked back and forth before he muttered: “I remember when this place was still supplying us food. Hell, I remember when Ponyville was still.. Ponyville.”

“It still is, Tarry. There's a lower concentration of Light here than anywhere else... it's just... they all have to act like that, and the Pious are always watching. And we can't settle in here because the Light will wipe this village off the map, just like they did with the Phooka Den.” Innocence looked down, shaking her head slowly, and Antares glanced over his shoulder at her and studied her for a moment before he turned his eyes back ahead.

“You can't be afraid, Sin. I know you are, but you can't be, at the same time.” the stallion said softly, shaking her head briefly, and there was silence for a few moments before he looked ahead and became serious again, saying quietly: “Let's keep moving. The storm won't protect us forever and if any Pious patrols pass us, they'll sense our minds.”

The mare nodded with a grimace, shifting uneasily in her polymorphed body as they hurried onwards, slowly curling back towards the Everfree Forest. The Forest would offer them some protection, at least, and both the guardian trees and the inhabitant beasts were hostile towards the Light and the order it was trying to impose over primal chaos.

When they reached the forest, Antares let their pace slow a little, and Innocence sighed as she began to shed her polymorph, letting the magic naturally fade from her body as she became toned and lither and scaled. Her body flexed slowly as she gave the faintest grimace as her anatomy shifted slightly, her horn took on its natural curve, her hide changed textures, and Antares shook his head without looking back as he said quietly: “I've asked you before, Sin. Wait until we're at least halfway through the forest before shedding your polymorph.”

Innocence didn't reply, only shaking her head briefly, and Antares gave her another look over his shoulder before he simply nodded. They continued on in silence, down a path that the forest seemed to form beneath their feet for them, as branches curved over their heads to shield them from the heavy rain and the watchful eyes of the Light.

The only encounter they had was with a Phooka scout, who nodded to them briefly before vanishing back into the forest. Innocence hated the relief that gave her, the simple signal telling them it was safe ahead, that the safehouse was still protected... and she couldn't help but look uneasily towards Antares as he only frowned and looked warily back and forth. He didn't even trust the Phooka to give him an accurate report anymore... he wouldn't relax or calm down at all until they were back inside, and he had delivered the package and information to Celestia.

It was another ten minutes before they stopped in front of two massive trees that were growing almost together, blocking their path, and Antares sat down, studying these for a few moments before he said clearly: “Rísa, landvættir.”

Both trees rumbled and swayed in response to his words... and then Innocence couldn't help but swallow and drop her head humbly as they crackled loudly as they unfolded themselves slowly. Bark wings unfurled around wooden bodies, and massive, lumbering dragons of wood straightened with matching rumbles. They breathed slowly, exhaling sickly-sweet smog as Antares faced these mighty magical beasts without fear.

They both looked at Antares for a few moments with gemstone eyes, then bowed their heads to him and gestured towards a cave in the distance. Antares smiled a bit, then strode onwards, and Innocence hurried after them, at the same time feeling that burst of longing, lust, and fear as she always did, seeing these fearsome creatures that Celestia was able to summon up from the earth itself. Wherever they went, Celestia would create at least half a dozen of these sentinel elementals, like it was nothing to summon up the ferocity of the earth itself in physical form.

They headed towards the cave... then around the side of the cavern entrance, Antares looking back and forth before he pushed a hidden hatch cloaked in debris and leaves back, gesturing sharply at Innocence. She slipped into the opening first, sliding quickly down a ladder before Antares followed, the stallion closing the hatch over his head before they two shared looks, then brief nods. Then the glossy-black unicorn turned, leading the way down the narrow dirt tunnel, unmindful of the runes that glowed on the various supports as he passed them, although Innocence couldn't help feeling a little more nervous: one accidentally misstep, one malfunction, and then runes would explode, liquefying everything nearby and causing a massive cave-in that seal the way into the safehouse.

But they reached the doorway without incident, and Antares knocked twice, paused, then knocked twice more, and a slot opened in the top of the door. Eyes looked out at them uncomfortably for a moment before there was a sigh of relief, and then the heavy, armored door was pulled slowly open by a Blessed.

“You should have waited for the password.” Antares admonished immediately, and the Pegasus blushed and dropped his head before the glossy-black unicorn shook his head and strode past, into the hay-lined, wide common room. Innocence followed, smiling awkwardly at the Blessed before she silently looked through the mostly-empty area: everything had long been cleaned up and either stored or brought with the rebels who had already moved on. “Where's Celestia?”

“Strategy room, sir.” the Blessed said quietly, saluting as he slid the door back closed, and Antares nodded briefly before striding towards another heavy armored door. Innocence joined him uncomfortably as the glossy-black unicorn knocked twice on the door, then grabbed it and slid it slowly open without waiting for a response.

Celestia looked up from the strategy table: her long white hair had been cut down, her braids much shorter than they had once been and pulled tightly back behind her years, then woven together into a single long ponytail. Her golden armor had been trimmed down a little as well even if it now thrummed almost visibly with magic energy, and large spikes had been added over her shoulders and her leg guards. And on the stone table to one side rested a golden helm with a crown of thorns, and a featureless mask with a single narrow, glaring socket for her single eye to look through.

“Well?” she asked impatiently, and Antares strode forwards, his horn glowing and pulling the package out of his cloak before he slung it onto the table. Celestia caught it just before it could hit, however, her eye widening as she quickly pulled it over in front of her, then tore it open with only a flick of her horn, letting the objects inside spill out.

Utensils fell out of the inside, and Celestia's sharp eyes roved over the silver as Innocence sighed and Antares calmly stated: “Administrative changes and a restructure in Greater Heaven have been confirmed. Only one Cardinal is staying here with He Of Many Countless Faces to deal with us.”

“The God of Light may have left as well and left only his lackey in his wake. We haven't confirmed his presence for years.” Celestia replied as she sorted through the utensils, then picked up a fork amidst the clutter of what were mostly spoons and butter knives. Her horn glowed brightly, and the silver fork lit up with the same aura before rapidly beginning to melt away, dissolving into useless sludge... but leaving behind a tiny golden key, the ivory mare studying this for a few moments before nodding briefly and giving a small smile. “Excellent. We should be getting a visit soon.”

Antares nodded in relief at this, and then he hesitated before asking finally: “So do we hang in here for the night, or do we head to the next safehouse?”

“We move on. Theophilius Carter will find us when he wants to find us.” Celestia said quietly, and Innocence gave a brief smile before the ivory winged unicorn shook her head slowly, murmuring: “I just wish that Hel would communicate with us more openly. She says she's doing something to help but... she's left us alone. And with Scrivener, Luna... Twilight... all gone... not to mention Nightmare Moon, the Fates and Imago, and even Gymbr...”

“I know. But we can't dwell on it. I'm sorry, Celestia, but... we can't dwell on who we've lost.” Antares said quietly, and Celestia nodded silently, closing her eye as she bowed her head for a moment. Innocence softened, dropping her head quietly, knowing that Celestia had lost more than even they had. Almost her entire family, and... her lover...

As if Celestia had heard her thoughts, the winged unicorn reached up and silently touched the key hanging from her ear before she closed her eyes and sighed softly. “Yes. Yes, I know, Antares. Go gather your things, both of you, it's time for us to get going.”

Antares nodded briefly and smiled a little, and then he turned to head quickly out of the room. Innocence lingered, water dripping off her slick raincoat, studying Celestia silently before the winged unicorn looked up and said brusquely: “Get your things.”

“I don't have anything else to get.” Innocence shook her head, then she strode into the meeting room, looking silently up at Celestia before she said finally: “I don't know what we're doing anymore.”

Celestia looked at her silently... and then her horn glowed as she flicked it to the side, the door to the room closing loudly. It left them standing in this small dirt cavern, the only thing between them the stone table and chairs, before Celestia said quietly: “We're fighting to stop the Light. To restore freedom to the world and to save... everyone that can be saved.”

“But they seem to be...” Innocence stopped, not knowing how to phrase it, before she looked up and whispered: “I just feel like... my parents are gone, and ever since then, you've been having me share what I learned from Gymbr with yourself and... even teaching other ponies. We've gone so far into the darkness and... I... I'm willing to do anything you ask, I just.... I keep seeing Momma's face, and worry what my parents would think...”

“Luna was always prepared to delve as deep into the darkness as she had to.” Celestia shook her head slowly, then she added sharply: “And we are not the villains here! The happiness they bring the ponies is a false happiness, and they have killed, mutilated, done terrible things to us too... don't forget what they did to Discombobulation and Discord, or your own parents. Are you going to let that go unavenged? Are you really going to defend the actions of the Light?”

“No, no! That's... I just...” Innocence shook her head vehemently, then looked up uneasily and whispered: “Just... it just seems that the harder we fight, we're the ones losing... that no matter what we do, the Light pushes back, takes more from us, and now whenever we try and fight we have the entire public railing against us. Even our allies have to pretend to hate us, just to avoid inspections and being visited by missionaries... I don't... we've already lost so much. Why don't we just leave?”

Celestia's eye widened, and then she gritted her teeth before slamming a hoof down against the tabletop, cracking it. Innocence winced backwards, but after a few moments, the ivory mare managed to calm herself down, breathing slowly and bowing her head as she said slowly and quietly: “Leaving is not an option, Innocence. We are not going to give up just because it's difficult. Good or evil, even right and wrong... none of those things matter right now. I am going to avenge your parents. I am going to free as many ponies as possible. And I am going to destroy He Of Many Countless Faces. No matter what I have to do to achieve that.”

Celestia stopped, looked up at Innocence, and studied her silently. Innocence shifted back and forth slowly, and then the ivory winged unicorn said abruptly: “I'm going to teach you to self-focus. Twilight Sparkle never practiced it enough... but I think you'll be interested in it. And I'm going to allow you to drain energy from me.”

“What? W-Why?” Innocence asked warily, leaning back and shifting uneasily as she frowned nervously at the ivory mare, and Celestia gave a small smile after a moment, although her gaze remained... a little cold, a little too businesslike for the mare's liking. That, and the fact that Innocence was uncomfortable with the fact that over the last few months, she had actually been encouraged to start teaching other ponies how to Blood Draw.

It wasn't exceptionally difficult, but only a matter of learning to draw from a different source than natural reserves of energy. Instead, you forced yourself to reach past that, and into your own life force, your own vital energies instead of naturally-replenishing spiritual essence. Drawing on vital essence empowered a spell far, far beyond its normal strength and allowed for the casting of truly miraculous magic... but it also shortened a person's lifespan, often weakened them physically, could damage the fabric of the soul itself if done improperly. And these things didn't restore or rejuvenate or heal over time.

Celestia fully recognized the cost of Blood Drawing... and also recognized that Innocence, unlike most people, had a way to sneak around paying that high price. She had been taught many, many skills by Gymbr, after all, who had given her all the tools she'd ever need to eventually achieve her goal of becoming truly powerful, and one of those abilities was the power to steal life force from anyone she was able to touch.

It was something she had been careful not to go bragging to her parents about, after they had reacted so violently just to her showing off her Blood Drawing ability. She couldn't imagine what they'd think if they knew she could steal that vital force from other living creatures. Even small animals, after all, provided enough vital energy when completely drained for her to cast impressive spells, or start healing the damage done to her own life force. More importantly, everything organic had vital force: sentience wasn't a requirement.

But on top of using that life energy to repair any damage she might do to her own vitality, she could also drain a pony's energy and 'sample' it, learning a little bit more about him, giving herself a little bit more raw strength, or endurance, or something else. She knew there was a way to do more than that, but she had never fully mastered the ability: then again, her ability to drain things was already a tremendously overwhelming power.

And now, Celestia was offering up her own vital energies to her, as well as a technique she had always craved and admired: Celestia's power to focus her magic into her own body and increase her physical strength, her reflexes, her perceptions and endurance. Innocence shifted back and forth from claw-to-claw, looking across at the mare and feeling like she knew the answer, even before Celestia finally gave it to her.

“Because I need your help, Innocence. I need you here, and I fully understand that to ensure you stay with us, I need to give you a reason. You don't care about family like we do. You don't have honor like we do.” Celestia said evenly, and the scaled unicorn felt strangely... hurt by this. Hadn't she cried over her parents? Didn't she love them even now? Hadn't she wanted to make them as powerful as she was, if not even more so? “But I know you'll put yourself first. I can't blame you for that. So I'm trying to give you the power you desire. And right now, you're an asset and the best weapon I have against the Light. If you will continue to work against the Light, Innocence, I'll give you anything you want. If you help me kill He Of Many Countless Faces, Innocence, then you can name your reward.”

Innocence looked up hesitantly, and she hated how much this compelled her. How part of her instantly flared up with excitement, and she couldn't help but lick her lips before forcing herself to ask quietly: “And what if I want the entire world in my claws, Celestia?”

“I would prefer these souls to be in your grip than the grip of the Light, Innocence.” Celestia replied unflinchingly, meeting the mare's gaze evenly with her own eye, and then she lowered her head and said quietly: “When my revenge is complete, I'll give you my soul and pass all my powers on to you. I am a goddess, Innocence, and Queen of the Valkyries. You'll never get a better offer than this.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Innocence forced herself to breathe, forced herself to not betray any weakness as she rose her head and said quietly: “I want more than that. You can offer me more than that, Freya.”

Celestia looked at her evenly... and then the smallest smile twitched at her lips before she nodded briefly, replying calmly: “Then I'll give you something else in advance. If you prove you're going to stay with us and make use of your powers over the next few days, I'll make you a weapon. I'll make it suit any specifications you want and use any materials you desire. And I'll even make it to enhance your ability to drain power from living objects.”

Sin looked surprised, but Celestia only continued to look calm, saying softly: “I have many different skills, Innocence, and I know more about forbidden magic than you do. Much more. But I can't cast a lot of those spells... that was always more Brynhild's area of expertise, and I regret... every single day, I regret not giving her better tools to work her night magic, and the encouragement and trust she needed to perform those dark arts without fear of reprisal. She and Scrivener would have been so much stronger if I had. And maybe...”

She closed her eye, then shook her head slowly and reached up to adjust her eyepatch, saying quietly: “You're not like us, Innocence. I'm not going to lie to you or baby you and I'm not going to be nice to you. I know what you care about is power. What I care about is destroying the Light.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Innocence simply decided to nod. Pleading her case or arguing with Celestia would be pointless. Besides, it was true, wasn't it? She didn't care about any of those things... because those things were exactly what had gotten her parents killed. And if Celestia wanted to treat her like a weapon, wanted her to be that... fine, she could be just that. Just that, and nothing more, until the Light was destroyed and she took her payment in full. “Fine. Then I'll stay until the Light is destroyed. And... I want claws, like Daddy's Talons. We'll enchant them together.”

“Good.” Celestia nodded briefly once, and they looked at each other for a few moments before the ivory mare flicked her horn, the armored door sliding open as she said crisply: “We'll talk more on this subject once we have some more time alone. For now, go make sure everyone's ready. We'll be moving out shortly.”

Innocence nodded back silently, then turned around and strode quickly out, shaking her head briefly and forcing herself to breathe slowly, telling herself she was only frustrated because Celestia was undervaluing her and calling her a coward... she wasn't hurt or upset at all. She really wasn't... it was just... anger and irritation curdling her stomach, that was all.

She shook her head briefly, looking down for a moment and licking her lips slowly before she glanced up as the Blessed and Antares approached, the stallion frowning a little at her. But Innocence only shook her head, muttering: “It's nothing. Are we ready to go?”

“Yeah.” Antares said after a moment, and then he shook his own head before adding after a moment: “You should have carried your own things. I don't like Prestige doing it for you.”

“I don't like a lot of things right now, Antares, but I'm still goddamn here, so why don't you just shut your fucking mouth?” Innocence snapped suddenly, snarling over at her brother, and the stallion's eyes went wide with dumb disbelief as he leaned back before she added sharply: “Look, I get it, you think I'm a little filly and no matter what I say I'm always going to be a nineteen year old freak who ran away from home and abandoned the whole family and came back nothing but a slut willing to do anything for power, but how about you keep your mouth closed on the subject for once and understand that I'm still goddamn here and I'm still doing my goddamn best to keep fighting a battle I don't even think we can win!”

There was silence for a few moments before Celestia strode out into the room. She looked back and forth as if nothing was the matter, her golden mask pushed up on the hinge that connected it to the encompassing helm so they could see her calm features.

Antares looked stupidly up at Celestia as Innocence grumbled and pawed one boot-covered claw at the floor, before the ivory winged unicorn asked indifferently: “Are we ready to leave?”

The glossy-black unicorn looked up for a moment, and then he sighed and bit his lip before gesturing at her, saying finally: “Sin and I will lock down the safehouse. We'll rendezvous at the train. It's safer to travel in pairs, anyway.”

Celestia nodded calmly, then simply strode towards the door, not glancing back at any of the ponies even as the Blessed turned with a wince to hurry quickly after her. It left Antares and a still-defiant, still-glaring, still-trembling Innocence alone together, and the two looked at each other for a few seconds before the glossy black unicorn suddenly smiled a little, then reached up and beneath the neck of his cloak.

He rustled around for a few moments, then pulled his necklace off and allowed it to dangle from one hoof, the onyx star gleaming silently, the silver lightning bolt embedded into it twinkling quietly. For a few moments, Antares looked at this, and then he stepped forwards and quickly slipped it over Innocence's head, the mare rearing back in shock before the stallion stepped back and said softly: “That necklace represents two things to me. One is hope: the other is perseverance. Innocence... yeah, I've seen you as all those things. I know that Gymbr hurt you, and changed you, but I don't think he corrupted you. I know you're younger than me, and I know at the same time, you're... not.

“I love you. Aunt Tia loves you, too, even if she doesn't act like it sometimes. She's still Aunt Tia in there, somewhere. You still have a family here, and we're still all there for you, and...” Antares shook his head slowly, murmuring: “And that's useless to say, not just this late in the game but... without showing you anything to back it up. But I want you to have that, and I want you to keep it, and I want you to know that I'll always take care of you, okay? You're a whole lot of things, Innocence. But what you also are, is hope.”

There was silence for a few moments as the mare reached up and grasped the onyx star in one claw, tilting it upwards to stare at it quietly, and then she closed her eyes and trembled a little as she bowed her head forwards. She nodded after a moment, and then looked up and whispered: “I'll try my hardest to, Tarry. I don't... I don't want to lose anyone else. I want our parents back. I want our whole family back together.”

“I can't promise you that, but... I can promise you that we'll look for them, together, when this is all over. And maybe we'll get lucky and find them again. Scar, Mom, Mutt, Dad... we'll find everyone.” Antares smiled briefly, and Innocence nodded back, smiling in return to him and hating... how much she liked that idea.

There was silence for a few moments, and then the stallion strode past her... but he reached up and squeezed her shoulder as he did so, and she closed her eyes and smiled a little wider. The simple act of touch... of not treating her like she was some dark, awful monster, of- “Sin, stop thinking about having sex with me, I'm handsome but that's really gross. I wish you'd develop a different fetish.”

The mare sighed tiredly and glared over her shoulder at him, snapping in response: “You bring that up so often that I think you're the one with the sick fetish!”

Antares only shrugged amiably, as he headed over to a far door, ensuring it was shut before tapping it with his horn once, and a rune thrummed over the lock for a moment before fading out as the door sealed itself with a hiss. Innocence watched him sourly, the mare only tapping a claw slowly against the floor and clearly refusing to help, but it was only the work of a few minutes even with the glossy-black unicorn working alone.

Then he turned around and looked at her mildly as she looked back at him silently, before the mare finally looked down and shifted awkwardly, and mumbled as she squeezed the charm hanging around her neck: “Thank you for... you know. For being nice, at least. When you're not being a jerk.”

“I just... guess I needed to be reminded what I can't let myself become.” Antares said softly, looking over at her before he sighed and nodded a little, saying gently: “Listen. After the move is done, and we're in the new safehouse, you know we'll be able to relax a little. Let's leave Celestia alone and try and keep our heads above water and... just move with the flow for now. Once we're able to process things, meet with Theophilius, and see what's going on... then it'll be better. We can talk about things. Okay? We'll work it out.”

“Okay.” Innocence said finally, and then she shifted a little before sighing and turning to head for the door out. But Antares only sat down, and the mare grumbled a bit as she stopped when she realized he wasn't following. “We have to wait here for twenty minutes, don't we?”

“At least. Then we'll meet up with Celestia and... Highflite, right?” Antares smiled a little, saying quietly: “I used to know the name of every single Starlit Knight in the Ponyville section, you know. Now I don't even learn the names of my own damn allies. What the hell happened to me?”

“A lot.” Innocence said quietly, looking down and rubbing at her head slowly, and then she said awkwardly: “Thank you for not freaking out in return. And not hitting me.”

“I thought about it.” Antares shrugged and looked down, rubbing at his bare chest... but even if that necklace meant a world to him... it felt like it was even more worthwhile more to give it away, to pass it on to Sin, who truly deserved it. “But I saw into you, and I saw into Celestia, too, when she just brushed past, and... I saw myself a little. In both you and her.”

There was silence, that stretched first into moments, and then into minutes, until Antares finally gave a brief nod to Innocence. Innocence smiled at her big brother, then turned and pushed the armored door open, the glossy black stallion following quickly and using the same charm to seal the door on the way out as he had with the others, murmuring: “Let's just hope that this time things go according to plan for a change.”

Innocence gave her big brother an uneasy look, and he nodded a little, smiling despite himself. “Okay. Maybe I just jinxed us, but... no, no. I think it's going to be okay. Let's just get moving.”

The strange mare nodded, then looked up with a wince as there was a loud peal of thunder through the skies as they emerged from the hole next to the caves. But the stallion only shook his head as he pulled himself up onto the wet earth, grimacing a little at the pellets of rain still hailing from the sky as he muttered: “Celestia probably recharged the rainstorm... well, it'll provide good cover, anyway.”

Innocence grumbled a little, nodding as her brother strode past, becoming more businesslike and visibly tensing a little as they started through the Everfree Forest. But she didn't feel too many worries herself: this was one of the safer locations to come and go from, thanks to the living forest's natural resilience against the Light. She understood why they were being cautious, but... she thought more and more that sometimes, Antares and Celestia were overcautious. And that was part of what was contributing to making them... less and less like themselves. When you lived trying to plan for every little instance, under the constant fear of aggression – much less the threat of it – it... hardened you.

She was quiet as they walked through the forest: it was a good hour's journey before they found Celestia at the edge of the forest, sitting between a few well-spaced, narrow trees. The Blessed was nearby, looking uneasily out at the train tracks some twenty feet away, and Celestia gestured calmly at a large tree that had fallen across the tracks, saying quietly: “We'll have a little less than three minutes to get on board after the train comes to a full stop. Two Nightmares are already on board, they'll signal us what carriage is open. Do not allow yourselves to be seen. Even if the driver is a friend to the rebellion, who knows what kind of security crew might be on board, or their allegiance? Or-”

“They may have been blinded by the Light, Aunt Tia, we know.” Antares said in an almost-tired voice... and then he winced when Celestia reached up and caught his shoulder, looking at him coldly with her single eye.

“This is no time to get sloppy and stupid. Be professional, do not address me like that again, and if you have a problem with me or my command we will discuss it when we have privacy.” Celestia slowly drew her eye towards Innocence, adding quietly: “And I would prefer you keep your manipulations to yourself. Even if you should know better, Antares.”

Antares frowned moodily at this, and Innocence looked awkwardly away: but no one said anything. No one dared to, for fear of what would happen if anyone did speak up. At the very least, they would probably reveal their location to the Light... but considering the coldness emanating from both Antares and Celestia...

Thankfully, their attention was drawn away by the sound of a train whistle. They all watched through the shadows beneath the trees as a light appeared, drawing closer through the pouring rain, the sound of the precipitation all around them slowly being drowned out by the rising roar of the approaching machinery. Then Antares winced as he realized the train wasn't slowing, opening his mouth... but Celestia squeezed his shoulder and held him firmly in place, watching as the train rumbled around the slight curve of the tracks in front of them before it smashed into the fallen tree, the whole machine shuddering as sparks flew from the wheels and it began to grind to a shrieking halt.

“That may buy us more time.” Celestia said quietly, watching the cargo cars rumble slowly by, continuing to move forwards mostly beneath its own weight more than the momentum. And then the ivory winged unicorn's eyes narrowed as she saw a distinct flash of pale light near one of the doors up ahead, even as several figures emerged from the engine, visible only thanks to the fact they had glowing lanterns to pierce through the rain and darkness. “Move!”

Celestia leapt forwards without waiting to see if the others were following, and Antares and Innocence stumbled after her a moment later, the Pegasus lagging behind. They hurried for the freight car even as the lantern-bearers drew closer, and Celestia grimaced before looking up as the cargo door was yanked ajar, and a Nightmare wearing an iron collar whispered quickly, even as Celestia shoved her way up on board: “Pious are aboard!”

“What? Celestia, we...” But Antares was only shoved firmly to the side by Celestia, and he fell silent as the ivory mare reached out and seized the back of Innocence's neck, the strange unicorn almost slung into the train and sprawling painfully over a pile of hay bales.

Then Celestia looked out, and she looked at the Pegasus for a moment as he approached before there was a shout from outside. The Pegasus half-turned in surprise... and Celestia's reaction was instantaneous, the ivory mare only flicking her horn sharply, and the Pegasus gasping even as he was flung into the air, his wings catching the air on instinct as he spun around and flew hurriedly towards the sky through the wild rain.

But at the same time, memories were bleeding out of his mind, grabbing at his head as Celestia's magic tore through his brain and erased memories, thoughts... everything but the very base of his personality, and the need to flee for a reason he no longer completely understood, to flee as fast as he could even as thunder tore through the air around him.

Celestia calmly flicked her horn again, and the heavy door closed silently and locked itself tightly, leaving them sitting in the dark with two uneasy Nightmares. Antares had his head bowed and eyes closed, and Innocence grimaced a little as she pushed herself carefully up to a sitting position, while Celestia only said quietly: “I only did what needed to be done. The rebellion is much larger than both of us, Antares. Just like our revenge.”

“Revenge isn't what we should be focusing on, Celestia. We should both know that.” Antares replied evenly, in spite of the way the ivory mare was looking down at him coldly. Then he shook his head slowly, sighing and saying finally, knowing that any other argument would be useless: “Alright. Let's just deal with what's happening right now. There's Pious on board, right?”

“Near the front.” One of the collared Nightmares nodded, before reaching up and hesitantly touching the metal length around her neck. “These seemed to help disrupt their psychic abilities, as you said they would, Mistress Celestia...”

“We'll still need to numb ourselves to avoid being detected while they scan the train. And once the train starts to move, both of you should leave.” Celestia added calmly, looking over at the smoky entities. “I'll send a message to you once we reach the safehouse.”

The two Nightmares simply nodded, and Innocence sighed quietly before she winced a little as the cargo door rattled. Celestia only looked at this contemptibly, however, and a moment later, they heard brief, muffled argument from outside over the sound of the rain striking against the freight train.

Innocence tensed, but Celestia shook her head, horn glowing faintly before she closed her eye as a glow washed over her, pulsing briefly before fading. Her features grew more slack, and her whole body seemed to loosen up as she murmured after a moment: “We need to hide.”

The unicorn looked uneasily back and forth before one of the Nightmares said almost eagerly: “There's a storage compartment above... it's narrow, but we were able to unlock it and hide inside.”

Celestia nodded slowly, and Innocence sighed quietly, shifting uncomfortably before she shook her head in moody distaste. It was going to be a long trip... but hopefully, the numbing charm would at least help her sleep through the worst of it.

Innocence spent most of the ten hour trip on the freight train asleep in a cramped storage area, surrounded by the smell of hay with the faintest hint of mold. But even with her mind numbed to make her thoughts undetectable to the Pious that were keeping watch over the train, she couldn't escape the bad dreams that had plagued her for years now.

It always started with her in the base camp, watching as the forces of Greater Heaven descended. As the entire army was scattered by the awful monsters dropping down from the sky... but she stood there, in the middle of the chaos, fire and death all around her as she watched an enormous and terrible being pick up her parents in its massive hands, then simply crush them.

She screamed, and it was too late: she was swept up by Celestia as the ivory mare ran by, and almost thrown through a portal. But when she landed, she was alone: the scaled unicorn looked back and forth, body trembling, eyes staring around at a Ponyville where half of the people she knew were being marched out in shackles and chains by Pious yanking them along on iron leashes.

She was both ignored and helpless to do anything. All she could do was sit, and watch as they were marched by, by Pious who seemed... so strange to her. They didn't care, and yet they didn't not care, at the same time. They were like gears in a machine, ticking along even when they disagreed with whatever the grand machine they made up was doing.

And once they were past, there were the others: Rarity and Spike, helping Pinkamena get Pinkie Pie out of Ponyville and off towards a place where she'd be safe. There were foals, being sent away: rebels like Avalon and Scootaloo, flying foals out of the nation and away from the grip of the Pious. But it wouldn't be long before the Pious began to expand past Equestrian borders: it was thought the Light was already infiltrating the griffin lands, and that the Pious had been moving southward, through the deserts, and across the seas towards Saddle Arabia. Soon... there would be no safe places left.

Then she saw the Whistler, laughing loudly as he dragged a foal along by her mane, screaming, down the street as it became asphalt, as the buildings rippled and grew into the mighty stone of Canterlot, replacing the humble village of Ponyville. But even though ponies were watching, all of them had golden irises, blinded by the holy Light, crying out praises instead of doing anything to help the poor filly as she struggled and cried and shrieked...

And then reality twisted, shattered, and Innocence was falling into darkness, unable to catch herself, unable to summon her magic, staring back and forth in terror at enormous pieces of broken mirror hailing through the air all around her. And in each piece, reflected a memory of something that Innocence wished she'd never seen, had never happened, that only brought pain.

Like when Celestia and Terra had mounted an attack on a Sanctuary, only to lose half their army in an ambush and be viciously, quickly repelled; when Celestia had found a spy in their midst, and beaten and tortured him right in the halls of their own fortress, before finally killing him in such a splatter of blood; when they had been trying to flee a safehouse that had been compromised in Canterlot, and Discombobulation had stayed behind to buy them some time; when they had seen, for the first time, Discombobulation standing in the Royal Gardens, one of four petrified Draconequus, all of whom had clearly been tortured into their bowing poses before they had been turned to stone, set around a statue of a Pious that was holding up a symbol of the Light's faith.

Innocence fell through her memories, then screamed as one of the shards of mirror shattered and Gymbr lunged out of it, his claws seizing on her throat, his green eyes glowing down into hers. Her mind gave memory strength and life, as she went limp and he spread his black wings, yanking her up into the dark air... and then simply dropping her on a cold stone cliff, landing calmly beside the scaled unicorn as she looked around in confusion.

It was a distorted, blackened nightmare of a world. There was nothing but ruins in the distance, with chaos crackling overhead, and mountains like jagged, broken bones sticking out of the earth's gray, decaying skin. And it was like nothing she recognized... before she looked up in disbelief as Gymbr said quietly: “This is our world, Innocence. This is the world that power begot.”

“What?” Innocence trembled, then shook her head weakly, whispering: “N-No. You're dead. And you were torn apart-”

“In all likelihood, as you see us now... then we have been destroyed, yes. But we have taken steps to ensure that we will never be truly gone: we are more than a mere god. We are a story. We are a journey, given shape and form.” Gymbr looked calmly over at Innocence, who shrank back beneath his gaze before he closed his eyes and said softly: “We have left you with some of our most important memories, Innocence. We are not as foolish or arrogant as we would have you believe. We knew there were forces that could hurt us: the Light, the Hatter, Hel. And your parents: we are not surprised they are what defeated us. It is fitting.”

Gymbr halted, then gestured slowly out over the broken world, saying quietly again: “This is our world. We created it, and then... we destroyed it. We were foolish, Innocence. We were weak.”

“Why are you showing me this? Why are you here?” Innocence shouted, picking herself up even as she fought back trembles of fear, staring over the terrible god with disbelief. “I... this is too much! I need... I don't want this! Get out of my head, leave me alone!”

“We don't exist, child. We are not really here. We cannot hurt you anymore.” Gymbr said with a strange tenderness, and Innocence trembled as she looked uneasily at the winged unicorn, before the god asked in a gentle voice: “Tell us. We gave you power, and made you lust for it. What did your parents give you?”

“I... I don't know. They... cared about me, I guess, and I... I wanted that, too. But I still want power...” Innocence shifted uncertainly, looking down and forcing herself to settle, reminding herself this was all in her mind, trying to convince herself... Gymbr couldn't hurt her. That she didn't have to start subjecting herself to this creature... it was only a shadow, a memory, a brief... dream. “I don't know what you're asking.”

Gymbr only smiled at this, then looked silently up into the writhing, malformed sky, watching as it rippled and clouds snaked and lurched past, flashing all multitude of colors. “We know. But one day, you will. And after you understand, we will give you what tools you need to defeat He Of Many Countless Faces. We still have gifts to give.”

Innocence shivered a little at this, and Gymbr smiled before everything became blurry, the mare shifting back and forth as she felt a heavy weight descending over her body and shoulders, trembling and shivering... before her eyes opened, and she saw Celestia was in front of her, leaning into the cramped storage bay through an open hatch. “Get up. We have to go.”

The mare nodded blearily, then tiredly reached out and pulled herself to the edge of the open hatch as Celestia withdrew. Innocence slowly yanked herself out of the storage compartment, then simply let herself fall, her horn glowing brightly just before she could hit the hard ground, catching herself with a simple levitation spell.

She floated, curled up in an exhausted ball for a moment, and Celestia looked at her with distinct annoyance as Antares cleared his throat and smiled a little behind a hoof despite himself. Innocence yawned as she carefully unfurled her body, stretching slowly out... before wheezing when Celestia stepped on her and drove her into the ground, the ivory mare saying coldly: “If you do something that childish and stupid again, Innocence, I will leave you behind. Do I make myself clear?”

The scaled mare nodded after a moment, the numbness still playing tricks on her mind, making her forget the seriousness of the situation, the tenseness of things around them as she sat uneasily up... then stared in disbelief as Antares said evenly: “If you do something like that again, Celestia, then we will leave you behind.”

Celestia looked up sharply, but there was surprise in her amethyst eye as well, and Antares didn't back down as he looked up at her silently. Innocence uneasily climbed to her claws between them, looking slowly back and forth before Celestia said calmly: “Understood.”

Antares nodded shortly, and Celestia nodded back as they felt the train beginning to slow. The ivory mare flicked her horn towards the loading door, and it rolled open, the three ponies watching the scenery rolling past: they were on the outskirts of a port city, slowly descending down a slope of shale and brittle stone. They were close to the point where they'd have to leave the train...

For a moment, Innocence looked silently back into the empty carriage. Just three of them: they had lost another pony. A pony they maybe could have saved, but who likely had been caught by one of the Pious and blinded by the Light.

She shook her head briefly, then looked up as they rolled past a large tree, still moving fast enough that it was only an indistinct blur. But it was the marker they had been waiting for, and Celestia only waited a moment longer before simply leaping out into the air, spreading her wings and flapping them hard as she lunged away from the train as it turned as sharply as it could in the other direction.

Antares and Innocence both followed: the strange unicorn flicked her horn out, body glowing with darkness as she glided quickly over the ground, then settled gently next to a large, rocky outcropping. Antares landed beside her a moment later, the platform of energy he had used to bounce across sparking out of existence, before both ponies looked up as Celestia flew quickly into the sky. She was heading in the opposite direction of the safehouse, to draw attention away from them...

The siblings watched Celestia fly slowly away, and then the glossy-black unicorn smiled a little over at his sister, saying quietly as he met her mauve eyes: “She does still care about us. Somewhere in there. It's just... she's Freya, as much as she's Celestia. And she hurts. And when she hurts... all she wants to do is hurt other people back.”

Innocence looked down for a moment, then nodded briefly before she sighed a little, murmuring: “Even I know that's not right, Antares. And... I'm just the dishonorable weapon.”

“You're not a weapon, Sin. You're too mopey. Come on, let's get going.” Antares smiled over at her reassuringly, and the mare gave a brief smile in return before the glossy-black unicorn turned to stride along the rocky, uneven slope, checking back and forth but otherwise seeming to relax a little more than he had even in the Everfree Forest. Out here, after all, they were a lot safer thanks to the fact that the Pious were far fewer in number. Their Sanctuaries and Congregations and all their other meeting places were concentrated in central Equestria, and around the Canterlot area.

That, and this port town saw a lot of people constantly coming and going, many of them from other nations. That made it a lot harder for the Light to sink into anyone or make true believers of them, especially since many outside nations were still extremely wary of the Pious, and of the way Equestria had been... infected by the Light. A better word, Innocence thought, than most people knew...

They walked for forty minutes along the uneven slope, until the finally reached a small dirt road winding through the mountains that they were able to carefully slide down onto. The port city was a jewel in the distance, buildings glimmering and a central tower standing like a glowing beacon, but the two turned their backs on it and instead headed along the winding trail, both ponies trading small smiles before Antares said quietly: “So we said we'd talk.”

Innocence looked over at him uneasily, shifting a little, and the stallion smiled at her before he looked up, gazing down the dirt road as he murmured: “But I don't know if we need to, Sin. Talk's cheap. Let me show you, instead. Strawthorn isn't a very big village but... hey, we can find something to do there, and maybe... maybe if I can convince Celestia to loosen up a little, we can walk down to Port Siren together, and look around in the market there. I bet Prestige would love that, too, and you could bring... well... I dunno.”

“What I really want to do is to go back home...” Innocence stopped, then closed her eyes, shaking her head slowly and thinking of what had happened to their house: how the Light had ransacked it, then burned it. How so much had been destroyed... “But I guess that's not possible, is it?”

“One day, baby sister, it will be.” Antares promised quietly, and then he smiled a little at her as she looked up, seeing the... the honesty, the belief in his eyes. “ Just don't let me fall back into being too much of a jerk along the way, okay?”

Innocence smiled a little, then shifted hesitantly, for a moment remembering a few pieces of the dream she'd had... but then she thrust it out of mind, and only nodded to her big brother as they continued down the path side-by-side, in a world that the Light had turned against them, in a place where all they had to count on was each other.

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