• 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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Earning A Place In Hell

Chapter Sixty Eight: Earning A Place In Hell

Luna Brynhild breathed painfully in and out, shivering weakly. She had no idea what had happened to them... she had no idea where they were. All she knew was that... they had... died.

Her eyes snapped open, and then she looked back and forth in disbelief. They were laying on a wide, circular platform of crimson stone, surrounded by burning braziers that red flames danced eerily inside. And by they, she meant herself, Scrivener Blooms... and Twilight Sparkle.

Memories flooded back of fighting He Of Many Countless Faces, being beaten, and Twilight's transformation, and the sapphire mare trembled as she stumbled past Scrivener Blooms to the Lich. The sapphire mare reached down and touched her shoulder, then shook her a few times, whispering: “No... no, no, no... we saved thee... but thou art... oh, T-Twilight...”

The Lich's chest was open, a staring black socket, but otherwise there was only a little bit of stitching over her face and along her body. Her wings were disheveled and splotched with black, and her mane and tail were almost like dark liquid, flowing and twisting, with a single streak of light that thrummed silently in both, like... like hope, in the darkness. The same stuff that filled Luna's heart as Twilight Sparkle shifted silently before her eyes fluttered open... and she gave a weak smile up to the sapphire mare, whispering: “I saw you... vanish.”

“I... I do not remember what happened...” Luna's eyes shifted automatically to Scrivener Blooms, as the charcoal stallion groaned loudly before his Talons flexed and gripped into the ground, carefully pushing himself up... and the sapphire mare smiled faintly, her eyes locking on the collar around his neck as she reached up to touch her own, then drew her eyes towards Twilight, relievedly noting her own collar was still in place. Even if... “Where are we?”

“Where else?” cried a voice, and loud laughter rang out as more braziers roared into life along a wide staircase leading down to the platform they were on, all three ponies looking up in disbelief at the sight of Hel, the real, in-the-flesh Hel, limping slowly down towards them with a wide grin visible on her features. “Oh, it's such a delight to finally be able to say this, my darlings! Welcome to Hell!”

Hel threw her head back and laughed, her cane tapping beside her against the red stone as she stepped down onto the platform, and Luna snarled up at her, opening her mouth... before all questions were lost as she stared in disbelief when Hel lowered her head calmly and revealed one blue-white eye... and one that was now amethyst, thin scars curling around above and just below the optic organ, over the lip of the socket.

Celestia's eye gazed at them out of Hel's head, and Luna mouthed wordlessly, staring in disbelief before the dark goddess calmly reached up and easily brushed her long, messy hair back, asking pleasantly: “You like it? I don't think it's quite my color but it's still very pretty as a sort of accent piece or whatever. I don't know. I was never very good with makeup.”

“What hast thou done to thyself? Sick, depraved freak of nature!” Luna snarled furiously, and Hel only smiled as Luna flicked her soulstone horn... then cursed angrily, grabbing at herself as she realized she didn't have any of her armor on, or her weapons, or... “Where is our equipment! What hast thou done? Oh damnation, goddess, I shall be a tempest upon thy paltry little body if thou does not-”

Hel calmly reached up and made a zipping motion, and Luna was struck silent, the sapphire mare stumbling backwards before her eyes bulged in shock as excruciating pain tore along her spine, forcing her to drop her flank into a sitting position. She shivered weakly, mouthing wordlessly as Scrivener Blooms and Twilight Sparkle both slowly dragged themselves off the ground, staring up at Hel as the goddess said gently: “When you guys were alive, ball was in your court. And I'm a cripple, so. Basketball is not a great game for me. But now you're dead, and you all fell here to the place named after me. And even a cripple can beat corpses at basketball, even if those dead guys were seven feet tall with last names like Jordan and Bryant.”

Hel giggled a little at this, then hugged herself and swayed dreamily back and forth. “Oh, this is all my wildest hopes and dreams come true! This is everything I've ever wanted... even if, you know, I have to be oh so careful now. It's not like I can let your family know you're here, after all...”

“So the whole time, this is all you wanted? Why are we...” Scrivener stopped, then laughed shortly, looking down and closing his eyes tightly. “That's a stupid question. Of course we're here, after all the crap we caused in life... after all the help we accepted from you. That was the fine print, wasn't it? This is... the price.”

“Something like that, chocolate pudding, but hey, don't you despair. It's going to be okay yet.” Hel soothed gently, seeming to soften a little beneath the roiling clouds of Underdark before she sighed softly and looked up at the skies, saying quietly: “I control this dimension. But this is the first time in ages I've felt safe enough to leave the sanctity of my own little cloister... because of you three. That's how much confidence I have in you all being my security blanket... and oh, well...”

Hel calmly rose a hand, and a moment later, another figure strode slowly down the steps. And the three ponies stared in disbelief at Nightmare Moon: the passion entity was crowned with a snarling, draconian helm of dark steel, and a collar made of metallic roses was cinched tight around her neck, gleaming red with bloody polish. She was smiling softly at them, relief visible in her eldritch green eyes as she murmured: “My family... you are safe.”

“Of course, of course. You'd be dead if they weren't.” Hel said amiably, gesturing easily at the dark equine before she turned her eyes back towards the three ponies. “Nightmare Moon has been very helpful while you've been unconscious... and she's been just worried sick about you, but I told her you'd wake up fine. We just had to keep you... in a nice, quiet place.”

“Like... the roof of your mansion?” Scrivener asked distastefully after a moment as he looked back and forth, then he grimaced a little as his eyes roved meditatively towards Nightmare Moon, sizing her slowly up and feeling strangely... betrayed. “And I guess you're happy, then.”

“Not nearly as happy as you might think, Scrivener Blooms.” Nightmare Moon said in a soft, almost humble voice, and the stallion sighed and dropped his head forwards. Silence spiraled out for a few moments, and then Nightmare Moon smiled faintly, leaning forwards and saying almost pleadingly: “It's not that I desired to put you under my power, or become... important here. But you are all that are important to me, and I will do anything to keep you alive. And more, I have been trying my hardest to help with the ongoing problem of... the Light.”

“Yes, but we'll get to that in a moment.” Hel said gently, raising a hand as she looked pointedly at the three ponies, who were all looking at her sharply. But the dark goddess only chuckled quietly, almost placating: “Now look. I know why you're mad at me, I get that you want answers, and... well, you're probably all sore and cranky. I get that. I sympathize with that, even. But listen to me, kids. The first thing we have to talk about is your new existence.”

“We're demons, aren't we?” Twilight Sparkle asked quietly, even as she looked uncomfortably down at her chest, and Scrivener winced a bit as Luna shifted uneasily, finally able to open her mouth... if only so she could nervously lick her lips.

But Hel only laughed loudly at this, then shook her head slowly before responding softly: “Oh, honey, becoming a demon isn't that easy. Now, I'm not going to pretend I know what happened to you and Scrivy-poo, Brynhild. All I know is two years back, you two came flying down out of the chaos and thunked right down on my doorstep.”

Hel pointed absently up at the clouds rumbling and swirling constantly above, and Luna blinked before staring in disbelief, asking sharply: “Two years? Two years, did thou say? Have we truly been gone for that long?”

“Three years and some months, as a matter of fact.” Nightmare Moon said softly, then she lowered her head apologetically when Hel glared at her and whacked the passion entity uselessly a few times with her cane. “I apologize. But you can understand my loyalty to my true Mistress.”

Hel shivered at this, muttering: “Stop calling her 'mistress,' that sounds like self-incest. Use... I dunno. All the words I can think of sound bondagey.”

“Mistress is the origin of miss, missus, etcetera, and originally comes from maistresse, which is the female equivalent of 'master' in the sense of someone who employs others or has authority.” Scrivener rattled off in a sour voice, and then he stopped and looked moodily up for a moment before saying finally: “That seems strangely... definite.”

“Let's just say that one of the side effects of dying is that your memory gets really good.” Hel said mildly, reaching up and tapping her temple as she added grouchily: “And I know where the me the word comes from, Detective Dictionary.”

Scrivener looked sourly at Hel, but the goddess only sniffed disdainfully before grasping her cane by the neck and twisting it uncomfortably back and forth between her hands. “I shouldn't be out much longer. I'm going to get a cold. And it's all so unclean... I'm just lucky that I'm so filthy myself.”

She absently brushed a hand against her spotless white dress, looking down and then scowling as she rubbed at an invisible stain, and then the goddess brushed hurriedly at herself before taking a few slow breaths, holding her hands out as Twilight Sparkle asked almost desperately: “What's happened over the last three years? And if Scrivy and Twilight... I mean... and...”

“Shush, sweetie. It's okay.” Hel said softly, and then she smiled with a little more seriousness as she said gently: “There's been a lot. A lot of... not good, and a lot more bad. The Light's winning upstairs, and me? I'm just trying to stay out of harm's way, because I found out something very, very bad. The mortals think that He Of Many Countless Faces is still alive... but he's not.”

“If... but... why is the Light still here, then?” Scrivener asked disbelievingly, shaking his head quickly before he traded looks with Luna, who frowned worriedly. “We... I remember that we destroyed He Of Many Countless Faces, or... well...”

His eyes roved silently to Twilight Sparkle, who shifted uncomfortably and turned her gaze away, and Hel only smiled faintly as she squeezed her cane slowly, saying softly: “Because when you kill God, sweetie, then the bureaucrats take over. In this case, the Cardinal who acted as his voice has gone and seized control. Killed everyone who knew what was going on, eradicated anyone who tried to stand up to him... and now the Light is playing for keeps.”

“It wasn't before.” Nightmare Moon said quietly, and then she closed her eyes, her horn glowing for a moment, and Luna, Scrivener, and Twilight all flinched at the images that blasted through their minds, staring blankly outwards but only seeing the flashes of what had happened on the mortal world: their entire country almost completely converted, demons being wiped out, Pious spreading the Holy Word and armies of terrifying knights and soldiers preparing themselves...

And so many hurt, and lost. Foals, being taken to an ocean isle kept secret and mobile, while rebels fought with guerrilla tactics and subterfuge, often forced to kill their own allies, neighbors, and friends thanks to the manipulations of the Light. A garden of statues being assembled outside Canterlot, that held powerful demons and chaos entities and friends and family they recognized...

“And death isn't the worst thing that can happen, my dears.” Hel said gently, reaching up and calmly tapping the side of her face that Celestia's eye rested in, the ponies looking up with shivers at this as the goddess said softly: “Oh, you look at me like I'm a monster now – and I guess I kind of am, but that's not the point – but believe me, you're going to be very thankful for this in the very near future. This new eye of mine took years to get into my head properly... but now, I can see through Freya's own eye, and more, into her mind. How dark it's getting in there, and how many cracks are forming in the walls. And my own eye, well... let's just say I took a little page from Mimir's book and what he did with All Daddy's eye, and improved on it. Because unlike Mimir, I don't have to do anything but close my eyes, and...”

Hel tilted her head back, breathing slowly as she let her arms spread, and then she shivered once before murmuring: “You can block out my scrying, and you can stop me from divining, and predicting... but I got a real, real good telescope, too. And sometimes the old fashioned ways work the very best... yes, there it is. They're beefing up security around Valhalla... they have some awful contraption in there, rattling away in our Valhalla, Brynhild, making her bow over and let the Light spank her into doing anything they desire. She's hurting, Brynhild.”

“Then we should attack them, in their own Heaven! Did we not destroy the Gates? Does thou not have all of Helheim at thy disposal?” Luna shouted, raising her head proudly, and Hel smiled as she opened her eyes, even as Nightmare Moon shook her head slowly. “What? What? I will not simply stand back while this atrocity is permitted to-”

“Shush, sweetie-pie. Oh, believe me, I get how angry you are, cinnamon. I am too. But the Light is still a little bit busy right now, a little concerned with itself... or maybe I should say, Mr. Cardinal is working on consolidating his power, and as he's about to find out, that's not quite as easy as he seems to think it's going to be.” Hel paused, then added softly: “And dearie, even though I want to... he hasn't simply re-sealed the Gates of Heaven shut. He's just sealed the Giant's Denial. The Vale, for all intents and purposes, is now completely walled off from Asgard.”

Luna stared in disbelief, and snarled and shook her head vehemently as Twilight Sparkle asked weakly: “But what... then... how...”

“The Pious, easy. They just portal in and out... any other attempts that don't match their creepy magic get... well, it's not pleasant, let's just leave it at that.” Hel grimaced a bit, fanning herself moodily with one hand. “Can I break through? Sure. And so can Theophilius Carter, but well, getting him to cooperate is like trying to sweet talk bees into giving you their honey. It can be done but it takes a lot of time and effort.”

“But we saw him die.” Twilight said disbelievingly, staring up at Hel, and the dark goddess gave a snort of laughter, which just made the Lich shake her head and blurt: “We did!”

“Do you really think you can just squish a god of chaos, and that's that? Next thing you know, you'll wake up covered in cake crumbs because he's been sitting on the ceiling watching you all night.” Hel said mildly, gesturing absently at the rollicking, twisting clouds above her domain. “There's a reason I have Underdark shielded by a whole dome of chaos, kiddo. The stuff is damn near impermeable and indestructible.”

Hel shook her head, then she held up a hand and said gently: “Just listen, kids. In time... I promise you. We'll destroy Heaven. But the people on Midgard have a very, very crucial part to play that we have to let them do, and they can't be distracted, can't know about you, not right now. I haven't led you wrong yet, have I?”

Luna, Twilight, and Scrivener traded looks, then looked up silently, shifting uncomfortably before Nightmare Moon encouraged gently: “Trust her. I have trusted in her, almost as much as I trusted in you, my darlings. And she led me back to you.”

“Why is Nightmare Moon awake, if we were gone for so long? And Twilight Sparkle... why did she... we saved her!” Luna suddenly said forcefully, glaring furiously up at Hel as the dark goddess only looked back at her mildly. “We saved her! Why is she here with us?”

Twilight Sparkle looked strangely hurt at this, gazing over at Luna Brynhild, who shifted awkwardly and said finally: “Well... thou knows that is... I would always-”

“I'm with you two, until the end. Stop... stop trying to save me. Don't save me ever again like that.” Twilight Sparkle said quietly, lowering her head and closing her eyes, before she shivered a little and murmured: “I couldn't live without you two. Even if we weren't connected at the soul... I couldn't live without you two.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Hel smiled gently, saying softly: “So let's move aside that for now and say that... sometimes, things happen. You should be happy! You're all back together now... now and forever. And Nightmare Moon, as you'll recall, is just fulfilling her end of the bargain I made with her. Also, let's say I had plenty of Extract of Nightmare Moon left in a jar from you two abruptly shuffling off the mortal coil. That, mixed with pieces of passion entity scraped out of your brain, let me wake her up right away.

“Now, question period over? Good.” Hel calmly clapped her hands together, saying cheerfully: “You see, you three are little lost lambs right now, in Helheim's fold. And I'm giving you all kinds of special treatment doing this, but... you see, you kind of need to prove that you want to be here. Now I know that's strange and silly, who wants to be in Hell? But oh, honeys, we have a great dental plan! Better healthcare than Heaven! Lower taxes! And best of all, you get to just be yourselves.”

The goddess chuckled as she turned around, striding slowly back up the stairs as Luna scowled and Scrivener Blooms looked up uneasily. Nightmare Moon smiled at them, then turned to follow the limping goddess before Hel stopped at the top of the steps and looked over her shoulder with a smile. “I'm going to give you a few minutes to get ready while I settle back into my home. And I'm going to tell you now, sweeties... you don't have a choice. Well, you do, sure, you always have a choice, but... if you don't accept my offer... if you don't earn yourselves a place in Helheim, and earn your loyalty stripes... then you're not going to be left with a whole lot of options, kiddos.”

The three ponies regarded each other silently as Nightmare Moon flicked her horn, a portal opening for the goddess, and Hel smiled and reached up to silently stroke along the passion entity's face before walking through the portal, murmuring: “All Daddy could have done worse.”

She vanished into the energy, and Nightmare Moon laughed quietly before gazing lovingly over at the three ponies, saying softly: “This is destiny, my family. I know you may not be comfortable with it, but... this is our destiny. It's in your best interests to embrace it.”

With that, Nightmare Moon smiled to herself before turning and vanishing through the portal as well, leaving the three ponies standing uncertainly together on the circular platform, far beneath the swirling chaos of the Underdark's ceiling and above the mansion and the mighty sanctum of Hel herself. Lost souls, lost lambs, standing here in the deepest, darkest core of Helheim...

And as Twilight Sparkle looked slowly up, she realized that in spite of it all... she wasn't sad. Sure, she was afraid, for a lot of reasons. And she wasn't sure what to make of everything that had happened, didn't even know what she should be feeling at the moment. There was pain there, yes... but a lot of that pain came from the stupid, childish thought that... Luna and Scrivener had almost left her behind again.

Yes, they had tried to save her life. Yes, she had thought they... they were gone forever, when they had vanished into that awful gaping hole into... nothingness. But here they were, back and in one piece, and none of them knew how, and all of them were so, so very glad for it... but part of her was... was so pissed off. Again, they had gone and stupidly attempted to sacrifice themselves... and worse, for a mistake that she had made, in the grips of power and darkness she hadn't been able to control...

“Twilight... 'twas not thy fault.” Luna said softly, and the Lich shook her head almost violently, but it only made both Scrivener and Luna trade looks and smile faintly. “Nay, I am not just mouthing platitudes. What would have happened had thou not done what was necessary? What would have happened had thou not used all thy power? He Of Many Countless Faces would have survived.”

“And... I hate to say it, but maybe that would have been better. What... what Nightmare Moon showed us was a world where the Light isn't just attacking people like us, it's blinding and consuming everyone in sight.” Twilight whispered, shaking her head and shivering. “At least He Of Many Countless Faces came after us himself... but this... Cardinal...”

Scrivener looked down before he nodded slowly, and Luna closed her eyes before she murmured: “And who knows what else could have been, Twilight Sparkle? Perhaps, had we all survived... Scrivener and I would have done awful things to thou. Or worse, the things we might have done together, with thy powers... and if thou truly wert consumed with it-”

“Then it's my fault!” Twilight said forcefully, and she looked back and forth shivering before she gritted her teeth and forced herself to calm down, saying almost pleadingly: “Don't you two understand that you're not responsible for every bad thing in my life, for all the nasty things I've done? I... those are my choices, too! Look at what I became, that was all me, none of it was you! None of it... was you... and...”

Twilight halted, looking down and trembling as she whispered: “Blaming you two for it is an easy way out and always has been. Look at me. I like what I've become. I like that we're together, and the fact that we're in Hell isn't... isn't even secondary, it isn't even on the map. I'm just happy we're together, and that's not coming from you. I... I feel my connection with you two, but... it's...”

Twilight frowned a little, looking up before she suddenly reached out and punched Scrivener lightly in the nose. The stallion yelped and grabbed at the end of his muzzle, glaring at her, and Luna winced to the side... then wrinkled up her own muzzle in surprise as Scrivener only glowered at the Lich, still holding the throbbing end of his muzzle before the Lich looked at Luna and asked quietly: “Did you feel that?”

“I... I did not. What in Mimir's name...” Luna looked uneasily over at Scrivener Blooms, but even before their eyes met, emotions were swirling back and forth between them, along with images, thoughts, entire theories that they hadn't even had the time to form coherently in their own minds and yet were already easily traded between the two ponies... “But our link works. I do not understand...”

“Oh, oh, oh, I'll answer that one!” said a cheery voice, and the three ponies winced and looked up to see one of Hel's puppets was standing on top of the steps, the bovine-headed ice construct waving at them brightly. “Vanilla cupcake, cinnamon toast, chocolate truffle! Your soul link was a beautiful idea but it was really crappy how the three of you were so... dependent on each other. So before you three woke up, I did a little playing around with your tether... now you three are all connected equally.”

“What?” Luna stared over at Twilight Sparkle, then she looked awkwardly at the large hole in her chest, saying slowly: “Methinks, Hel, that requires a bit of explanation...”

“Well, Twilight is still a Lich... sort of... so what happens to her body won't pass over to you two... although you'll both feel her pain more.” Hel said mildly, the puppet bouncing down the stairs to stop in front of them. “And whatever happens to you two will only reflect in major wounds. No more feeling every knick, cut, scrape or slap!”

Hel accented this by firmly slapping Scrivener Blooms, knocking him staggering, making Luna and Twilight both wince... but only a little, as nothing more than minor pains sparked through their cheeks. The stallion glared up at the goddess, but Luna forced herself to take a slow breath before she frowned and looked uneasily at Twilight Sparkle, saying slowly: “Wait. So we are in Helheim... but Twilight is in a physical body... and... well, there are changes to her, Hel...”

“Yes. Yes there are.” Hel reached down and tenderly stroked through Twilight Sparkle's mane, looking down at her with... affection. Clear, maternal affection in her gestures, that Twilight Sparkle shifted uncomfortably away from as the dark goddess murmured: “Look at you, baby girl. Oh, I'm so proud of you...”

There was silence for a few moments as Scrivener and Luna looked at Hel, and Hel smiled down at Twilight, who shifted uncomfortably again before the construct suddenly shook her head and straightened, gazing up and saying ironically: “Well, that was awkward. But okay, kids! Let's... skip all the rest of the boring crap and get to the fun, huh? Where you three prove to me that you're willing to do whatever it takes to join Hell. To be part of our fun-loving community that's passionate about its beliefs and always puts safety first. For. You know. Me. My safety, definitely not yours.”

Scrivener and Luna both looked up sourly, and Twilight Sparkle shifted a little, her dark mane swirling uncertainly before she asked finally: “What do you want us to do?”

“Enjoy yourselves.” Hel said softly, smiling calmly as she easily half-turned and rose a hand, and thunder crackled through the air before three massive, ornate gates ripped out of the rooftop, made from heavy plates of gold and each embossed with a different emblem: a rose, a crescent moon, a six-pointed star. “Yes, that's all you have to do... as the old song goes...”

Hel laughed, then the puppet turned around, striding slowly backwards up the stairs as she spread her arms wide and sang in a slow, throaty voice: “Enjoy yourselves, it's later than you think... enjoy yourselves, while you're still in the pink... the years go by, as quickly as a wink... enjoy yourselves, enjoy yourselves, it's later than you think...”

She laughed loudly again, then grinned widely as her eyes flashed before she vanished in a puff of blue smoke, and the symbols carved over each golden door glowed brightly with distinct white radiance, each casting a circle of light on the ground in front of it. Scrivener, Luna, and Twilight Sparkle all traded uneasy looks, before the sapphire mare looked up and shouted: “We shall not play thy games, Hel!”

“Then don't. Just turn around and walk away.” Hel's voice came contritely, and a moment later, a blast of lightning struck the edge of the roof behind them, making the three ponies wince and stumble around to see there was now a large blue archway behind them, formed from ice and thrumming with electricity. “Go ahead. Step on into that portal. It'll fling you out into Helheim somewhere, and you can go back up to Midgard from there... I'm not kidding myself, pretending you three couldn't escape if you really wanted to. Go ahead. Go up. Find your friends and family.”

Luna and Scrivener traded uneasy looks as Twilight only stared up into the sky... and after a few moments, Hel's voice spoke again, saying softly: “Exactly. You know you need my help. You know that if the world above is even in half the mess it is... you need what you know I'm offering at the end of the tunnel. All the power of Helheim... and hell, maybe it's even simpler than that. You three must feel it: the sense of what you were always supposed to be. The place you always were supposed to go... there's no other reason the three of you should be here, after all. A Lich, a Valkyrie, and a Clockwork Pony... in death, your spirits should have been dissolved, thrown into the Void, never to return.

“But instead, here you all are. And I'd love to take credit for it, believe you me. I'd love to say that I was the one behind all of this, making sure that you were all forced to come and see things my way. And unfortunately, I can't.” Hel sounded thoughtful, though, like something was gnawing at her mind before she finally said mildly: “But I can still help with one thing. And that's making you three the absolute best that you can be. You still have a lot of potential, all three of you... but in return, I need a guarantee that you'll listen to me. And that when the Light is dead, everything will return to normal... well, except for the fact I'll have my four best friends down here in Helheim with me.”

Her voice faded out with a laugh, and Scrivener grimaced a bit as Twilight Sparkle lowered her head and Luna Brynhild shook her own slowly, her eyes hard and cold before she finally gritted her teeth and muttered: “Damnation... simply... damnation.”

“That's where we're headed.” Scrivener Blooms said quietly, and Twilight Sparkle laughed a little bit, the charcoal stallion looking up and smiling a little despite himself as he felt her thoughts even before she said the words.

“I think we were already long damned, Scrivy.” the Lich said quietly, and then she shook her head with a soft sigh, looking down silently for a few moments before she murmured: “I want to trust Hel and I don't know why. I don't mean... I don't mean like how I try to trust other people, even when I don't agree with them. I mean... I want to trust her in a way that I used to trust Celestia... maybe even deeper than that. And I can't explain why...”

Luna and Scrivener both looked at the Lich, then watched as she shook her head before slowly striding towards the gate with her cutie mark on it, looking up silently at the golden door until she finally stepped into the spotlight shining down from it. And the moment she did, the light flickered, turning a bright purple, making her wince a little before she looked over her shoulder and smiled a little, gazing silently at her two soulmates.

Scrivy and Luna traded looks... then slow nods. They both had worries of their own, but they trusted Twilight... and more annoying to Luna, she felt... indebted to Hel, for actually helping with their tether, making Twilight more equal to them. Not that she completely understood what that mean... but all the same, the sapphire mare felt that it was a good sign. That it meant they could trust Hel for the moment... even if her endgame was questionable.

The sapphire mare strode into her own spotlight, in front of her own door, and the white radiance turned a deep blue, almost the same color as her coat. And only seconds later, Scrivener stepped into his own spotlight, and looked up moodily as it turned black, saying after a moment: “I feel kind of like a cliché at times, you know that?”

As if in response, the spotlight turned a cheery pink, and Luna cleared her throat as Twilight smiled despite herself, Scrivener wincing and grumbling: “Nevermind. Cliché is fine.”

The light turned black again, and for a few moments, the three only stood in front of their separate gateways... and then a moment later, there was a bright flash of light, and the three ponies were all simply gone as the light from the gates faded completely.

Scrivener Blooms blinked stupidly as he looked back and forth, before he winced and cursed, body flexing in pain as he felt static rip through his mind, silencing his mental link with Twilight and Luna before he could feel more than their own surprise at wherever they had been taken. He gritted his teeth, looking up, but then Hel's voice announced clearly, making the air ring with how loud it was: “I'm just giving all three of you some well-deserved privacy so you can concentrate on doing your own things. Each of you has to make this journey alone, you see. But if you really belong together... you'll be with each other in the end.”

Scrivener Blooms looked uneasily up for a few moments, and then he grimaced a little as he turned his eyes forwards, looking slowly back and forth before muttering: “As if we have any choice... but... what the hell is this?”

There was nothing in front of him except for an empty corridor, lined on either side by golden fencing beyond which he could only see... darkness. Just like above, there was only blackness, and the occasional thunder of violet light. And in front of him stretched only golden sand in a forty foot corridor... but the emptiness of it only made him all the more nervous about what Hel had planned.

“Earning the way to Hell...” Scrivener shifted uneasily as he realized he was talking out loud to himself, and he shook his head briefly before muttering: “Don't be an idiot, Scrivy, no one can hear you, except probably Hel, and it's not like you don't already act dumb and crazy enough as it is...”

He stopped, realized he was still talking to himself and that now it was actually only making him more anxious, and he grumbled before resolutely clamping his mouth shut and starting forwards, heading uneasily down the corridor, his Talons flexing a little and his eyes looking anxiously back and forth for whatever trap was waiting to spring around him.

He made it halfway across the area before it happened: a surge went through both his Talons, and Scrivener cursed in pain before he stared in shock as the ground rippled violently, then transformed rapidly into corruption. And not just normal mire: this stuff was concentrated and rippled with potency, almost seeming to throw itself at the stallion as he gasped and staggered back and forth, feeling it pulsing under his claws before he shook his head violently as dark lighting surged over his form and he hissed: “No, no... s-stop it!”

“Learning curve time, sweetie. What you don't take within... can kill you from without.” said Hel's voice kindly, and Scrivener gritted his teeth... then stared in shock as a black spike of crystal shot up from the ground, ripping through his shoulder and high past him, sending up a burst of dark ooze. Then another spike shot up from the mire, ripping through his stomach as tentacles of dark slime twisted up around his legs and lashed up against his body, grasping at him, constricting him, crushing him as he twisted back and forth helplessly.

Several more spikes of crystallized corruption tore up from the ground, ripping through his body, and the stallion roared in not pain, but frustration and defiance, his body shaking not from the attacks against it, but instead from trying to repress the primal feelings rushing up through his body, feeling his frame quaking with growing desire, his eyes darting frantically back and forth as the crystalline spikes buried through his form cracked with his sheer shoving and tugging against them, his mouth gasped for air even as black blood dribbled from his lips...

And Hel laughed at him: laughed, as the mire rippled and surged up against him, the stallion almost hearing it moaning his name as the goddess mocked: “Look at you! Here we are, just discussed the rules, and look at you! You're so pathetic, Scrivener Blooms... pathetic and weak, unable to control yourself and too scared to try and be a goddamn man for once in your worthless little life, you eternally-irresponsible boy-child.”

Scrivener's eyes flashed, and then he roared and ripped himself backwards before two enormous spears of corruption shot out of the ground straight at his face, spinning violently, but the stallion caught both of these in his Talons, halting them dead even as more tentacles of mire lashed up around his forelegs, his eyes blazing as he shouted furiously: “I am not weak! I am not a failure!”

His Talons glowed brightly, and Scrivener's body rippled, his hide becoming patchy with scales, his eyes glowing as small, conical bone-pistons tore out of his upper back along his spine. His teeth grew larger in his jaw, bearing in a snarl as the spires of corruption he was clutching both rapidly turned dead white, the tendrils of mire around him bursting apart into ashes and muck that slopped away from his form as the whole of the passageway rumbled, then turned quickly to dust and ash, the stallion breathing hard as his muscles flexed powerfully, looking slowly back and forth before he clenched his eyes shut and shivered.

He breathed slowly in and out, then looked silently down at one Talon, flexing it slowly: it had increased slightly in size to match the fact that his own bulk and weight had increased, his powerful frame thrumming as engorged muscles flexed slowly and veins of corruption pumped dark, ultra-concentrated black blood throughout his almost-monstrous frame. His mane had thinned slightly, while his features had thinned and tightened, eyes backed by a faint blue light as he glared back and forth, and along his back the three bone pistons pumped steadily, sparking with electricity, making his blood surge and his body flex as he felt something... something inside him... opening up.

“Good. Oh, beautiful, Scrivener Blooms...” Hel praised in a delighted voice, and then there was a quiet laugh before the gate at the end of the corridor opened, saying softly: “Go in. Oh, go right on through, right ahead, you and Luna are doing just fine... and you know, it's not a race or anything, of course, but I think Little Miss Twilight is going to beat both of you... she's already passed her first two trials with flying colors. Now dedication... that is dedication. You have no idea just how lucky you sweet peas are to have her.”

“We have more of an idea than you might expect.” Scrivener said quietly, looking down as he breathed slowly in and out, shivering a little before he looked silently at one claw. He could feel all that corruption in his veins, pulsing through his body, making every bad instinct rise up and every dark thought louder as he felt power... oh, such power...

He shook his thoughts off with a mumbled curse, then slowly straightened before forcing himself to stride forwards and into the next area. This one was more square, with a cement floor and a pretty, decorative fountain altar in the center of the room. There was a single narrow bowl of water on the top of the octagonal, wide base, holes cut in this that clear liquid constantly spilled through, landing in grooves that were etched over the surface of the enormous eight sided block to trail and twist in every direction to form pretty patterns and runes, then spill in gentle waterfalls down into narrow fluting around the edge of the fountain.

What caught Scrivener's eye, however, was the fact that there was a mare sitting on this fountain, complacent and smiling at him as he slowly approached. He frowned at her nervously, but he didn't sense much energy emanating from her... and even as his eyes flashed and he felt himself looking 'beneath the masks' as he always called it, staring into her aura, her energy, reading her emotions, he saw no hostility, no big secret, no plan to attack... nothing but some low-tier quasi-demon even a mortal could handle without trouble.

He tore his gaze away, blinking a few times as the demoness gazed at him with a smile: all the same, he felt uneasy as he strode up to her and stood over her, towering over her: only the size of a normal earth pony mare, with her pretty white coat and silver-and-black mane and dark, beautiful eyes that were so... innocent...

“Hello Scrivener Blooms. My name is Justine. And my sister is named Juliette.” She paused, looking back and forth before sighing a little as Scrivener Blooms tilted his head... then winced as he felt strong hooves grasp his shoulders, and someone who was extremely far from shy leaned in and licked slowly up the side of his face. “Juliette.”

“Oh shut up, Justine, lighten up. It's not like a bolt of lightning is going to strike you dead for being a dirty girl, after all.” retorted the mare that had just grasped into Scrivener, and then she pushed herself away with a sniff: she was a soft pink color, with a messy mane of red hues that small black horns stuck out of, her eyes hungry as slit-like pupils leered out at him, her forked tongue licking her lips before she purred: “Hi. I can't wait for you to have your fun.”

Scrivener looked uncomfortably between the siblings, and Justine shook her head before saying quietly: “Stop that, Juliette. He's going to be our friend. We can trust him.”

“He's going to be our master. But since we can't kill him, we should just lay back, let him have his way with us.” Juliette replied with a shrug, and Scrivener winced a bit at the two of them before the demon grinned up at him. “I don't care, though. I know what the world's all about. Justine is the stupid one here, still doesn't understand that life's all about fun and there's no real punishments. Hell isn't what it's all cracked up to be.”

“Don't tease Hel!” Justine said crossly, and her sister laughed loudly. And Scrivener winced as he looked between the siblings: they weren't quite twins, but they were very similar... apart from the whole 'being complete opposites' thing, that was.

Scrivener looked uneasily between the pair as he stepped backwards, then he shook his head and said finally: “I just want through. You're uh... very nice, but I just want to get through here.”

The sisters traded looks, and then Justine looked thoughtful as she said finally: “Well, Hel said that the gates will only open after we help you... find yourself. We're apparently not supposed to resist... but Hel has blessed both myself and my sister, so-”

“You have to give in. I smell it on you, unlike my dumb sister, who goes and constantly gets herself in trouble and never seems to learn how to avoid it.” Juliette interrupted and answered, one hoof reaching up to stroke slowly under Scrivener's chin as he winced back a bit. “Hel said we're your training wheels. I only agreed to this because she promised that permanently, all our pain was going to become pleasure... but only if you succeed in this task. So that's why I want to help you: now sink those claws into me and show me what kind of monster you are, stallion.”

She pushed up against him, grinning widely as Justine shifted uncomfortably and said uneasily: “I believe in Lady Hel, but I don't know if that's entirely what she meant, sister...”

“Get off me.” Scrivener grimaced and shoved Juliette backwards, shivering a little even as he felt... a twist of hunger run through him, a burst of excitement, and a deep, almost-anxious curiosity to know more about precisely what Hel had told them, what he had a chance to do... but instead he swept past, looking back and forth with a grimace before shouting at the gate leading out: “I know the difference between right and wrong, Hel!”

“Don't be afraid now, Scrivener Blooms... we've been told all about you, even though I think my naïve sister only heard the good things, and I kept my attention on all the... more interesting things.” Juliette said almost tenderly as she strode slowly up to his side, and then he wrapped a foreleg around his shoulder as she pushed her lips to his ear, whispering: “Don't be afraid, in case precautions and protective contrivances diminish your pleasure: mystery only adds more.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then the stallion looked at her as she half-lidded her eyes up at him, saying teasingly as Justine shifted uneasily on the fountain: “We're just worthless mares. Slaves to your will. Willing slaves. You're a stallion, clearly superior to us, clearly in control. Bigger, stronger, better... a master. We're weak and obedient.”

“I'm not... that isn't...” Scrivener shook his head with a grimace, then he shoved Juliette back again, but she only laughed before he gritted his teeth, glaring over at the gate out and muttering: “Goddammit... Hel, I... I'm not... you can't make me-”

“Or maybe I'm wrong, then.” Juliette said easily, raising her head and looking over her shoulder at him, and the stallion scowled before he slowly turned his eyes towards her, as the mare straightened and walked over to him, then reached up and shoved a hoof up against his face, studying him as she said derisively: “You're impotent. Weak. Unable to take control or take charge. You'd prefer to squander away all your time with thinking and moaning and whimpering: you're all husk and no heft. Look at you, at how ugly you are, probably from all the years you've just sat back and allowed yourself to be beaten on because you're a spineless coward, used to hiding behind mommy's skirts and tail.”

“Juliette, stop it!” Justine shouted, and her sister only laughed loudly before the younger sibling gave an awkward smile at Scrivener, who was glaring furiously at the more libertine of the sisters. “Sir, please excuse her... we're... we don't mean to invite trouble. It's just that Hel has asked us to try and find the right way to help you, but all my sister ever thinks of is herself, and how she sees the world. If you have no interest in physical things, that is fine and well: I've met too few stallions who were kind and gentle instead of...”

“Strong. Who knew what they wanted and took it. But I suppose pathetic is exotic in its own way...” Juliette smiled contemptibly, tilting her head up as she strolled slowly around Scrivener, dragging her side against his body and then flicking his face with her tail as she passed, and the stallion gritted his teeth as she continued calmly: “No wonder you wear those stupid-looking claws... to make yourself look fiercer, kitten, is that it? But it looks like your impotency applies to more than just what's between your legs...”

Scrivener breathed slowly in and out, grinding his sharp teeth together, doing his best to keep himself under control as Justine said hurriedly: “Juliette, that's enough, stop pushing him and leave him alone, he clearly doesn't want-”

“Doesn't want, or can't? There's a difference.” Juliette ridiculed, her head raising high, turning around to look challenging up at the stallion. “You're one of those big, strong stallions who excuses his cowardice with 'self-control,' isn't that right? Well, I don't find that impressive. Or oh, I know, you respect mares too much to even speak down to me, oh, is that right? Well I don't want the respect of a quivering coward like yourself. But no, no, it's about doing the right thing, right? Because that will take you so far in life. That's fine, though, you believe that, sweetheart. People like me needs marks and losers like you to build our empires on the backs of.”

Scrivener trembled a little, and Justine winced before saying hurriedly: “This isn't what Hel meant! We're supposed to help him! And being good... living well is its own reward!”

“Oh?” Juliette turned her eyes towards Scrivener Blooms, then reached up and grasped into his face. He tried to shove her back, but she grinned and slapped him as she was pushed away, then leapt forwards and slapped him again, the stallion snarling before he reached up and caught her hoof when she swung it at him again. He clutched it in one Talon... and fearlessly, Juliette slapped him mockingly again with her free hoof, before Scrivener managed to catch this too, his eyes glowing with anger, his body trembling with rage and hate and so many dark urges running through his frame...

“Trying to be tough? By holding my hooves and looking at me like you're going to scold me? You're no stallion. I'm only a mare, and you can't do a thing to me. You're weak and pathetic. All that size and strength, and you have no real power. You're a toy. You're a pile of mud, all soft and squishy and worthless. No matter how big you get or how you shape yourself, you're nothing but a little colt.” Juliette taunted, and Scrivener trembled in fury before the mare leaned forwards and spat in his face, then smiled as he froze, staring at her with disbelief. “You're weak.”

Scrivener flung her backwards, then trembled as he reached up and touched his face, smearing the spittle over his muzzle before a hoof touched his side, Justine smiling up at him encouragingly as she said kindly: “It's okay to be weak. It's okay to be soft. Not everyone can be strong.”

Scrivener's claw slowly flexed against the ground, and Juliette stepped forwards, looking up into Scrivener's face before she said with clear disgust: “You're a disappointment.”

“Juliette, just stop it.” Justine stepped in front of him, taking one of his Talons and rubbing it in a patronizing, soothing gesture. Scrivener's eyes roved down, staring at this, and then he gritted his teeth, feeling inarticulate, inexplicable anger filling him up, feeling something inside him roaring and snarling: and not at Juliette, no. Juliette, the darkness in him recognized, and felt kinship with even as much as he fought it, even as angry as she tried to make him. But Justine was trying to be nice, trying to be kind, trying to treat him so honestly as... soft, and pathetic, and like a child... “He doesn't want to play your games. Let's speak to him. Hel sent him here for a reason.”

Juliette smiled, mocking in response: “Or what? What are you going to do, Justine? Scold me to death? I don't give a crowbait's flank, you adopt your scared little puppy and have tea parties with him and try to protect him from the world...”

“I said stop that, he's clearly upset and he doesn't need you picking on him anymore.” Juliette said firmly, and Scrivener's fangs bared as he glared furiously down at Juliette, hating being patronized, hating even more the way she humiliated him, feeling fury boiling through his body. “So what if he's... he's shy, or afraid, or doesn't want-”

“I don't need you to protect me...” Scrivener muttered, and Justine frowned a little, the white mare looking curiously over her shoulder and up at the stallion as he shook his head quickly, then he yanked his claw back and said in a clearer growl: “I said, I don't need you to protect me.”

“Oh, sweetie, it's okay. Don't worry about things, I know you're upset and this is hard, but I'm here for you.” Justine reached up, soothingly rubbing his shoulders, making him feel so small, so pathetic, so stupid. He felt more humiliated, more patronized, more infuriated with every passing moment... “I'll take care of this. It's perfectly okay to be weak.”

“I am not weak!” Scrivener shouted, and then a Talon lashed up, seizing Justine by the throat, choking her before he slammed her viciously down on her back. Her hooves grabbed weakly at his wrist as he pinned her, his fangs baring in a snarl, his eyes glowing with anger... before he looked up as Juliette laughed loudly, clapping her hooves as Justine struggled weakly, clawing helplessly at the metal wrist of the stallion.

“Virtue's reward, isn't that so, Justine?” Juliette laughed again, then grinned widely, challengingly, at Scrivener Blooms, leaning forwards and mocking: “So you think you can handle sweet little Justine, but I already see you wanting to draw back, to whimper, to give up before you even finish what you've started... you can't even handle her! Here, do you want my help, mare? Do you need me to show you how to act like a stallion and take what you desire? Because this posturing is even more pathetic than when you were being a little crybaby, hiding behind the nearest mare.”

Scrivener's eyes blazed, and then he flung Justine to the side, striding towards Juliette and seizing her by the throat to lift her into the air and slam her down onto her back. But she only laughed even as he choked her, grasping his foreleg but stroking along it instead of trying to resist, grinning up at him as she rasped: “You don't respect anyone. You're just too much of a coward to embrace who you are... and would prefer pretending you're too honorable to let go instead of too weak and scared to embrace who you truly are...”

Scrivener hefted her, then slammed her down against the ground once, twice... and then he pushed down, his eyes glowing with blue light, bone pistons pumping and muscles flexing through his hide as he placed his other Talon against her stomach, his eyes glowing as he replied coldly: “You want to see what I'm capable of? Hel wants me to embrace who I truly am and earn my way to Helheim? Fine. I'll do that.”

He began to bear down... then looked up as Justine seized his shoulder, saying hurriedly: “Wait! You don't have to do this, and-”

“No, let him! I want it, or did you forget what Hel promised? Pain is pleasure!” Juliette grinned widely, licking her lips eagerly before she added derisively: “But it's cute of you to leap to his aid so he can go back to letting mommy-idols make all the decision for him...”

“Juliette, stop and think for a moment how wrong this is, and... Scrivener, you don't have to try and prove you're strong, it's perfectly fine if you're not, this is all out of fear and-” Before Justine could finish, Scrivener's other Talon seized her by the mane and flung her to the ground, and then the stallion stepped forwards and pinned her cruelly by the face as his eyes glowed.

“I am not weak!” he roared, and as Justine struggled and Juliette laughed, a grin spread over the stallion's face before he said darkly: “Now. Let's begin.”

His Talons flexed, and Juliette's eyes widened in shock as black veins began to scrawl along her hide, and Justine screamed as the same dark trails spiderwebbed over her face... and in another corridor, Luna looked up for a moment as she thought she heard shrieking. Then she only sighed and shook her head slowly, returning her eyes forwards and asking moodily: “Are we done here?”

She shook herself absently, flowing mane sparking faintly, her body splattered with blood and a large spear covered in ugly barbs and spikes along the length of the shaft floating beside her. The end of it was dripping with more red fluid, leaf-shaped and elongated and with its own dangerous twists and curves. She had been eager at first when she'd picked the weapon up... but the corpses all around her weren't the corpses of warriors. They were the dead bodies of people who had been an affront to her senses, who dissented and argued against her, who had been scum... and the statue of Hel standing at one side of the gate leading out had asked her to be their executioner.

She had complied, just like she had savagely beaten the pony in the first room to death when Hel had told her who the prisoner was. She knew there was no other way forwards, and she knew what Hel was doing: not testing them, but staining them. Playing on their weaknesses and exacerbating the worst parts of themselves to ensure they would have a place in her dark kingdom...

In response, the gate rumbled open and the statue of Hel giggled, and Luna simply scowled before she flung the torturous weapon aside, striding forwards and into the next area. And then the sapphire mare frowned as she looked back and forth in surprise, entering a beautiful room with a soft rug beneath her hooves and gorgeous cushions all around, and a single throne... in front of which Luna saw Myre sitting with her head bowed, and four other ponies. Two stallions, two mares, all black as night with silvery manes... all reeking of concentrated corruption that made her mouth water even as Myre whispered: “I'm sorry.”

Luna slowly approached, gazing past at the throne: it was tall, and silver, and upon the top of it was the sign of the crescent moon. She stared at this, then around at the four ponies, and Myre trembled even as she forced herself to look up, the Fate saying softly: “Everything will be yours. All this, and more. If you're willing to embrace it...”

Myre reached up, stroked her own neck slowly, the vein thrumming invitingly and her whole body submissive, wanting to give herself to Luna... and in many ways, at that. The sapphire mare bit her lip, shaking her head weakly as she looked back and forth as the other four closed in around her, comprised of everything she found so attractive in partners... all of them made of that delicious poison she craved, as she whispered: “N-No... no... thou... thou shall not break me...”

“It's not about being strong or weak, free or tamed, whole or broken... it's about facing yourself, and being forced to embrace every part of who you are.” Myre said quietly, looking down and closing her eyes. “Hel doesn't care how much it hurts you, or what it does to you, if it makes you stronger or more useful to her. Hel doesn't care about anything but the truth.”

Luna breathed hard in and out, swallowing thickly as she looked down for a moment before gritting her teeth and simply nodding once. She knew what she had to do... what she had to become and embrace. There was no other choice if she wanted to save her family and friends... and... and why lie? She wanted it. She wanted this. She wanted to be justified, to be able to rationalize, to feel... it wasn't her fault, that this was the way she was being forced to go...

She slid forwards almost lethargically, staring at the throne before swallowing thickly as she turned around and sat herself back in it... and all five ponies formed from corruption bowed to her before looking up as Myre said softly: “Just let go. It'll be easier.”

Luna closed her eyes and tilted her head back as she felt their hooves sliding up to hers, felt mouths kissing against her body chastely, felt herself in their grips in this throne that was like the executioner's stage... and then she gasped softly, and whispered despite the tears that wanted to form in her eyes and spill down her cheeks: “Then I shall be Mistress, and thou my servants... and I shall drink my fill...”

She felt it: Myre's embrace, before Luna's teeth grazed against an exposed neck... and then bit down and into it, as delicious as forbidden fruit, the wound spreading wide and spilling its dark and delicious liquid into her jaws. Her poison, her corruption, her addiction... her need, her salvation, the source of all her strength...

Scrivener Blooms looked slowly up from his handiwork as he felt a strange shiver run down his spine, before his eyes focused as he gazed down at one blood-soaked Talon. Justine was trembling, laying brokenly on her side, her coat almost dyed completely red as she drooled a little over the floor and stared sightlessly outwards. But Juliette was looking content, her eyes closed, laying back beneath the fountain as water poured across her body, to spill through the trenches of her wounds and turn the liquid filling the chasms and carvings over the fountain's surface crimson.

She smiled in pleasure, reaching up and gently lifting one of her own coils of intestine before letting it simply slip free and land with a splatter, giggling a little to herself before she huffed when Justine whimpered. “Oh shut up. It's because you won't embrace it... living your life of goodness only brings suffering. You need to embrace passion and freedom... you need to take whatever you can, from whoever you can.”

Juliette hauled herself up, and then she smiled over at Scrivener Blooms before she whispered: “And you. Don't turn weak on me now. You need to learn that lesson too.”

Scrivener looked away, and then he closed his eyes before reaching a claw out and digging his claws into her breast, pulling her closer to him. She laughed as she was dragged across the fountain, rear legs spasming uselessly before his other claw reached up and tangled into her bloody, torn mane, yanking her head against his powerful body as he breathed slowly in and out before whispering in her ear: “I could have killed you. More, I've torn you apart, outside and inside. Is the pleasure worth never being able to walk again?”

“I'll walk again.” Juliette murmured back, smiling coldly as she closed her eyes, reaching her hooves up to tenderly stroke over his face, leaving streaks of blood against his features. “I was never doing this for you. Hel didn't just promise a moment of pleasure: she promised me noble status, and that I would be healed, and even stronger when I emerged. But I heard that you're supposed to be given a special status yourself... so why don't we make another deal? Give me power. Give me more pleasure. I'll be your toy, for as long as it suits me and as long as you're strong. I'll do whatever you want.”

“I don't need garbage like you.” Scrivener said coldly, and he reached up and shoved her away, throwing her back against the fountain... before he frowned when Juliette threw her head back and laughed in delight. “What?”

“Oh, just... seeing someone else wake up from all the lies we're told as foals... it makes me smile.” Juliette flopped forwards, licking her own bloody hoof slowly with a wide grin, her torn-apart body laying in a way that was exquisite, erotic, and macabre all at once. “And that means I succeeded with you. Get out of here, Scrivener Blooms... but we'll meet again. I look eagerly forwards to it.”

Scrivener growled, and Juliette giggled as the gate opened, taunting as the stallion turned away: “There's that unflattering self-control again! I hope you get rid of that by the time we meet next.”

Scrivener snorted in disgust, striding over Justine's limp body on the way out, the mare whimpering a little and shivering weakly as Juliette half-sat up, then grinned slightly at the stallion's back, licking her teeth hungrily as she whispered: “But oh yes. You're on the way down, down, down, into our domain. We're going to have so much fun with him, sister.”

Scrivener Blooms strode into the next, smaller cement room, then he looked darkly back and forth before his eyes locked on the sight of a demon ahead, pillars on either side of it holding the weakened creature's arms wide. Spikes were buried throughout its body, and it had clearly been tortured, a helm sealed over its head that left only its gasping muzzle visible. The helm blinded it, deafened it to the world, and Scrivener Blooms approached with his body burning with disgust, and anger, and... darkness, as his eyes flicked up to the figure standing calmly nearby.

Nightmare Moon smiled at him calmly, then she gestured at the gate behind the demon, saying softly: “The demon must die if you want to pass through that gate, Scrivener Blooms.”

“Fine.” Scrivener said coldly, even as part of him squirmed in unease at the thought... but the darkness was what was rampaging in him right now, and his eyes were glowing faintly as he rose a claw and gritted his teeth. “I'm so sick and tired of these sick games Hel is making us play-”

“Wait.” Nightmare Moon reached out and gently caught Scrivener's wrist, gazing down at him tenderly. “I want you to consciously make this decision, not act out of the passion consuming your thoughts, my King of the Night. Otherwise, Hel will not accept you. And more importantly, you cannot simply kill him: you require something from this demon first.”

Scrivener scowled, but he could feel the rage already fading from his body... worse, he felt his misgivings replacing the anger and the hate and the... that evil, vicious part of him. And he knew Nightmare Moon could see it, as he shifted back and forth before cursing under his breath and looking down at one bloody Talon, whispering: “What is Hel trying to make us become?”

“Better. But Hel cannot hold souls that do not belong in Helheim, Scrivener Blooms... as strange as it may sound, before Hel can help you achieve your best, she must break you down to your very worst.” Nightmare Moon said softly, and then she reached up and tenderly touched the stallion's face, the two gazing silently into one-another's eyes. “My first loyalty is to you, my King of the Night. Never doubt how much I love you, that everything I do... is for you, and for Twilight Sparkle, and for Luna Brynhild. Even this, even now. Trust in me.”

Scrivener looked down silently, and he shifted uneasily before Nightmare Moon smiled and pulled her hoof away, gesturing towards the demon and saying quietly: “To pass through the gate, you need to plunge your Talons into this living demon... and while he is still alive, convert him into corruption. Then draw that corruption into yourself to consume his strength, and make it yours.”

Scrivener Blooms looked up in horror, eyes widening before he stared down at one of his silver claws, whispering: “I... I couldn't... I c-c-can't...”

“You can. You can, and you will. You will, Scrivener Blooms, because if you do not... you will never be able to stop the Light.” Nightmare Moon said softly, and Scrivener clenched his eyes shut before the passion entity leaned down and murmured gently: “Sometimes, we must make sacrifices.”

“Sacrifices.” Scrivener said dryly, and then he gave a sour laugh before shaking his head slowly and closing his eyes, whispering: “Sacrifices. And sometimes we have to steal a person's entire... you want me to devour him, body, spirit and... soul... I don't... I don't even know...”

“You have to do it willingly. You have to make the decision yourself, Scrivener Blooms... just take the first step, and the rest will follow suit.” Nightmare Moon said with almost tender encouragement, and the stallion breathed hard, looking up silently at this demon who was in chains and shackles, who had no idea what was going on outside his own mind, who was broken and tortured for reasons Scrivener knew that he'd never find out the truth behind...

The stallion snarled, then slammed both Talons forwards even as tears rose in his eyes, and the tortured demon flinched... but otherwise, he didn't react beyond a gasp and what sounded like a weak plea made more out of reflex than hope. Scrivener Blooms trembled for a moment, staring down at the creature... and then he clenched his eyes shut and whispered: “I'm sorry.”

And even as he apologized, his claws flexed, dug deeper, and his powers flowed down his limbs. Even as he felt self-loathing and disgust with what he did, there was a sense of... of incredible power he'd never known he had as the demon twitched back and forth, then cried out in misery as his entire form began to almost melt, writhing wildly as his body was rapidly transfigured into mire before Scrivener Blooms lashed both claws backwards... and threw his head back with a howl as a dark wave of black ooze splattered over him while the metal spikes and silver stakes that had been buried in the prisoner were slung in every direction, feeling nausea ripping through his stomach even as power filled his body. He felt new energy flooding his veins, felt the demon's essence transferred into him as the mire splashed over him and merged with his body, giving him a new, terrible strength that felt more like a curse than a blessing.

He swore under his breath, twitching back and forth, rasping before looking up almost desperately as the gates in front of him opened. He staggered through the sludgy puddle in front of him, gagging a little as he stumbled forwards before leaping through the open gate as Nightmare Moon smiled faintly after him before he almost fell over in front of a set of stairs, breathing hard before looking slowly up as he realized... he wasn't alone.

Twilight Sparkle smiled faintly at him from where she was already laying at the top of the stairs, in front of a tall archway made of iron, intertwined serpents. A core of soulstone pulsed in her chest now: it wasn't the orb that had given her such terrible power, but it still shone with a distinct and dark energy as she said quietly: “I guess this proves my point. I'm... I chose this path.”

“You did.” Nightmare Moon said softly, and there was silence for a few moments before another set of gates in the wall of fencing Scrivener was standing in front of opened, and Luna staggered out with a tremble, soaked in blood and mire and... darkness.

She shook herself slowly, then looked up at Twilight Sparkle before her eyes roved to Scrivener Blooms disbelievingly, and after a moment she gave a weak laugh as their link restored, the three sharing memories immediately, seeing each other's stories before they all shivered a little, and the sapphire mare whispered: “Lust, and Wrath, and... Pride, chiefest of all. But 'tis not like we have not sampled the other high sins, either... and things even worse than those.”

“And now, you're ready.” Nightmare Moon said softly, as the wall of fencing behind Scrivener and Luna trembled as the gates sealed themselves closed, before they slowly sank downwards into the rooftop... and revealed the circular landing they had awoken on only a few feet away, down the short staircase they had walked up earlier. It was a sharp reminder that this was Hel's world... and anything she desired, she could make happen.

Scrivener Blooms and Luna Brynhild traded looks, then both strode towards Twilight Sparkle, stumbling up the stairs to meet her as the Lich rose and smiled faintly. She began to open her mouth... but then the archway behind her writhed, the iron snakes shivering and twisting around each other before the gates creaked slowly open to reveal a thrumming, dark portal beyond.

One of Hel's ice puppets stepped calmly out of this, and it smiled at them before sliding aside and bowing, gesturing easily towards the portal as she said kindly: “Next stop, your new home. You three are gonna love it, I bet... you just let me know if there's anything at all I can do for you, and I'll at least pretend to think about it. Oh, don't you fret now, this is only the beginning... I have a whole lot of exercises for you three to do, and a whole lot of training, and a whole lot of punishments lined up, but it's gonna be the very best kind. You're gonna be glad you went through this by the end of the day... and look at you three, already starting to change!”

Scrivener shifted uncomfortably, looking silently down at one Talon as his enlarged body flexed, and Twilight Sparkle closed her eyes as she reached up and quietly touched her soulstone heart. Luna only glared at Hel challengingly despite the dark veins pulsing through her body, her mane swirling around her head before she said coldly: “We will do whatever thou asks, Hel... but thou must make an impossible promise. Thou must promise us we will defeat the Light.”

“You can't kill a concept, Luna Brynhild. Not even I can do that.” Hel said gently, and then she smiled and shrugged, saying softly: “But I promise you that we're going to take Heaven back and make all of them suffer. That we'll kill everyone who needs killing and probably a few more for old time's sake. Is that good enough for now?”

“For now.” Luna said quietly, and then she traded looks with Scrivener Blooms and Twilight Sparkle, both ponies smiling faintly at the sapphire mare and nodding to her slowly as Hel grinned and Nightmare Moon gazed tenderly up at them from the base of the steps. And without another word, Luna Brynhild looked forwards and strode calmly into the portal, Scrivener and Luna following her out of the miserable Underdark, and into the icy darkness of the underworld.

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