• 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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Rise Of The Valkyrie Queen

Chapter Seventy One: Rise of the Valkyrie Queen

Doctor Greller giggled gleefully as the Cardinal calmly observed the new test subject laying on the table. A unicorn... scarred, his eyes closed, deep in unconsciousness. For a moment, the Cardinal's mouth puckered in distaste, but then hunchbacked Greller explained hurriedly: “Oh, no no no, sir, we haven't begun the experimentation yet! If you look at those scars, you can see they were made by claws... well, the ones on his front were, sir. On his back, the scars are from very crude surgical equipment... which is strange, sir, very strange, because the weapon Lord Minos recovered was very advanced indeed, sir, very advanced indeed!”

“Get on with it, Greller.” the Cardinal said distastefully, and then he calmly straightened his new white robes, ornate runes made of crystal lining the hem and a beautiful Encompassed World hanging from around his neck, said to be carved from the bones of He Of Many Countless Faces' first prophet. A holy relic taken from the Home Of Homes in Greater Heaven, requested under false pretenses... but it didn't matter. No one would ever find out his lie, and soon enough, the hive mind he was building here would be more powerful than the group consciousness in Greater Heaven.

And after all, he had to look the role of not simply a Metatron, but a Regent of Heaven... and secretly, the new God of the Light.

Greller winced a bit, then awkwardly drew his eyes over his master, who tilted his crowned head towards him pointedly before the scientist complimented in a voice more awkward than it was fawning: “You look wonderful, Lord Cardinal!”

“While I appreciate the sentiment, Doctor Greller, please focus on the task at hand. And I am no longer 'Lord Cardinal,' but Regent... and soon to be Archbishop to all of Greater Heaven's empire.” replied the Cardinal in a calm voice, but his vanity was clear all the same in his thin smile as he gestured towards the pony. “Why have you brought me to see this ugly mortal?”

“This is the mortal rebel who killed and disabled more than a hundred of your forces over the last few days, sir. Lord Minos captured him for us, and he was delivered by an Angelic Knight.” Greller said quickly, and the Cardinal tilted his head meditatively, looking distastefully towards the scientist with a look that clearly asked why the mortal was still alive.

Greller giggled a little at this, then he strode quickly up beside the metal table that the black stallion was strapped and manacled to, reaching out and tickling his long fingers over Antares' chest. The pony flinched and shifted weakly, but the chemicals pumping into him from the IV bag hung on the rack beside the table kept him unconscious and lost in a dreamworld, and Greller turned quickly to a control panel beside the surgical table as he said quickly: “He's a perfect candidate, sir, for our new program! I wanted you to be here, to be here to watch as we test our theory, activate old genes... see if we can give this one wings and a new mind, servile to you and only you, my Lord Cardinal!”

The Cardinal sighed, but didn't bother to correct Greller as he held up a hand and gestured shortly at the mortal. “If he was a rebel, Greller, I would prefer to see him tortured or his mind torn apart, to retrieve information about where his little mortal friends must be. They are proving... irksome, now. I do not need soldiers, no matter how superior.”

“But wait, wait, sir! That's part of this process!” Greller said enthusiastically, and when the Cardinal looked at him with disdain, the scientist shifted back and forth before saying nervously: “Well, not... torture, sir, but getting him to tell us where they are! We will make him a believer in the Light without making him forget parts of his past or his former loyalties. Please, sir, don't worry sir, you'll see, we'll gain a new soldier and new insight on our enemies!”

The Cardinal sighed in exasperation, but then nodded and said pensively: “Very well. I will indulge your childish self-indulgence. Demonstrate your technology.”

Greller laughed both gleefully and nervously, then yanked down a lever, and what looked like an enormous gemstone eye mounted between enormous claws slowly lowered from the ceiling, energy thrumming powerfully through this and along the cables that ran over the arm it extended on. The Cardinal crossed his arms as energy began to build through the air and the eye began to glow with ill light, Greller giggling away the entire while before he yanked down another lever, sound like a child trying to impress his bored father as he extolled: “Now, evolution in action, sir! Watch, watch!”

Energy washed over Antares' body in a bright glow, irradiating his form and making his eyes snap open, gasping for air at the pain that filled his mind and body before he arched his back and howled in agony. He yanked uselessly at the shackles as the energy grew brighter, feeling his body writhing, a horrible pain growing in his muscles and along his back as his head snapped back and forth: but the physical frustrations were nothing compared to the agony and tumult in his mind, as ten thousand whispering, pressuring voices were shoved into his head at once, as what felt like slimy mental tentacles snapped through his brain and seized onto memories, ripping them apart, violating and turning others upside down, slapping new ways of thinking crudely into place.

The stallion screamed again, and the Cardinal made a distasteful expression, rubbing slowly at one side of his head and wishing he'd told Greller to silence the mortal. Greller, however, seemed to be enjoying both the sights and sounds, giggling manically away as he yanked the lever in his grip down further, the light intensifying and the stallion's howls rising as he was lost in the light.

Antares struggled wildly, feeling like he was drowning, like something was engulfing him, swallowing him completely up even as he struggled to paddle to the surface, trying to focus only on his family, on Luna and Scrivener and Sin and... Scar... and... the purple mare...

He couldn't remember. He couldn't remember anymore, except in vague blurs, who his family was, and for a moment this filled him with horror... before he couldn't remember why it was supposed to fill him with horror. And then, the next thing he knew, he was simply laying on his back, staring blankly up at the ceiling before he frowned as he realized he was restrained, whispering: “What's... what's going on?”

“Oh, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful...” whispered Greller, and then he scurried eagerly forwards before pressing a button beneath the table, and the black stallion quickly sat up... and shivered in pain as his body flexed, before he gasped as enormous, white-and-black feathered wings spread widely out to either side of him, dripping with strange fluids and blood. “Yes! It worked! Our science is greater than the science of-”

Greller's hand grasped into the wing, and immediately the equine yanked it to the side, Greller stumbling before squealing when the stallion's hoof slammed into his throat, then yanked him down by the hem of his collar. The scientist flailed wildly as the black stallion glared furiously at the scientist, asking coldly: “Who are you?”

“Calm down.” the Cardinal said distastefully, and the unicorn turned his glare towards him... before his eyes widened, and he hurriedly bowed his head in respect. Greller took the distraction to yank himself free from the stallion with a whimper, while the Cardinal smiled in contemptible amusement. “Once again, Doctor, I see you prove you have a unique bedside manner that receives just as unique results.”

The scientist gave a half-whimper, half-mumble, brushing hurriedly at himself, and the Cardinal pointed at the ground as he looked at the stallion, ordering calmly: “Pray.”

Without hesitation, the stallion knew what to do: he leapt off the table, landing easily on his hooves and dropping his head and body low, beginning to murmur away in a language he didn't know how he knew. The Cardinal watched him with distinct entertainment for a few moments, the way his wings shuddered and flapped, his body rose and lowered slightly, and then he turned his eyes back towards Greller, saying calmly to the scientist: “We'll call these ones... do you have a name for them, Doctor Greller?”

Greller shifted uneasily, and then he finally mumbled hesitantly: “Project Virgil, sir...”

“Virgil is a fitting name for this devout... yes, there. Devout. Because you are Devout, are you not, Virgil? You will do anything for your Lord God, will you not?” the Cardinal asked, and newly-christened Virgil looked up and nodded, without fear, without hesitation... yes. He liked that. Perhaps this new modification of the mortals wouldn't be nearly as trying as De Sade had proven to be. “Excellent. Then rise, child, and walk with me. We will leave Doctor Greller to begin helping more of your mortals to the path of becoming truly... Devout.”

Virgil nodded and smiled, striding towards the Cardinal... and when the master of Heaven offered his hand, Virgil leaned forwards and kissed the knuckle silently, worshipfully, his wings shivering before furling tightly and naturally against his sides.

The Cardinal smiled with the pleasure of superiority, then he turned and put his hands behind his back, Virgil loyally striding at his side... and Greller grumbled as the two left his laboratory before he strode grouchily over to a row of covered blocks. He studied these for a moment, then yanked the tarp off, ponies in cages all whimpering and rearing back as Greller leaned in and glared over them before saying disgustedly: “Make them Devout, make them Devout... I will make them Devout, Lord Cardinal. I will make them plenty Devout! Just watch and see who they prefer to follow...”

The scientist slammed a boot into one of the cages, then yelped and danced backwards in pain before he spun around, storming back across the expansive room towards the nook that contained the genetic ray, cursing under his breath and swearing that he would one day teach the Cardinal a lesson for all these unrewarded years of humiliation and toil.

Innocence sighed softly as she picked herself up, shaking her head briefly and flexing a claw absently. She had hidden herself away for the night in a dark cave after trying fruitlessly to track Celestia for a few hours, to spend the night somewhere... hopefully safe. There had been two large bears in here, but she had knocked them both out with a simple spell, then used one of them as an oversized pillow for the night.

It was funny, but the smell of the cave and the animals had actually helped her sleep. Well, that and the fact she had just gone several rounds with Celestia and then been given an impossible mission by Hel...

Innocence grumbled under her breath as she lifted the shiny red apple, studying it moodily. It looked... well, a little like metal, but also a little delicious. She sighed softly as she turned it back and forth, then softened a bit: metal. That made her think a little of Hecate... Hecate, who was apparently going her own separate way. Hecate, who...

The scaled unicorn frowned suddenly, looking down for a moment and licking her lips as a wild thought came to mind. One of the things going around base was that the reason Antares had been punished so severely wasn't just because of being seen, but because he'd let Hecate leave for Clockwork World. That was certainly possible, but what Innocence focused on was that Hecate had been leaving... and when she'd been trying to track Celestia...

The mare staggered up to a standing position, then she quickly flicked her wrist and simply made the apple vanish for the moment, giving a brief smile at the simple magic trick before she hurried to the mouth of the cave. Celestia hadn't seemed surprised by the fact Hecate was leaving, and Innocence knew for a fact that the ivory mare had been working regularly on her armor and possibly other projects... which made her think that maybe, just maybe...

She ran out of the cave and turned in the direction of the mines where Hecate had set up her base of operations: if she remembered right, it wasn't that far away. She felt strangely eager, even a little bit excited: Celestia hopefully wouldn't be in top notch condition yet, with how much energy she had managed to siphon out of the ivory mare, and how long it took that kind of damage to heal.

The forest pulsed with life around her, and as she drew closer to the mine, she could feel a distinct energy humming in the air, like a warning. But Innocence only pressed on, gritting her teeth and finding herself actually hoping Celestia was waiting for her, to confront her: if Celestia went back to the rebels in this condition... she might start killing anyone who had contact with her or Antares. Prestige, Aphrodisia, Terra, Pinkamena... they would all be in danger.

And... they're important. I don't care about anyone else, I... I definitely don't, but I... need them. That's all. Innocence thought to herself uneasily, and the mare shook herself out hurriedly before she forced herself to focus as she looked up and saw the mine was just ahead.

“I'm coming, Celestia. I'm... going to fix you.” Innocence muttered, even if part of her questioned why the hell she was even trying to help Celestia, instead of simply killing her or getting rid of her or... something. But another part of her was quick to rationalize this away, saying that if Celestia died, the rebels wouldn't know what to do, and it would lose both everything that Celestia could do for her as well as destroy what was a powerful force in its own right. Losing an ally in the fight against the Light was not something she could afford.

The mare slowed as she reached the mouth of the mine, and then she frowned a little as she felt a strange twinge inside of her: there was something... dangerous here. A trap of some kind that she couldn't see, but she was feeling the energies of anyway...

Her eyes roved back and forth before she flexed a claw slowly, and then she looked up in surprise as her horn lit up almost of its own accord, resonating with a golden light for a moment. That same light pulsed quietly into being around the edge of the cavern, and Innocence studied it for a few moments before the light spread apart and solidified into runes.

“Alarm runes... and... circuit runes. Which will set off the other runes if anything tampers with them.” the mare muttered quietly, and then she shook her head before her horn glowed, licking her lips slowly. “But what if I do this...”

Little-by-little, a golden light suffused her body, the mare gritting her teeth as she mimicked the same energy signature as the runes were emitting before slowly, carefully striding forwards and through the archway. The moment she was passed, she wheezed and relaxed, looking uneasily over her shoulder... but the runes were stable, and Innocence couldn't help but grin slightly before she turned her head forwards, quietly beginning to creep down the cavern. She might actually stand a chance here after all.

The mare carefully made her way along the passage, looking uneasily back and forth until she found herself passing the heavy armored door. She studied this for a few moments, then felt her horn resonating again with Celestia's energies... except as the runes glowed into being, she saw they were all much-more complex.

She began to approach the door... then halted, eyes roving over the runes again. A whole slew of protective runes... but... it didn't make sense. Celestia would know that if she bypassed the entrance of the mines, she would at the very least be able to detect the runes on this door. Even if she had been stupid, the entrance would have told her to keep an eye out for other runes... and this circle of runes wasn't even protected by a circuit rune. Which could only mean...

Innocence's eyes widened before she leapt to the side, and Tyrfing smashed down in the place where the mare had been a moment before. Then the massive blade slowly dragged backwards and up into the air, resting against Celestia's shoulder as the ivory mare smiled coldly, saying quietly: “You're lucky, not skilled. If you had any skill you would have understood the trap from a mile away.”

The scaled unicorn gritted her teeth, facing towards Celestia... but not fearlessly. She trembled a little, breathing hard as she looked uneasily over the ivory mare, who was standing across from her wearing only her key earring and the sheaths for the three swords floating to either side of her. As they looked at each other, the winged unicorn reached up, her eyes narrowing, the crystal gleaming as she asked coldly: “So did you and Hel plan this all along? Or are you planning to betray her when the time is right to the Light, for more power?”

Innocence shook her head, then she looked back and forth... but there was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. Celestia looked like a tiger waiting to pounce on her, and the scaled unicorn didn't want to guess how the winged unicorn had been able to regain her strength so quickly. Sure, she still looked sallow, and her horn was sparking faintly as if from recoil, but she was standing strong and ready, easily holding her swords in the air around her, fearless and without more than a few bruises left over from their confrontation on her body.

She couldn't fight her and hope to win. So Innocence swallowed thickly and rose her head, saying quietly: “I have no reason to lie to you, Celestia. I'm not interested in the Light, or in Hel.”

Celestia began to smile thinly, and then Innocence rose her head and said coldly: “I'm... I'm doing this for my parents.”

Now the ivory mare frowned, narrowing her eyes dangerously before she snarled, leaning forwards and snapping: “Your parents are dead! Don't you dare disgrace their memory by-”

“No, they're not. They've been plotting against you, Celestia... we all have.” Innocence said with only the faintest tremble to her voice, breathing slowly in and out. And Celestia's amethyst eye narrowed as the crystal in her other socket glowed, the scaled mare fighting not to hyperventilate, struggling to make up... something, anything...

“That's impossible. I've had enough of your lies... how dare you. How dare you, you maggot.” Celestia snarled, her body flexing, leaning forwards, aggressive and vicious... but she was listening. Whether she wanted to or not, she was listening, her paranoia getting the better of her, making her unable to turn away, making her unable to believe in even the family she had held so dearly...

Innocence breathed hard in and out, and then she shook her head slowly, whispering: “No. It was because of your...” She stopped. Her parents... had never been like her. A thirst for power? She thirsted for power... but... her parents had... had their flaws, too. And maybe...

The scaled unicorn looked up after a moment, and then she said quietly: “It was because you could never leave them alone. You could never stop trying to impose your rule on them... ever since... my mother had to fight you above Equestria. When you tried to purify all of Equestria.”

“That... that was a mistake!” Celestia shouted, and then she stepped forwards and swung Tyrfing viciously down, but Innocence forced herself not to flinch even as the huge sword bit into the ground in front of her.

“Was it? Was it any different than all the other times you've tried to do what's best for everyone? My parents realized that you cared about everyone as much as they actually cared about you... which was not at all.” Innocence said cruelly, and Celestia twitched at this, then snarled in fury, her short swords raising... but trembling, unable to strike, as Innocence continued sharply: “And then you decided you had to give more orders. You ordered them into battle against He Of Many Countless Faces. You ordered them into a fight they couldn't win!”

“Luna and Scrivener, Twilight... they all wanted to go! It... it was their plan too!” Celestia sounded almost pleading now, shaking her head before she snarled in fury as she lashed her head forwards, several braids coming untangled as her eyes blazed with anger. “No, no! I won't listen to you, you're just trying to-”

“They weren't killed, Celestia! They weren't killed, but they were changed! They had to hide away... because of what you did to them! They've had only Hel for company, because you abandoned them, you had us run away, left them crippled, beaten, broken!” Innocence shouted, not knowing where all this was coming from, but somehow knowing it was the right thing to say... because it was so much the wrong thing to say, Celestia lurching backwards and shaking her head vehemently as her swords clattered down around her and her crystal eye glowed.

“No! S-Stop it!” Celestia grabbed at her face, shaking her head wildly, and Innocence advanced, gritting her teeth: it took all of her courage, because even in the grips of fear, Celestia was larger, stronger, far more frightening than she was. Even as her weapons were forgotten, Innocence was well aware Celestia's hooves could kill her as easily as any sword. “Get away!”

Innocence reached up, seizing into the mare's shoulders, leaning forwards and shouting angrily, trying to make it real, and feeling a twisted, bitter part of her actually believing part of what she was saying, that this was all Celestia's fault: “They hate you! They hate you and they want to see you destroyed, or broken, and listening to them... because every time you promised them you were going to listen, you lied! You're nothing, Freya, you betrayed Brynhild and left her to rot, alone... you're nothing, Celestia, you sent your own family to die, and when they survived, you abandoned them to the enemy! You are no Valkyrie!”

Innocence shoved Celestia backwards, and the ivory mare staggered away, trembling, staring up, as gullible and terrified as a foal in the face of an executioner as the scaled unicorn hissed: “And you don't deserve any sympathy or pity. I came here to kill you... and I realize that would be too nice. You don't deserve to die. I want you to live forever, Celestia, knowing this was all your fault...”

Innocence trembled, then she rose her claw, her horn glowing, and the crimson apple appearing it in as she looked down at this before whispering: “This was your salvation, Celestia, what would let you see them once last time, but... you... you don't deserve this. You don't deserve this.”

The unicorn looked up... and before she even realized what she was doing, she rose the apple to her mouth and bit into it. She chewed, slowly, as Celestia collapsed in front of her, staring at her weakly, until Innocence swallowed the delicious white flesh of the fruit.

Then Innocence shivered, clenching her eyes shut, breathing hard for a few moments... before memories that weren't her own twisted wildly through her mind, filled her up, sent alien images sparking through her head. She stared into Celestia and through Celestia... she saw Freya, and who and what Freya was, and... understood.

There was silence for a few moments... and then Innocence looked down at the apple she had bitten into, watching as it rotted rapidly away in her claw, before she slowly clenched her claw shut around the fruit and crushed it into ashes that spilled away between her digits. She breathed slowly in and out, then looked up at Celestia, who was staring at her, trembling weakly, before Innocence said softly: “You can't coexist.”

The mare reached silently up, placing a claw on Celestia's face... and then she closed her eyes, digging her claws not into Celestia's body, but her spirit. The ivory mare, caught in the delirium of her paranoia, didn't resist, only sat mutely, her mind reeling with delusion and madness before her eye sparked as she felt something tugging at her... but the winged unicorn only laughed weakly before she whispered: “Fine. That's how it should be.”

Innocence pulled... and Celestia closed her eyes and leaned back, not resisting but giving up. And the scaled unicorn gasped as she tore a glowing essence out of the ivory pony, before gasping, back arching and eyes glowing as it was absorbed into her being.

She slumped as Celestia went limp, both ponies breathing slowly... and then an amethyst eye opened slowly, looking bewildered. It flicked back and forth, and then a hoof reached up and rubbed at her face before the ivory mare blinked in surprise at this, then whispered: “Where... where am I? No, no wait... it's coming back to me, like a dream...”

She scowled a little... then looked at the scaled mare across from her before reaching up and seizing her, shaking her roughly. “Wake up, woman! What's your name?”

“I'm not a woman. I'm a mare.” Innocence muttered pettishly, and then she reached up and shoved her hooves away, looking across at the ivory winged unicorn before asking quietly: “Freya?”

The mare nodded with a scowl, saying distastefully: “It's impolite to address others before... before...” The winged unicorn stopped, then reached up and touched her head, shivering a little as her eyes studied the scaled unicorn. “No. Your name is Innocence... a daughter of Brynhild and... Scrivener Blooms and Twilight Sparkle. We're... horses. Magical talking horses. But I'm...”

She halted, reaching up and rubbing uncomfortably at her head, scowling again as she looked back and forth before muttering: “My other mind isn't saying anything. As a matter of fact, I can't even feel her... strange. She was always so... loud. She was always in my mind, making me think of a thousand things at once... now I can barely focus on you, girl.”

Innocence scowled at this, and then she shook her head and said quietly: “Celestia... was losing her mind. I had to... excise her.”

“Excise her. Like a tooth or an arrowhead.” Freya nodded slowly a few times, giving a thin smile... then she reached out and seized Innocence by the throat, making her wheeze as she was forcefully hauled up onto her rear hooves. “What's to stop me from excising you?”

Innocence gagged a bit, then she shook her head and rasped out: “The fact that next time... I'll leave you to go insane and... piss on Frey's memory.”

Freya snarled at this, her eye flashing... and Innocence glared back as best she could muster... before the ivory mare slowly grinned, her head shaking slowly as she said wryly: “Well, you have courage, at least... and I can see in your eyes, you at least think you did the only thing you could.”

Innocence grunted, and there was silence for a few moments before Freya shoved her backwards, adding quietly: “You didn't pull that out of Celestia, though. You pulled that out of my head somehow, didn't you? Because Celestia never talked about Frey... it... hurt too much to.”

She stopped, looking down, then she shook her head roughly and muttered: “But I'm not like that. I'd rather talk about Frey. Remember Frey. Hurt, but remember my brother... and a little pain is good now and then. Is welcome, even.”

She paused, then reached up and rubbed at her temple slowly, lowering his head a little and murmuring: “I'm going to miss her, though... and I don't think that I'm going to be the same without her. I feel so... strange. And part of me still says I should kill you, little girl. You stink like brimstone and bog moss... I hate both those things.”

Innocence rubbed slowly at her throat, then uneasily looked at Freya's crystal eye, noting that it was now glowing with its own internal fire... and then the scaled unicorn shook her head briefly before saying quietly: “I couldn't fix Celestia. Or... I don't know. I did... the opposite of everything Hel told me to do, and it just worked out. I guess if you could call... killing Celestia 'things working out'”

Freya looked curiously at Innocence, and the scaled mare shrugged, saying finally: “She said that you had to eat the apple, because it would fix Celestia from being... well, poisoned by you...”

“So it would likely ruin me in the process. So you saved me instead, girl... good choice.” Freya smiled slightly over at Innocence , nodding in approval before she simply flicked her horn, and her three shorts swords flew up into the air, spinning around her before quickly sheathing themselves as Tyrfing trembled, then tore itself free of the ground and flipped smoothly to land across Freya's back as the ivory mare sighed in relief, closing her eyes... then grinning and opening the crystal one, tilting her head towards Innocence so this was staring directly at her, the scaled unicorn immediately wincing and drawing back. “You ready to leave?”

“Can... can you actually see me?” Innocence asked nervously, and Freya only laughed before opening her other eye, gazing at the unicorn warmly.

“I see something.” she said gently, and then she reached up and rubbed slowly at her face before nodding a few times, saying softly: “And I still feel Celestia's roots inside me, little girl... and I can feel her memories spilling in, mixing better with mine as I wake up. But she's not overruling me anymore... she's not... dominant, if you can understand. But I don't know if... we'll ever be able to live together, both sides of... whatever by Mimir I am, can merge in this body and coexist. We're two sides of the same, but we can't both exist at once.”

“That must be awful.” Innocence said softly before she could stop herself, and then she flushed and lowered her head awkwardly, as Freya only smiled faintly, amethyst eye softening.

She shook her head slowly, then said quietly: “It's frustrating, more than it's awful. She's like a sister I want to love and cherish and share my space with, but one that I've never touched, never hugged, never even seen, really outside of a mirror. She's a piece of my mind that fractured off, and grew into someone all her own self...”

Freya halted, then she shrugged and turned, saying softly: “Well, what are you going to do? Trees will be trees, no matter what you want them to be, and they'll keep growing in spite of all the time that's passing on. Come on, let's get going, we have to gather up the rebel forces before any more of my mistakes cost any more lives.”

Innocence looked dumbly after the ivory winged unicorn, then she grimaced before hurrying after her, asking disbelievingly: “Doesn't... doesn't any of this bother you? And Celestia would formulate a plan of attack and... we would strategize and discuss this, not just move forwards... you just... I don't even know what the hell I just did! I could have killed you!”

“It's not that I don't care. I'm not like Brynhild in that regard, and I will want to needle every last little detail out of you later on, little girl. But unlike Celestia, I can put things aside for the moment, and focus on just killing whatever happens to have gotten in the way.” Freya replied moodily, looking back and forth before she grimaced a little and stopped, hammering herself in the temple a few times. “Two thousand years since I've been the dominant personality... yet I feel like I'm crawling around on my hands and knees, and not for any good reasons.”

Innocence winced a bit, looking awkwardly at the ivory winged unicorn, and Freya only grunted a little, shaking her head quickly and straightening as she said mildly: “Don't give me that look, girl, you're clearly too young to know what I'm talking about anyway."

Innocence only glowered at Freya, but decided it was better not to say anything before she asked flatly: “So do you remember at least where you were supposed to return to base, or... are we going to be stuck just wandering around? Because Celestia... you... never told me where I was supposed to go. You just treated me as a weapon.”

Freya only looked pointedly for a few moments at the mare, and then she said dryly: “If you're going to be bitter about everything, little girl, that's fine. We can have a little spar to settle our differences and after I'm done giving you a spanking, we can continue on our way. Deal?”

Innocence grimaced at this, then she looked awkwardly away and muttered moodily: “We should conserve our energy for now, I think, not fight each other. The Light is dangerous enough by itself without us making it even easier for it.”

“The Light is numerous, not dangerous. There's a bit of a difference.” Freya replied with a shrug, then she turned her eyes forwards, Innocence following in beside her and looking uncomfortably at the larger mare as the winged unicorn picked up: “But yes, I remember. It's only Celestia's... emotional memories, certain things that are keyed to her and her alone, I'm having trouble accessing. Things that were special to her... more to her than to me...”

Freya hesitated for a moment, looking down and shaking her head briefly before she said finally: “Celestia is willing to sacrifice several of the bases, using them as lures for the Light to burn them alive with whatever unlucky soldiers survive the Light's attack. I am not. We need to get to a base and send out a signal for these honeypots to evacuate immediately. There are fewer of us with every passing day and we can't win unless we have numbers, not just strength.”

The scaled mare looked worriedly up at Freya even as she nodded, hurrying alongside the winged unicorn as she began to stride faster forwards, her amethyst eye focused forwards. Her pace wasn't overly hurried, however, and even if she moved deliberately, she somehow seemed relaxed at the same time. Innocence couldn't help but feel a little... she didn't know if that was irritation or awe.

“There's no need for haste.” Freya said mildly, apparently noticing Innocence's... discomfort, it was probably best described as. The scaled unicorn shifted uncomfortably, and Freya only smiled wryly before saying with barely-hidden entertainment: “You're worrying far too much.”

The scaled unicorn shifted warily, looking uneasily back and forth through the sparse forest before she mumbled: “Still. It's not like we want to go drawing the Light's attention or anything...”

“Why not?” Freya smiled slightly again, tilting her head and shrugging easily, and Innocence gave the winged unicorn a disbelieving stare. “Well, it's true, isn't it? If we draw their attention, then the Light may focus on us instead of our friends and allies. See?”

Innocence looked sourly at the ivory mare at this, then she hesitated, suddenly drawing her eyes over Freya before asking awkwardly: “Where's... where's your armor, by the way?”

Freya shrugged at this, looking forwards and saying quietly: “Disassociated, if I remember correctly through the haze. I... I mean, Celestia had enough energy to... take it apart, to avoid using all her fancy words, and hide it away in some magical pocket dimension. A storehouse. But it's very easy to drop things down a hole... it's a lot harder to pick them back up again.”

“And you want to pick a fight with the Pious when you don't have enough magic to open a simple trans-association portal.” Innocence said disbelievingly, and Freya laughed and shook her head slowly at this.

“'Simple' yet, girl. It's been a long year since I've heard anyone refer to a pocket dimension you carry around with you as 'simple.'” Freya said dryly, and then she shook her head briefly before frowning a little as her eyes flicked upwards, muttering: “Simple as an eye in the sky spying on us...”

Innocence looked uncomfortably at Freya, studying her, feeling... strange. It was like looking at Celestia, hearing Celestia's voice... but the way Freya framed her sentences, her accent, just the words she chose... it all made her a completely different person. It was getting a little... weird.

And now Freya was looking back at her mildly, and the scaled unicorn flushed a bit after a moment, dropping her head lamely and saying awkwardly: “Sorry, I... sorry. It's just... it's really strange to hear you talk. No. No offense meant.”

Freya only shrugged a little after a moment, saying quietly: “None taken. It's a little strange to be talking. I've never been the personality on the surface before... every time I've gotten close, Celestia got... violent, and passionate, and angry. I exacerbated all the worst things in her... I wonder sometimes, whether or not she was like my conscience, or...”

Freya quieted, and Innocence couldn't help but give a small smile, looking forwards as she murmured: “Mutt had Nightmare Moon. I guess that Celestia had you... or maybe, you're the one who had Celestia, Freya.”

The ivory mare looked thoughtful at this metaphor, then she smiled slightly before turning her eye forwards. “Maybe. It's tough to say, Innocence. I don't know which of us was a worse influence on the other... and it's not important right now. Keep your eyes open and focus, girl, I need you to dredge the area around us with magic. Something must have told that eye above we were on the move... that something must still be lurking around us right now.”

Innocence grimaced a bit, looking back and forth nervously before she muttered: “If you were Celestia you would be instantly able to tell us where the enemy is.”

“If I was Celestia I would have killed you for being a violation of the natural order.” Freya replied dryly, and then she added meditatively after a moment: “Besides, Celestia uses magic heavily... I'm more of a physical woman. Or mare, I suppose. Do I really have to walk around on all fours like this? And where are my breasts?”

Innocence groaned loudly, rolling her eyes, and when she looked sourly at Freya she could swear she saw a hint of mischief in her eyes. “I'm already regretting saving you.”

Freya only grunted at this, but thankfully fell into quiet as the two strode along, and Innocence couldn't help but study the ivory mare, the way she'd changed. Freya used her magic more passively, using it only to enhance her own already-sharp senses instead of scanning outwards with it, and she was much more physical, touching Innocence to communicate constantly, sometimes through a gentle tap, sometimes a quick shove.

But something about her struck Innocence not just as more primal, but more sly: even while they chatted, Freya warned her about enemies in the area, and the woods around them seemed to shift and move for the ponies, helping cloak their escape. It wasn't until they had finally exited the forest that Innocence was finally able to look back over her shoulder... and stare in surprise at the sight of no fewer than five wyverns scanning through the trees in the distance, apparently searching helplessly for the ponies that had already moved on.

Innocence shook her head slowly, and Freya said mildly: “Well, you said you didn't want to pick a fight with them. Come on, let's move quick while they think we're still in there. There's an outpost only a few hours away.”

“A few hours away.” Innocence muttered, looking disbelievingly up at Freya, but the winged unicorn shrugged calmly, and the scaled unicorn sighed tiredly before wincing when Freya began to lope forwards, stumbling into a run after the ivory equine.

They covered the ground quickly, and Freya was relentless, urging Innocence on when she began to lag, sometimes even reaching up and half-yanking the scaled unicorn along, making her growl in both frustration and embarrassment. But Freya did a good job at keeping her going... and Innocence was honestly surprised when, they reached the edge of a marsh two hours later, the scaled mare looking dumbly back and forth before she said finally: “I've never been here before. I didn't even know that there was another base out this way.”

“Celestia was always careful... I know the way war works, Innocence, but Celestia was the logical mind... still is.” Freya reached up, rubbing meditatively at her breast before she shook her head wryly. “I don't think she's gone completely, though... perhaps we can't exist without each other. But I'm getting away from the point. There's a base hidden in there... Celestia gave a different set of locations to different rebels, so no one would ever know where all the bases were except for her.”

“And I only know where the ones we regularly cycle through are.” Innocence muttered, and then she shook her head briefly before looking uneasily over at Freya. “How prepared for this was Celestia? How long was she... did she suspect...”

“Ever since Discombobulation was taken from her in that ambush. She doesn't just want to blame the Light... she wants to blame everyone who failed to stop the Light. And I understand that well, girl.” Freya said quietly, as the ivory mare shook her head slowly before flicking her horn lightly forwards, and a bridge of soaked, slimy earth rose up through the bog, Freya smiling slightly as Innocence looked surprised. “This won't be too hard to get used to, at least. The magic is still a power that flows from nature... these horns limit what you can focus, that's all.”

Innocence frowned in confusion at this, and then she winced when Freya shook her horn a few times, creating several bright sparks as she muttered: “It's like a wizard's wand. And I don't mean the wand that hangs between the legs.”

“I don't like you.” Innocence said flatly, and Freya rolled her eyes before the scaled unicorn shook her head and grumbled, starting forwards moodily as she looked uneasily back and forth at the bubbling, brackish bog around them. There were little islands here and there that ugly trees and tall, weird-looking bushes stood on, and flies were buzzing busily around as frogs croaked and birds whippoorwilled as they flitted between the gangly trees.

Freya followed, the two ponies crossing the earthen bridge to a larger space of land... well, mud. Innocence did her best not to scowl too much as they stepped into the sludgy gunk, and she was only relieved that Freya didn't make any cute remarks about this... except when the scaled mare checked over her shoulder, she saw that the ivory winged unicorn had a sword drawn an inch or so out of its sheath, her eyes narrowed slightly as she said quietly: “Our pursuer is back. Normally I find persistence cute... but in this case, I think we should deal with this problem now.”

Innocence grimaced a bit as the two ponies strode slowly to the center of the murky island, then they both halted, several gangly trees bending and swaying around them as the animal sounds slowly quieted, leaving them in tense stillness. That was, until Freya smiled slightly and shouted: “Either show yourself or run with your tail between your legs! I have no time for games today!”

“Oh, sweetie, that's too bad. You're just gonna have to make time for me.” whispered a silky voice, and Innocence's eyes widened, the mare's breath catching in her throat as Freya's eye narrowed slightly, while the blue crystal flared with light.

A moment later, the Whistler appeared a short distance away, grinning coldly, his knife buried in the muck, his hood pushed back to reveal his grotesquely-handsome features and cloak swirling around his body as he said easily: “Look at what we have here. Two little girlies, all wandering around by themselves... well, the boss is gonna be pleased as punch when I report that I found you two way out here.”

Freya's eye flicked back and forth as her hoof slowly traced a hoof in the ground in front of them, and then she said softly: “Go ahead and call him, assassin. I won't stop you. I'm eager for the war, as a matter of fact.”

The Whistler laughed loudly at this, then he grinned and rose his knife, saying mockingly: “Cocky bitch! As if this isn't some kind of trap... but you know why that doesn't matter?”

The assassin grinned as Whistler copies appeared all around the two ponies in a loose circle, all with their knives at the ready, leaning eagerly forwards as they hungrily eyed their assumed prey. “Because there might be two of you and one of me... but oh, darlin's, there's a whole lot of me!”

“Every man says that. I've met very few who I couldn't prove quickly wrong.” Freya replied calmly, giving a cold smile as Innocence looked back and forth, snarling... but inside, she felt a twist of fear. It didn't matter that she knew she was far stronger than this assassin and scout, that she knew the way he would fight, or that she had driven the Whistler away on more than one occasion. The fear was deeper than that, was rooted in her memories that were so many and so few years ago, made her feel like she was just a foal and this was the thing lurking under her bed or inside her closet.

The Whistler laughed loudly, then the one that had been doing the talking vanished as the others – the copies, the pawns, they called them – leapt forwards, knives viciously slashing towards the two as several more appeared in puffs of smoke above their heads, trying to drop down on top of them. But even as Sin stumbled with a cry of fear, lashing her horn out in a wild blast of telekinesis that only knocked a few of the puppets away, Freya was as graceful and skillful as she had ever been, her short swords pulling themselves free and whipping around her and Innocence in a vicious hurricane that swept back the tide of pawns.

Innocence could feel the presence of the Whistler himself in the distance, and she began to lunge forwards, smashing a pawn out of her way with telekinesis... but Freya reached quickly out and caught her by the shoulder, even as her swords continued to slash viciously back and forth, keeping the crowd of Whistlers around them at bay. “Let him call for his friends. I need more of a challenge than just these cowards, anyway.”

Innocence shot an uneasy look at the ivory mare even as she stomped a hoof down to create a wall of dark, crystalline spikes in front of them, but Freya only winked at her reassuringly... or maybe she just blinked, it was kind of hard to tell. Either way, Innocence knew she didn't quite have a choice, as she turned her attention to wiping out the pawns around them.

The puppet Whistlers were leaping at them almost mindlessly, trying to suffocate them under sheer weight of numbers alone, but Innocence kept sending out pulses of telekinesis as Freya smiled coldly and danced back and forth with her swords, tearing into the assassins swarming them with ease and elegance and building barriers with their collapsing bodies.

The Whistlers were stumbling all over one-another, trying to close in on the two, and Innocence couldn't help but admire the way that Freya was controlling the confrontation, refusing to budge from her chosen spot, almost constantly turning as her blades lashed all around her, continuously killing or deflecting the Whistlers into one-another. And then Innocence's eyes widened as she realized there was a rune glowing brightly under Freya, the glow of which was only increasing as energy crackled over it, like it was slowly keying into something else...

Freya's eye narrowed, and her crystalline eye flashed as she looked suddenly down at the rune before stomping viciously down on it. There was a tremendous bang and flash of light as the energy contained inside it was released in a pulse that knocked Innocence sprawling and sent the Whistlers flying away with squeals of pain and shock, their minds distorting with psychic static that knocked them all limp before Freya seized Innocence with one hoof and said apologetically: “This will hurt.”

And a moment later, there was a burst of golden flames before the two seemed to simply be gone, the Whistlers gaping in shock; for Innocence, however, the experience was far more harrowing, a thousand things seeming to whip by in a moment before they were suddenly shooting out of the air somewhere completely alien to where they had been before, smashing down in into snow and ice and sending up a great burst of water as hot golden flames washed over the frozen ground around them.

Innocence felt the cold biting at her already, the scaled unicorn looking back and forth in disbelief as Freya straightened slowly and smiled around at the wintry wasteland they had landed in. The younger mare hugged herself, shivering a little and mouthing wordlessly: swirling, stormy skies were rolling by above, a chill wind was whipping past, and they were in the middle of... rocks and snow. That's all Innocence could see, rocks and snow, and... “What... what happened?”

“Fast travel, that's all.” Freya shrugged easily, smiling slightly as she looked back and forth slowly over the tundra: it took Innocence a few more moments before she realized that there was a large, rocky cliff to their back, and they were actually on top of some kind of wide, stage-like plateau. “I jumped to a place where the Light has trouble seeing. I thought it would stun you more, but I guess all the energy you've taken from me... or Celestia, rather... protected you. Most people would end up badly burned, among other things.”

“Oh. Oh, well, thank you so much, Freya, for getting us out of there by putting my life in danger with your magic.” Innocence said sourly, and Freya only shrugged before the scaled unicorn added moodily: “And I also thought that you had no magic energy left.”

“No, I didn't have enough power left to summon my armor back from where Celestia put it. It's been essentially banished to a different dimension, after all. Although I don't think I'll be able to fast-travel again for a little while. You've taken a lot of energy out of this body, and I...” Freya stopped, then shook her head slowly, and only now did Innocence see that the ivory mare was clearly... exhausted, in spite of her cavalier attitude. “I used up the rest. But we can set up a small camp here, carve some silence runes, and then... talk.”

Innocence nodded hesitantly, looking worriedly over Freya, but the ivory mare only smiled and shook her head, slowly sitting back as her swords picked themselves up out of the snow and carefully sheathed themselves, trembling only a little. “It's okay.. It's just a little bit embarrassing... I'll have to ask you to carve a camp for us. Use ice magic, make a dome.”

“I... well... okay, if you don't think we'll be detected...” Innocence mumbled, but then again... they had done a jump to the middle of nowhere, Freya's energy signature had almost vanished, and they were surrounded by snow, sleet, and rock as a storm rumbled grouchily past overhead. Even if the Light could somehow sense them, she would only be exuding magic for the little bit of time it took her to shape out the dome of ice before it would just look like an odd landmark.

Innocence nodded to herself as she breathed slowly in and out, then rose her horn a little... and there was a crackling sound, like glass crunching underhoof as ice began to rapidly form, spreading upwards into thick, sloping walls. In less than a minute, Innocence had successfully formed an igloo of ice with a narrow entranceway at one side, the scaled unicorn saying quietly: “Okay. Just let me pack down inside-”

“I'm not helpless, Innocence. Only tired.” Freya almost reprimanded as she hauled herself up to her hooves, then took a slow breath before shaking herself quickly out and carefully limping around the edge of the ice dome towards the entrance. Innocence grimaced a bit, then winced a little as the large winged unicorn cursed under her breath as she started to wiggle her way in through the small entrance,

Just as she was about to enlarge it, Freya managed to squeeze inside, and there was a faint thump-thump followed by a gush of snow and heat out the frozen doorway. Innocence tilted her head uneasily at this, then shook it quickly and slipped down, peering inside before she was unable to hide her surprise as she saw that Freya, with a single weak spell, had heated up the inside of the dome with a wave of hot air: not enough to melt the ice, but enough to blast the snow out of the igloo and make them a little more comfortable.

The mare carefully slipped inside... then winced when Freya almost pushed her to the side of the dome before grunting and shoving up a little pile of snow into the entranceway with her hooves, blocking most of it off and leaving them in twinkling blue darkness.

“Can you light a small flame? Just something to keep the spirit warm.” Freya questioned, and Innocence nodded a little bit before flicking her horn, a single blue flame crackling quietly up in the center of the packed, frosty floor of the igloo, and Freya smiled softly at this. “Good. My strength is already returning, but we shouldn't overexert ourselves. Help me carve runes around the top of the dome... you know the runes to silence and shroud an area, yes?”

Innocence nodded, and the two mares went to work... and to Innocence's surprise, they worked well together, both forming half the ring of runes and meeting almost perfectly at either side. When they finished, they had secured their little icy camp against intrusion as much as possible, and the two smiled at each other before Innocence asked finally, unable to help herself any longer: “So what about the base? We just... we just abandoned them. Is that... best?”

She didn't want to show her misgivings any more than she wanted to let too much of her selfish gladness they were out of danger through... but Freya's laugh surprised her into an uneasy frown, before the scaled unicorn simply looked dumbfounded when Freya waved a hoof and said mildly: “Oh, there's no secret base in the bog. Just hydras.”

“Wh... what? I don't understand.” Innocence stared at the mare, stupefied, before she shook her head quickly and asked in disbelief: “Then what were we doing there? You... you said there was a base, and we... had to send a message to the others and distract the Light and-”

“And there's truth to some of that, Innocence, I thought you would have figured it out.” Freya said easily, her amethyst eye glinting. “We did distract the Light. They were watching us that entire time, until we finally confronted their little messenger. I let the Whistler send a message to whoever was giving him orders, and used a rune to trace his psychic conversation and find out who he's been taking orders from. Something Celestia would have done a long time ago if she'd only been a little more stable.”

Innocence continued to stare at Freya, and the ivory mare's smile toned down a little as she said quietly: “The Light is going to search that bog for a base that doesn't exist, hopefully distract itself long enough for us to get the rebels moving again to a safer location. Then we're going to have to stop all this infighting, this petty squabbling, and stop cutting off the branches and hacking uselessly at the trunk... it won't stop this. We need to start attacking the roots.”

The scaled unicorn shifted a bit, then she asked nervously: “And... you have a plan to do that? Freya, I really don't know how much we can do, though... it's... just us against Heaven... they... they took... and everyone's probably...”

“Even if there's only a few of us left, if we can get organized, we can start doing real damage. Celestia's tactics hurt the Light, but what she targeted was destroying innocent lives as well as the guilty... like... like we did after Frey. But I won't dishonor Frey again. Celestia's mind can rationalize all she wants, but for me, Frey always was and always will be first and foremost. Everything I did in my old life... so much of it was for my twin. For my other half...”

She stopped, then smiled briefly. “And in a way, that makes me more selfish than Celestia ever was, even with her silly ideas of purging and purification and uniting the whole world beneath her own vision of 'goodness.' But enough storytime, Innocence. I need you to help me with something else now. And you have my promise, if you help me send a message out to the rebels now, our next stop will be a nearby storehouse of Hecate's, and I'll ensure that I follow fully through on the deal that Celestia made with you. A promise is a promise.”

“I... okay.” Innocence stopped, then frowned and asked quietly: “Why would... I mean, why would you feel that you had to follow through with anything Celestia promised when she was... well... you know...”

“Because trees are trees. They don't stop being trees just because you leave the forest.” Freya shrugged, then she smiled a little, her amethyst eye meeting Innocence's gaze. “And I am Celestia, Innocence. I am Celestia, only... tempered in a different degree. I think you'll like me more when we start to get used to each other. If only because I won't be trying to kill you as often.”

Innocence gave a nervous smile at this, then she sighed and nodded a little, wondering what she had done... feeling stupefied that she had even done this in the first place... and hoping that all of this was going to work out for the best, one way or another.

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