• 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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Taking Control

Chapter Seventy Two: Taking Control

Innocence couldn't help but be amazed at Freya's efficiency: maybe it was because of the rest they'd had – of course, that 'rest' had literally been maybe three hours of sleep, just enough to take the edge off Innocence's growing tiredness – but Freya seemed more calm and demure... and also like most of her strength had returned, in spite of how short a time it had been.

After sending a short message, they had made their way north: a bit of a surprise for Innocence, but she had decided to follow all the same. She also honestly hoped that Freya's message had gone... the spell for sending letters was quite simple, but she'd never sent a voice command before. That was a military spell, and it hadn't really been in the scope of her training... Gymbr had always been able to transmit his orders directly into someone's mind, and Celestia had been too paranoid, saying it was too easily intercepted. But Freya had said there was a time for caution and there was a time for action, and this was the latter.

The scaled unicorn was quickly starting to feel that with Freya, it was always a time for action, however: she was aggressive, felt much more outspoken than Celestia was, and she based everything she did around not just honor, but vengeance. She believed powerfully in retribution, and perhaps even revenge: getting to know Freya, it became clearer and clearer how Celestia could have been poisoned by her beliefs... and how Celestia could poison Freya, as well.

What Freya lacked, after all, was the patience to be calculating and cold: it was because she had to constantly act, she had to constantly push forwards, she had to face everything head-on, that she wasn't... well, a monster. Because Freya didn't put much thought into her actions, and just seemed to act on her instincts and impulses, making brilliant but very, very short term plans, she ended up being vicious but always for a purpose that was... understandable. Even admirable. But Freya understood, and perhaps even admired the way Celestia thought, so many days, months, years in advance of what could happen... and one thing Innocence had learned was that if Freya could think like that and act out what she desired piece-by-piece, she would go from ruthless warrior to ruthless murderer to ruthless genocidiary.

But instead, Freya moved from point-to-point, meaning her plans were being constantly formed and constantly adjusted, instead of simply forced to follow one massive, unbending line. It might still end in the deaths of many, but it meant she was willing to adjust her goals around other people on the way there, and if it was at all possible, it would only be their enemies who would be doing the dying.

They had reached a well-hidden forge in the mountainside in good time: the cavern had been littered with old equipment and a few cots, likely a place that was used by earth pony freedom fighters in the old days. Now it had been restructured into a small smithy, with a littering of supplies here and there, and Innocence thought that not even Antares had likely known about this place. It made her wonder how many secrets Celestia had kept from them... and then wonder silently what had happened to Antares, which made her stomach twist with guilt and confusion and... shame.

She claimed to be the most powerful unicorn in the universe and here she was, sitting here on her ass in a sweltering cavern, as Freya worked the forge with ease. Innocence hadn't even noticed that Freya had called back her armor out of the dimension she had stashed it away in, or how fervently she was working, concentrating entirely on the task at hoof and grinning widely as she constantly moved metal back and forth between the anvil and the forge before dipping the finished products into the icy slake tub and putting them aside for assembly.

The scaled unicorn glanced at the ivory mare's back for a moment, watching sweat roll down her hide, her ivory mane tangled into short, rough braids that were yanked out behind her. She watched the way her wings shivered, and how her muscles flexed beneath her hide with each rise and fall of the hammer, grasped tightly in one hoof... before Innocence blushed deeply as Freya asked calmly: “Do you admire this body that much, girl? Because I tell you, it's nothing compared to what I used to look like. Now that was a fine form, worthy of worship from any god.”

Innocence mumbled awkwardly and looked away, and Freya laughed before looking over her shoulder with entertainment, saying easily: “Now stop it, there's nothing to be ashamed of in a little comparison... although I can see why Celestia went mad so often. These hooves are burdensome and the best parts of my body are all lopped together instead of spread along my frame. By the way, girl, I want you to dock my tail and then braid my mane for me. Your claws must be good for that, at least.”

“Uh.” Innocence shifted awkwardly at this, looking apprehensively at Freya before she sighed and mumbled: “Well, I guess I can try. I'm not really... good at that kind of stuff myself, though.”

The ivory mare only chuckled quietly and shrugged, then she turned, horn glowing and dropping a piece of metal into the slake pit with a hiss. Then the winged unicorn was silent for a few moments before she nodded briefly, and her horn glowed, the forge slowly swinging shut with a last gasp of heat.

“Innocence, I need you to do something for me. Head outside and summon a landvættir. We're going to need to travel quickly through this tundra.” Freya ordered calmly, and when Innocence stared at her back, the ivory winged unicorn turned around and gave her an entertained look. “What? It shouldn't be any problem for you, Innocence. You have Celestia's energies running through your veins. You should be able to call up the spirits of the land with ease.”

“I can't even summon an elemental, and those things are like... super elementals. There's no way-” Innocence was cut off as Freya stepped forwards, looking down at her imperiously and shaking her head shortly with a suddenly serious expression.

“The only person who beats us, girl, is ourselves. Stop whining, and do it.” Freya ordered, and the scaled unicorn stared up at her in disbelief before she winced, blushing slightly and feeling a surge of anger run through her system when the ivory mare shoved her around in a circle and smacked her flank a few times like she was a foal to get her going. “Off now, hurry up.”

Innocence grumbled under her breath, cursing and growling as she stumbled away, then she scowled moodily as she hurried quickly forwards, even as Freya added glibly: “And I don't have to see the look on your face to know you're wearing that sulky barmaid's expression. Be a good girl now, Sin, not a crybaby. There are enough men in the world as it is.”

The scaled unicorn only continued to growl to herself, storming out to the narrow mouth of the cavern, then squeezing her way through and beneath a deep overhang that was supported by pillars of ice covered in explosive runes. The mare looked grouchily at these, thinking for a moment about bringing the whole stupid forge crashing down on stupid Freya's stupid head, and then she sighed tiredly and slumped a bit, mumbling: “She'd probably just throw the mountain at me or something. I think she's an even better fighter than Celestia.”

Sin stopped, then shook her head out quickly, forcing herself to focus. It wasn't hard to bring up Celestia's energy, that familiar sensation of warmth that could quickly become scalding, of light that could suddenly become blinding... but she had no idea how to pull Celestia's powers out of that.

It had become part of her, her own life force, merging with her spirit little-by-little and bleeding its powers into her as it did... but as Innocence sat back and concentrated, she couldn't summon the magic up. Her horn just sparked painfully and made her wince, before she gritted her teeth and tried harder... and cursed in agony when lightning zapped over her own form, her bladed horn vibrating violently. Her horn couldn't focus that kind of magic: it was light, and she was darkness.

Innocence growled under her breath, then sunk her claws into the snow... before wincing when Freya's voice shouted from the forge: “And don't think about using those mire powers of yours! I want you to draw on Celestia's strength, not your own!”

“I can't!” Innocence shouted angrily over her shoulder, and there was no response... which just made Innocence more nervous, shifting apprehensively before she sighed a little and slowly rose a claw, flexing it quietly.

She had been able to draw Celestia's powers out through her own inherent powers... and as the scaled mare studied her digits, she suddenly found herself wondering if maybe she was going about this the wrong way. Her horn could only focus certain kinds of magic, most of it tinged by the powers of darkness... but she didn't use her horn powers when she drained a pony. That functioned similarly to her mire powers: it was an inherent ability, not a learned spell.

She shifted, then rose her claws in front of herself, flexing it slowly before gritting her teeth and concentrating as hard as she could... and then she yelped, head twitching painfully to the side as her horn sparked violently again. Out of instinct she had just tried to cast it like a spell, and the scaled unicorn gritted her teeth in frustration before stomping wildly at the snow, and then she rose her claws in front of her face again and growled: “Come on! You pulled it in... just... push! Push it out, like... like creating mire! Come on!”

Her claws flexed painfully... but that was all. Innocence's eye twitched a bit, and then she stomped them down into the cold snow with a curse, sending up a puff of powder before she dropped her head forwards and forced herself to take a slow breath. She could feel the energy, and that was an improvement from the old days, right? And her memories of the lessons were coming back... although... it was hard. Her mind didn't want to remember the times with Gymbr, or what he had taught her, shown her... done to her...

She shivered a little, but then slowly bit her lip as she nervously allowed the memory to rise through her mind, taking a slow, calming breath. And at first, there was nothing but blurred images, before she heard his voice, almost as if he was right beside her: You are powerful, Innocence... but your strength alone is not enough. You will need to become stronger... and you need to learn to borrow the strength of others...

Innocence shifted uneasily, silently hugging herself, wanting to fight off the images, the memories... before her body quaked as she almost felt his breath, and his touch. Instead, she forced herself to focus on his words, as he said softly: We will show you the way. But you must remember something important, our beloved Princess of Heaven... if you desire to use their powers and not just feed upon their strength, you must make their spirit bow to your own...

And then she felt the kiss near her throat, that tender spot he'd always found, and Innocence shoved at the air with a gasp before she clamped a claw against the side of her neck with a whimper. But after a moment of staring at the snow, she threw it off and shivered a little. She told herself that was just because of how cold it was, and the mare licked her lips slowly before muttering: “That's... that's right, though. That's why I can still feel... Celestia so distinctly. Her energy is just being stored, waiting to be used up, instead of being merged with my own... I need to... I need to absorb it completely somehow. But I don't know how...”

She stopped, rubbing slowly at the side of her neck before closing her eyes. She could feel the two distinct energies, but that was useless by itself: it just brought to mind visions of dancing lights and strange memories, both good and bad. What she needed was a visualization of some kind... something simple, so she could hopefully start this strange process...

The mare breathed slowly in and out, then lowered her head a bit and gritted her teeth, deciding to focus on what was simple: a stream of golden energy, and a stream of black energy. In her mind, they were flowing side by side... but the black was much larger, and it began to twist over the golden energy like slime, absorbing it, destroying it, eating it...

And that imagery did nothing but make her feel a little nauseated and her horn sizzle uselessly. Innocence grumbled under her breath, then she shook her head quickly before muttering sourly: “Fine, be that way, then what about... this...”

Innocence breathed slowly, once more bringing up that image of two colors... but this time, she did her best to let go. She instead focused on filling those two energies with the feeling of the distinct sources of power inside her, one her own magic, the other the essence she had torn out of the winged unicorn... and then, not knowing what else to do, she felt almost... a plea rise up through her body. Not an order, not dominance, not something forceful and powerful taking over... but instead, she was quietly imploring the energies to merge together.

There was a ripple through her subconscious, and the images became more distinct, more real in her mind, before to her surprise the golden energy began to flow into the black. But the black didn't fight it: it rippled, twisted around it... not spreading over it like some kind of evil, hungry slime, but instead embracing it and wrapping around it and hugging it into itself. Joining, not destroying...

And Innocence felt the warmth inside her growing and mixing with something else; she gritted her teeth, her eyes clenching tightly as she hugged herself, and felt strong limbs wrapping around her for a moment, heard a silent apology, before she gasped as that tremendous power merged into her spirit, made her whole body ripple before her amethyst eyes snapped open. She stared in disbelief into the distance for a moment, then slowly looked down at her claws... and without more than a thought, one of them burst into golden flames, the holy fire spreading along the entire limb for a moment, then in front of her amazed eyes, gathering into the palm of her claw with only a single mental nudge.

She crushed the golden flames out, then looked up for a moment before stomping a claw suddenly down into the earth, and her horn glowed brightly as she poured her own energies forwards. Snow burst up around her in a wave, then swirled violently through the air around the scaled unicorn as an icy claw ripped out of the ground ahead, and Innocence couldn't help but laugh in disbelief and amazement as a massive, frozen dragon tore its way out of the frosty earth, easily big enough for both herself and Freya to ride on its shell-like back, a long tail snapping back and forth behind it as it rose its icy head proudly.

It roared loudly, blue mist rising from its jaws as glowing red eyes looked calmly out at Innocence, and the mare grinned widely up at it even as she breathed hard in and out, rubbing slowly at her chest and feeling... not exhausted, no. But she felt a mental weight on her mind that told her this was all she could summon for now... not that it wasn't enough. Not that it wasn't amazing all by itself, the mare staring with awe over the icy landvættir before she stumbled around in a circle like a foal and ran back into the forge cavern.

“Freya! I did it, I did it!” she shouted giddily, stumbling through the cave... and then she winced as she felt something like a tether in her mind snap, and that mental pressure vanished even as there was a loud shattering sound from outside, Innocence slowly looking over her shoulder as a few chunks of ice rolled into the room through the narrow entrance.

Freya looked up from the anvil she was working at with a wide grin, then she laughed loudly as Innocence flushed deeply and turned forwards again, the mare saying wryly: “Just like a child. Delightful, though, if there was ever proof enough you summoned the beast on your own, then that was it. But you can't stray too far from whatever you call, Innocence... they're dependent on you for their lives. It will take time and effort before you can summon elementals like the landvættir to do your bidding like I can. But all the same... good. You did it, like I told you to, once you were done with all your sulking and whining. And so I think you've earned these.”

Innocence opened her mouth to likely swear at Freya, but her jaw simply fell into a gape when the ivory winged unicorn levitated a pair of claw-like gauntlets in front of her, complete with long, fluted bracers of steel that would protect and lock around her entire forelegs. The claws themselves thrummed with power, and as Innocence slowly approached and marveled over the sight of them, Freya said quietly: “I've hidden the runes on the reverse sides of the plates to disguise their nature, Innocence... but these weapons will suck the life and energy out of whatever they touch. With your powers, they'll even be able to rip out the very soul of anything they dig into... so they are precious, and they are extremely dangerous.”

Sin closed her mouth and reached up to take them into her claws, turning them slowly over and studying them: she noticed that the claws themselves were subtly curved and bladed, the digits looking almost... barbed, as Freya continued softly: “They're sturdy, insulated with dragon-scale leather, the rest made from tempered steel dipped in silver. I made them quick, but they'll hold together, at least for a little while... until we can make a better pair for you together, and I can fulfill my oath to you in full.”

The scaled mare was silent for a few moments at this, and then she looked up as Freya rose her head proudly and smiled, saying quietly: “But if you like, Innocence, you can test those now and take a fragment of my spirit, to fulfill the other half of our deal.”

Innocence looked down at the gauntlets for a few moments... and then she smiled faintly as she carefully slipped them on. She flexed them carefully, then rested them against the ground: they were a little tight, a little uncomfortable, but something she would be able to wear in and get used to.

She drew her eyes up, studying Freya... and then she said after a moment, in spite of how hard it was to say, how part of her writhed in frustration: “Celestia promised me some of her energies. I took that already. That part of the deal is done.”

“But all the same, you want more.” Freya said quietly, and Innocence nodded a little, a faint blush creeping up from her neck even as she met the mare's one-eyed gaze evenly with her own... and then Freya gave a strangely-pleased smile. “Good. You're stronger than you seem, Innocence. For admitting that, and for not taking what you desire.”

“I... I just don't need to drag you behind me, that's all. Better two of us strong, than one of us strong and you dying... the rebels already are going to end up having all kinds of second thoughts about me again as it is and... it just doesn't make sense to. Yet.” Innocence muttered, looking grouchily away, and Freya chuckled at this, shaking her head slowly.

“You don't have to keep up the tough girl act, Innocence... although Brynhild was always the same way. All the Valkyries were made to specialize in different things, you see, and Brynhild was the Night Maiden... she was made to spend the long nights alone, wrapped in darkness with few others for company. It made her strange, when most of our fighting was done during the day... but it made her better than them, too. She was tireless, and able to catch an arrow shot at her in the darkness as easily as if it was broad daylight. But they called her troll and witch and dwarf...” Freya laughed and shook her head, then reached up and touched Innocence's face gently. “And she took it to heart. It's funny, Innocence... silly words could make us harder or softer than blade or handsome body ever could.”

Innocence mumbled and uncomfortably pushed the hoof away from her features before she said moodily: “Well, I'm not like that at all. I'm just... I mean, that's not the reason...”

Freya only shrugged easily, then calmly gestured to her, saying as if the scaled mare had let the conversation end instead of feebly trying to argue: “Come on, then, Innocence. I'll summon a landvættir for us and we can cross this tundra to the nearest base. With a little luck, they'll have heard the message and be expecting us.”

“But what if the Pious heard the message, too?” Innocence asked uneasily, and Freya smiled wryly at this, shaking her head briefly.

“If the Pious had heard the message, Innocence, they would have swept down on us by now. No, I don't think that's going to be any kind of problem now... but we can deal with things as they come.” The winged unicorn shrugged easily as she led the way away from the forge, before hesitating and adding quietly: “We should destroy this place, though. There's weapons here, and the Light has already taken enough from us.”

Innocence looked down and nodded briefly, and the two mares made their way outside in silence. The scaled mare felt a strange feeling run through her mind as she closed her eyes, lowering her head a little and unable to look up even as Freya calmly rose her horn and focused her magic, another massive landvættir of ice and snow rapidly forming in front of them.

Freya mounted this with ease and sat in an awkward side-saddle position, and Innocence followed her up on autopilot, not really paying attention as she thought about Antares, and about her parents, and about everything they were fighting for... and how impossible it seemed to win this war they were fighting. And she didn't snap back to reality until they were riding away and Freya easily sent a golden fireball arching behind them to crash into one of the pillars, the runes glowing brightly in the blast before the entire mountainside erupted in an enormous explosion, sending an avalanche of ice and snow hailing down with a great burst of smoke and powder.

Innocence winced over her shoulder as the blast of cold snow and hot air washed over her and almost knocked her loose from the landvættir, which simply rumbled loudly at the sound and shale. The mare blinked stupidly several times, then she hurriedly hauled herself back upright on the icy dragon, glaring at Freya.

The ivory mare only laughed and shrugged, turning her eyes back forwards and smiling slightly as she said easily: “You need to learn not to lose yourself in the past, Innocence. That's the same flaw that Celestia had. And you don't want to go through the same things she did, do you?”

Innocence gave a huff, then she shook her head and sighed tiredly, asking finally: “So... how far away is the base? I mean, we're just going to... ride there and hope that everyone's already there?”

Freya shrugged a bit before the ivory winged unicorn said mildly: “Something like that, Innocence. Perhaps it sounds a little silly to you, but sometimes a simple plan is the best plan. But this way we'll also avoid getting the Light's attention: the landvættir don't exude any magical energy by themselves, in spite of being... 'elementals,' as you phrased it. Sometimes taking it slow is much better than trying to rush... but I guess that's your mother. Always rushing.”

“My... my Móðer, you mean. Twilight Sparkle... she was my mother.” Innocence halted, then she smiled faintly, looking down for a moment before clearing her throat as she silently dug her claws along the icy landvættir's back. “It feels funny to say that and to think about her after all these years.”

The ivory mare nodded slowly, and then Freya said quietly: “If you want to talk about it, Innocence, I'll listen to you. I won't be much help, of course, but I will listen. And I feel like... Twilight Sparkle was one of my Valkyries. A Valkyrie more special than even Brynhild.”

“No, I just... I think you may have just helped more than I can say.” Innocence replied quietly, and then she lowered her head, falling into silence. Freya only gazed over her shoulder at her for a few moments, then she gave a small smile before turning her eyes back forwards, deciding it was best to let the scaled unicorn look to the past while she turned her own eyes to the path ahead.

Innocence couldn't help but feel a little surprised: when they arrived at the northern base, there were already ponies there waiting for them. More than that, the base itself was actually quite large: it had been constructed from an abandoned farming facility that comprised several underground caverns and greenhouses, and the walls were not only heavily insulated, but many of the passages and rooms were built to suppress energy signatures.

So there were quite a few demons here, as well as Nightmares and other creatures that greeted them with relief. And all of them seemed to recognize there was something completely different about the ivory winged unicorn just from looking at her... although whenever Innocence looked at Freya herself, she thought there were... quite a few strange, notable differences from the Celestia that had been and the mare that was now.

Freya was quick to take charge, finding out who was available at the base on the way inside, then starting to plot a course of action as they moved. Innocence trailed nervously along with the Queen of the Valkyries, a little bit amazed at seeing the mare so in her element... and more than that, not knowing if Freya would be as receptive to her presence now as she had before. Celestia, after all, had never liked her being around during strategy sessions...

But when she began to linger away, Freya looked over her shoulder from her conversation with two Greater Nightmares, smiling and saying: “We have no time to rest yet, Innocence. You have to help me get the word out, and gather our forces... we have to make sure no one's left behind, or worse, left to die as the bait in a trap.”

Innocence blushed a little, but nodded firmly, hurrying to catch up to Freya as they headed into a meeting hall that apparently doubled as a strategy room, and a demoness that Innocence was surprised to recognize looked up from the maps, Ersatz Major giving a small smile as her eyes lingered over the winged unicorn, before she said quietly: “You look very pretty, if you don't mind me saying so. And you know what high praise that is from a demon of Envy such as myself, Lady Celestia.”

“I prefer Freya now, actually.” Freya replied calmly, and then she studied Ersatz Major for a moment before a slight smile spread over her features, saying quietly: “You and Burning Desire have already been going against my orders and rounding people up.”

“We were following Terra's orders. But... we chose to follow them, I won't deny that. Terra figured out what you... or rather, Celestia, was doing, her plans to immolate the bases around enemy and friend alike. Needless to say she was unhappy... so we were all extremely relieved when your signal went out and alerted us to beginning moving in towards one central location.” Ersatz stopped, then added quietly: “Terra wished for us to tell her the moment you arrived, Lady Freya.”

“And I assume someone has already gone to do just that. That's fine, let's meet with her and settle things straight.” Freya paused, then smiled at Ersatz, adding: “And I am no 'lady,' Ersatz. I was and still am the Queen of the Valkyries, but I have never been any 'lady.' Now, show me the maps you've got there and let's see where everyone's at.”

Ersatz smiled as Innocence leaned over the table beside Freya and the Greater Nightmares both clustered in eagerly, looking with bright eyes at Freya. They seemed strangely anticipatory... although Ersatz actually seemed nervous for some reason, and Innocence couldn't imagine why. So far, Freya seemed to be... a more relaxed, more energetic Celestia, and one who wasn't willing to see her own troops as expendable just to continue to harm the Light.

Her mind was sharp as ever, quickly analyzing and anticipating the Light's next moves and adjusting the borders on known territories. Freya asked Ersatz all kinds of questions, some of which Innocence found strange, like what the schedule for passing out rations was and what they were eating. But she figured Freya had her own reasons for wanting to know every little detail.

They worked for forty minutes before Terra arrived, Taruos riding on his mother's back. Terra was smiling thinly, her metal scales shaped into spiky, warlike armor around her body, two massive Ironjaw that could barely squeeze into the room escorting her. Taruos, meanwhile, was only dressed in torn, ugly robes that were far too small on the growing boy, his features sour and irritable, holding himself with a calm and self-assuredness that was almost arrogance. But he was also thin, and he looked... old, for someone who was so young, with the cares and weight of the world already weighing so heavily on his shoulders.

Freya and Terra looked at each other for a few moments, and then the Queen of Heaven said mildly: “You don't look like Celestia at all any longer. Which I suppose I should be glad for, seeing what a sodding mess she turned into.”

“Now watch yourself, Terra, Celestia's still a part of me. I just happen to be the better part of her.” Freya replied evenly, and then the ivory mare said calmly, without the slightest twitch or hesitation: “I'm taking over all operations, Terra. There only needs to be one Queen in this nest.”

Innocence shifted uneasily, looking up with surprise, and Terra bared her fangs... but it was Taruos who spoke up, leaning forwards angrily over his mother's head and snapping: “You are a military officer and serve us! As a Valkyrie of Heaven it is your sworn duty to protect-”

“It is my sworn duty to protect both Midgard and Asgard. It was also my duty to protect the Aesir and the gods, but that time, unfortunately, has passed.” Freya said evenly, shaking her and looking calmly back at Taruos. “You, young Prince, can continue to handle the weight of administration, and your mother can help you. But I will take charge of our military operations.”

“No, you won't! Where in Hel's name d'you get off, thinking you can order me around like some green, untested lass! I've fought for more years than most demons have lived!” Terra snarled, bristling as the enormous Ironjaw on either side of her both rumbled and glowered. “And don't you be giving orders to my child, Freya, you forget yourself as-”

“You're a warrior, Terra, I never questioned that. You are not a war leader. Even when you were part of Hel's elite, you were never a war leader... there's not much strategy involved in defending an impenetrable wall, now is there?” Freya asked mildly, and Terra's eyes glowed before she opened her mouth and leaned forwards, then stared stupidly when Freya reached up and caught her by the nose. “I'm taking charge here. Besides, it's not like it's going to change anything: you spent all your time listening to Celestia's plans and marshaling Heaven's forces for her.”

“Get your hoof off me, lass, before I bite it off.” Terra threatened in a growl, and Freya only smiled calmly before the Ironjaw reached up and seized into her leg, crushing down on it... but Freya didn't flinch, and didn't let go of the Ironjaw's nose as the metallic dragon said angrily: “This is not an intelligent course of action to be taking, Celestia. I am not here to indulge your bloody freedom fighter fantasies or your power trips. Now stop behavin' like a child and-”

Freya yanked suddenly downwards, flinging Terra face-first into the ground with a tremendous bang: immediately, both of her massive escorts lunged forwards with snarls, but Freya caught the claw of one and twisted it almost completely in a circle before bending it viciously backwards, the dragon falling forwards with a stupid whimper as her other hoof caught the second massive Ironjaw by the face, shoving it to the side before she caught it by one horn and twisted viciously.

Terra looked up with a snarl... and then stared in disbelief: one of her bodyguards had his teeth grit, one claw digging into the ground, the other twisted horribly around and only a twitch away from being snapped like a twig. The other bodyguard was being held by one horn, head twisted to the side, a humiliated expression on his face as he found himself unable to move at all.

Freya looked calmly at Terra, and Terra glared angrily back at the ivory mare before the Queen of the Valkyries said softly: “Now listen. You forget yourself. I served Odin and the Aesir loyally... but I was also a goddess among their number. I was Queen of the Valkyries, and ultimately, the Valkyries listened to me, and my rule alone. We were the defenders of the soft, lazy gods... and there was a time, Terra, when you would not be a Queen of Asgard but a slave or prisoner... if you were fortunate.

“I will not tolerate any more disrespect from you, Terra. You don't have to respect me, no. But you will listen to me, and you will keep yourself civil and your eyes down.” Freya said calmly, and Terra shivered as she ground her teeth together in palpable frustration, breathing slowly in and out and looking furious as Taruos shifted nervously on his mother's back. “I will listen to you. I will form my strategies to your desires. And you can administrate away all you like. But you will leave running the war and these forces to me, understood?”

“I hope you ken this is not a smart move you've made, Freya. Because aye, I recognize we'll have to work together to win this war... but I won't let this go unpunished, either. You are supposed to be loyal, and true... I see you're as honorable as Celestia is, with her plans to burn our own forces to destroy the Light's armies.” Terra said coldly, the Ironjaw picking herself calmly up.

Freya smiled at this, but her amethyst eye was icy as the crystalline sphere in the other sparked. “If I had no honor, Terra, you'd be crying right now. But as it is, I'd rather not do such a thing in front of your son. So instead, I'll ask you politely to leave and we'll deal with our differences later.”

The ivory winged unicorn let go of the Ironjaw dragons to either side, and they winced and pulled quickly back before both enormous demons pulled themselves quickly backwards and sat up. Freya looked coldly between the three, then she returned her gaze to Terra, saying quietly: “We all have our jobs, Terra. Go take care of your son.”

Terra gritted her teeth... then she dropped her head and nodded shortly, cursing quietly under her breath before she turned around. Taruos looked uneasily over his shoulder, but Freya only gave him a kind smile even as his mother shoved her way out of the room, the two enormous Ironjaw guarding her rumbling nervously before squeezing their way out as well.

Then Freya sighed, turning back around to the table... and frowning a little at the nervous looks she was getting, before the ivory mare smiled suddenly and reached up to pet Innocence, stroking her mane tenderly back as she said kindly: “Don't any of you worry now. I'm just making sure we're all doing the best that we can for each other.”

“And making sure that you're in charge.” Ersatz said softly, the beautiful, lithe demoness looking up with a small smile through her white-and-blonde mane, her glowing blue eyes apprehensive but also carefully lowered in humility. “I don't question why you are... but I do think you could have been a bit more... tactful, Freya. I've learned that tact is more valuable and appreciated when you use it even if you could get your way through... other methods.”

“That was tactful. She is a proud demon... if I had just asked the Caoránadux to let me take over for her, she would have just laughed at me. And I don't like being laughed at, even in jest.” Freya said calmly, and then the ivory mare shook her head briefly before turning her amethyst eye back towards Innocence, who still looked a little anxious. “Now come, girl. I'm not going to treat you roughly unless you make me. But we seem to have a good understanding between each other, don't we?”

Innocence nodded a little after a moment, giving an awkward smile even as she shifted nervously. It was true, though... she felt comfortable with Freya. Maybe even a little in awe of her, and her power... and Freya smiled back at her as she reached up and ruffled the young mare's mane gently before she turned her eyes towards Ersatz Major. “And if you're worried that I'm going to punish you, don't. You disobeyed Celestia, not me, and she was blind with grief and anger. I don't plan to allow that to happen to myself. I've let passion twist me too often already in the past.”

Ersatz nodded nervously, the two looking at one-another for a few moments before the demon finally gave a small smile. The Nightmares lingering to either side of the table hesitantly stepped back close, and Freya nodded before saying calmly: “Ersatz, I'll ask you to act as a go-between between myself and Terra. She and I are probably not going to be on the best of terms for the next while.”

“Of course. I'll do my best, Freya.” Ersatz promised with a nod, and then she smiled over at Innocence, adding quietly: “Perhaps Innocence can help me. I'd like to spend some time with her.

“You two will have plenty of free time to catch up tonight. But for now, I need both of you here, helping me finish these plans.” Freya answered in an almost-soothing voice, turning her attention back to one of the maps in front of her. “We need to gather our forces together in a safe location, establish a real base, a place of safety for us. We need a place where the Light can't travel with ease, but we'll be able to move in and out of. And most important, it needs to be somewhere that we can respond to the Light's aggression if necessary. I have a feeling it won't be long before they try and target our foals.”

“We won't let them take Turtle Island.” Ersatz said softly, and both Greater Nightmares nodded firmly in agreement. “They try and avoid the oceans, anyway... perhaps we should set up a sea base.”

“No, it has to be somewhere where we can reach easily, but they can't.” Freya said meditatively, shaking her head briefly, and she frowned for a moment before saying slowly: “Here. The Light seems to be avoiding contact with this place at all costs...”

Innocence frowned a bit, and Ersatz said hesitantly: “It's forbidden territory. That means it belongs to dragons, Phooka, or demons. The Phooka are assisting us, Freya, but only because we've promised to respect their traditions and not infringe on their sacred grounds...”

“Let's not jump to conclusions, Ersatz. Let's see... zone... twenty-two, coordinates...” Freya shuffled through papers beside the map, reading quickly down the codes before she said with interest: “Aggressive, unknown creatures have taken over this zone. Many Pales noted in the vicinity. Corrupted earth, but not mire... and warm, despite just being past the winter belt. Interesting. We should investigate. We've been neglecting an important part of any war: making allies.”

“But... we have lots of allies. We've made lots of allies, from wild demons to Hel and the Phooka. And Spike and Rarity are still out there somewhere, trying to talk to the dragons and get them to join us.” Innocence said, looking up in confusion, but Freya only shook her head with an amused look at the scaled unicorn.

Then she returned her eye to the map, saying calmly: “Yes, the obvious allies. But we haven't been pressing the issue enough, and we haven't been trying to recruit others who will be interested in our cause. We've been shy and cautious, and this isn't the time for shyness or caution.”

She stopped, then shook her head and tapped the map twice, looking with seriousness down at Innocence. “If I send you here with some demons, do you promise to secure the area? I can't accept failure at this point, Innocence. If you have even the slightest doubt in yourself, then say no.”

Innocence shifted a bit, and then she bit her lip before nodding and looking up evenly, saying quietly: “I can do it. I'll negotiate or... kill whatever's there.”

Ersatz frowned a little, but Freya only smiled and nodded, reaching up to gently rustle Innocence's mane. The scaled unicorn couldn't help but smile a bit in response to the almost-maternal gesture, closing her eyes and bowing her head forward as Freya said softly: “Good. Be prepared to do whatever you have to. But try and focus on making an ally, Innocence, not just killing it.”

Innocence nodded quickly, smiling wider up at Freya, feeling... she wasn't quite sure. But Freya felt almost like a kindred spirit to her, and she radiated a power that Innocence couldn't help but admire and respect, and she was physical, but her touch was never... uncomfortable. Maybe it was because of Celestia's energies thrumming through her, or maybe it was just because of her growing trust, but she didn't mind the contact... it wasn't like when Gymbr had run his claws over her...

She shivered, then looked up and did her best to listen as Freya went over their plans. Celestia had gotten caught up in her personal vendetta, and likely had wanted to keep their numbers as few as possible to continue to justify her getting involved in each and every bloody battle, among other things. Celestia had wanted to kill the Light herself: Freya also wanted that, but was willing to bring in plenty of people to help beat it into submission first.

Freya was able to note several large areas that Celestia had ignored: not because they were important, but because they were either neutral territories or avoided by the Light. But Freya wanted to get as many rebels as possible into as many safe zones as possible, while they worked on establishing better allies and building a real base in a place where the Light wouldn't be able to get easy access to them. She wanted to protect the rebels, instead of continuously attacking the Light.

It was a bit of a surprise from the Queen of the Valkyries, but Innocence soon realized something: the whole time Freya was talking, she clearly seemed to have some other piece of information gnawing at the back of her mind. Like she knew something about the Light that she didn't want to talk to anyone about... and as Innocence listened closely to the ivory winged unicorn, she began to wonder if all Freya was trying to do now was delay the inevitable.

Eventually, Freya dismissed them all, to either deal with their other duties or rest... but Innocence stayed, continuing to look uneasily at the ivory mare until the last Nightmare was out of the door. And with a flick of her horn, Freya closed this before she turned a soft smile to the scaled unicorn, asking kindly: “Are you going to ask to share my bed tonight? Because you should be going to get some rest, Innocence.”

The scaled mare scowled a little up at the ivory mare, and the winged unicorn chuckled and shook her head slowly, saying softly: “The Valkyries always gave me the same look. Well, most of them. Not all of them. But I always got my way, one way or the other, Innocence.”

The unicorn winced a bit at this, then hurriedly shook her head out, refusing to let herself be distracted before she asked in almost a rush: “What are you doing?”

Freya's eye sharpened slightly, but she continued to smile... and it wasn't anger Innocence saw, but maybe that Freya was impressed, maybe even... a little proud of her. It bolstered the younger mare's courage, and she asked quickly after a moment, raising her head slightly: “I mean, why does it feel like you know something you're not telling us? That you're not trying to fight this war?”

“Oh, believe me, Innocence. I plan to fight this war. I just don't want these rebels getting in our way right now.” Freya replied calmly, and Sin looked up at her in dumb surprise before the ivory mare laughed quietly and shook her head slowly. “Innocence... even powerful demons can't match the Light in combat. The Pious are fragile, but very fast and very strong. Even if a mortal could kill them, the chances are that a Pious would tear an entire cadre of mortal warriors apart before they could land a blow. Glass is fragile, after all... but you can cut through a dragon with the right application of force.”

The scaled unicorn shifted uneasily, and then Freya said quietly: “I'm privy to the way Celestia was thinking, and all her plans. She wanted to kill the Light, to weaken their numbers decidedly, because she understood that they had a hive mind. And to her, it was better to kill her own troops than risk them being taken prisoner, because she recognized that the Light will convert those soldiers to its cause and add to its hive mind: what is likely its greatest source of strength.

“Celestia had a simple, brutal, and cunning plan. To kill as many soldiers of the Light as possible, to burn down their Sanctuaries and bases and wait for them to send more and more reinforcements down from Heaven, understanding that even with their seemingly-infinite resources, the number must be finite... and then find her way into Heaven with as many people like you and Prestige and Terra and try to rip it apart from the inside out. With most of the Light's forces on Midgard, she was convinced she would have been able to strike all the way into Valhalla.”

“We all would have died.” Innocence shivered a bit, then looked up and winced as Freya simply nodded. “Did she really... stop caring that much?”

“No. She does care.” Freya said quietly, and then she smiled faintly and touched her own breast. “She... I... still believe we can rescue Discombobulation. And maybe even Luna, Twilight, and Scrivener... but she didn't care what the cost of rescuing those people was. I... I want to say that I do. But I also don't know who I would choose if I was forced to pick between saving them and saving... the rest of this world.”

Freya halted, then she sighed and reached up, tapping her own forehead a few times with one hoof. “Frey save me from making such choices. But stop worrying, Innocence. I am trying to keep the rebels away, but only so that strong ponies, like us, can start making our own strikes at parts of the Light Celestia neglected, because it wasn't in her plan's best interests.”

The scaled unicorn nodded after a moment, studying Freya silently, and then she hesitated before asking suddenly: “What do you think of me?”

Freya looked down at her for a few moments, then she reached up and ruffled her mane, making Innocence grimace a bit. The ivory mare shrugged and began to turn around, and Innocence said quietly: “I just don't understand why you seem to... to want to work with me. And I don't understand how you feel like the old Celestia to me, but like I can trust you more than I ever did her.”

The winged unicorn looked down for a moment, then she turned around and said quietly: “Because you respect my power and authority, and because I respect who you are... and what you are. And no, I don't think you're a monster... not even Celestia at her worst ever honestly felt, in her heart of hearts, that you were a monster.

“But what you are is a Night Maiden. You're different from us, and you were made to harness the darkness. And I want you to harness that darkness, Innocence. I want darkness at my side, as my right hoof.” Freya reached up, slowly stroking under Innocence's chin before leaning down and chastely kissing her lips, and the scaled unicorn blushed a bit before Freya sat back and smiled. “We'll take down the Light together, and you can have all the power you want, as long as you remember to listen to me and fight by my side. We're going to stop the Light. And then... we'll go from there. And I hope that you'll continue to do everything and anything that needs to be done.”

Innocence smiled a little, looking up and unable to stop herself from feeling... loyalty to this mighty mare, who was everything she desired to be, everything she needed right now. And Freya stepped forwards and hugged Innocence close against her chest, stroking soothingly down her back even as her single eye looked off into the distance, her smile unreadable. But the scaled mare only eagerly returned the embrace, falling against her with a sigh of pleasure and trusting in her, admiring her, loving her as the surrogate parent she badly needed right now.

And Freya kept Innocence close, closing her eye as she felt the mare who was already all-but-worshiping her like putty in her hooves, and she stroked her mane gently back even as she silently apologized to both this little pony as well as her parents for whatever she might have to do in the future to ensure the Light wouldn't be victorious.

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