• 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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Reaping The Whirlwind

Chapter Seventy Eight: Reaping The Whirlwind

The Light's attack on Quietus Clime began only a few hours after Innocence and Terra left with their small, hoofpicked unit of warriors. Originally, Freya had just wanted to get Terra the hell away from her base, so she wouldn't have to deal with any whining about how she couldn't go through with the plan she had in mind.

Innocence's sudden burst of morality had annoyed her and made it necessary to make a few more changes to her plans, but she had also decided to try and use it as an opportunity. Furthermore, she didn't think it would last forever: living by a code of honor was difficult in times like these, and she thought that Innocence would go back to her power-hungry, uninhibited old self after a little taste of the kind of lifestyle she was in for if she decided to keep up this whole ridiculous notion of 'doing right' and 'living by structure' and everything else she had been babbling about.

She certainly didn't seem willing to give up any of her dark powers, after all, and it wasn't like those were going to mix very well with an 'honorable life.' But for now, Freya would... do her very best to humor her and let her try and live out her silly little fantasy. She'd get over what had happened with Antares sooner or later. Hopefully sooner, because Freya needed her powers to be at their full potential.

All the same, Innocence and Terra were more than strong enough to handle the mission she had given them: exterminate all resistance in Ponyville and fortify the town. They probably wouldn't like what they had to do, but as long as Innocence hadn't become a pacifist, they wouldn't hesitate to defend themselves once the blinded zealots started attacking them. Once Ponyville was fortified, they could use it a base camp to attack Canterlot from.

The point of attacking Canterlot wasn't to actually seize anything or cause any major damage, as nice as it would be to destroy the magic academy and remove the threat of ancient artifacts and magic-based technology from the equation. It was to scare the war leaders out of the capital city: Freya already had assassins stationed all along every major road and hidden trail out of Canterlot, and these demons and Clockwork Ponies were waiting patiently for when their targets were scared out of the burrow they had all holed up in.

They might not be able to damage the Light, but Freya knew they could still cripple Equestria's government. And it hurt, it hurt like hell to imagine throwing this country she had gotten used to thinking of as her own into complete chaos, but she was willing to do it. She was willing to do whatever was necessary.

At least so far, things were going according to her hopes... the broad strokes, at least. Freya smiled faintly to herself before she sighed softly as the mountains shook above: but they were safe here, deep in the trench. She and her love were safe, and she was never, ever going to let anyone harm him, ever again. He was like Frey to her... well, apart from the 'brother' part.

Freya laughed quietly, then she shook her head slowly before looking up and studying the statue of Discombobulation: his expression was calmly defiant even if his body was contorted into a bow, his metallic arm overgrown and dusty, but it still looked as functional as ever beneath the grime, even if the rest of the Draconequus was... not.

She studied him for a few moments, then strode forwards and quietly kissed the forehead of the statue before dropping her head against his shoulder, her eye looking away as a melancholy expression spread over her features, the mare murmuring: “I know. I'm sorry. I know you're not fond of what I'm doing... what I have to do. But how else are we going to win?”

Discombobulation was silent, and she smiled as she heard his answer all the same, nodding a little against him. “I know I am. And I was cruel. But I was... she's...”

She fell quiet as if interrupted, and she sighed a little after a moment, pushing away from him and looking into his frozen eyes... and she swore she saw his disapproval in them, heard his voice again as she shook her head before saying quietly: “That's not entirely fair.”

A silent answer, and Freya shifted and looked away, saying quietly: “Alright. Let's say that you have a point... what am I supposed to do? Neither outcome is favorable: disregarding my plans here completely, Discombobulation... if I encourage Innocence to follow a path of honor, it might only embitter her and leave her hesitating, judging her own every move, trying to... it just won't work out. She's not like Brynhild, and she's definitely not like her mother. She's not even like me, able to cling to the vestiges of honor... her powers are too dark.”

She stopped, listened to the silence, and then she smiled faintly at him, shaking her head slowly and murmuring: “It is not like saying you're 'too chaotic.' That's different as well, and you know it.” She stopped, tilted her head slightly, and then smiled a little more. “No, I don't want her to become a true monster, Discombobulation, you know that. I just want her to be... the right amount of darkness. And leave honor and... other things to us. To people who...

“I didn't say that.” Freya said sharply, raising her head slightly as she glared at the statue, and Discombobulation seemed to glare implacably back, the Queen of the Valkyries baring her teeth at him... and then almost sulkily slumping a little, mumbling finally: “Fine, then I didn't mean it. And you know I don't. That I care about her.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then the ivory mare dropped her head and shifted a little before she said softly: “It's hard. I want what's best for her, I honestly do. I love her. And I owe her, but... I have to do what will destroy this Light as well. Look what they did to our family. What they did to you. Antares was all Innocence had left... you saw what they did to Scarlet Sage.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Freya smiled faintly, saying quietly: “It's funny. You say all these strange things... and yet I always know just what you mean. We have such a strange connection between us, you and I... and I never expected...”

She stopped, then glanced away, and there was silence for a few moments before she finally sighed softly, lowering her head and closing her eyes. “I understand. I understand... but I have to go ahead with this plan. We have no other choice now... and while I may not be able to fix anything in the future, I can at least make sure that Equestria... isn't destroyed by the Light.”

She looked up, and Discombobulation seemed to look back at her, to give her both his disapproval, but also his unwavering support. It was such a strange combination, but... so were they. So after a moment, Freya gave a small smile before she said softly: “I love you. And I'm going to save you, too. I just hope that you'll still recognize me when I do.”

The ivory mare leaned forwards and kissed his stone lips gently before pulling away, looking longingly at the Draconequus for a few moments before she glanced up with a grimace as there was another rumble from above. They were being pummeled by the Light's magical artillery again... but the Light was doing its best to try and keep at range, not wanting to risk entering the dead lands that had been created by their Dracolich ally.

Their infantry forces were still clashing constantly at the borders of the poisonous marsh all the same: the army of Greater Heaven had taken up defensive formations all around the massive cannons and catapults they had rolled into place as close as they dared, so they could pummel the twin peaks, trying to bring them crashing down over the trench below and bury Quietus Clime.

It probably helped that the Light didn't realize the halls above were abandoned: one vulnerability of their ability to scan areas with their psychic powers meant that they seemed to think any mind they detected belonged to a living creature. Instead, Freya had scattered spirits and ghosts throughout the caves and tunnels of their base. The Light was uselessly trying to kill creatures who had died long ago, but still resonated with enough energy to draw the Light's attention.

The Light had attempted several flyovers with their wyverns, but each of these had been repelled by a mix of frost spirits known as the North Wind and the massive electrical storms that Chrysophylax Dives was able to summon out of the dark clouds that lingered eternally above his home. He conducted these storms like symphonies, blinding and stunning wyverns: the mighty lightshow couldn't hurt them very much, but it was still more than enough to knock them off balance and send them plummeting from the sky.

But it had already been three days since the Light's campaign had begun, and Freya knew her soldiers weren't just scared and demoralized, they were thinking about either running away or revolting against her. Neither was anything that Freya would accept as an option: no matter what happened, she needed her soldiers to keep fighting, and furthermore, she needed every hoof on deck, ready to fight. Ready to die, if need be.

They had one chance to drive back the Light, and possibly do what Celestia had been trying to do: severely damage the Light's forces on the mortal world, so they could weaken the hive mind they all obeyed and drew their strength from. If they could time this counterattack properly, then there was a good chance that they would be able to establish their base in Ponyville while the Light was struggling to gather and recover its forces.

Unfortunately, they had received news that several more bases had been destroyed, and more rebels had been killed or captured. It didn't help that the very sight of the winged unicorn Devout was enough to fill most of the rebel ponies with dread, while the blinded conscripts on the other side of the battlefield roared with exhilaration and confidence, still unable to see that the Light wasn't giving these gifts without a high price in mind.

The ivory mare sighed quietly as she exited the maze, her eyes flicking back and forth. Diamond Dogs were hurriedly putting together obelisks for Lord Chrysophylax... although Freya had a hoof in their design as well, to make sure that they could tap into the darker, more twisted energies that nature could provide when probed correctly. They needed all the power they could find to make sure her plans were going to come to completion, after all.

There were no ponies here: every pony was out on the battlefield. She had even sent the noncombatants out into the battlefield, or to arm their own ballistas and artillery. They needed every hoof, and there was no time to rest... and there likely wouldn't be for days. After all, they were completely surrounded, and the only reason the Light wasn't trying to creep in and ambush them from the back or sides was because Freya had summoned half a dozen massive landvættir composed of the dead marsh: they were limited in where they could move, but made efficient and nearly-indestructible guardians. Besides, Freya had left all kinds of flaws in the approach from the front: there were no defensive barriers, she had purposefully left a hole in her artillery lines, and her own troops had long stomped a wide, flat road through the marshes, leaving a very clear safe zone in spite of the fact that the bog was treacherously-deep in other places and littered with magical traps in still others.

As Freya ascended, she could hear the shouting and the screaming. They were outnumbered, at least ten to one. Her soldiers fought with valiance and desperation, but the Light was superior in every way. Soon enough, the Light's armies would march straight in towards them, and Freya would have no choice but to send her entire force in a single suicidal wave straight at the army of Greater Heaven.

Sure, the Pious could starve them out. Greater Heaven could just stay back and shoot at them from range, raining magic and artillery fire down onto them until the mountains finally crumbled. There were ten thousand ways that they could be killed, and they had already lost this battle.

But Freya only smiled, coldly and calmly, her eye glowing with determination. She still had one card left to play, a trick she had learned from her little sister. And even if she would never be forgiven for it, she was determined to see her plan through, one way or another. Because if they ran away, all it would mean was dying slower as the Light grew stronger: it was better for the rebels to die like this, standing and fighting, than crawling on their bellies.

Even in death, after all, they still had one weapon that the Light wouldn't see coming until it was too late.

Two more days passed before the Light began to close in. During this time, someone had tried to start a coup, and Freya had executed the rebel with a single swipe of her sword and calmly told everyone to get back to work. Everyone very quickly had, even if some of them had begged to bury the bodies of their friends, to be allowed to at least give them a little decency and drag those who had died in the blitzkrieg off the field. But Freya had told them they had no time to waste on that: right now, they had to stand and fight.

The rebels had all noticed that it was mostly the mortals who had done the fighting these last few days: many demons had been withdrawn, and instead it was almost solely ponies that had struggling through the wasteland to try and fight against Greater Heaven.

And now, most of the rebels were dead, although they had fought so fiercely that there were countless Devout, Whistler copies, and Pious all sprawled throughout the wastes as well. And Freya sat calmly at the lip of the trench with the last few rebels as the army of Greater Heaven slowly made its way towards them through the marshland, one of them crying loudly into his hooves as another glared furiously at her, shouting in a ragged voice: “Is this what you wanted? Is it? Is it? We're all dead! They're all dead, and you barely lifted a hoof to help them!”

Freya looked calmly at the stallion for a moment, and then she said softly: “They fought as warriors. They fought, and they died. That was their duty. I can think of no greater honor for them.”

“They're dead! They're dead, and they'll go to Heaven and get turned into those... more of those monsters!” shouted the soldier, and Freya smiled and chuckled at this, the soldier staring at her before he screamed: “You think this is funny?”

“No. They won't. This marsh is like a net... like flypaper for souls. Whoever died inside the territory belonging to Quietus Clime is trapped here...” Freya stopped and meditated for a moment, looking into the distance before she said softly: “Well, it's easier to show you. Chrysophylax Dives, the enemy is close enough.”

Deep in his lair, Chrysophylax smiled to himself, looking up as his red eyes flashed open. His claws stretched out of his black pool of water to tightly grasp into the obelisks in front of him, the rounded ends pushing perfectly into his rounded claws and already thrumming with dark energy as he extolled proudly: “Then may all bear witness to the proficiency and dominion which I, Lord Chrysophylax Dives, hold over the mortal coil and those beings of soft flesh and malleable spirit that reside within her cradle, contiguous to my own realm of divine existence!”

Black fire burst into life around his claws, and the orbs glowed with hellish malevolence before his energies flooded through the obelisks: this spread to the other amplifiers outside his cavern, placed all around the trench of Quietus Clime as spirits glowed with the same malevolent energies, many of them seeming strangely excited as they shot suddenly in all directions. Dead Dolls shivered in what almost seemed like pleasure, and Diamond Dogs yelped and fled for high nooks and ledges as they felt the awful, dark power rippling through the ground beneath them.

And then, as the amplifiers began to pulse, that ripple spread outwards, making the marshy earth quake and rumble in what almost sounded like excitement as dark energy twisted through every corpse on the battlefield. The Pious halted and twitched as the malignant power sent sizzles through their minds, disrupting their psychic abilities and confusing them as the Devout stumbled and took to the air if they hadn't already, and Whistler copies looked up in disbelief as wyverns high above roared in anger and anxiety, turning to circle the army below.

Then a hoof reached up and snared the leg of a Pious, and the Angelic Knight looked down, tilting its head almost curiously at the sight of a pony with only half a face, a dark, bruised-blue aura suffusing it as it slowly began to crawl up to its hooves.

The Angelic Knight simply turned and hammered its shield into the face of the mutilated pony, and its neck cracked as its head twisted to the side... but the pony reached calmly up and shoved its own head back into position, eyes glowing before it flung itself into the Pious. The Angelic Knight was knocked staggering in surprise, but even as others began to turn to help, more bodies began to rise from the swampland, roaring silently as dark auras surrounded them and the deathly bog infused them with new power and cruel unlife.

And not just mortals rose from the dead: the corpses of Pious stood up as well, lurching towards their former allies and emitting an agonizing psychic static that tore apart the minds of the psychic-perceptive angels nearby, making them easy prey for the other undead. Even wyverns yanked themselves up out of the mire, roaring in silence and taking to the air to attack former packmates, sending ivory dragons scattering like terrified birds as the deathless wyverns homed in on them.

Back at the edge of the trench, Freya watched calmly as corpses continued to pick themselves up out of the mire, some of them glaring furiously over their shoulders at her, some looking shocked and others only miserable... but fearlessly, the ivory mare strode past the cluster of surviving rebels and out into the black marsh, saying quietly as she looked back and forth: “I'm sorry. But this was the only way. As revenants, you can only be destroyed by powerful exorcisms or complete cremation. Your spirits are bound to your bodies, and you will not rise to Heaven, nor fall to Hell. But you can choose to give up the fight if you desire and surrender your bodies. You'll become Pales, or pass through the ether and into the next world... although that will mean you will be surrendering to the Light. You will become our enemy, when what you have right now is a chance to take revenge against Greater Heaven, who would have hunted us until we all were nothing but corpses anyway. Yes, I sent you all to your deaths. But I killed you in a place where you could be brought back, instead of slaughtered. And when this is over, if you still want my head, if any of you want revenge for this, I will forfeit my life, and gladly: but for now, I need this army of the dead to fight.”

There was silence for a few moments... and then the nearest revenants nodded before turning calmly around, even as one of the soldiers whispered: “You... you did this on... purpose?”

“Yes.” Freya said quietly, and then the mare looked over her shoulder with a faint smile. “I didn't have a choice. And I couldn't ask you to sacrifice yourselves, because I couldn't let the Light know what I had planned. We had to weaken their numbers as much as possible, and you all fought excellently. And just as I imagined, the dead Pious are fighting for us as well, alongside all the other forces of Light that have woken up.”

“You're insane!” shouted one of the rebels, and Freya only looked at him meditatively before the unicorn shook his head violently, stumbling backwards and looking out over the marshland almost desperately. “This is... this is madness!”

“Yes, this is. Welcome to the other side of war. Rebellion against a power much larger and better equipped than you are, where you have no choice but to resort to tactics like this. We can't hope to match what they're capable of in terms of equipment, power, or numbers, but we can be crueler, and we can be more... creative.” Freya said quietly, looking coldly out over the battlefield. “I saved all the foals I could. I let the mares and stallions both fight, to their last breath. I guided you here, but you made the decision to stand up against the Light, even though all of you should have known you were fighting an impossible war.”

The survivors stared up at Freya, and then one of them asked in a weak, disbelieving whisper: “This... you're saying this is our fault?”

“I'm saying this is Equestria's fault. For letting in the Light in the first place. For giving in to the easy road... giving up responsibility and free will for pleasure and a false sense of unity. Because the Light is not united. There is no... majority or minority or democracy in the hive mind. There's only the orders of whoever rules, and all the pawns, obeying whatever the master has to say.” Freya said contemptibly, and then she turned around and looked down at the ponies coldly. “And now here you are, acting like I should have magically made everything better. Fixed all of this somehow. Well, I'm afraid the process is not going to be smooth victories and rainbow bridges. It's going to be vicious, crude, and cruel. Get used to it. And if you can't, you're more than welcome to leave or give your soul up to Chrysophylax. He'll make you useful, at least.”

The soldiers stared with horror up at Freya, and then she closed her eyes for a moment before taking a slow breath, forcing herself to calm down before she gazed once more back out over the marshlands in front of her, only watching and waiting...

But she didn't have to wait long. The Light went into a full-scale retreat, but all this did was expose their backs to the undead, who chased them down and ripped apart the entire regiment that had been sent after them. Greater Heaven's forces were torn into pieces, even as a few Pious escaped and sent messages quickly through their psychic link, all the way up to Greater Heaven...

And in Greater Heaven, the Cardinal was staring with horror at the massive force of undead that was suddenly mobilizing out of seemingly nowhere. He sat back in his throne room, breathing hard as he slowly rubbed a hand down the side of his face, and then his eyes flicked up to settle on Greller, who was shifting nervously back and forth before the Cardinal shouted angrily: “What is going on?”

“Sir, sir, I... they must have... they must have been hiding some powerful magic, some... sir, p-please, we can fix this!” Greller whimpered pitifully, cowering back from his master as the Cardinal looked back down at the crystal sphere in front of him with disbelief... and absolute hatred, shivering and grinding his teeth together in frustration as his fingers flexed slowly, trying to comprehend exactly what he was seeing for the thousandth time, a snarl spreading over his features as he glared down at the undead army. The army of death forming right under his nose that he had somehow missed... “We can use the Wrath of God to-”

“I will not waste that precious magic on those... those puppets!” the Cardinal snapped, and then he sat up and rubbed slowly at his forehead, before his eyes snapped suddenly upwards and he growled: “This is your fault, Greller! Why didn't we know about what they were doing earlier? You assured me that they were trapped and helpless, that the demons were fleeing and only a hundred or so mortals were left... well, I see many more than a hundred down there, and none of them look remotely mortal to me, you ineffectual little simpleton!"

Greller whimpered and cowered again, covering his head even as part of him wanted to snap back at the Cardinal, but then the master of Greater Heaven said coldly: “I want a solution for this failure, Doctor Greller. Furthermore, I want it quickly, otherwise you shall speedily find yourself replaced and... demoted.”

The scientist shrank at this, trembling violently and looking almost desperate before he said beseechingly: “Wait, p-please have mercy! I can... I promise you that I can fix this then, sir, I can... I'll design a purification bomb that will... I can kill all of them without harming any of the-”

“I do not care about the pathetic little mortals if you can destroy that... that blemish.” the Cardinal said with derision, looking with disgust into the scrying glass again. He shook his head slowly, trying to understand how something like this could have happened: he could even see Pious scattered here and there among these... shells. These crawling husks. These leeches that were attacking his army...

He shook his head with a snort, then frowned and looked up to see Minos was now standing silently behind Greller. Greller frowned uneasily at the fact that the Cardinal was looking past him now, the scientist slowly looking over his shoulder... then giving a little shriek and scurrying hurriedly to the side of the hall, almost falling over himself to get away from the death entity as Minos said quietly: “These are not crude constructs. They are undying: unless you can burn them away to dust, they will continue to get up and fight you. Even your purification may not be sufficient to destroy them.”

“Then what do you suggest, Judge Minos?” asked the Cardinal moodily, even as he tried to force some iota of respect into his voice for the death entity: Minos, after all, was one of the very few allies he could not afford to lose.

Minos chuckled quietly, and then he answered softly: “My reapers are too few to deal effectively with that army. But you have other allies who you can bend to your will, my Lord Cardinal. The so-called Skin Walkers detest all things that go against the natural order of this world. They will turn on their former allies if presented with evidence that they are corrupting it.”

The Cardinal leaned backwards slowly, looking meditative at this as he tented his fingers and murmured: “And are these Skin Walkers powerful enough to destroy these revenants for me? Or is this ploy part of a larger scheme, Minos? From what I have seen of them, they are crafters and pet-keepers more than they are masterful warriors.”

“When you have gained the Skin Walkers' allegiance, you will be able to ask for their crafts and tools. They will give your scientists the designs they require to create... effective... equipment. And perhaps you will be able to spare me a favor as well.” Minos said softly, and then he gestured outwards with one claw, cloak fluttering quietly around himself. “It will also give you access to the prisons that the Skin Walkers have created to hold creatures you may show the glory of your Light, or I may perhaps make undead pawns of for you... and after the Skin Walkers have destroyed themselves fighting your enemies for you, you will be able to access their Celestial Machine and destroy it. This will give you the power to halt the movements of the sun itself... and bring about eternal day.”

“Eternal day... no more darkness for my enemies to hide in, no more shadows for the demons to creep through... no more night for the spirits to cavort through.” After a moment, the Cardinal smiled slowly, rubbing at his chin meditatively. “You've been very busy, Minos.”

Minos only shrugged, his serpentine mask gleaming as he tilted his head almost eagerly forwards, and Greller winced a bit before he stepped out of the shadows, the hunchbacked scientist worriedly looking up as he said: “The lack of a cycle of night and day could have negative consequences on our own projects, and... we don't know what this machine really controls, my lord, sir, what if it distorts the orbit of the sun... what if it is only a hoax, or a folly, or a-”

“He Of Many Countless Faces discovered that in the first world the Light touched in this realm of ponies, the movements of the sun and the moon were controlled by the talking horses themselves. They used their paltry magic to bring about day and call up the night... I suppose by some standards it's impressive, but very few of the mortals had the power to do this substantive magic alone.” The Cardinal waved a hand dismissively, scowling slightly before he rubbed slowly at his chin. “But I like this idea... the sun will never set on my empire, even while it is only a fledgling. And we can harness this abundance of solar energy for our own uses...”

Greller whimpered a little, and the Cardinal gave him a contemptible look before the scientist said weakly: “But Lord Cardinal, s-sir... your forces are already spread thinly enough as it is throughout that world... it would be dangerous...”

“What are you talking about?” The Cardinal glared at him, snapping at the scientist: “Did you not just create an army of Devout? Do I not have thousands of Pious upon that world? Almost every mortal in that nation is under my control!”

“My Lord... there... there are just not that many mortals in that nation. The size is much greater than the population, only the larger cities are densely populated...” Greller began nervously, and then he said almost in a rush: “And the Holy Word declares that at least two Pious must be present in every Sanctuary at all times, and there are more than a hundred Sanctuaries across Equestria...”

The Cardinal stared for a moment, and then he leaned forwards over his scrying glass as Greller continued fearfully: “My Devout, I... I haven't had the time, my lord, to transform many of this Heaven's souls into Devout, with the psychological rewiring they all require, and De Sade's next set of bodies have yet to be prepared and so many wyvern have been returning combat-stressed that they aren't breeding, and-”

“And these all sound like more failings on your part, Greller.” the Cardinal said contemptibly, and then he turned his eyes towards Minos, dismissing Greller with merely a flick of his wrist as he asked the death entity: “When can you make contact with the Skin Walkers?”

“Immediately, my lord.” Minos bowed his head forwards, his hollow eyes seeming to stare out of the serpentine mask before the death entity glanced towards Greller, saying quietly: “Perhaps you should return to playing with your dolls, Doctor Greller. I do not believe your presence is required.”

“Yes, get out of here, Greller. Judge Minos will deal with fixing your errors of judgment with this idiotic plan you devised. Why don't you deal with making up for your lack of presence of mind by putting together more of your toys to at least serve as a distraction for the mortals?” the Cardinal asked distastefully, and Greller trembled with fury, beginning to open his mouth, and then the Cardinal leaned forwards and snapped: “Now, Greller!”

Greller squeaked and spun around, stagger-running off and almost falling into the hallway leading away from the throne room. He rasped hard as he stumbled hurriedly down the passageway and into what had once been the room that had belonged to the Council of Cardinals: now, it was simply a meeting room where the sole remaining Cardinal met with his flunkies whenever he wanted to have his ego stroked for his superior wit and ideas by brainwashed sycophants.

Greller snarled and shoved over a chair as he passed, then squawked and stumbled over it when it fell right in front of him, flailing his limbs before he tripped and fell to all fours with a thump. He cursed under his breath, then crawled quickly up to his feet and stumbled hurriedly forwards, shoving through another set of doors and into the glorious white halls of glorious white Heaven... where an ugly, drooling hybrid like him was nothing more than a stain.

Greller stormed quickly back to his laboratory, grumbling the entire time, taking out his frustrations by childishly slamming doors and kicking things over when he passed. Not that he was ever brave enough to try and pick on anything with a life of its own, even though almost all the Pious and Blessed and everything else in Heaven were all happily-brainwashed by the Light.

The Light... just because the Cardinal could control the Light, he was so convinced that made him so great! But what did the Cardinal actually know about anything? He, Doctor Greller, was the one who did all the hard work researching mortals, constructing everything from the Soul of Heaven to the machines that kept all of the so-called Vale of Valhalla under their control, and who had even discovered how the Great Webwork of Light interacted with different species and how each could be most-effectively tamed and controlled by it! He was the one who had taught the Cardinal in the first place how to use the very psychic powers he now wielded so effectively... and the only reason that he, Doctor Greller, was not making that silly Cardinal his footstool was because he, the boundlessly-intelligent Doctor Greller, lacked the proper brain structure to make him an effective psychic.

He growled in irritation: he was immune to telepathy and mind control, but he lacked the ability to extend any kind of psychic influence over others, as well. As Greller stormed into his laboratory, he swung a hand angrily out and slapped several beakers off a table to send then crashing to the floor, the scientist half-hissing, half-whimpering: “It's not fair! It's not fair, it's not fair, it's not fair! And the Cardinal won't even listen to me... will do nothing but blame me for all of his own silly faults! Oh, yes, Cardinal, yes, they're my plans when they're bad but your plans whenever everything works out, no matter how much or how little a hand you had in making any of them!”

Greller stormed down the aisle between several wide lab tables, heading through a metal archway and into an open surgical theater, where he had a dissected Devout chained to a table. The Devout was long dead, its brain on display with all variety of pins throughout it, its organs all neatly removed from its body cavity and labeled, and Greller dropped sulkily onto a stool beside the dead body, poking at it and mumbling: “Look at this... near-perfection! So very near perfection; little-by-little, I'm gaining a total mastery of these ugly little horses, but...”

He halted, then scowled and poked at the Devout a few more times. “They are like any other mortal race. Whether they have such feral, ugly little bodies or not... some embrace the Light, others reject it, others simply cannot handle it and become Hollow. Speaking of which...”

Greller sat up, then almost screeched: “Assistants! One, Two, Three, your master has returned and has orders for you!”

After a few moments, Greller huffed and looked up at the sound of hooves slowly approaching, and the scientist gave a superior smile as three emotionless ponies dressed in ugly lab coats walked into the room: two were unicorns, and the last was an earth pony. All of them had sallow, dirty hides, and the only sign that they were at least distantly aware of the world around them came from the fact that one of the unicorns was carrying a clipboard in a telekinetic grip.

Doctor Greller looked between the three, and then he whined, gesturing violently at himself: “Am I not the most important associate that the Lord Cardinal has? Am I not the very gear around which all of Heaven turns? Am I not important, friends?”

“Yes, Doctor Greller.” all three said in unconscious, empty synchronization, one of them even managing a lethargic nod, and Greller nodded violently in return before he reached up and brushed at the greasy hair falling across his misshapen head. “Important, Doctor Greller.”

“Yes, yes, precisely, I am most important, important indeed, very important!” Greller exclaimed in a rush, and then he growled and ground his teeth together in tangible frustration, adding sharply: “As a matter of fact, I am far more important than... than... than that silly death entity!”

There was silence for a few moments, and then the three soulless husks of pony all gave slow nods and repeated: “Yes, Doctor Greller. Important.”

Greller grunted and nodded fervently, and then he sat back a little, crossing his arms and looking childish and sulky as he continued moodily: “And Virgil... I created Virgil, does that silly Cardinal forget that? Of course he does! He fawns and preaches about him, told me just the other day I should be more like Virgil, well... I created Virgil! Virgil was empowered through my methods and is my servant, not... not my proxy! How dare he consider Virgil to be a replacement for me!”

His three assistants all looked at him emptily, and then Greller sat up and added suddenly: “And today he didn't even let me make my report! He just yelled at me... yes, yes, I know he yells at me often, assistants, but... but I had a warning for him! The Eye of Heaven is focused on the battle but... my own devices are tracking that precious little monster, the sister to Virgil, and she seems to be leading some kind of assault on a little village near the mortal capital. If they take that over, they could... the capital is weak, there are riots, and all the Angelic Knights and half the wyverns were withdrawn from there... I should tell the Cardinal right away!”

He began to get up, and then one of the assistants looked up and asked in a voice that struggled to be curious, but was more or less still without emotion, apparently only querying out of old, ingrained habit: “Why?”

“Why? Why? Why, because...” Greller suddenly halted... and then he sat down and licked his lips slowly, reaching up and twiddling his fingers for a few moments before he suddenly leapt to his feet and staggered past One, Two, and Three, knocking the ponies sprawling as he charged out the other side of the surgery theater, turning a corner and bolting down a long corridor into an enormous, half-dome shaped room.

The far wall of this area was filled with crystalline screens, sparking cables, and complex-looking instruments and gages all over the walls, many of which were thrumming faintly with energy and rumbling quietly away. Greller skidded to a halt in front of an elongated control panel that jutted from the wall, his fingers flicking a few times before he quickly grabbed a dial and spun it firmly.

A screen sparked and flickered on after a moment, and Greller caught the dial as the image on it zoomed rapidly in before he carefully zoomed slowly out, showing a small settlement that looked like it was in the middle of some kind of small war. He studied the black and white images, then gave a whimpery growl as he played a little with the knob, studying the distorted video feed from his own version of the Eye of Heaven. Not that he had the power or technology to make more than a cheap knockoff of the Eye: the Cardinal wouldn't allocate the necessary resources he needed to do anything but badly replicate the effects as much as possible with his magic-powered technology.

Greller twisted the dial back and forth, trying to get focus in on the unicorn, to watch what she was doing as he licked his lips... and then an idea came to mind, and instead of watching her, he zoomed out as he quickly hit a button to take what he had started calling the Long Sight off of 'target' mode, the 'camera' no longer tracking the odd creature named Innocence but instead staying still, watching as she passed beneath it with several blurry shapes following her.

He wasn't interested in these other rebels, though. What he was interested in is what they were racing towards, the scientist humming a little to himself as he grasped another dial and spun it. His view floated upwards, tracing towards the village... and Greller stared in surprise, tilting his head back and forth as he realized that the village itself was already showing quite a bit of damage. If only the instruments attached to the Long Sight worked! Then he could get magical readings and psychic readings and thermal imagery, just like the Eye of Heaven could...

He sighed, slowly reaching up and stroking the crystalline screen... and then he winced when one of his assistants asked again: “Why?”

Greller spun around and saw One, Two, and Three standing behind him, and he wheezed loudly for breath, grasping at his chest for a moment before suddenly sniffing disdainfully and hurriedly straightening, brushing at himself a few times before he said thoughtfully: “Why indeed? Yes, my friends... you three might be on to something. The Cardinal told me it was all a silly waste of time, that's why he took the Eye of Heaven off of her and instead put it to use floating over that stupid battle that went all wrong because he wasted all his time... some war leader he is!”

“Nope.” said another of the Hollow assistants, and Greller giggled wildly at this, hugging himself and rocking back and forth as he grinned in entertainment.

“Not at all!” he crowed, then he giggled to himself again before reaching down and touching the dial that controlled the Long Sight's camera, eyes glowing with self-righteous vengeance as he said in a sardonic voice: “But I guess he was right, after all... he is the Cardinal, isn't he?”

With that, Greller spun the dial as hard as he could, and the camera became a blur as the Long Shot shot off into some wild direction before Greller laughed loudly, spreading his arms wide, closing his eyes in delight... and then he all but screamed and almost fell into the console in front of him as a voice asked coldly: “What are you doing, Doctor?”

The scientist staggered hurriedly around in a circle, and then he wheezed loudly at the sight of Virgil, looking quickly over the winged unicorn before he trembled a little, then carefully reached behind himself to hit the button to turn the screen off, babbling: “N-Nothing, nothing, nothing at all... but what are you doing here, Virgil? You usually don't grace my laboratory, unless... u-unless...”

“The Cardinal asked me to check up on you. He wanted me to ensure you were doing your job instead of...” Virgil's features twisted into a moue of distaste as he looked distastefully over the scientist, and Greller fought not to snarl as he nervously smoothed out his laboratory coat, looking grouchily back at the winged unicorn he had created... and who from the very start had acted like he was actually supposed to be his superior. “Do you even understand what you're supposed to be doing, Greller, or is this all playtime to you?”

Greller sniffed disdainfully at this, straightening and brushing at himself again as he retorted: “I am doing it right now, Virgil! Do not go and judge your betters!”

“I'm not. You're far from my 'better.'” Virgil replied evenly, giving a cold smile in response, and Greller snarled at this, baring his teeth at the winged unicorn. But the glossy-black equine only laughed at this before he suddenly stepped forwards and growled back, and Greller whimpered and shrank a bit as Virgil said coldly: “Better. Learn your place, Greller.”

“I know my place.” Greller muttered, and then the scientist shook his head shortly before he looked sourly up at Virgil, saying moodily in reply: “You can go now, if you're done telling me what to do, my little experimental pony.”

Virgil only smiled thinly at this, sitting calmly down before he shot back evenly: “I think I'd better stay here instead. The Cardinal's orders, you understand. He wants me to make sure that you're actually even half as smart as you claim to be, Greller... the quality of your work seems to be... slipping lately, after all. And he was generous enough to share his vision of Greater Heaven with you... but it seems you seem to think you can just sit on your lazy flank and join his empire of Light without having to pull your weight. Like you think these numbskulls behind me are going to do all your jobs for you. But they're not.”

Virgil looked moodily over his shoulder at the Hollow assistants, and then he flicked his horn towards one, blasting it with telekinesis and knocking it in a broken sprawl. The other two only slowly, lethargically looked down as the one laying on the ground twitched a bit, then slowly, calmly sat itself up, and the glossy-black winged unicorn sighed in distaste and shook his head slowly, muttering: “Disgusting. But I suppose you want people around who actually help you feel smart, Greller. Preening around these brainless zombies must be the only way you can feel any sort of self-worth these days with what a failure all your projects have been lately.”

“My projects are not failures!” Greller growled, and then he spun angrily around, fingers flying over the console as he continued in a mutter: “Although it's funny, Virgil, you seem to forget that you yourself are one of my projects-”

“No. I was always this powerful. And it was the Cardinal's Light that helped me understand my true purpose. All you did was give me these.” Virgil spread his angelic wings, flapping them once before he smiled coldly and slowly furled them, adding contemptibly: “By mistake, of course, since every other pony you've given wings or a horn to look like badly pasted together toys. First time's the charm with you, though, right? Also the only time, apparently, since every other project seems to be the same way: look at all of De Sade's bodies. The original was durable and dangerous, but the rest you've glued together are flimsy and can't even handle basic orders while his spirit flits between them.”

“Don't talk about what you don't understand!” Greller half-shouted, daring to raise his voice a little to the winged unicorn as he trembled with fury... but fear and cowardice kept him from doing more than tossing a short, bitter glare over his shoulder at the glossy-black pony.

Virgil saw this and laughed loudly, then shook his head slowly before smiling contemptibly and watching as Greller turned his attention quickly back to the screens above, mumbling to himself as he quickly tapped commands over the console and adjusted dials, various images flickering into being across the screens before he muttered: “There. See? The bodies are already in production. The Devout are still being... adjusted, you can see them right there on the monitor.”

The winged unicorn glanced up at one corner of the screen, noting the image of the other winged unicorns all strapped across metal tables, all of them shivering as crystals suspended from the ceiling on long rods glowed whitely above their faces, wiping their former personalities completely out and replacing them only with the Light's programming... or at least the parts of the Light that the Cardinal wanted them to to have.

“How do I know that you're not just showing me old footage?” Virgil asked distastefully after a few seconds of watching the screens, and Greller slowly looked over his shoulder at him with something like disbelief, and the winged unicorn smiled coldly. “Just what I thought. You're lying to me, aren't you? These aren't real Devout. You're trying to slack off again and waste your time on your own idiotic excuses for scientific research.”

Greller stumbled around in a circle, staring at the winged unicorn before his eye twitched and he snapped: “You... are you a fool? Why would I risk such a stupid thing, stupid, stupid thing, when... very well! One, take Virgil-”

“No. You'll escort me yourself. The last thing I need is for you to send me on a merry little walk all around your pathetic lab facility with one of your brainless zombies. If you come with me, then I can be sure you'll take this seriously and you won't try and pull any... silly tricks you'll regret later.” Virgil replied evenly, looking coolly across at Greller, and the scientist gave a whine of frustration in his throat before the winged unicorn added calmly: “Or I can return to the Cardinal and inform him of how extraordinarily uncooperative you decided to be.”

Greller shifted back and forth... then he huffed and hammered a few quick codes along the keyboard and adjusted several dials, cables thrumming overhead before the scientist turned and made a half-mocking little bow... but there was still plenty of fear in his eyes even as the three assistants only sat blankly and Virgil looked at him with disdain. “If that is what it will take, Virgil... then very well.”

Virgil gave a mocking little bow in return, and Greller had to swallow another curse before he shifted uneasily back and forth, then quickly strode forwards, gesturing almost vehemently several times at the stallion as he grumbled: “Fine, fine, let's go let's go let us go, if it will satisfy you and... the wishes of his lordship the Cardinal.”

“Good.” Virgil said calmly, and Greller ground his teeth together in vexation as he shoved past his assistants and entered the hall beyond, Virgil turning to follow and asking disapprovingly: “Why do you keep Hollows, Greller? I know we went over a few reasons already but I'm interested in what excuses you have for them. In particular, because it's very well known that you have a habit of running experiments that the Cardinal specifically told you not to.”

“Oh no, no. I ran experiments I was specifically told not to for the Cardinal, Virgil. Please don't try and talk about things you don't know about.” Greller said before he could stop himself, then he rose his head a little, refusing to be intimidated here in the presence of his own laboratory as he added impulsively in a burst of bravery: “And perhaps you should remember to treat your betters with more respect, Virgil, in case-”

“In case what, Greller? In case something happens to me for being too bold?” Virgil asked coldly as he suddenly stepped up in front of Greller and halted, pointing his horn dangerously towards the creature. The scientist whimpered, immediately losing all his courage, and the winged unicorn nodded with a snort, raising his head and saying icily: “That's what I thought. Bad things happen to people who speak out of turn, Greller. I will not repeat this again: you are not my better.”

Greller whimpered and dropped his head a little, licking his lips slowly before he dropped his head, and Virgil studied the scientist icily for a few moments before he grunted and turned, stepping to the side and gesturing sharply for Greller to lead the way forwards. And after a moment, Greller did, not really knowing any other choice as he shifted back and forth.

Along the way, they passed through one of the production rooms, and Virgil stopped here and stomped a hoof to get the scientist's attention. Greller winced as he wheeled around in a circle, tapping his fingers together nervously as Virgil approached one of the many rows of enormous, battery-shaped pods, studying the bubbling green liquid inside it that insulated the floating, curled up body of a De Sade pawn.

“Tell me how this works.” Virgil ordered, reaching up and touching the pod, and then he looked distastefully at Greller when the scientist gave one of his growling whimpers and stepped forwards, half-reaching fearfully towards the winged unicorn, but then he flinched back when the stallion glared at him icily. “Don't be cute, Greller. Tell me how you created De Sade and why only he can jump from body to body.”

Greller shifted grumpily, and then he scowled a little at Virgil, twiddling his fingers together as he said moodily: “Well, you certainly can't do it, Virgil, if that's what your after, and... and I don't see why it's any of your concern at all! De Sade is simply... he is a different vessel, a better vessel, much better than you! Much better in every way than you!”

Virgil only smiled and shrugged at this, then he looked back and forth at the rows and rows of capsules, asking distastefully: “And why is it that a pedophile like De Sade is the best thing you could cook up, Greller?”

Greller snarled at this, and then he spat: “He is not, not, not at all! That was just... children are merely more receptive to psychic signals than adults and... it was the best way to lure the mortals into making an error of judgment. It was before we knew those Guardians were so... powerful.”

“They were not 'Guardians of Heaven,' as I have explained to the Cardinal already. They were only ponies... powerful ponies, yes, but ponies all the same. Ponies who had their own goals and motives for trying to destroy the Light.” Virgil halted, then he shook his head slowly and said quietly: “But they're dead now, and there's precious few others who have enough strength to put up a fight of any kind against the Light.”

Greller felt a strange sense of... unease at this. He didn't know why: Virgil was a perfect specimen, who had been taken over completely by the powers of the Light, but who could also wield purification not just with natural skill, but to degrees that the scientist had never believed possible for anything that wasn't Pious... especially a unicorn of this realm, with their funny, horn-dependent magic. Virgil was perhaps the greatest warrior the Light had at the moment, in spite of the fact he was also one of the strange intelligent equines from this set of worlds.

But there was something that disturbed Greller about him. Something that just naturally made him nervous, and Greller looked uneasily at him for a few moments before he finally turned his eyes ahead, leading the way into the laboratory facility where the other new Devout had been left sprawled out and strapped to tables, mindlessly staring upwards and spasming every so often as they underwent mental recalibration beneath the purification crystals. “Here. Satisfied?”

Virgil looked slowly back and forth around the plain metal room, studying each of the Devout in turn before he asked calmly: “And they are being programmed to serve the Cardinal, and with all the Holy Word of the Light?”

“Y-Yes.” Greller muttered, shifting nervously and scowling as he tapped his fingers together uneasily, looking at the glossy-black winged unicorn and feeling his stomach curdle further. “But what interest could you have in the Holy Word? You are... you were never programmed to obey the laws of He Of Many Countless Faces, the-”

“The False God. No, I was programmed only to serve our true master, the Cardinal, the Voice of God, the true God of Light and He Who Is, as he calls himself.” Virgil replied calmly, his eyes flicking back towards the Devout. “And yet these creatures... you've programmed them to believe in the teachings of the Light. Of He Of Many Countless Faces, like the Pious... is that not correct?”

Greller shifted nervously, and then he nodded a few times even as he said quickly: “It... it was just, just what I was told to do! The Cardinal himself told me, told me to make sure that-”

“That they knew who their master was, Greller. That they would obey the commands of the True God.” Virgil continued in that same even, almost casual and yet so terribly, terribly cold voice. “Funny, how you should interpret that. Funny, how many of the Cardinal's plans have been upset lately, as if a little mouse is making adjustments to the battle plans here and there.”

Greller whimpered, leaning back and shaking his head as he gave a weak smile, holding up his hands and whispering: “No, no... I... I swear I'm loyal, Virgil! The Cardinal, the Cardinal, the C-Cardinal is my... he is the one and only master of Heaven! I would never-”

Virgil calmly stepped forwards and stabbed his horn firmly into Greller's stomach, then he yanked to the side, the scientist gasping as blood and gore spilled from his body, clutching at his front as he trembled violently before falling to his knees with a whimper. He sat back on his legs dazedly, and then stared upwards as Virgil leaned slowly forwards so they were at eye level, the glossy-black winged unicorn saying quietly: “The True God of Heaven does not appreciate traitors or failures, Doctor Greller. You appear to be both.”

Virgil reached up and placed a hoof against Greller's forehead before shoving him over, sending the hunchbacked scientist collapsing with a gasp and a weak whimper as the winged unicorn said coldly: “From now on, the Cardinal will have the Pious tend to the flock, since they can spread the Holy Word much more effectively than you can with your machines. Speaking of your machines, the Cardinal has decided that there are several much better candidates who have been interested in the position of head scientist for a long time, so don't worry. What you've built for the Light will continue to be put to use. Although your assistants and your personal projects...”

Virgil stopped, looking over his shoulder and making a face of disgust at the Hollow ponies that were standing silently in the doorway, simply staring in at them. After a moment, the winged unicorn shook his head, then he glowered around at the Devout, saying moodily: “You are not the only person capable of these... 'feats,' Doctor Greller. You should have realized you had become expendable, especially once your failure resulted in the deaths of so many useful pawns. And yet your death doesn't hurt the Great Webwork in the slightest. That likely should have been a warning to us from the start.”

Greller gurgled weakly through a mouthful of blood, and the winged unicorn simply swung a hoof cruelly down into his face, knocking the dying scientist flat with a whimper before Virgil said mildly: “On the bright side, though, your heresy won't cause too much trouble for us. They may have damaged our forces on their mortal world, but there's always more Pious and more Converts to send. There's no need to retain a major force in this Heaven: Greater Heaven has no idea what's going on still, and there's no way for Hell or any other force to invade us here. We control all portals going in and out of Heaven, we have fortified the Great Wall protecting us from the... Not-Heaven of Asgard, and there are guard outposts surrounding the wall's exterior anyway. There's no way in or out except for what we allow. And all these souls will return to Heaven whether they want to or not, in time.”

Greller whimpered, then coughed blood before he looked up and whispered weakly, clutching helplessly at the winged unicorn's hooves: “P-Please... wait... I'm not... not a t-traitor... no, no... no, I... you're making a m-m-mistake, the hive... hive mind will be compromised... if G-G-Greater Heaven arrives, they will know that... that the Cardinal has made... changes...”

“The Cardinal has made changes, and Greater Heaven will come to know them in time.” Antares said coldly but proudly, raising his head and smiling. “In time, all will hear his New Testament, derived from the Old Laws of Lord God but made better. Oh yes, at the moment, perhaps, the Cardinal has yet to... go over every old rule and deal with all the old rituals, but for now, he's been concentrating on writing the new laws and speaking them to the masses. And for now, he might still have to present himself as only the Voice of He Of Many Countless Faces, but one day that will change, too. And you'll wish, from whatever pit of torment you end up in, Greller, that you had just submitted yourself to his majesty and joined in him, been there with him on that day.”

Greller laughed brokenly, shivering weakly before he slumped a bit, rasping quietly for breath before his eyes slid closed as he tried to whimper something. But Virgil had already turned away, striding out and shoving past his assistants, hoofsteps fading unhurriedly down the corridor.

The scientist felt his blood spilling out of his body, coughing weakly before he reached up and touched his breast, forcing himself up just a little bit before he shivered violently and stared over his shoulder with something like terror at the Devout. He didn't want to die here, among these zombies he was making for the Cardinal... the power-mad, idiotic Cardinal, who had killed him for all the wrong reasons. Greller laughed weakly again at this, and then the hunchbacked scientist tried to pull himself forwards, but it was useless: his legs refused to move, and his body quaked with every attempt, and even if he could endure the pain, Virgil hadn't just sliced him open... he had blasted him apart inside, torn his internal organs into nothing but mush and fleshy confetti.

He gasped, falling weakly forwards, coughing blood again and trying feebly to raise his head... and he looked up in surprise at the sight of his assistants, who were standing in a calm semicircle in front of him, looking down at him with their... their awful emptiness. He trembled weakly, shaking his head as he looked between this specters, then he forced himself to raise one arm as he whispered: “Please help me. P-P-Please. T-Take me back... back to the control room.”

The Hollow assistants looked at him silently... and then one of them calmly strode around him, turning to slip beneath his arm and heft him upwards. Greller groaned in pain, and then a second assistant slipped beneath his other arm, helping to lift him and only leaving his legs to drag beneath his body as he whimpered in pain, the awful wound in his stomach flexing like a gaping, bloody mouth.

The third assistant calmly turned around to lead the way, and the others carried Greller, leaving a faint trail of blood behind as it spilled down his lab coat and trickled along the floor. His legs shivered weakly, dragging over the ground as he clung to his two assistants, head lowered as he rasped in and out and struggled to gather the little strength left in his body.

They arrived at the control room and found everything the way it had always been. The Hollow assistants carried him up to the control panel, and Greller whimpered before he reached a trembling hand up, barely managing to get a grasp on it and rasping for breath as he tried to pull himself upwards... before moaning in pain and surprise as something pushed on him from behind, helping elevate and support him even as agony ran through his body.

He looked over his shoulder and saw one of his assistants had slipped beneath him, propping him up against his back. The scientist smiled weakly at this sight, trembling violently before he turned his eyes back towards the control panel, and he began to fumble over the dials and toggles as he fought for breath, shivering in pain as he whispered: “T-There...”

Over the monitors, the image of several portal rings that were kept in another section of the lab appeared, and one of these lit up with energy, beginning to thrum faintly with power on screen. Greller smiled at this again, trembling violently, and then he gritted his teeth as he hammered quickly over the controls, rasping: “I should... it should still be here...”

He knew he was going to die. He knew that he had been betrayed and killed by the very Light that he had spent his entire life helping, that he had brought here in the first place: after all, it wasn't He Of The Many Countless Faces who had discovered that they could tap into the wavelengths of portal rings even remotely similar to their own magic-based technologies. He was the one who had spent countless hours, trying to find the exact right measurements to activate the portals in this Heaven remotely, so that the Light could spread its glory further.

But back then, this had all been a pipe dream of the Cardinal's, and Greller only now realized how foolish he'd been: the Cardinal had never cared about him, or about anything other than consolidating his own power. He had only ever been an expendable pawn because of his position, his interests, his... naivety...

He trembled violently, then looked over his shoulder at the Hollow assistants, who weren't complaining, weren't struggling, were still supporting him. He looked back forwards, knowing he was seeing more than was really there as his mind became deprived of oxygen and blood, and his body gradually began to go into shock and a state of pre-death...

Greller gasped weakly for breath, then finally reached out and grabbed wildly at a lever before jerking it firmly down, and there was a loud clicking before a drawer hidden beneath the keyboard popped open. Greller breathed hard, then he shivered for a moment before looking down and whispering: “Take the... them all. Divide them between yourselves and go... go through the portal. Find... find the ponies who haven't been taken over by the Light. Give... give those to them. Tell them...”

The doctor shivered, then he slumped slowly to the side, wheezing loudly before he caught himself and gritted his teeth, whispering: “Tell them how to stop... the Cardinal...”

Greller fell with a meaty thud to his side, and the assistants turned to calmly look at him for a few moments, studying him silently before they turned towards the opened drawer. One of the unicorns stepped forwards, horn glowing brightly before a set of a dozen differently-colored cards were all lifted free. Four of these were passed to each pony, who each caught the respective sets of thin cards in their mouths before they turned to head towards the doorway, moving neither slow nor fast.

The last assistant paused, however, looking back at Greller's blood-soaked back, and then the Hollow pony silently rose a hoof and waved it quietly before turning around and leaving. But Greller never saw it, as he grasped his stomach and trembled violently, blood leaking from his mortal wound and his mouth. He stared glassily at the wall, but he didn't see that, either, any more than he could make himself focus on thoughts of revenge or retribution, of his own intellect or science or the Light.

There was no fear, no longing, no pain. There was nothing but the feeling that something was stretching out towards him, waiting for him... and forgiving him. And he smiled as he gazed into this, then closed his eyes, and for the first time in his entire life, felt healed and free of the broken, deformed body he'd been born with...

And as the last breath of life left his body, he relaxed and let his eyes drift downwards... but even before they could slip closed entirely, Doctor Greller was already gone.

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