• 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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Negotiations And Temptations

Chapter Eighty Four: Negotiations and Temptations

Twilight Sparkle sighed softly as she sat back a little, breathing slowly in and out before Cowlick's voice came moodily from behind the high glass window: “Good. Not great, but good. That's enough for today, get out of there.”

Twilight nodded, awkwardly shifting out of the chair in the middle of this small, spherical chamber and stepping up in front of the vault door. She looked uncomfortably over her shoulder up at the large, rectangular panels hanging down from the ceiling, shivering a little: they emitted purification in concentrated waves, and Cowlick used them in conjunction with all sorts of other nasty technologies to gradually introduce more and more purification to their bodies.

She was achy and uncomfortable, which had to do not just with the purification but how long she had been separated from Luna and Scrivener: they were on the other side of the facility, helping out with some other project of Cowlick's. She was anxious to see them: she always felt... strangely vulnerable when they weren't around these days.

Then the violet mare glanced up as the armored door slid open, revealing Cowlick on the other side, and the engineer said sourly: “You're a little disappointing for a shadow-monster.”

“I'm not a shadow-monster. I'm still... a Lich. Kind of.” Twilight mumbled awkwardly, slipping past and into the expansive laboratory of metal and stone. Then she winced when Cowlick caught her by the shoulder, looking uncomfortably at her as she said lamely: “I thought we were done for the day.”

“We are. Sort of. I just want to see your powers in action. You've been here two weeks and I haven't really seen any of what you guys can do. It's just been pelting you with purification, watching you get dragged off to get tortured, excusing you for an hour at a time so you can work on that old mansion Hel wants refurbished.” Cowlick rolled her eyes. “I could swear you guys don't want your gear back or something.”

Twilight smiled embarrassedly, and then she sighed a little, looking slowly around the laboratory: it was full of strange machinery, shelves full of various bottles and liquids, equipment she didn't recognize in the slightest... “There's uh... no real room here...”

“Yeah. You're right. Shadows, take up so much goddamn space.” Cowlick said sourly, and Twilight glared at the engineer, who only grumbled and produced a box of cigarettes from a sliding panel on her foreleg.

As she shoved one of these into her mouth, Twilight sighed and shook her head, then closed her eyes: and after only a few moments, her whole body turned to a liquid black, eyes opening and glowing solid amethyst as Cowlick said mildly: “Good. Now show me what you can do.”

Twilight looked for a moment at Cowlick, and then her inky body rippled before mimicking the shape of the engineer perfectly. But Cowlick looked far from impressed, rolling her eyes and muttering: “Yeah, I've never seen that before. This is Helheim. Step up your goddamn game.”

Twilight glowered, admittedly feeling a little annoyed: she'd never even dreamed of having power like this in the past. But after a moment, she reminded herself that Cowlick was still having quite a few... issues... with them, and the shadowy Lich decided to indulge her further.

The inky mare closed her eyes, then melted away into the floor, her shadow sliding quickly over the ground before reforming into her winged unicorn shape some ten feet away. Cowlick didn't even spare her a glance, however, and Twilight felt her annoyance returning before she reached out, her foreleg stretching like rubber before she seized the engineer's cigarette and yanked it away.

“Hey!” Cowlick snapped, then she stormed over to the mare... before staring when Twilight Sparkle simply tossed it into her jaws and swallowed. For a few moments, Cowlick looked at her, and then the demon's eyes slowly narrowed before she closed her eyes, took a slow breath, and then said calmly: “Either you give me that back, or I'm going to have to rip it out of your stomach myself.”

Twilight only smiled, and one of Cowlick's eyes twitched before the engineer growled and grabbed the Lich by the neck... then stared in disbelief when her hoof was pulled into the shadowy mare's body. She attempted to brace herself, but instead felt herself pulled firmly forwards, yanked into the rippling, shadowy mass of the Lich before darknesses flooded all around her, cursing in surprise...

And a moment later, Cowlick was left sitting in a round black room, looking back and forth before she spotted her cigarette on the ground in front of her. The engineer quickly picked this up and shoved it into her muzzle before she firmly ground her hooves together several times, creating a series of sparks beneath the little paper cylinder before the tip finally caught and lit.

She puffed slowly at this, then blew out a stream of smoke and sighed tiredly, saying irritably: “Maybe next time you could try just saying you aren't in the mood or something like that. How about that? Now let me the hell out of here.”

There was a rumble... and then a moment later, the darkness withdrew from around Cowlick, splashing backwards before it quickly rose up and formed back into Twilight Sparkle, who gave a small smile to the demon. And after a moment, the engineer finally rolled her eyes and nodded grudgingly, muttering: “Okay, okay. Not a bad trick. But I don't see how that doesn't make you a shadow monster.”

“I... I don't know what I am anymore.” Twilight confessed, shrugging a little as she quietly held up one hoof and studied it: with only a thought, she was able to change the consistency of it, from flesh to shadow, and then back again. “I have a physical body. I need my physical body, and it's what holds this soulstone core. But my body is just made from... flesh and stone and and just. Anything I can absorb with my new powers to transform into... this.”

There was silence for a moment, and then Cowlick snorted, looking over at her with distaste before she said dryly: “You always were kind of a wimp.”

Twilight Sparkle sighed a little, and then she looked up with a small smile and replied quietly: “And you always were kind of a bitch.” A pause, and then she murmured: “Thank you for helping us. I'm sorry about what happened to you, Cowlick.”

“Hey, we reap what we sow.” Cowlick grimaced, reaching up and moodily adjusting the collar around her neck before she shook her head briefly. “I'm not saying it doesn't suck. I'm just saying that... it ain't like I'm completely surprised, either.”

She halted, then glowered at Twilight and added moodily: “Still hate you guys, though.”

Twilight only sighed and shook her head slowly, then she started across the laboratory, following her natural pull towards Scrivy and Luna. Cowlick followed behind her, the engineer asking moodily: “So tell me what's up with Luna and Scrivener: one of them looks like a bigger moron and the other just looks like she's accessorized a little more.”

The Lich smiled and shrugged a bit, and then she said quietly: “They've had less to change about themselves. Luna is... she's kind of in the same-”

“If you start comparing me and her, I'm going to punch you through a goddamn wall.” Cowlick growled as she followed the Lich down a long hallway, and the violet mare winced a little before the demon lowered her head and scowled. “Yeah. Same boat. Like she actually needs that to live, like I do. Like she's becoming a demon and spending every miserable hour of every miserable day being tortured. Oh, sure, I'm not saying you guys aren't getting punished. I'm just saying that getting a few hours of it every day is nothing compared to getting tortured constantly, with only a few hours left to cry yourself to sleep every week.”

Twilight looked down awkwardly, and there was silence for a few moments before Cowlick grumbled: “Same boat my ass. You three have no goddamn idea just how lucky you are.”

At this, the Lich sighed a little, looking over her shoulder and hesitating only for a moment before she asked: “And how lucky are you, Cowlick, compared to the average person in Helheim?”

Cowlick looked grouchily up at this, her head tilting back and forth before she blew a plume of smoke out of the side of her mouth, saying sourly: “Touche.”

Twilight smiled a little despite herself, and there was silence for the rest of the journey, as the two made their way out to a small, cluttered courtyard filled with thrumming machinery that had melted away all the snow and ice in the open square. Scrivener and Luna were out here, grumbling as they worked on adding parts to a large device mounted on one wall, as four cylindrical machines rumbled loudly away in the corners.

The two ponies were currently slapping at each other as they tried to mount some piping, and Cowlick rolled her eyes at the two before she said sourly: “Look, jackasses. Either do it right or I'll send you over to Hel, spanked and with a note telling her all about what morons you are.”

“Shut up, Unfun Cowlick. That is thy demon name, Unfun Cowlick.” Luna grumbled, and then she and Scrivener both grasped the pipe and shoved it forwards, locking it into the clasps on the wall beside the machine. Then Luna lifted a large, U-shaped piece of steel that locked perfectly over the pipe while Scrivener picked up what Cowlick called a 'nail-gun,' biting his tongue nervously as he carefully lined it up with the hole. “Oh, do not make me do it. Damnation, Scrivener Blooms, it is not going to bite thee. And at worst the nail cannot kill either of us. One positive of Helheim is that most things do not kill us. And we heal from them.”

“Some people call that a downside, too. You called it a downside yourself after that demon made you cry.” Scrivener muttered, and Luna glared at him before she yanked the nail-gun away from the stallion, Scrivener looking up dumbly before he yelped and flung himself away when Luna pointed it at him.

The sapphire mare only rolled her eyes at this, then easily lifted the gun up and quickly shot a nail through the narrow slot on either foot of the U-shaped clip to secure it in place over the pipe, the mare complaining: “This is boring, Unfun Cowlick. This is not what we were brought here to do.”

Cowlick only grunted, and Luna grumbled as Scrivener carefully picked up another anchor, the sapphire mare easily jerking this out of his Talon with a flick of her horn and putting it over the next section of pipe, quickly shooting two more nails home. “I desire challenge. Or training. Or... oh, I do not know. Allow me to drink one of thy bane mixtures or whatever they are called.”

The engineer only rolled her eyes, saying sourly: “For one thing, again, I need this stuff to keep myself alive. For another, you'll get your workout when you finish upgrading my lab for me. We need better shielding technology to keep unwanted guests out, and my facility needs more power to run all these purification projectors, not to mention the upgraded security. So hey, look. Something else that's all your fault.”

Luna grumbled at this, and then Scrivener Blooms held up a claw and said awkwardly: “Yes, but it's a side effect this time. We're not the actual cause. Well. Sort of.”

The sapphire mare looked over at the stallion, and then she held up the nail-gun and pulled the trigger, a large metal spike shooting through the air and piercing into Scrivener's forehead. For a moment, the stallion just sat, and then he yelled in horror and pain and fell over, clawing wildly at his own features as he shouted a flurry of curses and Twilight Sparkle ran forwards with a wince.

Luna glared down at the stallion, a faint trickle of blood running from her own skull before she suddenly giggled stupidly, then said after a moment: “Scrivy! I have made thou a unicorn!”

“After I tear this out of my skull I'm going to put you through a freaking wall.” Scrivener groaned, and then he twitched and shivered in agony as the nail lit up with Twilight Sparkle's telekinetic aura, the stallion wheezing and then moaning again in pain as the spike was slowly pulled out of his head. “What... what did that accomplish, Luna?”

“It put thee on thy back and shut thee up. And I made a funny joke!” Luna said mildly, and then she tossed the nail-gun back to the ground and glanced over at Cowlick as she reached up and absently wiped blood away from her head. “So I am curious, Cowlick. Thou art a full demon, aye? Art thou as difficult to kill as we have become?”

“Too bad you'll never find out, thanks to how whether or not I can kick your flank all over here, you also can't lay a hoof on me without Hel sending you to get 'readjusted.'” Cowlick said moodily, and Luna glared at her before the demon reached up and pulled her mostly-ash cigarette out of her muzzle, tapping it to one side before flicking it at Luna, the sapphire mare's eye twitching as this bounced off her face. “You know, I'm curious about something.”

“Then be curious with Luna. Or punch her a few times. That'd be great, too.” Scrivener Blooms mumbled, and then he reached up and slowly rubbed at the wound in his forehead. But it was already steadily receding, and the stallion shivered a bit as he felt the pain vanishing, mumbling: “It's funny how that's actually not cool anymore. How it's scary not just what we can dish out, but the kind of things that we can take.”

“Aye, thou takes a great many things, Scrivy, thou does not have to brag about it all the time.” Luna quipped, and Scrivener Blooms sighed tiredly as Twilight Sparkle looked moodily at the sapphire mare. Then the stallion picked himself up and the Lich dropped her head against his shoulder, smiling a little as Luna glowered at them. “Thieves and prostitutes. Steal not each other from my grasp.”

Cowlick cleared her throat loudly, and Luna turned her scowl on the engineer as she lit up another cigarette with another small flare of sparks from her hooves. “You know, not that I care about what you guys do or anything... but you aren't demons. The rules for what can kill you compared to what can kill a high-tier demon might be different, so if I were you I'd stop screwing around so much with garbage like that.”

Luna grunted, and then Twilight Sparkle hesitated before asking finally: “What exactly are we? Hel refuses to tell us and no one else seems to know. We get referred to as 'damned souls,' but that's just a generic classification for anyone who fell into Helheim from Midgard. But damned souls aren't as hardy as us... don't transform nearly as fast as... we have.”

“You say that like you're done changing.” Cowlick muttered, and then the engineer looked bitterly down at one hoof, flexing it slowly. “I know that I'm not, and I've been here much longer than any of you have. But what you are is special, that's all... that's why I have to put so much goddamn security up. You probably didn't realize it, but you were under heavy watch over in your cute little mansion: Hel doesn't want any unauthorized demons getting near you two.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Scrivener Blooms slowly wiped away the last of the black blood from his already-healed forehead before he asked quietly: “What's going on in Looking Glass World? Is it really that bad?”

“I'm not allowed to say.” Cowlick shrugged a little, but for a moment, there was a hint of sympathy in her eyes before she blew a smoke ring at them, looking distastefully over at the mostly-complete machine. “Alright. You didn't completely screw up work today. Come on, it's pill time.”

Scrivener, Luna, and Twilight all shifted uncomfortably, and Cowlick only smiled dryly as she turned away to lead them back into the lab, saying over her shoulder: “Funny, seeing you three so hypocritical about this. That black goo Scrivener's full of really isn't a whole lot different. You all just like to pretend it is because it makes you feel a little nicer about drinking so much of it.”

Luna growled as Twilight flushed a little and shifted awkwardly, but no one said anything as they made their way back through the large building, returning to the laboratory. But once they arrived, Cowlick hesitated for a moment before she looked over her shoulder at Scrivener, saying quietly: “Now, about what I was going to ask you before. I want some of your blood.”

“Every demon wants my blood. I'm like... demonic oil or something, I don't know.” Scrivener muttered, and then he shook his head slowly and said dryly: “You already have your own, remember?”

Cowlick only gave a dry smile at this, reaching up before she tugged one of her vials free from her collar: it was almost empty, and the stallion winced a little as even Luna awkwardly attempted to avert her eyes at how long the needle was. It looked like it could pierce all the way through Cowlick's neck... “This stuff doesn't last very long, and it's hard to make. I go through ten vials a week, assuming I don't have to bulk up more than an hour total that week. Your corruption might be just what I need to replace some of the harder-to-find ingredients.”

Scrivener Blooms only glared at her, opening his mouth... and then he stared in surprise as Luna Brynhild said quietly: “Of course. He shall do it.”

The stallion mouthed slowly, then stared over at her in confusion, but after a moment the sapphire mare gave a quiet sigh and a wry smile, shrugging a bit. And in that look, Scrivener Blooms saw the reasoning, the answer, behind what Luna Brynhild was suggesting, and he understood himself that they didn't really have much of a choice. After all, Cowlick had been their friend, giving everything to them, going back on her own promises just to make sure they would be ready for whatever monster was lurking just around the corner, whatever enemy they'd had to fight next. She had given her life to them, at the end of the day... they owed her at least a little bit of blood in return.

Scrivener Blooms lowered his head, and then he nodded grudgingly as Twilight Sparkle gave a small smile. For a few moments, Cowlick still seemed almost confused, the engineer shifting a little before the demon finally grumbled and turned, heading grouchily over to one of the wide tables as she shoved the vial back into place in her collar.

She yanked open a cupboard, then leaned down and fumbled through it before removing a heavy case and slamming this down on top of the table, popping it open and revealing a set of needles inside, each labeled with a different letter. “Alright. Vitamins. Here, inject them.”

Scrivener grimaced a bit and leaned awkwardly backwards as Cowlick moodily slid each of the ponies a needle, and then he sighed tiredly, before he reached up and picked up one of the needles, turning it over and noting the 'L.' “Wait, Luna, this one is yours, mine is-”

A needle stabbed into the side of his neck just above the lip of his collar, and his eyes bulged in pain as he squeaked through his grit teeth, then Luna depressed the plunger and injected the contents into the stallion, who gasped as he felt heat and faint pain flooding his veins before he glared furiously over at Luna. But Luna only grinned at him and shrugged easily, saying mildly: “Well, thou hates doing it thyself.”

She yanked the needle free and tossed it easily onto the table, then took the other needle from Scrivener with telekinesis before she tilted her head back and grimaced a bit, feeling the needle piercing her own neck and cursing quietly as she injected the contents into herself. She shivered a bit, closing her eyes and dropping her head forwards as she tossed the empty syringe quickly back onto the table, then she swore again and muttered: “Oh damnation.”

Scrivener grunted, and Twilight grimaced a bit as she put down her own empty needle, breathing slowly as the soulstone core in her chest pulsed strangely, her body shivering a little before she murmured: “I don't think that's ever not going to hurt.”

“One day it won't. That's the day that I'm done running experiments on you three.” Cowlick said moodily, the engineer shaking her head before she turned away, calmly striding over towards a set of beakers and test tubes. “When that day comes, it means you three will finally be shielded against purification. Or so charged with darkness that a little bit of holy power just washes right over you.”

Twilight Sparkle nodded a little, and Luna and Scrivener both looked up for a few moments at the demon before the sapphire mare asked quietly: “And what will happen then, Cowlick?”

Cowlick shrugged, looking grouchily at Luna. “The hell should I know? I ain't your nanny. But you're supposed to raid Heaven and put a stop to all that crap, right? That's what I'm hoping you'll do next, instead of anything stupid.”

Scrivener and Luna both smiled a little, and Twilight looked up and nodded slowly, saying softly: “We promise. I guess... We just hope that one way or another, you'll still be helping us out. You're still a friend, Cowlick.”

Cowlick smiled wryly, then she shook her head slowly and looked down, muttering: “Time difference, remember? Don't forget that I didn't just spend a long, long time down here in this icy pit... I spent most of that pissed off at the world above that... that I fought my whole goddamn life for and here, this happens to me.”

There was silence for a moment, and then Luna gave her own faint, bittersweet smile, saying softly: “Aye. I see. So thou felt it too... even knowing thou wert destined for Hell... that sense of betrayal when all the same, we end up here, in this dark and frozen lair, instead of being saved at the last moment for... all we did for the world.”

“Yeah.” Cowlick grumbled, looking sulkily down for a moment before she spat out the cigarette stub in her mouth and wrestled out another from the panel on her foreleg. Then she grumbled, not lighting this one but instead rolling it back and forth between her teeth before she said finally: “I wanna show you something. I ain't allowed to give you back any of your equipment yet... Hel's afraid you might go running off if I give you your stuff, which I figure means she knows you pretty goddamn well in spite of how she acts.”

“Better than any of us like.” Scrivener muttered, and then he looked awkwardly at Twilight Sparkle as she shifted lamely and gave a small smile. “No offense. Although I'm trying really hard here not to make a bad joke about how you're adopted.”

“I know.” Twilight gave him a softly-amused look, and then she shook her head slowly before she turned her eyes back to watch with the others as Cowlick rolled her eyes and strode across the room towards the far wall, heading towards a small control console. She quickly tapped a short combination across the buttons, and there was a loud clank before the trio of soulbound ponies stared in disbelief as the entire wall slowly rumbled upwards into the ceiling.

Behind this, there was an enormous rack of weapons and equipment, and Cowlick looked moodily back and forth before she tapped a button on the panel beside her. There was a loud clicking, and a section of the massive rack slowly revolved, revealing that each of the sections was on its own wide conveyor belt.

It carried a large rifle that had been at the top down to the bottom, then halted with a click, Cowlick walking over to this and yanking the huge rifle free from its holders before she turned around and tossed it with a grunt. The massive rifle flew through the air, and Twilight stared as Luna only flicked her horn, before her eyes widened in surprise as her sousltone horn sparked, barely keeping the huge rifle aloft as it floated in front of her before dropping down with a loud clank on the butt of the handle, the mare wheezing: “By Asgard! 'Tis as heavy as Mjolnir!”

“Yeah, being permanently on steroids kind of makes me forget how puny normal little ponies are.” Cowlick said mildly, and Luna scowled horribly at this before she reached out and picked up the gun, grunting and cursing as she struggled to lift the massive rifle. Scrivener and Twilight both only sighed, then looked uneasily towards Cowlick as she approached, looking with entertainment at the sapphire mare as she continued to roll her cigarette between her teeth. “Come on, filly. Either lift the goddamn thing or pass it here.”

“I... damn thou!” Luna wheezed loudly, looking frustrated, and then she winced as the rifle began to tilt forwards, but then Cowlick calmly reached up and caught the rifle by one hoof before she yanked it away, muscles flexing powerfully and her frame automatically enlarging itself a little in response to the extra weight she was trying to move, making Luna scowl horribly.

“'Tis... 'tis not fair! 'Tis thy damned chemicals again!” Luna complained, rubbing awkwardly at her forelegs and glaring at the engineer. Then she shifted a bit, looking almost uneasily up along the huge gun as Cowlick quickly checked over the massive rifle before dropping it so the butt rested on the floor and the body against her shoulder, one foreleg loosely wrapped around the oversized weapon. “What is that for?”

“Shooting from Helheim to Heaven.” Cowlick answered, and then she sighed a little, looking over the massive gun as she murmured: “I can't believe once I believed I could stop makin' these. Oh, don't get me wrong, I definitely wanted to. And sometimes I still wish I did. But I can't give this up... for better or worse, making these toys that kill other people is what I was meant to do.”

The trio of soulbound ponies shifted uneasily together, looking at each other for a few moments before the demon only shrugged, saying wryly: “Well, that's enough self-pity. I've been building Hel an arsenal, you see. That's part of how I earned my stripes and got this laboratory, although I ain't kidding myself. Hel wanted me to here to teach you, because I'm a familiar face, not just a hardass and a perfectionist. Not just because I'm the best goddamn shot here in Helheim, either. She's smarter than that. Crazy, yeah, but smart.”

Luna grunted, and Twilight hesitated before asking finally: “How much time do you spend with Hel? I know it's kind of a funny question but... I guess I'm really curious.”

“That whole 'adopted' thing again.” Scrivener said mildly, and Twilight sighed softly before she reached up and gently hit the back of his head, then closed her eyes and dropped her head against his shoulder.

Luna looked thoughtfully over at the two, then she leaned in and half-fell against Twilight, remarking mildly: “'Tis very awkward, though, because 'tis like thou art Hel's baby but wert adopted out of thy mother's vagina.”

A pained expression passed over Twilight's features as Scrivener cleared his throat awkwardly, and Cowlick looked moodily at the three before she studied the Lich a little more intently, asking curiously: “So you really are Hel's daughter then, huh? Now that's something we're not even supposed to talk about between ourselves.”

Twilight nodded a little, straightening and giving a small smile after a moment. “Yeah. I am. And I don't even know yet how I really feel about that, to be honest. It's just so... so weird to try and wrap my head around.”

Cowlick grunted, then she studied the mare for a few moments before asking curiously: “Is that why you have all these weird powers? Why you seem... I dunno. At least Scrivener there seems sulkier and Luna's angrier and dumber. You seem like you've settled right in here. Hell, I wasn't even sure that my shock net was going to be able to stop you.”

Twilight nodded a little, then she drew her eyes over the massive arsenal at the back of the room, asking after a moment: “So with all these... are you still just an engineer or do you work as an Inquisitor now or something?”

“Artificer is my official title now, means pretty much the same thing. But part of how I made a name for myself was through bounty hunting.” Cowlick replied with a shrug, nodding and looking with wry amusement at the massive rifle leaning against her. “Might as well put these toys and skills of mine to use, right?”

Scrivener shrugged, Twilight smiled a little, and Luna nodded encouragingly, which made the engineer roll her eyes before she patted the massive rifle and said mildly: “Look. This is an anti-materiel rifle, but a much bigger paygrade than Artemis ever was. I want you two to take this thing up to the roof and lock her into a turret mount that's up there. Just in case we have any unwanted guests.”

The ponies nodded, and then Twilight shifted before she asked: “Why do you seem to expect so many attacks? I mean, I understand that Helheim can be pretty dangerous, but you seem to be expecting-”

“We're living in Hell. In Hell, whoever has the biggest stick and the most power is in charge, and I happen to be sitting in an ancient castle full of Nibelung knowledge and stuff like this.” Cowlick picked up the rifle and flung it at the three ponies, almost knocking all of them sprawling as the heavy, massive rifle crashed across their chests before they managed to steady themselves, glaring in unconscious mimicry at Cowlick. “Yeah, yeah. Just get going.”

Scrivener sighed, then groaned as Luna looked at him pointedly before he moodily shifted around, climbing up to his Talons. And then Twilight and Luna placed the huge rifle across his back, and the stallion slumped a little beneath the weight before he muttered: “Heavy as... well. Every time I hear 'Hell' now it feels like an awful topical pun.”

“Thou art topical. Do not use such language.” Luna said mildly, firmly slapping the stallion's rump, and he twitched a bit before grunting as Luna firmly began to push him towards the door. “Go, go, go, Scrivener Blooms, I can already feel thy strain in thy fillyish little muscles. 'Tis pathetic. We must get thee up to the top of the castle before thou drops the accursed thing and a real mare like Twilight Sparkle has to do all the work for thee!”

“We'll be right back, Cowlick.” Twilight Sparkle supplied tiredly, and then she turned a dry look towards Luna as she fell in at Scrivener's side.

The three ponies made their way slowly through the castle, Luna or Twilight occasionally using telekinesis to help lighten the load of the rifle a little as Scrivener complained every now and then. He wondered moodily what the hell this cannon on his back was made of... and uneasily, why Cowlick would ever need a gun like this in the first place. It wasn't like her old sniper rifle or any of the weapons she'd made for Luna had ever been lacking, after all...

On the way up to the roof, they passed by several demonic Nibelung, who yelped and fled when the ponies approached. Luna growled after them loudly, which likely didn't help improve what the Nibelung thought about them, and Scrivener and Twilight both looked almost accusingly at the sapphire mare. But she simply smiled and shrugged, saying cheerfully: “Well, they will have to grow accustomed to us sooner or later.”

“Funny, seeing Nibelung with Cowlick even down here. Seems the most normal part of. Everything.” Scrivener muttered as they reached a spiraling staircase, and then he strode up a few steps... before wincing as the enormous rifle got lodged between the rounded walls, the stallion stumbling a little and wincing as he struggled to keep the weapon as balanced as possible, feeling it beginning to slip backwards before both Luna and Twilight caught it with telekinesis. “Yeah, this. This isn't going to work.”

“Oh shut up, Scrivy. We shall push, thou shall carry.” Luna grumbled, and the stallion wheezed before grumbling and nodding, the two slowly starting to make their way slowly up the steps.

They reached the top in good time, stepping out onto the snowy, flat roof and looking back and forth through the biting, icy wind that whipped across their faces. It was almost strong enough to make Scrivener stumble... but the heavy weight of the giant gun on his back kept him from falling over as he groaned in strain. “This thing is already starting to freeze to my back. Let's find that turret.”

“Easy, 'tis right there.” Luna pointed quickly at a strange object: Scrivener was tempted to argue with her purely out of habit, but then another icy gust of wind blew past and threatened to turn his blood to ice, and he shivered a bit as Twilight winced and Luna hurriedly shook her head wildly out, her mane bursting into a mix of blue and black flames that wrapped around her body in a vain attempt to keep warm. “Damnation! Why is it so cold?”

“To prevent demons from trying to escape through the ceiling into the chaos outside of Helheim, the higher you go, the colder it gets.” Twilight mumbled, looking back and forth as she wheezed out frozen breath. “Or at least, that's one of those books Hel gave me said, anyway.”

“Wondrous. Truly. Wondrous.” Luna muttered, shivering again as she glowered back and forth before groaning loudly as her eyes roved upwards. “And 'tis this cold from this far away? Damnation, it must be cold enough to freeze a Frost Giant solid near the roof!”

Scrivener Blooms grumbled in agreement as he made his way towards the turret, Luna scuttling along behind him and Twilight muttering: “Demons are only supposed to go so high above ground level... this mountain is way above what's considered 'ground level' and this castle extends that distance outside of the safe zone...”

Scrivener nodded, then grimaced as they reached the turret, the stallion shifting forwards as Luna and Twilight both straightened and used telekinesis to lift the rifle for him. The charcoal earth pony slipped out from beneath it, then grasped the weapon tightly and moved it carefully through the air, turning it and carefully guiding it forwards through the slot in the metal shield, then locking it into place into a metal axis and a heavy support frame.

Luna half-shoved Twilight and Scrivener out of the way once it was set up, leaning forwards to peer through the scope on top of the weapon as she carefully grasped into the handle, and she was surprised by how easy the heavy weapon was to move. Well, perhaps 'easy' wasn't the right word to use, but considering the weight of the damned thing... “'Tis so clear! I can see straight down the mountain... and well, what is this? It seems Cowlick is not as paranoid as Hel after all, I could swear there are demons trying to spy on us from below...”

“I resent that.” said a grouchy voice, and Luna squawked and then spun around to glare... before wincing and hugging herself, instead flopping down to the ground at another burst of icy wind.

For a moment, the others stared at her, and then Luna mumbled: “Hel, I do not have the necessary warmth of body to put up with thee. Either maim and torment us or leave in peace.”

Hel's ice puppet snorted at this, brushing at herself before saying in a wounded voice: “As if the only thing I ever do is show up to harm and torture people. I'm absolutely devastated by how little you ponies think of me!”

“Well. That's. Kind of your thing, isn't it?” Scrivener Blooms asked dryly, and Hel looked meditatively down at him as Twilight made a face a bit and elbowed the stallion lightly, making him grumble before he muttered: “Well, you know, by all means if she wants to prove me wrong... she's certainly welcome to.”

“Well maybe I... won't.” Hel pointed at him, and Scrivener yelped in surprise before he was frozen in a block of ice, Twilight and Luna both staring for a moment before the sapphire mare giggled despite herself. Then she cleared her throat loudly, even as Hel stepped forwards and childishly kicked the frosty prison the stallion was trapped inside a few times, grumbling: “So who's a thing now? You are. That's right. You are.”

There was silence for a few moments before Luna awkwardly cleared her throat a second time, and Hel paused in mid-kick before slowly spinning towards the sapphire mare, looking down at her mildly. Then she lightly swung her foot out, gently tapping Luna in the nose with it and making the winged unicorn shift uneasily as the dark goddess said politely: “Be with you right in a jiff, sweetie.

“Twilight Sparkle.” Hel spun around towards her, suddenly smiling brightly, and Twilight winced a little before staring as Hel rose a hand now holding a tiny, gift-wrapped box that had appeared out of nowhere. “It's your birthday. Well. Not really. But I think you get a happy birthday anyway.”

Twilight awkwardly reached up to take this, silently shifting the box back and forth in her hooves as Luna cocked her head curiously, then turned and quickly poked at the ice cube a few times with her horn, cracking it. Then Hel absently snapped her fingers, and Luna squawked before a thick block of ice surrounded her head and horn, her wings flapping madly and her legs kicking before she slipped and landed hard on her rump.

Twilight stared blankly past Hel at the sight of Scrivener in his icy prison, and Luna with her head stuck in a block of ice attached to the glacier the charcoal stallion was frozen inside. She honestly didn't know quite what to make of what she was seeing, as she shifted uncomfortably back and forth before Hel waved a hand absently and said kindly: “Nothing against them, Twilight, but you and me, we need a little time together. Alone. You know? Oh, Twilight... you have such a pretty name! Twilight Sparkle... that's a nice name. Much better than... Draumr Heldóttir, which is probably what I would have named you.”

“Dream?” Twilight asked hesitantly, and Hel brightened, clapping her hands excitedly and nodding fervently several times, Twilight shifting a bit and looking over at Luna and Scrivener, a little uneasy thanks to the fact they were both... well... clearly less than comfortable right now. “Uh... maybe you could unfreeze my partners...”

“No.” Hel said cheerfully, and when Twilight gave her a pleading look, Hel simply snapped her fingers, and Luna kicked her legs wildly before blue smoke whispered up around her and left her completely encased in frost. “There, now they're at least comfortable. Or numb. Comfortably numb. I love Pink Floyd!”

Twilight Sparkle only stared up at her as Hel calmly bebopped to an unheard beat for a moment, then she cleared her throat and pushed her fingers together, tenting them and saying kindly: “Open your present, Twilight, and the reason why I've frozen them will make a lot more sense.”

The Lich shifted worriedly at this, then she looked down at the little, gift-wrapped box in her hooves before she carefully pulled off the ribbon, then lifted the top of the box... and she frowned curiously as she found a scrap of paper inside, lifting it free before her eyes widened as Hel said softly: “For all the birthdays I've missed, and oh so much more important than that, all the very merry unbirthdays I've missed, too.”

The violet mare looked up silently, and then she laughed a little, studying Hel before she murmured: “You blocked our link with your ice. I can't... I can't ask them for advice, and they can't influence me, subconsciously or otherwise.”

“Well, that's the best I can do. Unfortunately, you always seem to put them before yourself, no matter what they or I or anyone else says... so in a way, I can feel you still trying to think of what they could get most out of it.” Hel replied pleasantly, and then she smiled and said kindly: “No do-overs, though, so you think hard on this, little girl. And because I'm nice, I'm not going to purposefully screw it up... but my powers are limited to what I can affect here in the icebox. And no, I won't affect anything that has to do with Midgard. This gift... this wish has to be for you.”

Twilight Sparkle looked silently at the piece of paper, studying the neat handwriting on it that said 'One Miracle,' and then she lowered her head and asked softly: “So I can't ask to see what's going on in Looking Glass World then, can I? No... you want me to ask for something specific, don't you?”

“I do.” Hel said softly, and then the dark goddess squatted in front of her, looking across into the Lich's eyes. “I do, because I believe in you. And I believe in your partners, too. This is my way of offering you help, of giving you a chance to ask for a little bit of a deus ex machina to get your asses out of trouble, to make sure you can fight off Heaven. You can ask for-”

“I can ask for anything.” Twilight Sparkle looked up, smiling faintly at the dark goddess before she closed her eyes and lowered her head. “I can ask for anything, but you already have a very, very limited selection of what you're willing to give me. And I understand that. And all the same I feel a little... hurt.”

Hel clucked her tongue quietly, and then she reached down and gently stroked through the mare's dark mane, silently drawing a finger to the glowing streak of light amidst the flowing shadows of her locks. “Now, Twilight, don't be greedy. I'm already showing lots more favoritism than I usually do. Nepotism, too. Other bad -isms as well. So don't you start pouting because I'm not giving you all the cookies in the cookie jar... not just yet.

“But Twilight Sparkle, play my games, prove yourself, fight hard... and one day, you'll take my place.” Hel said tenderly, touching her own chest, and the violet mare winced a bit and looked up before the dark goddess laughed. “No, no, not... not like that! I don't mean you'll be sealed away in a little room for the rest of eternity, I mean you'll be a true goddess of Helheim! A true goddess, not restrained by a prison and forced to act through puppets... and not ever, ever alone. You'll fix everything that I couldn't. I firmly believe that.”

The violet mare gave a brief smile, the Lich looking down before she said quietly: “What scares me, Hel, is that the more time I spend here... the more I think that maybe... you've done a pretty incredible job as it is with what you were given.”

“That means a lot, coming from you.” Hel said softly, and then the dark goddess shook her head slowly before she gave a small smile, reaching out and stroking tenderly up under the mare's chin.

Twilight only looked up at her silently, studying her, thinking about how... strange and yet fitting this seemed. Her secret mother, a dark goddess of the Underworld... she laughed a little, then shook her head when Hel cocked her own curiously. “No, nothing, I just... it's funny. I feel...”

“In place.” Hel smiled and nodded, lacing her fingers together in front of herself. “That's how I feel with you and Brynhild and that Clockwork Pony husband you let boss you around. I don't see why you're always so quiet with them, you gotta stand up for yourself more, girl! That big black stallion is a big ball of hot air, you just smack him when he starts getting so mouthy. And Luna Brynhild, ha, I've seen you make her quail before!”

Twilight only laughed and looked awkwardly away, and then she shook her head quickly and said softly: “That's just not how our relationship works, though. Besides, we share... everything. We're together in everything. And I love them and they love me and...”

She looked down at the piece of paper still in her hoof, then she looked up and asked quietly: “If I became stronger... would they get stronger, too? Or is there some way... I can make them happier? Something I can ask for...”

She halted at the pointed look Hel was giving her, before the dark goddess poked her a few times and said mildly: “Now hey, you already figured it out, and you know you can't ask for any of what I'm willing to bet five souls you're thinking about asking about. But you know the way your link works, vanilla cake. I can't really give you any further hints than that.”

There was silence for a moment, and then Twilight Sparkle looked up before she smiled a little and nodded slowly, saying quietly: “Then I want you to fix the mansion.”

Hel blinked in surprise at this, and Twilight shrugged and explained: “It would be more time for us to train, and less time we have to travel back and forth. It puts the miracle to use for you as much as us, and... it undercuts your plan a little. Which I think you wanted to see if I could do.”

“Uh. No, no. I don't like it when my plans are undercut, even by my darling daughter.” Hel said mildly, looking sourly down at Twilight Sparkle, and the Lich reared back slightly... but after a moment, the dark goddess sighed and threw up her arms as she turned away, saying grouchily: “But I guess this is my own damn fault, isn't it? Fine. Mansion's fixed. Abracadabra.” Hel paused, then sulked, dropping her head forwards. “Actually I'm going to do it later. Right now I have to eat a tub of ice cream because you're less smart than I recall.”

Twilight Sparkle looked up awkwardly, but forced herself to take a breath before she said in as clear a voice as she could manage: “Luna, Scrivy and I don't need your miracles to win against the Light. We can do this ourselves.”

Hel looked moody at this, the frost puppet turning on a heel towards her as its icy arms crossed. The bovine features contorted into a slight scowl as fingers tapped slowly against an upper arm, and then Hel asked distastefully: “You think that you can do it, all by yourselves?”

Twilight forced herself to look up and nod uncomfortably, and there was silence for a moment before Hel leaned down and poked her finger against the Lich's nose, asking moodily: “And who helped you open up these new powers? Who introduced you to your own unknown heritage? Who the hell has the giant army of demons and... well... the big... icy place named right after her, huh?”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Twilight looked up and forced herself to say, as she met the cold eyes of the puppet: “And who do you believe are the only ponies who can take down the Light?”

Hel leaned slowly back... and then she gave a slow smile, nodding a few times and calmly starting to clap. The Lich looked up at her dumbly, and the dark goddess said quietly: “You do stand up for yourself, for what you believe in. Good. Good. Because I have to say, I wonder sometimes with how hard you try to please everyone... I was scared that here you are, just trying to please me, too. But apparently you really are just a deeply-emotional shmuck, but one with a little bit of a spine that shows up now and then.”

“I. Thanks?” Twilight said awkwardly, and then she winced when Hel reached forwards and pinched her cheek teasingly, the Lich flinching a little and automatically trying to pull away.

“It's a mother's job to criticize her daughter.” the dark goddess replied kindly, and then she patted Twilight's cheek firmly before leaning back and adding mildly: “By the way, you looked... I don't know. Better, somehow, with the stitches. Or at least, I'm pretty sure your partners thought so. Just letting you know.”

Twilight Sparkle gave an awkward smile up at the dark goddess, nodding lamely after a moment, and Hel looked down at her warmly before reaching out and patting her firmly on the head. The Lich shivered a bit, and then Hel stepped backwards and simply vanished in a puff of blue smoke, the violet mare sighing a little before she reached up and silently rubbed at her soulstone core.

She had been so tempted to wish for more power. To wish for Gymbr's core back, to wish for... more. But how dangerous would that be, considering the thin water they were already treading? It wasn't a risk she wanted to take... and maybe some of Luna and Scrivener's stupid pride had rubbed off on her, too.

She sighed again as she turned towards the frozen ponies, studying them for a few moments before she closed her eyes, keying into the magic energy holding the ice together: now that she knew her strange relation to Hel, she could understand why it was so easy for her to find and disrupt the energies of Hel's magic. With a flick of her horn, she transformed ice into water... then winced as Luna and Scrivener both flopped forwards and grabbed at themselves, wheezing and shivering violently as a gust of wind blew past.

“F-F-Freezing...” Scrivener and Luna traded looks, then they both turned and scrambled for door leading back inside, and Twilight sighed once more but followed after the two, smiling despite herself as she felt their link syncing up again and trading information rapidly back and forth.

The two drenched ponies hit the stairs and almost rolled down them, before Luna tripped and cursed and Scrivener flailed helplessly, catching himself too late before he stumbled past her and landed painfully on the steps. A moment later, Luna fell onto his back: Scrivener wasn't sure whether or not it was on purpose or an honest accident. All he knew was that it stung like hell.

He grumbled moodily under his breath, then he and Luna looked up over their shoulders at Twilight Sparkle, who smiled a little down at them as she sat on the steps just above the sprawled ponies, asking quietly: “So you're not mad?”

“Mad? Why would we be mad?” Luna asked after a moment, the sapphire mare giving a small sigh and a wry smile up to the Lich. “Thou did well, Twilight Sparkle. Thou drew on a little bit of both of us... to make a wish that should have been for thyself.”

“You're a little too generous sometimes still.” Scrivener agreed softly, and the violet mare only laughed a little and shrugged, gazing down at them warmly. And with a small hint of embarrassment, too, and after a moment, the charcoal stallion shook his head before he asked mildly: “Would you feel better if we called you an idiot? Because I can always call you an idiot if you really want me to.”

Twilight Sparkle sighed a little at this, and Luna huffed and firmly poked at Scrivener Blooms with her horn, making him wince a bit but smile a little before she suddenly grabbed his shoulders, sitting up and straddling him. And then he ground his teeth together as Luna firmly kicked her rear hooves against the steps, the stallion shouting and cursing as he slid down the staircase on his chest with Luna cheerfully riding him.

The violet mare calmly strolled down behind the two ponies, smiling despite herself: sometimes she felt like a too-permissive parent to these two, as she heard – and faintly-felt – the loud bang as Scrivener hit the floor at the bottom of the steps. The silence that followed was punctuated only by a few dumb giggles before Twilight rounded the spiral to the bottom of the stairs, and found the sapphire mare still seated on Scrivener, who was sprawled out and scowling even as Luna cheerfully ruffled up his mane. “We should do it again! Twilight Sparkle, join me upon my mighty steed and we shall go sledding once more!”

“How about no?” Scrivener said sourly, and Luna rolled her eyes before punching him lightly in the back of the head, the stallion wincing a bit as Twilight looked at the two with amusement and a strange, endless love that always felt so refreshed by the... utter childishness of the two ponies in front of her. All the cares, all the worries, all the everything they went through... and even here in Helheim, here was Luna, using Scrivener Blooms as a toboggan for fun and mischief.

And there was Scrivener. Implacable, sarcastic Scrivener Blooms, who would make such a huge deal out of the little things but apparently long ceased to care that they were in the frozen underworld, except for when he wanted to whine loudly about it like he would about stubbing his hoof. He had a funny way of making her feel better about things, because the little things he would obsesses over, a little like her... but the big things, he'd taught her to just bull through, and make them seem smaller than they really were.

There was silence for a few moments, and then the stallion picked himself up, looking over his shoulder at Twilight Sparkle before he finally said awkwardly: “Well uh... I guess since Luna's not going to get off of me... you might as well climb aboard, too. Although I never wanted to be a train.”

“Shut up, Scrivy. Do not make me make it hoof party in thy face's house. Thou repeats that constantly, 'tis not funny any longer.” Luna complained, waving her hoof above her head, and Scrivener and Twilight traded amused looks before the sapphire mare huffed. “I do not ever repeat myself! Ever.”

“I'm not even going to point out the hypocrisy in that sentence.” Scrivener Blooms said ironically, and then he winced a little when Luna rapped him firmly on the skull, Twilight laughing and climbing onto the stallion's back with an amused smile before she wrapped her forelegs tightly around Luna, pressing up against her back and closing her eyes as those warm, ephemeral locks flowed and twisted around her.

Luna smiled warmly over her shoulder as Scrivener began forwards down the hall, the stallion saying wryly: “You know. I can't help but feel that the only point of me getting bigger is so I can better serve as a land-barge for you two.”

“'Tis also so that thou makes a better blanket for us. Thou art big and hot. Not sexy-hot. But thy body is hot. But not... well, thou knows what I means. Although I do find thee handsome most days.” Luna paused thoughtfully as Scrivener Blooms rolled his eyes and Twilight smiled despite herself in entertainment. “Thou can be hot, but 'tis not as if hotness is thy usual state of being. Which I think is what thou prefers, in any event.”

“Thank you for first objectifying me and then taking even my value as a piece of meat away, Luna. This is why we have such a wonderful relationship.” Scrivener Blooms said dryly, and Luna simply shrugged cheerfully and smiled down at him before the charcoal stallion dropped his head forwards, saying finally: “You are an awful, terrible creature.”

Luna simply nodded positively in agreement, and Twilight laughed before she smiled a little and snuggled closer against the sapphire mare's back. And this was why, in spite of everything, she was always so happy about being with these ponies. Even being trapped here in Hell didn't matter: they could and did continue to push forwards happily, no matter what happened.

They found Cowlick working back in her laboratory, although the two were surprised by the sight of La Croix, loitering near one wall. The zebra brightened at the sight of them, but Luna only scowled at the Loa, asking distastefully: “Cowlick, what hast thou done, letting such bog-creatures as this into thy laboratory?”

“Hey! Hey, hey, hey now, what's all that about? Ain't I been nice to you, good to you? Why you gotta be so mean to me, all this time?” La Croix asked in an injured voice, and then the zebra sauntered over towards Cowlick, adding positively: “Besides all that, I've just been introducin' myself to your benefactor here, and this fine jument and I have been makin' real nice like, have we not?”

The zebra grinned widely, sidling in close... and without looking, Cowlick swung a hoof up and punched him across the room, the Loa's top hat flying straight up into the air as it spun lazily before falling. And again, without looking, Cowlick caught this and put it on her own head, saying moodily: “This is mine now, pretty boy. I told you to keep the hell away from me.”

From where he was sprawled on the floor, La Croix groaned before he slowly hefted himself to his hooves, glaring over at Cowlick and grumbling: “Worse than the cocodril, ruder than the ouaouarons. Everything I'm doin' here, tryin' to help y'all, and this is my repayment.”

The zebra shook himself grumpily out, and then he simply flicked a front hoof, and his top hat flew off Cowlick's head and returned to the Loa as the engineer glowered over at him. “That's my property you're stealing, you know. Rule of the strongest.”

“Ain't no such thing. The cycle is what rules, the question de vie ou de mort.” La Croix retorted, and then he added distastefully, brushing at himself slowly: “And y'all realize that I ain't allowed to use my powers in this part of the bayou, right? Nanny Hel don't like it when I go struttin' around, showin' what I can do, and neither do my bosses.”

Luna grunted, then she gently slipped free of Twilight's grip and off Scrivener's back, looking mildly across at the zebra. “So what art thou doing here, La Croix? Why art thou so involved? What other hidden agendas lurk behind the curtain?”

“Simple. I mean...” La Croix halted, looking warily up at the ceiling before he shifted awkwardly, then carefully slipped his hat back on his head and said moodily: “Well, I guess I can tell you a little, if you really gotta know. See, the diable's in the details: because all we all are tryin' to coordinate our efforts-like, and take back your Heaven – not because we care, but because Greater Heaven will turn all of us into hog-feed if we don't, I may add – we all gotta try and... respect each other, not piss each other off too much. Give and take a little from each other.

“My folk got no problem with most of Hel's methods. But we get real touchy about screwin' around with the Great Cycle of things: oh sure, we toss up the occasional zombie or two, but only when the time calls for it. Only when a deal goes sour, or some little ouaouaron goes and bites off more than he can rightly chew, and the serpents be comin' for him.

“You three... ain't alive. You ain't demons. So technically, all y'are is dead. And the idea of sendin' bad dead folk like you out there, even if it's to save Heaven... ain't to our liking.” La Croix continued calmly, brushing out his cape before he straightened and smiled. “Especially since, as Nanny Hel's so proud of, your menage a trois is apparently Hel's greatest weapon. Why the Hell would we want Hel to be sendin' hella dangerous things like you up into Heaven, 'specially if it means y'all might just go right back down into what you folks call Looking Glass World? We gotta protect our own interests, our own beliefs. Our Cycle.”

Twilight and Luna traded looks as Scrivener gave a dry smile, saying quietly: “So you're basically saying that you're afraid we're going to either destroy Heaven, or possibly abandon it... and either way, we'll head back to Looking Glass World and start making a mess of everything?”

“Well, you ponies seem to do a pretty good job of defending yourselves. The rest of the world? Not always so much.” La Croix shrugged easily, then he glanced mildly over at Cowlick, adding distastefully: “Y'all are really good at killing each other and screwin' with the natural laws, though. I will say that.”

The ponies traded dry looks at this, and then Cowlick looked moodily over at the zebra as she turned over the gun she was working on, saying sourly: “Look, asshat. We know our jobs. You do yours, and we'll do ours, got it? I'm not saying you have to trust these three. I'm not even saying you should trust these three, they're morons. But you can be suspicious of us all you like and still understand we're going to get the goddamn job done.”

Cowlick halted, then picked up a cigarette from the box on the table, sticking it in her mouth and saying moodily: “Hel says you're supposed to go with La Croix, somethin' about him taking you for some... I dunno. Wasn't paying attention. I'm busy, get the hell out of my lab.”

Scrivener and Luna exchanged dry looks as Twilight sighed, still seated comfortably on the stallion's back, and La Croix smiled as he looked over at them, tapping his head and saying cheerfully: “Hey, we gonna have fun, don't none of you fret! We're gonna get to know each other better so my bosses can make a more-informed decision 'bout all y'all, and I'm gonna teach you what we've been able to discover about the Light. And you best listen to me over all your croaking, ouaouarons: me and my bosses, we help oversee life and death and the cycle. We've learned all kinds of interestin' things while doin' our work.”

The trio traded looks, and then Luna sighed softly and nodded, muttering: “Very well, La Croix. Lead the way and we shall do our best to pay attention.”

La Croix grinned widely, then he tipped his hat towards them before easily flicking a hoof out, a portal splitting reality as he said kindly: “Good. 'Cause I promise y'all are gonna love our first stop.

“All aboard, mes amis! Next stop, the Master Archives!”

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