• 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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The 'Hell' Part Of Hell

Chapter Eighty Five: The 'Hell' Part of Hell
~BlackRoseRaven

Twilight Sparkle was absolutely enthralled: they were in a library that made every former library she'd ever been in look tiny in comparison. Even Canterlot's magic archives couldn't compare to the shelves and shelves and stacks of books and scrolls and paper and pure knowledge, just waiting to be tapped and explored and absorbed.

Scrivener Blooms was admittedly enjoying himself more than he wanted to admit: he and Twilight were going over a thin sheet of research supplied by La Croix, using it to dig up ancient Helheim texts while Luna grouchily ran off to fetch books for them, complaining the entire time. But Twilight loved the research, Scrivener Blooms enjoyed putting together all the loose threads of old stories, and Luna grudgingly recognized that they were working on something important here: they were slowly discovering more and more about the Light, and putting together after all this time exactly what they were up against.

They already had dozens of books piled up over the tables around them, sitting on the third floor of the massive library, near the railing that overlooked the second floor balconies, and the first floor far below. There were shelves upon shelves upon shelves of books stretching out into the distance, all neatly labeled and constantly tended to by an army of ghostly librarians.

A reaper calmly floated past them, and Luna looked up at this, scowling at the skull-masked entity before she complained: “Scrivy, a death just passed us. Clearly he believed that I was already dead from boredom, however, so he did not stop and chat.”

“You know, there is a kid's section somewhere in here.” Scrivener said absently, and then he winced when a book bounced off his head, twitching to the side before glaring over at her sourly. “You're not as dumb as you act, Luna. You could actually try and help us.”

“I am dumber than I act! How dare thou accuse me of foppery!” Luna exclaimed, and Scrivener winced as a passing spirit shushed Luna loudly, but the sapphire mare only glowered at the ghost and threatened: “I shall burn this entire Archive to the ground if one of thou shushes me again!”

Twilight Sparkle slowly lowered the book she was reading so she could glower over the top of it at Luna, and the sapphire mare cleared her throat a little and smiled lamely at the Lich before the violet mare rolled her eyes and returned her gaze to her book, saying moodily: “Please don't get us thrown out of here. We don't have a lot of time left before La Croix shows back up to take us to our punishments.”

Luna grumbled under her breath as Scrivener Blooms made a bit of a face, and then the stallion looked away as he mumbled: “I was trying really hard not to think about that. It feels like we've been doing nothing but getting our flanks handed to us this last while...”

“Yeah, but this has been nice, right?” Twilight asked, and then she glanced around the table, dropping her book for a moment. “Has anyone seen the list? I need it to double-check this entry.”

“Yeah, uh... Luna, it's by you.” Scrivener absently pointed at the piece of paper Luna was leaning on, and the starry-maned winged unicorn looked down with a grumble before she picked this up and moodily folded it into the shape of a paper plane, earning a sour look from both her partners.

Luna tossed this across the table to Twilight Sparkle, who caught and quickly unfolded it with telekinesis, reading quickly through the list before she muttered: “No, the page number's right... but it doesn't mesh with the other stories, it must just be a fable... I wonder why La Croix gave us all this research instead of just telling us what he knew...”

“Because I want you ponies to do it yourselves.” La Croix said cheerfully as he strode across the wide reading area towards them, earning glares from a few other demons that were trying to concentrate. “If you don't do it yourself, then hey, are you gonna really learn?”

“I'm also guessing this hoofwriting isn't yours, so you probably got someone else to do most of this research for you.” Scrivener Blooms added mildly, holding up another small sheet of paper with several short notes over it. “Also, not to stereotype or anything... but your patois definitely isn't common demonic. I highly doubt you speak any of that.”

“You know, cocodril, social skills are important. Maybe the problem with your life was that you always scared all the other ponies 'round you. Not that life was so hard.” La Croix said dryly, and Scrivener Blooms looked sourly at the zebra before he shrugged and said mildly: “But hey, what do I know? I ain't nothin' but a humble Loa.”

“Humble. Aye. As humble as I am.” Luna grumbled, and then she poked crankily at a book in front of her before finally sighing and asking: “So art thou here to bring us to our next punishment? 'Tis so funny to be walked like a foal to and from our Inquisitors. 'Tis almost as if Hel secretly does not trust us... or perhaps thou just enjoys seeing us in pain.”

“Now, hey, I don't enjoy seein' anyone in pain, from the littlest tadpole to the biggest damn orignal y'ever did see. We're all friends, you three and me. At least, in the most professional sense.” La Croix smiled slightly, tipping his hat to them before he said pleasantly: “So allons-y, mes amis! Just think of me as a friendly little birdy on your shoulder, here to... to help you wend your way down through the bayou. Even if y'all seem to like it here, for reasons I dare not guess at.”

Luna grunted, and Twilight sighed a little before she looked over at Scrivener, asking hesitantly: “Do you think they'll let me sign a few of these books out for some light reading?”

“There is no possible universe where even the smallest of these books could be considered 'light reading.' Or even 'light.'” Scrivener said mildly, holding up one of the large tomes, and Twilight Sparkle only gave him a pointed look even as Luna grunted in agreement with the stallion. “I also think only Inquisitors and other Archivists can sign out books here. I think we're more like. Deputy security guards for Hel. All our authority is lies.”

“Do not be such a buttocks, Scrivener Blooms.” Luna huffed loudly, picking up another book and flinging it at Scrivener, but the stallion managed to catch it this time, wincing away a little from the sapphire mare. “Our authority comes from our ability to pummel whatever displeases us into mush. There is no greater authority than this.”

“You really do a great job of putting the 'Tyrant' into 'Tyrant Wyrm.'” Scrivener Blooms said mildly, and Luna Brynhild gave him a flat look. But then La Croix cleared his throat loudly, and the charcoal stallion grumbled under his breath as Twilight reluctantly put down her book and Luna dropped her head against the table with a thump. “Okay, okay. We're coming.”

The three ponies pushed themselves up from the table at the same time, and La Croix nodded firmly to them, saying positively: “There y'all go! Now let's get ourselves moving.”

With that, he turned and gestured easily to the side, and a hole tore open in reality, the portal shimmering faintly as the ponies approached. La Croix made it look so easy... but then again, Twilight could already do it, and Luna was getting the hang of it, too, even if her portals tended to drop them a little bit off-target still. It just took practice, though: Helheim's reality was thin, and made traveling via rift in reality the easiest way to get around the immense wastes.

The three ponies strode through: whether or not they trusted La Croix, it wasn't like he was going to take them anywhere but where they were scheduled to be right now. If they didn't show up for Punishment, Hellhounds and Hunters would be sent out to retrieve them, and La Croix would be dragged along with them to whatever hellhole they would be thrown into for extra torments and tortures for not obeying Helheim's rules.

The group stepped out of the portal and ended up in front of a large, ugly fortress, the ponies shifting uneasily as the zebra clapped his hooves and gestured quickly at the open front gates. “Go on, go on, hurry up now! You don't got all day to dally and I ain't getting the blame for bringin' you here late, y'hear?”

He poked them forwards, and Luna grumbled as Scrivener sourly looked over the simple, ugly fortified building. They crossed a narrow bridge over what was really more of a ditch than a moat, filled with grimy, disease-riddled water, and entered a narrow courtyard through the gates, La Croix halting here and waving at them cheerfully as the three approached the guarded doors. “Have fun now, you hear? I'm gonna put a good word in with Cimetaire and Samedi about you three!”

The three ponies didn't reply as they approached the doors, Luna scowling only a little before they halted in front of the enormous, demonic guards. The two armored Wrath demons looked down at them with cruel grins, and then one asked mockingly: “Names?”

Luna Brynhild scowled, but then only said her name as the others did the same, keeping themselves under control. The demons knew who they were: this was just all part of the game, and it was a game she was absolutely sick of.

“And why are you here?” asked the other demon almost teasingly, and Luna ground her teeth together before glaring over at Scrivener Blooms, who grimaced a bit and looked moodily up.

“We're here to see the Inquisitors.” he said mildly, and then he added almost offhoof: “Valprez mentioned something about wanting all the prisoners and damned out early today.”

Both Wrath demons straightened slightly at this, looking surprised,but they hurriedly regained their composure... or rather, tried to. Neither managed to inject a whole lot of confidence into their grins or their movements, as one of them reached back and shoved the double doors open. “Yeah, well... I suppose we can let you through, then. Have fun.”

“Oh, we will.” Scrivener muttered, and then the stallion shook his head with a grumble as Luna and Twilight followed. One day, the two idiots here would eventually figure out he was just dropping the name of the biggest, meanest demon he'd met, and then this little trick wouldn't work anymore... but for now, it was still the easiest way to get in and out of the fortress without being slowed down too much by the... well, the bullies, really. They were just brutes in armor, hiding not behind their weapons or muscles, but instead the fact that if anyone attacked them they would end up getting sent to one of Helheim's prisons. And prison in Hell was absolutely not a place you wanted to be.

They strode into the empty lobby, crossing it towards the single desk, manned by a single creature wearing a mask and calmly, slowly sorting through forms. An ornate mask hid his features from view, and his movements were deliberate and measured, looking unfettered by both the pile of paperwork... or the screams echoing down the long hall behind him, as the devil asked coolly: “Yes?”

“We're here for Punishment.” Scrivener said quietly, and then he, Twilight, and Luna all bowed their heads low. There was a certain etiquette to be followed here, in spite of all the bitterness... more of the game. More of 'learning their place,' so to speak.

The devil looked up at them, then simply nodded before he drew his eyes down, saying softly: “You may escort yourselves to your rooms, and the Inquisitors will be with you shortly.”

The ponies smiled awkwardly as they straightened, remembering to remain polite, trying to summon up as much dignity as they could as they strode past and headed towards the hallway... and then the stallion froze and shrank down a bit as the devil added calmly: “Oh, and Scrivener Blooms? Do not mention Lord Valprez's name in vain again, unless you have dealings with him. Consider this your sole warning on the subject.”

“Yes, uh, thank you. I. I won't do it again.” Scrivener Blooms said awkwardly, and then he turned with a wince as Luna and Twilight both sighed: in relief, more than anything else. Considering what could have happened to him, the stallion had gotten off lucky.

The group made their way into the hall, then shivered a little as they heard screams and... other sounds echoing all around them out of the armored, heavy doors that lined the corridor. Then Luna sighed quietly, turning towards one door marked by a large '3,' and she muttered: “Well, my mares... I shall see thee after this humbling. And then we shall return to Cowlick's to be beaten on further.”

Scrivener made a bit of a face, then he sighed and nodded a little as Luna slowly hauled the heavy door open and let herself into the cell. The stallion and the violet mare watched her go, and then the Lich looked worriedly over at the charcoal earth pony, but he only gave a brief smile and said quietly: “It'll be okay. Come on, they're watching us.”

Twilight Sparkle nodded slowly, and the two walked to another door, labeled '6,' before Scrivener sighed and let himself in. She had wanted to hug him, but all she could do was watch, just like she had with Luna instead of kissing her. And why? Because if they made any contact while in this building, their Punishments would be doubled in intensity.

Rules, rules, rules... there were so many rules. Twilight Sparkle hated it, yet... admired it, as she strode quickly down to the door labeled '9' and let herself in without hesitation. It swung shut behind her, and the mare was careful to catch the edge of it before gently sliding it closed to avoid a bang. Another rule: it seemed like she always ended up with more than Scrivener or Luna had to obey. But her Punishments were also easier on her... and maybe it was because she admired the structure. After all, they were in Helheim: they didn't deserve freedom, that had to be earned here. And all your crimes had to be paid for, in blood... and more.

The Lich shivered a little, then winced a bit when a light flickered on in the ceiling, illuminating the cold, cubical cell she was in... and saturating the entire cell with antimagic. She shivered a little in pain, then closed her eyes as a figure stepped out of the corner, remaining mostly-hidden in the shadows as it said softly: “Good. But you're a little early today... about... fifty-four seconds. You've cost me my free time, so I'll cost you yours. And as mine is far more valuable than yours is, you can stay fifty-four minutes longer.”

The figure reached up and calmly adjusted a clock on the wall, and Twilight closed her eyes as she felt the temporal distortion ripple around her. A power beyond magic, as her perceptions were altered, and this room was sealed in its own little bubble of time and space... “Thank you for spending your time with me.”

“Good. Civil, obedient. Good.” the demon said softly, and then it smiled at her through the shadows, calmly producing a booklet. Most of the Inquisitors were fond of rules, agendas, schedules... and using the immense authority and power they were given by Hel to ensure they did their jobs well-beyond what was required of them.

Twilight bowed her head forwards... and meanwhile, Scrivener Blooms was already strapped back to a torture rack, as featureless creatures moved around him, bleeding him, cutting him... hurting him. They were just getting started, though: this was the foreplay before the main event. They were getting in his head, making him scared of what they were going to do next, chipping away his armor as he only saw flashes of instruments in the darkness, and they remained calm, and silent, and faceless. And that bothered him most of all: they were impossible for him to really see, and he was powerless against them, immobilized, and worse... they never talked. They never showed emotion. They never made rules or called him names or ever responded to his taunts or jibes. They were like automatons.

They moved around him, preparing their instruments, and he shivered a little and closed his eyes... and felt something push at his mouth, scrape his teeth. His eyes immediately snapped open in horror, and then he shouted, trying uselessly to draw away as he saw pliers and needles and hooks descending down towards him...

And as Scrivener howled in the darkness, Luna Brynhild shivered a little bit and grit her teeth, trying to keep her gaze focused ahead. All around her was light and warmth and laughter, and ponies were walking around her, brushing against her... touching her...

She bared her fangs, but the blinders around her eyes didn't let her see, and there was a chain around her neck attached to the base of a large, steel post that she couldn't move, couldn't bend, couldn't break. She was dressed in leather boots with soft, rounded cups over her hooves that made it painful to walk and impossible for her to hurt anyone with her hooves, and the skintight material stretched all the way up to her shoulders. A thin, tiny skirt drew attention to her already-bruised rear, and a corset was tightly strapped around her upper body, making it hard to breathe, with ribbons along the back that people could grasp like a harness when they wanted to jerk her into some new position or... or...

She clenched her eyes shut, and smelled alcohol and heard drugged giggling. She felt helpless, and her whole body shivered, and it was hot and she hurt and...

Her eyes opened, staring weakly out, watching as both mares and stallions were led by, by other mares in pretty dresses and stallions in handsome suits, all of them looking so cultured even as they drank and injected themselves with needles and snorted powders of various color and purity, shoving their muzzles into the clefts of the body parts they had spread lines of substances along.

Luna shuddered, and then she snarled, tears forming in her eyes and her teeth biting the bit in her jaws, but refusing to give in, refusing to cry, as she felt a hoof grasp into that sacred part of her and a body sprawl itself over hers. The roof was rough and masculine, but the body was female, whispering down into her ear as a gorgeous red dress spilled like blood around Luna's frame: “It's your proper place, Valkyrie, isn't it? Whore of the gods, yes?”

“There are only two classes of ponies... the dirty, like you...” said a male voice, and then Luna felt her head forced upwards, forced to watch as Celestia strode calmly by, dressed in regal garments and with four slavering, leather-bound servants crawling along beside her, all leashed to the base of her flowing tail. “And the Clean.”

Luna snarled, trembling violently as she shook her head, and they... were laughing at her, and all around her, and she was so helpless, so useless, so... filthy. And they grasped her and poured alcohol over her and they shoved things in her and she was just another piece of meat and entertainment, but she... she wouldn't let them make her cry today. She would do better than survive this humiliation, this degradation, this... agony, and she would... one day, she would show all these 'Clean' ponies what a 'dirty little whore' like her could do...

She kept her promise to herself: she survived the hour, and then she was back in the prison cell, her body still... stained, and reeking, and bruised and even bloody... before she shivered and slowly picked herself up, then looked up to see a bathtub had appeared near the back of the cell. But the tub was full of mire and blood, and Luna looked it at, miserably, silently, before she strode slowly forwards and pulled herself over the rim of it, shakily submerging herself into the poisonous mix.

It burned her, but it soothed her; she felt weak and pathetic and guilty, and she felt comforted and like her strength was returning and like... she was accepting herself. These Punishments... they were cruel, and they were all designed to break them, and torment them, and hurt them to the very core. They were designed to be unforgivable, and yet they were being forced to forgive them all the same: to even be thankful for them, even if those were only mouthed words.

Why? Because they were in Helheim. Because they were going through what they had earned together... and oh, yes, Hell's teaching methods were cruel and draconian, but not hard to comprehend when you understood what was going on. Hel herself, after all, wanted more than for them to just learn from their mistakes or be 'rehabilitated' into demons who would serve Hel's interests. She wanted them tortured into the cruelest possible torturers they could be themselves.

Luna sat in the tub, and then she looked up silently as a pretty mare appeared on the outside of the tub, a mare who looked almost exactly like her... only... Clean. A mare who smiled at her, beautiful and untouchable, as she said softly: “You could be me. You could be free of the pain of going through this Hell. You... can be above. If you just accept it...”

“Accept what?” Luna snarled, looking up before she splashed the mess of black and red towards the mare, but it didn't even touch this Clean Luna. “That all mares are weak and pathetic and should be subservient? That secretly, I desire to be controlled, and this is... supposed to be some sick and twisted gift? Or that in truth, I am the prey in these... these sordid torments... because I long to be the predator? All I accept is that thou art a liar and a coward!”

“Luna, Luna, Luna...” The Clean Luna clicked her tongue quietly, shaking her head slowly before she said softly: “It's simpler than that. All you have to do... is enjoy yourself. Have a little drink. Taste a little poison. And then the suffering will be over.”

“The suffering will never be over.” Luna whispered, looking down and shaking her head before she gritted her teeth, silently rubbing at one foreleg. “I sit here in a tub of poison, monster. And I am covered in blood and bruises... and... I know not whether I reflect more Lust or Wrath. Because all I can think of is visiting my pain upon those who have hurt me.”

The Clean Luna smiled... then looked up as there was a dull sound like a bell, the mare saying softly: “Just as we start making some progress, we're out of time. The only way through Punishment is to learn and accept things as they are. To step beyond the lies, and to get rid of the anger. To descend into darkness, and to overcome it. To be redeemed... though pain. The pain that you deserve and earn from what you have visited upon others.”

“I thought thou said we are done.” Luna said grouchily, and the Clean Luna sighed and rolled her eyes before suddenly reaching forwards and grasping Luna's face, and the sapphire mare's eyes bulged before she was pulled into a kiss: a kiss that was shockingly passionate, tender, and warm.

And then Clean Luna pulled back and smiled kindly, saying softly: “Now we're done. And I don't think you're weak. I don't think little of mares. I don't think you're just an object. I don't punish you based on what I think, though. I punish you based on what you think.”

Luna flushed and shifted silently, then clenched her eyes shut before looking up angrily, opening her mouth... but now she was just sitting on the floor, her body healed and almost sparkling clean, alone in the empty cell. She mouthed slowly, disbelievingly to herself, then she silently reached up and touched her collar, taking strength in the feel of the black pearl before awkwardly checking herself again and standing shakily up.

No bruises, no humiliating clothes, no pain... like it had all been a dream. Except... beneath the skin, she felt a faint thrum that told her it hadn't been. She shivered a little and looked down, then shook her head slowly and whispered: “Nay, 'twas... 'twas half-dream. My mind created the image... the Inquisitor did the rest.”

She shook her head briefly, then looked down and reached up a hoof, studying it before looking almost guiltily back and forth, and then she whispered: “I shan't be broken. My desires are not... so terrible. My darkness is not so deep and great, I am not so greedy, I am...”

Luna looked slowly up, and then she shook her head quickly and shuddered even as she felt... something evil, and hateful, writhing slowly inside of her. Something that envied all the powers of the Inquisitors and wanted to visit even worse punishments on the heads of those who had hurt her... and even just those who had disgusted her. But then again... she couldn't say that she wasn't guilty of... awful things, as it was.

She slowly walked towards the door, silently opening it and stepping out into the hall, taking a slow breath as she leaned back against it and shuddered. She looked down the corridor, but neither Scrivener nor Twilight were apparently out yet... and she wondered bitterly what kind of torments they would go through today. The three of them would end up comparing scars, comforting each other... but already, Luna could feel herself... trying to compartmentalize things. Trying to... not accept, not move on, but... swallow it for now.

She turned to head towards the lobby, passing the Devil working at the desk and silently taking a seat against the side of the room, breathing slowly in and out as she dropped her face in her hooves. Her mind was racing, like it always did after... this kind of torture... but she didn't know what to do or say. There really wasn't anything she could do or say: this was just part of Helheim. Part of them being broken, and violated, and remade into Hel's playthings. And in some sick, twisted way, part of how she was being forced to... find herself.

Twilight Sparkle was the next pony out: she joined Luna in the lobby, and it was hard for the two not to embrace each other, to only share emotions and thoughts. But that alone was enough for Luna to start raising her head slowly and move forwards with things, the mares trading faint smiles even as the sapphire winged unicorn murmured: “Thou always gets... the easier punishments.”

Twilight laughed a little at this, flexing her hoof slowly as she said quietly: “It all depends on the Inquisitor for the day... do you still not know who yours is?”

“Kindlegras likes to strike and beat me, and Orillia is... 'creative...'” Luna made a moue of distaste. “But I do not know who this... this... shapeshifter is. I think 'tis female, though. She enjoys and wears my form too naturally. And she knows... how to...”

Luna shivered and looked away, shaking her head shortly, and Twilight softened, reaching up a hoof... but then quickly pulling it back as the Devil glanced up for a moment before returning his uncaring eyes to the papers in front of him.

There was silence, and then Luna cleared her throat before asking finally: “And, well... thou, uh... thou wert just...”

“Learning my place. That's all.” Twilight Sparkle smiled faintly, shaking her head and looking down. A small shiver ran through her, but at the same time, she knew she was lucky: what she had gone through was nothing compared to what Luna had suffered. “I wish... I could do more for you.”

The sapphire mare only looked up with a small smile, and there was silence for a few moments before both ponies gazed up with relief as Scrivener Blooms strode out of the hall. He was shivering a little, but when he looked up, he only shook his head quickly, and they both felt his worry for them and his acknowledgment of... what they needed right now as he murmured quietly: “Let's get out of here.”

The two mares nodded to him, and the three quickly made their way out of the building. The guards mocked them as they walked away, but the trio barely heard it as they headed out of the gates and into the frozen tundra.

They halted, still sitting a little apart from each other before Twilight Sparkle flicked her horn, creating a portal as she said quietly: “Because I think we kind of need a little privacy right now.”

Luna and Scrivener both smiled a little, understanding and nodding slowly in agreement. But all three ponies were caught by surprise when they emerged through the portal in front of a pair of open iron gates, leading down a path through a snowy field composed of self-warming stones, the trio staring in surprise at the mansion in the distance.

They almost didn't recognize it: it was beautiful, not a speck of frost on it, freshly-painted and with a gorgeous fountain in a small, circular garden out in front. And Twilight hurried towards this with a look of awe on her features as Scrivener and Luna followed after a moment, looking back and forth dumbly as the Lich said quickly: “Hel must have fixed it already! I didn't think she'd be so fast... and... oh wow, I... that's us!”

Scrivener and Luna looked dumbly at the statue in the center of the round garden, and realized that... yes, indeed, it was actually them. He and Luna, stretched upwards and framing Twilight Sparkle, who was posed with her wings spread and her core... “Holy crap, is that a diamond? It's like. The size of my head. A dragon would do a tap-dance version of The Icepony Cometh for that thing.”

“Or just eat thou, if thou had it.” Luna said pointedly, and the stallion gave her a dry look before she huffed quietly, then poked at him once with her horn before closing her eyes and dropping herself against him silently, the earth pony quietly sliding a foreleg around her body and squeezing her gently close, gazing at her softly.

Twilight Sparkle, meanwhile, was staring over the statues, enraptured by it. And then the Lich blinked in surprise as a frosty puppet calmly slipped out from behind the statues, gesturing at the mansion and asking pleasantly: “So what do you think?”

Luna bared her fangs at Hel, but she couldn't manage much venom: Hel was Queen of Helheim, the ultimate master of every Inquisitor and Archivist and all the awful things that happened in this icy underworld... and yet in a way, she was also the only thing that stopped it from getting any worse. That gave structure and reason to even... even torments as horrible as they had been forced through.

And there was the fear, of course, that was always extra-prevalent after these torture sessions. With a single word or gesture, Hel could have them sent back into Punishment, into those nightmares... or worse.

The ponies looked at the dark goddess, and she smiled to them kindly, lacing her fingers together and saying softly: “Bad timing, huh? But hey, I'm coming with good news for my sweetest little munchies, at least! Well. Sort of good news. See, it turns out that I really don't need this place after all. A rather annoying Greed Devil had a little accident. He uh. Slipped. Getting out of his bathtub. And exploded. Not a suspicious death at all, though, I mean. All the pieces of him were actually scattered around the bathroom, and there were clearly signs of a random act of self-immolation. Happens now and then. Greed Devils, silly things. Very volatile. Don't take falling over very well.”

The ponies stared up at Hel for a few moments, and the dark goddess shrugged before tapping her fingers together and saying positively: “He was a nasty little bastard anyway. Blew up an orphanage. I guess some small part of him felt bad and decided to blow him up. Was probably the hard knock to the floor that did that. Knocked some sense into him and he immolated. Again, happens all the time, not that big a deal, no investigation necessary. Cool house, though. The Inquisitors can search the house, the personal golf course, the small farming facility, and all that stuff while they move in. See, Greed Devils pretty much never write wills, because then they have a habit of being horribly killed. So that means it always ends up going... to me.”

There was silence for a few moments as the three ponies shifted, and then Hel grimaced a little before she mumbled: “Well, this is no fun at all. You three are supposed to be happy for me! Or at least a little irritated. Or maybe, I dunno, usually there's more moral outrage. My name, I'll even take a nice 'thank you' for giving you guys a goddamn mansion, not to mention the fact that I fixed the stupid thing up for you!”

Scrivener and Luna traded looks, and then Twilight Sparkle lowered her head and said quietly: “It's really nice, but... we have an hour of rest time right now, right? We... we'd just like a little bit of privacy, that's all.”

Hel looked miffed at this, crossing her arms slowly and glowering down at the Lich before her eyes flicked up to Luna... but after a moment, the dark goddess seemed to relent a little, muttering: “Oh, fine, but only because you three are my favorite. I'll give you... twenty minutes to check out the house together. Then get yourselves together and get going. Remember, Punishment happens to every damned soul, every day. What you go through, and worse. You either survive it, or let it break you down into a gibbering mass that'll become one of my beast demon pets.”

The three ponies traded looks at this, and then Luna Brynhild simply nodded briefly, forcing herself to take a slow breath even as she felt... anger and bitterness and other unpleasant emotions twist through her body. “I... I know, Hel. Aye, very well... I shall not allow thou to break me.”

“Good. I don't want to. But you need harsh Punishments, because I need a lot in a little bit of time... and I need you at your roughest and toughest.” The dark goddess smiled softly, saying gently: “You don't need to worry though, cinnamon. I've seen things you can't even imagine, not even with what you've seen and been through so far. And who knows? Keep up the good work and maybe one day... you'll get that chance you've always dreamed of.”

She stopped, then gestured absently back at the mansion, saying cheerfully: “Anyway. As part of 'fixing things up,' I stocked your pantry and put in a few nice chairs and even gave you some servants. Not that you'll be here to take advantage of them just yet. And I also transferred some texts from the Archives here... I figure you can use them better than anyone else, after all. And seeing them put to use, that's the important thing, you know. So. Put 'em to use.”

Twilight smiled a little, even as Scrivener Blooms shifted apprehensively and Luna scowled, muttering: “Such generosity, 'tis much appreciated... although 'tis also very suspicious. Thou art not the goddess of nice things and puppies, after all. Thou art the goddess of Helheim.”

“Hey, screw you, I can be nice. I can be super nice. I can be nicer than you can ever pretend to be, cinnamon.” argued Hel, looking cranky as she crossed her arms and sniffed disdainfully. “Besides, what do you know about niceness, Valkyrie? Your entire existence is based around mocking and punching people.”

Luna grumbled grouchily at this as Scrivener shifted a little, and then Twilight Sparkle looked up and asked hesitantly: “What kind of servants are they?”

“Huh? Oh. Ones suited for your tastes... open-minded, paid for by yours truly, no grasp of their legal rights and best of all, all of them are wearing control collars. So even if they're actually gossipy gossipers instead of quiet... uh... quieties, they still can't say a damn word without the say-so of me or you three.” Hel replied cheerfully, flicking a wrist and then bowing deeply.

Scrivener, Luna, and Twilight traded looks again, and then the sapphire mare said wryly: “Wonderful. I see now: thou art trying to give us ponies whom we shall visit our pain upon. But I shall not inflict suffering upon others, just because I am being forced to suffer myself.”

“Because you never have before.” Hel said gently, and the sapphire mare looked up with a snarl before the dark goddess simply bowed low to them, saying reasonably: “We're both hitting below the belt now, so maybe I should go and you guys should take a look at your home, huh? And if you want, I'll have some pills mixed up for you. Something to help... take the edge off. I make some fantastic anxiety meds, you just wait and see!”

“I... have something to take the edge off. But thou hast my... awkward thanks all the same, Hel. 'Tis nice of thee to be... nice.” Luna said after a few moments, then she grimaced a bit at the frost puppet, bowing her head and muttering: “Thou... hast our thanks for all... this.”

She gestured awkwardly out towards the mansion, and Hel looked appeased by the fumbling gratitude, nodding firmly a few times before she simply bowed deeply and burst apart into blue smoke that quickly vanished into the air. The three ponies sat for a moment, and then Luna sighed quietly before giving a faint smile towards Scrivener Blooms, murmuring: “I... I could use... a little...”

Scrivener softened, looking over at her quietly, and the sapphire mare shifted uncomfortably before she licked her lips slowly, flushing a bit as she felt both Scrivener and Twilight's eyes on her. But now the hunger was rising up more and more, and the need to replace... pain with pleasure, and the... just the want to get away from everything, if only for a moment...

“Are you sure? You can't hold out, maybe even just until we get inside?” Twilight Sparkle asked carefully, and Luna felt the mare's hoof gently rub along her back, and Scrivener's own foreleg wrapped tightly around her shoulders. She felt their love, and their compassion, and their concern for her above all else... and she felt them willing to help her even with this.

She didn't know if they fully understood or not what it was like for her, especially when she found herself falling into this... haze, this pain. But they were there for her: there was no judgment, and there was recognition that she needed this boost sometimes and... there was love for her. There was a willingness to help her through this: not a stubborn refusal because they thought they knew what was best for her. Yes, neither of them wanted her to take the poison, she knew that, she felt that... but sometimes she needed it. Right now, she needed it, to stay stable. To stay strong.

She knew they were afraid that she was going to become like Cowlick, or maybe worse... but she wasn't going to ever let that happen to her. She just needed... a little taste now. A little boost, and after what she'd suffered, how she'd been taunted... how was she supposed to survive without it? And she knew both Scrivener Blooms and Twilight Sparkle could feel those rollicking emotions, and she leaned on them a little, sent her thoughts and emotions, unfiltered, to the two... and after a moment, she could feel them both relenting.

Scrivener leaned to the side, and Twilight Sparkle's hooves rubbed gently along her back as Luna stretched up, jaws opening wide before biting down hungrily, unable to mask her excitement, her growing desire and hunger. And the moment she bit into Scrivener's neck, tasted that black blood... everything was better. The pain was washed away, and she was no longer some abused sex object, scared and shivering, she was a powerful goddess all her own, that no pony could lay a hoof on unless she desired it. She was back in control, and as she greedily drank down gulp after gulp of black blood from Scrivener's throat, she felt... happy, and safe, and nothing else mattered.

Her muscles bulged, then flexed as black veins spread through her entire body, her mane writhing and bursting into a mix of black and blue flames, twisting back and forth as she arched her back against Twilight's touches and buried herself further against Scrivener, tongue licking the wound in his throat as a hoof stroked slowly down his broad chest. Her body shivered, inhibitions vanishing with her fears, grin spreading wider... and then she her teeth finally drew back, if only so she could kiss up Scrivener's neck and whisper in his ear: “All my love and thanks, my handsome... my monster...”

“Monster...” Scrivener had his back arched, his teeth grit, his expression torn between pain and pleasure. Because he was a monster, and as his eyes looked down towards Luna, part of him... wanted to delight in this. How she was almost drooling over him, how she was staring up at him so hungrily, so eagerly. And part of him wanted to hit her... just because he could, because part of him was primal and vicious and always thirsted for stupid, brute dominance. And part of him wanted to cry, because he hated every other part of himself and the fact that he was doing this to his own goddamn soulmate, who he loved more than he would ever care about himself.

Twilight Sparkle shifted silently, looking away, ashamed, but... unable to speak up. They scared her when they got like this, and she was worried about Luna and how this was twisting her, and she wondered if they would ever be free of these bonds and nooses they had made themselves... but what bothered her most of all was that tumorous, dark part of her that... liked this. Liked the fact she had two ponies who could honestly terrify her at times still... as her lovers. She wanted them to scare her. She wanted them to be in control. She wanted them to make the rules... because she knew that the finest form of rule stemmed from control. She remembered when she had all that power, when she'd become a dark goddess while fighting He Of Many Countless Faces thanks to Gymbr's soulstone... but when Scrivener and Luna had asked her to let them join in, she had. She had gone out of her way to give them power, make them part of the fight, and then watch and let them play with their prey... that was the kind of power she craved.

The controlled, controlled: the controller, did not. She wanted to experience more of that, indulge deeper in that dark, hidden part of her that she was only just now starting to understand after all their time, here in Helheim... but now wasn't the time.

And hard as it was, the violet mare forced herself to straighten up, breathing slowly as she quietly grasped Luna Brynhild and shook her gently, murmuring: “Come on, guys. We... we only have a few minutes left now, before we have to head back to Cowlick's lab.”

The sapphire mare was silent for a moment, and then she shivered a little before glancing up with a faint smile as the feelings of pleasure already started to recede... and shame, and guilt, and pain were taking their place, as she slowly pushed herself away from Scrivener and Twilight, shaking herself out as she murmured: “Aye, I... I think that would be best. Let... let us go inside and see what Hel has done for us.”

Luna shifted awkwardly, faint black veins burning beneath her hide as Scrivener Blooms breathed slowly and straightened, and Twilight Sparkle gave a small smile in response. The three only sat for a moment longer as Luna's mane gradually settled back into dark, galactic waves, and then she murmured quietly: “I apologize, my family. I have... it just hurts.”

Scrivener and Twilight looked at her for a moment, and then the stallion reached up and quietly touched the wound just above his collar, smiling faintly and nodding briefly as he said gently: “Yeah. I know, Luna. We're just... going to take things one step at a time, and we'll make it through this.”

Twilight Sparkle gazed softly over at the mare, nodding in agreement, and after a moment Luna Brynhild straightened and shook herself out, mumbling: “Damnation. How I hate the entire world. How I hate myself. And I hate thou too, Scrivy, thou art fat.”

“I know, I know.” Scrivener shook his head slowly, giving her a quietly-entertained look before he gave a sigh, leaning over and kissing Luna's cheek. She blushed and dropped her head with a grumble against him, and the stallion smiled despite himself before he said softly: “I like being bigger than you. It's kind of nice.”

Luna looked up at him grouchily at this, and then she firmly punched him in the stomach, the stallion wheezing and curling up as he hugged himself, mumbling weakly as the sapphire mare sniffed loudly and turned away to stride in the direction of the mansion, Twilight sighing and shaking her head slowly. Then the Lich softened as she looked at Scrivener, and the stallion looked up and traded a small smile with her: it was always so strangely reassuring to see Luna... being Luna.

After a moment of the stallion wheezing for breath he realized awkwardly he didn't really need, they followed Luna to the open doors of the mansion and into the entrance hall. And both were surprised to see that Hel hadn't just updated and repaired everything: the entire interior décor had changed as much as the outer, if not more and the whole place simply looked... well, regal, in a word. Suits of armor, fancy carpets, pictures on the walls and expensive gemstone lanterns providing light...

The charcoal stallion whistled quietly, and Luna and Twilight both stared around before Luna hurriedly trotted over to one suit of armor, gazing over it with awe before she whispered: “'Tis... 'tis just like the armor of the warriors of Valhalla! 'Tis incredible!”

“Well, with everything Hel's said...” Scrivener Blooms and Twilight sparkle traded looks, then they both shrugged as Luna gazed back and forth around the main hall with excitement. “What we should really check out is the kitchen. It'd be great if we actually had... you know, stuff.”

“Oh, thou art such a mare.” Luna said wryly, turning around and giving the stallion an entertained look before she smiled slightly after a moment and nodded firmly. “But thou may actually have a point, aye. We may have real coffee. I could use a coffee, Scrivy.”

“I don't think I can make you a coffee in three minutes.” Scrivener Bloom said mildly, and the sapphire mare huffed a bit.

“'Tis stupid. I must wait for water to boil and then coffee to drip, 'tis stupid. Then very well, let us return to Cowlick's laboratory now, before I get too lost in fantasies of what I cannot yet have. Perhaps we can harass Cowlick into creating some sort of magical instant coffeemaker for us. 'Twould be most excellent.”

Scrivener Blooms looked at the mare with mild entertainment, and then Twilight said hesitantly: “I hate to point this out, Luna, but uh... Cowlick probably doesn't like us all that much right now. She might not be exactly willing to work on any projects outside of what she absolutely has to.”

Luna only huffed, then turned around and waved her horn back and forth until Twilight Sparkle sighed and easily flicked her own horn, then grimaced a bit as she felt a strange force push at her, like something had just shoved back against her magic and... changed it, somehow. All the same, when the portal opened, there was no rush of terrible nothingness or chaos, and it didn't feel distorted at all... “Wait, I think that...”

But Luna was already heading towards the portal, and Scrivener and Twilight both winced before hurrying after the mare, the three passing through the rift with bright flashes one after the other... and then the trio stumbling to a halt on the other side as they found themselves at the base of the road leading up to Cowlick's lab instead of in the laboratory itself.

“I... she must have activated the shielding.” Twilight said after a moment, and then she blinked slowly before turning a disbelieving look to Luna and Scrivener. “Which means we have five minutes to get up to the fortress or we're going to be considered absent from duties.”

“Oh hell.” Scrivener groaned loudly, then he flinched when Luna and Twilight both broke into sprints, the stallion hurrying after them with a wheeze as he shouted: “Just teleport us!”

“I can't! If I can't portal into a location, then I can't teleport into it either!” Twilight Sparkle said sharply, and then she grimaced before leaning forwards and gritting her teeth, her body turning dead black as she ran and her eyes becoming glowing amethyst pits, before the now silent mare suddenly spun around and dove at Scrivener Blooms.

The stallion winced as she washed over him, vertigo tearing at his senses before he felt himself into a small, rounded room, the stallion groaning as he landed on his back and stared dumbly up at the 'ceiling' as the walls around her vibrated and reverberated... and then only second later, the charcoal earth pony looked dumbly up to see Luna being flung through a wall, before wheezing in pain as she landed on him with a thud, the two flailing at each other helplessly for a moment before they simply glared at each other.

Around them, the walls vibrated... while a liquid shadow shot up the ramp towards the fortress, streaking back and forth and occasionally forming into a sprinting, chubby-looking winged unicorn before diving back into the ground to continue shooting forwards. Meanwhile, Scrivener and Luna were only aware of the darkness around them as they sat together, before the sapphire mare murmured: “I am sorry, Scrivy. Thou and Twilight both handle the corruption well. I do not. I am weak.”

“You're not weak.” Scrivener Blooms said quietly, glancing over at the sapphire mare and giving a small smile. “And my corruption didn't do this to Twilight, so... stop your introspection. Whenever you get whiny like this I get... I get really worried about you.”

Luna chuckled softly, and then she looked up at him softly, replying in a murmur: “'Twould be lying if thou did not admit thy corruption had something to do with this, though... 'twas not long ago, we were terrified of the thought of giving Twilight thy blood. Now... thy blood is what runs through her veins...” Luna bit her lip for a moment. “It makes me jealous. Of her... and of thee.”

Scrivener Blooms only replied by wrapping a foreleg tightly around Luna's shoulders, and the mare dropped her head against him with a quiet sigh before the world around them rumbled and constricted. The ponies winced and looked up in surprise, not entirely sure of what was happening, before the solid shadows surrounding them suddenly rippled violently and launched them forwards.

In front of Cowlick, chubby Twilight Sparkle made a retching motion before she seemed to spit out both Luna and Scrivener, both ponies landing on their rumps and clutching at each other, looking a little bedraggled, and Cowlick studied the two for a few moments before she sniffed loudly and said mildly: “Guess I can't blame you for looking a little stupider than usual. Not bad though, Twilight, even if eating those two made you look kinda fat. In a cute way though, or... whatever makes you feel better, I'm not any good at this socializing crap anymore.

“I've got new orders from Hel, though. We're intensifying your treatments and your tortures.” Cowlick gave a bitter, half-pleased and half-loathing grin, and Luna, Scrivener, and Twilight all looked up uneasily, as the shadows slid away from the mare's body. “Congratulations. You're about to get the full Helheim experience after all. Here's hoping that you can handle it.”

“Wait, what? What does thou mean?” Luna asked almost desperately, as a flash of memory traveled through her before gritted her teeth, snapping before she could stop herself: “Hel cannot do this to us after... promising gifts!”

Cowlick looked at the sapphire mare for a moment... then threw her head back and laughed. She laughed loud and long and hard, until her sardonic merriment finally died down into a cold grin, looking icily into Luna's eyes. “Because why not? 'Cause it ain't right? Well, she's got no honor. Because, what, you'll fight? You know as well as I do that just leads to more Punishment... and the Inquisitors are shielded by the Archives' magic, and Hel herself. You might eventually be able to punch through that barrier... but can you do it before a hundred other Inquisitors come down on your ass? And say you kill them all. Say you defeat even the High Inquisitors and the Grand Inquisitor that oversees the whole district. Great job.

“And then, here comes Hel. You might be able to kill Teddy, from what I hear... but whether or not you can beat Hel is irrelevant. Because you need her help.” Cowlick trembled, and then she suddenly stepped forwards and seized Luna by the throat, hauling her high into the air above her head as the sapphire mare grasped at her hooves and stared at her with shock. “Because we need Hel's help to stop the Light, save Heaven, and save the last few goddamn things worth saving, even if she's a monster and a bitch and a hundred awful other things.”

Luna breathed hard in and out, and then Cowlick flung her down on her back, the sapphire mare bouncing painfully against the cold steel floor as Cowlick dropped to all fours and said quietly: “So shut your goddamn, stupid, drug-addled mouth, and for once in your life... your afterlife, even... just bow your head and listen. Because sometimes you just have to suck it up and push through instead of wanting every little goddamn thing to go your way. Now let's go, we're going to get started. And once this is all over and done with, then you can decide if you want to try and ruin all of Helheim just to get back at Hel or not.”

The trio stared after Cowlick as she walked slowly away... and then, knowing no other option, Luna Brynhild slowly climbed to her hooves and followed, her partners falling in step beside her, none of them knowing any other choice but to listen to Cowlick's cruel but much-needed advice.

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