• 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 Deepening Darkness

Chapter Eighty Six: The Deepening Darkness
~BlackRoseRaven

Twilight Sparkle breathed hard in and out, and Luna Brynhild bared her fangs before raising her head, shouting across at the violet mare despite the blood splattered over her body, and the way her legs were shaking beneath her: “Again!”

The Lich gritted her teeth, looking up as she sank her hooves into the mire, trying to draw strength from it: but the mire was favoring Luna more than her. Twilight could control and shape it better to her will, but Luna could pull energy much faster out of the dark gunk. For a moment, her strained mind couldn't help but wonder if Scrivener was choosing to help Luna more than her, though... but then the Lich shook her head quickly to clear it. That was a stupid thought, and letting herself go down that path was asking for trouble.

Scrivener Blooms caught it all the same, and then he grimaced a bit from the side of the narrow, rectangular training area they had taken over. He had converted the entire floor to mire, under Cowlick's orders: the engineer herself was now monitoring them, watching them fight and gaging their abilities, working out where they needed to improve and how well they were adjusting to the modifications that Cowlick was making to their bodies.

Then Luna suddenly growled in frustration and snapped her horn out, sending a blast of lightning ripping through the air towards Twilight, but the violet mare winced and just managed to swing her horn down and deflect it. “What are you doing?”

“I said again! Do not hesitate, strike!” Luna shouted, and Twilight Sparkle couldn't help but grit her teeth as Luna glared at her. “Show me thy strength, Twilight Sparkle, or hast thou lost it all in the tortures? Because need I remind thee, all of us have been going through those sufferings, and only thou art the one left crying from them!”

Twilight twitched as if struck, and then she bared her own fangs, even knowing what Luna was doing: riling her up, making her angry, either so she would make a stupid mistake... or more likely, she would start lashing out at the sapphire mare, not holding back. But then she caught herself as Scrivener looked at her pointedly, before the stallion looked back at Luna and said evenly: “Luna, don't.”

Luna cursed under her breath, but then stomped her front hooves and simply dropped her head forwards, muttering a little to herself. There was silence for a few moments, and then the sapphire mare looked up and said finally: “Very well. Then... I will surrender. I am in no mood for... this.”

She gestured grouchily with a hoof, and Twilight and Scrivener both softened and looked at the sapphire mare quietly for a few moments before they nodded uncomfortably. Luna nodded moodily back, and then she looked away, feeling a little... well, hurt, whether that was silly or not. It just seemed more and more like Scrivener and Twilight were ganging up on her, and it made her angry and want to strike out at them. And admittedly all the 'work' with Cowlick and the worsening tortures in the Punishment Center were also taking their toll on the already-moody sapphire mare.

There was silence for a few moments, and then Cowlick's voice echoed through a hidden intercom: “Trouble in Paradise? Great. That's the last thing we need right now, you three working out some weird divorce.”

“'Twould not work, the wife always gets fifty percent, and as I am the husband with two wives I would be left with nothing.” Luna grumbled, and Scrivener and Twilight both glowered at her: unlike usual, however, this just made Luna look bitterly back, muttering: “Aye. Just as I thought.”

For a moment, Scrivener only looked at her... and then the stallion closed his eyes before he suddenly straightened and walked calmly over to her. Luna glared up at him challengingly, and there was silence for a few moments before the stallion leaned down and said calmly: “Hit me.”

Luna rose a hoof... then shifted a little before she grumbled and firmly punched him in the chest. Then she squawked as, in response, Scrivener firmly smacked her, the mare blinking stupidly before the stallion said dryly: “Twilight and I are not going to abandon you, and you're being a complete, stupid bitch. Stop it.”

Luna Brynhild looked dumbly up at the stallion as he glowered back down at her, and then she scowled at him and punched him across the jaw, the earth pony wincing and stumbling a bit as he worked his mouth slowly before she growled: “Thou and Twilight have been bossing me around and treating me like a foal for the last week, ever since I gave in to my weakness and took a taste of thee! Thou art my equal partners, not my parents!”

“Good, because... you'd be a horrible kid to look after.” Scrivener retorted after a moment, and then he reached up and punched her back surprisingly hard, the mare staggering dumbly, then growling at him and tackling the stallion onto his back, slamming him down and pinning him as she glared furiously down at him, even as he managed to add: “And we love you and want what's best for you and sometimes you're too goddamn stupid to look after yourself!”

There was silence for a moment, and then Luna sighed and slowly pushed her hoof down against Scrivener's nose, looking down at him quietly as she murmured: “Aye. I know. I am sorry, Scrivy. I... I am trying though. Thou must both recognize that I am trying and... I am... I am like a coconut, Scrivy. I am impenetrable outside but my insides are still soft and squishy and full of milk. If thou and Twilight squish me too much my milk will bleed everywhere.”

“Luna, I... I'm sorry, too, but. Please don't use metaphors anymore, okay?” Scrivener said awkwardly, and Luna sighed as Twilight smiled faintly and strode over to the two, shaking her head slowly as she looked at them softly.

The violet mare and the sapphire winged unicorn looked at each other for a few moments, and then Luna gently pushed her hooves down into Scrivener's face to balance herself as she leaned up to share a quiet kiss with Twilight Sparkle. They parted after a moment, then traded soft smiles, and the Lich murmured: “I'm sorry.”

“Oh, shush. Thou does not have to be sorry. 'Tis all Scrivy's fault anyway.” Luna said wryly, and then she looked down at the charcoal stallion, who only sighed tiredly beneath her hooves. “Yes, thou art stupid. Thou art nothing but a great and stupid stupid. And fat as well.”

“Yeah, hey, guys, this is real cute and all, but knock it off.” Cowlick said sourly, and all three ponies looked dumbly up to see that she was now standing in the open doorway, gesturing at them grouchily. “We're going to need to upgrade your purification training again. You're not building up your resistances fast enough.”

The three stared, and then Twilight grimaced and looked at the ceiling awkwardly and the large gemstones glowing across it. “So you weren't just monitoring us, you were inundating us with... more purification again? Is that why Luna and I got... well... less than friendly with each other?”

Luna growled loudly at this, and then Cowlick rolled her eyes, muttering: “Fantastic. Yeah, sure, okay. You guys blame impossible crap on me, that sounds fine, instead of blaming Moron One and Moron Two for punching each other in the face. You know, in some cultures, like. Everywhere. That's considered abusive.”

Scrivener and Luna looked at each other for a few moments, and then the sapphire mare looked up and said huffily: “I am no mewling little filly, unable to defend myself, and he is no dumb brute. Why, 'twas very gentlecoltly, as a matter of fact! He permitted me to grace the first blow, did he not?”

The demon rolled her eyes at this before looking moodily over at Twilight Sparkle, and the violet mare shrugged awkwardly, saying finally: “Scrivener and I can rationally talk things out. Luna and I argue and sometimes... raise our voices a little. But... weird as it is... that's what works for them. Besides, they're not really... hurting each other.”

Cowlick looked at Twilight Sparkle for a few moments, and then she sighed tiredly before looking wryly over at Scrivener Blooms, asking moodily: “So when did it become okay for a stallion to hit a mare, anyway?”

“For one thing, we're in Hell. For another, I'm pretty sure Luna still has a weight advantage on me even if I have a height advantage. And also, Luna can beat the crap out of me.” Scrivener said mildly, and the sapphire mare nodded firmly a few times before she blinked, then glared down at the stallion and punched him lightly, making him wince and hold up a hoof. “Also that. Ouch.”

“Thou called me fat! I challenge to find a mare thou could call 'fat' without being struck, Scrivener Blooms!” Luna said indignantly, and then she added grouchily: “Besides, thou greatly outweighs me. Thou art a great dumb land-dragon. The fat dragon. Thou art the fat dragon. Beetle.”

Scrivener Blooms sighed a little at this, and then Cowlick rolled her eyes before jerking her head at them. “Come on, enough. Let's get going. I don't have the time to deal with this crap with you morons today.”

“I love how polite you are, really. You just have this eloquence that's all your own.” Scrivener Blooms said ironically, and Cowlick replied with a roll of her eyes and a short, rude gesture as Luna hopped off her husband, who crawled awkwardly up to his hooves and only glowered in response to the engineer. “You're fantastic. Really.”

“I'm better than that.” Cowlick grunted, and then she shook her head and turned around, and the trio of ponies traded looks and shrugs before they followed the engineer into the corridor and down the path, as she said irritably: “I'm wasting all kinds of energy and creating all kinds of holy resonance and residue trying to imbue you morons with resistance to purification. But it just doesn't seem to be taking all that well... it ain't working right because you three are just so full of the opposite energy. I'm going to try one last dose on you, and if your resistances haven't improved any further, we're going to try going at this from a different angle.”

Scrivener and Luna traded grimaces, and Twilight Sparkle asked hesitantly: “Does Hel know about this? Maybe she might be able to-”

Cowlick groaned and rolled her eyes, then asked irritably: “Hey, Twilight, maybe you could stop trying to drag Mommy into this and let me do my goddamn job, huh, how the hell about that?” She stopped, looking ruffled, and Twilight simply nodded awkwardly before the engineer grunted. “Good.”

There was silence for a moment, and then the engineer looked meditatively towards the elevator at the end of the hall, saying moodily: “And anyway, Hel does know, yeah. But she doesn't have any idea either. She's crazy smart but she doesn't know everything: stuff like this she leaves up to me. Because it's my goddamn job here, just like it was always my job in Ponyville, you get it?”

“Okay, okay. I'm sorry. I promise I won't question your expertise again, Cowlick, I didn't mean to. Maybe I'm still just... a little short-tempered after my sparring session.” Twilight said finally, shifting a little, and then she winced when Luna huffed at her loudly.

But as they halted in front of a set of closed elevator doors, Scrivener only absently wrapped a foreleg around Luna's neck and squeezed firmly, the sapphire mare huffing and wheezing as she grabbed weakly at the limb around her throat. Cowlick looked mildly at these two for a moment, then she returned her eyes to Twilight Sparkle, shrugging and muttering: “I guess I'm... probably a little less than nice myself sometimes, anyway.”

She paused, then reached down and popped the panel in her foreleg open before pulling out a cigarette and shoving this into her muzzle. She chewed thoughtfully on the bottom of it for a moment, then lit it by grinding her hooves together as she continued: “I'll scan you right after your next dose. If it doesn't start working, I'll take some time to work some other magic up, think I might have an idea. If it does start working, whoop-de-freaking-doo. Either way, you two are going back to the library. You need to do more theory work.”

Scrivener and Twilight looked up curiously at this as Luna groaned loudly, slumping against her husband before the elevator dinged open. The three ponies started forwards, and with one hoof, Cowlick easily shoved the trio of ponies backwards, making them wince before she said sourly: “I'll ride alone to the first floor.”

She hit the button to close the doors, and Luna blew a raspberry at the elevator the moment the doors shut before she scowled and muttered: “Wonderful. More reading. Have we not read volumes and sagas and entire chronicles in these last few weeks? Stories are silly. Damnation.”

“There are silly stories, but stories are rarely silly.” Scrivener said mildly, and Twilight nodded in agreement with a smile, which just made Luna glower at them both. “Well, it's true. And we're not even ganging up on you this time. I, for example, think that self-help books are worthless. Twilight Sparkle reads them like... readable candy.”

“I do not. Those aren't self-help books, those are... they're not!” Twilight blushed a bit, punching Scrivener Blooms lightly in the shoulder, and he only smiled amusedly at her before she turned away with a huff, but gave a small smile all the same before she stepped forwards, reaching for the elevator button.

Luna hurriedly leapt forwards and hip-checked Twilight out of the way, the Lich wincing a bit before Luna hammered the call button wildly, then sat back with a pleased look on her face as Scrivener and Twilight Sparkle both looked mildly at the sapphire mare. “I am the Mistress. Neither of thee are permitted to press buttons. 'Tis my job.”

“One day, Luna, we're going to just. Put you in a basket and leave you outside an orphanage or something. Except you'd probably gobble down all the foals, then come back to us with a stomachache, all whiny.” Scrivener Blooms said mildly. Luna glared at him, reaching out to grab him by the front of his collar as he winced, and then she glanced over her shoulder as the elevator doors beeped open.

For a moment, there was silence... and then Luna half-turned and flung Scrivener into the elevator, the stallion colliding with the back wall head-first before he flopped to the ground and groaned in pain, grasping at his skull.

Luna strutted proudly into the elevator, and Twilight Sparkle rolled her eyes before she hurried forwards when Luna pounded on one of the buttons on the control panel, the doors starting to close but the Lich transforming into near-liquid shadow that burst quickly into the car and landed beside Scrivener, reforming quickly into Twilight Sparkle as she glared at the sapphire mare.

Luna Brynhild only grinned widely at this, however, licking her lips and saying mildly: “Do not take this the wrong way, my dearest mare, but I find thy power to transform into the very stuff of shadows invigorating and most... delightful. I would direly adore exploring all the many different things we could do together with such powers...”

Twilight stared for a moment at Luna, and then Scrivener slowly stood up between the mares before he mumbled: “Luna, that's creepy. You need to be more tactful about being creepy. Like, start maybe with... 'can I hug your shadow body?'”

“Scrivy, thou art a great idiot. One does not simply ask to hug Twilight Sparkle.” Luna said seriously, and Scrivener and Twilight only looked at her before the sapphire mare said comfortably: “Thou must approach a mare either with head bowed to her will, or confident and prideful. The middle ground is not to be tolerated.”

The doors dinged open, and Luna led the others out as Scrivener and Twilight both looked meditatively after the sapphire mare, and then Twilight said finally: “I hate to say this, but... you know things have changed since your day, right, Luna? It just seems like the more time we spend in Helheim, the more you seem... um...”

“The only difference is that the mares of this day and age are so much more damned whiny.” Luna sniffed loudly, and then she paused and smiled a little, looking over her shoulder and pausing. “But perhaps thou has a point. I was a Valkyrie. I am Valkyrie. The kind of strength I bear is not to be expected in thy average filly, and nor have they survived even half of what I once endured daily... and only during peace times, at that!”

Twilight and Scrivener both smiled despite themselves, and Luna chuckled and nodded firmly before she turned her eyes forwards, heading to the end of the hall... and huffing as they entered the laboratory and found Cowlick already hard at work, the engineer grunting at them in greeting and jerking her head at the needles left out on the counter. The sapphire mare sniffed disdainfully at this, but then strode over and grouchily looked over the 'vitamins,' as Cowlick called them, muttering: “Grand. Well. Thou hast my thanks, I suppose, Cowlick.”

Cowlick didn't reply, not turning her eyes away from the strange equipment she was working with, and Luna glared at her before the sapphire mare picked up a needle and then turned around, stabbing it into Scrivener as he approached. The stallion wheezed at this, gritting his teeth and then hissing through them at Luna, but she only depressed the plunger and grumbled: “Quiet. Great silly yearling. 'Tis only a little pinch.”

Scrivener Blooms only mumbled, then cursed under his breath when the mare yanked the needle back and tossed it away before she picked up another, tossing it to Twilight Sparkle. She reached down to grasp her own, then hesitated, looking at it for a few moments before shivering a bit and holding it out to Scrivener Blooms, mumbling: “If thou could, Scrivy, 'twould be most appreciated.”

The stallion smiled a little after a moment, nodding briefly before he rose the needle and didn't allow himself to hesitate, plunging it into the side of Luna's neck and making her wince a bit. She mumbled under her breath, shuddering a little as he depressed the plunger, then she shook herself quickly out and closed her eyes as the stallion carefully drew the empty needle away.

She looked up at him silently, almost miserably, and he softened a little before reaching up to cup her features, looking into her eyes reassuringly as Twilight Sparkle smiled faintly and put her own needle down. Then Cowlick cleared her throat loudly, and the trio looked awkwardly over at her as she said dryly: “Before you guys get too touchy-feely, go sit quietly for a moment. Preferably over there.”

She gestured at a small test area that was lit by white crystals and surrounded by large, rectangular panels emanating purification, and the three ponies traded mild looks before Luna mumbled: “Wonderful. More holy energies to poison us. Perhaps we will be turned to stone again.”

“That was an accident. Sort of.” Cowlick said dismissively, gesturing irritably at the three ponies, and Scrivener grimaced a little as they headed over to the little stage, the engineer returning her eyes to some kind of microscope and adjusting the knob on the side of it as she grumbled: “Anyway. Just stay there for a few minutes. If you get sick or start to petrify, then yeah, move. Otherwise, keep your flanks there and just bask in the purification.”

Twilight Sparkle nodded awkwardly as Scrivener and Luna both huffed, but all three sat all the same: for a few minutes, they fidgeted, until Luna started to get dizzy and Scrivener shivered a little beneath what felt like... almost unbearable warmth to his body, and Twilight Sparkle looked lethargic, unable to focus, her horn sparking every now and then as the purification seemed to drain the magic right out of her body.

Then Cowlick looked up at them from across the room and rolled her eyes, muttering: “Great. It's clearly not doing anything. Get out of there, I'm going to have to mix up something else. Take the rest of the... two hours to do research, then you can go have fun with your Inquisitors.”

Luna growled at this, and the engineer snorted, a slight smile on her face as she asked mildly: “What? I know you're touchy about that, but... oh, I get it. You still haven't figured out who... what the hell did you call her, Clean Luna is, right?”

“Right. I do not think I ever will, either, and that is precisely what frustrates me.” Luna muttered moodily, then she shook her head before grimacing a bit and asking finally: “And why is it that Hel will not simply... flood Heaven with her Inquisitors and soldiers? She has... a damnable massive army.”

“You know why. You're stupid but you're not that stupid. Heaven's atmosphere puts demons at a disadvantage, first off, and secondly, there's going to be so much purification flying around it's going to cut down entire columns of troops. But most important of all, even if Hel can secure a Pyhrric victory... you've seen Helheim. There's a constant influx of criminals and scum and monsters here, that all need to be contained. The Inquisitors do the containing. Her army keeps the peace here, peaceful as it is. Hel might be all powerful, but she's only one person... or, well, sixteen, if you count all the puppets she has across the different slices.”

“She controls sixteen at once, and in different sections of Hell?” Twilight Sparkle asked with disbelief, and Cowlick smiled wryly and nodded, the violet mare blinking slowly before she said finally: “I... I haven't even learned to replicate her frost puppet spell to make one, yet! How can she have so much control she can manipulate sixteen at once, and all in different places, doing different things? The amount of focus she'd need should make that impossible, let alone the physics of it...”

“Because to her one second is like a freaking year in that little timeless bubble of hers, that's how.” Cowlick said moodily, shaking her head briefly. “The physics of that are what boggle my mind. And to be honest, I'm surprised she's not actually crazier than she already is.”

Scrivener looked uneasily up at the ceiling, wondering for a moment exactly what Hel must do with all that time... although of course, she had mentioned something about being able to change the flow of time as she pleased, too, throughout Helheim and especially in her little sanctuary-prison. But if anything, that only made her scarier in his mind.

Twilight Sparkle only shifted awkwardly, then turned around and strode towards the doors leading out to the main entrance, and Scrivener and Luna followed after a moment, the sapphire mare looking tempted to spit some insult, but thankfully she swallowed it as she instead turned and trotted quickly after the Lich.

They made their way to the front of the fortress and let themselves out, before all three ponies winced as a gunshot rang out from above. In almost the same moment, there was the sound of a monster howling in pain, and the three leaned forwards before watching with a mixture of relief and unease as several Wendigos hurriedly withdrew back down to the bottom of the curling road.

“They're getting more aggressive. All the heat and energy really must be attracting them, like Cowlick said.” Scrivener Blooms said after a moment, and Luna nodded slowly. “Can you create a portal here?”

“I... well, I suppose I can, yeah. I just didn't want to risk setting off any of Cowlick's alarms inside the base, but maybe it's better if we don't go down there if there's more wild demons wandering around.” Twilight shivered a bit, shaking her head slowly and silently staring down into the wastes, murmuring: “Imagine, losing yourself to Helheim so much that you... that you become one of those things. I can't imagine trying to live like that...”

“I think what's happening to us is already bad enough.” Scrivener said softly, and the violet mare gave a small smile and nodded briefly as the stallion looked down, flexing a Talon slowly. “Alright. Enough... whining. Go ahead and open the portal, Twilight.”

“Oh, as if thou art the head stallion of our little herd, when I am clearly the superior.” Luna said mildly, raising her head proudly, and her partners looked at her with quiet entertainment even as Twilight concentrated her magic. “Shush and... let us do this.”

Twilight nodded, then gestured quickly downwards with her horn, and an oval, glowing portal formed: without hesitation, Luna led the others into this even if she felt a strange pang of fear, hating the feeling that this was just another step closer towards the coming punishment, lingering not too far away in the future.

The trio emerged into a large 'arrival' room, the portal behind them shutting quickly and the ponies continuing forwards despite how disorienting it was to step out of the winter wastes and right into a large, dome-shaped room. Other portals were opening and closing, demons that mostly looked like nobles and Inquisitors stepping out of these and striding forwards with purpose, clearly used to the rules of this focused, businesslike place they had entered.

The three ponies stuck close together, grimacing a bit as they were jostled a little on the walk into the massive entrance hall by the crowd around them. Here, immense Helherlið were calmly placed: elite demons wearing armor inscribed with the symbol of the Archives, all part of Hel's personal, handpicked guard, all of them carrying weapons that thrummed darkly and dangerously with hexes that would poison even the most powerful demon.

Helherlið guarded Hel's most sacred places, and the Master Archive certainly counted as one of those places. It had quasi-mythical status... and attempting to enter it when you didn't have permission was punishable by being thrown into the Abyss, the most dangerous place in all of Helheim. It was called a 'prison,' but really, it was a garbage pit: a place where demons who were too insane, too dangerous, or too destructive to be reformed were all thrown and left to rot, removed only when Hel needed a particularly-powerful demon to sacrifice, or wanted to stir up a little chaos by flinging an insane, uncontrollable demon off into enemy territory.

There were five different archways at the end of this hall, past a series of desks on either side of the corridor where all manner of Devil were working, easy to distinguish by the facemasks they all wore. A few demons were waiting patiently to speak to some of these Devils, while the rest walked quickly past towards the different passageways leading onwards.

Scrivener, Luna, and Twilight joined the line heading through the fourth passage: this curved downwards, then went straight ahead to a large set of open double doors guarded by a pair of enormous Helherlið soldiers. But this wasn't the only defense, as one unfortunate demon who tried to sneak in found out: when the unauthorized demon attempted to step calmly through the doors, he found himself suddenly frozen in a block of ice, bringing the line of demons to a halt.

Luna groaned loudly as Twilight winced and Scrivener leaned upwards curiously, watching as one soldier turned around to slowly tap at the frozen demon before he slammed the butt of his battle axe against the ground. The floor rippled like water, and then the demon sank down into this before the guard silently turned around and resumed his former position, the other soldier motioning for the line to get moving again.

The demons did so, and Scrivener winced a bit as they approached the archway, not relaxing until they passed through and into the massive first floor of the library. He sighed in relief as they strode out to a clear patch of floor, then Luna glanced absently over her shoulder to watch the steady passage of demons into the library as she muttered: “Look at them. Should they not be attempting to murder and maim one-another instead of... coming to waste time on silly books?”

Neither Twilight nor Scrivener replied, the stallion instead looking over at the violet mare and muttering: “I'm never going to get used to that. I keep thinking Hel is going to revoke our privileges without telling us and we'll end up frozen solid one of these days. And then dumped somewhere bad.”

“I'm pretty sure Hel's not going to do that to us, Scrivy.” Twilight Sparkle said with quiet entertainment, and then she shook her head slowly before saying finally: “Let's go get that spot on the third floor again. It was really nice up there, and we can get our books again and settle in.”

“I hope thou art being honest when thou says 'we,' Twilight Sparkle.” Luna Brynhild said mildly, and Twilight gave the sapphire mare a small smile and a quietly-entertained look, before the starry-maned winged unicorn looked grouchily back and forth. “Can we not ask one of the ghosts to fetch it for us?”

“They're librarians, not just spirits. Give them a little respect, Luna.” Twilight said in a slightly-too-serious voice, and Luna grumbled and dropped her head grouchily, before the Lich hesitated a little and added almost encouragingly: “And I'd rather not bother them. Besides, when you go look through the shelves yourself, you never know what you'll find! There's some really great books out there that I know I've found completely by accident, just because I was looking for something in a similar section.”

“Yeah. Or. You know, you could try concentrating on what you're actually supposed to be doing.” Scrivener Blooms said pointedly, and Twilight gave him a flat look. Then he glanced back and forth before adding: “Maybe we should grab that book on old legends again, though, or see if we actually can try and check stuff out of here.”

Twilight began to nod, and then all three ponies winced in surprise when they realized there was a phantasm hovering nearby, staring at them. They all awkwardly turned towards this skeletal creature, dressed even in death in the flowing robes it had likely favored in life, and then the spirit calmly rose a book in its ethereal claws, rasping: “Lady Hel asked that this be given to you. It is a gift. You may remove it from the Archives, but it must be treated with great care.”

Scrivener and Luna automatically looked at Twilight Sparkle, who made a face at the two before she scooted forwards and reached hesitantly up to take the book from the specter. She managed an awkward smile after a moment, but before she could even say 'thank you,' the ghost simply vanished, and Twilight was left looking lamely into the space where it had been only a moment ago.

“Well. Polite.” Luna remarked wryly, and then the sapphire mare shook her head briefly before looking uneasily over at the tome, asking distastefully: “Is it... booby-trapped? And damnation, I loathe that turn of phrase. It makes such a trap sound like it should be good, when in reality, 'tis very bad.”

Twilight shook her head slowly, then she studied the book and murmured: “It seems... refurbished. It's definitely old, but it looks like it was in a fire or something... the weight is...” Twilight carefully shifted it in her hooves, then glanced down at the body of pages between the covers. “Some of these pages have been replaced... yes, there's definitely a hint of burn damage on the originals, though, I can smell the smoke...”

“Cease... showing off. Damned strange creature thou art.” Luna said crankily, and then the sapphire mare poked at her a few times with her soulstone horn, the Lich smiling despite herself as she gripped the book with telekinesis and carefully levitated it beside her. “Well, then tell us, Twilight Sparkle. What is that script? I do not recognize it.”

Scrivener Blooms looked curiously over at the book, noting the writing along the cover, and Twilight frowned a bit as she looked at the runes before her eyes widened, saying slowly: “I think... I think this might actually be a book of the Holy Word, from the Light.”

Luna and Scrivener both blinked, then stared in shock as Twilight carefully opened the old, damaged tome, and she whispered: “It... it is. And here, there's a transliteration sheet for the runes... this must be why Hel wanted us studying the Light so closely...”

The sapphire mare nodded a few times as Scrivener winced a bit, and then he shifted before muttering: “But how useful is this to us? I mean, how long would it take us to... learn not just a language, but their whole alphabet, and-”

“It is important, Scrivy. And games aside, if we all focus upon it... I believe we can quickly learn.” Luna Brynhild replied quietly, shaking her head briefly and looking calmly over at Scrivener Blooms, and both the stallion and the Lich looked surprised at her sudden seriousness... especially on this of all subjects. “We must learn as much as we can about the enemy. Understanding the enemy is key to overcoming it, especially when it is an enemy such as this.”

“And remember what Hel said... the Cardinal is our real enemy here. Not...” Twilight Sparkle shifted guiltily, but then she hurriedly shook herself out when Scrivener and Luna both looked at her softly. “Well. We should just... focus on this for now.”

The others nodded in agreement, and there was silence for a few moments before Twilight paged carefully through the book, murmuring: “We should go find a spot to sit down and concentrate on this. I wonder why Hel didn't give it to us before, though...”

“With Hel, the answer pretty much always seems to be 'because she's testing us.' Which ends up meaning 'because she didn't want to.'” Scrivener Blooms said dryly, and Luna grunted in agreement as Twilight Sparkle smiled a little, carefully closing the heavy tome. Then he shook his head briefly, looking uneasily over at the huge book and muttering: “Well. Let's... start, then. Although I guess I'm going to leave it mostly up to you to actually start figuring out the language.”

Twilight nodded, saying softly: “The chart for transliteration looks pretty complete... why don't you work on changing everything to common demonic and I'll work on learning the grammar and language structure? We'll figure it out, word-by-word.”

“I have no idea how you think we're going to do that, but, okay, sure.” Scrivener said grumpily, and the Lich gave him a mild look before Luna huffed loudly, then the sapphire mare cleared her throat and looked pointedly over at Scrivener Blooms.

The stallion looked curiously back at her after a moment, and then Luna said: “I can do that. 'Twill be very easy. I am a master of languages.”

“Luna, it's been like a hundred years and you're still talking in a medieval dialect. A really weird dialect, at that, which I still don't understand all the rules of.” Scrivener Blooms said dryly, and then he winced when Luna poked him several times with her soulstone horn.

Then she screwed up her face and concentrated before saying clearly: “I can speak however I please, Scrivener Blooms, and just because I prefer not to say 'you' does not mean I am incapable of it. As you should know. Because apparently you are just so smart and know everything about me.”

Scrivener Blooms looked at her moodily, and Luna grumbled before whining: “'Tis not my fault! Thy silly language has so many jerks and jags to it, 'tis so rough in my ears! My mouth refuses to form the words, or speak with all the inflections to it thou demands... not that I do not enjoy thy silly accents. I just do not desire to speak with one myself.”

“Oh, Luna. Yes. We're the ones with silly accents.” Scrivener said mildly, and then he winced when the mare smacked him lightly across the face, flinching a bit before he muttered: “I probably deserved that a little.”

“Thou deserved it a lot.” Luna said huffily, and then she shook her head quickly before glancing back and forth, then striding quickly towards the stairs. Twilight and Scrivener traded looks, then they both simply shrugged and followed after the sapphire mare as she grumbled: “Furthermore, I have made grand progress. I do not say things like 'I desireth yon coffee-glass' any longer, do I? And besides, this is all Celestia's fault. I used to speak well and normally, but she railed on me often for my 'slangishness' and declared that I needed to master this dialect to better fit in with the silly nobles who all spoke in such silly ways.”

Scrivener Blooms sighed a little, and Twilight Sparkle hesitated before saying awkwardly: “I hate to point this out, Luna, but. You really can't just keep blaming Celestia for absolutely everything like... well... this...”

“I absolutely can and I absolutely shall.” Luna retorted as they ascended a set of steps to the less-crowded second floor, and Luna paused on the landing before muttering: “Well, this seems pleasant enough. There, those tables seem abandoned.”

Scrivener and Twilight nodded, and then the stallion sighed tiredly as he mumbled: “Well, hopefully this'll make me so bored and numb I won't even notice Punishment.”

Twilight smiled a little at this, but she felt the stallion's worries beneath his grumbling, felt his mental unease, and she stepped towards him and said softly: “We're going to figure this out, okay? Try not to worry too much, Scrivy... I know it's hard, but... we're all good at this kind of thing. And Hel must have a reason for giving us this now... for wanting us to learn this. We should just focus on things and take it one step at a time.”

Scrivener Blooms smiled a little at this, but he couldn't help but feel another twist through his system looking up and wondering silently again what game Hel was playing... and precisely why it suddenly felt like all of their hard work and preparation was just a smokescreen for some other cruel purpose that the dark goddess had in mind.

“I have information, Lord Cardinal.” Minos said softly, and the Cardinal slowly looked up from his throne, frowning at the death entity. “It is important.”

The Cardinal was silent as he continued to look at Minos moodily, tenting his fingers under his chin and simply studying the death entity. Judge Minos looked back calmly and silently, and then the Great Reaper said quietly: “The rebels have gathered a sizable force. Your forces will not gather in time to destroy them. But my Atropii have gathered information from Hell warning us that the dark goddess is mobilizing forces against you. She has the Guardians who were thought destroyed with Lord God.”

“What?” The Cardinal straightened, his eyes widening in surprise. “That's impossible! They were pulled into the void along He Of Many Countless Faces and the Dark God... wait, which Guardians? Is the Dark God among their number?”

“No, my lord. He is not.” Minos replied quietly, those empty pits in his mask seeming to measure the Cardinal's reaction. “The Atropii have told me their names are Luna Brynhild, Scrivener Blooms, and Twilight Sparkle. Another is called Nightmare Moon, but she appears to be a regent at Hel's side, similar to your former position... but the other three are being hardened and prepared for war against you.”

The Cardinal looked down, gritting his teeth before he muttered: “Reinforcements from Greater Heaven are not scheduled to arrive for another few weeks... and I cannot send out a message asking them to send them immediately without seeming weak and raising suspicion. They believe that He Of Many Countless Faces is still alive, has quelled the nuisances here, and is now ministering to the flocks...”

He tapped his fingers slowly against the arm of the chair as the Great Reaper simply stood in silence, watching the Cardinal calmly. Then the Master of Heaven looked up and said coldly: “Have your Atropii gather as many souls as possible, and bring them directly to the conversion chamber. We will make them into an army of Devout. Virgil!”

The death entity calmly bowed his head before vanishing, a moment before a portal crackled open and Virgil stepped through this short-lived hole in reality. The winged unicorn looked up respectfully as the Cardinal stood from his throne, lacing his hands behind his back and saying quietly: “Preparations are being made against us. Until further notice, you shall serve as my right hand, and command my forces from this castle. You are not to leave these halls unless ordered, and you shall defend me until your last breath. Is this understood?”

Virgil saluted sharply and nodded, and the Cardinal smiled, regaining a little of his calm and composure as he looked down for a moment, gathering his thoughts before he spoke again. “We have a difficult issue to contend with, Virgil. A large and dangerous force has gathered on the mortal world, and it seems the evil Archenemy, Hel, has somehow revived the Guardians that defeated He Of Many Countless Faces. We are safe here in Heaven for now, our defenses are impenetrable... but all the same, this is disturbing. And long before our forces on the mortal world can gather into one cohesive unit, the rebels will have begun marching. The Skin Walkers will not distract them for long.”

The winged unicorn was silent, his head lowered in thought, his eyes narrowed slightly before he looked up and asked calmly: “What do you desire for me to do?”

“I desire for you to fix these problems for me. Problems, I might add, created by Doctor Greller and He Of Many Countless Faces. If only Greller had created efficient soldiers for me instead of the pandering Devout and the useless oaf De Sade, we would likely have been able to wipe out the rebel scum long before they became a threat.” the Cardinal said distastefully, shaking his head in disgust before he returned his eyes to Virgil. “But you will not fail me, will you, Virgil?”

There was silence for a few moments, and then the stallion asked calmly: “Why don't we simply send all our forces to Looking Glass World? We'll suffer heavy losses, but our soldiers can be easily replaced. All we have to do is focus on destroying the leaders and their false heroes.”

“A simple, savage solution, as I expected from a creature that lacks complexity like yourself, Virgil... but that would put the hive mind at risk. Above all else, we must conserve the Great Webwork as much as possible... as it is, it has been damaged enough by the loss we suffered thanks to Greller's incompetence in predicting the rebels' capabilities. Their disgusting little trick with the army of the dead they created cost us dearly.” The Cardinal shook his head moodily, and Virgil nodded before lowering his head in thought.

“I don't wish to show the rebels mercy, Lord Cardinal... but perhaps the best thing we can do at the moment is withdraw our forces into Heaven and fortify. We can concentrate on spreading our forces to other worlds, absorbing more souls and strengthening the Great Webwork... let the rebels scurry around like ants stuck in a glass jar.”

The Cardinal looked thoughtful at this, rubbing at his chin slowly before he said finally: “Some of the forces on the mortal world are expendable. Perhaps I shall give them an easy victory and test their alliance... what do you think, Virgil?”

“Your wish is my command, my lord. You are ruler of Heaven and the Empire of Light. You are the all-knowing and all-powerful.” Virgil said quietly, bowing his head forwards, and the Cardinal smiled at this, straightening and nodding slowly.

“Yes, I am. And there is no reason why I cannot turn this disadvantage into an opportunity as well...” The Cardinal looked thoughtful, saying slowly: “The Skin Walkers appear to trust the Pious and have let them into their encampments. Although I would have preferred to wait... have the Pious smash the Skin Walker's machine and take control of as many prisoners as possible. Destroy the guardian elementals if they get in the way, they are worthless to our cause now.”

“Yes, my lord. Any other orders?” Virgil asked calmly, looking up as he saluted again, and the Cardinal looked meditative.

“Yes... one further order. I have no doubt that this army of darkness will be marching first on Canterlot: when they engage our forces there, drop whatever Nephilim we have left into the conflict. We might as well use garbage to eliminate garbage.” the Cardinal replied disdainfully, flicking one wrist, and Virgil nodded and bowed low. “You are dismissed.”

With that, the stallion straightened, then calmly turned and strode quickly out into the hall. The Cardinal watched the winged unicorn leave, and then he slowly sat back in his heavy throne, sighing in distaste and dropping his arms to the arms of the enormous platinum chair.

“Incredible.” he muttered, and then he shook his head slowly before gazing up towards the ceiling moodily. “And yet to think... we never would have found this world, if we had not detected the death of another Nephilim, and Lord God had ordered me to discover what had happened... and after prying up the... the rotting floorboards of the universe, we found this hidden gem and countless worlds of disgusting animal souls... but souls with enough mind to be of use to us, all the same. To contribute to the Great Webwork of Light...”

The Cardinal tapped his fingers together slowly, and then he looked up and scowled, reminding himself that Greller was no longer here to scuttle around his throne room and whimper about all his pathetic little projects. That was a good thing, though: he had been getting sick and tired of listening to the constant complaining of the scientist anyway, and his uselessness had begun to far exceed his utility with his countless failed projects and all the energy his laboratory was sucking up.

Eliminating him had eliminated a large drain on his resources, and now Pious were watching over the machines that all-but-ran themselves anyway: perhaps, in spite of his failures, the Cardinal reflected, he might have let Greller live if not for the fact that he had done an excellent job of building himself right into obsolescence.

The Master of Heaven shook his head in distaste, and then he lowered his head as he felt a single spark of unease. Greller had predicted that things were going to go wrong, with his last breath... and while the Cardinal still dismissed that as nonsense, part of him wondered if this was what Greller had been talking about. Things going wrong, luck souring, the fact that it seemed like, in spite of all the rules and laws he was adding to the Light, they more and more often seemed to become confused, didn't listen properly to his orders. They were still obeying the ancient laws of He Of Many Countless Faces... teachings that apparently he couldn't yet override.

He would have to strengthen the Great Webwork of Light with more creatures that were servile only to him, instead of servile towards the idea of the Light and long-dead True God. His fingers tapped slowly against the arm of the chair as he looked upwards with contempt, thinking of how naïve all these children of the Light were to believe that their God was still in Heaven, that he was doing the bidding of He Of Many Countless Faces still, that that idiot would have been half as capable of coming up with the plans and designs he did, the great visions he had for his Empire of Light...

No matter what happened, he was going to have his Empire. He was going to rise to his well-deserved position of True God, and one day he would control Greater Heaven and all the vast forces of 'good' throughout the universe. Everything would come to be remade in his image, his designs, to serve his will. And the 'darkness' that defied him would be purged from existence.

Because no one was going to be allowed to get in the way of his dominion, his rule, and the vision he had of a universe where all bowed to his supreme designs.

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