• 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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In Brightest Day

Chapter Eighty Seven: In Brightest Day
~BlackRoseRaven

Something was wrong. Well, actually, a lot of things were wrong, but Innocence knew that something major had just gone from from the fact that the skirmish at the edge of Ponyville had suddenly skidded to a halt.

Undead snarled silently and minotaurs loomed with heavy hammers at the ready, as ponies uncertainly milled back and forth, Pegasi glaring from the air and unicorns keeping their horns charged with magic, just in case this was some kind of trick. But Innocence didn't think it was, as she hesitantly pushed her way through the ranks of soldiers, striding slowly through the group to push out of the line and stride into the narrow, empty corridor now between their forces, and the surviving Strange Ones.

They were worthy of their title: bipedal, with rubbery skin of various hues, bulbous dark eyes and gangly, long limbs. These were warriors, dressed in leathers and hide armors, many of them carrying spears as they looked back and forth silently between each other.

They were guardian elementals, created by Odin: their bodies were synthetic vessels that contained water, charged with the magic that gave them life and allowed them to move. They fought fearlessly and emotionlessly, seemingly disconnected from the world around them and refusing to draw back even in spite of the fact that they were massively outnumbered, and faced a superior foe with superior weapons and magic.

But all the same, the Strange Ones had put up an incredible battle: they targeted the revenants and demons more than anyone else, trying to destroy what they saw as 'unnatural' and 'evil,' likely goaded on by their new Light allies. But now they had all simply halted and stood back, not calling for parley or surrender, but instead staring up at the sky.

Freya, at the front of the pack, had halted her own slaughter of the Skin Walkers to look up at the sky as well... and this was probably the biggest tell to Innocence that something was truly wrong, as she quickly made her way over to the mare before asking nervously: “What is it?”

Freya looked down at her, then shook her head slowly before she said quietly: “The sun isn't moving. In fact, it looks almost like it's gone backwards...”

“We have been betrayed.” said one of the Strange Ones with soft conviction, straightening and looking across at Freya, who glared back at the Skin Walker: not with distrust, but only with anger heightened by the battle they hadn't yet finished. “The machine that controls the movements of the galaxies has been destroyed. We will... stagnate.”

The ivory mare's eye widened slightly at this, and then she looked over her shoulder and roared: “Parley! All forces are to retreat to Ponyville to prepare for a march on Canterlot!”

The soldiers looked surprised, but whether they looked unwilling or not, they slowly withdrew from the battle as Innocence stared up at Freya, saying disbelievingly: “What are you... you'd never...”

“Now is not the time for battle.” Freya half-pushed Innocence away, but the scaled mare only grimaced and stubbornly kept at the ivory mare's side, as the Valkyrie looked with more calm across at the Skin Walkers. “The Light must have wanted this. What do you suggest?”

“The machine must be rebuilt. This takes precedence above all things. It is crucial to the safety of this world.” one of the Skin Walkers said quietly, bowing its head silently forwards. “Otherwise crops will fail. The natural cycle will be disrupted. The tides shall change. And we will not allow ponies to take this world's rule into their own hands.”

Freya smiled distastefully at this, and then she said icily: “It seems to work well enough in other worlds. And it is your naivety and foolishness that has led to your failure to protect this world.”

The small group of Strange Ones bowed their heads, and then the one apparently elected as leader said quietly: “And you have brought darkness to our doorstep. You have interfered with the cycle, and killed innocent lives. The Light is a force of good... but manipulated. You understand that they are puppets, and yet you would continue to slaughter them instead of attempt to assist or free them. You would paint them all as a disease, when they are only victims.”

“They are a disease, a contagion. And I will exterminate all of them if I have to, as I will destroy all of you if I have to.” Freya replied coldly, and Innocence looked up with a small shiver, seeing the true face of this Queen of the Valkyries: determined, ruthless, unstoppable... and willing to kill anyone who posed a threat to her goals, even if her goals themselves were noble ones. “The ends justify the means. Especially in war.”

Innocence flinched a bit: it was like Freya had just read her mind and summarized herself. She looked nervously up, but Freya ignored her completely as the Strange One replied quietly, looking across at her calmly: “Then our alliance with the ponies reaches its end. We shall return to adytum, from whence we came: there, we shall rebuild our machinery, and tend to this world from within its core, away from the world. We have offered you help: you have offered us only blood in return.”

“Then leave, cowards, and we will deal with this world and the threats to it ourselves!” Freya snapped, glaring at the Strange Ones, and they all bowed low for a moment before turning away, and the ivory mare shook with fury before she suddenly stepped forwards, shouting angrily after them: “You are traitors! You betray the Alföður, cowards!'

The Strange Ones didn't reply, striding calmly onwards, and the ivory mare gritted her teeth, her single amethyst eye glowing with anger before she cursed and reached up to press a hoof against her eyepatch. She shivered once, then turned her hard, icy gaze on Innocence, who only looked worriedly at her in return. “What do you want?”

“To help. Freya, get control of yourself...” Innocence pleaded, leaning up and shaking her head slowly. Freya only snorted in disgust, looking down at her with contempt, but the scaled unicorn swallowed a bit before she said quietly, even if she only half-believed her own words: “You won't hurt me. You're not... I know you care.”

Freya looked down at her coldly for a few moments, and then she finally grimaced a little before saying quietly: “I am trying to fight a war... using ponies. What served as war-mounts at best in Asgard. Domesticated beasts... and even if I am not about to deny that they are powerful, I look around and I see that my greatest allies are... monsters, and demons, and wild beasts.”

Innocence looked down, then she closed her eyes and murmured: “Funny, Freya... that's... that's what I'm trying my hardest not to be these days, and you seem to be going the opposite route.”

“I'll do whatever is necessary to ensure victory. Even if we destroy the Light's forces and take back Canterlot, we can't trust that your childish plan is going to work. And even if it does work, honor and belief alone are not going to be enough to allow us to raid Heaven. The Light will be more powerful there, and demons will be at a natural disadvantage.” Freya said quietly, but her voice had lost some of its edge, and she sighed a little as she looked down at Innocence for a moment before reaching up and squeezing her shoulder gently. “I do care about you. But I would prefer you alive over you being honorable, Innocence, at this point.”

Innocence smiled faintly, glancing up at Freya and saying finally: “I think that I would prefer to be honorable over being alive, Freya. I... I know that's childish, but I don't want to become a monster. If defeating the Light meant turning into Gymbr... it's better that I die, because Gymbr... was worse.”

Freya looked down for a few moments, and then she said in a murmur: “The Light will blind and destroy everyone. Gymbr's darkness would have made all of us into monsters, just to fight the Light. There's no difference, Innocence.”

“The difference is that the Light is being manipulated by the Cardinal. Without him... maybe people have to make the choice to give up their free will, I don't know.” Innocence shifted awkwardly, not knowing how she could actually really argue her points, too nervous under Freya's amethyst gaze to figure out what she should be saying. “I just... I think that... we can't sacrifice who we are just to win this fight against the Light.”

Freya looked down at Innocence for a few moments, and then she sighed tiredly and shook her head slowly before quietly slapping her on the shoulder. “Go and get your equipment together. We need to march on Canterlot immediately, whether we're ready or not.”

Innocence decided not to question or argue, even if she wanted to do plenty of both. Instead, she turned to head quickly back towards Ponyville, tossing a single nervous glance over her shoulder in the direction of Freya before she forced herself to focus on what was ahead, feeling... nervous.

They had an army, hastily assembled but filled with strong and willing warriors. They had weapons, armor, equipment. They had a rough plan, and a secret weapon, and enough coordination between their different teams to get the entire force moving within the hour.

But they would be a giant target, marching slowly towards Canterlot under broad daylight... daylight that apparently wasn't going to fade until the Strange Ones retreated to wherever the hell they were going and did whatever it took to make a new machine that would apparently reset the course of the sun and moon through the sky.

The scaled unicorn shook her head briefly, trying to focus on just heading back to town. It wasn't like she didn't already have enough to keep herself occupied with, after all: she was in charge of helping Freya coordinate everything, which she guessed showed that the ivory mare still trusted her even if Freya was continuing to treat her a little unpleasantly.

She passed several soldiers, mostly ignoring them as they grumbled around her about... everything. The worries about the food shortage, the lack of action, living in cramped quarters around a little pony town in a field... but none of these things were going to matter much shortly, at least. In an hour, they would be marching on Canterlot, and one way or another, what happened there would determine the fate of Equestria.

What Innocence hated, though, was the thought that... maybe they weren't going to save their own country. Maybe killing the Light would just destroy it: after all, even if they got into Heaven, even if they destroyed the Cardinal that was apparently holding this hive mind together... what was going to happen to everyone else? Would they magically return to normal, or was it just going to leave them all... vapid, mindless zombies? Or would it even matter? Would they continue to push the Light's causes and agendas, even without their leader?

There was too much to think about. Too much to worry about. Innocence shivered a little, but then tried to take a breath and swallow her worries as she reached the farmland on the outskirts, striding quickly down the road and looking back and forth at how many people were already rushing along the dusty highway. It looked like word had already reached here that they were moving out, and plenty of ponies looked as scared as she felt.

She had to head to town hall and talk to Monkshood, figure out the marching order and how they were going to transport rations and supplies and... try and micromanage as much as possible. But before she did that, she realized that she had to make one quick stop...

Innocence almost ran to Ponyville, and quickly made her way off the main streets and through a series of side alleys, wanting to avoid getting pulled aside by anyone. But thankfully, the area around the Clockworks was almost completely clear, and she was able to reach the rusted, rotting building without any trouble.

She pushed her way inside, then grimaced at the chill as she made her way through the building: it was dark, and damp, and just as creepy as the last time she'd been here, if not worse. It felt... agitated, somehow, and the scaled mare shook her head briefly as she made her way down to the prison level, feeling more uneasy than she wanted to admit.

It was darker down here than she remembered before, and the walk to the cellblock felt longer. Everything else was as it had been before, though: the gates were rusted open, and the heavy vault door was closed... I mean, I closed it when I left, right?

Innocence looked nervously at the door for a few moments, and then she hesitantly flicked her horn, and the vault door groaned before slowly swinging open. The mare looked back and forth around the empty cell curiously, and then she frowned before leaning forwards in surprise, staring dumbly back and forth as she realized that the papers that had lined the cell were simply... gone.

“Well, that could have been... Freya, or a whole bunch of other things...” Innocence muttered, shifting nervously as she looked back and forth, and then she shook her head hurriedly before stepping into the cell and flicking her horn, yanking the rectangular box of corruption free from where it had been badly-hidden in the ground.

She heard the cards rattle inside it, and the scaled unicorn shifted nervously before she turned and quickly hurried across the cellblock, carrying the heavy box with her. She breathed slowly in and out, telling herself there was nothing to be afraid of, reminding herself that she was a mistress of darkness, that she had a vast array of powerful magic, that she could tear apart the very souls of those who defied her... and then something banged loudly from the bowels of the Clockworks, and Innocence bolted up the stairs like a terrified filly, not slowing until she was out the door.

She skidded to a halt outside, wheezing loudly for breath and shivering as she looked over her shoulder at the ajar, broken door to the Clockworks, and then she stared when the door slammed itself shut, the scaled mare mouthing wordlessly for a few moments. And then she jolted and gave a little squeak when a voice said dryly: “Having fun?”

Innocence stared stupidly over at Monkshood, who had his muzzle wrinkled in distaste as he said sourly: “Amazing how for all the bragging you do, you can't even recognize a haunting. This place is going to have to be torn down. It's full of anger and hatred and pain and it's sucking up all the negative energy in the area. Living emotions are going to start manifesting as ghosts.”

“You could use exorcisms and appeasements and... well, good karma.” Innocence said awkwardly, and the stallion glared at her sourly before she dropped her head and mumbled:” I guess you don't have any of that, though.”

“Shut up.” Monkshood rolled his eyes, and then he said irritably: “Come on, we don't have the time to dilly-dally. We have to get our forces ready to move within forty minutes, and then you and I are going to be helping Freya. I would strongly prefer to stay here, but... Freya has asked, and Wolfsbane's caught the smell of blood.”

Innocence shivered a bit again, and the stallion scowled as he turned away, muttering under his breath: “My thoughts exactly. Let's go.”

The mare sighed a little, then hurried up to the stallion's side, saying after a moment: “I'm... sorry. I don't mean to be... judgmental or anything. Especially not in my situation, considering... you know. Everything about... maybe I should just stop talking.”

“Please do. I don't have time to waste on pleasantries, anyway, and neither do you: we have been asked to coordinate a tremendous allied force between ourselves, working beneath a leader who is almost constantly filled with anger.” Monkshood glanced moodily over at Innocence when she frowned uncertainly, saying quietly: “You can't smell it, but I can. Just watch her eye. You'll see it.”

Innocence nodded slowly, and then she studied the stallion for a few moments before she suggested finally: “I think we should have Phooka pull the supply carriages, or at least the ones with munitions. They're more likely to be targeted by the Light, but the Phooka won't be hurt if they explode. Stunned and scared, but anyone else would be killed.”

“I'll let Fluttershy know.” Monkshood nodded calmly, and then he said moodily: “I heard about the 'eternal day.' If the sun is going to be trapped at high noon, only Yamato-trained Nightmares will be able to move in the Light. How many demons and ghouls are going to need umbrellas?”

“Not a lot. But it's going to have a significant impact on our scouting ability. Generally speaking, demons are much easier to see in broad daylight, even when they try and cloak themselves. The revenants are uncomfortable in the light, but it doesn't hurt them...” Innocence hesitated, then she looked over at Monkshood and said finally: “The Blessed wear white, highly-reflective armor. Where should we place them?”

“In the air, if possible. Their glittering will hopefully distract our enemies. If we put them at the front of the group they'll blind our own soldiers, at the back, they'll just serve as target posts.” Monkshood muttered. “Maybe we should have them trade their gear out. Or put their armor on the constructs and use them as decoys.”

“How many golems do we have? And no, I don't consider Clockwork Ponies to be 'constructs.'” Innocence said mildly, and Monkshood only grunted before he looked off to the side moodily, the two ignoring the crowd hurrying around them as they made their way down a more-busy street... but one advantage of being a farkasember and a half-Tyrant Wyrm that plenty of ponies were still afraid of was that no one really was brave enough to disturb them while they were clearly busy.

Finally, he looked up and said meditatively: “Thirty-two. Plus more than a dozen Clockwork Ponies, plus that... backup from Decretum.” Monkshood gave a sour smile, shaking his head slowly. “Never thought I'd see the day when we'd be getting reinforcements from Clockwork World.”

“We need all the help we can get.” Innocence replied quietly, shaking her head briefly, and then she murmured: “Besides. It's not like they were so different from the enemy we're fighting now. Puppets of a much greater, much-more-dangerous force. That's all.”

Monkshood looked at her for a moment, then he simply shook his head. They continued on in silence for a little while, both with their heads down in thought until they reached City Hall; there was a flurry of activity outside the building, but inside it was quiet, with only the sounds of a few ponies working... and three Draconequus loitering on the far side of the lobby.

Dysphoria was calmly reading, while Diminish had large headphones on and some kind of rectangular device in one hand, and Donnybrook was playing with a yo-yo, looking bored. They all glanced up as Innocence frowned at them, however, and then the three quickly snapped to attention before the tiny, pig-like Draconequus squeaked as he dropped his toy, scampering hurriedly after it.

Diminish rolled his eyes, then sulkily turned away and crossed his arms as Dysphoria only smiled calmly, bowing his head politely towards Innocence as he said in his ever-polite voice: “It's a pleasure to see you both. How we may be of service today?”

Innocence shrugged awkwardly, and then she cleared her throat before carefully putting the black box of corruption down, saying finally: “Well, uh... Monkshood?”

Monkshood only gave her a dry look, so the scaled mare sighed a little and shook her head out, turning her eyes back towards the three chimerical creatures. “Okay then. Uh, maybe you three could... actually, just stay out of trouble for now, that'd be fantastic. We're going to be moving out soon... can you three fight at all?”

“We're the toughest fighters you ever did see! We're amazing!” boasted Donnybrook, as he hopped back and forth from foot-to-foot, throwing punches through the air. “You just wait, you just wait to see us in action, that Light ain't gonna know what hit it!”

“Can I just stay back here? And not die?” Diminish asked sourly, and he sniffed loudly as he poked a claw firmly into the musical device in his grip, the headphones visibly beginning to shake as the music loudened. “Great, can't hear you, guess I'll just assume yes!”

Dysphoria sighed and shook his head slowly, and then the medium-sized Draconequus calmly placed his hands together and bowed politely, saying gently: “Of course, Miss Innocence. It would be our honor to fight at your side.”

The two nodded, and Monkshood studied them for a few moments before the stallion asked gruffly: “So no luck with Discombobulation, huh?”

The three Draconequus looked a little surprised at this,and Innocence frowned over at Monkshood, but the stallion only shrugged and said moodily: “Saw these three with Freya. Figured that there was only one thing she could be using them for.”

“Considering Freya, there's a lot of things she could have been using us for. We were just lucky it was one of the pleasant options.” muttered Diminish, and then he winced when Dysphoria slapped the back of his head lightly, looking at him disapprovingly.

“That is no way to talk of such a fine lady as the Valkyrie is. Why, yes, she is very passionate and prone to giving in to her emotions... but are not we all? And she suffers, and is angry, because what she loves has been taken from her: country, people, and more. I would be rather incensed as well, and would not handle myself half as well as she has.” Dysphoria argued eloquently, and Diminish dropped his head grouchily as Donnybrook shrugged a little, still looking more excited at the prospect of fighting than anything else.

Innocence frowned worriedly, leaning forwards and asking quickly: “What happened with Discombobulation? I thought he just needed to be... shouldn't your chaos powers be enough to restore him to life?”

There was silence for a few moments between the three brothers, and then Diminish shrugged slowly as Donnybrook rubbed the back of his head embarrassedly, and Dysphoria simply gave a faint, sad smile. “No. Not this time. It would take a much more powerful magic than ours to restore him... and not just chaos, but a different energy than we have. Discombobulation has more than chaos energies flowing through his system, it would seem... but finding a destruction entity willing to donate some of its lifeforce to restore him from neutralization will be a very difficult task.”

“What?” Innocence looked surprised, leaning back and saying disbelievingly: “But... he's a Draconequus. Chaos, right?”

“It is not that simple, I fear. You can certainly refill a pen with whatever color ink you want, but if you put red ink a black pen, it does not stay a black pen... it becomes a red one. Discombobulation is who he is because of the energies flowing through him: erasing all those energies will erase his current state of being. He will become a completely different Draconequus. Perhaps a Denial, or a Dainty, or a Doubt. But not Discombobulation.” replied Dysphoria softly, shrugging and giving a faint smile.

Innocence shook her head slowly, murmuring: “The rules for you Draconequus are so... weird. That doesn't seem to make sense.”

“Because they're not rules, so they shouldn't make sense. We're chaos entities. Hypocrisy and illogic is to be expected.” Diminish retorted, sniffing disdainfully and raising his head with a cranky look at Innocence. “By Loki, you think you just got off the short bus or something.”

Innocence glared at the tall, thin Draconequus as Donnybrook giggled behind his hands, but then Monkshood interjected clearly: “It isn't our business anyway. Our business is figuring out what to do from here. We have to coordinate our forces, but more than that, decide where the hell we're going to go once we reach Canterlot.”

“We should head to Canterlot Gardens.” Innocence said, before she was even aware of it, and Monkshood looked at her with surprise, tilting his head. The scaled unicorn only smiled awkwardly, however, shifting a bit before she said finally: “I mean... our main force should march on Canterlot Castle. If we take the Castle, we take the Magic Academy and the high ground, and we can bombard the entire city with Lord Chrysophylax's miasma, poison and subdue the Light.”

Monkshood only looked at her moodily before he asked sourly: “And what, precisely, does that have to do with the Canterlot Gardens?”

“Oh, right, well... maybe we can't save the Draconequus...” Innocence shifted a little glancing at the trio before she returned her eyes to Monkshood. “But there's a lot of others there who aren't Draconequus. It's where they've been putting their petrified prisoners on display. I can use dark energy to cancel out their neutralization... I think.”

“Next time keep the whole 'I think' part of the sentence to yourself.” Monkshood said irritably, and then he hesitated before shaking his head slowly, muttering: “It's risky. They'll be heavily guarded, and a platoon would move too slowly and be all-but-guaranteed to smash a few of the statues into pieces. You'd have to go in with a small group.”

“That's what I was hoping to do.” Innocence replied quietly, nodding and smiling a little. Monkshood looked at her for a few moments, and then the scaled unicorn said quietly: “All we can do is lead our forces to Canterlot, anyway. The rest is fighting, and hoping that we get away with minimal casualties. While the fight is going on, I have a chance to save the lives of the ponies who have been turned to stone or hurt or... trapped in some other way. Let me do this, Monkshood.”

“I'm not who you have to convince. What I say doesn't matter in the long run, I'm just another coordinator, like you.” Monkshood replied after a moment, shaking his head slowly. “It's Freya you're going to have to convince. And I don't know if you can say anything to do that.”

Innocence shifted a little bit, and then she murmured quietly: “I'll do what I have to do, Monkshood. Besides, I just... I don't know, but I want to believe she still... she still cares about something other than the ultimate end.”

The stallion only shrugged moodily, and then he muttered: “Sometimes it's better when you can convince yourself that only the endgame matters, believe me. I'm not defending her. But I am trying to explain her. I think she deserves that much, at least.”

Innocence smiled a little, and then she nodded a bit before taking a breath and saying finally: “Okay. Let's try and concentrate on what we're supposed to be doing here. I'll send out a quick call to the others while you figure out how long it's going to take a group this size to march to Canterlot.”

Monkshood grunted as Innocence closed her eyes, admittedly feeling nervousness crawl up through her stomach at how everyone might react and how long it might take to get prepared... but within thirty minutes, they not only had all the coordinators gathered together, but the workings of a basic plan of attack.

Innocence was feeling more and more positive about things... and then she heard a throat clear loudly, and the scaled mare winced over her shoulder to see Freya standing in the library doorway, the mare looking at her steadily as she said calmly: “Innocence. I need you here. Bring the cards.”

The scaled unicorn hesitated a little, but it wasn't like she had a choice: she took one look around at the group of coordinators, smiling lamely, then picked up the box of corruption with telekinesis before she turned and made her way over to Freya, carrying the rectangle with her.

They looked at each other for a few moments, and then Freya stepped back and gestured moodily at the scaled mare with her head, saying quietly: “You're off the coordination team. I don't need you here.”

Innocence flinched, feeling a distinct twist in her chest before she swallowed thickly and dropped her head forwards. Then she sighed a little, striding silently through the doorway... before looking nervously up when Freya didn't move out of her way. They looked at each other again for a moment, and then Freya silently pointed to the side, and Innocence turned, trembling, dismissed so easily by just a gesture...

And then her head rose, and she stared in disbelief at what she saw. There, resting on a blanket, was a gorgeous suit of armor: it was a mix of beautiful ivory and deep black, with shell-like, overlapping metal plating along the back of the heavy breastplate and an onyx crystal in the front. Black, dragonscale leather would protect the limbs of whoever was wearing it, and the front leggings fed into ivory alloy bracers both inset with matching dark crystals.

The helm was a heavy white casque, with large, curling black horns stretching back from it and a coronet of short, barb-like spikes. She stared in awe over the armor, then looked over at Freya with disbelief as she said quietly: “It's based on the armor Sleipnir made for you. I've been cobbling it together from prototypes in storage and old, extra pieces of armor from myself and Luna... that, and a few spells saved me a lot of time over the last few days fixing it for you.

“I also made you these.” Freya flicked her horn, and Innocence stared as a pair of claw-gauntlets very similar to the ones she already had appeared... except they were bright white, with a jet-black gemstone covering each knuckle and runes engraved in obsidian along the body of the gauntlet. “They took up the rest of my free time, so I'd like a 'thank you,' even if this is really only fair payment for... services rendered.”

Innocence mouthed slowly and wordlessly, then she reached slowly up and took the gauntlets, staring back and forth over them before she trembled a little as she looked across at Freya. Freya looked back at her calmly, her single eye focused on her as she said softly: “Honor is a difficult path to follow. Having real virtue, and living up to your honor is even more difficult. This world... this side of the battle makes me question honor sometimes, and its worth... but if it's the path you've chosen, so be it, Innocence.

“Innocence, with this gift of armor and these tools, I acknowledge you as Valkyrie. Maintain your honor, even when I don't: maintain your honor even when it goes against everything I have taught you and whatever I order you to do, because I am not infallible, but your honor is. You must be honorable, virtuous, and do what is right. Not just what is required: what is right.” Freya said quietly, her intense gaze tearing into the scaled unicorn, making her shrink back and feel the strangest mix of both joy and disbelief and fear. “You have a responsibility now, to protect this world... to protect all worlds. I hope you can handle it.”

Innocence swallowed thickly, and then she bowed deeply, trembling and clenching her eyes shut before Freya stepped forwards and silently touched her shoulder. Innocence looked up, and the ivory mare gently kissed her forehead, then her lips in blessing, before she said softly: “I hope your beliefs don't lead you wrong, Innocence. Because your choice now is to either survive, defeat the Light, and live as a true Valkyrie... or die, and be the most dishonored, wretched wench to ever have fallen from my graces.”

The scaled mare looked up... and then she laughed in disbelief, whispering: “So you're... what, you're bribing and blackmailing me at the same time?”

Freya only smiled wryly in response, and then she shrugged slowly and said calmly: “I'm encouraging you... and warning you of the consequences. But I wouldn't offer you this if you didn't deserve it, Innocence... even if part of it is, yes, I want you under my hoof, and my control, too.” Freya halted, then she smiled a little, saying in an almost-soft voice: “But I need a second. I have always needed a second, who controls the darkness and who I can depend on. I pray that I'm right when I think that it's you.”

“But... why? What... you've spent... all you've done is manipulate me, then hate me and try and make me give up, why this, why now?” Innocence asked disbelievingly, and then she blinked when Freya flicked her horn and easily lifted the box of crystallized corruption, and then it glowed brightly and shattered, leaving the dozen metal cards floating in the air.

Freya looked over these measuringly, then took four of them and slipped them carefully under her armor, shaking her white, braided locks out before replying with a slight smile: “And all Brynhild ever did was challenge me, and antagonize me, and irritate me. I don't need someone who's going to pander to me, Innocence. I need someone who is going to stand up to me... but who I can trust to fight at my side, and who I can have faith in obeying... enough of my orders, but not all.”

She stopped, then added calmly: “Take the rest of the cards. Do not break off from the main group: I'll need your powers to bring down Canterlot.”

“I won't destroy the castle. And I'm... I'm going to the stone gardens, first.” Innocence said quietly, looking up bravely after a moment even as she pulled the remaining eight metal cards from Freya's psychic grip with her own telekinetic powers, and the ivory mare gave a slight smile.

Innocence watched as Freya turned away, and then she realized that the Queen of the Valkyries had been half-joking, and she glared a bit at the ivory mare's back before her eyes slowly roved towards the armor on the blanket. She hesitated only for a moment, then flicked her horn to make the metal cards vanish into her personal subspace before she strode over to the Valkyrie armor and silently reached down to touch it.

It had all been like a game to her at first, when she'd been so young... what felt like both moments and decades ago to her. The scaled unicorn smiled faintly after a moment, and then she closed her eyes: this was another chance, after all, to make up for the mistakes she'd made. And she fully planned to take it.

She fitted the armor on over her body, and it... fit. It simply fit her, like it had just become a part of her very being, and she shifted back and forth beneath the black-and-white metal plating before smiling a little as she held up a claw now covered perfectly by one black gauntlet. She could feel the power burning through it, and thrumming inside the rest of the armor insulating and protecting her: she couldn't believe what Freya was capable of putting together in only the short time she'd been here.

She shook her head slowly, then reached up and silently touched the large, black gemstone on her chest: she could feel the familiar Clay of Prometheus in it, that her father had been able to use and generate... how had Freya gotten a hold of that? Innocence only smiled a little, though, lowering her head and understanding that if Freya didn't want to tell her, well, she probably wasn't going to be able to find out. The enchantments she could feel in this armor were all nothing like anything she had ever imagined, after all... powerful, ancient magic that she couldn't wait to see in action.

Then Innocence glanced over her shoulder curiously as the library door opened, and she smiled awkwardly as Fluttershy strode out, the Phooka looking over at her before smiling and saying softly: “Oh wow... you look gorgeous, Innocence. I'm so glad to see that Celestia... I mean, Freya... had a gift for you instead of... well, I was just as convinced it might be something bad.”

“I guess... she knows how to make that impression.” Innocence said finally, and Fluttershy gave a quiet laugh, nodding as she continued to draw her eyes with warmth along the mare.

“I guess she does.” Fluttershy agreed, and then she gazed in the direction that the winged unicorn had left by, adding: “But she's still in there, Innocence. Don't ever doubt that, even when you start to get a little afraid... but oh, I'm sorry. I'm reading your emotions, that's very rude of me.”

“Not at all. That's what they're there for, Fluttershy.” Innocence smiled reassuringly over to the Phooka shaking her head briefly before she looked up as several other ponies strode out of the library. Only one of them greeted her, but it still helped Innocence feel... oddly like she was still part of the group, like she wasn't shunned or hated here, and it gave her the strength to ask: “So what have you and the other coordinators decided what you're going to do?”

The Phooka looked over at her for a moment, and then she answered with a smile: “Well, we're certainly not going to cut you out of things, Innocence, if that's what you're worried about. That's a bit of a silly thought for you to have, especially because you seem to be one of the very few ponies that Freya trusts.”

Innocence smiled awkwardly in return, looking up and replying: “Well, I don't... know my duties now, that's all. She called me a Valkyrie, and I figured... she might try and send me away on something, and she told me... well, no, she was just playing a game with me...”

“You're worried. You're scared because you don't want to disappoint her, or end up being treated... differently by her again.” Fluttershy gazed at her kindly, adding: “And I don't need to read your emotions to see that. You look, all of a sudden, a lot more like the old Innocence, the young mare who used to spend all her time with her big brother and trying to prove to Ponyville that she was just as strong as her parents... and I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but I'm glad to see it.”

The scaled unicorn only shrugged a bit, and then Monkshood strode out of the library and simply looked at her questioningly. And after a moment, Innocence said finally: “I'll help you coordinate the army with Freya. But then... I'm going to take Aphrodisia, Prestige, and a few others with me to the Canterlot Gardens.”

“Just like that?” Monkshood asked flatly, and Innocence nodded firmly and glared at him. The stallion glared back... and then he finally sighed a little and nodded briefly, muttering: “Fantastic. I'm in no position to argue, though... look, we need to all prepare to leave. Get those Draconequus out of town hall before they break something.”

Innocence gave the stallion an amused look, then she looked over at Fluttershy and murmured a quick 'thank you' before hurrying past and into the building. Her eyes locked on the three Draconequus brothers, and then she opened her mouth... before frowning a little and striding towards them, asking curiously: “Are you three any good at weather control?”

Dysphoria and Donnybrook slowly looked over at Diminish, who was pointedly ignoring them as he headbanged a little to the music blaring through his headphones, and then the middle Draconequus calmly reached out and carefully poked the little rectangular device he was holding, the music clicking off as the tall, gangly creature groaned loudly. Then he reached up and sulkily yanked down his headphones, asking sourly: “The hell do you want?”

“Cloud cover from here to Canterlot.” Innocence said brazenly, deciding it might be better to just push forwards with the temperament of this particular Draconequus. “The darker, the better. Make it miserable and block out the sun as much as possible.”

“Well, great, thanks, that doesn't sound like a veiled insult or anything at all.” Diminish said sourly, and then he grumbled under his breath and crossed his arms, glowering over at the mare. “Very well, Little Miss Third Reich, I'll go ahead and help you march on Castle Redwall over there and destroy a piece of history, just so you evil little ponies can set up some... new hell on earth or something. Or a glue factory, I don't know.”

The mare glared at him, and Diminish sighed tiredly before Dysphoria reached up and clapped his taller sibling on the shoulder, saying kindly: “Donnybrook and I will provide you with support and encouragement, don't worry. We'll get this done, brother.”

Diminish muttered something as Donnybrook hopped up and down, pumping his fists cheerfully through the air. Then the tall, sour Draconequus vanished in a puff of green smoke and Donnybrook squawked and wildly jumped up and down until he sparked out of existence as well, while Dysphoria politely bowed to Innocence and said gently: “We'll blanket the skies, Lady Innocence.”

With that, he vanished in a puff of green smoke, and the scaled unicorn shifted a bit, wondering awkwardly whether or not the three strange Draconequus were actually going to be able to do what she had asked. But then she heard a loud crackle from outside as she felt a distinct thrum of magic energies, and the scaled unicorn turned to hurry out of the library.

She looked up towards the sky, and her eyes widened in surprise at the sight of the streak of black cloud twisting back and forth through the air, Diminish sulkily standing on the end of this. It left a dark trail through the sky as it twisted back and forth, which then fattened steadily outwards into a wide blanket... mixing smoothly with the trails of dead leaves and twisted multicolored string formed by the other Draconequus.

All three looked as if they were surfing through the air, leaving those different trails behind them that expanded rapidly into each other as they moved, creating a thick blanket of dead leaves, string, and rumbling thunderhead. In Ponyville, all eyes had halted to stare at this, and Innocence laughed faintly before the three brothers suddenly twisted their flights into zigzagging lines towards the castle of Canterlot in the distance, the loud squeals of Donnybrook sounding clearly over even the ominous rumbles of green thunder that lit up Diminish's dark clouds.

“Incredible.” Innocence murmured, and then she smiled a little and shook her head slowly before she forced herself to breathe. She turned, making her way past still-staring ponies and a few soldiers who were starting to shake themselves out of their surprise, striding alongside demons that were muttering about 'patchwork dolls showing off' towards where the vast army was falling into columns and preparing to march.

The field past the farmhouses was a sea of ponies, Freya and Monkshood both already at the front of these lines and shouting orders that could be heard even over the din of muttering ponies and growling demons and shouting minotaurs. Everyone was falling into place, getting ready for the confrontation ahead... except Innocence was surprised when she found Prestige Luster, Aphrodisia, and Ersatz Major in their own little huddle, the mares looking up and then waving her over to them when she approached.

Innocence approached awkwardly as Prestige looked up with a faint smile: partly because of the fact she had Antares' shield on her back, and partly because she was a Valkyrie herself. Terra's second, as a matter of fact, and the scaled unicorn wasn't quite sure of what she should do or say. But Prestige bowed her head to her, and Innocence bowed her head in return respectfully, and then the green-coated unicorn said softly: “I'm really glad to see that... you and Freya have started working your differences out. You deserve this, Innocence. You really do.”

“I... don't know about that. I just want to do what's right and... stop the Light. And... remember my parents.” Innocence reached up, touching her own breast, and she smiled. It was a funny thing to say, but it seemed like the right thing to say, too.

The others nodded, and Aphrodisia smiled brightly before she murmured: “My Daddy... when... when he gets back from wherever he's gone, you know he's gonna be real proud of you, Sin! So I bet your Mommy and Mutty and Daddy will be super real proud of you, too!”

“I hope so, Apps. I really, honestly hope so.” Innocence said softly, glancing over at the demon and smiling faintly as she nodded briefly, and there was silence for a few moments before the scaled unicorn shook her head quickly and said finally: “So the plan is to hit Canterlot Gardens and... hopefully I can use my dark energy to cancel out the petrification and neutralization.”

The others nodded, and then Ersatz Major said softly: “Good. I'm sure you can do it... and first, we should try and free Scarlet Sage. Not just because she's your sister, but because perhaps her powers will allow her to help us free the others.”

“First, actually, we have to kill the guards... the Canterlot Gardens are always under heavy watch, likely to prevent people like us from doing exactly that kind of thing.” Innocence halted, looking up and adding as the mass of cloud and dead leaves and string fattened and spread: “But we'll hopefully at least have a few distractions on our side.”

The others nodded at this, and then Innocence shook her head briefly before looking up as Freya shouted: “Everyone, into line! Five minutes, then we march!”

“Okay, once we reach the fork outside Canterlot, we'll break off from the main group. Try to shift your way up through the rows if you can, I want us to try and be together.” Innocence said quickly, and the others nodded before the scaled unicorn picked herself up and hurried up to the front, grimacing a bit as she darted past the rows and rows of soldiers, barely able to believe what a massive force they had gathered together in so little time.

She reached the front of the line and awkwardly made her way over to Freya, who looked calmly at her for a few moments. Beside her, Monkshood looked less-than-happy, still dressed in his loose, cheap suit. The only sign that he was nervous at all came from the fact he kept playing with his tie, however, the stallion asking irritably: “So what's your plan for Canterlot Gardens? We can't just walk in there.”

“I... wait, we?” Innocence looked dumbly at Monkshood, blinking slowly before she asked finally: “You realize that. We're going to go in there and actually fight Pious, right? I mean... I can understand you helping lead the army, but...”

“Wolfsbane wants to... 'help.' By which I mean Wolfsbane wants an excuse to rip the limbs off Pious and drink their blood.” Monkshood said sourly, finally pulling his hooves away from his tie before he looked grouchily over at Freya when she gave the slightest smile. “Be quiet. My curse is not something I take lightly.”

“Then you shouldn't have made such a stupid deal.” Freya replied evenly, and Monkshood growled at her, but then nodded grumpily in agreement before the ivory mare turned her eye back towards Innocence, gesturing upwards with her horn lightly at the clouds above. “Is that your hoofwork, Innocence?”

“Well. Sort of. I told the Draconequus what to do, I guess, if that's what you mean.” Innocence said awkwardly, and Freya nodded before her eyes flicked thoughtfully upwards, studying the ever-thickening blanket above. Innocence couldn't help but turn her own eyes upwards, watching as the clouds spread and thickened and darkened constantly, as the three different substances merged and continued to slowly grow. “I didn't think their magic would self-replicate for so long.”

“Nothing replicates as quickly or as many times as chaos energies.” Freya replied calmly, and then she shook her head slowly before adding quietly: “It's not a bad idea. And Innocence... speaking seriously and games aside for a moment... if you go to Canterlot Gardens, this will be fully your responsibility. Any casualties, any lost lives – including prisoners – will all rest squarely on your head. Do you understand?”

“I understand, Freya. And that's why I plan to save them all... or at least, as many as I can.” Innocence replied quietly, looking up calmly, and the ivory mare gave a thin smile.

“I just hope that 'as many as you can' doesn't translate to 'none.'” she replied in an equal tone, then she shook her head slowly before saying seriously: “You're on the right section. Monkshood is on the left. Keep an eye on your sections and make sure they're marching properly before you return to me. Officers will report to us along the way and will help keep everyone in line. It's important we get to Canterlot as quickly as possible.”

Innocence nodded quickly and gave an awkward salute, and Freya gave her a mild look before the ivory mare shook her head and turned around, shouting to the massive army: “Get ready! We march, now! Onwards to Canterlot, to defeat the Light, and to our crowning glory!”

“Glory be.” Monkshood muttered, and Innocence gave him a curious look, but the stallion was already striding moodily off. She decided it was likely best for her to do the same, shaking her head briefly and breathing slowly as she looked uncomfortably back at the group of... well... everyone.

But most of all, they were a people: all different cultures, species, worlds even... but a single people united and ready to stand together for one purpose, one thing that they all agree they deserved... freedom. Freedom, from the Light's tyranny, from being forced to bow to a Cardinal's machinations in the name of a God of Light that had been destroyed... and Innocence had the most painful feeling in her stomach wouldn't want to see his own subjects not only subjugated, but used like... cannon fodder and farm animals.

Freya began to stride forwards, her purpose clear, and all Innocence had to do was try and mimic the mare. Fortunately, that was enough to help start leading her side forwards, and the mare just focused on keeping her gaze ahead towards Canterlot, breathing slowly and trying to keep herself focused on their objective.

Canterlot... the capital of Equestria. A place of hope and dreams and right now... the most dangerous place in all of Equestria for them to go. But this could end the war: this could be precisely what they had been struggling for, ever since the war had begun. A way to strike at their real enemy, in Greater Heaven, instead of simply being forced to fight their own brainwashed friends and family.

After about ten minutes of marching, the minotaurs began to sing loudly and brazenly, and some of the demons gradually picked this up. Dragons roared alongside Tyrant Wyrms – who simply laughed at the thought of the coming battle – and Terra's voice rang out with a war chant that was picked up by the other Ironjaw and the Valkyries... apart from Innocence, who had no idea what they were saying, and Freya, who was focused completely ahead.

Then Innocence grimaced a bit as a massive and yet somehow unintimidating shadow fell over her, the mare looking mildly over her shoulder at the sight of the massive Dracolich that was now awkwardly striding just behind her, leaning his head forwards over her and apparently not caring that he was disrupting most of the marching column on this side. Or more likely, not noticing, despite his often-self-proclaimed 'genius.' “Excuse me.”

“You're excused.” Innocence muttered, and Lord Chrysophylax Dives scowled down at her before she sighed tiredly and asked finally: “What is it? We're... kind of busy here. Also, your giant butt is swatting soldiers left and right. Please walk a little faster or go back into line.”

Chrysophylax huffed at this, but he quickly picked up the pace, muttering: “What impertinence! Still a juvenile and already you presume to be erudite in the etiquette of the world. Yet what are you yet but green as a sapling, your expertise still suited more to the pursuits of youth; not nearly have you earned scholarship in the great symposium that is life.”

“And you're not alive. So shut up.” Innocence said sourly, and the Dracolich glared down at her before she sighed again and shook her head slowly. “Look. If you want dead bodies, Freya is right over there. If you want me to put in a good word for you, I will, but. I don't think she really trusts anyone or anything I put in a good word for, Dives.”

“I... no, that is incorrect. Your assumption derides and makes light of my presence, as if I, regal and majestic Lord Chrysohpylax Dives, am nothing but a wastrel, sponging off whatever vein I might find. I am a Dracolich, sustained and made impervious by my own might and endowment! My faculties are all I have ever had to rely upon to keep my existence supreme and unchallenged, and-”

“Okay, yes, fine. What do you want?” Innocence interrupted the Dracolich in an exasperated voice, glowering up at him, and Chrysophylax Dives grumbled under his breath before he looked back down at her crankily.

He shifted awkwardly, seeming to lose some of his bluster, and then he cleared his throat before looking up and saying finally: “It was simply my inclination to wish you well, that is all. You are not the most-agreeable of minions I have ever been forced to employ, but neither were you the most dislikeable. Your crusade in search of some incoherent idea of honor is foolish, but your journey at least promises to be an interesting one, and I would prefer to debate and quarrel with a stimulating opponent than receive dull praises from an unexciting sycophant.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Innocence couldn't help but smile a little, looking up at Chrysophylax and saying finally: “Ignoring all the offensive things and untruths... that's actually rather nice of you to say. I... guess I appreciate it then, Dives.”

“Lord. Chrysophylax. Dives. You ignorant little strumpet of a dragonlet, are you completely unaware of the simplest aphroisms of addressing those with superior rank and class to your own?” asked the Dracolich crankily, and then he shook his head and muttered: “But I suppose this should not surprise me. You have upon many occasions demonstrated anarchistic antisocial tendencies that are contrary to the maxims of any sophisticated and evolved society. You truly cannot behave yourself as is to be expected of an entity of your standing and social status.”

Innocence shrugged a few times, then looked mildly up at the Dracolich, replying dryly: “And you can't seem to learn to just close your mouth. But... you've helped us a lot more than I thought you would. Try and take care of yourself in the coming fight, okay? They won't just target your physical body, they'll go for your spirit.”

Chrysophylax Dives only rose his head pompously, sniffing loudly at this before he declared: “In comparison to my divine glory, their powers have all the effect of fruit flies compared to my authority. I carry the verisimilitude of a god! Let them throw their paltry magic and knives at me as they desire, but my scales alone form an armor more impenetrable than lodestone, more impervious than silvered steel!”

The scaled unicorn sighed a little at this, looking up at the Dracolich for a moment, and then she said mildly: “I hate to point this out, Dives, but... you know, a few drips of water can get through your armor, and then turn into a rash or moss or stuff? That's why... Mom and Dad and Mutt were always really... why they always really emphasized keeping armor clean and... not letting the little things gum it up. Because sure, Dives, you might be able to avoid or defend against the big scary things, but... what can you do about the little stuff?”

“Devour and annihiliate it. The insignificant does not bother me. Little droplets of water cannot rash skin of stone and my fine, armory scales. Nor am I vulnerable to any of the other afflictions that trouble and pain so many little mortals, who are so pliant and yielding.” the Dracolich complained disdainfully, and Innocence dropped her head forwards, closing her eyes and resisting the urge to rub at her face.

“Great.” Innocence muttered, and then she looked forwards, saying finally: “I'd just like to point something out, Dives, and this is honestly for your own benefit... this is precisely the reason no one wants to hang around you. And I know you might not care about friends and blah-blah-blah, standard Dracolich 'I am the greatest' excuses... but I'm pretty sure even you recognize that you need some not-minions around. Otherwise you wouldn't be here with us.”

“Fallacy. Perhaps I merely see all of you as nothing but my inferiors. Do not make assumptions, dragonlet, that is the first rule of superior strategy. Make reasoned estimates based upon factual information.” Chrysophylax argued, raising his head with a disdainful sniff, and Innocence smiled wryly despite herself as she turned her gaze away.

They walked onwards in silence, and eventually Chrysophylax Dives drew off to the side, while Innocence kept her gaze forwards and her attention ahead. The minutes passed, and Innocence realized they were making quite good time towards Canterlot, even as the army had to shift itself into narrower columns now and then to pass over some of the rougher terrain. Overhead, the clouds the Draconequus had created had formed into one great, dark mass of black nimbus and string and dead leaves, some of these last falling every now and then, but usually carried away on the wind or dissolving into dust long before they could reach the soldiers below.

Then Innocence looked up in surprise at a flash and faint bang in the distance, and Freya shouted for a halt, the entire army rumbling to a stop and all eyes looking uneasily towards Canterlot. Freya's eye narrowed as she stepped forwards, focusing her sharp gaze... and then giving a brief, cold smile as she saw a bright beam of white light shoot up into the sky, ripping into the clouds and tracing slowly along the blanket in the sky.

When it died out, Freya's hawk-like gaze caught sight of several surprisingly-large chunks of stone falling from the sky: the clouds and other gunk in the air was apparently so thick with chaos energies that the splash of the beam's energies was neutralizing large pieces of it, causing petrified debris to fall to the ground.

Freya shook her head slowly, then she murmured quietly: “We have an advantage. Whoever is in charge of Canterlot is either misreading our intentions or thinks that opening a hole of daylight around them will help protect them from our forces. Eventide!”

The Greater Nightmare emerged from the crowd after a moment, hurrying up to the ivory mare's side, but the golden-armored winged unicorn didn't even bother looking at her as she ordered calmly: “Take four Greater Nightmares and scout ahead. Investigate as much of the Canterlot area as possible, then report back to me.”

“Yes, Mistress.” The Greater Nightmare nodded calmly, and then she hesitantly reached up and touched the silvery breastplate she was wearing before shaking her head and saying softly: “I will test how dangerous the area around Canterlot is. I will not fail you, Queen Freya.”

“I know.” Freya smiled over at the Greater Nightmare, although there was something both... resigned and cold in that expression, Innocence thought. It chilled her, for some strange reason, and the scaled unicorn shivered a little and shook her head briefly before the ivory mare turned her gaze back forwards, watching as another beam of purification shot out of Canterlot and slowly cut through the clouds above again before they could fill in.

Eventide ran forwards as four Greater Nightmares emerged from the crowd behind her, then vanished one after the other, and Innocence was tempted to call 'good luck' after her... but then she simply sighed a little and shook her head slowly instead, turning her nervous gaze back toward Freya. But Freya was unapproachable and silent, her expression hard as she gazed into the distance, her head raised high as she surveyed the castle in the mountains in the distance and the dangers they had yet to approach before she finally called calmly over her shoulder: “Forwards march!”

There was no argument: she started forwards, and they simply followed, Innocence looking uneasily every now and then towards the ivory mare until she finally gathered up the courage to approach her. Of course, part of that came from the fact that they were moving into narrower, more mountainous terrain anyway, and their forces had to begin moving into a tighter column anyway...

Innocence shifted a bit, convincing herself to... to say something, to at least try and talk to Freya... and then she winced then the Queen of the Valkyries looked over her shoulder and shouted: “If you can fly, take to the air and form into your different units! Prepare for combat, at any point we could be ambushed! If you have been assigned to scouting or wide flank positions, move into them now!”

The massive army began to shift outwards, and Freya watched this over her shoulder before she shook her head briefly and gave a wry smile, muttering after a moment: “Well, they're trying, at least. A little slow, a few have forgotten their placements... but in a force this size...”

She halted, then glanced towards Innocence, adding calmly as the scaled mare realized dumbly that Freya was actually addressing her: “Go and check their formations, get the lazy Pegasi off the ground, make sure everyone knows what they're doing. Then, when you return, we can talk about any concerns you might have.”

Innocence gave a small smile after a moment and nodded embarrassedly, and then she let herself drop back and she turned her gaze over the soldiers behind her. She winced at how thickly-packed they were, then hesitated for only a moment before leaping up into the air, her horn sparking with dark energy as a black aura burst to life over her body, and she floated upwards above the heads of most of the army before sailing forwards, looking back and forth and grimacing a bit as she hoped she could figure out who was supposed to go where.

After about twenty minutes, she returned to drop down beside Freya, even as she winced a little at the fact they were heading deeper into the mountains, the chance of being ambushed seeming more and more likely. But the ivory mare only gave her a calm look before saying quietly: “You took a little long. Next time I expect you to complete that task in half the time. Understood?”

Innocence gave an awkward smile, and then Freya turned her eyes back forwards, gesturing towards Canterlot: there were no longer blasts of purification coming up from the castle or the town, but Innocence wasn't sure if that meant they had just given up or had noticed the army of ponies coming towards them and were conserving their energies for the battle.

“The Greater Nightmares reported back while you were gone. They haven't established any major defenses, apart from the wyvern nests we'll be reaching shortly. More than half of them are empty, however: if anything it looks like the Light has withdrawn their forces. We'll have to keep our eyes open in case they're planning an ambush, but we may have gotten fortunate with our timing.”

“I don't know. That honestly... worries me more, that they're not there.” Innocence murmured in reply, grimacing a little, and Freya looked at her for a moment before the ivory mare shook her head slowly.

“Yes, it may mean trouble in the future. But for now, we have to concern ourselves only with the current battle in time.” Freya replied quietly, and then she looked slowly up as there was a loud rumbling, before a cold smile spread over her face as the mass of cloud and string and dead leaves above was punctured by several large, ominous shapes that hammered down into the mountains around the castle. “As you can see for yourself, we already have plenty to worry about.”

Innocence shivered as she looked up at this, biting her lip before she nodded silently and took a slow breath, preparing herself for the battle they were walking into... and only hoping that this was finally the beginning of the end.

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