• 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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Hel's Gambit

Chapter Eighty Eight: Hel's Gambit

For Scrivener Blooms, Twilight Sparkle, and Luna Brynhild, an entire year had passed for them in Helheim since they'd received the gift of the Passage of the Holy Word from Hel. And yet, from what Hel had told them, less than an hour had passed in the mortal world and Greater Heaven. Hel had created massive distortions through this slice of Helheim, accelerating their perceptions of time and reality... because apparently Greater Heaven had just learned that they were still alive.

Or well, as alive as you got when you were actually dead. Either way, though, Hel was taking this extremely seriously, even if it was having... negative consequences on some parts of Helheim. She could control her dimension as she pleased, certainly, but at the cost of damaging reality itself with her larger manipulations. This allowed chaos to flow into Helheim, distorting some of her rules, letting in Draconequus and less-pleasant chaos entities that couldn't be booted back into Ginnungagap quite as swiftly, and here and there causing ripples in reality that became dangerous fluxes.

But she had just bought them a literal year of time, and it had been a productive year indeed: during only the first few weeks, while they had been maintaining their now-normal schedule of going between Punishment and Cowlick's laboratory and the Master Archives, Cowlick had worked out the details on some kind of ultra-potent elixir.

She had tested it on the three of them, and they hadn't reacted well to it: it took all their strength and a purification panel to stop them from losing their minds and giving into suddenly-vicious primal desires, which made Cowlick reconsider for a day or so what she was doing. Then, she had locked them in a small room, and had the three each take a needle of this new poison she had created before shining purification down on them the moment they started to react to it.

They had eventually succumbed to the massive jolts of holy energy being shone down from the ceiling and sparking up from the floor, but Cowlick had been grinning from ear-to-ear. Dangerous side effects or not, she'd been forced to use a much, much higher dose of purification to bring them down... which meant the elixir had begun working immediately. It was made from a steroid cocktail that she sometimes used, combined with Scrivener's blood and some demonic alchemy: a supercharger, in other words. She hadn't tried to immunize them to purification: she had just accelerated the growth of the darkness inside them.

She had done a few doses with them: each was more painful than the last, requiring them to be locked up in a cell inundated with holy rays, driving them into unconsciousness to ensure they didn't go completely berserk and to 'temper' them. Except Scrivener thought Cowlick just took a sick kind of pleasure from using them as guinea pigs and seeing them in pain. But not long after the third dose was administered, Hel had shown up to move them back to the privacy of their mansion... while forbidding them to go outside the grounds without special supervision and permission.

And ever since then, they had been back here: they no longer went to be Punished, but Punishment instead came to them. Inquisitors, librarians, Cowlick, and Hel all came and went often from their manse, and their home became a luxurious prison: one that, even with its many, many sprawling floors, its deep basement and the dark dungeons beneath, the servants and the wide, snowy grounds... it all became almost unbearable. It was a torture in itself, having all this space, all these riches... and no one to really share it with.

Well, that wasn't entirely true. They had their servants, and the Inquisitors loved to hang around and help themselves to their food after they tormented them, and Cowlick showed up now and then. Hel and Nightmare Moon came and went too, but Scrivener was pretending they didn't really count, and Luna flatly refused to acknowledge either of them, even if Twilight Sparkle had started to find... a funny kind of happiness in spending time with the dark goddess during her eccentric little stop-ins.

This was how they had lived for a few weeks shy of a year: the real fortune was that they at least had plenty of room to train on the ground, and even several sparring rooms inside the mansion. And for a pleasant change of pace they were sparring rooms designed to survive the fierceness of even someone like Luna, who tended to smash up even stone arenas otherwise.

On the bright side, they had very nearly mastered the Light's language and lithography, and memorized almost the entire religious text they had been given. It was some kind of bible, telling all about their Holy Word, listing all the rules of the Light, and the laws they tried to adhere to... and it bothered Scrivener Blooms a lot that it was actually pretty good reading. If the Light actually obeyed its own rules, they would be a peaceful people with a wonderful philosophy not a whole lot different than what Twilight Sparkle had always tried to follow.

Scrivener Blooms shifted a little bit in his personal office, and then he sighed as he heard a knocking at the door. He closed his eyes, but Luna and Twilight were in the other room, curled up on the couch with each other, which meant... “Please go away.”

There was giggling behind the door, and Scrivener Blooms lowered his head before he sighed moodily and muttered: “Great. Luna, Twilight, pest control?”

There was no response except a muffled mental giggle from Luna, and the stallion grumbled under his breath as the spun around in a circle in his office chair. His eyes roved over the shelves full of books and notes, and then his front hooves dropped down and thumped onto the desk, stopping himself mid-spin before he glowered down at the notebook on the tabletop as he heard the door click open. Well, there's only one pony that could be. “Dammit, Juliette. Will you and Justine please go away? I only have an hour before I have to go back to getting parts of my body chopped off.”

“Now, now, Master Scrivener...” Juliette purred, the earth pony succubus sliding up sinuously behind him as her nervous twin sister tried to awkwardly grab her tail and pull her away. “In a few minutes, I know you can make me scream...”

“Yes. I can. By pulling out your spleen. And no, that's not foreplay.” Scrivener Blooms said sourly, turning around and grasping her shoulder to keep her from advancing any further on him. She leered at him, licking her lips slowly as Justine lamely looked over her sister's shoulder, and the stallion sighed a little before he mumbled: “I kind of don't like you two.”

“Well, don't worry. We kind of like you more than enough to make up for that.” Juliette replied easily, stroking slowly along his Talon, and Scrivener rumbled moodily at them before she asked almost longingly: “Are you sure there's nothing we can help with?”

Scrivener looked moody for a few moments, and then he slipped out of his seat and said dryly: “No. Unless you want to go and put together some snacks for me and Luna and Twilight.”

Juliette pouted a bit, but nodded all the same as Justine bowed her head in relief, the latter mare murmuring shyly: “Of course, Scrivener Blooms. You treat your girls so well. They must be very happy to be with someone like you.”

The stallion only gave a small smile and a shrug, and then he watched as the two succubi turned to head to the doorway, Juliette looking back at him with a pout, but Scrivener simply twiddled his Talons at her. He gave them a few moments to get down the hall, then hurried to the door himself, exiting his office and moving just down the spacious, gorgeous corridor to the room next door.

While he wrote or sorted or researched things in his office, Luna and Twilight would often spend their time here. The room was large and comfortable, with cushioned seats and pillows and sofas, and a massive window wall that looked out over their sprawling property. Except the snow gently pattering against the window made it look almost homely, and the blue flames crackling in the expansive fireplace gave it all the more an illusion of being home during the dead of winter...

Except... this was home. It had started to feel like it, more and more: and even though the ponies were well-aware that Hel would probably take this mansion away from them the moment they had finished fighting Greater Heaven, and they'd end up with her forcibly trying to twist them more and more into her personal bodyguards and weird little family... for now, this was the place where they felt comfortable, where... well, things often hurt them, but they could heal all the same, where they had some modicum of control over the world. This was their sanctuary. This was their home.

Luna and Twilight looked up at him from the couch, and Scrivener Blooms strode over with a sigh to throw himself down beside the two on the puffy furnishing. Immediately, Luna wriggled forwards as much as she could, half-dragging, half-pushing Twilight Sparkle with her so that they were resting over Scrivener's lap, and the stallion smiled despite himself as he reached down and silently stroked a Talon through Luna's mane, as Twilight buried her head against his stomach and closed her eyes beneath the blanketing body of the sapphire mare.

The stallion closed his eyes, and he felt emotions trading between himself and the two mares, and the three of them smiled after a moment in synchronicity. They breathed slowly in and out as one, and Twilight pressed closer as Luna reached up and grasped Scrivener's shoulder, and the stallion leaned down to share a soft kiss with her for one slow, wonderful moment.

Their lips parted, and Luna's head lowered as Twilight shifted just enough so her own lips could brush Luna's: they shared their own soft affection, and then the two mares smiled softly as Scrivener massaged a Talon through Luna's flowing locks and along her back, as the other cupped the top of Twilight's skull gently. The mares' hooves locked, all three of them pressing together, in perfect coexistence: they all simply were, and were together.

It was peaceful... until there was a knock at the door, and Scrivener winced a bit when he looked up. But then Luna grinned slightly as the door opened, and instead of the succubus twins, a large, demonic stallion entered, his features solemn and calm, his body masculine and powerful and tightly dressed in a perfect, pristine suit. Leathery wings were folded over his back, and his coat was darker, with a mane that matched and heavy, cloven hooves: a Night Guard in life who was now continuing to serve his mistress, even in death.

“Lady Luna. Baron La Croix seeks an audience.” he said quietly, his voice rasping only slightly. Luna smiled a little at this, and then she patted Scrivener on the chest and carefully sat up, yawning loudly as she straddled Twilight's back, the Lich remaining sprawled in a pleasant doze half in Scrivener's lap and half beneath Luna Brynhild. “Shall I have him brought up to you?”

“At ease, Caliginos.” Luna eyed him for a moment, then licked her lips. “Damnation. Why must thou always come to us with work? Why can't thou ever come to us for play? Oh, the gifts I would give to watch thou and thy brothers 'play' with Scrivener...”

“What does Cross want?” Scrivener asked moodily, and Luna huffed loudly at him even as Twilight made some sleepy, happy noise and nuzzled into the stallion's stomach, one of his Talons absently and gently stroking through her mane.

Caliginos lowered his head respectfully, responding calmly: “He is here on business, sir. He says it's very important.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Scrivener dropped his head forwards with a sigh as he mumbled: “The problem with La Croix is that he always says it's important. So you can't tell if it really is or not. I'm kind of tempted to tell him to go away.”

Luna grumbled in agreement, and then the Lich regretfully pushed herself slowly up to a sitting position, keeping herself comfortably between her partners as she murmured: “No, no... we should talk to him. It might not be what we want to do, but... you know.”

Scrivener and Luna both grumbled under their breath, but then nodded in agreement as the Lich gave a small smile, gazing from one to the other before she said quietly: “Go ahead and tell La Croix we'll be right down, Caliginos.”

“What? Oh damnation, I do not desire to move.” Luna complained huffily, and Scrivener smiled despite himself over at the sapphire mare, who mumbled and shifted back and forth grumpily even as the Pegasus demon turned and left. “Thou both owe me for this. Thou shall both put on a show for me.”

“You have the absolute worst fetishes.” Scrivener said mildly, and then he winced when Luna whacked him in the head, grimacing a bit before he added moodily: “And stop trying to set me up with other stallions, at least. That's creepy.”

“Thou art creepy. And as if thou does not like it, great... egotistical brute.” Luna added, picking up a pillow and flinging it at him. Scrivener ducked under this, and Twilight winced and quickly caught it with telekinesis before it could land in the fireplace, giving Luna a mild look as she levitated it back over to drop gently on Luna's head, the sapphire mare sulking a little. “Ouch.”

Twilight Sparkle shook her head as she slipped off the couch, Scrivener following her as the sapphire mare glared after them, then bit her tongue as she climbed up to a pouncing position, butt waggling childishly before she flung herself through the air and gave herself an extra boost with her wings. She crashed into Scrivener's back, and the stallion winced and stumbled awkwardly forwards and out into the hall before he dropped his head with a groan as Luna straddled him cheerfully, holding onto him as she said wryly: “Riding thou bareback is my favorite way to pass the time, Scrivy. Although Twilight Sparkle is a close second.”

She leered over at the Lich, who winced and blushed a little, and the charcoal stallion sighed tiredly as he began down the hall, muttering: “You are the absolute worst kind of person, Luna. I just feel that I should make that clear.”

“Oh shut up, Scrivy. Save thy botherations for La Croix, thou can take thy wretchedness out upon him.” Luna said pointedly, and Scrivener grunted as Twilight smiled a little, falling in step beside the charcoal stallion. “What does thou think he is here for?”

“Nothing good.” Scrivener Blooms muttered, and Luna nodded slowly, silently stroking a hoof through Scrivener's mane as they headed down the hall, towards the stairs that would eventually take them down to the first floor.

La Croix was waiting for them impatiently in the greeting hall, Justine and Juliette hovering awkwardly around him and Caliginos simply standing nearby with several other Night Pegasi. Luna smiled over at this, nodding to them as Scrivener moodily carried her towards the zebra, as La Croix exclaimed: “There you are! I been waitin' for ages for you ouaouarons to show up, don't you know we got work to do today?”

“No, we didn't, actually.” Scrivener said mildly, and then he relented a little when Twilight gave him a pointed look, the stallion nodding grudgingly before he muttered: “Alright. What do you want, Cross? I think we have Punishment in a little while, so-”

“Nope you don't. Your credit's on hold, effective immédiatement.” the zebra replied briskly, shaking his head quickly. And all the three could do was stare as La Croix continued in a serious voice: “I been told by Nanny Hel to take all y'all to the Master Archives, and to bring you right on through to Underdark. Apparently she got a bone to pick with you. All I know is that I hope you don't all end up gettin' boiled in her pot.”

Scrivener and Twilight both automatically looked up at Luna, but the sapphire mare only huffed and flailed her limbs, complaining: “I have done nothing wrong! I am a perfect example of... well... a pony that does not do things wrong!”

“You punched your Inquisitor in the face the other day. Maybe that's what this is about. Maybe Hel's got some special cells for us in Underdark now or something.” Scrivener muttered, looking worriedly over at Twilight Sparkle, but then Luna's hoof hammered down into his head.

She huffed at him as he flinched a bit, reaching up to rub slowly at his skull as the winged unicorn grumbled: “Oh shut up, Scrivener Blooms, cease such fretting. If 'tis my fault, I shall take the Punishment for it. Which means. Thou shall both suffer along with me, which does me some comfort. But I do not think this is any fault of mine own.”

The stallion mumbled a little and shifted uneasily, and Twilight Sparkle gave a sigh before she said finally to La Croix: “Well, I guess... we're ready, whenever you are. Can you portal us there? Hel put some enchantment on the mansion and the surrounding area...”

“That ain't no worry for me, don't you fret. My magic is a little different from your magic, see.” the Loa replied easily, raising a hoof and flicking it to the side, and a rift in reality appeared with a crackle of energy before he smiled as if in relief. “But good, good. Let's get goin', shall we? Laisser les bons temps rouler, am I right?”

“None of us know what that means.” Scrivener Blooms said mildly, and the zebra rolled his eyes before he strode towards the portal, vanishing into it. For a few moments, Scrivener and Twilight only stood as Luna grumbled on the stallion's back, and then the sapphire mare heeled the charcoal earth pony firmly, making him wince a bit before he muttered: “Okay, okay. I'm going, I'm going.”

The sapphire mare grunted and nodded firmly, and the stallion strode moodily forwards into the portal with Twilight at his side. They stepped out into the entrance area of the Master Archives, and saw La Croix ahead, struggling against the sea of demons striding around him and giving him foul looks as he tried to push back through the crowd. “Hey! Hey! Here, here!”

“Damn, if we'd waited maybe a few seconds longer, he might have been trampled.” the charcoal stallion remarked mildly, and Luna grunted in agreement as Twilight gave them both mild looks as they walked quickly forwards, La Croix looking relieved as they caught up to him and he was able to half-hide in front of Scrivener's bulk.

“Well, cocodril, took you long enough. Now come on, let's keep us a-movin', shall we?” La Croix said with a flick of his head, top hat shifting to a jaunty angle as he grinned slightly. “We get to go through the special door today, amis! Ain't no one but us goin' to Underdark, after all.”

Scrivener grunted as Twilight looked hesitantly over at La Croix, asking finally: “But doesn't... I mean, I know Hel is a very private person, but every Archive has a connection to Underdark, right?”

“Not all of 'em, and a lot of 'em are just dead ends in nowhere-land. You know, like when you go to walk up this real nice path, thinkin' it's gonna take you somewhere great, and you can see all this hope in the horizon... but when you get there, ends up bein' nothin' but a big ol' cliff, where you can look all you like at the holy land, but y'can't ever reach it past the rocks and the serpents and the bayou below.” La Croix laughed loudly, and then he began to muscle – or more accurately, squirm – his way through the crowd, towards one of the desks. “This way, ouaouarons!”

The two followed as Luna scowled astride Scrivener's back, pressing her cloven hooves nervously down between the large bone pistons on either side of his spine as she muttered: “I do not like this, Scrivy. It has the reek of evil about it.”

“Well, we are in Helheim. And you don't bathe much yourself.” Scrivener said dryly, and Luna glared down at him before hammering her hooves against his back, making him wince a bit. “Yes, be a jerk. That's the solution to all your problems.”

“Shut up, Scrivener Blooms.” Luna huffed, and then she added grouchily: “Thou cannot take one damned thing seriously, can thou? This is serious, Scrivener Blooms. This is serious business.”

“Then Luna, maybe you could get off Scrivener's back. He's not a riding-horse.” Twilight said pointedly, and the sapphire mare looked thoughtfully, then suddenly firmly heeled Scrivener's sides, making him wince, then sigh tiredly and force out a belabored, exasperated neigh.

“See? 'Tis so.” Luna said pompously, then she scowled as La Croix scuttled up to the desk, shoving aside an Inquisitor. The Inquisitor glared and reached out to slap off the zebra's top hat, and La Croix glowered over his shoulder as the sapphire mare grumbled: “We had best not get punished for this. 'Tis not fair, we do not even get to have any fun and we still get punished.”

La Croix and the Inquisitor traded some loud curses as the crowd simply continued to walk on, and the devil calmly working at the desk didn't even look up from his paperwork. The zebra started to pick up his hat, and the demon attempted to slap it away again, but La Croix simply spun it around with a nasty little smile, the demon's claw sinking into the darkness past the brim... and a moment later, the rest of him followed, sucked in with a loud popping sound as La Croix easily scooped the top hat up and tossed it into the air.

It flipped lazily several times, then slowly fell... and La Croix caught this with a grin in his other hoof and flicked the hat to the side, and a moment later a large rabbit was ejected from inside the hat, bouncing over the desk and sending papers in all directions. The lapine looked up stupidly, rubbing at its face before it stared down in horror at its little claws, and La Croix leaned forwards as he licked his lips, saying with a grin: “Now, who's in the mood for some smothered rabbit?”

The rabbit stared for a moment, then turned and bolted off the desk to vanish into the crowd, and La Croix threw his head back and cackled loudly. And finally, as a few more papers fell slowly through the air, the devil at the desk looked up and said disdainfully: “Please keep your noise to a minimum. What do you require, Loa?”

“Portal to Underdark. Gotta take these three to see Nanny Hel. Real important business-like.” La Croix said proudly, grinning as he put his top hat back on and leaned on the desk. “You can do that for me right quick and right now, right?”

“No.” The devil reached out and carefully pushed La Croix's arm off the desk, looking unimpressed as the zebra blinked in confusion. “Queen Hel has left a message for you, Baron La Croix. She requires your presence in a different matter. Scrivener Blooms, Luna Brynhild, and Twilight Sparkle...”

The devil slowly turned his eyes towards the ponies, and the three looked uneasily back, Luna biting back all the insults she wanted to sling. Devils were very different from demons: they were colder, more methodical, less driven by emotion. And they very rarely left Helheim, because it was Helheim where they flourished and formed their territories: the only real reason they could have to leave these was to collect debts or valuable souls.

It didn't say anything to them, simply measured them as La Croix stared stupidly for a few moments at the devil... and then he leaned forwards, almost blurting: “Hey! You can't... I ain't no messenger boy, and you best watch what you say to me, or-”

“Or what?” The Devil looked up fearlessly, and La Croix stuttered to a halt before the entity at the desk turned his eyes towards Luna, Scrivener, and Twilight. “Hel is waiting for you. Go ahead.”

The devil absently gestured to the side, and a portal formed next to the entity, wreathed with icy, blue-white smog. The ponies looked at this for a few moments, and then Scrivener and Twilight traded looks and shrugs as Luna muttered: “Very well. I suppose w have no real choice in the matter, in any event. Let us... meet with Hel.”

“Uh, well, you ouaouarons mind your manners, and... say hi to Nanny Hel for me! I'm sure whatever she's got for me, must be real important, that's all.” La Croix called as they walked towards the portal, and Luna blew a raspberry over her shoulder at him in response just before Scrivener and Twilight stepped into the portal.

And then, the trio was enveloped by the sensation of travel before they stumbled painfully into... warmth, not cold. Luna clung to Scrivener's mane as the Lich and stallion leaned against each other, breathing a little hard and all three feeling a mix of sudden exhaustion and vertigo whirling through their senses, before Hel's voice came mildly: “Yeah, sorry about that. I intercepted your portal on the way down to me, so you didn't come down at the edge of Underdark.”

“You can... do that?” Twilight looked up with disbelief to see they were standing in some gorgeous little sitting room. The floor was hardwood, the walls were papered with some kind of sparkly gold stuff, and there was a large sofa against one wall... while, seated in a comfy armchair, was one of Hel's ice puppets.

Hel smiled at them, then flicked her wrist, and Luna, Scrivener, and Twilight suddenly found themselves seated comfortably together in the sofa, staring back and forth at each other as the dark goddess said cheerfully: “I can do that and more, as I just demonstrated. Oh, don't worry, I don't have any plans of abusing my powers too much right now... I just wanted to make a little bit of a point with the second little thing. That's all.”

“And what point is that?” Luna asked moodily, and Hel chuckled quietly before she calmly stood up, lacing her fingers together behind her back.

“To remind you that you're part of my system. Part of the big ol' family down here in Helheim, and that I'm Big Momma. Or Nanny, or... whatever your preferred matriarchal term is. I have ultimate power here. I have ultimate power over you here.” Hel enunciated slowly, leaning forwards and looking between them... but not even Luna got the sense that this was just the goddess bragging. Nor was this a warning... this was some kind of... message? “But that's only here, not really there. Not what we need to focus on right now. Just something to remember.”

She poked firmly at her own temple a few times, then she suddenly became more serious, leaning forwards and saying quietly: “But unfortunately, the real meat of our conversation is that your time here is coming to an end. You're not quite as strong as I'd hoped you three would be... but maybe that's because you're still holding back. Refusing to give in, even though you've earned your time here in my big icebox... hey, I'm kind of insulted, to be honest, you know! I gave you all these cool toys and you've only julienned Juliette once!”

Scrivener Blooms made a face, and then Hel sniffed loudly and sat back, tapping her fingers thoughtfully against her armchair before Twilight asked worriedly: “What do you mean? Are we being sent to another part of Helheim?”

“No. I mean, very soon... assuming your friends and neighbors follow through... you're going to be facing off against the Light.” Hel replied calmly, and all three ponies looked up sharply at this before the dark goddess said quietly: “Right now, we're just waiting for a little something special to happen. Right now, on the mortal world, there's a big battle going on. And they have something that the Light doesn't know they have... but I do, because I know just about everything. Keep my eyes peeled and an ear to the ground, you see. The Light gets most of its information secondhand, and has a bad habit of keeping all its attention on one thing at a time.”

The three ponies traded looks, and then Luna asked with just as much seriousness: “Can thou tell us anything about what is happening on the mortal world? Why does it have to do with when we must attack Greater Heaven?”

“Because your little girl is gonna make you proud, and rip Greater Heaven open for us.” Hel replied, eyes flicking towards Twilight Sparkle as she smiled slightly. “But hey, guess I shouldn't expect anything less from my granddaughter, right?”

Twilight Sparkle shifted uncomfortably, feeling a mix of... warmth, and joy, and pride, and worry and... so many other emotions, even as Luna murmured: “Well, how could one expect any different of her, with Celestia and Antares fighting by her side, and Scarlet Sage to give her wisdom?”

Hel was silent at this, turning her gaze away, and Scrivener felt his heart catch in his chest, slowly looking up as Luna paled a little and Twilight stared in disbelief. And yet Hel didn't smile, or make some joke, or say it was a prank, or... do anything but keep her eyes turned down, with an expression that was so... so melancholy and so sorry for them and so...

“Hel...” Scrivener whispered: he didn't know what gave him the strength to, whether it was the raw emotion being funneled to him from both mares, or just his own fear and desperation and... “Hel, what happened? You have to tell us... are they...”

“Antares and Scarlet Sage both fell to the Light. And Celestia is... gone.” Hel said quietly, and then she smiled a little, looking up and murmuring: “I'm sorry. It's out of my hands.”

“No!” Luna shouted, leaping off the couch and snarling in fury, but tears were already spilling down her cheeks, the anger wasn't doing anything to hide the real emotion ripping through her: despair. “No, no, no! Thou promised us that we would save them! Liar, cheat! Foul wretched coward!”

Scrivener Blooms stared down at his Talons silently, and Twilight Sparkle reached up and covered her mouth with a hoof, trembling violently, repressing the urge to gag as she breathed shakily in and out. And as Hel only looked at them with sympathy, with affection, with kindness, even... it was too much. It somehow made it all too real, and Luna dropped her head and sobbed.

The charcoal stallion could only continue to stare, unseeing, at his claws, while Twilight Sparkle clenched her eyes shut and dropped her face in her hooves, gritting her teeth as her dark mane sparked and twisted around her. And then Luna wheeled around and threw herself back on the couch, blindly burying her face into Scrivener as she screamed in pain and frustration and suffering.

Scrivener Blooms looked down at her, then sluggishly lifted a foreleg that felt like lead, slowly putting around her shoulders and hugging her silently close as Twilight Sparkle turned towards him, then half-fell towards the two, into the other limb of the stallion. She buried her face against his neck as he dropped his own head forwards, trembling hard, making sounds almost like whimpers as he repressed his sobs, but not his tears, and simply held both mares close.

Hel gave them all the time they needed, and more... until finally, Luna gritted her teeth and snarled over her shoulder at the goddess, asking her roughly: “What does thou need us to do?”

“For now, recover, and focus. Innocence is still there. And she's going to make you three proud.” Hel soothed gently, gesturing towards them with a faint smile on her face. “You have... I'd say about a week. And like I was saying before, you need to do something for me over this week. To prove that you're ready. And because I need your souls... a little bit darker. I need to see what you're capable of, and I need to see... you.”

Luna growled at this, pushing herself roughly up... but also keeping herself close to both Scrivener and Twilight, even as she fiercely rubbed her tears away before snapping: “And why should we? Hel, thou... thou promised that we would not have to worry about... how long hast thou known that... why should we trust thee, thou liar, cheat, manipulator?”

“Because you need to, and you know you need to. That's just your pesky emotions getting in the way right now.” the dark goddess said gently, and then she sighed a little and calmly trailed a finger through the air. “When their souls go up into the ether, I'll do my best to grab them and try and stop them from going to Heaven, if that sounds good to you. But it can take up to a week for a soul to start its journey... assuming it doesn't have any unfinished business to attend to first, that is.”

There was silence for a moment, and then the three ponies all dropped their heads and nodded silently as Scrivener and Twilight both rubbed slowly at their faces, and Luna manage to look up after a moment with her teeth grit and her eyes burning with a vast array of emotions, most of them different shades of anger and despair. “Just tell us what needs be done, Hel. We shall do it.”

“Good. Give in, simple as that. And train hard. Because after we get our way into Heaven, and the Light is nice and distracted, you're going to have to strike hard and fast and beat both numbers and strength. What I'm asking, darlings, would be impossible to anyone else... but here's hoping that the mix of darkness and Valkyrie in you, Brynhild, is enough to give you that special added edge you'll need to conquer Heaven.” Hel said kindly, and then she smiled slightly and touched her own nose. “I never conquered the Vale of Valhalla myself, after all.”

Luna growled at this, then she looked up and said harshly: “We are not conquerers, Hel. We are destroyers. And that is precisely what we plan to do: destroy the Light, and as much of our own Heaven as we will have to... they... they shall receive no mercy from us for killing our family!”

Hel smiled at this, and then she said gently: “Then do yourselves a favor and have a little indulgence to wear off that stress. I'll send Nightmare Moon with you back home... and for this week, I need you in top form, ready to move out with as little notice as possible. So no Punishments or anything else until after this is all over. Sound good?”

The three ponies looked at each other, and then Twilight Sparkle trembled quietly before looking up and asking: “How should we train? Is Nightmare Moon going to teach us anything else? And our... our equipment, Cowlick still has it...”

“She's finishing up making it look nice, and she's going to bring it right over to you. Don't worry.” Hel soothed gently, and then the goddess smiled softly, even as the three ponies looked at her with varying states of misery and anger. “You might not believe this right now, but... it's all going to work out just fine. Just you wait and see.”

The trio shifted uncomfortably, and then Twilight looked down and swallowed thickly before nodding slowly and whispering: “Well, try, Hel. We'll try.”

“Don't try with this, Twilight Sparkle. Just do.” Hel replied candidly, and then the dark goddess stood up and gestured around at the little sitting room, saying pleasantly: “I'm going to give you three a little time to yourselves now, okay? Get yourselves together, clean up a little. Then I'll come back and give you your marching orders. Vanilla, chocolate pudding, cinnamon... remember, I don't want to hurt you. I'm not your enemy.”

Luna only smiled sourly at this, looking up and watching as Hel faded away to blue smoke... and then the sapphire mare shook her head miserably before whispering: “I do not believe it... I refuse to believe that... they are gone.”

Twilight Sparkle only shook her head slowly, laughing faintly before she murmured in reply: “Hel can't lie, though. I know that... I mean... I don't want to believe it either, Luna, but...”

Scrivener Blooms only gritted his teeth, but he couldn't find any words as he breathed slowly in and out, and both mares looked at him for a moment before Luna Brynhild gave a faint smile, sliding through his thoughts, soothing his mind even as she took in his thoughts. Then she nodded briefly before murmuring softly: “Aye. Perhaps, Scrivy. Perhaps thou art right... but even if 'tis strange to hear from me of all ponies... what will revenge accomplish?”

“It might make us feel better.” Scrivener muttered, but then he sighed softly and nodded, knowing what Luna meant, why she was saying that, as he closed his eyes and murmured: “You really don't believe...”

“I... I cannot. I refuse to.” Luna growled and shook her head shortly, and then she cursed under her breath, trembling a little and muttering: “Damnation. No, this... this cannot be real. Hel would not keep this from us, and Hel... Hel is... cruel and always planning and...”

“Luna...” Twilight Sparkle looked silently over at the sapphire mare, saying quietly: “Hel can't lie to us. You know that. And... and if they're not dead, that means...”

“No!” Luna almost shouted, gritting her teeth before she took a slow breath and whispered, hugging herself tightly: “No. Antares is too strong to give in to... the Light. Scarlet Sage would never... there... she has too many reasons to fight and... Celestia... cannot be... she would not abandon them, she would not... she is Freya, by Odin's name! She is Freya!”

She breathed hard in and out, trembling, staring across the room before she shook her head weakly and almost pleaded to the air: “This cannot happen to us. To our family. Without our family... what reason do we have to... all the honor, the rightness that I plead and... lies. Lies. Nothing but lies... I am too weak to do right without being given reason to...”

“We have each other, Luna. We're in Helheim. And you're not weak or too stupid to understand the difference between right and wrong, Luna...” Twilight Sparkle looked up, trembling but giving a faint smile. “So... so stop it. Because I won't let either of you. Because I know how compelling it is but... I'm still sorry about what I did to He Of Many Countless Faces, especially now that I know the truth.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Scrivener Blooms sighed and looked up, saying quietly: “If you're right, Luna, and this is just another game... do you really want to give Hel what she wants by giving in completely?”

The sapphire mare was silent, and then she looked down and muttered: “Then perhaps we should find a pleasant medium. We shall indulge here in Helheim, in this place of... pain and darkness and lost souls where we can afford to be monsters... and then, when we move on Greater Heaven, we shall reap through their forces like a whirlwind. But if we kill, it shall be with purpose: we shall move straight to this... Cardinal, pulling the strings of all of Heaven, and then upon his head we will exact our vengeance. And if truly our family has been lost... we shall destroy him, and we shall give in to our hate and rage and desire.”

“I don't know. I don't know if Antares or Scarlet Sage would like that, Luna.” Twilight Sparkle said quietly, looking down, and the sapphire mare gave a faint smile.

“Thou did not say Celestia.” she murmured, looking up, and the Lich was only silent before Luna closed her eyes and nodded. “Good girl. Thou art learning well, of us Valkyries. We were not nice. We were not good. We were not toys. We were... the true masters of the battlefield.”

Scrivener Blooms smiled faintly over at Luna, and then he shook his head slowly and murmured: “One extreme and the other and... here I am, the brute stuck in the middle. But I think that probably just makes me that much worse. I don't really want to kill anyone, although I will if I have to: I just want to hurt them all really badly. Repeatedly. Possibly often.”

Luna grunted, and Twilight Sparkle looked up at the stallion before she said with a faint smile of her own: “Way to make it all about you, Scrivy.”

“Ouch.” Scrivener said softly, and then he held up a foreleg, and Twilight slipped across Luna to nestle into him silently, hugging him fiercely. Luna turned to embrace Twilight from behind, and she closed her eyes as she felt Scrivener's Talon stroke soothingly across her features, the mare giving a quiet sigh as she tried to... think.

A few minutes later, Hel reappeared, this time with La Croix in tow. The three ponies straightened and looked moodily across at the two before Hel said kindly: “See? Now you just have to go tell your bosses all about what's going to happen from here on out. These honey-bunnies are going to go and take down the Light for us... and of course, La Croix, you can be there to watch. To see how nasty they are, but completely under my control. Just like promised.”

La Croix grunted, and he hesitated for only a moment, studying the ponies intently before he said slowly: “Well... sure, yeah, I'll talk to Cimetaire and Samedi, and... we'll talk to the guys up top. The bosses... well, they still on the fence about you, Nanny Hel. But... yeah, I don't dare guess what the bosses think, but I don't see why they'll say no, now. You just make sure you don't put all your eggs in one basket, hear? That makes it nice and easy for the serpents to gobble 'em all up.”

“Oh, you guys are so boring! But don't worry. I'll be sending Theodore along, and a few other friendlies for support. They can have a race through Heaven to see who gets to the Cardinal first!” Hel said positively, clapping her hands together before she smiled charmingly at La Croix. “And once they're done, they come right back to Helheim. I explained all of that to them.”

“And you gonna make sure of that yourself, right? Like you say, you can make them do whatever you want, right?” asked La Croix suspiciously.

“You know I can't lie, La Croix!” Hel whined loudly, and then she simply gestured at the ponies, and suddenly Scrivener Blooms found himself standing on his head, Luna and Twilight both posed to either side of them with forelegs wide. “See? Easy as pie. God, I would kill for some pie right now. Why did you have to bring up pie?”

La Croix stared blankly up at Hel, and then the goddess reached down and grasped the brim of his hat, saying mildly: “You worry about your end. I'll worry about mine. It's not like I'd just let these three walk away from me, after all.”

With that, Hel firmly yanked La Croix's top hat down, and he squeaked as most of his body vanished into the hat, only his four hooves sticking out of the bottom of the headgear, which was bulging just a little bit from the zebra inside it. He stumbled back and forth wildly, and then Hel snapped her fingers, opening a portal before she punted La Croix through this, the zebra giving a yelp before the rift snapped shut the moment he passed through.

Then the dark goddess turned towards the three ponies, reaching up a finger and slowly poking it against her temple as she said calmly: “Remember that.”

With that, Hel flicked her wrist, and a moment later, Scrivener, Luna, and Twilight Sparkle found themselves sprawled out on the floor of their own favored den room in the mansion. The stallion mouthed wordlessly, feeling his brain locking up with the shock of the sudden travel: his body twitched, rear hooves kicking against gravity that wasn't there, and shoulders trembles and forelimbs spasmed.

Twilight, meanwhile, winced as her soulstone core sparked in her chest, and Luna simply stared up at the ceiling before closing her eyes and taking a slow breath, a tremble running through her body before she whispered: “I do not understand what is going on. But I feel as if... as if we heard something very important, but... with all these emotions...”

“Let's just focus on... getting up, for now. At least we don't have Punishment to deal with right now...” Scrivener Blooms muttered, and then he shook his head briefly before carefully sitting up, as Luna and Twilight both did the same, in near-perfect time with one-another.

The charcoal stallion closed his eyes, then carefully climbed up to his Talons as he asked finally: “But... what do we do for training?”

“I am still not entirely on mine own hooves. Do not ask me. Ask Twilight Sparkle.” Luna mumbled, gesturing with her head towards the violet mare. The Lich only looked awkwardly up at this, before the sapphire winged unicorn muttered: “Well, 'tis probably best. All I can think of is that with all this wasting time, we may have lost the ponies most important to us... damned... Sleipnir, where is damned Sleipnir in all this? He is probably up to his neck in prostitutes!”

Twilight only shook her head slowly, and then she said after a moment: “I don't... know how much more training we can do. We're all stronger than we've ever been, even if we feel powerless because of the Inquisitors. Maybe...” She hesitated, biting her lip for a moment before looking almost nervously at Luna. “Maybe we should just go back to studying that book, memorizing everything we can about the Light.”

“What?” Luna looked up in surprise, then growled and shook her head vehemently. “Nay! We have almost mastered their infernal language and we know most of their rules and stories by heart... what would thou seek from that tome, Twilight? A way to talk to them? I do not desire to talk to them, only to pummel them!”

Scrivener Blooms grunted, but then he bit his lip and looked over at Twilight, gesturing at her to say something, and the Lich sighed a little before finally, hesitantly countering: “And the Light themselves are just victims, controlled by the Cardinal, right? Except the Pious and a lot of the original converts... they believe in the rules of He Of Many Countless Faces over the Cardinal's. Maybe we can find some kind of... special rule or loophole that will let us break his control over them.”

Scrivener Blooms looked back at Luna, and the sapphire mare grumbled under her breath before saying grudgingly: “If we do this, then...” She hesitated, then looked at them both and said in almost a rush: “If we devote an hour to studying the text, then we devote an hour to being... free.”

“Because love conquers all, doesn't it?” Scrivener Blooms couldn't help but remark, and Luna gave him a scowl as Twilight Sparkle smiled faintly and reached up to touch her soulstone core, before the stallion shivered a little. “That feels like part of Hel's game, though...”

“And I desire to play Hel's game.” Luna said quietly but firmly, and both Twilight and Scrivener looked up in surprise as Luna stated in an even voice: “If playing her game will encourage her to make us stronger... then so be it.”

A quiet chuckle rose through the air... and a moment later, Nightmare Moon appeared in a soft breath of black smoke, the enormous passion entity looking between them with a soft smile. “Good. That's right, Luna Brynhild... you're finally thinking like you used to, as the Night Maiden.”

“Nay, as the Night Maiden, I would have thought first of punching Hel. I would have thought last of obeying her orders, if ever.” Luna replied distastefully, and then she scowled over at Nightmare Moon, asking in a growl: “So art thou here to be the first victim of our new indulgence?”

The passion entity only smiled lovingly at them, shaking her head slowly before she said tenderly: “If you desire to, I would be delighted to have that honor. I am here to help you on that road to true freedom... and to share all the powers and skills that Hel has shared with me, with you.”

“Nightmare Moon, do you know what happened to our family?” Scrivener Blooms asked quietly, and Nightmare Moon looked at him lovingly, respectfully... but also with a teasing hint in her eye. She wanted something... and after a moment, the stallion gritted his teeth before he said in a sharper voice: “Nightmare Moon, I am your master and I order you to tell me. I am your King of the Night. Lower your goddamn head and tell me.”

Nightmare Moon shivered visibly in delight at this, her eyes closing, giving almost a moan of delight as her form seemed to ripple and her fiery mane twisted around her... and slowly, drawing out the motion as much as possible, her body radiating sensuality and heat, she bowed deep and whispered: “Yes, my King. Mistress Hel knows that I would run to you if I learned anything, so she does not allow me to know what is going on above... but I do know one thing. Unless she told you that they were dead, using that specific word... then in all likelihood, they still live.”

The ponies traded looks, and Luna grinned slightly, raising her head... before Nightmare Moon half-lidded her eyes, murmuring softly: “But if now of all times you relax... Hel will not allow you to go to Heaven. You must show her your fierceness, your viciousness, the full extent of your power... your rage... and your hate. You must show her that you are not demons, but well-worthy of that title... hearts full of darkness, darkness that is only amplified by light.”

Nightmare Moon's eyes roved to Twilight Sparkle, studying her silently and licking her lips slowly before she shook her head and laughed tenderly, keeping herself lowered and submissive as she murmured: “Gorgeous daughter of Hel... look at you. Even knowing who you are... even knowing what you will one day be... you strive to be so bright... so good...”

“All I know that I'm going to be is myself, Nightmare Moon. I'm not cut out to be some dark goddess of the ice...” Twilight Sparkle reached up silently, touching her soulstone core as she smiled faintly over at Scrivener and Luna. “And I'm never, ever going to abandon the ponies I love.”

“No. You will be different from Hel... you will not be afraid as she is. You will trust others, and thus not have to manage every detail of every slice of Helheim yourself... how we look forwards to that day!” Nightmare Moon smiled softly, shaking her head and laughing quietly. “We adore the thought of it. We look eagerly forwards to it.”

Scrivener and Luna traded uneasy looks, and Twilight Sparkle shivered a bit before she murmured: “It's... it wouldn't be for many, many years, anyway...”

“And yet we cannot help but wonder...” Nightmare Moon looked over at Luna, slowly raising herself back to a sitting position, a coy smile on her features. “How many faces that look like old friends will you see? How many times will the worlds above crash, and fall, and then restart? If the layers are replicating, and history is destined to repeat itself, how many times will you watch Equestria rise and fall, then rise again?”

“'Tis no wonder that Hel is so mad...” Luna muttered, and then she glared over at Nightmare Moon, adding flatly: “Especially if on top of all the years she has lived and played nursemaid to Helheim, she now has to put up with thy prattle all day long.”

The passion entity simply smiled, then strode forwards and leaned down to kiss Luna, who didn't look surprised, and didn't pull away... but didn't return the affection, either, even as Nightmare Moon drew back with strings of saliva still connecting their moist lips, the creature murmuring softly: “And yet you wouldn't change me, would you, Little Luna? You love me.”

Luna grumbled under her breath, then wiped her lips and flicked her hoof grouchily off to the side. Nightmare Moon chuckled quietly at this, shaking her head slowly before she looked towards Scrivener Blooms and said kindly: “I am here to offer any and all the help I can, my King of the Night. If you desire, I can fetch Cowlick for you, or just the elixir she used to help inoculate you against the disease of the Light. Or anything else you might desire...”

“We're going to read.” Scrivener said dryly, striding over to Twilight, and Luna grumbled before nodding grudgingly, the sapphire mare half-shoving Nightmare Moon away before striding over to join the others herself. “So maybe you could just. Go away for now or something.”

“I will bring you a snack.” Nightmare Moon replied kindly, and Scrivener Blooms really didn't like the way the passion entity smiled at them before she vanished in a burst of dark flame, the stallion and Twilight Sparkle both looking uncomfortably over at Luna Brynhild.

But Luna only huffed and glared back at them, complaining: “'Tis not my fault! She has her own body, and her own mind... I can still sense her, vaguely, but I dare not break into that section of soul inside me poisoned with Nightmare Moon's tumorous essence and her... her pus-like thoughts. Her thoughts are pus-like, Scrivener Blooms. They are gooey and gross.”

Scrivener Blooms sighed tiredly at this, lowering his head a little as Twilight Sparkle looked awkwardly at Luna for a few moments, and then the charcoal stallion said finally: “We should probably just. Go, or something.”

Luna huffed at the two again, poking at them with her horn, and they both grimaced a little before pushing absently at her. She slapped back at them, then settled a little and sighed a bit, reaching up and silently touching her lips as she murmured: “What truly bothers me, though, is that she is right. I would not change her. I do not want her to change. Sometimes... I even wish that the three of us could be more like her. Free...”

Scrivener Blooms and Twilight Sparkle both smiled faintly, and then the Lich looked down and murmured: “The irony is in the fact she's not free, Luna. She's a slave. And she's a slave to us... not the other way around.”

“I know that. I know that perfectly well.” Luna grumbled, nodding as Scrivener Blooms started towards the doorway, both mares falling in step behind him. “She is a happy slave, though... and damnation, does that not frustrate me so! The fact that that... ill creature can take such pleasure in her subjugation... what is wrong with her? And did she not spawn from me? What is wrong with me?”

Scrivener swallowed the many possible answers he could give as they walked out into the hall, but Luna grumbled and glared at him all the same as if he had spoken, the stallion wincing a bit before he looked over his shoulder and said finally: “Let's just... go do our studying. And then... maybe... we can follow yours and Nightmare Moon's advice and... see where that takes us. As scary as that thought is to me.”

Twilight Sparkle nodded hesitantly in agreement, and Luna shifted a little before she finally nodded as well as they headed next door to the stallion's office, the mare saying quietly: “Aye. Good. Or at least, I hope 'twill be good... but... I cannot see it being entirely bad, either. I do not know... I think we need merely... indulge this, and see where it may take us. Aye?”

“Aye.” Scrivener echoed softly, smiling a little after a moment as Twilight Sparkle gave her own slow nod, the three approaching the stallion's desk. Scrivener pulled out his chair, then winced when Luna grabbed two of the spare seats resting against the wall and simply tossed them in the general direction of his desk, sending them clattering loudly into each other before Twilight managed to straighten them hurriedly out with a flick of her horn. “Can you behave like. Just a little bit?”

“I am behaving. 'Tis thou who are stupid.” Luna grumbled in response, and then she shook her head quickly and added mildly: “I must merely work off all my frustrations through these... little gambles. Thou would not deny me that, would thou?”

“You're going to have a big gamble shortly so uh... yes, I would deny you the little ones.” Scrivener Blooms said dryly, and Luna Brynhild huffed at him grouchily, Twilight Sparkle smiling slightly despite herself and shaking her head briefly as the three sat down at the stallion's desk.

Luna looked curiously over his notes, and the charcoal earth pony cleared his throat and quickly brushed these off to the side. Then he glanced over at Twilight Sparkle, asking: “Do you mind grabbing the book for us?”

Twilight only shook her head with a smile, then closed her eyes and flicked her horn... and a moment later, the tome that held all the secrets of the Light's religion appeared with a puff in front of them, gently floating down to the desk. Scrivener smiled despite himself over at the Lich, as Luna murmured: “Damnation, Twilight Sparkle. To summon an object is not as simple as it seems. Now thou calls and dispels both mundane and unique items at will, without so much as a flinch. 'Tis most impressive.”

The Lich only laughed a little and shrugged a bit, smiling over at the others, and there was silence for a few moments before she finally reached forwards and carefully pulled the book open. The three looked down at the contents, and then Scrivener Blooms sighed a little before he said finally: “I guess we should look at the prophecies again... or maybe the first rules, although I'm honestly not sure what's even important anymore. What do you two think?”

Luna grunted, then bit her lip, becoming more serious now before she said finally: “If the Holy Word of their God was so important... then first we should look at the rules he passed down upon his followers. The ones that all others must obey, the... I do not recall the word. Commandments?”

“No, they used a different word for those...” Twilight Sparkle reached a hoof up, scanning the contents before murmuring: “Here. It's about halfway through the book, when He Of Many Countless Faces first spoke to his followers... well, sort of. I mean... I don't remember ever hearing his voice...”

“I don't think he ever actually 'spoke' to anyone. He was... I don't know. It was a weird emotional telepathy. I... wonder where the hell he came from.” Scrivener shook his head, then he murmured: “Like faith, made solid...”

“But even faith can be abused. Especially faith, can be abused.” Twilight Sparkle said quietly, and then she blushed and shook her head a little when both ponies looked at her curiously. “Sorry. Just... you know. Oh, here it is. Edicts.”

Scrivener and Luna both nodded, and the Lich paged through the book to the words, murmuring: “Okay... it starts: 'and so Lord God said to his flock...”

They read in peace, and after a few minutes, Nightmare Moon joined them with Juliette and Justine, all of them carrying some food for them: cookies, a few coins of chocolate, and several mugs of coffee. Chocolate was a special treat, and Luna couldn't help but smile grudgingly over at the two, nodding after a moment to them: it was extremely difficult to get in Helheim, along with most other sweets and baked goods. Apparently sugar was quite the commodity down here.

Nightmare Moon helped them read, and the succubus twins simply lingered awkwardly in the background, Juliette looking hungrily at them and eying all four ponies appreciatively, Justine simply shifting back and forth and occasionally asking nervously if they wanted anything else.

They sat together, talking and going over things for just over an hour, with Nightmare Moon adding surprisingly intelligent comments now and then between all her teasing and coy remarks. Then, finally, Luna sat back and looked pointedly between her partners, and both Scrivener and Twilight nodded hesitantly as Nightmare Moon licked her lips slowly, murmuring: “Excellent, rulers of my heart and soul... Juliette, Justine, our masters wish to indulge us. Shall we pay tribute to our lord and ladies, and delight in their desires?”

Juliette grinned widely, looking at them hungrily as Justine shifted awkwardly, and Scrivener Blooms sighed a little before he said wryly: “It's funny. I'm surrounded by mares, and yet I can never entirely enjoy myself.”

“Well, for a little while, let us simply enjoy... let us test these waters, and... indulge.” Luna paused, then smiled slightly over at him, adding mildly: “And if thou art complaining about all us mares, I can certainly invite a stallion or two to join in our delights.”

Scrivener Blooms looked at the sapphire mare dryly, and then Juliette grinned, half-lidding her eyes as she wrapped her forelegs around Scrivener's neck and pushed herself up against his back, whispering in his ear: “That sounds delightful. Oh, come on, there's all those handsome Wrath demons who are just so loyal to you and Luna... give them a little reward, won't you?”

Scrivener Blooms grimaced a bit, and then he shivered a little and muttered: “Juliette. Get your hooves off me, or I swear to the Horses of Heaven...”

“Why swear to what you're going to go stomp?” Juliette asked teasingly, even as Justine nervously attempted to yank her twin sister off of the stallion, and Luna Brynhild looked thoughtful at this response as Twilight Sparkle sighed and Scrivener Blooms grumbled. “It's not my fault there's so many mares in the worlds... and so few stallions worth... dying for...”

The stallion glowered over his shoulder at her, and then he finally pried her off and pushed her backwards: but Juliette laughed, half-flinging herself away and knocking Justine to the ground, the good twin of the pair painfully whacking her head off the floor before she whimpered a little as Juliette ignored her and simply put her hooves behind her head, invitingly sprawling her body out and looking eagerly up at them. “A little lust never hurt anyone.”

“Apart from gonorrhea.” Scrivener Blooms said sourly, and Luna giggled a little at this before clearing her throat when the stallion stood, before he blinked in surprise as Twilight Sparkle touched his shoulder gently.

The two looked at each other, and Nightmare Moon licked her lips hungrily, eyes glowing with excitement as the violet winged unicorn said quietly: “We promised. And we have to... let go a little. We have to give in, if only to... play Hel's game. I think Luna's right, for a few reasons... and... I don't want to have any regrets. I want to experience the good and the bad by your sides... I want to... be with all of you. Let's be together... even in the darkness. We have to do more than just accept Hel's gifts... we have to ask for them. Maybe even... fight for them.”

“And the only way she will give them to you is if she thinks that you are obeying her system, becoming united with the darkness... accepting the gifts she has already given in full.” Nightmare Moon urged, and then she smiled slightly, looking at Scrivener Blooms and whispering: “I know your hungers. And if I can encourage you, my King of the Night... then Twilight Sparkle and Luna Brynhild will follow. And you know that you...”

“I'm not the keystone. I'm the weakest link.” Scrivener Blooms looked back and forth before he shivered a little and then gritted his teeth, nodding slowly and muttering: “Fine. Twilight, Luna... I won't backpedal. I'm... hungry.”

His eyes roved down to Juliette, who giggled in excitement before he said simply: “Dungeon.”

Justine whimpered a little, but then Juliette rolled off her sibling and yanked her firmly up to her hooves, yanking her towards the door before halting... and grinning brightly as the trio followed, the mare saying hungrily: “Oh just wait, wait, wait and see...”

Luna and Twilight both smiled faintly, and the stallion dropped his head forwards as they made their way through the mansion, letting the others guide him, feeling Luna and Twilight and Nightmare Moon all sharing both encouragements and reassurances, and giving his own to the others. It was funny: it wasn't just fear of what they were going to do that was curling through his system, it wasn't just that he was scared that if they gave in, they wouldn't be able to find their way back... it was the stupid, somehow-sickening thought that he didn't deserve such a wonderful gift like this. It was the glimpse of Heaven in Hell... and terror at what that meant.

Juliette dragged Justine ahead in the dungeon, the very same dungeon deep beneath the mansion where prisoners had once been kept and they suffered their own tortures... and in the very racks that had stretched their own bodies, where Inquisitors had put them to be punished, disturbing the stains of their own blood, they found Justine: she had been strapped in by Juliette and gagged, left whimpering around the ball in her muzzle as Juliette whispered in delight: “Here. I got her all ready for you...”

Scrivener and Luna traded looks as Twilight shifted uneasily, and then the Lich simply nodded. And like it was both order and encouragement, both sapphire mare and charcoal stallion stepped forwards, seizing Juliette and flinging her across the room and into a metal table that was bolted to the ground, knocking her sprawling painfully over. The succubus didn't even have the time to look up before Scrivener and Luna yanked her off the ground and slammed her down into the metal table, but when her senses came back and she found herself staring up into their snarling faces, she looked at them with lust and a crazed grin, drool forming in the corners of her mouth even as Scrivener's Talons pressed against her stomach and he said coldly: “I'll make the decisions here. You're the slave. Luna and I think you need to be reminded of your place... as meat.”

Juliette giggled, then threw her head back and screamed laughter when the metal claws tore into her stomach... and an hour later, she was still giggling gleefully despite the fact she had been all-but-torn apart, and Scrivener Blooms had Luna and Twilight Sparkle seated on either side of him, red succubus blood splattered across his body and dripping from his mouth as he chewed slowly, then swallowed something raw and fleshy and...

He shivered a bit, but Twilight Sparkle only rested against one side of him and Luna smiled strangely on the other, both mares splattered with their own... many things, just as Scrivener was. Nightmare Moon had her own look of pleasure on her face, although there was only a little bit of crimson over her frame... although she was taking her time, slowly tormenting still-trapped Justine with teasing cuts and little flicks of her sharp hooves and horn, trailing patterns and burning runes across her body until Luna looked up and muttered: “Cease that.”

“Alright.” Nightmare Moon paused, then glanced over at them and said softly: “It wasn't bad... for a start. And she will heal... she would heal within a day even if you dismembered her completely. Succubi are well-known for their... durability. And their enjoyment of pain, as long as it is flesh against flesh...”

She turned her eyes back towards Justine, who was shivering a bit against the rack. “But this one is foolish. She denies her instincts... it makes her weak. It means that her life will be nothing but misery: instead of giving in to what she should be, what she must be... she tries to live a life of purity and innocence. And it will destroy her, in a place like this. A place like this was not made for such like these 'Justines.'”

Scrivener only grunted, and then Luna looked up before she looked over at the stallion. Then she silently wrapped a foreleg around him and pulled him closer, so she could sink her teeth into his neck, drinking slowly from his throat as Nightmare Moon licked her lips at the sight, breathing a little harder, her legs trembling a bit beneath her.

Then Luna pushed herself away from Scrivener, and she half-turned, spitting some of the black blood out even as the rest of it insisted on sliding down her throat thanks in part to the aid of her traitor tongue, before the sapphire mare said quietly: “Tell me, Nightmare Moon. Precisely where is the strength in this?”

Black veins pulsed slowly through the sapphire hide of the mare, but Nightmare Moon only looked at her tenderly, saying softly: “Your strength doesn't show in your hungers, my sweet Luna Brynhild... but rather, it shows instead in when you pull yourself back from them. There is more strength in feeding your desires, then drawing free of their grips before it becomes gluttony... than in simply resisting and ignoring the poison. And of course, the greatest strength of all comes from harnessing your greatest weaknesses...”

Nightmare Moon reached calmly up, sinking her hoof into Justine's stomach, making her whimper as the dark passion entity looked with strange, loving tenderness at the succubus... and then the enormous black equine smiled as Twilight Sparkle finished quietly: “And making them our strengths.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then the blood-splattered soulmates all looked up silently as Juliette half-leaned off the table, despite the blood spilling from her open abdomen, her insides hanging out in a sight that was erotic in how disgusting it was, exotic in its freakishness as she said softly: “Welcome to Helheim, my masters. How can we serve you today?”

Scrivener, Luna, and Twilight all looked down... and then the Lich leaned over and bit silently into the stallion's neck, his eyes closing as she drank down his corruption, one of his Talons silently reaching down to squeeze tightly into her hind leg as Luna looked slowly up and said quietly: “By helping us find our path into the darkness.”

“Anything for you, my darlings.” Nightmare Moon said with a soft smile, as Twilight drew back with a tremble, the soulstone core in her chest pulsing powerfully, like the beat of a heart. A beat that grew stronger even as the light in it grew darker, like dusk falling after a long summer's day... promising the start of a deep and endless, hellish night.

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