• Published 7th Sep 2013
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Glory Be - BlackRoseRaven

Luna and Scrivener struggle to set right all the wrongs from their past and save their family and friends. Tenth and final story in the Blooming Moon Chronicles/99 Worlds Saga.

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The First Step To Heaven

Chapter Ninety: The First Step To Heaven

The Light hadn't waited for them to reach Canterlot before it had sent its army out to meet them: Nephilim, Devout, Pious, wyverns and their riders, Hounds of Heaven and assassins like Whistler clones, and conscripts and constructs, slaves and war machines. This was the full power of the Light on Looking Glass World. This was not just an army: it was a nation unto its own, and one where every person either believed fervently in what they were fighting for... or just thrilled in the thought of battle.

But meeting this nation was an entire world that was ready to fight to the last breath to put a stop to the Light: minotaurs slung bolas into Pegasi and wyverns to bring them crashing down to earth, and smashed apart even the hardiest constructs at close range with the maces and axes and hammers. Dragons crashed against the much-smaller wyverns, roaring their dominance, and Phooka rode wild beasts into battle that trampled enemy soldiers and crashed into Hounds of Heaven. Demons clashed with Angels of Greater Heaven, meeting psychic wrath with raw ferocity, and Nephilim and Clockwork abominations smashed into one-another with the force of nature's fiercest storms meeting the cruelest of machinery designed to undermine her powers.

Blasts of purification occasionally peppered them from Canterlot, but chaos magic hammered the castle's battlements, suppressing the Light's magic artillery and drawing the worst of the fire into the dark, swirling clouds of leaves and string and thunderhead. Discord was lashing out with all his might, with all the passion of chaos: anvils, pianos, safes and heavy chunks of metal smashed and clanged against the walls of the castle, many of these exploding where they hit. Parts of Canterlot had been melted into chocolate pudding, and other parts had been covered in sticky cotton candy and any other substance that Discord could conjure up, as his fellow Draconequus backed him up with everything they could throw at Canterlot.

A cannon managed to charge up, sending a massive ray of purification slicing through both armies, heedlessly turning their own allies to stone alongside demons and rebels. But after only a few seconds, it was cut off as an enormous golden meteor smashed directly down into it, sending up a tremendous explosion of white and gold flames as Freya smiled coldly from the battlefield.

Her horn was glowing, channeling more magic even as her swords lashed back and forth around her, using the falcate Gæfa to redirect enemies into each other as Dómr smashed crushing, punishing blow after crushing, punishing blow into soldiers attempting to flank her, and Drengr stabbed and bit through armor, rending flesh and metal alike.

Then she snapped all three swords out, knocking most of the soldiers around her staggering before Tyrfing yanked itself off her back and slashed a Pious in half, the ivory mare shouting fearlessly: “Press forwards! They are weak! For every warrior that falls, we kill a dozen of these cowards!”

A roar greeted her in response, as her forces surged forwards, believing not just in her words but inspired by her actions as she cleaved her way through enemy after enemy. And she wasn't the only one on the battlefield doing so, as Terra roared alongside her Ironjaw brothers and sisters, claws ripping apart anything foolish enough to get near her as weapons and magic bounced off her metal scales, her hellfire breath incinerating anything foolish enough to draw close to her.

They pressed forwards into the fray, before a Nephilim nearby went up an explosion massive enough to knock her platoon stumbling: but just as a second Nephilim began to turn towards them, it was knocked to the ground by a fireball, the explosion transforming into a stinging hail of water that then became solid ice, freezing the creature to the ground as Terra grinned and shouted: “Valkyries! Fall in!”

From all over the battlefield, Valkyries tore through the ranks of the angels, lining up in front of the Queen of Heaven... including Prestige Luster, who raised her head proudly, Antares' shield glowing over her forelimb. Terra roared an order to her Ironjaw brethren, who broke off to the side to flank around the nearby soldiers, and then she turned her eyes back over the female warriors with pride as they readied themselves in a phalanx formation.

They faced a group of Devout struggling hurriedly to do the same, and Terra simply grinned coldly before she said sharply: “Valkyries! Look at these sodding pathetic excuses for soldiers! Ain't a worthy soldier among them! Ain't a single useful soul, or a lad who can tie his boots without his mommy's hand innit!”

The Valkyries roared in agreement, then all of them leaned forwards, channeling their energies into a single powerful barrier spell as the Devout fired off a wild cluster of bolts of purification at them. These all uselessly hammered into the shield they had created, and Terra spat to the side before saying coldly: “Aye, cowards, the lot of 'em! Show 'em how we treat cowards, Valkyries!”

The mares all roared loudly, then charged straight towards the Devout. And the Devout yelled back, but their battle cry was weak and tinny, some of them panicking, others falling out of formation as they wildly flung what little magic they had at the Valkyries while their comrades tried to get into ready positions too late.

The Valkyries crashed like a wave over the Devout, smashing them down, trampling them, destroying their battle line and sending the lucky ones fleeing. And the mares roared as they moved as one to engage the next line of enemies that drew their attention, crashing like a wave over the enemy forces and ripping anything stupid enough to get in their way into pieces.

Wyverns shot down from the air, drawn by the fervor of the Valkyries... but then Avalon crashed full on into the face of one of the bat-like dragons, cracking its skull before she leapt off it and tackled the Angelic Knight on its back into the air before kicking him through the sky, sending him flying into another rider and knocking them both into the army below. Another wyvern roared as it spun towards the tiny Pegasus, but Avalon only roared fearlessly back, swinging her crosshatch blades out to dig into its skull and brace herself against its head as it attempted to ram forwards into her, flapping its wings wildly as it swayed drunkenly for balance.

The Angelic Knight on the dragon's back began to lower its spear... and then a scythe tore through its chest, Aphrodisia smiling coldly before the demon tore backwards and flung the Pious off to the side. Then she lashed her scythe downwards, sinking it into the middle of the wyvern's back, and the dragon howled in misery as Avalon launched off its face and into the air, half-spinning herself fearlessly into another wyvern as Aphrodisia rode the dying dragon down to the ground.

She tore her scythe free as the last of the dragon's life force was drained into the weapon, then vanished in a burst of black smoke and streaked up into the air as several blasts of magic shot by. Devout swarmed forwards, some chasing the demon, others climbing and leaping the corpse, but a moment later the wyvern's body exploded in a tremendous blast of dark energy, and Chrysophylax Dives laughed loudly, striding fearlessly through the battleground.

Demons and unicorns both rode atop the Dracolich as he ignored all but the most potent blasts of purification, undead swarming around his claws and ripping into anything that attempted to get close as he roared necromancy and breathed unholy flames over whatever drew too close.

But then the Dracolich was driven back a step as a massive ray of purification shot down from Canterlot, Chrysophylax staggering with a howl of agony as he rapidly began to turn to marble. The undead around him all but dissolved beneath the beam as unicorns on the rooftops swarmed in, overcharging the batteries of the weapon... and failing to notice as several Greater Nightmares and demons appeared behind them until Burning Desire said cheerfully: “Hi there!”

One of the unicorns turned, and Burning Desire flicked his horn, blasting him backwards with a bolt of flame that sent him sprawling into a group of unicorns, knocking an entire group scattering like dominoes. Then the Greater Nightmares swarmed forwards, banshee screams deafening mages and blasts of dark energy knocking them flying from the building as Eventide quickly approached the artillery weapon, saying calmly: “Let's make our Mistress proud.”

“Well, I'm happy to make any mistress proud. I'm not often in the mood for a spanking. Unless she's as pretty as you, of course.” Burning Desire winked over at Eventide, who smiled slightly before both demon and Greater Nightmare faced the cannon.

The demon's horn glowed as the Nightmare's eyes flashed, and the crystalline batteries cracked, white essence bleeding out of them as smoky darkness began to replace the holy glow.

The cannon trembled as the Greater Nightmares finished off the unicorns, and then Eventide and Burning Desire both grasped the enormous handles on the end of the huge weapon as it crackled with dark energy, dragging it off to the side towards where the Pious were attempting to gather their forces, and then Burning Desire hesitated before stepping away from the weapon, saying wryly: “I don't think I can do it. It's too much like shooting fish in a barrel. Those poor fish.”

“You're very kind, Burning Desire.” Eventide said softly, and then she smiled before reaching out and grasping a large lever on the back of the cannon and yanking firmly on it, and the batteries shattered as the cannon burst into flames, but unleashed a massive, terrible ray of black energies that burned a scar across the landscape and tore through the ranks of the Light. “Much kinder than I am.”

“If I didn't love Ersatz so much, I would be kissing your hooves right now.” Burning Desire remarked cheerfully, and then he glanced out and whistled slowly, saying quietly: “Well, next cannon in line. I think there's another one on the right face that we should attend to.”

Eventide nodded calmly, and then both she and Burning Desire hurried quickly over the rooftop, heading towards the next cannon: before they could reach it, however, another demon appeared among the unicorns, snarling as she slashed her axe back and forth and cut through their ranks like they were made of straw.

The last unicorn stumbled backwards, and Pinkamena rudely booted him off the edge of the rooftop, sending him hurtling down with a scream before she glowered as a wyvern began to pass by below. And without hesitation, the Devourer leapt off the building, raising her axe high before chopping it cruelly down into the base of the dragon's neck. It howled in misery as the Angelic Knight she'd landed in front of struggled for control of its mount with one claw, wing-like appendages attempting to raise themselves in an attempt to spear into her... but with liquid grace, the demon half-turned and slashed her axe almost absently outwards, and the angel was sliced in half at the waist, sending its upper body spilling backwards as the legs remained caught in the stirrups.

Then Pinkamena slammed a hoof down into the wyvern's neck when it attempted to buck her off, before slashing her axe viciously down again, this time rewarded with the sound of cracking vertebrae before she grinned coldly and launched herself off the dragon's back as it plummeted bonelessly from the air.

She crashed down on top of a Devout, squishing it into the ground before looking up in disgust as a Hound of Heaven charged straight for her: before it could hit, however, it was stomped like a bug under one of Morning Glory's hooves as the massive, metallic demon's chains lashed out around her, the Destroyer grinning coldly as blasts of purification simply bounced off her armored body.

Pinkamena snarled at this, then shouted: “Hey, that was my kill! Go and smash your own goddamn angels somewhere else, you oversized cookie cutter!”

“Shut up, glutton. If you want to kill more, be faster.” Morning Glory retorted rudely as she smashed down a Pious that got in her way, then stomped savagely on top of it before looking up with a cold smile and watching as Phooka rode manticores and chimeras straight into the packs of Hounds of Heaven, driving the divine hunting dogs back with yelps and squeals as they were mauled and smashed by the much larger creatures.

Following the riders came Fluttershy and Tender Trust, leading a band of Phooka wearing medical satchels and assisted by several zebras that moved like ghosts through the warring armies. They were tending to the wounded wherever they found them, the Phooka hypnotizing away pain and treating the injuries they could, helping soldiers back into the fray, out of battle, or just to die without suffering any more than they already had.

A wyvern picked itself up, howling and roaring, missing a wing and charging drunkenly for the Phooka, but Fluttershy only looked fearlessly up as she calmly gave an order: and immediately, five Phooka were in front of her, their green eyes glowing brilliantly, and the dragon staggered to a halt before half-falling forwards with a shriek that turned to whimpers as it tried to yank itself away, eyes glowing as it saw not a group of Phooka, but massive, terrible, roaring demons closing in on it, driving its already-frayed mind over the edge into panic and sending it bolting back across the battlefield the way it had come.

Fluttershy nodded sharply, and then glanced up as there was an explosion from across the battlefield as a Nephilim erupted with a scream in a tremendous blast of energy and fire. But a shield deflected the worst of the damage away, Shiny gritting his teeth as the Clockwork Ponies behind him calmly, fearlessly waited, looking unfettered even as cracks spread through the magic barrier.

Then Shiny lowered his head with a gasp as the barrier dissolved just as the explosion died down, caressed by the last breath of the flames as vents hidden along his body opened and hissed loudly, steam spilling out of his body. The Clockwork Ponies strode unhurriedly around him as he grimaced a little, resuming emptying salvos of munitions into the forces of the Light all around them. They picked their targets mercilessly and logically, blowing apart Devout and tearing apart the support forces of the Pious while Dullahan and Drones swarmed over wyverns and Angelic Knights, using their superior numbers and durability to slow down the stronger enemies.

Then Shiny straightened and looked up in surprise as Hevatica appeared beside him, the Kelpie smiling and resting a hoof on his shoulder as he felt his energies being replenished from her contact. “Don't strain yourself too hard now, my friend. Luna and Scrivener always liked you; you want to be alive when they return, don't you?”

Shiny gave a faint smile at this, straightening before he winced as a Pious leapt at them, but he flicked his horn firmly to the side and sent a blast of electricity ripping across the Angel of Greater Heaven, knocking it backwards. And then Hevatica smoothly jackknifed the Clockwork Pony's back and slammed both her rear hooves into the Pious' face, knocking it crashing backwards... and right into the claws of Atrus, who crushed it bonelessly into the ground.

The Wrath demon looked calmly up as another cannon along the ramparts of Canterlot Castle exploded in a tremendous blast of energy, sending unicorns flying in all directions as the base of a tower shattered. Slowly, the structure collapsed, toppling downwards and crashing over the Light's own forces, smashing apart their ranks and killing dozens.

But there were still more soldiers coming: conscripts, Devout, Whistlers and countless others. The Light fought savagely back even as their ranks were further and further diminished, before Freya looked up coldly as a Whistler appeared right in front of her, lunging desperately for her face.

She caught it in her front hooves and smashed it to the ground, pinning it, and the Whistler snarled before grinning and rasping: “Go ahead, kill me. Kill all of me. There's always more where I came from! And what the hell are you going to do about that, huh?”

“Burn down Greater Heaven.” Freya replied coldly, even as she glanced back and forth and held up a sword in front of herself, using the reflective metal to check over her shoulder: but no. They were surrounded by a hundred fighting soldiers, and yet they were also completely alone, as the Whistler laughed loudly at her.

“Burn it down! Ain't that rich? How you gonna burn down what you can't even touch, huh?” the Whistler jeered up at her, and Freya narrowed her eye, returning her cold gaze to the leather-armored assassin beneath her as he tried uselessly to poke at her with his knife, but she stomped a hoof firmly down on his foreleg, and he squalled before it turned into another long laugh. “Yeah! You can't even kill me!”

“I can kill you. And I can kill you again and again and again. And I'll enjoy it every time I do.” Freya replied calmly, and then she leaned down and added quietly: “You tell your master we're coming for him next.”

“You gonna kill God?” mocked the Whistler, but Freya only smiled almost pleasantly in return, making the assassin frown slightly.

Then she leaned slowly down, whispering quietly in his ear: “No. Like I said, I'm going to kill your master. The Cardinal.”

The Whistler's eyes widened at this, and then he tried to shove up against her: to his surprise, her weight actually lifted... but only so a moment later her front hoof could stomp down on his skull, snuffing his life from his body with the ease of crushing out a cigarette.

Then the ivory mare looked coldly upwards as a wyvern shot by overhead, and she simply snapped her horn out, blasting it in the underbelly with a blast of golden flames. It lost balance in the air, bucking its rider off into a sea of undead before the wyvern rolled end over end and crashed down into another horde of revenants, as Freya roared: “Push! Push forwards! This is the last barrier between us and Heaven!”

The rebels roared, throwing every ounce of their spirit into the battle as Pious and Devout and converts all attempted to push back, but the Light was rapidly losing power now, struggling just to try and maintain their ground, much less win the battle.

The Light began to try and build a defensive formation near the drawn drawbridge that formed the largest entrance into Canterlot Castle, Devout commanders shouting orders... and then the bridge shuddered violently, cracks forming in the wood as one of the officers turned to stare at this before the bridge was smashed down and into place across the narrow moat, the officer crushed beneath it as Wolfsbane charged across the bridge, roaring. Devout and Pious turned too late, the farkasember leaping into the middle of a group to slash and bite and maul apart the forces of Light as he shouted eagerly: “Where's the good prey I've been looking for?”

A massive Hellhound followed Wolfsbane out, howling loudly as it tackled an Angelic Knight before it could stab Wolfsbane in the back, driving it to the ground. And following them into the chaos came Ersatz Major and Innocence, the scaled unicorn looking sharply back and forth before she winced and flicked her horn at a Pious that immediately charged at her, blowing it backwards in a hail of black flames and char.

Ersatz winced, but gamely followed the mare, the demon bleeding from a deep gouge to her shoulder as she flicked her horn and cloaked them both from sight. “I'm no warrior, Sin... are you sure I wouldn't be better off just staying back inside the castle?”

“We're in this together... besides, we need to reach Celestia, then we can worry about fighting!” Innocence replied quickly, before she winced as a massive explosion went up nearby from a self-destructing Nephilim. “Horses of Heaven... do they not care how many of their own they kill?”

Ersatz grimaced, then called a warning almost too late as a wyvern fell from the sky, and Innocence looked up over her shoulder in shock before she snarled and lashed her horn out, hammering the falling corpse with telekinesis and knocking it just off to the side to crash down with a thunderous boom.

She stumbled to the side as magical recoil hit her, and almost into a golem of marble: it immediately turned towards her, raising one large stone fist, but then it was smashed apart by a minotaur's hammer, the bull snarling and staggering forwards from the strength of his strike before he turned with a roar and charged straight towards another opponent.

Innocence shook herself quickly out, then bolted onwards, Ersatz staying close at her side as the demon looked back and forth before her eyes widened in relief as a firebird streaked down beside them, then transformed in a burst of flames into a fiery stallion, Burning Desire grinning widely even as his horn glowed brightly and he began to leave a thick trail of bright red flame in his wake. “I know you pretty mares are busy, but I just wanted to say hi while I wall the Light off! I'll see you soon, my love!”

“Burning...” Ersatz murmured, and then she smiled, the demon and Sin both flickering into visibility as she straightened a little in mid-run, Innocence gazing warmly over at her. “We can do this!”

“We can.” Innocence agreed, and then the two looked forwards, both snapping their horns down at the same time to blow a Pious backwards before they simply trampled it beneath them, the scaled mare shouting: “This is for my parents! And for my brother!”

The scaled unicorn rose her horn, a sphere of shadows slowly gathering above her head before she snarled and snapped the spire upwards, and a black pulse of miasma tore through the air around them, the dark smog clinging to the soldiers of the Light and sending them staggering or falling to their knees as black smoke clung to their bodies, interfering with the psychic powers of the Pious and weakening the Light's influence over the minds of the converts.

Freya looked up calmly as she finished slicing apart another Pious, the edge of the black pulse just brushing against her as Innocence approached before the scaled mare skidded to a halt, blurting quickly: “I found a portal ring, in Canterlot! The castle's almost empty, too, if we destroy this army, we can activate the ring and the override!”

“Then at least a few of us can get into Heaven.” Freya said quietly, and she looked up calmly, nodding slowly as Innocence faltered a bit, seeing... something beneath the surface of the mare. Something that...

“You... you don't think that... we'll survive.” Innocence said quietly, as battle raged on all around them, and Freya looked down at her silently before the scaled unicorn shook her head and whispered: “You think this is a suicide mission. No... maybe you even...”

“A portal ring inside Canterlot won't allow even a hundredth of our forces to go through it. A few of us, at most, before the ring likely starts to overheat. Or even if it is made to last for an extended period of time to allow the transportation of larger numbers of troops... single, even triple-file, how many soldiers will be able to march through quickly? And what is the maximum height and weight allowed for that?” Freya asked pessimistically, calmly gesturing over their enormous army: and Innocence shivered a bit, staring stupidly over them, thinking...

“You... you promised them all they could fight with us. You brought the dead back, forced them to listen to you... and now you don't even want to try? And Freya... think about this! Only a few of us against all of Heaven-”

“Only the two of us, actually.” Freya looked unflinchingly down at Innocence, who stared disbelievingly up at her. “And I said what had to be said to get them to fight for us. To get them here.” Freya said quietly, and then she looked coldly up as her swords rose into ready positions around her, the ivory mare beginning to stride towards Canterlot Castle. “So that we would have a way in to Canterlot, and a way to a portal.”

Innocence shook her head, and Ersatz stared after Freya with... a strange mix of both recognition and misery in her eyes. “Freya, I... listen to me! We can figure out a way to enhance the portal, maybe if we work together-”

Freya only shook her head in disgust, stomping a hoof and saying coldly over her shoulder: “A waste of our strength, and we'll need all our strength to get to the Cardinal alone. We'll likely die, yes, but what does it matter? Scrivener and Twilight and my sister Brynhild are gone, and never coming back. Antares can't be saved: the Devout can't be deprogrammed. And the idea of finding a destruction entity that would be willing to give up his life force to help save Discombobulation is a joke. Tell me, what do any of us have to live for?”

“I won't give up!” Innocence shouted, and then she gritted her teeth, saying sharply: “And I won't let you march in to kill yourself, either!”

Freya turned around with a snarl, and Innocence readied herself... but a moment later, the corpse of a Pious was flung between them, stopping them from lunging at each other as Terra roared: “That's enough, you two!”

Both ponies looked up as the Ironjaw approached, a cold look in her eyes as she said icily: “Sodding little fillies, look at you! If you haven't noticed, the war is still on! Aye, the undead have the last of 'em backed into a corner, but you should know as well as I do, Freya, that in a war like this anything could happen and often does! And you, Innocence, you're young but you never struck me as bein' stupid!”

The ivory mare rose her head, saying disgustedly: “Then maybe you should go back to warring, Terra, and leave this to us. Scolding us on the battlefield is as stupid as anything we've done.”

“I think not, Freya, because I'm not the one acting like a little lass with her feelings hurt, who feels so threatened by another hen in the roost she has to try and prove she can take on the world her own self.” the Ironjaw replied coldly, and Freya bared her teeth at her before the metallic dragon clenched her own jaw, but forced her raised scales to settle, breathing slowly as she said quietly: “We do this together, not alone. None of us are your enemy and we can do this the way we planned. And then Innocence doesn't have to lose any more family. No suicide by war, Freya.”

The ivory mare only laughed dryly at this, looking down for a moment before she closed her eye and took a slow breath, then began to look up... and suddenly stumbled, gasping in pain as she clutched at her eyepatch. Innocence and Terra both reared back in shock as blue smoke burst up from it, before Freya wrenched her head back and forth, hissing in agony, swords wavering in the air around her... and then as suddenly as it had come on, she fell loose again, breathing hard and trembling, swords shivering before she whispered: “So you would take even this from me, Hel...”

She cursed under her breath, trembling a little, and then she looked up and said disgustedly: “Apparently... Hel agrees with you. We need to find a way to enlarge the portal... because this eye of mine will not allow me to go alone or to drag you into danger. Hel will simply poison or hex me through it, and-”

“Look out!” Innocence shouted, and Freya and Terra both looked up in surprise as a wyvern dove down out of the air towards them, roaring furiously. But both reacted at the same time, Freya slashing her horn out with a snarl, unleashing blast of golden flames that crashed into its head, knocking its skull whiplashing backwards as Terra leapt up and slammed a claw into his stomach, sending it crashing out of the air and rolling backwards to sprawl over the ground, dead.

There was silence for a few moments before both Freya and Terra looked up as the Whistler's voice screamed from across the battlefield: “Yeah, you think it's gonna be this easy? That's just the first wave, hosses! We got all kinds of reinforcements streaming in from way wide across this stupid nation of yours... and rainin' down from Heaven, too! You wanna see what my boss can do, bitch? Here's a taste of what my boss can do!”

There was a terrible rumble from above... and then the blanket of clouds and detritus across the sky was blown apart by several bright white rays, chunks of stone hailing down from the neutralized chaos as undead and Clockwork soldiers were blown apart by the beams of white light. Demons fled in all directions, and Discord and the Draconequus vanished in bursts of green lightning moments before several more enormous lasers of white light tore through the clouds where they had been second ago, tearing trenches along the ground and turning both ally and enemy of the Light to stone.

Bright sunlight shone down as the clouds faded, torn string and dead leaves spilling down from the sky in a hail... but one that couldn't quite cover up the sight of the enormous iron sarcophagi shooting down from the sky, clanking loudly into the earth one after the other: Nephilim.

And along with the Nephilim, rode down more wyverns... but some of these were armored in silver, and worse, carried not Angelic Knights, but Paladins on their backs: massive, white armored soldiers with brawny, thick limbs, tall, oval-shaped face-masking helms, and long white banners hanging from their wing-like appendages, like signs of honor. They were fierce and fearless as they rode down, much larger than most of their Pious brethren and carrying enormous axes and war picks in only one hand.

Freya snarled at this: they had rarely dealt with the Paladins of Greater Heaven, these elite Pious left only to guard a few particularly-sacred Sanctuaries and guarding rare, precious treasures of the Light. But Terra only grinned widely, saying quietly: “There's at least thirty riders... p'rhaps more. Let's see who kills the most, shall we?”

One of the Paladin riders shot down, smashing through the ranks of the undead with his wyvern as his axe cut back and forth, sending up flashes of holy energy that knocked revenants flying in all directions with every strike. But now Freya was smiling coldly, turning to face the Paladin as she said icily: “War is not a game, Terra.”

“Everything's a sodding game, lassie.” Terra replied easily, her metal scales shivering as blue smoke filtered up out of her jaws, and Freya grunted before the two suddenly charged forwards as Innocence shivered and Ersatz stared up at the sky, watching as sunlight, bright and warm and somehow awful sunlight, shone down over their ranks.

Then Innocence's eyes widened as she saw two wyverns turning towards Chrysophylax Dives, the Paladin riders raising their weapons high...

The Dracolich turned towards one and roared, a massive blast of black flames tearing through the air and burning the wyvern away to nothing but a husk, even as the Paladin shielded himself with his weapon. But the skeleton of the wyvern continued to shoot through the air with its rider, the holy knight leaning forwards... except Chrysophylax grinned coldly as black flames burst into life in the sockets of the wyvern's skull, and the draconic skeleton shrieked and shot suddenly upwards, carrying its shocked rider into the air.

But then the other Paladin slammed his axe across Chrysophylax's face, and the Dracolich howled in pain as he stumbled on his mangled leg, gritting his teeth before another Paladin attempted to shoot in from behind... except it hit a wall of spirits that yanked it off the wyvern, and the ivory dragon zigzagged wildly as other wraiths and specters appeared all around it, clawing at it viciously. The spirits flickered wildly in and out of existence under broad daylight, but this close to their Dracolich master, they could apparently sustain themselves more than enough to interfere with the Light's soldiers.

Another wyvern rider shot at a Tyrant Wyrm, and was blasted out of the air by sapphire poison and concentrated waves of sound, flopping painfully to the ground. Drones swarmed immediately towards it, but the Paladin swung his axe back and forth, smashing them away like toys before a Clockwork Pony seemed to almost appear out of thin air beside it, vomiting a concentrated stream of acid over the soldier of Light and sending it staggering helplessly to the side before it collapsed brokenly to the ground.

But not just Paladins and wyverns were joining the fray: Whistler copies were flashing into existence throughout the field, slashing and gouging at rebels, laughing and snarling and leaping onto anything they could attack. Wolfsbane snarled and stumbled as a group of Whistlers tackled him from all sides, driving him down under their weight, stabbing wildly at the farkasember from all sides before he suddenly howled and threw his head back and forelegs out, smashing Whistler copies in all directions.

Then he pounced forwards, smashing one down... only for a mace to crash into his skull with a sickening crack, knocking him flopping backwards as a Paladin stepped slowly forwards to look coldly down at the wolf-beast before raising his bloody weapon again.

And Wolfsbane grinned, red eyes snapping open as his jaw visibly locked itself back into place before he leapt up to his paws, flinging himself forwards and tackling the Paladin onto his back before a claw lashed out... and tore front-out-back through the Paladin's breastplate, the creature spasming weakly on the ground as Wolfsbane growled: “Now if only you could handle what you can dish out... then you'd be worthy prey.”

Wolfsbane tore his paw back, but caught the broken edge of the angel's armor, hauling the heavy body into the air and turning to fling it viciously into a Whistler, crushing it flat before he roared: “And you, meatbag! What can you do?”

“This!” one of the Whistlers snarled, before an eerie melody rose up from the strange creature as it swayed back and forth, grinning and mocking as the copies began to harmonize with the controller across the entire field, and Wolfsbane whimpered as he covered his ears. “Music screws the savage beast, ain't that right?”

The Whistler laughed, almost drowning out its own melody as demons lost concentration and rebels looked up in surprise, even the revenants stumbling in surprise at the enchanting lull. And then Wolfsbane suddenly looked up, eyes flashing as he leapt forwards and roared: “Knock it off!”

A front paw lashed out with enough force to smash the mocking Whistler's head off its shoulders, and as his music was cut off, the rest of the chorus abruptly halted before one of the other Whistlers staggered as if it had been hit, then looked up, clearly now the new master copy as it screamed: “Dammit, we gotta-”

Burning Desire snapped his horn out, and the Whistler squealed as it burst into flames, bolting forwards across the field and howling in pain as the demon grinned... a moment before a wyvern smashed down on top of him, crushing him into the earth. Ersatz looked sharply up as her horn pulsed, and she shouted at Burning Desire before charging straight for him as the fiery stallion struggled beneath the dragon, gasping as he tried to push one large talon away before it could hook it into his stomach and disembowel him...

A Whistler leapt on Ersatz's back, stabbing its knife down into her, and the demonic mare staggered before her eyes flashed as she bucked it off, whirling suddenly as her vain features became ugly and furious as she snapped her horn out, a blast of flames ripping across the creature and incinerating it in moments.

Then she spun back around, before she snapped her horn out in desperation when she the wyvern stomped cruelly on Burning Desire. Her blast of flames smashed against its features and knocked its head back, making it snarl and distracting it... but the second blast of black fire almost blew its head completely away, the wyvern staggering off Burning Desire and toppling to the side as Innocence ran up beside Ersatz and nodded to her sharply.

Ersatz nodded back with a faint smile crossing her features, running quickly towards Burning Desire as the Passion picked himself up... and then he winced over his shoulder as a Paladin charged in towards him, axe already raised. Ersatz and Innocence both turned towards this, preparing their magic: but in the moment before either of them could release their spells, a battleaxe whickered down almost out of thin air, cutting through its helmed head and down deep into its breast as Pinkamena snarled, slamming the Angel of Greater Heaven front-first into the ground with a vicious lash of her weapon.

The Pious bounced brokenly against the earth, and then Pinkamena tore her axe back and glared over her shoulder, body flexing and armor groaning as it struggled to contain her shifting body. “Look, moron, I might not give a crowbait's flank, but my daughter's already lost one stallion role model. If you die, she's gonna cry, and I'm going to have to pull you back out of Helheim and kick your ass.”

Burning Desire smiled wryly at this, and then he grimaced as he looked over his shoulder, watching as several Pegasi smashed into an armored wyvern in midair, driving it back but narrowly avoiding being struck by the Paladin rider. He began to open his mouth, but then cursed as the Whistler's horrible music started again, blurring their senses and making it hard to concentrate.

The forces of Light were trying to gather as the Whistlers and wyvern-mounted Paladins wreaked havoc across the battlefield, drawing as much attention as they could to themselves. Their tactics were crude but effective, and hiding a more intelligent and vicious strategy: if their forces could assemble and strike as a unit while the Whistlers kept the rebels distracted, then the Light could actually regain some control over the battlefield.

They had to do something about the Whistlers, and Innocence gritted her teeth before she looked sharply towards the Tyrant Wyrms: they were being hounded by wyverns as the Paladins smashed and tore at them from the sides and front. They weren't going to last much longer, and their Black Verses were perhaps the only thing that could drown out the Whistler's song...

She opened her mouth, but something held her back from trying to speak the Black Verses: she wasn't sure of what, or why, but it didn't seem right. Something was stopping her from summoning up her darker powers, as she looked back and forth, almost panicking for a moment as she breathed hard in and out, surveying the battlefield around her as she seemed to hesitate...

But she wasn't hesitating. She wasn't panicking. She was trying to think amidst the pandemonium of battle, gritting her teeth before she looked suddenly up to watch as two Paladins shot by. They coordinated themselves and the movements of their wyverns effortlessly as they attacked a dragon in the air, either knight smashing in its wings and knocking the great reptile out of the air with a howl as its appendages were flayed, smashing down into a line of soldiers before it quickly scrambled up to its claws, bloody and wounded and snarling in pain...

And both paladins curved around, seeming only to trade looks... and Innocence realized what she was looking at. Why that harmonic between the Whistlers was so mind-numbing, and why the Black Verses weren't entirely necessary to stop the poisonous song, as she began to concentrate energy into her horn. The Light was a hive mind, using psychic signals to commune: all she had to do was send out a powerful enough pulse, and...

Her horn flicked sharply up, and magic sparked through the air around her as she sent a telepathic order through the field, a mental shout of 'Stop!' that was more a thunder of emotion than anything else. And all around the field, Pious and other forces of the Light twitched and looked up, the Whistlers stumbling to a halt before one of them snarled and shouted: “Hey, that ain't-”

An Ironjaw dragon seized this Whistler from behind, hefting it into the air as it squealed before the metallic dragon growled and firmly yanked out to either side, tearing it into two halves. It flung both of these aside, as Freya's voice rang out clearly through the battlefield: “Concentrate on the Whistler leading the melody! Destroy him and keep the song at bay!”

“Screw you! Y'ain't never gonna kill me all!” shouted another Whistler... only to be crushed a moment later as Pinkamena landed on top of him before she speared the bottom of her axe down into his skull in a vicious coup de gras.

Then the demon leapt forwards with a snarl, swinging her axe out and chopping into the leg of a Paladin from behind. It stumbled forwards and fell to a kneel, and then then Pinkamena hauled her axe around in a vicious, revolving smash into the Paladin's upper spine, driving it to the ground and leaving it in a broken heap.

She growled and tore her axe back, then roared: “Don't slow down! Come on, you wimps, these are nothing but more puppets, no matter how big and strong they look!”

Pinkamena turned with a snarl, eyes blazing before she charged forwards towards the nearest knot of enemies, rebels gathering their courage and following in her wake even as one of the Tyrant Wyrms collapsed into broken shards of porcelain with a final chuckle. But as the Paladins turned their attention to the other Tyrant Wyrm, Morning Glory's chains snapped down and seized around the war pick of one just as it brought the weapon back, yanking it out of its grip to slam into the head of a different Paladin as a hoof shattered the spine of the soldier in front of her.

It collapsed to its knees, and she caught it by the top of the head before crushing it viciously down into the ground with a sickening crunch and squelch of gore. But just as she began to straighten, a heavy war hammer lashed across her frame and knocked her staggering to the side, the Paladin that had struck her bringing its weapon back again...

Fearlessly, Morning Glory turned and swung her horn upwards, deflecting the hammer before her chains lashed out and seized into the upper arms of the Paladin, holding it in place so her front hooves could slam in a vicious tattoo across its breast, crumpling heavy armor like tin back into its body before she slung the broken creature aside.

The remaining Tyrant Wyrm grinned down at her, dripping mire and covered in lacerations, one leg missing and its body half-sprawled awkwardly on its side, and Morning Glory looked coldly up at the creature before she said calmly: “You can die afterwards.”

The monster replied to her in its dark, twisted language, and she didn't understand what it said... but its loud, mocking laugh as the ground around the creature transformed into black corruption made it clear enough, and Morning Glory grinned darkly before she ran forwards and leapt quickly up onto the monster's back as it rapidly regenerated. The Tyrant Wyrm rose up high, then roared loudly: and its roar was met and joined by Chrysophylax Dives, the Dracolich lowering his head with a calm smile as he slowly flexed a limb that had been reconstructed from Pious corpses.

The massive undead dragon shoved a claw into the ground, sending a spiderweb of poison through the earth around him before these black faults erupted upwards into toxic miasma, converts and Pious staggering dizzily as the poisonous smog clung to their bodies and feasted on their energy.

Chrysophylax leaned down through the toxins misting the air around him, then he plucked up a Devout in his jaws, the winged unicorn squealing helplessly before the Dracolich simply swallowed him whole. He grinned, then belched out the pony's spirit, the ghost joining the cloud of ethereal phantasms flickering in and out of the air above his body and all around him, as he ordered proudly: “Servants! Proliferate and occupy this territory, deracinate these inferior villeins so that we may rob them of their 'glorious Light' and engender them with the true divinity of our Cytherean undeath!”

Revenants surged forwards as spirits possessed corpses and sparked in and out throughout the ranks of the Light, confusing and chipping away at their forces: even as a Paladin smashed down a revenant, more clawed their way over the large Pious, clinging to its limbs and mauling its armor, slowly forcing the holy knight down under sheer weight of numbers.

Wyverns swept down, but Avalon led a team of Pegasi smashing directly into the breast of one, the group of ponies knocking the single large, powerful dragon off balance and flapping its wings wildly to try and hover. Without missing a beat, Avalon half-flipped herself, digging her crosshatch blades through the underbelly of the ivory dragon and yanking both viciously downwards with a snarl of effort, flaying open its belly before she shot out from under the beast as it whimpered and tipped forwards, plummeting from the sky in a hail of blood.

Avalon shot onwards, aiming herself at the rider of another wyvern, but the Paladin simply slapped the tiny Pegasus away, sending her arcing through the air with a wince before she caught herself and attempted to spin around. But before she could launch herself back at the Paladin, the wyvern it was on suddenly bucked and screamed as Aphrodisia crashed into its belly in a burst of black smoke, the mare anchoring herself upside down against it as she lashed her scythe forwards into its breast before twisting viciously.

The dragon was forcibly flipped upside-down before the demon kicked off it, and the wyvern collapsed from the sky in a stream of gore to crash into the ground, the Paladin beneath it crunching loudly under its body. The Dominia landed a moment later before gritting her teeth and glaring over her shoulder, dragging her scythe into air and flinging it savagely at a Whistler copy that had just driven its knife into the throat of a Nibelung.

The Whistler squealed as it was sliced almost in half by the spinning polearm, knocked in one direction as the dwarf's corpse fell in another, and then the soulbound scythe quickly returned to Aphrodisia as she looked back and forth. Rebels and the Light's soldier lay dead in a sea all around them, the mare shivering before she looked up and watched as several more wyverns plummeted from the sky, and she shook her head weakly before whispering: “Help us, Hel.”

Freya's short swords lashed out, catching a Paladin's axe as it swung down before parrying the attack to the side, and then she flicked her horn forwards and smashed the Paladin flat with a hard swing of Tyrfing. It was left in a stunned heap on the ground before her three blades stabbed cruelly down in a short flurry, finishing it off.

And then she twitched before snarling in pain as her crystal eye vibrated, glowing brightly before she looked up as Hel's voice whispered softly into her mind: Oh, Freya, you used to be so much better than this... where's the coordination? Where's the reinforcements? Where's the assessment... no, you don't care how many die, do you?

“I need to stop Greater Heaven. That's what I care about.” Freya replied coldly, shaking her head and gritting her teeth before she looked up as several Devout charged towards her, horn starting to glow... and then she gasped in pain as her crystalline eye vibrated again before she stared blankly as images invaded her mind, not seeing or hearing as the Devout all lunged in, and not feeling the magic being channeled through her body...

Slowly, Freya's vision faded back in as the images faded, and she stared at the sight of the Devout: they had all been frozen solid in pillars of ice. The ivory mare stared at them for a few moments, and then she gritted her teeth and slashed Tyrfing viciously out, smashing the frozen, brittle bodies of the Devout into frosty shrapnel before she shouted, even as she hated herself for doing so: “Terra! The right flank is weak!”

The Ironjaw looked up in surprise, then she grunted and nodded sharply, not questioning how Freya knew this. Instead, she simply roared an order to the Valkyries and her fellow Ironjaw, and they roared back as they broke off from the battles they were in, letting others take over for them as they curled quickly around the battlefield to the right side of the Light's forces.

And she wasn't surprised to find it was vulnerable: the wounded, the Devout, the conscripts were all concentrated on this side, and made for easy prey. In moments, they turned the tide of the battle back in their favor even as the Whistler tried to begin to sing again... but was again interrupted by another telepathic pulse from Innocence that disrupted his powers and confused the forces of Light.

In only a few minutes, it was over: once the right flank fell, the backs of the Paladins and Whistlers on the ground were left vulnerable, and they were caught between the united rebel forces and Terra's battle-siblings. All that were left in the end were the riderless wyverns, zigzagging haphazardly through the air, shrieking bird-like cries at the masses of soldiers on the ground but none of them daring to try and attack the army below.

Then a dragon smashed through one of the ivory dragons and tore it out of the sky, and the rest of the wyverns turned to flee as the rebels roared their triumph. And Freya looked up with a tired sigh, shaking her head slowly as her eye glowed faintly, showing her strange images of the battlefield from above as she murmured: “I don't owe you any thanks, Hel. You won't let me finish this the way it should be finished.”

I won't let you die, that's all. Hel replied gently, and then the goddess added soothingly: It would have been pointless. The Light still has a very powerful army in Heaven... you need everyone, and I mean everyone with you, if you want to have a hope of opening the way into the Cardinal's lair. Oh, I'm not underestimating you, Freya... I know you'd kill your way through an entire army. But two armies? Three armies? Five armies?

“As many as it took. If I go alone, I can avoid contact with the enemy as well... and I've already sacrificed enough of these soldiers for my aims, to accomplish my own selfish goals.” Freya said quietly, shaking her head slowly, not noticing as Innocence hesitantly approached her. “Besides, the Cardinal is just going to set up a kill line in front of wherever the portal opens up... our soldiers will walk out and be destroyed. Their numbers won't make any difference while they're going through the bottleneck.”

Hel only chuckled quietly at this, and then Freya blinked and looked to the side as Innocence said quietly: “We beat the Light here. We can beat them in Heaven... but we have to work together. All of us. It's... isn't this about honor, too?”

“Everything is about honor.” Freya said bitterly, looking down and shaking her head briefly before she closed her eye and said finally: “Reconsider. My passion and your darkness... we can tear the Light apart with a sneak attack, teleport right into the heart of Valhalla before they can even think of stopping us.”

Innocence only gave a small smile, shaking her head briefly and saying quietly: “Freya, it wouldn't work. You can't... you can't give up. That's not logical.”

“Celestia was logical. I just want to see things through to the end... the very end.” Freya lowered her head and smiled faintly, shaking her head briefly before she looked quietly up towards Canterlot Castle. “I've had to see my home defiled, and help destroy it in every world, while losing everyone important to me... while trying to turn you into a monster, and killing my own soldiers. For the greater good... believing the ends will justify the means. But it doesn't. It never does. Brynhild always knew that...”

Freya looked down again, and then Innocence stepped forwards, looking up into the mare's eye and saying quietly: “Then dying is the coward's way out, Freya. You have to make up for everything you've done... you have to find a way to justify it all. And you have to move forwards... you've never given up before. You don't have to give up now, either.”

Freya was silent for a moment... and then both she and Innocence looked up in surprise as another voice asked almost desperately: “But why not? Why do I have to be responsible? Why am I supposed to fix this madness when I am madness myself and am very far from ever being fixed?”

Both ponies turned to see Theophilius Carter standing nearby, palms turned out in supplication, a weak smile on his face. They looked at him, and he gazed silently back before saying quietly: “The White Queen wants me to help. And part of me feels like all of me should be helping, even if another part of me is very quiet and another still part of me just wants to have tea and cookies... although not together, certainly not. That is for barbarians. They must be consumed separately.

There was silence for a few moments, and then Terra pushed through the crowd, trembling a little as her eyes locked on the god of chaos, and Theophilius lit up with a bright smile as he saw her, whispering: “Oh, darling Alice! Look at you, here you are, in the middle of all this hoo-haw and haw-hoo! Are you ready for another adventure across Wonderland, my dear?”

“Wonderland is dying, friend.” Terra said quietly, and Theophilius fell silent before she closed her eyes and bowed her head forwards, saying softly: “Kvas, if you can hear me in there... more than ever, I need your help. We all do. We can open a portal to Heaven, but we lack the strength to expand it into something that can take the whole army there... but with your powers, maybe you can.”

Theophilius shifted uncomfortably, and then he gave a small laugh before touching his own breast, asking uncertainly: “I'm confused because I think you're confused, Alice... I'm the Hatter, don't you see me right here? Who is Kvasir? The only Kvasir I know of is gone, gone far away...”

The Ironjaw cursed under her breath, gritting her teeth as Innocence looked silently at Theophilius... then she thought of what Hel had said to her, that they needed the Hatter's help. That they needed... “Theophilius, you care about Alice, don't you?”

“Of course I do! And about her darling son, and about the Dormouse and the March Hare and oh so many others! I care about each and every one and all of them!” Theophilius declared, looking almost hurt. “How dare you assume otherwise! Or at least I assume that you assumed otherwise; or so I assume, since I haven't assumed it was a rhetorical question. Or have I?”

Innocence smiled a little bit, and then she said quietly: “And the White Queen asked you to help, didn't she? You care about her, too, right?”

“Didn't I just... oh, wait, yes, she doesn't spend all her time in Wonderland these days, does she?” The god of chaos smiled warmly, clicking his tongue and waggling a finger at her. “You. You are a a very sly one. An eye for detail! You'd make an exquisite apprentice... perhaps even a rival! En garde, Cheshire Cat!”

The Mad Hatter flicked his wrist, producing a thin sewing needle, but Innocence ignored this, instead leaning forwards and saying quietly: “We don't have time for games, Theophilius. We need you to focus now. We need you to help us.”

“I'm very happy to help! But there's always time for another game, for tea and circumstance... let's not rush, my friends.” Theophilius replied quickly... a little too quickly, Innocence thought. As if he was afraid... “And I can focus on many things so long as you never ask me to focus on something specific, Cheshire: but that's something you should understand quite well yourself, with your habit of appearing where you please to do as you like and give Alice such strange advice.”

Innocence looked over at Terra, who only shrugged weakly before the scaled mare closed her eyes, then she looked back and said quietly: “Can you bring us to Heaven?”

“I can... but... why? Why should I? You'll all be in danger! It's much safer here in Wonderland, especially now that you've chased away the sun-shiny-day...” Theophilius smiled after a moment, gesturing upwards and laughing a little. “Why put yourselves in danger? Why are we all fighting, and hurting each other? Why do we have to stand up when we can just as easily sit down or turn away or go and do something else entirely...”

“Theophilius...” Innocence hesitated, and then he looked over at Terra, saying quietly: “Theophilius, if you don't help us, then Alice and I are going to walk through that portal and head to Heaven ourselves. Do you understand what will happen then?”

“No, you can't! I won't let you leave!” Theophilius burst out suddenly, his eyes widening with fear as chaos energies crackled around him. Then a ring of Draconequus appeared, forming a fence with their bodies as rebels and undead and others all stared in surprise at the group. “You're-”

“So you'd make us prisoners, would you?” Terra asked darkly, narrowing her eyes, and Theophilius looked hurt, reaching up and covering his mouth before the Ironjaw snapped: “Dammit, Kvas! You were the one who always said we have to put our own desire aside for others!”

“But... but I don't want to hurt. I don't want to get hurt, and I don't want to see you hurt...” Theophilius almost pleaded, looking back and forth before he whispered: “Let's just leave. Let's go to a new Wonderland... where we can be safe, and happy... let them play their silly games here, we don't have to be a part of this, we don't have to play dodgeball, but we can all have tea parties and time will stand still for us forever...”

Terra only lowered her head, shaking it slowly before she looked up and replied quietly: “I can't. And you know that I can't. It's not in my nature... and it never used to be in yours, either.”

“You can turn your eyes away, Theophilius... but that doesn't mean people aren't still going to be hurt. That Wonderland hasn't been breached... and no matter how far or how hard you run, that's going to follow you. We're not marching into pain, though, Theophilius Carter... what we're trying to do here is stop the hurt. And you want to, too... I know you want to.” Innocence said quietly, looking up pleadingly at the god of chaos. “So help us. Help us... save everyone. Because you can't keep us here... but if we leave without you, then Alice and Wonderland will be gone forever.”

There was silence for a few moments... and then the god of chaos slowly lowered his head, swallowing a little before he nodded weakly and whispered: “I suppose, from time to time... even chaos has to indulge a little bit of order.”

He flexed a hand silently, then closed his eyes... and when they opened again, it was Kvasir who looked up at them, saying quietly: “My powers are more than sufficient to bring this army into Heaven. But I won't bring all of you: you should lead a small group of forces into that portal. You might be able to reach somewhere even deeper into Heaven than even I could take you. But we'll keep the Light distracted... you just concentrate on staying alive.”

The others nodded sharply, and Terra smiled warmly, trembling a little before she forced herself to straighten and salute. And Kvasir nodded to her, their eyes locking before he turned to gesture sharply at the Draconequus fencing them in. The chaos entities all quickly hopped away from each other, dispersing into the crowd even as Innocence felt the maddening energies of Ginnungagap growing through the air... but as Terra began to turn away, to follow Innocence and Freya, Kvasir said quietly: “I love you, Terra.”

Terra smiled radiantly, then she looked over her shoulder and nodded to him sharply, replying yearningly: “Aye, I know you do. I love you, Kvas. Always.”

Innocence smiled faintly, but then Freya caught her shoulder and half-pulled her forwards before the scaled mare could look back, and Terra swallowed thickly before she turned to follow the two ponies... and even as all around them, the soldiers of their united army simply began to vanish one after the other, the three strode towards their goal without looking back, trusting in both Kvasir and the Mad Hatter to help them save their Wonderland.

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