• 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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Miracles And Rationalizations

Chapter Ninety One: Miracles And Rationalizations

The Cardinal sat in his throne, looking disbelieving: everything was going wrong. Every single last little thing was going wrong, and there didn't seem to be anything he could do to stop it.

He gritted his teeth, then glared out over his subordinates, slamming his fists down into the arms of his chair as he shouted angrily at them: “Well? What have you got to say for yourselves?”

Virgil didn't look up, keeping his head bowed low, crouched in a submissive kneel. Minos only stood, cloak wrapped tightly around his body, but his hollow sockets almost seemed to smolder with fury... and humiliation. De Sade whimpered, covering his head and trembling violently, before the assassin attempted to speak up, saying weakly: “We... boss, hey, there's still a thousand of us to only a few of them, right? We... we can drop the goddamn bomb right down on their goddamn heads, can't we? I mean, b-boss, there ain't no need to get too angry over all this, is there?”

“'Don't get angry,' that is your advice? That is your defense?” the Cardinal snapped, looking infuriated as he leapt to his feet, a snarl crossing his features before he pointed at the door and shouted: “Get out, you worthless pile of scraps! I should have had Greller erase you as nothing more than a failed project!”

De Sade squealed and spun around, bolting for the doorway, and Virgil and Minos both looked hesitantly over their shoulders to watch the creature go. The Cardinal breathed slowly in and out, then closed his eyes and slowly brushed at his robes, telling himself that it was just anger making his hands tremble, not fear, never fear: he still held the upper hand, after all. Even if somehow, the rebel forces had not only quashed his army, but they had somehow entered his Heaven, his Heaven...

He forced himself to take another breath, steadying himself, and then he slowly sat back in his seat and looked icily between Minos and Virgil. After a moment, his eyes roved to the death entity, and he asked with contempt: “So what do you have to say for yourself, Minos? You were beaten by a little girl, and your Atropii were torn apart by patchwork dolls from the garbage heap of the universe. Precisely how does a Great Reaper explain these things?”

“I have no excuses, Cardinal.” Minos replied quietly, bowing his head forwards, and the Cardinal nodded moodily in agreement, even as he felt a shift of unease: the idea that there was no explanation except that Minos had lost and the ugly, corrupt girl he had fought had won... that bothered him. That Minos would admit to it bothered him even more.

There was silence for a few moments, and then the Cardinal grimaced a little and asked: “And what are you going to do to remedy this situation?”

“I will kill her. I underestimated her strength... I will not do so again.” Minos said softly, and then he added calmly: “But she is strong. Much stronger than we realized.”

“She is a child, and she is tainted. She cannot be strong. Perhaps you are only weaker than either of us had believed.” the Cardinal responded icily, and the death entity didn't reply, simply bowing his head forwards.

Silence again... until the Cardinal sighed and turned his attention towards Virgil, saying distastefully: “And you. Perhaps not as directly or as spectacularly as Minos and De Sade, but you have failed me too, Virgil. Your childish strategies have resulted in Heaven being attacked and the loss of an entire army. Your error was not remedied, as you promised, by the arrival of the Paladins, either, and we have now wasted much of the Wrath of God's power exterminating vermin... but done little to actually weaken this enemy force. I am disappointed.”

“I apologize, my Lord. I will not permit this to happen again.” Virgil said quietly, looking as humbled as if he really had been the one to suggest all of the plans that the Cardinal had put in place, as if their failure really was the fault of his own calculations. “Let me make it up to you. I will engage and destroy the enemy myself. I will kill their officers and bring their heads to you.”

“No. You are to remain here, in our castle. I cannot trust these tasks to you after your last spectacular failure.” The Cardinal shook his head in disgust before looking calmly over at Minos. “You will also remain within these castle walls. Some fool has allowed the enemy to know who I am... in all likelihood, this is a betrayal of Greller. Some pathetic, last-ditch attempt to redeem himself in the eyes of these mortals... I should have known from his sickening tampering with De Sade that secretly he was attempting to help them all along.”

“Not even your eyes can see everything, my lord.” Virgil said soothingly, but the Cardinal only looked coldly at the winged unicorn in reply, slowly tapping his fingers against the arm of his chair.

“Really now?” asked the Cardinal softly, and then he shook his head slowly in contempt, saying quietly: “I should remind you, Virgil, that any disobedience will not be tolerated... that even the thought of rebelling against me will result summarily in execution. Do you understand?”

“Yes, my lord. I only meant that Greller was a pathetic, skulking coward, who specialized in working in the darkness that your Light seeks to wash away. I'm sure you didn't miss any signs, my lord. He was a betrayer. Betrayers are very good at hiding their motives.” Virgil said quickly, and the Cardinal looked down with disdain over the winged unicorn.

Then he snarled and shook his head, flicking a hand and saying angrily: “I do not require your platitudes! Consider doing your job instead of whimpering and whining and trying to toady to me, it won't earn you any favors! Especially not after how much work and effort you have cost me with your idiotic maneuvers... how could you put such a childish strategy into action against the one thing, the one thing that threatens us!”

Virgil lowered his head again in apology, and then Minos said quietly, glancing calmly up: “Perhaps you would prefer me to eliminate these threats? Virgil can protect you, Lord Cardinal, and I can ensure that all the rebels are quickly judged and dispatched.”

“I will not excuse you from the duties I have assigned, just because you also desire to lick my feet, Minos.” the Cardinal said darkly, and then he tented his fingers together even as he felt a misgiving, a twist, inside his stomach. “No. Remain here. Listening to you both has done nothing but put us into further danger. So instead I am going to follow my own instincts: I shall withdraw all Paladins to defend this castle, and move our artillery forwards to begin bombing immediately. I don't care how many converts I have to kill if it allows me to destroy these rebels as well.”

Virgil nodded uneasily, and Minos asked with only a hint of curiosity: “And what about the Pious? They may not respond well to this approach... they are all still keyed to-”

“Do not mention his name. He is dead, and he is gone, and I am God now.” the Cardinal replied icily, shaking his head shortly... even though Minos was right. But that thought only made him feel all the more contempt and anger: the Pious, just like He Of Many Countless Faces, could be so short-sighted and so naïve and stupid. Unless he actively ordered them to do something, they always defaulted to the basic programming of the Light... live and let live, maintain peace, never force their beliefs on others... things worth mockery.

Finally, the Cardinal returned his eyes to Minos, saying calmly: “Heretics must be punished. That, and telling them that this is under the orders of Lord God will quell them. The Pious will not hesitate to fire on their own brothers and sisters if they think it's coming from the mouth of He Of Many Countless Faces.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Minos only nodded again before saying quietly: “If it is necessary, I will be more than pleased to drag several souls into servitude for you. As... apology for my... mistakes.”

The Cardinal scowled a little: he thought he heard something beneath Minos' words, a hint of sarcasm that he didn't like. But after a moment, he only shook his head and said moodily: “Call upon whatever Atropii remain instead. Send them out into the battlefield. And then you may retire to your rooms: but if our castle is attacked, you must seek out and destroy the enemy. Do you understand?”

Minos simply bowed his head forwards in acknowledgment, and then the Great Reaper vanished from sight. The Cardinal waited until he was sure that the death entity was gone, and then he calmly rose a hand, the archway that was the only way in and out of his throne room filling with white light as he said quietly: “Virgil, Minos is no longer as useful to me as he once was. If he is not killed in the battles ahead... ensure that he meets his own judgment all the same. And once he is... dealt with... bring me his scrolls.”

“Yes, my lord. I'll wait until after the rebels are destroyed, and then I'll kill him, as you command.” Virgil bowed his head calmly, not flinching, neither surprised nor upset by his master's order. If anything, he looked pleased, raising his head and adding in a simpering tone: “I know it's not my place to advise you, Lord Cardinal, but I think that's best for everyone. He's... annoying.”

The Cardinal only smiled distastefully, straightening and then striding calmly forwards as the light faded out of the archway, revealing a long staircase beyond. He stepped onto these familiar steps, putting his hands behind his back as he made his way down, and Virgil quickly followed after the Cardinal as he asked quietly: “What about De Sade? He's failed you many times...”

“You dislike him, don't you, Virgil?” asked the Cardinal, and when Virgil nodded a few times, the master of Heaven only smiled thinly. “Good. Then I'll continue to keep him in service for now, until a better scientist than Greller can create a better assassin for us. His presence will encourage you to work harder, Virgil. After all, you won't want me to give any important jobs or praise to someone you hate, will you?”

Virgil nodded grudgingly, then bowed his head in respect, murmuring: “I don't doubt your wisdom, sir. I only wish that you weren't so right... in the best way, sir. I admire your... vision.”

This made the Cardinal smile again, raising his head proudly as he said softly: “Yes. I am glad you can appreciate that, Virgil... that is why you are the only person I can trust in all of Heaven right now, in spite of your own... shortcomings.”

“Yes, sir.” Virgil nodded again, then looked forwards as they approached the Soul of Heaven, the altar gleaming with purpose as the enormous pillars around the room all thrummed with energy, huge chains rattling now and then as electricity sparked along them. The winged unicorn slowly drew his eyes up to the ceiling above, gazing at the octagonal anchor calmly and watching as lightning fizzled along it violently. “It seems to be reacting to something.”

“Yes, Virgil, I have eyes. But unlike you, I also have a mind. The castle is reacting to the presence of its former masters...” The Cardinal calmly strode towards the rectangular altar, leaning over it and pushing his hands down into the smooth surface, runes rippling quietly into being over its polished face as he said softly: “Never doubt that we were the best things to ever happen to this pathetic den of animals and servitude.”

“I don't, Lord Cardinal.” Virgil bowed his head and stepped respectfully back, and the Cardinal smiled before he turned his eyes down to the altar, closing them as he linked up with the hive mind and took a slow, calming breath.

He heard them: crying out, whimpering, begging and praying for their Lord God to save them as the interlopers tore into Heaven, killing angels left and right, bringing chaos and corruption with them... but the Cardinal had an answer for them, and a solution to get rid of these intruders. And even if it meant sacrificing more of the Great Webwork... he could always restore these souls later. In fact, once Minos was dead, he could simply open up the vault he kept all his treasured souls in and create an entire army of heroes and saviors and killers loyal only to him...

But for now... “Hear me, and hear the word of Lord God, He Of Many Countless Faces, Be They So Beautiful And Divine. The nonbelievers, the heretics, must be punished and driven out: their blasphemy cannot be tolerated. They attack you, and seek to hurt you, destroy, you, kill you: they attack us as a whole, and seek to hurt and destroy and kill Lord God Himself.

“Destroy them, at any cost. All of you: stand against them, and fight. Do whatever it takes. This is Lord God's command.” the Cardinal finished calmly, and then he slowly straightened, pushing away from the altar and taking a slow breath. Virgil was shivering nearby, looking visibly elated from the thrum of energy sparking through his mind, but the Cardinal only ignored him as he held up two fingers and pressed them to one temple, concentrating again.

A moment later, he sent out a series of telepathic orders, riding the tail end of the orders he'd sent out using the amplification altar. With images more than words, he directed the Pious and Angelic Knights still in barracks around Heaven, waiting for commands, to start moving all the artillery weapons they could into position around the invaded zone and begin firing. He wanted that entire area turned into nothing more than a crater, and nothing allowed to escape alive, friend or enemy.

There was a sense of hesitation in return... but it was only for a second before the Cardinal smiled as the Pious acknowledged him, going about their orders. And then the Cardinal calmly turned his eyes towards Virgil, who was looking up at him with complete submission. “Come with me.”

“Yes, sir.” Virgil's voice was little more than a whisper as he nodded eagerly, half-stumbling after the Cardinal as the master of Heaven strode past the altar and across the wide, underground room, heading towards a large, armored door.

The Cardinal simply gestured at this, and Virgil hurried forwards, grasping the enormous, cross-shaped handle on the front and spinning it quickly. The door clanked loudly, then hissed as the locks slowly pulled open and it slipped ajar. Virgil slowly yanked it the rest of the way open, gritting his teeth at the effort it took to move the armored door as the Cardinal simply looked down at him disdainfully, tapping one foot slowly in impatience.

Virgil finally managed to yank the armored door all the way open, and the Cardinal strode inside without a look at his servant, as the winged unicorn wheezed and stumbled quickly after his master... and then stared slowly back and forth as they entered a wide, octagonal room full of mindless ponies that were left hanging off the walls by chains, large tubes sticking out of their bodies and feeding back into the wall behind them. They looked terribly hollow and empty, their expressions vacant, bodies thin and weak... but growing out of the heads of each and every one was a massive reef of twisting and turning alicorn, most of them with their heads weighted down by the rare mineral, some with 'horns' that had grown almost to the same size as their bodies.

They were horrible, and mutant, and in some cases the alicorn had grown down the sides of their faces and formed into a long pillar that had rooted itself into the ground. Virgil looked slowly back and forth over them, before he whispered: “They are all empty vessels, just like the Hollows...”

“Yes, but they serve more of a purpose, fear not.” The Cardinal gestured at their warped horns, saying distastefully: “Greller said that the 'alicorn' is not as pure as it is in natural unicorns... it does not have the same power. But it still should be more than sufficient for the purposes I intend, Virgil, and will be generous enough to trust you with the privilege of carrying out.”

The winged unicorn looked up immediately at this, giving a small smile, and the Cardinal gestured at one of the mutants, saying contemptibly: “As long as the hosts are alive, energy can be drawn out of those mineral growths or converted towards other purposes. These hosts should be converted into living explosives or barrier generators to better protect our castle. Bring them to key locations around the castle and have the Hollows ensure they are converted into... useful objects.”

“Yes, Lord Cardinal, as you command.” Virgil bowed his head low, then added respectfully: “I can't help but admire your intelligence, sir. Do you have any suggestions where I should place these servants?”

“That is for you to decide, Virgil. I would suggest near the entrances to prevent the enemy from entering our castle, however.” the Cardinal replied disdainfully after a moment, glancing down at the winged unicorn and adding with patronizing derision after a moment: “Please try and exercise a little bit of common sense, won't you?”

“Of course, Lord Cardinal. I apologize for wasting your time.” Virgil said quickly, dropping his head awkwardly and respectfully, and the Cardinal simply gave another of his thin smiles before he turned calmly away and strode out of the vault.

The winged unicorn's gaze followed the Cardinal, but the master of Heaven only made a short, dismissive gesture at his side without turning around, saying coldly as he strode across the wide room that contained the Soul of Heaven: “Just see that it gets done.”

“Yes, Lord Cardinal.” Virgil dropped his head low, closing his eyes and shifting uncomfortably: not with anger, but with embarrassment and self-loathing at troubling his master. The only anger inside him was for these pathetic rebels, who were all continuing be such a nuisance to the plans of the Cardinal... and for Minos, for failing to kill such a weak monster as his sister was, and instead coming back crying to Heaven like the simple task of murdering a single mare was too difficult for the mighty death entity.

Virgil sneered at this thought, then he shook his head in disgust before turning around and looking slowly over the freakish ponies: they reeked of Greller's handiwork, that much was certain. They were all deformed and ugly and... hideous things. Not just because they were hollow souls, who would never know the glory of the Light or of the Light's master, the Cardinal... but because they were made in such an inferior image. Like he himself was... but at least he had the courage and strength to recognize his failings.

And that was why he was forever grateful to the Cardinal, for all the same allowing him so deeply into the fold, in spite of what an inferior creature he was. Virgil smiled as he surveyed these other creatures, feeling a shred of pity for them... but mostly disgust. They would never acknowledge their worthlessness. They would never even know their worthlessness. And that was pathetic.

He strode forwards and noted the chain restraints weren't even locked: the manacles were all simply held on by a clip. Meaning that if one of these mutants had developed even the smallest bit of intellect, it could have freed itself and all of the others, then walked right out to the Soul of Heaven, arguably the very heart of this castle and the Lord Cardinal's plans. There was Greller's intellect again, shining through his monstrous experiments.

Except maybe that was what Greller had meant to happen. The Lord Cardinal had warned him that Greller was more than a failure, after all... he was very likely a traitor. Maybe one day he had been planning to give these abominations life... to give them the tools they'd need not just to escape, despite the freakish reefs growing out of their heads, but to do damage to their beautiful Heaven.

Virgil leaned slowly back and forth around the unicorn, and then he shook his head for a moment before his horn glowed white. Purification sizzled across the unicorn's body, but it barely twitched, pulling away only because of the contractions of its muscles. Virgil studied it warily for a few more moments, but it was enough to convince him that the creature had no real intelligence.

He flicked his horn, and the pins tore loose from the manacles and metal belts holding it up. It slumped forwards, and Virgil looked at it with contempt before he ordered: “Get up, serf.”

The unicorn didn't move. Virgil kicked it viciously in the side, cracking a rib and making it shift weakly, but otherwise it didn't stir at all. The winged unicorn sighed tiredly at this, rolling his eyes before his horn glowed as he concentrated on the unicorn.

It lit up with his telekinetic aura... and then the stallion noted that the massive, tumorous reef of alicorn lit up as well. Virgil focused on this, and smiled as he realized he was able to connect to the unicorn's alicorn like it was an amplifier: it meant he barely had to expend any energy at all, instead using the unicorn's own powers to lift it into the air.

Virgil calmly turned and carried the unicorn through the room that held the Soul of Heaven, heading back to the stairs. He glanced up, and noted that the Cardinal had already left: instead of the Cardinal's throne room, the archway above now simply looked out on more stairs. Many, many, many more stairs...

Virgil sighed tiredly, then he halted and simply dropped the unicorn on the steps, grimacing and turning around. He figured that he might as well try and save himself a few trips...

A few minutes later, he had all of the mutants floating along behind him, scowling a bit in irritation. The only problem was that he still had to try and balance them all behind him, and it was hard to keep his concentration between so many of the freaks at once, cursing under his breath as he heard them occasionally bouncing off each other behind him, heard the sound of their alicorn reefs clicking together, felt them swaying out of place or into new positions...

Virgil rolled his eyes as his attention focused ahead, on the first unicorn he had carried out here: it had rolled partway down the steps, and one leg was sticking up in the air, likely held there just by body tension. He muttered to himself as he attempted to concentrate on it, trying to use the powers of the other mutants behind himself to grasp this one...

The unicorn twitched before Virgil's horn sparked as he winced in pain, magical energy sparking through the air around him... and too late, he looked up before the mutant in front of him slammed into him like a magnet. Virgil yelped as he was slammed backwards, crashing into the other mutants before he screamed in agony as a massive surge of magical energy tore across his body, spasming violently and flailing helplessly in midair as his wings flapped painfully and his horn began to glow brighter and brighter...

Energy surged from reef-to-reef, mutant-to-mutant, and Virgil was helpless to do anything, caught in the middle of it, arcs of magic and enormous curls of alicorn smashing against his body, every strike of the entire walls of horn sending powerful surges through his frame. He howled in misery, twisting back and forth, trying to throw his legs out, but all around him the hollow mutants floated inwards, the stallion unable to hold them back as the energy built, his horn vibrating so hard it was threatening to shatter, his body irradiated with raw, awful energy as his angelic wings steamed...

And then there was a tremendous bang, and Virgil was flung to the ground in a smoldering, broken heap, gargling weakly as mutants flew in all directions, several of them smashing against the Soul of Heaven and sending up surges of magical energy, others smashing into chains and making them clank and sway as the anchor in the ceiling above rumbled violently, crack tearing through the ceiling around the octagon of metal.

Slowly, silence settled back through the room, even as energy sparked over the heavy chains and along the large, battery-like capsules that lined the area. Mutant unicorns shifted silently against the ground as energy sizzled along them, and Virgil lay on his face, his eyes closed, his body thrumming with agony and smoke filtering slowly up from his wings as they shivered and crackled strangely.

Finally, he managed to open his eyes, groaning quietly in pain and gritting his teeth as he carefully climbed up to his hooves. Virgil reached up, grasping at his pounding skull as he looked back and forth, then he spat angrily to the side and rasped over a strange clicking that vibrated through the air around him: “Stupid... worthless mutants! They... I... dammit!”

He cursed again, shaking his head briefly before shaking himself out again, then frowning as this time he realized that rattling was coming from his wings. He glanced curiously to the side as he extended them slowly... and then he simply stared in disbelief as not feathered appendages, but strange, scaled wings shivered on either side of him, flexing slowly, now looking like they were made of thin, layered shingles of... of... alicorn.

He shook his head slowly, staring in disbelief over his own strange wings before he flapped them hard, and they jingled strangely, feeling heavy even as they pushed him up into the air. But they thrummed with magic power, and Virgil laughed in disbelief as he looked back and forth, slowly floating higher as magic energy sparked through the air around him, the white, mineral wings pulsing steadily with purification as he whispered: “What's happened to me...”

He gritted his teeth, then snarled and flapped his wings hard, and waves of purification rippled visibly through the air. His eyes widened in surprise at this before he laughed in surprise, then corkscrewed slowly upwards, looking back and forth before he dove down and grinned coldly, using his wings to launch himself into a violent dive as he left a streak of white light through the air behind himself, moving with surprising speed as he whirled around the Soul of Heaven.

Then he shot upwards towards the ceiling, spinning around and slamming his hooves into the roof to run along, spreading his wings out... before slowing to a halt, and a cruel grin spread over his features as he simply stood, the magic necessary to hold himself in place already thrumming out of his wings as he whispered: “I've been chosen. The Cardinal was right... those who serve the Light will receive new miracles, new strength!”

He grinned, zealotry burning in his eyes, head raising high as he flexed slowly before furling his wings in against his sides, the alicorn appendages forming almost a cape across his body as the magic was suppressed and he calmly dropped from the roof. He flipped in midair, landing as calmly as if he'd just stepped calmly off a short stool, a calm smile on his face before he rolled his head on his shoulders... then grimaced, his body flinching as purification sizzled across his frame.

His wings automatically spread, then flapped hard, white energy flashing around him before he frowned a little, looking back and forth at his wings. They were still charged with holy energies, and apparently they couldn't hold magic very well. In fact, he could feel the energies multiplying through his wings again already, and the stallion gritted his teeth before he flapped them savagely, unleashing another bright blast of purification... but this time, the glow faded from the gemstone wings, and the plates shifted over them before he furled them back against his sides with a grunt.

They were going to take some getting used to. He shook his head in distaste, and then he looked back and forth, scowling at the mutant unicorns. They were all still sprawled out, unmoving, and Virgil approached one before he rose his horn-

Magic energy sparked violently over him, drawn in from the unicorn, and he staggered backwards with a gasp of surprise before he flexed and snarled in pain, feeling the magic energy rushing through his body, his muscles flexing, his eyes glowing before he hissed again and relaxed. His head dropped low, breathing slowly in and out before he shook himself out, his muscles flexing as he settled slowly with a growl in his throat.

Energy arced around his horn and over his wings before he flapped them a few times, and then he grinned coldly as he held up a hoof, studying it slowly before he bowed his head low and whispered: “Lord Cardinal... I don't deserve such gifts as this. All will know the glory of your Light. All will bow before your Empire. And I will serve as your weapon and your shield, gladly... and...”

Virgil looked up coldly, smiling icily. Suddenly, the fact that Minos had failed to kill the mare, Innocence, was no longer a bad thing. As a matter of fact, it was a stroke of luck... but as the Pious liked to say, God worked in mysterious ways. And now, thanks to a freak accident, he had the perfect power to destroy Innocence... to succeed where Minos had failed, and kill the dark, tainted mare that he knew the Cardinal wanted dead.

He shook himself slowly, then looked calmly over at the nearest mutant, concentrating on it... and carefully, carefully, he hefted it into the air with telekinesis, drawing it carefully towards himself before picking up another that was nearby. It was like learning how to use magic all over again, thanks to how easy it was to accidentally try and drain magic into himself, or mistakenly call up the alien powers in his wings.

It took Virgil a little more than an hour to gather up the mutants and carry them upstairs: he placed them in key hallways and at the entrances to Valhalla that hadn't been locked down, ordering convert unicorns to use the mutants as power sources and to overload their alicorn reefs if any rebels managed to break through their defensive line.

Then Virgil returned quickly through the halls of their Castle of Light, heading back towards the Cardinal's throne room. He walked in proudly, with his wings cloaking his body, and the Cardinal frowned and leaned forwards out of his platinum seat, tilting his head towards the stallion and asking distastefully: “What have you armored yourself with?”

“It's not armor, Lord Cardinal. It's a miracle.” Virgil replied with pride, spreading his wings wide, and they glowed with holy energies as the Cardinal slowly rose out of his seat, staring in disbelief at the sight of the alicorn wings. They flexed, the plates vibrating quietly together as they flapped slowly once while emitting a clear ivory brightness.

The Cardinal stared at the mutation, and then he repressed a shiver of disgust, leaning back in his throne as he asked moodily: “And how precisely did this miracle happen, Virgil? Did you spend too much time playing with Greller's toys?”

“I made accidental contact with them... their powers must have fused with me somehow. Possibly because these things were also made by Greller's tampering... but it isn't his science, Lord Cardinal. I have full faith in that.” Virgil looked up calmly, nodding and looking at the master of Heaven with nothing but respect and ardor. “You are the one with vision. The true God of this Heaven. The Emperor of the Light.”

“I... yes. I am glad that such a blessing has been visited upon you, Virgil...” All the same, the Cardinal looked with disgust at the stallion, drawing his eyes slowly along him before he shook his head contemptibly. It was bad enough that Virgil was another experiment, like De Sade was... but now, he was glorifying in his freakdom. Perhaps he is not as stable as I'd first thought... “Until we know more, however, please stay... at a distance.”

Virgil bowed his head respectfully, and the Cardinal frowned as he looked slowly over the winged unicorn again, studying his crystalline wings for a few more uncomfortable moments. Then he forced this off, instead asking coldly: “So have you at least finished the task I assigned to you, Virgil, before you decided to come and flaunt your new... wings?”

“I have, Lord Cardinal. I just wanted you to see this blessing, and to ask you how I may better serve your magnificence, sir.” Virgil said humbly, and the Cardinal relaxed a little at the humility of the winged unicorn. So he was still servile, at least... even if this further transformation disgusted him more than it intrigued him. Greller had clearly had further evolutions in mind for his pet projects... either that, or it really had been some freak accident. But the last thing he needed was for the perfection of his Light to be further distorted by the chaotic transformations of these little-better-than-beasts.

Virgil was still looking up at him, and the Cardinal looked moodily back before he said distastefully: “Secure the central foyer, and have our forces here fortify and blockade all other possible passages leading here, to my throne. Ensure the enemy is funneled straight to yourself, Virgil... you can prove the worth of your... 'blessing.' And have most of our soldiers and Paladins withdraw behind you: I want the brunt of our forces protecting my throne room.”

“Yes, my Lord. Your will shall be done.” Virgil replied calmly, bowing deeply. Then he rose and saluted sharply before turning and hurrying away, wrapping those strange, crystalline wings around himself again, and the Cardinal made another face of disgust. Flesh and synthetic: those things didn't belong together, mixed like that. It was too much like Greller's failures, or like those disgusting half-machines or the other scrag that was tainted with such ugly darkness masquerading as order... but they lacked the symmetry, the perfection, that only his Light would have... that gave him the right to rule, to be emperor, to... stand above all others...

The Cardinal shook his head with distaste, and then he looked moodily out through the archway, watching Virgil hurrying on his way like a little puppy eager to fetch the newspaper for his master. The Cardinal spat to the side, then he shook his head and grimaced in distaste before frowning slightly.

He thought for a moment... he'd felt something. Earlier, not long after he'd returned to his throne room, there had been a shift through this castle, like the Soul of Heaven had briefly lost power... but that wasn't possible. Virgil had just been fetching those unicorn toys, that was all. And Virgil was still as enslaved to him as ever: the slavering loyalty of the winged unicorn had only increased, if anything, with this freak accident he was calling a 'miracle.'

No, it was impossible. It was only... nervousness, or frustration, playing games with him. The Cardinal shook his head in disgust, then closed his eyes and lowered his head, breathing slowly in and out as he forced himself to concentrate on the matter at hand.

In the last half hour, the artillery bombardments had begun... but the Pious were hesitating and being sluggish in fulfilling his orders. It wasn't because they doubted in Lord God, but the Great Webwork of Light had been weakened, had reverted more towards what it had been like beneath He Of Many Countless Faces. The Pious didn't want to hurt their own flock, and were confused why they were fighting these rebels in the first place... which was ridiculous. In the past, after all, the Pious had spread into many countless heavens from Greater Heaven, the God of Light pushing his beliefs and messages on each and every single person who would listen...

The only difference was the Cardinal was being a little more... forwards about his designs. He had a vision, of a great Empire of Light, of ruling this whole disgusting, primordial universe through order and sense... and he didn't have the patience or the time to waste on such petty concerns like 'free will' and 'diplomacy.' Convert them all, make them all bow: there was no point in waiting for them to make the right choice. Especially since most of these idiots would make the wrong choice, anyway.

The Cardinal closed his eyes and rubbed slowly at his temples. But these Pious didn't understand, and right now, there wasn't enough power to force them to understand and do his bidding. Still, the artillery barrages were stalling and decimating the rebel forces, from what had been reported so far; he only wished that he had more energy to put towards using the Wrath of God or other Miracles of the Light. But unfortunately, thanks to those impertinent fools and their 'suggestions,' much that went to waste...

Yes... but he would make sure not to follow the advises of Minos or Virgil any longer. Minos because he was no longer a welcome addition to his empire, Virgil because he seemed to be glorying so greatly in his freakdom, and had become arrogant and idiotic enough to assume he was actually special... even more, that he might be chosen. And both of those were disgusting thoughts.

That was enough of that, though: someone needed to rule this Empire of Light, and there was no one else the Cardinal could delegate such an important task to, especially at a time like now, when his vision and genius was most needed. The Cardinal calmly rose, then held up his hands, concentrating as a strange energy crackled through the air.

Runes burst into life along the archway as it filled with light, glowing brightly before the aura slowly faded: beyond it was no longer the hallway to the council chambers, nor steps leading down to the Soul of Heaven, but instead an open, gray square that a massive and beautiful cathedral sat in the center of. The Cardinal smiled calmly at this, then strode through the archway, walking slowly forwards and putting his hands behind his back, unfettered even as a massive pair of doors slammed shut behind him.

The square was wide and sprawling, but yet led to nowhere and seemed to come from nothing, forming an island of gray, interlocking stone that crumbled at the edges into sheer... emptiness. There was no sky above the marble and gold building, only more vast whiteness, as there was in all directions... even on the other side of the massive door in reality he had just stepped through. But this... this was the deepest, most-hidden of all cloisters in Heaven. This was the pretend-seat of He Of Many Countless Faces himself...

He strode slowly towards the gilded golden doors of the building, and a pair of large, Pious-shaped statues calmly reached out and pulled the doors open for him, bowing deeply, as massive Guardian Constructs to either side of the cathedral both saluted at the Cardinal's approach. The master of Heaven didn't so much as acknowledge them, however, striding inside and slowly sauntering down the red carpet as he looked slowly back and forth, not hiding his contemptuous smile.

There were countless Pious here, many of them in the enormous, curved pews that lined the massive hall, some of them staring towards the altar, as if expecting Lord God to make himself present any moment, while others prayed silently to the statues of saints and holy figures and mythical angels all along the walls.

The Cardinal strode slowly down the nave, his eyes lingering on the simple altar that stood at the front of the wooden stage, and first he looked upwards, at the symbol of Lord God, the All-Embracing-Last, carved into the stone wall... then his eyes drew down to the wide Baptism Pool in front of the stage, a round tub that was large enough for any Pious to submerge itself completely in. But this pool hadn't been used for a long time now: anything Baptized in it would become immediately connected to the hive mind, and a servant to the Light... but it would be imbued with He Of Many Countless Faces' version of the Light. While the Cardinal could easily still manipulate such people... it wasn't worth all the effort of dragging them out to this special sanctuary for the full Baptism ceremony. They could be just as easily forcibly Baptized with the Holy Word and a Holy Pool in any Sanctuary, after all, if he wasn't trying to turn them into his own personal thralls, like he had with Virgil.

Some small part of him wanted to bring up the fact that it had been Greller who had made Virgil into a loyal servant. And only De Sade and the Devout were uniquely loyal to him... other created servants. Until he repaired and completely mastered the Great Webwork of Light, the Light would still be the Light of He Of Many Countless Faces...

The Cardinal halted in front of the Baptism pool, looking down at it with contempt for a moment before he shook his head slowly. He and his brethren, and several other important figures... He Of Many Countless Faces had never been baptized. But then again, it was only the Pious who insisted on showing their love and loyalty through the Baptism ceremony... and that hadn't spread outwards and become a part of the Light's religion until the Pious had started spreading the God of Light's message under the orders of the Council of Cardinals, pushed mostly by his own belief in it. His faith in the Great Webwork of Light... his vision, of creating one united universe... that would be nothing but slaves to whoever held the master threads at the center of the network. A vision of one mighty webwork that he'd pretended to weave to help Lord God's silly vision of some happy universe become a reality... but really, He Of Many Countless Faces had just been something like... a pawn. Yes, that was it. A pawn.

The Cardinal smiled coldly, and then he slowly strode past the stage and to a narrow wooden door, letting himself through and getting away from the moronic, overzealous Pious that were still praying to their nonexistent 'god,' that still thought He Of Many Countless Faces was in hiding back here, in a place where no one but he, Regent, Metatron, and Cardinal, was allowed to go. The Pious disgusted him too, but at least they had purpose... at least they weren't messes of emotions and animality like the mortals of this world were. But souls were souls... and admittedly, the fight they were putting up had irritated him into wanting to show these disgusting little horses just how worthless and inferior they really were.

He strode up a narrow wooden staircase, and slipped through another door, onto a wide stone overlook that gazed out across the cathedral's worship hall.

There was a single large throne up here, almost identical to his seat in the castle. In front of this was a glass orb used for scrying, connected to the all-seeing Eye of Heaven. Through it, the Cardinal could safely see anything he desired... and furthermore, he could use it to channel purification into Miracles, although this put a strain on the fabric of reality.

The Cardinal calmly sat himself down in his throne, looking slowly over the Pious below who still had yet to understand that he was the new God of Light... that the thick curtain behind his throne was only hiding a blank wall, not a secret door to a secret room where He Of Many Countless Faces was weeping over his flock's pain and suffering. Not that they would ever figure it out, of course... they weren't much more than puppets. Even after their faith changed and they became absolutely loyal to him and him alone, they wouldn't even realize the difference between their new god and the last.

He smiled thinly down over them, thinking about how superior he was to these pathetic little creatures. Thinking about how they were truly nothing compared to him... and he was the greater mind, the visionary, the controller. How they could only follow orders, but he gave the orders and developed his carefully-constructed plans with such grace and ease...

He reached a hand calmly forwards, touching the side of the scrying glass, and it glowed into life. The Cardinal looked down into this, concentrating on what he wanted to see as he kept his fingers carefully against the side of the orb: from this true throne, he could control all of Heaven, see anything he desired to see, and that was what made him both invincible and fearless.

Images flickered across the orb, and filled not just the crystal ball, but his mind: first, he saw Virgil, ordering his soldiers into place, ensuring that the castle would be locked down... even though the Cardinal was no longer there, so it wasn't like it really mattered. But if enough rebels forced their way in, he would just activate the Soul of Heaven's overload function, and flood the entire castle with psionic vibrations that would turn the minds of everything inside it to mush. Greller had warned him that it was dangerous, but... Greller was dead, thanks to his own idiocy. And listening to the idiocy of others was what had cost him battles in the past.

Next, he saw Minos... and he scowled in disgust. The Great Reaper was simply standing calmly in his own chambers, looking up with his empty eyes at a glowing rift in reality above his head. Likely a door to a trap dimension of some kind... either that, or an escape hatch. It looked like Judge Minos might have plans to abandon ship...

But the Cardinal disregarded it for now. If the rebels were destroyed before reaching the castle, and Minos escaped Virgil, they would still hunt him down in time. And the Great Reaper was powerful, certainly, but not even a Great Reaper could force his way into this sanctified pocket dimension... and even if he somehow did, there was a horde of Pious between him and anyone who wanted to try and interrupt his plans.

A finger stroked along the glass, and the images changed: now he was gazing out over the battlefield, and he scowled in disgust. They had overrun a city-section of Heaven that wasn't too far from the orchards surrounding the castle... if the rebels kept pushing forwards at this rate, they would be inside the walls of the castle he had worked so hard to take over within the hour. Maybe shorter, considering how his forces were quickly losing aerial dominance...

Then the Cardinal winced in pain as something interrupted the images from the Eye of Heaven, sizzling through his mind with ten thousand different thoughts and colors and variations. He stared in disbelief down at the scrying glass, then snarled: chaos energies? Patchwork dolls were fighting alongside the rebels? How was that even possible?

Had he missed something important? Was there something powerful enough to control them out there, hidden among the battlefield? Or were these scum just joining in the battle to feed on the chaos energies and enjoy all the pandemonium that was being stirred up with the warfare?

The Cardinal shook his head in disgust, and then he grasped the scrying glass again, closing his eyes as he concentrated. And after a moment, he was able to get a wide view of the battlefield, feeling tinges of chaos energies here and there and scowling in disgust as he noted that entire areas were blocked from the sight of the Eye of Heaven by chaotic static. But from what he could see, much of the city-section had been destroyed... except there were still far too many rebels alive, and the Pious were taking their sweet time firing on them.

But let them come. Let them try and take back their home. Let them invade the castle: none of them had the brainpower or the magic energy to activate the portal hidden in his throne room. And he was willing to sacrifice a little bit more of the hive mind if it meant destroying these... these vermin that had for so long proven to be such a thorn in his side.

Heaven was his. The Empire of Light was his by right of might. And one way or another, he was going to exterminate everything that wouldn't accept his rule, and covert the rest to his cause. One way or another, the Light was going to conquer this universe... and he would finally be in his rightful place at the head of this single, united flock. He would rule, and they would all conform, and he would allow them all to be happy and mindless like the animals they were, as long as they stayed in their rightful place: beneath him.

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