• 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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Yin And Yang

Chapter Ninety Four: Yin And Yang

Avalon was only a mortal, and even if they were First Tier demons, Pinkamena and Aphrodisia were both only half-Wrath: not supposed to be anything compared to full-blooded Wrath demons, or Pride, the Devout and the Pious had been instructed. But the forces of Heaven were being taught a lesson today that, if any of them survived, they would never forget: that it wasn't merely the labels applied to a person that determined their strength.

Pinkamena grinned savagely as she slashed her axe back and forth, making wide, hauling overhead swings with the weapon: stupid in any other situation, savagely-effective in this one. Devout were crushed to the ground or sent crashing backwards in bloody heaps in the narrow hallway they were clearing, as Avalon kept to the air above Pinkamena's head and smashed any winged unicorn stupid enough to try to fly up towards the high ceiling back down into the trapped mob, while Aphrodisia stepped in and out of reality around the Pious, hooking her scythe out to remove limbs and trip the angels up or fling them into one-another.

“Come on!” Pinkamena roared, and then she swung the wide flat of her axe out like a baseball bat, slamming it into the barely-alive Devout in front of her and knocking it crashing back into the group of Light soldiers that had by now been forced back into the very doorway they were supposed to be guarding. They were sent sprawling like dominoes into this from the Devout cannonballed into the group, and their combined weight was more than enough to knock the door open and send them bouncing along the stone bridge beyond.

Pinkamena looked at this with distaste, and then she strode calmly out, firmly booting a Devout out of her way and sending it falling into the moat with a squeal, before her axe swung viciously in another direction and slammed through the head of a Pious that was climbing slowly to its feet, knocking it back flat against the ground.

The demon spat to the side, then growled as a blast of purification struck her in the face, making her wince to the side before her eyes narrowed as her flesh smoldered, an ugly bruise rapidly spreading over her features. Another Devout began to crawl up to its hooves, horn glowing, but a moment later Avalon slammed down on its back, shattering its spine before springing off to slam both crosshatch blades into the chest of a Pious.

The tiny mare roared as she yanked down and somersaulted, pulling the angel off its feet and then flinging it viciously through the air, sending it crashing to the ground in a limp, broken heap. Then Avalon dropped neatly to her hooves and glared at the few remaining soldiers of Light: two Devout, and a single Pious that was already missing the limbs on its left side.

The Devout were trembling, looking panicked, but they both lashed their horns towards Avalon anyway, flinging what little magic they could: fearlessly, Avalon brought up a crosshatch blade, the magic missiles hammering against this and scalding her hide, but then she snarled and launched herself forwards, tackling one of the Devout onto its back before slamming her hooves down in a vicious tattoo into its features. The Pious began to lunge forwards, to try and knock Avalon off, but before it could reach her, a scythe blade tore through out of its stomach and it spasmed weakly.

It clutched at the blade buried through it, and then Aphrodisia yanked her polearm backwards and briskly snapped it off to the side, flinging the corpse off the bridge and into the moat. Then, without hesitation, she stepped forwards and lashed her scythe out into the Devout that was turning around too late to try and intercept her attack, knocking it crashing backwards... and Pinkamena caught it by the skull before it could roll by, calmly and coldly slamming it face-first into the bridge with a sickening crack.

The demon booted the corpse off the bridge, then looked from Avalon to Aphrodisia before she said moodily: “Okay kids. That's three entrances. Let's keep moving, we're wasting time here.”

“Got it.” Avalon nodded quickly as she stood up, giving the corpse beneath her a look of distaste for a moment before she stomped on it once more grouchily, muttering: “Recognized this asshole. Figured for sure he'd go to Hell. Drug dealer, marefriend-beater, general pain in the ass.”

“Heaven's a lot easier to get into than most people think. Especially with the Light recruiting. But hey, look on the bright side, at least they're putting the scum to use and giving us some target practice we don't have to feel too bad about.” Pinkamena said moodily, and Avalon gave her a dry smile as Aphrodisia turned a softer look on her mother. “Hey, screw you, kid. I'm fine.”

“I know, Mommy. I don't doubt you, not ever.” Aphrodisia replied quietly, giving a small smile before she shook her head and looked quickly over at Avalon. “How are you holding up?”

Avalon growled in response to this, and Pinkamena gave a wry smile. “Good, kid. Tough as ever. But don't hide it if the purification's starting to get to you. It's starting to make me itch like hell. But then again, maybe the fact that I'm a demon and you're not actually works in your favor. Just don't make me have to carry you too much through this whole mess, you hear me?”

“Twelve.” Avalon said shortly, and Pinkamena frowned as Aphrodisia winced and waved wildly at her friend, but the tiny Pegasus only continued to glare balefully at the Devourer before she rose her head proudly and elaborated calmly: “Twelve. That's how many Paladins I've made into corpses. Inside this Fortress alone. What's your grand total, Pinkamena?”

There was silence for a few moments, and then the demon slowly narrowed her eyes as she said moodily: “Ten.”

Avalon grinned widely at this, and then she flitted up into the air, nodding firmly. “Exactly. So maybe you should watch out for yourself, Pinkamena, and don't make me carry you.”

Pinkamena slowly ground her teeth together, eyes narrowing dangerously, and then she growled and nodded slowly, leaning forwards and saying icily: “Fine, runt. We'll keep our eyes on our own prizes and see who gets the most kills by the end of the day. The little dyke daughter of Rainbow Douche and the Apple Sapling or me.”

“Hey!” Avalon huffed a bit, glowering over at Pinkamena as she shot forwards, and Aphrodisia groaned loudly as she followed after the two quickly, wincing a little. “I like stallions plenty, for one thing. For another, your daughter was the first mare I ever kissed.”

“Yeah, and my daughter's half-Lust and spent a decade with Burning Desire, the biggest pervert in all of Subterra. To her kissing is like shaking hooves.” Pinkamena said mildly, and Aphrodisia blushed a little before the Devourer began to add moodily: “I also happen to know that my daughter was your first-”

But before she could finish, there was a tremendous bang that echoed through the air behind them and all three ponies turned around to look at a pillar of smoke that was now rising quickly through the sky, the stone bridge beneath their hooves rumbling from the aftershocks of whatever massive explosion had just torn the air behind them. They studied this silently for a few moments, and then Pinkamena shook her head slowly, saying quietly: “Enough fun and games, kids. We better get back to work. How about we stop hunting small fry and move on to the main entrance?”

“We're behind you, Mommy.” Aphrodisia said quietly but firmly, nodding even as her scythe vanished from sight. Avalon grunted in agreement, then tossed one look at the rising column of smoke before she sighed a little, shaking her head slowly and turning back around, following the two demons as they made their way back into Valhalla... and only hoping that there were actually going to be rebel forces to join them once they cleared all these entrances for them.

Prestige and Innocence strode through the halls: the scaled mare wanted to run, but Prestige was keeping the pace steady and cautious. And what Innocence both admired and was a little frustrated about was the fact that the Valkyrie was actually right: so far, sneaking and moving slowly had saved them from wasting a lot of energy on confrontations.

Not that they weren't dealing with enemies where they could: Prestige was surprisingly ruthless and... well, efficient, was the best word for it. Although neither of them wanted to risk trying to sneak up on a Pious with their psychic ability and telepathic detection, Devout, converts, Hounds of Heaven and even constructs were all fair game, and silently executed when the opportunity presented itself.

Innocence was amazed by Prestige's grasp of magic: not only could she handle casting multiple spells at once and mixing different elemental branches together, she was also capable of mimicking spells that Antares had been fond of, such as his so-called 'angel taser:' a jolt of purification administered directly to the nervous system to knock someone out. Difficult to do, but Prestige had both the power and the precision for it, in spite of lacking the natural talent to manipulate purification to the extent that Antares had always been able to.

It wasn't that she was jealous or anything, but... Prestige made her a little... anxious, she guessed. Like Prestige, her talent was in magic: but Prestige made her realize that she was still clumsy with certain things, that she wasn't as refined as she wanted to be, made her... horribly aware of every little bit of wasted energy, of every flaw in her spellwork and every time she allowed her energy signature to broadcast too much and all the ways she could be so much better at her own magic...

The Valkyrie glanced at her, and Innocence smiled lamely: she felt like an impostor in this Valkyrie armor, next to this mare. It didn't feel like there was anything she could do that Prestige couldn't... but Prestige only gazed at her softly for a few moments before the beautiful unicorn said softly: “Keep focused. We've moved deep into Valhalla by now and you're doing very well.”

It was a little patronizing, and yet at the same time it wasn't. Innocence was well-aware that Prestige was technically her superior if they were both Valkyries, after all: Prestige had been through training and often served as a commanding officer on field missions. Prestige was also older than her... well... kind of. With what Innocence had been through with Gymbr, and how muddled those memories and all that time that had passed had gotten, it was actually kind of hard to say.

Innocence only nodded a little to her fellow mare, trying to keep her gaze ahead. The corridor they were going down was long and lined with pretty statues that looked harmless enough, although there was no real place to hide if someone happened to step in from either set of doors at either end of the hall, or from one of the side doors they passed. But it looked like the Light's patrols generally kept to one area and stayed put, or barricaded themselves in...

That struck the scaled mare as strange. That the Light had certain halls barricaded off, and soldiers seemed to be actually... hiding, more than preparing for battle. Considering how dangerous Paladins were, it was funny they hadn't seen more of them... but then again, Innocence wouldn't be surprised if the Cardinal had decided to pull all his elite into a narrow perimeter around his throne room, or wherever he was hiding out.

They reached the double doors at the end of the hall, and both ponies hesitated before raising their horns, silently attempting to sense what was on the other side. But the purification was interfering with their abilities, and there seemed to be some kind of concentration of it on the other side of these doors...

And then an axe tore halfway through the wood, splinters flying in all directions before there was a tremendous crack, and both doors were rammed violently open. One caught Innocence in the face, knocking her rolling painfully backwards, but Prestige managed to leap out of the way and narrowly avoid being caught by the other before she snapped her horn viciously forwards, and it slammed back closed on the face of the Paladin attempting to stride through.

The Paladin barely flinched however, swinging an arm out and smashing the door into pieces as Prestige winced, but then Innocence leapt forwards and snarled as she snapped her horn out, hammering the Paladin's axe with a psychokinetic hammer. The holy knight refused to let go of the weapon even as it was knocked backwards through the air, sending it staggering awkwardly around in a circle, and Prestige immediately took the chance to lash her horn out, a fireball arcing towards the Paladin before her horn gave a second pulse, and just before it could make contact it turned into a ball of green liquid that splashed with a loud hiss over the holy knight's back.

Reeking steam and smoke rose up as the acid rapidly started to eat through the metal, the Paladin staggering around in a circle before it trembled, then fell to a kneel. Innocence stared in disbelief as the Paladin attempted to crawl forwards, but then only slumped to the ground, dead, a large, ugly crater eaten through its armor and spine.

She opened her mouth to comment on it... and then two more Paladins stormed in from the room behind, and both mares set themselves, gritting their teeth as Prestige shouted: “And there's more in the room beyond, we have to retreat!”

Innocence nodded quickly with a wince, even as her instincts hissed at her, like this was a bad idea: but all the same, she spun around, running towards the end of the hall as Prestige snapped her horn upwards, several enormous spikes of rock jutting up out of the floor and blocking the Paladins.

The scaled mare hurried towards the doors... and then winced when something smashed into them before they were blown open by another Paladin, this one carrying a massive halberd. And behind him, Innocence could see plenty more were on their way as well, the mare staggering backwards with a wince. “Prestige!”

The Valkyrie looked over her shoulder before cursing and looking back and forth, but the Paladins ahead were already starting to smash their way through the solid rock: even as thick and large as the pillars were, they weren't going to slow the holy knights down for more than a few minutes. And Innocence gritted her teeth at the sight of the single holy knight approaching from behind before she seized on several of the statues at the side of the hall with telekinesis, flinging them viciously towards the Paladin.

They weren't very large, but they were apparently quite solid, denting his armor and knocking him stumbling, and Innocence hurriedly launched the rest of the statues she could see, one after the other, into the armored Pious. He was forced backwards little-by-little by the hail of stone ornaments, before Prestige sharply snapped her horn forwards, startling Innocence when a fireball rocketed into the ceiling above the doorway behind the pile of statues.

The explosion was massive, cracking the ceiling and sending several large chunks of stone hailing down, and Innocence winced before lashing her own horn forwards, following up with a blast of dark fire that brought down the section of roof above the door, sending it crashing over the Paladin as cracks tore along the ceiling of the corridor and it rumbled ominously.

Black flames leapt greedily up over the pile of ruins and everything else that had fallen through the ceiling, but there was no time to think or worry about how they might spread as the two Paladins behind them smashed through the stone pillars. Prestige was already reacting, however, even as Innocence struggled just to think of a spell she could use, before the mare watched in amazement as Prestige sent a blast of wind at the holy knights that was strong enough to stagger them... before the chunks of rock from the stone barrier they had just broken through launched upwards in a hail around them, each detonating violently against their armor and knocking the two holy knights back and forth like ragdolls before Innocence finally managed to sharply snap her own horn out, blasting them with an unfocused burst of black flames that felt childish and crude compared to the... the art of Prestige's powerful magic.

All the same, it was enough to finish off the holy knights, and the two mares breathed hard for a moment before Prestige gritted her teeth, saying quietly and firmly: “We rush. Maybe we can take them by surprise. Prepare the most powerful spells you know and we'll hit them with everything we've got, right from the start. Understood?”

Innocence only nodded: she didn't trust herself to argue, didn't even know how she could argue with that. She took a slow breath, and then she gritted her teeth before nodding quickly to show she was ready, and Prestige gave her a faint smile before nodding firmly in return.

Then both ponies looked sharply forwards before sprinting into the room beyond, both looking up fearlessly as a group of Devout shot down towards them, before the winged unicorns attempted to halt themselves in midair in shock at the sight of the two mares running straight at them before both Innocence and Prestige sharply lashed their horns out.

Blades of black and crimson flames tore through the air side-by-side, smashing into the Devout and both exploding in a tremendous, multicolored bang of light and sound that sent winged unicorn corpses flying backwards and rolling brokenly along the ground as Innocence and Prestige both skidded to a halt through the smog left from the explosion, setting themselves as they glared around the room they had entered into.

It was large and roughly circular, with a tall statue of a Pious in each of the four rounded corners of the room: the roof was high and domed, with a large chandelier hanging from the center, made of several interlocking circles of steel and adorned with both beautiful, glowing gemstones and enormous reflectors that cast tingling, purification-tinged light throughout the area.

There were other gates and doors along the walls, but all of these had been barricaded shut by bands of steel and marble, including a massive set of double doors opposite them. But it wasn't the enchantment or the heavy gates or the glowing circle of magic over these that caught her attention: it was the fact that standing calmly in front of the doors was her brother, wearing gorgeous, ivory and golden-edged armor over his body, but his head left proudly uncovered, equipment bags hanging on both sides of the battle-ready Antares Mīrus.

No... Virgil, she reminded herself, gritting her teeth and trembling a bit as Prestige stared at the stallion, then swallowed thickly as she reached up and covered her mouth as if sick. And Innocence understood why: not just because of how cold and callous Virgil looked, not just because this was Antares, turned upside down, visible so clearly in the way he held himself so goddamn arrogantly... but because his wings had become a gleaming white substance that looked suspiciously like the same mineral that made up their own horns.

They glowed brightly as Virgil flapped them once, then furled them calmly: they didn't just fold down like normal wings anymore, but draped, almost cape-like, around his body. And he smiled at them, standing with his grenade launcher held in one hoof, balanced comfortably against his shoulder as he said haughtily: “Well, will you look what the manticore dragged in? Innocence, I was hoping to see you... but you, Prestige. You're a real treat. I didn't think you rebels had gotten this far, this fast... unless you've been naughty little girls, running ahead of the rest of the group...”

He grinned slightly, and Innocence shivered before Prestige swallowed thickly and leaned forwards, whispering: “Hero... I... I know you must be in there somewhere. Please. Please come with us. Please... we want to save you...”

“Save me?” Virgil laughed loudly, then he shook his head slowly and said contemptibly: “You disgust me. You're nothing but heretics and scum. You would deny my master his holy vision... and look! Look around! You're the ones killing, slaughtering all these innocents, you're the ones driving this war forwards... you should have given in! You should have stopped fighting a long goddamn time ago, and joined us!”

Prestige trembled a little at this, and then she closed her eyes before gritting her teeth and exclaiming: “Look at yourself, Antares! Think about what you're saying! What does all this 'happiness' mean without freedom, with... giving up your own self worth to be part of someone else's plans, being a slave and servant to-”

“'Free will,' right? Please. Now that I'm part of the Light, unified with the Great Webwork and beneath the true God of Light's command, I feel more than I ever have before like I belong. I'm happy. I can trust the entire world, because we all have the same goal, the same shared leader and vision. Freedom is a curse and a poison and I am glad to be rid of it.” Virgil said coldly, and then he pointed his grenade launcher at Prestige and Innocence, and both mares trembled as the four Paladins looming around the edges of the room drew forwards and formed a battle line, along with the Devout that stepped forwards now, all of them readying themselves. “Don't struggle too hard. I don't want to have to kill you: I want you both to be introduced to my master, so he can decide if you're worth saving or not. And I really hope you are... but the best part is, that even if you're not... I won't care.”

Prestige shivered a little, staring weakly at Virgil as Innocence leaned forwards, gritting her teeth... and then her eyes widened as the stallion pulled the trigger and fired a grenade at them, the scaled unicorn lashing her horn sharply to the side and hitting the canister with a blast of telekinesis to knock it flying into the group of Light soldiers to the right. A Devout was blown apart with a shriek and the rest of the soldiers were flung or stumbled by it, while Virgil only laughed loudly as he spread his wings and leapt into the air, grinning widely as he flew up towards the chandelier high above while taking aim and firing another grenade at the two mares, but Innocence easily deflected it again.

It smashed into the other group and exploded, blowing off most of a Paladin's head and sending its armored body crumpling into the soldiers of Light behind it to knock them all sprawling, and Innocence gritted her teeth before she snapped her horn upwards as Antares hovered easily. A blast of lightning shot towards him, but he tilted his body to block with one wing, magic rippling around him as the electricity was absorbed into the alicorn as he only lost a little bit of height before spreading his wings wide again, beginning to circle the room slowly as he called mockingly: “Is that the best you can do, Sin? I remember how pathetic you were last time, but hell, I thought you'd improved at least a little bit since then! But I guess it's hard to make something out of nothing, right?”

“Shut up!” Innocence almost screamed, feeling absurdly hurt and infuriated and just... like she was on the very edge of freaking completely out. Prestige was still staring weakly, dazed and confused, and Innocence cursed as Antares fired another grenade at them, deflecting it into a Devout that was leaping towards them: the blast was enough to knock them both staggering, and this finally woke Prestige up, the Valkyrie looking back and forth in shock as Innocence snapped: “Wake up! Fight!”

Prestige shook herself quickly out, then looked up at Antares for a moment, snarling... but even as her horn sparked violently with magic, she couldn't make herself lash out at him. Instead, she gave a raw cry as she turned to the side, snapping her horn towards the Paladins and the Devout charging towards them from their flank.

A fireball shot into the group, exploding but releasing a tremendous blast of lightning as well as scorching flame, killing the more-fragile Devout and stunning the armored Paladins. Then Prestige charged straight for the group she had attacked, while Innocence smacked another grenade fired from Virgil away before replying with a burst of black flames as the grenade exploded against the base of a nearby statue.

Virgil laughed, flicking his horn and canceling out the flames with his own blast of purification before he shot backwards, popping his grenade launcher open and yanking several more rounds free from one of his sidepacks. Innocence gritted her teeth, seeing his horn glowing, feeling the magic energy even if she couldn't actually see it: even if he was acting arrogant and childish, he was taking this seriously. Playing with them right now, sure... but testing them, and keeping his defenses high.

Then Innocence looked to the side as she heard a loud cracking, watching as the massive statue of a Pious tipped slowly forwards, and she gritted her teeth before roaring in effort as she seized on it with magic and yanked on it as hard as she could. She stumbled to the side as she lashed her horn out, feeling magical recoil zap painfully over her features, but at the same time, ripping the statue up from its shattered base and flinging it straight at Virgil.

The stallion snarled, then he sharply launched himself into a dive, the statue just shooting over his head as he slammed the cylinder shut and aimed the gun at Innocence, firing off several rounds in retaliation. Innocence winced, leaping hurriedly backwards as explosions peppered the ground around her, cursing at the heat and flame that bit at her as several Devout were flung backwards by the blast and a Paladin was knocked stumbling to the side.

Then the scaled mare focused as she felt her magic returning, looking up as Virgil fired a fourth round at her, but this time she caught it with telekinesis, yanking it down towards her before making it spin around her head and fire like a rocket back at Virgil. The stallion had only a split-second to react, barely managing to create a barrier of holy energy in front of himself before the grenade smashed into this and exploded.

It absorbed the worst of the blast, but knocked the grenade launcher out of Virgil's grip, the stallion cursing under his breath before looking up with a snarl. But Innocence only smiled coldly even as she leapt backwards, before she swung a metal claw out and caught a Devout as it lunged at her, draining its life energy rapidly.

As it slumped in her grip, Virgil shot down towards her, then streaked behind the Paladin when her horn began to glow. Innocence gritted her teeth, then stared in shock when the Paladin was launched violently at her, a wrecking ball of heavy armor and Pious that was aglow with holy energies.

She did the only thing she could think to do: she flung the Devout still in her claw back at the living missile of the Paladin, and they crashed together in midair before Innocence snapped her horn sharply, and the dead body of the winged unicorn exploded in a blast of dark energy. It sent the Paladin crashing brokenly to the ground and launched Virgil backwards, the stallion hitting the cement floor and rolling before he managed to spring up to all fours.

He glared at Innocence furiously for a moment, before his eyes flicked towards Prestige Luster: the Valkyrie had a Paladin trapped in a pillar of water, but as he watched, she snapped her horn and it became solid crystal that then crunched viciously inwards, finishing off the last of the troops he'd had in reserve here. But Virgil grinned coldly as he leapt towards her, seeing the telltale flash of her horn: Prestige was powerful, but after a multicast, she had a moment of vulnerability.

The Valkyrie turned, and froze up for a moment at the sight of the stallion shooting towards her, giving him the chance to slam a hoof into her face and knock her crashing backwards. He leapt at her even as she caught herself, swinging his horn viciously down, and Prestige cried out as she parried with a wild swing before their horns clashed together again and again, the mare stumbling backwards beneath the hail of blows.

Innocence snarled and ran straight at Virgil's side... and his wing flapped open, unleashing a gust of purification that seared her scales and knocked her backwards with a cry of pain. At the same time, Virgil continued to viciously hammer blow after blow into Prestige's horn, forcing her to shrink back, the stallion grinning as he drank in her fear, her pain, her inability to react...

A hoof slammed viciously up beneath her muzzle, and Prestige was knocked rearing back before a sharp, violent series of blows crashed into her chest. She screamed, writhing back and forth before Virgil leapt forwards and smashed a hoof directly into the end of her muzzle, knocking her flying backwards... and as if that wasn't enough, he flapped his wings hard, launching himself forwards to stomp her out of the air with both rear hooves before landing on top of her, stomping cruelly down on her ribs again, again, again...

Innocence flung herself at Virgil again as she lashed her horn out, and he calmly flung himself to the side, spreading his wings to lazily roll in midair, the burst of magic shooting beneath him before he landed neatly facing his sister, wings flapping hard and unleashing a raw cone of purification in response that smashed Innocence off her claws. She was knocked rolling along the ground, and Virgil smiled coldly, saying quietly: “Pathetic.”

His eyes flicked towards Prestige as she trembled and forced herself slowly up, tears running down her face before she began to raise her horn... and then gasped in pain as it glowed white instead of her normal aura, flinching backwards as Virgil grinned and reached up to tap his temple slowly. “You didn't think I was going to let you use any spells, did you? No. Playtime's over.”

And with that, Virgil leapt forwards and slammed a hoof down into Prestige's face, knocking her to the ground before he leaned over her with a snarl, eyes glowing as arcs of energy were violently pulled from Prestige's horn and into his shivering alicorn wings and horn. The mare screamed in agony, shaking wildly back and forth as all the power was stolen from her form before Virgil threw his head back and roared in ecstasy and power, a massive blast of white flames ripping out from his body and knocking the Valkyrie flying away.

She landed in a broken heap, laying in a helpless, drained sprawl, unable to breathe, unable to move, unable to do more than let her eyes slip closed with a final whimper. And Virgil stood with a vicious, insane grin on his features, muscles bulging with power, wings sparking with energy, eyes glowing as he looked down at his own hooves with a laugh of amazement. “This energy... this strength! This power!”

“Power... isn't everything it's cracked up to be. You used to know that, Antares.” Innocence said quietly, slowly climbing to her hooves. She shivered a bit at the holy energy that Virgil was now radiating... no, the raw power he had. His whole body was glowing with it... and yet... she wasn't afraid. She was scared, but she wasn't afraid. “Don't... please don't make me hurt you.”

Virgil smiled coldly, slowly turning towards her before he said softly: “You, hurt me? Please. You're the one who should give in... give me your power, too, I want to see just how much energy I can handle. I'll be God's greatest avenger... I'll be as close to complete and perfect as someone born outside the perfection of the Light can be. I'm going to drain you, either way... but if you fight, I'll probably have to kill you.”

Innocence closed her eyes, trembling a little before she gritted her teeth, flexing her body and slamming her claws into the ground. Her black blood boiled as her Panacea spread rapidly over the floor, transforming stone to dark mire... except around Antares. Around Antares, the black ooze turned immediately to marble, couldn't even come near the purification spreading over him as he said softly: “Looks like even mud is smarter than you, Innocence.”

He calmly reached out, shoving a hoof into the black muck... and immediately, it turned to ashes and marble dust, purification sizzling rapidly through the muck and turning much of it to stone. But it was wild, uncontrolled, and Innocence could feel her corruption struggling to fight back, even if it seemed impossible to win against this... this power...

But power wasn't everything. Power was nothing without the ability to harness it, and without a mind capable of controlling it, power didn't make gods: it made monsters. Innocence slowly straightened and gritted her teeth as the two looked at each other for a few moments, and then she shouted: “You're not the only person here who can cover himself in pretty gemstones, Antares Mīrus!”

“I am Virgil, the Lightbringer!” the monster her brother had become roared at her, and then he laughed, launching at her, intoxicated by his own power, his own aura of holy righteousness and deadly energy, his own brawn...

Innocence flicked her horn, tossing a mess of muck and marble ash up from the ground and right into the path of the stallion, and he cursed as he slashed his horn out, sending out a massive blast of purification that smashed apart the cloud and the ground where Innocence had been a moment ago. But the scaled mare was gone, and Virgil had a moment to look back and forth in confusion before something seized his back legs and yanked him through the air.

Innocence snarled: it actually hurt just to be close to Virgil, and it hurt to absorb his spiritual essence... but did it ever feel good to smash him back-first down into the floor and see how stunned the stupid idiot looked as he bounced backwards in pain...

But his wings flapped viciously, not only flipping him off the ground and back to his hooves, but smashing Innocence with a fierce thunder of purification, making her stagger in agony before Virgil's hooves slammed into her face and began to pummel her viciously backwards, every blow turning a little more of her to stone, sending down a hail of scales both petrified and not as her cheekbone cracked and blood flew from her face.

Then he blasted her backwards, head-over-hooves, with a torrent of white energy, making her scream in agony as she arched her back before he leapt towards her... and out of instinct more than anything else, she slammed both rear hooves into his face, knocking him away.

She landed on her back, skidding painfully over the ground: the marble ash tingled painfully against her, but the mire fed her strength as she rolled quickly backwards and caught herself. Then she stared in horror as Virgil grinned at her viciously, his head drawn back, an orb of purification floating above him as he roared: “Light destroys darkness!”

He launched the sphere of ivory energy at her, and Innocence gritted her teeth before shoving her claws up, doing the only thing she could think to do and catching the white fireball in her gauntlets. It hit with enough force to knock her skidding backwards on her rear hooves, and she snarled in agony as it sent painful waves of energy ripping over her body and filled her veins with fire... but to her shock, she actually managed to absorb it after a moment, holy power crackling through her dark body, devoured by it as she looked up and spat: “And darkness consumes light.”

Virgil snarled at her, and then he launched himself forwards, rushing her again, but this time the mare was prepared for it. Virgil was as skilled as her brother, if not more because of his sheer viciousness... but he also had Antares' predictability.

She slashed her horn at him, sending out a blast of dark energy, and Virgil simply slapped it away before lashing his hoof towards her, but Innocence leapt backwards with a grin as the knocked-away sphere became a long black needle that shot at Virgil's side. Unfortunately, it only collided with his wing, exploding in a blast of black electricity that zapped over the appendage... but it did at least make Virgil stumble and twitch in visible pain, and the mare narrowed her eyes sharply at this: it didn't look like she could physically damage the wings, and like they absorbed most magic energy... but apparently they didn't like dark energy.

He reared back with a snarl, but Innocence glared at this: she wasn't going to let this same goddamn attack hit her yet again. As his wings began to flap, she slammed her claws into the ground, and black spikes of crystal shot out of the ground, smashing against Virgil's armored stomach and inner wings, and he was knocked rolling backwards with a gasp of pain.

They glared at each other, and then Virgil roared furiously before leaping straight at her, eyes glowing with zeal and fury. But Innocence wasn't about to let him get close to her that easily this time, leaping up with a cold grin as her dark aura surrounded her and she streaked into the air.

Virgil created a platform of white energy and used it like a trampoline to shoot up after her... and Innocence stopped suddenly in midair and stomped both rear hooves straight down into his face. He hit with a sickening crack, with so much force that his hind legs flipped upwards as he lost all sense for a moment, and Innocence seized his ankles as he bent in front of her in almost a J before she whirled around in a circle and flung him viciously away.

He flailed wildly through the air, his stiff mineral wings unable to catch any wind beneath them as he spiraled out of control before Innocence followed up with several sharp slashes of her horn, sending blades of dark energy smashing into Virgil and knocking him limply to the ground. Then she dropped from the air, looking coldly at the stallion as he lay prone for a few moments... before gritting her teeth as he gave a sour laugh.

“So what...” he said quietly, slowly picking his smoldering body up before his horn and wings glowed... and then he snarled, body trembling as white energy sparked along his form, his wounds healing, his muscles flexing, his eyes glowing before he flapped his wings and settled himself, smiling coldly across at her. Completely healed, that white aura burning all the fiercer around him even if Innocence could sense that he'd lost some of his magic energy.

She had to hit him with everything she had. She had to knock him out, or drain all the magic from his body, or... disable him in some less-pleasant way. Then the mare gritted her teeth as Virgil's eyes flicked towards Prestige, asking with a cold smile: “How much more power do you think her body can give me?”

“Go ahead. Do it. I don't care.” Innocence said coldly, as Virgil began to turn towards the fallen unicorn, and a strange idea, a crazy bluff, came to mind as she trembled, then shouted: “But I know you're still in there, Antares! You won't hurt Prestige, and I know you don't want to hurt me! Fight it, just... just fight it! I know you can!”

She stepped forwards imploringly, and Virgil frowned at her... then trembled, and he cursed as he reached up, grasping at his skull. Innocence stepped quickly forwards, nodding encouragingly, saying quickly: “Fight it! Come on, Antares, you're stronger than this, better than this!”

Virgil groaned, grabbing at his head, trembling... and then, the moment Innocence got within range, he leapt at her suddenly, grinning viciously, a hoof drawn back-

A claw smashed directly into his muzzle, and he was knocked stupidly backwards before Innocence drove forwards with a snarl, slashing her claws and horn almost wildly back and forth across his frame, smashing apart his armor, shredding the insulation beneath, ripping deep wounds through his chest that bled spiritual energy before she stabbed her horn cruelly forwards. But Virgil managed to catch this between his hooves before he twisted savagely to the side, flinging her sideways before he flapped his wings with a furious, humiliated roar, blasting her backwards with a shockwave of purification before he snapped his horn out and followed up with a white fireball that launched her bonelessly through the air.

But then he slumped, gasping in pain, looking up with a faint flush in his cheeks and rage in his eyes as Innocence hit the ground and rolled painfully onto her stomach... but she was grinning, even through the bruises and the blood and the chunks of her body that had turned to stone. And as she looked slowly up at him, she sank her claws into the ground, turning the floor beneath her to mire and channeling her energies into it, concentrating: she knew she wouldn't have another chance to attempt this, as Virgil hissed: “You lying bitch.”

“Unlike you... I learn.” the mare said quietly, as the pieces of stone plate slowly fell off her body, the mire helping her to heal even as she continued to concentrate.

Virgil smiled thinly at this, and then he straightened, horn glowing as he raised it and said coldly: “Really? Because then you wouldn't let me do this.”

His body glowed, beginning to heal itself, and Innocence slammed her claws into the ground, and a massive geyser of mire exploded upwards around her as Virgil's eyes widened. But his muscles spasmed, body refusing to move while his powerful frame healed, magic already concentrated into the spell he was performing as Innocence snarled: “And if you were smart, you wouldn't let me do this!”

The pillar splashed down... and an enormous Tyrant Wyrm made of black crystal dropped to all fours, roaring furiously as its eyes glowed white with energy, then it bared enormous, ivory fangs in a cruel grin. And from inside the shell, Innocence gritted her teeth as Virgil snarled and flapped his wings, launching himself into the air as he roared: “This didn't work on me before, and it's not going to work on me now!”

He shot himself forwards, smashing into the skull of the Tyrant Wyrm, and Innocence cursed at the impact before she made her crystalline shell smash its head back into Virgil, knocking him backwards. The crystal wyrm's jaws bit savagely at the stallion, but he avoided it before flapping his wings fiercely, a flash of purification turning the side of the Tyrant Wyrm's face to stone before he grinned savagely and launched forwards, body going into a vicious white corkscrew that smashed straight through the head of the Tyrant Wyrm...

And tore uselessly out the other side, the stallion looking stupefied at not finding Innocence inside before the Tyrant Wyrm reared back and spun around, swinging one foreleg out to smash into Virgil's back and send him rocketing across the room, crashing into the statue of a Pious.

It shattered to pieces and fell in a hail with him, smashing painfully across the stallion's body as he was driven to the ground, and the crystal wyrm slammed its claws into the floor, transforming the area around itself to mire as Innocence narrowed her eyes in concentration. She was secreted in the monster's breast, behind a layer of tinted crystals: she could see out, but it would hopefully take Virgil a few more moments to work out where she was hiding.

The stallion launched himself into the air in a white comet with a curse from beneath the rubble of the statue, then he snapped his horn out, smashing the front of the wyrm with a blast of purification. It shattered away most of the stump of neck, and Innocence winced as it made her construct shiver for a moment Virgil shot towards her... but he severely underestimated the speed of her crystal wyrm as she made it rear up, claws slamming closed around the stallion.

The Tyrant Wyrm awkwardly sprawled on its stomach, but slammed both claws down into the ground, crushing Virgil into the floor as he gargled before his eyes glowed with rage and he roared, alicorn wings sparking before unleashing a tremendous blast of white energy from his body. The Tyrant Wyrm's forelimbs were blown into pieces from the blast, and Innocence cursed before the stallion shot forwards, smashing through her secret window and one hoof crashing into the mare with enough force to knock her crashing through black gemstone behind her, leaving her trapped into the wall before he began to savagely pummel her further into the wall, snarling even as blood ran from his face and his mouth, shouting: “Learn your place!”

He slashed his horn down, and Innocence screamed as purification burned over her body, the stallion slamming his hooves into her shoulders and pinning her back into the crystal as it turned to rock around her, before he arched his back and roared as he began to absorb her power. Innocence gargled, her horn sparking violently, her body slowly turning to stone, feeling like this monster was violating every inch of her spirit, her very soul, as he tried to steal her life, her powers, her everything from her through her brother's body...

She slammed a claw forwards, and Virgil gasped, then howled in shock as she created a circuit, snarling in desperation: he dragged her energies into his body, but at the same time, she was sucking the life force out of him. His wings flapped wildly, but he couldn't pull away as dark and light energies cycled wildly between them, Innocence feeling agony and pleasure, love and hate, weakness and raw, incredible power...

And then, her body almost moving on its own, she clenched her other gauntlet into a fist as golden energies burst into life around it before she snarled furiously: “Give me my brother back, Virgil!”

She smashed a punch directly into Virgil's face, and he was sent rocketing out of the half-petrified, half-melted ruins of the Tyrant Wyrm. He flopped bonelessly to the ground and rolled a few times with a gasp as Innocence leapt out after him, her body filled with... not just darkness, but light. And something clicked inside her as Virgil began to crawl up to his hooves, his alicorn wings sparking violently, his features sallow and horrified: they had taken in each other's powers, but the Light couldn't handle her darkness... yet inside her, they were amplifying each other, giving her new potential she'd never imaged... giving her the power she needed to finish this.

Virgil sensed that something was coming, but his body wouldn't move: his wings clumsily attempted to shield himself, but the energies in his body counteracted each other as Innocence reared back, her horn glowing brightly as a tremendous ripple of force passed through the air around her, feeding all the energy she had in her body and some of her own life essence into the spell Gymbr had left her before she roared as she snapped her horn forwards.

The magical recoil blasted her off her hooves as a massive spiral of dark energy tore through the air, smashing into Virgil and burning the purification from his body as he screamed in agony, his alicorn wings charring black, clawing his front hooves feebly into the maelstrom as he was knocked skidding backwards by the force of magic ripping around him...and then the tidal wave of darkness transformed, becoming massive, green vines that surged and wrapped around him and carried him backwards into the double doors, smashing him into the gates before ivy and raw life spread over the walls and up to the ceiling.

Black roses sprouted across the thorny vines, as tapers sprawled outwards and the dark flames faded into living tendrils. And Innocence breathed hard from where she was laying on the ground and staring with disbelief, all the energy drained from her body by this massive exertion as she stared across the living webwork of... of life. Of raw, powerful life...

She laughed weakly... then trembled a little before picking herself slowly up, gasping in pain as she stumbled forwards. And caught amidst the webwork, crushed and broken in the vines and dark green tendrils and flowers, was Virgil. The vines had grown with such force and power they had ripped loose the heavy gates behind him and torn apart the magic circle protecting the double doors, and left the stallion suspended in a thick mess of ivy... but when Innocence approached, the organic wrapped around Virgil relaxed and dropped him to the ground.

He landed on his face, bouncing once, his horn sparking with dark energy, his wings cracked and smoking faintly. She breathed hard in and out as she stood over him, and slowly, Virgil opened his eyes... then he gave a weak smile, saying quietly: “Innocence... you... you saved me, you-”

Innocence slammed a punch into Virgil's face, and he collapsed to the ground in a stunned heap, the mare breathing slowly in and out before she muttered: “Screw you too, big brother.”

She stopped, then hesitantly reached her claw forwards, grasping into Virgil's skull... and she felt something. She felt the parasitic Virgil that had taken over Antares' mind... and she trembled as she felt Antares, too. But the Light was wrapped around him, and she could almost hear its screeching threats, that it would drag Antares out with it if she tried to remove it... but she had a way around that. At least, she hoped she did.

“You always did have too much light inside you, Tarry... a little darkness won't hurt.” Innocence said softly, and then she closed her eyes and concentrated... and beneath her, Virgil shuddered before Innocence flinched in pain as her magic was repelled. But then she smiled a little: she hadn't figured that would work anyway. Besides, this... this was better.

She took a slow breath, then channeled her own life force through the gauntlets, along with just a touch of her Panacea... and the Light and Antares both writhed in pain, before the Light screamed as she sacrificed the little strength she had left to flood it with dark energy. She felt it being torn apart, and she felt Antares rising to the surface, tearing free of the Light's hold on him before Innocence stumbled backwards, her vision blurring, her body rebelling.

She stumbled to the side, then vomited blood as she felt her heart stutter in her chest before a weak smile spread over her features, and she looked silently down at one claw for a moment as dark essence dripped from her mouth. For a moment, she'd been almost as powerful as Gymbr, but that didn't matter. That was unimportant, compared to the pride and joy she felt in giving up the last of that strength to save her big brother...

And she was graced by the sight of the stallion stirring, saw his eyes open, saw enough in them to know it was her brother... before she slumped slowly to the side and fell into absolute darkness.

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