• Published 8th Sep 2012
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Starlit Knights - BlackRoseRaven

Darkness has come to Equestria, and the world is threatened with destruction. Can Luna stop it?

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Bridging Troubled Waters

Chapter Nineteen: Bridging Troubled Waters

When Pegasus Point was a good distance behind them, Luna called a halt for lunch. As ponies ate, she and Scrivener Blooms sat together, Sammy half-wrapped around the male’s neck as the two talked quietly, reassuring each other about what was yet to come and discussing what was ahead on the road. The next city they had to pass through was Hosston, a bustling metropolis that was only an hour’s march from Charger’s Crossing. After that, they would set up camp… and tomorrow, cross the bridge and officially reach the cold north once they made their way through Snow Saddle.

The Starlit Knights – and even the stoic Pegasus Guard assigned to aid them – were a little more grim and suspicious when they started back on the road towards Hosston. The landscape here was bleaker, the trees scraggier and here and there visibly warped in unnatural ways, and wild animals eyed the ponies warily, mangy and territorial as they picked at weedy grasses.

Domestication and order had been lost here: even the weather had gone wild, a bitter wind blowing sharply over the fields and making the bony branches of blackened trees clack together. Frost and snow unevenly painted the ground and the road, and even as the sun shone down on them, it brought little warmth as gray clouds spilled across a depressed sky, a cold front moving in with malicious speed to add to the misery of the pony caravan.

The wagons rumbled down the hard dirt road as they marched forwards, slowed by the winds but all too eager to keep moving if only to keep their bodies warm. It was like nature was taking revenge on them for all the years ponies had tried to control her and guide her, and Luna gritted her teeth as flakes of snow swirled past her face before she glared at Scrivy as the earth pony only trod onwards as if unaffected by the sour weather, giving her a wry half-grin. “Guess my body never forgot the cold…”

“No wonder thy body was always so hardy in the face of magic if thou grew up in worse than this…” Luna muttered under her breath, Twilight shivering on her other side as they forged forwards, and she cursed to herself as a thick sweep of snow suddenly gusted by, a white sheet that came out of nowhere and spilled powder over road and ponies… but as they pushed through the snow, the squall ended as suddenly as it had begun, the air going from biting to cold to tender warmth as the winged unicorn looked up in surprise.

Pegasi were in the air above, forcefully pushing back the darker clouds and keeping the skies clear around a city surrounded by immense wooden fencing. The gates were already opened for their approach, only a few hundred yards away, and Luna wondered with surprise how she could have not seen the city before now as she led the caravan past the barrier of battling hot-and-cold… but then she glanced over her shoulder, grimaced at the sight of low gray clouds that hung almost as low as fog, winds so sharp they were almost visible and snow lashing back and forth, and she muttered: “Perhaps ‘tis not wholly unbelievable after all.”

“Your ladyship!” called a voice, and Luna looked up in surprise, turning back around and coming to a halt as a unicorn hurriedly approached with two aides, Scrivener Blooms and Luna both calling the order to stop down the line to stunned ponies passing through the weather barrier so they didn’t crash into each other.

The unicorn smiled at her brightly from behind his monocle, his fluffy white moustache almost as remarkable as the large top hat on the small pony’s head as he looked up at her with relief. “We’re so glad you made it through the fields… the weather’s been completely erratic! But come, come, let’s not keep you waiting… I know you have much to do.”

Luna looked surprised at this, nodding awkwardly as the unicorn bustled quickly in a circle, his aides following with clipboards as the winged unicorn signaled to begin the march forwards again, and Scrivy and Twilight quickly strode up to either of Luna’s sides as she said slowly: “Considering the last welcome I received when we passed through a town, this… is a rather surprising turn of events, sir. I expect thou art the mayor of this city, Hosston?”

“Yes, oh, and no need for formality, Champion Luna! We heard all about everything, we’re so glad you’re here, so glad, so glad indeed!” the mayor continued to ramble, puttering onwards towards the open gates in an awkward zigzag, and Luna grimaced a little, moving carefully to avoid stepping on him. “We have some supplies all ready for you at the other end of town, and the route is all planned out, easiest route through Hosston I swear, well maybe one little detour around the bend but that road’s no good anyway, no good at all! Do you want to rest? We have lodgings for you all if you want to rest, too!”

“That will not be necessary, we wish to reach Charger’s Crossing before nightfall… while my soldiers camp there, I have plans to scout the bridge.” Luna replied courteously, and the mayor nodded a few times as he pranced onwards, Luna’s eyes drawing over the tiny, tan pony and settling on the symbol on his flank: a large black top hat with a purple sash tied around it. “I appreciate your kindness.”

“Oh, no, no kindness at all, just doing our job, for Equestria, for Queen Celestia… oh, such an honor to have the former princess here, a hero to ponies, isn’t that right? Why, leading this mighty army, why, isn’t that just something amazing?” the mayor rambled on cheerfully, looking over his shoulder at her and nodding rapidly a few times as they passed through the city gates… and then Luna winced a bit as cheers erupted from either side of the street, where ponies had gathered to watch, many of them holding up signs as confetti and ribbons hailed down around them and somewhere in the distance, a band began to loudly play.

Scrivy winced as Twilight looked around in dumb shock, the caravan behind them stuttering as Aleksandr’s face puckered like the minotaur had just bitten into a lemon, but the mayor only laughed as he called clearly over the roars of the crowd: “Don’t worry, worry not one bit, they’re just here to watch, that’s all, it’s a celebration, we’re having a little celebration, a little get-together across the town since it’s really just a big small town!”

Luna gritted her teeth slowly, hating this almost more than she had hated the revilement in Pegasus Point, leading her soldiers forwards as Starlit Knights gaped at the sight of ponies cheering them on and waving ecstatically at them from the sides of the road. Rainbow Dash grinned as he took the air, leaping up and waving back as a few of the other Pegasi did the same… while Fluttershy hid behind Big Mac as the earth pony walked on, looking unfazed as ever as Pinkamena growled under her breath.

It took them more than an hour to walk through Hosston: the mayor led them through a maze of streets, ‘coincidentally’ took them past City Hall, and acted like he was the one who had brought them himself as he rambled away the entire time, his aides constantly making notes and checking schedules. Luna tried her best to smile, tried her best to look good despite knowing at the same time how bad this could reflect on her: here she was, leading a military brigade on a time-wasting little march through a city for what looked like flank-pats… but if she suddenly turned and pummeled the mayor, that could obviously have bad effects of its own.

Finally, the crowds began to thin out as they came to a halt on the other side of Hosston. Pegasi were more lazing than resting here, the weather much calmer on this side of the city, and a few unicorns had assembled several large crates of food at the side of the road, the mayor bouncing over to these before he did a sudden about-face as Luna signaled the caravan to halt before approaching him with a glare in her eye, even as he said knowingly: “You know, we have a lot more where all this came from, too… maybe we can work out a deal, you stay here, you protect our city, you watch out for Hosston and I’ll do good things in return for you, give you anything you like… pretty fillies like flowers, right? We got lots of flowers!”

And then the mayor squeaked, his aides staring in horror as Luna seized the tiny pony by the scruff of his neck and slammed him up against the crates, leaning slowly, dangerously down as she said darkly: “I do not appreciate being used. I would rather have stones cast upon me and be called Nightmare Moon than be used in such a manner, knave! Do not soil the dignity of myself or that of my soldiers with thy sniveling machinations!”

“Wait, wait, wait! Okay, I get it, no flowers!” the mayor squawked, and Luna dropped him flat on his rump, the mayor bouncing once with a yelp before he grinned lamely up at her, adjusting his monocle with a hoof before holding the other up and saying quickly: “Look, we’re both grown equines, right? Let’s work out a deal. Negotiate. I know you can’t really be on the way to North Neigh, that place is a dump, way at the edge of Equestrian territory… even if something bad happens up there, it goes poof, who cares? It must be Snow Saddle, right? How much are they paying you, or do they just pay Canterlot directly? Either way, I can make it worth your while to… to stay here, for an indefinite period… to protect my city, precious Hosston, which, by the way, is almost as important as Hoofston and almost as important as Manehatten, which itself is almost as important as Canterlot, so… you see what I’m saying here, right? We’re important!”

Luna looked moodily down at him, then she sighed and glanced over her shoulder at Scrivy, saying dourly: “Some days it seems the entire universe is different from the time whence I first lived, Scrivener Blooms. Other days I fear that there has been no change, no progress in any sense at all.”

She halted, then looked flatly down at the mayor, saying distastefully: “Mayor of Hosston. I must decline thy… generous… offer. I shall take these supplies thou so kindly has provided as recompense for wasting the time of myself and mine soldiers, but offer no further ‘gifts,’ and think not any bribery or blackmail will avail thee. I am under orders to march to North Neigh, and that is where I intend to head.”

“Wait, here me out!” the mayor pleaded, scrambling up to her and grabbing her front leg, and Luna winced and looked awkwardly down at the little pony even as she glanced at Twilight, who nodded with a blush, her horn glowing as she picked up one of the crates with telekinesis to carry it back to the supply wagons as several other ponies came forwards to help. “It’s not just politics, honestly! In the last few days alone, twenty ponies have vanished… twenty! We’re walled in, we have lights on all night, and still, ponies… just up and vanished, most of them Pegasi. Heck, there used to be cloud houses all above Hosston but no Pegasus will live in them, they’re all too scared they’ll be the next to poof out of existence if they do.

“You gotta help, you just gotta help, you gotta!” the mayor pleaded, rubbing his face against her forelimb, and Luna grimaced as she shook him firmly before finally dislodging him with a light punt backwards, the tiny pony wheezing as he bounced once on his back before quickly hopping back to his hooves as his top hat fell from his head. “Come on, you can’t ignore this, right?”

“Mayor, they plight pains me, mistake me not… but all this evil stems from the same source, and hacking wildly at its branches will do no good. Great evil has been visited upon a village in the north, and all those who have investigated have vanished… something hides there, under veil of shadow. I must expose this evil… but thou has my word, that upon my return, if such wickedness still prevails in Hoofston, I will linger here and help find its source and remedy it.” Luna sighed a little after saying this, regretting it almost instantly even as the mayor looked at her with something like relief. “But do not attempt again to use me or lure me, understood? I am not a trophy upon a mantelpiece, I am not a parade float to be dragged willy-nilly through thy town to boost morale.”

“Of course, of course! We’ll work out all the details, we’ll be waiting, don’t forget!” the mayor said quickly, nodding a few times and sweeping his hat up from the ground, bowing to her several times before he dashed quickly away, and his aides winced but followed after the little pony after a moment, grumbling and looking as frustrated with him as Luna felt.

She looked moodily towards Hosston’s tall wooden walls, shaking her head slowly as she muttered: “Wretched little ingrate… I wonder if it speaks of better or worse things that politicians now seek to corrupt more often with wealth than they do with threats of violence?”

“I see your point, but who would threaten you, Luna?” Scrivy pointed out, and Luna shrugged a little at this, nodding thoughtfully before the earth pony glanced up as Sammy scuttled quickly onto his head and chirped loudly before he leaned forwards and spat out a letter to the surprise of both ponies, the male asking curiously: “How long have you been holding onto this?”

Sammy mimed a shrug with his bony little shoulders, then he chirped as he snuggled himself back down against the male’s neck, Scrivener Blooms glancing automatically towards the letter as it floated into the air and unfurled with a flick of Luna’s horn, reading quietly: “‘Dearest sister. I am writing you a quick letter to inform you that a message has arrived from North Neigh, denying any need for help and explicitly requesting me to order a retreat. I have already replied that you will not be turning back and you will lodge in North Neigh in order to conduct an investigation into Silver Hoof’s destruction, whether or not North Neigh requires aid. I felt it was important to warn you, however, that North Neigh and its citizenry may be more hostile than I first anticipated: I will keep you informed if any diplomatic measures will need to be taken. Love always, Celestia.’ ‘Diplomatic measures…’ somehow, even if she has changed, that phrase doesn’t scare me any less.”

“Aye, and it should not. A sleeping, tranquil dragon is no less a dragon, even if it dreams of puppies and moonbeams… I am sure that if pushed, sister would be more than happy to push back, should it be required.” Luna said distastefully, and then she grimaced and shook her head, muttering: “’Tis worrisome, though. To attempt to deny us entirely… that I did not expect. I expected bigotry, and maliciousness, and to hear the awful term ‘slave-hoof’ and other wicked slurs thrown around like hay in the wind, and of course, a refusal to be provided lodgings… but to send message to Celestia with what sounds like all-but-orders to keep us away… I do not like what it foreshadows.”

Scrivy nodded slowly, then he shook his head as two Pegasus Guards carefully lifted the last supply crate between them, hefting it into the air and flying towards the supply cart as Luna rolled the letter back up, folding it down and tucking it beneath her armor as she said distastefully: “But we shall deal with things as they come, as we always have… for now, Scrivener Blooms, let us return to the road. Barring further meddling or catastrophe, we should still be able to reach Charger’s Crossing before nightfall… Twilight Sparkle, I wish for thee to lead the caravan this time, however, and stay back from the vanguard. Should a sudden storm strike, thou may have to use magic to clear the path and locate our position.”

“Alright Luna, if… if you’re sure.” Twilight looked hesitant at the thought of trying to lead the caravan on her own, but Luna only smiled at her soothingly, and it was enough for Twilight to sigh and awkwardly nod, straightening and mumbling: “Okay. But if a storm hits…”

“One shall be quick to find the other, worry not. We shall use Trixie’s location spell.” Luna softened, glancing to the side as Twilight gazed up with a small smile, and then the two winged unicorns gazed at each other for a few moments before Luna stepped forwards and kissed her cheek gently. “For luck. The rest of thee, assemble forwards… we march on.”

Pinkamena, Applejack, Rainbow Dash, and Aleksandr nodded as Scrivy gave Twilight a smile before he automatically fell into step next to Luna as she turned to stride onwards, smiling as she heard Twilight beginning to call orders to the column of supply wagons behind them. “I am proud of her, Scrivener Blooms. She has come a great distance… they all have, but Twilight… Twilight is special to me.”

“Everypony loves Twilight.” Pinkamena said flatly, and both Luna and Scrivy glared at her, but the earth pony only sniffed in response. “Well, it’s true. Personally, I think she’s just a meddler. Messiah complex… better to be a destroyer than a savior, that’s what I think. Saviors kill far more people than destroyers can even dream of, even in their darkest imaginings.”

Rainbow Dash snorted at this, glancing up as the wind whispered through his mane before he hopped into the air and easily took flight, keeping himself moving low and steady as he said dryly: “You sure that’s just not jealousy, Pinkamena? Not that I have to point this out or anything, but you’re kind of evil. And so far, all it seems all you like to do is kill stuff.”

Pinkamena only rolled her eyes in response, retorting: “Because you know me so well, don’t you Dashie? But for once, I’m not holding your self-obsession over your head… we’re all here for our own reasons at the end of the day, or worse, because Princess Sunshine asked us to be. Even Twilight’s here helping Nightmare Moon because Princess Sunshine put her in charge of the Starlit Knights…”

“Oh, cease thy rabble-rousing, Pinkamena, ‘lest I pummel thee and leave thee on the side of the road for the Phookas to gorge on.” Luna muttered, and Pinkamena threw her head back and laughed at this, making the winged unicorn look all the more sour. “It is as if thou art trying to test my patience past its limits.”

“Just keeping you on your hooves, Nightmare Moon… just seeing how far past the marked lines the real borders begin.” Pinkamena grinned slightly at her, her red-rimmed eyes gleaming as she looked back and forth between the others. “We all like to tell ponies where our edges are, after all, without ever knowing ourselves. Most ponies will tell you they can’t stand this or that, when they, in fact, can… others say they have so much patience for such-and-such or so-and-so, but they don’t, not really. I like knowing where the real lines in the sand are drawn, where friction begins… I like knowing what makes ponies begin to fight.”

“I think that’s enough, sugar-cube.” Applejack said calmly but firmly, and Pinkamena shot her a dour, irritated look. “Listen, I get that you’re a little… different from us other ponies, but you do understand you’re still a friend, right? Ain’t right to try and make friction between the ponies you’re supposed to be friends with.”

“And you want to be a leader, but you know you’re too bullheaded – no offense, bitok – to make as good of one as Twilight. You get hung up on things, and your pride takes over and you feel the need to start doing everything yourself. All your way or the highway… and much as I hate to say it, that doesn’t always work.” Pinkamena made a face, looking grouchily up towards the sky. “Which is really too bad. Then I could have always done things my way, and there’d never have been any need for sissy.”

“At least thou seems to recognize the need for thy twinned side.” Luna said moodily, and Pinkamena grumbled under her breath but for once didn’t argue, even as the other ponies continued to glower at her. “But do us all a favor, creature, and try to remember that we are all allies here.”

“Oh, it’s not that I don’t recognize that, Nightmare Moon… if I didn’t, I would have killed the other ponies in my tent before going to sleep.” Pinkamena replied leisurely, and then she grinned slightly, adding easily: “Not that Rarity seemed to sleep very well… I guess I must give ponies bad dreams.”

“Calm now, Djavol, enemies need scaring more than ally.” Aleksandr said mildly as he shouldered his heavy hammer, and Pinkamena sighed and rolled her eyes, even if she seemed to reluctantly agree. “You are still four-hoof, whether or not Djavol too. You must work with other four-hoofs.”

“I wonder whether or not I really am sometimes…” Pinkamena muttered moodily, looking down as her mane fell over her features like a curtain, and Luna gave her a soft look over her shoulder, understanding the sentiment all too well and feeling a sudden burst of sympathy for this strange creature even as the other ponies only continued to regard her warily.

They strode onwards, mostly in silence, facing a bitter wind that hissed across the plains now and then, like cold curses that came at them from between nature’s grit teeth. The ground here was frosted and icy, but there was little snow, on the bright side… and it was only a little over an hour before they came to a wide, open field that had obviously been used as a campsite for travelers in happier times.

Chopped, mildewed wood was still piled at one side of the park at the side of the road, near several craggy, rotting trees, and Luna grimaced as she looked up at the overcast, moody gray sky, the air around them getting darker by the moment as the sun began to set before she ordered: “Rainbow Dash, scout the weather above. I wish to know how wicked it is.”

“Got it, boss.” Rainbow smiled, nodding quickly before he leapt up into the air, wings propelling him skywards even as the wind buffeted his armored body. Luna glanced up after him for a moment, then she returned her eyes to the half-frozen field, relaying quick orders to the rest of the vanguard as another bitter chill drove past.

When Rainbow Dash returned, he shook his head, muttering: “Sea of clouds for miles around, Luna… I could cut a hole in it, but it would only give us… ten minutes, maybe? Sun’s almost set, too, but… it feels like more than because of sunset that it’s so damn dark, you know what I mean?”

“Aye, I do, and all too well. Does thou feel it, Pinkamena?” Luna asked quietly, glancing towards where the earth pony was stacking loose branches she had gathered from the trees, and the female looked up with a half-grin as she nodded and licked her lips slowly. “’Tis Helheim’s energies. ‘Tis demonic corruption… and I need not Discombobulation to point it out.”

She paused, glancing back and forth and muttering: “And I see not the resident of Ginnungagap despite his promise to aid us. I wonder if he is… oh, wait, no. The creature speaks with Scrivener Blooms.”

Applejack and Rainbow Dash both looked surprised to realize the earth pony wasn’t with them, glancing back and forth from where they were clearing away debris from the fields, and Luna grinned slightly as she glanced up, saying plainly: “Well, what would be the point of linked souls if I could not send my daydreamer off on adventure every now and then?”

Scrivy could feel Luna’s amusement… and her faint anxiety, striding slowly down the dirt road, the male’s eyes roving back and forth as he passed scraggy, ugly trees. An unsightly, mottled bear was half-hiding in one of these copses, thin to the point of emaciation, chewing slowly at a rotted stump and foaming a little at the jaws, diseased and not seeming to notice the earth pony as he passed… or Discombobulation, who strode calmly beside Scrivy, the creature’s hands behind its back as they both turned their eyes towards the end of the road, where dusty highway met wooden ramp that led onto a goliath stone bridge.

The riverbank was squat and ugly, tattered with weeds and ugly, frozen overgrowth: ice had spread perhaps some ten feet out into the deep, wide strait, the water black and ugly and swirling with both shadows and floating pieces of ice. And looming over it, almost fifty feet wide and perhaps ten miles long, was Charger’s Crossing: the largest bridge in all of Equestria, anchored by enormous pillars through the Northedge Strait, which had once likely been a gorge back when this had first been built by unknowable creatures.

The stone was ancient, the gray of volcanoes and ash, but even now smooth and with little wear upon its mighty, thick bulk: the wooden ramp leading up had obviously been broken and repaired countless times, but the bridge itself was mighty and indomitable and ageless, pillars spaced every forty feet or so beneath it on either side of the heavy construction, tall, square ramparts bordering either edge, neatly spaced, with heavy iron chains strung between the on heavy, ancient rings. And all along the sides of the huge bridge, some patient entity had gone through the trouble of carving figures and shapes in the stone, of making one vast story that historians and storytellers had puzzled over for countless years: some said it was prophecy, others said it was only endless imagery from whatever civilization had existed here before and built this magnificent structure…

“Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair! Nothing beside remains. Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare, the lone and level sands stretch far away.” Discombobulation quoted quietly, gazing at this bridge, the way it curved roughly thirty feet upwards, then simply went straight across the gaping strait. “I suppose I don’t have to point this out, Luna, but knowing Twilight, she’ll be upset if I don’t. There’s an awful reek in the air… someone has been preparing a trap here. Helheim’s energies corrode the air, and demons and burnt-pork have been here often… and… oh, look, it seems we’ve disturbed the presence of that miserable wreck of pasted-together souls you hate, and who hates you even more than he does Scrivener Blooms.”

Scrivy looked up sharply, gazing back and forth as the darkness around them seemed to grow for a moment… and then he set himself as Ignominious formed in mid-stride on the bridge, black smoke whispering off his body as he calmly walked to the edge of the ramp and then halted, glaring down at the two with disgust as Discombobulation only looked up mildly and Scrivener’s eyes glowed with hatred, feeling Luna stiffen back at the campsite, feeling her emotions, her rage, and a whisper of warning. “Back for another beating, Ignominious?”

“We shall see who beats who, slave-hoof.” Ignominious said in a disgusted voice, and Scrivy felt Luna’s flare of rage before the demonic equine strode slowly down the ramp, stepping onto the cold dirt road as Scrivy felt Luna rushing towards them from the campsite now, and the earth pony gritted his teeth as he met the black, soulless eyes of the demon for a few moments before Ignominious said distastefully: “Disgusting. So filthy, so arrogant… even when I was alive, I was stronger than you are now, Scrivener Blooms. And forget not that once I puppeted you like a toy. You were helpless. If I wanted to, I could have killed you by now.”

“Yes, well, you’re free to try possessing me again, Ignominious, I promise I got a real surprise in store for you.” Scrivy replied moodily, but the dark horse only snorted in loathing, pacing moodily in front of them before his eyes roved to study Discombobulation, as the earth pony asked coldly: “What do you want?”

“What does everypony want? Power and respect.” Ignominious halted, looking over the Draconequus with disgust as Discombobulation gazed icily back down, unnaturally tense and serious, his arms crossed and his features emotionless. “You have strange allies, Scrivener Blooms. Nightmare Moon and an incarnation of madness from Ginnungagap, as well as mortal ponies and a few other freaks… what a jolly little band you all make…”

“Silence, wretch!” snarled a voice, and Luna landed a moment later beside Scrivy, Ignominious wincing backwards as the winged unicorn leaned forwards aggressively, her eyes glowing as she asked furiously: “And tell me why I should not peel thee apart in the here and now, monster?”

Ignominious gritted his teeth, glaring at her before he stepped forwards, the two snarling at each other before the dark equine said contemptibly: “Because I haven’t yet given you a reason, and you’re still bound by the old laws and codes of honor, Luna. So I’ve come with a proposition: let’s settle things, tonight. Here, upon this bridge… you and your precious Scrivener Blooms, in a battle to the death with me. I still remember the old ways, of knights and paladins… it’ll be just like old times, Luna. Before you betrayed me. Before you… drove me into turning into this!”

He gestured violently at himself, the screaming faces that made up his body all pushing outwards for a moment against his hide as Luna winced a bit… but then Discombobulation leaned to the side, saying distastefully: “A competent and self-confident person is incapable of jealousy in anything. Jealousy is invariably a symptom of neurotic insecurity.”

“Do not speak in my presence, hideous patchwork doll!” Ignominious snapped, snarling up at Discombobulation, and the Draconequus reared back as the demonic horse’s horn glowed. “What does your brainless kind know of mine, or of Helheim? Thriving on chaos, nothing but the rats in the garbage heap of the universe, nothing but-”

Discombobulation glared as he clapped his hands twice, and a moment later a great burst of snow fell from the air, crashing on top of the demon and burying him completely before the Draconequus nimbly sprung backwards and high into the air, flipping his body with all the grace of a ballerina before he put his hands out in front of himself and dove into the ground as if it was liquid, solid earth rippling like water as the hell horse buried under snow gave a roar of frustration beneath the heavy ivory drift. It burst apart into steam and water, Luna and Scrivy both grimacing in disgust at the reek that went up as Ignominious snarled back and forth, looking infuriated before Luna said coldly: “We accept your challenge. We meet on Charger’s Crossing at midnight. We battle beneath the moon.”

Ignominious looked almost surprised at this, glancing towards her before Luna stepped forwards and bowed her head towards him, her horn gleaming… and the demonic equine gritted his teeth, then he stepped slowly towards her as well, lowering his own horn and tapping it twice against Luna’s before they straightened and glared at each other for a few long, uneasy moments.

Then, slowly, Ignominious stepped backwards, his body slowly fading to smoke and dust as he said softly: “I’ll be waiting, Luna Lightblade, for you and your precious husband… we’ll finally prove who’s better after all these long years…”

“Aye, Ignominious, that we shall.” Luna said quietly, watching the demonic equine fade slowly from reality… and then she closed her eyes and silently turned, dropping her head against Scrivy’s neck as he wrapped a foreleg around her, the two silently sitting in front of the bridge, feeling the hidden corruption of Helheim pulsing around them, both anxious for what lay ahead… and with a terrible, dark eagerness pulsing in their mixed soul.

The skies cleared: whether by themselves or because of magic, Luna was unsure… but by the time they’d returned to camp, the sun had set, and the clouds had begun to part… and now, the moon hung in the sky, a gleaming ivory sphere that shone silent white light down over them all, the crisp, still night air letting the faintest whispers of the running water in the distance carry towards where they had set up the encampment.

The wagons were pulled in tight, and tents had been set up… but many of the ponies were wary, staying on guard not just because of whispers in the bushes, but the sense of unease that ran back and forth through the camp. Bonfires had been built all throughout the field they had taken over, and yet the darkness suffocated them, and the ugly, half-frozen wood they had gathered did little to feed the ravenous hunger of the flames. Even magical fire seemed muted… and Luna didn’t like what it implied, what it seemed to stand as an omen of.

Minotaurs stood on guard, and Cowlick polished a rifle as she quietly explained the mechanics of a gun to several gathered ponies who wanted to be better outfitted. Pegasus Guard flew short patrols, their golden armor reflecting light of moon and stars as they sailed almost silently through the air and landed regularly to check both numbers and report their sightings. And near the center of the camp, Twilight, Fluttershy, and Scarlet Sage were resting close, with Applejack and Rainbow Dash both still dressed for battle, and even Pinkamena and Pinkie Pie both quiet nearby. Pinkie Pie was out of her armor, but Pinkamena was still ready for battle, not at all tired as the two polished her weapons almost compulsively… and out of the corner of her eye, Luna watched as Pinkamena grimaced and caught Pinkie’s hoof, muttering to her: “Don’t polish it like that, idiot, you’ll cut the rag and your stupid self. Here, like this…”

Luna smiled a little despite herself, glancing towards Scrivy… and the male rolled his shoulders with a grimace, flexing his body against his armor as he asked quietly: “Are we ready?”

“Aye, almost. Come, Scrivener Blooms.” The two picked themselves up from beneath the shadows of the wagon that half-concealed them, Luna glancing up towards the shimmering stars overhead before she murmured: “I hate that I look so forwards to the battle ahead. And both myself and Nightmare Moon… how eager we are to finally be given a chance to squash Ignominious back into his place.”

Scrivy grunted in agreement, then followed Luna forwards to the edge of the campfire, Twilight glancing up at them with a small smile as Luna leaned down and said quietly: “Listen well. All of thee feel it, I know… the poison in the air, the sense of lurking doom. I do as well, and know that Ignominious may have some scheme in play, to try and distract us. He is not to be trusted… he has always been a coward, and a fool, and thought himself a master of deception when he is far from it.

“I do not fear what he will bring against myself and Scrivener Blooms. His pride means he will doubtlessly first challenge us as promised, with horn and hoof before he plays his dark magic tricks.” Luna hesitated, then she said softly: “But the encampment will need to be closely secured, and closer watched. Subtle evils may move in the darkness, brought forth by him to try and distract us or destroy those we hold dear if he cannot kill us. Twilight Sparkle, thou and thy friends… all must do their part. Be wary.”

“I will. I promise I’ll take care of everyone.” Twilight said quietly, then she stood up and leaned forwards, kissing Luna’s cheek, then Scrivy’s, before she smiled a little and stepped back, murmuring: “For luck.”

The two smiled, then Luna bowed her head forwards and said softly: “Thou hast our thanks, Twilight Sparkle… but fear not. We need no luck against Ignominious… our matched skill shall be more than sufficient to fight the creature. Come now, Scrivener Blooms… it is time we go.”

“Please be careful.” Scarlet Sage whispered, and the two looked at her, then nodded slowly, and the filly smiled faintly up at them before she curled tightly back against Fluttershy as the Pegasus added her own nervous smile to the pair.

Other ponies wished them well as they made their way out to the road, and Luna and Scrivy gazed quietly back and forth before the male glanced down with a laugh as Sammy chirped at him, the earth pony leaning down and saying quietly: “Head back to camp, old friend. This isn’t a fight for you.”

Sammy huffed a little, glaring up at him with his blue-flame eyes, and Luna smiled as Scrivy leaned down a bit even as they continued to stride slowly down the road, the male murmuring: “I know. I promise I’ll come back in one piece… Luna and I both will. Now go on. Besides, you can help keep an eye out for anything that Ignominious might throw that way.”

The skeletal pseudodragon chirped quietly after a moment, then it finally leaned forwards, nipping Scrivy’s leg before turning and running quickly back towards the encampment, and Luna shook her head slowly as she murmured: “’Tis strange, Scrivener Blooms. When he is there, I do not always remember his presence. And yet when he is gone…”

“I know. That’s why he’s always been a good friend to have.” Scrivy said softly, facing forwards, and the two smiled a little under the stars together as they strode onwards, their breathing moving in time, their thoughts swirling as they prepared themselves for what laid ahead.

Charger’s Crossing seemed abandoned as they approached it… but as the two ponies made their way slowly up the ramp, the sense of malevolence grew, and the moment they crested onto the top of the miles-long bridge, their eyes locked on the figure of Ignominious standing some thirty feet away, calmly waiting for them as the demonic horse called coldly: “You’re late.”

“I think not.” Luna replied icily, and the two ponies strode forwards until there was only ten feet or so of space between themselves and the smoky unicorn, the two ponies bowing their heads deeply… and both were almost surprised as Ignominious sighed drolly, but returned the low bow with a look of distaste. “And now, shall we set rules that thou will undoubtedly break? Or shall we simply move into the melee, and act surprised when thou cheats?”

“Do not treat me like some wretched criminal, Luna, I was a paladin, a knight of the highest order. I remember the protocols and laws of the duel… we battle with horn and hoof until the other is dead.” Ignominious straightened, looking grimly across at them as he said distastefully: “The old magic shall be permitted, but no telekinesis, no additional tools. And nothing that would threaten our battleground, no calling allies to aid you, either… and no Nightmare Moon. This is not between me and her. This is between me and you, Luna… and your slave-hoof gigolo.”

Luna didn’t take the bait, however, bowing her head respectfully as the holstered telescopic spear over her back shone and lifted slowly free, spinning once before it expanded to full height, Ignominious wincing… then looking strangely-relieved when it flew backwards and stabbed downwards into the solid stone, burying easily through the ancient, weathered rock of the bridge and standing like a tall marker. “Very well. I accept these terms of the duel. Now tell me, Ignominious, of Ekleíp, of whom thy serves… of what lays beneath the trunk of this tree of evil, of what feeds the roots of darkness.”

Ignominious only shook his head slowly, laughing quietly before he looked up at her callously. “And why should I? You already know too much, little Luna. Besides, I’d much rather show you afterwards… after I kill you, and bring you back as my faithful little toy, so we can be together forever and you can understand what a petty mistake you made, but don’t worry… of the countless thralls I have, you’ll always be my favorite… you’ll always have a place in my heart.”

“We shall see who kills who yet.” Luna said quietly, and she and Scrivy both closed their eyes, the female’s starry locks and tail swishing backwards as Scrivy leaned forwards, body tensing, muscles flexing against the armor covering him, feeling their minds, emotions, souls swirling together, linking in indescribable ways before they both looked sharply up as Ignominious charged brashly forwards, lowering his horn and mistaking their concentration for a moment of lowered guard.

Immediately, Luna leapt forwards, lashing her horn down as it glowed blue, and it clashed against Ignominious’s own blackly-lit horn as he tried to push forwards against her… and then Luna snarled and flexed, twisting the natural weapon slightly and shoving fiercely forwards to knock the hell-horse staggering with a grunt of shock at her raw strength before Luna dropped flat to the ground as Scrivy leapt overtop her, a front hoof smashing across Ignominious’s face and knocking him another step back with a curse of surprise before the earth pony’s other hoof slammed into his jaw.

The demonic unicorn howled in frustration more than pain as he reared back and swept his hooves at Scrivy, the earth pony ducking and then wincing as he sidestepped to avoid both a crushing drop of the demon’s front hooves as well as a vicious lash of his horn, and then the smoky stallion winced and backstepped when Luna lunged at him, one of her hooves smashing down before she thrusted viciously, the male barely parrying her attack before he lashed his horn sideways when Scrivy pounced towards him to drive him back.

The two attacked savagely, moving in perfect rhythm, Ignominious struggling to keep them from landing blows against his body before he suddenly burst backwards into dark smoke, a terrible pall of smog that rushed some twenty feet back along the bridge before he reformed and lashed his horn downwards with a shout of: “Enough games!”

A black fireball shot towards Scrivy, but the earth pony fearlessly charged forwards as Luna’s eyes and horn glowed, a shield of blue light appearing in front of the male that the black fireball harmlessly exploded against in a burst of ashen mist before the barrier vanished a moment later, Scrivener Blooms leaping through the smoke towards the demon… but Ignominious stepped forwards with a snarl, lashing his horn upwards and meeting the earth pony, ripping a narrow gash through his armor along his chest that made him curse and stagger backwards before the demonic stallion tried to press the advantage, headbutting Scrivener Blooms savagely.

It made the earth pony wince and stagger backwards as skull cracked against skull, but then he slammed his own head firmly forwards, forcing back against him as the demonic stallion winced, now unable to bring his horn lashing down… before he gargled when Scrivy’s hoof slammed up into his throat, staggering backwards and coughing before a hoof crashed across his face, the demon knocked off balance as he stumbled as if stunned.

Luna rushed forwards before he could recover, her horn lashing down and Ignominious barely managing to get his own in the way, but she struck with such force that his head was knocked towards the ground before she reared back, her hooves slamming in a merciless series of jabs against his features and skull as he howled in pain, half-leaping backwards, horn glowing as he started to prepare some spell… but before he could, Luna leaned forwards, her own horn and eyes releasing a sharp, stunning flash of light straight into the black eyes of the demonic stallion, Ignominious releasing a roar of frustration as he stumbled stupidly and shook his head wildly before Luna nimbly slipped forwards and twisted her head around to slam her horn upwards, burying it into his breast.

White cracks ripped through the demonic horse’s body as he shrieked in shock and pain, his back arching and eyes bulging before a blast of force erupted upwards as Luna snarled and shoved forwards, the smoky stallion sent crashing onto his back. And, immediately, Scrivener Blooms shot past Luna, the earth pony half-pouncing over Ignominious before he rained a savage, precise series of blows down into the demon’s stomach and ribs with his front hooves, mercilessly smashing down into the undying creature as Ignominious howled in misery.

He spasmed, then slammed both rear hooves into Scrivy’s body, knocking him flying backwards… but Luna leapt forwards, her wings flapping open as she leapt upwards and caught Scrivener against her own body, the two gritting their teeth as armor clanged together before he dropped from the air like a stone and bowed deep: a moment later, Luna dropped as well, landing on Scrivy’s upper back, body tensing and flexing as she leaned forwards and her wings spread wide as Ignominious began to haul himself upwards, gasping… and then Scrivener threw his body forwards as Luna kicked off him at the same instant, her wings flapping to give her additional momentum that sent her shooting like a missile into Ignominious as she dropped her head forwards, her horn ramming again through his chest and carrying the heavy demonic stallion backwards with a gargle of shock before her wings flapped as she kicked savagely off the ground, snarling in effort as she hefted the heavy body of the demonic unicorn into the air with her, horn staked through the beast’s cold heart.

She carried him upwards, twenty, thirty feet, wings flapping, body burning with power and bloodlust and violent exhilaration before she spun once, Ignominious limp and howling, his limbs barely twitching with the shock ripping through his system before she half-flipped and whiplashed him downwards, the creature launched like a meteor towards the bridge… and then the rear hooves of Scrivener Blooms smashed into his spine just before he could strike the ground, snapped almost in half as he was sent crashing down the bridge, hitting the stone and rolling violently several times before he came to a broken halt in a limp pile, the demon shivering and smoking as Luna dropped down beside her husband and the two breathed hard, glaring towards the wrecked hell-horse.

White cracks pulsed throughout the black body of the creature, and corrupt ichors dripped from his jaws as his black eyes fluttered, steam and smoke both hissing up from his body before he groaned quietly as he carefully began to push himself to his intangible hooves, the terrible, ivory wounds slowly pulsing closed as his broken body snapped itself visibly back together, snarling and humiliated as he rasped: “Impossible… absolutely impossible…”

“Thou art the same as thou was in life, Ignominious… overconfident and bold, skilled mayhap… but the moment things ceased to go thy way, the moment a blow was landed, thy will and skill both shattered like cheap glass.” Luna said disgustedly, and Ignominious snarled at her, then groaned as he clutched at the white rift in his chest, more corruption leaking from his jaws as he cursed under his breath weakly. “Come, shall we have a second round? Scrivener Blooms and I can keep this up all night. There is no force in this universe that could defeat us together… and even apart, thou art no match for either of us. Nothing but a bully who preys upon the weak, a gullible moron who fails again and again to realize that the creatures he thinks he’s being so sly in manipulating are only using him… Ignominious, I would pity thee if I had pity left to spare in my heart.”

“And I’m the arrogant one? Very well, Luna… let’s see how true your words are.” Ignominious said coldly, straightening and snarling in pain as he rose his head, his horn beginning to glow with terrible black light, as the winged unicorn set herself and Scrivener Blooms narrowed his eyes. “This special surprise was meant for Celestia, but I think you deserve it even more… lured by a hundred sacrifices to where Helheim’s presence has made reality thin… let’s see what ‘love’ can accomplish against an endless destroyer!”

Ignominious reared back, horn snapping upwards and releasing a terrible pulse of power… and Luna and Scrivy both looked down in shock as the bridge beneath them rumbled, red runes pulsing into reality along its length, the river bubbling as the poisoned water glowed ominously for a few moments before it rapidly began to freeze over as the temperature plummeted terribly, and the demonic unicorn grinned savagely as Luna leaned forwards, shouting: “Fool! Hast thou still not learned caution, that Helheim does not give gifts without cost and peril? What evil hast thou wrought upon us now?”

“I am a demon now, they have no further reason to betray me!” Ignominious shouted in return, then he laughed as cracks tore through the glowing ice that now covered the strait, reality trembling violently before geysers of black smoke erupted upwards here and there, quakes ripping through the bridge and cracking the ancient, weathered stone as Luna and Scrivy fought for balance. “You’ll suffer in his coils, Luna, you’ll-”

Something massive and thick ripped up out of the ice, lashing upwards and smashing through the bridge as if it was paste, and Scrivy and Luna both winced and leapt backwards as a section of the immense stone structure tore free, listing slightly to the side as a pillar cracked and sank several feet beneath it… and Ignominious, meanwhile, was knocked flying backwards before he scrabbled wildly at the bridge as a large section of the cement he was on was sent rocketing upwards, cursing under his breath in dumb surprise as more thick coils ripped out of the ice here and there, twisting skywards, all doubtlessly part of the same great beast.

Scales of green and blue-purple covered these lengths, armor-like, and a ridge of thick spines spilled along the top of the creature… but each coil was at least as thick as the stone bridge they stood upon, slithering and shimmering beneath the moonlight as chunks of ice and sleet fell from the twisting span. Reality around the awful lengths trembled as Ignominious forced himself to stand, looking down at them imperiously from where the chunk of heavy stone bridge had been knocked into the air… but before he could speak further, it rumbled before collapsing forwards, and the demonic equine snarled as he lunged backwards and burst into black smoke that shot backwards and landed on a still-secure section of bridge further back with another curse of surprise.

The large section of stone toppled downwards as the pillars collapsed beneath it, crushing through the ice… and into not water, but a terrible maelstrom of corruption and poison that swirled violently downwards, Luna snarling at the sight of this immense, awful rip in reality that the coils were slowly pushing their way upwards and through, more of the ice that had layered the top of the river yanked down into this… and then a terrible, snake-like head emerged with a terrible hiss, amber eyes glaring with destructive lust upwards from its thin skull, its jaws opening wide to reveal countless ugly, blade-like teeth, long, shark-like fins standing out of either side of its skull as the immense monstrosity reared upwards. And both memories and stories spilled through Luna’s mind as she stared at this thing’s alien, horrific features before she snarled, the bridge beneath their feet cracking as the serpentine monster began to wend its way forwards, massive body twisting endlessly outwards through the ice and over the awful black vortex as more coils tore their way upwards both near and far. “Ignominious, idiot! The monster will destroy everything! That is no servant of Helheim, that is Jormungand! Thou must seal the portal!”

Without waiting for a response, Luna spun around with a curse, her horn glowing as she snapped her head upwards… and in the distance, the spear still buried in the cracked bridge rattled before it tore free and shot towards her as Luna’s wings spread and she took to the air. And then her eyes widened in disbelief at the sight of Scrivener Blooms, hearing in their mixed mind and soul what he intended to do as he leapt from the stone bridge and ran along the thick, immense length of the serpent’s coils to jump to another stone platform, the winged unicorn shooting down towards him-

Jormungand roared as it caught the movement, its enormous head and jaws lashing upwards, and Luna cursed as her wings caught the air and sent her rocketing backwards: the monster’s jaws snapped closed a moment later in the space she had been before, and on instinct, Luna snarled, her eyes glowing as the spear shot down with the instinct of a scorpion’s tail, ripping once, twice, thrice through the nose of the creature and sending up bursts of greenish blood as the monster hissed in fury more than pain. “Thou will have to try harder than that, monstrosity!”

Scrivy, meanwhile, snarled as he threw himself into a wide leap that carried him onto a half-broken pillar, before jumping onto another of the monster’s slippery-but-wide coils, cursing as his hooves skidded slightly before he managed to throw himself forwards, charging along its body as his eyes locked on the demonic equine standing on the broken bridge that was still a good distance away, shouting: “Give it up, slave-hoof, there’s no way you can-”

Then he cursed as cracks spread through the bridge as another of Jormungand’s coils rose up, smashing against a pillar and knocking it out of place, and behind Ignominious, the stone bridge cracked and tore, concrete crumbling as it listed slowly forwards… and Scrivener Blooms threw himself forwards in a wild leap as the coils beneath him twisted suddenly and the bridge listed towards him, landing on the edge as Ignominious skidded down the now-inclined stone before he winced and spun around, the badly-beaten demonic unicorn cursing as he scrambled upwards and then burst apart into black smoke that shot into the air, then dropped down in an arc onto the next portion of bridge.

Scrivy was right behind him, however, leaping upwards despite his aching muscles and landing in a sprint, barreling towards the demonic unicorn’s back as the weakened creature winced before the male tackled him and slammed him down, pinning him as he shouted: “You know Luna and I are soul-bound! I know what she knows… and she knows that horrible thing will kill us all unless you close that damned portal you’ve opened right now!”

“Liar, Jormungand and gods do not exist! Only demons, only Helheim, only broken ghosts!” Ignominious rolled suddenly, knocking Scrivy loose before he leapt to his hooves and spun around, giving a sloppy slash of his horn… but it was unexpected, and caught Scrivy across the face, making him wince as his cheek was torn open before Ignominious grinned and leapt forwards, overeager… and both of Scrivy’s front hooves slammed up into his throat, halting him in midair and making his eyes bulge and the demon gag as he was knocked backwards, clutching at his crushed larynx as he convulsed on the ground.

Luna winced as a cut was torn open on her own cheek, but the terrible serpent was keeping her too busy to see where Scrivener Blooms had chased Ignominious, as she shot around in a wide arc with the spear trailing behind her, the serpent greedily stretching after her: worse, more and more of its coils were emerging through the portal, the essence of Helheim growing worse in the air… and if they couldn’t convince Ignominious to close the portal soon, there would be too much power in the air for any of them to stop it.

She spun suddenly around, and the monster opened its jaws too little, too late as she shot forwards, her hooves crashing into her forehead as she stomped viciously down along its skull and down the back of its neck, her spear stabbing in a savage trail behind her as Jormungard howled before it snapped its head back and forth. She was able to harry it, to even wound it… but the serpent was simply too large for her to be effective against it, and it healed unnaturally fast, worsening the odds. They needed to force it back down through the portal… and she snarled as she shot up into the air as it bit wildly at her before descending fast, the snake shooting after her with another roar of outrage and hunger as she worked to distract the beast while looking back and forth for Scrivy and Ignominious.

And, on the bridge, Ignominious leapt at Scrivy, lashing his horn back and forth, black fire ripping through the air with each swathe, and Scrivener cursed as he winced and sidestepped, then tripped on a crack in the stone bridge and cursed as black flames crashed against his staggering form like a tide, knocking him backwards as pain ripped through his form. Ignominious snarled, leaping towards the earth pony, desperate for a fatal attack… and Scrivener dropped low and threw his body against the demon, knocking him staggering backwards with a groan of pain as the white wounds in his body spread wider in a pulse for a moment before sealing slightly again, cursing under his breath. “Even… with Luna’s powers, Luna’s knowledge, and her strength added to yours, you’re… you’re nothing but a slave hoof… and Luna’s nothing but… selfish, stupid… crowbait! You can’t beat me, earth pony!”

Scrivy gritted his teeth as Ignominious glared at him furiously, and then the earth pony stomped his hooves downwards and dropped his head forwards, taking a slow breath… and Ignominious frowned at him darkly, tilting his head before Scrivener opened an eye and said distastefully: “I don’t have to beat you. See, unlike you… I’m not alone.”

Ignominious frowned… and then he screamed as Luna’s spear ripped through his body and pinned him in place, the winged unicorn grinning in savage pleasure from where she was circling some fifty feet away as Jormungand lashed towards her… and then she turned her eyes towards the serpent, electricity crackling over her body as her eyes glowed white and she shouted: “Enough!”

A blast of lightning ripped from the skies, crashing into the monster’s snout and knocking its head downwards as it shrieked in surprise, before Luna arched her back, wings flapping powerfully as several more titanic blasts of lightning smashed into the creature’s skull, its head twisting back and forth as it howled and roared in misery, scales and features smoking, blinded in the flash of thunder and electricity as Luna propelled herself quickly backwards and half-spun to shoot towards where Ignominious was pinned… but then she suddenly shot downwards, seizing a broken length of iron chain dangling from a shattered rampart in her jaws before arching her back and lashing upwards as the chain glowed blue.

It ripped itself free from the wall before she snapped her head forwards, the chain whipping outwards and violently wrapping around Ignominious’s neck several times before locking itself into place, and the demon gagged hard before Luna spat the chain out and shot upwards into the air, glaring over her shoulder and hauling Ignominious upwards with telekinesis. The length of the spear was forcibly ripped through his body, making him howl again in wretchedness and anguish as he was jerked into the sky, form trying to become smoke… but the iron chain around his neck, kept tight by her mental powers that held it high and dragged him violently along beside her stopped him, the male yelling miserably as his limbs flailed and he dangled helplessly: “Put me down, stop it, stop this!”

“Gladly.” Luna said grimly, as she circled high in the air… and Ignominious looked down with horror to see not just the blackness of the maelstrom beneath him, but the mighty serpent Jormungand as it snarled up at them, still half-blind from the storm of lightning but sensing the demonic unicorn, hungrily opening its jaws as it began to twist itself towards him. “Not even thou shalt survive eternity in that thing’s stomach… so the deal is thus. Close the portal, demon, before Jormungand can drag its scaly coils all the way into our world… or be its first snack. The choice is thine.”

Ignominious opened his mouth with a snarl… and then he kicked weakly and looked down in terror at the sight of the snake hissing and beginning to lean up further, its jaws slowly opening wider as its forked tongue tasted the air before he nodded rapidly, rasping: “I’ll try, I’ll… Luna, mercy, have mercy!”

“Only if thou closes the portal, and does it now!” Luna snarled, and Ignominious rasped and nodded violently before he clenched his eyes shut as he bowed his head forwards, horn sparking before it began to glow darkly… and immediately Jormungand hissed and then shot upwards, but Luna quickly shot upwards, yanking Ignominious on the chain behind her as the male gargled, eyes rolling wildly in his head even as he tried to continue to focus on the spell as he was dragged out of reach of the great serpent as its jaws snapped shut only on air. “Do it!”

“Then help me!” Ignominious shouted in a hoarse voice, and Luna snarled… but then bowed her own head forwards, her horn glowing as she focused on amplifying the dark magic of the demonic unicorn, her wings flapping as she dragged him higher into the air beside her and called out mentally to Scrivener Blooms.

Scrivy gritted his teeth, but then he bowed his head forwards as well, adding his own energies, his own concentration, following in Luna’s lead… and geysers of steam and dark mist vomited up around Jormungand as the serpent roared and the maelstrom around it slowly began to shrink, its coils dragged down slowly but surely back into the vortex that had once been water as it snarled and writhed, trying to force itself upwards all the same. Its jaws snapped at the air and it howled in fury as lightning crackled around the beast, shrieking its rage and frustration at being robbed of its meal as it sank downwards, downwards, as its coils vanished, as bit-by-bit it was pulled deeper into the shrinking swirl of shadow…

And then it lashed upwards, shrieking in refusal, its jaws opening wide… and Luna’s eyes snapped open, glowing ivory, her teeth sharp barbs as Nightmare Moon said lovingly through her mouth: “Poor, pathetic beast. Your hunger ends.”

The vortex slammed shut, even as it lashed upwards… and Jormungard gargled, head launching upwards… but body gone, decapitated by reality sealing sharply closed, body on some other far-flung plane of reality and jaws snapping uselessly, long stump of neck spraying blood like an obscene rocket as its hungry, stupid eyes stared for a moment longer before it fell backwards and splashed down into what was once more only water, floating for a moment as it released a bubbly hiss before sinking slowly into the depths.

Slowly, Ignominious opened his eyes as Scrivy felt a shiver roll through his body, hearing Nightmare Moon’s laughter even from the distance they were at before she turned towards him with a smile, flying easily through the air and dragging Ignominious behind her, the demonic unicorn still leashed by the iron chain before she flung him forwards… and he crashed to the ground limply, rolling a few times as the chains tightened for a moment, making smoke burst up from his crushed throat before they loosened suddenly. He gargled, clawing at this, shoving it free from around his neck before he winced and slowly straightened, looking blearily up to see Luna standing beside Scrivy… before the winged unicorn lunged suddenly forwards, spearing her horn into the demon’s chest, making him howl in agony before she tore to the side and sent him crashing backwards.

He rolled bonelessly a few times, gasping, gagging, shivering in a broken heap against the ground as Luna’s eyes flashed before returning to normal, and she snarled before shouting: “And now get out of my sight, wretched, depraved fool, but only after thou confesses what madness overtook thee to trust whatever beings told thee it would be wise to summon such a monster forth! Was it deluded, self-destructive Ekleíp? Or was it some laughing, maddened devil of Helheim? Idiot and fool!”

“It was all a part of the plan… all part of control, of power… Luna, selfish little Luna, Ekleíp wants you… for things not even I can lie about understanding. The legends of the Black Wolves of Hell, and bringing Ragnarok and all the monsters and darkness that will come with it… they worship and revile you in the same sentence.” Ignominious panted hard as he forced himself to his hooves, trembling violently, body covered in white cracks and bleeding black smoke into the air… and most noticeable of all, there were fewer faces of ponies now pressing out against his frame, and they stared mindlessly instead of screaming silently. “Don’t you… understand? I did this all for you… killing you will free you… I want you, here, with me… you’ve always been my favorite, beloved…”

Ignominious rasped quietly for breath… but Luna only shook her head slowly and then said softly: “Sad, pathetic creature. Thou art less than evil… thou art wretched and lost. Not insane… lost. And thou art weakened, and breaking down, more and more… get out of my sight, Ignominious. Go back to Helheim. Go back to whoever holds thy leash, I have killed thee enough times for tonight. But know it is not mercy that compels me… it is cruelty. I wish for thee to face thy masters, thy black idols… and tell them again, thou hast failed to capture or destroy me. Of the death of Jormungand. And bring them a message… tell them that soon, I shall be coming for them. Tell them I do not fear them. Tell them that I will stop them, and save Equestria, and save even my brother from icy Helheim.”

The demonic unicorn grinned mirthlessly at this, however, looking up and saying quietly: “Oh, I don’t doubt you could, Luna… but even though your brother stands as Helheim’s greatest trophy… maybe it would have hurt him more if we’d left him alone, so that he could see what you’re becoming.”

Luna snarled… but Ignominious burst apart into black smoke that twisted upwards through the air before vanishing, and the winged unicorn clutched her eyes shut as she instead dropped herself against Scrivener Blooms, the male wrapping a foreleg around her as they sat silently on the broken bridge beneath the cold, ruthless light of the moon above