• 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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Dulce Et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori

Chapter Thirty Two: Dulce Et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori

The sun still lingered in the air, closer to the other end of the horizon now… but they had made good time. The mountains around them were frosty and cold, vicious winds whipping back and forth through the peaks, and as they had walked, several Nibelung had fallen from their high perches and crashed to the ground around them, startling them… but the dwarves were dead, and mangled horribly from something other than the fall. Something was watching them, something apart from the wolf-pigs… and whether it was hunting them, or had some unknown reason to help them, none of them knew. But something wanted them to reach the Black Baroque… although none of the warriors were foolish enough to think that whatever it was had good intent for them, either way.

They had stopped for a brief meal, but it had been quick: the longer they stayed in one place, the slower they moved… the greater the sense of being stalked, the closer things that hid and lurked around them tried to slide and slink. Shadows often flitted over the ground where there should be no shapes at all, and more and more, both Scrivener Blooms and Pinkamena were catching ghastly visions, of intolerable worlds… like these mountains, like this place, was merely a mask laying overtop a frozen, terrible countenance eager to be revealed.

The Nibelung no longer tried to conceal themselves here: they stood on high plateaus, watching, snarling down at them, many with bows over their backs. Yet they did not attack… and nor did the Velites that stood with them, of all shape and size. Not only skeletal ponies, but other creatures had been seized in Velite power, too; here, for instance, a drake’s skeleton stood, hissing down at them balefully as the runes covering its enormous skeleton glowed… but it dared not move down against them, for whatever reason.

Now, the group was on the last approach, striding silently through a wide valley, the mountains to either side curved as if some enormous ship had passed through here, with a tremendous, crushing bow that had ground the stone on either side remorselessly into the elongated, jagged half-pipe it now was… and at the very end of this gravel-and-frost-bottomed vale, there stood an immense, flat-topped mountain with a twisted bulge out of one side horribly shaped like the head of a great wolf. But in front of this mountain of gray and brown stone, the front of an enormous black castle had been built and melded into the mountainside, flanked by two tall towers spaced perhaps a hundred and fifty feet apart, a dark stone walkway leading from one battlement-fortified tower to the other, the space between filled with a wall of windowless, chiseled stone.

The Black Baroque: it lived up to its name, with the only color coming from the polished stone of the blood-red doors. Bands of heavy, dark steel crisscrossed over these, and a circle of ominous runes had been carved in the center of the crimson gates, glowing with dark violet radiance. As the ponies fearlessly strode forwards, the Nibelung and Velites lurking on the cliffs and mountains to either side opened their mouths and roared, in eagerness, in outrage, in hatred, the sound echoing back and forth through the rocky vale.

Ross shivered fearfully as he scampered backwards a bit, shrinking down as Spike drew his sword and kept close to Rarity, the unicorn gritting her teeth as her horn glowed. The minotaurs glared back and forth, then Aleksandr and his kin roared their challenge back at the Nibelung, fearless, undaunted as they raised their own weapons… and Applejack drew her rifle off her back, stepping to one side with Scutum setting himself beside her, while Cowlick quickly put herself in front of cowering, scared Ross as she rose her own lever action rifle, shouting: “Come on down here if you’re so damn tough!”

Celestia was as calm as ever, even as Luna snarled back and forth, Nightmare Moon twisting slowly inside her… and the darkness in her was not grinning, was not laughing, was not mocking. It was cold… it was wrathful. Nightmare Moon’s passions and anger were one thing… but this, Luna felt… this was the part of Nightmare Moon the legends only hinted at; the part that came crashing down on enemies who pushed her too far, where mercy was forgotten and the slaughter began.

Scrivener breathed hard in and out, looking back and forth, trembling a little as Pinkamena stepped up beside him… and he stared as she offered him a knife, Twilight Sparkle shooting a wince towards them as the dull-pink pony leaned in and said softly: “Word of advice. Don’t fight it… because I know that’s not fear, is it? Not with Luna riled up too… my. You have that Tyrant Wyrm’s bloodlust mixing with Nightmare Moon’s wrath, and everything Luna has striven to teach you about being a warrior, all her abilities at your hooves… you’re going to be a better killing machine than me.”

“I won’t lose myself to that. I won’t… I don’t need your knife.” Scrivener whispered, looking down with horror even as he realized it was true, feeling his heart pounding as he shot a look towards Luna… and she glanced towards him, then closed her eyes, giving him a silent apology… and a quiet, gentle order, and the male gritted his teeth as he lowered his head forwards as Pinkamena licked her teeth slowly. “How do you…”

And surprisingly, Pinkamena hugged him around the neck, Sammy whimpering and skittering off Scrivy’s back to hide in the snow before the dull-pink pony drew her mouth to his ear, whispering: “Don’t worry. It’s coming back from the rage that’s the hard part, but you… have something to come back to. And now I do too… so don’t worry about any of that. Just worry about staying alive.”

Twilight Sparkle glanced nervously towards the two as Scrivener nodded slowly, breathing hard as he steadied himself, and then she looked towards Discombobulation as the Draconequus glanced slowly back and forth before he laced his hands together and cracked his fingers, saying calmly: “Outnumbered, outgunned, undeterred. I would say the odds are ten to one, but that would make me an optimist… not that I could ever be a realist, you understand. But I’m glad I came along, because this right here… this is the heart of confusion and chaos, in one destructive, organized, terrible and final exclamation. This is the Alamo. This is everything worth dying for, that we’ll never get to live and experience ourselves. Twilight Sparkle… no matter what happens, shine on, you crazy diamond.”

Twilight laughed despite herself as Discombobulation smiled and rolled his shoulders, losing some of his strange seriousness as he gazed up and said quietly: “I understand now what Discord wanted me to see and experience here, why he chose me instead of someone stronger, closer to his level. Oh Ginnungagap, wait for me! This world doesn’t need our chaos, and that’s why it fascinates us… this place is layered in a thick sludge of order, but in everyone here, there’s that crazy spark of creative madness… there’s that moment, blink, of unpredictability… and it’s so much better, because when chaos is always chaos, like in primordial, oozing, trash-pit Ginnungagap… isn’t that just another form of stable, dependable, expectable order?”

“Then wouldn’t living through this be the most chaotic, craziest thing of all, Discombobulation?” Twilight set herself, her horn glowing, her wings spreading and flapping once as she anchored herself, and the Draconequus looked down at her thoughtfully. “Everyone expects to die… even you. So wouldn’t living…”

“You’re silly and naïve, Twilight Sparkle… but I like those qualities about you. Then let’s see if we can bring a little more madness into the world…” Discombobulation said softly, spreading his arms, before he gazed ahead and added meditatively: “At this point, though, it sounds like you don’t want me leaving your side.”

“I don’t.” Twilight replied with a smile, and Discombobulation looked surprised… but then he smiled slowly, not speaking, not saying anything, as his eyes returned ahead but his body thrummed with vibrancy, as if given new strength, new reason, new life.

Then all looked towards the Black Baroque as the roaring monsters fell silent and still, gazing up towards the walkway stretching between the towers, as a figure in red robes stepped quietly out from behind a massive, distorted statue of some horrible monster frozen in stone and metal. The pony looked down at them, and Luna and Scrivener Blooms both snarled at William Isehorse. “What hast thou done with our daughter?”

“She is alive and well, inside… but I told you to come alone. Did you think I would betray you, Luna? Not at this juncture…” Wisehorse shook his head slowly, gazing down at them silently, sadness on the old unicorn’s features. His golden-edged red robes swayed around his body as he leaned forwards, the red ruby pendant around his neck glinting as he said soothingly: “Come now. There’s no need for this. Come inside, Luna and Scrivener Blooms, and I’ll let your friends go. You two are all that I want. All that I need… and all that I can risk. You have a strange group, after all… minotaurs, a dragon, ponies of every shape and size, a Draconequus even… and containing even the might of a single Valkyrie and her soul-bound beloved, well… I don’t have many resources left. Everything will be alright.”

“We will kill you.” Nightmare Moon’s voice echoed from Luna’s jaws as her body flexed, as her eyes glowed white, electricity streaking through her ephemeral mane. “We hold you accountable for murdering our friends. Awakening a monster. Destroying our home. Kidnapping and hurting our daughter… and poisoning our most precious, most beloved. You will die for these things… but it will not be fast.”

“We are not leaving, Wisehorse. And I can tear my way into the Black Baroque far faster than you can send your hordes of monsters down after us.” Celestia said quietly and calmly, her eyes cold as she gazed up at the Blood Seer fearlessly. “I will seal us inside… and once you are dead, I do not foresee your soldiers staying outside the Black Baroque for very long. There are worse things in the Gray Mountains than Nibelung and Velites. Veliuona herself never travelled deep into this place for good reason.”

Wisehorse sighed quietly, closing his eyes and bowing his head forwards… and then he silently patted the distorted arm of the statue, murmuring: “Then I am truly sorry it has come to this. Fafnir, remember our deal. Do not kill Luna or Scrivener Blooms… dispose of the others as you see fit. And then you may have back your magic ring.”

With that, the Blood Seer turned and strode out of sight towards the back of the walkway as Luna snarled… but before she could lunge into the air, the monstrous statue twisted violently, its surface rippling like liquid as it shed snow and frost and chunks of pale rock, a horrible, shrieking cackle tearing up from the monstrosity as four arms ripped upwards and it launched itself off the top of the Black Baroque, dropping to the ground as the rest of the thin stone shell covering the monstrosity shattered into nothing but brittle porcelain fragments, the beast rising up with a hissing snarl and a wide grin on horrible, insect-like features.

Mandibles clicked around jaws filled with a bear trap of metal teeth, its eyes enormous, crystalline and glowing with insane light, a helm shrouding the head that was a mix of ant and serpent. Its body was strange, not armored, but chunks of stone and what looked like chain and cable stuck from its torso, twisting and fused along it as its four gangly, long arms flexed and trembled out at its sides. It thinned sharply at the waist, giving it a shape like a top with the ridiculous narrowness of its body, and a heavy, rectangular and flat tail dragged on the ground after it, covered with thick plates of ugly, metallic carapace as large claws ticked against the frozen earth at the end of thick legs, the creature leaning forwards and screaming: “Hello, my little ponies!”

The monster dropped forwards, and as it did so, two more thin arms ripped out of its sides, ending in narrow hooks as its legs twisted upwards like smoke, vanishing into the rectangular tail as the horrible entity sprouted countless ticking legs that violently propelled it forwards… but Celestia snarled, flicking her horn and sending a wave of golden fire ripping into being in front of them, shielding the shocked warriors from the shape-shifting monstrosity and sending it staggering backwards with a screech as it hurled itself away from the golden flames, Celestia shouting: “Defensive positions! Stay back from the monster!”

Her shouts of warning were almost lost in the fervent, excited yells of the Nibelung and Velites as they stayed back from the battle but urged Fafnir on, the monster snarling before it made a violent sweeping gesture with one hand, and the wall of golden flames turned to solid ice then shattered into frosty shrapnel… before the creature howled in misery as several rifle rounds smashed into its body, Cowlick grinning as she worked the lever of the rifle rapidly and pounded slug after slug up the creature’s chest before the last round smashed into its skull, as Twilight, Luna, and Celestia rushed towards the creature.

But its wounds were eerie, unnatural: there was no blood, and instead it looked more like liquid metal that had been splashed upwards before hardening… and then the monster hissed as it turned and seized Luna and Twilight both by the horn as they lunged, the winged unicorns both staring in surprise as its three-fingered claws sealed with crushing force against the horns before it flung them both backwards into Celestia with a mere flick of its wrists. They crashed and fell backwards as Fafnir snarled towards Cowlick as she cursed and broke open her rifle to reload, the monster ignoring the bullets that sailed around it from Applejack’s weapon before it grinned insanely as it shrieked: “So you like piercings?”

And the monster simply vanished from the spot before reappearing in front of Cowlick, grinning, insane, arms stretched out and no longer ending in hands, but horrible, curving, crescent scythe blades, its eyes glowing with victory and outrage and hatred before it lashed all four savagely down as Cowlick could only stare… before gagging violently, her body convulsing as the blades tore through her from four different, horrible angles before they ripped backwards.

Cowlick staggered as Ross shrieked behind her, the engineer somehow still alive despite the awful wounds as voices of friend and foe howled, even as a minotaur ran forwards… and over it all, Fafnir only laughed as the scythe-blades transformed back into hands that now clutched long, thin bladed swords, the monster leaning over her as it stabbed all four weapons brutally downwards, Cowlick vomiting blood as she half-fell forwards and the monster mocked horribly: “Now you’re pierced! Now you’re pierced!”

It stepped backwards as it flicked its wrists, grinning savagely as it held its arms out, three-fingered hands flexing as Cowlick collapsed to the ground with the swords buried through her body, a look of horror the last thing to pass over her bloodstained face as she died… and then Fafnir’s eyes flicked to the approaching minotaur, and its heavy, steely tail snapped up and around itself as it transformed, elongated, the ending turning into a terrible stinger that thrust with lightning speed once, twice, thrice through the bull’s form and sent him staggering backwards with a gargle, clutching at the fatal wounds in his crushed chest as the monster’s head turned, time seeming to slow as its insane, glowing eyes locked on Twilight Sparkle.

The winged unicorn could only stare, Celestia behind her, shouting a denial as Luna picked herself off the ground… but one moment, Fafnir was in front of Cowlick and the collapsing minotaur, and the next it was in front of Twilight Sparkle, leaning forwards as its tail coiled behind its back, greedy, eager, inches away-

Discombobulation’s hands seized the back of the monster’s head as he appeared in midair above it, snarling, and then the Draconequus firmly shoved Fafnir downwards, smashing the monster face-first into the ground as Twilight Sparkle leapt backwards and almost stumbled into Celestia. The chimerical creature landed beside the monstrous shapeshifter as it screamed and flailed almost comically, and then Discombobulation calmly snapped his fingers, and the solid ground became a springboard that launched upwards and sent Fafnir hurtling on a screaming arc into the mountainside, crashing with a loud thud and enough force to shatter the ancient stone.

The creature gargled, then peeled off the rock and fell to the black stone walkway as Discombobulation glared up at it with disgust and said calmly, coldly: “That entity is a chaos spirit, a shapeshifter… but of much darker regions than Ginnungagap. It is a demigod of rampant destruction…”

“And you…” Fafnir’s voice hissed, the creature yanking itself up as it changed shape again, rippling like water as it took on a form more akin to a dragon’s, tail ending in a spiked ball that swished back and forth as enormous, insect-like wings ripped from its back, buzzing violently as it crawled forwards over the edge, sticking to the walls of the Black Baroque like some hideous dragon-fly. “Patchwork doll! Little boy spirit! Prankster-jester-fool! What’s the point of your pretty little parlor tricks, of a monster that can’t kill?”

“Oh, I never said my kind could not kill. I just said we didn’t like to.” Discombobulation replied calmly, and then he snapped his fingers, and a black cloud formed in the air above Fafnir before a bolt of electricity shot down, making the creature hiss, then shriek as the cloud rained not water, but sharp shards of broken glass that clung unnaturally to the monster as he clawed at himself before another bolt of lightning erupted downwards and knocked Fafnir from the wall to topple to the ground with a loud thud as the glass shrapnel exploded into painful diamond dust.

Then the Draconequus smiled faintly, glancing over his shoulder and saying softly: “But he’s half-right. I won’t be able to kill him with my powers. Still, I’ll annoy him and distract him, which is what my kind does best, and it will-”

“Be more than sufficient.” Celestia interrupted quietly, stepping forwards as her horn glowed gold, as Fafnir snarled and leapt forwards, wings vanishing, body morphing into something centipede-like… but with a flick of her horn, the earth in front of the monster exploded upwards in a wall of rock, and Fafnir crashed headlong into this before she tilted her head forwards and the column of stone toppled back on top of the creature, crushing it with a shriek as its limbs scrabbled wildly at the air for a moment. “We will destroy it together. Luna?”

“Scrivener Blooms, circle around to its back. We shall make the most use of our powers and see every angle of this creature at once.” Luna ordered, and she hesitated even as the male nodded before adding quietly: “Now is not the time for questioning or mercy. Do not deny the warrior instincts I have given thee… use the corruption of the Tyrant Wyrm to thy advantage.”

Scrivy gritted his teeth, but then he nodded as he turned to sprint off to the side, even as Fafnir leapt upwards with a snarl and ripped through the stone pillar, his eyes turning for a moment to follow Scrivy… and then several bullets smashed into his body, Applejack and Big Mac both kneeling with rifles near Cowlick’s fallen corpse, Ross crying and cowering behind them as the blonde earth pony shouted: “Over here, right here!”

Behind them, Aleksandr and the surviving minotaur stood, ready and snarling, and Spike and Rarity had themselves anchored into place, Spike with shield raised and sword at the ready, Rarity’s horn glowing brightly as she breathed hard, and Fafnir snarled towards this knot of warriors, launching himself forwards as he became centipede-like and the hands of his upper arms transformed into sickle-like blades… before Discombobulation leapt with sudden, strange grace towards the monster, landing on the beast’s back before he swung his hands down, ropes appearing around the creature’s forelimbs and rawhide reins snapping into being around its face, Discombobulation yanking hard back on these as he ground his hoof into the monster’s lower spine, making Fafnir howl in fury and arch his back in rage and humiliation. “Hi ho, Silver, a-”

Fafnir’s head suddenly tore upwards and twisted violently around as hideously, a second torso seemed to instantly spring from his neck, new arms ripping into being and ending in sharp, wild arrangements of blades that he shoved forwards with a snarl. They tore through Discombobulation’s chest, the Draconequus gagging as the ropes and reins vanished before he shoved himself backwards, vanishing in a burst of black ooze and smoke to reappear a few feet away, staggering as Fafnir twisted around with an eager laugh, lower torso rubbing its scythe-blade hands together as the upper torso rose the blades gleaming with blood hissing: “Let me fix you, broken patchwork doll… you’re sewn together all wrong… you need to be cut back into pieces!”

It laughed wildly… and then a blast of golden light smashed into its side and its upper arm, and the creature shrieked in horror as this shivered before hardening into brittle, gray rock… and a moment later, Luna crashed through the limb, lashing her horn downwards and shattering it into fragments before she twisted herself in midair and slammed all four legs into its features and chest, knocking it crashing onto its back and it writhed wildly on the ground, body flowing like liquid as its two torsos collapsed together and one of its other arms fell off, transforming back towards its original distorted state as it howled in wordless fury.

“As I thought.” Celestia said coldly, and then she glanced at Twilight Sparkle, saying over the jeers and yells of the Nibelung and Velite still watching eagerly: “Gather the Elements of Harmony, Discombobulation spoke true: this is a chaos entity. A blast from the Elements will neutralize it long enough for us to… to stop it.”

“To kill it.” Twilight’s eyes flicked calmly towards the creature, even as she shuddered… and then she gritted her teeth and nodded, shooting quickly towards the group of ponies as Celestia turned her eyes back towards Fafnir, watching as Luna lunged at it with a snarl, fencing gracefully with her horn even as the chaos monster created swords from the air, deflecting her blows, returning with wild and sometimes lucky slashes that tore against her armor, fighting viciously even as Discombobulation battled destructive chaos with discord and unpredictability.

Fafnir threw a foot into Luna’s chest, knocking her skidding backwards as he laughed, raising his two swords to deal a rending blow… and Discombobulation snarled and made a violent rising gesture, and a massive, circular magnet appeared above the crazed demigod, Fafnir looking stupidly up before he squealed as not only his weapons, but his metallic, inorganic body was dragged violently into this. He struck with a loud clang, vibrating against the magnet before Discombobulation leaned forwards and swept his arms outwards like he was conducting an orchestra, and the enormous magnet transformed into a massive, metal weight that dropped with the creature still glued to the bottom of it, crushing Fafnir into the hard ground with a sickening crunch.

Discombobulation dropped forwards, breathing hard, his body beginning to turn dull white from overexerting his control on reality… and then he winced as the weight was torn upwards, Fafnir lifting it with all four arms and a snarl of fury, his legs vanished and an enormous serpent’s tail that coiled beneath him like a spring, before he sprung forwards and hurled the pyramid of metal towards the Draconequus as he winced and created a tiny umbrella, popping it open and half-hiding beneath this.

Then Luna dove in front of him, her eyes glowing white and her horn sparking with energy as shot just pas the pyramid as she caught it with telekinesis fuelled further by raw rage, roaring as her wings flapped and a sapphire aura enshrouded the enormous weight as she spun in midair in a circle, dragging the pyramid around in a wide arc that just missed Discombobulation before it shot violently back at Fafnir, the beast shrieking before the meteor of metal smashed it backwards and into the frozen earth.

Steel shattered, chunks of pyramid, Fafnir, and rocky earth flying in all directions as the demigod bounced backwards with a howl, and Luna dropped to the ground in front of Discombobulation with a grin as the Draconequus stared stupidly at her, still hiding beneath his tiny umbrella as the sapphire winged unicorn said coldly: “Do not take this the wrong way, Discombobulation… but this is not a comedy skit.”

“Comedies have the worst deaths, though, Scrivener Blooms, didn’t you know that?” Discombobulation replied tiredly… and then he grimaced as Fafnir lurched upwards, legs rippling out of his tail as he staggered and snarled, the creature’s mandibles clacking as it hissed at them furiously. “You still don’t understand what you’re dealing with, do you? Perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.”

Fafnir twisted one of its arms out to the side, hand bursting apart like liquid and reforming into a deadly scythe as it ran forwards… but Discombobulation only rose a hand and calmly twiddled his fingers even as Luna leaned forwards with a snarl… and then stared when Celestia smashed bodily into the monster’s sides, her body radiating golden flame, and Fafnir squealed in agony as it was knocked staggering before spinning around towards her, lashing downwards with the scythe-hand as its other arms clawed at her… only to find its passage blocked by bursts of golden fire that twisted in the air and formed into three gleaming, solid golden swords, the monster’s metallic limbs sparking as they ricocheted off the long, elegant weapons before Celestia gave a slight smile… and with only a tilt of her head, the swords spun violently as they lashed in a tight, concentric circle through the air, tearing through three of the demigod’s limbs and knocking it backwards as it howled in misery.

Luna’s eyes widened in shock… and then Celestia winced backwards, swords flicking down in front of her as five terrible new limbs tore out of the shapeshifter’s body and clawed at her wildly, Celestia staggering backwards and parrying blows with flicks and lashes of her swords as Fafnir howled furiously: “Order is meaningless! Light-bringers bring only their own death! Oath-makers are hypocrites!”

It leaned forwards, growling and distracted… and Scrivener Blooms jumped onto its back, running up its spine as the creature hissed at the feeling of hooves, arching its body as it began to raise its limbs… before shrieking as Celestia took the moment of lapsed concentration to plunge all three swords through its body, shouting furiously: “I would rather break a vow and risk death and damnation for myself today than give up all hope of tomorrow for my people!”

Scrivener leapt upwards, stomping both hooves down savagely and crushing in the creature’s skull, launching himself off it and over Celestia as the winged unicorn half-dropped, concentrating, before she arched her back and twisted her head around in a graceful movement, horn glowing and electricity sparking through her rainbow mane as the swords ripped themselves through Fafnir’s body in the same elegant, curving gesture, sending the demigod hurtling backwards with a miserable howl to crash on its back. But again, it began to regenerate: again, it began to shapeshift, changing its form, adapting, mutating with a snarl, with a seemingly endless supply of energy backing it as it twisted its way rapidly up to its feet as its long tail lashed outwards around it and swept up dust and rocks, forcing the ponies and Discombobulation to retreat as it rose its hands and weapons of every shape and size appeared, screaming: “You can’t destroy destruction, silly insane ponies! You can’t have my magic ring, it’s mine, mine, all mine!”

In the distance, Twilight cursed under her breath, shaking Ross firmly as Applejack shouted: “This is pointless, it’s not like the Elements have helped us anyway… like we can do anything with them anyway! That’s not Rainbow Dash, that’s not Fluttershy, that’s not Pinkie Pie… Twilight, you know you’re my friend but-”

“Then trust me!” Twilight retorted sharply, and Applejack winced a bit as Rarity looked away and Scutum continued to coldly survey the battle in the distance, studying the fight as the ponies battled the monster… but no matter what they did, it got back up, as the Nibelung and Velites watching eagerly screamed and laughed and shouted at them from their safe balconies on the mountains. “Ross, please, Cowlick… you know she…”

Ross whimpered as he shook violently, swaying on the spot, staring weakly back and forth and trying not to look at Cowlick’s corpse as the Element of Kindness glowed like a flame around his neck… and then Twilight stepped backwards, gritting her teeth. Something was missing, something important, they couldn’t channel the Elements of Harmony… and then Pinkamena snarled and looked over her shoulder, her own Element glowing brightly as she shouted: “What the hell are we supposed to do now?”

Twilight opened her mouth… then her eyes roved down, staring at Pinkamena’s necklace. The gemstone was glowing, reacting… it was reacting in Ross’s, in her own, in Pinkamena’s, in Rarity’s… but not in Applejack’s. And she looked sharply towards Applejack, as the female snarled, trembling, before tears formed in her eyes and she shouted and pointed at Scutum: “He’s not Rainbow Dash! Rainbow Dash died protecting those unicorns, and they didn’t even thank us!”

“No, he’s not. And he ain’t replacing him.” Big Mac said quietly, not looking up even as he reloaded his carbine rifle calmly, and Applejack winced at this and glanced towards him as he said softly: “And he is here, isn’t he? Or do you want Rainbow Dash disappointed in you for not accepting this one last gift?”

Applejack trembled at this, and Scutum glanced towards her, saying quietly: “I’m sorry. But he didn’t die for us, you know… he died for those who it was worth being loyal to. He died for ponies like you.”

The earth pony clenched her eyes shut and lowered her head… and she trembled once before her Element began to glow. Twilight Sparkle felt that connection: how transitory it was, however brief it would last, she didn’t know… but the glow grew, and she could feel it between the six of them, gritting her teeth as she felt it amplifying her magic and thrumming through her body, tickling and burning through her nerves and bones as she stepped forwards and shouted: “Friends or not, we are all connected, we are all here today, and we’re all fighting for the same reason, do you all understand? We are all connected by this… we are all tried and tested by this, and we need to stop that thing, that monster! Channel it!”

The six ponies stepped forwards as one, Ross gasping as his horn sparked, Scutum gritting his teeth as his body flexed beneath his uniform, Pinkamena grinning as her eyes all-but-glowed… and Twilight gasped, lowering her head forwards, hissing in pain. It wasn’t like before… the connection wasn’t as pure, wasn’t as strong, and she had faith in every one of them but she could feel their doubts, could feel the power being diminished, knew that the link could be broken any second…

But then it began to grow. Something happened… and Twilight gasped as she arched her back and opened her eyes as they began to glow ivory, staring back and forth as an aura grew brighter and brighter around her horn, as the five other ponies lowered their heads in unison, shivering as that same power began to pulse through their frames… and standing amongst them, tall, proud, glowing with ivory light, she saw the shades: Rainbow Dash, roaring silently, and Pinkie Pie with her teeth grit beside her sister, and Fluttershy, leaning forwards, more confident than she had ever seen. She almost resembled Sol Seraph in that look… but without the brutality, the maliciousness, the monstrosity.

Fafnir snarled as he looked towards the shimmering light that was building steadily around the ponies, as their gemstones glowed, as the Pales glared at him… and the demigod hissed as he half-spun and lashed out, slashing Scrivener Blooms across the face and sending him crashing backwards with a howl of pain as Luna cursed and dropped forwards with a wince, a large gash appearing over her cheek before she let out a shout of frustration and pain when Fafnir booted her hard in the skull and knocked her rolling backwards. Then the creature leapt upwards, its long tail snapping up behind it as it sprouted draconic wings that launched it further into the air, sailing towards the ponies as it shrieked: “Do you think I’ll just stand still?”

It dropped out of the air, landing on all eight limbs, propelling itself violently forwards as its tail balled up, becoming something like a giant, metallic spider as it launched itself at Twilight Sparkle… and Discombobulation appeared in front of the creature with a baseball bat already cocked back, stepping forwards and slamming this into the destruction entity’s face, knocking it hurtling backwards with a howl before Celestia flicked her horn and launched a fireball into it, blasting the monster backwards into the red doors.

The runes sparked as Fafnir bounced against them, body distorting and warping, two pairs of limbs collapsing into thick, ugly legs and tail uncurling into a long, scorpion stinger, his upper four arms flexing as he snarled and began to drop forwards… and then Discombobulation vanished from the spot before reappearing in front of Fafnir, slamming him back into the wall with a snarl, then cursing in pain as the monster screamed in his face as its lower limbs turned into hooks that tore up into his body, but the Draconequuus pinned the demigod backwards gamely, refusing to let go, refusing to give in as he roared over his shoulder: “Do it! Do it now! I’ll hold him in place! Freeze us, and then take that one chance you’ll have and shatter him!”

And even as the others began to slowly arch their backs, unable to control themselves, unable to stop, Twilight Sparkle struggled against the power racing, building savagely through her as she shrieked: “No! You’ll be neutralized as well, you’ll die too!”

But even as Fafnir began to shriek and slash and try and shove viciously backwards, Discombobulation only smiled over his shoulder, as Luna, Scrivener Blooms, and Celestia stared in shock at the Draconequus, even as his body began to pale, as he struggled to keep the demigod pinned back against the wall as Fafnir’s deadly tail coiled around him, and he said in a voice that was strangely gentle, quietly chiding: “We all die, Twilight Sparkle. But only a rare few of us get a chance to die nobly.”

Then he turned back towards Fafnir, slamming a savage headbutt into the creature’s face as he shoved it back against the doors, holding it in position as Twilight Sparkle screamed even as she arched her back, even as a fearsome pulse ripped through the valley, Nibelung and Velite both shrieking in terror instead of eagerness now as rays of colored light ripped up from the bodies of the six ponies before twisting together, coalescing into a rainbow-colored beam that arced upwards… then shot downwards with hurricane forwards towards Ginnungagap Draconequus and chaotic, destructive demigod.

Fafnir screamed as he tore away from Discombobulation and shoved him backwards before trying to yank himself around the creature by his own thick, metallic coils… but Discombobulation spun around with a snarl, grabbing the monster around the neck, yanking him rearwards even as Fafnir tried to dislodge the creature by slamming his back against the doors… and then the blast of radiant, rainbow light struck, and Fafnir shrieked in agony and misery as Discombobulation gritted his teeth and clenched his eyes shut, determined, brave, courageous, as the demigod’s lunatic eyes filled with terror, his limbs flailing uselessly before locking into place as they became hard marble, his shrieking cutting off into gargles as even the ruby doors were petrified by the concentrated blast of Harmony; of Order made into a powerful, neutralizing force.

Another pulse echoed through the valley… and behind Twilight, the Pales whiffed out and the five ponies collapsed, Scutum almost cutting himself open on his crosshatch blades, Ross twitching a bit as he whimpered weakly, Pinkamena chuckling tiredly into the ground… and only the violet pony managed to stay on her hooves, staggering forwards as the light faded from her eyes, staring, like the others, at the frozen statue… of Discombobulation and Fafnir, half-melted back into the rock of the doors.

A tremble went through Twilight Sparkle… and then she stepped forwards, screaming as her back arched, her horn giving a sharp glow and a pulse as the statue of Fafnir shivered in reality or imagination… and there was a short flare of light before a massive blast of force ripped through the air and shattered the statues and the doors beyond into nothing but fragments of porcelain and shrapnel, Fafnir and Discombobulation all but dissolving from the blast as lightning and energy ripped through the space where they had been, a last, tortured, sobbing scream tearing through reality… followed by a soft, wordless whisper of relief as amongst the pattering debris of stone and rock and shale, dove-white feathers swirled silently upwards, revealing the way into the Black Baroque through the torn-apart stone doors.

Twilight stumbled forwards, collapsing to a kneel with a gasp… and then she looked up with a weak curse as Nibelung and Velite shrieked in outrage, in fear, in frustration… but many of them began to make their way down the cliffs, charging in towards them, snarling with bloodlust and likely thinking their foes were exhausted, seeing a chance for revenge. And then Aleksandr reached down and grasped Twilight’s shoulder, yanking her back to her hooves as he shouldered his hammer and shouted calmly to Celestia, Luna, and Scrivener Blooms: “Aleksandr will buy four-hoofs all time that minotaur warriors can… you must all go now, though!”

“I’ll join you.” Scutum rasped, and Twilight began to shake her head weakly, but the unicorn only grinned wryly and glanced up at the minotaur as he shook himself off. “You don’t mind fighting beside scum looking for last minute redemption, do you?”

“Is always room for redemption.” Aleksandr smiled calmly as Twilight stared back and forth, the others slowly picking themselves up from the ground as they looked back and forth in confusion, before staring as the minotaur pointed towards the Black Baroque, leaning down and ordering: “Go now, four-hoofs! Do not keep Yaga Baba waiting! Go!”

There was no room, no time for argument, as Twilight staggered backwards, and Applejack hauled Ross to his hooves, pulling him forwards even as she looked with shock, with despair, and with late-found respect over her shoulder at Scutum, who only smiled faintly back. Rarity ran ahead as Spike grabbed Twilight, almost pulling her along as Celestia called to them from where she and Luna and Scrivener Blooms stood at the mouth of the Black Baroque, and the violet winged unicorn gave a useless yell, seeing the minotaurs and Scutum; seeing her living friends, watched over by the three Pales of those who had already died, who stood proudly and smiled sadly at Twilight Sparkle even as she half-pulled, half-stumbled through the shattered doors of the dark castle front.

Celestia stepped forwards, her swords glimmering as they rested over her armored back as if locked there, bowing her head and concentrating, and a wall of golden light filled the doorway even as Twilight clenched her eyes shut. It spread back and forth, solidifying here and there into strings of twisting blonde rope that supported the semisolid barrier, and then the ivory equine straightened with a grimace as she murmured: “It will not buy us much time. The Nibelung may not have the magic to get past this, but the Velites do.”

“Then let us make haste. And Aleksandr… thou will always have my gratitude. I’ll see thee in the Vale of Valhalla, my friend.” Luna looked silently towards the barrier for a moment, a shiver going through her body… and then she gritted her teeth and turned around, glaring back and forth at the walls of red stone, the floor tiled in black obsidian, a raised silver portcullis leading from this short entranceway and into a long, dark corridor, torches that burned with red, poisonous flames casting grim light over the empty, desolate hall.

There were heavy, barred metal doors to either side, but Luna and Celestia led them onwards, even as Twilight breathed hard and closed her eyes as Scrivener gazed at her silently, his skeletal pet running between them and making quiet tacks against the floor with his tiny claws, Pinkamena, Spike and Rarity following, Applejack, Big Mac and Ross last in line. The blonde earth pony shook her head mutely, opening her mouth as she looked up… but before she could speak, both Celestia and Luna drew to a halt with snarls.

At the end of the hall, on either side of a set of open, crimson double doors, two sets of gothic black full-plate armor stood, designed for a large earth pony, both posed rearing back. And as the others set themselves, both of these suits of armor trembled before terrible crimson light filled their sockets, and the obsidian golems dropped to their hooves… and now the horrible design of the armor, with frilled plates, sharp, over-exaggerated edges, and curled spikes made sense: they were living weapons, and even as they clanked and gears and other mechanical parts began to click away inside them, they moved with more elegance, more speed than the other golems they had encountered so far.

Luna stepped forwards, swinging her horn down with a snarl as it sparked, a blast of electricity shooting outwards and smashing into the chest of one, but it was barely fazed by it, only stumbling a bit before it began to launch forwards. Celestia, however, flicked her own horn quickly with a glare of disgust, and the solid ground beneath the two golems shattered, both mechanical constructs toppling into the shallow pit that ripped open in the earth as the ivory equine said coldly: “We have no time, sister! Every moment we delay, Wisehorse may be preparing a ritual, Scarlet Sage may be further endangered!”

The sapphire winged unicorn snarled at this, her eyes flashing as she leaned forwards, horn glowing as she inwardly fought with herself… then she snapped her horn to the side, and it gave a brief pulse as thick ice rapidly spread over the top of the pit, sealing the golems inside their earthen prison and bridging the gap even as the constructs both began to hammer at the thick, solid barrier, Luna running forwards as she said quickly over her shoulder: “Then come, and let me take my bloodlust out on a creature with actual blood!”

Celestia and the others followed, charging over the ice and through the crimson doors into a wide, circular room beyond, the bottom floor of a massive, cylindrical library. They ran past tables and chairs, shooting looks of shock upwards at the countless rings of walkways above, shelves layering the walls and strange gemstones floating through the air, providing light… and then Luna snarled as she skidded to a halt, the others immediately dropping to ready positions as black, twisting smog burst through the air around them, forming into snarling, ice-breathing Hellhounds that barked and hissed at the ponies, glaring from where they stood ready on tabletops and across the floor.

Luna cursed as Scrivener immediately looked towards the archway they were being instinctively drawn towards, that he could almost feel Scarlet Sage’s presence beyond: it was a heavy gate, a lever to one side of it that likely controlled raising and lowering it, and he shouted: “If we can get through, then maybe-”

He winced, looking up as he was cut off by chittering from above, staring at the sight of countless Smoke Imps beginning to gather on the railing around the lowest walkway… and then Big Mac closed his eyes for a moment before he said in his soft, calm drawl: “Here’s what I suggest. We run for it… but you others keep going. I’ll close the gate.”

“I won’t leave you! I won’t lose you like I lost Dashie!” Applejack shouted at this, tears filling her eyes as she snarled and shook her head… and then she gritted her teeth, adding sharply: “But he’s right! You have to go on, Luna, I know it has to be you… and Celestia, Twilight, you gotta take care of them, you gotta watch out for them, you gotta make sure-”

There was a crackle in the distance, enough to distract the Hellhounds for a moment as they glanced towards the sound of ice shattering as the golems began to haul themselves up from their imprisonment in the other room… and then Celestia snarled as she spun around and flicked her horn upwards, two long lines of fire erupting through the library, holy, pure flames that made the Hellhounds shriek and rear back: the walls of fire formed a widening hallway to the portcullis and the switch, and Celestia sprinted down this, shouting over her shoulder to the others: “Run!”

Twilight turned, sprinting down the corridor, closing her eyes and dropping her head forwards as Luna ran beside her and Scrivener shot onwards with a snarl before he looked in surprise at Pinkamena as she ran up beside him, grinning and leaning forwards to shout: “When you and Luna get to Helheim, I promise I’ll give you the greatest welcome party you can ever imagine!”

And then Pinkamena spun around, laughing, twisting almost majestically in the air as she reached back to draw one of her knives in the same liquid movement, throwing it in a deadly practiced flick that sent it rocketing into the face of a Hellhound chasing the others, the dull-pink pony crashing to the ground and laughing even as the ponies shot past and the golden flames began to die down, yanking her axe free and shouting with delirious, fearsome joy: “Come and get me!”

The Hellhounds were all too glad to oblige, charging towards her as Imps leapt down, and even as Pinkamena laughed, even as her axe hacked and tore and ripped back and forth, there were too many even for her, biting, clawing, ripping… and even as Celestia, Twilight Sparkle, Scrivener Blooms and Luna ran through the gate, followed by Ross, Rarity and Spike, the group skidded to a halt as they heard a horrified yell.

Big Mac had almost reached the switch… and then a Hellhound had appeared almost out of nowhere, seizing him by the throat, ripping, crushing, killing. He lay choking in a pool of his own spreading blood as the Hellhound staggered backwards, Applejack yelling furiously as she fired rifle round after rifle round into it before snarling, tears flung from her face as she looked sharply over her shoulder at the sound of another beast.

She half-twisted and slammed the butt of the rifle into its features, shattering bone and knocking it flat before bringing both her strong rear legs back and slamming a crushing kick into its body, sending it flopping backwards… and then the bullet-riddled Hellhound tackled her, Applejack cursing as she was knocked on her back, barely able to get the rifle between them before its jaws bit down and crushed the gun into a mangled mess. She slammed both rear hooves into it, throwing the useless gun away at the same time to send it flying away, but another Hellhound descended on her, biting into her shoulder, freezing her blood in her veins as she screamed…

“Go!” Spike shouted desperately, even as terror filled his eyes… and then he spun around, yelling wordlessly, charging back through the portcullis as Rarity shrieked before following, and Ross staggered after them: out of a desire to help, out of confusion, it was impossible to say as Twilight screamed a denial and Scrivener leapt forwards, catching her by the shoulders and hauling her back before she could run into the death trap of the library, as Celestia clenched her eyes shut and forced herself to turn away, as Luna yelled in rage and desperation as the horde of demon-dogs and imps were drawn towards their friends instead of into giving chase.

Spike ran for the switch… and an Imp collided with his face, scratching and clawing and tearing, making him cry out in agony as he grabbed wildly at it before it was blasted away by a bolt of energy. He looked in shock to see Rarity standing there, breathing hard as her horn glowed, as her eyes looked back and forth with desperation as Hellhounds turned towards them, snarling and fierce; they had mangled the bodies of the others, and there were still eight of the terrible, fearsome monsters left, and countless Imps swarming the air greedily above… and now, the unstoppable, calm golems. And they were blocked off from the switch, as the Hellhounds swarmed in around them and the Imps settled, the two forced backwards towards the center of the library back-to-back, as Spike whispered: “You should have gone on without me…”

“I won’t leave you.” Rarity replied quietly, smiling faintly as she bowed her head forwards, and Spike swallowed thickly as he held up sword and shield as Rarity trembled and readied herself, breathing hard… and then they risked a look at each other, their eyes locking for a moment before they both leaned impulsively forwards and stole a single quick, firm kiss before pulling away and standing back to back, as Rarity repeated, shouted, not knowing what else to say or do: “I won’t leave you!”

The Hellhounds snarled… and then an Imp shrieked in surprise as it was knocked off the gate switch by the unicorn that had snuck quietly around the side, Ross seizing this and yanking it back, the chains falling slack and unwinding rapidly to send the gate crashing down and locking into place. And for a moment Ross smiled, looking across at the dragon and unicorn… and then, snarling, Imps shot down towards him, swarming him, descending on him, and as he screamed the Hellhounds roared in bloodlust and leapt towards Spike and Rarity as they stood back-to-back and met their aggressors with desperation, but without fear.

The sounds echoed down the sloping tunnel to the survivors, Luna snarling, electricity sparking through her mane and darkness boiling around her body, Celestia’s eyes glowing and radiance giving dangerous, turbulent pulses through her frame as Twilight and Scrivener followed to either side. Rage and sorrow and hate and pain tore through their bodies as they forced onwards, until the downwards-sloped, red tunnel evened out, barred at the end by two enormous black doors… and without stopping, both Luna and Celestia leaned forwards with matching snarls, their horns glowing as fireballs of blue and gold erupted towards the doors and smashed into them, exploding with enough force to blow them forwards in a hurricane of shrapnel into the long, immense room beyond.

The four skidded to a halt in the debris, and Wisehorse calmly gazed at them from where he stood near the center of the enormous corridor, beside a raised black pedestal. Upon a crimson pillow lay Scarlet Sage, unconscious and trembling… and Luna leaned forwards, roaring in a furious mix of her voice and Nightmare Moon’s: “Give us back our daughter!”

“Please calm down, Luna. Everything will be okay.” Wisehorse said soothingly… and then he tapped a hoof gently against the ground, and the red-robed equines to either side stepped forwards: none of these four were thralls, they were all Blood Seers… and they all set themselves, bowing their heads forwards, as the four warriors faced them coldly, ready to do anything they had to. “The time is now.”

And the four red robes all rose their heads proudly, then dropped them forwards, lowering themselves to deep bows at the same time. At first, nothing seemed to happen… and then, slowly they collapsed in silence, one-by-one, dead. It seemed inexplicable, impossible, as Wisehorse only looked calmly at them… and then Celestia staggered forwards, coughing blood and falling to her knees as Twilight shuddered violently, crimson fluid running from her eyes before they rolled up in her head as she fell forwards under a sudden, inexplicable barrage of mental anguish, and Luna and Scrivener both howled in pain as they were seized by invisible claws, as they were slowly dragged forwards over the stone floor despite their protesting hooves towards Wisehorse as he said calmly: “A Blood Seer can triumph even over death… at least for a little while. By sacrificing our bodies, we can allow our spirits the strength to tear free from our frail forms and carry out any task we see fit. Of course, this only lasts for a short period before we become Pales… but it’s usually more than enough to take one last revenge. Or, as in this case… see out the one last task we were dedicated to in life.”

Scrivener cursed, pain assaulting his eyes before he looked to the side… and stared in horror at the sight of some pony-faced demon looming over him: it had the features of one of the Blood Seers, but its body was warped and hideous, without hooves but instead enormous claws, leathery wings stretching from its back before he gritted his teeth as it flickered back out reality… and then he cursed as the invisible Blood-Seer-made-demon shoved him down and pinned him to the ground, Luna snarling in fury as she struggled uselessly against her own invisible assailant. “Monster!”

“I am not a monster… but we are in the presence of monsters. Monsters that will bring an end to this world…” Wisehorse silently reached out, stroking through Scarlet Sage’s mane, making Luna tremble in fury before the Blood Seer glanced to the side.

And now, Scrivener and Luna looked around the hall, let themselves truly see where they were… and they stared in horror. The walls were black, covered in runes and sprawling, archaic designs, and pillars stood here and there… and near the back of this enormous hall of mixed black-and-red stone, there were immense, silver chains that hooked into the walls, the pillar, and the floor by means of massive silver stakes… and attached to collars and shackles around awful, horrendous things.

They were impossible to describe: no fur covered their bodies, but it was instead like slowly-charring fire, like smoke and ash that was forced to form a horrible outer layering over their enormous, rippling flames. Gazing upon them was painful, brought images of war and destruction and hatred… and one of them, awful, terrible memories. This last had raw flesh showing through the darkness here and there, twisted blues and reds that fused together in some depraved mockery of the living. They were claws, and jaws, and black fire… they were the four Black Wolves of Hell.

And beyond them… at the end of the hall now, Luna felt her eyes drawn towards a pair of immense crimson stone doors. Doors she realized now did not lead to some hidden temple, or inner sanctum… ugly, ancient stone gates that were cracked here and there, dark smoke and steam hissing softly out of the wounds in the heavy rock. Doors bound shut by enormous black chains and bands of rune-covered iron, and she shook her head weakly as she whispered: “By Odin… thou meddles in awful things here, Wisehorse. Thou does not realize what a fool thou art being.”

“No, you don’t understand, Luna… this is all necessary.” Wisehorse said quietly, gazing silently over his shoulder towards the looming Gates of Helheim: as tall and as wide as the corridor they were in, they were vast and terrible… and now, now Luna and Scrivy both thought they could hear screams echoing in from beyond, as Wisehorse began softly: “You see-”

He paused, then glanced down to see Sammy silently inching his way forwards… and with only a grimace and a tilt of his horn, Wisehorse fired a blast of electricity into the skeleton, sending him skittering backwards, shrieking. The arcs built over his body, twisting back and forth as Scrivener tried to crawl forwards with a yell of denial, before Sammy arched his spine with a scream… and then simply exploded, fragments of bone flying in every direction as Wisehorse rubbed at his face and murmured softly: “Where was I now? My memory isn’t quite as it used to be… I really can’t handle distractions at this juncture.”

“Why? Odin damn thy eyes, why art thou doing this?” Luna shouted furiously, but her voice was tinged now with desperation, with anguish, and not just rage, even as Nightmare Moon snarled and burned inside of her. “Thou hast killed so much, so many! And those monsters… thou tampers with abominations that could destroy us all!”

“They will destroy us all. They will bring Ragnarok… but then we will all be reborn.” Wisehorse said quietly, silently striding towards the side of the corridor, along the dark, cobbled stone and then reaching a hoof out to stroke gently along one of the muzzles of the gigantic dark demons… and Luna shivered and drew back with a wince as Scrivener only stared in horror. “And Luna, you will do this. You will save us all…”

“Thou art mad. Thou art insane. I… stop this, Wisehorse. Stop this. Can’t thou see… all of this, is lies? There is no such thing as prophecy.” Luna whispered, her voice almost gentle… and Wisehorse smiled faintly at her, shaking his head slowly. “Please… look at these monsters. Aye, bringers of Ragnarok they may be… but Skoll, Hati, Garm and… and terrible Fenrir… they are not agents of anything but destruction and hatred and evil. Please…”

“Yes, they are… but they are an evil that will burn the world away, then burn itself out, like a cleansing fire. And they will not be without direction…” Wisehorse gestured silently upwards, and Luna and Scrivy both looked helplessly up, staring towards the ceiling… and what looked like an enormous, complex system of interlocking chains and rods, holding inside it patterns of runes and celestial shapes, with sunlight shining down from a well in the dead center, casting a dimly-visible spotlight around the pedestal that Scarlet Sage laid upon. “We have all the components now to awaken them, you see. And I am not relying merely on the misinterpretations of ancient mages, Luna… I have seen for myself why this must be done.

“Haven’t you seen the Pales? Haven’t you wondered how there are so many ghosts, and why they’re all crowded here?” Wisehorse looked at her silently, and Luna gazed weakly back as the red-robed unicorn said quietly: “I know who you are. Who you and your sister both are, which is why I would prefer… not to kill her. Valkyries, is that not right? But inside you, shards of darkness, fed by the nightmares you have lived through and the battle and war and rage. You have grown powerful, Luna… Nightmare Moon has grown and grown and grown inside you. Nightmare Moon is the key that will unlock the Gates of Hell and awaken the Black Wolves… and to reshaping a better world. Celestia is a ruler, Celestia brings order… but you are a shaper. A designer. A law-maker.”

Luna began to shake her head, but she had no words, no response, as Scrivener only breathed hard in and out, staring weakly… and Wisehorse smiled at them, saying softly: “The Pales are here, so frequent, so great in number… because the Vale of Valhalla has long been destroyed. Helheim destroyed it, burned it all, took many souls prisoner… and ruined the rest. Paradise is gone, and there are countless innocent souls in Hell, suffering and freezing… and countless more souls now roam this world, lost and confused, drawn here by the inexorable pull of otherworldly energies, not knowing they are entering a place much closer to Hell than it is to Heaven.”

He paused for a moment, then shook his head slowly, saying quietly: “We must open the Gates of Helheim. We will free the lost souls trapped inside… and the Black Wolves must burn this world, purging it, destroying it. And then, Nightmare Moon… then you can reshape it. Not just Equestria… the entire world will be like clay in your hooves. I will even leave your sister and your dear friend alone… if you can control the Black Wolves, you can make them ignore them. You can start this life with Scrivener Blooms and your family… you can build a world of paradise to stand in parallel to Helheim, where all lost souls will be reborn…”

“Deluded fool, thy ramblings make no sense! That is not how creation works, that is not how life works… what has maddened thy mind so? Nightmare Moon cannot build a world!” Luna shouted desperately… and now she seemed more afraid than angry, as Wisehorse only looked at her pityingly. “Wretched creature, let us go, let us leave with Scarlet Sage, and let this all end!”

“Yes, it will all end. I have ensured that…” Wisehorse said calmly, sighing softly as he strode towards the pedestal. “My benefactor warned me you might be… resistant. That I might have to take further measures… and I am sorry I do. But I have done too much, and either way, I do deserve to die. I had the Tyrant Wyrm slaughter Silver Hoof, after all, just so I could get this…”

He closed his eyes, raising his head as his horn glowed… and from behind the pedestal, a strange shape rose: it was vaguely crescent-shaped, thickening at one end, made of bone, so simple and yet so distinct… and Luna’s eyes widened as she whispered: “Heimdall’s horn…”

“Yes, you remember. It was carried by the watcher god, said to sound at Ragnarok… but as he is dead, we will have to make it roar a different way.” Wisehorse said calmly, his horn glowing, and a metallic holder rose up behind the pedestal. The equine turned, leaning down and gently fitting the battle-horn into this, and then he quietly touched the back of Scarlet Sage’s head, saying softly: “I cannot play the horn… but an innocent child, on the other hand…”

Scarlet Sage’s eyes snapped open, and she moaned weakly as the pendant around Wisehorse’s neck glowed, the filly shuddering as she slowly rose up, as Luna and Scrivener both yelled at her, both called her name, both struggled uselessly against the spirits binding them as Wisehorse stepped quietly backwards and Scarlet Sage’s head bowed forwards…

Her lips met the horn, her eyes faintly glowing, trembling ,unable to halt herself as she shivered… and then leaned forwards and blew, and the horn gave a terrible, echoing rumble that shook the halls, reverberating violently, Celestia and Twilight both snapping awake and looking up with shock even as the invisible demons held them down, and Scrivener and Luna both howled wordlessly… and then Scarlet Sage threw her head back, gasping in horror as Wisehorse only looked at the filly sadly: the horn’s vibrations tore back through the child’s body, leaving no mark outside but ripping through her insides, tearing apart her very mind, cutting her to the soul as she toppled backwards… and Luna screamed as Scarlet Sage’s dead body hit the ground and stared sightlessly towards her adopted mother, a single tear dripping slowly down her cheek.

Luna’s back arched, howling in misery, in torment, in rage, in fury, as the Gates of Helheim cracked and shattered, as the Black Wolves of Helheim snarled as their terrible, glowing eyes opened… and then Luna leapt to her hooves, arching her back as a pulse of force emanated from her body to knock the demon trying to bind her down flying as it expanded, tearing and stretching her armor as her mane and tail sparked with electricity and became like blue fire, as her eyes glowed white and teeth grew sharp and coat burned obsidian.

Nightmare Moon leaned forwards, snarling in rage towards Wisehorse as he only calmly stood… and then she looked up with a growl, Scrivener’s eyes widening as he realized the only thing holding him down now were the vibrations: Luna’s rage and transformation had either driven the monsters back, or the terrible, malicious force ripping from the Gates of Helheim as they cracked apart had done it… and he leapt to his own hooves as Celestia and Twilight staggered upwards, as Nightmare Moon threw herself in the air… then caught herself and halted as the Black Wolves of Hell rose up and joined the echoing chorus of vibrations with terrible howls that made reality tremble and tear.

Their bonds shattered, metal exploding into fragments as more cracks ripped through the terrible crimson doors at the end of the corridor… and then they too exploded outwards, blown off their hinges as the feeble chains and locks burst apart like paper… and beyond, a tunnel made of flesh and bone pulsed, ghostly ivory equines calmly striding out of this, along with darting black spirits and hideous shapes that streaked through the air around them, screaming and laughing and crying and howling. Nightmare Moon snarled, uncaring of these, only glaring furiously down at Wisehorse… and over the vibrations, the howls, the snarls of the Black Wolves of Hell as they began to step forwards as reality continued to tremble around them, he shouted to her: “If you want to stop these monsters, your only choice is to control them, as I know you can! They can only be controlled by the one who brings the eclipse!”

The Black Wolves of Hell snarled, as Celestia and Twilight ran forwards… and Nightmare Moon’s eyes widened as they set themselves alongside Scrivener Blooms, the three anchoring themselves. And for a moment, Luna and Nightmare Moon warred, at the sight of Scarlet Sage’s corpse, at the spectacle of the Black Wolves, at the words of Wisehorse… and knowing, terribly knowing, that every second the Black Wolves of Hell grew stronger, grew more aware, and they would destroy all of reality… knowing that despite her own rage, if she did not try… her family, her friends, her beloved, would die.

Nightmare Moon swooped down as the four wolves began to prowl forwards, drooling, snarling, animal and leaving the ground beneath their paws rotten and shattered, dark flames licking up the walls from their very malicious presence as they were drawn immediately towards the ponies… and then they all looked towards Nightmare Moon as she arched her back, horn glowing as she gazed with a snarl towards the patterned ceiling, tears leaking down her face. “Then let darkness reign supreme… may Hell itself bow to me!”

A tremble ripped through the air, the Black Wolves snarling, scarred and awful Fenrir stepping forwards and barking at her, sending dark drool splattering through the air… before the light in the cavern changed as sunlight above was slowly cancelled out, covered, by a disc of darkness. As in the skies above the Gray Mountains, all its terrible residents gazed upwards, as did much of Equestria, with shock, with fear, with horror… as the moon rumbled into the sky, as the sun was concealed, as red, terrible light filled the air.

Nightmare Moon snarled down at them, her body glowing as the radiance filled the corridor through the well… and then Wisehorse laughed, turning around to watch in amazement as Celestia, and Twilight, and even Scrivener Blooms stared in awe and shock as the Black Wolves of Hell suddenly staggered backwards, as they dropped their heads, whimpering like scared mongrels for all their titanic size and fearsomeness, and Nightmare Moon grinned, her eyes beginning to glow, a feeling of ultimate, unstoppable power ripping through her body…

Then Scrivy grunted as something shoved him aside… and he looked stupidly up, mind barely able to process what he was seeing. Surreal and terrible, an enormous, bipedal dragon in a pristine suit walked calmly past him with an enormous golden birdcage hanging from one hand, smiling to himself as he reached up and grabbed Nightmare Moon in midair like she was nothing more than a low-hanging fruit, and he yanked her down and threw her hard into the ground, the darkness-touched equine grunting in shock as her eyes bulged… before the dragon slammed a fist into her back, and Nightmare Moon screamed, her body glowing before it shattered, armor flying in all directions and leaving Luna standing on shivering legs, broken pieces of body armor and her ivy necklace hanging over her body, her telescopic spear falling uselessly to roll silently along the ground as she rasped for breath before Scrivener arched his back and howled in agony when the dragon smashed a foot into her side, sending her flying and crashing into a wall.

Then he turned as Twilight and Celestia both stepped forwards, and he only smiled before snapping his fingers, and both equines cried out in surprise and pain as a blast of anti-magic ripped over their bodies, driving them to the ground as they convulsed in agony and Wisehorse shouted in disbelief: “No, no, no! What are you doing?”

But the dragon didn’t respond, only stepping forwards, humming absently to himself as he reached towards Scrivener Blooms as Celestia tried to haul herself forwards with a snarl… but like she was a helpless, harmless pest, and the dragon only slapped her easily across the face to send her crashing backwards in a sprawl before he seized Scrivy in his large free hand. He easily lifted the pony up in front of his eyes as he said in a mocking, mellifluous voice: “How fascinating.”

Luna snarled as she shoved herself up to her hooves, then launched herself into the air, wings flapping as the dragon grinned over his shoulder at her… and just as she began to cross the room, to veer towards him, he squeezed Scrivener Blooms in his grip, and the pony howled in agony, blood bursting from his jaws as electricity tore along his body, and Luna screamed in midair, feeling Scrivener’s pain, her eyes bulging as the shocks ripped over her frame as well before the dragon half-turned and swung easily out with the golden cage.

Luna passed harmlessly inside it through the bars… then crashed against the opposite wall as sapphire energy glowed between the latticework of gold, the dragon laughing as he held this up mockingly in front of himself and looked gleefully at the shivering, gargling winged unicorn now laying at the bottom of the cage, saying warmly: “Perfect! Exactly as I planned…”

And, without another word, he turned, beginning to stride calmly towards the open Gates of Hell, the cage containing Luna dangling from one hand, Scrivener Blooms dazed and broken in the other, Twilight staring helplessly at his back and Celestia uselessly trying to drag herself forwards even as Wisehorse scrambled in front of the dragon, looking up at him with horror as he shouted: “What are you doing? You said we were going to save the world! I did everything you asked!”

“And you did wonderfully.” The dragon smiled calmly down at Wisehorse… and then he simply rose one large foot, and the unicorn only had a moment to stare weakly before the enormous creature stomped down on him, crushing him like he was nothing more than an insect, continuing to smile as he twisted his heel, slowly grinding the corpse down into the floor before he began to whistle to himself as he strode forwards.

Then he paused in front of the Gates, glancing over his shoulder and clicking his tongue as he looked back at Celestia and Twilight, saying mildly: “Almost forgot, right. Silly me. Dogs, be good… clean up the mess.”

He grinned, clicking his tongue before turning to stride calmly into the tunnel beyond… and in the sky, the moon began to move slowly out of position, the eclipse ending. And as it ended, as light spilled into the air, the Black Wolves of Hell snarled, raising themselves up, freed once more before Fenrir strode forwards with a growl as Twilight looked up tiredly, brokenly… and then it roared before its jaws snapped down over her head and there was a sickening, horrible crunch.

Celestia howled in misery and denial as Twilight’s corpse fell to the ground, and then the winged unicorn lunged forwards, charging at Fenrir as her body glowed, as her rainbow mane sparked and her horn burned with radiance before she leapt upwards with a scream, burying it into the Black Wolf’s chest as her swords tore off her back to stab forwards again, again, again, Fenrir howling and shrieking as he staggered backwards beneath the savage hail… and then one of the other Black Wolves leapt forwards, tackling Celestia’s side as another’s jaws settled on her wing. They tore and bit, even as she fought to her last breath, even as she fought past when she should have been dead, driven by rage, and passion, and a need to protect and avenge and destroy… but it was too little against them. Everything they had was too little against them.

And the Black Wolves of Hell began to do the only thing they knew how to do, and what they did best: to destroy everything around them, starting with the Black Baroque… and soon, all of Equestria would follow. The Starlit Knights had failed, and Ragnarok had come to pass.