• Published 24th Oct 2012
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Absolution - BlackRoseRaven



A pony begins a journey to find his parents, lost heroes who vanished years ago.

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Our Divided Destiny

Chapter Thirty Three: Our Divided Destiny
~BlackRoseRaven

The Everfree Forest was almost silent, the only sound coming from the leaves rustled by the wind. It was a gorgeous day, with the shining sun above casting bright light through the crisp morning air, a few clouds lazily rolling through the sky above... and yet somehow it all seemed cold, and wrong. It felt not like tranquility, but hollowness and sedation. It felt like the silence before the storm.

Hoofsteps sounded along the path, and the leaves whispered quietly in the breeze as if nervous, as if the forest was trying to cry out to Antares and Twilight as they strode side-by-side towards Ponyville. The Lich still looked tired, thick turtleneck sweater scratching against her stitches as she said softly: “I don't know, Antares... you're young. I don't mean that in a bad way, either, I just mean... you know. There's a lot of things that could change.”

“I know. That's why I want to move in with her before I do anything... you know, dumb.” Antares said awkwardly, and he felt butterflies twisting nervously through his stomach, distracting him from the lack of sound, the weak whimpers of nature as he asked hesitantly: “Besides Mom, I... I know it's a little awkward for you even now, but... how old were you when... you know...”

The Lich blushed a bit, but she smiled all the same at Antares as they continued along the path before she replied gently: “Older than you and Prestige, but... less mature in some ways, too, I guess. I never really understood how lucky I was with your Mom and Dad, how... I could have easily been... getting myself involved with the wrong sort of crowd. But... okay. I guess we can take an hour or so to look around for... what were you interested in?”

“A townhouse or something. Prestige has a lot of stuff.” Antares said, smiling warmly up at Twilight and feeling relief bursting through his system, nodding fervently and missing the signals in the trees, the crystalline feeling in the air, the whispers of his own instincts as he rambled: “She wants to come too, too, of course, but I mean... you know, she said she trusts me and I wanna do good and find a good place she can approve and stuff when she comes into town herself, and...”

Twilight laughed and shook her head, the two continuing on, oblivious to the feelings around them... and the forest almost sighed as there was a rustling behind them before a mottled-white monstrosity dragged itself slowly onto the path. Red eyes glowed balefully, but it was shivering, skin flaking off, badly burnt and blackened here and there, leaving slimy footprints behind it as Cancer whispered: “Punk... z-zombie...”

Cancer rasped weakly for breath, head lowered, eyes flickering weakly before he bared what teeth remained in his rotting jaws, and he slowly rose one front limb as it half-transformed into a shivering claw that reached after the ponies in the far distance now... and then it melted, and Cancer moaned weakly, the destruction entity shaking his head violently as sweat ran slowly from his pores. “No, no, no...”

He was losing cohesion. More and more, his body was falling apart, giving up, rotting away to nothing. And unless he found something to stabilize himself, like some powerful, potent poison or a host that he could hide away in, that he could incubate in and rebuild his breaking-down core cells, he was going to soon be nothing more than a puddle on the ground.

Cancer shivered, then he slowly looked over his shoulder, beginning to drag himself down the path in the opposite direction the two had come from. All roads led to somewhere, after all, and he'd been stuck wandering the Everfree Forest blindly, absorbing the little nutrients he could here and there out of trees, but that just made the forest scream... and when the forest screamed, the Phooka and the Nightmares and the demons and the things that wanted to kill him dead showed up...

The monster dropped his head forwards, wheezing slowly and ignoring the feeling of a large piece of his body simply falling off before the wound feebly began to regenerate. He moaned, and then shivered as his voice whispered: “Dyin' hurts so bad, hoss. What the hell do I do, chief? I need a meal, but the white weasel has all her forces out, keepin' me dancin' constantly... but I can't dance no more. I'm so hungry now, all I can do is hope that the Void has mercy on me, that Momma Nature gives me a freebie, that someone or something out there remembers my purpose is to destroy, not to be destroyed!”

Cancer gargled, and then he looked up, spotting some structure in the distance as he blinked owlishly before beginning to haul himself forwards, breathing harder. There had to be something there, right? There had to be something he could use... he was hurting, oh how he was hurting! He'd been blown up too many times now, and he'd had to sacrifice so much of his strength to escape the burning bonfire that had been Griselda, his wife-become-deathtrap...

“Stupid bitch couldn't do one thing right... hell, she couldn't even die with a little dignity, or at least in a way that would have done anything but turn me into...” Cancer coughed hard, stumbling before he snarled as stepped off the end of the path and in front of a two-floor house, breathing slowly as he drew his eyes along the structure before whispering: “I smell something in there... something good and something bad, something sweet and something sour and... oh, a taste of power, too! I need it, oh I need it...”

Cancer shivered violently, and then he hurried forwards to the door, clawing at the handle before smashing forwards and knocking it open. He looked up as Prestige glanced up in shock, just emerging from the bathroom, dripping wet and with a towel wrapped around her mane. For a moment, they stared at each other... and then Prestige shrieked and staggered backwards, shaking her head wildly to try and free her horn from the towel.

Cancer snarled at her like an animal as he lashed a limb upwards that transformed into a long, slimy tentacle, smashing across Prestige's chest and knocking her backwards before the monster loped forwards. The young mare hurriedly sat up... then gargled, eyes widening in horror and terror as Cancer tackled her and shoved her down, dripping sweat and ooze over her as his long, distorted limb slowly twined itself around her throat and body. He breathed hard in and out over her face, drool dripping over her features as his red eyes bored down into hers, and she shook her head weakly, shivering, eyes wide as the monster chuckled... then leaned down and whispered quietly: “Hello, honey. You look delicious... but I just had me a hell of an idea..”

Slowly, Cancer leaned down, licking up the side of her face as Prestige moaned in horror, feeling the tentacle constricting around her before her horn began to glow... and immediately, Cancer bit savagely down into her shoulder, making her shriek and disrupting her concentration before she cried out in agony as what felt like broken glass filled her veins, her eyes bulging as Cancer drew back and grinned savagely. A spiderweb of black lines was spreading slowly through her shoulder, gradually crawling up along her neck and over her face as they swept downwards as well, and Prestige screamed in pain again before Cancer laughed as he withdrew his tentacle-like limb from around her, letting most of it dissolve before he shoved a melted hoof down against her chest and said coldly: “Don't go trying anything funny now, dollface. You feel that poison? You feel those bubbles forming under your skin? You try any of your fancy unicorn magic without my say-so, and I'm gonna make you burn.”

Prestige screamed in pain, shivering beneath the monstrosity before he seized her by the mane snarling as he yanked her head up high into the air, then grabbed her by the face and slammed her skull into the wall with a sickening crack, making her cry out again as he pinned her by the face and shouted: “You're gonna listen to me, fleshbag! You listen and you play nice...” His voice became silkier, smoother, grinning brokenly at her as his red eyes gleamed with madness: “You play nice, and you got my promise, my word, my everything that I won't kill you. In fact, I might just make you strong. Stronger than I made Jabberwock, better than I did with Griselda. I bet you'd like that, wouldn't you? Bein' alive, and bein' strong...”

“P-p-p-please... st-stop...” Prestige whimpered, giving a broken sob, and Cancer snorted before he drew his limb back, then slapped her hard across the face, knocking her sprawling as the unicorn curled up and grasped at the pustules and boils that had started to form over one side of her features, moaning in agony as dark poison pulsed through her body. Then she snarled, looking up through teary eyes... but the moment her horn began to glow, she felt that toxin bubbling inside her veins, and she was only able to cry out in agony and drop back to the floor, curling up and sobbing weakly.

Cancer snorted in disgust, then he licked his teeth slowly as he breathed hard in and out before kicking her hard in the stomach, Prestige half-rolling onto her back before he leaned down and asked suspiciously: “Why the hell do I smell the zombie here? I saw that freak go by with the punk kid. Tell me!”

Cancer glared at her, and the poison bubbled in Prestige's veins, making her scream and convulse before the mottled monster leaned down, spittle flying from his jaws as he yelled furiously: “You tell me right now or I make this pain here seem as pleasant as a summer's breeze in comparison to what I'm gonna do to you! You tell me right now or I eat you alive!”

“P-Phylactery!” Prestige finally howled miserably, a twist of despair running through her as she opened her bloodshot eyes, and the pain boiled down to a dull ache again as Cancer looked down at her intently, frowning in confusion as the unicorn whimpered and breathed weakly, a bit of foam falling from her jaws as tears rolled down her cheeks. “Phylactery...”

The mottled white monster growled at her irritably, clearly not understanding, and scared of the pain, scared of the monster, scared for her life, Prestige looked up and said in a broken voice: “She's a Lich. She's anchored to this world by a physical object... her music box... it... it contains her soul...”

Slowly, the monster grinned as he leaned forwards, looking excitedly back and forth. “Now we're getting somewhere! Yeah, you keep this up, girl, and I'll make you big and strong, just you wait and see... so this is where the punk and the zombie live, huh? Good. Good, I'm gonna take a look around... you pick yourself up, little girl, and don't do nothin' stupid. You're startin' to look real sick, and I'm the only one who can keep you alive.”

Prestige moaned weakly, trembling on the ground as she breathed harshly in and out, and Cancer grinned before he turned slowly around. He headed down the hall first, sniffing at the doors before shoving one open and looking into a room that looked long unused, eyes roving back and forth before he licked his teeth in delight as they settled on the thing that the reek of the zombie was coming from, and he walked over to peer down at it with interest.

It was a box of some kind, with a figure of a winged unicorn on top of the ornate, antique wooden rectangle. It was pretty, and he guessed it was fragile, too, as he reached up... then grimaced and looked down at his half melted foreleg before turning and heading out into the corridor, shouting: “Hey, girly! What happens if I smash this thing that smells like the zombie?”

Prestige shook her head weakly, and Cancer glared at her before his eyes glowed: a moment later, the unicorn was writhing on the ground, screaming in agony before she shrieked: “I... I don't know!”

“Oh, fine, loser. You're stupid.” Cancer muttered, glaring at her still and making her convulse with pain before he finally let the poisons settle, and Prestige fell over on her side, sobbing weakly before the destruction entity added disdainfully: “I don't like your whining. Get your ass off the ground, go wait for me in that big room up there, and shut your weak little face. We gonna have a chat once I'm done looking around.”

Prestige could only whimper in response, shivering as she slowly hauled herself to her hooves. She trembled violently, thinking of running, of trying magic, of doing something, anything... and then instead, she simply slowly dragged herself into the room and silently looked up and around at the pictures on the walls. She saw Antares' family, and Antares himself: she saw honorable ponies, and warriors, and the strong and the loyal, and tears slowly spilled down her cheeks as she dropped her head forwards and whispered weakly to this family: “I'm s-s-sorry...”

She couldn't do anything. She couldn't do anything, even as she heard crashing and clanging, and then Cancer chuckled before he left the room that was almost sacred to Antares and Twilight: Luna and Scrivener's old bedroom. The mottled entity grinned as he crossed the hall and shoved through another door, before sniffing at the air as he crowed: “Oh how cute, it's the punk's room! And it smells like you, too, oh, how sweet!”

He laughed, then paused and glared at the mural covering one wall, shivering in disgust at sight of it before stepping forwards as one foreleg transformed, raking a bony claw across the surface. Plaster burst up as paint chips flew in all directions, and then Cancer glanced absently at a pocketwatch sitting on a nearby bed table before slamming his claw into this as well, smashing it as he said disgustedly: “What a piece of garbage.”

With that, Cancer turned and headed back into the hall: he continued his rampage through the house, guzzling down the few chemicals he found, chewing up magical artifacts, ripping apart papers and tearing holes in walls and destroying what he pleased. And Prestige only sat mindlessly, numbly holding herself and shivering as pustules and ugly blisters pulsed slowly over her features and one side of her body, black poison visibly throbbing in her veins as she tried her hardest not to cry... but did nothing even when Cancer ripped his claws through the paintings here and there around the living room, sparing nothing from his destruction.

Then, finally, the monster headed down the hall... and he came back with a grin, dropping the phylactery to the floor. Prestige stared down at it, and Cancer licked his teeth slowly as he stroked along the top of the music box, saying coldly: “Babe, you don't got a choice... it's do or die. You don't do what I say, you don't listen to me... I'm going to torture you to death. You listen to me, honey... and I'll take you in, under my wing. I'll give you power, but you gotta help me get what I want, and I think you can, sweetie-pie.”

“What are you talking about...” Prestige whispered, looking slowly up, and Cancer grinned at her widely, his red eyes glowing as a shiver passed through him.

“I ain't stupid, honey, I recognize you now that I got myself a few vitamins pumping through my system, giving me some of my old strength back.” Cancer licked his teeth slowly, stroking slowly over the music box. “You been there from the start, from when I first laid eyes on the punk-ass kid. He's important, you're important to him, hence you must be important. Important peeps go where the hell they want, and you... you're gonna take me into that dirt-hole little village. You're gonna walk me right up to and on in to that delicious-smelling place in the village. You're gonna help me find whatever the hell it is inside there that makes me so goddamn excited, and I'm gonna have myself a feast and get my strength back. And then you and me are gonna destroy that place from the inside out.

“But here's the rub. I need to know that you really aren't gonna do anything stupid.” Cancer stepped backwards, licking his teeth slowly. “And I need to take things careful and safe myself... so you're gonna smash up this pretty music box. You're gonna deal with the zombie for me, make sure... nothin' bad happens when you break this thing into pieces. And you remember, girl, I can hurt you. I can hurt you in ways you can't imagine... but if you listen to me, and behave yourself, sweetie, then I'll make you big and strong and more powerful than you can ever imagine. You and me together, we'll be a tide of awesome destruction to rip through this world... or go ahead, be a noble little goody-two-shoes, and I'll kill you and smash the box anyway.”

Cancer grinned wider, raising his head proudly, his eyes glowing with red malice as Prestige trembled violently, then slowly looked at the container that held the soul of her mentor, her friend, her teacher. “So what's it gonna be, bitch? Unspeakable torment, or ultimate power?”

“I... I...” Prestige trembled violently, and then she slowly looked around at the destruction Cancer had wrought. At everything he had done, that she hadn't stopped... and slowly, she rose her front hooves in front of herself, a sob hitching up out of her throat. Antares... I'm sorry. I'm sorry... I'm so sorry... “Please... p-please don't hurt me anymore... I'll... do it.”

The mottled destruction entity cackled, leaning forwards, eyes bright before he shoved the box towards her, and Prestige trembled and closed her eyes as she rose a hoof... then gritted her teeth before slamming it down on the box, denting in the cover and sending a crack through the antique wood before she hit it again and again, even as a strange glow surrounded it, as jarring, discordant notes rose up from the box like wails.

And just inside the gates of Ponyville, Twilight halted in mid-sentence as she stumbled, then leaned forwards and vomited black bile and blood, her eyes bulging in her sockets as steam burst up from her body. Stitches across her frame snapped, and then she screamed in agony, Antares yelling in shock as ponies and Nibelung stared in horror, watching as the Lich's head snapped back and forth as rot began to rapidly spread over her body and blood exploded from wounds that formed as her skin tore and burnt like paper.

The Lich staggered back and forth, crying out miserably as her mane burst apart and one of her limbs snapped off, her eyes rolling wildly in her head as she felt every blow against her phylactery crash into her like a strike of lightning from a vengeful god above, before she threw her head back with a scream as energy blasted through the air around her in a rush of sound and light that knocked Antares and everyone within twenty feet of her flying. And then Twilight collapsed with a broken gargle, one eye staring sightlessly, the other missing as smoke and blood and tarry black goo boiled up out of an empty socket...

And Prestige shivered as she stood over the remains of the music box. She had crushed and hammered it into nothing but an unrecognizable hulk, splinters of wood and pieces of surprisingly-brittle metal laying around it as it whispered broken notes into the air. Cancer laughed loudly at this, then he reached down and swatted the box hard aside, sending it crashing into the wall to bounce brokenly off and fall to the ground with a final, tremulous clang, shouting gleefully: “Bye-bye, zombie, and hello honeybuns, you and I are gonna have the time of our lives!”

Cancer reached out and seized Prestige by the face, grinning brightly as he half-lifted her into the air despite her cry of pain and revulsion, before he leaned forwards and chided: “Now don't you gimme that look! Out with the old, in with the new... and speaking of which, knowing the zombie's friends – oh, sorry, former friends, you killed her, toots! And hallelujah for that! – we better shuffle on out of here and hurry to that little mudspeck town!”

Prestige only nodded numbly, looking silently up at Cancer as he dropped her... then she shivered as he became nearly liquid, slithering forwards and twisting around her body, adhering himself over her body like a slimy coat. She shuddered weakly, feeling an awful, acidic burning over her frame as needles tore themselves into her back, before she gasped and blinked as the pustules and blisters over her face receded with an awful suction feeling, but left discolored bruising in their wake.

Then she stared up in shock as Cancer's voice whispered cunningly into her ear, despite the fact the shapeless thing was clinging over her body like a suit: “Honey, honey, time to go. I'm gonna ride like this... unless people go looking close, I doubt they'll notice me. But you know your tricks, don't you? So I'm gonna let you do a little magic... you just stay away from fire, babe. You won't like what happens if you try and call up a little fire.”

Prestige swallowed thickly, nodding nervously and breathing hard as she stumbled to her hooves and down the corridor, clenching her eyes shut before Cancer rasped: “You better move faster, girly. Once they come looking, don't think I won't sell you out in a heartbeat. Hell, I'll hide on inside you: make the punk you're so sweet on kill you. How would you like that?”

“What does it matter... he'll never forgive me for this, and... I... I can't fight you... I...” Prestige trembled as she strode forwards, breathing hard as she clenched her eyes shut... then gasped in pain when Cancer's needles tore deeper into her body, whimpering weakly as agony shocked through her.

“Don't cry, pansy!” he snarled, then added mockingly: “But fine then, be a good girl and tell you what, maybe I'll put the punk in a cage instead of killin' him outright. Maybe I'll let you eat him... maybe I'll cut pieces of him off and fuse them into you, how would you like that?”

Prestige only shuddered, whimpering a little, and Cancer chuckled quietly before the unicorn shivered and looked up, whispering: “I... I can teleport us to Ponyville if you let me. Or just outside at least... but I don't have a lot of strength left...”

“I can fix that.” Cancer whispered almost tenderly, and Prestige cried out as she felt agony again... before her eyes bulged, gasping in shock as adrenaline pumped through her veins, before she gritted her teeth, eyes glowing faintly as something else pushed into her. A terrible, twisted energy that made her body ripple, her horn sparking darkly as Cancer murmured: “See, babe? I can make you even stronger, too. I can make you better than Griselda... that worthless, mindless animal was nothing more than a living breeding ground, after all, a hive of dumb insects. You, though, all that magic power? I can amplify it... but...

“I need you to go to the village now!” Cancer screamed in her ear, and Prestige shrieked, staggering to the side as the amorphous jelly wrapped around her body constricted, the unicorn nodding hurriedly as she breathed shakily in and out before clenching her eyes shut, her horn glowing brighter... and after a moment, she vanished in a burst of light.

Only seconds later, in the Everfree Forest just outside of Ponyville, there was a crackle of energy and another burst of light before Prestige stumbled forwards, gasping hard. And yet, with this new strength running through her provided by Cancer, she had barely been drained at all, and it made her shiver at the thought even as temptation licked at her hooves: if the monster could do this for her even while so weak...

But then she felt Cancer constrict her and somehow force her down, like he had temporarily hijacked her muscles to make her drop low as she looked back and forth... then stared upwards in shock through the canopy of trees as several shapes shot violently past. Cancer chuckled in her ear at this, his voice carrying his unseen grin as he whispered: “Oh yeah, a whole bunch of problematic ponies just went barreling out to where we're not... and now, sweetie, now let's get into that town... you're gonna take me to that facility, because I know you want what I'm offering. I know you need it, babe, and there ain't nothing to be ashamed of in that. You want superiority? I'm gonna give you power in spades and diamonds, sweetheart.”

Prestige shivered violently... and then she nodded slowly, swallowing thickly as she dropped her head forwards and forced herself to stand. For a few moments, she was silent... and then she clenched her eyes shut, whispering: “Promise me.”

“I promise... you'll be like a goddess...” Cancer whispered silkily... and finally, Prestige slowly looked up and gave a weak smile through her tears, trembling hard as she nodded slowly.

“Okay.” Slowly, Prestige forced herself forwards... but after the first step, it became easier. After a few stumbling paces out from beneath the trees and into the field, her gait straightened out, and she strode quickly towards the open gates. Cancer snarled at this, as Nibelung guards looked at her with shock before hurrying towards her, and she murmured: “Trust me.”

Cancer growled at this, but as the Nibelung drew close, Prestige looked up and said weakly: “Help me, I... I was attacked... I need to know where everyone is... I need to warn Antares and Cowlick...”

“Fancy-corn just left after dead-corn... dead!” one of the Nibelung babbled, then he winced as Prestige whimpered, not needing to fake this as she stared weakly up at the dwarf. “I... fancy-corn Baroness and others gone, say you in danger...”

“Young fancy-corn at labs!” said the other Nibelung hurriedly, gesturing though the gates, and Prestige nodded, shivering and not liking this response before the dwarf frowned and leaned forwards, reaching out to touch her slimy shoulder. “What happen...”

“Cancer... I... I need medical help.” Prestige managed, and the dwarves both looked at her, one shifting suspiciously before she clenched her eyes shut and whispered: “Sorry.”

Prestige flicked her horn firmly, and there was a bright, blinding flash of light that knocked both Nibelung sprawling before the unicorn launched herself forwards, bolting into town. The other guards still standing at the gate didn't know how to react, one yelling, but the town was already in chaos from what had happened to Twilight and the fast departure of Celestia and others. It wasn't hard for Prestige to simply barrel through town, attracting only shouts as Cancer cackled in her ear and rasped: “Yeah, you're better at this than I thought, oh, look at 'em all riled up but heads jammed in their butts and no idea what to do!”

Prestige moved faster than she ever had in her life to the engineering building, feeling the monster's thoughts pushing into her mind, her instincts growing more attuned with his as his needles pulsed inside her body, as his poisons pumped into her veins. She felt strong and weak, she felt miserable and insane, she felt a wild delirium driving her onwards... and above it all, she felt broken and defeated. If she fought him... she would die, and he would murder everyone she had come to care about. If she didn't fight him, then she lived, but she would be forced to hurt her friends, and Antares... except Antares would never forgive her for what she had done. But what was she supposed to do? If she had resisted, he would have killed her and killed Twilight anyway... the only thing she could do was keep herself alive. Keep herself alive, and hope this monster was telling the truth: that it would make her strong. That it would help her... not care anymore... with the path she had been forced to choose.

She reached the engineering building in record time, and without stopping, she slammed into the front doors and barreled past several Nibelung workers in the lobby to crash through the employee's only doors. Cancer cackled gleefully at this, rippling over her body, becoming more visible as Prestige moaned and felt the pustules and signs of infection pushing back out along her body, as the monster declared gleefully: “Yeah, honey, honey! Oh, you know where to go, too? This day gets better and better and better and-”

They rounded a corner, and Prestige skidded to a halt: just a few feet away, Antares was opening the door to the secure research wing, and he stared in shock at the sight of Prestige as the door behind him swung open. He gaped at her, and Prestige stared back... before Cancer screamed: “Kill the punk and get him out of our way!”

Antares' eyes widened... and Prestige snapped her horn forwards with a snarl even as tears flew from her eyes, blasting Antares with a psychokinetic hammer that flung him backwards through the doorway and sent him crashing into the wall opposite with enough force to shatter cement, and Cancer cackled in delight as Prestige leapt through the door and flicked her horn to slam it closed behind her. Antares gasped in horror and pain, staring up at Prestige with disbelief before a voice shouted from across the checkpoint room they had entered: “What the hell's going on?”

Cowlick ran out of a doorway, followed by Avalon and Aphrodisia, and Prestige snarled as she snapped her horn to the side, poison and pustules pulsing over her features as her horn sparked darkly. Antares howled in agony and shock as blue mist burst up around him before hardening rapidly into ice, encasing three of his limbs in solid frost as the other ponies stared in shock... and then Cancer's slime rippled over Prestige's body before the destruction entity's head shoved up out of the mass, grinning widely over the unicorn mare's shoulder as he rasped: “Get me to the poisons, sweetie, and then we'll kill 'em all!'

Prestige shivered, then gritted her teeth and turned, running towards the door that led to secure storage. Immediately, Cowlick tried to jump in her path... but with only a flick of her horn, Prestige smashed the earth pony out of the way before she snarled and snapped her horn upwards as another surge of power ran through her, spikes of solid ice ripping up from the ground and forming a barrier between her and the ponies as Antares only stared miserably, disbelievingly, from where he had been trapped.

Prestige began to jump towards the sealed door, and then Avalon shot over the barrier, the tiny Pegasus snarling as the unicorn looked up too late with a wince... and then a tentacle of mottled flesh snapped out from the rippling mass of Cancer, slamming into the Pegasus and knocking her crashing face-first into the wall in front of them with a howl of pain. The Pegasus fell to the ground, senseless, and Prestige shivered for only a moment before leaping forwards, seizing Avalon by the shoulders and mane, and yanking her up to slam her face-first into the sealed door in front of the crystalline eye.

The orb glowed as Avalon shoved wildly at the door, and then the lock clicked, and Prestige threw Avalon to the side just as Aphrodisia smashed her way through the ice barrier, skull-like features snarling before she cursed as the tiny Pegasus bounced off her. It gave Prestige more than enough time to leap through the doorway into the corridor beyond before she snapped her horn hard, and the door behind them slammed closed, sealing them inside the corridor.

Then the unicorn gritted her teeth, horn glowing brighter as she concentrated, and a blast of lightning shocked into the door: there was a mechanical whine, and then a loud pop as the crystal eye set into the other side of it exploded and a short, beeping alarm went off. Electricity continued to spark along the door, even as something pounded savagely into the other side of it in an attempt to force it open, and the unicorn shivered before she groaned as Cancer peeled himself off her, whispering: “Yes, yes, yes! You followed the trail just like I hoped, oh, you're a good girl! Look at us, what a pair we make!”

Cancer grinned widely as he slowly forced himself up into his mottled shape, rasping eagerly for breath before he growled at the heavy door, the sign above labeled: 'SECURE STORAGE 1.' For a moment, Prestige trembled as she heard another bang at the door behind them... but it would take them a long time to force it open. They had plenty of time, she knew, as she slowly looked towards the door leading into the hangar and the meteor probe, breathing quietly as Cancer slunk towards the door, then shouted over his shoulder: “Open this!”

“Y-Yes, okay. But... you're going to make me stronger, right? I... we can't hold them off forever...” Prestige trembled, then she hesitated before looking almost pleadingly at Cancer, even as she approached the door: “Can't we make them... can't you make them...”

“Oh, you wanna save your friends?” Cancer began to grin in derision, and then he paused and looked down in thought as the green orb in the door glowed before the electronic lock clicked loudly... and as the door slowly opened and Cancer inhaled what was within, a shiver of delight went through him as he whispered: “Maybe we can.. actually, more puppets is not a bad idea... but oh, sweetie, I smell it... I smell it, finally, that intoxicating poison I've been after!”

Cancer cackled, and then he leapt through the doorway into the storage room, and Prestige trembled as she stepped in after him, looking back and forth. Volatile chemicals, dangerous-looking artifacts, massive drums labeled with warning stickers reading things like: 'Unstable: do not bring within 50 ft of open flame' and 'Do not allow to reach temperatures exceeding 10C.' It was cold in here, and Prestige shivered a little as she looked down at the vents along the floor that were constantly pumping cool air into the room, coolant pipes and strange machinery thrumming over the walls like mechanical organs.

But Cancer had eyes only for one thing: at the back of the cubical storage room, past the shelves and drums, and everything else, was a single large glass tube and four smaller vials, all filled with black liquid. They were locked inside a transparent gemstone case, and Cancer licked his teeth slowly as he almost ran towards this, hammering on it with his hooves before snarling.

Slowly, Prestige looked back and forth, and then she clenched her eyes shut as she heard hammering on the door in the hall again, whispering nervously: “It... it won't hold them forever...”

“Then do something!” Cancer snarled over his shoulder, snapping at her disgustedly: “What do I look like to you, your mommy or your boy-toy?”

Prestige flinched, then closed her eyes before nodding, turning and flicking her horn to close the storage room door behind them. Cancer, meanwhile, had turned his eyes back to the case, and he snarled at it before leaning forwards and vomiting acid over the front of the polished, gemstone locker, and he grinned in pleasure as the acid melted the crystalline covering slowly away, rasping: “Yeah, yeah, yeah, oh, come on, precious, come to Daddy...”

He giggled insanely, staring down at the melting case, before Prestige shuddered and twitched away as he sang sweetly:

“Oh, there you are, I've been waiting for so long,
Oh, oh, oh, my heart's beatin' so strong...
For you... you... and only you...

Oh, I've been waiting so long, heard your cries all night!
And getting' here took all my will and my fight,
But I'm here now, for you, you, you...”

Cancer giggled to himself, then he licked his lips as he pushed his front hooves against the rotting crystal, dragging them slowly down against the surface and accelerating the decay as he added in a hungry voice: “Just riles my blood on up, yeah... oh, the songs I'm gonna sing once I get this stuff in my system...”

“Are you going to make me strong now?” asked Prestige quietly, and Cancer glared over his shoulder at her irritably as the unicorn mare shivered, tears pricking at her eyes as the cold tickled over her body .”I don't... they'll never forgive me... I need... I don't want to feel anymore...”

“I hate your whining.” Cancer muttered, and then he grinned as he glanced back at the melted casing, shoving a hoof forwards to seize into the large tube at the back of the locker before yanking it free and gazing raptly down at it, whispering: “But yeah, toots. I'll make you real nice and strong... once I get a taste of this myself.”

Cancer slowly rose the tube above his head, then he twisted it hard and snapped it in half, eagerly opening his mouth wide as black corruption and poison spilled over his features and into his maw... and almost immediately, Cancer shivered before throwing both sides of the broken tube away, screaming in delight and making several of the chemical jars and beakers stored over the shelves tremble violently. “Yeah! Oh yes, yes, yes! It's what I've always wanted, oh hell, that has a kick!”

And Prestige could only stare in horror as before her eyes, Cancer absorbed the dark, potent liquid into his body, which filled out, became solid again, his mottled white flesh returning to normal as his red eyes blazed before he gargled, head snapping back and forth, grabbing at his skull as he rasped: “Destruction. Evolution. Hatred. Kill them all. Only the Void. Return all to the Void. Become powerful... end all existence...”

Cancer shrieked, dropped forwards... and then snapped his head up with an insane giggle, staring across at Prestige as she stared back in horror, breathing hard before the monster turned around and greedily smashed through the rest of the melted locker, grabbing up the vials as he whispered: “Oh honey! Once my body absorbs all this power, all this poison, I'm gonna be perfect. You and me, toots, we're gonna kill everyone, and then ourselves and who the hell cares about anything else, right? Hell, maybe I'll let you have some fun on the way, oh, oh, oh, I need to get more of this stuff!”

Prestige was only staring across at Cancer, at this mottled, monstrous thing, understanding that no matter what it said or did... it was only going to destroy. And slowly, her fear ebbed away as she looked at Cancer's back as he shoved vials in his mouth and chewed them up like a greedy animal, swallowing corruption and glass shards alike without a care in the world as the unicorn mare looked down silently. She had no doubt that Cancer would make her powerful... she had no doubt that even if the cost was high, she wouldn't care. And she knew that no matter what she did now, she would never, ever be forgiven for the pain and suffering she had caused.

She was a unicorn, a pureblooded unicorn noble, but she was no hero. Like all in line before her, she was a coward and a failure, not a victor: her ancestors had simply abused the gifts they were given, to enslave other races and steal wealth and prosper on the backs of others. And here she was... ready to destroy everything she had helped build. She would be lying if she didn't admit the allure of power was part of it... but she would be lying as well if she didn't say that most of all, she was just afraid of pain and death.

But as she reached up and touched her own face silently, she thought of Burning Desire: willing to let Twilight Sparkle, the mare he loved, go free to the ponies she cared about most when they returned. Willing to aid in every way with bringing those she adored back, giving his all to help her... even though it meant that he would lose her, whom he loved so deeply and dearly and truly. And she couldn't even face a moment of pain to say 'no,' had eagerly helped out Cancer to avoid suffering and hurting... had hurt Antares Mīrus, who she loved.

The first lesson with the fiery unicorn slowly came to mind, unsummoned, filled up her thoughts, and he heard his voice, the tenderness, the strength, the wisdom beneath the masks the demon wore: You must learn to master your emotions, and your beliefs, and everything else inside of yourself. You must learn to use your magic under any circumstance, at any time, without hesitation, with ultimate focus. You must learn to be able to use magic even if it will hurt you: you must learn most of all... to never be afraid. Master yourself, Prestige, and you'll be able to learn any spell... and better yet, you won't end up like me, a mess of nothing but longing and silliness...

Prestige breathed slowly in and out as Cancer twitched and giggled and rippled in front of her, and then she slowly closed her eyes, tears rolling down her cheeks as she understood what she needed to do. What she should have done from the start before she slowly looked back and forth at her surroundings... and then smiled faintly, realizing that no. Maybe everything had worked out for the best after all. Maybe Destiny could be cruel, but now this moment in time was hers to choose what to do... whether to be strong, or be nothing more than a coward.

Prestige's horn began to glow... and she twitched as it lit up with radiant light, Cancer frowning as his head rose up before he snarled over his shoulder at her, asking sharply: “Hey! What the hell are you doing, I don't need no goddamn magic help, I just need-”

And then Cancer's eyes widened as Prestige gritted her teeth, her tears beginning to boil on her face as she rose her horn higher, and sparks shocked along her body as the glow built, and built, and built. Cancer stumbled, dropping the last vial of corruption to the floor as he spun around, shaking his head wildly as he asked incredulously: “You crazy bitch, what the hell are you doing?”

“What I should have done before...” Prestige replied in a whisper, and yet it was like a shout in the stillness of this room, as Cancer's red eyes widened and he shoved himself back against the wall... and the agony, the pain in her body, the feeling of the poison and blood boiling in her veins meant absolutely nothing as images of Burning Desire, and Twilight Sparkle, and most of all, Antares Mīrus, filled up her mind. “I am Prestige Luster...”

Her horn glowed brighter, a single flame bursting from it... before the blisters over her features popped with bursts of steam, and the side of her face and her mane burst into flames, fire spreading greedily to her shoulder and down along her back and one limb, as Cancer looked wildly back and forth... but there was no exit, no escape, as chemicals began to bubble and boil around them. “I am a pureblooded unicorn, of noble heritage...”

“You... you stay away from me! Stay the fuck away from me! Get back, you crazy bitch, get back!” Cancer screamed, his red eyes glowing with terror, mottled white body rippling violently as he shook his head wildly. But Prestige only snarled, her eyes and horn glowing through the flames wreathing her entire form now as she forced herself to step forwards, her hooves so hot that they melted the floor beneath her with every dragging step she took.

“I am a citizen of Equestria, and Ponyville... and above all, I am a pony who will live up to the example set by those around me... and I won't let you hurt Antares or anyone else!” Prestige shouted, no longer feeling pain, no longer feeling anything but raw determination as her body surged and wreathed with fire and flames, as heat boiled off her in waves, cracking glass and warping metal. Cancer fell backwards, staring up at her with terror, covering his face as she loomed over him, a pillar of radiant flame before she threw her head back and roared, as sharp tears cut through the flames burning over her face: “I'm not afraid!”

Cowlick and Aphrodisia both looked up in shock at the scream of terror and fear that rose up, the wail of absolute defeat, as they tried to pry open the security door... and the explosion that followed blasted the door open with enough force to send them both flying across the room, crashing limply into the wall next to Antares as cracks ripped through the ceiling above and Antares was jarred free from the last of the ice covering him. Even Avalon was knocked sprawling with a yell from where she had been helping tear up the frost, whacking her head off the wall as Antares cursed in shock at the tremors that passed through and all around him before he looked up as dust pattered slowly down from the ceiling, and screamed: “Prestige!”

Antares rushed forwards, forgetting everything else as he rushed through the shattered doorway and into the hall beyond, gasping at the wave of heat as he looked in shock at the sight of what had once been a storage room... and now, was nothing but a massive, gaping crater, a few chunks of steel standing up here and there, liquified metal dripping slowly here and there from distorted girders jutting like bones out of the wide hole in the rooftop. Antares shook his head in disbelief, staring at the melted floor, the ashes and embers, the smoke that filtered up from the wrecked and broken hulks... before one blackened, broken shape stirred near the center of the crater, and Antares trembled as he looked at this, whimpering weakly.

Slowly, a red eye opened... and then broken, gnarled teeth spread in a deranged grin as the twisted maw rasped for breath. The ugly, mottled hulk of the blackened and burnt body shivered, nothing but a melted ruin of what had one been an upper body, and a single limb: the raw force and heat of the explosion had turned its hide into nothing but blackened glass, distorted and almost completely destroyed it as the shape gargled... then managed a weak, broken laugh.

Antares stared, breathing hard in and out as Cancer grinned up at him from the bottom of the crater, single eye staring as he whispered: “Oh, look, it's the... the punk-ass kid. W-What's wrong... you look... like you're gonna... cry, cry, cry...”

The young stallion only shook his head mutely, then he strode slowly forwards, ignoring the heat, the pain in his hooves as he strode disbelievingly down into the crater, staring in horror at the remains of the destruction entity as he gave another gurgling laugh, then slowly forced his head up... but just that exertion caused new cracks to form in his skull, ashes and embers floating off the charred husk as he rasped: “Yeah... I see, you... you were just the distraction... a... worthless bluff. What... what's wrong? Oh, I didn't expect... the bitch to turn on me like she did... but I made her kill the zombie. I made her hurt you. And... it didn't take... all that much...”

“Shut up...” Antares whispered, trembling, staring down at the horrific, mottled ruin in front of him. “Don't you talk about my Mom or P... Pres... Prestige...”

He clenched his eyes shut, shivers wracking his body, and Cancer gave a weak, broken laugh before he leaned up a little further, asking tauntingly: “What's wrong, boy? You... you hurting? Oh... that makes me feel like even... even if... I didn't make it all the way... I still succeeded. Look at you... failure written all... all over your face...”

“Shut up...”

“Nothing but a... child... crying for mommy... who I made your little bitch kill. And she... she killed me, alright, but I... still poisoned her. Took her away from you... and she was so eager to get power that I think she would have done anything I asked if I'd had the mind to...”

“Don't... don't say another word, you... you stop it... you stop right now.” Antares breathed hard in and out, rasping for air, tasting smoke and death and poison as he snarled down at the monster and shivered as tears spilled down his cheeks. “You s-stop it right... n-n-now...”

Cancer grinned... then reached up and seized into Antares' face in a sudden movement, even as pieces of his claw and limb peeled and broke off. He forcefully yanked the young colt's head down, single, insane eye glaring into Antares' own as he mocked: “What are you going to do... cry about it? Look at you. Pathetic pile of shit... couldn't save anything, could you? Couldn't stop me... led me right to the Skin Walkers and the bug queen... got your friends killed and mommy dead and your girlfriend torched herself and here I still am. Here I still am, and all you're doing is crying and moaning...”

Antares shoved Cancer's limb away, and it shattered like glass into embers and smoke as Cancer fell back, laughing loudly. The young stallion felt his mind breaking down, felt rage and something deeper and crueler rising up in him, felt like he was losing himself before the destruction entity grinned. “How's it feel to be such a weakling? How does it feel to know that... that this all could have been stopped... if you only had a little bit of guts, punk? If you weren't such a worthless failure?”

Antares snarled and leaned forwards, slamming a hoof into Cancer's face, and he brought blow after blow crashing down into the monster, crushing in his ruined body, splattering his remaining red eye, sending up ashes and embers and smoke and the little goo that remained beneath the brittle, molten shell that had formed over the monster, until finally, Antares dropped forwards, breathing hard in and out, tears cutting through the filth now splattered over his features as he leaned on a hoof pinning down the remains of Cancer's chest... before the monster chuckled through its broken skull and whispered quietly: “Just what... I expected from you. Even after I kill your friends, your family... you can't bring yourself to... to do a damn thing... about it. All you can do is cry... and make your stupid... futile little gestures... and... give me one last laugh before I die. But look on the bright side... mommy and your precious little... Prestige... will never know what a coward you are...”

The young stallion shivered, eyes wide and staring, breathing hard as he felt something inside him quaking, trembling... and then he gritted his teeth as it snapped and whatever was inside him gave way, plunged down, and a vicious, roaring, primal instinct took over that refused to be denied as he shoved himself away from Cancer, his horn glowing white as he snarled: “Am I a coward now, Cancer?”

He snapped his horn upwards, and white flames burst into being over the destruction entity's mottled hulk, the monstrosity screaming in agony but Antares' sharp fangs twisting into a grin, head raised high and eyes glaring furiously down at the monster through the blood masking his face. Cancer shrieked and howled as he spasmed, smoke boiling up from the little that was left of his remains as he was slowly, painfully charred away little-by-little over slow, drawn out minutes of agony. And the entire time, Antares only grinned, his eyes glowing, taking pleasure in the cruel, vicious revenge...

And finally, Cancer's howls ceased, and Antares let the white flames die out as he lowered his head forwards before he stomped a hoof down into the little that remained of the destruction entity. The few pieces that remained shattered into a cloud of ashes, and Antares smiled grimly before he shivered once, reaching up and touching his forehead, breathing slowly as everything that had happened crashed into him all at once... and slowly, he drew his hoof down his face, smearing the ashes and gunk there as he stared down at what he'd done: at the pieces of the broken and dead destruction entity, and he shook his head weakly before staggering backwards and forcing himself to stumble around in a circle.

Antares dragged himself up to the lip of the crater, stepping out into the hall as a shiver went through him, and when he looked slowly up, he found Celestia standing silently, waiting for him. He looked up at her, and she gazed back down at him before she closed her eyes, bowing her head forwards as a tear rolled down her cheek, and the young stallion lowered his head as another tremble went through his body. His heart thudded, and his entire frame quaked as he breathed weakly, tasting death and poison as his eyes slid closed... and as he thought of Prestige, and of Twilight, and of Rustproof, and everything that had happened, it all simply became too much, and all Antares knew next was that he was crying, he felt alone, and there was nothing at all in the world that could console him.