• 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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The Ghost In The Machine

Chapter Thirty Six: The Ghost In The Machine
~BlackRoseRaven

It took both ponies and demons a long time to adjust to the corruption, and its effects: while the demons grew stronger in this atmosphere, their primal drives were also visibly strengthened, and Pinkamena kept licking her teeth as Aphrodisia shivered and panted now and then, drawing her eyes hungrily through the ponies they were walking with. Only Atrus seemed unaffected by the dark mire, the hulking demon drawing himself along with the same calm stoicism as always.

The ponies, on the other hoof, were sickened by it, heads aching as the corruption filled their mind with bad memories and made old sorrows and pains rise to the surface. It made muscles feel like rubber, and even Rainbow Dash seemed to have trouble keeping to the air, like the entire atmosphere had been made toxic. But thanks to willpower and Cowlick's amphetamines, the ponies were forcing themselves forwards.

Celestia and Scarlet Sage both seemed relatively unaffected, but Antares was having the worst time of all of them: he kept stumbling, and his mind was reeling, and his insides felt like they were tearing themselves apart. Horrible visions kept flooding his mind, but what bothered him worst of all was that there was this creeping, unholy feeling that it only hurt so much because he was striving so hard to not give in to the visions, to not let himself simply drop into the hungry, waiting darkness... it felt like the corruption was actually making him stronger, responding to him like an old friend. And that scared him, worse than he wanted to admit, and only made everything that much harder.

He refused to complain or give in, however, not when he felt something inside him twist or claw at his guts, dragging himself onwards... but every now and then, he took a short break by flying up on top of the wagon to land beside where Discombobulation was hiding, the Draconequus roughly the size of a ferret at the moment and shivering in distaste at the atmosphere, refusing to touch the corruption whatsoever. He was kind enough to create a thick brush that Antares was able to use to wipe the poison off his hooves whenever he needed to rest, though, and the small gesture helped keep Antares going in this nightmare they had stepped into. It reminded him that no matter where they were, he could always rely on his friends and family.

It took them several hours to reach what had once been Canterlot, and thankfully, their travel took them onto a dusty, cracked path that led up through rocky and ruined mountains, and out of the mire-soaked wasteland. They moved slowly but surely, and Antares felt a little better here, able to keep pace at the front of the line beside Celestia despite the cramps still ripping through his body, his wings shivering and fluttering weakly now and then.

They took their time on the march, holding quiet conversation here and there to try and break the eerie silence that hung over this dark and decrepit world. They had seen no signs of life yet, only signs of life that had once been: bodies that seemed to be rusting more than they were rotting, shaped like gray, soulless pony-puppets, tumbled and broken as if they had been trying to continue their endless duties even while their world collapsed into nothing but ruin.

They reached the base of Canterlot and found what had likely once been some kind of tunnel entrance, but the archway had been torn apart, and piping and what looked like immense pistons and an oversized engine had fallen from the side of the crumbling cliffs that the metallic and monstrous castle above stood upon. Wreckage lay here and there, but Celestia, Big Mac, Rainbow Dash and Pinkamena were able to shove a large, broken section of piping at the side of the road out of the way, and revealed a half-hidden pass. It looked like it had once been flooded out by a spill of corruption, but that same corruption had now long-hardened into a bridge they carefully made their way over.

Even without checking the map in the transport wagon, Antares instinctively knew where to go, leading them onwards... and even though they had been walking for hours and hours now, none of them wanted to stop. Instead, they continued the march, slowly circling around the enormous mountain that Canterlot rested upon, carefully making their way over and around piles of wreckage and debris that had fallen from the ruins of the castle above, Antares trying not to wonder what had done so much damage to this world... why it was that here and there, they came across what looked like wild, rampant signs of destruction that had been done simply for the sake of destruction.

As they made their way onto a dusty road carved through the mountains, Antares glanced up, and then he silently gestured with his head to the side when Celestia looked at him. And slowly, the ivory mare looked up herself to see an immense train bridge in the distance through the mountain peaks, apparently extending from the back of Canterlot and heading far into the distance. Both ponies also noted the fact that the pipeline continued beneath this, and Antares shook his head slowly as they continued onwards, murmuring: “At least we know we're headed in the right direction. But we should stop and make camp soon, Aunt Tia...”

“Once we're out of the mountains, Antares, we'll check. But none of our soldiers want to stop and... sometimes it's best to let the army moves as it wants.” Celestia replied quietly, then she grimaced as they passed a rocky, gentle slope over which were sprawled the dead, unmoving bodies of both griffins with plates of armor melded into their form, and more of the rusting, hollow-looking gray ponies. “This is both better and worse than I imagined... I would have preferred walking into an ambush than walking into this wretched place, Antares. This... awfulness is far more effective a weapon than an enemy's claws and blades.”

Antares shivered a little, nodding silently as they strode onwards through the barren, bleak world. The young stallion felt pains and aches radiating through his form still, but now he was glad for them: pain gave him something to focus on apart from the abysmal atmosphere, the horrible feeling like they had arrived far too late, with far too little... like they couldn't imagine the enormity of everything that had truly taken place in this macabre nightmare...

After two more hours of travel, they reached what looked like endless, dark wastes. There were strange buildings here and there, and metal pipelines, and silent machinery amidst ruins and wreckage... but the only real landmark was the bridge. Parts of it had collapsed here and there as if torn apart by some tremendous blast, just as some of the other ruins they passed by looked like they had suffered the same fate... but just like at Canterlot, Antares somehow knew his parents weren't responsible for this. Somehow, just by looking at the bridge, he knew that they had taken the train, as half-forgotten memories rose up through his mind...

Celestia nudged Antares gently, and the young stallion looked at her blearily, trembling a little and not knowing why as he heard quiet crying rippling through his thoughts, before the ivory winged unicorn said gently: “We'd like to stop here, Antares, and make camp. Is that alright with you?”

Antares nodded weakly, and then he looked out into the distance, Celestia hesitating before she leaned forwards and reached up to touch his shoulder, saying quietly: “I need more of a response than that, Antares. For all intents and purposes, you're in charge right now, and I'm your second in command. This is your mission, and we'll listen to your orders.”

Antares slowly looked over his shoulder at the caravan, seeing his friends in front, and the Yamato in back around the wagon, but all eyes looking silently to him, encouraging, reassuring, trusting in him... and the young stallion looked ahead before he whispered: “Five more minutes. I... just five, maybe seven more minutes, due north.”

“Alright.” Celestia nodded calmly, and Antares looked up in surprise at this response before the ivory winged unicorn looked over her shoulder and called: “Continue forwards, we stop up ahead!”

Antares looked stupefied, even as he fell in pace beside Celestia, staring at her... and the Baroness smiled faintly as she drew her eyes back to him, saying quietly: “I believe in you, Antares Mīrus, and this is your task, your mission. This is something you both deserve to lead us in, and you have to be responsible for leading each and every one of us through. It's an enormous burden... but you've brought us this far. I believe you'll find your parents, and I believe you'll finish this the way it should be finished.”

The young stallion smiled faintly, and Celestia smiled back at him before the young stallion looked ahead, closing his eyes as he felt the hidden notebook and the onyx star shift a little against his breast, murmuring softly: “I know, Celestia. I finally feel... confident about it. And no matter what, I think this time I'm... I'm going to do the right thing. I can be sure I'm going to do the right thing...”

Celestia tilted her head, but when the young stallion remained quiet, she didn't press the subject. Instead, she looked ahead herself, deciding to gauge Antares by what he had said before... and she smiled as, just a few minutes later, they came across the ruins of a building. The walls had been burnt out and destroyed almost completely, the doorway was just a gaping hole in the wall, but the cement flooring was cracked but intact, and the young stallion stepped with obvious relief out of the mire and up onto this before he called over his shoulder: “Let's set up in here!”

The ponies were more than happy to: the space was just enough for them to get the sleeping tents raised, and to build a fire at one far corner of the platform. Antares followed the smoke trail nervously with his eyes, but then he only shivered a bit at the sight of the dead world around them: somehow he thought their chances of attracting unwanted attention were rather slim.

While the demons patrolled the perimeter, the mortal ponies ate: Antares forewent his meal, however, giving it to Pinkamena instead, who seemed strangely-touched by the gesture. The young stallion felt too nauseated, and his body was telling him that much more than food, he needed to lay down and rest. He tried to take the advice, curling up in front of the fire, but not even Aphrodisia's toxin could help settle his rampaging mind, even as the other ponies shortly retreated into their tents to curl up and sleep.

Antares spent most of the 'night' awake: there seemed to be no passage of night or day, and time was measured only by the thudding of the young stallion's heart, and his uneven, heavy breathing. He slept fitfully for maybe an hour for the six or so they took to rest, and as Celestia began to wake the others up with the help of the demons, Antares stumbled his way out of camp and around one of the walls to vomit, spitting out bile and blood as he shivered and rasped weakly in and out, darkness swimming in front of his eyes.

When he turned around, Celestia was there... and Antares simply shook his head before whispering: “I can do this. I can make it. It's just... the corruption, it's getting in my head... I can't stop thinking of all the bad memories and it makes me...”

“Alright, Antares. Ride on top of the wagon for today.” Celestia soothed quietly, and the young stallion had hung his head before the ivory mare shook her own firmly. “No, it's not weakness. I... I should have thought about the effects that the corruption would have on you, even if we didn't know that Valthrudnir's world would be so... formed from it. I'm sorry.”

“No, it's... it's not your fault.” Antares shook his head slowly, then he looked up and smiled faintly. “I'm okay now. I'm better when I move... let's just get moving.”

Celestia sighed softly, then she nodded slowly before saying quietly: “Just remember to take care of yourself. You need to take care of yourself, Antares, if you want to be able to take care of others. Understood?”

“Yeah.” Antares closed his eyes, bowing his head forwards before he shook his head and took a slow breath, then he squared his shoulders and steadied himself. “Let's get moving, Aunt Tia. We still have a long way to go.”

The ivory mare nodded slowly in response, and in five minutes, the group was moving again. After so much exposure to the poison, the ponies seemed paler, weaker... but at the same time, it seemed like their minds were at least handling the toxins better. Antares could still feel it playing tricks on him, though, just like he could see how it was keeping the animal sides of the demons and Nightmares bubbling just below the surface, and even Celestia had a certain darkness about her, an almost unnatural glow in her eyes as her rainbow mane and tail sparked quietly now and then.

After an hour or so, however, Antares frowned in surprise as his attention was drawn towards something in the distance... and he shivered in horror as Celestia looked up and murmured: “The corpse of a Tyrant Wyrm... the corruption all around us must be stopping it from decaying. But... believe it or not, Antares... that's a good sign.”

“That's a good sign?” Antares laughed a little, almost sounding hysterical as they drew closer to the monstrosity, the young stallion shivering in horror at the sight of the creature: the fallen beast had once been covered in golden scales, but many of these had peeled off its draconic form, and others had rotted into ugly blacks and melted into sloppy, dark sludge. It was shot through with scars of white, like a ceramic statue that had been smashed and hurriedly glued back together by incompetent hands, every break put on display instead of hidden away.

Large, conical spikes stuck up out of its back like pistons, and its teeth were bared in a wide grin, its hollow sockets making the death mask of the draconic parasite all the more intimidating and terrifying... like at any moment, it could crawl back to its claws, as if death held no sway, no meaning for the body that was just waiting for a reason to once more pervert the world of the living with its presence...

Antares looked ahead... and then he groaned in pain, grabbing at his stomach as he felt a massive, agonizing cramp tear through him. He shivered violently, then cried out in agony, dropping forwards before he coughed blood... then howled in misery, more blood bursting from his jaws, hearing screams and yells around him but not feeling Celestia's hooves as something twisted and ripped and tore through him...

He looked up as Celestia leaned down over him, coughing blood onto her face... and then his head reared back before he felt his throat distort, agony tearing through his body before he vomited out a thick, sludgy substance of red and white that splattered over Celestia's features and armor. She cried out... and then Antares gave a raw, broken scream of denial as he flopped down on his side, gazing up in shock as the mass of slime writhed eagerly against Celestia, as tendrils formed in it that snapped into her mane, tore wounds over her features, left scratches over her armor.

The ivory mare stumbled backwards, then she snapped her horn upwards on instinct, her body releasing a shockwave of golden force that knocked both demons and ponies stumbling but thankfully dislodged the goo from her face, sending it flying away. In midair, the shapeless gunk transformed, flipping once and smashing down on four hooves, red eyes forming in mottled white features as broken-toothed jaws greedily licked the blood off its face, before Cancer screamed: “Did you miss me, pathetic little ponies?”

“No!” Antares howled miserably, trying to claw his way up to his hooves, but he only spasmed in the mire before he vomited blood again, gargling weakly: but for now, raw horror overwhelmed the agony in his body as he stared at the monstrosity, shaking his head as tears leaked down his face to mix with sweat and mud and blood.

Cancer, however, only grinned, straightening slowly as he looked back and forth as ponies and demons both stared at him, and Celestia snarled... then shivered and stumbled a little as blood and pus spilled from infected wounds over her features. “Oh, what's wrong, little pony? Ain't you glad to see me? Shouldn't you be smilin' about the fact I didn't kill you right away, boy?” Cancer threw his head back and laughed, then he grinned and rose his front legs as they transformed into claws, eyes blazing with red light. “But oh, honey! That long, hard wait was worth it! Now, now, look where we are! Look at me! God, the power, the power, the power!”

Cancer threw his head back and roared to the skies in delight... and then a golden fireball slammed into his chest and knocked him staggering backwards, the monster howling as he burst into flames as Celestia shouted: “Burn every inch of him to ash!”

Demons roared and ponies charged fearlessly forwards, but Cancer only snarled as he snapped his claws upwards... and mottled white flesh mixed with black mire as it spread over his body, extinguishing the flames as he rasped: “Oh, you that eager to die, meatsacks?”

As the others fought, Meadowlark ran to Antares, cursing as she looked hurriedly over him... and as the young stallion coughed blood again, the Pegasus leaned down and touched his stomach, just under the breastplate's edge, and Antares screamed in agony as the mare winced and drew her hoof back, seeing how beneath black coat there was hideous, worsening bruising... “Oh god, you've been torn apart inside, I... Antares, hold on, this is going to hurt!”

Meadowlark reached back to her medical satchel, ignoring the sounds of battle, forcing herself not to look up even as something crashed down beside her and Cancer shouted, voice filled with dark glee: “Kid fell for the oldest trick in the book! I spread my infection into him, my blood and that sweet, sweet corruption I stole right out from under your noses!”

The Pegasus cursed as she yanked her bracer out of her pack, slipping it hurriedly on and locking it into place around her foreleg before digging through the satchel, yanking vials free one after the other as her eyes roved frantically back and forth until she snagged a jar labeled with a white cork. She quickly maneuvered this around to stab the needle through the top, trying to ignore the monster as it howled over the sounds of combat: “And then I just stayed nice and quiet and built myself back up, reconstituted inside the kid, and oh, none of you suspected a goddamn thing, with you all whining and crying and sissy-moaning about 'ooh poor baby so sad about his girlywhirlyfriend!'”

Meadowlark yanked the needle back, then she gritted her teeth before grabbing Antares by the back as he began to whimper weakly, settling slowly on his side to the ground... and then he arched his back and screamed in agony when Meadowlark shoved the needle up through his stomach, sending up a splurt of blood as more drained out from around the needle, the young stallion howling in misery as Meadowlark flexed her hoof and the bracer injected the potion directly into his flayed-apart insides. But as the potion spread, the area was numbed and flesh began to regenerate and heal, even as Antares burned with a pain like nothing he had ever before experienced.

The Pegasus mare was almost crying as she tore the needle back, tears in her eyes as she stared down at Antares as he convulsed and howled, then snarled and grit his teeth, his eyes clenching shut as blood and foam bubbled through them. And then he fell almost still, trembling and breathing hard as Meadowlark leaned over him, trembling and whispering: “I'm sorry.”

Antares tried to shake his head, closing his eyes as he felt darkness closing in around him, the sounds of battle growing dim... before he heard Cancer snarl, like the monster was right beside him, leaning over him, mocking him: “I used you all. All you stupid pieces of trash who thought you could destroy destruction incarnate. I stayed inside him because oh, that poison I absorbed... I knew there was more of it, and you were gonna lead me right to it because Momma's Boy over there cries into his pillow every night about his parents... but don't worry, if I find 'em... I'll say 'hi' for you.”

Antares threw himself to his hooves, howling in fury and desperation as he staggered forwards into the fray, snarling as Meadowlark fell backwards in shock: he ran past Celestia, who was bleeding heavily from wounds that reeked of poison, and he ran past Discombobulation as the chaos entity was smashed backwards by a thrown Yamato Guard. He ran past Cowlick and Big Mac as they blasted rifle rounds towards the monster, and he tore past Scutum and the demons as they tried to cage Cancer in.

He ran towards the destruction entity as it grinned savagely, black mire swirling through its mottled white body, giving it more power, more strength, seemingly limitless energy as its red eyes glowed and it slapped Pinkamena away like a toy before thrusting a claw towards Avalon as she shot down from the skies, the tiny Pegasus gargling as an intense, poisonous red glow surrounded her before she was hurled to the side by telekinesis as Cancer declared gleefully: “I can do anything! I've eaten at every table, I've drank every cup dry! What can you do, boy, what can you use against me?”

“Everything I've got!” Antares shouted furiously, as his horn sparked violently before beginning to glow brightly, and Cancer grinned savagely even as he turned slowly towards the young stallion, spreading his claws mockingly wide, his eyes lighting up with apparent glee at the fact that Antares had somehow survived. The monster made no attempts to move even as Soarin' and Rainbow Dash began to shoot down from either side, as Aphrodisia charged in with a roar and Scutum, Atrus, Hevatica and the Yamato all closed in like a wave led by Antares...

And then Cancer swung his claws upwards with a laugh, and the corruption around the monstrous entity exploded upwards in all directions like an awful, rippling tidal wave. It thundered outwards, and the airborne Pegasi hurled themselves backwards to avoid being dragged down by the dark matter as the typhoon of black goo smashed into the others, sending them hurtling backwards-

But Antares tore through the barrier of corruption with a slash of his glowing horn, leaping forwards as the area he had sliced through collapsed into brittle gray shale. The young stallion landed on his hooves before he snapped his head upwards, releasing the energy from around his horn in a crescent-shaped blast that Cancer stared at with dumb surprise before it smashed into him and knocked him sprawling with a scream of shock.

The mire inside Cancer's body became nothing but ash and dust that burst out from his form in a smog as the shockwave of corruption collapsed out of existence, and Antares' eyes burned as he yelled furiously: “Now! Burn him now!”

Scutum was the first on his hooves, snapping his horn out as Cancer began to get up, and the ground beneath the destruction entity crackled before it froze solid, ice rapidly spreading up three of Cancer's limbs and part of his mottled body, locking him in place. He howled in derision, then snarled when Pinkamena charged forwards with a grin and one hoof grasping the handle of the axe on her back, the monster's red eyes glowing as he rasped: “Kill, kill, kill!”

Pinkamena's eyes bulged as her axe was hefted out of her grip and spun violently as a red aura surrounded it... but immediately, Scutum flicked his horn again, sending a blast of white light into the axe, and it vibrated violently in the air before it simply dropped as Cancer twitched as if hit by magical recoil. The monster screamed in fury, trying to rip his other claw free of the ice as he snapped his free front limb out, the foreleg shattering apart into thorny, biting tentacles... but Pinkamena caught her axe as it fell, and the demon fearlessly swung into the cluster of tentacles that lashed at her, ripping them apart.

Cancer howled in frustration... and then a mortar of fire launched over the heads of those in front as the Yamato Guard rushed forwards, and Cancer looked up too late before the blast of flame hammered into him. He screamed in agony, and Antares gritted his teeth, watching as the Yamato all dropped forwards in a battle line in front of the others. They not only formed a barricade of bodies between the others and themselves, they poured their own dark magic into the flames, the fires burning with a hellish mix of red and blue as Cancer was consumed both physically and spiritually with screams of misery.

But a moment later, there was a crackle... and then Antares snarled as something ejected itself from the flames. He began to launch forwards, but then whatever was left in the fires exploded in a thunderous bang, the Yamato knocked crashing in all directions from the blast and Pinkamena sent flying as well. Antares yelled in pain as one of the armored bodyguards of Celestia crashed into him, knocked off his hooves and sent rolling before he managed to skid to a stop and catch himself, yanking himself up and charging straight after what he knew had to be Cancer.

Avalon and Aphrodisia were already in pursuit, as a mottled white shape slithered and raced over the ground, transforming as it absorbed power and mire before Cancer reformed in a burst as he fled in the direction of the enormous corpse that reeked of the Void, snarling in desperation as he dove into it and twisted quickly in through one empty socket, transforming back into mottled slime as he spilled himself through the monster's hollow skull. Cancer rasped hard in and out, panicking for a moment, body wounded and weakened... before the creature squealed in horror as he felt something rumble, something horrible and powerful and terribly-sentient as a a voice whispered through his mind in a vile, potent language that spilled straight from the Void: Harbinger of Destruction, homeless child of death and madness... come into our embrace, and let us renew our work...

“N-No, no, that's fine, thanks, t-t-that's fine!” Cancer squealed, but then something inside the Tyrant Wyrm pulsed, something horribly alive, made of pain and hatred and countless sorrows fused into one dark and grinning shape, and he felt himself seized, dragged down towards a great and awful eye that was making him part of it and it part of him...

Antares ran forwards, breathing hard, as Avalon shouted angrily at the corpse: “Get the hell out of there, you goddamn piece of garbage! Yeah, not as tough as you thought, are you? Come on, come and fight me, let's see what you got!”

Aphrodisia was growling as well... before the demon's eyes widened, and her entire body stiffened before she suddenly backed up a few paces, hissing as her features tightened into a skull-like mask. And Antares felt it too as a tremble rolled through the air, before the mire rippled beneath his hooves as if in eager reaction to the evil presence the young stallion felt. Avalon looked over her shoulder with a frown as the demon and young stallion stumbled, her eyes widening at the shockwave that passed through the rotten earth... before she winced as red light shone over her, and the tiny Pegasus trembled as she slowly looked back ahead to see baleful, hellish crimson light was now shining out of both of the monster's eye sockets.

Mire flowed up over the Tyrant Wyrm's corpse in thick rivers, pouring into the damaged areas and transforming into hideous black and ugly white scales, dark electricity sparking over the piston-bones as a rumble emanated from the terrible beast. The broken crown of six gnarled and cracked horns around the hideous monster's skull gleamed dangerously as they trembled and shifted slowly, the monstrosity's features rippling as it rasped: “All things... serve... the Void... all things... must be destroyed... power... oh, the power, filling me up, taking me over...”

The Tyrant Wyrm's claws tore into the mire beneath it as a long tail snapped upwards, then crashed down against the muck behind it, sending up another burst of sludge as a rumble spilled through the beast. The intense red light in its eyes glowed all the brighter as the ivory cracks over its form seemed to spread and thicken, and its twisted grin somehow grew all the wider as drool leaked from its jaws and black smoke steamed up out between its teeth. “Ultimate power... the... the Void... hurt... kill... destroy... revenge...”

“Back off, everyone!” Antares shouted, and Avalon was all too glad to comply with a wince, the young Pegasus shooting backwards as Aphrodisia leapt quickly away and Antares backstepped slowly. The Tyrant Wyrm convulsed as the bone pistons over its back pumped, and the draconic monster threw its head back with a fearsome roar as the unholy light grew all the brighter in its sockets.

And then, slowly, it looked down as Antares swallowed his fear and horror and snarled up at what was clearly the face of Cancer, grinning at him through the Tyrant Wyrm's hideous features as sludgy mire pulsated in ever-twisting rivers and veins over the the monstrosity's body. The young stallion breathed hard, looking up at the features of a mindless destroyer encased inside a vile devourer, of destruction augmenting and enhancing destruction in blackly-beautiful symbiosis before the monster growled darkly: “Hello, honey. Looks like we got some unfinished business, you and I.”

“Yeah. We do.” Antares replied quietly, surprised at how steady his voice was... but he could feel them behind him, his friends, his family, his allies: ponies, demons, others, and all of them people he knew he could count on. That he could entrust his life to, as he looked up bravely through his fear. “This... this is your only chance, Cancer. Surrender now, or be destroyed.”

“You? You threaten me?” Cancer laughed sharply, the sound jarring, making the mire beneath the hooves of the platoon gathered in front of him tremble before the monster grinned savagely, leaning forwards as his red, glowing sockets glared furiously down at the young stallion, then he lowered his head and exhaled a blast of foul-smelling black smoke that washed out over the crowd, making ponies cough even as Antares forced himself to continue to look calmly, coldly up, not trembling, not even letting himself blink. “You're nothing to me, boy. You're worthless, and useless, and downright stupid. Oh, I can feel such power thrumming in my veins now... I'm drawing energy from the ground beneath my feet and the sweet, sweet veins of poison beneath the rotten earth, and I've become part of something so destructive, so powerful, so deliciously decadently doomsday that by not killing yourself right now, you look like naïve, mindless retards. So go on. Die, die in front of me, my darlings! Gimme a peepshow with good ol' Mr. Death headlinin'. I hear he looks real sweet in stockings.”

Cancer leaned forwards with a mocking grin, a long, black tongue slithering up to lick along his teeth, and Antares only shook his head slowly before he straightened, as Aphrodisia stepped up on one side of him with Avalon hovering beside her, and Meadowlark stepped up to his other side with Scarlet Sage. Their presence gave him strength, and Antares gritted his teeth as he anchored himself, raising his head proudly as he shouted: “What are you but a lonely little parasite, Cancer? You want to destroy, you want to hurt people, you want to see the world burn, but what you don't get is that unlike you, none of us here are cowards, and none of us here are alone! You can scare me and you can hurt me and you can threaten and intimidate and fight me all you want, Cancer, but I'm always going to fight back, I'm always going to stand up against you, and I'm not letting you escape again!”

“Fine, kid. You wanna play that way? Let's play that way.” Cancer snarled, the amusement fading from his features before he gargled, head twisting to the side before a horrific, primal voice rasped in a terrible, dark language that Antares somehow understood, even as the others only flinched in pain: “All must be destroyed. Return all to the Void. Feast upon these broken souls, wretched and worthless as they are...”

“We are not weak! We are not worthless!” Antares shouted in response, glaring back up at the destroyer as its head reared back, looking both furious and almost surprised at the reply. “And we aren't going to simply lay down and die, either... everyone, get ready!”

The Tyrant Wyrm twitched again, and then Cancer gave a loud hiss as his head reared back slightly, crimson sockets glowing brighter as he growled: “Nothing can save you now, punk. There's nothing you and your little friends can do. Talk all you want, but I see how scared you are, I smell your fear and your pain, and I don't know which is a better flavoring right now.”

“That's funny, Cancer. You're the one who seems to be doing all the talking right now.” Antares replied quietly, looking up at the mottled monster with contempt in his eyes, and the destruction entity snarled furiously before the young stallion simply shook his head as he looked up to fearlessly meet the crimson gaze of the beast, stepping forwards and away from the group, making himself a clear target as Cancer snarled at him.

The Tyrant Wyrm roared violently, toxic breath washing over the young stallion, and he didn't flinch before Cancer leaned forwards and bit at him savagely: but with ease, Antares leapt upwards, and Cancer's jaws bit only into the wasteland as his features smashed into the ground before the glossy-black unicorn landed smoothly on the draconic monster's muzzle, charging up the Tyrant Wyrm's enormous skull before leaping through the wall of horns to land on its back.

The monster roared again in frustration, black smoke venting out of its jaws as it reared back and turned to glare after Antares, all its attention focused on him. Celestia's eyes widened at this sight, and the ivory mare immediately shouted to the others: “The chest, aim for the chest!”

The winged unicorn's horn lit up with a golden aura, even as disease visibly rampaged through her body, tried to steal her strength, and then she flicked her horn hard to the side in a sharp cutting gesture, sending a brilliantly-colored fireball blasting into the Tyrant Wyrm's exposed breast. It exploded in a tremendous flash and bang, and Cancer was knocked staggering with a roar of pain as cracks spread through his scales and his head whiplashed around in surprise.

Then Pinkamena ran forwards, leaping up and slamming her axe home into the monster's chest with a vicious grin on her features, the blade ripping deep through armor-like scales before she swung both rear hooves up and kicked savagely off as Yamato Guard threw their own dark magic into the fray, peppering the damaged chest of the beast with sapphire fireballs. Cancer howled in frustration and fury, then he stepped forwards, belching out a wave of black, noxious smog towards the group.

Avalon, Rainbow Dash, Scarlet Sage and Soarin' all leapt to the air, flapping their wings hard as Scutum snapped his horn forwards to create a sharp, cold wind, and the cloud of poison was forcefully dissipated before Cancer's jaws snapped forwards with a snarl towards the front of the group... only for Atrus to seem to appear out of midair, one of the enormous demon's claws smashing down into the end of Cancer's muzzle and knocking him off target, the Tyrant Wyrm's muzzle burying into the ground with a roar of frustration before the Wrath demon slammed both huge sets of claws down into the end of the monster's face, holding it down against the ground. A moment later, he was joined by Big Mac and Apple Bloom, both earth ponies seizing the sides of the huge muzzle of the beast to hold the draconic monster's head in place.

Rainbow Dash and Avalon both shot high into the air as Cowlick threw something to Hevatica, who caught the rounded object and then ran forwards, gracefully leaping up and using Atrus' broad back as a ramp as Cancer snarled in frustration, trying to yank his head back with a hiss of fury as his claws tore against the ground. Then the Kelpie landed on his muzzle, grinning widely around the beeping explosive in her jaws before she ran forwards and skidded up to one of the Tyrant Wyrm's sockets, spitting the grenade out into one cloven hoof and shoving it home into the glowing red light before she simply vanished.

The explosive went off a moment later with a bang, Cancer howling in frustration as he tore his head back, knocking the demons and earth pony that had been holding him in place sprawling. Corruption and fire burst of the shattered socket as the red light only increased, the Tyrant Wyrm stumbling as he screamed: “Worthless little ponies, I'll kill you-”

He was cut off as Rainbow smashed across his face in short, brief arc, unleashing a tremendous bang and a ripple of multicolored light as the Tyrant Wyrm howled... before a second, smaller but fiercer golden meteor smashed directly into his skull, sending up a blaze of golden glory before Avalon flew backwards in an arc, stunned by the impact. But Meadowlark dove forwards and caught the tiny Pegasus before she could hit the mire as Cancer staggered backwards with a scream of pain and fury and perhaps even fear, a large portion of the Tyrant Wyrm's forehead crushed in as a baleful crimson glow shone out of every wound.

And then Antares leapt back overtop Cancer's skull, his eyes closed, his horn glowing brightly before he flapped his wings hard, spinning around in midair to send a blast of white fire smashing into Cancer's features. Ivory flames burst over the monster's face, sending up gray smoke as scales and mire became brittle shale and slate and stone.

Cancer howled in misery, shaking his head wildly back and forth before the Tyrant Wyrm gargled as the red light in its sockets intensified. It convulsed, and all eyes could only stare, Antares hovering high in the air before his eyes widened as the monster threw its head back with a roar that echoed through the wastes. The mire around it rippled in response, the ground trembling before geysers of dark ooze burst up around the creature, Rainbow Dash yelling in shock as he was buffeted out of the air by a burst of mire before a second shockwave ripped through the ground, knocking many of the ponies and demons off their hooves before it was followed by an enormous wave of dark mire that flooded over the ground towards the gathered group.

Meadowlark stared in horror before she leapt upwards, flapping her wings desperately while still holding Avalon's stunned body. The red Pegasus almost made it, but the bottom of the passing wave nipped her rear hooves, dragged her down as she shrieked and dropped Avalon as the small mare's eyes flicked open in surprise... but a moment later, strong hooves caught her foreleg and yanked her upwards, keeping her airborne as she looked up in relief to see the tiny Pegasus holding onto her, shouting: “Hold on, I got you!”

Aphrodisia and Pinkamena had also managed to avoid the wave, and Celestia flicked her horn, creating a golden barrier of light in front of her and a shocked Scarlet Sage before she cursed weakly as her magic stuttered out, coughing blood as she looked tiredly up at the incoming wave: but a moment later, the Yamato Guard were in front of the two, the Nightmares protecting them with their armored bodies before the tidal wave smashed over the group.

Discombobulation had manged to summon up a shield made from what looked like an oversized disc half-buried through the mire, physically holding this up on an angle so other ponies could cluster beneath it as the wave blasted over them. He was shivering violently just from standing in the poison, however, his breathing rough but his eyes filled with worry not for himself, but instead staring into the black flood washing over them in the direction he had last seen Celestia.

As the mire and toxin surged and blasted over his enemies, the Tyrant Wyrm stumbled backwards, hissing through its teeth at the sight of the ponies that had avoided the poison regrouping. The punk kid was glaring at him, shouting orders to the others, who were all pulling themselves quickly together... and then Cancer howled as Pinkamena's axe smashed into his already heavily-damaged chest again, ripping another deep crack through his breast before the monster stumbled backwards, then stomped savagely down on her, crushing her into the dark, corrupt earth as the axe flew from her grip.

Aphrodisia started forwards with a shriek, her eyes glowing with fury, but Antares shouted to her to wait as the Tyrant Wyrm staggered backwards. Pinkamena winced as she pried herself out of the soft mire before the Gluttony demon snarled, seizing her fallen axe and beginning to yank herself to her hooves to renew the attack, eyes glowing dangerously, but Antares leaned forwards and ordered: “Get over here, now!”

Pinkamena looked up at the surprisingly-sharp command... then grinned despite herself and shook her head slowly even as she retreated, as behind her, Cancer screamed and grabbed at his head, twitching and convulsing, pistons pumping violently and sparking on his back. And Antares gritted his teeth, watching as the beast twisted in what seemed like pain and frustration, praying silently for time as behind him, he heard the mire settling and ponies beginning to dig themselves out of the dark flood of poison that had washed over them.

Cancer was fighting a battle with himself: the raw destruction part that had merged almost perfectly with the hate-filled and voracious personality of the Tyrant Wyrm wanted to attack and destroy, wanted to keep fighting until they were destroyed or it was. But the rest of Cancer, the chaos, the excuse for sentience, the needy ego, it wanted to flee, regenerate, better integrate with this new, powerful, but heavy and unwieldy body that was filled up with so much hunger and pain...

The monster's head snapped back and forth, and then it slumped slightly, staring outwards through its crimson vision, sight locking on the enormous pipeline running beneath the bridge in the distance and a large, octagonal-shaped hub. Other pipes extended out of this, connected to dormant engines and machinery, and drool dripped from the beast's jaws as both sides of the Tyrant Wyrm settled on a fair negotiation as a grin spread over its mottled features, before the beast turned and bolted greedily for the pipeline.

Antares winced, looking over his shoulder quickly before he gazed back ahead, knowing he had to make a choice, and that he had to make the right one. And then the young stallion cursed before leaping forwards, shouting over his shoulder: “Come on, there's no more time! We need to take that thing down and just trust that the others will catch up, we can't let him escape again!”

And without question, his friends were there at his side, racing along with him: Meadowlark on one side, Aphrodisia on the other, Avalon racing above. A moment later, they were joined by Hevatica and Pinkamena, before the dull-pink demon asked sharply: “So what the hell's your plan? If it's just us, we don't stand much of a chance...”

“We gotta try, right?” added another voice, as Soarin' shot down from above to join them, and Avalon grinned as she nodded to the fellow Pegasus quickly, the stallion looking up as he added hurriedly: “I flew up high to get away from that poison and see the others, but... it didn't look good, Antares, even if the others can dig themselves up out of that mud, I-”

“We don't have a choice in the matter, if that monster gets away I don't want to imagine how powerful he'll become, what he plans to do.” Antares replied sharply, shaking his head quickly as he looked up and gritted his teeth, eyes blazing as they locked on the surprisingly-fast Tyrant Wyrm that was clawing through the wastes ahead. The mire rippled around it, seemed to cut a perfect path for the beast while churning beneath the hooves of the ponies and demons, keeping them from closing in quickly as the world around them seemed to tremble in eager anticipation.

And then Cancer grinned over his shoulder at them, the Tyrant Wyrm's crimson sockets blazing before he asked mockingly: “Hey, why don't we sing a song to pass the time? Would you little fleshsacks like that, one last serenade before I rip your intestines out and feed 'em to you?”

Antares snarled, but the monstrosity only grinned, before laughing as he looked forwards, eyes blazing with baleful light as he threw his head back and sang:

“I'm gonna infect this entire world,
I'm gonna give it my disease,
I'm gonna infect this entire world,
I'm gonna bring it down to its knees!”

As the Tyrant Wyrm sang, reality around it seemed to ripple, buffeting those around Antares with waves of psychic pain and nausea as the young stallion narrowed his eyes, blood boiling in his veins. Avalon cursed in pain, but her eyes glowed with fury as she began to shoot forwards... then screamed a warning as a geyser of black mire tore up out of the ground in front of them, and Meadowlark and Antares barely dodged around the narrow but concentrated stream of poison, other bursts of mire venting into the air around them, coupled with blasts of smoke and trembles that tore through the ground.

“Oh! Sweet poisons... crawlin' through my veins,
Fillin' me up and up and up and up again!
Pistons pumpin' all that lovely putrescence,
Baby, me and this place is a match made in Heaven!”

The monster laughed again, its eyes twin pits of crimson hell as behind him, ponies and demons weaved around the vents and blasts of poison. Then Soarin' yelled in pain as a blast of mire exploded upwards and hammered into his wing, almost dislocating it and covering him with dark, sticky bog as he rolled awkwardly into the air, then fell and crashed face-first into the ground, skidding painfully forwards with a grunt.

Antares winced over his shoulder, but there was no time to stop, no time to slow, only time to keep moving forwards as Cancer continued eagerly, the monster's eyes locked on the pipeline ahead:

“With the blackest of hearts and the hollowest of minds,
This place to me feels both damned and divine,
There's no turnin' back now, no undoin' the past,
And that's just too bad, kids, 'cause the future is comin' fast.

Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah!
Sha-da-di-do-da-da!
Oh yeah, honey, baby, sweetie:
This is the place where we're all meant to die!

Oh, da-di-do-da, ha ha ha! Sha-lalala, whoa-oh!
Ho, do-dop, yeah yeah yeah!
Don't you want it, need it, scream for it? Don't you wanna,
Oh whoa whoa whoa... don't you wanna die with me today?”

Cancer's red eyes glowed, his grin spreading wider as he locked on the sight of the hub ahead, which was still slick and dripping with black corruption in concentrated form, the monster feeling its call to him before the massive Wyrm put on a burst of speed before laughing as he simply plowed into the hub. Metal parts flew in all direction as titanium tore like paper, dark poison bursting upwards as pipes snapped, sharp edges ripping against the Wyrm's scales, but Cancer not even noticing in delirious pleasure as the concentrated corruption splashed over his body. “Yes, yes! That's it, that's it!

Everything in this world was made for me and not for you,
This world is death and poison, its the perfect brew!
I'm spillin' my own infection into its heart and into its mind,
And together me and it have become destruction most divine!”

The monster threw its head back with a roar as the poisons fed into it, scales cracking as the red light intensified, body becoming gaunter even as bones bulged upwards and its form warped. The monster snarled as it grew larger, upper limbs lengthening and claws cracking loudly as they elongated, dark mire twisting eagerly over its body like living slime.

Cancer's eyes glowed like spotlight as the world rumbled around it and the creature settled back in the pit of destruction, the beast gritting its teeth in a pained grin before it threw its head back with a roar... and enormous, awful veins and roots of flesh and mire ripped out of the ground around it, snaring into the pipes and machinery, pistons bursting into life and gears grinding loudly before they began to clank slowly as rusting pumps were forced to reactivate. Electricity pulsed over the webbing and dark cables that had formed and fed back into Cancer's body as the beast lower form seemed to melt, tail dropping and merging into the rotten earth alongside the beast's lower legs as Cancer gargled and then laughed insanely beneath the bridge, front limbs reaching up to seize tightly on the supports above as it held itself in place, awful and half-dissolved and yet now mining a seemingly-infinite amount of poison from the world around it.

Antares skidded to a halt through the mire, snarling up at the beast as the others dropped into ready positions around him. And Cancer grinned back at them, living disease and destruction, hide stretched and broken, chest a spiderweb of red cracks as black sweat and poison spilled down its mutant form. Glowing scarlet eyes locked with Antares' determined, midnight-green irises, before Cancer hissed:

“And now the game is over, the apocalypse is here,
I am the Cancer of this world and all shall bow to me.
Kid, it's time to give up and lay down in this grave,
I ain't got time to waste my time with a worthless pony slave.”

Antares breathed slowly, drawing his eyes over the monstrosity, then back and forth along what Cancer had done, the webbing and fleshy cables and living veins that pulsated and led back to the monstrosity's base, locked into where the pipeline hub had once been. Bonds of hideous matter had formed over the broken pipes and yanked them into new positions, into Cancer's body itself: the beast was no longer able to move, but dragging whatever corruption remained inside those pipes into himself, seeking to evolve himself, empower himself. And around him, the two pumps and what looked like some kind of mining drill were all clanking and creakily working, pulling out more from whatever poison-filled arteries still ran with this world's black blood.

His mind worked rapidly, time seeming to stop as Antares looked at the grinning abomination; he looked at each and every detail that made up this freakish entity, the red glow, the mottled hide and the pulsating mire-flesh and... I think I understand. I think I see the only way to kill it... “No, Cancer. This is it, one way or the other. We're going to stop you.”

Cancer shook his head almost pityingly, lowering his head forwards... before Antares shouted a warning almost too late, shoving Meadowlark hurriedly to the side as the monster suddenly leaned forwards and vomited out a stream of black poison, the young stallion barely leaping out of the way before he snapped his horn upwards and fired a concentrated blast of white energy up into Cancer's face.

The monster flinched backwards with a curse of surprise more than pain, grabbing at its features with one skinny claw as mottled flesh and pulsating, semi-liquid poison became stone, and Antares shouted quickly: “Aphrodisia, Avalon! Smash that pump! Pinkamena, veins and pipes! Hevatica, break the machine behind him!”

“Insolent little brat!” Cancer snarled, and then he flicked a claw out as Aphrodisia began to dash towards the pump, a blast of concentrated corruption erupting from the ground and splashing over her as Avalon narrowly dodged, while Hevatica vanished and Pinkamena leapt forwards with a snarl. Cancer swiped a claw towards her, but Antares threw himself into the air as Meadowlark watched with shock, the leather-winged unicorn smashing bodily into the monster's wrist and ripping a narrow cut with his horn over it.

The monster shrieked, attention drawn to Antares as Meadowlark looked back and forth before her eyes widened as she looked towards her medical satchel, turning to dig in it, ignoring the sounds of battle around her, ignoring even the shifting of the mire beneath her hooves with every roar and movement of the gigantic destruction entity.

Avalon crashed headlong into a turning gear, and the pump machinery stalled for a moment before the tiny Pegasus snarled and began to smash away at the square device with her crosshatch blades: it seemed like little more than an ugly block of steel, but this side was covered in enormous, clanking gears, and pistons were whirring over the top, keeping the pump-arm and rods extending down into the ground from another side of the square boiling and moving. She manged to knock several gears loose, and the machine stuttered... but it seemed to do little else, the small Pegasus cursing...

A roar sounded from behind her, and Aphrodisia tore free of the corruption that had washed over her, her features skull like, her cloven hooves split into claws, raw muscle pulsing through her coat and armor cracked from her body expanding violently. Her eyes glowed with unnatural light as she charged immediately forwards, and Avalon stared in shock before the Dominia demon seized the pump arm, fanged jaws opening with a roar of exertion before she slowly yanked backwards, and pistons squealed as machine screamed before the heavy arm ripped completely free of the machinery.

Boiling corruption burst out over her, and Aphrodisia shrieked as she staggered backwards, scalded by the poison; worse than the burns, the concentrated corruption worked its way into her system, making it even harder to think as Avalon flew down... only to be seized by the throat and slammed to the mire, gargling in shock before Aphrodisia breathed a cloud of orange gases over the tiny Pegasus' face. Avalon's body went limp and numb, and Aphrodisia bared her fangs as the young Pegasus mare stared up at her blankly, drooling a little before the demon seized her by the head, eyes flickering as she rasped: “Help... big brother... help big brother... kill Cancer... go help big brother!”

Avalon was yanked into the air by one claw before the tiny Pegasus was simply flung like a dart by the enraged demon, mind still dazed... but then Avalon smashed bodily into Cancer's skull, and the sense was knocked back into her as Cancer howled in frustration, distracted by the bullet of the Pegasus bouncing off him before the tiny female hurriedly opened her wings and shot upwards when the destruction entity clawed at her, screaming: “Stupid bitch!”

Avalon cursed as she flew high into the air, and Cancer took a deep breath... but then Pinkamena's axe slashed down through a mess of fleshy, root-like cables that were feeding up into the monster from a pipeline, and the monster howled in fury, head snapping down as it released a cloud of black poison everywhere but in the direction of the Pegasus above. Pinkamena only grinned, however... then winced as she saw Aphrodisia plowing forwards in full demon form, mindlessly charging straight at Cancer before the pink-mare snarled as her eyes glowed, gritting her fangs as banded armor snapped and popped over her frame as her body expanded, giving in to both primal drives and maternal instinct to accelerate her transformation as she rasped: “Bad as your father...”

Aphrodisia leapt upwards, ripping her hooked claws into Cancer's body, yanking herself upwards as she grinned viciously, and the destruction entity snarled down at the demon climbing quickly up his chest before he roared, blasting her with both sound and poisonous bile. The demon winced and hissed in fury, but clung gamely on... before one of Cancer's claws smashed into her, making her scream before he hefted her into the air as he swatted at Antares with his other claw and hissed: “Stupid little toy!”

He squeezed her ferociously, crushing her armor, her ribs, her body, and Aphrodisia vomited blood as the glow faded from her eyes, the demon howling in misery. Cancer grinned, but then cursed when a blast of white flames smashed into his cheek, turning his eyes back towards Antares, distracted by the leather-winged unicorn: a mistake, as a moment later, Pinkamena leapt upwards in full demonic glory with her armor torn off and large, ashen-white wings propelling her high into the air with weapon at the ready before she dropped and chopped her axe down as hard as she could into the monster's wrist.

Cancer howled as dark mire and blood burst from the wound, fingers spasming, and Avalon seized Aphrodisia, tiny Pegasus grunting as she hauled the much-heavier body of the demon free, then let both it and herself drop backwards. She spun at the last moment, flapping her wings hard to slow their descent as Cancer glared after them, his eyes filled with rage and fury as the wound regenerated rapidly, snapping: “Cheating crowbait, I'll-”

And then Cancer cut himself off with a howl as the mining drill exploded, Hevatica hissing in pain from the blast she'd caused by superheating the liquid inside the drill. The monster twisted back and forth in agony as several large, dark-mire cables turned gray and brittle, before the monster roared in fury... then stared in horror as another explosion went up from the last remaining pump, the pistons squealing as Meadowlark winced away from sparks flying from grinding gears, the needle of her bracer buried through the metal and into the sensitive workings of the pump.

She yanked it back, then yelped and fell over when something blew up inside the machine and knocked several gears loose in a hail of metal fragments, and Cancer screamed in denial before he swung his claw towards the Pegasus, meaning to crush her... but both Antares and Avalon shot forwards and smashed into the side of his limb, shoving it out of the way. Instead, the monster almost overbalanced, bending as ashes and smoke burst up off his form, chunks of shale falling from the beast as he raved furiously: “It doesn't matter! This whole world is full of death and poison and I'll kill you all, I'll rip you all apart, and there's nothing you can do to stop me!”

Cancer roared, shoving himself backwards and arching his back, and the world around them quaked, vents of black poison blasting into the air as the wasteland shifted violently. Short, clawing waves of poison tore up from the ground, grasping at and battering them, and then Cancer seized his own head between his claws, leaning forwards and shrieking: “It hurts, it hurts, why you hurting me, chief? Why?”

A gargle, and then he rasped in an unholy, unnatural voice that sent psychic agony through the minds of all present, that turned the mire around the base of the monster into a nest of thorns and spikes and vicious claws: “All must bow to us. All must become one with the Void. Destruction is meaningless. Death is meaningless. Life is meaningless. Down, down, bring all down into darkness... kill them all...

Antares cursed, staggering as some of his worst memories played through his mind and his eyes flicked back and forth: he saw Meadowlark, grasping at her head before she turned to the side and vomited. He watched as Avalon screamed in midair, seizing her skull, while Pinkamena clung to Aphrodisia, the demon looking almost gentle in her pain as Aphrodisia convulsed weakly in her mother's grip.

The young stallion gasped and looked up as Cancer rose his head, reaching out and seizing into the supports of the bridge around him, snapping one and cracking the other. The bridge trembled violently, as other supports gave way and became unsteady as the ground and reality itself continued to ripple, and Antares' sharp eyes flicked up over the structure before they locked on a high bar up above. And the young stallion forced himself to lunge upwards and forwards even as Cancer roared and vomited out a thick stream of poison, Antares howling as acidic black mist surrounded him, blinding him, burning him, worsening the echoing memories and sorrows in his mind...

But as he reached blindly up, as he flapped his wings desperately, he felt like something grabbed his hooves, yanked him back onto the right path as his eyes snapped open, and the young stallion burst out of the other side of the smoke before he shot forwards, horn glowing and forelegs extended, not daring to look back as something warmed his spirit and gave him a single crystal-clear moment of lucidity. He shot towards the bent, damaged crossbar, the keystone of the structure, and it was like for a moment he saw into the future: saw everything that was going to happen, knew precisely what to do, and felt the faith of his friends, his family... Prestige... guiding him onwards.

Antares slashed his horn outwards, ripping through the support bar as he covered his face with his forelegs, forcing himself to tear completely through it as he shot onwards. A groan went through the rail bridge above, tremors ripping through the structure before the young stallion arched his back and clenched his eyes shut, flying upwards as Cancer roared in frustration.

The monster's own voice shook the bridge as his claws dug against the support pillars, half-yanking one out of place as he snarled in fury... and the excess damage finally pushed the decaying bridge over the edge, the few remaining supports above snapping and sending several tons of steel and concrete collapsing through metal piping and rusted girders, Cancer staring for a moment before he screamed and tried to duck away.

Stone and metal smashed down over the Tyrant Wyrm, the avalanche crunching and tearing apart scales and flesh, shattering bones, knocking the monster back and forth faster than it could regenerate as it was battered violently by the hail. It half-fell backwards, leaning back on one shattered arm before a particularly large chunk of rock tore free from above, the boulder crashing into the creature's already cracked-apart breast and shattering it like glass as it bounced off, and Cancer screamed in agony before he stared down as a glowing, staring red eye was revealed inside of the cavern of the monster's body. It looked wildly back and forth, crimson light shining up out of the awful orb as mottled tendrils of flesh wildly twisted around it... before it stared upwards as Cancer half-rose his head in horror a moment before Antares plummeted from the sky and dove straight into the core.

There was a flash, and then Cancer threw his head back with a howl, the Tyrant Wyrm's body convulsing as all eyes stared up in shock at the beast; but Antares wasn't aware of that, or anything else. All he knew was that he'd followed his instincts... and now he was in some awful, endless darkness, a deep, immeasurable void, in which pulses of red light spread through every now and then from a source that was always out of sight...

Claws seized him, yanked him backwards and threw him to the invisible ground, and a moment later, Cancer was on top of him, snarling furiously: Antares shouted in surprise, staring in horror up at the goblinoid, mottled-white beast: in whatever hell they were trapped inside, the monstrosity was solid and physical, covered in ugly, slimy scales and with glowing, bulging red bug eyes, an emaciated body, gangly claws that grabbed wildly at Antares' throat. “I'll rip you apart, punk! I'll kill you!”

Antares swung a hoof up, and was rewarded with a scream from Cancer and a burst of green blood before the young stallion snarled and tore free of the monster's grasping claws, grabbing one of the beast's upper limbs and yanking it hard down on its side. Cancer cursed, then screamed again when Antares leapt on top of him, smashing his hooves back and forth into the destroyer's face as he shouted: “No, I'm going to stop you, I'm not going to let you lay another hoof on anyone, ever again!”

“You can't stop me, kid...” Cancer grinned viciously through his bloody muzzle as a claw reached up and caught Antares' hoof before it could hit him again, then he swung his other claw up and ripped a swathe down the young stallion's face, knocking him staggering backwards with a cry of pain. Antares hurriedly backed off as Cancer clawed his way up to a standing position, back hunched up, growling like an animal before he giggled insanely, then whispered: “No. There's no way you can stop me. Because you don't know me, you don't understand me, all you are is a weak little piece of trash with all your sniveling little emotions. You think you know what killing is, boy? You don't kill. You don't even euthanize. You gently lay those undeserving sons of bitches down to a nice little rest, that's the only killing you've ever done, ever grasped. You don't got what it takes to be a real killer.”

“No, no... you're wrong.” Antares shivered, shaking his head slowly before a snarl spread over his face, baring his fangs as he looked up and shouted, trembling: “No, you're the one who has no goddamn idea what it's like! Do you know what I want to do to you, Cancer? I want to rip you apart with my bare hooves, I want to savor the sound of your screams, I want to cut you, and hurt you, until I've made you feel every inch of pain you've made me feel... I want to put all the suffering you've done to others on your head, and then I want to double, treble, quadruple it! I want to cut you open and see what's inside you and rip it out! I want to torture you in ways that would make even a monster like you hide and cry in the goddamn corner...

“And I can't.” Antares trembled hard, fighting back tears, tremors racing through his body as he shook his head slowly. “Not because I don't want to... because I'm not like you. Because so much is expected of me. Because I can't disappoint my Mom and Dad, something else you'll never goddamn understand. But oh, Cancer... oh... I want to. I've thought about it. I've wished for it. And I hate the fact with all my goddamn heart that the only thing I can do, now that we're here, finally, at the end of this long road... is kill you.”

Antares reached up, rubbing slowly at his face with a hoof before he looked steadily across at Cancer, saying quietly: “I'm going to kill you to stop you, and it's a mercy you don't deserve. What you deserve is to be left alive in a place where every day you could be boiled, cut apart, and broken down until there was nothing left of you.”

“Tough little badass, aren't you?” Cancer mocked, and then the destruction entity grinned as he strode forwards, but Antares didn't flinch, not even when the monster reached up and seized him by the shoulders, leaning down tauntingly before he asked teasingly: “What's your name again, punk? Antares, right? I think I'll call you Ant. Because that's all you are... a little tiny insect who can't do nothing but follow the orders of Mommy Dearest, living out his days as nothing more but an expendable little drone. It fits you perfectly, Ant, 'cause that's what you are. A drone. A toy. A whelp who thinks way too highly of himself, but makes a great, crunchy little snack.”

Cancer leaned down, opening his jaws before he snarled when Antares shoved him firmly backwards, the destruction entity glaring at him before the monster's expression slowly faded at the calm, unaffected look on Antares' face. And then the monster's crimson eyes widened as the young stallion's horn began to glow with white energy, Cancer hesitantly taking a step backwards as Antares said quietly: “Actually, I've always kind of liked Aphrodisia's nickname for me.”

He leaned forwards, anchoring himself, drawing on memory and magic, power and faith, arcs of energy building in the air around the unicorn as he poured all his strength forwards into the spell as Cancer leaned backwards and began to shake his head wildly before the young stallion murmured: “She calls me 'Nova.'”

With that, Antares snapped his head backwards, clenching his eyes shut as he unleashed all his energy into one powerful blast of purification, and Cancer screamed in the darkness... as in reality, the monster roared miserably, arching its back as the red glow shining out of its core was swallowed up by a fierce white aura, rays of light shining into the sky before the Tyrant Wyrm's core exploded in a tremendous blast of sound and force.

Antares was sent hurtling free, his body badly charred and flopping wetly to the mire with a groan of agony, skidding along on his side as his eyes blinked blearily... and a moment later, a second shape smacked loudly to the rotten earth nearby, Cancer crashing down with a gargle, the beast deformed and mangled. He was almost as solid as he'd been in the vision, whimpering weakly as slime slowly spilled down from his body, his red eyes glowing as his jaw worked, the two laying almost side-by-side as they stared at each other for a few long moments as the monstrosity behind them collapsed.

Slowly, Cancer rose his head and forced his front limbs under him... and then he gave a pained grin even as Meadowlark ran to Antares' side, followed quickly by Avalon. Even Aphrodisia managed to drag herself forwards, joining the young stallion, protecting him despite their wounds, and Cancer stared at them, not understanding. And in that moment, Antares felt pity for the destruction entity... pity, and with it, mercy, as he slowly forced himself to sit up, his friends' presence giving him strength, reminding him of why he fought so hard... telling him that he had made the right choice. Helping remind him, again, of why he fought with honor, and trusted in the world even when it betrayed him, and put faith in his friends even more than he put faith in himself.

“Let go, Cancer. It's over. You've lost... go back to the same Void that you came from.” Antares said quietly, looking silently at the destruction entity, and Cancer grinned brokenly, weakly up at the stallion. He began to open his mouth, but before he could speak, the young stallion smiled faintly, murmuring quietly: “Or sure, go ahead. Sing a song. We'll all sing together, Cancer, one last chorus, one last lullaby, to put you to sleep. Maybe we can't destroy destruction, but you're not destruction. You're just a coward, a crappy flu virus, and a lousy musician.”

Cancer snarled weakly at this, then he shivered violently, gasping as gray began to spread upwards through his limbs, turning to soft-looking stone as he whimpered and looked down, before Antares closed his eyes and lowered his head, whispering: “It's over. And you should let go, because I'm letting go. Of you, and all the hate you filled me with, and all the disease... all the pain you caused me. You're already gone in my mind, so there's no more need... to hurt over what you did. You took so much away from me, away from all of us, but... it's over now. I can take pride in stopping you. I defeated you, and I want to finish it in a way that... is honorable. Honor above everything. Especially what I selfishly still want... but you didn't break me, and I won't give in.”

Antares looked away, and there was silence for a few moments before Cancer looked up and rasped weakly, as the red light in his eyes flickered and veins of gray spread upwards through his body: “I should have... blown you up instead of ripping you apart inside... should... should have melted your brain, but... you were immune to my disease, couldn't... couldn't kill you that way... and now I see why. Oh, honey... you're salvation, I'm destruction. You bring the good, I bring the bad, and together we should have danced, danced, danced the night away forever... so why... how the hell did you win, when I'm the poison to your antidote...”

“Because I had to win. Because I had reasons to win. Because I'm not like you... and I'm no savior.” Antares replied quietly, as Cancer snarled up at him, before the young stallion closed his eyes and smiled with faint bitterness before he murmured in soft melody:

“And at night's end, after stars have showered us with light,
We lay our enemies to sleep with honor, not with spite,
And here I ask unto all of thee to speak for them a prayer,
Whether or not their deeds in life were foul or fair,
Death is mercy, death is kind, but death is also absolute,
It brings a sleep even firmer than the hold of Yggdrasil's roots,
So wish upon the enemy good dreams, and Baldur's gentle sign,
For they are no longer enemy, but friends of both thee and mine.”

Cancer looked up at this... and then he grinned slowly, shaking his head in disgust before he whispered in a trembling voice, even as the light started to fade from his terrified eyes, the gray spread up through his goblinoid features: “Stupid goddamn punk... I'll... I'll be back...”

“No, you won't be, Cancer.” Antares replied almost gently, and then he smiled faintly as he closed his eyes. “And the most powerful revenge I can have on you, the most cruel and freeing thing I can do is to tell you here and now... I forgive you. Goodbye, Cancer.”

“You little... piece of...” Cancer snarled, raising his head before the monster whimpered, its jaws falling open... but it exhaled only ashes as it fell still and silent. Antares looked down as the red light faded slowly from the monster's glassy eyes, and then he closed his own, bowing his head forwards, as silence filled the air and the destruction entity finally returned to the emptiness that had spawned it forth.