• Published 24th Oct 2012
  • 1,585 Views, 205 Comments

Absolution - BlackRoseRaven



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

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Keeping His Promise

Chapter Thirty Nine: Keeping His Promise
~BlackRoseRaven

The welcome back party was technically being held inside Sugar Cube Corners, but there were so many people present that the celebration had long stretched into the area outside the building as well. Luna and Scrivener were basking in the attention as Pinkie gleefully bounced around, making sure the food tables here and there were all well-stocked and that everypony was having a good time, as music played through a large stereo system Cowlick had rigged up and that was still working despite the large knife buried through one speaker, much to Pinkamena's chagrin.

Twilight Sparkle was spending a lot of her time beside Celestia, the ivory mare pacing around, talking warmly with everypony... but every now and then tossing an almost-nervous look at the Lich who was all-but stalking her, studying the ivory mare eagerly. Celestia seemed to understand what had happened, and yet she didn't speak out against it: if anything, she almost seemed envious.

Sleipnir was trying to help Pinkie Pie and Pinkamena as well, but both of the Pink Twins worked much faster than he did and with far fewer accidents. The only thing that he was actually allowed to do was carry the kegs up from the basement and set them up, while otherwise Pinkamena continually pushed him out of the kitchen and grumbled at him to go and mingle.

But delighted as Sleipnir was that Scrivener and Luna were back, at the same time, he seemed to pace around them almost warily. Likewise, he watched Celestia strangely, much of his usual good cheer seeming muted by worries and concerns. He wasn't the only one, either: Discombobulation was sitting in a corner quietly, sipping slowly at a fizzy drink and moodily eying the party as if expecting something horrible to happen, and while Rainbow Dash and Spike were talking easily with Scrivener, Big Mac was a little quieter than usual, studying the way the charcoal stallion was reacting to things, as if he felt something was a little off as well.

Luna, meanwhile, was not just soaking up the attention, but seemed almost as if she was hunting for specific ponies. She spoke to Cowlick at length, while Ross looked almost afraid the entire time, setting off the engineer's own instincts before Luna had moved on to Scarlet Sage and Apple Bloom, congratulating them before beginning to slowly probe in awkward, uncomfortable directions that made Apple Bloom's own senses tingle with worry. And others, too, Luna all-but-preyed upon, like she was testing the waters...

It was something many ponies noticed, among them Meadowlark, who turned her eyes nervously back to Antares after a few moments. The young stallion was talking warmly with Avalon and Aphrodisia, who both seemed thrilled for him... but in spite of all the happiness the glossy-black unicorn was projecting, he seemed to be trembling faintly, and his short glances towards Luna, Scrivener, and Twilight seemed not just loving, but like veiled concern. She thought he knew that something was wrong... but when she so much as opened her mouth, Antares always hurriedly cut her off, likely knowing what she was going to say and clearly not wanting to give her a chance to start that discussion, leaving the red Pegasus to eventually shake her head in what seemed like disappointment. Antares was hiding from the truth... but she knew from her own experiences that was only going to make things harder. Except she also realized that unlike her own experiences... Antares' parents might hurt more than just their child with what was going on.

Scrivener, at least, seemed to be acting normal for the most part... until, after an hour or so, Pinkamena approached and rudely shoved Spike and Rainbow Dash to either side, then reached up and seized Scrivener by his collar, yanking him forwards and making him wince. “You and me still aren't done yet, by the way. I'm going to kick your flank for all the stupid stuff you pulled.”

“You know, Pinkamena, one day I'll hit you back instead of just letting you beat on me.” Scrivener said dryly, raising his cup of punch, and the demon snorted in amusement as her red-rimmed eyes appraised the stallion. “What are you going to do then?”

“Hit you back harder, you giant pansy.” Pinkamena retorted, and when Scrivener smiled slightly, the demon growled at him and leaned forwards, seizing him by the collar with both hooves and yanking him half-off the ground, one front hoof dangling and the other still calmly holding his punch. “What, you don't believe me?”

Scrivener replied by smiling again, taking a sip of his punch, and then looking down at the cup before reaching out and pouring the rest of his drink over Pinkamena's face. Rainbow Dash and Spike both stared in shock as Big Mac's head reared back as he saw something more in that gesture... and Pinkamena slowly bared her teeth in a snarl as liquid dripped down her face before she shoved Scrivener backwards and stepped forwards into a vicious hook across the stallion's features.

Scrivy's head snapped to the side with a wince as Luna twitched, before her eyes gleamed brightly as silence fell. Everyone inside Sugar Cube Corners stared, even the cheerful music sounding muted before Scrivener slowly looked up... then grinned as he slung a hoof hard back into Pinkamena's nose, knocking the demon staggering with a curse of shock as blood burst from one of her nostrils.

She looked up in disbelief, reaching up to slowly wipe the crimson liquid from her face before she gritted her teeth, then leapt forwards with a roar, crashing into Scrivener as the earth pony met her with an eager growl of his own. Ponies yelled and all-but-panicked in response, but as the hooves of demon and charcoal stallion smashed into each other and they rolled violently, no one was stupid enough to try and get between the two as Luna's delighted laughter cut through the air, drawing shocked looks from Antares and Celestia... but Twilight was grinning widely too, and that was getting even more stares than Luna's obvious delight despite the way the sapphire mare's body was shuddering from every blow Scrivener took.

The demon managed to shove him down, slamming a hoof once, twice, thrice into the stallion's face before one of his hooves crashed into her stomach like a hammer, and Pinkamena gurgled before a second hoof struck under her chin, knocking her head back and sending her senselessly onto her back. And then Scrivener pounced on her, pinning her down by the shoulders before he smashed his head into her face when she began to look up, stunning her before he mocked: “Come on, you can do better than this!”

“You're really pissing me off, Scrivener!” Pinkamena slammed both rear hooves up into the earth pony's stomach, knocking him sprawling backwards before she snarled as she leapt up to her hooves and dove forwards, tackling him. He skidded over the floor with a wince, then narrowly dodged a hoof, the demon cracking the floorboards with the force of her blow before he seized her other front leg and threw her off to the side.

The crowd around them moved hurriedly out of the way of the two as they leapt to their hooves, and the demon ran forwards, but Scrivener was ready for her, grinning savagely as he smashed a hoof across her face before rearing back and slamming hooks back and forth into her features, her eyes bulging with shock before the earth pony seized her by the mane and scalp and slammed her face-first into the floor once, twice, then one final time, crushing her skull beneath his hooves as his muscles flexed, his eyes almost glowing, fangs gleaming as he snarled down at her like an animal and there was such obvious pleasure in his eyes, such intense enjoyment...

He began to raise his hooves... and Pinkamena threw herself upwards with a roar of fury, smashing into him and knocking him staggering before he tried to punch her, but the demon deflected the blow before she lunged forwards like an animal and bit savagely into his foreleg. Scrivener howled in pain, his back arching as his bones loudly creaked, black blood flowing down his limb... but slowly, a vicious grin spread over his face as Pinkamena's eyes glowed and she grinned almost eagerly in return despite her bloodied, bruised features.

For a moment, they were frozen like that, Pinkamena's fangs deep in Scrivener's foreleg, the black corruption pouring into her mouth, both of them staring at each other... and then they both yanked suddenly backwards before they leapt forwards, snarling and growling at each other, tackling one another. And Luna was grinning widely despite the wound that had formed on her own limb thanks to her connection with Scrivener, a perfect parallel for the stallion's... except unlike him, she bled red blood, and not black poison.

Ponies were shouting now, trying to convince the two to stop, but no one dared step forwards: others were even yelling at Celestia, but she was only watching blankly, looking numb, not responding to anything as Luna urged her husband on and Twilight was now all-but-drooling, her eyes glowing as Scrivener and Pinkamena rolled backwards before the demon flung Scrivener away.

He crashed through a table, knocking food and drink everywhere, and the stallion hurriedly leapt to his hooves before he seized one of the platters and flung it at the demon. Pinkamena ducked with a grin, but then glanced over her shoulder when the heavy metal plate smacked into another pony, her attention drawn by the cry of pain. It was an opportunity Scrivener seized on as he grabbed a cutting knife from beside a squashed cake, leaping forwards as Pinkamena turned her eyes back towards him too late before she screamed when he stabbed the knife down through her shoulder without hesitation.

Ponies cried out in shock as Scrivener bore down on the handle, twisting the knife slowly, grinning viciously... before Pinkamena slammed her head into him, stunning him before she seized him by the shoulders and lashed her head forwards, biting deep into the junction of his shoulder and neck. And Scrivener gargled as his black blood burst up, spilling down her muzzle, the demon eagerly guzzling down the corruption as her red-rimmed eyes glowed brighter...

But Luna was watching with hard, heavy pants, fascination, not anger or anything else in her eyes, even as she bled from her own wound, her mane swirling and sparking violently around her. Celestia took a single look at her sister, tried to mouth something before Pinkamena snarled as her body rippled, her size growing, her demonic characteristics tearing out as her teeth dug deeper... and yet when Celestia looked up, her knees went weak.

To the others, Scrivener probably looked like he was in agony... to her, it was something else. His hoof wasn't trying to pull her head away, but cradling her, almost stroking through her mane, encouraging her. His body was limp, but it wasn't from pain... he was still flexing, and his other front hoof was only pawing the ground when he could easily reach up and hit her, stop her. And his expression; head thrown back, eyes closed, teeth bared... it was pleasure, not pain.

The knife popped free from Pinkamena's body in a burst of blood as the wound healed itself, and the demon's eyes snapped open at the sound before she turned with a roar, yanking Scrivener into the air and flinging him into the door. He smashed through the wood and rolled limply several times over the ground, ponies yelling and crying out in shock before Pinkamena charged into the doorway and roared furiously, the Devourer demon's eyes glowing viciously, black mire dripping from her jaws as she panted eagerly, in full grip of her most primal drive: to crush, destroy, and feast.

She strode towards Scrivener's limp body as ponies watched in horror, others hurrying to the front of the shop to stare out the doorway and through the windows as Pinkamena licked her lips slowly, and then she opened her jaws wide as she began to lean down... and Scrivener's hooves reached up, seizing her by the face and yanking her head down as he half-rolled, smashing the demon face-first into the ground before he leaned down and bit savagely into the demon's shoulder. Pinkamena roared in surprise, then shoved him away... and hissed when Scrivener ripped a large swathe through her skin with his sharp teeth, licking his lips as his own eyes glowed and the wound in his neck filled with dark ooze, then visibly healed. “Only fair... a taste of me, a taste of you.”

Pinkamena's hellish grin seemed to stretch wider, and then she and Scrivener charged at each other again, smashing into one another as Scrivener's muscles seemed to bulge larger, his eyes glowing as he laughed, fearless of the elite demon he was battling. Even as Pinkamena slammed him down beneath her cloven hooves, he managed to slip free, then smash her stumbling with a blow of his own, both seeming more and more excited by the moment as Luna's eyes glowed with glee.

“This... this has to stop...” Celestia whispered finally, trembling, before she stared desperately at Luna. “This has to stop... stop it, Luna...”

“No. This is what I've always desired to see... they're playing, Celestia, let them play... oh, let them play for as long as they desire...” Luna grinned again, turning her eyes back towards the fight, watching as Pinkamena lunged, Scrivener smashed her down, and then was knocked flying himself from an uppercut. “Every twitch of pain I feel... it brings with it pleasure unbound! Oh Celestia, this is wonderful! Look at them, a demon battling my handsome Clockwork Scrivener...”

Celestia's breath caught in her throat, staring down at Luna with horror before the sapphire mare grinned slowly over at the ivory equine, murmuring: “Why should we have to hide or deny who we are? I am sure thou figured it out already... Scrivener himself is a weapon of Clockwork World. He would perhaps have become a powerful asset of Valthrudnir's, a true Clockwork Pony, had things been just a little different... but instead... he is mine. He is all mine, Celestia... he is my weapon, my monster, my husband, my lover... truly, he is my soulmate...”

“Don't hide, Celestia... I know the real reason you want the fight to stop...” Twilight whispered, and Celestia trembled at the look on the violet mare's face as the Lich slowly smiled at her. “You're getting excited.”

Celestia gritted her teeth... and then looked sharply up at a loud howl, watching as Scrivener smashed his face into a charging Pinkamena and knocked them both stumbling backwards. But the stallion recovered first, leaping forwards and viciously beginning to slam his hooves back and forth into the Devourer's features, hammering her with his hooves and every ounce of strength he had, knocking her staggering under the hail of blows before she finally managed to throw her head back and roar furiously, the sheer waves of force and rage enough to interrupt Scrivener's attacks and make him wince away.

Then, surprisingly, Pinkamena spun around and bolted straight for the doorway, and ponies screamed and ran out of the way. The demon plowed through the room, and Scrivener laughed and sat back, his eyes glowing with sapphire light as he grinned widely, his body language eager as he breathed roughly in and out before his eyes flicked up, and he whispered: “Oh yeah. Now we're talking.”

Pinkamena smashed through one of the windows above, Nibelung battle axe in her front hooves raised high and a vicious grin on the demon's face as she dropped down, swinging the weapon in a savage arc: and immediately, Scrivener leapt back with a laugh, narrowly dodging the blade as it bit deep into the ground in front of him before he seized the middle of the weapon with his front hooves, using it like an axle as he twisted his body to kick both rear hooves viciously into Pinkamena's face, knocking her sprawling.

She grunted, then Scrivener yanked the battle axe out of the ground and spun around with it, bringing it high, but Pinkamena simply kicked him in the stomach with one hoof and knocked him stumbling with a curse, fumbling the weapon. Immediately, the demon leapt forwards, tackling him over and pinning him, the axe flying loose, and she snarled down into his eyes before jumping past the charcoal stallion. She swept her weapon up and skidded around in a half-circle, but Scrivener was already up on his own hooves, running at her and seizing her by the horns jutting from the sides of the demon's head, jackknifing her body before she could raise the axe and landing neatly on her back.

Pinkamena roared, beginning to buck back and forth, snarling as she leapt around and the crowd screamed and drew away as her axe whickered dangerously out in all directions. Then the demon tried to buck forwards as she swung her axe up over her head, but Scrivener leaned backwards and swung both rear hooves up hard as the blade lashed towards him, hammering into the underside of the flat to send the weapon flying into the air.

The demon stumbled with surprise, and Scrivener reached up to catch the axe in both front hooves by the handle, grinning viciously before he slammed the butt of the weapon down into Pinkamena's skull. It knocked the demon flat with a groan, and Scrivener laughed even as he tumbled off her back and cut himself against the blade, but then he slowly turned around, grinning viciously, axe held loosely in one hoof as his eyes glowed...

“Enough, damnation!” roared a furious voice, and Celestia was almost slapped aside as Sleipnir stormed out through the doorway, shoving his way through the terrified crowd as Pinkamena and Scrivener both dumbly looked up. Then the enormous, vine maned stallion seized them both by the head before either could react., and he briskly slammed their skulls together. Luna gargled as her own eyes bulged and she saw stars, and Scrivener and Pinkamena were both nearly knocked unconscious. “What idiocy, what... what madness hast thou both been up to? And what disappointment assails me so! I shan't abide it any longer, not even from my wife, not even from my brother!”

He lifted them both easily into the air by the nape of the neck, glaring angrily back and forth between them as the axe fell from Scrivener's hooves and Pinkamena groaned, then blinked blearily. She and Scrivener looked across at each other, both covered in different hues of blood before Sleipnir rattled the two violently, and they both flinched before the vine-maned stallion snapped: “This is not how friends, family, treat one another! Oh, aye, there is nothing wrong with a decent spar, or a contest of honor, but this is neither! This is two fools, biting and growling like animals, and at what was to be a happy and peaceful party. Thou not only endangered thyselves, thou endangered others, thou hast hurt and scared and upset many ponies, and that includes thine own sister and myself, Pinkamena! Oh, fools, where is thy honor? What malady plagues both of thee, whom I love so dearly, into such acts of violence?”

Both ponies shifted uncomfortably, and then Pinkamena opened her mouth... before slowly licking her lips and closing it at the glare Sleipnir favored her with. But a moment later, the enormous, vine maned stallion sighed quietly and gently set them both down, shaking his head and saying in a quieter voice: “Nay, phoenix, fear me not. My anger is misplaced. 'Tis concern... concern and love and fear for both of thee that drives me. Now look around, at this wonderful celebration, all ruined.”

He shook his head slowly, and then without looking around, added quietly: “And Celestia, my big sister. How could thou simply allow this continue, without stepping in, putting a stop to this mayhem? 'Tis unlike thee, who could stop a quarrel of dragons with but thy glare and a few calmly-spoken words. Why did thou not step in?”

Celestia was silent, lowering her head quietly as she almost meekly half-hid behind the frame of the shattered doorway, and then Luna shook her own head and stepped quickly forwards and out into the square, frowning. “Brother, please, thou art overreacting. 'Twas no great conflict, 'twas... simply like foals at play. And 'tis not Celestia's fault she recognized that and thou did not.”

“Foals should be allowed to play, aye, sister, but even the most wonderful of foals must be taught the difference between right and wrong, and gently guided back to the path of honor when they may stumble off it.” Sleipnir replied quietly, looking over his shoulder and studying her with a faint smile, before he slowly turned around. He hesitated, looking back and forth at the crowd, before meeting Luna's eyes and saying gently but firmly: “We shall speak more upon this later, little sister. Thou art... I believe we should... chat.”

There was silence, and then Luna frowned slowly before she rose her head, her eyes becoming colder as Sleipnir leaned back in surprise. “Chat? I think not, Sleipnir. Thou art acting like old Celestia... art thou not my fun-loving brother, who helped me enjoy the world, even with all its blights and pains? Have Scrivener and I not returned from darkness and damnation to our beloved Ponyville? Is this not our sanctuary? Nay, Sleipnir, I bring with me the gift of freedom, and I shan't let anypony deny me that. I am free. Scrivener is free. And not even thou shall be allowed to chain me down.”

“Sister, listen to thyself.” Sleipnir pleaded, shaking his head desperately and striding forwards, gazing down worriedly into her icy cyan eyes. “Look at thee, at what just happened here! Think of thy honor-”

“Honor means nothing to me, if it means I am to be chained down by it! I would rather be without honor and free, than imprisoned once more to stupid, useless rules!” Luna retorted sharply. Sleipnir trembled at this, looking hurt, seeming to simply crumple up as he stepped hesitantly away from his little sister. “Only freedom matters. And I am free.”

There was silence, the only sound Sleipnir swallowing thickly as tears filled the enormous stallion's eyes. He trembled violently, and all eyes stared towards Luna and Scrivener as the charcoal male joined his wife with the same cold expression on his face, mirroring her as they looked slowly back and forth at the ponies gathered around them. After only a few moments, they were joined by Twilight as well, and Luna grinned coldly, licking her lips as she said quietly: “Thou can stay in thy shackles of 'honor' and 'laws' and 'rules,' but we are going to be free. We are going to pursue all that we have always wanted... and one day, we will build our own paradise, our own sanctuary, where all are free and none are slaves to foolish rules. But all those who do not wish to be blind may come with us.”

Luna sniffed and flicked her mane to the side as it sparked, and Scrivener licked a bit of dried blood off his muzzle before the sapphire mare calmly glanced over her shoulder. She saw Antares, pale and staring through one window with wide eyes, looking disbelieving... but she only smiled at him kindly before her eyes flicked towards Celestia.

The ivory winged unicorn was breathing hard, still almost childishly trying to half-hide, trembles running through her body before Luna said gently: “Big sister. Come with us. Come, 'tis time to give thou the freedom thou hast always desired. This party may be joyless, but our baptism of thee into our world shall be wrought with pleasure and festivity. So come, Celestia. 'Tis time to go now.”

Sleipnir looked up pleadingly, and Celestia trembled, staring back and forth blankly. Slowly, she looked over her shoulder as Discombobulation stepped quietly towards her, holding out his hands silently... and the ivory equine shivered before she closed her eyes, shook her head once, and then turned away with a whispered apology.

Discombobulation let his arms drop limp, and pain spread over his features as he swallowed slowly, only staring weakly after Celestia as she walked slowly out of the building. Sleipnir clenched his own eyes shut as as the ivory mare strode obediently to Scrivener, Luna, and Twilight, who all smiled at her before the rainbow-maned winged unicorn bowed her head silently... and Luna reached up and patted her patronizingly, saying kindly: “Good. Come then, 'tis time to go.”

And with that, Luna turned, Twilight and Scrivener on either side of her, and Celestia trembling as she followed her head bowed, shame and humiliation burning in her cheeks, but knowing no other choice... knowing nothing else she could do, nothing else she could say. She refused to lose her little sister again, she refused to lose Scrivener, and Twilight Sparkle... and if she could keep them and gain true freedom, she only hoped that she could bear up the cost of losing almost everything else.

That night, Antares silently made his way home, trembling a little and hating how he was actually... afraid. Again and again, he'd weakly defended his parents all day long, until Meadowlark had eventually shouted at him and slapped him and stormed off. And the worst part was that he knew she was right... but there was nothing he could do. And he wanted his parents to love him... he wanted to love his parents, too. And he wanted to believe, most of all, that he wasn't responsible for this.

He trembled and shook his head weakly, breathing harshly in and out. After everything he had gone through, everything he had done... to end up feeling these things, forced to question his parents, trying to balance blind love and admiration with fear and terror and the simple knowledge of right and wrong that had been ingrained into him, and yet the very people who had taught him all this had apparently simply cast aside... it was killing him inside. And there was nothing he could do, except try and be a good son and have faith that... that somehow, everything would be okay.

Antares stepped into the front yard, and glanced up quietly at the patio, tilting his head as he saw Celestia sitting calmly by herself and polishing Tyrfing. He stepped closer beneath the night sky, and his eyes widened as he reared back in shock, seeing bruises and wounds here and there over her body, and a golden collar locked around her neck... but the winged unicorn smiled strangely at him as he approached, saying softly: “Hello, Antares. It's good to see you.”

“Aunt Tia...” Antares whispered, staring over her disbelievingly, before he trembled and asked, hoping against hope, feeling confused and scared and broken: “What happened to you?”

“Nothing. I... I'm free now.” Celestia closed her eyes, reaching up to silently touch the clasp of her collar before a strange, warm smile spread over her face... an expression that made Antares flinch and shiver. “I'm free, Antares, and it's the most wonderful feeling in the universe. My only duties are to my little sister and my brother... no more worrying about the Royal Council, or Equestria, or other ponies. I'm free to just concentrate on the ponies I've always cared about... and to indulge. To become what I've always been, at the core: the right hoof of a powerful ruler. Even as Queen of the Valkyries, I served under Odin, after all. I was a large and important gear, but not irreplaceable. And somehow, I find that comforting... being a second in command, a lieutenant, but not the head. It has the perfect mix of the power I crave with the control I desire.”

Antares shivered slowly, and then the door swung open and Luna stepped out, smiling softly as she glanced down at her sister. “I heard thee speaking, and I must correct thee, Celestia... thou are irreplaceable. Thou art my big sister, no matter what other functions thou may serve.”

Luna leaned forwards and kissed Celestia's temple, and the ivory mare smiled warmly before sapphire winged unicorn gazed affectionately at her son, even as Antares almost shrank down into the grasses, trembling. “Come inside, my handsome colt. Scrivener and I have found a gift for thee. Celestia, thou should come in too, stop playing with thy silly sword all alone here. Thou art truly part of our family now... soon to be bound to us forever.”

Celestia laughed, and Antares' eyes widened as he leaned up, unable to stop himself from asking in a trembling voice: “Bound forever? What do you mean?”

“Aye, tomorrow, Celestia and Twilight will be constructing a special altar.” Luna licked her lips slowly, laughing quietly as she murmured: “'Twill be glorious... it will be a mix of my own night magic and Valthrudnir's machinations, culled from all the knowledge Scrivener absorbed from Clockwork World. We shall use it to transfer blood from us to Celestia, and vice-versa.”

“And more.” Celestia whispered, smiling widely up at Luna, before she laughed when the sapphire mare nudged her older sibling firmly.

“Shush, Celestia! Do not ruin the surprise!” Luna scolded teasingly, and the ivory mare gazed up at her happily... and for all the warmth and affection in the air, Antares could only stare in horror, feeling sick to his stomach as he shook his head weakly, disbelievingly. Trembles ran through his system as he sat back, breathing hard in and out before the sapphire mare returned her eyes to her son, inviting gently: “Come inside.”

Antares could only whimper for a moment, and Luna frowned slightly before the young stallion finally managed to nod weakly, and he dragged himself forwards, step-by-step. The mare smiled at this, her eyes lingering over her son before she gestured kindly to the open door as Antares halted beside her, and he breathed hard for a few times before Luna said gently: “'Tis all alright, my beloved little colt. 'Tis all alright, fear not. We all love thee, and shall always protect thee.”

The young unicorn looked ahead, leathery wings flapping nervously once. Then he shifted a bit before looking over his shoulders at these, studying his own strange appendages before asking impulsively: “Even Nightmare Moon?”

“Nightmare Moon is... dormant, still. But aye, I am sure she does, too. Thou art... her son almost as much as mine in some ways.” Luna said finally, looking curious, and Antares nodded slowly before he turned his eyes forwards and stepped inside... then yelped when Luna huffed and firmly bulled him down the hall, rushing him onwards as she exclaimed happily: “Come, thou art taking far too long to see thy surprise!”

“Luna!” Scrivener shouted in exasperation, from where he had half-wrapped some kind of box, and Luna only huffed before flicking her horn firmly, throwing an empty cardboard box into the stallion's head. It bounced off, and Twilight giggled... but Antares could only stare with abject horror at the foal's clothing they had bought, and the variety of children's toys... and yet all of it was clearly made to be worn by adult ponies, and played with by adult hooves. No. No way, no... oh no... “Great way to ruin everything.”

Antares almost laughed hysterically at how in time his father's comment was with everything he was thinking right now, and Luna smiled radiantly as she leaned forwards and hugged her son firmly from behind, whispering in his ear: “Now thou can be an adult when thou desires to be, and a little colt when the urge so takes thee... anything thou wants, I shall give thee, my son. I shall make thee as free as I have made us, as I shall make others... but oh, please, please, please do try on at least the clothing! There, this onesie, 'tis just like the one thou wore when thou wert but a newborn!”

Luna all but glowed as she reached out and patted a white, adult-sized onesie with a blue pattern of stars over it, and Antares' humiliation only grew worse as Twilight smiled and said: “Well, of course. I had Rarity make this special-order, and she was the one who made those for you first, remember?”

The sapphire mare smiled warmly as Scrivener nodded thoughtfully, and Antares moaned low in his throat as he stared weakly over the pile of baby objects in front of him. He breathed weakly in and out, shaking his head slowly before he looked over his shoulder at Celestia... but the ivory mare only smiled benevolently, not seeming to think anything was wrong, as blinded as Twilight had become...

“Oh, I understand...” Luna said slowly, and Antares looked up, feeling a faint sliver of hope before he flushed deeply when his mother grabbed him. Her grip was firm but gentle, and her strength surprised him as she easily dragged him forwards, almost cradling him as she gazed down lovingly and whispered tenderly: “How silly of me. A little foal cannot dress himself... Scrivener Blooms, help me put the clothing upon our handsome baby boy...”

Antares whimpered and tried to shove weakly at his mother, but Luna only laughed, apparently taking this as him playing along as she caught one of his hooves and smiled radiantly down at him, eyes almost glowing as she whispered: “What a delightful game this is! Oh, handsome, wonderful Antares, thou wert such a gorgeous baby... let us live out the fantasy, then, but only know I shan't change thy diapers if thou soils thyself. I only desire to go so far with this entire skit.”

“I... no, no, I...” But then Scrivener forced a pacifier into Antares' mouth, and the unicorn's eyes rolled wildly in his head, only able to whimper around the thing in his jaws. He tried to spit it out, but the four crowded around him, and it was shoved back into his jaws: even as tears formed in his eyes and leaked down his cheeks, Luna just cooed to him and kissed his face. His limbs flailed, and Scrivener chuckled as he grasped his legs, and one-by-one, forced them into the legs of the onesie. And Twilight and Celestia leaned in with warm smiles, and Antares pleaded with them with his eyes, but no one listened...

Eventually, he lost the will to fight, only staring weakly, eyes wet with tears as he curled up, and Luna rocked him slowly in her forelegs as if he really was only a foal, gazing down with love and warmth at him. “What a handsome baby...”

They passed him around, like he really was a foal... and at some point, Antares felt his mind go numb. Felt himself wanting to believe that's all he was, as he stayed curled up, as Scrivener kissed his forehead gently before slipping him to Twilight, who snuggled him close and murmured a soft lullaby into his ear, before passing him on to Celestia. And in Celestia's limbs, he felt smallest of all, he felt like everything had been a lie and a dream and he was just a baby, a tiny little baby... before his eyes widened as the ivory mare murmured softly: “Do you have a bottle?”

And they did. And the humiliation all flooded back, his mental numbness broke as Luna went to the kitchen to fill the bottle with milk and Antares trembled, then he finally spat the pacifier out and whispered as he gathered all the courage he could: “P-Please Aunt Tia... I don't want to play any more...”

“Poor Antares seems cranky... I'm sure he'll be happier once he's fed. May I?” Celestia glanced curiously up at something, and then a bottle floated into Antares' line of sight, and he felt a sob hitch up out of his chest as he tried to kick his limbs weakly, but to no success. It was all simply too much for him... it was all crushing down on him as Celestia tilted the bottle down and sang to him gently, even as he tried to turn his head away: “Hush little pony, don't you cry... Mommy's going to sing you a lullaby...”

Finally, the bottle was forced into his jaws, no matter how Antares tried to turn away, unable to summon up the strength to scream, and he felt simply... broken, in mind, in body. Celestia tilted the bottle up, and Antares looked up at her, into the almost-glowing amethyst irises that were gentle, and loving, but insistent... and he knew that this wouldn't end until the bottle was empty.

So he suckled back on it, drinking down the milk quietly, even as sobs hitched up out of his chest, even as his body shook with humiliation and shame and pain. Even as tears spilled along his cheeks and he curled his limbs up and tried to pretend again, he was a baby, he was a baby, and being an adult was a dream and his parents were loving and oh no, no, no, he hadn't caused this, he hadn't, this wasn't his fault, this wasn't his punishment for being so weak...

When the bottle was empty, Celestia finally drew it away, then easily hefted the young stallion over one shoulder and gently patted his back. Antares forced out a weak burp, then gave a hitching sob... but none of the four seemed to notice as Celestia passed him back towards Luna, who smiled lovingly down at her son, cradling him close. He only hung limply in her forelegs, feeling like a sacrifice, a ridiculous sight in his onesie before he closed his eyes as the pacifier was pushed back into his mouth... and finally, he heard something he'd never expected to be glad to hear: “Let's put him to bed.”

The young stallion kept his eyes closed as he was gently slipped onto his father's broad back, and carried down the hall. Tears leaked along his cheeks as he trembled weakly, his body limp, trying to hold back tears and whimpers as they carried him to his room, put him into bed, and Luna sighed softly, finally making him open his eyes before the mare looked back and forth, then murmured softly: “This is no colt's room, Scrivy. We should... perhaps we should build a nursery for our beloved little boy, what does thou think? And perhaps I shall teach him to polymorph, or do it myself... I could easily change him into a smaller, younger shape...”

“Let's start with the nursery, Luna. Polymorphing sounds a little silly and unnecessary when he's already so happy like this.” Scrivener replied calmly, and Antares shivered as he stared up at his parents. Luna grumbled a bit, and then Scrivener turned and gently pulled the covers up over his son before leaning down and kissing his forehead, saying softly: “I love you, Antares.”

“As do I. Thou hast all the love we can give and more, and we shall attend to thy every need now, thy every fantasy... we shall steal back all that was taken from us, and more. Thou shall be our baby, our colt, and our adult son whenever thou desires...” Luna reached down, tenderly stroking through the young stallion's mane as she gazed down at him affectionately, before licking her lips slowly as she murmured: “We are free, Antares. We are free... there are no rules, no restrictions any of us must follow. We are free.”

Then Luna and Scrivener turned, leaving the door ajar... and for a while, Antares just laid in bed, curled up in his onesie, pacifier in his mouth. He sucked on this slowly until he realized what he was doing, and he spat it out with something like horror... only to wince and look down as he realized it was on a clip on a string.

Then he looked up as he heard something, before a tremble ran through his system as there was a loud thud, followed by a whispering groan. Another sound followed it, and Antares trembled as he heard what sounded horribly like a 'thank you' rise through the air, followed again by a sound of a hoof smashing into soft flesh...

The young stallion's horn glowed, and he flicked it a little too hard, slamming his bedroom door... and yet he somehow doubted anypony noticed. He grabbed his pillow, pulling it over his head with a whimper and clenching his eyes shut as he tried to make himself smaller, tried to hide, tried to down out the sounds that began to rise up... horrible sounds, thankful sounds, sounds no pony wanted to hear and laughter, and... and... knocking, and...

Antares trembled violently under the covers, and then there was that knocking again, firm, insistent. Slowly, he looked through the darkness of his room, and then he whimpered and threw himself backwards, gasping quietly as someone hammered on his door... except a moment later, Scarlet Sage's voice shouted worriedly: “Antares? Antares, are you in there?”

“I.. I, yeah. Just... just a minute.” Antares managed out after a moment of shock, and then he trembled before he slowly slipped out of bed and walked to the door. His hoof was on the handle, pulling it open before he remembered what he was wearing, and he winced as he looked out in surprise at Scarlet Sage and Meadowlark, and the two stared back in at him.

Neither Pegasi seemed to know what to say, before Scarlet Sage shivered and shook her head, leaning forwards and simply pushing forwards in a quiet but firm voice: “Little brother, listen... I... I... I know something's wrong with Mom and Dad. Something... isn't right here, and... and I heard about what they're going to do today and we have to do something before things get any worse than they already are. Sleipnir's already off to convince Celestia to rethink what she's doing, but... Meadow and I came to see you. Because we need you... we need your ability to see into people, and we need you to understand that... something's wrong.”

“Antares, don't you understand? I'm sorry we had to ambush you like this, but... we meant to talk to Luna and Scrivener, but they must have already gone into town. And you need to see, you need to look at things, Antares, and understand that your parents are-”

“Understand what? Understand that something's not right, something's screwed up?” Antares shouted, cutting Meadowlark off as both the Pegasi winced, before the young stallion seized the front of his onesie, yelling in a high-pitched voice: “Have you looked at me? I'm wearing fucking baby clothes, Mom and Dad dressed me up like this, Celestia shoved a bottle in my mouth, they want to build me a fucking nursery, of course something is fucking wrong! And that's not even counting the bruises on Celestia, or, or what Dad and Pinkamena did to each other, or any of this other crazy shit that's going on that I know, I know, I know is all my goddamn fault!”

And with that, Antares dropped forwards and buried his face in his forelimbs, trembling violently, and Meadowlark and Scarlet Sage both winced before trading a look... but Antares took a rattling, broken breath on the ground before he whispered: “Don't worry, I'm... I'm not crying... I... I know. I know, I know... I know... I... I have to fix this somehow, but... what can I do? This is all my fault... I thought Mom and Dad being dead was painful but... this... I brought them back as m-m-monsters...”

“It's okay, little brother. It's okay. Just calm down now.” Scarlet Sage soothed quietly, and Antares looked up miserably before the silver-coated Pegasus reached down, carefully hauled him up to his hooves, and simply hugged him fiercely. Antares hugged her tightly back, trembling and closing his eyes, resting against her for a few moments before they drew apart.

Silently, he looked at Meadowlark, apologetic and feeling ashamed of himself, and she nodded silently once before holding up a hoof. Antares smiled faintly as he reached up to take this... and she seized his foreleg and yanked him forwards, surprising him as she hugged him fiercely-tight around the neck and buried her face against him, whispering: “You stupid idiot.”

“I know. I know...” Antares murmured, holding tightly onto her, trembling a little... and he closed his eyes as he thought he felt something, a second presence, stroking down his spine. Telling him it was going to be okay, pushing him gently onwards, and he shivered a bit before nodding slowly as he whispered: “Okay. I... I know what I have to do. I have to... I have to set things right.”

Slowly, Antares pulled back from Meadowlark as both she and Scarlet Sage frowned, and the unicorn reached up and grimaced as he began to unzip the onesie, carefully yanking this off as Scarlet Sage asked worriedly: “Antares, stop, wait. Tell us what's going through your mind... you don't have to face this alone, and more importantly, you can't hope to... to stop Mom and Dad without a plan. They don't listen to anyone, they're determined to do this... thing with Celestia, and rumor has it they've been making promises about... awful things. Look, we need to figure this out. We need to talk down Celestia, and then we need-”

“No, Scarlet Sage. I started this. I caused all this, because... I wished them to be free.” Antares laughed weakly as he finally stepped out of the onesie and carefully kicked it off, then he shook his head slowly and looked up silently. “And more importantly, I went against the one thing they told me to never wish for in the letter they left for me all those years ago. They're... they're like this, because I betrayed them, don't you get it? I betrayed their memory, and my own honor, and... and every single one of you. So now... I have to make this right. I have to fix this myself.”

He closed his eyes and murmured: “And the only reason I'm not accepting your help is because you guys can't get hurt too. This is my fault... I won't have two more people I love hurt.”

Meadowlark flushed and Scarlet Sage smiled faintly, shaking her head slowly before she murmured: “But you can't do it alone.”

“I'm not alone.” Antares stopped, then he reached up and silently touched the star necklace that was hanging around his neck, closing his eyes. “I have my real parents with me... somewhere inside me. And I have each and every one of you, depending on me and believing in me. And I know that somewhere inside them, Twilight and Celestia... their real selves... they're there, too, waiting for me to finally do something right.”

He laughed a little, then winced when Meadowlark grabbed his muzzle, shaking her head slowly as she turned her head to face him. “You've done a lot of things right, Antares. It's not your fault that everything's turned out like this. And you need to let us help.”

“I know. And you can help.” Antares said quietly, smiling faintly. “I have no idea what I'm going to do in order to stop Mom and Dad, but... you, and everypony else are going to have to hold off Celestia and Twilight for as long as possible, wherever they are. I... I'm just trusting in my instincts here now, okay? In that little voice in my head telling me what to do... I don't know, maybe it's Allonym, trying to help out. I don't know how I'm going to get through to Mom and Dad, but I think I can, but only if... only if Twilight and Celestia aren't there, too.”

Meadowlark and Scarlet Sage both hesitated, then traded a look... and when Scarlet Sage nodded slowly, the red Pegasus trembled before sighing and lowering her head, murmuring quietly: “Fine. Okay. But Antares... come back. Please don't do anything stupid, and don't... get hurt. I'm... I'm scared of what your parents will do if they're challenged, even by you. They don't seem... they're not...”

“They're not well. But I'm gonna try and fix that.” Antares said quietly, closing his eyes and nodding slowly, and for a few moments there was silence before the glossy-black unicorn smiled faintly, glancing from one to the other. “I love you, sis. And... thank you, Meadowlark, for... everything. If... if everything works out... I'll... I'll see you soon.”

“Yeah. Yeah.” Meadowlark murmured, the two studying each other, and then she leaned slowly forwards and placed a quiet, chaste kiss on his lips, smiling faintly at him. “Good luck.”

Antares nodded and swallowed a bit, stepping out into the hall, then looking at the open door that was inviting him outwards and onwards, as his blood burned in his veins, his mind boiled... and the young stallion gritted his teeth before he suddenly leapt forwards and into a sprint, surprising both Pegasi as he bolted past the patio and onto the path leading through the Everfree Forest towards Ponyville.

He ran as fast and hard as he could, eyes focused forwards, letting his body move on autopilot as his mind tried to put together everything he had seen in the last few days, with everything he knew about his parents. He concentrated as hard as he could as his hooves pounded down the dirt path, gritting his teeth: he thought about the way his parents had treated him as he'd grown up, compared to what they'd done to him last night. He thought about why his parents had always taught him to act with honor, and about the meaning of strength; he thought about freedom, and how all things could be corrupted, and that balance had to be maintained with everything.

The young stallion was out of the Everfree Forest even before he realized it, looking up... and staring in shock at the sight of his parents on the path not far ahead. And they were alone, as he'd wished and hoped... but nearby, Fluttershy was trembling, looking nervously back and forth as Nirvana and several other Phooka crowded around her, visibly shivering themselves.

Luna and Scrivener were grinning, advancing on them, and yet all the same Antares stumbled to a halt. No one had seen him yet... he could easily turn, run away, let this play out however it could. He could run away forever, and no one would ever find him... or he could just hide, and tell Scarlet Sage and Meadowlark later he'd been too late, or held up. He could do a thousand things... and then a thought hammered through his mind like an axe shearing a piece of wood in half, as something inside him snarled: And what is the right thing to do?

He closed his eyes tightly, then looked up silently before slowly putting a hoof forwards. He began to hyperventilate, staring at his parents. His parents, who he loved so deeply, who he'd fought so hard to bring back, who he'd given up a miracle for... and the results of that selfish, greedy, stupid wish were right there in front of him. They were bullying Fluttershy and her Phooka, likely trying to get them to join their 'free' ways, doing things his parents would never do...

And there it was: with that thought, Antares steeled himself, trembling. His parents would never do these kinds of things... and it was his job to fix that. To make them understand if he could... to stop them if he couldn't, no matter how impossible a task it seemed. And slowly, Antares forced himself to walk forwards, one hoof after the other, before he tried to shout: “Stop!”

What came out was a raspy whisper, but all the same it got the attention of Scrivener and Luna, who both glanced at him, then smiled. Fluttershy trembled and backed hurriedly up, but Luna was quick to say cordially, without even sparing a glance at the yellow-coated Pegasus: “Now, do not flee, Fluttershy, 'twould be irritating. We are not yet done our chat on freedom, are we? And thou and thy Phooka friends... all of thee can help spread our message far and wide.

“But Antares, what are thou doing here? And I see today thou art a proud and handsome adult...” Luna licked her lips slowly, eyes half-lidding. “Tell me, beloved son. Why hast thou sought us out?”

Antares rose his head quietly, looking across at his parents steadily as he breathed heavily, then he finally said in as steady a voice as he could: “I'm here to stop you.”

“Stop us?” Luna laughed at this like it was a joke, and Scrivener smiled patronizingly, tilting his head before the winged unicorn asked kindly: “Stop us from what?”

“From... doing anything. I... I'm here to fix my mistake.” Antares whispered, and slowly, the smiles faded from both the faces of his parents, as Antares forced himself to step forwards. He had drawn their full attention now, and Fluttershy wasted no time in hurrying away with the Phooka as Antares continued as firmly as he could: “You're... you're not acting like yourselves! I'm here to... to help you see that...”

He broke off, trembling, scared, letting his fear rule him for a moment before Scrivener said softly: “I think you better watch your tone, Antares. I'm not liking what I'm seeing right now...”

That resounded with the young unicorn, and he clenched his eyes shut, concentrating for a moment before opening them, reading into his parents. At first, he thought he couldn't read them at all, from what he saw... but a moment later, he trembled as he realized what it was: it wasn't that he couldn't see into them like he could most ponies... it was that no matter what he said, no matter what he did, they weren't going to change their minds. It was because his choices were grim, or grimmer, and Antares trembled before Luna snapped sharply: “What does thou know? Have we not indulged thee, treated thee well? We are back less than a week and look at this mutiny, Scrivener Blooms! We have given up some of our own valuable time for this insolent foal and yet now he comes and insults us, because, what, we are not acting the way thou precisely wants us to? Or art thou jealous, Antares, that we have given such gifts to Twilight and Celestia, and don't spend all our time with thee?”

“No, that's not it at all!” Antares cried out, shaking his head before he cursed and forced himself to steady again, looking up with his teeth grit before he said sharply: “Acting without honor, and now... doing this thing to Celestia... hurting her, because-”

“Celestia enjoys the pain. Enjoys being put in her proper place. And I like putting her there.” Scrivener said coldly, narrowing his eyes dangerously as they glowed faint blue, and Antares shivered in horror at that look: that wasn't his father. That wasn't the compassionate, protective stallion he had known... “If you don't stop your whining, Antares, maybe I'll show you first-hoof. Maybe that will teach you some proper respect. Your mother and I don't have the time to waste on this kind of garbage anymore... we get what we want, and that's that. What we don't want or need is a worthless little baby like you.”

Antares was cut to the core, trembling violently, swallowing thickly as he fought back tears, and Luna shook her head slowly before glancing moodily over at Scrivener. “Calm thyself a little, Scrivy, 'tis not his fault entirely. He knows not whether he is stallion or colt... show sympathy for his damaged mind.”

“I'm not damaged.” Antares murmured quietly, closing his eyes before he laughed brokenly. “I mean... I am, but... not like that. I... I understand now, though. I understand what I have to do. I understand that I should have left you there, in the crystal, that... I'm not broken, but you are.”

Antares looked slowly up, and Luna and Scrivener both glared at him as the young stallion trembled, then set himself even as tears leaked down his face slowly. “I know you won't hesitate to kill me. You're no longer the people you once were... you're not even people. You're just forces of anarchy and chaos that have filled up my parents' bodies. But I have to try and fix my mistake, and put things right, back... back the way they were before.”

“I think he wants a fight, Luna...” Scrivener grinned slowly, tilting his head as his eyes flashed before he began to step forwards... then he frowned when Luna held up a foreleg, blocking his passage. The winged unicorn looked towards him, and Scrivener gazed back, their eyes locking, thoughts and emotions trading back and forth before the stallion's grin spread back over his features. “Yes. Yes, of course.”

Luna looked calmly towards Antares, as Antares swallowed thickly, staring across at his mother before Luna said contemptibly: “So thou desires to try and fight us, child? I shall reward thy stupidity with the same idiocy thou transparently values. I shall battle thee, in the honor duel.” Luna made a mocking, short bow, smiling coldly, and Antares trembled before his mother rose her head proudly, whispering: “No colt, not even my own son, may speak to me and mine husband that way, and I shall punish thou for it. And as the urge takes me, I shall either kill thee or maim thee. But I think I prefer the latter. Thou should live for a long time yet, Antares. Thou should be made to understand that we are thy parents, and thou shalt not disrespect us.”

Luna snarled for a moment, and then her features smoothed out before she looked over at Scrivener, adding kindly: “Go ahead, my darling. Give me thy good luck kiss.”

“Yes, of course. You called us monsters, Antares? You have yet to see a monster...” Scrivener said softly, as he strode up beside Luna and kissed her cheek gently... then he smiled calmly as he turned towards her and shoved both hooves against her side, closing his eyes as Luna trembled, then gritted her teeth as her wings spread and her horn began to glow, lowering her head as a snarling grin spread over her face, and the young stallion staggered back in shock as his mother's body rippled.

Black tears leaked down Scrivener's face as he grinned slowly, licking his sharp fangs as he pushed harder on her, and Luna gurgled before dropping her head forwards and screaming, the shriek long and loud... and horribly, becoming a broken, wild laugh as her body flexed and distorted, her frame rippling as Scrivener's eyes glowed with sapphire light, whispering: “Because just like I've always borrowed magic from Luna... now I finally have something to give back to her in return.”

Luna threw her head back with a roar, her coat tearing and revealing raw, bulging muscle and flesh, her eyes becoming white lights as her teeth expanded into massive, uneven knives. Horns twisted up out of her skull as her mane and tail snapped back and forth transforming into blue fire as her wings flapped violently, feathers falling away from them in a storm as they became leathery and clawed. Antares could only stare with horror as his mother's head dropped forwards, as her body continued to grow and expand, her hooves snapping apart into enormous, three-toed talons and piston-like spikes of bone shoving up out of her back in a double row, electricity sparking over these as she roared furiously.

And Antares saw that this was no Nightmare Moon, as the monstrosity straightened slowly, now easily double the size of Scrivener as the earth pony laughed, stepping backwards and leaving thick smears of corruption behind in his hoofsteps. This was Luna, supercharged and mutated by Scrivener's corruption, her body monstrous and massive and emaciated, her coat black where it still clung to bulging muscle and rippling flesh. She breathed slowly in and out, rumbling hungrily as the collar clung tightly to her elongated neck, and then she leaned forwards and exhaled a blast of toxic blue mist, whispering in a rumbling, echoing voice: “Thou should not have made thy mother angry, Antares. Now she has to give thee a spanking.”

Antares trembled in terror, tears leaking from his eyes as he breathed hard in and out, staring in terror up at this immense, monstrous entity... and then he shook his head wildly before simply screaming and running forwards, as Scrivener only laughed and the corrupted Luna stepped forwards to meet him. He leapt forwards, and like he was a foal, she slapped him to the ground with one immense claw, laughing loudly, lips drawn back from the oversized, uneven teeth that filled her monstrous maw in a cruel grin. “What? What is this? Oh, Antares, are we just playing a game?”

She stomped viciously down, and Antares barely managed to fling himself backwards and out of the way before she leapt forwards and seized him by the throat with her other claw, hauling him into the air above her head and grinning viciously up at him as her glowing eyes blazed. Her tall, proud horn glowed brightly, and Antares screamed in agony as his body burst into blue flames, Luna laughing again as she held him easily above her head. “Thou dared to challenge us, and 'tis almost a delightful joke! I, who have had countless years of experience, who spawned thee forth from my loins, pathetic whelp, a Valkyrie... and thou art nothing but an insolent child playing at 'hero!'”

With that, Luna flung Antares hard to the ground, and he bounced off the earth with a loud crunch as the blue flames whiffed out. The young stallion rolled a few times with a gargle, body steaming before he forced his hooves beneath him... only to scream as a talon stomped down on his lower back, pinning him in place as Luna leaned over him with a snarl. “Thou art no threat to me. Thou art nothing, colt! And I would have loved and coddled and played with thee forever, but I shall not be insulted, and I shall not have my freedom challenged... thou saved us? So what! I do not care! If the urge so strikes me, I shall murder Celestia tomorrow for the entertainment!”

Luna reached her other talon down, seizing into one of Antares' wings and twisting it violently, and the young stallion screamed in agony as it was jerked back and forth... then snapped near the base with a horrible crack before Luna stomped viciously twice on his spine, before almost lazily batting him away. The stallion was knocked rolling over the earth, crying out, tears spilling down his cheeks as he landed on his side... and just as he began to get up, Luna leapt forwards and slammed both front claws into his stomach, making him vomit blood and bile as the air was knocked out of him, gasping and gargling as he spasmed on the ground and she grinned savagely down at him.

Scrivener shook his head slowly, smiling before sighing as Luna reached down and grasped Antares by the scalp, the monster grinning down savagely as she slowly dragged Antares into the air by his head and mane. The young unicorn was still trying to gasp for breath, wheezing, eyes rolling in his head as he flailed weakly... and then Luna yanked him suddenly upwards before slamming him cruelly down into the earth on his stomach just as he began to recover, once more knocking the wind and fight from him. “Luna, don't play with your food, dear.”

“Oh, shut up, Scrivy. 'Twill only be a little longer.” Luna said irritably over her shoulder, dropping the young stallion and half-turning with a wink of one glowing eye, slowly licking her lips as the blue flames of her mane wreathed upwards in an excited pulse. “A little more fun... before I truly begin hurting him.”

She turned around... and Antares' hoof slammed into her face, making her flinch slightly before she snarled slowly in fury, not in pain. The young stallion, meanwhile, staggered in horror, looking down at his now-aching hoof before he winced and leapt backwards... and only cried out in agony and stumbled when his broken wing didn't flap, narrowly dodging a swipe of Luna's talons as she hissed: “Vile idiot child!”

Antares dodged back and forth, cursing weakly as he tried to stay light on his hooves, then he ducked low under a grab before leaping up and slashing his horn towards his mother's face: but immediately, Luna met Antares' with her own, and the young stallion gasped, cursing weakly as he found himself swinging his horn as hard and fast as he could just to try and defend himself as Luna lashed out with her own cruel flurry of horn strikes, shouting: “Thou dares to challenge me on this field? Wretched, arrogant child!”

Antares winced, hurrying backwards, but Luna was raging, hammering every attack forwards, pursuing him viciously before she finally slipped her horn beneath his and forcefully launched his head back. He staggered with a curse, his eyes widening as Luna reared back before she simply raked both talons down across his chest, and Antares screamed in agony as the front of his body was shredded, knocked sprawling on his back in a splatter of his own blood. He gasped in agony, his eyes bulging in terror as Luna landed over him, snarling down at him as he stared up at her in horror and she whispered: “No. I will not abide this insult. Thou art a worthless, wretched, useless failure of a child, and I have no love in my heart for thou, Antares Mīrus. Goodbye.”

Luna's horn glowed as she reared back, concentrating, grinning cruelly, and Antares stared up at her, hyperventilating, before he remembered both a promise, and a question... and then he clenched his eyes shut, throwing his head back as his own horn glowed, and he screamed: “Nightmare Moon!”

There was a faint pulse... and then Luna's glowing eyes snapped wide, her horn losing its glow as she staggered backwards as something inside her snapped awake in shock. For a moment, there was a terrible feeling of confusion, and then she snarled, pouncing on this thing inside her... but it was fast, wriggling free despite its shock before ripping through the bonds that had chained it down as a mental voice screamed inside her head: Luna, what have you done?

“Get... get thee hence! Thou art not needed... thou art not necessary here! I am busy!” Luna snarled, shaking her head back and forth as she grabbed at her skull with one talon, visibly fighting to concentrate as her body rippled and something inside her wrestled with the rest of her... something shaped like a masochistic, violently-loyal black pony, a winged unicorn of passion and darkness and cruelty... but that was filled with horror as it saw what Luna planned to do... what Luna had already done. “This is everything we desired, that-”

You would risk our most precious treasures? You would put everything at risk? You, and Scrivener both... but that is not Scrivener any more than you are Luna! No, you are not who I remember... Nightmare Moon snarled, and inside her mind, a blood-polished collar of silver roses gleamed, as Luna's body filled with what felt like fire and glass, and Scrivener cursed in shock, his eyes widening as he staggered forwards and then dropped his head as pain blasted through his mental link. No! I will not have lies, I will not have false treasures... I will not have you fools tarnish everything we built, in madness even worse than once ruled me! I will not permit this, Luna!

“S-Stop... cannot... cease!” Luna shrieked, staggering back and forth, then she reared back and howled in agony as the pain in her mind and body worsened, seizing at her face as blood began to run from the sockets of her eyes, as inside her, a terrified Luna wrestled uselessly against a biting, clawing, vicious entity of shadows and darkness and passion and night. “I am... I... I am-”

You are not Luna Brynhild! And I will not let you harm the legacy I have worked so hard to achieve! Blinding agony built higher as the force twisted with her savagely, as her mind threatened to explode, as she staggered wildly back and forth, vulnerable and defenseless and unable to see outside of what was going on in her own head...

And then pain ripped through her body as Antares leapt forwards in that moment of opportunity, and his horn thrust to the hilt into Luna's chest. The monstrosity gargled, freezing up on its hind claws, back arched and forelegs reaching up almost as if in supplication as blood flowed from its glowing eyes and the wound in the beast's chest. Tears flooded down Antares' cheeks as he shoved his front hooves against her body, breathing hard, rear hooves shivering against the ground... and then he clenched his eyes tightly shut, crying out wordlessly as his horn glowed white before unleashing a thunderous blast of purification straight into Luna's warped and corrupted body.

They were both blown backwards in a shockwave of ivory light, Antares landing on his spine and skidding with a howl of agony as his broken wing twisted beneath him, his body convulsing once and causing him to roll awkwardly onto his stomach. He groaned in pain, shivering a little, and then he looked slowly up as Luna's screams faded down to nothing as the terrible white aura faded slowly, and he was able to stare upwards with a tremble at what had happened.

Luna lay on her side, silent and eerily peaceful-looking in spite of the bloody hole in her breast. She was unconscious, and ugly wounds marred her body, as did flecks of gray and ashes. Her wings were naked and broken, and her mane and tail had both become light blue hair instead of ephemeral locks, but she was no longer a monster... she was just a fallen body, laying upon the ground, a winged unicorn who was breathing weakly... but still breathing. Who looked like the very evil had been blasted out of her.... and the sight of it filled the young stallion with a moment of hope

Then a gargle drew Antares' attention, and he trembled as he looked slowly up, seeing Scrivener clutching at his chest and drooling black mire. More dark essence was bleeding out of a hole in his breast that mirrored the one on Luna's body, and he was staring at her with disbelief... before a tremble of fury rolled through the charcoal stallion, and his coat seemed to darken, his muscles to bulge and grow larger as veins stood out over his frame, pumping the black poison faster through his body as he rasped: “You little cheating bastard... you say we have no honor, then do that to your own mother?”

Scrivener snarled in fury, his eyes glowing, and then he roared like an animal as Antares trembled, then gave a raw yell of his own, the young unicorn yanking himself to his hooves: rage, pain, sorrow, determination, everything swirled together in a maelstrom inside of him, and his body responded in the only way it could. It got up, and it fought.

Father and son crashed into each other, and Antares was butted backwards by a shoulder before Scrivener reared back and slammed two hard hooks across his face: but they were sloppy and slow, the charcoal stallion's strength drained and disoriented from all the damage Antares had done to Luna. As a third punch swung forwards, Antares was able to yank himself out of the way before he leapt upwards... and with tears in his eyes and his teeth grit in a snarl, with a yell that boiled up from his lungs and everything he had gone through pushing him over the edge, he slammed a hoof down in a vicious smash that knocked Scrivener staggering and stunned him.

Antares lunged forwards, hooves smashing back and forth, taking advantage of the vulnerability as he smashed hoof after hoof down into his father's face, knocking the stallion's head back and forth as black mire flew from his nose and maw, unable to back out from under the hail of blows. And then Antares seized him by the head, slamming the earth pony's face into the ground before yanking his head up and hitting him with an uppercut hard enough to knock him rearing backwards before Antares lunged and stabbed forwards with his horn.

Scrivener caught his son by the skull, holding him back with a snarl of exertion, muscles trembling before Antares howled in fury and misery, snapping his head back and unleashing a raw telekinetic pulse that sent Scrivener staggering. Then the young stallion flung himself forwards, tackling his father onto his back before son sat up, snarling and straddling the scarred earth pony before he began to swing hoof after hoof down into his face, viciously pounding Scrivener's head back into the earth.

The stallion was only able to howl in pain as he took blow after blow, uselessly trying to bring his forelegs up to block before he finally managed to catch one of Antares' punches, and he twisted his foreleg hard to throw the younger stallion off to the side. Antares hit the ground and rolled, crying out in pain at his broken wing and flinching, curling up for a moment in a crouch, and Scrivener snarled as took the chance to leap to his own hooves and pounce-

Antares' horn lashed up, tearing through Scrivener's breast before the young stallion clenched his eyes shut, and white light blasted out of the wound as Scrivener screamed in agony. His hooves shoved wildly at Antares, but the young stallion reached up and seized into his father, tears and blood and corruption running down his face as ivory radiance tore through the charcoal stallion.

The young stallion pushed upwards, pouring out all the power he could into the spell, and Scrivener howled again in torment as corruption turned to stone over Antares' features and the young stallion yelled wordlessly... then cried out in agony as he was knocked loose by some tremendous force hammering into his side. Scrivener flew backwards while Antares was thrown a good ten feet away, crashing to the ground and skidding a few feet before he stared up with a gasp... and he trembled at the sight of Celestia standing near Scrivener and Luna's bodies, the ivory winged unicorn staring at him before she whispered: “What have you done...”

“I'm... I'm trying to save them, and you, I...” Antares shivered, hauling himself to his hooves... and then he stared in horror at the sight of Scrivener, stumbling backwards as he shook his head violently and whispered: “No... no, that... that's not...”

Celestia trembled hard as she leaned down, touching Scrivener's body as the stallion panted roughly, one eye staring sightlessly... while the other had been petrified, as had more than half of his body. He lay with two legs stuck stiffly out and turned to gleaming marble, and Antares shook his head wildly before he looked desperately at Luna... but his mother, too, had been affected by it, her body looking strangely rubbery on one side now, her flesh not rock but frozen all the same. The young stallion moaned low in his throat as Twilight stumbled forwards a moment later to drop down by Luna, the Lich whimpering... and patches of her own body now heavily discolored, one of her eyes blind and white, not seeming completely aware of everything around her.

In Luna's body, the corruption had been destroyed, and Luna had been saved... but Scrivener's body didn't just flow with the dark mire, it was his blood, it was what gave him strength. And Antares had forgotten that one simple fact, and in trying to neutralize it, to destroy it... he had almost killed his own father. Again, his wild struggles, wild hopes, had turned on him and led him towards destroying everything he'd put his entire life towards saving... but what choice did he have?

Slowly, Antares hauled himself to his hooves, trembling... and Celestia immediately stepped forwards, snarling, tears in her eyes as she rose her head and her golden swords formed in the air around her. The young stallion staggered backwards in shock, staring at her bruised body, at the golden collar, at her maddened amethyst eyes as she whispered: “Stay back, Antares. Stay... stay away. Stay away from them, or I'll kill you.”

Antares shook his head weakly at this, stumbling backwards and dropping on his haunches... before he looked slowly up as a firebird flew quietly down from the skies, transforming in a burst into a wounded, faintly-smiling Burning Desire, as the demon said quietly: “Sometimes, when you truly love someone... you have to let go. It's time to let go.”

Moments later, they were joined by others who had been attracted by the sounds of battle, and the rush of Celestia and Twilight through the town. Rainbow Dash and Avalon dropped down beside Antares, as Pinkamena and Aphrodisia joined Twilight and Celestia. Fluttershy and her Phooka, Applejack and Apple Bloom and Pinkie Pie and Rarity and Spike all joined Antares; Hevatica, Atrus, the Yamato, and other demons joined Celestia and Twilight.

Discombobulation appeared a moment later, surprisingly with Discord alongside him, and on the side of Antares: there was a crackle, and on the other side, Selene appeared, with her strange, masked servants, a soft smile on her face. Then Meadowlark and Scarlet Sage landed on either side of Antares, and the young stallion breathed weakly in and out before a beaten, bruised Sleipnir slowly walked by Celestia and Twilight and the fallen bodies of the others, not looking back as he said quietly: “It seems we have more than thou does upon thy side, Celestia.”

“Yes... but numbers aren't everything, Sleipnir. You know I can stop you all by myself.” Celestia said quietly, but she trembled a little all the same as her brother turned to face her, before she whispered: “How could you do this to your own parents, Antares... I thought you were honorable, I thought you were supposed to be special...”

“He has parents!” shouted a voice, and Antares looked up with shock as a hoof dropped on his shoulder, and Rosewood leaned past him as Scutum stood over Antares' other side, calm and impassive, head proudly raised. And when the young stallion looked slowly over his shoulder, he saw Cowlick and Ross, too, and Greece and Tenochtitlan, and so many other friends and faces that had joined them.

Celestia smiled grimly at this, shaking her head slowly before she looked silently, pleadingly up at Discombobulation, but the Draconequus only shook his head slowly before raising a fist and silently bumping it with Discord's. “Bros before hos, Celestia. And freedom isn't really freedom when you always have to be looking out over your shoulder for your self-proclaimed rulers.”

“We had fun.” Celestia said quietly, giving a faint smile as Twilight lowered her gaze shamefully away from the silent look that Burning Desire was giving her. And meanwhile, Pinkamena and Aphrodisia were both looking across at Sleipnir pleadingly, but he only shook his head slowly, the ivory mare closing her eyes as she whispered: “I don't want to kill you all. I don't want it to come to that. But I won't let any of you hurt Scrivener and Luna any further. We fought so hard to bring them back, to save them...”

Antares trembled, and then he looked up sharply as a quiet clapping filled the air, and Allonym slowly walked through the field between the two groups, cane held under one arm. All eyes stared at the Draconequus Avatar: some were accusing, some were scared, some were pleading, but they all shared surprise before Allonym grasped his cane and tapped it silently against the brim of his hat. “Well, look where we are. The very end... the great rift, like when Heaven split and all the angels had to decide what to do. Lucifer built the first tanks, you know. Says so, right in Paradise Lost.”

“Please!” Antares' voice tore through the field, abrupt and filled with misery, and all eyes turned in surprise to his outburst. “Allonym, please, please! Undo it, I... I want to take it all back! Undo everything, get rid of it, please!”

His voice fell to a whisper, echoing the last word again and again, and Allonym sighed softly as he closed his eyes before shaking his head slowly. “I've told you. My powers don't work like that... and everything you do, everything you say, once done you can't undo it. It echoes through time and space, and all of us, each and every one, from the most minor character in the most unfinished story, to the greatest author of the mightiest universe... we all have to pay the consequences for that.”

Antares shook his head weakly, trembling, and Allonym looked back and forth slowly before he silently reached into his jacket, and opened his notebook. He looked down at the last few pages, gazing over them before murmuring quietly: “And in the end, you all kill each other. But no one survives, my friends: Scrivener and Luna are dying. While you're busy slaughtering each other, Luna bleeds to death... Scrivener dies, Twilight dies, and Celestia, having just killed Sleipnir and Discombobulation, understands that she has now encouraged and aided the murder of everyone she loves. So she kills the thing she hates most in all the universe.” He tapped the page and looked at her silently. “Herself.”

There was silence, and then Allonym looked down at his notebook before reaching up and simply ripping the page out. And static buzzed through the air around them, a strange sense of clarity filling the minds of all present as tingles ran through their bodies, as Allonym muttered: “That's a crappy ending. No, for the first time in my life, I'm compelled to make everything work out perfectly. Enough. Enough death, enough lies, enough reality. Enough of everything!”

Allonym threw his cane down, then reached into his pocket and hesitated before slowly looking towards Antares, saying quietly: “Well... almost enough. Antares... if you want to preserve one life... sometimes you have to sacrifice another, do you understand?”

The young stallion looked up and nodded silently... and without fear, without flinching, he stepped forwards and said quietly: “Save them. Save them, my real parents... bring them back. I'll give up my life for that.”

“No!” Meadowlark cried out, and then she trembled before stepping up beside him, the young stallion looking at her with surprise before she hugged him fiercely around the neck, burying her head against him as she said in a trembling voice: “Please don't...”

“Antares, don't... don't do this...” Aphrodisia whispered, and then she winced when Pinkamena shook her head silently, before the young demon trembled, then tears spilled down her cheeks before she looked up and snapped: “Take me! I'm better than Nova anyway, and... and Mom and Dad don't need me as much as-”

“No, silence Aphrodisia! I offer my life as forfeit!” Sleipnir shouted immediately, and the young demon and Pinkamena both fell silent, staring across at the enormous male as he shook his head slowly and smiled faintly: “Foolish mares and foals. To die... 'tis a job best suited for a silly fool of a warrior like myself, and there is no greater honor than to die to save my little sister... to do it a second time? I imagine the mead-halls of the after-afterlife shall be filled to the brim with mares pining to worship my generosity!”

Sleipnir threw his head back and laughed before Pinkamena shouted: “You stupid idiot, you are needed! Apps needs you, I goddamn need you... you... you don't need me. Scrivener's my best friend, kill me instead. I'd die for him any day of the week, and...” Pinkamena swallowed thickly, looking up silently. “I won't fight my husband. I won't fight my little brother Antares. I won't fight anyone here.”

Pinkie Pie cried out... and other voices rose up, one after the other, offering themselves as Allonym looked back and forth. Antares trembled, staring around, before he saw Twilight beginning to open her mouth... and the young stallion shook Meadowlark off as he looked forwards and shouted clearly: “Everyone, enough!”

Silence fell at the command in his voice, and Antares breathed slowly in and out before he looked directly into Allonym's eyes, saying quietly: “I screwed up. I'm a leader. Leaders have to pay for their mistakes, and I am Antares Mīrus, son of Scrivener Blooms and Luna Brynhild, and I promised I would save my parents.”

Slowly, Antares smiled, even as a tremble ran through his body, but his head was raised proudly, his voice was clear as he said quietly: “I am going to honor that promise, and save my parents.”

Meadowlark trembled, and Scarlet Sage looked pleadingly at her brother as Celestia's swords finally, silently dropped from the air, some semblance of reason returning to the ivory winged unicorn's eyes as she shook her head mutely. Even Twilight looked up in fear and love and shame, but Allonym and Antares were only looking at one-another, their eyes locked before the Draconequus smiled and nodded, raising his pen and writing a quick sentence down.

Antares looked up... then his knees went weak and he trembled as everything went dark and cold, the world whipping away into nothing but blackness. Everyone, everything was gone, except for himself and Allonym, and the two looked at each other for a few long moments before the Draconequus closed his book, tucked it away, and then bowed politely before he swept up his cane. The Avatar turned, humming to himself as he began to walk off, and Antares shook his head weakly before he shouted: “Wait! What did you do?”

Allonym was silent, and then he turned around with a smile and tossed his fountain pen easily through the darkness. It landed in front of Antares, and the unicorn frowned as he reached down and picked this up, breathing slowly and heavily before the Draconequus said quietly: “I made the only sacrifice that makes sense. Go to sleep now, Antares... and... goodbye.”

And with that, Allonym turned and silently strode off, the shadows quickly consuming the Avatar as Antares sat back on his haunches. He trembled a bit, then slumped slowly to the ground, breathing hard as the darkness encroached on all his senses... and yet still, he clutched the fountain pen tightly in one hoof as he silently closed his eyes, and fell into a deep, endless