"I crown ye once again, the Great and Powerful Nightmare Manacle!"
She placed the crown on my head.
I felt the seals on my power and my body shatters. My transformation happened in an explosion of rainbow-colored lightning. The storm vanished like a switch was flipped.
I stretched my wings, and let my horn glow as my first act as a Nightmare again was to take a bite out of one of Applejack's apples. Then I looked at myself over in a reflective puddle.
My cutie mark inverted. Horn and wings. The strength of an earth pony within. Thousands of thousands of years of life giving me the figure of an adult Alicorn. My coated darkened a shade, but that was par the course. Slitted rose-red dragon eyes looked back at me. So much for white eyed blind loyalty. My mane's colors were inverted like a photo negative, just like my cutie mark, it shimmered ghostly a bit like it was made of light.
My black plates of barding held together by chains in place again covered my body with an old pegasi warrior off the style of something Commander Hurricane would wear if she was into a fashion statement.
"Back to the fire,” I tell myself, softly but with brooding, lonely drama. “Back to brimstone. Back to the dark pits where you belong, Nightmare Manacle. And may you never again mock the innumerable graveyards you’ve filled... by aspiring to heroism ever again.”
I didn't need to search for my friends. Even sealed away, we were connected by the Elements, and could sense each other’s power.
Let do this.
I flew into AJ's house, I could have teleported or used the door, but I felt like smashing some walls.
AJ looked up at me, bug-eyed from her couch. "RAINBOW?! THAT YOU?!" Her hoof instantly reached for a cider bottle that wasn't there a moment before. I shattered it with my telekinesis. Before AJ could get another word in edgewise, I pull her up with my magic, and placed my horn against her forehead and cast the memory spell. "Mirror, I know you’ll appreciate my honesty when I tell you this is really gonna hurt."
The seals on her broke like cheap glass. The drinking geass placed on her that kept her from using her truth vision dissolved.
What looked like glass crystallized around her, making a reflective silver shell like she was a statue. It shattered open a second later as silver shining light shockwaved in the room, knocking things off their selves and flipping tables and couches upside down and blowing out windows.
Mirror's coat was darker, her cutie mark now green apples with red leafs. Her body type now that of an Alicorn, the oldest of us now. Green dragon eyes stared back at me, that pierced me to my soul, but I was done looking away. Her barding was smooth sleek bright reflective silver with emeralds set in shaped to look like eyes that also armored her wings completely, or maybe her feathers of her wings were silver, the truth was hard to tell. Her mane reminded me of an autumn sky at sunset.
"Ya just had ta wake me up, didn't ya?" She said curtly. Same old Nightmare Mirror.
"Yes, I did,” I tell her curtly. “Vacation’s over, Mirror.”
"We gettin’ the others?” she asks.
“Of course,” I tell her.
“Good. Ah’m glad. Ah can't stand livin’ this disgustin' lie no more. This desperate fantasyland paradise.”
Fair enough. I think to myself, bitterly. Want to know what I can’t stand? Besides myself? You. ALL of you. You’ve seen it for yourself, Mirror, you’ve LIVED it for yourself: in my ‘desperate fantasyland’, none of you Nightmares EVEN EXIST.
So naturally, my next step was to finish reuniting with all the rest of my fellow eldritch abominations. Paradise was no place for monsters such as us.
"RACE YA!" I zoomed out the other side of the house.
"HEY, NO FAIR!"
Ahhhh, high-speed racing. At least THAT still took the edge off.
"So do you hate me for waking you up?" I asked. That slowpoke, Mirror, was having trouble keeping apace with me, and I allowed myself a tiny touch of satisfaction.
"It's the truth. Deal. Mah motto, remember?”
I grinned. Oh yes, I remembered. And I could ‘deal’ with her hating me, no problem. Mirror wasn’t the type of pony one wanted prolonged contact with, anyway.
“Nightmare Eclipse was so delusional that every time Ah told'er to her face she was evil and doin' evil she brushed me off!...Stubborn thing."
"Oh right, you were with her the longest, weren’t you?"
"By the time of that last battle, Manny? Ah HATED what were doing even more than ya!”
“Didn’t stop you, though,” I pointed out, dodging a tree.
“Ah had nowhere else to go. And figured the Golden World was the only way left to make any of it mean anythin'. Oh. And Ah was plannin' ta drag all of us to Pony Hell after."
"Did you?” I inquired, with surprisingly mild interest.
"Honest Mirror, remember? Ya think we don't deserve it?"
With a light laugh, I gave a shrug that indicated agreement. "Are you STILL planning on dragging us to Hell?" If Mirror said ‘yes,’ I wasn’t sure whether I’d fight her or submit peacefully.
"Ain’t decided yet,” said Mirror. She hesitated before looking back over at me. “Rainbow...”
“My name’s MANACLE, Mirror!” I insisted hotly.
She flinched. “...One thing yah shouldn't be ashamed of? Yah got closer ta beatin' Nightmare Eclipse than Ah did, and ya weren't a Nightmare yet…"
Was that a rueful look Mirror was giving me? Was she trying to be uplifting? Consolation and compassion from Nightmare Mirror was always so awkward... a creature like her, with the soul of an icy bludgeon, wasn’t really meant for such things. She meant well enough, but I wasn’t really in the mood. Dwelling on what a better pony I’d been in my pre-Nightmare days, (Traitor Dash, included,) wouldn’t do me any good. It’s what got me into this current mess in the first place.
And besides... Nightmare Eclipse...
That insufferable doppelgänger with all her riddles...
Even the original Twilight Sparkle herself...
I still loved Twilight so very deeply. As much as I ever had. But a new and colder emotion was beginning to burgeon alongside that love.
"What about you?” I asked Mirror, with a teasing smirk. “Upset the AJ that beat her was an Element of Fantasy?"
"Ah'd be upset if a LIARjack had done it,” she countered, with a wry smile. “It's the corrupt version of that Element Ah take issue with...Ah'm proud that meh managed tah save Apple Pie in a way Ah couldn't."
"That's pretty mature of you," I complimented.
"No, it's pretty honest of meh."
We were approaching Sugarcube Corner. I wanted to crash straight through it, rhino-style, but Applejack didn't want anypony hurt, and teleported us inside instead.
Sweetie Belle wasn't here. But Apple Bloom was along with most of the foals, and Cheerilee too.
Cheerilee's jaw hang out at the sight of us, and like any loyal teacher should, put herself between us and the foals. No surprise, of course.
Boo! We’re monsters.
I spotted Pinkie Pie sitting next to Bright Night.
"APPLEJACK!? IS THAT YOU!?" Apple Bloom gasped.
"Ah'm sorry Apple Bloom," Mirror said. "But Ah ain't yer Applejack, and this ain't yer Ponyville."
"W-what?" The poor filly asked completely lost.
"OH! Is it Nightmare Night already?" Pinkie Pie asked. "Oh wait! This is what you were telling me about Bright Night?"
"Yes Pinkie Pie, it is."
I frowned curiously at Pinkie Pie, but she was already explaining. "Bright Night says I forgot an important promise. But I didn't think you'd come back to the party as scary Alicorns with AJ, so are you going to apologize to Bright Night? Or are we gonna have round two?"
I looked at the pink pegasus filly. I sighed. "I'm sorry, Bright Night."
"Apology accepted." she bowed humbled.
"Apology for what?" Apple Bloom asked.
"It's not important anymore, Apple Bloom," Bright Night said.
...She was in on this. Little Bright Night was definitely IN on this.
Cheerilee was looking left to right trying to figure out what was going on, looking on the verge of a breakdown. "Bright Night! Get away from them!"
I cast a spell that stole Cheerilee’s voice. It would wear off completely in one hour.
"Pinkie,” asked Mirror, “can ya please stand still fer a moment?"
"Are ya gonna turn me to stone, a brainwashed zombie, a freaky apple-pony hybrid, or revert me to a former life?" Pinkie asked.
"Yes on the last one."
"Okay! Should be fun."
"Prepare tah be disappointed, sugarcube,” Mirror spoke with her usual degree of irrepressible good cheer. “It ain't a lie that Ah wish Ah was wakin' yah up tah a better sight,"
AJ touched Pinkie Pie's head with her horn and cast the memory spell. Pinkie Pie did what looked like a lifetime of Pinkie Sense twitches in under a minute.
Then she stood perfect at attention. She then got down on all fours and shook her head. "Geeze, you weren't kidding about being disappointed. I was hoping to for generation three me. Or Surprise. Or a My Little Horsey toy prototype from Hasbro, that would be new."
"Remember? Ya Pinkie Promised, Granfalloon," Mirror said.
"Yeah I did. Oh well. Apple Bloom, Bright Night, everypony, sorry but the party is over for now. Thanks for coming."
She then stood up, and pulled on the back of her body where there was now a zipper, and upside herself like she was a costume. Out came a darker shade of pink Alicorn, with the colors of her balloon cutie mark inverted. Her eyes were blue and like a dragon's. Her wings and horn looked like crayon drawings. Unlike us who wore barding, she was wearing a party dress with candy shaped jewelry (or jewelry shaped candy knowing Pinkie Pie). She wasn't wearing her clown make up. Her mane looked almost like a foal's rendition who had forgotten to color in the lines.
She neatly folded up her, ugh, 'Pinkie Pie costume.'
Cheerilee looked in dismay and horror, probably wishing she could scream.
"Don't worry, Cheerilee...I'm most ME ME ME instead! I think! Maybe maybe maybe....Dang. Being, more sane really stinks."
Nightmare Granfalloon, the Eternal Laughter, didn’t look like laughing! Out of all of us, Granfalloon had been crazy in a way that made Eclipse run for her money. She looked at Applejack.
"Jackie...I...I thought it was all just a game, I didn't mean to laugh AT all those ponies... or to end their... I didn't...I wouldn't...I didn't think anypony was really... I thought everything..."
“...Was just fun, games, and giggles.” I finished evenly. To be fair, she’d left a lot of them grinning. At least in skull-form, sixty percent of the time. Not that the rest of us hadn’t helped.
She whimpered. "Am I a bad pony?"
"...You WERE a bad pony...” Mirror told Granfalloon. “We all were ...Now?...The honest truth is it's up tah you…"
The hackles rose on my back, crackling with thick flame and eldritch darkness. Uggggghhhh. SPARE me, Guru Mirror! The sooner the band was all back together, and we’d all returned back home, the sooner I could break away from my fellow monsters and shut myself away for a few precious, precious hours of total isolation. If the universe was willing to be so accommodating. Probably wouldn’t.
Granfalloon flashed me an uneasy look, but said nothing. Mirror regarded me dolefully. Cheerilee looked ready to soil herself, as Granfalloon pulled out in a mirror and put on some buffalo tribe war paint.
"Where's Rarity and Sweetie Belle?" I asked, lifting Cheerilee’s silence spell.
"If you think I'm going to tell you anything-" Cheerilee gasped.
"I suggested to her that she should leave the party early when I got back, considering everything that happened yesterday, and that was a good idea to spend as much time with her big sister today as she could. Since there was no telling when they'd meet again,” said Bright Night, smiling at her teacher. "It's okay Miss Cheerilee. These aren't the enemy."
Baring my teeth at the filly, I set the seat of Cheerilee’s chair violently on fire; the flames rose in a hot, high column that almost touched the bakery’s ceiling.
“Well... uh... TWO of ‘em definitely aren’t,” Bright Night amended fearfully. Then, while Granfalloon brought out an extinguisher, she warned, “You’ll want to be careful, though! You’ll want to get a quick move-on! The ones who set this stage are ever-watchful!"
“Ladies!” I barked, turning on Bright Night and Cheerilee. “Let’s get moving.”
But I sensed Granfalloon dithering. “Do we REALLY need to wake up Rarity too? Can't we just leave her be and let her be happy?"
I turned around and gave the Eternal Laughter a rather mean-spirited smile. “Ha ha ha! Hilarious as ever, Granfalloon, that’s what we all love about you! Here, I got a real rib-cracker of my own! Stop me if you’ve heard this already: Couldn’t the universe have just left ME be? Let ME be happy?!”
The room went quiet as a tomb. Even Mr. and Mrs. Cake halted in their oblivious baking to look at me.
“Then what makes you think I’d EVER let any OTHER Nightmare enjoy the privilege, instead?!” I hissed.
"Pinkie,” said Mirror, in a much more rational-sounding voice. “Whatever put us here brainwashed Nightmares and took over this place. We'll need all the power we can get.”
"So Spike, uh, what was it like being Rarity? Really?" Pinkie poked.
"Like a dream. Only now I've woken up to the Nightmare. Rarity's gone. And I let Eclipse do it."
Mirror spoke. "You didn't 'let' Eclipse do anything to your Rarity. Rarity made her choice, she was hoping her death would snap yah back to reality."
"I know that, now. But it doesn't change the fact that I... wanted to make Rarity into Nightmare Charity. Every one of them. I ignored that I was stealing these Rarities from other Spikes, and just assisted Twilight in destroying the world, over and over," the Nightdrake said in pain.
"Yer absolutely right," Mirror said evenly. When Granfalloon shot Mirror a dirty look, she didn't even flinch.
"...And every time we murdered her...it wasn't a fake...she was real..."
"Yep.” Cemeteries WISHED they could be as somber as Nightmare Mirror. "Apple Pie was real, Rarity was real, the Spikes were real, the Twilights were real. Them being fake was just the lie Eclipse used to live with herself.”
“She’s the real root of it all,” I spoke without really thinking. “Every wrong thing about us is really because of Twilight Sparkle.”
Mirror turned her accuracy-obsessed gaze on me. “Now, Manacle, ya know that ain’t...”
“Later, Mirror,” I swore. “We WILL discuss this later when...”
But it seemed ‘later’ just might be right now. We spotted ‘Twilight Sparkle’ atop the library’s roof, waving at us, a book still under one hoof. She wasn't scared, confused, or intimidated by us at all.
We landed without a word around her, Spike landed on the ground and leaned his neck down.
"Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, Spike, and you to, Applejack. It's good to see you." She smiled wistfully. "I only wish I had a way I could have helped you myself. Thank you, Rainbow Dash and..."
“Nightmare Manacle,” I corrected the purple unicorn. “We are Nightmare Manacle, Nightmare Granfalloon, Nightmare Banneret, and Nightmare Mirror.”
“...I don’t mind being called Pinkie Pie at all,” Granfalloon said softly, briefly transforming herself into her old mortal form.
“Yeah! I’m still cool with ‘Spike,’” said Banneret. Looking over at Mirror, I could see she was in much the same mind, as well.
“Suit yourselves,” I told my cohorts, turning back to the purple unicorn. “As for myself, though, I am Nightmare Manacle and ONLY Nightmare Manacle. At your service.”
The Twilight impostor grimaced slightly, (as did many of my friends,) but she recovered herself, bowing her head respectfully. “Er, yes. I'm sorry for baiting you so much. I had to play the part of somepony you wanted to prove wrong so it would override your desire to stay in your escape, and to wake you up to the clues you were being made not to notice.”
“You did what you had to do.” This wasn’t even any sort of veiled scorn against her. It WAS something that had to be done. I could respect her for at least that.
But the impostor still looked sheepish, saying, “I'm sorry for acting the way I did. I didn't like it."
"Stop apologizing so much,” I told her. “I hated every ‘sorry’ of yours, back when you were refusing to give me any straight answers. And they still set my teeth on edge now. ‘Sorry’ is one of the most pointless words ever made. Shall I tell you all the things that I’M sorry for? For all the fat lot of good it’ll do me and all the ones I’m sorry towards?!”
".S...sorry, heh,” and she bowed lower. “It just seems like I'm made to play the role of the bad guy whenever somepony needs opposition to rise to the challenge. Nothing like a little competition to bring out a pony's full potential, eh, Rainbow Dash?”
This time I struck; sending her crashing straight through the roof of Golden Oaks Library straight to its basement like a purple comic book meteor. Not going to lie: it felt GOOD. Over my companions’ alarmed cries, I raised the Twilight impostor back up to the roof with my telekinesis. Her face was one big beautiful blackened bruise.
“Let’s get one thing clear, please,” I said, pulling a punctured encyclopedia off the impostor’s horn. “Rainbow Dash was a pony who wanted to bury her bad past. Live like her bad old ‘Nightmare’ self never existed. Spend the rest of her days being a noble hero. Then you came. You, with all your smarmy little digs, all your ‘without their cheers, you're empty,’ and your ’they’re just cardboard cutouts to you, you sure DECONSTRUCTED the good pony she was trying to be, didn’t you? The good pony she wished so BADLY she could really be, through all the dark centuries and parallel universes she lived and relived as Traitor Dash AND Nightmare Manacle.”
“Rain... Manacle, put her down,” Nightmare Banneret growled, smoke wafting from his nostrils as he took a warning step forward.
“Not ‘til I’m done talking!” I bellowed, throwing up a light force field around myself and the fake Twilight Sparkle.
“Those things you said,” I continued, “You ruined it. You threw acid on Dash’s most noblest dream. Soured it to the point where she turned against her own paradise. Goaded her into digging up the bones of her bad old self, and remember ALL her sins...”
The impostor’s bruise was healing at a supernatural rate. Her eyes stared at me widely.
“...Not that you were wrong to do it,” I continued, in a calmer voice. “For 50 kajillion Scootaloos? I’d’ve done it all too. And after all the genocide, heck, galaxy-cide, I’ve committed, I certainly don’t deserve to be treated with kid’s gloves, do I? All the same, though, let me ask this, lady: when a girl’s pride in herself is pulverized straight into baking soda, when you see fit to deconstruct heroism, itself, what’s left? What else is left?”
“I’m so...” The impostor bit down on her ‘sorry.’
After a long and heavy sigh, I released my telekinesis, setting her down gently on her hooves. “The sad thing is... you could’ve HAD ‘Rainbow Dash.’ She’d’ve been GLAD to help you with... anything. But no one wants Dash the Hero, do they? Not Discord. Not Nightmare Eclipse. And not you either. You all want me to be a monster. So here I am. Nightmare Manacle, at your service.”
I made my force field vanish.
“Don’t ever treat those two names like interchangeable synonyms again, got me?”
The Twilight Sparkle impostor nodded, shuddering with silent tears. I put on a politer smile.
“Now... let’s not let any of that stand in the way of us being civil. Would you care for some tea?” I asked, conjuring up a full tea tray.
Banneret went over nuzzled the shaken purple unicorn with his huge head. Tea splashed out of her cup as she stirred it with trembling telekinesis. I drank some tea myself.
“Now, please tell us, what was it you called us out here for?”
“F-Fluttersh-shy,” the purple unicorn stammered. “Y-you’re trying t-to get her, but t--they set up a trap...”
“A trap?” piped up Granfaloloon. “Those big meanies!"
"There, there, Twilight,” Banneret said gently, “It’s gonna be okay, sshhhh....”
“I-I’m n-n-not Twilight,” she hiccuped. “Twi-i-ilight was n-n-ever here...”
I thought I'd be the only one not to gasp when she said that. Mirror didn't flinch either, oh right, eyes of truth. Mirror must have known the moment she saw her. Why didn't she say anything? Maybe she'd been waiting for her to say it. But Granfalloon and the Nightdrake gasped in shock. I swear I heard their hearts crack a little. Mine and Mirror's already had.
We waited, but the mare did nothing to ‘unmask’ herself. Her form just stayed that of Twilight, struggling to get ahold of herself.
“Who are you?” asked Granfalloon, pulling out a big magician’s stream of rainbow hankies for her to blow her nose.
"I'm a r-relative and a dear friend of Twilight’s.” Her emotions were starting to settle back down. “And I'm here because it's what she'd want. I was sent here to rescue the innocent ponies trapped in this false Ponyville. I came here because you're my friends too."
She bowed her head. "I'm not lying when I say I'm your friend, though I know Applejack the least....”
"Then where is Twilight?!" demanded Banneret. Granfalloon painted a blue tear on her face.
"I don't where she is right now, or I'd tell you.” The impostor looking up pleadingly at my disbelieving scoff . “P-please believe me! Please, please, please! She'd be here to help if she could but...it took so long to find you. It took so for us just to get inside. And she still loves all of you, and she does apologize for everything she did to you as Nightmare Eclipse and just wanted to make up for it a little."
“Did she?” I smiled up at the clouds, as though Twilight, herself, was watching me from up there. “Nightmarish transformations and devious duplicity... we’re off to a rollicking good start, aren’t we? Just like old times, eh, Twilight...?”
“I forgive her,” Banneret said at once. “She kept trying to turn Rarity into a monster and I didn't even try to stop her."
"I forgive her too," Granfalloon said, placing a hoof over her heart. Mirror said nothing. "But what about the Twilight who was here before you... took over?"
"There was no Twilight here before,” said the impostor. “Nothing but a puppet, just wood, string, and illusion magic.”
The others shuddered in pain that wasn't physical. Then the impostor looked over at me. “So, Rainbow Dash...have you figure out the whole truth yet?”
“By which you mean: have I figured out who’s the puppetmaster in all this? The one pulling the strings?”
The impostor nodded. “Yes, yes, yes?"
My head bent down, then back up. "Yeah. I figured it out. It’s not Heaven, Hell, Nothingness, Limbo, or Purgatory...”
“Duh!” interrupted Granfalloon. “It’s you, yourself, D---Manacle!”
Bzzt! Granfalloon glared over at Mirror and the big negatory game show buzzer she’d hit. “Hey! That’s MY schtick, AJ!”
Avoiding Granfalloon’s eyes, Nightmare Mirror whistled innocently with a mischievous smile. Downright surreal.
“Mirror’s right, through: this Ponyville isn’t something I made. The moment I recovered my memories, I knew there could be only one logical culprit. It's-"
"Rainbow Dash!" Our favorite yellow pegasus shouted as she fluttered onto the top of the house tree. "Applejack! Pinkie Pie! Oh! And Spike! It's been forever since I've seen you! How have you been? I hope you've been getting enough rest!"
"Don't bother please, guys." I sighed again. "I know who did this to us. But I wasn't sure how to confess it. I didn't want to believe it. I didn't want it to be true. I really didn't....Guys, I'm sorry."
Eyes turned towards me.
"Manny, what are you saying?" Granfalloon's lip trembled.
Feeling like a detective from a mystery novel, I looked down at my reflection in one of the library's windows. "I knew even before I got my memories back that the culprit had to be one of us. Only a Nightmare would have pulled this 'erase memories, trap them in their own world 'for their own good.'
I wanted to tell myself it had to be some DIFFERENT Nightmare... maybe a delusional friend, but what friends do we have left?"
The Not-Twilight impostor put a hoof over her heart and hung her head.
I listed off my logical deductions.
"This is all one big lie: Nightmare Mirror might’ve been goaded into participating in it, but she’d NEVER have masterminded it.
"Everything is too ‘Rainbow Dash’-centered for it to be Nightmare Banneret. Perhaps if it were Rarity or Twilight Sparkle, or Spike in the limelight... but since it’s not...
Banneret shrugged his agreement.
"This place is missing WAY TOO MANY details to ever be run by Twilight Sparkle.” Everyone nodded.
"The adventures we've had just aren't imaginative enough to be Granfalloon, and the puppets wouldn't be following such shallow and predictable routines. No show of hers is ever PREDICTABLE!"
"Plus, I’d’ve thrown in a lot more in-jokes, and made everypony way more prone to lighthearted one-liners and partying,” added Granfalloon. “And I’d have brought back Minty.”
"This was my pocket domain, of course, so I’m a prime suspect,” I pointed out. “In my Traitor Dash days, there was nothing I wanted more than to turn back the clock and return to Ponyville, as it had been during that brief, glorious year between us beating Nightmare Moon and Discord. Discord was always forcing me to be a murdering, backstabbing villain, why? Because even in my deepest despair I never stopped wanting to be a hero. I never stopped wanting to do good. To help ponies and protect them. How badly I wanted to strong enough to stand up to all the bad guys! To have it so things were great BECAUSE of me for a change!”
“All I really wanted was Rarity. At least to be there for her.” sighed the dragon who’d turned himself into a Nightmare for Rarity’s sake. “Part of me likes to think that if Discord had never entered the picture and... and tinkered with my personality, I might’ve been able to grow out of that puppy crush, eventually, and find a new girl. But that’s neither here nor there. My heart’s stuck on Rarity forever and Rarity will never accept me as I am. Ain’t it funny?”
The interruption had taken me by surprise. Nightmare Banneret turned towards me. “What I’m trying to say is: it’s not just you.” And he patted my head.
“Y-yeah,” I said, swallowing and trying to regain my rhetorical momentum. “But then I recognized the magic signature of the drinking geass on Applejack. And there was only one other pony I gave the keys to my room to! AND! I was at your house we were having tea and I didn't find anything wrong with it. I. Don't. Like. Tea!"
Everyone followed my line-of-sight to Fluttershy, who took a trot back.
"Yer still ‘kidnappin' Philomena,’ Fluttershy. Please just stop," Mirror told her; we all understood the metaphor at once.
"Discord must be doing this to us!"
"Somethin' THIS orderly ain't his style, sorry, sugah," Mirror said.
"This is just our version of paradise! We must have all died!"
"We wouldn't be in heaven," I sighed.
"This isn't her idea of love, or revenge," the Nightdrake said.
"He wouldn't have done this half-flank a job," I said. “I'd captured his TARDIS with my chains enough times. Please... you’re just grasping at straws now.”
We all closed in around her.
"Please! We're all happy here! Let me reset your memories and everything can be okay again!" She begged us.
"No!" We all retorted.
Fluttershy's eyes became draconic, and the all-mighty Stare was deployed upon us. Be they dragon, changeling, Discord is the only entity I've EVER seen outright immune to Fluttershy's power.
"I'm sorry, but I can't let you hurt yourselves."
We were all bad, bad fillies. We should be doing what Mama Fluttershy wants. Bad fillies. Bad. Listen to your mother. You...
The Cruelest of Truth resisted the Kindest of Lies just enough to fling a reflective wing in front of herself.
Fluttershy gasped in surprise, not in shock or pain, before turning to fog and dissolving.
"Fluttershy?" Granfalloon whispered, horrified.
"It was one of her constructs! She must have been in the driver's seat this whole time!" Mirror shouted. "Since it wasn't her real body, it couldn't handle the stare being thrown back at it."
"So that wouldn't work on the real Fluttershy?"
"Slow her down, cut her off, but it wouldn't stop her," I said.
"Should've known it would be that easy," Not-Twilight sighed.
"Don't you have 'turn ponies' spines to goo' vision too?" Banneret asked.
"...In straight-up eye-to-eye, hers trumps mine."
"...Ah can't beat her with mine. We're meant to TEMPER each other. But when one of us has got...well, a galaxy’s worth of guilt on her shoulders and the other is...well, Fluttershy, the Stare has the upper hoof."
"TERRIFIC!" The Nightdrake roared in frustration. I was reminded of an O&O game, a couple timelines ago, where Banneret took the sword from fallen ogre and it 'mysteriously broke' when his paladin tried to swing it himself.
"FLUTTERSHY! LISTEN TO AUNTIE PINKIE PIE! NIGHTMARE TWILIGHT IS GONE! THE ELEMENTS WOULD HAVE MADE HER GOOD AGAIN! LET'S JUST STOP ALL THIS! THEN WE CAN START HELPING PONIES!" Granfalloon yelled into a giant megaphone, making several real ponies in the streets below cover their poor ears. "I'LL MAKE CAKE!"
"If she's gone to this much trouble, sugarcube, you wouldn’t be able to change her mind with a triple fudge cheesecake the size of an Ursa Major. When a ponies' beliefs are challenged, they become even more zealous, not less, that goes quadruple for Nightmares."