"I crown ye once again, the Great and Powerful Nightmare Manacle!"
She placed the crown on my head. Equestria already has a Rainbow Dash.
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 coat had 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.
"Alright, Nightmare Manacle...one last adventure. Then you can owe up to everything you've done."
"Back to the dark," I tell myself, softly but with brooding, lonely drama. "One last adventure. Then you can owe up to everything you've done and off to the dark pits where you belong, Nightmare Manacle. And may you never again mock the innumerable graveyards you've filled."
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's 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.
Her'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."
"You hurt any of Bloomberg's family transformin'?"
"I promise I didn't."
"We gettin' the others?" she asks.
"Of course," I tell her.
"Good. Ah'm glad. Ah can't stand livin' this disgustin' lie we've trapped innocent ponies in."
Fair enough. I think to myself, bitterly. Want to know what I can't stand? Besides myself? This lot of monsters we let Eclipse turn us into, including you. We've bucking BETRAYED everything we fought for. Why do you think none of us are Nightmares here?
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.
"My name is Nightmare Manacle."
"If ya SAY that's your name, then that's yer name. Now Rainbow Dash, now that you don't have Eclipse's spikes in yer brain no more, Ah've got somethin' ta tell ya."
Mirror grabbed my face by her hooves and looked me in the eyes. "Yer no coward RD, ya've NEVER been. And that is the truth of Nightmare Mirror."
"WHAT? Are you BLIND? The horseapples Discord made me do, the horseapples we HELPED Eclipse do?"
"What ya acted like was Discord's SICKNESS, get that through yer thick head! Eclipse had to bucking dig out yer Element of Free-Will to make ya the 'friend' she wanted." She wrapped her wings around me and gave me a nuzzle. "Stop hurtin' yerself Rainbow, it doesn't . . . it doesn't do anypony any good."
My eyes bulged as I broke the hug pushing her back with my telekensis. "Since when do YOU, show niceness, Miss Cruelest of Truths?"
"Truth can be warm too RD. That's the truth also. I tell all truths."
"So that's it, poof, all my sins forgiven? Tra la la? Nothing I did was MY fault? Give me a break!"
"Ah said ya beatin' yerself over it ain't gonna do nopony no good, that it ain't so nice and pretty black and white, and HATIN' those around ya ain't gonna help nopony neither!"
"I didn't say I hated anypony."
"Ah cold see it yer eyes RD, Ah'm truth, Ah know how ta read ponies, . . . and Ah don't blame ya, but haven't we been vomiting ENOUGH hate in the last few millions years? And what did ANY of it solve? Eclipse hated Discord, Ah hated lies, ya hated disloyalty, what GOOD came out of any of that hate?"
I narrowed my eyes, snorted air, lowered my head until my horn was level, and tensed up my wings. "Mirror, I've got only one thing to say to that."
"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.
"You woke me up to reality, I'm the one who has to deal with it. It's mah motto, remember?"
"NO way!" I snapped as we still raced. "You don't tell me not to be a sore jerk about thing and then get to be one yourself, forget it! I get it! You were happy! So was I! You're right, we do need to deal with this! But we don't have to deal with this alone!"
I admit, a part of me wanted her to retaliate to that. I guess a part of me wanted us to still be hypocritical Nightmares.
"Heh . . . you are loyalty." Mirror smiled at me. "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 any of us, though," I pointed out, dodging a tree. Nightmares were hypocrites by nature. I betrayed the world, she supported a lie, Granfalloon made people suffer, Whisper was cruel, Bannerette stole the world from ponies over and over again. And Eclipse? She became the thing she was vengeful about. We were all a bunch of hypocrites.
"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.
"Ya think we don't deserve it?"
With a light laugh, I gave a shrug that indicated agreement. I'd probably have lent her my chains. "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.
"Are you kiddin'? It's not mah place. Ah'm not judge and jury. Ah never was. That's the truth Ah can see now. Ah'm gonna face the concepts and accept their judgement, not mine. And Ah know ya'll do the same. Though without Eclipse 'round, Ah wonder how long we got before we start fightin' each other."
"Not on your life AJ, and I'll call you that. Ya TRIED to do the right thing after you realized your mistake, that's more than I did. "Rainbow..."
"My name's MANACLE, Mirror!" I insisted hotly.
"Heh." Mirror laughed. "If ya say so." Then she got solemn. "…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? She meant well enough, but 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.
Then I remembered.
. . . AJ told me...her first cycle, her native world.
She'd protected and saved her Apple Pie, and FOUGHT Eclipse when she tried to end the world...when she realized she wasn't out to avert Discord's reign, but just repeat it over and over so she could torment him. AJ said that if she knew Eclipse was going to ACTUALLY advert his reign by erasing our reality, she said she'd have felt it was a fair trade. Then she found out what would happen to all those souls of all the ponies erased.
In the end, Nightmare Mirror was on the ground, bleeding, her wings and armor shattered, with Eclipse's spears in her body Mirror told me. And Apple Pie, looking up in fear as Eclipse looked at her like she wasn't even a living thing.
AJ always choked up at what happen next. I couldn't get the whole story out of her. She'd say something about saving Apple Pie the only way she could, but wouldn't go into details.
She'd caused Applejack, Discord, everypony, so much pain. I wondered if I was still crazy. I think might have now actually felt sorry for that bastard Discord!
That insufferable doppelgänger with all her riddles... that had gotten me this far in the first place . . . whether I liked it or not . . .
I still loved Twilight so very deeply. As much as I ever had. I refused to let that impersonator's tough love games infect that.
. . . If I hadn't been friends with Twilight . . . If I hadn't been an Element . . . I'd have been just another toy for Discord, and he wouldn't have given an extra glance . . . I wouldn't have spent a thousand years as his play thing, and I wouldn't have spent millions of years as Eclipse little friends. And all it would have cost me is the best friends I'd ever had in my life and having somepony else become an Element and get tortured by Discord and twisted by Eclipse in my place. Yeah. No thanks.
This mare doesn't throw other ponies under the chariot to save her own flanks!
"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.
"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 I guess to get the foals back to school.
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.
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. Whatever her angle was, she wasn't on the side of who was trapping us here, it should have been obvious after I woke up. 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.
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!"
Bright Night trotted over to her and hugged her. "Don't worry Miss Cheerilee, they're not the enemy."
Cheerilee was stunned silent by Bright Night's mature serenity.
"Pinkie," asked Mirror reluctantly, "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."
"Sorry Pinkie Pie, ya'll be disappointed," Mirror whispered shamefully. "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 awaken as 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 had a three second faint, Bright Night kept her on her hooves. The foals were transfixed.
"Don't worry, Cheerilee...I'm more me instead! I think! 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.
She whimpered. "Jackie, am I a bad pony?"
"...You WERE a bad pony..." The Nightmare of Truth spoke to Granfalloon. "We all were ...Now?...The honest truth is it's up tah you…" Mirror hugged her with her forehooves and wings and gave her a nuzzle, her horns touching.
Cheerilee was left astounded by the act of pure friendship by the two Nightmares.
he hackles rose on my back, crackling with thick flame and eldritch darkness. Uggggghhhh. SPARE me, Guru Mirror! How does she think it's that easy? I just want this mess over with." I said under my breath.
A hoof laid on my side.
"Fake memories doesn't change somepony, Rainbow Dash. Volunteer ponies were ashamed of 'their' actions when given somepony else's memories. If you've been loyal, selfless, brave, confident, and CARING about others, it's because that's the real you. Sombra with your memories wouldn't be a hero, and you with his wouldn't be a monster. That's the heart's power." Somepony whispered in my hear.
I looked at Bright Night, for a moment, she looked so old.
Granfalloon flashed me an uneasy look, but said nothing. Mirror regarded me dolefully. Cheerilee looked woozy as Granfalloon pulled out in a mirror and put on some buffalo tribe war paint.
"Cheerilee, where's Rarity and Sweetie Belle?" I asked.
"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. They just look scary on the outside. They're still themselves."
Baring my teeth at the filly, I set a chair violently on fire; the flames rose in a hot, high column that almost touched the bakery's ceiling.
Cheerilee startled as Granfalloon put it out with an extinguisher. "Dashie! Don't ruin my furniture!"
"A teacher knows a tough mare when she sees one, if you wanted to hurt somepony, you wouldn't have set fire to a chair."
"Bright Night, how can you know all this?" Cheerilee implored.
"I promise I'll explain everything soon." She looked right at me. "You'll want to be careful, though and get a quick move-on! The ones who set this stage are ever-watchful!"
"Ladies!" I barked, turning from 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?!"
Wait a second . . . where those . . . where those tears?
"I-I-I I'm SORRY Dashie!" She blubbered, and knelt before me. "I didn't mean . . . I'm sorry I hurt . . . "
"It's okay sugarcube," said Mirror, in a much more rational-sounding voice, lifting up Granfalloon's chin, looking her in the eyes. "Dashie's just in a lot of pain right now. Like all of us. When somepony is hurt, they can forget other ponies are hurt too. The real her is just makin' up for a few million years worth of crude. Ah'm sorry we can't just let Rarity sleep. But whatever put us here brainwashed Nightmares and took over this place. We need all the help we can get." Granfalloon, the Endless Laughter, sniffling, hugged Mirror.
Any grand retort I had died in throat seeing the Cruelest of Truth show such kindness.
The room went quiet as a tomb. Even Mr. and Mrs. Cake halted in their oblivious baking to look at them.
"Girls," I whispered, "We don't have time."
Granfalloon looked me in the eyes, and silently nodded, stood up, and wiped her tears away.
"Bye for now everypony! Thanks for coming! I hope we get to have some fun later! Oh and help yourselves to whatever you want behind the counter! For the rest of the afternoon, everything is free!"
Cheerilee looked confused when the Cakes didn't give so much as a peep. Then dismayed as her students looked ready to spoil their appetites, but not as much as should have.
Cheerilee looked confused when the Cakes didn't give so much as a peep. Then mildly dismayed as her students looked ready to spoil their appetites, but not as much as should have.
"Applejack! WAIT! WHADDYA MEAN YER NOT MAH SISTER?! WHADDYA MEAN THIS AIN'T PONYVILLE?!" Apple Bloom was crying.
Mirror tried to hug Apple Bloom with her wings, and grimaced. Mirrors did not make the most warm and comforting of wings. Mirror FORCED her wing eyes closed to avoid accidentally driving her sister catatonic with things ponies were not meant to know. She hugged her with her hooves and nuzzled her. "Ah wish Ah had time to explain. Ah'm sorry Apple Bloom." With more strength than it should have taken, AJ let go of her.
We didn't bother to watch what happened next. And I didn't bother to see if Bright Night tagged along or not, I think if she was needed, she'd be there.
My sensing lead us straight to Carousel Boutique.
Bright Night was right. Whatever was here had eyes and ears everywhere. We didn't have time to waste and we wasted too much already.
We all teleported inside Rarity's living room. She and Sweetie were sitting on a couch having cookies and tea (more like sweetened water in Sweetie's case).
Rarity did what you'd expect from a big sister. She pulled Sweetie Belle close to her and assumed a hard style-karate pose that looked self taught. "DON'T YOU DARE TOUCH HER!"
Sweetie Belle yelled and held onto her big sister for dear life.
Three Nightmares with the forms of her friends had just teleported into her living room after all. She was going to fight to the end to protect Sweetie or for a way to get themselves to safety. Protecting her like a dragon would its treasure.
Ya know, I really hated to do this, I really did. This was a cheap way to win. But against the telekinesis of four Nightmares, she didn't stand a chance. She didn't even try to use hers to counter ours. Instead she told Sweetie to run, but Pinkie Pie picked up the filly with her tail and started tickling her.
"Un-tail her you-" That was when Pinkie Pie touched her forehead, and used the memory spell. Eclipse had taught it to ALL of us.
Rarity let out a gasp, her eyes wide in shock, then confusion, realization, followed by shame, and finally, sadness.
"Please let me and Sweetie Belle go," She said.
We did so.
Sweetie was confused by her big sister's change in behavior, enough to take her mind for the moment off of escaping.
"Sweetie Belle." Rarity hugged her. "I am very proud to be your big sister, you're the best little sister I could ever hope for. It would be a shame for anypony to lose a little sister like you." She kissed Sweetie Belle on the forehead. "There are so many things I want to say to you. But...please just know, I am proud of you, I KNOW you'll find your cutie mark sooner than later, and be sure to share your gift with the world, and remember that getting a cutie mark is only the beginning. And that I love you. And I know you love me. Don't spend your life trying to imitate me. Be your own self. And you have a beautiful voice Sweetie Belle. Please let everyone hear it. Don't let anyone steal that from you."
Sweetie Belle looked understandably confused and scared. I have a feeling she was expecting somepony to come and tell her to get to school already, not to have four monsters pop up, cast a spell on her sister, and then for Rarity to spill her heart out. I didn't have it in me to say this Sweetie might had been a child for hundreds of thousands of years (I'd picked the Crusaders early on) and letting her grow up was something a long time coming.
"R-Rarity!? What happened? What happened to your friends? What did they do to you? Are you going to turn into a Nightmare too now?!"
Rarity cried. She nuzzled Sweetie Belle who eyes were brimming, and their tears mixed together. "I'm sorry Sweetie Belle, it's better you don't know. I love you and you're a good filly. Now, big sister is telling you to get RUNNING! Things are going to be dangerous soon and you need to be near friends!" Rarity said, trying not to sound angry. She didn't want this moment to be an unhappy one. "If you love me! Then please!"
With more heaped on her shoulders than any foal should have, Sweetie Belle meekly nodded and ran out the door.
"Goodbye, Sweetie Belle," Rarity said as her tears hit the floor.
Rarity wiped her tears away. She stood up, not even looking at us.
She trotted on her back legs towards a mirror on the wall. She sighed. Growled. Closed her eyes. And slammed her head right into the mirror.
Her face...cracked. Like it a piece of a porcelain doll, a part of her face fell away, just some hard material, no flesh or bone.
She said, "Goodbye, Rarity."
She held held up a hoof to her face. In the cracked mirror, a slit dragon eye looked back.
She turned around, still holding her face, and trotted past us like seeing us was the most normal thing in the world. Like the calm before a storm.
"R-Rarity?" Pinkie Pie asked.
"I don't want to damage the dresses. Please come outside."
She trotted out the door, still trotted on two legs.
We followed outside.
She looked, making sure Sweetie Belle wasn't hiding nearby, and got on all fours, and slammed her face into the ground on a rock at full force. More of her body cracked. She breathed heavily. A pair of membranous wings broke out of her back.
She stood back on two legs and looked at us without a trace of humor or fear on her face, but a nasty seriousness.
She roared in fury and frustration, breathed fire, and with her own strength, shattered her own body.
The pieces fell apart lifeless, and where the white unicorn had stood, was now a green eyed dragon, with dark purple scales with a dark green underbelly. This form held only a moment as green flames erupted around him, and he grew in an adult dragon that was over a thousand years old.
He landed on all fours, making the entire town shake. He was big enough to squash any of us with one claw, oh right, Alicorns, correction, one hand. His body shape and design reminded me of Tiamat, even if he only had one head.
He was clad in gold armor with sapphires. Many of the jewels were as big as a mortal mare. I never really understood why the Nightdrake of Generosity would go around decked out in bling. My first guess (which would be my second and third too) that it was meant to be a welcome gift for whenever he met that particular Rarity that was willing to become Nightmare Charity. It's less blunt than saying engagement gift.
None of us said it. But we had all guessed.
There had never been a Rarity saved for my room.
The Rarities kept refusing to become Nightmare Charity, and Eclipse kept erasing them.
Nightmare Eclipse never allowed us to save other versions of ourselves. She didn't want 'the fakes' 'corrupting' us.
By the time we visited Rarity, we all noticed Spike was missing. There was only one other Element of Generosity we knew personally.
Granfalloon flew up to him. "Hey Spiky! How ya feelin'?"
Hopefully he didn't eat her. I didn't want to listen Pinkie chat about what the inside of a dragon's stomach looks like. I knew that plenty from all the times I've busted out of a dragon's stomach.
"Angry. Robbed. Violated. Want to destroy something," Spike said in a conversational voice. "Eclipse kept trying to turn Rarity into a monster and I didn't even try to stop her. And sad Sweetie Belle's big sister is never coming back to her."
"Spike," AJ asked in a disarm, pleading lose, "Ah know this ain't the best time ta ask, but ya wouldn't happen to remember ANYTHING from after we got six-rounds-rapid loved-and-friendshipped?"
Nightmare Banneret moved his eyes towards her. "All I remember, was somepony saying I could help Sweetie Belle and all of you be happy, and that I'd be with Rarity forever. I remember agreeing, then my memories and form being violated. Then, I woke up, living Rarity's life, in her body, all my memories tell me I was her," Spike said inscrutably.
"Anypony else think it's weird that we don't have ponies screaming and running at the sight of us and Spike?" Applejack asked off handedly.
"Maybe they turned up the happy juice on the real ponies after Cheerilee?" Pinkie Pie suggested.
"Girls! Things are bad when I'm the one who has to keep us on track!" I shouted. "All four of us are awake and we still need to deal with Fluttershy! There's no way they aren't picking up something is wrong by now!"
"What about Twilight?" Nightmare Banneret asked, every bit as concerned as Spike would be.
"I don't think Twilight needs 'dealing', I think she dealt with herself."
"What are you talking about?" Pinkie asked.
"I'll explain later!"
Spike grabbed and held me up to his face.
"Uh, hi Spike?"
"Zecora and I were worried sick when you left without a word this morning!"
"We searched the town and the Everfree for you. Finally, Sweetie Belle used her pout on me and I couldn't tell her no to going to her club's anniversary party and told her everything was fine to not worry her!"
"Sorry, I . . . I wasn't think about you."
"Then we raced to Sweet Apple Acres when we saw your fireworks, but there was nothing there when we arrived! Then it started to rain and against my better judgement, Zecora went home to stock on 'supplies' while I continue my search, and I ran into Sweetie Belle and had to take her home insisted we spend a little time together . . . so tell me Nightmare Manacle, did you just forget about us?"
"I . . . I did." I lowered my head. Yeah, the Nightmare of Loyalty had forgotten my friends. That hurt. A lot.
Not about to risk teleporting we flew towards Fluttershy's. I wasn't thinking clearly. Or maybe I'd have asked the others, or realized we were stirring up the hornet's nest.
"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 break Eclipse's hold on ya."
"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.
"That you can admit that, that you can see that, proves how big ya've grown on the inside Spike," Mirror said rubbing her side against the Nightdrake.
"...And every time we murdered her…she wasn't a fake or got 'reset'…she was real, she died…"
"She's the real root of it all," I spoke without really thinking. "Every wrong thing about us is really because of Twilight Sparkle."
I realized had eyes all on me.
"Correction: Nightmare Eclipse was. Our Twilight Sparkles got EATEN UP by her. But we kept turnin' a blind eye to it. Or when Ah said it. That last Rarity still has her Spike, that's one happy ending," Mirror said.
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 sighed sadly, (many of my friends grimaced,) bowing her head respectfully. "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 the library's next door neighbor, straight into the basement. I admit, it felt GOOD. Of course the house was empty. I WANTED it to be, so it was.
"Let's get one thing clear, please," I said as I lifted her back up, a crack on her face. "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."
"Put her down, little pony," 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. I didn't think how STUPID it was really to talk down to a obvious angry dragon.
"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..."
Her eyes gazed at me.
"...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?"
She said nothing, I couldn't read her face at all.
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.
Spike back fingered me instantly, he was holding back, it felt more like a angry slap than the blow wrathful blow of a dragon. I saw the look in his eyes, he WANTED to send my head flying over the horizon. Our friendship was only the thing that spared me. If I ever touched her again, I'd be two third of an Alicorn.
Mirror looked at me . . . disappointed. Granfalloon looked at me, sadly?
I turned my eyes to the fake Twilight. "Don't ever treat those two names like interchangeable synonyms again, got me?"
The Twilight imposter nodded. "...They're not interchangeable...I'd be foolish to think they'd be. It would be as cruel as calling Luna Nightmare Moon. But can I ask you one question? Just ONE more?"
"Is it another leading one?"
"No, it's fairly straight forwards...Do you feel any better?"
I blinked. "...I feel less angry..."
She dusted herself off. "...You've been through a lot, you needed that."
"...You know, it kind of defeats the purpose of me attacking you if you're not upset."
"I'm not upset because I know you were wishing you were punching Eclipse, not me." She bowed politely. "Besides, this is a shell, like Rarity's, you'd have to shatter it to actually HURT me. I didn't feel a thing from the strike."
"Ugh...could you BE anymore nice?" I asked. I wasn't mad, she was right. I did enjoy punching Twilight in the face. It was just weird to meet someone who actually lived up to the phrase 'turn the other cheek' after spending eternities following hatred personified.
"We don't have hate where I'm from...that's not a hyperbole, I literally did not know the word hate."
"...I think your world is giving me diabetes, and I've never seen it."
"It was innocent and nice, what more can I say?"
I couldn't argue with that. Not because it wasn't something I COULDN'T argue against, but...well, lived several hundred million years in a place worse than Hell, so her world sounded pretty good...not that I deserved it.
"And you're wrong about one thing...I DID want hero Rainbow Dash, and I GOT her! And this Rainbow Dash, I KNEW you could do it! I'm so proud of you!" Not-Twilight hugged me. "I knew if you HAD a choice that you'd be strong enough to break yourself and everypony else free! Element of Free Will!" She smiled at me. "It's only because of YOU that we've gotten this far! You ARE a hero."
"I'm not a hero, stop acting like I'm a white knight-"
"You're not a white knight...but not all heroes are White Knights, Grey Knights have their place too...And so do Knights that are trying to polish their armor. Heroes don't have to be white as snow, some do grim things for justice, and some are atoners, but that doesn't make them any less heroes."
Great, now she was trying to deconstruct my self-loathing...ugh, only I would be UPSET that someone is trying to make me feel BETTER.
"Can you please pick which part of me you're going to deconstruct?"
"Nothing I did was to 'deconstruct' you. It was proof. That inside, you were RAINBOW DASH, and NOT Nightmare Manacle with Rainbow Dash's memories. Manacle WOULD HAVE seen those ponies are cardboard cuts out, that their cheers were what matters, she WOULD HAVE wanted this world to continue on with shallow adventures at the cost of everyone else. Rainbow Dash on the other hoof, would sacrifice her happiness for others."
"And . . . after all the death we've done . . . only a lunatic wouldn't make sure first," I said. " . . . sorry." For all the good it did.
"I 'really really really really really really really really really disiked' every moment of playing that part, Rainbow." She hugged me. "But I was so happy, to see that it was YOU on the inside. I was worried I had lost you AGAIN."
"I loved you as a friend before you were even born little pony. And it would take much more than that to ever break that friendship, even if you don't remember it right now. I WASN'T treating Nightmare Manacle and Rainbow Dash as interchangeable, I never was. Because the pony on the INSIDE is Rainbow Dash, and that is all that actually matters."
Spike said, "I'm just happy we didn't get into a big one-upmareship cycle with somepony wasting time on personal grudges when we already have enough danger to deal with and Twilight is the one who didn't chose to be self-righteous in RETURN." I saw the look he gave me.
Bastard Discord was on his hands and knees, crying his mismatched eyes out.
"I'm sorry! I'm sorry for everything! It was all my fault! I make no excuses! I'm sorry! Everything I did was wrong! There is no way to balance out everything I've done! You were always in the right, I was always in the wrong! I was justified in nothing! I'm not a god, I'm a criminal. I'm sorry!"
I laughed at the bastard brawling like a baby. Apple Pie, with a little crown on her head, was held up by Eclipse on a rope with her manage, the filly struggling to keep from herself being strangled.
"So you're sorry?" Eclipse asked smiling.
"You're really sorry?"
"Uh, you're really really really really really really really really really sorry?" Whisper asked, looking unsure, uncomfortable, and like she was scared of us, her friends!
"A thousand times yes! Punish me forever if that'll make you happy! But please! Don't hurt her! I beg you!"
"So you're sincerely and truly sorry?" Eclipse asked calmly.
Eclipse smiled wider. "Well, that changes-" A sword went through Queen Apple Pie's heart. "-nothing."
I laughed my head off at the look on bastard Discord's STUPID face, and punched that stupid face, and punched him again, and again, and again, and again, and again, laughing all the while! And I didn't stop! It was great!
"Dear Princess Celestia," Nightmare Eclipse said, "The most worthless words ever invented is 'sorry.'"
My eyes became dinner plates, and I ran to the side of the library's look out, and vomited over the side. "Oh Celestia! I was being Nightmare Eclipse! . . . Only . . . "
"Only what Rainbow?" Mirror whispered patting me on the back.
"Only my 'Discord' was different." I said looking at 'Twilight.'
"Sorry lets others know we know we screwed up Rainbow, sorry is us admittin' to ourselves and to others we screwed up. If we don't see that we screwed up, then we're all the more likely to make that screw up again. Sorry is how we mark that screw up as a screw up. It's how we let others know that we feel their pain. . . . Sorry . . . help us grow-up."
The others hugged me, Twilight included. It wasn't a group huge like in the real Ponyville . . . it didn't need to be.
"Now... let's not let any of this stand in the way of us being civil. Would you care for some tea?" 'Twilight' asked, she flipped open her book, turning pages, conjuring up a full tea tray as a result.
Banneret went over nuzzled the purple unicorn with his huge head. She stirred the tea with her hoof. I drank some tea myself that she offered.
"Now, please tell us, what was it you called us out here for?"
"Fluttershy," the purple unicorn spoke. "You're trying to get her, but they set up a trap."
"A trap?" piped up Granfaloloon. "Those big meanies!"
"I'm afraid there is something I do need to apologize for. I don't care if it was necessary or not." Twilight standing up on her rear hooves, putting them v-shape across her stomach and bowed her head. "I'm not lying when I'm your friend, though I know Applejack the least....But I'm afraid Twilight Sparkle was never here, and she isn't stand before you now."
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, then again, if the puppet masters had eyes and ears everywhere, her revealing herself when she didn't need to would be kinda stupid. And it hit me I might not have been all that bright to take an emotion-pit stop after I'd been yammering at my friends that we needed to keep our flanks in gear.
"Who are you?" asked Granfalloon.
"I'm a relative and a dear friend of Twilight's. 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."
"Then where is Twilight?!" demanded Banneret. Granfalloon painted a blue tear on her face.
"I don't know where she is right now, or I'd tell you." The impostor looked up at my disbelieving scoff . "Believe what you want to believe, since pleading is just noise to you. 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?"
"One question, weren't you worried the pin was gonna be swiped and I'd get my memories rewritten again?"
"I actually put a perception filter on the pin so nopony would notice it unless it was pointed out to them, compliments from Time Turner."
Pinkie Pie and Spike blinked. "What pin? Oh, that one."
"So by 'whole truth', 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. "For starters, there's no way in Tartarus you're behind this. You've done nothing but keep me on the right track this entire time. No jailer is that crazy, and you don't watch somepony squirm by helping them every step of the way. It's not Heaven, Hell, Nothingness, Limbo, or Purgatory..."
"Duh!" interrupted Granfalloon. "It's you, yourself, Dashie!"
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: not any of the afterlives, but the fake Ponyville 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!"
Pinkie Pie waved her hooves. "Fluttershy, don't be scared. We're still us! And I don't mean evil or brainwashed us'! Cross my heart, hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye!"
"Don't worry, Pinkie Pie, I know it's you, even if your bodies are twisted by black magic I know it's still you inside." She smiled, not cowering in fear of us, only showing love.
"Okay," Pinkie Pie smiled back, "Spike could you do the honors? I'm really really REALLY sorry about this Fluttershy but Dashie said we need all the help we can get to save everypony from these big meanies who have everypony under mind control! I mean, how cliche can you get right?"
"I'm not scared. Let's touch minds. If it means protecting my friends from hurt, being a Nightmare can't be that bad."
Applejack looked at me. Twilight stayed perfectly silent and still.
I sighed. It was time to end this performance. Part of me wanted it to go on a little longer, but the rest of me was just tired of this.
"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?"
'Twilight' put a hoof over her heart.
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... who am I kidding? It would be a materialistic paradise for EVERYPONY, 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."
"And Pinkie Pie, wouldn't have fought so hard to STOP me from attacking Bright Night, since everything here has been about me doing whatever I want and it always being right. I thought she was a pod pony. Not my best theory. Don't worry Pinkie stopped me from doing anything stupid. Moving on!"
"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! But then it really hit me. The pony who hates me more than anypony, is me! There's no bucking way I'd create a fantasy world I'm always the hero and everything is great because of me! I built this place to have everypony get along fine and great WITHOUT ME! I was the most insignificant pony in the background alive when I rested in here!"
"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, things could have worked out between us, we saw she'd become an Alicorn before a Nightmare. But that's neither here nor there. 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.
"You shouldn't carry such heavy burdens," Fluttershy said.
"Same to you 'Shy. 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."