"But wouldn't the Elements have fixed Fluttershy in the head like they did us?" asked Granfalloon, in innocent puzzlement.
Mirror breathed out a long, soft sigh, and I found myself sympathizing with the truth-fanatic. "Yeah." She looked right at me. "But like Princess Luna, I'd say we all got our burdens to bear even after the Elements put our heads back on straight."
Not-Twilight lowered herself into a battle stance. "Everypony, get ready! She won't be using polite pretenses now that things have gone off-script!"
"You'd think she'd do something to Sweetie Belle and the others?" asked Banneret, with Rarity-like concern.
"She wouldn't kill them, she's still Fluttershy," I assured the big guy.
"Not without Nigtmare Eclipse there whisperin' in her ear that it's the kindest thing she could do, and she's sane enough to realize it was all hogwash . . . which might be the reason," Nightmare Mirror said.
It was like a brick to the chest, I felt staggered, even without moving from where I stood.
Mirror lowered her head and breathed in with a shudder. "It's mah fault... Ah'm the one who made 'er that way..."
"Wrong. She made herself that way," Nightmare Mirror snapped her head up at me with such a look of pained shock, it felt like we were both in a role reversal.
"It's true!" I argued. "I mean... just look at Rarity. Rarity's not a Nightmare because she resisted, every bucking time, no matter what kind of pressure we brought down on her. She never finished the transformation. Fluttershy became Nightmare Whisper because she crumbled in a moment of weakness, it was her choice. Like all of us."
To think, out of all of us, it'd be Rarity who'd have THAT kind of inexhaustible, unconquerable willpower. Not something you'd have ever expected, looking at any of her 'Rarigreed' variants.
But my truth-obsessed companion sputtered, "Is that supposed ta make me feel exonerated? Ya can't jest lay all the blame on HER! Ah talked her inta it! Ah was a vulture!"
"We're Nightmares. We're all vultures!"
"Stop it," Granfalloon whispered.
"Fire is hot, ice is cold, oceans are deep, and us Nightmares are destructive monsters that ruin everything we come in contact with."
"And none of us 'destructive monsters' would be here if Eclipse hadn't eaten up our Twiilghts the same way she did yours!" Banneret seethed, pointing a claw at me. "And Fluttershy was the worst victim of us! She resisted longer than any of us!"
"Eclipse may have started this cycle, but we helped her keep it spinning!"
"I don't wanna hurt Fluttershy." Granfalloon whimpered.
"I'm gonna knock sense into her with or without your approval!"
"See?" the voice of Whisper echoed around us all. "This is why I didn't want you to remember! Without Twilight here all we'll do is sqaubble!"
We all drew closer to each other. I couldn't detect which specific direction Nightmare Whisper's voice was emanating from.
"We were FRIENDS AGAIN, and now we're all fighting!" Whisper lamented. "I want to be back with the real Twilight again."
"I want to be back with Twilight too," I agreed, softly. "More than anything I've ever wanted before."
"I don't want us to fight either, Fluttershy!" Granfalloon shouted. "But that's the dark magic talking, not you-uh-oh,"
Whisper's voice had come from a huge fog rising right out of the ground of Ponyville, engulfing everypony below in it. The real ponies and those inside puppet shells wavered, the pupils of their eyes growing larger until they nearly took up their entire eye, smiling to themselves. The ponies who were not real continued their programmed routine for a moment before stopping in their tracks.
"OH NO, YA DON'T!"
Mirror spread her wings to their full expanse, the emerald eyes on her armor glowin'. Shining like Celestia from atop the library roof we were all standing on, Mirror reflected the light off her wings and burned away the fog.
That was only Act One. Next, the lighting reflecting off her wings caused the illusions on the puppets to melt away, clearing the heads of the real ponies present, and making them all too aware of their reality. Their happy faces vanishes as the illusion in their memories burned away next, making them remember they had been playing house with automatons! She didn't get all of them, but she got more than enough to ruffle Whisper's feathers.
Nightmare Mirror... was unmoved by the fear and panic she'd just set off, Applejack on the other hoof, was gritting her teeth at the sight.
"Uh, Jackie, are you sure that was a good idea?" Granfalloon asked. I was coming to notice that out of all of us, she was acting least like her Nightmare self. Like the spirit of the original, sweet-hearted Pinkie Pie had been lodged in an undeservedly monstrous shell.
"It was my only idea."
The mortals were in panic mode, horrified by the puppets that had replaced their family and neighbors. Seeing three Nightmares and a Nightdrake standing right on the roof did nothing to sooth their mood.
Lyra and Bon-Bon hugged each other upon seeing the faceless wooden dummies 'June Bug' and 'Candy' had been all along. Maternity was hugging Button Mash, running inside her house to protect him from us only to find the dummy that had been standing in for her husband blocking the door.
Derpy turned to Doctor Whooves to advice, then screamed pulling her fillies back away from the marionette with the Time Lord's features. I heard Cheerilee's cry of dismay and horror...when she saw the majority of the foals she was herding to city hall for protection, were just glorified dolls. And there was my weather team, flying about like mad, Thunderlane trying to keep heads cool and failing in the face of the completely ugly unreality.
Not-Twilight looked in pain.
"Stop! Mother is protecting everypony from Nothingness and Tartarus, HOW CAN YOU BE SO EVIL?!" Shouted a voice just like Fluttershy's. "Now we're going to have to erase all their memories and hard reset Ponyville, and tidy up, after we're done spanking you," said 'Posey-Nice' floating in the air above us where she hadn't been a minute ago.
Mirror said sadly to the one who had been the most brutal to Discord's daughter whenever she tried to defend her father, the one who had punished Discord's daughter the most viciously for her unrelenting tormenting of innocent ponies. "Howdy to ya, Fluttercruel."
"My name is Flutternice!"
She stamped her hoof in the air and undid the clasp on her cloak. It fluttered off her, the illusionary colors dissolving off. Her real colors showed. Pink mane, blue eyes, yellow fur, brighter than her mother's, almost garish. She also had a griffin claw in place of one foreleg, and a dragon claw in place of one of her rear legs. She also had a yellow bat pony wing, and one pink butterfly wing in place of her pegasus wing.
She was wearing platinum colored barding, with the symbol of the butterfly on the peytral. And her cutie mark was a heart-shape made out of curved swords.
"Auntie Granfalloon and Uncle Banneret and Aunties Mirror and Manacle are all happy to see you're okay, Flutternice, we were all so worried about what happened to you!" Granfalloon grinned with a twitch. "I mean, guarding the front door to our evil lair was really lonely work."
'Lonely, because she butchers everything dumb enough to try.'
"-And we left you all alone without a foalsitter-"
'Pity the sitter who has to get THIS foal under control.'
"-When we were fighting to destroy Equestria for the quad-zillionth time. But let's all calm down and discuss this over cake! And we can find a new home for all these ponies and we can turn ourselves in and-"
"NO!" Flutternice and her mom's voices chorused.
Animals, colored yellow and pink with blue eyes, began to materialize out of a new ring of fog around Ponyville. Whisper's constructs. All marching right towards us.
"I don't like doing this, yes I do, but I don't like liking it!"
I didn't even TRY to decode this head-spinning double negative.
"You're being bad! You need to be spanked! And we need to make sure nopony gets hurt!"
The waving of Flutternice's hooves mirroring the formation and direction of her mom's constructs. At the same time, the puppets opened up like used cocoons. Puppet strings shot out like cobras, wrapping around the real ponies and began pulling them into their dark insides, kicking and screaming.
I saw Soarin' and Spitfire, flying DOWN from Cloudsdale, from empty shells trying to eat them up.
And those in puppet shells, like a pink and a silver filly found their bodies moving on their own, all they could do was look about and scream.
"What are you waiting for, Auntie Mirror? Stop the puppets from helping the ponies sleep." Flutternice smiled as she said this, her eye twitching.
Mirror grunted. "If I stop using my wings, she can just recreate the fog," she warned us all.
"That doesn't stop us!" The Nightdrake snapped and destroyed a puppet of Lilly trying to capture Carrot Top like it was a beetle.
"Uncle Banneret! That's not nice! Stop right now. Or...or I'm going to have to fun! I mean, won't be fun! WON'T be fun!"
There was nothing beautiful about this, there was no justice, and no satisfaction, nothing about it was funny. I had given my 'Fluttercruel' all the hard knocks I could during our battles to liberate Equestria. I remember this mare, reduced to a filly in body she already was in spirit, stabbing herself over and over to punish herself as much as possible for everything she'd done until her mother stopped her.
I remember reading Batmare The Dark Guard Returns 2, how Batmare resisted skipping along and giggling like school filly when the ineffective and government controlled Justice Herd was getting the snot beaten out of them. Back then I thought it was cool. Now I felt SORRY for Flutternice (the name her mom had given her), and I felt a little sick to my stomach. She looked ready to start stabbing herself again on the spot or eat alive the nearest living thing. It almost made me regret waking up to seeing something this wretched and pathetic.
I'd given her as a filly horsey rides. I'd played video games with her, Whisper giving her the foalhood she never had. As a GIFT to me she'd 'punished' other versions of herself while I sat back and watched when her mother wasn't...Now I felt sick realizing that entire time this time that was only half the story and the other half was another victim of us Nightmares.
"Please, 'Nice, you're the last pony any of us wants to hurt," Granfalloon begged.
"Please, just stop, little filly," Not-Twilight also beseeched.
"Huh?!" Flutternice stared at the impostor determinedly wearing Twilight Sparkle's likeness. "How did that puppet just...?"
Banneret crushed the puppets of Rose and Daisy that was trying to capture Berry Punch and Ruby Pinch.
"That's it! I can show you how much I love you all!" Flutternice screamed. her non-pony parts disconnected from her body like they were building blocks, only for replacements to shimmer into being a moment later.
Flutternice's cutie mark blurred in places. She snarled.
The batwing grew into Flutterbat.
The butterfly wing grew into a Flutterpony version of Fluttershy.
The other limbs quickly grew into Flutterdragon and Fluttergriffin.
Familiar-looking black rods that had once impaled Princess Cadence in countless loops appeared in each of their primary limb. They all assumed fighting poses.
"Be civil!" Her detachments exclaimed nicely in turn.
"Five times the pain for you means five times the love you know I have for you! Nonononono! Mommy said those thoughts are bad bad bad! I need to smile! But be sad when I need to hurt somepony! She said hurting you is bad, but I need to hurt you so you don't hurt yourself! Mommy is right! So that means I can hurt you and you know it's because I love you! Yippie!"
"Ah've said it trillions of times before, and Ah'll say it now: that girl needed therapy." Mirror sighed.
Darkness and negativity... that's what I'd focus on! I was a Nightmare, after all. So darkness was better, and negativity safer! No heroics... never again! Heroism was a jinx for me, nothing but a doomed jinx!
I looked all four of my friends. Each one determined to fight to the bitter end for each other and these ponies we'd dragged into this mess.
I may not know the right choice about the Ponyville ponies. But I can still protect my friends! I couldn't stop my blood form boiling at the idea of a straight up fight to save the innocent. "BRING IT!!!"
"As you wish, Rainbow Dash," Fluttershy's voice echoed from the constructs.
I heard a huge clock tick. It shook the entire world. The puppets and constructs for a moment stopped, even the ponies stopped.
"This is the battle Auntie Manacle wants, 'Nice, and she's going to want a proper opening."
"Yes, mama!" A count down appeared in the sky. "Five-four-three-two-one! Let the show begin!"
And like a fiend from the underworld, she emerged, as big as an Ursa. Several large and beastly yellow constructs pulled at its chains, like it had trouble rising up from however long it had been sleeping.
For a second, it looked like the dragon I'd fought earlier, but then the illusion peeled away, showing what was underneath. The ground trembled as she moved. Town Hall crumbled as her constructs pulled her along, straight through the building, then the building's debris.
Stained dragon claws dragged along the ground, the noise like plows through dirt.
Gossamer wings the size of grand ship sails showed patterns of ponies in fetal positions.
She had a faded and dirty yellow natural coat, on her flanks was a cutie mark of three blue-winged Butterflies with pink bodies. A long pink tail moved behind her, roped together in thick cords that twitched more like muscle than tail hair, small lilies dotted along it.
Lean but dense muscle covered her legs and neck. Her mane was corded and dotted with flowers like her tail, covering one eye. Her torso was still that of a pony, the neck was a fraction longer.
A glowing blue eye looked out from an almost skeletal face. An impressive spiral unicorn horn stuck out from her forehead.
Heavy shackles were sealed around her ankles, with spikes pointed inward into her bleeding flesh. Another inverted spiked shackle was around her neck. The chains pulled along by the construct army. Her sweeping tail and heavy steps left ruin in her wake.
I felt a knife through where my heart oughta have been.
"This is what you want of me," sighed Nightmare Whisper. "This is what you're making me do. I'm sorry. But I know you, Rainbow Dash...you won't go back to sleep and rest easy unless you've tried your hardest to stay awake."
"Auntie Pinkie Pie didn't want this for you," Granfalloon whispered.
"Fluttershy, you were beautiful before," Banneret said, looking sick at the sight of her. "Rarity would be heartbroken."
Mirror hung her head. "Ah did this ta ya in spite of what Nightmare Eclipse did ta me, but ya took it the step further. Dammit."
My heart went out to my companions.
"Can we get s-s-started now, mommy?!" Flutternice asked, her hooves shaking. "I...don't feel so good . . ."
That was an understatement. She looked sick to her stomach.
"Just hold on for a little while, dear, they won't last long."
"Ya can tell right?" Mirror whispered. "The way ponies' wanted to 'make safe' ya and Twili'? That's what Fluttershy's done ta her, and now the reins are comin' off."
I shuddered. "Thanks for the warning."
"I'm not sure I like our odds," Granfalloon said.
It wasn't encouraging. Mirror was forced to keep Whisper from using her trump card, and leaving just me, Banneret, Granfalloon and Twilight-Lite. We were being pitted against Flutternice and her detachment armed with concept-killing weapons, an army of puppets with built-in hostages, and a re-spawning army of constructs. Not to mention Whisper herself goin' freakin' Dracozilla meet Ponythulu on the worst day.
It's okay, R....Manacle. I told myself. It's okay! In the end, this is nothing new to you. One of the few things you always can count on, Nightmare Manacle, is being turned on by your friends.
"Rainbow?" Twilight-Lite put a hoof on her withers. "I can't promise you'll find what you want when you escape. But I can promise things aren't as desperate as they look."
"We'll talk later," I promised.
The giant Nightmare stormed ever-closer to us, and Flutternice was pulling at the bit to come at us. The normal ponies looked petrified at the absolute insanity they had been thrown into, understanding less than half of the things were were saying to each other.
"Any chance you happen to have an Element of Magic and a spare Element of Kindness we can borrow?" I asked Twilight-Lite.
"One short, sorry."
"That's enough!" My eyes telescoped on the source.
A little pink filly with a blond mane and blue eyes. On her back was a pair black feather wings. She was holding Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom close to her.
They were surrounded by the puppets that had pretended to be Sweetie Belle's parents and Applejack's brother and grandmother. Poor fillies.
"Apple Bloom. Sweetie Belle. Being friends with you made me very happy. That was real. The friendship we had was different from your friendship with Scootaloo."
"Scootaloo... who?" Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom held their heads like they had a headache.
There was a slashing sound and a circular flash of light, and the four puppets were bisected, falling limply to the ground.
I didn't know whether to feel sorry for the fillies, confused at what I just saw, or relieved.
"I promise I'll be right back." She kissed them both on the forehead and in a flash appeared in front of Mayor Mare, who was being dragged by strings towards the puppets of her husband and child.
"Not the nightmares! Please! I don't want to be a statue!" Mayor Mare yelled.
There was another flash of light and sound of slashing metal, and the puppet strings were cut in twain, then the puppets followed suit.
"Spike! Where's my big sister?!" Sweetie called out to the giant dragon.
"I promise she's safe," Banneret lied. Mirror was too busy to correct him. "Now get to safety! Please Sweetie!"
"B-Bright Night? P-please! What's going on! Where is my family?!" Mayor Mare gasped.
"I'm sorry Mayor Mare." Bright Night looked at her wistfully, "Your family was never in this Ponyville. But we're here to save all of you."
Then her cutie mark sparkled into being, a yellow star surrounded by a set of blue stars. Then her wings grew to the size of an adult's in a flash, and engulfed her, and less than a moment later opened to show a fully grown mare, holding a sword like she had magnets in her hoof.
She was now wearing an adult sized red cape with a gold inside, one clasp was the Cutie Mark Crusaders symbol, and the other was a pony skull.
"My name is Starlight, Starlight Angel, Honorary Thestral!"
WHAT THE BUCKING HECK!?
The spa twin puppets jumped her, but she moved so fast that they just crashed into each other.
Starlight bowed to the two fillies. "I'm sorry I couldn't tell you. That's not what friends do. I hope you can forgive me later."
The puppets and the constructs forgot about the Ponyville ponies and suddenly had a personal hate-on for her! Swarming her like bees to honey. Flutternice's detachments were quick to follow.
"YOU'RE NOT WELCOME HERE! GET OUT! WE DON'T WANT YOU! GET OUT! GET OUT!"
"Granfalloon! Watch Mirror!" I dove down.
"Ah can defend mahself, ya know!"
Banneret moved the best he could, but he had an entire town half-full of real, living ponies that he seemed intent on saving.
Part of me was delighted and amazed: they were trying to save others! Sincerely save others! Part of me was alarmed: didn't they have any idea that it wasn't going to work?! Never for a Nightmare?
A third part was spooked and paranoid: what if this were some trick? What if this, too, had been staged, and my heroic-seeming friends were trying to deceive me? Fabrications within fabrications... Meh, even bastard Discord hated those plot twists. Nopony likes a repeat trick.
"So you're going to tell me what's going on?!" I asked, wrapping a chain around the puppet of a garbage can pony and slamming it into the ground.
"In a second!" Starlight promised as she impale a puppet of...blech, one of the puppet foals, Archer's. At least they aren't self-aware!
Fluttergriff grabbed Starlight's cape. "Don't you remember the golden rule? 'No capes!'"
"And I say 'no', to that no," Starlight said firmly. She grabbed her own cape, and then slammed Fluttergriff into the ground forewords 'bam-bam!' style.
"Well." Twilight-Lite smiled. "If Starlight's going to come out to help them it would selfish for me not to do the same!"
-"We're here for you" -Madoka Magica Rebellion-
She held up her spellbook (I finally realized it for what it was) with one hoof like Starlight, and the pages flipped by themselves like crazy.
"Come on out, Twinkle Wish!"
A little yellow star with a cute face flew out. There was a flash of rainbow light. The puppet shell she'd been wearing this whole time blew apart into sparkles.
Where once there had been a perfect replica of Twilight Sparkle, now stood a much weirder-looking mare. Her fur was a shade lighter than Twilight's purple. Her eyes were blue. Her mane and tail were white with steaks of blue and pink in them.
What was weird was her longer muzzle, smaller eyes... her mane was all extra curly, and while her figure wasn't fat, it was like the way her bones were shaped made her body rounder in spots. And she had a turquoise heart on her right hoof, and I swear the twinkle in her eye was shaped like a pink heart. Her cutie mark was a birthday present.
The star flew around her in a staircase pattern, on her forehead and back formed a white swirl pattern where her wings and horn would be if she was a pegasus or unicorn. The star flew into her cutie mark, BECOMING a yellow star behind the present, with the same star appearing on the other side of her flanks.
She moved with a flew flourishes before striking a magical-filly pose.
My eye caught all these details in an instant.
I hadn't seen her before. But a part of me screamed that I knew this mare. And the more I looked at her, the more memories of another part of me came screaming out wanting to be remembered and known. Was this...
"Razzaroo Twinklewish! Candidate Concept!"
"Was that necessary?" Mirror asked.
"I'm from the Age of Dreams, let me live out a few while I have the chance!"
"Do you ever intend to tell me what's going on?!" I shouted.
"Razzaroo!" Granfalloon hugged her at once, completely trusting, wrapping her crayon drawing wings around her body, crying tears of joy and streaking her makeup.
"WHO ARE YOU?!" Flutternice screamed in confusion as Starlight kicked her in the head.
Razzaroo spoke, "In another life, and in another time, I was the big sister to the mare who carried the foundation of the soul that would one day become Twilight Sparkle. In my new life, I was keeper of celebrations and memories for ponies who lived so much for today that tomorrow and yesterday were a fog to them. Now I am a candidate to become the idea that'll introduce the concept of miracles and wishes into the universe. And I'm here to help my friends."
Granfalloon nuzzled her chest. "I never thought I'd see you again. Like...Like Minty...Razz' I'm so sorry! T-T-Time loop stories are played for comedy, COMEDY! They're just crack fics! It . . it isn't serious, it isn't serious, it isn't serious, it...it isn't . . ." She wasn't crying just for joy now. "It isn't supposed to be like what happened to our world. I have a lot Minties to apologize to, don't I?"
Razzaroo hugged her back, gently nuzzling, "And many other ponies, dragons, squid ponies from planet Alpha-C2, two-headed living magma ponies from galaxy 23B-R-"
"Heheh. It's gonna take a while?"
"Don't worry," she sighed happily, "We can take as much time as you want. I'll take as much time as you want."
"Can we have a 'Me And My Friends Aren't Evil Anymore' party after?"
Razzaroo hugged her. "I promise."
Granfalloon wiped away her painted tear.
"I guess, the most beautiful part of any loop, is when it ends. Otherwise, it's no different from a party that never ends...and...the parties stop being parties don't they?"
"I'm so proud of you Pinkie Pie." Razzaroo smiled gently. "Twilight...Minty would be proud. Thank you for being my friend. I was scared I'd never see any of you again."
"Thanks for being my friend. And don't be scared, I'm not going anywhere now." Pinkie Pie silent back kicked a chimera construct through the air that dared tried to interrupt their millions of year overdue reunion hug. Razzaroo blasted a lion sized Angel Bunnie over heels without interrupting the hug.
"Dreams do come true," Pinkie Pie said.
"Yes they really do," Razzaroo sang back.
"So about those answers!" I insisted, electrocuting a giant yellow bear construct.
"With pleasure!" Starlight said, slashing a shield of sword strikes around her two little friends. "Just... help cover me, would you?"
Spike began going sumo with the giant Nightmare only for Flutternice and her Detachments to gang up on him.
This battle was total pandemonium. Flutternice and her pieces were zipping this way and that like ping pong balls, keeping off balance. Granfalloon had to keep Mirror safe while she negated Nightmare Whisper's fog that would put all of us in la-la-land if we let it. Starlight was busy protecting the ponies from the puppets. I was protecting Starlight from Nightmare Whisper's endless supply of constructs. And Banneret was attempting hand-to-hand combat with the giant Nightmare Whisper. But the constructs and Whisper's body parts were dividing Banneret's attention, giving Nightmare Whisper the advantage.
I wish I knew what Razzaroo was up to. After finally breaking her hug with Granfalloon, she seemed to be charging up that spell book of hers with a super-powerful spell or something, while taking pot shots at the baddies with lesser spells.
As for the Ponyville Ponies...their normal lives had gone from a rigid but safely simple existence to a swirling maelstrom of madness in under a minute. These poor ponies couldn't make heads or tails of what was going on. Being protected by monsters against other monsters that were supposed to be their friends and family, and it only got more insane for them from there. I'd be even crazier than I already am to expect any of them to help fight. Discord would've been proud of all this; and only my endless years of experience working for him kept my brain from breaking in two. Blech.
Ever since that fateful day when I abandoned my friends in favor of rescuing Cloudsdale, I haven't been able to manage one single successful attempt at helping other people... with unequivocally happy, beneficial end results for everyone involved. What's with the look? I had a lotta feelings going through my head at the time okay?
"Hey, Rainbow Dash? You wanted answers? Well, kindly listen up, please!" Starlight cooed, while fending off another puppets of Minuette, Twinkleshine, and Lemon Hearts. "For starters, we couldn't just blast this fake Ponyville apart to save everypony. It'd be like smashing a gold fish's bowel in the middle of the desert; everypony inside would die or worse. And every time the concepts tried approaching politely, Nightmare Whisper's security system just shifted the whole place to a new time and space."
"You were set to detect complete concepts and true thestrals, how about candidate concepts and adopted thestrals?" Razzaroo smirked, blasting away a pack of timberwolf wolf constructs.
"Cheater!" Fluttershy's voice echoed.
"What about Twilight? Surely an ex-Nightmare, a girl of HER power could've been able to..."
"…She became a true Alicorn after being hit by the Elements, she woudn't be able squeeze past without triggering a relocation."
"If concepts could squeeze through, Trixie would be here leading an army of black cats and pumpkin ponies in here to save eveypony."
I sincerely smiled. "Heh. So her spirit survived after all."
I remembered that battle, Trixie as an Alicorn, giving Eclipse that parting gift of a scar that never went away.
"And on to top that off," Starlight continued, as we fought back to back. "We couldn't begin evacuating the Ponyville ponies until Nightmare Whisper was force to drop her facade, otherwise we'd be seen as invaders rather than rescuers. And we NEED everypony to trust us to get them out of here."
"You can't evacuate them! They'll all die or be erased!" Whisper's voice screamed.
"You know, Whisper raises a good point," I told Starlight. "Just what IS out there? How's the state of the universe nowadays, beyond this isolated little slice of paradise? Please tell me it's at least not some airless nothing-void, or some post-apocalyptic..."
Starlight smirked. "Have a TINY bit of bloody faith. You think we'd come all this way without a rescue plan?"
"After Eclipse and us were allowed to rampage for millions of years, and Discord was allowed to cause all the misery that brought her into existence in the first place, and none of your bosses doing a thing about it, forgive me if I have that in short supply. Your bosses are blinded by the big picture, I wouldn't trust them with caterpillars, let alone ponies."
Starlight looked at me dumbfounded, I took care of a swarm of humming bird constructs diving down at the back of her neck. She glared at me in a look I imagine the ponies she has to drag to Hell see beforehand. I apparently had said something wrong. "..."
She reached into her cloak and pulled out a list and threw it to me. I looked at it. It was one of those 'weird cosmically infinite' things. No matter how far down the list my eyes went it just kept continuing. I read one of them. "Poison Apple, death, three PM, Chaos Castle. Cause: Murder."
That entry was repeated several hundred thousand times over. Cause and time sometimes differing, but the same name.
The creepiest part was when she recited the same entry from memory.
"That was Poison Apple number 1's death. Number 2 lasted a whole two minutes, thirty one seconds more. Number 3 two minutes twenty two seconds less. Fluttercruel was especially creative with number 5 and took a whole hour, two minutes, and twenty-nine seconds longer to murder her...Imagine having to write that entry over and over and over and over again...and knowing each time it's not an 'NPC' but a living breathing little FILLY breathing her last breath, but not being able to do a thing about it without giving that mass murderer another body to possess and breaking a rule that exists for good reason."
I took a trot back. Starlight stabbed a wolverine constructs that tried leaping on top of me from a roof top and tossed it over her shoulder.
"...My boss doesn't NEED a list and could give more detail than me. Princess Gaia loves ALL life, from dragons to caterpillars! Seeing ALL the pictures I'm pretty sure is part of the job description, or they wouldn't spend time as mortals to begin with! And a lot DID spend time as mortals in Discord's hell trying to help ponies just a little! If they tried to brute force it, just like here, it would have been the permanent death of the world lines."
I stamped a mole construct in the head. "And who are THEY to make that call? What about all the souls who SUFFERED because of it? Don't they get a say?!"
" . . . Celestia's mother is literally all empathy in every universe . . . so every time anypony suffered, She experienced it all WITH them! Do you think somepony like that would just LET suffering continue if there was a better way?"
"...Weren't your a mortal once? Why do you even care what I think about gods?"
"...Because for every last time I've had to see the universe die, I also saw every concept weep for it and everypony in it. The only one that was happy Morning Star, he was always too busy laughing about you all 'proving him right about Free Will'...You know how I got this ring?"
I looked at the ring on her hoof.
She took a moment to bisect a teen dragon Construct that attacked from the side. "...Venus herself holds the wedding of EVERY LAST COUPLE that dies without getting the chance to see their vows...So forgive me if I don't feel the same way about the concepts as you."
"Fine. But I still didn't see them doing anything, until Rancor was sent in a few million years late to jumble up Eclipse's script."
"You were shielded more by Nightmare Eclipse than you know. Only Morning Star and Rancor liked what you were doing. King Leo was there with you when you fought Nightmare Dusk. Queen Cadenza KEPT fighting to save the world from Nightmare Eclipse and Discord even after her body was killed. Anarchy helped Discord distract Nightmare Eclipse. You couldn't SEE THEM, but they were there, fighting."
We turned back to back and began rotating as we cut down a pack of wolverine constructs.
"My senses, my memories, my morals, my friends, all kaput, how can I have faith in anything?"
Starlight back-hoofed a giant sized vampire fruit-bat. "Look around, your friends haven't lost faith in you. What are you fighting for? Huh? Why not just lay down? What great good are you trying to achieve?"
I had to think about it, even as I drop-kicked a puppet tree. "I'm fighting because... because I want ponies to live in a world free of Nightmares."
"You want ponies to live." Starlight repeated, pointedly.
"Well, that's..." I stopped, thinking over what she'd just said. What I'D just said.
"You want ponies to live." Starlight said again. "Have faith in THAT, then. And have faith that, if nothing else, even when you think you're alone Rainbow Dash, somepony somewhere is fighting for you."
By now, my brain was providing rebuttals to myself without Starlight's help.
A minotaur constructs sent Starlight flying upwards and nearly eaten by a dragon construct until I pulled her down, bisecting the construct in the process.
"Thanks Rainbow Dash. Think about what would've happened if 'Twilight Sparkle' hadn't opened your eyes to the truth, Rainbow. Then Fluttershy would've had four Nightmares, plus a demi-draconequus, and herself all fighting on her side. And all of the real ponies would've been her hostages." Razzaroo explained dodging puppet strings.
I tilted my head. "So you think me and all my friends wouldn't have noticed, at some point, we were fighting with superequine might?" I asked in honest curiosity, while defending a puppet of Misty Fly, smashing it open, revealing the real Misty Fly of the Wonderbolts inside, and threw her far from the core of the fighting before she could get a word in.
"Knowing Fluttershy, she'd have done something to alter your perceptions," Razzaroo replied reasonably. "Or, barring that, you'd have suddenly gotten a visit from 'Princess Celestia,' who'd have blessed you with 'super strength.'"
I had to smile. They sure had Whisper pegged.
"But with you awake to the truth, a lot of Whisper's security system's now shut down," Razzaroo continued. "You created this world, after all, even if she's the behind-the-scenes director. Originally, the Twilight of this fake Ponyville was an automation Fluttershy was using as her sock puppet, programmed with only some prerecorded responses. It was the perfect pick for us to hijack."
"Especially since Twilight was supposed to be such a close teammate of mine," I added.
The current wave of enemies were thinning in number, making it easier for us to chat for protracted lengths of time.
"Flutternice ran the backstage operations, whenever 'Fluttershy' was scripted to make an onstage appearance. There was a bit of a 'plot hole' with Scootaloo supposed-to-exist-in-Ponyville, yet too-upsetting-for-you-to-actually-see," said Starlight. "Providing the perfect niche for me to fill as 'Bright Night.' This world KNEW there was supposed to be a pegasus filly as part of the CMC who admired you. So once I slipped in, the system adjusted everypony's memories automatically to account for me, like a restored computer file. That I didn't act like Scootaloo was forced into a mental blind spot. Since this place is still wired to you unconsciously, this mean the Flutters thought I was created automatically as a replacement for Scootaloo as wish fulfillment on your part. With so many puppets being run on automatic, they didn't check to see if I had any strings."
"Which let Bright Night get close to the puppet of Twilight, with the book containing my and Twinkle Wish's existence," added Razzaroo. "letting them slip inside it like a costume and cutting its strings. I just had to make sure to play my role whenever any of Whisper's puppets were nearby. I think Fluttershy just assumed Flutternice had done some upgrading." She spoke like a teacher at the villains. "You two were so focused on external threats you looked over the idea of a mole having entered your pocket world."
Granfalloon gave Flutternice a pie to the face as Nice halted to retort.
"I was keeping everypony happy and safe! I was giving us the time we were most happy! I adjusted things as best as I could!" Whisper's voice screamed. "I'm sorry I couldn't have everypony be equal and happy! But I'm not as good as Twilight, and this is Rainbow Dash's world! I had to make double sure she didn't wake up for the sake of everypony! She's been through so much pain, I just want you to be happy Rainbow!"
I could hear her crying, I thought my emotions had scabbed over by now, but that voice, it couldn't have been more my first friend. I felt my heart crack.
"Fluttershy . . . "
"Please understand, I brought us all in here to PROTECT us all! And all the ponies you saved, Rainbow Dash!"
"I didn't save them for THIS!"
"Fight them," Whisper begged me, the puppets and constructs all looking at Starlight and Razzaroo, "They're the real monsters!"
"No!" I answered. "After all the different ways we've killed ALL these ponies, timeline after timeline, we Nightmares have no right TALKING with mortals, let alone ruling their lives and deciding what's 'best' for them!"
"You've denied a lot of innocent ponies the chance to live their lives! And you denied your friends a chance at redemption or forgiveness!" Starlight snarled as she was dog piled under a horde of puppet royal guards that Banneret had to pull off her.
"Who cares about redemption or forgiveness as long as we're all happy and safe!?" Whisper pleaded.
I cared. I had cared about redemption. I had cared about forgiveness. I was like I was stabbed in the heart again.
"You two-faced, patronizing, string-pulling, kidnapping SNAKE!" I roared. "You're not even SORRY! You lie like Eclipse! You haven't changed at all! You're still the same hypocrite you were working with her! Your show's over and I'm taking you down like I should have her!"
"You're going to kill me, Rainbow?!" Whisper squeaked.
I chuckled. "No... not even I could go that far, old friend. But by now, it couldn't be clearer to me that we Nightmares will never be anything but irredeemable toxic waste. And the only thing to do with toxic waste is stow it away forever in some lonely, far-off place where no one ever goes. THAT'S what I intend to do to you, me, Banneret, Granfalloon, and Mirror!"
"Dude..." Banneret breathed, wide-eyed.
Mirror just rolled her eyes. Granfalloon looked hurt.
"YOU'RE NOT IRREDEEMABLE! YOU WERE ALL KINDA STARK RAVING MAD AT THE TIME!" Razzaroo screamed at me. "I'd bet anything that's what Judicium's gonna rule!"
"Judicium?" Banneret repeated, and both he and I turn around towards Razzaroo. "Sounds to me like this is as much an 'arrest' as a rescue, am I right?"
"Pretty much," said Razzaroo. "I'm pretty sure it'll be less 'eternal damnation' and more 'millions of years of intense therapy!'" Razzaroo said, blocking Dragonshy's staff with her book.
"Well, it's about buckin' time!" said Mirror, with her biggest smile in centuries.
"We'll do the time for all our crimes, and justice will finally be served," smiled Banneret.
"Yippie!" Granfalloon cheered, bouncing up and down, then snuggling up next to me. "Hey, Dashie? There's no pony I'd rather be toxic waste with than you, you know. ALL you guys! This is gonna be SO GREAT!"
They all seemed so happy. So free-spirited. So... together. Smiling between one another and at me. Like the good old days! I grinned back at them all with a lightness in my heart and faced forward. "So, Fluttershy, you ready to come down and own up to what we did like a grown mare? Or do we have to drag you kicking and screaming like a bratty little filly?"
"NO! YOU'RE NOT GOING ANYWHERE!" The giant Nightmare roared, unleashing a stream of blackness from its mouth, Spike countering with his dragon breath.
"I don't know what evil mind control these dogs of gods have done to you but we'll save you Uncle and Aunties!" Flutternice shouted and her detachments all nodded.
"You're only making this harder on yourself, Fluttershy!" shouted Razzaroo.
"SHOULDN'T YOU BE DEFENDING THIS WORLD, RAZZAROO?!" Whisper's voice bellowed. "DOESN'T IT EVOKE MEMORIES OF YOUR OWN?"
"No. My world was self-contradicting, innocent, naive, but it was never fake like yours. Everypony made their own choices in it. This place is a MOCKERY of everything my world was!!!"
"I SECOND THAT MOTION!" Granfalloon shouted, using a giant noise-maker at point blank range at Flutterbat, leaving the detachment's ears ringing, followed by a giant pie sending the bat pony sailing into a building.
Starlight turned to me. "As you can see, Manacle, we needed you to forsake this fake world because your heart was holding all the keys," she said, sweeping up Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle as they were almost pulled in by a puppet of Trixie, giving the two fillies a ride out of the fighting in the middle of the epic battle.
Razzaroo looked at me wishfully, as constructs began to crowd around her, a burst of sparking stars knocking them back, "I really really REALLY wanted to be the Watson to your Holmes, but Nightmare Whisper's eyes were everything."
"I wish you could've explained all this before," I sighed.
Razzaroo smiled. "I actually did explain it to a few very important fillies while Flutternice was distracted, and they told a few very important fillies, and they told a few very important fillies. And I told them it was their choice what they wanted to do. If they made the brave decision, they should be here right about..." The ground rumbled.
For a moment it looked like sunset. A mass of orange and violet across the horizon.
Then...h-heh...they...h-eh, sorry, I, I think I got something in my eye.
It was...they were all coming...nothing was gonna stop them.
Orange is my new favorite color.
171,015 little heroes.
I know I should have been upset at seeing foals taking a part in a battle, but...out of 171,015 fillies...all of them came to help.
"No, Scootaloos! Go back!" I hear Whisper's daughter shout. None of them listen.
Granfalloon took a photograph. It was easier to count who wasn't slack-jawed. The marionettes and constructs actually stopped as their puppeteers startle.
They moved like a flood, I think some ponies worried they were going to flatten everypony in their path. The lead Scootaloo shouted, and I knew exactly which Scootaloo she was, "Here comes the Scootaloo Army Alliance of Awesome!"
Laughing, Banneret cried, "Rainbow Dash, you have GOT to start teaching those fillies a little thing called 'good taste!'"
A smattering of Scootaloos seemed to know how to take to the air, and directed their swarm's actions. Yeah, they were like a swarm of changelings, fighting as one living creature. Given one of Scoots' parents, I shouldn't be surprised.
They slammed into Ponyville as a whole, swallowing up the constructs and puppets, but passing by the Ponyville ponies and us without touching a hair on our coats. The constructs and puppets reactively defended themselves, but they didn't last for long, they were now the ones outnumbered and outclassed. Even if Scootaloo's brain didn't remember her erased future, apparently their souls did.
"Now that's more like it, wings!" said a Scootaloo as she sent an airborn construct crashing to the ground.
"GO GET 'EM, SQUIRTS! TEAR 'EM TO PIECES!" I hear myself scream at the top of my lungs. "SHOW 'EM WHAT YOU'RE MADE OF!!!"
"Let's find out what they're made of!" Shouted one Scootaloo as she tore one construct apart.
"Good one!" I felt my face turn into the biggest, most genuinely happy smile I could remember feeling in so, so long.
Nightmare Whisper screamed in frustration, and a flood's worth of constructs materialized from her ring of fog; so many at once that they were crowding each other out as they overflowed towards Ponyville.
I watched as the Scootaloo Army Alliance of Awesome moved together to meet them head-on. Orange and violet crashed with yellow and pink, and orange won hooves-down, as the Scootaloos actually tore apart Whisper's constructs FASTER than she could make them!
They weren't just fighting blinding or individually, either. I watched as they supported and covered each other's flanks. I fell on my haunches, it was just too much, my tears hit the ground, as I felt I could fly to heaven. "You get 'em, Scootaloo, you're unbeatable."
I wasn't even shouting anymore. It felt like Princess Celestia has given me a kiss on the head.
"Don't worry!" Said one flying Scootaloo who took Apple Bloom from Starlight, hugging her.
"We'll take care of them from here!" Said another taking hold of Sweetie Belle, and nuzzled her.
The looks in the Cutie Mark Crusaders' eyes, they recognized, they remembered.
"S-Scootaloo?" Apple Bloom breathed out.
"Hey, Apple Bloom, it's been a while. I'm happy you're here with me."
"Me too, Sweetie Belle. I'm happy that you got saved with me."
I look around, and saw it everywhere. One Scootaloo being the personal body guard to Mayor Mare. Another being the guardian angel to Maternity and Button Mash. And another an assistant to Cheerilee. Two fighting alongside Spitfire and Soarin', the pair of Wonderbolts refusing to surrender to the world. Don't ask me how I knew, or how the heck they knew, every Scootaloo that could, they migrated like magnets to the pony who had been saved along with them, and fighting with experience of full grown mares who had grown up fighting a war.
If ANYONE deserved to swoop in and be the hero, I'm glad it was her.
But now . .. I shuddered, but it wasn't from sorrow. But now they were here, alive, together, maybe...please don't... don't let it all backfire. No darkly ironic twists. Just this once.
Please. I've seen the truly horrible worlds that Nyarlathotrot conjures, not all of them are tiny scale stuff with one of us becoming a psychotic killer, others time it's Equestrias so torn apart by wars so hate filled or coldly indifferent the windigos would freeze it solid in a second.
These Scootaloos...what's going to happen to them now?
'Please,' I pray, 'Let them have a future, let them have happiness and long life. And may their world be truly kind.'
And I see the loving looks in ALL their eyes at me. After all that's happened today, especially, there's a part of me that's scared to death of being praised. Not because I don't want it. Pony Heaven knows that I do. But because I'm afraid of it all going boom.
Maybe... if I only smile slightly smugly, instead of grinning ear-to-ear giggling my flank off... like this... and not speak any awful, vainglorious words... maybe if I don't let myself draw excessive enjoyment from the glad thankfulness of Razzaroo's smile...
Starlight gave me a hug. "I know how you feel right now...I've made a huge mistake before too...It can be hard to accept you can do good after doing something horrible...but you'll never be able to enjoy anything if you don't try."
I didn't ask how she knew, since I'd more or less told her the entire time.
"Scootaloo . . ." Razzaroo was crying too. "It's wonderful to see you again...you, Pinkie Pie, Rainbow Dash, you're all wonderful ponies. Yes yes yes! All of you! May all your days be bright."
I thought, 'May all your days be bright.'