So there they were! Starlight's angels, flanking the Nightdrake as he sumo wrestled with the giant Nightmare Whisper.
To think all this had been going on while Starlight and Zecora had been taking on Flutternice together!
I used my chains on the giant Nightmare Whisper, but it just passed through her like she weren't even there. My eyes narrowed as I created a cleaver lightning construct and stabbed it right through Nightmare Whisper's foreleg she was gripping me with. She didn't even flinch or let me go.
I used the weapon then to simply cut off the hoof/claw thingie that was holding me, but vines instantly whipped out and pulled it back into place. Finally, I just vibrated free. Even if I then had to land right near the enemy, vulnerable, waiting for my internal organs to put themselves back in the right places.
The back-up reapers who could used distance attacks to get her mind off of me.
"Be careful not to hurt her! She's just confused!" Nightmare Banneret begged.
"I'm trying to help all of you!"
Bright Eyes shouted, being a extra pair of eyes since she was using more of her power to keep the exit open. "We almost have the same soul! How can you trap your friends in this huge lie?!"
Fluttershy spoke from everywhere and nowhere. "Lies are only lies if you get caught. If a foal works on their heart out on a dress… and they ask your opinion, and you think it's the the ugliest thing ever, of course you'll lie to them, and then they make an ever uglier dress and ask what you think, of course you lie again, and again, that is what love is."
Ten or twenty full grown, fully-grown, fully-armored, yellow and pink dragons of the most mighty variety formed, and quickly overpowered Banneret, pushing back the little angels. Then the three yellow-and-pink draconzillas showed up, or maybe I was being delirious from shaking my molecules like a cocktail.
"Don't we get a fair fight?!" Patch shouted.
A giant party cannon exploded out of Sugarcube Corner, extending to the size of the Friendship Express burst out of Sugar Cube.
Oh yeah. That's happening!
Pinkie hopped on top of it now wearing a red French army uniform with gold ropes, white pants and black boots. She was also wearing a mustache. She put on a Neighpoleon hat, drew a sword and pointed at Banneret's faux relatives. "FIRE!!!"
The recoil sent the giant party cannon rolling over backwards, and a pink cannonball painted with Pinkie's cutie mark exploded in the middle of the scaly horde, obliterating it along with a few now-thankfully empty buildings.
The several hundred thousand Scootaloos made one Tartarus of an evac crew.
Clover just stared awe struck.
"Don't look at us, she's your imaginary friend," Patch said. I'm not gonna ask. If anything that made Pinkie Pie make more sense.
"B-but that's not fair!" Whisper's voice stuttered.
None of us threw her words back at her, at this point, it was beyond obvious.
Since Shy didn't just try the same trick again, I'm thinking that things ate up a good deal of Whisper's reserves.
That was when the constructs seemed to become extra-interested in keeping Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom from reaching the exit. And the smaller teenage dragon constructs breathing 'mist' at them, as much as they could before Mirror's mirrors burned it out. I had a mental image of a butterfly-winged 'Bloom and Sweetie in platinum armor attacking poor Mirror.
Ugh! Regenerate faster, you stupid rainbow Nightmare!
"No!" Melody looked even more worried than I felt.
Razzaroo teleported, zoomed in, riding on a shooting star, and began shooting sparkles at Nightmare Whisper that into its body like throwing stars. Okay, at this point I'm sure my head isn't regenerating as fast as it should. Maybe Whisper's slipped me some of her fog.
"I'll cover for you! Sweetie is a friend of mine too!" Razz shouted.
Melody didn't need to be told twice as she flew as fast as Pinkie Pie can carry a tune.
"You're supposed to be watching AJ's back for attacks!" I told her.
"Don't worry, Dashie! I've got it covered!" Granfalloon said, as she she popped out of the front door of the library, then popped out behind Applejack in less time than it took to teleport! Pinkie Pie, I'm happy she's on our side again.
Oh, and Melody flew up and shattered the bunch of constructs with musical notes. That look she had... it was like a mother protecting her kid.
Sweetie Belle blinked at her. "Who are you?"
"Just call me... Great Grandma Melody, okay? Give or take a few hundred greats," she gave Sweetie Belle a nuzzle. "I couldn't help my baby when she needed me, but I can help you." She looked to Scoots. "Keep flying kid, you've got a guardian angel watching you right now!"
If there's one thing Melody taught me is you don't mess with a mother, not even a Multiple Times Great Grandma, when her baby is in harm's way. A LOT of constructs found that out the hard way after Melody started playing guard duty. Razzaroo helped me up.
"Mom! Let me help! I helped The Doctor lots of times! I can help now!" Dinky struggled in her mom's mouth as they fled.
"NOH!" Derpy said. "'ou'll 'et 'urt!"
"'n' 'm gun'na 've uh l'ng t'lk wif ‘er p'rents wh'n w' git b'ck h'me!"
Sparkler kept any cynical comments to herself, maybe I should be following her example more. The look in her eyes, she's scared, but she's not about to say it.
Three Scootaloos fought to protect them. That family, never knowing they were actually each from a different world, they and one Scootaloo were the only survivors.
I'm not Nightmare Mirror, so I hope they don't find out the truth.
"No! Please! Come back! They're going to do terrible things to you if you leave!" Shy's omnipresent voice shouted.
"She's lyin'! She ain't got a clue! Nopony but the biggest loonies would go ta this much trouble ta save ya all if they just wanted nasty things ta happen to ya!" Mirror was using the Royal Canterlot Voice to make sure she was heard.
"Hehe, it's always good to hear you say a comforting truth, AJ!" Pinkie chimed in.
"Whelp," said Mirror, with a smile, "It's cuz Ah was so honest 'bout all them bad things fer that whole time that ya know mah good news is the real deal, 'stead of jest sweet li'l lies!"
"So our sense of joy can be all the more honest," I noted.
My old friend smiled at me so happily and gratefully, how could I help but smile back?
Meanwhile, Dinky was still trying to escape her mom's protection. "Please let me help, mom! I'm not a baby!"
"'ou're MY 'aby! 'nd I'll 'rotect 'ou!" Derpy kicked a construct in the face and Sparkle sent gems in another one's eyes as they and the Scootaloo trio escort made their way to the exit.
Some Scootaloos were helping other injured individuals to the exit. I grimaced.
"So they're badflank, got it." I said. Little foals having to fight and shoulder huge responsibility... the fate of the world... I wish I could say I'd never seen such things before. Childhood cut short is always a tragedy.
"No...because their hearts wanted to know they were FINALLY truly saving you after being robbed of that chance in their own respective worlds. This is the only way their hearts can accept freedom."
"...Can't say I don't sympathize with that."
After all, wasn't I fighting to save somepony so I could have the freedom that mattered?
Exuberant, dogged, heartfelt loyalty, I could see so much of myself in all of them. The way I was supposed to be.
"They were all inspired by YOU Rainbow Dash, they all rose to protect others and oppose evil because of you! Even when you fell to Discord's sickness, the you they believed in gave them strength!"
"GOT THAT RIGHT!" Scootaloo 99,001 shouted as she did a flying back flip kicking her opponent off their hooves.
It seemed like the more determined I got to feel rotten, everypony around me just got even more determined to help me out.
Razz' helped me get out of Whisper's reach when the Nightmare made a grab for me again like my cut from before was nothing.
"No consequences, infinite loops of just more fun and games where everything is only as serious as you wish it to be! Isn't that paradise?! I've made heaven for all of you!" I can't tell if Whisper was screaming at the escaping ponies or us.
"Hell is better than yer 'paradise,' Fluttershy!" Came the Royal Canterlot Voice of Nightmare Mirror.
Clover said covering us, slicing and dicing the strand of pink mane that tried to grab us from behind using all four of her hooves. "You think this is like Paradise? I've been there. You don't have a clue."
"I don't want my friends to go to Tartarus! Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, Spike, Applejack, do you want to go to Hell?!"
"No more lies," I said. "No more 'resets.' We're going to face punishment for our sins, like grown adults!" I shouted.
But then I said to myself. "But...there's something I need to do first. And I can't do that here."
"Rainbow...we can't always get what we want," said Razzaroo, who must've overheard me.
I frowned at her. "There's only one thing left I want."
She looked at me evenly. "And I'd cut out pieces of my soul if I could give that to you."
The puppets were wiped out, and Whisper was sending all her constructs now after either Starlight and Zecora, or trying to breach the defenses of the Scootaloos as they protected the ponies escaping this violated version of Ponyville.
The giant Nightmare Whisper was now facing Spike, Razzaroo, Clover, Patch, and Bright Eyes with no back up, and Spike doing a good job of keeping her one big target. But she kept healing and wasn't even flinching from all the damage.
Not having any distance attack or being a walking Cuisinart like Clover, Bright Eyes looked at her own weapon.
"Seriously, it had to be swords? They're pretty-looking but rifles would have been more practical," Bright Eyes said. Her sword transformed into butterflies again and then into a bucking crossbow.
"Feeling medieval, huh? I suppose this will do too. Thank you, Lance!" She began firing shots at where the vital points of the Nightmare should have been to slow it down or disable it, the shots turning to gold butterflies, who flutter back to Bright Eyes, lightning-quick, effectively giving her unlimited ammo. "I only wish I'd thought of this earlier!"
"Sorry for intruding on your fight," Patch bowed apologetically as she burned and froze at the giant Nightmare.
My insides had fully regenerated. Geeze, that took longer than it should have. I looked at the giant and slowly turned my head upwards to the sun.
I shrugged. "It's okay, you can take of this thing. I'm going after Nightmare Whisper."
"Wait what-" I didn't stick around to explain. I just flew straight up.
This thing was just another fake. She switched one illusion for another. You tried too hard, Fluttershy. The puppets are impossible to tell apart on the outside, but inside is another story. My chains only work on things with free will!
If the Kindest of Lies could project herself through a construct that confused even Mirror's senses, why not a giant puppet when Mirror's already distracted?
Puppet strings aren't connected to nothing.
One problem: 'Shy realized what I was doing anyway, and the sky filled with 'fog.'
I was wrong about 'Shy's reserves. A wall of her animal constructs formed right on top of me.
"You wanna do this the hard way? We'll do this the hard way! Sonic-Rainboom!"
I blew right threw the wall of Nightmare Whisper's toys, only to find another wall of 'em waitin' behind it!
Sonic Rainboom! Sonic Rainboom! Sonic Rainboom!
They're swarming all around me, weighing me down! GET OFF ME!!!
I ripped my way through, clawing and digging, bits of my barding breaking off piece by piece until I'm naked except for part of my champron. My fancy armor sure looks absurd when I'm not wearing the whole set.
More enemies pile down on me like a waterfall the closer I got to the source. Two flaps up and five flaps back! Stop it already, Fluttershy!
Unexpected help from all sides.
They weren't the surprise.
"I don't know the whole story, but I'll trust you Rainbow Dash," Spitfire said.
"Just promise us a full answer later," Thunderlane added.
The Wonderbolts! Freed of their puppet shells, with Spitfire leading the formation. And Thunderlane and the rest of the Ponyville weather team...all of them. Spitfire. Misty Fly. Fleetfoot. Soarin'. Blaze. Rapidfire. Wave Chill. High Winds. Lady. Surprise (I think it's just a passed-down name). Cloud Kicker. Raindrops. Cloudchaser and Flitter.
All looking at me like they honestly want to be friends with me. What was I? Stupid? They already were.
I was stunned. I was just plain stunned. They were their right minds... they didn't have any sort of brainwashing on them... and they'd all come to help me, of their own choice. My Element of Loyalty and Free-Will glowed bright.
"SAVE IT AND DO WHATEVER THE HAY YOU WERE DOING, YOU NINNY!!"
The constructs were confused as heck, because 'Shy was getting her wires crossed from a over a dozen new targets at once. It would take just a tiny bit for 'Shy to get her head back on straight and direct her pawns to properly deal with the new problem.
That tiny bit, was all the Dash needed!!!
Up, up and away!!!!
I can see them this time: the puppet strings snaking down, either for me or my friends, I don't care which; I obliterate them without a second thought.
I fly higher, and higher, and higher, past Cloudsdale, past everything, I could touch the sky.
Instead, I smash right through it like a bullet!
The pieces of the fake sky fell beneath me like glass; I don't mind. I landed on the backside of the 'sky'. The new floor I'm standing on is artistically painted with all the constellations and the moon.
And here was all the background machinery that kept this theme-park Ponyville running. The ceiling was a mind-breaking crisscross of wooden pulleys and ropes stretching as far as the eye could see, the forest of puppet strings around me dangling through the floor like it wasn't even there.
And there she was at the center of it all, pulling countless threads at once in every direction with her telekinesis, with more still tied around her wing-tips, hooves, and tail.
She wasn't the size of a building. She was small for a Nightmare. She didn't have bleeding shackles. Her horn didn't bleed at the base. She didn't have claws instead of hooves. She didn't have a hole in her chest with a glowing orb containing all of Equestria's suffering. She didn't have fangs or pupil-less eyes.
Instead, I saw a beautiful demure mare with a coat one-shade-darker-than-butter yellow. Her cutie mark was a trio of butterflies with blue wings and pink bodies. Blue eyes like those of a dragon. A sleek and shiny horn glowing pink. A pair of delicate pink butterfly wings. Her mane and tail were pink and flowing, flowers seemingly growing from it, even leaving a slight trail as it moved in the ebbs and flows of life around her. She wore platinum barding styled after Princess Celestia's.
Poor girl really looked like she could use some sleep. Next to her was a half-eaten daisy sandwich, a picture of us six back in our happy bygone Element Of Harmony days together in Ponyville, a heart-shaped picture of Flutternice, a foalhood blanket, and a truckload of knitted wool animals, including one of Angel.
This was the real Nightmare Whisper.
"Fluttershy, it's over."
"No!" She cried out fearfully, though not for her own sake. Never for her own sake. Nightmare Whisper had completely grown past fearing for herself long, long ago.
A puppet of me dropped down from the rafters and flew right at me. Capable of everything I'd been capable of as a pegasus; every stunt, every move, every technique, my equal in every way.
I broke it apart and swept it aside with one swift stroke of my telekinesis.
"Don't come any closer, Rainbow Dash!"
"Avoidance was never the solution, Whisper."
She fumes a bit at that. "Stop calling me that! My name is Fluttershy! Stay back! Don't make me...don't make me..."
"...If you really are Fluttershy again...why aren't you acting like it?" I asked, not angry...more sad. "...You're still acting like Nightmare Whisper…"
Element of Harmony stolen! My wings! Into the maze! My cutie mark? Gotta be my element! Discord! Put'em up jerk! Something important to say?
'A weighty choice is yours to make,
The right selection or a big mistake.
If the wrong choice you choose to pursue,
The foundations of home will crumble without you?'
Dang it I hate riddles! Whatever! Come on jerk!
Fall apart...without me...
Discord said, "That box contains your wings. You can take them and leave the game, or you can carry on aimlessly wandering this maze. Your choice."
"...Keep them. They're yours. I have to find my friends."
Discord is absolutely stunned. "What?! Your home will be destroyed!"
"And I know they wouldn't want me to betray the world just to save them."
"Then you're betraying them!"
"It's not betrayal, if I'm doing it for everything Clouddale stands for and what pegasi believe in!"
I smile elatedly. I have the weirdest sensation that I should've literally said these words eons ago.
"My place is with my friends," I continue. "I am never abandoning Twilight! Or Applejack or Pinkie Pie or Fluttershy or Rarity!"
"Oh? What if I told you THEY were all about to give up my game?"
"Then they need a loyal friend to get their hearts back in the game more than ever! Good thing I'm here!"
I turned around and trotted away.
"You're condemning all the pegasi who won't take off in time to death!"
I turn back on him, sparking a blazing fury. "YOU'RE condemning them!" I snarl. "You're the threat. You're the menace. You're the source of the chaos. And what's scummiest of all... you PLAY DEPRAVED GAMES TO DODGE PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY FOR WHAT YOU DID!"
I charge at him like a bull seeing red. "Twisted sickos like you..." Discord's face meet my hoof, and it's the greatest physical and emotional thrill I've ever experienced. "...DON'T DESERVE TO CALL THE SHOTS!!!!" I shouted, pounding him in the face again and again.
"Yes... yes... feel his flesh give way underneath your hooves, look at the fear in his eyes, taste his helplessness. Feel him squirm under you. Look at him shrink. Can't fight back. Can't win." A sweet voice breathed in of my ears.
"Yessss..." I hissed.
"He betrayed his kind, he betrayed his duty, he betrayed his family, he betrayed his friends. And betrayed, should be punished." I grinned wider and wider as I didn't let up. ""And best of all... you don't have to feel a shred of for any of it. Because you know he's the villain, and you're the hero. Nothing you can do to him, can ever be over the line... my... Night-mare Man-ac-le..."
"NO!!!!" I screamed, shaking my head, I knew Discord wasn't behind this...not any more. I look behind Discord, seeing translucent flaming chains leading back to a white masked purple Nightmare. I flew forwards and decked Nightmare Eclipse in the face sending her spinning into a garden wall. "I AM NOT YOU! I am never going to be you! You're gone! I'm never becoming you! I'm not a sadist! You hear me! You worthless bully!"
I looked at Discord... with lots bruises, bleeding, and broken bones.
"I'm sorry," I said and meant it, and helped him up.
Discord, the maze, and Nightmare Eclipse shattered. Though Nightmare Whisper now had a big bruise on her face.
"Why... Rainbow Dash, that's what you wanted more than anything! I gave you what you wanted! I GAVE YOU WHAT YOU WANTED!"
"... Twilight Sparkle, MY Twilight Sparkle, she wouldn't want me to run away the consequences of my actions. And I wouldn't be a good role model for Scootaloo would I? This is my loyalty of my own free will!"
"I'm protecting you!"
"Nopony is living here! We're just existing! This place is nothing but a big lie! Everything!" And with my telekinesis, I tore apart the background machinery, pulling it to pieces and watching it fell apart around us.
"Rainbow, stop that right now!" A puppet of my father said as Whisper pulled it up, I telekinetically blew it apart from the inside out.
"Stop it, Dash!" This one of my mother, I dismantled it between eye blinks, the hollow pieces clattering to the floor with the rest of this grand deception.
"Why?! This is your world! Your world, Rainbow Dash!" Nightmare Whisper wept.
"...Yeah, it was my world. MY world. Mine...and they were all trapped in it."
Our fight has entered a lull. We're both catching our breaths, and I'm feeling talky.
"And all of this?...I don't deserve it. I don't deserve a perfect paradise.The truth is that is no world for me anymore! And now I need to face that. I need to finally live up to everything I did!...I'm sorry, Fluttershy, but I'm done dodging responsibility..."
I kick out a hind leg, destroying another segment of scenery. It falls straight on the decapitated head of my puppet-mom, cracking it open. I actually choke up, feeling a hot, salty droplet trickle down my cheek.
"Don't think I don't appreciate what you're trying to do for me," I tell Whisper sadly. "For all us Nightmares. Feels like I'm taking a bulldozer to my own birthday party, only a thousand times worse!
But... 171,015 Scootaloos, Whisper. 171,015. You helped me save half of them!"
"I'm sorry," she murmurs.
I nod. "I embrace the fantasy, and allow mortals to be entrapped. I embrace reality, and I hurt you, my old friend. All those times seeing you lose your body to Fluttercruel... I can't tell you how badly I missed you, Shy."
The Kindest of Lies smiles the smallest bit through her tears.
"Nightmares are as good as tornadoes in pony form," I continue. "Doomed to ruin everything around us, even at our most passive. Including other Nightmares...but we can at least think for ourselves now...we can maybe try to fix some of the mess we made...but how can we do that if we're living in a fog?"
For a second, I see what looks like understanding in Nightmare Whisper's eyes. Then the Kindest of Lies whipped her mane about and vines shot towards me, I responded with my chains, the two wrapped around each other. I broke my chains off from me, they heated up, and exploded, blowing up the vines with themselves. Nightmare Whisper cried out in pain, I take off and flew right for her though the debris.
Our eyes meet.
Must. Stop. Must. Not...Upset. Mommy. Fluttershy. She. Very. Cross...
And we smack into each other's heads. Ouch.
I'll skip the details about our horns, I'm just happy we can regenerate.
"But...but I was Staring you." Nightmare Whisper said in a small confused voice.
"Sorry Fluttershy, but even you can't Stare momentum."
I slide down the front of my champron over my eyes, I didn't think she could still use the stare, not making that mistake again.
I'd rather not go into detail on how I beat up the exhausted and sleep depraved mare I had defended from bullies when we were both fillies, thank you very much!!!
She wouldn't stop, she wouldn't give up, I...I finally just used my chains to hold her down. Not the ideal solution, but it was the best I could do. Then I touched my horn against her core...her half-Element.
She'd broken her Element of Chaos in half to give Flutternice her own body, one half becoming Kindness again, the other half staying an Element of Chaos. But at Flutternice's own request, Nightmare Eclipse helped Flutternice cut the Element of Chaos out of her, forcing Flutternice's seat of consciousness back into her brain...and it was just as painful as doing it the other way around from the screaming.
Using my magic on Fluttershy's core severed her tie to my pocket world, I was revoking her admin privileges! And I completely restored mine.
Dang it. The place in a bad shape. Whisper had really grown desperate at the end, I think she'd been bleeding off magic from the place to fuel her own at the end....Good thing I was done with this dump.
I also chained up all but her most basic magic. Her constructs went poof, and her giant Nightmare puppet fell to pieces, and the fog dissolved into nothing. Flutternice I think got scared I had...I had done something that couldn't be undone to Fluttershy.
"But Rainbow!" Fluttershy begged, sobbing and sniffing. "You WANTED me to do this! You WANTED to escape everything! You wanted us all safe! I did this because WANTED ME to! This was OUR project!"
"Not like this! Never like this! Nightmare Eclipse was the worst teacher possible, so stop following in her footsteps! We're... we're night terrors who need to fade away with the dawn."
"Please stop saying that about yourself, Rainbow, please don't say that about our friends!"
"We betrayed our friends, we all did, for a monster that kidnapped and enslaved our Twilight."
"...We might not be THOSE friends, but we're still FRIENDS." Her voice shook me in the way only Fluttershy's ever could.
"Dangit... you're right about that much Fluttershy...the moment I start thinking we're not...that's when I'd be no better than Nightmare Eclipse."
"Then let's just forget about-"
"You just don't LISTEN to a thing I say, do you?!" I magically lifted her up and put her on my withers. "Come along, Fluttershy, we have friends who want to talk with you."
"But...but it's not fair! I got you! Then I'd have saved everypony!"
"No Fluttershy, you wouldn't. Your puppets are gone. I'd just trashed your strings. Flutternice is out of the fight. You couldn't use the stare on me up and personal and direct a zillion constructs at the same time. I know you're tougher than you look better than anypony. And I know you already didn't have a way to pull out a win from this. Know when to fold'em 'Shy."
"I just need to beat those grim reapers, hold you off, disable Applejack, and get back all those ponies you kidnapped, and everything can be back to how it was!"
"First, you don't have the strength left to beat Princess Luna after we cured her with the Elements. Second, Fluttershy this isn't 'how it was' at all! This is a mockery of what it was before! Stop doing this to our friends, stop doing this to yourself...
"I'm not angry because you kept these ponies in my fake Ponyville so they wouldn't get deleted! If you'd JUST done that, I'd just want us to face our judgement day and leave them be. I'm upset because you did the OPPOSITE: you didn't let them LIVE. You made them PUPPETS…For what? For what you THOUGHT I wanted? If you'd just let them live their LIVES they'd have MADE this real."
"…If you knew I coudn't win anymore, then why you fight so hard?"
"Because I wanted to SAVE YOU so you wouldn't go down with the ship!... I'll protect you bullies 'Shy, and I'll protect you from yourself too."
Forgive me if I start skipping over stuff. Everything was just so tiring. I was so tired. I just wanted to rest now so bad. With the fighting over, the Ponyville ponies got out a-okay. Including the weather team and the Wonderbolts.
Starlight and her four friends were still here, likely cause we were. Zecora was the only ...er, 'regular' native, still here. They were all bruised, battered and worn out as you'd expect. I saw Starlight actually mix them up milkshakes from what supplies were still in Sugar Cube Corner. They had a good view with most of the building gone.
The place was a wreck from the battle. It was a fake Ponyville, always had been, but it was still wasn't fun to see my adopted home ruined again, imitation or not. The pieces of the puppets had been left where they'd been destroyed, made the scene all the more morbid.
The Scootaloo Army Alliance of Awesome...I think they were all waiting for me. 171,015 fillies I'd saved. Out of billions of ponies I didn't.
They all looked at me. None of them hated me. Some looked at me with pity. Some with admiration. Some with friendship. Some were scared and alone. Some were just lost and didn't know what they were supposed to do now that the 'saving everypony' part was done. Many looked just as tired as I felt. Many had just taken pillows out of the houses to sit down on and lean on each other. It wasn't like anypony was going to be taking them with them.
Whatever relief plan the concepts had for everypony, I doubted they were gonna have use for the imitation junk me and 'Shy had built for 'em.
Granfalloon had ransacked everything in Sugarcube corner and was hoofing out treats to the 'purple heart' Scootaloo troopers.
Banneret was sleeping, wrapped around Carousel Boutique. I let him dream.
Razzaroo was guarding Flutternice, in Golden Oak Library, reading her fairy tales.
Mirror?…Mirror found us.
"Applejack?..." Fluttershy looked up at her big eyed. The stare was one of the things my chains had sealed.
"There's already an Applejack in this worldline sugar cube, and it ain't me...come'on Fluttershy, Ah did this ta ya...maybe Ah can help ya just a tiny bit."
"Y-You, Applejack? I didn't think you approve of what I was-"
"Not what Ah meant! Maybe Ah can help ya come back to yer senses a little!"
Fluttershy shrank back, it wasn't like she could run away now.
"Mirror..." I said.
"Please RD, this is, somethin' Ah gotta do."
Mirror ended up pulling Whisper along with her magic. I didn't have a right NOT to watch. She made her look at Zecora, then the Scootaloos, then she made her stick her head out through the portal.
"Look at 'em, Fluttershy, look at 'em good now. Ya made 'em be the little Non-Player-Characters for yer 'gift' ta us. Remember who treat ponies like that?"
"Callin' 'em NPCs was Eclipse's lie so she could live with herself. Every last pony we erased? It wasn't 'deletin' a save', it was murder... Ca ya say how many?"
" ...How many? I can't remember…"
"Ah can, but Ah can't tell yah."
"...Y-you're actually holding back on a cruel truth?"
"No, Ah can't tell yah cause there ain't a NUMBER high enough for it."
"THAT'S WHY I did this!" Whisper protested. "To protect them! I didn't want the same thing to happen to them! That doesn't make me evil! It...this was my redemption!"
My heart has cracked plenty of times, but there always seemed to be room for one more.
Mirror whispered to her; "...Ah'm sorry, Fluttershy, Ah really am. What yew and RD did? Savin' these ponies? That was good. It's better than if ya didn't. But that doesn't balance out what we all were doin' at the same time! These ponies? Did we save 'em? Yeah, we did. Are they alive because of us? Yes, they are. But does that save our souls and make us white knights? Hell. No. They're a drop of clear water in an ocean of blood."
And Fluttershy cried. No loud sobbing, just, silent tears. "I know that."
"Then why have ya been stoppin' 'em from fixin' the damage?"
"Fluttershy. Ya've been keep them, us, yer filly, all frozen, the same way Nightmare Eclipse kept Discord frozen."
"But, they never experienced all those horrible things Discord did to them. Those things never happened, they were erased."
Mirror slapped her once. I, I didn't meddle.
"Their brains might not remember, Fluttershy, but their souls do, souls are timeless! They're not bound by when and where! All ya did? All ya and RD did? Ya BURIED IT, ya painted over it! But take it from me: jest painting over a barn's rot and termite damage? Ya can't see it. But it's still there all the same. Everything Ah showed ya when you, when ya became this was true, and the whole truth, but not the only truth! Here's one! A real Fluttershy should know HIDING from a hurt is no way for a hurt to heal. You've let the thorn fester instead of pulling it out."
Fluttershy said nothing in return.
"Ya know, we managed to get ya before most of the other Fluttershy started wishin' ta die jest to stop Fluttercruel from hurtin' more ponies. Before the war with Cadence. Before the war with Grogar. Before the war with them aliens. She'd already done some horrible things, but it wasn't a shadow of the walkin' house of horrors she'd turn into with Discord tellin' 'er no ta nothin'!...Ah said ya filly needed professional help, but just like Nightmare Eclipse ya ignored me or pretended Ah meant somethin' else. You made her ashamed to be herself! You 'cured' her of eatin' meat. Ya 'cured' her of lovin' her pa. Ya didn't try to help her understand her cutie mark. A CUTIE MARK REFLECTS A PONY'S SOUL! Ya were tellin' her that she was 'wrong!'"
"...We all saw what happened when she was allowed to indulge her every natural impulse, under her father's... care. Maybe not in our line, but in every other one..." Whisper replied, with a deeply sickened expression. "I love her dearly, I really do, but I ask you as a mother: how am I to respect a soul like hers, or the cutie mark it produces? A soul with a instinctive preference for cruelty? A soul whom every form of kindness is unnatural?"
"She ain't truly as bad as yer making her out to be! If that's all there was to her, she'd have never loved you or her father!" Mirror retorted. "Ain't no such thing as an 'evil' cutie mark! AND NO SUCH THING AS A SOUL THAT'S BORN EVIL!"
"I didn't want her to turn out like the other Fluttercruels!" Whisper replied, in a pained voice. "It's not like I ever showed her hatred. Or was it wrong of me to show her any form of strictness and shepherd her away from evil impulses?"
"HECK, no!" said Mirror. "But ya didn't want anypony else touchin' her! Not... not after we done, 'fixing' her of what she was! Ya were the only one allowed ta tell 'er the facts of life and how to live!"
Whisper gave another shudder. "Just a second ago, you said she needed 'professional help.' Please tell me... where should I have sent her to? Which doctor, which magical therapist could I have given her to, that would've done it right and fixed all her mental issues?"
"See, that's a problem in itself!" Mirror countered. "'Sent her to!' 'Given her to!' Like she was some busted clock! Ya shoulda worked WITH a professional, with good teachers! That's what a parent is supposed to do, but like any Nightmare, ya couldn't even hear that maybe ya were doin' somethin' wrong with 'er!"
Fluttershy said nothing.
"And the worst part, Fluttershy?" AJ asked, seriously. "Yah did this AFTER the Elements healed us! The Elements don't do half-plot jobs! Yah don't HAVE the excuse of being a crazy Nightmare! Ya messed up Fluttershy, ya messed up BAD. Ya knew that already. But the way ya were goin' 'bout 'fixin' it' wasn't fixing it at all!"
"...Is it wrong I didn't want my baby to turn out as bad as the others?" Fluttershy asked, tears in her eyes. "Seeing so many Fluttercruels...seeing them all become worse than mine ever was...Is it wrong I was afraid?"
Geeze...When she puts it like that, I almost feel bad...
"...And that makes it right?" Mirror asked. "Anymore than meh tryin' tah protect Apple Pie makes anythin' Ah did worth it?"
Fluttershy looked like she would break down crying.
"...Yah did better than most would. Yah never asked for her, Discord violated you, but that never matter to yah...But that doesn't mean yah've been in the right all this time! Yes, THOSE Fluttercruels turned into cruelty incarnate, YOURS DIDN'T! Stop thinking like Nightmare Eclipse!"
Fluttershy looked like she didn't know what to say.
"And...Ah'm sorry, Fluttershy," Mirror said unhappily, and now I could feel Whisper flinch at that word too. "But ponies aren't robots! Ya can't just 'fix 'em up' them like machines! Ponies need HELP, not repairs! Ya understood that once Fluttershy! Ah muddied the waters so much that ya forgot that! All Ah'm askin' Fluttershy is, even though there's no way Ah could ever deserve it."
Here, Mirror hung her hat over her heart.
"Jest please forgive me, jest a little."
Whisper peeked out at her through watery eyes.
"And forgive yerself! Ya don't need to take all the weights for the damage we caused by yerself! Please, Fluttershy! Let us help too! And help THE RIGHT WAY, the way that treats the disease, not just the symptoms!"
Applejack hugged her, gently folding her wings over her. Shy was about to pull away, but imagines of Fluttershy's loving animals and all the kindness she'd shown them shinned on Mirror's wings. "Like ya were always good at."
Now Fluttershy did cry, and hugged Applejack back. I hugged them too.
We had been rounding up for destruction the concept-killing weapons that Flutternice and Zecora had used. None of us argued. After seeing so many ponies and worlds retconned out of existence, I was perfectly happy to see weapons that could do that on a whim gone from creation. I'm just happy Starlight using one to destroy another didn't result in a paradox that destroyed the universe.
I think EVERYPONY was trying to figure out what to do next. I think everypony was so focused on 'stop Nightmare Whisper', that NOPONY had figured out what to do once the dust had started settling.
It didn't help much that our rescuers apparently weren't give any detail either by their higher-ups. I don't think they knew I was eavesdropping.
"So what becomes of them?" Bright Eyes gestured. "They aren't technically dead, since that part of their future was destroyed. They aren't shadows of existence, they're whole beings. But most aren't even from the same timeline. But their native timelines have been destroyed. We made sure death and nothingness wouldn't take them the moment they set hoof out of this place. But many have doubles both in the world of the living and the spirit world. In particular, the Scootaloos. Separating their light and shadow, or making them enter death now would be barbaric. They're innocent. So what's to become of them?"
"I do not feel fear,
But need I remind you 'one of them' is right here?"
"OH! I'm sorry Miss H-, I mean Zecora! I'm sorry! I wasn't trying to...That was rude. I apologize."
"It is alright dear,
I sense no heartlessness when any of you are near."
Starlight spoke, "One of my bosses, Rota Fortuna told me that you'd all get unique treatment, Zecora. You've been effectively living the same day over and over this entire count, so it doesn't really count as..." Starlight stopped. "As you having other problems."
"There is much you don't wish to say,
For you fear it'll turn my mind to hay."
"Yes." Starlight said.
Rota...Fortuna...the name Nightmare Eclipse went over again and again. "She has one job! One job! And it's clear she can't even do it right with all the bad decisions ponies end up making! That's one of the first things I'm fixing."
And why the buck hadn't Twilight come? The Elements cure Nightmares like Nightmare Moon. Why didn't she come for us? Why hadn't I gotten so much as a message from her? Why hadn't any of us?!
There was so much I wanted to discuss with her.
You won't believe one thing that took up a lot of my time. Then again, maybe you will.
"There ya go Scootaloo," I said to Scootaloo # 99,050.
"Thanks Dash!" She hugged me and trotted away.
Scootaloo # 99,051 trotted up to me, holding a napkin in her mouth.
I dip the quill in one of the countless inkwells we'd ransacked from the library, and wrote out 'Rainbow 'DANGER!' Dash.' I was running out of monikers.
"And there ya are squirt."
"You're the best Rainbow Dash!" Scootaloo # 99,051 hugged me and flew over the herd behind her, smiling.
Granfalloon provided me with coffee (with a lot of sugar), Mirror provided me with cider (though given I'm a Nightmare, getting drunk was near impossible). With one nostril of his teleportation breath, Spike kept me stocked up at the little table I'd set up (borrowed from Mayor Mare's office, she wasn't using it right now).
One of the squirts, # 171,012, asked me for my autograph. And well, if ya give a parasprite a cookie.
"So ready to scream, fly away, and hide in a closet yet?"
"Spitfire!" I smiled and hugged her, she hugged back. That I was a big scary Nightmare didn't seem to bother her THAT badly.
"Nice to see you too Rainbow Dash, so, how you holding up?"
I looked at the orange herd. "Just takin' a break squirts! I'll be back to ya in a minute!" Some spouted, some sat down, some fluttered their wings, but all understood.
I whispered to Spitfire. "It's boring, it's worse than cloud pushing duty, and I feel like my horn is gonna fall off." I had stopped using my hooves when they cramped up, and stopped using my mouth after it's gone numb for a while. "But I wouldn't stop, because I can't see how HAPPY it makes all of them!"
"Welcome to my world." Spitfire whispered, giving me a nuzzle.
"And... I promised you to tell you everything," I thought sadly.
"No, Soarin' asked you to promise all of us a full answer. You never did," Spitfire said.
"All the same, you helped me save everypony. You don't deserve to be left in the dark."
"I did my duty, and so did my teammates to protect Equestria and our fellow ponies and our friends. I don't know how we got trapped in this fake Ponyville, or how you guys all got turned into Nightmare Moon cosplayers, or why Fluttershy of all ponies was behind all this... and yeah, that vexes me and the others, a lot."
"Where are they?"
"We got a full bill of heath outside, but we said we wanted to hang out in Clouddale stadium until we could get home. Only chance we'll get to fly wind in Cloudsdale without worrying of smashing something!" Spitfire grinned. "So Dash, can you tell me what's going on?"
"... Spitfire if I told you, you'd go crazy. I did."
"Are we dead?"
"Are we golems?"
"Are we clones?"
"Am I a figment of your imagination?"
"Are we dreams of a long lost civilization given solid form in the real world?"
"No, and the hay?"
"Sorry, hanging out around Surprise too much."
"I swear to Celestia, you are Spitfire, flesh and blood, born from your mom, and so are all your teammates."
"Well that's good to know."
"...Just know those girls that helped us beat Fluttershy's army are setting everything up to get you home, that's really all you need to think about."
"Not all...Uh, why are there like a thousand of those little orange fillies?"
My eyes widened. "Uh...there's actually 171,015 of them."
"Would you believe I rescued them from destroyed universes?"
"...Normally I'd think you were crazy, but that's not the craziest thing I've heard today."
Thank goodness I didn't have to admit I rescued her from a destroyed universe.
"Yeah, it's a long story."
"... Can I have some of that cider?" She asked.
"Be my guest."
"Thanks…That filly, these fillies, must mean a ton to you, huh?"
"Probably one of the most important ponies in the world."
"I think you're hers too...speaking of you, are you okay?"
"...Better than I used to be. That's for sure."
Spitfire chuckled. "Good...I think your crowd is wanting you back...And here's a tip, write in cursive, it's faster."
Before heading back to her teammates, Spitfire did a little show free of charge for the Scootaloo Army Alliance of Awesome along with some flying tips. Can't say I didn't enjoy it too. And unknown to her, her Scootaloo got her autograph too.
None of us were being guarded, but none of us really had any intention of running now.
Bright Eyes explained, "Your lights of existence were cured when you were struck by the Elements of Harmony, but since you were projects through Nightmare Eclipse at the time, your shadows of existences weren't effected. You have lights of existence of Alicorns, while having the shadows of Nightmares."
Turns out Whisper had 'pasted in' Mirror's pocket world (which was just Sweet Apple Acres), into my fake Ponyville.
That left Banneret's Horde Of Gifts, Whisper's Everyarn Forest, Twilight's merged version of Golden Oak Library and her tower in Canterlot, and Granfalloon's party room.
Granfalloon's place was never exactly the same twice. Sometimes it was Sugarcube Corner, other times it was a circus, other times a theme party, others the Grand Galloping Gala as she wanted it to be, the only guests were us, her imaginary friends who had gone back inside her after being hit by the Elements, and sometimes ponies from my fake Ponyville acting as a stand-in for Princess Luna in their dreams.
The 'common area' we'd had before got blown to smithereens when the crystal ball that had contained the dark world timeline had gone boom when the combined might of six sets of Elements. Me and AJ let Pinkie Pie, Spike and Fluttershy share a toast of warm milk over our lost video games and save data.
None of us knew what to do with our five little pocket worlds, since none of us were sure what was going to happen to us, the Scootaloos, or the rest of the Ponyville ponies, and a part of me felt scared to ask.
Me? I'd be happy to blow my pocket world up after we were done here.
"Why do you want do that Dashie? I think this is a nice tribute to Ponyville you made."
"It's a mockery of how Ponyville used to be," I said. "Besides, I'm kinda sick of Ponyville, to be honest."
"Sick of it?" she asked.
"Too many memories," I sighed. "I dunno about you, Granfalloon, but from here on out, I don't want to stay in the past. I've been staying here for who knows how long...I don't know if I belong here."
Granfalloon alacrity produced a great red cupcake the size of a basketball, with gorgeous buttercream icing. "I kinda know how you feel...but sometimes the past can be good. Like remembering a favorite recipe..." She seemed genuinely happy saying that. Like whenever a version of Celestia talked about how pretty the day was or Luna about her beautiful night.
"You're a great listener, Granfalloon. I appreciate your lightheartedness and I'm glad that we're friends." The cupcake was sweet and delicious, and Granfalloon smiled when I patted her back.
We were free to move about, it was pretty clear we weren't prisoners. But all of us knew we'd be facing the music sooner than later.
And Twilight Sparkle still didn't come. Why? Did she not want to even look at us? Twilight... were you ashamed of what you did as horribly as I was?
But there was something more immediate I needed to ask to our 'rescue team.' I made sure to have the rest of my herd with me. Even Flutternice.
"What is going to happen to the Ponyville Ponies? What is going to happen to Scootaloo?"
"The Scootaloo herd is...complicated. There's no precedent for them at all. They're being addressed on a case-by-case basis," Starlight informed me.
"And the Ponyville ponies?" I asked, looking towards Zecora.
"Zecora, maybe it's better if you wait outside," Clover said.
"Stay where ya are Zecora! This is yer business," Mirror thundered.
Zecora stayed perfectly calm, a reed in the wind.
"Starlight, tell us upright,
Would this truth be a blessing or a blight?"
"...It might hurt you horribly, it might destroy you, but you'd understand what's going on better."
"I may not like being on the bottom rung,
But would it change what needs to be done?"
"Then I trust you know what's best,
If you do me but one request."
"At the end of my road when you come to take my soul,
My understanding of these events you will make whole."
"What makes you think I'm-"
"Do not contradict what I say.
The wings and scythe are a dead give away."
"When you die, I promise I tell you everything, cross my heart, hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye."
"Alright my dear,
For now I won't be near."
Zecora hugged her, bowed, and trotted outside to the other side of Sugar Cube Corner.
"We've promised to send them all home," Melody said.
"They don't have a home anymore," Mirror pointed out.
"They will soon enough!" Patch said, smiling. "We got a memo down from the higher-ups! They've got someone to construct an entire full sized universe for them!"
Mirror didn't look happy. "So yer just tradin' em a goldfish bowl for an aquarium?"
"No way!" said Melody.
"It'll become part of the natural cycle and become its own worldline." Starlight said. "This isn't some facsimile, but a true new universe for them. As their living their lives forward, history meanwhile will march backwards for them until it reaches the dawn of time. It's going to be THEIR world. Fauna Luster is also birthing lights of existence to the puppets to make them living ponies instead of automatons."
"Yer gonna need a lot of crickets," AJ said flatly.
"Good one," Patch smirked.
"Ya think this is a joke?"
"Not in the least," Bright Eyes said, standing up for Patch, like facing an angry partial concept was an old hat for her. "Everypony here? They lost everything. The least that can be done is giving them a new home where they can finish their lives freely and have their future backs."
"I know it's not perfect, I know it isn't fair but, it's...better then the alternatives," Clover said meekly.
"Hey, don't sweat it," I said with a chummy, easygoing smile. "Never expected life to be fair. Just do the best you can...To be honest, you're being more fair than we ever were."
"Death is the ultimate fairness," Starlight said with a bit of pride. "We were thinking," Starlight said, hesitantly, "Of using your pocket worlds as part of the constructs, if you'll let us. ...I know what it is to screw up and ruin everything you love too."
My friends and I all looked at each other, we didn't need to say anymore. We all nodded.
"...But what about Scootaloo?" I asked again. "I think somepony's gonna notice 171,015 identical-looking fillies running about."
"And every last one of them has the right to exist simultaneously and be called Scootaloo." Nightmare Mirror stated.
"Like we said, case-by-case basis," Bright Eyes said.
"Can you tell us whose gonna be makin' a whole universe for everypony?! They must be super-powerful, and super-nice to do all of that!" Granfalloon asked.
The angels looked at each other.
"Uh..." Clover blushed.
"Why are you looking at... us?" asked Granfalloon.
Starlight coughed. "Well...our higher-ups would like to offer you the chance to become part of the new universe after everything is settled. As well as the chance to take the trials to complete your changes into concepts, should you so choose. If you do, and if you are interesting in being concepts for this new universe in particular, you'll be offered the chance to merge with the versions of yourselves of this worldline too, though if there are any other options you'd like to ask about-"
"Yes, um, excuse me!" I said, holding up a hoof with a strained smile. "I actually do have a question. A few, in fact."
"By all means, ask," Clover invited.
"Well... hmm... you realize that my associates and I are, in fact, Nightmares."
"That so? I hadn't noticed," Starlight said, smiling.
"Yes. And there's an unfortunate but well-established history of being exceptionally bad caretakers for mortals. As in apocalyptical-level divine-intervention-required BAD."
Bright Eyes clapped her hooves together, grinning. "Completely and utterly correct! We'd have to be utterly insane to accept orders from obviously completely insane superiors to EVER consider having Nightmares be part of building a new universe! We're not that improvident."
Patch actually giggled, I recognized it as the giggle of a good prank. Melody smirked. Clover looked the other way like I was furless.
"They why are you offering to have us in charge of an entire UNIVERSE before any of us have sat down for a single therapy session like you promised?"
"Well, for starters we did say AFTER the dust was settled," Bright Eyes said. "In other words, after -IF- you've chosen to become true concepts, and therefore aren't Nightmares anymore."
"Applejack... " Starlight said, like she would a long lost friend. "Please show her."
Mirror... looked reluctant. "Ah'm not sure she's ready."
"She's never going to be at this rate," Starlight said sadly.
Mirror opened one of her wings in my face. And I saw...
I saw Rainbow Dash, except with a horn on her head and the build of a earth pony. Her non-ethereal rainbow mane looking frazzled but not awful. Pony (not-draconic) eyes looked back at me. She was wearing Nightmare barding a size or two too big for her. She looked, tired, hurt, but not broken. And her cutie mark, her, her colors were-Hey! Who put that Zinnia flower in my mane?! How do I know what that is?!
"That ya on the inside Rainbow," AJ said.
Starlight looked at me. "Rainbow, you're Nightmares on the outside, I'm not going to pretend you don't need some help, but Nightmares CAN'T say 'I was wrong'. If you were still Nightmare Manacle, you wouldn't be able to ASK that question."
That made me double take...I hadn't thought of that. Ugh...why am I so obsessed with beating myself up.
My friends all gave me a hug, Spike hugging me with his pinkie claw. I smiled, and so did the Rainbow Dash in Mirror's wings until she closed them. I was stunned when Starlights and her buddies gave me hugs too but I didn't resist. It felt nice.
All too soon the group hug broke.
"Now then, Applejack, Razzaroo's volunteered to oversee construction," Starlight said. "She wants to take part in seeing a new world made after seeing her old world vanish, and she's on the verge of becoming an Alicorn."
"Who's doin' the grunt labor?" Mirror asked.
"DISCORD?!" We all shouted.
"Hello." Discord waved. He was wearing a black and white stripped prison uniform and hat, around his ankle was a ball and chain. "It's part of my parole, work release, community service, restitution, whatever you'd like to call it. So yeah. I'm building an entire whole universe by myself. With the power I used to have it might have taken me eight days tops, now...er, it'll take me a lot longer."