Another mare who'd been in Applejack's situation might've held herself back. Might've gone only SO fast as we rocketed for light years past comets and nebulae and quasars... not simply to take it easy on her aching body. But to make sure that her super-depressed buddy could enjoy a good uplifting win. Or just avoid it by teleporting both of us home.
Not only was Applejack too honest for any of that, she knew me too well.
She beat me fair and square. Dang it, that breaks our competition tie, doesn't it?!
"Next time, ya don't wanna go drinkin' all that hard cider right before startin' a race!" AJ told me, with a proud, boastful smile on her face, as we both lay panting on the beautiful floor.
Even the grandstanding brought an easy smile to my face, as I gasped out. "We'll… have to do... a rematch... later…"
Finally, I'd rested enough. I get back to a stand, and we open the door directly ahead of us, re-entering the very room I'd flipped out in and teleported out from.
As it turned out, time HADN'T stood still while I had been off feeling sorry for myself.
The only one there was Gran…no, Pinkie Pie. Covered in a blanket, mane frazzled surrounded by cups of hot coco. No, I'm not sure how a mane made of energy can get frazzled either.
"You came back!" She rushed up and hugged me.
Startled, I hugged her back. "Pinkie Pie!"
Applejack said, "Pinkie Pie, Ah know ya already knew RD got out of her funk! Pinkie Promise detection?"
"But I didn't know you'd come back!" Pinkie Pie cried hugging me. "I thought you'd go on this big epic journey to find yourself and draw things out even more! Or get into a big fight with aliens or something and we'd have to come save you! I'm so happy you're back!"
"It's...it's good to be back," I said not breaking her hug.
Let me break narrative here for a bit. Before we get to what happened next for me.
After everything, my big plan was to get actual factual professional help instead of any fancy smancy vision quest or pixie dust to make my troubles go away that these lot would offer me.
I had all these BIG PLANS! I'd visit different eras, live different lives, earn my own money like any other pony, I'd PAY actual factual psychologists to help me through my horseapples, I'd even spend time as a companion with Doctor Hooves, I'd invite AJ on visits which Miss 'Ah canna tell a lie' would mess up and I'd start a new life. I'd live as just a pony again throughout history.
Spike would pass himself off either a pony or a pony-sized young dragon, He'd be such a hit with the ladies. I got a peak of a worldline like that.
Pnkie Pie would join me with alias' like Perky Pep or Peachy Puff (she actually told me she'd pick those), and be just Pinkie Pie again!
I'd invite the psychologist to my world after spilling the beans. The ones who thought I was crazy or called the guards only finding a door that led to a empty shack or the little filly's room if they tried.
I had all these super cool alias' I'd use and all these jobs I'd learn how to do and get a taste of the real world again. Instead of demigods popping up every five minutes.
River Dew, Red Dynamite, Risky Dice, Radiant Dawn, Ritzy Diva, Razor Dart, Raw Dharma, Rhapsody Drive, Rumba Drum, Rogue Dynamo, Rapid Downdraft...
I had all these ideas...until I remembered that without Nightmare Eclipse I had no clue or ability to travel through time, let alone visit different universes. Yeah, you think Eclipse would let anypony know her trump card? Twilight had to trick it out of her. Dang it! Stupid laws of physics...
And...the more I visited the mortal world, the more I felt like somepony was watching over my shoulder, like I was a big beacon to somepony. Rarity, Rarity was sensing me. Guess that made sense, considering now walking anywhere was like walking on her skin.
Whatever happy world Rarity was making for her Rainbow Dash, her Applejack, and her Spike, I wasn't about to intrude. I didn't belong there. That and I was afraid of making anypony think Eclipse wasn't gone for good. If I was going to meet that Rarity and her friends, it'd be AFTER I'd paid my debt to creation. Strangely, I never sensed Twilight.
I'd have asked Doctor Whooves for help with time travel to before Rarity became an Alicorn, if I knew where he was (yeah yeah, I know it doesn't work that way), I asked Razzaroo if she could pass it along.
"I'd be happy to, if I knew where he was!" Razzaroo said, "You try keeping him pinned down."
I'd done it, it was not easy. The Doctor was the one pony Eclipse had never been able to beat the same way twice.
I'd have used the magic that let this pocket world random jump through creation...if I hadn't burned that out myself earlier to make sure Fluttershy didn't try to make us run again. And SHE had made it from cannibalizing the remains of the 'living room' that connected all our personal pocket world. So yeah, it felt like Nightmare Eclipse was laughing at me from beyond purification.
"Rainbow Dash, I know you don't think so, but I know how you feel."
"You're right, I don't."
"Seeing your home, your universe obliterated, your history wiped away, like your home never existed. All by beings more powerful than you, and not able to do a thing about it. Seeing your friends twisted into not themselves to where you can't even recognize them.
"Being told again and again and again, and again how 'it's the only way', 'it's for the greater good' 'we're sorry but we're doing this anyway.' Being a lone survivor, the only one who remembers your world. All you loved ones simply gone. Some of your friends being made 'never were', LESS than those not-themselves the others were twisted into.
Having to bear it for so long, so terribly long. The weight being so heavy it's nearly unbearable. Then, as things finally begin to look up, it's won't give you back what you lost, but maybe you can find peace, you're thrown reversals again, and told 'it's better this way.' Like your blood, sweat, and tears meant nothing. And you're left just having to get away from it all. And even when your friend isn't twisted or evil, you can't stop thinking about what they've been made into, instead of who they've chosen to be."
She was crying. She shakily help up her forehoof and gently touched my cheek like I'd turn to sand. "Looking at them, and can't stop seeing a corpse. And are ashamed for that selfish feeling. Taking forever to finally accept they're themselves even if they're not the ponies you knew. But none of that makes the pain go away. And these all powerful forces, the same ones who couldn't save your world, the same ones you loathe and detest for sitting on their haunches until it was too late, ask you to help somepony, help make things a tiny bit more right, and make you work alongside those who ruined your world and you're expected to just forgive and forget and grin and bear it..."
My body acted before my brain even registered it. I hugged her. "Razzaroo I'm so sorry darling."
Her eyes brightened a bit.
It was, it was me who said that, and I MEANT to say that, but...it was just something that felt NATURAL to say to her. I wonder if this is how Pinkie felt meeting Clover.
I kissed her where I'd hurt her before.
"Maybe we can be friends again?" I asked.
"Again." She hugged me too.
Remember how I said time hadn't politely decided to stop ticking while I went off and had my pity party?
Pinkie Pie, Applejack, and Spike had all vastly improved in their mental well being since I'd been gone. It turns out, that the entire 'plans to remake the universe' had been put on hold on favor of giving my friends healing while I'd been off by myself.
But I still insisted on doing everything the hard way, even Applejack was rolling her eyes at this point. But I didn't want anypony touching my brain no matter how much I trusted them. Yeah yeah, it's a bit paranoid, but don't forget I've spent several hundred million years with a soul lobotomy.
I also repaired my nightmare armor while I had been on that asteroid to kill time, this time going for guard armor that was a more post-three-tribes style, ugh, sound like Rarity. Eh, better than being a supervillain.
I was sulking in my cloudhouse due to the fall out of my leaving all of a sudden (I'll get to that in a minute), when I got a surprise visitor.
It was the yellow pudgy mare who had been outside the portal writing down pony's names standing at my front door. "Hi Rainbow Dash. I'm Bon Bon, remember?"
"I remember. You're our Bon-Bon's ancestor, right?"
Who knew Bon Bon had a bloodline that old?
"Razzaroo said how out of straight you are after seeing Fluttershy, and Razzaroo wants Sweetheart and me to help you."
"She IS a doctor you know, pretty much the patron saint of 'em. And that makes you all her responsibility. But after a chat, I realized I had the power to help you a little through things."
"I'm not interested in any mumbo-jumbo."
Bon Bon's face flushed. "Don't know it till you try it. You still believe in the magic of friendship don't you?"
Then the white mare with pink hair, Sweetheart flew to my front door. That halo behind her head glowing like a night light. "Sorry I'm late, I was helping Fluttershy." I said I'd explain in a bit. Sorry, this stuff got jumbled after some of the 'discussions' I had with the others. "Rainbow Dash...Bon Bon and I want to help you. We've helped the other ponies, we've helped your friends. And now we want to help you."
"Sure, it's your duty," I said.
"'Duty' nothing," Bon Bon said, her eyes flat.
"We ASKED to come along to help Starlight AND to help all of you. We aren't even really reapers, once this is done we'll lose our wings and we can go back to our families waiting for us in Elysium."
That actually gave me a tiny bit of pause. They fought against Flutternice's concept-killing horse-killer, instead of staying safe in the afterlife, because they WANTED to help?
"Look, I appreciate the offer, I really do, but I don't want any magic messing around with or in my head. Trust is hard enough for me right now."
Sweetheart said, "I promise. This isn't mind control, and we won't go inside your soul. And what happen is completely private. I promise."
I rolled my eyes. "Fine, what is it?"
Bon Bon took out her sword. "Put to paper, Cookie Spinner!" And it turned into,
"A pen?! Your sword turns into a pen?"
"Haven't you heard? The pen is mightier than the sword."
"Are you going to 'rewrite' my personality with that thing?!"
"It squirts ink. And I don't need to refill it, that's its power."
"Seriously, with all the focus the Elders put on free will, why would they entrust a 'rewrite ponies personalities' weapon to a temporary helper?"
"All we want Rainbow Dash, is for you to let Bon Bon listen, that's all. And to let me share with you. You're not the first pony I've helped who's seen their entire world destroyed and carries horrible mistakes on their back. Hopefully you'll be the last of the former though."
If Razzaroo had taught me anything, it wasn't to assume that ponies were blowing hot air when they said they had a taste of what it was like in my horseshoes. What? I might be stubborn sometimes, but I'm not THAT stubborn.
"Come on in...there's a couple chairs." I sat down on the couch. Bon Bon took out a blue book with rainbow stripes with a lock on it, and gave the key to me. I saw there was a pink, green and purple, orange and yellow, and other books in the saddle back she had with her.
"Rainbow Dash, just talk to me. Whatever comes to your mind. You won't be judged or put-down for anything."
I took in a deep breath, and slowly let out it. And I started.
Now...let's talk about Fluttershy, her daughter, and Discord.
While I had been gone...Fluttershy had shuttered herself in. Completely and utterly.
Remember the way she'd been as the secret puppet-master of her own Ponyville? Now she'd gone the opposite extreme. I'd seen ghosts demonstrate stronger participation with their the external world.
You'd go to visit her at the cottage she lived in with her daughter, and knock on her door.
"Oh," you'd hear her tell you through the door. "You can come in. If you want. Or don't. If you want."
When you stepped into her house, you might see Fluttershy more or less drifting in and out of rooms, careful as could be never to disrupt a single mote of dust, let alone touch an object. Not do anything.
Flutternice did all the cleaning. Not because her mother made her clean. But because their home would otherwise get utterly filthy. You might be tempted to think that Fluttershy had suddenly become the laziest slob ever to vegetate upon a couch. You'd be wrong. And wish you were right.
"The dust falls where it chooses to fall," Fluttershy would proclaim. "And the dirt clings to what it will. The ants and mosquitos wander in, because such is their wont. Who am I to tyrannize them all, by forcefully imposing my narrow view of who and what belongs where?"
I assure you; she wasn't being even remotely sarcastic. We were all alarmed by how serious she was. AJ had to triple check her eyes.
And when Flutternice would clean her mother and her mother's surroundings, 'Shy wouldn't object, after all, she'd done so much to 'control' her daughter already.
The only input Shy would give on a discussion was.
"Why burden others with my judgmental viewpoints?"
She didn't want to go ANYWHERE! Least she disrupt things.
There was a bit of mandatory reading in Cloudsdale grade school.
One of the books was called 'The Chocolate Battle.' In it a colt had in his locker a poster with a pony before a perfectly still beach and ocean, with the words below it 'Do I Dare Disturb The World?'
Fluttershy had become the utter embodiment of that. No, not the utter embodiment, the utter extreme of it. There's a difference. I think even Entropy would have thought this was too much doing nothing.
Pinkie Pie, Applejack, Spike, Starlight and her friends, Zecora, the Scootaloo from Fluttershy's cycle, Razzaroo, Flutternice, Discord, all took turns helping her eat.
The worst part was how she didn't so much as hug or kiss Flutternice. She hadn't gone heartless, she was scared whatever she said or did next would damage her MORE somehow. That whatever choice she made would be the wrong one, that any choice she made WOULD be the wrong one. I can't say I didn't know how that felt given all the angsting I'd been doing.
Apparently Flutternice smashed some furniture like any filly looking for attention, and Fluttershy just said, "It seems like you're rediscovering your true self! Your knives are in their usual drawer. I'll be in my bedroom."
Flutternice ran out crying, Pinkie Pie had been cuddling and hugging her the rest of that 'night'. 'Under mind control' or not, we were the only pillars left for her in a world that had been completely destroyed. It was the emotional dependence we'd wired into her for eons.
When Applejack had come to me, I had freely bared my damaged, tormented, wrongheaded soul open for her.
With the Flutters, though... the moment they felt the subject being broached, they hid themselves behind impassible, impenetrable, impermeable politeness.
For the mother, it was like she was tossing her words down an endless black hole that puffed back empty niceties:
"Oh, you really sound like you know just what you're talking about, Applejack."
"I'm so glad that method has worked out for you so well, Applejack."
"It's so nice that you're willing to take time to talk to me like this, Applejack."
"Applejack, that truly is a thought-provoking statement you just said."
"If I said anything was worthy of administering another beating to me, please do not hesitate beat me up."
The affliction Fluttershy had was just the same as my own, even if she'd shut herself in her house instead of flying off to an asteroid.
No faith in herself. No trust in others. Pussy-hoofing around every single thing. No sense of self-worth. Belief that she was poison to everything she interacted with, and that the universe would bring its hammer upon her at the slightest misstep. And the automatic assumption that every belief she might have and every action she took was villainous. That she was some virus that infected everything it touched.
She'd withdrawn from the universe as a whole. Exactly as I had withdrawn. Apparently, she had taken my leave as inspiration. "If Rainbow believes she should cut herself off from the world, I should too."
I remember a song about a big brother who didn't realize his little brother wanted to be him. We weren't related and I don't think I was her brother figure, but I felt like I'd ended up in that situation.
Flutternice meanwhile kept trying 'every single possible thing' to 'break' their 'mind control'. From hitting us over the head with frying pans. To reminding us of the 'good times' to showings us pictures of loved ones, including some of our 'righteous quest' involving Discord (ugh, why do we even HAVE those pictures anymore?). To putting herself in 'danger.'
She didn't believe, couldn't believe, for one nanosecond we could have done any of this of our own free will, not her loving aunts. The love of a child to her family is harder to break than you can imagine.
Discord was trying to visit her time and again, but was always stopped by Flutternice, to 'protect' her mother from him.
Discord and Fluttershy had come to an arrangement which resembled that of divorced parents. Discord would come over to Fluttershy's cottage at an appointed time, and she'd give her daughter over to his care so they could bond, and he'd bring her places.
Did I think Discord would try to corrupt her? He'd been trying his bloody hardest to subvert his corruption with his previous daughters that Nightmare Eclipse kept editing in for a very VERY long time before we got hit by the six-barrel-love-and-tolerance-death-ray. Not to mention he'd spent this entire thing since her loop thinking he'd lost her.
I'd have to have forgotten everything that happened in those eons to even remotely think that, now that my Nightmare insanity and Eclipse's 'fixes' were gone.
And it didn't matter. Discord could do no right with her Pinkie Pie informed me.
Compliment her on looking pretty? "I don't need your validation on my appearance."
Bring her to a restaurant at the end of the universe? "Nothing on this menu can compare to Mama's cooking."
Bring her to a interreality shopping mall? "Money and materialism are the root of all evil, but of course YOU'D know that!"
Take her on nature walks? "So tell me, how many beautiful forests and oceans did you destroy again?!"
Bring her to an intergalactic amusement park? "I hate the music, I hate the lines, I hate the rides..."
Perform a whimsical magic trick for her? "How disorderly! Stop that this instant, you chaotic freak!"
Whenever she stood in her father's presence, I don't think there was so much as a secret, guilty longing to perform physical violence. Because that would go against her all her mother's teachings, and when Discord was around, she was dead-set on being the supreme exemplification of everything Fluttershy had once stood for.
Instead, pure passive-aggression had become her weapon of choice, and she wielded it with soul-crushing efficiency. ...In a weird way, I'm thankful to Flutternice that she reacted this way. Why? Because before, the relationship I had with Discord amounted to:
You're just as much a victim of him as he is of you, Rainbow Dash. You tormented him as he tormented you. You have no moral superiority to him whatsoever. Otherwise, you're an unfair hypocrite.
Okay then. Fine and dandy: that's the way it was. But relationships with that as their foundation are just brutal on your heart for even short stints of time, wouldn't you say? So much emptiness, pain and guilt, just staring into their eyes. Simply unbearable. Tears yourself apart from the inside out.
But watching Discord's dejection build and build throughout all the moments he spent in the company of his once-adoring daughter who'd he'd thought had been deader than dead for millions of years... his sorrow intensify each moment Flutternice had slammed her mother's cottage door in his face...
...It was the very first time in our long, awful history that I felt a heartfelt urge to reach out to Discord. Console him. Bond with him.
And yet I didn't. Couldn't bring myself to approach him directly. Horrible of me, I know, but I still wasn't ready for that step when I arrived. Maybe a part of me felt having been the one who helped indoctrinate her in the first place wouldn't help at all.
Spike was the one who filled me in on the part with Discord, and he told me.
"The worst part is Rainbow...is the satisfaction I feel when she slams the door in his face. And it's a horrible feeling."
And that was when it hit me. The hatred I felt for Discord all those years wasn't a shadow of the hate Spike had felt for him. Dragons don't believe in eye for an eye. If something is stolen from them, they'll take back ten times that. Theft is the one surefire way to trigger a dragon's lust to burn what lay before them and claim the treasure among the ashes. And Spike had lost his six closest friends, lost Twilight, lost Cadence, lost Rarity, his family.
And Spike had kept it all in check, he had proven stronger than that, again and again, while I was the one who had run away.
And that brought me back to sulking at my cloudhouse and Bon Bon and Sweetheart getting me to open up my heart.
I swear...it's like I know them from somewhere, but I can't say where. Not mind control or anything, just...like we'd been friends before.
Sorry for giving you the round-about like that, the notes got scrambled when we were trying to put it all together because it took so long.
Sweetheart and Bon Bon as it turned out by the way, were very good at what they promised. Bon Bon just listened. And Sweetheart, she didn't judge once. It really was like she'd done this for countless ponies before. She reminded me of what Fluttershy had once been like.
But most ponies never realize it, but Fluttershy is as hard a worker as Applejack is at her field, Twilight at her studying, Pinkie at her parties, or Rarity at her sewing machines. Angel had always been there to keep her from working herself to death. Now he wasn't. And now Fluttershy was going to work as hard as possible to 'nothing' herself to death.
Sweetheart and Bon Bon said it was time to bring in the big guns. Apparently this required special permission from their higher ups.
Who did they bring in?
You wouldn't believe me if I told you.
Imagine somecreature like a canine, and not exactly part of the Diamond Dog tribe. Short, about Spike's size when he was a baby dragon. Bipedal. Not a human. And goes by his species name. But patient, and very very very good at listening. To the point where he can draw out words from a pony. Even able to endure silence. He actually coaxed words OUT of that fortress of manners and niceties.
He also had that same halo that Sweetheart had.
He had apparently made many friends (and one enemy in one of Discord's cousins), and was called in when nothing else worked.
Fluttershy would never, ever refuse him entry (the first time mainly due to not being able to defy her base 'adorable animal' instinct). And the therapist would talk to Fluttershy and listen to her words.
A tongue lashing would serve no purpose I realized, because that was what Fluttershy wanted more than anything. She WANTED horrible words thrown at her, she'd EAT UP at emotional blows thrown at her. I swear she'd grin if I'd punched her in the face. What was needed was kindness and limitless patience, which this therapist had.
It was a slow healing process. They knew just the right way to listen. They knew the right questions to slip in. The right observations to point out at just the right time.
So that's what I figured at least. Melody used her sword to create a sound proof barrier around the cottage so we couldn't eavesdrop. Private session.
Gradually, very gradually, Fluttershy started eating her own food. Cleaning her own house. Stating opinions decisively. Trusting that she had as much right to live and participate in the universe around her as any of us.
Then...she finally walked out of her cottage. And she began crying.
"Fluttershy?" I asked. My friends and Starlight's gathered around.
"I didn't want to do anything, not feel sad, not feel angry, not be anything...it's all...it's all coming now...I...I knew this for so long but...now I'm crying..."
I gently hugged her. So did the others. So did Bright Eyes, none of us stopped her.
"Crying for what dear?" Bright Eyes gently.
"I was wrong. My friends, everypony. I thought how you'd send them to Tartarus even though the Elements healed us because we still looked like Nightmares. That you throw all the ponies we saved into nothingness because their worlds were gone."
"We know sugar cube, we know," Applejack said.
"I promise Fluttershy, on everypony I've ever loved, none of us would have helped if that was their plan," Bright Eyes said. "We had a choice."
"Fluttershy, I'd have helped you if that was the case," Melody said crossing her hooves.
"I know all that...now." Fluttershy sobbed. Getting all her pent up tears out. "But I was so tired at the end, so tired. I, know I said some things that didn't make sense. It...it wasn't about making up for things I'd done, but was able to do the best I could for those I'd hurt."
"You were scared Sugarcube, don't worry about it, we're past it now. We're done with that nonsense," AJ said kindly.
Fluttershy nuzzled her. "Thank you."
"Fluttershy," I said. "I said some horrible things to you, and...I didn't realize you needed saving as much as everypony else until near the end." I think this whole mess that she'd gotten herself into was proof of that.
"It's okay, Rainbow Dash, we're still friends, and that's what counts."
Slowly the hug broke and Fluttershy stood up and spread her wings and flashed her horn.
"I was so obsessed with doing nothing, that I didn't do what I should do, and that includes giving so much as an apology or so much as SEEING a friend after I used her after I tried to hurt her."
"Zecora," Spike said.
And yeah, that's when I realized I still owed Zecora an apology too.
Fluttershy nodded. "And others, Flutternice hurt the ponies and the Scootaloos because I told her to, as her mother, it's my responsibility."
"Fluttershy, most of the ponies are asleep, waiting to come home," Sweetheart said.
"It's okay, even if it's only in their sleep, I'll give them my apology. Every last one of them deserves it."
"It'll just be a drop in the bucket," I said. The others glared at me.
"Maybe, but it's better than doing nothing." Fluttershy said, and none of us could argue that.
"I know, I just wanted to make sure that didn't matter to you," I said with a smile.
So yeah, Fluttershy apologized to the Ponyville ponies sleeping for tomorrow to come, to the Wonderbolts, to all 171,015 Scootaloos.
And of course, Zecora.
We both met her in her hut, that she chose to stay in, even if she knew it was just a replica of her home. It was actually eerie not having to worry about monsters in the imitation Everfree.
We both came before her, Alicorns, both decked out in our custom barding, and knelt before her, our horns touching the floor.
"I'm so sorry Zecora, I used you as a puppet to try and keep Rainbow Dash from learning the truth. I made you into what you've been trying to prove to everyone you weren't: a witch. I told myself it was for the best, and that is no excuse. I so sorry. Please forgive me."
"And Zecora, even before I found out the truth, I still flew off to Cloudsdale and forgot about you and Rarity. I went off on my own without even a note and didn't once check on you. AFTER you'd just been possessed by some kind of monster. That isn't what loyal friends do when we had only each other to rely on. I apologize."
She looked at me.
"What you did was thoughtless,
And not the least bit cautious."
"It is not to embellish,
To call what you did selfish."
She look back at me.
"But at least you prove your hearts are not stone,
For your tireless efforts to atone.
"While I truly feel anger,
Nursing grudges is no answer.
Our friendship I will not disown,
and give you a chance to atone."
She finished sternly.
Fluttershy sure did. She made sure Zecora lived like a Zebrafrican princess in the mean time. Letting the space around her house tree be the biggest exotic flower garden imaginable. Not sure if Zecora enjoyed it, or just felt it'd be too impolite to refuse.
And me? There wasn't much I could really offer a mare like Zecora. I could only promise I'd always have her back from now on. That's all I could do for her for now.
And there was something else I realized during all this.
Minty. I was such a maroon.
I'd SEEN Minty, or at least Minty Pie, ANOTHER incarnation of Minty, during the final battle of the dark world.
A Minty with three rock candies as her cutie mark armed with that magic sword. She'd CHATTED with Nightmare Granfalloon during the fight! Heck, the one who'd been the KEYSTONE of the entire spell that Twilight used to defeat us! But I was too centered on my own misery to think about it.
This didn't just bloody mean an incarnation of Minty got a chance to speak with Pinkie Pie with Clover, it was on FRIENDLY TERMS, after she'd fought to the death against another version of her.
That was what that moment together actually meant . . .
And the way Razzaroo spoke, that she'd been sisters with one of Clover's former selves who was a part of Twilight she said (or something like that). This incarnation reality stuff made things way way way too complicated. And...Twilight was an incarnation of Minty she told me...So in other words...Pinkie Pie lost her best friend TWICE.
Oy. Applejack was right. I'd been so fixated on my own miseries I didn't stop to think how unique and painful my friends' were.
With Fluttershy finally ready to join the world again, it was time to finally pick up where we left off before I blew my top and stalked off somewhere.
So finally after everything, we were back at Sugar Cube Corner, this time Pinkie Pie had magicked up several cupcakes with extra sprinkles, and a cake with frosting that spelled out, 'Can we all please get along?'
Ex-Nightmares, angels, demi-goddesses, all ready for another go.
Bon Bon sat silently writing it all down.
Razzaroo wasn't to be seen (somepony had to look after the Scootaloos).
"So there are no more surprises. The ponies will be skipped forwards in time to when you're finished so they won't have to wait on you," Bright Eyes said looking over a checklist. "Razzaroo will be looking over your work, and Rancor will be keeping you on track. Do you object to any of this?"
We all shook our heads.
Starlight, trying her hardest to be a peace-maker, spoke next.
"Look," Starlight started, standing up, and looking around at all us Nightmares and Flutternice. "I'll admit. It was wrong of me to spring Discord as a surprise on you girls. I should've been more upfront and warned you all that in advance that the concepts had agreed to the option of teaming you up with Discord first. I won't say my intentions were good, because my 'good intentions' ruined more lives than I could count once."
"I swear, they weren't trying to make fun of you!" Clover said. "This wasn't about that!"
"And if you don't want to work with Discord, I understand, and so will my bosses," Starlight Angel said sighing.
"Thank you all for that," I tell them. "And I'd like to apologize for my earlier outburst. Sorry to you all for that. But now that I've had a chance to talk things out with a very wise friend..."
Applejack and I turn a warm look upon each other.
"...I've decided that yes, I do want to help out with this new universe."
"Are you sure?" asked Starlight. "This isn't about obligation, there are other ways you can find redemption if you want....trust me."
I gave them all my strongest look. "I insist. Just one question. Why DIDN'T any of you think about how I'd react to Discord?"
"Don't blame them, Rainbow, this was MY idea," Discord whispered.
"Because my world of chaos? It wasn't worth losing several hundred thousand loved ones in a way I can never get them back...now I know what you, every version of you, felt like and all the other ponies who suffered so I could have what I wanted...I know what my mortal mother and my friends at Paradise Estate felt like when I suddenly became a horrid stranger and destroyed what they'd spent untold lifetimes trying to build....and I'm sorry. Nightmare Eclipse would have never existed if not for me. Now that I've paid for my evil, I want to try making up for some of hers."
I never noticed before. But Bright Eyes and Clover did NOT look anymore happy to be around Discord than we did. I...I'd simply never bothered to NOTICE before.
Discord gave a sad sigh. "Let me explain one thing. One thing very very important. It was before your time... Fluttercruel had taught me, no, reminded me how to care about someequus else again, no, even that's wrong. I was taught how it felt to lose someequus you love just for the entertainment and satisfaction of someequs more powerful than you. I had to play parts just so Nightmare Paradoxy wouldn't torture others worse to hurt me. And there was Tirek, before, again before your time... I tried to team up with him... several times... each time he'd betray me and eat my magic, and the world would be destroyed in the battle between him and Nightmare Paradoxy. I was able to tell him the truth a few times with the Valeyard's help...every version of him betrayed me anyway."
I remembered Nightmare Eclipse's stories of that. Apparently Tirek had been the one being that Eclipse had NEVER been able to neatly defeat once in any loop. It was always ended in the world broken. I'd almost think she was scared of him.
"So now I know what it was like to be the ants instead of the kid with the magnifying glass," Discord explained. He then gave a chuckle. "...You know the funny thing?"
"...In the first loop, I was left dumbfounded that a little pony had beaten me...now I was cheering when ponies proved themselves better than the one that beat me and saying 'I knew you could do it.' funny how things work out, huh?"
I admit it, that got a smile out of me.
"Yeah, is kind of a hoot, huh?...So what name do you make people call you these days?" I asked him.
He wasn't expecting that question. "...Sorry?"
"What name do you make people call you these days?" I repeated, with patient calm. "I ask because recently, I've been on something of a 'kick' where I've forced everyone else to call me Nightmare Manacle. Names are very important, and a lot's happened since the last time we were face-to-face like this. So, one more time, what name do you make people call you these days?"
As the draconequus' lips tighten together for the next few seconds, I think back on all the many, many, many cutesy monikers. Both those he made up for himself, and the ones he compelled us Elements of Chaos to invent on the spot...
...Grand Penholder. Supreme Horseradish. The One True Mixologist. Puddle Jumper. Investigator Fifty-Nine Point Seven Repeating Decimal. The Everlasting Gongoozle. Destroyer Of Sense. Conquistador of Tchotchkes. The Busiest Vacuum. The Inescapable Glitch. Moo-Moo-Alulu. The Umpteenth Swizzlestick. Mr. Tastes Great Even In Milk. Ed Wynn Reborn. Many, many others...I think ponies considered it an 'unwritten rule' that you never called him the same name twice in a row.
"Discord," said Discord. "Discord is my name. Though the title has changed: I'm now Spirit of Chaos and Diversity. Has a better ring to it, don't you think?"
"Hello, Discord," I greeted him. "My name is Rainbow Dash. How have you been?"
"Oh, I'm doing splendid now. Still can't visit my youngest child without permission but that's how it goes. Experienced the death of every creature I've ever harmed. Wrote apology letters to all of them. I'm actually quite famous now: there are villains in the Ninth Circle of Dad's gizzard who say they're relieved to have Pops as a fair and balanced eternal tormentor after they caught wind of what you did to me. Not to say I didn't deserve every moment of it...up until I was on my claws and knees begging for Queen Apple Pie's soul in front of you crying like a foal. You know, for a filly she made a pretty good absolute monarch of a world of chaos! I certainly never thought to challenge Queen Tiamat to a game of Parcheesi. BUT! I realized I had missed something important. I missed some ponies on my list."
Discord got down on his knees and claws and bowed his head.
"I am sorry for everything I did to all of you. Applejack. Pinkie Pie. Rainbow Dash. Spike. Fluttershy... Fluttercruel, I mean, Flutternice."
I swear to Celestia, he was crying. Applejack trotted forward.
"I think everypony just wants to move on with their lives instead of holdin' onto grudges, Discord."
Discord flinched from her. We'd been his tormentors for millions of years, what did you expect, hugs and kisses?
"What ya did to ponies was wrong. What ya did to my family and my friends and their families was wrong. But what we did to ya and yer family was wrong too, and two wrongs don't make a right. We've all been monsters, so now let's all be reformed monsters. Ah apologize, and Ah forgive ya."
One after the other, Spike, Pinkie Pie...we all traded forgiveness and apologizes to Discord.
When it came to be my turn, I felt so many mixed feelings churning in my gut, staring Discord down. Mixed like everything else.
And they were all as still as an ocean. With everything done and over with...I was done with the paranoia on Discord, the thousand years he tortured me in exchange for the millions of years I helped torture him. The 'eye for an eye' makes the whole world blind. A million and one opinions on revenge, justice, and everything in between.
I was sick of hating. I was sick of not trusting. I was sick of paranoia. And I was sick sick sick of GRUDGES. I was done.
I let Discord know he had my forgiveness as well. Discord smiled wanly and gave me his own.
His last apology was for Flutternice. She replied,
"You evil monster! Go away and never come back!"
...Poof! Off he went, with a sad, sad sigh. And Flutternice gave a great sniff of satisfaction.
Fluttershy stamped her hooves. "DISCORD APOPHIS TYPHON! You get yourself back into existence this instant!"
And poof he came back. "Yes mam," he said meekly.
"HEY! That wasn't supposed to happen!" Flutternice snapped.
"It's happening now Flutternice," Fluttershy said sternly to her child. "Now BOTH OF YOU stay where you are!"
Discord froze like a picture. Literally, I heard the camera and everything. Reformed or not, he's still Discord.
"There's something I need to say about your father Flutternice."
"...Your father WAS a bad draconequus. The worst. He did awful things, and he made you love to do awful things whether he meant to or not. And he made my friends love to do awful things. He deserved to be punished. And he has been punished. And he's done, and is continuing to do everything and anything he came to make up for it! He hasn't been that bad draconequus for a very long time...your mother wanted to STOP him from being hurt more, because she saw he was truly sorry. Because she knows he's changed."
I flinched. And I had been one of the ones to tell her she was 'forgiven' for thinking it.
"And…and your mother needs to apologize to you too, Flutternice,"
Nice flinched. "P-please, mama, no more apologizing. You didn't do anything wrong!"
"Yes I did. I didn't even try to help you learn how to understand your Element, your cutie mark, or the way you were born. All I did was forgive you for things that weren't your fault to begin with, and ignore the things that were you fault. The magic of Nature's Fury isn't evil. And your cutie mark isn't evil. And your Element of Chaos wasn't evil either. And it was wrong for me to tell you they were. It was the way you were using them that was evil, and I didn't even try to see that. I didn't try to show you the light to that darkness. I apologize, Flutternice. Mommy is sorry. She is VERY SORRY she never realized the truth until just now."
And without another word, she placed her horn on Flutternice's head, I recognized the spells she was casting . . .
One to shatter the taint of a discorded heart, and the other to have a long talk in the span of a few seconds in the minds if you didn't mind a headache that made you hate your brain in the morning.
When the spell ended an instant later, Flutternice looked at both her parents and herself in shock in shock, tearful and confused, with no idea what she was supposed to be feeling, and dove her face into 'Shy's chest.
"Maybe it'll just take some time dear," 'Shy said to Discord. "I think my therapist might need to make a few slots in his schedule as well...I think I'll need some help."
"And those were the last I had on my list to apologize to."
"Not quite," I said. "Discord. I think there's one creature left in creation, out of all the ponies you screwed over and ruined the lives of, that you have left to apologize to and you need the forgiveness of."
As Discord drew a resigned breath, I turned to Applejack. "AJ? Can I borrow a mirror?"
Applejack removed one of her mirrors, which I passed over to Discord. "Well, Discord?"
Discord looked at his reflection. "Discord, Dissy,...I-I apologize. And...I...I forgive you."
He slumped. My heart leapt in my throat when Fluttershy patted him on the shoulder. "You're done hurting others, dear, and I know you've been hurt enough. It's time to move on."
Crying again, the god of chaos meekly looked at her, "Thank you, Fluttershy."
"And build an entire universe for all the ponies here."
"Don't worry. I remember. Also, I do have a bit of an announcement," Discord continued. "My daughter, the last Fluttercruel, has also seen the error of her ways and is on the road to redemption as well...I just thought perhaps you may be happy to hear that Fluttershy...Even if she isn't from the same time loop as you, I know you of all ponies doesn't care about that now that you're in your right mind."
Flutternice just looked more confused, forget that, mortified. "But...but that's just a potential 'me'! She's not real. I'm real! I'm me! How...how can you drag down what it means to be a person by calling something that isn't even alive real?"
We all looked mortified. Hearing Nightmare Eclipse's words out of her mouth. How much we'd TRULY corrupted her.
"Flutternice..." Fluttershy said. "...That...that's the wrong way to look at it...She's not you. Just like all those Scootaloos aren't the same pony...That Fluttercruel is your...half-sister. Discord is her dad just like he's yours, even if it's a different me who's your mom. Does that make sense?"
Flutternice just groaned, shaking her head.
"But...they're all just recordings, she's just a recording of me replaying over and over until Auntie Eclipse makes them real. Like you and Auntie Manacle taking the Scootaloos out of the loop is what made them real instead of just recordings. Mama, why must you test me?"
"I'm sorry, Nice," sighed Fluttershy. "I have been testing you for a very long time, haven't I? But Auntie Eclipse was wrong...Auntie Eclipse wasn't a good pony. That was just a lie she told to make herself feel better...like how I told all these ponies nice little lies to make the happy...but that doesn't make it good...It's never good to lie to yourself to make you feel okay to hurt ponies."
"A l-l-lie?" Flutternice did not look well. "B-but, NO! They weren't real! They aren't real! They're just props! Robots! They don't become ponies until later! They're just potential ponies! Nopony was hurt because they weren't alive! So it wasn't a lie!"
Discord looked down. I think seeing her act like this brought up bad memories. Pinkie Pie looked about ready to cry.
"...Nice...They were real...they weren't props...What Auntie Eclipse and the rest of us did...it was wrong...it was bad...it was why I...I trapped us all in here...because I thought we'd finally have to face up to what we did...You have nothing in that to be guilty of...it's all my fault..."
Okay. Now Flutternice looked scared. "You said we were protecting all the ponies because the mean old concepts would erase all of them because the mean old concepts didn't WANT THEM to be real! That they were gonna punish all of you because you were gonna make a better world than them, and the concepts were all jealous and selfish! You were punishing evil Discord! You were setting up to make a golden world where everypony would be happy! THAT CAN'T BE EVIL! NOTHING YOU DID WAS WRONG!!!"
"...That...that was the lie I used to live with myself, Nice...it wasn't the Concepts who didn't want them to be real...it was Eclipse...we had to work very hard to keep this place remaining...she was the selfish one...we all were..."
"...We thought what we wanted was worth anythin'," Applejack said. "But...even when Ah said that we'd create a golden world? Ah knew it would be a paradise built on worse than corpses, and that we'd all go to Tartarus for it. Not because the concepts were brats who couldn't stand seein' something done better than them. But because we're worse than murderers. We erased entire universes, again and again, just for the sake of one golden planet. Tell me, Flutternice, have ya ever known Auntie Mirror to lie?"
"And now, all this time...it turns out the Concepts just wanted to give these ponies their own universe to exist...I was wrong...Mama's sorry she lied...she was a bad pony...a very bad pony..."
The daughter looked at the mother as if she were saying that squares had actually been round shapes all along.
"Stop saying that! You're not bad! You all did what you had to do! For everypony! What he turned you into! It's his fault! It's all Discord's fault! All Discord does is bad!" Flutternice cried stomping her hoof.
"One problem with that, kid," AJ said. "Discord? He created YOU."
"Evil fathers force themselves on helpless mothers ALL THE TIME, don't they?" hissed Flutternice.
"They do," said Discord. "They do indeed. I cannot deny it."
"But yer ma?" Applejack continued. "Ah turned her inta Nightmare Whisper! So if yah wanna blame somepony fer your ma bein' a bad guy, blame meh cause Ah made her a Nightmare!"
"DISCORD MADE ME EVIL WHEN HE VIOLATED MY MOTHER! YOU MADE HER REAL!"
"...Flutternice..." said Discord finally speaking. "...You're right, I made you cruel by violating your mother. And that was wrong...but that logic you're using right now? That was my logic for every wrong, evil thing I've ever done: that I was somehow the only 'real' thing in the world and everything else was just a little playset for me to goof around in. 'They're not real, so it doesn't matter if I hurt them.' Look where that got me."
"...In the end, Nice?" I said, thinking about what Discord just said. "...Eclipse became just Discord 2.0. She became everything about him she hated times ten...and so did all of us...and...I'm sorry, I really am, we've, ALL of us, not just your mom, have passed that down to you. I think deep down, I knew that, and I didn't want the Scootaloo twisted either. And that's why I wanted them to sleep all that time."
I noticed Applejack give a nod I felt wasn't for me.
"P-p-plea-ease-ease stop stop saying all this!" Flutternice held her forelimbs to her head.
"Nicey," Pinkie Pie said, "I thought this was all a game. I thought this was a comedy. I was wrong. It wasn't. And lots of ponies were hurt because I was too crazy to tell the difference."
Nice turned a heartbroken look on her mother. "You taught me what was right and what was wrong after all the lies evil Discord told me! You taught me hurting ponies was wrong! You taught me being nice was right! WAS ALL THAT A LIE TOO?! You're not like Discord! You're not! You're not! You're not!!!"
Pinkie Pie sighed. "Those things weren't lies, Nicey…but…"
"Your ma was right tah tell yah hurting ponies was wrong. That being nice is right...but that's just it, Nice, we HURT ponies. BAD. VERY BAD...Ugh...Ah wish these buckin' wings wouldn't break you in two if Ah tried ta show you that truth."
Starlight stepped forwards. "Flutternice...I know you probably don't trust me..."
"Anypony would have ta be dumber than rocks to trust YOU, you triple-ton lying liar!" sneered Flutternice.
Patch wordlessly put down her sword on the table, and touch her shoulder, making her wings vanished. She trotted up to Flutternice before any of us realized what she was doing and slapped her.
I don't know if that was shrewd to do in front of a girls' parents who are a ex-Nightmare and the god of chaos, or just plain stupid. But I could tell Patch and me had one thing in common: seeing our loved ones be put down lit a fire under us.
"Don't you EVER call Starlight that again you brat! Starlight is one of the most annoying honest girls I know! She keeps secrets! Same as everypony! But I've never once heard her lie! So shut up and LISTEN!"
"You think you can bully me into-"
"You wanna take me on again, go right ahead and-"
"PATCH! STOP!" Sweetheart shouted. "That's enough."
Patch snorted and sat back down, and began munch on a cupcake.
Sweetheart bowed to Discord and Fluttershy. And said in the most humble, non-aggressive voice this side of Fluttershy. "I deeply apologize for my friend. She's...very protective of Starlight. Starlight, please continue."
"I'm sorry for Patch, Flutternice…But one time I tried to do a really really good thing," Starlight continued, after a hurt little wince. "I tried to make a golden world too…like your Auntie Eclipse. I tried to make a world where no pony ever hurt and everypony's wishes came true...but it went wrong...and instead I hurt a lot of ponies..."
"We..." Bright Eyes replied. "We, it was my idea first..."
"...Your aunt Pinkie's world DIED because of our failures Nice. That was our fault, our mistake…and we had the best intentions possible."
"You destroyed a beautiful world?" Flutternice said, suddenly flat-eyed and flat-voiced with sarcasm, thick and black as tar. "No way. Not YOU guys. Color me absolutely, absolutely SHOCKED."
"It was WHY I became an angel of Death," Starlight said straight faced. "In the worldline your auntie Pinkie Pie came from, the universe had to be rolled back to keep it from imploding and taking every worldline connected to it. Much like what your Aunt Eclipse did. In the 'fixed' worldline, your uncle Destruction had to trigger an explosion out of our work. Not because 'the gods are bad' but because they'd already sent so many to Entropy's realm fixing the mistake the only way they could and didn't want to roll back time one DAY further and condemn even more to that fate. It was either several billion or more go to oblivion, or several go to Elysium and Tartarus. It was a HORRIBLE choice to have to make, but because of ME it had to be made. I became an angel of death to help guide every single pony who died because I couldn't see the contradictions in the spell we were making."
Our eyes widened. Most of us were stunned silent.
"Stop trying to shoulder it all on yourself Starlight. It never help," Bright Eyes sighed.
"Agreed," AJ said.
"Having seen what I've seen of your 'good intentions,' destroying all of mom's hard work, I think Heaven is entirely the wrong place for you."
"THAT'S IT! You're gonna-" This time Clover and Melody held down Patch before she could start a super-brawl between a deputy Angel of death and a demi-draconequus.
Was I this stubborn, when Applejack came to see me, out on that asteroid? Did I fight her like that? I think I did.
"I actually agreed with you at my trial by the concepts. But I wouldn't know, I've never been there, only my friends have. My husband is waiting for me."
Flutternice was thrown for a loop.
I jumped in. "…When I accepted Eclipse's deal...I had good intentions too...by the end I was every bit as twisted as her...I didn't think through everything...I'm sure there's something else I could have done...and I'm sure somewhere in creation there's a world where I did...but here? My good intentions helped give Nothingness a population boom. You have to work hard to make your good intentions STAY good."
"Uncle Banneret? Say something! Please! Don't tell me you...don't tell me you...please. Say that everything is alright! I want you to! Say that we were doing good! Say it! Be generous Unckie and say it! PLEASE!"
Spike looked down. "...I...I'm sorry, Nice...but...I loved Rarity...but now? several hundred THOUSAND Rarities' shadows are floating in Oblivion because of me helping Nightmare Eclipse…and my claws are soaked in HER blood...and that's just part of it...the truth is, I haven't been doing what anypony wanted but Nightmare Eclipse this entire time...I haven't been generous...I've been another kind of selfish."
"That's nonsense! You made me such wonderful gifts! You made such wonderful gifts for all of us! And you had such wonderful gifts set aside for Auntie Rarity for when she comes!"
"Exactly. I didn't care which Rarity. I just wanted a Rarity to become Nightmare Charity. Like they were all a bunch of interchangable little dolls and I could just keep throwing away the broken ones until I got one that worked for me! I didn't care about how that Rarity became Nightmare Charity. I just wanted her. How can that be anything but selfish?"
"But. . . all your gifts to me, to us...The stuffed animals that hug back for Auntie Manacle, the family album for Auntie Mirror. You can't say those were selfish!"
"...I can't say it was exactly generous either," Spike said. "...I was only generous to my friends, not Apple Bloom, not Sweetie Belle, not ANYONE but my friends."
"And how is that bad?"
"Because I hurt OTHERS without a second thought! I hurt RARITY because Eclipse told me to! Again and again! THAT is selfish: when I give ONLY to my friends and say 'to Tartarus with everycreature else!'...Generosity SHOULDN'T be generosity just to your friends."
"D-Discord must have you all under mind control!"
"Flutternice, enough," I said, "Since when has Discord ever been able to control the likes of us?"
"Well...y-you're weaker now since Auntie Eclipse is gone!"
Discord held out a notice signed by all FOUR Elders forbidding him to even THINK about brainwashing innocent ponies ever again as one of his parole requirements. I know that because just looking at it resulted in the knowledge that that's what it was, was being embedded in my brain for eternity. Also, Havoc had drawn the O in his name as an actual mouth that seemed to be trying to eat Discord's fingers. "Couldn't even if I wanted to anymore."
Flutternice opened her mouth again, but this time no words came out as she paused.
"I-I'm dreaming! This is all one big illusion!"
"Flutternice, that is enough," 'Shy said. "Please don't go down my road. You won't find anything happy at the end."
Flutternice didn't explode into a giant draconequus and promised to destroy the confusing universe. She didn't call us impostors and try to kill us in an epic super battle. She didn't destroy herself in some horrible single moment of despair.
"What's real?!" Flutternice sobbed, burrying her face in her hooves. "What's even really REAL anymore?! NOTHING!"
"I love you sweetie, that's real, I promise," Fluttershy said nuzzling her.
"So do I. Cross my heart, hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye," Pinkie Pie said.
She just pouted and cried like any little filly would. Fluttershy hugged her filly. "It's okay dear, just let it all over."
Spike gently patted her on the back with one claw.
Patch sighed and turned her head.
Sweetheart tenderly wiped Nice's tears.
I saw the look on Discord's face, what he wanted more than anything was to reach and hug Flutternice too, but he held himself back, poor guy.
As Fluttershy had said: it would take time.