Ah was drawin' on the floor of my room, and it was bright and sunny outside.
Ah was smilin' and was just happily kickin' my rear legs in the air.
Ah drew me, my family and friends and our farm.
Then my drawin's were movin'! Then it was like Ah was the drawin' of me, but Ah was still seein' everythin' from 'above.' Kinda like one of those flip books were if yah flip the pages fast enough, it makes a little movie thing.
We were all bucking apples in the orchard, when a big, all-black Alicorn with huge eyes crashed down on us. Beams were coming out of her eyes, for some reason she swept them over Scootaloo. Then a big bug inside of Scoots came out and made my friend all unhappy, and there was a fish inside Sweetie Belle, and suddenly there was a lake under her that Sweetie was sinkin' into. Big sister bucked the big black Alicorn in the face, smashing it up like a scribble, drivin' it off, but a bit of its blackness fell in my eye and it REALLY HURT!
Applejack rushed to me to make sure Ah was okay, and Ah was okay. But now Ah had a big eye too.
Some ponies came along, and Ah looked at 'em, and a beam shot out of my eye. The beam showed they were bad changelings (Ah could even tell the difference!) and we drove 'em off. Blackness appeared on my hooves.
Then some big black stallion with a red cape who looked like he was made of smoke rose up on a big crystal. Ah looked at 'em, and the beam showed he had a heart inside that shattered and he broke apart and floated away.
My friends and family were all cheering for me now. Black wings popped out of my back.
Then this thin sickly guy in a cloak tried tah sneak by, but Ah looked at 'em with my beam, and showed he was some kinda monster with horns and arms, and Applejack and her friends blew 'em away with the Element of Harmony!
Everypony was tossing me up in the air, smiling. Then a black horn came out of my head. Ah had two big eyes, my whole body turned black. Ah couldn't shop the beams from hittin' my friends and family, doing the same stuff that big black Alicorn had done... The beams showed off what was in their hearts that then broke! Ah looked this way and that, but there was no stoppin' it! Help me!
Then my body shape changed until Ah was a drawing of the big black Alicorn.
"Apple Bloom!" Ah heard my sister cry out like a thunderclap. Ah woke up with a gasp and in a cold sweat.
I was playing video games with Button Mash: Megapony Ex-0 3! Only, Xero looked like Dash! I didn't see Apple Bloom or Sweetie Belle anywhere. I hate to say it, but Button is just better at video games than me, and I spent more time screaming horrible curses at the game designers than beating the Megapony Ex-0 games. I didn't have the bits to burn on video games when I was by myself, and I never played a ton before I moved to Ponyville. But Dash said they were good for wing-eye coordination.
Doctor N.Trot reprogrammed Xero's brain, and I had to play as the bad guy for a couple levels (where'd Button Mash go?). Then, Xero ran into ... me? I was there, on screen. Me, Scootaloo. I watched as text appeared; me telling Xero how she'd always protect me. She fought against the reprogramming and then... Dash's ghost floated out of her body... then a buncha fireflies came and floated around Dash's ghost and formed a new body for her in a cloak.
Then the two fought, and Xero destroyed her own original body, and everypony was convinced that the Xero causing all the trouble had to've been an imposter. I turned off the machine and snuggled in my wax room.
Now I was in a hive full of giant bees. They were all different colors, including the queen who was pink and a drone who was white and blue. And me... I was in a cocoon, uh, I mean the six-sided thingy that bees have. It's called a 'cell?' Weird. And it was being tended by a bee with really familiar colors and a symbol on its side, and... one of my parents, who was the size of the bees, or maybe the bees were the size of them? I hatched and... I wasn't a bee. All the other bees except my parent and the bee who'd looked after my cell turned to look at me. They didn't look happy. They were upset I wasn't a bee? My parent and the bee took me, and flew away from the hive, the rest of the bees chased after us, not wanting bees to leave the hive. They hid me among some orange leafs, and flew off, the rest of the angrily swarm flew after them.
At this point, a part of me woke up enough to realize I was dreaming... and I wondered what the POINT of this crazy dream was... and a bad thought came into my head. Had... mom and dad left me because I couldn't fly? I opened my eyes as I woke up completely.
Pinkie Pie was so happy when Phobia had shown up. A new friend was always a good thing! Maud Pie hadn't remembered him, at first... but then she recalled how she'd been foalsitting. That crazy fog had really messed with her memories, just like Sweetie Belle's.
Maud Pie bowed her head, "I'm sorry, Phobia,” she said, tonelessly, “you were my responsibility and I forgot you."
Phobia hugged her, nuzzling deep into her fur. "It's okay, you silly rock, I'm just so happy you're okay!"
Maud Pie slowly hugged him and patted him on the back. She didn't remember how his wings got broken, but something told her not to worry about it.
Pinkie Pie hoped Sweetie Belle was okay. Pinkie had already cared about Sweetie Belle BEFORE, but now... Sweetie was also carrying the legacy of the friend who'd given up EVERYTHING for Pinkie Pie.
Forgetting your own 'not-my-coltfriend'? Pinkie Pie couldn't even imagine that... mostly cause she wouldn't meet her special-somepony for about a year and a half, give or take, the Pairing Stone had for 'some reason' (hint, hint) predicted cheese sandwiches that day.
Maud said the Pairing Stone was a kingly rock but seemed to get afraid whenever she asked for her special somepony.
As Pinkie and Maud Pie had made rock candy together (from sugar provided by Upright-and-Upstanding Flim and Flam, Inc.,) Phobia had watched in awe.
"I just want to say... I've never seen you so happy."
The stone faced mare replied in am emotionless voice, "That is very kind of you to say, you're a good little foal.” They nuzzled.
On the other hoof, Maud had gotten some odd cravings since Apple Bloom and her friends had left: pickled rocks, peanut butter and gravel… Pinkie Pie had to stop Maud from almost accidentally eating Boulder! And this wasn’t even the weirdest thing she ate!
"Maud! KETCHUP with sandstone?!"
"I dunno, just a craving."
Phobia, for some reason, blushed.
"I don't get why more foals don't want to join our secret society," Scootaloo said. “We looked over the schoolyard. And those foals that did, their parents said we could be friends, but couldn't go on 'crusades'.”
"I think they might have heard about the fire-elemental," I offered meekly. Where's Blanky? What are we doing back at school? Scoots' hair isn't in the braid? How is it back to normal? How am I speaking without meaning to? Wait, is this a dream? Or was everything that happened a dream?
"One time!" Apple Bloom exclaimed. She didn't have hear earring. "It's not like we blew up a mountain or somethin'!"
Why are we calling it a secret society when everypony knows what it is? ... Oh right, I called it that, after Apple Bloom suggested we work together to find our marks, I suggested forming a 'secret society.' Apple Bloom came up with the name though.
"Hey, what about him?" Apple Bloom pointed right at Button Mash whose consciousness was absent from his body and completely inside his game. "He's new to Ponyville, his mom won't know anythin' bad bout us. And he's got no cutie mark."
"I dunno, he's kinda weird, and how is his beanie spinning like that?" Scootaloo pointed too.
Button Mash's hat! So this is the past! Or just a dream of it!...At least it's nicer than the past we went back to, to fight Shub.
"I don't think it's so bad," I said, even though big sister saw it and said it was 'outdated.'
Is this like that dream I had with Chrysalis gave up made me an Alicorn? Am I... going to see how things turned out in Button Mash's memories?
"Then he should fit right in, you weirdoes," Diamond Tiara said trotting by with a laugh.
I felt jealous for a moment before then, and I had no idea why ... Now I can kinda guess.
A minute and a vote later (which I swear on Rarity's horn wasn't influenced by Diamond Tiara's remark) we trotted over to Button Mash, I think he only noticed us because we casted a shadow over his little game.
"Hi! We're the Cutie Mark Crusaders!" Apple Bloom introduced us.
"We're on a quest to find out who we really are! I'm Scootaloo!"
"I'm Sweetie Belle!"
"And Ah'm Apple Bloom. Wanna join?"
"Well, of course you do!” said Scootaloo, before he had a proper chance to answer. “You don't have a cutie mark, we don't, we can help each other find our special talents!"
Button Mash barely glanced up at us. "I...don't really care about that sort of thing."
"Care about what?" Apple Bloom asked.
"Getting my cutie mark," he mumbled.
"WHAT?!" We shouted together.
"What's more important than getting yer cutie mark?!"
"Girls I...I feel faint...ow! How come that works when big sister does it?" I groaned as I sat up rubbing my head.
The colt didn't so much as look up from his video game, at seeing a lady get hurt. Apple Bloom and Scootaloo helped me up. We looked at each other.
Right, I remember, Button Mash said this is where Scootaloo and Apple Bloom pushed me towards Button Mash. He explained his video game, and it got me curious.
And I turned around and walked away.
What! That's not supposed to- I mean! I remember that's how it happens, but that's not how it happens now!
We go back to our bench and leave the colt to his stupid video game.
'It's not stupid! Don't call it that!' Ugh! Now I'm standing in front of her friends and me, but I'm all ghosty?!
We trot back towards our bench to try to see if there are any other new arrivals we can try.
'Wait! Stop! Don't give up yet!' I grab myself and try to pull her, but she drags me along instead. She's just happily talking with Apple Bloom and Scootaloo now, not giving Button Mash another thought. 'STOP!'
"Huh?" I looked around, I don't see anything.
"Something wrong, Sweetie Belle?" Scootaloo asked.
"Must've been just the wind."
Apple Bloom! Scootaloo! Help her try a little harder! Sure he takes his video games way too seriously, but he's nice, happy, and brave! He's great Crusader material!
Apple Bloom and Scootaloo take a look back at Button Mash silently, shrug and kept walking.
What's wrong? This is the way it really played out, remember? This is the way it really happened until the curse changed everything. You should be happy.
'How am I supposed to be happy that I'm losing a friend?!' I shake me by the shoulders, but she doesn't even feel it. I... I think I'm crying.
"Please! You can't do things the same as before! You-! You...You can't just leave him all alone!"
"Is that what this is about? Pity?"
"NO! He’s better because of us, and we're better because of him! That’s why friends are good for one another!"
"Lost chances are never found again."
"I DON'T CARE!"
That was when I realized I was talking to somepony.
He was an almost-teenage unicorn colt with a dark pink coat, yellow chartreuse mane, and green eyes. A tornado with sun glasses was his cutie mark. He also had a tooth missing and looked like somepony had hit 'im in the nose.
He was doodling in the dirt with a stick; it looked like a goat faced snake with legs playing with two Alicorns.
Time didn't stop, and I didn't know much longer I had left before class let back in.
"W-who are you?"
"Oh me? I'm Paradigm Shift. I'm just here to ask you." He kept doodling. "So did you really mean what you said? You don't care that missed chances never come again? You and your friends chose to not try a little harder to become friends with Button Mash. He, in turn, chose not to try at all to be your friends. This is what happened naturally. Doesn't that make it the way things SHOULD happen? You wouldn't want to have to thank Nythy, er, excuse me, Umbra Breeze for making a friend would you?"
I look back at Button Mash, and at me and my friends. They're happy, but almost unaware the other even exists... Why? This is MY memory! This is REAL! This is how things DID play out! So why... why do I feel like something is horribly MISSING?! "No I wouldn't!" I said, crying. "But I wouldn't want to NOT have a friend just to spite him!"
"So, do you want to stop your quest to save the world?"
"But you want Button Mash to stay your friend?"
"... More than anything."
"Don't you want to save the world more?"
"That's not about what I want! It's about what we gotta do!... Chrysalis and Rarity taught me that."
"But is it what Button Mash wants?"I felt like I was struck by thunder."Can you say, without any doubt in your heart, that he'd rather be friends with you, than just have his video games for friends? Can you? Or are you just making the decision for him?" He looked up at me with a gleam in his eyes.
Button Mash...what would he want? I tried remembering what was he like before the world changed...he just sat around playing video games all the time, at home or on his portable console...I don't think you'd know he was there if Cheerilee didn't call on him once in awhile. He was happy...but...he was alone... "He's alone..."
"He's alone. That’s how he was before...he likes his video games...but video games aren’t friends. I know ponies say you shouldn't try to have your cake and eat it too...but this Button I've been with… I’d bet my tail he still plays games, but WITH us! Either way, he’ll get to enjoy his games, but he’ll have friends the way things are now. So he's gained something I think it'd be wrong to lose...But...maybe there is a way to make this play out so he gets to choose..."
"...What if instead of just us pushing harder, I can give him a reason to pay more attention?"
"You won't be able to take this back, and you might lose it all the same. Is this what you chose of your own free will?"
"Add your chaos to his status quo, add his chaos to your status quo, you know neither of you will be quite the same pony."
"I... I wouldn't be who I am without ANY of my friends!"
"And what about having to thank Umbra Breeze for all of this?"
I actually smiled a bit. "...Umbra Breeze...if he'd had his way, then me, Scootaloo, Applebloom...and Button too, we'd all be never-heard-from-again right now. We're the reason we survived long enough to meet up with Button, Scootaloo saved Cheerilee and stopped that...we're not friends because of Umbra Breeze, we're friends in spite of him!"
He grinned. "... Then screw the rules, Sweetie Belle. Throw in some of your chaos . . . So THAT'S what that feels like." His horn flashed.
Ponies moved backwards at high speed, or was I the one going backwards? I passed through myself as she walked backwards with my friends. I galloped back to Button Mash.
"Girls I...I feel faint...ow! How come that works when big sister does it?" I groaned as I sat up rubbing my head.
"I'm sorry about this, Button Mash, maybe you can forgive me someday." I focus every ounce of magic I've ever had, focus on the prize and... I nudge his hoof ever so slightly. His character on screen is blasted from every direction, ends up stun-locked, and dies.
"NO! NOOOOOOOOO!! My last life!!!" He wailed in agony.
"I know how much that high score meant to you..."
The colt started crying out of nowhere, little rivers spouting from his eyes.
Scootaloo and Apple Bloom looked at each other quickly, and took a trot back, and pushed me forward. "Hey!"
"You're the tender one!" Apple Bloom grinned.
"And he was your idea!" Scootaloo grinned too.
"He was Apple Bloom's idea!" I said before my friends retreated back several trots. Cheerilee was coming and she didn't look happy.
I trotted over to Button. Huh? I'm not in control?
"You're current Sweetie Belle, that's past Sweetie Belle."
"But we're both Sweetie Belle!
"Yes, but she's you without knowing what happens if she turns and walks away. Wouldn't quite be fair, would it?"
I guess not...but...I know her...I know me...I have to trust myself.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
He sniffled. "I...I tried really hard to beat this game...and...and then my hoof slipped and I lost my last life...and the game doesn't have continues!"
I thought that sounded kind of dumb at first...then I noticed the 'you survived' time on his game. "...You've been playing that for 24 hours?"
"Uh huh...I...I don't like to give up on a game..." he sniffled.
"Because I wanna see how the game ends..." he sniffled, tears still in his eyes. "What's the point in stopping an adventure half way?"
I blinked, looking at him. "Wow...you sound like me and my friends about getting our Cutie Marks."
He looked up. "...I do?"
"Yeah...we try and try to. No matter how many times we fail, we just keep trying! We want to find our Cutie Marks...even if it takes a really, really, really long time."
"...Huh...sound about right...do you like video games?"
"I've got a couple games I like, but I don't have a lot of them."
"My dad's a game developer, so I kinda get a lot of them..."
I cocked my head. "That...actually sounds kinda cool."
"Thanks! He works in Canterlot most of the time, though. I don't see him a lot."
I froze for a moment.
"Uh, is something wrong?"
"Oh! No....so, what's this game about?"
He waved his forelegs dramatically. "You travel ALL the way across the galaxy, starting out in the most dingy spaceship there is, with the enemy fleet right behind you! Getting crew and stuff for your ship along the way until you can save the universe!"
"So it's all about going from nothing to something really big?" I asked, looking at it.
"Uh huh. It takes a long time to get anywhere and there's no continues, so you have to play smart."
"Reminds me of my sister. She said that's how the fashion world is."
"Can’t say I’m really that into clothes, but I really like it when you can customize your character! Does that count?"
"I don't know, maybe? At any rate, It's really fun to try and get an outfit that works."
"I know! I wish more games were like that...Oh! Sorry! My name's Button Mash!"
I smiled. "Glad to meet you, I'm Sweetie Belle."
"My little ponies, is everything okay?" Miss Cheerilee asked, frowning.
"Yeah, I just got upset," Button said. "But Sweetie Belle cheered me up!"
Cheerilee smiled. "Oh, she did? Good for you, Sweetie Belle."
"Thank you." I smiled. Now that the danger had past, my two best friends came back. I know they'd have come forward if I'd gotten in REAL trouble... that's what friends do.
"So...I guess you don't instantly want to be a Crusader then?" I asked.
"...Can I still play video games?"
"Sure! We do all kinda stuff! And when we're just brainstorming or not doing anything, we play and just hang out at our clubhouse."
"...I do have a lot of games with co-op modes I never get to play..."
"I wouldn't mind."
"Neither would I," Scootaloo nodded.
"Same here," Applebloom replied.
"And that's your cue, see you around kiddo."
I was the first to wake up. I felt for Blanky only to remember he was with Pipsqueak and his friends. Please be safe, Blanky, I want to see you again.
We're floating on the mist with the lifeboat still right in front of a big fog ball. I'm guessing it’s the same one we were headed towards before… the one Apple Bloom was surer than sure had Applejack waiting inside.
There was no sign of Razzaroo... she promised... I hope she's okay. She wouldn't have left unless she had to. Of course not. There was nothing, no monsters, no other bubbles, that big light still in that ugly dirty pink sky. If sound could be a blank sheet of paper...
"Scootaloo, Apple Bloom," Button Mash mumbled in his sleep, higher-pitched than normal. I checked us all. No changes to any of us. Scootaloo's braid, Apple Bloom's earring from Zecora... Button Mash missing his hat... and the three of us with our capes. Apple Bloom still had those silver swirl marks on her, they looked so familiar. And Scootaloo... her parents, all that time... we never knew... she never told us. She must have been so scared of being taken away! I gave her a gentle nuzzle in her sleep.
Button Mash turned over in his sleep and sat up, blinking himself awake.
"Sweetie Belle? Apple Bloom? Scootaloo? What happened? Oh right, I remember." He looked up at the sky like he was imagining the Moonpearl was going to swoop in and help us out. Then he looked at the big fog ball right in front of us. He didn't look surprised Razzaroo wasn't to be seen. "Second-to-last dungeon, huh?"
"Looks like that way," I said.
Button Mash looked himself over, checking out his mane, his hooves, his 'character profile' from his magic window, and then, ahem, er, between his legs.
"Sweetie Belle, have you ever had Princess Luna visit you in your dreams?"
"... No, but Pip said something about it back on the ship."
What? Me and Scootaloo did things while Applebloom was staring over the bow of the ship and stuff, and Pip liked talking about Luna.
"Did he ever say WHY she visits a pony's dreams?"
"I think Pip said she visits dreams that causing you trouble or that you're having trouble understanding WHY you're having them." I changed topics before I forgot to ask. "Button Mash, what happened when we first met, what happened just before Apple Bloom and Scootaloo, uh, helped me talk to you?"
Button Mash blushed. "Uh, heheh, my hoof slipped and, I lost my last life, and... maybe cried, a LITTLE."
"I... seem to cause that a lot. I'm sorry."
Button Mash's face looked brave. "If I had to choose between beating that game, and being friends with you, I'd chose you." I'd be lying if I said I didn't blush. "Sweetie Belle, I've been thinking... this made my head hurt a little, but how is any of the stuff I said to Truffle about you NOT true!? We've been together all this time on our quest... and you've proven again and again you're STILL the Sweetie Belle I remember! Even if you don't! And THAT is why I like you!"
Why did Button Mash seem taller when he said that?
"Button Mash, if I wanted to do what Tootsie is doing, what would you do?"
"Stop you... Because you ARE my special friend. But I really, really, REALLY wouldn't be happy about it.” He squeezed his eyes shut, trying to find the right words. "Sweetie Belle, you ever dream you were somepony else? And only realized you WEREN'T really who you were dreaming of being at the end?"
"I'm... not sure." That was a weird question.
"Sweetie Belle, can I pretty please ask you a hyper-thetical question?"
"Hypothetical. And... yes Button you can." I nodded.
"Right. Sweetie Belle, what if you woke up from a dream, and found out you'd never been friends with Apple Bloom and Scootaloo, the Cutie Mark Crusaders never existed. It was all just a dream you had. Apple Bloom asks if you were a prissy pony like Rarity, and Scootaloo had a shell around her heart. And, well, Diamond Tiara ignores you because you're not friends with Apple Bloom. Then some weird pony pops out of nowhere, and offers to 'fix it' by giving you DIFFERENT friends, who aren’t Apple Bloom and Scootaloo? What would you do?"
I was thrown quite a bit. But I thought about what he said.
"I'd feel like their 'fixing it' would be mocking the friendship I had with Apple Bloom and Scootaloo. Even if they didn't remember, even if it was just a dream, I'd try my hardest to become their friends for real. What would hurt the most... would be them not remembering all the great times we had before then."
"And if they told you that since it wasn't a waking dream, it was never your choice to be their friend to begin with, so it was never real?"
I asked. "Would I have acted different in my dream?"
Button Mash this time was silent for a bit before he said. "... No, every choice is exactly how you would have made it. The only difference is that THEY tried just a little bit harder."
I raised my head high. "Then I'd say they're full of hooey. If I would have made those exact same choices anyway, then who cares if it was 'real' or not?"
My heart skipped a beat, my breath caught in my throat, it was like the sun just rose in my head as it hit me like a dragon. I didn't SEE Button Mash anymore as somepony brainwashed to be my friend... I just see... my friend.
Then Button Mash added. "And Sweetie, when Rarity does a dress for you, how can you stand holding still for so long?!" Button Mash hugged himself and shivered.
"Practice, and didn't you stay still when she redid your costume?"
"Yeah but I had my Gamecolt then."
"I guess that part wasn't a dream . . . " Scootaloo said as she blinked sleep away and slowly stood up, stretching her body and her wings. She looked up wistfully at the sky too, but I'm guessing for very different reason.
Like Button Mash, Scootaloo didn't look that surprised to see Razzaroo wasn't here with us.
I'm guessing Scootaloo heard a lot of what we said before, but she still asked, "Button Mash, I gotta know... if you could go back in time and not our friends... would you?"
Button Mash looked horrified. "Never! I'd go back in time and make SURE we became friends if that happened!"
Scootaloo looked down at her hooves. Then back at him. "Button Mash, I just wanna say... it good to have you as a friend."
Button Mash smiled and hugged her. "And it's great to have you as a friend too!"
Scootaloo hesitated, then hugged back, I joined in.
Apple Bloom woke up gasping. "Applejack!" She looked right at us, and covered her eyes and buried her face.
We slowly broke the hug and approached our friend as much as we could in the little lifeboat.
"Apple Bloom? What's wrong?" I asked.
"... Just... just a bad dream. A REALLY BAD dream. Ah saw myself, helpin' stop villains, but then Ah couldn't myself from hurtin' ya and my family..." Apple Bloom looked up back at us. "Are all of ya okay?"
"I will be," Scootaloo with a side long glance rubbing one foreleg against the other. "Guess we don't have time to fly back to Cloudsdale do we?" Her lip quivered. Then she smiled at Apple Bloom, only the tinniest of tears in her eyes. "All right Apple, we've saved our big sisters," Scootaloo spread her wings proudly. "let's go save yours!"
Tootsie was in the World Tower's emergency room recovering. It was like only the Nightmare of Diamond Tiara's waters of nothing kept Aphrodite's flames from burning Tootsie's body forever. Truffle was at her side, along with her family (the waters of nothing had kept their feelings for her from being burned to ashes). Nurse TLC had been called in to look after her until she recovered.
The Nightmare of Diamond Tiara, meanwhile, couldn't get out of bed, and was barely remaining conscious as she restored the mana she had burned through, falling in and out of a dreamless sleep. Alula had thanked her for saving Tootsie from the 'flaming mad evil fire Alicorn.'
Alula hugged the big plush black cat that was on the bed as she looked at her friends.
"Alula, I'm... sorry my gift to Tootsie hurt her."
"... It's okay, Diamond Tiara, you didn't mean to, and it's not like you knew that it belonged to somepony." Alula said, calmly accepting on Tootsie's behalf. "It's like those mummies in movies who greedily hold onto their treasure even though they're dead and don't have a use for it. That evil monster Alicon should've been grateful that Tootsie was using that bow for good instead of it gathering dust. I'm sorry her kid...was never heard from again, but Tootsie didn't know that or she would've treated it with more respect, like any hero who takes up a weapon. She should've known that. She was just being a bully."
"You mean like me?"
"You... you were just in pain, Diamond... you explained it all, remember? I used to hide my feather cutie mark with a sticker. I was so unhappy I got such a commonplace mark there were so many of, not like you and your cutie mark. I loved how confident and take charge you always were. So I couldn't understand why you were so unhappy, and why nopony else noticed. I KNEW big sister couldn't be right and you just LIKED being mean! I used to think you didn't like yourself... but you definitely like yourself now, right?"
"... There is nothing to not like," the Nightmare whispered.
"Happy to hear it!" Alula's smiled. "I always wanted to help you become a nice pony! And you helped me become a princess! Your daddy was happy that I was nice to you on Hearts and Hooves Day."
"Alula . . . can you please go now? I want to get some rest."
"Okay, Diamond... I'll go be with Tootsie," she gave the Nightmare a hug and left the room.
"You took a long time to get that popcorn...What happened to your nose, father?"
'Had a discussion with cousin Shubby. I put on some rainbow butter, and then I read the ingredients, not good for my arteries at all. So I had to start over. But I always seem to make a mess of things. Like a tornado twisted through. Remember how Tootsie and Alula rewrote reality so their families would accept I was just having a fun time? I felt in a mood for a chat and- . . . '
The Night-filly. tilted her head. "What does this have to do with the popcorn?"
'Nothing! Nothing! Never mind.'
Princess Liza Doolots, Tootsie Flute, laid in the soft bed. She was covered in bandages. She could barely move, and even with the enchantments to dull the pain, her burns still bit and clawed at her nerves. The magic powers she'd had protecting her had just barely been able to prevent any worse. If she knew who'd she'd faced, she'd be a legend for having survived.
Smiling and humming to herself, Nurse TLC manned the various magic-tech machines in the room dedicated to monitoring and accelerating the faux's princess' healing. She had some bumps and bruises herself from when that Guard and Miss Golden Tiara had so rudely left the party in Canterlot early. TLC had thought those days were behind them both.
"Don't worry, Princess! The booboo will be gone in no time! Then I have a lollipop ready for you!" Nurse TLC assured the filly with 'You're-Better-Off-Not-Knowing-What-Degree' burns.
Princess Tootsie moaned in response.
Truffle had come in first, hugging his fillyfriend, unwittingly making her hurt worse (though she didn’t let him know.)
"Liza! I promise! On my loving heart I'll smote the vile villains that did this to you! Our love will be avenged! They'll be obliterated! Blown-up! Exploded! Our love's mighty blade will bisect these wrongdoers’ black heart!"
Tootsie said something.
"What, my love?" Truffle leaned in closer.
"Don't what, my dear?" asked the round little colt.
"Don't... try that... it... it isn't... you shouldn't... "
"Oh? Oh! Right! I shouldn't be chauvinistic!" Said Truffle, not knowing how he knew that word. "You want to avenge yourself! You need to prove you can overcome the obstacles put before you! It would be totally wrong and unfair if the hero was hurt by the villain and never got to avenge themselves! I'm sorry! I wasn't thinking! I can help you train for the rematch once you feel better! Please forgive me!"
"... N-nothing to... forgive... you... just do... what your heart says... nothing wrong... in... that... Truffle... I'm sorry." Tootsie blinked tears. "I'm a bad pony." 'Not my special-friend...'
"Of course you're not! You tried your best! That's what's important! You'll beat the witch that did this to you next time! I'm sure you will! As long as I believe in you, and you believe in yourself you can't lose!"
"... I'm... sorry... I made this happen..."
"Don't doubt yourself! Remember you're a hero! If anything I should be sorry for giving up fighting when you needed me most!"
Nurse TLC smiled and nodded.
"Truffle... please go and... please don't get into any fights... spend time with your mom and dad..."
"Okay!" Truffle nodded obediently and left... and nearly got run down by Bon Bon trampling into the room. Lyra and Moth behind her.
"MY BABY!" Bon Bon gently hugged her, careful not to hurt her more. "Mommy's here! It's going to be okay! Mommy's sorry this happened! Don't worry! Mommy will make it all better!" Bon Bon sobbed. Then she said something that had nothing to do with any altered past or change in the tone of the world: "... Mommy is going to murder whoever did this to you! Mommy swears it!" There was a fury and bloodlust in her eyes that was... Tootsie realized... exactly the same as the one she'd seen on that fiery pony's face. Her mind superimposed them over each other, and they matched down to where their frowns stopped.
"Uh... Bon Bon... are you sure..." Lyra began, her eyes never leaving the ruined body of her foster foal.
Bon Bon gave a primal growl. Lyra had lived with Bon Bon long enough to know what that meant. Moth couldn't bear the sight and looked away.
"Just... let's focus on Liza getting better, please?"
"R-Right," Moth stammered.
"Of course that's what's most important," Bon Bon said tenderly, stroking her filly carefully to avoid irritating her burns. "I'm just saying after she's all healed up... I'll shall hunt down and DESTROY who did this to her."
"That much hate can't be healthy for changelings," Moth said.
"Hate? Don't be silly." Bon Bon’s gentle loving touch never left her filly. "This is burning fury from the depth of Tartarus, not 'hate.'" She then looked at Tootsie and sighed. "Mommy's sorry you had to hear that...you just focus on getting better, I know you'll be better in no time, you're the best after all."
Bon Bon nuzzled her, Tootsie found the strength to nuzzle back.
Alula stood in the doorway to the medical room set up for Tootsie... It hurt her seeing her friend hurting like she was burned herself.
'This isn't how this is supposed to go,' Alula thought. 'Anytime a magical filly gets hurt really bad in a fight, they're supposed to look inside themselves and discover a new power that whoops the bad guy in a super cool way that's never quite that cool in later adventures... This isn't supposed to happen.'
Alula really wanted to go to her friend... but she felt like she'd be intruding...
'Oh Princess Animatia Erroria! Don't feel bad that you need to wait your turn to spend time with Princess Liza Doolots. I have a WONDERFUL manega you can read in the meantime! I think it's just the kind you need!'
"Oh, thank you, Mr. Discord! What is it?"
'You're welcome! And it's Penumbra Magical Filly Madoka! I'm sure you'll find it very enlightening! It's one of Umbra Breeze's favorites!'
"Thank you," Alula said trustingly, looking at the happy cover of the Neighponese comic.
As she sat down to read, she did her best not to think about the argument she'd had with Scootaloo on the airship with Tootsie's friends... and that wandered to her sister and...
"Rumble..." Alula whispered. "He hasn't come once to visit his brother... and... Thunderlane hadn't gone to visit him once... like big sister Cloud Kicker..." Alula violently shook her head and read the manega, certain it would help clear her head.
"No sign of Phobia..." Scootaloo said scanning the horizon around the bubble in their little dinghy.
"He must be with Maud Pie," Sweetie Belle said.
"Can't say Ah blame 'im," Apple Bloom claimed. "An Apple can tell, they're as close as family."
'Family...' Sweetie glanced at her friend, "Scootaloo... I'm sorry that I never noticed you were homeless in all that time we were friends. It makes me feel like a bad friend. You were grazing just to eat and showering with rainclouds and everything and-"
"Sweetie Belle," Scootaloo whispered, "Stop. It's okay. I went to a LOT of trouble to make sure nopony found out. I WASN'T starving, had roofs to sleep under, and my paper route job!"
"And the fact of the matter is...that don't matter..." Apple Bloom replied. "We're gonna feel for ya and hope ya find yer parents anyway."
"Then your WHOLE family can be together," Button Mash said waving his arms. "Just because Rainbow Dash or your parents might not be in your house every day doesn't mean you're going to stop being family!"
Scootaloo's heart had a light flicker on. "Thanks Button. They taught me how to look after myself. But... you girls make this all... your awesome." She smiled. "And my parents will think you're awesome too!"
"What are friends for?" Sweetie Belle asked.
"Group hug?" Button asked.
"Sure," Scoots replied nonchalantly before giggling. The little herd hugged and smiled and gave some nuzzles.
"We rock! We're gonna save Alula, and Tootsie from Umbra Breeze," Scootaloo gritted her teeth, "and Discord!"
Sweetie'd forgotten about that, they'd seen so much happen so fast, she swallowed, but nodded too. "Right! We are! And we'll save Diamond Tiara from herself too. If we gotta."
"All that's standin' in our way's savin' mah sister!" Apple Bloom exclaimed. "And Ah know we can do it!"
"And so do I!"
"CUTIE MARK CRUSADER HEROES! YAY!"
Without any other words, the foals paddled their little ship to the edge of the fog bubble that had Applejack inside, and leapt in after her.
Ah knew what Ah was gonna see, sorta. Ah knew it wouldn't be nice. Ah remember everywhere else we visited. Ah braced myself, but it still hurt. Seein' our farm, my home... all dirty and grimy, near everythin' that faded red.
The sky was as ugly 'n' bleak as the ground. The worst part was, was how Ah could recognize everythin'. The fence, the barn, the apple trees, the dirt path leadin' to the house, Ah could find 'em all blind folded.
But it was all MADE wrong: All the outside stuff was there, but the stuff that made that stuff what it was, was missin'. Like everythin' and everyony was just raw material to make some horrible story about horrible ponies doin' horrible things in a horrible place! Sweetie, this was what it was like for you to see Rarity's place, wasn't it?
"Apple Bloom it's okay, we'll save your sister and rest of your family in no time!"
"Huh?" Ah looked at Sweetie, it took a bit to realize Ah'd been cryin'. "Thank ya Sweetie." We hugged.
"I wonder where our welcome wagon is," Scootaloo said, "After Cloudsdale, I was expecting the Royal Guard and every movie monster ever."
"Gee, what a happy thought," Sweetie said.
"Maybe they threw so much at us they ran outta stuff?" Ah asked. Ah saw the look on Scootaloo's face. "Ah didn't think so either."
"Maybe not.. if we banished Shub-Neighurath," Sweetie offered. "That fight took everything out of Diamond Tiara and Tootsie... she got hurt real bad... maybe we caught 'em before they could set anything up?"
"Ah looked with the truth. "Ah don't see any traps. Let's go."
We trotted towards the house. Sweetie and Scoots flanked me, while Button Mash guarded our rears, sword ready. Ah was surprised by the first thing we found out of the ordinary...
"'Caution: Aquastrian Crab Apple Trees?' 'Do not buck without protection.'" Ah read the sign.
It was a squat apple tree... but the apples had tiny 'faces' with that glint in their fruity eyes you know when somepony is gonna prank you. They also had little pinchers like lobsters. And the leaves reminded me of some pictures of underwater plants Ah saw in class once.
We trotted AROUND it. The apples seemed a bit disappointed...or proud, not sure which.
The first ponies we noticed weren't ponies. It was Daisy-Jo and the other cows. Grimy and pink like everythin', but they weren't talkin' 'bout the weather or what minotaur was best lookin'.
They looked sad, or just starin' out into nothin'. Ah thought of them creepy tales Snips and Snails yammered about of thinkin' creatures in griffin lands who were no brighter than critters.
They each had a pierced earring with a different number on each other. And an apple symbol branded on the flanks... it didn't feel like Ah was lookin' at a cutie mark. It looked like they were a lot deeper than the ones cows sometimes got like tattoos, like the pony who did it didn't give a darn.
They were standin' in the coral, and they looked scared if we got close... they were scared of me! Ah don't feel so good.
There was also Fleece and the other sheep. They looked to be in as bad shape as the cows, and almost as scared. And the corrals all had padlocks on 'em. Not the herd nor the flock even spoke to us! Ah shoulda said somethin', anythin', heck, one of us shoulda... but my mind was on Applejack.
Ah spotted where all the ropes and tools all were kept... Ah had a bad feelin' Ah knew why whips were there now too.
"Thank Celestia that we're not in Griffin land," Scootaloo muttered. Ah almost threw up at what my mind thought up.
Ah spotted Big Macintosh buckin' the trees off in the orchard, colored and drawn like everythin' else... Ah turned my head from 'em, Ah couldn't bear to think about what Ah'd see... he didn't notice us and we didn't wave at 'em. After we saved Applejack, it wouldn't matter anyway. Maybe if we're lucky Ah won't even have tah know what happened tah him.
We were at the front door to the house, still no nasty surprise.
"No encounters! No puzzles! Biiig boss fight comin'!" Button Mash said to himself. "And I want my beanie back."
"Mash, is Daring Do still on our team?" Scootaloo asked.
Trotting backwards, his sword in his mouth, Button opened his magic window. "Uh-huh, it says she's active. She must be doing her own quest."
"Great help that is," Scootaloo muttered.
Ah ignored 'em. Ah spotted Winona, sleepin' curled up on the porch... she... she didn't look any different. But Ah remembered what happened with Opal. And the truth, Ah saw... something horrible.
A ladybug fluttered onto Winona's back... then a spiky jaw opened right on her back and ate it! Not all clean like, but with her...her skin and fur comin' apart! The mouth closed, and it was like it was never there. Winona just kept on sleepin' happily as Ah shivered.
"kēlā nui peku luna," Ah heard Scootaloo say something in Hawainigian.
Sweetie kept Button Mash from yelping in alarm. The worst part is knowin' before this mess started Ah have screamed my head off and kept runnin' 'till my legs fell off at seein' that. Now, Ah just led the girls around Winona we got inside, not takin' our eyes off her.
Winona Ah'd known as long as Ah could remember, in her own way she was part of my family too, she was a protector... now she was protectin' whatever nasties are inside here.
In its own way it was more scary with how much everythin' was were it was supposed to be inside as much as outside... but Ah saw details the others would miss. The red stains on the table. The hard and sharp hoof marks on the floor. The extra forks and knives.
And there was the little more obvious stuff. Like the smell. It smelled like hard cider, pony stink that made even a hard farm pony like me cringe, and like ... like saw dust and something else, kinda like iron, but it made me sick smellin' it. The others looked like the smell was makin' them sick too. Sweetie almost threw up.
And the obvious stuff, like the empty cider bottles here and there. We ain't no Belles, but even we kept the house better lookin' than this. Trust meh, Ah'd gotten more than one spankin' cause Ah didn't clean mah hooves before comin' inside!
And on the table, Ah only glanced... but Ah saw letters from cousin Braeburn to Applejack... with Xs and Os and little hearts on them... That... that stupid, ugly, brainless, joke about country ponies marryin' their own-!
... Maybe the letters caught on fire from me hatin' 'em so much... maybe they didn't... maybe Ah just imagined that part... But Ah'd have ripped 'em to shreds and not thought 'em worthy of feedin' to the pigs if Ah could spend the time.
Through the doorway to the kitchen... Ah kinda saw Granny Smith... eatin' somethin'. Her shadow was on the wall and Ah saw she was cuttin' up and munchin' on and slurpin' up, SOMETHIN'. And Ah saw most of her sittin' at the table, the same sick pink as the tables and the sky, but her face and what she was eatin' was hidden...
Ah could see from the door she had on the long rubber gloves for our hooves that AJ keeps, and a leather and ring harness that looks like one of the ones the mockery of Rarity's shop had.
And Ah kept hearin' her, slurpin', chompin', and tearin' on SOMETHIN'!
She must'a recognized the creak of my hoofsteps on the floorboards or somethin' cause Granny called out. If Ah had my eyes closed, Ah could've pretended nothin' was different 'bout her.
"Apple Bloom! That you? Do ya got the white dress fer Sweetie ta wear?"
Ah remembered what our anti-selves been wearin'. Ow! Ah felt mah eye hurt!
"It's-it's taken care of Granny!"
"Good! Tonight's the harvest moon! Be sure to give'er and bath and anoint her with the apple juice and remember the heart is a little bit to the side."
Button Mash nearly broke formation to hug Sweetie Belle.
My fur bristled. "It'll be taken care of Granny."
"Ah'm just kiddin', Ah know Ah can rely on ya."
"Believe it Granny, Ah promise."
"That's a good filly! And check on yer sister Applejack! She havin' a worse hangover than usual."
Ah remembered what that horrible story Gabby Gums had printed said. "Ah will Granny." Ah tried not to think 'bout how Ah was gonna face a ragin' drunk big sister or worse!
"The Great Apple Spirit bless you."
When this is over, Ah'm goin' straight to the Omi-Alicorn church, prayin' to each of the princesses, and gettin' myself confirmed.
"kāua hō mai ka Ua iā ka pua,
muli ka pegasi makemake hō mai ka lā iā ka waho,
he laka makani iā ka breezies ame ko ‘ehu pua."
Ah heard Scootaloo singin' to herself, this was no heart song, she was calmin' her nerves, and Ah don't blame her. Funny how Sweetie Belle's the one with the special talent for singin', and Scootaloo, doesn't.
Sweetie and Button were calmin' each other down...Ah admit, Ah feel a little jealous. Button's the only one of us that didn't have his family try and kill or twist him...but Ah'd never wish that on 'em either.
We stepped into the livin' room proper. The cider bottles were scattered over the floor... and so were crayon drawin's Ah never drew with my name on 'em usin' way too much red. The family pictures were all there, but so were some newspaper clippin's. 'Apple-Submarine Heroically Sinks Enemy Orphan Transport.' 'Apple-Bomber
And Twilight Balloon Bravely Bomb Enemy Civilians.' 'Apple-Tank Gallantly Slaughters Cowardly Enemy Troops Attempting To Surrender.' They only got more plumb loco gallopin' backwards this side of a crooked apple tree salted up insane from there! And there was my sister grinnin' like she was a filly at Whinny Land in a picture with a griffin kingdom green army helmet in all of them.
WHAT enemy? None of the papers mentioned.
And right next to 'em... to me it was like the pictures were one of them livin' ink splatter pictures, different every time ya looked at em. The pictures kept changin' and movin', but they were always organized and together, and set up like we always had the family pictures... movin' always and not movin' at all... made my head hurt.
There was a list of 'commands' from the Great Apple, 'Hate All Fruit Except Apples' 'Eat Only Apples' 'Become The Apple' and even dumber ones. It reminded me of Silver Spoon's chat when we were still gettin' to know 'er about our play with Princess Celestia bein' a bad guy... then findin' out a bajillion ponies had beaten us to it and Princess Celestia being a good guy was actually more rare... If this was supposed to be so crazy it was funny, Ah wasn't laughin'.
Seein' myself all grimy pink and grinnin' in those pictures lookin' like my double was just another shovel full of creepy on the pile.
There were instructions on how to make sacrifices to evil spirits right next to a list on how to fight and banish evil spirits! There was a symbol for servin' evil monsters right next to a crest for fightin' em! There was a picture, of the same day, of us together, at the same time... in army hats. Another us holdin' red stained farm equipment and us grinnin' with teeth like wolves. And another of us grim-faced with cannons, swords, crossbows, over the head of a manticore.
All there at the same time, in the same place, but in different places... Ah had to look away from the wall before Ah went crazy! My friends looked worse. Ugh.
"Apple Bloom?" She sounded scared and hopeful at the same time. My heart caught in my throat. "Apple Bloom, is... that ya, is it the... the REAL ya... Ah..." Ah heard somepony rolling off the couch and slamming on the floor, Ah heard bottle fallin' over, there was also a metal clang it. "Ah... Ah knew Ah didn't... Ah knew it wasn't really... Ah didn't screw up...ya didn't lose yer soul...yer body weren't really possessed by a demon... Ah didn't have'ta kill... Ah... Ah.. Apple Bloom!" Ah heard metal scraping across the floor.
Ah heard my friend gasp too. Was Applejack... what she was sayin'... was she really... Could she be really? Ah couldn't take it anymore... Ah looked.
It was my sister... she was as pink and sketchy as the rest of the world... she had Pa's hat on... her foreleg... it was metal... with a burn scar running along her shoulder . . . Applejack... Ah... Ah looked 'er in the eyes... they were bloodshot, and her face was tear-stained... Ah forgot how to breath, my legs forgot how to move.
Applejack crawled towards us with her mechanical foreleg... her entire body was shaking... she moved sluggish, like her body parts were gettin' mixed signals... Ah've never seen 'er this drunk off cider before.
She turned her head to each of us. Big sister.
"Scootaloo, Sweetie Belle, Apple Bloom... oh lovin' Celestia... are all of ya... you? Ah... Ah was starin' ta think... " Her eyes laid on Button Mash. "Pardon me, but who’re you, youngin'? Have Ah seen ya around before?"
Button Mash's lip quivered. His eyes widened. He bit his lip. For a second it looked like he was gonna cry. He sniffed and wiped his eyes.
"I'm... I'm Button Mash... I've been a friend with your sister and her friends for a while now. N-nice to meet you Applejack."
"Ah wish Ah could say Ah was in better shape TO meet... Apple Bloom! Are ya okay!? Are ya hurt?! Are ya friends?! Where have ya been!? I've lost track of how many days ya've been gone! All Ah could remember was what them... lies in my... lies in my... Celestia Apple Bloom it hurts so bad!" Applejack hiccuped.
My big sister... APPLEJACK... cryin', sayin' how much somethin' hurts? My big sister cries on the inside... she NEVER complains about how much somethin' hurts... but... why do Ah feel like Ah'm talkin' to the REAL Applejack? Celestia that makes it a million times worse than if she was twisted into some monster like her friends!
"Applejack..." Ah heard myself say. "What happened to yer foreleg?"
"...A demon called Abandon burned it off when he used Rarity's sick vision of the world to change reality... wait, no, that didn't happen! AGH!" Applejack held her head in pain. "Ah lost it in the war. There was no war! Ah offered it up in reverence of-Agh! NO!"
"Sorry 'bout that, Apple Bloom," Granny called from the kitchen. "Sounds like Applejack's havin' one of 'er drunken fits again. Ya know where the rope is if she starts havin' flashbacks to the war/ritual/monster fight." Granny couldn't have been more casual.
Applejack grunted, tryin' to get up, usin' her mechanical leg like a cane. Of course Ah helped her. Right up and close, Applejack looked me in the eyes. Applejack's eyes widened.
"Apple Bloom... what happened to ya?"
Ah knew my family wasn't going to like it. "The earring's a gift from Zecora, got 'er back her real heart, and we did it for Miss Cheerilee and all yer friends! Once we've cured ya everythin' can be back to how it should be!"
Applejack started. "Apple Bloom... ya've done all that? You and yer friends? Ah... Ah'm proud of ya... Ah really am... and... Ah'm SO HAPPY to hear ya've found a way to fix everythin'... Ah was stuck here... too sick to work... Big Mac and Granny actin' like strangers actin' like our family... worried 'bout my friends... Sorry ya had to see all this... Ah'm... Ah'm happy, ya have no idea that means ta me... " She gave me a nuzzle, Ah tried to flinch at the stink of too much hard cider on her breath. "But Ah meant... who gave ya these little sister?"
Her good leg gestured at my face.
"You can see the marks on Apple Bloom?" Sweetie Belle asked.
"Yeah... but that still ain't what Ah meant-"
Ah looked inside Applejack... Ah'd do it, Ah'd save 'er, Ah'd get rid of the nasty rumors inside her and that would be that... "No." Ah whispered. "No! No!" Ah said scared.
"Apple Bloom? What is it?" My sister asked.
"Ah can't see it! Where is it? The root of the curse inside you! It was inside all yer friends! But Ah can't find it!"
"Apple Bloom! Ya mean ya really have-" Applejack looked super scared for some reason.
"It musta buried itself so deep inside ya that Ah can't see it! Musta wrapped itself around ya so much that Ah can't tell it apart from ya! This is horrible!"
AH HATE IT!!! AH HATE IT! AH HATE THIS STUPID THING! Was this their game? Givin' us a game we just can't win!? One of dem 'no end' games?! Ah'm sick of all of Umbra Breeze's tricks, of Discord's tricks, of Diamond Tiara's tricks. Didn't these cowards know how to do anythin' straight up!?
"Wait. Ah got it!" Ah gently put my sister on the couch. "Ah'll get Big Mac and Granny Smith to understand! What they believe to be true about ya ain't true! They think yer a drunk! So the curse makes ya one! AH'll get 'em to see the truth! Just watch big sister! We'll have ya cured in no one time! Nopony can stand up to the Truth! Nopony can resist Truth. It ain't matter what ponies believe, Truth is what is! Truth is all, and all is Truth, it ain't natural for anypony to contradict it! Ah'll show'em the Truth and they'll have'ta to believe in the REAL you!" Ah thought about it. All them horribles lies on the wall about my sister bein' a war criminal... 'bout our family being a buncha cultist hicks... when ya mess with one Apple, ya mess with all of 'em! Ah hate it! Ah'm sick it! This is my home! Our home! How dare Gabby Gums and their stupid lies ruin my home and my family! How dare they VIOLATE it, violate my FAMILY! "This is what you think any of us really wanted you dang idgits?! Ah'll shovel Truth down yer throats if Ah havta!"
"Apple Bloom!" Big sister slurred. "Since do ya speak this fancy?!"
"Apple Bloom?" Sweetie Belle asked, looking like she felt something but Ah didn't care!
Ah felt a burnin' on my forehead and back. Ah kinda liked it. Like it was a fire that burned away the impure parts of me.
= Noi! (Hail the Nutcracker Queen) =
"I can feel them." Sweetie said afraid, her eyes dilated. Her eyes darted. Her horn flickered with black magic. "They're gathering." Sweetie's heart was poundin' in her chest. "Please! Don't come near her!" Her head darted like a bird's.
Ah could feel somethin' buildin' up inside me. Ah'd have the power to save my sister, and wiped out every last one of these lies from the face of Equestria so cleanly that no lies would ever rise again!
"I'm not liking where this is going..." Button Mash muttered.
"Apple Bloom you're not sounding like you!" Scootaloo said a little too loud.
Ah glared at 'er. "And how do we know what the real you sounds like, ya filthy liar?"
Scootaloo stepped back like Ah'd hit her.
"I'm just saying Applejack," Nightmare Whisper whispered. "Even the pain monsters that invaded the universe and the concepts fought together weren't all evil. The youngest changed sides and now works as an assistant spirit of tax-systems. Applejack! What is it! I feel, SOMETHING, something FAMILIAR, something AWFUL!"
Nightmare Mirror, was looking inside one of her mirror wings... inside... it showed Apple Bloom's point of view, from inside her farm house... a flick of the wing, and she had an outside view. With the Truth this strong in her, her own connection to her was that much stronger. After all, that drop of Truth had come from herself after all.
And she saw... Apple Bloom's eye filling with Truth, and the marks on her forehead and back shimming with a dark silver light. Her face growin' with rage only a little filly could have. And... Mirror saw them...
"Yes yes! The spirits of dark magic are convergin'... My plan worked out after all! Havin' her friends to protect made it grow even stronger! Ah knew bein' face to face with all these endless lies would make ya see the truth eventually!"
"Applejack! I don't like that look on your face!"
"Ya'll be my sucessor soon Apple Bloom." And... in the space between heart beats... the image in Nightmare Mirror's wings changed... instead of herself as Nightmare Mirror and Apple Bloom... she saw Nightmare Dusk... and herself as Applejack... whispering in her ear... that moment where the Valeyard had broken poor Apple Pie before Applejack's eyes... where Nightmare Dusk had struck in that moment of rage and pain, to mold Applejack into the Nightmare she wanted, not caring how much it hurt her or hurt others.
As Nightmare Mirror gazed into her own reflection, looking deeper and deeper into herself... it twisted and warped... it was Nightmare Eclipse, smiling Twilight Sparkle's smile back at her.
Millions of years ago... Nightmare Mirror remembered. When she watched her world be destroyed.
"You'll understand one day, Applejack... I'm doing this for the right reasons and the right cause, it's the best. Besides, it's not like I'm hurting anypony real."
Mirror shook her head and look at Nightmare Whisper. Only with her eyes of truth, she wasn't seeing Nightmare Whisper anymore, it was plain ordinary Fluttershy, from so long ago.
"I'm sorry, Twilight, while Discord is the most awful person I've ever met, I think the effort spent on revenge could be better spent helping those he's hurt."
"Pinkie Pie, I'm sure the world you came from was very wonderful and nice... but there are still ponies in THIS world that need help."
"Rainbow Dash, I AM loyal to my friends, I'm NOT loyal to Discord, but I'm loyal to Fluttercruel, she didn't ask to be born the way Discord made her, she's like a parasprite, I won't hurt her to punish him."
"Applejack? . . . What do you have to show me? OH ALL THE POOR BUNNIES! AND DUCKS! AND MICE! AND PIGS! AND BEARS! AND GOATS! AND DUCKS! AND SQUIRRELS! AND FERRETS! AND WEASELS! AND OTTERS! AND GEESE! AND OCTOPI! Discord's magic did all of this?! I knew he changed them but I thought maybe most were doing okay! Nopony is looking after them all! More to show? What? How my filly is going to turn out? . . . N-no! NO! NO! NO! NO! I CAN'T LET THAT HAPPEN! I WON'T LET THAT HAPPEN! SHE WON'T TURN OUT LIKE THAT! I'LL NEVER LET HER TURN OUT LIKE THAT! They all wanted an assertive Fluttershy?! Here's Miss Assertive!"
"WHAT HAVE AH DONE?!" Nightmare Mirror screamed at the top of her lungs.
"APPLE BLOOM, STOP!!!"
Like a drop of liquid soap that’d fallen into a bowl of grime, the invisible swarm of long arms were pushed away. Gone. Everypony was left with their thoughts derailed at the sight and feel before them, like the entire world had lost its pacing.
An Applejack: larger than the amputee Applejack in the room, with a wavering mane in an unseen wind, with barding polished to mirrored perfection. With a spiral horn atop her head, with wings adorned in reflective barding and emerald jewels shaped like eyes so interconnected that you couldn't tell where the barding ended and the wings began.
She hugged the little filly, sobbing, and shaking, her wings spread wrapped around her.
Apple Bloom stared out ahead... shock and confused at what was happening, but at the same time her head clearing, realizing in shame and guilt what she had just said to her friend... The fire inside her faded. It was like waking up from a dream, or maybe a nightmare.
Nightmare Mirror said, "Stop... just... just stop... please... stop..."
To Be Continued...