Tootsie began crying. I nuzzled her.
"H-how did you move like that before? I didn't think you had those good reflexes Sweetie."
"They were a gift from a good friend, now answer the question. Did you think about how it'd hurt your family if you died?"
"No, I didn't," Tootsie whispered. "I just thought how they'd all hate me if they found out what I'd helped Umbra Breeze do."
What would Rarity say? "You... you can't live your life covering up your mistakes. I mean... you can't spend forever being a slave to it... you need to face it... "
"But... Lyra... Auntie Moth, and Bonnie..."
"If they really love you... well... they'll still be upset... they'll be angry... but... but they won't hate you... you were tricked right? They love you! You know now what you did was wrong! ... You thought you were helping ponies... You know now you were helping a monster who wanted to ruin the world! But you can TALK TO THEM about it! They're your family! They'll understand! They're...They're there for you!" Mom, dad, we have a lot to talk about the wedding later. I love you.
"GAAAAAHHHHH!" The Nightmare of Diamond Tiara screamed holding her empty chest.
I felt Diamond Tiara. We'd save her too.
And here I was, made to understand stuff I shouldn't have to yet. First Rarity taught me not to judge my enemy, then that bad stuff happening to you wasn't an excuse to do bad stuff. One year felt like five.
As we dried off under the bright sky, Tootsie whispered. "I think... there was one bad thing I did on purpose, though I kept telling myself it was a good thing."
"You mean Truffle."
"Yes. I didn't think Twist would be a true friend to him because of how she stopped playing with Apple Bloom after she got her cutie mark... and didn't stand up for her at Diamond's party."
Deciding NOT to tell Tootsie what happened to Twist, I said, “Apple Bloom... said she's the one who stopped hanging around Twist, she's the one who didn't even try to make up or talk to her about it... She said Twist made a mistake... but Twist still cared about her."
"... We've talked about all this before didn't we? On the MoonPearl?"
"Yeah... we did... you wanna listen this time?" I said as kindly as I could.
"... I just didn't want to see Truffle hurt. Instead, I made things worse."
"You really like him, don't you?"
"What was the trigger?" I asked. "What broke the camel's back?"
"... Hearts and Hooves Day."
"=Persona 4, 'Face Myself' Piano Version =
It didn't matter that Sweetie had won or Scootaloo hadn't lost, until one of the ponies in the room's truly gave up, neither could leave. In both pocket worlds on a floating picture window, and on the screen in the elevator shaft, a scene played out. All the foals recognized the place.
Cheerilee's class. Hearts and Hooves Day. It lasted only a few seconds, but the scene then repeated, over and over.
A subtitled on the bottom read, 'Cheerilee's_class_celebrating_2_S2E17'.
"I like the red one," Diamond Tiara said next to Silver Spoon. In her hooves was a purple and white card with sparkles. Alula the pegasus, behind Diamond, offered Diamond Tiara Alula's red card.
Silver Spoon looked delighted at the exchange. Diamond Tiara looked stunned at the act of generosity. Meanwhile, Twist and Truffle exchanged cards and hugged. Neither of them saw Tootsie had been about to give her card... nor saw her look away, heartbroken, her card falling to the floor.
The little heroes' thoughts echoed, 'That... that happened while we were giving Cheerilee her card? We... we really don't notice stuff sometimes don't we?’
"And nopony noticed, nopony cared. It didn't matter what I felt. It didn't matter what I thought. Nopony cared," Tootsie sniffled.
Sweetie Belle gently stroked her mane. "What about your family? Didn't they care?"
"... I did ... they did... but... but I was scared... "
Sweetie understood. "You were scared that Truffle would like Twist more."
"Y-y-yes!" Tootsie cried into Sweetie's fur. "As long... as long I didn't... I could pretend he would like me more... but... but... the way they always smiled to each other... the way they fit together... "
"... Doesn't feel fair does it? If you'd offered your card just a little bit sooner... But what about Twist?"
"I... I pinkie promise! I didn't WANT to think Twist was bad! I don't! I don't think I did! I!" Tootsie sniffled and cried more. "I don't know what I'm feeeeeling!!!!"
"... I'm sorry, Tootsie... It's not fair. But it's not fair to Twist or Truffle, either. We're not the boss of them, we don't get to decide if their friendship will be bad."
"It doesn't matter anyway... I was told, in some... way... that I just know now... I'm not Truffle's special-friend... I don't matter."
"Don't ever say that!" Sweetie barked looking the other filly in the eyes. "You matter to your family! You matter to your friends! None of us are pointless! ... Please... " Sweetie's horn glowed... and shapes formed out of the water around them, of Tootsie's family, and the MoonPearl's crew and Alula and Diamond Tiara. "You have ponies who love you, and who care about you. There are things I hate we can't have or do too! But what we do doesn't change just us! When we do bad things, it doesn't just change us... it hurts those we like." Sweetie cried a little too. "It hurts worse when we won't forgive ourselves..."
And I, Alula, told Scootaloo like I told Mr. Filth Rich. How I admired a diamond who could always take charge, imitating her teasing but found it made me miserable, and wondered why Diamond Tiara wanted herself to be miserable, and big sister Cloudkicker saying that Diamond Tiara just LIKED being cruel. "But I refused to believe that. I didn't want to believe any pony would be awful if given a choice, and maybe I could help her be the pony she wanted to be.
"So when she said she liked the red card better, I offered her mine. Silver looked happy, but Diamond just looked surprised... confused... and that was the day she disappeared. ...Did I hurt her somehow? Was I the reason she ran away? So when she began appearing in my dreams and talking with me, I knew I had to help her make it right. It was my responsibility."
Tootsie tried to laugh. "You know... Everypony thought I'd be heartbroken finding out there are three Mare Do Wells, but all I knew was there were three heroes to love. I wanted to be a hero like them. I wanted to save ponies, and have a superhero cutie mark!"
"... You wanted to be Truffle's hero, and save him from what you thought was an unhappy ending."
"I wanted him to be my partner, we'd both help ponies who couldn't help themselves... see and do amazing things... "
"But would Truffle have liked that too? Do you know if he likes adventures?"
Tootsie couldn't think of a response.
Both 'Princesses' spoke.
"It doesn't matter if you won or not, I still haven't given up, and neither have you, so the portal stays closed. I'm trying to save you from the despair that's waiting at the top of the tower. When the world's free, you're going to need to be the heroes everypony needs. You can't afford to face that despair."
Linked at the heart, the foals replied, "What kind of hero gives up in the face of despair?!"
"Tootsie I helped the bad guys too... I thought it would be better if changelings did the thinking for ponies. And if my friends didn't, they were just being stupid, sound familiar?"
Tootsie sniffled and nodded.
"I thought I was doing the right thing too. But Scootaloo and Rarity STOPPED ME. Just like I tried to stop Chryssy. Sometimes being a good friend is to stop our friends from doing bad things. A bad friend doesn't try."
"Sweetie, I saw cruel shadows, they'll have horrible things happen just so they can feel sad for us."
"You mean like Umbra Breeze made happen?"
Tootsie's eyes widened and she fell silent.
"You said turning all our friends into monsters was to drive the watching-things away? So living happy lives, being friends was keeping them here? And if they like nasty things like you say, wouldn't this just make MORE of them come?"
Tootsie shuddered, her eyes became saucers.
"We didn't kill anybody, we just kicked Umbra Breeze's family back where they came from, because we want to stay part of the Equestria we should be."
We Not-Hate not-us-origin-we-speak-to MoMMy!" Said the swarm of leech like horrors within the Blind Idiot Concept.
"Yes dears," Shub-Neighurath said still stomping Nyarlathotrot in the eye.
"If the Shadows want to see ponies being ponies, why shouldn't we give them that? They want horror and misery? Forget'em! Let's be ponies and they'll leave on their own," Sweetie said, and then gave Tootsie a gentle hug.
"Tootsie, I can feel Diamond Tiara's heart... where it was anyway... after Discord made us into dolls and we ended exchanging pieces. She's empty inside... but she's scared of being full again. If you're her friend, let us help her."
"But-But they want to keep us, Equestria, the year everything exactly the same, forever!"
"... So they're all like that? All bad guys? Like how you and me both didn't want other ponies to see all changelings like? How do you know they're all, or even most are bad? Diamond Tiara Umbra Breeze? Discord?"
Tootie folded her wings around herself. "That's naive."
"Naive is thinking all a whole herd is either good or bad. How did Applejack beat Umbra Breeze and live? How did Daring Do live after helping us? How did we save our friends? If they're all bad, how'd the changelings get a happy ending? Why didn't Lone Ranger win? How'd Kifuko get born?"
"... One pony surviving a battle doesn't mean the other ponies did."
"Everypony worked super hard to make sure nopony died saving Canterlot! How could somepony who believes in heroes as much you, not know this?"
"I do believe in heroes! I looked up to all the Mare Do Wells! I actually wanted to be yours and Apple Bloom's friend... but my family said I shouldn't be friends just because somepony's related to somepony else. I should be friends... for who they are."
"They're right. And Tootsie... Batmare and Superstallion don't have super-hero cutie marks... Superstallion had a shield, and Batmare had a weight-scales. It's the hero that matters, not the super! That's why all those comics with always angry or gloomy heroes weren't fun. They just wanted super strong bullies beating up other bullies."
"... I just wanted to be a hero, I didn't want to be in the background anymore, I wanted to help ponies, help Alula, help Diamond Tiara, everything to be exciting and cool like in the comics." Tootsie rambled. "I... " She looked confused and scared. "I don't know! Sweetie! What am I supposed to want?!"
Sweetie remembered her fantasy world when she was under Princess Gaia's fog.
"My dresses are selling like hot cakes? I KNEW I was a designer like you big sister! I knew it!" She looked over at the seamstress cutie mark that ran the entire course of her leg.
And then the dream ended. Her dress show vanishing, her sister and everypony else saying how she was as great as her big sister.
"Now you make it come true for real Sweetie," Rarity whispered and continued to nuzzle her.
Sweetie Belle looked at her cutie mark.
"Sometimes we fool ourselves into thinking we want something." Sweetie thought of Chrysalis. "Or we're told what we think we want..." She thought of her big sister. "When we want what it means instead. So it all turns hollow. Only you can decide what you want Tootsie... think and feel Tootsie, what do you really want?"
"... I... I..." Tootsie looked at the infinite ocean and sky. "I really wanted ... this... I wanted big things to be a part of... but... all I had was Ponvyille and... so many amazing things happened in Ponyville and... I wasn't a part of any of them."
Sweetie nuzzled her, their horns sparking. "Don't worry... we're still just foals. We had lots of fun adventures crusading...”
“Some of us woulda called it ‘trouble,’” Tootsie said, with a slight smile.
“That too. But we didn't really get to be part of anything big either until Cadence and Shining Armor’s wedding... and it was scary and dangerous. Keep that in mind. Now I think me and my friends grew up TOO fast."
"I... I didn't like being nopony... so... I thought my family didn't either."
Sweetie didn't break the nuzzle. "You got to see Canterlot, you got to see the wedding of an Alicorn, you got three members of your family who were there saving Canterlot from Chrysalis. Lyra is Cadence's Champion of Music! Moth was ALREADY a retired secret agent! Your parents helped save Canterlot! Lyra helped make it look like Cadence was at the gate when she was really going underground. Bon Bon made tons of her magic restoring candies for everypony. You ALREADY had lots of incredible stuff lots of foals aren't ever going to see or have... and Tootsie... you've never once doubted your family loved you did you?"
"Never... my family, Lyra, Bonnie, Moth, are my real family... no if, ands, or buts. Nothing else to it."
"You already had a cool life, Tootsie. Maybe... maybe it's hard to see stuff when it's always there?"
"... Maybe... And I think Auntie Moth was right."
"She told me... just before the fighting started here at the tower... that I didn't want to fight. But said I wouldn't stop until I realized it on my own."
I check out Alula laying there, and I noticed. "Hey, Alula? You sure seem in a better mood now. Before... it was like you were charged up on ... hurting yourself... Maybe you just needed somepony to get your blood pumping again." I kept my trap shut about how in a horror movie she'd be eat by or turn into a monster by now, didn't want to give her ideas.
Alula startled. "I... I... I think I just kinda... forgot to hate myself while I was talking to you... about your parents... about Diamond... about everything. Does that make me a bad pony?"
"For Celestia's sake 'a'ole! Going around hating yourself’s not going to make ANYTHING better! You don't need to punish yourself like this."
"Yes, I do."
"Then that's what's most important?! Hurting yourself? Or is it helping your friends and big sister?!"
"... I just wanted to do some good with all the bad stuff I did," Alula muttered, turning away.
"Alula, if we're both stuck in here. And you don't want Sweetie Belle and the rest to reach the top... who is going to break your sister free of the curse?"
And Alula sat up, wide awake and her eyes focused on Scootaloo. ""W-What?"
"You want to help your big sister! You don't want us to send this curse packing, but you're stuck in here with me. So what friends or family she has that aren't messed up that can help her? Diamond Tiara's busy with her super curse! Tell me Alula! Did you try to help her after you realized you'd messed up!? Or were you busy feeling guilty that you didn't THINK to help her?"
Alula bit her lip.
"...So...our big plan...is to run away?" I asked.
"From these 'Shadows.' Diamond's big plan is to just run away from them. To shove them away and say 'you're somepony's else problem now.' When has that EVER worked? When has just throwing a problem away and pretending it doesn't exist EVER worked?...What if we'd done that to the Changelings? Just thrown them somewhere else and said 'out of sight, out of mind?'"
"We can't beat them!"
"...Discord said Dash and her friends couldn't beat him. They did. Umbra Breeze said he couldn't lose, Applejack kicked his sorry tail. Who says we NEED to beat them when we can befriend them?"
"Really? Let me ask you this: if these Shadows are so tough and can't be beaten and we can't be friends...what makes you think running away is going to do a darned thing? I'd rather do things the pony way than let it be somepony else's problem. Dash's not a coward, and neither am I."
"... I just wanted for Diamond Tiara to be happy. Like I wanted my sister and Tootsie to be happy too. That's what makes me happy. I hate ponies hurting themselves."
"Like YOU were doing Alula?"
"... Like I was doing... at summer camp once... there was a blue pegasus colt with a campfire cutie mark. He loved the first two books in a series, but then got into a horrible argument with a foal he wasn't friends with anymore about it. He read the rest of the series looking for things in the books that he didn't like. I don't want to see another pony unhappy like that again."
"This isn't the way Alula... Saving Sweetie Belle, learning to fly, and getting my mark all at once? Dash STILL spanked me for that! She wanted me to remember that was STILL crazy! Sometimes you can't let friends off the hook, otherwise, they're never going to learn. You want Diamond Tiara to become a better pony?! You're sad that you might have made things worse? Do you want Silver Spoon and Diamond Tiara back together again so they can both be happy?
When Princess Gaia showed everypony what they wanted more than anything? Silver Spoon had a lot of things, she wanted a new cutie mark, now she's proud of it. She wanted her mom to love herself. She wanted not to be scared of her dad. And she wanted Diamond Tiara back! The one who was her friend! Not somepony who's lost her heart!"
"But the watchers... they'll never let Diamond be a better pony."
"They let Silver Spoon! And I thought she was as hopeless as her! More than her! Cause she was just a 'toady' not a 'real' pony! If the shadows don't want me flying, why did I get a cutie mark for it?! My dream in Gaia's fog was to fly and be there with my parents AND Dash as one family... When it eneded, I just looked at the grass, and sniffled. Dash covered me with her big blue wings so no one had to see me cry.
I don't know about these shadows you keep talking about. But if I can fly for real now, then they can't be all bad. ...And If the Shadows are so controlling, why can you even DO all this?"
“Diamond showed me The Truth... it wouldn't lie. Are you calling her a liar?!"
"... Take it from me... somepony doesn't need to lie to you, for you to completely miss what they were really saying ...Diamond's sick...if you're really her friend, you'd be worried about that, not some stupid shadows."
A note appeared in front of Apple Bloom, it read.
'Despair waits for you at the top of the tower... '
"... Ah don't believe ignorance is bliss. Ah'll face it head on."
"Hey guys check out my cutie mark!" Ah gestured at my flank, showin' off all the hearts of different colors and patterns. "It goes all the way around my body! And it'll keep getting bigger as I make new friends!"
Then Princess Gaia's dream went away.
"OF ALL THE ROTTEN LOW DOWN DIRTY APPLE STEALIN' BUCKING HAY HORSE-APPLES DIRTY TRICKS--"
"Apple Bloom! Watch yer language!" Big sister shouted, huggin' me at the same time.
"But Ah finally got my cutie mark! And it was so big, and pretty, so so RIGHT!"
Trixie had fallen on 'er flanks and held her head.
"Ah'm sorry, Apple Bloom, Ah'm just so sorry," Big Sister said.
'What DO Ah really want?'
The barriers in front of both world doors shattered.
"You win, just go." Tootsie sighed.
"Tootsie," Sweetie Belle said gently. "Come with us."
Scootaloo said, "You're letting us go. Diamond Tiara might be your friend, but there's no telling what DISCORD will do to you if you go back to them."
"I'm not going back to them."
"Tootsie, tons of ponies believe you're Alicorns and heroes, there's no way Diamond and Discord can get a curse out that can change that many at once."
"That isn't the problem."
"You were right Scootaloo, I should have been out there helping ponies who are still caught in the curse... the world is a really big place... I'm still a magical filly... and a magical filly always finds where the action is happening."
"I want to help, but... I CAN'T fight Diamond Tiara. She... if we turn on her... She saved me from Aphrodite... I think she might go crazier. You understand right? Could you have fought Chrysalis?"
"... No. I couldn't."
"I'd fight Dash, because I know that's what she'd want."
"...I'm not you, Scootaloo. Maybe ... Maybe I could later but... not right now. After all, this is your responsibility right? If you wanna save the world... then I should be the one protecting ponies from the mess I helped caused."
"You know your way around this place, right? You could be a guide!"
"I... I just jumped into the magic glowing gold tunnel and just always ended up where I was told to go... and I think that's only one-way... I haven't seen most of this place... just keep going up... then you'll see Diamond Tiara's house... you can't miss it, and inside the room that's deepest inside... that's where Diamond Tiara and the goal of your quest is."
"Where's Discord?" Scootaloo asked.
"... I don't know. None of us have seen him. He speaks to us, anywhere, everywhere, we see his picture, we see his shadow, but we never see him."
At any other time or place, Scootaloo might have thought somepony was pulling a Unicorn of Oz, except there was no way anypony anywhere could fake Discord's style. Even if they could, Discord would definitely not allow it if he was free.
"And I wanna go get Rumble, maybe I can get him to realize the universe doesn't make sense, and if you haven't finished your quest by the time I get back... to save my big sister. And him to save his big brother... if your quest is done by then... well... "
"You still don't think we'll win. Do you?"
"You think you can win... "
"Sweetie... there aren't enough sorries in the universe for me to say for what I did... what I tried to do... to you, your friends, Button Mash... Truffle... "
I smile. I thought of Silver Spoon. "Then don't. Just try your hardest to make up for it. It's about doing better, not balance."
"... You're best pony."
"Scootaloo... thank you... and I don't think we'll see each other again before your quest is over. You've got the blessing of Princess Animatia Erroria."
"... Thanks, Alula... great to have you as part of the Rainbow Dash Fan Club."
"... Save me a seat for when she becomes a Wonderbolt."
"You got it!"
Alula and Tootsie flew out of the doors first. The two looked at each other...
"Tootsie... I give up."
"I... I do too."
"I... I can't fight Diamond Tiara."
"I can't either..."
"But I don't wanna fight Scootaloo and her friends anymore."
"... neither do I." They hugged each other, horns touching and her wings folding over each other. "I... I need some time Alula..."
"Me too, Tootsie... me too."
They landed in front of Apple Bloom and Button Mash and saw the big TV display and snacks.
"You... saw everything?" Tootsie asked looking at the big screen.
"Kinda..." Apple Bloom said calmly, "Ya were all speakin' in Neighponese for a while... then it switched back a bit after the fightin' was over..."
For talking to the fillies who had been hunting and fighting them until a few minutes ago, Button Mash and Apple Bloom were fairly calm.
"Then... you heard how... we're done fighting."
"Ah heard..." Apple Bloom said, Scootaloo and Sweetie already making their way for the doors back to the shaft. "And... Ah don't like how yer leavin' yer kin with that curse still in 'em... but we ain't got no more time to argue with ya... That yer choice, that yer choice," Apple Bloom said giving them the evil eye.
"This is the rules of the game," Button Mash whispered. "We gotta finish this quest on our own, whether we like it or not."
"... Apple Bloom... good luck," Toostie said before Alula led her along.
"... You too," Apple Bloom said as the pair of faux Alicorns flew down the tunnel.
Scootaloo and Sweetie who had floated and glided back to the elevator platform had a lot of questions.
The heroes spent the next few minutes getting each other up to speed about what about had happened, even as the platform began to rise again.
And Scootaloo thought, 'Better now than later.' "Girls, Alula told me something, it wasn't one of her stupid rumors... she says she got it from the truth or something like that... she said, I'm... I'm... that one of my parents is a changeling!!!"
Scootaloo held her breath and braced herself.
Button Mash smiled. "Cool!"
Sweetie laughed and clapped. "I really was sustaining you with my friendship!"
"Explains why ya buzz when ya fly."
"What?! That's it?!" Scotaloo exclaimed.
"What did you think it was going to change?" Sweetie Belle asked.
"After hearin' how ya haven't seen yer folks in forever, it's kinda not that big a thing," Apple Bloom remarked.
"Do you think you have secret emotion senses, can feed off friendship, and have limited shape changing powers?" Button Mash asked.
"NO!" Scootaloo put a pin in that thought balloon.
"Scootaloo!" Sweetie said. "Do you know what this means for you? About your parents?"
"They DIDN'T abandon me, and they didn't leave me because they didn't love me."
"It means I'm sure we can find them! I mean, I'm sure finding them is possible! I mean! Okay! They've been ... I dunno, hiding or something, but I'm SURE they're still out there, they have to still be out there! And they don't have a reason to hide anymore!"
"There's no doubt in my heart about that!" Scootaloo said proudly. "It WILL happen! There's enough belief in that for a hundred Cloudsdales!"
The others cheered for her.