CHAPTER TITLE: the end
'If Ah go beyond this point, Ah bet there's no turnin' back. Well, fine ‘n’ dandy by me!'
Ah stepped through.
THE INNER SANCTUARY
= The Forlorn Sanctum (Tower Lair) - Shovel Knight =
So little was lit, and so deep was the dark, Ah felt like Ah was standin' on a path in the void.
Everythin' was so minimal Ah could barely see anythin'. Ah couldn't tell how big the room was, but it was almost bare. Ah... Ah didn't see the printin' press. Nope. Not this time. This was where everythin' had led. The presses had to be here. This was where our quest finished, so it had to be here, end of discussion.
The floor Ah could see was grey purple stone. Everythin' was so still, silent, lifeless.
Then a light flicked on, and Ah saw there was a little folded note on the floor. Cheese to a mousetrap. Ah picked it up. It was blank.
"Remind you of anypony?" It was her voice with none of her snideness or anythin' else in it.
It came flashing back to me. That day Diamond Tiara singled me out, when Miss Cheerilee explained the basics on cutie marks, and that first mean prank that was her openin' number. Ah couldn't stop myself from rollin' my eyes and sayin', "Come on, Diamond Tiara, even you don't recycle your material this much."
More lights turned on. There she stood on a raised landin'. What would Sweetie call it? A 'dais?'
There was the Nightfilly, not a shadow, not a puppet, the real her. On her flank, was her crown twisted around, it had eight outward points.
"The third and final member of the new Gabby Gums welcomes you to the heart of the World Tower." On the bright side, the more we talked, the less she was workin' on the last lie.
Uuugh. Lookin' at 'er actually felt kinda painful. Her eyes were pale blue, and slit like a dragon's, like Nightmare Moon's. She had wings and a horn, like somethin' in her dreams, and my nightmares, ugh, bad pun, Ah know. She didn't have her crown. Ah remembered all the times Ah'd have loved to knock it off. But now seein' her without it felt wrong. She wasn't covered in jewelry like Ah thought she'd be after becomin' an Alicorn. Ah'd recognize that mane and tail style anywhere, even if the light purple part was now almost black.
Her expression was just so... not there. None of that sadistic glee from when she bullied me.
When Ah said it kinda hurt lookin' at her with the Truth? Ah... Ah really not sure how to describe it proper. She wasn't a cutout, or a hole, or some kinda blind spot. It was worse, like she was a wound in the world. My truthful eye couldn't focus on her without it hurtin' all the worse. My artist's eye could SEE HER just fine, but Ah couldn't get anythin' from 'er.
And... I knew she was no illusion... but Ah couldn't FEEL her there. Not like a corpse, or any kind of undead, just that she wasn't there!
"How it began, it should end like it too."
I shook my head. "It was never about Sweetie Belle or Scootaloo, and it was never about me being a blank flank, was it? There are plenty of other foals ya could have picked on. You didn't care Sweetie or Scootaloo were blank flanks, you were angry they stood up to ya. You weren't at war with the Cutie Mark Crusaders, you were at war with me! It was always between us."
"That was once upon a time, Apple Bloom. Now? I realize we're both empty. Puppets dancing on strings. I can't escape it. Neither can you," she said like she was readin' a spreadsheet.
"Ah've MET fate! It ain't all just one straight line."
"And yet all the roads are made for us. Ahem: you're just my toy Apple Bloom, it's time to throw you out little worn toy." She sneered, wicked glee suddenly drippin' from her voice, like her bad old self.
"Ah don't exist just for ya!" Ah reacted like a bump in the knee.
Her face and tone went back to zero. "You're right. I exist only for you."
"What I just said? It was just so you could say something brave in retort. The only reason I exist is to embellish your existence. I can't escape it no more than you can get your cutie mark, it's a road without end Apple Bloom. Fate won't let you. There's only one way for her to be free. This world must be struck with tragedy so black that the chains holding it shatter."
"... Silver Spoon... She was the only friend ya could ever had who ya could be sure wasn't wantin' just to be friends with yer pa's bank account, ya musta been so afraid of tryin' to make friends. Ya... " My eyes widened. "Ya were jealous."
"Spare me your random drivel and straw grasping. My fate was always to be your villain, your speed bump who'd always fail. My every thought and action is to be hated. I don't need a motive, or an actual goal. I exist just to personify whatever ordeal you happen to have, and overcome me. I'm still just carrying out that purpose," she said indifferently.
Even turned into a Nightfilly, Ah can't say Ah'd ever imagined those words leavin' Diamond Tiara's mouth. Ah felt like screamin' 'WHAT THE BUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU?' Instead Ah said,
"Go look at those other Diamonds in yer bedroom and let THEM retort you instead of me, a lot of 'em do a much better job than Ah ever could. Ah saw a bunch who looked like they were HELPIN' ponies!”
It was strange...Ah swore Ah saw SOMETHING in her eyes when Ah said that...but The Truth still just saw a wound.
She said like a book report, "Luckily for those Diamond Tiaras, none of them are me."
"We're who we chose to be," Ah sighed.
"Who we are is decided for us. Be it your cutie mark, parents, or Equestria itself. I saw myself a hundred times over, the little monster who grew up to be a big monster. But the moment the ripple from the heart of worlds came, suddenly poof, the world let her be a good person, all by Fate's whims. And all the hatred directed me, simply shifted to somepony else. Equestria's ideals are a lie. Hate doesn't vanish, it just gets moved around. It's all pointless. Let it all end."
Ah really wanted to smack her for everythin' she put me through... But Ah don't think she'd care. Ah also felt sorry fer her at the same time. "Diamond Tiara... Ah'm not sorry for standin' to ya at yer cutie mark party.... But Ah am sorry ya got shown up with yer best friend on yer special day. Ah'm sorry yer feelin's were hurt."
"I don't have feelings. Diamond Tiara was a spoiled whining weakling, I destroyed her. If you have to call me something, call me Blank Diamond."
"That... that ain't yer Nightmare name."
"Names are linked to identities, and identities hold power."
"... It was somepony ya loved wasn't it? The hatred towards ya ya talked about... it got directed at somepony ya love wasn't it? Why else would ya care that much?"
She didn't answer. In other words, she knew any lie she said Ah'd pick up on. In other words, Ah was right. Dang it, there's that weird...whatever Ah saw in her eyes for a split second again. Ah know Ah saw it, but the Truth just isn't showin' anything.
"And she's not stuck being stuck-up like you two!"
Ah don't believe this. "Scootaloo said she was WRONG fer sayin' that Tiara! Twice! Ya AREN'T glued into what ya are! Silver Spoon wasn't and neither are ya!"
"Ponies don't apologize because they think they were wrong. They apologize because it puts them on an even higher moral high ground!" Blank Diamond said. "Tell this monster or that monster how stupid and inane they are. Telling them what big losers they are. How they can't measure up to you. That you're the one whose going to win. Feeling your heart race, the thrills, the high rushing through you. Seeing them slowly crack and break, until they just shatter. Seeing the pieces fall all around you. The comfort of knowing that you're the hammer, and they're the glass. The satisfaction you get after browbeating them, tearing apart their argument and beliefs to shreds, the pure satisfaction of you being right, and them being wrong, and there's nothing they can do about it. It makes the pain just go away doesn't it? You don't even think about it, it just comes naturally. The big speeches, the put downs... come on, Apple Bloom." She pointed at herself. "Your biggest target is right here. Let's hear the speeches about how much I suck. You've been building them up for years. You know you love it. You know you want to. Don't even TRY to deny it. You can't escape the high."
Ah regarded her coolly. "Ya want me ta tell ya how stupid you're bein'? Fine. Yer bein’ stupider than a chipmunk lookin’ fer nuts in a hornet’s nest, Diamond Tiara. There. Hope that put-down of mine was worth the long and snooty rant ya just went runnin’ yer mouth about.”
Saying that didn’t quite give me all that big of a 'high,' ta be honest, and... she didn't even blink. Ah might've as well have insulted a rock, or a statue. My artist's eye picked it up, the tiniest ghost of a... smile. Ah felt sick to my stomach for takin' her bait.
“... Ah'm sorry." Okay, there it was in her eyes again. How does Twilight put it? Twice is a coincidence, three is a pattern? Or are my eyes just bein' screwy? "Silver Spoon, yer ma, and yer pa ALL still love ya. Even Alula and Tootsie still love ya."
"I have a new family now."
Ah looked around, Ah knew Ah was lookin' a gift horse in the mouth, but better ta know where the wasp in the room is. "Where is Discord?"
"He's very close by, very close indeed."
Ah kept my eyes peeled, lookin' around us, but Ah didn't see 'em anywhere.
"How does it feel to have come all this way and be alone, Apple Bloom? All alone, nopony to help you, nopony to be at your side. And who is to blame for that? So much for your friends."
"How does that prove a gosh-darn thing? My friends aren't here, and my parents are in Heaven but they're still my family! Distance don't matter one bit...This ain't about me though, is it? It's about you. Cause if ya can convince me Ah'm alone just because my friends ain't here, then yah can say yer alone just cause Silver Spoon ain't here. That's all this is, isn't it?"
"She means nothing to me now."
"HORSE APPLES! You still couldn't do it to Silver Spoon! That's why she wasn't at the schoolhouse with everypony else!"
"Oh please, if I had made that argument you'd say how that was just my excuse to myself for doing what I've done."
"If ya really were as no-hearted and 'everything should end' as yah say ya are...ya'd have written that the sun died and we all froze to death. Or a meteor no pony can stop is gonna fall. Not help make our home a horror movie! So why didn't ya?"
= 'End Of The World' - Kingdom Hearts 1 =
"You've come so far, and you're still an ignorant country bumpkin, the universe hates a void, if I don't play this role, somepony else will. That is reality. I will protect her."
"Ah don't think the world needs jerks to be interesting! And Ah don't think the world needs Nightmares!"
"Not needed? A horror show you say? 'You haven't seen my best work', uncle would say."
"Nyarlathotrot. He's cousins to Discord. I am part of a family of dark forces now Apple Bloom."
"HOGWASH! Yer real ma and pa are dyin' to be with ya again!"
"Too late for that. You never saw Nyarlathotrot's greatest horror: 'Twilight Sparkle and her friends, turned into demons, fallen draconequi, as evil and twisted as Discord, and completely beyond any hope of redemption. The wicked love company. Luna giving into her darkness becoming Nightmare Moon again and making Zecora her minion. While Celestia, Cadence, and Shinng Armor are made willing slaves of something just as evil. And no self-defeating evil plan, so don't get those hopes up. The world would be wired not to let them be saved.' An Equestria trapped in an endless futile conflict between other villains and absurd anti-heroes. 'The great alter to meaninglessness' he told me, he said I should love it. How for me, it would hold a certain beauty, that Equestria."
And Sunny Town get dethroned as 'number one nightmares for life.'
"Wrong! Because that wouldn't be Equestria! It wouldn't be us little ponies! It would be just some ugly mockery of everything we're supposed to be! It's ain't beautiful! It's an insult!"
"That's what uncle said. 'A world of Chaos Demons, a world of Nightmares, a world of the Eldritch Abominations, with ponies stuck in the middle having to be as brutal and without mercy as the rest just to live to see another day. It's our paradise,' uncle said. 'The new unbreakable status quo. And even if any side won, what made Equestria 'Equestria', will be dead forever.'" She rolled her eyes. "But the me of his 'masterwork' survived in the Pony Empire and became a school teacher, while you all became violent ruthless badflanks, so there's that right?"
"No it isn't! That's... that's... that's like givin' a pony a candy after ya've broken all their legs! It's horrible!"
Ah kept lookin' around for the press, but Ah couldn't see it! Shouldn't my lie detectors be goin' nuts with it nearby?
"And yet... that it's horrible for us, meaning nothing to fate. Fate gave us a function and we're doomed to carry it out whether we like it or not or what choices we make. Meaninglessness is the only place you can find meaning. Pointlessness is the only way to find a point."
"Horseapples! This Rumor-twisted Ponyville is a nightmare pretending it has business bein' awake! We're done with nightmares, it's time to get back to helping others work out their problems, including you Tiara!"
"Don't you get it, this is what fate wants. The different fates won't admit it to each other. But they WANT ponies to be depraved and violent, depressed, and broken, and degenerate. It lets fate unleash the horrors inside herself she dare not show to others. This twisted world, is what she wants. Here's a realistic question: how many award winning stories, have happy endings?"
"Ah don't know, but Ah sure know Scootaloo's seen plenty of horror movies with Rainbow Dash, and some she wasn't supposed to. Some movie places turn 'em out like clockwork. Heck, 'Equestria is blown to pieces and a hundred years later ponies have to rebuild without Celestia' movies come out like twice a year! Button Mash's dad has every version of Nuked-Out:Equestria." Ah remembered Applejack talkin' about her friends suin' for debarkation of character, deprivation of character... er, showin' her and 'er friends in a not nice way. "Ya wanna know why Diamond Tiara? Because it's EASY! Yer whole scheme's stupid and uninspired! Ah'e seen how EASY IT IS from those horror stories you've twisted our friends and family inta! Ah remember Dr. Frakenpony lot more than Ah remember any of them slasher movie monsters! It's... it's way too easy... to turn Equestria into a horrible place..." Ah felt sick sayin' it... but Ah couldn't deny it bein' true.
Ah said, "Adults... they really put a lot of hard work into makin' sure this Equestria, the Equestria we love... keeps being an Equestria where there's more love per-square-hoof than anywhere else in the world. It's not easy. Applejack, Pinkie Pie, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, Rarity, the Princesses, Twilight Sparkle, Spike, Miss Cheerilee, Zecora, heck, Megan, Magic Star, and Wind Whistler, they ALL work HARD to have Equestria be the loving Equestria, the harmony Equestria. Nothin' STAYS good by sittin' on yer flanks."
Ah sighed, "Passin' the bucket around 'bout mistakes to somepony or somethin' else isa mistake too... Silver Spoon helped ME see the truth, just by me bein' 'round her. Ah thought ya and Silver Spoon's cutie marks were worthless... Ah was wrong. They aren't, and neither are either of you."
Ah knew Ah was gettin' in there somewhere. Cause Ah KNOW Ah saw 'er flinch, not from callin' her scheme dumb or how Ah wouldn't give up... but from me sayin' she wasn't worthless...Four times now Ah saw it in her eyes...what the buck is that?
"... I thought if Uncle ran hog wild, it would eventually break our world free. It didn't... Uncle was the only one who actually benefited from any of this horror. What a waste. Once the world BECOMES that hideous nightmare... it slowly rots away... In Black vs Black stories, ponies simply turns away... But they stays anyway because of the time already invested, or because they like the fancy fighting, who cares if all sides are equally awful? There's no horror to them, only thrills. Unless I can give the one rumor that will truly free us. We'll be free. It's the only way we can be free. It's the only way she can be safe.
"I thought once our world was the most rotted hell ever, we'd escape fate. I was wrong. As long as something is well enough put together, it can be blacker than black and fate will still attach to it like a leech. Which was fine with Uncle, he just wanted a sandbox to spite Happy Endings for her meddlings. He didn't want freedom, he wanted revenge. I understand now that Discord was right not to help him when he faced your sister. I needed a twist of reality so self-contradicting that it would shatter fate's grip on our world forever. And thanks to the endless windows, I found it. The key."
She spread out her wings, her eyes glowed like some kinda fire that was colder than ice.
"I still have the best rumor to spread. The biggest: Princess Celestia and Princess Luna are really Tirek and Grogar in disguise. And their kindness and love is all a trick."
She said it so mechanically, no Royal Canterlot Voice, no demonic echo... that indifference, like her words were gears Ah was gettin' crushed in!
One of them floatin' windows appeared.
Unlike all the horrible nightmares Ah'd seen since this quest started, this one was done in the 'art style' Ah remembered all of Equestria bein' before thin's got twisted. No black charcoal against pink paper. This ... this was like the Boogeymare explodin' out of yer birthday cake right in the middle of the day. Monsters were supposed to be in the dark, not the day, it made it worse!
There was Megan from Lickety Split's stories, dressed kinda like Applejack would be. She was in the Canterlot throne room with my big sister and her friends. Princesses Luna and Celestia were with her. But the moment Megan gave Princess Celestia this heart shaped locket... she and Luna laughed evilly, and burst into flames, revealing the monsters Tirek and Gorgar from the age of myths Ah'd heard about in Lickety Split's house.
Grogar remarked, "Bein' 'Luna' might have been amusing, but now the real work begins."
But then, everythin' froze, then flickered, like when one of Button Mash's games crashed. The entire world inside the magic window, just, stopped. The magic window vanished, or maybe it shattered.
My response came loud and clear. "THERE AIN'T NO WAY AH AM EVER LETTIN' THAT RUMOR FLY!"
Diamond Tiara spoke... and then... it was like Ah was the one who 'crashed.'
She said, "Even if you had time travel, it wouldn't help."
The lights all came on.
I saw the enchanted printin' press. What'd we'd come all this way for. Fought for. Nearly died a zillion times. Gave up our innocence for.
It was smashed to pieces.
"But if you feel like trying... be sure to set the time coordinates to when you entered the World Tower's first floor."
And that was that. No thoughts. No feelin's. Ah fell to the floor like a broken puppet.
"Yes Apple Bloom, it's been printed out for quite a while now. I'm actually impress Celestia and Luna have managed to RESIST for this long. In particular Celestia, we turned her into a depraved pleasure seeker, and still her heart resists becoming Tirek. Too bad for them it's a losing battle. Inch by inch, they're losing themselves."
Nothin' she said was a lie.
"There will be no reconciliation for this curse even if you could defeat it. History and consistency in our world will shatter from this contradiction, and fate's shackles will be gone. And I've set the curse to erase itself from existence once its last task is done, but leaving all the changes intact."
Ah was dead inside. Ah might've well have been a corpse.
"Yes Apple Bloom, all your struggles, all your hard work, it was all meaningless. And no choice you could have made different would have changed the outcome. You should have let Cheerilee kill you, instead of wasting everypony's time."
Ah had nothin' to say. Nothin' to do. Ah might've well as not exist.
"What's wrong Apple Bloom? Don't feel like turning into a Nightmare for one last climatic but meaningless fight? Father's actually disappointed. He says it's what he deserves."
Ah had nothin' to fight for. Nopony to save. No matter what Ah did, it was over. Ah might've well have started a mutiny on a sinkin' ship.
"Then you can welcome Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle and tell them the good news."
Everythin' was a wasted effort, why bother even tryin'? Don't try, don't fail.
"And the Heart World will never have its claws in us again."
"... Yer lyin'. That ain't why yer doin' this... " Ah said like a robot, it was like a knee reflex, involuntary.
"And I have no intention of telling you why. Because it hardly matters now."
Ah said nothin', Ah just lyin' on the floor, not even twitchin'.
"How does it feel to be alone without a friend in the face of your worst nightmare? That all your effort was a waste from the beginning?"
Ah croaked out. A little spark in my brain. The slidin' door with the giant piece of toast. The room with the infinite monsters. That troll wantin' to challenge one of us. "How does it feel, ya ask me again and again? Feels like ya... ya always wanted it to be just me here. All them traps, all them monsters... ya didn't want ta slow us down... ya... ya just wanted only me to reach the top. That's why ya didn't want Alula and Tootsie to fight us once we were in the tower... it really was a pointless fight. You just wanted me here alone." My own voice sounded like a record player, just goin' through the motions.
"There's a difference between The Truth and The Obvious, Apple Bloom. I had no reason to put obstacles in your way once I destroyed the presses, I could have given you all a free ride on the elevator for all the difference it would've made. I was expecting one of your friends would heroically say 'I'll fight this one, the rest of you go on' at every monster you faced. But annoying extras kept showing up and doing the job for you. So I won't say everything went to plan, and there were points I was certain you'd blaze up here, and others when I thought you'd be dead. For instance, I figured your four friends would fight Uncle's game data toys, and the one of you with the truth would hurry on to the top."
"Ya can't do this... yer parents... Silver Spoon... Alula, Tootsie... they'll suffer too." Some little wisp of heart inside me escaped.
=To the beat of 'Cold Nightmare' from the episode Hearth Warming's Eve Tale=
Do you think I feel regret, or sadness?
I feel noth-thing.
Your infections are but a fla-ash in the dark.
My heart is gone.
It is no more.
Fill the void as many times as you wish.
It will always empty once more.
Like a flash in the dark, you can't fill what isn't there.
And then there was only darkness.